Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

torn the fatal reality out of my brain. In this position the turnkeys who brought my dinner found me.

They departed; but they left me a light, which somewhat lessened my solitude. From this time my days were divided into two distinct parts, both in duration and affliction. During daylight, not an instant passed without bringing its burden of woe to my heart; but in the evening I could sometimes, with my lamp and my books, forget myself into the former occupations of my existence.

ỉ tried to find some respite to my sufferings, on this my first night of captivity, by betaking myself to bed; but I could not sleep. If I closed my eyes but for an instant, a confused dreaminess of my wretched situation forced me to open them. I was lost in some such drowsiness-in that state wherein the mind, though we are apparently asleep, is still a prey both to its real and imaginary miseries—when the clank of chains startled my feverish slumber. I half-opened my eyes, and beheld two men cautiously enter, and, advancing towards the window, try the grating. In departing, they turned the light of the dark-lantern on my eyes.

This strange visitation alarmed me. I started from my couch, with my eyes staring in astonishment, and cried : “What do you want? here, I am coming !'

‘Do not let us disturb you,' said one of them; 'we are only making the nightly rounds.' So saying he left the room, adding as he departed, in a low voice to his companion : ‘There, now; that is a fellow who will lead more than one neck into a noose besides his

I am

own !'

The meaning of these words, which at first I had hardly noticed, opened upon my mind in all its dreadful impressiveness. I arose, with naked feet and in my shirt, with an agitation, a delirium more vehement than any I had yet experienced. I recommenced my continuous march. All that I had brought upon myself stood vividly before me. I became aware of the duties I had to fulfil-duties I had never as yet thought of, so paralysing had been my stupor in this my first day of captivity. I had looked only to my personal position ; the individuals compromised by the papers taken with me, the investigation which must ensue, the snares and traps I had to avoid, the torment I was liable to, had escaped my mind. All I had been told of the Austrian system of inquisition, and the arbitrary acts of her police, revived in my memory, and I trembled to think that not only my own safety, but that of my friends, depended on my deportment. The idea, that through me any one of them might possibly be arrested, overcame me; and in my anxiety to save others, I forgot the perils of my own situation.

In the bitterness of my emotion I fell on my knees and poured out my spirit to God. I besought Him, though even it were at the price of my liberty, of life itself, to give me strength to avoid involving any one in my ruin. In Him I placed my hope. And I arose more strengthened, feeling I had a line of action. I was perhaps more agitated than before, but this agitation did not unnerve me. My suffering, though perhaps equally poignant, was no longer merely passive ; and my mind, in again exercising its energies, regained its healthy tone. I felt able to face the trial I had to undergo. I was prepared.

[The anticipations of the poor prisoner did not deceive him. His trial was protracted during several months—if such a name can be given to a torturing series of interrogatories before the Austrian commission, in which the sole object of its chief inquisitor, Salvotti, was, by the most brutal menaces on the one hand, and the most seducing promises of instant liberation on the other, to induce his victim to criminate the Italian patriots, none of whom he had seen above once or twice; while some with whom he was accused of conspiring were not even known to him by name. Yet to the safety of these strangers, and his own sense of honour in guarding it, did this heroic young man persevere to the last in sacrificing liberty, in spite of insidious assurances (which he had no means of disproving) that those in whose behalf he was forfeiting, freedom were already in custody, or had confessed more than his utmost communicativeness could fasten upon them. Nay, his ferocious and cowardly tormentor, as a last resource for sapping the constancy of his unhappy victim, scrupled not to hint that all this heroism of self-immolation would probably be quite thrown away, as, the examinations being strictly private, it was in the power of the police to represent him as having in reality betrayed his trust both to his friends and to the world.

If anything could enhance the gratitude of citizens of our free country for its glorious institutions, it would be the sneering effrontery with which the Austrian commissioner met the indignant appeals of even a French subject for a public trial, the power of calling witnesses, and, in default of legal counsel, of defending himself; all of which this minion of despotism evidently regarded as democratic devices, suited only to the soil of republican France.

But despotism, however powerful, is not onniscient; and little was its wily agent aware how, even in the solitude of a dungeon, that purpose was thwarted, and the firmness of his victim strengthened by intercourse of the most unexpected kind with fellowsufferers. The desire, vain as Andrayne supposed it at the time, for such possible communication, first arose from the misery he endured on recognising, amidst the bustle of bringing in a prisoner, the voice of a young Italian named G-, with whom he had become acquainted, and whom it was worse than death to him to imagine as having been brought, through his means, into his present jeopardy. His horror at the thought can only be expressed in his own words.]

The groans of a brother, slain under my eyes, would not have

affected me with greater anguish. Alas! it was indeed G-;I could not doubt it. 'Poor fellow !' I exclaimed ; 'what will become of him? How will he sustain the trials he has to go through? Separated from his young wife—ruined—and by me! How he must curse me for having implicated him in this affair !' No' torments could be greater than what I suffered at this moment.

Gradually I became more composed, and began to reflect on the charges that might be brought against him. I had mentioned to no living soul what had passed between us; and I thought I might possibly save him by taking all the blame upon myself. This idea soothed my anxiety for a time ; it was a faint hope, a glimmer of light to the night-wildered traveller. I clung to it fondly. It relieved me; it made my heart lighter ; and I thanked God for the inspiration. "Grant, O God of mercy !' I prayed, that when I die, I may have only my own sins to answer for, not the misfortunes of others. Thou knowest that I have never wilfully caused any of my fellow-creatures a pang : do not doom me, then, to this gnawing remorse : take my life, if Thou wilt, but let me be the sole victim !' Never did an unfortunate wretch pour forth his soul more fervently than I did in this prayer. When I had uttered it, my confidence revived, and my agitation subsided.

At last I went to sleep, trusting that I should succeed in restoring to liberty him whom I believed to be confined a few yards from me; but twenty times ere morning I awoke, and, despite of myself, felt convinced that my project for saving him was impracticable. All I could determine on was, that, if he should make any disclosures, I should reply that fright had turned his brain; that he was mad; and that I had not the honour of his acquaintance. Thus ended a night the most harassing I had yet experienced.

After some days of suspense-during which it would have been a positive relief to be summoned to be confronted with my friend, and with whom I had spent many vain efforts to establish a communication, by tapping on the wall on the side of my cell next his supposed prison-my mind was relieved of much of its weight by the implied admission, on the part of Counsellor Minghini, the indulgent and very different colleague of the astute Salvotti, that no one had as yet been imprisoned on my account.

When I was left alone I began dancing round my cell. He was not arrested after all; it was a false alarm! 'God be thanked !" I said ; 'my heart is free again.'. I forgot my imprisonment, everything, in the excess of my joy that this dreadful responsibility for the fate of another no longer oppressed my conscience. This was the first alleviation of my misery—the first consolation I had yet been blessed with. I revelled in it with a sort of intoxication of delight; and had any one seen me at that moment, he could only have supposed that I had received tidings of my speedy release.

Relieved by the words of the counsellor, I tried the experiment of tapping the wall on the opposite side to that I had tapped before. What was my astonishment, my joy, when I thought I heard the signal answered ! I placed my ear to the wall. It was; but so gently, that I could hardly catch the sound of the blows. One, two, three-a pause; the third letter of the alphabet was certainly meant; it was C. Still listening—one, two, three, four, eight blows-it was H. Slowly, but distinctly, tap, tap-nine blows were given : this must mean the letter 1. At this moment I was so bewildered, so overcome by my emotions, that I scarce knew what I heard. But two other' blows, which followed the others, had puzzled me; and my neighbour had ceased tapping. What could be the meaning of the word chib? There was none such in Italian; but all at once it struck me the two quick taps might mean that the word was finished. It must be so! I detached the b from chib. There remained • Chi ?' the Italian for 'Who?' I question whether Champollion, when he got his first hint of the secret of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, was more transported than I at this discovery of this mode of conversing by taps. The craving for intercourse with a heart the prey to the same anxiety and tedium with our own, is so overpowering, so gnawing, in a place like that in which I then was, that no other, perhaps, can be put in competition with it. And thus, when the cup of our bitterness is too füll, and our grievance too heavy, God, in the goodness of His mercy, ever sends some unforeseen solace.

This solace, however, was not to be immediately, or at least fully enjoyed. From a difference in the number and arrangement of the Italian alphabet, a hitch occurred in the conversation after its first leading word, which threatened to prove fatal. The unknown prisoner lost patience, and I lost hope ; and when the clue was so far recovered as to enable me to renew the attempt by the counterquestion : ‘Who art thou ?' the utter silence of my neighbour led to the bitter conclusion, either that we had been overheard, or that my neighbour had been removed. The discovery which, a short time before, I had deemed a harbinger of hope and of joy, now only appeared a cruel deception of fate—an illusion raised by the Spirit of Evil to inspire me for an instant, and then replunge me in deeper despair.

The subject, however, was for a time effectually driven from my mind by my first formidable examination before the commissioner Salvotti, when the methods already alluded to of insidious flattery, and far less politic threats of the executioner, gave me enough to do in parrying the one and repelling the other. In the exhaustion which followed it and succeeding ones, I might perhaps have altogether neglected the endeavour to renew intercourse with my fellow-prisoners, had not the desire to do so been sharpened by a casual intimation let fall by the jailer, that the same prison, nay, perhaps a closely adjoining cell' in it, contained the Count Confalonieri, the hero of Italian liberty, of whom I had heard before entering Italy, and still more during my short residence at Milan. This gentleman, I was told, had established a title to the gratitude of Italy, by originating the system of mutual instruction, illumination with gas, steam navigation on the Po, and other solid national benefits. I was taught to admire the energy of his character, the force of his eloquence, and the unparalleled fortitude with which, though dangerously ill, he sustained, in his long and difficult trial, the fury of the commission and the weakness of his accomplices. He was especially an object of the deepest interest to his fair countrywomen; of one of whom, the Signora - I had asked, at the close of a long and glowing panegyric, if he were likely to be condemned?

Alas!' replied she, 'there can be no doubt of it. He is lost! They will never loosen their grasp of him ; they fear him too much. Besides, they have made him suffer so much, that they would be afraid of his revealing the infamy of their proceedings. Could you believe it, that, ill as he is, they drag him before the commission, and oblige him to undergo examinations eight and ten hours long? Poor fellow! they will take their revenge upon him ; but he is immovable as a rock. . . . You must have a sad opinion of our country,' she continued, addressing me. “The men of energy are either in exile or in prison, and we have no resolution left but in women. 'If you knew the Countesses Confalonieri, Frecavalli, and Dunbowsky, I am sure you would esteem and admire them : the unhappy Theresa especially—that angel of virtue and goodness, who bears her misfortune with no less dignity than Confalonieri himself. How beautiful and noble she looks in the mourning weeds she has worn ever since the imprisonment of her husband ! With what respect and veneration she inspires the whole city! On this point we must do justice to the Milanese ; they have at least felt that such a calamity, supported so nobly, is a kind of royalty to which every heart should do homage.'

It will not be wondered if, with such praises-listened to while yet mingling freely in society--the bare hope of establishing intercourse with such a man should have sharpened to the utmost my curiosity and ingenuity. It was indeed a disappointment when, on a fresh attempt at communicating with my neighbour, I learned by his signals that he was not Confalonieri, but Confortinatima poor mountebank, who had been taken up on suspicion. It was only after long and tedious labour that I gathered from this unfortunate man who he was, and what were his prospects. “Four years,' said he, through the tiresome process of tapping, ‘have now worn away, and I am still in suspense as to my fate. Even should I, after all, regain my liberty, what would it avail me? My livelihood is lost, my health broken, and but for my family, I would pray God to let me end my days in prison, and that soon; but His will be done.'

« ForrigeFortsæt »