She listened—she advanced a little toward me—a faint smile dawned on her pallid lips—she whispered:
I looked at her—unconsciously my voice dropped into a cadence of intense melancholy softened by tenderness.
“Ay—Fabio! What wouldst thou with a ghost of him? Does it not seem strange to thee—that hated name?—thou, Nina, whom I loved as few men love women—thou who gavest me no love at all—thou, who hast broken my heart and made me what I am!”
A hard, heavy sob rose in my throat and choked my utterance. I was young; and the cruel waste and destruction of my life seemed at that moment more than I could bear. She heard me, and the smile brightened more warmly on her countenance. She came close to me— half timidly yet coaxingly she threw one arm about my neck—her bosom heaved quickly.
“Fabio,” she murmured—“Fabio, forgive me! I spoke in haste—I do not hate thee! Come! I will make amends for all thy suffering—I will love thee—I will be true to thee, I will be all thine! See! thou knowest I have not lost my beauty!”
And she clung to me with passion, raising her lips to mine, while with her large inquiring eyes she searched my face for the reply to her words. I gazed down upon her with sorrowful sternness.
“Beauty? Mere food for worms—I care not for it! Of what avail is a fair body tenanted by a fiendish soul? Forgiveness?—you ask too late! A wrong like mine can never be forgiven.”
There ensued a silence. She still embraced me, but her eyes roved over me as though she searched for some lost thing. The wind tore furiously among the branches of the cypresses outside, and screamed through the small holes and crannies of the stone-work, rattling the iron gate at the summit of the stairway with a clanking sound, as though the famous brigand chief had escaped with all his chains upon him, and were clamoring for admittance to recover his buried property. Suddenly her face lightened with an expression of cunning intensity—and before I could preceive her intent—with swift agility she snatched from my vest the dagger I carried!
“Too late!” she cried, with a wild laugh. “No; not too late! Die— wretch!”
For one second the bright steel flashed in the wavering light as she poised it in act to strike—the next, I had caught her murderous hand and forced it down, and was struggling with her for the mastery of the weapon. She held it with a desperate grip—she fought with me breathlessly, clinging to me with all her force—she reminded me of that ravenous unclean bird with which I had had so fierce a combat on the night of my living burial. For some brief moments she was possessed of supernatural strength—she sprung and tore at my clothes, keeping the poniard fast in her clutch. At last I thrust her down, panting and exhausted, with fury flashing in her eyes—I wrenched the steel from her hand and brandished it above her.