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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCaptain Mansana - Chapter 10
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Captain Mansana - Chapter 10 Post by :Joe_Coon Category :Long Stories Author :Bjornstjerne Bjornson Date :May 2012 Read :2668

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Captain Mansana - Chapter 10

CHAPTER X

The next morning Mansana took care to be earlier than usual at the trysting-place; but his two friends had also arrived before their accustomed time, as though they, as well as he, found pleasure in these meetings, and were anxious to make the most of them, especially now when only two more such opportunities were possible.

Mansana forced himself to go through the inevitable political preliminaries with the old man; then turning suddenly to Amanda, changed the conversation by asking brusquely, "With whom were you disputing on the balcony last evening?"

By way of answer her cheeks flushed with a bright, charming colour, as, in a manner peculiar to herself, she stole a sidelong glance into Mansana's face from underneath her lowered lids. Seeing her blushes, and little knowing how easily and quickly a young girl's colour comes and goes, Mansana's own cheeks grew pale. This frightened her; and as he saw this, he once again misinterpreted the meaning of her fear.

The girl's father, who had in the meanwhile been looking on in open-mouthed surprise, broke the silence by exclaiming, "Ah! of course! now I understand it! It was Luigi, my nephew, Luigi Borghi! He is staying in the town for a couple of days, in order to be present at the city festival. Ha, ha! he's a gay youth, is Luigi!"

Mansana waited with impatience till he was alone again, then started hurriedly in quest of Major Sardi, the friend for whose companionship he had specially selected this garrison. He would discover from him details of Luigi's past career. These were not favourable. Mansana thereupon, without hesitation, made straight for the hotel where the young man was lodging.

Luigi had just risen; he greeted Mansana with the deference due to a superior officer, and after both were seated, Mansana began abruptly: "I am leaving this town to-morrow to make ready for my marriage, which is shortly to take place. I mention this that you may not misunderstand my motive in speaking to you as I am about to do. I have, during my short sojourn in this town, conceived a strong friendship for a certain young and guileless girl, by name Amanda Brandini."

"Amanda! Yes!"

"Amanda is your cousin?"

"She is."

"I wish to know, is this the only relationship in which you stand to her? In other words, tell me plainly, is it your intention to marry her?"

"Well, no! but----"

"I ask you this question as one gentleman of another; you are at liberty to withhold your answer at your discretion."

"I perfectly understand; but I have no hesitation in repeating that it is not my intention to make Amanda my wife. She--well--she is not rich enough for me."

"Very good! Why then, may I ask, do you visit so frequently at her house? And why do you deliberately deceive her as to your intentions and fill her mind with ideas and sentiments which are meaningless, to say the least of it, to you?"

"Am I to understand your last remark as a deliberate accusation?"

"Undoubtedly; it is a matter of public knowledge that you are a reckless libertine!"

"Signor!" exclaimed Luigi, as he rose indignantly.

The tall captain also rose to his feet.

"It is I," said the latter calmly, "I, Giuseppe Mansana, who make this assertion. I am at your service."

But the youthful Luigi Borghi was at an age when the love of life is strong, and he had no fancy for being run through the body by one of the most formidable duellists in the army; so he kept his eyes fixed upon the ground in silence.

"Either you must pledge me your word never to enter her house again, nor make any attempt to see her, or you must take the consequences. I intend that this matter shall be settled before I leave. Why do you hesitate?"

"Because, as an officer, I object to being compelled to----"

"To make a virtuous resolution? You may think yourself fortunate that I make this possible for you." Mansana paused, then added: "But perhaps I have been hasty. I ought first to have given you the chance of complying with my request, and have assured you that in that case you might henceforth regard me as a true and loyal friend."

"I deem it an honour to count such a distinguished officer among my friends, and shall in future reckon with pride on the comradeship of Captain Mansana."

"Very good! you pledge me your word?"

"Yes, I promise this."

"I am grateful; your hand upon it."

"With all my heart."

"Farewell!"

"Farewell!"

Two hours later Mansana was making his way down to the boulevard of the little town. Standing outside one of the shop windows, engaged in what Mansana judged, from the laughter which he could hear, to be a highly amusing conversation, were Luigi and Amanda. The father was inside the shop, evidently settling the account. Neither of them noticed Mansana till he was close upon them, when the sudden sight of his white, livid face so scared Amanda that she instantly sought refuge with her father. The lieutenant, however, more horrified than she was at the unexpected apparition, stood, as it were, for an instant paralysed, then, moving involuntarily a step beyond Mansana's reach, found courage to stammer out: "Signor, I assure you I spoke to her at her own invitation only, and we--indeed, it was not at you we were laughing!"

The sound of a sharp scream followed at that moment as Amanda, from her position of safety, suddenly saw Mansana, without a sound or even a warning movement, make a sort of spring towards the slight figure of her cousin.

It seemed to her like the leap of a leopard on its prey. Another instant and Luigi might be a dead man.

But the attention of the passers-by and of those within the shop had been arrested by Amanda's cry, and was now riveted upon herself, as she stood holding tightly by her father's arm. They gazed from her to her companions in the vain hope of discovering the cause of her alarm, but beyond the fact that two officers were standing quietly talking together outside, nothing remarkable was to be seen.

What was the excitement about? Curiosity soon collected a little crowd of idlers, who came clustering round Amanda, plying her with questions as to the meaning of it all.

Never in her life before had she been the object of so many inquisitive looks and eager questionings, and she was thoroughly frightened, whilst her father, himself speechless from bewilderment, was powerless to answer for her. At that moment Mansana came up, and making his way through the bystanders, with an air of quiet authority, offered her his arm. Thankfully she allowed him to lead her away from the gaping crowd, and her father gladly followed them. Mansana waited till they were out of earshot, then, turning to his companions, remarked: "I feel it my duty to inform you that your kinsman, Lieutenant Borghi, is a profligate, and I intend to see that he receives the chastisement he merits."

It was startling to Amanda to be told not only that Luigi was a profligate--though her notions as to the meaning of the term were somewhat vague--but also that he was to receive castigation for some offence of which she was ignorant.

For once she allowed her eyes to open to their full extent, as, with a vain hope of gathering information, she kept them firmly fixed upon Mansana's.

Her lips were parted as in surprise; an uncontrollable curiosity had broken through her fears. He saw this clearly, and, angry as he had lately been, he could not resist a smile at her simple innocence and at the curious charm and beauty of her expression. And so, restored suddenly to good humour, Mansana gave way to a feeling of amusement at the old man, who stood looking for all the world like a half-frightened schoolboy listening to ghost stories in the dusk.

Anxious to show that he was thoroughly alive to the realities of the situation, he expressed a gratitude which culminated in an invitation to Mansana to accompany them home; and this Mansana accepted. Amanda--still half afraid lest something dreadful was about to happen--tried to disarm him by the smiling confidence with which she clung to him.

He began to have a suspicion of her motive, and was amused, but this feeling wore away as he listened to the rippling melody of her laughing voice, as he looked at the sweet, rosy, dimpled mouth, and the clear, mystic, playful eyes peeping from their half-closed lids. He gave himself up to the charm of her whole personality, and to the joy of feeling that this innocent, fresh creature was living, breathing close to him, and in that one moment he felt as though she were dedicated to him as his own.

Their last meeting was to take place on the following morning, but as he was not leaving till the evening of that day he suggested that very probably he might contrive to meet her once more in the afternoon. And then he left her as one bewitched. Under the tranquillising influence which her presence brought, he went that very afternoon to seek Luigi, found him in his apartments, and apologised. He acknowledged that it was not Luigi's fault that he should by chance have met his cousin in the street, nor that she should have spoken to him; and as regarded his having laughed----

"But we were not laughing at you," declared the terrified Amorin.

"And even if you were, you would have been almost justified. I can see now how ludicrous I made myself in my excitement."

He held out his hand to Luigi, who grasped it eagerly, and, after a few incoherent words, Mansana took his leave in the same spirit of confident self-satisfaction in which he had come. The little lieutenant, who throughout this interview had felt as though he were in the presence of his executioner, was now seized with a bewildering sense of joy at his departure. He jumped about the room, and broke into a loud peal of laughter. Mansana, who was still upon the staircase, heard the laughter, and stopped to listen. Luigi shuddered at the thought of his own carelessness, and the next moment heard some one knocking at the door. He was too much alarmed to say "Come in," but Mansana walked in without waiting for this.

"Was it you I heard laughing?" he asked.

"Upon my honour, no," answered Amorin, with a gesture of denial.

Mansana glanced briefly round the room and departed.

But no sooner was he gone than Luigi's sense of elation and relief once more returned. He could not control it, and as he did not dare to shout or jump, and felt he must share his joy with somebody, he went off to the military _cafe_, where his little story created a welcome diversion amongst his brother officers. To the accompaniment of their wine, they rained their witticisms over the unfortunate captain, who on the eve of his marriage with a princess could create a scandal by falling in love with the daughter of a little pensioner. Of all this Major Sardi, Mansana's friend, was a witness.

Mansana's last meeting on the hill took place next morning. It began long before the usual time, and only ended when they reached Amanda's door. According to his promise, he came again in the afternoon to bid farewell.

Amanda talked with him of his approaching wedding in a tone which was half playful and half sentimental, precisely as her feelings prompted her; for to a well-brought-up Italian girl, marriage is the herald of all earthly bliss, the entrance to that happy state in which uncertainty, restraint, and trouble cease, and unchecked freedom, new dresses, drives, and evenings at the opera, begin. And so her pretty chatter in some way re-awakened his old feeling of yearning for Theresa; her charm and personal attraction helped him still further to a realisation of his own approaching happiness, and he found himself confessing to her how much she herself had done towards this. A young girl's tears flow readily at words of praise, and our little maiden wept as she listened to Mansana's flattering talk. She thought it necessary in return, to tell him what confidence she too had felt in him; and though in her own heart she knew she had always, in his presence, been conscious of a slight sense of fear, she would not mention this. Then, as though in confirmation of her words, which were not so truthful as she would have wished, she gave him one of her smiling glances. The sunshine of her smile caught the glistening tear-drops on her cheeks, and framed a rainbow of indescribable beauty in Mansana's mind. He took her little round hand within both his as his farewell. A blush rose to her cheeks as he murmured something--he did not himself know what--and then he left her. He saw her pretty figure, arms, and head, just above him on the stairs, and a minute later on the balcony, as he looked up. He heard from the other side of the square, a melodious "farewell," listened for it once again, then turned away down the side street. So absorbed was he, that he had not noticed the approach of Sardi, who was making straight towards him; indeed, he was only awakened to the fact by a lusty slap upon the shoulder.

"Is it really true," asked Sardi, with a laugh, "that you are in love with the little girl up yonder? Upon my word, it would almost seem so!"

Mansana's face grew copper red, his eyes flashed, his breath came quickly as he answered:

"What are you talking about? What have you been told--that----?" He stopped wondering what he could be about to hear; surely no one could have--Luigi could never have---- "What did you say?" he repeated.

"Upon my soul, you seem bewitched!"

"What did you say?" repeated Mansana, with deepened colour, his brows knit, and one hand laid, not too gently, upon the major's shoulder.

It was now Sardi's turn to be offended. Mansana's vehemence had so taken him by surprise, he had no time to consider what he should say, but in his own defence, and with a desire of still further irritating the unjustly aroused temper of his friend, he told him what people were already saying about him, and how the officers at the _cafe were amusing themselves at his expense.

Mansana's anger knew no bounds. He swore that if Sardi would not at once reveal who had first started these reports, he must himself be answerable, and for a moment it seemed as though a challenge would be inevitable between the two friends. But Sardi, almost immediately recovering his composure, represented to Mansana what an ugly sensation it would create, were he to fight a duel with him, or with any one else, over such a subject as his relationship with Amanda Brandini, the very day before leaving to celebrate his wedding with the Princess Leaney.

Surely the best answer he could give to such a calumny would be to start at once, and make the princess his bride without delay. Thereupon followed a fresh ebullition from Mansana. He would look after his own affairs, and protect his own reputation; Sardi must give the names of his detractors! The major saw no reason for concealment, and gave the names, one by one, merely adding quietly, that if Mansana felt an inclination to kill off all this small fry, he was quite welcome to the task!

Mansana was eager to make straight for the _cafe_, where all these officers would now be assembled. Sardi, however, convinced him of the folly of such a course.

Then, Mansana declared, he would at any rate seek Luigi. But Sardi undertook himself to carry the challenge to the lieutenant. "Though, after all," he added, "what is he to be challenged for?"

"For what he has said of me," shouted Mansana.

"But what has he said of you? That you are in love with Amanda Brandini? Is this not true?"

Now, had Mansana started on his journey without meeting Major Sardi, it is tolerably certain that he would, in two or three days' time, have been married to the Princess Leaney; whereas the following conversation now took place.

"Have you the boldness to assert that I love Amanda?"

"I refuse to answer that; but if you do not love her, what the devil does it concern you if the young whelp says so, or whether he cares for her himself; or even whether he attempts to seduce her?"

"You are a boor and a scoundrel to use such language!"

"And what are you, pray, who can openly abuse a young man for the crime of talking and jesting with his cousin?"

"Jesting with her!" repeated Mansana scornfully, with clenched fists and knitted brows; whilst Sardi interjected:

"Who is to look after her when you are gone?"

"I shall not go!" shouted Mansana.

"You will not go? Have you lost your senses?"

"I shall not go," repeated Mansana, his hands and arms raised above his head as if in confirmation of an oath.

Sardi was taken aback.

"Then you really do love her?" he whispered.

Mansana recoiled. A groan, as from the strength of his whole frame, alarmed Sardi, who feared an attack of apoplexy, but after a brief struggle with himself, Mansana's countenance cleared, and slowly, as though unconsciously and to himself, he murmured:

"Yes, I love her!" Then, turning to Sardi, he added: "And I shall not go away!"

And from that moment he was like a driven hurricane of wind.

He turned and hurried away, in a storm of passion.

"Where are you making for?" asked Sardi, as he hastened after him.

"I am going to Borghi."

"But we had agreed that I was to see him."

"Very well, then, go!"

"But where are you going?"

"To find Borghi!" Then he added passionately, "I love her, and whoever tries to take her from me shall die!" And again he turned to go.

"But does she love you?" shouted Sardi, quite forgetting that they were in the public street.

And once more raising his strong, sinewy hands above his head, Mansana answered, in a hollow voice:

"She _shall love me!"

Sardi grew alarmed.

"Giuseppe, you are mad! You have been over excited, and it is only this unnatural condition of your mind which causes you to feel and speak like this. You are not yourself, Giuseppe! Do not run away from me! Don't you see that you are attracting the attention of the people in the street?"

At that Mansana stopped.

"Do you know what it is that makes me furious, Cornelius? It is the thought that I ever paid attention to those people in the street! I must needs hold my tongue, suffer, and be trampled on! This is what makes me furious."

He drew a step nearer Sardi.

"And now," he said, "I mean to proclaim it aloud to all the world; I love her!"

He actually shouted the words as he walked on with proud step. Sardi followed, and, taking him by the arm, guided him quietly into a less frequented street. But Mansana paid no heed, and with loud voice and vigorous gesticulations, gave his secretly wounded egotism vent.

"After all, what should I gain," he cried, "by becoming the husband of the Princess Leaney, the steward of her ladyship's estates, the slave of her ladyship's caprices? Now, for the first time, I can acknowledge to myself the truth; such a life would have been unworthy of Giuseppe Mansana."

Sardi came to the conclusion that if Mansana could so belie the usual taciturnity and reserve of his nature as to bawl and shout in this outrageous manner, almost any mad feat might be possible; so, with an ingenuity and perseverance that did him credit, he sought to induce him to take a little journey, just to give time for the confused condition of his mind and his affairs to settle themselves. But he might as well have expected a hurricane to heed his words.

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CHAPTER IXAll that day, and for days to come, the lovers lived under the glamour of their intoxicating dream of joy. It swept the fashionable world of Ancona into its current; for the engagement had to be celebrated by a series of entertainments and country excursions. There was a fascinating element of strangeness and romance in the whole episode. On the one side there was Mansana's reputation, on the other, Theresa's wealth, rank, and personal attractions. That this invincible beauty should be plighted to the victorious young soldier, and that under circumstances which popular rumour exaggerated to an incredible extent, seemed
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