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In order that the reader may understand how Agnes could perceive any object outside the window, in the intense darkness of that tempestuous night or rather morning, for it was now past one o’clock we must observe that not only was the apartment in which Wagner and herself were seated brilliantly lighted by the silver lamps, but that, according to Florentine custom, there were also lamps suspended outside to the veranda, or large balcony belonging to the casements of the room above.

Agnes and Wagner were, moreover, placed near the window which looked into a large garden attached to the mansion; and thus it was easy for the lady, whose eyes happened to be fixed upon the casement in the earnest interest with which she was relating her narrative, to perceive the human countenance that appeared at one of the panes.

The moment her history was interrupted by the ejaculation of alarm that broke from her lips, Wagner started up and hastened to the window; but he could see nothing save the waving evergreens in his garden, and the light of a mansion which stood at a distance of about two hundred yards from his own abode.

He was about to open the casement and step into the garden, when Agnes caught him by the arm, exclaiming wildly, “Leave me not I could not I could not bear to remain alone!”

“No, I will not quit you, Agnes,” replied Wagner, conducting her back to the sofa and resuming his seat by her side. “But wherefore that ejaculation of alarm? Whose countenance did you behold? Speak, dearest Agnes!”

“I will hasten to explain the cause of my terror,” retorted Agnes, becoming more composed. “Ere now I was about to detail the particulars of my journey to Florence, in company with the Count of Riverola, and attended by Antonio; but as those particulars are of no material interest, I will at once pass on to the period when we arrived in this city.”

“But the countenance at the window?” said Wagner, somewhat impatiently.

“Listen and you will soon know all,” replied Agnes. “It was in the evening when I entered Florence for the first time. Antonio had proceeded in advance to inform his mother a widow who resided in a decent house, but in an obscure street near the cathedral that she was speedily to receive a young lady as a guest. This young lady was myself; and accordingly, when the count assisted me to alight from my horse at the gate of Dame Margaretha’s abode, the good widow had everything in readiness for my reception. The count conversed with her apart for a few minutes; and I observed that he also placed a heavy purse in her hand doubtless to insure her secrecy relative to the amour, with the existence of which he was of course compelled to acquaint her. Having seen me comfortably installed in Dame Margaretha’s best apartment, he quitted me, with a promise to return on the morrow.”

Agnes paused for a few moments, sighed, and continued her narrative in the following manner:

“Fortunately for me, Dame Margaretha was a German woman, who had married an Italian, otherwise my condition would have been wretched in the extreme. She treated me with great kindness, mingled with respect; for though but a poor peasant girl, I was beloved and protected by one of the most powerful nobles of Florence. I retired early to rest: sleep did not, however, immediately visit my eyes! Oh! no I was in Florence, but my thoughts were far away in my native Germany, and on the borders of the Black Forest. At length I fell into an uneasy slumber, and when I awoke the sun was shining through the lattice. I arose and dressed myself, and to my ineffable delight found that I was no longer to wear the garb of a page. That disguise had been removed while I slept, and in its place were costly vestments, which I donned with a pleasure that triumphed over the gloom of my soul. In the course of the morning rich furniture was brought to the house, and in a few hours the apartments allotted to me were converted, in my estimation, into a little paradise. The count arrived soon afterward, and I now pardon me the neglect and ingratitude which my words confess I now felt very happy. The noble Andrea enjoined me to go abroad but seldom, and never without being accompanied by Dame Margaretha; he also besought me not to appear to recognize him should I chance to meet him in public at any time, nor to form acquaintances; in a word, to live retired and secluded as possible, alike for his sake and my own. I promised compliance with all he suggested, and he declared in return that he would never cease to love me.”

“Dwell not upon details, Agnes,” said Wagner; “for, although I am deeply interested in your narrative, my curiosity is strangely excited to learn the meaning of that terror which overcame you ere now.”

“I will confine myself to material facts as much as possible,” returned Agnes. “Time glided rapidly away; months flew by, and with sorrow and shame must I confess that the memories of the past, the memories of the bright, happy days of my innocence intruded but little on the life which I led. For, though he was so much older than I, yet I loved the Count of Riverola devotedly. Oh! Heaven knows how devotedly! His conversation delighted, fascinated me; and he seemed to experience a pleasure in imparting to me the extensive knowledge which he had acquired. To me he unbent as, doubtless, to human being he never unbent before; in my presence his sternness, his somber moods, his gloomy thoughts vanished. It was evident that he had much preying upon his mind; and perhaps he loved me thus fondly because by some unaccountable whim or caprice, or strange influence he found solace in my society. The presents which he heaped upon me, but which have been nearly all snatched from me, were of immense value; and when I remonstrated with him on account of a liberality so useless to one whom he allowed to want for nothing, he would reply, ’But remember, Agnes, when I shall be no more, riches will constitute your best friend, your safest protection; for such is the order of things in this world.’ He generally spent two hours with me every day, and frequently visited me again in the evening. Thus did time pass; and at length I come to that incident which will explain the terror I ere now experienced.”

Agnes cast a hasty glance toward the window, as if to assure herself that the object of her fears was no longer there; and, satisfied on this head, she proceeded in the following manner:

“It was about six months ago that I repaired as usual on the Sabbath morning to mass, accompanied by Dame Margaretha, when I found myself the object of some attention on the part of a lady, who was kneeling at a short distance from the place which I occupied in the church. The lady was enveloped in a dark, thick veil, the ample folds of which concealed her countenance, and meandered over her whole body’s splendidly symmetrical length of limb in such a manner as to aid her rich attire in shaping, rather than hiding, the contours of that matchless form. I was struck by her fine proportions, which gave her, even in her kneeling attitude, a queen-like and majestic air; and I longed to obtain a glimpse of her countenance the more so as I could perceive by her manner and the position of her head that from beneath her dark veil her eyes were intently fixed upon myself. At length the scrutiny to which I was thus subjected began to grow so irksome nay, even alarming, that I hurriedly drew down my own veil, which I had raised through respect for the sacred altar whereat I was kneeling. Still I knew that the stranger lady was gazing on me; I felt that she was. A certain uneasy sensation amounting almost to a superstitious awe convinced me that I was the object of her undivided attention. Suddenly the priests, in procession, came down from the altar; and as they passed us, I instinctively raised my veil again, through motives of deferential respect. At the same instant I glanced toward the stranger lady; she also drew back the dark covering from her face. Oh! what a countenance was then revealed to me a countenance of such sovereign beauty that, though of the same sex, I was struck with admiration; but, in the next moment, a thrill of terror shot through my heart for the fascination of the basilisk could scarcely paralyze its victim with more appalling effect than did the eyes of that lady. It might be conscience qualms, excited by some unknown influence it might even have been imagination; but it nevertheless appeared as if those large, black, burning orbs shot forth lightnings which seared and scorched my very soul! For that splendid countenance, of almost unearthly beauty, was suddenly marked by an expression of such vindictive rage, such ineffable hatred, such ferocious menace, that I should have screamed had I not been as it were stunned stupefied!

“The procession of priests swept past. I averted my head from the stranger lady. In a few moments I again glanced hurriedly at the place which she had occupied but she was gone. Then I felt relieved! On quitting the church, I frankly narrated to old Margaretha these particulars as I have now unfolded them to you; and methought that she was for a moment troubled as I spoke! But if she were, she speedily recovered her composure endeavored to soothe me by attributing it all to my imagination, and earnestly advised me not to cause any uneasiness to the count by mentioning the subject to him. I readily promised compliance with this injunction; and in the course of a few days ceased to think upon the incident which has made so strange but evanescent an impression on my mind.”

“Doubtless Dame Margaretha was right in her conjecture,” said Wagner; “and your imagination ”

“Oh, no no! It was not fancy!” interrupted Agnes, hastily. “But listen, and then judge for yourself. I informed you ere now that it was about six months ago when the event which I have just related took place. At that period, also, my noble lover the ever-to be lamented Andrea first experienced the symptoms of that internal disease which has, alas! carried him to the tomb.”

Agnes paused, wiped away her tears, and continued thus:

“His visits to me consequently became less frequent; I was more alone for Margaretha was not always a companion who could solace me for the absence of one so dearly loved as my Andrea; and repeated fits of deep despondency seized upon my soul. At those times I felt as if some evil vague and undefinable, but still terrible were impending over me. Was it my lord’s approaching death of which I had a presentiment? I know not! Weeks passed away; the count’s visits occurred at intervals growing longer and longer but his affection toward me had not abated. No: a malady that preyed upon his vitals retained him much at home; and at last, about two months ago, I received through Antonio the afflicting intelligence that he was confined to his bed. My anguish now knew no bounds. I would fly to him oh! I would fly to him: who was more worthy to watch by his couch than I, who so dearly loved him! Dame Margaretha represented to me how painful it would be to his lordship were our amour to transpire through any rash proceeding on my part the more so, as I knew that he had a daughter and a son! I accordingly restrained my impetuous longing to hasten to his bedside: I could not so easily subdue my grief!

“One night I sat up late in my lonely chamber pondering on the melancholy position in which I was placed, loving so tenderly, yet not daring to fly to him whom I loved, and giving way to all the mournful ideas which presented themselves to my imagination. At length my mind grew bewildered by those sad reflections; vague terrors gathered around me multiplying in number and augmenting in intensity, until at length the very figures on the tapestry with which the room was hung appeared animated with power to scare and affright me. The wind moaned ominously without, and raised strange echoes within; oppressive feelings crowded on my soul. At length the gale swelled to a hurricane a whirlwind, seldom experienced in this delicious clime. Howlings in a thousand tones appeared to flit through the air; and piercing lamentations seemed to sound down the black clouds that rolled their mighty volumes together, veiling the moon and stars in thickest gloom. Overcome with terror, I retired to rest and I slept. But troubled dreams haunted me throughout the night, and I awoke at an early hour in the morning. But holy angels protect me! what did I behold? Bending over me, as I lay, was that same countenance which I had seen four months before in the church, and now, as it was then, darting upon me lightning from large black eyes that seemed to send shafts of flame and fire to the inmost recesses of my soul! Yet distorted as it was with demoniac rage that face was still endowed with the queen-like beauty the majesty of loveliness, which had before struck me, and which even lent force to those looks of dreadful menace that were fixed upon me. There were the high forehead the proud lip, curled in scorn, the brilliant teeth, glistening between the quivering vermilion, and the swan-like arching of the dazzling neck; there also was the dark glory of the luxuriant hair!

“For a few moments I was spell-bound motionless speechless. Clothed with terror and sublimity, yet in all the flush of the most perfect beauty, a strange mysterious being stood over me: and I knew not whether she were a denizen of this world, or a spirit risen from another. Perhaps the transcendent loveliness of that countenance was but a mask and the wondrous symmetry of that form but a disguise, beneath which all the passions of hell were raging in the brain and in the heart of a fiend. Such were the ideas that flashed through my imagination; and I involuntarily closed my eyes, as if this action could avert the malignity that appeared to menace me. But dreadful thoughts still pursued me enveloping me, as it were, in an oppressive mist wherein appalling though dimly seen images and forms were agitating; and I again opened my eyes. The lady if an earthly being she really were was gone. I rose from my couch and glanced nervously around expecting almost to behold an apparition come forth from behind the tapestry, or the folds of the curtains. But my attention was suddenly arrested by a fact more germane to worldly occurrences. The casket wherein I kept the rich presents made to me at different times by my Andrea had been forced open and the most valuable portion of its contents were gone. On a closer investigation I observed that the articles which were left were those that were purchased new; whereas the jewels that had been abstracted were old ones, which, as the count had informed me, had belonged to his deceased wife.

“On discovering this robbery, I began to suspect that my mysterious visitress, who had caused me so much alarm, was the thief of my property; and I immediately summoned old Margaretha. She was of course astounded at the occurrence which I related; and, after some reflection, she suddenly remembered that she had forgotten to fasten the house-door ere she retired to rest on the preceding evening. I chided her for a neglect which had enabled some evil-disposed woman to penetrate into my chamber, and not only terrify but also plunder me. She implored my forgiveness, and besought me not to mention the incident to the count when next we met. Alas! my noble Andrea and I never met again.

“I was sorely perplexed by the event which I have just related. If the mysterious visitress were a common thief, why did she leave any of the jewels in the casket? and wherefore had she on two occasions contemplated me with looks of such dark rage and infernal menace? A thought struck me. Could the count’s daughter have discovered our amour? and was it she who had come to gain possession of jewels belonging to the family? I hinted my suspicions to Margaretha; but she speedily convinced me that they were unfounded.

“‘The Lady Nisida is deaf and dumb,’ she said, ’and cannot possibly exercise such faculties of observation, nor adopt such means of obtaining information as would make her acquainted with all that has occurred between her father and yourself. Besides she is constantly in attendance on her sire, who is very, very ill.

“I now perceived the improbability of a deaf and dumb female discovering an amour so carefully concealed; but to assure myself more fully on that head, I desired Margaretha to describe the Lady Nisida. This she readily did, and I learnt from her that the count’s daughter was of a beauty quite different from the lady whom I had seen in the church and in my own chamber. In a word, it appears that Nisida has light hair, blue eyes and a delicate form: whereas, the object of my interest, curiosity, and fear, is a woman of dark Italian loveliness.

“I have little more now to say. The loss of the jewels and the recollection of the mysterious lady were soon absorbed in the distressing thoughts which the serious illness of the count forced upon my mind. Weeks passed away, and he came not; but he sent repeated messages by Antonio, imploring me to console myself, as he should soon recover, and urging me not to take any step that might betray the existence of our amour. Need I say how religiously I obeyed him in the latter respect? Day after day did I hope to see him again, for I knew not that he was dying: and I used to dress myself in my gayest attire even as now I am appareled to welcome his expected visit. Alas! he never came; and his death was concealed from me, doubtless that the sad event might not be communicated until after the funeral, lest in the first frenzy of anguish I should rush to the Riverola palace to imprint a last kiss upon the cheek of the corpse. But a few hours ago, I learned the whole truth from two female friends of Dame Margaretha who called to visit her, and whom I had hastened to inform that she was temporarily absent. My noble Andrea was dead, and at that very moment his funeral obsequies were being celebrated in the neighboring church the very church in which I had first beheld the mysterious lady! Frantic with grief unmindful of the exposure that would ensue reckless of the consequences, I left the house I hastened to the church I intruded my presence amidst the mourners. You know the rest, Fernand. It only remains for me to say that the countenance which I beheld ere now at the window strongly delineated and darkly conspicuous amidst the blaze of light outside the casement was that of the lady whom I have thus seen for the third time! But, tell me, Fernand, how could a stranger thus obtain admission to the gardens of your mansion?”

“You see yon lights, Agnes!” said Wagner, pointing toward the mansion which, as we stated at the commencement of that chapter, was situated at a distance of about two hundred yards from Fernand’s dwelling, the backs of the two houses thus looking toward each other. “Those lights,” he continued, “are shining in a mansion the gardens of which are separated from my own by a simple hedge of evergreens, that would not bar even the passage of a child. Should any inmate of that mansion possess curiosity sufficient to induce him or her to cross the boundary, traverse my gardens, and approach the casements of my residence, that curiosity may be easily gratified.”

“And to whom does yon mansion belong?” asked Agnes.

“To Dr. Duras, an eminent physician,” was the reply.

“Dr. Duras, the physician who attended my noble Andrea in his illness!” exclaimed Agnes. “Then the mysterious lady of whom I have spoken so much, and whose countenance ere now appeared at the casement, must be an inmate of the house of Dr. Duras; or at all events, a visitor there! Ah! surely there is some connection between that lady and the family at Riverola?”

“Time will solve the mystery, dearest sister, for so I am henceforth to call you,” said Fernand. “But beneath this roof, no harm can menace you. And now let me summon good Dame Paula, my housekeeper, to conduct you to the apartments which have been prepared for your reception. The morning is far advanced, and we both stand in need of rest.”

Dame Paula, an elderly, good-tempered, kind-hearted matron, shortly made her appearance; and to her charge did Wagner consign his newly-found relative, whom he now represented to be his sister.

But as Agnes accompanied the worthy woman from the apartment, she shuddered involuntarily as she passed the frame which was covered with the black cloth, and which seemed ominous amidst the blaze of light that filled the room.