From "The Italian Novelists" translated from the originals with Critical and Biographical Notices by Thomas Roscoe; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; [undated edition, c. 1900; first published, c. 1824]; pp. 555-572.
From the specimen of the Count’s novels here presented to the English reader, it will easily be perceived that he claims a high rank among the fictitious writers of the seventeenth century, almost wholly opposed in style and character to those of a preceding era. Evident traces of modern manners and sentiments begin to display the changes that had taken place in society, with its increasing cultivation and refinement.
No women are permitted to approach the place except on an appointed day in the early part of autumn, when they are shown no 558 farther than the temple, not into the more secluded sanctuaries of the hermits’ abode. A solemn festival then ushers in the period; the most beautiful women, splendidly attired and mounted upon spirited palfreys, vie with each other in dress and liveliness, and, escorted by the flower of the nobility, add grace and liveliness to the scene. Never was it more magnificently celebrated than on a certain occasion, when the lady of one of the rectors of Padua, who had recently lost her eldest son, returning from France in the flower of his age and hopes, attended the ceremony with a noble train of ladies and cavaliers, with whom she ascended the summit of the mount. The splendour of the feast, abounding with all the rarities more suitable to the genius that supplied them than to the nature of the establishment, was calculated to surprise, and even to dazzle the eye.
The warmth of the day becoming more and more unsupportable, the lady of the feast, accompanied by her train, retired into the shady recess formed by some beautiful beeches surrounding a little eminence, which commanded a lovely and extensive prospect. There the sweet and solitary scene, so favourable to the indulgence of tender and melancholy thoughts, led her to praise a mode of life so wholly divested of all worldly cares, and preferable in her estimation to the aspiring dignity and love of glory so much affected by vulgar minds, and she proceeded to contrast the vanity of such earthly considerations with the milder pleasures and innocent repose of life, such as was there enjoyed. She had hardly concluded, before one of the cavaliers present happened to mention that such a choice had really been made and adhered to by a noble youth of great worldly expectations. To him the solitude and deprivation of a hermitage offered more true delight than the noblest alliances and most festive courts in the world. Expressing her high admiration of so disinterested and magnanimous a resolution, and curious to hear the variety and changes of fortune that had led to it, the lady entreated the superior of the convent to introduce her to him. In a short time he made his appearance; the nobility of his aspect was clearly apparent through his homely habit, while the traces of youthful fire and beauty still threw a charm over his fine but pallid features.
The modesty and humility of his demeanour were in unison with the character he had adopted, though not destitute of the courtesy due to a noble lady and her festive train on an occasion like the present. The lady, possessing singularly noble and pleasing qualities, paying him the respect due to his rank, and commending his resolution, as arising out of the most excellent motives, besought him to favour them with an account of his adventures. The young hermit attributed the merit wholly to the Divine power, and expressed great repugnance to repeat the history of his transgressions; on which his superior sought to remove his scruples by observing that, whatever had been the errors of his past life, he had fully repaired them by his exemplary sorrow and repentance; and as it would, perhaps, be a great punishment to him, it would tend to his edification to relate his past life, and add to the efficacy of his sufferings. The young man bowed his head to the superior in token of compliance, and with a 559 composed countenance and a sort of modest assurance thus began: — “It is a due punishment upon my past levities; the pain of revealing them before this honourable and excellent company I meet with patience and resignation. Obedience, however, is my duty, and all diffidence must give way, so that I have to entreat of your honourable company, most illustrious lady, to excuse me for my apparent boldness in intruding my private affairs upon your attention.
“My name was Sigismondo, Conte d’Arco, the only branch belonging to that house for a long series of years that possessed many extensive seigniories on the confines of Italy and Germany. My father died while I was yet a child; and my mother, on her marrying a second time, caused me to be educated at the court of the Archduchess Dowager of Inspruck, my native sovereign, as one of the pages of honour. My tender age and misfortunes awakened so much compassion in the princess, that she seemed to regard me rather as a mother than a mistress, treating me in every particular like her child. She made me a playfellow of the Princess Claudia, an only daughter, about the same age as myself, not exceeding seven: we lived on the most familiar terms, and formed an attachment that became more rooted with our increasing years. It would be idle to attempt to disguise from your penetration, madam, that such youthful tenderness and familiarity was likely soon to ripen into confidence — into love. This passion seemed daily to acquire fresh force, inasmuch as it did not appear disagreeable to the Princess who was quite sensible of its existence. To say the truth, as it will fully appear in the sequel, if you will not think me guilty of too great temerity in raising my eyes to my young queen, I began to imagine, and not without reason, that she deigned to bend hers also upon me. We had each just completed our fifteenth year; my sweet companion was gifted with all the brightest qualities and accomplishments, both of mind and person, the fame of her virtues and her beauty not only spreading throughout Germany, but the rest of Europe. Indeed, her portraits have since become familiar in every land, and few are there of those present who would require a more particular description of her charms at my hands. But I have to delineate a few qualities that no pencil can reach, those features of the living mind, bright and beautiful, which at the same moment were enabled to seize their subject, to distinguish and to deliberate in a manner surprising to the most skilful and accomplished intellects.
“Her demeanour was a mixture of sweet grace and gravity, and this soft majesty she always displayed with so little effort as to make it appear perfectly natural. Her pleasures were all innocent and delicate, music forming the chief, in which she was most passionately attached to harmonies of a plaintive and pathetic cast. I have often surprised her singing such songs in some sweet retired scene, and shedding tears over feigned woes, borne away by her natural tenderness, and by an irresistible attachment to subjects of this description.
“In truth, it might be said that her own prophetic genius inspired her with some of those tender lines connected with her own future fortunes, which she sang like the dying bird that is said to usher in her own doom. Deeper passion, along with a sense of duty, now 560 more and more usurped my breast; my struggles became great; I blamed my own presumption; I tried to recover my self-command, but all in vain. My eyes had too long dwelt upon and become riveted to her charms, and one look of hers overpowered my firmest resolutions, insomuch that I found I must either give way to my feelings and madly throw myself at her feet, or seek to avoid her presence. I no longer frequented her company at those seasons when I was able to dispense with my duties at court; while, the better to give an air of probability to my absence, I devoted myself with double assiduity to my studies and to the amusements common to my age. Fencing, riding, and every kind of military exercise seemed to absorb my whole time, but my thoughts were, in reality, far away. My evenings were spent in music, dancing, and other favourite diversions at the court, while my more serious hours were engaged in the abstruser sciences.
“In this manner weeks passed away without a single interview with my beloved princess; our mutual pursuits of dancing, singing, riding, and reading together were wholly abandoned. Meeting me one day by chance returning from the riding-school, heated and breathless with exercise, she began to rally me upon my sudden and surprising application to more martial pursuits, while, in the same tone, I respectfully assured her that it arose wholly out of a desire to render myself more worthy for her Highness’s service; and bowing to her with the same ceremony practised by the other courtiers, I left her without waiting for any reply.
“Whilst I was persevering with the utmost pain in this assumed character, it was resolved by the court to adjourn in order to partake of the pleasures of the country. The place was delightfully situated at a short distance from the city, and the usual duties and occupations of the court giving way to mere amusement, all motive for my prescribed absence and alienation from the young princess ceased. Besides, however much I studied to avoid her, it was not always possible. She surprised me one morning early in a shady walk leading from the garden to the wood. We met — our eyes met — and with a profound obeisance I sought to pass on. Commanding me, however, to follow her, she pursued the path leading to the wood with a composed air and a serene aspect. At length addressing me, she observed, ‘Your wisdom and discretion, Count, are above all praise, and merit as much kindness and generosity on my side. It is in vain that you strive to conceal the occasion of your late estrangement, and it would be equally vain for me to affect ignorance of it. Nevertheless I do not wish to give you pain; you shall find your advantage in it; and that you may feel assured of this, even listen and receive the tribute due to your merit.’ Blushing deeply as she uttered these words, she saw likewise that I observed it, and continued as follows: ‘My confusion, Sigismond, proceeds from my inexperience in such affairs, not from any sense of saying or doing aught unworthy my birth and quality. I know not whether it be permitted a princess to countenance a vassal’s love, but I do know that if ever there was one to be pitied in the world, I am that one. Our friendship seemed to have been born with 561 us; I felt as a child a sort of instinctive attachment to you; our young and playful affection grew with us, and it has continued, as is but too apparent, to be cherished on both sides until it has become a part of ourselves. I am familiar with all your feelings, and understand them better than you understand mine; and in common gratitude it becomes my duty to confess that I feel the same partiality towards you that I am convinced you bear to me. Why then dissimulate with you, or leave you to extort it from me by degrees, when such an admission is mere justice to your virtues, that you may in future feel that noble confidence in them which is calculated to make you happy? Your features are sufficient evidence of your joy. I see it, alas! while I confess with burning blushes how much I love you; though, as we are equal in our passion, I have no case for shame in the avowal. Were the sceptre I am fated to inherit in my own power, in your hands only should it be deposited; but I am certain that you place a higher value upon my heart than upon my possessions. Fortune may dispose of the latter; of my heart, never — it is yours! Dispose of it as you will. I am sure you will never abuse your power over it; at all events, it is yours!’ Ere the lovely princess had half concluded these words, I was at her feet, lost in a delirium of confusion and joy. Not a word could I utter; I kissed the hem of her robes; I felt her tears upon my hands as she gently sought to raise me from the ground. I seized her offered hand, and covered it with my kisses: ‘Dearest lady, most honoured and cherished mistress!’ I cried, ‘is it possible I can believe my senses? Were this the first proof of your regard, well might I imagine you meant to scoff me for the rash feelings I have indulged; but I have experienced ever since a child, that your compassion, your generosity, have no bounds. May Heaven’s richest blessings attend you! you have snatched me from an abyss of terror and despair at the bare idea of the passion I indulged, and I am now at the summit of all human felicity. Yet would I willingly have aspired higher than the honour of serving you, even at the risk of all I held dear, of life itself; and therefore it was that I attempted to shun you. A sceptre, a thousand sceptres, in competition with your love would have no charms for me. Let kings seize your realms; I am satisfied in possessing the nobility and royalty of such a soul as yours. Ah! would that, as our love, our birth were equal; for I esteem not the wealth or dignity of worlds equal to the least testimony of your favour. I should be the meanest and vilest of wretches to regard aught beyond the beauties of soul and form that have subdued me so long.’
“I was proceeding, in the tumult of my feelings, to express my gratitude and delight, when a group of ladies and cavaliers appeared in sight, and I followed the princess as she turned to meet the party with a free and even lively and playful air. During the few days that the court sojourned in the country, wholly devoted to the feast, the chase, and similar rural diversions, it became my delightful task to resume my former station, being almost in constant attendance upon the princess. No longer on the list of pages, I had entered upon the more honourable rank of cavalier, while my early intimacy and education 562 with the princess, and the respect which she uniformly testified for me in public, acquired for me no little distinction at court. And as the chief object of her Serene Highness the Archduchess, who held paramount sway, was to amuse the mind of the princess, naturally inclined to melancholy, she ordained a solemn festival to grace the close of their residence, after the pleasures of a magnificent chase. The young princesses, along with the ladies of the court, appeared arrayed in the character of Amazons, with high waving plumes on their heads and upon richly-caparisoned palfreys. The Princess Claudia Felice was seen mounted upon a swift courser of a jet black, and adorned with a tuft of feathers, while its fair rider shone bright to the eye in a loosely-folded dress, elegantly suited to the occasion. When she entered into the wood, she drew nearer to me as I rode along at her side, and took occasion, without observation, to inform me of her great desire to obtain some signal triumph over the ferocious prey. I then approached still closer to her, separating from the rest of the party, and penetrating still deeper into the recesses of the wood, which the wild beasts were supposed to haunt in greater numbers. There, without deigning to pursue either stags or hares, or any animals of a less ferocious cast, the hunters prepared to attack a huge wild boar, which came rushing towards us pursued by some of the dogs. Desirous of yielding to the Princess the honour of despatching him, I stepped aside to leave him open to her attack, when she had the good fortune to wound him mortally with her hunting-spear in the head. In a transport of rage, the beast still sprung forward in the same direction, urged on all sides by the dogs, and notwithstanding two pistol-shots, rushing upon her horse that stood in its way, the Princess, by the disorder into which she was thrown, ran the greatest risk of her life. Some of the hunters now eagerly hastened to her assistance, but they were on foot, and before they could arrive I had sprung from my horse between the Princess and the enraged animal, and assaulted it furiously with my sword. Having passed the weapon through its body, I laid it dead at her feet, while, with the utmost presence of mind, not half so much terrified at her own danger as I had been, she said, ‘I find it is a great advantage to place myself under your protection; you seem to know how to defend what belongs to you.’ ‘And what coward would not, when he had to combat in so sweet and glorious a cause?’ But the hunters coming up, prevented further conversation; they raised the enormous animal with difficulty, in order to bear it in triumph before the Princess to meet the rest of the party. Already informed of the accident, the Archduchess was hastening, full of alarm, in the same direction. Shocked at beholding its immense size, on its first appearance, her terror was the next moment changed into an exclamation of triumph when she beheld the beloved Princess unhurt accompanied by me. She received us with the warmest gratulations, bestowing upon me praises and rewards too flattering to recount. The chase then continued with double vigour and animation; the quarry was more than equal to our hopes; and, with the evening festivities, concluded our rural sojourn
“On the removal of the court to the city, I again returned to my 563 usual avocations, though without resigning the delightful privilege I enjoyed of continual access to the company of my Princess, and the oftener as I found she dwelt upon my weakness with an eye of tenderness and pity, not of reproach. She still continued to give me open and honourable proofs of her regard, and even in to intrust me with her most secret and important views; more especially in respect to a proposed union with the Duke of York, the King of England’s brother, since united to the Princess of Modena. Nor did she merely make me her counsellor upon the occasion: she candidly expressed her aversion to the match, and her satisfaction at its rejection.
“About this period died the Empress Margerita Teresa of Austria, consort of the Emperor Leopold, without issue, consequently that great monarch soon directed his views towards another union, and the eyes of the whole world were eagerly fixed upon his future choice. At this time the affair of the Duke of York had already proceeded so far that the Princess would have been compelled to yield a reluctant consent, had not a still more unfortunate proposal intervened. During its whole progress my attention was on the alert, no less from the impassioned interest I felt on my own account than on that of my Princess, whose grief was but too apparent at the idea of being transported into foreign parts, more especially into a country like Britain, where the unruly genius of the people threatened equally the sceptres and the lives of its princes. It was my firm resolution to follow in her train wherever she went, preferring continual servitude in such a cause to all the ease, honours, and emoluments in the world. I valued not the risks and inconveniences I should have to encounter from a nation so inimical to our religion and to good government as the English.*
“While in this trying and perilous conjuncture I was awaiting day by day tidings of the conclusion of the nuptials, now near at hand, to judge from the frequent departure of messengers on both sides, what was my secret triumph when the young Princess, one day bursting in upon her attendants, after an audience with the Archduchess, selected me from the number, and bade me follow her into the adjoining gallery. There, leaning upon a balcony overhanging the gardens, she thus addressed me, after a few moments’ pause: ‘I know not, Count, how you will receive the information I have to communicate, and I am almost doubtful whether I ought to unfold it to you. But as you must still continue to enjoy the privilege of hearing from my own lips whatever concerns my nearest interests, have the goodness to peruse this document, containing the ratification of my marriage with the Emperor Leopold.’
“Having cast my eye over the fatal letters, and even kissed them in token of submission, I threw myself at the Princess’s feet, and bowing my head more in sorrow than in submission, I broke out into the following words: ‘I cannot express, most illustrious Princess, soon my empress and my queen, the feelings that agitate my bosom. Must I say how much rejoiced I feel at the prospect of your glorious rank, so advantageous to all Germany, and to the interests and 564 aggrandisement of the empire? Truly honoured do I feel, nor can any words express my gratitude for your condescension in permitting me to hear these tidings from your own lips. It is a distinction’ — ‘Oh no, no distinction,’ interrupted the Princess; ‘for, as Heaven is my witness, noble Sigismond, there is nothing in all these magnificent prospects that affords me half so much pleasure as the idea of being enabled to confer upon you far greater distinction than before. Imagine not that this accession of state will ever change my feelings; the Empress of the Romans will find nothing to blame in the Princess of Inspruck; and therefore it is that I here renew the gift which she formerly gave you. Nor in this do I in the least trench upon the fealty I owe the Emperor as my liege lord and master, inasmuch as the sentiment I am bound to preserve towards him is wholly opposite in its nature to the one I mean ever to retain for you throughout a life of innocence, namely, the tenderest friendship. Yes, I am not afraid to repeat it, Count d’Arco, my love for you appears to have been made in heaven: it is the force of destiny, and the confession of it is due to your superior merit. I have not hitherto asked the least reward for the partiality I entertain towards you: it is now I have to beg a boon of you. It is, that you will consent to share my good fortune with me, nay, to change your country, and absent yourself from me as little as possible. Do this cheerfully, and count upon my gratitude, in proportion as I meet with obedience to these commands. But I must not confer with you longer now; I well know all you would wish to tell me, and if you can understand my feelings as well without giving them a tongue, even what I have already said were needless.’ Tears started into her eyes at these last words, but she soon repressed them, and without leaving me time to reply, she hastened out of the gallery to rejoin her party.
“Tidings of these illustrious nuptials getting abroad, the city became one scene of festivity, the respective nations resuming all the hilarity and hopes that had recently been clouded by the death of some of their princes, which threatened a loss of successors in several of the most powerful houses of Germany. A sort of general carnival was proclaimed, and the court, as if to set the most joyous example, ordained, in its liberality, to hold a tourney. It was, perhaps, one of the most sumptuous and magnificent spectacles ever witnessed, the various rencounters taking place only between nobles and cavaliers of the most approved courage and illustrious birth. It being usual in Germany to carry the device and the colour of the lady whom the cavalier serves, conferred with her own hand, it was thus ordered on this glorious occasion as each knight stepped into the field. It happened that one evening, soon after the conclusion of the nuptials, I was in the public audience-chamber, then daily held, when some young triflers began to banter me, inquiring whether I had yet received my favourite colour from my mistress. I know not whether they imagined, as was pretty generally credited, that I had never acquired the affection of any lady of the court, or whether they alluded still more maliciously to the partiality of the Empress, as she seemed to suspect. It is certain that she looked much displeased, and the more so as the discourse 565 terminated in a burst of laughter. Turning towards me, she said in the sweetest tone, ‘It is scarcely fair, Count, that while I am present, your modesty should be put to the blush; you must enter the field as my cavalier; here is your device,’ untying a green ribbon from her fine arm, which she extended towards me, almost overwhelmed with surprise and joy. Envy and malice became instantly mute, a becoming reverence was felt, and more than one, conversing afterwards upon the beauty and delicacy of the action, declared that they should have valued such a favour beyond the worth of a seigniory. The day appointed for the tournament being arrived, as I was standing at the entrance of my apartment arranging the order of my choicest dresses, intending to appear in some of my richest attire, the equerry of the Empress appeared with a present of two noble steeds, which her majesty entreated I would accept as her cavalier upon the approaching occasion. One of these was of Neapolitan breed, a charger of middling height, but full of fire and spirit. It was jet black, richly-caparisoned, shining in cloth of silver and gold; and the other was a Spanish jennet, of mixed colour, small in its limbs, beautifully caparisoned, and swift as a bird upon the course.
“Exactly at the appointed time I entered among the first into the field, bearing in my plumes and ribbons the colours of the Empress, who, to complete the honour conferred upon me, appeared arrayed in the same, seated upon a sort of throne in the lodge, surrounded by thousands of spectators. The Archduchess Dowager was there, rejoicing in the new fortunes of her daughter, with a train of the noblest ladies in the land, who had attended from the most distant provinces to do honour to the occasion.
“Just before I entered the lists I mounted another charger, bestowed likewise by the Empress, and rode into the ring. The champion who appeared there was of great strength, valour, and experience, and had already maintained the field against numbers of the boldest challengers. It was now my turn to break a spear with him, and the moment the heralds gave signal to start into action, I turned my eyes towards the court-lodge, and met those of the Empress fixed intently upon me. I felt as if suddenly inspired with more than mortal strength and ardour, and such was the force and fury of my charge, that I not only carried the first, but two following lances; in short, I bore away the honour of the day.
“Must I confess all my vanity? Such was my secret triumph, that I would not have exchanged it at that moment for the richest diadem. Not that I was ambitious of vulgar applause, but that day I bore the ensign of my Empress, and proved myself not unworthy of the high distinction she had conferred upon me. Riding up to the royal lodge, I dismounted at the feet of the two princesses, by whom I was received with expressions of applause. They presented me with a rich sword, adorned with jewels, the prize of the victor of the field; while the Empress herself, in the excess of her generous spirit, drew a fine diamond ring from her finger, and presented it to me with compliments of pleasure and congratulation at my triumph.
“But the consummation of my wretchedness was now at hand. The 566 Empress was preparing to join her august consort, attended by her mother, with the flower of all her nobility, at Gratz. I made one of her train, no less by command than from an unhappy inclination. Nor among the crowds of distinguished nobles who surrounded her did I seem to lose the least portion of my influence. She was even more kind and considerate than before, often declaring that since she was become the spouse of Cæsar, she should be justified in treating her friends with far greater kindness and consideration than she had formerly done. Nor was this all; she obtained for me the favour of her imperial consort, which he frequently displayed before all the court. This was no sooner apparent than I began to receive the obeisance and respects of my equals and superiors; all parties courted my attention, and I might well have indulged a little vanity. But I know not how it was: what to others would have been a source of the richest pleasure, in me gave rise only to feelings of sorrow and regret. I would gladly have exchanged all the power and splendour of Vienna for some quiet refuge in the desert, some secluded abode, such as Heaven has here at length assigned me. So far from entertaining an ambition to extend the sphere of my fame and influence beyond the rank which I enjoyed, I in vain attempted to interest myself in the intrigues and affairs of state. I could not enter into the usual pleasures of the court; my eyes still wandered, and rested only on the fine features of the Empress, absorbed in the contemplation of the mingled majesty, the grace, and the thousand surpassing charms that I found there, and only there. For my passion never betrayed itself beyond my eyes; but to these, when unobserved, I gave free and ample scope, and they told her eloquently all my hopeless anguish, all my love. And they dwelt upon her unreproved; they partook of no other delight; all else appeared vile and worthless to me. Too happy could I have continued to enjoy the mournful pleasure it afforded me! Dearly did I pay its price, for my passion was feeding upon my life. I lost all relish for company and conversation of which she did not form a part, and my health and slumbers became the sacrifice. My pallid looks bore evidence of the struggles within; I attracted the eyes of the whole court, and in a short time I fell sick.
“A slow fever preyed upon my vitals, and the physicians half despaired of my life. It was then I first became sensible how deeply my passion was returned. Whatever the power and influence of a queen could effect in procuring the best attendance and advice, whatever the tenderness, compassion, and fears of the fondest mother or sister could display, were all lavished upon me at that period. The disease, however, had gained too great force, so that daily becoming weaker, I was soon reduced to extremity; my life was hourly despaired of, though I still retained all my faculties as clear and lively as before, and was perfectly resigned to my approaching fate. My sole regret was a dread of not again beholding the object of all my hopes and fears, and my weeping eyes were now continually fixed upon her portrait. While thus engaged, taking, as I truly believed, a fervent and final leave of the features of the only beloved object upon earth, I heard a sudden disturbance in the ante-chamber, and in a few 567 moments after the name of the Empress was announced. It is quite impossible to convey an idea of the emotions which at that moment swelled my breast; so violent and yet so delightful was the shock, that I was just on the point of expiring, when the voice of the Empress seemed to recall me into renewed existence. Approaching close to my side, she exclaimed in a tremulous and impassioned voice, on beholding the condition to which I was reduced, ‘Alas! my fond and faithful servant!’ and then in a lower tone she continued, ‘Ah! Count, and can you leave me thus? I beseech you to pity me and live for me; from my hand receive the renewed health and strength which your physicians have attempted in vain to bestow. Rouse yourself, receive what I have here brought you; take it, and doubt not of the result;’ and she administered the medicine with her own hands. She had even dropped it into a gold cup, without permitting my nurse to assist her, and I drank the whole off at her command. Whether it were the delight of again beholding her or the virtue of what she administered, it is certain that I soon felt greatly restored, so much so, indeed, that shedding tears of gratitude, I assured her in another interview that I had drunk life from her hands. Though she said little in return, the serenest joy was depicted on her countenance; she inquired into farther particulars relating to my illness, and the nurse and attendants having withdrawn, out of respect, to a distance, she proceeded to speak more confidentially than she had ever before done. ‘Too well, Count, am I aware of the melancholy origin of your sufferings, but do not yield, try to rise above them, and live for the sake of my love.’ These words she uttered in so sweet, confiding, and earnest a tone, that I could not for a moment doubt her, and then yielding me her hand, which I pressed ardently to my lips, she left the precious cordial in the gold vase to my care, and took her leave. What with the restorative nature of the elixir and the joy which her presence had inspired, I felt as if created anew, my fever abated, and I was declared out of all danger. On my perfect recovery, however, I no longer appeared at court and in public as before, but secluded myself from state affairs as much as I was permitted. Secret affliction still preyed upon my mind, mournful and appalling images rose in my path, and vainly did I attempt to banish them from my eyes. A deep presentiment of future calamity weighed down my spirit, which future events more than verified. I loved the Empress to distraction, I could no longer conceal it either from myself or from her; and though I offered up unceasing prayers to Heaven that I might be enabled to restrain my passion within the due bounds of duty and respect, a thousand schemes for its full indulgence would usurp, in spite of me, the possession of my imagination. With the most gigantic struggles, however, I succeeded in subduing it, more for her sake than my own; feeling my complete power and ascendancy, I scorned rather than feared to use them. For what, indeed, was life to me placed in competition with such hopes? Besides, I took more pride in her grandeur and elevation than if they had been my own. Yet a deep-seated inquietude had for ever destroyed my bosom’s peace: she was great, she tried to make me happy, but I — I was the most wretched being 568 upon the face of the earth. Ah! far unhappier had the veil been then withdrawn from my future destiny, and I could have beheld it in all its naked horrors.
Thus wearing out my joyless and weary days, it was not log before the Empress became aware of the real state of my feelings. She had restored me to fresh life and vigour, and it seemed only to have added poignancy to my sufferings. Unable to support the sight, she one day called me to attend her, as she was walking in the royal gardens. Alluding at once to the unhappy state of my mind, she said that she often wept bitterly over the misfortunes of the companion and friend of her infancy. She could bear it no longer; she gently upbraided me for such a sacrifice of my time and talents, wasting the golden days of youth and manhood in hopeless sorrow — a wilful, passionate grief for what never could be obtained. ‘Oh, my dear Count d’Arco!’ she continued as the tears came into her eyes, ‘if it be any consolation to know you are not the only sufferer (for I cannot see you die), you may indeed be consoled; I will repeat to you all I formerly promised to you. It is your late conduct that compels me to it; for it would seem that necessity and impossibility of success are no restraint, as in all other cases, upon the excess of your passionate sorrow. Surely I need not remind you, circumstanced as we are, of all that prudence and propriety require from us. What is it you intend, Count? to live and die thus wilfully unhappy? No, Heaven forbid! I would have your love for me produce far nobler fruits; and as you have always most truly and loyally served me, it would be strange indeed were you now to become the author of all my calamity. You are the sole staff and stay of your house, and you ought to think of establishing it in the land. How many in Germany would feel proud of your alliance! Cast your eyes around, and let me know your choice;’ and then she added in a stifled and trembling voice, ‘The Emperor and myself will vie with each other in lavishing our regard upon her!’ Here she ceased, as if recovering from a strong effort, while I stood fixed to the earth like a statue, unable to utter any reply. At length raising my eyes to hers, and heaving a deep sigh, I replied, ‘Were it in my power, most illustrious lady, to appear as cheerful as I know the limits of my duty in regard to your imperial Highness, you would behold me as happy as I am now hopeless and miserable. What I have most to regret is the number of your benefits thrown away upon one who, however grateful, is incapable of taking advantage of them. But as it is the lot of humanity more or less to suffer, so it has been my unhappy fate to behold all the most desirable blessings, except the only one I valued, within my grasp; ambition, wealth, and influence became in my eyes worse than nothing — emptiness, ashes, dust! Bitter as it is, I must yield to my destiny; yet I would not willingly say anything to afflict you, my earliest companion, play-fellow and friend! Alas! my empress and queen, dreadful consummation of all my woes, forgive me! I am so very unhappy, far too unhappy to avail myself of your generous proposal. For I had rather suffer increased anguish for my loss than ever consent to receive consolation in the manner you wish me. Not that I feel less deeply the 569 kind and noble motives that have induced your Imperial Highness to promote my welfare by every means in your power, more especially in this last instance, while at the same time I beseech you thus, upon my knees, to permit me to decline it!’ ‘What, then,’ exclaimed the Empress in a disturbed accent, ‘you will not allow me to make you happy in my own way!’ ‘Yes, most honoured and adored lady,’ I returned hastily, ‘provided Heaven would listen to my vows.’ ‘And what may they be?’ she rejoined; ‘quick, tell me what they are.’ ‘That I may be speedily restored to the state in which I was before your majesty saw me; that I may die; being unable much longer to sustain the passion that assails me, that haunts me with the power of a demon, both by day and night, compelling me to break through the bounds of respect and reverence due to you as my empress;’ and bursting into a fresh flood of tears, I clasped her hands to my lips, as I again fell at her feet.
“Oh, Heavens, Sigismond! what is it you have said?’ she exclaimed in as angry a tone as she could command; ‘Is this the promise you gave me? You vowed that you would never leave me, and now we shall be compelled to part for ever. What have I done to offend you, that you should treat me thus? Have I ever broken the promise I gave you? Ah! ungrateful Sigismond, you are dissatisfied with the gift of this poor heart, of a love so different from your own. Should not this be sufficient to banish such a degree of hopeless sorrow from your breast? Reflect a moment upon my rank; think how much I have confessed to you, and continue miserable if you can. Hitherto I have shown the utmost confidence, expecting in return proofs of your fidelity and friendship. Your life is dear to me as my own; your affliction deprives me of repose; and if you truly love me, you will endeavour to surmount this idle grief before you give occasion to the world to treat our names with a degree of freedom fatal to our reputation, our honour, and perhaps our lives.’ Then giving me her hand, not without the deepest emotion on both sides, I pressed it to my lips, and the next moment I found myself alone.
“From that period, though I did not wholly banish my former sorrow, I contrived to dissimulate it better; and on more mature consideration, I felt that the Empress had very good reasons for accusing me of ingratitude and indiscretion. Bent upon repressing, as far as possible, the excess of my passion, I resumed my former plan of riding, hunting, engaging in the lists, and entering into all parties, affecting an air of serenity and pleasure that I was far from feeling. I was soon rewarded with the smiles of the Empress and the notice of her august consort, both of whom lavished upon me fresh marks of consideration.
“I persevered in this course for a length of time, and soon began to experience its good effects. Long habit, gradually producing a change in my feelings, led me to dwell less upon myself, and finally, upon the origin of all my woes. I became more tranquil, began to feel an interest in the affairs of life, and attended much less frequently in the suite and at the parties of the Empress. Just as I began to flatter myself that there was yet something to live for in the world, I heard of the sudden indisposition of her I had so long loved. At first it excited 570 in the physicians no kind of alarm, but it soon became more serious in its progress. The fever increased, while the languid looks and the extreme exhaustion of the patient after it had been subdued, gave rise to doubts, and doubts to fears. My former passion now revived with redoubled force; all her kindness and excellence rose fresh to my recollection, and I was truly to be pitied. Finding herself rapidly growing worse, the Empress expressed a wish to have her favourite physician, Gianforte, sent for from Padua, his reputation having spread throughout all Germany. No one’s anxiety equalled mine to hear of his arrival. I set out to hasten his approach, and never was an oracle listened to with half the awe I felt when he first opened his lips. After hearing the opinion of her other physicians, who seemed to consider her illness more of a chronic than of an acute kind, he begged to be permitted to see her without loss of time. Upon his return, he declared that so far from there being no immediate danger, as he had been led to expect, he did not think it probable that she could survive many days. Alas! who could pretend to depict the terrific shock, the horror that thrilled through my veins, when I heard such a prognostic uttered by so celebrated a physician and in so calm a tone. A sudden feeling of desolation overwhelmed my spirit; but I am sure you will excuse me; you will permit me to pass more rapidly over this portion of my story. Enough that the unhappy presage was fulfilled exactly at the period predicted. In her very last moments her thoughts were still with me, and she repeatedly expressed her wish that I might continue in the Emperor’s favour, and enjoy the same honourable privileges that I had before done. During her illness I had frequent access to her, having ever been one of her most faithful officers, with the full approbation of the Emperor. Often would she raise her languid eyes to mine with an eloquent appeal I alone could understand; often murmur some unfinished words, as if aware of her approaching doom. One day feeling herself worse, she sent for me to her bedside, in the presence of the Emperor, and welcoming me with a serene and almost happy air, the moment she saw me, she said, ‘I wished, my kind Sigismond, to see you once more before I die, in the hope of finding mercy and forgiveness.’ I burst into a flood of tears on hearing these words, tears which not even the presence of the Emperor could restrain. ‘Does it displease you,’ she continued, ‘that I am going to join the blessed spirits of the faithful and the good in the mansions of eternal love? There I may surely be permitted to pray that you may be better rewarded for your long and faithful services than my shorter sojourn here would permit. I have already recommended all my faithful servants to the Emperor, among whom, on every account, he well knows that you occupy the first place.”
“Addressing herself next to her royal consort, she thus continued: ‘Did I imagine, my dear lord, that it would prove any alleviation of your regret at my not having presented you with an offspring to give you one well worthy of your adoption, I would point out Count d’Arco as best entitled to your entire confidence and regard; for he never betrayed his trust, nor ever committed a wrong, I feel well assured.’ She then added other wishes, which were lost in my bitter sobs and 571 cries. I was at length obliged to be conveyed almost by force out of the apartment and laid upon my own couch. Not a moment’s rest did I enjoy for a period of many days; so that, upon hearing of the fatal tidings, I was already in a high fever, which did not, however, prevent me from rising to behold, for the last time, her beloved remains. Alas! too surely did I find her laid out in state, surrounded by her weeping domestics and friends. What were the mingled emotions of my bosom as I approached that spot! When the funeral torches burst suddenly upon my view, when I recollected each familiar place where we had played together as children, grown up together, as it were, in the bands of youthful innocence, joy, and ripening love, along with all her numerous kindnesses and endearments, I felt struck to the very soul. Still, with a kind of reckless wretchedness, I advanced closer to the bier, and gazed wildly and wistfully upon those lovely yet majestic features, until the spectators began to think me either seized suddenly with indisposition or quite insane. I wept not, I uttered not a word, but I could not remove my eyes from that pale, and gentle, and sweetly majestic face, alas! even in death too lovely and beautiful!
“Upon recovering out of the strange trance in which I had been so long absorbed, I thrice attempted to run my sword through my body, until I was secured and borne away from the distressing scene. Yet such was the degree to which the Empress had been beloved by her servants, that even this excited no unusual suspicions; and when I became somewhat calmer, I seemed to hear a voice that whispered comfort to me, and peace and joy from another sphere. ‘True, too true,’ I exclaimed, as if in answer to the celestial sounds; ‘for what is the end of all the love, the grace, the beauty, and the glory of earthly things? Place our faith, as we will, upon the world, and the votaries of the world, what shall we finally reap from its rank soil but ashes, dust, and tears? My beloved, my soul’s mistress and sovereign, is gone; and shall I live again to all the follies and vanities of earth, deprived of the light and beauty, the very guiding star of my destiny, and without which I shall be driven upon life’s troubled oceans, at the mercy of darkness, winds, and floods? Forbid it, Heaven! I would rather, far rather follow thee, O blessed spirit, safely into port, where thou hast taken up thine everlasting rest. But I fear me I have not strength of wing to raise me to that heavenly height or merit the assisting influence of thy glory. Yet deign, exalted spirit, to receive the only sacrifice I can make thee — of myself: so may we thus be restored to each other’s love in blissful paradise!’
“From that period, gentle lady, I never left my apartment until the last obsequies were performed, and even the public mourning at an end. My sufferings both of mind and body were extreme; and when I at length recovered, my first visit was to the Emperor. He received me very graciously, doubtless expecting that I had attended for the purpose of aspiring to the enjoyment of some of the fruits of the late Empress’s kind and earnest recommendations. He seemed a little surprised then, when I candidly informed him that the circumstance of his royal consort’s decease had so strongly reminded me of the vanity of all earthly pursuits, that, with his imperial majesty’s permission, 572 I felt a decided inclination to retire from the tumult and business of court; moreover, that I so far confided in his royal clemency and compassion, as to hope he would not refuse me his royal leave to take shelter in the secluded hermitage of the Penitent Friars. The Emperor regarded me very earnestly some time before he replied; whether he imagined that I was chagrined at losing the support of the Empress in the midst of my courtly career, or that he no longer wished to oppose my inclination, even if suspicious of the real cause or not, certain it is that he kindly accorded me the space of a year to consider further of the trial; so that, if at the close of that period I still persisted in my wish for seclusion, I might pursue my own pleasure. That year he wished me to spend in my travels, as the most likely method of removing my grief, and I consented to the royal wishes. After arranging my domestic affairs, I visited Italy, for the most part from a desire of paying my vows at several celebrated shrines, and beholding the territories of the Holy Church.
“Besides my own fortune, I had received handsome presents from the late Empress, the most precious of which I carefully preserved. A few of these I deposited, not without many tears, at the shrine of our Lady of Loretto, adorning the sacred image of the Virgin with gifts of which I esteemed every inferior object unworthy. The rest of my resources I distributed in pious alms, in sacrificial offerings and other holy uses, besides daily occupying myself in some works of charity, which I judged to be the sweetest incense I could offer up to the soul of my beloved, my infant companion, my early friend and benefactress, my sovereign, now no more. In heaven only, where all hearts are known, may she yet be mine!’
* Allowance must here be made for the situation and character of the writer, a good Catholic, the subject of a despotic Government, and imbued with all the prejudices of his times. — Tr.