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List Of Contents | Contents of Saunterings, by Charles Dudley Warner
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kneeling on the pavement in act of prayer.  Her black lace veil had
fallen a little back from her head; and there was something in her
modest attitude and graceful figure that made her conspicuous among
all her kneeling companions, with their gay kerchiefs and bright
gowns.  When she rose and sat down, with folded hands and eyes
downcast, there was something so pensive in her subdued mien that I
could not take my eyes from her.  To say that she had the rich olive
complexion, with the gold struggling through, large, lustrous black
eyes, and harmonious features, is only to make a weak photograph,
when I should paint a picture in colors and infuse it with the sweet
loveliness of a maiden on the way to sainthood.  I was sure that I
had seen her before, looking down from the balcony of a villa just
beyond the Roman wall, for the face was not one that even the most
unimpressible idler would forget.  I was sure that, young as she was,
she had already a history; had lived her life, and now walked amid
these groves and old streets in a dream.  The story which I heard is
not long.

In the drawing-room of the Villa Nardi was shown, and offered for
sale, an enormous counterpane, crocheted in white cotton.  Loop by
loop, it must have been an immense labor to knit it; for it was
fashioned in pretty devices, and when spread out was rich and showy
enough for the royal bed of a princess.  It had been crocheted by
Fiammetta for her marriage, the only portion the poor child could
bring to that sacrament.  Alas!  the wedding was never to be; and the
rich work, into which her delicate fingers had knit so many maiden
dreams and hopes and fears, was offered for sale in the resort of
strangers.  It could not have been want only that induced her to put
this piece of work in the market, but the feeling, also, that the
time never again could return when she would have need of it.  I had
no desire to purchase such a melancholy coverlet, but I could well
enough fancy why she would wish to part with what must be rather a
pall than a decoration in her little chamber.

Fiammetta lived with her mother in a little villa, the roof of which
is in sight from my sunny terrace in the Villa Nardi, just to the
left of the square old convent tower, rising there out of the silver
olive-boughs,--a tumble-down sort of villa, with a flat roof and odd
angles and parapets, in the midst of a thrifty but small grove of
lemons and oranges.  They were poor enough, or would be in any
country where physical wants are greater than here, and yet did not
belong to that lowest class, the young girls of which are little more
than beasts of burden, accustomed to act as porters, bearing about on
their heads great loads of stone, wood, water, and baskets of oranges
in the shipping season.  She could not have been forced to such
labor, or she never would have had the time to work that wonderful

Giuseppe was an honest and rather handsome young fellow of Sorrento,
industrious and good-natured, who did not bother his head much about
learning.  He was, however, a skillful workman in the celebrated
inlaid and mosaic woodwork of the place, and, it is said, had even
invented some new figures for the inlaid pictures in colored woods.
He had a little fancy for the sea as well, and liked to pull an oar
over to Capri on occasion, by which he could earn a few francs easier
than he could saw them out of the orangewood.  For the stupid fellow,
who could not read a word in his prayer-book, had an idea of thrift
in his head, and already, I suspect, was laying up liras with an
object.  There are one or two dandies in Sorrento who attempt to
dress as they do in Naples.  Giuseppe was not one of these; but there
was not a gayer or handsomer gallant than he on Sunday, or one more
looked at by the Sorrento girls, when he had on his clean suit and
his fresh red Phrygian cap.  At least the good Fiammetta thought so,
when she met him at church, though I feel sure she did not allow even
his handsome figure to come between her and the Virgin.  At any rate,
there can be no doubt of her sentiments after church, when she and
her mother used to walk with him along the winding Massa road above
the sea, and stroll down to the shore to sit on the greensward over
the Temple of Hercules, or the Roman Baths, or the remains of the
villa of C. Fulvius Cunctatus Cocles, or whatever those ruins
subterranean are, there on the Capo di Sorrento.  Of course, this is
mere conjecture of mine.  They may have gone on the hills behind the
town instead, or they may have stood leaning over the garden-wall of
her mother's little villa, looking at the passers-by in the deep
lane, thinking about nothing in the world, and talking about it all
the sunny afternoon, until Ischia was purple with the last light, and
the olive terraces behind them began to lose their gray bloom.  All I
do know is, that they were in love, blossoming out in it as the
almond-trees do here in February; and that all the town knew it, and
saw a wedding in the future, just as plain as you can see Capri from
the heights above the town.

It was at this time that the wonderful counterpane began to grow, to
the continual astonishment of Giuseppe, to whom it seemed a marvel of
skill and patience, and who saw what love and sweet hope Fiammetta
was knitting into it with her deft fingers.  I declare, as I think of
it, the white cotton spread out on her knees, in such contrast to the
rich olive of her complexion and her black shiny hair, while she
knits away so merrily, glancing up occasionally with those liquid,
laughing eyes to Giuseppe, who is watching her as if she were an
angel right out of the blue sky, I am tempted not to tell this story
further, but to leave the happy two there at the open gate of life,
and to believe that they entered in.

This was about the time of the change of government, after this
region had come to be a part of the Kingdom of Italy.  After the
first excitement was over, and the simple people found they were not
all made rich, nor raised to a condition in which they could live
without work, there began to be some dissatisfaction.  Why the
convents need have been suppressed, and especially the poor nuns
packed off, they couldn't see; and then the taxes were heavier than
ever before; instead of being supported by the government, they had
to support it; and, worst of all, the able young fellows must still
go for soldiers.  Just as one was learning his trade, or perhaps had
acquired it, and was ready to earn his living and begin to make a
home for his wife, he must pass the three best years of his life in
the army.  The conscription was relentless.

The time came to Giuseppe, as it did to the others.  I never heard
but he was brave enough; there was no storm on the Mediterranean that
he dare not face in his little boat; and he would not have objected
to a campaign with the red shirts of Garibaldi.  But to be torn away
from his occupations by which he was daily laying aside a little for
himself and Fiammetta, and to leave her for three years,--that seemed
dreadful to him.  Three years is a longtime; and though he had no
doubt of the pretty Fiammetta, yet women are women, said the shrewd
fellow to himself, and who knows what might happen, if a gallant came
along who could read and write, as Fiammetta could, and, besides,
could play the guitar?

The result was, that Giuseppe did not appear at the mustering-office
on the day set; and, when the file of soldiers came for him, he was
nowhere to be found.  He had fled to the mountains.  I scarcely know
what his plan was, but he probably trusted to some good luck to
escape the conscription altogether, if he could shun it now; and, at
least, I know that he had many comrades who did the same, so that at
times the mountains were full of young fellows who were lurking in
them to escape the soldiers.  And they fared very roughly usually,
and sometimes nearly perished from hunger; for though the sympathies
of the peasants were undoubtedly with the quasi-outlaws rather than
with the carbineers, yet the latter were at every hamlet in the
hills, and liable to visit every hut, so that any relief extended to
the fugitives was attended with great danger; and, besides, the
hunted men did not dare to venture from their retreats.  Thus
outlawed and driven to desperation by hunger, these fugitives, whom
nobody can defend for running away from their duties as citizens,
became brigands.  A cynical German, who was taken by them some years
ago on the road to Castellamare, a few miles above here, and held for
ransom, declared that they were the most honest fellows he had seen
in Italy; but I never could see that he intended the remark as any
compliment to them.  It is certain that the inhabitants of all these
towns held very loose ideas on the subject of brigandage: the poor
fellows, they used to say, only robbed because they were hungry, and
they must live somehow.

What Fiammetta thought, down in her heart, is not told: but I presume
she shared the feelings of those about her concerning the brigands,
and, when she heard that Giuseppe had joined them, was more anxious
for the safety of his body than of his soul; though I warrant she did
not forget either, in her prayers to the Virgin and St. Antonino.
And yet those must have been days, weeks, months, of terrible anxiety
to the poor child; and if she worked away at the counterpane, netting
in that elaborate border, as I have no doubt she did, it must have
been with a sad heart and doubtful fingers.  I think that one of the
psychological sensitives could distinguish the parts of the bedspread
that were knit in the sunny days from those knit in the long hours of
care and deepening anxiety.

It was rarely that she received any message from him and it was then
only verbal and of the briefest; he was in the mountains above
Amalfi; one day he had come so far round as the top of the Great St.
Angelo, from which he could look down upon the piano of Sorrento,
where the little Fiammetta was; or he had been on the hills near
Salerno, hunted and hungry; or his company had descended upon some

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