ページの画像
PDF
ePub

inhabitants. In the middle of the following December I received a piece of wedding-cake from the gentle Barbara, and in the same packet a letter from Lady Betty.

She had written instead of mamma, who was troubled with a gouty affection in the hand. She spoke much (and I have no doubt sincerely) of the cruel separation from her sister. Touched feelingly upon the happiness of the time I had spent at Oakenshade, and trusted she might venture to claim a week of me at Christmas. She was truly sorry that she had no inducement to hold out beyond the satisfaction of communicating happiness, which she knew was always a paramount feeling with me. She was all alone, and wretched in the long evenings when mamma went to sleep ; and reverted plaintively and prettily to the little study and the ghost stories. As for the lilac pocketbook, she had cast up her follies and misdenieanors, and found the total, eren before the end of the year, so full of shame and repentance, that she had incontinently thrown it into the fire, trusting to my kindness to give her another with fresh advice. Dear Lady Betty! my resentment was long gone by- I had long felt a conviction that her little follies were blameless and not all uncommon; and I vow, that had her happiness depended upon me, I would have done any thing to ensure it. I was obliged, however, to send an excuse for the present, for I had only been married a week.

LA BELLA TABACCAIA.

LEIGH HUNT.

I wish this tale had more of the romantic, or was more akin to the every day occurrences of domestic life. As it is, it may chance to please nobody. There are none of these wonderful incidents, which, without the aid of genii and fairies, prove that the tighter we stretch the chord of possibility, the more it vibrates to our extraordinary hopes and fears. Nor has it any thing like a misdirected letier, creating a volume of dilemmas, and then lost, and then getting, in worse hands, worse and worse interpreted : or a lady not at home on that unfortunate Monday, when affairs might have been set on a right footing; or the feeing of a loyal servant-maid, quite by mistake, with a bad sovereign; or the doubts, deliberations, and delays of lawyers over a plain, straightforward last will and testament; or an amorous gentleman blundering on the aunt's name for the niece's; or a husband seeing his wife embrace a long-lost brother, and calling to Thomas for pistols for three ; alas ! I can offer nothing of this interesting nature. It is merely one of those tales, the best parts of which, for the honor of human nature, ought to happen oftener; and perhaps they may be in fashion when men and women grow a great deal wiser. The utmost I can say in its praise is, that it is as true as affidavits and a court of justice can make it. By the by, being somewhat allied to the favorite Newgate Calendar, it strikes me it may be twisted, with considerable additions, into a tolerable melo-drama, and that is no mean recommendation. Let Drury and Covent-Garden 190k to it. They can get it crammed full of 'good sentiments,' so palpable, a child may pen them down. And if at a loss for a title, to prepare the audience for a stronger dose than usual, why not call it' The Queen of Hearts ? Besides, they can introduce an Italian vineyard, the best that can be had in London.

Nina was an orphan, and, at the age of fifteen, mistress of a snuff and tobacco shop in Pisa, under the discreet guidance of an aunt, who boarded and lodged with her by virtue of her experience. The stock in trade, a little ready money, and two houses in the suburbs of Leghorn, were her patrimony. She had the fairest complexion with the darkest ringlets that ever were formed together; and though do one ever criticised her lips as rather too full, yet some fastidious admirers objected to the largeness of her eyes—but they could not have remarked their lustre and expression, nor the beautiful jet lashes which shaded them. She was called La Bella Tabaccaia. The students of the University, as they returned from lecture, always peeped in the shop, to see if Nina was behind the counter ; and, if she was, nine out of ten walked in and asked for segars. There they lighted them one after the other at the pan of charcoal, and by turns, puthing awhile for invention, ventured on some gallant compliments. If these were received with a smile, as they generally were, and often more roguishly than would be considered within the rules of a bench of old English ladies, then away they went to strut on the Lung'arno with a much gayer notion of themselves. The grave ones of the neighborhood thought it a pity she could encourage such idle talk; and the aunt constantly advised her to go into the inner room, whenever those wild young fellows made their appearance. But Nina had all the vivacity, the joyousness of youth, almost of childhood, and defended herselt by saying, 'La! aunt, there can be no harm in their merriment: for my mother used to tell me, young men with serious faces were the only dangerous ones. And the mother's authority never failed in silencing the aunt.

Late one evening, a student entered while Nina was alone in the shop. After a single glance, he sat down by the side of the counter, took up a knife that lay there, and began seemingly to play with it, but with a countenance that betrayed the most violent agitation. The poor girl, never having witnessed any thing like despair, imagined he was intoxicated; and, as the safest means of avoiding insult, remained firmly in her place. On a sudden, the youth, grasping the knife in his hand, seized her by the hair, and threatened death if she did not

[ocr errors]

immediately, and without a word or a scream, give him her money. Instead of complying, quietly and on the instant, in her fright she shrieked for help, and struggled with him. Had not the youth felt a touch of pity, even in that moment of frenzy, she would have been destroyed. For her struggles were in vain, and the knife was at her bosom, when some passengers, hearing her cries, together with the neighbors from the adjoining houses, ran in and seized him. Without further question, they placed him in the hands of the Sbiri, who led him directly to the police, and Nina was required to follow. Her evidence was written down, and she was ordered to sign a paper. To this she complied, with no other thought than that she had not been guilty of the slightest exaggeration. As she laid down the pen, the oflicer assured hier she might rely on the utmost redress for such an outrage ; as hier evidence was not only the clearest, but it completely tallied with the prisoner's confession ; and ended with— Be under no apprehension, my good girl, for you will shortly see him in yellow,' alluding to the color which those convicts wear who are sentenced to hard labor for life. It was not till these words were uttered that she, still trembling in her fears, had once reflected on the punishment; when starting as she heard them, she looked pitiously in the oíficer's face, and said, 'I hope not, sir; he has not robbed me—not hurt me-not in the least. Pray let me have that paper again ; and I-I am sorry I came here—indeed I am!' She was told he was now in the hands of the law, and it was neither in her power, nor in theirs, to release him; and that as it was the law, not the individual, that punished a criminal, she need not accuse herself, in the slightest degree, of severity, whatever his sentence might be. incapable of replying to this argument, she could do nothing but repeat her request for the paper, when she was answered by a smile, and told she was quite a child. • Do, do give me that paper,' she continued ; 'Jet nothing more happen; if I can pardon him, why cannot you ?' At this she was called a silly child. Nina looked round for the prisoner; but he had been led to his dungeon. 'O God !' she cried, ' how unhappy does this make me! I knoiv, sir, I am, as you say, a child, but can you make a child so miserable ?' The officer then spoke with greater kindness, reasoning on the impossibility of his yielding, and thus she was dismissed.

The aunt was waiting at home in a thousand ecstacies at so provi. dential an escape from a robber and a murderer ; to all which Nina scarcely replied, but went to her pillow weeping, and pity, like a naked new-born babe,' lay in her bosomn. Thus in two short hours was the laughing gaiety of this young creature gone forever. She was the means, it mattered not how innocently, of driving a fellow being into wretchedness and infamy. That her sorrow was unreasonable, few, perhaps, will deny. However, Nina had never learned to take enlarged views of the duties of citizenship: nor did it once enter her head to ask herself whether she was right or wrong. Before sun

6

rise the old lady was surprised at being wakened by her niece, and to see her hastily dressing herself to go once more to the police. This created a long discussion. Well, well,' said the niece, 'I will go alone ; but then I can have little hope. You, aunt, that know the world, may find some method of softening the hearts of these cruel officers. I have but one friend, now that both my parents are dead; and sure she will not refuse the first earnest prayer I make!' This appeal could not be withstood. Nina ran to the looking-glass, to put on her bonnet, when she perceived several bruises on her neck, the marks of his rude hands,-they would be observed, and could not be mistaken. Instantly inquiring if it was not rather chilly that morning she at the same time, without waiting for an answer, took up a large shawl, pinned it close under her chin, and then waited, in the mildest manner in the world, for her friend.

At a very early hour the convicts employed to clean the streets begin their labor. When Nina arrived at the corner of the Borgo, she heard the clanking of their chains; and clinging with both hands on her aunt's arm, remained motionless while they slowly passed. Though accustomed to the sight from her infancy, she now, for the first time, regarded them attentively. They were accompanied, as usual, by their guards, armed with muskets and cutlasses, and came heavily chained together in couples ; the two first with brooms, follored by those who drag on a cart, and then two others with their shovels. One was clothed in yellow; the girl looked at bim with tears in her eyes. “I never thought,' said she,' these men were so wretched !' • Santa Maria !' exclaimed the aunt, and what did you think? Would you have them as comfortable as good Christians like ourselves? You will see, as I told you before, the gentlemen of the police will call me a simpleton for going to them on such an errand.' To this she was mistaken ; nobody noticed her. Nina's earnestness astonished the officers. They had never seen or heard of any thing of the like, and could not understand it. That she should be in love with the prisoner was out of the question, as it appeared in her evidence his person was unknown to her until the evening before ; and a young woman never makes a present of her heart (so they argued) to a ruffian who comes to take it with a knife. In the absence, therefore, of this suspicion, she seemed of a more human, if not a more heavenly nature, than any saint in the calendar. And as they sym. pathised in her distress-for how could they help it?—their compassion was startled into something favorable to all sorts of criminals. The worst was, they could not grant her request.

It is high time to talk of our student-poor Gaetano in bis dungeon! He had been noted by the professors for his application at the University, and endeared to his companions by his never failing cheerfulness and good temper. What a dreary change! And he was the favorite of his father, who, though not rich, still represented, with some attempts at dignity, an ancient family in Pistoia. Young Gaetano's story, I am sorry to own it, is a very bad one; as it bears a

resemblance to that doleful tragedy, George Barnwell. Italians, to their praise be it spoken, seldom put faith in that love which is to be purchased by costly presents—they know better; yet when guilty of such folly, their extravagance is often boundless. It was so with this youth. After having, on every possible pretence, obtained money from his father, and lavished it on his Milwood, she began to put on her cold looks; then, in a short time, her door was closed against a pennyless suitor. Why he attacked Nina secmed inexplicable. Had Pisa no respected Signor, with a heartful of self-complacency as his pockets were of money, walking in his own orchard, and moralizing on his own goodness ? It is certain, however, none but this innocent, defenceless girl struck his brain at tliat desperate moment. Perhaps there was a feeling of revenge against the sex. Your only true woman-hater is he who becomes trammelled in the magic of one whom his reason bids him despise. If this hint at an explanation should be objected to, I willingly refer the whole case to a general assembly of Scotch metaphysicians - they can settle every thing. My business is with facts. When Nina heard the story, she pitied him more than ever; and if this is sneered at as an immodest kind of pity among the cruelly virtuous, let her inexperience in their ways be considered in her favor. So deep an impression did it make on her mind, that it stamped her character for ever. Instead of a laughing, thoughtless girl, she became, at once, a woman. Her brow was more tranquil, a milder brightness shone in her eyes, a far sweeter smile played upon her lips. Happiness, she thought, should not be divided; and, as the thought came over her, not a living being but shared in her sensibility. There is not a greater mistake than to imagine the characters of either sex are formed solely by the first impulses of love. Any of the passions, if thoroughly roused, or even pain of body, will have the same effect, and sometimes at a very early age. Grief, as I myself have witnessed, will act like inspiration; suddenly converting a childish docility in a lad into a manly fortitude and self-decision. The soul of Nina was awakened by the throbs of pity.

The trial came on ; Gaetano's father hastened to Pisa, busy with his advocates in the defence of his son, but without seeing him. Insanity was attempted to be proved. Every effort availed nothing. When pronounced guilty, the father returned to Pistoia, thanking Heaven he had yet another son, and he should be his heir-a boy whom hitherto he had scarcely noticed, and who was at that time educating for the Church. Nina did better; she privately went to the houses of the Judges, and knelt before them, and implored the most lenient sentence.

Whether her intercession was of some value, or whether there appeared to be more of passion than depravity in the prisoner, the sentence was certainly inilder than was expected-three years' hard labor.

When Gaetano appeared among the other convicts, every body ran to Nina and officiously pointed himn out. Without some information it is probable she nerer would have recognised him. He passed before

« 前へ次へ »