Part 7 out of 13
passionately. "If I thought that I was indeed bound to you, I would-
-ay! I believe that I would commit the crime of suicide. Could you
convince me that the hand which received your accursed ring was
indeed yours, I would gather up all my strength of hate to strike it
off, and dash it in your face."
"Great God! And I love you to madness!" cried he, throwing himself
on his knees, and clasping her hands so convulsively that all her
writhings could not release them. "I love you, I love you, and am
doomed to love you, albeit your cruelty is driving me to madness!"
"'Tis the punishment of your crime toward me," answered Laura,
coldly. "You have sinned against love, and God has punished you
through love that shall be forever unrequited. Accept your fate, and
"I cannot do it, Laura, I cannot do it! My love for you is like a
deadly poison that sets my blood on fire. It must be requited, or I
shall die a maniac. Oh, have pity! have pity!"
"Pity for YOU!" said she, contemptuously.
"Look at me," cried he, imploringly. "For once in your life, Laura,
turn your eyes upon me without hate, and see how love has corroded
my very life. Three years ago I was a happy man--to-day I am not yet
thirty, and my hair is gray, and my face wrinkled. Life has no
charms for me, and yet I am too cowardly to die, and leave you to
another. Oh, Laura, look at me, and be merciful! Deliver me from the
hell in which your hatred has plunged me!"
"Nay--your sufferings are the purgatorial fires whereby you may
perchance be purified from the guilt of your treachery toward an
innocent girl. Marquis de Strozzi, now look at me. Am I, too,
changed since three years of misery unspeakable?"
"No," sighed he, "you are as beautiful and youthful as you were when
first I saw you in Paris."
"You are right," replied she. "I am altered neither in appearance
nor in heart. And do you know why? It is because Hope, bright-eyed
Hope, has sat day and night by my side, whispering sweet words of
encouragement, bidding me be firm; imparting to me strength to
endure the present, and to enjoy the future. I feel it in my soul
that he will come sooner or later to liberate me from my bondage."
"If he ever comes, I will murder him!" hissed Strozzi.
"You will try, but you will not succeed. God protects him, and he
wears the invisible armor of my love to shield him from your hate."
"Very well. Pray for him if you will; but, as sure as I live, I will
find his vulnerable heel!"
As he said this, Laura turned pale, and Strozzi remarked her pallor
with a malicious pleasure. "Ah! your faith is not strong! My
poisoned arrows will find the flaw, and upon him shall be avenged
every pang that you have inflicted upon my bleeding heart. You know
that he is here--I see it by your altered demeanor."
"Yes, yes, I know it."
"Be not too overjoyed thereat: for the daggers of my bravoes are
keen and sure, and the lagoons are deep, and give not up their
"You would not sully your soul with secret murder!" exclaimed Laura,
"That would I. He is my rival, and he shall be put out of my way--
that is all."
"No--that is not all. You dare not murder a prince, a hero upon whom
the eyes of all Europe are fixed in admiration. Such a man as he is
not to be put out of the way with impunity. Were you to murder
Eugene of Savoy, know that I myself would be your accuser; and your
uncle, the doge himself, is not powerful enough to save your head
from the executioner."
"What care I for the executioner's axe, who for three years have
been stretched upon the rack of your aversion? So I make sure that
he has gone before me--so I have the sweet revenge of sending him to
Tartarus, what care I how soon I follow him thither?"
"You are a monster!" exclaimed Laura.
"I am the work of your hands," replied Strozzi. "If I am a monster,
my perdition he upon your head. And now, mark me! I came hither to
have one decisive interview with you. Prince Eugene is in Venice;
you are aware of it, for you sent him a greeting from your balcony
this morning, as his gondola lay in front of the palace."
"Your spies are vigilant," said she.
"Yes, they serve me well, and they are ubiquitous. They mark each
smile and report every tear that tells of silent joy or grief upon
your face. They are with you when you pray; they watch you while you
sleep, so that your very dreams are not your own. Now you are my
wife, howsoever you may protest against the name, and you shall not
sully that name, be assured of it. If, by word or look, by movement
or sign, you allow Prince Eugene to suppose that you recognize him,
he shall expiate your disobedience to my will by death. I am afraid
that you do not believe me; you think that I make a mere threat to
terrify you into submission. Is it so?"
"Yes, marquis, it is so. You are treacherous and cruel; but, abhor
you as I may for the misery you have inflicted upon me, I do believe
you to be one degree above a bravo. You are not a coward--you would
not consent to be an assassin."
"You flatter your keeper, that you may disarm him."
"No; I speak the truth. I hate, but do not despise you to such a
degree as to believe your threats."
"So much the worse for you. I would enjoy the privilege of plunging
a dagger into his heart with my own hands; but I must deny myself
that satisfaction. It is safer to employ a bravo, and to pay him.
You know how dearly I loved my mother, do you not?"
"Yes, I have heard of it from your sister."
"Well--that portrait hanging over your divan is my mother's.
Doubtless, had you known it, you would have banished it from the
walls of your boudoir for hatred of her son."
"I have all along known that it is your mother. But I loved my own
too deeply ever to offer disrespect to yours. I have often raised my
imploring eyes to that mild face, and have poured out to her spirit
my plaint of her son's cruelty."
"Raise your eyes to it again, then, and inform her that it rests
with you whether her son shall become an assassin or not. For, by my
mother's soul, I swear that, if ever there comes to pass the most
trifling interchange of thought between Prince Eugene and the
Marchioness de Strozzi, he shall die--die, if I have to expiate the
deed upon the scaffold! Do you believe me now?"
"I must believe you," returned Laura, sickening with disgust. "But
while conviction despoils you of the last claim I supposed you to
possess to the name of a man, it does not terrify me for the life
you would destroy. God, who has protected him on the field of
battle--God, who has created him 'to give the world assurance of a
man'--God, who is the shield of the pure, the brave, the virtuous,
will not suffer the Prince of Savoy to fall under the dagger of your
hired bravi!" "Nous verrons.--And now, signora, let us speak of
other things. The carnival this year is to be of unusual splendor; a
number of foreigners of distinction have visited Venice to witness
it. Lucretia, without doubt, has apprised you of all this?"
"So I presumed; for Lucretia is fond of gossip. She would gladly
induce you to go into society, knowing that a woman of your beauty
and extreme youth cannot appear in the world alone, and that she
would naturally be the person to accompany you. Would you like to
see the regatta?"
This proposal terrified Laura, for she comprehended that he was in
earnest when he threatened Eugene's life. The marquis read her
thoughts, and replied to them.
"I shall shun no occasion whatever that may justify me in keeping
the oath you heard me take a while ago. And, therefore, you are
welcome to appear at the regatta. The doge will be there in the
Bucentaur, attended by all the court. As you have refused to be
presented as my wife, you cannot take your proper place among the
ladies of rank. But it is not too late. If you wish, I can present
"No--no," cried Laura, "I do not wish it."
"Then perhaps you would like to go incognita. It will be many years
before another such regatta is seen in Venice."
"True, I would like to see the sight," said the poor young victim.
And to herself she added: "I might perchance see HIM."
"Be it so, then, signora; your wishes are my commands."
"But I would like to see without being seen," added she.
"Indeed!" exclaimed Strozzi, with a wicked sneer. "Then I will see
that your gondola is closely curtained. Will you allow me the honor
of accompanying you?"
"As if I were free to refuse," said Laura, with quivering lip.
"One thing more," said the marquis. "It is the custom for all who
join in the festivities of the carnival to appear in a costume of
some foregone century. May I commission my sister to select yours?"
"I would like to select for myself."
The marquis bowed his head. "As you please. The tradesmen of Venice
will be delighted at last to have a look at the beautiful wife of
Laura shrank visibly. "I will not go," said she. "Let the Countess
Canossa select my costume. It matters little to me: but be so good
as to see that the gondola is well curtained."
"I will not forget it," answered the marquis, as he bowed and left
Laura's eyes followed him until he had crossed her whole suite, and
had closed the door behind him. Then, yielding to the bliss of being
left a few moments alone, she opened her arms, and, kneeling before
her prie-dieu, poured out her heart in prayer to Heaven for Eugene's
safety. Then, throwing herself again upon the divan, she began to
dream. She saw her gondola approaching his; she saw her lover--her
spouse, and made one rapid movement of her hand. His gondola touched
hers; she flung aside the curtains and leaped into the boat with
But as she dreamed, there floated over the water the sound of song.
This was no unusual sound on the Canale Grande, but the music was
not Italian; it was no languishing barcarolle, such as Venetian
lovers were wont to sing to their mistresses; the air was foreign--
the words were French. She heard them distinctly; they were the
words of her own, dear, native language!
"It is he!" cried she, springing out upon the balcony.
Yes, it was he; he had called her with an old familiar air, and,
while he looked up in rapture, the music went on, for the singers
were in a gondola that followed.
Laura was so wild with joy that she forgot the marquis, his spies,
and his threats. Snatching the first bouquet that presented itself,
she made an attempt to throw it to her lover. But she had not
calculated the distance, and it fell far short of its destination.
"An evil omen," murmured she, and then she remembered the horrible
threat of the marquis. She gave one ejaculation of terror, and
bounded back into her boudoir.
About fifteen minutes later, Strozzi entered the room. In his hand
he held a bouquet of beautiful roses, which he presented with mock
"Signora, you were so unfortunate as to drop your bouquet in the
lagoon not long ago. The mermaids will be glad to receive so fair a
gift from so fair a hand. Allow me to replace it."
"On the contrary, I must request you to take your roses away from my
boudoir. I do not like the odor of flowers, and I threw mine into
the water because their perfume oppressed me. I regret that you
should have taken so much useless trouble."
"And I beg pardon for interrupting your reveries," said Strozzi,
with a sarcastic smile, as he bowed and retired with his bouquet.
"Gracious Heaven, I was watched! Am I, then, given over to enemies,
and is there not one being here that I can trust?"
At this moment a door opened, and a young girl entered the room.
"Victorine!" exclaimed Laura, joyfully, "come hither. God has sent
you to me to shield me from despair."
The girl came smilingly forward, and, kneeling at her mistress's
side, looked affectionately at her, saying in Laura's own tongue:
"What ails my dear mistress?"
"Victorine," replied Laura, gazing earnestly into the maiden's eyes,
"Victorine, do you love me?"
Victorine covered her hand with kisses, while she protested that she
loved her mistress with all her heart. "Dear lady," said she, "did I
not leave Paris for love of her whom her royal highness cherished as
a daughter? Was I not sent to you by the Duchess of Orleans, that
you might have one true friend among your troops of enemies? And now
that I had hoped to have proved to my dear mistress my devotion, she
asks if I love her!"
"True, Victorine, I have no right to doubt your attachment. And
certainly I have proved that I trust you, by committing to your care
my letters to the duchess. Ah, Victorine, when will you bring me an
answer to those letters?"
"The answers cannot have reached Venice as yet, dear mistress," said
Victorine, soothingly. "But I came to tell you something. May I
Victorine went on tiptoe to the door, and, having convinced herself
that no one was near, she came close to Laura, and whispered in her
ear: "Madame, one of the foreign princes has been here to call on
"Prince Eugene of Savoy," said Victorine, as though she was afraid
the breeze might betray her.
Laura shivered, became deadly pale, and could scarcely gather
courage to say, "He was refused entrance?"
"Yes, the porter told him that the marchioness was in bad health,
and received no visitors."
"That was well. Go, Victorine, and tell the servants to convey
neither message nor card of Prince Eugene of Savoy to me. I will not
receive him. Go, go quickly, and then--"
"And then?" said Victorine, coaxingly.
Laura was silent for a while; then, putting her arms around
Victorine's neck, she drew the young girl's head upon her bosom.
"Try to find out where Prince Eugene is staying, and go to him. Say
that you come from the Marchioness Bonaletta, and you will be
admitted to his presence. Now tell him word for word what I shall
say to you. 'To-morrow the Marchioness Bonaletta will attend the
regatta. Her gondola will be closed, but whosoever wishes to
recognize it can see her as she descends the stair and enters it.
Let the gondola be closely followed, and when a hand holding a
nosegay of roses is seen outside the curtain, let the gondoliers be
instructed to come as close as possible to the hand, so that the two
gondolas collide. Then--let the prince await me.' Do you hear,
"Yes, dear mistress, I hear, and will report your words faithfully."
"Tell him that Venice is alive with spies and bravi, and oh! bid him
be careful how he exposes himself to danger. Now go! and may Heaven
bless you for your fidelity to a wretched and betrayed woman!"
Victorine withdrew. But before leaving the palace, she betook
herself to the cabinet of the marquis, where they had an interview
of some length. No sooner was she dismissed, than she retreated to
her own room, drew out a purse of gold from her bosom, chinked its
contents, emptied them out on the table, and counted them with
"Ten ducats! Ten ducats for each intercepted message," said she. "I
shall soon he rich enough to leave this abominable marsh of a
Venice, and return to my dear Paris!"
Having locked up her gold, and tied the key of her chest around her
neck, she directed her steps to the hotel of Prince Eugene.
Prince Eugene was watching the little French clock on the marble
mantelpiece of his dressing-room, wondering, in his impatience,
whether it ever would strike the hour of twelve, the hour at which
he was to witness the departure of the Strozzis for the regatta.
Mademoiselle Victorine had delivered her mistress's message, and the
heart of her lover was once more bounding with joy. His eyes flashed
with a light which, except on a day of battle, had never been seen
within their sad depths since the dreadful period of his parting
with Laura. Forgotten was all the anguish of those three long years;
forgotten all doubts, forgotten all fears. She loved him; she was
true to her vows, and he would bear her away from her ravisher to
the spouse that was hers before Heaven.
But how long--how unspeakably long--the hours that intervened
between him and happiness! He was wishing for some interruption that
would break this monotonous waiting, when the door opened, and
Conrad came forward.
"My lord, I have found a commissionnaire for you; one who professes
to know Venice and its golden book by heart."
"Introduce him at once: I wish to speak with him."
Conrad opened the door and signed to some one without, when the
commissionnaire advanced and bowed.
"Why are you masked?" asked the prince, who remembered the warning
which Laura had sent him the day previous.
"Excellenza, every Venetian of good character has a right to wear a
mask during the carnival."
"And every criminal can take advantage of the right," replied
Eugene. "Behind a mask every man has a good character, for nobody
knows who he is."
"I beg pardon, excellenza. The republican fathers, through their
sbirri, know every man in Venice. If you will take the trouble to
look around you in the market-place, you will see how now and then a
masker is touched on the shoulder, when his mask drops at once, or
he escapes among the crowd to avoid public exposure."
"Then, I suppose that a stranger has no hope of seeing the beautiful
women here?" observed Eugene, smiling.
"Pardon me; to-day, at the regatta, no masks will be worn, and your
excellency will see all the beauty of Venice, both patrician and
"Why, then, do YOU wear a mask?"
"I wear it habitually, having a fancy to go about incognito."
"Nevertheless, you must remove it now, for I cannot take a man into
my service incognito."
The man raised his left hand, withdrew the mask, and revealed to
sight a face that was colorless save where it had been marked with a
deep-red scar from temple to jaw.
"You are indeed conspicuous, and not to be mistaken by those who
have seen you once. Whence came this scar?"
"I received it two years ago, excellenza, at the taking of Prevosa."
"You have been a soldier, then?" asked Eugene, his countenance at
once expressing interest.
"I have, indeed; and but for the loss of my right hand by the sabre
of an infernal Turk, I would be a soldier still."
"You have written the conquests of the republic upon your body, my
friend," said Eugene, kindly. "But your mutilations are so many
orders of valor; they are the ineffaceable laurels which victory
places on a brave man's brow."
A slight flush overspread the sallow face of the ex-soldier, and his
eyes sought the floor.
Eugene contemplated him for several moments with the sympathy--even
the respect--which a military man feels for extraordinary bravery,
as attested by such wounds as these.
"With what manner of weapon were you cut in the face?" said he. "Not
with a sabre, for the scar is curved."
"It was not a sabre-cut, excellenza," replied the man, in a low,
tremulous voice. "I was in the breech, fighting hand to hand with a
Turk, whom I had just overthrown. While I was stooping over his
prostrate body, he drew forth a yataghan and gashed my face as you
"I knew it was a dagger-thrust," replied Eugene. "Well, this scar
shall be your best recommendation to me, for I, too, am a soldier."
"Excellenza, I thank you, but I have other and weighty
recommendations from my employers. Moreover, here is my license as
commissionnaire from the Signiory."
So saying, he would have handed the prince a document with a large
seal appended to it, but Eugene waved it away.
"I prefer the license to serve that is written on your body, my
friend. You have been a brave soldier, you will therefore be a
faithful servant. You say that you are well acquainted with Venice?"
"Ay, indeed, signor; I know every palace and every den, every
nobleman and every bravo, in Venice."
"You are, then, the very man I need. Make your terms with my
secretary. But be loyal to me, and remember that the scar you had
received in your country's service was the only recommendation I
required when I took you into mine."
"Excellenza!" exclaimed the man, kneeling, and raising the prince's
doublet to his lips, "I will bear it in mind, and serve you
"I believe you, my brave! Rise and tell me your name."
"Antonio.--Well, Antonio, you accompany me to the regatta to-day."
"My lord," said Conrad, entering the room, "your gondola is below,
and his highness the Elector of Bavaria is here."
A deep flush of joy overspread Eugene's countenance as he, advanced
to welcome his friend. Max Emmanuel had chosen the gorgeous costume
of a Russian boyar. His dress was of dark-blue velvet, bordered with
sables, and buttoned up to the throat with immense brilliants. On
his head he wore a Russian cap, with a heron's plume fastened in
front by a rosette of opals and diamonds.
Eugene surveyed him with undisguised admiration. "You are as
gloriously handsome as a Grecian demi-god," cried he,
enthusiastically. "I pity the lovely women of Venice to-day, when
they come within sight of the hero of Buda."
"I absolve them all from tribute except one," returned Max.
"What! In love already!"
"My dear young friend, I saw yesterday on a balcony a black-haired
beauty far beyond pari or houri of my imagination!--majestic as
Juno, voluptuous as Venus, with eyes that maddened, and smile that
ravished me. Unless I find this houri, I am a lost, broken-hearted
"Then you have not yet begun your siege?"
"Impossible to begin it. The Duke of Modena was with me, and you
know what an enterprising roue he is. To have pointed her out to him
would have been to retreat with loss. So I was obliged to say
nothing: but I will see her again if, to do so, I have to reduce
Venice to a heap of ashes!"
"Peace, thou insatiable conqueror, or amorous ambition will
intoxicate you. You are certainly just the very cavalier to storm
and take the citadel of a woman's heart; but you are the Elector of
Bavaria, a reigning prince, and son-in-law of the Emperor of
"My dear Eugene, no ugly moral reflections, as you love me! I am
here to enjoy the glow of the warm blood that dances through my
veins to sip the ambrosia that pleasure holds to my lips--in short,
I am, body and soul, a son of the short-lived carnival that begins
to-day. Don't preach; but pray if you like, for my success, and help
me in my need."
"Help you? I should like to know how I am to do that!" said Eugene,
laughing. "But stay--I have a man in my service who professes to
know everybody in Venice. So, if you should see your houri to-day,
point her out, and doubtless Antonio will tell us her name. Ah!
Twelve o'clock at last!--dome, come, let us go."
"You have not made your toilet, Eugene. What costume have you
"The very respectable one of a little abbe," was the reply.
"Respectable, if you will, but excessively unbecoming, and unworthy
of the Prince of Savoy. I perceive that you, at least, have no wish
to make conquests to-day."
"No--all my victories I hope to win by the help of my good sword."
"Do you go with me in my gondola, reverend sir?"
"I in your magnificent gondola, at the side of such a Phoebus-
Apollo! I might well despair of making conquests in such company;
and, for aught you know, I may be desirous of attracting the
attention of some fair lady who is not taken by appearances."
The elector looked up in surprise. He had never heard an expression
like this from Eugene's lips before; and now he saw clearly that his
demeanor had changed, that his eye was restless and bright, his
cheek flushed, his whole countenance beaming with some inward hope
or realized joy.
"Eugene," said he, touching his friend's shoulder, "Venice holds the
secret of your love; and you have tidings that have lightened your
heart. I read them in your eyes, which are far from being as
discreet as your lips."
"Perhaps so; but the secrets of love are sacred--sacred as those of
the confessional. Nevertheless, I may confide in you sooner than you
expect, for I may need your help as well as you mine."
The two young men went out arm in arm, followed by the suite of the
elector, and, behind them, by Conrad and Antonio.
"Who is that mask?" asked Max, as he passed by.
"My new commissionnaire, Antonio--he that is to tell us the name of
They were by this time on the marble stairs that led to the water,
where side by side lay the superb gilded gondola of the Elector of
Bavaria and the inconspicuous one of the Prince of Savoy.
As the two princes were descending the stairs, a gayly-dressed
nobleman sprang from the gondola of the elector, and advanced
respectfully to meet them.
"Monsieur le Marquis de Villars," said Max, bowing, "I am happy to
see that you have accepted a seat with me."
"It is an honor for which I am deeply grateful, your highness,"
replied the marquis; "and one which I accept in the name of my
gracious sovereign, for whom alone such a compliment can be
"You are mistaken, marquis; I invited you that I might enjoy the
pleasure of your company to-day. Allow me, Prince of Savoy, to
introduce to you the Marquis de Villars, the French ambassador to
the court of Bavaria."
"There is no necessity for us to know each other," replied Eugene.
"The marquis is a Frenchman, and I have no love for that nation;
particularly for those who are favorites of Monsieur Louvois. Adieu,
And without vouchsafing a word to the French ambassador, Eugene
entered his gondola.
"I must apologize for my friend," said the courteous Max Emmanuel to
the marquis. "He has been sorely injured both by the King of France
and his minister. Forget his bluntness, then, I beseech you, and
forgive his unpleasant remark."
"He is your highness's friend, and that at once earns his
forgiveness," replied De Villars. "But that the friend of the
Elector of Bavaria should be the enemy of my sovereign I deeply
regret; for he may prejudice your highness against the King of
France. He may transfer his aversion to--"
"Let us rather suppose that I may transfer my love of France to
him," said Max Emmanuel. "But let us eschew politics, and enjoy the
bliss of the hour. To-day la bella Venezia puts forth all her
charms. And as the swift gondolas skim over the green waters of the
lagoon, so flies my heart toward my bellissima Venetiana!"
At twelve o'clock. Laura left her dressing-room to join the Marquis
de Strozzi and his sister in the drawing-room below.
"Great heavens, how beautiful!" cried Lucretia, embracing her. "I
have not been wise in placing myself so near you, bewitching Laura.
Ottario, do look at her; did you ever see such a vision of beauty?"
"Pray do not force the marquis to praise me," said Laura; "you are
perfectly aware that I am indifferent to his approbation. But as
regards beauty in Venice, where beautiful women abound, the Countess
Canossa is acknowledged to be la belleza delle belle. And to think
that nobody will see you to-day in my closed gondola!"
"You adhere to your resolution to have your gondola curtained?"
asked the marquis.
"Yes," replied Laura, without bestowing a glance upon him.
"And I rejoice to know it," exclaimed he, passionately, "for I alone
will drink in all your beauty. For me alone have you worn this
"You know perfectly well that my dress was chosen by your sister."
"Catharine Cornaro was by adoption a Venetian," returned Strozzi,
"and since you have willingly donned her dress, I must accept it as
an earnest of your consent to appear as the wife of a Venetian
To this taunt Laura made no reply. She gave her hand to the
countess, and they passed into the corridors together. The walls
were hung with chefs-d'oeuvres of Titian, Tintoretto, Paul Veronese,
and Gioberti, all gorgeously framed in Italian style; and between
each picture was a mirror that extended from floor to ceiling.
Through these magnificent halls went Laura, as regardless of their
splendor as of the passionate glances of the man who walked by her
side, so near and yet so far, so very far away from her heart.
The gondola that awaited them was an heir-loom of the Strozzis, and
was never used except on gala-days. It was well known to the
Venetians, every one of whom was accustomed to point to it with
pride, saying, "There goes the bucentoro of the Strozzis!"
As Laura was about to step into this glittering bucentoro, the
gondoliers around, delighted with her beauty, shouted, "Evviva la
Marchesa Strozzi!" To their great astonishment, the marchesa,
instead of bowing and smiling as is usual on such occasions, gave no
other evidence of having heard their greeting than that which by a
frown and a flash of her dark eyes might be construed into a signal
of displeasure, as she disappeared behind the silken hangings of the
The centre of the gondola was supported by gilded pillars,
surmounted by a canopy of silk and gold. Behind this canopy was a
sort of pavilion, bordered by seats cushioned with gold brocade. In
the centre was a table, of costly material and make, on which stood
a golden vase of rare flowers. The pillars also were wreathed with
flowers, which appeared to be carried from column to column by
flying Cupids that were holding up the garlands in their chubby
little hands. In short, the temple was worthy of the divinities, one
of whom was light-hearted and coquettish, the other proud and
serious. Between them was the Marquis de Strozzi, in the rich habit
of a Greek corsair--a character which his handsome, sinister face
was well fitted to represent. His gloomy black eyes were fixed upon
Laura, while his hands toyed with a silken cord that hung from the
pillar against which he was leaning.
The eyes of the countess were fixed upon the cord, and presently she
raised them with a glance of inquiry to her brother. He nodded, and
his sister smiled. Then throwing herself back among the cushions,
she raised her little foot to a gilded stool that was before her,
and leaning her head against the pillar, looked out upon the waters
with an expression that might have become Danae awaiting her shower
Laura, on the contrary, wore a look of resolve that seemed
inappropriate to the scene and the occasion. But her thoughts were
far away from the frivolities that interested Lucretia. She had
determined that, in presence of all Venice and of the foreigners
that had assembled there to celebrate the carnival, she would burst
asunder the compulsory ties that bound her to Strozzi. Before the
world she would give the lie to that simulated bridal, and fly to
him who was, by all the laws of God, her true and only spouse.
Thus thought Laura, while far away from the crowds that from gondola
to gondola were greeting one another, the bucentoro pursued its
solitary way over the water. She had managed to draw aside the
curtain and to look around for him who to her filled the world with
his presence. At last she saw him. He was there--there! and he saw
her, for his gondola changed its course, and came nearer. Like an
arrow it sped across the waters, taking heed of no impediments,
dashing into the midst of other gondolas, as reckless as a pirate of
the consternation it created among the bewildered gondoliers, who
were forced to give it passage, or be dashed aside like so much
spray; while Eugene's gaze was fixed upon the golden bark of the
Strozzi--the argosy that bore such precious freight. At last they
neared it, and Eugene could see the little white hand, holding a
bouquet of roses from between the crimson hangings of the pavilion.
His eyes brightened, and his whole being seemed transfigured.
Gallant and comely he looked--a knight worthy of any woman's love.
The Elector of Bavaria had seen all the movements of Eugene's
gondola. He had seen it suddenly change its course, and had watched
the prince pointing with uplifted hand to some object in the
distance, which, to judge by his bearing, one would have supposed
was a breach to mount. Max Emmanuel had smiled and said to himself:
"In yonder direction lies Eugene's love-secret. We had better
follow, for we may be useful in time of need. He seems to me to be
too bashful to manage an intrigue with skill."
So the elector gave orders to follow the gondola of the Prince of
Savoy; and now his gondoliers, too, were rowing for their lives,
while many a bright eye was turned admiringly upon his tall,
Laura was not the only person that was looking out from the
curtained bucentoro. The marquis, too, had seen the two approaching
gondolas; and now, as the foremost one came full in view, he passed
his arm outside, and, while Laura's head was turned away, made a
sign to Antonio, who responded with another.
The gondolas were now so close that their occupants were easily
recognized. Strozzi saw Eugene's passionate gaze, and guessed that
it had been returned, although the face of his wife had been
averted, so that he had not seen the act.
At this moment Laura turned, and gave a quick, searching glance
around the pavilion.
"You are looking for me?" asked Strozzi, with a singular smile. "I
am here, my wife, to protect you from all danger; and as I am weary
of standing, and as there is no seat for me beside you, I will take
the place that my heart covets most."
And, before Laura could prevent him, he had thrown himself at full
length, had clasped her feet, and raised them over his knee, so that
they had the appearance of having been placed in that familiar
position by her own will. He then pulled the silken cord which he
had held all this while in his hand, and the curtains of the
pavilion were rolled up, exposing its three occupants to the view of
the whole Venetian world. On one side lay Lucretia, in her Danae-
like position, and on the other, gazing with the rapture of an
accepted lover into the face of the marchioness, lay Strozzi. The
picture was unequivocally that of a pair of lovers, and those who
knew her not as his wife were convinced that in Laura they beheld
the mistress of the Marquis de Strozzi.
"Evviva!" shouted the enraptured multitude, dazzled by the beauty of
the tableau. No one heard Laura's despairing entreaty for release
from a posture so humiliating. Nor had any one heard the exclamation
of delight that burst from the lips of the elector, as in Lucretia
he recognized his houri.
"There she is!" exclaimed he to the French ambassador.
"Who?" asked the latter, in astonishment.
"The most beautiful woman that ever distracted a susceptible man,"
was the reply. "Do you not know her?"
"I regret to say that I do not, but I will make it my duty to
discover her abode, and communicate the discovery to your highness."
"Thank you," began the elector. But suddenly he stopped, and gazed
intently upon Prince Eugene, who was standing at the stern of his
gondola, only a few feet distant from the bucentoro of the Strozzis.
The elector directed his gondoliers to approach that of the prince,
and, springing from one boat to the other, he laid his hand on
"Friend," said he, "I do not desire to force myself into your
confidence; but lest I become your unconscious rival, answer me one
question. Is that lady there, in the red-velvet dress, the object of
your unhappy attachment?"
"No, dear Max," replied Eugene, with his eyes fixed steadfastly upon
"Truly, I do not know her; but if you ask Antonio, he will tell
With these few words Eugene turned away, and, in a low voice,
promised a rich reward to his gondoliers if they would but touch the
gondola of the Marquis Strozzi.
The elector beckoned to Antonio. "Who is that lady in the gilded
gondola close by?" said he.
"Which one, your highness?"
"The one in red velvet,"
"That is the Countess Lucretia Canossa, sister of the Marquis de
"Is she married?"
"Yes, your highness, to a man who has squandered her fortune; so
that but for her brother she would be penniless."
The elector thanked Antonio, and leaped back into his own gondola.
The Marquis de Villars, meanwhile, who knew that gondoliers were the
news-givers of Venice, had ascertained quite as much of the position
of the countess as Max Emmanuel had done during his short absence.
"I can answer your highness's question now," whispered he. "I have
learned every thing concerning her that it is needful to know from
"And I, too, know all that I care to know." replied the elector; "so
here am I, like Rinaldo before the enchanted gardens of Armida: I
must and will enter!"
"Of course you will. What woman can withstand the fascinations of
the handsomest cavalier in Europe?" observed the marquis; adding to
himself: "And thank Heaven that I know the Armida of his longings,
for she must draw this Rinaldo, not only into her own toils, but
into those of France."
Eugene was standing on the edge of his gondola, his passionate gaze
fixed upon the group that had been disclosed by the rising of
Strozzi's silk curtain. What could it mean? Oh! it was horrible! To
see Laura lying back in a position so voluptuous, her feet clasped
in Strozzi's arms, his eyes so lovingly triumphant, was like a
poisoned dagger to the heart of her unhappy lover. Had she called
him thither to make him the sport of his successful rival? The very
thought was madness: and yet Laura feigned not to see him; her eyes
were steadily cast down.
Eugene was determined to know the worst; he would not retreat until
conviction had chased away this deadly suspense. Slowly his gondola
came near and more near, while in that of his rival its approach was
watched by two of its occupants, both of whom knew equally well for
what purpose it was coming.
Laura gathered up all her strength for one effort, and freed her
feet from Strozzi's clasp.
"You are a wretch!" exclaimed she with indignation. "If you pollute
me again with the touch of your hands, I will drown myself here, in
your very sight."
"Oh no; you will throw yourself overboard, that Prince Eugene may
plunge after you. Listen to me, Marchioness de Strozzi. I am
perfectly acquainted with the nature of the stratagem you proposed
to put into execution to-day. But I tell you that as sure as the
gondola of the prince touches mine, and you make the least movement
of your hand or foot, he dies."
"Vain threat!" exclaimed she, surveying him with contemptuous
"You think so? Let me prove to you the contrary. Do you see the mask
behind Prince Eugene? He is the man that will do the deed. Observe
his motions while I speak a word or two, ostensibly to my rowers--
really to him."
And the marquis called out, as though to his gondoliers, "Are you
The words were no sooner spoken, than the mask bowed his head, and
drew from his cloak a poniard, which he raised and held suspended
over the back of Eugene's neck.
Laura uttered a cry and fell back among the cushions, while Strozzi,
hanging over her with the air of an enamoured lover, whispered: "The
gondola almost touches ours. Make but the smallest sign--lift but a
finger, and I swear that I will give the signal for his death!"
"O God! do not kill him!" was all that the wretched girl had
strength to say.
The gondolas met. Eugene stood erect on the stern of his boat, his
right arm extended toward her whom he loved. But alas! she came not.
She did not even turn her head; for Antonio was there, his poniard
uplifted, and Eugene's life depended upon her obedience.
"Traitress!" exclaimed the prince, as Strozzi's bucentoro shot
ahead, and the red-silk curtains, falling heavily down, shut out the
fearful tableau that had been prepared to torture and exasperate
Laura had swooned, and her fall had been remarked by the gondoliers.
"Poor thing," said one of them, "she has a paroxysm of insanity."
"How insanity?" asked Conrad.
"Everybody in Venice has heard of the lunacy of the Marchioness de
Strozzi," was the reply. "It is for that reason that she never goes
out. The marquis perhaps thought she might be trusted to see the
regatta; but he was mistaken. You must have remarked how closely he
watched her for fear of some catastrophe."
"Insane, is she?" said Eugene, with quivering lip, to Antonio.
"Pazza per amore," replied he, with a shrug. Then, coming closer to
the prince, he added, "The marquis gives out that his wife is crazy,
and, as nobody ever sees her, nobody is any the wiser."
"And you? What think you, Antonio?"
"I do not believe it, for I know the signora well."
"You know her?" said Eugene, touching Antonio on the shoulder.
"Yes. She it is who recommended me to take service with your
highness, and to tell you that you might trust me."
"Oh, I do trust you, good Antonio. Did I not say that the scar on
your face was your best recommendation?"
"Yes, excellenza; and I will not forget it."
"Can you explain to me the mystery of the scene we have just
"Yes, excellenza. The marchesa intended to leap into this gondola
and fly with you from Venice; but, as she attempted to rise, the
marquis showed her a dagger, and swore that if she moved hand or
foot he would spring into your highness's boat and kill you."
"And I cursed her!" thought Eugene, "and she heard my cruel words.
Oh Laura, my Laura! when will I lie at thy feet to implore
forgiveness? Home," cried he aloud, to the gondoliers. Then, in a
whisper, he added to Antonio, "I must speak with you as soon as we
All this time Laura lay insensible in the bucentoro, her husband
gazing intently upon her pallid face. The Countess Lucretia was
wearied to death with the whole performance.
"Fratillo," said she, "I hope that you have done with me, and that
you intend to return with your sentimental beauty to the palace."
Without removing his eyes from Laura, Strozzi bent his head, while
the countess went on:
"My gondola, your handsome present, is just behind us, and I must
say that it is worthy of Aphrodite herself. Pity that no goddess
should grace such a lovely sea-shell. Have I your permission to
occupy it, and leave this stifling atmosphere of love?"
"Go, go," answered Strozzi, impatiently.
"Thanks!" was Lucretia's heartfelt reply; and, opening the curtains,
she beckoned to her gondoliers, and stepped gracefully from the
bucentoro to her own dainty bark.
"It is rather tiresome to be without company," thought she, as she
was rowed away; "but solitude is better than concealment behind
those hateful curtains of Ottario's. I wonder who is the handsome
cavalier that seemed to be struck with me a while ago? One of the
foreign princes, I imagine, for he had a star on his breast. Ah!--
There he is, staring at me with all the power of his splendid eyes."
And the beautiful Lucretia, pretending not to see the elector, sank
gracefully back among her white satin cushions.
"Row toward the piazetta," said she to her gondoliers, "but go in a
direction contrary to that taken by yonder large gondola filled with
"That of the Elector of Bavaria? Yes, signora."
"Ah!" thought she, delighted, "he is the Elector of Bavaria, son-in-
law of the Emperor of Germany. It would be worth my while to entice
so handsome a prince from his loyalty to an emperor's daughter!"
Scarcely had the gondola of the countess altered its course, before
the elector ordered pursuit.
"Do you see that gondola there, fashioned like a sea-shell, and
cushioned in white satin, Montgelas?" said he to his chamberlain.
"Yes, your highness."
"Say to the gondoliers that we follow in its track. Whether we see
the regatta or not is of no consequence, so we keep in view of that
Venus in the conch-shell."
The Marquis de Villars had pretended to be in earnest conversation
with his neighbor, but he heard every word of this order.
"Yes, indeed," thought he. "The countess must be bought, if her
price be a million."
Lucretia vouchsafed not a glance that could be detected at her
pursuers; but she saw every thing, and exulted at her conquest. "Oh,
emperor's daughter, emperor's daughter!" said she, "your husband is
falling into my toils. They say you are handsome, but your elector's
eyes tell me that I am handsomer than you!"
And so she beguiled her solitude, while in the bucentoro Laura still
lay in her swoon, and Strozzi gazed enamoured upon her beauty.
"Beautiful as Aurora!" murmured he, "beautiful as a dew-gemmed rose;
beautiful as the evening star! I love you--I love you to madness,
and you must, you shall be mine!"
He bent over her and, now that she had no power to resist him, he
covered her face with passionate kisses. But his kisses restored her
to life, and with a shudder she raised her hands, and threw him off.
"Touch me again, and I will plunge this dagger in your false heart!"
cried she, drawing a poniard from her bosom.
"I would not care, so I could say that you were mine before I died!"
"Would that you were dead, that I might fly to him whose wife I am,
in the sight of Heaven!"
"Put up your dagger," said Strozzi, coldly, while a look of venom
chased away the love that had beamed in his eye. "I will not trouble
"You have betrayed me a second time, liar and impostor that you
are!" exclaimed Laura, replacing her dagger. "You have deceived my
lover into the belief that I am false to him, but, believe me, he
shall know the truth. God will protect him from you and your bravi,
and He will avenge my wrongs! Now, order these curtains to be
raised. It is better to be gazed at by the multitude, some of whom
have hearts and souls, than to sit in this pavilion within sight of
you! And bid your gondoliers take me home to my prison, where, God
be thanked! I can sometimes be alone with my own thoughts!"
Strozzi obeyed like a cowed hound. He lifted the curtains, and
ordered the men to row to the palace.
Laura's eyes sought the gondola of her lover, but she could not see
it. It had left the regatta, and had already landed at the stairs of
the Palazza Capello.
Countess Lucretia Canossa had just risen, and lay reclining on a
faded ottoman, attired in a neglige, which was any thing but
elegant, or appropriate to a beauty. She had rung several times for
her breakfast, but her waiting-maid had not seemed to hear the
summons, for nobody came at the call.
The countess, however, was so absorbed in her day-dreams, that she
forgot her breakfast. For a time her thoughts dwelt upon the
singular scene that had taken place in the bucentoro. She knew
nothing of the complications relating thereunto; she had but
witnessed the approach of the gondola which she supposed to be that
of her sister-in-law's lover; had seen her brother's extraordinary
excitement, and had guessed that some disappointment connected with
the presence of the insignificant little personage in that gondola
had caused Laura to fall into a swoon. She felt sincerely sorry for
her unhappy sister-in-law, but the countess was not inclined to
sentiment; so she dismissed the mystery of Laura's troubles with a
sigh, and fell to thinking of the Elector of Bavaria.
He had followed her all day, and well had she perceived that he had
had eyes for no one but herself. And when she had affected to weary
of his pursuit, he had left his own gondola for that of Count
Cornaro, who had approached and asked permission to present his
distinguished guest. The permission having been accorded as a matter
of course, the elector had entered into an animated conversation
with her, which lasted until the close of the regatta.
She had met him again that evening, at a ball given by Admiral
Mocenigo to the foreign princes. Many a handsome, gay gallant was
there; but the handsomest and most admired of them all was Max
Emmanuel of Bavaria. His dress, too, was magnificent in the extreme.
It was so covered with diamonds that it was like a dazzling sea of
light. But more splendid than his jewels were the flashing eyes
which, during that whole festival, had been fixed in admiration upon
the beautiful Lucretia; and what was still more delightful was the
fact that everybody had observed it, and that many a dame, who had
eclipsed the Countess of Canossa, and slighted her because of her
poverty, had envied her the conquest of the Bavarian prince's heart.
It had all ended as it should have done. Max Emmanuel had asked
permission to call upon her, and he was to make his visit at one
o'clock that day.
Lucretia had advanced so far in her triumphal course, when she cast
a glance of dismay at her mean, faded furniture.
"Oh, how forlorn it looks!" said she. "And to think that this is the
only room wherein I can receive a visit! for not another apartment
in the palace contains a chair whereon a man might take a seat. I
ought not to have yielded to my vanity, and consented to receive him
at home, for, when he sees my poverty, he will no longer think my
heart worthy of being won. He will believe that it can be bought,
and I shall sink in his estimation to the level of an ordinary
courtesan. I must be proud and reserved to-day with him; and, as I
have naught else to display, I must show off my wardrobe. But where
can Marietta be? Perhaps Count Canossa has gambled her away, and she
has gone off like the rest of the appointments of this dreary
Lucretia rang again; still there was no answer.
"The poor girl must have gone out to get me some breakfast. I had
forgotten that the cook left us because he had not been paid for a
year; and, as there is nobody else here, I must e'en have patience
until Marietta returns."
Lucretia sighed, and fell back upon her ottoman. For some time past
she had been aware that there was considerable bustle in the palace,
attended by hammering, and the sound of furniture either placed or
displaced. She had paid very little attention to it, for the rooms
were entirely empty, and she could only conjecture that her needy
spouse might have rented them out for the carnival. But the noise
came nearer and nearer, until she perceived that it had reached the
adjoining chamber, whence she could hear the sound of voices, and
distinguish much that was said.
She rang again, and this time the door was opened by some invisible
hand, when Marietta, bearing in her hand a large silver waiter,
advanced to a rickety table which stood near the ottoman, and placed
upon it a most delicate breakfast, served in dishes of costly,
chased silver. Not only the service was superb, but Marietta herself
was attired in a costume which shamed the shabbiness of her high-
Begging the countess's pardon for her unpunctuality, the maid
proceeded to pour out the chocolate, which she handed in a cup of
Lucretia rubbed her eyes. "Where, in the name of Aladdin, did you
get that dress?--And where this service?"
"The dress was brought to me this morning, my lady, and the mantua-
maker told me that it had been ordered by yourself; the jeweller who
brought the services of silver told me the same thing."
"I!" cried the countess. "I order such costly things?"
"Why, yes, my lady, for the upholsterers have almost arranged the
beautiful furniture you bought yesterday."
The countess smiled. "This is a prank of some carnival-mad jester,
child," said she. "There is not a word of truth in it. I wish there
"It is as true as that there are at least fifty workmen in the
palace at this very moment," was Marietta's reply.
Lucretia made no answer. She sprang from her ottoman, and, crossing
the room, threw open the door leading into the next saloon.
Marietta had spoken the sober truth. There they were all--fifty--
some hanging satin curtains before the bare windows, others placing
lofty mirrors in the recesses; one detachment uncovering the gilded
furniture, another arranging it, while the last folds of a rich
Turkey carpet were being smoothed in the corners of the room, where
dainty tables held vases of costly workmanship, filled with rare
At first the countess had been struck dumb and motionless.
Recovering herself, however, after a moment or two, she went hastily
up to the person who seemed to direct the proceedings, and accosted
"Will you oblige me by saying who ordered all this furniture?"
"Her ladyship, the Countess de Canossa," was the man's reply.
"Are you acquainted with the countess?" asked Lucretia.
"No, madame; I have not that honor."
"Then, how do you know that you are acting by her orders?"
"I received them yesterday through her steward."
"Her steward? And have you seen him since?"
"Yes, madame. He came again this morning very early, to see whether
we were punctual. It was all to be completed by one o'clock, and, as
it is not quite ten, you perceive that we will certainly have done
in time. But I must ask you to see the countess and request
permission for the workmen to be admitted to her boudoir. Will you
be so good as to convey the message?"
Lucretia cast a glance of shame at her faded gown. "He does not know
me," thought she, "and how should he in such a guise?" Then she
added, aloud, "I will apprise the countess."
Marietta was now in the dressing-room, whither she requested the
presence of her mistress immediately.
"What is it?" asked the bewildered Lucretia.
"The dressmaker is there, signora, to see if your dresses are to
your taste," replied Marietta.
"Let me see them," cried she, impatiently.
Marietta drew from a box a dress of pink satin, which, from its
make, was evidently intended for an under-skirt. "There is another,
just like it, of blue satin," exclaimed the enraptured lady's maid,
"and here is a box containing two peignoirs of guipure, with morning
caps to match. How beautiful your ladyship will look in these
"We will see at once whether I do," answered Lucretia, clapping her
hands with joy. "Here Marietta--quick! Help me off with this hateful
gown, and hand me the pink-satin petticoat."
In a few moments the mistress and maid were equally happy, while the
former was being decked in her magnificent neglige. The satin
petticoat was loose; and over it was thrown the guipure peignoir
which reached to the throat, and was continued at the waist by a
pink sash. The full sleeves were open, leaving half-covered, half-
exposed, Lucretia's arms, firm and white as Carrara marble.
"Now this love of a lace cap," cried Marietta, placing it with great
coquetry around the black braids of Lucretia's glossy hair; while
the latter, quite reconciled to the wonders that were being enacted
around her, was profoundly engaged in admiring herself in a looking-
"And now," said Marietta, "you are ready, and certainly you are as
lovely as a fairy."
"Fairy, say you? Yes; that seems to be the appropriate name for one
who is the recipient of such extraordinary riches as these. But now,
Marietta, whence do they come? Are they from my brother?"
"Signora, I know no more than I have told you. Yesterday a gentleman
(I think he must have been a Frenchman) came hither, announced
himself as an architect, and told me that your ladyship had sent him
to examine the palace, with a view to refurnishing it with great
"Did you take him over the rooms?"
"Of course I did, my lady. He took various notes as he went along,
and remained longer in your boudoir than in any room in the palace.
He sat down and made a drawing of it, asking me, now and then, a
question as to your ladyship's tastes and habits."
"Gracious Heaven!" exclaimed the countess, while a painful blush
overspread her face, "has he been here to see my need and hear of my
privations? Can he have been the secret giver of all this
As the possibility that the Elector of Bavaria was her unknown
benefactor, presented itself to Lucretia's mind, her humiliation
grew extreme; for if these gifts were from him, they proved that he
held the daughter of the noble house of Strozzi to be a creature
that was to be bought with gold, without the poor pretence of one
word of love.
"When came he, and what sort of looking man was he?" asked she,
"He came just after the regatta had begun, signora."
"Then, God be praised, it was not HE!" said Lucretia to herself,
"for at that hour, he was with me, in Count Cornaro's gondola."
A faint knock was heard at the door, and the decorateur begged
permission to enter. His coming awakened the countess from her
reverie, and she hastily bade him come in, "for," said she, "it must
be almost one o'clock."
"The clock on the mantel of the drawing-room has just struck eleven,
your ladyship," replied the man, who, now that she was richly
dressed, recognized the lady of the house.
"So," thought Lucretia, "I have a clock!" and she bounded off to the
drawing-room to see it. Marietta followed with the chocolate, which,
in the excitement of the moment, had been forgotten.
"True," said the countess. "bring me my breakfast, and let me take
it here in this beautiful apartment. Who is that at the door?" added
she, as Marietta went forward to open it.
"Your ladyship's butler," replied she. "He comes to know whether the
dejeuner a la fourchette is to be served in the boudoir or in the
"Let it be in the banqueting-hall, for I may have several guests."
"The steward ordered it for one o'clock, my lady. He said that you
expected some guests of distinction."
"My steward?" repeated Lucretia, smiling. "So it seems that I have
an entire household. Let us go over our altered domains, Marietta."
And the two went from room to room, the femme de chambre as
delighted as her mistress, until they descended as far as the
kitchen. Here every thing gave evidence that the dejeuner was to be
a rare one. Two cooks, in white, presided over the arrangements, and
two scullions were busy carrying out the orders of the chief. They
were so absorbed in their business, that they did not perceive the
countess who stood in the door.
Presently from the storeroom opposite there emerged a man with
baskets of bottles, which he deposited on the table, saying:
"Here is Burgundy for the Bayonne ham. The champagne, sherry, and
constantia, are for the table."
The countess had now seen and heard enough. Not only was her palace
fitted up, but her kitchen was in order, and her wine-cellar filled.
So she returned to the drawing-room, where she was met with the
tidings that her boudoir was ready for occupation, and nothing now
remained to be done, unless her ladyship had any alterations to
suggest, or deficiencies to point out.
Her ladyship professed herself satisfied, and then came a moment of
embarrassment. "As regards the payment--"
"Oh, signora, the steward is to meet me at twelve o'clock, to
arrange that matter." And with these words he took his leave.
"I ought to have followed him," thought Lucretia, "to solve this
agreeable riddle, by making acquaintance with my steward. But pshaw!
I shall soon know all about it. Nobody has made me these presents
without intending to get a word of thanks for the benefaction."
She had scarcely seated herself in a new and beautiful ottoman,
which had replaced her faded, rickety old couch, before a servant
appeared and announced,
"Her ladyship's steward!"
"My ladyship's steward!" echoed Lucretia. "Do let us make his
He came in--a small, slender man, apparently young, with a pair of
twinkling black eyes, and a countenance expressive of great energy.
With the air of a finished gentleman he bowed, advanced, and bowed
"Signor," said Hie countess, "you have been announced by a title
which I have no right to bestow upon any person living--that of my
steward. Pray tell me who you are."
"Gracious countess," answered he, smiling, "I have the honor to
present myself. I am the Marquis de Villars, ambassador of his
majesty the King of France to the court of Bavaria."
"And may I ask why, in addition to your other representative titles,
you have assumed that of steward to the Countess of Canossa?"
"Because, signora, seeing that your habitation was not worthy of
you, I have ventured to perform the duties of a faithful steward, by
fitting it up in a manner which I hope is agreeable to the divinity
at whose shrine the elector is now a worshipper?"
"Did the elector suggest--" began Lucretia, reddening.
"Oh no, signora; he knows nothing of the little surprise I have
prepared for you. It does not concern him at all."
"Then I am to suppose that Count Canossa, having gambled away my
very home, this palace has become your property, and I am here on
sufferance. How long may I remain?"
"How long may you remain in your own home! Signora, all that you see
has been done for you, in your own name, and I hope you will do me
the honor to accept it."
"You shall learn as soon as we understand each other, signora."
"Then let us come to an understanding at once, for the Countess
Canossa does not receive princely gifts from strangers."
"Of course not, nor would a stranger take so unpardonable a liberty
with a lady of her rank and birth. But before going further, let me
assure you, signora, that you are under obligations to nobody for
the little surprise I have prepared for you. Not in the least to me,
for I am but the representative of him who begs your acceptance of
"You speak in riddles," said Lucretia, with a shrug. "But, at all
events, I understand that this furniture, silver, and these rich
dresses, are mine?"
"Assuredly yours, signora."
"Then let me inform you that in a week, at farthest, they will go,
as they came, in the space of a few hours. Count Canossa will have
lost them at the gaming-table, and the palazzo will be in the same
condition as it was yesterday."
"Count Canossa is powerless to touch the least portion of your
"Powerless? How! Are you a sorcerer, and have you changed him into
stone? Or have you spirited him away?"
"I have spirited him away, signora. I have persuaded him by the
eloquence of gold to forsake Venice, forever. As long as he remains
in Paris, he is to receive it yearly pension from the King of
"Gone to Paris! Pensioned by the King of France!" exclaimed
"Gone, signora; and, in leaving, he desired me to say to you that he
hoped you would forgive all the unhappiness he had caused you since
"Gone! Gone! Am I then free?" cried Lucretia, starting from her
ottoman, and grasping the hand of the marquis.
"Yes, signora. You are free to bestow your heart on whomsoever you
will. Count Canossa will never molest you more."
"Oh how I thank you! How I thank you!" replied she, her beautiful
eyes filling with tears of joy. "But tell me," added she, after a
short pause--"tell me, if you please, the meaning of all this
providential interference with my domestic affairs?"
"I am ready, signora," said the marquis, waiting for the countess to
resume her seat, and then placing himself at her side. "Perhaps in
your leisure hours you may have interested yourself in European
"Not I," said Lucretia, emphatically.
"Then allow me to enlighten you on the subject," replied the
"To what end?" inquired she, impatiently.
"I will not detain you long, signora. Give me but a few moments of
your attention. Doubtless you have heard that the Emperor of
Austria, for several years past, has been at war with the Porte?"
Lucretia nodded, and the marquis went on. "Perhaps it will interest
you to know that the Elector of Bavaria is an ally of the emperor,
and has distinguished himself greatly, particularly at the siege of
"Oh, I can believe it," cried she, with animation. "He looks like a
hero. Tell me, pray, something about his exploits."
"Later, signora, with pleasure; but for the present we must discuss
politics. Now the Emperor of Austria is fast getting the better of
the Sultan; and if the latter should succumb in this war, the former
would not only be left with too much power for the good of Europe
generally, but would become a dangerous rival to the King of France.
Now it is important for my sovereign that the victories of Austria
cease, and that Austria's power wax no greater. Have I expressed
myself clearly? Do you understand?"
"I begin to understand," was the reply.
"Now, there are various ways of crippling the resources of Austria;
for example, her allies might be estranged. Have patience, signora;
in a few moments my politics will grow personal and interesting. One
of the emperor's most powerful allies is the Elector of Bavaria."
"Of course," cried Lucretia, delighted with the turn that politics
were taking. "Of course he is, being the emperor's son-in-law. Tell
me about the elector's wife. Is she handsome? Does he love her?"
"Signora, as regards your latter question, the elector himself will
have great pleasure in answering it. As regards the former, the
Archduchess Antonia is handsome, but sickly, and her ill-health has
lost her the affection of her husband."
"Ah!" cried Lucretia, relieved, "he does not love her."
"He loves her no longer," said the marquis. "But he was greatly
taken by the charms of the Countess Kaunitz; and as the elector's
alliance with Austria was a matter of more importance than his
conjugal relations with the archduchess, the husband of the fair
countess was appointed ambassador to Bavaria, and his wife
ambassadress. It was through the influence of this charming
ambassadress that Max Emmanuel joined the forces of Austria."
"So he has a mistress, then? One whom he loves?"
"Whom he loved until he saw the Countess Canossa."
"Do you think I could supplant her?" exclaimed Lucretia, her large
eyes darting fire at the thought.
"I do not doubt it," was the flattering reply. "If you choose, you
can trample under foot this arrogant Austrian, who flatters herself
that Max Emmanuel is all her own."
"I would like to try," cried Lucretia, with the air of an amazon
about to go into battle.
"Then let me offer my services," said the marquis, bowing. "The
elector is peculiar, and has pretensions to be loved for his own
sake; therefore he would never quite trust the disinterested
affections of a woman whom he had power to raise from poverty to
"Ah!" cried Lucretia, with a significant bend of the head. "NOW I
begin to apprehend your meaning as well as your munificence."
"Signora," said De Villars, with equal significance, "the King of
France seeks a friend who will alienate the elector from Austria,
and win him for France. Will you accept the trust?"
"But you said that he loved another woman."
"So much the greater will be your glory in the conquest, for the
countess is beautiful and fascinating."
"Is she in Venice?"
"Wherever the elector goes, thither she is sure to follow."
"She must leave Venice; she must be forced to leave!" cried the
vindictive Italian, ready to hate the woman whom Max Emmanuel loved.
"You must do better. Induce the elector to forsake her, and leave
her in Venice like another Didone abbandonata, while you carry him
in triumph back to Munich."
"I will, indeed I will!" exclaimed Lucretia, exultingly.
"Ah, signora," said the marquis, coaxingly, "what a magnanimous and
disinterested nature you display! You accede to my request without
naming conditions. Allow me to admire your nobleness, and believe me
when I say that my royal master shall hear of it."
"Well, tell him that, if it lies in my power, Max Emmanuel shall
learn to dislike Austria and love France."
"Signora, you are the instrument of a great purpose. I give you a
whole year wherein to work; and if, at the end of that time, you
have prevailed upon the elector to sign a treaty of alliance with
France, you, as one of France's noblest allies, shall receive from
my royal master one million of francs. Meanwhile you shall have ten
thousand francs a month for pin-money."
"Alas!" said Lucretia, "I am forced to accept; for my husband has so
effectually impoverished me that I live on the bounty of my brother.
And he is so arrogant that I am almost as glad to be independent of
him as to be delivered from my detestable husband. I shall endeavor
to let my acts speak my gratitude for the deliverance."
"Allow me, signora, to present you with your pocket-money for this
present month, and give me a receipt in the shape of your fair hand
So saying, he laid a purse of gold at Lucretia's feet, and covered
her hand with kisses.
"I shall want to consult you frequently, dear marquis," observed
"I shall always be at your service."
"And now, I take it as a matter of course, that what has passed
between us this morning is to remain a profound secret."
"As a matter of course, signora, it goes no further," returned De
Villars, [Footnote: "Memoirs of the Marquis de Villurs," vol. i., p.
104.] "and to insure perfect secrecy, you must pretend not to know
me when we meet abroad. Not even the elector--or, perhaps I should
say, above all men, the elector is not to know of my visit. I must,
therefore, take my leave. for--hark! your clock strikes one, and
lovers are sure to be punctual."
"I shall expect you every morning at eleven; and so we can take
counsel together, and I can report daily progress to you."
"Aurevoir, then, signora. Allow me one word more. If, before the
close of the carnival, you leave Venice in company with the elector,
I shall take the liberty of refunding to you the entire cost of the
refurnishing of your palace to-day, as compensation for its
temporary loss. And now, fairest of the allies of France, adieu!"
The French ambassador had hardly time to make his escape, before the
doors of the drawing-room were flung open, and the lackey announced,
"His highness the Elector of Bavaria!"
THE LOVERS REUNITED.
Two weeks had elapsed since that unhappy meeting between Eugene and
Laura--two weeks of expectation and hope frustrated. In vain had
Eugene attempted to reach her with a message; in vain had he
remained for hours before her windows; in vain had Antonio tried to
penetrate into her presence. Day after day came the same sorrowful
news: the marchioness was very ill, and no one was allowed to pass
the threshold of the palace. Her husband watched day and night at
her bedside, and, excepting Mademoiselle Victorine, no living
creature was allowed to enter her room.
When, for the fourteenth time, Antonio returned unsuccessful from
his mission, Eugene became so agitated and grew so pale that the
bravo was touched to the heart, and, taking the prince's hand,
covered it with kisses.
"Do not be so cast down, excellenza," said he, imploringly; "have
courage, and hope for the best."
"Oh, Antonio!" murmured the prince, "she is dead!"
"No, excellenza, no! I swear to you that she lives, nor do I believe
one word of this rumored illness."
"Why should you not believe it, my friend?"
"Because I know the marquis well; and this is merely a pretext for
keeping his wife imprisoned."
"Thank you, Antonio, thank you," replied Eugene, "for this ray of
hope. Then I depend upon you to deliver my message sooner or later.
Remember my words: 'The Prince of Savoy knows why the marchioness
did not speak to him. He lives, loves, and hopes.' And if you will
but return to me with one word from her lips, I will feel grateful
to you for life, Antonio."
"I will serve you with my life, excellenza," said Antonio, bowing
and leaving the room.
He had not been long away, before the door was opened, and Conrad
announced the Elector of Bavaria.
"I have come to entice the hermit of the Capello out of his cell,"
cried Max Emmanuel. "My dear Eugene, was ever a man so obstinate a
recluse? Every time I come I am told that you are at the arsenal,
the dock-yards, the armory, a picture-gallery, or some other retreat
of arts and sciences."
"Well, dear Max, I am a student, and find much to learn in Venice."
"To whom do you say that?" cried Max, laughing. "As if I, too, were
not a student, only that my tastes lie not in the same direction as
yours, and as if I were not making tremendous progress in my
"No wonder: you are far advanced in every branch of learning, while
I am but a neophyte."
"No such thing; you are much more deeply learned than I; but you are
the victim of an unfortunate passion which you are striving to
smother under a weight of study, while I--I, my dear fellow, am
distancing you every hour of the day, for my studies are all
concentrated upon the 'art of love.'"
"God speed you, then, and deliver you from the malady that is
wasting away my life!"
"You are an incomprehensible being, Eugene. I cannot comprehend your
dogged fidelity to such an abstraction as a woman whom you never
see. You have not trusted me with your secret, and yet I might have
done you some service had you been more frank with me."
"You mock me," replied Eugene, gloomily.
"No, Eugene, I do not mock you. I know your secret, despite your
taciturnity. I know that you love the Marchioness Strozzi, and that
the jealousy of her husband is such that you have not been able to
speak a word with her since your arrival in Venice."
"Who could have told you?"
"My houri--she whose love has made of Venice a Mussulman's paradise
to me. Oh, Eugene! I am the happiest man alive! I am beloved and
loved for myself. My beautiful mistress is noble and rich; she
refuses all my gifts, and yet she is about to give me unequivocal
proof of her love: she is about to leave her lovely Italian home,
and fly with me to Munich."
"Are you about to leave Venice so soon?"
"The archduchess is dangerously ill, and yesterday a courier was
sent to summon me home. And, would you believe it? my Lucretia
consents to accompany me, on condition that I force no gifts upon
her acceptance, but allow her to furnish her house in Munich at her
own expense. Did you ever hear of such disinterestedness? Now I am
about to give you a proof of my confidence, and tell you the name of
my mistress. It is the Countess Canossa. Well!--You are not
overjoyed? You do not understand!--"
"How should I be overjoyed or understand, when I do not know the
"Great goodness, is it possible that this unconscionable snail has
lived so closely in his shell that he does not know how fortunate
for him it is, that the Countess Canossa loves me! Hear me, Eugene.
My Lucretia is the sister of the Marquis de Strozzi."
"My enemy!" murmured Eugene, his brow suddenly darkening.
"Yes; but not his sister's friend; for although he makes a
confidante of her, she hates him. Except Victorine, the countess is
the only person permitted to have access to her sister-in-law's
Eugene's eyes now brightened with expectation, and he looked
gratefully up into the elector's handsome, flushed face.
"Yes, Eugene, yes," continued Max, "and through her angelic
goodness, you shall visit your Laura. To-day, Lucretia appears as
Mary Stuart, at a masked entertainment given by Admiral Mocenigo.
Before she goes, she is to show off her dress to the poor prisoner
of the Palazzo Strozzi. Her long train is to be borne by a page, who
of course will have to follow whithersoever Mary Stuart goes. This
page is to be yourself, my boy!"
Eugene threw himself into the elector's arms. He was too happy for
At noon, on the same day, the gondola of the Countess Canossa
stopped before the Palazzo Strozzi. The countess, dressed in a
magnificent costume, went slowly up the marble stairs, her long
train of white satin borne by a page in purple velvet. His face,
like that of his mistress, was hidden by a mask; and the broad red
scarf which was tied around his slender waist, confined a small
dagger whose hilt was set in precious stones. His eyes were so large
and bright that the mask could not entirely conceal their beauty;
and it was perhaps because of their splendor that the porter
hesitated to admit him within the palace.
The countess, who had gone a few steps before, turned carelessly
round, and asked why her page did not follow.
"Your ladyship," replied Beppo, the porter, "the marquis has
forbidden the admission of strangers."
"And you call that poor, little fellow of mine a stranger? You might
as well ask me to cut off my train, as expect me to wear it without
my page!--Come, Filippo, come!"
Filippo passed on, while the old porter grumbled.
"Never mind, Beppo," said the countess, looking back kindly, "I will
tell my brother of your over-watchfulness, and inform him what a
love of a Cerberus he has for a porter." And on she went, having
reached the top of the staircase, before Filippo and the train had
gone half way.
Mademoiselle Victorine was awaiting their arrival, and made a
profound courtesy to Lucretia.
"Signora, the marchioness awaits you in her boudoir."
"And the marquis knows that I am here?"
"Yes, signora. He was anxious to accompany you in your visit to my
lady; but she would not consent; and you know that he dares not go
without it. He never has crossed the threshold of her dressing-
"I know it well. Now go and announce my visit to her. But first, go
to the marquis and tell him that, as soon as I shall have returned
from the apartments of my sister-in-law, I wish to see him in his
cabinet, on important business."
This was spoken in an elevated tone, so that all the spies, whom
Lucretia knew to be eavesdropping around, might hear her words and
"I go, signora," replied Victorine, in the same tone; but she added
in a whisper to the page, "For God's sake, be discreet!"
The lady's maid, in obedience to Lucretia's orders, went directly to
the cabinet of Strozzi, while the countess proceeded in an opposite
direction. At the end of the grand corridor was a lofty door, which,
being shut, the countess remained stationary; while Filippo, who
seemed not to have remarked it, went on with his train, until he
stood immediately behind his mistress.
She chided him for his familiarity. "Back, Filippo," said she,
impatiently. "When I stop, how do you presume to go on? You are too
unmannerly for a page!"
Filippo murmured a few unintelligible words, and retreated, while
the countess knocked several times at the door.
"It is I, Laura, the Countess de Canossa."
If anybody had been near, the beatings of poor Filippo's heart might
have been heard during the pause that ensued before the door was
opened. At length its heavy panels were seen to move, and a sweet,
soft, voice was heard:
"Come in, dear Lucretia."
The countess disappeared within; but scarcely had she entered the
room before she grasped Laura's arm, and hurried her into the room
"Not here, not here," whispered she. "Go into your private
apartment, Laura. In this one you would be unsafe. There will be
listeners at the door."
Laura made no reply; she flew back and disappeared behind the
portiere that led into her boudoir. The countess looked back at her
page, who leaned trembling against a marble column close by.
"Shut the door, Filippo," said she, "and await me here. I will see
the marchioness in her boudoir, and Mademoiselle Victorine will be
back presently, to entertain you."
The door was shut, and Filippo, letting Mary Stuart's train drop
without further ceremony, sprang forward and touched the arm of his
"Where is she?"
"In her boudoir." The page would have gone thither at once; but
Lucretia stopped him. "Mark my words well. Speak low; and when
Victorine summons you away, obey at once, for delay may cost you
your life. And now, impatient youth, begone!"
They were together. Laura would have sprung forward to meet him, but
emotion paralyzed her limbs, and chained her to the floor. He
clasped her in his loving arms, kissed her again and again, and each
felt the wild throbbing of the other's heart. Forgotten were the
long years of their parting, forgotten all doubt, all anguish. It
seemed but yesterday that they had plighted their troth in that
moonlit pavilion; and nothing lay between, save one long night which
now had passed away, leaving the dawn of a day that was radiant with
"I have thee once more, my own! Close--close to my heart, and would
to God thou couldst grow there, blending our dual being into one!"
"Not once more, my Eugene, for thou hast never lost me. I have kept
unstained the faith I pledged, and never have I belonged to any man
"But alas, my treasure, I may not possess thee! Let me at least
drink my fill of thy beauty, my Laura!"
She drew him gently to her divan, and there, just as he had done in
the pavilion, he knelt at her feet, and gazed, enraptured, in her
face. With her little white hands she stroked his black locks, and
lifted them from his pale, high brow.
"My hero," murmured she, tenderly. "Thou hast decked that brow with
laurels since I loved thee, Eugene; and the world has heard of thee
and of thy deeds of valor. I knew it would be so; I knew that the
God of the brave would shield thy dear head in the day of battle,
and lift thee to mountain-heights of glory and renown."
"And yet I would so gladly have yielded up my life, Laura! What was
life without thee? One long night of anguish, to which death would
have been glorious day! Oh, Laura! that day--that fearful day--on
which I was bereft of thee!"
She laid her hand upon his lips. "Do not think of it, beloved, or
thou wilt mar the ecstasy of the present. I, too, have suffered--
more, it must have been more, than thou! And yet in all my anguish I
was happy; for I was faithful, though sorely tried, and never, never
despaired of thy coming."
"And yet thou art the wife of another."
"Say not so. When the priest laid my hand in his, I laid it in
thine. To thee were my promises of fidelity, to thee I plighted my
troth. That another--a liar and deceiver, should have inserted his
odious name for thine, laid his dishonored hand in mine, has never
bound ME! I was, I am, I will ever be thine, so help me, God! who
heard the oath I swore, and knew that, swearing, I believed thee
"And I could doubt her, my love, my wife! Forgive me, Laura, that in
my madness I should have accused thee."
"All is forgotten, for I have thee here!"
It was well for these impassioned lovers that a friend watched for
them without. Lucretia had mounted guard for half an hour, when
Victorine returned to say that the marquis would be glad to see his
sister; her visit had lasted long enough.
"Take my place, then, Victorine; holt the door, and admit nobody."
"Oh, signora, if the marquis finds us out, he will assassinate me!"
said Victorine, trembling.
"He will not find us out; and you can very well endure some little
uneasiness, when for a few nervous twitches you are to receive two
thousand sequins. Think that, by to-night, you will be on your way
"Would to God I were there, away from this frightful robbers' nest!"
Lucretia laughed. "You flatter the city of Venice. But I am not
surprised that you are not in love with the Palazzo Strozzi, for
when its master is contradicted, he is a raging tiger, whose thirst
nothing save human blood will quench."
"O God! O Lord! I am almost dead with fright!"
"Have patience, mademoiselle. Look at yonder clock on the mantel.
Precisely at the expiration of one hour, come with your message to
my brother's cabinet. That will be the signal for your release. Are
your effects out of the palace?"
"Yes, signora; they are all at the hotel of the Marquis de Villars."
"And the gondola of the elector will be here to speak the prince's
adieux. Now remain just where you are; and, instead of opening your
ears to what is passing in yonder boudoir, make use of your leisure
to say your prayers, which you may possibly have forgotten this
The countess lifted up her long train, and, passing it over her arm,
went on her way to meet the amiable Strozzi.
"Really, Ottario," said she, entering the cabinet, "your palace is
singularly like a prison. As I came through the corridor, I felt as
if I were passing over the Ponte de' Sospiri. The atmosphere of the
place is heavy with your jealous sighs."
"True; there is little happiness under the marble dome of my palace.
But let us speak of other things. What can I do to serve you?"
"You seem to intimate that I can never desire to speak with you,
except to ask a favor."
"I find that, generally speaking, the case."
"For once you are mistaken. I want nothing from you whatever."
"You seem to have grown rich by some legerdemain or other, Lucretia.
I hear that you have refitted your palace with great magnificence.
Has Canossa come into a fortune? or has he been winning at the card-
"Neither; but it was precisely of my newly acquired wealth that I
came to speak with you. I am about to quit Venice, perhaps forever;
and before leaving I wished to have an explanation with you."
"Gracious Heaven! who will take your place by Laura?"
"Very flattering that my departure occasions no emotion in my
brother's fond heart, save regret for the loss of his spy! But never
mind, I overlook the slight, and proceed with my confession."
So Lucretia went over all the humiliations and hardships she had
undergone within the past six months; and, after dwelling
pathetically upon her own sufferings, she related the manner of her
meeting with the Elector of Bavaria, and its consequences. They
loved each other to adoration; he lavished every gift upon her that
his wealth could purchase, and now she was about to give him
substantial proof of her attachment, by going off with him to
Munich. No mention was made, in the recital, of her episode with the
The countess had barely arrived at the end of her confidences, when
a knock was heard, and Mademoiselle Victorine walked in with a
message from the marchioness.
"What message?" cried Strozzi, rising at once to receive it.
"Pardon me, excellenza, it is only a message for the signora," said
Victorine, courtesying. "My lady wishes to know if the countess has
the French book that she promised to bring to-day?"
"Dear me! I had forgotten it," cried the countess. "But stay,
Victorine, it is in the gondola below. Let little Filippo go after
"Who is Filippo?" asked the marquis, frowning.
"My page, to be sure. Have you never seen him? Of course I could not
carry Mary Stuart's long train up the staircase without a page to
"And he is here, in the palace?"
"Of course he is: where else should the child be but here with me?
And, as I was not anxious to have him eavesdropping about your
cabinet while we were conversing, I gave him in charge to
"I shall discharge Beppo," growled the marquis. "How dared he--"