“And you will also not forget my request, that you will in all societies speak of the great love which the Empress Catharine cherishes for her near relation, the Princess Tartaroff?”
“I will not forget it. In your hands, count, I lay my revenge—you will free me from this rival?”
“That will I,” said he, with an inhuman laugh. “And when the work is completed, and you have faithfully stood by me, then, signora, you may be sure of the gratitude of the empress. Catharine is the exalted protectress of the muses, and in the fulness of her grace she will not forget the poetess Corilla. You may expect an imperial reward.”
“And I shall gratefully receive it,” said Corilla, with a smile. “A poetess is always poor and in want of assistance. The muses lavish upon their votaries all joys but those of wealth.”
“Ah!” exclaimed Corilla, when the count had left her, “I shall in the end obtain all I desire. I shall not only be crowned with fame, but blessed with wealth, which is a blessing almost equal to that of fame! Money has already founded many a reputation, but not always has fame attracted money to itself! I shall be rich as well as famous!”
“That you already are!” exclaimed the Cardinal Francesco Albani, who unremarked had just entered the room.
“I am not,” said she, with vehemence, “for they refuse me the prize of fame! Have you been with the pope, your eminence, and what did he say?”
“I come directly from him.”
“Well, and what says he?”
“What he always says to me—no!”
Corilla stamped her feet violently, and her eyes flashed lightnings.
“How beautiful you are now!” tenderly remarked the cardinal, throwing an arm around her.
She rudely thrust him back. “Touch me not,” said she, “you do not deserve my love. You are a weakling, as all men are. You can only coo like a pigeon, but when it comes to action, then sinks your arm, and you are powerless. Ah, the woman whom you profess to love begs of you a trifling service, the performance of which is of the highest importance to her, the greatest favor, and you will not fulfil her request while yet swearing you love her! Go! you are a cold-hearted man, and wholly undeserving of Corilla’s love!”
“But,” despairingly exclaimed the cardinal, “you require of me a service that it is not in my power to perform. Ask something else, Corilla—ask a human life, and you shall have it! But I cannot give what is not mine. You demand a laurel-crown, which only the pope has the power to bestow, and he has sworn that you shall not have it so long as he lives!”
“Will he, then, live eternally?” cried Corilla, beside herself with rage.
The cardinal gave her an astonished and interrogating glance. But his features suddenly assumed a wild and malicious expression, and violently grasping Corilla’s hand, he murmured:
“You are right! ‘Will he, then, live forever?’ Bah! even popes are mortal men. And if we should choose for his successor a man better disposed toward you then—Corilla,” said the cardinal, interrupting himself, and in spite of her resistance pressing her to his bosom—“Corilla, swear once more to me that you will be mine, and only mine, as soon as I procure your coronation in the capitol! Swear it once more!”