“Nothing softens these women,” said Laura, putting Georgiana in a class.
“I wish you could try the effect of your winning Merthyr,” Vittoria suggested.
“I remember that when I went to my husband, I likewise wanted every woman of my acquaintance to be married.” Laura sighed deeply. “What is this poor withered body of mine now? It feels like an old volcano, cindery, with fire somewhere:—a charming bride! My dear, if I live till my children make me a grandmother, I shall look on the love of men and women as a toy that I have played with. A new husband? I must be dragged through the Circles of Dante before I can conceive it, and then I should loathe the stranger.”
News came that the volunteers were crushed. It was time for Vittoria to start for Pallanza, and she thought of her leave-taking; a final leave-taking, in one sense, to the friends who had cared too much for her. Laura delicately drew Georgiana aside in the sick-room, which she would not quit, and alluded to the necessity for Vittoria’s departure without stating exactly wherefore: but Georgiana was a Welshwoman. Partly to show her accurate power of guessing, and chiefly that she might reprove Laura’s insulting whisper, which outraged and irritated her as much as if “Oh! your poor brother!” had been exclaimed, she made display of Merthyr’s manly coldness by saying aloud, “You mean, that she is going to her marriage.” Laura turned her face to Merthyr. He had striven to rise on his elbow, and had dropped flat in his helplessness. Big tears were rolling down his cheeks. His articulation failed him, beyond a reiterated “No, no,” pitiful to hear, and he broke into childish sobs. Georgiana hurried Laura from the room. By-and-by the doctor was promptly summoned, and it was Georgiana herself, miserably humbled, who obtained Vittoria’s sworn consent to keep the life in Merthyr by lingering yet awhile.
Meantime Luigi brought a letter from Pallanza in Carlo’s handwriting. This was the burden of it:
“I am here, and you are absent. Hasten!”
A FRESH ENTANGLEMENT
The Lenkenstein ladies returned to Milan proudly in the path of the army which they had followed along the city walls on the black March midnight. The ladies of the Austrian aristocracy generally had to be exiles from Vienna, and were glad to flock together even in an alien city. Anna and Lena were aware of Vittoria’s residence in Milan, through the interchange of visits between the Countess of Lenkenstein and her sister Signora Piaveni. They heard also of Vittoria’s prospective and approaching marriage to Count Ammiani. The Duchess of Graatli, who had forborne a visit to her unhappy friends, lest her Austrian face should wound their sensitiveness, was in company with the Lenkensteins one day, when Irma di Karski called on them. Irma had come from Lago Maggiore, where she had left her patron,