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Orco by L. W. J.


We were as usual assembled in the arbor. The evening was stormy, the air heavy and the sky charged with black clouds furrowed with frequent lightnings. We were keeping a melancholy silence, as if the gloom of the atmosphere had reached our hearts, disposing us involuntarily to tears. Beppa, particularly, seemed given up to sorrowful thoughts. In vain had the abbé, alarmed at the disposition of the company, tried several times and in every way to reanimate the gayety, usually so sparkling, of our friend. Neither questions, teasing nor entreaties succeeded in drawing her from her reverie: her eyes fixed on the sky, her fingers wandering carelessly over the trembling strings of her guitar, she seemed not to notice what was going on around her, and to be thinking of nothing but the plaintive sounds she caused her instrument to utter, and the capricious course of the clouds.

The good Panorio, disheartened by the ill success of his attempts, took the resolution of addressing himself to me. "Come, dear Zorze," said he, "try in thy turn the power of thy affection upon this capricious beauty. There exists between you two a sort of magnetic sympathy stronger than all my reasoning, and the sound of thy voice succeeds in drawing her from her deepest distraction."

"This magnetic sympathy of which thou speakest to me," I answered, "comes, dear abbé, from the identity of our feelings. We have suffered in the same way and thought the same things, and we know each other well enough, she and I, to know what sort of ideas external circumstances recall to each. I wager that I can guess, not the subject, but at least the nature, of her reverie." And turning toward Beppa, "Carissima," I said gently, "of which of our sisters art thou thinking?"

"Of the most beautiful," she answered without turning round, "of the proudest, the most unfortunate."

"When did she die?" I continued, already interested in her who lived in the memory of my noble friend, and desiring to associate myself by my regrets with a destiny which could not be strange to me.

"She died at the close of last winter, on the night of the ball at the palace Servilio. She had resisted many sorrows, she had come forth victorious from many dangers, had suffered, without succumbing, terrible agonies, and died suddenly without leaving any trace, as if carried off by a thunderbolt. Every one here knew her more or less, but no one so well as I, because none loved her so much, and she only let herself be known according as she was loved. Others do not believe in her death, although she has not appeared since the night of which I tell thee: they say it has often happened that she has disappeared thus for a long time, and returned again afterward. But I know that she will never come back any more, and that her part upon the earth is finished. If I wished to doubt it I could not: she took care to let me know the fatal truth through him who was the cause of her death. And what a misfortune was that! O God! the greatest misfortune of our unhappy age! Such a beautiful life was hers! so beautiful and so full of contrasts! so illustrious, so mysterious, so sad, so magnificent, so enthusiastic, so austere, so voluptuous, so complete in its resemblance to all human things! No: no life and no death were like hers. She had found means of suppressing all the pitiful realities of her existence, leaving only its poetry. Faithful to the old customs of the national aristocracy, she only showed herself after the close of the day, masked, but never followed by any one. There is not an inhabitant of the city who has not met her wandering in the squares or in the streets—not one who has not noticed her gondola moored in some canal, but no one ever saw it enter or go out. Although this gondola was watched by no one, it was never known to have been the object of an attempt at theft. It was painted and equipped like all other gondolas, yet every one knew it. Even the children said, on seeing it, 'There is the gondola of the Mask.' As to the way in which it moved, and the place from which it brought its mistress at night, and to which it carried her back in the morning, no one could even suspect it. The revenue-cruisers had, indeed, often seen a black shadow upon the lagoons, and, taking it for a contraband boat, had given chase to it as far as the open sea, but when morning came they never saw upon the waves anything resembling the object of their pursuit; and finally they fell into the way of not minding it, and of saying when they saw it, 'There is the gondola of the Mask again.'

"At night the Mask traversed the whole city, seeking no one knew what. She was seen by turns in the broadest squares and in the most crooked streets, on bridges and under the arches of tall palaces, in the most frequented places and the most deserted. She went sometimes slowly, sometimes fast, without appearing to notice the crowd or the solitude, but never stopping. She seemed to contemplate with passionate curiosity the houses, the monuments, the canals, and even the sky above the city, and to breathe with delight the air which circulated through it. When she met a friendly person, she signed to him to follow her, and soon disappeared with him. More than once she has led me thus from the midst of the crowd, and has conversed with me of the things we loved. I followed her with confidence, for I knew we were friends; but many of those to whom she signaled did not dare respond to her invitation. Strange stories circulated about her, and froze the courage of the most intrepid. It was said that several young men, thinking they discovered a woman beneath this mask and this black dress, became enamored of her, as much for the singularity and mystery of her life as for her beautiful form and noble appearance—that having had the imprudence to follow her, they had never reappeared. The police, having even noticed that these young men were all Austrians, had brought all their man[oe]uvres into use to discover them, and get possession of her who was accused as the cause of their disappearance. But the sbirri were not more fortunate than the revenue-officers, and were never able to learn anything about the young foreigners or to lay hands upon her. A strange incident had discouraged the most ardent spies of the Venetian Inquisition. Finding that it was impossible to seize the Mask by night in Venice, two of the most zealous of the police resolved to wait for her in her own gondola, so as to capture her when she should enter it to row away. One evening, when they saw it moored to the Quay dei Schiavi, they got into it and concealed themselves. They remained there all night without hearing or seeing any one, but an hour before day they thought they perceived that some one was untying the boat. They rose silently and prepared to fall upon their prey, but at the same instant a terrible push capsized the gondola and the unlucky agents of Austrian rule. One of them was drowned, and the other only owed his life to aid brought him by the smugglers. The next day there was no trace of the boat, and the police were forced to believe it submerged, but in the evening it was seen moored in the same place and in the same condition as the night before. Then a superstitious terror took possession of the police, and not one of them was willing to make the same attempt a second time. After that day they no longer sought to disturb the Mask, who continued her excursions as in the past.

"In the beginning of last autumn there came to the garrison here an Austrian officer named Count Franz Lichtenstein. He was an enthusiastic, passionate young man, who had within him the germ of all great sentiments and an instinct for noble thoughts. In spite of his bad education as a great lord, he had been able to preserve his mind from all prejudices, and to keep in his heart a reverence for liberty. His position forced him to dissimulate in public his ideas and tastes, but as soon as his duties were performed he hastened to throw off his uniform, which seemed to him a badge of all the vices of the government he served, and hurried to meet the friends whom his goodness and intelligence had procured for him in the city. We loved particularly to hear him speak of Venice. He had seen it as an artist, had deplored its servitude, and had come to love it as much as a Venetian. He never wearied of traversing it night and day, and of admiring it. He wished, he said, to know it better than those whose good fortune it was to have been born there. In his nocturnal rambles he encountered the Mask. At first he paid no great attention to her, but having soon noticed that she appeared to study the city with the same curiosity as himself, he was struck with this strange coincidence, and spoke of it to several persons. They related to him the stories which were afloat concerning the veiled woman, and advised him to beware of her. But, as he was brave even to rashness, these warnings, instead of frightening him, excited his curiosity, and inspired him with a mad desire to make the acquaintance of the mysterious personage who so terrified the vulgar. Wishing to keep toward the Mask the same incognito which she preserved toward him, he dressed himself as a citizen and continued his nocturnal excursions. He was not long in meeting what he sought. He saw under a beautiful moonlight the masked woman standing before the charming church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo. She seemed to contemplate with adoration the delicate ornaments which decorated its portal. The count silently and slowly approached her. She did not appear to notice him, and did not stir. The count, who had stopped a moment to see if he were discovered, moved on again and came close to her. He heard her utter a profound sigh, and as he knew Venetian very badly, but Italian very well, he addressed her in pure Tuscan. 'Salutation,' said he—'salutation and happiness to those who love Venice.'

"'Who are you?' replied the Mask, with a voice full and sonorous as a man's, but sweet as a nightingale's.

"'I am a lover of beauty.'

"'Are you one of those whose brutal love does violence to free beauty, or of those who kneel before captive beauty and weep for its sorrows?'

"'When the king of the night sees the rose flourish joyously beneath the breath of the breeze, he flaps his wings and sings: when he sees her wither beneath the hurrying blast of the storm, he hides his head under his wing and shudders. Thus does my love.'

"'Follow me, then, for thou art one of the faithful.' And grasping the young man's hand, she drew him toward the church. When he felt the cold hand of the unknown press his, and saw her move with him toward the sombre depth of the portal, involuntarily he recalled the fearful stories he had heard, and, seized with a sudden terror, he stopped. The Mask turned, and fixing a scornful look on the pale face of her companion, said to him, 'You are afraid? Adieu.' Then loosing his arm she hastened away.

"The count was ashamed of his weakness, and rushing after her, in his turn seized her hand, saying, 'No, I am not afraid. Come!' Without answering, she continued her walk. But instead of going toward the church, as at first, she turned into one of the little streets which lead into the square. The moon was hidden, and the most complete obscurity reigned over the city. Franz hardly saw where he placed his foot, and could distinguish nothing in the deep shadows which enfolded him on all sides. He followed at random his guide, who seemed, on the contrary, to know her way perfectly well. From time to time a few beams gliding across the clouds came to show Franz the edge of a canal, a bridge, an arch or some unknown part of a labyrinth of deep and tortuous streets: then everything relapsed into darkness. Franz soon discovered that he was lost in Venice, and that he was at the mercy of his guide, but he resolved to brave everything. He showed no uneasiness, and let himself be led along without making an observation.

"At the end of a full hour the masked woman stopped. 'It is well,' she said to the count: 'you have courage. If you had shown the least sign of fear during our walk, I would never have spoken to you again. But you were calm: I am satisfied with you. To-morrow, then, on the square of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, at eleven o'clock. Do not seek to follow me: it would be useless. Turn down this street to the right and you will see the piazza of St. Mark's. Au revoir!' She quickly pressed the count's hand, and before he had time to answer disappeared behind the angle of the street.

"The count remained for some time motionless, still perfectly astounded at what had passed, and undecided what to do. But having reflected on his slight chance of finding the mysterious lady again, and the risk he ran of losing himself by pursuing her, he resolved to return home. He followed, therefore, the street to the right, found himself in a few moments in the piazza of St. Mark's, and thence easily regained his hotel.

"The next day he was faithful to the rendezvous. He arrived in the square as the church-clock was striking eleven. He saw the masked woman standing waiting for him on the steps of the entrance.

"'It is well,' said she. 'You are punctual: let us enter.' So speaking, she turned immediately toward the church.

"Franz, who saw that the door was shut, and knew that it was never opened at night, thought the woman was mad. But what was his surprise at seeing the door yield to her first effort! He mechanically followed his guide, who quickly reclosed the door after he had entered. They then found themselves in darkness, but Franz, remembering that a second door without a lock still separated them from the nave, felt no uneasiness, and prepared to push it before him in order to enter. But she stopped him by a pressure of the arm. 'Have you ever come into this church?' she asked him abruptly.

"'Twenty times,' he answered. 'I know it as well as the architect who built it.'

"'Say you think you know it, for you do not really know it yet. Enter!'

"Franz pushed the second door, and they penetrated into the interior of the church. It was magnificently lighted on all sides, but completely empty.

"'What ceremony is to be performed here?' asked Franz, stupefied.

"'None: the church expected me to-night: that is all. Follow me.'

"The count vainly tried to understand the meaning of the words the Mask addressed to him, but, subjugated by a mysterious power, he followed her obediently. She led him into the middle of the church, made him notice, understand and admire its general architecture; then, passing to the examination of each part, she explained to him in detail, by turns, the nave, the colonnades, the chapels, the altars, the statues, the pictures, all the ornaments; showed him the meaning of everything, disclosed to him the idea hidden beneath each form, made him feel all the beauties of the works which composed the whole, and caused him to penetrate, so to speak, into the very entrails of the church. Franz listened with religious attention to all the words of the eloquent mouth which was pleased to instruct him, and from minute to minute recognized how little he had comprehended this ensemble of works which had seemed to him so easy to understand. When she finished the rays of morning, penetrating through the window-panes, caused the light of the tapers to pale. Although she had spoken for several hours, and had not sat down for an instant during the whole night, neither her voice nor her body betrayed any fatigue. Only her head drooped upon her bosom, which was throbbing violently, and seemed to listen to the sighs exhaling from it. Suddenly she lifted up her head, and raising her arms toward heaven, cried, 'O servitude! servitude!' At these words tears, rolling from beneath her mask, fell among the folds of her black dress.

"'Why do you weep?' asked Franz, approaching her.

"'To-morrow,' she answered, 'at midnight, before the Arsenal;' and went out by the side door at the left, which closed again heavily. At the same moment the Angelus sounded.

"Franz, astonished by the unexpected noise of the bell, turned and saw that all the tapers were extinguished. He remained for some time motionless from surprise, then left the church by the great door which the sacristan had just opened, and returned slowly home, endeavoring to guess who this woman, so bold, so artistic, so powerful, with such charm in her speech, such majesty in her appearance, could be.

"The next night at midnight the count was before the Arsenal. He found the Mask, who was waiting for him as on the previous night, and who, without saying anything, began to walk rapidly before him. Arrived before one of the side doors on the right, she stopped, inserted in the keyhole a golden key, which Franz saw glitter in the moonbeams, opened the door without making any noise, and entered first, signing to Franz to follow her. The latter hesitated an instant. To penetrate into the Arsenal at night by the aid of a false key was to expose one's self to a trial by a court-martial, if one were discovered; and it was almost impossible to avoid discovery in a place guarded by sentinels. But seeing the Mask on the point of closing the door upon him, he suddenly decided to pursue the adventure to the close, and entered. The masked woman first led him across several courts, then through corridors and galleries, all the doors of which she opened with her golden key, and ended by bringing him into vast halls filled with arms of all kinds and times, which had served, in the wars of the republic, either its defenders or its enemies. These halls were lighted by ships' lanterns placed at equal distances between the trophies. She showed the count the most curious and celebrated arms, telling him the names of those to whom they had belonged and of the battles in which they had been used, and relating to him in detail the exploits of which they had been the instruments. Thus she revived before the eyes of Franz the whole history of Venice. After having visited the four halls consecrated to this exhibition, she led him into a last one, larger than all the others, and lighted like them, but containing wood for shipbuilding, the débris of vessels of different forms and sizes, and fragments of the last Bucentaur. She told her companion the properties of these woods, the use of the ships, the time at which they had been built and the expeditions in which they had taken part: then pointing to the balcony of the Bucentaur, 'There,' said she, in a sad voice, 'are the remains of a past royalty. That was the last ship which bore a doge of Venice to wed the sea. Now Venice is a slave, and slaves never marry. O servitude! servitude!'

"As upon the previous evening, she went away after having pronounced these words, but this time taking the count with her, as he could not, without danger, remain in the Arsenal. Arrived in the square, they agreed on a new rendezvous for the morrow and parted.

"The next night and many succeeding nights she took Franz to the principal monuments of the city, introducing him everywhere with incomprehensible facility, explaining to him with admirable lucidity everything presented to their view, displaying to him marvelous treasures of intelligence and sensibility. He did not know which to admire most, the mind that had investigated so deeply or the heart that displayed itself in such beautiful bursts of feeling. What had at first been with him only a fancy, soon changed to a real and profound sentiment. Curiosity had caused him to form a connection with the Mask, and astonishment had led him to continue it. But at length the habit which he had formed of seeing her every night became to him a veritable necessity. Although the words of the unknown were always grave and often sad, Franz found in them an indefinable charm which attached him to her more and more, and he could not have fallen asleep at the break of day if he had not at night heard her sighs and seen her tears. He had such a sincere and profound respect for the grandeur and sufferings of which he suspected her that he had not dared beg her to take off her mask or to tell him her name. As she had not asked his, he would have blushed to show himself more curious and less discreet than she; and he was resolved to hope everything from her good-will and nothing from his own importunity. She seemed to appreciate the delicacy of his conduct, and to be pleased with it, for at each succeeding interview she showed him more confidence and sympathy. Although not a single word of love had been uttered between them, Franz had reason to believe that she knew his passion and felt disposed to share it. His hopes almost sufficed for his happiness, and when he felt a deeper desire to know her whom he already named internally his mistress, his imagination, impressed and as if assured by the marvels which surrounded him, painted her so perfect and so beautiful that he almost feared the moment in which she should be unveiled to him.

"One night, as they were wandering together under the arcades of St. Mark's, the masked woman made Franz stop before a picture which represented a girl kneeling before the patron saint of the basilica and the city. 'What do you think of this woman?' said she to him, after having given him time to examine it well.

"'It is,' he answered, 'the most wonderful beauty that one could, not see, but imagine. The artist's inspired soul has been able to give us its image, but the model can only exist in heaven.'

"The masked woman warmly pressed the hand of Franz. 'I,' she replied, 'know a face more beautiful than that of the glorious Saint Mark, and I could love no other than that which is the living image of it.'

"On hearing these words Franz paled and trembled as if seized with vertigo. He had just perceived that the face of the saint offered the most exact resemblance to his own. He fell on his knees before the unknown, and seizing her hand bathed it with his tears, without being able to utter a word.

"'I know now that thou belongest to me,' she said in a voice full of emotion, 'and that thou art worthy to know me and possess me. To-morrow, at the ball of the palace Servilio.' Then she left him as before, but without pronouncing the sacramental words, so to speak, which had terminated the conversation of each previous night.

"Intoxicated with joy, Franz wandered through the whole city, without being able to stop anywhere. He admired the sky, smiled upon the lagoons, saluted the houses and spoke to the wind. All who met him took him for a madman, and singled him out by their glances. He perceived it, but only laughed at the madness of those who found amusement in his. When his friends asked him what he had been doing for a month in which he had not been visible, he answered, 'I am going to be happy,' and passed on.

"Evening having arrived, he bought a magnificent scarf and new epaulettes, returned home to dress, took the greatest pains with his toilette, and then went, adorned with his uniform, to the palace Servilio. The ball was magnificent: every one except the officers of the garrison had come disguised, according to the injunction in the cards of invitation; and this multitude of varied and elegant costumes, mingling and moving to the sound of a numerous orchestra, presented the most brilliant and animated appearance. Franz traversed all the halls, approached all the groups and cast his eyes upon all the women. Several were remarkably beautiful, but none seemed to him worthy to arrest his regard. 'She is not here,' he said to himself. 'I was sure of it: it is not yet her hour.' He placed himself behind a column near the principal entrance and waited, his eyes fixed on the door. Many times it opened, many women entered, without causing the heart of Franz to throb, but at the moment when the clock struck eleven he started and cried out, loud enough to be heard by his neighbors, 'There she is!'

"All eyes turned toward him, as if to ask the meaning of his exclamation. But at the same moment the doors opened abruptly, and a woman who entered attracted all attention toward herself. Franz recognized her immediately. It was the young girl of the picture, dressed like a dogess of the fifteenth century, and rendered still more beautiful by the magnificence of her costume. She advanced with a slow and majestic step, looking about her with assurance, and saluting nobody, as if she had been the queen of the ball. No one except Franz knew her, but every one, conquered by her marvelous beauty and her lofty air, stood respectfully aside, and almost bowed down before her passage. Franz, at once dazzled and enchanted, followed her at a sufficient distance. At the moment she arrived in the last hall a handsome young man wearing the costume of Tasso was singing, accompanying himself on the guitar, a romance in honor of Venice. She walked straight toward him, and looking; fixedly at him asked him who he was that dared to wear such a costume and to sing of Venice. The young man, overwhelmed by her look, turned pale, bent his head and handed her his guitar. She took it, and drawing her fingers, white as alabaster, across the strings, she intoned in her turn, with a harmonious and powerful voice, a strange and irregular song: 'Dance, laugh, sing, gay children of Venice! For you the winter has no frosts, the night no shadows, life no cares. You are the happy ones of the world, and Venice is the queen of nations. Who says No? Take care: eyes see, ears hear, tongues speak. Fear the Council of Ten if you are not good citizens. Good citizens dance, laugh and sing, but do not speak. Dance, laugh, sing, gay children of Venice!—Venice, only city not created by the hand, but by the mind, of man! thou who seemst made to serve as the passing dwelling of the souls of the just, placed as a step for them from earth to heaven; walls which fairies inhabited, and which a magic breath still animates; aërial colonnades which tremble in the mist; light spires which one confounds with the floating masts of ships; arcades which seem to contain a thousand voices to answer each passing voice; ye myriads of angels and saints, who seem to bound upon the cupolas and move your bronze and marble wings when the breeze blows upon your damp brows; city which liest not, like others, on a dark and filthy soil, but which floatest, like a troop of swans, upon the waves,—rejoice, rejoice, rejoice! A new destiny is opening for you as beautiful as the first! The black eagle floats over the lion of St. Mark's, and Teutonic feet waltz in the palaces of the doges. Be silent, harmony of the night! Die, insensate noises of the ball! Be no more heard, holy song of the fishermen! Cease to murmur, voice of the Adriatic! Pale lamp of the Madonna! hide thyself for ever, silver queen of the night! There are no more Venetians in Venice. Do we dream? are we at a fête? Yes, yes: let us dance, let us laugh, let us sing! It is the hour when Faliero's shade descends slowly the staircase of the Giants, and seats himself, immovable, upon the lowest step. Let us dance, let us laugh, let us sing, for presently the voice of the clock will say, Midnight! and the chorus of the dead will come to cry in our ears, Servitude! servitude!'

"With these words she let fall the guitar, which gave forth a funereal sound on striking against the marble floor. Every one listened for the twelve strokes in a horrible silence. Then the master of the palace advanced toward the unknown with an air half terrified, half angry. 'Madame,' said he in a troubled voice, 'who has done me the honor to bring you to my house?'

"'I,' cried Franz, advancing, 'and if any one finds it ill, let him speak.'

"The unknown, who had appeared to pay no attention to the host's question, quickly raised her head on hearing the count's voice. 'I live,' she cried with enthusiasm, 'I shall live!' and she turned toward him with a radiant face. But as she looked at him her cheeks paled and her brow darkened with a sombre cloud. 'Why have you taken this disguise?' she said in a severe tone, pointing to his uniform.

"'It is not a disguise,' he answered: 'it is—' He could say no more: a terrible look from the unknown had as if petrified him. She regarded him some seconds in silence, then let fall from her eyes two large tears. Franz would have rushed toward her, but she did not give him time.

"'Follow me,' she said in a hollow voice: then rapidly breaking through the astonished crowd, she left the hall, followed by Franz.

"Arrived at the foot of the palace steps, she leaped into her gondola, and told Franz to enter after her and be seated. When he had done so he looked about him, and seeing no gondolier, 'Who will row us?' he asked.

"'I,' she answered, seizing the oar with a vigorous hand.

"'Rather let me.'

"'No: Austrian hands do not know the oar of Venice;' and giving a powerful impulse to the gondola, she sent it like an arrow into the canal. In a few moments they were far from the palace. Franz, who expected from the unknown an explanation of her anger, was astonished and unhappy at seeing her keep silence. 'Where are we going?' he said after a moment's reflection.

"'Where destiny wills us to go,' she replied in a terrible voice, and as if these words had reanimated her anger she began to row still more vigorously. The gondola, obeying the impulse of her powerful hand, seemed to fly over the water. Franz saw the foam dash with dazzling rapidity along the sides of the boat, and the ships on their course flee behind them like clouds borne away by the whirlwind. Soon the darkness grew deeper, the wind rose, and the young man heard nothing but the seething of the waves and the hissing of the air through his hair, and saw nothing before him but the tall white figure of his companion in the midst of the shadows. Standing at the stern, her hands on the oar, her hair scattered over her shoulders, and her long, white garments abandoned in disorder to the wind, she less resembled a woman than the spirit of shipwrecks playing upon the stormy sea.

"'Where are we?' cried Franz in an agitated voice.

"'The captain is afraid?' answered the unknown with a disdainful laugh.

"Franz did not reply. He felt that she was right, and that fear was gaining him. Not being able to master it, he wished at least to disguise it, and resolved to remain silent. But at the end of a few moments, seized with a sort of vertigo, he rose and walked toward the unknown.

"'Sit down!' she cried to him. 'Sit down!' she repeated in a furious voice; and seeing that he continued to advance, she stamped with so much violence that the boat trembled as if it would capsize. Franz was thrown down by the shock, and fell fainting on the bottom of the boat. When he came to himself he saw the unknown lying weeping at his feet. Touched by her bitter sorrow, and forgetting all that had just passed, he seized her in his arms, raised her up and made her sit by him; but she did not cease to weep.

"'Oh, my love,' cried Franz, pressing her against his heart, 'why these tears?'

"'The Lion! the Lion!' she answered, raising toward heaven her arm white as marble.

"Franz raised his eyes to the part of the sky toward which she pointed, and saw indeed the constellation of the Lion shining solitary amid the clouds: 'What matters it? The planets have no power over our destinies, and if they had we would find favorable constellations to struggle against fatal stars.'

"'Venus is set, alas! and the Lion rises; and yonder, look yonder! Who can struggle against what comes yonder?' She uttered these words in a sort of delirium, lowering her arms toward the horizon.

"Franz turned his eyes in the direction she designated, and saw a black point traced upon the waves in the midst of an aureole of fire. 'What is that?' he asked with profound astonishment.

"'It is destiny,' she answered, 'who comes to seek its victim. Which of us? thou wilt ask. Whichever I will. Thou hast heard of the Austrian nobles who came with me in my gondola, and were never seen again?'

"'Yes, but that story is false.'

"'It is true. I must devour or be devoured. Every man of thy nation who loves me, and whom I do not love, dies. As long as I do not love one, I shall live and I shall cause to die; and if I love one, I shall die: it is my fate.'

"'Oh, my God, who art thou, then?'

"'How it advances! In a minute it will be upon us! Dost thou hear? dost thou hear?' The black point had approached with inconceivable rapidity, and had taken the form of an immense boat. A red light came from its sides and surrounded it with flame: tall phantoms stood motionless on the deck, and innumerable oars rose and fell in measure, striking the water with a dreadful noise, while hollow voices chanted the Dies Iræ, accompanying themselves with the noise of chains.

"'O Life! O Life!' continued the unknown in a tone of despair. 'Oh, Franz, here is the ship: dost thou recognize it?'

"'No: I tremble before this terrible apparition, but I do not know it.'

"'It is the Bucentaur: it is that which engulfed thy countrymen. They were here in this same place, at this same hour, seated by my side in this gondola. The ship approached as it is approaching now: a voice cried to me, "Who goes there?" I answered, "Austrian." The voice cried to me, "Dost thou hate or love?" I answered, "I hate;" and the voice said to me, "Live!" Then the ship passed over the gondola, engulfed thy compatriots, and bore me in triumph on the waves.'

"'And to-day?'

"'Alas! the voice is going to speak.'

"In fact, a lugubrious and solemn voice, imposing silence on the funereal equipage of the Bucentaur, cried, 'Who goes there?'

"'Austrian,' replied the trembling voice of the unknown.

"A chorus of malediction burst from the Bucentaur, which approached with ever-increasing rapidity. Then a new silence fell, and the voice continued, 'Dost thou hate or love?'

"The unknown hesitated a moment, then in a voice thrilling like thunder she cried out, 'I love.'

"Then the voice said, 'Thou hast accomplished thy destiny—thou lovest Austria. Die, Venice!'

"A great cry, a heartrending, desperate cry, clove the air, and Franz sank in the waves. On coming to the surface he saw nothing—neither the gondola, the Bucentaur nor his beloved. Only on the horizon shone some little lights: they were the famous lanterns of the fishermen of Murano. He swam in the direction of the little isle, and arrived there at the end of an hour. Poor Venice!"

Beppa had finished speaking: tears fell from her eyes. We watched them flow in silence without seeking to console her. But suddenly she dried them, and said to us with her capricious vivacity, "Well, what is the matter with you that you are so sad? Is that the effect fairy-stories produce upon you? Have you never heard of Orco, the Venetian Trilby? Have you never met her at evening in the churches or on the Lido? She is a good devil, who only does harm to oppressors and traitors. One may say that she is the real genius of Venice. But the viceroy, having heard indirectly and confusedly of Count Lichtenstein's perilous adventure, begged the patriarch to pronounce a great exorcism over the lagoons, and since then Orco has never reappeared."

L. W. J.