Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page

 

 

 

The Bridal Wreath by Unknown

FROM THE ITALIAN OF UESIGLIO.

'This wreath must be finished before the evening. Down with those tiresome hands; you jumble together all my leaves; you give me one colour instead of the other: you are spoiling all I have done. Be it known to you, however, that I am determined you shall not leave Padua until I have put the last leaf to our garland.'

These pettish words, qualified by the sweetest of smiles, were addressed by a beautiful girl of sixteen to a young man who was sitting beside her, and taking a mischievous pleasure in disturbing her work; now catching hold of her hands; now removing out of her reach something that she wanted; now playing with her long and luxuriant hair, which floated negligently on her shoulders: affectionate interruptions, which left a doubt whether the name of brother or lover better suited them. But the light which flashed from, the eyes of the youth, and seemed to irradiate the countenance of the maiden, showed that his emotions were more rapid and ardent than those inspired by fraternal love. They were seated at a table strewed with shreds of cloth, gummed cotton, green taffeta, little palettes of colours, small pencils, and all the necessary apparatus of artificial flower-making.

'Well, then,' replied the youth, 'I will do as you wish; but what haste with a wreath that is not to be used till Heaven knows when? Ah! if you were to wear it tomorrow, I would then assist you with hands, eyes, heart, mind—with my whole being.'

'What matters it? What harm will it do these flowers to wait for us? I promise you to keep this garland so carefully, that it shall look quite new on the day when it shall encircle my head; and then it will seem to all others but an ordinary wreath: but to us—to me—oh, what charms it will have! It will have been born, as it were, and have grown with our love; it will have remained to me in memory of you when you were obliged to leave me for a time; it will have spoken to me of you when absent; will have a thousand times sworn love to me for you. I shall have consulted, and kissed it a thousand times, till that day in which I shall be yours! Do you hear that word, Edoardo? Yours—yours for ever! never more to leave you!—to be divided from you only by death!'

'That will indeed be a blessed day—the loveliest day of our life! The desire of devoting all the powers of my mind to your happiness will then become a right. Poor Sophia, you know not yet what happiness is: so young, so good; you have hitherto met with thorns only in your path. Poor Sophia, I desire no other glory in this world than that of being able to make you feel the sweet that Providence in pity mingles with the bitter of human existence. There is no sweetness in the life of mortals that is not the offspring of love.'

'Yes,' added Sophia, 'when love is united with constancy. But what are you daubing at, Edoardo? You are actually putting red on orange leaves. Where have you learned botany? And what does that rose signify? Is not this a bride's wreath, and are not bridal wreaths always made of orange flowers? Do you know what I mean to do with those roses? Ah, you would never guess. I shall make of them a funeral crown. Here, take these leaves, and reach me the palette. You have positively learned nothing all the time you have been seeing me make flowers.'

A servant entered the room, saying, 'There is no post to Venice either to-day or to-morrow: the Signor Edoardo cannot set out before Friday.'

'Friday!' exclaimed Sophia, 'vile day!' and with a clouded countenance she silently resumed her self-imposed task. Edoardo, on the contrary, seemed glad of the delay.

'No matter; but,' he added, 'is not this a trick of yours—a plot concocted by you and Luigia to prevent me from leaving Padua?'

'You mistake, Edoardo; I would wish rather to hasten your departure.'

'I am very much obliged to you,' replied Edoardo, half vexed. 'What do you mean? If you do not explain your words I shall be very angry.'

'The explanation—the explanation, Edoardo, is here in my head, but not in my heart. The explanation, Edoardo, is that I love you too much, and I am not pleased with myself. Yes, but there are sorrows, Edoardo, which sadly wear away our life; but these sorrows are a need, a duty, and to forget them is a crime. My poor sister, the only friend I have ever had, that poor saint, the victim of love, dead through the treachery of a man hardly two years since: on memory of her I have lived for eighteen months; but I even forget her when I see you, when I speak to you. Perhaps I do not bestow on my mother as much attention as her unhappy state requires. Alas! there is no reproach more bitter than this: "You are a bad daughter!" And this my conscience reproaches me with being a thousand times. Thus, Edoardo, I am wanting in my duties. I am a weak creature: a powerful, and too sweet sentiment threatens to take entire possession of me, to the detriment of the other sentiments that nature has implanted in our heart. Go, then, Edoardo; I have need of calm—I have need of not seeing you. Suffer me to fulfil my duties, that I may be more worthy of you. When you are far away, I shall have full faith in you. But if your father should refuse his consent to our union?'

'Leave those sad thoughts. My father wishes only to please me, and it will be sufficient for me to ask his consent to obtain it. Even should he refuse it, in two years the law will permit me to dispose of myself as I choose.'

'May Heaven remove this sad presentiment from my mind; but it makes me tremble. Oh! if you return with the desired consent of your father! oh! if my mother, as the physicians gave me reason to hope, should then be well! we shall be the happiest of mortals.'

The sound of a silver bell, heard from a chamber close by, took away Sophia from her occupation. She rose hastily, saving, 'My mother! oh, my poor mother! Adieu for a while, Edoardo.'

Edoardo Valperghi was the son of a wealthy Venetian merchant. He had received a grave but unprofitable education, it being that which is wholly directed to the intellect and nothing to the heart. He was studying in one of those colleges in which the system of education is as old as the walls of the edifice. He had been told that he had a heart, but no one had spoken of how it was to be directed to good. He had been told that he must resist his own passions, but no one had shown him what arms to make use of in this moral warfare. He had been told to love virtue and to hate vice, but no one had furnished him with a criterion for distinguishing true virtue from its counterfeit. The temper of Edoardo was ardent and hasty, but flexible and weak. Nature had made him good, but society could make him very bad. He was like a ship without a good pilot—one to become good or bad according to circumstances. Enthusiastic, easily impressed by example, he would be most virtuous if his first steps had moved among the virtuous; if among the wicked, he would rush to perdition.

A letter of recommendation to the father of Sophia, who had formerly had some commercial dealings with the Valperghi, introduced him into the house. His timidity made him prefer that family to richer ones with which he was also acquainted, and amongst whom he could have found youths, amusements, and habits similar to those he had left behind in Venice. But Sophia, lovely, amiable, and frank, had shown him the affection of a sister. He had soon conceived a passion for her; declarations of love, promises, oaths, everything had thus been impetuous and sudden with him, as his disposition prompted. The inexperienced girl believed that a sentiment so strong, so ardent, must be equally profound and constant, and yielded to the enchantment of a first love. Edoardo had terminated the first year of his legal studies, and was now preparing to return to Venice.

Alberto Cadori, the father of Sophia, was also a merchant. He had begun business in a small sphere; but having guided his industry prudently, from being poor he had gradually become rich, and at length retired from commerce with a considerable fortune. Cadori was avaricious, harsh, exacting: he wished rather to be feared than loved: he was not the father, but the tyrant of his family. There was seemingly some secret cause of disagreement between him and his wife: it was perhaps for this reason that he did not love his children; but what it was no one could tell. His family was now limited to Sophia and his wife. He had had another daughter, fair and amiable as Sophia; but the sad school of the world, and the all-powerful empire of love, had untimely laid her low. The Signora Cadori, though still young, was already on the brink of the grave. The grief that preyed on her life, and especially the lamentable end of her first-born, had brought on paralysis. She could no longer move without assistance.

One other person formed part of the family, without being connected with it by relationship—a woman who seemed at first sight to have reached her seventieth year, so slow and difficult were her movements. Her words savoured a little of obscurity, and her countenance was rather repulsive. She was a Milanese. Having come to the baths in Padua, she had taken lodgings in Cadori's house. She seldom spoke, and paid no attention to what was passing around her. She always seemed unconscious of the loud and angry language of Cadori, which was proving fatal to the neglected wife and the oppressed daughter. She appeared to love no one; no one loved her. However, as she paid largely for her apartments, Cadori did everything to keep her in his house.

Though Sophia led a melancholy life, it was much relieved by the exercise of her accomplishments, which were numerous. No female in Padua, for instance, could compare with her in the art of flower-making. Her friends contended for the pleasure of adorning themselves with one of these flowers; courteous and kind to all, she distributed some to each. Even the mercers of the city, when they had need of flowers of superior beauty, applied to Sophia, who willingly acceded to their requests.

The two days of delay to Edoardo's departure were past, and in those two days the Signora Cadori had had a new and very violent attack, which placed her life in danger. Edoardo came to take leave of the family. When alone, the conversation, the adieus of the lovers, were not long; they both wept, looked at each other, and were silent. Yet how many things had they to say to each other, how many promises to renew, how many hopes and fears to exchange!

They parted; Edoardo pleased with himself, and Sophia dissatisfied with him and herself, without knowing why.

The heart is a true prophet: the fears of Sophia were about being realised; the days of her mother were drawing to a close. Sophia, sad and terrified, was never absent from her bedside. Her heart, her heart alone, sometimes wandered after the footsteps of another beloved, but less unhappy being. Forgive that thought of love to the maiden; call it not a sin. Sixteen! a soul so tender! the first love! The maternal eye saw into the inmost heart of the daughter, and felt no jealousy at those thoughts flying to her distant love. In those moments she silenced her own wants, lest she should disturb her in her reveries, and humbly prayed for the happiness of her child. Sophia, on recollecting herself, would testify the greatest sorrow, ask pardon of her dear invalid, and redouble her attention. Neither day nor night was she away from the pillow of her dying mother. Her strength supported her, as if by a miracle. No one divided with her this pious office, except the Countess Galeazzi, the mysterious guest of that house, and she came but seldom to the chamber of suffering.

But the last hour had struck for the Signora Cadori. With her dying breath she spoke of Edoardo. 'You love,' she said, 'and your love may be the source of good to you. Take this cross, which I have worn on my heart since the day of your birth; it was the gift of your father; take it, and wear it in memory of your poor mother. You will find in my chest a sum of money, and some bills on the imperial bank of Vienna. It is no great riches, but it is sufficient for the unforeseen wants that may press upon a woman. I would never consent to give up these sums to your father, and that was one source of our disagreement; but it was impossible for the heart of a mother to deprive herself of what she could one day share with her children. And I am glad that I have not done so; for, without such aid, your poor sister would have died of misery, as she did of grief and despair.'

She said more, and seemed to make other confidences to her daughter, but her words were uttered so feebly that they were lost. She then leaned her head on the shoulder of Sophia, never to raise it more.

Four months after this event, the time of study returned, and Edoardo came again to Padua. He did not bring the consent of his father to their marriage, but only some distant hopes. Cadori, who was aware of Sophia's inclinations, forbade Edoardo to frequent his house, until the formal permission of his father could be procured. Thus was Sophia deprived of the pleasure of being often near her lover, of enjoying his society, his conversation. She could see him but seldom, and that unknown to her father.

But Edoardo was changed. He was no longer the frank, the loving Edoardo of former times. A residence of five months in Venice, without being subjected to restraint, or having means to elude it; the company of other young men, familiar with vice and dissipation; above all, a fatal inclination had depraved and ruined him! He had suffered himself to be fascinated by the fierce delight which is found in gaming; play had become his occupation, his chief need. Play and its effects, the orgies that precede, the excesses that follow, were the life of Edoardo. Waste and debt were the consequences; and when he had, under a thousand pretences, extorted from his father all the money he could, he began, on arriving in Padua, to apply to Sophia, whom he neglected, at least did not see as often as he might, though he still loved her. Sophia was as indulgent as he was indiscreet. At every fatal request for money, she offered him double the sum he had asked. When Edoardo began to tell her some feigned story, to conceal the shameful source of his wants, and to give her an account of how he had employed those sums, she would not listen to him.

'Why,' said she, 'should I demand an account of your actions? Why should I think over and debate what you have already considered? Will not all you have be one day mine? Shall we not be one day man and wife?' And these words took away from Edoardo every sense of remorse: conscience ceased to reproach him for the baseness of despoiling that poor girl of the little she possessed. The thought that he was one day to make her his wife, justified him in his own eyes; for by this he thought he should have recompensed her for all her sacrifices.

Edoardo's demands increased with his exigencies. He was making rapid advances into the most terrible phases of the gamester's vice; and the mania in Sophia of giving—of sacrificing all her means for Edoardo, did not stop. All the money left her by her mother had already disappeared; most of her valuable ornaments had been sold; some of the bank bills had been parted with: but as this could not be done without her father's knowledge, he had made the laws interpose, and sequestrated the remainder. Sophia did not dare to speak or complain. She felt in her heart that her father was probably in the right, that her own conduct was at least unreflecting, and that Edoardo's expenses were too great; but still she found a thousand arguments to excuse both herself and him. She spent all the day making flowers, and stole a great part of the night from repose to devote it to this labour; but she, formerly so ready to make presents of her flowers, and adorn with them the young girls of her acquaintance, now exacted payment for them; so that every one wondered at this new and sudden avarice. But what did she care what was said of her? What did she care for appearing without those ornaments which women so love, and which add so much to their charms? What mattered it to her that she was ruining her own health by depriving herself of rest, toiling, and weeping? One look, one smile of Edoardo, the having satisfied one of his desires, compensated for all. What afflicted and troubled her was, that her labour should be so insufficient to meet his wants. Often did it occur to her mind that he gambled, that he was ruining himself, and she thought of reproving him for it, but had not courage to do so. Sometimes she accused herself of aiding him to destroy himself. Then she thought that she was mistaken; her doubts seemed to her as injuries to his love, and she grieved for having for a moment admitted them.

One treasure alone remained, the cross which her mother had given her on her death-bed. It was of brilliants, and might bring a large sum. She thought over this, and wept for a whole week. Many times she went out with the intention of selling it, but her heart could not resolve to do so, and she returned penitent and sorrowful.

Meanwhile, Edoardo was involving himself more and more in debt. Assailed by creditors on one side, and drawn to the gaming-table by desire and necessity on the other; menaced with a prison, threatened to be denounced to his father, stupid from want of rest, midnight revelling, and anxiety, he one day presented himself before Sophia in a state so different from usual, that the poor girl was terrified at him. Whither, Edoardo, has departed the beauty, the freshness of your youthful years?—whither your simplicity of heart? Buried, buried amid dice and cards. Sophia no longer doubted that Edoardo gambled, that he had given himself up to a life worthy of reprehension; but she was disposed to pardon him, to hope that he would repent and turn to better counsels. But what made her tremble was the hoarse and desperate accent in which he told her that he had need of money, that he was, hard pressed by necessity, obliged to pay ten thousand lire. The glance that he directed to every corner of the apartment, perhaps because he did not dare to look her in the face, was dark and unsteady: some broken words, uttered in a low voice, pierced her heart like a dagger. And without any available means, she promised Edoardo to procure him the required sum by next day.

When he left the house, therefore, she threw herself at her father's feet, and begged him for a sum of money that belonged to her, but of which she could not dispose without his signature; but Cadori refused it. I shall not repeat their dialogue. I shall only say, that she came out from that conference in a state of distraction. Her mind was fraught with desolation. Hideous thoughts passed through her brain. It was night: she found she was alone. She felt desperate. A terrible temptation passed through her mind. Her father, she knew, had heaps of gold lying useless in his coffers; but locks and bolts placed their contents out of reach. She then bethought herself of the countess's bureau, in which her own cross had been deposited, secure from the old man's covetousness. There, too, the countess kept her treasures. She took a light, observed whether any one saw her, or could follow her, and repaired to the apartment of the Countess Galeazzi, who was from home, spending the evening with an old acquaintance. Hardly breathing, and walking on tiptoe, Sophia took a key from under a bell-glass, and opened the bureau. Oh, how she felt her heart throb! She was terrified; she trembled in every movement! The noise she made in opening the money-drawer seemed to be the footsteps of some person following to lay hands on her. The light of the lamp, reflected in the mirrors and in the furniture, seemed to her so many eyes that looked on and reproached her. She opened the drawer and took out her cross. Under it were several notes of the bank of Vienna. The temptation was strong; she laid her hands on the papers; but a thrill of terror seemed communicated through her frame by the touch, and, overcome by intense excitement, she fell senseless on the floor.

Some time afterwards the Countess Galeazzi returned home. On entering her apartment, she beheld the wretched girl stretched on the floor with the diamond cross in her hand. The bureau was still open. She ran to succour Sophia, and by the application of essences recalled her to life. The moment the latter awoke to consciousness, she threw herself on her knees, wept desperately, tried to speak, but could not; the only words she was at length able to articulate were—'Forgive me! forgive me!'

The countess used every means to pacify her, by the compassionate expression of her countenance, by her maternal gestures, caressing and pressing her to her bosom, with words of comfort and tenderness.

'Calm yourself, calm yourself,' she said; 'go and take some repose; you have need of it.'

'Countess,' replied Sophia, then wept anew. 'Shame, shame and desperation! Oh, wretch that I am! Oh, my poor heart!'

'Go, go to bed, Sophia; to-morrow we will talk. Here is the light.' Saying this, she reached her the lamp with one hand and led her by the other, using a little affectionate violence to conduct her out of the room, and prevent her from speaking another word.

The next day Sophia was so overwhelmed with grief and shame, that she took to her bed, struck down by a violent fever, which was the commencement of a dangerous illness. The countess was her nurse.

Edoardo, having lost the source whence he derived all his supplies, through the illness of Sophia, could no longer prevent his father from coming to the knowledge of his irregularities. He was immediately recalled to Venice, and shut up in a house of correction. Disgraced in the eyes of the companions of his debaucheries, and forced in his solitary confinement to make painful reflections on the consequences of his conduct, he seemed to be cured of his fatal passion, and when released, he returned no more to Padua; but, giving up the study of the law, he devoted himself to commerce, to which the contagious mania of making money, of becoming rich, made him steadily apply himself. His old inclination had changed its name; it was 'mercantile speculation;' but the substance remained the same. He had written to Sophia that his father would not consent to his marriage, unless it were with a lady of large fortune: unfortunately, she was not rich enough; however, that he would wed none but her, and that they must be resigned, and trust to time; and Sophia, living on the few letters that Edoardo continued to write her, and grieving that she was not as rich as Valperghi would have wished, waited and hoped. Her illness had been long and dangerous; her youth, and the care bestowed on her, had alone been able to save her life. She had long been oppressed by remorse: it was long ere she dared to lift her eyes to the countess, or address one word to her.

The latter had sought to evade every allusion to the past; and the poor girl, beginning to overcome her fears, ended at length in making her her friend, her confidante. She told her everything, and was fully forgiven everything.

After a time, Sophia recovered. They had lived together for four years, during which Sophia had opened her whole heart to that lady, made her the repository of all her everyday thoughts, her hopes; but the countess had always answered her with vague, uncertain words, or with silence. Alas! Sophia was fated to lose every object on which she had set her affection. After having closed the eyes of her mother and sister, adverse fortune obliged her to witness the death of the Countess Galeazzi.

When her affairs were looked into, it was found that she left her large fortune to Sophia Cadori; so that that which deprived her of so tender, so generous a friend, should also have made her happiness complete. Every obstacle that divided from her Edoardo, which separated her from him she loved so ardently, had vanished. In a few days a boundless love, a love of six years, a love she had cherished through so many sorrows, would be crowned! In a few days she would be Sophia Valperghi!

She wrote a letter full of the joys and hopes soon to be realised to her dear Edoardo; she was happy, as happy as she had desired, as happy as she had so long dreamed of being; she made all preparations for her marriage. Being now quite independent of him, she spoke of it to her father—to every one; she sought garments of the colour and taste that she knew Edoardo liked; she imagined and planned a thousand surprises. How many times did she put the cherished wreath on her head, consult her mirror, study every position in which those flowers might appear to better advantage and increase her beauty! How often did she open the box that contained it to kiss it, to look at it, scarcely daring to touch it for fear of spoiling a leaf, of disarranging a fibre!

At length came the answer to her letter; an answer that to any other person might have seemed constrained, cold, terrible; but it was, on the contrary, to Sophia the seal of her felicity. She was only afflicted that Edoardo should have made illness an apology, which he said prevented him from coming immediately to Padua. To Sophia it was as clear as the sun that expressions of affection did not abound, because they had now at command what she and Edoardo had so long hoped and looked for; that the letter did not dwell on particulars, precisely because great joy is not talkative, and because the illness of Edoardo prevented it. She made ready to set out to Venice without delay, expecting that her father would join her there, and that the nuptials would be celebrated in that city when the health of Edoardo would permit.

Arrived at Venice, she was set down at the house of the Valperghi, and ordered the trunk which contained the few robes she had brought with her to be brought into a room, into which she had been introduced while the servants went to announce her arrival to Edoardo.

After a few minutes he entered the apartment, to discover who wanted to see him; and, on recognising Sophia, was disconcerted and abashed. She was surprised at seeing him splendidly dressed, as if for some extraordinary occasion. Then he was not ill! She read confusion and terror in his countenance.

'My own Edoardo,' said she, after some moments of silence;' are you quite recovered?'

'It was but a slight indisposition, as I have written to you,' replied he; 'nor was there any reason for your hasty presence in Venice.'

'Edoardo, Edoardo!—there was no reason!—I have written to you! Edoardo, why do you speak so to me? Why are you disturbed? Are you no longer my own Edoardo? Tell me, tell me what is the matter with you?

'Nothing. But what do you think will be said of you? A young girl alone in the house of a family she does not know!'

'Oh, Edoardo, you kill me! Explain yourself more clearly. This a house I do not know? Am I not to be mistress in this house? Am I not to be your wife?'

'But without any previous announcement of your coming, it would not be well if my father were to find you here so unexpectedly. I think it would be better if you were to lodge, at least for a very short while, in an inn.'

'Your father! But am I not rich enough for him? This is a fearful mystery. Explain it, if you do not wish me to die.'

This conversation was interrupted by the entrance of a servant, saying: 'Signor Edoardo, your bride requests you to pass into her apartment for a moment.'

Sophia had strength to command herself until the man was gone away. She then threw, or rather let herself fall into a chair, covering her face with her hands, crying: 'His bride! his bride! Is it true? Is it not a dream? For mercy's sake, if you have the heart of a man, tell me that it is false, that I have not heard rightly. For pity's sake answer me—answer me or kill me.'

'It is too true, Sophia; it was my father's will. In a little time I am to give my hand to another woman.'

'Oh, merciful Heaven! I have heard these words, and live. Oh, my poor life! But it cannot be: it is not true: you are not yet married: there is still time. Go—fly to the feet of your father, tell him you do not love that woman—that you love me, me only; that you have loved me for six years!'

'Impossible, Sophia; things have already gone too far. She is a princess—one of the first families of Florence. It breaks my heart, but it is impossible.'

'What matters her rank, her relatives, if you do not love her?'

'And if I did love her?' said Edoardo, wavering, rather to see whether it would be a means of ridding him of Sophia than expressing the sincere feeling of his heart.

'If you did love her? oh, then, you would he the most infamous of men—you would he a monster. But no; you cannot have forgotten your vows; you cannot have forgotten all your words, our life of six years.' Then rising, and throwing herself on her knees: 'Oh! Forgive me, Edoardo; forgive my words. I rave; I know not what I say! Tell me that you have only wished to put my affection to the proof—that you love no other woman—none but me alone! Oh, do not drive me from this house, Edoardo; do not give yourself to another woman!'

'Sophia, if I could help it, do you think I would make you weep thus?'

'If you could help it? What prevents you? Nothing—nothing.'

'Honour, Sophia.'

'Honour! Where was your honour if you have forgotten all your sacred promises—if you have perjured yourself?'

'Sophia, Sophia, pity me. Do not make me the talk of all Venice. I am the most infamous of men; but I can do nothing for you. Now I will confess to you the whole truth—a truth I had not the heart to tell you before. That woman is already my wife; I have married her by civil contract; and the ceremony that is about to be performed presently is a mere formality. Sophia, forgive me if you can—forgive me, and depart.'

'Oh, no, no, I cannot go from this house. I will die here before your eyes.'

A sound of footsteps was heard. It was easy to guess that those light steps were a woman's. Edoardo turned towards a table, as if to look for some papers, saying to himself: 'I am lost.' And Sophia knelt down by the trunk that contained her clothes, pretending to rummage for something in it, while she wiped away her tears, and suppressed her sighs.

Edoardo's bride entered. She stood for a moment perplexed, seeing a woman with him; then said: 'Edoardo, I sent for you that you might yourself choose one of these wreaths. Which of them do you think will become me best?' showing him at the same time two bridal wreaths which she held in her hand.

'Neither,' said Sophia, rising and presenting a third wreath to the bride. 'The Signor Edoardo ordered me to make this some time ago for his bride, and I trust I have not laboured in vain.'

'In truth it is much handsomer than either of these others,' said the bride; 'but you told me nothing of this, Edoardo?'

'It was a surprise,' added Sophia.

'My own Edoardo,' said the bride again; 'another kindness; a new expression of your love. Oh, how dear this wreath will be to me!' and she retired, taking it with her.

Sophia looked at the door through which the lady had disappeared, and bursting into tears, exclaimed: 'Oh my poor wreath!'

'Sophia, Sophia, you are an angel,' said Edoardo. 'Once more I owe you my life.'

'Since she is yours,' replied Sophia mournfully, and sitting down faint and exhausted on her trunk—'since she is yours, ought I to bring death to her mind, the death that I feel already in my poor heart? No one knows, no one can know what is suffering, but those who suffer; oh, no woman ever endured what I endure at this moment! Go—go, Edoardo; prepare yourself for the ceremony: they are waiting for you. I have no more reproaches to make you—no more right to make them. All was in that wreath, and in renouncing that, I have renounced this. Go—I have need of not seeing you. I promise you that when you return I will be no longer here to trouble you with my presence.'

Edoardo, pale, confused, penitent, bent a long last gaze on Sophia; then left the room, saying: 'I am a villain—I am a villain.'

Two hours after, the marriage-ceremony was performed. The gondolas that bore the bridal cortège, on their return from the church of St Moisè, were met by some fishing-boats that had drawn up a drowned female. The gondolas had to stop in order to let them pass. 'A sad omen for the bride and bridegroom,' said an old woman of the company.

Edoardo, who had recognised that pale corpse, had thrown himself at the bottom of his gondola, in order to conceal his emotion, and with a convulsive motion pressed the hand of his bride, which he held between his own. The simple girl, interpreting that squeeze as an expression of love, said: 'Oh, my Edoardo, you will ever love me?'

'Ever, ever,' replied Edoardo, wiping away a tear. He then muttered to himself: 'Poor, poor Sophia!—she was an Angel, and I am a villain.'