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rank and wealth, will be forfeited. You will be forced to perform even the duties of a menial servant to your husband.
"Countess Bianca of Florenheim," she proceeded, " can you dare to undertake such a sacrifice? Are you aware that your mind may now be upheld by an uncertain enthusiasm ? Have you thought upon the drear dull calm of poverty, and decaying health? Do you feel assured that when the first tumultuous feelings of self-applause have worn themselves out, when there are none around to wonder at your extraordinary devotion to Alberti, when your name will be almost forgotten in the circles where you have hitherto lived, quite forgotten indeed, by all but a few friends whom you will never behold again, do you think you will then rejoice at the decision you have made? When perhaps your husband may be dying, in the morning of his age, with no attendant but a weak helpless wife, who may be then too ill even to stand beside him, then what will your feelings be ?" The Empress repeated her question; for the words which preceded it had absorbed Bianca's thoughts. She pictured to herself the young and vigorous Ernest wasting away, dying in her presence; she forgot herself, and all but his sufferings. Slowly she raised her head, as the Empress again addressed her. "What will my feelings be? Ah! I can scarcely imagine what they will be. Sorrow, certainly sorrow, but only for him; that must be the pervading feeling at such a moment. Happiness," her whole face brightened with smiles as she spoke, "real joy on my own account, to know that I am with him then, to hope, to believe, that I shall soon be with him for ever!" Bianca continued to speak, and it was evident that her mind had anticipated and dwelt on the miseries that awaited the wife of Alberti.
Maria Theresa listened to her with profound attention; she asked, once again, Do you determine to follow Ernest Alberti to the mines of Idria as his wife, and to resign your rank and possessions ?" Bianca sunk on her knee, she raised her clasped hands, and exclaimed, “I am but too favoured by God and my sovereign, if I may follow him. I resign my rank and my property with joy, with gratitude." Again, once again, the Empress fixed on Bianca an earnest and searching look, and appeared to think deeply." I am satisfied-I am quite satisfied," she said at length, and the sternness of her look disappeared; "I cannot countenance, but I shall not oppose, your marriage." Bianca had been comparatively calm before, but now she covered her face with her hands, and sobbed almost hysterically. Maria Theresa would have raised her, but Bianca sprung up from the ground, her face beaming with delight, though the tears hung upon her cheeks. "Oh! forgive me," she said eagerly; "your highness will forgive me. take my tears for sorrow; I am so happy, that I must weep." The empress opened the door by which she had entered the room, and led the trembling Countess into a small oratory. "I must converse with you here, before we part," she said; and at once her look, her voice, her manner, became expressive of the tenderest affection. "I have spoken as the sovereign, now listen to your friend. Here we should forget all distinctions of worldly rank. Here, my sweet Bianca, an Empress may feel herself inferior to the wife of a poor miner. Tell me really, my dear child," she said, tenderly clasping her companion's
Do not mis
hands, as she drew her nearer, and gazed with a look of affectionate inquiry in her face; "confide in your friend. Must you, will you, pursue this rash plan? What is the chief motive that determines you "_ "I love," she replied; and these two words, spoken as they then were, needed little comment to the heart of Maria Theresa; "I love Ernest for himself. I did not love his rank or his riches; he is still Ernest Alberti, he is still himself, and therefore I still love him. I can live with him in disgrace and misery, I can die with him. My words may seem like those of a romantic girl, but they are not idle sounds. I do feel that I am speaking to a friend. I open all my heart to you, when I tell you, that I see but one simple path before me, and that, in deciding to tread it, my principles confirm the decision of my heart."-" And 1," said the Empress, "yes, I confess that I understand and approve you. My child, you must leave me, or — Bianca sunk at the
feet of the Empress. She hoped, she implored for a moment. words died upon her lips, when she beheld the calm but changeless refusal expressed in the look of Maria Theresa, who said instantly, "I have now only to bid you farewell. In this oratory I shall pray for you constantly. Think of me, not as your sovereign, but as your friend, and love me," A missal lay upon the altar; its leaves were kept open by a rosary of pearls; the Empress had left it there, it was the rosary she always wore: she pressed the crucifix suspended from it to her lips, and gave it silently to the young Countess. Silently she kissed her cheek and forehead, and they parted.
That very evening Bianca visited the cell of Alberti; she had been there once before, it was to receive his last embrace. Now she looked round on the gloomy courts, and smiled. Joyfully she passed on to the massy doors, which separated her from him whom she loved, and the grating of the bolts no longer sounded harshly. Ernest heard with as tonishment the cry of delight, with which Bianca threw herself on his bosom. He looked in vain for explanation on his mother, and the Father Antonio, who slowly entered the cell. He moved not, as she unwound her slender arms, and looked up tenderly, but almost reproachfully in his face. "My love," she said, "I am very bold; but it was not always thus. Do you look coldly on me? Dear, dear Ernest, must Iremind you of our long-plighted affection? Are you still silent? Then I must plead the cause which has so often made you eloquent. I do not blush," she said, "to make my request;" while a deepening blush spread over her downcast face, and completely belied her assertion. "Will you not understand me? Will you not recall the time when I should have waited like a bashful maid, to be entreated like all bashful maids? then you have often called me too reserved. But now," she exclaimed, fixing her ardent and innocent gaze upon him," a wife offers her hand to her husband. Dear Ernest, will you not take this hand?" She smiled, and held out her small white hand. He took her hand, he pressed it to his lips, and continued to hold it trembling in his own. "My sweet Bianca," he said, and as he looked at her, the tears streamed from his eyes, "I was prepared for this. I knew that you would speak as you do now. It is heart-breaking to see you here, to hear you speak, as I knew you would. I almost wish you had been less true, less like yourself. Ah! how can I refuse the slightest of your
But I must be firm.
chaste favours! We must part. My love, I will not speak of poverty, although the change would be too hard for you, a young and delicate lady, of high rank, accustomed to affluence and to ease. But, Bianca, you are a woman; and shall a tender helpless woman be doomed to pine away in dark and horrid caverns, whose very air is poison ?" "Alberti," said she, with eager earnestness, have not the miners wives ?" "It may be so," he replied; "but those women must be poor neglected wretches, inured to the sorrows and hardships of their life; they must be almost callous to distress." Bianca looked at him as if she had not heard him rightly; her tall figure seemed to dilate into unusual majesty; her whole face beamed with intelligence as she spoke. "And do you think, Ernest, that cold and deadened feeling can produce that fortitude, that patient heavenly fortitude which the gospel, the spirit of God, alone inspires? Dearest, when I become your partner, the happy partner of your misery, I think not of my woman's weakness; (and yet I hardly believe that it would fail.) No; I look to another arm for strength, to him who now supports the burden of all his children's sorrow. He will hear our prayers, and He will never forsake us. A miner's hut may be a very happy home it must be so to me, for my happiness is to remain with you. Would you have me wretched with my wealth and titles? I am pleading for my happiness, not so much for yours. Must I plead in vain ?"
It was not her language, it was the almost unearthly eloquence of tone and manner, that gave to the words of the Lady Bianca an effect which it seemed impossible to resist. When she finished speaking, her hand extended to Ernest, and her face, as she leaned forward, turning alternately to the aged Countess and the Friar, her eyes shining with the light of expression, and the pure blood flooding in tides of richer crimson to her cheek and parted lips, lips on which a silent and trembling eloquence still hung, they all sat gazing on her in speechless astonishment. One sunbeam had darted through the narrow window of the cell, and the stream of light, as Bianca moved, at last fell upon her extended hand. When Ernest saw the pale transparent red, which her slender fingers assumed, as the sunbeams shone through them, he thought with horror, that the blood now giving its pure clearness to her fair skin, and flowing so freely and freshly through her delicate frame, would in the mine's poisonous atmosphere become thick and stagnant : he thought how soon the lustre of her eyes would be quenched, and the light elastic step of youth, the life which seemed exultant in the slight and graceful form of Bianca, would be palsied for ever. Ernest was eager to speak, but the old priest interrupted him, by proposing that nothing should be finally settled till the evening of the fourth ensuing day. Then the Lady Bianca, he observed, would have had more time to consider the plan she had formed and till then the young Count would be permitted to remain in Vienna. I will consent; but on this one condition," said Bianca," that my proposal, bold as it is, shall not be then opposed, if, as you say, my resolution be not changed. You know, dear Ernest, that I cannot change."
Bianca went, and with her husband, to the mines. The dismal hut of a workman in the mines of Idria, was but a poor exchange for
the magnificent palace of the Count Alberti, on the banks of the Danube, which was now confiscated to the crown; though a small estate was given to the venerable and respected Countess during her life. But Bianca smiled with a smile of satisfied happiness, as, leaning on her husband's arm, she stopped before the hut which was to be their future home. Their conductor opened the door, but the Count had forgotten to stoop, as he entered the low door-way, and he struck his lofty forehead a violent blow. Bianca uttered a faint shriek, her first and only complaint in that dark mine. The alarm which Bianca betrayed at his accident, banished the gloom which had begun to deepen on her husband's spirits: to remove her agitation, he persuaded himself to speak, and even to feel, cheerfully: and when Bianca had parted away his thick hair, to examine the effects of the blow, and had pressed her soft lips repeatedly to his brow, she said playfully, as she bent down with an arch smile, and looked into her husband's face, "After all, this terrible accident and my lamentations have not had a very bad effect, as they have brought back the smiles to your dear features, my own Ernest."
The miner's hut became daily a more happy abode; the eyes of its inhabitants were soon accustomed to the dim light, and all that had seemed so wrapt in darkness when they first entered the mines, gradually dawned into distinctness and light. Bianca began to look with real pleasure on the walls and rude furniture of her too-narrow room. She had no time to spend in useless sorrow, for she was continually employed in the necessary duties of her situation; she performed with cheerful alacrity the most menial offices, she repaired her husband's clothes, and she was delighted if she could sometimes take down from an old shelf, one of the few books she had brought with her. The days passed on rapidly; and as the young pair knelt down at the close of every evening, their praises and thanksgivings were as fervent as their prayers. Ernest had not been surprised at the high and virtuous enthusiasm which had enabled Bianca to support at first all the severe trials they underwent, without shrinking; but he was surprised to find that in the calm, the dull and hopeless calm, of undiminished hardship, her spirit never sank; her sweetness of temper and unrepining gentleness rather increased.
Another trial was approaching. Bianca, the young and tender Bianca, was about to become a mother; and one evening, on returning from his work, Ernest found his wife making clothes for her unborn infant. He sat down beside her, and sighed; but Bianca was singing merrily, and she only left off singing to embrace her husband with smiles, he thought the sweetest smiles he had ever seen.
The wife of one of the miners, whom Bianca had visited when lying ill of a dangerous disease, kindly offered to attend her during her confinement; and from the arms of this woman, Ernest received his firstborn son the child, who, born under different circumstances, would have been welcomed with all the care and splendour of noble rank. But he forgot this, in his joy that Bianca was safe, and stole on tiptoe to the room where she was lying. She had been listening for his footstep, and as he approached, he saw in the gloom of the chamber her white arms stretched towards him. "I have been thanking God in
my thoughts," said Bianca, after her husband had bent down to kiss her; but I am so very weak! Dear Ernest, kneel down beside the bed, and offer up my blessings with your own." Surprising strength seemed to have been given to this delicate mother, by Him "who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb ;" and she recovered rapidly from her confinement: but when her infant was about a month old, Bianca began to fear for his health. It was a great sorrow for her to part with her own darling child; but she felt it to be her duty to endeavour to send him out of the mines, to the care of the old Countess Alberti. It was very hard to send him away, before he could take into the world the remembrance of those parents who never would behold him more, before his first smiles had seemed to notice the love and the care of the mother who bore him; but Bianca did not dare to think of her sorrowful regret, for it was necessary to use every exertion to effect this separation, so painful to herself. She knew that the wretched inhabitants of the mines were dropping into the grave daily; she knew that their lives seldom exceeded the two first years of their horrid confinement, and she panted with eager desire to send her pallid child to pure untainted air.
It was at this time that Ernest, as he was at work in one of the galleries, beheld a stranger, attended by the surveyor of the mines, approaching the place where he stood. Ernest turned away as the stranger passed, but he started with surprise, to hear the tones of a voice which he well remembered. He could not be mistaken, for the person spoke also with a foreign accent. At first he nearly resolved not to address him; but the stranger had not proceeded many steps, when Ernest stood before him, and exclaimed, "Signor Everard, have you forgotten me?" The Italian, who had come there to examine the mines, did not, indeed, recognize at once, in the emaciated being who addressed him, the young and gallant Count Alberti, whom he had known at Vienna, one of the bravest and most accomplished men of the Who would not have been struck at such a contrast? Who could have refused to grant the request that Ernest made ?—He entreated Everard to remove his infant from the mines, and to deliver him to the care of the old Countess. The generous Italian did not hesitate to comply with his wishes: but his heart and soul were interested in the cause, when Alberti conducted him to the hut, and he beheld the pale and slender Bianca bending over her sick infant like a drooping lily; preserving, in the midst of toil and misery, all the sweet and delicate graces of a virtuous and high-born female; and when her beseeching and melancholy smiles, and her voice like mournful music, pleaded for her infant's life.
The Italian left the mines immediately to seek the means of the child's removal, but had no sooner reached the post-house nearest to the mines, than a person arrived there express from Vienna, anxiously inquiring if Alberti or his wife were still alive. A few hours after, another person arrived with the same haste, and on the same errand : they were, the one a near relation of Bianca, the other Alberti's fellow soldier and most intimate friend. Pardon had at length been granted to the young exile, at the petition of the general officer whom he had wounded; and Alberti was recalled by the Empress herself to the court of Vienna.