And this day of the festival had finally come. With what joyful impatience, with what anxious desire, had Natalie looked forward to it—how had she importuned her friend, Count Paulo, with questions about Cardinal Bernis, about the people she would meet there, about the manners and usages with which she would have to conform!
“I am anxious and fearful,” said she, with amiable modesty; “they will find occasion to laugh at me, and you will be compelled to blush for me, Paulo. But you must tell these wise men and great ladies that it is my very first appearance in society, and that they must have consideration for the awkwardness and ineptitude of a poor child who knows nothing of the world, its forms, or its laws.”
“For you no excuse will be necessary,” responded Paulo, pressing the delicate tips of her fingers to his lips. “Only be quite yourself, perfectly true and open, inoffensive and cheerful! Forget that you are in an assemblage; imagine yourself to be in our garden, under the trees and among the flowers, and speak to people as you speak to your trees and flowers.”
“But will the people give me as true and cordial answers as my trees and flowers?” asked Natalie, thoughtfully.
“They will say to you more beautiful and more flattering things,” said Paulo, smiling. “But now, Natalie, it is time to be thinking of your toilet. See, the sun is already sinking behind the pines, and the sky begins to redden! The time to go will soon arrive, and your first triumph awaits you!”
“Oh, it will not have long to wait,” said Natalie, laughing, and, light and graceful as a gazelle, she tripped to the house.
Count Paulo gazed after her with a melancholy rapture. “And I am to leave this angel,” thought he, “to lose the brightest and noblest jewel of my life, and drive myself out of paradise. And wherefore all this? Perhaps to chase a phantom that will never become a reality, to follow a chimera which may be only a meteor that dances before me and dissolves into mist when I think to reach it? No, no, the world is not worth so much that one should sell himself and his soul’s happiness for its splendor and its greatness. Natalie herself shall decide. Loves she me, and is she satisfied with the quiet circumscribed existence that I can henceforth only offer her, then away, ye vain dreams and ye proud desires for greatness; then shall I be, if not the greatest, certainly the happiest of human beings!”
It was a wonderfully brilliant festival that Cardinal Bernis had to-day prepared for his guests—a festival hitherto unequalled in Rome. The walls were decorated with garlands and festoons of flowers, the flaming candelabras among which found their reflection in the tall Venetian mirrors that rose in their golden frames from the floor to the ceilings; and in the corners of the rooms were niches, here furnished with