“No; oh, no!”
“Well, I believe you. And now, since we have thus met, I will pause to counsel you. When next you go to the theatre, you will have at your feet all the young gallants of Naples. Poor infant! the flame that dazzles the eye can scorch the wing. Remember that the only homage that does not sully must be that which these gallants will not give thee. And whatever thy dreams of the future,—and I see, while I speak to thee, how wandering they are, and wild,—may only those be fulfilled which centre round the hearth of home.”
He paused, as Viola’s breast heaved beneath its robe. And with a burst of natural and innocent emotions, scarcely comprehending, though an Italian, the grave nature of his advice, she exclaimed,—
“Ah, Excellency, you cannot know how dear to me that home is already. And my father,—there would be no home, signor, without him!”
A deep and melancholy shade settled over the face of the cavalier. He looked up at the quiet house buried amidst the vine-leaves, and turned again to the vivid, animated face of the young actress.
“It is well,” said he. “A simple heart may be its own best guide, and so, go on, and prosper. Adieu, fair singer.”
“Adieu, Excellency; but,” and something she could not resist—an anxious, sickening feeling of fear and hope,—impelled her to the question, “I shall see you again, shall I not, at San Carlo?”
“Not, at least, for some time. I leave Naples to-day.”
“Indeed!” and Viola’s heart sank within her; the poetry of the stage was gone.
“And,” said the cavalier, turning back, and gently laying his hand on hers,—“and, perhaps, before we meet, you may have suffered: known the first sharp griefs of human life,—known how little what fame can gain, repays what the heart can lose; but be brave and yield not,—not even to what may seem the piety of sorrow. Observe yon tree in your neighbour’s garden. Look how it grows up, crooked and distorted. Some wind scattered the germ from which it sprang, in the clefts of the rock; choked up and walled round by crags and buildings, by Nature and man, its life has been one struggle for the light,—light which makes to that life the necessity and the principle: you see how it has writhed and twisted; how, meeting the barrier in one spot, it has laboured and worked, stem and branches, towards the clear skies at last. What has preserved it through each disfavour of birth and circumstances,—why are its leaves as green and fair as those of the vine behind you, which, with all its arms, can embrace the open sunshine? My child, because of the very instinct that impelled the struggle,—because the labour for the light won to the light at length. So with a gallant heart, through every adverse accident of sorrow and of fate to turn to the sun, to strive for the heaven; this it is that gives knowledge to the strong and happiness to the weak. Ere we meet again, you will turn sad and heavy eyes to those quiet boughs, and when you hear the birds sing from them, and see the sunshine come aslant from crag and housetop to be the playfellow of their leaves, learn the lesson that Nature teaches you, and strive through darkness to the light!”