“Certainly, if you do not shrink from speaking of a noble lady who had no other protector than herself.”
“And you, don’t forget yourself!” cried Henrica, leaving the room.
The musician walked thoughtfully towards home. Was Isabella a relative of this young girl? He had told Henrica almost all he knew of her external circumstances, and this perhaps gave the former the same right to call her an adventuress, that many in Rome had assumed. The word wounded him, and Henrica’s inquiry whether he loved the stranger disturbed him, and appeared intrusive and unseemly. Yes, he had felt an ardent love for her; ay, he had suffered deeply because he was no more to her than a pleasant companion and reliable friend. It had cost him struggles enough to conceal his feelings, and he knew, that but for the dread of repulse and scorn, he would have yielded and revealed them to her. Old wounds in his heart opened afresh, as he recalled the time she suddenly left Rome without a word of farewell. After barely recovering from a severe illness, he had returned home pale and dispirited, and months elapsed ere he could again find genuine pleasure in his art. At first, the remembrance of her contained nothing save bitterness, but now, by quiet, persistent effort, he had succeeded, not in attaining forgetfulness, but in being able to separate painful emotions from the pure and exquisite joy of remembering her. To-day the old struggle sought to begin afresh, but he was not disposed to yield, and did not cease to summon Isabella’s image, in all its beauty, before his soul.
Henrica returned to her aunt in a deeply-agitated mood. Was the adventuress of whom Wilhelm had spoken, the only creature whom she loved with all the ardor of her passionate soul? Was Isabella her lost sister? Many incidents were opposed to it, yet it was possible. She tortured herself with questions, and the less peace her aunt gave her, the more unendurable her headache became, the more plainly she felt that the fever, against whose relaxing power she had struggled for days, would conquer her.
On the evening of the third day after Wilhelm’s interview with Henrica, his way led him through Nobelstrasse past the Hoogstraten mansion.
Ere reaching it, he saw two gentlemen, preceded by a servant carrying a lantern, cross the causeway towards it.
Wilhelm’s attention was attracted. The servant now seized the knocker, and the light of his lantern fell on the men’s faces. Neither was unfamiliar to him.