Light as a gazelle, timid and trembling, Natalie had fled the crowd, and now, stepping out into the garden, she breathed easier, it seeming to her that she had escaped a danger.
“This night air will cool and refresh me, and I shall soon succeed in finding Paulo,” thought she, constantly wandering farther and farther into the garden. But the brightness of the illuminated alleys annoyed her. A more obscure and secluded path opening, Natalie entered it. Ah, she needed solitude and stillness, and what knew she, this simple, harmless child of Nature—what knew she whether it was proper and seemly for a young woman thus alone to venture into these dark walks? She knew not that she incurred any risk, or that one needed protection among people!
Even farther resounded the noise of the festival—the clang of the music sounded fainter and fainter. Natalie wandered farther and farther, happy because alone!
Alone? What, then, was it that noiselessly and cautiously haunted her steps, following every movement she made, constantly nearing her the farther she found herself, as she supposed, from all other living beings? What was it inaudibly creeping through the bushes, even its dark shadow imperceptible, that followed her like a ghost?
It became stiller and stiller, and nearer crept the gloomy form that lurked in her steps. Now with a sudden spring he rushes upon the maiden. What gleams in his hand? It is a dagger. He swings it high, that he may sink it deep. Then some one rushes from the bushes, seizes the murderer’s arm, wrests the dagger from his hand, hurls him to the earth, and a dear, well-known voice cries: “Fly, Natalie, fly quickly to Count Paulo! This serpent will no longer follow you! I have him fast, the assassin!”
And Carlo broke out into a happy and triumphant laugh.
Natalie made no answer, she was paralyzed with terror; there was a roaring in her ears, it darkened before her eyes, and she fell senseless to the earth!
But her disarmed murderer sought to free himself from Carlo’s grasp. Struggling with his captor, he finally succeeded in half rising. Carlo thought not of his own danger, but only of Natalie’s, and it was only on her account that he now loudly called for help, at the same time exerting a superhuman strength to hold on upon his prisoner.
Voices were heard, lights approached, and Paulo’s cry of anguish resounded.
“Here, here!” anxiously cried Carlo, his strength already beginning to fail him. And his call being recognized, people soon came with lights. Count Paulo was already distinguishable, already Cardinal Bernis, with a light in his hand, was hastening on in advance of the rest.
With a last powerful effort the prisoner succeeded in freeing himself.
“She is saved for this time, but my dagger will yet make her acquaintance!” said he, with a scornful laugh, and like a serpent he glided away among the bushes.