Imagini ale paginilor

himself in the eyes of his fair Ippolita. He was able once again to mount his own charger, and overlook the defences, by the time of D'Urbino's arrival. His presence infused new spirit into the hearts of the men, for he was as much beloved for his courtesy as respected for his military talents. On the other hand, the Duke d'Urbino having reinforced the pope, their numbers united were four times as great as those of the besieged, so that it is quite uncertain which party would eventually have conquered, had not a new incident arisen, which effectually put a stop to the proceedings on both sides.

One morning, when the fair countess, sadly wearied of the noise and confusion of a beleaguered town, came to join her brave cousin in the salon, and to ask how they went on, she was surprised to behold terrace, and garden, and street, covered with nature's fairest and most fragile vesture.

"We have been idle parforce," said Alessandro, "this last night, my fair cousin, and I know not how long we must now remain so. All our works are stopped; but I for one cannot mourn over our respite. I have been absent too long from you, Ippolita. You look pale and careworn, and holy saints! my cousin, there has been blood upon your brow."

"Nothing, nothing," answered the lady; "a mere scratch. Yesterday, when I stepped forth on the terrace, a bullet slightly grazed my forehead, and Chiara, I see, has bound it but carelessly."

"But it might have been fatal! and where was I, to have left you alone to front such danger? D'Urbino shall answer for this."

But the lady replied with her wonted generosity


of character: "Nay, Alessandro, do not be unjust. It was no fault of D'Urbino if my woman's curiosity mastered my fear. Let the event be what it will, you must not harm D'Urbino. Remember, you were friends and fellow pages at the king of France's court, and we were all three companions in childhood together. I will have another bandage fixed, and do you, my noble and right worthy cousin, see that the men are properly employed or amused, otherwise they will be tampering with the enemy."

Six days and six nights fell the snow, without intermission, and merrily passed those six days and six nights in the besieged city. If they could not harm the enemy, neither could the enemy harm them. They had an abundance of provisions, and of excellent wine; and deeming it sad pity that any portion of it should run the chance of falling into the hands of the pope and his followers, the rich men of the place threw open their cellars, and let it flow forth abundantly. Then there was such dancing! such carousing! such singing! to keep themselves warm. The countess too, though she could not share their mirth, frequently sanctioned it by her presence, and one glance of her bright eye, and one word spoken in her clear cheerful voice, when she broke in on their little merry meetings, leaning on the arm of her brave defender, would set them all singing and dancing, and laughing with renewed energy. Right well they loved that fair lady, who ever since she first came to reign over them, had had a tear for every sorrow, as well as a smile for every joy, of even the humblest of her dependents. And Alessandro and his cousin, although they could neither sing nor dance, yet enjoyed intensely their own deep and

quiet happiness. They sat by the blazing pine-wood fire, and while Ippolita hung over her embroidery, Alessandro sung the old ballads he had been wont to sing in by-gone years; then the needle would fall from the lady's hand, and the lute would drop unheeded on the floor; for a word-it might be but a tone,-had brought the past so vividly before them, that Ippolita forgot her rash and fatal marriage, her husband's early death, her years of solitary sovereignty, vassals and castle, and feudal grandeur. Alessandro forgot battle and siege, and banquet-hall, his years of fruitless regret, and the mournful weight which had pressed so long and so heavily upon his heart; and the stately Countess of Mirandola, and the warrior crowned with many laurels, became again Ippolita and Alessandro, happy in their hopes of the untried future; thoughtless in their visions of undimmed fancy; frank, affectionate, guileless; wandering together over heathy hill; reposing together by the running stream; watching together for the first bright evening star; and wreathing together the fairest flowers of this faded and sin-touched world-the flowers of childhood, and the flowers of spring.

At last the besieged were forced to confine themselves to the upper apartments of their houses; the snow was in many places six feet in depth; to it succeeded a hard frost; there was ice in the ditches round Mirandola, of two feet thickness; even the bullets could not impress or break it.

The Pope's artillery effected two wide breaches; so that the lady and her councillor were obliged to think of capitulation. They knew that the Sieur de Chaumont was at Reggio, with the rest of the French

army, fortifying it, in the full expectation that Julius, after reducing Mirandola, would carry thither his arms. Julius too, had an accession of strength: some Spanish and some Venetian troops joined him; so the Lady Mirandola, yielding to the elements, rather than to the enemy, proposed to surrender, on condition, that the garrison and the inhabitants should pass forth uninjured. Julius, anxious for revenge, would not at first consent to this; but D'Urbino mediated, and arranged the affair to the satisfaction of all parties. He remembered kindly his fellow page and his laughing little companion, Ippolita; so he pleaded powerfully with his uncle, and won him over to his wish. The holy father would not condescend to enter Mirandola by the gates, but caused a bridge to be thrown over the opening in the walls, and entered triumphantly through the breach.

On that same day, the lady and her champion sat together, as they thought, for the last time in the room wherein they had at first met. The countess, whose spirit had all along been unwilling to admit the possibility of defeat, gave way to a natural feminine weakness at last, and the count sought to rally her by alternate remonstrance and playful reproach. "No," she said, weeping bitterly, "my tears are not coward tears; leave me here to my fate. I fear not man; with man I could struggle still and combat ; I bow to the viewless destiny, which has been about me with destroying influence from childhood. My father's name stands high in the world's esteem, yet have I ever lived the orphan's weary life. You, Alessandro, have never known defeat, until now you come to my assistance; and I, have I not been pining here for

years in my solitary state, and now, at the very moment when wealth and power would be valuable, my possessions are wrested from me? Leave me to my fate!"

The brave soldier, although he would rather have stormed a fortress, or even have opposed the pope's entrance, single handed, than encounter a lady's tears, or spend his time in useless entreaty, was little inclined to obey her; at least, he hit upon the one cogent argument, worth all reasoning, "That were," he said, "to yield Julius too much satisfaction. By all the saints! he would exult indeed in witnessing these tears."

"That shall he never," answered the lady; and she arose indignantly, and drew up her graceful head, while she dashed away the last rebellious drop. "He shall witness no tear of mine! Let us go, Alessandro."

But the count lingered; he drew her towards the china vase, and again demanded the boon of one rose-bud, as a pledge, a token. Ippolita said, "No, not now, Alessandro : it is not that you deserve it not, but I refused you the token flower when I was rich and powerful, the mistress of these fair lands; and I will not give it you now,-now that I am driven forth a pennyless exile: that were a poor reward for your generous service. Alessandro, I will never be your bride, until I can bring you this fair castle as my dowry."

Ippolita kept her word, for hers was a proud spirit. She permitted her cousin to escort her to a quiet convent, which she had in childhood inhabited for a short

« ÎnapoiContinuă »