All the guests of the cardinal were assembled in the gigantic hall, and all eyes were anxiously bent upon the mysterious curtain, which still remained closed.
Now resounded a little bell, and Cardinal Bernis smilingly turned to Natalie, who sat by his side.
“I think this mystery is about to be unveiled,” said he.
“And I am quite anxious about it,” said the young maiden, gracefully laying her hand upon her heart. “My heart beats as violently as if a mystery were about to be unveiled in my own breast. Do you believe in presentiments, Sir Cardinal?”
Bernis had not time to answer her. Just at that moment the curtain drew up, a general “Ah!” of admiration was heard, and, suddenly carried away by their feelings, the whole audience broke into extravagant and long-enduring applause, crying and shouting, “Evviva Corilla! l’improvisatrice Corilla!”
And in fact it was an admirable picture which was there presented to the audience. Those flower-strewed steps led up to an altar, upon the centre of which, between wreaths of flowers, shot up two dark-red flames. Against that altar leaned, exalted and august as a Grecian priestess, the improvisatrice Corilla. Her eyes raised to the heavens, her features lighted up with a rosy glow by the red flames, her half-raised right arm resting upon an urn, while her left arm was stretched upward toward heaven, she thus resembled an inspired priestess, just receiving a message from on high, listening with ecstasy, with suppressed breath and parted lips, to the voice of the Deity, and forgetting the world in a blissful intoxication, she seemed about to take her flight to the empyrean!
And while Corilla, as if absorbed in spiritual contemplation, continued to stand immovable there, began the low notes of a harp, which, gradually becoming fuller and stronger, at length resounded in powerfully rushing and exultant tones. From Corilla all eyes were now turned upon Carlo, who, in the light dress of a Greek youth, his harp upon his arm, was leaning against a pomegranate tree placed in the background of the stage, and with his pale, serious face, with his noble, manly features, formed a beautiful contrast to the inspired and love-beaming priestess Corilla.
Natalie, feeling something like a slight puncture in her heart, involuntarily carried her hand to her bosom. It was a strange, a wonderful feeling, which stirred within her, partly partaking of joy at seeing and hearing her friend Carlo, as people were murmuring praises of his beauty, and of his great skill upon the harp, and partly a feeling of painful emotion. She knew not why, but as her glance met his, it quickly turned toward Corilla, and quite sadly she said to herself: “She is much handsomer than I!”
Carlo now opened his lips, and to a beautifully simple melody he sweetly sang an introductory song, as it were to prepare the audience for the coming solemnity. Having finished this, two lovely amourettes came forward, with silver vases in their hands, and hastened down the steps to the audience, politely requesting them to furnish themes for the great improvisatrice Corilla.