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A murmer of compassion ran through the bystanders; and the words "poor thing!—still so delicate!—old hysterics 1" were whisperingly repeated from one to the other. The father was alarmed, and hastened to cut short a ceremony which seemed so appalling to the nervous timidity of his daughter. "It is enough," said he; "all will be over in a moment. Lelia, do you accept of this young man for your suitor ?—come, one little word, and it is done." Lelia tried in vain to speak, and she bowed her acquiescence. "Sirs," continued Niccoli, "my daughter accepts of the suitor you offer. It is enough; salute your mistress, my son, and let us go in, and pass round the cup of alliance." "The maiden hath not answered,'' observed a cold, cautious voice among the relations of the suitor. "Speak, then," said Niccoli, casting an angry and disdainful look at the formalist,—" it is but a word—a sound. Speak!" Lelia's dry, white lips had unclosed to obey, when the gate of the little court was wrenched open by one who was apparently too much in haste to find the latch, and a man rushed into the midst of the circle. "Speak not.'" he shouted, " I forbid!" Lelia sprung towards him with a stifled cry, and would have thrown herself into his arms, had she not been suddenly caught midway by her father. "What is this ?" demanded he sternly, but in rising alarm; "ruffian—drunkard—madman!—what would you here?" "You cannot provoke me, Niccoli," said the intruder, "were you to spit uponme! I come to demand your daughter in marriage." "You!" shouted the enraged father. "You!" repeated the relations, in tones of wonder, scorn, rage, or ridicule, according to the temperament of the individual. "There needeth no more of this," said the same cold, cautious voice that had spoken before; "a wedding begun in a brawl will never end in a bedding. To demand a girl in legitimate marriage is neither sin nor shame; let the young man be answered even by the maiden herself, and then depart in peace." "He hath spoken well,'' said the more cautious among the old men; "speak, daughter; answer, and let the man be gone!" Lelia grew pale, and then red. She made a step forward—hesitated—looked at her father timidly—and then stood as still as a statue, pressing her clasped hands upon her bosom, as if to silence the throbbings that disturbed her reason. "Girl," said old Niccoli, in a voice of suppressed passion, as he seized her by the arm, "do you know that man ?—did you ever see him before? Answer, can you tell me his name?" "No!" "No!—the insolent ruffian! Go, girl, present your cheek to your future husband, that the customs of our ancestors may be fulfilled, and leave me to clear my doorway of vagabonds!'' She stepped forward mechanically; but when the legitimate suitor, extending his arms, ran forward to meet her, she eluded him with a
sudden shriek, and staggered towards the intruder. "Hold—hold!" cried the relations, "you are mad—you know not what you do—it is Francesco, the mineralo!" She had reached the stranger, who did not move from where he stood; and, as the ill-omened name met her ear, she fainted in his arms.
The confusion that ensued was indescribable. Lelia was carried senseless into the house; and it required the efforts of half the party to hold back her father, who would have grappled with the mineralo upon the spot. Francesco stood for some time with folded arms, in mournful and moody silence; but when at length the voice of cursing, which Niccoli continued to pour forth against him, had sunk in exhaustion, he advanced and confronted him. "I can bear those names," said he, "from you. Some of them, you know well, are undeserved; and if others fit, it is more my misfortune than my fault. If to chastise insults, and render back scorn for scorn, is to be a ruffian, I am one; but no man can be called a vagabond who resides in the habitation and follows the'trade of his ancestors. These things, however, are trifles—at best they are only words. Your real objection to me is that I am Pooa. It is a strong one. If I chose to take your daughter without a dowry, I would take her in spite of you all; but I will leave her—even to that thing without a soul—rather than subject so gentle and fragile a being to the privations and vicissitudes of a life like mine. 1 demand, therefore, not simply your daughter, but a dowry, if only a small one; and you have the right to require that on my part I shall not be emptyhanded. She is young, and there can be, and ought to be, no hurry with her marriage: but give me only a year—a single year; name a reasonable sum; and if, by the appointed time I cannot tell the money into your hand, I hereby engage to relinquish every claim, which her generous preference has given me, upon your daughter's hand." "It is well put," replied the cold and cautious voice in the assembly. "A year, at any rate, would have elapsed between the present betrothing and the damsel's marriage. If the young man before the bells of twelve, on this night twelvemonth, layeth down upon the table, either in coined money, or in gold, or golden ore, the same sum which we were here ready to guarantee on the part of my grandson, why I, for one, shall not object to the maiden's whim ^-provided it continues so long—being consulted, in the disposal of her hand, in preference to her father's judgment and desires. The sum is only three thousand livras!" A laugh of scorn and derision arose among the relations. "Yes, yes," said they, "it is but just. Let the mineralo produce three thousand livras, and he shall have his bride. Neighbour Niccoli, it is a fair proposal; allow us to intercede for Francesco, and beg your assent!" "Sirs," said Fran. cesco, in perplexity mingled with anger, " the sum of three thousand iivres"—He was interrupted by another forced laugh of derision. "It is a fair proposal," repeated the relations; "agree, neighbour Niccoli, agree!" "I agree," said Niccoli disdainfully. "It is agreed!" replied Francesco, in a burst of haughty indignation; and with a swelling heart he withdrew.
A very remarkable change appeared to take place from that moment in the character and habits of the mineralo. He not only deserted the company of his riotous associates, but even that of the few respectable persons to whose houses he had obtained admission, either by his talents for singing, or the comparative propriety of his conduct. Day after day he laboured in his precarious avocation. The changes of the seasons were not now admitted as excuses. The storm did not drive him to the wine-shed, and the rain did not confine him to his hut. Day after day, and often night after night he was to be found in the field—on the mountains—by the sides of the rain-courses—on the shores of the torrent.
He rarely indulged himself even in the recreation of meeting his mistress, for whom all this labour was submitted to. Gold, not as a means but as an end, seemed to be his thought by day, and his dream by night, the object and end of his existence. When they did meet in darkness, and loneliness, and mystery, it was but to exchange a few hurried sentences of hope and comfort, and affected reliance upon fortune. On these occasions, tears, and tremblings, and hysterical sobbings, sometimes told, on her part, at once the hollowness of her words, and the weakness of her constitution; but on his, all was, or seemed to be, enthusiasm and steadfast expectation.
Days and weeks, however, passed by—moons rolled away—the year was drawing to its wane, and a great part of the enormous sum was still in the womb of the mountains. Day by day, week by week, and month by month, the hopes of the mineralo became fainter. He could no longer bestow the comfort which did not cheer even his dreams. Gloomy and sad, he could only strain his mistress in his arms, without uttering a word when she ventured an inquiry respecting his progress, and then hurry away to resume, mechanically, his hopeless task.
It is a strange, sometimes an awful thing, to look into the mystery of the female mind. Lelia's health had received a shock from the circumstances we have recorded, which left her cheek pale, and her limbs weak, for many months; and to this physical infirmity was nowadded the effect of those dumb, but too eloquent, interviews with her lover. The lower he sunk in despondency, however, and the more desperate grew their affairs, the higher her spirits rose, as if to quell and control their fortune. Her hopes seemed to grow in pro portion with his fears, and the strength which deserted him went over as an ally and supporter to her weakness. Even her bodily health received its direction from her mind. Her nerves seemed to recover their tone, her cheek its hue, and her eye its brilliancy. The cold and sluggish imagination of a man is unacquainted with half the resources of a woman in such circumstances. Disappointed in her dependence on fortune and casualty, Lelia betook herself to the altars ana gods of her people! Saints and martyrs were by turns invoked; vows were offered up, and pilgrimages and religious watchings performed. Then came dreams and prodigies into play, and omens, and auguries. Sortes were wrested from the pages of Dante, and warnings and commands translated from the mystic writings of the sky—
"The stars which are the poetry of heaven."
The year touched upon its close; and the sum which the goldseeker had amassed, although great almost to a miracle, was still far —very far, from sufficient. The last day of the year arrived, ushered in by storm, and thunderings, and lightnings; and the evening fell cold and dark upon the despairing labours of Francesco. He was on the side of the mountain opposite Niccoli's house; and, as daylight died in the valley, he saw, with inexpressible bitterness of soul, by the number of lights in the windows, that the fete was not forgotten. Some trifling success, however, induced him, like a drowning man grasping at a straw, to continue his search. He was on the spot indicated by a dream of his enthusiastic mistress; and she had conjured him not to abandon the attempt till the bell of the distant church should silence their hopes for ever.
His success continued. He was working with the pickaxe, and had discovered a very small perpendicular vein; and it was just possible that this, although altogether inadequate in itself, might be crossed at a greater depth, by a horizontal one, and thus form one of the gruppi, or nests, in which the ore is plentiful and easily extracted. To work, however, was difficult, and to work long, impossible. His strength was almost exhausted; the storm beat fiercely in his face; and the darkness increased every moment. His heart wholly failed him ; his limbs trembled; a cold perspiration bedewed his brow; and, as the last rays of daylight departed from the mountain-side he fell senseless upon the ground.
How long he remained in this state he did not know; but he was recalled to life by a sound resembling, as he imagined, a human cry. The storm howled more wildly than ever along the side of the mountain, and it was now pitch-dark; but on turning round his head he saw, at a little distance above where he lay, a small, steady light. Francesco's heart began to quake. The light advanced towards him, and he perceived that it was borne by a figure arrayed in white from head to foot "Lelia!" cried he in amazement, mingled with superstitious terror, as he recognized the features of his young fair mistress. " Waste not time in words," said she, " much may yet be done, and I have the most perfect assurance that now at least I am not deceived. Up, and be of good heart? Work, for here is light. I will sit down in the shelter, bleak though it be, of the cliff, and aid you with my prayers, since I cannot with my hands." Francesco seized the axe, and stirred, half with shame, half with admiration, by the courage of the generous girl, resumed his labour with new vigour. "Be of good heart," continued Lelia, "and all.will yet be well. Bravely—bravely done!—be sure the saints have heard us!" Only once she uttered any thing resembling a complaint—" It is so cold!" said she, " make haste, dearest, for I cannot find my way home, if I would, without the light'' By and by she repeated more frequently the injunction to " make haste." Francesco's heart bled while he thought of the sufferings of the sick and delicate girl on such a night, in such a place; and his blows feel desperately on the stubborn rock. He was now at a little distance from the spot where she sat, and was just about to beg her to bring the light nearer, when she spoke again. "Make haste—make haste!" she said, "the time is almost come— I shall be wanted—I am wanted—I can stay no longer—farewell!" Francesco looked up, but the light was already gone.
It was so strange, this sudden desertion! If determined to go, why did she go alone ?—aware, as she must have been, that his remaining in the dark could be of no use. Could it be that her heart had changed, the moment her hopes had vanished? It was a bitter and ungenerous thought; nevertheless, it served to bridle the speed with which Francesco at first sprung forward to overtake his mistress. He had not gone far, however, when a sudden thrill arrested his progress. His heart ceased to beat, he grew faint, and would have fallen to the ground, but for the support of a rock against which he staggered. When he recovered, he retraced his steps as accurately as it was possible to do in utter darkness. He knew not whether he found the exact spot on which Lelia had sat, but he was sure of the surrounding localities; and, if she was still there, her white dress would no doubt gleam even through the thick night which surrounded her.
With a lightened heart—for, compared with the phantom of the mind which had presented itself, all things seemed endurable—he began again to descend the mountain. In a place so singularly wild, where the rocks were piled around in combinations at once fantastic and sublime, it was not wonderful that the light carried by his mistress should be wholly invisible to him, even had it been much nearer than was by this time probable. Far less was it surprising that the