“Swear, further,” said Count Paulo, “that whenever a danger may threaten you, you will sooner forget all other things than these papers, that they should be the first which you will endeavor to save. Yes, swear to me that you will ever bear them upon your heart and never permit them to be separated from you!”
“I swear it!” said Natalie. “I will defend the possession of these papers, if necessary, with my life!”
“And thereby will you defend your honor,” said Paulo, “for your honor rests in these papers. Yet ask me not what they contain. You must not yet know; there is danger in knowing their contents! But when a whole year has passed without my return or your hearing from me, and if in this whole year no messenger comes to you from me, then, Natalie, then open these letters; you will then possess my testament, and you will consider it a sacred duty to execute it!”
Natalie, sobbing, said: “Ah, why did not that dagger pierce my heart yesterday? I should then have died while I was yet happy?”
“You will yet do so!” said Count Paulo, with a slight tincture of bitterness; “Carlo and your future yet remain to you!”
She looked at him with a clear, bright glance, but without answering. She had again become an enigma to herself. Now, when her friend, when Paulo, was about to leave her, it seemed to her she had done wrong to love another, even for a moment, better than him, her benefactor and protector; indeed, as if she in fact loved no one so well as him, as if she could resign and leave all others to insure Paulo’s permanent presence!
But she was suddenly startled, and a glowing flush overspread her cheeks. She had, quite accidentally, glanced through the window into the garden, and had there discovered Carlo, as with slow and hesitating steps he descended the alley leading to the villa.
Count Paulo had followed her glance, and, as he now observed the singer, he said: “He shall henceforth be your protector! Promise me to love him as a brother. Will you?”
He looked at her with a fixed and searching gaze, and she cast not down her eyes before that penetrating and interrogating glance, but met it directly with clear and innocent eyes.
“Yes, I will love him as a brother!” she said.
“One more thing, and then let us part!” said Paulo. “Marianne is honest and true—let her never leave you. I have amply provided her with funds for the necessary expenses for the next six months, and I hope long before the expiration of that time to send a further supply. If I do not, then conclude that I am dead, for only with my life can I be robbed of the sweet duty of caring for you! And now let me go to Carlo!”
Slightly nodding to her, he hastily left the room.
At that moment Carlo mounted the steps leading to the door of the villa. Paulo met him with a hearty greeting.
“Let us go down into the garden,” said he, “I have many things to say to you.”