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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCaptain Mansana - Chapter 4
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Captain Mansana - Chapter 4 Post by :add2it Category :Long Stories Author :Bjornstjerne Bjornson Date :May 2012 Read :2834

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Captain Mansana - Chapter 4

CHAPTER IV

When Princess Theresa Leaney came to herself again, all her strength and energy seemed gone from her. She would not rise, she scarcely touched her food, and allowed no one to remain near her. In silence her companion passed through the large mirror-room that adjoined the ante-room; in silence she returned when her duties were accomplished, and when she entered the small Gothic apartment which the princess occupied near the centre of the palace, she was still careful to observe the same silence. The servants followed her example. This elderly chaperon of Theresa's had been brought up in a convent, and had come out into the world with an exaggerated estimate of her acquirements and position. But ten or fifteen years' experience of the selfishness and crude egoism of youth had tended to dissipate such sentiments, and she eventually took a situation as a sort of superior companion in an aristocratic family. Slights and humiliations were inevitable in her position, but she bore them in silence, learning, as she grew older, to put up with many things; she grew reserved and taciturn, and applied herself diligently to the steady accumulation of money. With this object in view, she made a point of studying carefully the characters and habits of those she served, taking care that the information thus acquired should subsequently be of profit to both parties. It was her tactful knowledge of the character of the princess which had on this particular occasion enjoined that strict silence should be kept.

Suddenly, after the lapse of a few days, there came from the princess's little Gothic room the curt command, "Pack up," and subsequently this was followed by the intimation that a long journey was in prospect. A little later the princess herself appeared. Still silent and languid, she moved slowly about the rooms, arranged some trivial matters, wrote a letter or two, and disappeared again. Next day came forth the order, "This evening at seven o'clock," and punctually at six o'clock she herself emerged, dressed in black travelling costume, followed by her maid, also dressed for a journey. The companion stood in readiness, waiting, before giving the man-servant the final order to close the luggage, till the princess had bestowed an approving glance on the contents. She had not as yet ventured to speak to the princess since the carriage adventure, but now, approaching her casually, she remarked in a low voice, with her eyes fixed on the courtyard, "The town knows nothing beyond the fact that the horses bolted with us." This remark was greeted by a look of haughty displeasure, which gradually changed to one of surprise and finally dismay.

"Is he dead, then?" the princess asked, each word breathing her anxiety.

"No, I saw him an hour ago."

The companion had hitherto studiously avoided meeting the eye of the princess, and still kept gazing into the courtyard towards the stables, where the carriages and horses were being got ready for the journey. It was some time before she thought it advisable to look round, as the princess kept silent, and the servant made no movement; the latter, indeed, had studiously kept his eyes fixed upon the ground before him; but when, at last, she ventured a glance at her patroness, she saw in a moment that the information she had given had worked the desired effect.

Theresa's excited and overstrained imagination had, during those last few feverish days, shown her the whole town full of a scornful merriment at her expense; she had pictured the story, familiar even in Rome itself, and possibly, by means of the newspapers, known to the world at large; she had realised the humiliation and defeat which her inflexible and domineering pride had suffered in those few terrible moments. The thought was as painful to her as though she had been dragged literally through mire. And now, after all, no one but themselves and this Mansana knew of what had taken place. He had kept the secret. Truly a remarkable man!

The beautiful eyes of the princess flashed radiantly for a moment, then gradually melted into smiles, as with raised head and upright figure she paced awhile up and down the room, as far as the luggage and travelling impedimenta would allow; then, lightly swinging her parasol, she said smilingly: "You can unpack; we shall not travel to-day," and hastily left the room.

An hour later, the companion received through the maid a message requesting her to get ready for a walk. She felt tempted to an expression of surprise, in answer to the look of astonishment with which the maid accompanied the command; for during all the long and frequent visits they had paid to Ancona, the princess had never before consented to take part in the fashionable evening promenade; but recollecting that in a servant such a look was an impertinence, she kept her feelings to herself. As Theresa entered the large pillared mirror-room, dressed for the promenade, she looked through the open door into the dimly-lighted ante-room, and saw her companion standing ready and awaiting her. The expression on the maid's face, as she followed to open and shut the door, was amply justified by the unusually handsome costume which the princess wore; the companion, however, came up as though she were quite accustomed both to the expedition and to seeing the princess thus elaborately arrayed.

In a beautiful mauve silk gown, richly trimmed with lace, Theresa swept down the stairs. Her figure, instinct with vigour and strength, though perhaps a trifle too fully moulded yet gave an impression of supple grace, because of her height and the ease and lightness of her bearing. Contrary to the fashion, her hair was arranged in plaits, whilst behind her fluttered a long lace veil, which she wore fastened on one side by a brooch and by roses on the other. The large sleeves of her dress hung so loosely that even the long gloves scarcely covered her arms as she moved them when she used her fan. She stepped on briskly, not deigning to wait for her companion, whose business it was to be always at her side.

It was a lively evening on the promenade, the weather having cleared for the first time after several days of storm; and as the princess made her way through the crowd, the noisy hum of voices would momentarily cease, to burst out again, after she had passed, like a river dammed up and suddenly released.

Princess Theresa Leaney appearing at the evening promenade! Princess Theresa Leaney on the Corso! And in what guise! Radiant with a glow of beauty, wealth, and graciousness, she had greetings and a friendly word for every one; ladies she had known from childhood, tradesmen she had dealt with, officers and noblemen she had occasionally met--all received their share of favour. Though in this place, which in all Italy is the most renowned for the charms of its women, she might not have actually borne away the palm, she had, nevertheless, won for herself from far and near a reputation as one of the beauties of Ancona, and for many years the town had been prepared to fly her colours, and pay her homage, had she but desired it. And now, apparently, she did desire it! There was a look of ingratiating appeal in her eyes as she greeted "her people;" and in the bend of her head, as she acknowledged their salutes, there seemed a suggestion of conciliation.

One turn up and down the promenade sufficed to show her the change in the feeling of her "subjects" towards herself; and, seeing the members of one of the oldest aristocratic families of the place grouped in front of a _cafe in the centre of the Corso, she ventured to stop and talk with them. She was politely greeted by the head of the family, an old gentleman, who was at first overwhelmed with surprise at her condescension; but she quite understood how to put him at his ease, and the longer she sat and talked with him, the more enchanted he became, so that it was with a real pride and happiness that he introduced her to the rest of the fashionable world which gathered round them. She showed herself bright and witty and friendly to every one, distributing her favours impartially amongst the men and ladies, and it was not long before a tone of genuine gaiety prevailed. The group of which she was the centre increased to such an extent, that finally, when she rose to go home, she found herself followed, in a sort of triumphal procession, by quite a crowd of excited friends and admirers, all talking at the top of their voices. It might truly have been said that the Corso that evening was the scene of a general reconciliation between the aristocratic society of the town and its fair daughter, and, judging from appearances, both parties seemed the happier for the change.

It was getting late in the evening when, still followed by her retinue of friends, she once more, for the third time, made an attempt to turn her back upon the ices and champagne which had aided the general festivities. She was not allowed a moment's peace; and so, moving away slowly, and still in the highest spirits, they were passing up the street, when three officers, walking smartly and covered with dust, as though just returned from some expedition, came towards them. Immediately the companion, in a casual manner, sidled up to the princess and whispered in her ear. Theresa looked up, and at once recognised one of the figures. It was Mansana! Quietly, without attracting attention, the companion contrived to change places with the princess, who now was obliged to pass so close to the officers that the nearest of them must have grazed her dress with his sword, had he not chosen to step aside. This officer was Mansana.

They were beyond the shadows of the houses, where the light fell full upon them, and she saw at once that he had recognised her; she observed, too, his astonishment, but she also noticed that the short, powerful face resolutely sealed itself against all expression, and that the small deep-set eyes seemed purposely veiled; his tact and discretion evidently forbade any sign of recognition. In gratitude for this, and for the silence he had hitherto maintained, she gave him one look from the depth of her glowing, dark eyes--and he was vanquished.

A fire was kindled within him, which burst in flames of colour on his cheeks; he could no longer collect his thoughts to listen to the conversation of his brother officers, and he left them. No one could have thought it strange that he should return home in good time, as he had already arranged to start early that night by the fast train, in order to be present the next day, when his father's bones were to be removed from the Malefactors' graveyard to a tomb of honour in his native town.

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CHAPTER VWe have seen how Mansana bore himself in the funeral procession the next day, and we know now why he walked behind his father's bier with that elastic gait, that buoyant and springy step. He had expected to find in the woman he had insulted, an implacable adversary, and was prepared to meet her enmity with disdain. But a single glance in the Corso from the eyes of Theresa Leaney, as she stood there in all her triumphant brilliancy and beauty, had set up a new image in his soul. It was the image of Theresa herself as the radiant
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