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- A Word Only A Word, Volume 4. - 5/10 -
The young girl shivered, as if a chill breeze had struck her, and when the artist stood beside her, she gazed enquiringly at him with her dark eyes, which looked larger than ever in the pallid, emaciated face, and said in a low, firm tone:
"I want to speak to him. You will take me to the picture. I must see it."
"He has thrust his maul-stick through it. Believe me, child, you would have condemned it yourself."
"And yet, yet! I must see it," she answered earnestly, "see it with these eyes. I feel, I know--he is an artist. Wait, I'll get my mantilla."
Isabella hurried back with flying feet, and when a short time after, wearing the black lace kerchief on her head, she descended the staircase by her father's side, the private secretary de Soto came towards them, exclaiming:
"Do you want to hear the latest news, Coello? Your pupil Navarrete has become faithless to you and the noble art of painting. Don Juan gave him the enlistment money fifteen minutes ago. Better be a good trooper, than a mediocre artist! What is the matter, Senorita?"
"Nothing, nothing," Isabella murmured gently, and fell fainting on her father's breast.
Two years had passed. A beautiful October day was dawning; no cloud dimmed the azure sky, and the sun's disk rose, glowing crimson, behind the narrow strait, that afforded ingress to the Gulf of Corinth.
The rippling waves of the placid sea, which here washed the sunny shores of Hellas, yonder the shady coasts of the Peloponnesus, glittered like fresh blooming blue-bottles.
Bare, parched rocks rise in naked beauty at the north of the bay, and the rays of the young day-star shot golden threads through the light white mists, that floated around them.
The coast of Morea faces the north; so dense shadows still rested on the stony olive-groves and the dark foliage of the pink laurel and oleander bushes, whose dense clumps followed the course of the stream and filled the ravines.
How still, how pleasant it usually was here in the early morning!
White sea-gulls hovered peacefully over the waves, a fishing-boat or galley glided gently along, making shining furrows in the blue mirror of the water; but today the waves curled under the burden of countless ships, to-day thousands of long oars lashed the sea, till the surges splashed high in the air with a wailing, clashing sound. To-day there was a loud clanking, rattling, roaring on both sides of the water-gate, which afforded admittance to the Bay of Lepanto.
The roaring and shouting reverberated in mighty echoes from the bare northern cliffs, but were subdued by the densely wooded southern shore.
Two vast bodies of furious foes confronted each other like wrestlers, who stretch their sinewy arms to grasp and hurl their opponents to the ground.
Pope Pius the Fifth had summoned Christianity to resist the land- devouring power of the Ottomans. Cyprus, Christian Cyprus, the last province Venice possessed in the Levant, had fallen into the hands of the Moslems. Spain and Venice had formed an alliance with Christ's vicegerent; Genoese, other Italians, and the Knights of St. John were assembling in Messina to aid the league.
The finest and largest Christian armada, which had left a Christian port for a long time, put forth to sea from this harbor. In spite of all intrigues, King Philip had entrusted the chief command to his young half- brother, Don Juan of Austria.
The Ottomans too had not been idle, and with twelve myriads of soldiers on three hundred ships, awaited the foe in the Gulf of Lepanto.
Don Juan made no delay. The Moslems had recently murdered thousands of Christians at Cyprus, an outrage the fiery hero could not endure, so he cast to the winds the warnings and letters of counsel from Madrid, which sought to curb his impetuous energy, his troops, especially the Venetians, were longing for vengeance.
But the Moslems were no less eager for the fray, and at the close of his council-of-war, and contrary to its decision, Kapudan Pacha sailed to meet the enemy.
On the morning of October 7th every ship, every man was ready for battle.
The sun appeared, and from the Spanish ships musical bell-notes rose towards heaven, blending with the echoing chant: "Allahu akbar, allahu akbar, allahu akbar," and the devout words: "There is no God save Allah, and Mohammed is the prophet of Allah; to prayer!"
"To prayer!" The iron tongue of the bell uttered the summons, as well as the resonant voice of the Muezzin, who to-day did not call the worshippers to devotion from the top of a minaret, but from the masthead of a ship. On both sides of the narrow seagate, thousands of Moslems and Christians thought, hoped and believed, that the Omnipotent One heard them.
The bells and chanting died away, and a swift galley with Don Juan on board, moved from ship to ship. The young hero, holding a crucifix in his hand, shouted encouraging words to the Christian soldiers.
The blare of trumpets, roll of drums, and shouts of command echoed from the rocky shores.
The armada moved forward, the admiral's galley, with Don Juan, at its head.
The Turkish fleet advanced to meet it.
The young lion no longer asked the wise counsel of the experienced admiral. He desired nothing, thought of nothing, issued no orders, except "forward," "attack," "board," "kill," "sink," "destroy!"
The hostile fleets clashed into the fight as bulls, bellowing sullenly, rush upon each other with lowered heads and bloodshot eyes.
Who, on this day of vengeance, thought of Marco Antonio Colonna's plan of battle, or the wise counsels of Doria, Venieri, Giustiniani?
Not the clear brain and keen eye--but manly courage and strength would turn the scale to-day. Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma, had joined his young uncle a short time before, and now commanded a squadron of Genoese ships in the front. He was to keep back till Doria ordered him to enter the battle. But Don Juan had already boarded the vessel commanded by the Turkish admiral, scaled the deck, and with a heavy sword-stroke felled Kapudan Pacha. Alexander witnessed the scene, his impetuous, heroic courage bore him on, and he too ordered: "Forward!"
What was the huge ship he was approaching? The silver crescent decked its scarlet pennon, rows of cannon poured destruction from its sides, and its lofty deck was doubly defended by bearded wearers of the turban.
It was the treasure-galley of the Ottoman fleet. It would be a gallant achievement could the prince vanquish this bulwark, this stronghold of the foe; which was three times greater in size, strength, and number of its crew, than Farnese's vessel. What did he care, what recked he of the shower of bullets and tar-hoops that awaited him?
Up and at them.
Doria made warning signals, but the prince paid no heed, he would neither see nor hear them.
Brave soldiers fell bleeding and gasping on the deck beside him, his mast was split and came crashing down. "Who'll follow me?" he shouted, resting his hand on the bulwark.
The tried Spanish warriors, with whom Don Juan had manned his vessel, hesitated. Only one stepped mutely and resolutely to his side, flinging over his shoulder the two-handed sword, whose hilt nearly reached to the tall youth's eyes.
Every one on board knew the fair-haired giant. It was the favorite of the commander in chief--it was Navarrete, who in the war against the Moors of Cadiz and Baza had performed many an envied deed of valor. His arm seemed made of steel; he valued his life no more than one of the plumes in his helmet, and risked it in battle as recklessly as he did his zechins at the gaming-table.
Here, as well as there, he remained the winner.
No one knew exactly whence he came as he never mentioned his family, for he was a reserved, unsocial man; but on the voyage to Lepanto he had formed a friendship with a sick soldier, Don Miguel Cervantes. The latter could tell marvellous tales, and had his own peculiar opinions about everything between heaven and earth.
Navarrete, who carried his head as high as the proudest grandee, devoted every leisure hour to his suffering comrade, uniting the affection of a brother, with the duties of a servant.
It was known that Navarrete had once been an artist, and he seemed one of the most fervent of the devout Castilians, for he entered every church and chapel the army passed, and remained standing a long, long time before many a Madonna and altar-painting as if spellbound.
Even the boldest dared not attack him, for death hovered over his sword, yet his heart had not hardened. He gave winnings and booty with lavish hand, and every beggar was sure of assistance.
He avoided women, but sought the society of the sick and wounded, often watching all night beside the couch of some sorely-injured comrade, and this led to the rumor that he liked to witness death.
Ah, no! The heart of the proud, lonely man only sought a place where it might be permitted to soften; the soldier, bereft of love, needed some nook where he could exercise on others what was denied to himself: "devoted affection."
Alexander Farnese recognized in Navarrete the horse-tamer of the picadero in Madrid; he nodded approvingly to him, and mounted the bulwark. But
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