“Oh, then I shall see her!” exclaimed the delighted young maiden. “At length I shall see a poetess! For we shall go to this entertainment, shall we not, Paulo?”
The count thoughtfully cast down his eyes, and his hand involuntarily sought the letter in his pocket. An expression of deep care and anxiety was visible on his features, and Cecil seemed to divine the thoughts of his master, for he also looked anxious, and a deep sigh escaped from his breast.—Natalie perceived nothing of all this! She was wholly occupied by the thought of seeing Corilla, the great improvisatrice, of whom Carlo, Natalie’s music-teacher, had told her so much, and whose fame was sounded by children and adults in all the streets of Rome.
“We go to this festival, do we not, Paulo?” repeated she, as the count still continued silent.
Recovering from his abstraction, he said: “Yes, we will go! It is time that my Natalie was introduced into this circle of influential Romans, that she may gain friends among people of importance, who may watch over and protect her when I no longer can!”
“You will, then, leave me?” cried the young maiden, turning pale and anxiously grasping the count’s arm. “No, Paulo, you cannot do that! Would you leave me because I, a foolish child, desired to go to this festival, and was no longer contented with our dear and beautiful solitude? That was wrong in me, Paulo, as I now plainly see, and I desire it no longer! Oh, we will prepare other pleasures for ourselves here in our delightful paradise. You have often called me a poetess, and I will now believe I am, and no longer wish to see another. I will suffice for myself! Come, I will immediately sing you a song, a festival song, my friend!”
And taking her guitar, Natalie struck some joyous accords; but Count Paulo lightly laid his hands upon the strings so as to silence them, and drawing the tips of her fingers to his lips, with a slight shaking of his head, he said: “Not now, my charming poetess, I am not worthy of hearing you.”
“And it is late,” added Cecil, coming as it were to the aid of his master.
The count rose. “Yes, you are right—it is late,” said he, “and I must not longer keep Natalie from her slumber. Come, my sweet child, you must retire; you must sleep, that your brow may beam with blooming freshness to-morrow!”
Natalie made no answer; with a light sigh she mechanically took the count’s offered arm.
Cecil preceded them with the lantern in his hand. Thus they proceeded up the alley leading to the villa, all three silent and thoughtful. The sky had become obscured, a black cloud intercepted the light of the moon, and Natalie’s charmed garden was suddenly wrapped in gloom.
A cold shudder ran through her delicate frame.
“A feeling of anxiety has come over me!” she whispered, clinging close to the count’s side.
“Poor child!” said the count. “Are you already oppressed with fear?”