Part 5 out of 7
rush of passionate joy, coming upon the terrors of the past night, was
more than she could bear. Nobili watched the change.
"Forgive me, love," he said, "I will be calmer. Lay your dear head
against me. We will sit together here--under the trees."
"Yes," said Enrica in a faltering voice; "I have so much to say."
Then, suddenly recalling the blessing of his presence, a smile stole
about her bloodless lips. She gave a happy sigh. "Yes, Nobili--we can
talk now without fear. But I can talk only of you. I have no thought
but you. I never dreamed of such happiness as this! O Nobili!" And she
hid her face in the strong arm entwined about her.
"Speak to me, Enrica; I will listen to you forever."
Enrica clasped his hand, looked at it, sighed, pressed it between both
of hers, sighed again, then raised it to her lips.
"Dear hand," she said, "how it is burnt! But for this hand, I should
be nothing now but a little heap of ashes in the tower. Nobili"--her
tone suddenly changed--"Nobili, I will try to love life now that you
have given it to me." Her voice rang out like music, and her telltale
eyes caught his, with a glance as passionate as his own. "Count
Marescotti," she said, absently, as giving utterance to a passing
thought--"Count Marescotti told me, only a week ago, that I was born
to be unhappy. He said he read it in my eyes. I believed him then--not
Why, she could not have explained, but, as the count's name passed
her lips, Enrica was sorry she had mentioned it. Nobili noted this. He
gave an imperceptible start, and drew back a little from her.
"Do you know Count Marescotti?" Enrica asked him, timidly.
"I know him by sight," was Nobili's reply. "He is a mad fellow--a
republican. Why does he come to Lucca?"
Enrica shook her head.
"I do not know," she answered, still confused.
"Where did you meet him, Enrica?"
She blushed, and dropped her eyes. As she gave him no answer, he asked
another question, gazing down upon her earnestly:
"How did Count Marescotti come to know what your eyes said?"
As Nobili spoke, his voice sounded changed. He waited for an answer
with a look as if he had been wronged. Enrica's answer did not come
immediately. She felt frightened.
"Oh! why," she thought, "had she mentioned Marescotti's name?" Nobili
was angry with her--she was sure he was angry with her.
"I met him at my aunt's one evening," she said at last, gathering
courage as she stole her little hand into one of his, and knit her
fingers tightly within his own. "We went up into the Guinigi Tower
together. There were dear old Trenta and Baldassare Lena with us."
"Indeed!" replied Nobili, coldly. "I did not know that the Marchesa
Guinigi ever received young men."
As Nobili said this he fixed his eyes upon Enrica's face. What could
he read there but assurance of the perfect innocence within? Yet
the name of Count Marescotti had grated upon his ear like a discord
clashing among sweet sounds. He shook the feeling off, however, for
the time. Again he was her gracious lover.
"Tell me, love," he said, drawing Enrica to him, "did you hear my
signal last night?--the shot I fired below, out of the woods?"
"Yes, I heard a shot. Something told me it must be you. I thought I
should have died when I heard my aunt order Adamo to unloose those
dreadful dogs. How did you escape them?"
"The cunning beasts! They were upon my track. How I did it in the
darkness I cannot tell, but I managed to scramble down the cliff and
to reach the opposite mountain. The chasm was then between us. So the
dogs lost the scent upon the rocks, and missed me. I left Lucca almost
as soon as you. Trenta told me that the marchesa had brought you here
because you would not give me up. Dear heart, how I grieved that I had
brought suffering on you!"
He seized her hand and pressed it to his lips, then continued:
"As long as it was day, I prowled about under the cliffs in the shadow
of the chasm. I watched the stars come out. There was one star that
shone brightly above the tower; to me that star was you, Enrica. I
could have knelt to it."
"Dear Nobili!" murmured Enrica, softly.
"As I waited there, I saw a great red vapor gather over the
battlements. The alarm-bell sounded. I climbed up through the wood,
where the rocks are lower, and watched among the shrubs. I saw the
marchesa carried out in Adamo's arms. I heard your name, dear love,
passed from mouth to mouth. I looked around--you were not there. I
understood it all; I rushed to save you."
Again Nobili wound his arms round Enrica and drew her to him with
passionate ardor. The thought of Count Marescotti had faded out like a
bad dream at daylight.
Enrica's blue eyes dimmed with tears.
"Oh, do not weep, Enrica!" he cried. "Let the past go, love. Did the
marchesa think that bolts and bars, and Adamo, and watch-dogs, would
keep Nobili from you?" He gave a merry laugh. "I shall not leave
Corellia until we are affianced. Fra Pacifico knows it--I told him so
last night. Cavaliere Trenta is expected to-day from Lucca. Both will
speak to your aunt. One may have done so already, for what I know,
for Fra Pacifico had left his house before I rose. He must be here. Is
this a time to weep, Enrica?" he asked her tenderly. How comely Nobili
looked! What life and joy sparkled in his bright eyes!
"I am very foolish--I hope you will forgive me," was Enrica's answer,
spoken a little sadly. Her confidence in herself was shaken, since
Count Marescotti's name had jarred between them. "Let us walk a little
in the shade."
"Yes. Lean on me, dearest; the morning is delicious. But remember,
Enrica, I will have smiles--nothing but smiles."
As Nobili bore her up on his strong arm, pacing up and down among the
flowering trees that, bowing in the light breeze, shed gaudy petals at
their feet--Nobili looked so strong, and resolute, and bold--his eyes
had such a power in them as he gazed down proudly upon her--that
the tears which trembled upon Enrica's eyelids disappeared. Nobili's
strength came to her as her own strength. She, who had been so crushed
and wounded, brought so near to death, needed this to raise her up to
life. And now it came--came as she gazed at him.
Yes, she would live--live a new life with him. And Nobili had done
it--done it unconsciously, as the sun unfolds the bosom of the rose,
and from the delicate bud creates the perfect flower.
Something Nobili understood of what was passing within her, but not
all. He had yet to learn the treasures of faith and love shut up in
the bosom of that silent girl--to learn how much she loved him--only
_him_. (A new lesson for one who had trifled with so many, and given
and taken such facile oaths!)
Neither spoke, but wandered up and down in vague delight.
Why was it that at this moment Nobili's thoughts strayed to Lucca, and
to Nera Boccarini?--Nera rose before him, glowing and velvet-eyed,
as on that night she had so tempted him. He drove her image from him.
Nera was dead to him. Dead?--Fool!--And did he think that any thing
can die? Do not our very thoughts rise up and haunt us in some subtile
consequence of after-life? Nothing dies--nothing is isolated. Each act
of daily intercourse--the merest trifle, as the gravest issue--makes
up the chain of life. Link by link that chain draws on, weighted with
good or ill, and clings about us to the very grave.
Thinking of Nera, Nobili's color changed--a dark look clouded his
ready smile. Enrica asked, "What pains you?"
"Nothing, love, nothing," Nobili answered vaguely, "only I fear I am
not worthy of you."
Enrica raised her eyes to his. Such a depth of tenderness and purity
beamed from them, that Nobili asked himself with shame, how he could
have forgotten her. With this blue-eyed angel by his side it seemed
impossible, and yet--
Pressing Enrica's hand more tightly, he placed it fondly on his own.
"So small, so true," he murmured, gazing at it as it lay on his broad
"Yes, Nobili, true to death," she answered, with a sigh.
Still holding her hand, "Enrica," he said, solemnly, "I swear to love
you and no other, while I live. God is my witness!"
As he lifted up his head in the earnestness with which he spoke, the
sunshine, streaming downward, shone full upon his face.
Enrica trembled. "Oh! do not say too much," she cried, gazing up at
With that sun-ray upon his face, Nobili seemed to her, at that moment,
more than mortal!
"Angel!" exclaimed Count Nobili, wrought up to sudden passion, "can
you doubt me?"
Before Enrica could reply, a snake, warmed by the hot sun, curled
upward from the terraced wall behind them, where it had basked, and
glided swiftly between them. Nobili's heel was on it; in an instant
he had crushed its head. But there between them lay the quivering
reptile, its speckled scales catching the light. Enrica shrieked and
"O God! what an evil omen!" She said no more, only her shifting color
and uneasy eyes told what she felt.
"An evil omen, love!" and Nobili brushed away the snake with his foot
into the underwood, and laughed. "Not so. It is an omen that I shall
crush all who would part us. That is how I read it."
Enrica shook her head. That snake crawling between them was the first
warning to her that she was still on earth. Till then it had seemed to
her that Nobili's presence must be like paradise. Now for a moment a
terrible doubt crept over her. Could happiness be sad? It must be so,
for now she could not tell whether she was sad or happy.
"Oh! do not say too much, dear Nobili," she repeated almost to
herself, "or--" Her voice dropped. She looked toward the spot where
the snake had fallen, and shuddered.
Nobili did not then reply, but, taking Enrica by the hand, he led her
up a flight of steps to a higher terrace, where a cypress avenue threw
long shadows across the marble pavement.
"You are mine," he whispered, "mine--as by a miracle!"
There was such rapture in his voice that heaven came down into her
heart, and every doubt was stilled.
At this moment Fra Pacifico's towering figure appeared ascending a
lower flight of steps toward them, coming from the house. He trod with
that firm, grand step churchmen have in common with actors--only the
stage upon which each treads is different. Behind Fra Pacifico was
the short, plump figure and the white hat of Cavaliere Trenta (a dwarf
beside the priest), his rosy face rosier than ever from the rapid
drive from Lucca. Trenta's kind eyes twinkled under his white eyebrows
as he spied Enrica above, standing side by side with Nobili. How
different the dear child looked from that last time he had seen her at
Enrica flew down the steps to meet him. She threw her arms round his
neck. Count Nobili followed her; he shook hands with the cavaliere and
"His reverence and I thought we should find you two together," said
Cavaliere Trenta, with a chuckle. "Count Nobili, I wish you joy."
His voice faltered a little, and a spotless handkerchief was drawn
out and called into service. Nobili reddened, then bowed with formal
"It is all come right, I see."--Trenta gave a sly glance from one to
the other, though the tears were in his eyes.--"I shall live to open
the marriage-ball on the first floor of the palace yet. Bagatella! I
would have tried to give the dear child to you myself, had I known how
much she loved you--but you have taken her. Well, well--possession is
better than gift."
"She gave herself to me, cavaliere. Last night's work only made the
gift public," was Nobili's reply.
There was a tone of triumph in Nobili's voice as he said this. He
stooped and pressed his lips to Enrica's hand. Enrica stood by with
downcast eyes--a spray of pink oleander swaying from the terrace-wall
in the light breeze above her head, for background.
The old cavaliere nodded his head, round which the little curls set
faultlessly under his white hat.
"My dear Count Nobili, permit me to offer my advice. You must settle
this matter at once--at once, I say;" and Trenta struck his stick upon
the marble balustrade for greater emphasis.
"I quite agree with you," put in Fra Pacifico in his deep voice. "The
impression made by your courage last night must not be lost by delay.
I never saw an act of greater daring. Had you not come, I should have
tried to save Enrica, but I am past my prime; I should have failed."
"You cannot count on the marchesa's gratitude," continued Trenta; "an
excellent lady, and my oldest friend, but proud and capricious. You
must take her like the wind when it blows--ha! ha! like the wind. I am
come here to help you both."
"Cavaliere," said Nobili, turning toward him (his vagrant eyes had
wandered off to Enrica, so charming, with the pink oleander and its
dark-green leaves waving above her blond head), "do me the favor to
ask the Marchesa Guinigi at what hour she will admit me to sign the
marriage-contract. I have pressing business that calls me back to
"So soon, dear Nobili?" a soft voice whispered at his ear, "so soon?"
And then there was a sigh. Surely her paradise was very brief! Enrica
had thought in her simplicity that, once met, they two never should
part again, but spend the live-long days together side by side among
the woods, lingering by flowing streams; or in the rich shade of
purple vine-bowers; or in mossy caves, shaded by tall ferns, hid on
the mountain-side, and let time and the world roll by. This was the
life she dreamed of. Could any grief be there?
"Yes, love," Nobili answered to her question. "I must return to Lucca
to-night. I started on the instant, as the cavaliere knows. Before I
go, however, all must be settled about our marriage, and the contract
signed. I will take no denial."
Nobili spoke with the determination that was in him. Enrica's heart
gave a bound. "The contract!" She had never thought of that. "The
contract and the marriage!"--"Both close at hand!--Then the life she
dreamed of must come true in very earnest!"
The cavaliere looked doubtingly at Fra Pacifico. Fra Pacifico shrugged
his big shoulders, looked back again at Cavaliere Trenta, and smiled
rather grimly. There was always a sense of suppressed power, moral and
physical, about Fra Pacifico. In conversation he had a way of leaving
the burden of small talk to others, and of reserving himself for
special occasions; but when he spoke he must be listened to.
"Quick work, my dear count," was all the priest said to Nobili in
answer. "Do you think you can insure the marchesa's consent?" Now he
addressed the cavaliere.
"Oh, my friend will be reasonable, no doubt. After last night,
she must consent." The cavaliere was always ready to put the best
construction upon every thing. "If she raises any obstacles, I think I
shall be able to remove them."
"Consent!" cried Nobili, fiercely echoing back the word, "she must
consent--she will be mad to refuse."
"Well--well--we shall see.--You, Count Nobili, have done all to make
it sure. The terms of the contract (I have heard of them from Fra
Pacifico) are princely." A look from Count Nobili stopped Trenta from
"Now, Enrica," and the cavaliere turned and took her arm, "come in and
give me some breakfast. An old man of eighty must eat, if he means to
dance at weddings."
"You, Nobili, must come with me," said Fra Pacifico, laying his hand
on the count's shoulder. "We will wait the cavaliere's summons to
return here over a bottle of the marchesa's best vintage, and a cutlet
cooked by Maria. She is my best cook; I have one for every day in the
So they parted--Trenta with Enrica descending flight after flight
of steps, leading from terrace to terrace, down to the villa; Nobili
mounting upward to the forest with Fra Pacifico toward Corellia, to
await the marchesa's answer.
Fra Pacifico, with Adamo and Pipa, had labored ever since-daybreak
to arrange the rooms at the villa before the marchesa rose. Pipa had
freely used the broom and many pails of water. All the windows were
thrown open, and clouds of invisible incense from the flowers without
sweetened the fusty rooms.
The villa had not been inhabited for nearly fifty years. It was
scantily provided with furniture, but there were chairs and tables
and beds, and all the rough necessaries of life. To make all straight,
whole generations of beetles had been swept away; and patriarchal
spiders, which clung tenaciously to the damp spots on the walls. A
scorpion or two had been found, which, firmly resisting to quit the
chinks where they had grown and multiplied, had died by decapitation.
Fra Pacifico would not have owned it, but he had discovered and killed
a nest of black adders that lay concealed, curled up in a curtain.
He had with his own hands, in the early morning, carefully fashioned
the spacious sala on the ground-floor to the marchesa's liking. A huge
sofa, with a faded amber cover, had been drawn out of a recess, and
so placed that the light should fall at her back.--She objected to the
sunshine, with true Italian perverseness. Some arm-chairs, once gilt,
and still bearing a coronet, were placed in a semicircle opposite. The
windows of the sala, and two glass doors of the same size and make,
looked east and west; toward the terraces and the garden on one side,
and over the cliffs and the chasm to the opposite mountains on the
other. The walls were broken by doors of varnished pine-wood. These
doors led, on the right, to the chapel, Enrica's bedroom, and many
empty apartments; on the left, to the marchesa's suite of rooms, the
offices, and the stone corridor which communicated with the now ruined
tower. High up on the walls of the sala, two large and roughly-painted
frescoes decorated the empty spaces. A Dutch seaport on one side, with
sloping roofs and tall gables, bordering a broad river, upon which
ships sailed vaguely away into a yellow haze. (Not more vaguely
sailing, perhaps, than many human ships, with life-sails set to
catch the wind of fortune--ships which never make more way than
these painted emblems!) Opposite, a hunting-party of the olden time
picnicked in a forest-glade; a brown and red palace in the background,
in front lords and ladies lounging on the grass--bundles of
satin, velvet, powder, ribbons, feathers, shoulder-knots, ruffles,
long-tailed coats, and trains.
A door to the left opened. There was a sound of voices talking.
"My honored marchesa," the cavaliere was heard to say in his most
dulcet tones, "in the state of your affairs, you cannot refuse. Why
then delay? The day is passing by; Count Nobili is impatient. Let me
implore you to lose no more time."
While he was speaking the marchesa entered the sala, passing close
under the fresco of the vaguely-sailing ships upon the wall.--Can the
marchesa tell whither she is drifting more than these?--She glanced
round approvingly, then seated herself upon the sofa. Trenta
obsequiously placed a footstool at her feet, a cushion at her back.
Even the tempered light, which had been carefully prepared for her by
closing the outer wooden shutters, could not conceal how sallow and
worn she looked, nor the black circles that had gathered round her
eyes. Her dark dress hung about her as if she had suddenly grown thin;
her white hands fell listlessly at her side. The marchesa knew that
she must consent to Count Nobili's conditions. She knew she must
consent this very day. But such a struggle as this knowledge cost her,
coming so close upon the agitation of the previous night, was more
than even her iron nerves could bear. As she leaned back upon the
sofa, shading her eyes with her hand, as was her habit, she felt she
could not frame the words with which to answer the cavaliere, were it
to save her life.
As for the cavaliere, who had seated himself opposite, his plump
little person was so engulfed in an arm-chair, that nothing but
his snowy head was visible. This he waved up and down reflectively,
rattled his stick upon the floor, and glanced indignantly from time to
time at the marchesa. Why would she not answer him?
Meanwhile a little color had risen upon her cheeks. She forced herself
to sit erect, arranged the folds of her dark dress, then, in a kind of
stately silence, seemed to lend herself to listen to what Trenta might
have to urge, as though it concerned her as little as that rose-leaf
which comes floating in from the open door and drops at her feet.
"Well, marchesa, well--what is your answer?" asked Trenta, much
nettled at her assumed indifference. "Remember that Count Nobili and
Fra Pacifico have been waiting for some hours."
"Let Nobili wait," answered the marchesa, a sudden glare darting into
her dark eyes; "he is born to wait for such as I."
"Still"--Trenta was both tired and angry, but he dared not show it;
only he rattled his stick louder on the floor, and from time to time
aimed a savage blow with it against the carved legs of a neighboring
table--"still, why do the thing ungraciously? The count's offers are
magnificent. Surely in the face of absolute ruin--Fra Pacifico assures
"Let Fra Pacifico mind his own business," was the marchesa's answer.
"Nobili saved Enrica's life last night; that cannot be denied."
"Yes--last night, last night; and I am to be forced and fettered
because I set myself on fire! I wish I had perished, and Enrica too!"
A gesture of horror from the cavaliere recalled the marchesa to a
sense of what she had uttered.
"And do you deem it nothing, Cesare Trenta, after a life spent in
building up the ancient name I bear, that I should be brought to sign
a marriage-contract with a peddler's son?" She trembled with passion.
"Yet it must be done," answered Trenta.
"Must be done! Must be done! I would rather die! Mark my words,
Cesare. No good will come of this marriage. That young man is weak and
dissolute. He is mad with wealth, and the vulgar influence that
comes with wealth. As a man, he is unworthy of my niece, who, I must
confess, has the temper of an angel."
"I believe that you are wrong, marchesa; Count Nobili is much beloved
in Lucca. Fra Pacifico has known him from boyhood. He praises him
greatly. I also like him."
"Like him!--Yes, Cesare, you are such an easy fool you like every one.
First Marescotti, then Nobili. Marescotti was a gentleman, but this
fellow--" She left the sentence incomplete. "Remember my words--you
are deceived in him."
"At all events," retorted the cavaliere, "it is too late to discuss
these matters now. Time presses. Enrica loves him. He insists on
marrying her. You have no money, and cannot give her a portion. My
respected marchesa, I have often ventured to represent to you what
those lawsuits would entail! Per Bacco! There must be an end of all
things--may I call them in?"
The poor old chamberlain was completely exhausted. He had spent four
hours in reasoning with his friend. The marchesa turned her head
away and shuddered; she could not bring herself to speak the word of
bidding. The cavaliere accepted this silence for consent. He struggled
out of the ponderous arm-chair, and went out into the garden. There
(leaning over the balustrade of the lowest terrace, under the
willful branches of a big nonia-tree, weighted with fronds of scarlet
trumpet-flowers, that hung out lazily from the wall, to which the
stem was nailed) Cavaliere Trenta found Count Nobili and Fra Pacifico
awaiting the marchesa's summons. Behind them, at a respectful
distance, stood Ser Giacomo, the notary from Corellia. Streamlets pure
as crystal ran bubbling down beside them in marble runnels; statues
of gods and goddesses balanced each other, on pedestals, at the angles
where the steps turned. In front, on the gravel, a pair of peacocks
strutted, spreading their gaudy tails in the sunshine.
As the four men entered the sala, they seemed to bring the evening
shadows with them. These suddenly slanted across the floor like
pointed arrows, darkening the places where the sun had shone. Was it
fancy, or did the sparkling fountain at the door, as it fell backward
into the marble basin, murmur with a sound like human sighs?
Count Nobili walked first. He was grave and pale. Having made a formal
obeisance to the marchesa, his quick eye traveled round in search of
Enrica. Not finding her, it settled again upon her aunt. As Nobili
entered, she raised her smooth, snake-like head, and met his gaze in
silence. She had scarcely bowed, in recognition of his salute. Now,
with the slightest possible inclination of her head, she signed to him
to take his place on one of the chairs before her.
Fra Pacifico, his full, broad face perfectly unmoved, and Cavaliere
Trenta, who watched the scene nervously with troubled, twinkling eyes,
placed themselves on either side of Count Nobili. Ser Giacomo had
already slipped round behind the sofa, and seated himself at a table
placed against the wall, the marriage-contract spread out before
him. There was an awkward pause. Then Count Nobili rose, and, in that
sweet-toned voice which had fallen like a charm on many a woman's ear,
addressed the marchesa.
"Marchesa Guinigi, hereditary Governess of Lucca, and Countess of
the Garfagnana, I am come to ask in marriage the hand of your niece,
Enrica Guinigi. I desire no portion with her. The lady herself is a
portion more than enough for me."
As Nobili ceased speaking, the ruddy color shot across his brow and
cheeks, and his eyes glistened. His generous nature spoke in those few
"Count Nobili," replied the marchesa, carefully avoiding his eye,
which eagerly sought hers--"am I correct in addressing you as Count
Nobili?--Pardon me if I am wrong." Here she paused, and affected to
hesitate. "Do you bear any other name? I am really quite ignorant of
the new titles."
This question was asked with outward courtesy, but there was such a
twang of scorn in the marchesa's tone, such an expression of contempt
upon her lip, that the old chamberlain trembled on his chair. Even at
this last moment it was possible that her infernal pride might scatter
every thing to the winds.
"Call me Mario Nobili--that will do," answered the count, reddening to
the roots of his chestnut curls.
The marchesa inclined her head, and smiled a sarcastic smile, as if
rejoicing to acquaint herself with a fact before unknown. Then she
"Mario Nobili--you saved my niece's life last night. I am advised that
I cannot refuse you her hand in marriage, although--"
Such a black frown clouded Nobili's countenance under the sting of her
covert insults that Trenta hastily interposed.
"Permit me to remind you, Marchesa Guinigi, that, subject to your
approval, the conditions of the marriage have been already arranged
by me and Fra Pacifico, before you consented to meet Count Nobili. The
present interview is purely formal. We are met in order to sign the
marriage-contract. The notary, I see, is ready. The contract lies
before him. May I be permitted to call in the lady?"
"One moment, Cavaliere Trenta," interposed Nobili, who was still
standing, holding up his hand to stop him--"one moment. I must request
permission to repeat myself the terms of the contract to the Marchesa
Guinigi before I presume to receive the honor of her assent."
It was now the marchesa's turn to be discomfited. This was the avowal
of an open bargain between Count Nobili and herself. A common exchange
of value for value; such as low creatures barter for with each other
in the exchange. She felt this, and hated Nobili more keenly for
having had the wit to wound her.
"I bind myself, immediately on the signing of the contract, to
discharge every mortgage, debt, and incumbrance on these feudal lands
of Corellia in the Garfagnana; also any debts in and about the Guinigi
Palace and lands, within and without the walls of Lucca. I take upon
myself every incumbrance," Nobili repeated emphatically, raising his
voice. "My purpose is fully noted in that contract, hastily drawn up
at my desire. I also bestow on the marchesa's niece the Guinigi Palace
I bought at Lucca--to the marchesa's niece, Enrica Guinigi, and her
heirs forever; also a dowry of fifty thousand francs a year, should
she survive me."
What is it about gold that invests its possessor with such instant
power? Is knowledge power?--or does gold weigh more than brains? I
think so. Gold-pieces and Genius weighed in scales would send poor
From the moment Count Nobili had made apparent the wealth which
he possessed, he was master of the situation. The marchesa's quick
perception told her so. While he was accepting all her debts, with the
superb indifference of a millionaire, she grew cold all over.
"Tell the notary," she said, endeavoring to maintain her usual haughty
manner, "to put down that, at my death, I bequeath to my niece all of
which I die possessed--the palace at Lucca, and the heirlooms,
plate, jewels, armor, and the picture of my great ancestor Castruccio
Castracani, to be kept hanging in the place where it now is, opposite
the seigneurial throne in the presence-chamber."
Here she paused. The hasty scratch of Ser Giacomo's pen was heard upon
the parchment. Spite of her efforts to control her feelings, an ashy
pallor spread over the marchesa's face. She grasped her two hands
together so tightly that the finger-tips grew crimson; a nervous
quiver shook her from head to foot. Cavaliere Trenta, who read the
marchesa like a book, watched her in perfect agony. What was going to
happen? Would she faint?
"I also bequeath," continued the marchesa, rising from her seat with
solemn action, and speaking in a low, hushed voice, her eyes fixed on
the floor--"I also bequeath the great Guinigi name and our ancestral
honors to my niece--to bear them after my death, together with her
husband, then to pass to her eldest child. And may that great name be
The marchesa reseated herself, raised her thin white hands, and threw
up her eyes to heaven. The sacrifice was made!
"May I call in the lady?" again asked the cavaliere, addressing no one
"I will fetch her in," replied Fra Pacifico, rising from his chair.
"She is my spiritual daughter."
No one moved while Fra Pacifico was absent. Ser Giacomo, the notary,
dressed in his Sunday suit of black, remained, pen in hand, staring
at the wall. Never in his humble life had he formed one of such a
distinguished company. All his life Ser Giacomo had heard of the
Marchesa Guinigi as a most awful lady. If Fra Pacifico had not caught
him within his little office near the _cafe_, rather than have faced
her, Ser Giacomo would have run away.
The door opened, and Enrica stood upon the threshold. There was an
air of innocent triumph about her. She had bound a blue ribbon in her
golden curls, and placed a rose in the band that encircled her slight
waist. Enrica was, in truth, but a common mortal, but she looked so
fresh, and bright, and young, with such tender, trusting eyes--there
was such an aureole of purity about her, she might have passed for a
As he caught sight of Enrica, the moody expression on Count Nobili's
face changed, and broke into a smile. In her presence he forgot the
marchesa. Was not such a prize worthy of any battle? What did
it signify to him if Enrica were called Guinigi? And as to those
tumbledown palaces and heirlooms--what of them? He could buy scores
of old palaces any day if he chose. Quickly he stepped forward to meet
her as she entered. Fra Pacifico rose, and with great solemnity signed
them both with a thrice-repeated cross, then he placed Enrica's hand
in Nobili's. The count raised it to his lips, and kissed it fervently.
"My Enrica," he whispered, "this is a glorious day!"
"Oh, it is heavenly!" she answered back, softly.
The marchesa's white face darkened as she looked at Enrica. How dared
Enrica be so happy? But she repressed the reproaches that rose to
her lips, though her heart swelled to bursting, and the veins in her
forehead distended with rage.
"Can Enrica be of my flesh and blood?" exclaimed the marchesa in a low
voice to the cavaliere who now stood at her side. "Fool! she believes
in her lover! It is a horrible sacrifice! Mark my words--a horrible
Nobili and Enrica had taken their places behind the notary. The
slanting shadows from the open door struck upon them with deeper
gloom, and the low murmur of the fountain seemed now to form itself
into a moan.
"Do I sign here?" asked Count Nobili.
Ser Giacomo trembled like a leaf.
"Yes, excellency, you sign here," he stammered, pointing to the
precise spot; but Ser Giacomo looked so terrified that Nobili,
forgetting where he was, laughed out loud and turned to Enrica, who
"Stop that unseemly mirth," called out the marchesa from the sofa;
"it is most indecent. Let the act that buries a great name at least be
conducted with decorum."
"That great name shall not die," spoke the deep voice of Fra Pacifico
from the background; "I call a blessing upon it, and upon the present
act. The name shall live. When we are dead and rotting in our
graves, a race shall rise from them"--and he pointed to Nobili and
Enrica--"that shall recall the great legends of the past among the
citizens of Lucca."
Fearful of what the marchesa might be moved to reply (even the
marchesa, however, had a certain dread of Fra Pacifico when he assumed
the dignity of his priestly office), Trenta hurried forward and
offered his arm to lead her to the table. She rose slowly to her feet,
and cast her eyes round at the group of happy faces about her; all
happy save the poor notary, on whose forehead the big drops of sweat
"Come, my daughter," said Fra Pacifico, advancing, "fear not to
sign the marriage-contract. Think of the blessings it will bring to
hundreds of miserable peasants, who are suffering from your want of
means to help them!"
"Fra Pacifico," exclaimed the marchesa, scarcely able to control
herself, "I respect your office, but this is still my house, and I
order you to be silent. Where am I to sign?"--she addressed herself to
"Here, madame," answered the almost inaudible voice of the notary.
The marchesa took the pen, and in a large, firm hand wrote her full
name and titles. She took a malicious pleasure in spreading them out
over the page.
Enrica signed her name, in delicate little letters, after her aunt's.
Count Nobili had already affixed his signature. Cavaliere Trenta and
the priest were the witnesses.
"There is one request I would make, marchesa," Nobili said, addressing
her. "I shall await in Lucca the exact day you may please to name;
but, madame"--and with a lover's ardor strong within him, he advanced
nearer to where the marchesa stood, and raised his hand as if to touch
her--"I beg you not to keep me waiting long."
The marchesa drew back, and contemplated him with a haughty stare.
His manner and his request were both alike offensive to her. She would
have Count Nobili to understand that she would admit no shadow of
familiarity; that her will had been forced, but that in all else she
regarded him with the same animosity as before.
Nobili had understood her action and her meaning. "Devil!" he muttered
between his clinched teeth. He hated himself for having been betrayed
into the smallest warmth. With a flashing eye he turned from the
marchesa to Enrica, and whispered in her ear, "My only love, this is
more than I can bear!"
Enrica had heard nothing. She had been lost in happy thoughts. In her
mind a vision was passing. She was in the close street of San Simone,
within its deep shadows that fell so early in the afternoon. Before
her stood the two grim palaces, the cavernous doorways and the
sculptured arms of the Guinigi displayed on both: one, her old home;
the other, that was to be her home. She saw herself go in here, cross
the pillared court and mount upward. It was neither day nor night, but
all shone with crystal brightness. Then Nobili's voice came to her,
and she roused herself.
"My love," he repeated, "I must go--I must go! I cannot trust myself a
moment longer with--"
What he had on his lips need not be written. "That lady," he added,
hastily correcting himself, and he pointed to the marchesa, who, led
by the cavaliere, had reseated herself upon the sofa, looking defiance
"I have borne it all for your sake, Enrica." As Nobili spoke, he led
her aside to one of the windows. "Now, good-by," and his eyes gathered
upon her with passionate fondness; "think of me day and night."
Enrica had not uttered a single word since she first entered, except
to Nobili. When he spoke of parting, her head dropped on her breast. A
dread--a horror came suddenly upon her. "O Nobili, why must we part?"
"Scarcely to part," he answered, pressing her hand--"only for a few
days; then always to be together."
Enrica tried to withdraw her hand from his, but he held it firmly.
Then she turned away her head, and big tears rolled down her cheeks.
When at last Nobili tore himself from her, Enrica followed him to the
door, and, regardless of her aunt's furious glances, she kissed her
hand, and waved it after him. There was a world of love in the action.
Spite of his indignation, Count Nobili did not fail duly to make his
salutation to the marchesa.
The cavaliere and Fra Pacifico followed him out. Twilight now darkened
the garden. The fragrance of the flowers was oppressive in the still
air. A star or two had come out, and twinkled faintly on the broad
expanse of deep-blue sky. The fountain murmured hollow in the silence
of coming night.
"Good-by," said Cavaliere Trenta to Nobili, in his thin voice.
"I deeply regret the marchesa's rudeness. She is unhinged--quite
unhinged; but her heart is excellent, believe me, most excellent."
"Do not talk of the marchesa," exclaimed Nobili, as he rapidly
ascended flight after flight of the terraces. "Let me forget her, or I
shall never return to Corellia. Dio Sagrato!" and Nobili clinched his
fist. "The marchesa is the most cursed thing God ever created!"
THE CLUB AT LUCCA.
The piazza at Lucca is surrounded by four avenues of plane-trees. In
the centre stands the colossal statue of a Bourbon with disheveled
hair, a cornucopia at her feet. Facing the west is the ducal palace,
a spacious modern building, in which the sovereigns of Lucca kept a
splendid court. Here Cesare Trenta had flourished. Opposite the palace
is the Hotel of the Universo, where, as we know, Count Marescotti
lodged at No. 4, on the second story. Midway in the piazza a deep
and narrow street dives into the body of the city--a street of many
colors, with houses red, gray, brown, and tawny, mellowed and tempered
by the hand of Time into rich tints that melt into warm shadows. In
the background rise domes, and towers, and mediaeval church-fronts,
galleried and fretted with arches, pillars, and statues. Here a
golden mosaic blazes in the sun, yonder a brazen San Michele with
outstretched arms rises against the sky; and, scattered up and down,
many a grand old palace-roof uprears its venerable front, with open
pillared belvedere, adorned with ancient frescoes. A dull, sleepy old
city, Lucca, but full of beauty!
On the opposite side of the piazza, behind the plane-trees, stand two
separate buildings, of no particular pretension, other than that both
are of marble. One is the theatre, the other is the club. About the
club there is some attempt at ornamentation. A wide portico, raised
on broad steps, runs along the entire front, supported by Corinthian
columns. Under this portico there are orange-trees in green stands,
rows of chairs, and tables laid with white table-cloths, plates, and
napkins, ready for an _al-fresco_ meal.
It is five o'clock in the afternoon of a splendid day early in
October--the next day, in fact, after the contract was signed at
Corellia. The hour for the drive upon the ramparts at Lucca is not
till six. This, therefore, is the favorite moment for a lounge at the
club. The portico is dotted with black coats and hats. Baldassare lay
asleep between two chairs. He had arranged himself so as not to crease
a pair of new trousers--all'Inglese--not that any Englishman would
have worn such garments--they were too conspicuous; but his tailor
tells him they are English, and Baldassare willingly believes him.
Baldassare is not a member, but he was admitted to the club by the
influence of his patron, the old chamberlain; not without protest,
however, with the paternal shop close by. Being there, Baldassare
stands his ground in a sullen, silent way. He has much jewelry about
him, and wears many showy rings. Trenta says publicly that these rings
are false; but Trenta is not at the club to-day.
Lolling back in a chair near Baldassare, with his short legs crossed,
and his thumbs stuck into the arm-holes of his coat, is Count Orsetti,
smiling, fat, and innocuous. His mother has not yet decided when he is
to speak the irrevocable words to Teresa Ottolini. Orsetti is far too
dutiful a son to do so before she gives him permission. His mother
might change her mind at the last moment; then Orsetti would change
his mind, too, and burn incense on other altars. Orsetti has a
meerschaum between his teeth, from which he is puffing out columns of
smoke. With his head thrown back, he is watching it as it curls upward
into the vaulted portico. The languid young man, Orazio Franchi,
supported by a stick, is at this moment ascending the steps. To
see him drag one leg after the other, one would think his days were
numbered. Not at all. Franchi is strong and healthy, but he cultivates
languor as an accomplishment. Everybody at Lucca is idle, but
nobody is languid, so Franchi has thought fit to adopt that line of
distinction. His thin, lanky arms, stooping figure, and a head set on
a long neck that droops upon his chest, as well as a certain indolent
grace, suit the _role_. When Franchi had mounted the steps he stood
still, heaved an audible sigh of infinite relief, then he sank into a
chair, leaned back and closed his eyes. Count Malatesta, who was near,
leaning against the wall behind, took his cigar from his mouth and
"Su!--Via!--A little courage to bear the burden of a weary life. What
has tired you, Orazio?"
"I have walked from the gate here," answered Orazio, without unclosing
"Go on, go on," is Malatesta's reply, "nothing like perseverance. You
will lose the use of your limbs in time. It is this cursed air. Per
Bacco! it will infect me. Why, oh! why, my penates, was I born at
Lucca? It is the dullest place. No one ever draws a knife, or fights a
duel, or runs away with his neighbor's wife. Why don't they? It would
be excitement. Cospetto! we marry, and are given in marriage, and
breed like pigeons in our own holes.--Come, Franchi, have you no news?
Wake up, man! You are full of wickedness, spite of your laziness."
Franchi opened his eyes, stretched himself, then yawned, and leaned
his head upon his arm that rested on one of the small tables near.
"News?--oh!--ah! There is plenty of news, but I am too tired to tell
"News! and I not know it!" cried Count Malatesta.
Several others spoke, then all gathered round Franchi. Count Malatesta
slapped Franchi on the back.
"Come, my Trojan, speak. I insist upon it," said Orsetti, rising.
Franchi looked up at him. There was a French cook at Palazzo Orsetti.
No one had such Chateau Lafitte. Orazio is far from insensible to
"Well, listen. Old Sansovino has returned to his villa at Riparata.
His wife is with him."
"His wife?" shouted Orsetti. "Che, che! Any woman but his wife, and
I'll believe you. Why, she has lived for the last fifteen years
with Duke Bartolo at Venice. Sansovino did not mind the duke, but he
charged her with forgery. You remember? About her dower. There was a
lawsuit, I think. No, no--not his wife."
"Yes, his wife," answered Franchi, crossing his arms with great
deliberation. "The Countess Sansovino was received by her attached
husband with bouquets, and a band of music. She drove up to the
front-door in gala--in a four-in-hand, _a la Daumont_. All the
tenantry were in waiting--her children too (each by a different
father)--to receive her. It was most touching. Old Sansovino did it
very well, they tell me. He clasped her to his heart, and melted into
tears like a _pere noble_"
"O Bello!" exclaimed Orsetti, "if old Sansovino cried, it must have
been with shame. After this, I will believe any thing."
"The Countess Sansovino is very rich," a voice remarked from the
"Well, if she forges, I suppose so," another answered.
"O Marriage! large are the folds of thy ample mantle!" cried Count
Malatesta. "Who shall say we are not free in Italy? Now, why do they
not do this kind of thing in Lucca? Will any one tell me?--I want to
There was a general laugh. "Well, they may possibly do worse," said
"What do you mean?" asked Malatesta, sharply. "Is there more scandal?"
Franchi nodded. A crowd collected round him.
"How the devil, Franchi, do you know so much? Out with it! You must
"Give me time!--give me time!" was Franchi's answer. He raised his
head, and eyed them all with a look of feigned surprise. "Is it
possible no one has heard it?"
He was answered by a general protest that nothing had been heard.
"Nobody knows what has happened at the Universo?" Franchi asked with
"No, no!" burst forth from Malatesta and Orsetti. "No, no!" sounded
"That is quite possible," continued Orazio, with a cynical smile. "To
tell you the truth, I did not think you had heard it. It only happened
half an hour ago."
"What happened?" asked Count Orsetti.
"A secret commission has been sent from Rome." There was a breathless
silence. "The government is alarmed. A secret commission to examine
Count Marescotti's papers, and to imprison him."
"That's his uncle's doing--the Jesuit!" cried Malatesta. "This is the
second time. Marescotti will be shut up for life."
"Did they catch him?" asked Orsetti.
"No; he got out of an upper window, and escaped across the roof. He
had taken all the upper floor of the Universo for his accomplices, who
were expected from Paris."
"Honor to Lucca!" Malatesta put in. "We are progressing."
"He's gone," continued Orazio, falling back exhausted on his chair,
"but his papers--" Here Franchi thought it right to pause and faintly
wink. "I'll tell you the rest when I have smoked a cigar. Give me a
"No, no, you must smoke afterward," said Orsetti, rapping him smartly
on the back. "Go on--what about Marescotti's papers?"
"Compromising--very," murmured Franchi, feebly, leaning back out of
the range of Orsetti's arm.
"The Red count was a communist, we all know," observed Malatesta.
"_Mon cher_! he was a poet also," responded Orazio. Orazio's languor
never interfered with his love of scandal. "When any lady struck his
fancy, Marescotti made a sonnet--a damaging practice. These sonnets
are a diary of his life. The police were much diverted, I assure
you, and so was I. I was in the hotel; I gave them the key to all the
"You might have done better than waste your fine energies in making
ladies names public town-talk," said Orsetti, frowning.
"Well, that's a matter of opinion," replied Orazio, with a certain
calm insolence peculiar to him. "I have no ladylove in Lucca."
"Delicious!" broke in Malatesta, brightening up all over. "Don't
quarrel over a choice bone.--Who is compromised the most? I'll have
her name placarded. Some one must make a row."
"Enrica Guinigi is the most compromised," answered Orazio, striking
a match to light his cigar. "Marescotti celebrates her as the young
Madonna before the archangel Gabriel visited her. Ha! ha!"
Malatesta gave a low whistle.
"Enrica Guinigi! Is not that the marchesa's niece?" asked Orsetti; "a
pretty, fair-faced girl I see driving with her aunt on the ramparts
"The same," answered Malatesta. "But what, in the name of all the
devils, could Marescotti know of her? No one has ever spoken to her."
Baldassare now leaned forward and listened; the name of Enrica woke
him from his sleep. He hardly dared to join the circle formed round
Franchi, for Franchi always snubbed him, and called him "Young
Galipots," when Trenta was absent.
"Perhaps Marescotti was the archangel Gabriel himself," said
Malatesta, with a leer.
"But answer my question," insisted Orsetti, who, as an avowed suitor
of Lucca maidens had their honor and good name at heart. "Don't be
a fool, but tell me what you know. This idle story, involving the
reputation of a young girl, is shameful. I protest against it!"
"Do you?" sneered Orazio, leaning back, and pulling at his sandy
mustache. "That is because you know nothing about it. This _Sainte
Vierge_ has already been much talked about--first, with Nobili, who
lives opposite--when _ma tante_ was sleeping. Then she spent a day
with several men upon the Guinigi Tower, an elegant retirement among
the crows. After that old Trenta offered her formally in marriage to
"What!--After the Guinigi Tower?" put in Malatesta. "Of course
Marescotti refused her?"
"'Refused her, of course, with thanks.' So says the sonnet." Orazio
went on to say all this in a calm, tranquil way, casting the bread
of scandal on social waters as he puffed at his cigar. "It is very
prettily rhymed--the sonnet--I have read it. The young Madonna is
warmly painted. _Now, why did Marescotti refuse to marry her?_ That is
what I want to know." And Franchi looked round upon his audience with
a glance of gratified malice.
"Even in Lucca!--even in Lucca!" Malatesta clapped his hands
and chuckled until he almost choked. "Laus Veneri!--the mighty
goddess!--She has reared an altar even here in this benighted city. I
was a skeptic, but a Paphian miracle has converted me. I must drink a
punch in honor of the great goddess."
Here Baldassare rose and leaned over from behind.
"I went up the Guinigi Tower with the party," he ventured to say.
"There were four of us. The Cavaliere Trenta told me in the street
just before that it was all right, and that the lady had agreed to
marry Count Marescotti. There can be no secret about it now that every
one knows it. Count Marescotti raved so about the Signorina Enrica,
that he nearly jumped over the parapet."
"Better for her if you had helped him over," muttered Orazio, with a
sarcastic stare. "The sonnet would not then have been written."
But Baldassare, conscious that he had intelligence that would make
him welcome, stood his ground. "You do not seem to know what has
happened," he continued.
"More news!" cried Malatesta. "Gracious heavens! Wave after wave it
comes!--a mighty sea. I hear the distant roar--it dashes high!--It
breaks!--Speak, oh, speak, Adonis!"
"The Marchesa Guinigi has left Lucca suddenly."
"Who cares? Do you, Pietrino?" asked Franchi of Orsetti, with a
contemptuous glance at Baldassare.
"Let him speak," cried Malatesta; "Baldassare is an oracle."
"The marchesa left Lucca suddenly," persisted Baldassare, not daring
to notice Orsetti's insolence. "She took her niece with her."
"Have it cried about the streets," interrupted Orazio, opening his
"Yesterday morning an express came down for Cavaliere Trenta. The
ancient tower of Corellia has been entirely burnt. The marchesa was
"And the niece--is the niece gone to glory on the funeral-pyre?"
"No," answered Baldassare, helplessly, settling his stupid eyes on
Orazio, whose thrusts he could not parry. "She was saved by Count
Nobili, who was accidentally shooting on the mountains near."
"Oh, bah!" cried Malatesta, with a knowing grin; "I never believe in
accidents. There is a ruling power. That power is love--love--love."
"The cavaliere is not yet returned."
"This is a strange story," said Orsetti, gravely. "Nobili too, and
Marescotti. She must be a lively damsel. What will Nera Boccarini say
to her truant knight, who rescues maidens _accidentally_ on distant
mountains? What had Nobili to do in the Garfagnana?"
"Ask him," lisped Orazio; "it will save more talking. I wish Nobili
joy of his bargain," he added, turning to Malatesta.
"I wonder that he cares to take up with Marescotti's leavings."
"Here's Ruspoli, crossing the square. Perhaps he can throw some light
on this strange story," said Orsetti.
Prince Ruspoli, still at Lucca, is on a visit to some relatives. He
is, as I have said, decidedly horsey, and is much looked up to by the
"golden youths," his companions, in consequence. As a gentleman rider
at races and steeple-chases, as a hunter on the Roman Campagna, and
the driver of a "stage" on the Corso, Ruspoli is unrivaled. He breeds
racers, and he has an English stud-groom, who has taught him to speak
English with a drawl, enlivened by stable-slang. He is slim, fair, and
singularly awkward, and of a uniform pale yellow--yellow complexion,
yellow hair, and yellow eyebrows. Poole's clothes never fit him, and
he walks, as he dances, with his legs far apart, as if a horse
were under him. He carries a hunting-whip in his hand spite of the
month--October (these little anomalies are undetected in New Italy,
where there is so much to learn). Prince Ruspoli swings round this
whip as he mounts the steps of the club. The others, who are watching
his approach, are secretly devoured with envy.
"Wall, Pietrino--wall, Beppo," said Ruspoli, shaking hands with
Orsetti and Malatesta, and nodding to Orazio, out of whose sails he
took the wind by force of stolid indifference (Baldassare he ignored,
or mistook him for a waiter, if he saw him at all), "you are all
discussing the news, of course. Lucca's lively to-day. You'll all
do in time, even to steeple-chases. We must run one down on the low
grounds in the spring. Dick, my English groom, is always plaguing me
Then Prince Ruspoli pulled himself together with a jerk, as a man does
stiff from the saddle, laid his hunting-whip upon a table, stuffed his
hands into his pockets, and looked round.
"What news have you heard?" asked Beppo Malatesta. "There's such a
"Wall, the news I have heard is, that Count Nobili is engaged to marry
the Marchesa Guinigi's little niece. Dear little thing, they say--like
an English '_mees_'--fair, with red hair."
"Is that your style of beauty?" lisped Orazio, looking hard at him.
But Ruspoli did not notice him.
"But that's not half," cried Malatesta. "You are an innocent, Ruspoli.
Let me baptize you with scandal."
"Don't, don't, I hate scandal," said Ruspoli, taking one of his hands
out of his pocket for a moment, and holding it up in remonstrance.
"There is nothing but scandal in these small Italian towns. Take to
hunting, that's the cure. Nobili is to marry the little girl, that's
certain. He's to pay off all the marchesa's debts, that's certain too.
He's rich, she's poor. He wants blood, she has got it."
"I do not believe in this marriage," said Orazio, measuring Prince
Ruspoli as he stood erect, his slits of eyes without a shadow of
expression. "You remember the ballroom, prince? And the Boccarini
family grouped--and Nobili crying in a corner? Nobili will marry the
Boccarini. She is a stunner."
After Orazio had ventured this observation about Nera Boccarini,
Prince Ruspoli brought his small, steely eyes to bear upon him with a
Orazio affected total unconsciousness, but he quailed inwardly. The
others silently watched Ruspoli. He took up his hunting-whip and
whirled it in the air dangerously near Orazio's head, eying him all
the while as a dog eyes a rat he means to crunch between his teeth.
"Whoever says that Count Nobili will marry the Boccarini, is a liar!"
Prince Ruspoli spoke with perfect composure, still whirling his whip.
"I shall be happy to explain my reason anywhere, out of the city, on
the shortest notice."
Orazio started up. "Prince Ruspoli, do you call me a liar?"
"I beg your pardon," replied Ruspoli, quite unmoved, making Orazio a
mock bow. "Did you say whom Count Nobili would marry? If you did, will
you favor me by repeating it?"
"I only report town-talk," Franchi answered, sullenly. "I am not
answerable for town-talk."
Ruspoli was a dead-shot; Orazio only fought with swords.
"Then I am satisfied," replied Ruspoli, quiet defiance in his look and
tone. "I accuse you, Signore Orazio Franchi, of nothing. I only warn
"I don't see why we should quarrel about Nobili's marriage. He will
be here himself presently, to explain which of the ladies he prefers,"
observed the peaceable Orsetti.
"I don't know which lady Count Nobili prefers," retorted Ruspoli,
doggedly. "But I tell you the name of the lady he is to marry. It is
"Why, there is Count Nobili!" cried Baldassare, quite loud--"there,
under the plane-trees."
"Bravo, Adonis!" cried Beppo; "your eyes are as sharp as your feet are
Nobili crossed the square; he was coming toward the club. Every face
was turned toward him. He had come down to Lucca like one maddened
by the breath of love. All along the road he had felt drunk with
happiness. To him love was everywhere--in the deep gloom of the
mountain-forests, in the flowing river, diamonded with light under the
pale moonbeams; in the splendor of the starry sky, in midnight dreams
of bliss, and in the awakening of glorious morning. The two old
palaces were full of love--the Moorish garden; the magnolias that
overtopped the wall, and the soft, creamy perfume that wafted from
them; the very street through which he should lead her home; every one
he saw; all he said, thought, or did--it was all love and Enrica!
Now, having with lover's haste made good progress with all he had
to do, Nobili has come down to the club to meet his friends, and to
receive their congratulations. Every hand is stretched out toward him.
Even Ruspoli, spite of obvious jealousy, liked him. Nobili's face
is lit up with its sunniest smile. Having shaken hands with him, an
ominous silence ensues. Orsetti and Malatesta suddenly find that their
cigars want relighting, and turn aside. Orazio seats himself at a
distance, and scowls at Prince Ruspoli. Nobili gives a quick glance
round. An instant tells him that something is wrong.
Prince Ruspoli breaks the awkward silence. He walks up, looks at
Nobili with immovable gravity, then slaps him on the shoulder.
"I congratulate you, Nobili. I hear you are to marry the Marchesa
"Balduccio, I thank you. Within a week I hope to bring her home to
Lucca. There will then be but one Guinigi home in the two palaces. The
marchesa makes her heiress of all she possesses."
Prince Ruspoli is satisfied. Now he will back Count Nobili to any
odds. He will name his next foal Mario Nobili.
Again Nobili glances round; this time there is the shadow of a frown
upon his smooth brow. Orsetti feels that he must speak.
"Have you known the lady long?" Orsetti asks, with an embarrassment
foreign to him.
"Yes, and no," answers Nobili, reddening, and scanning the veiled
expression on Orsetti's face with intense curiosity. "But the
matter has been brought to a crisis by the accidental burning of the
marchesa's house at Corellia. I was present--I saved her niece."
"I thought it was rather sudden," says Orazio, from behind, in a tone
full of suggestion. "We were in doubt, before you came, to whom the
lady was engaged."
"What do you mean?" he asks, hastily.
The color has left his cheeks; his blue eyes grow dark.
"There has been some foolish gossip from persons who know nothing,"
Orsetti answers, advancing to the front. "About some engagement with
another gentleman, whom she had accepted--"
"Nonsense! Don't listen to him, my good fellow," breaks in Ruspoli.
"These lads have nothing to do but to breed scandal. They would
slander the Virgin; not for wickedness, but for idleness. I mean to
make them hunt. Hunting is the cure."
Nobili stands as if turned to stone.
"But I must listen," replies Nobili, fiercely, fire flaming in his
eyes. "This lady's honor is my own. Who has dared to couple her name
with any other man? Orsetti--Ruspoli"--and he turns to them in great
excitement--"you are my friends. What does this mean?"
"Nothing," said Orsetti, trying to smile, but not succeeding. "I hear,
Nobili, you have behaved with extraordinary generosity," he adds,
fencing the question.
"Yes, by Jove!" adds Prince Ruspoli. Ruspoli was leaning up against
a pillar, watching Orazio as he would a mischievous cur. "A most
suitable marriage. Not that I care a button for blood, except in
Nobili has not moved, but, as each speaks, his eye shifts rapidly from
one to the other. His face from pale grows livid, and there is a throb
about his temples that sounds in his ears like a thousand hammers.
"Orsetti," Nobili says, sternly, "I address myself to you. You are the
oldest here. You are the first man I knew after I came to Lucca. You
are all concealing something from me. I entreat you, Orsetti, as man
to man, tell me whose name has been coupled with that of my affianced
wife? That it is a lie I know beforehand--a base and palpable lie! She
has been reared at home in perfect solitude."
Nobili spoke with passionate vehemence. The hot blood rushed over his
face and neck, and tingled to his very fingers. Now he glances from
man to man in an appeal defiant, yet pleading, pitiful to behold.
Every face grows grave.
Orsetti is the first to reply.
"I feel deeply for you, Nobili. We all love you."
"Yes, all," responded Malatesta and Ruspoli, speaking together.
"You must not attach too much importance to idle gossip," says
"No, no," cried Ruspoli, "don't. I will stand by you, Nobili. I know
the lady by sight--a little English beau"
"Scandal! Who is the man? By God, I'll have his blood within this very
Nobili is now wrought up beyond all endurance.
"You can't," says Orazio Franchi, tapping his heel upon the marble
pavement. "He's gone."
"Gone! I'll follow him to hell!" roars Nobili "Who is he?"
"Possibly he may find his own way there in time," answers Orazio, with
a sneer. He rises so as to increase the distance between himself and
Prince Ruspoli. "But as yet the wretch crawls on mother earth."
"Silence, Orazio!" shouts Ruspoli, "or you may go there yourself
quicker than Marescotti."
"Marescotti! Is that the name?" cries Nobili, with a hungry eye, that
seems to thirst for vengeance. "Who is Marescotti?"
"This is some horrid fiction," Nobili mutters to himself. Stay!--Where
had he heard that name lately? He gnawed his fingers until the blood
came, and a crimson drop fell upon the marble floor. Suddenly an
icy chill rose at his heart. He could not breathe. He sank into a
chair--then rose again, and stood before Orsetti with a face out of
which ten years of youth had fled. Yes, Marescotti--that is the very
man Enrica had mentioned to him under the trees at Corellia. Each
letter of it blazes in fire before his eyes. Yes--she had said
Marescotti had read her eyes. "O God!" and Nobili groans aloud, and
buries his face within his hands.
"You take this too much to heart, my dear Mario," Count Orsetti said;
"indeed you do, else I would not say so. Remember there is nothing
proved. Be careful," Orsetti whispered in the other's ear, glancing
round. Every eye was riveted on Nobili.
Orsetti felt that Nobili had forgotten the public place and the others
present--such as Count Malatesta, Orazio Franchi, and Baldassare, who,
though they had not spoken, had devoured every word.
"It is nothing but a sonnet found among Marescotti's papers." Orsetti
now was speaking. "Marescotti has fled from the police. Nothing but a
sonnet addressed to the lady--a poet's day-dream--untrue of course."
"Will no one tell me what the sonnet said?" demanded Nobili. He had
mastered himself for the moment.
"Stuff, stuff!" cried Ruspoli. "Every pretty woman has heaps of
sonnets and admirers. It is a brevet of beauty. After all this row, it
was only an offer of marriage made to Count Marescotti and refused by
him. Probably the lady never knew it."
"Oh, yes, she did, she accepted him," sounded from behind. It was
Baldassare, whose vanity was piqued because no one had referred to him
"Accepted! Refused by Count Marescotti!" Nobili caught and repeated
the words in a voice so strange, it sounded like the echo from a
"Wall! by Jove! It's five o'clock!" exclaimed Prince Ruspoli, looking
at his watch. "My dear fellow," he said, addressing Nobili, "I have an
appointment on the ramparts; will you go with me?" He passed his arm
through that of Nobili. It was a painful scene, which Ruspoli desired
to end. Nobili shook his head. He was so stunned and dazed he could
"If it is five o'clock," said Malatesta, "I must go too."
Malatesta drew Nobili a little apart. "Don't think too much of this,
Nobili. It will all blow over and be forgotten in a month. Take your
wife a trip to Paris or London. We shall hear no more of it, believe
"Count Nobili," called out Franchi, from the other end of the portico,
making a languid bow, "after all that I have heard, I congratulate you
on your marriage most sincerely."
Nobili did not hear him. All were gone. He was alone with Ruspoli. His
head had dropped upon his breast. There was the shadow of a tear in
Prince Ruspoli's steely eye. It was not enough to be brushed off, for
it absorbed itself and came to nothing, but it was there nevertheless.
"Wall, Mario," he said, apparently unmoved, "it seems to me the club
is made too hot to hold you. Come home."
Nobili nodded. He was so weak he had to hang heavily on Prince
Ruspoli's arm as they crossed the piazza. Prince Ruspoli did not leave
him until he saw him safe to his own door.
"You will judge what is right to do," were Ruspoli's last words. "But
do not be guided by those young scamps. They live in mischief. If you
love the girl, marry her--that is my advice."
COUNT NOBILI'S THOUGHTS.
I have seen a valley canopied by a sky of blue and opaline, girt in
by wooded heights, on which the sun poured down in mid-day splendor.
A broad river sparkled downward, giving back ray for ray. The forest
glowed without a shadow. Each little detail of leaf or stone, even a
blade of grass, was turned to flame. The corn lay smooth and golden.
The grapes and olives hung safe upon the branch. The flax--a goodly
crop--reached to the trees. The peasants labored in the rich brown
soil, singing to the oxen. The women sat spinning beside their doors.
A little maid led out her snowy lamb to graze among the woods, and
children played at "morra" beside the river, which ran at peace,
lapping the silver sand.
A cloud gathers behind the mountains--yonder, where they come
interlacing down, narrowing the valley. It is a little cloud, no one
observes it; yet it gathers and spreads and blackens, until the sky is
veiled. The sun grows pale. A greenish light steals over the earth. In
the still air there is a sudden freshness. The tall canes growing in
the brakes among the vineyards rustle as if shaken by a spectral
hand. The white-leaved aspens quiver. An icy wind sweeps down the
mountain-sides. A flash of lightning shoots across the sky. Then the
storm bursts. Thunder rolls, and cracks, and crashes; as if the brazen
gates of heaven clashed to and fro. The peasants fly, driving their
cattle before them. The pig's run grunting homeward. The helpless lamb
is stricken where it stands, crouching in a deep gorge; the little
maid sits weeping by. Down beats the hail like pebbles. It strikes
upon the vines, scorches and blackens them. The wheat is leveled
to the ground. The river suddenly swells into a raging torrent. Its
turbid waters bear away the riches of the poor--the cow that served a
little household and followed the children, lowing, to reedy meadows
bathed by limpid streams--a horse caught browsing in a peaceful vale,
thinking no ill--great trees hurling destruction with them. Rafters,
roofs of houses, sometimes a battered corpse, float by.
The roads are broken up. The bridge is snapped. Years will not repair
the fearful ravage. The evening sun sets on a desolate waste. Men sit
along the road-side wringing their hands beside their ruined crops.
Children creep out upon their naked feet, and look and wonder. Where
is the little kid that ran before and licked their hands? Where is the
gray-skinned, soft-eyed cow that hardly needed a cord to lead her? The
shapely cob, so brave with its tinkling bells and crimson tassels? The
cob that daddy drove to market, and many merry fairs? Gone with the
storm! all gone!
* * * * *
Count Nobili was like the Italian climate--in extremes. Like his
native soil, he must live in the sunshine. His was not a nature to
endure a secret sorrow. He must be kissed, caressed, and smoothed by
tender hands and loving voices. He must have applause, approval, be
flattered, envied, and followed. Hitherto all this had come naturally
to him. His gracious temper, generous heart, and great wealth, had
made all bright about him. Now a sudden storm had swept over him and
brought despair into his heart.
When Prince Ruspoli left him, Nobili felt as battered and sore as if a
whirlwind had caught him, then let him go, and he had dropped to earth
a broken man. Yet in the turmoil of his brain a pale, scared little
face, with wild, beseeching eyes, was ever before him. It would not
leave him. What was this horrible nightmare that had come over him in
the heyday of his joy? It was so vague, yet so tangible if judged by
its effect on others. Others held Enrica dishonored, that was clear.
Was she dishonored? He was bound to her by every tie of honor. He
loved her. She had a charm for him no other woman ever possessed, and
she loved him. A women's eye, he told himself, had never deceived him.
Yes, she loved him. Yet if Enrica were as guileless as she seemed, how
could she conceal from him she had another lover--less loved perhaps
than he--but still a lover? And this lover had refused to marry her?
That was the stab. That every one in Lucca should know his future
bride had been scouted by another man who had turned a rhyme upon her,
and left her! Could he bear this?
What were Enrica's relations with Marescotti? Some one had said she
had accepted him. Nobili was sure he had heard this. He, Marescotti,
must have approached her nearly by her own confession. He had
celebrated her in sonnets, amorous sonnets--damnable thought!--gone
with her to the Guinigi Tower--then rejected her! A mist seemed to
gather about Nobili as he thought of this. He grew stupid in
long vistas of speculation. Had Enrica not dared to meet
him--Nobili--clandestinely? Was not this very act unmaidenly? (Such
are men: they urge the slip, the fall, then judge a woman by the
force of their own urging!) Had Enrica met Marescotti in secret also?
No--impossible! The scared, white face was before Nobili, now plainer
than ever. No--he hated himself for the very thought. All the chivalry
of his nature rose up to acquit her.
Still there was a mystery. How far was Enrica concerned in it? Would
she have married Count Marescotti? Trenta was away, or he would
question him. _Had he better ask? What might he hear_? Some one had
deceived him grossly. The marchesa would stick at nothing; yet what
could the marchesa have done without Enrica? Nobili was perplexed
beyond expression. He buried his head within his arms, and leaned upon
a table in an agony of doubt. Then he paced up and down the splendid
room, painted with frescoed walls, and hung with rose and silver
draperies from Paris (it was to have been Enrica's boudoir), looking
south into a delicious town-garden, with statues, and flower-beds,
and terraces of marble diamonded in brilliant colors. To be so
cheated!--to be the laughing-stock of Lucca! Good God! how could he
bear it? To marry a wife who would be pointed at with whispered words!
Of all earthly things this was the bitterest! Could he bear it?--and
Enrica--would she not suffer? And if she did, what then? Why, she
deserved it--she must deserve it, else why was she accused? Enrica was
treacherous--the tool of her aunt. He could not doubt it. If she
cared for him at all, it was for the sake of his money--hateful
thought!--yet, having signed the contract, he supposed he _must_
give her the name of wife. But the future mother of his children was
Oh, the golden days at mountain-capped Corellia!--that watching in the
perfumed woods--that pleading with the stars that shone over Enrica
to bear her his love-sick sighs! Oh, the triumph of saving her dear
life!--the sweetness of her lips in that first embrace under the
magnolia-tree! Fra Pacifico too, with his honest, sturdy ways--and the
white-haired cavaliere, so wise and courteous. Cheats, cheats--all!
It made him sick to think how they must have laughed and jeered at him
when he was gone. Oh, it was damnable!
His teeth were set. He started up as if he had been stung, and stamped
upon the floor. Then like a madman he rushed up and down the spacious
floor. After a time, brushing the drops of perspiration from his
forehead, Nobili grew calmer. He sat down to think.
Must he marry Enrica?--he asked himself (he had come to that)--marry
the lady of the sonnet--Marescotti's love? He did not see how he could
help it. The contract was signed, and nothing proved against her.
Well--life was long, and the world wide, and full of pleasant things.
Well--he must bear it--unless there had been sin! Nobili did not see
it, nor did he hear it; but much that is never seen, nor heard, nor
known, is yet true--horribly true. He did see it, but as he thought
these cruel thoughts, and hardened himself in them, a pale, scared
face, with wild, pleading eyes, vanished with a shriek of anguish.
Others had loved him well, Nobili reasoned--other women--"_Not so well
as I_" an inaudible voice would have whispered, but it was no longer
there to answer--others that had not been rejected--others fairer than
With that name there came a world of comfort to him. Nera loved
him--she loved him! He had not seen Nera since that memorable night
she lay like one dead before him. Before he took a final resolve
(by-and-by he must investigate, inquire, know when, and how, and by
whom, all this talk had come), would it not be well to see Nera? It
was a duty, he told himself, he owed her; a duty delayed too long;
only Enrica had so absorbed him. Nera would have heard the town-talk.
How would she take it? Would she be glad, or sorry, he wondered? Then
came a longing upon Nobili he could not resist, to know if Nera still
loved him. If so, what constancy! It deserved reward. He had treated
her shamefully. How sweet her company would be if she would see him!
At all events, he could but try. At this point he rose and rang the
When the servant came, Nobili ordered his dinner. He was hungry, he
said, and would eat at once. His carriage he should require later.
Close to the Church of San Michele, where a brazen archangel with
outstretched wings flaunts in the blue sky, is the narrow, crypt-like
street of San Salvador. Here stands the Boccarini Palace. It is an
ancient structure, square and large, with an overhanging roof and
open, pillared gallery. On the first floor there is a stone balcony.
Four rows of windows divide the front. The lower ones, barred with
iron, are dismal to the eye. Over the principal entrance are the
Boccarini arms, carved on a stone escutcheon, supported by two angels,
the whole so moss-eaten the details cannot be traced. Above is a
marquis's coronet in which a swallow has built its nest. Both in and
out it is a house where poverty has set its seal. The family is dying
out. When Marchesa Boccarini dies, the palace will be sold, and the
money divided among her daughters.
As dusk was settling into night a carriage rattled along the deserted
street. The horses--a pair of splendid bays--struck sparks out of the
granite pavement. With a bang they draw up at the entrance, under an
archway, guarded by a _grille_ of rusty iron. A bell is rung; it only
echoes through the gloomy court. The bell was rung again, but no one
came. At last steps were heard, and a dried-up old man, with a face
like parchment, and little ferret eyes, appeared, hastily dragging his
arms into a coat much too large for him.
He shuffled to the front and bowed. Taking a key from his pocket he
unlocked the iron gates, then planted himself on the threshold, and
turned his ear toward the well-appointed brougham, and Count Nobili
"Do the ladies receive?" Nobili called out. The old man nodded,
bringing his best ear and ferret eyes to bear upon him.
"Yes, the ladies do receive. Will the excellency descend?"
Count Nobili jumped out and hurried through the archway into a court
surrounded by a colonnade.
It is very dark. The palace rises upward four lofty stories. Above is
a square patch of sky, on which a star trembles. The court is full
of damp, unwholesome odors. The foot slips upon the slimy pavement.
Nobili stopped. The old man came limping after, buttoning his coat
"Ah! poor me!--The excellency is young!" He spoke in the odd, muffled
voice, peculiar to the deaf. "The excellency goes so fast he will fall
if he does not mind. Our court-yard is very damp; the stairs are old."
"Which is the way up-stairs?" Nobili asked, impatiently. "It is so
dark I have forgotten the turn."
"Here, excellency--here to the right. By the Madonna there, in the
niche, with the light before it. A thousand excuses! The excellency
will excuse me, but I have not yet lit the lamp on the stairs. I
was resting. There are so many visitors to the Signora Marchesa. The
excellency will not tell the Signora Marchesa that it was dark upon
the stairs? Per pieta!"
The shriveled old man placed himself full in Nobili's path, and held
out his hands like claws entreatingly.
"A thousand devils!--no," was Nobili's irate reply, pushing him back.
"Let me go up; I shall say nothing. Cospetto! What is it to me?"
"Thanks! thanks! The excellency is full of mercy to an old, overworked
servant. There was a time when the Boccarini--"
Nobili did not wait to hear more, but strode through the darkness at
hazard, to find the stairs.
"Stop! stop! the excellency will break his limbs against the wall!"
the old man shouted.
He fumbled in his pocket, and drew out some matches. He struck one
against the wall, held it above his head, and pointed with his bony
finger to a broad stone stair under an inner arch.
Nobili ascended rapidly; he was in no mood for delay. The old man,
standing at the foot, struck match after match to light him.
"Above, excellency, you will find our usual lamps. You must go on to
the second story."
On the landing at the first floor there was still a little daylight
from a window as big as if set in the tribune of a cathedral. Here a
lamp was placed on an old painted table. Some moth-eaten tapestry hung
from a mildewed wall. Here and there a rusty nail had given way, and
the stuff fell in downward folds. Nobili paused. His head was hot and
dizzy. He had dined well, and he had drunk freely. His eyes traveled
upward to the old tapestry--(it was the daughter of Herodias dancing
before Herod the cancan of the day). Something in the face and figure
of the girl recalled Nera to him, or he fancied it--his mind being
full of her. Nobili envied Herod in a dreamy way, who, with round,
leaden eyes, a crown upon his head--watched the dancing girl as she
flung about her lissome limbs. Nobili envied Herod--and the thought
came across him, how pleasant it would be to sit royally enthroned,
and see Nera gambol so! From that--quicker than I can write it--his
thoughts traveled backward to that night when he had danced with Nera
at the Orsetti ball. Again the refrain of that waltz buzzed in
his ear. Again the measure rose and fell in floods of luscious
sweetness--again Nera lay within his arms--her breath was on his
cheek--the perfume of the flowers in her flossy hair was wafted in the
air--the blood stirred in his veins.
The old man said truly. All the way up the second stair was lit by
little lamps, fed by mouldy oil; and all the way up that waltz rang
in Nobili's ear. It mounted to his brain like fumes of new wine tapped
from the skin. A green door of faded baize faced him on the upper
landing, and another bell--a red tassel fastened to a bit of whipcord.
He rang it hastily. This time a servant came promptly. He carried in
his hand a lamp of brass.
"Did the ladies receive?"
"They did," was the answer; and the servant held the lamp aloft to
light Nobili into the anteroom.
This anteroom was as naked as a barrack. The walls were painted in
a Raphaelesque pattern, the coronet and arms of the Boccarini in the
Count Nobili and the servant passed through many lofty rooms of faded
splendor. Chandeliers hung from vaulted ceilings, and reflected the
light of the brass lamp on a thousand crystal facets. The tall mirrors
in the antique frames repeated it. In a cavern-like saloon, hung with
rows of dark pictures upon amber satin, Nobili and the servant stopped
before a door. The servant knocked; A voice said, "Enter." It was the
voice of Marchesa Boccarini. She was sitting with her three daughters.
A lamp, with a colored shade, stood in the centre of a small room,
bearing some aspect of life and comfort. The marchesa and two of her
daughters were working at some mysterious garments, which rapidly
vanished out of sight. Nera was leaning back on a sofa, superbly
idle--staring idly at an opposite window, where the daylight still
lingered. When Count Nobili was announced, they all rose and spoke
together with the loud peacock voices, and the rapid utterance, which
in Italy are supposed to mark a special welcome. Strange that in
the land of song the talking voices of women should be so harsh and
strident! Yet so it is.
"How long is it since we have seen you, Count Nobili?" It was the
sad-faced marchesa who spoke, and tried to smile a welcome to him. "I
have to thank you for many inquiries, and all sorts of luxuries sent
to my dear child. But we expected you. You never came."
The two sisters echoed, "You never came."
Nera did not speak then, but when they had finished, she rose from the
sofa and stood before Nobili drawn up to her full height, radiant
in sovereign beauty. "I have to thank you most." As Nera spoke, her
cheeks flushed, and she dropped her hand into his. It was a simple
act, but full of purpose as Nera did it. Nera intended it should be
so. She reseated herself. As his eye met hers, Nobili grew crimson.
The twilight and the shaded lamp hid this in part, but Nera observed
it, and noted it for future use.
Count Nobili placed himself beside the marchesa.
"I am overwhelmed with shame," he said. "What you say is too true.
I had intended coming. Indeed, I waited until your daughter"--and he
glanced at Nera--"could receive me, and satisfy me herself she was not
hurt. I longed to make my penitent excuses for the accident."
"Oh! it was nothing," said Nera, with a smile, answering for her
"What I suffered, no words can tell," continued, Nobili. "Even now I
shudder to think of it--to be the cause--"
"No, not the cause," answered Marchesa Boccarini.
The elder sisters echoed--
"Not the cause."
"It was the ribbon," continued the marchesa. "Nera was entangled with
the ribbon when she rose; she did not know it."
"I ought to have held her up," returned Nobili with a glance at Nera,
who, with a kind of queenly calm, looked him full in the face with her
bold, black eyes.
"I assure you, marchesa, it was the horror of what I had done that
kept me from calling on you."
This was not true, and Nera knew it was not true. Nobili had not come,
because he dreaded his weakness and her power. Nobili had not come,
because he doted on Enrica to that excess, a thought alien to her
seemed then to him a crime. What folly! Now he knew Enrica better! All
that was changed.
"We have felt very grateful," went on to say the marchesa, "I assure
you, Count Nobili, very grateful."
The poor lady was much exercised in spirit as to how she could frame
an available excuse for leaving the count alone with Nera. Had she
only known beforehand, she would have arranged a little plan to do
so, naturally. But it must be done, she knew. It must be done at any
price, or Nera would never forgive her.
"You have been so agreeably occupied, too," Nera said, in a firm, full
voice. "No wonder, Count Nobili, you had no time to visit us."
There was a mute reproach in these few words that made Nobili wince.
"I have been absent," he replied, much confused.
"Yes, absent in mind and body," and Nera laughed a cruel little laugh.
"You have been at Corellia, I believe?" she added, significantly,
fixing him with her lustrous eyes.
"Yes, I have been at Corellia, shooting." Nobili shrank from shame
at the lack of courtesy on his part which had made these social lies
needful. How brilliant Nera was!
A type of perfect womanhood. Fresh, and strong, and healthy--a mother
"We have heard of you," went on Nera, throwing her grand head
backward, a quiet deliberation in each word, as if she were dropping
them out, word by word, like poison. "A case of Perseus and Andromeda,
only you rescued the lady from the flames. You half killed me, Count
Nobili, and _en revanche_ you have saved another lady. She must be
"O Nera!" one of her sisters exclaimed, reproachfully. These innocent
sisters never could accommodate themselves to Nera's caustic tongue.
Nera gave her sister a look. She rose at once; then the other sister
rose also. They both slipped out of the room.
"Now," thought the marchesa, "I must go, too."
"May I be permitted," she said, rising, "before I leave the room
to speak to my confessor, who is waiting for me, on a matter of
business"--this was an excellent sham, and sounded decorous and
natural--"may I be permitted, Count Nobili, to congratulate you on
your approaching marriage? I do not know Enrica Guinigi, but I hear
that she is lovely."
Nobili bowed with evident constraint.
"And I," said Nera, softly, directing a broadside upon him from her
brilliant eyes--"allow me to congratulate you also."
"Thank you," murmured Nobili, scarcely able to form the words.
"Excuse me," the marchesa said. She courtesied to Nobili and left the
Nobili and Nera were now alone. Nobili watched her under his eyelids.
Yes, she was splendid. A luxuriant form, a skin mellow and ruddy as a
ripe peach, and such eyes!
Nera was silent. She guessed his thoughts. She knew men so well. Men
had been her special study. Nera was only twenty-four, but she was
clever, and would have excelled in any thing she pleased. To draw men
to her, as the magnet draws the needle, was the passion of her life;
whether she cared for them or not, to draw them. Not to succeed argued
a want of skill. That maddened her. She was keen and hot upon the
scent, knocking over her man as a sportsman does his bird, full in
the breast. Her aim was marriage. Count Nobili would have suited
her exactly. She had felt for him a warmth that rarely quickened her
pulses. Nobili had evaded her. But revenge is sweet. Now his hour is
"Count Nobili"--Nera's tempting looks spoke more than words--"come and
sit down by me." She signed to him to place himself upon the sofa.
Nobili rose as she bade him. He came upon his fate without a word.
Seated so near to Nera, he gazed into her starry eyes, and felt it did
"You look ill," Nera said, tuning her voice to a tone of tender pity;
"you have grown older too since I last saw you. Is it love, or grief,
or jealousy, or what?"
Nobili heaved a deep sigh. His hand, which rested near hers, slipped
forward, and touched her fingers. Nera withdrew them to smooth
the braids of her glossy hair. While she did so she scanned Nobili
closely. "You are not a triumphant lover, certainly. What is the
"You are very good to care," answered Nobili, sighing again, gazing
into her face; "once I thought that my fate did touch you."
"Yes, once," Nera rejoined. "Once--long ago." She gave an airy laugh
that grated on Nobili's ears. "But we meet so seldom."
"True, true," he answered hurriedly, "too seldom." His manner was
most constrained. It was plain his mind was running upon some unspoken
"Yes," Nera said. "Spite of your absence, however you make yourself
remembered. You give us so much to talk of! Such a succession of
One by one Nera's phrases dropped out, suggesting so much behind.
Nobili, greatly excited, felt he must speak or flee.
"I must confess," she added, giving a stealthy glance out of the
corners of her eyes, "you have surprised me. When do you bring your
wife home, Count Nobili?" As Nera asked this question she bent over
Nobili, so that her breath just swept his heated cheek.
"Never, perhaps!" cried Nobili, wildly. He could contain himself no
longer. His heart beat almost to bursting. A desperate seduction was
stealing over him. "Never, perhaps!" he repeated.
Nera gave a little start; then she drew back and leaned against the
sofa, gazing at him.
"I am come to you, Nera"--Nobili spoke in a hoarse voice--his features
worked with agitation--"I am come to tell you all; to ask you what I
shall do. I am distracted, heart-broken, degraded! Nera, dear Nera,
will you help me? In mercy say you will!"
He had grasped her hand--he was covering it with hot kisses. He was
so heated with wine and beauty, and a sense of wrong, he had lost all
Nera did not withdraw her hand. Her eyelids dropped, and she replied,
"Help you? Oh! so willingly. Could you see my heart you would
"You can make all right," urged Nobili, maddened by her seductions.
Again that waltz was buzzing in his ears. Nobili was about to clasp
her in his arms, and ask her he knew not what, when Nera rose, and
seated herself upon a chair opposite to him.
"You leave me," cried Nobili, piteously, seizing her dress. "That is
not helping me."
"I must know what you want," she answered, settling the folds of her
dress about her. "Of course, in making this marriage, you have weighed
all the consequences? I take that for granted."
As Nera spoke she leaned her head upon her hand; the rich beauty of
her face was brought under the lamp's full light.
"I thought I had," was Nobili's reply, recalled by her movement to
himself, and speaking with more composure--"I thought I had--but
within the last three hours every thing is changed. I have been
insulted at the club."
"Ah!--you must expect that sort of thing if you marry Enrica Guinigi.
That is inevitable."
Nobili knit his brows. This was hard from her.
"What reason do you give for this?" he asked, trying to master his
feelings. "I came to ask you this."
"Reason, my dear count?" and a smile parted Nera's lips. "A very
obvious reason. Why force me to name it? No one can respect you if you
make such a marriage. You will be always liked--you are so charming."
She paused to fling an amorous glance upon him. "Why did you select
the Guinigi girl?" The question was sharply put. "The marchesa would
never receive you. Why choose her niece?"
"Because I liked her." Nobili was driven to bay. "A man chooses the
woman he likes."
"How strange!" exclaimed Nera, throwing up her hands. "How strange!--A
pale-faced school-girl! But--ha! ha!"--(that discordant laugh almost
betrayed her)--"she is not so, it seems."
Nobili changed color. With every word Nera uttered, he grew hot or
cold, soothed or wild, by turns. Nera watched it all. She read Nobili
like a book.
"How cunning Enrica Guinigi must be!--very cunning!" Nera repeated as
if the idea had just struck her. "The marchesa's tool!--They are so
poor!--Her niece! Che vuole!--The family blood! Anyhow, Enrica has
caught you, Nobili."
Nera leaned back, drew out a fan from behind a cushion, and swayed it
to and fro.
"Not yet," gasped Nobili--"not yet."
And Nobili had listened to Nera's cruel words, and had not risen up
and torn out the lying tongue that uttered them! He had sat and heard
Enrica torn to pieces as a panting dove is severed by a hawk limb by
limb! Even now Nobili's better nature, spite of the glamour of this
woman, told him he was a coward to listen to such words, but his good
angel had veiled her wings and fled.
"I am glad you say 'not yet.' I hope you will take time to consider.
If I can help you, you may command me, Count Nobili." And Nera paused
"Help me, Nera!--You can save me!" He started to his feet. "I am so
wretched--so wounded--so desperate!"
"Sit down," she answered, pointing to the sofa.
Mechanically he obeyed.
"You are nothing of all this if you do not marry Enrica Guinigi; if
you do, you are all you say."
"What am I to do?" exclaimed Nobili. "I have signed the contract."
"Break it"--Nera spoke the words boldly out--"break it, or you will
be dishonored. Do you think you can live in Lucca with a wife that you
Nobili bounded from his chair.
"O God!" he said, and clinched his hands.
"You must be calm," she said, hastily, "or my mother will hear you."
(All she can do, she thinks, is not worse than Nobili deserves, after
that ball.) "Bought!--Yes. Will any one believe the marchesa would
have given her niece to you otherwise?"
Nobili was pale and silent now. Nera's words had called up long trains
of thought, opening out into horrible vistas. There was a dreadful
logic about all she said that brought instant conviction with it. All