Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

we

Turin and elsewhere. Violetta has not one grain of love for her country; but she can be made to serve it. As for

As for me, I have gone too far to think of turning aside and drilling with Luciano. He may yet be diverted from Rome, to strike another blow for Lombardy. The chief, I know, has some religious sentiment about Rome. So might I have; it is the Head of Italy. Let us raise the body first. And have been beaten here. Great gods! we will have another fight for it on the same spot, and quickly. Besides, I cannot face Luciano, and tell him why I was away from him in the dark hour. How can I tell him that I was lingering to bear a bride to the altar? while he and the rest-poor fellows! Hard enough to have to mention it to you, signora !”

She understood his boyish sense of shame. Making smooth allowances for a feeling natural to his youth and the circumstances, she said, “I am your sister, for you were my husband's brother-inarms, Carlo.

We two speak heart to heart: I sometimes fancy you have that voice: you hurt me with it more than you know; gladden me too! My Carlo, I wish to hear why Countess d’Isorella objects to your marriage.” “She does not object.” “ An answer that begins by quibbling is not propitious. She

opposes it.”

a

a

“For this reason: you have not forgotten the bronze butterfly." “I see more clearly,” said Laura, with a start.

“There appears to be no cure for the brute's mad suspicion of her," Carlo pursued ; " and he is powerful among the Milanese. If my darling takes my name, he can damage much of my influence, and—you know what there is to be dreaded from a fanatic.”

Laura nodded, as if in full agreement with him, and said, after meditating a minute, “What sort of a lover is this !She added a little laugh to the singular interjection.

“Yes, I have also thought of a secret marriage,” said Carlo, stung by her penetrating instinct so that he was enabled to read the meaning in her mind. “ The best way,

when you are afflicted by a dilemma of such a character, my Carlo,” the signora looked at him, “is to take a chesstable and make your moves on it. “King-my duty ;' queen-my

. —— passion;' bishop—my social obligation ;' 'knight—my what-youwill and my round-the-corner wishes.' Then, if you find that queen may be gratified without endangering king, and so forth, why, you may follow your inclinations; and if not, not. My Carlo, you are either enviably cool, or you are an enviable hypocrite."

“The matter is not quite so easily settled as that,” said Carlo.

On the whole, though against her preconception, Laura thought him an honest lover, and not the player of a double game. She saw

a

6

[ocr errors]

a

that Vittoria should have been with him in the critical hour of defeat, when his passions were down, and heaven knows what weakness of his common manhood, that was partly pride, partly lovecraving, made his nature waxen to every impression; a season, as Laura knew, when the mistress of a loyal lover should not withhold herself from him. A nature tender like Carlo's, and he bearing an enamoured heart, could not, as Luciano Romara had done, pass instantly from defeat to drill. And vain as Carlo was (the vanity being most intricate and subtle, like a nervous fluid), he was very open to the belief that he could diplomatize as well as fight, and lead a movement yet better than follow it. Even so the signora tried to read

his case.

They were all, excepting Countess Ammiani (“who will never, I fear, do me this honour," Violetta wrote, and the countess said, “Never," and quoted a proverb), about to pass three or four days at the villa of Countess d’Isorella. Before they set out, Vittoria received a portentous envelope containing a long scroll, that was headed “YOUR CRIMES," and detailed a list of her offences against the country, from the revelation of the plot in her first letter to Wilfrid, to services rendered to the enemy during the war, up to the departure of Charles Albert out of forsaken Milan.

“B. R.” was the undisguised signature at the end of the scroll.

Things of this description restored her old war-spirit to Vittoria. She handed the scroll to Laura ; Laura, in great alarm, passed it on to Carlo. He sent for Angelo Guidascarpi in haste, for Carlo read it as an ante-dated justificatory document to some mischievous design, and he desired that hands as sure as his own, and yet more vigilant eyes, should keep watch over his betrothed.

CHAPTER XXXVIII.

VIOLETTA D’ISORELLA.

The villa inhabited by Countess d’Isorella was on the water's edge, within clear view of the projecting Villa Ricciardi, in that darklywooded region of the lake which leads up to the Italian-Swiss canton.

Violetta received here an envoy from Anna of Lenkenstein, direct out of Milan : an English lady, calling herself Mistress Sedley, and a particular friend of Countess Anna. At one glance Violetta saw that her visitor had the pretension to match her arts against her own; so, to sound her thoroughly, she offered her the hospitalities of the villa for a day or more. The invitation was accepted. Much to Violetta’s astonishment, the lady betrayed no anxiety to state the exact terms of her mission ; she appeared, on the contrary, to have an unbounded satisfaction in the society of her hostess, and prattled of herself, and Antonio-Pericles, and her old affection for Vittoria, with the wiliest simplicity, only requiring to be assured at times that she spoke intelligible Italian and exquisite French. Violetta supposed her to feel that she commanded the situation. Patient study of this woman revealed to Violetta the amazing fact that she was dealing with a born bourgeoise, who, not devoid of petty acuteness, was unaffectedly enjoying her noble small talk, and the prospect of a footing in Italian high society. Violetta smiled at the comedy she had been playing in, scarcely reproaching herself for not having imagined it. She proceeded to the point of business without further delay.

Adela Sedley had nothing but a verbal message to deliver. The Countess Anna of Lenkenstein offered, on her word of honour as a noblewoman, to make over the quarter of her estate and patrimony to the Countess d’Isorella, if the latter should succeed in thwartingsomething

Forced to speak plainly, Adela confessed she thought she knew the nature of that something.

To preclude its being named, Violetta then diverged from the subject.

“We will go round to your friend the Signor Antonio-Pericles at Villa Ricciardi,” she said. “You will see that he treats me familiarly,

” but he is not a lover of mine. I suspect your something' has something to do with the Jesuits.”

Adela Sedley replied to the penultimate sentence : “It would not surprise me, indeed, to hear of any number of adorers.”

“I have the usual retinue, possibly,” said Violetta.

“Dear countess, I could be one of them myself!” Adela burst out with tentative boldness.

“ Then, kiss me."
And behold, they interchanged that unsweet performance.
Adela's lips were unlocked by it.
“How many would envy me, dear Countess d'Isorella!”

She really conceived that she was driving into Violetta's heart by the great high road of feminine vanity. Violetta permitted her to think as she liked.

“ Your countrywomen, madame, do not make large allowances for beauty, I hear.”

“ None at all. But they are so stiff ! so frigid! I know one, a Miss Ford, now in Italy, who would not let me have a male friend, and a character, in conjunction."

“You are acquainted with Count Karl Lenkenstein ?” Adela blushingly acknowledged it. “ The whisper goes that I was once admired by him,” said Violetta.

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"And by Count Ammiani.”
“By count? by milord ? by prince ? by king ?”
"By all who have good taste."
“ Was it jealousy, then, that made Countess Anna hate me ?”
“She could not-or she cannot now.”
"Because I have not taken possession of her brother."

“I could not-may I say it?-I could not understand his infatuation until Countess Anna showed me the portrait of Italy's most beautiful living woman. She told me to look at the last of the Borgia family."

Violetta laughed out clear music. “And now you see her ?” “She said that it had saved her brother's life. It has a star and a scratch on the left cheek from a dagger. He wore it on his heart, and an assassin struck him there : a true romance. Countess Anna said to me that it had saved one brother, and that it should help to avenge the other. She has not spoken to me of Jesuits.”

"Nothing at all of the Jesuits ?” said Violetta, carelessly. "Perhaps she wishes to use my endeavours to get the Salasco armistice prolonged, and tempts me, knowing I am a prodigal. Austria is victorious, you know, but she wants peace. Is that the case ? I do not press you to answer.”

Adela replied hesitatingly: “ Are you aware, countess, whether there is any truth in the report that Countess Lena has a passion for Count Ammiani?"

"Ah, then,” said Violetta, “ Countess Lena's sister would naturally wish to prevent his contemplated marriage! We may have read the riddle at last. Are you discreet? If you are, you will let it be known that I had the honour of becoming intimate with you in Turin—say, at the Court. We shall meet frequently there during winter, I trust, if you care to make a comparison of the Italian with the Austrian nobility.”

An eloquent “Oh !” escaped from Adela's bosom. She had certainly not expected to win her way with this estimable Italian titled lady thus rapidly. Violetta had managed her so well that she was no longer sure whether she did know the exact nature of her mission, the words of which she had faithfully transmitted as having been alone confided to her. It was with chagrin that she saw Pericles put his forefinger on a salient dimple of the countess's cheek when he welcomed them. He puffed and blew like one working simultaneously at bugle and big drum on hearing an allusion to Vittoria. The mention of the name of that abominable traitress was interdicted at Villa Ricciardi ; he said she had dragged him at two armies' tails to find his right senses at last : Pericles was cured of his passion for her at last. He had been mad, but he was cured, and so forth, in the old strain. His preparations for a private operatic performance

a

[blocks in formation]

a

diverted him from these fierce incriminations, and he tripped busily from spot to spot, conducting the ladies over the tumbled lower floors of the spacious villa, and calling their admiration on the desolation of the scene.

Then they went up to the maestro's room. Pericles became deeply considerate for the master's privacy. “He is my slave; the man has ruined himself for la Vittoria; but I respect the impersonation of art,” he said under his breath to the ladies as they stood at the door; “ hark!” The piano was touched, and the voice of Irma di Karski broke out in a shrill crescendo. Rocco Ricci within gave tongue to the vehement damnatory dance of Pericles outside. Rocco struck his piano again encouragingly for a second

. attempt, but Irma was sobbing. She was heard to say: “This is the fifteenth time you have pulled me down in one morning. You hate me; you do; you hate me.” Rocco ran his fingers across the keys, and again struck the octave for Irma. Pericles wiped his forehead when, impenitent and unteachable, she took the notes in the manner of a cock. He thumped at the door violently and entered.

“Excellent! horrid ! brava! abominable! beautiful! Jy Irma, you have reached the skies. You ascend like a firework, and crown yourself at the top. No more to-day; but descend at your leisure, my dear, and we will try to mount again by-and-by, and not so fast, if you please. Ha! your voice is a race-horse. You will learn to ride him with temper and judgment, and you will go. Not so, my Rocco ! Irma, you want repose, my dear. One thing I guarantee to you—you will please the public. It is a minor thing that you should please me.

Countess d’Isorella led Irma away, and had to bear with many fits of weeping, and to assent to the force of all the charges of vindictive conspiracy and inveterate malice with which the jealous creature assailed Vittoria's name. The countess then claimed her ear for half a minute.

“ Have you had any news of Countess Anna lately?” Irma had not; she admitted it despondently. “There is such a

“ vile conspiracy against me in Italy—and Italy is a poor singer's fame—that I should be tempted to do anything. And I detest la Vittoria. She has such a hold on this Antonio-Pericles, I don't see how I can hurt her, unless I meet her and fly at her throat."

“You naturally detest her,” said the countess. “Repeat Countess Anna's proposition to you.”

“ It was insulting---she offered me money.”

“That you should persuade me to assist you in preventing la Vittoria's marriage to Count Ammiani?”

“Dear lady, you know I did not try to persuade you."

“You knew that you would not succeed, my Irma. But Count Ammiani will not marry her; so you will have a right to claim

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »