THE DUKE'S PRIZE.
A STORY OF ART AND HEART IN FLORENCE.
BY LIEUTENANT MURRAY.
THE scenes of the following story are laid in Italy, that land of the sun. They are designed to impress a goodly moral, as well as to amuse the reader—to show that patience and perseverance will conquer all things—and that a poor coat may cover a rich heart. The reader will find also herein, that love raises the humblest; and that true merit, like true genius, tramples upon misfortunes; and that "some falls are means the happier to rise."
THE DUKE'S PRIZE.
Lend thy serious hearing to what I shall unfold.
COME with me, gentle reader, on the wings of fancy into the mild and genial latitude of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The delightful region of the Mediterranean has been the poet's ready theme for ages; then let us thitherward, with high hopes (and appreciating eyes) to enjoy the storied scenery of its shores. Touch, if you will, at Gibraltar; see how the tide flows through the straits! We go in with a flowing sail, and now we are at Corsica, Napoleon's home. Let us stop at Sardinia, with its wealth of tropical fruits; and we will even down to Sicily,—for this mimic ocean teems with subjects to delight the eye even of the most casual observer, with its majestic boundary of Alps and Apennines, and the velvet carpet of its romantic shores, while its broad breast is dotted with the sails of the picturesque craft whose rig is peculiar to these seas.
It were worth the journey we have taken, if only to behold the curious maritime scene before us now-made up of the felucca, the polacre, and the bombard, or ketch all equally unknown in our own waters.
Well, on with us still; let us up again and new through the canal of Piombino, touching at the isle of Elba, the "Great Emperor's" mimic domain; step into the town lying beneath this rocky bluff; which is crowned by a fort-it is Porto Ferrajo. Look off for a moment from this rocky eminence, back of the town, and see the wild beauty of these Tuscan mountains on the main land. Now, we will over to the Italian coast, and cross, if you will, from Leghorn to Florence. There, we are now in the very lap of genius and of poetry; let us pause here and breathe the dreamy, soothing, balmy air of Italy.
Florence, most favored daughter of Italy, sweet, sunny Florence, where dwelleth the gallantry and beauty of Tuscany, with thy wealth of architectural beauty, thy magnificent churches and palaces, thy princely court and hoarded beauties-favorite of that genial land, we greet thee! How peacefully dost thou lay at the very foot of the cloud-topped Apennines, divided by the mountain-born Arno in its course to the sea, and over whose bosom the architectural genius of the land is displayed in arched bridges; loveliest and best beloved art thou of sunny, vine-clad Italy.
The poetical luxury of Italian genius is nowhere more plainly manifested than in Florence. 'Tis the artist's favorite resort and best school; 'tis the city the traveller likes least to turn his back upon; and the spot being consecrated by poetry and art, where the blood flows quickest through the veins, warmed by a fervid and glowing clime. A clime which breathes in zephyrs of aromatic sweetness, wafted over the fragrant blossoms of the land so redolent of loveliness, that they would seem to rival the fabled Loto tree, which springs by Allah's throne, and whose flowers have a soul in every leaf.
There is a breathing of the arts in the very air of Florence, whose galleries are crowded with the choicest collections of paintings and statuary in the world. Here have ever congregated the talent and beauty of every clime. With the painter, the poet, the sculptor, here sleep, in the city of the silent, Michael Angelo, Alfieri, and like spirits, rendering it hallowed ground to the lovers of art. Proud and lovely city, with thy sylvan Casino spreading its riches of green sward and noble trees along the banks of the silvery Arno, well may a Florentine be proud of his birthplace!
It is in Florence, this very paradise of art, that our tale opens. Here the poor scholar or artist, who seeks to perfect himself by viewing the glorious works of the old masters, may live like a prince on the most moderate and frugal means, in a bright and sunny land, where the heart's blood leaps most swiftly to the promptings of imagination; where the female form earliest attains its wonted beauty, and longest holds its sway over the heart; where art and nature both combine to entrance the soul in admiration; in that land of the sun-genial Italy; that soft, yet wild country, whose children learn the knowledge of poetry and art from visible things, while the rest of the world derive them from books.
It was noonday in Florence, and a group of artists were wending their way from the grand gallery to their midday meal. It was a motley sight to look upon them as they gaily chatted together-for among them were men of different countries. There was the rough, hearty Englishman, the light, witty Frenchman, the intelligent and manly-looking American, the dark, swarthy Spaniard side by side with the dark Italian-fit companions, both in outward hue and their native character-and many others, forming a group of peculiar interest to the beholder.
As the troop emerged from a narrow street and came full upon the bright and sunny piazza, near the splendid shaft of the Campanile, the gorgeous equipage of the Grand Duke was passing the spot. The monarch was returning from a morning drive in the Casino with a small retinue, and accompanied by one or two strangers of distinction. The group paused for a moment to witness the passing of the duke and his suite, and then turned gaily towards their hotel to dine, the duke forming a new theme of conversation to those who, conversing under the disadvantage of but partially understanding each other, from the variety of tongues among them, ever chose the most visible subject for comment.
"What a brilliant turn-out," said one, in honest admiration.
"Those leaders are as proud as their master," said another.
"But he becomes his state well, if he is proud," answered a third.
"Newman couldn't get up a better four in hand," said the first speaker, a young Londoner.
"Who is that by the side of the duke?" asked one.
"The English consul," replied his countryman; "you ought to know him."
"The whole affair now is wanting to my eye," said a young, sentimental artist.
"And what does it want, pray, Mister Critic?" asked the Englishman.
"Egad, that's true! There should be a woman in the picture, if it was to be painted, if only to introduce color."
"Don't be so mercenary," added the other.
And the group thus idly conversing lounged on their way to dine. But see, one of their number still lingers near the base of the shaft, apparently absorbed in admiring its beautiful proportions; his pale but fine intellectual features overspread by a spirit of admiration as he beholds the column. But still there is some other motive than mere curiosity that engages him thus; he seems to have thus designedly dropped the company of the party he was just with. Now suddenly turning and satisfying himself that his late companions were out of sight, the young artist-for so his appearance evidently bespoke him-slowly and sadly retraced his steps toward the grand gallery.
The expression of his countenance was that of suffering and physical pain, as well as of mental inquietude; but his late companions had none of them noticed or cared for this. They could take especial cognizance of the points of excellence in the duke's horses, but not of the grief that shaded a fellow-being's countenance. No, the single artist, who now retraced his steps from the base of the Campanile, let his cause for sadness arise from whatever source it might, was alone in his sufferings, and without any one to share his sorrows.
Once or twice he seemed to hesitate and half turn round again, as if to join the party he had left; but some inward prompting appeared to prevent him from doing so, and once more he walked on by the same street which he had just came. A sigh now and then heaved his breast, as though some mental or physical suffering moved him, but his form was erect, and his step not that of one weakened by physical disease. And yet in looking upon him, an instinctive desire would have possessed the careful observer to offer him aid in some form.
OUR HERO AND HEROINE.
But love is blind, and lovers cannot see.
-Merchant of Venice.
AT the close of a long summer's day under the skies of Italy, the shades of twilight were deepening on a verdant and vine-clad hillside of the Val d'Arno, when two lovers, who had evidently been strolling together, sat down side by side under a natural trellis of vines. The twilight hour of midsummer will lend enchantment to almost any scene; but this is peculiarly the case in Italy, where every shadow seems poetic-every view fit for the painter's canvass.
The gentleman was of frank and manly bearing, and as he had approached the spot where they now sat, with the graceful figure of his fair companion leaning upon his arm, he evinced that soft and persuasive mien, that easy elegance of manner and polish in his address, which travel and good society can alone impart. Around his noble forehead, now bared to the gentle breeze, his long auburn hair hung in waving ringlets, after the style of the period, while his countenance was of that intelligent and thoughtful cast, tinted by a shade of sorrow, which rarely fails to captivate the eye.
In person, he was rather tall, erect and well-proportioned, though perhaps he was rather thin in flesh to appear to so good advantage as he might have done, yet altogether he was of handsome form and pleasant mien. His dress bespoke the hollowness of his purse, notwithstanding he bore about him the indelible marks of a gentleman; and the careful observer would have recognized in him the artist that had separated from his companions on the Plaza at noonday near the shaft of the Campanile.
His companion was manifestly a lady of rank and a most lovely female, satisfying the eye at the first glance, and constantly pleasing the longer it dwelt upon her. When we describe an Italian lady as being beautiful, she must be so indeed; for there is no half way between beauty and the opposite extreme here. There are but few really handsome women in Tuscany, but these few are of a class of beauty that may well have ravished the rest of their sex in this fair clime. Her countenance was radiant with thought and feeling, and her large and dewy eyes of blue—nature's own sweet tint—rested fondly on him by her side.
Her rich and abundant dark hair was parted smoothly across her unblemished forehead, which might have been marble, so smooth and pure, but for the warm blood that flowed through those delicate blue channels. The mouth and features were of the Grecian model, and when she smiled she showed a ravishing sweetness of expression, and teeth that rivalled those of an Indian. In form, her person was slightly voluptuous, though strictly within the most true female delicacy. Such is a sketch of the two whom we at the outset denominated as lovers; and such they were, as the progress of our story will disclose.
"There is much between thee and me, Florinda," said her companion, sighing heavily; "and of a metal worse than all others-pride and gold! jailors both of the daring heart!"
"Nay, dear Carlton, thou art ever foreboding ills," said the lady persuasively, and in a voice as sweet as that of the idolized Pagoda Thrush of India.
"Perhaps so; and yet full well I know that I am no favorite of fortune, by stern experience."
"She will smile on thee yet, believe me, Carlton; and the more sweetly for this seeming neglect. She's a fickle goddess, and often plays the coquette, but, like others of this class, she seldom chides but she smiles again the more winningly."
"She has already done so through thee, Florinda."
Florinda answered with her eyes.
"Ah, I am blessed indeed in thee; and poorly do I appreciate the blessing of thy love, when I forget myself and complain."
"Now thou art content."
"In thy smiles, dearest, ever."
And Carlton pressed the hand with fervor to his lip that was smilingly extended towards him.
"Ah, how long it may be, before I can call this little hand mine."
"It is thine already, Carlton."
"Thy heart is, I trust; but the hand, Florinda, is quite another thing."
"My means are so humble."
"You would make them so."
"But are they not, Florinda?"
"Not in my eyes."
"The future looks dark to me."
"The great proficiency you have attained in your profession, as an artist, dear Carlton, argues well for our hopes. Already has thy name reached the Grand Duke as one of remarkable ability in thy noble art; and such constant attention and unwearied industry must ensure improvement."
"True, dearest, I may in time hope to be counted, a worthy follower of those whose noble efforts grace the grand gallery, and the halls of the Palazzo Pitti; but alas, many years of toil might not place me in the pecuniary eye of the duke, as a fitting suitor for thy peerless portion. And then, Florinda, the pride of birth! Alas! I have little hopes of ever attaining my most earnest wish-that which would render me the envy of all Florence-thy hand, Florinda."
"Have I not possessions enough for both of us, dear Carlton? Indeed, I am told that my rightful property bears a goodly proportion to that of the Grand Duke himself, who has the reputation here in Florence of possessing unbounded wealth-actually unequalled in amount by that of any European monarch. Until the prospect of aiding you by this amplitude of fortune occurred to my mind, I saw no value in this boasted wealth; but now that I know that you will be benefited by it, Carlton, I rejoice at its possession and its magnitude."
"Dearest," said the artist, as he listened to her generous declaration.
"There will be no want, no question of necessity; all shall be yours."
"In your love and kindness of heart, you do not consider these things as does the world, Florinda. The greater the amount of thy riches, the farther art thou removed from me; thus reasoneth the world-the cold and calculating world."
"Nay, Carlton, thou art again foreboding," said the lady in the sweet, honeyed tongue of her land. "All will yet be as our hearts could wish, I am confident."
"Love sees with blind eyes, dearest."
"I know the proverb; but each case is a peculiar one, and this-is not this more so than any other?"
"So thy gentle heart would make it," he answered tenderly.
"And will not yours assent?"
"In one respect-yes."
"And that is—"
"Never was one so loved as thou art; and yet who could look upon those eyes, and hear thee speak thus, and know the goodness and gentleness of thy kind heart, and not love thee, Florinda?"
"Dost thou mean that?" said Carlton, earnestly and quickly.
"Nay, forgive me, Carlton," said his fair companion.
"Always but when thou shalt question my sincerity; and yet," he continued, after a moment's pause, "there are ample grounds for such suspicions."
"Say not so, Carlton."
"Behold thy large fortune; am I not penniless?-thy noble birth; am I not an humble citizen? O, Florinda, there are few in this cold and mercenary world that would accord to me, under these circumstances, the meed of sincerity."
"There is one who will never doubt thee," said the lovely girl, placing a hand affectionately within his.
"Dear Florinda, I have thought of another tie to bind us to each other still more dearly, if possible."
"Pray, what is that, Carlton?"
"We are both orphans, Florinda; both stand, as it were, alone in the world, without any natural protectors even from childhood."
"True," said Florinda, "my parents died while I was yet too young to know or love them and thine, Carlton?"
"While I was an infant."
"How pleasant it must be to have parents to love and advise one. I have often envied my companions."
"Ay, it must indeed be a source of happiness; and none would seem to deserve them more than so gentle a spirit as thine."
"It is indeed an enviable blessing."
"Father and mother are sweet words," said the artist, thoughtfully,—and drawing her gently to his side.
"They are sweet words," said Florinda; while a sympathetic tear trembled for a moment beneath those long eyelashes, proving the poet's words, "that beauty's tears are lovelier than her smiles." Carlton saw and marked the truant jewel as it glided down her fair cheek.
And thus they talked on of love, of griefs and hopes, Carlton pressing the hand of his lovely companion affectionately to his lips at times, with a gentle and affectionate tenderness far more eloquent than words; while the response that met this token from her expressive face might have told the most casual observer how dearly and how deeply she loved the young artist, and how the simplest token of tenderness from him was cherished by her.
La Signora Florinda was a grand-daughter of the house of Carrati, one of the oldest and proudest of all Italy. Having been placed in a convent in the environs of Florence for her education, the Grand Duke by chance met her while quite young, and learning her name, he at once knew her to be an orphan, and now under the care of her uncle Signor Latrezzi. By his own request he became her guardian, and from that time Florinda became an inmate of the palace of the duke, and the constant companion of the duchess.
Her parents deceased, as the reader has already gathered, while she was yet a child, leaving her an immense property, which was now in the hands of her protector, the monarch himself. About the time, or rather some months previous to the commencement, of our tale, the duchess had died of consumption. Florinda for more than a year had been her intimate and dearly loved companion, and for this reason alone was dearly prized by the Grand Duke, who still sincerely mourned his wife's death.
The deep devotion and constancy of this monarch, Leopold of Tuscany, to his wife, evinced an affection rarely found in marriages of state. Inconsolable for her death, he shut himself from the world for a long time, weeping in secret the affliction he had sustained in her loss. To this day there ornaments the private apartments of the Pitti Palace busts of the grand duchess, and portraits of her by the first artists; on the walls of the duke's private study there is a full length portrait of his wife done in fresco, representing her to be what she really was, a noble and lovely woman.
Since the death of the duchess, Florinda had experienced, as we have intimated, an increased degree of fatherly care and affection from the duke, because of the fact of her intimacy with her whom he had now lost. The duchess, during the period that Florinda had been with her, had contracted for her a tender affection, and did not forget in the trying moments of her last hours to commend her to the continued and true guidance of the duke. This circumstance of course rendered her an object of renewed interest and regard in the eyes of her noble protector, with whom she dwelt as though she had been his own well-beloved child.
In addition to this, she presented claims to his kind protection, from the fact that she was an orphan, the last of a proud and noble house long attached to the service of the crown-a fact that had in the first place attracted his interest.
"Come, Carlton," said the lady, with a sweet smile, "now tell me one of those Rhine legends which you relate with such spirit. You promised me another."
"I will, dearest," was the reply; and her companion, drawing still closer to her side, began as the next chapter will relate.
A RHINE LEGEND.
An honest tale speeds best being plainly told.
-King Richard III.
"THE valley of the Rhine," commenced Carlton, "is no more famous for its classic beauty than for the romance of its historic story; and the traveller is sure, while his eyes drink in of the beauty of its scenery, to have his ears regaled with the tragic record of its neighborhood. The name of Petard-the name of as bold a bandit as ever led a company of mountain-robbers—has become classic as any historic name of the Germanic confederacy, or the Italian states, by reason of the influence he exerted, the boldness of his deeds, the oftentimes chivalric character of his conduct; but, above all, for his singular personal bravery, and his remarkable prowess in battle. Only second, as it regarded the extent of his fame, to the renowned Schinderhannes, he even exceeded that bold and romantic bandit in the general character of his purposes, and the extraordinary success that attended his plans of operation.
"Petard held one of those lofty mountain-passes," continued Carlton, "that lead from the valley of the Rhine, and through which at times much travel passed. Here he had so thoroughly entrenched himself, with his band of some sixty bravadoes, at the time of our story, that ten and twenty times his own force sent against him, in the shape of the regular government troops, had utterly failed to reach even the outer walls of his retreat, they being entrapped in all manner of snares, and shot down like a herd of wild and distracted animals. Several repetitions of these attempts with similar results had fairly disheartened the officers and soldiery, and they utterly refused to proceed on any such dangerous service for the future, while the officers of the government in their weakness were quite powerless. So that Petard remained virtually the master of the district, and levied such tax as he pleased upon such of the better classes as he could arrest upon the road.
"The story of Petard's generous charity to the peasantry is preserved and related to the traveller by the grateful people; and there is no doubt that, springing from this class, he felt a sympathy for them that induced this honest generosity towards them on his part. The cunning plans which he and his band adopted to obtain the necessary information for the prosecution of their designs, it would be tedious to relate. The peasantry, ever oppressed by those in authority, were, of course, most faithful to the interests of this famous outlaw, to whose open hand they often came for bread, and who was ever ready to aid them. Thus, no bribery nor offered rewards could induce one of these rough but true-hearted mountaineers to betray Petard, or disclose the secret paths that led to his lofty stronghold.
"Cunning beyond what usually falls to the lot of roguery," continued Carlton, "Petard delighted in outwitting his enemies of the law, and in leading those whom he desired to fleece into his net. Thus practised in intrigue, he plumed himself in detecting any trick that was attempted against him; and thus on the constant qui vive, he was enabled to avoid detection and arrest. Every effort, however ingenious, that the officers of the government made, was therefore futile and of no advantage; and Petard was still regarded as master of his mountain home, and leader of as brave a band as ever beset a traveller's carriage, or broke the ranks of a treasury escort.
"Those were wild and lawless times when the feudal spirit and power had not yet lost all its sway, and when each man's house was often made to be his castle, and himself called upon to defend it with his life. Might made right; the strong hand often carried it against the law, and justice often, slept. It sounds like romance indeed to depict those times."
"It does, indeed," said Florinda; "but go on, Carlton, do not interrupt the story."
"On the left bank of the noble river, in whose valley this story is laid," said Carlton, "rose the turrets and towers of Botztetz castle, the remains only of one of the fine old strongholds of the middle ages, which had by degrees descended through generations, until it was now the home of a rich, retired merchant from Coblentz, who was repairing it and removing the rubbish that age had collected about it. Himself a man of distinguished family, Karl Etzwell had retired from the bustle of his heavy business, purchased this place, and proposed here to make himself home, and here to die. The old merchant had an only child whom he idolized, and for whom alone he seemed to live since his wife and other children had died.
"Bettina was one of those delicate, lovely-featured children of grace and beauty that would have been chosen in "Merrie England" to preside over a tournament, as queen of beauty, in Ivanhoe's time. Born to bloom in a peculiar period of history, her character partook in some measure of the characteristics of the times. To our age, Florinda, and our appreciation, this lovely woman would have seemed rather Amazonian. She rode her fine and dashing horse with a free rein, and in the vigor of her robust health she could walk for miles, if need be. Yet still Bettina lacked not for tenderness and gentleness of spirit. She loved her father, was fond of music, and sung most sweetly to her own accompaniment upon the guitar.
"Egbert Hosfeldt was the descendant of a proud line of ancestors, and was himself now left alone of all his family. His castle was on the opposite side of the Rhine, and ere Karl Etzwell's daughter had been a twelvemonth at her father's new home among the now half-restored towers of Botztetz Castle, Egbert Hosfeldt and Bettina were the most tender friends. His boat was ever on the left shore at nightfall, though his castle was on the right. No carpet knight was he, Florinda; he pulled his own oar. He was as stout of limb as of heart, and yet was as gentle when by Bettina's side as the tame doves she fondled. His was indeed a knightly figure to look upon. He had often distinguished himself upon the tented field, and in the forest sports. He lived in an age when personal prowess was highly esteemed, and when those high in birth failed not to mature the strong muscles and stout limbs which Providence had vouchsafed to them.
"My story, Florinda, opens upon one of those soft summer twilights which hang over this incomparable valley to-day, as they did centuries gone by. Two figures rested near a soft bed of flowers in the broad grounds of Botztez Castle. The luxuriant, curling hair of delicate auburn that strayed so freely over the neck and shoulders of the female figure, betrayed her to be the lovely daughter of Herr Karl Etzwell; while the reader would have recognized at once in the person by her side, the fine athletic figure of Egbert. They sat in tender proximity to each other, and Bettina was listening to Egbert's eloquent story of the olden times, and of the many chivalric deeds for which the neighborhood of this spot was celebrated. He told her, too, of legends connected with the very towers and battlements that now surrounded them, until at last the lateness of the hour warned them that they must part; and the gallant Egbert, pressing her hand tenderly to his lips, bade her a brief farewell as he said, and would meet her there again with the twilight hour on the following day.
"Scarcely had he left her side when a decrepit figure, dressed in as shabby garb as ever clothed a beggar woman, tottled towards her, and in saddest tones besought the fair girl to come a few steps from the castle walls to aid her in carrying her sick infant, who she feared was dying. The chords of tender sympathy were at once touched and Bettina followed the old woman outside the walls, and beyond an angle of the ruins a few rods, when the person who had so excited her commiseration suddenly stopped, and tossing off the wretched rags he wore, he stood before her the athletic leader of banditti, Petard!"
"How frightful!" said Florinda, interrupting him.
"The faint scream Bettina uttered," continued Carlton, "was smothered by his ready adroitness; and seizing the fainting girl, as though she was an infant, the robber bore her away to a spot concealed by the darkness, where several of his confederates met him, as had been preconcerted; and in a few minutes after Egbert had left her side, Bettina, all unconscious, was being carried fair away to the almost impregnable stronghold of the robbers.
"It would be vain to attempt a description of the consternation and misery of her father when it was found that his child-she who was everything to him; whom he loved better than life itself-was lost. Whither to seek her no one knew. The most improbable places were searched. Egbert, who was last seen with her, was sent for; but he could give them no information. He supposed, of course, that she returned directly home after he parted with her. Every conceivable means were adopted to discover some trace of the missing girl, but all in vain, and the most tantalizing anguish took possession of every bosom. Two days had passed in this fruitless and agonizing search, when a note was delivered at the castle which threw light upon her disappearance. The purport of the note was to this effect:
"KARL ETZWELL:-Your daughter is safe in my possession. Her simplest wish is strictly regarded. No harm will come to her, provided you pay the ransom of one thousand marks of gold. You may not possess the ready means, rich as you are, to produce this sum at once; therefore it may be paid in four instalments, and in four months of time, if you can do no better. red When the sum shall be paid, your daughter will be restored to you as pure and unharmed as when she left you. You have two days to think upon this. My messenger will then see you, and receive the first instalment of the money. Those who know me will tell you that you had better not harm one hair of that messenger's head, but your best course will be to meet this demand. 'Signed,' PETARD.
"The mystery was solved, and the father knew that the robber, vile as he was, would keep his word; that though Bettina was thus fearfully situated, Petard would protect and restore her, if he acceded to his demand. The sum named was far beyond his means to raise before the expiration of a considerable period of time; for though, as the robber chief denominated him, rich, yet the princely sum of money demanded could hardly have been raised at once, had the united interest of the country for miles round been brought to bear upon it.
"After consulting with Egbert and other friends, the father saw that there was but one course left for him to pursue under the circumstances of the case, and that was to comply with the demand as far as was possible, and to get ready the first instalment of the money for the following day. It would have been madness for him-his daughter's safety, of course, being paramount to every other idea-to have called upon the authorities to serve him. They had already, as we have before stated, often failed in their efforts upon the robber; and to incense Petard against him, was for the father to sacrifice the life of his child. Thus influenced, the sum of money demanded as the first instalment was made up by the assistance of Egbert and others, and was quietly paid over to the robber messenger, by the anxious father of Bettina.
"It was a fearful thought to father and lover, that there was even a possibility of Bettina's remaining in the hands of those fierce and lawless men for such a period of time as had been named. Yet it would be impossible to raise the amount of the ransom in a shorter period of time. Four months seemed to them almost as so many years, and Egbert longed, at the head of a few faithful followers, to attack the redoubtable brigand; but this would have been to sacrifice Bettina's life at once. Alas! the ransom, and the ransom only, could liberate her, all agreed.
"But I weary you, dearest, and will at another time complete my story."
"Nay, by no means."
"But the story is not yet half told."
"The more of interest is then in store."
"But it will keep until our next meeting."
"As you will, Carlton; and so now, indeed, good night. You will come with the sunset, tomorrow?"
"I will, dearest."
And Carlton turned away to seek his own humble lodgings, while the lady returned to the sumptuous apartments which she called her home, to dream of the young artist, and the tale he had thus left but half related. In the meantime with the reader we will turn to another chapter in the thread of our story.
THE DUKE'S PRIZE.
I see this hath a little dashed your spirits.
CARLTON was a young American, passionately devoted to the art he was studying at Florence, the home of the arts. His pecuniary means, which were of a limited character, were, at the time our story opens, at an unusually low ebb-indeed, he was almost penniless. He had been able, by losing much valuable time upon trifling and toyish pieces, to procure nearly enough for subsistence, taken in connection with the little he already possessed. But of late he had not been able to find any spare time for the trifles he had heretofore engaged himself upon at times, when he was obliged to obtain money for daily food, for reasons which we shall understand as we proceed with our story.
Though of highly respectable birth, yet he was an orphan, and dependent upon the liberality of a rich relative for the advantage he had already received in an excellent classical education, and the means of travelling while in the study of his art. A few months previous to the opening of our tale, this patron, who had been a father indeed to Carlton, died suddenly, and the news of his decease reached the young American at the time he was just expecting a remittance of money. The consequence was, he found himself friendless and without means, thousands of miles from his native land. He had incurred some small debts in anticipation of the expected remittance, which placed him in a still more unpleasant situation.
It was a severe blow to Carlton to lose one who had been so kind to him almost from childhood. It was hard, too, to sink at once from a state of plenty to one of absolute want. But thus it was, and he endeavored to bear his lot with all the philosophy and resignation he could command; but it was a bitter stroke for him to bear, particularly at this time, when so much depended upon his being able to pursue his calling uninterrupted, and still make the proper appearance in his person. He felt that at no previous moment had he so much at stake as now; that at no previous time in the course of his life could such an event have been more unfortunate. But Carlton was blessed with a heart easy to keep afloat; and though his future was hard, he looked upon its sunny side, and bore bravely up against it, enduring not only mental but positive physical suffering in his manliness. For months he had been almost constantly engaged in secret upon a painting, which he designed to present to the Grand Duke, for his private collection in the Palazzo Pitti, and on which he was to stake his reputation as an artist. He worked in secret, we have said-ay, and with the pains of hunger gnawing him often, his scanty purse scarcely affording him the means of procuring sufficient to sustain life. But still he worked on unwearied, in the hope, if not to gain the hand of Florinda, at least to be thought more worthy of her.
Little did she he loved know of the actual want he experienced. He was too proud to acknowledge it even to her; and often did he sit by her side faint and hungry, while he held a hand, the jewelled ornaments of which alone would have rendered a peasant independent for life. He exerted every faculty to obtain the means of dressing at least with seeming good taste; he endeavored to do this for appearance sake, and that he might pass well with the world, which scans with inquisitive eye the outside show, and pays homage accordingly. He did not fear that it would make any difference with Florinda, yet he felt some pride, of course, in that quarter. It required in his present emergency the sacrifice of many a meal to procure him a coat, or any other necessary article of clothing.
Carlton was not in the practice of meeting Florinda at the palace; the manifest impropriety of the thing rendered this out of the question. It was the practice of Florinda to call at certain periods at the palace of a relation in the environs of the city, and here Carlton often went to meet her; it was hard by the monastery where she had been educated, and where they had first met. The two sat together one twilight hour; it was their chosen time of meeting.
"Carlton," said Florinda.
"Why dost thou—" here Florinda hesitated.
"Speak freely; what would you ask?"
"You will not be offended?"
"Nor think strange of me?"
"Nay, I promise thee."
"Why dost thou wear such a threadbare coat, Carlton? You know I care not for such things, but I would have thee appear among thy fellow-artists as well clad as the best of them."
"You know, Florinda," said Carlton, blushing in spite of himself, "I told you of my misfortune in losing my friend and patron."
"True, but what has that to do with thy coat, Carlton?" asked the lady, who, never having known the want of money, could not realize the effect of such a condition. And then, too, she did not exactly understand the dependency of Carlton upon his patron.
"O, nothing particular, dearest; but one must dress according to his means, you know."
Florinda mused for a moment, and at length appeared to understand the meaning of his words, when taking a rich purse of gold from her girdle, she endeavored to give it to him in such a manner as to spare his feelings, but her utterance failed her, and she burst into tears! Carlton could not accept it. He would rather have starved first; his proud spirit could not brook the deed.
"No, Florinda," ho said, "I cannot accept the purse, or any assistance from thee, noble lady. But if you will bear with my humble attire for a while, I hope to be able to dress in a style to suit thy taste, and which will render me worthy, at least in point of personal appearance, to walk by thy side."
"Do you forgive me, Carlton, for this? It was but the impulse of the moment. I did not mean to insult thee."
"Alas! I was but rude."
"You forgive me?"
"Florinda, I appreciate the feeling that prompted the generous act. Forgive thee? Yes, dearest, and love thee more for it."
He pressed her hand to his lips, and they parted-Florinda to the regal palace of the duke, and Carlton to his humble lodgings. That night he went to his bed without having tasted food throughout the whole day. The next morning with the first light he rose, unable to sleep from hunger, and sought his canvass. While he could summon his pride, and season it with his ambition, this formed food and stimulus enough for him-a sustaining principle equal to natural nutriment. But in his sleep, when nature asserted her power, and the physical system claimed precedence over the brain, then the gnawings of hunger could not be stilled; and thus he awoke, and, as we have said, sought his canvass to drive away the demon; for it was a demon-a tormenting fiend to him now!
Among the collection of artists at Florence-as in all Italian cities-there were representatives from nearly every part of the world; and much rivalry and pride often showed itself, not only among the students of the academy, but even among the masters or teachers themselves. This feeling at the time to which we allude, prevailed to an unusual extent, and its pernicious effects had been the cause of one or two duels of fatal termination. Carlton had long since been obliged to leave the academy from want of means, and even while there, he labored under great disadvantage in not being able to keep up the appearance of a gentleman among his fellow-students, who were generally well supplied with pecuniary means.
His comrades finding that he far exceeded them in point of application, and consequently in execution and general improvement, naturally disliked him; and strange enough, too, the teachers treated him with marked coolness and dislike, whether from a similar sense of his superior ability even over themselves, or otherwise, remains to be seen.
"What a hang-dog look that Carlton has," said one artist to another.
"But he's a master with the brush, and bids fair to distance some of us," was the reply.
"For my part, I hate all Americans."
"Or rather all successful rivals," suggested the other, sarcastically.
"Rival or not, this Carlton is a bore."
"So far I agree with you," answered the other.
"He's the poorest dressed artist in Florence."
"There you are right again."
And thus they sneered at him.
Under all these disadvantages, Carlton was by no means discouraged. He was sustained by his ambition and love of his noble art, and, above all, by the love he bore Florinda. He hoped, through the means of the picture he was engaged upon, to introduce himself to the good will of the duke; and this accomplished, one important step would be taken towards the goal his fancy had pictured in futurity.
As we have said, Carlton left the academy through necessity, but he still studied constantly in the grand gallery, and other places, as his means would admit, while he worked on in secret. He had determined that his picture should be presented without a name, that it might thus rise or fall honestly, upon its own merits.
The duke had offered a princely prize for the favored picture, to be selected from out a collection to be exhibited to himself and court on a certain day. The monarch was devotedly attached to the art, and thus each year, by a like method, strove to encourage the talent and industry of the students assembled at Florence. There were many competitors among the artists of the city on the occasion alluded to. Those who had gained renown in bygone years now took up the brush anew, and pupils and masters strove alike for the enviable goal.
And this was not so much for the mere winning of the prize-though that was a princely object-but it was well-known that whoever succeeded in the contest, established his fame at once in Italy, and from that time forward could command his own terms for his pictures, and find a ready sale, too, for as many as he chose to complete. It was, in short, a diploma in art that was almost beyond value to the ambitious students that had devoted themselves to art in Florence.
Carlton worked incessantly and in secret upon his picture, which was of a most elaborate and original design. Alone in his humble apartment he worked by himself, without any kind word of encouragement, or skilful suggestion. The time for the exhibition was fast approaching. Carlton was met by his former fellow-students every morning,—pale and emaciated, returning from his frugal meal, of which he was obliged to eat enough to serve him through the day; for with his limited means he could afford but one! They joined him often, and asked, insultingly, why he did not try for the rich prize offered by the Grand Duke for the choicest painting.
Smothering the resentment he felt at these a insults, Carlton made no answer to them, but contented himself with redoubling his exertions with the brush; and it did seem to him after such encounters, and every new insult, that his hand received a fresh inspiration, and his mind renewed vigor. Perhaps he needed the incentive of pride, as well as that of love and ambition, to lead him on, and sustain him in the prosecution of his noble endeavors.
Thus it was, when the long expected day at last arrived-the day which was to make or mar his hope of the future; he trembled as he realized it. The various competitors had sent in their pieces accompanied with their names, each confident in the excellence and finish of his own production. All were arranged in the favorite gallery of the Grand Duke, and among them Carlton's, simply bearing the name of "The Unknown."
The hearts of the artists of Florence beat high on that day, and the moments were impatiently counted by all until the hour should arrive for the public presentation and audience in the picture gallery. The selection having been made on the previous day by the Grand Duke and his court, the time had now arrived for him to award the prize he had offered.
Among the throng that crowded the gates of the palace, Carlton was observed humbly pursuing his way, turning neither to the right nor left, and passing unnoticed some of his brother artists, who ventured a jeer at his expense.
"That coat of thine is not fit for the presence of the Grand Duke," said one.
"Carlton, you forgot to dress, today," said another, tauntingly.
"Don't bother him," added a third; "he's only a looker-on."
"That is all, gentlemen," said Carlton, as he quietly passed the portals of the palace, secretly biting his lip with restrained feeling. He had other business in hand than to notice these insults. His soul was pre-occupied, and he scarcely heeded them a moment after they had been spoken.
AWARDING THE PRIZE.
Let the end try the man.
THE beauty and the aristocracy of Florence crowded the gorgeous apartments of the ducal palace, admiring the matchless pictures now first exhibited to the public view-the productions of the artists of the city for the prize of the liberal monarch.
There was not one which did not draw forth high and just encomiums for its beauty and excellence; but all paused to admire above the rest, one which, from originality of conception and perfection of finish, was pronounced to surpass all its competitors, and great was the curiosity expressed as to who was the author.-Some said that Michael Angelo himself must have arisen from the tomb to produce so perfect a picture. Throughout the hours of the exhibition, until the time appointed for the awarding of the prize, the superb picture bearing the name of "The Unknown," was the constant theme of all, and the centre of attraction.
Among that lovely collection of beauty and fashion stood Florinda, in all the loveliness of youth and high-born beauty, "the star of that goodly company." How different was the expression of her face from the majority of those about her. No pride or envy could be traced on that beautiful brow, stamped with innocence and gentleness; those mild deep blue eyes knew no deceit, but frankly shared the promptings of her pure, untainted soul at every glance.
She looked more like the formation of the fancy in some fairy dream than a reality, so angelic did she seem amid that princely throng. She did not know that Carlton had contended for the prize; he had kept his own secret, and she expressed her unfeigned admiration of the picture by "The Unknown." She was the belle of the hour, if not of the court, and her commendation alone would have served to attract attention to the picture; but already had the duke in person pointed out some of the most prominent beauties in the piece to those about him.
After a few preliminary remarks addressed by the liberal monarch to the large assembly, which was now as still as death itself, he went on to compliment the rare collection of art which was exhibited on the occasion; and to prove the sincerity of his remarks, and the compliment to all on this point, he offered a most princely price for each and all presented for the prize. He observed that had one of the pieces which had been sent in failed to have been received, he should have found it absolutely impossible to designnate the best painting from out the collection, each one of which was so excellent and perfect in itself. He then remarked that he was unable to award the prize he had proposed to present to the author of the painting which would seem to himself and court to embody the greatest degree of excellence, inasmuch as the picture which had been decided upon as possessing the most merit, in every department of its execution, had been sent to the gallery by unknown hands, and was the work of an unknown artist.
He closed his remarks by saying that the piece alluded to must be the work of one high in his profession, for it fell little short of the works of the old masters themselves. "And," added the duke, "if there is any one in this assembly who can inform us as to the authorship of the piece in question, we most earnestly hope they will oblige us by doing so at this tine, that we may do the author the honor his talents merit, and also avail ourselves of his unequalled powers in his art."
After a short pause, he proceeded to designate some of the most prominent points of excellence in the painting; and being a connoisseur in these matters, the assembly were highly entertained by his well-chosen remarks, and his subject being one to call forth all his admiration, he was unusually eloquent. Indeed, his remarks were so in unison with the appreciation of all who were present there and heard his voice, that he seemed to carry them along with him, and to infuse fresh enthusiasm among those who had already expressed so much admiration of the picture.
There was another pause, the duke evidently awaiting an answer to his query as to the authorship of the piece. Yet there was no answer given, nor was there any perceptible movement among the group of artists, who were assembled together in one corner of the gorgeous apartment, and upon whom all eyes were turned. But they also stared at one another, wondering who could be the man. Many of them had been liberal enough to express a feeling of delight and admiration, in beholding, as they said, so noble a production of modern times, and by a living artist. There were those, among them who really loved the art they followed, and thus were constrained to acknowledge their admiration.
"I hope," again repeated the duke to the assembly, "if there is any one present who can inform us as to the authorship of this masterly effort of genius, he will do so at once, and confer a personal favor upon us."
There was a slight movement perceptible among the group of artists at this moment, and Carlton, the young American, was seen making his way to the front of his companions, several of whom rebuked him for his forwardness in so doing.
"Why do you push forward, Carlton?"
"Nay, give way but a moment," said our hero.
"What would you?"
"To speak to the duke."
"Fie, man, don't you see he's busy now?"
"Give way but a moment," was the reply.
"May it please you, excellenza," said Carlton, stepping before the group of artists, and addressing the monarch in Italian, which he spoke like a native, "I am the humble author of the picture it has pleased you to compliment so highly."
All eyes were turned upon the speaker, who stood forth from his companions with downcast eyes and burning cheeks, for well he knew that the eyes of all Florence, or rather its nobility, were resting upon him at that moment. The countenances of his former companions evinced no emotions of resentment, as one might have expected who understood their former feelings toward the American. No; they were too much filled with surprise to entertain any other feeling for the moment, and they looked at each other in the utmost amazement, scarcely believing their senses.
The eyes of the assembly were bent upon him, and in wonder, too, at the threadbare coat and emaciated countenance, which told but too plainly the tale of hunger and want he had suffered. And so it was, as the reader has seen. Carlton was too proud to make known his necessities, and he had suffered most incredibly from want.
Hardly had Carlton spoken in answer to the question of the duke, when there was a visible commotion among the high-born dames that surrounded his seat, and one was carried by the attendants from the apartment fainting. It was the duke's, ward, the Signora Florinda. The surprise and delight which crowded itself upon her gentle sensibility, was too much for her to bear, and she sank insensible into the arms of those about her.
"What so strangely affected the Signora Florinda?" asked the duke.
"We know not, your highness," replied one of her late companions. "She seemed regarding this young artist at the moment when she was taken ill."
"Very, your highness."
"Hasten after her, and return and let me know how she is."
"Say I will join her anon."
"I will, excellenza."
It was many minutes before the Grand Duke recovered from the surprise occasioned by the appearance of Carlton, and the confusion consequent upon the sudden illness of his ward; but at length he put the question inquiringly:
"And this is the work of thy hands?"
"It is, excellenza."
"It is a most masterly piece, by our lady," said the duke, looking first upon the painting and then at Carlton, as if half in doubt as to the truth of the young American's assertion.
"Your excellenza is pleased to honor me," said Carlton, with a respectful inclination of the head.
"If the piece be thine, it is well merited," continued the duke.
"It shall be proved to thy satisfaction, excellenza."
Carlton thanked in his heart the long auburn hair that covered in part his burning cheeks, while he thus stood before that gallant assembly of the elite of the court of Florence.
"What proof, sir artist," said the duke, "shall we have of the genuineness of this production?"
"By referring to the painting, excellenza," replied Carlton; "you will find a peculiarity of expression, a want of finish in the features of the third figure on the extreme left of the canvass."
"You speak truly, Signor Americano; we had before noticed the defect, and were at loss to account for it in so perfect a picture as this before us. But what of the flaw, signor?-the discovery of that which any one of thy profession would have noticed does not prove the piece to be the work of thine own hands, for we also had observed it."
"Very true, excellenza," replied Carlton, "but with your permission, I will complete the expression of that countenance with a touch; and when complete, it shall agree in strength of touch, style, tone of finish, and every particular, with the rest of the piece. And, moreover, you shall be enabled therein to recognize the likeness of one of your own household. Is it the pleasure of your excellenza that I add the finish before the present assembly?"
"It is our desire," said the now deeply interested monarch.
A hum of admiration arose as Carlton, after retiring for a moment, returned with his palette and brush, and approached the picture.
While the duke's band now played to the deeply interested assembly, Carlton, with a firm, bold touch, immediately supplied the indescribable something that had been wanting-the je ne sais quoi that had been referred to as being requisite to its proper finish. It was done with such judgment and skill, that the addition, though fresh, could not be detected unless by a very close observation. None save the author, who had purposely left that flaw, could so have remedied it. It was done almost instantly, yet with precision and accuracy.
The duke gazed upon the canvass for a moment, and then exclaimed with admiration:
"The Grand Chamberlain!-by our lady, what a likeness! Sir artist, thou hast the pencil of a Raphael!"
"Is your excellenza satisfied?"
"We are convinced that the piece is thine own. None other than its author could have accomplished that which we have just witnessed."
"Come hither, gentlemen," said the duke to several of his court about him; and pointing to the canvass, and the touch it had just received, said, "This proof is incontestable!"
"It is, indeed," was the response,
"Are you, too, satisfied, gentlemen?"
The duke then assuming his seat of state, directed the artist to approach him. First complimenting him as a son of America, the glorious Republic of the West, and on his extraordinary genius-as he was pleased to express himself-he awarded him the rich prize prepared for the occasion, at the same time offering him a sum for the painting which would have rendered a man of moderate wishes independent for life.
"The prize, your excellenza," said Carlton, "I gladly accept as a token of your liberality in advancing the interests of the noble art I follow. But as it regards the high price you have set upon my humble effort, I can only say, that I had designed it from the first as a present for your excellenza, and only ask in return, that it may find a place in your private and unrivalled collection-if, indeed, it shall be deemed worthy of that honor."
"Signor Americano," said the duke, "it shall share the Tribune with our best pictures, and shall be prized alike with them."
Now the Tribune, so called, was a small apartment of the duke's gallery devoted to the gems of his collection, and so named after a similar appropriation in the departments of the grand gallery of Florence. The hanging of a picture in this place was of itself alone the highest compliment the author could receive through his production; and so did Carlton understand and appreciate the honor thus designed him, which also was the more welcome, being entirely unexpected.
He could hardly realize that his humble effort should be deemed worthy of such preferment, or that it could possibly possess such merit as to warrant its being placed side by side with those of the immortal masters, whose humblest follower he had ever deemed himself. No wonder his heart beat now so quickly, and he breathed so fast; the goal of his ambition was before him, and almost within his grasp. It seemed only necessary for him to reach out his hand and pluck the garland of success and of renown. The pause that had intervened here was but for a single moment of time, when it was once more broken by the duke himself, who spoke, as he felt, most kindly and in encouraging tones.
"Signor Americano," said the duke, "thy habiliments are those of one whose purse is but narrowly lined, and we are at a loss to account for this willingness to part with that which has cost thee labor of months, and in which thou hast been so eminently successful. We do much crave the picture, but will nevertheless forego its possession unless it can be had at our own valuation."
"As the picture was painted for your excellenza, and you design for it such honor, I could wish its free acceptance; but it must be yours on any terms," said Carlton.
The assembly then dispersed, and our hero received a purse of gold for his picture, exceeding in amount his wildest expectations of what he might earn by his art in years of industry and frugality.
The scene he had successfully perfected, represented two applicants for justice, standing before the Pope of Rome. They were priests, and had come before him for his judgment in the matter of contention between them. They were ushered into the presence of the pope by a high official, and to this usher had Carlton given the features of the duke's chamberlain. It was a superb design, and represented a late occurrence well-known to the people of Florence, and for this reason, aside from that of its acknowledged superiority, possessed peculiar interest at that time.
The deep, yet natural expression of feeling depicted in each countenance, the perfect harmony of the general conception and its completeness of finish, rendered the picture a study requiring time to comprehend and appreciate all its many excellences. It was finished, and the work of half a year, pursued with the utmost assiduity in secret, had proved successful. All his pains and self-denials were now forgotten; he was doubly paid for all his sufferings-he even looked back upon them with a conscientious pride, and deemed that he had bought his preferment cheaply.
And such is ever the fate of true genius; it rarely receives the aid of fortune in gaining fame, but struggles on, dependent upon its own slow but sure preferment. This is self-evident; for genius may remain ever latent, unless brought out and improved by stem necessity.
THE MASQUERADE BALL.
Prosperity's the very bond of love.
WHAT a perfect chequer-board is this same game of life on which we all hold so transient a lease. Time is the board, and the various vicissitudes of life make up the chequered field, ourselves the wooden "men;" each and all strive for preferment, and whether it be gained or not, depends solely upon the shrewdness of him who plays the game. The "king-row" may designate the pinnacle of earthly wishes and hopes, while the various "moves" may show the struggle for that desirable goal-happiness. Ah! how many of us get "penned" and "cornered"—and many too, in their headlong course, are "jumped," and taken off the scene of action. Truly, there is a vast similitude between this game of chequers and the bolder one of life.
Here was poor Carlton but lately struggling along the chequered field, now moving literally towards the king-row. In a few subsequent weeks, with a well-filled purse, he was enjoying life and his art like a true gentleman, and was the envy of every artist in Florence; and yet they all strove to do him honor, at least; so it appeared, orders for his productions crowded upon him from all the nobility, not only of Florence, but of all Tuscany. The private palaces of the environs of the city were thought incomplete in their collections, unless supplied with one at least of his pictures, the patronage of the Grand Duke, and his own work, which occupied the favored place in the Pitti Palace, having raised him to the pinnacle of fame as an artist.
All Italy honored the productions of the fortunate American, and scarcely could a Raphael or a Titian have been more respected or honored. It was his own genius that had raised him and no accident of fortune.
"This young American monopolizes the market with his brush just now," said one artist to another.
"Ay, and gets such princely prices, too, for his pictures! Funny world, this! It is scarcely three months since he was likely to starve for want of work."
"All the Grand Duke's doings; he can make as easily as he can mar a man", replied the other.
"But a man must have genius to fill the place Carlton holds."
"As much as you might put on a knife's point-no more," said the other, enviously.
The long Italian day is past, and its shadows have died over the neighboring mountains, giving place to the voluptuous and dewy twilight, which lightly wraps itself with its soft mantle of studded stars closely about the lovely breast of the Val d'Arno. But a few hours later, and the Palazzo Pitti is one blaze of light, and the thrilling music of the duke's favorite band resounds already among the fountains and groves of the gardens; already have commenced to congregate the gay courtiers and lovely dames of this land of the sun. The diamond tiaras that sparkle on those lovely brows are less dazzling than the lovely and soul-ravishing eyes that look out from that mental diamond, the soul within; the jewelled stars upon those manly breasts well become the noble bearing of the wearers. Brilliant indeed was the soiree of the rich and liberal Grand Duke of Tuscany. The Austrian-born monarch seemed to delight in surrounding the nobles of his court with the most magnificent luxury and display that wealth could procure, as if he would fain show his Italian subjects his own national taste.
"The duke spares no expense in his entertainments," said the English consul to a friend, by whom he was standing.
"I have known him send to Rome frequently for an artifice to serve him a single evening," was the reply.
"It may be a weakness thus to lavish expenditure, but it is a most brilliant one," said the consul.
"And one which is dictated as much by policy as by his own personal gratification," said the other.
"Perhaps so; but without questioning his motives, we may at all events enjoy the feast he spreads."
"That is but proper and reasonable, and I most heartily subscribe to the same,"
It is a masked ball that occupies the gay throng in the ducal palace. That is to say, in accordance with a general custom of the times, those who please are masked until midnight, when, at the sound of the hour from the great throat of the bell, all masks are removed, and all disguises laid aside. Carlton as the successful protege of the Grand Duke, and Carlton the humble artist, was a very different person. He was the observed of all observers; and many a rich belle sought his side-nay, even leaned upon his arm, as he strolled through the gorgeous rooms of the palace. They were sufficiently disguised by their masks to remove any fear of personal recognition; and therefore, those who knew him not, save by the late scene of winning the prize, besought his escort for the dance-a piece of forwardness quite allowable during the masked part of the ball. Many were the eyes that were bent upon him; and more than one glance of jealousy was shot towards him by s young nobles, as they saw the belles drawn to his side.
Carlton was naturally graceful, dignified and handsome, and bore his new position as though he had ever filled it-now chatting gaily with this lady, now with that, but all the while striving to detect through the many disguises of dresses and masks, the one form that was to him all in all-the queen of his heart and his love, Signorina Florinda. He was himself unmasked, and wore a rich Grecian head-dress, a tunic of dark velvet, trimmed with rich ermine, and clasped close about the throat with checks of gold. His silken hose, and velvet shoes faced with silver thread, set off his fine limbs to perfection. A light, graceful dirk hung at his silver girdle, finishing a costume of great simplicity and beauty. On his right arm there now leans the peerless figure of a countess, with whom he promenades and chats in his gay and spirited way, while she is evidently much captivated with him-indeed, so much is this apparent, that a figure of less height, dressed in a simple peasant's garb and masked, steals up to his side and whispers some words into his ear; but though the reader may easily guess who that peasant girl really was, for the moment Carlton knew her not, and gently declining some proposal from her lips, he turns and walks on with the countess through the blaze of light and grandeur.
"That fellow carries it with a high hand," said one young noble to another, referring to Carlton.
"Ay, but he has the full countenance and favor of the duke, and none can gainsay him."
"Well, he is deuced clever," said the English consul, who was talking with the other two.
"Is it a fact that he is American?" asked the first speaker, still regarding him.
"Undoubtedly. You know he was announced as such when he won the duke's prize."
"How the ladies take to him," said the English consul.
"And he to them," added another.
"The Signora Florinda is said particularly to affect him, and he may win a prize there," said one of the group.
"That would be too bad-the richest heiress in Florence to throw herself away thus!"
"'There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip,'" quoted the English consul, and then walking away.
And thus Carlton was the unconscious theme of comment to a large portion of the assembly. But the hour approaches when the heavy bell of the palace strikes the midnight hour, and the masquerade will be broken up, and each and all appear before each other in their true characters. Peasant girls will don the attire more fitting their station; kings and queens will descend to their true estates; brigands will lay by the threatening paraphernalia of the mountain-robber, and hooded monks will assume a more worldly attire. The hour is struck, and the scene changes!
All is once more life and gayety, but the mask is discarded, and each one is undisguised. See, as the grand chamberlain, with the golden key of office wrought ostentatiously upon his ample velvet mantle, aids in arranging the preliminaries of the dance, he pauses to address with respect, and yet with a degree of familiarity, a tall, manly person of noble bearing, and of handsome features, opposite to whom stands, as partner for the dance, Signora Florinda, the duke's ward. The queenly beauty of her person is the same as when we first met her, so lovely and captivating. The few months which have intervened since that period, have only served still more to perfect her ripening mould; and though scarcely nineteen summers have shed their golden wealth upon that genial land since her natal hour, yet she is in the full bloom of lovely womanhood.
See how gracefully glides that beautiful form through the mazes of the dance!-how fondly, as she rests within the encircling arm of her partner, does she look up into his face, drinking from the eloquent eyes that meet her own of the nectar of love, as the Suri rose of Syria sips the dewy treasures of the twilight hour. That partner on whom she rests so fondly, gentle reader, is the humble painter who won the prize of the Grand Duke; the now rich and honored Carlton, the protege of Leopold.
The generous monarch who ruled over that portion of Italy under his charge with the liberal and provident hand of a father, held most regal court-spending of his enormous revenue with a gallant and open hand. His excellency was a connoisseur in all matters of the arts, to which he was enthusiastically devoted, and also a most liberal patron to their interest; consequently he lavished all honor on him whom he thought so deserving of it, and the entire court now pointed to the envied artist as being the favorite of the Grand Duke. Carlton's new patron found qualities in the young American artist to admire and love, and there grew up between him and the duke a real and earnest friendship quite remarkable.
"No more thanks," said the duke to him one day as they were together. "You challenge me to praise, to reward, and to love you, and I cannot help doing all three."
"Your highness is only too lavishly kind to me," was the earnest reply.
"But touching this affection which has sprung up between you and my ward. I shall have plenty of opposition in that matter; but if Florinda loves you, by our lady, she shall be yours."
"Your highness is ever adding to my indebtedness to you," said Carlton.
"Say no more, say no more, Carlton, but make your own terms."
The consent of the duke was thus freely obtained to the marriage of Florinda and Carlton, and the observant monarch discovered the preference of his ward long before it was announced formally to him. So far from opposing the object, he even encouraged it in every way that propriety suggested; forwarding its interests by such delicate promptings as his feelings would permit. He loved Florinda as though she had been his own child. This feeling, as we have seen, was first induced by the affection which existed between his ward and his lamented wife, and was afterward strengthened by her many beauties of mind and person.
Carlton and Florinda sat together in a private apartment in the royal palace. The latter was playing a favorite air upon the guitar to the artist, who sat at her feet watching with admiration every movement of that beautiful and dearly loved form. He found every attribute there worthy a heart's devotion. Like the worshippers of the sun, who believe that God sits there on his throne, so did he, in his homage, picture the good angel of all things in the heart of Florinda.
Let us pause for a moment, to describe the apartment in the Palazzo Pitti, devoted to the fair Signora Florinda, and where she now sat with him she loved. It was fittingly chosen, being in a retired yet easily accessible angle of the palace; an apartment lofty and large, yet not so much so as to impart the vacant and lonely feeling that a large room is wont to do over the feelings of the occupant when alone.
It was lighted by two extensive windows, reaching nearly from the ceiling to the floor. The magnificence of the furniture, the rich and well chosen paintings that ornamented the walls, and in short, the air of unostentatious richness that struck the beholder on entering it, showed at once the good taste and general character of the occupant.
On a little table of elaborate and beautiful workmanship, were placed with a few rare and favorite books, some curious ornaments from the hands of the cunning artificers of the East, most beautifully fancied, and from which a moral might be read telling the fair occupant of the unhappy state of her own sex in that far off clime.
The broad, heavy and richly-wrought curtains that tempered the light admitted through the gorgeously stained glass windows, were of Tuscan satin, blending, like the skies under which they were manufactured, a most happy conceit of rich and rosy colors. Pendant from the hoops in which both were gathered, hung a bunch of ostrich feathers of showy whiteness belieing, as it were, the country of their nativity-swarthy Africa. They were more for fancy than for use, though they did sometimes serve to chase the flies.
The seats and couches were of stuffed and figured velvet from the manufactories of the queen of the Adriatic, Venice. The scarcely less soft and pliant carpet was of eastern ingenuity, and no richer served the Turkish Sultan himself. Two opposite sides of the apartment were ornamented each with a mirror of extensive size. About their richly gilded frames was wound, in graceful festoons, the finest Mechlin lace as a screen for the eye.
On one side of the room stood an American piano, and beside it a harp of surpassing richness. Here Carlton and Florinda were seated at this time in all the confidence and enjoyment of acknowledged love.
"Carlton, I told thee that fortune would smile upon thee; thou rememberest that I told thee."
"It has indeed, and I am blessed."
And thus saying, he pressed the delicate, jewelled hand that he held affectionately to his lips, while his eyes beamed with love.
"You have promised me that you will visit my native land with me after our marriage, dear Florinda."
"O, nothing will delight me more than to see the American Republic; the cities and towns of the New World, its people and customs. O, how I have ever wished to travel! Only to think, Carlton, I have scarcely been out of Italy! I once made a trip with uncle across the sea to Malaga and back, touching at the islands; that was years gone by. Since then I have been at times to Milan, Genoa, Leghorn and Bologna, but never out of Italy."
"America is not like thy sunny land, Florinda."
"Ay, but it is the land of thy nativity, and I will love it for thy sake, And then it is a free, republican government; there are no serfs there-all are freemen. How proud you should feel to belong to such a country."
"I do indeed feel proud, dear one; and doubly so when thy eloquent tongue describes it so well."
He touched the guitar lightly and gaily, while he thought of the happy tour they would make together.
"How proud I shall be of thee," he continued.
"How proud I am of thee."
"There is little pride in thee, Florinda, or thou wouldst never have consented to marry one of my humble pretensions."
"Carlton," said the lady, reproachfully.
"And thou wilt marry the humble painter?"
"Nay, the envied artist, and protege of the duke."
"Ah, little have I coveted this advancement, but for the hope that it has given me concerning thee, Florinda! The favored friend of the Grand Duke has dared boldly to ask for that which the poor artist could only hope for."
Florinda and Carlton were happy in the anticipation of future joy, foreseeing for themselves a path of roses in the fairy future.
"But fortune is fickle, dearest, and even now I tremble."
"You are ever suspicious, Carlton."
"Not in most matters, but in those relating to thee, Florinda."
"Now, I am ever looking on the sunny side of our life-picture."
"It is good philosophy to do so, if one can but accomplish the purpose."
"And yet, Carlton, one will sometimes be reminded that there is a shadowed side to the brightest scenes and hopes."
"We will seek its bright side, dearest."
"With all my heart.-Carlton, do you not remember that you left the heroine of that story you were last telling me in a most critical situation?"
"True, she was carried off by the banditti. Shall I complete the story?"
"Yes, pray do."
THE RHINE LEGEND COMPLETED.
They laugh that win.
"WELL, Florinda, you must go with me in imagination to the mountain fastness, which I referred to as the robbers' stronghold in the mountains. A month nearly had passed since the period of Bettina's being carried away from her home, and the time I would introduce you there. It is a wild spot, almost inaccessible, unless one knows the secret paths which have been hewn up the sides of the rocks, and through the otherwise impassable undergrowth of the forest, by the perseverance and labors of the robbers. The rude castle, which I would now describe to you, was built with consummate military skill, and the walls and bastions, though small and low, could hold out a long time against any strength that might be brought against it. Ever prepared for an enemy, too, was its cautious master and his outposts were as regularly set as are those of an advancing army in an enemy's country.
"Hither had the fair Bettina been conducted; and here, with a simple peasant girl to serve her, had she been treated with all respect, save that she was a prisoner. Rude were the inhabitants of this uncongenial spot; fierce in aspect, but completely under the control of the master spirit, whom they called captain. Hark! A peculiar wild cry rings over the tree-tops, and echoes among the rocks and hills; and observe how quickly those who have been loitering upon the ground spring to their feet, and Petard himself comes forth from that portion of the tower devoted to his retirement. That was some recognized signal-that cry which, to the uninitiated, might have been mistaken for the whoop of an owl, or some wild bird's cry of fright.
"The secret is soon disclosed. That signal betokened the taking of a captive, and there was soon led into their midst the person of one whom misery seemed to have laid violent hands upon, with garments torn and soiled, with a step that indicated weakness almost to death itself, the face disfigured by unshorn beard and hair, and eyes that looked sunken and large from famine. Such was the bent and woe-begone figure that was now half-supported, half-led into the midst of the band.
"'From whence comes this man?' asked Petard, regarding him curiously.
"'He was found lurking about our outskirts, captain, and we thought it best to arrest and bring him in.'
"'It is well,' continued the captain of the robbers. 'What have you to say for yourself, fellow? What brought you in these regions, away from town and habitations?'
"'Give me food, food!' gasped the prisoner.
"'Ay, by our lady, he's famished,' said Petard, with a natural burst of feeling. 'Here, bring bread-a flask of wine.'
"He was obeyed, and the new comer drained the flask to the bottom, and devoured the food voraciously, until those about him interfered, saying that he would kill himself after so long an abstinence; and truly there seemed to be some grounds for this fear, so ravenously hungry did he seem. Gradually, as the wine warmed his veins, and the food, to which some dried meats had been added, began to satisfy the cravings of hunger, the stranger rose from his bending posture, and new life seemed infused into his system. His eyes, though somewhat hollow, seemed to brighten and light up his rugged face. There was manhood in him, and that pleased the bandits; he showed no signs of fear, and looked boldly about him, like one who was accustomed to rely on himself, and was prepared to stand forth at any moment in defence of his rights.
"'If thou canst fight as well as thou canst eat, my man, thou art a jewel of a fellow,' said Petard, carefully scanning the new comer, who seemed every moment brightening up from the effects of the nourishment.
"'Give me but rest and more food, and you may then try me,' was the brief reply.
"'Thou art a sensible fellow,' continued Petard, who was evidently pleased with the stranger, 'and shalt be humored.'
"A rude couch was spread by the robbers amidst their stacks of arms, and throwing himself upon the skins thus prepared for him, the stranger slept for hours, until the bright sun was high in the heavens on the following morning, when, after another abundant meal, he seemed like a new creature; he stood erect, and his fine dark eye shone with the fire of resolution and of strength. His story was soon told; he had outraged the laws, was seized and condemned to punishment, had effected his escape and fled to the mountains, and wandered about until half-starved, and nearly dead with fatigue, he had thus been found.
"'Your story is plausible, but what shall we do with you? You know the secret of our paths through the mountain, and it is not safe to let thee go abroad to reveal them,' said the bandit chief.
"'Make me one of you, then,' said the stranger.
"'We make but few members,' replied Petard. 'It is not our way; and men must possess peculiar qualities to obtain a place with us, and a share of our prize-earnings.'
"Probably courage, strength and a ready hand are worth something among you,' said the stranger.
"'Yes, but we all possess these,' replied Petard.
"'In a degree,' said the stranger, emphasizing the last word.
"'What mean you?' asked Petard.
"'That perhaps he who offers you his services is a better man than you take him for,' said the other.
"'In what respects?' asked Petard.
"'In all things that constitute manhood,' was the reply. 'Yesterday I was weak and worn; to-day I am myself again. And no man of this band can bear the palm from me in the use of those powers which Heaven has given us.'
"'Without weapons, you mean to say,' added Petard.
"'Without weapons I defy your best man,' said the stranger, evidently desiring to display some prowess which should gain him admission to the band.
"There was a consultation between Petard and a few of his officers and men, and finally there stepped forth a large, powerful member of the troop-the bully of the band-who offered without weapons to contend with the new comer. The terms were properly stated by the captain, the ground chosen, and the contest begun. The skill, strategy and strength of the stranger were confounding to the robber, and he was cast upon the ground totally disabled in a very few moments. The robbers being angry at this, another stepped forward, was vanquished as quickly, and another, and still another, until Petard himself interfered, declaring that he who could thus fight without weapons, and with such skill and decision, must be a strong auxiliary in time of need. He was installed, therefore, with due ceremony, as a member of the band.
"It was a fine, clear night," continued Carlton, "that on which it came the turn of the new comer to guard the tower in which Bettina Etzwell was confined. The stars shone out like mystic lamps, and the broad turrets of the robbers' stronghold cast deep shadows upon the open plats that had been cleared about the spot. All was still. After an evening of revelry, the band was sleeping, and the single guard paced to and fro, apparently not daring to sit down lest he should fall asleep. In the lone tower above him was the fair prisoner. She realized her true situation, and she knew that her father would use every endeavor to raise the sum requisite for her ransom. She knew enough about the habits and practices of the banditti, not to have any fears for her personal safety, since it was so much for their pecuniary advantage to protect and respect her. Indeed, Petard had frankly told her of the communications that had taken place between her father and himself concerning her ransom.
"But hark! What startles the fair girl so suddenly? See, she hastens to the turret window, and listens absorbedly to the low but musical notes of a human voice. Is it because the song is so familiar to her ear, that she is thus moved? Perhaps there are recollections connected with this air that are particularly affecting to her, for her fair bosom heaves quickly, and her whole figure seems agitated, as she gazes out upon the night, and her eyes rest upon the person of the robber who guards her captivity, while a clear, manly voice, though in subdued cadence, pours forth the touching notes of a Rhine song with singular delicacy and sweetness.
"'Can there be two such voices?' she asked herself. 'Is there magic at work? That is certainly the voice of Egbert, but yonder guard who sings thus is one of these detested banditti!'
"In her excitement, she leaned forth from the turret-window, while at the same moment the new member of the band drew towards it. All was still; the revellers slept. Petard himself slept. Only this single sentinel and the prisoner were awake!
"'Bettina, Bettina!' whispered the guard, with his hands to his mouth, so as to direct the sound to her ears alone.
"'God be praised, Egbert! Is it indeed you?' she exclaimed aloud.
"'Hush, it is your devoted lover; be discreet!' he answered."
"I knew it was he," interrupted Florinda.
Carlton continued. "'I will, I will. But this dress-the office you fill. What does this mean? I am amazed, Egbert.'
"'I am here under a disguise,' he replied, 'and have just joined the robbers to liberate thee. Be careful, watchful, but never appear to regard me let what may occur, for I may be foiled at first in my purpose.'
"'My father-' lisped Bettina.
"'Is well,' said her lover. 'All will go well if thou wilt but be cautious.' Come to the outer door-I have the key.'
"'Shall we fly?' she asked.
"'Not to-night; preparation must be made. Perhaps to-morrow night, for I have the watch here for two nights, and shall see you then. Come down for a few moments.'
"In an instant more the lovers were folded in each other's arms. Egbert had never before embraced her; but their present situation was one to break down all barriers of mere formality, and Bettina sobbed upon his breast, blessing him for his, courage in thus seeking to rescue her. These were precious moments, and they improved them in arranging everything for the coming night. Egbert, as she bade him good night, handed her a jewelled dagger, saying that let what might occur, she had that silent friend!