He told her of his battles and his heroic deeds, of his wonderful acts of bravery, and the young maiden tremblingly and shudderingly listened to him. She feared this man, who had shed streams of blood, and whose enemies with their dying lips had lauded as the greatest of heroes! And Joseph Ribas smiled when he saw her turn pale and tremble, and he would speak to her of his generosity and humanity, of his knighthood and virtue; he related to her how, on one occasion, at the risk of his life he had protected and saved a persecuted young maiden; how on another he had taken pity on a helpless old man, and singly had defended him against a host of bloodthirsty enemies. He also spoke to her of the sorrow of his master on account of the ingratitude and deceptions he had experienced, and Natalie’s eyes filled with tears as, with reproachful glances, she asked of Heaven how it could have permitted the virtue of this noble unknown hero to be so severely tried, and the baseness of mankind to trouble him.
“That is it, then,” Ribas would often say; “he diffuses happiness everywhere around him, while he himself has it not! He makes glad and cheerful faces wherever he appears, and his own is the only serious and sad brow. Mankind have made him hopeless, and for himself he no longer believes in happiness!”
Ah, how then did the heart of this innocent child tremble, and how she longed to find some means for restoring his belief in happiness.
“But why does he not come to those who love him?” asked she. “Why does he decline the thanks of those whose hearts are truly devoted to him? Ah, in our humid eyes and joy-beaming faces he would recognize the truthfulness of our feelings! Why, then, comes he not?”
“I will tell you,” said Ribas, with a smile; “he hates women, because the only one he ever loved was false to him, and now his love is changed to ardent hatred of all women!”
“I shall therefore never see him!” sighed the girl, hanging her head with the sadness of disappointment.
This expectation, this constantly increasing impatience, rendered her inaccessible to any other feeling, any other thought. He of whom she did not know even the name, was sent by Paulo, and therefore had she believed and confided in him from the first. Now had she already forgotten that she had confided in him on Paulo’s account; she believed in him on his own account, and Paulo had retreated into the background. Occasionally also the bloody image of poor Carlo presented itself to her mind, and she secretly reproached herself for having mourned him for so short a time, for having so soon forgotten that faithful, self-sacrificing friend.
But even these reproaches were soon silenced when with a throbbing bosom she thought of this new friend, who like a divinity hovered over her at an infinite and unattainable distance, and whose mysteriously active nearness replaced both of those friends she had lost, and for whom she could no longer mourn.