(Essentials of European Literature)

The Marchesa Orsola was determined that Don Franco Maironi, her grandson, should marry a woman of birth and money. Franco, however, was in love with Luisa Rigey, a gentle girl of the neighborhood who had neither wealth nor position. Because the marchesa had forbidden him to see Luisa, her mother had tried to please the powerful old lady by keeping the young people apart. Then, when the mother knew that she was dying, she was so anxious to see her daughter settled that she gave her permission for a secret marriage.

His marriage meant that Franco would be cut off without a cent, for the marchesa controlled the Maironi fortune and was not one to relent once her mind was made up. The young people, however, would be supported by Luisa’s uncle, Piero Ribera, a government engineer. He had supported his sister and her daughter for many years and considered it a privilege to do so. Franco was an imaginative youth who had never worked and seemed unlikely ever to do so. Although he had studied law in order to be free of his grandmother’s power, he spent most of his time playing the piano and composing poetry.

At the time the provinces that would one day be Italy were trying to throw off the yoke of Austrian power. There had been several minor revolutions, but each one had been put down and the patriots imprisoned or killed. At last other European countries were becoming interested in the struggle for Italian independence, and they were willing to help the rebels. Franco was one of the patriots. His grandmother was a staunch supporter of Austria. That circumstance made his position doubly dangerous. Spies were everywhere; if he defied his grandmother in his marriage, she would be his personal enemy as well as his political one.

Franco loved Luisa too much to let those problems deter him, however, and so they were secretly wed. Before many hours had passed the marchesa learned of the wedding, for she was so powerful that people willingly brought her all the news. She immediately disowned Franco—refused even to acknowledge that he existed, but what the old lady did not know was that a friend of the family had called Franco to him and showed him a letter from his grandfather, the marchesa’s dead husband. The letter also contained a will which reflected on the morals of his wife, questioned the paternity of his son, Franco’s father, and left his fortune to Franco. Since the will was a duplicate copy, the friend felt sure that the marchesa had knowingly concealed the original, thus cheating Franco of his rightful fortune. Franco, although stunned, refused to use the information against his grandmother and did not even want Luisa to learn of the letter.

Life was not easy for the young couple, but they were sustained by their love and by Uncle Piero’s small allowance. Meanwhile the police were becoming more active, and once Franco was arrested. Uncle Piero was also suspected. Because there was no...

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