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be crying up to God for vengeance.” In the heat of passion he had found a thousand excuses for himself: he had been among gay and thoughtless young men, and they seldom troubled themselves with reasoning, where a laugh or sarcasm convinced more easily. Alberti had often in his heart despised their silliness, but he had allowed his mind to be governed by their opinions, just because his passions and those opinions agreed ; he had stooped to the palliation of crime, under the screen of worldly custom ; he had become probably a murderer, and for what ? because his temper had been provoked for a trifle, that was not worth remembering. He was now alone, in calm, undisturbed solitude. He had leisure to search the very ground of his heart ; and he did so. Calmly and clearly he called up all the excuses which he had framed ; and with firm but grieving severity he condemned them all. He sought for the principle on which he acted, but he found that he sought for a shadow. He looked up into the boundless heavens above him, and the thought which he strove to fix upon his soul, was “ I am alone with God, and in condemning myself, I will not, dare not, encourage a single excuse."
A rush of agonizing thoughts passed over his bosom ; they confused and distracted him. He leaned his burning head against the rocks near him, their dewy coldness relieved its throbbing heat ; he then felt how contrasted a creature he was to all around and about him, the magnificent stillness of the scene abashed him ; he felt as if his presence were a pollu-, tion to its sublime solitude : the objects that he beheld, seemed to shadow forth their viewless Creator ; they seemed to speak of His purity and grandeur; and he felt himself inore a creature of sinful and lawless passions, than he had ever done in the haunts of men.
Ernest was roused from his meditation ; his charger galloped past him, he called to it, and the animal stopped ; but suddenly it started again : he looked for the cause, and beheld a party of men within a few yards of the place where he stood. The moon-beams glittered upon the weapons which they wore. Alberti had advanced into the full moon light, and they perceived him ; he did not appear to notice them, but again called to his horse. The animal came up to him, but at that instant one of the men approached to seize it. Ernest lifted up his arm and struck the man down ; he wreathed the mane round his hand, and demanded loudly, but calmly, the reason of their interference. An insulting shout was the only reply he received, and they rushed towards him. In an an instant, Ernest had lept upon his horse; the men threw themselves before him ; they commanded him to dismount, they attempted to drag him down. He swept them away with his arm, he urged on his charger, and bounded from the midst of them ; but another party sprung up before him. He had burst from them, his way seemed unimpeded, when he felt the whir and report of a bullet, as it few past his head. He heard again the report of a loud volley and he was yet unwounded. At once his charger reared and snorted; then its legs staggered, its head plunged forward into the earth ; it struggled in vain to rise, and rolled heavily over. Ernest heard not, cared not, for the crowd that gathered round him. He lifted up the head of his dying horse from the earth, and wiped away the foam and dust from his mouth and nostrils. The poor animal was dying: the
sweat streamed out from its reeking sides, and mingled with its spouting blood. Ernest saw an expression, almost human, turned for a moment on him from its staring eye. Once again, the faithful creature struggled to throw out its quivering limbs, and to strike its head into the earth : it gasped, and gasped, and its head slipt away from the arms of its master. Alberti raised it again, but his loved charger lay motionless and dead beside him. The tears gushed from his eyes ; but he saw the men who surrounded him, who had for some minutes gazed on him in silence. In a frenzy of rage he started up, and strove to draw his sword ; it seemed glued to the scabbard, and at first resisted his efforts. Wild with fury, he wrenched it forth. The blade had already struck against another sword, when it rivetted his look, for it was smeared with what he knew to be the dark blood of his general. The sight calmed him at once; the sword dropt from his grasp ; and he called out in a voice of horror, “ Enough, enough! I have had blood enough !” His antagonist started with wonder ; but suddenly a blow struck him from behind. He turned his head, and beheld a man drawing from his shoulder a streaming dagger : He saw the face of this man ; he knew him. The man was a deserter from his own regiment. So It is right that I should fall thus," he cried out; and sunk lifeless on the body of his horse.
Ernest unclosed his eyes, and found that he was lying upon a mat, in a spacious cavern, partly roofed in from the open sky, by a shelving rock at a great height above him. By the dim light, his eye could not measure the vast extent of the cavern. He endeavoured to rise, but the pain and weakness which he felt in his shoulder reminded him of his wound, and he sunk back again. He listened ; but faint and indistinct sounds alone met his ear. At length, amid the black shadows which hung about the vault-like roof, at the farther end of the cavern, a light appeared : it shone out one red sparkle from the gloom : it moved downwards ; and he thought he heard the clanking tread of a person descending a flight of steps. Nearer and nearer the light came; and he beheld a figure approaching. The moon, whose light had been gradually fading, had now set; the first dun light of morning scarcely dispelled the darkness which succeeded. The man placed the lamp on a ledge of the rock, and drawing his cloak round him, stood leaning against the wall. The chill morning air rushed through the cavern, and almost extinguished the flame; the man bent down over the lamp to trim it, and the light flared over the face of the deserter, who had stabbed Alberti. Ernest spoke to the man : he addressed him by his
The man answered churlishly.--" Do you not know me?” said Alberti. “ I know you ? not I : I only know, that I wish I had killed you ; or that the fellows who took the trouble of bringing you here, would have staid with you, and not sent me down to this dismal den, while they are drinking above." - Bring your lamp, and look me in the face, said Ernest, in a tone of command. The man brought the lamp, and held it carelessly before his face. He turned pale as he gazed ; and although Alberti was a helpless and imprisoned man, for a while he thought of him only as the officer whom he had served under and obeyed. He faltered out a few words of excuse, dictated by the feeling of the moment. « There is no occasion for excuse, Michael,” said Alberti ;
want no excuses.
“ I do not think you would have stabbed me intentionally ; but I
I see what you now are, while I am here, a dying man perhaps, and in your power ; but I ask no favours. The man spoke not, as he stood without moving and in silence at the feet of Alberti, who turned away and closed his eyes. Ernest looked round a. gain, and the man was still standing before him. “ Will you answer me one question?” enquired the deserter.
_"Speak then.”—“Did (you come hither in search of me?”—“ In search of you !” replied Alberti in a tone of evident surprise.) “ No, alas ! I thought not of you till this night.” The man did not raise his head, but said slowly, “I was sorry when I saw that I had stabbed my commander. I don't forget that I have met with much kindness from you, signor ; but now I know that you came not here to take me, I would do any thing to save you. Alberti was proud, but he felt ashamed in the presence of the man whose hand had been raised against his life, who was a deserter, and a common robber. “ I am justly punished,” he said ; “I am more guilty than yourself. I have lifted my arm against my commander. I left him dying : perhaps he is now dead. I too am a deserter : at this moment I am pursued ; and if I should he taken, my life will be forfeited for my crime. If you are inexcusable, what am I ?”
The man took up the lamp, and walked hastily from the cavern. He returned in a short time, and with him came a young woman, whose countenance displayed a strange mixture of boldness and feminine beauty. She brought with her a basket of provisions, and with the assistance of the deserter, they dressed the wound in Alberti's shoulder, which had been before bound only with handkerchiefs.
For days and weeks, Alberti was kindly and constantly attended by the banditti. They heard his history from Michael ; and his manners and martial appearance, all they observed about him, commanded res. pect, and even confidence. His wound was healed, and his strength was gradually returning, when the cavern was entered one night by a party of the banditti, among whom was the leader of the band. Er. nest had been treated before with attention ; but the request which the band then made, astonished him. They told him, that they knew he could not return to his rank, and to his former associates. They told him that they admired, respected, and could trust him. They were still speaking, when Alberti raised his eyes, and fixed them on the man who addressed him, with a look of calm, and almost stern surprise. The fellow looked down and hesitated; he had begun to speak in a tone which seemed to declare, that he was conferring a favour; as he continued, he felt that he was asking a favour. He had proposed to Alberti, that he should take the command of their band.
6 Never, replied Ernest, in a tone of resolute decision. A murmur of angry disapprobation passed through the band. He observed it, and walked into the midst of them. 66 Hear me,” he said, “ I am speaking to men, and I expect to be heard as a man. You have been kind to me, and I thank you heartily. I am still weak in body, but I have not learned to fear any of you. I thank you for the admiration and respect yon declare to me, but I never will be one of your band. I wish not to offend you ; but I will tell you the plain truth. I will never countenance your mode of life. It is perfectly true, that I am a disgraced man, and an outlaw. I feel it. But I feel that, bad as I am, I might be worse. I pretend to no superior virtue.--In my own opinion I am the most sinful man among you ; surely then I have gone far enough in guilt. I will not go farther. You have me in your power, kill me if you please ; life cannot be very joyful to me in future. I have nothing more to say. I would not have you forget, that I am grateful to you ; but remember at the same time, that I know as little of fear as any man among you."
The men had listened to him in silence; and after a pause, the leader asked, rather impatiently, “ What do you expect from us, Count?" “ Nothing,” replied Ernest, coolly.
" What would you do, were you permitted to follow your own will ?” - Leave this place, and betray us," said one of them, “ instantly.”_" I could have answered that question more warmly,” replied Ernest, with a look of calm disdain (turning to the captain of the band :) “ had no suspicion's been uttered by that man, I might have told you that the same principles which forbid my becoming your companion, would prevent my becoming a pitiful informer. I ask my freedom as a man, entitled, equally with yourselves, to the common. right of air and liberty. I do not insult you or myself by entreaties. You may best judge if you can believe and trust me.”
It is a fact, that Alberti was released a few days after the above interview; the captain of the band came to the cavern where Alberti had been kept, and told him that his freedom was granted to him. Ernest thanked him even with tears, and before he followed him out, he said, “ I was brought to this place senseless ; I have never quitted it since that time. Bind your cloak round my head, and lead me till I am at some distance from the entrance of these caverns. I will never betray you.”
Ernest from that time had no intercourse with the banditti, but he still remained among the mountains which they haunted, never molested by them. Once he ventured from his retreat to a town at some distance from it; and he learnt there, that search had been made, and was still making, for him by the imperial command. With some difficulty he effected his return to the mountains of Istria. In the magnificent solitudes of woods and waters he learnt to examine his own heart, and to meditate on the follies and faults which had diverted his mind from higher and more ennobling subjects. It was there that he was seized by the imperial troops. He declared in vain, that he had no connexion with the banditti which had been taken. He was brought with them, and as one of them, to Vienna.
The Countess Alberti, with her young and lovely friend, used every exertion to prevent the execution of Ernest ; but the verdict appeared irrevocable. The day, the dreadful day of death was fixed, and they implored an audience of the Empress : the aged mother, the betrothed wife, lay at her feet in speechless agony; they entreated, they clung to her in the deliriuni of their grief. Their gentle sovereign wept with them, she endeavoured to console chem ; but although her whole frame trembled, and her voice faltered with agitation, as she replied to their entreaties, her answer left them quite hopeless. They obtained, however,
permission to see the prisoner once before his execution, and even this had been hitherto denied to every one.
An unforeseen circumstance saved the life of Alberti. The captain of the banditti, who had not been taken with his companions, heard that Ernest was condemned to die. He had been once a man of honour himself; and he gave himself up to justice, relating clearly every particular of the Count's refusal to join his band. The sentence was changed. Was it a merciful change ? the noble and gallant Count Er. nest was condemned in the prime of youthful manhood to become a workman for life, in the quicksilver mines of Idria.
T'he first surprise, which made known to the aged Countess her son's safety, was joyful ; but her grief soon returned as she thought upon the dreadful termination which still awaited all her hopes for him. But Bianca was young and ardent, and the worst that would now happen was a joy to her. She devoted her whole heart, and every energy of her mind, to a plan which she instantly resolved to execute.--Since her childhood she had been a privileged favourite with Maria Theresa, but she now dreaded the opposition of her royal mistress to her intention. After mature deliberation, she decided that the most certain method of succeeding would be to confide her plan to the Empress herself, before it could be told to her by any other person.
The Countess Florenheim was beloved as an own child by the good and venerable confessor of Maria Theresa. She went to him, and he listened to her kindly, and with earnest attention. He was accustomed to examine the principles of actions, rather than their effects ; to consider whether they were really right, not whether they might be approved according to worldly opinions.
The father, Antonio, left the Countess in doubt as to his opinion ; but a few hours after his departure, he again visited the Florenheim palace, and he brought with him a message from the Empress. She commanded the immediate presence of the Countess Bianca, at the imperial palace. The confessor declined answering any of Bianca's anxious questions : and departed, declaring his intention of seeing her, when she returned from the Empress.
The young Countess ordered her carriage, and in a short time after she had received the imperial summons, she was admitted into the private apartments of her sovereign. She remained alone for a sufficient time to perplex herself with attempting to discover why she had been summoned to the presence of the Empress.
Maria Theresa appeared ; she was simply dressed, and unattended ; she smiled as she bowed her head to Bianca, and then sat down, fixing the full gaze of her eyes on the blushing countenance of the young Countess. She spoke at once on the subject which the latter was most interested about. " I have been conversing with the father Antonio,” she said ; “ you, Coun. tess Bianca, were the subject of our conference. I have requested your presence ; for, although I am your friend, I would now speak to you as your monarch ; as such, I ask not your confidence.
Tell me only, have you considered, do you know, that if you accompany the disgraced Count Alberti to the mines of Idria, you must literally share his fortunes ? You will be, from the moment that you become his wife, simply the wife of an Idrian miner. Your title, your estates, all your