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   Chapter 17 No.17

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 19895

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


While Rosabella had been passing through these dark experiences, Flora was becoming more and more accustomed to her new situation. She strove bravely to conceal the homesickness which she could not always conquer; but several times, in the course of their travels, Mrs. Delano noticed moisture gathering on her long black eyelashes when she saw the stars and stripes floating from the mast of a vessel. Once, when a rose was given her, she wept outright; but she soon wiped her eyes, and apologized by saying: "I wonder whether a Pensée-Vivace makes Rosa feel as I do when I see a rose? But what an ungrateful child I am, when I have such a dear, kind, new Mamita!" And a loving smile again lighted up her swimming eyes,-those beautiful April eyes of tears and sunshine, that made rainbows in the heart.

Mrs. Delano wisely kept her occupied with a succession of teachers and daily excursions. Having a natural genius for music and drawing, she made rapid progress in both during a residence of six months in England, six months in France, and three months in Switzerland. And as Mr. and Mrs. Percival were usually with them, she picked up, in her quick way, a good degree of culture from the daily tone of conversation. The one drawback to the pleasure of new acquisitions was that she could not share them with Rosa.

One day, when she was saying this, Mrs. Delano replied: "We will go to Italy for a short time, and then we will return to live in Boston. I have talked the matter over a good deal with Mr. Percival, and I think I should know how to guard against any contingency that may occur. And as you are so anxious about your sister, I have been revolving plans for taking you back to the island, to see whether we can ascertain what is going on in that mysterious cottage."

From that time there was a very perceptible increase of cheerfulness in Flora's spirits. The romance of such an adventure hit her youthful fancy, while the idea of getting even a sly peep at Rosa filled her with delight. She imagined all sorts of plans to accomplish this object, and often held discussions upon the propriety of admitting Tulee to their confidence.

Her vivacity redoubled when they entered Italy. She was herself composed of the same materials of which Italy was made; and without being aware of the spiritual relationship, she at once felt at home there. She was charmed with the gay, impulsive people, the bright costumes, the impassioned music, and the flowing language. The clear, intense blue of the noonday sky, and the sun setting in a glowing sea of amber, reminded her of her Southern home; and the fragrance of the orange-groves was as incense waved by the memory of her childhood. The ruins of Rome interested her less than any other features of the landscape; for, like Bettini, she never asked who any of the ancients were, for fear they would tell her. The play of sunshine on the orange-colored lichens interested her more than the inscriptions they covered; and while their guide was telling the story of mouldering arches, she was looking through them at the clear blue sky and the soft outline of the hills.

One morning they rode out early to spend a whole day at Albano; and every mile of the ride presented her with some charming novelty. The peasants who went dancing by in picturesque costumes, and the finely formed women walking erect with vases of water on their heads, or drawing an even thread from their distaffs, as they went singing along, furnished her memory with subjects for many a picture. Sometimes her exclamations would attract the attention of a group of dancers, who, pleased with an exuberance of spirits akin to their own, and not unmindful of forthcoming coin, would beckon to the driver to stop, while they repeated their dances for the amusement of the Signorina. A succession of pleasant novelties awaited her at Albano. Running about among the ilex-groves in search of bright mosses, she would come suddenly in front of an elegant villa, with garlands in stucco, and balconies gracefully draped with vines. Wandering away from that, she would utter a little cry of joy at the unexpected sight of some reclining marble nymph, over which a little fountain threw a transparent veil of gossamer sparkling with diamonds. Sometimes she stood listening to the gurgling and dripping of unseen waters; and sometimes melodies floated from the distance, which her quick ear caught at once, and her tuneful voice repeated like a mocking-bird. The childlike zest with which she entered into everything, and made herself a part of everything, amused her quiet friend, and gave her even more pleasure than the beauties of the landscape.

After a picnic repast, they ascended Monte Cavo, and looked down on the deep basins of the lakes, once blazing with volcanic fire, now full of water blue as the sky it reflected; like human souls in which the passions have burned out, and left them calm recipients of those divine truths in which the heavens are mirrored. As Mrs. Delano pointed out various features in the magnificent panorama around them, she began to tell Flora of scenes in the Aeneid with which they were intimately connected. The young girl, who was serious for the moment, dropped on the grass to listen, with elbows on her friend's lap, and her upturned face supported by her hands. But the lecture was too grave for her mercurial spirit; and she soon sprang up, exclaiming: "O Mamita Lila, all those people were dead and buried so long ago! I don't believe the princess that Aeneas was fighting about was half as handsome as that dancing Contadina from Frascati, with a scarlet bodice and a floating veil fastened among her black braids with a silver arrow. How her eyes sparkled, and her cheeks glowed! And the Contadino who was dancing with her, with those long streamers of red ribbon flying round his peaked hat, he looked almost as handsome as she did. How I wish I could see them dance the saltarello again! O Mamita Lila, as soon as we get back to Rome, do buy a tambourine." Inspired by the remembrance, she straightway began to hum the monotonous tune of that grasshopper dance, imitating the hopping steps and the quick jerks of the arms, marking the time with ever-increasing rapidity on her left hand, as if it were a tambourine. She was so aglow with the exercise, and so graceful in her swift motions, that Mrs. Delano watched her with admiring smiles. But when the extempore entertainment came to a close, she thought to herself: "It is a hopeless undertaking to educate her after the New England pattern. One might as well try to plough with a butterfly, as to teach her ancient history."

When they had wandered about a little while longer, happy as souls newly arrived in the Elysian Fields, Mrs. Delano said: "My child, you have already gathered mosses enough to fill the carriage, and it is time for us to return. You know twilight passes into darkness very quickly here."

"Just let me gather this piece of golden lichen," pleaded she. "It will look so pretty among the green moss, in the cross I am going to make you for Christmas."

When all her multifarious gleanings were gathered up, they lingered a little to drink in the beauty of the scene before them. In the distance was the Eternal City, girdled by hills that stood out with wonderful distinctness in the luminous atmosphere of that brilliant day, which threw a golden veil over all its churches, statues, and ruins. Before they had gone far on their homeward ride, all things passed through magical changes. The hills were seen in vapory visions, shifting their hues with opaline glances; and over the green, billowy surface of the broad Campagna was settling a prismatic robe of mist, changing from rose to violet. Earth seemed to be writing, in colored notes, with tenderest modulations, her farewell hymn to the departing God of Light. And the visible music soon took voice in the vibration of vesper-bells, in the midst of which they entered Rome. Flora, who was sobered by the solemn sounds and the darkening landscape, scarcely spoke, except to remind Mrs. Delano of the tambourine as they drove through the crowded Corso; and when they entered their lodgings in Via delle Quattro Fontane, she passed to her room without any of her usual skipping and singing. When they met again at supper her friend said: "Why so serious? Is my little one tired?"

"I have been thinking, Mamita, that something is going to happen to me," she replied; "for always when I am very merry something happens."

"I should think something would happen very often then," rejoined Mrs. Delano with a smile, to which she responded with her ready little laugh. "Several visitors called while we were gone," said Mrs. Delano. "Our rich Boston friend, Mr. Green, has left his card. He follows us very diligently." She looked at Flora as she spoke; but though the light from a tall lamp fell directly on her face, she saw no emotion, either of pleasure or embarrassment.

She merely looked up with a smile, as she remarked: "He always seems to be going round very leisurely in search of something to entertain him. I wonder whether he has found it yet."

Though she was really tired with the exertions of the day, the sight of the new tambourine, after supper, proved too tempting; and she was soon practising the saltarello again, with an agility almost equal to that of the nimble Contadina from whom she had learned it. She was whirling round more and more swiftly, as if fatigue were a thing impossible to her, when Mr. Green was announced; and a very stylishly dressed gentleman, with glossy shirt-bosom and diamond studs, entered the room. She had had scarcely time to seat herself, and her face was still flushed with exercise, while her dimples were revealed by a sort of shy smile at the consciousness of having been so nearly caught in her rompish play by such an exquisite. The glowing cheek and the di

mpling smile were a new revelation to Mr. Green; for he had never interested her sufficiently to call out the vivacity which rendered her so charming.

Mrs. Delano noticed his glance of admiration, and the thought occurred, as it had often done before, what an embarrassing dilemma she would be in, if he should propose marriage to her protégée.

"I called this morning," said he, "and found you had gone to Albano. I was tempted to follow, but thought it likely I should miss you. It is a charming drive."

"Everything is charming here, I think," rejoined Flora.

"Ah, it is the first time you have seen Rome," said he. "I envy you the freshness of your sensations. This is the third time I have been here, and of course it palls a little upon me."

"Why don't you go to some new place then?" inquired Flora.

"Where is there any new place?" responded he languidly. "To be sure, there is Arabia Petraea, but the accommodations are not good. Besides, Rome has attractions for me at present; and I really think I meet more acquaintances here than I should at home. Rome is beginning to swarm with Americans, especially with Southerners. One can usually recognize them at a glance by their unmistakable air of distinction. They are obviously of porcelain clay, as Willis says."

"I think our New England Mr. Percival is as polished a gentleman as any. I have seen," observed Mrs. Delano.

"He is a gentleman in manners and attainments, I admit," replied Mr. Green; "but with his family and education, what a pity it is he has so disgraced himself."

"Pray what has he done?" inquired the lady.

"Didn't you know he was an Abolitionist?" rejoined Mr. Green. "It is a fact that he has actually spoken at their meetings. I was surprised to see him travelling with you in England. It must be peculiarly irritating to the South to see a man of his position siding with those vulgar agitators. Really, unless something effectual can be done to stop that frenzy, I fear Southern gentlemen will be unable to recover a fugitive slave."

Flora looked at Mrs. Delano with a furtive, sideway glance, and a half-smile on her lips. Her impulse was to jump up, dot one of her quick courtesies, and say: "I am a fugitive slave. Please, sir, don't give me up to any of those distinguished gentlemen."

Mr. Green noticed her glance, and mistook it for distaste of his theme. "Pardon me, ladies," said he, "for introducing a subject tabooed in polite society. I called for a very different purpose. One novelty remains for me in Rome. I have never seen the statues of the Vatican by torchlight. Some Americans are forming a party for that purpose to-morrow evening, and if you would like to join them, it will give me great pleasure to be your escort."

Flora, being appealed to, expressed acquiescence, and Mrs. Delano replied: "We will accept your invitation with pleasure. I have a great predilection for sculpture."

"Finding myself so fortunate in one request encourages me to make another," rejoined Mr. Green. "On the evening following Norma is to be brought out, with a new prima donna, from whom great things are expected. I should be much gratified if you would allow me to procure tickets and attend upon you."

Flora's face lighted up at once. "I see what my musical daughter wishes," said Mrs. Delano. "We will therefore lay ourselves under obligations to you for two evenings' entertainment."

The gentleman, having expressed his thanks, bade them good evening.

Flora woke up the next morning full of pleasant anticipations. When Mrs. Delano looked in upon her, she found her already dressed, and busy with a sketch of the dancing couple from Frascati. "I cannot make them so much alive as I wish," said she, "because they are not in motion. No picture can give the gleamings of the arrow or the whirlings of the veil. I wish we could dress like Italians. How I should like to wear a scarlet bodice, and a veil fastened with a silver arrow."

"If we remained till Carnival, you might have that pleasure," replied

Mrs. Delano; "for everybody masquerades as they like at that time. But

I imagine you would hardly fancy my appearance in scarlet jacket, with

laced sleeves, big coral necklace, and long ear-rings, like that old

Contadina we met riding on a donkey."

Flora laughed. "To think of Mamita Lila in such costume!" exclaimed she. "The old Contadina would make a charming picture; but a picture of the Campagna, sleepy with purple haze, would be more like you."

"Am I then so sleepy?" inquired her friend.

"O, no, not sleepy. You know I don't mean that. But so quiet; and always with some sort of violet or lilac cloud for a dress. But here comes Carlina to call us to breakfast," said she, as she laid down her crayon, and drummed the saltarello on her picture while she paused a moment to look at it.

As Mrs. Delano wished to write letters, and Flora expected a teacher in drawing, it was decided that they should remain at home until the hour arrived for visiting the Vatican. "We have been about sight-seeing so much," said Mrs. Delano, "that I think it will be pleasant to have a quiet day." Flora assented; but as Mrs. Delano wrote, she could not help smiling at her ideas of quietude. Sometimes rapid thumps on the tambourine might be heard, indicating that the saltarello was again in rehearsal. If a piffero strolled through the street, the monotonous drone of his bagpipe was reproduced in most comical imitation; and anon there was a gush of bird-songs, as if a whole aviary were in the vicinity. Indeed, no half-hour passed without audible indication that the little recluse was in merry mood.

At the appointed time Mr. Green came to conduct them to the Vatican. They ascended the wide slopes, and passed through open courts into long passages lined with statues, and very dimly lighted with occasional lamps. Here and there a marble figure was half revealed, and looked so spectral in the gloaming that they felt as if they were entering the world of spirits. Several members of the party preceded them, and all seemed to feel the hushing influence, for they passed on in silence, and stepped softly as they entered the great Palace of Art. The torch-bearers were soon in readiness to illuminate the statues, which they did by holding a covered light over each, making it stand out alone in the surrounding darkness, with very striking effects of light and shadow. Flora, who was crouched on a low seat by the side of Mrs. Delano, gazed with a reverent, half-afraid feeling on the thoughtful, majestic looking Minerva Medica. When the graceful vision of Venus Anadyomene was revealed, she pressed her friend's hand, and the pressure was returned. But when the light was held over a beautiful Cupid, the face looked out from the gloom with such an earnest, childlike expression, that she forgot the presence of strangers, and impulsively exclaimed, "O Mamita, how lovely!"

A gentleman some little distance in front of them turned toward them suddenly, at the sound of her voice; and a movement of the torch-bearer threw the light full upon him for an instant. Flora hid her face in the lap of Mrs. Delano, who attributed the quick action to her shame at having spoken so audibly. But placing her hand caressingly on her shoulder, she felt that she was trembling violently. She stooped toward her, and softly inquired, "What is the matter, dear?"

Flora seized her head with both hands, and, drawing it closer, whispered: "Take me home, Mamita! Do take me right home!"

Wondering what sudden caprice had seized the emotional child, she said, "Why, are you ill, dear?"

Flora whispered close into her ear: "No, Mamita. But Mr. Fitzgerald is here."

Mrs. Delano rose very quietly, and, approaching Mr. Green, said: "My daughter is not well, and we wish to leave. But I beg you will return as soon as you have conducted us to the carriage."

But though he was assured by both the ladies that nothing alarming was the matter, when they arrived at their lodgings he descended from the driver's seat to assist them in alighting. Mrs. Delano, with polite regrets at having thus disturbed his pleasure, thanked him, and bade him good evening. She hurried after Flora, whom she found in her room, weeping bitterly. "Control your feelings, my child," said she. "You are perfectly safe here in Italy."

"But if he saw me, it will make it so very unpleasant for you,

Mamita."

"He couldn't see you; for we were sitting in very deep shadow," replied Mrs. Delano. "But even if he had seen you, I should know how to protect you."

"But what I am thinking of," said Floracita, still weeping, "is that he may have brought Rosa with him, and I can't run to her this very minute. I must see her! I will see her! If I have to tell ever so many fibititas about the reason of my running away."

"I wouldn't prepare any fibititas at present," rejoined Mrs. Delano. "I always prefer the truth. I will send for Mr. Percival, and ask him to ascertain whether Mr. Fitzgerald brought a lady with him. Meanwhile, you had better lie down, and keep as quiet as you can. As soon as I obtain any information, I will come and tell you."

When Mr. Percival was informed of the adventure at the Vatican, he sallied forth to examine the lists of arrivals; and before long he returned with the statement that Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald were registered among the newcomers. "Flora would, of course, consider that conclusive," said he; "but you and I, who have doubts concerning that clandestine marriage, will deem it prudent to examine further."

"If it should prove to be her sister, it will be a very embarrassing affair," rejoined Mrs. Delano.

Mr. Percival thought it very unlikely, but said he would ascertain particulars to-morrow.

With that general promise, without a knowledge of the fact already discovered, Flora retired to rest; but it was nearly morning before she slept.

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