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- VITTORIA - 6/16 -
person? Ought we not to be in union with Sardinia? How can we be if we reject her king? Is it not the only positive army that, we can look to-- I mean regular army? Should we not; make some excuses for one who is not in our position?
"I feel that I push my questions like waves that fall and cannot get beyond--they crave so for answers agreeing to them. This should make me doubt myself, perhaps; but they crowd again, and seem so conclusive until I have written them down. I am unworthy to struggle with your intellect; but I say to myself, how unworthy of you I should be if I did not use my own, such as it is! The poor king; had to conclude an armistice to save his little kingdom. Perhaps we ought to think of that sternly. My heart is; filled with pity.
"It cannot but be right that you should know the worst; of me. I call you my husband, and tremble to be permitted to lean my head on your bosom for hours, my sweet lover! And yet my cowardice, if I had let the king go by without a reverential greeting from me, in his adversity, would have rendered me insufferable to myself. You are hearing me, and I am compelled to say, that rather than behave so basely I would forfeit your love, and be widowed till death should offer us for God to join us. Does your face change to me?
"Dearest, and I say it when the thought of you sets me almost swooning. I find my hands clasped, and I am muttering I know not what, and I am blushing. The ground seems to rock; I can barely breathe; my heart is like a bird caught in the hands of a cruel boy: it will not rest. I fear everything. I hear a whisper, 'Delay not an instant!' and it is like a furnace; 'Hasten to him! Speed!' and I seem to totter forward and drop-- I think I have lost you--I am like one dead.
"I remain here to nurse our dear friend Merthyr. For that reason I am absent from your mother. It is her desire that we should be married.
"Soon, soon, my own soul!
"I seem to be hanging on a tree for you, swayed by such a teazing wind.
"Oh, soon! or I feel that I shall hate any vestige of will that I have in this head of mine. Not in the heart--it is not there!
"And sometimes I am burning to sing. The voice leaps to my lips; it is quite like a thing that lives apart--my prisoner.
"It is true, Laura is here with Merthyr.
"Could you come at once?--not here, but to Pallanza? We shall both make our mother happy. This she wishes, this she lives for, this consoles her--and oh, this gives me peace! Yes, Merthyr is recovering! I can leave him without the dread I had; and Laura confesses to the feminine sentiment, if her funny jealousy of a rival nurse is really simply feminine. She will be glad of our resolve, I am sure. And then you will order all my actions; and I shall be certain that they are such as I would proudly call mine; and I shall be shut away from the world. Yes; let it be so! Addio. I reserve all sweet names for you. Addio. In Pallanza:--no not Pallanza--Paradise!
"Hush! and do not smile at me:--it was not my will, I discover, but my want of will, that distracted me.
"See my last signature of--not Vittoria; for I may sign that again and still be Emilia Alessandra Ammiani.
The letter was sealed; Luigi bore it away, and a brief letter to Countess Ammiani, in Pallanza, as well.
Vittoria was relieved of her anxiety concerning Merthyr by the arrival of Georgiana, who had been compelled to make her way round by Piacenza and Turin, where she had left Gambier, with Beppo in attendance on him. Georgiana at once assumed all the duties of head-nurse, and the more resolutely because of her brother's evident moral weakness in sighing for the hand of a fickle girl to smooth his pillow. "When he is stronger you can sit beside him a little," she said to Vittoria, who surrendered her post without a struggle, and rarely saw him, though Laura told her that his frequent exclamation was her name, accompanied by a soft look at his sister--"which would have stirred my heart like poor old Milan last March," Laura added, with a lift of her shoulders.
Georgiana's icy manner appeared infinitely strange to Vittoria when she heard from Merthyr that his sister had become engaged to Captain Gambier.
"Nothing softens these women," said Laura, putting Georgiana in a class.
"I wish you could try the effect of your winning Merthyr," Vittoria suggested.
"I remember that when I went to my husband, I likewise wanted every woman of my acquaintance to be married." Laura sighed deeply. "What is this poor withered body of mine now? It feels like an old volcano, cindery, with fire somewhere:--a charming bride! My dear, if I live till my children make me a grandmother, I shall look on the love of men and women as a toy that I have played with. A new husband? I must be dragged through the Circles of Dante before I can conceive it, and then I should loathe the stranger."
News came that the volunteers were crushed. It was time for Vittoria to start for Pallanza, and she thought of her leave-taking; a final leave- taking, in one sense, to the friends who had cared too much for her. Laura delicately drew Georgiana aside in the sick-room, which she would not quit, and alluded to the necessity for Vittoria's departure without stating exactly wherefore: but Georgiana was a Welshwoman. Partly to show her accurate power of guessing, and chiefly that she might reprove Laura's insulting whisper, which outraged and irritated her as much as if "Oh! your poor brother!" had been exclaimed, she made display of Merthyr's manly coldness by saying aloud, "You mean, that she is going to her marriage." Laura turned her face to Merthyr. He had striven to rise on his elbow, and had dropped flat in his helplessness. Big tears were rolling down his cheeks. His articulation failed him, beyond a reiterated "No, no," pitiful to hear, and he broke into childish sobs. Georgiana hurried Laura from the room. By-and-by the doctor was promptly summoned, and it was Georgiana herself, miserably humbled, who obtained Vittoria's sworn consent to keep the life in Merthyr by lingering yet awhile.
Meantime Luigi brought a letter from Pallanza in Carlo's handwriting. This was the burden of it:
"I am here, and you are absent. Hasten!"
A FRESH ENTANGLEMENT
The Lenkenstein ladies returned to Milan proudly in the path of the army which they had followed along the city walls on the black March midnight. The ladies of the Austrian aristocracy generally had to be exiles from Vienna, and were glad to flock together even in an alien city. Anna and Lena were aware of Vittoria's residence in Milan, through the interchange of visits between the Countess of Lenkenstein and her sister Signora Piaveni. They heard also of Vittoria's prospective and approaching marriage to Count Ammiani. The Duchess of Graatli, who had forborne a visit to her unhappy friends, lest her Austrian face should wound their sensitiveness, was in company with the Lenkensteins one day, when Irma di Karski called on them. Irma had come from Lago Maggiore, where she had left her patron, as she was pleased to term Antonio-Pericles. She was full of chatter of that most worthy man's deplorable experiences of Vittoria's behaviour to him during the war, and of many things besides. According to her account, Vittoria had enticed him from place to place with promises that the next day, and the next day, and the day after, she would be ready to keep her engagement to go to London, and at last she had given him the slip and left him to be plucked like a pullet by a horde of volunteer banditti, out of whose hands Antonio-Pericles-"one of our richest millionaires in Europe, certainly our richest amateur," said Irma--escaped in fit outward condition for the garden of Eden.
Count Karl was lying on the sofa, and went into endless invalid's laughter at the picture presented by Irma of the 'wild man' wanderings of poor infatuated Pericles, which was exaggerated, though not intentionally, for Irma repeated the words and gestures of Pericles in the recital of his tribulations. Being of a somewhat similar physical organization, she did it very laughably. Irma declared that Pericles was cured of his infatuation. He had got to Turin, intending to quit Italy for ever, when--"he met me," said Irma modestly.
"And heard that the war was at an end," Count Karl added.
"And he has taken the superb Villa Ricciardi, on Lago Maggiore, where he will have a troupe of singers, and perform operas, in which I believe I may possibly act as prima donna. The truth is, I would do anything to prevent him from leaving the country."
But Irma had more to say; with "I bear no malice," she commenced it. The story she had heard was that Count Ammiani, after plighting himself to a certain signorina, known as Vittoria Campa, had received tidings that she was one of those persons who bring discredit on Irma's profession. "Gifted by nature, I can acknowledge," said Irma; "but devoured by vanity --a perfect slave to the appetite for praise; ready to forfeit anything for flattery! Poor signor Antonio-Pericles!--he knows her." And now Count Ammiani, persuaded to reason by his mother, had given her up. There was nothing more positive, for Irma had seen him in the society of Countess Violetta d'Isorella.
Anna and Lena glanced at their brother Karl.
"I should not allude to what is not notorious," Irma pursued. "They are always together. My dear Antonio-Pericles is most amusing in his expressions of delight at it. For my part, though she served me an evil turn once,--you will hardly believe, ladies, that in her jealousy of me she was guilty of the most shameful machinations to get me out of the way on the night of the first performance of Camilla,--but, for my part, I bear no malice. The creature is an inveterate rebel, and I dislike her for that, I do confess."
"The signorina Vittoria Campa is my particular and very dear friend," said the duchess.
"She is not the less an inveterate rebel," said Anna.
Count Karl gave a long-drawn sigh. "Alas, that she should have brought discredit on Fraulein di Karski's profession!"
The duchess hurried straightway to Laura, with whom was Count Serabiglione, reviewing the present posture of affairs from the condescending altitudes of one that has foretold it. Laura and Amalia embraced and went apart. During their absence Vittoria came down to the
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