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- Sant' Ilario - 1/92 -






My Wife



Two years of service in the Zouaves had wrought a change in Anastase Gouache, the painter. He was still a light man, nervously built, with small hands and feet, and a delicate face; but constant exposure to the weather had browned his skin, and a life of unceasing activity had strengthened his sinews and hardened his compact frame. The clustering black curls were closely cropped, too, while the delicate dark moustache had slightly thickened. He had grown to be a very soldierly young fellow, straight and alert, quick of hand and eye, inured to that perpetual readiness which is the first characteristic of the good soldier, whether in peace or war. The dreamy look that was so often in his face in the days when he sat upon a high stool painting the portrait of Donna Tullia Mayer, had given place to an expression of wide-awake curiosity in the world's doings.

Anastase was an artist by nature and no amount of military service could crush the chief aspirations of his intelligence. He had not abandoned work since he had joined the Zouaves, for his hours of leisure from duty were passed in his studio. But the change in his outward appearance was connected with a similar development in his character. He himself sometimes wondered how he could have ever taken any interest in the half-hearted political fumbling which Donna Tullia, Ugo Del Ferice, and others of their set used to dignify by the name of conspiracy. It seemed to him that his ideas must at that time have been deplorably confused and lamentably unsettled. He sometimes took out the old sketch of Madame Mayer's portrait, and setting it upon his easel, tried to realise and bring back those times when she had sat for him. He could recall Del Ferice's mock heroics, Donna Tullia's ill-expressed invectives, and his own half-sarcastic sympathy in the liberal movement; but the young fellow in an old velveteen jacket who used to talk glibly about the guillotine, about stringing-up the clericals to street-lamps and turning the churches into popular theatres, was surely not the energetic, sunburnt Zouave who had been hunting down brigands in the Samnite hills last summer, who spent three-fourths of his time among soldiers like himself, and who had pledged his honour to follow the gallant Charette and defend the Pope as long as he could carry a musket.

There is a sharp dividing line between youth and manhood. Sometimes we cross it early, and sometimes late, but we do not know that we are passing from one life to another as we step across the boundary. The world seems to us the same for a while, as we knew it yesterday and shall know it to-morrow. Suddenly, we look back and start with astonishment when we see the past, which we thought so near, already vanishing in the distance, shapeless, confused, and estranged from our present selves. Then, we know that we are men, and acknowledge, with something like a sigh, that we have put away childish things.

When Gouache put on the gray jacket, the red sash and the yellow gaiters, he became a man and speedily forgot Donna Tullia and her errors, and for some time afterwards he did not care to recall them. When he tried to remember the scenes at the studio in the Via San Basilio, they seemed very far away. One thing alone constantly reminded him disagreeably of the past, and that was his unfortunate failure to catch Del Ferice when the latter had escaped from Rome in the disguise of a mendicant friar. Anastase had never been able to understand how he had missed the fugitive. It had soon become known that Del Ferice had escaped by the very pass which Gouache was patrolling, and the young Zouave had felt the bitterest mortification in losing so valuable and so easy a prey. He often thought of it and promised himself that he would visit his anger on Del Ferice if he ever got a chance; but Del Ferice was out of reach of his vengeance, and Donna Tullia Mayer had not returned to Rome since the previous year. It had been rumoured of late that she had at last fulfilled the engagement contracted some time earlier, and had consented to be called the Contessa Del Ferice; this piece of news, however, was not yet fully confirmed. Gouache had heard the gossip, and had immediately made a lively sketch on the back of a half-finished picture, representing Donna Tullia, in her bridal dress, leaning upon the arm of Del Ferice, who was arrayed in a capuchin's cowl, and underneath, with his brush, he scrawled a legend, "Finis coronat opus."

It was nearly six o'clock in the afternoon of the 23d of September. The day had been rainy, but the sky had cleared an hour before sunset, and there was a sweet damp freshness in the air, very grateful after the long weeks of late summer. Anastase Gouache had been on duty at the Serristori barracks in the Borgo Santo Spirito and walked briskly up to the bridge of Sant' Angelo. There was not much movement in the streets, and the carriages were few. A couple of officers were lounging at the gate of the castle and returned Gouache's salute as he passed. In the middle of the bridge he stopped and looked westward, down the short reach of the river which caught a lurid reflection of the sunset on its eddying yellow surface. He mused a moment, thinking more of the details of his duty at the barracks than of the scene before him. Then he thought of the first time he had crossed the bridge in his Zouave uniform, and a faint smile flickered on his brown features. It happened almost every day that he stopped at the same place, and as particular spots often become associated with ideas that seem to belong to them, the same thought almost always recurred to his mind as he stood there. Then followed the same daily wondering as to how all these things were to end; whether he should for years to come wear the red sash and the yellow gaiters, a corporal of Zouaves, and whether for years he should ask himself every day the same question. Presently, as the light faded from the houses of the Borgo, he turned away with an imperceptible shrug of the shoulders and continued his walk upon the narrow pavement at the side of the bridge. As he descended the step at the end, to the level of the square, a small bright object in a crevice of the stones attracted his attention. He stooped and picked it up.

It was a little gold pin, some two inches long, the head beaten out and twisted into the shape of the letter C. Gouache examined it attentively, and saw that it must have been long used, for it was slightly bent in more than one place as though it had often been thrust through some thick material. It told no other tale of its possessor, however, and the young man slipped it into his pocket and went on his way, idly wondering to whom the thing belonged. He reflected that if he had been bent on any important matter he would probably have considered the finding of a bit of gold as a favourable omen; but he was merely returning to his lodging as usual, and had no engagement for the evening. Indeed, he expected no event in his life at that time, and following the train of his meditation he smiled a little when he thought that he was not even in love. For a Frenchman, nearly thirty years of age, the position was an unusual one enough. In Gouache's case it was especially remarkable. Women liked him, he liked them, and he was constantly in the society of some of the most beautiful in the world. Nevertheless, he turned from one to another and found a like pleasure in the conversation of them all. What delighted him in the one was not what charmed him most in the next, but the equilibrium of satisfaction was well maintained between the dark and the fair, the silent beauty and the pretty woman of intelligence. There was indeed one whom he thought more noble in heart and grander in symmetry of form and feature, and stronger in mind than the rest; but she was immeasurably removed from the sphere of his possible devotion by her devoted love of her husband, and he admired her from a distance, even while speaking with her.

As he passed the Apollo theatre and ascended the Via di Tordinona the lights were beginning to twinkle in the low doorways, and the gas-lamps, then a very recent innovation in Rome, shone out one by one in the distance. The street is narrow, and was full of traffic, even in the evening. Pedestrians elbowed their way along in the dusk, every now and then flattening themselves against the dingy walls to let a cab or a carriage rush past them, not without real risk of accident. Before the deep, arched gateway of the Orso, one of the most ancient inns in the world, the empty wine- carts were getting ready for the return journey by night across the Campagna, the great bunches of little bells jingling loudly in the dark as the carters buckled the harness on their horses' backs.

Just as Gouache reached this place, the darkest and most crowded through which he had to pass, a tremendous clatter and rattle from the Via dell' Orso made the hurrying people draw back to the shelter of the doorsteps and arches. It was clear that a runaway horse was not far off. One of the carters, the back of whose waggon was half-way across the opening of the street, made desperate efforts to make his beast advance and clear the way; but the frightened animal only backed farther up. A moment later the runaway charged down past the tail of the lumbering vehicle. The horse himself just cleared the projecting timbers of the cart, but the cab he was furiously dragging caught upon them while going at full speed and was shivered to pieces, throwing the horse heavily upon the stones, so that he slid along several feet on his head and knees with the fragments of the broken shafts and the wreck of the harness about him. The first man to spring from the crowd and seize the beast's head was Anastase. He did not see that the same instant a large private carriage, drawn by a pair of powerful horses, emerged quickly from the Vicolo dei Soldati, the third of the streets which meet the Via di Tordinona at the Orso. The driver, who owing to the darkness had not seen the disaster which had just taken place, did his best to stop in time; but before the heavy equipage could be brought to a stand Anastase had been thrown to the ground, between the hoofs of the struggling cab-

Sant' Ilario - 1/92

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