"Then you have told him what brought us to Rome," said the princess.
"Are you angry with me for doing so?" asked the advocate.
"No, no; you were quite right. What word does he send you?"
"I'll read you what he says—if I can; he writes an abominable hand. 'While you are seeing the sights of Rome with the ladies,' he begins, 'important events are taking place elsewhere. General Durando has had a taste of the Austrians at Ferrara, and found them hard nuts to crack. In his wrath he now proclaims a crusade against them, fastens red crosses on his soldiers' breasts, and is pushing forward to cross the Po. But this action of his is very displeasing to the Pope, who does not look kindly on a crusade by a Roman army against a Christian nation. Accordingly he has forbidden Durando to cross the Po. If now the general disobeys, all those whose powerful favour your client at present enjoys will lose their influence; and should he suffer defeat beyond the Po, as he well may, your client's enemies could hardly fail to gain the upper hand. You will do wisely, therefore, to press an issue before it is too late.'"
"But is it possible that I should be made to suffer for a defeat on the battle-field?" asked Blanka.
"H'm! Quidquid delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi," returned the advocate, sententiously; and he hurried away without explaining that the quotation meant,—Whenever kings fall to quarrelling, the common people suffer for it. Such was the old Greek usage.
Blanka was thus left to find her way to the Colosseum with Madam Dormandy, under the guidance of an abbot, whom they had secured as cicerone; and, while the reverend father entertained the young widow with a historical lecture, the princess seated herself at the foot of the cross that stands in the middle of the arena, and sought to sketch the view before her. But her success was poor; she was conscious of failure with every fresh attempt. Three times she began, and as often was forced to discard her work and start over again. The Colosseum will not suffer its likeness to be taken by every one; it is a favour that must be fought for.
High up on the dizzy height of the third gallery sat a wee speck of a man with an easel before him. Even through an opera-glass the painter looked like an ant on a house-top. He wore a broad-brimmed straw hat, and behind him a large umbrella was opened against the fierce rays of the Italian sun. Thus protected, he sat there busily at work. Blanka envied him: he had mastered the mighty Colosseum and caught its likeness. How had he set about it? Why, naturally enough, he had climbed the giddy height and conquered the giant from above. She resolved to come again, early the next morning, and follow his example. With that she tore the spoiled leaves impatiently from her sketch-book, and threw them down among the thistles that sprang up everywhere between the stones of the ruin. It was getting late, and she was forced to return to her hotel and dress for the theatre.
The way back led past the Cagliari palace, and Blanka noted with surprise that its iron shutters were open and the first story brilliantly lighted. The gate, too, was thrown back, giving a view of the courtyard, which wore rather the aspect of a garden. Who could have wrought this sudden transformation in the deserted old mansion?
A still greater surprise awaited the princess when she reached her hotel. The proprietor himself came down the steps to open her carriage door, assist her to alight, and escort her to her rooms.
"Thank you, sir, but pray don't trouble yourself," began Blanka. "I can find my way very well alone."
The innkeeper persisted, however, although the double doors to which he led her, and which he threw open before her, were not those of her own apartment. The ladies found themselves in a sumptuously furnished anteroom, from which, through a half-opened door, they looked into a spacious drawing-room yet more luxuriously fitted up, with oil paintings on its walls and potted plants in its four corners. Leading out of this apartment, to right and left, were still other elaborately furnished rooms, which a footman in gold-braided red livery obsequiously threw open.
"While the princess was out," explained the hotel keeper, with a bow and a smile, "I had this suite of rooms put in order for her reception, and hope they will give entire satisfaction."
"No, no, my dear sir," protested Blanka, "they appear far too magnificent for my needs, and I prefer to remain where I was. And how about this footman?"
"A servant of the house, but now dressed in the princess's livery," was the reply. "Henceforth he is to be at your sole disposal, and a liveried coachman in a white wig, with a closed carriage, is also ordered to serve you. All this is in compliance with directions from high quarters. A gentleman was here in your absence and expressed great displeasure that Princess Cagliari and her party were lodged in a suite of only four rooms. Where is his card, Beppo? Go and fetch it."
Blanka had no need to look at the card: she knew well enough whose name it bore. Controlling her agitation, she turned calmly to the hotel proprietor. "I must beg you," said she, "not to receive orders from any one but my attorney. Otherwise I shall feel obliged to leave your hotel at once. Let my old rooms be opened for me again, and engage no special servants on my account." So saying, she returned to her former quarters.
With no little impatience she awaited the advocate's return, and as soon as he appeared questioned him eagerly for news.
"None at all," he answered, wearily. "I've been running around all day, and have accomplished absolutely nothing; couldn't find the people I wished to see, and those I did find pretended not to understand a word I said. If I only knew where that fellow Manasseh had hidden himself!"
"I could tell you," thought Blanka, but did not offer to do so. "Well," said she, aloud, "if you have no news, I have. Look at this card."
The lawyer put on his eyeglasses and read the name,—"Benjamin Vajdar."
"Prince Cagliari is in Rome also," added Blanka.
The advocate looked at her. "So Vajdar has been here, has he? Did you see him?"
"No; but he is sure to come again. I have given orders that he is to be referred to you. I have nothing to say to him."
"Just let me get hold of him!" cried Gabriel, with menace in his looks, and then added: "I only wish I knew where to find Manasseh."
"I know," said the princess to herself. She had learned his address by a curious accident. When she and the young painter went to see the Sistine Chapel together they were called upon, as are all visitors, to give their names and addresses. Thus she could not avoid hearing the street and number of Manasseh's temporary abode, and this street and number she had afterward written down in her sketch-book—foreign names are so hard to remember.
When her lawyer had withdrawn she sought her book and turned its leaves in search of the address. But though she hunted through all the pages again and again, she could not find the memorandum which she felt sure she had made. Suddenly she remembered having torn out and thrown away two or three leaves,—those containing her futile attempts to sketch the Colosseum.
At this point a letter was delivered to the princess. It was from Prince Cagliari, and asked Blanka to assign an hour at which to receive him. She answered the note at once, naming ten o'clock of the following morning.
Promptly on the hour appointed the prince's equipage appeared at the hotel door, and he himself came up the stairs, leaning on his gold-headed cane. He enjoyed the full use of only one foot, although his gouty condition was not very apparent except when he climbed a flight of stairs. Ordinarily he showed admirable skill in disguising his defect. He was still a fine-looking man, and only the whiteness of his hair betrayed his age. Clean-shaven and of florid complexion, he wore a constant smile on his finely chiselled lips, and bore himself with a graceful air of self-assertion that seldom failed of its effect on the women whom he chose to honour with his attentions.
The head waiter hurried on before him to announce his coming. Blanka met the prince in her antechamber. He took her offered hand and at the same time barred the waiter's exit with his cane.
"Is the princess still lodged in these rooms?" he demanded.
The servant could not find a word to say in apology, but the princess came to his aid.
"I wished to remain here," said she, calmly.
The domestic was then dismissed and the visitor ushered into the next room.
"I greatly regret," he began, "that you chose to put aside my friendly intercession on your behalf. These quarters do not befit your rank. Furthermore, by retaining a Protestant lawyer you appear to challenge me to the bitterest of conflicts."
"Do you so interpret my action?" asked Blanka, proud reproach in her tone.
"No, Blanka, assuredly not. Your own noble heart moved you rather to use mild measures—in spite of your attorney. You generously refrained from pushing your advantage against me while I was detained elsewhere and while my secretary was also unavoidably delayed. In return for this generosity, Prince Cagliari comes to you now, not as your opponent in a suit at law, not as a husband to claim his wife, but as a father seeking his daughter. What say you? Will you accept me as a father?"
Blanka was almost inclined to believe in the speaker's sincerity; yet he had caused her far too much pain in the past to admit of any sudden reconciliation in this theatrical fashion. She remained unmoved.
"Bear in mind, my dear Blanka," proceeded the prince, "that the key to the situation is now in my hands. Recent important events have made me a persona grata at the Vatican, and now the first of the conditions which I feel justified in imposing on you is that you acquiesce in the arrangements which, with all a father's forethought, I have made for your comfort during your sojourn in Rome. If the case between us is to reach a peaceful settlement, we must, above all things, avoid the appearance of mutual hostility; and it is a hostile demonstration on the part of Princess Cagliari to be seen driving about the city in a hired cab, and occupying, with her party, a suite of only four rooms. My duty demanded that I should at least offer you the use of the Cagliari palace, which consists of two entirely distinct wings, with separate entrances, stairs, and gardens; but I knew only too well that you would have rejected the offer."
"Therefore nothing was left me but to order the apartments in this hotel commonly occupied by visiting foreign princes to be placed at your disposal. No burdensome obligation, however, will be incurred by you in acceding to this arrangement, as I shall, in the event of our separation, see that the expense is deducted from the allowance which I shall be required to make you."
Blanka, who was naturally of a confiding disposition, not infrequently reposed her confidence where it was undeserved,—a failing not to be wondered at in one so young. Her husband was one of those in whom she thus sometimes placed too large a measure of trust, although she had early learned that no word from his mouth was to be accepted in its obvious meaning. Yet this matter of her apartments in the hotel seemed to her of such trifling moment that she let him have his way and consented to make the change which he desired, albeit at the same time strongly suspecting a hidden motive on his part.
"I am very glad, my dear Blanka," said Cagliari, when the princess had indicated her willingness to comply with his request, "to find you disposed to meet me half-way in this matter. We will, then, leave further details to the hotel keeper. He will provide you with servants in the livery of our house. How many do you wish—two?"
"One will suffice."
"And if he does not suit you, dismiss him and demand another. You shall have no ground for suspecting me of placing a spy upon you in the guise of a servant."
"Even if you should, it would trouble me little. A spy would find nothing to report to you."
"My dear Blanka, no one sees his own face except in a mirror; others can see it at all times."
"Have you anything to criticise in my conduct?"
"Nothing, I assure you. I know your firmness of principle. I look at you now, not through the yellow glass used by a jealous husband in scrutinising his wife, but through the rose-coloured glass that a fond father holds before his eyes in regarding a beloved daughter. If you travelled in a stranger's company on your journey to Rome, that may very well have been a mere matter of chance. If you left the accustomed route under his escort, you may have done so to avoid suspected dangers. If you are seen again in Rome at this stranger's side, I see nothing in that but his recognition of his duty toward you,—the courtesy of a fellow countryman acquainted with Rome toward a lady visiting that city for the first time. And if you walked together arm in arm, it was undoubtedly because of the pressure of the crowd, which always justifies a lady in seeking the protection of the first man available."
This speech filled Blanka with indignation and dismay. Weapons were being forged against her, she perceived; but she could do nothing. Had she offered a denial, her glowing cheeks would have testified against her. She held her peace, accordingly, and preserved such outward composure as she was able.
"N'en parlons plus!" concluded the prince, fully aware of his triumph. "No one shall boast of outdoing Prince Cagliari in magnanimity,—not even his wife. Where you have knelt and sued for mercy, I too will kneel; what you have written in your petition I will subscribe to, and add still further: 'We are not husband and wife, we are father and daughter.' And you shall learn that this is no empty phrase. I do not seek to sever the bond between us; I exchange it for another."
All this was uttered in so friendly a tone, and with such seeming warmth of feeling, that no one unacquainted with the speaker, and not knowing him for the most consummate of hypocrites and the cleverest of actors, could have listened to him without being moved almost to tears. But his hearer in this instance knew him only too well. She knew that Jerome Cagliari was most to be feared when he professed the noblest sentiments.
Rising from his chair, he added, as if it were a matter of the most trifling importance:
"This afternoon I will send my secretary to you."
"Your secretary?" repeated Blanka, with a start. "Pray send me anybody but him,—a notary, a strange lawyer, an attorney's clerk, a servant. I will receive your instructions from any of these, but not from your secretary."
"And why not from him?"
"Because I hate him."
"Then you hate the man who is your best friend in all the world,—yes, even a better friend than I myself. If I were to ask heaven for a son I could pray for no more excellent young man than he. He has my full confidence and esteem."
"But if you knew why I hate him!" interjected Blanka, in a voice that trembled.
"Before you bring your accusation against him," rejoined the other, "remember you are speaking, not to your husband, but to your father, who wishes not only to set you free, but also to make you happy. Accordingly, I will send Mr. Benjamin Vajdar to call on you to-morrow afternoon, to open the way for a harmonious settlement of the affair between us. I beg you to receive him as my confidant and plenipotentiary, and not to let your attorney know of his coming. For myself, I shall, with your permission, allow myself the pleasure of calling on you again."
With this the prince kissed Blanka's hand, and withdrew.
Scarcely had he gone, when Gabriel Zimandy presented himself to learn the object of Cagliari's visit. But Blanka obeyed orders, and kept back the chief motive of his coming, saying simply that he had asked permission to order a larger and finer suite of rooms for her use, and that in this matter she had thought best to humour him. The advocate acquiesced, recognising the importance of securing the prince's good-will under present conditions.
THE ANONYMOUS LETTER.
No sooner had her lawyer left her than a letter was delivered to Blanka by one of the hotel servants. It was unsigned, and to the following effect:
"PRINCESS CAGLIARI:—Be cautious. Prince Cagliari is carrying out a fiendish scheme against you. Like yourself, he is bent on securing a divorce, but only that he may marry you to his protege and favourite. He is even capable of selling his own wife. Hitherto you have been Cagliari's wife, and the Marchioness Caldariva his mistress; now he wishes to reverse these relations, and make the marchioness his wife, and you his mistress. Be on your guard. You are in the country of the Borgias."
The princess was not a little disturbed by this communication. Monstrous as was the plot which it purported to disclose, she could not disbelieve it when ascribed to the two men in question. Certain fearful remembrances of the past confirmed her suspicions, and even inspired her in her distress with thoughts of suicide.
But what if this letter were merely a trap? Who could have written it? Who, in that city, where so few knew even of her existence, was sufficiently familiar with her private affairs to be able to write it? Whom could she now consult, with whom share her anxious forebodings? Involuntarily she took up her sketch-book, and turned its leaves once more. In vain; the address was gone—gone with the leaves she had torn out and thrown away in the Colosseum.
Having no further engagements for that morning, she proposed to her companion a second visit to the Colosseum, that she might once more essay the sketch which had baffled her the day before. Both Madam Dormandy and the advocate signified their readiness to accompany her, the more so as a party of German visitors was planning an inspection of the Colosseum's subterranean chambers and passages, and Zimandy proposed to join them.
Blanka made it her first care, on arriving at the Colosseum, to search for the lost sketch-book leaves; but though she remembered exactly where she had dropped them, neither she nor her friend could discover the least trace of them. Who could have appropriated them? The artist in the gallery had been the only stranger present at the time of her previous visit.
While the advocate and Madam Dormandy went with the German party to inspect the lower regions, Blanka remained above, on the plea that such subterranean excursions made her unwell. There were no robbers or wild beasts to molest her in the arena during the others' absence, and, besides, the entrances were all guarded.
She sat down at the foot of the cross, but not to draw, for her mind was not now on her sketch. Plucking the dandelions that grew in profusion about her, she fashioned them into a chain and hung it around her neck. The thought came to her, as she was thus engaged, that of all the Christian martyrs torn to pieces by wild beasts in that arena, not one of them, when the tigers and hyenas leaped upon their prey, felt such a terror as hers at sight of the monsters that seemed to be closing in about her to rend her limb from limb.
How happy the artist must be up there in the lofty gallery! For there he was, still at work on his picture. The artist is the only really happy man. He need fear no exile; every land is his home. No foreign tongue can confuse him; his thoughts find a medium of expression intelligible to all. Wars have no terror for him; he paints them, but takes no part in them. Storms and tempests, by land or sea, speak to him not of danger, but are merely the symbols of nature's ever-varying moods. Popular insurrections furnish his canvas with picturesque groupings of animated humanity. Though all Rome surge with uproar about him, he sits under his sun-umbrella and paints. The artist is a cold-blooded man. He paints a madonna, but his piety is none the greater for it. He draws a Venus, but his heart is still whole. He pictures God and Satan, but prostrates himself before neither. How independent, too, he must feel as he wanders through the world! He asks no help in the production of his creations. The priest need not pray for rain or sunshine on his account. He seeks no office or title from prince or potentate. He desires no favour, no privilege, nor does he even require the advantage of a recognised religious belief. With his genius he can conquer the world.
Art it is, moreover, that makes woman the equal of man. The woman artist is something more than man's other half; she is complete in herself. She does not ask the world for a living, she does not beg any man to give her his name, she kneels before no marriage-altar for the priest's blessing; she goes forth and wins for herself all that she desires.
An irresistible impulse drove Blanka to ascend to the painter's lofty perch in order to see how he was succeeding in the task which she herself knew not even how to begin.
An artist engrossed in his work heeds not what is going on around him. The painter in this instance wore a simple canvas jacket, spotted with oil and colours here and there, and a straw hat, broad of brim and ventilated with abundant holes. The princess, looking over his shoulder, was far less interested in the painter than in his work. Indeed, the artist himself was so absorbed in his task that, to save time, he held one of his brushes crosswise between his teeth while he worked with the other. Yet the instinct of politeness impelled him, as soon as he heard the rustle of a lady's skirt behind him, to remove his broad-brimmed hat and place it on the floor at his side.
Startled surprise and gladness spoke in that word, which slipped out ere the speaker's discretion could prevent it. The young man turned quickly.
"Princess!" he exclaimed, "where did you drop from?"
"I was not looking for you," she stammered, thus betraying that she had been seeking him and was rejoiced, heart and soul, at the chance that had led her to him.
Manasseh smiled. "No, not for me, but for the painter wrestling with the Colosseum from this lofty roost. I saw you yesterday attempting the same task from below."
"And you recognised me—so far off?"
"I have very good eyes. I also saw that you were dissatisfied with your attempts, for you tore out one leaf after another from your sketch-book and threw them away."
"Did you find them again?" asked Blanka, breathlessly.
"I made it a point to do so, Princess," was the reply.
"Oh, then give them back to me, please!"
"Here they are."
No creditor ever did his distressed debtor a greater favour in surrendering to him an overdue note than did Manasseh in restoring the lost leaves to their owner. She replaced them carefully in her sketch-book, assuring herself, as she did so, that the missing address was on the blank side of one of them. What if it had caught the young man's eye? How would he have explained its presence there?
She sat down to rest a moment on the stone railing of the gallery, her back to the arena and her face toward Manasseh,—an arrangement that very much interfered with the artist's view of what he was painting. The sun shone directly in her eyes, and she had no sunshade, having left hers in the carriage. The arena was so shaded that she had needed none there. Manasseh adjusted his umbrella so as to shield the princess, and the rosy hue which its red fabric cast on her face reminded him of the Horae that precede the sun-god's chariot at dawn, their forms glowing with purple and rose-coloured tints in the morning light.
"I am very glad I happened to meet you," said Blanka, speaking more sedately this time. "The party I came with is down below listening to an archaeological lecture on the cunei, the podium, the vomitorium, and heaven knows what all, in which I am not interested. So I have time to discuss with you, if you will let me, a point which you raised the other day and which I have been puzzling over ever since. You said that where you used to live revenge is unknown; and that, though you were suffering under a grievous injury and had the means to exact full satisfaction, yet you would not take your revenge. I too am suffering in the same manner, and that is why I am now in Rome. I have pondered your words and have imitated your example. Possessing the means of revenge, I refused to use them. I loosed my enemy's hands when they were bound. Did I do well?"
"No, I did not. I should have taken my revenge. Revenge is man's right."
"Revenge is the brute's right," Manasseh corrected her. "It never repairs an injury that has once been done. In this I and the handful of my fellow-believers differ from mankind in general. In our eyes war is revenge, the duel is revenge, capital punishment is revenge, revolution is revenge. Those who profess themselves followers of Jesus too often forget that when he was dying on the cross he said, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'"
"That was said by Jesus the man; but Jesus the God has ascended into heaven, whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead. And that is revenge."
"That conception of the Judgment is one that I cannot entertain," returned Manasseh. "Man has made a god of the noblest of men, and has made him like those earlier divinities who slew Niobe's innocent children with their arrows."
Blanka was sitting so far back on the stone railing that the artist felt obliged to warn her of her danger.
"Oh, I am protected by guardian angels," she replied, lightly. She wished to learn whether one of those angels was then before her. "I received this morning an anonymous letter," she continued, "and as it contains certain facts which only you could know, my first thought was that you had written it."
"I assure you, I have never written you a letter," declared Manasseh.
"Please read it." She handed him the letter.
How quickly the young man's calm face flushed and glowed with passion as he read! The martyrs of old could forgive their enemies for the tortures inflicted on them; but could they also pardon the inhumanity shown to their loved ones? Manasseh crumpled the paper in his hand with vindictive energy, as if he had held in his grasp the authors of that detestable plot. Yet what right had he now to take vengeance on a man whom he had refrained from punishing on Anna's behalf? Anna was his own sister, and as such a beloved being. Her life had been spoiled by this man, yet her brother had been able to declare, "We do not seek revenge"—although this revenge was easily in his power. And what was Blanka to him? A dream. And did this dream weigh more with him than the sorrow that had invaded his own family?
He returned the letter to its owner. "Just like them!" he muttered between his teeth.
"Prince Cagliari is in Rome," remarked Blanka.
"I know it. I met him, and he spoke to me and thanked me for the attentions I had shown his wife during Holy Week."
It was fortunate for the princess that she sat in the rosy light of the red umbrella, so that her heightened colour passed unnoticed.
"He called on me this morning," said she, "and showed himself very gracious. His position is now stronger than it was, affairs at the Vatican being guided at present by those who look upon him with favour."
"Yes, I know that," said Manasseh.
"How do you know it, may I ask?"
"Oh, I have wide-reaching connections. My landlord is a cobbler. 'Messere Scalcagnato' lounges about the piazza by the hour, is therefore well instructed in political matters, and keeps me duly informed of all that takes place at the Vatican."
The princess gave a merry laugh at the thought of Manasseh's taking lessons in politics from the professor of shoemaking. A little feeling of satisfaction contributed also to her display of good humour: she was assured by Manasseh's words that his address was still the same that she had noted in her sketch-book. But her laugh was immediately followed by a sigh, and she folded her hands in her lap.
"I wage war with nobody, Heaven knows!" she exclaimed, sadly. "I have merely sued for mercy, and it has been promised me."
"Princess," interposed the young man, gently, "I cannot intervene between you and your enemies, but I can arm you with a weapon of defence against their assaults. If you wish to repulse the man whom you fear and who pursues you,—to give him such a rebuff that he will never again dare to approach you,—then wait until he makes the proposal which you dread, and give him this answer: 'Between you and me there is a canonical interdict which renders our union impossible; it is contained in the fourteenth paragraph of the Secret Instructions.' As soon as you say that he will vanish so completely from your presence that you will never set eyes on him again."
"Wonderful!" cried Blanka. "That will surely be a miracle."
"Such it may always remain to you," returned Manasseh, "and you may never know how deep a wound you have inflicted. But you must thenceforth look for no mercy. Sue urgently for a decision, and be prepared for a harsh one."
"Thank you," said Blanka, simply. "N'en parlons plus"—repeating Prince Cagliari's phrase.
With that she stepped lightly to the stone block which the artist had been using for a chair, and, seating herself on it, began to copy in outline his painting of the Colosseum, as if that had been the sole purpose of her coming. Nor did she so much as ask permission thus to violate the rules of professional courtesy. This sketching from a finished picture she found vastly easier than drawing from the object itself, a task which always proves elusive and baffling to the beginner. Manasseh took his stand behind her as she worked, but his eyes were not wholly occupied in following her pencil.
Meanwhile the archaeological explorers had abundant time to inspect all the subterranean passages and chambers of the Colosseum, and it was only when they emerged into the arena and began to seek their lost companion, with loud outcries, that she started up in some alarm and made haste to retrace her steps.
Manasseh picked up the dandelion chain that had fallen from her neck and put it in his bosom.
THE FOURTEENTH PARAGRAPH.
Blanka was now like a boy who fears to stay at home alone, and to whom his father has therefore given a loaded gun as a security. The lad has a shuddering eagerness to encounter a burglar, that he may try his weapon on him, never doubting but that he can kill a giant if need be. Let the robbers come if they wish; he is armed and ready for them.
In this confidence Blanka's entire mood underwent a change: she became light-hearted almost to the point of unrestrained gaiety. At the very door of her hotel she began to exchange pleasantries with the landlord, who came forward to greet her with the announcement that a gentleman, a count, had called upon her in her absence.
"Count who?" asked the princess, whereupon she was presented with a card bearing the name of Benjamin Vajdar. But she read it without losing a particle of her serenity, and then ordered an elaborate lunch.
While her dishes were preparing, she sent for a hair-dresser and for a maid to assist at her toilet. She wished to make herself beautiful—even more beautiful than usual—and, indeed, she accomplished her object. Her slender form, its height accentuated by a long bodice, looked still taller from the imposing manner in which her hair was dressed. Her features, until then somewhat drawn by the strain of constant anxiety, gained now a vivacity that was matched by the added colour that glowed in her cheeks. A single morning in the Italian sun had, it would have seemed to an observer, worked wonders in her appearance. But what she herself marvelled at most of all was the new light that shone in her eyes. What could have caused this transformation? The weapon which she held in her hands,—"the fourteenth paragraph of the Secret Instructions." What cared she that to her these words were utterly meaningless? It sufficed her to know that there was such a paragraph; he had told her so.
A waiter announced that her lunch was served. Ordinarily Blanka ate no more than a sick child; now she was conscious of an appetite like that of a convalescent making up for a long series of lost meals. The dainties which she had ordered tasted uncommonly appetising. While she was busy with her oysters, the head waiter informed her that the "count" had come a second time and begged leave to wait upon her.
"Show him up," promptly replied the princess, without allowing her lunch to be interrupted in the least.
The handsome young man already introduced to the reader was ushered in. The situation in which he found the princess seemed scarcely to harmonise with his plans. It rendered exceedingly difficult any approach to the sentimental.
"Set a chair for the gentleman," Blanka commanded her attendant, speaking, as if from forgetfulness, in Hungarian, and then correcting herself with a great show of surprise at her own carelessness. "Grazie! And now, sir, pray be seated. You will pardon me if I go on with my lunch. We can converse just the same. This man will not understand a word we say. We may consider our interview entirely private."
Vajdar misinterpreted the situation: he thought the princess feared him, as of old, and that therefore she kept her servant in the room. This belief only added fuel to his evil passions. He who sees himself feared gains an increased sense of power.
"I come bearing the olive-branch, Princess," he began, in smooth accents.
At this Blanka turned suddenly to her attendant. "That reminds me," she exclaimed; "Beppo, the waiter forgot my olives."
Vajdar had taken a chair and drawn up to the table. "The prince wishes," he continued, "to keep his promise and to show you all the affectionate concern of a father toward his daughter." He produced a roll of manuscript from his pocket. "There are certain points in your marriage contract which must be discussed. Prince Cagliari made over to you, at the time of your union, one million silver florins. If you should gain your suit you would retain this sum in full; otherwise you would lose it all. He now offers you the following compromise. The principal is not to be paid into your hands, but you are to receive the interest on it, at six per cent., during your lifetime. And, more than that, one-half of the Palazzo Cagliari is placed at your disposal as a dwelling."
The princess bowed, as if in assent, but expressed the hope that she should not be obliged to stay long in Rome.
"I think you will find it advisable to remain some time, at any rate," said the young man.
"But I wish to return home, to Hungary, where, as you know, I have an estate of my own."
"That will be impossible, because the Serbs have burnt your castle to the ground."
"Burnt it to the ground? But my steward has not informed me of this."
"And for a very good reason: the insurgents chopped off his head on his own threshold."
Even this intelligence could not destroy Blanka's appetite. She ate her sardines with unusual relish, and Vajdar could see that she gave little credence to his words.
"Stormy times are ahead of us," he went on, "and I assure you this is the only safe retreat for you,—the holy city, the home of peace."
"As is proved by the iron shutters on the windows of the Cagliari palace," remarked Blanka. "But tell me, if I should wish to choose my own household and my own intimates, would that liberty be allowed me?"
"Undoubtedly. Nevertheless, it would be greatly to your advantage to surround yourself with persons speaking the language of the country and familiar with its ways."
"And if I should win my cause, and should take a fancy to marry again, could I select a husband to suit myself?"
This was too much. It was like throwing raw meat to a caged tiger.
"Without doubt," murmured Benjamin Vajdar between his teeth, at the same time casting furious glances at the servant behind his mistress's chair.
Suddenly the princess changed her tactics. She wished to show her enemy that she dared leave her entrenchments and offer battle in the open field.
"Caro Beppo," said she, turning to the servant, "clear the table, please, and then stay outside until I call you. Meantime, admit no one."
The two were left alone, and Vajdar was free to say what he wished. Blanka made bold to rise and survey herself coquettishly in the mirror, as if to make sure of her own beauty. She was the first to speak.
"All these favourable turns in my affairs are due to your kind intervention, I infer," she began.
"Without wishing to be boastful, I must admit that they are. You know the prince: he has more whims and freaks than Caligula. He has moments when he is capable of throttling an angel from heaven, and gentle moods in which he is ready to do his most deadly enemy a secret kindness. These latter phases of his humour it was my task to lie in wait for and turn to your account. Whether this was a difficult task or not, you who know the prince can judge."
"You will find me not ungrateful," said the princess. "In case the unpleasant affair which has called me to Rome is settled satisfactorily, I shall make over to you, as the one chiefly instrumental in effecting this settlement, the yearly allowance intended for me by the prince. For myself I retain nothing further, and wish nothing further, than my golden freedom."
Vajdar's face glowed with feeling. He was a good actor and could summon the colour to his cheeks at will.
"But even if you should give me your all, and the whole world besides," he returned, "I should count it as dross in comparison with one kind word from your lips. I know it is the height of boldness on my part to strive for the object of my longing; but an ardent passion justifies even the rashest presumption. You remember the fable of the giants' piling Pelion upon Ossa in order to scale Olympus. I am capable of following their example. You would cease to look down on me were I of like rank with yourself; and this equality of station I shall yet attain."
"I am sure I shall be the first to congratulate you."
"The prince has promised to be a father to you if, as the result of a peaceful separation, he ceases to be your husband. A somewhat similar promise he has made to me also."
"Does he intend to adopt you as his son?" asked Blanka.
"Such is his purpose," replied Vajdar.
"And what, pray, is his motive in this?"
Benjamin Vajdar averted his face, as if contending with feelings of shame. "Do not ask me," he begged, "to betray the weakness of my poor mother. Hers was an unhappy lot, and I am the child of her misfortune. He whose duty it is to make that misfortune good is—Prince Cagliari."
Blanka could hardly suppress an exclamation. "Oh, you scoundrel!" she was on the point of crying, "how can you dishonour your mother in her grave, and deny your own honest birth, merely to pass yourself off as a prince's bastard son?" Instead of this she clapped her hands and exclaimed: "How interesting! It is just like a play at the theatre. 'Is not the little toe of your left foot broken?' 'Yes.' 'Then you are my son.' Or thus: 'Haven't you a birthmark on the back of your neck?' 'I have.' 'Let me see it. Aha! you are my long-lost boy.' Or, again: 'Who gave you that half of a coin which you wear on a string around your neck?' 'My mother, on her death-bed.' 'Come to my arms. You have found your father.'"
Her listener was convinced that he had to do with a credulous child whose ears were open to the flimsiest of fairy tales. He proceeded to entertain her with further interesting details of his story, after which the princess produced the anonymous letter she had that morning received. First smoothing it out on her knee,—for it had been sadly crumpled by a certain hand, and, indeed, even bore the impression of a man's thumb in oil,—she presented it to her visitor.
"Please read that," said she, "and then explain it to me."
Vajdar had no sooner glanced at the letter than he perceived that the enemy, by a feigned retreat, had been decoying him over a mine which threatened presently to explode. Yet his assurance did not desert him.
"A stupid bit of play-acting!" he exclaimed, throwing the letter down on the table.
"But whose interest could it have been to indulge in play-acting at my expense?" asked Blanka.
"I can tell you, for I recognise the handwriting. The Marchioness Caldariva wrote you that letter."
"The Marchioness Caldariva? Is she here?"
"To be sure. The prince never travels without her."
"But what motive had she thus to injure herself and, perhaps, prevent her marriage with the prince?"
"Motive enough for a woman," replied Vajdar,—"jealousy."
"Jealousy!" repeated Blanka, in astonishment.
But one glance at the face confronting her was a sufficient explanation. That handsome face, smiling with triumph and self-confidence, made her tingle with wrath and scorn from head to foot. This man, it appeared, was impudent enough to play the role of suitor to his patron's wife, and also, at the same time, to pose as the object of a sentimental attachment on the part of that patron's mistress. And he smiled complacently the while.
"Sir," resumed the princess, whom that smile so irritated that she resolved to use her deadly weapon without further delay, "I appreciate your devotion to my cause, but I cannot deceive you. I must not encourage hopes that would end only in disappointment. Let this matter not be referred to again between us."
"But how if it were imposed by the prince as the indispensable condition of a peaceful settlement of your relations with him?"
"I cannot believe that such is the case," replied Blanka, calmly. "But however that may be, I cannot bind myself by any promise to you, knowing as I do that the question of matrimony between us is one that the canons of the Romish Church forbid us to consider."
"Ah, you have been studying ecclesiastical law, I see,—an error like that of the sick man that reads medical works. You undoubtedly have in mind the tenth paragraph, which forbids a son to marry his father's divorced wife; but you should have read farther, where it is declared that a marriage pronounced null and void by the clemency of the Pope is as if it never had been, and thus offers no hindrance to a subsequent union."
"No," rejoined the princess, "I did not refer to the tenth paragraph. The paragraph which renders our union impossible is the fourteenth."
The shot was fired, the mark was hit. Like a tiger mortally wounded the man sprang up and stood leaning on the back of his chair, glaring at his assailant with a fury that made her draw back in alarm. With what sort of ammunition had the gun been loaded, that it should inflict so deadly a wound,—that it should cause such a sudden and complete transformation of that complacently smiling face?
"Who told you that?" demanded Vajdar so furiously that Blanka recoiled involuntarily. "Only one person could have been your informant, and I know who that person is. I shall have my revenge on both of you for this!"
With that he was gone, hurrying out of the room and out of the hotel as if pursued by a legion of devils. Beppo came running to his mistress, and seemed surprised not to find her lying in her blood on the floor with half a dozen dagger-thrusts in her bosom.
"Well," he exclaimed, "whoever that man may be, I shouldn't like to meet him on a dark night in a narrow street."
Blanka told her servant that if the gentleman who had just left ever called again, she should not be at home to him. Then she sent her obedient Beppo away, as she wished to be alone. First of all, she must ponder the meaning of those mysterious words that had proved so potent in routing her enemy. She could hardly wait for her lawyer to return, so eager was she to question him in the matter.
"Well," began the advocate on entering, "what have you accomplished?"
"I have not made peace."
"Because it would have cost more than war. All negotiations are broken off. Read this letter."
"A devilish plot!" cried the lawyer wrathfully. "But they are fully capable of carrying it out, all three of them. Did you show this to Vajdar?"
"And was that why he ran out of the hotel in such an extraordinary manner that the very waiters felt tempted to seize him at the door?"
"They had no such thought, I'll warrant," returned Blanka. "They are all in his pay. To-morrow I leave this place. You must find me a private dwelling."
"I have one for you already. The Rossis are moving out of the embassy, and have engaged a private house. They invite you to share their new quarters with them. There is ample room."
"Oh, how fortunate for me!"
"And yet the affair is not so altogether fortunate, after all. Rossi has fallen from favour, and with his fall the whole liberal party loses its influence at the Vatican."
But what did the princess care for the liberal party at that moment? She was thinking of the lucky chance that had made it possible for her to meet Manasseh again—at the house of their common friends.
"Now I must beg you," said she, changing the subject, "to press my suit as diligently as possible. But first let me ask you a question. You are thoroughly familiar with the marriage laws of the Romish Church, aren't you?"
"I know them as I do the Lord's Prayer."
"Do you remember the fourteenth paragraph?"
"The fourteenth paragraph? Thank God we have nothing to do with that."
"Why 'thank God'?"
"Because the fourteenth paragraph has to do with state's prison offences; it declares null and void any marriage, if either of the contracting parties has committed such an offence."
The mystery was clear to Blanka now.
Gabriel Zimandy came to the princess one day with a very downcast mien.
"Our case makes no headway," he lamented, "and the reason is that your advocate is a Protestant. Now there are two ways to remedy this: either you must dismiss me and engage a Roman Catholic lawyer, or I must turn Roman Catholic myself. The latter is the shorter and simpler expedient."
Blanka thought him in fun, and began to laugh. But Zimandy maintained his solemnity of manner.
"You see, Princess," he went on, "I am ready to renounce the faith of my fathers and incur the world's ridicule, all to serve you. I am going this morning to the cardinal on whom the whole issue depends, to ask him to be my sponsor at the baptism."
The princess pressed his hand warmly in sign of her appreciation of his devotion.
In a few days the lawyer carried out his purpose and was received into the Church of Rome. The newspapers gave the matter considerable prominence, and it was generally expected that the godfather's present to the new convert would be a favourable decision in the pending divorce suit. And, in fact, a week later the decision was rendered. It was to the following effect:
The husband and wife were declared divorced, but with the proviso that the latter should never marry again, and the former not during his divorced wife's lifetime. Thus the coffin-lid was closed on the young wife, who was, as it were, buried alive; but in falling it had caught and held fast the bridal veil of the Marchioness Caldariva, who could not now hope to be led to the altar so long as the princess remained alive. Had there been in this some malevolent design to wreak vengeance on the two women at one stroke, the purpose could not have been better accomplished.
The further provisions of the decree of the Roman Curia were of secondary importance. Prince Cagliari was required to pay to Princess Zboroy—for Blanka retained her rank and title—an annuity of twelve thousand ducats, to give over for her use as a dwelling one wing of the Cagliari palace, and to restore her dowry and jewels. These latter terms were evidently to be credited to Gabriel Zimandy's generalship; for his client might have found herself left with neither home nor annuity. So the lawyer's conversion had met with its reward even in this world.
But Blanka's enjoyment of house and home and yearly income was made dependent on a certain condition: she was never to leave Rome. The nature of the decree rendered this provision necessary. As she was forbidden to contract a second marriage, her judge found himself obliged to keep her under his eye, to make sure that his mandate was obeyed; and no more delicate and at the same time effective way to do this could have been devised than to offer her a palace in Rome and bid her enjoy its possession for the rest of her life. This was surely kinder than shutting her up in a convent.
After the rendering of this decree Blanka lost no time in taking possession of that half of the Cagliari palace assigned to her, and in engaging a retinue of servants befitting her changed surroundings. Her own property yielded her an income equal to that which she received from the prince, and thus she was enabled to allow herself every comfort and even luxury that she could desire. Of the two wings of the palace, Blanka's faced the Tiber, while the other fronted upon the public square. Each wing had a separate garden, divided from its neighbour by a high wall of masonry, and the only connection between the two parts of the house was a long corridor, all passage through which was closed. What had once been a door, leading from the room which Blanka now chose for her bedchamber into the corridor, was filled in with a fireplace, whose back was formed by a damascened iron plate. This apartment the princess selected for her asylum, her hermitage, where she could be utterly shut out from the world.
The next day after the decision was rendered, Blanka was greeted by her bosom friend, the fair widow Dormandy, with the announcement of her engagement to Gabriel Zimandy. They intended to be married in Rome, she said, and then return to Hungary, whither the bridegroom's business called him. It was clear to Blanka now why her lawyer had been so ready to renounce "the faith of his fathers." It was more for the sake of winning the hand of Madam Dormandy, who was a devout Catholic, and of marrying her then and there, in Rome, than on account of his client's interests. Here let us take leave of the worthy man and let him depart with God's blessing, his newly married wife by his side, and his honorarium from Princess Blanka in his pocket.
Thus the divorced wife, who was yet hardly more than a girl, found herself left alone in Rome. She shut herself off entirely from the world, never venturing into society lest people should whisper to one another as she passed,—"la condannata!" She received no one but her father confessor, who came to her once a week. The sins which she had to confess to him were,—the doubting of providence, rebellion against human justice, forbidden dreams in waking hours, envy of others' happiness, aversion to prayer, and hatred of life—all sins for which she had to do penance.
Meanwhile quite a different sort of life was being led in the other wing of the palace. She could not but hear, from time to time, sounds of mirth and gaiety in the adjoining garden, or even through the solid partition-wall of the house. Voices that she knew only too well, and some that she hated, penetrated to her ears and drove her from one room to another.
In due time, however, the malarial fever of the Italian summer came to her as another distraction. It was an intermittent fever, and for six weeks she was subject to its periodical attacks, which returned every third day with the constancy of a devoted lover. When at length she began to mend, her physician prescribed a change of air. Knowing that his patient could not absent herself from Rome and its vicinity, he did not send her to Switzerland, but to Tivoli and Monte Mario; and even before venturing on these brief excursions she was obliged to ask permission at the Vatican. The convalescent was allowed to spend her days on Monte Mario, but required to return to Rome at nightfall. Good morals and good laws demanded this.
Nevertheless, even this slight change—the drives to and from Monte Mario, and the mountain air during the fine autumn days—did the princess good, and eventually restored her health.
Meanwhile there was more than one momentous change in the political world, but Blanka heeded them not. What signified to her the watchword of the period,—"Liberty?" What liberty had she? Even were all the world beside free, she was not free to love.
A GHOSTLY VISITANT.
It was the irony of fate that the mansion which had been assigned as a permanent dwelling-place to the woman condemned to a life of asceticism, had been originally fitted up as a fairy love-palace for a beautiful creature, possessed of an unquenchable thirst for the fleeting joys of this earthly existence. Over the richly carved mantelpiece in Blanka's sleeping-room was what looked like a splendid bas-relief in marble. It was in reality no bas-relief at all, but a wonderfully skilful bit of painting, so cleverly imitating the sculptor's chisel that even a closer inspection failed to detect the deception. It represented a recumbent Sappho playing on a nine-stringed lyre. The opening in the sounding-board of the instrument appeared to be a veritable hole over which real strings were stretched.
This painting Blanka had before her eyes when she lay down to sleep at night, and it was the first to greet her when she awoke in the morning. Nor was it simply that she was forced to see it: Sappho seemed able to make her presence known by other means than by addressing the sight alone. Mysterious sounds came at times from the lyre,—sometimes simple chords, and again snatches of love-songs which the princess could have played over afterward from memory, so plainly did she seem to hear them. Occasionally, too, the notes of a human voice were heard; and though the words were muffled and indistinct, as if coming from a distance, the air was easily followed. These weird melodies came to Blanka's ears nearly every evening, but she did not venture to tell any one about them. She tried to persuade herself it was all imagination on her part, and feared to relate her experience, lest she should incur suspicion of insanity and be consigned to a less desirable prison than the Cagliari palace.
One evening, as she was preparing to retire, and was standing for a moment before her mirror, the Sappho seemed to give vent to a ripple of laughter. The princess was so startled that she dropped the candle she held in her hand. Once more she heard that mysterious laugh, and then she beat a hasty retreat to her bed and buried herself in the pillows and blankets. But, peeping out at length and throwing one more glance at the picture, which was faintly illumined by her night-lamp, she heard still another repetition of the mysterious laughter, coming apparently from a great distance. Was this, too, an illusion, a dream, a trick of her imagination? If the painted Sappho was alive, why did she give these signs only at night, and not in the daytime as well?
November came, and with it rainy days, so that Blanka was constrained to suspend her drives to Monte Mario and remain in the house. Every evening she sat before her open fire with her eyes fixed on the glowing phoenix with which the back of the fireplace was adorned. It was the work of Finiguerra, the first of his craft to discard the chisel for the hammer. The many-hued feathers of the flaming bird were of steel, copper, brass, Corinthian bronze, silver, and gold. Especially resplendent was the bird's head, with its gleaming red circle around the brightly shining eye. This eye glowed and sparkled in the flickering light of the crackling wood fire until it seemed fairly endowed with life and vision.
One evening, as the princess was watching this glowing eye, it suddenly vanished from the bird's head and left a dark hole in its place. Then, as if not content with this marvellous demonstration, the phoenix next took flight bodily and disappeared, apparently up the chimney, with a rattling, rasping sound, as of the creaking of cogged wheels, leaving a wide opening where it had been. The coals which still glowed on the hearth presently died with a hissing noise, and only the soft light of the shaded lamp diffused itself through the room. Out of the mysterious depths of the fireplace stepped the white-clad form of a woman.
"I am the Marchioness Caldariva," announced the unbidden guest.
The suddenness and the mystery of it all, as well as the name that greeted her ears, might well have startled the Princess Blanka. The strange visitor was of tall and slender form, and suggested, in her closely fitting gown of soft material, a statue of one of the pagan goddesses. Her thick blond hair was carelessly gathered into a knot behind; her complexion was pale, her blue eyes were bright and vivacious, and her coral lips were parted in a coquettish smile. Every movement was fraught with grace and charm, every pose commanded admiration. She followed up her self-introduction with a laugh—a laugh that sounded familiar to her listener. It was the Sappho's tones that she heard. Blanka gazed in wonder at the mysterious apparition. She thought she must be dreaming, and that this was but another creation of her own fancy.
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the visitor, "an original way to pay a call, isn't it?—without warning, right through the back wall of your fireplace, and in neglige, too! But as you wouldn't visit me, I had to come to you, and this is the readiest communication between our apartments. You didn't know anything about it, did you? The back of your fireplace is a secret door. If you press on the green tile here at the left, the phoenix flies up the chimney, and then if you bear down hard on this one at the right, it returns to its place again. Do you see?"
As she spoke the white lady stepped on the tile last designated, and straightway the phoenix descended and filled the opening through which she had just made her entrance.
"On the other side," she continued, "is a piece of mechanism which will only work when a secret lock has been opened, and to effect this the bird's eye must first be pushed aside to make room for the key. Your ignorance of all this became apparent to me when I found both of the two keys in my room. One of them belongs to you, and I have brought it to give you. Without it you might be broken in upon most unpleasantly by some unwelcome intruder. But with the key in your possession, you can insert it in the lock whenever you wish to guard against any such intrusion."
With that the speaker handed over the key, and then went on:
"Now you will be able to visit me, just as I do you. One thing more, however, is necessary. You generally have a fire in your fireplace, and not every woman is a Saint Euphrosyne, able to walk barefoot over glowing coals. Here is a little bottle of liquid with which you can quench the flames at pleasure. It is a chemical mixture expressly prepared for this purpose. And in this other bottle is another liquid for rekindling the fire,—no secret of chemistry, this time, but only naphtha. Let us try it at once, for your room is cold and I have nothing on but this dressing-gown."
The flames were soon crackling merrily again in the fireplace. Blanka, much bewildered and still doubting the evidence of her senses, sank down on a sofa, while her unbidden guest seated herself opposite. The princess raised her eyes involuntarily to the Sappho over the mantelpiece. Again the familiar laugh fell on her ears.
"You look up at the Sappho," said the marchioness. "You have heard her play and sing and laugh more than once, haven't you? Well, you shall learn the secret of it all. A jealous husband once had the passage constructed which connects our two apartments. You know the story of Dionysius's Ear. Here you see it in real life. A hollow tube runs from the opening in the lyre directly to my room, and through this the jealous husband was able to hear every sound in his wife's chamber. Through it, too, you have heard me sing and play and laugh, and I have heard tones of sadness from your room, and exclamations in an unknown tongue, with no cheering word to comfort you and drive away your sorrow. Three days ago, about midnight, you began to sing, and that time I could follow the words,—'De profundis ad te clamavi, Domine.' Don't look so surprised. You are not dreaming all this, and I am really the Marchioness Caldariva, better known as 'the beautiful Cyrene.' I have intruded on you this evening, but to-morrow you will admit me of your own free will, and the day after you shall be my guest. We will signal to each other through the tube when we are alone and disengaged, and we shall soon be great friends."
Blanka started slightly at the bare thought of friendship with this woman.
"I am in love with you already," continued the Marchioness Caldariva. "For the past week we have been meeting every day. We kneel side by side in the same church, for I go to church regularly; but you have not noticed me, because you never raise your eyes from your prayer-book to look at your neighbours' bonnets and gowns. As for me, now, I watch you all the time I am praying. Daily prayers are a necessity with me. In the morning I pray for the sins I have committed the day before, and in the evening for those to be committed on the morrow. Another bond of sympathy between us is the similar lot to which we are both condemned,—a life unblessed by domestic happiness,—and we cherish therefore a common hatred of the world. You, however, show yours by leading a solitary life of mourning, I mine by amusing myself the best way I can. If I were strong enough to follow your example, I should do so, but I can't live without distraction. You are strong; I am weak. I admire in you your power to humble your enemies before you. You were told, weren't you, that I wrote that anonymous letter?"
Blanka looked at the speaker with wide eyes of inquiry and wonder. She began at length to place confidence in her words.
"And you were told the truth, too," continued the other. "Oh, those two men are intriguers of the deepest dye. I was accused of upsetting their plan. I was told how mercilessly you had repulsed one of them. Really, that was a master stroke on your part. The fourteenth paragraph! He himself confessed the secret to me,—how he forged a note, some years ago, in the name of a good friend of his, who now holds the incriminating document in his possession. With it he can at any time crush his false friend and deliver him over to a long imprisonment. The trembling culprit wished to free himself at any cost from this sword of Damocles suspended over his head, and he proposed to me two ways to effect the desired end. One was for me to seduce the young artist and then, as the price of my smiles, cajole him into surrendering the fatal note."
The beautiful Cyrene threw at her listener a look full of the proud consciousness of her own dangerous charms. Blanka drew back in nameless fear under her gaze.
"The other way," proceeded the marchioness, "was to have him assassinated if he refused to give up the forged paper."
Blanka pressed her hands to her bosom to keep from crying out.
"Between these two plans I was asked to choose, and I rejected them both,—the first because I knew the young man adored you, the second because I knew you reciprocated his feeling."
The princess rose hastily and walked across the room, seeking to hide her tell-tale blushes.
"Come," said the marchioness, lightly, "sit down again and let us laugh over the whole affair together. You see, I would have nothing to do with either tragedy. I prefer comedy. Both of our arch-schemers have now taken flight from Rome; they were seized with terror at a street riot the other day, and they won't come back again, you may be sure, unless it be in the rear of a besieging army. So now we have the Cagliari palace quite to ourselves, and can sit and chat together all we please. But I must say good night; I've gossiped enough for one while, and I'm sleepy, too."
Once more the fire was extinguished and the phoenix made to yield a passage, after which Blanka found herself alone again. She shuddered at the thought of having lived for months with an open door leading to her bedroom. She debated with herself whether to stick her key in that door and leave it there permanently, while she herself sought another sleeping-room, or to yield to the charm of her unbidden guest and acquiesce in her plan of exchanging confidential visits. The strangeness and mystery of it all, and still more the hope that her neighbour might let fall an occasional word concerning Manasseh, at length prevailed over her fears and scruples, and determined her to receive the other's advances.
On the following evening she gave her servants permission to go to the theatre,—the play representing the defeat of the Austrian army by the Italians,—while she herself, after having her samovar and other tea-things brought to her room, took up her mandolin and struck a few chords on its strings. The reclining Sappho answered her, and a few minutes later there came a knock on the back of the fireplace.
The phoenix rose, and the fair Cyrene appeared, this time in full toilet, as for a fashionable call, her hair dressed in the English mode, a lace shawl falling over her pink silk gown, from beneath which one got an occasional glimpse of the richly embroidered underskirt and a pair of little feet encased in high-heeled shoes.
"You were going out?" asked the princess.
"I was coming to see you."
"Did you know I was waiting for you?"
"I told you yesterday I should come, and I knew you were expecting me from your sending your servants away to the theatre."
"And you knew that too?"
"Yes, because they took mine along with them. So here we are all alone by ourselves."
The consciousness of being the only living creatures in a whole house has a delicious charm, fraught with mystery and awe, for two young women. Blanka took her guest's hat and shawl, and then proceeded to start a fire on the hearth. The fair Cyrene meanwhile caught up her mandolin and began to sing one of Alfred de Musset's songs, full of the warmth and glow of the sunny South. Presently the hostess invited her guest to take tea with her, and asked her at the same time her baptismal name.
The marchioness laughed. "Haven't you heard it often enough? They call me 'Cyrene.'"
"But that isn't your real name," objected Blanka. "You were not christened 'Cyrene.'"
"I use it for my name, however, and no one but my father confessor calls me by my real name, so that now I never hear it without thinking that I must fall on my knees and repeat a dozen paternosters in penance. Besides, my name doesn't suit me at all. It is Rozina, and I am as pale as moonshine. You might far better be called Rozina, for you have such beautiful rosy cheeks, and I should have been named Blanka. I'll tell you, suppose we exchange names: you call me Blanka, and I'll call you Rozina."
The suggestion seemed so funny to Blanka that she burst out laughing, and a woman who laughs is already more than half won over.
"Now, then," continued the other, "we can chat away to our heart's content. There's no one to listen to us or play the spy—a good thing for you to know, Rozina, because all your servants are hired spies. Your doorkeeper and his wife keep a regular journal of who comes in and who goes out, what visiting-cards are left, whom you receive, where you drive,—which they learn from your coachman,—whom you visit, and even with whom you exchange a passing word. Your maid reads all your letters and searches all your pockets. Even your gardener keeps an account of all the flowers you order; for flowers, you know, have a language of their own. Be sure you don't buy a parrot, else it will turn spy on you, too."
"Who can it be that is so suspicious of me?" asked the princess, in surprise.
"Have you forgotten the strict terms of your uncle's legacy, and are you unaware how slight an indiscretion on your part might furnish your relatives with a pretext for contesting your right to a share of the property? Do you forget, too, how trifling an error might result in the cutting off of your allowance from Prince Cagliari?"
"Well, let them watch me, if they wish," returned Blanka, composedly. "I have no secrets to hide from anybody."
"A rash assertion for a woman to make," commented the other, as she poured herself a glass of water. "How warm this water is!" she exclaimed, after taking a sip.
Blanka sprang up and offered to bring some ice from the dining-room.
"Aren't you afraid to go for it alone?"
"Certainly not; the lamps are all lighted."
While the hostess was out of the room, her guest turned over Blanka's portfolio of drawings, and among them found her outline sketch of the Colosseum.
"You sketch beautifully," commented the marchioness, upon the other's return.
"It is my only diversion," replied the princess.
"This view of the Colosseum reminds me of one I saw at the Rossis'."
"The artist may have chosen the same point of view," returned Blanka with admirable composure.
"I called on him at his studio lately," proceeded the marchioness. "I had heard one of his pictures very highly praised. It represents a young woman sitting on the gallery railing in the Colosseum, with the sunlight streaming on her through a red umbrella. The warm glow of the sunbeams is in striking contrast with the deep melancholy on the girl's face. I offered the artist two hundred scudi for the piece, but he said it was not for sale at any price."
Blanka felt as powerless in the hands of this woman as a rabbit in the clutches of a lion. The beautiful Cyrene closed the portfolio and exclaimed:
"Rozina, these men are terrible creatures! They make us women their slaves. But the woman's first and dominant thought must ever be to find some escape from her bondage."
With that she jumped up and ran out of the room, as if taken suddenly ill. Her hostess followed to see what was the matter, and found her sitting in a corner of the adjoining apartment.
"You are weeping?"
"Not at all; never merrier in my life!"
Nevertheless, two tears were shining in the fair Cyrene's eyes.
Next she ran to the piano and began to rattle off "La Gitana," which Cerito had just made so popular throughout Europe.
"Have you the score?" asked the marchioness, turning to Blanka.
"No, but I can play it from memory."
"Then play it to me, please."
Blanka complied, and the other began to dance "La Gitana" to her playing. The spirit and feeling, the coquettish grace and seductive charm, which the dancer put into the movements of her lithe form, challenge description. If only a man could have seen her then! From sheer amazement Blanka found herself unable to control her fingers, which struck more than one false note.
"Faster! Put more fire into it!" cried the dancer. But Blanka could not go on.
"Ah, you don't remember it, after all."
"I can't play when I look at you," was the reply; and the Marchioness Caldariva believed her. "You could drive a man fairly insane."
"As long as the men will torment us, we must be able to pay them back." She took Blanka's arm and returned with her to the other room. "Woe to him who invades my kingdom!" she continued. "He is bound to lose his reason. Do you wish to wager that I can't drive all Rome crazy over me? If I took a notion to dance the 'Gitana' on the opera-house stage for the benefit of the wounded soldiers, all Rome would go wild with enthusiasm, and the people would half smother me with flowers."
"I will make no such wager with you," returned Blanka, "because I know I should lose."
The beautiful Cyrene changed the subject and invited the princess to attend one of her masked balls,—"a masquerade party," she explained, "of only forty guests at the most, and those the chief personages of Roman society. I ferret out all their secrets and can see through their masks; but I use no witchery about it. My guests are admitted by ticket only, and my major-domo, who receives these cards, writes on the back of each a short description of the bearer's costume. So I have only to go to him and consult his notes to learn my guest's identity."
"But cannot your guests also procure information from the same source—for a consideration?"
"Undoubtedly. My domestics are none of them incorruptible."
Blanka laughed, and Rozina hastened to take advantage of her good humour.
"And now just imagine among these forty masks one guest who comes neither through the door, nor through the major-domo's anteroom, so that no card, no personal description, no cab-number, no information of any kind, is to be had concerning her from my servants. She is acquainted with all the secrets of those around her, but no one can guess her secret, or fathom her mystery. Meanwhile a young painter has taken his seat in one corner behind a screen of foliage, and sketches the lively scene before him. He is the only one who, with beating heart, guesses the name of the mysterious unknown. What do you say,—will this bewitching guest from fairyland deign to figure as the chief personage on my young artist's canvas?"
"Before deciding, may I see a list of those whom you have invited?"
"Certainly—a very proper request." The marchioness handed over her fan, the ribs of which were of ivory, and served the owner as tablets. They were covered with a miscellaneous list of well-known names from all classes, and the last among them was Manasseh Adorjan's. "You can order a costume of black lace, spangled with silver stars," the fair Cyrene went on; "then, with a black velvet mask, you will be ready to appear as the Queen of Night."
Blanka offered no objection to this plan.
"I will admit you upon signal, through our secret passageway, into my boudoir, and from there you will pass, when the way is clear, into the ladies' dressing-room, and thence into the ballroom. With this fan of mine in your hand, you will, after some instructions from me, be able to puzzle and mystify all whom you address, while no one will be in a position even to hazard a surmise as to your identity. When you tire of the sport, come to me, pretend to tease me, and then turn and run away. I will give chase, and under cover of this diversion you will slip out of the room, and return to your own apartments by the same way you came, while I continue the hunt and summon all present to aid me in finding my mysterious guest."
Such was the speaker's influence over Blanka, that the latter could not give her a refusal. Accordingly, when the two parted, it was with the understanding that they were soon to see each other again at the marchioness's masquerade.
A SUDDEN FLIGHT.
Blanka sat in her room, with closed doors, preparing her costume for the masked ball. Affairs in the world outside had moved rapidly during the past few days. In the feverish excitement of that revolutionary period, mob violence was threatening to gain the upper hand. Shouts of boisterous merriment reached the princess from the street. From the adjoining wing of the palace, too, other sounds, almost equally boisterous, fell on her ear at intervals. The fair Cyrene was entertaining a company of congenial spirits.
Gradually the noise in the street grew louder, until it seemed as if a cage of wild animals had been let loose before the Cagliari palace. Suddenly, as Blanka stood before her fire, all her senses alert, she saw the glowing phoenix rise from its position, and her fair neighbour stood in the opening.
"Put out your fire, and let me in," bade the marchioness. "I have emptied my extinguisher. Don't you hear the mob storming my palace gates? The soldiery who were summoned to restore order have made common cause with the rioters, and we are in frightful peril. Quick! Out with your fire, and let me and my guests through. We can make our escape by your rear door, and so gain the riverside in safety."
Blanka could not refuse this appeal. She opened the way for the marchioness and her motley company to pass out; then she herself, first closing the secret passage between the two wings of the palace, followed the other fugitives and, gaining the street by a wide detour, engaged a cab to take her to the Vatican.
"His Holiness receives no one this afternoon," was the announcement made to her at the door.
Almost in despair, and bewildered by the sudden turn of events which had thus cast her homeless on the streets, the princess returned to her carriage.
"Do you know where Signor Scalcagnato lives?" she asked the driver.
"Scalcagnato the shoemaker, the champion of the people? To be sure I do: in the Piazza di Colosseo. But if the lady wishes to buy shoes of him she should not address him as Signor Scalcagnato."
"Because he will ask half as much more for them than if he were called plain Citizen Scalcagnato."
After this gratuitous bit of information the coachman whipped up his horse and rattled away toward the Colosseum with his passenger.
Arriving at the shoemaker's shop, Blanka was received by a little man of lively bearing and a quick, intelligent expression.
"Pst! No words needed," was his greeting. "I know all about it. I am Citizen Scalcagnato, il calzolajo. Take my arm, citizeness. Cittadino Adorjano lives on the top floor, and the stairs are a trifle steep. He is out at present, but his studio is open to you."
The young lady was reassured. The honest cobbler evidently did not suspect her of coming to meet his tenant by appointment, but took her for an artist friend on a professional visit, or perhaps a customer come to buy a picture. The shoemaker took the artist's place, in the latter's absence, and sold his paintings for him. Perhaps, too, the artist sold his landlord's shoes when that worthy was abroad.
Thus it was that Blanka took the offered arm without a misgiving, and suffered the cobbler to lead her up the steep stairway to the little attic chamber that served her friend for both sleeping-room and studio. It was as neat as wax, and as light and airy as any painter could desire. A large bow-window admitted the free light of heaven and at the same time afforded a fine view of the Palatine Hill. Leaning for a moment against the window-sill, in mute admiration of the prospect before her, the princess thought how happy a woman might be with this view to greet her eyes every day, while a husband who worshipped her and was worshipped by her worked at her side—or, rather, not worked, but created. It was a picture far more alluring than any that the Cagliari palace had to offer.
"Pst!" the cobbler interrupted her musing; "come and let me show you the portrait."
So saying, he conducted her to an easel on which rested a veiled picture, which he uncovered with an air of pride and satisfaction.
The feeling of rapture that took possession of Blanka at sight of her own portrait was owing, not to the fact that it was her likeness,—radiant though that likeness was with youth and beauty and all the charm of an ideal creation,—but to the thought that he had painted it.
"The price is thirty-three million, three hundred and thirty-three thousand, three hundred and thirty-three scudi, and not a soldo less!" announced the shoemaker, with a broad smile. Then he laid his fingers on his lips. "Pst! Not a word! I know all. It will be all right."
Blanka saw now that he had recognised her the moment she entered his shop.
"The citizen painter is not at home," continued the other, "but he will turn up at the proper time where he is wanted. Sun, moon, and stars may fall from heaven, but he will not fail you. No more words! What I have said, I have said. You can now return home, signorina, and need give yourself no further uneasiness. Whatever occurs in the streets, you need not worry. And finally"—they had by this time reached the ground floor again—"it will be well for you to take a pair of shoes with you, to make the coachman think you came on purpose for them. Here's a good stout pair, serviceable for walking or for mountain-climbing. You can rely on them. So take them along; you may need them sometime."
"But how do you know they will fit me?" asked Blanka.
"Citizeness, don't you remember the stone footprint of our Lord in the church of Domine quo vadis? And may not the footprint of an angel have been left in the sand of the Colosseum for a devout artist to copy in his sketch-book? Such a sketch is enough for the Cittadino Scalcagnato to make a pair of shoes from, so that they cannot fail to fit."
The princess turned rosy red. "I have no money with me to pay for them," she objected. "A footman usually accompanies me and pays for all my purchases; but to-day I left him at home, and I neglected to take my purse with me."
"No matter; I understand. I'll charge the amount. Here, take this purse and pay your cab-fare out of it when you reach the square. Don't go home in a carriage, but on foot. You needn't fear to do so, with a pair of shoes in your hand. If your gold-laced lackey were with you, you might meet with insult and abuse; but walking alone with the shoes in your hand, you will not be molested, and you will find all quiet at home by this time. Now enough said. I know all. You can pay me back later."
With that the little shoemaker escorted his guest to her carriage and took leave of her with a polite request—intended for the cabman's ear—for her further patronage.
Following the mysterious little man's directions, Blanka reached home unharmed, and found everything there as she had left it. Whatever violence the rioters may have allowed themselves in storming the marchioness's quarters, her own wing of the palace, for some reason that she could only vaguely conjecture, had been spared. After assuring herself of this, the princess tried on her new shoes, and found that Citizen Scalcagnato was no less skilful as a shoemaker than eminent as a politician and a party-leader.
The house was now still and deserted, although the sounds of riotous excess were faintly audible in the distance. The servants had evidently fled at the same time that Blanka and the marchioness left the palace. Looking out of her rear window, the princess noticed that her garden gate was open; it must have been left swinging by her domestics in their flight. She was hastening down-stairs to close it, when a man's form appeared before her in the gathering gloom, and she cried out in sudden terror.
"Do not be alarmed, Princess." The words came in a firm, manly voice that thrilled the hearer; she recognised the tones. Manasseh Adorjan stood before her. "I could not gain admittance by the front door," he explained, "so I went around to the garden gate."
"And how is it," asked Blanka, "that you have come to me at the very moment that I was seeking you?"
"I wished, first, to bid you farewell. I am going home, to Transylvania, for my people are in trouble and I must go and help them. As long as they are happy I avoid them, but when misfortune comes I cannot stay away. War threatens to invade our peaceful valley, and I hasten thither."
"Has the hour come, then, when you feel it right to kill your fellow-men?"
"No, Princess; my part is to restore peace, not to foment strife."
Blanka's hands were clasped in her lap. She raised them to her bosom and begged her fellow-countryman to take her with him.
The colour mounted to his face, his breast heaved, he passed his hand across his brow, whereon the perspiration had started, and stammered, in agitated accents:
"No, no, Princess, I cannot take you with me."
"Why not?" asked Blanka, tremulously.
"Because I am a man and but human. I could shield you against all the world, but not against myself. I love you! And if you came with me, how could you expect me to help you keep your vows? I am neither saint nor angel, but a mortal, and a sinful one."
The poor girl sank speechless into a chair and hid her face in her hands.
"Hear me further, Princess," continued the other, with forced calmness. "I have told you but one reason why I sought you here to-day. The other was to show you a means of escape from this place, where you cannot remain in safety another day. You must leave Rome this very night, and that will be no easy thing to accomplish now that all the gates are guarded. But I have a plan. Above all things, you must find a lady to take you under her protection, and that, I think, can be effected. Citizen Scalcagnato issues all the passports for those that leave the city by the Colosseum gate. From him I have learned that the Countess X—— is to leave for the south to-night. I have obtained a pass for you, and you have only to make yourself ready and go with me to the Colosseum gate, where we will wait for her carriage. She is a good friend of yours and cannot refuse to take you as her travelling-companion. Do you approve my plan?"
"Yes, and I thank you."
"Then a few hours hence will see you on your journey southward. I shall set out for the north, and soon the length of Italy will separate us. Is it not best so?"
Blanka gave him her hand in mute assent.
* * * * *
An hour later Manasseh and Blanka stood in the shelter of the gateway by which the countess was expected to leave Rome. They had not long to wait: the sound of an approaching carriage was soon heard, and when it halted under the gas-lamp Blanka recognised her friend's equipage. The gate-keeper advanced to examine the traveller's passport, and as the carriage door was thrown open Blanka hastened forward and made herself known.
"What do you wish?" demanded the liveried footman.
The princess turned and looked at him. Surely she had seen that face and form before in a different setting, but she could not recall when or where. So much was evident, however, that the speaker was more wont to give than to receive orders. Blanka turned again to the open carriage door and plucked at the cloak of the person sitting within.
"You are fleeing from Rome, too, Countess," said she. "I beg you to take me with you."
But the carriage door was closed in her face.
"Countess, hear me!" she cried, in distress. "Have pity on me! Don't leave me to perish in the streets!"
Her petition was unheeded. The footman drew her away and, as he turned to remount the vehicle, whispered three words in her ear:
"E il papa!"
It was the Pope, and he was fleeing! The spiritual ruler of the world, the king of kings, Heaven's viceroy upon earth, was flying for his life. The judge fled and left the prisoner to her fate. Blanka felt herself absolved from all her vows. She plucked from her bosom the consecrated palm-leaf, tore it to pieces, and threw the fragments scornfully after the retreating carriage. Then she turned once more to Manasseh.
"Now take me with you whithersoever you will!" she cried, and she sank on his bosom and suffered him to clasp her in a warm embrace.
Manasseh had not much choice of routes in making his way, with his companion, to Transylvania. After leaving Italy, he bent his course first to Dees, as the road thither seemed to offer no obstacles to peaceful travellers. Troops were, indeed, encountered here and there on the way; but they suffered Manasseh and Blanka to pass unmolested. Manasseh had fortunately provided a generous hamper of supplies, so that his companion was not once made aware that they were passing through a district lately overrun by a defeated army, which had so exhausted the resources of all the wayside inns that hardly a bite or a sup was to be had for love or money.
The weather was unusually fine, as the sunny autumn had that year extended into the winter. The Transylvanian was perfectly familiar with the region, and entertained his fellow-traveller with legends and stories of the places through which they passed. In the splendid chestnut forests that crowned the heights of Nagy-Banya he told her the adventures of the bandit chief, Dionysius Tolvaj, who kept the whole countryside in terror, until at last the men of Nagy-Banya hunted him down and slew him. In his mountain cave are still to be seen his stone table, his fireplace, and the spring from which he drank. Manasseh also related the adventures of bear-hunters in these woods, and told about the search for gold that had long been carried on in the mountains, and often with success, so that many of them were now honeycombed with shafts and tunnels.
Up from yonder valley rose the spirit of the mountains, a white and vapoury form, with which the sturdy mountaineers fought for the possession of the hidden treasure. In reality, however, it was no genie, but simply the fumes of sulphur and arsenic from the smelting works of the miners, who never drew breath without inhaling poison. And yet they lived and throve and were a healthy and happy people, the men strong, the women fair, and one and all fondly attached to their mountain home.
One evening Manasseh pointed to a town in the distance, and told his companion that it was Kolozsvar. As they drew nearer they saw that it was garrisoned with a division of the national guard. Manasseh was now among people who knew him well, and he did not expect to be asked to show his passport. But he was mistaken. Suddenly a hand was laid on his arm and a firm voice saluted his ears.
"So you thought you'd slip by me without once showing your papers, did you? A pretty way to act, I must say!"
Manasseh turned to the speaker, who proved to be a short, broad-shouldered, thick-set man, in a coarse coat such as the Szeklers wear, high boots, and a large hat. His arms were disproportionately long for his short body, his beard was either very closely cut or sadly in need of the razor, and his legs were planted widely apart as he confronted the travellers in a challenging attitude. Perhaps he wished to invite Manasseh to a wrestling bout.
Blanka looked on in surprise as she saw the two men fling their arms around each other. But it was not the embrace of wrestlers. They exchanged a hearty kiss, and then Manasseh cried, joyfully:
"Aaron, my dear brother!"
"Yes, it is Aaron, my good Manasseh," returned the stocky little man, with a laugh; and, throwing aside the jacket that hung from his neck, he extended his right hand to his brother. Then he turned to Blanka. "And this pretty lady is our future sister-in-law, isn't she? God bless you! Pray bend down a bit and let me give your rosy cheek a little smack of a kiss."
Blanka complied, and brother Aaron gave her blushing cheek much more than "a little smack."
"There," declared the honest fellow, with great apparent satisfaction, "I'm delighted that you didn't scream and make a fuss over my bristly beard. You see, I haven't had a chance to shave for four days. Three days and nights I've been here on the watch for my brother and his bride."
"And what about our two brothers, Simon and David?" asked Manasseh, anxiously. "Are they alive and well?"
"Certainly, they are alive," was the answer. "Have you forgotten our creed? Our life is from everlasting to everlasting. But they are really alive and in the flesh, and, what is more"—turning to Blanka—"they are sure to come to meet us and will expect to receive each a nosegay from their brother's sweetheart."
Blanka smiled and promised not to disappoint them, for there were still plenty of autumn flowers in the woods and fields.
"Yes," said Aaron, "you'll find posies enough on the road. We are going by a way that is covered with them. If you don't believe it, look at this bouquet in my hat; it is still quite fresh, and I picked it in the Torda Gap. Have you ever heard of the Torda Gap? There is nothing like it in all the world; you'll remember it as long as you live. It is a splendid garden of wild flowers, and there you will see the cave of the famous Balyika,—he was Francis Rakoczy's general. Thence it is only a step to the Szekler Stone, and we are at home. Do you like to walk in the woods?"
Here Manasseh pulled his brother's sleeve. "Do you really mean to take us by the way of Torda Gap?" he whispered.
"Yes," returned the other, likewise in an undertone; "there is no other way."
A blare of trumpets interrupted this conversation, and presently a squad of hussars came riding down the street, every man of them a raw recruit.
"Look, see how proud he is on his high horse!" interjected Aaron. "He never even looks at a poor foot-passenger like me. Halloa there, brother! What kind of a cavalryman do you call yourself, with no eyes for a pretty girl? Oh, you toad!"
With this salutation Aaron called to his side the young lieutenant who rode at the head of the hussars. He bore a striking resemblance to Manasseh,—the same face, the same form, the same eyes. Indeed, the two had often been mistaken for each other. There was only a year's difference in their ages. The young hussar gave his hand to Manasseh, and while they exchanged cordial greetings they looked each other steadfastly in the eye.
"Whither away, brother?" asked the elder.
"I am going to avenge my two brothers," was the reply.
"And I am going to rescue them," declared Manasseh.
"I am going forth to fight for my country," was the other's rejoinder.
Then the rider bent low over his horse's neck, and the two brothers kissed each other.
"But aren't you going to ask your new sister for a kiss, you young scapegrace?" cried Aaron.
The youthful soldier blushed like a bashful girl. "When I come back—when I have earned a kiss—then I will ask for it. And you will give me one, won't you, dear sister-in-law, even if they bring me back dead?"
Blanka gave him her hand, while a nameless dread showed itself in her face.
"Never fear!" cried the young man. As he gave Blanka a radiant look he saw tears glistening in her eyes. "I shall not die. Egy az Isten!"
[Footnote 1: See preface.]
"Egy az Isten!" repeated the elder brother.
Then the young hussar put spurs to his horse and galloped to the head of his little company.
"Come, let us be going," said Aaron, and he led the way toward the farther end of the town, where the family owned a villa which they used whenever occasion called them from Toroczko to Kolozsvar. Adjoining the house lay a garden which was now rented to a market-woman, who made haste to prepare supper for the travellers. Blanka went into the kitchen and helped her, but not before the woman had been instructed in what was going on and warned not to breathe a word to the young mistress of the dangers that encompassed them all in those troublous times. It was Manasseh's desire to lead his bride home without giving her cause for one moment of disquiet on the way.
"Can you sleep in a carriage?" the market-woman asked her, without pausing in her baking and boiling. "Now as for me, many's the time I've slept every night for two weeks in my cart when I was taking apples to market. One gets used to that sort of thing. The gentlemen propose to set out for Torda this very night, because to-morrow is the great market-day in Kolozsvar, and there'll be troops of peddlers and dealers of all sorts coming into town, and farmers driving their cattle and sheep and swine, so that you couldn't possibly make head against them if you should wait till morning."
Blanka readily gave her consent to any plan that seemed best to her conductors.
Aaron meanwhile had brought out three good horses from the stable and harnessed them to a travelling carriage. "Water behind us, fire before us," he remarked to Manasseh as he buckled the last strap.