The two men remained a long time in the garden. Natalie, standing at the window, occasionally saw them, arm in arm, at some turning of the walks, and then they would again disappear as they pursued their way in earnest conversation. Strange thoughts flitted through the soul of the young maiden, and when she saw the two thus wandering, arm in arm, she thoughtfully asked herself: “Which is it, then, that I most love? Is it Carlo, is it Paulo?”
“I now understand you perfectly,” said Count Paulo, as they again approached the house after a long and earnest conversation. “Yes, it seems to me I know you as myself, and know I can confide in you. You have perfectly tranquillized me, and I thank you for your confidence. It was then Corilla, that vain improvisatrice, who would have destroyed her? That is consoling, and I can now depart with a lighter heart. Against such attacks you will be able to protect her.”
“I will protect her against every attack,” responded Carlo. “You have my oath that the secret you have confided to me shall be held sacred, and you have thereby secured her from every outbreak of my passion. She stands so high above me that I can only adore her as my saint, can love her only as one loves the unattainable stars!”
AN HONEST BETRAYER
At about the same time Cecil was hastening through the streets of Rome, often looking back to see if any one was following him, and viewing with suspicious eyes every one he met. He finally stopped before the backdoor of a palace, and, after having satisfied himself that he had not been followed, he lightly knocked three times at the door. Upon its being opened, a grim, bearded Russian face presented itself.
Cecil drew a ring from his bosom and showed it to the porter.
“Quick! conduct me to his excellency,” said he.
The Russian nodded his recognition of the token, and beckoned Cecil to follow him. After a short reflection, Cecil entered and the door was closed.
Guided by his conductor through a labyrinth of rooms and corridors, Cecil finally succeeded in reaching a little boudoir, whose heavily-curtained windows hardly admitted a ray of dim twilight.
The conductor, bidding Cecil to wait here, left him alone.
In a few moments a concealed door was opened, and a man of a tall, proud form entered.
“At length!” he said, on perceiving Cecil. “I had begun to doubt your coming.”
“I waited until I could bring you decisive intelligence, your excellency,” said Cecil.
“And you bring it today?” quickly asked the unknown.
“In an hour we leave Rome for St. Petersburg!”
Uttering a loud cry of joy, the stranger walked the room in visible commotion. Cecil followed him with timid, anxious glances, and, as he still kept silence, Cecil said:
“Your excellency, I have truly performed what you required of me. I have persuaded the count to make the journey, notwithstanding his opposition to it, and, as you commanded, his ward remains behind in Rome, alone and unprotected.”