Read CHAPTER XX of A Roman Singer, free online book, by F. Marion Crawford, on

I need not tell you how I passed all the time from; Nino’s leaving me until he came back in the evening, just as I could see from my window that the full moon was touching the tower of the castle.  I sat looking out, expecting him, and I was the most anxious professor that ever found himself in a ridiculous position.  Temistocle had come, and you know what had passed between us, and how we had arranged the plan of the night.  Most heartily did I wish myself in the little amphitheatre of my lecture-room at the University, instead of being pledged to this wild plot of my boy’s invention.  But there was no drawing back.  I had been myself to the little stable next door, where I had kept my donkey, and visited him daily since my arrival, and I had made sure that I could have him at a moment’s notice by putting on the cumbrous saddle.  Moreover, I had secretly made a bundle of my effects, and had succeeded in taking it unobserved to the stall, and I tied it to the pommel.  I also told my landlady that I was going away in the morning with the young gentleman who had visited me, and who, I said, was the engineer who was going to make a new road to the Serra.  This was not quite true; but lies that hurt no one are not lies at all, as you all know, and the curiosity of the old woman was satisfied.  I also paid for my lodging, and gave her a franc for herself, which pleased her very much.  I meant to steal away about ten o’clock, or as soon as I had seen Nino and communicated to him the result of my interview with Temistocle.

The hours seemed endless, in spite of my preparations, which occupied some time; so I went out when I had eaten my supper, and visited my ass, and gave him a little bread that was left, thinking it would strengthen him for the journey.  Then I came back to my room, and watched.  Just as the moonlight was shooting over the hill, Nino rode up the street.  I knew him in the dusk by his broad hat, and also because he was humming a little tune through his nose, as he generally does.  But he rode past my door without looking up, for he meant to put his mule in the stable for a rest.

At last he came in, still humming, and apologised for the delay, saying he had stopped a few minutes at the inn to get some supper.  It could not have been a very substantial meal that he ate in that short time.

“What did the man say?” was his first question, as he sat down.

“He said it should be managed as I desired,” I answered.  “Of course I did not mention you.  Temistocle ­that is his name ­will come at midnight, and take you to the door.  There you will find this inamorata, this lady-love of yours, for whom you are about to turn the world upside down.”

“What will you do yourself, Sor Cornelio?” he asked, smiling.

“I will go now and get my donkey, and quietly ride up the valley to the Serra di Sant’ Antonio,” I said.  “I am sure that the signorina will be more at her ease if I accompany you.  I am a very proper person, you see.”

“Yes,” said Nino, pensively, “you are very proper.  And besides, you can be a witness of the civil marriage.”

“Diavolo!” I cried, “a marriage!  I had not thought of that.”

“Blood of a dog!” exclaimed Nino, “what on earth did you think of?” He was angry all in a moment.

“Piano, ­do not disquiet yourself, my boy.  I had not realised that the wedding was so near, ­that is all.  Of course you will be married in Rome, as soon as ever we get there.”

“We shall be married in Ceprano to-morrow night, by the sindaco, or the mayor, or whatever civil bishop they support in that God-forsaken Neopolitan town,” said Nino, with great determination.

“Oh, very well; manage it as you like.  Only be careful that it is properly done, and have it registered,” I added.  “Meanwhile, I will start.”

“You need not go yet, caro mio; it is not nine o’clock.”

“How far do you think I ought to go, Nino?” I inquired.  To tell the truth, the idea of going up the Serra alone was not so attractive in the evening as it had been in the morning light.  I thought it would be very dark among those trees, and I had still a great deal of money sewn between my waistcoats.

“Oh, you need not go so very far,” said Nino.  “Three or four miles from the town will be enough.  I will wait in the street below, after eleven.”

We sat in silence for some time afterwards, and if I was thinking of the gloomy ride before me, I am sure that Nino was thinking of Hedwig.  Poor fellow!  I dare say he was anxious enough to see her, after being away for two months, and spending so many hours almost within her reach.  He sat low in his chair, and the dismal rays of the solitary tallow candle cast deep shadows on his thoughtful face.  Weary, perhaps, with waiting and with long travel, yet not sad, but very hopeful he looked.  No fatigue could destroy the strong, manly expression of his features, and even in that squalid room, by the miserable light, dressed in his plain gray clothes, he was still the man of success, who could hold thousands in the suspense of listening to his slightest utterance.  Nino is a wonderful man, and I am convinced that there is more in him than music, which is well enough when one can be as great as he, but is not all the world holds.  I am sure that massive head of his was not hammered so square and broad by the great hands that forge the thunderbolts of nations, merely that he should be a tenor and an actor, and give pleasure to his fellow-men.  I see there the power and the strength of a broader mastery than that which bends the ears of a theatre audience.  One day we may see it.  It needs the fire of hot times to fuse the elements of greatness in the crucible of revolution.  There is not such another head in all Italy as Nino’s that I have ever seen, and I have seen the best in Rome.  He looked so grand, as he sat there, thinking over the future.  I am not praising his face for its beauty; there is little enough of that, as women might judge.  And besides, you will laugh at my ravings, and say that a singer is a singer, and nothing more, for all his life.  Well, we shall see in twenty years; you will, ­perhaps I shall not.

“Nino,” I asked, irrelevantly, following my own train of reflection, “have you ever thought of anything but music ­and love?” He roused himself from his reverie, and stared at me.

“How should you be able to guess my thoughts?” he asked at last.

“People who have lived much together often read each other’s minds.  What were you thinking of?” Nino sighed, and hesitated a moment before he answered.

“I was thinking,” he said, “that a musician’s destiny, even the highest, is a poor return for a woman’s love.”

“You see:  I was thinking of you, and wondering whether, after all, you will always be a singer.”

“That is singular,” he answered slowly.  “I was reflecting how utterly small my success on the stage will look to me when I have married Hedwig von Lira.”

“There is a larger stage, Nino mio, than yours.”

“I know it,” said he, and fell back in his chair again, dreaming.

I fancy that at any other time we might have fallen into conversation and speculated on the good old-fashioned simile which likens life to a comedy, or a tragedy, or a farce.  But the moment was ill-chosen, and we were both silent, being much preoccupied with the immediate future.

A little before ten I made up my mind to start.  I glanced once more round the room to see if I had left anything.  Nino was still sitting in his chair, his head bent, and his eyes staring at the floor.

“Nino,” I said, “I am going now.  Here is another candle, which you will need before long, for these tallow things are very short.”  Indeed, the one that burned was already guttering low in the old brass candlestick.  Nino rose and shook himself.

“My dear friend,” he said, taking me by both hands, “you know that I am grateful to you.  I thank you and thank you again with all my heart.  Yes, you ought to go now, for the time is approaching.  We shall join you, if all goes well, by one o’clock.”

“But, Nino, if you do not come?”

“I will come, alone, or with her.  If ­if I should not be with you by two in the morning, go on alone, and get out of the way.  It will be because I am caught by that old Prussian devil.  Good-bye.”  He embraced me affectionately, and I went out.  A quarter of an hour later I was out of the town, picking my way, with my little donkey, over the desolate path that leads toward the black Serra.  The clatter of the beast’s hoofs over the stones kept time with the beatings of my heart, and I pressed my thin legs close to his thinner sides for company.

When Nino was left alone, ­and all this I know from him, ­he sat again in the chair and meditated; and although the time of the greatest event in his life was very near, he was so much absorbed that he was startled when he looked at his watch and found that it was half-past eleven.  He had barely time to make his preparations.  His man was warned, but was waiting near the inn, not knowing where he was required, as Nino himself had not been to ascertain the position of the lower door, fearing lest he might be seen by Benoni.  He now hastily extinguished the light and let himself out of the house without noise.  He found his countryman ready with the mules, ordered him to come with him, and returned to the house, instructing him to follow and wait at a short distance from the door he would enter.  Muffled in his cloak, he stood in the street awaiting the messenger from Hedwig.

The crazy old clock of the church tolled the hour, and a man wrapped in a nondescript garment, between a cloak and an overcoat, stole along the moonlit street to where Nino stood, in front of my lodging.

“Temistocle!” called Nino, in a low voice, as the fellow hesitated.

“Excellency” ­answered the man, and then drew back.  “You are not the Signor Grandi!” he cried, in alarm.

“It is the same thing,” replied Nino.  “Let us go.”

“But how is this?” objected Temistocle, seeing a new development.  “It was the Signor Grandi whom I was to conduct.”  Nino was silent, but there was a crisp sound in the air as he took a banknote from his pocket-book.  “Diavolo!” muttered the servant, “perhaps it may be right, after all.”  Nino gave him the note.

“That is my passport,” said he.

“I have doubts,” answered Temistocle, taking it, nevertheless, and examining it by the moonlight.  “It has no visa,” he added, with a cunning leer.  Nino gave him another.  Then Temistocle had no more doubts.

“I will conduct your excellency,” he said.  They moved away, and Temistocle was so deaf that he did not hear the mules and the tramp of the man who led them not ten paces behind him.

Passing round the rock they found themselves in the shadow; a fact which Nino noted with much satisfaction, for he feared lest someone might be keeping late hours in the castle.  The mere noise of the mules would attract no attention in a mountain town where the country people start for their distant work at all hours of the day and night.  They came to the door.  Nino called softly to the man with the mules to wait in the shadow, and Temistocle knocked at the door.  The key ground in the lock from within, but the hands that held it seemed weak.  Nino’s heart beat fast.

“Temistocle!” cried Hedwig’s trembling voice.

“What is the matter, your excellency?” asked the servant through the keyhole, not forgetting his manners.

“Oh, I cannot turn the key!  What shall I do?”

Nino heard, and pushed the servant aside.

“Courage, my dear lady,” he said, aloud, that she might know his voice.  Hedwig appeared to make a frantic effort, and a little sound of pain escaped her as she hurt her hands.

“Oh, what shall I do!” she cried, piteously.  “I locked it last night, and now I cannot turn the key!”

Nino pressed with all his weight against the door.  Fortunately it was strong, or he would have broken it in, and it would have fallen upon her.  But it opened outward, and was heavily bound with iron.  Nino groaned.

“Has your excellency a taper?” asked Temistocle suddenly, forcing his head between Nino’s body and the door, in order to be heard.

“Yes.  I put it out.”

“And matches?” he asked again.


“Then let your excellency light the taper, and drop some of the burning wax on the end of the key.  It will be like oil.”  There was a silence.  The key was withdrawn, and a light appeared through the hole where it had been.  Nino instantly fastened his eye to the aperture, hoping to catch a glimpse of Hedwig.  But he could not see anything save two white hands trying to cover the key with wax.  He withdrew his eye quickly, as the hands pushed the key through again.

Again the lock groaned, ­a little sob of effort, another trial, and the bolts flew back to their sockets.  The prudent Temistocle, who did not wish to be a witness of what followed, pretended to exert gigantic strength in pulling the door open, and Nino, seeing him, drew back a moment to let him pass.

“Your excellency need only knock at the upper door,” he said to Hedwig, “and I will open.  I will watch, lest anyone should enter from above.”

“You may watch till the rising of the dead,” thought Nino, and Hedwig stood aside on the narrow step, while Temistocle went up.  One instant more, and Nino was at her feet, kissing the hem of her dress, and speechless with happiness, for his tears of joy flowed fast.

Tenderly Hedwig bent to him, and laid her two hands on his bare head, pressing down the thick and curly hair with a trembling, passionate motion.

“Signor Cardegna, you must not kneel there, ­nay, sir, I know you love me!  Would I have come to you else?  Give me your hand ­now ­do not kiss it so hard ­no ­Oh, Nino, my own dear Nino ­”

What should have followed in her gentle speech is lacking, for many and most sweet reasons.  I need not tell you that the taper was extinguished, and they stood locked in each other’s arms against the open door, with only the reflection of the moon from the houses opposite to illuminate their meeting.

There was and is to me something divinely perfect and godlike in these two virgin hearts, each so new to their love, and each so true and spotless of all other.  I am old to say sweet things of loving, but I cannot help it; for though I never was as they are, I have loved much in my time.  Like our own dear Leopardi, I loved not the woman, but the angel which is the type of all women, and whom not finding I perished miserably as to my heart.  But in my breast there is still the temple where the angel dwelt, and the shrine is very fragrant still with the divine scent of the heavenly roses that were about her.  I think, also, that all those who love in this world must have such a holy place of worship in their hearts.  Sometimes the kingdom of the soul and the palace of the body are all Love’s, made beautiful and rich with rare offerings of great constancy and faith; and all the countless creations of transcendent genius, and all the vast aspirations of far-reaching power, go up in reverent order to do homage at Love’s altar, before they come forth, like giants, to make the great world tremble and reel in its giddy grooves.

And with another it is different.  The world is not his; he is the world’s, and all his petty doings have its gaudy stencil blotched upon them.  Yet haply even he has a heart, and somewhere in its fruitless fallows stands a poor ruin, that never was of much dignity at its best, ­poor and broken, and half choked with weeds and briers; but even thus the weeds are fragrant herbs, and the briers are wild roses, of few and misshapen petals, but sweet, nevertheless.  For this ruin was once a shrine too, that his mean hands and sterile soul did try most ineffectually to build up as a shelter for all that was ever worthy in him.

Now, therefore, I say, Love, and love truly and long, ­even for ever; and if you can do other things well, do them; but if not, at least learn to do that, for it is a very gentle thing and sweet in the learning.  Some of you laugh at me, and say, Behold, this old-fashioned driveller, who does not even know that love is no longer in the fashion!  By Saint Peter, Heaven will soon be out of the fashion too, and Messer Satanas will rake in the just and the unjust alike, so that he need no longer fast on Fridays, having a more savoury larder!  And no doubt some of you will say that hell is really so antiquated that it should be put in the museum at the University of Rome, for a curious old piece of theological furniture.  Truth! it is a wonder it is not worn out with digesting the tough morsels it gets, when people like you are finally gotten rid of from this world!  But it is made of good material, and it will last, never fear!  This is not the gospel of peace, but it is the gospel of truth.

Loving hearts and gentle souls shall rule the world some day, for all your pestiferous fashions; and old as I am, ­I do not mean aged, but well on in years, ­I believe in love still, and I always will.  It is true that it was not given to me to love as Nino loves Hedwig, for Nino is even now a stronger, sterner man than I. His is the nature that can never do enough; his the hands that never tire for her; his the art that would surpass, for her, the stubborn bounds of possibility.  He is never weary of striving to increase her joy of him.  His philosophy is but that.  No quibbles of “being” and “not being,” or wretched speculations concerning the object of existence; he has found the true unity of unities, and he holds it fast.

Meanwhile, you object that I am not proceeding with my task, and telling you more facts, recounting more conversations, and painting more descriptions.  Believe me, this one fact, that to love well is to be all man can be, is greater than all the things men have ever learned and classified in dictionaries.  It is, moreover, the only fact that has consistently withstood the ravages of time and social revolution; it is the wisdom that has opened, as if by magic, the treasures of genius, of goodness, and of all greatness, for everyone to see; it is the vital elixir that has made men of striplings, and giants of cripples, and heroes of the poor in heart though great in spirit.  Nino is an example; for he was but a boy, yet he acted like a man; a gifted artist in a great city, courted by the noblest, yet he kept his faith.

But when I have taken breath I will tell you what he and Hedwig said to each other at the gate, and whether at the last she went with him, or stayed in dismal Fillettino for her father’s sake.