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The Daughter of an Empress
by Louise Muhlbach
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As Elizabeth thought of these things her eyes filled with tears, and her whole form shook with rage. She felt unable to be angry with or to punish him, but she was resolved that Eleonore Lapuschkin should feel the whole weight of her vengeance.

"Oh," said she, while pacing her boudoir in a state of violent excitement, "I shall know how to punish this presumptuous woman! Ha, does she not give herself the appearance of not remarking that I constantly have for her a clouded brow and an unfriendly greeting? How! will she not take the pains to see that her empress looks upon her with disfavor? But she shall see and feel that I hate, that I abhor her. Oh, what a powerless creature is yet an empress! I hate this woman, and she has the impudence to think I cannot punish her unless she is guilty."

And weeping aloud, Elizabeth threw herself upon the divan. A low knock at the door recalled her attention from her angry grief. Rising, she bade the person at the door to enter.

It was Lestocq, the privy councillor and president—Lestocq, the confidant of the empress, who came with a joyful face and cheerful smile.

Elizabeth felt annoyed by this cheerfulness of her physician. With an angry frown she turned her back upon him.

"Why were you not at the court ball last evening?" she then roughly said.

"I was there," answered Lestocq.

"Ah, that is not true," cried the empress with vehemence, glad at least to have some one on whom she could discharge her anger. "It is false, I say; no one saw you there! Ah, you dare, then, to impose a falsehood upon your empress? You would—"

"I was at the court ball," interposed Lestocq; "I saw and noted all that occurred there. I saw that my empress beamed in all the splendor of beauty, and yet with her amiable modesty she thought Eleonore Lapuschkin handsomer than herself. I read in Elizabeth's noble brow that she was pained by this, and that she promised to punish the presumption of the insolent countess."

"And to what end have you read all that," responded Elizabeth, with vehemence, "to what end, since you are so sluggish a servant that you make no effort to fulfil any wish of your mistress? To what end, since you are so disregardful of your word as not to hold even your oath sacred?"

"I was at the ball precisely because I remembered my oath," said Lestocq, "because I was intent upon redeeming my word and delivering over to you this Countess Lapuschkin as a criminal! But you could not recognize me, as I was in the disguise of a lackey of the Countess Eleonore Lapuschkin."

Elizabeth springing up from her seat, stared with breathless curiosity into Lestocq's face.

"Well?" she anxiously asked, as Lestocq remained silent. "Speak on; then what further?"

"Illustrious empress," said Lestocq, "I am now here to redeem my word. This Countess Eleonore Lapuschkin is a criminal!"

"Ah, thank God!" cried Elizabeth, breathing more freely.

"By various intrigues and stratagems, by bribery of her servants, I have finally succeeded in spying out her secrets, and last evening, when as her lackey I conducted her from the ball and afterward waited at table at an entertainment given by her husband to some confidential friends, last evening her whole plan was made clear to me. It is a great and very important conspiracy that I have detected! This Countess Eleonore Lapuschkin is guilty of high-treason; she conspires against her legitimate empress!"

"Ah, she conspires!" exclaimed Elizabeth, with a fierce laugh. "For whom, then, does she conspire?"

"For one whose name I dare not utter without the express permission of my empress!"

"Speak, speak quickly!"

Lestocq bent down close to the ear of the empress. "She conspires for the Schlusselburg prisoner Ivan!" said he.

"I shall therefore be able to punish her," said Elizabeth, smilingly. "I shall no longer be obliged to suffer this hated woman within the walls of my capital!"

"Siberia has room for her and her fellow-conspirators!" replied Lestocq. "For this fair countess is not alone guilty, although she is the soul of the conjuration, as it is love that animates her. Eleonore Lapuschkin conspires for her lover!"

"Oh, this adored saint has, then, a lover!" exclaimed the empress. "And I believed her spotless as a lily, so pure that I felt abashed in her presence!"

"You have banished her lover to Siberia, the lover of Eleonore, Count Lowenwald. You may believe that that has caused her a mortal grief."

"Ah," joyfully exclaimed Elizabeth, "I have, therefore, unknowingly caused her tears to flow! But I will yet do it with a perfect consciousness! Relate to me in detail exactly what you know of this conspiracy!"

And Lestocq related that Eleonore Lapuschkin, in connection with her husband, the chamberlain Lilienfeld, and Madame Bestuscheff, who was the sister of the condemned Golopkin, had entered into a conspiracy for the overthrow of Elizabeth and the placing of Ivan upon the throne, and thus releasing the prisoners banished to Siberia.

"Oh, they were very gay at the yesterday's dinner of the conspirators," said Lestocq. "The husband of Countess Lapuschkin even ventured to drink the health of the Emperor Ivan, and to his speedy liberation!"

"But that is high-treason!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "Ah, I had cause to tremble and eternally to stand in fear of my murderers! I already see them lurking around me, encircling me on all sides, to destroy me! Lestocq, save me from my murderers!"

And with a cry of anguish the empress clung convulsively to the arm of her physician.

"The incautiousness of these conspirators has already saved you, empress," said Lestocq. "They have delivered themselves into our hand, they have made us masters of the situation. What would you more? You will punish the traitors; that is all!"

"And I cannot kill them!" shrieked Elizabeth, with closed fists. "I have tied my own hands in my unwise generosity! Ah, they call me an empress, and yet I cannot destroy those I hate!"

"And who denies you that right?" asked Lestocq. "Destroy their bodies, but kill them not! Wherefore have we the knout, if it cannot flay the back of a beauty?"

"Yes, wherefore have we the knout?" exclaimed Elizabeth, with a joyous laugh. "Ah, Lestocq, you are an exquisite man, you always give good advice. Ah, this beautiful Countess Eleonore shall be made acquainted with the knout!"

"You have a double right for it," said Lestocq, "for she has dared to speak of your majesty in unseemly language!"

"Has she done that?" cried Elizabeth. "Ah, I almost love her for it, as that gives me the right to chastise her. Lestocq, what punishment is prescribed for a subject who dares revile his empress? You must know it, you are familiar with the laws! Therefore tell me quickly, what punishment?"

"It is written," said Lestocq, after a moment's reflection, "that any one who dares so misuse his tongue as to revile the sublime majesty of his emperor or empress with irreverent language, such criminal shall have the instrument of his crime, his tongue, torn out by the roots!"

"And this time I will exercise no mercy!" triumphantly exclaimed Elizabeth.

She kept her word—she exercised no mercy! Count Lapuschkin, with his fair wife, the wife of Bestuscheff, the Chamberlain Lilienfeld, and some others, were accused of high-treason and brought before the tribunal.

It was not difficult to convict the countess of the crime charged; incautiously enough had she often expressed her attachment to the cause of the imprisoned Emperor Ivan, and her contempt for the Empress Elizabeth. And in what country is it not a crime to speak disrespectfully of the prince, though he be a criminal and one of the lowest of men?

She was therefore declared guilty; she was sentenced to be scourged with the knout, to have her tongue torn out, and to be transported to Siberia!

Elizabeth did not pardon her. She was a princess—how, then, could she pardon one who had dared to revile her? Every crime is easier to pardon than that of high-treason; for every other there may be extenuating circumstances—for that, never; it is a capital crime which a prince never pardons; how then, could Elizabeth have done so?—Elizabeth, Empress by the grace of God, as all are princes and kings by the grace of God!

The people were running to and fro in the wildest confusion in the streets of St. Petersburg; they cried and shouted vivas to their empress who to-day accorded to them the splendid spectacle of the knouting of some respectable ladies and gentlemen! Ah, that was a very gracious and condescending empress to provide once more a delightful spectacle for her serfs at the expense of the nobility! That was an empress after their own hearts—real Russian blood!

Shrieking and shouting they rushed to the place of execution, pressing against the barriers that separated the central point from the spectators. There stood the bearded assistants of the executioner, there lay the knouts and other instruments, and with eager glances the people devoured all: they found all these preparations admirable, they rejoiced with unrestrained delight in the prospect of seeing the handsomest woman in the realm flayed with the knout. And not the common people alone, the noblesse must also be present; the great magnates of the court must also come, if they would avoid exciting a suspicion that they commiserated the condemned and revolted at their punishment. They all came, these slavish magnates, perhaps with tears in their hearts, but with smiles upon their lips; perhaps murmuring secret curses, but aloud applauding the just sentence of the empress.

Now the closed carriages of the condemned were seen approaching in a long, lingering train; the train halted, the doors were opened, and in the centre of the place of execution appeared Eleonore Lapuschkin, radiant with the brilliancy of the purest beauty, her noble form enveloped in a full, draping robe, which lent to her loveliness an additional charm. She looked around with an astonished and interrogating glance, as if awaking from a confused dream. Young, amiable, the first and most celebrated lady of the court, of which she was the most brilliant ornament, she now sees herself, instead of the admirers who humbly paid their court to her, surrounded by these rough executioners, who regard her with bold and insolent glances, eagerly stretching forth their hands for their prey. One of them, approaching her, ventures to rend from her bosom the kerchief that covers it. Eleonore, shuddering, shrinks back, her cheeks are pale as marble, a stream of tears gushes from her eyes. In vain she implores, in vain her lamentations, in vain her trembling innocence, in vain her efforts to cover herself anew. Her clothes are torn off, and in a few moments she stands there naked to the girdle, with all the upper portion of her person exposed to the eager glances of the masses, who in silence stare at this specimen of the purest feminine beauty.

The proud lily is broken, shattered; she bows her head, the storm has crushed her. Incapable of resistance, she is seized by one of the executioners, who, by a sudden movement, throws her upon her back. Another then approaches and places her in the most convenient position for receiving the punishment. Soon, with rough brutality, he lays his broad hand upon her head, and places it so that it may not be hit by the knout, and then, like a butcher who is about to throttle a lamb, he caresses that snow-white back, as if taking pleasure in the contemplation of the wonderful fairness of his victim.

Now is she in the right position; he steps back, and raising the knout, brings it down upon Eleonore's back with such accuracy that it takes off a strip of skin from her neck to her girdle. Then he swings the knout anew, with the same accuracy and the same result. In a few moments her skin hangs in shreds over her girdle, her whole form is dripping with blood, and the shuddering spectators venture not a single bravo for this dexterous executioner.

The work is finished! With a flayed back Eleonore is raised upon the shoulders of the executioner. She has not screamed, she has not moaned, she has remained dumb and without complaint, but she has prayed to God for vengeance and expiation for the shame inflicted upon her.

And again advances the executioner, with a pair of pincers in his hand. Eleonore looks at him through eyes flaming with anger.

"What would you?" she coldly asks.

"Tear out your tongue!" answers he, with a rude laugh. Two of the executioner's assistants then seizing her, grasp her head.

This time Eleonore defends herself—despair lends her strength. Freeing herself from the grasp of these barbarous executioners, she falls upon her knees, and, raising her bloody arms toward heaven, implores the mercy of God: glancing at the spectators, she implores their pity and their aid; turning her eyes toward the proud imperial palace, where Elizabeth sits enthroned, she begs there for grace and mercy.

But as all remained silent, and as neither God nor man, nor yet the empress, had mercy upon her, a wild rage took possession of Eleonore's soul.

Raising her eyes toward heaven with flaming glances, she exclaimed:

"Woe to this merciless Elizabeth! Woe to this woman who has no compassion for another woman! What she now does to me, do Thou also to her, my God and Lord! Grant that she be flayed as she has now flayed me! Grant her a daughter, and let that daughter before her mother's eyes suffer what I now suffer, O my God! Woe to Elizabeth, and woe to you, ye cowardly slaves, who can look on and see a woman flayed and tortured! Shame and perdition to Russia and its Empress Elizabeth!"

These were Eleonore's last words. With a wild rage her executioners seized her for the purpose of tearing out her tongue. And when that was accomplished, and her husband and son had suffered a similar martyrdom, all three were placed upon a kibitka, to be conveyed to Siberia.

Eleonore could no longer speak with her tongue, but her eyes spoke, and those eyes continued to repeat the prayer for vengeance she had addressed to Heaven: "Grant to this Empress Elizabeth a daughter, and let that daughter's sufferings be like mine."



A WEDDING

The people dispersed. The great returned to their palaces, and also Alexis Razumovsky, who, that he might not excite the anger of the empress, had likewise attended the execution, returned to the imperial palace.

Elizabeth was standing before a large Venetian mirror, scrutinizing a toilet which she had to-day changed for the fourth time.

"Well," she asked of Alexis, as he entered, "was it an interesting spectacle? Was the handsome countess soundly whipped?"

And, while so asking, she was smilingly occupied in attaching a purple flower to her hair.

"She was flayed," laconically replied Alexis. "Her blood streamed down a back that was as red as your beautiful lips, Elizabeth."

Elizabeth offered him her lips to kiss.

"Now," she jestingly asked, "who is now the handsomest woman in my realm?"

"You are and always were!" responded Alexis, embracing her.

"And now tell me," said she, with curiosity, "what did this proud countess do? How did she behave, what did she say?"

Alexis, seating himself upon a tabouret at her feet, related to her all about the fair Eleonore, and what a terrible curse she uttered.

"Ah, nonsense!" replied Elizabeth, shrugging her shoulders, "How can one make such a stupid prayer to God! I shall never marry, and therefore never have a daughter to be scourged with the knout."

But while thus speaking, her eyes suddenly became fixed and her cheek pale. She laid her trembling hand upon her heart—tears gushed from her eyes.

Under her heart she had felt a movement of a new and mysterious life! Heaven itself seemed to contradict her words! Elizabeth felt that she was a mother, and Eleonore's words now filled her with awe and terror!

Fainting, she sank into Razumovsky's arms.

A few weeks later, a great and magnificent court festival was celebrated at the imperial palace at St. Petersburg. It was not enough that Elizabeth had chosen a successor in the person of Peter, Duke of Holstein, she must also give this successor a wife, that the throne might be fortified and assured by a numerous progeny.

She chose for him the Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst, the young and beautiful Sophia Augusta, who, embracing the Greek religion, received the name of Catharine.

It was the marriage festival of this young German princess with the heir to the Russian throne which was celebrated in the imperial palace at St. Petersburg—a festival of splendor and enthusiasm, as it was attended by two women of the most exciting beauty, Elizabeth the present and Catharine the future empress—the one gorgeous with the splendor of the present, the other irradiated with the glory of the future. People looked at the fair youthful face of Catharine, and sought to read in her majestic high forehead the hopes that Russia might cherish of her! It was, therefore, a festival of the present and future that was there and then celebrated, and the magnates humbly prostrated themselves before this new star, and threw themselves upon the earth before the ever-new sun of imperial majesty which shone upon them in the person of Elizabeth.

Catharine with a joyful spirit and a proud smile laid her hand in that of Peter, and as she stepped with him to the altar she thought: "I do this that I may one day be empress! and as I can reach that position in no other way—well, then, let them call me the wife of this under-aged boy! I will suffer it until the time when I shall no longer suffer, but command."

With such thoughts did Catharine become the wife of the Grand-duke Peter, who, as he with a loud and solemn "yes" vowed eternal truth to his young wife, looked at the Countess Woronzow, and both exchanged a stolen smile and a glowing glance of love.

"They may henceforth call this proud Catharine my wife," thought Peter, "but I shall never love her, as my heart will ever belong to my dear Woronzow! But Elizabeth has decided that Catharine shall be my wife. I accommodate myself to her command, and obey now, that I may one day command! But then woe to the wife this day forced upon me!"

And when the ceremony was ended, the new-married pair received with smiling faces and radiant glances the congratulations of the court, which in loud and ecstatic exclamations commended the love and happiness of this young princely pair.

On the same day a second marriage was celebrated in this same imperial palace, perhaps not so splendid, but certainly a happier one, for it was love that united the two—love had overcome Elizabeth's aversion to marriage, and decided her to raise her dear Alexis Razumovsky to the position of her husband—love, and also a little superstition! As the son born to Elizabeth some months previously had died soon after its birth, and in this dispensation Elizabeth recognized the punishment of heaven in disapproval of her connection with Alexis, she shudderingly, remembered the words spoken by Eleonore Lapuschkin, and her heart was filled with fear for the children which the future might bring her.

"I will destroy the curse which this Countess Lapuschkin has pronounced against my children," thought Elizabeth, as she now for the second time felt herself to be a mother. "If God blesses my children, the curse of no human being can affect them, and this revengeful prayer of the countess will have no more power when the priest of God has consented and blessed the child now quietly reposing under my heart!"

This was the reason why Elizabeth resolved to marry Alexis Razumovsky; this was the reason why she, in a solitary chapel, accompanied only by Lestocq and the priest, stood before the marriage-altar with Alexis, and became his wife.

She breathed freer when the priest had pronounced his blessing upon her; an oppressive weight was lifted from her heart; the child she was about to bear was saved and sheltered, and Eleonore's curse had no longer any power over it!

On the next day Elizabeth appointed Alexis field-marshal, and raised him in the ranks of the nobility.

"We must at any rate give our son a respectable father," said she. "I hope we shall have a son, who will be as beautiful as his father; whom I will overload with honors, and place high above all the magnates of my court. Ah, a son! No daughter, Alexis!"

"And why no daughter?" smilingly asked Razumovsky.

Elizabeth shuddered, and, clinging to her beloved, whispered:

"Has not Eleonore Lapuschkin said, 'Give her a daughter, and let her, before the eyes of her mother, experience what I now suffer!' Oh, Alexis, wish me therefore no daughter! I shall always tremble for her!"

And God seemed to have listened to the anxious prayer of the empress. Again she bore a son, but again the son died shortly after his birth.

"It is very sad to lose a child, and especially a son," sighed Elizabeth, and involuntarily she thought of Anna, that poor mother whom she had robbed of her son, that he might grow up in eternal joyless imprisonment, that he might be morally murdered, and from a man be converted into an idiot!

"This is God's vengeance!" whispered something in her breast, but Elizabeth shrank from these low whisperings of her conscience, and she tremulously said: "I will not listen to it! Away, ye intrusive thoughts! I am an empress—for me there are no crimes, no laws! An empress is exalted above all law, and whatever she does is right! Away, away, therefore, ye troublesome thoughts! This boy Ivan must remain in prison; I cannot restore him to his mother. May she bear other children, and then new joys will bloom for her!"

But these thoughts would not be thus be banished, they constantly haunted her; they left not her nightly couch; they constantly renewed their dismal, awful whisperings; and this all-powerful empress would loudly shriek with mortal anguish, and she was dismayed at being left alone with her thoughts.

"I will have society around me," said she, "and will never be alone; the people about me shall always laugh and jest, to cheer me and distract my thoughts. Hasten, hasten—call my court; the most jovial men shall be most welcome! And, do you hear, above all things, bring me wine, the best and strongest wine. When I drink plenty of it, I shall again become gay and happy; it drives away all cares, and renders the heart light and free!"

And they came, the merriest gentlemen of the court; it also came, the strong, fiery wine; and, after an hour, Elizabeth's brow beamed with renewed pleasure, while her heavy tongue with difficulty stammered:

"How beautiful it yet is to be an empress—for an empress there is only joy and delight, and endless pleasures!"



SCENES AND PORTRAITS

Years passed—famous and glorious years for Russia. Peace within her borders, and splendid victories gained over foreign enemies, particularly over the Prussians. In songs of jubilee the people praised and blessed their empress, whose wisdom had brought all to such a glorious conclusion, and had made her country great, triumphant, and happy.

The good Elizabeth! What had she to do with the victories of her soldiers, with the happiness of her realm? She knew nothing of it, and if peace prevailed throughout the Russian empire, it was absolutely unknown in the imperial palace, where there was eternal war, a never-ending feud! There the young Catharine contended with her husband, whom she hated and abhorred; with Elizabeth, who saw in her a dangerous rival. But it was an unequal struggle in which these two women were engaged, for Elizabeth had on her side the power and dominion, while Catharine had only her youth, her beauty, and her tears!

Elizabeth hated Catharine because she dared to remain young and handsome, while she, the empress, saw that she was growing old, and her charms were withering; and Catharine hated Elizabeth because the latter denied her a right which the empress daily claimed for herself—the right to choose a lover, and to love him as long as he pleased her. She hated Elizabeth because the latter surrounded her with spies and watchers, and required of her a strict virtue, a never-violated matrimonial fidelity—fidelity to the husband who so far derided and insulted his wife as to demand that she should receive into her circle and treat with respect and kindness his own mistress, the Countess Woronzow—fidelity to this husband, who had never shown her any thing but contempt and neglect, and who had no other way of entertaining her than teaching her to march in military fashion, and stand as a sentinel at his door!

Wounded in her inmost being and her feminine honor, tired of the eternal pin-prickings with which Elizabeth tormented her, Catharine retreated into her most retired apartment, there in quiet to reflect upon her dishonorable greatness, and yearningly to dream of a splendid future. "For the future," said she, with sparkling eyes to her confidante, Princess Daschkow, "the future is mine, they cannot deprive me of it. For that I labor and think and study. Ah, when my future shall have become the present, then will I encircle my brows with a splendid imperial diadem, and astonish you with all my greatness and magnificence."

"But you forget your husband!" smilingly interposed Princess Daschkow. "He will a little obscure the splendor of your imperial crown, as he will always be the first in the realm. He is the all-powerful emperor, and you will be powerless, although an empress!"

Catharine proudly tossed her head, and her eyes flashed.

"I shall one day remember all the mortifications he has inflicted upon me," said she, "and an hour will come when I shall have a reckoning with him, and full retribution! Ah, talk not to me of my husband—Russian emperors have never been immortal, and why should he be so?"

"Catharine!" exclaimed the Princess Daschkow, turning pale, "you cannot think—"

"I think," interposed Catharine, with an unnatural smile, "I think the Russian emperors are not immortal, and that this good Empress Elizabeth is very fortunate in having no emperor who presumes to stand over her and have a will more potent than her own!"

"Ah, Elizabeth has no will at all!" laughingly responded the princess.

"But I shall have a will!" said Catharine, proudly.

The Princess Daschkow had spoken the truth. Elizabeth had no longer any will; she let Bestuscheff govern, and was herself ruled by Alexis Razumovsky, the field-marshal, her husband. She did whatever these two required, willingly yielding to them in all cases demanding no personal effort on her part. On this point only had she a will of her own, which she carried through with an iron hand.

"I have not become empress that I might labor, but that I might amuse myself," said she. "I have not set the crown upon my head for the purpose of governing, but for the purpose of enjoying life. Spare me, therefore, the labor of signing your documents. I will sign nothing more, for my hand is not accustomed to holding the pen, and the ink soils my fingers, which is unworthy of an empress!"

"It is only one signature that I implore of you to-day," said Bestuscheff, handing her a letter. "Have the great kindness to make an exception of this one single case, by signing this letter to King Louis XV. of France."

"What have I to write to this King of France?" fretfully asked Elizabeth. "Why should I do it? It is a long time since he has sent me any new dresses, although he might well know that nothing is more important for an empress than a splendid and varied wardrobe! Why, then, should I write to this King of France?"

"You majesty, it is here question of a simple act of courtesy," said Bestuscheff, pressingly; "an act the omission of which may be attended with the most disagreeable consequences, perhaps indeed involve us in a war. Think of the peace of your realm, the welfare of your people, and sign this letter!"

"But what does it contain that is so important?" asked the empress, with astonishment. "I now remember that for a year past you have been importuning me about this!"

"Yes, your majesty, I have been for the last three years daily imploring of you this signature, and you have refused it to me; and yet the letter is so necessary! It is against all propriety not to send it! For it is a letter of congratulation to the King of France, who in an autograph letter announced to you the birth of his grandson. Reflect, your majesty, that he wrote you with his own hand, and for three years you have refused to give yourself the small trouble to sign the answer I have prepared. This prince, for whose birth you are to congratulate the king, is now old enough to express his own thanks for the sympathy you manifest for him."

Elizabeth laughed. "Well," said she, "I shall finally be obliged to comply with your wishes, that you may leave me in peace. For three years I have patiently borne your importunities for this signature. My patience is now at an end, and I will sign the letter, that I may be freed from your solicitations. Give me, therefore, that intolerable pen, but first pour out a glass of Malvoisie, and hold it ready, that I may strengthen myself with it after the labor is accomplished."

Elizabeth, sighing, took the pen and slowly and anxiously subscribed her name to this three-years-delayed letter of congratulation to the King of France.

"So," said she, throwing down her pen after the completion of her task—"so, but you must not for a long time again trouble me with any such work, and to-day I have well earned the right to a very pleasant evening. Nothing more of business—no, no, not a word more of it! I will not have these delightful hours embittered by your absurdities! Away with you, Bestuscheff, and let my field-marshal, Count Razumovsky, be called!"

And when Alexis came, Elizabeth smilingly said to him: "Alexis, the air is to-day so fine and fresh that we will take a ride. Quick, quick! And know you where?"

Razumovsky nodded. "To the villa!" said he, with a smile.

"Yes, to the villa!" cried Elizabeth, "to see my daughter at the villa!"

She therefore now had a daughter, and this daughter had not died like her two sons. She lived, she throve in the freshness of childhood, and Elizabeth loved her with idolatrous tenderness!

But precisely on account of this tenderness did she carefully conceal the existence of this daughter, keeping her far from the world, ignorant of her high birth, unsuspicious of her mother's greatness!

The fatal words of the Countess Lapuschkin still resounded in the ears of the empress: "Give this Elizabeth a daughter, and let that daughter experience what I now suffer!"

Such had been the prayer of the bleeding countess, flayed by the executioners of the empress, and the words were continually echoing in Elizabeth's heart.

Ah, she was indeed a lofty empress; she had the power to banish thousands to Siberia, and was yet so powerless that she could not banish those words from her mind which Eleonore Lapuschkin had planted there.

Eleonore was therefore avenged! And while the countess bore the torments of her banishment with smiling fortitude, Elizabeth trembled on her throne at the words of her banished rival—words that seemed to hang, like the sword of Damocles, over the head of her daughter!

Perhaps it was precisely for the reason that she so much feared for her daughter, that she loved her so very warmly. It was a passionate, an adoring tenderness that she felt for the child, and nevertheless she had the courage to keep her at a distance from herself, to see her but seldom, that no one might suspect the secret of her birth.

Eleonore's words had brought reflection to Elizabeth. She comprehended that her legitimate daughter would certainly be threatened with great dangers after her death; she had shudderingly thought of poor Ivan in Schlusselburg, and she said to herself: "As I have held him imprisoned as a pretender, so may it happen to my daughter, one day, when I am no more! Ivan had but a doubtful right to my throne, but Natalie is indisputably the grand-daughter of Peter the Great—the blood of the great Russian czar flows in her veins, and therefore Peter will fear Natalie as I feared Ivan; therefore will he imprison and torment her as I have imprisoned and tormented Ivan!"

By this affectionate anxiety was Elizabeth induced to make a secret of the existence of her daughter, which was imparted to but a few confidential friends.

The little Natalie was raised in a solitary country-house not far from the city, and her few servants and people were forbidden under pain of death to admit any stranger into this constantly-closed and always-watched house. No one was to enter it without a written order of the empress, and but few such written orders were given.

Elizabeth, then, as it were to recompense herself for the trouble of signing the letter to the King of France, resolved to visit her daughter to-day with her husband.

"Rasczinsky may precede and announce us," said she. "We will take our dinner there, and he may say to our major-domo that we are going to Peterhoff. Then no one will be surprised that we make a short halt at my little villa in passing, or, rather, they will know nothing of it. Call Rasczinsky!"

Count Rasczinsky was one of the few who were acquainted with the secret, and might accompany the empress in these visits. Elizabeth had unlimited confidence in him; she knew him to be a silent nobleman, and she estimated him the more highly from the fact that he seemed much attached to the charming, beautiful, and delicate child, her daughter. She remarked that he appeared to love her as a brother, that he constantly and fondly watched over her, and that he was never better pleased than when, as a child, he could jest and play with her.

"Rasczinsky, we are about to ride out to the villa on a visit to Natalie!" she said, when the count entered.

The count's eyes beamed with pleasure. "And I may be permitted to accompany your majesty?" he hastily asked.

The empress smiled. "How impetuous you are!" said she. "Would not one think you were a dying lover, a sighing shepherd, and it was a question of seeking your tender shepherdess, instead of announcing to a child of eleven years the speedy arrival of her mother?"

"Your majesty," said Count Rasczinsky, laughing, "I am not in love, but I adore this child as my good angel. I can never do or think any thing bad in Natalie's presence. She is so pure and innocent that one casts down his eyes with shame before her, and when she glances at me with her large, deep, and yet so childish eyes, I could directly fall upon my knees and confess to her all my sins!"

"You would not have many to confess," said Elizabeth, "for your sins are few. You are the pride of my court, and, as I am told, a true pattern of all knightly virtues. Remain so, and who knows, my fair young count, what the future may bring you? Love my Natalie now only as an angel of innocence; let her grow up as such, and then—"

"And then?" asked the count, as the empress stopped.

"Then we shall see!" smilingly responded Elizabeth. "But now hasten forward to announce us."

"Your majesty forgets that, to enable one to penetrate into this enchanted castle, your written command is required!"

"Ah, that is true!" said Elizabeth, stepping to her writing-table. This time she was not too indolent to write; no representations nor prayers were needed. It concerned the seeing of her daughter—how, then, could she have thought writing painful or troublesome?

With the same pen with which, a short time before, she had so unwillingly signed the congratulatory letter, she now wrote upon a sheet of paper, provided with her seal these words:

"The Count Rasczinsky may be admitted.

"ELIZABETH."



She handed the paper to the count, who pressed it to his lips.

"You can retain this paper for all time," said the empress, as she dismissed him. "I know that I can wholly confide in you. You will never sell or betray my Natalie?"

"Never!" protested the count, taking his leave.

Hastily mounting his horse, he galloped through the streets, and when, having left the city behind him, he found himself in the open country where no one could observe him, he drew the paper Elizabeth had given him from his bosom, and waving it high in the air, shouted:

"Good fortune, good fortune! This paper is my talisman and my future! With this paper I will give Russia an empress, and make myself her emperor!"



PRINCES ALSO MUST DIE

Yes, even princes must die, glorious and lofty as they are, proudly as they stand over their trembling subjects! Even to them comes the dark hour in which all the borrowed and artistically-combined tinsel of their lives falls from them; a dark hour, in which they tremble and repent, and pray to God for what they seldom granted to their fellow-men—mercy! Mercy for those false tales which they have imposed upon the people, for those false tales of the higher endowments of princes, of inherited wisdom which raises them above the rest of mankind—mercy for their arbitrariness, their pride, and their insolence—mercy for a poor beggar, who, until then, had called himself a rich and powerful prince.

And this hour came for Elizabeth. After twenty years of splendor, of absolute, unlimited power, of infallibility, of likeness to the gods, came the depressing hour in which Elizabeth ceased to be an empress, and became only a trembling earth-worm, imploring mercy, aid, amelioration of her sufferings from her Creator!

She suffered much, this poor empress, dethroned by death; she suffered, although reposing upon silken cushions, with a gold-embroidered covering for her shaking limbs.

And she was yet so young, hardly fifty, and she loved life so intensely! Oh, she would have given half of her empire for a few more years of life and enjoyment. But what cares Death for the wishes of an empress? Here ends her earthly supremacy! Groaning and writhing, the earth-worm tremblingly submits.

Where, now, were all her favorites—those high lords of the court, those grand noblemen, created from soldiers, grooms, lackeys, and serfs—where were they now? Why stood they not around the death-bed of their empress? Why were they not there, that the remembrance of the benefits conferred upon them might drive away those terrible reminiscences of the torments she had inflicted upon others? Where were they, her counts, barons, field-marshals, and privy councillors, whom she had raised from nothing to the first positions in the realm?

None were with her! They had all hastened thence for the preservation of their ill-gotten wealth, to crawl in the dust before Peter, to be the first to pay him homage, that he might pardon their greatness and their possessions! From the death-bed they had fled to Peter, and kneeling before him, they praised God for at length bestowing upon the happy realm the noblest and best ruler, Peter III.!

But where were Elizabeth's more particular friends, who had made her an empress?

Where was Lestocq?

Him the empress had banished to Siberia. Yielding to the prayers and calumnies of his enemies, which she was too weak to withstand, she had given him up; she had sacrificed him to procure peace and quiet for herself, and in the same hour in which she had tenderly pressed his hand, and called him her friend, had she signed his sentence of banishment! Lestocq had for nine years languished in Siberia.

Where was Grunstein? Banished, cast off, like Lestocq.

Where was Alexis Razumovsky?

Ah, well for her! He stood at her bedside, he pressed her cold hand in his; he yet, in the face of death, thanked her for all the benefits she had heaped upon him. But alas! she was also surrounded by others—by wild, pale, terrible forms, which were unseen by all except the dying empress! She there saw the tortured face of Anna Leopoldowna, whom she had let die in prison; there grinned at her the idiotic face of Ivan, whose mind she had destroyed; there saw she the angry-flashing eyes and bloody form of Eleonore Lapuschkin, and, springing up from her bed, the empress screeched with terror, and folded her trembling hands in prayer to God for grace and mercy for her daughter, for Natalie, that He would turn away the horrible curse that Eleonore had hurled at her child.

Alexis Razumovsky stood by her bedside, weeping. Overcome, as it seemed, by his sorrow, another left the death-chamber of the empress, and rushed to his horse, standing ready in the court below! This other was Count Rasczinsky, the confidant of the empress.

The bells rang in St. Petersburg, the cannon roared; there were both joy and sorrow in what the bells and cannon announced!

The Empress Elizabeth was dead; the Emperor Peter III. ascended the throne of the czars as absolute ruler of the Russian realm. The first to bow before him was his wife. With her son of five years old in her arms, she had thrown herself upon her knees, and touching the floor with her forehead, she had implored grace and love for herself and her son; and Peter, raising her up, had presented her to the people as his empress.

In St. Petersburg the bells rang, the cannon thundered—"The empress is dead, long live the emperor!"

Before the villa stopped a foam-covered steed, from which dismounted a horseman, who knocked at the closed door. To the porter who looked out from a sliding window he showed the written order of Elizabeth for his admission. The porter opened the door, and with the loud cry, "Natalie, Natalie!" the Count Rasczinsky rushed into the hall of the house.

The bells continued to ring, the cannon to thunder. There was great rejoicing in St. Petersburg.

Issuing from the villa, Count Rasczinsky again mounted his foaming steed.

Like a storm-wind swept he over the plain—but not toward St. Petersburg, not toward the city where the people were saluting their new emperor!

Away, away, far and wide in the distance, his horse bounded and panted, bleeding with the spurs of his rider. Excited constantly to new speed, he as constantly bounds onward.

Like a nocturnal spectre flies he through the desert waste; the storm-wind drives him forward, it lifts the mantle that enwraps him like a cloud, and under that mantle is seen an angel-face, the smile of a delicate little girl, two tender childish arms clasping the form of the count, a slight elfish form tremblingly reposing upon the count's breast.

"You weep not, my angel," whispered the count, while rushing forward with restless haste.

"No, no, I neither weep nor tremble, for I am with you!" breathed a sweet, childish voice.

"Cling closer to me, my sweet blossom, recline your head against my breast. See, evening approaches!—Night will spread its protecting veil over us, and God will be our conductor and safeguard! I shall save you, my angel, my charming child!"

The steed continues his onward course.

The child smilingly reclines upon the bosom of the rider, over whom the descending sun sheds its red parting beams.

Like a phantom flies he onward, like a phantom he disappears there on the border of the forest. Was it only a delusive appearance, a fata morgana of the desert?

No, again and again the evening breeze raises the mantle of the rider, and the charming angelic brow is still seen resting upon the bosom of the count.

No, it is no dream, it is truth and reality!

Like a storm-wind flies the count over hill and heath, and on his bosom reposes Natalie, the daughter of the empress!



THE CHARMED GARDEN

One must be very happy or very unhappy to love Solitude, to lean upon her silent breast, and, fleeing mankind, to seek in its arms what is so seldom found among men, repose for happiness or consolation for sorrow! For the happy, solitude provides the most delightful festival, as it allows one in the most enjoyable resignation to repose in himself, to breathe out himself, to participate in himself! But it also provides a festival for the unhappy—a festival of the memory, of living in the past, of reflection upon those long-since vanished joys, the loss of which has caused the sorrow! For the children of the world, for the striving, for the seeker of inordinate enjoyments, for the ambitious, for the sensual, solitude is but ill-adapted—only for the happy, for the sorrow-laden, and also for the innocent, who yet know nothing of the world, of neither its pleasures nor torments, of neither its loves nor hatreds!

So thought and spoke the curious Romans when passing the high walls surrounding the beautiful garden formerly belonging to the Count Appiani. At an earlier period this garden had been well known to all of them, as it had been a sort of public promenade, and under its shady walks had many a tender couple exchanged their first vows and experienced the rapture of the first kiss of love. But for the four last years all this had been changed; a rich stranger had come and offered to the impoverished old Count Appiani a large sum for this garden with its decaying villa, and the count had, notwithstanding the murmurs of the Romans, sold his last possession to the stranger. He had said to the grumbling Romans: "You are dissatisfied that I part with my garden for money. You were pleased to linger in the shady avenues, to listen to these murmuring fountains and rustling cypresses; you have walked here, you have here laughed and enjoyed yourselves, while I, sitting in my dilapidated villa, have suffered deprivation and hunger. I will make you a proposition. Collect this sum, you Romans, which this stranger offers me; ye who love to promenade in my garden, unite yourselves in a common work. Let each one give what he can, until the necessary amount is collected, then the garden will be your common property, where you can walk as much as you please, and I shall be happy to be relieved from poverty by my own countrymen, and not compelled to sell to a stranger the garden so agreeable to the Romans!"

But the good Romans had no answer to make to Count Appiani. They, indeed, would have the enjoyment, but it must cost them nothing—in vain had they very much loved this garden, had taken great pleasure under its shady trees; but when it became necessary to pay for these pleasures, they found that they were not worth the cost, that they could very well dispense with them.

The good Romans therefore turned away from this garden, which threatened them with a tax, and sought other places of recreation; while old Count Appiani sold his garden and the ruins of his villa to the rich stranger who had offered him so considerable a sum for them. From that day forward every thing in the garden had assumed a different appearance. Masons, carpenters, and upholsterers had come and so improved the villa, within and without, that it now made a stately and beautiful appearance amid the dense foliage of the trees. It had been expensively and splendidly furnished with every thing desirable for a rich man's dwelling, and the upholsterers had enough to relate to the listening Romans of the elegant magnificence now displayed in this formerly pitiable villa. How gladly would the former promenaders now have returned to this garden; how gladly would they now have revisited this villa, which, with its deserted halls and its ragged and dirty tapestry, had formerly seemed to them not worth looking at! But their return to it was now rendered impossible; for on the same day in which the new owner took possession of the garden, he had brought with him more than fifty workmen, who had immediately commenced surrounding it with a high wall.

Higher and higher rose the wall; nobody could see over it, as no giant was sufficiently tall; no one could climb over it, as the smoothly-hammered stones of which it was built offered not the least supporting point. The garden with its villa had become a secret mystery to the Romans! They yet heard the rustling of the trees, they saw the green branches waving in the wind; but of what occurred under those branches and in those shaded walks they could know nothing. At first, some curious individuals had ventured to knock at the low, narrow door that formed the only entrance into this walled garden. They had knocked at that door and demanded entrance. Then would a small sliding window be opened, and a gruff, bearded man with angry voice would ask what was wanted, and at the same time inform the knocker that no one could be admitted; that he and his two bulldogs would be able to keep the garden clear of all intruders. And the two great hounds, as if they understood the threats of their master, would show their teeth, and their threatening growl would rise to a loud and angry bark.

They soon ceased to knock at that door, and, as they could not gain admission, they took the next best course, of assuming the appearance of not wishing it.

Four years had since passed; they had overcome the desire to enter the premises or to look over the wall, but they told wondrous tales of the garden and of a beautiful fairy who dwelt in it, and whose soft, melodious voice was sometimes heard in the stillness of the night singing sweet, transporting songs. No one had seen her, this fairy, but she was certainly beautiful, and of course young; there were also some bold individuals who asserted that when the moon shone brightly and goldenly, the young fairy was then to be seen in the tops of the trees or upon the edge of the wall. Light as an elf, transparent as a moonbeam, she there swung to and fro, executing the singular dances and singing songs that brought tears to the eyes and compassion to the hearts of those who heard them. On hearing these tales, the Romans would make the sign of the cross, and pass more quickly by the walls of this garden, which thenceforth they called "The Charmed Garden." It was indeed a charmed garden! It was an island of happiness, behind these walls, concealed from the knavery of the world. Like an eternal smile of the Divinity rested the heavens over this ever-blooming, ever-fragrant garden, in whose myrtle-bushes the nightingales sang, and in whose silver-clear basins the goldfishes splashed.

Yes, it was indeed a charmed garden, and also had its fairy, who, if she did not compete with the moonbeams in rocking herself on the tops of the trees and the edges of the wall, was nevertheless as delicate as an elf, and who tripped from flower to brook and from brook to hill as lightly and gracefully as the gazelle. The whole spring, the whole youth of nature, flashed and beamed from this beautiful maiden-face, so full of childlike innocence, purity, and peace. No storm had as yet passed over these smiling features, not the smallest leaf of this rose had been touched by an ungentle hand; freely and freshly had she blossomed in luxuriant natural beauty; she had drunk the dews of heaven, but not the dew of tears, for those deeply-dark beaming eyes had wept only such tears as where called forth by emotions of joy and happiness.

She sat under a myrtle, whose blossoming branches bent down to her as if they would entwine that pure and tender brow with a bridal wreath. With her head thrown back upon these branches, she reposed with an inimitable grace her reclining form. A white transparent robe, held by a golden clasp, fell in waves to her feet, which were encased in gold-embroidered slippers of dark-red leather. A blushing rose was fastened by a diamond pin in the folds of her dress upon her budding bosom, finely contrasting with the delicate flush upon her cheeks. A guitar rested upon her full round arm. She had been singing, this beautiful fairy child, but her song was now silenced, and she was glancing up to the clouds, following their movements with her dreamy, thoughtful eyes. A smile hovered about her fresh, youthful lips—the smile peculiar to innocence and happiness.

She dreamed; precious, ecstatic images passed before her mental eyes; she dreamed of a distant land in which she had once been, of a distant house in which she had once dwelt. It was even more beautiful and splendid than this which she now occupied, but it had lacked this blue sky and fragrant atmosphere; it lacked these trees and flowers, these myrtle bushes, and these songs of the nightingale, and upon a few summer days had followed long, dull winter months with their cold winding-sheet of snow, with their benumbing masses of ice, and the fantastic flowers painted on the windows by the frost. And yet, and yet, there had been a sun which shone into her heart warmer than this bright sun of Italy, and the thought of which spread a purple glow upon her cheeks. This sun had shone upon her from the tender glances of a lady whom she had loved as a tutelar genius, as a divinity, as the bright star of her existence! Whenever that lady had come to her in the solitary house in which she then dwelt, then had all appeared to her as in a transfiguration; then had even her peevish old servant learned to smile and become humble and friendly; then all was joy and happiness, and whoever saw that beautiful and brilliant lady, had thought himself blessed, and had fallen down to adore her.

Of that lady was the young maiden now thinking, of that memorable woman with the flashing eyes whose tender glance had always penetrated the heart of the child with delight, whose tender words yet resounded like music in her ears.

Where was she now, this lady of her love, her longings? why had she been brought away from that house with its snowy winding-sheet and the ice drapery upon its windows? Where lay that house, and where had she to seek it with her thoughts? What was the language she had there spoken, and which she now secretly spoke in her heart, although nobody else addressed her in it, no one about her understood it; and wherefore had her friend and protector, he who had brought her here, who had always been with her, wherefore had he suddenly given himself the appearance of no longer understanding it?

And even as she was thinking of him, of this dear friend and protector, he came along down the alley; his tall form appeared at the end of the walk; she recognized his noble features, with the proud eagle glance and the bold arched brow.

The young maiden arose from her seat and hastened to meet him.

"How charming that you have come, Paulo," she gayly said, stretching forth her little hands toward him. "I must ask you something, and that directly, Paulo. Tell me quickly what is that language called in which we formerly conversed together, and why have we ceased to speak it since we came here to Rome?"

Paulo's brow became slightly clouded, but when he looked into her beautiful face, animated by expectant curiosity, this expression of displeasure quickly vanished from his features, and, threatening her with his finger, he said:

"Always this same question, Natalie; and yet I have so often begged of you to forget the past, and live only in the present, my dear, sweet child! The past is sunken in an immeasurable gulf behind you, which you can never pass, and if it stretches out its arms to you, it will only be for the purpose of dragging you down into the abyss with it. Forget it, therefore, my Natalie, and yield thyself to this beautiful and delightful present, to increase for you the attractions of which will ever be the dearest task of my life."

"It is true," said the young maiden, sighing, "I am wrong to be always recurring to those long-past times; you must pardon me, Paulo, but you will also acknowledge that my enigmatical past justifies me in feeling some curiosity. Only think how it began! You one day came rushing to my room, you pressed me all trembling to your heart, and silently bore me away. 'Natalie,' said you, 'danger threatens you; I will save, or perish with you!' You mounted your horse with me in your arms. Behind us screamed and moaned the servants of my house, but you regarded them not, and I trustingly clung to your heart, for I knew that if danger threatened me, you would surely save me! Oh, do you yet remember that fabulous ride? How we rested in out-of-the-way houses, or with poor peasant people, and then proceeded on farther and farther! And how the sun constantly grew warmer, melting the snow, and you constantly became more cheerful and happy, until, one day, you impetuously pressed me to your bosom, and said: 'Natalie, we are saved! Life and the future are now yours! Look around you, we are in Italy. Here you can be free and happy!'"

"And was not that a good prophecy?" asked Paulo. "Has it not been fulfilled? Are you not happy?"

"I should be so," sighed Natalie, "could I avoid thinking so often of that past! Those words which you then spoke to me were the last I ever heard in that language, which I had always spoken until then, but of which I know not the name! From that hour you spoke to me in an unknown tongue, and I felt like a poor deserted orphan, from whom was taken her last possession, her language!"

"And yet whole peoples have been robbed of that last and dearest possession!" said Paulo, his brow suddenly darkening, "and not, as in your case, to save life and liberty, but for the purpose of enslaving and oppressing them."

Natalie, perceiving the sudden sadness of her friend, attempted to smile, and, grasping his hand, she said:

"Come, Paulo, we are naughty children, and vex ourselves with vagaries, while all nature is so cheerful and so replete with divine beauty. Only see with what glowing splendor the departing sun rests upon the tops of the cypresses! Ah, it is nowhere so beautiful as here in my dear garden. This is my world and my happiness! Sometimes, Paulo, it makes me shudder to think that the walls surrounding us might suddenly tumble down, and all the tall houses standing behind them, and all the curious people lounging in the streets, could then look in upon my paradise! That must be terrible, and yet Marianne tells me that other people live differently from us, that their houses are not surrounded by walls, and that no watchman with dogs drives away troublesome visitors from them. And yet, she says, they smilingly welcome such inconvenient people, receiving them with friendly words, while they only thank God when they finally go and leave the occupants in peace. Is it then true, Paulo, that people can be so false to each other, and that those who live in the world never dare to speak as they think?"

"It is, alas! but too true, Natalie," said Paulo, with a sad smile.

"Then never let me become acquainted with such a world," said the young maiden, clinging to Paulo's arm. "Let me always remain here in our solitude, which none but good people can share with us. For Marianne is good, as also Cecil, your servant; and Carlo—oh, Carlo would give his life for me. He is not false, like other people; I can confide in him."

"Think you so!" asked Paulo, looking deep into her eyes with a scrutinizing glance.

She bore his glances with a cheerful and unembarrassed smile, and a roguish nod of her little head.

"You must certainly wish to paint me again, that you look at me so earnestly. No, Paulo, I will not sit to you again, you paint me much too handsome; you make an angel of me, while I am yet only a poor little thing, who lives but by your mercy, and does not even know her own name!"

"Angels never have a name, they are only known as angels, and need no further designation. As there is an Angel Gabriel, so there is an Angel Natalie!"

"Mocker," said she, laughing, "there are no feminine angels! But now come, be seated. Here is my guitar, and I will sing you a song for which Carlo yesterday brought me the melody."

"And the words?" asked Paulo.

"Well, as to the words, they must come in the singing—to-day one set of words, to-morrow another. Who can know what glows in your heart at any given hour, and what you may feel in the next, and which will escape you in words unknown to yourself, and which unconsciously and involuntarily stream from your lips."

"You are my charming poetess, my Sappho!" exclaimed Paulo, kissing her hand.

"Ah, would that you spoke true!" said she, with sparkling eyes and a deeper flush upon her cheeks. "Let me be a poetess like Sappho, and I would, like her, joyfully leap from the rocks into the sea. Oh, there are yet poetesses—Carlo has told me of them. All Rome now worships the great improvisatrice, Corilla. I should like to know her, Paulo, only to adore her, only to see her in her splendor and her beauty!"

"If you wish it, you shall see her," said Paulo.

"Ah, I shall see her then!" shouted Natalie, and, as if to give expression to her inward joy, she touched the strings of her guitar, and in clear tones resounded a jubilant melody. Then she began to sing, at first in single isolated words and exclamations, which constantly swelled into more powerful, animated and blissful tones, and finally flowed into a regular dithyramb. It was a song of jubilee, a sigh of innocence and happiness; she sang of God and the stars, of happy love, and of reuniting; of blossom, fragrance, and fanning zephyrs; and in unconscious, foreboding pain, she sang of the sorrows of love, and the pangs of renunciation.

All Nature seemed listening to her charming song; no leaflet stirred, in low murmurs splashed the waves of the fountain by which she sat, and occasionally a nightingale wailed in unison with her hymn of rejoicing. The sun had descended to a point nearer the horizon, and bordered it with moving purple clouds. Natalie, suddenly interrupting her song, pointed with her rosy fingers to the heavens.

"How beautiful it is, Paulo!" said she.

He, however, saw nothing but her face, illuminated by the evening glow.

"How beautiful art thou!" he whispered low, pressing her head to his bosom.

Then both were silent, looking, lost in sweetest dreams, upon the surrounding landscape, which, as if in a silence of adoration, seemed to listen for the parting salutation of the god of day. A nightingale suddenly came and perched upon the myrtle-bush under which Natalie and her friend were reposing. Soon she began to sing, now in complaining, now in exulting tones, now tenderly soft, now in joyful trumpet-blasts; and the night-wind that now arose rustled in organ-tones among the cypress and olive trees.

Natalie clung closer to her friend's side.

"I would now gladly die," said she.

"Already die!" whispered he. "Die before you have lived, Natalie?"

Then they were again silent, the wind rustled in the trees, the fountains murmured, the birds sang, and in golden light lay the moon over this paradise of two happy beings.

But what is that which is rustling in the pines close to the wall—what is that looking out with flashing eyes and a poisonous glance? Is it the serpent already come to expel these happy beings from their paradise?

They see nothing, they hear nothing, they are both dreaming, so sure do they feel of their happiness.

But there is a continued rustling. It is unnatural! It resembles not the rustling of the evening wind! It is not the rustling of a bird, balancing itself upon the branch of the tree! What, then, is it?

An opening is made in the foliage, and it is the arm of a man that makes it. Upon the wall is to be seen the form of a man, and near him slowly rises a second form. Cautiously he glances around, and then makes a scornful grimace, while his eyes shine like those of a hyena. He has discovered the two sitting together in happy security, and enjoying the tranquil beauty of the evening in silent beatitude. He has seen them, and points toward them with his finger, while, at the same time, he lightly touches the arm of the other man, who has boldly swung himself up on the wall. The glance of the latter follows the direction in which the other points; he also now sees the reposing pair, and over his features also flits an unnatural smile. He suddenly fumbles in his bosom, and when his hand is withdrawn a small dagger glistens in it. With a bold leap, the man is already on the point of springing from the wall into the garden. The other holds him back, and makes a threatening counter-movement. He, it seems, is the commander, and uses his power with an indignant negative shake of the head; his commanding glance seems to say: "Be silent, and observe!"

Staring and immovably their eyes were now fixed upon the silent pair sitting in the bright moonlight which surrounded them as with a glory. One of the men still holds the dagger in his hand, and with a powerful arm the other holds him in check. Then they whisper low together—they seem to be consulting as to what is to be done. The man with the dagger seems to yield to the arguments or persuasions of the other. He nods his consent. The first disappears behind the wall, and the armed one slowly follows him. Yet once again, he glances over the wall, raising his arm and shaking his dagger toward Natalie and her friend. Then he disappeared, and all was again peaceful and still in this smiling paradise!

Was it, perhaps, only an illusive dream that bantered us, only a fata morgana formed by the moonbeams? Or does the serpent of evil really lurk about this paradise? Will destruction find its way into this charmed garden? Ah, no solitude and no wall can afford protection against misfortune! It creeps through the strongest lock, and over the highest wall; and while we think ourselves safe, it is already there, close to us, and nearly ready to swallow us up.



THE LETTERS

It was suddenly lively in the garden. Cecil, Paulo's old servant, approached from the house, with a lantern in his hand.

He comes down the alley with hasty steps, and with an anxious countenance approaches his master.

"What is it, Cecil?"

"Two letters, sir, that have just arrived. One comes from the hotel of the Russian legation, and the other from that of the Lord-Cardinal Bernis."

Paulo shuddered slightly, and his hand involuntarily grasped after the first letter, but he suddenly constrained himself, and his glance fell upon Natalie, whose eyes were fixed with curiosity upon the two letters.

"We will first see what the good Cardinal Bernis writes us!" said Count Paulo, placing the Russian letter in his pocket with apparent indifference.

"Bernis?" asked Natalie. "Is not that the French Cardinal, who is at the same time a poet, and whom the pope, the great Ganganelli, so dearly loves?"

"The same," said Paulo, "and besides, the same Cardinal Bernis whom I had months ago promised to allow the pleasure of making your acquaintance! He already knows you, Natalie, although he has never yet seen your fair face; he knows you from what I have told him."

"Oh, let us quickly see what the good cardinal writes!" exclaimed Natalie, clapping her hands with the impatience of a child.

Count Paulo smilingly broke the seal and read the letter.

"You are in truth a witch," said he; "you must have some genius in your service, who listens to every wish you express, in order to fulfil it without delay! This letter contains an invitation from the cardinal. He gives a great entertainment to-morrow, and begs of me that I will bring you to it. The improvisatrice Corilla will also be there!"

"Oh, then I shall see her!" exclaimed the delighted young maiden. "At length I shall see a poetess! For we shall go to this entertainment, shall we not, Paulo?"

The count thoughtfully cast down his eyes, and his hand involuntarily sought the letter in his pocket. An expression of deep care and anxiety was visible on his features, and Cecil seemed to divine the thoughts of his master, for he also looked anxious, and a deep sigh escaped from his breast.—Natalie perceived nothing of all this! She was wholly occupied by the thought of seeing Corilla, the great improvisatrice, of whom Carlo, Natalie's music-teacher, had told her so much, and whose fame was sounded by children and adults in all the streets of Rome.

"We go to this festival, do we not, Paulo?" repeated she, as the count still continued silent.

Recovering from his abstraction, he said: "Yes, we will go! It is time that my Natalie was introduced into this circle of influential Romans, that she may gain friends among people of importance, who may watch over and protect her when I no longer can!"

"You will, then, leave me?" cried the young maiden, turning pale and anxiously grasping the count's arm. "No, Paulo, you cannot do that! Would you leave me because I, a foolish child, desired to go to this festival, and was no longer contented with our dear and beautiful solitude? That was wrong in me, Paulo, as I now plainly see, and I desire it no longer! Oh, we will prepare other pleasures for ourselves here in our delightful paradise. You have often called me a poetess, and I will now believe I am, and no longer wish to see another. I will suffice for myself! Come, I will immediately sing you a song, a festival song, my friend!"

And taking her guitar, Natalie struck some joyous accords; but Count Paulo lightly laid his hands upon the strings so as to silence them, and drawing the tips of her fingers to his lips, with a slight shaking of his head, he said: "Not now, my charming poetess, I am not worthy of hearing you."

"And it is late," added Cecil, coming as it were to the aid of his master.

The count rose. "Yes, you are right—it is late," said he, "and I must not longer keep Natalie from her slumber. Come, my sweet child, you must retire; you must sleep, that your brow may beam with blooming freshness to-morrow!"

Natalie made no answer; with a light sigh she mechanically took the count's offered arm.

Cecil preceded them with the lantern in his hand. Thus they proceeded up the alley leading to the villa, all three silent and thoughtful. The sky had become obscured, a black cloud intercepted the light of the moon, and Natalie's charmed garden was suddenly wrapped in gloom.

A cold shudder ran through her delicate frame.

"A feeling of anxiety has come over me!" she whispered, clinging close to the count's side.

"Poor child!" said the count. "Are you already oppressed with fear?"

"What if the wall should give way, and bad people should intrude into our garden! Ah, Marianne says that misfortune lurks everywhere in the world, lying in ambush for those who think themselves safe, destroying their happiness, and making them wholly miserable; and people only laugh and rejoice that another man's hopes have been wrecked! Ah, and I have felt so secure in my happiness! If misfortune should now actually come—if these walls should prove not high enough to keep it off! Ah, Paulo, protect me from lurking misfortune!"

They had now arrived at the door of the villa. Paulo pressed the trembling young maiden with paternal tenderness to his breast, and, lightly touching her forehead with his lips, he said: "Good-night, my love! Sleep gently, and be not anxious! So long as I live, misfortune shall never approach you! Rest assured of that!"

Thus speaking, he led her into the house, where Marianne was waiting to accompany her to her chamber.

Natalie silently followed her, but before entering her room she once more turned, and, pressing her fingers to her lips, wafted kisses in the air toward her friend.

"Good-night, Paulo!"

"Good-night, Natalie!"

The door closed behind her, and the smile instantly vanished from Paulo's lips. With impetuous haste, beckoning Cecil to follow him, he strode through the corridor leading to his own apartments.

When he had arrived there, and Cecil had closed the door behind him, the count with a deep sigh threw himself upon a chair, whilst Cecil silently busied himself in lighting the wax-candles and placing them upon the table beside his master.

"Will not your grace now read the other letter?" he timidly asked, as Count Paulo still remained buried in his silent reflections.

"Oh, this unblessed letter!" exclaimed the count, with a shudder. "I tell you, Cecil, I feel that it contains misfortune. It has lain with a heavy weight like a nightmare upon my breast and I yet felt not the strength in me to draw it forth and read it in Natalie's presence!"

"That was well!" said Cecil, "and it was for that reason that I told you in advance that the letter was from Russia, that you might be on your guard. But now, Sir Count, we are alone, and now you can read it!"

"Yes, away with this childish fear!" cried the count, with resolution. "I will be a man, Cecil, and whatever this letter may contain, I will bear it like a man!"

Drawing forth the letter, he broke the seal with a trembling hand, and threw the cover across the room. Then unfolding the letter, he read. Behind him stood Cecil, involuntarily trembling with anxious expectation.

The letter fell from the count's hands, and a deadly paleness spread over his face, which bore the expression of utter despair.

"Oh, my prophetic soul!" he sighed.

"Your presentiment is then fulfilled!" anxiously asked Cecil.

"Yes, it is fulfilled! My property is sequestrated; they refuse to send me the money I required; they command my immediate return to Russia, as my conge has expired and my respite is at an end!"

"And you are lost, my lord, if you do not obey this command!" said Cecil.

"And Natalie?" reproachfully asked the count. "Can I, dare I leave her?"

"She is much safer without than with you! They may not yet suspect who she is! It is very possible that it in reality only is because your leave of absence has expired, as the laws of Russia require that every absentee should return to his country once in every four years. Fulfil, therefore, this hard duty. Pretend to suppose that your recall is for no other reason than the renewal of your passport, and the giving you an opportunity to pay your homage to the empress. Appear innocent and unconcerned, and all may yet go well!"

"No," gloomily replied the count, "nothing will go well any more! The whole future stands before me in clear and distinct traits—a future full of shame and horror! Oh, would it not be better to flee from that future and seek in some remote and hidden valley a place where, perhaps, misfortune cannot reach, nor destruction overtake us!"

"How?" reproachfully asked Cecil. "Is it Count Paulo who speaks thus? Is it the pupil whom I taught to defy misfortune and rise superior to disaster with courageous self-confidence? Is it the son of my heart for whom I have left all, sacrificed all, for whom I have offered up my fatherland, my freedom, and my independence; whom I shall love until my last breath? Paulo, pluck up a good heart, my son! You have proposed to yourself a great end, which was only to be reached by thorny and dangerous paths; will you now stop at the first cross-road and return upon your steps, instead of pressing forward sword in hand! No, no, I know you better, my son; this momentary hesitation will pass away, and you will again be great and strong for the struggle and the victory!"

With a faint smile Count Paulo gave him his hand. "You know not, my friend, how great is the sacrifice you demand of me!" said he, in a subdued tone. "I must leave Natalie. I must never see her more, never more draw consolation from her glance, nor hope from her charming smile! Oh, Cecil, you have not idea of what Natalie is to me; you know not that I—"

"I know," interposed Cecil, solemnly, "I know that you have sworn upon the holy book to protect her with your life from every injury; I know that you have sworn never to give rest to yourself until you have reinstated her in her inherited rights, and that, until then, she shall be sacred to you, sacred as a sister, sacred as a daughter whose honor you will protect and defend against every outrage, against even every sinful thought. That have you sworn, and I know you will hold your word sacred and keep your oath!"

Count Paulo dropped his head upon his breast and sighed deeply.

"I must therefore leave her!" said he.

"Your own welfare demands it."

"But how is she to live during our absence? Our money will not suffice to the end. Alas! we had so surely calculated on this remittance from my estates, and now it fails us!"

"We will sell that costly ornament of brilliants which you had destined as a present for Natalie on her seventeenth birthday."

"Ah," sighed the count, "you have a means for the removal of every obstacle. I must therefore go!"

"And I go with you," said Cecil. "I would, if it must be so, be able to die for you!"

"They will destroy all three of us!" said the count. "Believe me, the knife is already sharpened for our throats! Believe also, Cecil, that I tremble not from fear of death. But I fear for Natalie! Ah, I already seem to see the approach of her murderers, to see them seize her with their bloody hands, and I shall not be there to protect her!"

While Count Paulo thus spoke, with a sad, foreboding soul, those two mysterious men, who had so threateningly watched and listened to Natalie and her friend, still remained under the wall.

The one still held the dagger in his hand, and was unquietly walking back and forth near his companion, who had calmly thrown himself upon the ground.

"You did wrong to hinder me, Beppo," he angrily said. "It would have been best to have finished them at once. The occasion could not have been more favorable—the solitary garden, the nightly stillness and obscurity. Ah, one blow would have done the business!"

"Well, and what if the gentleman who sat near her had seized you before the blow was struck? How then?" asked the other. "You are yet but a novice and a bungler, friend Giuseppo. You yet lack discretion, the tranquil glance, the sure hand! You always suffer yourself to become excited, which is unartistic and even dangerous. We went out today only to obtain information; we were only to discover and observe the signora, and perhaps to watch for an opportunity. But to fall upon her in this garden would have been the extreme of stupidity, for we had all the servants and the hounds against us, and it is one of the first principles of our profession to put others in danger, but never to incur it themselves."

"Wherefore, then, have we come here?" cried Giuseppo, with vehemence.

"To see her and know her, that we may surely recognize her again when the right hour comes. And that hour will come—I will answer for it. Did not the signora tell us that this lady would probably attend the festival of Cardinal Bernis?"

"She said so."

"Well, and we have come here that we might see and know her in advance. She is very beautiful, and a truly respectable person, Giuseppo. I am pleased with the idea of this festival of the French cardinal. I think it will afford much business in our line."



DIPLOMATIC QUARRELS

In the palace of the French ambassador at Rome, Cardinal Bernis, there was an unusually busy movement to-day. From the kitchen-boys to the major-domo, all were in a most lively motion, in the most passionate activity. For this morning, while taking his chocolate, the cardinal had sent for his major-domo, and, quite contrary to the usual joviality of his manner, had very seriously and solemnly said to him: "Signor Brunelli, I to-day intrust you with a very important and responsible duty, that of making as splendid as possible the grand festival we are three days hence to give in honor of the Archduke Ferdinand. No pains must be spared, nothing must be wanting; the most luxurious richness, the most tasteful decoration, the most extravagant splendor must be exhibited. For this entertainment must excite the attention not only of Rome, but of all Europe; it must become the subject of conversation at all the courts, and, above all, it must cause the despair of all present ambassadorial housekeeping. I have very important diplomatic reasons for this. All Europe shall see how devoted France is to the empire of Austria, and what a good understanding subsists between the two courts. Therefore, Signor Brunelli, strain your inventive head, that it may on this occasion hit upon whatever is most distinguished and pre-eminent, for this must be an entertainment never before equalled. That is what I expect, what I demand of you; and if you satisfy my demands, it will give me pleasure to reward your zeal by a present of a hundred ducats."

Thus with solemn dignity spoke the cardinal, while sipping his chocolate; and Signor Brunelli had pledged himself by a solemn oath punctually to fulfil his master's commands, and to astonish Rome with an entertainment such as had never been recorded in the annals of diplomatic history.

With a proud step had Brunelli gone to his own private cabinet, where, having shut himself up, he had devoted several hours to serious meditation upon the deep plans presenting themselves to his mind. But Signor Brunelli had, in fact, a very experienced and inventive head, and the cardinal acted wisely in confiding in his major-domo and leaving to him the ordering of the entertainment.

He had now, with the sharp glance of a military commander, arranged his plan of battle, and felt perfectly sure of victory. He therefore rang for a servant, and commanded the attendance of the chief cook in the cabinet of the major-domo. Then with a gentlemanlike listlessness he threw himself upon the divan and began to sip his coffee with the exact dignified deportment that had been displayed by his excellency the cardinal.

"Signor Gianettino," said he, to the entering cook, "I propose honoring you to-day with a very important and significant affair. I wish, on the day after to-morrow, to prepare an entertainment which in splendor and magnificence shall surpass anything hitherto seen. You know that the major-domos of the other diplomatists have become my irreconcilable enemies through envy; they cannot forgive me for having more inventive faculties and better taste than any of them! We must bring these major-domos to despair, and with a gnashing of teeth they shall acknowledge that in all things I am their master. You, however, must aid me in this great work; in your hands, Signor Gianettino, lies a considerable part of my triumph and my laurels. For what does it help me, if the arrangements and decorations, if the whole establishment, are excellent, should there be a failure in the highest and most sublime part of the entertainment—in the food. The food, my dear sir, and a well-ordered table, is the gist of a festival, and should there be the least failure in that, the whole is profaned and desecrated, and must be covered with a mourning-veil. Take my words to heart, signor; let us have a table covered with food the mere odor of which shall set our first gourmets in ecstatic astonishment, while its judicious arrangement will give pleasure to the poetic mind! This is what I expect of you, and if you succeed in satisfying my requirements, I am ready to reward your exertions with fifty bottles of our best French wines."

Signor Gianettino returned his thanks with a pleasant, thoughtful smile, and with a majestic step repaired to his boudoir, where he was seen for a long time, walking back and forth in deep thought and with a wrinkled brow. Then, stepping to his writing-table, he sketched the plan of this inordinately great dinner, at first slowly and thoughtfully, and then with constantly more and more fire and enthusiasm, carried away by the greatness of the occasion, and animated by the importance of his mission and his calling.

Then, throwing aside the pen, and exhausted by so great an effort, he gently glided down upon the divan, at the same time ringing for a servant whom he directed to bring his breakfast and afterward to summon all the cooks and scullions to his cabinet. He then stretched himself with eminent grace upon the divan, as he had seen the major-domo do; with a serious thoughtfulness he sipped the glass of Malvoisie the servant had brought him, with sundry pates and rare entremets.

And they came, the cooks and scullions, they came in their white jackets, with their white aprons and snow-white caps; they came in solemn silence, fully impressed with the importance of the moment.

"Signors," said the chief cook, "it is on a beautiful and sublime affair that I have assembled you here to-day. It concerns an increase of the fame and triumphs we have so many times gained over our diplomatic rivals, and an increase of the laurels we have won in the sacred realms of our art! I propose to prepare a banquet for to-morrow, and for that I require your support and aid, gentlemen. For what is the use of ever so good a plan of battle of a commander-in-chief, if his troops fail in courage and skill to carry out the plan of their general? Gentlemen, I doubt not your courage or skill! You will contend for the sake of the fame we have acquired and hitherto enjoyed without dispute, for the sake of the fame which the French cuisine has enjoyed for centuries, and which must be preserved until the end of all things! You will stand by me, gentlemen, in the praiseworthy effort to acquire new glory for France, by showing these little Austrian princes and these gentlemen diplomatists what wonderful things the French art of cookery can bring to pass. The plan is devised and sketched, and all that is now required is its execution. If this great work succeeds, then, gentlemen, you may feel assured of my eternal gratitude—a gratitude which I will prove to you by leaving all the remains of the dinner to your free use and sole benefit! Here is the plan, hasten to the work; I have assigned to each one the part he is to take in its accomplishment. Hasten, therefore! I, however, by way of exception, will myself go to the market to-day and make the necessary purchases. On such an important occasion, no one, however highly placed, must decline labor and the faithful performance of duty. I go, therefore, and six of the kitchen-boys may follow me with their baskets."

Thus speaking, the chief cook, Signor Gianettino, took his hat and gold-headed cane to go to the market. Six kitchen-boys, armed with large baskets, followed him at a respectful distance.

At the great vegetable and fish-market of Rome there was to-day a very unusual and extraordinary life and movement. There was a crowd and tumult, a roaring and screaming, a shouting and laughing, such as had not been heard for a long time. It was partly in consequence of the fact that the whole diplomatic corps had been for some days agitated with preparations for entertainments in honor of the Archduke Ferdinand, who had come to Rome to see the wonders of the holy city, and who could hardly find time and leisure for the festivities offered him. But for the tradesmen and dealers, for the country people in the vicinity of Rome, this presence of the Austrian prince was a happy circumstance; for these banquets and festivals scattered money among the people, and the dealers and honest country people could fearlessly raise their prices, as they were sure of a sale for their commodities. The cooks and servants of the diplomatists and cardinals were seen running hither and thither in busy haste, everywhere selecting the best, everywhere buying and cheapening.

But in one place in the market there was to-day an especial liveliness and activity among the crowd, and to that spot Signor Gianettino bent his steps. He had seen the cook of the Spanish ambassador, the Duke of Grimaldi, among those collected there, and as this cook was one of his bitterest enemies and opponents, Signor Gianettino resolved to watch him, and, if possible, to play him a trick. He therefore cautiously mingled with the crowd, and made a sign to his followers to keep at a distance from him.

It was certainly a very important affair with which the Spanish cook Don Bempo was occupied, as it concerned the purchase of a fish that a countryman had brought to the city, of such a monstrous size and weight that the like had never been seen there. It was the most remarkable specimen with which the Roman fish-market had ever been honored. But the lucky fisherman was fully aware of the extraordinary beauty of his fish, and in his arrogant pride demanded twenty ducats for it.

That was what troubled Don Bempo. Twenty ducats for one single fish, and the major-domo of the Spanish ambassador had urged upon him the most stringent economy; but he had, indeed, at the same time urged upon him to provide everything as splendid as possible for the banquet which the Duke of Grimaldi was to give in honor of the Archduke Ferdinand; indeed, he had with an anxious sigh commanded him to outdo if possible the next day's feast of Cardinal Bernis, and to provide yet rarer and more costly viands than the French cook.

That was what Don Bempo was now considering, and what made him waver in his first determination not to buy the fish.

There was only this one gigantic fish in the market; and, if he bought it, Signor Gianettino, his enemy, of course, could not possess it; the triumph of the day would then inure to the Spanish embassy, and Don Bempo would come off conqueror. That was indeed a very desirable object, but—twenty ducats was still an enormous price, and was not at all reconcilable with the recommended economy.

At any rate he dared not buy the fish without first consulting the major-domo of the duke.

"You will not, then, sell this fish for twelve ducats?" asked Don Bempo, just as Gianettino had unnoticedly approached. "Reflect, man, twelve ducats are a fortune—it is a princely payment!"

The fisherman contemptuously shook his head. "Rather than sell it for twelve ducats I would eat it myself," said he, "and invite my friends, these good Romans, as guests! Go, go, sublime Spanish Don, and buy gudgeons for your pair of miserable ducats! Such a fish as this is too dear for you; you Spanish gentlemen should buy gudgeons!"

"Bravo! bravo!" cried the laughing spectators. "Gudgeons for the Spanish gentlemen with high-nosed faces and empty pockets!"

Don Bempo blushed with anger and wounded pride. "I shall unquestionably buy this fish," said he, "for nothing is too dear for my master when the honor of our nation is to be upheld. But you must allow me time to go home and get the money from the major-domo. Keep the fish, therefore, so long, and I will return with the twenty ducats for it."

And majestically Don Bempo made himself a path through the crowd, which laughingly stepped aside for him, shouting: "Gudgeons for the Spanish gentleman! Viva Don Bempo, who pays twenty ducats for a fish!"

"He will certainly not come back," said the fisherman, shaking his head.

"He goes to buy gudgeons!" cried another.

"What will you bet that he returns to buy the fish?" said a third.

"He will not buy it!" interposed a fourth. "These Spaniards have no money; they are poor devils!"

"Who dares say that?" shrieked another, and now suddenly followed one of those quarrels which are so quickly excited on the least occasion among the passionate people of the south. There was much rage, abuse, and noise. How flashed the eyes, how shook the fists, what threats resounded there!

"Peace, my dear friends, be quiet, I tell you!" cried the fisherman, with his stentorian voice. "See, there comes a new purchaser for my fish. Be quiet, and let us see how much France is disposed to offer us."

The disturbance subsided as suddenly as it had arisen, and all pressed nearer; all directed interrogating, curious, expectant glances at Signor Gianettino, who just at that moment approached with a proud and grave step, followed by the solemn train of six scullions with their baskets.

No one had before remarked him in the crowd, for they had been all eyes and ears for Don Bempo, and hence every one supposed that he had only just then arrived.

The shrewd chief cook also assumed the appearance of having only accidentally passed that way without the intention of buying any thing.

But he suddenly stopped before the great fish as if astonished at its enormous size, and seemed to view it with admiration and delight.

"What a rare and splendid animal is this!" he finally exclaimed with animation. "Really, one must come to Rome to see such a wonder!"

"That is understood!" exultingly cried the bystanders, who had a reverence for the fishes of Rome.

"This is no niggard! He will not be so mean as to offer twelve ducats for such a miracle as this!"

"Twelve ducats!" cried Gianettino, folding his hands. "How can you think me so pitiful as to offer such a miserable sum for so noble a fish. No, truly, he must have a bold forehead who would offer so little money for this splendid animal!"

"Hear him! hear!" cried the people. "This is a learned man. He knows something of the value of rarities!"

"Viva! Long life to the French cook, il grande ministre della cucina!"

Gianettino bowed politely in response to the compliment, and then civilly asked the price of the fish.

The fisherman stood there with an expression of regretful sadness upon his face. "I fear it will be of little use to name the price!" said he, "the fish is as good as sold!"

"Nevertheless, name the price!"

"Twenty ducats!"

"Twenty ducats!" exclaimed Gianettino, with an expression of the liveliest astonishment. "You jest, my friend! How can such a splendid animal be possibly sold for twenty ducats?"

"Here! hear!" shouted the crowd. "He finds the price too low!"

"He is a real gentleman!"

"He will not buy gudgeons like the Spaniard!"

"In earnest, friend, tell me the price of this fish!" said Gianettino.

"I have demanded twenty ducats for it," sadly responded the fisherman, "and it is sold for that sum."

"Impossible! In that case it would not be lying here!" replied Gianettino. "Or had the man paid you the money, and now gone for a cart for the conveyance of the giant?"

"I have not yet been paid."

"The purchaser, then, has given you earnest money?"

"No, not even that. I have yet received nothing upon it."

"And you can pretend that you have sold this fish," cried Gianettino, "and that, too, for the ridiculously small sum of twenty ducats! Ah, you are a joker, my good man; you wish to excite in me a desire for this rare specimen, and therefore you say it is sold. But how can a fish that yet lies exposed for sale, and for which no one had made you a suitable offer, be already sold?"

And gravely approaching the giant of the waters, Gianettino laid his hand upon his head and solemnly said: "The fish is mine. I purchase it; you demand twenty ducats! But I shall give you what you ought to have, and what the creature is worth! I shall pay you six-and-thirty ducats for him!"

The crowd, which had maintained an anxious and breathless silence during this negotiation, now broke out with a loud and exulting shout.

"That is a real nobleman!"

"Evviva il ministro della cucina! Il grande Gianettino!"

"That is no parsimonious Spaniard! He is a French cavalier. He will buy no gudgeons, but will have the right Roman fish."

"Gentlemen," said Gianettino, modestly casting down his eyes, "I do not understand your praises, and it seems to me I only deal like a man of honor, as every one of you would do! This honest man taxes his wares too low; I give him what they are worth! That is all. If I acted otherwise I should not long remain in the service of the lofty and generous Cardinal Bernis! Justice and generosity, that is the first command of his excellency!"

"Evviva the French ambassador!"

"Praise and honor to Cardinal Bernis!"

And while the people were thus shouting, Gianettino from his well-filled purse paid down the six-and-thirty ducats upon the fisherman's board. He then commanded his six attendant scullions to bear off the fish.

It was, indeed, a heavy work to place the enormous animal upon their baskets, but the active Romans cheerfully lent a hand, and when they had succeeded in the difficult task, and the six youngsters bent under their heavy load, Signor Gianettino gravely put himself at the head of the train, and proudly gave the order: "Forward to the kitchen of his excellency Cardinal Bernis!"

At this moment a man was seen making his way through the crowd; thrusting right and left with his elbows, he incessantly pushed on, and, just as Signor Gianettino had fairly got his troop in motion, the man, who was no other than Don Bempo, succeeded in reaching the fisherman's table.

"Here, I bring you the twenty ducats," he proudly called out. "They will no longer say that the Spaniards buy gudgeons. The fish is mine! There are your twenty ducats!"

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