“Why dost thou care for me?” said the girl, bitterly. “Thou hast read my heart; thou knowest that thou art become the lord of my destiny. But to be bound beneath the weight of a cold obligation; to be the beggar on the eyes of indifference; to cast myself on one who loves me not,—that were indeed the vilest sin of my sex. Ah, Zanoni, rather let me die!”
She had thrown back her clustering hair from her face while she spoke; and as she now stood, with her arms drooping mournfully, and her hands clasped together with the proud bitterness of her wayward spirit, giving new zest and charm to her singular beauty, it was impossible to conceive a sight more irresistible to the eye and the heart.
“Tempt me not to thine own danger,—perhaps destruction!” exclaimed Zanoni, in faltering accents. “Thou canst not dream of what thou wouldst demand,—come!” and, advancing, he wound his arm round her waist. “Come, Viola; believe at least in my friendship, my honour, my protection—”
“And not thy love,” said the Italian, turning on him her reproachful eyes. Those eyes met his, and he could not withdraw from the charm of their gaze. He felt her heart throbbing beneath his own; her breath came warm upon his cheek. He trembled,—he! the lofty, the mysterious Zanoni, who seemed to stand aloof from his race. With a deep and burning sigh, he murmured, “Viola, I love thee! Oh!” he continued passionately, and, releasing his hold, he threw himself abruptly at her feet, “I no more command,—as woman should be wooed, I woo thee. From the first glance of those eyes, from the first sound of thy voice, thou becamest too fatally dear to me. Thou speakest of fascination,—it lives and it breathes in thee! I fled from Naples to fly from thy presence,—it pursued me. Months, years passed, and thy sweet face still shone upon my heart. I returned, because I pictured thee alone and sorrowful in the world, and knew that dangers, from which I might save thee, were gathering near thee and around. Beautiful Soul! whose leaves I have read with reverence, it was for thy sake, thine alone, that I would have given thee to one who might make thee happier on earth than I can. Viola! Viola! thou knowest not—never canst thou know—how dear thou art to me!”
It is in vain to seek for words to describe the delight—the proud, the full, the complete, and the entire delight—that filled the heart of the Neapolitan. He whom she had considered too lofty even for love,—more humble to her than those she had half-despised! She was silent, but her eyes spoke to him; and then slowly, as aware, at last, that the human love had advanced on the ideal, she shrank into the terrors of a modest and virtuous nature. She did not dare,—she did not dream to ask him the question she had so fearlessly made to Glyndon; but she felt a sudden coldness,—a sense that a barrier was yet between love and love. “Oh, Zanoni!” she murmured, with downcast eyes, “ask me not to fly with thee; tempt me not to my shame. Thou wouldst protect me from others. Oh, protect me from thyself!”