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Title: The Italians
Author: Elliot, Frances, 1820-1898
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Italians" ***

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THE ITALIANS:

A Novel

BY FRANCES ELLIOT

AUTHOR OF "ROMANCE OF OLD COURT LIFE IN FRANCE," "THE DIARY OF AN IDLE
WOMAN IN ITALY," ETC., ETC.

1875



TO

THE REAL ENRICA,

WITH

THE AUTHOR'S LOVE.



CONTENTS


PART I.

     I. LUCCA
    II. THE CATHEDRAL OF LUCCA
   III. THE THREE WITCHES
    IV. THE MARCHESA GUINIGI
     V. ENRICA
    VI. MARCHESA GUINIGI AT HOME
   VII. COUNT MARESCOTTI
  VIII. THE CABINET COUNCIL
    IX. THE COUNTESS ORSETTI'S BALL


PART II.

     I. CALUMNY
    II. CHURCH OF SAN FREDIANO
   III. THE GUINIGI TOWER
    IV. COUNT NOBILI
     V. NUMBER FOUR AT THE UNIVERSO HOTEL
    VI. A NEW PHILOSOPHY
   VII. THE MARCHESA'S PASSION
  VIII. ENRICA'S TRIAL
    IX. WHAT CAME OF IT


PART III.


     I. A LONELY TOWN
    II. WHAT SILVESTRO SAYS
   III. WHAT CAME OF BURNING THE MARCHESA'S PAPERS
    IV. WHAT A PRIEST SHOULD BE
     V. "SAY NOT TOO MUCH"
    VI. THE CONTRACT
   VII. THE CLUB AT LUCCA
  VIII. COUNT NOBILI'S THOUGHTS
    IX. NERA


PART IV.


     I. WAITING AND LONGING
    II. A STORM AT THE VILLA
   III. BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH
    IV. FRA PACIFICO AND THE MARCHESA
     V. TO BE, OR NOT TO BE?
    VI. THE CHURCH AND THE LAW
   VII. THE HOUR STRIKES
  VIII. FOR THE HONOR OF A NAME
    IX. HUSBAND VERSUS WIFE
     X. THE LAWYER BAFFLED
    XI. FACE TO FACE
   XII. OH BELLO!



PART I.



CHAPTER I.

LUCCA.


We are at Lucca. It is the 13th of September, 1870--the anniversary of
the festival of the Volto Santo--a notable day, both in city, suburb,
and province. Lucca dearly loves its festivals--no city more; and of
all the festivals of the year that of the Volto Santo best. Now the
Volto Santo (_Anglicè_, Holy Countenance) is a miraculous crucifix,
which hangs, as may be seen, all by itself in a gorgeous chapel--more
like a pagoda than a chapel, and more like a glorified bird-cage than
either--built expressly for it among the stout Lombard pillars in the
nave of the cathedral. The crucifix is of cedar-wood, very black, and
very ugly, and it was carved by Nicodemus; of this fact no orthodox
Catholic entertains a doubt. But on what authority I cannot tell, nor
why, nor how, the Holy Countenance reached the snug little city of
Lucca, except by flying through the air like the Loretto house, or
springing out of the earth like the Madonna of Feltri. But here it is,
and here it has been for many a long year; and here it will remain
as a miraculous relic, bringing with it blessings and immunities
innumerable to the grateful city.

What a glorious morning it is! The sun rose without a cloud. Now there
is a golden haze hanging over the plain, and glints as of living flame
on the flanks of the mountains. From all sides crowds are pressing
toward Lucca. Before six o'clock every high-road is alive. Down from
the highest mountain-top of Pizzorna, overlooking Florence and its
vine-garlanded campagna, comes the hermit, brown-draped, in hood and
mantle; staff in hand, he trudges along the dusty road. And down,
too, from his native lair among the pigs and the poultry, comes the
black-eyed, black-skinned, matted-haired urchin, who makes mud pies
under the tufted ilex-trees at Ponte a Moriano, and swears at the
hermit.

They come! they come! From mountain-sides bordering the broad road
along the Serchio--mountains dotted with bright homesteads, each
gleaming out of its own cypress-grove, olive-patch, canebrake, and
vine-arbor, under which the children play--they come from solitary
hovels, hung up, as it were, in mid-air, over gloomy ravines, scored
and furrowed with red earth, down which dark torrents dash and spray.

They come! they come! these Tuscan peasants, a trifle too fond of
holiday-keeping, like their betters--but what would you have? The land
is fertile, and corn and wine and oil and rosy flowering almonds grow
almost as of themselves. They come--tens and tens of miles away, from
out the deep shadows of primeval chestnut-woods, clothing the flanks
of rugged Apennines with emerald draperies. They come--through parting
rocks, bordering nameless streams--cool, delicious waters, over which
bend fig, peach, and plum, delicate ferns and unknown flowers. They
come--from hamlets and little burghs, gathered beside lush pastures,
where tiny rivulets trickle over fresh turf and fragrant herbs,
lulling the ear with softest echoes.

They come--dark-eyed mothers and smiling daughters, decked with
gold pins, flapping Leghorn hats, lace veils or snowy handkerchiefs
gathered about their heads, coral beads, and golden crosses as big as
shields, upon their necks--escorted by lover, husband, or father--a
flower behind his ear, a slouch hat on his head, a jacket thrown over
one arm, every man shouldering a red umbrella, although to doubt the
weather to-day is absolute sacrilege!

Carts clatter by every moment, drawn by swift Maremma nags, gay with
brass harness, tinkling bells, and tassels of crimson on reins and
frontlet.

The carts are laden with peasants (nine, perhaps, ranged three
abreast)--treason to the gallant animal that, tossing its little head,
bravely struggles with the cruel load. A priest is stuck in bodkin
among his flock--a priest who leers and jests between pinches of
snuff, and who, save for his seedy black coat, knee-breeches, worsted
stockings, shoe-buckles, clerical hat, and smoothly-shaven chin, is
rougher than a peasant himself.

Riders on Elba ponies, with heavy cloaks (for the early morning, spite
of its glories, is chill), spur by, adding to the dust raised by the
carts.

Genteel flies and hired carriages with two horses, and hood and
foot-board--pass, repass, and out-race each other. These flies and
carriages are crammed with bailiffs from the neighboring villas,
shopkeepers, farmers, and small proprietors. Donkeys, too, there are
in plenty, carrying men bigger than themselves (under protest, be it
observed, for here, as in all countries, your donkey, though marked
for persecution, suffers neither willingly nor in silence). Begging
friars, tanned like red Indians, glide by, hot and grimy (thank
Heaven! not many now, for "New Italy" has sacked most of the convent
rookeries and dispersed the rooks), with wallets on their shoulders,
to carry back such plunder as can be secured, to far-off convents and
lonely churches, folded up tightly in forest fastnesses.

All are hurrying onward with what haste they may, to reach the city
of Lucca, while broad shadows from the tall mountains on either hand
still fall athwart the roads, and cool morning air breathes up from
the rushing Serchio.

The Serchio--a noble river, yet willful as a mountain-torrent--flows
round the embattled walls of Lucca, and falls into the Mediterranean
below Pisa. It is calm now, on this day of the great festival,
sweeping serenely by rocky capes, and rounding into fragrant bays,
where overarching boughs droop and feather. But there is a sullen
look about its current, that tells how wicked it can be, this Serchio,
lashed into madness by winter storms, and the overflowing of the
water-gates above, among the high Apennines--at the Abbetone at San
Marcello, or at windy, ice-bound Pracchia.

How fair are thy banks, O mountain-bordered Serchio! How verdant
with near wood and neighboring forest! How gay with cottage
groups--open-galleried and garlanded with bunches of golden maize and
vine-branches--all laughing in the sun! The wine-shops, too, along the
road, how tempting, with snowy table-cloths spread upon dressers under
shady arbors of lemon--trees; pleasant odors from the fry cooking in
the stove, mixing with the perfume of the waxy flowers! Dear to
the nostrils of the passers-by are these odors. They snuff them
up--onions, fat, and macaroni, with delight. They can scarcely resist
stopping once for all here, instead of waiting for their journey's end
to eat at Lucca.

But the butterflies--and they are many--are wiser in their generation.
The butterflies have a festival of their own to-day. They do not wait
for any city. They are fixed to no spot. They can hold their festival
anywhere under the blue sky, in the broad sunshine.

See how they dance among the flowers! Be it spikes of wild-lavender,
or yellow down within the Canterbury bell, or horn of purple
cyclamens, or calyx of snowy myrtle, the soft bosom of tall lilies or
glowing petals of red cloves--nothing comes amiss to the butterflies.
They are citizens of the world, and can feast wherever fancy leads
them.

Meanwhile, on comes the crowd, nearer and nearer to the city of their
pilgrimage, laughing, singing, talking, smoking. Your Italian peasant
must sleep or smoke, excepting when he plays at _morra_ (one, two,
three, and away!). Then he puts his pipe into his pocket. The
women are conversing in deep voices, in the _patois_ of the various
villages. The men, more silent, search out who is fairest--to lead
her on the way, to kneel beside her at the shrine, and, most prized of
all, to conduct her home. Each village has its belle, each belle her
circle of admirers. Belles and beaux all have their own particular
plan of diversion for the day. For is it not a great day? And is it
not stipulated in many of the marriage contracts among the mountain
tribes that the husband must, under a money penalty, conduct his wife
to the festival of the Holy Countenance once at least in four years?
The programme is this: First, they enter the cathedral, kneel at the
glistening shrine of the black crucifix, kiss its golden slipper, and
hear mass. Then they will grasp such goods as the gods provide them,
in street, _café_, eating-house, or day theatre; make purchases in the
shops and booths, and stroll upon the ramparts. Later, when the sun
sinks westward over the mountains, and the deep canopy of twilight
falls, they will return by the way that they have come, until the
coming year.

       *       *       *       *       *

Within the city, from before daybreak, church-bells--and Lucca abounds
in belfries fretted tier upon tier, with galleries of delicate marble
colonnettes, all ablaze in the sunshine--have pealed out merrily.

Every church-door, draped with gold tissue and silken stuffs, more
or less splendid, is thrown wide open. Every shop is closed, save
_cafés_, hotels, and tobacco-shops (where, by command of the King of
New Italy, infamous cigars are sold). Eating-tables are spread at the
corners of the streets and under the trees in the piazza, benches are
ranged everywhere where benches can stand. The streets are filling
every moment as fresh multitudes press through the city gates--those
grand old gates, where the marble lions of Lucca keep guard, looking
toward the mountains.

For a carriage to pass anywhere in the streets would be impossible, so
tightly are flapping Leghorn hats, and veils, snowy handkerchiefs, and
red caps and brigand hats, packed together. Bells ring, and there are
waftings of military music borne through the air. Trumpet-calls at the
different barracks answer to each other. Cannons are fired. Each
man, woman, and child shouts, screams, and laughs. All down the dark,
cavernous streets, in the great piazza, at the sindaco's, at college,
at club, public offices, and hotels, at the grand old palaces,
untouched since the middle ages--the glory of the city--at every
house, great and small--flutter gaudy draperies; crimson, amber,
violet, and gold, according to purse and condition, either of richest
brocade, or of Eastern stuffs wrought in gold and needle-work, or--the
family carpet or bed-furniture hung out for show. Banners wave from
every house-top and tower, the Italian tricolor and the Savoy cross,
white, on a red ground; flowers and garlands are wreathed on the
fronts of the stern old walls. If peasants, and shopkeepers, and
monks, priests, beggars, and _hoi polloi_ generally, possess the
pavement, overhead every balcony, gallery, terrace, and casement,
is filled with company, representatives of the historic families of
Lucca, the Manfredi, Possenti, Navascoes, Bernardini, dal Portico,
Bocella, Manzi, da Gia, Orsetti, Ruspoli--feudal names dear to native
ears. The noble marquis, or his excellency the count, lord of broad
acres on the plains, or principalities in the mountains, or of hoarded
wealth at the National Bank--is he not Lucchese also to the backbone?
And does he not delight in the festival as keenly as that half-naked
beggar, who rattles his box for alms, with a broad grin on his dirty
face?

Resplendent are the ladies in the balconies, dressed in their
best--like bands of fluttering ribbon stretched across the
sombre-fronted palaces; aristocratic daughters, and dainty consorts.
They are not chary of their charms. They laugh, fan themselves, lean
over sculptured balustrades, and eye the crowded streets, talking with
lip and fan, eye and gesture.

In the long, narrow street of San Simone, behind the cathedral of San
Martino, stand the two Guinigi Palaces. They are face to face. One is
ditto of the other. Each is in the florid style of Venetian-Gothic,
dating from the beginning of the fourteenth century. Both were built
by Paolo Guinigi, head of the illustrious house of that name, for
forty years general and tyrant of the Republic of Lucca. Both palaces
bear his arms, graven on marble tablets beside the entrance. Both
are of brick, now dulled and mellowed into a reddish white. Both
have walls of enormous thickness. The windows of the upper
stories--quadruple casements divided, Venetian-like, by twisted
pillarettes richly carved--are faced and mullioned with marble.

The lower windows (mere square apertures) are barred with iron. The
arched portals opening to the streets are low, dark, and narrow. The
inner courts gloomy, damp, and prison-like. Brass ornaments, sockets,
rings, and torch-holders of iron, sculptured emblems, crests, and
cognizances in colored marble, are let into the outer walls. In all
else, ornamentation is made subservient to defense. These are city
fortresses rather than ancestral palaces. They were constructed to
resist either attack or siege.

Rising out of the overhanging roof (supported on wooden rafters) of
the largest and most stately of the two palaces, where twenty-three
groups of clustered casements, linked by slender pillars, extend in a
line along a single story--rises a mediaeval tower of defense of
many stories. Each story is pierced by loop-holes for firing into the
street below. On the machicolated summit is a square platform, where
in the course of many peaceful ages a bay-tree has come to grow of a
goodly size. About this bay-tree tangled weeds and tufted grasses
wave in the wind. Below, here and there, patches of blackened moss
or yellow lichen, a branch of mistletoe or a bunch of fern, break
the lines of the mediaeval brickwork. Sprays of wild-ivy cling to the
empty loop-holes, through which the blue sky peeps.

The lesser of the two palaces--the one on the right hand as you ascend
the street of San Simone coming from the cathedral--is more decorated
to-day than any other in Lucca. A heavy sea of Leghorn hats and black
veils, with male accompaniments, is crowded beneath. They stare upward
and murmur with delight. Gold and silver stuffs, satin and taffeta,
striped brocades, and rich embroideries, flutter from the clustered
casement up to the overhanging roof. There are many flags (one with
a coat-of-arms, amber and purple on a gold ground) blazing in
the sunshine. The grim brick façade is festooned with wreaths of
freshly-plucked roses. Before the low-arched entrance on the pavement
there is a carpet of flower-petals fashioned into a monogram, bearing
the letters "M.N." Just within the entrance stands a porter, leaning
on a gold staff, as immovable in aspect as are the mediaeval walls
that close in behind him. A badge or baldric is passed across his
chest; he is otherwise so enveloped with gold-lace, embroidery,
buttons, trencher, and cocked-hat, that the whole inner man is
absorbed, not to say invisible. Beside him, in the livery of the
house, tall valets grin, lounge, and ogle the passers-by (wearers
of Leghorn hats, and veils, and white head-gear generally). This
particular Guinigi Palace belongs to Count Mario Nobili. He bought
it of the Marchesa Guinigi, who lives opposite. Nobili is the richest
young man in Lucca. No one calls upon him for help in vain; but, let
it be added, no one offends him with impunity. When Nobili first came
to Lucca, the old families looked coldly at him, his nobility being
of very recent date. It was bestowed on his father, a successful
banker--some said usurer, some said worse--by the Grand-duke Leopold,
for substantial assistance toward his pet hobby--the magnificent road
that zigzags up the mountain-side to Fiesole from Florence.

But young Nobili soon conquered Lucchese prejudice. Now he is well
received by all--_all_ save the Marchesa Guinigi. She was, and is at
this time, still irreconcilable. Nobili stands in the central window
of his palace. He leans out over the street, a cigar in his mouth.
A servant beside him flings down from time to time some silver
coin among Leghorn hats and the beggars, who scramble for it on the
pavement. Nobili's eyes beam as the populace look up and cheer him:
"Long live Count Nobili! Evviva!" He takes off his hat and bows; more
silver coin comes clattering down on the pavement; there are fresh
evvivas, fresh bows, and more scramblers cover the street. "No one
like Nobili," the people say; "so affable, so open-handed--yes, and so
clever, too, for has he not traveled, and does he not know the world?"

Beside Count Nobili some _jeunesse dorée_ of his own age (sons of the
best houses in Lucca) also lean over the Venetian casements. Like
the liveried giants at the entrance, these laugh, ogle, chaff,
and criticise the wearers of Leghorn hats, black veils, and white
head-gear, freely. They smoke, and drink _liqueurs_ and sherbet, and
crack sugar-plums out of crystal cup on silver plates, set on embossed
trays placed beside them.

The profession of these young men is idleness. They excel in it. Let
us pause for a moment and ask what they do--this _jeunesse dorée_, to
whom the sacred mission is committed of regenerating an heroic people?
They could teach Ovid "the art of love." It comes to them in the air
they breathe. They do not love their neighbor as themselves, but they
love their neighbor's wives. Nothing is holy to them. "All for love,
and the world well lost," is their motto. They can smile in their best
friend's face, weep with him, rejoice with him, eat with him, drink
with him, and--betray him; they do this every day, and do it well.
They can also lie artistically, dressing up imaginary details with
great skill, gamble and sing, swear, and talk scandal. They can lead
a graceful, dissolute, _far niente_ life, loll in carriages, and be
whirled round for hours, say the Florence Cascine, the Roman Pincio,
and the park at Milan--smoking the while, and raising their hats to
the ladies. They can trot a well-broken horse--not too fresh, on a
hard road, and are wonderful in ruining his legs. A very few can
drive what they call a _stage_ (_Anglicè_, drag) with grave and
well-educated wheelers, on a very straight road--such as do this
are looked upon as heroes--shoot a hare sitting, also tom-tits and
sparrows. But they can neither hunt, nor fish, nor row. They are ready
of tongue and easy of offense. They can fight duels (with swords),
generally a harmless exercise. They can dance. They can hold strong
opinions on subjects on which they are crassly ignorant, and yield
neither to fact nor argument where their mediaeval usages are
concerned. All this the golden youths of Young Italy can do, and do it
well.

Yet from such stuff as this are to come the future ministers,
prefects, deputies, financiers, diplomatists, and senators, who are to
regenerate the world's old mistress! Alas, poor Italy!

The Guinigi Palace opposite forms a striking contrast to Count
Nobili's abode. It is as silent as the grave. Every shutter is closed.
The great wooden door to the street is locked; a heavy chain is drawn
across it. The Marchesa Guinigi has strictly commanded that it should
be so. She will have nothing to do with the festival of the Holy
Countenance. She will take no part in it whatever. Indeed, she has
come to Lucca on purpose to see that her orders are obeyed to the very
letter, else that rascal of a secretary might have hung out something
in spite of her. The marchesa, who has been for many years a widow,
and is absolute possessor of the palace and lands, calls herself a
liberal. But she is in practice the most thorough-going aristocrat
alive. In one respect she is a liberal. She despises priests, laughs
at miracles, and detests festivals. "A loss of time, and, if of time,
of money," she says. If the peasants and the people complain of the
taxes, and won't work six days in the week, "Let them starve," says
the marchesa--"let them starve; so much the better!"

In her opinion, the legend of the Holy Countenance is a lie, got up by
priests for money; so she comes into the city from Corellia, and
shuts up her palace, publicly to show her opinion. As far as she is
concerned, she believes neither in St. Nicodemus nor in idleness.

A good deal of this, be it said, _en passant_, is sheer obstinacy. The
marchesa is obstinate to folly, and full of contradictions. Besides,
there is another powerful motive that influences her--she hates Count
Nobili. Not that he has ever done any thing personally to offend her;
of this he is incapable--indeed, he has his own reasons for desiring
passionately to be on good terms with her--but he has, in her opinion,
injured her by purchasing the second Guinigi Palace. That she should
have been obliged to sell one of her ancestral palaces at all is to
her a bitter misfortune; but that any one connected with trade should
possess what had been inherited generation after generation by the
Guinigi, is intolerable.

That a _parvenu_, the son of a banker, should live opposite to her,
that he should abound in money, which he flings about recklessly,
while she can with difficulty eke out the slender rents from the
greatly-reduced patrimony of the Guinigi, is more than she can bear.
His popularity and his liberality (and she cannot come to Lucca
without hearing of both), even that comely young face of his, which
she sees when she passes the club on the way to her afternoon drive
on the ramparts, are dire offenses in her eyes. Whatever Count Nobili
does, she (the Marchesa Guinigi) will do the reverse. He has opened
his house for the festival. Hers shall be closed. She is thoroughly
exceptional, however, in such conduct. Every one in Lucca save
herself, rich and poor, noble and villain, join heart and soul in
the national festival. Every one lays aside on this auspicious day
differences of politics, family feuds, and social animosities. Even
enemies join hands and kneel side by side at the same altar. It is the
mediaeval "God's truce" celebrated in the nineteenth century.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is now eleven o'clock. A great deal of sausage and garlic, washed
down by new wine and light beer, has been by this time consumed in
eating-shops and on street tables; much coffee, _liqueurs_, cake, and
bonbons, inside the palaces.

Suddenly all the church-bells, which have rung out since daybreak like
mad, stop; only the deep-toned cathedral-bell booms out from its snowy
campanile in half-minute strokes. There is an instant lull, the din
and clatter of the streets cease, the crowd surges, separates, and
disappears, the palace windows and balconies empty themselves,
the street forms are vacant. The procession in honor of the Holy
Countenance is forming; every one has rushed off to the cathedral.



CHAPTER II.

THE CATHEDRAL OF LUCCA.


Martino, the cathedral of Lucca, stands on one side of a small piazza
behind the principal square. At the first glance, its venerable
aspect, vast proportions, and dignity of outline, do not sufficiently
seize upon the imagination; but, as the eye travels over the elaborate
façade, formed by successive galleries supported by truncated pillars,
these galleries in their turn resting on clustered columns of richest
sculpture forming the triple portals--the fine inlaid work, statues,
bass-relief, arabesques of fruit, foliage, and quaint animals--the
dome, and, above all, the campanile--light and airy as a dream,
springing upward on open arches where the sun burns hotly--the eye
comes to understand what a glorious Gothic monument it is.

The three portals are now open. From the lofty atrium raised on broad
marble steps, with painted ceiling and sculptured walls--at one end a
bubbling fountain falling into a marble basin, at the other an arched
gate-way leading into grass-grown cloisters--the vast nave is visible
from end to end. This nave is absolutely empty. Every thing tells of
expectation, of anticipation. The mighty Lombard pillars on either
side--supporting a triforium gallery of circular arches and slender
pillars of marble fretwork, delicate as lace--are wreathed and
twined with red taffetas bound with golden bands. The gallery of the
triforium itself is draped with arras and rich draperies. Each dainty
column is decked with flags and pennons. The aisles and transepts
blaze with gorgeous hangings. Overhead saints, prophets, and martyrs,
standing immovable in the tinted glories of the stained windows,
fling broad patches of purple, emerald, and yellow, upon the intaglio
pavement.

Along the nave (a hedge, as it were, on either side) are hung curtains
of cloth of gold.

The high altar, inclosed by a balustrade of colored marble raised
on steps richly carpeted, glitters with gemmed chalices and crosses.
Behind, countless wax-lights illuminate the rich frescoes of the
tribune. The Chapel of the Holy Countenance (midway up the nave),
inclosed by a gilded net-work, is a dazzling mountain of light flung
from a thousand golden sconces. A black figure as large as life rests
upon the altar. It is stretched upon a cross. The eyes are white
and glassy; the thorn-crowned head leans on one side. The body
is enveloped in a damascened robe spangled with jewels. This robe
descends to the feet, which are cased in shoes of solid gold. The
right foot rests on a sacramental cup glittering with gems. On either
side are angels, with arms extended. One holds a massive sceptre, the
other the silver keys of the city of Lucca.

All waits. The bride, glorious in her garment of needle-work, waits.
The bridegroom waits. The sacramental banquet is spread; the guests
are bidden. All waits the moment when the multitude, already buzzing
without at the western entrance, shall spread themselves over
the mosaic floor, and throng each chapel, altar, gallery, and
transept--when anthems of praise shall peal from the double doors of
the painted organ, and holy rites give a mystic language to the sacred
symbols around.

Meanwhile the procession flashes from street to street. Banners
flutter in the hot mid-day air, tall crucifixes and golden crosses
reach to the upper stories. In the pauses the low hum of the chanted
canticles is caught up here and there along the line--now the
monks--then the canons with a nasal twang--then the laity.

There are the judges, twelve in number, robed in black, scarlet,
and ermine, their broad crimson sashes sweeping the pavement. The
_gonfaloniere_--that ancient title of republican freedom still
remaining--walks behind, attired in antique robes. Next appear the
municipality--wealthy, oily-faced citizens, at this moment much
overcome by the heat. Following these are the Lucchese nobles, walking
two-and-two, in a precedence not prescribed by length of pedigree, but
of age. Next comes the prefect of the city; at his side the general in
command of the garrison of Lucca, escorted by a brilliant staff. Each
bears a tall lighted torch.

The law and the army are closely followed by the church. All are
there, two-and-two--from the youngest deacon to the oldest canon--in
his robe of purple silk edged with gold--wearing a white mitre. The
church is generally corpulent; these dignitaries are no exception.

Amid a cloud of incense walks the archbishop--a tall, stately man,
in the prime of life--under a canopy of crimson silk resting on gold
staves, borne over him by four canons habited in purple. He moves
along, a perfect mass of brocade, lace, and gold--literally aflame
in the sunshine. His mitred head is bent downward; his eyes are half
closed; his lips move. In his hands--which are raised almost level
with his face, and reverently covered by his vestments--he bears a
gemmed vessel containing the Host, to be laid by-and-by on the
altar of the Holy Countenance. All the church-bells are now ringing
furiously. Cannons fire, and military bands drown the low hum of
the chanting. Every head is uncovered--many, specially women, are
prostrate on the stones.

Arrived at the basilica of San Frediano, the procession halts under
the Byzantine mosaic on a gold ground, over the entrance. The entire
chapter is assembled before the open doors. They kneel before the
archbishop carrying the Host. Again there is a halt before the snowy
façade of the church of San Michele, pillared to the summit with
slender columns of Carrara marble--on the topmost pinnacle a colossal
statue of the archangel, in golden bronze, the outstretched wings
glistening against the turquoise sky. Here the same ceremonies are
repeated as at the church of San Frediano. The archbishop halts, the
chanting ceases, the Host is elevated, the assembled priests adore it,
kneeling without the portal.

It is one o'clock before the archbishop is enthroned within the
cathedral. The chapter, robed in red and purple, are ranged behind him
in the tribune at the back of the high altar, the grand old frescoes
hovering over them. The secular dignitaries are seated on benches
below the altar-steps. _Palchi_ (boxes), on either side of the
nave, are filled with Lucchese ladies, dark-haired, dark-eyed,
olive-skinned, backed by the crimson draperies with which the nave is
dressed.

A soft fluttering of fans agitates feathers, lace, and ribbons. Fumes
of incense mix with the scent of strong perfumes. Not the smallest
attention is paid by the ladies to the mass which is celebrating at
the high altar and the altar of the Holy Countenance. Their jeweled
hands hold no missal, their knees are unbent, their lips utter no
prayer. Instead, there are bright glances from lustrous eyes, and
whispered words to favored golden youths (without religion, of
course--what has a golden youth to do with religion?) who have
insinuated themselves within the ladies seats, or lean over, gazing at
them with upturned faces.

Peal after peal of musical thunder rolls from the double organs. It
is caught up by the two orchestras placed in gilt galleries on either
side of the nave. A vocal chorus on this side responds to exquisite
voices on that. Now a flute warbles a luscious solo, then a flageolet.
A grand barytone bursts forth, followed by a tenor soft as the notes
of a nightingale, accompanied by a boy on the violin. Then there is
the crash of many hundred voices, with the muffled roar of two organs.
It is the _Gloria in Excelsis_. As the music rolls down the pillared
nave out into the crowded piazza, where it dies away in harmonious
murmurs, an iron cresset, suspended from the vaulted ceiling of the
nave, filled with a bundle of flax, is fired. The flax blazes for a
moment, then passes away in a shower of glittering sparks that glitter
upon the inlaid floor. _Sic transit gloria mundi_ is the motto. (Now
the lighting of this flax is a special privilege accorded to the
Archbishop of Lucca by the pope, and jealously guarded by him.)



CHAPTER III.

THE THREE WITCHES.


Many carriages wait outside the cathedral, in the shade near the
fountain. The fountain--gushing upward joyously in the beaming
sunshine out of a red-marble basin--is just beyond the atrium,
and visible through the arches on that side. Beyond the fountain,
terminating the piazza, there is a high wall. This wall supports a
broad marble terrace, with heavy balustrades, extending from the
back of a mediaeval palace. Over the wall green vine-branches trail,
sweeping the pavement, like ringlets that have fallen out of curl.
This wall and terrace communicate with the church of San Giovanni, an
ancient Lombard basilica on that side. Under the shadow of the heavy
roof some girls are trying to waltz to the sacred music from the
cathedral. After a few turns they find it difficult, and leave off.
The men in livery, waiting along with the carriages, laugh at them
lazily. The girls retreat, and group themselves on the steps of a
deeply-arched doorway with a bass-relief of the Virgin and angels,
leading into the church, and talk in low voices.

A ragged boy from the Garfagnana, with a tray of plaster heads of
Victor Emmanuel and Garibaldi, has put down his wares, and is turning
wheels upon the pavement, before the servants, for a penny. An old man
pulls out from under his cloak a dancing dog, with crimson collar and
bells, and collects a little crowd under the atrium of the cathedral.
A soldier, touched with compassion, takes a crust from his pocket to
reward the dancing dog, which, overcome by the temptation, drops on
his four legs, runs to him, and devours it, for which delinquency the
old man beats him severely. His yells echo loudly among the pillars,
and drown the rich tide of harmony that ebbs and flows through the
open portals. The beggars have betaken themselves to their accustomed
seats on the marble steps of the cathedral, San Martin of
Tours, parting his cloak--carved in alt-relief, over the central
entrance--looking down upon them encouragingly. These beggars clink
their metal boxes languidly, or sleep, lying flat on the stones.
A group of women have jammed themselves into a corner between the
cathedral and the hospital adjoining it on that side. They are waiting
to see the company pass out. Two of them standing close together are
talking eagerly.

"My gracious! who would have thought that old witch, the Guinigi,"
whispers Carlotta--Carlotta owned a little mercery-shop in a
side-street running by the palace, right under the tower--to her
gossip Brigitta, an occasional customer for cotton and buttons, "who
would have thought that she--gracious! who would have thought she
dared to shut up her palace the day of the festival? Did you see?"

"Yes, I did," answers Brigitta.

"Curses on her!" hisses out Carlotta, showing her black teeth. "Listen
to me, she will have a great misfortune--mark my words--a great
misfortune soon--the stingy old devil!"

Hearing the organ at that instant, Brigitta kneels on the stones, and
crosses herself; then rises and looks at Carlotta. "St. Nicodemus will
have his revenge, never fear."

Carlotta is still speaking. Brigitta shakes her head prophetically,
again looking at Carlotta, whose deep-sunk eyes are fixed upon her.

"Checco says--Checco is a shoemaker, and he knows the daughter of the
man who helps the butler in Casa Guinigi--Checco says she laughs at
the Holy Countenance. Domine Dio! what an infamy!" cries Carlotta, in
a cracked voice, raising her skinny hands and shaking them in the air.
"I hate the Guinigi! I hate her! I spit on her, I curse her!"

There is such venom in Carlotta's looks and in Carlotta's words that
Brigitta suddenly takes her eyes off a man with a red waistcoat whom
she is ogling, but who by no means reciprocates her attention, and
asks Carlotta sharply, "Why she hates the marchesa?"

"Listen," answers Carlotta, holding up her finger. "One day, as I came
out of my little shop, _she_"--and Carlotta points with her thumb
over her shoulder toward the street of San Simone and the Guinigi
Palace--"_she_ was driving along the street in her old Noah's Ark of
a carriage. Alas! I am old and feeble, and the horses came along
quickly. I had no time to get into the little square of San Barnabo,
out of the way; the wheel struck me on the shoulder, I fell down. Yes,
I fell down on the hard pavement, Brigitta." And Carlotta sways her
grizzly head from side to side, and grasps the other's arm so tightly
that Brigitta screams. "Brigitta, the marchesa saw me. She saw me
lying there, but she never stopped nor turned her head. I lay on the
stones, sick and very sore, till a neighbor, Antonio the carpenter,
who works in the little square, a good lad, picked me up and carried
me home."

As she speaks, Carlotta's eyes glitter like a serpent's. She shakes
all over.

"Lord have mercy!" exclaims Brigitta, looking hard at her; "that was
bad!" Carlotta was over eighty; her face was like tanned leather, her
skin loose and shriveled; a handful of gray hair grew on the top of
her head, and was twisted up with a silver pin. Brigitta was also of a
goodly age, but younger than Carlotta, fat and portly, and round as
a barrel. She was pitted by the small-pox, and had but one eye; but,
being a widow, and well-to-do in the world, is not without certain
pretensions. She wears a yellow petticoat and a jacket trimmed with
black lace. In her hair, black and frizzly as a negro's, a rose
is stuck on one side.--The hair had been dressed that morning by a
barber, to whom she paid five francs a month for this adornment.--Some
rows of dirty seed-pearl are fastened round her fat throat; long gold
ear-rings bob in her ears, and in her hand is a bright paper fan, with
which she never ceases fanning herself.

"She's never spent so much as a penny at my shop," Carlotta goes on to
say. "Not a penny. She'd not spare a flask of wine to a beggar
dying at her door. Stuck-up old devil! But she's ruined, ruined with
lawsuits. Ruined, I say. Ha! ha! Her time will come."

Finding Carlotta wearisome, Brigitta's one eye has again wandered off
to the man with the red waistcoat. Carlotta sees this, watching her
out of her deep-set, glassy eyes. Speak Carlotta will, and Brigitta
shall listen, she was determined.

"I could tell you things"--she lowers her voice and speaks into the
other's ear--"things--horrors--about Casa Guinigi!"

Brigitta starts. "Gracious! You frighten me! What things?"

"Ah, things that would make your hair stand on end. It is I who say
it," and Carlotta snaps her fingers and nods.

"_You_ know things, Carlotta? You pretend to know what happens in Casa
Guinigi? Nonsense! You are mad!"

"Am I?" retorts the other. "We shall see. Who wins boasts. I'm not so
mad, anyhow, as the marchesa, who shuts up her palace on the festival,
and offends St. Nicodemus and all the saints and martyrs," and
Carlotta's eyes flash, and her white eyebrows twitch.

"However"--and again she lays her bony hand heavily on Brigitta's fat
arm--"if you don't want to hear what I know about Casa Guinigi, I will
not tell you." Carlotta shuts up her mouth and nods defiantly.

This was not at all what Brigitta desired. If there was any thing to
be told, she would like to hear it.

"Come, come, Carlotta, don't be angry. You may know much more than
I do; you are always in your shop, except on festivals. The door is
open, and you can see into the street of San Simone, up and down. But
speak low; for there are Lisa and Cassandra close behind, and they
will hear. Tell me, Carlotta, what is it?"

Brigitta speaks very coaxingly.

"Yes," replies the old woman, "I can see both the Guinigi palaces from
my door--both the palaces. If the marchesa knew--"

"Go on, go on!" says Brigitta, nudging her. She leans forward to
listen. "Go on. People are coming out of the cathedral."

Carlotta raises her head and grins, showing the few black teeth left
in her mouth. "Are they? Well, answer me. Who lives in the street
there--the street of San Simone--as well as the marchesa? Who has
a fine palace that the marchesa sold him, a palace on which he has
spent--ah! so much, so much? Who keeps open house, and has a French
cook, and fine furniture, and new clothes, and horses in his stable,
and six carriages? Who?--who?" As old Carlotta puts these questions
she sways her body to and fro, and raises her finger to her nose.

"Who is strong, and square, and fair, and smooth?" "Who goes in and
out with a smile on his face? Who?--who?"

"Why, Nobili, of course--Count Nobili. We all know that," answered
Brigitta, impatiently. "That's no news. But what has Nobili to do with
the marchesa?"

"What has he to do with the marchesa? Listen, Madama Brigitta. I will
tell you. Do you know that, of all gentlemen in Lucca, the marchesa
hates Nobili?"

"Well, and what then?"

"She hates him because he is rich and spends his money freely, and
because she--the Guinigi--lives in the same street and sees it. It
turns sour upon her stomach, like milk in a thunder-storm. She hates
him."

"Well, is that all?" interrupts Brigitta.

Carlotta puts up her chin close to Brigitta's face, and clasps her
tightly by the shoulder with both her skinny hands. "That is not all.
The marchesa has her own niece, who lives with her--a doll of a girl,
with a white face--puff! not worth a feather to look at; only a cousin
of the marchesa's husband; but, she's the only one left, all the same.
They are so thin-blooded, the Guinigi, they have come to an end. The
old woman never had a child; she would have starved it."

Carlotta lowers her voice, and speaks into Brigitta's ear. "Nobili
loves the niece. The marchesa would have the carbineers out if she
knew it."

"Oh!" breaks from Brigitta, under her breath. "This is fine! splendid!
Are you sure of this, Carlotta? quite sure?"

"As sure as that I like meat, and only get it on Sundays.--Sure?--I
have seen it with my own eyes. Checco knows the granddaughter of the
man who helps the cook--Nobili pays like a lord, as he is!--He spends
his money, he does!--Nobili writes to the niece, and she answers.
Listen. To-day, the marchesa shut up her palace and put a chain on
the door. But chains can be unloosed, locks broken. Enrica (that's the
niece) at daybreak comes out to the arched gate-way that opens
from the street into the Moorish garden at the farther side of the
palace--she comes out and talks to Nobili for half an hour, under
cover of the ivy that hangs over the wall on that side. Teresa, the
maid, was there too, but she stood behind. Nobili wore a long cloak
that covered him all over; Enrica had a thick veil fastened round
her head and face. They didn't see me, but I watched them from behind
Pietro's house, at the corner of the street opposite. First of all,
Enrica puts her head out of the gate-way. Teresa puts hers out next.
Then Enrica waves her hand toward the palace opposite, a side-door
opens piano, Nobili appears, and watches all round to see that no one
is near--ha! ha! his young eyes didn't spy out my old ones though, for
all that--Nobili appears, I say, then he puts his hand to his heart,
and gives such a look across the street!--Ahi! it makes my old blood
boil to see it. I was pretty once, and liked such looks.--You may
think my eyes are dim, but I can see as far as another."

And the old hag chuckles spitefully, and winks at Brigitta, enjoying
her surprise.

"Madre di Dio!" exclaims this one. "There will be fine work."

"Yes, truly, very fine work. The marchesa shall know it; all Lucca
shall know it too--mark my words, all Lucca! Curses on the Guinigi
root and branch! I will humble them! Curses on them!" mumbles
Carlotta.

"And what did Nobili do?" asks Brigitta.

"Do?--Why, seeing no one, he came across and kissed Enrica's hand; I
saw it. He made as if he would have knelt upon the stones, only she
would not let him. Then they whispered for, as near as I can guess,
half an hour--Teresa standing apart. There was the sound of a cart
then coming along the street, and presto!--Enrica was within the
garden in an instant, the gate was closed, and Nobili disappeared."

Any further talk is now cut short by the approach of Cassandra,
a friend of Brigitta's. Cassandra is a servant in a neighboring
eating-house, a tall, large-boned woman, a colored handkerchief tied
over her head, and much tawdry jewelry about her hands and neck.

"What are you two chattering about?" asks Cassandra sharply. "It seems
entertaining. What's the news? I get paid for news at my shop. Tell me
directly."

"Lotta here was only relating to me all about her grandchild," answers
Brigitta, with a whine.--Brigitta was rather in dread of Cassandra,
whose temper was fierce, and who, being strong, knocked people down
occasionally if they offended her.

"Lotta was telling me, too, that she wants fresh stores for her shop,
but all her money is gone to the grandchild in the hospital, who is
ill, very ill!" and Brigitta sighs and turns up the whites of her
eyes.

"Yes, yes," joins in Carlotta, a dismal look upon her shriveled old
face. "Yes--it is just that. All the money gone to the grandchild,
the son of my Beppo--that's the soldier who is with the king's
army.--Alas! all gone; my money, my son, and all."

Here Carlotta affects to groan and wring her hands despairingly.

The mass was now nearly over; many people were already leaving the
cathedral; but the swell of the organs and the sweet tones of voices
still burst forth from time to time. Festive masses are always
long. It might not seem so to the pretty ladies in the boxes, still
perseveringly fanning themselves, nor to the golden youths who
were diverting them; but the prospect of dinner and a siesta was a
temptation stronger than the older portion of the congregation could
resist. By twos and threes they slipped out.

This is the moment for the three women to use their eyes and their
tongues--very softly indeed--for they were now elbowed by some of the
best people in Lucca--but to use them.

"There's Baldassare, the chemist's son," whispers Brigitta, who was
using her one eye diligently.

"Mercy! That new coat was never cut in Lucca. They need sell many
drugs at papa-chemist's to pay for Baldassare's clothes. Why, he's
combed and scented like a spice-tree. He's a good-looking fellow;
the great ladies like him." This was said with a knock-me-down air by
Cassandra. "He dines at our place every day. It's a pleasure to see
his black curls and smell his scented handkerchief."

A cluster of listeners had now gathered round Cassandra, who,
conscious of an audience, thought it worth her while to hold forth.
Shaking out the folds of her gown, she leaned her back against the
wall, and pointed with a finger on which were some trumpery rings.
Cassandra knew everybody, and was determined to make those about her
aware of it. "That's young Count Orsetti and his mamma; they give a
grand ball to-night." (Cassandra is standing on tiptoe now, the better
to observe those who pass.) "There she goes to her carriage. Ahi! how
grand! The coachman and the valet with gold-lace and silk stockings.
I would fast for a week to ride once in such a carriage. Oh! I would
give any thing to splash the mud in people's faces. She's a fine
woman--the Orsetti. Observe her light hair. Madonna mia! What a
train of silk! Twelve shillings a yard--not a penny less. She's got a
cavaliere still.--He! he! a cavaliere!"

Carlotta grins, and winks her wicked old eyes. "She wants to marry
her son to Teresa Ottolini. He's a poor silly little fellow; but
rich--very rich."

"Who's that fat man in a brown coat?" asks Brigitta. "He's like a
maggot in a fresh nut!"

"That's my master--a fine-made man," answers Cassandra, frowning and
pinching in her lips, with an affronted air, "Take care what you say
about my master, Brigitta; I shall allow no observations."

Brigitta turns aside, puts her tongue in her cheek, and glances
maliciously at Carlotta, who nods.

"How do you know how your master is made, Cassandra mia?" asks
Brigitta, looking round, with a short laugh.

"Because I have eyes in my head," replies Cassandra, defiantly. "My
master, the padrone of the Pelican Hotel, is not a man one sees every
day in the week!"

A tall priest now appears from within the church, coming down the
nave, in company with a rosy-faced old gentleman, who, although using
a stick, walks briskly and firmly. He has a calm and pleasant face,
and his hair, which lies in neat little curls upon his forehead, is
as white as snow. One moment the rosy old gentleman talks eagerly
with the priest; the next he sinks upon his knees on the pavement,
and murmurs prayers at a side altar. He does this so abruptly that
the tall priest stumbles over him. There are many apologies, and many
bows. Then the old gentleman rises, dusts his clothes carefully with
a white handkerchief, and walks on, talking eagerly as before. Both
he and the priest bend low to the high altar, dip their fingers in the
holy-water, cross themselves, bend again to the altar, turning right
and left--before leaving the cathedral.

"That's Fra Pacifico," cries Carlotta, greatly excited--"Fra Pacifico,
the Marchesa Guinigi's chaplain. He's come down from Corellia for the
festival."--Carlotta is proud to show that she knows somebody, as well
as Cassandra. "When he is in Lucca, Fra Pacifico passes my shop every
morning to say mass in the marchesa's private chapel. He knows all her
sins."

"And the old gentleman with him," puts in Cassandra, twitching her
hook nose, "is old Trenta--Cesare Trenta, the cavaliere. Bless his
dear old face! The duke loved him well. He was chamberlain at the
palace. He's a gentleman all over, is Cavaliere Trenta. There--there.
Look!"--and she points eagerly--"that's the Red count, Count
Marescotti, the republican."

Cassandra lowers her voice, afraid to be overheard, and fixes her eyes
on a man whose every feature and gesture proclaimed him an aristocrat.

Excited by the grandeur of the service, Marescotti's usually pale face
is suffused with color; his large black eyes shine with inner lights.
Looking neither to the right nor to the left, he walks through the
atrium, straight down the marble steps, into the piazza. As he passes
the three women they draw back against the wall. There is a dignity
about Marescotti that involuntarily awes them.

"That's the man for the people!"--Cassandra still speaks under her
breath.--"He'll give us a republic yet."

Following close on Count Marescotti comes Count Nobili. There are ease
and conscious strength and freedom in his every movement. He pauses
for a moment on the uppermost step under the central arch of the
atrium and gazes round. The sun strikes upon his fresh-complexioned
face and lights up his fair hair and restless eyes.--It is clear
to see no care has yet troubled that curly head of his.--Nobili
is closely followed by a lady of mature age, dark, thin, and
sharp-featured. She has a glass in her eye, with which she peers at
every thing and everybody. This is the Marchesa Boccarini. She is
followed by her three daughters; two of them of no special attraction,
but the youngest, Nera, dark and strikingly handsome. These three
young ladies, all matrimonially inclined, but Nera specially, had
carefully watched the instant when Nobili left his seat. Then they had
followed him closely. It was intended that he should escort them home.
Nera has already decided what she will say to him touching the Orsetti
ball that evening and the cotillon, which she means to dance with
him if she can. But Nobili, with whom they come up under the portico,
merely responds to their salutation with a low bow, raises his hat,
and stands aside to make way for them. He does not even offer to hand
them to their carriage. They pass, and are gone.

As Count Nobili descends the three steps into the piazza, he is
conscious that all eyes are fixed upon him; that every head is
uncovered. He pauses, casts his eyes round at the upturned faces,
raises his hat and smiles, then puts his hand into his pocket, and
takes out a gold-piece, which he gives to the nearest beggar. The
beggar, seizing the gold-piece, blesses him, and hopes that "Heaven
will render to him according to his merits." Other beggars, from every
corner, are about to rush upon him; but Nobili deftly escapes from
these as he had escaped from the Marchesa Boccarini and her daughters,
and is gone.

"A lucky face," mumbles old Carlotta, working her under lip, as she
fixes her bleared eyes on him--"a lucky face! He will choose the
winning number in the lottery, and the evil eye will never harm him."

The music had now ceased. The mass was over. The vast congregation
poured through the triple doors into the piazza, and mingled with
the outer crowd. For a while both waved to and fro, like billows on
a rolling sea, then settled down into one compact current, which,
flowing onward, divided and dispersed itself through the openings into
the various streets abutting on the piazza.

Last of all, Carlotta, Brigitta, and Cassandra, leave their corner.
They are speedily engulfed in the shadows of a neighboring alley, and
are seen no more.



CHAPTER IV.

THE MARCHESA GUINIGI.


The stern and repulsive aspect of the exterior of the Marchesa
Guinigi's palace belied the antique magnificence within.

Turning to the right under an archway from the damp, moss-grown court
over which the tower throws a perpetual shadow, a broad staircase,
closed by a door of open ironwork, leads to the first story (the
_piano nobile_). Here an anteroom, with Etruscan urns and fragments
of mediaeval sculpture let into the walls, gives access to a great
_sala_, or hall, where Paolo Guinigi entertained the citizens and
magnates of Lucca with sumptuous hospitality.

The vaulted ceiling, divided into compartments by heavy panels, is
profusely gilt, and painted in fresco by Venetian masters; but the
gold is dulled by age, and the frescoes are but dingy patches of what
once was color. The walls, ornamented with Flemish tapestry, represent
the Seven Labors of Hercules--the bright colors all faded out
and blurred like the frescoes. Above, on the surface of polished
walnut-wood, between the tapestry and the ceiling, are hung suits of
mail, helmets, shields, swords, lances, and tattered banners.

Every separate piece has its history. Each lance, in the hand of some
mediaeval hero of the name, has transfixed a foe, every sword has been
dyed in the life-blood of a Ghibelline.

At the four corners of the hall are four doorways corresponding
to each other. Before each doorway hang curtains of Genoa velvet,
embroidered in gold with the Guinigi arms surmounted by a princely
coronet. Time has mellowed these once crimson curtains to dingy red.
From the hall, entered by these four doors, open out endless suites
of rooms, enriched with the spoils of war and the splendor of feudal
times. Not a chair, not a table, has been renewed, or even shifted
from its place, since the fourteenth century, when Paolo Guinigi
reigned absolute in Lucca.

On first entering, it is difficult to distinguish any thing in the
half-light. The narrow Gothic casements of the whole floor are closed,
both those toward the street and those facing inward upon the inner
court. The outer wooden shutters are also closely fastened. The
marchesa would consider it a sacrilege to allow light or even outer
air to penetrate in these rooms, sacred to the memory of her great
ancestors.

First in order after the great hall is a long gallery paneled with
dark marble. It has a painted ceiling, and a mosaic floor. Statues and
antique busts, presented by the emperor to Paolo Guinigi, are ranged
on either side. This gallery leads through various antechambers to
the retiring-room, where, in feudal times, the consort of the reigning
lord presided when the noble dames of Lucca visited her on state
occasions--a victory gained over the Pisans or Florentines--the
conquest of a rebellious city, Pistoia perhaps--the birth of a son;
or--the anniversary of national festivals. Pale-blue satin stuffs and
delicate brocades, crossed with what was once glittering threads of
gold, cover the walls. Rows of Venetian-glass chandeliers, tinted
in every shade of loveliest color, fashioned into colored knots,
pendants, and flowers, hang from the painted rafters. Mirrors, set
in ponderous frames of old Florentine gilding, dimly reflect every
object; narrow, high-backed chairs and carved wooden benches,
sculptured mosaic tables and ponderous sideboards covered with choice
pottery from Gubbio and Savona, and Lucca della Robbia ware. Sunk
in recesses there are dark cupboards filled with mediaeval salvers,
goblets, and flagons, gold dishes, and plates, and vessels of filigree
and silver. Ivory carvings hang on the walls beside dingy pictures,
or are ranged on tables of Sicilian agate and Oriental jasper. Against
the walls are also placed cabinets and caskets of carved walnut-wood
and ebony inlaid with lapis-lazuli, jasper, and precious stones; also
long, narrow coffers, richly carved, within which the _corredo_, or
_trousseau_, of rich brides who had matched with a Guinigi, was laid.

Beyond the retiring-room is the presence-chamber. On a dais, raised
on three broad steps, stands a chair of state, surmounted by a
dark-velvet canopy. Above appear the Guinigi arms, worked in gold and
black, tarnished now, as is the glory of the illustrious house they
represent. Overhead are suspended two cardinal's hats, dropping to
pieces with moth and mildew. On the wall opposite the dais, between
two ranges of narrow Venetian windows, looking into the court-yard,
hangs the historic portrait of Castruccio Castracani degli Antimelli,
the Napoleon of the middle ages, whose rapid conquests raised Lucca to
a sovereign state.

The name of the great Castruccio (whose mother was a Guinigi) is
the glory of the house, his portrait more precious than any other
possession.

A gleam of ruddy light strikes through a crevice in a red curtain
opposite; it falls full upon the chair of state. That chair is
not empty; a tall, dark figure is seated there. It is the Marchesa
Guinigi. She is so thin and pale and motionless, she might pass for a
ghost herself, haunting the ghosts of her ancestors!

It is her custom twice a year, on the anniversary of the birth and
death of Castruccio Castracani--to-day is the anniversary of
his death--to unlock the door leading from the hall into these
state-apartments, and to remain here alone for many hours. The key is
always about her person, attached to her girdle. No other foot but her
own is ever permitted to tread these floors.

She sits in the half-light, lost in thought as in a dream. Her head is
raised, her arms are extended over the sides of the antique chair; her
long, white hands hang down listlessly. Her eyes wander vaguely along
the floor; gradually they raise themselves to the portrait of her
great ancestor opposite. How well she knows every line and feature of
that stern but heroic countenance, every dark curl upon that classic
head, wreathed with ivy-leaves; that full, expressive eye,
aquiline nose, open nostril, and chiseled lip; every fold in that
ermine-bordered mantle--a present from the emperor, after the victory
of Altopasso, and the triumph of the Ghibellines! Looking into the
calmness of that impressive face, in the mystery of the darkened
presence-chamber, she can forget that the greatness of her house is
fallen, the broad lands sold or mortgaged, the treasures granted
by the state lavished, one even of the ancestral palaces sold; nay,
worse, not only sold, but desecrated by commerce in the person of
Count Nobili.

Seated there, on the seigneurial chair, under the regal canopy, she
can forget all this. For a few short hours she can live again in the
splendor of the past--the past, when a Guinigi was the equal of kings,
his word more absolute than law, his frown more terrible than death!

Before the marchesa is a square table of dark marble, on which in old
time was laid the sword of state (a special insignia of office),
borne before the Lord of Lucca in public processions, embassies, and
tournaments. This table is now covered with small piled-up heaps of
gold and silver coin (the gold much less in quantity than the silver).
There are a few jewels, and some diamond pendants in antique settings,
a diamond necklace, crosses, medals, and orders, and a few uncut gems
and antique intaglios.

The marchesa takes up each object and examines it. She counts the
gold-pieces, putting them back again one by one in rows, by tens and
twenties. She handles the crisp bank-notes. She does this over and
over again so slowly and so carefully, it would seem, as if she
expected the money to grow under her fingers. She has placed all in
order before her--the jewels on one side, the money and the notes on
the other. As she moves them to and fro on the smooth marble with the
points of her long fingers, she shakes her head and sighs. Then she
touches a secret spring, and a drawer opens from under the table. Into
this drawer she deposits all that lies before her, her fingers still
clinging to the gold.

After a while she rises, and casting a parting glance at the portrait
of Castruccio--among all her ancestors Castruccio was the object of
her special reverence--she moves leisurely onward through the various
apartments lying beyond the presence-chamber.

The doors, draped with heavy tapestry curtains, are all open. It is a
long, gloomy suite of rooms, where the sun never shines, looking into
the inner court.

The marchesa's steps are noiseless, her countenance grave and pale.
Here and there she pauses to gaze into the face of a picture, or to
brush off the dust from some object specially dear to her. She pauses,
minutely observing every thing around her.

There is a dark closet, with a carved wooden cornice and open raftered
roof, the walls covered with stamped leather. Here the family councils
assembled. Next comes a long, narrow, low-roofed gallery, where row
after row of portraits and pictures illustrate the defunct Guinigi. In
that centre panel hangs Francesco dei Guinigi, who, for courtesy and
riches, surpassed all others in Lucca. (Francesco was the first to
note the valor of his young cousin Castruccio, to whom he taught the
art of war.) Near him hangs the portrait of Ridolfo, who triumphantly
defeated Uguccione della Faggiola, the tyrant of Pisa, under the
very walls of that city. Farther on, at the top of the room, is the
likeness of the great Paolo himself--a dark, olive-skinned man, with
a hard-lipped mouth, and resolute eyes, clad in a complete suit of
gold-embossed armor. By Paolo's side appears Battista, who followed
the Crusades, and entered Jerusalem with Godfrey de Bouillon; also
Gianni, grand-master of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John--the
golden rose presented to him by the pope in the corner of the picture.

After the gallery come the armory and the chapel. Beyond at the end
of the vaulted passage, lighted from above, there is a closed door of
dark walnut-wood.

When the marchesa enters this vaulted passage, her firm, quick step
falters. As she approaches the door, she is visibly agitated. Her hand
trembles as she places it on the heavy outside lock. The lock yields;
the door opens with a creak. She draws aside a heavy curtain, then
stands motionless.

There is such a mist of dust, such a blackness of shadow, that
at first nothing is visible. Gradually, as the daylight faintly
penetrates by the open door, the shadows form themselves into definite
shapes.

Within a deep alcove, inclosed by a balustrade, stands a bed--its
gilt cornice reaching to the ceiling, heavily curtained. This is the
nuptial-chamber of the Guinigi. Within that alcove, and in that bed,
generation after generation have seen the light. Not to be born in the
nuptial-chamber, and in that bed within the ancestral palace, is not
to be a true Guinigi.

The marchesa has taken a step or two forward into the room. There,
wrapped in the shadows, she stands still and trembles. A terrible look
has come into her face--sorrow, and longing, and remorse. The history
of her whole life rises up before her.

"Is the end, then, come?" she asks herself--"and with me?"

From pale she had turned ashy. The long shadows from the dark curtains
stretch out and engulf her. She feels their dark touch, like a visible
presence of evil, she shivers all over. The cold damp air of the chill
room comes to her like wafts of deadly poison. She cannot breathe; a
convulsive tremor passes over her.

She totters to the door, and leans for support against the side. Yet
she will not go; she forces herself to remain. To stand here, in this
room, before that bed, is her penance. To stand here like a criminal!
Ah, God! is she not childless? Why has she (and her hands are
clinched, and her breath comes thick), why has she been stricken with
barrenness?

"Why, why?" she asks herself now, as she has asked herself year after
year, each year with a fresh agony. Until she came, a son had never
failed under that roof. Why was she condemned to be alone? She had
done nothing to deserve it. Had she not been a blameless wife? Why,
why was she so punished? Her haughty spirit stirs within her.

"God is unjust," she mutters, half aloud. "God is my enemy."

As the impious words fall from her lips they ring round the dark bed,
and die away among the black draperies. The echo of her own voice
fills her with dread. She rushes out. The door closes heavily after
her.

Once removed from that fatal chamber, with its death-like shadows, she
gradually collects herself. She has so long fortified herself against
all sign of outward emotion, she has so hardened herself in an inner
life of secret remorse, this is easy--at least to outward appearance.
The calm, frigid look natural to her face returns. Her eyes have again
their dark sparkle. Not a trace remains to tell what her self-imposed
penance has cost her.

Again she is the proud marchesa, the mistress of the feudal palace and
all its glorious memories.--Yes; and she casts her eyes round where
she stands, back again in the retiring-room. Yes--all is yet her own.
True, she is impoverished--worse, she is laden with debt, harassed by
creditors. The lands that are left are heavily mortgaged; the money
received from Count Nobili, as the price of the palace, already spent
in law. The hoard she has just counted--her savings--destined to dower
her niece Enrica, in whose marriage lies the sole remaining hope of
the preservation of the name (and that depending on the will of a
husband, who may, or may not, add the name of Guinigi to his own) is
most slender. She has been able to add nothing to it during these last
years--not a farthing. But there is one consolation. While she lives,
all is safe from spoliation. While she lives, no creditor lives bold
enough to pass that threshold. While she lives--and then?

Further she forbids her thoughts to wander. She will not admit, even
to herself, that there is danger--that even, during her own life, she
may be forced to sell what is dearer to her than life--the palace and
the heirlooms!

Meanwhile the consciousness of wealth is pleasant to her. She opens
the cupboards in the wall, and handles the precious vessels of
Venetian glass, the silver plates and golden flagons, the jeweled
cups; she examines the ancient bronzes and ivory carvings; unlocks the
caskets and the inlaid cabinets, and turns over the gold guipure lace,
the rich mediaeval embroideries, the christening-robes--these she
flings quickly by--and the silver ornaments. She uncloses the carved
coffers, and passes through her long fingers the wedding garments of
brides turned to dust centuries ago--the silver veils, bridal crowns,
and quaintly-cut robes of taffetas and brocade, once white, now turned
to dingy yellow. She assures herself that all is in its place.

As she moves to and fro she catches sight of herself reflected in one
of the many mirrors encased in what were once gorgeous frames hanging
on the wall. She stops and fixes her keen black eyes upon her own worn
face. "I am not old," she says aloud, "only fifty-five this year. I
may live many years yet. Much may happen before I die! Cesare Trenta
says I am ruined"--as she speaks, she turns her face toward the
streaks of light that penetrate the shutters.--"Not yet, not ruined
yet. Who knows? I may live to redeem all. Cesare said I was ruined
after that last suit with the chapter. He is a fool! The money was
well spent. I would do it again. While I live the name of Guinigi
shall be honored." She pauses, as if listening to the sound of her own
voice. Then her thoughts glance off to the future. "Who knows? Enrica
shall marry; that may set all right. She shall have all--all!" And she
turns and gazes earnestly through the open doors of the stately rooms
on either hand. "Enrica shall marry; marry as I please. She must have
no will in the matter."

She stops suddenly, remembering certain indications of quiet self-well
which she thinks she has already detected in her niece.

"If not"--(the mere supposition that her plans should be
thwarted--thwarted by her niece, Enrica--a child, a tool--brought up
almost upon her charity--rouses in her a tempest of passion; her face
darkens, her eyes flash; she clinches her fist with sudden vehemence,
she shakes it in the air)--"if not--let her die!" Her shrill voice
wakes the echoes. "Let her die!" resounds faintly through the gilded
rooms.

At this moment the cathedral-clock strikes four. This is the first
sound that has reached the marchesa from the outer world since she has
entered these rooms. It rouses her from the thralldom of her thoughts.
It recalls her to the outer world. Four o'clock! Then she has been
shut up for five hours! She must go at once, or she may be missed by
her household. If she is missed, she may be followed--watched. Casting
a searching look round, to assure herself that all is in its place,
she takes from her girdle the key she always wears, and lets herself
out into the great hall. She relocks the door, drawing the velvet
curtains carefully over it. With greater caution she unfastens the
other door (the entrance) on the staircase. Peeping through the
curtains, she assures herself that no one is on the stairs. Then
she softly recloses it, and rapidly ascends the stairs to the second
story.

That day six months, on the anniversary of Castruccio's birth, which
falls in the month of March, she will return again to the state-rooms.
No one has ever accompanied her on these strange vigils. Only her
friend, the Cavaliere Trenta, knows that she goes there. Even to him
she rarely alludes to it. It is her own secret. Her inner life is with
the past. Her thoughts rest with the dead. It is the living who are
but shadows.



CHAPTER V.

ENRICA.


The marchesa was in a very bad humor. Not only did she stay at home
all the day of the festival of the Holy Countenance by reason of the
solemn anniversary which occurred at that time, but she shut herself
up the following day also. When the old servant (old inside and out)
in his shabby livery, who acted as butler, crept into her room,
and asked at what time "the eccellenza would take her airing on the
ramparts"--the usual drive of the Lucchese ladies--when they not only
drive, but draw up under the plane-trees, gossip, and eat sweetmeats
and ices--she had answered, in a tone she would have used to a
decrepit dog who troubled her, "Shut the door and begone!"

She had been snappish to Enrica. She had twitted her with wanting to
go to the Orsetti ball, although Enrica had never been to any ball or
any assembly whatever in her life, and no word had been spoken about
it. Enrica never did speak; she had been disciplined into silence.

Enrica, as has been said, was the marchesa's niece, and lived with
her. She was the only child of her sister, who died when she was
born. This sister (herself, as well as the marchesa, _born_ Guinigi
Ruscellai) had also married a Guinigi, a distant cousin of the
marchesa's husband, belonging to a third branch of the family, settled
at Mantua. Of this collateral branch, all had died out. Antonio
Guinigi, of Mantua, Enrica's father, in the prime of life, was killed
in a duel, resulting from one of those small social affronts that
so frequently do provoke duels in Italy. (I knew a certain T---- who
called out a certain G---- because G---- had said T----'s rooms were
not properly carpeted.) Generally these encounters with swords are
as trifling in their results as in their origin. But the duel in
question, fought by Antonio Guinigi, was unfortunately not so. He died
on the spot. Enrica, when two years old, was an orphan. Thus it came
that she had known no home but the home of her aunt. The marchesa had
never shown her any particular kindness. She had ordered her servants
to take care of her. That was all. Scarcely ever had she kissed her;
never passed her hand among the sunny curls that fell upon the quiet
child's face and neck. The marchesa, in fact, had not so much as
noticed her childish beauty and enticing ways.

Enrica had grown up accustomed to bear with her aunt's haughty,
ungracious manners and capricious temper. She scarcely knew that there
was any thing to bear. She had been left to herself as long as she
could remember any thing. A peasant--Teresa, her foster-mother--had
come with her from Mantua, and from Teresa alone she received such
affection as she had ever known. A mere animal affection, however,
which lost its value as she grew into womanhood.

Thus it was that Enrica came to accept the marchesa's rough tongue,
her arrogance, and her caprices, as a normal state of existence. She
never complained. If she suffered, it was in silence. To reason with
the marchesa, much more dispute with her, was worse than useless. She
was not accustomed to be talked to, certainly not by her niece. It
only exasperated her and fixed her more doggedly in whatever purpose
she might have in hand. But there was a certain stern sense of justice
about her when left to herself--if only the demon of her family pride
were not aroused, then she was inexorable--that would sometimes come
to the rescue. Yet, under all the tyranny of this neutral life which
circumstances had imposed on her, Enrica, unknown to herself--for
how should she, who knew so little, know herself?--grew up to have a
strong will. She might be bent, but she would never break. In this she
resembled the marchesa. Gentle, loving, and outwardly submissive,
she was yet passively determined. Even the marchesa came to be dimly
conscious of this, although she considered it as utterly unimportant,
otherwise than to punish and to repress.

Shut up within the dreary palace at Lucca, or in the mountain solitude
of Corellia, Enrica yearned for freedom. She was like a young bird,
full-fledged and strong, that longs to leave the parent-nest--to
stretch its stout wings on the warm air--to soar upward into the
light!

Now the light had come to Enrica. It came when she first saw Count
Nobili. It shone in her eyes, it dazzled her, it intoxicated her. On
that day a new world opened before her--a fair and pleasant world,
light with the dawn of love--a world as different as golden summer
to the winter of her home. How she gloried in Nobili! How she loved
him!--his comely looks, his kindling smile (like sunshine everywhere),
his lordly ways, his triumphant prosperity! He had come to her, she
knew not how. She had never sought him. He had come--come like fate.
She never asked herself if it was wrong or right to love him. How
could she help it? Was he not born to be loved? Was he not her own--a
thousand times her own--as he told her--"forever?" She believed in
him as she believed in God. She neither knew nor cared whither she was
drifting, so that it was with him! She was as one sailing with a fair
wind on an endless sea--a sea full of sunlight--sailing she knew
not where! Think no evil of her, I pray you. She was not wicked nor
deceitful--only ignorant, with such ignorance as made the angels fall.

As yet Nobili and Enrica had only met in such manner as has been told
by old Carlotta to her gossip Brigitta. Letters, glances, sighs,
had passed across the street, from palace to palace at the Venetian
casements--under the darkly-ivied archway of the Moorish garden--at
the cathedral in the gray evening light, or in the earliest glow of
summer mornings--and this, so seldom! Every time they had met Nobili
implored Enrica, passionately, to escape from the thralldom of her
life, implored her to become his wife. With his pleading eyes fixed
upon her, he asked her "why she should sacrifice him to the senseless
pride of her aunt? He whose whole life was hers?"

But Enrica shrank from compliance, with a secret sense that she had
no right to do what he asked; no right to marry without her aunt's
consent. Her love was her own to give. She had thought it all out
for herself, pacing up and down under the cool marble arcades of the
Moorish garden, the splash of the fountain in her ears--Teresa had
told her the same--her love was her own to give. What had her aunt
done for her, her sister's child, but feed and clothe her? Indeed,
as Teresa said, the marchesa had done but little else. Enrica was
as unconscious as Teresa of those marriage schemes of her aunt which
centred in herself. Had she known what was reserved for her, she would
better have understood the marchesa's nature; then she might have
acted differently. But heretofore there had been no question of her
marriage. Although she was seventeen, she had always been treated as a
mere child. She scarcely dared to speak in her aunt's presence, or to
address a question to her. Her love, then, she thought, was her own to
bestow; but more?--No, no even to Nobili. He urged, he entreated, he
reproached her, but in vain. He implored her to inform the marchesa
of their engagement. (Nobili could not offer to do this himself; the
marchesa would have refused to admit him within her door.) But Enrica
would not consent to do even this. She knew her aunt too well to trust
her with her secret. She knew that she was both subtle, and, where her
own plans were concerned, or her will thwarted, treacherous also.

Enrica had been taught not only to obey the marchesa implicitly, but
never to dispute her will. Hitherto she had had no will but hers.
How, then, could she all at once shake off the feeling of awe, almost
terror, with which her aunt inspired her? Besides, was not the very
sound of Nobili's name abhorrent to her? Why the marchesa should
abhor him or his name, Enrica could not tell. It was a mystery to her
altogether beyond her small experience of life. But it was so. No, she
would say nothing; that was safest. The marchesa, if displeased, was
quite capable of carrying her away from Lucca to Corellia--perhaps
leaving her there alone in the mountains. She might even shut her up
in a convent for life!--Then she should die!

No, she would say nothing.



CHAPTER VI.

MARCHESA GUINIGI AT HOME.


The marchesa was, as I have said, in a very bad humor. She had by no
means recovered from what she conceived to be the affront put upon her
by the brilliant display made by Count Nobili, at the festival of the
Holy Countenance, nor, indeed, from the festival itself.

She had had the satisfaction of shutting up her palace, it is true;
but she was not quite sure if this had impressed the public mind of
Lucca as she had intended. She felt painful doubts as to whether the
splendors opposite had not so entirely engrossed public attention that
no eye was left to observe any thing else--at least, in that street.
It was possible, she thought, that another year it might be wiser not
to shut up her palace at all, but so far to overcome her feelings as
to exhibit the superb hangings, the banners, the damask, and cloth of
gold, used in the mediaeval festivals and processions, and thus outdo
the modern tinsel of Count Nobili.

Besides the festival, and Count Nobili's audacity, the marchesa had a
further cause for ill-humor. No one had come on that evening to play
her usual game of whist. Even Trenta had deserted her. She had said
to herself that when she--the Marchesa Guinigi--"received," no other
company, no other engagement whatever, ought to interfere with the
honor that her company conferred. These were valid causes of ill-humor
to any lady of the marchesa's humor.

She was seated now in the sitting-room of her own particular suite,
one of three small and rather stuffy rooms, on the second floor. These
rooms consisted of an anteroom, covered with a cretonne paper of blue
and brown, a carpetless floor, a table, and some common, straw chairs
placed against the wall. From the anteroom two doors led into two
bedrooms, one on either side. Another door, opposite the entrance,
opened into the sitting-room.

All the windows this way faced toward the garden, the wall of which
ran parallel to the palace and to the street. The marchesa's room
had flaunting green walls with a red border; the ceiling was gaudily
painted with angels, flowers, and festoons. Some colored prints hung
on the walls--a portrait of the Empress Eugénie on horseback, in a
Spanish dress, and four glaring views of Vesuvius in full eruption. A
divan, covered with well-worn chintz, ran round two sides of the
room. Between the ranges of the graceful casements stood a marble
console-table, with a mirror in a black frame. An open card-table
was placed near the marchesa. On the table there was a pack of not
over-clean cards, some markers, and a pair of candles (the candles
still unlighted, for the days are long, and it is only six o'clock).
There was not a single ornament in the whole room, nor any object
whatever on which the eye could rest with pleasure. White-cotton
curtains concealed the delicate tracery and the interlacing columns of
the Venetian windows. Beneath lay the Moorish garden, entered from
the street by an arched gate-way, over which long trails of ivy hung.
Beautiful in itself, the Moorish garden was an incongruous appendage
to a Gothic palace. One of the Guinigi, commanding for the Emperor
Charles V. in Spain, saw Granada and the Alhambra. On his return to
Lucca, he built this architectural plaisance on a bare plot of ground,
used for jousts and tilting. That is its history. There it has been
since. It is small--a city garden--belted inside by a pointed arcade
of black-and-white marble.

In the centre is a fountain. The glistening waters shoot upward
refreshingly in the warm evening air, to fall back on the heads of
four marble lions, supporting a marble basin. Fine white gravel covers
the ground, broken by statues and vases, and tufts of flowering shrubs
growing luxuriantly under the shelter of the arcade--many-colored
altheas, flaming pomegranates, graceful pepper-trees with bright,
beady seeds, and magnolias, as stalwart as oaks, hanging over the
fountain.

The strong perfume of the magnolia-blossoms, still white upon
the boughs, is wafted upward to the open window of the marchesa's
sitting-room; the sun is low, and the shadows of the pointed arches
double themselves upon the ground. Shadows, too, high up the horizon,
penetrate into the room, and strike across the variegated scagliola
floor, and upon a table in the centre, on which a silver tray is
placed, with glasses of lemonade. Round the table are ranged chairs of
tarnished gilding, and a small settee with spindle-legs.

In her present phase of life, the squalor of these rooms is congenial
to the marchesa. Hitherto reckless of expense, especially in law, she
has all at once grown parsimonious to excess. As to the effect this
change may produce on others, and whether this mode of life is in
keeping with the stately palace she inhabits, the marchesa does not
care in the least; it pleases her, that is enough. All her life she
has been quite clear on two points--her belief in herself, and her
belief in the name she bears.

The marchesa leans back on a high-backed chair and frowns. To frown is
so habitual to her that the wrinkles on her forehead and between her
eyebrows are prematurely deepened. She has a long, sallow face, a
straight nose, keen black eyes, a high forehead, and a thin-lipped
mouth. She is upright, and well made; and the folds of her plain black
dress hang about her tall figure with a certain dignity. Her dark
hair, now sprinkled with white, is fully dressed, the bands combed low
on her forehead. She wears no ornament, except the golden cross of a
_chanoinesse._

As she leans back on her high-backed chair she silently observes her
niece, seated near the open window, knitting.

"If she had been my child!" was the marchesa's thought. "Why was I
denied a child?" And she sighed.

The rays of the setting sun dance among the ripples of Enrica's blond
hair, and light up the dazzling whiteness of her skin. Seen thus in
profile, although her features are regular, and her expression full
of sweetness, it is rather the promise than the perfection of actual
beauty--the rose-bud--by-and-by to expand into the perfect flower.

There was a knock at the door, and a ruddy old face looked in. It
is the Cavaliere Trenta, in his official blue coat and gold buttons,
nankeen inexpressibles, a broad-brimmed white hat and a gold-headed
cane in his hand. Whatever speck of dust might have had the audacity
to venture to settle itself upon any part of the cavaliere's official
blue coat, must at once have hidden its diminished head after peeping
at the cavaliere's beaming countenance, so scrubbed and shiny, the
white hair so symmetrically arranged upon his forehead in little
curls--his whole appearance so neat and trim.

"Is it permitted to enter?" he asked, smiling blandly at the marchesa,
as, leaning upon his stick, he made her a ceremonious bow.

"Yes, Cesarino, yes, you may enter," she replied, stiffly. "I cannot
very well send you away now--but you deserve it."

"Why, most distinguished lady?" again asked Trenta, submissively,
closing the door, and advancing to where she sat. He bent down his
head and kissed her hand, then smiled at Enrica. "What have I done?"

"Done? You know you never came last night at all. I missed my game of
whist. I do not sleep well without it."

"But, marchesa," pleaded Trenta, in the gentlest voice, "I am
desolated, as you can conceive--desolated; but what could I do?
Yesterday was the festival of the Holy Countenance, that solemn
anniversary that brings prosperity to our dear city!" And the
cavaliere cast up his mild blue eyes, and crossed himself upon the
breast. "I was most of the day in the cathedral. Such a service!
Better music than last year. In the evening I had promised to arrange
the cotillon at Countess Orsetti's ball. As chamberlain to his late
highness the Duke of Lucca, it is expected of me to organize every
thing. One can leave nothing to that animal Baldassare--he has no
head, no system; he dances well, but like a machine. The ball was
magnificent--a great success," he continued, speaking rapidly, for
he saw that a storm was gathering on the marchesa's brow, by the
deepening of the wrinkles between her eyes. "A great success. I took a
few turns myself with Teresa Ottolini--tra la la la la," and he swayed
his head and shoulders to and fro as he hummed a waltz-tune.

"_You_!" exclaimed the marchesa, staring at him with a look of
contempt--"_you_!"

"Yes. Why not? I am as young as ever, dear marchesa--eighty, the prime
of life!"

"The festival of the Holy Countenance and the cotillon!" cried the
marchesa, with great indignation. "Tell me nothing about the Orsetti
ball. I won't listen to it. Good Heavens!" she continued, reddening,
"I am thirty years younger than you are, but I left off dancing
fifteen years ago. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Cesarino!"

Cesarino only smiled at her benignantly in reply. She had called him
a fool so often! He seated himself beside her without speaking. He had
come prepared to entertain her with an account of every detail of the
ball; but seeing the temper she was in, he deemed it more prudent to
be silent--to be silent specially about Count Nobili. The mention of
his name would, he knew, put her in a fury, so, being a prudent man,
and a courtier, he entirely dropped the subject of the ball. Yet
Trenta was a privileged person. He never voluntarily contradicted the
marchesa, but when occasion arose he always spoke his mind, fearless
of consequences. As he and the marchesa disagreed on almost every
possible subject, disputes often arose between them; but, thanks to
Trenta's pliant temper and perfect good-breeding, they were always
amicably settled.

"Count Marescotti and Baldassare are outside," continued Trenta,
looking at her inquiringly, as the marchesa had not spoken. "They are
waiting to know if the illustrious lady receives this evening, and if
she will permit them to join her usual whist-party."

"Marescotti!--where may he come from?--the clouds, perhaps--or the
last balloon?" asked the marchesa, looking up.

"From Rome; he arrived two days ago. He is no longer so erratic. Will
you allow him to join us?"

"I shall certainly play my rubber if I am permitted," answered the
marchesa, drawing herself up.

This was intended as a sarcastic reminder of the disregard shown to
her by the cavaliere the evening before; but the sarcasm was quite
thrown away upon Trenta; he was very simple and straightforward.

"The marchesa has only to command me," was his polite reply. "I wonder
Marescotti and Baldassare are not here already," he added, looking
toward the door. "I left them both in the street; they were to follow
me up-stairs immediately."

"Ah!" said the marchesa, smiling sarcastically, "Count Marescotti is
not to be trusted. He is a genius--he may be back on his way to Rome
by this time."

"No, no," answered Trenta, rising and walking toward the door, which
he opened and held in his hand, while he kept his eyes fixed on the
staircase; "Marescotti is disgusted with Rome--with the Parliament,
with the Government--with every thing. He abuses the municipality
because a secret republican committee which he headed, in
correspondence with Paris, has been discovered by the police and
denounced. He had to escape in disguise."

"Well, well, I rejoice to hear it!" broke in the marchesa. "It is a
good Government; let him find a better. Why has he come to Lucca? We
want no _sans-culottes_ here."

"Marescotti declares," continued the cavaliere, "that even now Rome is
still in bondage, and sunk in superstition. He calls it superstition.
He would like to shut up all the churches. He believes in nothing
but poetry and Red republicans. Any kind of Christian belief he calls
superstition."

"Marescotti is quite right," said the marchesa, angrily; she was
determined to contradict the cavaliere. "You are a bigot, Trenta--an
old bigot. You believe every thing a priest tells you. A fine
exhibition we had yesterday of what that comes to! The Holy
Countenance! Do you think any educated person in Lucca believes in
the Holy Countenance? I do not. It is only an excuse for idleness--for
idleness, I say. Priests love idleness; they go into the Church
because they are too idle to work." She raised her voice, and
looked defiantly at Trenta, who stood before her the picture of meek
endurance--holding the door-handle. "I hope I shall live to see all
festivals abolished. Why didn't the Government do it altogether when
they were about it?--no convents, no monks, no holidays, except on
Sunday! Make the people work--work for their bread! We should have
fewer taxes, and no beggars."

Trenta's benignant face had gradually assumed as severe an aspect as
it was capable of bearing. He pointed to Enrica, of whom he had up to
this time taken no notice beyond a friendly smile--the marchesa did
not like Enrica to be noticed--now he pointed to her, and shook his
head deprecatingly. Could he have read Enrica's thoughts, he need have
feared no contamination to her from the marchesa; her thoughts were
far away--she had not listened to a single word.

"Dio Santo!" he exclaimed at last, clasping his hands together and
speaking low, so as not to be overheard by Enrica--"that I should live
to hear a Guinigi talk so! Do you forget, marchesa, that it was under
the banner of the blessed Holy Countenance (_Vulturum di Lucca_),
miraculously cast on the shores of the Ligurian Sea, that your
great ancestor Castruccio Castracani degli Antimelli overcame the
Florentines at Alto Passo?"

"The banner didn't help him, nor St. Nicodemus either--I affirm
that," answered she, angrily. Her temper was rising. "I will not be
contradicted, cavaliere--don't attempt it. I never allow it. Even my
husband never contradicted me--and he was a Guinigi. Is the city to
go mad, eat, drink, and hang out old curtains because the priests
bid them? Did _you_ see Nobili's house?" She asked this question
so eagerly, she suddenly forgot her anger in the desire she felt to
relate her injuries. "A Guinigi palace dressed out like a booth at a
fair!--What a scandal! This comes of usury and banking. He will be a
deputy soon. Will no one tell him he is a presumptuous young idiot?"
she cried, with a burst of sudden rage, remembering the crowds that
filled the streets, and the admiration and display excited. Then,
turning round and looking Trenta full in the face, she added
spitefully, "You may worship painted dolls, and kiss black crucifixes,
if you like: I would not give them house-room."

"Mercy!" cried poor Trenta, putting his hands to his ears. "For pity's
sake--the palace _will_ fall about your ears! Remember your niece is
present."

And again he pointed to Enrica, whose head was bent down over her
work.

"Ha! ha!" was all the reply vouchsafed by the marchesa, followed by
a scornful laugh. "I shall say what I please in my own house. Poor
Cesarino! You are very ignorant. I pity you!"

But Trenta was not there--he had rushed down-stairs as quickly as his
old legs and his stick would carry him, and was out of hearing. At the
mention of Nobili's name Enrica looked stealthily from under her long
eyelashes, and turned very white. The sharp eyes of her aunt might
have detected it had she been less engrossed by her passage of arms
with the cavaliere.

"Ha! ha!" she repeated, grimly laughing to herself. "He is gone! Poor
old soul! But I am going to have my rubber for all that.--Ring the
bell, Enrica. He must come back. Trenta takes too much upon himself;
he is always interfering."

As Enrica rose to obey her aunt, the sound of feet was heard in the
anteroom. The marchesa made a sign to her to reseat herself, which she
did in the same place as before, behind the thick cotton curtains of
the Venetian casement.



CHAPTER VII.

COUNT MARESCOTTI.


Count Marescotti, the Red count (the marchesa had said _sans-culotte_;
Trenta had spoken of him as an atheist), was, unhappily, something
of all this, but he was much more. He was a poet, an orator, and a
patriot. Nature had gifted him with qualities for each vocation. He
had a rich, melodious voice, with soft inflections; large dark eyes,
that kindled with the impress of every emotion; finely-cut features,
and a pale, bloodless face, that tells of a passionate nature. His
manners were gracious, and he had a commanding presence. He was born
to be a leader among men. Not only did he converse with ease and
readiness on every conceivable topic--not only did strophe after
strophe of musical verse flow from his lips with the facility of
an _improvisatore_, but he possessed the supreme art of moving the
multitude by an eloquence born of his own impassioned soul. While that
suave voice rung in men's ears, it was impossible not to be convinced
by his arguments. As a patriot, he worshiped Italy. His fervid
imagination reveled in her natural beauties--art, music, history,
poetry. He worshiped Italy, and he devoted his whole life to what he
conceived to be her good.

Marescotti was no atheist; he was a religious reformer, sincerely and
profoundly pious, and conscientious to the point of honor. Indeed, his
conscience was so sensitive, that he had been known to confess two
and three times on the same day. The cavaliere called him an atheist
because he was a believer in Savonarola, and because he positively
refused to bind himself to any priestly dogma, or special form
of worship whatever. But he had never renounced the creed of his
ancestors. The precepts of Savonarola did, indeed, afford him infinite
consolation; they were to him a _via media_ between Protestant
latitude and dogmatic belief.

The republican simplicity, stern morals, and sweeping reforms both in
Church and state preached by Savonarola (reforms, indeed, as radical
as were consistent with Catholicism), were the objects of his special
reverence. Savonarola had died at the stake for practising and for
teaching them; Marescotti declared, with characteristic enthusiasm,
that he was ready to do likewise. Wrong or right, he believed that, if
Savonarola had lived in the nineteenth century, he would have acted
as he himself had done. In the same manner, although an avowed
republican, he was no _sans-culotte._ His strong sense of personal
independence and of freedom, political and religious, caused him to
revolt against what he conceived tyranny or coercion of any kind. Even
constitutional monarchy was not sufficiently free for him. A king and
a court, the royal prerogative of ministers, patent places, pensions,
favors, the unacknowledged influence of a reigning house--represented
to his mind a modified system of tyranny--therefore of corruption.
Constant appeals to the sovereign people, a form of government
where the few yielded to the many, and the rich divided their riches
voluntarily with the poor--was in theory what he advocated.

Yet with these lofty views, these grand aspirations, with unbounded
faith, and unbounded energy and generosity, Marescotti achieved
nothing. He wanted the power of concentration, of bringing his
energies to bear on any one particular object. His mind was like an
old cabinet, crowded with artistic rubbish--gems and rarities, jewels
of price and pearls of the purest water, hidden among faded flowers;
old letters, locks of hair, daggers, tinsel reliquaries, crosses, and
modern grimcracks--all that was incongruous, piled together pell-mell
in hopeless confusion.

His countrymen, singularly timid and conventional, and always
unwilling to admit new ideas upon any subject unless imperatively
forced upon them, did not understand him. They did not appreciate
either his originality or the real strength of his character. He
differed from them and their mediaeval usages--therefore he must
be wrong. He was called eccentric by his friends, a lunatic by his
enemies. He was neither. But he lived much alone; he had dreamed
rather than reflected, and he had planned instead of acting.

"Count Marescotti," said the marchesa, holding out her hand, "I salute
you.--Baldassare, you are welcome."

The intonation of her voice, the change in her manner, gave the exact
degree of consideration proper to accord to the head of an ancient
Roman family, and the dandy son of a Lucca chemist. And, lest it
should be thought strange that the Marchesa Guinigi should admit
Baldassare at all to her presence, I must explain that Baldassare
was a _protégé_, almost a double, of the cavaliere, who insisted upon
taking him wherever he went. If you received the cavaliere, you must,
perforce, receive Baldassare also. No one could explain why this was
so. They were continually quarreling, yet they were always together.
Their intimacy had been the subject of many jokes and some gossip; but
the character of the cavaliere was immaculate, and Baldassare's mother
(now dead) had never lived at Lucca. Trenta, when spoken to on the
subject of his partiality, said he was "educating him" to fill his
place as master of the ceremonies in Lucchese society. Except when
specially bullied by the cavaliere--who greatly enjoyed tormenting him
in public--Baldassare was inoffensive and useful.

Now he pressed forward to the front.

"Signora Marchesa," he said, eagerly, "allow me to make my excuses to
you."

The marchesa turned a surprised and distant gaze upon him; but
Baldassare was not to be discouraged. He had that tough skin of true
vulgarity which is impervious to any thing but downright hard blows.

"Allow me to make my excuses," he continued. "The cavaliere here
has been scolding me all the way up-stairs for not bringing Count
Marescotti sooner to you. I could not."

Marescotti bowed an acquiescence.

"While we were standing in the street, waiting to know if the
noble lady received, an old beggar, known in Lucca as the Hermit of
Pizzorna, come down from the mountains for the festival, passed by."

"Yes, it was a providence," broke in the count--"a real hermit, not
one of those fat friars, with shaven crowns, we have in Rome, but a
genuine recluse, a man whose life is one long act of practical piety."

When Marescotti had entered, he seemed only the calm, high-bred
gentleman; now, as he spoke, his eye sparkled, and his pale cheeks
flushed.

"Yes, I addressed the hermit," he continued, and he raised his fine
head and crossed his hands on his breast as if he were still before
him. "I kissed his bare feet, road-stained with errands of charity.
'My father,' I said to him, 'bless me'--"

"Not only so," interrupted Baldassare, "but, would you believe it,
madame, the count cast himself down on the dusty street to receive his
blessing!"

"And why not?" asked the count, looking at him severely. "It came to
me like a voice from heaven. The hermit is a holy man. Would I were
like him! I have heard of him for thirty years past. Winter after
winter, among those savage mountains, in roaring winds, in sweeping
storms, in frost and snow, and water-floods, he has assisted hundreds,
who, but for him, must infallibly have perished. What courage! what
devotion! It is a poem." Marescotti spoke hurriedly and in a low
voice. "Yes, I craved his blessing. I kissed his hands, his feet.
I would have kissed the ground on which he stood." As he proceeded,
Marescotti grew more and more abstracted. All that he described was
passing like a vision before him. "Those venerable hands--yes, I
kissed them."

"How much money did you leave in them, count?" asked the marchesa,
with a sneer.

"Great is the mercy of God!" ejaculated the count, earnestly,
not heeding her. "Sinner as I am, the touch of those hands--that
blessing--purified me. I feel it."

"Incredible! Well," cried Baldassare, "the price of that blessing will
keep the good man in bread and meat for a year. Let the old beggar go
to the devil, count, his own way. He must soon appear there, anyhow.
A good-for-nothing old cheat! His blessing, indeed! I can get you a
dozen begging friars who will bless you all day for a few farthings."

The count's brow darkened.

"Baldassare," said he, very gravely, "you are young, and, like your
age, inconsiderate. I request that, in my presence, you speak with
becoming respect of this holy man."

"Per Bacco!" exclaimed the cavaliere, advancing from where he had
been standing behind the marchesa's chair, and patting Baldassare
patronizingly on the shoulder, "I never heard you talk so much before
at one time, Baldassare. Now, you had better have held your tongue,
and listened to Count Marescotti. Leading the cotillon last night has
turned your head. Take my advice, however--an old man's advice--stick
to your dancing. You understand that. Every man has his _forte_--yours
is the ballroom."

Baldassare smiled complaisantly at this allusion to the swiftness of
his heels.

"Out of the ballroom," continued Trenta, eying him with quiet scorn,
"I advise caution--great caution. Out of the ballroom you are capable
of any imbecility."

"Cavaliere!" cried Baldassare, turning very red and looking at him
reproachfully.

"You have deserved this reproof, young man," said the marchesa,
harshly. "Learn your place in addressing the Count Marescotti."

That the son of a shopkeeper should presume to dispute in her presence
with a Roman noble, was a thing so unsuitable that, even in her own
house, she must put it down authoritatively. She had never liked
Baldassare--never wanted to receive him, now she resolved never to see
him again; but, as she feared that Trenta would continue to bring him,
under pretext of making up her whist-table, she did not say so.

The medical Adonis was forced to swallow his rage, but his cheeks
tingled. He dared not quarrel either with the marchesa, Trenta, or
the count, by whose joint support alone he could hope to plant himself
firmly in the realms of Lucchese fashionable life--a life which he
felt was his element. Utterly disconcerted, however, he turned down
his eyes, and stared at his boots, which were highly glazed, then
glanced up at his own face (as faultless and impassive as a Greek
mask) in a mirror opposite, hastily arranged his hair, and finally
collapsed into silence and a corner.

At this moment Count Marescotti became suddenly aware of Enrica's
presence. She was, as I have said, sitting in the same place by
the casement, concealed by the curtain, her head bent down over her
knitting. She had only looked up once when Nobili's name had been
mentioned. No one had noticed her. It was not the usage of Casa
Guinigi to notice Enrica. Enrica was not the marchesa's daughter;
therefore, except in marriage, she was not entitled to enjoy
the honors of the house. She was never permitted to take part in
conversation.

Marescotti, who had not seen her since she was fourteen, now bounded
across the room to where she sat, overshadowed by the curtain, bowed
to her formally, then touched the tips of her fingers with his lips.

Enrica raised her eyes. And what eyes they were!--large, melancholy,
brooding, of no certain color, changing as she spoke, as the summer
sky changes the color of the sea. They were more gray than blue, yet
they were blue, with long, dark eyelashes that swept upon her cheeks.
As she looked up and smiled, there was an expression of the most
perfect innocence in her face. It was like a flower that opens its
bosom frankly to the sun.

Marescotti's artistic nature was deeply stirred. He gazed at her in
silence for some minutes; he was seeking in his own mind in what type
of womanhood he should place her. Suddenly an idea struck him.--She
was the living image of the young Madonna--the young Madonna before
the visit of the archangel--pale, meditative, pathetic, but with no
shadow of the future upon her face. Marescotti was so engrossed by
this idea that he remained motionless before her. Each one present
observed his emotion, the marchesa specially; she frowned her
disapproval.

Trenta laughed quietly to himself, then stroked his well-shaved chin.

"Signorina," said the count, at length breaking silence, "permit me to
offer my excuses for not having sooner perceived you. Will you forgive
me?"

"Mio Dio!" muttered the marchesa to herself, "he will turn the child's
head with his fine phrases."

"I have nothing to forgive, count," answered Enrica simply. She spoke
low. Her voice matched the expression of her face; there was a natural
tone of plaintiveness in it.

"When I last saw you," continued the count, standing as if spellbound
before her, "you were only a child. Now," and his kindling eyes
riveted themselves upon her, "you are a woman. Like the magic rose
that was the guerdon of the Troubadours, you have passed in an hour
from leaf to bud, from bud to fairest flower. You were, of course, at
the Orsetti ball last night?" He asked this question, trying to rouse
himself. "What ball in Lucca would be complete without you?"

"I was not there," answered Enrica, blushing deeply and glancing
timidly at the marchesa, who, with a scowl on her face, was fanning
herself violently.

"Not there!" ejaculated Marescotti, with wonder.--"Why, marchesa, is
it not barbarous to shut up your beautiful niece? Is it because you
deem her too precious to be gazed upon? If so, you are right."

And again his eyes, full of ardent admiration, were bent on Enrica.

Enrica dropped her head to hide her confusion, and resumed her
knitting.

It was a golden sunset. The sun was sinking behind the delicate
arcades of the Moorish garden, and spreading broad patches of rosy
light upon the marble. The shrubs, with their bright flowers, were set
against a tawny orange sky. The air was full of light--the last gleams
of parting day. The splash of the fountain upon the lion's heads was
heard in the silence, the heavy perfume of the magnolia-flowers stole
in wafts through the sculptured casements, creeping upward in the soft
evening air.

Still, motionless before Enrica, Marescotti was rapidly falling into a
poetic rapture. The marchesa broke the awkward silence.

"Enrica is a child," she said, dryly. "She knows nothing about balls.
She has never been to one. Pray do not put such ideas into her head,
count," she added, looking at him angrily.

"But, marchesa, your niece is no child--she is a lovely woman,"
insisted the count, his eyes still riveted upon her. The marchesa did
not consider it necessary to answer him.

Meanwhile the cavaliere, who had returned to his seat near her, had
watched the moment when no one was looking that way, had given her a
significant glance, and placed his finger warningly upon his lip.

Not understanding what he meant by this action, the marchesa was at
first inclined to resent it as a liberty, and to rebuke him; but she
thought better of it, and only glanced at him haughtily.

It was not the first time she had found it to her advantage to accept
Trenta's hints. Trenta was a man of the world, and he had his eyes
open. What he meant, however, she could not even guess.

Meanwhile the count had drawn a chair beside Enrica.

"Yes, yes, the Orsetti ball," he said, absently, passing his hand
through the masses of black curls that rested upon his forehead.

He was following out, in his own mind, the notion of addressing an
ode to her in the character of the young Madonna--the uninstructed
Madonna--without that look of pensive suffering painters put into her
eyes.

The Madonna figured prominently in Marescotti's creed, spite of his
belief in the stern precepts of Savonarola--the plastic creed of an
artist, made up of heavenly eyes, ravishing forms, melodious sounds,
rich color, sweeping rhythms, moonlight, and violent emotions.

"I was not there myself--no, or I should have been aware you had
not honored the Countess Orsetti with your presence. But in the
morning--that glorious mass in the old cathedral--you were there?"

Enrica answered that she had not left the house all day, at which the
count raised his eyebrows in astonishment.

"That mass," he continued, "in celebration of a local miracle
(respectable from its antiquity), has haunted me ever since. The
gloomy splendor of the venerable cathedral overwhelmed me; the happy
faces that met me on every side, the spontaneous rejoicing of the
whole population, touched me deeply. I longed to make them free. They
deserve freedom; they shall have it!" A dark fire glistened in his
eye. "I have been lost in day-dreams ever since; I must give them
utterance." And he gazed steadfastly at Enrica.--"I have not left my
room, marchesa, ever since"--at last Marescotti left Enrica's side,
and approached the marchesa--"until an hour ago, when Baldassare"--and
the count bowed to Adonis, still seated sulky in a corner--"came
and carried me off in the hope that you would permit me to join your
rubber. Had I known"--he added, in a lower voice, bending his head
toward Enrica. Then he stopped, suddenly aware that every one was
listening to all he said (a fact which he had been far too much
absorbed to notice previously), colored, and retreated to the sofa
with the spindle-legs.

"Per Bacco!" whispered the cavaliere to the marchesa, sitting near her
on the other side; "I am convinced poor Marescotti has never touched
a morsel of food since that mass--I am certain of it. He always lives
upon a poetical diet, poor devil!--rose-leaves and the beauties of
Nature, with a warm dish now and then in the way of a _ragoût_ of
conspiracy. God help him! he's a greater lunatic than ever." This was
spoken aside into the marchesa's ear. "If you have a soul of pity,
marchesa, order him a chicken before we begin playing, or he will
faint upon the floor." The marchesa smiled.

"I don't like impressionable people at all," she responded, in the
same tone of voice. "In my opinion, feelings should be concealed, not
exhibited." And she sighed, recalling her own silent vigils on the
floor beneath, unknown to all save the cavaliere.

"But--a thousand pardons!" cried Marescotti, gradually waking up to
some social energy, "I have been talking only of myself! Talking of
myself in your presence, ladies!--What can we do to amuse your niece,
marchesa? Lucca is horribly dull. If she is to go neither to festivals
nor to balls, it will not be possible for her to exist here."

"It will be quite possible," answered the marchesa, greatly displeased
at the turn the conversation was taking. "Quite possible, if I choose
it. Enrica will exist where I please. You forget she has lived here
for seventeen years. You see she has not died of it. She stays at home
by my order, count."

Enrica cast a pleading look at her aunt, as if to say, "Can I help all
this?" As for Count Marescotti, he was far too much engrossed with his
own thoughts to be aware that he was treading on delicate ground.

"But, marchesa," he urged, "you can't really keep your niece any
longer shut up like the fairy princess in the tower. Let me be
permitted to act the part of the fairy prince and liberate her."

Again he had turned, and again his glowing eyes fixed themselves on
Enrica, who had withdrawn as much as possible behind the curtains. Her
cheeks were dyed with blushes. She shrank from the count's too ardent
glances, as though those glances were an involuntary treason to
Nobili.

"Something must be done," muttered the count, meditating.

"Will you trust your niece with Cavaliere Trenta, and permit me to
accompany them on some little excursion in the city, to make up for
the loss of the cathedral and the ball?"

The marchesa, who found the count decidedly troublesome, not to say
impertinent, had opened her lips to give an unqualified negative, but
another glance from Trenta checked her.

"An excellent idea," put in the cavaliere, before she could
speak. "With _me_, marchesa--with _me_" he added, looking at her
deprecatingly.

Trenta loved Enrica better than any thing in the world, but carefully
concealed it, the better to serve her with her aunt.

"As for me, I am ready for any thing." And, to show his agility, he
rose, and, with the help of his stick, made a _glissade_ on the floor.

Baldassare laughed out loud from the corner. It gratified his wounded
vanity to see his elder ridiculous.

Marescotti, greatly alarmed, started forward and offered his arm, in
order to lead the cavaliere back to his seat, but Trenta indignantly
refused his assistance. The marchesa shook her head.

"Calm yourself," she said, looking at him compassionately. "Calm
yourself, Cesarino, I should not like you to have a fit in my house."

"Fit!--chè chè?" cried Trenta, angrily. "Not while I am in the
presence of the young and fair," he added, recovering himself. "It is
that which has kept me alive all this time. No, marchesa, I refuse
to sit down again. I refuse to sit down, or to take a hand at your
rubber, until something is settled."

This was addressed to the marchesa, who had caught him by the tails of
his immaculate blue coat and forced him into a seat beside her.

"_Vive la bagatelle_! Where shall we go? You cannot refuse the count,"
he added, giving the marchesa a meaning look. "What shall we do? Let
us all propose something. Let me see. I propose to improve Enrica's
mind. She is young--the young have need of improvement. I propose to
take her to the church of San Frediano and to show her the ancient
fresco representing the discovery of the Holy Countenance; also
the Trenta chapel, containing the tombs of my family. I will try to
explain to her their names and history.--What do you say to this, my
child?"

And the cavaliere turned to Enrica, who, little accustomed to be
noticed at all, much less to occupy the whole conversation, looked
supplicatingly at her aunt. She would gladly have run out of the room
if she had dared.

"No, no," exclaimed the irrepressible Baldassare, from the corner.
"Never! What a ghastly idea! Tombs and a mouldy old church! You may
find satisfaction, Signore Trenta, in the contemplation of your tomb,
but the signorina is not eighty, nor am I, nor is the count. I propose
that after being shut up so many years the Guinigi Palace be thrown
open, and a ball given on the first floor in honor of the signorina.
There should be a band from Florence and presents from Paris for the
cotillon. What do you say to _that_, Signora Marchesa?" asked the
misguided young man, with unconscious self-satisfaction.

If a mine had sprung under the marchesa's feet, she could not have
been more horrified. What she would have said to Baldassare is
difficult to guess, but fortunately for him, while she was struggling
for words in which she could suitably express her sense of his
presumption, Trenta, seeing what was coming, was beforehand.

"Be silent, Baldassare," he exclaimed, "or, per Dio, I will never
bring you here again."

Before Baldassare could offer his apologies, the count burst in--

"I propose that we shall show the signorina something that will amuse
her." He thought for a moment. "Have you ever ascended the old tower
of this palace?" he asked.

Enrica shook her head.

"Then I propose the Guinigi Tower--the stairs are rather rickety, but
they are not unsafe. I was there the last time I visited Lucca. The
view over the Apennines is superb. Will you trust yourself to us,
signorina?"

Enrica raised her head and looked at him hesitatingly, glanced at
her aunt, then looked at him again. Until the marchesa had spoken she
dared not reply. She longed to go. If she ascended the tower, might
she not see Nobili? She had not set her eyes on him for a whole week.

Marescotti saw her hesitation, but he misunderstood the cause. He
returned her look with an ardent glance. Where was the young Madonna
leading him? He did not stop to inquire, but surrendered himself to
the enchantment of her presence.

"Is my proposal accepted?" Count Marescotti inquired, anxiously
turning toward the marchesa, who sat listening to them with a
deeply-offended air.

"And mine too?" put in the cavaliere. "Both can be combined. I should
so much like to show Enrica the tombs of the Trenta. We have been a
famous family in our time. Do not refuse us, marchesa."

All this was entirely out of the habits of Casa Guinigi. Hitherto
Enrica had been kept in absolute subjection. If she were present no
one spoke to her, or noticed her. Now all this was to be changed,
because Count Marescotti had come up from Rome. Enrica was not only to
be gazed at and flattered, but to engross attention.

The marchesa showed evident tokens of serious displeasure. Had Count
Marescotti not been present, she would assuredly have expressed this
displeasure in very strong language. In all matters connected with her
niece, with her household, and with the management of her own affairs,
she could not tolerate remark, much less interference. Every kind of
interference was offensive to her. She believed in herself, as I have
said, blindly: never, up to that time, had that belief been shaken.
All this discussion was, to her mind, worse than interference--it was
absolute revolution. She inwardly resolved to shut up her house and
go into the country, rather than submit to it. She eyed the count, who
stood waiting for an answer, as if he were an enemy, and scowled at
the excellent Trenta.

Enrica, too, had fixed her eyes upon her beseechingly; Enrica
evidently wanted to go. The marchesa had already opened her lips to
give an abrupt refusal, when she felt a warning hand laid upon her
arm. Again she was shaken in her purpose of refusal. She rose, and
approached the card-table.

"I shall take time to consider," she replied to the inquiring eyes
awaiting her reply.

The marchesa took up the pack of cards and examined the markers.
She was debating with herself what Trenta could possibly mean by his
extraordinary conduct, _twice_ repeated.

"You had better retire now," she said to Enrica, with an expression of
hostility her niece knew too well. "You have listened to quite enough
folly for one night. Men are flatterers."

"Not I! not I!" cried Marescotti. "I never say any thing but what I
mean."

And he flew toward the door in order to open it before Enrica could
reach it.

"All good angels guard you!" he whispered, with a tender voice, into
her ear, as, greatly confused, she passed by him, into the anteroom.
"May you find all men as true as I! Per Dio! she is the living
image of the young Madonna!" he added, half aloud, gazing after her.
"Countenance, manner, air--it is perfect!"

A match was now produced out of Trenta's pocket. The candles were
lighted, and the casements closed. The party then sat down to whist.

The marchesa was always specially irritable when at cards. The
previous conversation had not improved her temper. Moreover, the count
was her partner, and a worse one could hardly be conceived. Twice
he did not even take up the cards dealt to him, but sat immovable,
staring at the print of the Empress Eugénie in the Spanish dress on
the green wall opposite. Called to order peremptorily by the marchesa,
he took up his cards, shuffled them, then laid them down again on
the table, his eyes wandering off to the chair hitherto occupied by
Enrica.

This was intolerable. The marchesa showed him that she thought so. He
apologized. He did take up his cards, and for a few deals attended
to the game. Again becoming abstracted, he forgot what were trumps,
losing thereby several tricks. Finally, he revoked. Both the marchesa
and the cavaliere rebuked him very sharply. Again he apologized, tried
to collect his thoughts, but still played abominably.

Meanwhile, Trenta and Baldassare kept up a perpetual wrangle. The
cavaliere was cool, sardonic, smiling, and provoking--Baldassare hot
and flushed with a concentration of rage he dared not express.
The cavaliere, thanks to his court education, was an admirable
whist-player. His frequent observations to his young friend were
excellent as instruction, but were conveyed in somewhat contemptuous
language. Baldassare, having been told by the cavaliere that playing
a good hand at whist was as necessary to his future social success as
dancing, was much chagrined.

Poor Baldassare!--his life was a continual conflict--a sacrifice to
his love of fine company. It might be doubted if he would not
have been infinitely happier in the atmosphere of the paternal
establishment, weighing out drugs, in shabby clothes, behind the
counter, than he was now, snubbed and affronted, and barely tolerated.

After this the marchesa and Trenta became partners; but matters did
not improve. A violent altercation ensued as to who led a certain
crucial card, which decided the game. Once seated at the whist-table,
the cavaliere was a real autocrat. _There_ he did not affect even to
submit to the marchesa. Now, provoked beyond endurance, he plainly
told her "she never had played a good game, and, what was more,
that she never would--she was too impetuous." Upon hearing this the
marchesa threw down her cards in a rage, and rose from the table.
Trenta rose also. With an imperturbable countenance he offered her his
arm, to lead her back to her seat.

The marchesa, extremely irate at what he had said, pushed him rudely
to one side and reseated herself.

Baldassare and Marescotti rose also. The count, having continued
persistently absent up to the last, was utterly unconscious of the
little fracas that had taken place between the marchesa and the
cavaliere, and the consequent sudden conclusion of the game. He had
seen her rise, and it was a great relief to him. He had been debating
in his own mind whether he should adopt the Dante rhyme for his ode to
the young Madonna, or make it in strophes. He inclined to the latter
treatment as more picturesque, and therefore more suitable to the
subject.

"May I," said he, suddenly roused to what was passing about him, and
advancing with a gracious smile upon his mobile face, lit up by the
pleasant musings of the whist-table--pleasant to him, but assuredly
not pleasant to his partner--"may I hope, marchesa, that you will
acquiesce in our little plan for to-morrow?"

The marchesa had come by this time to look on the count as a bore, of
whom she was anxious to rid herself. She was so anxious, indeed, to
rid herself of him that she actually assented.

"My niece, Signore Conte," she said, stiffly, "shall be ready with
her gouvernante and the Cavaliere Trenta, at eleven o'clock to-morrow.
Now--good-night!"

Marescotti took the hint, bowed, and departed arm-in-arm with
Baldassare.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE CABINET COUNCIL.


When the count and Baldassare had left the room, Cavaliere Trenta made
no motion to follow them. On the contrary, he leaned back in the chair
on which he was seated, and nursed his leg with the nankeen trouser
meditatively. The expression of his face showed that his thoughts were
busy with some project he desired to communicate. Until he had done so
in his own way, and at his own time, he would continue to sit where he
was. It was this imperturbable self-possession and good-humor combined
which gave him so much influence over the irascible marchesa. They
were as iron to fire, only the iron was never heated.

The marchesa, deeply resenting his remarks upon her whist playing,
tapped her foot impatiently on the floor, fanned herself, and glowered
at him out of the darkness which the single pair of candles did not
dispel. As he still made no motion to go, she took out her watch,
looked at it, and, with an exclamation of surprise, rose. Quite
useless. Trenta did not stir.

"Marchesa," he said at last, abruptly, raising his head and looking at
her, "do me the favor to sit down. Spare me a few moments before you
retire."

"I want to go to bed," she answered, rudely. "It is already past my
usual hour."

"Marchesa--one moment. I permitted myself the liberty of an old friend
just now--to check your speech to Count Marescotti."

"Yes," said she, drawing up her long throat, and throwing back her
head, an action habitual to her when displeased, "you did so. I did
not understand it. We have been acquainted quite long enough for you
to know I do not like interference."

"Pardon me, noble lady"--(Trenta spoke very meekly--to soothe her
now was absolutely necessary)--"pardon me, for the sake of my good
intentions."

"And pray what _were_ your good intentions, cavaliere?" she asked, in
a mocking tone, reseating herself. Her curiosity was rapidly getting
the better of her resentment.

As she asked the question, the cavaliere left off nursing his leg with
the nankeen trouser, rose, drew his chair closer to hers, then sat
down again. The light from the single pair of candles was very dim,
and scarcely extended beyond the card-table. Both their heads were
therefore in shadow, but the marchesa's eyes gleamed nevertheless, as
she waited for Trenta's explanation.

"Did you observe nothing this evening, my friend?" he
asked--"_nothing_?" His manner was unusually excited.

"No," she answered, thoughtfully. She had been so exclusively occupied
with the slights put upon herself that every thing else had escaped
her. "I observed nothing except the impertinence of Count Marescotti,
and the audacity--the--"

"Stop, marchesa," interrupted Trenta, holding up his hand. "We will
talk of all that another time. If Count Marescotti and Baldassare have
offended you, you can decline to receive them. You observed
nothing, you say? I did." He leaned forward, and spoke with
emphasis--"Marescotti is in love with Enrica."

The marchesa started violently and raised herself bolt upright.

"The Red count in love with a child like Enrica!"

"Only a child in your eyes, Signora Marchesa," rejoined Trenta,
warmly. (He had warmed with his own convictions, his benevolent heart
was deeply interested in Enrica. He had known her since she had first
come to Casa Guinigi, a baby; from his soul he pitied her.) "In the
eyes of the world Enrica is not only a woman, but promises to be a
very lovely one. She is seventeen years old, and marriageable. Young
ladies of her name and position must have fortunes, or they do not
marry well. If they do, it is a chance--quite a chance. Under these
circumstances, it would be cruel to deprive her of so suitable an
alliance as Count Marescotti. Now, allow me to ask you, seriously, how
would this marriage suit you?"

"Not at all," replied the marchesa, curtly. "The count is a
republican. I hate republicans. The Guinigi have always been
Ghibelline, and loyal. I dislike him, too, personally. I was about to
desire you never to bring him here again. Contact with low people has
spoiled him. His manners are detestable."

"But, marchesa, che vuole?" Trenta shrugged his shoulders. "He belongs
to one of the oldest families in Rome; he is well off, handsome (he
reminds me of your ancestor, Castruccio Castracani); a wife might
improve him." The marchesa shook her head.

"He like the great Castruccio!--I do not see it."

"Permit me," resumed Trenta, "without entering into details which, as
a friend, you have confided to me, I must remind you that your affairs
are seriously embarrassed."

The marchesa winced; she guessed what was coming. She knew that she
could not deny it.

"You are embarrassed by lawsuits. Unfortunately, all have gone against
you."

"I fought for the ancient privileges of the Guinigi!" burst out the
marchesa, imperiously. "I would do it again."

"I do not in the least doubt you would do it again, exalted lady,"
responded Trenta, with a quiet smile. "Indeed, I feel assured of it.
I merely state the fact. You have sacrificed large sums of money. You
have lost every suit. The costs have been enormous. Your income is
greatly reduced. Enrica is therefore portionless."

"No, no, not altogether." The marchesa moved nervously in her chair,
carefully avoiding meeting Trenta's steely blue eyes. "I have saved
money, Cesarino--I have indeed," she repeated. The marchesa was
becoming quite affable. "I cannot touch the heirlooms. But Enrica will
have a small portion."

"Well, well," replied Trenta. "But it is impossible you can have saved
much since the termination of that last long suit with the chapter
about your right to the second bench in the nave of the cathedral, the
bench awarded to Count Nobili when he bought the palace. The expense
was too great, and the trial too recent."

She made no reply.

"Then there was that other affair with the municipality about the
right of flying the flag from the Guinigi Tower. I do not mention
small affairs, such as disputes with your late steward at Corellia,
trials at Barga, nor litigation here at Lucca on a small scale. My
dear marchesa, you have found the law an expensive pastime." The
cavaliere's round eyes twinkled as he said this. "Enrica is therefore
virtually portionless. The choice lies between a husband who will wed
her for herself, or a convent. If I understand your views, a convent
would not suit you. Besides, you would not surely voluntarily condemn
a girl, without vocation, and brought up beside you, to the seclusion
of a convent?"

"But Enrica is a child--I tell you she is too young to think about
marriage, cavaliere."

The marchesa spoke with anger. She would stave off as long as possible
the principal question--that of marriage. Sudden proposals,
too, emanating from others, always nettled her; it narrowed her
prerogative.

"Besides," objected the marchesa, still fencing with the real
question, "who can answer for Count Marescotti? He is so capricious!
Supposing he likes Enrica to-day, he may change before to-morrow. Do
you really think he can care enough about Enrica to marry her? Her
name would be nothing to him."

"I think he does care for her," replied Trenta, reflectively; "but
that can be ascertained. Enrica is a fit consort for a far greater man
than Count Marescotti. Not that he, as you say, would care about her
name. Remember, she will be your heiress--that is something."

"Yes, yes, my heiress," answered the marchesa, vaguely; for the
dreadful question rose up in her mind, "What would Enrica have to
inherit?"

That very day she had received a most insolent letter from a creditor.
Under the influence of the painful thoughts, she turned her head aside
and said nothing. One of her hands was raised over her eyes to shade
them from the candles; the other rested on her dark dress.

If a marriage were really in question, what could be more serious?
Was not Enrica's marriage to raise up heirs to the Guinigi--heirs to
inherit the palace and the heirlooms? If--the marchesa banished the
thought, but it would return, and haunt her like a spectre--if not the
palace, then at least the name--the historic name, revered throughout
Italy? Nothing could deprive Enrica of the name--that name was in
itself a dower. That Enrica should possess both name and palace, with
a husband of her--the marchesa's--own choosing, had been her dream,
but it had been a far-off dream--a dream to be realized in the course
of years.

Taken thus aback, the proposal made by Trenta appeared to her hurried
and premature--totally wanting in the dignified and well-considered
action that should mark the conduct of the great. Besides, if an
immediate marriage were arranged between Count Marescotti and Enrica,
only a part of her plan could be realized. Enrica was, indeed,
now almost portionless; there would be no time to pile up those
gold-pieces, or to swell those rustling sheaves of notes that she
had--in imagination--accumulated.

"Portionless!" the marchesa repeated to herself, half aloud. "What a
humiliation!--my own niece!"

It will be observed that all this time the marchesa had never
considered what Enrica's feeling might be. She was to obey her--that
was all.

But in this the marchesa was not to blame. She undoubtedly carried
her idea of Enrica's subserviency too far; but custom was on her side.
Marriages among persons of high rank are "arranged" in Italy--arranged
by families or by priests, acting as go-betweens. The lady leaves the
convent, and her marriage is arranged. She is unconscious that she has
a heart--she only discovers that unruly member afterward. To love a
husband is unnecessary; there are so many "golden youths" to choose
from. And the husband has his pastime too. Cosi fan tutti! It is a
round game!

All this time the cavaliere had never taken his eyes off his friend.
To a certain extent he understood what was passing in her mind. A
portionless niece would reveal her poverty.

"A good marriage is a good thing," he suggested, as a safe general
remark, after having waited in vain for some response.

"In all I do," the marchesa answered, loftily, "I must first consider
what is due to the dignity of my position." Trenta bowed.

"Decidedly, marchesa; that is your duty. But what then?"

"No feeling _whatever_ but that will influence me _now_, or
hereafter--nothing." She dwelt upon the last word defiantly, as the
final expression of her mind. Spite of this defiance, there was,
however, a certain hesitation in her manner which did not escape the
cavaliere. As she spoke, she looked hard at him, and touched his arm
to arouse his attention.

Trenta, who knew her so well, perfectly interpreted her meaning. His
ruddy cheeks flushed crimson; his kindly eyes kindled; he felt sure
that his advice would be accepted. She was yielding, but he must
be most cautious not to let his satisfaction appear. So strangely
contradictory was the marchesa that, although nothing could possibly
be more advantageous to her own schemes than this marriage, she might,
if indiscreetly pressed, veer round, and, in spite of her interest,
refuse to listen to another syllable on the subject.

All this kept the cavaliere silent. Receiving no answer, she looked
suspiciously at him, then grasped his arm tightly.

"And you, cavaliere--how long have you been so deeply interested in
Enrica? What is she to you? Her future can only signify to you as far
as it affects myself."

She waited for a reply. What was the cavaliere to answer? He loved
Enrica dearly, but he dared not say so, lest he should offend the
marchesa. He feared that if he spoke he should assuredly say too much.
Well as he knew her, the marchesa's egotism horrified him.

"Poor Enrica!" he muttered, involuntarily, half aloud.

The marchesa caught at the name.

"Enrica?--yes. From the time of my husband's death I have sacrificed
my life to the duties imposed on me by my position. So must Enrica. No
personal feeling for her shall bias me in the least."

Her eyes were fixed on those of Trenta. She paused again, and passed
her white hand slowly one over the other. The cavaliere looked down;
he durst not meet her glance, lest she should read his thoughts.
Thinking of Enrica at that moment, he absolutely hated her!

"What would you advise me to do?" she asked, at last. Her voice fell
as she put the question.

Trenta had been waiting for this direct appeal. Now his tongue was
unloosed.

"I will tell you, Signora Marchesa, plainly what I would advise you
to do," was his answer. "Let Enrica marry Marescotti. Put the whole
matter into my hands, if you have sufficient confidence in me."

"Remember, Trenta, the humiliation!"

"What humiliation?" asked the cavaliere, with surprise.

"The humiliation involved in the confession that my niece is almost
portionless." The words seemed to choke her. "She will inherit all I
have to leave," and she glanced significantly at the cavaliere; "but
that is--you understand me?--uncertain."

"Bagatella!--that will be all right," he rejoined, with alacrity. "The
idea of money will not sway Marescotti in the least. He is wealthy--a
fine fellow. Have no fear of that. Leave it all to me, Enrica, and
Marescotti. I am an old courtier. Many a royal marriage has passed
through my hands. Per Bacco--though no one but the duke knew
it--through my hands! You may trust me, marchesa."

There was a proud consciousness of the past in the old man's face. He
showed such perfect confidence in himself that he imparted the same
confidence to the marchesa.

"I would trust no one else, Cesarino," she said, rising from her
chair. "But be cautious; bind me to nothing until we meet again. I
must hear all that passes between you and the count, then judge for
myself."

"I will obey you in all things, noble lady," replied Trenta,
submissively.

How he dreaded betraying his secret exultation! To emancipate
Enrica from her miserable life by an honorable marriage, was, to his
benevolent heart, infinite happiness!

"Good-night, marchesa. May you repose well!"

"Good-night, Cesarino--a rivederci!"

So they parted.



CHAPTER IX.

THE COUNTESS ORSETTI'S BALL.


The ball at Casa Orsetti was much canvassed in Lucca. Hospitality is
by no means a cardinal virtue in Italy. Even in the greatest houses,
the bread and salt of the Arab is not offered to you--or, if offered
at all, appears in the shape of such dangerously acid lemonade or
such weak tea, it is best avoided. Every year there are dances at the
Casino dei Nobili, during the Carnival, and there are veglioni, or
balls, at the theatre, where ladies go masked and in dominoes, but
do not dance; but these annual dissipations are paid for by ticket.
A general reception, therefore, including dancing, supper, and
champagne, _gratis_, was an event.

The Orsetti Palace, a huge square edifice of reddish-gray stone, with
overtopping roof, four tiers of lofty windows, and a broad arched
entrance, or portone, with dark-green doors, stands in the street
of San Michele. You pass it, going from the railway-station to the
city-gate (where the Lucchese lions keep guard), and the road leads
onward to the peaked mountains over Spezia.

On the evening of the ball the entire street of San Michele was hung
with Chinese lanterns, arranged in festoons. Opposite the entrance
shone a gigantic star of gas. The palace itself was a blaze of
light. As the night was warm, every window was thrown open;
chandeliers--scintillating like jeweled fountains--hung from the
ceilings; wax-lights innumerable, in gilded sconces, were grouped upon
the walls; crimson-silk curtains cast a ruddy glare across the street,
and the sound of harps and violins floated through the night air. The
crowd of beggars and idlers, generally gathered in the street, saw so
much that they might be considered to "assist," in an independent
but festive capacity, at the entertainment from outside. Matches were
hawked about for the convenience of the male portion of this
extempore assembly, and fruit in baskets was on sale for the women.
"Cigars--cigars of quality!"--"Good fruit--ripe fruit!" were cries
audible even in the ballroom; and a fine aroma of coarse tobacco
mounted rapidly upward to the illuminated windows.

Within the archway groups of servants were ranged in the Orsetti
livery. Also a magnificent personage, not to be classed with any of
the other domestics, wearing a silver chain with a key passed across
his breast. The personage called a major-domo, in the discharge of
his duty, divested the ladies of their shawls, and arranged their
draperies.

All this was witnessed with much glee by the plebs outside--the men
smoking, the women eating and talking. As the guests arrived in rapid
succession, the plebs pressed more and more forward, until at last
some of the boldest stood within the threshold. The giants in
livery not only tolerated this, but might be said to observe them
individually with favor--seeing how much of their admiration was
bestowed on themselves and their fine clothes. The major-domo also,
with amiable condescension, affected not to notice them--no, not even
when one tall fellow, a butcher, with eyes as black as sloes, a pipe
in his mouth, and a coarse cloak wrapped round him, took off his
hat to the Princess Cardeneff, as she passed by him glittering with
diamonds, and cried in her face, "Oh! bella, bella!"

When the major-domo had performed those mysteries intrusted to him,
attendant giants threw open folding doors at the farther end of the
court, and the bright visions disappeared into a long gallery on the
ground-floor, painted in brilliant frescoes, to the reception-room.
The suite of rooms on the ground-floor are the summer apartments,
specially arranged for air and coolness. Rustic chairs stand against
walls painted with fruit and flowers, the stems and leaves represented
as growing out of the floor, as at Pompeii. The whole saloon is like
a _parterre_. Settees, sofas, and cozy Paris chairs covered with rich
satins, are placed under arbors of light-gilt trellis-work, wreathed
with exquisite creepers in full flower. Palms, orange and lemon trees,
flowering cacti, and large-leaved cane-plants, are grouped about;
consoles and marble tables, covered with the loveliest cut flowers.

Near the door, in the first of these floral saloons where sweet scents
made the air heavy, stands the Countess Orsetti. Although she had
certainly passed that great female climacteric, forty, a stately
presence, white skin, abundant hair, and good features treated
artistically, gave her still a certain claim to matronly beauty. She
greets each guest with compliments and phrases which would have been
deemed excessive out of Italy. Here in Lucca, where she met most of
her guests every day, these compliments and phrases were not only
excessive, but wearisome and out of place. Yet such is the custom of
the country, and to such fulsome flattery do the language and common
usage lend themselves. Countess Orsetti, therefore, is not responsible
for this absurdity.

Her son is beside her. He is short, stout, and smiling, with a
hesitating manner, and a habit of referring every thing to his
magnificent mamma. Away from his mamma, he is frank, talkative, and
amusing. It is to be hoped that he will marry soon, and escape from
the leading-strings. If he marries Teresa Ottolini--and it is said
such a result is certain--no palace in Lucca would be big enough to
hold Teresa and the countess-mother at one time.

Group after group enters, bows to the countess, and passes on among
the flowers: the Countess Navascoes (with her lord), pale, statuesque,
dark-eyed, raven-haired--a type of Italian womanhood; Marchesa
Manzi--born of the noble house of Buoncampagni--looking as if she
had walked out of a picture by Titian; the Da Gia, separated from
her husband--a little habit, this, of Italian ladies, consequent upon
intimacy with the _jeunesse dorée_, who prefer the wives of their best
friends to all other women--it saves trouble, and a "golden youth"
is essentially idle. This little habit, moreover, of separation from
husbands does not damage the lady in the least; no one inquires what
has happened, or who is in the wrong. Society receives and pets her
just the same, and, quite impartial, receives and pets the husband
also.--Luisa Bernardini, a glowing little countess, as plump as an
ortolan, dimpling with smiles, an ugly old husband at her side--comes
next. It is whispered, unless the ugly old husband is blind as well
as deaf, they will be separated, too, very shortly. Young Civilla,
a "golden youth," is so very pressing. He could live with Luisa
at Naples--a cheap place. They might have gone on for years as a
triangular household--but for Civilla's carelessness. Civilla would
always put out old Bernardini about the dinner. (Civilla dined at
Bernardini's house every day, as he would at a _café_.) Now, old
Bernardini did not care a button that his little wife had a lover; it
would not have been _en règle_ if she had not--nor did he care that
his wife's lover should dine with him every day--not a bit--but old
Bernardini is a gourmand, and he does care to be kept waiting for his
dinner. He has lately confided to a friend, that he should be sorry
to cause a scandal, but that he must separate from his wife if Civilla
will not reform in the matter of the dinner-hour. "He is getting old,"
Bernardini says, "and his digestion suffers." No man keeps a French
cook to be kept waiting for his dinner.

Luisa, who looks the picture of innocence, wears an unexceptionable
pink dress, with a train that bodes ill-luck, and many apologies, to
her partners. A long train is Luisa's little game. (Spite of Civilla,
she has many other little games.) Fragments of the train fly about the
room all the evening, and admirers take care that she shall see
these picked up, fervently kissed, and stowed away as relics in
breast-pockets. One enthusiast pinned his fragment to his shoulder,
like an order--a knight of San Luisa, he called himself.

Teresa Ottolini, with her mother, has just arrived. Being single,
Teresa either is, or affects to be, excessively steady; no one would
marry her if she were not--not even the good-natured Orsetti. Your
Italian husband _in futuro_ will pardon nothing in his wife that
may be--not even that her dress should be conspicuous, much less
her manners. Neither is it expedient that she should be seen much
in society. That dangerous phalanx of "golden youth" are ever on the
watch, "gentlemen sportsmen," to a man; their sport, woman. If she
goes out much these "golden youth" might compromise her. Less than
a breath upon a maiden's name is social death. That name must not be
coupled with any man's--not coupled even in lightest parlance. So the
lady waits, waits until she has a husband--it is more piquant to be
a naughty wife than a fast miss--then she makes her choice--one, or
a dozen--it is a matter of taste. Danger is added to vice; and that
element of intrigue dear to the Italian soul, both male and female.
The _jeunesse dorée_ delight in mild danger--a duel with swords,
not pistols, with a foolish husband. Why cannot he grin and bear
it?--others do.

But to return to Teresa. She is courtesying very low to the Countess
Orsetti. Although it is well known that these ladies hate each other,
Countess Orsetti receives Teresa with a special welcome, kisses her
on both cheeks, addresses more compliments to her, and makes her more
courtesies than to any one else. How beautiful she is, the Ottolini,
with those white flowers twisted into the braids of her chestnut
hair!--those large, lazy eyes, too--like sleeping volcanoes!--Count
Orsetti thinks her beautiful, clearly; for, under the full battery of
his mother's glances, he advances to meet her, blushing like a girl.
He presses Teresa's hand, and whispers in her ear that "she must
not forget her promise about the cotillon. He has lived upon it ever
since." Her reply has apparently satisfied him, for the honest fellow
breaks out all over into smiles and bows and amorous glances. Then
she passes on, the fair Teresa, like a queen, followed by looks of
unmistakable admiration--much more unmistakable looks of admiration
than would be permitted elsewhere; but we are in Italy, where men are
born artists and have artistic feelings.

The men, as a rule, are neither as distinguished looking nor as well
dressed as the women. The type of the Lucchese nobleman is dark,
short, and commonplace--rustic is the word.

There is the usual crowding in doorways, and appropriation of seats
whence arrivals can be seen and criticised. But there is no line
of melancholy young girls wanting partners. The gentlemen decidedly
predominate, and all the ladies, except Teresa Ottolini and the
Boccarini, are married.

The Marchesa Boccarini had already arrived, accompanied by her three
daughters. They are seated near the door leading from the first
saloon, where Countess Orsetti is stationed. In front of them is
a group of flowering plants and palm-trees. Madame Boccarini peers
through the leaves, glass in eye. As a general scans the advance
of the enemy's troops from behind an ambush, calculates what their
probable movements will be, and how he can foil them--either by open
attack or feigned retreat, skirmish or manoeuvre--so Madame Boccarini
scans the various arrivals between the dark-green foliage.

To her every young and pretty woman is a rival to her daughters; if
a rival, an enemy--if an enemy, to be annihilated if possible, or at
least disabled, and driven ignominiously from the field.

It is well known that the Boccarini girls are poor. They will have no
portions--every one understands that. The Boccarini girls must marry
as they can; no priest will interest himself in their espousals. It
was this that made Nera so attractive. She was perfectly natural and
unconventionally bold--"like an English mees," it was said--with
looks of horror. (The Americans have much to answer for; they have
emancipated young ladies; all their sins, and our own to boot, we have
to answer for abroad.)

The Boccarini were in reality so poor that it was no uncommon thing
for them to remain at home because they could not afford to buy new
dresses in which to display themselves. (Poor Madame Boccarini felt
this far more than the girls did themselves.) To be seen more than
thrice in the same dress is impossible. Lucca is so small, every one's
clothes are known. There was no throwing dust in the eyes of dear
female friends in this particular.

On the present occasion the Boccarini girls had made great efforts to
produce a brilliant result. Madame Boccarini had told her daughters
that they must expect no fresh dresses for six months at least, so
great had been the outlay. Nera, on hearing this, had tossed her
stately head, and had inwardly resolved that before six months she
would marry--and that, dress or no dress, she would go wherever she
had a chance of meeting Count Nobili. Her mother tacitly concurred in
these views, as far as Count Nobili was concerned, but said nothing.

A Belgravian mother who frankly drills her daughter and points out,
_viva voce_, when to advance and when to retreat, and to whom the
honors of war are to be accorded--is an article not yet imported into
classic Italy with the current Anglomania.

Beside Nera sat Prince Ruspoli, a young Roman of great wealth. Ruspoli
aspired to lead the fashion, but not even Poole could well tailor him.
(Ruspoli was called _poule mouillée_.) Nature had not intended it.
His tall, gaunt figure, long arms, and thin legs, rendered him
artistically unavailable. The music has just sounded from a large
saloon at the end of the suite, and Prince Ruspoli has offered his arm
to Nera for the first waltz. If Count Nobili had arrived, she would
have refused Ruspoli, even on the chance of losing the dance; but he
had not come. Her sisters, who are older, and less attractive than
herself, had as yet found no partners; but they were habitually
resigned and amiable, and submitted with perfect meekness to be
obliterated by Nera.

A knot of young men have now formed near the door of the
dancing-saloon. They are eagerly discussing the cotillon, the final
dance of the evening. Count Orsetti had left his mother's side and
joined them.

The cotillon is a matter of grave consideration--the very gravest.
Indeed it was very seldom these young heads considered any thing
so grave. On the success of the cotillon depends the success of the
evening. All the "presents" had come from Paris. Some of the figures
were new and required consultation.

"I mean to dance with Teresa Ottolini," announced Count Orsetti,
timidly--he could not name Teresa without reddening. "We arranged it
together a month ago."

"And I am engaged to Countess Navascoes," said Count Malatesta.

This engagement was said to have begun some years back, and to be very
enthralling. No one objected, least of all the husband, who worshiped
at the shrine of the blooming Bernardini when she quarreled with
Civilla. A lady of fashion has a choice of lovers, as she has a choice
of dresses--for all emergencies.

"But how about these new figures?" asked Orsetti.

"Per Bacco--hear the music!" cried Malatesta. "What a delicious waltz!
I want to dance. Let's settle it at once. Who's to lead?"

"Oh! Baldassare, of course," replied Franchi, a sallow, languid young
man, who looked as if he had been raised in a hot-house, and had lost
all his color. "Nobody else would take the trouble. Who is he to dance
with?"

"Let him see who will have him. I shall not interfere. He'll dance
for both, anyhow," answered Orsetti, laughing. "No one competes with
Adonis."

"Where is he?"

"Oh! dancing, of course," returned Orsetti. "Don't you see him
twirling round like a teetotum, with Marchesa Amici 'of the
swan-neck?'" And he pointed to a pair who were waltzing with
such precision that they never by a single step broke the
circle--Baldassare gallantly receiving the charge of any free lancers
who flung themselves in their path.

Baldassare is much elated at being permitted to dance with "the
swan-neck," a little faded now, but once a noted beauty. The swan-neck
is a famous lady. Ill-natured persons might have added an awkward
syllable to _famous._ She had been very dear to a great Russian
magnate who lived in a villa lined with malachite, and loaded her
with gifts. But as the marquis, her husband, was always with her and
invariably spoke of his wife as an angel, where was the harm? Now the
Russian magnate was dead, and the Marchesa Amici had retired to Lucca,
to enjoy the spoils along with her discreet and complaisant marquis.

"How that young fellow does push himself!" observes the cynical
Franchi. "Dancing with the Amici--such a great lady! Nothing is sacred
to him."

"I wish Nobili were come." It was Orsetti who spoke now. "I should
have liked him to lead instead of Baldassare. Adonis is getting
forward. He wants keeping in order. Will no one else lead? I cannot,
in my own house."

"Oh! but you would mortally offend poor Trenta if you did not let
Baldassare lead. The women will keep him in order," was the immediate
reply of a young man who had not yet spoken. "The cavaliere must
marshal the dancers, and Baldassare must lead, or the old man would
break his heart."

"I wish Nobili were here all the same," replied Orsetti. "If he does
not come soon, we must select his partner for him. Whom is he to
have?"

"Oh! Nera Boccarini, of course," responded two or three voices, amid a
general titter.

"I don't think Nobili cares a straw about Nera," put in the languid
Franchi, drawling out his words. "I have heard quite another story
about Nobili. Give Nera to Ruspoli. He seems about to take her for
life. I wish him joy!" with a sneer. "Ruspoli likes English manners.
Nera won't get Nobili, my word upon _that_--there are too many stories
about her."

But these remarks at the moment passed unnoticed. No one asked what
Franchi had heard, all being intent about the cotillon and the choice
of partners.

"Well," burst out Orsetti, no longer able to resist the music (the
waltz had been turned into a galop), "I am sure I don't care if Nobili
or Ruspoli likes Nera. I shall not try to cut them out."

"No, no, not you, Orsetti! We know your taste does not lie in that
quarter. Yours is the domestic style, chaste and frigid!" cried
Malatesta, with a sardonic smile. There was a laugh. Malatesta was
so bad, even according to the code of the "golden youths," that he
compromised any lady by his attentions. Orsetti blushed crimson.

"Pardon me," he replied, much confused, "I must go; my partner is
looking daggers at me. Call up old Trenta and tell him what he has
to do." Orsetti rushes off to the next room, where Teresa Ottolini is
waiting for him, with a look of gentle reproach in her sleepy eyes,
where lies the hidden fire.

Meanwhile Cavaliere Trenta's white head, immaculate blue coat and gold
buttons--to which coat were attached several orders--had been seen
hovering about from chair to chair through the rooms. He attached
himself specially to elderly ladies, his contemporaries. To these he
repeated the identical high-flown compliments he had addressed to
them thirty years before, in the court circle of the Duke of
Lucca--compliments such as elderly ladies love, though conscious all
the time of their absurd inappropriateness.

Like the dried-up rose-bud of one's youth, religiously preserved as a
relic, there is a faint flavor of youth and pleasure about them,
sweet still, as a remembrance of the past. "Always beautiful, always
amiable!" murmured the cavaliere, like a rhyme, a placid smile upon
his rosy face.

Summoned to the cabinet council held near the door, Trenta becomes
intensely interested. He weighs each detail, he decides every point
with the gravity of a judge: how the new figures are to be danced, and
with whom Baldassare is to lead--no one else could do it. He himself
would marshal the dances.

The double orchestra now play as if they were trying to drown each
other. Half a dozen rooms are full of dancers. The matrons, and older
men, have subsided into whist up-stairs. All the ladies have found
partners; there is not a single wall-flower.

Nothing could exceed the stately propriety of the ball. It was a grand
and stately gathering. Nobody but Nera Boccarini was natural. "To
save appearances" is the social law. "Do what you like, but save
appearances." A dignified hypocrisy none disobey. These men and women,
with the historic names, dare not show each other what they are. There
was no flirting, no romping, no loud laughter; not a loud word--no
telltale glances, no sitting in corners. It was a pose throughout. Men
bowed ceremoniously, and addressed as strangers ladies with whom they
spent every evening. Husbands devoted themselves to wives whom they
never saw but in public. Innocence _may_ betray itself, _seems_ to
betray itself--guilt never. Guilt is cautious.

At this moment Count Nobili entered. He was received with lofty
courtesy by the countess. Her manner implied a gentle protest. Count
Nobili was a banker's son; his mother was not--_née_--any thing. Still
he was welcome. She graciously bent her head, on which a tiara of
diamonds glittered--in acknowledgment of his compliments on the
brilliancy of her ball.

Nobili's address was frank and manly. There was an ease and freedom
about him that contrasted favorably with the effeminate appearance
and affected manners of the _jeunesse dorée_. His voice, too, was a
pleasant voice, and gave a value to all he said. A sunny smile lighted
up his fair-complexioned face, the face old Carlotta had called
"lucky."

"You are very late," the countess had said, with the slightest tone
of annoyance in her voice--fanning herself languidly as she spoke. "My
son has been looking for you."

"It has been my loss, Signora Contessa," replied Nobili, bowing.
"Pardon me. I was delayed. With your permission, I will find your
son." He bowed again, then walked on into the dancing-rooms beyond.

Nobili had come late. "Why should he go at all?" he had asked himself,
sighing, as he sat at home, smoking a solitary cigar. "What was the
Orsetti ball, or any other ball, to him, when Enrica was not there?"

Nevertheless, he did dress, and he did go, telling himself, however,
that he was simply fulfilling a social duty by so doing. Now that he
is here, standing in the ballroom, the incense of the flowers in his
nostrils, the music thrilling in his ear--now that flashing eyes,
flushed cheeks, graceful forms palpitating with the fury of the
dance--and hands with clasping fingers, are turned toward him--does he
still feel regretful--sad? Not in the least.

No sooner had he arrived than he found himself the object of a species
of ovation. This put him into the highest possible spirits. It was
most gratifying. He could not possibly do less than return these
salutations with the same warmth with which they were offered.

Not that Count Nobili acknowledged any inferiority to those among whom
he moved as an equal. Count Nobili held that, in New Italy, every
man is a gentleman who is well educated and well mannered. As to the
language the Marchesa Guinigi used about him, he shook with laughter
whenever it was mentioned.

So it fell out that, before he had arrived many minutes, the
remembrance of Enrica died out, and Nobili flung himself into the
spirit of the ball with all the ardor of his nature.

"Why did you come so late, Nobili?" asked Orsetti, turning his head,
and speaking in the pause of a waltz with Luisa Bernardini. "You must
go at once and talk to Trenta about the cotillon."

"Well, Nobili, you gave us a splendid entertainment for the festival,"
said Franchi. "Per Dio! there were no women to trouble us."

"No women!" exclaimed Civilla--"that was the only fault. Divine
woman!--Otherwise it was superb. Who has been ill-treating you,
Franchi, to make you so savage?"

Franchi put up his eye-glass and stared at him.

"When there is good wine, I prefer to drink it without women. They
distract me."

"Never saw such a reception in Lucca," said Count Malatesta; "never
drank such wine. Go on, caro mio, go on, and prosper. We will all
support you, but we cannot imitate you."

Nobili, passing on quickly, nearly ran over Cavaliere Trenta. He was
in the act of making a profound obeisance, as he handed an ice to one
of his contemporaries.

"Ah, youth! youth!" exclaimed poor Trenta, softly, with difficulty
recovering his equilibrium by the help of his stick.--"Never mind,
Count Nobili, don't apologize; I can bear any thing from a young
man who celebrates the festival of the Holy Countenance with such
magnificence. Per Bacco! you are the best Lucchese in Lucca. I have
seen nothing like it since the duke left. My son, it was worthy of the
palace you inhabit."

Ah! could the marchesa have heard this, she would never have spoken to
Trenta again!

"You gratify me exceedingly, cavaliere," replied Nobili, really
pleased at the old man's praise. "I desire, as far as I can, to become
Lucchese at heart. Why should not the festivals of New Italy exceed
those of the old days? At least, I shall do my best that it be so."

"Eh? eh?" replied Trenta, rubbing his nose with a doubtful expression;
"difficult--very difficult. In the old days, my young friend, society
was a system. Each sovereign was the centre of a permanent court
circle. There were many sovereigns and many circles--many purses,
too, to pay the expenses of each circle. Now it is all hap-hazard; no
money, no court, no king."

"No king?" exclaimed Nobili, with surprise.

"I beg pardon, count," answered the urbane Trenta, remembering
Nobili's liberal politics--"I mean no society. Society, as a system,
has ceased to exist in Italy. But we must think of the cotillon. It
is now twelve o'clock. There will be supper. Then we must soon begin.
You, count, are to dance with Nera Boccarini. You came so late we were
obliged to arrange it for you."

Nobili colored crimson.

"Does the lady--does Nera Boccarini know this?" he asked, and as he
asked his color heightened.

"Well, I cannot tell you, but I presume she does. Count Orsetti will
have told her. The cotillon was settled early. You have no objection
to dance with her, I presume?"

"None--none in the world. Why should I?" replied Nobili, hastily (now
the color of his cheeks had grown crimson). "Only--only I might
not have selected her." The cavaliere looked up at him with evident
surprise. "Am I obliged to dance the cotillon at all, cavaliere?"
added Nobili, more and more confused. "Can't I sit out?"

"Oh, impossible--simply impossible!" cried Trenta, authoritatively.
"Every couple is arranged. Not a man could fill your place; the whole
thing would be a failure."

"I am sorry," answered Nobili, in a low voice--"sorry all the same."

"Now go, and find your partner," said Trenta, not heeding this little
speech. "I am about to have the chairs arranged. Go and find your
partner."

"Now what could make Nobili object to dance with Nera Boccarini?"
Trenta asked himself, when Nobili was gone, striking his stick loudly
on the floor, as a sign for the music to cease.

There was an instant silence. The gentlemen handed the ladies to a
long gallery, the last of the suite of the rooms on the ground-floor.
Here a buffet was arranged. The musicians also were refreshed with
good wine and liquors, before the arduous labors of the cotillon
commenced. No brilliant cotillon ends before 8 A.M.; then there is
breakfast and driving home by daylight at ten o'clock.

Nobili, his cheeks still tingling, felt that the moment had come
when he must seek his partner. It would be difficult to define the
contending feelings that made him reluctant to do so. Nera Boccarini
had taken no pains to conceal how much she liked him. This was
flattering; perhaps he felt it was too flattering. There was a
determination about Nera, a power of eye and tongue, an exuberance of
sensuous youth, that repelled while it allured him. It was like new
wine, luscious to the taste, but strong and heavy. New wine is very
intoxicating. Nobili loved Enrica. At that moment every woman that
did not in some subtile way remind him of her, was distasteful to him.
Now, it was not possible to find two women more utterly different,
more perfect contrasts, than the dreamy, reserved, tender Enrica--so
seldom seen, so little known--and the joyous, outspoken Nera--to be
met with at every mass, every _fête_, in the shops, on the Corso, on
the ramparts.

Now, Nera, who had been dancing much with Prince Ruspoli, had heard
from him that Nobili was selected as her partner in the cotillon.

"Another of your victims," Prince Ruspoli had said, with a kindling
eye.

Nera had laughed gayly.

"My victims?" she retorted. "I wish you would tell me who they are."

This question was accompanied by a most inviting glance. Prince
Ruspoli met her glance, but said nothing. (Nera greatly preferred
Nobili, but it is well to have two strings to one's bow, and Ruspoli
was a prince with a princely revenue.)

When Nobili appeared, Prince Ruspoli, who had handed Nera to a seat
near a window, bowed to her and retired.

"To the devil with Nobili!" was Prince Ruspoli's thought, as he
resigned her. "I do like that girl--she is so English!" and Ruspoli
glanced at Poole's dress-clothes, which fitted him so badly, and
remembered with satisfaction certain balls in London, and certain
water-parties at Maidenhead (Ruspoli had been much in England),
where he had committed the most awful solecisms, according to Italian
etiquette, with frank, merry-hearted girls, whose buoyant spirits were
contagious.

Nobili's eyes fell instinctively to the ground as he approached Nera.
The rosy shadow of the red-silk curtains behind her fell upon her
face, bosom, and arms, with a ruddy glow.

"I am to have the honor of dancing the cotillon with you, I believe?"
he said, still looking down.

"Yes, I believe so," she responded--"at least so I am told; but you
have not asked me yet. Perhaps you would prefer some one else. I
confess _I_ am satisfied."

As she spoke, Nera riveted her full black eyes upon Nobili. If he
only would look up, she would read his thoughts, and tell him her
own thoughts also. But Nobili did not look up; he felt her gaze,
nevertheless; it thrilled him through and through.

At this moment, the melody of a voluptuous waltz, the opening of the
cotillon, burst from the orchestra with an _entrain_ that might have
moved an anchorite. As the sounds struck upon his ear, Nobili grew
dizzy under the magnetism of those unseen eyes. His cheeks flushed
suddenly, and the blood stirred itself tumultuously in his veins.

"Why should I repulse this girl because she loves me?" he asked
himself.

This question came to him, wafted, as it were, upon the wings of the
music.

"Count Nobili, you have not answered me," insisted Nera. She had not
moved. "You are very absent this evening. Do you _wish_ to dance with
me? Tell me."

She dwelt upon the words. Her voice was low and very pleading. Nobili
had not yet spoken.

"I ask you again," she said.

This time her voice sounded most enticing. She touched his arm, too,
laying her soft fingers upon it, and gazed up into his face. Still no
answer.

"Will you not speak to me, Nobili?" She leaned forward, and grasped
his arm convulsively. "Nobili, tell me, I implore you, what have I
done to offend you?"

Tears gathered in her eyes. Nobili felt her hand tremble.

He looked up; their eyes met. There was a fire in hers that was
contagious. His heart gave a great bound. Pressing within his own the
hand that still rested so lovingly upon his arm, Nobili gave a rapid
glance round. The room was empty; they were standing alone near the
window, concealed by the ample curtains. Now the red shadow fell upon
them both--

"This shall be my answer, Nera--siren," whispered Nobili.

As he speaks he clasps her in his arms; a passionate kiss is imprinted
upon her lips.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hours have passed; one intoxicating waltz-measure has been exchanged
for another, that falls upon the ear as enthralling as the last. Not
an instant had the dances ceased. The Cavaliere Trenta, his round
face beaming with smiles, is seated in an arm-chair at the top of the
largest ballroom. He keeps time with his foot. Now and then he raps
loudly with his stick on the floor and calls out the changes of the
figures. Baldassare and Luisa Bernardini lead with the grace and
precision of practised dancers.

"Brava! brava! a thousand times! Brava!" calls out the cavaliere
from his arm-chair, clapping his hands. "You did that beautifully,
marchesa!"--This was addressed to the swan's-neck, who had circled
round, conducted by her partner, selecting such gentlemen as she
pleased, and grouping them in one spot, in order to form a _bouquet_.
"You couldn't have done it better if you had been taught in
Paris.--Forward! forward!" to a timid couple, to whom the intricacies
of the figure were evidently distracting. "Belle donne! belle donne!
Victory to the brave! Fear nothing.--Orsetti, keep the circle down
there; you are out of your place. You will never form the _bouquet_ if
you don't--Louder! louder!" to the musicians, holding up his stick
at them like a marshal's bâton--"loud as they advance--then
piano--diminuendo--pia-nis-si-mo--as they retreat. That sort of
thing gives picturesqueness--light and shade, like a picture. Hi! hi!
Malatesta! The devil! You are spoiling every thing! Didn't I tell you
to present the flowers to your partner? So--so. The flowers--they are
there." Trenta pointed to a table. He struggled to rise to fetch the
bouquets himself. Malatesta was too quick for him, however.

"Now bring up all the ladies and place them in chairs; bow to them,"
etc., etc.

Thanks to the energy of the cavaliere, and the agility of
Baldassare--who, it is admitted on all hands, had never distinguished
himself so much as on this occasion--all the difficulties of the new
figures have been triumphantly surmounted. Gentlemen had become spokes
of a gigantic wheel that whirled round a lady seated on a chair in
the centre of the room. They had been named as roots, trees, and even
vegetables; they had answered to such names, seeking corresponding
weeds as their partners. At a clap of the cavaliere's hands they had
dashed off wildly, waltzing. Gentlemen had worn paper nightcaps, put
on masks, and been led about blindfold. They had crept under chairs,
waved flags from tables, thrown up colored balls, and unraveled
puzzles--all to the rhythm of the waltz-measure babbling on like a
summer brooklet under the sun, through emerald meadows.

And now the exciting moment of the ribbons is come--the moment
when the best presents are to be produced--the ribbons--a sheaf of
rainbow-colors, fastened into a strong golden ring, which ring is to
be held by a single lady, each gentleman grasping (as best he can) a
single ribbon. As long as the lady seated on the chair in the centre
pleases, the gentlemen are to gyrate round her. When she drops the
ring holding the sheaf of ribbons, the Cavaliere Trenta is to clap his
hands, and each gentleman is instantly to select that lady who wears
a rosette corresponding in color to his ribbon--the lady in the chair
being claimed by her partner.

Nobili has placed Nera Boccarini on the chair in the centre. (Ever
since the flavor of that fervid kiss has rested on his lips, Nobili
has been lost in a delicious dream. "Why should not he and Nera
dance on--on--on--forever?--Into indefinite space, if possible--only
together?" He asks himself this question vaguely, as she rests within
his arms--as he drinks in the subtile perfume of the red roses bound
in her glossy hair.)

Nera is triumphant. Nobili is her own! As she sits in that chair
when he has placed her, she is positively radiant. Love has given
an unknown tenderness to her eyes, a more delicate brilliancy to her
cheeks, a softness, almost a languor, to her movements. (Look out,
acknowledged _belle_ of Lucca--look out, Teresa Ottolini--here is
a dangerous rival to your supremacy! If Nobili loves Nera as Nera
believes he does--Nera will ripen quickly into yet more transcendent
beauty.)

Now Nobili has left Nera, seated in the chair. He is distributing
the various ribbons among the dancers. As there are over a hundred
couples, and there is some murmuring and struggling to secure certain
ladies, who match certain ribbons, this is difficult, and takes time.
See--it is done; again Nobili retires behind Nera's chair, to wait the
moment when he shall claim her himself.

How the men drag at the ribbons, whirling round and round,
hand-in-hand!--Nera's small hand can scarcely hold them--the men
whirling round every instant faster--tumbling over each other, indeed;
each moment the ribbons are dragged harder. Nera laughs; she sways
from side to side, her arms extended. Faster and more furiously the
men whirl round--like runaway horses now, bearing dead upon the reins.
The strain is too great, Nera lets fall the ring. The cavaliere claps
his hands. Each gentleman rushes toward the lady wearing a rosette
matching his ribbon. Nera rises. Already she is encircled by Nobili's
arm. He draws her to him; she makes one step forward. Nera is a bold,
firm dancer, but, unknown to her, the ribbons in falling have become
entangled about her feet; she, is bound, she cannot stir; she gives
a little scream. Nobili, startled, suddenly loosens his hold upon her
waist. Nera totters, extends her arms, then falls heavily backward,
her head striking on the _parquet_ floor. There is a cry of horror.
Every dancer stops. They gather round her where she lies. Her face is
turned upward, her eyes are set and glassy, her cheeks are ashen.

"Holy Virgin!" cries Nobili, in a voice of anguish, "I have killed
her!" He casts himself on the floor beside her--he raises her in his
strong arms. "Air, air!--give her air, or she will die!" he cries.

Putting every one aside, he carries Nera to the nearest window, he
lays her tenderly on a sofa. It is the very spot where he had kissed
her--under the fiery shadow of the red curtain. Alas! Nobili is
sobered now from the passion of that moment. The glamour has departed
with the light of Nera's eyes. He is ashamed of himself; but there
is a swelling at his heart, nevertheless--an impulse of infinite
compassion toward the girl who lies senseless before him--her beauty,
her undisguised love for him, plead powerfully for her. Does he love
her?

The Countess Boccarini and Nera's sisters are by her side. The poor
mother at first is speechless; she can only chafe her child's cold
hands, and kiss her white lips.

"Nera, Nera," at last she whispers, "Nera, speak to me--speak to
me--one word--only one word!"

But, alas! there is no sign of animation--to all appearance Nera is
dead. Nobili, convinced that he alone is responsible, and too much
agitated to care what he does, kneels beside her, and places his hand
upon her heart.

"She lives! she lives!" he cries--"her heart beats! Thank God, I have
not killed her!"

This leap from death to life is too much for him; he staggers to his
feet, falls into a chair, and sobs aloud. Nera's eyelids tremble; she
opens her eyes, her lips move.

"Nera, my child, my darling, speak to me!" cries Madame Boccarini.
"Tell me that you can hear me."

Nera tries to raise her head, but in vain. It falls back upon the
cushion.

"Home, mamma--home!" her lips feebly whisper.

At the sound of her voice Nobili starts up; he brushes away the tears
that still roll down his cheeks. Again he lifts Nera tenderly in his
arms. For that night Nera belongs to him; no one else shall touch her.
He bears her down-stairs to a carriage. Then he disappears into the
darkness of the night.

No one will leave the ball until there is some report of Nera's
condition from the doctor who has been summoned. The gay groups sit
around the glittering ballroom, and whisper to each other. The "golden
youth" offer bets as to Nera's recovery; the ladies, who are jealous,
back freely against it. In half an hour, however, Countess Orsetti is
able to announce that "Nera Boccarini is better, and that, beyond the
shock, it is hoped that she is not seriously hurt."

"You see, Malatesta, I was right," drawls out the languid Franchi as
he descends the stairs. "You will believe me another time. You know
I told you and Orsetti that Nera Boccarini and Nobili understood each
other. He's desperately in love with her."

"I don't believe it, all the same," answers Malatesta, shaking his
head. "A man can't half kill a girl and show no compunction--specially
not Nobili--the best-hearted fellow breathing. Nobili is just the man
to feel such an accident as that dreadfully. How splendid Nera looked
to-night! She quite cut out the Ottolini." Malatesta spoke with
enthusiasm; he had a practised eye for woman's fine points. "Here,
Adonis--I beg your pardon--Baldassare, I mean--where are you going?"

"Home," replies the Greek mask.

"Never mind home; we are all obliged to you. You lead the cotillon
admirably."

Baldassare smiles, and shows two rows of faultless teeth.

"Come and have some supper with us at the Universo. Franchi is coming,
and all our set."

"With the greatest pleasure," replies Baldassare, smiling.



PART II.



CHAPTER I.

CALUMNY.


Baldassare was, of course, invited by the cavaliere to join the
proposed expedition to the tombs of the Trenta and to the Guinigi
Tower. Half an hour before the time appointed he appeared at the
Palazzo Trenta. The cavaliere was ready, and they went out into the
street together.

"If you have not been asleep since the ball, Baldassare--which is
probable--perhaps you can tell me how Nera Boccarini is this morning?"

"She is quite well, I understand," answered Adonis, with an air of
great mystery, as he smoothed his scented beard. "She is only a little
shaken."

"By Jove!" exclaimed the cavaliere. "Never was I present at any thing
like that! A love-scene in public! Once, indeed, I remember, on one
occasion, when her highness Paulina threw herself into the arms of his
serene highness--"

"Have you heard the news?" asked Baldassare, interrupting him.

He dreaded a long tirade from the old chamberlain on the subject
of his court reminiscences; besides, Baldassare was bursting with a
startling piece of intelligence as yet evidently unknown to Trenta.

"News!--no," answered the cavaliere, contemptuously. "I dare say it is
some lie. You have, I am sorry to say, Baldassare, all the faults of a
person new to society; you believe every thing."

Baldassare eyed the cavaliere defiantly; but he pulled at his curled
mustache in silence.

The cavaliere stopped short, raised his head, and scanned him
attentively.

"Out with it, my boy, out with it, or it will choke you! I see you are
dying to tell me!"

"Not at all, cavaliere," replied Baldassare, with assumed
indifference; "only I must say that I believe you are the only person
in Lucca who has not heard it."

"Heard what?" demanded Trenta, angrily.

Baldassare knew the cavaliere's weak point; he delighted to tease him.
Trenta considered himself, and was generally considered by others, as
a universal news-monger; it was a habit that had remained to him
from his former life at court. From the time of Polonius downward a
court-chamberlain has always been a news-monger.

"Heard? Why, the news--the great news," Baldassare spoke in the
same jeering tone. He drew himself up, affecting to look over the
cavaliere's head as he bent on his stick before him.

"Go on," retorted the cavaliere, doggedly.

"How strange you have not heard any thing!" Trenta now looked so
enraged, Baldassare thought it was time to leave off bantering him.
"Well, then, cavaliere, since you really appear to be ignorant, I will
tell you. After you left the Orsetti ball, Malatesta asked me and the
other young men of their set to supper at the Universo Hotel."

"Mercy on us!" ejaculated the cavaliere, who was now thoroughly
irritated, "you consider yourself one of _their set_, do you? I
congratulate you, young man. This is news to me."

"Certainly, cavaliere, if you ask me, I do consider myself one of
their set."

The cavaliere shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

"We talked of the accident," continued Baldassare, affecting not to
notice his sneers, "and we talked of Nobili. Many said, as you
do, that Nobili is in love with Nera Boccarini, and that he would
certainly marry her. Malatesta laughed, as is his way, then he swore
a little. Nobili would do no such thing, he declared, he would
answer for it. He had it on the best authority, he said, that of an
eye-witness." (Ah, cruel old Carlotta, you have made good your threat
of vengeance!) "An eye-witness had said that Nobili was in love
with some one else--some one who wrote to him; that they had been
watched--that he met some one secretly, and that by-and-by all the
city would know it, and that there would be a great scandal."

"And who may the lady be?" asked the cavaliere carelessly, raising
his head as he put the question, with a sardonic glance at Baldassare.
"Not that I believe one word Malatesta says. He is a young coxcomb,
and you, Baldassare, are a parrot, and repeat what you hear. Per
Bacco! if there had been any thing serious, I should have known it
long ago. Who is the lady?" Spite of himself, however, his blue eyes
sparkled with curiosity.

"The marchesa's niece, Enrica Guinigi."

"What!" roared out the cavaliere, striking his stick so violently on
the ground that the sound echoed through the solitary street. "Enrica
Guinigi, whom I see every day! What a lie!--what a base lie! How dare
Malatesta--the beast--say so? I will chastise him myself!--with my own
hand, old as I am, I will chastise him! Enrica Guinigi!"

Baldassare shrugged his shoulders and made a grimace. This incensed
the cavaliere more violently.

"Now, listen to me, Baldassare Lena," shouted the cavaliere,
advancing, and putting his fist almost into his face. "Your father is
a chemist; and keeps a shop. He is not a doctor, though you call
him so. If ever you presume again to repeat scandals such as
this--scandals, I say, involving the reputation of noble ladies, my
friends--ladies into whose houses I have introduced you, there shall
be no more question of your being of their '_set_.' I will take care
that you never enter one of their doors again. By the body of my holy
ancestor, San Riccardo, I will disgrace you--publicly disgrace you!"

Trenta's rosy face had grown purple, his lips worked convulsively. He
raised his stick, and flourished it in the air, as if about to make it
descend like a truncheon on Baldassare's shoulders. Adonis drew back a
step or two, following with his eyes the cavaliere's movements. He
was quite unmoved by his threats. Not a day passed that Trenta did not
threaten him with his eternal displeasure. Adonis was used to it, and
bore it patiently. He bore it because he could not help it. Although
by no means overburdened with brains, he was conscious that as yet he
was not sufficiently established in society to stand alone. Still,
he had too high an opinion of his personal beauty, fine clothes, and
general merits, to believe that the ladies of Lucca would permit of
his banishment by any arbitrary decree of the cavaliere.

"You had better find out the truth, cavaliere," he muttered, keeping
well out of the range of Trenta's stick, "before you put yourself in
such a passion."

"Domine Dio! that they should dare to utter such abominations!"
ejaculated the cavaliere. "Why, Enrica lives the life of a nun! I
doubt if she has ever seen Nobili--certainly she has never spoken to
him. Let Malatesta, and the young scoundrels at the club, attack
the married women. They can defend themselves. But, to calumniate an
innocent girl!--it is horrible!--it is unmanly! His highness the Duke
of Lucca would have banished the wretch forthwith. Ah! Italy is going
to the devil!--Now, Baldassare," he continued, turning round and
glaring upon Adonis, who still retreated cautiously before him, "I
have a great mind to send you home. We are about to meet the young
lady herself. You are not worthy to be in her company."

"I only repeated what Malatesta told me," urged Baldassare,
plaintively, looking very blank. "I am not answerable for him. Go and
quarrel with Malatesta, if you like, but leave me alone. You asked me
a question, and I answered you. That is all."

Baldassare had dressed himself with great care; his hair was
exquisitely curled for the occasion. He had nothing to do all day, and
the prospect of returning home was most depressing.

"You are not answerable for being born a fool!" was the rejoinder. "I
grant that. Who told Malatesta?" asked the cavaliere, turning sharply
toward Baldassare.

"He said he had heard it in many quarters. He insisted on having heard
it from one who had seen them together."

(Old Carlotta, sitting in her shop-door at the corner of the street of
San Simone, like an evil spider in its web, could have answered that
question.)

The cavaliere was still standing on the same spot, in the centre of
the street.

"Baldassare," he said, addressing him more calmly, "this is a wicked
calumny. The marchesa must not hear it. Upon reflection, I shall not
notice it. Malatesta is a chattering fool--an ape! I dare say he was
tipsy when he said it. But, as you value my protection, swear to
me not to repeat one word of all this. If you hear it mentioned,
contradict it--flatly contradict it, on my authority--the authority
of the Marchesa Guinigi's oldest friend. Nobili will marry Nera
Boccarini, and there will be an end of it; and Enrica--yes,
Baldassare," continued the cavaliere, with an air of immense
dignity--"yes, to prove to you how ridiculous this report is, Enrica
is about to marry also. I am at this very time authorized by the
family to arrange an alliance with--"

"I guess!" burst out Baldassare, reddening with delight at being
intrusted with so choice a piece of news--"with Count Marescotti!"
Trenta gave a conscious smile, and nodded. This was done with a
certain reserve, but still graciously. "To be sure; it was easy to see
how much he admired her, but I did not know that the lady--"

"Oh, yes, the lady is all right--she will agree," rejoined Trenta.
"She knows no one else; she will obey her aunt's commands and my
wishes."

"I am delighted!" cried Baldassare. "Why, there will be a ball at
Palazzo Guinigi--a ball, after all!"

"But the marchesa must never hear this scandal about Nobili," added
Trenta, suddenly relapsing into gravity. "She hates him so much, it
might give her a fit. Have a care, Baldassare--have a care, or you may
yet incur my severest displeasure."

"I am sure I don't want the marchesa or any one else to know it,"
replied Baldassare, greatly reassured as to the manner in which he
would pass his day by the change in Trenta's manner. "I would not
annoy her or injure the signorina for all the world. I am sure you
know that, cavaliere. No word shall pass my lips, I promise you."

"Good! good!" responded Trenta, now quite pacified (it was not in
Trenta's nature to be angry long). Now he moved forward, and as he did
so he took Baldassare's arm, in token of forgiveness. "No names must
be mentioned," he continued, tripping along--"mind, no names; but I
authorize you, on my authority, if you hear this abominable nonsense
repeated--I authorize you to say that you have it from me--that Enrica
Guinigi is to be married, _and not to Nobili_. He! he! That will
surprise them--those chattering young blackguards at the club."

Thus, once more on the most amiable terms, the cavaliere and
Baldassare proceeded leisurely arm-in-arm toward the street of San
Simone.



CHAPTER II.

CHURCH OF SAN FREDIANO.


Count Marescotti was walking rapidly up and down in the shade before
the Guinigi Palace when the cavaliere and Baldassare appeared. He was
so absorbed in his own thoughts that he did not perceive them.

"I must speak to him as soon as possible about Enrica," was Trenta's
thought on seeing him. "With this report going about, there is not an
hour to lose."

"You have kept your appointment punctually, count," he said, laying
his hand on Marescotti's shoulder.

"Punctual, my dear cavaliere? I never missed an appointment in my life
when made with a lady. I was up long before daylight, looking over
some books I have with me, in order to be able the better to describe
any object of interest to the Signorina Enrica."

"An opportunity for you, my boy," said Trenta, nodding his head
roguishly at Baldassare. "You will have a lesson in Lucchese history.
Of course, you know nothing about it."

"Every man has his forte," observed the count, good-naturedly, seeing
Baldassare's embarrassment at having his ignorance exposed. (The
cavaliere never could leave poor Adonis alone.) "We all know your
forte is the ballroom; there you beat us all."

"Taught by me, taught by me," muttered the cavaliere; "he owes it all
to me."

Leaving the count and Baldassare standing together in the street,
the cavaliere knocked at the door of the Guinigi Palace. When it was
opened he entered the gloomy court. Within he found Enrica and Teresa
awaiting his arrival.

At the sight of her whom he so much loved, and of whom he had just
heard what he conceived to be such an atrocious calumny, the cavaliere
was quite overcome. Tears gathered in his eyes; he could hardly reply
to her when she addressed him.

"My Enrica," he said at last, taking her by the hand and imprinting a
kiss upon her forehead, "you are a good child. Heaven bless you, and
keep you always as you are!" A conscious blush overspread Enrica's
face.

"If he knew all, would he say this?" she asked herself; and her pretty
head with the soft curls dropped involuntarily.

Enrica was very simply attired, but the flowing lines of her graceful
figure were not to be disguised by any mere accident of dress. A black
veil, fastened upon her hair like a mantilla (a style much affected
by the Lucca ladies), fell in thick folds upon her shoulders, and
partially shaded her face.

Teresa stood by her young mistress, prepared to follow her. Trenta
perceived this. He did not like Teresa. If she went with them, the
whole conversation might be repeated in Casa Guinigi. This, with
Count Marescotti in the company, would be--to say the least of
it--inconvenient.

"You may retire," he said to Teresa. "I will take charge of the
signorina."

"But--Signore Cavaliere"--and Teresa, feeling the affront, colored
scarlet--"the marchesa's positive orders were, I was not to leave the
signorina."

"Never mind," answered the cavaliere, authoritatively, "I will take
that on myself. You can retire."

Teresa, swelling with anger, remained in the court. The cavaliere
offered his arm to Enrica. She turned and addressed a few words to the
exasperated Teresa; then, led by Trenta, she passed into the street.
Upon the threshold, Count Marescotti met them.

"This is indeed an honor," he said, addressing Enrica--his face
beamed, and he bowed to the ground. "I trembled lest the marchesa
should have forbidden your coming."

"So did I," answered Enrica, frankly. "I am so glad. I fear that my
aunt is not altogether pleased; but she has said nothing, and I came."

She spoke with such eagerness, she saw that the count was surprised.
This made her blush. At any other time such an expedition as that they
were about to make would have been delightful to her for its own sake,
Enrica was so shut up within the palace, except on the rare occasions
when she accompanied Teresa to mass, or took a formal drive on the
ramparts at sundown with her aunt. But now she was full of anxiety
about Nobili. They had not met for a week--he had not written to her
even. Should she see him in the street? Should she see him from the
top of the tower? Perhaps he was at home at that very moment watching
her. She gave a furtive glance upward at the stern old palace before
her. The thick walls of sun-dried bricks looked cruel; the massive
Venetian casements mocked her. The outer blinds shut out all hope.
Alas! there was not a chink anywhere. Even the great doors were
closed.

"Ah! if Teresa could have warned him that I was coming!"--and she gave
a great sigh. "If he only knew that I was here, standing in the very
street! Oh, for one glimpse of his dear, bright face!"

Again Enrica sighed, and again she gazed up wistfully at the closed
façade.

Meanwhile the cavaliere and Baldassare were engaged in a violent
altercation. Baldassare had proposed walking to the church of San
Frediano, which, in consideration of the cavaliere's wishes, they were
to visit first. "No one would think of driving such a short distance,"
he insisted. "The sun was not hot, and the streets were all in shade."
The cavaliere retorted that "it was too hot for any lady to walk,"
swung his stick menacingly in the air, called Baldassare "an
imbecile," and peremptorily ordered him to call a _fiacre_. Baldassare
turned scarlet in the face, and rudely refused to move.

"He was not a servant," he said. "He would do nothing unless treated
like a gentleman."

This was spoken as he hurled what he intended to be a tremendous
glance of indignation at the cavaliere. It produced no effect
whatever. With an exasperating smile, the cavaliere again desired
Baldassare to do as he was bid, or else to go home. The count
interposed, a _fiacre_ was called, in which they all seated
themselves.

       *       *       *       *       *

San Frediano, a basilica in the Lombard style, is the most ancient
church in Lucca. The mid-day sun now flashed full upon the front, and
lighted up the wondrous colors of a mosaic on a gold ground, over the
entrance. At one corner of the building a marble campanile, formed by
successive tiers of delicate arcades, springs upward into the azure
sky. Flocks of gray pigeons circled about the upper gallery (where
hang the bells), or rested, cooing softly in the warm air, upon the
sculptured cornice bordering the white arches. It was a quiet scene
of tranquil beauty, significant of repose in life and of peace in
death--the church, with its wide portals, offering an everlasting home
to all who sought shelter within its walls.

The cavaliere was so impatient to do the honors that he actually
jumped unaided from the carriage.

"This, dear Enrica, is my parish church," he said, as he handed her
out, pointing upward to the richly-tinted pile, which the suns of
many centuries had dyed of a golden hue. "I know every stone in the
building. From a child I have played in this piazza, under these
venerable walls. My earliest prayers were said at the altar of the
Sacrament within. Here I confessed my youthful sins. Here I received
my first communion. Here I hope to lay my bones, when it shall please
God to call me."

Trenta spoke with a tranquil smile. It was clear neither life nor
death had any terrors for him. "The very pigeons know me," he added,
placidly. He looked up to the campanile, gave a peculiar whistle, and,
putting his hand into his pocket, threw down some grains of corn
upon the pavement. The pigeons, whirling round in many circles (the
sunlight flashing upon their burnished breasts, and upon the soft gray
and purple feathers of their wings), gradually--in little groups of
twos and threes--flew down, and finally settled themselves in a knot
upon the pavement, to peck up the corn.

"Good, pious old man, how I honor you!" ejaculated Count Marescotti,
fervently, as he watched the timid gray-coated pigeons gathering
round the cavaliere's feet, as he stood apart from the rest, serenely
smiling as he fed them. "May thy placid spirit be unruffled in time
and in eternity!"

The interior of the church, in the Longobardic style, is bare almost
to plainness. On entering, the eye ranges through a long broad nave
with rounded arches, the arches surmounted by narrow windows; these
dividing arches, supported on single columns with monumental capitals,
forming two dark and rather narrow aisles. The high altar is raised on
three broad steps. Here burn a few lights, dimmed into solitary specks
by the brightness of the sun. The walls on either side of the aisles
are broken by various chapels. These lie in deep shadow. The roof,
formed of open rafters, bearing marks of having once been elaborately
gilded, is now but a mass of blackened timbers. The floor is of brick,
save where oft-recurring sepulchral slabs are cut into the surface.
These slabs, of black-and-white marble, or of alabaster stained
and worn from its native whiteness into a dingy brown, are almost
obliterated by the many footsteps which have come and gone upon them
for so many centuries. Not a single name remains to record whom they
commemorate. Dimly seen under a covering of dirt and dust deposited by
the living, lie the records of these unknown dead: here a black lion
rampant on a white shield; there a coat-of-arms on an escutcheon, with
the fragment of a princely coronet; beyond, a life-sized monk, his
shadowy head resting on a cushion--a matron with her robes soberly
gathered about her feet, her hands crossed on her bosom--a bishop,
under a painted canopy, mitre on head and staff in hand--a warrior,
grimly helmeted, carrying his drawn sword in his hand. Who are these?
Whence came they? None can tell.

Beside one of the most worn and defaced of these slabs the cavaliere
stopped.

"On this stone," he said, his smiling countenance suddenly grown
solemn--"on this very stone, where you see the remains of a
mosaic"--and he pointed to some morsels of color still visible,
crossing himself as he did so--"a notable miracle was performed.
Before I relate it, let us adore the goodness of the Blessed Virgin,
from whom all good gifts come."

Cavaliere Trenta was on his knees before he had done speaking; again
he fervently crossed himself, reciting the "Maria Santissima." Enrica
bowed her head, and timidly knelt beside him; Baldassare bent his
knees, but, remembering that his trousers were new, and that they
might take an adverse crease that could never be ironed out, he did
not allow himself to touch the floor; then, with open eyes and ears,
he rose and stood waiting for the cavaliere to proceed. Baldassare
was uneducated and superstitious. The latter quality recommended him
strongly to Trenta. He was always ready to believe every word the
cavaliere uttered with unquestioning faith. At the mention of a church
legend Count Marescotti turned away with an expression of disgust, and
leaned against a pillar, his eyes fixed on Enrica.

The cavaliere, having risen from his knees, and carefully dusted
himself with a snowy pocket-handkerchief, took Enrica by the hand, and
placed her in such a position that the sunshine, striking through the
windows of the nave, fell full upon the monumental stone before them.

"My Enrica," he said, in a subdued voice, "and you, Baldassare"--he
motioned to him to approach nearer--"you are both young. Listen to me.
Lay to heart what an old man tells you. Such a miracle as I am about
to relate must touch even the count's hard heart."

He glanced round at Marescotti, but it was evident he was chagrined by
what he saw. Marescotti neither heard him, nor even affected to do
so. Trenta's voice in the great church was weak and piping--indistinct
even to those beside him. Finding the count unavailable either
for instruction or reproof, the cavaliere shook his head, and his
countenance fell. Then he turned his mild blue eyes upon Enrica,
leaned upon his stick, and commenced:

"In the sixth century, the flagstones in this portion of the nave were
raised for the burial of a distinguished lady, a member of the Manzi
family; but oh! stupendous prodigy!"--the cavaliere cast up his eyes
to heaven, and clasped his dimpled hands--"no sooner had the coffin
been lowered into the vault prepared for it, than the corpse of the
lady of the Manzi family sat upright in the open bier, put aside the
flowers and wreaths piled upon her, and uttered these memorable and
never-to-be-forgotten words: 'Bury me elsewhere; here lies the body of
San Frediano.'"

Baldassare, who had grown very pale, now shuddered visibly, and
contemplated the cavaliere with awe.

"Stupendous!" he muttered--"prodigious!--Indeed!"

Enrica did not speak; her eyes were fixed on the ground.

"Yes, yes, you may well say prodigious," responded Trenta, bowing his
white head; then, looking round triumphantly: "It was prodigious,
but a prodigy, remember, vouched for by the chronicles of the Church.
(Chronicles of the Church are much more to be trusted than any thing
else, much more than Evangelists, who were not bishops, and therefore
had no authority--we all know that.) No sooner, my friends, had the
corpse of the lady of the Manzi family spoken, as I have said, than
diligent search was made by those assembled in the church, when
lo!--within the open vault the remains of the adorable San Frediano
were discovered in excellent preservation. I need not say that, having
died in the odor of sanctity, the most fragrant perfume filled the
church, and penetrated even to the adjacent streets. Several sick
persons were healed by merely inhaling it. One man, whose arm had been
shot off at the shoulder-joint many years before, found his limb
come again in an instant, by merely touching the blessed relic." The
cavaliere paused to take breath. No one had spoken.--"Have you heard
the miracle of the glorious San Frediano?" asked Trenta, a little
timidly, raising his voice to its utmost pitch as he addressed Count
Marescotti.

"No, I have not, cavaliere; but, if I had, it would not alter my
opinion. I do not believe in mediaeval miracles." As he spoke, Count
Marescotti turned round from the steps of a side-altar, whither he had
wandered to look at a picture. "I did not hear one word you said, my
dear cavaliere, but I am acquainted with the supposed miracles of San
Frediano. They are entirely without evidence, and in no way shake my
conclusions as to the utter worthlessness of such legends. In this
I agree with the Protestants," he continued, "rather than with that
inspired teacher, Savonarola. The Protestants, spite of so-called
'ecclesiastical authority,' persist in denying them. With the
Protestants, I hold that the entire machinery of modern miracles is
false and unprofitable. With the Apostles miraculous power ended."

"Marescotti!" ejaculated the poor cavaliere, aghast at the effect his
appeal had produced, "for God's sake, don't, don't! before Enrica--and
in a church, too!"

"I believe with Savonarola in other miracles," continued the count, in
a louder tone, addressing himself directly to Enrica, on whom he gazed
with a tender expression--he was far too much engrossed with her and
with the subject to heed Trenta's feeble remonstrance--"I believe in
the mystic essence of soul to soul--I believe in the reappearance of
the disembodied spirit to its kindred affinity still on earth--still
clothed with a fleshly garment. I believe in those magnetic influences
that circle like an atmosphere about certain purified and special
natures, binding them together in a closely-locked embrace, an embrace
that neither time, distance, nor even death itself, can weaken or
sever!"

He paused for an instant; a dark fire lit up his eyes, which were
still bent on Enrica.

"All this I believe--life would be intolerable to me without such
convictions. At the same time, I am ready to grant that all cannot
accept my views. These are mysteries to be approached without
prejudice--mysteries that must be received absolutely without
prejudice of religion, country, or race; received as the aesthetic
instinct within us teaches. Who," he added, and as he spoke he
stood erect on the steps of the altar, his arms outstretched in the
eagerness of argument, his grand face all aglow with enthusiasm--"who
can decide? It is faith that convinces--faith that vivifies--faith
that transforms--faith that links us to the hierarchy of angels! To
believe--to act on our belief, even if that belief be false--that is
true religion. A merciful Deity will accept our imperfect sacrifice.
Are we not all believers in Christ? Away with creeds and churches,
with formularies and doctrines, with painted walls and golden altars,
with stoled priests, infallible popes, and temporal hierarchies! What
are these vain distinctions, if we love God? Let the whole world
unite to believe in the Redeemer. Then we shall all be brothers--you,
I--all, brothers--joined within the holy circle of one universal
family--of one universal worship!"

Count Marescotti ceased speaking, but his impassioned words still
echoed through the empty aisles. His eyes had wandered from Enrica;
they were now fixed on high. His countenance glowed with rapture.
Wrapped in the visions his imagination had called forth, he descended
from the altar, and slowly approached the silent group gathered beside
the monumental stone.

Enrica had eagerly drunk in every word the count had uttered. He
seemed to speak the language of her secret musings; to interpret the
hidden mysteries of her young heart. She, at least, believed in the
affinity of kindred spirits. What but that had linked her to Nobili?
Oh, to live in such a union!

Trenta had become very grave.

"You are a visionary," he said, addressing the count, who now stood
beside them. "I am sorry for you. Such a consummation as you desire
is impossible. Your faith has no foundation. It is a creation of the
brain. The Catholic Church stands upon a rock. It permits no change,
it accepts no compromise, it admits no errors. The authority given to
St. Peter by Jesus Christ himself, with the spiritual keys, can alone
open the gates of heaven. All without are damned. Good intentions
are nothing. Private interpretation, believe me, is of the devil.
Obedience to the Holy Father, and the intercession of the saints, can
alone save your soul. Submit yourself to the teaching of our mother
Church, my dear count. Submit yourself--you have my prayers." Trenta
watched Marescotti with a fixed gaze of such solemn earnestness, it
seemed as though he anticipated that the blessed San Frediano himself
might appear, and then and there miraculously convert him. "Submit
yourself," he repeated, raising his arm and pointing to the altar,
"then you will be blessed."

No miraculous interposition, however, was destined to crown the poor
cavaliere's strenuous efforts to convert the heretical count; but,
long before he had finished, the sound of his voice had recalled
Count Marescotti to himself. He remembered that the old chamberlain
belonged, in years at least, if not in belief, to the past. He blamed
himself for his thoughtlessness in having said a syllable that could
give him pain. The mystic disciple of Savonarola became in an instant
the polished gentleman.

"A thousand pardons, my dear Trenta," he said, passing his hand over
his forehead, and putting back the dark, disordered hair that hung
upon his brow--"a thousand pardons!--I am quite ashamed of myself. We
are here, as I now remember, to examine the tombs of your ancestors
in the chapel of the Trenta. I have delayed you too long. Shall we
proceed?"

Trenta, glad to escape from the possibility of any further discussion
with the count, whose religious views were to him nothing but the
ravings of a mischievous maniac, at once turned into the side-aisle,
and, with ceremonious politeness, conducted Enrica toward the chapel
of the Trenta.

The chapel, divided by gates of gilt bronze from the line of the other
altars bordering the aisles, forms a deep recess near the high
altar. The walls are inlaid by what had once been brilliantly-colored
marbles, in squares of red, green, and yellow; but time and damp had
dulled them into a sombre hue. Above, a heavy circular cornice joins
a dome-shaped roof, clothed with frescoes, through which the light
descends through a central lantern. Painted figures of prophets stand
erect within the four spandrils, and beneath, breaking the marble
walls, four snow-white statues of the Evangelists fill lofty niches of
gray-tinted stone. Opposite the gilded gates of entrance which
Trenta had unlocked, a black sarcophagus projects from the wall. This
sarcophagus is surmounted by a carved head. Many other monuments break
the marble walls; some very ancient, others of more recent shape
and construction. The floor, too, is almost entirely overlaid by
tombstones, but, like those in the nave, they are greatly defaced,
and the inscriptions are for the most part illegible. Over the altar
a blackened painting represents "San Riccardo of the Trenta" battling
with the infidels before Jerusalem.

"Here," said the cavaliere, standing in the centre under the dome,
"is the chapel of the Trenta. Here I, Cesare Trenta, fourteenth in
succession from Gaultiero Trenta--who commanded a regiment at the
battle of Marignano against the French under Francis I.--hope to lay
my bones. The altar, as you see, is sanctified by the possession of
an ancestral picture, deemed miraculous." He bowed to the earth as he
spoke, in which example he was followed by Enrica and Baldassare. "San
Riccardo was the companion-in-arms of Godfrey de Bouillon. His bones
lie under the altar. Upon his return from the crusades he died in our
palace. We still show the very room. His body is quite entire within
that tomb. I have seen it myself when a boy."

Even the count did not venture to raise any doubt as to the
authenticity of the patron saint of the Trenta family. The cavaliere
himself was on his knees; rosary in hand, he was devoutly offering up
his innocent prayers to the ashes of an imaginary saint. After many
crossings, bowings, and touchings of the tomb (always kissing the
fingers that had been in contact with the sanctified stone), he arose,
smiling.

"And now," said the count, turning toward Enrica, "I will ask leave to
show you another tomb, which may, possibly, interest you more than
the sepulchre of the respected Trenta." As he spoke he led her to the
opposite aisle, toward a sarcophagus of black marble placed under an
arch, on which was inscribed, in gilt letters, the name "Castruccio
Castracani degli Antimelli," and the date "1328." "Had our Castruccio
moved in a larger sphere," said the count, addressing the little group
that had now gathered about him, "he would have won a name as great as
that of Alexander of Macedon. Like Alexander, he died in the flower of
his age, in the height of his fame. Had he lived, he would have
been King of Italy, and Lucca would have become the capital of the
peninsula. Chaste, sober, and merciful--brave without rashness,
and prudent without fear--Castruccio won all hearts. Lucca at least
appreciated her hero. Proud alike of his personal qualities, and of
those warlike exploits with which Italy already rang, she unanimously
elected him dictator. When this signal honor was conferred upon him,"
continued the count, addressing himself again specially to Enrica,
who listened, her large dreamy eyes fixed upon him, "Castruccio was
absent, engaged in one of those perpetual campaigns against Florence
which occupied so large a portion of his short life. At that very
moment he was encamped on the heights of San Miniato, preparing to
besiege the hated rival of our city--broken and reduced by the recent
victory he had gained over her at Altopasso. At Altopasso he had
defeated and humiliated Florence. Now he had planted our flag under
her very walls. Upon the arrival of the ambassadors sent by the
Lucchese Republic--one of whom was a Guinigi--"

"There was a Trenta, too, among them; Antonio Trenta, a knight of St.
John," put in the cavaliere, gently, unwilling to interrupt the count,
but finding it impossible to resist the temptation of identifying
his family with his country's triumphs. The count acknowledged the
omission with a courteous bow.

"Upon the arrival of the ambassadors," he resumed, "announcing the
honor conferred upon him, Castruccio instantly left his camp, and
returned with all haste to Lucca. The dignity accorded to Castruccio
exalted him above all external demonstration, but he understood
that his native city longed to behold, and to surround with personal
applause, the person of her idol. In the piazza without this church,
the very centre of Lucca, the heart, as it were, whence all the veins
and arteries of our municipal body flow, Castruccio was received
with all the pomp of a Roman triumph. Ah! cavaliere"--and the count's
lustrous eyes rested on Trenta, who was devouring every word he
uttered with silent delight--"those were proud days for Lucca!"

"Recall them--recall them, O Count!" cried Trenta. "It does me good to
listen."

"Thirty thousand Florentine prisoners followed Castruccio to Lucca.
His soldiers were laden with booty. They drove before them innumerable
herds of cattle; strings of wagons, filled with the spoils of a
victorious campaign, blocked the causeways. Last of all appeared,
rumbling on its ancient wheels, the carroccio, or state-car of
the Florentine Republic, bearing their captured flags lowered, and
trailing in the dust. Castruccio--whose sole representatives are the
Marchesa Guinigi and yourself, signorina--Castruccio followed. He
was seated in a triumphal chariot, drawn by eight milk-white horses.
Banners fluttered around him. A golden crown of victory was suspended
above his head. He was arrayed in a flowing mantle of purple, over a
suit of burnished armor. His brows were bound by a wreath of golden
laurel. In his right hand he carried a jeweled sceptre. Upon his
knees lay his victorious sword unsheathed. Never was manly beauty more
transcendent. His lofty stature and majestic bearing fulfilled the
expectation of a hero. How can I describe his features? They are known
to all of you by that famous picture (the only likeness of him extant)
belonging to the Marchesa Guinigi, placed in the presence-chamber of
her palace."

"Yes, yes," burst forth Trenta, no longer able to control his
enthusiasm. "Old as I am, when I think of those days, it makes me
young again. Alas! what a change! Now we have lost not only
our independence, but our very identity. Our sovereign is
gone--banished--our state broken up. We are but the slaves of a
monster called the kingdom of Italy, ruled by Piedmontese barbarians!"

"Hush!--hush!" whispered the irrepressible Baldassare. "Pray do not
interrupt the count." Even the stolid Adonis was moved.

"The daughters of the noblest houses of Lucca," continued Marescotti,
"strewed flowers in Castruccio's path. The magistrates and nobles
received him on their knees. Young as he was, with one voice they
saluted him 'Father of his Country!'"

The count paused. He bowed his head toward the sarcophagus before
which they were gathered, in a mute tribute of reverence. After a few
minutes of rapt silence he resumed:

"When the multitude heard that name, ten thousand thousand voices
echoed it. 'Father of his Country!' resounded to the summits of the
surrounding Apennines. The mountain-tops tossed it to and fro--the
caves thundered it--the very heavens bore it aloft to distant
hemispheres! Our great soldier, overcome by such overwhelming marks
of affection, expressed in every look and gesture how deeply he
was moved. Before leaving the piazza, Castruccio was joined by his
relative, young Paolo Guinigi!--after his decease to become dictator,
and Lord of Lucca. Amid the clash of arms, the braying of trumpets,
and the applause of thousands, they cordially embraced. They were fast
friends as well as cousins. Our Castruccio was of a type incapable
of jealousy. Paolo was a patriot--that was enough. Together they
proceeded to the cathedral of San Martino. At the porch Castruccio was
received by the archbishop and the assembled clergy. He was placed
in a chair of carved ivory, and carried in triumph up the nave to
the chapel of the Holy Countenance. Here he descended, and, while he
prostrated himself before the miraculous image, hymns and songs of
praise burst from the choir."

"Such, Signorina Enrica," said the count, turning toward her, "is
a brief outline of the scene that passed within this city of Lucca,
before that tomb held the illustrious dust it now contains."

"Bravo, bravo, count!" exclaimed the mercurial Trenta, in a delighted
tone. (He was ready to forgive all the count's transgressions, in the
fervor of the moment.) "That is how I love to hear you talk. Now you
do yourself justice. Gesù mio! how seldom it is given to a man to be
so eloquent! How can he bring himself to employ such gifts against the
infallible Church?" This last remark was addressed to Enrica in a tone
too low to be overheard.

"And now," said the old chamberlain, always on the lookout to marshal
every one as he had marshaled every one at court--"now we will leave
the church, and proceed to the Guinigi Tower."



CHAPTER III.

THE GUINIGI TOWER.


Count Marescotti, by reason of too much imagination, and Baldassare,
by reason of too little, were both oblivious; consequently the key and
the porter were neither of them forthcoming when the party arrived
at the door of the tower, which opened from a side-street behind and
apart from the palace. Both the count and Baldassare ran off to find
the man, leaving Trenta alone with Enrica.

"Ahi!" exclaimed the cavaliere, looking after them with a comical
smile, "this youth of New Italy! They have no more brains than a pin.
When I was young, and every city had its own ruler and its own court,
I should not have escorted a lady and kept her waiting outside in the
sun. Bah! those were not the manners of my day. At the court of the
Duke of Lucca ladies were treated like divinities, but now the young
men don't know how to kiss a woman's hand."

Receiving no answer, Trenta looked hard at Enrica. He was struck by
her absent expression. There was a far-away look on her face he had
never noticed on it before.

"Enrica," he said, taking both her hands within his own, "I fear you
are not amused. These subjects are too grave to interest you. What are
you thinking about?"

An anxious look came into her eyes, and she glanced hastily round, as
if to assure herself that no one was near.

"Oh! I am thinking of such strange things!" She stopped and hesitated,
seeing the cavaliere's glance of surprise. "I should like to tell you
all, dear cavaliere--I would give the world to tell you--"

Again she stopped.

"Speak--speak, my child," he answered; "tell me all that is in your
mind."

Before she could reply, the count and Baldassare reappeared,
accompanied by the porter of the Guinigi Palace and the keys.

"Are you sure you would rather not return home again, Enrica? You have
only to turn the corner, remember," asked Trenta, looking at her with
anxious affection.

"No, no," she answered, greatly confused; "please say nothing--not
now--another time. I should like to ascend the tower; let us go on."

The cavaliere was greatly puzzled. It was plain there was something on
her mind. What could it be? How fortunate, he told himself, if she had
taken a liking to Marescotti, and desired to confess it! This would
make all easy. When he had spoken to the count, he would contrive to
see her alone, and insist upon knowing if it were so.

The door was now opened, and the porter led the way, followed by the
count and Baldassare. Trenta came next, Enrica last. They ascended
stair after stair almost in darkness. After having mounted a
considerable height, the porter unlocked a small door that barred
their farther advance. Above appeared the blackened walls of the
hollow tower, broken by the loop-holes already mentioned, through
which the ardent sunshine slanted. Before them was a wooden stair,
crossing from angle to angle up to a dizzy height, with no other
support but a frail banister; this even was broken in places. The
count and Enrica both entreated the cavaliere to remain below.
Marescotti ventured to allude to his great age--a subject he himself
continually, as has been seen, mentioned, but which he generally much
resented when alluded to by others.

Trenta listened with perfect gravity and politeness, but, when the
count had done speaking, he placed his foot firmly on the first stair,
and began to ascend after the porter. The others were obliged to
follow. At the last flight several loose planks shook ominously
under their feet; but Trenta, assisted by his stick, stepped on
perseveringly. He also insisted on helping Enrica, who was next to
him, and who by this time was both giddy and frightened. At length a
trap-door, at the top of the tower, was reached and unbarred by
the attendant. Without, covered with grass, is a square platform,
protected by a machicolated parapet of turreted stone-work. In the
centre rises a cluster of ancient bay-trees, fresh and luxuriant,
spite of the wind and storms of centuries.

The count leaped out upon the greensward and rushed to the parapet.

"How beautiful!" he exclaimed, throwing back his head and drawing in
the warm air. "See how the sun of New Italy lights up the old city!
Cathedral, palace, church, gallery, roof, tower, all ablaze at our
feet! Speak, tell me, is it not wonderful?" and he turned to Enrica,
who, anxiously turning from side to side, was trying to discover where
she could best overlook the street of San Simone and Nobili's palace.

Addressed by Marescotti, she started and stopped short.

"Never, never," he continued, becoming greatly excited, "shall I
forget this meeting!--here with you--the golden-haired daughter of
this ancient house!"

"I!" exclaimed Enrica. "O count, what a mistake! I have no house, no
home. I live on the charity of my aunt."

"That makes no difference in your descent, fair Guinigi. Charity!
charity! Who would not shower down oceans of charity to possess such
a treasure?" He leaned his back against the parapet, and bent his
eyes with fervent admiration on her. "It is only in verse that I can
celebrate her," he muttered, "prose is too cold for her warm coloring.
The Madonna--the uninstructed Madonna--before the archangel's visit--"

"But, count," said Enrica timidly (his vehemence and strange glances
made her feel very shy), "will you tell me the names of the beautiful
mountains around? I have seen so little--I am so ignorant."

"I will, I will," replied Marescotti, speaking rapidly, his glowing
eyes raising themselves from her face to look out over the distance;
"but, in mercy, grant me a few moments to collect myself. Remember I
am a poet; imagination is my world; the unreal my home; the Muses my
sisters. I live there above, in the golden clouds"--and he turned and
pointed to a crest of glittering vapor sailing across the intense blue
of the sky. Then, with his hand pressed on his brow, he began to pace
rapidly up and down the narrow platform.

The cavaliere and Baldassare were watching him from the farther end of
the tower.

"He! he!" said Trenta, and he gave a little laugh and nudged
Baldassare. "Do you see the count? He is fairly off. Marescotti is too
poetical for this world. Unpractical, poor fellow--very unpractical.
The fit is on him now. Look at him, Baldassare; see how he stares
about, and clinches his fist. I hope he will not leap over the parapet
in his ecstasy."

"Ha! ha!" responded Baldassare, who with eyes wide open, and hands
thrust into his pockets, leaned back beside Trenta against the wall.
"Ha, ha!--I must laugh," Baldassare whispered into his ear--"I cannot
help it--look how the count's lips are moving. He is in the most
extraordinary excitement."

"It's all very fine," rejoined Trenta, "but I wonder he does not
frighten Enrica. There she stands, quite still. I can't see her face,
but she seems to like it. It's all very fine," he repeated, nodding
his white head reflectively. "Republicans, communists, orators, poets,
heretics--all the plagues of hell! Dio buono! give me a little plain
common-sense--plain common-sense, and a paternal government. As to
Marescotti, these new-fangled notions will turn his brain; he'll end
in a mad-house. I don't believe he is quite in his senses at this very
minute. Look! look! What strides he is taking up and down! For the
love of Heaven, my boy, run and fasten the trap-door tight! He
may fall through! He's not safe! I swear it, by all the saints!"
Baldassare, shaking with suppressed laughter, secured the trap-door.

"I must say you are a little hard on the count," Baldassare said.
"Why, he's only composing. I know his way. Trust me, it's a sonnet. He
is composing a sonnet addressed perhaps to the signorina. He admires
her very much."

Trenta smiled, and mentally determined, for the second time, to take
the earliest opportunity of speaking to Count Marescotti before the
ridiculous reports circulating in Lucca reached him.

"Per Bacco!" he replied, "when the count is as old as I am, he
will have learned that quiet is the greatest luxury a man can
enjoy--especially in Italy, where the climate is hot and fevers
frequent."

How long the count would have continued in the clouds, it is
impossible to say, had he not been suddenly brought down to earth--or,
at least, the earth on the top of the tower--by something that
suddenly struck his gaze.

Enrica, who had strained her eyes in vain to discover some trace of
Nobili in the narrow street below, or in the garden behind his palace,
had now thrown herself on the grass under the overhanging branches of
the glossy bay-trees. These inclosed her as in a bower. Her colorless
face rested upon her hand, her eyes were turned toward the ground,
and her long blond hair fell in a tangled mass below the folds of her
veil, upon her white dress. The count stood transfixed before her.

"Move not, sweet vision!" he cried. "Be ever so! That innocent face
shaded by the classic bay; that white robe rustling with the thrill of
womanly affinities; those fair locks floating like an aureole in the
breeze thy breath has softly perfumed! Rest there enthroned--the world
thy backguard, the sky thy canopy! Stay, let me crown thee!"

As he spoke he hastily plucked some sprays of bay, which he twisted
into a wreath. He approached Enrica, who had remained quite still,
and, kneeling at her feet, placed the wreath upon her head.

"Enrica Guinigi"--the count spoke so softly that neither Trenta nor
Baldassare could catch the words--"there is something in your beauty
too ethereal for this world."

Enrica, covered with blushes, tried to rise, but he held out his hands
imploringly for her to remain.

"Suffer me to speak to you. Yours is a face of one easily moved to
love--to love and to suffer," he added, strange lights coming into his
eyes as he gazed at her.

Enrica listened to him in painful silence; his words sounded
prophetic.

"To love and to suffer; but, loving once"--again the count was
speaking, and his voice enchained her by its sweetness--"to love
forever. Where shall the man be found pure enough to dare to accept
such love as you can bestow? By Heavens!" he added, and his voice fell
to a whisper, and his black eyes seemed to penetrate into her very
soul, "you love already. I read it in the depths of those heavenly
eyes, in the shadow that already darkens that soft brow, in the
dreamy, languid air that robs you of your youth. You love--is it
possible that you love--?"

He stopped before the question was finished--before the name was
uttered. A spasm, as if wrung from him by sharp bodily pain, passed
over his features as he asked this question, never destined to be
answered. No one but Enrica had heard it. An indescribable terror
seized her; from pale she grew deadly white; her eyelids dropped, her
lips trembled. Tears gathered in Marescotti's eyes as he gazed at her,
but he dared not complete the question.

"If you have guessed my secret, do not--oh! do not betray me!"

She said this so faintly that the sound came to him like a whisper
from the rustling bay-leaves.

"Never!" he responded in a low, earnest tone--"never!"

She believed him implicitly. With that look, that voice, who could
doubt him?

"I have cause to suffer," she replied with a sigh, not venturing to
meet his eyes--"to suffer and to wait. But my aunt--"

She said no more; her head fell on her bosom, her arms dropped to her
side, she sighed deeply.

"May I be at hand to shield you!" was his answer.

After this, he, too, was silent. Rising from his knees, he leaned
against the trunk of the bay-tree and contemplated her steadfastly.
There was a strange mixture of passion and of curiosity in his mobile
face. If she would not tell him, could he not rend her secret from
her?

Trenta, seated at the opposite side of the platform, observed them as
they stood side by side, half concealed by the foliage--observed them
with benign satisfaction. It was all as it should be; his mission
would be easy. It was clear they understood each other. He believed at
that very moment Enrica was receiving the confession of Marescotti's
love; the confusion of her looks was conclusive. The cavaliere's whole
endeavor was, at that moment, to keep Baldassare quiet; he rejoiced
to see that he was gently yielding to the influence of the heat, and
nodding at his side.

"Count," said Enrica, looking up and endeavoring to break a silence
which had become painful, "if I have inspired you with any interest--"

She hesitated.

"_If_ you have inspired me?" ejaculated Marescotti, reproachfully, not
moving his eyes off her.

"I can hardly believe it," she added; "but, if it be so, speak to me
in the voice of poetry. Tell me your thoughts."

"Yes," exclaimed the count, clasping his hands; "I have been longing
to do so ever since I first saw you. Will you permit it? If so, give
me paper and pencil, that I may write."

Enrica had neither. Rising from the ground, she crossed over to where
Trenta sat, apparently absorbed in the contemplation of the roofs of
his native city. Fortunately, after diving into various pockets, he
found a pencil and the fly-leaf of a letter. Marescotti took them and
retreated to the farther end of the tower; Enrica leaned against the
wall beside the cavaliere.

In a few minutes the count joined them; he returned the pencil with a
bow to the cavaliere. The sonnet was already written on the fly-leaf
of the letter.

"Oh!" cried Enrica, "give me that paper, I know it will tell me my
fate. Give it to me. Count, do not refuse me." Her look, her manner,
was eager--imploring. As the count drew back, she endeavored to seize
the paper from his hand. But Marescotti, holding the paper above
his head, in one moment had crushed it in his fingers, and, rushing
forward, he flung it over the battlements.

"It is not worthy of you!" he exclaimed, with excitement; "it is
worthy neither of you nor of me! No, no," and he leaned over the
tower, and watched the paper as it floated downward in the still air.
"Let it perish."

"Oh! why have you destroyed it?" cried Enrica, greatly distressed.
"That paper would have told me all I want to know. How cruel! how
unkind!"

But there was no help for it. No lamentation could bring the paper
back again. The sonnet was gone. Marescotti had sacrificed the man to
the poet. His artistic sense had conquered.

"Excuse me, dear signorina," he pleaded, "the composition was
imperfect. It was too hurried. With your permission, on my return,
I will address some other verses to you, more appropriate--more
polished."

"Ah! they will not be like those. They will not tell me what I want
to know. They cannot come from your very soul like those. The power to
divine is gone from you." Enrica could hardly restrain her tears.

"I am very sorry," answered the count, "but I could not help it; I did
it unconsciously."

"Indeed, count, you did very wrong," put in the cavaliere; "one
understands you wrote _in furore_--so much the better," and Trenta
gave a sly wink, which was entirely lost on Marescotti. "But time
is getting on. When are we to have that oration on the history and
beauties of Lucca that we came up to hear? Had you not better begin?"

The count was engaged at that moment in plucking a sprig of bay for
himself and for the cavaliere to wear, as he said, "in memoriam." "I
am ready," he replied. "It is a subject that I love."

"Let us begin with the mountains; they are the nearest to God." As
he pronounced that name, the count raised his eyes reverently, and
uncovered his head. Enrica had placed herself on his right hand, but
all interest had died out of her face. She only listened mechanically.

(Yes, the mountains, the glorious mountains! There they were--before,
behind, in front; range upon range--peak upon peak, like breakers on
a restless sea! Mountains of every shade, of every shape, of every
height. Already their mighty tops were flecked with the glow of the
western sunbeams; already pink and purple mists had gathered upon
their sides, filling the valleys with mystery!)

"There," said the count, pointing in the direction of the winding
river Serchio, "is La Panga, the loftiest Apennine in Central Italy.
The peaked summits of those other mountains more to the right are the
marble-bosomed range of Carrara. One might believe them at this time
covered with a mantle of snow, but for the ardent sun, the deep green
of the belting plains, and the luxuriance of the forests. Yonder steep
chestnut-clothed height that terminates the valley opening before us
is Bargilio, a mountain fortress of the Panciatici over the Baths of
Lucca."

Marescotti paused to take breath. Enrica's eyes languidly followed the
direction of his hand. The cavaliere, standing on his other side, was
adjusting his spectacles, the better to distinguish the distance.

"To the south," continued the count, pointing with his finger--"in the
centre of that rich vine-trellised Campagna, lies Pescia, a garden
of luscious fruits. Beyond, nestling in the hollows of the Apennines,
shutting in the plain of that side, is ancient Lombard-walled
Pistoja--the key to the passes of Northern Italy. Farther on, nearer
Florence, rise the heights of Monte Catni, crowned as with a diadem
by a small burgh untouched since the middle ages. Nearer at hand,
glittering like steel in the sunshine, is the lake of Bientina. You
can see its low, marshy shores fringed by beauteous woodlands, but
without a single dwelling."

Enrica, in a fit of abstraction, leaned over the parapet. Her eyes
were riveted upon the city beneath. Marescotti followed her eyes.

"Yes," said he, "there is Lucca;" and as he spoke he glanced
inquiringly at her, and the tones of his clear, melodious voice grew
soft and tender. "Lucca the Industrious, bound within her line of
ancient walls and fortifications. Great names and great deeds are
connected with Lucca. Here, tradition says, Julius Caesar ruled as
proconsul. How often may the sandals of his feet have trod these
narrow streets--his purple robes swept the dust of our piazza! Here he
may have officiated as high-priest at our altars--dictated laws from
our palaces! It was after the conquest of the Nervii (most savage
among the Gaulish tribes) that Julius Caesar is said to have first
come to Lucca. Pompey and Crassus met him here. It was at this
time that Domitius--Caesar's enemy, then a candidate for the
consulship--boasted that he would ruin him. But Caesar, seizing the
opportune moment of his recent victories over the Gauls, and his
meeting with Pompey--formed the bold plan of grasping universal power
by means of his deadliest enemies. These enemies, rather than see the
supreme power vested in each other, united to advance him. The first
triumvirate was the consequence of the meeting. Ages pass by.
The Roman Empire dissolves. Barbarians invade Italy. Lucca is an
independent state--not long to remain so, however, for the Countess
Matilda, daughter of Duke Bonifazio, is born within her walls. At
Lucca Countess Matilda holds her court. By her counsels, assistance,
and the rich legacy of her patrimonial dominions, she founds the
temporal power of the papacy. To Lucca came, in the fifteenth century,
Charles VIII. of France, presumptuous enough to attempt the conquest
of Naples; also that mighty dissembler, Charles V. to meet the
reigning pontiff Paul III. in our cathedral of San Martino. But more
precious far to me than the traditions of the shadowy pomp of defunct
tyrants is the remembrance that Lucca was the Geneva of Italy--that
these streets beneath us resounded to the public teaching of the
Reformation! Such progress, indeed, had the reformers made, that it
was publicly debated in the city council, 'If Lucca should declare
herself Protestant--'"

"Per Bacco! a disgraceful fact in our history!" burst out Trenta, a
look of horror in his round blue eyes. "Hide it, hide it, count! For
the love of Heaven! You do not expect me to rejoice at this? Pray,
when you mention it, add that the Protestants were obliged to flee for
their lives, and that Lucca purified itself by abject submission to
the Holy Father."

"Yes; and what came of that?" cried the count, raising his voice,
a sudden flush of anger mounting over his face. "The Church--your
Catholic and Apostolic Church--established the Inquisition. The
Inquisition condemned to the flames the greatest prophet and teacher
since the apostles--Savonarola!"

Trenta, knowing how deeply Marescotti's feelings were engaged in
the subject of Savonarola, was too courteous to desire any further
discussion. But at the same time he was determined, if possible, to
hear no more of what was to him neither more nor less than blasphemy.

"Do you know how long we have been up here, count?" he asked, taking
out his watch. "Enrica must return. I hope you won't detain us," he
said, with a pitiful look at the count, who seemed preparing for
an oration in honor of the mediaeval martyr. "I have already got
a violent rheumatism in my shoulder.--Here, Baldassare, open the
trap-door, and let us go down.--Where is Baldassare?--Baldassare!
Where are you, imbecile? Baldassare, I say! Why, diamine! Where can
the boy be? He's not been privately practising his last new step
behind the bay-trees, and taken a false one over the parapet?"

The small space was easily searched. Baldassare was discovered
sketched at full length and fast asleep under a bench on the other
side of the bay-trees.

"Ah, wretch!" grumbled the old chamberlain, "if you sleep like this
you will outlive me, who mean to flourish for the next hundred
years. He's always asleep, except when dancing," he added indignantly
appealing to Marescotti. "Look at him. There's beauty without
expression. Doesn't he inspire you? Endymion who has overslept himself
and missed Diana--Narcissus overcome by the sight of his own beauty."

After being called, pushed, and pinched, by the cavaliere, Baldassare
at last opened his eyes in great bewilderment--stretched himself,
yawned, then, suddenly clapping his hand to his side, looked fiercely
at Trenta. Trenta was shaking with laughter.

"Mille diavoli!" cried Baldassare, rubbing himself vigorously, "how
dare you pinch me so, cavaliere? I shall be black and blue. Why should
not I sleep? Nobody spoke to me."

"I fear you have heard little of the history of Lucca," said the
count, smiling.

"Dio buono! what is history to me? I hate it!--I-tell you what,
cavaliere, you have hurt me very much." And Baldassare passed his hand
carefully down his side. "The next time I go to sleep in your company,
I'll trouble you to keep your fingers to yourself. You have rapped me
like a drum."

Trenta watched the various phases of Baldassare's wrath with the
greatest amusement. The descent having been safely accomplished, the
whole party landed in the street. Count Marescotti, who came last,
advanced to take leave of Enrica. At this moment an olive-skinned,
black-eyed girl rose out of the shadow of a neighboring wall, and,
lowering a basket from her head, filled with fruit--tawny figs, ruddy
peaches, purple grapes, and russet-skinned medlars, shielded from
the heat by a covering of freshly-picked vine-leaves--offered it to
Enrica. Our Adonis, still sulky and sore from the pinches inflicted by
the mischievous fingers of the cavaliere, waved the girl rudely away.

"Fruit! Chè! Begone! our servants have better. Such fruit as that is
not good enough for us; it is full of worms."

The girl looked up at him timidly, tears gathered in her dark eyes.

"It is for my mother," she answered, humbly; "she is ill."

As she bent her head to replace the basket, Marescotti, who had
listened to Baldassare with evident disgust, raised the basket in his
arms, and with the utmost care poised it on the coil of her dark hair.

"Beautiful peasant," he said, "I salute you. This is for your mother,"
and he placed some notes in her hand.

The girl thanked him, coloring as red as the peaches in her basket,
then, hastily turning the corner of the street, disappeared.

"A perfect Pomona! I make a point of honoring beauty whenever I find
it," exclaimed the count, looking after her. He cast a reproving
glance at Baldassare, who stood with his eyes wide open. "The Greeks
worshiped beauty--I agree with them. Beauty is divine. What say you?
Were not the Greeks right?"

The words were addressed to Baldassare--the sense and the direction of
his eyes pointed to Enrica.

"Yes; beauty," replied Baldassare, smoothing his glossy mustache, and
trying to look very wise (he was not in the least conscious of the
covert rebuke administered by Marescotti)--"beauty is very refreshing,
but I must say I prefer it in the upper classes. For my part, I like
beauty that can dance--wooden shoes are not to my taste."

"Ah! canaglia!" muttered the cavaliere, "there is no teaching you. You
will never be a gentleman."

Baldassare was dumbfounded. He had not a word to reply.

"Count"--and the old chamberlain, utterly disregarding the dismay of
poor Adonis, who never clearly understood what he had done to deserve
such severity, now addressed himself to Marescotti--"will you be
visible to-morrow after breakfast? If so, I shall have the honor of
calling on you."

"With pleasure," was the count's reply.

Enrica stood apart. She had not spoken one word since the
disappearance of the sonnet--that sonnet which would have told her
of her future; for had not Marescotti, by some occult power, read
her secret? Alas! too, was she not about to reenter her gloomy home
without catching so much as a glimpse of Nobili? Count Marescotti had
no opportunity of saying a word to Enrica that was not audible to all.
He did venture to ask her if she would be present next evening, if
he joined the marchesa's rubber? Before she could reply, Trenta had
hastily answered for her, that "he would settle all that with the
count when they met in the morning." So, standing in the street,
they parted. Count Marescotti sought in vain for one last glance from
Enrica. When he turned round to look for Baldassare, Baldassare had
disappeared.



CHAPTER IV.

COUNT NOBILI.


When Nobili rushed home through the dark streets from the Countess
Orsetti's ball, he shut himself up in his own particular room, threw
himself on a divan, and tried to collect his thoughts. At first he was
only conscious of one overwhelming feeling--a feeling of intense joy
that Nera Boccarina was alive. The unspeakable horror he had felt, as
she lay stretched out on the floor before him, had stupefied him. If
she had died?--As the horrible question rose up within him, his blood
froze in his veins. But she was not dead--nay, if the report of Madame
Orsetti was to be trusted, she was in no danger of dying.

"Thank God!--thank God!" Then, as the quiet of the night and the
solitude of his own room gradually restored his scattered senses,
Nobili recalled her, not only in the moment of danger, as she lay
death-like, motionless, but as she stood before him lit up by the
rosy shadow of the silken curtains. Was it an enchantment? Had he
been under a spell? Was Nera fiend or angel? As he asked himself these
questions, again her wondrous eyes shone upon him like stars; again
the rhythm of that fatal waltz struck upon his ears soft and liquid
as the fall of oars upon the smooth bosom of an inland lake, bathed in
the mellow light of sunset.

What had he done? He had kissed her--her lips had clung to his; her
fingers had linked themselves in his grasp; her eyes--ah!--those eyes
had told him that she loved him. Loved him!--why not?

And Enrica!--the thought of Enrica pierced through him like the stab
of a knife. Nobili sprang to his feet, pressed both hands to his
bosom, then sank down again, utterly bewildered. Enrica!--He had
forgotten her! He, Nobili, was it possible? Forgotten her!--A pale
plaintive face rose up before him, with soft, pleading eyes. There was
the little head, with its tangled meshes of yellow curls, the slight
girlish figure, the little feet. "Enrica! my Enrica!" he cried aloud,
so palpable did her presence seem--"I love you, I love you only!"
He dashed, as it were, Nera's image from him. She had tempted
him--tempted him with all the fullness of her beauty, tempted him--and
he had yielded! On a sudden it came over him. Yes, she had tempted
him. She had followed him--pursued him rather. Wherever he went, there
Nera was before him. He recalled it all. And how he had avoided her
with the avoidance of an instinct! He clinched his fists as he thought
of it. What devil had possessed him to fall headlong into the snare?
What was Nera--or any other woman--to him now? If he had been obliged
to dance with her, why had he yielded to her?

"I will never speak to her again," was his instant resolve. But the
next moment he remembered that he had been indirectly the cause of an
accident which might have been fatal. He must see her once more if
she were visible--or, if not, he must see her mother. Common humanity
demanded this. Then he would set eyes on her no more. He had almost
come to hate her, for the spell she had thrown over him.

But for Enrica he would have left Lucca altogether for a time. What
had passed that evening would be the subject of general gossip. He
remembered with shame--and as he did so the blood rushed over his face
and brow--how openly he had displayed his admiration. He remembered
the hot glances he had cast upon Nera. He remembered how he had leaned
entranced over her chair; how he had pressed her to him in the fury of
that wild waltz, her white arms entwined round him--the fragrance
of the red roses she wore in her hair mounting to his brain! At the
moment he had been too much entranced to observe what was passing
about him. Now he recalled glances and muttered words. The savage
look Ruspoli had cast on him, when he led her up to him in one of the
figures of the cotillon; how Malatesta had grinned at him--how Orsetti
had whispered "Bravo!" in his ear. Might not some rumor of all this
reach Enrica?--through Trenta, perhaps, or that chattering fool,
Baldassare? If they spoke of the accident, they would surely connect
his name with that of Nera. Would they say he was in love with her? He
grew cold as he thought of it.

Neither could Nobili conceal from himself how probable it was that
the Marchesa Guinigi should come to some knowledge of his clandestine
interviews with her niece. It had been necessary to trust many
persons. Spite of heavy bribes, one of these might at any moment
betray them. He might be followed and watched, spite of his
precautions. Their letters might be intercepted. Should any thing
happen, what a situation for Enrica! She was too trusting and too
inexperienced fully to appreciate the danger; but Nobili understood
it, and trembled for her. Something must, he felt, be done at once.
Enrica must be prepared for any thing that might happen. He must write
to her--write this very night to her.

And then came the question--what should he say to her? Then Nobili
felt, and felt keenly, how much he had compromised himself. Hitherto
his love for Enrica, and Enrica's love for him, had been so full, so
entire, that every thought was hers. Now there was a name he must hide
from her, an hour of his life she must never know.

Nobili rose from the divan on which he had been lying, lighted some
candles, and, sitting down at a table, took a pen in his hand. But the
pen did not help him. He tore it between his teeth, he leaned his head
upon his hand, he stared at the blank paper before him. What should
he say to her? was the question he asked himself. After all, should
he confess all his weakness, and implore her forgiveness? or should he
take the chance of her hearing nothing?

After much thought and many struggles with his pen, he decided he
would say nothing. But write he would; write he must. Full of remorse
for what had passed, he longed to assure her of his love. He yearned
to cast himself for pardon at her feet; to feast his eyes upon the
sweetness of her fair face; to fill his ears with the sound of her
soft voice; to watch her heavenly eyes gathering upon him with the
gleam of incipient passion.

How pure she was! How peerless, how different from all other women!
How different from Nera! dark-eyed, flashing, tempting Nera!--Nera, so
sensual in her ripe and dazzling beauty. At that moment of remorse and
repentance he would have likened her to an alluring fiend, Enrica to
an angel! Yes, he would write; he would say something decisive. This
point settled, Nobili put down the pen, struck a match, and lit a
cigar. A cigar would calm him, and help him to think.

His position, even as he understood it, was sufficiently difficult.
How much more, had he known all that lay behind! He had entered life a
mere boy at his father's death, with some true friends; his wealth
had created him a host of followers. His frank, loyal disposition, his
generosity, his lavish hospitality, his winning manners, had insured
him general popularity. Not one, even of those who envied him, could
deny that he was the best fellow in Lucca. Women adored him, or said
so, which came to the same thing, for he believed them. Many had
proved, with more than words, that they did so. In a word, he had been
_fêted_, followed, and caressed, as long as he could remember. Now the
incense of flattery floating continually in the air which he breathed
had done its work. He was not actually spoiled but he had grown
arrogant; vain of his person and of his wealth. He was vain, but not
yet frivolous; he was insolent, but not yet heartless. At his age,
impressions come from without, rather than from within. Nobili was
extremely impressionable; he also, as has been seen, wanted resolution
to resist temptation. As yet, he had not developed the firmness and
steadfastness that really belonged to his character.

But spite of foibles, spite of weakness--foibles and weakness were
but part of the young blood within him--Nobili possessed, especially
toward women, that rare union of courage, tenderness, and fortitude,
we call chivalry; he forgot himself in others. He did this as the most
natural thing in the world--he did it because he could not help it.
He was capable of doing a great wrong--he was also capable of a great
repentance. His great wealth had hitherto enabled him to indulge every
fancy. With this power of wealth, unknown almost to himself, a spirit
of conquest had grown upon him. He resolved to overcome whatever
opposed itself to him. Nobili was constantly assured by those ready
flatterers who lived upon him--those toadies who, like a mildew,
dim and deface the virtues of the rich--that "he could do what he
pleased."

With the presumption of youth he believed this, and he acted on it,
especially in regard to women. He was of an age and temperament to
feel his pulse quicken at the sight of every pretty woman he met, even
if he should meet a dozen in the day. Until lately, however, he had
cared for no one. He had trifled, dangled, ogled. He had plucked the
fair fruit where it hung freely on the branch, and he had turned away
heart-whole. He knew that there was not a young lady in Lucca who
would not accept him as her suitor--joyfully accept him, if he
asked her. Not a father, let his name be as old as the Crusades, his
escutcheon decorated with "the golden rose," or the heraldic ermine of
the emperors, who would not welcome him as a son-in-law.

The Marchesa Guinigi alone had persistently repulsed him. He had heard
and laughed at the outrageous words she had spoken. He knew what a
struggle it had cost her to sell the second Guinigi Palace at all. He
knew that of all men she had least desired to sell it to him. For that
special reason he had resolved to possess it. He had bought it, so to
say, in spite of her, at the price of gold.

Yet, although Nobili laughed with his friends at the marchesa's
outrageous words, in reality they greatly nettled him. By constant
repetition they came even to rankle. At last he grew--unconfessed, of
course--so aggravated by them that a secret longing for revenge rose
up within him. She had thrown down the gauntlet, why should he not
pick it up? The marchesa, he knew, had a niece, why should he not
marry the niece, in defiance of the aunt?

No sooner was this idea conceived than he determined, if he married at
all (marriage to a young man leading his dissipated life is a serious
step), that, of all living women, the marchesa's niece should be his
wife. All this time he had never seen Enrica. Yes, he would marry the
niece, to spite the marchesa. Marry--she, the marchesa, should see
a Guinigi head his board; a Guinigi seated at his hearth; worse than
all, a Guinigi mother of his children!

All this he kept closely locked within his own breast. As the marchesa
had intimated to him, at the time he bought the palace, that she would
never permit him to cross her threshold, he was debarred from taking
the usual social steps to accomplish his resolve. Not that he in the
least desired to see her, save for that overbearing disposition which
impelled him to combat all opposition. With great difficulty, and
after having expended various sums in bribes among the ill-paid
servants of the marchesa, he had learned the habits of her household.

Enrica, he found, had a servant, formerly her nurse, who never left
her. Teresa, this servant, was cautiously approached. She was informed
that Count Nobili was distractedly in love with the signorina, and
addressed himself to her for help. Teresa, ignorant, well-meaning,
and brimming over with that mere animal fondness for her foster-child
uneducated women share with brute creatures, was proud of becoming the
medium of what she considered an advantageous marriage for Enrica. The
secluded life she led, the selfish indifference with which her aunt
treated her, had long moved Teresa's passionate southern nature to a
high pitch of indignation. Up to this time no man had been permitted
to enter Casa Guinigi, save those who formed the marchesa's
whist-party.

"How, then," reasoned Teresa, shrewdly, "was the signorina to marry at
all? Surely it was right to help her to a husband. Here was one, rich,
handsome, and devoted, one who would give the eyes out of his head for
the signorina." Was such an opportunity to be lost? Certainly not.

So Teresa took Nobili's bribes (bribes are as common in Italy as in
the East), putting them to fructify in the National Bank with an easy
conscience. Was she not emancipating her foster-child from that old
devil, her aunt? Had she not seen Nobili himself when he sent for
her?--seen him, face to face, inside his palace glittering like
paradise? And had he not given her his word, with his hand upon his
heart (also given her a pair of solid gold ear-rings, which she wore
on Sundays), that to marry Enrica was the one hope of his life? Seeing
all this, Teresa was, as I have said, perfectly satisfied.

When Nobili had done all this, impelled by mixed feelings of wounded
pride, obstinacy, and defiance, he had never, let it be noted, seen
Enrica. But after a meeting had been arranged by Teresa one morning at
early mass in the cathedral, near a dark and unfrequented altar in the
transept--an arrangement, be it observed, unknown to Enrica--all his
feelings changed. From the moment he saw her he loved her with all
the fervor of his ardent nature; from that moment he knew that he had
never loved before. The mystery of their stolen meetings, the sweet
flavor of this forbidden fruit--and what man does not love forbidden
fruit better than labeled pleasures?--the innocent frankness with
which Enrica confessed her love, her unbounded faith in him--all
served to heighten his passion. He gloried--he reveled in her
confidence. Never, never, he swore a thousand times, should she have
cause to repent it. In the possession of Enrica's love, all other
desires, aims, ambitions, had--up to the night of the Orsetti
ball--vanished. Up to that night, for her sake, he had grown solitary,
silent--nay, even patient and subtle. He had clean forgotten his
feud with the Marchesa Guinigi, or only remembered it as a possible
obstacle to his union with Enrica; otherwise the marchesa was
absolutely indifferent to him. Up to the night of the Orsetti ball the
whole world was indifferent to him. But now!--

Nobili, sitting very still, his face shaded by his hand, had finished
his cigar. While smoking it he had decided what he would say to
Enrica. Again he took up his pen. This time he dropped it in the ink,
and wrote as follows:

AMORE: I have treasured all the love you gave me when last we met.
I know that love witnesses for me also in your own heart. Beyond all
earthly things you are dear to me. Come to me, O my Enrica--come to
me; never let us part. I must have you, you only. I must gaze upon
you hour by hour; I must hang upon that dear voice. I must feel that
angel-presence ever beside me. When will you meet me? I implore you to
answer. After our next meeting I am resolved to claim you, by force
or by free-will, to be my wife. To wait longer, O my Enrica, is
good neither for you nor for me. My love! my love! you must be
mine--mine--mine! Come to me--come quickly. Your adoring.

"MARIO NOBILI."



CHAPTER V.

NUMBER FOUR AT THE UNIVERSO HOTEL.


Cesare Trenta is dressed with unusual care. His linen is spotless;
his white hair, as fine as silk, is carefully combed; his chin is well
shaven. He wears a glossy white hat, and carries his gold-headed cane
in his hand. Not that he condescends to use that cane as he mounts the
marble staircase of the Universo Hotel (once the Palazzo Buffero)
a little stiffly, on his way to keep his appointment with Count
Marescotti; oh, no--although the cavaliere is well past eighty, he
intends to live much longer; he reserves that cane, therefore, to
assist him in his old age. Now he does not want it.

It is quite clear that Trenta is come on a mission of great
importance; his sleek air, and the solemnly official expression of
his plump rosy face, say so. His glassy blue eyes are without their
pleasant twinkle, and his lips, tightly drawn over his teeth, lack
their usual benignant smile. Even his fat white hand dimples itself
on the top of his cane, so tightly does he clutch it. He has learned
below that Count Marescotti lives at No. 4 on the second story; at
the door of No. 4 he raps softly. A voice from within asks, "Who is
there?"

"I," replies Trenta, and he enters.

The count, who is seated at a table near the window, rises. His tall
figure is enveloped in a dark dressing-gown, that folds about him like
a toga. He has all the aspect of a man roused out of deep thought;
his black hair stands straight up in disordered curls all over his
head--he had evidently been digging both his hands into it--his eyes
are wild and abstracted. Taken as he is now, unawares, that expression
of mingled sternness and sweetness in which he so much resembles
Castruccio Castracani is very striking. From the manner he fixes his
eyes upon Trenta it is clear he does not at once recognize him. The
cavaliere returns his stare with a look of blank dismay.

"Oh, carissimo!" the count exclaims at last, his countenance changing
to its usual expression--he holds out both hands to grasp those of
the cavaliere--"how I rejoice to see you! Excuse my absence; I had
forgotten our appointment at the moment. That book"--and he points to
an open volume lying on a table covered with letters, manuscripts, and
piles of printed sheets tossed together in wild confusion--"that book
must plead my excuse; it has riveted me. The wrongs of persecuted
Italy are so eloquently pleaded! Have you read it, my dear cavaliere?
If not, allow me to present you with a copy."

Trenta made a motion with his hand, as if putting both the book and
the subject from him with a certain disgust: he shakes his head.

"I have not read it, and I do not wish to read it," he replies,
curtly.

The poor cavaliere feels that this is a bad beginning; but he quickly
consoles himself--he was of a hopeful temperament, and saw life
serenely and altogether in rose-color--by remembering that the count
is habitually absent, also that he habitually uses strong language,
and that he had probably not been so absorbed by the wrongs of Italy
as he pretends.

"I fear you have forgotten our appointment, count," recommences the
cavaliere, finding that Marescotti is silent, and that his eyes have
wandered off to the pages of the open book.

"Not at all, not at all, my dear Trenta. On the contrary, had you not
come, I was about to send for you. I have a very important matter to
communicate to you."

The cavaliere's face now breaks out all over into smiles. "Send for
me," he repeats to himself. "Good, good! I understand." He seats
himself with great deliberation in a large, well-stuffed arm-chair,
near the table, at which Marescotti still continues standing. He
places his cane across his knees, folds his hands together, then looks
up in the other's face.

"Yes, yes, my dear count," he answers aloud, "we have much to say to
each other--much to say on a most interesting subject." And he gives
the count what he intends to be a very meaning glance.

"Interesting!" exclaims the count, his whole countenance lighting
up--"enthralling, overwhelming!--a matter to me of life or death!"

As he speaks he turns aside, and begins to stride up and down the
room, as was his wont when much moved.

"He! he! my dear count, pray be calm." And Trenta gives a little
laugh, and feebly winks. "We hope it is a matter of _life_, not of
_death_--no--not of _death_, surely."

"Of death," replied the count, solemnly, and his mobile eyes flash
out, and a dark frown gathers on his brow--"of death, I repeat. Do you
take me for a trifler? I stake my life on the die."

Trenta felt considerably puzzled. Before he begins, he is anxious to
assure himself that the nature of his errand had at least distinctly
dawned upon the count's mind, if it had not (as he hoped) been fully
understood by him. Should he let Marescotti speak first; or should he,
Trenta, address him formally? In order to decide, he again scans the
count's face closely. But, after doing so, he is obliged to confess
that Marescotti is impenetrable. Now he no longer strode up and down
the room, but he has seated himself opposite the cavaliere, and again
his speaking eyes have wandered off toward the book which he has
been reading. It is evident he is mentally resuming the same train of
thought Trenta's entrance had interrupted. Trenta feels therefore that
he must begin. He has prepared himself for some transcendentalism
on the subject of marriage; but with a man who is so much in love as
Count Marescotti, and who was about to send for him and to tell him
so, there can be no great difficulty; nor can it matter much who opens
the conversation. The cavaliere takes a spotless handkerchief from his
pocket, uses it, replaces it, then coughs.

"Count," he begins, in a tone of conscious importance, "when I
proposed this meeting, it was to make you a proposal calculated to
exercise the utmost influence over your future life, and--the life of
another," he adds, in a lower tone. "You appear to have anticipated me
by desiring to send for me. You are, of course, aware of my errand?"

As he asks this question, there is, spite of himself, a slight tremor
in his voice, and the usual ruddiness of his cheeks pales a little.

"How very mysterious!" exclaims the count, throwing himself back in
his chair. "You look like a benevolent conspirator, cavaliere! Surely,
my dear old friend, you are not about to change your opinions, and to
become a disciple of freedom?"

"Change my opinions! At my age, count!--Chè, chè!"--Trenta waves his
hand impatiently. "When a man arrives at my age, he does not change
his opinions--no, count, no; it is, if you will permit me to say so,
it is yourself in whom the change is to be wrought--yourself only--"

The count, who is still leaning back in his chair in an attitude of
polite attention, starts violently, sits straight upright, and fixes
his eyes upon Trenta.

"What do you mean, cavaliere? After a life devoted to my country, you
cannot imagine I should change? The very idea is offensive to me."

"No, no, my dear count, you misapprehend me," rejoins Trenta,
soothingly. (He perceived the mistake into which the word "change"
had led Count Marescotti, and dreaded exciting his too susceptible
feelings.) "It is no change of that kind I allude to; the change I
mean is in the nature of a reward for the life of sacrifice you have
led--a reward, a consolation to your fervid spirit. It is to bring
you into an atmosphere of peace, happiness, and love. To reconcile you
perhaps, as a son, erring, but repentant, with that Holy Mother Church
to which you still belong. This is the change I am come to offer you."

As the cavaliere proceeds, the count's expressive eyes follow every
word he utters with a look of amazement. He is about to reply, but
Trenta places his finger on his lips.

"Let me continue," he says, smiling blandly. "When I have done, you
shall answer. In one word, count, it is marriage I am come to propose
to you."

The count suddenly rises from his seat, then he hurriedly reseats
himself. A look of pain comes into his face.

"Permit me to proceed," urges the cavaliere, watching him anxiously.
"I presume you mean to marry?"

Marescotti was silent. Trenta's naturally piping voice grows shriller
as he proceeds, from a certain sense of agitation.

"As the common friend of both parties, I am come to propose a marriage
to you, Count Marescotti."

"And who may the lady be?" asks the count, drawing back with a sudden
air of reserve. "Who is it that would consent to leave home and
friends, perhaps country, to share the lot of a fugitive patriot?"

"Come, come, count, this will not do," answers Trenta, smiling, a
certain twinkle returning to his blue eyes. "You are a perfectly free
agent. If you are a fugitive, it is because you like change. You bear
a great name--you are rich, singularly handsome--an ardent admirer of
beauty in art and Nature. Now, ardor on one side excites ardor on the
other."

While he is speaking, Trenta had mentally decided that Marescotti
was the most impracticable man he had ever encountered in the various
phases of his court career.

"A fugitive," he repeats, almost with a sneer. "No, no, count, this
will not do with me." The cavaliere pauses and clears his throat.

"You have not yet answered me," says the count, speaking low, a
certain suppressed eagerness penetrating the assumed indifference of
his manner. "Who is the lady?"

"Who is the lady?" echoes the cavaliere. "Did you not tell me just
now you were about to send for me?" Trenta speaks fast, a flush
overspreads his cheeks. "Who is the lady?--You astonish me! Per Bacco!
There can be but one lady in question between you and me--that lady is
Enrica Guinigi." His voice drops. There is a dead silence.

"That the marriage is suitable in all respects," Trenta continues,
reassured by the silence--"I need not tell you; else I, Cesare Trenta,
would not be here as the ambassador."

Again the stout little cavaliere stops to take breath, under evident
agitation; then he draws himself up, and turns his face toward the
count. As Trenta proceeds, Marescotti's brow is overclouded with
thought--a haggard expression now spreads over his features. His eyes
are turned downward on the floor, else the cavaliere might have
seen that their brilliancy is dimmed by rising tears. With his elbow
resting on the arm of the chair on which he sits, the count passes his
other hand from time to time slowly to and fro across his forehead,
pushing back the disordered curls that fall upon it.

"To restore and to continue an illustrious race--to unite yourself
with a lovely girl just bursting into womanhood." Trenta's voice
quivers as he says this. "Ah! lovely indeed, in mind as well as body,"
he adds, half aloud. "This is a privilege you, Count Marescotti, can
appreciate above all other men. That you do appreciate it you have
already made evident. There is no need for me to speak about Enrica
herself; you have already judged her. You have, before my eyes,
approached her with the looks and the language of passionate
admiration. It is not given to all men to be so fascinating. I have
seen it with delight. I love her"--his voice broke and shook with
emotion--"I love her as if she were my own child."

All the enthusiasm of which the old chamberlain is capable passes into
his face as he speaks of Enrica. At that moment he really did look as
young as he was continually telling every one that he felt.

"Count Marescotti," he continues, a solemn tone in his voice as he
slowly pronounces the words, raising his head at the same time, and
gazing fixedly into the other's face--Count Marescotti, "I am come
here to propose a marriage between you and Enrica Guinigi. The
marchesa empowers me to say that she constitutes Enrica her sole
heiress, not only of the great Guinigi name, but of the remaining
Guinigi palace, with the portrait of our Castruccio, the heirlooms,
the castle of Corellia, and lands of--"

"Stop, stop, my dear Trenta!" cries the count, holding up both
his hands in remonstrance; "you overwhelm me. I require no such
inducements; they horrify me. Enrica Guinigi is sufficient in
herself--so bright a jewel requires no golden settings."

At these words the cavaliere beams all over. He rubs his fat hands
together, then gently claps them.

"Bravo!--bravo, count! I see you appreciate her. Per Dio! you make me
feel young again! I never was so happy in my life! I should like
to dance! I will dance by-and-by at the wedding. We will open the
state-rooms. There is not a grander suite in all Italy. It is superb.
I will dance a quadrille with the marchesa. Bagatella! I shall insist
on it. I will execute a solo in the figure of the _pastorelle_. I will
show Baldassare and all the young men the finish of the old style.
People did steps then--they did not jump like wild horses--nor knock
each other down. No--then dancing was practised as a fine art."

Suddenly the brisk old cavaliere stops. The expression of Marescotti's
large, earnest eyes, fixed on him wonderingly, recalls him to himself.

"Excuse me, my dear friend; when you are my age, you will better
understand an old man's feelings. We are losing time. Now get your
hat, and come with me at once to Casa Guinigi; the marchesa expects
you. We will settle the day of the betrothal.--My sweet Enrica, how I
long to see you!"

While he is speaking Trenta rises and strikes his cane on the ground
with a triumphant air; then he holds out both his hands toward the
count.

"Shake hands with me, my dear Marescotti. I congratulate you--with my
whole soul I congratulate you! She will be your salvation, the dear,
blue-eyed little angel?"

In the tumult of his excitement Trenta had taken every thing for
granted. His thoughts had flown off to Enrica. His benevolent
heart throbbed with joy at the thought of her emancipation from
the thralldom of her home. A vision of the dark-haired, pale-faced
Marescotti, and the little blond head, with its shower of golden
curls, kneeling together before the altar in the sunshine, danced
before his eyes. Marescotti would become a, Christian--a firm pillar
of the Church; he would rear up children who would worship God and the
Holy Father; he would restore the glory of the Guinigi!

From this roseate dream the poor cavaliere was abruptly roused. His
outstretched hand had not been taken by Marescotti. It dropped to
his side. Trenta looked up sharply. His countenance suddenly fell; a
purple flush covered it from chin to forehead, penetrating even the
very roots of his snowy hair. His cane dropped with a loud thud, and
rolled away along the uncarpeted floor. He thrust both his hands into
his pockets, and stood motionless, with his eyes wide open, like a man
stunned.

"Dio buono!--Dio buono!" he muttered, "the man is mad!--the man is
mad!" Then, after a few minutes of absolute silence, he asked, in a
husky voice, "Marescotti, what does this mean?"

The count had turned away toward the window. At the sound of the
cavaliere's husky voice, he moved and faced him. In the space of a
few moments he had greatly changed. Suddenly he had grown worn and
weary-looking. His eyes were sunk into his head; dark circles had
formed round them. His bloodless cheeks, transparent with the pallor
of perfect health, were blanched; the corners of his mouth worked
convulsively.

"Does the lady--does Enrica Guinigi know of this proposal?" he asked,
in a voice so sad that the cavaliere's indignation against him cooled
considerably.

"Good God!" exclaimed Trenta, "such a question is an insult to me and
to my errand. Can you imagine that I, all my life chamberlain to his
highness the Duke of Lucca, am capable of compromising a lady?"

"Thank God!" ejaculated the count, emphatically, clasping his hands
together, and raising his eyes--"thank God! Forgive me for asking."
His whole voice and manner had changed as rapidly as his aspect. There
was a sense of suffering, a quiet resignation about him, so utterly
unlike his usual excitable manner that Trenta was puzzled beyond
expression--so puzzled, indeed, that he was speechless. Besides, a
veteran in etiquette, he felt that it was to himself an explanation
was due. Marescotti had been about to send for him. Now he was there,
Marescotti had heard his proposal, it was for Marescotti to answer.

That the count felt this also was apparent. There was something solemn
in his manner as he turned away from the window and slowly advanced
toward the cavaliere. Trenta was still standing immovable on the same
spot where he had muttered in the first moment of amazement, "He is
mad!"

"My dear old friend," said the count, speaking with evident effort in
a dull, sad voice, "there is some mistake. It was not to speak about
any lady that I was about to send for you."

"Not about a lady!" cried Trenta, aghast. "Mercy of God!--"

"Let that pass," interrupted the count, waving his hand. "You have
asked me for an explanation--an explanation you shall have." He sighed
deeply, then proceeded--the cavaliere following every word he uttered
with open mouth and wildly-staring eyes: "Of the lady I can say no
more than that, on my honor as a gentleman, to me she approaches
nearer the divine than any woman I have ever seen--nay, than any woman
I have ever dreamed of."

A flash of fire lit up the depths of the count's dark eyes, and there
was a tone of melting tenderness in his rich voice as he spoke of
Enrica. Then he relapsed into his former weary manner--the manner of a
man pronouncing his own death-warrant.

"Of the unspeakable honor you have done me, as has also the excellent
Marchesa Guinigi--it does not become me to speak. Believe me, I feel
it profoundly." And the count laid his hand upon his heart and bent
his grand head. Trenta, with formal politeness, returned the silent
salute.

"But"--and here the count's voice faltered, and there was a dimness
in his eyes, round which the black circles had deepened--"but it is an
honor I must decline."

Trenta, still rooted to the same spot, listened to each word that fell
from the count's lips with a look of anguish.

"Sit down, cavaliere--sit down," continued Marescotti, seeing his
distress. He put his arm round Trenta's burly, well-filled figure,
and drew him down gently into the depths of the arm-chair. "Listen,
cavaliere--listen to what I have to say before you altogether condemn
me. The sacrifice I am making costs me more than I can express. You
hold before my eyes what is to me more precious than life; you tempt
me with what every sense within me--heart, soul, manliness--urges me
to clutch; yet I dare not accept it."

He paused; so profound a sigh escaped him that it almost formed itself
into a groan.

"I don't understand all this," said Trenta, reddening with
indignation. He had been by degrees collecting his scattered senses.
"I don't understand it at all. You have, count, placed me in a most
awkward position; I feel it very much. You speak of a mistake--a
misapprehension. I beg to say there has been none on my part; I am
not in the habit of making mistakes."--It will be seen that the
cavaliere's temper was rising with the sense of the intolerable injury
Count Marescotti was inflicting on himself and all concerned.--"I have
undertaken a very serious responsibility; I have failed, you tell me.
What am I to say to the marchesa?"

His shrill voice rose into an angry cry. Altogether, it was more than
he could bear. For a moment, the injury to Enrica was forgotten in his
own personal sense of wrong. It was too galling to fail in an official
embassy Trenta, who always acted upon mature reflection, abhorred
failure.

"Tell her," answered the count, raising his voice, his eyes kindling
as he spoke--"tell her I am here in Lucca on a sacred mission. I
confide it to her honor. A man sworn to a mission cannot marry. As in
the kingdom of heaven they neither marry nor are given in marriage,
so I, the anointed priest of the people, dare not marry; it would be
sacrilege." His powerful voice rang through the room; he raised his
hands aloft, as if invoking some unseen power to whom he belonged.
"When you, cavaliere, entered this room, I was about to confide my
position to you. I am at Lucca--Lucca, once the foster-mother of
progress, and, I pray Heaven, to become so again!--I am at Lucca to
found a mission of freedom." A sudden gesture told him how much Trenta
was taken aback at this announcement. "We differ in our opinions as
widely as the poles," continued the count, warming to his subject,
"but you are my old friend--I felt you would not betray me. Now, after
what has passed, as a man of honor, I am bound to confide in you.
O Italy! my country!" exclaimed the count, clasping his hands, and
throwing back his head in a frenzy of enthusiasm, "what sacrifice is
too great for thee? Youth, hope, love--nay, life itself--all--all I
devote to thee!"

As he was speaking, a ray of sunlight penetrated through the closed
windows. It struck like a fiery arrow across the darkened room, and
fell full upon the count's upturned face, lighting up every line of
his noble countenance. There was a solemn passion in his eyes, a rapt
fervor in his gaze, that silenced even the justly-irritated Trenta.

Nevertheless the cavaliere was not a man to be put off by mere words,
however imposing they might be. He returned, therefore, to the charge
perseveringly.

"You speak of a mission, Count Marescotti; what is the nature of this
mission? Nothing political, I hope?"

He stopped abruptly. The count's eyelids dropped over his eyes as he
met Trenta's inquiring glance. Then he bowed his head in acquiescence.

"Another revolution may do much for Italy," he answered, in a low
tone.

"For the love of God," ejaculated Trenta, stung to the quick by what
he looked upon at that particular moment as in itself an aggravation
of his wrongs, "don't remind me of your politics, or I shall instantly
leave the room. Domine Dio! it is too much. You have just escaped by
the veriest good luck (good luck, by-the-way, you did not in the least
deserve) a life-long imprisonment at Rome. You had a mission there,
too, I believe."

This was spoken in as bitter a sneer as the cavaliere's kindly nature
permitted.

"Now pray be satisfied. If you and I are not to part this very
instant, don't let me realize you as the 'Red count.' That is a
character I cannot tolerate."

Trenta, so seldom roused to anger, shook all over with rage. "I
believe sincerely that it is such so-called patriots as yourself, with
their devilish missions, that will ruin us all."

"It is because you are ignorant of the grandeur of our cause, it is
because you do not understand our principles, that you misjudge us,"
responded the count, raising his eyes upon Trenta, and speaking with
a lofty disregard of his hot words. "Permit me to unfold to you
something of our philosophy, a philosophy which will resuscitate our
country, and place her again in her ancient position, as intellectual
monitress of Europe. You must not, cavaliere, judge either of my
mission or of my creed by the yelping of the miserable curs that
dog the heels of all great enterprises. There is the penetralia, the
esoteric belief, in all great systems of national belief."

The count spoke with emphasis, yet in grave and measured accents; but
his lustrous eyes, and the wild confusion of those black locks, that
waved, as it were, sympathetic to his humor, showed that his mind was
engrossed with thoughts of overwhelming interest.

The cavaliere, after his last indignant outburst, had subsided into
the depths of the arm-chair in which Marescotti had placed him; it was
so large as almost to swallow up the whole of his stout little person.
With his hands joined, his dimpled fingers interlaced and pointing
upward, he patiently awaited what the count might say. He felt
painfully conscious that he had failed in his errand. This irritated
him exceedingly. He had not entered that room--No. 4, at the Universo
Hotel--in order to listen to the elaboration of Count Marescotti's
mission, but in order to set certain marriage-bells ringing. These
marriage-bells were, it seemed, to be forever mute. Still, having
demanded an explanation of what he conceived to be the count's most
incomprehensible conduct, he was bound, he felt, in common courtesy,
to listen to all he had to say.

Now Trenta never in his life was wanting in the very flower of
courtesy; he would much sooner have shot himself than be guilty of an
ill-bred word. So, under protest, therefore--a protest more distinctly
written in the general puckering up of his round, plump face, and a
certain sulky swell about his usually smiling mouth--it was clear he
meant to listen, cost him what it might. Besides, when he had heard
what the count had to say, it was clearly his duty to reason with him.
Who could tell that he might not yield to such a process? He avowed
that he was deeply enamored of Enrica--a man in love is already half
vanquished. Why should Marescotti throw away his chance of happiness
for a phantasy--a mere dream? There was no real obstacle. He
was versatile and visionary, but the very soul of honor. How, if
he--Trenta--could bring Marescotti to see how much it would be to
Enrica's advantage that he should transplant her from a dreary home,
to become a wife beside him?

Decidedly it was still possible that he, Cesare Trenta, who had
arranged satisfactorily so many most difficult royal complications,
might yet bring Marescotti to reason. Who could tell that he might not
yet be spared the humiliation of returning to impart his failure to
the marchesa? A return, be it said, the good Trenta dreaded not a
little, remembering the characteristics of his dear friend, and the
responsibility of success which he had so confidently taken upon
himself before he started.



CHAPTER VI.

A NEW PHILOSOPHY.


There had been an interval of silence, during which the count paced up
and down the spacious room meditatively, each step sounding distinctly
on the stone floor. The rugged look of conscious power upon his
face, the far-way glance in his sombre eyes, showed that his mind was
working upon what he was about to say. Presently he ceased to walk,
reseated himself opposite the cavaliere, and fixed a half-absent gaze
upon him.

Trenta, who would cheerfully have undergone any amount of suffering
rather than listen to the abominations he felt were coming, sat with
half-closed eyes, gathered into the corner of the arm-chair, the very
picture of patient martyrdom.

The count contemplated him for a moment. As he did so an expression,
half cynical, half melancholy, passed over his countenance, and a
faint smile lurked about the corners of his mouth. Then in a voice
so full and sweet that the ear eagerly drank in the sound, like the
harmony of a cadence, he began:

"The Roman Catholic Church," he said, "styles itself divinely
constituted. It claims to be supreme arbiter in religion and morals;
supreme even in measuring intellectual progress; absolute in its
jurisdiction over the state, and solely responsible to itself as to
what the limit of that jurisdiction shall be. It calls itself supreme
and absolute, because infallible--infallible because divine. Thus the
vicious circle is complete. Now entire obedience necessarily comes
into collision with every species of freedom--nay, it is in
itself antagonistic to freedom--freedom of thought, freedom of
action--specially antagonistic to national freedom."

"The supremacy of the pope (the Holy Father)," put in Trenta,
meekly; he crossed himself several times in rapid succession, looking
afterward as if it had been a great consolation to him.

"The supremacy of the pope," repeated the count, firmly, the shadow
of a smile parting his lips, "is eternal. It is based as firmly in the
next world as it is in this. It constitutes a condition of complete
tyranny both in time and in eternity. Now I," and the count's
voice rose, and his eyes glowed, "I--both in my public and private
capacity--(call me Antichrist if you please)." A visible shudder
passed over the poor cavaliere; his eyes closed altogether, and his
lips moved. (He was repeating an Ave Maria Sanctissima). "I abhor, I
renounce this slavery!--I rebel against it!--I will have none of it.
Who shall control the immortality of thought?--a Pius, a Gregory?
Ignorant dreamers, perjured priests!--never!"

As he spoke, the count raised his right arm, and circled it in the
air. In imagination he was waving the flag of liberty over a prostrate
world.

"But, alas! this slavery is riveted by the grasp of centuries; it
requires measures as firm and uncompromising as its own to dislodge
it. Now the pope "--Trenta did not this time attempt to correct
Marescotti--"the pope is theoretically of no nation, but in reality
he is of all nations; and he is surrounded by a court of celibate
priests, also without nation. Observe, cavaliere--this absolute
dominion is attained by celibates only--men with no family ties--no
household influences." (This was spoken, as it were, _en parenthèse_,
as a comment on the earlier portion of the conversation that had taken
place between them.) "Each of these celibate priests is the pope's
courtier--his courtier and his slave; his slave because he is subject
to a higher law than the law of his own conscience, and the law of his
own country. Without home or family, nationality or worldly interest,
the priest is a living machine, to be used in whatever direction his
tyrant dictates. Every priest, therefore, be he cardinal or deacon,
moves and acts the slave of an abstract idea; an idea incompatible
with patriotism, humanity, or freedom."

An audible and deep groan escaped from the suffering cavaliere as the
count's voice ceased.

"Now, Cavaliere Trenta, mark the application." As the count proceeded
with his argument, his dark eyes, lit up with the enthusiasm of
his own oratory, riveted themselves on the arm-chair. (It could not
properly be said that his eyes riveted themselves on Trenta, for
he was stooping down, his face covered with his hands, altogether
insensible to any possible appeal that might be addressed to him.) "I,
Manfredi Marescotti, consecrated priest of the people"--and the count
drew himself up to the full height of his lofty figure--"I am as
devoted to my cause--God is my witness"--and he raised his right
hand as though to seal a solemn pledge of truth--"as that consecrated
renegade, the pope! My followers--and their name is legion--believe in
me as implicitly as do the tonsured dastards of the Vatican."

Another ill-suppressed groan escaped from Trenta, and for a moment
interrupted the count's oration. The miserable cavaliere! He had,
indeed, invoked an explanation, and, cost him what it might, he must
abide it. But he began to think that the explanation had gone too
far. He was sitting there listening to blasphemies. He was actually
imperiling his own soul. He was horrified as he reflected that he
might not obtain absolution when he confessed the awful language
which was addressed to him. Such a risk was really greater than his
submission to etiquette exacted. There were bounds even to that, the
aged chamberlain told himself.

Gracious heavens!--for him, an unquestioning papalino, a sincere
believer in papal infallibility and the temporal power--to hear the
Holy Father called a renegade, and his faithful servants stigmatized
as dastards! It was monstrous!

He secretly resolved that, once escaped from No. 4 at the Universo
Hotel--and he wondered that a thunderbolt had not already struck the
count dead where he stood--he would never allow himself to have any
further intercourse whatever with him.

"I have been elected," continued the count, speaking in the same
emphatic manner, and in the same distinct and harmonious voice,
utterly careless or unobservant of the conflict of feelings under
which the cavaliere was struggling--"head pope, if you please,
cavaliere, so to call me."--("God forbid!" muttered Trenta.)--"It
makes my analogy the clearer--I have been elected by thousands of
devoted followers. But my followers are not slaves, nor am I a tyrant.
I have accepted the glorious title of Priest of the People, and
nothing--_nothing_" the count repeated, vehemently, "shall tempt me
from my duty. I am here at Lucca to establish a mission--to plant
in this fertile soil the sacred banner of freedom--red as the first
streaks of light that lace the eastern heavens; red as the life-blood
from which we draw our being. I am here, under the protection of this
glorious banner, to combat the tyranny upon which the church and the
throne are based. Instead of the fetters of the past, binding mankind
in loathsome trammels of ignorance--instead of the darkness that
broods over a subjugated world--of terrors that rend agonized souls
with horrible tortures--I bring peace, freedom, light, progress. To
the base ideal of perpetual tyranny--both here and hereafter--I oppose
the pure ideal of absolute freedom--freedom to each separate soul to
work out for itself its own innate convictions--freedom to form its
independent destiny. Freedom in state, freedom in church, freedom in
religion, literature, commerce, government--freedom as boundless as
the sunshine that fructifies the teeming earth! Freedom of thought
necessitates freedom in government. As the soul wings itself toward
the light of simple truth, so should the body politic aspire to
perfect freedom. This can only be found in a pure republic; a republic
where all men are equal--where each man lives for the other in living
for himself--where brother cleaves to brother as his own flesh--family
is knit to family--one, yet many--one, yet of all nations!"

"Communism, in fact!" burst forth the cavaliere. His piping voice,
now hoarse with rage, quivered. "You are here to form a communistic
association! God help us!"

"I care not what you call it," cried the count, with a rising
passion. "My faith, my hope, is the ideal of freedom as opposed to the
abstraction of hierarchical superstition and monarchic tyranny. What
are popes, kings, princes, and potentates, to me who deem all men
equal? It is by a republic alone that we can regenerate our beloved,
our unfortunate Italy, now tossed between a debauched monarch--a
traitor, who yielded Savoy--an effete Parliament--a pack of lawyers
who represent nothing but their own interests, and a pope--the
recreant of Gaeta! The sooner our ideas are circulated, the sooner
they will permeate among the masses. Already the harvest has been
great elsewhere. I am here to sow, to reap, and to gather. For this
end--mark me, cavaliere, I entreat you--I am here, for none other."

Here the triumphant patriot became suddenly embarrassed. He stopped,
hesitated, stopped again, took breath, and sighed; then turned full
upon Trenta, in order to obtain some response to the appeal he had
addressed to him. But again Trenta, sullenly silent, had buried
himself in the depths of the arm-chair, and was, so to say, invisible.

"For this end" (a mournful cadence came into the count's voice when he
at length proceeded) "I am ready to sacrifice my life. My life!--what
is that? I am ready to sacrifice my love--ay, my love--the love of the
only woman who fulfills the longings of my poetic soul."

The count ceased speaking. The fair Enrica, with her tender smile,
and patient, chastened loveliness--Enrica, as he had imagined her, the
type of the young Madonna, was before him. No, Enrica could never be
his; no child of his would ever be encircled by those soft, womanly
arms! With a strong effort to shake off the feeling which so deeply
moved him, the count continued:

"In the boundless realms of ideal philosophy"--his noble features were
at this moment lit up into the living image of that hero he so much
resembled--"man grapples hand to hand with the unseen. There are no
limits to his glorious aspirations. He is as God himself. He, too,
becomes a Creator; and a new and purer world forms beneath his hand."

"Have you done?" asked Trenta, looking up out of the arm-chair. He was
so thoroughly overcome, so subdued, he could have wept. From the very
commencement of the count's explanation, he had felt that it was not
given to him to combat his opinions. If he could, he was not sure that
he would have ventured to do so. "Let pitch alone," says the proverb.

Now Trenta, of a most cleanly nature, morally and physically--abhorred
pitch, especially such pitch as this. He had long looked upon Count
Marescotti as an atheist, a visionary--but he had never conceived
him capable of establishing an organized system of rebellion and
communism. At Lucca, too! It was horrible! By some means such
an incendiary must be got rid of. Next to the foul Fiend himself
established in the city, he could conceive nothing more awful! It was
a Providence that Marescotti could not marry Enrica! He should tell
the marchesa so. Such sophistry might have perverted Enrica also. It
was more than probable that, instead of reforming him, she might have
fallen a victim to his wickedness. This reflection was infinitely
comforting to the much-enduring cavaliere. It lightened also much of
his apprehension in approaching the marchesa, as the bearer of the
count's refusal.


To Trenta's question as to "whether he had done," Marescotti had
promptly replied with easy courtesy, "Certainly, if you desire it.
But, my dear cavaliere," he went on to say, speaking in his usual
manner, "you will now understand why, cost me what it may, I cannot
marry. Never, never, I confess, have I been so fiercely tempted! But
the pang is past!" And he swept his hand over his brow. "Marriage with
me is impossible. You will understand this."

"Yes, yes, I quite agree with you, count," put in Trenta--sideways, as
it were. He was rejoiced to find he had any common standing-point left
with Marescotti. "I agree with you--marriage is quite impossible.
I hope, too," he added, recovering himself a little, with a faint
twinkle in his eye, "you will find your mission at Lucca equally
impossible. San Riccardo grant it!" And the old man crossed himself,
and secretly fingered an image of the Virgin he wore about his neck.

"Putting aside the sacred office with which I am invested," resumed
the count, without noticing Trenta's observation, "no wife could
sympathize with me. It would be a case of Byron over again. What agony
it would be to me to see the exquisite Enrica unable to understand
me! A poet, a mystic, I am only fit to live alone. My path"--and
a far-away look came into his eyes--"my path lies alone upon the
mountains--alone! alone!" he added sorrowfully, and a tear trembled on
his eyelid.

"Then why, may I ask you," retorted Trenta, with energy, raising
himself upright in the arm-chair, "why did you mislead me by such
passionate language to Enrica? Recall the Guinigi Tower, your
attitude--your glances--I must say, Count Marescotti, I consider your
conduct unpardonable--quite unpardonable."

Trenta's face and forehead were scarlet, his steely blue eyes were
rounded to their utmost width, and, as far as such mild eyes could,
they glared at the count.

"You have entirely misled me. As to your political opinions, I have,
thank God, nothing to do with them; that is your affair. But in this
matter of Enrica you have unjustifiably misled me. I shall not forgive
you in a hurry, I can tell you." There was a rustling of anger all
over the cavaliere, as the leaves of the forest-trees rustle before
the breath of the coming tempest.

"My admiration for women," replied the count, "has hitherto been
purely aesthetic. You, cavaliere, cannot understand the discrepancies
of an artistic nature. Women have been to me heretofore as beautiful
abstractions. I have adored them as I adore the works of the great
masters. I would as soon have thought of plucking a virgin from the
canvas--a Venus from her pedestal, as of appropriating one of them.
Enrica Guinigi"--there was a tender inflection in Count Marescotti's
voice whenever he named her, an involuntary bending of the head that
was infinitely touching--"Enrica Guinigi is an exception. I could have
loved her--ah! she is worthy of all love! Her soul is as rare as
her person. I read in the depths of her plaintive eyes the trust of
a child and the fortitude of a heroine. If I dared to give these
thoughts utterance, it was because I knew _she loved another!_"

"Loved another?" screamed Trenta, losing all self-control and
tottering to his feet. "Loved another?" he repeated, every feature
working convulsively. "What do you mean?"

Marescotti rose also. Was it possible that Trenta could be in
ignorance, he asked himself, hurriedly, as he stared at the aged
chamberlain, trembling from head to foot.

"Loved another? You are mad, Count Marescotti, I always said so--mad!
mad!" Trenta gasped for breath. He was hardly able to articulate.

The count bowed to him ironically.

"Calm yourself, cavaliere," he said, haughtily, measuring from head
to foot the plump little cavaliere, who stood before him literally
panting with rage. "There is no need for violence. You and the
marchesa must have known of this. I shuddered, when I thought that
Enrica might have been driven into acquiescence with your proposal
against her will. I love her too much to have permitted it."

The cavaliere could with difficulty bring himself to allow Marescotti
to finish. He was too furious to take in the full sense of what he
said. His throat was parched.

"You must answer to me for this!" Trenta could barely articulate.
His voice was dry and hoarse. "You must--you shall. You have refused
Enrica, now you insult her. I demand--I demand satisfaction. No
excuse--no excuse!" he shouted. And seeing that Marescotti drew back
toward the window, the cavaliere pressed closer upon him, stamped
his foot upon the floor, and raised his clinched fist as near to the
count's face as his height permitted.

Had the official sword hung at Trenta's side, he would undoubtedly
have drawn it at that moment and attacked him. In the defense of
Enrica he forgot his age--he forgot every thing. His very voice had
changed into a manly barytone. In the absence of his sword, Trenta
was evidently about to strike Marescotti. As he advanced, the other
retreated.

A hot flush overspread the count's face for an instant, then it faded
out, and grew pale and rigid. He remembered the cavaliere's great age,
and checked himself. To avoid him, the count retreated to the farthest
limit of the room, hastily seized a chair, and barricaded himself
behind it. "I will not fight you, Cavaliere Trenta," he answered,
speaking with calmness.

"Ah, coward!" screamed Trenta, "would you dishonor me?"

"Cavaliere Trenta, this is folly," said the count, crossing his arms
on his breast. "Strike me if you please," he added, seeing that Trenta
still threatened him. "Strike me; I shall not return it. On my honor
as a gentleman, what I have said is true. Had you, cavaliere, been
a younger man, you must have heard it in the city, at the club, the
theatre; it is known everywhere."

"What is known?" asked Trenta, hoarsely, standing suddenly motionless,
the flush of rage dying out of his countenance, and a look of helpless
suffering taking its place.

"That Count Nobili loves Enrica Guinigi," answered Marescotti,
abruptly.

Like a shot Baldassare's words rose to Trenta's remembrance. The poor
old chamberlain turned very white. He quivered like a leaf, and clung
to the table for support.

"Pardon me, oh! pardon me a thousand times, if I have pained you,"
exclaimed the count; he left the place where he was standing, threw
his arms round Trenta, and placed him with careful tenderness on a
seat. His generous heart upbraided him bitterly for having allowed
himself for an instant to be heated by the cavaliere's reproaches.
"How could I possibly imagine you did not know all this?" he asked, in
the gentlest voice.

Trenta groaned.

"Take me home, take me home," he murmured, faintly. "Gran Dio! the
marchesa! the marchesa!" He clasped his hands, then let them fall upon
his knees.

"But what real obstacle can there be to a marriage with Count Nobili?"

"I cannot speak," answered the cavaliere, almost inaudibly, trying to
rise. "Every obstacle." And he sank back helplessly on the chair.

Count Marescotti took a silver flask from a drawer, and offered him a
cordial. Trenta swallowed it with the submissiveness of a child. The
count picked up his cane, and placed it in his hand. The cavaliere
mechanically grasped it, rose, and moved feebly toward the door.

"Let me go," he said, faintly, addressing Marescotti, who urged him to
remain. "Let me go. I must inform the marchesa, I must see Enrica. Ah!
if you knew all!" he whispered, looking piteously at the count. "My
poor Enrica!--my pretty lamb! Who can have led her astray? How can it
have happened? I must go--go at once. I am better now. Yes--give me
your arm, count, I am a little weak. I thank you--it supports me."

The door of No. 4 was at last opened. The cavaliere descended the
stairs very slowly, supported by Marescotti, whose looks expressed the
deepest compassion. A _fiacre_ was called from the piazza.

"The Palazzo Trenta," said Count Marescotti to the driver, handing in
the cavaliere.

"No, no," he faintly interrupted, "not there. To Casa Guinigi. I must
instantly see the marchesa," whispered Trenta in the count's ear.

The _fiacre_ containing the unhappy chamberlain drove from the door,
and plunged into a dark street toward the cathedral.

Count Marescotti stood for some minutes in the doorway, gazing after
it. The full blaze of a hot September sun played round his uncovered
head, lighting it up as with a glory. Then he turned, and, slowly
reascending the stairs to No. 4, opened his door, and locked it behind
him.



CHAPTER VII.

THE MARCHESA'S PASSION.


The Marchesa Guinigi dined early. She had just finished when a knock
at the door of her squalid sitting-room on the second story, with the
pea-green walls and shabby furniture, aroused her from what was
the nearest approach to a nap in which she ever indulged. In direct
opposition to Italian habits, she maintained that sleeping in the day
was not only lazy, but pernicious to health. As the marchesa did not
permit herself to be lulled by the morphitic influences of those long,
dreary days of an Italian summer, which must perforce be passed
in closed and darkened chambers, and in a stifling atmosphere, she
resolutely set her face against any one in her palace enjoying this
national luxury.

At the hottest moment of the twenty-four hours, and in the dog-days,
when the rays of a scalding sun pour down upon roof and wall and
tower like molten lead, searching out each crack and cranny with cruel
persistence, the marchesa was wont stealthily to descend into the
very bowels, as it were, of that great body corporate, the Guinigi
Palace--to see with her own eyes if her orders were obeyed. With hard
words, and threats of instant dismissal, she aroused her sleeping
household. No refuge could hide an offender--no hole, however dark,
could conceal so much as a kitchen-boy.

The marchesa's eye penetrated everywhere. From garret to cellar she
knew the dimensions of every cupboard--the capacity of each nook--the
measure of the very walls. Woe to the unlucky sleeper! his slumbers
from that hour were numbered; she watched him as if he had committed a
crime.

When the marchesa, as I have said, was aroused by a knock, she sat up
stiffly, and rubbed her eyes before she would say, "Enter." When she
spoke the word, the door slowly opened, and Cavaliere Trenta
stood before her. Never had he presented himself in such an abject
condition; he was panting for breath; he leaned heavily on his
gold-headed cane; his snowy hair hung in disorder about his forehead,
deep wrinkles had gathered on his face; his eyes were sunk in their
sockets, and his white lips twitched nervously, showing his teeth.

"Cristo!" exclaimed the marchesa, fixing her keen eyes upon him, "you
are going to have a fit!"

Trenta shook his head slowly.

The marchesa pulled a chair to her side. The cavaliere sank into it
with a sigh of exhaustion, put his hand into his pocket, drew out his
handkerchief, placed it before his eyes, and sobbed aloud.

"Trenta--Cesarino!"--and the marchesa rose, laid her long, white
fingers on his shoulder--it was a cruel hand, spite of its symmetry
and aristocratic whiteness--"what does this mean? Speak, speak! I hate
mystification. I order you to speak!" she added, imperiously. "Have
you seen Count Marescotti?"

Trenta nodded.

"What does he say? Is the marriage arranged?"

Trenta shook his head. If his life had depended upon it he could not
have uttered a single word at that moment. His sobs choked him. Tears
ran down his aged cheeks, moistening the wrinkles and furrows now so
apparent. He was in such a piteous condition that even the marchesa
was softened as she looked at him.

"If all this is because the marriage with Count Marescotti has failed,
you are a fool, Trenta! a fool, do you hear?" And she leaned over him,
tightened her hand upon his shoulder, and actually shook him.

Trenta submitted passively.

"On the whole, I am very glad of it. Do you hear? You talked me over,
Cesarino; I have repented it ever since. Count Marescotti is not the
man I should have selected for raising up heirs to the Guinigi. Now
don't irritate me," she continued, with a disdainful glance at the
cavaliere. "Have done with this folly. Do you hear?"

"Enrica, Enrica!" groaned Trenta, who, always accustomed to obey
her, began wiping his eyes--they would, however, keep overflowing--"O
marchesa! how can I tell you?"

"Tell me what?" demanded the marchesa, sternly.

Her breath came short and quick, her thin face grew set and rigid.
Like a veteran war-horse, she scented the battle from afar!

"Ah! if you only knew all!" And a great spasm passed over the
cavaliere's frame. "You must prepare yourself for the worst."

The marchesa laughed--a short, contemptuous laugh--and shrugged her
shoulders.

"Enrica, Enrica--what can she do?--a child! She cannot compromise me,
or my name."

"Enrica has compromised both," cried Trenta, roused at last from
his paroxysm of grief. "Enrica has more than compromised it; she
has compromised all the Guinigi that ever lived--you, the palace,
herself--every one. Enrica has a lover!" The marchesa bounded from her
chair; her face turned livid in the waning light.

"Who told you this?" she asked, in a strange, hollow voice, without
turning her eyes or moving a muscle of her face.

"Count Marescotti," answered Trenta, meekly.

He positively cowered beneath the pent-up wrath of the marchesa.

"Who is the man?"

"Nobili."

"What!--Count Nobili?"

"Yes, Count Nobili."

With a great effort she commanded herself, and continued interrogating
Trenta.

"How did Marescotti hear it?"

"From common report. It is known all over Lucca."

"Was this the reason that Count Marescotti declined to marry my
niece?"

The marchesa spoke in the same strange tone, but she fixed her eyes
savagely on Trenta, so as to be able to convince herself how far he
might dare to equivocate.

"That was a principal reason," replied the cavaliere, in a faltering
voice; "but there were others."

"What are the others to me? The dishonor of my niece is sufficient."

There was a desperate composure about the marchesa, more terrible than
passion.

"Her dishonor! God and all the saints forbid!" retorted Trenta,
clasping his hands. "Marescotti did not speak of dishonor."

"But I speak of dishonor!" shrieked the marchesa, and the pent-up
rage within her flashed out over her face like a tongue of fire.
"Dishonor!--the vilest, basest dishonor! What do I care "--and she
stamped her foot loudly on the brick floor--"what do I care what
Nobili has done to her? By that one fact of loving him she has soiled
this sacred roof." The marchesa's eyes wandered wildly round the room.
"She has soiled the name I bear. I will cast her forth into the street
to beg--to starve!"

And as the words fell from her lips she stretched out her long arm and
bony finger as in a withering curse.

"But, ha! ha!"--and her terrible voice echoed through the empty
room--"I forgot. Count Nobili loves her; he will keep her--in luxury,
too--and in a Guinigi palace!" She hissed out these last words. "She
has learned her way there already. Let her go--go instantly," the
marchesa's hand was on the bell. "Let her go, the soft-voiced viper!"

The transport of fury which possessed the marchesa had had the effect
of completely recalling Trenta to himself. For his great age, Trenta
possessed extraordinary recuperative powers, both of body and mind.
Not only had he so far recovered while the marchesa had been speaking
as to arrange his hair and his features, and to smoothe the creases
of his official coat into something of their habitual punctilious
neatness, but he had had time to reflect. Unless he could turn
the marchesa from her dreadful purpose, Enrica (still under all
circumstances his beloved child) would infallibly be turned into the
street by her remorseless aunt.

At the moment that the marchesa had laid her hand upon the bell,
Trenta darted forward and tore it from her hand.

"For the love of the Virgin, pause before you commit so horrible an
act!"

So sudden had been his movement, so unwonted his energy, that the
marchesa was checked in the very climax of her passion.

"If you have no mercy on a child that you have reared at your side,"
exclaimed Trenta, laying his hand on hers, "spare yourself, your name,
your house, such a scandal! Is it for this that you cherish the name
of the great Paolo Guinigi, whose acts were acts of clemency and
wisdom? Is it for this you honor the memory of Castruccio Castracani,
who was called the 'father of the people?' Bethink you, marchesa, that
they lived under this very roof. You dare not--no, not even you--dare
not tarnish their memories! Call Enrica here. It is the barest justice
that the accused should be heard. Ask her what she has done? Ask her
what has passed? How she has met Count Nobili? Until an hour ago I
could have sworn she did not even know him."

"Ay, ay," burst out the marchesa, "so could I. How did she come to
know him?"

"That is precisely what we must learn," continued Trenta, eagerly
seizing on the slightest abatement of the marchesa's wrath. "That is
what we must ask her. Marchesa, in common decency, you cannot put
your own niece out of your house without seeing her and hearing her
explanation."

"You may call her, if you please," answered the marchesa, with a look
of dogged rage; "but I warn you, Cesare Trenta, if she avows her love
for Nobili in my presence, I shall esteem that in itself the foulest
crime she can commit. If she avows it, she leaves my house to-night.
Let her die!--I care not what becomes of her!"



CHAPTER VIII.

ENRICA'S TRIAL.


The Cavaliere Trenta, without an instant's delay, seized the bell and
rang it. The broken-down retainer, in his suit of well-worn livery,
shuffled in through the anteroom.

"What did the excellency command?" he asked in a dreary voice, as the
marchesa did not address him.

"Tell the signorina that the Marchesa Guinigi desires her presence
immediately," answered the cavaliere, promptly. He would not give her
an opportunity of speaking.

"Her excellency shall be obeyed," replied the servant, still
addressing himself to the marchesa. He bowed, then glided noiselessly
from the room.

A door is heard to open, then to shut; a bell is rung; there is a
muttered conversation in the anteroom, and the sound of receding
footsteps; then a side-door in the corner of the sitting-room near the
window opens; there is the slight rustle of a summer dress, and Enrica
stands before them.

It is the same hour of sunset as when she had sat there three days
before, knitting beside the open casement, with the twisted marble
colonnettes and delicate tracery. The same subtile fragrance of the
magnolia rises upward from the waxy leaves of the tall flowering trees
growing beneath in the Moorish garden. The low rays of the setting sun
flit upon her flaxen hair, defining each delicate curl, and sharply
marking the outline of her slight girlish figure; the slender waist,
the small hands. Even the little foot is visible under the folds of
her light dress.

Enrica's face is in shadow, but, as she raises it and sees the
cavaliere seated beside her aunt, a quiet smile plays about her mouth,
and a gleam of pleasure rises in her eyes.

What is it that makes youth in Italy so fresh and beautiful--so lithe,
erect, and strong? What gives that lustre to the eye, that ripple to
the hair, that faultless mould to the features, that mellowness to the
skin--like the ruddy rind of the pomegranate--those rounded limbs that
move with sovereign ease--that step, as of gods treading the earth?
Is it the color of the golden skies? Is it a philter brewed by the
burning sunshine? or is it found in the deep shadows that brood in
the radiance of the starry night? Is it in those sounds of music
ever floating in the air? or in the solemn silence of the
primeval chestnut-woods? Does it come in the crackling of the
mountain-storm--in the terror of the earthquake? Does it breathe from
the azure seas that belt the classic land--or in the rippling
cadence of untrodden streams amid lonely mountains? Whence comes
it?--how?--where? I cannot tell.

The marchesa is seated on her accustomed seat; her face is shaded by
her hand. So stern, so solemn, is her attitude that her chair seems
suddenly turned into a judgment-seat.

The cavaliere has risen at Enrica's entrance. Not daring to display
his feelings in the presence of the marchesa, he thrusts his hands
into his pockets, and stands behind her, his head partly turned away,
leaning against the edge of the marble mantel-piece. There is such
absolute silence in the room that the ticking of a clock is distinctly
heard. It is the deadly pause before the slaughter of the battle. "You
sent for me, my aunt?" Enrica speaks in a timid voice, not moving from
the spot where she has entered, near the open window. "What is your
pleasure?"

"My pleasure!" the marchesa catches up and echoes the words with a
horrible jeer. (She had been collecting her forces for attack; she had
lashed herself into a transport of fury. Her smooth, snake-like
head was reared erect; her upright figure, too thin to be majestic,
stiffened. Thunder and lightning were in her eyes as she turned them
on Enrica.) "You dare to ask me my pleasure! You shall hear it, lost,
miserable girl! Leave this house--go to your lover! Let it be the
motto of his low-born race that a Nobili dishonored a Guinigi. Go--I
wish you were dead!" and she points with her finger toward the door.

Every word that fell from the marchesa sounded like a curse. As she
speaks, the smiles fade out of Enrica's face as the lurid sunlight
fades before the rising tempest. She grasps a chair for support. Her
bosom heaves under the folds of her thin white dress. Her eyes, which
had fixed themselves on her aunt, fall with an agonized expression on
the floor. Thus she stands, speechless, motionless, passive; stunned,
as it were, by the shock of the words.

Then a low cry of pain escapes her, a cry like the complaint of a dumb
animal--the bleat of a lamb under the butcher's knife.

"Have I not reared you as my own child?" cries the marchesa--too
excited to remain silent in the presence of her victim. "Have you ever
left my side? Yet under my ancestral roof you have dared to degrade
yourself. Out upon you!--Go, go--or with my own hand I shall drive you
into the street!"

She starts up, and is rushing upon Enrica, who stands motionless
before her, when Trenta steps forward, puts his hand firmly on the
marchesa's arm, and draws her back.

"You have called Enrica here," he whispers, "to question her. Do
so--do so. Look, she is so overcome she cannot speak," and he points
to Enrica, who is now trembling like an aspen-leaf, her fair head
bowed upon her bosom, the big tears trickling down her white cheeks.

When the marchesa, checked by Trenta, has ceased speaking, Enrica
raises her heavy eyelids and turns her eyes, swimming in tears,
upon her aunt. Then she clasps her hands--the small fingers knitting
themselves together with a grasp of agony--and wrings them. Her lips
move, but no sound comes from them. Something there is so pitiful in
this mute appeal--she looks so slight and frail in the background of
the fading sunlight--there is such a depth of unspoken pathos in
every line of her young face--that the marchesa pauses; she pauses ere
putting into execution her resolve of turning Enrica herself, with her
own hands, from the palace.

A new sentiment has also within the last few minutes arisen within
her--a sentiment of curiosity. The marchesa is a woman; in many
respects a thorough woman. The first flash of fury once passed, she
feels an intense longing to know how all this had come about. What had
passed? How had Enrica met Nobili? Whether any of her household had
betrayed her? On whom her just vengeance shall fall?

Each moment that passes as the quick thoughts rattle through her
brain, it seems to her more and more imperative that she should inform
herself what had really happened under her roof!

At this moment Enrica speaks in a low voice.

"O my aunt! I have done nothing! Indeed, indeed,"--and a great sob
breaks in and cuts her speech. "I have done nothing."

"What!" cries the marchesa, her fury again roused by such a daring
assertion. "What do you call nothing? Do you deny that you love
Nobili?"

"No, my aunt. I love him--I love him."

The mention of Nobili's name gave Enrica courage. With that name
the sunlit days of meeting came back again. A gleam of their divine
refraction swam before her. Nobili--is he not strong, and brave, and
true? Is he not near at hand? Oh, if he only knew her need!--oh, if he
could only rush to her--bear her in his arms away--away to untrodden
lands of love and bliss where she could hide her head upon his breast
and be at peace!

All this gave her courage. She passes her hand over her face and
brushes the tears away. Her blue eyes, that shine out now like a rent
in a cloudy sky, are meekly but fearlessly cast upon her aunt.

"You dare to tell me you love him--you dare to avow it in my presence,
degraded girl! have you no pride--no decency?"

"I have done nothing," Enrica answers in the same voice, "of which
I am ashamed. From the first moment I saw him I loved him. I
loved--him--oh! how I loved him!" She repeats this softly, as if
speaking to herself. An inner light shines over her whole countenance.
"And Nobili loves me. I know it." Her voice sounds sweet and firm. "He
is mine!"

"Fool, you think so; you are but one of many!" The marchesa, incensed
beyond endurance at her firmness, raises her head with the action of
a snake about to spring upon its prey. "Dare you deny that you are his
mistress?"

(Could the marchesa have seen the cavaliere standing behind her, at
that moment, and how those eyes of his were riveted on Enrica with a
look in which hope, thankfulness, pity, and joy, crossed and combated
together--mercy on us! she would have turned and struck him!)

The shock of the words overcame Enrica. She fixes her eyes on her aunt
as if not understanding their meaning. Then a deep blush covers her
from head to foot; she trembles and presses both her hands to her
bosom as if in pain.

"Spare her, spare her!" is heard in less audible sounds from Trenta to
the marchesa. The marchesa tosses her head defiantly.

"I am to be Count Nobili's wife," Enrica says at last, in a faltering
voice. "The Holy Mother is my witness, I have done nothing wrong. I
have met him in the cathedral, and at the door of the Moorish garden.
He has written to me, and I have answered."

"Doubtless; and you have met him alone?" asked the marchesa, with a
savage sneer.

"Never, my aunt; Teresa was always with me."

"Teresa, curse her! She shall leave the house as naked as she came
into it. How many other of my servants did you corrupt?"

"Not one; it was known to her and to me only."

"And why not to me, your guardian? why not to me?" And the marchesa
advances step by step toward Enrica, as the bitter consciousness of
having been hoodwinked by such a child fills her with fresh rage. "You
have deceived me--I who have fed and clothed and nourished you--I who,
but for this, would have endowed you with all I have, bequeathed to
you a name greater than that of kings! Answer me this, Enrica. Leave
off wringing your hands and turning up your eyes. Answer me!"

"My aunt, I was afraid."

"Afraid!" and the marchesa laughs a loud and scornful laugh; "you were
not, afraid to meet this man in secret."

"No. Fear him! what had I to fear? Nobili loves me."

The word was spoken. Now she had courage to meet the marchesa's
gaze unmoved, spite of the menace of her look and attitude. Enrica's
conscience acquitted her of any wrong save the wrong of concealment,
"Had you asked me," she adds, more timidly, "I should have spoken. You
have asked me now, and I have told you."

The very spirit of truth spoke in Enrica. Not even the marchesa could
doubt her. Enrica had not disgraced the name she bore. She believed
her; but there was a sting behind sharper to her than death. That
sting remained. Enrica had confessed her love for the man she hated!

As to the cavaliere, the difficulty he experienced at this moment in
controlling his feelings amounted to positive agony. His Enrica is
safe! San Riccardo be thanked! She is safe--she is pure! Except
his eyes, which glowed with the secret ecstasy he felt, he appeared
outwardly as impassive as a stone. The marchesa turned and reseated
herself. There is, spite of her violence, an indescribable majesty
about her as she sits erect and firm upon her chair in judgment on her
niece. Right or wrong, the marchesa is a woman born to command.

"It is not for me," she says, with lofty composure, "to reason with
a love-sick girl, whose mind runs to the tune of her lover's name.
Of all living men I abhor Count Nobili. To love him, in my eyes, is
a crime--yes, a crime," she repeats, raising her voice, seeing that
Enrica is about to speak. "I know him--he is a vain, purse-proud
reprobate. He has come and planted himself like a mushroom within our
ancient walls. Nor did this content him--he has had the presumption to
lodge himself in a Guinigi palace. The blood in his veins is as mud.
That he cannot help, nor do I reproach him for it; but he has forced
himself into our class--he has mingled his name with the old names of
the city; he has dared to speak--live--act--as if he were one of us.
You, Enrica, are the last of the Guinigi. I had hoped that a child I
had reared at my side would have learned and reflected my will--would
have repaid me for years of care by her obedience."

"O my aunt!" exclaims Enrica, sinking on her knees, "forgive
me--forgive me! I am ungrateful."

"Rise," cries the marchesa, sternly, not in the least touched by this
outburst of natural feeling. "I care not for words--your acts show you
have defied me. The project which for years I have silently nursed
in my bosom, waiting for the fitting time to disclose it to you--the
project of building up through you the great Guinigi name."

The marchesa pauses; she gasps, as if for breath. A quick flush steals
over her white face, and for a moment she leans back in her chair,
unable to proceed. Then she presses her hand to her forehead, on which
the perspiration had risen in beads.

"Alas! I did not know it!" Enrica is now sobbing bitterly. "Why--oh!
why, did you not trust me?"

In a strange, weary-sounding voice the marchesa continues:

"Let us not speak of it. Enrica"--she turns her gray eyes full
upon her, as she stands motionless in front of the pillared
casement--"Enrica, you must choose. Renounce Nobili, or prepare to
enter a convent. His wife you can never be."

As a shot that strikes a brightly-plumaged bird full in its
softly-feathered breast, so did these dreadful words strike Enrica.
There is a faint, low cry, she has fallen upon the floor!

The marchesa did not move, but, looking at her where she lay, she
slowly shook her head. Not so the cavaliere. He rushed forward, and
raised her tenderly in his arms. The tears streamed down his aged
cheeks.

"Take her away!" cried the marchesa; "take her away! She has broken my
heart!"



CHAPTER IX.

WHAT CAME OF IT.


When Cavaliere Trenta returned, after he had led away Enrica, and
consigned her to Teresa, he was very grave. As he crossed the room
toward the marchesa, he moved feebly, and leaned heavily on his stick.
Then he drew a chair opposite to her, sat down, heaved a deep sigh,
and raised his eyes to her face.

The marchesa had not moved. She did not move now, but sat the picture
of hard, haughty despair--a despair that would gnaw body and soul, yet
give no sigh. But the cavaliere was now too much absorbed by Enrica's
sufferings to affect even to take much heed of the marchesa.

"This is a very serious business," he began, abruptly. "You may
have to answer for that girl's life. I shall be the first to witness
against you."

Never in her life had the marchesa heard Cesare Trenta deliver himself
of such a decided censure upon her conduct. His wheedling, coaxing
manner was all gone. He was neither the courtier nor the counselor.
He neither insinuated nor suggested, but spoke bluntly out bold words,
and those upon a subject she esteemed essentially her own. Even in the
depth of her despondency it made a certain impression upon her.

She roused herself and glared at him, but there was no shrinking in
his face. Trenta's clear round eyes, so honest and loyal in their
expression, seemed to pierce her through and through. She fancied,
too, that he contemplated her with a sort of horror.

"You have accused Enrica," he continued; "she has cleared herself. You
cannot doubt her. Why do you continue to torture her?"

"That is my affair," answered the marchesa, doggedly. "She has
deceived me, and defied me. She has outraged the usages of society. Is
not that enough?"

"You have brought her up to fear you," interrupted Trenta. "Had she
not feared you, she would never have deceived you."

"What is that to you? How dare you question me?" cried the marchesa,
the glitter of passion lighting up her eyes. "Is it not enough that
by this deception she has foiled me in the whole purpose of my life? I
have given her the choice. Resign Nobili, or a convent."

Saying this, she closed her lips tightly. Trenta, in the heat of his
enthusiasm for Enrica, had gone too far. He felt it; he hastened to
rectify his error.

"Every thing that concerns you and your family, Marchesa Guinigi, is a
subject of overwhelming interest to me."

Now the cavaliere spoke in his blandest manner. The smoothness of
the courtier seemed to unknit the wrinkles on his face. The look of
displeasure melted out of his eyes, the roughness fled from his voice.

"Remember, marchesa, I am your oldest friend. A crisis has arrived; a
scandal may ensue. You must now decide."

"I have decided," returned the marchesa; "that decision you have
heard." And again her lips closed hermetically.

"But permit me. There are many considerations that will doubtless
present themselves to you as necessary ingredients of this decision.
If Enrica goes into religion, the Guinigi race is doomed. Why should
you, with your own hand, destroy the work of your life? If Enrica will
not consent to renounce her engagement to Count Nobili, why should she
not marry him? There is no real obstacle other than your will."

No sooner were these daring words uttered, than the cavaliere
positively trembled. The marchesa listened to them in ominous silence.
Such a possibility had never presented itself for a instant to her
imagination. She turned slowly round, pressed her hands tightly on her
knees, and darkly eyed him.

"You think that I should consent to such a marriage?" she asked in a
deep voice, a mocking smile upon her lips.

"I think, marchesa, that you should sacrifice every thing--yes--every
thing." And Trenta, feeling himself on safe ground, repeated the word
with an audacity that would have surprised those who only knew him
in the polite details of ordinary life. "I think that you should
sacrifice every thing to the interests of your house."

This was hitting the marchesa home. She felt it and winced; but her
resolution was unshaken.

"Did I not know that you are descended from a line as ancient, though
not so illustrious as my own, I should think I was listening to a Jew
peddler of Leghorn," she replied, with insolent cynicism.

The cavaliere felt deeply offended, but had the presence of mind to
affect a smile, as though what she had said was an excellent joke.

"Nobili shall never mix his blood with the Guinigi--I swear it! Rather
let our name die out from the land."

She raised both her hands in the twilight to ratify the imprecation
she had hurled upon her race. Her voice died away into the corner of
the darkening room; her thoughts wandered. She sat in spirit upon the
seigneurial throne, below, in the presence-chamber. Should Nobili sit
there, on that hallowed seat of her ancestors?--the old Lombard
palace call him master, living--gather his bones with their ashes,
dead?--Never! Better far moulder into ruin as they had mouldered. Had
she not already permitted herself to be too much influenced? She had
offered Enrica in marriage to Count Marescotti, and he had refused
her--refused her niece!

Suddenly she shook off the incubus of these thoughts and turned toward
Trenta. He had been watching her anxiously.

"I can never forgive Enrica," she said. "She may not have disgraced
herself--that matters little--but she has disgraced me. She must enter
a convent; until then I will allow her to remain in my house."

"Exactly," burst in Trenta, again betrayed into undue warmth by this
concession.

The cavaliere was old; he had seen that life revolves itself strangely
in a circle, from which we may diverge, but from which we seldom
disentangle ourselves. Desperate resolves are taken, tragedies are
planned, but Fate or Providence intervenes. The old balance pendulates
again--the foot falls into the familiar step. Death comes to cut the
Gordian knot. The grave-sod covers all that is left, and the worm
feeds on the busy brain.

As a man of the world, Trenta was a profound believer in the chapter
of accidents.

"I will not put Enrica out of my house," resumed the marchesa,
gazing at him suspiciously. (Trenta seemed, she thought, wonderfully
interested in Enrica's fate. She had noticed this interest once
before. She did not like it. What was Enrica to him? Trenta was _her_
friend.) "But she shall remain on one condition only--Nobili's name
must never be mentioned. You can inform her of this, as you have taken
already so much upon yourself. Do you hear?"

"Certainly, certainly," answered the chamberlain with alacrity. "You
shall be obeyed. I will answer for it--excellent marchesa, you are
right, always right"--and he stooped down and gently took her thin
fingers in his fat hands, and touched them with his lips.

"I will cause no scandal," she continued, withdrawing her hand. "Once
in a convent, Enrica can harm no one."

"No, certainly not," responded Trenta, "and the family will become
extinct. This palace and its precious heirlooms will be sold."

The marchesa put out her hand with silent horror.

"It is the case with so many of our great families," continued the
impassable Trenta. "Now, on the other hand, Enrica may possibly change
her mind; Nobili may change his mind. Circumstances quite unforeseen
may occur--who can answer for circumstances?"

The marchesa listened silently. This was always a good sign; she
was too obstinate to confess herself convinced. But, spite of her
prejudices, her natural shrewdness forbade her to reject absolutely
the voice of reason.

"I shall not treat Enrica cruelly," was her reply, "nor will I cause a
scandal, but I can never forgive her. By this act of loving Nobili she
has separated herself from me irrevocably. Let her renounce him; she
has her choice--mine is already made."

The cavaliere listened in silence. Much had been gained, in his
opinion, by this partial concession. The subject had been broached,
the hated name mentioned, the possibility of the marriage mooted. He
rose with a cheerful smile to take his leave.

"Marchesa, it is late--permit me to salute you; you must require
repose."

"Yes," she answered, sighing deeply. "It seems to me a year since I
entered this room. I must leave Lucca. Enrica cannot, after what
has passed, remain here. Thanks to her, I, in the solitude of my own
palace, am become the common town-talk. Cesare, I shall leave Lucca
to-morrow for my villa of Corellia. Good-night."

The cavaliere again kissed her hand and departed.

"If that weathercock of a thousand colors, that idiot, Marescotti,"
muttered the cavaliere, as he descended the stairs, "could only be got
to give up his impious mission, and marry the dear child, all might
yet be right. He has an eye and a tongue that would charm a woman
into anything. Alas! alas! what a pasticcio!--made by herself--made by
herself and her lawsuits about the defunct Guinigi--damn them!"

It was seldom that the cavaliere used bad words--excuse him.



PART III



CHAPTER I.

A LONELY TOWN.


The road from Lucca to Corellia lies at the foot of lofty mountains,
over-mantled by chestnut-forests, and cleft asunder by the river
Serchio--the broad, willful Serchio, sprung from the flanks of virgin
fastnesses. In its course a thousand valleys open up, scoring the
banks. Each valley has its tributary stream, down which, even in the
dog-days, cool breezes rustle. The lower hills lying warm toward the
south, and the broad glassy lands by the river, are trellised with
vines. Some fling their branches in wild festoons on mulberry or aspen
trees. Some trained in long arbors are held up by pillars of unbarked
wood; others trail upon the earth in delicious luxuriance. The white
and purple grapes peep from the already shriveled leaves, or hang in
rich masses on the brown earth.

It is the vintage. The peasants, busy as bees, swarm on the
hill-sides; the women pluck the fruit; the men bear it away in wooden
measures. While they work, they sing those wild Tuscan melodies that
linger in the air like long-drawn sighs. The donkeys, too, climb up
and down, saddled with wooden panniers, crammed with grapes. These
grapes are shot into large tubs, and placed in a shady outhouse. Some
black-eyed boy will dance merrily on these tubs, by-and-by, with his
naked feet, and squeeze out the juice. This juice is then covered and
left to ferment, then bottled into flasks, covered with wicker-work,
corked with tow, and finally stowed away in caves among the rocks.

The marchesa's lumbering coach, drawn by three horses harnessed
abreast (another horse, smaller than the rest, put in tandem in
front), creaks along the road by the river-side, on its high wheels.
She sits within, a stony look upon her hard white face. Enrica, pale
and silent, is beside her. No word has passed between them since they
left Lucca two hours ago. They pass groups of peasants, their labors
over for the day--turning out of the vineyards upon the high-road. The
donkeys are driven on in front. They are braying for joy; their faces
are turned homeward. Boys run at their heels, and spur them on with
sticks and stones. The women lag behind talking--their white head-gear
and gold ear-rings catching the low sunshine that strikes through
rents of parting mountains. Every man takes off his hat to the
marchesa; every woman wishes her good-day.

It is only the boys who do not fear her. They have no caps to raise;
when the carriage has passed, they leave the donkeys and hang on
behind like a swarm of bees. The driver is quite aware of this, and
his long whip, which he has cracked at intervals all the way from
Lucca--would reach the grinning, white-toothed little vagabonds well;
but he--the driver--grins too, and spares them.

Together they all mount the zigzag mountain-pass, that turns short off
from the right bank of the valley of the Serchio, toward Corellia. The
peasants sing choruses as they trudge upward, taking short cuts among
the trees at the angles of the zigzag. The evening lights come and go
among the chestnut-trees and on the soft, short grass. Here a fierce
flick of sunshine shoots across the road; there deep gloom darkens an
angle into which the coach plunges, the peasants, grouped on the top
of a bank overhead, standing out darkly in the yellow glow.

It is a lonely pass in the very bosom of the Apennines, midway between
Lucca and Modena. In winter the road is clogged with snow; nothing can
pass. Now, there is no sound but the singing of water-falls, and the
trickle of water-courses, the chirrup of the _cicala_, not yet gone
to its rest--and the murmur of the hot breezes rustling in the distant
forest.

No sound--save when sudden thunder-pelts wake awful echoes among the
great brotherhood of mountain-tops--when torrents burst forth, pouring
downward, flooding the narrow garden ledges, and tearing away the patches
of corn and vineyard, the people's food. Before--behind--around--arise
peaks of purple Apennines, cresting upward into the blue sky--an earthen
sea dashed into sudden breakers, then struck motionless. In front, in
solitary state, rises the lofty summit of La Pagna, casting off its giant
mountain-fellows right and left, which fade away into a golden haze toward
Modena.

High up overhead, crowning a precipitous rock, stands Corellia, a
knot of browned, sun-baked houses, flat-roofed, open-galleried,
many-storied, nestling round a ruined castle, athwart whose rents the
ardent sunshine darts. This ruined castle and the tower of an ancient
Lombard church, heavily arched and galleried with stone, gleaming
out upon a surface of faded brickwork, form the outline of the little
town. It is inclosed by solid walls, and entered by an archway so low
that the marchesa's driver has to dismount as he passes through. The
heavy old carriage rumbles in with a hollow noise; the horse's hoofs
strike upon the rough stones with a harsh, loud sound.

The whole town of Corellia belongs to the marchesa. It is an ancient
fief of the Guinigi. Legend says that Castruccio Castracani was born
here. This is enough for the marchesa. As in the palace of Lucca, she
still--even at lonely Corellia--lives as it were under the shadow of
that great ancestral name.

Lonely Corellia! Yes, it is lonely! The church bells, high up in the
Lombard tower sound loudly the matins and the eventide. They sound
louder still on the saints days and festivals. With the festivals
pass summer and winter, both dreary to the poor. Children are born,
and marriage-flutes wake the echoes of the mountain solitudes--and
mothers weep, hearing them, remembering their young days and present
pinching want. The aged groan, for joy to them comes like a fresh
pang!

The marchesa's carriage passes through Corellia at a foot's pace. The
driver has no choice. It is most difficult to drive at all--the street
is so narrow, and the door-steps of the houses jut out so into the
narrow space. The horses, too, hired at Lucca, twenty miles away, are
tired, poor beasts, and reeking with the heat. They can hardly keep
their feet upon the rugged, slippery stones that pave the dirty
alley. As the marchesa passes slowly by, wan-faced women--colored
handkerchiefs gathered in folds upon their heads, knitting or spinning
flax cut from the little field without upon the mountain-side--put
down the black, curly-headed urchins that cling to their laps--rise
from where they are resting on the door-step, and salute the marchesa
with an awe-struck stare. She, in no mood for condescension, answers
them with a frown. Why have these wan-faced mothers, with scarcely
bread to eat, children between their knees? Why has God given her
none? Again the impious thought rises within her which tempted her
when standing before the marriage-bed in the nuptial chamber. "God is
my enemy." "He has smitten me with a curse." "Why have I no child?"
"No child, nothing but her"--and she flashes a savage glance at
Enrica, who has sunk backward, covering her tear-stained face with
a black veil, to avoid the peering eyes of the Corellia
townsfolk--"nothing but her. Born to disgrace me. Would she were dead!
Then all would end, and I should go down--the last Guinigi--to an
honored grave."

The sick, too, are sitting at the doorways as the marchesa passes
by. The mark of fever is on many an ashy cheek. These sick have been
carried from their beds to breathe such air as evening brings. Air!
There is no air from heaven in these foul streets. No sweet breath
circulates; no summer scents of grasses and flowers reach the lonely
town hung up so high. The summer sun scorches. The icy winds of
winter, sweeping down from Alpine ridges, whistle round the walls.
Within are chilly, desolate hearths, on which no fire is kindled.
These sick, as the carriage passes, turn their weary eyes, and lift up
their wasted hands in mute salutations to that dreaded mistress who is
lord of all--the great marchesa. Will they not lie in the marchesa's
ground when their hour comes? Alas! how soon--their weakness tells
them very soon! Will they not be carried in an open bier up those
long flights of steps--all hers--cut in the rocky sides of overlapping
rocks, to the cemetery, darkly shaded by waving cypresses? The ground
is hers, the rocks, the steps, the stones, the very flowers that
brown, skinny hands will sprinkle on their bier--all hers. From birth
to bridal, and the marriage-bed (so fruitful to the poor), from bridal
to death, all hers. The land they live on, and the graves they fill,
all--but a shadow of her greatness!

At the corner of the squalid, ill-smelling street through which she
is now passing, is the town fountain. This fountain, once a willful
mountain-torrent, now cruelly captured and borne hither by municipal
force, splashes downward through a sculptured circle cut in a
marble slab, into a covered trough below. Here bold-eyed maidens are
gathered, who poise copper vessels on their dark heads--maidens who
can chat, and laugh, and romp, on holidays, and with flushed faces
dance wild tarantellas (fingers for castanets), where the old tale of
love is told in many a subtile step, and shuffle, rush, escape, and
feint, ending in certain capture! Beside the maidens linger some
mountain lads. Now their work is over, they loll against the wall,
pipe in mouth, or lie stretched on a plot of grass that grows green
under the spray of the fountain. In a dark angle, a little behind from
these, there is a shrine hollowed out of the city wall. Within the
shrine an image of the Holy Mother of the Seven Sorrows stands, her
arms outstretched, her bosom pierced by seven gilded arrows. The
shrine is protected by an iron grating. Bunches of pale hill-side
blossoms, ferns, and a few blades of corn, are thrust in between the
bars. Some lie at the Virgin's feet--offerings from those who have
nothing else to give. A little group (but these are old, and bowed by
grief and want) kneel beside the shrine in the quiet evening-tide.

The rumble of a carriage, so strange a sound in lonely Corellia,
rouses all. From year to year, no wheels pass through the town save
the marchesa's. Ere she appears, all know who it must be. The kneelers
at the shrine start up and hobble forward to stare and wonder at that
strange world whence she comes, so far away at Lucca. The maidens
courtesy and smile; the lads jump up, and range themselves
respectfully against the wall; yet in their hearts neither care for
her--neither the maidens nor the lads--no one cares for the marchesa.
They are all looking out for Enrica. Why does the signorina lie back
in the carriage a mass of clothes? The maidens would like to see how
those clothes are made, to cut their poor garments something like
them. The lads would like to let their eyes rest on her golden hair.
Why does the Signorina Enrica not nod and smile to those she knows, as
is her wont? Has that old tyrant, her aunt--these young ones are bold,
and dare to whisper what others think; they have no care, and, like
the lilies of the field, live in the wild, free air--has that old
tyrant, her aunt, bewitched her?

Now the carriage has emerged from the dark alley, and entered the
dirty but somewhat less dark piazza--the market-place of Corellia. The
old Lombard church of Santa Barbara, with its big bells in the arched
tower, hanging plainly to be seen, opens into the piazza by a flight
of steps and a sculptured doorway. The Municipio, too, calling itself
a _palace_ (heaven save the mark!), with its list of births, deaths,
and marriages, posted on a black-board outside the door, to be seen of
all, adorns it. The Café of the Tricolor, and such shops as Corellia
boasts of, are there opposite. Men, smoking, and drinking native wine,
are lounging about. Ser Giacomo, the notary, spectacles on nose, sits
at a table in a corner, reading aloud to a select audience a weekly
broad-sheet published at Lucca, news of men and things not of the
mountain-tops. Every soul starts up as they hear wheels approaching.
If a bomb had burst in the piazza the panic could not be greater. They
know it is the marchesa. They know that now the marchesa is come she
will grind and harry them, and seize her share of grapes, and corn,
and olives, to the uttermost farthing. Silvestro, her steward, a
timid, pitiful man, can be got over by soft words, and the sight of
want and misery. Not so the marchesa. They know that now she is come
she will call the Town Council, fine them, pursue them for rent, cite
them to the High Court of Barga, imprison them if they cannot pay.
They know her, and they curse her. The ill-news of her arrival runs
from lip to lip. Checco, the butcher, who sells his meat cut into
dark, indescribably-shaped scraps, more fit for dogs than men, first
sees the carriage turn into the piazza. He passes the word on to
Oreste, the barber round the corner. Oreste, who, with his brother
Pilade, both wearing snow-white aprons, are squaring themselves at
their open doorway, over which hangs a copper basin, shaped like
Manbrino's helmet, looking for customers--Oreste and Pilade turn pale.
Then Oreste tells the baker, Pietro, who, naked as Nature made him,
has run out from his oven to the open door, for a breath of air. The
bewildered clerk at the Municipio, who sits and writes, and sleeps
by turns, all day, in a low room beside a desk, taking notes for the
sindaco (mayor) from all who come (he is so tired, that clerk, he
would hear the last trumpet sound unmoved), even he hears the news,
and starts up.

Now the carriage stops. It has drawn up in the centre of the piazza.
It is the marchesa's custom. She puts her head out of the window, and
takes a long, grave look all round. These are her vassals. They fear
her. She knows it, and she glories in it. Every head is uncovered,
every eye turned upon her. It is obviously some one's duty to salute
her and to welcome her to her domain. She has stopped for this
purpose. It is always done. No one, however, stirs. Ser Giacomo, the
notary, bows low beside the table where he has been caught reading the
Lucca broad-sheet; but Ser Giacomo does not stir. How he wishes he had
staid at home!

He has not the courage to move one step toward her. Something must be
done, so Ser Giacomo he runs and fetches the sindaco from inside the
recesses of the _café_, where he is playing dominoes under a lighted
lamp. The sindaco must give the marchesa a formal welcome. The
sindaco, a saddler by trade--a snuffy little man, with a face drawn
and yellow as parchment, wearing his working-clothes--advances to the
carriage with a step as cautious as a cat.

"I trust the illustrious lady is well," he says timidly, bowing low
and trying to smile. Mr. Sindaco is frightened, but he can be proud
enough to his fellow-townsfolk, and he is downright cruel to that poor
lad his clerk, at the Municipal Palace.

The marchesa, with a cold, distant air, that would instantly check
any approach to familiarity--if any one were bold enough to be
familiar--answers gravely, "That she is thankful to say she is in her
usual health."

The sindaco--although better off than many, painfully conscious of
long arrears of unpaid rent--waxing a little bolder at the sound of
his own voice and his well-chosen phrases, continues:

"I am glad to hear it, Signora Marchesa." The sindaco further
observes, "That he hopes for the illustrious lady's indulgence and
good-will."

His smile has faded now; his voice trembles. If his skin were not so
yellow, he would be white all over, for the marchesa's looks are not
encouraging. The sindaco dreads a summons to the High Court of Barga,
where the provincial prisons are--with which he may be soon better
acquainted, he fears.

In reply, the marchesa--who perfectly understands all this in a
general way--scowls, and fixes her rigid eyes upon him.

"Signore Sindaco, I cannot stop to listen to any grievance now; I will
promise no indulgence. I must pay my bills. You must pay me, Signore
Sindaco; that is but fair."

The poor little snuffy mayor bows a dolorous acquiescence. He is
hopeless, but polite--like a true Italian, who would thank the hangman
as he fastens the rope round his neck. But the marchesa's words strike
terror into all who hear them. All owe her long arrears of rent, and
much besides. Why--oh! why--did the cruel lady come to Corellia?

Having announced her intentions in a clear, metallic voice, the
marchesa draws her head back into the coach.

"Send Silvestro to me," she adds, addressing the sindaco. "Silvestro
will inform me of all I want to know." (Silvestro is her steward.)

"Is the noble young Lady Enrica unwell?" asks the persevering
sindaco, gazing earnestly through the window.

He knows his doom. He has nothing to hope from the marchesa's
clemency, so he may as well gratify his burning curiosity by a
question about the much-beloved Enrica, who must certainly have been
ill-used by her aunt to keep so much out of sight.

"The people of Corellia would also offer their respectful homage to
her," bravely adds Mr. Sindaco, tempting his fate. "The Lady Enrica is
much esteemed here in the town."

As he speaks the sindaco gazes in wonder at the muffled figure in
the corner. Can this be she? Why does she not move forward and
answer?--and show her pretty face, and approve the people's greeting?

"My niece has a headache; leave her alone," answers the marchesa,
curtly. "Do not speak to her, Mr. Sindaco. She will visit Corellia
another day; meanwhile, adieu."

The marchesa waves her hand majestically, and signs for him to retire.
This the sindaco does with an inward groan at the thought of what is
coming on him.

Poor Enrica, feeling as if a curse were on her, cutting her off
from all her former life, shrinks back deeper into the corner of the
carriage, draws the black veil closer about her face, and sobs aloud.
The marchesa turns her head away. The driver cracks his long whip over
the steaming horses, which move feebly forward with a jerk. Thus the
coach slowly traverses the whole length of the piazza, the wheels
rumbling themselves into silence out in a long street leading to
another gate on the farther side of the town.

Not another word more is said that night among the townsfolk; but
there is not a man at Corellia who does not curse the marchesa in
his heart. Ser Giacomo, the notary, folds up his newspaper in dead
silence, puts it into his pocket, and departs. The lights in the
dark _café_, which burn sometimes all day when it is cloudy, are
extinguished. The domino-players disappear. Oreste and Pilade shut up
their shop despondingly. The baker Pietro comes out no more to cool
at the door. Anyway, there must be bakers, he reflects, to bake
the bread; so Pietro retreats, comforted, to his oven, and works
frantically all night. He is safe, Pietro hopes, though he has paid no
rent for two whole years, and has sold some of the corn which ought to
have gone to the marchesa.

Meanwhile the heavy carriage, with its huge leather hood and double
rumble, swaying dangerously to and fro, descends a steep and rugged
road embowered in forest, leading to a narrow ledge upon the summit
of a line of cliffs. On the very edge of these cliffs, formed of a
dark-red basaltic stone, the marchesa's villa stands. A deep, dark
precipice drops down beneath. Opposite is a range of mountains, fair
and forest-spread on the lower flanks, rising above into wild crags,
and broken, blackened peaks, that mock the soft blue radiance of the
evening sky.



CHAPTER II.

WHAT SILVESTRO SAYS.


Silvestro, the steward, is a man "full of conscience," as people say,
deeply sensible of his responsibilities, and more in dread of the
marchesa than of the Church. It is this dread that makes him so
emaciated--hesitate when he speaks, and bend his back and shoulders
into a constant cringe. But for this dread, Silvestro would forgive
the poor people more. He sees such pinching misery every day--lives in
it--suffers from it; how can he ask those for money who have none?
It is like forcing blood out of a stone. He is not the man to do it.
Silvestro lives at hand; he hears the rattle of the hail that burns
the grapes up to a cinder--the terrible din of the thunder before the
forked lightning strikes the cattle; he sees with his own eyes the
griping want of bread in the savage winter-time; his own eyes behold
the little lambs, dead of hunger, lying by the road-side. Worse still,
he sees other lambs--human lambs with Christian souls--fade and pine
and shrink into a little grave, from failing of mother's milk, dried
up for want of proper food. He sees, too, the aged die before God
calls them, failing through lack of nourishment--a little wine,
perhaps, or a mouthful of soup; the young and strong grow old with
ceaseless striving. Poor Silvestro! he sees too much. He cannot be
severe. He is born merciful. Silvestro is honest as the day, but he
hides things from the marchesa; he is honest, but he cannot--no, he
cannot--grind and vex the poor, as she would have him do. Yet she has
no one to take his place in that God-forgotten town--so they pull on,
man and mistress--a truly ill-matched pair--pull on, year after
year. It is a weary life for him when the great lady comes up for her
villeggiatura--Silvestro, divided, cleft in twain, so to say, as he
is, between his awe and respect for the marchesa and her will, and his
terrible sympathy for all suffering creatures, man or beast.

As to the marchesa, she despises Silvestro too profoundly to notice
his changing moods. It is not her habit to look for any thing but
obedience--absolute obedience--from those beneath her. A thousand
times she has told herself such a fool would ruin her; but, up to this
present time, she has borne with him, partly from convenience, and
partly because she fears to get a rogue in his place. She does not
guess how carefully Silvestro has hid the truth from her; she would
not give him credit for the power of concealing any thing.

The sindaco having sent a boy up to Silvestro's house with the
marchesa's message, "that he is to attend her," the steward comes
hurrying down through the terraces cut in the steep ground behind the
villa--broad, stately terraces, with balustrades, and big empty vases,
and statues, and grand old lemon-trees set about. Great flights of
marble steps cross and recross, rest on a marble stage, and then
recross again. Here and there a pointed cypress-tree towers upward
like a green pyramid in a desert of azure sky. Bright-leaved autumn
flowers lie in masses on the rich brown earth, and dainty streamlets
come rushing downward in little sculptured troughs.

What a dismal sigh Silvestro gave when he got the marchesa's message,
and knew that she had arrived! How he wrung his hands and looked
hopelessly upward to heaven with vacant, colorless eyes, the big
heat-drops gathering on his bald, wrinkled forehead! He has so much to
tell her!--It must be told too; he can hide the truth no longer. She
will be sure to ask to see the accounts. Alas! alas! what will his
mistress say? For a moment Silvestro gazes wistfully at the mountains
all around with a vacant stare. Oh, that the mountains would
cover him! Anyway, there are caves and holes, he thinks, where the
marchesa's wrath would never reach him; caves and holes where he might
live hidden for years, cared for by those who love him. Shall he flee,
and never see his mistress's dark, dreadful eyes again? Folly!

Silvestro rouses himself. He resolves to meet his fate like a man,
whatever that may be. He will not forsake his duty.--So Silvestro
comes hurrying down by the terraces, upon which the shadows fall, to
the house--a gray mediaeval tower, machicolated and turreted--the only
remains of a strong fortress that in feudal times guarded these passes
from Modena into Tuscany. To this gray tower is attached a large
modern dwelling--a villa--painted of a dull-yellow color, with an
overlapping roof, the walls pierced full of windows. The tower, villa,
and the line of cliffs on which they stand, face east and west; on
one side the forest and Corellia crowning a rocky height, on the other
side mountains, with a deep abyss at the foot of the cliffs, yawning
between. It is the marchesa's pleasure to inhabit the old tower rather
than the pleasant villa, with its big windows and large, cheerful
rooms.

Being tall and spare, Silvestro stoops under the low, arched doorway,
heavily clamped with iron and nails, leading into the tower; then he
mounts very slowly a winding stair of stone to the second story. The
sound of his footsteps brings a whole pack of dogs rushing out upon
the gravel.

(On the gravel before the house there is a fountain springing up out
of a marble basin full of gold-fish. Pots are set round the edge with
the sweetest-smelling flowers--tuberoses, heliotropes, and gardenias.)
The dogs, barking loudly, run round the basin and upset some of the
pots. One noble mastiff, with long white hair and strong straight
limbs--the leader of the pack--pursues Silvestro up the dark, tiring
stairs. When the mastiff has reached him and smelt at him he stands
still, wags his tail, and thrusts his nose into Silvestro's hand.

"Poor Argo!" says the steward, meekly. "Don't bark at me; I cannot
bear it now."

Argo gives a friendly sniff, and leaves him.

At a door on the right, Silvestro stops short, to collect his thoughts
and his breath. He has not seen his mistress for a year. His soul
sinks at the thought of what he must tell her now. "Can she punish
me?" he asks himself, vaguely. Perhaps. He must bear it if she does.
He has done all he can. Consoled by this reflection, he knocks. A
well-known voice answers, "Come in." Silvestro's clammy hand is on the
lock--a worm-eaten door creaks on its hinges--he enters.

The marchesa nods to Silvestro without speaking. She is seated before
a high desk of carved walnut-wood, facing the door. The desk is
covered with papers. A file of papers is in her hand; others lie upon
her lap. All round there are cupboards, shelves, and drawers, piled
with papers and documents, most of them yellow with age. These consist
of old leases, contracts, copies of various lawsuits with her tenants,
appeals to Barga, mortgages, accounts. The room is low, and rounded to
the shape of the tower. Naked joists and rafters of black wood support
the ceiling. The light comes in through some loop-holes, high up, cut
in the thickness of the wall. Some tall, high-backed chairs, covered
with strips of faded satin, stand near the chimney. A wooden bedstead,
without curtains, is partly concealed behind a painted screen, covered
with gods and goddesses, much consumed and discolored from the damp.
As the room had felt a little chilly from want of use, a large fire of
unbarked wood had been kindled. The fire blazes fiercely on the flat
stones within an open hearth, unguarded by a grate.

Having nodded to Silvestro, the marchesa takes no further notice
of him. From time to time she flings a loose paper from those lying
before her--over her shoulder toward the fire, which is at her back.
Of these papers some reach the fire; others, but half consumed, fall
back upon the floor. The flames of the wood-fire leap out and seize
the papers--now one by one--now as they lie in little heaps. The
flames leap up; the burning papers crumple along the floor, in little
streaks of fire, catching others that lie, still farther on in the
room, still unconsumed. Ere these papers have sunk into ashes, a fresh
supply, thrown over her shoulder by the marchesa, have caught the
flames. All the space behind her chair is covered with smouldering
papers. A stack of wood, placed near to replenish the fire, has
caught, and is smouldering also. The fire, too, on the hearth is
burning fiercely; it crackles up the wide open chimney in a mass of
smoke and sparks.

The marchesa is far too much absorbed to notice this. Silvestro,
standing near the door--the high desk and the marchesa's tall figure
between him and the hearth--does not perceive it either. Still the
marchesa bends over her papers, reading some and throwing others over
her shoulders into the flames behind.

Silvestro, who had grown hot and cold twenty times in a minute,
standing before her, his book under his arm--thinking she had
forgotten him--addresses her at last.

"How does madama feel?" Silvestro asks most humbly, turning his
lack-lustre eyes upon her, "Well," is the marchesa's brief reply. She
signs to him to lay his book upon her desk. She takes it in her hand.
She turns over the pages, following line after line with the tip of
her long, white forefinger.

"There seems very little, Silvestro," she says, running her eyes up
and down each page as she turns it slowly over. Her brow knits until
her dark eyebrows almost meet--"very little. Has the corn brought in
so small a sum, and the olives, and the grapes?"

"Madama," begins Silvestro, and he bends his head and shoulders,
and squeezes his skinny hands together, in a desperate effort to
obliterate himself altogether, if possible, in the face of such
mishaps--"madama will condescend to remember the late spring frosts.
There is no corn anywhere. Upon the lowlands the frost was most
severe; in April, too, when the grain was forward. The olives bore a
little last season, but Corellia is a cold place--too cold for olives;
the trees, too, are very old. This year there will be no crop at all.
As for the grapes--"

"_Accidente_ to the grapes!" interrupts the marchesa, reddening. "The
grapes always fail. Every thing fails under you."

Silvestro shrinks back in terror at the sound of her harsh voice. Oh,
that those purple mountains around would cover him! The moment of her
wrath is come. What will she say to him?

"I wish I had not an acre of vineyard," the marchesa continues.
"Disease, or hail, or drought, or rain, it is always the same--the
grapes always fail."

"The peasants are starving, madama," Silvestro takes courage to say,
but his voice is low and muffled.

"They have chestnuts," she answers quickly, "let them live on
chestnuts."

Silvestro starts violently. He draws back a step or two nearer the
door.

"Let the gracious madama consider, many have not even a patch of
chestnuts. There is great misery, madama--indeed, there is great
misery." Silvestro goes on to say. He must speak now or never.
"Madama"--and he holds up his bony hands--"you will have no rent at
all from the peasants. They must be kept all the winter."

"Silvestro, you are a fool," cries the marchesa, eying him
contemptuously, as she would a troublesome child--"a fool; pray how am
I to keep the peasants, and pay the taxes? I must live."

"Doubtless, excellent madama." Silvestro was infinitely relieved at
the calmness with which the marchesa received his announcement. He
could not have believed it. He feels most grateful to her. "But, if
madama will speak with Fra Pacifico, he will tell her how bitter the
distress must be this winter. The Town Council"--Silvestro, deceived
by her apparent calmness, has made a mistake in naming the Town
Council. It is too late. The words have been spoken. Knowing his
mistress's temper, Silvestro imperceptibly glides toward the door as
he mentions that body--"The Town Council has decreed--" His words die
away in his throat at her aspect.

"Santo dei Santi!" she screams, boiling over with rage, "I forbid you
to talk to me of the Town Council!"

Silvestro's hand is upon the lock to insure escape.

"Madama--consider," pleads Silvestro, wellnigh desperate. "The Town
Council might appeal to Barga," Silvestro almost whispers now.

"Let them--let them; it is just what I should like. Let them appeal.
I will fight them at law, and beat them in full court--the ruffians!"
She gives a short, scornful laugh. "Yes, we will fight it out at
Barga."

Suddenly the marchesa stops. Her eyes have now reached the
balance-sheet on the last page. She draws a long breath.

"Why, there is nothing!" she exclaims, placing her forefinger on
the total, then raising her head and fixing her eyes on
Silvestro--"nothing!"

Silvestro shrinks, as it were, into himself. He silently bows his head
in terrified acquiescence.

"A thousand francs! How am I to live on a thousand francs!"

Silvestro shakes from head to foot. One hand slides from the lock; he
joins it to the other, clasps them both together, and sways himself to
and fro as a man in bodily anguish.

At the sight of the balance-sheet a kind of horror has come over the
marchesa. So intense is this feeling, she absolutely forgets to
abuse Silvestro. All she desires is to get rid of him before she has
betrayed her alarm.

"I shall call a council," she says, collecting herself; "I shall take
the chair. I shall find funds to meet these wants. Give the sindaco
and Ser Giacomo notice of this, Silvestro, immediately."

The steward stares at his mistress in mute amazement. He inclines his
head, and turns to go; better ask her no questions and escape.

"Silvestro!"--the marchesa calls after him imperiously--"come here."
(She is resolved that he, a menial, shall see no change in her.) "At
this season the woods are full of game. I will have no poachers, mind.
Let notices be posted up at the town-gate and at the church-door--do
you hear? No one shall carry a gun within my woods."

Silvestro's lips form to two single words, and these come very faint:
"The poor!" Then he holds himself together, terrified.

"The poor!" retorts the marchesa, defiantly--"the poor! For shame,
Silvestro! They shall not overrun my woods and break through my
vineyards--they shall not! You hear?" Her shrill voice rings round the
low room, "No poachers--no trespassers, remember that; I shall tell
Adamo the same. Now go, and, as you pass, tell Fra Pacifico I want him
to-morrow." ("He must help me with Enrica," was her thought.)

When Silvestro was gone, a haggard look came over the marchesa's pale
face. One by one she turned over the leaves of the rental lying before
her, glanced at them, then laid the book down upon the desk. She
leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms, and fell into a fit of
musing--the burning papers on the hearth, and those also smouldering
on the floor, lighting up every grain in the wood-work of the
cupboards at her back.

This was ruin--absolute ruin! The broad lands that spread wellnigh for
forty miles in the mountains and along the river Serchio--the feudal
tower in which she sat, over which still floated, on festivals, the
banner of the Guinigi (crosses of gold on a red field--borne at
the Crusades); the stately palace at Lucca--its precious
heirlooms--strangers must have it all!

She had so fortified herself against all signs of outward emotion,
other than she chose to show, that even in solitude she was composed;
but the veins swelled in her forehead, and she turned very white. Yet
there had been a way. "Enrica"--her name escaped the marchesa's thin
lips unwittingly. "Enrica."--The sound of her own voice startled
her. (Enrica was now alone, shut up by her aunt's order in her
little chamber on the third floor over her own. On their arrival, the
marchesa had sternly dismissed her without a word.)

"Enrica."--With that name rose up within her a thousand conflicting
thoughts. She had severed herself from Enrica. But for Cavaliere
Trenta she would have driven her from the palace. She had not cared
whether Enrica lived or died--indeed, she had wished her dead. Yet
Enrica could save the land--the palace--make the great name live! Had
she but known all this at Lucca! Was it too late? Trenta had urged the
marriage with Count Nobili. But Trenta urged every marriage. Could she
consent to such a marriage? Own herself ruined--wrong?--Feel Nobili's
foot upon her neck?--Impossible! Her obstinacy was so great, that she
could not bring herself to yield, though all that made life dear was
slipping from her grasp.

Yes--yes, it was too late.--The thing was done. She must stand to
her own words. Tortures would not have wrung it from her--but in the
solitude of that bare room the marchesa felt she had gone too far.
The landmark of her life, her pride, broke down; her stout heart
failed--tears stood in her dark eyes.

At this moment the report of a gun was heard ringing out from the
mountains opposite. It echoed along the cliffs and died away into
the abyss below. The marchesa was instantly leaning out of the lowest
loop-hole, and calling in a loud voice, "Adamo--Adamo--Angelo, where
are you?" (Adamo and Pipa his wife, and Angelo their son, were her
attendants.)

Adamo, a stout, big-limbed man, bull-necked--with large lazy eyes and
a black beard as thick as horse-hair, a rifle slung by a leather strap
across his chest, answered out of the shrubs--now blackening in the
twilight: "I am here, padrona, command me."

"Adamo, who is shooting on my land?"

"Padrona, I do not know."

"Where is Angelo?"

"Here am I," answered a childish voice, and a ragged, loose-limbed
lad--a shock of chestnut hair, out of which the sun had taken all
the color, hanging over his face, from which his merry eyes
twinkle--leaped out on the gravel.

"You do not know, Adamo? What does this mean? You ought to know. I am
but just come back, and there are strangers about already with guns.
Is this the way you serve me, Adamo?--and I pay you a crown a month.
You idle vagabond!"

"Padrona," spoke Adamo in a deep voice--"I am here alone--this boy
helps me but little."

"Alone, Adamo! you dare to say alone, and you have the dogs? Hear how
they bark--they have heard the shot too--good dogs, good dogs, they
are left me--alone.--Argo is stronger than three men; Argo knocks over
any one, and he is trained to follow on the scent like a bloodhound.
Adamo, you are an idiot!" Adamo hung his head, either in shame or
rage, but he dared not reply.

"Now take the dogs out with you instantly--you hear, Adamo? Argo, and
Ponto the bull-dog, and Tuzzi and the others. Take them and go down at
once to the bottom of the cliffs. Search among the rocks everywhere.
Creep along the vines-terraces, and through the olive-grounds. Be sure
when you go down below the cliffs to search the mouth of the chasm.
Go at once. Set the dogs on all you find. Argo will pin them. He is a
brave dog. With Argo you are stronger than any one you will meet. If
you catch any men, take them at once to the municipality. Wretches,
they deserve it!--poaching in my woods! Listen--before you go, tell
Pipa to come to me soon."

Pipa's footsteps came clattering up the stairs to the marchesa's room.
The light of the lamp she carried--for it was already dark within
the tower--caught the spray of the fountain outside as she passed the
narrow slits that served for windows.

"Pipa," said the marchesa, as she stood before her in the doorway, a
broad smile on her merry brown face, "set that lamp on the desk here
before me. So--that will do. Now go up-stairs and tell the Signorina
Enrica that I bid her 'Good-night,' and that I will see her to-morrow
morning after breakfast. Then you may go to bed, Pipa. I am busy,
and shall sit up late." Pipa curtsied in silence, and closed the
marchesa's door.



CHAPTER III.

WHAT CAME OF BURNING THE MARCHESA'S PAPERS.


Midnight had struck from the church-clock at Corellia. The strokes
seemed to come slower by night than day, and sounded hollower. Hours
ago the last light had gone out. The moon had set behind the cleft
summits of La Pagna. Distant thunder had died away among the rocks.
The night was close and still. The villa lay in deep shadow, but the
outline of the turrets of the tower were clearly marked against the
starry sky. All slept, or seemed to sleep.

A thin blue vapor curls out from the marchesa's casement. This vapor,
at first light as a fog-drift, winds itself upward, and settles into a
cloud, that hovers in the air. Each moment the cloud rises higher
and higher. Now it has grown into a lurid canopy, that overhangs the
tower. A sudden glow from an arched loop-hole on the second story
shows every bar of iron across it. This is caught up below in a broad
flash across the basin of the fountain. Within there is a crackling
as of dry leaves--a clinging, heavy smell of heated air. Another and
another flame curls round the narrow loop-hole, twisting upward on the
solid wall.

At this instant there is a low growl, as from a kicked dog. A door
below is banged-to and locked. Then steps are heard upon the gravel.
It is Adamo. He had returned, as the marchesa bade him, and has come
to tell her he has searched everywhere--down even to the reeds by the
river Serchio (where he had discharged his gun at a water-hen), but
had found no one, though all the way the dogs had sniffed and whined.

Adamo catches sight of the crimson glare reflected upon the fountain.
He looks up at the tower--he sees the flames. A look of horror comes
into his round black eyes. Then, with a twitch, settling his gun
firmly upon his shoulder, he rushes to the unlocked door and flings it
wide open.

"Pipa! Wife! Angelo!" Adamo shouts down the stone passage connecting
the tower with the villa where they slept. "Wake up! The tower is on
fire! Fire! Fire!"

As Adam opened his mouth, the rush of hot air, pent upon the winding
stair, drawn downward by the draught from the open door, catches
his breath. He staggers against the wall. Then the strong man shook
himself together--again he shouts, "Pipa! Pipa! rise!"

Without waiting for an answer, putting his hand over his mouth, Adamo
charges up the stone stairs--up to the marchesa's door. Her room is on
fire.

"I must save her! I must save her! I will think of Pipa and the
children afterward."

Each step Adamo takes upward, the heat grows fiercer, the smoke that
pours down denser. Twice he had slipped and almost fallen, but he
battles bravely with the heat and blinding smoke, and keeps his
footing.

Now Adamo is on the landing of the first floor--Adamo blinded, his
head reeling--but lifting his strong limbs, and firm broad feet, he
struggles upward. He has reached the marchesa's door. The place is
marked by a chink of fire underneath. Adamo passes his hand over the
panel; it is unconsumed, the fire drawing the other way out by the
window.

"O God! if the door is bolted! I shall drop if I am not quick."
Adamo's fingers were on the lock. "The door is bolted! Blessed Virgin,
help me!"

He unslings his unloaded gun--he had forgotten it till then--and,
tightly seizing it in his strong hands, he flings the butt end against
the lock. The wood is old, the bolt is loose.

"Holy Jesus! It yields! It opens!"

Overcome by the rush of fiery air, again Adamo staggers. As he lifts
his hands to raise the hair, which, moist from heat, clings to his
forehead, his fingers strike against a medal of the Virgin he wore
round his naked throat.

"Mother of God, help me!" A desperate courage seizes him; he rushes
in--all before him swims in a red mist. "Help me, Madonna!" comes to
his parched lips. "O God, where is the marchesa?"

A puff of wind from the open door for an instant raised the smoke
and sparks; in that instant Adamo sees a dark heap lying on the floor
close to the door. It is the marchesa. "Is she dead or alive?" He
cannot stop to tell. He raises her. She lay within his arms. Her dark
dress, though not consumed, strikes hot against his chest. Not an
instant is to be lost. The fresh rush of air up the stairs has fanned
the flames. Every moment they are rising higher. They redden on the
dark rafters of the ceiling. The sparks fly about in dazzling clouds.
Adamo is on the threshold. Outside it is now so dark that, spite of
danger, he has to pause and feel his way downward, or he might dash
his precious burden against the walls. In that pause a piercing
cry from above strikes upon his ear, but in the crackling of the
increasing flames and a fresh torrent of smoke and burning sparks
that burst out from the room, Adamo's brain--always of the dullest--is
deadened. He forgets that cry. All his thought is to save his
mistress. Even Pipa and Angelo and little Gigi are forgotten.

Ere he reaches the level of the first story, the alarm-bell over his
head clangs out a goodly peal. A bound of joy within his honest heart
gives him fresh courage.

"It is the Madonna! When I touched her image, I knew that she would
help me. Pipa has heard me. Pipa has pulled the bell. She is safe! And
Angelo--and little Gigi, safe! safe! Brave Pipa! How I love her!"

Before a watch could tick twenty seconds, and while Adamo's foot was
still on the last round of the winding stair, the church-bells of
Corellia clash out in answer to the alarm-bell.

Now Adamo has reached the outer door. He stands beneath the stars. His
face and hands are black, his hair is singed; his woolen clothes are
hot and burn upon him. The cool night air makes his skin smart with
pain. Already Pipa's arms are round him. Angelo, too, has caught him
by the legs, then leaps into the air with a wild hoot. Bewildered Pipa
cannot speak. No more can Adamo; but Pipa's clinging arms say more
than words. Tenderly Adamo lays the marchesa down beside the fountain.
He totters on a step or two, feeling suddenly giddy and strangely
weak. He stands still. The strain had been too much for the simple
soul, who led a quiet life with Pipa and the children. Tears rise in
his big black eyes. Greatly ashamed, and wondering what has come to
him, he sinks upon the ground. Pipa, watching him, again flings her
arms about him; but Adamo gave her a glance so fierce, as he points to
the marchesa lying helpless upon the ground, it sent her quickly from
him. With a smothered sob Pipa turns away to help her.

(Ah! cruel Pipa, and is your heart so full that you have forgotten
Enrica, left helpless in the tower?--Yet so it was. Enrica is
forgotten. Cruel, cruel Pipa! And stupid Adamo, whose head turns round
so fast he must hold on by a tree not to fall again.)

Silvestro and Fra Pacifico now rushed out of the darkness; Fra
Pacifico aroused out of his first sleep. He had not seen the marchesa
since her arrival. He did not know whether Enrica had come with her
from Lucca or not. Seeing Pipa busy about the fountain, the women,
thought Fra Pacifico, were safe; so Fra Pacifico strode off on his
strong legs to see what could be done to quench the fire, and save,
if possible, the more combustible villa. Surely the villa must be
consumed! The smoke now darkened the heavens. The flames belted the
thick tower-walls as with a burning girdle. Showers of sparks and
flames rose out from each aperture with sudden bursts, revealing every
detail on the gray old walls; moss and lichen, a trail of ivy that
had forced itself upward, long grass that floated in the hot air; a
crevice under the battlements where a bird had built its nest. Then
a swirl of smoke swooped down and smothered all, while overhead the
mighty company of constellations looked calmly down in their cold
brightness!

A crowd of men now came running down from Corellia, roused by the
church-bells. Pietro, the baker, still hard at work, was the first to
hear the bell, to dash into the street, and shout, "Help! help! Fire!
fire! At the villa!"

Oreste and Pilade heard him. They came tumbling out. Ser Giacomo
roused the sindaco--who in his turn woke his clerk; but when Mr.
Sindaco was fairly off down the hill, this much-injured and very weary
youth turned back and went to bed.

Some bore lighted torches, others copper buckets. Pietro, the butcher,
brought the municipal ladder. These men promptly formed a line down
the hill, to carry the water from the willful mountain-stream that
fed the town fountain. Fra Pacifico took the lead. (He had heard the
alarm, and had rung the church-bells himself.) No one cared for the
marchesa; but a burning house was a fine sight, and where Fra Pacifico
went all Corellia followed. Adamo, recovered now, was soon upon the
ladder, receiving the buckets from below. Pipa beside the fountain
watched the marchesa, sprinkling water on her face. "Surely her
eyelids faintly quiver!" thinks Pipa.--Pipa watched the marchesa
speechless--watched her as birth and death are only watched!

The marchesa's eyes had quivered; now they slowly unclose. Pipa, who,
next to the Virgin and the saints, worshiped her mistress--laughed
wildly--sobbed--then laughed again--kissed her hand, her
forehead--then pressed her in her arms. Supported by Pipa, the
marchesa sat up--she turned, and then she saw the mountains of smoke
bursting from the tower, forming into great clouds that rose over the
tree-tops, and shut out the stars. The marchesa glanced quickly round
with her keen, black eyes--she glanced as one searching for some thing
she cannot find; then her lips parted, and one word fell faintly from
them: "Enrica!"

Pipa caught the half-uttered name, she echoed it with a scream.

"Ahi! The signorina! The Signorina Enrica!"

Pipa shouted to Adamo on the ladder.

"Adamo! Adamo! where is the signorina?"

Adamo's heart sank at her voice. On the instant he recalled that cry
he had heard upon the stairs.

"Where did you see her last?" Adamo shouted back to Pipa out of the
din--his big stupid eyes looking down upon her face. "Up-stairs?"

Pipa nodded. She could not speak, it was too horrible.

"Santo Dio! I did not know it!" He struck upon his breast. "Assassin!
I have killed her! Assassin! Beast! what have I done?"

Again the air rang with Pipa's shrill cries. The Corellia men, who
with eager hands pass the buckets down the hill, stop, and stare, and
wonder. Fra Pacifico, who had eyes and ears for every one, turned, and
ran forward to where Pipa sat wringing her hands upon the ground, the
marchesa leaning against her.

"Is Enrica in the tower?" asked Fra Pacifico.

"Yes, yes!" the marchesa answered feebly. "You must save her!"

"Then follow me!" shouted the priest, swinging his strong arms above
his head.

Adamo leaped from the ladder. Others--they were among the very
poorest--stepped out and joined him and the priest; but at the very
entrance they were met and buffeted by such a gust of fiery wind, such
sparks and choking smoke, that they all fell back aghast. Fra Pacifico
alone stood unmoved, his tall, burly figure dark against the glare. At
this instant a man wrapped in a cloak rushed out of the wood, crossed
the red circle reflected from the fire, and dashed into the archway.

"Stop him! stop him!" shouted Adamo from behind.

"You go to certain death!" cried Fra Pacifico, laying his hand upon
him.

"I am prepared to die," the other answered, and pushed by him.

Twice he essayed to mount the stairs. Twice he was driven back before
them all. See! He has covered his head with his cloak. He has set his
foot firmly upon the stone steps. Up, up he mounts--now he is gone!
Without there was a breathless silence. "Who is he?--Can he save
her?"--Words were not spoken, but every eye asked this question. The
men without are brave, ready to face danger in dark alley--by stream
or river--or on the mountain-side. Danger is pastime to them, but each
one feels in his own heart he is glad not to go. Fra Pacifico stands
motionless, a sad stern look upon his swarthy face. For the first time
in his life he has not been foremost in danger!

By this time, Fra Pacifico thinks, unless choked, the stranger must be
near the upper story.

The marchesa has now risen. She stands upright, her eyes riveted on
the tower. She knows there is a door that opens from the top of the
winding stair, on the highest story, next Enrica's room, a door out on
the battlements. Will the stranger see it? O God! will he see
it?--or is the smoke too thick?--or has he fainted ere he reached
so high?--or, if he has reached her, is Enrica dead? How heavy
the moments pass--weighted with life or death! Look, look! Surely
something moves between the turrets of the tower! Yes, something
moves. It rises--a muffled form between the turrets--the figure of a
man wrapped in a cloak--on the near side out of the smoke and flames.
Yes--it is the stranger--Enrica in his arms! All is clearly seen,
cut as it were against a crimson background. A shout rises from every
living man--a deep, full shout as out of bursting hearts that vent
themselves. Out of the shout the words ring out--"The steps!--the
steps!--There--to the right--cut in the battlements! The steps!--the
steps!--close by the flagstaff! Pass the steps down to the lower roof
of the villa" (The wind set on the other side, drawing the fire that
way. The villa was not touched.)

The stranger heard and bowed his head. He has found the steps--he has
reached the lower roof of the villa--he is safe!

No one below had moved. The hands by which the water was passed
were now laid upon the ladder. It was shifted over to the other side
against the villa walls. Adamo and Fra Pacifico stand upon the lower
rungs, to steady it. The stranger throws his cloak below, the better
to descend.

"Who is he?" That strong, well-knit frame, those square shoulders,
that curly chestnut hair, the pleasant smile upon his glowing face,
proclaim him. It is Count Nobili! He has lands along the Serchio,
between Barga and Corellia, and was well known as a keen sportsman.

"Bravo! bravo! Evviva! Count Nobili--evviva!" Caps were tossed into
the air, hands were wildly clapped, friendly arms are stretched out to
bear him up when he descends. Adamo is wildly excited; Adamo wants
to mount the ladder to help. The others pull him back. Fra Pacifico
stands ready to receive Enrica, a baffled look on his face. It is the
first time Fra Pacifico has stood by and seen another do his work.

See, Count Nobili is on the ladder, Enrica in his arms! As his feet
touch the ground, again the people shout: "Bravo! Count Nobili!
Evviva!" Their hot southern blood is roused by the sight of such noble
daring. The people press upon him--they fold him in their arms--they
kiss his hands, his cheeks, even his very feet.

Nobili's eyes flash. He, too, forgets all else, and, with a glance
that thrills Enrica from head to foot, he kisses her before them all.
The men circle round him. They shout louder than before.

As the crowd parted, the dark figure of the marchesa, standing near
the fountain, was disclosed. Before she had time to stir, Count Nobili
had led Enrica to her. He knelt upon the ground, and, kissing Enrica's
hand, placed it within her own. Then he rose, and, with that grace
natural to him, bowed and stood aside, waiting for her to speak.

The marchesa neither moved nor did she speak. When she felt the warm
touch of Enrica's hand within her own, it seemed to rouse her. She
drew her toward her and kissed her with more love than she had ever
shown before.

"I thank you, Count Nobili," she said, in a strange, cold voice. Even
at that moment she could not bring herself to look him in the face.
"You have saved my niece's life."

"Madame," replied Nobili, his sweet-toned voice trembling, "I have
saved my own. Had Enrica perished, I should not have lived."

In these few words the chivalric nature of the man spoke out. The
marchesa waved her hand. She was stately even now. Nobili understood
her gesture, and, stung to the very soul, he drew back.

"Permit me," he said, haughtily, before he turned away, "to add my
help to those who are laboring to save your house."

The marchesa bowed her head in acquiescence; then, with unsteady
steps, she moved backward and seated herself upon the ground.

Pipa, meanwhile, had flung her arms about Enrica, with such an energy
that she pinned her to the spot. Pipa pressed her hands about Enrica,
feeling every limb; Pipa turned Enrica's white face up ward to the
blaze; she stroked her long, fair hair that fell like a mantle round
her.

"Blessed Mother!" she sobbed, drawing her coarse fingers through the
matted curls, "not a hair singed! Oh, the noble count! Oh, how I love
him--"

"No, dear Pipa," Enrica answered, softly, "I am not hurt--only
frightened. The fire had but just reached the door when he came. He
was just in time."

"To think we had forgotten her!" murmured Pipa, still holding her
tightly.

"Who remembered me first?" asked Enrica, eagerly.

"The marchesa, signorina, the marchesa. She remembered you. The
marchesa was brought down by Adamo. Your name was the first word she
uttered."

Enrica's blue eyes glistened. In an instant she had disengaged herself
from Pipa, and was kneeling at the marchesa's feet.

"Dear aunt, forgive me. Now that I am saved, forgive me! You must
forgive me, and forgive him, too!"

These last words came faint and low. The marchesa put her finger on
her lip.

"Not now, Enrica, not now. To-morrow we will speak."

Meanwhile Count Nobili, Fra Pacifico, and the Corellia men, strove
what human strength could do to put the fire out. Even the
sindaco, forgetting the threats about his rent, labored hard and
willingly--only Silvestro did nothing. Silvestro seemed stunned; he
sat upon the ground staring, and crying like a child.

To save the rooms within the tower was impossible. Every plank of wood
was burning. The ceilings had fallen in; only the blackened walls and
stone stairs remained. The villa was untouched--the wind, setting the
other way, and the thick walls of the tower, had saved it.

Now every hand that could be spared was turned to bring beds from the
steward's for the marchesa and Enrica. They had gone into Pipa's
room until the villa was made ready. Pipa told Adamo, and he told the
others, that the marchesa had not seen the burning papers, and the
lighted pile of wood, until the flames rose high behind her back. She
had rushed forward, and fallen.

When all was over, Count Nobili was carried up the hill back to
Corellia, in triumph, on the shoulders of Pietro the baker, and
Oreste, the strongest of the brothers. Every soul of the poor
townsfolk--women as well as men who had not gone down to help--had
risen, and was out. They had put lights into their windows. They
crowded the doorways. The market-place was full, and the church-porch.
The fame of Nobili's courage had already reached them. All bless him
as he passes--bless him louder when Nobili, all aglow with happiness,
empties his pockets of all the coin he has, and promises more
to-morrow. At this the women lay hold of him, and dance round him. It
was long before he was released. At last Fra Pacifico carried him off,
almost by force, to sleep at the curato.



CHAPTER IV.

WHAT A PRIEST SHOULD BE.


Fra Pacifico was a dark, burly man, with a large, weather-beaten
face, kind gray eyes under a pair of shaggy eyebrows, a resolute nose,
large, full-lipped mouth, and a clean-shaven double chin, that rested
comfortably upon his priestly stock. He was no longer young, but he
had a frame like iron, and in his time he had possessed a force of
arm and muscle enough to fell an ox. His strength and daring were
acknowledged by all the mountain-folks from Corellia to Barga, hardy
fellows, and judges of what a man can do. Moreover, Fra Pacifico
was more than six feet high--and who does not respect a man of such
inches? In fair fight he had killed his man--a brigand chief--who
prowled about the mountains toward Carrara. His band had fled and
never returned.

Fra Pacifico had stood with his strong feet planted on the earth,
over the edge of a rocky precipice--by which the high-road passed--and
seized a furious horse dragging a cart holding six poor souls
below. Fra Pacifico had found a shepherd of Corellia--one of his
flock--struck down by fever on a rocky peak some twenty miles distant,
and he had carried him on his back, and laid him on his bed at home.
Every one had some story to tell of his prowess, coolness, and manly
daring. When he walked along the streets, the ragged children--as
black with sun and dirt as unfledged ravens--sidled up to him, and,
looking up into his gray eyes, ran between his firm-set legs, plucked
him by the cassock, and felt in his pockets for an apple or a cake.
Then the children held him tight until he had raised them up and
kissed them.

Spite of the labors of the previous night (no one had worked harder),
Fra Pacifico had risen with daybreak. His office accustomed him to
little sleep. There was no time by day or night that he could call his
own. If any one was stricken with sickness in the night, or suddenly
seized for death in those pale hours when the day hovers, half-born,
over the slumbering earth, Fra Pacifico must rise and wake his
acolyte, the baker's boy, who, going late to bed, was hard to rouse.
Along with him he must grope up and down slippery steps, and along
dark alleys, bearing the Host under a red umbrella, until he had
placed it within the dying lips. If a baby was weakly, or born before
its time, and, having given one look at this sorrowful world, was
about to lose its eyes on it forever, Fra Pacifico must run out at any
moment to christen it.

There was no doctor at Corellia, the people were too poor; so Fra
Pacifico was called upon to do a doctor's duty. He must draw the teeth
of such as needed it; bind up cuts and sores; set limbs; and give
such simple drugs as he knew the nature of. He must draw up papers for
those who could not afford to pay the notary; write letters for
those who could only make a cross; hear and conceal every secret that
reached him in the confessional or on the death-bed. He must be
at hand at any hour in the twenty-four--ready to counsel, soothe,
command, and reprimand; to bless, to curse, and, if need be, to
strike, when his righteous anger rose; to fetch and carry for all,
and, poor himself, to give out of his scanty store. These were his
priestly duties.

Fra Pacifico lived at the back of the old Lombard church of Santa
Barbara, in a house overlooking a damp square, overgrown with moss
and weeds. Between the tower where the bells hung, and the body of the
church, an open loggia (balcony), roofed with wood and tiles, rested
on slender pillars. In the loggia, Fra Pacifico, when at leisure,
would sit and rest and read his breviary; sometimes smoke a solitary
pipe--stretching out his shapely legs in the luxury of doing nothing.
Behind the loggia were the priest's four rooms, bare even for the
bareness of that squalid place. He kept no servant, but it was counted
an honor to serve him, and the mothers of Corellia came by turns to
cook and wash for him.

Fra Pacifico, as I have said, had risen at daybreak. Now he is
searching to find a messenger to send to Lucca, as the marchesa had
desired, to summon Cavaliere Trenta. That done, he takes a key out of
his pocket and unlocks the church-door. Here, kneeling at the altar,
he celebrates a private mass of thanksgiving for the marchesa and
Enrica. Then, with long strides, he descends the hill to see what is
doing at the villa.



CHAPTER V.

"SAY NOT TOO MUCH."


The sun was streaming on mountain and forest before Count Nobili woke
from a deep sleep. As he cast his drowsy eyes around upon the homely
little room, the coarsely-painted frescoes on the walls--the gaudy
cups and plates arranged in a cupboard opposite the bed--and on a wax
Gesù Bambino, placed in state upon the mantel-piece, surrounded by a
flock of blue sheep, browsing on purple grass, he could not at first
remember where he was. The noises from the square below--the clink of
the donkey's hoofs upon the pavement as they struggled up the steep
alley laden with charcoal; the screams of children--the clamor of
women's voices moving to and fro with their wooden shoes--and the boom
of the church-bells sounding overhead for morning mass--came to him as
in a dream.

As he raised his hand to push back the hair which fell over his
eyes, a sharp twitch of pain--for his hands were scorched and
blistered--brought all that had happened vividly before him. A warmth
of joy and love glowed at his heart. He had saved Enrica's life.
Henceforth that life was his. From that day they would never part.
From that day, forgetting all others, he would live for her alone.

He must see her instantly--if possible, before his enemy, her aunt,
had risen--see Enrica, and speak to her, alone. Oh, the luxury of
that! How he longed to feast his eyes upon the softness of her beauty!
To fill his ears with the music of her voice! To touch her little
hand, and scent the fragrance of her breath upon his cheek! There was
no thought within Nobili but love and loyalty. At that moment Enrica
was the only woman in the world whom he loved, or ever could love!

He dressed himself in haste, opened the door, and stepped out into
the loggia. Not finding Fra Pacifico there, or in the other rooms, he
passed down the stone steps into the little square, threading his way
beyond as he best could, through the tortuous little alleys toward the
gate. Most of the men had already gone to work; but such as lingered,
or whose business kept them at home, rose as he passed, and bared
their heads to him. The mothers and the girls stared at him and
smiled; troops of children followed at his heels through the town,
until he reached the gate.

Without, the holiness of Nature was around. The morning air blew upon
him crisp and clear. The sky, blue as a turquoise, was unbroken by a
cloud. The trees were bathed in gold. The chain of Apennines rose up
before him in lines of dreamy loveliness, like another world, midway
toward heaven. A passing shower veiled the massive summits toward
Massa and Carrara, but the broad valley of the Serchio, mapped out in
smallest details, lay serenely luminous below. Beyond the gate there
was no certain road. It broke into little tracts and rocky paths
terracing downward. Following these, streams ran bubbling, sparkling
like gems as they dashed against the stones. No shadows rested upon
the grass, cooled by the dew and carpeted by flowers. The woods danced
in the October sunshine. Painted butterflies and gnats circled in the
warm air; green lizards gamboled among the rocks that cut the
turf. Flocks of autumn birds swooped round in rapid flight. Some
freshly-shorn sheep, led by a ragged child, cropped the short herbage
fragrant with strong herbs. A bristly pig carrying a bell about his
neck, ran wildly up and down the grassy slope in search of chestnuts.

Through this sylvan wilderness Nobili came stepping downward by the
little paths, like a young god full of strength and love!

The villa lay beneath him; the blackened ruins of the tower rose over
the chestnut-tops. These blackened ruins showed him which way to go.
As he set his foot upon the topmost terrace of the garden, his heart
beat fast.

Enrica would be there, he knew it. Enrica would be waiting for him.
Could Nobili yearn so fondly for Enrica and she not know it? Could the
mystic bond that knit them together, from the first moment they had
met, leave her unconscious of his presence? No; that subtile charm
that draws lovers together, and breathes from heart to heart the
sacred fire, had warned her. She was standing there--there, beneath
him, under the shadow of a flowery thicket. Enrica was leaning against
the trunk of a magnolia-tree, the shining leaves framing her in a rich
canopy, through which a glint of sunshine pierced, falling upon her
light hair and the white dress she wore.

Nobili paused to look at her. Miser-like, he would pause to gloat upon
his treasure! How well a golden glory would become that sunny head!
She only wanted wings, he thought, to make an angel of her. Enrica's
face was bent. Her thoughts, far away, were lost in a delicious world,
neither earth nor heaven--a world with Nobili! What mysteries were
there, what unknown joys, or sharper pains perchance, she neither knew
nor cared. She would share all with him! In a moment the place she
stood on was darkened. Something stood between her and the sun. She
looked up and gave a little cry, then stood motionless, the color
going and coming upon her cheek. One bound, and Nobili was beside her.
He strained her to him with a passion that robbed him of all words.
Scarcely knowing what he did, he grasped the tangled meshes of her
silken hair and covered them with kisses. Then he raised her soft face
in his hand, and gazed upon it long and fervently.

Enrica's plaintive eyes melted as they met his. She quivered in his
embrace. Her whole soul went out to him as she lay within his arms. He
bent his head--their trembling lips clung together in one long kiss.
Then the little golden head drooped upon his breast, and nestled
there, as if at last at home. Never before had Enrica's dainty form
yielded beneath his touch. Before, he had but clasped her little hand,
or pressed her dress, or stolen a hasty kiss on those truant locks
of hers. Now Enrica was his own, his very own. The blood shot up like
fire over his face. His eyes devoured her. As she lay encircled in his
arms, a burning blush crimsoned her cheeks. She turned away her face,
and feebly tried to loosen herself from him. Nobili only pressed her
closer. He would not let her go.

"Do not turn from me, Enrica," he softly murmured. "Would you rob me
of the rapture of my first embrace?"

There was a passionate tremor in his voice that re vibrated within her
from head to foot. Her flushed cheek grew pale as she listened.

"Heavens! how I have longed for you! How I have longed for you sitting
at home! And you so near!"

"And I have longed for you," whispered Enrica, blushing again
redder than summer roses.--Enrica was too simple to dissemble.--"O
Nobili!"--and she raised her dreamy eyes upward to his, then dropped
them again before the fire of his glance--"you cannot tell how lonely
I have been. Oh! I have suffered so much; I thought I should have
died."

"My own Enrica, that is gone and past. Now we shall never part. I have
won you for my wife. Even the marchesa must own this. Last night the
old life died out as the smoke from that old tower. To-day you have
waked to a new life with me."

Again Nobili's arms stole round her; again he sealed the sacrament of
love with a fervid kiss.

Enrica trembled from head to foot--a scared look came over her. The
rush of passionate joy, coming upon the terrors of the past night, was
more than she could bear. Nobili watched the change.

"Forgive me, love," he said, "I will be calmer. Lay your dear head
against me. We will sit together here--under the trees."

"Yes," said Enrica in a faltering voice; "I have so much to say."
Then, suddenly recalling the blessing of his presence, a smile stole
about her bloodless lips. She gave a happy sigh. "Yes, Nobili--we can
talk now without fear. But I can talk only of you. I have no thought
but you. I never dreamed of such happiness as this! O Nobili!" And she
hid her face in the strong arm entwined about her.

"Speak to me, Enrica; I will listen to you forever."

Enrica clasped his hand, looked at it, sighed, pressed it between both
of hers, sighed again, then raised it to her lips.

"Dear hand," she said, "how it is burnt! But for this hand, I should
be nothing now but a little heap of ashes in the tower. Nobili"--her
tone suddenly changed--"Nobili, I will try to love life now that you
have given it to me." Her voice rang out like music, and her telltale
eyes caught his, with a glance as passionate as his own. "Count
Marescotti," she said, absently, as giving utterance to a passing
thought--"Count Marescotti told me, only a week ago, that I was born
to be unhappy. He said he read it in my eyes. I believed him then--not
now--not now."

Why, she could not have explained, but, as the count's name passed
her lips, Enrica was sorry she had mentioned it. Nobili noted this. He
gave an imperceptible start, and drew back a little from her.

"Do you know Count Marescotti?" Enrica asked him, timidly.

"I know him by sight," was Nobili's reply. "He is a mad fellow--a
republican. Why does he come to Lucca?"

Enrica shook her head.

"I do not know," she answered, still confused.

"Where did you meet him, Enrica?"

She blushed, and dropped her eyes. As she gave him no answer, he asked
another question, gazing down upon her earnestly:

"How did Count Marescotti come to know what your eyes said?"

As Nobili spoke, his voice sounded changed. He waited for an answer
with a look as if he had been wronged. Enrica's answer did not come
immediately. She felt frightened.

"Oh! why," she thought, "had she mentioned Marescotti's name?" Nobili
was angry with her--she was sure he was angry with her.

"I met him at my aunt's one evening," she said at last, gathering
courage as she stole her little hand into one of his, and knit her
fingers tightly within his own. "We went up into the Guinigi Tower
together. There were dear old Trenta and Baldassare Lena with us."

"Indeed!" replied Nobili, coldly. "I did not know that the Marchesa
Guinigi ever received young men."

As Nobili said this he fixed his eyes upon Enrica's face. What could
he read there but assurance of the perfect innocence within? Yet
the name of Count Marescotti had grated upon his ear like a discord
clashing among sweet sounds. He shook the feeling off, however, for
the time. Again he was her gracious lover.

"Tell me, love," he said, drawing Enrica to him, "did you hear my
signal last night?--the shot I fired below, out of the woods?"

"Yes, I heard a shot. Something told me it must be you. I thought I
should have died when I heard my aunt order Adamo to unloose those
dreadful dogs. How did you escape them?"

"The cunning beasts! They were upon my track. How I did it in the
darkness I cannot tell, but I managed to scramble down the cliff and
to reach the opposite mountain. The chasm was then between us. So the
dogs lost the scent upon the rocks, and missed me. I left Lucca almost
as soon as you. Trenta told me that the marchesa had brought you here
because you would not give me up. Dear heart, how I grieved that I had
brought suffering on you!"

He seized her hand and pressed it to his lips, then continued:

"As long as it was day, I prowled about under the cliffs in the shadow
of the chasm. I watched the stars come out. There was one star that
shone brightly above the tower; to me that star was you, Enrica. I
could have knelt to it."

"Dear Nobili!" murmured Enrica, softly.

"As I waited there, I saw a great red vapor gather over the
battlements. The alarm-bell sounded. I climbed up through the wood,
where the rocks are lower, and watched among the shrubs. I saw the
marchesa carried out in Adamo's arms. I heard your name, dear love,
passed from mouth to mouth. I looked around--you were not there. I
understood it all; I rushed to save you."

Again Nobili wound his arms round Enrica and drew her to him with
passionate ardor. The thought of Count Marescotti had faded out like a
bad dream at daylight.

Enrica's blue eyes dimmed with tears.

"Oh, do not weep, Enrica!" he cried. "Let the past go, love. Did the
marchesa think that bolts and bars, and Adamo, and watch-dogs, would
keep Nobili from you?" He gave a merry laugh. "I shall not leave
Corellia until we are affianced. Fra Pacifico knows it--I told him so
last night. Cavaliere Trenta is expected to-day from Lucca. Both will
speak to your aunt. One may have done so already, for what I know,
for Fra Pacifico had left his house before I rose. He must be here. Is
this a time to weep, Enrica?" he asked her tenderly. How comely Nobili
looked! What life and joy sparkled in his bright eyes!

"I am very foolish--I hope you will forgive me," was Enrica's answer,
spoken a little sadly. Her confidence in herself was shaken, since
Count Marescotti's name had jarred between them. "Let us walk a little
in the shade."

"Yes. Lean on me, dearest; the morning is delicious. But remember,
Enrica, I will have smiles--nothing but smiles."

As Nobili bore her up on his strong arm, pacing up and down among the
flowering trees that, bowing in the light breeze, shed gaudy petals at
their feet--Nobili looked so strong, and resolute, and bold--his eyes
had such a power in them as he gazed down proudly upon her--that
the tears which trembled upon Enrica's eyelids disappeared. Nobili's
strength came to her as her own strength. She, who had been so crushed
and wounded, brought so near to death, needed this to raise her up to
life. And now it came--came as she gazed at him.

Yes, she would live--live a new life with him. And Nobili had done
it--done it unconsciously, as the sun unfolds the bosom of the rose,
and from the delicate bud creates the perfect flower.

Something Nobili understood of what was passing within her, but not
all. He had yet to learn the treasures of faith and love shut up in
the bosom of that silent girl--to learn how much she loved him--only
_him_. (A new lesson for one who had trifled with so many, and given
and taken such facile oaths!)

Neither spoke, but wandered up and down in vague delight.

Why was it that at this moment Nobili's thoughts strayed to Lucca, and
to Nera Boccarini?--Nera rose before him, glowing and velvet-eyed,
as on that night she had so tempted him. He drove her image from him.
Nera was dead to him. Dead?--Fool!--And did he think that any thing
can die? Do not our very thoughts rise up and haunt us in some subtile
consequence of after-life? Nothing dies--nothing is isolated. Each act
of daily intercourse--the merest trifle, as the gravest issue--makes
up the chain of life. Link by link that chain draws on, weighted with
good or ill, and clings about us to the very grave.

Thinking of Nera, Nobili's color changed--a dark look clouded his
ready smile. Enrica asked, "What pains you?"

"Nothing, love, nothing," Nobili answered vaguely, "only I fear I am
not worthy of you."

Enrica raised her eyes to his. Such a depth of tenderness and purity
beamed from them, that Nobili asked himself with shame, how he could
have forgotten her. With this blue-eyed angel by his side it seemed
impossible, and yet--

Pressing Enrica's hand more tightly, he placed it fondly on his own.
"So small, so true," he murmured, gazing at it as it lay on his broad
palm.

"Yes, Nobili, true to death," she answered, with a sigh.

Still holding her hand, "Enrica," he said, solemnly, "I swear to love
you and no other, while I live. God is my witness!"

As he lifted up his head in the earnestness with which he spoke, the
sunshine, streaming downward, shone full upon his face.

Enrica trembled. "Oh! do not say too much," she cried, gazing up at
him entranced.

With that sun-ray upon his face, Nobili seemed to her, at that moment,
more than mortal!

"Angel!" exclaimed Count Nobili, wrought up to sudden passion, "can
you doubt me?"

Before Enrica could reply, a snake, warmed by the hot sun, curled
upward from the terraced wall behind them, where it had basked, and
glided swiftly between them. Nobili's heel was on it; in an instant
he had crushed its head. But there between them lay the quivering
reptile, its speckled scales catching the light. Enrica shrieked and
started back.

"O God! what an evil omen!" She said no more, only her shifting color
and uneasy eyes told what she felt.

"An evil omen, love!" and Nobili brushed away the snake with his foot
into the underwood, and laughed. "Not so. It is an omen that I shall
crush all who would part us. That is how I read it."

Enrica shook her head. That snake crawling between them was the first
warning to her that she was still on earth. Till then it had seemed to
her that Nobili's presence must be like paradise. Now for a moment a
terrible doubt crept over her. Could happiness be sad? It must be so,
for now she could not tell whether she was sad or happy.

"Oh! do not say too much, dear Nobili," she repeated almost to
herself, "or--" Her voice dropped. She looked toward the spot where
the snake had fallen, and shuddered.

Nobili did not then reply, but, taking Enrica by the hand, he led her
up a flight of steps to a higher terrace, where a cypress avenue threw
long shadows across the marble pavement.

"You are mine," he whispered, "mine--as by a miracle!"

There was such rapture in his voice that heaven came down into her
heart, and every doubt was stilled.

At this moment Fra Pacifico's towering figure appeared ascending a
lower flight of steps toward them, coming from the house. He trod with
that firm, grand step churchmen have in common with actors--only the
stage upon which each treads is different. Behind Fra Pacifico was
the short, plump figure and the white hat of Cavaliere Trenta (a dwarf
beside the priest), his rosy face rosier than ever from the rapid
drive from Lucca. Trenta's kind eyes twinkled under his white eyebrows
as he spied Enrica above, standing side by side with Nobili. How
different the dear child looked from that last time he had seen her at
Lucca!

Enrica flew down the steps to meet him. She threw her arms round his
neck. Count Nobili followed her; he shook hands with the cavaliere and
Fra Pacifico.

"His reverence and I thought we should find you two together," said
Cavaliere Trenta, with a chuckle. "Count Nobili, I wish you joy."

His voice faltered a little, and a spotless handkerchief was drawn
out and called into service. Nobili reddened, then bowed with formal
courtesy.

"It is all come right, I see."--Trenta gave a sly glance from one to
the other, though the tears were in his eyes.--"I shall live to open
the marriage-ball on the first floor of the palace yet. Bagatella! I
would have tried to give the dear child to you myself, had I known how
much she loved you--but you have taken her. Well, well--possession is
better than gift."

"She gave herself to me, cavaliere. Last night's work only made the
gift public," was Nobili's reply.

There was a tone of triumph in Nobili's voice as he said this. He
stooped and pressed his lips to Enrica's hand. Enrica stood by with
downcast eyes--a spray of pink oleander swaying from the terrace-wall
in the light breeze above her head, for background.

The old cavaliere nodded his head, round which the little curls set
faultlessly under his white hat.

"My dear Count Nobili, permit me to offer my advice. You must settle
this matter at once--at once, I say;" and Trenta struck his stick upon
the marble balustrade for greater emphasis.

"I quite agree with you," put in Fra Pacifico in his deep voice. "The
impression made by your courage last night must not be lost by delay.
I never saw an act of greater daring. Had you not come, I should have
tried to save Enrica, but I am past my prime; I should have failed."

"You cannot count on the marchesa's gratitude," continued Trenta; "an
excellent lady, and my oldest friend, but proud and capricious. You
must take her like the wind when it blows--ha! ha! like the wind. I am
come here to help you both."

"Cavaliere," said Nobili, turning toward him (his vagrant eyes had
wandered off to Enrica, so charming, with the pink oleander and its
dark-green leaves waving above her blond head), "do me the favor to
ask the Marchesa Guinigi at what hour she will admit me to sign the
marriage-contract. I have pressing business that calls me back to
Lucca to-day."

"So soon, dear Nobili?" a soft voice whispered at his ear, "so soon?"
And then there was a sigh. Surely her paradise was very brief! Enrica
had thought in her simplicity that, once met, they two never should
part again, but spend the live-long days together side by side among
the woods, lingering by flowing streams; or in the rich shade of
purple vine-bowers; or in mossy caves, shaded by tall ferns, hid on
the mountain-side, and let time and the world roll by. This was the
life she dreamed of. Could any grief be there?

"Yes, love," Nobili answered to her question. "I must return to Lucca
to-night. I started on the instant, as the cavaliere knows. Before I
go, however, all must be settled about our marriage, and the contract
signed. I will take no denial."

Nobili spoke with the determination that was in him. Enrica's heart
gave a bound. "The contract!" She had never thought of that. "The
contract and the marriage!"--"Both close at hand!--Then the life she
dreamed of must come true in very earnest!"

The cavaliere looked doubtingly at Fra Pacifico. Fra Pacifico shrugged
his big shoulders, looked back again at Cavaliere Trenta, and smiled
rather grimly. There was always a sense of suppressed power, moral and
physical, about Fra Pacifico. In conversation he had a way of leaving
the burden of small talk to others, and of reserving himself for
special occasions; but when he spoke he must be listened to.

"Quick work, my dear count," was all the priest said to Nobili in
answer. "Do you think you can insure the marchesa's consent?" Now he
addressed the cavaliere.

"Oh, my friend will be reasonable, no doubt. After last night,
she must consent." The cavaliere was always ready to put the best
construction upon every thing. "If she raises any obstacles, I think I
shall be able to remove them."

"Consent!" cried Nobili, fiercely echoing back the word, "she must
consent--she will be mad to refuse."

"Well--well--we shall see.--You, Count Nobili, have done all to make
it sure. The terms of the contract (I have heard of them from Fra
Pacifico) are princely." A look from Count Nobili stopped Trenta from
saying more.

"Now, Enrica," and the cavaliere turned and took her arm, "come in and
give me some breakfast. An old man of eighty must eat, if he means to
dance at weddings."

"You, Nobili, must come with me," said Fra Pacifico, laying his hand
on the count's shoulder. "We will wait the cavaliere's summons to
return here over a bottle of the marchesa's best vintage, and a cutlet
cooked by Maria. She is my best cook; I have one for every day in the
week."

So they parted--Trenta with Enrica descending flight after flight
of steps, leading from terrace to terrace, down to the villa; Nobili
mounting upward to the forest with Fra Pacifico toward Corellia, to
await the marchesa's answer.



CHAPTER VI.

THE CONTRACT.


Fra Pacifico, with Adamo and Pipa, had labored ever since-daybreak
to arrange the rooms at the villa before the marchesa rose. Pipa had
freely used the broom and many pails of water. All the windows were
thrown open, and clouds of invisible incense from the flowers without
sweetened the fusty rooms.

The villa had not been inhabited for nearly fifty years. It was
scantily provided with furniture, but there were chairs and tables
and beds, and all the rough necessaries of life. To make all straight,
whole generations of beetles had been swept away; and patriarchal
spiders, which clung tenaciously to the damp spots on the walls. A
scorpion or two had been found, which, firmly resisting to quit the
chinks where they had grown and multiplied, had died by decapitation.
Fra Pacifico would not have owned it, but he had discovered and killed
a nest of black adders that lay concealed, curled up in a curtain.

He had with his own hands, in the early morning, carefully fashioned
the spacious sala on the ground-floor to the marchesa's liking. A huge
sofa, with a faded amber cover, had been drawn out of a recess, and
so placed that the light should fall at her back.--She objected to the
sunshine, with true Italian perverseness. Some arm-chairs, once gilt,
and still bearing a coronet, were placed in a semicircle opposite. The
windows of the sala, and two glass doors of the same size and make,
looked east and west; toward the terraces and the garden on one side,
and over the cliffs and the chasm to the opposite mountains on the
other. The walls were broken by doors of varnished pine-wood. These
doors led, on the right, to the chapel, Enrica's bedroom, and many
empty apartments; on the left, to the marchesa's suite of rooms, the
offices, and the stone corridor which communicated with the now ruined
tower. High up on the walls of the sala, two large and roughly-painted
frescoes decorated the empty spaces. A Dutch seaport on one side, with
sloping roofs and tall gables, bordering a broad river, upon which
ships sailed vaguely away into a yellow haze. (Not more vaguely
sailing, perhaps, than many human ships, with life-sails set to
catch the wind of fortune--ships which never make more way than
these painted emblems!) Opposite, a hunting-party of the olden time
picnicked in a forest-glade; a brown and red palace in the background,
in front lords and ladies lounging on the grass--bundles of
satin, velvet, powder, ribbons, feathers, shoulder-knots, ruffles,
long-tailed coats, and trains.

A door to the left opened. There was a sound of voices talking.

"My honored marchesa," the cavaliere was heard to say in his most
dulcet tones, "in the state of your affairs, you cannot refuse. Why
then delay? The day is passing by; Count Nobili is impatient. Let me
implore you to lose no more time."

While he was speaking the marchesa entered the sala, passing close
under the fresco of the vaguely-sailing ships upon the wall.--Can the
marchesa tell whither she is drifting more than these?--She glanced
round approvingly, then seated herself upon the sofa. Trenta
obsequiously placed a footstool at her feet, a cushion at her back.
Even the tempered light, which had been carefully prepared for her by
closing the outer wooden shutters, could not conceal how sallow and
worn she looked, nor the black circles that had gathered round her
eyes. Her dark dress hung about her as if she had suddenly grown thin;
her white hands fell listlessly at her side. The marchesa knew that
she must consent to Count Nobili's conditions. She knew she must
consent this very day. But such a struggle as this knowledge cost her,
coming so close upon the agitation of the previous night, was more
than even her iron nerves could bear. As she leaned back upon the
sofa, shading her eyes with her hand, as was her habit, she felt she
could not frame the words with which to answer the cavaliere, were it
to save her life.

As for the cavaliere, who had seated himself opposite, his plump
little person was so engulfed in an arm-chair, that nothing but
his snowy head was visible. This he waved up and down reflectively,
rattled his stick upon the floor, and glanced indignantly from time to
time at the marchesa. Why would she not answer him?

Meanwhile a little color had risen upon her cheeks. She forced herself
to sit erect, arranged the folds of her dark dress, then, in a kind of
stately silence, seemed to lend herself to listen to what Trenta might
have to urge, as though it concerned her as little as that rose-leaf
which comes floating in from the open door and drops at her feet.

"Well, marchesa, well--what is your answer?" asked Trenta, much
nettled at her assumed indifference. "Remember that Count Nobili and
Fra Pacifico have been waiting for some hours."

"Let Nobili wait," answered the marchesa, a sudden glare darting into
her dark eyes; "he is born to wait for such as I."

"Still"--Trenta was both tired and angry, but he dared not show it;
only he rattled his stick louder on the floor, and from time to time
aimed a savage blow with it against the carved legs of a neighboring
table--"still, why do the thing ungraciously? The count's offers are
magnificent. Surely in the face of absolute ruin--Fra Pacifico assures
me--"

"Let Fra Pacifico mind his own business," was the marchesa's answer.

"Nobili saved Enrica's life last night; that cannot be denied."

"Yes--last night, last night; and I am to be forced and fettered
because I set myself on fire! I wish I had perished, and Enrica too!"

A gesture of horror from the cavaliere recalled the marchesa to a
sense of what she had uttered.

"And do you deem it nothing, Cesare Trenta, after a life spent in
building up the ancient name I bear, that I should be brought to sign
a marriage-contract with a peddler's son?" She trembled with passion.

"Yet it must be done," answered Trenta.

"Must be done! Must be done! I would rather die! Mark my words,
Cesare. No good will come of this marriage. That young man is weak and
dissolute. He is mad with wealth, and the vulgar influence that
comes with wealth. As a man, he is unworthy of my niece, who, I must
confess, has the temper of an angel."

"I believe that you are wrong, marchesa; Count Nobili is much beloved
in Lucca. Fra Pacifico has known him from boyhood. He praises him
greatly. I also like him."

"Like him!--Yes, Cesare, you are such an easy fool you like every one.
First Marescotti, then Nobili. Marescotti was a gentleman, but this
fellow--" She left the sentence incomplete. "Remember my words--you
are deceived in him."

"At all events," retorted the cavaliere, "it is too late to discuss
these matters now. Time presses. Enrica loves him. He insists on
marrying her. You have no money, and cannot give her a portion. My
respected marchesa, I have often ventured to represent to you what
those lawsuits would entail! Per Bacco! There must be an end of all
things--may I call them in?"

The poor old chamberlain was completely exhausted. He had spent four
hours in reasoning with his friend. The marchesa turned her head
away and shuddered; she could not bring herself to speak the word of
bidding. The cavaliere accepted this silence for consent. He struggled
out of the ponderous arm-chair, and went out into the garden. There
(leaning over the balustrade of the lowest terrace, under the
willful branches of a big nonia-tree, weighted with fronds of scarlet
trumpet-flowers, that hung out lazily from the wall, to which the
stem was nailed) Cavaliere Trenta found Count Nobili and Fra Pacifico
awaiting the marchesa's summons. Behind them, at a respectful
distance, stood Ser Giacomo, the notary from Corellia. Streamlets pure
as crystal ran bubbling down beside them in marble runnels; statues
of gods and goddesses balanced each other, on pedestals, at the angles
where the steps turned. In front, on the gravel, a pair of peacocks
strutted, spreading their gaudy tails in the sunshine.

As the four men entered the sala, they seemed to bring the evening
shadows with them. These suddenly slanted across the floor like
pointed arrows, darkening the places where the sun had shone. Was it
fancy, or did the sparkling fountain at the door, as it fell backward
into the marble basin, murmur with a sound like human sighs?

Count Nobili walked first. He was grave and pale. Having made a formal
obeisance to the marchesa, his quick eye traveled round in search of
Enrica. Not finding her, it settled again upon her aunt. As Nobili
entered, she raised her smooth, snake-like head, and met his gaze in
silence. She had scarcely bowed, in recognition of his salute. Now,
with the slightest possible inclination of her head, she signed to him
to take his place on one of the chairs before her.

Fra Pacifico, his full, broad face perfectly unmoved, and Cavaliere
Trenta, who watched the scene nervously with troubled, twinkling eyes,
placed themselves on either side of Count Nobili. Ser Giacomo had
already slipped round behind the sofa, and seated himself at a table
placed against the wall, the marriage-contract spread out before
him. There was an awkward pause. Then Count Nobili rose, and, in that
sweet-toned voice which had fallen like a charm on many a woman's ear,
addressed the marchesa.

"Marchesa Guinigi, hereditary Governess of Lucca, and Countess of
the Garfagnana, I am come to ask in marriage the hand of your niece,
Enrica Guinigi. I desire no portion with her. The lady herself is a
portion more than enough for me."

As Nobili ceased speaking, the ruddy color shot across his brow and
cheeks, and his eyes glistened. His generous nature spoke in those few
words.

"Count Nobili," replied the marchesa, carefully avoiding his eye,
which eagerly sought hers--"am I correct in addressing you as Count
Nobili?--Pardon me if I am wrong." Here she paused, and affected to
hesitate. "Do you bear any other name? I am really quite ignorant of
the new titles."

This question was asked with outward courtesy, but there was such a
twang of scorn in the marchesa's tone, such an expression of contempt
upon her lip, that the old chamberlain trembled on his chair. Even at
this last moment it was possible that her infernal pride might scatter
every thing to the winds.

"Call me Mario Nobili--that will do," answered the count, reddening to
the roots of his chestnut curls.

The marchesa inclined her head, and smiled a sarcastic smile, as if
rejoicing to acquaint herself with a fact before unknown. Then she
resumed:

"Mario Nobili--you saved my niece's life last night. I am advised that
I cannot refuse you her hand in marriage, although--"

Such a black frown clouded Nobili's countenance under the sting of her
covert insults that Trenta hastily interposed.

"Permit me to remind you, Marchesa Guinigi, that, subject to your
approval, the conditions of the marriage have been already arranged
by me and Fra Pacifico, before you consented to meet Count Nobili. The
present interview is purely formal. We are met in order to sign the
marriage-contract. The notary, I see, is ready. The contract lies
before him. May I be permitted to call in the lady?"

"One moment, Cavaliere Trenta," interposed Nobili, who was still
standing, holding up his hand to stop him--"one moment. I must request
permission to repeat myself the terms of the contract to the Marchesa
Guinigi before I presume to receive the honor of her assent."

It was now the marchesa's turn to be discomfited. This was the avowal
of an open bargain between Count Nobili and herself. A common exchange
of value for value; such as low creatures barter for with each other
in the exchange. She felt this, and hated Nobili more keenly for
having had the wit to wound her.

"I bind myself, immediately on the signing of the contract, to
discharge every mortgage, debt, and incumbrance on these feudal lands
of Corellia in the Garfagnana; also any debts in and about the Guinigi
Palace and lands, within and without the walls of Lucca. I take upon
myself every incumbrance," Nobili repeated emphatically, raising his
voice. "My purpose is fully noted in that contract, hastily drawn up
at my desire. I also bestow on the marchesa's niece the Guinigi Palace
I bought at Lucca--to the marchesa's niece, Enrica Guinigi, and her
heirs forever; also a dowry of fifty thousand francs a year, should
she survive me."

What is it about gold that invests its possessor with such instant
power? Is knowledge power?--or does gold weigh more than brains? I
think so. Gold-pieces and Genius weighed in scales would send poor
Genius kicking!

From the moment Count Nobili had made apparent the wealth which
he possessed, he was master of the situation. The marchesa's quick
perception told her so. While he was accepting all her debts, with the
superb indifference of a millionaire, she grew cold all over.

"Tell the notary," she said, endeavoring to maintain her usual haughty
manner, "to put down that, at my death, I bequeath to my niece all of
which I die possessed--the palace at Lucca, and the heirlooms,
plate, jewels, armor, and the picture of my great ancestor Castruccio
Castracani, to be kept hanging in the place where it now is, opposite
the seigneurial throne in the presence-chamber."

Here she paused. The hasty scratch of Ser Giacomo's pen was heard upon
the parchment. Spite of her efforts to control her feelings, an ashy
pallor spread over the marchesa's face. She grasped her two hands
together so tightly that the finger-tips grew crimson; a nervous
quiver shook her from head to foot. Cavaliere Trenta, who read the
marchesa like a book, watched her in perfect agony. What was going to
happen? Would she faint?

"I also bequeath," continued the marchesa, rising from her seat with
solemn action, and speaking in a low, hushed voice, her eyes fixed on
the floor--"I also bequeath the great Guinigi name and our ancestral
honors to my niece--to bear them after my death, together with her
husband, then to pass to her eldest child. And may that great name be
honored!"

The marchesa reseated herself, raised her thin white hands, and threw
up her eyes to heaven. The sacrifice was made!

"May I call in the lady?" again asked the cavaliere, addressing no one
in particular.

"I will fetch her in," replied Fra Pacifico, rising from his chair.
"She is my spiritual daughter."

No one moved while Fra Pacifico was absent. Ser Giacomo, the notary,
dressed in his Sunday suit of black, remained, pen in hand, staring
at the wall. Never in his humble life had he formed one of such a
distinguished company. All his life Ser Giacomo had heard of the
Marchesa Guinigi as a most awful lady. If Fra Pacifico had not caught
him within his little office near the _café_, rather than have faced
her, Ser Giacomo would have run away.

The door opened, and Enrica stood upon the threshold. There was an
air of innocent triumph about her. She had bound a blue ribbon in her
golden curls, and placed a rose in the band that encircled her slight
waist. Enrica was, in truth, but a common mortal, but she looked so
fresh, and bright, and young, with such tender, trusting eyes--there
was such an aureole of purity about her, she might have passed for a
virgin saint.

As he caught sight of Enrica, the moody expression on Count Nobili's
face changed, and broke into a smile. In her presence he forgot the
marchesa. Was not such a prize worthy of any battle? What did
it signify to him if Enrica were called Guinigi? And as to those
tumbledown palaces and heirlooms--what of them? He could buy scores
of old palaces any day if he chose. Quickly he stepped forward to meet
her as she entered. Fra Pacifico rose, and with great solemnity signed
them both with a thrice-repeated cross, then he placed Enrica's hand
in Nobili's. The count raised it to his lips, and kissed it fervently.

"My Enrica," he whispered, "this is a glorious day!"

"Oh, it is heavenly!" she answered back, softly.

The marchesa's white face darkened as she looked at Enrica. How dared
Enrica be so happy? But she repressed the reproaches that rose to
her lips, though her heart swelled to bursting, and the veins in her
forehead distended with rage.

"Can Enrica be of my flesh and blood?" exclaimed the marchesa in a low
voice to the cavaliere who now stood at her side. "Fool! she believes
in her lover! It is a horrible sacrifice! Mark my words--a horrible
sacrifice!"

Nobili and Enrica had taken their places behind the notary. The
slanting shadows from the open door struck upon them with deeper
gloom, and the low murmur of the fountain seemed now to form itself
into a moan.

"Do I sign here?" asked Count Nobili.

Ser Giacomo trembled like a leaf.

"Yes, excellency, you sign here," he stammered, pointing to the
precise spot; but Ser Giacomo looked so terrified that Nobili,
forgetting where he was, laughed out loud and turned to Enrica, who
laughed also.

"Stop that unseemly mirth," called out the marchesa from the sofa;
"it is most indecent. Let the act that buries a great name at least be
conducted with decorum."

"That great name shall not die," spoke the deep voice of Fra Pacifico
from the background; "I call a blessing upon it, and upon the present
act. The name shall live. When we are dead and rotting in our
graves, a race shall rise from them"--and he pointed to Nobili and
Enrica--"that shall recall the great legends of the past among the
citizens of Lucca."

Fearful of what the marchesa might be moved to reply (even the
marchesa, however, had a certain dread of Fra Pacifico when he assumed
the dignity of his priestly office), Trenta hurried forward and
offered his arm to lead her to the table. She rose slowly to her feet,
and cast her eyes round at the group of happy faces about her; all
happy save the poor notary, on whose forehead the big drops of sweat
were standing.

"Come, my daughter," said Fra Pacifico, advancing, "fear not to
sign the marriage-contract. Think of the blessings it will bring to
hundreds of miserable peasants, who are suffering from your want of
means to help them!"

"Fra Pacifico," exclaimed the marchesa, scarcely able to control
herself, "I respect your office, but this is still my house, and I
order you to be silent. Where am I to sign?"--she addressed herself to
Ser Giacomo.

"Here, madame," answered the almost inaudible voice of the notary.

The marchesa took the pen, and in a large, firm hand wrote her full
name and titles. She took a malicious pleasure in spreading them out
over the page.

Enrica signed her name, in delicate little letters, after her aunt's.
Count Nobili had already affixed his signature. Cavaliere Trenta and
the priest were the witnesses.

"There is one request I would make, marchesa," Nobili said, addressing
her. "I shall await in Lucca the exact day you may please to name;
but, madame"--and with a lover's ardor strong within him, he advanced
nearer to where the marchesa stood, and raised his hand as if to touch
her--"I beg you not to keep me waiting long."

The marchesa drew back, and contemplated him with a haughty stare.
His manner and his request were both alike offensive to her. She would
have Count Nobili to understand that she would admit no shadow of
familiarity; that her will had been forced, but that in all else she
regarded him with the same animosity as before.

Nobili had understood her action and her meaning. "Devil!" he muttered
between his clinched teeth. He hated himself for having been betrayed
into the smallest warmth. With a flashing eye he turned from the
marchesa to Enrica, and whispered in her ear, "My only love, this is
more than I can bear!"

Enrica had heard nothing. She had been lost in happy thoughts. In her
mind a vision was passing. She was in the close street of San Simone,
within its deep shadows that fell so early in the afternoon. Before
her stood the two grim palaces, the cavernous doorways and the
sculptured arms of the Guinigi displayed on both: one, her old home;
the other, that was to be her home. She saw herself go in here, cross
the pillared court and mount upward. It was neither day nor night, but
all shone with crystal brightness. Then Nobili's voice came to her,
and she roused herself.

"My love," he repeated, "I must go--I must go! I cannot trust myself a
moment longer with--"

What he had on his lips need not be written. "That lady," he added,
hastily correcting himself, and he pointed to the marchesa, who, led
by the cavaliere, had reseated herself upon the sofa, looking defiance
at everybody.

"I have borne it all for your sake, Enrica." As Nobili spoke, he led
her aside to one of the windows. "Now, good-by," and his eyes gathered
upon her with passionate fondness; "think of me day and night."

Enrica had not uttered a single word since she first entered, except
to Nobili. When he spoke of parting, her head dropped on her breast. A
dread--a horror came suddenly upon her. "O Nobili, why must we part?"

"Scarcely to part," he answered, pressing her hand--"only for a few
days; then always to be together."

Enrica tried to withdraw her hand from his, but he held it firmly.
Then she turned away her head, and big tears rolled down her cheeks.
When at last Nobili tore himself from her, Enrica followed him to the
door, and, regardless of her aunt's furious glances, she kissed her
hand, and waved it after him. There was a world of love in the action.

Spite of his indignation, Count Nobili did not fail duly to make his
salutation to the marchesa.

The cavaliere and Fra Pacifico followed him out. Twilight now darkened
the garden. The fragrance of the flowers was oppressive in the still
air. A star or two had come out, and twinkled faintly on the broad
expanse of deep-blue sky. The fountain murmured hollow in the silence
of coming night.

"Good-by," said Cavaliere Trenta to Nobili, in his thin voice.
"I deeply regret the marchesa's rudeness. She is unhinged--quite
unhinged; but her heart is excellent, believe me, most excellent."

"Do not talk of the marchesa," exclaimed Nobili, as he rapidly
ascended flight after flight of the terraces. "Let me forget her, or I
shall never return to Corellia. Dio Sagrato!" and Nobili clinched his
fist. "The marchesa is the most cursed thing God ever created!"



CHAPTER VII.

THE CLUB AT LUCCA.


The piazza at Lucca is surrounded by four avenues of plane-trees. In
the centre stands the colossal statue of a Bourbon with disheveled
hair, a cornucopia at her feet. Facing the west is the ducal palace,
a spacious modern building, in which the sovereigns of Lucca kept a
splendid court. Here Cesare Trenta had flourished. Opposite the palace
is the Hotel of the Universo, where, as we know, Count Marescotti
lodged at No. 4, on the second story. Midway in the piazza a deep
and narrow street dives into the body of the city--a street of many
colors, with houses red, gray, brown, and tawny, mellowed and tempered
by the hand of Time into rich tints that melt into warm shadows. In
the background rise domes, and towers, and mediaeval church-fronts,
galleried and fretted with arches, pillars, and statues. Here a
golden mosaic blazes in the sun, yonder a brazen San Michele with
outstretched arms rises against the sky; and, scattered up and down,
many a grand old palace-roof uprears its venerable front, with open
pillared belvedere, adorned with ancient frescoes. A dull, sleepy old
city, Lucca, but full of beauty!

On the opposite side of the piazza, behind the plane-trees, stand two
separate buildings, of no particular pretension, other than that both
are of marble. One is the theatre, the other is the club. About the
club there is some attempt at ornamentation. A wide portico, raised
on broad steps, runs along the entire front, supported by Corinthian
columns. Under this portico there are orange-trees in green stands,
rows of chairs, and tables laid with white table-cloths, plates, and
napkins, ready for an _al-fresco_ meal.

It is five o'clock in the afternoon of a splendid day early in
October--the next day, in fact, after the contract was signed at
Corellia. The hour for the drive upon the ramparts at Lucca is not
till six. This, therefore, is the favorite moment for a lounge at the
club. The portico is dotted with black coats and hats. Baldassare lay
asleep between two chairs. He had arranged himself so as not to crease
a pair of new trousers--all'Inglese--not that any Englishman would
have worn such garments--they were too conspicuous; but his tailor
tells him they are English, and Baldassare willingly believes him.

Baldassare is not a member, but he was admitted to the club by the
influence of his patron, the old chamberlain; not without protest,
however, with the paternal shop close by. Being there, Baldassare
stands his ground in a sullen, silent way. He has much jewelry about
him, and wears many showy rings. Trenta says publicly that these rings
are false; but Trenta is not at the club to-day.

Lolling back in a chair near Baldassare, with his short legs crossed,
and his thumbs stuck into the arm-holes of his coat, is Count Orsetti,
smiling, fat, and innocuous. His mother has not yet decided when he is
to speak the irrevocable words to Teresa Ottolini. Orsetti is far too
dutiful a son to do so before she gives him permission. His mother
might change her mind at the last moment; then Orsetti would change
his mind, too, and burn incense on other altars. Orsetti has a
meerschaum between his teeth, from which he is puffing out columns of
smoke. With his head thrown back, he is watching it as it curls upward
into the vaulted portico. The languid young man, Orazio Franchi,
supported by a stick, is at this moment ascending the steps. To
see him drag one leg after the other, one would think his days were
numbered. Not at all. Franchi is strong and healthy, but he cultivates
languor as an accomplishment. Everybody at Lucca is idle, but
nobody is languid, so Franchi has thought fit to adopt that line of
distinction. His thin, lanky arms, stooping figure, and a head set on
a long neck that droops upon his chest, as well as a certain indolent
grace, suit the _rôle_. When Franchi had mounted the steps he stood
still, heaved an audible sigh of infinite relief, then he sank into a
chair, leaned back and closed his eyes. Count Malatesta, who was near,
leaning against the wall behind, took his cigar from his mouth and
laughed.

"Sù!--Via!--A little courage to bear the burden of a weary life. What
has tired you, Orazio?"

"I have walked from the gate here," answered Orazio, without unclosing
his eyes.

"Go on, go on," is Malatesta's reply, "nothing like perseverance. You
will lose the use of your limbs in time. It is this cursed air. Per
Bacco! it will infect me. Why, oh! why, my penates, was I born at
Lucca? It is the dullest place. No one ever draws a knife, or fights a
duel, or runs away with his neighbor's wife. Why don't they? It would
be excitement. Cospetto! we marry, and are given in marriage, and
breed like pigeons in our own holes.--Come, Franchi, have you no news?
Wake up, man! You are full of wickedness, spite of your laziness."

Franchi opened his eyes, stretched himself, then yawned, and leaned
his head upon his arm that rested on one of the small tables near.

"News?--oh!--ah! There is plenty of news, but I am too tired to tell
it."

"News! and I not know it!" cried Count Malatesta.

Several others spoke, then all gathered round Franchi. Count Malatesta
slapped Franchi on the back.

"Come, my Trojan, speak. I insist upon it," said Orsetti, rising.

Franchi looked up at him. There was a French cook at Palazzo Orsetti.
No one had such Chateau Lafitte. Orazio is far from insensible to
these blessings.

"Well, listen. Old Sansovino has returned to his villa at Riparata.
His wife is with him."

"His wife?" shouted Orsetti. "Chè, chè! Any woman but his wife, and
I'll believe you. Why, she has lived for the last fifteen years
with Duke Bartolo at Venice. Sansovino did not mind the duke, but he
charged her with forgery. You remember? About her dower. There was a
lawsuit, I think. No, no--not his wife."

"Yes, his wife," answered Franchi, crossing his arms with great
deliberation. "The Countess Sansovino was received by her attached
husband with bouquets, and a band of music. She drove up to the
front-door in gala--in a four-in-hand, _à la Daumont_. All the
tenantry were in waiting--her children too (each by a different
father)--to receive her. It was most touching. Old Sansovino did it
very well, they tell me. He clasped her to his heart, and melted into
tears like a _père noble_"

"O Bello!" exclaimed Orsetti, "if old Sansovino cried, it must have
been with shame. After this, I will believe any thing."

"The Countess Sansovino is very rich," a voice remarked from the
background.

"Well, if she forges, I suppose so," another answered.

"O Marriage! large are the folds of thy ample mantle!" cried Count
Malatesta. "Who shall say we are not free in Italy? Now, why do they
not do this kind of thing in Lucca? Will any one tell me?--I want to
know."

There was a general laugh. "Well, they may possibly do worse," said
Franchi, languidly.

"What do you mean?" asked Malatesta, sharply. "Is there more scandal?"

Franchi nodded. A crowd collected round him.

"How the devil, Franchi, do you know so much? Out with it! You must
tell us."

"Give me time!--give me time!" was Franchi's answer. He raised his
head, and eyed them all with a look of feigned surprise. "Is it
possible no one has heard it?"

He was answered by a general protest that nothing had been heard.

"Nobody knows what has happened at the Universo?" Franchi asked with
unusual energy.

"No, no!" burst forth from Malatesta and Orsetti. "No, no!" sounded
from behind.

"That is quite possible," continued Orazio, with a cynical smile. "To
tell you the truth, I did not think you had heard it. It only happened
half an hour ago."

"What happened?" asked Count Orsetti.

"A secret commission has been sent from Rome." There was a breathless
silence. "The government is alarmed. A secret commission to examine
Count Marescotti's papers, and to imprison him."

"That's his uncle's doing--the Jesuit!" cried Malatesta. "This is the
second time. Marescotti will be shut up for life."

"Did they catch him?" asked Orsetti.

"No; he got out of an upper window, and escaped across the roof. He
had taken all the upper floor of the Universo for his accomplices, who
were expected from Paris."

"Honor to Lucca!" Malatesta put in. "We are progressing."

"He's gone," continued Orazio, falling back exhausted on his chair,
"but his papers--" Here Franchi thought it right to pause and faintly
wink. "I'll tell you the rest when I have smoked a cigar. Give me a
light."

"No, no, you must smoke afterward," said Orsetti, rapping him smartly
on the back. "Go on--what about Marescotti's papers?"

"Compromising--very," murmured Franchi, feebly, leaning back out of
the range of Orsetti's arm.

"The Red count was a communist, we all know," observed Malatesta.

"_Mon cher_! he was a poet also," responded Orazio. Orazio's languor
never interfered with his love of scandal. "When any lady struck his
fancy, Marescotti made a sonnet--a damaging practice. These sonnets
are a diary of his life. The police were much diverted, I assure
you, and so was I. I was in the hotel; I gave them the key to all the
ladies."

"You might have done better than waste your fine energies in making
ladies names public town-talk," said Orsetti, frowning.

"Well, that's a matter of opinion," replied Orazio, with a certain
calm insolence peculiar to him. "I have no ladylove in Lucca."

"Delicious!" broke in Malatesta, brightening up all over. "Don't
quarrel over a choice bone.--Who is compromised the most? I'll have
her name placarded. Some one must make a row."

"Enrica Guinigi is the most compromised," answered Orazio, striking
a match to light his cigar. "Marescotti celebrates her as the young
Madonna before the archangel Gabriel visited her. Ha! ha!"

Malatesta gave a low whistle.

"Enrica Guinigi! Is not that the marchesa's niece?" asked Orsetti; "a
pretty, fair-faced girl I see driving with her aunt on the ramparts
sometimes?"

"The same," answered Malatesta. "But what, in the name of all the
devils, could Marescotti know of her? No one has ever spoken to her."

Baldassare now leaned forward and listened; the name of Enrica woke
him from his sleep. He hardly dared to join the circle formed round
Franchi, for Franchi always snubbed him, and called him "Young
Galipots," when Trenta was absent.

"Perhaps Marescotti was the archangel Gabriel himself," said
Malatesta, with a leer.

"But answer my question," insisted Orsetti, who, as an avowed suitor
of Lucca maidens had their honor and good name at heart. "Don't be
a fool, but tell me what you know. This idle story, involving the
reputation of a young girl, is shameful. I protest against it!"

"Do you?" sneered Orazio, leaning back, and pulling at his sandy
mustache. "That is because you know nothing about it. This _Sainte
Vierge_ has already been much talked about--first, with Nobili, who
lives opposite--when _ma tante_ was sleeping. Then she spent a day
with several men upon the Guinigi Tower, an elegant retirement among
the crows. After that old Trenta offered her formally in marriage to
Marescotti."

"What!--After the Guinigi Tower?" put in Malatesta. "Of course
Marescotti refused her?"

"'Refused her, of course, with thanks.' So says the sonnet." Orazio
went on to say all this in a calm, tranquil way, casting the bread
of scandal on social waters as he puffed at his cigar. "It is very
prettily rhymed--the sonnet--I have read it. The young Madonna is
warmly painted. _Now, why did Marescotti refuse to marry her?_ That is
what I want to know." And Franchi looked round upon his audience with
a glance of gratified malice.

"Even in Lucca!--even in Lucca!" Malatesta clapped his hands
and chuckled until he almost choked. "Laus Veneri!--the mighty
goddess!--She has reared an altar even here in this benighted city. I
was a skeptic, but a Paphian miracle has converted me. I must drink a
punch in honor of the great goddess."

Here Baldassare rose and leaned over from behind.

"I went up the Guinigi Tower with the party," he ventured to say.
"There were four of us. The Cavaliere Trenta told me in the street
just before that it was all right, and that the lady had agreed to
marry Count Marescotti. There can be no secret about it now that every
one knows it. Count Marescotti raved so about the Signorina Enrica,
that he nearly jumped over the parapet."

"Better for her if you had helped him over," muttered Orazio, with a
sarcastic stare. "The sonnet would not then have been written."

But Baldassare, conscious that he had intelligence that would make
him welcome, stood his ground. "You do not seem to know what has
happened," he continued.

"More news!" cried Malatesta. "Gracious heavens! Wave after wave it
comes!--a mighty sea. I hear the distant roar--it dashes high!--It
breaks!--Speak, oh, speak, Adonis!"

"The Marchesa Guinigi has left Lucca suddenly."

"Who cares? Do you, Pietrino?" asked Franchi of Orsetti, with a
contemptuous glance at Baldassare.

"Let him speak," cried Malatesta; "Baldassare is an oracle."

"The marchesa left Lucca suddenly," persisted Baldassare, not daring
to notice Orsetti's insolence. "She took her niece with her."

"Have it cried about the streets," interrupted Orazio, opening his
eyes.

"Yesterday morning an express came down for Cavaliere Trenta. The
ancient tower of Corellia has been entirely burnt. The marchesa was
rescued."

"And the niece--is the niece gone to glory on the funeral-pyre?"

"No," answered Baldassare, helplessly, settling his stupid eyes on
Orazio, whose thrusts he could not parry. "She was saved by Count
Nobili, who was accidentally shooting on the mountains near."

"Oh, bah!" cried Malatesta, with a knowing grin; "I never believe in
accidents. There is a ruling power. That power is love--love--love."

"The cavaliere is not yet returned."

"This is a strange story," said Orsetti, gravely. "Nobili too, and
Marescotti. She must be a lively damsel. What will Nera Boccarini say
to her truant knight, who rescues maidens _accidentally_ on distant
mountains? What had Nobili to do in the Garfagnana?"

"Ask him," lisped Orazio; "it will save more talking. I wish Nobili
joy of his bargain," he added, turning to Malatesta.

"I wonder that he cares to take up with Marescotti's leavings."

"Here's Ruspoli, crossing the square. Perhaps he can throw some light
on this strange story," said Orsetti.

Prince Ruspoli, still at Lucca, is on a visit to some relatives. He
is, as I have said, decidedly horsey, and is much looked up to by the
"golden youths," his companions, in consequence. As a gentleman rider
at races and steeple-chases, as a hunter on the Roman Campagna, and
the driver of a "stage" on the Corso, Ruspoli is unrivaled. He breeds
racers, and he has an English stud-groom, who has taught him to speak
English with a drawl, enlivened by stable-slang. He is slim, fair, and
singularly awkward, and of a uniform pale yellow--yellow complexion,
yellow hair, and yellow eyebrows. Poole's clothes never fit him, and
he walks, as he dances, with his legs far apart, as if a horse
were under him. He carries a hunting-whip in his hand spite of the
month--October (these little anomalies are undetected in New Italy,
where there is so much to learn). Prince Ruspoli swings round this
whip as he mounts the steps of the club. The others, who are watching
his approach, are secretly devoured with envy.

"Wall, Pietrino--wall, Beppo," said Ruspoli, shaking hands with
Orsetti and Malatesta, and nodding to Orazio, out of whose sails he
took the wind by force of stolid indifference (Baldassare he ignored,
or mistook him for a waiter, if he saw him at all), "you are all
discussing the news, of course. Lucca's lively to-day. You'll all
do in time, even to steeple-chases. We must run one down on the low
grounds in the spring. Dick, my English groom, is always plaguing me
about it."

Then Prince Ruspoli pulled himself together with a jerk, as a man does
stiff from the saddle, laid his hunting-whip upon a table, stuffed his
hands into his pockets, and looked round.

"What news have you heard?" asked Beppo Malatesta. "There's such a
lot."

"Wall, the news I have heard is, that Count Nobili is engaged to marry
the Marchesa Guinigi's little niece. Dear little thing, they say--like
an English '_mees_'--fair, with red hair."

"Is that your style of beauty?" lisped Orazio, looking hard at him.
But Ruspoli did not notice him.

"But that's not half," cried Malatesta. "You are an innocent, Ruspoli.
Let me baptize you with scandal."

"Don't, don't, I hate scandal," said Ruspoli, taking one of his hands
out of his pocket for a moment, and holding it up in remonstrance.
"There is nothing but scandal in these small Italian towns. Take to
hunting, that's the cure. Nobili is to marry the little girl, that's
certain. He's to pay off all the marchesa's debts, that's certain too.
He's rich, she's poor. He wants blood, she has got it."

"I do not believe in this marriage," said Orazio, measuring Prince
Ruspoli as he stood erect, his slits of eyes without a shadow of
expression. "You remember the ballroom, prince? And the Boccarini
family grouped--and Nobili crying in a corner? Nobili will marry the
Boccarini. She is a stunner."

After Orazio had ventured this observation about Nera Boccarini,
Prince Ruspoli brought his small, steely eyes to bear upon him with a
fixed stare.

Orazio affected total unconsciousness, but he quailed inwardly. The
others silently watched Ruspoli. He took up his hunting-whip and
whirled it in the air dangerously near Orazio's head, eying him all
the while as a dog eyes a rat he means to crunch between his teeth.

"Whoever says that Count Nobili will marry the Boccarini, is a liar!"
Prince Ruspoli spoke with perfect composure, still whirling his whip.
"I shall be happy to explain my reason anywhere, out of the city, on
the shortest notice."

Orazio started up. "Prince Ruspoli, do you call me a liar?"

"I beg your pardon," replied Ruspoli, quite unmoved, making Orazio a
mock bow. "Did you say whom Count Nobili would marry? If you did, will
you favor me by repeating it?"

"I only report town-talk," Franchi answered, sullenly. "I am not
answerable for town-talk."

Ruspoli was a dead-shot; Orazio only fought with swords.

"Then I am satisfied," replied Ruspoli, quiet defiance in his look and
tone. "I accuse you, Signore Orazio Franchi, of nothing. I only warn
you."

"I don't see why we should quarrel about Nobili's marriage. He will
be here himself presently, to explain which of the ladies he prefers,"
observed the peaceable Orsetti.

"I don't know which lady Count Nobili prefers," retorted Ruspoli,
doggedly. "But I tell you the name of the lady he is to marry. It is
Enrica Guinigi."

"Why, there is Count Nobili!" cried Baldassare, quite loud--"there,
under the plane-trees."

"Bravo, Adonis!" cried Beppo; "your eyes are as sharp as your feet are
swift."

Nobili crossed the square; he was coming toward the club. Every face
was turned toward him. He had come down to Lucca like one maddened
by the breath of love. All along the road he had felt drunk with
happiness. To him love was everywhere--in the deep gloom of the
mountain-forests, in the flowing river, diamonded with light under the
pale moonbeams; in the splendor of the starry sky, in midnight dreams
of bliss, and in the awakening of glorious morning. The two old
palaces were full of love--the Moorish garden; the magnolias that
overtopped the wall, and the soft, creamy perfume that wafted from
them; the very street through which he should lead her home; every one
he saw; all he said, thought, or did--it was all love and Enrica!

Now, having with lover's haste made good progress with all he had
to do, Nobili has come down to the club to meet his friends, and to
receive their congratulations. Every hand is stretched out toward him.
Even Ruspoli, spite of obvious jealousy, liked him. Nobili's face
is lit up with its sunniest smile. Having shaken hands with him, an
ominous silence ensues. Orsetti and Malatesta suddenly find that their
cigars want relighting, and turn aside. Orazio seats himself at a
distance, and scowls at Prince Ruspoli. Nobili gives a quick glance
round. An instant tells him that something is wrong.

Prince Ruspoli breaks the awkward silence. He walks up, looks at
Nobili with immovable gravity, then slaps him on the shoulder.

"I congratulate you, Nobili. I hear you are to marry the Marchesa
Guinigi's niece."

"Balduccio, I thank you. Within a week I hope to bring her home to
Lucca. There will then be but one Guinigi home in the two palaces. The
marchesa makes her heiress of all she possesses."

Prince Ruspoli is satisfied. Now he will back Count Nobili to any
odds. He will name his next foal Mario Nobili.

Again Nobili glances round; this time there is the shadow of a frown
upon his smooth brow. Orsetti feels that he must speak.

"Have you known the lady long?" Orsetti asks, with an embarrassment
foreign to him.

"Yes, and no," answers Nobili, reddening, and scanning the veiled
expression on Orsetti's face with intense curiosity. "But the
matter has been brought to a crisis by the accidental burning of the
marchesa's house at Corellia. I was present--I saved her niece."

"I thought it was rather sudden," says Orazio, from behind, in a tone
full of suggestion. "We were in doubt, before you came, to whom the
lady was engaged."

Nobili starts.

"What do you mean?" he asks, hastily.

The color has left his cheeks; his blue eyes grow dark.

"There has been some foolish gossip from persons who know nothing,"
Orsetti answers, advancing to the front. "About some engagement with
another gentleman, whom she had accepted--"

"Nonsense! Don't listen to him, my good fellow," breaks in Ruspoli.
"These lads have nothing to do but to breed scandal. They would
slander the Virgin; not for wickedness, but for idleness. I mean to
make them hunt. Hunting is the cure."

Nobili stands as if turned to stone.

"But I must listen," replies Nobili, fiercely, fire flaming in his
eyes. "This lady's honor is my own. Who has dared to couple her name
with any other man? Orsetti--Ruspoli"--and he turns to them in great
excitement--"you are my friends. What does this mean?"

"Nothing," said Orsetti, trying to smile, but not succeeding. "I hear,
Nobili, you have behaved with extraordinary generosity," he adds,
fencing the question.

"Yes, by Jove!" adds Prince Ruspoli. Ruspoli was leaning up against
a pillar, watching Orazio as he would a mischievous cur. "A most
suitable marriage. Not that I care a button for blood, except in
horses."

Nobili has not moved, but, as each speaks, his eye shifts rapidly from
one to the other. His face from pale grows livid, and there is a throb
about his temples that sounds in his ears like a thousand hammers.

"Orsetti," Nobili says, sternly, "I address myself to you. You are the
oldest here. You are the first man I knew after I came to Lucca. You
are all concealing something from me. I entreat you, Orsetti, as man
to man, tell me whose name has been coupled with that of my affianced
wife? That it is a lie I know beforehand--a base and palpable lie! She
has been reared at home in perfect solitude."

Nobili spoke with passionate vehemence. The hot blood rushed over his
face and neck, and tingled to his very fingers. Now he glances from
man to man in an appeal defiant, yet pleading, pitiful to behold.
Every face grows grave.

Orsetti is the first to reply.

"I feel deeply for you, Nobili. We all love you."

"Yes, all," responded Malatesta and Ruspoli, speaking together.

"You must not attach too much importance to idle gossip," says
Orsetti.

"No, no," cried Ruspoli, "don't. I will stand by you, Nobili. I know
the lady by sight--a little English beau"

"Scandal! Who is the man? By God, I'll have his blood within this very
hour!"

Nobili is now wrought up beyond all endurance.

"You can't," says Orazio Franchi, tapping his heel upon the marble
pavement. "He's gone."

"Gone! I'll follow him to hell!" roars Nobili "Who is he?"

"Possibly he may find his own way there in time," answers Orazio, with
a sneer. He rises so as to increase the distance between himself and
Prince Ruspoli. "But as yet the wretch crawls on mother earth."

"Silence, Orazio!" shouts Ruspoli, "or you may go there yourself
quicker than Marescotti."

"Marescotti! Is that the name?" cries Nobili, with a hungry eye, that
seems to thirst for vengeance. "Who is Marescotti?"

"This is some horrid fiction," Nobili mutters to himself. Stay!--Where
had he heard that name lately? He gnawed his fingers until the blood
came, and a crimson drop fell upon the marble floor. Suddenly an
icy chill rose at his heart. He could not breathe. He sank into a
chair--then rose again, and stood before Orsetti with a face out of
which ten years of youth had fled. Yes, Marescotti--that is the very
man Enrica had mentioned to him under the trees at Corellia. Each
letter of it blazes in fire before his eyes. Yes--she had said
Marescotti had read her eyes. "O God!" and Nobili groans aloud, and
buries his face within his hands.

"You take this too much to heart, my dear Mario," Count Orsetti said;
"indeed you do, else I would not say so. Remember there is nothing
proved. Be careful," Orsetti whispered in the other's ear, glancing
round. Every eye was riveted on Nobili.

Orsetti felt that Nobili had forgotten the public place and the others
present--such as Count Malatesta, Orazio Franchi, and Baldassare, who,
though they had not spoken, had devoured every word.

"It is nothing but a sonnet found among Marescotti's papers." Orsetti
now was speaking. "Marescotti has fled from the police. Nothing but a
sonnet addressed to the lady--a poet's day-dream--untrue of course."

"Will no one tell me what the sonnet said?" demanded Nobili. He had
mastered himself for the moment.

"Stuff, stuff!" cried Ruspoli. "Every pretty woman has heaps of
sonnets and admirers. It is a brevet of beauty. After all this row, it
was only an offer of marriage made to Count Marescotti and refused by
him. Probably the lady never knew it."

"Oh, yes, she did, she accepted him," sounded from behind. It was
Baldassare, whose vanity was piqued because no one had referred to him
for information.

"Accepted! Refused by Count Marescotti!" Nobili caught and repeated
the words in a voice so strange, it sounded like the echo from a
vault.

"Wall! by Jove! It's five o'clock!" exclaimed Prince Ruspoli, looking
at his watch. "My dear fellow," he said, addressing Nobili, "I have an
appointment on the ramparts; will you go with me?" He passed his arm
through that of Nobili. It was a painful scene, which Ruspoli desired
to end. Nobili shook his head. He was so stunned and dazed he could
not speak.

"If it is five o'clock," said Malatesta, "I must go too."

Malatesta drew Nobili a little apart. "Don't think too much of this,
Nobili. It will all blow over and be forgotten in a month. Take your
wife a trip to Paris or London. We shall hear no more of it, believe
me. Good-by."

"Count Nobili," called out Franchi, from the other end of the portico,
making a languid bow, "after all that I have heard, I congratulate you
on your marriage most sincerely."

Nobili did not hear him. All were gone. He was alone with Ruspoli. His
head had dropped upon his breast. There was the shadow of a tear in
Prince Ruspoli's steely eye. It was not enough to be brushed off, for
it absorbed itself and came to nothing, but it was there nevertheless.

"Wall, Mario," he said, apparently unmoved, "it seems to me the club
is made too hot to hold you. Come home."

Nobili nodded. He was so weak he had to hang heavily on Prince
Ruspoli's arm as they crossed the piazza. Prince Ruspoli did not leave
him until he saw him safe to his own door.

"You will judge what is right to do," were Ruspoli's last words. "But
do not be guided by those young scamps. They live in mischief. If you
love the girl, marry her--that is my advice."



CHAPTER VIII.

COUNT NOBILI'S THOUGHTS.


I have seen a valley canopied by a sky of blue and opaline, girt in
by wooded heights, on which the sun poured down in mid-day splendor.
A broad river sparkled downward, giving back ray for ray. The forest
glowed without a shadow. Each little detail of leaf or stone, even a
blade of grass, was turned to flame. The corn lay smooth and golden.
The grapes and olives hung safe upon the branch. The flax--a goodly
crop--reached to the trees. The peasants labored in the rich brown
soil, singing to the oxen. The women sat spinning beside their doors.
A little maid led out her snowy lamb to graze among the woods, and
children played at "morra" beside the river, which ran at peace,
lapping the silver sand.

A cloud gathers behind the mountains--yonder, where they come
interlacing down, narrowing the valley. It is a little cloud, no one
observes it; yet it gathers and spreads and blackens, until the sky is
veiled. The sun grows pale. A greenish light steals over the earth. In
the still air there is a sudden freshness. The tall canes growing in
the brakes among the vineyards rustle as if shaken by a spectral
hand. The white-leaved aspens quiver. An icy wind sweeps down the
mountain-sides. A flash of lightning shoots across the sky. Then the
storm bursts. Thunder rolls, and cracks, and crashes; as if the brazen
gates of heaven clashed to and fro. The peasants fly, driving their
cattle before them. The pig's run grunting homeward. The helpless lamb
is stricken where it stands, crouching in a deep gorge; the little
maid sits weeping by. Down beats the hail like pebbles. It strikes
upon the vines, scorches and blackens them. The wheat is leveled
to the ground. The river suddenly swells into a raging torrent. Its
turbid waters bear away the riches of the poor--the cow that served a
little household and followed the children, lowing, to reedy meadows
bathed by limpid streams--a horse caught browsing in a peaceful vale,
thinking no ill--great trees hurling destruction with them. Rafters,
roofs of houses, sometimes a battered corpse, float by.

The roads are broken up. The bridge is snapped. Years will not repair
the fearful ravage. The evening sun sets on a desolate waste. Men sit
along the road-side wringing their hands beside their ruined crops.
Children creep out upon their naked feet, and look and wonder. Where
is the little kid that ran before and licked their hands? Where is the
gray-skinned, soft-eyed cow that hardly needed a cord to lead her? The
shapely cob, so brave with its tinkling bells and crimson tassels? The
cob that daddy drove to market, and many merry fairs? Gone with the
storm! all gone!

       *       *       *       *       *

Count Nobili was like the Italian climate--in extremes. Like his
native soil, he must live in the sunshine. His was not a nature to
endure a secret sorrow. He must be kissed, caressed, and smoothed by
tender hands and loving voices. He must have applause, approval, be
flattered, envied, and followed. Hitherto all this had come naturally
to him. His gracious temper, generous heart, and great wealth, had
made all bright about him. Now a sudden storm had swept over him and
brought despair into his heart.

When Prince Ruspoli left him, Nobili felt as battered and sore as if a
whirlwind had caught him, then let him go, and he had dropped to earth
a broken man. Yet in the turmoil of his brain a pale, scared little
face, with wild, beseeching eyes, was ever before him. It would not
leave him. What was this horrible nightmare that had come over him in
the heyday of his joy? It was so vague, yet so tangible if judged by
its effect on others. Others held Enrica dishonored, that was clear.
Was she dishonored? He was bound to her by every tie of honor. He
loved her. She had a charm for him no other woman ever possessed, and
she loved him. A women's eye, he told himself, had never deceived him.
Yes, she loved him. Yet if Enrica were as guileless as she seemed, how
could she conceal from him she had another lover--less loved perhaps
than he--but still a lover? And this lover had refused to marry her?
That was the stab. That every one in Lucca should know his future
bride had been scouted by another man who had turned a rhyme upon her,
and left her! Could he bear this?

What were Enrica's relations with Marescotti? Some one had said she
had accepted him. Nobili was sure he had heard this. He, Marescotti,
must have approached her nearly by her own confession. He had
celebrated her in sonnets, amorous sonnets--damnable thought!--gone
with her to the Guinigi Tower--then rejected her! A mist seemed to
gather about Nobili as he thought of this. He grew stupid in
long vistas of speculation. Had Enrica not dared to meet
him--Nobili--clandestinely? Was not this very act unmaidenly? (Such
are men: they urge the slip, the fall, then judge a woman by the
force of their own urging!) Had Enrica met Marescotti in secret also?
No--impossible! The scared, white face was before Nobili, now plainer
than ever. No--he hated himself for the very thought. All the chivalry
of his nature rose up to acquit her.

Still there was a mystery. How far was Enrica concerned in it? Would
she have married Count Marescotti? Trenta was away, or he would
question him. _Had he better ask? What might he hear_? Some one had
deceived him grossly. The marchesa would stick at nothing; yet what
could the marchesa have done without Enrica? Nobili was perplexed
beyond expression. He buried his head within his arms, and leaned upon
a table in an agony of doubt. Then he paced up and down the splendid
room, painted with frescoed walls, and hung with rose and silver
draperies from Paris (it was to have been Enrica's boudoir), looking
south into a delicious town-garden, with statues, and flower-beds,
and terraces of marble diamonded in brilliant colors. To be so
cheated!--to be the laughing-stock of Lucca! Good God! how could he
bear it? To marry a wife who would be pointed at with whispered words!
Of all earthly things this was the bitterest! Could he bear it?--and
Enrica--would she not suffer? And if she did, what then? Why, she
deserved it--she must deserve it, else why was she accused? Enrica was
treacherous--the tool of her aunt. He could not doubt it. If she
cared for him at all, it was for the sake of his money--hateful
thought!--yet, having signed the contract, he supposed he _must_
give her the name of wife. But the future mother of his children was
branded.

Oh, the golden days at mountain-capped Corellia!--that watching in the
perfumed woods--that pleading with the stars that shone over Enrica
to bear her his love-sick sighs! Oh, the triumph of saving her dear
life!--the sweetness of her lips in that first embrace under the
magnolia-tree! Fra Pacifico too, with his honest, sturdy ways--and the
white-haired cavaliere, so wise and courteous. Cheats, cheats--all!
It made him sick to think how they must have laughed and jeered at him
when he was gone. Oh, it was damnable!

His teeth were set. He started up as if he had been stung, and stamped
upon the floor. Then like a madman he rushed up and down the spacious
floor. After a time, brushing the drops of perspiration from his
forehead, Nobili grew calmer. He sat down to think.

Must he marry Enrica?--he asked himself (he had come to that)--marry
the lady of the sonnet--Marescotti's love? He did not see how he could
help it. The contract was signed, and nothing proved against her.
Well--life was long, and the world wide, and full of pleasant things.
Well--he must bear it--unless there had been sin! Nobili did not see
it, nor did he hear it; but much that is never seen, nor heard, nor
known, is yet true--horribly true. He did see it, but as he thought
these cruel thoughts, and hardened himself in them, a pale, scared
face, with wild, pleading eyes, vanished with a shriek of anguish.

Others had loved him well, Nobili reasoned--other women--"_Not so well
as I_" an inaudible voice would have whispered, but it was no longer
there to answer--others that had not been rejected--others fairer than
Enrica--Nera!

With that name there came a world of comfort to him. Nera loved
him--she loved him! He had not seen Nera since that memorable night
she lay like one dead before him. Before he took a final resolve
(by-and-by he must investigate, inquire, know when, and how, and by
whom, all this talk had come), would it not be well to see Nera? It
was a duty, he told himself, he owed her; a duty delayed too long;
only Enrica had so absorbed him. Nera would have heard the town-talk.
How would she take it? Would she be glad, or sorry, he wondered? Then
came a longing upon Nobili he could not resist, to know if Nera still
loved him. If so, what constancy! It deserved reward. He had treated
her shamefully. How sweet her company would be if she would see him!
At all events, he could but try. At this point he rose and rang the
bell.

When the servant came, Nobili ordered his dinner. He was hungry, he
said, and would eat at once. His carriage he should require later.



CHAPTER IX.

NERA.


Close to the Church of San Michele, where a brazen archangel with
outstretched wings flaunts in the blue sky, is the narrow, crypt-like
street of San Salvador. Here stands the Boccarini Palace. It is an
ancient structure, square and large, with an overhanging roof and
open, pillared gallery. On the first floor there is a stone balcony.
Four rows of windows divide the front. The lower ones, barred with
iron, are dismal to the eye. Over the principal entrance are the
Boccarini arms, carved on a stone escutcheon, supported by two angels,
the whole so moss-eaten the details cannot be traced. Above is a
marquis's coronet in which a swallow has built its nest. Both in and
out it is a house where poverty has set its seal. The family is dying
out. When Marchesa Boccarini dies, the palace will be sold, and the
money divided among her daughters.

As dusk was settling into night a carriage rattled along the deserted
street. The horses--a pair of splendid bays--struck sparks out of the
granite pavement. With a bang they draw up at the entrance, under an
archway, guarded by a _grille_ of rusty iron. A bell is rung; it only
echoes through the gloomy court. The bell was rung again, but no one
came. At last steps were heard, and a dried-up old man, with a face
like parchment, and little ferret eyes, appeared, hastily dragging his
arms into a coat much too large for him.

He shuffled to the front and bowed. Taking a key from his pocket he
unlocked the iron gates, then planted himself on the threshold, and
turned his ear toward the well-appointed brougham, and Count Nobili
seated within.

"Do the ladies receive?" Nobili called out. The old man nodded,
bringing his best ear and ferret eyes to bear upon him.

"Yes, the ladies do receive. Will the excellency descend?"

Count Nobili jumped out and hurried through the archway into a court
surrounded by a colonnade.

It is very dark. The palace rises upward four lofty stories. Above is
a square patch of sky, on which a star trembles. The court is full
of damp, unwholesome odors. The foot slips upon the slimy pavement.
Nobili stopped. The old man came limping after, buttoning his coat
together.

"Ah! poor me!--The excellency is young!" He spoke in the odd, muffled
voice, peculiar to the deaf. "The excellency goes so fast he will fall
if he does not mind. Our court-yard is very damp; the stairs are old."

"Which is the way up-stairs?" Nobili asked, impatiently. "It is so
dark I have forgotten the turn."

"Here, excellency--here to the right. By the Madonna there, in the
niche, with the light before it. A thousand excuses! The excellency
will excuse me, but I have not yet lit the lamp on the stairs. I
was resting. There are so many visitors to the Signora Marchesa. The
excellency will not tell the Signora Marchesa that it was dark upon
the stairs? Per pieta!"

The shriveled old man placed himself full in Nobili's path, and held
out his hands like claws entreatingly.

"A thousand devils!--no," was Nobili's irate reply, pushing him back.
"Let me go up; I shall say nothing. Cospetto! What is it to me?"

"Thanks! thanks! The excellency is full of mercy to an old, overworked
servant. There was a time when the Boccarini--"

Nobili did not wait to hear more, but strode through the darkness at
hazard, to find the stairs.

"Stop! stop! the excellency will break his limbs against the wall!"
the old man shouted.

He fumbled in his pocket, and drew out some matches. He struck one
against the wall, held it above his head, and pointed with his bony
finger to a broad stone stair under an inner arch.

Nobili ascended rapidly; he was in no mood for delay. The old man,
standing at the foot, struck match after match to light him.

"Above, excellency, you will find our usual lamps. You must go on to
the second story."

On the landing at the first floor there was still a little daylight
from a window as big as if set in the tribune of a cathedral. Here a
lamp was placed on an old painted table. Some moth-eaten tapestry hung
from a mildewed wall. Here and there a rusty nail had given way, and
the stuff fell in downward folds. Nobili paused. His head was hot and
dizzy. He had dined well, and he had drunk freely. His eyes traveled
upward to the old tapestry--(it was the daughter of Herodias dancing
before Herod the cancan of the day). Something in the face and figure
of the girl recalled Nera to him, or he fancied it--his mind being
full of her. Nobili envied Herod in a dreamy way, who, with round,
leaden eyes, a crown upon his head--watched the dancing girl as she
flung about her lissome limbs. Nobili envied Herod--and the thought
came across him, how pleasant it would be to sit royally enthroned,
and see Nera gambol so! From that--quicker than I can write it--his
thoughts traveled backward to that night when he had danced with Nera
at the Orsetti ball. Again the refrain of that waltz buzzed in
his ear. Again the measure rose and fell in floods of luscious
sweetness--again Nera lay within his arms--her breath was on his
cheek--the perfume of the flowers in her flossy hair was wafted in the
air--the blood stirred in his veins.

The old man said truly. All the way up the second stair was lit by
little lamps, fed by mouldy oil; and all the way up that waltz rang
in Nobili's ear. It mounted to his brain like fumes of new wine tapped
from the skin. A green door of faded baize faced him on the upper
landing, and another bell--a red tassel fastened to a bit of whipcord.
He rang it hastily. This time a servant came promptly. He carried in
his hand a lamp of brass.

"Did the ladies receive?"

"They did," was the answer; and the servant held the lamp aloft to
light Nobili into the anteroom.

This anteroom was as naked as a barrack. The walls were painted in
a Raphaelesque pattern, the coronet and arms of the Boccarini in the
centre.

Count Nobili and the servant passed through many lofty rooms of faded
splendor. Chandeliers hung from vaulted ceilings, and reflected the
light of the brass lamp on a thousand crystal facets. The tall mirrors
in the antique frames repeated it. In a cavern-like saloon, hung with
rows of dark pictures upon amber satin, Nobili and the servant stopped
before a door. The servant knocked; A voice said, "Enter." It was the
voice of Marchesa Boccarini. She was sitting with her three daughters.
A lamp, with a colored shade, stood in the centre of a small room,
bearing some aspect of life and comfort. The marchesa and two of her
daughters were working at some mysterious garments, which rapidly
vanished out of sight. Nera was leaning back on a sofa, superbly
idle--staring idly at an opposite window, where the daylight still
lingered. When Count Nobili was announced, they all rose and spoke
together with the loud peacock voices, and the rapid utterance, which
in Italy are supposed to mark a special welcome. Strange that in
the land of song the talking voices of women should be so harsh and
strident! Yet so it is.

"How long is it since we have seen you, Count Nobili?" It was the
sad-faced marchesa who spoke, and tried to smile a welcome to him. "I
have to thank you for many inquiries, and all sorts of luxuries sent
to my dear child. But we expected you. You never came."

The two sisters echoed, "You never came."

Nera did not speak then, but when they had finished, she rose from the
sofa and stood before Nobili drawn up to her full height, radiant
in sovereign beauty. "I have to thank you most." As Nera spoke, her
cheeks flushed, and she dropped her hand into his. It was a simple
act, but full of purpose as Nera did it. Nera intended it should be
so. She reseated herself. As his eye met hers, Nobili grew crimson.
The twilight and the shaded lamp hid this in part, but Nera observed
it, and noted it for future use.

Count Nobili placed himself beside the marchesa.

"I am overwhelmed with shame," he said. "What you say is too true.
I had intended coming. Indeed, I waited until your daughter"--and he
glanced at Nera--"could receive me, and satisfy me herself she was not
hurt. I longed to make my penitent excuses for the accident."

"Oh! it was nothing," said Nera, with a smile, answering for her
mother.

"What I suffered, no words can tell," continued, Nobili. "Even now I
shudder to think of it--to be the cause--"

"No, not the cause," answered Marchesa Boccarini.

The elder sisters echoed--

"Not the cause."

"It was the ribbon," continued the marchesa. "Nera was entangled with
the ribbon when she rose; she did not know it."

"I ought to have held her up," returned Nobili with a glance at Nera,
who, with a kind of queenly calm, looked him full in the face with her
bold, black eyes.

"I assure you, marchesa, it was the horror of what I had done that
kept me from calling on you."

This was not true, and Nera knew it was not true. Nobili had not come,
because he dreaded his weakness and her power. Nobili had not come,
because he doted on Enrica to that excess, a thought alien to her
seemed then to him a crime. What folly! Now he knew Enrica better! All
that was changed.

"We have felt very grateful," went on to say the marchesa, "I assure
you, Count Nobili, very grateful."

The poor lady was much exercised in spirit as to how she could frame
an available excuse for leaving the count alone with Nera. Had she
only known beforehand, she would have arranged a little plan to do
so, naturally. But it must be done, she knew. It must be done at any
price, or Nera would never forgive her.

"You have been so agreeably occupied, too," Nera said, in a firm, full
voice. "No wonder, Count Nobili, you had no time to visit us."

There was a mute reproach in these few words that made Nobili wince.

"I have been absent," he replied, much confused.

"Yes, absent in mind and body," and Nera laughed a cruel little laugh.
"You have been at Corellia, I believe?" she added, significantly,
fixing him with her lustrous eyes.

"Yes, I have been at Corellia, shooting." Nobili shrank from shame
at the lack of courtesy on his part which had made these social lies
needful. How brilliant Nera was!

A type of perfect womanhood. Fresh, and strong, and healthy--a mother
for heroes.

"We have heard of you," went on Nera, throwing her grand head
backward, a quiet deliberation in each word, as if she were dropping
them out, word by word, like poison. "A case of Perseus and Andromeda,
only you rescued the lady from the flames. You half killed me, Count
Nobili, and _en revanche_ you have saved another lady. She must be
very grateful."

"O Nera!" one of her sisters exclaimed, reproachfully. These innocent
sisters never could accommodate themselves to Nera's caustic tongue.

Nera gave her sister a look. She rose at once; then the other sister
rose also. They both slipped out of the room.

"Now," thought the marchesa, "I must go, too."

"May I be permitted," she said, rising, "before I leave the room
to speak to my confessor, who is waiting for me, on a matter of
business"--this was an excellent sham, and sounded decorous and
natural--"may I be permitted, Count Nobili, to congratulate you on
your approaching marriage? I do not know Enrica Guinigi, but I hear
that she is lovely."

Nobili bowed with evident constraint.

"And I," said Nera, softly, directing a broadside upon him from her
brilliant eyes--"allow me to congratulate you also."

"Thank you," murmured Nobili, scarcely able to form the words.

"Excuse me," the marchesa said. She courtesied to Nobili and left the
room.

Nobili and Nera were now alone. Nobili watched her under his eyelids.
Yes, she was splendid. A luxuriant form, a skin mellow and ruddy as a
ripe peach, and such eyes!

Nera was silent. She guessed his thoughts. She knew men so well. Men
had been her special study. Nera was only twenty-four, but she was
clever, and would have excelled in any thing she pleased. To draw men
to her, as the magnet draws the needle, was the passion of her life;
whether she cared for them or not, to draw them. Not to succeed argued
a want of skill. That maddened her. She was keen and hot upon the
scent, knocking over her man as a sportsman does his bird, full in
the breast. Her aim was marriage. Count Nobili would have suited
her exactly. She had felt for him a warmth that rarely quickened her
pulses. Nobili had evaded her. But revenge is sweet. Now his hour is
come.

"Count Nobili"--Nera's tempting looks spoke more than words--"come and
sit down by me." She signed to him to place himself upon the sofa.

Nobili rose as she bade him. He came upon his fate without a word.
Seated so near to Nera, he gazed into her starry eyes, and felt it did
him good.

"You look ill," Nera said, tuning her voice to a tone of tender pity;
"you have grown older too since I last saw you. Is it love, or grief,
or jealousy, or what?"

Nobili heaved a deep sigh. His hand, which rested near hers, slipped
forward, and touched her fingers. Nera withdrew them to smooth
the braids of her glossy hair. While she did so she scanned Nobili
closely. "You are not a triumphant lover, certainly. What is the
matter?"

"You are very good to care," answered Nobili, sighing again, gazing
into her face; "once I thought that my fate did touch you."

"Yes, once," Nera rejoined. "Once--long ago." She gave an airy laugh
that grated on Nobili's ears. "But we meet so seldom."

"True, true," he answered hurriedly, "too seldom." His manner was
most constrained. It was plain his mind was running upon some unspoken
thought.

"Yes," Nera said. "Spite of your absence, however you make yourself
remembered. You give us so much to talk of! Such a succession of
surprises!"

One by one Nera's phrases dropped out, suggesting so much behind.

Nobili, greatly excited, felt he must speak or flee.

"I must confess," she added, giving a stealthy glance out of the
corners of her eyes, "you have surprised me. When do you bring your
wife home, Count Nobili?" As Nera asked this question she bent over
Nobili, so that her breath just swept his heated cheek.

"Never, perhaps!" cried Nobili, wildly. He could contain himself no
longer. His heart beat almost to bursting. A desperate seduction was
stealing over him. "Never, perhaps!" he repeated.

Nera gave a little start; then she drew back and leaned against the
sofa, gazing at him.

"I am come to you, Nera"--Nobili spoke in a hoarse voice--his features
worked with agitation--"I am come to tell you all; to ask you what I
shall do. I am distracted, heart-broken, degraded! Nera, dear Nera,
will you help me? In mercy say you will!"

He had grasped her hand--he was covering it with hot kisses. He was
so heated with wine and beauty, and a sense of wrong, he had lost all
self-command.

Nera did not withdraw her hand. Her eyelids dropped, and she replied,
softly:

"Help you? Oh! so willingly. Could you see my heart you would
understand me."

She stopped.

"You can make all right," urged Nobili, maddened by her seductions.

Again that waltz was buzzing in his ears. Nobili was about to clasp
her in his arms, and ask her he knew not what, when Nera rose, and
seated herself upon a chair opposite to him.

"You leave me," cried Nobili, piteously, seizing her dress. "That is
not helping me."

"I must know what you want," she answered, settling the folds of her
dress about her. "Of course, in making this marriage, you have weighed
all the consequences? I take that for granted."

As Nera spoke she leaned her head upon her hand; the rich beauty of
her face was brought under the lamp's full light.

"I thought I had," was Nobili's reply, recalled by her movement to
himself, and speaking with more composure--"I thought I had--but
within the last three hours every thing is changed. I have been
insulted at the club."

"Ah!--you must expect that sort of thing if you marry Enrica Guinigi.
That is inevitable."

Nobili knit his brows. This was hard from her.

"What reason do you give for this?" he asked, trying to master his
feelings. "I came to ask you this."

"Reason, my dear count?" and a smile parted Nera's lips. "A very
obvious reason. Why force me to name it? No one can respect you if you
make such a marriage. You will be always liked--you are so charming."
She paused to fling an amorous glance upon him. "Why did you select
the Guinigi girl?" The question was sharply put. "The marchesa would
never receive you. Why choose her niece?"

"Because I liked her." Nobili was driven to bay. "A man chooses the
woman he likes."

"How strange!" exclaimed Nera, throwing up her hands. "How strange!--A
pale-faced school-girl! But--ha! ha!"--(that discordant laugh almost
betrayed her)--"she is not so, it seems."

Nobili changed color. With every word Nera uttered, he grew hot or
cold, soothed or wild, by turns. Nera watched it all. She read Nobili
like a book.

"How cunning Enrica Guinigi must be!--very cunning!" Nera repeated as
if the idea had just struck her. "The marchesa's tool!--They are so
poor!--Her niece! Chè vuole!--The family blood! Anyhow, Enrica has
caught you, Nobili."

Nera leaned back, drew out a fan from behind a cushion, and swayed it
to and fro.

"Not yet," gasped Nobili--"not yet."

And Nobili had listened to Nera's cruel words, and had not risen up
and torn out the lying tongue that uttered them! He had sat and heard
Enrica torn to pieces as a panting dove is severed by a hawk limb by
limb! Even now Nobili's better nature, spite of the glamour of this
woman, told him he was a coward to listen to such words, but his good
angel had veiled her wings and fled.

"I am glad you say 'not yet.' I hope you will take time to consider.
If I can help you, you may command me, Count Nobili." And Nera paused
and sighed.

"Help me, Nera!--You can save me!" He started to his feet. "I am so
wretched--so wounded--so desperate!"

"Sit down," she answered, pointing to the sofa.

Mechanically he obeyed.

"You are nothing of all this if you do not marry Enrica Guinigi; if
you do, you are all you say."

"What am I to do?" exclaimed Nobili. "I have signed the contract."

"Break it"--Nera spoke the words boldly out--"break it, or you will
be dishonored. Do you think you can live in Lucca with a wife that you
have bought?"

Nobili bounded from his chair.

"O God!" he said, and clinched his hands.

"You must be calm," she said, hastily, "or my mother will hear you."
(All she can do, she thinks, is not worse than Nobili deserves, after
that ball.) "Bought!--Yes. Will any one believe the marchesa would
have given her niece to you otherwise?"

Nobili was pale and silent now. Nera's words had called up long trains
of thought, opening out into horrible vistas. There was a dreadful
logic about all she said that brought instant conviction with it. All
the blood within him seemed whirling in his brain.

"But Nera, how can I--in honor--break this marriage?" he urged.

"Break it! well, by going away. No one can force you to marry a girl
who allowed herself to be hawked about here and there--offered to
Marescotti, and refused--to others probably."

"She may not have known it," said Nobili, roused by her bitter words.

"Oh, folly! Why come to me, Count Nobili? You are still in love with
her."

At these words Nobili rose and approached Nera. Something in her
expression checked him; he drew back. With all her allurements, there
was a gulf between them Nobili dared not pass.

"O Nera! do not drive me mad! Help me, or banish me."

"I am helping you," she replied, with what seemed passionate
earnestness. "Have you seen the sonnet?"

"No."

"If you mean to marry her, do not. Take advice. My mother has seen
it," Nera added, with well-simulated horror. "She would not let me
read it."

Now this was the sheerest malice. Madame Boccarini had never seen
the sonnet. But if she had, there was not one word in the sonnet that
might not have been addressed to the Blessed Virgin herself.

"No, I will not see the sonnet," said Nobili, firmly. "Not that I
will marry her, but because I do not choose to see the woman I loved
befouled. If it is what you say--and I believe you implicitly--let it
lie like other dirt, I will not stir it."

"A generous fellow!" thought Nera. "How I could have loved him! But
not now, not now."

"You have been the object of a base fraud," continued Nera. Nera would
follow to the end artistically; not leave her work half done.

"She has deceived me. I know she has deceived me," cried Nobili, with
a pang he could not hide. "She has deceived me, and I loved her!"

His voice sounded like the cry of a hunted animal.

Nera did not like this. Her work was not complete. Nobili's obstinate
clinging to Enrica chafed her.

"Did Enrica ever speak to you of her engagement to Count Marescotti?"
she asked. She grew impatient, and must probe the wound.

"Never," he answered, shrinking back.

"Heavens! What falseness! Why, she has passed days and days alone with
him."

"No, not alone," interrupted Nobili, stung with a sense of his own
shame.

"Oh, you excuse her!" Nera laughed bitterly. "Poor count, believe me.
I tell you what others conceal."

Nobili shuddered. His face grew black as night.

"Do not see that sonnet if you persist in marriage. If not, your
course is clear--fly. If Enrica Guinigi has the smallest sense of
decency, she cannot urge the marriage."

And Nobili heard this in silence! Oh, shame, and weakness and passion
of hot blood; and women's eyes, and cruel, bitter tongues; and
jealousy, maddening jealousy, hideous, formless, vague, reaching he
knew not whither I Oh, shame!

"Write to her, and say you have discovered that she was in league with
her aunt, and had other lovers. Every one knows it."

"But, Nera, if I do, will you comfort me? I shall need it." Nobili
opened both his arms. His eyes clung wildly to hers. She was his only
hope.

Nera did not move; only she turned her head away to hide her face from
him. She dared not let Nobili move her. Poor Nobili! She could have
loved him dearly!

Seeing her thus, Nobili's arms dropped to his side hopelessly; a wan
look came over his face.

"Forgive me! Oh, forgive me, Nera! I offer you a broken heart; have
pity on me! Say, can you love me, Nera? Only a little. Speak! tell
me!"

Nobili was on his knees before her; every feature of his bright young
face formed into an agony of entreaty.

There was a flash of triumph in Nera's black eyes as she bent them on
Nobili, that chilled him to the soul. Kneeling before her, he feels
it. He doubts her love, doubts all. She has wrought upon him until he
is desperate.

"Rise, dear Nobili," Nera whispered softly, touching his lips with
hers, but so slightly. "To-morrow--come again to-morrow. I can
say nothing now." Her manner was constrained. She spoke in little
sentences. "It is late. Supper is ready. My mother waiting.
To-morrow." She pressed the hand he had laid imploringly upon her
knee. She touched the curls upon his brow with her light finger-tips;
but those fixed, despairing eyes beneath she dared not meet.

"Not one word?" urged Nobili, in a faltering voice. "Send me away
without one word of hope? I shall struggle with horrible thoughts all
night. O Nera, speak one word--but one!" He clasped her hands, and
looked up into her face. He dared do no more. "Love me a little,
Nera," he pleaded, and he laid her warm, full hand upon his throbbing
heart.

Nera trembled. She rose hastily from her chair, and raised Nobili up
also.

"I--I--" (she hesitated, and avoided his passionate glance)--"I have
given you good advice. To-morrow I will tell you more about myself."

"To-morrow, Nera! Why not to-night?"

Spite of himself Nobili was shocked at her reserve. She was so
self-possessed. He had flung his all upon the die.

"You have advised me," he answered, stung by her coldness. "You have
convinced me, I shall obey you. Now I must go, unless you bid me
stay."

Again his eyes pleaded with hers; again found no response. Nera held
out her hand to him.

"To-morrow," the full, ripe lips uttered--"to-morrow."

Seeing that he hesitated, Nera pointed with a gesture toward the door,
and Nobili departed.

When the door had closed, and the sound of his retreating footsteps
along the empty rooms had ceased, Nera raised her hand, then let it
fall heavily upon the table.

"I have done it!" she exclaimed, triumphantly. "Now I can bear to
think of that Orsetti ball. Poor Nobili! if he had spoken then! But he
did not. It is his own fault."

After standing a minute or two thinking, Nora uncovered the lamp. Then
she took it up in both her hands, stepped to a mirror that hung near,
and, turning the light hither and thither, looked at her blooming
face, in full and in profile. Then she replaced the lamp upon the
table, yawned, and left the room.

Next morning a note was put into Count Nobili's hand at breakfast. It
bore the Boccarini arms and the initials of the marchesa. The contents
were these:

MOST ESTEEMED COUNT: As a friend of our family, I have the honor of
informing you that the marriage of my dear daughter Nera with Prince
Ruspoli is arranged, and will take place in a week. I hope you will
be present. I have the honor to assure you of my most sincere and
distinguished sentiments.

"MARCHESA AGNESA BOCCARINI."

In the night train from Lucca that evening, Count Nobili was seated.
"He was about to travel," he had informed his household. "Later he
would send them his address." Before he left, he wrote a letter to
Enrica, and sent it to Corellia.



PART IV.



CHAPTER I.

WAITING AND LONGING.


It was the morning of the fourth day since Count Nobili had left
Corellia. All had been very quiet about the house. The marchesa
herself took little heed of any thing. She sat much in her own room.
She was silent and preoccupied; but she was not displeased. The one
dominant passion of her soul--the triumph of the Guinigi name--was
now attained. Now she could bear to think of the grand old palace at
Lucca, the seigneurial throne, the nuptial-chamber; now she could gaze
in peace on the countenance of the great Castruccio. No spoiler would
dare to tread these sacred floors. No irreverent hand would presume
to handle her ancestral treasures; no vulgar eye would rest on
the effigies of her race gathered on these walls. All would now be
safe--safe under the protection of wealth, enormous wealth--wealth to
guard, to preserve, to possess.

Enrica had been the agent by which all this had been effected,
therefore she regarded Enrica at this time with more consideration
than she had ever done before. As to any real sentiments of affection,
the marchesa was incapable of them--a cold, hard woman from her youth,
now vindictive, as well as cold.

The day after the signing of the contract she called Enrica to her.
Enrica trod lightly across the stuccoed floor to where her aunt was
standing; then she stopped and waited for her to address her. The
marchesa took Enrica's hand within her own for some minutes, and
silently stroked each rosy finger.

"My child Enrica, are you content?" This question was accompanied by
an inquiring look, as if she would read Enrica through and through. A
sweet smile of ineffable happiness stole over Enrica's soft face. The
marchesa, still holding her hand, uttered something which might
almost be called a sigh. "I hope this will last, else--" She broke off
abruptly.

Enrica, resenting the implied doubt, disengaged her hand, and drew
back from her. The marchesa, not appearing to observe this, continued:

"I had other views for you, Enrica; but, before you knew any thing,
you chose a husband for yourself. What do you know about a husband? It
is a bad choice."

Again Enrica drew back still farther from her aunt, and lifted up her
head as if in remonstrance. But the marchesa was not to be stopped.

"I hate Count Nobili!" she burst out. "I have had my eye upon him ever
since he came to Lucca. I know him--you do not. It is possible he may
change, but if he does not--"

For the second time the marchesa did not finish the sentence.

"And do you think he loves you?"

As she asked this question she seated herself, and contemplated Enrica
with a cynical smile.

"Yes, he loves me. It is you who do not know him!" exclaimed Enrica.
"He is so good, so generous, so true; there is no one in the world
like him."

How pure Enrica looked, pleading for her lover!--her face thrown out
in sharp profile against the dark wall; her short upper lip raised
by her eager speech; the dazzling fairness of her complexion; and her
soft hair hanging loose about her head and neck.

"I think I do--I think I know him better than you do," the marchesa
answered, somewhat absently.

She was struck by Enrica's exceeding beauty, which seemed within the
last few days to have suddenly developed and matured.

"The young man appreciates you, too, I do not doubt. I am told he is a
lover of beauty."

This was added with a sneer. Enrica grew crimson.

"Well, well," the marchesa went on to say, "it is too late now--the
thing is done. But remember I have warned you. You chose Count Nobili,
not I. Enrica, I have done my duty to you and to my own name. Now go
and tell the cavaliere I want him."

The marchesa was always wanting the cavaliere; she was closeted
with him for hours at a time. These conferences all ended in one
conclusion--that she was irretrievably ruined. No one knew this better
than the marchesa herself; but her haughty reluctance either to accept
Count Nobili's money, or to give up Enrica, was the cause of unknown
distress to Trenta.

Meanwhile the prospect of the wedding had stirred up every one in the
house to a sort of aimless activity. Adamo strode about, his sad, lazy
eyes gazing nowhere in particular. Adamo affected to work hard, but
in reality he did nothing but sweep the leaves away from the border
of the fountain, and remove the _débris_ caused by the fire. Then he
would go down and feed the dogs, who, when at home, lived in a sort
of cave cut out of the cliff under the tower--Argo, the long-haired
mastiff, and Tootsey, the rat-terrier, and Juno, the lurcher, and the
useless bull-dog, who grinned horribly--Adamo fed them, then let them
out to run at will over the flowers, while he went to his mid-day
meal.

Adamo had no soul for flowers, or he could not have done this; he
could not have seen a bright, many-eyed balsam, or an amber-leaved
zinnia with tufted yellow breast, die miserably on their earthy
beds, trampled under the dogs' feet. Even the marchesa, who concerned
herself so little with such things, had often hidden him for his
carelessness; but Adamo had a way of his own, and by that way he
abided, slowly returning to it, spite of argument or remonstrance.

"Domine Dio orders the weather, not I," Adamo said in a grunt to Pipa
when his mistress had specially upbraided him for not watering the
lemon-trees ranged along the terraces. "Am I expected to give holy oil
to the plants as Fra Pacifico does to the sick? Chè! chè! what will be
will be!"

So Adamo went to his dinner in all peace; and Argo and his friends
knocked down the flowers, and scratched deep holes in the gravel,
barking wildly all the time.

The marchesa, sitting in grave confabulation with Cavaliere Trenta,
rubbed her white hands as she listened.

There was neither portcullis, nor moat, nor drawbridge to her feudal
stronghold at Corellia, but there was big, white Argo. Argo alone
would pin any one to the earth.

"Let out the dogs, Adamo," the marchesa would say. "I like to hear
them. They are my soldiers--they defend me."

"Yes, padrona," Adamo would reply, stolidly. "Surely the Signora
Marchesa wants no other. Argo has the sense of a man when I discourse
to him."

So Argo barked and yelped, and tore up and down undisturbed, followed
by the pack in full chase after imaginary enemies. Woe betide the
calves of any stranger arriving at that period of the day at the
villa! They might feel Argo's glistening teeth meeting in them, or
be hurled on the ground, for Argo had a nasty trick of clutching
stealthily from behind. Woe betide all but Fra Pacifico, who had so
often licked him in drawn battles, when the dog had leaped upon him,
that now Argo fled at sight of his priestly garments with a howl!

Adamo, who, after his mid-day meal, required tobacco and repose, would
not move to save any one's soul, much less his body.

"Argo is a lunatic without me," he would observe, blandly, to Pipa, if
roused by a special outburst of barking, the smoke of his pipe curling
round his bullet-head the while. "Lunatics, either among men or
beasts, are not worth attending to. A sweating horse, a crying woman,
and a yelping cur, heed not."

Adamo added many more grave remarks between the puffs of his pipe,
turning to Pipa, who sat beside him, distaff in hand, the silver pins,
stuck into her glossy plaits, glistening in the sun.

When Adamo ceased he nodded his head like an oracle that had spoken,
and dozed, leaning against the wall, until the sun had sunk to rest
into a bed of orange and saffron, and the air was cooled by evening
dews. Not till then did Adamo rise up to work.

Pipa, who, next to Adamo and the marchesa, loved Enrica with all the
strength of her warm heart, sings all day those unwritten songs of
Tuscany that rise and fall with such spontaneous cadence among the
vineyards, and in the olive-grounds, that they seem bred in the
air--Pipa sings all day for gladness that the signorina is going
to marry a rich and handsome gentleman. Marriage, to Pipa's simple
mind--especially marriage with money--must bring certain blessings,
and crowds of children; she would as soon doubt the seven wounds of
the Madonna as doubt this. Pipa has seen Count Nobili. She approves
of him. His curly auburn hair, so short and crisp; his bold look and
gracious smile--not to speak of certain notes he slipped into her
hand--have quite conquered her. Besides, had Count Nobili not come
down, the noble gentleman, like San Michele, with golden wings behind
him, and a terrible lance in his hand, as set forth in a dingy fresco
in the church at Corellia--come down and rescued the dear signorina
when--oh, horrible!--she had been forgotten in the burning tower?
Pipa's joy develops itself in a vain endeavor to clean the entire
villa. With characteristic discernment, she has begun her labors in
the upper story, which, being unfurnished, no one ever enters. Pipa
has set open all the windows, and thrown back all the blinds; Pipa
sweeps and sprinkles, and sweeps again, combating with dust, and fleas
and insects innumerable, grown bold by a quiet tenancy of nearly fifty
years. While she sweeps, Pipa sings:

  "I'll build a house round, round, quite round,
  For us to live at ease, all three;
  Father and mother there shall dwell,
  And my true love with me."

Poor Pipa! It is so pleasant to hear her clear voice caroling overhead
like a bird from the open window, and to see her bright face looking
out now and then, her gold ear-rings bobbing to and fro--her black
rippling hair, and her merry eyes blinded with dust and flue--to
swallow a breath of air. Adamo does not work, but Pipa does. If she
goes on like this, Pipa may hope to clean the entire floor in a month;
of the great sala below, and the other rooms where people live, Pipa
does not think. It is not her way to think; she lives by happy, rosy
instinct.

Pipa chatters much to Enrica about Count Nobili and her marriage when
she is not sweeping or spinning. Enrica continually catches sight of
her staring at her with open mouth and curious eyes, her head a little
on one side the better to observe her.

"Sweet innocent! she knows nothing that is coming on her," Pipa is
thinking; and then Pipa winks, and laughs outright--laughs to the
empty walls, which echo the laugh back with a hollow sound.

But if any thing lurks there that mocks Pipa's mirth, it is not
visible to Pipa's outward eye, so she continues addressing herself to
Enrica, who is utterly bewildered by her strange ways.

Pipa cannot bear to think that Enrica never dressed for her betrothed.
"Poverina!" she says to her, "not dress--not dress! What degradation!
Why, when the Gobbina--a little starved hump-backed bastard--married
the blind beggar Gianni at Corellia, for the sake of the pence he got
sitting all day shaking his box by the _café_--even the Gobbina had
a white dress and a wreath--and you, beloved lady, not so much as to
care to change your clothes! What must the Signore Conte have thought?
Misera mia! We must all seem pagans to him!" And Pipa's heart smote
her sorely, remembering the notes. "Caro Gesù! When you are to be
married we must find you something to wear. To be sure, the marchesa's
luggage was chiefly burnt in the fire, but one box is left. Out of
that box something will come," Pipa feels sure (miracles are nothing
to Pipa, who believes in pilgrimages and the evil-eye); she feels sure
that it will be so. After much talk with Enrica, who only answers her
with a smile, and says absently, looking at the mountains which she
does not see--

"Dear Pipa, we will look in the box, as you say."

"But when, signorina?" insists Pipa, and she kisses Enrica's hand, and
strokes her dress. "But when?"

"To-morrow," says Enrica, absently. "To-morrow, dear Pipa, not
to-day."

"Holy mother!" is Pipa's reply, "it has been 'to-morrow' for four
days." "Always to-morrow," mutters Pipa to herself, as she makes the
dust fly with her broom; "and the Signore Conte is to return in a
week! Always to-morrow. What can I do? Such a disgrace was never
known. No bridal dress. No veil. The signorina is too young to
understand such things, and the marchesa is not like other ladies,
or one might venture to speak to her about it. She would only give me
'accidenti' if I did, and that is so unlucky! To-morrow I must make
the signorina search that box. There will be a white dress and a
veil. I dreamed so. Good dreams come from heaven. I have had a candle
lighted for luck before the Santissima in the market-place, and fresh
flowers put into the pots. There will be sure to be a white dress and
a veil--the saints will send them to the signorina."

Pipa sweeps and sings. Her children, Angelo and Gigi, are roasting
chestnuts under the window outside.

This time she sings a nursery rhyme:

  "Little Trot, that trots so gayly,
  And without legs can walk so bravely!
  Trottolin! Trottolino!--
  Via! via!"

Pipa, in her motherly heart looking out, blesses little Gigi--a chubby
child blackened by the sun--to see him sitting so meek and good beside
his brother. Angelo is a naughty boy. Pipa does not love him so well
as Gigi. Perhaps this is the reason Angelo is so ill-furnished in
point of clothes. His patched and ragged trousers are hitched on with
a piece of string. Shirt he has none; only a little dingy waistcoat
buttoned over his chest, on which lies a silver medal of the Madonna.
Angelo's arms are bare, his face mahogany-color, his head a hopeless
tangle of colorless hair. But Angelo has a pair of eyes that dance,
and a broad, red-lipped mouth, out of which two rows of white teeth
shine like pearls. Angelo has just burnt his fingers picking a
chestnut out of the ashes. He turns very red, but he is too proud to
cry. Angelo's hands and feet are so hard he does not feel the pointed
rocks that break the turf in the forest, nor does he fear the young
snakes, as plenty as lizards, in the warm nooks. All yesterday Angelo
had run up and down to look for chestnuts, on his naked feet. He dared
not mount into the trees, for that would be stealing; but he leaped,
and skipped, and slid when a russet-coated chestnut caught his eye.
Gigi was with him, trusted to his care by Pipa, with many abjurations
and terrible threats of future punishment should he ill-use him.

Ah! if Pipa knew!--if Pipa had only seen little Gigi lonely in
the woods, and heard his roars for help! Angelo, having found Gigi
troublesome, had tied him by a twisted cord of grass to the trunk of
an ancient chestnut. Gigi was trepanned into this thralldom by a
heap of flowers artful Angelo had brought him--purple crocuses and
cyclamens, and Canterbury bells, and gaudy pea-stalks, all thrown
before the child. Gigi, in his little torn petticoat, had swallowed
the bait, and flung himself upon the bright blossoms, grasping them in
his dirty fingers. Presently the delighted babe turned his eyes upon
cunning Angelo standing behind him, showing his white teeth. Satisfied
that Angelo was there, Gigi buried himself among the flowers. He
crowed to them in his baby way, and flung them here and there. Gigi
would run and catch them, too; but suddenly he felt something which
stopped him. It was a grass cord which Angelo had secretly woven
standing behind Gigi--then had made it fast round Gigi's waist and
knotted it to a tree. A cloud came over Gigi's jolly little face--a
momentary cloud--when he found he could not run after the flowers.
But it soon passed away, and he squatted down upon the grass (the
inveigled child), and again clutched the tempting blossoms. Then his
little eyes peered round for Angelo to play with him. Alas!--Angelo
was gone!

Gigi sobbed a little to himself silently, but the treacherous flowers
had still power to console him; at least, he could tear them to
pieces. But by-and-by when the sun mounted high over the tops of the
forest-clad mountains, and poured down its burning rays, swallowing up
all the shade and glittering like flame on every leaf, Gigi grew hot
and weary. He was very empty, too; it was just the time that Pipa fed
him. His stomach craved for food. He craved for Pipa, too, for home,
for the soft pressure of Pipa's ample bosom, where he lay so snug.

Gigi looked round. He did not sob now, but set up a hideous roar,
the big tears coursing down his fat cheeks, marking their course by
furrows in the dirt and grime. The wood echoed to Gigi's roars. He
roared for mammy, for daddy (Angelo Gigi cannot say, it is too long
a word). He kicked away the flowers with his pretty dimpled feet,
the false flowers that had betrayed him. The babe cannot reason, but
instinct tells him that those painted leaves have wronged him. They
are faded now, and lie soiled and crumpled, the ghosts of what they
were. Again Gigi tries to rise and run, but he is drawn roughly down
by the grass rope. He tries to tear it asunder, in vain; Angelo had
taken care of that. At last, hoarse and weary, Gigi subsided into
terrible sobs, that heave his little breast. Sobbing thus, with
pouting lips and heavy eyes, he waits his fate.

It comes with Angelo!--Angelo, leaping downward through the checkered
glades, his pockets stuffed with chestnuts. Like an angel with healing
in his wings, Angelo comes to Gigi. When he spies him out, Gigi rises,
unsteady on his little feet--rises up, forgetting all, and clasps his
hands. When Angelo comes near, and stands beside him, Gigi flings his
chubby arms about his neck, and nestles to him.

Angelo, when he sees Gigi's disfigured face and sodden eyes, feels
his conscience prick him. With his pockets full of chestnuts he
pities Gigi; he kisses him, he takes him up, and bears him in his arms
quickly toward home. The happy child closes his weary eyes, and falls
asleep on Angelo's shoulder. Pipa, when she sees Angelo return--so
careful of his little brother--praises him, and gives him a new-baked
cake. Gigi can tell no tales, and Angelo is silent.

While Pipa sweeps and sings, Angelo and Gigi are roasting these very
chestnuts on a heap of ashes under the window outside. Enrica sat near
them--a little apart--on a low wall, that bordered the summit of the
cliff. The zone of mighty mountains rose sharp and clear before her.
It seemed to her as if she had only to stretch out her hand to touch
them. The morning lights rested on them with a fresh glory; the crisp
air, laden with a scent of herbs, came circling round, and stirred the
curls upon her pretty head. Enrica wore the same quaintly-cut dress,
that swept upon the ground, as when Nobili was there. She had no
other. All had been burnt in the fire. Sitting there, she plucked the
moss that grew upon the wall, and watched it as it dropped into the
abyss. This was shrouded in deepest shadow. The rush of the distant
river in the valley below was audible. Enrica raised her head and
listened. That river flowed round the walls of Lucca. Nobili was
there. Happy river! Oh, that it would bear her to him on its frothy
current!--Surely her life-path lay straight before her now!--straight
into paradise! Not a stone is on that path; not a rise, not a fall.

"In a week I will return," Nobili had said. In a week. And his eyes
had rested upon her as he spoke the words in a mist of love. Enrica's
face was pale and almost stern, and her blue eyes had strange lights
and shadows in them. How came it that, since he had left her, the
world had grown so old and gray?--that all the impulse of her nature,
the quick ebb and flow of youth and hope, was stilled and faded out,
and all her thoughts absorbed into a dreadful longing? She could not
tell, nor could she tell what ailed her; but she felt that she was
changed. She tried to listen to the prattle of the two children--to
Pipa singing above:

  "Come out! come out!
  Never despair!
  Father and mother and sweetheart,
  All will be there!"

Enrica could not listen. It was the dark abyss below that drew her
toward its silent bosom. She hung over the wall, her eyes measuring
its depths. What ailed her? Was she smitten mad by the wild tumult of
joy that had swept over her as she stood hand-in-hand with Nobili? Or
was she on the eve of some crisis?--a crisis of life and death? Oh!
why had Nobili left her? When would he return? She could not tell. All
she knew was, that in the streaming sunlight of this wondrous morning,
when earth and heaven were as fair as on the first creation-day,
without him all was dark, sad, and dreary.



CHAPTER II.

A STORM AT THE VILLA.


A footstep was heard upon the gravel. The dogs shut up in the cave
scratched furiously, then barked loudly. Following the footsteps a
bareheaded peasant appeared, his red shirt open, showing his sunburnt
chest. He ran up to the open door, a letter in his hand. Seeing Enrica
sitting on the low wall, he stopped and made her a rustic bow.

"Who are you?" Enrica asked, her heart beating wildly.

"Illustrissima," and the man bowed again, "I am Giacomo--Giacomo
protected by his reverence Fra Pacifico. You have heard of Giacomo?"

Enrica shook her head impatiently.

"Surely you are the Signorina Enrica?"

"Yes, I am."

"Then this letter is for you." And Giacomo stepped up and gave it
into her outstretched hand. "I was to tell the illustrissima that the
letter had come express from Lucca to Fra Pacifico. Fra Pacifico could
not bring it down himself, because the wife of the baker Pietro is
ill, and he is nursing her."

Enrica took the letter, then stared at Giacomo so fixedly, before he
turned to go, it haunted him many days after, for fear the signorina
had given him the evil-eye.

Enrica held the letter in her hand. She gazed at it (standing on the
spot where she had taken it, midway between the door and the low wall,
a glint of sunshine striking upon her hair, turning it to threads of
gold) in silent ecstasy. It was Nobili's first letter to her. His name
was in the corner, his monogram on the seal. The letter came to her in
her loneliness like Nobili's visible presence. Ah! who does not recall
the rapture of a first love-letter!--the tangible assurance it brings
that our lover is still our own--the hungry eye that runs over every
line traced by that dear hand--the oft-repeated words his voice
has spoken stamped on the page--the hidden sense--the half-dropped
sentences--all echoing within us as note to note in chords of music!

Enrica's eyes wandered over the address, "To the Noble Signorina
Enrica Guinigi, Corellia," as if each word had been some wonder. She
dwelt upon every crooked line and twist, each tail and flourish, that
Nobili's hand had traced. She pressed the letter to her lips, then
laid it upon her lap and gazed at it, eking out every second of
suspense to its utmost limit. Suddenly a burning curiosity possessed
her to know when he would come. With a gasp that almost stopped her
breath she tore the cover open. The paper shook so violently in her
unsteady hand that the lines seemed to run up and down and dance.
She could distinguish nothing. She pressed her hand to her forehead,
steadied herself, then read:

ENRICA: When this comes to you I am gone from you forever. You have
betrayed me--how much I do not care to know. Perhaps I think you less
guilty than you are. Of all women, my heart clung to you. I loved you
as men only love once in their lives. For the sake of that love, I
will still screen you all I can. But it is known in Lucca that Count
Marescotti was your accepted lover when you promised yourself to me.
Also, that Count Marescotti refused to marry you when you were offered
by the Marchesa Guinigi. From this knowledge I cannot screen you.
God is my witness, I go, not desiring by my presence or my words to
reproach you further. But, as a man who prizes the honor of his house
and home, I cannot marry you. Tell the marchesa I shall keep my word
to her, although I break the marriage-contract. She will find the
money placed as she desired.

MARIO NOBILI.

"PALAZZO NOBILI, LUCCA."


Little by little Enrica read the whole, sentence by sentence. At first
the full horror of the words was veiled. They came to her in a dazed,
stupid way. A mist gathered about her. There was a buzzing in her ears
that deadened her brain. She forced herself to read over the letter
again. Then her heart stood still with terror--her cheeks burned--her
head reeled. A deadly cold came over her. Of all within that letter
she understood nothing but the words, "I am gone from you forever."
Gone!--Nobili gone! Never to speak to her again in that sweet
voice!--never to press his lips to hers!--never to gather her to him
in those firm, strong arms! O God! then she must die! If Nobili were
gone, she must die! A terrible pang shot through her; then a great
calmness came over her, and she was very still. "Die!--yes--why
not?--Die!"

Clutching the letter in her icy hand, Enrica looked round with pale,
tremulous eyes, from which the light has faded. It could not be the
same world of an hour ago. Death had come into it--she is about to
die. Yet the sun shone fiercely upon her face as she turned it upward
and struck upon her eyes. The children laughed over the chestnuts
spluttering in the ashes. Pipa sang merrily above at the open window.
A bird--was it a raven?--poised itself in the air; the cattle grazed
peacefully on the green slopes of the opposite mountain, and a drove
of pigs ran downward to drink at a little pool. She alone has changed.

A dull, dim consciousness drew her forward toward the low wall, and
the abyss that yawned beneath. There she should lie at peace. There
the stillness would quiet her heart that beat so hard against her
side--surely her heart must burst! She had a dumb instinct that she
should like to sleep; she was so weary. Stronger grew the passion of
her longing to cast herself on that cold bed--deep, deep below--to
rest forever. She tried to move, but could not. She tottered and
almost fell. Then all swam before her. She sank backward against the
door; with her two hands she clutched the post. Her white face was
set. But in her agony not a sound escaped her. Her secret--Nobili's
secret--must be kept, she told herself. No one must ever know that
Nobili had left her--that she was about to die--no one, no one!

With a last effort she tried to rush forward to take that leap below
which would end all. In vain. All nature rushed in a wild whirlwind
around her! A deadly sickness seized her. Her eyes closed. She dropped
beside the door, a little ruffled heap upon the ground, Nobili's
letter clasped tightly in her hand.

  "My love he is to Lucca gone,
  To Lucca fair, a lord to be,
  And I would fain a message send,
  But who will tell my tale for me?"

Sang out Pipa from above.

  "All the folk say that I am brown;
  The earth is brown, yet gives good corn;
  The clove-pink, too, although 'tis brown,
  In hands of gentlefolk is borne."

  "They say my love is brown; but he
  Shines like an angel-form to me;
  They say my love is dark as night,
  To me he seems an angel bright!"

Not hearing the children's voices, and fearing some trick of naughty
Angelo against the peace of her precious Gigi, Pipa leaned put over
the window-sill. "My babe, my babe, where art thou?" was on her lips
to cry; instead, Pipa gave a piercing scream. It broke the mid-day
silence. Argo barked loudly.

"Dio Gesù!" Pipa cried wildly out. "The signorina, she is dead! Help!
help!"



CHAPTER III.

BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH


Many hours had passed. Enrica lay still unconscious upon her bed, her
face framed in her golden hair, her blue eyes open, her limbs stiff,
her body cold. Sometimes her lips parted, and a smile rippled over her
face; then she shuddered, and drew herself, as it were, together. All
this time Nobili's letter was within her hand; her fingers tightened
over it with a convulsive grasp.

Pipa and the cavaliere were with her. They had done all they could
to revive her, but without effect. Trenta, sitting there, his hands
crossed upon his knees, his eyes fixed upon Enrica, looked suddenly
aged. How all this had come about he could not even guess. He had
heard Pipa's screams, and so had the marchesa, and he had come, and he
and Pipa together had raised her up and placed her on her bed; and the
marchesa had charged him to watch her, and let her know when she came
to her senses. Neither the cavaliere nor Pipa knew that Enrica had had
a letter from Nobili. Pipa noticed a paper in her hand, but did not
know what it was. The signorina had been struck down in a fit, was
Pipa's explanation. It was very terrible, but God or the devil--she
could not tell which--did send fits. They must be borne. An end would
come. She had done all she could. Seeing no present change, Trenta
rose to go to the marchesa. His joints were so stiff he could not move
at all without his stick, and the furrows which had deepened upon his
face were moistened with tears.

"Is Enrica no better?" the marchesa asked him, in a voice she tried to
steady, but could not. She trembled all over.

"Enrica is no better," he answered.

"Will she die?" the marchesa asked again.

"Who can tell? She is in the hands of God."

As he spoke, Trenta shot an angry scowl at his friend--he knew her
so well. If Enrica died the Guinigi race was doomed--that made her
tremble, not affection for Enrica. A word more from the marchesa, and
Trenta would have told her this to her face.

"We are all in the hands of God," the marchesa repeated, solemnly, and
crossed herself. "I believe little in doctors."

"Still," said Trenta, "if there is no change, it is our duty to send
for one. Is there any doctor at Corellia?"

"None nearer than Lucca," she replied. "Send for Fra Pacifico. If he
thinks it of any use, a man shall be dispatched to Lucca immediately."

"Surely you will let Count Nobili know the danger Enrica is in?"

"No, no!" cried the marchesa, fiercely. "Count Nobili comes back here
to marry Enrica or not at all. I will not have him on any other terms.
If the child dies, he will not come. That at least will be a gain."

Even on the brink of death and ruin she could think of this!

"Enrica will not die! she will not die!" sobbed the poor old
cavaliere, breaking down all at once. He sank upon a chair and covered
his face.

The marchesa rose and placed her hand upon his shoulder. Her heart was
bleeding, too, but from another cause. She bore her wounds in silence.
To complain was not in the marchesa's nature. It would have increased
her suffering rather than have relieved it. Still she pitied her old
friend, although no word expressed it; nothing but the pressure of her
hand resting upon his shoulder. Trenta's sobs were the only sound that
broke the silence.

"This is losing time," she said. "Send at once for Fra Pacifico. Until
he comes, we know nothing."

When Fra Pacifico's rugged, mountainous figure entered Enrica's room,
he seemed to fill it. First, he blessed the sweet girl lying before
him with such a terrible mockery of life in her widely-opened eyes.
His deep voice shook and his grave face twitched as he pronounced the
"Beatus." Leaning over the bed, Fra Pacifico proceeded to examine her
in silence. He uncovered her feet, and felt her heart, her hands,
her forehead, lifting up the shining curls as he did so with a tender
touch, and laying them out upon the pillow, as reverently as he would
replace a relic.

Cavaliere Trenta stood beside him in breathless silence. Was it life
or death? Looking into Fra Pacifico's motionless face, none could
tell. Pipa was kneeling in a corner, running her rosary between her
fingers; she was listening also, with mouth and eyes wide open.

"Her pulse still beats," Fra Pacifico said at last, betraying no
outward emotion. "It beats, but very feebly. There is a little warmth
about her heart."

"San Ricardo be thanked!" ejaculated Trenta, clasping his hands.

With the mention of his ancestral saint, the cavaliere's thoughts ran
on to the Trenta chapel in the church of San Frediano, where they had
all stood so lately together, Enrica blooming in health and beauty at
his side. His sobs choked his voice.

"Shall I send to Lucca for a doctor?" Trenta asked, as soon as he
could compose himself.

"As you please. Her condition is very precarious; nothing can be done,
however, but to keep her warm. That I see has been attended to. She
could swallow nothing, therefore no doctor could help her. With such
a pulse, to bleed her would be madness. Her youth may save her. It
is plain to me some shock or horror must have struck her down and
paralyzed the vital powers. How could this have been?"

The priest stood over her, lost in thought, his bushy eyebrows knit;
then he turned to Pipa.

"Has any thing happened, Pipa," he asked, "to account for this?"

"Nothing your reverence," she answered. "I saw the signorina,
and spoke to her, not ten minutes before I found her lying in the
doorway."

"Had any one seen her?"

"No one."

"I sent a letter to her from Count Nobili. Did you see the messenger
arrive?"

"No; I was cleaning in the upper story. He might have come and gone,
and I not seen him."

"I heard of no letter," put in the bewildered Trenta. "What letter? No
one mentioned a letter."

"Possibly," answered Fra Pacifico, in his quiet, impassible way, "but
there was a letter." He turned again to interrogate Pipa. "Then the
signorina must have taken the letter herself." Slightly raising his
eyebrows, a sudden light came into his eyes. "That letter has done
this. What can Nobili have said to her? Did you see any letter beside
her, Pipa, when she fell?"

Pipa rose up from the corner where she had been kneeling, raised the
sheet, and pointed to a paper clasped in Enrica's hand. As she did so,
Pipa pressed her warm lips upon the colorless little hand. She would
have covered the hand again to keep it warm, but Fra Pacifico stopped
her.

"We must see that letter; it is absolutely needful--I her confessor,
and you, cavaliere, Enrica's best friend; indeed, her only friend."

At a touch of his strong hand the letter fell from Enrica's fingers,
though they clung to it convulsively.

"Of course we must see the letter," the cavaliere responded with
emphasis, waking up from the apathy of grief into which he had been
plunged.

Fra Pacifico, casting a look of unutterable pity on Enrica, whose
secret it seemed sacrilege to violate while she lay helpless before
them, unfolded the letter. He and the cavaliere, standing on tiptoe
at his side, his head hardly reaching the priest's elbow, read it
together. When Trenta had finished, an expression of horror and rage
came into his face. He threw his arms wildly above his head.

"The villain!" he exclaimed, "'Gone forever!'--'You have betrayed
me!'--'Cannot marry you!'--'Marescotti!'"

Here Trenta stopped, remembering suddenly what had passed between
himself and Count Marescotti at their interview, which he justly
considered as confidential. Trenta's first feeling was one of
amazement how Nobili had come to know it. Then he remembered what he
had said to Baldassare in the street, to quiet him, that "it was all
right, and that Enrica would consent to her aunt's commands, and to
his wishes."

"Beast!" he muttered, "this is what I get by associating with one who
is no gentleman. I'll punish him!"

A blank terror took possession of the cavaliere. He glanced at Enrica,
so life-like with her fixed, open eyes, and asked himself, if she
recovered, would she ever forgive him?

"I did it for the best!" he murmured, shaking his white head. "God
knows I did it for the best!--the dear, blessed one!--to give her
a home, and a husband to protect her. I knew nothing about Count
Nobili.--Why did you not tell me, my sweetest?" he said, leaning over
the bed, and addressing Enrica in his bewilderment.

Alas! the glassy blue eyes stared at him fixedly, the white lips were
motionless.

The effect of all this on Fra Pacifico had been very different. Under
the strongest excitement, the long habit of his office had taught him
a certain outward composure. He was ignorant of much which was known
to the cavaliere. Fra Pacifico watched his excessive agitation with
grave curiosity.

"What does this mean about Count Marescotti?" he asked, somewhat
sternly. "What has Count Marescotti to do with her?"

As he asked this question he stretched his arm authoritatively over
Enrica. Protection to the weak was the first thought of the strong
man. His great bodily strength had been given him for that purpose,
Fra Pacifico always said.

"I offered her in marriage to Count Marescotti," answered the
cavaliere, lifting up his aged head, and meeting the priest's
suspicious glance with a look of gentle reproach. "What do you think I
could have done but this?"

"And Count Marescotti refused her?"

"Yes, he refused her because he was a communist. Nothing passed
between them, nothing. They never met but twice, both times in my
presence."

Fra Pacifico was satisfied.

"God be praised!" he muttered to himself.

Still holding the letter in his hand, the priest turned toward
Enrica. Again he felt her pulse, and passed his broad hand across her
forehead.

"No change!" he said, sadly--"no change! Poor child, how she must
have suffered! And alone, too! There is some mistake--obviously some
mistake."

"No mistake about the wretch having forsaken her," interrupted Trenta,
firing up at what he considered Fra Pacifico's ill-placed leniency.
"Domine Dio! No mistake about that."

"Yes, but there must be," insisted the other. "I have known Nobili
from a boy. He is incapable of such villainy. I tell you, cavaliere,
Nobili is utterly incapable of it. He has been deceived. By-and-by he
will bitterly repent this," and Fra Pacifico held up the letter.

"Yes," answered Trenta, bitterly--"yes, if she lives. If he has killed
her, what will his repentance matter?"

"Better wait, however, until we know more. Nobili may be hot-headed,
vain, and credulous, but he is generous to a fault. If he cannot
justify himself, why, then"--the priest's voice changed, his swarthy
face flushed with a dark glow--"I am willing to give him the benefit
of the doubt--charity demands this--but if Nobili cannot justify
himself"--(the cavaliere made an indignant gesture)--"leave him to
me. You shall be satisfied, cavaliere. God deals with men's souls
hereafter, but he permits bodily punishment in this world. Nobili
shall have his, I promise you!"

Fra Pacifico clinched his huge fist menacingly, and dealt a blow in
the air that would have felled a giant.

Having given vent to his feelings, to the unmitigated delight of
the cavaliere, who nodded and smiled--for an instant forgetting his
sorrow, and Enrica lying there--Fra Pacifico composed himself.

"The marchesa must see that letter," he said, in his usual manner.
"Take it to her, cavaliere. Hear what she says."

The cavaliere took the letter in silence. Then he shrugged his
shoulders despairingly.

"I must go now to Corellia. I will return soon. That Enrica still
lives is full of hope." Fra Pacifico said this, turning toward the
little bed with its modest shroud of white linen curtains. "But I can
do nothing. The feeble spark of life that still lingers in her frame
would fly forever if tormented by remedies. I have hope in God only."
And he gave a heavy sigh.

Before Fra Pacifico departed, he took some holy water from a little
vessel near the bed, and sprinkled it upon Enrica. He ordered Pipa to
keep her very warm, and to watch every breath she drew. Then he glided
from the room with the light step of one well used to sickness.

Cavaliere Trenta followed him slowly. He paused motionless in the
open doorway, his eyes, from which the tears were streaming, fixed on
Enrica--the fatal letter in his hand. At length he tore himself away,
closed the door, and, crossing the sala, knocked at the door of the
marchesa's apartment.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the gray of the early morning of the second day, just as the sun
rose and cast a few straggling gleams into the room, Enrica called
faintly to Pipa. She knew Pipa when she came. It seemed as if
Enrica had waked out of a long, deep sleep. She felt no pain, but an
excessive weakness. She touched her forehead and her hair. She handled
the sheets--then extended both her hands to Pipa, as if she had been
buried and asked to be raised up again. She tried to sit up, but--she
fell back upon her pillow. Pipa's arms were round her in an instant.
She put back the long hair that fell upon Enrica's face, and poured
into her mouth a few drops of a cordial Fra Pacifico had left for her.
Pipa dared not speak--Pipa dared not breathe--so great was her joy. At
length she ventured to take one of Enrica's hands in hers, pressed it
gently and said to her in a low voice:

"You must be very quiet. We are all here."

Enrica looked up at Pipa, surprised and frightened; then her eyes
wandered round in search of something. She was evidently dwelling
upon some idea she could not express. She raised her hand, opened it
slowly, and gazed at it. Her hand was empty.

"Where is--?" Enrica asked, in a voice like a sigh--then she stopped,
and gazed up again distressfully into Pipa's face. Pipa knew that
Count Nobili's letter had been taken by Fra Pacifico. Now she bent
over Enrica in an agony of fear lest, when her reason came and she
missed that letter, she should sink back again and die.

With the sound of her own voice all came back to Enrica in an instant.
She closed her eyes, and longed never to open them again! "Gone! gone!
forever!" sounded in her ears like a rushing of great waters. Then she
lay for a long time quite still. She could not bear to speak to Pipa.
His name--Nobili's name--was sacred. If Pipa knew what Nobili had
done, she might speak ill of him. That Enrica could not bear. Yet she
should like to know who had taken his letter.

Her brain was very weak, yet it worked incessantly. She asked herself
all manner of questions in a helpless way; but as her fluttering
pulses settled, and the blood returned to its accustomed
channels, faintly coloring her cheek, the truth came to her.
Insulted!--abandoned!--forgotten! She thought it all over bit by bit.
Each thought as it rose in her mind seemed to freeze the returning
warmth within her. That letter--oh, if she could only find that
letter! She tried to recall every phrase and put a sense to it. How
had she deceived him? What could Nobili mean? What had she done to
be talked of in Lucca? Marescotti--who was he? At first she was
so stunned she forgot his name; then it came to her. Yes, the
poet--Marescotti--Trenta's friend--who had raved on the Guinigi Tower.
What was he to her? Marry Marescotti! Oh! who could have said it?

Gradually, as Enrica's mind became clearer, lying there so still with
no sound but Pipa's measured breathing, she felt to its full extent
how Nobili had wronged her. Why had he not come himself and asked her
if all this were true? To leave her thus forever! Without even asking
her--oh, how cruel! She believed in him, why did he not believe in
her? No one had ever yet told her a lie; within herself she felt
no power of deceit. She could not understand it in others, nor the
falseness of the world. Now she must learn it! Then a great longing
and tenderness came over her. She loved Nobili still. Even though
he had smitten her so sorely, she loved him--she loved him, and she
forgave him! But stronger and stronger grew the thought, even while
these longings swept over her like great waves, that Nobili was
unworthy of her. Should she love him less for that? Oh, no! He was
unworthy of her--yet she yearned after him. He had left her--but in
her heart Nobili should forever sit enthroned--and she would worship
him!

And they had been so happy, so more than happy--from the first moment
they had met--and he had shattered it! Oh, his love for her was dead
and buried out of sight! What was life to her without Nobili? Oh,
those forebodings that had clung about her from the very moment he
had left Corellia! Now she could understand them. Never to see him
again!--was it possible? A great pity came upon her for herself. No
one, she was sure, could ever have suffered like her--no one--no one.
This thought for some time pursued her closely. There was a terrible
comfort in it. Alas! all her life would be suffering now!

As Enrica lay there, her face turned toward the wall, and her eyes
closed (Pipa watching her, thinking she had dozed), suddenly her bosom
heaved. She gave a wild cry. The pent-up tears came pouring down her
cheeks, and sob after sob shook her from head to foot.

This burst of grief saved her--Fra Pacifico said so when he came down
later. "Death had passed very near her," he said, "but now she would
recover."



CHAPTER IV.

FRA PACIFICO AND THE MARCHESA.


On the evening of that day the marchesa was in her own room, opening
from the sala. The little furniture the room contained was collected
around the marchesa, forming a species of oasis on the broad desert
of the scagliola floor. A brass lamp, placed on a table, formed the
centre of this habitable spot. The marchesa sat in deep shadow, but
in the outline of her tall, slight figure, and in the carriage of
her head and neck, there was the same indomitable pride, courage, and
energy, as before. A paper lay on the ground near her; it was Nobili's
letter. Fra Pacifico sat opposite to her. He was speaking. His
deep-set luminous eyes were fixed on the marchesa. His straight,
coarse hair was pushed up erect upon his brow; there was at all times
something of a mane about it. His cassock sat loosely about his big,
well-made limbs; his priestly stock was loosed, showing the dark skin
of his throat and chin. In the turn of his eye, in the expression of
his countenance, there were anxiety, restlessness, and distrust.

"Yes--Enrica has recovered for the present," he was saying, "but such
an attack saps and weakens the very issues of life. Count Nobili, if
not brought to reason, would break her heart." She was obstinately
silent. The balance of her mind was partially upset. "'I shall never
see Nobili again,' was all she would say to me. It is a pity, I think,
that you sent the cavaliere away to Lucca. Enrica might have opened
her mind to him."

As he spoke, Fra Pacifico crossed one of his legs over the other, and
arranged the heavy folds of his cassock over his knees.

"And who says Enrica shall not see Nobili again?" asked the marchesa,
defiantly. "Holy saints! That is my affair. I want no advice. My honor
is now as much concerned in the completion of this marriage as it was
before to prevent it. The contract has been signed in my presence.
The money agreed upon has been paid over to me. The marriage must take
place. I have sent Trenta to Lucca to make preliminary arrangements."

"I rejoice to hear it," answered Fra Pacifico, his countenance
brightening. "There must be some extraordinary mistake. The cavaliere
will explain it. Some enemies of your family must have misled Count
Nobili, especially as there was a certain appearance of concealment
respecting Count Marescotti. It will all come right. I only feared
lest the language of that letter would have, in your opinion, rendered
the marriage impossible."

"That letter does not move me in the least," answered the marchesa
haughtily, speaking out of the shadow. She gave the letter a kick,
sending it farther from her. "I care neither for praise nor insult
from such a fellow. He is but an instrument in my hand. He has,
however, justified my bad opinion of him. I am glad of that. Do you
imagine, my father," she added, leaning forward, and bringing her head
for an instant within the circle of the light--"do you imagine any
thing but absolute necessity would have induced me to allow Count
Nobili ever to enter my presence?"

"I am bound to tell you that your pride is un-Christian, my daughter."
Fra Pacifico spoke with warmth. "I cannot permit such language in my
presence."

The marchesa waved her hand contemptuously, then contemplated him, a
smile upon her face.

"I have long known Count Nobili. He has the faults of his age. He
is impulsive--vain, perhaps--but at the same time he is loyal and
generous. He was not himself when he wrote that letter. There is a
passionate sorrow about it that convinces me of this. He has been
misled. The offer you sanctioned of Enrica's hand to Count Marescotti,
has been misrepresented to him. Undoubtedly Nobili ought to have
sought an explanation before he left Lucca; but, the more he loved
Enrica, the more he must have suffered before he could so address
her."

"You justify Count Nobili, then, my father, not only for abandoning
my niece, but for endeavoring to blast her character? Is this your
Christianity?" The marchesa asked this question with bitter scorn;
her keen eyes shone mockingly out of the darkness. "I told you what he
was, remember. I have some knowledge of him and of his father."

"My daughter, I do not defend him. If need be, I have sworn to punish
him with my own hand. But, until I know all the circumstances, I pity
him; I repeat, I pity him. Some powerful influence must have been
brought to bear upon Nobili. It may have been a woman."

"Ha! ha!" laughed the marchesa, contemptuously. "You admit, then,
Nobili has a taste for women?"

Fra Pacifico rose suddenly from his chair. An expression of deep
displeasure was on his face, which had grown crimson under the
marchesa's taunts.

"I desire no altercation, marchesa, nor will I permit you to address
such unseemly words to me. What I deem fitting I shall say, now and
always. It is my duty. You have called me here. What do you want? How
can I help you? In all things lawful I am ready to do so. Nay, I will
take the whole matter on myself if you desire."

As he spoke, Fra Pacifico stooped and raised Nobili's crumpled letter
from the floor. He spread it out open on the table. The marchesa
motioned to him to reseat himself. He did so.

"What I want?" she said, taking up the priest's words. "I will tell
you. When I bring Count Nobili here"--the marchesa spoke very slowly,
and stretched out her long fingers, as though she held him already in
her grasp--"when I bring Count Nobili here, I want you to perform
the marriage ceremony. It must take place immediately. Under the
circumstances the marriage had better be private."

"I shall not perform the ceremony," answered Fra Pacifico, his full,
deep voice ringing through the room, "at your bidding only. Enrica
must also consent. Enrica must consent in my presence."

As the light of the lamp struck upon Fra Pacifico, the lines about his
mouth deepened, and that look of courage and of command the people of
Corellia knew so well was marked upon his countenance. A rock might
have been moved, but not Fra Pacifico.

"Enrica shall obey me!" cried the marchesa. Her temper was rising
beyond control at the idea of any opposition at such a critical
moment. She had made her plan, settled it with Trenta; her plan must
be carried out. "Enrica shall obey me," she repeated. "Enrica will
obey me unless instigated by you, Fra Pacifico."

"My daughter," replied the priest, "if you forget the respect due to
my office, I shall leave you."

"Pardon me, my father," and the marchesa bowed stiffly; "but I appeal
to your justice. Can I allow that reprobate to break my niece's
heart?--to tarnish her good name? If there were a single Guinigi left,
he would stab Nobili like a dog! Such a fellow is unworthy the name
of gentleman. Marriage alone can remove the stain he has cast upon
Enrica. It is no question of sentiment. The marriage is essential
to the honor of my house. Enrica must be _called_ Countess Nobili,
whether Nobili pleases it or not. Else how can I keep his money? And
without his money--" She paused suddenly. In the warmth of speech the
marchesa had been actually led into the confession that Nobili was
necessary to her "I have the contract," she added. "Thank Heaven, I
have the contract! Nobili is legally bound by the contract."

"Yes, that may be," answered Fra Pacifico, reflectively, "if you
choose to force him. But I warn you that I will put no violence on
Enrica's feelings. She must decide for herself."

"But if Enrica still loves him," urged the marchesa, determined if
possible to avoid an appeal to her niece--"if Enrica still loves him,
as you assure me she does, may we not look upon her acquiescence as
obtained?"

Fra Pacifico shook his head. He was perfectly unmoved by the
marchesa's violence.

"Life, honor, position, reputation, all rest on this marriage. I have
accepted Count Nobili's money; Count Nobili must accept my niece."

"Your niece must nevertheless consent. I can permit no other
arrangement. Then you have to find Count Nobili. He must voluntarily
appear at the altar."

Fra Pacifico turned his resolute face full upon the marchesa. Her
whole attitude betrayed intense excitement.

"Your niece must consent, Count Nobili must appear voluntarily before
the altar, else the Church cannot sanction the union. It would be
sacrilege. How do you propose to overcome Count Nobili's refusal?"

"By the law!" exclaimed the marchesa, imperiously.

Fra Pacifico turned aside his head to conceal a smile. The law had not
hitherto favored the marchesa. Her constant appeal to the law had been
the principal cause of her present troubles.

"By the law," the marchesa repeated. Her sallow face glowed for a
moment. "Surely, Fra Pacifico--surely you will not oppose me? You
talk of the Church. The Church, indeed! Did not the wretch sign the
marriage-contract in your presence? The Church must enable him to
complete his contract. In your presence too, as priest and civil
delegate; and you talk of sacrilege, my father! Che! che! Dio buono!"
she exclaimed, losing all self-control in the conviction her own
argument brought to her--"Fra Pacifico, you must be mad!"

"I only ask for Enrica's consent," answered the priest. "That given,
if Count Nobili comes, I will consent to marry them."

"Count Nobili--he shall come--never fear," and the marchesa gave a
short, scornful laugh. "After I have been to Lucca he will come. I
shall have done my duty. It is all very well," added the marchesa,
loftily, "for low people to pair like animals, from inclination. Such
vulgar motives have no place in the world in which I live. Persons
of my rank form alliances among themselves from more elevated
considerations; from political and prudential motives; for the sake
of great wealth when wealth is required; to shed fresh lustre on
an historic name by adding to it the splendor of another equally
illustrious. My own marriage was arranged for this end. Again I remind
you, my father, that nothing but necessity would have forced me to
permit a usurer's son to dare to aspire to the hand of my niece. It is
a horrible degradation--the first blot on a spotless escutcheon."

"Again I warn you, my daughter, such pride is unseemly. Summon Enrica
at once. Let us hear what she says."

The marchesa drew back into the shadow, and was silent. As long as she
could bring her battery of arguments against Fra Pacifico, she felt
safe. What Enrica might say, who could tell? One word from Enrica
might overturn all her subtle combinations. That Fra Pacifico should
assist her was indispensable. Another priest, less interested in
Enrica, might, under the circumstances, refuse to unite them. Even if
that difficulty could be got over, the marchesa was fully alive to the
fact that a painful scene would probably occur--such a scene as ought
not to be witnessed by a stranger. Hence her hesitation in calling
Enrica.

During this pause Fra Pacifico crossed his arms upon his breast and
waited in silence.

"Let Enrica come," said the marchesa at last; "I have no objection."
She threw herself back on her seat, and doggedly awaited the result.

Fra Pacifico rose and opened a door on the other side of the room,
communicating with the vaulted passage which had connected the villa
with the tower.

"Who is there?" he called. (Bells were a luxury unknown at Corellia.)

"I," answered Angelo, running forward, his eyes gleaming like two
stars. Angelo sometimes acted as acolyte to Fra Pacifico. Angelo was
proud to show his alacrity to his reverence, who had often cuffed
him for his mischievous pranks; specially on one occasion, when Fra
Pacifico had found him in the act of pushing Gigi stealthily into the
marble basin of the fountain, to see if, being small, Gigi would swim
like the gold-fish.

"Go to the Signorina Enrica, Angelo, and tell her that the marchesa
wants her."

As long as Enrica was ill, Fra Pacifico went freely in and out of her
room; now that she was recovered, and had risen from her bed, it was
not suitable for him to seek her there himself.



CHAPTER V.

TO BE, OR NOT TO BE?


When Angelo knocked at Enrica's door, Pipa, who was with her, opened
it, and gave her Fra Pacifico's message. The summons was so sudden
Enrica had no time to think, but a wild, unmeaning delight possessed
her. It was so rare for her aunt to send for her she must be going to
tell her something about Nobili. With his name upon her lips, Enrica
started up from the chair on which she had been half lying, and ran
toward the door.

"Softly, softly, my blessed angel!" cried Pipa, following her with
outstretched arms as if she were a baby taking its first steps. "You
were all but dead this morning, and now you run like little Gigi when
I call to him."

"I can walk very well, Pipa." Enrica opened the door with feverish
haste. "I must not keep my aunt waiting."

"Let me put a shawl round you," insisted kind Pipa. "The evening is
fresh."

She wrapped a large white shawl about her, that made Enrica look paler
and more ghost-like than before.

"Nobody loves me like you, Pipa--nobody--dear Pipa!"

Enrica threw her soft arms around Pipa as she said this. She felt so
lonely the tears came into her eyes, already swollen with excessive
weeping.

"Who knows?" was Pipa's grave reply. "It is a strange world. You must
not judge a man always by what he does."

Enrica gave a deep sigh. She had hurried out of her room into the sala
with a headlong impulse to rush to her aunt. Now she dreaded what her
aunt might have to say to her. The little strength she had suddenly
left her. The warm blood that had mounted to her head chilled within
her veins. For a few moments she leaned against Pipa, who watched her
with anxious eyes. Then, disengaging herself from her, she trod feebly
across the floor. The sala was in darkness. Enrica stretched out
her hands before her to feel for the door. When she had found it she
stopped terrified. What was she about to hear? The deep voice of Fra
Pacifico was audible from within. Enrica placed her hand upon the
handle of the door--then she withdrew it. Without the autumn wind
moaned round the corners of the house. How it must roar in the abyss
under the cliffs! Enrica thought. How dark it must be down there in
the blackness of the night! Like letters written in fire, Nobili's
words rose up before her--"I am gone from you forever!" Oh! why was
she not dead?--Why was she not lying deep below, buried among the cold
rocks?--Enrica felt very faint. A groan escaped her.

Fra Pacifico, accustomed to listen to the almost inaudible sounds of
the sick and the dying, heard it.

The door opened. Enrica found herself within the room.

"Enrica," said the marchesa, addressing her blandly (did not all now
depend upon her?)--"Enrica, you look very pale."

She made no reply, but looked round vacantly. The light of the lamp,
coming suddenly out of the darkness, the finding herself face to face
with the marchesa, dazzled and alarmed her.

Fra Pacifico took both Enrica's hands in his, drew an arm-chair
forward, and placed her in it.

"Enrica, I have sent for you to ask you a question," the marchesa
spoke.

At the sound of her aunt's voice, Enrica shuddered visibly. Was it
not, after all, the marchesa's fault that Nobili had left her? Why had
the marchesa thrown her into Count Marescotti's company? Why had the
marchesa offered her in marriage to Count Marescotti without telling
her? At this moment Enrica loathed her. Something of all this passed
over her pallid face as she turned her eyes beseechingly toward Fra
Pacifico. The marchesa watched her with secret rage.

Was this silly, love-sick child about to annihilate the labors of her
life? Was this daughter of her husband's cousin, Antonio--a collateral
branch--about to consign the Guinigi name to the tomb? She could have
lifted up her voice and cursed her where she stood.

"Enrica, I have sent for you to ask you a question." Spite of her
efforts to be calm, there was a strange ring in her voice that made
Enrica look up at her. "Enrica, do you still love Count Nobili?"

"This is not a fair question," interrupted Fra Pacifico, coming to
the rescue of the distressed Enrica, who sat speechless before her
terrible aunt. "I know she still loves him. The love of a heart like
hers is not to be destroyed by such a letter as that, and the unjust
accusations it contains."

Fra Pacifico pointed with his finger to Nobili's letter lying where he
had placed it on the table. Seeing the letter, Enrica started back and
shivered.

"Is it not so, Enrica?"

The little blond head and the sad blue eyes bowed themselves gently in
response. A faint smile flitted across Enrica's face. Fra Pacifico had
spoken all her mind, which she in her weakness could not have done,
especially with her aunt's dark eyes riveted upon her.

"Then you still love Count Nobili?" The marchesa accentuated each word
with bitter emphasis.

"I do," answered Enrica, faintly.

"If Count Nobili returns here, will you marry him?"

As the marchesa spoke, Enrica trembled like a leaf. "What was she
to answer?" The little composure she had been able to assume utterly
forsook her. She who had believed that nothing was left but to die,
was suddenly called upon to live!

"O my aunt," Enrica cried, springing to her feet, "how can I look
Nobili in the face after that letter? He thinks I have deceived him."

Enrica stopped; the words seemed to choke her. With an imploring look,
she turned toward Fra Pacifico. Without knowing what she did Enrica
flung herself on the floor at his feet; she clasped his knees--she
turned her beseeching eyes into his.

"O my father, help me! Nobili is my very life. How can I refuse what
is my very life? When Nobili left me, my first thought was to die!"

"Surely, my daughter, not by a violent death?" asked Fra Pacifico,
stooping over her.

"Yes, yes," and Enrica wrung her hands, "yes, I would have done it--I
could not bear to live without him."

A look of sorrow and reproach darkened Fra Pacifico's brow. He crossed
himself. "God be praised," he exclaimed, "you were saved from that
wickedness!"

"My father"--Enrica extended her arms toward him--"I implore you, for
the love of Jesus, let me enter a convent!"

In these few and simple words Enrica had tried all her powers of
persuasion. The words were addressed to the priest; but her blue eyes,
filled with tears, gathered themselves upon the marchesa imploringly.
Enrica awaited her fate in silence. The priest rose and gently
replaced her on her chair. All the benevolence of his manly nature
was called forth. He cast a searching glance at the marchesa. Nothing
betrayed her feelings.

"Calm yourself, Enrica," Fra Pacifico said, soothingly. "No one seeks
to hurry or to force you. But I could not for a moment sanction your
entering a convent. In your present state of mind it would be an
unholy and an unnatural act."

Although outwardly unmoved, never in her life had the marchesa felt
such exultation. Had Fra Pacifico seconded Enrica's proposal to enter
a convent, all would have been lost! Still nothing was absolutely
decided. It was possible Fra Pacifico might yet frustrate her plans.
She ventured another question.

"If Count Nobili meets you at the altar, you will not then refuse to
marry him?"

There was an imperceptible tremor in the marchesa's voice. The
suspense was becoming intolerable to her.

"Refuse to marry him? Refuse Nobili? No, no, I can refuse Nobili
nothing," answered Enrica, dreamily. "But he will not come!--he is
gone forever!"

"He will come," insisted the marchesa, pushing her advantage
skillfully.

"But will he love me?" asked the tender young voice. "Will he believe
that I love him? Oh, tell me that!--Father Pacifico, help me! I cannot
think." Enrica pressed her hands to her forehead. She had suffered so
much, now that the crisis had come she was stunned, she had no power
to decide. "Dare I marry him?--Ought we to part forever?" A flush
gathered on her cheek, an ineffable longing shone from her eyes.
More than life was in the balance--not only to Enrica, but to
the marchesa--the marchesa, who, wrapped within the veil of her
impenetrable reserve, breathlessly awaited, an answer.

Fra Pacifico showed unmistakable signs of agitation. He rose from his
chair, and for some minutes strode rapidly up and down the room, the
floor creaking under his heavy tread. The life of this fragile girl
lay in his hands. How could he resist that pleading look? Enrica had
done nothing wrong. Was Enrica to suffer--die, perhaps--because Nobili
had wrongfully accused her? Fra Pacifico passed his large, muscular
hand thoughtfully over his clean-shaven chin, then stopped to gaze
upon her. Her lips were parted, her eyes dilated to their utmost
limit.

"My child," he said at last, laying his hand upon her head with
fatherly tenderness--"my child, if Count Nobili returns here, you will
be justified in marrying him."

Enrica sank back and closed her eyes. A great leap of joy overwhelmed
her. She dared not question her happiness. To behold Nobili once
more--only to behold him--filled her with rapture.

"What is your answer, Enrica? I must hear your answer from yourself."

The marchesa spoke out of the darkness. She shrank from allowing Fra
Pacifico to scrutinize the exultation marked on her every feature.

"My aunt, if Nobili comes here to claim me, I will marry him,"
answered Enrica, more firmly. "But stop"--her eye had meanwhile
traveled to the letter still lying on the table--a horrible doubt
crossed her mind. "Will Nobili know that I am not what he says
there--in that letter?"

Enrica could bring herself to say no more. She longed to ask all that
had happened about Count Marescotti, and how her name had been mixed
up with his, but the words refused to come.

"Leave that to me," answered the marchesa, imperiously. "If Count
Nobili comes to marry you, is not that proof enough that he is
satisfied?"

Enrica felt that it must be so. A wild joy possessed her. This joy was
harder to bear than the pain. Enrica was actually sinking under the
hope that Nobili might return to her!

Fra Pacifico noticed the gray shadow that was creeping over her face.

"Enrica must go at once to her room," he said abruptly, "else I cannot
answer for the consequences. Her strength is overtaxed."

As he spoke, Fra Pacifico hastily opened the door leading into the
sala. He took Enrica by the hand and raised her. She was perfectly
passive. The marchesa rose also; for the first time she came into
the full light of the lamp. Enrica stooped and kissed her hand
mechanically.

"My niece, you may prepare for your approaching marriage. Count Nobili
will be here shortly--never fear."

The marchesa's manner was strange, almost menacing. Fra Pacifico led
Enrica across the sala to her own door. When he returned, the marchesa
was again reading Count Nobili's letter.

"A love-match in the Guinigi family!" She was laughing with derision.
"What are we coming to?"

She tore the letter into innumerable fragments.

"My father, I shall leave for Lucca early to-morrow. You must look
after Enrica. I am satisfied with what has passed."

"God send we have done right!" answered the priest, gloomily. "Now at
least she has a chance of life."

"Adieu, Fra Pacifico. When next we meet it will be at the marriage."

Fra Pacifico withdrew. Had he done his duty?--Fra Pacifico dared not
ask himself the question.



CHAPTER VI.

THE CHURCH AND THE LAW.


Ten days after the departure of the marchesa, Fra Pacifico received
the following letter:

REVEREND AND ESTEEMED FATHER: I have put the matter of Enrica's
marriage into the hands of the well-known advocate, Maestro Guglielmi,
of Lucca. He at once left for Rome. By extraordinary diligence he
procured a summons for Count Nobili to appear within fifteen
days before the tribunal, to answer in person for his breach of
marriage-contract--unless, before the expiration of that time, he
should make the contract good by marriage. The citation was left with
the secretary at Count Nobili's own house. Maestro Guglielmi also
informed the secretary, by my order, that, in default of his--Count
Nobili's--appearance, a detailed account of the whole transaction with
my niece, and of other transactions touching Count Nobili's father,
known to me--of which I have informed Maestro Guglielmi--would be
published--upon my authority--in every newspaper in all the cities
throughout Italy, with such explanations and particulars as I might
see fit to insert. Also that the name of Count Nobili, as a slanderer
and a perjurer, should be placarded on all the spare walls of
Lucca, at Florence, and throughout Tuscany. The secretary denies any
knowledge of his master's present address. He declared that he was
unable, therefore, to communicate with him.

In the mean time a knowledge of the facts has spread through this
city. The public voice is with us to a man. Once more the citizens
have rallied round the great Guinigi name. Crowds assemble daily
before Count Nobili's palace. His name is loudly execrated by the
citizens. Stones have been thrown, and windows broken; indeed,
there are threats of burning the palace. The authorities have not
interfered. Count Nobili has now, I hear, returned privately to Lucca.
He dares not show himself, or he would be stabbed; but Count Nobili's
lawyer has had a conference with Maestro Guglielmi. Cavaliere Trenta
insisted upon being present. This was against my will. Cavaliere
Trenta always says too much. Maestro Guglielmi gave Count Nobili's
lawyer three days to decide. At the expiration of that time Signore
Guglielmi met him again. Count Nobili's lawyer declared that with the
utmost difficulty he had prevailed upon his client to make good
the contract by the religious ceremony of marriage. Let every thing
therefore be ready for the ceremony. This letter is private. You will
say nothing further to my niece than that Count Nobili will arrive
at Corellia at two o'clock the day after to-morrow to marry her.
Farewell.

Your friend and well-wisher,

"MARCHESA GUINIGI."

The morning of the third day rose gray and chill at Corellia. Much
rain had fallen during the night, and a damp mist streamed up from the
valleys, shutting out the mighty range of mountains. In the plains of
Pisa and Florence the October sun still blazed glorious as ever on the
lush grass and flowery meadows--on the sluggish streams and the rich
blossoms. There, the trees still rustled in green luxuriance, to
soft breezes perfumed with orange-trees and roses. But in the
mountain-fastnesses of the Apennines autumn had come on apace. Such
faded leaves as clung to the shrubs about the villa were drooping
under the weight of the rain-drops, and a few autumnal flowers that
still lit up the broad borders lay prostrate on the earth. Each tiny
stream and brawling water-course--even mere little humble rills
that dried up in summer--now rushed downward over rocks and stones
blackened with moss, to pour themselves into the river Serchio. In the
forest the turf was carpeted with yellow leaves, carried hither and
thither by the winds. The stems and branches of the chestnuts ranged
themselves, tier above tier, like silver pillars, against the red
sandstone of the rocks. The year was dying out, and with the year all
Nature was dying out likewise.

Within the villa a table was spread in the great sala, with wine and
such simple refreshments as the brief notice allowed. As the morning
advanced, clouds gathered more thickly over the heavens. The gloomy
daylight coming in at the doors, and through the many windows, caught
up no ray within. The vaguely-sailing ships painted upon the wall,
destined never to find a port in those unknown seas for which their
sails were set--and that exasperating company opposite, that
through all changes of weal or woe danced remorselessly under the
greenwood--were shrouded in misty shadows.

Not a sound broke the silence--nothing save the striking of the clock
at Corellia, bringing with it visions of the dark old church--the
kneeling women--and the peace of God within. Even Argo and his
friends--Juno and Tuzzi, and the bull-dog--were mute.

About twelve o'clock the marchesa arrived from Lucca. In her company
came the Cavaliere Trenta and Maestro Guglielmi. Fra Pacifico was in
waiting. He received them with grave courtesy. Adamo, arrayed by Pipa
in his Sunday clothes, with a flower behind his ear, and Silvestro,
stood uncovered at the entrance. Once, and once only, Silvestro
abstained from addressing his mistress with his usual question about
her health.

Maestro Guglielmi was formally presented to Fra Pacifico by the
punctilious cavaliere, now restored to his usual health and spirits.
The cavaliere had arrayed himself in his official uniform--dark-purple
velvet embroidered with gold. Not having worn the uniform, however,
for more than twenty years, the coat was much too small for him. In
his hand he carried a white staff of office. This served him as a
stick. Coming up from Lucca, the cavaliere had reflected that on him
solely must rest the care of imparting some show of dignity to the
ceremony about to take place. He resolved that he would be equal to
the occasion, whatever might occur.

There was a strange hush upon each one of the little group met in the
sala. Each was busy with his own thoughts. The marriage about to take
place was to the marchesa the resurrection of the Guinigi name. To
Fra Pacifico it was the possible rescue of Enrica from a life of
suffering, perhaps an early death. To Guglielmi it was the triumph of
the keen lawyer, who had tracked and pursued his prey until that prey
had yielded. To the cavaliere it was simply an act of justice which
Count Nobili owed to Enrica, after the explanations he (Trenta) had
given to him through his lawyer, respecting Count Marescotti--such an
act of justice as the paternal government of his master the Duke
of Lucca would have forced, upon the strength of his absolute
prerogative, irrespective of law. The only person not outwardly
affected was the marchesa. The marchesa had said nothing since her
arrival, but there was a haughty alacrity of step and movement, as she
walked down the sala toward the door of her own apartment, that spoke
more than words.

No sooner had the sound of her closing door died away in the echoes of
the sala than Trenta, with forward bows both to Fra Pacifico and the
lawyer, requested permission to leave them, in order to visit Enrica.
Guglielmi and Fra Pacifico were now alone. Guglielmi gave a cautious
glance round, then walked up to the table, and poured out a tumbler
of wine, which he swallowed slowly. As he did so, he was engaged in
closely scrutinizing Fra Pacifico, who, full of anxiety as to what was
about to happen, stood lost in thought.

Maestro Guglielmi, whose age might be about forty, was a man, once
seen, not easily forgotten--a tall, slight man of quick subtile
movements, that betrayed the devouring activity within. Maestro
Guglielmi had a perfectly colorless face, a prominent, eager nose,
thin lips, that perpetually unclosed to a ghostly smile in which the
other features took no part; a brow already knitted with those fine
wrinkles indicative of constant study, and overhanging eyebrows that
framed a pair of eyes that read you like a book. It would have been a
bold man who, with those eyes fixed on him, would have told a lie to
Maestro Guglielmi, advocate in the High Court of Lucca. If any man had
so lied, those eyes would have gathered up the light, and flashed it
forth again in lightnings that might consume him. That they were dark
and flaming, and greatly dreaded by all on whom Guglielmi fixed them
in opposition, was generally admitted by his legal compeers.

"Reverend sir," began Maestro Guglielmi, blandly, stepping up to where
the priest stood a little apart, and speaking in a metallic voice
audible in any court of law, be it ever so closely packed--"it
gratifies me much that chance has so ordered it that we two are left
alone." Guglielmi took out his watch. "We have a good half-hour to
spare."

Fra Pacifico turned, and for the first time contemplated the lawyer
attentively. As he did so, he noted with surprise the power of his
eyes.

"I earnestly desire some conversation with you," continued Guglielmi,
the semblance of a smile flitting over his hard face. "Can we speak
here securely?" And the lawyer glanced round at the various doors, and
particularly to an open one, which led from the sala to the chapel,
at the farther end of the house. Fra Pacifico moved forward and closed
it.

"You are quite safe--say what you please," he answered, bluntly. His
frank nature rose involuntarily against the cunning of Guglielmi's
look and manner. "We have no spies here."

"Pardon me, I did not mean to insinuate that. But what I have to say
is strictly private."

Fra Pacifico eyed Guglielmi with no friendly expression.

"I know you well by repute, reverend sir"--with one comprehensive
glance Guglielmi seemed to take in Fra Pacifico mentally and
physically--"therefore it is that I address myself to you."

The priest crossed his arms and bowed.

"The marchesa has confided to me the charge of this most delicate
case. Hitherto I have conducted it with success. It is not my habit
to fail. I have succeeded in convincing Count Nobili's lawyer, and
through him Count Nobili himself, that it would be suicidal to his
interests should he not make good the marriage-contract with the
Marchesa Guinigi's niece. If Count Nobili refuses, he must leave
the country. He has established himself in Lucca, and desires, as I
understand, to remain there. My noble client has done me the honor
to inform me that she is acquainted with, and can prove, some act of
villainy committed by his father, who, though he ended his life as
an eminent banker at Florence, began it as a money-lender at Leghorn.
Count Nobili's father filled in a blank check which a client had
incautiously left in his hands, to an enormous amount, or something of
that kind, I believe. I refused to notice this circumstance legally,
feeling sure that we were strong enough without it. I was also sure
that giving publicity to such a fact would only prejudice the position
of the future husband of the marchesa's niece. To return. Fortunately,
Count Nobili's lawyer saw the case as I put it to him. Count-Nobili
will, undoubtedly, be here at two o'clock." Again the lawyer took out
his watch, looked at it, and replaced it with rapidity. "A good deal
of hard work is comprised in that sentence, 'Count Nobili will be
here!'" Again there was the ghost of a smile. "Lawyers must not
always be judged by the result. In this case, however, the result is
favorable, eminently favorable."

Fra Pacifico's face deepened into a look of disgust, but he said
nothing.

"Count Nobili once here and joined to the young lady by the Church,
_we must keep him_. The spouses must pass twenty-four hours under the
same roof to complete and legalize the marriage. I am here officially,
to see that Count Nobili attends at the time appointed for the
ceremony. In reality, I am here to see that Count Nobili remains. This
must be no formal union. They must be bound together irrevocably. You
must help me, reverend sir."

Maestro Guglielmi turned quickly upon Fra Pacifico. His eyes ran all
over him. The priest drew back.

"I have already stretched my conscience to the utmost for the sake of
the lady. I can do nothing more."

"But, my father, it is surely to the lady's advantage that, if the
count marries her, they should live together, that heirs should be
born to them," pleaded Guglielmi in a most persuasive voice. "If the
count separates from his wife after the ceremony, how can this be?
We do not live in the days of miracles, though we have an infallible
pope. Eh, my father? Not in the days of miracles." Guglielmi gave an
ironical laugh, and his eyes twinkled. "Besides, there is the civil
ceremony."

"The Sindaco of Corellia can be present, if you please, for the civil
marriage."

"Unfortunately, there is no time to call the sindaco now," replied
Guglielmi. "If Count Nobili remains the night in company with his
bride, we shall have no difficulty about the civil marriage to-morrow.
Count Nobili will not object then. Not likely."

The lawyer gave a harsh, cynical laugh that grated offensively upon
the priest's ear. Fra Pacifico began to think Maestro Guglielmi
intolerable.

"That is your affair. I will undertake no further responsibility,"
responded Fra Pacifico, doggedly.

"You cannot mean, my father, that you will not help me?" And Guglielmi
contemplated Fra Pacifico fixedly with all the lightnings he could
bring to bear upon him. To his amazement, he produced no effect
whatever. Fra Pacifico remained silent. Altogether this was a priest
different from any he had ever met with--Guglielmi hated priests--he
began to be interested in Fra Pacifico.

"Well, well," was Guglielmi's reply, with an aspect of intense
chagrin, "I had better hopes. Your position, Fra Pacifico, as a
peace-maker--as a friend of the family--however"--here the lawyer
shrugged his shoulders, and his eyes wandered restlessly up and down
the room--"however, at least permit me to tell you what I intend to
do."

Fra Pacifico bowed coldly.

"As you please," was his reply.

Maestro Guglielmi advanced close to Fra Pacifico, and lowered his
voice almost to a whisper.

"The circumstances attending this marriage are becoming very public.
My client, the Marchesa Guinigi, considers her position so exalted she
dares to court publicity. She forgets we are not in the middle ages.
Ha! ha!" and Guglielmi showed his teeth in a smile that was nothing
but a grin--"publicity will be fatal to the young lady. This the
marchesa fails to see; but I see it, and you see it, my father."

Fra Pacifico shook himself all over as though silently rejecting any
possible participation in Maestro Guglielmi's arguments. Guglielmi
quite understood the gesture, but continued, perfectly at his ease:

"The high rank of the young lady--the wealth of the count--a
marriage-contract broken--an illustrious name libeled--Count Nobili,
a well-known member of the Jockey Club, in concealment--the Lucchese
populace roused to fury--all these details have reached the capital.
A certain royal personage"--here Guglielmi drew himself up pompously,
and waved his hand, as was his wont in the fervor of a grand
peroration--"a certain royal personage, who has reasons of his own
for avoiding unnecessary scandal (possibly because the royal personage
causes so much himself, and considers scandal his own prerogative)
"--Guglielmi emphasized his joke with such scintillation as would
metaphorically have taken any other man than Fra Pacifico off his
legs--even Fra Pacifico stared at him with astonishment--"a certain
royal personage, I say--earnestly desires that this affair should
be amicably arranged--that the republican party should not have the
gratification of gloating over a sensational trial between two noble
families (the republicans would make terrible capital out of
it)--a certain personage desires, I say, that the affair should be
arranged--amicably arranged--not only by a formal marriage--the
formal marriage, of course, we positively insist on--but by a complete
reconciliation between the parties. If this should not be so, the
present ceremony will infallibly lead to a lawsuit respecting the
civil marriage--the domicile--and the cohabitation--which it is
distinctly understood that Count Nobili will refuse, and that
the Marchesa Guinigi, acting for her niece, will maintain. It is
essential, therefore, that more than the formal ceremony shall take
place. It is essential that the subsequent cohabitation--"

"I see your drift," interrupted downright Fra Pacifico, in his blunt
way; "no need to go into further details."

Spite of himself, Fra Pacifico had become interested in the narrative.
The cunning lawyer intended that Fra Pacifico should become so
interested. What was the strong-fisted, simple-hearted priest beside
such a sophist as Maestro Guglielmi!

"The royal personage in question," continued Guglielmi, who read in
Fra Pacifico's frank countenance that he had conquered his repugnance,
"has done me the high honor of communicating to me his august
sentiments. I have pledged myself to do all I can to prevent the
catastrophe of law. My official capacity, however, ends with Count
Nobili's presence here at the appointed hour."

At the word "hour" Guglielmi hastily pulled out his watch.

"Only a few minutes more," he muttered. "But this is not all. Listen,
my father."

He gave a hasty glance round, then put his lips close to the priest's
ear.

"If I succeed--may I say _we_?" he added, insinuatingly--"if _we_
succeed, a canonry will be offered to you, Fra Pacifico; and I"
(Guglielmi's speaking eyes became brilliantly emphatic now)--"I shall
be appointed judge of the tribunal at Lucca."

"Pshaw!" cried Fra Pacifico, retreating from him with an expression
of blank disappointment. "I a canon at Lucca! If that is to be
the consequence of success, you must depend on yourself, Signore
Guglielmi. I decline to help you. I would not be a canon at Lucca if
the King of Italy asked me in person."

Guglielmi, whose tactics were, if he failed, never to show it, smiled
his falsest smile.

"Noble disinterestedness!" he exclaimed, drawing his delicate hand
across his brow. "Nothing could have raised your reverence higher in
my esteem than this refusal!"

To conceal his real annoyance, Maestro Guglielmi turned away and
coughed. It was a diplomatic cough, ready on all emergencies. Again he
consulted his watch.

"Five minutes more, then we must assemble at the altar. A fine will be
levied upon Count Nobili, if he is not punctual."

"If it is so near the time, I must beg you to excuse me," said Fra
Pacifico, glad to escape.

Fra Pacifico, walked rapidly toward the door opening into the corridor
leading to the chapel. His retreating figure was followed by
a succession of fireworks from Guglielmi's eyes, indicative of
indignation and contempt.

"He who sleeps catches no fish," the lawyer muttered to himself,
biting his lips. "But the priest will help me--spite of himself, he
will help me. A health to Holy Mother Church! She would not do much if
all her ministers were like this country clod. He is without ambition.
He has quite fatigued me."

Saying this, Maestro Guglielmi poured out another glass of wine. He
critically examined the wine in the light before putting it to his
lips; then he swallowed it with an expression of approbation.



CHAPTER VII.

THE HOUR STRIKES.


The chapel was approached by a door communicating with the corridor.
(There was another entrance from the garden; at this entrance Adamo
was stationed.) It was narrow and lofty, more like a gallery than a
chapel, except that the double windows at either end were arched and
filled with stained glass. The altar was placed in a recess facing the
door opening from the corridor. It was of dark marble raised on
steps, and was backed by a painting too much blackened by smoke to
be distinguished. Within the rails stood Fra Pacifico, arrayed in
a vestment of white and gold. The grand outline of his tall figure
filled the front of the altar. No one would have recognized the parish
priest in the stately ecclesiastic who wore his robes with so much
dignity. Beside Fra Pacifico was Angelo transformed into an acolyte,
wearing a linen surplice--Angelo awed into perfect propriety--swinging
a silver censer, and only to be recognized by the twinkling of his
wicked eyes (not even Fra Pacifico could tame them). To the right of
the altar stood the marchesa. Maestro Guglielmi, tablets in hand,
was beside her. Behind, at a respectful distance, appeared Silvestro,
gathered up into the smallest possible compass.

As the slow moments passed, all stood so motionless--all save Angelo,
swinging the silver censer--they might have passed for a sculptured
group upon a marble tomb. One--two--struck from the old clock in the
Lombard Tower at Corellia. At the last stroke the door from the garden
was thrown open. Count Nobili stood in the doorway. At the moment of
Count Nobili's appearance Maestro Guglielmi drew out his watch;
then he proceeded to note upon his tablets that Count Nobili, having
observed the appointed time, was not subject to a fine.

Count Nobili paused on the threshold, then he advanced to the altar.
That he had come in haste was apparent. His dress was travel-stained
and dusty; the locks of his abundant chestnut hair matted and rough;
his whole appearance wild and disordered. All the outward polish of
the man was gone; the happy smile contagious in its brightness; the
pleasant curl of the upper lip raising the fair mustache; the kindling
eye so capable of tenderness. His expression was of a man undergoing a
terrible ordeal; defiance, shame, anger, contended on his face.

There was something in the studied negligence of Count Nobili's
appearance that irritated the marchesa to the last degree of
endurance. She bridled with rage, and exchanged a significant glance
with Guglielmi.

Footsteps were now heard coming from the sala. It was Enrica, led
by the cavaliere. Enrica was whiter than her bridal veil. She had
suffered Pipa to array her as she pleased, without a word. Her hair
was arranged in a coronet upon her head; a whole sheaf of golden curls
hung down from it behind. There were the exquisite symmetry of form,
the natural grace, the dreamy beauty--all the soft harmony of color
upon her oval face--but the freshness of girlhood was gone. Enrica had
made a desperate effort to be calm. Nobili was under the same roof--in
the same room--Nobili was beside her. Would he not show some sign
that he still loved her?--Else why had he come?--One glance at him was
enough. Oh! he was changed!--She could not bear it. Enrica would have
fled had not Trenta held her. The marchesa, too, advanced a step or
two, and cast upon her a look so menacing that it filled her with
terror. Trembling all over, Enrica clung to the cavaliere. He led her
gently forward, and placed her beside Count Nobili standing at the
altar. Thus unsupported, Enrica tottered--she seemed about to fall. No
hand was stretched out to help her.

Nobili had turned visibly pale as Enrica entered. His face was
averted. The witnesses, Adamo and Silvestro, ranged themselves on
either side. The marchesa and Maestro Guglielmi drew nearer to the
altar. Angelo waved the censer, walking to and fro before the rails.
Pipa peeped in at the open doorway. Her eyes were red with weeping.
Pipa looked round aghast.

"What a marriage was this! More like a death than a marriage! She
would not have married so--not if it had cost her her life--no music,
no rose-leaves, no dance, no wine. None had even changed their clothes
but the cavaliere and the signorina. And a bridegroom like that!--a
statue--not a living man! And the signorina--poverina--hardly able to
stand upon her feet! The signorina would be sure to faint, she was so
weak."

Pipa had to muffle her face in her handkerchief to drown her sobs.
Then Fra Pacifico's impressive voice broke the silence with the
opening words of exhortation.

"Deus Israel sit vobiscum."

"Gloria patri," was the response in Angelo's childish treble.

Enrica and Nobili now knelt side by side. Two lighted tapers, typical
of chaste love, were placed on the floor beside them on either hand.
The image of the Virgin on the altar was uncovered. The tall candles
flickered, Enrica and Nobili knelt side by side--the man who had
ceased to love, and the woman who still loved, but who dared not
confess her love!

As Fra Pacifico proceeded, Count Nobili's face hardened. Was not the
basilisk eye of the marchesa upon him? Her lawyer, too, taking notes
of every look and gesture?

"Mario Nobili, wilt thou have this woman to be thy wife?" asked the
priest. Turning from the altar, Fra Pacifico faced Count Nobili as he
put this question.

A hot flush overspread Nobili's face. He opened his lips to speak, but
no words were audible. Would the words not come, or would Nobili at
the last moment refuse to utter them?

"Mario Nobili, wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife?"
sternly repeated Fra Pacifico, fixing his dark eyes upon him.

"I will," answered Nobili. Whatever his feelings were, Nobili had
mastered them.

For an instant Nobili's eye met Enrica's. He turned hastily away.
Enrica sighed. Whatever hopes had buoyed her up were gone. Nobili had
turned away from her!

Fra Pacifico placed Enrica's hand in that of Nobili. Poor little
hand--how it trembled! Ah! would Nobili not recall how fondly he had
clasped it? What kisses he had showered upon each rosy little finger!
So lately, too! No--Nobili is impassive; not a feature of his face
changes. But the contact of Nobili's beloved hand utterly overcame
Enrica. The limit of her endurance was reached. Again the shadow of
death was upon her--the shadow that had led her to the dark abyss.

When Nobili dropped her hand; Enrica leaned forward upon the edge
of the marble rails. She hid her head upon her arms. Her long hair,
escaped from the fastening, shrouded her face.

"Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus!" spoke the deep voice of Fra Pacifico.

He made the sign of the cross. The address followed. The priest's last
words died away in sonorous echoes. It was done. They were man and
wife!

Fra Pacifico had by no outward sign betrayed what he felt during the
discharge of his office; but his conscience sorely smote him. He asked
himself with dismay if, in helping Enrica, he had not committed a
mortal sin? Hitherto he had defended Count Nobili; now his whole soul
rose against him. "Would Nobili say nothing in justification?"
Spite of himself, Fra Pacifico's fists clinched themselves under his
vestments.

But Nobili was about to speak. He gave a hurried glance round the
circle--upon Enrica kneeling at the altar; with the air of a man who
forces himself to do a hateful penance, he broke silence.

"In the presence of the blessed sacrament"--his voice was thick and
hoarse--"I declare that, after the explanations given, I withdraw my
accusations. I hold that lady, now Countess Nobili"--and he pointed to
the motionless mass of white drapery kneeling beside him--"I hold
that lady innocent in thought and life. But I include her in the just
indignation with which I regard this house and its mistress, whose
agent she has made herself to deceive me."

Count Nobili's kindling eye rested on the marchesa. She, in her turn,
shot a furious glance at the cavaliere.

"'Explanations given!' Then Trenta had dared to exonerate Enrica! It
was degrading!"

"This reparation made," continued Count Nobili--"my name and hand
given to her by the Church--honor is satisfied: I will never live with
her!"

Was there no mercy in the man as he pronounced these last words? No
appeal? No mercy? Or had the marchesa driven him to bay?

The marchesa!--Nobili's last words had shattered the whole fabric of
her ambition! Never for a moment had the marchesa doubted that, the
marriage once over, Nobili would have seriously refused the splendid
position she offered him. Look at her!--She cannot conceal her
consternation.

"I invite you, therefore, Maestro Guglielmi"--the studied calmness of
Nobili's manner belied the agitation of his voice and aspect--"you,
Maestro Guglielmi, who have been called here expressly to insult me--I
invite you to advise the Marchesa Guinigi to accept what I am willing
to offer."

"To insult you, Count Nobili?" exclaimed Guglielmi, looking round.
(Guglielmi had turned aside to write a few hurried words upon his
tablets, torn out the leaf, and slipped it into the marchesa's hand.
So rapidly was this done, no one had perceived it.) "To insult you?
Surely not to insult you! Allow me to explain."

"Silence!" thundered Fra Pacifico standing before the altar. "In the
name of God, silence! Let those who desire to wrangle choose a fitter
place. There can be no contentions in the presence of the sacrament.
The declaration of Count Nobili's belief in the virtue of his wife
I permitted. I listened to what followed, praying that, if human
aid failed, God, hearing his blasphemy against the holy sacrament of
marriage, might touch his heart. In the hands of God I leave him!"

Having thus spoken, Fra Pacifico replaced the Host in the ciborium,
and, assisted by Angelo, proceeded to divest himself of his robes,
which he laid one by one upon the altar.

At this instant the marchesa rose and left the chapel. Count Nobili's
eyes followed her with a look of absolute loathing. Without one glance
at Enrica, still immovable, her head buried on her arms, Nobili left
the altar. He walked slowly to the window at the farther end of the
chapel. Turning his back upon all present, he took from his pocket a
parchment, which he perused with deep attention.

All this time Cavaliere Trenta, radiant in his official costume, his
white staff of office in his right hand, had remained standing behind
Enrica. Each instant he expected to see her rise, when it would
devolve on him to lead her away; but she had not stirred. Now the
cavaliere felt that the fitting moment had fully come for Enrica to
withdraw. Indeed, he wondered within himself why she had remained so
long.

"Enrica, rise, my child," he said, softly. "There is nothing more to
be done. The ceremony is over."

Still Enrica did not move. Fra Pacifico leaned over the altar-rails,
and gently raised her head. It dropped back upon his hand--Enrica had
fainted.

This discovery caused the most terrible commotion. Pipa, who had
watched every thing from the door, screamed and ran forward. Fra
Pacifico was bending over the prostrate girl, supported in the arms of
the cavaliere.

"I feared this," Fra Pacifico whispered. "Thank God, I believe it is
only momentary! We must carry her instantly to her room. I will take
care of her."

"Poor, broken flower!" cried Trenta, "who will raise thee up?" His
voice came thick, struggling with sobs. "Can you see that unmoved,
Count Nobili?" Trenta pointed to the retreating figure of Fra Pacifico
bearing Enrica in his arms.

At the sound of Trenta's voice, Count Nobili started and turned
around. Enrica had already disappeared.

"You will soon give her another bridegroom--he will not leave her
as you have done--that bridegroom will be Death! To-day it is the
bridal-veil--to-morrow it will be the shroud. Not a month ago she
lay upon what might have been her death-bed. Your infamous letter
did that!" The remembrance of that letter roused the cavaliere out of
himself; he cared not what he said. "That letter almost killed her.
Would to God she had died! What has she done? She is an angel! We were
all here when you signed the contract. Why did you break it?" Trenta's
shrill voice had risen into a kind of wail. "Do you mean to doubt what
I told you at Lucca? I swear to you that Enrica never knew that she
was offered in marriage to Count Marescotti--I swear it!--I did it--it
was my fault. I persuaded the marchesa. It was I. Enrica and Count
Marescotti never met but in my presence. And you revenge yourself on
her? If you had the heart of a man, you could not do it!"

"It is because I have the heart of a man, I will not suffer
degradation!" cried Nobili. "It is because I have the heart of a man,
I will not sink into an unworthy tool! This is why I refuse to live
with her. She is one of a vile conspiracy. She has joined with the
marchesa against me. I have been forced to marry her. I will not live
with her!"

Count Nobili stopped suddenly. An agonized expression came into his
face.

"I screened her in the first fury of my anger--I screened her when
I believed her guilty. Now it is too late--God help her!" He turned
abruptly away.

Cavaliere Trenta, whose vehemence had died away as suddenly as it had
risen, crept to the door. He threw up his hands in despair. There was
no help for Enrica!

All this time Maestro Guglielmi's keen eyes had noted every thing. He
was on the lookout for evidence. Persons under strong emotions, as a
rule, commit themselves. Count Nobili was young and hot-headed. Count
Nobili would probably commit himself. Up to this time Count Nobili had
said nothing, however, that could be made use of. Guglielmi's ready
brain worked incessantly. If he could carry out the plan he had
formed, he might yet be a judge within the year. Already Guglielmi
feels the touch of the soft fur upon his official robes!

After the cavaliere's departure, Guglielmi advanced. He had been
standing so entirely concealed in the shadow thrown by the altar, that
Nobili had forgotten his presence. Nobili now stared at him in angry
surprise.

"With your permission," said the lawyer, with a low bow, accosting
Nobili, "I hope to convince you how much you have wronged me by your
accusation."

"What accusation?" demanded the count, drawing back toward the window.
"I do not understand you."

Guglielmi was the marchesa's adviser; Count Nobili hated him.

"Your accusation that 'I am here to insult you.' If you will do me the
honor, Count Nobili, to speak to me in private"--Guglielmi glanced at
Silvestro, Adamo, and Angelo, peering out half hid by the altar--"if
you will do me this honor, I will prove to you that I am here to serve
you."

"That is impossible," answered Nobili. "Nor do I care. I leave this
house immediately."

"But allow me to observe, Count Nobili," and Maestro Guglielmi drew
himself up with an air of offended dignity, "you are bound as a
gentleman to retract those words, or to hear my explanation." (Delay
at any price was Guglielmi's object.) "Surely, Count Nobili, you
cannot refuse me this satisfaction?"

Count Nobili hesitated. What could this strange man have to say to
him?

Guglielmi watched him.

"You will spare me half an hour?" he urged. "That will suffice."

Count Nobili looked greatly embarrassed.

"A thousand thanks!" exclaimed Guglielmi, accepting his silence for
consent. "I will not trespass needlessly on your time. Permit me to
find some one to conduct you to a room."

Guglielmi looked round--Angelo came forward.

"Conduct Count Nobili to the room prepared for him," said the lawyer.
"There, Count Nobili, I will attend you in a few minutes."



CHAPTER VIII.

FOR THE HONOR OF A NAME.


When the marchesa entered the sala after she had left the chapel, her
steps were slow and measured. Count Nobili's words rang in her ear: "I
will not live with her." She could not put these words from her. For
the first time in her life the marchesa was shaken in the belief of
her mission.

If Count Nobili refused to live with Enrica as his wife, all the law
in the world could not force him. If no heir was born to the Guinigi,
she had lived in vain.

As the marchesa stood in the dull light of the misty afternoon,
leaning against the solid carved table on which refreshments were
spread, the old palace at Lucca rose up before her dyed with the ruddy
tints of summer sunsets. She trod again in thought those mysterious
rooms, shrouded in perpetual twilight. She gazed upon the faces of the
dead, looking down upon her from the walls. How could she answer
to those dead; for what had she done? That heroic face too with the
stern, soft eyes--how could she meet it? What was Count Nobili or his
wealth to her without an heir? By threats she had forced Nobili to
make Enrica his wife, but no threats could compel him to complete the
marriage.

As she lingered in the sala, stunned by the blow that had fallen
upon her, the marchesa suddenly recollected the penciled lines which
Guglielmi had torn from his tablet and slipped into her hand. She drew
the paper from the folds of her dress and read these words:

    "_We are beaten if Count Nobili leaves the house to-night.
    Keep him at all hazards_."

A sudden revulsion seized her. She raised her head with that
snake-like action natural to her. The blood rushed to her face and
neck. Guglielmi then still had hope?--All was not lost. In an instant
her energy returned to her. What could she do to keep him? Would
Enrica--Enrica was still within the chapel. The marchesa heard the
murmur of voices coming through the corridor. No, though she worshiped
him, Enrica would never lend herself to tempt Nobili with the bait of
her beauty--no, even though she was his wife. It would be useless to
ask her. "Keep him--how?" the marchesa asked herself with feverish
impatience. Every moment was precious. She heard footsteps. They must
be leaving the chapel. Nobili, perhaps, was going. No. The door to the
garden, by which Nobili had entered the chapel, was now locked. Adamo
had given her the key. She must therefore see them when they passed
out through the sala. At this moment the howling of the dogs was
audible. They were chained up in the cave under the tower. Poor
beasts, they had been forgotten in the hurry of the day. The dogs
were hungry; were yelping for their food. Through the open door the
marchesa saw Adamo pass--a sudden thought struck her.

"Adamo!"

"Padrona." And Adamo's bullet-head and broad shoulders fill up the
doorway.

"Where is Count Nobili?"

"Along with the lawyer from Lucca."

"He is safe, then, for the present," the marchesa told herself.

Adamo could not speak for staring at his mistress as she stood
opposite to him full in the light. He had never seen such a look upon
her face all the years he had served her.

She almost smiled at him.

"Adamo," the marchesa addresses him eagerly, "come here. How many
years have you lived with me?"

Adamo grins and shows two rows of white teeth.

"Thirty years, padrona--I came when I was a little lad."

"Have I treated you well, Adamo?"

As she asks this question, the marchesa moves close to him.

"Have I ever complained," is Adamo's answer, "that the marchesa asks
me?"

"You saved my life, Adamo, not long ago, from the fire." The eager
look is growing intenser. "I have never thanked you. Adamo--"

"Padrona"--he is more and more amazed at her--"she must be going to
die! Gesù mio! I wish she would swear at me," Adamo thought. "Padrona,
don't thank me--Domine Dio did it."

"Take these"--and the marchesa puts her hand into her pocket and draws
out some notes--"take these, these are better than thanks."

Adamo drew back much affronted. "Padrona, I don't want money."

"Yes, yes, take them--for Pipa and the boys"--and she thrusts the
notes into his big red hands.

"After all," thought Adamo to himself, "if the padrona is going to
die, I may as well have these notes as another."

"I would save your life any day, padrona," Adamo says aloud. "It is a
pleasure."

"Would you?" the marchesa fell into a muse.

Again the dogs howled. Adamo makes a motion to go to them.

"Were you going to feed the dogs when I called to you?" she asks.

"Padrona, yes. I was going to feed them."

"Are they very hungry?"

"Very--poverini! they have had nothing since this morning. Now it is
five o'clock."

"Don't feed them, Adamo, don't feed them." The marchesa is strangely
excited. She holds out her hand to detain him.

Adamo stares at her in mute consternation. "The padrona is certainly
going mad before she dies," he mutters, trying to get away.

"Adamo, come here!" He approaches her, secretly making horns against
the evil-eye with his fingers. "You saved my life, now you must save
my honor."

The words came hissing into his ear. Adamo drew back a step or two.
"Blessed mother, what ails her?" But he held his tongue.

The marchesa stands before him drawn up to her full height, every
nerve and muscle strained to the utmost.

"Adamo, do you hear?--My honor, the honor of my name. Quick, quick!"

She lays her hand on his rough jacket and grasps it.

Adamo, struck with superstitious awe, cannot speak. He nods.

"The dogs are hungry, you say. Let them loose without feeding. No one
must leave the house to-night. Do you understand? You must prevent it.
Let the dogs loose."

Again Adamo nods. He is utterly bewildered. He will obey her, of
course, but what can she mean?

"Is your gun loaded?" she asks, anxiously.

"Yes, padrona."

"That is well." A vindictive smile lights up her features. "No one
must leave the house to-night. You understand? The dogs will be
loose--the guns loaded.--Where is Pipa? Say nothing to Pipa. Do you
understand? Don't tell Pipa--"

"Understand? No, diavalo! I don't understand," bursts out Adamo. "If
you want any one shot, tell me who it is, padrona, and I will do it."

"That would be murder, Adamo." The marchesa is standing very near
him. Adamo sees the savage gleam that comes into her eyes. "If any one
leaves the house to-night except Fra Pacifico, stop him, Adamo, stop
him. You, or the dogs, or the gun--no matter. Stop him, I command you.
I have my reasons. If a life is lost I cannot help it--nor can you,
Adamo, eh?"

She smiles grimly. Adamo smiles too, a stolid smile, and nods. He is
greatly relieved. The padrona is not mad, nor will she die.

"You may sleep in peace, padrona." With the utmost respect Adamo
raises her hand to his lips and kisses it. "Next time ask Adamo to do
something more, and he will do it. Trust me, no one shall leave the
house to-night alive."

The marchesa listens to Adamo breathlessly. "Go--go," she says; "we
must not be seen together."

"The signora shall be obeyed," answers Adamo. He vanishes behind the
trees.

"Now I can meet Guglielmi!" The marchesa rapidly crosses the sala to
the door of her own room, which she leaves ajar.



CHAPTER IX.

HUSBAND VERSUS WIFE.


The room to which Angelo conducts Count Nobili is on the ground-floor,
in the same wing as the chapel. It is reached by the same corridor,
which traverses all that side of the house. Into this corridor many
other doors open. Pipa had chosen it because it was the best room in
the house. From the high ceiling, painted in gay frescoes, hangs a
large chandelier; the bed is covered with red damask curtains. Such
furniture as was available had been carried thither by Pipa and Adamo.
One large window, reaching to the ground, looks westward over the low
wall.

The sun is setting. The mighty range of mountains are laced with gold;
light, fleecy cloudlets float across the sky. Behind rise banks of
deepest saffron. These shift and move at first in chaos; then they
take the form as of a fiery city. There are domes and towers and
pinnacles as of living flame, that burn and glisten. Another moment,
and the sun has sunk to rest. The phantom city fades; the ruddy
background melts into the gray mountain-side. Dim ghost-like streaks
linger about the double summits of La Pagna. They vanish. Nothing then
remains but masses of leaden clouds soon to darken into night.

On entering the room, Count Nobili takes a long breath, gazes for a
moment on the mountains that rise before him, then turns toward
the door, awaiting the arrival of Guglielmi. His restless eye, his
shifting color, betray his agitation. The ordeal is not yet over; he
must hear what this man has to say.

Maestro Guglielmi enters with a quick, brisk step and easy, confident
bearing; indeed, he is in the highest spirits. He had trembled lest
Nobili should have insisted upon leaving Corellia immediately after
the ceremony when it was still broad daylight. Several unforeseen
circumstances had prevented this--Enrica's fainting-fit; the
discussion that ensued upon it between Nobili and the old
chamberlain--all this had created delay, and afforded him an
appropriate opportunity of requesting a private interview. Besides,
the cunning lawyer had noted that, during that discussion in the
chapel with Cavaliere Trenta, Nobili had evinced indications of other
passions besides anger--indications of a certain tenderness in the
midst of his vehement sense of the wrong done him by the marchesa.
But, what was of far more consequence to Guglielmi was, that all
this had the effect of stopping Nobili's immediate departure. That
Guglielmi had prevailed upon Nobili to enter the room prepared for
him--that he had in so doing domiciled himself voluntarily under the
same roof as his wife--was an immense point gained.

All this filled Maestro Guglielmi with the prescience of success. With
Nobili in the house, what might not the chapter of accidents produce?
All this had occurred, too, without taking into account what the
marchesa herself might have planned, when she had read the note of
instructions he had written upon a page of his tablets. Guglielmi
thought he knew his friend and client the Marchesa Guinigi but little,
if her fertile brain had not already created some complication that
would have the effect of preventing Count Nobili's departure that
night. The instant--the immediate instant--now lay with himself. He
was about to make the most of it.

When Guglielmi entered the room, Count Nobili received him with an
expression of undisguised disgust. Summoned by Nobili in a peremptory
tone to say why he had brought him hither, Guglielmi broke forth with
extraordinary volubility. He had used, he declared, his influence with
the marchesa throughout for his (Count Nobili's) advantage--solely for
his advantage. One word from him, and the Marchesa Guinigi would
have availed herself of her legal claims in the most vindictive
manner--exposed family secrets--made the whole transaction of the
marriage public--and so revenged herself upon him that Count Nobili
would have no choice but to leave Lucca and Italy forever.

"All this I have prevented," Guglielmi insisted emphatically. "How
could I serve you better?--Could a brother have guarded your honor
more jealously? You will come to see and acknowledge the obligation
in time--yes, Count Nobili--in time. Time brings all things to light.
Time will exhibit my integrity, my disinterested devotion to your
interests in their true aspect. All little difficulties settled with
my illustrious client, the Marchesa Guinigi (a high-minded and most
courageous lady of the heroic type), established in Lucca in the full
enjoyment of your enormous wealth--with the lovely lady I have just
seen by your side--the enlightened benefactor of the city--the patron
of art--the consoler of distress--a leader of the young generation
of nobles--the political head of the new Italian party--bearing the
grandest name (of course you will adopt that of Guinigi), adorning
that name with the example of noble actions--a splendid career opens
before you. Yes, Count Nobili--yes--a career worthy of the loftiest
ambition!"

"All this I have been the happy means of procuring for you. Another
advocate might have exasperated the marchesa's passions for his own
purposes; it would have been most easy. But I," continued Guglielmi,
bringing his flaming eyes to bear upon Count Nobili, then raising them
from him outward toward the darkening mountains as though he would
call on the great Apennines to bear witness to his truth--"I have
scorned such base considerations. With unexampled magnanimity I have
brought about this marriage--all this I have done, actuated by the
purest, the most single-hearted motives. In return, Count Nobili, I
make one request--I entreat you to believe that I am your friend--"

(Before the lawyer had concluded his peroration, professional zeal had
so far transported him that he had convinced himself all he said was
true--was he not indeed pleading for his judgeship?)

Guglielmi extended his arms as if about to _embrace_ Count Nobili!

All this time Nobili had stood as far removed from him as possible.
Nobili had neither moved nor raised his head once. He had listened
to Guglielmi, as the rocks listen to the splash of the seething waves
beating against their side. As the lawyer proceeded, a deep flush
gradually overspread his face--when he saw the lawyer's outstretched
arms, he retreated to the utmost limits of the room. Guglielmi's arms
fell to his side.

"Whatever may be my opinion of you, Signore Avvocato," spoke the count
at length, contemplating Guglielmi fixedly, and speaking slowly, as
if exercising a strong control over himself--"whether I accept your
friendship, or whether I believe any one word you say, is immaterial.
It cannot affect in any way what is past. The declaration I made
before the altar is the declaration to which I adhere--I am not bound
to state my reasons. To me they are overwhelming. I must therefore
decline all discussion with you. It is for you to make such
arrangements with your client as will insure me a separation. That
done, our paths lie far apart."

Who would have recognized the gracious, facile Count Nobili in these
hard words? The haughty tone in which they were uttered added to their
sting.

We are at best the creatures of circumstances--circumstances had
entirely altered him. At that moment, Nobili was at war with all
the world. He hated himself--he hated and he mistrusted every one.
Guglielmi was not certainly adapted to restore faith in mankind.

Legal habits had taught Maestro Guglielmi to shape his countenance
into a mask, fashioned to whatever expression he might desire to
assume. Never had the trick been so difficult! The intense rage
that possessed him was uncontrollable. For the first moment he stood
stolidly mute. Then he struck the heel of his boot loudly upon the
stuccoed floor--would he could crush Count Nobili thus!--crush him
and trample upon him--Nobili--the only obstacle to the high honors
awaiting him! The next instant Guglielmi was reproaching himself for
his want of control--the next instant he was conscious how needful it
was to dissemble. Was he--Guglielmi--who had flashed his sword in
a thousand battles, to be worsted by a stubborn boy? Outwitted by a
capricious lover? Never!

"Excuse me, Count Nobili," he said, overmastering himself by a violent
effort--"it is a bitter pang to me, your devoted friend, to be asked
to become a party to an act fatal to your prospects. If you adhere
to your resolution, you can never return to Lucca--never inhabit the
palace your wealth has so superbly decorated. Public opinion would not
permit it. You, a stranger in the city, are held to have ill-used and
abandoned the niece of the Marchesa Guinigi." Nobili looked up; he
was about to reply. "Pardon me, count, I neither affirm nor deny this
accusation," continued Guglielmi, observing his movement; "I am giving
no opinion on the merits of the case. You have now espoused the lady.
If for a second time you abandon her, you will incur the increased
indignation of the public. Reconsider, I implore you, this last
resolve."

The lawyer's metallic voice grew positively pathetic.

"I will not reconsider it!" cried Count Nobili, indignantly. "I deny
your right to advise me. You have brought me into this room for no
purpose that I can comprehend. What have I in common with the advocate
of my enemy? I desire to leave Corellia. You are detaining me. Here
is the deed of separation "--Nobili drew from his breast-pocket the
parchment he had perused so attentively in the chapel--"it only needs
the lady's signature. Mine is already affixed. Let me tell you, and
through you the Marchesa Guinigi, without that deed--and my own free
will," he added in a lower tone, "neither you nor she would have
forced me here to this marriage; I came because I considered some
reparation was due to a young lady whose name has been cruelly
outraged. Else I would have died first! If the lady I have made my
wife desires, to make any amends to me for the insults that have
been heaped upon me through her, let her set me free from an odious
thralldom. I will not so much as look upon one who has permitted
herself to be made the tool of others to deceive me. She has been
treacherous to me in business--she has been treacherous to me in
love--no, I will never look upon her again! Live with her?--by God!
never!"

The pent-up wrath within him, the maddening sense of wrong, blaze out.
Count Nobili is now striding up and down the room insensible to
any thing for the moment but the consciousness of his own outraged
feelings.

As Count Nobili waxed furious, Maestro Guglielmi grew calm. His busy
brain was concocting all sorts of expedients. He leaned his chin
upon his hands. His false smile gave place to a sardonic grin, as
he watched Nobili--marked his well-set, muscular figure, his easy
movements, the graceful curve of his head and neck, his delicate,
regular features, his sunny complexion. But Nobili's face without a
smile was shorn of its chief charm: that smile, so bright in itself,
brought brightness to others.

"A fine, generous fellow, a proper husband for any lady in Italy,
whoever she may be," was Guglielmi's reflection, as he watched him.
"The young countess has taste. He is not such a fool either, but
desperately provoking--like all boys with large fortunes, desperately
provoking--and dogged as a mule. But for all that he is a fine,
generous-hearted fellow. I like him--I like him for refusing to
be forced against his will. I would not live with an angel on such
terms." At this point Guglielmi's eyes exhibited a succession of
fireworks; his long teeth gleamed, and he smiled a stealthy smile.
"But he must be tamed, this youth--he must be tamed. Let me see, I
must take him on another tack--on the flank this time, and hit him
hard!"

Nobili has now ceased striding up and down the room. He stands facing
the window. His ear has caught the barking of several dogs. A minute
after, one rushes past the window--raised only by a few stone steps
from the ground--formidable beast with long white hair, tail on end,
ears erect, open-mouthed, fiery-eyed--this is Argo--Argo let loose,
famished--maddened by Adamo's devices--Argo rushing at full speed and
tearing up a shower of gravel with his huge paws. Barking horribly, he
disappears into the shrubs. Argo's bark is taken up by the other dogs
from all round the house in various keys. Juno the lurcher gives a
short low yelp; the rat-terrier Tuzzi, a shrill, grating whine like
a rusty saw; the bull-terrier, a deep growl. In the solemn silence of
the untrodden Apennines that rise around, the loud voices of the dogs
echo from cliff to cliff boom down into the abyss, and rattle there
like thunder. The night-birds catch up the sound and screech; the
frightened bats circle round wildly.

At this moment heavy footsteps creak upon the gravel under the shadow
of the wall. A low whistle passes through the air, and the dogs
disappear.

"A savage pack, like their mistress," was Count Nobili's thought as
his eyes tried to pierce into the growing darkness.

Night is coming on. Heavy vapors creep up from the earth and obscure
the air. Darker and denser clouds cover the heavens. Black shadows
gather within the room. The bed looms out from the lighter walls like
a funeral catafalque.

A few pale gleams of light still linger on the horizon. These fall
upon Nobili's figure as he stands framed in the window. As the waning
light strikes upon his eyes, a presentiment of danger comes over him.
These dogs, these footsteps--what do they mean?

Again a wild desire seizes him to be riding full speed on the
mountain-road to Lucca, to feel the fresh night air upon his heated
brow; the elastic spring of his good horse under him, each stride
bearing him farther from his enemies. He is about to leap out and
fly, when the warning hand of the lawyer is laid upon his arm.
Nobili shakes him off, but Guglielmi permits himself no indication
of offense. Dejection and grief are depicted on his countenance. He
shakes his head despondingly; his manner is dangerously fawning. He,
too, has heard the dogs, the footsteps, and the whistle. He has drawn
his own conclusions.

"I perceive, Count Nobili," he says, "you are impatient."

This was in response to a muttered curse from Nobili.

"Let me go! A thousand devils! Let me go!" cried the count, putting
the lawyer back. "Impatient! I am maddened!"

"But not before we have settled the matter in question. That is
impossible! Hear me, then. Count Nobili. With the deepest sorrow I
accept the separation you demand on the part of the marchesa; you
give me no choice. I venture no further remark," continues Guglielmi
meekly, drilling his eyes to a subdued expression.

(His eyes are a continual curse to him; sometimes they will tell the
truth.)

"But there is one point, my dear count, upon which we must understand
each other."

In order to detain Nobili, Guglielmi is about to commit himself to a
deliberate lie. Lying is not his practice; not on principle, for
he has none. Expediency is his faith, pliancy his creed; lying is
inartistic, also dangerous. A lie may grow into a spectre, and haunt
you to your grave, perhaps beyond it.

Guglielmi felt he must do something decisive, or that exalted
personage who desired to avoid all scandal not connected with himself
would be irretrievably offended, and he, Guglielmi, would never sit
on the judicial bench. Yet, unscrupulous as he was, the trickster
shuddered at the thought of what that lie might cost him.

"It is my duty to inform you, Count Nobili"--Guglielmi is speaking
with pompous earnestness--he anxiously notes the effect his words
produce upon Count Nobili--"that, unless you remain under the same
roof with your wife to-night, the marriage will not be completed;
therefore no separation between you will be legal."

Nobili turned pale. He struck his fist violently on the table.

"What! a new difficulty? When will this torture end?"

"It will end to-morrow morning, Count Nobili. To-morrow morning I
shall have the honor of waiting upon you, in company with the Mayor
of Corellia, for the civil marriage. Every requisition of the law will
then have been complied with."

Maestro Guglielmi bows and moves toward the door. If by this means the
civil marriage can be brought about, Guglielmi will have clinched a
doubtful act into a legal certainty.

"A moment, Signore Avvocato "--and Nobili is following Guglielmi to
the door, consternation and amazement depicted upon his countenance,
"Is this indeed so?"

Nobili's manner indicates suspicion.

"Absolutely so," answers the mendacious one. "To-morrow morning,
after the civil marriage, we shall be in readiness to sign the deed of
separation. Allow me in the mean time to peruse it."

He holds out his hand. If all fails, he determines to destroy that
deed, and protest that he has lost it.

"Dio Santo!" ejaculates Nobili, giving the deed to him--"twenty-four
hours at Corellia!"

"Not twenty-four," suggests Guglielmi, blandly, putting the deed into
his pocket and taking out his watch with extraordinary rapidity, then
replacing it as rapidly; "it is now seven o'clock. At nine o'clock
to-morrow morning the deed of separation shall be signed, and you,
Count Nobili, will be free."



CHAPTER X.

THE LAWYER BAFFLED.


At that moment Fra Pacifico's tall figure barred the doorway. He
seemed to have risen suddenly out of the darkness. Nobili started back
and changed color. Of all living men, he most dreaded the priest at
that particular moment. The priest was now before him, stern, grave,
authoritative; searching him with those earnest eyes--the priest--a
living protest against all he had done, against all he was about to
do!

The agile lawyer darted forward. He was about to speak. Fra Pacifico
waved him into silence.

"Maestro Guglielmi," he said, with that sonorous voice which lent
importance to his slightest utterances, "I am glad to find you here.
You represent the marchesa.--My son," he continued, addressing Count
Nobili (as he did so, his face darkened into a look of mingled pain
and displeasure), "I come from your wife."

At that word Fra Pacifico paused. Count Nobili reddened. His eyes fell
upon the floor; he dared not meet the reproving glance he felt was
upon him.

"My son, I come from your wife," repeated Fra Pacifico.

There was a dead silence.

"You saw your wife borne from the altar fainting. She was mercifully
spared, therefore, hearing from your own lips that you repudiated her.
She has since been informed by Cavaliere Trenta that you did so. I am
here as her messenger. Your wife accepts the separation you desire."

As each sentence fell from the priest's lips his countenance grew
sterner.

"Accepts the separation! Gives me up!" exclaimed Nobili, quite taken
aback. "So much the better. We are both of the same mind."

But, spite his words, there were irritation and surprise in Nobili's
manner. That Enrica herself should have consented to part from him was
altogether an astonishment!

"If Countess Nobili accepts the separation"--and he turned sharply
upon Guglielmi--"nothing need detain you here, Signore Avvocato. You
hear what Fra Pacifico says. You have only, therefore, to inform the
Marchesa Guinigi. Probably her niece has already done so. We know that
they act in concert." Count Nobili laughed bitterly.

"The marchesa is not even aware that I am here," interposed Fra
Pacifico. "Enrica is now married--she acts for herself. Her first act,
Count Nobili, is one of obedience--she sacrifices herself to you."

Again the priest's deep-set eyes turned reprovingly upon Count Nobili.
Dare the headstrong boy affect to misunderstand that he had driven
Enrica to renounce him? Guglielmi remained standing near the
door--self-possessed, indeed, as usual, but utterly crestfallen. His
very soul sank within him as he listened to Fra Pacifico. Every thing
was going wrong, the judgeship in imminent peril, and this devil of a
priest, who ought to know better, doing every thing to divide them!

"Signore Guglielmi," said Nobili, with a significant glance at the
open door, "allow me to repeat--we need not detain you. We shall now
act for ourselves. Without reference to the difficulties you have
raised--"

"The difficulties I have raised have been for your own good, Count
Nobili," was Guglielmi's indignant reply. "Had I been supported
by"--and he glanced at Fra Pacifico--"by those whose duty teaches
them obedience to the ordinances of the Church, you would have saved
yourself and others the spectacle of a matrimonial scandal that will
degrade you before the eyes of all Italy."

Count Nobili was rushing forward, with some undefined purpose of
chastising Guglielmi, when Fra Pacifico interposed. A quiet smile
parted his well-formed mouth; he shrugged his shoulders as he eyed the
enraged lawyer.

"Allow me to judge of my duty as a priest. Look to your own as a
lawyer, or it may be the worse for you. What says the motto?--'Those
who seek gold may find sand.'"

Guglielmi, greatly alarmed at what Fra Pacifico might reveal of their
previous conversation, waited to hear no more; he hastily disappeared.
Fra Pacifico watched the manner of his exit with silence, the quiet
smile of conscious power still on his lips. When he turned and
addressed Count Nobili, the smile had died out.

Before Fra Pacifico can speak, the whole pack of dogs, attracted by
the loud voices, gather round the steps before the open window. They
are barking furiously. The smooth-skinned, treacherous bull-dog is
silent, but he stands foremost. True to his breed, the bull-dog is
silent. He creeps in noiselessly--his teeth gleam within an inch of
Nobili. Fra Pacifico spies him. With a furious kick he flings him out
far over the heads of the others. The bull-dog's howl of anguish rouses
the rest to frenzy. A moment more, and Fra Pacifico and Count Nobili
would have been attacked within the very room, but again footsteps are
heard passing in the shadow. A shot is fired close at hand. The dogs
rush off, the bull-dog whining and limping in the rear.

Count Nobili and Fra Pacifico exchange glances. There is a knock at
the door. Pipa enters carrying a lighted lamp which she places on the
table. Pipa does not even salute Fra Pacifico, but fixes her eyes,
swollen with crying, upon Count Nobili.

"What is the matter?" asks the priest.

"Riverenza, I do not know. Adamo and Angelo are out watching."

"But, Pipa, it is very strange. A shot was fired. The dogs, too, are
wilder than ever."

"Riverenza, I know nothing. Perhaps there are some deserters about.
We are used to the dogs. I never hear them. I am come from the
signorina."

At that name Count Nobili looks up and meets Pipa's gaze. If Pipa
could have stabbed him then and there with the silver dagger in her
black hair she would have done it, and counted it a righteous act. But
she must deliver her message.

"Signore Conte"--Pipa flings her words at Nobili as if each word
were a stone, with which she would have hit him--"Signore Conte, the
marchesa has sent me. The marchesa bids me salute you. She desired
me to bring in this light. I was to say supper is served in the great
sala. She eats in her own room with the cavaliere, and hopes you will
excuse her."

Before the count could answer, Pipa was gone.

"My son," said Fra Pacifico, standing beside him in the dimly-lighted
room, "you have now had time to reflect. Do you accept the separation
offered to you by your wife?"

"I do, my father."

"Then she will enter a convent." Nobili sighed heavily. "You have
broken her heart."

There was a depth of unexpressed reproach in the priest's look. Tears
gathered in his eyes, his deep voice shook.

"But why if she ever loved me"--whispered Nobili into Fra Pacifico's
ear as though he shrank from letting the very walls hear what he was
about to say--

"If she loved you!" burst out Fra Pacifico with rising passion--"if
she loved you! You have my word that she loved you--nay, God help her,
that she loves you still!"

Fra Pacifico drew back from Nobili as he said this. Again Nobili
approached him, speaking into his ear.

"Why, then, if she loved me, could she join with the marchesa against
me? Was I not induced by my love for her to pay her aunt's debts?
Answer me that, my father. Why did she insist upon this ill-omened
marriage?--a proceeding as indelicate as it is--"

"Silence!" thundered Fra Pacifico--"silence, I command you! What you
say of that pure and lovely girl whose soul is as crystal before me,
is absolute sacrilege. I will not listen to it!"

Fra Pacifico's eyes flashed fire. He looked as if he would strike
Count Nobili where he stood. He checked himself, however; then he
continued with more calmness: "To become your wife was needful for the
honor of Enrica's name, which you had slandered. The child put herself
in my hands. I am responsible for this marriage--I only. As to the
marchesa, do you think she consults Enrica? The hawk and the dove
share not the same nest! No, no. Did the marchesa so much as tell
Enrica, when she offered her as wife to Count Marescotti?"

At the sound of Marescotti's name Nobili's assumed composure utterly
gave way. His whole frame stiffened with rage.

"Yes--Marescotti--curse him! And I am the husband of the woman he
refused!"

"For shame, Count Nobili!--you have yourself exonerated her."

"Enrica must have been an accomplice!" cried Nobili, transported
out of himself. Count Marescotti's name had exasperated him beyond
control.

"Fool!" exclaimed Fra Pacifico. "Will you not listen to reason? Has
not Enrica by her own act renounced all claim to you as a wife? Is not
that enough?"

Nobili was silent. Hitherto he had been driven on, goaded by the
promptings of passion, and the firm belief that Enrica was the mere
tool of her aunt. Now the same facts detailed by the priest placed
themselves in a new light. For the first time Nobili doubted whether
he was entirely justified in all that he had done--in all that he was
about to do.

Meanwhile Fra Pacifico was losing all patience. His manly nature
rose within him at what he considered Nobili's deliberate cruelty.
Inflexible in right, Fra Pacifico was violent in face of wrong.

"Why did you not let her die?" he exclaimed, bitterly. "It would
have saved her a world of suffering. I thought I knew you, Mario
Nobili--knew you from a boy," he added, contemplating him with a dark
scowl. "You have deceived me. Every word you utter only sinks you
lower in my esteem."

"It would indeed have been better had we both perished in the flames!"
cried Nobili in a voice full of anguish--"perished--locked in each
other's arms! Poor Enrica!" He turned away, and a low sob burst from
his heart of hearts. "The marchesa has destroyed my love!--She has
blighted my life!" Nobili's voice sounded hollow in the dimly-lighted
room. At last Nobili was speaking out--speaking, as it were, from the
grave of his love! "Yes, I loved her," he continued dreamily--"I loved
her! How much I did not know!"

He had forgotten he was not alone. The priest was but dimly visible.
He was leaning against the wall, his massive chin resting on his hand,
listening to Nobili. Now, hearing what he said, Fra Pacifico's anger
had vanished. After all, he had not been mistaken in his old pupil!
Nobili was neither cruel nor heartless; but he had been driven to bay!
Now he pitied him, profoundly. What could he say to him? He could urge
Nobili no more. He must work out his own fate!

Again Nobili spoke.

"When I saw her sweet face turned toward me as she entered the chapel,
I dared not look again! It was too late. My pride as a man, all that
is sacred to me as a gentleman, has been too deeply wounded. The
marchesa has done it. She alone is responsible. _She_ has left me
no alternative. I will never accept a wife forced upon me by
_her_--never, by Heaven! My father, these are my last words. Carry
them to Enrica."

Count Nobili's head dropped upon his breast. He covered his face with
his hands.

"My son, I leave you in the hands of God. May He lead you and comfort
you! But remember, the life of your wife is bound up in _your_ life.
Hitherto Enrica has lived upon hope. Deprived of hope, _she will
die_."

When Nobili looked up, Fra Pacifico was gone.



CHAPTER XI.

FACE TO FACE.


The time had now come when Count Nobili must finally make up his mind.
He had told Fra Pacifico that his determination was unaltered. He had
told him that his dignity as a man, his honor as a gentleman, demanded
that he should free himself from the net-work of intrigues in which
the marchesa had entangled him. Of all earthly things, compliancy with
her desires most revolted him. Rather than live any longer the victim
either of her malice or her ambition, he had brought himself to
believe that it was his duty to renounce Enrica. Until Fra Pacifico
had entered that room within which he was again pacing up and down
with hasty strides, no doubt whatever had arisen in his mind as to
what it was incumbent upon him to do: to give Enrica the protection
of his name by marriage, then to separate. Whether to separate in
the manner pointed out by Guglielmi he had not decided. An innate
repulsion, now increased by suspicion, made him distrust any act
pressed upon him by that man, especially when urged in concert with
the marchesa.

Every hour passed at Corellia was torture to him. Should he go at
once, or should he remain until the morning?--sign the deed?--complete
the sacrifice? Already what he had so loudly insisted on presented
itself now to him in the light of a sacrifice. Enrica loved him
still--he believed Fra Pacifico. The throbbing of his heart as he
thought of her told him that he returned that love. She was there near
him under the same roof. Could he leave her? Yes, he must leave her!
He would trust himself no longer in the hands of the marchesa or of
her agent. Instinct told him some subtle scheme lay under the urgings
of Guglielmi--the dangerous civilities of the marchesa. He would
go. The legal separation might be completed elsewhere. Why only at
Corellia? Why must those formalities insisted on by Guglielmi be
respected? What did they mean? Of the real drift of the delay Nobili
was utterly ignorant. Had he asked Fra Pacifico, he would have told
him the truth, but he had not done so.

To meet Enrica in the morning; to meet her again in the presence of
her detested aunt; to meet her only to sign a deed separating them
forever under the mockery of mutual consent, was agony. Why should he
endure it?

Nobili, wrought up to a pitch of excitement that almost robbed him of
reason, dares not trust himself to think. He seizes his hat, which lay
upon the table, and rushes out into the night. The murmur of voices
comes dimly to him in the freshness of the air out of a window next
his own. A circle of light shines on the glistening gravel before him.
There must be people within--people watching him, doubtless. As the
thought crosses his mind he is suddenly pinned to the earth. Argo is
watching for him--stealthy Argo--Argo springs upon him silently from
behind; he holds him tightly in his grip. The dog made no sound, nor
does he now, but he has laid Nobili flat on the ground. He stands over
him, his heavy paws planted upon his chest, his open jaws and dripping
tongue close upon his face, so close, that Nobili feels the dog's hot
breath upon his skin. Nobili cannot move; he looks up fixedly into
Argo's glaring, bloodshot eyes. His steady gaze daunts the dog. In the
very act of digging his big fangs into Nobili's throat Argo pauses;
he shrinks before those human eyes before which the brutish nature
quails. In an instant Nobili's strong hands close round his throat;
he presses it until the powerful paws slacken in their grip--until the
fiery eyes are starting from their sockets.

Silent as is the struggle the other dogs are alarmed--they give tongue
from different sides. Footsteps are rapidly approaching--the barrel of
a gun gleams out of the darkness--a shot is fired--the report wanders
off in endless reverberation among the rocks--another shot, and
another, in instant succession, answer each other from behind the
villa.

With a grasp of iron Nobili holds back gallant Argo--Argo foaming at
the mouth; his white-coated chest heaving, as if in his last agony!
Yet Argo is still immovable--his heavy paws upon Nobili's chest
pressing with all his weight upon him!

Now the footsteps have turned the corner! Dim forms already shape
themselves in the night mist. The other dogs, barking savagely, are
behind--they are coming--they are at hand! Ah! Nobili, what can you do
now?--Nobili understands his danger. Quick as thought Nobili has
dealt Argo a tremendous blow under the left ear. He seizes him by his
milk-white hair so long and beautiful, he flings him against the low
wall almost insensible. Argo falls a shapeless mass. He is stunned and
motionless. Before the shadow of Adamo is upon him--before the dogs
noses touch him--Nobili is on his feet. With one bound he has leaped
through the window--the same from which the voices had come (it has
been opened in the scuffle)--in an instant he closes the sash! He is
safe!

Coming suddenly out of the darkness, after the great force he had put
forth, Nobili feels giddy and bewildered. At first he sees nothing
but that there is a light in the centre of the room. As his eyes fix
themselves upon it the light almost blinds him. He puts his hand to
his forehead, where the veins had swollen out like cords upon his
fair skin. He puts up his hands to shade his dazzled eyes before
which clouds of stars dance desperately. He steadies himself and looks
round.

Before him stands Enrica!

By Pipa's care the bridegroom's chamber had been chosen next
the bride's when she prepared Count Nobili's room. Pipa was
straightforward and simple in her notions of matrimony, but, like a
wise woman, she had held her tongue.

Nobili and Enrica are alone. A furtive glance passes between them.
Neither of them moves. Neither of them speaks. The first movement
comes from Enrica. She sinks backward upon a chair. The tangle of her
yellow hair closes round her face upon which a deep blush had risen
at sight of Nobili. When that blush had died out she looked resigned,
almost passionless. She knew that the moment had come which must
decide her fate. Before they two parted she would hear from the lips
of the man she loved if they were ever to meet again! Her eyes fell
to the ground. She dared not raise them. If she looked at Nobili, she
must fling herself into his arms.

Nobili, standing on the same spot beyond the circle of the light,
gazes at Enrica in silence. He is overwhelmed by the most conflicting
emotions. But the spell of her beauty is upon him. His pulses beat
madly. For an instant he forgets where he is. He forgets all but
that Enrica is before him. For a moment! Then his brain clears. He
remembers every thing--remembers--oh, how bitterly!--that, after all
that has passed, his very presence in that room is an insult to her!
He feels he ought to go--yet an irresistible longing chains him to
the spot. He moves toward the door. To reach it he must pass close to
Enrica. When he is near the door he stops. The light shows that his
clothes are torn--that there is blood upon his face and hands. In
scarcely articulate words Nobili addresses her.

"Enrica--countess, I mean"--Nobili hesitates--"pardon this
intrusion.--You saw the accident.--I did not know that this was _your_
room."

Again Nobili pauses, waiting for an answer. None comes. Would she not
speak to him? Alas! had he deserved that she should? Nobili takes a
step or two toward the door. With one hand upon the lock he pauses
once more, gazing at Enrica with lingering eyes. Then he turns to
leave the room. It is all over!--he had only to depart! A low cry from
Enrica stops him.

"Nobili," Enrica says, "tell me--oh! tell me, are you hurt?"

Enrica has risen from the chair. One hand rests on the table for
support. Her voice falters as she asks the question. Nobili, every
drop of whose blood runs fevered in his veins, turns toward her.

"I am not hurt--a scratch or two--nothing."

"Thank God!" Enrica utters, in a low voice.

Nobili endeavors to approach her. She draws back.

"As I am here"--he speaks with the utmost embarrassment--"here, as you
see, by accident"--his voice rests on the words--"I cannot go--"

As Nobili speaks he perceives that Enrica gradually retreats farther
from him. The tender delight that had come into her eyes when he first
addressed her fades out into a scared look--a look like a defenseless
animal expecting to receive a death-wound. Nobili sees and understands
the expression.

His heart smites him sorely. Great God!--has he become an object of
terror to her?

"Enrica!"--she starts back as Nobili pronounces her name, yet he
speaks so softly the sound comes to her almost like a sigh--"Enrica,
do not fear me. I will say no word to offend you. I cannot go without
asking your pardon. As one who loved you once--as one who loves--"
He stops. What is he saying?--"I humbly beseech you to forgive me.
Enrica, let me hear you say that you forgive me."

Still Enrica retreats from him, that suffering, saint-like look upon
her face he knows so well. Nobili follows her. He kneels at her feet.
He kneels at the feet of the woman from whom, not an hour before, he
had demanded a separation!

"Say--can you forgive me before I go?"

As Nobili speaks, his strong heart goes out to her in speechless
longings. If Enrica had looked into his eyes they would have told her
that he never had loved her as now! And they were parted!

Enrica puts out her hand timidly. Her lips move as if to speak, but no
sound comes. Nobili rises; he takes her hand within both his own. He
kisses it reverently.

"Dear hand--" he murmurs, "and it was mine!"

Released from his, the dainty little hand falls to her side. She
sighs deeply. There is the old charm in Nobili's voice--so sweet, so
subtile. The tones fall upon her ear like strains of passionate music.
A storm of emotion sweeps across her face. She has forgotten all in
the rapture of his presence. Yes!--that voice! Had it not been raised
but a few hours before at the altar to repudiate her? How can she
believe in him? How surrender herself to the glamour of his words?
Remembering all this, despair comes over her. Again Enrica shrinks
from him. She bursts into tears and hides her face with her hands.

Enrica's distrust of him, her silence, her tears, cut Nobili to the
soul. He knows he deserves it. Ah!--with her there before him, how
he curses himself for ever having doubted her! Every justification
suddenly leaves him. He is utterly confounded. The gossip of the
club--Count Marescotti and his miserable verses--the marchesa
herself--what are they all beside the purity of those saint-like eyes?
Nera, too--false, fickle, sensual Nera--a mere thing of flesh and
blood--he had left her for Nera! Was he mad?

At that moment, of all living men, Count Nobili seemed to himself the
most unworthy! He must go--he did not deserve to stay!

"Enrica--before I leave you, speak to me one word of forgiveness--I
implore you!"

As he speaks their eyes meet. Yes, she is his own Enrica--unchanged,
unsullied!--the idol is intact within its shrine--the sanctuary is as
he had left it! No rude touch had soiled that atmosphere of purity and
freshness that floated like an aureole around her!

How could he leave her?--if they must part, he would hear his fate
from her own lips. Enrica is leaning against the wall speechless, her
face shaded by her hand. Big tears are trickling through her fingers.
Unable to support herself she clings to a chair, then seats herself.
And Nobili, pale with passion stands by, and dares not so much as to
touch her--dares not touch her, although she is his wife!

In the fury of his self-reproach, he digs his hands into the masses of
thick chestnut curls that lie disordered about his head.

Fool, idiot!--had he lost her? A terrible misgiving overcomes him? It
fills him with horror. Was it too late? Would she never forgive him?
Nobili's troubled eyes, that wander all over her, ask the question.

"Speak to me--speak to me!" he cries. "Curse me--but speak to me!"

At this appeal Enrica turns her tear-bedewed face toward him.

"Nobili," she says at last, very low, "would you have gone without
seeing me?"

Nobili dares not lie to her. He makes no reply.

"Oh, do not deceive me, Nobili!" and Enrica wrings her hands and looks
piteously into his face. "Tell me--would you have come to me?"

It is only by a strong effort that Nobili can restrain himself
from folding Enrica in his arms and in one burning kiss burying the
remembrance of the miserable past. But he trembles lest by offending
her the tender flower before him may never again expand to the ardor
of his love. If Fra Pacifico has not by his arguments already shaken
Nobili's conviction of the righteousness of his own conduct, the sight
of Enrica utterly overcomes him.

"Deceive you!" he exclaims, approaching her and seizing her hands
which she did not withdraw--"deceive you! How little you read my
heart!"

He holds her soft hands firmly in his--he covers them with kisses.
Enrica feels the tender pressure of his lips pass through her whole
frame. But, can she trust him?

"Did I not love you enough?" she asks, looking into his face. She
gently disengages her hands from his grasp. There is no reproach in
her look, but infinite sorrow. "Can I believe you?" And the soft blue
eyes rest upon him full of pathetic pleading.

An expression of despair comes into Nobili's bright face. How can
he answer her? How can he satisfy her when he himself has shaken her
trust? Alas! would the golden past never come again? The past, tinted
with the passion of ardent summer?

"Believe me?" he cries, in a tone of wildest passion. "Can you ask
me?"

As he speaks he leans over her. Love is in his voice--his eyes--his
whole attitude. Would she not understand him? Would she reject him?

Enrica draws back--she raises her hand in protest.

"Let me again"--Nobili is following her closely--"let me implore your
forgiveness of my unmanly conduct."

She presses her hands to her bosom as if in pain, but not a sound
comes to her lips.

"Believe me," he urges, "I have been driven mad by the marchesa! It is
my only excuse."

"Am I?" Enrica answers. "Have I not suffered enough from my aunt?
What had she to do between you and me? Did I love you less because
she hated you? Listen, Nobili"--Enrica with difficulty commands her
voice--"from the first time we met in the cathedral I gave myself to
you--you--you only."

"But, Enrica--love--you consented to leave me. You sent Fra Pacifico
to say so."

The thought that Enrica had so easily resigned him still rankled in
Nobili's heart. Spite of himself, there is bitterness in his tone.

Enrica is standing aloof from him. The light of the lamp strikes upon
her golden hair, her downcast eyes, her cheeks mantling with blushes.

"I leave you!"--a soft dew came into Enrica's eyes as she fixed them
upon Nobili--a dew that rapidly formed itself into two tears that
rolled silently down her cheek--"never--never!"

Spite of the horrors of the past, these words, that look, tell him
she is his! Nobili's heart leaps within him. For a moment he is
breathless--speechless in the tumult of his great joy.

"Oh! my beloved!" he cries, in a voice that penetrates her very soul.
"Come to me--here--to a heart all your own!" He springs forward and
clasps her in his arms. "Thus--thus let the past perish!" Nobili
whispers as his lips touch hers. Enrica's head nestles upon his
breast. She has once more found her home.

A subdued knock is heard at the door.

"Sangue di Dio!" mutters Nobili, disengaging himself from
Enrica--"what new torment is this? Is there no peace in this house?
Who is there?"

"It is I, Count Nobili." Maestro Guglielmi puts in his hatchet face
and glaring teeth. In an instant his piercing eyes have traveled round
the room. He has taken in the whole situation--Count Nobili in the
middle of the floor--flushed--agitated--furious at this interruption;
Enrica--revived--conscious--blushing at his side. The investigation
is so perfectly satisfactory that Maestro Guglielmi cannot suppress a
grin of delight.

"Believe me, Signore Conte," he says, advancing cautiously a step or
two forward into the room, a deprecating look on his face--"believe
me--this intrusion"--Guglielmi turns to Enrica, grins again palpably,
then bows--"is not of my seeking."

"Tell me instantly what brings you here?" demands Nobili, advancing.
(Nobili would have liked beyond measure to relieve his feelings by
kicking him.)

"It is just that"--Guglielmi cannot refrain from another glance round
before he proceeds--(yes, they are reconciled, no doubt of it.
The judgeship is his own! Evviva! The illustrious personage--so
notoriously careful of his subject's morals--who had deigned to
interest himself in the marriage, might possibly, at the birth of
a son and heir to the Guinigi, add a pension--who knows? At this
reflection the lawyer's eyes become altogether unmanageable)--"it is
just that," repeats Guglielmi, making a desperate effort to collect
himself. "Personally I should have declined it, personally; but the
marchesa's commands were absolute: 'You must go yourself, I will
permit no deputy.'"

"Damn the marchesa! Shall I never be rid of the marchesa?"

Nobili's aspect is becoming menacing. Maestro Guglielmi is not a man
easily daunted; yet once within the room, and the desired evidence
obtained, he cannot but feel all the awkwardness of his position.
Greatly as Guglielmi had been tickled at the notion of becoming
himself a witness in his own case, to do him justice he would not have
volunteered it.

"The marchesa sent me," he stammers, conscious of Count Nobili's
indignation (with his arms crossed, Count Nobili is eying Guglielmi
from head to foot). "The marchesa sent me to know--"

Nobili unfolds his arms, walks straight up to where Guglielmi is
standing, and shakes his fist in his face.

"Do you know, Signore Avvocato, that you are committing an intolerable
impertinence? If you do not instantly quit this room, or give me
some excellent reason for remaining, you shall very speedily have my
opinion of your conduct in a very decided manner."

Count Nobili is decidedly dangerous. He glares at Guglielmi like a
very devil. Guglielmi falls back. The false smile is upon his lips,
but his treacherous eyes express his terror. Guglielmi's combats are
only with words, his weapon the pen; otherwise he is powerless.

"Excuse me, Count Nobili, excuse me," he stammers. He rubs his hands
nervously together and watches Nobili, who is following him step by
step. "It is not my fault--I give you my word--not my fault. Don't
look so, count; you really alarm me. I am here as a man of peace--I
entreated the marchesa to retire to rest. I represented to her the
peculiar delicacy of the position, but I grieve to say she insisted."

Nobili is now close to him; his eyes are gathered upon him more
threateningly than ever.

"Remember, sir, you are addressing me in the presence of my wife--be
careful."

What a withering look Nobili gives Guglielmi as he says this! He can
with difficulty keep his hands off him!

"Yes--yes--just so--just so--I applaud your sentiments, Count
Nobili--most appropriate. Now I will go."

Alarmed as he is, Guglielmi cannot resist one parting glance at
Enrica. She is crimson. Then with an expression of infinite relief
he retreats to the door walking backward. Guglielmi has a strong
conviction that if he turns round Count Nobili may kick him, so,
keeping his eyes well balanced upon him, he fumbles with his hands
behind his back to find the handle of the door. In his confusion he
misses it.

"Not for worlds, Signore Conte," says Guglielmi, nervously passing
his hand up and down the panel in search of the door-handle--"not for
worlds would I offend you! Believe me--(maledictions on the door--it
is bewitched!)"

Now Guglielmi has it! Safely clutching the handle with both his hands,
Guglielmi's courage returns. His mocking eyes look up without blinking
into Nobili's, fierce and flashing as they are.

"Before I go"--he bows with affected humility--"will you favor me,
count, and you, madame" (Guglielmi is clutching the door-handle
tightly, so as to be able to escape at any moment), "by informing me
whether you still desire the deed of separation to be prepared for
your signature in the morning?"

"Leave the room!" roars Count Nobili, stamping furiously on the
floor--"leave the room, or, Domine Dio!--"

Maestro Guglielmi had jumped out backward, before Count Nobili could
finish the sentence.

"Enrica!" cries Nobili, turning toward her--he had banged-to the door
and locked it--"Enrica, if you love me, let us leave this accursed
villa to-night! This is more than I can bear!"

What Enrica replied, or if Enrica ever replied at all, is, and ever
will remain, a mystery!



CHAPTER XII.

OH BELLO!


An hour or two has passed. A slow and cautious step, accompanied with
the tapping of a stick upon the stone flags of the floor, is audible
along the narrow passage leading from the sala to Pipa's room. It
is as dark as pitch. Whoever it is, is afraid of falling, and creeps
along cautiously, feeling by the wall.

Pipa, expecting to be summoned to her mistress--Pipa, wondering
greatly indeed what Enrica can be about, and why she does not go
to bed, when she, the blessed dear, was so faint and tired, and
crying--oh, so pitifully!--when she left her--Pipa, leaning against
the door-post near the half-open door, dozing like a dog with one eye
open in case she should be called--listened and looked out into the
passage. A figure is standing within the light that streams out from
the door, a very well-remembered figure, stout and short--a little
bent forward on a stick--with a round, rosy face framed in snowy
curls, a world of pleasant wickedness in two twinkling eyes, on which
the light strikes, and a mouth puckered up for any mischief.

"Madonna!" cries Pipa, rubbing her eyes--"the cavaliere! How you did
frighten me! I cannot bear to hear footsteps about when Adamo is
out;" and Pipa gazes up and down into the darkness with an unpleasant
consciousness that something ghostly might be watching her.

"Pipa," says the cavaliere, putting his finger to his nose and
winking palpably, "hold your tongue, and don't scream when I tell you
something. Promise me."

"O Gesù!" cries Pipa in a loud voice, starting back, forgetting his
injunction--"is it not about the signorina?"

"Hold your tongue, Pipa, or I will tell you nothing."

Pipa's head is instantly close to the cavaliere's, her face all
eagerness.

"Yes, it is about the signorina--the countess. She is gone!"

"Gone!" and Pipa, spite of warning, fairly shouts now "gone!" at which
the cavaliere shakes his stick at her, smiling, however, benignly all
the time. "Holy mother! gone! O cavaliere! tell me--she is not dead?"

(Ever since Pipa had tended Enrica lying on her bed, so still and
cold, it seemed reasonable to her that she might die at any instant,
without warning given.)

"Yes, Pipa," answers the cavaliere solemnly, his voice shaking
slightly, but he still smiles, though the dew of rising tears is in
his merry eyes--"yes, dead--dead to us, my Pipa--I fear dead to us."

Pipa sinks back in speechless horror against the wall, and groans.

"But only to us--(don't be a fool, Pipa)"--this in a parenthesis--"she
is gone with her husband."

Pipa rises to her feet and stares at Trenta, at first wildly, then, as
little by little the hidden sense comes to her, her rosy lips slowly
part and lengthen out until every snowy tooth is visible. Then Pipa
covers her face with her apron, and shakes from head to foot in such
a fit of laughter, that she has to lean against the wall not to fall
down. "Oh hello!" is all she can say. This Pipa repeats at intervals
in gasps.

"Come, Pipa, that will do," says the cavaliere, poking at her with his
stick--"I must get back before I am missed--no one must know it till
morning--least of all the marchesa and Guglielmi. They are shut up
together. The marchesa says she will sit up all night. But Count
Nobili and his wife are gone--really gone. Fra Pacifico managed it. He
got hold of Adamo, who was running round the house with a loaded
gun, all the dogs after him. Take care of Adamo when he comes back
to-night, Pipa. He is fastening up the dogs, and feeding them, and
taking care of poor Argo, who is badly hurt. He is quite mad, Adamo.
I never saw a man so wild. He would not come in. He said the marchesa
had told him to shoot some one. He swore he would do it yet. He nearly
fought with Fra Pacifico when he forced him in. Adamo is quite mad.
Tell him nothing to-night; he is not safe."

Pipa has now let down her apron. Her bright olive-complexioned face
beams in one broad smile, like the full moon at harvest. She is still
shaking, and at intervals gives little spasmodic giggles.

"Leave Adamo to me" (another giggle); "I will manage him" (another).
"Why, he might have shot the signorina's husband--the fool!"

This thought steadies Pipa for an instant, but she bursts out again.
"Oh hello!"--Pipa gurgles like a stream that cannot stop running; then
she breaks off all at once, and listens. "Hush! hush! There is
Adamo coming, cavaliere--hush! hush! Make haste and go away. He is
coming--Adamo; I hear him on the gravel."

"Say nothing until the morning," whispers the cavaliere. "Give them a
fair start. Ha! ha!"

Pipa nods. Her face twitches all over. As Cavaliere Trenta turns to
go, Pipa catches him smartly by the shoulder, draws him to her, and
speaks into his ear:

"To think the signorina has run away with her own husband! Oh bello!"





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