“Poor Carlo!” murmured Natalie. “You love me, but I do not love you! This has even now become clear to me; and while you have so glowingly described the passion, I have for the first time comprehended that I yet know nothing of that love, and that I can never learn it of you! This is a misfortune, Carlo, but as we cannot change, we must submit to it.”
Carlo drooped his head and sighed. He had no answer to make, and only murmuringly repeated her words: “Yes, we must submit to it!”
“And why can we not?” she almost cheerfully asked, with that childlike innocence which never once comprehended the sorrow she was preparing for Carlo—“why can we not joyfully submit? We both love, only in a different manner. Let each preserve and persevere in his own manner, and then all may yet be well!”
“And it shall be well!” exclaimed Carlo, with animation. “You cannot love me as I love you, but I can devote my whole life to you, and that will I do! At home, in my charming Naples, a beautiful custom is prevalent. When one loves, he is adopted as a vapo, a protector, who follows the steps of the one he loves, who watches before her door when she sleeps, who secretly lurks at a distance behind her when she leaves her house, who observes every passer-by in order to preserve her from every murderous or other inimical attack, or in case of need to hasten to her assistance. Such a vapo protects her against the jealousy of her husband or the vengeance of a dismissed lover. Natalie, as I cannot be your lover, I will be your vapo. Will you accept my services?”
Giving him her hand, she smilingly said, “I will.”
Carlo pressed that hand to his lips, and bedewed it with a warm tear.
“Well, then, I swear myself your vapo,” said he, with deep emotion. “Wherever you may be, I shall be near you, I shall always follow to warn and to protect you; should you be in danger, call me and you will find me at your side, whether by night or by day; I shall always watch over you and sleep at the threshold of your door, and should a dream alarm you, I shall be there to tranquillize you. So long as I live, Natalie, so long as your vapo has a dagger and a sure hand, so long shall misfortune fail to penetrate into your dwelling. You cannot be mine, or return my love, but I can care for you and watch over you. In accepting me for your vapo, you have given me the right to die for you if necessary, and that of itself is a happiness!”
Thus speaking Carlo rose, and, no longer able to conceal his deep emotion and suppress his tears, he left Natalie, and hastened into the obscurest alleys of the garden.
The young maiden watched his retreat with a sad smile.
“Poor Carlo!” murmured she, “and ah! yet much poorer Natalie! He loves at least. But I, am I not much more to be pitied? I have no one whom I love. I am entirely isolated, and of what use is a solitary paradise?”