“And when all this is done,” exclaimed Count Paulo, glowing, “it shall be our task to conduct Natalie back in triumph to the country to which she belongs, there to place the diadem upon her fair brows, and to raise her above all other mortal beings!”
“God grant us the attainment of our ends!” sighed Cecil.
“We must and shall attain them!” responded Paulo, with enthusiasm. “I must fulfil this great task of my life, or die! Away, now, with all wavering or hesitation! What must be, shall be! They shall not say of the man who took compassion upon the deserted and threatened orphan and raised her for his own egotistical wishes, and pusillanimously failed to finish the work he began! No, no, history shall not so speak of me. It shall at least represent me as a brave man capable of sacrificing his heart and his life for the attainment of his higher ends! Seal these letters, Cecil. They contain my last will, and my bequest to Natalie, which I wish to place in her own hands. Ah, Cecil, I have been an enthusiastic fool until this hour! I thought—alas, what did I not think and dream!—I thought that all these plans and objects were not worth so much as one sole smile of her lips and that if she would say to me ‘I love thee,’ this sweet word would not be too dearly purchased with an imperial crown. Perhaps, ah, perhaps, I think so yet, but I will never more suffer myself to be swayed by such thoughts. We must go—Natalie’s happiness demands it. And besides, she will not lack friends and protectors. It was not without an object that I last evening presented her to the most notable people of Rome; not without an object that I consented to her allowing herself as a poetess. They now know her name, which is repeated with highest praise in every quarter of the city; all Rome is to-day enthusiastic in her praise, and all Rome will protect and defend her. Add to which, I shall yet recommend her to the special protection of Cardinal Bernis!”
“And it was exactly in his house where she was almost murdered!” said Cecil. “Without that singer, Carlo, she would have been forever lost! If, then, you would choose a protector for her, let it be Carlo.”
Count Paulo’s brow darkened. “This singer loves her!” said he.
“Precisely for that reason,” smilingly responded Cecil. “One who loves will best know how to protect her.”
Count Paulo made no answer; he continued thoughtfully walking back and forth. Then he said with decision: “Seal these letters, Cecil. I will take them to Natalie myself.”