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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCaptain Mansana - Chapter 8
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Captain Mansana - Chapter 8 Post by :best4you Category :Long Stories Author :Bjornstjerne Bjornson Date :May 2012 Read :3142

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Captain Mansana - Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

By four o'clock the next day, Mansana was being conducted through the ante-room, mirror-room, and concert-hall, to one of the Gothic apartments in the interior of the palace, where scattered about on the various tables lay photographs of the princess' last journey. He was informed that the princess would be ready immediately.

She made her appearance in a kind of Hungarian or Polish costume; for the November weather was chilly, and unusually so that day. She wore a tightly fitting velvet gown, with sable-edged tunic, reaching to the knee; and her hair was loosely coiled beneath a large hat, also trimmed with sable, to match the dress.

She gave him her white-gloved hand, half hidden by the lace and sable trimmings of the dress, with a firm, trustful confidence, to which her eyes, her face, and every curve of her fine figure seemed, as it were, to bear approving testimony. "It was to be!" At any rate, it seemed to him that she was anxious to show a greater confidence than she actually felt, and this impression was confirmed when, immediately afterwards, she suggested gently that, perhaps, after all, the drive had better be postponed; the horses might still be nervous and fidgety from their railway journey.

Mansana, however, calmly put aside her fears with a frigid pleasantry. She scrutinised his face, always singularly hard to read, but beyond the expression of strained suffering which it bore, it revealed nothing; his manner was respectful, but more peremptory than it had been of late. The companion made her appearance just at the moment that the carriage and horses were announced. He offered the princess his arm; she accepted it, and as they went down the stairs, looked up in his face again, and fancied that she saw a gleam of triumph in his eyes. A little nervously she seized a moment when the restive horses were being quieted, before they stepped into the carriage, and said again:

"It is certainly too soon after their journey to be driving them. Would it not be better to postpone the expedition?"

Her voice implored him, and, with her hand laid beseechingly on his arm, she looked trustfully into his eyes. Under her glance his face changed ominously, and a dark look came into his eyes.

"I might have expected that you would be afraid to drive with me a second time!"

She felt the taunt. With cheeks burning crimson, she sprang into the carriage; the companion followed her, pale as death, but stiff and unbending as a bar of iron, whilst Mansana, with one bound, leapt to the box-seat. There was no place for a groom, the carriage being only a light curricle.

From the moment the horses received the signal to start, the danger of the enterprise was apparent. Both animals immediately reared, straining in opposite directions at the reins, and it was certainly more than a minute before Mansana could steer them through the gateway.

"God's will be done!" muttered the companion, in deadly fear, her eyes fixed on the two horses, as they reared, backed, reared again, then, receiving a cut from the whip, kicked out, swerved violently from one side to the other, received another cut from Mansana, jibbed, and then finally, after one more sharp sting from the lash, started forward. The rough handling of the whip certainly did not seem to answer in this case.

As they emerged into the public street, the horses, to whom everything about them had a strange and foreign look, trembled and stamped uneasily; the novelty of their surroundings, the many and various sounds, all new to them; the different colourings of costumes, and, above all, the strong southern light, which gave to everything an unaccustomed glare--all these combined to terrify the poor animals. Mansana's skill and strength, however, kept them well in hand up to the time when they passed the Cavour monument; but from that moment, little by little his hold on them relaxed.

He turned round to see the expression on the princess' face. Now it was his turn to rejoice, and hers to suffer.

What could have inspired her with the unlucky idea of arranging this drive? She had regretted it almost as soon as she had proposed it, and ever since that moment, the day before, when she had caught the flash of triumph in his eyes, she had felt certain that he meant to use the expedition as an opportunity for punishing her; and she felt, too, that he was not likely to deal more mercifully with her than he had done before. Why, then, was she sitting there at all? As she watched his every movement and each action of the horses, she asked herself this question over and over again; not that she expected to find an answer, but because her thoughts insisted on revolving mechanically round this idea.

Still at a sort of springing trot--the most rapid trot possible--on they went; the pace was not permitted to slacken. Presently Mansana looked round again. His eyes gleamed with exultation. It was a mere preliminary to what was now to follow. Swinging the whip high above his head, with deliberate and well-judged aim, he suddenly brought it, whizzing down upon the backs of the two horses, who no sooner heard the whistling in the air above them, than instinctively they gave a great plunge forward, and broke into a gallop. Not a sound was heard from the two who sat behind. Mansana repeated the performance, and this time with maddening effect upon the horses. The road at this point began to slope down towards a stiff, steep hill; and precisely at this very point, Mansana, for the third time, raised the whip, swung it in lasso fashion round his head, and brought it down upon the backs of the animals. Such an act, at such a moment, showed Theresa, as by a flash of instinct, that Mansana's object was--not punishment of her, but death with her!

If there is a faculty within us capable of bearing witness to the divine origin of our souls, it is the power our minds possess of embracing, in the fraction of a second, great spaces of time and series of events. In the short interval between the bending of the whip above her and its descent upon the horses' backs, she had not only made her great discovery, but by the strange new light this shed on past events, had lived over again the whole course of their acquaintanceship. In the revelation of the moment she understood the nature of this man's proud and reticent love--a love which could welcome death with joy, provided it was shared with the woman he adored! She had, moreover, within this same brief second of time, framed a resolution and also put it into immediate action, for, as Mansana's whip descended, a voice behind him called, "Mansana!" Not in a tone of fear or anger, but, as it were, with a wild cry of joy. He looked back. She was standing up, heedless of the hurricane pace at which they sped, with beaming face and outstretched arms. Quicker than words can tell, he once more faced the horses, flung away the whip, and wound the reins thrice about his arms, and, making full use of all his strength, pressed his feet firmly against the footboard. He wished now to live--not die--with her!

Then came a tug of war, for Mansana had determined that this bridal march of Death should be transformed to one of joyous Life.

On they rushed, through blinding clouds of dust--on--towards the brow of the steep hill. Mansana could just manage to hold up the foaming horses' heads, so that their long manes fluttered like black wings behind them, but that was all. He clutched the right rein fiercely with both hands, in an effort to direct their headlong course towards the middle of the road, preferring to take this course even at the risk of a collision; which, however, would inevitably have given a dramatic termination to the lives of the whole party. In this effort he was successful, but still he could do nothing to check the furious pace. He looked up, and in the far distance fancied that he saw moving objects--more and still more--drawing nearer and still nearer towards them. On they came--the whole road seemed blocked with them. The distance between them lessened rapidly, and Mansana realised that what they were approaching was one of those interminable droves of cattle, making their way, as usual in the autumn, towards the sea. He jumped up from his seat and threw the reins in front of him. A sharp cry from behind rang through the air, followed by a still more piercing shriek as Mansana took a mighty leap, alighting on the back of the off horse, while he firmly grasped the bridle of the other. The horse he rode gave a wild leap into the air, and the other, thus violently thrown off his balance fell, was then dragged along for a space upon the outer shaft, till this snapped under the heavy strain, when finally the yoke strap which joined the two together also broke. Mansana's grasp of the bridle of the other horse helped him to save himself, and helped also, together with the dead weight of the fallen animal, to bring the whole cortege to a standstill. But the prostrate brute, feeling the carriage close upon him, struggled to free himself; his companion reared, the near shaft broke, a splinter pierced Mansana in the side; but thrusting himself in front of, or rather underneath the rearing animal, Mansana gripped him fiercely by the quivering nostrils, and in a moment reduced him to a state of lamblike and trembling submission. The struggle was over, and he was now able to go to the assistance of the other helpless creature, which had meanwhile been making frantic and dangerous efforts to get free.

And now--smothered with dust, bleeding from his wound, his clothes all torn, his head uncovered--Mansana at last could venture to look round. He saw Theresa standing in the carriage, beside the open door. Possibly she may have intended to throw herself out, and have fallen backwards in the violent jolting of the carriage, and then subsequently have recovered her balance; something of the sort may have happened to her, she herself knew not what. But one thing she did quickly realise; she saw that he was standing near her safe and sound, with both trembling horses meekly submitting to his firm hold. She sprang from the carriage towards him; he opened his arms and folded her to his breast. Locked close together, in one long embrace, were the two tall figures of the lovers--heart to heart, lip upon lip. As he clasped her to him, their very eyes and lips, as well as their arms, seemed riveted. Her eyes drooped at last beneath his gaze. A whispered "Theresa" was the first spoken word to part their lips for a moment.

Never did woman with greater joy accept the position of a worshipped sovereign than did Theresa that of adoring subject, when Mansana at last released her; never did fugitive seek pardon for having struggled for freedom with eyes so radiant with happiness. And surely never before did princess set herself with such eager, tender zeal to the office of handmaiden, as did Theresa when she discovered Mansana's wound, and perceived his dust-covered and lacerated condition. With her own delicate white hands, and her fine lace handkerchief, and the pins she wore, she set to work to mend and dress and bandage, and with her eyes she healed and cured the wounds of which her presence rendered him unconscious. The intervals between her little services were filled as lovers well know how, and with a joy alternately silent and voluble. In the end they so entirely forgot the existence of carriage, horses, and companion, that they set off walking as though there were nothing left in the world but that they should forthwith disappear together in glad possession of their new-found happiness. From this dream they were awakened by a cry of alarm from the companion, and by the near approach of the slow-moving herds of cattle.

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