Natalie, feeling something like a slight puncture in her heart, involuntarily carried her hand to her bosom. It was a strange, a wonderful feeling, which stirred within her, partly partaking of joy at seeing and hearing her friend Carlo, as people were murmuring praises of his beauty, and of his great skill upon the harp, and partly a feeling of painful emotion. She knew not why, but as her glance met his, it quickly turned toward Corilla, and quite sadly she said to herself: "She is much handsomer than I!"
Carlo now opened his lips, and to a beautifully simple melody he sweetly sang an introductory song, as it were to prepare the audience for the coming solemnity. Having finished this, two lovely amourettes came forward, with silver vases in their hands, and hastened down the steps to the audience, politely requesting them to furnish themes for the great improvisatrice Corilla.
Then, returning to the altar, they threw into the urn the small scraps of paper on which the guests has proposed themes. The harp again resounded, and with a solemn earnestness, her face and glance still directed upward, Corilla drew one of the little strips of paper from the urn. Accident, or perhaps her own dexterity, had favored her.
"Sappho's lament before throwing herself from the rocks"—that was the theme proposed.
Corilla's face immediately took an expression of sadness; her eyes flashed with an unnatural fire; her previously raised arm fell powerless by her side; her head, like a broken rose, sank upon her breast; her other hand convulsively grasped the urn, and in this position she in fact resembled an abandoned mourner, weeping over the ashes of her lost happiness. She was now the repudiated and forsaken one who, ready to resign her life, was brooding upon thoughts of death. And while her face took this expression, and she, staring upon the earth before her, seemed to be meditating upon irremediable fate, thought Corilla: "This is a charming theme which the good Cardinal Albani has thrown into the urn for me. I found it directly by the small pin which, according to his promise, he inserted in the paper. This cardinal is an agreeable imp, and I must give him a kiss for his complaisance. Besides, the Tasso rhyme will here be the most appropriate!"
Again she directed her gaze, with a gloomy expression, toward the heavens, and with a violently heaving bosom, with feverishly flitting breath, she began the lament of Sappho. Now like rattling thunder, now like the gentle breathings of the flute, rolled this sweet and picturesque language of Italy from her lips—like music sounded those full, artistic rhymes, of which but few of the hearers had the least suspicion that they came from Tasso. To improvise in the Italian language is an easy and a grateful task! What wonder, then, that Corilla acquitted herself so charmingly? The audience paid no attention to the thoughts expressed; they asked not after the quintessence; they were satisfied with the agreeable sound, without inquiring into the sense of her words; it was their melody which was admired. They listened not for the thought, but only for the rhyme, and with ecstatic smiles and admiring glances they nodded to each other when, thanks to the studies which Corilla had made in Tasso, Marino, and Ariosto, she seemed of herself to find rhymes for the most difficult words.
An immense storm of applause resounded when she ended; and as if awakening from an intoxicating ecstasy, Corilla glanced around with an expression of astonishment on her features; she looked around as if she knew not whence she came, and in what strange surroundings she now found herself.
After a short pause, which Carlo filled out with his harp, she again put her hand into the urn and drew out a new theme; again the inspiration seemed to pass over her, and the holy Whitsuntide of her muse to be renewed. Constantly more and more stormily resounded the plaudits of her hearers; it was like a continued thunder of enthusiasm, a real salvo of joy. It animated Corilla to new improvisations; she again and again recurred to the urn, drawing forth new themes, and seemed to be absolutely inexhaustible.
"It is now enough," whispered Carlo, just as she had drawn forth a new theme. "You have but a quarter of an hour left!"
"Only this theme yet," she begged in a low tone. "It is a very happy one, it will win for me the hearts of all these cardinals and gentlemen!"
"Yet a quarter of an hour, and then your time is up," said he. "Remember my oath, I shall keep my word!"
An inexplicable anxiety, a tormenting uneasiness, came over him; he had hardly strength and recollection sufficient to enable him to accompany Corilla, who was discussing in verse the question, "Which Rome was the happiest, ancient or modern?"
Carlo's eyes, fixed and motionless, rested upon Natalie; it fearfully alarmed him not to be near her, not to be able to watch every one of her steps, every one of her motions; it seemed to him as if he saw that savage man with his naked dagger lurking near her! And she, was she not pale as a lily; seemed she not, in that white robe, to be already the bride of death?
"I must hasten to her, I must protect her or die!" thought he, and, with a threatening glance at Corilla, he showed her the hour. Corilla read in the expression of his face that he was in earnest with his threat, and as if her inspiration lent wings to her words, she spoke on as in a storm of inward agitation, and with words of fire she decided that modern Rome was the happiest, as she had the holy father of Christendom, her pope, and his cardinals!
The applause, the general delight, was now unbounded; cardinals were to be seen weeping with enthusiasm and joy; others with heartfelt emotion were showering words of blessing upon the improvisatrice, and all pressed toward the tribune in order to accompany her down the steps and in among the company.
A sudden thought of rescue had like a flash of lightning arisen in Carlo's soul.
"Natalie must first be completely separated from this society, and then I will seek this man and render him incapable of mischief!" thought he.
By main strength he made himself a path through the crowd surrounding Corilla, and now stood near Cardinal Bernis, at whose side still remained Natalie and Count Paulo.
"You have struck the lyre like an Apollo," exclaimed the cardinal to the singer.
Carlo bowed with a smile, and hastily said: "And are you ignorant, your eminence, that a much greater poetess and improvisatrice than our Corilla is in your society?"
The cardinal smilingly threatened him with his finger. "Poor Carlo, has it already come to this?" said he. "You are jealous of our delight in Corilla, and would lessen her fame, that you may make her more your own!"
"I speak the truth," said Carlo; "a poetess is among us whom the muses themselves have consecrated, an improvisatrice, not of human composition, but by the grace of God, to whom the angels whisper the rhymes, and the muses the ideas!"
"And who, then, is this divinely-gifted artist, this consecrated daughter of the muses?" wonderingly asked the cardinal.
Carlo indicated Natalie, and bowed to the ground before her.
"Princess Tartaroff?" asked the cardinal, with astonishment.
"That she is a princess, I know not," said Carlo, "but I am quite certain she is a poetess!"
What was it that at this moment stirred the soul of the young maiden? She now felt a pride, a blessed joy, and yet she had previously felt so sad at Corilla's triumph! It seemed as if enthusiasm raised its wings in her, as if the word, the right word, pressed to her lips, as if she must utter in song her rejoicings and lamentings for her simultaneously felt pleasures and pains! A pure and genuine child of Nature, she felt herself the natural impulse to pour out in words, tones, and even in tears, what agitated her soul, and to which she was unable to give a name.
Cardinal Bernis had first turned imploringly to Count Paulo, praying for his permission to invite the young princess to surprise and delight the company with some of her improvisations. Others, overhearing this, mingled in the conversation, and added their requests to those of the cardinal; and, the feeling becoming general, the requests for an improvisation became universal and pressing; people, momentarily forgetting the great and celebrated improvisatrice Corilla, with a feverish curiosity turned to the new and unknown star. Corilla stood almost alone—only Cardinal Albani remaining by her side; but his tender words were not competent to appease the violent storm of jealousy that raged in her soul.
The solicitations of the curious Romans became constantly more urgent, and Count Paulo, unable longer to resist them, finally consented to leave the decision to his ward, the young princess herself.
And Natalie? She was so real and ingenuous a child of Nature that she felt no timidity in the presence of this crowd; she was so full of faith and confidence, so full of trust and human love. She thought: "Why should I not give a little pleasure to these good people who approach me with such warm sympathies? And why should I tremble before them? Did not Paulo tell me that I should feel as if I were in my garden, and it was only my trees and flowers that were looking at me with human faces? Well, then, I will so think and feel, and speak only to my dear trees and flowers!"
Beckoning Carlo with a charming smile, guided by his hand, she hastily ascended the steps. And as they saw her there upon the stage, this delicate, lovely maiden—as they looked upon her spiritual maiden beauty, with the childlike expression of her noble features, with eyes that beamed with pleasure and inspiration—there arose such a storm of applause that Natalie slightly trembled, and with a sweet smile she said to Carlo: "The people here are much more boisterous than the zephyrs in our garden, but they are not so melodious, and it almost saddens the heart!"
Cardinal Bernis now approached with the silver vase. On this occasion he had taken it upon himself to collect the themes, and with a respectful bow he handed them to the princess. With a gracious smile she took one of the papers and unfolded it. The subject was, "Longing for home."
That was a theme well calculated to inspire Natalie, and to reawaken in her all her longings, sorrows, loves, and remembrances. She suddenly felt something like a cold shudder in her heart, and glancing around with a feeling of solitude and desertion, she saw nothing but curious faces and strange, staring eyes! She, also, was repudiated and homeless, and an excessive longing for the distant unknown home of her childhood now took possession of her.
Perhaps Carlo had read her thoughts upon her brow; low and plaintive melodies poured from his harp, as it were the rustling murmurs of far-off remembrances, the sighing and sobbing of a yearning heart. And Natalie, carried away by these tones, forgetful of all around her, mindful only of the happiness of her childhood and of the lady she had so dearly loved, began to sing.
Of what she said and what she sang she was unconscious. She stood there as if elevated by inward inspiration; her eyes flashed as she stared into the far distance, and the images she saw there caused her to smile and weep at the same time; all the glow, all the childlike purity of her soul, came in words from her lips in a stream of inspiration, of painful ecstasy!
She saw nothing, heard nothing! She saw not the ladies weeping with emotion, not the rapturous glances of the men; she had entirely forgotten all those strange, unknown people; and when the constantly increasing storm of applause finally reminded her of them, it was all over with her inspiration—the words died upon her lips, and with a sad smile she hastened to the conclusion.
And now arose a shout and an outbreak of rapture which caused Natalie to tremble with anxious timidity. She cast a searching glance around her; it seemed to her that Paulo must come to her relief, that he must rescue and redeem her from the enthusiastic and flattering men who surrounded her. She saw him not! Where was Paulo, where was Carlo? These inquisitive lord cardinals had formed a circle around her, she seemed to herself a prisoner; it alarmed her to thus find herself the central point of all these attractions.
Not far from her stood Corilla, with glowing cheeks and anger-flashing eyes.
"I will avenge this affront or die!" thought she, as, grasping Albani's hand with convulsive violence, she whispered to him: "Free me from this woman, and I will realize all your wishes."
Francesco Albani smiled. "Then you are mine, Corilla, and no power on earth shall take you from me. That child is dead. See, see how she makes herself a path through the crowd—ah, it is too sultry for her here in the hall, she approaches the garden door, she slips out. Ah, give me your hand, Corilla. Yet a few moments and the fairest woman on earth is mine!"
Light as a gazelle, timid and trembling, Natalie had fled the crowd, and now, stepping out into the garden, she breathed easier, it seeming to her that she had escaped a danger.
"This night air will cool and refresh me, and I shall soon succeed in finding Paulo," thought she, constantly wandering farther and farther into the garden. But the brightness of the illuminated alleys annoyed her. A more obscure and secluded path opening, Natalie entered it. Ah, she needed solitude and stillness, and what knew she, this simple, harmless child of Nature—what knew she whether it was proper and seemly for a young woman thus alone to venture into these dark walks? She knew not that she incurred any risk, or that one needed protection among people!
Even farther resounded the noise of the festival—the clang of the music sounded fainter and fainter. Natalie wandered farther and farther, happy because alone!
Alone? What, then, was it that noiselessly and cautiously haunted her steps, following every movement she made, constantly nearing her the farther she found herself, as she supposed, from all other living beings? What was it inaudibly creeping through the bushes, even its dark shadow imperceptible, that followed her like a ghost?
It became stiller and stiller, and nearer crept the gloomy form that lurked in her steps. Now with a sudden spring he rushes upon the maiden. What gleams in his hand? It is a dagger. He swings it high, that he may sink it deep. Then some one rushes from the bushes, seizes the murderer's arm, wrests the dagger from his hand, hurls him to the earth, and a dear, well-known voice cries: "Fly, Natalie, fly quickly to Count Paulo! This serpent will no longer follow you! I have him fast, the assassin!"
And Carlo broke out into a happy and triumphant laugh.
Natalie made no answer, she was paralyzed with terror; there was a roaring in her ears, it darkened before her eyes, and she fell senseless to the earth!
But her disarmed murderer sought to free himself from Carlo's grasp. Struggling with his captor, he finally succeeded in half rising. Carlo thought not of his own danger, but only of Natalie's, and it was only on her account that he now loudly called for help, at the same time exerting a superhuman strength to hold on upon his prisoner.
Voices were heard, lights approached, and Paulo's cry of anguish resounded.
"Here, here!" anxiously cried Carlo, his strength already beginning to fail him. And his call being recognized, people soon came with lights. Count Paulo was already distinguishable, already Cardinal Bernis, with a light in his hand, was hastening on in advance of the rest.
With a last powerful effort the prisoner succeeded in freeing himself.
"She is saved for this time, but my dagger will yet make her acquaintance!" said he, with a scornful laugh, and like a serpent he glided away among the bushes.
"She is saved!" cried Carlo, sinking back toward Count Paulo, and pointing with a happy smile to Natalie, who, awaking from her momentary stupefaction, stretched forth her arms toward the count.
"Paulo," she whispered low, "let us hasten from here! I dread these people! I fear them! Let us go! But take him with us, that they may not kill him, my saviour, my friend Carlo!"
The morning dawned. Count Paulo rose from the arm-chair in which he had passed the night. He had occupied the whole fearfully anxious night in writing; he now laid the pen aside and stood up.
His face had an expression of firmness and decision; he had formed a firm resolution, had come to an irrevocable determination.
With a firm step advancing to the door opening into the adjoining chamber, he called to his friend Cecil.
The latter immediately made his appearance, and, entering the count's chamber, laconically said: "All is ready."
Count Paulo smiled sadly. "You are then sure there are no other means of saving her and ourselves?" he asked.
"None whatever," said Cecil. "Every moment's delay increases her and your danger. The occurrence of last night is a proof of it. They sought the death of Natalie—without Carlo's help she would have been murdered, and all our plans would have come to an end."
"Her life is threatened, and yet you can urge me to go and leave her alone and unprotected?"
"Was it you who saved her from the danger of last night?" asked Cecil. "Believe me, it is your presence that threatens her with the most danger. Precisely because you are at her side, they suspect her and watch her every step; the circumstance that she is with you creates distrust, and in Natalie they will think they see her whose mysterious flight has long been known in Russia. And Catharine will have her tracked in all countries and upon all routes. Therefore, save Natalie, by seeming to give her up. Return home and relate to them a fable of a false princess by whom you had been deceived, and whom you abandoned as soon as you discovered the deception. They will everywhere lend you a believing ear, as people gladly believe what they wish, and by this means only can you assure the future of Natalie and yourself."
"That is all just and true. I myself have so seen and recognized it," said the count; "and yet, my friend, I nevertheless still waver, and it seems to me that an internal voice warns me against that which I am about to do!"
Cecil smilingly shook his head. "Trust not such voices," said he; "it is the whispering of demons who envelop themselves in our own wishes, who entice us to what we would, by seeming to warn us against what we fear. Nothing but your departure can give you safety. Leave Natalie here in quiet solitude, and without you she will be well concealed in the solitude of this garden, and you, in the mean time, will pursue your affairs in Russia, and deceive the enemy, while you yourself seem to be the deceived party. They threaten you with the confiscation of your property, and they will fulfil those threats if you do not obey the call of the government. Go, therefore, go! We will secretly sell your property; and when this is accomplished, then, laden with treasure, let us return to Natalie, no longer fearing their threats."
"And when all this is done," exclaimed Count Paulo, glowing, "it shall be our task to conduct Natalie back in triumph to the country to which she belongs, there to place the diadem upon her fair brows, and to raise her above all other mortal beings!"
"God grant us the attainment of our ends!" sighed Cecil.
"We must and shall attain them!" responded Paulo, with enthusiasm. "I must fulfil this great task of my life, or die! Away, now, with all wavering or hesitation! What must be, shall be! They shall not say of the man who took compassion upon the deserted and threatened orphan and raised her for his own egotistical wishes, and pusillanimously failed to finish the work he began! No, no, history shall not so speak of me. It shall at least represent me as a brave man capable of sacrificing his heart and his life for the attainment of his higher ends! Seal these letters, Cecil. They contain my last will, and my bequest to Natalie, which I wish to place in her own hands. Ah, Cecil, I have been an enthusiastic fool until this hour! I thought—alas, what did I not think and dream!—I thought that all these plans and objects were not worth so much as one sole smile of her lips and that if she would say to me 'I love thee,' this sweet word would not be too dearly purchased with an imperial crown. Perhaps, ah, perhaps, I think so yet, but I will never more suffer myself to be swayed by such thoughts. We must go—Natalie's happiness demands it. And besides, she will not lack friends and protectors. It was not without an object that I last evening presented her to the most notable people of Rome; not without an object that I consented to her allowing herself as a poetess. They now know her name, which is repeated with highest praise in every quarter of the city; all Rome is to-day enthusiastic in her praise, and all Rome will protect and defend her. Add to which, I shall yet recommend her to the special protection of Cardinal Bernis!"
"And it was exactly in his house where she was almost murdered!" said Cecil. "Without that singer, Carlo, she would have been forever lost! If, then, you would choose a protector for her, let it be Carlo."
Count Paulo's brow darkened. "This singer loves her!" said he.
"Precisely for that reason," smilingly responded Cecil. "One who loves will best know how to protect her."
Count Paulo made no answer; he continued thoughtfully walking back and forth. Then he said with decision: "Seal these letters, Cecil. I will take them to Natalie myself."
"You will, then, see her again?" asked Cecil while folding the letters. "You will render the parting more painful!"
"I will it!" said Paulo, with decision, and, taking the letters, he left the room with a firm and resolute step.
He found Natalie in her room. She did not hear him coming, and thus did not turn to receive him. She was sitting motionless at the window and dejectedly looking out into the garden, her head supported by her hand.
The events of the previous evening had made a great change in her. She now felt older, more experienced, more earnest. A dark shadow had passed over her sun-bright happiness, a dark power had threateningly approached her; the seriousness of life had been suddenly unfolded to her and had brushed off the ether-dust of harmless and joyful peace from her childish soul. The happy child had become a conscious maiden, and new thoughts, new feelings had sprung up within her. The first tears of sorrow had, with a mighty creative power, called all these slumbering blossoms of her heart into existence and activity, and her unconscious feelings had become conscious thoughts.
But what had not happened, what had she not experienced and felt since last evening? First, had not a new happiness broken in upon her, had she not now a name, was she not a princess? Then, had she not achieved a triumph—a triumph in the presence of Corilla? But then, also, how many desillusions had she not experienced in a few hours? How had her heart been cooled by the rich flow of words in Corilla's poesy! Her whole soul had languished for the acquaintance of a poetess, and she had heard only a rhymed work of art. And then the last terrible event! Why had they wished to murder her? Who were her unknown enemies, and why had she enemies?
"I should have been dead had he not rescued me!" murmured she, and her lovely face was illuminated by a sunny smile. "Yes, without Carlo I should have been lost—I have to thank him for my life! Oh," said she then aloud, "to him therefore belongs my existence, and for every joy I am yet capable of feeling I am indebted to him, my friend Carlo! Ah, how shall I ever be able to reward him for all this happiness?"
And while she was thus speaking, Count Paulo, pale and silent, stood behind her; she saw him not, and after a pause she continued: "How strange it is! To-day, when I think of him, my heart beats as never before, and I feel in it something like heavenly bliss, and yet at the same time like profound sorrow. Ah, what can it be, and why do I, to-day, think only of him? I could weep because he does not yet come! How strange it all is, and at the same time how sad! Seems it not that I love Carlo more than any one else, more even than Paulo, who formerly was the dearest to me? How is it now, and am I, then, truly so ungrateful to Paulo?"
Count Paulo still stood behind her, pale and silent. A painfully ironic smile flitted over his face, and he thought: "I came to ask a question, and Natalie has already given me the answer before I had time to ask it. Perhaps it is better thus. I have now nothing to ask!"
The young maiden became more and more deeply absorbed in her thoughts. Count Paulo laid his hand lightly upon her shoulder. She was startled, and involuntarily cried, "Carlo!"
"No, Paulo!" said he, with a melancholy smile, "but at all events a friend, Natalie, though a friend who is about to leave you!"
"You leave me?" she anxiously exclaimed.
"That means only outwardly, only with my body, never with my soul," said he, deeply moved. "That, Natalie, will remain with you eternally, that will never leave you—do you hear, never! Always remember this, my charming child, my sweet blossom! Never entertain a doubt of me; and if my voice does not reach you, if you receive no news of me, then think not, 'Paulo has abandoned me!' no; then think only, 'Paulo is dead, but my name was the last to linger upon his lips, and his last sigh was for me!'"
"You desert me?" said she, wringing her hands. "What am I, what shall I do, without you? You have been my protector and my reliance, my teacher and my friend! Alas, you were all to me, and I have ever looked up to you as my lord and father."
Count Paulo sadly smiled. "Love me always as your father," said he; "while I live you shall never be an orphan, that I swear to you!"
"And must you go," cried she, clinging to him; "well, then let me go with you! You will be my father—well, I demand my right as your daughter; to accompany her father is a daughter's right."
"No," he firmly said, "you must remain while I go; but I go for you, to assure your future power and splendor. Remember this, Princess Natalie, forget it not; and when one day they brand me as a traitor, then say: 'No, he was no traitor, for he loved me!' And now hear what I have yet to say," continued the count, after a pause, while the still weeping Natalie looked up to him through her tears. "But look at me, Natalie—no, not that sad glance, I cannot bear it! Leave me my self-possession and my courage, for I need them! Weep not!"
And Natalie, drying her eyes with her long locks, sought to smile.
"I no longer weep," said she, "I listen to you."
Paulo placed two sealed letters in her hand.
"Swear to me," said he, "to hold these letters sacred as your most precious possession."
"I swear it!" said she.
"Swear to me to discover them to no human eye, to betray their possession to no human ear! Swear it to me by the memory of your mother, who now looks down from heaven upon you and receives your oath!"
"Then she is dead?" said the young maiden, sadly drooping her head upon her breast.
"You have not yet sworn!" said he.
The young maiden raised her head, and, turning her eyes toward heaven as if in the hope of encountering the tender maternal glance, she solemnly said: "By the sacred memory of my mother I swear to discover these papers to no human eye, to betray their existence to no human ear, but to hold them sacred as my most precious and mysterious treasure!"
"Swear, further," said Count Paulo, "that whenever a danger may threaten you, you will sooner forget all other things than these papers, that they should be the first which you will endeavor to save. Yes, swear to me that you will ever bear them upon your heart and never permit them to be separated from you!"
"I swear it!" said Natalie. "I will defend the possession of these papers, if necessary, with my life!"
"And thereby will you defend your honor," said Paulo, "for your honor rests in these papers. Yet ask me not what they contain. You must not yet know; there is danger in knowing their contents! But when a whole year has passed without my return or your hearing from me, and if in this whole year no messenger comes to you from me, then, Natalie, then open these letters; you will then possess my testament, and you will consider it a sacred duty to execute it!"
Natalie, sobbing, said: "Ah, why did not that dagger pierce my heart yesterday? I should then have died while I was yet happy?"
"You will yet do so!" said Count Paulo, with a slight tincture of bitterness; "Carlo and your future yet remain to you!"
She looked at him with a clear, bright glance, but without answering. She had again become an enigma to herself. Now, when her friend, when Paulo, was about to leave her, it seemed to her she had done wrong to love another, even for a moment, better than him, her benefactor and protector; indeed, as if she in fact loved no one so well as him, as if she could resign and leave all others to insure Paulo's permanent presence!
But she was suddenly startled, and a glowing flush overspread her cheeks. She had, quite accidentally, glanced through the window into the garden, and had there discovered Carlo, as with slow and hesitating steps he descended the alley leading to the villa.
Count Paulo had followed her glance, and, as he now observed the singer, he said: "He shall henceforth be your protector! Promise me to love him as a brother. Will you?"
He looked at her with a fixed and searching gaze, and she cast not down her eyes before that penetrating and interrogating glance, but met it directly with clear and innocent eyes.
"Yes, I will love him as a brother!" she said.
"One more thing, and then let us part!" said Paulo. "Marianne is honest and true—let her never leave you. I have amply provided her with funds for the necessary expenses for the next six months, and I hope long before the expiration of that time to send a further supply. If I do not, then conclude that I am dead, for only with my life can I be robbed of the sweet duty of caring for you! And now let me go to Carlo!"
Slightly nodding to her, he hastily left the room.
At that moment Carlo mounted the steps leading to the door of the villa. Paulo met him with a hearty greeting.
"Let us go down into the garden," said he, "I have many things to say to you."
The two men remained a long time in the garden. Natalie, standing at the window, occasionally saw them, arm in arm, at some turning of the walks, and then they would again disappear as they pursued their way in earnest conversation. Strange thoughts flitted through the soul of the young maiden, and when she saw the two thus wandering, arm in arm, she thoughtfully asked herself: "Which is it, then, that I most love? Is it Carlo, is it Paulo?"
"I now understand you perfectly," said Count Paulo, as they again approached the house after a long and earnest conversation. "Yes, it seems to me I know you as myself, and know I can confide in you. You have perfectly tranquillized me, and I thank you for your confidence. It was then Corilla, that vain improvisatrice, who would have destroyed her? That is consoling, and I can now depart with a lighter heart. Against such attacks you will be able to protect her."
"I will protect her against every attack," responded Carlo. "You have my oath that the secret you have confided to me shall be held sacred, and you have thereby secured her from every outbreak of my passion. She stands so high above me that I can only adore her as my saint, can love her only as one loves the unattainable stars!"
AN HONEST BETRAYER
At about the same time Cecil was hastening through the streets of Rome, often looking back to see if any one was following him, and viewing with suspicious eyes every one he met. He finally stopped before the backdoor of a palace, and, after having satisfied himself that he had not been followed, he lightly knocked three times at the door. Upon its being opened, a grim, bearded Russian face presented itself.
Cecil drew a ring from his bosom and showed it to the porter.
"Quick! conduct me to his excellency," said he.
The Russian nodded his recognition of the token, and beckoned Cecil to follow him. After a short reflection, Cecil entered and the door was closed.
Guided by his conductor through a labyrinth of rooms and corridors, Cecil finally succeeded in reaching a little boudoir, whose heavily-curtained windows hardly admitted a ray of dim twilight.
The conductor, bidding Cecil to wait here, left him alone.
In a few moments a concealed door was opened, and a man of a tall, proud form entered.
"At length!" he said, on perceiving Cecil. "I had begun to doubt your coming."
"I waited until I could bring you decisive intelligence, your excellency," said Cecil.
"And you bring it today?" quickly asked the unknown.
"In an hour we leave Rome for St. Petersburg!"
Uttering a loud cry of joy, the stranger walked the room in visible commotion. Cecil followed him with timid, anxious glances, and, as he still kept silence, Cecil said:
"Your excellency, I have truly performed what you required of me. I have persuaded the count to make the journey, notwithstanding his opposition to it, and, as you commanded, his ward remains behind in Rome, alone and unprotected."
"Ah, you praise your acts because you desire your reward," said his excellency, contemptuously opening his writing-desk, and drawing forth a well-filled purse. "You there have your pay, good man!"
Cecil indignantly rejected the money. "I am no Judas, who betrays his master for money," said he. "Please remember, your excellency, for what I promised to fulfil your excellency's commands, and what reward you promised me!"
"Ah, I now remember! You required my promise that no harm should befall the count!"
"Only on that condition did I promise my assistance," said Cecil. "When your emissary sought me and called me to you, I only followed him, as you well know, most noble count, because you gave me to understand that my master's life and safety were concerned. I came to you. Allow me, your excellency to repeat your own words. You said: 'Cecil, you have been represented to me as a true friend of your master. Fidelity is so rare a virtue, that it deserves reward. I will reward you by saving your life. Quickly leave this traitorous count, and break off all connection with him, else you are lost. I am secretly sent here in order to capture the count and his criminal ward, and take them to St. Petersburg. What there awaits the count may easily be imagined.' Thus speaking, your excellency then showed me the command for the count's arrest, signed by the empress. Upon which I asked: 'Is there no means of saving the count?' 'There is one,' said you. 'Persuade the count to return immediately to St. Petersburg, leaving his ward behind him here, and I swear to you, in the name of the empress, that no harm shall come to him.'"
"Well," impatiently cried the count, "what is the use of repeating all that, as I know it already?"
"Only because your excellency seems to forget that what I did was not done for your miserable gold, but for a totally different reward—the safety of a man whom I love as my own son."
"You have my word—no harm shall come to him."
"I doubt not your excellency's word," firmly and decidedly responded Cecil, "your word is all-powerful, and when you let your commanding voice be heard, all Russia trembles and bows before you. But here your voice resounds only between these walls, and nobody hears it but I alone. Give me an evidence of your word—a safety-pass, signed by your own hand, for my master, and then destroy the order for his arrest which you now hold!"
"Ah, it seems you would prescribe conditions?" said the count, proudly.
"Certainly I will," said Cecil. "I have complied with your conditions, and now it is your turn, Sir Count, to comply with mine, for you knew them before!"
A dark glow of anger showed itself in the count's face, and, passionately starting up, he approached Cecil, raising his arm threateningly against him.
"Sir Count," said Cecil, stepping back, "you mistake! I am no Russian serf, I am a free man, and no one has a right so to threaten me!"
The count had already let his arm fall, seeming suddenly to have changed his mind, and in a more friendly manner he said:
"You are right, Cecil, and what you desire shall be done."
Taking a large sealed paper from a drawer in his writing-desk, he handed it to Cecil.
"That is the order for the arrest; destroy it yourself!" said he.
Taking the paper, Cecil read it with attention. "It is, as you say, the order for the arrest. It is destroyed!"
With a satisfied smile, he tore the paper into a thousand pieces, and placed these in his bosom.
The count had stepped to the table and hastily written a few lines upon another piece of paper. This he handed to Cecil. "I hope you are now satisfied," said he.
Cecil took the paper and read it.
"This is a safety-pass in due form," said he—"a valid instruction to all boundary guards and officials to let us pass without molestation. Your excellency, we are quits. I complied with your wish, as you now have with mine, and my dear master is saved!"
"It being understood that you start immediately," said the count.
"The post-horses are already ordered, and we shall set out as soon as I return home. Farewell, therefore, Sir Count; I thank you for enabling me to save the man whom I most loved. I thank you!"
Cecil was approaching the door, when he suddenly stopped, and his face took a sad expression. "I have deceived my dear master, in order to save him," said he, "and in order to redeem the promise I made to his father on his death-bed, swearing that I would watch over and protect the son at the risk of my heart's blood. But if the son knew what I have done, he would call me a betrayer and curse me, for he holds his ward dearer than his own life! He leaves the princess in the belief that it is necessary for her safety, and repairs to Russia, to return with increased wealth. Sir Count, what is to become of Natalie?"
"That," low and mysteriously replied the count, "that can be decided only by the will of her who has sent me. Until that decision no hair of her head can be touched, and the princess will follow me to Russia, only with her own free will! But you must know that the empress hates no one more than her own son. How, then, if she should be disposed to pass him over, and select another as her successor?"
"Oh, would to God that I rightly understand you!" exclaimed Cecil.
"We shall, one day, perfectly understand each other," said the count, with a significant smile. "Now, hasten to redeem your word, and leave Rome with your master!"
As soon as Cecil left the room, the count's face assumed a knavishly malicious expression. With a loud laugh he threw himself upon the silken divan.
"Thus are all these so-called good men real blockheads, stupid fools, who believe every word spoken to them with a friendly mien! This honest man really believes that his highly-prized master is now saved, because he bears in his bosom the fragments of the order for his arrest. Worthy dunce; as if there were no duplicate, and as if every promise were countersigned by the Divinity himself! Go home with your count—my word shall be fulfilled. No hair of his head shall be touched, but his proud back shall be curled, and in the mines of Siberia he may learn to bow before a higher power!"
Thus speaking, the count pulled a bell whose silken cord hung over the divan, and, as no one instantly appeared, he pulled it again, this time more violently. But yet some minutes passed, and still the bell was unanswered. The count gnashed his teeth with rage, and muttered vehement curses.
At length the door opened, and with an imploring face a servant appeared upon the threshold.
"Miserable hound, where were you?" cried the count to him.
The servant fell upon his knees and crept like a dog to his master's feet.
"Excellency, we had, as your grace commanded, so long as the gentleman was with you, withdrawn from the anteroom and waited in the corridor, where the bell could not be heard," stammered the servant.
"I will teach you wretches to keep me waiting," exclaimed the count, and seizing the knout that lay upon the table before him, he laid it with merciless rage upon the poor servant, until his own arm sank powerless, and he felt himself exhausted with fatigue.
"Now, go, you hound!" said he, replacing the knout upon the table; and the flagellated serf, rising respectfully, with his hand wiped away the blood which ran in streams from his wounds.
"Now go and send my officers to me!" cried the count. The servant staggered out to obey the command, and soon the persons thus ordered made their appearance and remained standing in silence at the door.
The count lay stretched out upon the divan, playing with the knout, whose leathern thongs were still dripping with his servant's blood.
"Let a courier take horse immediately, and give him the order countersigned by her imperial majesty for the arrest of Count Paulo Rasczinsky. The courier will follow him with it to the Russian frontier, and then by virtue of this order arrest him at the next station and send him to St. Petersburg in chains! This is the command for the courier; he will answer with his head for its execution!"
One of the officers bowed, and went to dispatch the courier.
"Is our reconnoitrer returned?" asked the count of the two who remained.
"What news brings he? Does he know the cause of the murderous attack at the festival of the French cardinal? Yet why do I ask you? Make yourselves scarce, and let him come to speak for himself!"
The officers were no sooner gone, than a wild-looking, bearded churl made his appearance upon the threshold of the door and greeted the count with a grinning laugh.
"What know you of the murderous attack?" asked the count, in Italian.
"A friend of mine was charged with the affair," said the bravo. "He is in the pay of the most holy Cardinal Albani. We served long together under the same chief, and I know him intimately. He carries the most skilful dagger in all Rome, and it is the greatest wonder that he missed on this occasion."
"Was it done by order of the cardinal?"
"No! The lord cardinal had lent this bravo to the celebrated improvisatrice Corilla—the order came from her."
"It is well!" said the count. "Do you know all the bravi in Rome?"
"All, your excellency. They are all my good friends."
"Well, now listen to what I have to say to you. You must hold the life of the Princess Tartaroff as sacred as your own! Know that she is no moment unwatched; that wherever she appears she is surrounded by secret protectors. Whoever touches her is lost—my arm will reach him! Say that to your friends, and tell them that the Russian count keeps his word. Four thousand sequins are yours in four weeks, if until then the princess meets with no accident. Away with you, and forget not my words!"
"Ah, these words, your excellency, are worth four thousand sequins, and these one does not so easily forget!" said the bandit, leaving the room.
Again the count rang, and ordered his private secretary, Stephano, to be called.
"Stephano," said the count to him, "the first step is taken toward the accomplishment of our object. The work must succeed; I have pledged my word for it to the empress, and who can say that Alexis Orloff ever failed to redeem his word? This princess is mine! Count Paulo Rasczinsky is just now leaving Rome, and she has no one to protect her!"
"But it is not yet to be said that she is already yours!" said Stephano, shrugging his shoulders. "As you will not employ force, your excellency, you must have recourse to stratagem. I have hit upon a plan, of which I think you will approve. They describe this so-called little princess as exceedingly innocent and confiding. Let us take advantage of her confiding innocence—that will be best! Now hear my plan."
Stephano inclined himself closer to the ear of the count, and whispered long and earnestly; it seemed as if he feared that even the walls might listen to him and betray his plans; he whispered so low that even the count had some trouble in understanding him.
"You are right," said the count, when Stephano had ended; "your plan must and will succeed. First of all, we must find some one who will incline her in our favor, and render her confiding."
"Oh, for that we have our good Russian gold," said Stephano, laughing.
"And besides," continued the count, "our incognito is at an end. All Rome may now learn that I am here! Ah, Stephano, what a happy time awaits me! This Natalie is beautiful as an angel!"
"God grant that you may not fall in love with her!" sighed Stephano. "You are always very generous when you are in love."
Two things principally occupied the Romans during the next weeks and months, offering them rich material for conversation. In talking of these they had forgotten all other events; they spoke no more of the giant fish which had destroyed the friendship of France and Spain; they no longer entertained each other with anecdotes in connection with the festival of Cardinal Bernis, at which the entree of that fish upon his long silver platter was hailed with shouts and vivats—yes, even that Russian princess, who had momentarily shown herself on the horizon of society, all these were quickly forgotten, and people now interested themselves only about the extirpation of the order of the Jesuits, which Pope Clement had now really effected, and of the arrival of the Russian ambassador-extraordinary, the famous Alexis Orloff, whose visit to Rome seemed the more important and significant as they well knew in what near and confidential relations his brother, Count Gregory Orloff, stood with the Empress Catharine, and what participation Alexis Orloff had in the sudden death of the Emperor Peter III.
The order of the Jesuits, then, no longer existed; the pious fathers of the order of Jesus were stricken out of the book of history; a word of power had annihilated them! With loud complaints and lamentations they filled the streets of the holy city, and if the prayer of humility and resignation resounded from their lips, yet there were very different prayers in their hearts, prayers of anger and rage, of hatred and revenge! They were seen wringing their hands and loudly lamenting, as they hastened to their friends and protectors, and besieged the doors of the foreign embassies. With them wept the poor and suffering people to whom the pious fathers had proved themselves benefactors. For, since they knew that their existence was threatened, they had assiduously devoted themselves to works of charity and mercy, and to strengthening, especially in Rome, their reputation for piety, benevolence, and generosity. Prodigious sums were by them distributed among the poor; more than five hundred respectable impoverished Romans, who had been accused of political offences, were secretly supported by them. In this way the Jesuits, against whom the cry of denunciation had been raised for years in all Europe, had nevertheless succeeded, at least in the holy city, in gaining for themselves a very considerable party, and thus securing protection and support in the time of misfortune and persecution. But while the people wept with them, and many cardinals and princes of the Church secretly pitied them, the ambassadors of the great European powers alone remained insensible to their lamentations. No one of them opened the doors of their palaces to them, no one afforded them protection or consolation; and although it was known that cardinal Bernis, in spite of the horror which had for years been felt of this order in France, was personally favorable to them, and had long delayed the consent of the court of France to their abolition, yet even Bernis now avoided any manifestation of kindness for them, lest his former friend, the Spanish ambassador, might think he so far humiliated himself as to favor the Jesuits for the sake of recovering the friendship and good opinion of the Duke of Grimaldi. But Grimaldi himself now no longer dared to protect the Jesuits, however friendly he might be to them, and however much they were favored by Elizabeth Farnese, the Spanish queen-mother. King Charles, her son, had finally ventured to defy her authority, and in an autograph letter had commanded the Duke of Grimaldi to receive no more Jesuits in his palace. And while, as we have said, the whole diplomacy had declared against the order of the holy fathers of Jesus, it must have been the more striking that this Russian Count Orloff had compassion upon them, and lent a willing ear to the complaints of the unfortunate members of the order.
This Russian count gave the good Romans much material for reflection and head-shaking; the women were occupied with his herculean beauty, and the men with his wild, daring, and reckless conduct. They called him a barbarian, a Russian bear, but could not help being interested in him, and eagerly repeating the little anecdotes freely circulated respecting him.
They smilingly told that he had been the first who had had the courage to defy the powerful republic of Venice, which, for recruiting sailors for his fleet in their territories for the war against the Turks, wished to banish him from proud and beautiful Venice. But Alexis Orloff had laughed at the senate of the republic when they sent him the order to leave. He had ordered the two hundred soldiers, who formed his retinue, to arm themselves, and, if necessary, to repel force with force; but to the senate he had answered that he would leave the city as soon as he pleased, not before! But, as it seemed that he was not pleased to leave the city, he remained there, and now the angry and indignant senate sent him the peremptory command to leave Venice with his soldiers in twenty-four hours. A deputation of the senate came in solemn procession to communicate to the Russian count this command of the Council of Three. Alexis Orloff received them, lying upon his divan, and to their solemn address he laughingly answered: "I receive commands from no one but my empress! It remains as before, that I shall go when I please, and not earlier!"
The senators departed with bitter murmurs and severe threats. Count Alexis Orloff remained, and the cowardly senate, trembling with fear of this young Russian empire, had silently pocketed the humiliation of seeing this over-bearing Russian within their walls for several weeks longer. This evidence of the haughty insolence of Count Orloff was related among the Romans with undisguised pleasure, and they thanked him for having thus humiliated and insulted the proud and imperious republic. But they suspiciously shook their heads when they learned that he seemed disposed to display his pride and arrogance in Rome! They told of a soiree of the Marchesa di Paduli which Alexis Orloff had attended. As they there begged of him to give some proof of the very superior strength which had acquired for him the name of "the Russian Hercules," he had taken one of the hardest apples from a silver plateau that stood upon the table and playfully crushed it with two fingers of his left hand. But a fragment of this hard apple had hit the eye of the Duke of Gloucester, who was standing near, and seriously injured it. The sympathies of the whole company were excited for the English prince, and he was immediately surrounded by a pitying and lamenting crowd. Count Orloff alone had nothing to say to him, and not the slightest excuse to make. He smilingly rocked himself upon his chair, and hummed a Russian popular song in praise of his empress.
And was it not also an insult for Alexis Orloff now to show himself a friend to the Jesuits, whom the decree of God's vicegerent had outlawed and proscribed? Was it not an insult that he loudly and publicly promised to these persecuted Jesuits a kind reception and efficient protection in Russia, and invited them to found new communities and new cloisters there?
But Alexis Orloff cared little for the dissatisfaction of the Romans, He said to his confidant Stephano: "There is no greater pleasure than to set at defiance all the world, and to oppose all these things which the stupid people would impose upon us as laws. The friend and favorite of the Empress Catharine has no occasion for complying with such miserable laws; wherever I set my foot, there the earth belongs to me, and I will forcibly maintain my pretensions whenever they are disputed! In Russia I am the serf of the empress, in revenge for which I will, at least abroad, treat all the world as my serfs. This gives me pleasure, and wherefore is the world here but to be enjoyed?"
"A little also for labor," said Stephano, with a sly smile.
"For that I have my slaves, for that I have also you!" responded Orloff, laughing. "There is only one labor for me here in Rome, and that is to create as much disturbance as possible in the city; to set the people at odds with the government, so that they may have their hands full, and find no time for observing our nice game with our little princess, or to interfere with it. We must have freedom of action, that is the most important. Hence we must protect these pious Jesuits, and offer support to the enemies of this too-enterprising pope, by which means we shall ultimately attain our own ends, and that is enough for us!"
"We have not yet advanced a step with our Princess Natalie," said Stephano, shrugging his shoulders; "that, it seems, is an impregnable fortress!"
"It must, however, yield to us," laughingly responded Alexis Orloff, "and she shall yet acknowledge us as conquerors. We are undermining, Stephano, and when the building crushes her in its crashing fall, will she first discover that she has long been in danger. And what said you—that we have not yet advanced a step? And yet Rasczinsky is gone, and we have known how to keep Cardinal Bernis, who would have interested himself for the little one, so very much occupied with the affair of the Jesuits, that he has yet had no time to think of the princess. Ah, these Jesuits are very useful people. We strew them like snuff in the faces of these diplomatists, and, while they are yet rubbing their weak eyes and crying out with pain, we shall quietly draw our little fish into our net, and take her home without opposition!"
"And if the fish will not go into the net?"
"It must go in!" impatiently cried Orloff. "Bah! have I at the right time succeeded in towing our emperor, God bless him! into eternity, and shall I doubt in the fulness of time of enclosing this beautiful child in my arms! Look at me, Stephano—what is wanting for it in me? Are not all these beautiful women of Rome enraptured with the Russian Hercules? How, then, can it be that a woman of my own country can withstand me? The preliminaries are the main thing, and if we only had some one to prepare her for my appearance, all would then go well. And such a one we will find, thanks to our rubles! But enough of politics for the present, Stephano. Call my valet. It is time for my toilet, and that is a very important affair."
Corilla was alone. Uneasy, full of stormy thoughts, she impetuously walked back and forth, occasionally uttering single passionate exclamations, then again thoughtfully staring at vacancy before her. She was a full-blooded, warm Italian woman, that will neither love nor hate with the whole soul, and nourishes both feelings in her bosom with equal strength and with equal warmth. But, in her, hatred exhaled as quickly as love; it was to her only the champagne-foam of life, which she sipped for the purpose of a slight intoxication—as in her intoxication only did she feel herself a poetess, and in a condition for improvisation.
"I must at any rate be in love," said she, "else I should lose my poetic fame. With cool blood and a tranquil mind there is no improvising and poetizing. With me all must be stirring and flaming, every nerve of my being must glow and tremble, the blood must flash like fire through my veins, and the most glowing wishes and ardent longings, be it love or be it hate, must be stirring within me in order to poetize successfully. And this cannot be comprehended by delicate and discreet people; this low Roman populace even venture to call me a coquette, only because I constantly need a new glow, and because I constantly seek new emotions and new inspirations for my muse."
Love, then, for the improvisatrice Corilla, was nothing more than a strong wine with which she refreshed and strengthened her fatigued poetic powers for renewed exertions; it was in a manner the tow which she threw upon the expiring fire of her fantasy, to make it flash up in clear and bright flames.
It was only in this way that she loved Carlo, and wept for him, except that in this case her love had been of a longer duration, because it was he who gave up and left her! That was what made her hatred so glowing, that was what made her seek the life of the woman for whom Carlo had deserted her.
"This is a new situation," said she, "which I am called to live through and to feel. But a poetess must have experienced all feelings, or she could not describe them. For my part, I do not believe in the revelations of genius—I believe only in experiences. One can describe only what one has felt and experienced. Whoever may attempt to describe the flavor of an orange, must first have tasted it!"
That this attempt to murder Natalie had failed, was to her a matter of little moment. She had experienced the emotion of it, and just the same would it have been a matter of indifference to her had the dagger pierced Natalie's breast—she was sufficiently a child of the South to consider a murder as only a venial sin, for which the priest could grant absolution.
There was only one thing which exclusively occupied Corilla, following and tormenting her day and night, and that was her poetic fame. She desired that her name should stand high in the world, glorified by all Europe, and for this purpose she desired above all things to be crowned as a poetess in the capitol of the holy city; for this fame she would willingly have given many years of her life.
That was the aim of all her efforts, and how much would she not have borne, ventured, and suffered for its attainment! How many intrigues were planned, how much cunning and dissimulation, flattery, and hypocrisy, had been employed for that purpose, and all, all as yet in vain!
Therefore it was that Corilla now wept, and with occasional outbreaks of passionate exclamations violently paced her room. Her cheeks glowed, her eyes flashed—she was very beautiful in this state of excitement. That she must have acknowledged to herself as her glance accidentally encountered her own face in the glass.
With a smile of satisfaction she remained standing before the mirror, and almost angrily she said:
"Ah, why am I now alone, why does no one see me in my beautiful glow? My face might now produce some effect, and gain me friends! Why, then, am I now alone?"
But it seems that Corilla had only to express a wish in order to see it suddenly fulfilled; for the door was at that moment opened, and a servant announced Count Alexis Orloff.
Corilla smiled with delight, and let that smile remain upon her lips, as she very well knew it was becoming to her, and that she had conquered many hearts with it; but secretly her heart throbbed with fear, and timidly she asked herself, "What can that Russian count want of me?"
But with a cheerful face she advanced to receive him; she seemed not to remark that a dark cloud lay upon his brow, and that his features bore an almost threatening expression.
"He is a barbarian," thought she, "and barbarians must be treated differently from other men. I must flatter this lion, in order to fetter him!"
"It is a serious matter that brings me to you, signora," said Alexis, gloomily.
"A serious matter?" she cheerfully asked. "Ah, then I pity you, count. It is difficult to speak with me of serious matters!"
"You rather do them!" said Alexis, carelessly throwing himself upon a divan. "You would not play with such serious things as, for instance, a dagger, and therefore you hurl it from you, altogether indifferent whether you thereby quite accidentally pierce the heart of another."
"I do not understand you, count," said Corilla, without embarrassment, but at the same time she looked at him with such a charming and enticing expression, that Alexis involuntarily smiled.
"I will make myself intelligible to you," said he, in a milder tone. "You must understand, that I know you, Corilla. That assassin who followed the Princess Tartaroff at the festival of Cardinal Bernis, was employed by you, Signora Maddalena Morelli Fernandez, called Corilla!"
"And what if it were true, Signor Alexis Orloff, called the handsome Northern Hercules?" asked she, roguishly imitating his grave seriousness. "If it were really true, what further?"
Alexis looked in her face with an expression of astonishment. "You are wonderfully bold!" said he.
"None but slaves are without courage!" responded she. "Freedom is the mother of boldness!"
"You do not, then, deny the hiring of that bravo?"
"I only deny your right to inquire," said she.
"I have a right to it," he responded with vehemence. "This Princess Tartaroff is a subject of the Empress of Russia, my mistress, who watches over and protects all her subjects with maternal tenderness."
"That good, tender empress!" exclaimed Corilla, with an ambiguous smile. "But in order properly to watch and preserve all her children and subjects, she should keep them in her own country. Take this Princess Tartaroff with you to Russia, and then she will be safe from our Italian daggers. Take her with you; that will be the best way!"
"You, then, very heartily hate this poor little princess?" asked Alexis, laughing.
"Yes," said she, after a short reflection, "I hate her. And would you know why, signor? Not for her beauty, not for her youth, but for her talents! And she has great talents! Ah, there was a time when I hated her, although I knew her not. But now, now it is different. I now not only hate, but fear her! For she can rival me, not only in love, but in fame! Ah, you should have seen her on that evening! She was like a swan to look at, and her song was like the dying strains of the swan. And all shouted applause, and all the women wept; indeed, I myself wept, not from emotion, but with rage, with bitterness, for they had forgotten me—forgotten, for this new poetess; they overwhelmed her with flatteries, leaving me alone and unnoticed! And yet you ask me if I hate her!"
Quite involuntarily had she suffered herself to be carried away by her own vehemence, her inward glowing rage. With secret pleasure Count Orloff read in her features that this was no comedy which she thus improvised, but was truth and reality.
"If you so think and feel," said he, "then we may soon understand each other, signora. A real hatred is of as much value as a real love; indeed, often of much greater. One can more safely confide in hatred, as it is more enduring. I will therefore confide in you, signora, if you will swear to me to betray no word of what I shall tell you."
"I swear it!" was Corilla's response.
"Listen, then! This Princess Tartaroff is an imposter; no princely blood flows in her veins, and if she gives herself out to be a princess, it is because she therewith connects plans of high-treason. More I need not say to you, except that my illustrious empress has charged me to bring this fraudulent princess to her at St. Petersburg, that she may there receive her punishment! This I have sworn to do, and must redeem my promise to transport her from here, without exciting attention, and without subjecting her to any personal injury. Do you now comprehend why I come?"
"I comprehend," said Corilla. "An empress would avenge herself, and therefore a poor poetess must forego her own little private revenge! But how, if I should not believe a word of this long story; if I should consider it a fable invented by you to assure the safety of your princess?"
"That you may be compelled to believe it, listen further to me."
And Alexis Orloff spoke long and zealously to her, affording her a glance into his most secret intrigues, into his finely-matured plans, while Corilla followed him with intense expectation and warmly-glowing cheeks.
"I comprehend it all, all!" said she, when Alexis had finally ended; "it is a deep and at the same time an infernal plan—a plan which must excite the envy and respect of Satan himself!"
"And yourself?" laughingly asked Alexis.
"Oh, I," said she—"I belong, perhaps, to the family of devils, and therefore take pleasure in aiding you! You need a negotiator who has a wide conscience and an eloquent tongue! I can furnish you with such a one. Ah, that will make a droll story. Said you not that the singer Carlo watched this golden treasure like a dragon? Well, it shall be his brother who shall contend with this dragon. His own brother—will not that be pleasant, count?"
"And are you sure of him?" asked Count Orloff. "How if his brother should win him from us?"
"Have no anxiety; this Carlo Ribas is so virtuous that he hates no one so much as his brother Joseph, merely because he passed some years in the galleys for forgery. He is now free, and has secretly come here. As he was aware that I knew his brother, he came to beg me for my countenance and support. I will send him to you."
"And you will also not forget my request, that you will in all societies speak of the great love which the Empress Catharine cherishes for her near relation, the Princess Tartaroff?"
"I will not forget it. In your hands, count, I lay my revenge—you will free me from this rival?"
"That will I," said he, with an inhuman laugh. "And when the work is completed, and you have faithfully stood by me, then, signora, you may be sure of the gratitude of the empress. Catharine is the exalted protectress of the muses, and in the fulness of her grace she will not forget the poetess Corilla. You may expect an imperial reward."
"And I shall gratefully receive it," said Corilla, with a smile. "A poetess is always poor and in want of assistance. The muses lavish upon their votaries all joys but those of wealth."
"Ah!" exclaimed Corilla, when the count had left her, "I shall in the end obtain all I desire. I shall not only be crowned with fame, but blessed with wealth, which is a blessing almost equal to that of fame! Money has already founded many a reputation, but not always has fame attracted money to itself! I shall be rich as well as famous!"
"That you already are!" exclaimed the Cardinal Francesco Albani, who unremarked had just entered the room.
"I am not," said she, with vehemence, "for they refuse me the prize of fame! Have you been with the pope, your eminence, and what did he say?"
"I come directly from him."
"Well, and what says he?"
"What he always says to me—no!"
Corilla stamped her feet violently, and her eyes flashed lightnings.
"How beautiful you are now!" tenderly remarked the cardinal, throwing an arm around her.
She rudely thrust him back. "Touch me not," said she, "you do not deserve my love. You are a weakling, as all men are. You can only coo like a pigeon, but when it comes to action, then sinks your arm, and you are powerless. Ah, the woman whom you profess to love begs of you a trifling service, the performance of which is of the highest importance to her, the greatest favor, and you will not fulfil her request while yet swearing you love her! Go! you are a cold-hearted man, and wholly undeserving of Corilla's love!"
"But," despairingly exclaimed the cardinal, "you require of me a service that it is not in my power to perform. Ask something else, Corilla—ask a human life, and you shall have it! But I cannot give what is not mine. You demand a laurel-crown, which only the pope has the power to bestow, and he has sworn that you shall not have it so long as he lives!"
"Will he, then, live eternally?" cried Corilla, beside herself with rage.
The cardinal gave her an astonished and interrogating glance. But his features suddenly assumed a wild and malicious expression, and violently grasping Corilla's hand, he murmured:
"You are right! 'Will he, then, live forever?' Bah! even popes are mortal men. And if we should choose for his successor a man better disposed toward you then—Corilla," said the cardinal, interrupting himself, and in spite of her resistance pressing her to his bosom—"Corilla, swear once more to me that you will be mine, and only mine, as soon as I procure your coronation in the capitol! Swear it once more!"
She gave him such a sweet, enticing, and voluptuous smile that the cardinal trembled with desire and joy.
"When you in the capitol adorn Corilla with the laurel-crown, then will she willingly lay her myrtle crown at your feet," said she, with a charming expression of maiden modesty.
The cardinal again pressed her passionately to his bosom.
"You shall have the laurel-crown, and your myrtle crown is mine!" he excitedly exclaimed. "You will soon see whether Francesco is a cold-hearted man! Farewell, Corilla!"
And with a hasty salute he left the room. The astonished Corilla dismissed him with a smile.
"If it is to succeed at all, it can be only through him," said she. "Poor Francesco, he will bring me a full laurel-crown! And what can I give him in return? An exfoliated myrtle crown, that is all! No heart with it!"
THE HOLY CHAFFERERS
Cardinal Francesco Albani, meantime, hastened through the streets with the sprightliness of youth. He noticed neither the respectful salutations and knee-bendings of those he passed, nor their visible shuddering and alarm when under the cardinal's hat they recognized the fierce and inhuman Francesco Albani.
He stopped before the palace of Cardinal Juan Angelo Braschi. The equipage of the new cardinal was drawn up before his door.
"Ah," gleefully remarked Albani, "he is therefore yet at home, and I shall meet with him!"
Hastily entering the palace, and pushing past the servant who would have preceded him, he entered the cardinal's cabinet unannounced.
"Be not troubled, your eminence," said Albani, with a smile, "I will not detain you long. I know your habits, and know that Signora Malveda usually expects you at this hour, because Cardinal Rezzonico is not then with her! But I have something important to say to you. You know I am a man who, without forms and circumlocutions, always comes directly to the point. I do so now. You desire to be the successor of Ganganelli?"
Braschi turned pale, and timidly cast down his eyes.
"Why are you shocked?" cried Albani. "Every cardinal hopes and wishes to become the father of Christendom—that is natural; I should also wish it for myself, but I know that that cannot be. I have permitted these lord cardinals who, in the conclave, invoke the Holy Spirit, to look too much into my cards. I was not so prudent as you, Braschi, and therefore you are much the more likely to become God's vicegerent! Would you not like to be pope, if Ganganelli should happen to die? And how high would you hold my voice—how much would it be worth to you?"
"More than all I possess, infinitely more!" said the shrewd Braschi. "Were I sure of your voice, I might then have a definite hope of becoming pope; for your voice carries many others with it. How, then, can you expect me to estimate what is inestimable?"
"Would you give me twenty thousand?" asked Albani.
"Threefold that sum if I possessed it, but I have nothing! I am a very poor cardinal, as you well know. My whole property consists of six thousand scudi, and that trifling sum I dare not offer you."
"Borrow, then, of Signora Malveda!" said Albani. "Cardinal Rezzonico is rich and liberal. Let us speak directly to the point. You would be pope, and I am willing to forward your views. How much will you pay?"
"If Signora Malveda will lend me four thousand scudi, I should then have ten thousand to offer you!"
"Well, so be it. Ten thousand scudi will do, if you will add to it a trifling favor."
"Name it," said Braschi.
"You know that Ganganelli opposes the crowning of our famous improvisatrice, Corilla, in the capitol. This is an injustice which Ganganelli's successor will have to repair. Will you do it?"
Braschi gave the cardinal a sly glance. "Ah," said he, "Signora Corilla seems to be less liberal than Signora Malveda? She will allow you no discount of her future laurel-crown, is it not so? I know nothing worse than an ambitious woman. Listen, Albani; it seems that we must be mutually useful to each other; I need your voice to become pope, and you need mine to become a favored lover. Very well, give me your voice, and in return, I promise you a laurel-crown for Signora Corilla, and eight thousand scudi for yourself!"
"Ah, you would haggle!" contemptuously exclaimed Albani. "You would be a very niggardly vicegerent of God! But as Corilla is well worth two thousand scudi, I am content. Give me eight thousand scudi and the promise to crown Corilla!"
"As soon as I am pope, I will do both. My sacred word for it! Shall I strengthen my promise by swearing upon the Bible?"
Cardinal Albani gave the questioner a glance of astonishment, and then broke out with a loud and scornful laugh.
"You forget that you are speaking to one of your kind! Of what use would such a holy farce be to us who have no faith in its binding power? No, no, we priests know each other. Such buffoonery amounts to nothing. One written word is worth a thousand sworn oaths! Let us have a contract prepared—that is better. We will both sign it!"
"Just as you please!" said Braschi, with a smile, stepping to his writing desk and rapidly throwing some lines upon paper, which he signed after it had been carefully read by Albani.
"At length the business is finished," said Albani. "Now, Cardinal Braschi, go to your signora, and surprise her with the news that she holds in her arms a pope in spe. Pope Clement will soon need a successor; he must be very ill, the poor pope!"
So speaking, he took leave of the future pope with a friendly nod, and departed with as much haste as he had come.
"And now to these pious Jesuit fathers!" said he, stepping out upon the grass. "It was very prudent in me that I went on foot to Corilla to-day. Our cursed equipages betray every thing; they are the greatest chatterboxes! How astonished these good Romans would be to see a cardinal's carriage before these houses of the condemned! No, no, strengthen yourselves for another effort, my reverend legs! Only yet this walk, and then you will have rest."
And the cardinal trudged stoutly on until he reached the Jesuit college. There he stopped and looked cautiously around him.
"This unfortunate saintly dress is also a hindrance," murmured he. "Like the sign over the shop-door it proclaims to all the world: 'I am a cardinal. Here indulgences, dispensations, and God's blessings are to be sold! Who will buy, who will buy?' I dare not now enter this scouted and repudiated sacred house. I might be remarked, suspected, and betrayed. Corilla, dear, beautiful woman, it costs me much pains and many efforts to conquer you; will your possession repay me?"
The cardinal patiently waited in the shadow of a taxus-bush until the street become for a moment empty and solitary. Then he hastened to a side-door of the building, and, sure of being unobserved, entered.
A deep and quiet silence pervaded these long and deserted cloister-passages. It seemed as if a death-veil lay upon the whole building—as if it were depopulated, desolated. Nowhere the least trace of that busy, stirring life, usually prevailing in these corridors—no longer those bands of scholars that formerly peopled these passages—the doors of the great school-room open, the benches unoccupied, the lecturer's chair, from which the pious fathers formerly with such subtle wisdom explained and defended their dangerous doctrines, these also are desolate. The reign of the Jesuits was over; Ganganelli had thrust them from the throne, and they cursed him as their murderer! He had suppressed their sacred order, he had commanded them to lay aside their peculiar costume and adopt that of other monkish orders, or the usual dress of abbes. But from their property he had not been able to expel them in this college Il Jesu—within their cloisters his power had not been able to penetrate. There they remained, what they had been, the holy fathers of Jesus, the pious defenders of craft and Christian deception, the cunning advocates of regicide, the proud servants of the only salvation-dispensing Church!—there, with rage in their hearts, they meditated plans of vengeance against this criminal pope who had condemned them to a living death; who, like a wicked magician, had changed their sacred college into an open grave! He had killed them, and he, should he nevertheless live?
With these fatal questions did the holy fathers occupy themselves, reflecting upon them in their gloomy leisure, and in low whisperings consulting with their prior. And in such secret consultation did Cardinal Francesco Albani find the prior with his confidant in the refectorium.
"Do not let me disturb you," he said laughing; "I see by your faces you are engaged in conversation upon the subject in which I yesterday took a part. That is very well—we can resume it where we yesterday broke off, and again knot the threads which I yesterday so violently rent. With which knot shall we begin?"
The eyes of the pious Jesuit father flashed with joy. Francesco Albani was inclined to favor their plans and wishes; they saw that in his cunning smile, in his return to them.
"We were speaking of the sacred and important duty you will have to perform to-morrow, your eminence," said the prior, with a winning smile.
"Ah, yes, I remember," said the cardinal, with apparent indifference. "We spoke of the to-morrow's communion of his holiness the pope."
"And of the fact that you, your eminence, would to-morrow have to discharge the important duty of pouring the sacred wine into the golden chalice of the vicegerent of God," said the prior.
"Yes, yes, I now remember it all," said Albani, with a smile. "You spoke to me of a wonderful flask of wine, which, by means of the golden tube, you would gladly help to the honor of being drunk by his holiness from the communion chalice."
"It is so precious a wine that only the vicegerent of God is worthy of wetting his lips with it. It must touch the lips of no other mortal!"
"I know such a wine," said Albani; "it thrives best in the region of Naples,(*) and whoever drinks of it becomes a partaker of eternal blessedness."
(*) The celebrated poison, Acqua Tofana, is prepared only in Naples.
"Yes, you are right, it is a wonderfully strengthening wine!" said the prior, folding his hands and directing his eyes toward the heavens. "We thank God that He has left us in possession of so precious an essence! The pope, they say, is suffering and needs strengthening. See how closely we follow the teaching of Him whose name we bear, and who has commanded, 'Love your enemies, bless those who curse you!' Instead of avenging ourselves, we would be his benefactors, and refresh him with the most precious of what we possess!"
"And you would be so unselfish as to keep from him all knowledge of your benevolence, you would bless him quite secretly! But how if I should betray you, and communicate your precious secret to his holiness the pope? Yes, yes, I shall open my mouth and speak, unless I am prevented by a golden lock put upon my lips."
"We shall willingly apply such a lock!" said the pleased prior.
"But, that it may entirely close my mouth, the lock will need to be very heavy!" responded Albani, with a laugh.
"It is so—it weighs six thousand scudi!" said the prior.
"That is much too light!" exclaimed Albani, laughing; "it will hardly cover my mouth. It still remains that I am to undertake a very hazardous affair. Reflect, if any one should discover my possession of this strange wine; if Ganganelli should perceive that it is not wine from his own cellar that I have poured into the cup for him! It is dangerous work that you would assign to me, a work for which I might lose my head, and you venture to offer me a poor six thousand scudi for it! Adieu, then, pious fathers, keep you your golden lock, and I my unclosed lips. I shall know when and where to speak!"
And the cardinal moved toward the door. Hastening after him, the prior handed him a small flask, the contents of which were clear and pure as crystal water, timidly and anxiously whispering, "Ten drops of this in Ganganelli's communion wine, and ten thousand scudi are yours!"
"Give the ten thousand scudi at once!" said Albani, with decision.
"And the drops?"
"The pope's wine is too strong: I will reduce it a little with this pure water."(*)
(*) The poison, Acqua Tofana, is pure and clear as water, without taste or smell. It is prepared from opium and Spanish flies, combined with some other ingredients, which, however, are only known to the makers of it. That the Acqua Tofana is made from the foam sometimes found upon the lips of the dying, is an idle tale. Allessandro Borgia was the first to bring it into use.
SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI
On the following day there was a solemn high office in St. Peter's. All Rome flocked there, to see this great and touching spectacle. A dense crowd thronged the streets, and all shouted and cried when the pope, surrounded by his Swiss guard, appeared in their midst in his gilded armchair, and received the greetings of the people with a bland smile.
Toward St. Peter's waved the human throng, and to St. Peter's the pope was borne. The features of Ganganelli had an expression of sadness, and as he now glanced down upon the thousands of his subjects who, shouting, followed him, he asked in his heart, "Who among you will be my murderers? And how long will you yet allow me to live? Ah, were I yet the poor Franciscan monk I was, then no one would take the pains to assassinate me. Why, then, does the world, precisely now, seem so fair to me, now, when I know that I must leave it so soon?" And the pope shed a secret tear while, surrounded by royal splendor, he imparted his blessing to the thousands who reverently knelt at his feet.
The bells rang, the organ resounded, the wide halls of St. Peter's were penetrated by the marvellous singing of the Sistine chapel. Thousands and thousands of wax tapers lighted the noble space of the church, thousands and thousands of people pressed into the sacred halls. Under his canopy, opposite the high altar, sat the vicegerent of God upon his golden throne, surrounded by the consecrated cardinals and bishops, protected by the Swiss guard! Who could have ventured to attack the holy father—who would have been so foolhardy as to attempt to penetrate that thick wall of Swiss guards and princes of the Church—who could have been successful in such an attempt? No human being! But where the people could not penetrate, where there was no room for the swinging of a dagger, there the malignant poison lurked unseen!
Ganganelli sat upon his golden throne, intoxicated by the clang of the organ and charmed by the singing of the high choir, and the pope, looking down upon the human crowd, again asked himself: "Who among you are my murderers?"
The singing ceased, the organ was silent, and only the solemn tones of all the bells of St. Peter's resounded through the church. A death-like stillness else; the people lay upon their knees and crossed themselves; before the altar kneeling priests murmured prayers.
It was a solemn, a sublime moment, for the pope must now receive the communion—the vicegerent of God must drink the blood of the Lamb. But still the pope remains sacred; he cannot, like other mortals, make use of his earthly feet; he must not, like them, approach the altar. Sitting upon his throne, he has partaken of the holy wafer, and, as it was unbecoming his dignity to descend to the altar in order to come to Christ, the latter must decide to come to him!
The golden chalice at the high altar contains the blood of the Lamb; the Cardinal Francesco Albani performs the holy office. He has the blessed host, and under his consecrated hand will now be effected the miracle of turning the wine into the blood of Christ!
And Cardinal Albani lays the golden tube in the cup, and another cardinal passes the other end of the tube to the pope.
Through this sacred tube will he sip the consecrated wine, the blood of the Redeemer!
Rushing and thundering recommences the high office, the trumpets renew their blasts, the drums roll, the bells ring, the organ rattles its song of jubilee, the trombones crash in unison. It is the greatest, most sublime moment of the whole ceremony. The pope, having put the golden tube to his lips, sips the wine changed into blood.
While the pope drinks the two cardinals who to-day are on service approach the sacred throne. They hold a torch in the right hand and a small bundle of tow in the left, and according to the custom, set the tow on fire.
It flashes up in a bright flame, is soon extinguished, and a small, almost imperceptible quantity of ashes floats from it to the feet of the pope.
"Sic transit gloria mundi!" (So passes the glory of the world!) exclaimed Francesco Albani, with proud presumptuousness and with maliciously scornful glances, while with an expression of savage triumph he stares in the paling face of the pope. "Sic transit gloria mundi!" repeated Albani, in a yet louder and more thundering voice.
The bells ring, the hymn resounds, the trombone and organ clang; the audience are on their knees in prayer. A bustle arises, a suppressed murmur—the holy father of Christendom has fainted upon his throne like any common mortal man.
Since Paulo had left her, and she found herself alone, Natalie felt sad, solitary, in the paradise that surrounded her. No longer did she sing in emulation of the birds, no longer did she hop with youthful delight and the impetuosity of a young roe through the charming alleys. Sadly, and with downcast eyes, sat she under the myrtle bush by the murmuring fountains, and frequent heavy sighs heaved her laboring breast.
"All is changed, all!" she often thoughtfully said to herself. "A great and terrible secret has been unveiled within me—the secret of my utter abandonment! I have no one on earth to whom I belong! Once I never thought of that. Paulo was all to me, my friend, my father, my brother; but Paulo has abandoned me, I belong not to him, and hence I could not go with him. And who is left to me? Carlo!" she answered herself in a low tone, and with a melancholy smile. "But Carlo has not filled the void that Paulo's absence has left in my heart. At first I thought he could, but that was only a short deception. Carlo is good and kind, always devoted, always ready to serve me. He always conforms himself to my will, is all subjection, all obedience. But that is terrible, unbearable!" exclaimed the almost weeping young maiden. "Who, then, shall I obey, before whom shall I tremble, when all obey me and tremble before me? And yet Carlo is a man. No," said she, quite low; "were he so I should then obey him, and not he me; then would he give me commands, and not I him! No, Carlo is no man—Paulo was so! Where art thou, my friend, my father?"
And the young maiden yearningly spread her arms in the air, calling upon her distant friend with tender, low-whispered words and heartfelt longings.
But the days slowly passed, and still no news came from him. Natalie dreamily and sadly sank deeper into herself; her cheeks paled, her step became less light and elastic. In vain did her true friends, Marianne and Carlo, exhaust themselves in projects and propositions for her distraction and amusement.
"You should go into the world and amuse yourself in society, princess," said Carlo.
"I hate the world and society," said Natalie. "People are all bad, and I abominate them. What had I done to these people, how had I offended them even in thought, and yet they would have murdered me the very first time I appeared among them? No, no, leave me here in my solitude, where I at least have not to tremble for my life, where I have Carlo to guard and protect me."
The singer pressed the proffered hand to his lips.
"Then let us at least make some excursions in the environs of Rome," said he.
"No," said she, "I should everywhere long to be back in my garden. Nowhere is it so beautiful as here. Leave me my paradise—why would you drive me from it?"
"Alas!" despairingly exclaimed Carlo, "you call yourself happy and satisfied; why, then, are you so sad?"
"Am I sad?" she asked, with surprise. "No, Carlo, I am not sad! I sometimes dream, nothing more! Let me yet dream!"
"You will die," thought Carlo, and with an effort he forced back the cry of despair that pressed to his lips; but his cheeks paled, and his whole form trembled.
Seeing it, Natalie shook off her apathy, and with a lively sympathy and tender friendship she inquired the cause of his disquiet. She was so near him that her breath fanned his cheek, and her locks touched his brow.
"Ah, you would kill me, you would craze me!" murmured he, sorrowfully, sinking down, powerless, at her feet.
She looked wonderingly at him. "Why are you angry with me?" she innocently said, "and what have I done, that you so wrongfully accuse me?"
"What have you done?" cried he, beside himself,—the moment had overcome him, this moment had burst the bands with which he had bound his heart, and in unfettered freedom, in glowing passion, his long-concealed secret forced its way to his lips. He must at length for once speak of his sorrows, even if death should follow; he must give expression to his torment and his love, even should Natalie banish him forever from her presence!
"What have you done?" repeated he. "Ah, she does not even know that she is slowly murdering me, she does not even know that I love her!"
"Am I not to know?" she reproachfully asked. "Would you, indeed, have saved my life had you not loved me? Carlo I am indebted to you for my life, and you say I murder you!"
"Yes," he frowardly exclaimed, "you murder me! Slowly, day by day, hour by hour, am I consumed by this frightful internal fire that is destroying me. Ah, you know not that you are killing me. And have you not destroyed my youthful strength, and from a man converted me into an old, trembling, and complaining woman? Is it not for your sake that I have fled the world, leaving behind me all it offered of fame and wealth and honor? Is it not your fault that I have ceased to be a free man, to have a will of my own, and have become a slave crawling at your feet? Ah, woe is me, that I ever came to know you! You are an enchantress, you have made me your hound, and, whining, I lie in the dust before you, satisfied when you touch me with your foot."
At first, Natalie had listened to him with terror and astonishment; then an expression of noble pride was to be read upon her features, a glowing flush flitted over her delicate cheeks, and with flashing eyes and a heaving bosom she sprang up from her seat. Proud as a queen she rose erect, the blood of her ancestors awoke in her; she at this moment felt herself free as an empress, as proud, as secure—and, stretching her arm toward the outlet of the garden, she said in a determined tone: "Go, Signor Carlo! Leave me, I tell you! We have no longer any thing in common with each other!"
Carlo seemed as if awakened from a delirium. Breathless, with widely-opened eyes, trembling and anxious, he stared at the angry maiden. He knew nothing of what he had said; he comprehended not her anger, only his infinite suffering; he was conscious only of his long-suppressed, long-concealed secret love. And, grasping Natalie's hands with an imploring expression, he constrained the young maiden, almost against her will, to remain and reseat herself upon the grassy bank before which he knelt.