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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCaptain Mansana - Chapter 11
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Captain Mansana - Chapter 11 Post by :gabby Category :Long Stories Author :Bjornstjerne Bjornson Date :May 2012 Read :3513

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Captain Mansana - Chapter 11

CHAPTER XI

That same evening, Amanda's curiosity was stirred by receiving a letter conveyed to her with every appearance of precaution. She struck a light, and found that it came from Luigi--the first he had ever sent to her--and thus it ran:

"MY AMANDA,--There is a madman in pursuit of me, and he threatens my life. An hour ago he got me to swear solemnly, and to put my hand to the oath, that I would renounce all pretensions to you, and never even speak to you again. I was a poltroon to submit to it. I know that well enough, and you cannot despise me more than I despise myself. But there is this to be said: until I consented to that declaration I never knew that I loved you. Perhaps, indeed, I had not done so. At any rate, now I know that I do love you--love you beyond measure, beyond bounds; and in all the wide world there is no wretch more miserable than I am at this moment. But I cannot bring myself to believe that all is over between us, or that this monstrous agreement can be binding.

"All rests with you, Amanda, if you do not despise me too deeply. If you love me, then the madman can do nothing to you, and some day matters will happily mend for us. At present I am like one in a prison cell. I cannot move to release myself. But this I know: if you will not help me to escape from the toils I shall die. Amanda, give me a word, a sign. It is too perilous to write; indeed, I know not how I shall convey these lines to your hands. At any rate, do not you attempt to send a letter to me. He might be on our traces even now.

"But to-morrow is the day of the _fete_. Be there in the neighbourhood of the band, and stay till I find you. Then, no words, but speak to me only with your eyes. If _they are friendly I shall know enough. Ah, Amanda, all will come right if you are mine. My own, my Amanda.

"Till death,

"Your unhappy cousin,

"LUIGI."

No sooner had Amanda read this letter than she felt that she loved Luigi. Never before had she so much as hinted to herself a thought of this, but now she loved him with all her soul. She had no doubt on that point.

As to what Mansana had said about him, that might be based on a misunderstanding; and as to the promise Luigi had given, that, she thought, was obviously a matter of no importance. Young girls do not take a pledge of this kind _au pied de la lettre_, when it seems to them unreasonable. Besides, Mansana had left the place.

So the next day came--the day of the _fete_. It was a fine warm autumn morning, and Amanda was up and ready betimes. The bands of music had marched through the streets at sunrise, and the cannon had thundered a salute. The churches, decorated outside as well as within, were crowded for the early service, and our little Amanda was there by her father's side, tricked out in her best holiday finery. She offered up a prayer for Luigi, and as she rose from her knees she practised her lips in a smile, the friendly smile and deeply confiding glance that should bring hope and comfort to her distressed adorer. After the procession and the mid-day meal, she hastened to take up her position at the appointed place. The band had already begun to play in the market square, but Amanda hurried her father's customarily sedate pace so much that they were enabled to find room among the very first arrivals, though with the natural result that after they had been standing there an hour they found themselves wedged in the thickest of the throng. She looked at her father's perspiring face, and thought mournfully how unattractive her own would look in Luigi's eyes. They must make their way out, cost what it might; that is, provided it did _not cost a flower, or a knot of ribbon, or even a vigorous effort, which last would only have added to the embarrassing redness of her burning cheeks. So she made but little progress, and still grew hotter and hotter. She heard the roll of the big drums and the boom of the trombones through the roar of voices and laughter all round her. She saw the campanile of the town hall and the clapper that hung below the great bell, and these last objects were all she could discern above the billows of living humanity that surged about and over her. Her father's suffering visage warned her how flurried and unpresentable she must be growing, and the poor little thing began to cry.

But Luigi had also been one of the first to find his way to the neighbourhood of the bandstand, and as the square in front of the guildhall of the little town was by no means extensive, it came about in due course that these two, who were seeking one another through the eddying mass of spectators, at last stood face to face. He glanced at her, and saw the deep blush and smile that shone through her tears. The blush he took for one of joy, the tears he thought were those of sympathy with his trouble, and the smile he welcomed as an earnest of what was to come. To her father in his distress and anxiety Luigi seemed like a guardian angel, and he called to him hastily, "Help us to get out of this, Luigi;" and Luigi applied himself to the task with vigour. It was a matter of some difficulty, and once or twice both Amanda and her father were in actual danger, so that the young man felt that he was acting quite an heroic part. With arms and shoulders at work he protected them, and with his eyes fixed on Amanda's he hung on her long, timid gaze. But he spoke no word, so he had not violated his promise. The consciousness of all this gave him a proud satisfaction. His bearing might well be noble, and he knew from the approving reflection in Amanda's eyes that in fact it did seem so to her.

But happiness in this world is doomed to be transient. A quarter of an hour previously Giuseppe Mansana had marked Luigi in the crowd, and with the instinct of jealousy he had been watching him from a distance--an easy enough matter for one of his height. The other, in his restless search, had constantly pressed forward, and thus had no suspicion of the danger that threatened him from behind; and now he was so deeply absorbed in his work of rescue--or rather in seeing his own gallant image flashed back from Amanda's eyes--that he did not notice Mansana till the captain's vulturine visage was scowling close beside his own, and he could feel his hot breath on his cheek.

Amanda uttered one of her little screams, her father was struck dumb with a sudden alarm, and Luigi contrived to disappear into the crowd.

The next moment Amanda had laid her arm through Mansana's, and he felt a warm little gloved hand on his, and saw two delicious, half-closed eyes, full of witchery, apprehension, and appeal, looking up into his face. They had just made their way out of the thickest of the throng so that conversation was possible, and he heard a voice, fit to call the angels into heaven, say: "Papa and I were in great danger. It was fortunate we had some one to help us," and he felt the gentle pressure of her hand.

Mansana had seen those same eyes dwelling on Luigi's, and there pulsed through his brain a thought destined to come back to him often enough afterwards, though for the moment it passed away as soon as it was formed. "What a silly, senseless business," he thought, "is all this in which I am entangled."

But the little prattler at his side ran on: "Poor Luigi found us in the crowd. Papa asked him to help us, and he did it without a word. Why, we have never even thanked him." Then directly after: "It is charming that you have not gone yet. You must come home with us, so that we can have a comfortable chat. We had such a pleasant one the last time."

Her round, young bosom fluttered under its silken prison, a glimpse of her dainty wrist showed white above her glove, the points of her tiny feet stole out provokingly beneath her petticoat, the rosy little mouth quivered with its burden of prattle and smiles, and the two half shaded eyes met his with shy confidence. Mansana walked home with them.

He did not mention Luigi's name, though it was fixed like the barb of an arrow in his heart, and fastened the closer the more exquisite she seemed. The strife between love and anguish robbed him of speech. But Amanda's sweet lips only moved the faster, while she made him sit down and brought out fruit, which she peeled herself and offered to him. She seemed so glad that their morning meetings need not yet come to an end; she even suggested an excursion a little farther up the mountains on which they might adventure the next day, when she would bring breakfast with her. But still he could only utter a few monosyllables. He could not cloud this innocent idyll with the shadow of his suffering; and yet he was so torn by the struggle within him that he felt he could bear it no longer, and hastily took his departure.

Scarcely had the echo of his footsteps on the staircase died away, scarcely had the last greeting been waved to him from the balcony, than his smiling, invincible little charmer hastily shut the verandah windows and threw herself, sobbing, on her father's knees. The old man was not in the least surprised. His mind ran on the same thought as hers. Mansana's parting glance, and indeed his whole bearing and manner, had filled the room with such an electric atmosphere of storm that he would hardly have been astonished if an actual explosion had occurred in the overcharged air. And when the girl whispered through her tears, "Father, we must get away," he could only reply, "Yes, yes, my child, indeed we must."

Their departure must be secret, and therefore it was necessary that it should take place that very night.

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