Staring and immovably their eyes were now fixed upon the silent pair sitting in the bright moonlight which surrounded them as with a glory. One of the men still holds the dagger in his hand, and with a powerful arm the other holds him in check. Then they whisper low together—they seem to be consulting as to what is to be done. The man with the dagger seems to yield to the arguments or persuasions of the other. He nods his consent. The first disappears behind the wall, and the armed one slowly follows him. Yet once again, he glances over the wall, raising his arm and shaking his dagger toward Natalie and her friend. Then he disappeared, and all was again peaceful and still in this smiling paradise!
Was it, perhaps, only an illusive dream that bantered us, only a fata morgana formed by the moonbeams? Or does the serpent of evil really lurk about this paradise? Will destruction find its way into this charmed garden? Ah, no solitude and no wall can afford protection against misfortune! It creeps through the strongest lock, and over the highest wall; and while we think ourselves safe, it is already there, close to us, and nearly ready to swallow us up.
It was suddenly lively in the garden. Cecil, Paulo’s old servant, approached from the house, with a lantern in his hand.
He comes down the alley with hasty steps, and with an anxious countenance approaches his master.
“What is it, Cecil?”
“Two letters, sir, that have just arrived. One comes from the hotel of the Russian legation, and the other from that of the Lord-Cardinal Bernis.”
Paulo shuddered slightly, and his hand involuntarily grasped after the first letter, but he suddenly constrained himself, and his glance fell upon Natalie, whose eyes were fixed with curiosity upon the two letters.
“We will first see what the good Cardinal Bernis writes us!” said Count Paulo, placing the Russian letter in his pocket with apparent indifference.
“Bernis?” asked Natalie. “Is not that the French Cardinal, who is at the same time a poet, and whom the pope, the great Ganganelli, so dearly loves?”
“The same,” said Paulo, “and besides, the same Cardinal Bernis whom I had months ago promised to allow the pleasure of making your acquaintance! He already knows you, Natalie, although he has never yet seen your fair face; he knows you from what I have told him.”
“Oh, let us quickly see what the good cardinal writes!” exclaimed Natalie, clapping her hands with the impatience of a child.
Count Paulo smilingly broke the seal and read the letter.
“You are in truth a witch,” said he; “you must have some genius in your service, who listens to every wish you express, in order to fulfil it without delay! This letter contains an invitation from the cardinal. He gives a great entertainment to-morrow, and begs of me that I will bring you to it. The improvisatrice Corilla will also be there!”