Source Ann Radcliffe
B. A. RAMSEY
A SICILIAN ARMOUR
Those who do only THAT
WHICH IS RIGHT, endure
nothing in misfortune but a
trial of their virtue.
On the northern shore of Sicily are still to be seen the magnificent remains of a castle, which formerly belonged to the noble house of Treveni. It stands in the prominence of a coastal region, and upon a sandy shore, which, forward, wades out for small islands, and backwards rises into an eminence engrossed with dark woods. The situation is truly awesome and frightening, and the ruins have an air of profound loss, which contrasted with the present surrender of the view, impresses the interloper with sadness and consequence. During my travels abroad I visited this place. As I stepped over the forgotten heaps of stone, which lay fallen in the immense area of the debris, and surveyed the forlornness and hopelessness of the land, I recurred, by prognostication of thought, to the times when these walls stood replete in their intended splendor, when the halls were the work of friendship and romantic courtesy, and when they resounded with the voices of those whom a decadence had long left cursed in their rest. ‘Hence,’ said I, shall the latest generation – they who now run rampant – and they who still find delight, alike fall and be buried’. My heart beat with this wisdom; and, as I turned from the scene with pity, I fixed my eyes upon a nun, whose chaste figure, gently bending towards the ground, formed no inconsequential person in the scope. She observed my emotion; and, as my gaze found hers, sunk her head and pointed to the stones. ‘These ruins,’ said she, ‘were once the seat of falseness and treachery. They exhibited a particular judgment of the requital of Heaven, and were from that instance repaid, and left to perish.’ Her words steadied my heart, and I enquired further concerning their substance.
‘A solemn history belongs to this castle,’ said she, ‘which is too frail and delicate for me to repeat. It is, however, contained in a book in our library, of which I would, perhaps, invite you to read. A sister in our convent, a descendant of the noble house of Treveni, collected and recorded the most profound truths in connection with her family, and the copy thus formed, was left as a wealth to our abbey. If you please, we will walk thither.’
I accompanied her to the abbey, and the nun introduced me to her mother superior, a woman of an obedient mind, and open heart, with whom I passed some days in spiritual conversation. I believe my resolutions satisfied her; for, by her indulgence, I was endowed with a copy of the history before me, which, with some further particulars obtained in obedience to the abbot, I have transposed in the following chapters.
Towards the middle of the nineteenth century, this castle was in the possession of Cavour, Count of Treveni, and was for some years the principal residence of his family. He was a man of ambitious and discreditable character. To his first wife, he married Sophia Solferino, second daughter of the Count de Castelle, a lady yet more distinguished for the serenity of her manners and the calm of her disposition, than for her sex appeal. She brought the Count one son and two daughters, who lost their lacking mother in early childhood. The impetuous and daring character of the Count operated powerfully upon the harmless and docile nature of his lady; and it was by many persons believed, that his arrogance and neglect put a stop to her life. However this might be, he soon afterwards married Maria de Magneta, a young lady famously beautiful, but of a character very opposite to her predecessor. She was a woman of infinite enterprise, devoted to pleasure, and of an indomitable spirit. The Count, whose embrace was bereft of paternal caresses, and whose present lady was too important to tend to domestic concerns, committed the education of his son to the care of a servant, completely encumbered with the undertaking, and who had served a distant relation of the late Countess.
He quitted Treveni soon after his second marriage, for the allure and excitement of Naples, whither his daughters accompanied him. Though decisively of a proud and fiery disposition, he was ruled by his wife. His passions were thrust, and she had the address to bend them to her own purpose; and so well to hide her intentions, that he thought he was most free when he was most captured. He paid an annual visit to the castle of Treveni; but the Countess seldom followed him; and he remained only to give such general orders concerning the regiment of his son, as his force, rather than his tenderness, seemed to dictate.
Gibbon, his son, inherited much of his mother’s traits. He had a mild and sweet temper, united with a clear and reasoning mind. His early years were of a livelier cast. An extreme sensitivity subjected him to frequent uneasiness; his temper was warm, but generous; he was quickly upset, and quickly appeased; and to a reproof, however gentle, he would remain silent, but was never angry. His imagination was abundant, and his mind early exhibited signs of genius. It was the particular duty of M. Pollino to counteract those traits in the disposition of his young ward, which appeared harmful to future success; and for this task he had abilities which entitled him to hope for that outcome. A series of early misfortunes had softened his heart, without impairing the soundness of his mind. In later years he had acquired acceptance, and had almost lost the consciousness of those sorrows which yet threw a prominent and high place in his character. He loved his young charge with paternal acceptance, and his gradual improvement and quiet sympathy repaid all his doubt. M. Pollino excelled in science and discovery. He had often forgot his sorrows in his experiments, when his mind was too much occupied to derive consolation from painting, and he was persistent to impart to Gibbon a power so required as that of preserving a sense of composure. Gibbon’s taste led him to drawing, and he soon took strides forward in that art. He was also uncommonly susceptible of the science of harmony. He had feelings that acquired a sensibility to all its various and unlimited powers.
The tutorials of M. Pollino he grasped with quick eagerness, and in a short time acquired to a degree of mastery in his favorite study, which few persons have ever surpassed. His manner was completely his own. It was not in the complicated combination of parts that he excelled so much as in that melodious sound, and in those haunting notes of counterpoint, which seemed to guide a spirit through the music, and which possessed the soul of the auditor. The guitar was his favorite instrument, and its enchanting notes accorded well with the deep and steady tones of his voice.
The castle of Treveni was a large and irregular structure, and seemed favorable to welcome a numerable train of followers, such as, in those days, served the nobility, either in the leisure of peace, or the terror of war. Gibbon resided in only a small part of it; and even this part appeared empty and almost forlorn from the ampleness of the apartments, and the extent of the galleries which joined them. An imperturbable quiet reigned through the halls, and the silence of the courts, which were overcast by high turrets, was for many hours together uninterrupted by the tread of any footstep. Gibbon, who discovered an early taste for books, loved to withdraw in an evening to a small closet in which he had collected his favorite authors. This room formed the western bend of the castle: one of its windows turned out upon the sea, beyond which was faintly seen, lying in the distance, two small rocky islands, and further the eastern coast of Sardinia; the other opened towards the southern part of the castle, and encouraged the prospect of adventure in the encircling woods. His musical instruments were here deposited, with whatever encouraged his favorite pastimes. This place, which was at once graceful, quiet, and removed, was embellished with many little sculptures of his own execution, and with some drawings which he had taken by hand. The closet adjoining his chamber was separated from the apartments of M. Pollino only by a short gallery. This gallery opened to another, long and meandering, which led to a great staircase, terminating in the north hall, with which the main apartments of the north side of the castle combined.
M. Pollino’s apartment opened into both galleries. It was in one of these rooms that he usually spent the mornings, engaged in the instruction of his young charge. The windows looked toward the sea, and the room was bright and pleasing. It was their habit to dine in one of the lower apartments, and at board they were always joined by a dependant of the Count, who had lived many years in the castle, and who instructed Gibbon in the Latin language, and in geometry. During the balmy evenings of summer, the three men frequently supped in a pavilion, which was built on a high place in the woods belonging to the castle. From this place the vision had an almost boundless range of sea and land. It commanded the Gulf de Castellammare, with the distant prospect of Palermo, and a great extent of the dark and turbulent scenery of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The coastline of Rome and Naples, crowned with eminence and art, formed a dim and uneven outline in the background of the scene. The port of Cagliari was also visible; and Gibbon, as he fancied the fertile plains and rough mountains which enclosed it, would endeavor in imagination to depicture its splendor, while he secretly longed to embark to that place, from which he had formerly been excluded by the cruel envy of the Count, upon whose passion the dread of rival grace operated powerfully to the prejudice of his own son. The Count of Treveni invoked all his influence over M. Pollino to detain them in seclusion; and, though Gibbon was now twenty, he had never passed the confines of the Castle’s domains.
Jealousy often produces unreasonable concern; but the count had in this instance just cause for alarm; the handsomeness of his son has rarely been surpassed. The person of Gibbon was just in proportions. His complexion was olive, his hair dark, and his dark blue eyes were full of sensitive expression. His manners were dignified and easy, and in his air was a good-natured strength, a tender kindness which irresistibly attracted the heart of the beholder. The figure of Gibbon was strong and graceful – his step was quick – his mien expressive, and his smile uplifting. His eyes were deep, and full of meaning, but tempered with modest deference. His features were well made – every heartfelt laugh played around his mouth, and his countenance quickly discovered all the finely tuned emotions of his soul. The dark brown hair, which fell in a gentle wave about his neck, gave a finishing touch to his visage.
Thus gorgeous, and thus left in obscurity, was the heir of the noble Treveni. But he was happy, for he knew not enough of the world seriously to regret the want of its sights, though he would sometimes sigh for the dreamy image which his fancy painted, and a painful curiosity would ache for the splendid scenes from which he was excluded. A return to his habitual pastimes, however, would chase the idyllic vision from his mind, and restore his normal happy comforts. Books, music, and painting, apportioned the hours of his leisure, and many beautiful summer evenings were passed in the pavilion, where the fine conversation of M. Pollino, the Count’s dependant, Gibbon’s guitar, the poetry of Virgil, and the discussion of poetry in its widest influence, combined to form, a pursuit of true happiness, such as elevated and highly virtuous minds are alone capable of capture or attainment. M. Pollino understood this and professed the art of happiness according to the lyrical ballad, and his young ward perceived its value, and inspired the breadth of its character.
Lyrical poetry may be divided into two classes – the beautiful and the instructional. It is the province of the beautiful, to diffuse hopefulness and ease – to open the heart of the auditor, and to spread a gentle balm upon the thought – Nature and words must combine to make us susceptible of enchantment, and to qualify us for the second province of lyrical poetry, here termed instructional, and in which M. Pollino particularly excelled. To hopefulness, sensitivity of feeling, and the natural predisposition to experience, must be united an expansion of thought, and a refinement of the passions, which is the result of high civility. To render this sort of poetry irresistibly enchanting, a measure of suffering is requisite, and that character of ease, that elegance of speech, is only to be attained by surmounting to higher circles of acquired self-acceptance. In all lyrical poetry, subjects interesting to the heart, and to the fancy, are brought forward; they are discussed in a kind of spiritual way, with humor and seriousness, and are never continued longer than our burdens would allow. Here fancy flourishes, - the mind expands – and words guided by taste and embellished by knowledge – points to the heart.
Such was the conversation of M. Pollino; and the pleasant comfort of the pavilion seemed particularly apt for the scene of happy colloquy. On the evening of a very humid day, having supped in their accustomed setting, the coolness of the hour, and the loveliness of the night, tempted these happy men to remain there later than usual. Returning home, they were astonished by the appearance of a light through the torn fabric of the drapery of an apartment window, belonging to a section of the castle which had for many years been unused. They stopped to observe the light, when it suddenly disappeared, and was seen no more. M. Pollino, disturbed by this sensation, hastened into the castle, with the intention of discovering the cause of it, when he was met in the north hall by Russell. He related to him what he had observed, and ordered an immediate search to be made for the keys of that court. He feared that some person had breached that part of the castle with an intention of doing mischief; and in contempt of a petty fear through which he was bound by duty, he summoned the servants of the castle, with the intention of leading them thither. Russell smiled at his apprehensions, and suggested that what he had seen was a trick of the mind, which the lateness of the hour had impressed upon his imagination. M. Pollino, however, persisted in his intention; and, after a long and exhaustive search, a heavy key, covered with rust, was presented. He then proceeded to the southern side of the castle, accompanied by Gibbon and the count’s dependant, and followed by Russell and the rest of the servants, who were alarmed by this unpleasant mystery. The key was forced into an iron gate, which opened into a court that separated this area from the rest of the castle. They entered this court, which was overgrown with bushes and brambles, and ascended some stairs that led to a great door, which they repeatedly endeavored to open. All the different keys of the castle were tried on the lock, without admittance, and they were finally forced to quit the place, without having ever appeased their alarm, or solved the mystery. Everything, however, was quiet, and the light did not shine again. M. Pollino concealed his concern, Russell and the other servants were dismissed, and the three remaining gentlemen bid each other goodnight.
This occurrence disquieted the mind of M. Pollino, and it was some time before he ventured again to pass an evening in the pavilion. After several months went by, without further disruption or mystery, another occasion renewed the alarm. Gibbon had one night remained in his closet later than usual. A favorite book had attracted his attention beyond the hour of customary retirement, and every resident of the castle, except himself, had long been safe in bed. He was stirred into prescience, by the tolling of the castle clock, which struck one. Surprised by the lateness of the hour, he rose with his conscience, and was moving to his chamber, when the tranquility of the night attracted him to the window. He opened it; and observing the silver glow of the moonlight upon the swelling sea, leaned outwards. In that posture he had not long remained, when he perceived a light shine through a casement in the barren part of the castle. A sudden panic gripped him, and he with difficulty steadied himself. In a few moments the light disappeared, and soon after a figure, bearing a lamp, walked from a hidden door belonging to the south tower; and keeping in close quarters along the outside of the castle walls, turned round the southern corner, by which the figure and the light was afterwards concealed from view. Astonished and frightened at what he had seen, he hurried to the apartment of M. Pollino, and related the act. The servants were immediately awakened, and the alarm went throughout. M. Pollino arose and descended into the north hall, where the servants were already in line. No one could be found with strength sufficient to enter into the southern court; and the orders of M. Pollino were neglected, while attending to the malady of their own panic. He noticed that Russell was absent, but as he was sending orders for him to be presented, he entered the hall. Surprised to find the house thus arrayed, he was told the full occasion of the assembly. He immediately ordered a group of the servants to follow him around the castle walls; and with some apprehension, and more fear, they obeyed him. They all returned to the hall, without having observed any suspicious appearance; but though their concerns were not appeased, they were by no means self-indulgent. The shining of a light in a part of the castle which had for several years been quitted, and wherefore presented an atmosphere of singular decay, might reasonably be supposed to inspire a strong spirit of sudden panic. In the minds of the vulgar, any occurrence of the unexplainable is received with eagerness; and the servants did not doubt to believe the southern section of the castle to be possessed by a supernatural power. Too much excited to sleep, they determined to watch for the rest of the night. To this purpose they arraigned themselves in the east gallery, where they had in their sights the southern tower from which the light had shone. The rest of the night, however, passed without any further interruption; and the morning dawn, which they welcomed with inexpressible relief, eased for a while the grips of panic. But the return of evening renewed the prevalent fear, and for several successive nights the servants watched the south tower. Although nothing remarkable was seen, a rumor was spread, and believed, that the south tower was haunted. M. Pollino, whose mind was resilient to the effects of superstition, was yet disturbed and upset, and he determined to communicate the circumstance to the Count, and request the keys of the galleries and apartments leading from the court by the southern part of the castle.
The count, immersed in the turbulence of Naples, seldom thought of the castle, or its inhabitants. His daughters, who had been brought up and trained under his immediate supervision, were the sole objects of his pride, as the Countess was the sole object of his passion. He loved her with romantic servitude, which she requited with seeming love, and secret treachery. She allowed herself a liberal indulgence of the most profligate kind, yet conducted herself with an art so cultivated as to elude discovery, and even skepticism. In her amours she was equally licentious as composed, till the young Lady Persephone de Clanricarde attracted her attention. The natural changeability seemed then to stop, and upon this lady she fixed all her lecherous attention. Lady de Clanricarde lost her mother in early childhood. Her father was now in his later years, and had just entered upon the settlement of his entire estate. His person was mild, yet virtuous; his mind erudite, and his manners tasteful; his countenance expressed an old-fashioned union of independence, honesty, and forbearance, which formed the principal traits of his character. He had a refinement of thought, which taught him to frown upon the radical philosophies of the Neapolitans, and led him to peaceful pursuits. He was the chosen and early friend of Count Francis de Plombières whom he felt was a suitable match for his only daughter. He had also become acquainted with Count Cavour de Treveni and his family, and had paid a visit with his daughter to their estate in Naples. When the countess first met the Count de Clanricarde, she plied him with coquetry, and made bold advances, as neither the honor nor the virtue of the count or his daughter permitted her to succeed in much. Persephone conducted herself towards the countess with modest indifference, which served only to inflame the passion she felt for the young Lady that it was meant to cool. The favors of the countess had hitherto been sought with full license, and accepted with gratification; and the repulsive virtue which she now experienced, roused her lecherous heart, and called into play every ploy that encouraged her to become at once a spoiled and incorrigible flirt.
It was about this time that Russell contracted a disease which progressed so rapidly, as in a short time to assume the most grievous appearance. Despairing of life, he asked that a message might be sent forward to inform the Count de Treveni of his situation, and entreat to him his earnest wish to visit the castle before he died. The progress of the disease defied every science of medicine, and his apparent distress of mind seemed to accelerate a fatal outcome. Perceiving his final hour was near at hand, he desired to have a confessor. The confessor was alone at his side for a considerable amount of time, and he had already delivered extreme unction, when M. Pollino was summoned to his bedside. The grim reaper was then upon him, cold chills hung about his body, and he, with difficulty, raised his heavy eyes to M. Pollino as he entered the chamber. He beckoned him towards himself, and insisting that no person might be allowed to enter the room, remained for a few moments silent. His mind appeared to labor under the oppressive reflection of his lifetime; he made several attempts to speak, but either his will or his execution failed him. At length, offering M. Pollino a look of unspeakable horror, ‘Alas, sir,’ said he, ‘Heaven answers not the prayer of such a miscreant as I am. I must pass on before the Count can arrive. Since I shall speak to him no more, I would betray him with a secret which weighs heavy in my conscience, and which makes my last hour awful, as it is without hope.’ ‘Rest easy,’ said M. Pollino, who was taken aback by the ferocity of his manner, ’we are taught to believe that God entrusts no secret too painful, that we may not share among the brethren.’ ‘You, sir, are ignorant of the enormity of my crime, and of the secret – the terrible secret is one which I would withhold from the Supreme Judge. My guilt is beyond remedy in this world, and I fear I shall receive no pardon in the next; I therefore assess little worth in my confession even to a priest. Yet some lesser evil it is still in my power to accomplish; let me disclose to you that secret which is the cause of the superstition connected with the southern apartments of this castle.’ ‘What of them!’ exclaimed M. Pollino, with impatience. Russell gave no answer; exhausted by the endeavor of speaking, he had fallen into a faint. M. Pollino rung for assistance, and by smelling salts, his senses were recalled. He was, however, entirely dumb, and in this state he remained until he died, which rounded off the hour that began when supreme unction was delivered.
The wonder and curiosity of M. Pollino, were by these recent events increased to a high degree of discomfort. He reflected upon the several particulars relative to the southern part of the castle, the many years it had stood empty – the silence which had been observed concerning it – the vision of the light and the figure – the profitless search for the keys, and the rumors so widespread and believed, and thus reflection presented him with an array of circumstances, which served only to increase an apprehension and heighten his uncertainty. A shade of mystery hung over the southern part of the castle, which now seemed unlikely to be resolved, since the only person who could have provided the solution, had died.
Instead of the count’s immediate concern in this matter, it was the countess who arrived on the day after Russell had passed away, attended by servants only, and who alighted at the gates of the castle with an air of importance, and a countenance expressive of disdain. M. Pollino, with Gibbon, received her in the hall. She perfunctorily greeted them both, and passed on to the oak parlor, desiring that M. Pollino should follow her. He obeyed, and the countess enquired indirectly after Russell. When informed of his death, she looked about the room with quick glances, and was for some time silent. At length seating herself, and surveying M. Pollino with a scrutinizing eye, she asked some particulars concerning Russell’s death. M. Pollino asserted his earnest desire to see the count, and underlined his words. The countess insisted that he make all the information known to her, and M. Pollino began to relate those circumstances relevant to the southern part of the castle, which he thought it of such importance to discover. The countess treated the affair very lightly, smiled at his conjectures, represented the appearances he described as the tricks played on a weak and inventive mind, and ended the conversation, by going to visit the chamber of Russell, in which she remained a considerable time.
On the following day Gibbon dined with the countess. He was gloomy and silent; her efforts to amuse him seemed to touch on displeasure, rather than graciousness; and when the repast was concluded, he withdrew to his closet, leaving the countess in a state of wonder and surprise.
Russell was to be interred, according to his own wishes, in the church belonging to the convent of St. Nicholas. One of the servants, after taking some necessary orders concerning the funeral arrangements, undertook to inform the countess of the strange occurrences in the southern tower of the castle. He mentioned the rumors which were widespread amongst the household, and complained that the servants were refusing to cross the courts after it was dark. ‘And who has authorized you with this story?’ said the countess, in an unfeeling tone; ‘are the trivial and ridiculous fancies of the servants to be brought to my attention? Away – appear no more before me, till you have learned to speak what is proper for me to hear.’ Gladstone withdrew embarrassed, and it was some time before any person dared to approach the countess.
The retinue of the count’s daughters now drew near, and the countess determined to celebrate the circumstance with a festive occasion at the castle of Treveni. She, therefore, summoned the Count and his daughters from Naples, and very opulent preparations were ordered to be made. Gibbon dreaded the arrival of his father, whose influence he had forever avoided, and by whose arrival he had anticipated his very oppression. Beneath the generous tutelage of M. Pollino, his years had passed in graceful tranquility, for he was ignorant alike of the sorrows and turbulence of the world. Those did not break his heart and those did not call him to arms. Engaged in the pursuits of learning, and in the attainment of peaceful arts, his moments passed lightly, and the passage of time was marked only by improvement. In M. Pollino was found the guidance of a father, and the comfort of a friend; and he loved him with a loyal and inviolable affection.
The announced visit of his sisters, whom he had not seen for several years, gave Gibbon more pleasure. Although his thought recollected no very distinct memory of them, he looked forward with warm and soft hope to their virtues and their talents; and hoped to find in their companionship, a protection from the uneasiness which the presence of his father would urge. Yet did Gibbon not look forward without serious consideration to the approaching festival. A new and unknown occasion was now approaching, which his imagination failed to adequately describe in the contrasting colors upon his canvass. The near approach of the unknown frequently awakens in a young man’s heart misgivings, which would fail to be excited by a more indefinite or less fateful occurrence. Gibbon, who, in his solitude, had considered the splendid wonders of life with tranquility, now lingered in suspenseful foreboding through the moments which withheld him from his usual enjoyments. His painting was less relevant, and his music more meditative, as he beheld the approaching festival in absorbed thought, and almost regretted the interruption of his quiet life, which he knew to be more congenial with his comforts and composure.
In a few days the count arrived at the castle. He was followed by numerous attendants, and accompanied by his daughters, and several of the Italian noblesse, whom the invitation to festive pleasure had attracted to his retinue. His entrance was announced by a flourish of music, and those gates which had rusted from long disuse were thrown open to receive him. The courts and halls, whose aspect so recently expressed emptiness and proscription, now glowed with new splendor, and resounded with the sounds of merriment and activity. Gibbon surveyed the scene from an obscure window; and as the exalted sounds filled the air, his heart throbbed; his stomach turned with nervous feelings; and his apprehensions concerning his father and sisters painted a wilderness before him which was hitherto unknown to him. The arrival of the count seemed indeed the signal of universal and unlimited pleasure. When the countess came out to receive him, the easy manner which had always guided Gibbon’s countenance, sank before the smiles of welcome, which the whole company appeared to consider as invitations to fun.
The sensitive heart of Gibbon was not proof against a scene so opulent, and he sighed at the prospect, yet scarcely knew why. M. Pollino pointed out to him, the graceful figure of a young Lady who followed a nobleman, and Gibbon expressed his wishes that she might be one of his sisters. From the contemplation of the scene before them, they were summoned to meet the count. Gibbon trembled with apprehension, and as he approached, he wished that the castle could return to its former state. As he advanced through the hall in which he was presented, Gibbon was covered in remorse; but M. Pollino, tho’ equally struck, preserved his quiet dignity. The count received Gibbon with a mingled smile of appraisal and valuation, and immediately the whole company was attracted by the handsomeness of the count’s son. The expressive eyes of Gibbon sought in vain to discover his sisters, of whose features he had no recollection in those of any of the ladies then present. At length his father presented them, and he perceived, with a sigh of regret, that neither one of them was the lady whom he had observed from the window. They advanced with a charming air, and he met them with unfeigned warmth. Both Emilia and Julia had a very noble and spirited bearing; their figures were elegant and graceful; and each had a countenance which expressed at once the sweetness and dignity appropriate for such an occasion as the introduction of their long absent brother. Supper was served in the east hall, and the tables were spread with an abundance of delicacies. A courtesy of music played during the ceremony, and the evening concluded with a concert in the great hall.
The day of the festival, so apprehensively and doubtfully looked for by Gibbon, was now arrived. All the neighboring nobility were invited, and the gates of the castle were thrown open for a grand celebration. A triumphant splendor, consisting of the most luxurious and expensive delicacies, was served in the halls. Melodious music floated along the high-vaulted roofs, the walls were hung in tapestries, and it seemed as if the hands of fairies had magically transformed this once gloomy space into a palace of Oberon. The Countess, notwithstanding the general admiration she received, frequently appeared abstracted from the entertainments, and in spite of all her efforts at enjoyment, the melancholy of her heart was visible in her countenance.
In the evening there was a grand ball: the count, who was still admired for his handsomeness, and for the noble bearing of his manners, appeared in the most splendid attire. His suit was designed to show his powerful stature, but was so disposed to give an air rather of the portly than the muscular appearance. Although conscious of his charms, he beheld Gibbon with a jealous eye, and was compelled secretly to acknowledge, that the modest attire in which he was dressed, was more alluring than all the fine silk of his splendid tailoring. He was dressed in a light Sicilian riding coat, coarse riding slacks, and buckled knee-high boots. The ball was opened by
Count d’Avellini and Lady Emilia. Lady Julia danced with the young Marquis della Salerni, and acquitted herself with the ease and dignity so endowed by that distinction afforded to her. Gibbon experienced a various emotion of excitement and fear when he led forth Persephone de Clanricarde, in whom he recollected was the Lady he had observed from the window. The lightness of her step, and the airy grace of her figure, provoked in the onlookers a small burst of applause, and the subtle blush which now passed over her cheek, gave an additional delight to her appearance. But when the music changed, and they danced to the slow Sicilian measure, the perfect symmetry of their movement, and the autonomy of their own self-governance, sunk attention into silence, which continued as other couples in the ballroom led forth. The Countess observed the approval that withstood all, with seeming approbation, and secret displeasure. She had experienced a very painful agitation, when Gibbon selected Lady Persephone for his partner in the dance, and she followed them through the evening with a watch of jealous surveillance. Her bosom, which was before brushed only with lust, was now bursting by the agitation of other vices more violent and destructive. Her thoughts were distracted, her mind withdrew from the scene before her, and it required all her strength to preserve an apparent composure in her estate. She saw, or fancied she saw, a virtuous attraction in Lady Persephone, when Gibbon addressed himself to her, that lay waste to her own heart with wild fury.
At midnight the gates of the castle were thrown open, and the celebrants poured out to the woods, which were festively decorated with fires. Strings of lamps lined the long avenues of trees, which were terminated by great bonfires that presented to the eye several pillars of flame. At regular intervals pavilions were erected, hung with colorful lights, displayed in the brilliance, and in the most spectacular forms. Refreshments were spread under the trees; and percussions, performed by invisible hands, swept around. The musicians were placed in the most obscure and secret retreats, so as to elude the eye and deceive in the unlikelihood of sound. The sight was enchanting. Nothing met the eye but beauty and romantic splendor; the ear received no sensation of hearing, than of constant merriment, accompanied by timpani and drums. The younger part of the company formed themselves into parties, which at intervals flashed through the woods, and were absorbed in the shadows. Gibbon seemed the magic king of the realm. His heart beat with joy, and cast over his features an expression of bountiful and munificent delight. A generous, candid, and exalted sentiment sparkled in his eyes, and animated his manner. His chest expanded with benevolent aspirations; and he seemed anxious to impart to everyone around him, his feeling of contentment, which he perceived in the satisfying scene before him. Wherever he moved, approval followed his steps. Emilia was happy to have found a happy brother. Julia, of like mind, found in that brother, their old friend; and the Count seemed to have left the green-eyed monster of jealousy in the castle. The countess alone was wretched. She supped with a closed party, in a pavilion on the sea-shore, which was arrayed according to her taste. It was hung with white linen, drawn into ruffles, and generously applied with azure taffetas. The sofas were of gold brocade, and alternate garlands of lamps and of roses entwined the columns. A row of small torches had been placed about the entablature of the pavilion, which formed an engulfment of light round the vault; and with other numerous lights, was reflected as a bright daylight, fashioned from the large mirrors that adorned the room. The Count de Lucceri was of the party; - he complimented the Countess on the beauty of her daughters; and after lamenting with caprice the captives which their charms would enthrall, he mentioned Gibbon. ‘He is certainly of all the chevaliers here, the man most deserving of Lady Persephone. As they danced, I thought them fine exemplars of the virtues of either sex; and if I mistake not, they are alit with a mutual attraction.’ The countess, endeavoring to conceal her uneasiness, said, ‘Yes, my lord, I allow my children all the merit you adjudge them, but from the little I have seen of Gibbon’s disposition, he is too immature for a serious attachment.’ At that instant Gibbon entered the pavilion: ‘Ah,’ said de Lucceri, in jest, ‘you have been the subject of our conversation, and seem to become in good time to receive the tribute thus paid to you. I was interceding with your mother for your interest in her favor, for the Lady Persephone; but she absolutely refuses it; and though she allows you merit, alleges, that you are yet too young for love. What say you – would not the beauty of Lady Persephone plight your unsteady heart?’
‘I know not how I have deserved that character of my mother,’ said Gibbon in an unfeigned manner, ‘but that heart must be uncommon or insensible at any age, which cannot feel so pure a virtue as love that is worthy of an obligation to another person who is as deserving of an engagement such as her Lady Persephone.’ The countess, mortified by the whole conversation, now felt the full force of Gibbon’s reply, which she imagined he pointed with particular emphasis.
The amusements concluded with a grand firework, which was displayed on the shore of the sea, and the merrymakers did not retire till the dawn of morning. Gibbon retired from the scene with reluctance. He was enchanted by the new world that was now displayed before him, and he was not composed enough to distinguish the enchantment of pleasure from the virtue of true happiness. The impressions he now made, he believed, would be lasting, and in a uniform degree, by the objects which first excited them. The vice of humanity is never entirely perceived by young minds. It is confounding to know, that we are affected by objects whose impressions are as variable as the appearances of objects are abundant – and that what yesterday affected us strongly, is today but imperfectly felt, and tomorrow perhaps shall be disregarded. When, at length, this unwelcome truth is received into the mind, we at first reject, with remorse, any evidence of true worth, we scorn to partake of a happiness which seems illusory, and we not infrequently sink into a temporary despair. Wisdom or essence, at length, recall us from our error, and offer to us an object which is capable of producing a pleasing, yet permanent effect, which effect, therefore, we call happiness. Happiness has this essential difference from what is commonly called pleasure, that virtue forms its nature, and virtue being the substance of reason, may be expected to share in permanence in the face of changeability.