Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A Roman Singer by F. Marion Crawford

Part 5 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"I desired to tell you," she said, "that Baron Benoni took advantage
of your absence to-day to insult me beyond my endurance." She looked
boldly into her father's eyes as she spoke.

"Ah!" said he, with great coolness. "Will you be good enough to light
one of those candles on the table, and to close the window?"

Hedwig obeyed in silence, and once more planted herself before him,
her slim figure looking ghostly between the fading light of the
departing day and the yellow flame of the candle.

"You need not assume this theatrical air," said Lira, calmly. "I
presume you mean that Baron Benoni asked you to marry him?"

"Yes, that is one thing, and is an insult in itself," replied Hedwig,
without changing her position. "I suspect that it is the principal
thing," remarked the count. "Very good; he asked you to marry him. He
has my full authority to do so. What then?"

"You are my father," answered Hedwig, standing like a statue before
him, "and you have the right to offer me whom you please for a
husband, but you have no authority to allow me to be wantonly
insulted."

"I think that you are out of your mind," said the count, with
imperturbable equanimity. "You grant that I may propose a suitor to
you, and you call it a wanton insult when that suitor respectfully
asks the honour of your hand, merely because he is not young enough to
suit your romantic tastes, which have been fostered by this wretched
southern air. It is unfortunate that my health requires me to reside
in Italy. Had you enjoyed an orderly Prussian education, you would
have held different views in regard to filial duty. Refuse Baron
Benoni as often as you like. I will stay here, and so will he, I
fancy, until you change your mind. I am not tired of this lordly
mountain scenery, and my health improves daily. We can pass the summer
and winter, and more summers and winters, very comfortably here. If
there is anything you would like to have brought from Rome, inform me,
and I will satisfy any reasonable request."

"The baron has already had the audacity to inform me that you would
keep me a prisoner until I should marry him," said Hedwig; and her
voice trembled as she remembered how Benoni had told her so.

"I doubt not that Benoni, who is a man of consummate tact, hinted
delicately that he would not desist from pressing his suit. You, well
knowing my determination, and carried away by your evil temper, have
magnified into a threat what he never intended as such. Pray let me
hear no more about these fancied insults." The old man smiled grimly
at his keen perception.

"You shall hear me, nevertheless," said Hedwig, in a low voice, coming
close to the table and resting one hand upon it as though for support.

"My daughter," said the count, "I desire you to abandon this highly
theatrical and melodramatic tone. I am not to be imposed upon."

"Baron Benoni did not confine himself to the course you describe. He
said many things to me that I did not understand, but I comprehended
their import. He began by making absurd speeches, at which I laughed.
Then he asked me to marry him, as I had long known he would do as soon
as you gave him the opportunity. I refused his offer. Then he
insisted, saying that you, sir, had determined on this marriage, and
would keep me a close prisoner here until the torture of the situation
broke down my strength. I assured him that I would never yield to
force. Then he broke out angrily, telling me to my face that I had
lost everything--name, fame, and honour,--how, I cannot tell; but he
said those words; and he added that I could regain my reputation only
by consenting to marry him."

The old count had listened at first with a sarcastic smile, then with
increased attention. Finally, as Hedwig repeated the shameful insult,
his brave old blood boiled up in his breast, and he sat gripping the
two arms of his chair fiercely, while his gray eyes shot fire from
beneath the shaggy brows.

"Hedwig," he cried, hoarsely, "are you speaking the truth? Did he say
those words?"

"Yes, my father, and more like them. Are you surprised?" she asked
bitterly. "You have said them yourself to me."

The old man's rage rose furiously, and he struggled to his feet. He
was stiff with riding and rheumatism, but he was too angry to sit
still.

"I? Yes, I have tried to show you what might have happened, and to
warn you and frighten you, as you should be frightened. Yes, and I was
right, for you shall not drag my name in the dirt. But another
man--Benoni!" He could not speak for his wrath, and his tall figure
moved rapidly about the room, his heart seeking expression in action.
He looked like some forgotten creature of harm, suddenly galvanised
into destructive life. It was well that Benoni was not within reach.

Hedwig stood calmly by the table, proud in her soul that her father
should be roused to such fury. The old man paused in his walk, came to
her, and with his hand turned her face to the light, gazing savagely
into her eyes.

"You never told me a lie," he growled out.

"Never," she said, boldly, as she faced him scornfully. He knew his
own temper in his child, and was satisfied. The soldier's habit of
self-control was strong in him, and the sardonic humour of his nature
served as a garment to the thoughts he harboured.

"It appears," he said, "that I am to spend the remainder of an
honourable life in fighting with a pack of hounds. I nearly killed
your old acquaintance, the Signor Professore Cardegna, this
afternoon." Hedwig staggered back, and turned pale.

"What! Is he wounded?" she gasped out, pressing her hand to his side.

"Ha! That touches you almost as closely as Benoni's insult," he said,
savagely. "I am glad of it. I repent me, and wish that I had killed
him. We met on the road, and he had the impertinence to ask me for
your hand,--I am sick of these daily proposals of marriage; and then I
inquired if he meant to insult me."

Hedwig leaned heavily on the table in an agony of suspense.

"The fellow answered that if I were insulted he was ready to fight
then and there, in the road, with my pistols. He is no coward, your
lover,--I will say that. The end of it was that I came home and he did
not."

Hedwig sank into the chair that her father had left, and hid her face.

"Oh, you have killed him!" she moaned.

"No," said the count shortly; "I did not touch a hair of his head. But
he rode away toward Trevi." Hedwig breathed again. "Are you
satisfied?" he asked, with a hard smile, enjoying the terror he had
excited.

"Oh, how cruel you are, my father!" she said, in a broken voice.

"I tell you that if I could cure you of your insane passion for this
singer fellow, I would be as cruel as the Inquisition," retorted the
count. "Now listen to me. You will not be troubled any longer with
Benoni,--the beast! I will teach him a lesson of etiquette. You need
not appear at dinner to-night. But you are not to suppose that our
residence here is at an end. When you have made up your mind to act
sensibly, and to forget the Signor Cardegna, you shall return to
society, where you may select a husband of your own position and
fortune, if you choose; or you may turn Romanist, and go into a
convent, and devote yourself to good works and idolatry, or anything
else. I do not pretend to care what becomes of you, so long as you
show any decent respect for your name. But if you persist in pining
and moaning and starving yourself, because I will not allow you to
turn dancer and marry a strolling player, you will have to remain
here. I am not such pleasant company when I am bored, I can tell you,
and my enthusiasm for the beauties of nature is probably transitory."

"I can bear anything if you will remove Benoni," said Hedwig, quietly,
as she rose from her seat. But the pressure of the iron keys that she
had hidden in her bosom gave her a strange sensation.

"Never fear," said the count, taking his hat from the table. "You
shall be amply avenged of Benoni and his foul tongue. I may not love
my daughter, but no one shall insult her. I will have a word with him
this evening."

"I thank you for that, at least," said Hedwig, as he moved to the
door.

"Do not mention it," said he, and put his hand on the lock.

A sudden impulse seized Hedwig. She ran swiftly to him, and clasped
her hands upon his arm.

"Father?" she cried, pleadingly.

"What?"

"Father, do you love me?" He hesitated one moment.

"No," he said, sternly; "you disobey me"; and he went out in rough
haste. The door closed behind him, and she was left standing alone.
What could she do, poor child? For months he had tormented her and
persecuted her, and now she had asked him plainly if she still held a
place in his heart, and he had coldly denied it.

A gentle, tender maiden, love-sick and mind-sick, yearning so
piteously for a little mercy, or sympathy, or kindness, and treated
like a mutinous soldier, because she loved so honestly and purely,--is
it any wonder that her hand went to her bosom and clasped the cold,
hard keys that promised her life and freedom? I think not. I have no
patience with young women who allow themselves to be carried away by
an innate bad taste and love for effect, quarrelling with the peaceful
destiny that a kind Providence has vouchsafed them, and with an
existence which they are too dull to make interesting to themselves or
to anyone else; finally making a desperate and foolish dash at
notoriety by a runaway marriage with the first scamp they can find,
and repenting in poverty and social ostracism the romance they
conceived in wealth and luxury. They deserve their fate. But when a
sensitive girl is motherless, cut off from friends and pleasures,
presented with the alternative of solitude or marriage with some
detested man, or locked up to forget a dream which was half realised
and very sweet, then the case is different. If she breaks her bonds,
and flies to the only loving heart she knows, forgive her, and pray
Heaven to have mercy on her, for she takes a fearful leap into the
dark.

Hedwig felt the keys, and took them from her dress, and pressed them
to her cheek, and her mind was made up. She glanced at the small gilt
clock, and saw that the hands pointed to seven. Five hours were before
her in which to make her preparations, such as they could be.

In accordance with her father's orders, given when he left her,
Temistocle served her dinner in her sitting-room; and the uncertainty
of the night's enterprise demanded that she should eat something,
lest her strength should fail at the critical moment. Temistocle
volunteered the information that her father had gone to the baron's
apartment, and had not been seen since. She heard in silence, and bade
the servant leave her as soon as he had ministered to her wants. Then
she wrote a short letter to her father, telling him that she had left
him, since he had no place for her in his heart, and that she had gone
to the one man who seemed ready both to love and to protect her. This
missive she folded, sealed, and laid in a prominent place upon the
table addressed to the count.

She made a small bundle,--very neatly, for she is clever with her
fingers,--and put on a dark travelling dress, in the folds of which
she sewed such jewels as were small and valuable and her own. She
would take nothing that her father had given her. In all this she
displayed perfect coolness and foresight.

The castle became intensely quiet as the evening advanced. She sat
watching the clock. At five minutes before midnight she took her
bundle and her little shoes in her hand, blew out her candle, and
softly left the room.

CHAPTER XX

I need not tell you how I passed all the time from; Nino's leaving me
until he came back in the evening, just as I could see from my window
that the full moon was touching the tower of the castle. I sat looking
out, expecting him, and I was the most anxious professor that ever
found himself in a ridiculous position. Temistocle had come, and you
know what had passed between us, and how we had arranged the plan of
the night. Most heartily did I wish myself in the little amphitheatre
of my lecture-room at the University, instead of being pledged to this
wild plot of my boy's invention. But there was no drawing back. I had
been myself to the little stable next door, where I had kept my
donkey, and visited him daily since my arrival, and I had made sure
that I could have him at a moment's notice by putting on the cumbrous
saddle. Moreover, I had secretly made a bundle of my effects, and had
succeeded in taking it unobserved to the stall, and I tied it to the
pommel. I also told my landlady that I was going away in the morning
with the young gentleman who had visited me, and who, I said, was the
engineer who was going to make a new road to the Serra. This was not
quite true; but lies that hurt no one are not lies at all, as you all
know, and the curiosity of the old woman was satisfied. I also paid
for my lodging, and gave her a franc for herself, which pleased her
very much. I meant to steal away about ten o'clock, or as soon as I
had seen Nino and communicated to him the result of my interview with
Temistocle.

The hours seemed endless, in spite of my preparations, which occupied
some time; so I went out when I had eaten my supper, and visited my
ass, and gave him a little bread that was left, thinking it would
strengthen him for the journey. Then I came back to my room, and
watched. Just as the moonlight was shooting over the hill, Nino rode
up the street. I knew him in the dusk by his broad hat, and also
because he was humming a little tune through his nose, as he generally
does. But he rode past my door without looking up, for he meant to put
his mule in the stable for a rest.

At last he came in, still humming, and apologised for the delay,
saying he had stopped a few minutes at the inn to get some supper. It
could not have been a very substantial meal that he ate in that short
time.

"What did the man say?" was his first question, as he sat down.

"He said it should be managed as I desired," I answered. "Of course
I did not mention you. Temistocle--that is his name--will come at
midnight, and take you to the door. There you will find this
inamorata, this lady-love of yours, for whom you are about to turn
the world upside down."

"What will you do yourself, Sor Cornelio?" he asked, smiling.

"I will go now and get my donkey, and quietly ride up the valley to
the Serra di Sant' Antonio," I said. "I am sure that the signorina
will be more at her ease if I accompany you. I am a very proper
person, you see."

"Yes," said Nino, pensively, "you are very proper. And besides, you
can be a witness of the civil marriage."

"Diavolo!" I cried, "a marriage! I had not thought of that."

"Blood of a dog!" exclaimed Nino, "what on earth did you think of?" He
was angry all in a moment.

"Piano,--do not disquiet yourself, my boy. I had not realised that the
wedding was so near,--that is all. Of course you will be married in
Rome, as soon as ever we get there."

"We shall be married in Ceprano to-morrow night, by the sindaco, or
the mayor, or whatever civil bishop they support in that God-forsaken
Neopolitan town," said Nino, with great determination.

"Oh, very well; manage it as you like. Only be careful that it is
properly done, and nave it registered," I added. "Meanwhile, I will
start."

"You need not go yet, caro mio; it is not nine o'clock."

"How far do you think I ought to go, Nino?" I inquired. To tell the
truth, the idea of going up the Serra alone was not so attractive in
the evening as it had been in the morning light. I thought it would be
very dark among those trees, and I had still a great deal of money
sewn between my waistcoats.

"Oh, you need not go so very far," said Nino. "Three or four miles
from the town will be enough. I will wait in the street below, after
eleven."

We sat in silence for some time afterwards, and if I was thinking of
the gloomy ride before me, I am sure that Nino was thinking of Hedwig.
Poor fellow! I dare say he was anxious enough to see her, after being
away for two months, and spending so many hours almost within her
reach. He sat low in his chair, and the dismal rays of the solitary
tallow candle cast deep shadows on his thoughtful face. Weary,
perhaps, with waiting and with long travel, yet not sad, but very
hopeful he looked. No fatigue could destroy the strong, manly
expression of his features, and even in that squalid room, by the
miserable light, dressed in his plain gray clothes, he was still the
man of success, who could hold thousands in the suspense of listening
to his slightest utterance. Nino is a wonderful man, and I am
convinced that there is more in him than music, which is well enough
when one can be as great as he, but is not all the world holds. I am
sure that massive head of his was not hammered so square and broad by
the great hands that forge the thunderbolts of nations, merely that he
should be a tenor and an actor, and give pleasure to his fellow-men. I
see there the power and the strength of a broader mastery than that
which bends the ears of a theatre audience. One day we may see it. It
needs the fire of hot times to fuse the elements of greatness in the
crucible of revolution. There is not such another head in all Italy as
Nino's that I have ever seen, and I have seen the best in Rome. He
looked so grand, as he sat there, thinking over the future. I am not
praising his face for its beauty; there is little enough of that, as
women might judge. And besides, you will laugh at my ravings, and say
that a singer is a singer, and nothing more, for all his life. Well,
we shall see in twenty years; you will,--perhaps I shall not.

"Nino," I asked, irrelevantly, following my own train of reflection,
"have you ever thought of anything but music--and love?" He roused
himself from his reverie, and stared at me.

"How should you be able to guess my thoughts?" he asked at last.

"People who have lived much together often read each other's minds.
What were you thinking of?" Nino sighed, and hesitated a moment before
he answered.

"I was thinking," he said, "that a musician's destiny, even the
highest, is a poor return for a woman's love."

"You see: I was thinking of you, and wondering whether, after all, you
will always be a singer."

"That is singular," he answered slowly. "I was reflecting how utterly
small my success on the stage will look to me when I have married
Hedwig von Lira."

"There is a larger stage, Nino mio, than yours."

"I know it," said he, and fell back in his chair again, dreaming.

I fancy that at any other time we might have fallen into conversation
and speculated on the good old-fashioned simile which likens life to a
comedy, or a tragedy, or a farce. But the moment was ill-chosen, and
we were both silent, being much preoccupied with the immediate future.

A little before ten I made up my mind to start. I glanced once more
round the room to see if I had left anything. Nino was still sitting
in his chair, his head bent, and his eyes staring at the floor.

"Nino," I said, "I am going now. Here is another candle, which you
will need before long, for these tallow things are very short."
Indeed, the one that burned was already guttering low in the old brass
candlestick. Nino rose and shook himself.

"My dear friend," he said, taking me by both hands, "you know that I
am grateful to you. I thank you and thank you again with all my heart.
Yes, you ought to go now, for the time is approaching. We shall join
you, if all goes well, by one o'clock."

"But, Nino, if you do not come?"

"I will come, alone, or with her. If--if I should not be with you by
two in the morning, go on alone, and get out of the way. It will be
because I am caught by that old Prussian devil. Good-bye." He embraced
me affectionately, and I went out. A quarter of an hour later I was
out of the town, picking my way, with my little donkey, over the
desolate path that leads toward the black Serra. The clatter of the
beast's hoofs over the stones kept time with the beatings of my heart,
and I pressed my thin legs close to his thinner sides for company.

When Nino was left alone,--and all this I know from him,--he sat again
in the chair and meditated; and although the time of the greatest
event in his life was very near, he was so much absorbed that he was
startled when he looked at his watch and found that it was half-past
eleven. He had barely time to make his preparations. His man was
warned, but was waiting near the inn, not knowing where he was
required, as Nino himself had not been to ascertain the position of
the lower door, fearing lest he might be seen by Benoni. He now
hastily extinguished the light and let himself out of the house
without noise. He found his countryman ready with the mules, ordered
him to come with him, and returned to the house, instructing him to
follow and wait at a short distance from the door he would enter.
Muffled in his cloak, he stood in the street awaiting the messenger
from Hedwig.

The crazy old clock of the church tolled the hour, and a man wrapped
in a nondescript garment, between a cloak and an overcoat, stole along
the moonlit street to where Nino stood, in front of my lodging.

"Temistocle!" called Nino, in a low voice, as the fellow hesitated.

"Excellency"--answered the man, and then drew back. "You are not the
Signor Grandi!" he cried, in alarm.

"It is the same thing," replied Nino. "Let us go."

"But how is this?" objected Temistocle, seeing a new development. "It
was the Signor Grandi whom I was to conduct." Nino was silent, but
there was a crisp sound in the air as he took a banknote from his
pocket-book. "Diavolo!" muttered the servant, "perhaps it may be
right, after all." Nino gave him the note.

"That is my passport," said he.

"I have doubts," answered Temistocle, taking it, nevertheless, and
examining it by the moonlight. "It has no _visa_," he added, with a
cunning leer. Nino gave him another. Then Temistocle had no more
doubts.

"I will conduct your excellency," he said. They moved away, and
Temistocle was so deaf that he did not hear the mules and the tramp of
the man who led them not ten paces behind him.

Passing round the rock they found themselves in the shadow; a fact
which Nino noted with much satisfaction, for he feared lest someone
might be keeping late hours in the castle. The mere noise of the mules
would attract no attention in a mountain town where the country people
start for their distant work at all hours of the day and night. They
came to the door. Nino called softly to the man with the mules to wait
in the shadow, and Temistocle knocked at the door. The key ground in
the lock from within, but the hands that held it seemed weak. Nino's
heart beat fast.

"Temistocle!" cried Hedwig's trembling voice.

"What is the matter, your excellency?" asked the servant through the
keyhole, not forgetting his manners.

"Oh, I cannot turn the key! What _shall_ I do?"

Nino heard, and pushed the servant aside.

"Courage, my dear lady," he said, aloud, that she might know his
voice. Hedwig appeared to make a frantic effort, and a little sound of
pain escaped her as she hurt her hands.

"Oh, what _shall_ I do!" she cried, piteously. "I locked it last
night, and now I cannot turn the key!"

Nino pressed with all his weight against the door. Fortunately it was
strong, or he would have broken it in, and it would have fallen upon
her. But it opened outward, and was heavily bound with iron. Nino
groaned.

"Has your excellency a taper?" asked Temistocle suddenly, forcing his
head between Nino's body and the door, in order to be heard.

"Yes. I put it out."

"And matches?" he asked again.

"Yes."

"Then let your excellency light the taper, and drop some of the
burning wax on the end of the key. It will be like oil." There was a
silence. The key was withdrawn, and a light appeared through the hole
where it had been. Nino instantly fastened his eye to the aperture,
hoping to catch a glimpse of Hedwig. But he could not see anything
save two white hands trying to cover the key with wax. He withdrew his
eye quickly, as the hands pushed the key through again.

Again the lock groaned,--a little sob of effort, another trial, and
the bolts flew back to their sockets. The prudent Temistocle, who did
not wish to be a witness of what followed, pretended to exert gigantic
strength in pulling the door open, and Nino, seeing him, drew back a
moment to let him pass.

"Your excellency need only knock at the upper door," he said to
Hedwig, "and I will open. I will watch, lest anyone should enter from
above."

"You may watch till the rising of the dead," thought Nino, and Hedwig
stood aside on the narrow step, while Temistocle went up. One instant
more, and Nino was at her feet, kissing the hem of her dress, and
speechless with happiness, for his tears of joy flowed fast.

Tenderly Hedwig bent to him, and laid her two hands on his bare head,
pressing down the thick and curly hair with a trembling, passionate
motion.

"Signor Cardegna, you must not kneel there,--nay, sir, I know you love
me! Would I have come to you else? Give me your hand--now--do not kiss
it so hard--no--Oh, Nino, my own dear Nino--"

What should have followed in her gentle speech is lacking, for many
and most sweet reasons. I need not tell you that the taper was
extinguished, and they stood locked in each other's arms against the
open door, with only the reflection of the moon from the houses
opposite to illuminate their meeting.

There was and is to me something divinely perfect and godlike in these
two virgin hearts, each so new to their love, and each so true and
spotless of all other. I am old to say sweet things of loving, but I
cannot help it; for though I never was as they are, I have loved much
in my time. Like our own dear Leopardi, I loved not the woman, but the
angel which is the type of all women, and whom not finding I perished
miserably as to my heart. But in my breast there is still the temple
where the angel dwelt, and the shrine is very fragrant still with the
divine scent of the heavenly roses that were about her. I think, also,
that all those who love in this world must have such a holy place of
worship in their hearts. Sometimes the kingdom of the soul and the
palace of the body are all Love's, made beautiful and rich with rare
offerings of great constancy and faith; and all the countless
creations of transcendent genius, and all the vast aspirations of
far-reaching power, go up in reverent order to do homage at Love's
altar, before they come forth, like giants, to make the great world
tremble and reel in its giddy grooves.

And with another it is different. The world is not his; he is the
world's, and all his petty doings have its gaudy stencil blotched upon
them. Yet haply even he has a heart, and somewhere in its fruitless
fallows stands a poor ruin, that never was of much dignity at its
best,--poor and broken, and half choked with weeds and briers; but
even thus the weeds are fragrant herbs, and the briers are wild roses,
of few and misshapen petals, but sweet, nevertheless. For this ruin
was once a shrine too, that his mean hands and sterile soul did try
most ineffectually to build up as a shelter for all that was ever
worthy in him.

Now, therefore, I say, Love, and love truly and long,--even for ever;
and if you can do other things well, do them; but if not, at least
learn to do that, for it is a very gentle thing and sweet in the
learning. Some of you laugh at me, and say, Behold, this old-fashioned
driveller, who does not even know that love is no longer in the
fashion! By Saint Peter, Heaven will soon be out of the fashion too,
and Messer Satanas will rake in the just and the unjust alike, so that
he need no longer fast on Fridays, having a more savoury larder! And
no doubt some of you will say that hell is really so antiquated that
it should be put in the museum at the University of Rome, for a
curious old piece of theological furniture. Truth! it is a wonder it
is not worn out with digesting the tough morsels it gets, when people
like you are finally gotten rid of from this world! But it is made of
good material, and it will last, never fear! This is not the gospel of
peace, but it is the gospel of truth.

Loving hearts and gentle souls shall rule the world some day, for all
your pestiferous fashions; and old as I am,--I do not mean aged, but
well on in years,--I believe in love still, and I always will. It is
true that it was not given to me to love as Nino loves Hedwig, for
Nino is even now a stronger, sterner man than I. His is the nature
that can never do enough; his the hands that never tire for her;
his the art that would surpass, for her, the stubborn bounds of
possibility. He is never weary of striving to increase her joy of him.
His philosophy is but that. No quibbles of "being" and "not being," or
wretched speculations concerning the object of existence; he has found
the true unity of unities, and he holds it fast.

Meanwhile, you object that I am not proceeding with my task, and
telling you more facts, recounting more conversations, and painting
more descriptions. Believe me, this one fact, that to love well is to
be all man can be, is greater than all the things men have ever
learned and classified in dictionaries. It is, moreover, the only fact
that has consistently withstood the ravages of time and social
revolution; it is the wisdom that has opened, as if by magic, the
treasures of genius, of goodness, and of all greatness, for everyone
to see; it is the vital elixir that has made men of striplings, and
giants of cripples, and heroes of the poor in heart though great in
spirit. Nino is an example; for he was but a boy, yet he acted like a
man; a gifted artist in a great city, courted by the noblest, yet he
kept his faith.

But when I have taken breath I will tell you what he and Hedwig said
to each other at the gate, and whether at the last she went with him,
or stayed in dismal Fillettino for her father's sake.

CHAPTER XXI

"Let us sit upon the step and talk," said Hedwig, gently disengaging
herself from his arms.

"The hour is advancing, and it is damp here, my love. You will be
cold," said Nino, protesting against delay as best he could.

"No; and I must talk to you." She sat down, but Nino pulled off his
cloak and threw it round her. She motioned him to sit beside her, and
raised the edge of the heavy mantle with her hand. "I think it is big
enough," said she.

"I think so," returned Nino; and so the pair sat side by side and hand
in hand, wrapped in the same garment, deep in the shadow of the rocky
doorway. "You got my letter, dearest?" asked Nino, hoping to remind
her of his proposal.

"Yes, it reached me safely. Tell me, Nino, have you thought of me in
all this time?" she asked, in her turn; and there was the joy of the
answer already in the question.

"As the earth longs for the sun, my love, through all the dark night.
You have never been out of my thoughts. You know that I went away to
find you in Paris, and I went to London, too; and everywhere I sang to
you, hoping you might be somewhere in the great audiences. But you
never went to Paris at all. When I got Professor Grandi's letter
saying that he had discovered you, I had but one night more to sing,
and then I flew to you."

"And now you have found me," said Hedwig, looking lovingly up to him
through the shadow.

"Yes, dear one; and I have come but just in time. You are in great
trouble now, and I am here to save you from it all. Tell me, what is
it all about?"

"Ah, Nino dear, it is very terrible. My father declared I must marry
Baron Benoni, or end my days here, in this dismal castle." Nino ground
his teeth, and drew her even closer to him, so that her head rested on
his shoulder.

"Infamous wretch!" he muttered.

"Hush, Nino," said Hedwig gently; "he is my father."

"Oh, I mean Benoni, of course," exclaimed Nino quickly.

"Yes, dear, of course you do," Hedwig responded. "But my father has
changed his mind. He no longer wishes me to marry the Jew."

"Why is that, sweetheart?"

"Because Benoni was very rude to me to-day, and I told my father, who
said he should leave the house at once."

"I hope he will kill the hound!" cried Nino, with rising anger. "And I
am glad your father has still the decency to protect you from insult."

"My father is very unkind, Nino mio, but he is an officer and a
gentleman."

"Oh, I know what that means,--a gentleman! Fie on your gentleman! Do
you love me less, Hedwig, because I am of the people?"

For all answer Hedwig threw her arms round his neck, passionately.

"Tell me, love, would you think better of me if I were noble?"

"Ah, Nino, how most unkind! Oh, no: I love you, and for your sake I
love the people,--the strong, brave people, whose man you are."

"God bless you, dear, for that," he answered tenderly. "But say, will
your father take you back to Rome, now that he has sent away Benoni?"

"No, he will not. He swears that I shall stay here until I can forget
you." The fair head rested again on his shoulder.

"It appears to me that your most high and noble father has amazingly
done perjury in his oath," remarked Nino, resting his hand on her
hair, from which the thick black veil that had muffled it had slipped
back. "What do you think, love?"

"I do not know," replied Hedwig, in a low voice.

"Why, dear, you have only to close this door behind you, and you may
laugh at your prison and your jailer!"

"Oh, I could not, Nino; and besides, I am weak, and cannot walk very
far. And we should have to walk very far, you know."

"You, darling? Do you think I would not and could not bear you from
here to Rome in these arms?" As he spoke he lifted her bodily from the
step.

"Oh!" she cried, half frightened, half thrilled, "how strong you are,
Nino!"

"Not I; it is my love. But I have beasts close by, waiting even now;
good stout mules, that will think you are only a little silver
butterfly that has flitted down from the moon for them to carry."

"Have you done that, dear?" she asked, doubtfully, while her heart
leaped at the thought. "But my father has horses," she added, on a
sudden, in a very anxious voice.

"Never fear, my darling. No horse could scratch a foothold in the
place where our mules are as safe as in a meadow. Come, dear heart,
let us be going." But Hedwig hung her head, and did not stir. "What is
it, Hedwig?" he asked, bending down to her and softly stroking her
hair. "Are you afraid of me?"

"No,--oh no! Not of you, Nino,--never of you!" She pushed her face
close against him, very lovingly.

"What then, dear? Everything is ready for us. Why should we wait?"

"Is it quite right, Nino?"

"Ah, yes, love, it is right,--the rightest right that ever was! How
can such love as ours be wrong? Have I not to-day implored your father
to relent and let us marry? I met him in the road--"

"He told me, dear. It was brave of you. And he frightened me by making
me think he had killed you. Oh, I was so frightened, you do not know!"

"Cruel--" Nino checked the rising epithet. "He is your father, dear,
and I must not speak my mind. But since he will not let you go, what
will you do? Will you cease to love me, at his orders?"

"Oh, Nino, never, never, never!"

"But will you stay here, to die of solitude and slow torture?" He
pleaded passionately.

"I--I suppose so, Nino," she said, in a choking sob.

"Now, by Heaven, you shall not!" He clasped her in his arms, raising
her suddenly to her feet. Her head fell back upon his shoulder, and
he could see her turn pale to the very lips, for his sight was
softened to the gloom, and her eyes shone like stars of fire at him
from beneath the half-closed lids. But the faint glory of coming
happiness was already on her face, and he knew that the last fight was
fought for love's mastery.

"Shall we ever part again, love?" he whispered, close to her. She
shook her head, her starry eyes still fastened on his.

"Then come, my own dear one,--come," and he gently drew her with him.
He glanced, naturally enough, at the step where they had sat, and
something dark caught his eye just above it. Holding her hand in one
of his, as though fearful lest she should escape him, he stooped
quickly and snatched the thing from the stair with the other. It was
Hedwig's little bundle.

"What have you here?" he asked. "Oh, Hedwig, you said you would not
come?" he added, half laughing, as he discovered what it was.

"I was not sure that I should like you, Nino," she said, as he again
put his arm about her. Hedwig started violently. "What is that?" she
exclaimed, in a terrified whisper.

"What, love?"

"The noise! Oh, Nino, there is someone on the staircase, coming down.
Quick,--quick! Save me, for love's sake!"

But Nino had heard, too, the clumsy but rapid groping of heavy feet on
the stairs above, far up in the winding stone steps, but momentarily
coming nearer. Instantly he pushed Hedwig out to the street, tossing
the bundle on the ground, withdrew the heavy key, shut the door, and
double turned the lock from the outside, removing the key again at
once. Nino is a man who acts suddenly and infallibly in great
emergencies. He took Hedwig in his arms, and ran with her to where the
mules were standing, twenty yards away.

The stout countryman from Subiaco, who had spent some years in
breaking stones out of consideration for the Government, as a general
confession of the inaccuracy of his views regarding foreigners, was by
no means astonished when he saw Nino appear with a woman in his arms.
Together they seated her on one of the mules, and ran beside her, for
there was no time for Nino to mount. They had to pass the door, and
through all its oaken thickness they could hear the curses and
imprecations of someone inside, and the wood and iron shook with
repeated blows and kicks. The quick-witted muleteer saw the bundle
lying where Nino had tossed it, and he picked it up as he ran.

Both Nino and Hedwig recognised Benoni's voice, but neither spoke as
they hurried up the street into the bright moonlight, she riding and
Nino running as he led the other beast at a sharp trot. In five
minutes they were out of the little town, and Nino, looking back,
could see that the broad white way behind them was clear of all
pursuers. Then he himself mounted, and the countryman trotted by his
side.

Nino brought his mule close to Hedwig's. She was an accomplished
horsewoman, and had no difficulty in accommodating herself to the
rough country saddle. Their hands met, and the mules, long accustomed
to each other's company, moved so evenly that the gentle bond was not
broken. But although Hedwig's fingers twined lovingly with his, and
she often turned and looked at him from beneath her hanging veil, she
was silent for a long time. Nino respected her mood, half guessing
what she felt, and no sound was heard save an occasional grunt from
the countryman as he urged the beasts, and the regular clatter of the
hoofs on the stony road.

To tell the truth, Nino was overwhelmed with anxiety; for his quick
wits had told him that Benoni, infuriated by the check he had
received, would lose no time in remounting the stairs, saddling a
horse, and following them. If only they could reach the steeper part
of the ravine they could bid defiance to any horse that ever galloped,
for Benoni must inevitably come to grief if he attempted a pursuit
into the desolate Serra. He saw that Hedwig had not apprehended the
danger, when once the baron was stopped by the door, conceiving in
her heart the impression that he was a prisoner in his own trap.
Nevertheless, they urged the beasts onward hotly, if one may use the
word of the long, heavy trot of a mountain mule. The sturdy countryman
never paused or gasped for breath, keeping pace in a steady,
determined fashion.

But they need not have been disturbed, for Hedwig's guess was nearer
the truth than Nino's reasoning. They knew it later, when Temistocle
found them in Rome, and I may as well tell you how it happened. When
he reached the head of the staircase, he took the key from the one
side to the other, locked the door, as agreed, and sat down to wait
for Hedwig's rap. He indeed suspected that it would never come, for he
had only pretended not to see the mules; but the prospect of further
bribes made him anxious not to lose sight of his mistress, and
certainly not to disobey her, in case she really returned. The
staircase opened into the foot of the tower, a broad stone chamber,
with unglazed windows.

Temistocle sat himself down to wait on an old bench that had been put
there, and the light of the full moon made the place as bright as day.
Now the lock on the door was rusty, like the one below, and creaked
loudly every time it was turned. But Temistocle fancied it would not
be heard in the great building, and felt quite safe. Sitting there, he
nodded and fell asleep, tired with the watching.

Benoni had probably passed a fiery half hour with the count. But I
have no means of knowing what was said on either side; at all events,
he was in the castle still, and, what is more, he was awake. When
Hedwig opened the upper door and closed it behind her, the sound was
distinctly audible to his quick ears, and he probably listened and
speculated, and finally yielded to his curiosity.

However that may have been, he found Temistocle asleep in the tower
basement, saw the key in the lock, guessed whence the noise had come,
and turned it. The movement woke Temistocle, who started to his feet,
and recognised the tall figure of the baron just entering the door.
Too much confused for reflection, he called aloud, and the baron
disappeared down the stairs. Temistocle listened at the top, heard
distinctly the shutting and locking of the lower door, and a moment
afterwards Benoni's voice, swearing in every language at once, came
echoing up.

"They have escaped," said Temistocle to himself. "If I am not
mistaken, I had better do the same." With that he locked the upper
door, put the key in his pocket, and departed on tiptoe. Having his
hat and his overcoat with him, and his money in his pocket, he
determined to leave the baron shut up in the staircase. He softly left
the castle by the front gate, of which he knew the tricks, and he was
not heard of for several weeks afterwards. As for Benoni, he was
completely caught, and probably spent the remainder of the night in
trying to wake the inmates of the building. So you see that Nino need
not have been so much disturbed after all.

While these things were happening Nino and Hedwig got fairly away, and
no one but a mountaineer of the district could possibly have overtaken
them. Just as they reached the place where the valley suddenly narrows
to a gorge, the countryman spoke. It was the first word that had been
uttered by any of the party in an hour, so great had been their haste
and anxiety.

"I see a man with a beast," he said, shortly.

"So do I," answered Nino. "I expect to meet a friend here." Then he
turned to Hedwig. "Dear one," he said, "we are to have a companion
now, who says he is a very proper person."

"A companion?" repeated Hedwig, anxiously.

"Yes. We are to have the society of no less a person than the
Professor Cornelio Grandi, of the University of Rome. He will go with
us, and be a witness."

"Yes," said Hedwig, expecting more, "a witness--"

"A witness of our marriage, dear lady; I trust to-morrow,--or to-day,
since midnight is past." He leaned far over his saddle-bow, as the
mules clambered up the rough place. Her hand went out to him, and he
took it. They were so near that I could see them. He dropped the reins
and bared his head, and so, riding, he bent himself still farther, and
pressed his lips upon her hand: and that was all the marriage contract
that was sealed between them. But it was enough.

There I sat, upon a stone in the moonlight, just below the trees,
waiting for them. And there I had been for two mortal hours or more,
left to meditate upon the follies of professors in general and of
myself in particular. I was beginning to wonder whether Nino would
come at all, and I can tell you I was glad to see the little caravan.
Ugh! it is an ugly place to be alone in.

They rode up, and I went forward to meet them.

"Nino mio," said I, "you have made me pass a terrible time here. Thank
Heaven, you are come; and the contessina, too! Your most humble
servant, signorina." I bowed low and Hedwig bent a little forward, but
the moon was just behind her, and I could not see her face.

"I did not think we should meet so soon, Signor Grandi. But I am very
glad." There was a sweet shyness in the little speech that touched me.
I am sure she was afraid that it was not yet quite right, or at least
that there should be some other lady in the party.

"Courage, Messer Cornelio," said Nino. "Mount your donkey, and let us
be on our way."

"Is not the contessina tired?" I inquired. "You might surely rest a
little here."

"Caro mio," answered Nino, "we must be safe at the top of the pass
before we rest. We were so unfortunate as to wake his excellency the
Baron Benoni out of some sweet dream or other, and perhaps he is not
far behind us."

An encounter with the furious Jew was not precisely attractive to me,
and I was on my donkey before you could count a score. I suggested to
Nino that it would be wiser if the countryman led the way through the
woods, and I followed him. Then the contessina would be behind me,
and Nino would bring up the rear. It occurred to me that the mules
might outstrip my donkey if I went last, and so I might be left to
face the attack, if any came; whereas, if I were in front, the others
could not go any faster than I.

CHAPTER XXII

The gorge rises steep and precipitous between the lofty mountains on
both sides, and it is fortunate that we had some light from the moon,
which was still high at two o'clock, being at the full.

It is a ghastly place enough. In the days of the Papal States the
Serra di Sant' Antonio, as it is called, was the shortest passage to
the kingdom of Naples, and the frontier line ran across its summit. To
pass from one dominion to the other it would be necessary to go out of
the way some forty or fifty miles, perhaps, unless one took this
route; and the natural consequence was that outlaws, smugglers,
political fugitives, and all such manner of men, found it a great
convenience. Soldiers were stationed in Fillettino and on the other
side, to check illicit traffic and brigandage, and many were the
fights that were fought among these giant beeches.

The trees are of primeval dimensions, for no one has yet been
enterprising enough to attempt to fell the timber. The gorge is so
steep, and in many places so abruptly precipitous, that the logs could
never be removed; and so they have grown undisturbed for hundreds of
years, rotting and falling away as they stand. The beech is a lordly
tree, with its great smooth trunk and its spreading branches, and
though it never reaches the size of the chestnut, it is far more
beautiful and long-lived.

Here and there, at every hundred yards or so, it seemed to me, the
countryman would touch his hat and cross himself as he clambered up
the rocky path, and then I did likewise; for there was always some
rude cross or rough attempt at the inscription of a name at such
spots, which marked where a man had met his untimely end. Sometimes
the moonbeams struggled through the branches, still bare of leaves,
and fell on a few bold initials and a date; and sometimes we came to a
broad ledge where no trees were, but only a couple of black sticks
tied at right angles for a cross. It was a dismal place, and the owls
hooted at us.

Besides, it grew intensely cold towards morning, so that the
countryman wanted to stop and make a fire to warm ourselves. Though it
was the end of March, the ground was frozen as hard as any stone
wherever it was free from rocks. But Nino dismounted, and insisted
upon wrapping his cloak about Hedwig; and then he walked, for fear of
catching cold, and the countryman mounted his mule and clambered away
in front. In this way Hedwig and Nino lagged behind, conversing in low
tones that sounded very soft; and when I looked round, I could see how
he held his hand on her saddle and supported her in the rough places.
Poor child, who would have thought she could bear such terrible work!
But she had the blood of a soldierly old race in her veins, and would
have struggled on silently till she died.

I think it would be useless to describe every stone on the desolate
journey, but when the morning dawned we were at the top, and we found
the descent much easier. The rosy streaks came first, quite suddenly,
and in a few minutes the sun was up, and the eventful night was past.
I was never so glad to get rid of a night in my life. It is fortunate
that I am so thin and light, for I could never have reached the
high-road alive had I been as fat as De Pretis is; and certainly the
little donkey would have died by the way. He was quite as thin when I
sold him again as when I bought him, a fortnight before, in spite of
the bread I had given him.

Hedwig drew her veil close about her face as the daylight broke, for
she would not let Nino see how pale and tired she was. But when at
last we were in the broad, fertile valley which marks the beginning of
the old kingdom of Naples, we reached a village where there was an
inn, and Nino turned everyone out of the best room with a high hand,
and had a couch of some sort spread for Hedwig. He himself walked up
and down outside the door for five whole hours, lest she should be
disturbed in her sleep. As for me I lay, on a bench, rolled in my
cloak, and slept as I have not slept since I was twenty.

Nino knew that the danger of pursuit was past now, and that the first
thing necessary was to give Hedwig rest; for she was so tired that she
could not eat, though there were very good eggs to be had, of which I
ate three, and drank some wine, which does not compare to that on the
Roman side.

The sturdy man from Subiaco seemed like iron, for he ate sparingly and
drank less, and went out into the village to secure a conveyance and
to inquire the nearest way to Ceprano.

But when, as I have said, Nino had guarded Hedwig's door for five
hours he woke me from my sleep, and by that time it was about two in
the afternoon.

"Hi, Messer Cornelio! wake up!" he cried pulling my arm. And I rubbed
my eyes.

"What do you want, Nino?" I inquired.

"I want to be married immediately," he replied, still pulling at my
elbow.

"Well, pumpkin-head," I said angrily, "marry, then, in Heaven's name,
and let me sleep! I do not want to marry anybody."

"But I do," retorted Nino, sitting down on the bench and laying a hand
on my shoulder. He could still see Hedwig's door from where he sat.

"In this place?" I asked. "Are you serious?"

"Perfectly. This is a town of some size, and there must be a mayor
here who marries people when they take the fancy."

"Diavolo! I suppose so," I assented.

"A sindaco,--there must be one, surely."

"Very well, go and find him, good-for-nothing!" I exclaimed.

"But I cannot go away and leave that door until she wakes," he
objected. "Dear Messer Cornelio, you have done so much for me, and are
so kind,--will you not go out and find the sindaco, and bring him here
to marry us?"

"Nino," I said, gravely, "the ass is a patient beast, and very
intelligent, but there is a limit to his capabilities. So long as it
is merely a question of doing things you cannot do, very well. But if
it comes to this, that I must find not only the bride, but also the
mayor and the priest, I say, with good Pius IX.,--rest his soul,--_non
possumus_." Nino laughed. He could afford to laugh now.

"Messer Cornelio, a child could tell you have been asleep. I never
heard such a string of disconnected sentences in my life. Come, be
kind, and get me a mayor that I may be married."

"I tell you I will not," I cried, stubbornly. "Go yourself."

"But I cannot leave the door. If anything should happen to her--"

"Macche! What should happen to her, pray? I will put my bench across
the door, and sit there till you come back."

"I am not quite sure--" he began.

"Idiot!" I exclaimed.

"Well, let us see how it looks." And with that he ousted me from my
bench, and carried it, walking on tiptoe, to the entrance of Hedwig's
room. Then he placed it across the door. "Now sit down," he said,
authoritatively, but in a whisper; and I took my place in the middle
of the long seat. He stood back and looked at me with an artistic
squint.

"You look so proper," he said, "that I am sure nobody will think of
trying the door while you sit there. Will you remain till I come
back?"

"Like Saint Peter in his chair," I whispered, for I wanted to get rid
of him.

"Well, then, I must risk whatever may happen, and leave you here." So
he went away. Now I ask you if this was not a ridiculous position. But
I had discovered, in the course of my fortnight's wanderings, that I
was really something of a philosopher in practice, and I am proud to
say that on this occasion I smoked in absolute indifference to the
absurdity of the thing. People came and stood at a distance in the
passage, and eyed me curiously. But they knew I belonged to the party
of foreigners, and doubtless they supposed it was the custom of my
country to guard doors in that way.

An hour passed, and I heard Hedwig stirring in the room. After a time
she came close to the door and put her hand on the lock, so that it
began to rattle, but she hesitated, and went away again. I once more
heard her moving about. Then I heard her open the window, and at last
she came boldly and opened the door, which turned inward. I sat like a
rock, not knowing whether Nino would like me to turn round and look.

"Signor Grandi!" she cried at last in laughing tones.

"Yes, signorina!" I replied, respectfully, without moving. She
hesitated.

"What are you doing in that strange position?" she asked.

"I am mounting guard," I answered. "I promised Nino that I would sit
here till he came back." She fairly laughed now, and it was the most
airy, silvery laugh in the world.

"But why do you not look at me?"

"I am not sure that Nino would let me," said I. "I promised not to
move, and I will keep my promise."

"Will you let me out?" she asked, struggling with her merriment.

"By no means," I answered; "anymore than I would let anybody in."

"Then we must make the best of it," said she. "But I will bring a
chair and sit down, while you tell me the news."

"Will you assume all responsibility toward Nino, signorina, if I turn
so that I can see you?" I asked, as she sat down.

"I will say that I positively ordered you to do so," she answered,
gaily. "Now look, and tell me where Signor Cardegna is gone."

I looked indeed, and it was long before I looked away. The rest, the
freedom, and the happiness had done their work quickly, in spite of
all the dreadful anxiety and fatigue. The fresh, transparent colour
was in her cheeks, and her blue eyes were clear and bright. The statue
had been through the fire, and was made a living thing, beautiful, and
breathing, and real.

"Tell me," she said, the light dancing in her eyes, "where is he
gone?"

"He is gone to find the mayor of this imposing capital," I replied.
Hedwig suddenly blushed, and turned her glistening eyes away. She was
beautiful so.

"Are you very tired, signorina? I ought not to ask the question, for
you look as though you had never been tired in your life."

There is no saying what foolish speeches I might have made had not
Nino returned. He was radiant, and I anticipated that he must have
succeeded in his errand.

"Ha! Messer Cornelio, is this the way you keep watch?" he cried.

"I found him here," said Hedwig, shyly, "and he would not even glance
at me until I positively insisted upon it." Nino laughed, as he would
have laughed at most things in that moment, for sheer superfluity of
happiness.

"Signorina," he said, "would it be agreeable to you to walk for a few
minutes after your sleep? The weather is wonderfully fine, and I am
sure you owe it to the world to show the roses which rest has given
you."

Hedwig blushed softly, and I rose and went away, conceiving that I had
kept watch long enough. But Nino called after me, as he moved the
bench from the door.

"Messer Cornelio, will you not come with us? Surely you need a walk
very much, and we can ill spare your company. My lady, let me offer
you my arm."

In this manner we left the inn, a wedding procession which could not
have been much smaller, and the singing of an old woman, who sat with
her distaff in front of her house, was the wedding march. Nino seemed
in no great haste, I thought, and I let them walk as they would, while
I kept soberly in the middle of the road, a little way behind.

It was not far that we had to go, however, and soon we came to a large
brick house, with an uncommonly small door, over which hung a wooden
shield with the arms of Italy brightly painted in green and red and
white.

Nino and Hedwig entered arm in arm, and I slunk guiltily in after
them. Hedwig had drawn her veil, which was the only head-dress she
had, close about her face.

In a quarter of an hour the little ceremony was over, and the
registers were signed by us all. Nino also got a stamped certificate,
which he put very carefully in his pocket-book. I never knew what it
cost Nino to overcome the scruples of the sindaco about marrying a
strange couple from Rome in that outlandish place, where the peasants
stared at us as though we had been the most unnatural curiosities, and
even the pigs in the street jogged sullenly out of our way as though
not recognising that we were human.

At all events, the thing was done, and Hedwig von Lira became for the
rest of her life Edvigia Cardegna. And I felt very guilty. The pair
went down the steps of the house together in front of me, and stopped
as they reached the street; forgetting my presence, I presume. They
had not forgotten me so long as I was needed to be of use to them;
but I must not complain.

"We can face the world together now, my dear lady," said Nino, as he
drew her little hand through his arm. She looked up at him, and I
could see her side face. I shall never forget the expression. There
was in it something I really never saw before, which made me feel as
though I were in church; and I knew then that there was no wrong in
helping such love as that to its fulfilment.

By the activity of the man from Subiaco a curious conveyance was ready
for us, being something between a gig and a cart, and a couple of
strong horses were hired for the long drive. The countryman, who had
grown rich in the last three days, offered to buy the thin little ass
which had carried me so far and so well. He observed that he was blind
of one eye, which I had never found out, and I do not believe it was
true. The way he showed it was by snapping his fingers close to the
eye in question. The donkey winked, and the countryman said that if
the eye were good the beast would see that the noise was made by the
fingers, and would not be frightened, and would therefore not wink.

"You see," said he, "he thinks it is a whip cracking, and so he is
afraid."

"Do donkeys always wink when they are frightened?" I inquired. "It is
very interesting."

"Yes," said the countryman, "they mostly do." At all events, I was
obliged to take the man's own price, which was little enough,--not a
third of what I had given.

The roads were good, and the long and the short of the matter, without
any more details, is that we reached Rome very early the next
morning, having caught the night train from Naples. Hedwig slept most
of the time in the carriage and all the time in the train, while Nino,
who never seemed to tire or to need sleep, sat watching her with wide,
happy eyes. But perhaps he slept a little too, for I did, and I cannot
answer for his wakefulness through every minute of the night.

Once I asked him what he intended to do in Rome.

"We will go to the hotel Costanzi," he answered, which is a
foreigners' resort. And if she is rested enough we will come down to
you, and see what we can do about being married properly in church by
the old curato."

"The marriage by the sindaco is perfectly legal," I remarked.

"It is a legal contract, but it is not a marriage that pleases me," he
said, gravely.

"But, caro mio, without offence, your bride is a Protestant, a
Lutheran; not to mince matters, a heretic. They will make objections."

"She is an angel," said Nino, with great conviction.

"But the angels neither marry nor are given in marriage," I objected,
arguing the point to pass the time.

"What do you make of it, then, Messer Cornelio?" he asked, with a
smile.

"Why, as a heretic she ought to burn, and as an angel she ought not to
marry."

"It is better to marry than to burn," retorted Nino, triumphantly.

"Diavolo! Have you had St. Paul for a tutor?" I asked, for I knew the
quotation, being fond of Greek.

"I heard a preacher cite it once at the Gesu, and I thought it a good
saying."

Early in the morning we rolled into the great station of Rome, and
took an affectionate leave of each other, with the promise that Hedwig
and Nino would visit me in the course of the day. I saw them into a
carriage, with Nino's small portmanteau, and Hedwig's bundle, and then
mounted a modest omnibus that runs from the termini to St. Peter's,
and goes very near my house.

All the bells were ringing gladly, as if to welcome us, for it was
Easter morning; and though it is not so kept as it used to be, it is
nevertheless a great feast. Besides, the spring was at hand, and the
acacia-trees in the great square were budding, though everything was
still so backward in the hills. April was at hand, which the
foreigners think is our best month; but I prefer June and July, when
the weather is warm, and the music plays in the Piazza Colonna of an
evening. For all that, April is a glad time, after the disagreeable
winter.

There was with me much peace on that Easter day, for I felt that my
dear boy was safe after all his troubles. At least he was safe from
anything that could be done to part him from Hedwig; for the civil
laws are binding, and Hedwig was of the age when a young woman is
legally free to marry whom she pleases. Of course old Lira might still
make himself disagreeable, but I fancied him too much a man of the
world to desire a scandal, when no good could follow. The one shadow
in the future was the anger of Benoni, who would be certain to seek
some kind of revenge for the repulse he had suffered. I was still
ignorant of his whereabouts, not yet knowing what I knew long
afterwards, and have told you, because otherwise you would have been
as much in the dark as he was himself, when Temistocle cunningly
turned the lock of the staircase door and left him to his curses and
his meditations. I have had much secret joy in thinking what a
wretched night he must have passed there, and how his long limbs must
have ached with sitting about on the stones, and how hoarse he must
have been from the dampness and the swearing.

I reached home, the dear old number twenty-seven in Santa Catarina dei
Funari, by half-past seven, or even earlier; and I was glad when I
rang the bell on the landing, and called through the keyhole in my
impatience.

"Mariuccia, Mariuccia, come quickly! It is I!" I cried.

"O Madonna mia!' I heard her exclaim, and there was a tremendous
clatter, as she dropped the coffee-pot. She was doubtless brewing
herself a quiet cup with my best Porto-Rico, which I do not allow her
to use. She thought I was never coming back, the cunning old hag!

"Dio mio, Signor Professore! A good Easter to you!" she cried, as I
heard the flat pattering of her old feet inside, running to the door.
"I thought the wolves had eaten you, padrone mio!" And at last she let
me in.

CHAPTER XXIII

"A tall gentleman came here late last night, Signor Professore," said
Mariuccia, as I sat down in the old green arm-chair. "He seemed very
angry about something, and said he must positively see you." The idea
of Benoni flashed uneasily across my brain.

"Was he the grave signore who came a few days before I left?" I asked.

"Heaven preserve us!" ejaculated Mariuccia. "This one was much older,
and seemed to be lame; for when he tried to shake his stick at me, he
could not stand without it. He looked like one of the old Swiss guards
at Palazzo." By which she meant the Vatican, as you know.

"It must have been the count," I said, thinking aloud.

"A count! A pretty sort of count, indeed, to come waking people from
their beds in the night! He had not even a high hat like the one you
wear when you go to the University. A count, indeed!"

"Go and make me some good coffee, Mariuccia," I said, eying her
severely to show I suspected her of having used mine; "and be careful
to make it of my best Porto-Rico, if you have any left, without any
chicory."

"A count, indeed!" she muttered angrily as she hobbled away, not in
the least heeding my last remark, which I believed to be withering.

I had not much time for reflection that morning. My old clothes were
in tatters, and the others looked very fine by contrast, so that when
I had made my toilet I felt better able to show myself to the
distinguished company I expected. I had seen so much extraordinary
endurance in Nino and Hedwig during the last two or three days that I
was prepared to see them appear at any moment, brushed and curled and
ready for anything. The visit of the count, however, had seriously
disturbed me, and I hardly knew what to look for from him. As it
turned out, I had not long to wait.

I was resting myself in the arm-chair, and smoking one of those
infamous cigars that nearly suffocate me, just for company, and I was
composing in my mind a letter to the authorities of the University,
requesting that I might begin to lecture again. I did not find out
until later that I need not have written to them at all when I went
away, as ten days are always allowed at Easter, in any case. It is
just like my forgetfulness, to have made such a mistake. I really only
missed four lectures. But my composition was interrupted by the
door-bell, and my heart sank in my breast. Mariuccia opened, and I
knew by the sound of the stick on the bricks that the lame count had
come to wreak his vengeance.

Being much frightened, I was very polite, and bowed a great many times
as he came toward me. It was he, looking much the same as ever, wooden
and grizzly.

"I am much honoured, sir," I began, "by seeing you here."

"You are Signor Grandi?" he inquired, with a stiff bow.

"The same, Signor Conte, and very much at your service," I answered,
rubbing my hands together to give myself an air of satisfaction.

"Let us not waste time," he said, severely but not roughly. "I have
come to you on business. My daughter has disappeared with your son, or
whatever relation the Signor Giovanni Cardegna is to you."

"He is no relation, Signor Conte. He was an orphan, and I--"

"It is the same," he interrupted. "You are responsible for his
doings."

I responsible! Good heavens, had I not done all in my power to prevent
the rashness of that hot-headed boy?

"Will you not sit down, sir?" I said, moving a chair for him. He took
the seat rather reluctantly.

"You do not seem much astonished at what I tell you," he remarked. "It
is evident that you are in the plot."

"Unless you will inform me of what you know, Signor Conte," I replied
with urbanity, "I cannot see how I can be of service to you."

"On the contrary," said he, "I am the person to ask questions. I wake
up in the morning and find my daughter gone. I naturally inquire where
she is."

"Most naturally, as you say, sir. I would do the same."

"And you, also very naturally, answer my questions," he continued
severely.

"In that case, sir," I replied, "I would call to your attention the
fact that you have asked but one question,--whether I were Signor
Grandi. I answered that in the affirmative." You see I was
apprehensive of what he might do, and desired to gain time. But he
began to lose his temper.

"I have no patience with you Italians," he said, gruffly; "you bandy
words and play with them as if you enjoyed it."

Diavolo, thought I, he is angry at my silence. What will he be if I
speak?

"What do you wish to know, Signor Conte?" I inquired, in suave tones.

"I wish to know where my daughter is. Where is she? Do you understand?
I am asking a question now, and you cannot deny it."

I was sitting in front of him, but I rose and pretended to shut the
door, thus putting the table and the end of the piano between us,
before I answered.

"She is in Rome, Signor Conte," I said.

"With Cardegna?" he asked, not betraying any emotion.

"Yes."

"Very well. I will have them arrested at once. That is all I wanted."
He put his crutch-stick to the floor as though about to rise. Seeing
that his anger was not turned against me, I grew bold.

"You had better not do that," I mildly observed, across the table.

"And why not, sir?" he asked, quickly, hesitating whether to get upon
his feet or to remain seated.

"Because they are married already," I answered, retreating toward the
door. But there was no need for flight. He sank back in the chair, and
the stick fell from his hands upon the bricks with a loud rattle. Poor
old man! I thought he was quite overcome by the news I had
communicated. He sat staring at the window, his hands lying idly on
his knees. I moved to come toward him, but he raised one hand and
began to twirl his great gray moustache fiercely; whereat I resumed my
former position of safety.

"How do you know this?" he demanded on a sudden.

"I was present at the civil marriage yesterday," I answered, feeling
very much scared. He began to notice my manoeuvre.

"You need not be so frightened," he said, coldly. "It would be no use
to kill any of you now, though I; would like to."

"I assure you that no one ever frightened me in my; own house, sir," I
answered. I think my voice must have sounded very bold, for he did not
laugh at me.

"I suppose it is irrevocable," he said, as if to himself.

"Oh, yes--perfectly irrevocable," I answered, promptly. "They are
married, and have come back to Rome. They are at the Hotel Costanzi. I
am sure that Nino would give you every explanation."

"Who is Nino?" he asked.

"Nino Cardegna, of course--"

"And do you foolishly imagine that I am going to ask him to explain
why he took upon himself to carry away my daughter?" The question was
scornful enough.

"Signor Conte," I protested, "you would do well to see them, for she
is your daughter, after all."

"She is not my daughter any longer," growled the count. "She is
married to a singer, a tenor, an Italian with curls and lies and
grins, as you all have. Fie!" And he pulled his moustache again.

"A singer," said I, "if you like, but a great singer, and an honest
man."

"Oh, I did not come here to listen to your praises of that scoundrel!"
he exclaimed, hotly. "I have seen enough of him to be sick of him."

"I wish he were in this room to hear you call him by such names," I
said; for I began to grow angry, as I sometimes do, and then my fear
grows small and my heart grows big.

"Ah!" said he, ironically. "And pray, what would he do to me?"

"He would probably ask you again for that pistol you refused to lend
him the other day." I thought I might as well show that I knew all
about the meeting in the road. But Lira laughed grimly, and the idea
of a fight seemed to please him.

"I would not refuse it this time. In fact, since you mention it, I
think I will go and offer it to him now. Do you think I should be
justified, Master Censor?"

"No," said I, coming forward and facing him. "But if you like you can
fight me. I am your own age, and a better match." I would have fought
him then and there, with the chairs, if he had liked.

"Why should I fight you?" he inquired, in some astonishment. "You
strike me as a very peaceable person indeed."

"Diavolo! do you expect me to stand quietly and hear you call my boy a
scoundrel? What do you take me for, signore? Do you know that I am the
last of the Conti Grandi, and as noble as any of you, and as fit to
fight, though my hair is gray?"

"I knew, indeed, that one member of that illustrious family survived
in Rome," he answered, gravely, "but I was not aware that you were he.
I am glad to make your acquaintance, and I sincerely wish that you
were the father of the young man who has married my daughter. If you
were, I would be ready to arrange matters." He looked at me
searchingly.

"Unfortunately, I am not any relation of his," I answered. "His father
and mother were peasants on my estate of Serveti, when it still was
mine. They died when he was a baby, and I took care of him and
educated him."

"Yes, he is well educated," reflected the count, "for I examined him
myself. Let us talk no more about fighting. You are quite sure that
the marriage is legal?"

"Quite certain. You can do nothing, and any attempt would be a useless
scandal. Besides, they are so happy, you do not know."

"So happy, are they? Do you think I am happy too?

"A man has every reason to be so, when his daughter marries an honest
man. It is a piece of good luck that does not happen often."

"Probably from the scarcity of daughters who are willing to drive
their fathers to distraction by their disobedience and contempt of
authority,'" he said, savagely.

"No,--from the scarcity of honest men," I said. "Nino is a very honest
man. You may go from one end of Italy to the other and not meet one
like him."

"I sincerely hope so," growled Lira. "Otherwise Italy would be as
wholly unredeemed and unredeemable as you pretend that some parts of
it are now. But I will tell you, Conte Grandi, you cannot walk across
the street, in my country, without meeting a dozen men who would
tremble at the idea of such depravity as an elopement."

"Our ideas of honesty differ, sir," I replied. "When a man loves a
woman, I consider it honest in him to act as though he did, and not to
go and marry another for consolation, beating her with a thick stick
whenever he chances to think of the first. That seems to be the
northern idea of domestic felicity." Lira laughed gruffly, supposing
that my picture was meant for a jest. "I am glad you are amused," I
added.

"Upon my honour, sir," he replied, "you are so vastly amusing that I
am half inclined to forgive my daughter's rashness, for the sake of
enjoying your company. First you entrench yourself behind your
furniture; then you propose to fight me; and now you give me the most
original views upon love and marriage that I ever heard. Indeed I have
cause to be amused."

"I am happy to oblige you," I said, tartly, for I did not like his
laughter. "So long as you confine your amusement to me, I am
satisfied; but pray avoid using any objectionable language about
Nino."

"Then my only course is to avoid the subject?"

"Precisely," I replied, with a good deal of dignity.

"In that case I will go," he said. I was immensely relieved, for his
presence was most unpleasant, as you may readily guess. He got upon
his feet, and I showed him to the door, with all courtesy. I expected
that he would say something about the future before leaving me, but I
was mistaken. He bowed in silence, and stumped down the steps with his
stick.

I sank into my arm-chair with a great sigh of relief, for I felt that,
for me at least, the worst was over. I had faced the infuriated
father, and I might now face anybody with the consciousness of power.
I always feel conscious of great power when danger is past. Once more
I lit my cigar, and stretched myself out to take some rest. The
constant strain on the nerves was becoming very wearing, and I knew
very well that on the morrow I should need bleeding and mallows tea.
Hardly was I settled and comfortable when I heard that dreadful bell
again.

"This is the day of the resurrection indeed," cried Mariuccia
frantically from the kitchen. And she hurried to the door. But I
cannot describe to you the screams of joy and the strange sounds,
between laughing and crying, that her leathern throat produced when
she found Nino and Hedwig on the landing, waiting for admission. And
when Nino explained that he had been married, and that this beautiful
lady with the bright eyes and the golden hair was his wife, the old
woman fairly gave way, and sat upon a chair in an agony of amazement
and admiration. But the pair came toward me, and I met them with a
light heart.

"Nino," said Hedwig, "we have not been nearly grateful enough to
Signor Grandi for all he has done. I have been very selfish," she
said, penitently turning to me.

"Ah no, signora," I replied,--for she was married now, and no longer
"signorina,"--"it is never selfish of such as you to let an old man do
you service. You have made me very happy." And then I embraced Nino,
and Hedwig gave me her hand, which I kissed in the old fashion.

"And so this is your old home, Nino?" said Hedwig presently, looking
about her, and touching the things in the room, as a woman will when
she makes acquaintance with a place she has often heard of. "What a
dear room it is! I wish we could live here!" How very soon a woman
learns that "we" that means so much! It is never forgotten, even when
the love that bred it is dead and cold.

"Yes," I said, for Nino seemed so enraptured, as he watched her, that
he could not speak. "And there is the old piano, with the end on the
boxes because it has no leg, as I dare say Nino has often told you."

"Nino said it was a very good piano," said she.

"And indeed it is," he said, with enthusiasm. "It is out of tune now,
perhaps, but it is the source of all my fortune." He leaned over the
crazy instrument and seemed to caress it.

"Poor old thing!" said Hedwig, compassionately. "I am sure there is
music in it still--the sweet music of the past."

"Yes," said he laughing, "it must be the music of the past, for it
would not stand the 'music of the future,' as they call it, for five
minutes. All the strings would break." Hedwig sat down on the chair
that was in front of it, and her fingers went involuntarily to the
keys, though she is no great musician.

"I can play a little, you know, Nino," she said shyly, and looked up
to his face for a response, not venturing to strike the chords. And it
would have done you good to see how brightly Nino smiled and
encouraged her little offer of music--he, the great artist, in whose
life music was both sword and sceptre. But he knew that she had
greatness also of a different kind, and he loved the small jewels in
his crown as well as the glorious treasures of its larger wealth.

"Play to me, my love," he said, not caring now whether I heard the
sweet words or not. She blushed a little, nevertheless, and glanced at
me; then her fingers strayed over the keys, and drew out music that
was very soft and yet very gay. Suddenly she ceased, and leaned
forward on the desk of the piano, looking at him.

"Do you know, Nino, it was once my dream to be a great musician. If I
had not been so rich I should have taken the profession in earnest.
But now, you see, it is different, is it not?"

"Yes, it is all different now," he answered, not knowing exactly what
she meant, but radiantly happy, all the same.

"I mean," she said, hesitating--"I mean that now that we are to be
always together, what you do I do, and what I do you do. Do you
understand?"

"Yes, perfectly," said Nino, rather puzzled, but quite satisfied.

"Ah no, dear," said she, forgetting my presence, and letting her hand
steal into his as he stood, "you do not understand--quite. I mean that
so long as one of us can be a great musician it is enough, and I am
just as great as though I did it all myself."

Thereupon Nino forgot himself altogether, and kissed her golden hair.
But then he saw me looking, for it was so pretty a sight that I could
not help it, and he remembered.

"Oh!" he said in a tone of embarrassment that I had never heard
before. Then Hedwig blushed very much too, and looked away, and Nino
put himself between her and me, so that I might not see her.

"Could you play something for me to sing, Hedwig?" he asked suddenly.

"Oh, yes! I can play 'Spirto gentil,' by heart," she cried, hailing
the idea with delight.

In a moment they were both lost, and indeed so was I, in the dignity
and beauty of the simple melody. As he began to sing, Nino bent down
to her, and almost whispered the first words into her ear. But soon he
stood erect, and let the music flow from his lips just as God made it.
His voice was tired with the long watching and the dust and cold and
heat of the journey; but, as De Pretis said when he began, he has an
iron throat, and the weariness only made the tones soft and tender and
thrilling, that would perhaps have been too strong for my little room.

Suddenly he stopped short in the middle of a note, and gazed
open-mouthed at the door. And I looked, too, and was horrified; and
Hedwig, looking also, screamed and sprang back to the window,
overturning the chair she had sat on.

In the doorway stood Ahasuerus Benoni, the Jew.

Mariuccia had imprudently forgotten to shut the door when Hedwig and
Nino came, and the baron had walked in unannounced. You may imagine
the fright I was in. But, after all, it was natural enough that after
what had occurred he, as well as the count, should seek an interview
with me, to obtain what information I was willing to give.

There he stood in his gray clothes, tall and thin and smiling as of
yore.

CHAPTER XXIV

Nino is a man for great emergencies, as I have had occasion to say,
and when he realised who the unwelcome visitor was, he acted as
promptly as usual. With a face like marble he walked straight across
the room to Benoni and faced him.

"Baron Benoni," he said, in a low voice, "I warn you that you are most
unwelcome here. If you attempt to say any word to my wife, or to force
an entrance, I will make short work of you." Benoni eyed him with a
sort of pitying curiosity as he made this speech:--

"Do not fear, Signor Cardegna. I came to see Signor Grandi, and to
ascertain from him precisely what you have voluntered to tell me. You
cannot suppose that I have any object in interrupting the leisure of a
great artist, or the privacy of his very felicitous domestic
relations. I have not a great deal to say. That is, I have always a
great deal to say about everything, but I shall at present confine
myself to a very little."

"You will be wise," said Nino, scornfully, "and you would be wiser if
you confined yourself to nothing at all."

"Patience, Signor Cardegna," protested Benoni. "You will readily
conceive that I am a little out of breath with the stairs, for I am a
very old man."

"In that case," I said, from the other side of the room, "I may as
well occupy your breathing time by telling you that any remarks you
are likely to make to me have been forestalled by the Graf von Lira,
who has been with me this morning." Benoni smiled, but both Hedwig and
Nino looked at me in surprise.

"I only wished to say," returned Benoni, "that I consider you in the
light of an interesting phenomenon. Nay, Signor Cardegna, do not look
so fierce. I am an old man--"

"An old devil," said Nino hotly.

"An old fool," said I.

"An old reprobate," said Hedwig, from her corner, in deepest
indignation.

"Precisely," returned Benoni, smilingly. "Many people have been good
enough to tell me so before. Thanks, kind friends, I believe you with
all my heart. Meanwhile, man, devil, fool, or reprobate, I am very
old. I am about to leave Rome for St. Petersburg, and I will take this
last opportunity of informing you that in a very singularly long life
I have met with only two or three such remarkable instances as this of
yours."

"Say what you wish to say, and go," said Nino, roughly.

"Certainly. And whenever I have met with such an instance I have done
my very utmost to reduce it to the common level, and to prove to
myself that no such thing really exists. I find it a dangerous thing,
however; for an old man in love is likely to exhibit precisely the
agreeable and striking peculiarities you have so aptly designated."
There was something so odd about his manner and about the things he
said that Nino was silent, and allowed him to proceed.

"The fact is," he continued, "that love is a very rare thing,
nowadays, and is so very generally an abominable sham that I have
often amused myself by diabolically devising plans for its
destruction. On this occasion I very nearly came to grief myself. The
same thing happened to me some time ago--about forty years, I should
say,--and I perceive that it has not been forgotten. It may amuse you
to look at this paper, which I chance to have with me. Good-morning. I
leave for St. Petersburg at once."

"I believe you are really the Wandering Jew!" cried Nino, as Benoni
left the room.

"His name was certainly Ahasuerus," Benoni replied from the outer
door. "But it may be a coincidence, after all. Good-day." He was gone.

I was the first to take up the paper he had thrown upon a chair. There
was a passage marked with a red pencil. I read it aloud:--

"... Baron Benoni, the wealthy banker of St. Petersburg, who was many
years ago an inmate of a private lunatic asylum in Paris, is reported
to be dangerously insane in Rome." That was all. The paper was the
_Paris Figaro_.

"Merciful Heavens!" exclaimed Hedwig, "and I was shut up with that
madman in Fillettino!" Nino was already by her side, and in his strong
arms she forgot Benoni, and Fillettino, and all her troubles. We were
all silent for some time. At last Nino spoke.

"Is it true that the count was here this morning?" he asked, in a
subdued voice, for the extraordinary visit and its sequel had made him
grave.

"Quite true," I said. "He was here a long time. I would not spoil your
pleasure by telling you of it, when you first came."

"What did he--what did my father say?" asked Hedwig, presently.

"My dear children," I answered, thinking I might well call them so,
"he said a great many unpleasant things, so that I offered to fight
him if he said any more." At this they both laid hold of me and began
to caress me; and one smoothed my hair, and the other embraced me, so
that I was half smothered.

"Dear Signor Grandi," cried Hedwig, anxiously, "how good and brave you
are!" She does not know what a coward I am, you see, and I hope she
will never find out, for nothing was ever said to me that gave me half
so much pleasure as to be called brave by her, the dear child; and if
she never finds out she may say it again, some day. Besides, I really
did offer to fight Lira, as I have told you.

"And what is he going to do?" asked Nino, in some anxiety.

"I do not know. I told him it was all legal, and that he could not
touch you at all. I also said you were staying at the Hotel Costanzi,
where he might find you if he wished."

"Oh! Did you tell him that?" asked Hedwig.

"It was quite right," said Nino. "He ought to know, of course. And
what else did you tell him?"

"Nothing especial, Nino mio. He went away in a sort of ill temper
because I would not let him abuse you as much as he pleased."

"He may abuse me and be welcome," said Nino. "He has some right to be
angry with me. But he will think differently some day." So we chatted
away for an hour, enjoying the rest and the peace and the sweet
sunshine of the Easter afternoon. But this was the day of
interruptions. There was one more visitor to come,--one more scene for
me to tell you, and then I have done.

A carriage drove down the street and seemed to stop at the door of my
house. Nino looked idly out of the window. Suddenly he started.

"Hedwig, Hedwig!" he cried, "here is your father coming back!" She
would not look out, but stood back from the window, turning pale. If
there was one thing she dreaded, it was a meeting with her father. All
the old doubt as to whether she had done right seemed to come back to
her face in a moment. But Nino turned and looked at her, and his face
was so triumphant that she got back her courage, and, clasping his
hand, bravely awaited what was to come.

I went myself to the door, and heard Lira's slow tread on the stairs.
Before long he appeared, and glanced up at me from the steps, which he
climbed, one at a time, with his stick.

"Is my daughter here?" he asked, as soon as he reached me; and his
voice sounded subdued, just as Nino's did when Benoni had gone, I
conducted him into the room. It was the strangest meeting. The proud
old man bowed stiffly to Hedwig, as though he had never before seen
her. They also bent their heads, and there was a silence as of death
in the sunny room.

"My daughter," said Von Lira at last, and with evident effort, "I wish
to have a word with you. These two gentlemen--the younger of whom is
now, as I understand it, your husband--may well hear what I wish to
say."

I moved a chair so that he might sit down, but he stood up to his full
height, as though not deigning to be older than the rest. I watched
Hedwig, and saw how with both hands she clung to Nino's arm, and her
lip trembled, and her face wore the look it had when I saw her in
Fillettino.

As for Nino, his stern, square jaw was set, and his brow bent, but he
showed no emotion, unless the darkness in his face and the heavy
shadows beneath his eyes foretold ready anger.

"I am no trained, reasoner, like Signor Grandi," said Lira, looking
straight at Hedwig, "but I can say plainly what I mean, for all that.
There was a good old law in Sparta, whereby disobedient children were
put to death without mercy. Sparta was a good country,--very like
Prussia, but less great. You know what I mean. You have cruelly
disobeyed me,--cruelly, I say, because you have shown me that all my
pains and kindness and discipline have been in vain. There is nothing
so sorrowful for a good parent as to discover that he has made a
mistake."

(The canting old proser, I thought, will he never finish?)

"The mistake I refer to is not in the way I have dealt with you," he
went on, "for on that score I have nothing to reproach myself. But I
was mistaken in supposing you loved me. You have despised all I have
done for you."

"Oh, father! How can you say that?" cried poor Hedwig, clinging closer
to Nino.

"At all events, you have acted as though you did. On the very day when
I promised you to take signal action upon Baron Benoni you left me by
stealth, saying in your miserable letter that you had gone to a man
who could both love and protect you."

"You did neither the one nor the other, sir," said Nino, boldly, "when
you required of your daughter to marry such a man as Benoni."

"I have just seen Benoni; I saw him also on the night you left me,
madam,"--he looked severely at Hedwig,--"and I am reluctantly forced
to confess that he is not sane, according to the ordinary standard of
the mind."

We had all known from the paper of the suspicion that rested on
Benoni's sanity, yet somehow there was a little murmur in the room
when the old count so clearly stated his opinion.

"That does not, however, alter the position in the least," continued
Lira, "for you knew nothing of this at the time I desired you to marry
him, and I should have found it out soon enough to prevent mischief.
Instead of trusting to my judgment you took the law into your own
hands, like a most unnatural daughter, as you are, and disappeared in
the night with a man whom I consider totally unfit for you, however
superior," he added, glancing at Nino, "he may have proved himself in
his own rank of life."

Nino could not hold his tongue any longer. It seemed absurd that there
should be a battle of words when all the realities of the affair were
accomplished facts; but for his life he could not help speaking.

"Sir," he said, addressing Lira, "I rejoice that this opportunity is
given me of once more speaking clearly to you. Months ago, when I was
betrayed into a piece of rash violence, for which I at once apologised
to you, I told you under somewhat peculiar circumstances that I would
yet marry your daughter, if she would have me. I stand here to-day
with her by my side, my wedded wife, to tell you that I have kept my
word, and that she is mine by her own free consent. Have you any cause
to show why she is not my wedded wife? If so, show it. But I will not
let you stand there and say bitter and undeserved things to this same
wife of mine, abusing the name of father and the terms 'authority' and
'love,' forsooth! And if you wish to take vengeance on me personally,
do so if you can. I will not fight duels with you now, as I was ready
to do the day before yesterday. For then--so short a time ago--I had
but offered her my life, and so that I gave it for her I cared not how
nor when. But now she has taken me for hers, and I have no more right
to let you kill me than I have to kill myself, seeing that she and I
are one. Therefore, good sir, if you have words of conciliation to
speak, speak them; but if you would only tell her harsh and cruel
things, I say you shall not!"

As Nino uttered these hot words in good, plain Italian, they had a
bold and honest sound of strength that was glorious to hear. A weaker
man than the old count would have fallen into a fury of rage, and
perhaps would have done some foolish violence. But he stood silent,
eying his antagonist coolly, and when the words were spoken he
answered.

"Signor Cardegna," he said, "the fact that I am here ought to be to
you the fullest demonstration that I acknowledge your marriage with my
daughter. I have certainly no intention of prolonging a painful
interview. When I have said that my child has disobeyed me, I have
said all that the question holds. As for the future of you two, I have
naturally nothing more to say about it. I cannot love a disobedient
child, nor ever shall again. For the present, we will part; and if at
the end of a year my daughter is happy with you, and desires to see
me, I shall make no objection to such a meeting. I need not say that
if she is unhappy with you my house will always be open to her, if she
chooses to return to it."

"No, sir, most emphatically, you need not say it!" cried Nino, with

Book of the day: