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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCaptain Mansana - Chapter 9
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Captain Mansana - Chapter 9 Post by :gabby Category :Long Stories Author :Bjornstjerne Bjornson Date :May 2012 Read :2581

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Captain Mansana - Chapter 9

CHAPTER IX

All 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 to add a fresh interest to the princess in her newborn happiness, and to cast round her a magical charm.

Seen together, the lovers offered a piquant contrast. Both were tall, both walked well, and carried themselves with ease and dignity; but her face was a long oval, his short; her eyes were large and lustrous, his small and deep-set. In Theresa's face, the fine, straight nose, the voluptuous mouth, the nobly modelled chin, the cheeks that curved so exquisitely, framed in their border of night-black hair, compelled universal admiration; but Mansana, with his low brows, his thin, tight-locked lips, obstinate square jaw, and close-cropped wiry hair, was hardly accepted as a handsome man. Striking, too, was the contrast between her undisguised happiness and brilliant gaiety, and his laconic reserve. Yet neither she nor his friends would have wished him different, even in those days; for this reserve was characteristic of him. Matters on which he would have staked his life were turned by him into mere every-day commonplaces, when he permitted himself to talk of them.

But as a rule, he hardly talked at all; and so neither Theresa nor their fashionable acquaintances observed that at this time--in the very crisis of his happiness--a great change was coming over him.

There is a kind of boundless submission, a jealous desire to serve and minister to a lover, which may convert its object into a slave or a sort of powerless chattel, since it leaves him without a moment's freedom or a fragment of independence. He has but to express a casual wish, and instantly a dozen new plans are broached to secure what he is supposed to desire, and he is overwhelmed by a perfect storm of affectionate discussion. Then, too, there is that species of confidential intimacy, which works its way into the very guarded and secret chambers of the soul, which divines hidden motives and brings into the light the most cherished private thoughts; and this is apt to be embarrassing enough to a man accustomed to live his own life locked in his own ideas.

Such was now the case with Mansana. In the course of a few days he began to be affected by a sense of satiety; an intense exhaustion fell upon him, in the reaction from the alternate transports of despair and happiness through which he had lately passed, and added to his nervous irritability. There were moments when he shrank, not only from general society but from Theresa herself. He suffered the keenest self-reproach for what seemed to him black ingratitude, and with his customary frankness he finally confessed the whole truth to the princess. He gave her to understand what he had endured before their engagement, and how nearly he had succumbed to his mental anguish, and he pointed out that this surfeit of social gaiety and amusement was the exact opposite of that which he needed. His endurance was strained to its limits; he could bear no more.

Theresa was touched to the quick by his words. In a whirl of self-accusation she proposed the remedy: Rest for him, travel for herself. She would take a trip to Rome and to Hungary to make her arrangements for the wedding, whilst he might go to a small mountain fortress in the South, where he could exchange for a couple of months with an officer who would be glad of the chance of staying at Ancona. With her usual impetuous energy she managed to get all the preparations completed in hot haste, and in two days both of them had left the city. They parted with an emotion which on her side was affecting, and on his, too, was genuinely sincere, for her passionate devotion touched his feelings deeply.

And yet no sooner was he left to himself, first on the journey and then in his new garrison, than he relapsed into a state of apathy. Almost the sole impression of Theresa that remained on his brain was one of tumultuous agitation. He could not even muster courage to open the letters which came from her; the thought of their possible vehemence shook his nerves. Once a day she telegraphed or wrote to him, and the task of replying to all these missives weighed so heavily on his spirits that it drove him from his quarters, where so many unfulfilled obligations lay in wait for him. As soon as he was released from his military duties, he would hurry out into the woods and hills that overhung the little town, which was situated amidst scenery exceptionally wild and beautiful.

Pondering over his engagement in these country rambles, it began to look illusory and disappointing. True, his promised bride could call herself Princess, but in Italy that lofty title has not quite the charm that attaches to it in other countries. Princes and princesses are too common, and the position of a good many of them is a little doubtful. Nor was he greatly attracted by the wealth Theresa had inherited from her father, since her mother had gained her share in it by deserting the national cause during the period of Italy's abasement. No doubt there was Theresa's undoubted beauty; but that was evanescent, and the lady already showed signs of a too rapidly ripening maturity. Their romantic engagement could not blot out of his mind the memory of the long humiliation she had compelled him to endure, or the subsequent display of overstrained excitement in her which had provoked him to a revulsion of feeling. In calmer moments a pleasanter picture rose before his mind; but then again his pride would take alarm and whisper that in this unequal union he must always be the subordinate partner, or perhaps that he would again become the sport of her caprices, as he had been before.

After his long morning rambles among the hills he usually sat down to rest on a bench placed under an old olive-tree, a short distance above the town, and afterwards walked back to breakfast. One morning two persons--an elderly gentleman and a young lady--took their places on the bench as he rose to go. The same thing happened the next morning at the same time. On the following day he lingered, not unwillingly, a little longer--long enough to observe what the lady was like and to exchange a word or two with her companion. Italians glide easily into conversation and acquaintance, and Mansana ascertained without difficulty that the old gentleman was a pensioned official of the preceding _regime_, and that the young lady was his daughter--a girl of about fifteen, fresh from a convent school. She sat close by her father's side, and spoke scarcely more than a few words--just enough to reveal the exquisite sweetness of her voice.

Afterwards Mansana met the pair daily, and the meetings were no longer accidental; he waited on the hill-side till he saw them ascending from the town, and then made his way to the bench. He enjoyed the quiet friendliness of their manner. The old gentleman talked willingly enough, though with a certain caution, about politics. When Mansana had listened to his remarks, he would say a few words to the daughter. The girl's growing likeness to her father was easy to trace. There was a sort of wrinkled fulness in the old face, which showed that its owner had once been a man of the sleek, rotund type. The daughter's small, plump figure promised to develop in that direction; but at present it had only a soft and budding roundness of contour, that looked charming in the simple morning-dress, in which alone Mansana had seen her. The father's eyes had lost their colour and fire; the daughter's were half-hidden by down-drooping eyelids, and a slight bend of the head. The little maiden's face and her whole personality had a curious attraction for him in their tranquil meetings. Her hair was arranged with scrupulous exactitude each day, in the very latest fashionable style--a token of the convent-bred child's artless delight at being allowed to share in the vanities of this carnal world. The little dimpled hands, that sat so daintily on the trim wrists, were always busy with some fancy work, which the bent head and the downcast eyes followed intently. The eyes looked up when Mansana spoke to her, but usually with a sidelong glance that yet did not quite avoid meeting his; and through them peeped timidly the undeveloped childish soul, half shy, half glad, but wholly curious to look upon this strange new world and its strange creature, man. The more one tries to peer into such veiled, down-drooping eyes, the more do they fascinate, since they still withhold a part of their mystery. What her eyes held--and there was often a roguish gleam in the corners--and in particular what thoughts of himself they hid, Mansana would have given much to know. And it was with the express purpose of breaking through her reserve that he spoke of himself with more freedom than was at all customary with him. It delighted him to see her cheeks dimpling as he talked, and the pretty quiver, that never quite left the tiny mouth, red and sweet as an unplucked berry. It pleased him still more when she began to talk to him, in a voice whose fresh, unsullied ring stirred his senses like the trill of birds on a glowing summer morning. Then she took to questioning him, with bashful inquisitiveness, upon the details of his approaching marriage. Her thoughts about engagements and honeymooning, not openly expressed, but evident enough from the tenor of her eager inquiries, seemed to him so charming that the engagement began to regain its old attraction in his eyes. Thanks to her, some ten or twelve days after Mansana's departure, Theresa actually received a letter from him, which was followed by others. He was no master of the pen, and his letters were as laconic as his talk; but he wrote affectionately, and that again was due to his new friend. If he now sat down regularly after breakfast to write to Theresa it was because earlier in the morning he had enjoyed one of those frank conversations with the girl; and with the fresh grace of the young figure, the busy little hands intent on their work, and the sympathetic play of lips, eyes, and dimples, in his thoughts, and the tones of the exquisite voice still ringing in his ears, he began once more to taste the joy of life and to feel the old yearning stir in him again.

Striking indeed was the contrast between this little friend and his superb Theresa, with all her beauty and accomplishments, and he felt it when he sat down at his writing-table to converse with his _fiancee_. He could no longer smile at her impetuosity; and yet how generously she made excuses for his silence. "No, I have not taken it amiss," she wrote. "Naturally you found it hard to write. You wanted rest--rest even from me. You ought not to have been made to feel that my letters were a burden to you from their vehemence. Forgive me. In this alone you are to blame, as I alone am to blame for the sufferings you have endured. I shall never forgive myself, but strive, all my life, to make amends to you for them."

Not one woman in a thousand would have had such ideas, or have written so generously. He was forced to admit that; and yet there came upon him again that constant sense of overstrain. To bring back the impression of tranquillity and composure, he wrote to her of Amanda Brandini, as his new friend was named. He repeated some remarks the girl had made about betrothal and marriage. As he wrote them down he felt their charm, and felt too that he had transcribed them rather skilfully, so that he read over his letter to himself with a certain degree of satisfaction.

Those bright morning meetings, which lightened the whole day for Mansana, were never followed by an invitation to call upon his friends at their own house. He respected them for this dignified reserve; but the meetings themselves fanned the flame of his longing to see Theresa again, and so one day, to her intense astonishment, the princess received a telegram, announcing that he was growing weary of his exile from her presence, and that he would be with her in Ancona in three days' time.

On the day he sent this telegram he happened to be strolling through a small _plaza_, where there was a _cafe_. He entered and called for something to quench his thirst. The place was new to him; and as he sat waiting to be served, he let his eyes wander round the little square, till they lighted on the form of Amanda Brandini upon the verandah of a house immediately opposite. This, then, was where she lived.

But she was not alone. Leaning against the balustrade by her side, and so close to her that he could almost have touched her lips with his, stood a smart young lieutenant. Earlier in the day he had been presented to Mansana, who had been informed that he was quartered at a neighbouring garrison, and that he was generally known by the _sobriquet of "Amorino." And now this young Amorin's eyes were fastened on hers; their smiling lips moved, but what they said could not be heard, and it seemed to Mansana as if they were whispering confidentially: a whispered talk that ran on unceasingly. Mansana felt the blood stand still at his heart as a sharp pang pricked through him. He rose and left the _cafe and then returned, remembering that he had not paid for his untasted draught. When he looked up again to the balcony he was astonished to see that the pair there were engaged in a kind of struggle. The "Amorino" was evidently and rudely urging his advances upon the girl, and she kept him back, crimsoned with blushes. Her figure quivered with the agitation of the contest, her face glowed with excitement. The young officer's insolent advances were evidently provoking a tumult of resistance. Who had permitted this marauder to enter the fold? Where was Amanda's father?

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