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Every one, they say, has a genius for something—that of Count Arezzi was for festivals. A king, or more, the Athenian Pericles, might have welcomed his most favoured guests in such a chamber. The walls were painted in fresco, as artists paint, whose present is a dream of beauty and whose future is an immortality. Each' fresco was a scene in Arcadia; and the nymphs, who were there gathering their harvest of roses, were only less lovely than the Sicilian maidens that flitted past. Among these was one much darker than her companions; her Eastero mother had bequeathed to her her black hair and her olive skin; in her eye was that brightness, and on her cheek was that freshness, which belong only to the earliest hour of youth--the blush had been too fleeting to burn, the smile too clear to cast that shadow which even light flings as it lengthens. But to-night the colour was heightened, the eyes wore a deeper shade, for the hue of the downcast lash was upon them, and the sweet half-opened mouth was too earnest for a smile.
Lolah was listening to those charmed words which change the girl at once into the woman--we step not over the threshold of childhood till led by Love. Alas, this knowledge is almost always heralded by a sorrow! That morning had Lolah heard from her stern uncle, that the love she bore to her cousin Leoni di Montefiore was a childish toy, and as such was to be put away; and all her happiness had been destroyed by having to reflect upon it. Poor Lolah ! how hard it is to teach the young that life is made up of many parts; and that wealth, rank, power, are more to be desired than affection! To-night she was listening to Leoni-- and who ever thought of the future when the present has first taught us we love and are beloved ?--still, her eyes were filled with tears, and her heart beat heavier than usual. Leoni spoke of hope; but is not hope only a more gentle word for fear? And yet, with that mysterious contradiction which makes the fever of human existence, neither would have re
nounced the certainty of the other's affection for the careless content of yesterday. Strange, that ignorance should be our best happiness in this life, and yet be the one we are ever striving to destroy!
Leoni and his cousin stood in one of the deep windows; she leaning as if to inhale the fragrance of an Indian rose, and mark a flower which, brought from a far land, seemed more delicate than its bright companion. A pedestal of the green malachite stood beside, and on it a vase carved with the sacrifice of Iphigenia; these shut them out from the rest of the dancers.
“My father," exclaimed Leoni, “ gave his daughter to her father;"—then a bitter thought of the wasted heritage, which had made his noble name a fetter rather than an aid, for a moment caused the lover to pause.
“Holy Mother!—but my uncle has just entered the room; let me go, ere he finds me talking to you."
Lolah waited not for an answer; another moment, and she had passed her slender arm through that of one of her companions, and was lost in the crowd. It was so sudden, Leoni scarcely believed she was gone; surely her sweet low sigh was on the air-no! it was but the breath of the Bengal rose. His eye wandered round; it fell on the sculptured vase, and there stood the Grecian father, a witness to the sacrifice of his youngest and loveliest child.
“Even so, my gentle Lolah, will the altar be thy tomb."
Leoni started, for a figure now stepped from the shade of the column : not only bis last words, but their whole conversation must have been heard.
“Yes, Don Leoni,” said the intruder, replying rather to kis thoughts and look, “I have heard your discourse; pardon me when I say it was wilfully overheard. It is long since I have hearkened to the eager and happy words of young affection, and I listened as if to music; and, like music, they have died in bearing."
Leoni thought he would as soon that the dialogue had not been quite so attractive-strange, that it should be so to the cold and proud Donna Medora!
Again his companion answered to his thoughts—“You marvel at my speech; I could wonder myself at this still lingering sympathy with the base lot of humanity: but mortal breath and mortal frame cannot quite break away from mortal ties. Don Leoni, I pity you— I wish to serve you : I know not, if in giving you wealth I give you happiness; but wealth I can give. This is not the place for such words as mine must be. Breathe. not in living ear what I have said: my power to serve you depends on your silence. Come tomorrow to our palazzo.”
Medora turned from him and descended the terrace. The weakness of our nature—how soon any strong emotion masters it! Leoni stood breathless with surprise and hope ; be had once or twice before seen Donna Medora, and he had heard much of her. Young—she had seen but three-andtwenty summers deepen into autumn; beautiful —for it was as if Heaven had set its seal on her perfect face,-her life was one of sadness and solitude. The cathedral where she knelt, the
poor whom she aided, the sick-room of her aged father, and her own lonely chamber—these were the haunts of Medora. When about seventeen, a severe illness had stricken her even unto death ; almost by a miracle she was restored to life, but never to youth-the shadow of the grave, to which she had so nearly approached, seemed to rest upon her. Her glad laugh never again made the air musical as with the singing of a bird in spring; her light step forgot the dance; and her lute was given to another. The sympathy she once had for joy was now kept entire for sorrow; but the mother who died in her arms, the father whose long and sickly age she soothed and supported, thought her nature had, in so nearly approaching heaven, caught something of its elements. And Lolah, who, as a distant relative, sometimes visited Don Manfredi's chamber, said that Medora was almost
an angel; and added—“I should think her quite one, but that I do not fear her, and that she seems unhappy."
It was reported that love and religion had held a bitter conflict in her heart. Before her illness she had been betrothed to a young cavalier; on her recovery she refused to fulfil her engagement, alleging that the instability of life had taught her the vanity of human ties : all she now asked, was to devote what remained of existence to her aged parents. Remonstrances, prayers, were alike unavailing; and the young Count Rivoli became one of the Knights of Malta. Some years had since passed; and in the gay and hurrying circle of Palermo, Medora's name was rarely mentioned.
Leoni dwelt upon her promise of assistance; but the more he reflected, the more hopeless it seemed. How could she give wealth, the daughter of one of Sicily's poorest nobles?
Our young Sicilian was naturally of a daring and reckless temper'; and resolving to hope, without analysing why or wherefore, he re-entered the saloon. He danced no more with Lolah; yet he had the satisfaction of seeing her look sad and languid while dancing with another. But how restless was the night that followed! Hope is feverish enough at all times; what must it be when stimulated by curiosity!
The first blush of morning awakened Leoni from his light slumbers : he looked out; the hue of the sky was that too of the the waves of the Mediterranean floated on as if freighted with roses; yet how Leoni wished they were glittering with the clear colourless light of moon! Never say that time is of equal length : the movement of the hours is as irregular as the beating of the heart which measures them. A year of ordinary life, if counted by hopes, fears, and fancies, was in that lingering morning. At length, noon sounded from many a turret; and, regardless of the heat, the young Count hurried to the palazzo.
When he reached the pier, a crowd of boatmen offered their services.
“What, ho! Michele and Stefano! I have tried the swift
ness of the Santa Catharina before now. Remember, I am as impatient as....
“Your lordship always is,” replied Stephano, who, having an answer always ready, always answered.
Leoni jumped into the boat, whose celerity showed that the wax taper her pious rowers offered to Santa Catharina yearly on the day of her fète, was not thrown away; though, perhaps, the activity of the brothers who rowed did as much as their piety towards sending the little vessel swiftly through the waters.
" You want to land,” said Michele, “at San Marco's steps ?” turning the head of the boat to the accustomed landing-place.
The steps to which San Marco lent his name had been worth many a sequin to them; for the winding path to the left led to Lolah's villa,
No, no,” replied Leoni ; “Lo the Nymph's Cove.”
Signor,” returned Michele, “those steps lead only to Count Manfredi's garden.”
" And it is thither I am going."
The boatmen exchanged looks of astonishment bordering on dismay, which was not diminished by the silence of the usually gay cavalier. Montefiore leant back in the boat: as the interview drew nigh, a feeling of fear--not fear, that was what none of his house had ever yet known-but of awe, stole over him. Many a mood had that morning passed through bis mind; disbelief-but surely the sad seriousness of such a one as Donna Medora could never stoop to mockery!-then hope, like a sweet summer-shower, when dark clouds break away into sudden light-till all his thoughts fixed on one mysterious circumstance-that he was the only person who had seen her the preceding evening. The Count d'Arezzi himself was not aware that she had been among his guests.
While musing on the singularity of this, they arrived at the landing-place, and found the Senora's page in waiting. Dumb from his birth, the boy Julio had been brought up in