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A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 15702

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The engagement of the Seńorita Rosita Campaneo was for four weeks, during which Mr. King called frequently and attended the opera constantly. Every personal interview, and every vision of her on the stage, deepened the impression she made upon him when they first met. It gratified him to see that, among the shower of bouquets she was constantly receiving, his was the one she usually carried; nor was she unobservant that he always wore a fresh rose. But she was unconscious of his continual guardianship, and he was careful that she should remain so. Every night that she went to the opera and returned from it, he assumed a dress like the driver's, and sat with him on the outside of the carriage,-a fact known only to Madame and the Signor, who were glad enough to have a friend at hand in case Mr. Fitzgerald should attempt any rash enterprise. Policemen were secretly employed to keep the cantatrice in sight, whenever she went abroad for air or recreation. When she made excursions out of the city in company with her adopted parents, Mr. King was always privately informed of it, and rode in the same direction; at a sufficient distance, however, not to be visible to her, or to excite gossiping remarks by appearing to others to be her follower. Sometimes he asked himself: "What would my dear prudential mother say, to see me leaving my business to agents and clerks, while I devote my life to the service of an opera-singer?-an opera-singer, too, who has twice been on the verge of being sold as a slave, and who has been the victim of a sham marriage!" But though such queries jostled against conventional ideas received from education, they were always followed by the thought: "My dear mother has gone to a sphere of wider vision, whence she can look down upon the merely external distinctions of this deceptive world. Rosabella must be seen as a pure, good soul, in eyes that see as the angels do; and as the defenceless daughter of my father's friend, it is my duty to protect her." So he removed from his more eligible lodgings in the Piazza di Spagna, and took rooms in the Corso, nearly opposite to hers, where day by day he continued his invisible guardianship.

He had reason, at various times, to think his precautions were not entirely unnecessary. He had several times seen a figure resembling Fitzgerald's lurking about the opera-house, wrapped in a cloak, and with a cap very much drawn over his face. Once Madame and the Signor, having descended from the carriage, with Rosa, to examine the tomb of Cecilia Metella, were made a little uneasy by the appearance of four rude-looking fellows, who seemed bent upon lurking in their vicinity. But they soon recognized Mr. King in the distance, and not far from him the disguised policemen in his employ. The fears entertained by her friends were never mentioned to Rosa, and she appeared to feel no uneasiness when riding in daylight with the driver and her adopted parents. She was sometimes a little afraid when leaving the opera late at night; but there was a pleasant feeling of protection in the idea that a friend of her father's was in Rome, who knew better than the Signor how to keep out of quarrels. That recollection also operated as an additional stimulus to excellence in her art. This friend had expressed himself very highly gratified by her successful début, and that consideration considerably increased her anxiety to sustain herself at the height she had attained. In some respects that was impossible; for the thrilling circumstances of the first evening could not again recur to set her soul on fire. Critics generally said she never equalled her first acting; though some maintained that what she had lost in power she had gained in a more accurate conception of the character. Her voice was an unfailing source of wonder and delight. They were never weary of listening to that volume of sound, so full and clear, so flexible in its modulations, so expressive in its intonations.

As the completion of her engagement drew near, the manager was eager for its renewal; and finding that she hesitated, he became more and more liberal in his offers. Things were in this state, when Mr. King called upon Madame one day while Rosa was absent at rehearsal. "She is preparing a new aria for her last evening, when they will be sure to encore the poor child to death," said Madame. "It is very flattering, but very tiresome; and to my French ears their 'Bis! Bis!' sounds too much like a hiss."

"Will she renew her engagement, think you?" inquired Mr. King.

"I don't know certainly," replied Madame. "The manager makes very liberal offers; but she hesitates. She seldom alludes to Mr. Fitzgerald, but I can see that his presence is irksome to her; and then his sudden irruption into her room, as told by Giovanna, has given rise to some green-room gossip. The tenor is rather too assiduous in his attentions, you know; and the seconda donna is her enemy, because she has superseded her in his affections. These things make her wish to leave Rome; but I tell her she will have to encounter very much the same anywhere."

"Madame," said the young man, "you stand in the place of a mother to Miss Royal; and as such, I have a favor to ask of you. Will you, without mentioning the subject to her, enable me to have a private interview with her to-morrow morning?"

"You are aware that it is contrary to her established rule to see any gentleman, except in the presence of myself or Papa Balbino. But you have manifested so much delicacy, as well as friendliness, that we all feel the utmost confidence in you." She smiled significantly as she added: "If I slip out of the room, as it were by accident, I don't believe I shall find it very difficult to make my peace with her."

Alfred King looked forward to the next morning with impatience; yet when he found himself, for the first time, alone with Rosabella, he felt painfully embarrassed. She glanced at the fresh rose he wore, but could not summon courage to ask whether roses were his favorite flowers. He broke the momentary silence by saying: "Your performances here have been a source of such inexpressible delight to me, Miss Royal, that it pains me to think of such a thing as a last evening."

"Thank you for calling me by that name," she replied. "It carries me back to a happier time. I hardly know myself as La Seńorita Campaneo. It all seems to me so strange and unreal, that, were it not for a few visible links with the past, I should feel as if I had died and passed into another world."

"May I ask whether you intend to renew your engagement?" inquired he.

She looked up quickly and earnestly, and said, "What would you advise me?"

"The brevity of our acquaintance would hardly warrant my assuming the office of adviser," replied he modestly.

The shadow of a blush flitted over her face, as she answered, in a bashful way: "Excuse me if the habit of associating you with the memory of my father makes me forget the shortness of our acquaintance. Beside, you once asked me if ever I was in trouble to call upon you as I would upon a brother."

"It gratifies me beyond measure that you should remember my offer, and take me at my word," responded he. "But in order to judge for you, it is necessary to know something of your own inclinations. Do you enjoy the career on which you have entered?"

"I should enjoy it if the audience were all my personal friends," answered she. "But I have lived such a very retired life, that I cannot easily become accustomed to publicity; and there is something I cannot exactly define, that troubles me with regard to operas. If I could perform only in pure and noble characters, I think it would inspire me; for then I should represent what I at least wish to be; but it affects me like a discord to imagine myself in positions whic

h in reality I should scorn and detest."

"I am not surprised to hear you express this feeling," responded he. "I had supposed it must be so. It seems to me the libretti of operas are generally singularly ill conceived, both morally and artistically. Music is in itself so pure and heavenly, that it seems a desecration to make it the expression of vile incidents and vapid words. But is the feeling of which you speak sufficiently strong to induce you to retire from the brilliant career now opening before you, and devote yourself to concert-singing?"

"There is one thing that makes me hesitate," rejoined she. "I wish to earn money fast, to accomplish certain purposes I have at heart. Otherwise, I don't think I care much for the success you call so brilliant. It is certainly agreeable to feel that I delight the audience, though they are strangers; but their cries of 'Bis! Bis!' give me less real pleasure than it did to have Papasito ask me to sing over something that he liked. I seem to see him now, as he used to listen to me in our flowery parlor. Do you remember that room, Mr. King?"

"Do I remember it?" he said, with a look and emphasis so earnest that a quick blush suffused her eloquent face. "I see that room as distinctly as you can see it," he continued. "It has often been in my dreams, and the changing events of my life have never banished it from my memory for a single day. How could I forget it, when my heart there received its first and only deep impression. I have loved you from the first evening I saw you. Judging that your affections were pre-engaged, I would gladly have loved another, if I could; but though I have since met fascinating ladies, none of them have interested me deeply."

An expression of pain passed over her face while she listened, and when he paused she murmured softly, "I am sorry."

"Sorry!" echoed he. "Is it then impossible for me to inspire you with sentiments similar to my own?"

"I am sorry," she replied, "because a first, fresh love, like yours, deserves better recompense than it could receive from a bruised and worn-out heart like mine. I can never experience the illusion of love again. I have suffered too deeply."

"I do not wish you to experience the illusion of love again," he replied. "But my hope is that the devotion of my life may enable you to experience the true and tender reality" He placed his hand gently and timidly upon hers as he spoke, and looked in her face earnestly.

Without raising her eyes she said, "I suppose you are aware that my mother was a slave, and that her daughters inherited her misfortune."

"I am aware of it," he replied. "But that only makes me ashamed of my country, not of her or of them. Do not, I pray you, pain yourself or me by alluding to any of the unfortunate circumstances of your past life, with the idea that they can depreciate your value in my estimation. From Madame and the Signor I have learned the whole story of your wrongs and your sufferings. Fortunately, my good father taught me, both by precept and example, to look through the surface of things to the reality. I have seen and heard enough to be convinced that your own heart is noble and pure. Such natures cannot be sullied by the unworthiness of others; they may even be improved by it. The famous Dr. Spurzheim says, he who would have the best companion for his life should choose a woman who has suffered. And though I would gladly have saved you from suffering, I cannot but see that your character has been elevated by it. Since I have known you here in Rome, I have been surprised to observe how the young romantic girl has ripened into the thoughtful, prudent woman. I will not urge you for an answer now, my dear Miss Royal. Take as much time as you please to reflect upon it. Meanwhile, if you choose to devote your fine musical genius to the opera, I trust you will allow me to serve you in any way that a brother could under similar circumstances. If you prefer to be a concert-singer, my father had a cousin who married in England, where she has a good deal of influence in the musical world. I am sure she would take a motherly interest in you, both for your own sake and mine. Your romantic story, instead of doing you injury in England, would make you a great lioness, if you chose to reveal it."

"I should dislike that sort of attention," she replied hastily. "Do not suppose, however, that I am ashamed of my dear mother, or of her lineage; but I wish to have any interest I excite founded on my own merits, not on any extraneous circumstance. But you have not yet advised me whether to remain on the stage or to retire from it."

"If I presumed that my opinion would decide the point," rejoined he, "I should be diffident about expressing it in a case so important to yourself."

"You are very delicate," she replied. "But I conjecture that you would be best pleased if I decided in favor of concert-singing."

While he was hesitating what to say, in order to leave her in perfect freedom, she added: "And so, if you will have the goodness to introduce me to your relative, and she is willing to be my patroness, I will try my fortune in England. Of course she ought to be informed of my previous history; but I should prefer to have her consider it strictly confidential. And now, if you please, I will say, An revoir; for Papa Balbino is waiting for some instructions on matters of business."

She offered her hand with a very sweet smile. He clasped it with a slight pressure, bowed his head upon it for an instant, and said, with deep emotion: "Thank you, dearest of women. You send me away a happy man; for hope goes with me."

When the door closed after him, she sank into a chair, and covered her face with both her hands. "How different is his manner of making love from that of Gerald," thought she. "Surely, I can trust this time. O, if I was only worthy of such love!"

Her revery was interrupted by the entrance of Madame and the Signor. She answered their inquisitive looks by saying, rather hastily, "When you told Mr. King the particulars of my story, did you tell him about the poor little bambino I left in New Orleans?"

Madame replied, "I mentioned to him how the death of the poor little thing afflicted you."

Rosa made no response, but occupied herself with selecting some pieces of music connected with the performance at the opera.

The Signor, as he went out with the music, said, "Do you suppose she didn't want him to know about the bambino?"

"Perhaps she is afraid he will think her heartless for leaving it," replied Madame. "But I will tell her I took all the blame on myself. If she is so anxious about his good opinion, it shows which way the wind blows."

The Seńorita Rosita Campaneo and her attendants had flitted, no one knew whither, before the public were informed that her engagement was not to be renewed. Rumor added that she was soon to be married to a rich American, who had withdrawn her from the stage.

"Too much to be monopolized by one man," said Mr. Green to Mr.

Fitzgerald. "Such a glorious creature belongs to the world."

"Who is the happy man?" inquired Mrs. Fitzgerald.

"They say it is King, that pale-faced Puritan from Boston," rejoined her husband. "I should have given her credit for better taste."

In private, he made all possible inquiries; but merely succeeded in tracing them to a vessel at Civita Vecchia, bound to Marseilles.

To the public, the fascinating prima donna, who had rushed up from the horizon like a brilliant rocket, and disappeared as suddenly, was only a nine-days wonder. Though for some time after, when opera-goers heard any other cantatrice much lauded, they would say: "Ah, you should have heard the Campaneo! Such a voice! She rose to the highest D as easily as she breathed. And such glorious eyes!"

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