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THE RAPE OF THE SABINES.

    A flame of blood-red light streamed, a flying banner,
from Monte Catillo, over the olive heights of Tivoli, to
Frascati and the flanks of the Albans. Westward, the
Campagna was shrouded in violet gloom. The tallest
of the pines and cypresses in Hadrian’s Villa, catching
the last of the sunset-glow, burned slowly to their
summits, like torches extinguished by currents of air
from below. Between Castel Arcione and the base of
the Sabines, where the intermingling summits sweep
upward frolll the Montecelli to Palombara, and thence
by giant Subiaco to the innumerable peaks and ranges
of the mountain-land beyond, lay a white mist, wan as
the sheen of a new moon on burnt grass—save in the
direction of the ancient Lago de’ Tartari, where it hung
heavy and darkly grey, dense as it was with the sulphur-
fumes of the Acquae Albulae.

    On the flat, before the upward swell to Tiveli begins,
the hill-road curves to the left, the via Palombara-
Marcellina. To the right there is a rough path, striking
off waveringly betwixt the Palombara road and the
highway from Rome to Tivoli: at first like a bridle-way,
then but a sheep-path or dried-up course of a hill-torrent.
Following this, one enters the wild and lonely Glen of
the Shepherds, though seldom does any shepherd wander
there, and even the solitary goatherd rarely descends
from the steep heights of Sterpara that overhang it from
the west.

    The nightingales were in full song. One after another
had called through the dusk with clear, thrilling notes:
one after another had swung a sudden lilt of music
across the myrtles, through the thickets of wild rose and
honeysuckles, over the clustered arbutus, and down by
the birch-hollows, where the narrow stream crawled
suffocatingly through fern-clumps and tufted grasses.
Close to where some stunted, decrepit olives clung

THE RAPE OF THE SABINES             31

despairingly to a bank of fissured soil rose a wild mag-
nolia, whose white blooms gleamed in the twilight like
ivory discs. Suddenly, from where its topmost sprays still
retained a dusky green hue, a thrush sprang violently
into the air and darted westward against the crimson
light, clattering loudly and shrilly like a heavily-feathered
arrow whistling towards the already blood-strewn flanks
of a beast of prey. A nightingale among the myrtles
near flew earthward, dipping his breast against the dewy
anemones that clustered in the shadow; but ere the
spray whence he had slipt like a rain-drop had ceased
its last tremulous vibration he was swinging, with out-
spread wings, upon a branch of the deserted magnolia.
Then came a loud summoning cry, a few low calls, and
all at once a burst of ecstatic song. In a few moments
all was still around, save for the shrilling of the locusts
and the distant croaking of frogs. But suddenly, and
in the midst of his love-song, the nightingale ceased,
gave a broken, dissonant cry, and with a rapid tilt and
poise of his wings was lost in the under-dark like a
blown leaf.

    Something stirred under the lower boughs of the mag-
nolia. A small, dark figure crept on out, and then a boy
of some ten or twelve years rose to his feet, stretched
himself warily, ran his hands through his shaggy black
hair, and began to mutter to himself. All at once he
inclined his head and listened intently. Before he could
sink back to his shelter, two young men stepped noise-
lessly from behind the higher olives, the taller of the
two coming rapidly forward.

    “Do not be afraid, Guido,” he exclaimed, as he saw
the boy alert for flight; “it is I—Andrea Falcone.”

    “And he?”

    “Marco Vaccaro, of course. Who other, per Bacco?

    “You are late, elder-brothers.”

    “We could not get here earlier, unobserved. There
is time enough. What is the message? “

    While he was speaking his companion drew near.
Both young men were singularly handsome, with clear-
cut features, dark, eloquent eyes, and faces pale as
blanched ivory. Lithe and vigorous mountaineers, they had
all the grace and dignity of the Roman peasant;

32                         THE PAGAN REVIEW

and though they had the Campagna melancholy in
their faces, each had that alert look common to all the
Sabine muleteers. Everyone in the Montecelli knew
the cousins Andrea Falcone and Marco Vaccaro; and in
the hill-town of S. Angelo in Capoccia itself, there was no
question as to their pre-eminence in all things that,
locally, constituted good fortune. Not only was the story
of their deep friendship well known—a friendship so
close that one would never go far without the other, to
the extent that if a rich forestiero wanted one of them
as a guide up Subiaco, he would perforce have to engage
both—but, the gossips of the hill-villages were each and
all aware of the love Andrea and Marco bore for Vittoria
and Anita, the daughters of Giovan’ Antonio Della Porta,
the vintner and ex-brigand of that remote and highest
hill-town of the Sabines, San Polo de’Cavalieri. Naturally,
it was delightful food for these gossips when a feud broke
out between the muleteers of San Polo and of Palombara
and San Angelo, in consequence of which neither Andrea
nor Marco dare set foot in the vicinage of the town—not
only because old Della Porta swore that, whether they
willed or no, his daughters should marry none but men
of pure Sabine blood, and certainly no accurst Roman
contadini (for all their hill-folk talk!), but also because
a league of San Polo youths and men, headed by Simone
Gaetano and Gregorio da Forma, had sworn to poniard
any” Angelinis” they found within the village boundaries.
It was quite natural that Gregorio da Forma and Gae-
tano should be the active ministers in this league of hate,
for the former was desirous of Anita Della Porta and
Simone lusted after the beautiful Vittoria. But both
girls were closely watched, and though they had several
times managed to meet their lovers in the woods, or amid
the copses of the Glen of the Shepherds, such encounters
were no longer possible. The girls had, indeed, but one
ally, but one emissary—their young half-brother, Guido.
Guido loved his sisters; but he had another bond of
fellowship—hatred of their morose and tyrannical father.
Twice had Vittoria and Anita tried to evade those who
kept an eye on them: once by attempted flight to
Vicovara and once across Ponte Rotto to Castel Ma-
dama—for they had imagined success impossible by

THE RAPE OF THE SABINES             33

way of Palombara. It was after the last occasion that
old Della Porta had publicly proclaimed the approaching
marriage of his daughters with Simone Gaetano and
Gregorio da Forma.

    The Sabine women can be as quick with their long,
thin hair-daggers as the Sabine men with their poniards.
A girl of the Sabines, moreover, does not hesitate to use
her dagger in offence as well as in self-defence; and,
when the blood-vow is once sworn, the steel, as the
saying is, sweats with thirst.

    It was at the risk of their lives, then, that Andrea
Falcone and his friend and kinsman, Marco, were met
in the Glen of the Shepherds, within an easy eagle’s-
flight of San Polo. If any muleteer on Sterpara or
goatherd on the slopes should see them, the cry would
go from coign to coign, and find a score of fierce echoes
in the dark narrow streets of the mountain vilbge. As
for Guido, he ran the chance of a flaying from his father,
or eyen a knifing from cruel, treacherous Simone or from
sullen Gregorio.

    “What is the message?” repeated Andrea, impatiently,
while Marco eyed the neighbourhood like a hawk, and
Guido stood as taut and eager as a goat about to leap.

    “There is none, elder brother. I could not see either
Vittoria or Anita. But this is their last night.”

    “Their last night? How?” interjected Marco, in a
startled but suppressed voice.

    “The last night of their virginity,” said Guido, simply.
“To-morrow Vittoria will be wed to Simone and Anita
to Gregorio.”

    A silence fell upon the men: a frost of passion, rather,
that seemed to paralyse even gesture or glance.

    “Have they been true women?” said Andrea, at last,
in a thick, husky voice.

    “True women?” repeated Guido, interrogatively, his
great black eyes flashing half-inquiringly, half-sus-
piciously.

    “Ay, true women. Have they sworn the virgin-vow?”

    “Yes: they swore it last night, and before me as
witness. It was in the moonlight, by the old fountain
I beyond the church.”

    “Upon both the blade and the hilt?”

34                         THE PAGAN REVIEW

    “Si, si, si: and upon their crucifixes also.”

    Andrea turned and looked at Marco with a meaning
smile.

    “Ecco, Marco: it will be a wet wedding.”

    “It will be—and the wet as red as to-night’s sunset.
But—per Cristo, Andrea mio, you know the hill-saying:
When ’tis wet, who can say there shall be no flood?”

    “Ay: so. Their kinsfolk would not hold Vittoria and
Anita free of their blood-ban if once they be wedded.”

    “Giovan’ Antonio—Holy Virgin, he would kill them
himself for it! “

    Suddenly the boy Guido, slipping a rough wooden
cross from his neck, stepped close to the young men.

    “Will you swear upon it, Andrea Falcone and Marco
Vaccaro. that henceforth I am your younger brother:
and that your home in San Angelo in Capoccia shall be
my home: and your kin my kin: and we be one ever-
more in the curse and in the blessing? Already you
are my elder-brothers, but you have not sworn. Will
you swear now ?

    “Why, Guido, my brother?”

    “For I have that to say which being said makes me
no more of my father’s household or even of San Polo.”

    “Thou art my brother for evermore, Guido Della
Porta,” said Andrea, solemnly, kissing the cross and
making the sacred sign upon his forehead and upon his
breast.

    When Marco had done likewise, Guido looked fear-
fully around, and then with downcast eyes and trembling
hands whispered that he was breaking a solemn vow
which he had perforce taken that very day.

    “Speak, boy,” muttered Marco, hoarsely.

    Fear not,” said Andrea, more gently: “Father Gian-
pietro will absolve thee to-morrow, or as soon as you can
come to San Angelo.”

    “I heard—I heard—my father laughing with Simone
Gaetano. When I looked through the chink in the
great barn, I saw that Gregorio da Forma was also there,
with his hand at his mouth half-covering his black
beard. Simone’s smooth, fat face was agleam with
sweat, and he rubbed his bald forehead again and again.
though his eyes narrowed and widened like a cat’s in

THE RAPE OF THE SABINES             35

the twilight. All the time I watched, Simone never
ceased to wipe his brows, and never once did Gregorio
take away his hand from his mouth.”

    “The cursed traitor knows his weak member,” mut-
tered Marco, savagely. “Aha! Signore Gregorio da
Forma. I know that which would bring you to the
hangman in Rome, or the knife anywhere where men
say Garibaldi and Italia in one breath!”

    “Hush, Marco; don’t be a fool! The traitors’ death
is already arranged by God. The ink which was black
is turning red, and the hour is at hand. Guido, say
what you have to say.”

    “Ecco, my elder-brothers: I heard this thing. My
father at first would have nought to say to comfort
Simone and Gregorio when they told him of the rumour
that Vittoria and Anita had sworn the virgin-vow against
them. But at last Simone, miserly though he be, won
him over. He promised him”—

    “Corpo di Cristo, Guido,” broke in Andrea; “never
mind that. Tell us, quick, what your father agreed to.”

    “He said that, if he got what he wished, Simone and
Gregorio might laugh at the girls’ vows, for he would
see that his good friends did not marry virgins.”

    Both Andrea and Marco started, and each instinctively
clasped his knife.

    “Yes, I swear it. My father, may God forgive him,
said that no one should be in the house to-night, after
the feast which he is to give is over; and that Simone
and Gregorio might take that which would be theirs by
law on the morrow. The virgin-vow would thus
be made useless as old straw, as void as yesterday’s wind.
There would be none to interfere. If the girls
screamed “—

    “Basto! Enough!” shouted Andrea recklessly;
while Marco made a low, hissing noise like a wind-eddy
upon ice. “Is this thing to be done to-night? Ay, so:
I believe you. No, no: I want to hear no more. What
does anything else matter. We must be there, too,
Marco—if we have to go to our death at the same time.

    “Come: there is no time to lose,” was all that Marco
replied; though, after a moment’s hesitation, he stooped

36                         THE PAGAN REVIEW

and whispered in his cousin’s ear. Andrea smiled grimly.

    “What time was the supper to be, Guido?” he asked.

    “As soon as the sun had set. And all are to go
to their homes by nine at latest. There is to be a
sunrise-Sacrament to-morrow, and everyone will be
abed early. Vittoria and Anita will not sit long with
the men; but go to their room, where my father will
doubtless lock them in.”

    “But you can get into the room by your attic?”

    “Ay: and out easily enough by the window over-
looking the Vicolo da Pozza.”

    “Do your sisters know anything of this?”

    “No. Not yet.”

    “Then, Guido, make your way back as quickly and
secretly as you can. Tell Vittoria and Anita all you
know. Tell them we are here”—

    “And that they are to escape with me by the window
and join you in the wood,” broke in Guido, with eager
anticipation.

    “No,” said Andrea, quietly; while Marco gave a low
laugh. “Tell them to wait in their room till we
come. Now, go. And see: make us a sign when we
can slip in unperceived by the hole in the wall at the
old Piazza del Giove. We can get into your house by
the empty palazzo next it. Then you will take us to
your sisters’ room.”

    “It may be death for all of us, Andrea.”

    “Even so. Now go, Guido; and the saints be with
you.”

    The boy hesitated a moment, and then, stooping,
leapt from thicket to thicket till he was out of sight
in the undergrowth.

    Andrea and Marco followed slowly, keeping in the
shadow as much as possible. They interchanged few
words, and then only in whispers. An hour passed
thus; during which they reached the upper end of the
Glen of the Shepherds and ascended the steep, wooded
heights of Monte di San Polo. From where they crouched
they could see clearly the black mass of the western side
of the village rising sheer, like a smooth cliff of basalt,
and without apparent inlet. But they knew where the
hole in the ruinous wall was, close by the deserted

THE RAPE OF THE SABINES             37

Piazza del Giove; and they kept their gaze upon the
spot, passionately intent for the signal from Guido.

    The great clock in the tower struck the second quarter
after eight. The cousins looked at each other, but said
nothing for some minutes.

    “If Guido should play us false—no, St. Mark forgive
me, he won’t do that” —muttered Marco, at last—”but
if he should have been caught, or even unable to get
away alone”——

    “Sst: look there!”

    “Where? What?”

    “There. See, it is the second time.”

    As Andrea spoke, a small circle of flame again swept
round the disc of the hole in the wall.

    “That is the third time, Marco. It is Guido. Let
us go. Remember—everything—our lives—depend
upon our discretion. I know the way best. Follow me.”

    As silently as foxes the twain crept from the last
skirt of undergrowth, and up the short stony ascent
that led apparently against a blank precipice of stone
wall. For a moment, when close, Andrea hesitated, but
a low whistle guided him aright; and in a few minutes
he and Marco were in San Polo. A few seconds more,
and they were in the old deserted house that adjoined
the Casa Della Porta.

    Again and again the door of Della Porta’s house
opened, and soon nearly all the guests were gone. At
last all had bidden good-night except Simone Gaetano
and his friend Gregorio. With a sullen curse, as though
half-ashamed of himself, Giovan’ Antonio threw a key
on the table.

    “There, take it, my merry sposi. What’s the odds!
‘Tis but a night here or a night there! But, look you
—no undue violence, you know! For myself, I am dead
beat with sleep, and don’t expect to hear a sound till
cock-crow.”

    With that, and another malediction by way of good-
night, the beetle-browed vintner flung himself into a
huge rush-chair by the hearth-place. He had begun to
snore lustily, when, just as his companions were moving
from the room, he called angrily:

38                         THE PAGAN REVIEW

    “Don’t forget to lock and bar the door, you fools!
Do you want all San Polo to keep you company?”

    Simone stepped forward, and saw to the fastenings.
Gregorio filled two tankards with wine, one with white,
one with red.

    “Here, camerado mio,” he whispered, as Simone re-
joined him; “here’s vino bianco for you to drink your
Vittoria’s health, lovely blonde that she is; and here’s
my bumper of dark marino to the black hair and black
eyes of my beautiful Anita!”

    Then, softly and cautiously, like the cowards and
marauders they were, they stole upstairs. Each started
violently when the silence was suddenly broken by the
tower-clock striking the first quarter after nine.

    “Aha! the little birds, they will think it is their
father,” whispered Simone, as Gregorio gently inserted
the key in the lock, and noiselessly turned it.

    When the door opened, they saw the two beds, as
white amidst the gloom as innocent childhood. A new
fear came upon them. If one of the girls had laughed,
or even screamed, it would have been a relief. Each
vaguely realised that he was doubly a coward, for now
each was appalled by his own cowardice. When a
wavering shaft of moonlight, that had been gilding the
stone-carving above the window, stole into the room, a
dread came upon them that the girls slept, and had
prayed, and that God watched them.

    But just then something happened that made Simone’s
heart leap within him.

    The moonbeam, wavering across the bed ill the left cor-
ner of the room, passed across the face of Vittoria, making
her mass of blonde hair like a drift of melted amber. But
her eyes were open, and looking straight at him.

    “Vittoria! It is I—your loving Simone—your
husband. Do not be afraid, my little one! I want to
kiss you only—for the sake of good luck to-morrow.”

    Silence, save for a quick breathing that, pulsated
through the room.

    “Vittoria!

    “Anita!

    Two dark figures moved swiftly forward, Simone to
the left, Gregorio to the right.

THE RAPE OF THE SABINES             39

    There was a. strange shuffiing sound for a moment.
Both men stopped abruptly, glanced towards each other,
took courage, and moved on again.

    “Vittoria!

    “Anita!

    Then all at once two hoarse screams rang through
the room, as Simone and Gregorio simultaneously felt
themselves seized in a savage, relentless grip and
dragged on to the bed.

    “What would’st thou with my wife-to-be, Simone
Gaetano?” cried Andrea, as with one arm he pinioned
his shivering rival, and with the other pressed a knife
against his breast.

    “What would’st thou with my bride-elect, Gregorio
da Forma?” snarled Marco savagely, as with his left
hand he pulled back his foe’s head till he could look
into the staring eyes, and with his right hand pressed
his poniard against his heaving side.

    The next moment a suppressed scream, and, almost
at the same time, a hoarse choking sob sounded horribly
through the room.

    It took Andrea and Marco a few minutes only to
prop the dead men, one in one bed, one in the other,
with their dusky-white faces visible in the gloom, pil-
lowed behind, and as though ready to greet expected
incomers.

    Egidio Gaetano, riding on his mule down the steep
bridle-path of La Scarpellata, from his tavern at high-
set San Filippo, with intent to breakfast with his kins-
man Simone on the morrow of his marriage, thought
he had never seen a lovelier night, a more glorious
dawn. Far away, above the Campagna, hung the moon
like a vast yellow flower slowly sinking into blue depths.
Eastward, beyond Soracte and above the Ciminian Forest,
the stars grew paler, with more languid pulsations,
or icy steadfastness. In the woodlands straight below
the nightingales sang bewilderingly, and in the nearer
thickets a maze of fireflies made the dusk starred like
a great city by night.

    When the sudden fires of day flamed up behind the
shoulder of Subiaco, and fell upon the landscape before

40                         THE PAGAN REVIEW

him in flowing amber and marvellous flushes, he was so
rapt by the great beauty that he did not note, in an
ilex grove to his left, four sleeping figures, two here,
and two there; Vittoria, white as a windflower, in the
arms of Andrea; Anita, dark as a violet, pillowed against
the breast of Marco.

    A hundred yards further, at the joining of the hill—
path from San Polo de’ Cavalieri, he came upon a boy,
so steadfastly intent in his gaze southward that he heard
nothing.

    “What news from San Polo, Guido mio?” cried the
good Egidio genially. But to his surprise the boy gave
him nought save a flash from his dark eyes, and the
next moment was up and away, leaping and running
like a young goat.

    “What takes the young rascal! He’s on the way
to San Angelo! Ha! Ha! What an idea. Some marriage
prank he’s up to, I’ll be bound. Ah, Dio mio, that I
was twenty years younger, and in Simone’s place! I
wouldn’t even mind being in worthy Signor Gregorio’s
for that matter! Cristo, these lovely Sabine women
of ours! No wonder tho men came out of Rome and
stole them long ago before the good Popes heard about
it! Aha, Signori Andrea and Marco, good cousins,
brave cavaliers, dauntless knights-errant, where are you
now? You may whistle, my lads! No carrying off
the Sabine women nowadays, ha, ha!”

    The wind, rising from the ferns and leaping through
the long grass, blew a foam of white blossoms upon the
rider and his mule. High up in the golden sunlight
the sweet penetrating flute-notes of the boy-shepherds
called blithely from steep to steep.

    “God be thanked,” exclaimed Egidio as he came in
sight of San Polo, still coldly white, like an unopened
flower; “God be thanked, though I be old and fat, love
is a good thing. Ah, Simone, you rogue! Eh? what,
Gregorio?”

                                                                 JAMES MARAZION

MLA citation:

Marazion, James [William Sharp]. “The Rape of the Sabines.” The Pagan Review, vol. 1, August 1892, pp. 30-40. The Pagan Review Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2021. https://1890s.ca/tpr-marazion-sabines/