Orco by L. W. J.
FROM THE FRENCH OF GEORGE SAND.
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 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
"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
"'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
"'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!
"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
"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,
"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
"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
"'The Lion! the Lion!' she answered, raising toward heaven her arm white
"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.'
"'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.