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at liberty to mourn her lost love till the novelty of grief was over (for he is not a year dead), and then to choose for herself.”
Buondelmonte's vanity was a little hurt at this insinuation, and that feeling lent him the more spirit to reply.
“When I formed this engagement at the wish of Florence, I was aware of the wound the lady had experienced. I have exerted myself to heal it, and I trust not wholly in vain. My perfidy (as she would naturally term it) would tear open again that recent wound. No, I would not pain her thus: it would be doubly cruel.”
“ You are a prudent man I perceive," observed La Donati, trying the effect of a slight sneer. “The Amidei, with their numerous kinsmen, the Überti, the Fifanti, the Lamberti, are too powerful to be offended.”
“Madonna, I may not reply to a lady's taunt as I would to a man's; but you know that the Buondelmonti fear no one in Florence.”
“And especially," said the Widow, changing her tone, “and especially if united with the Donati. Do not start. You must have known that the most natural alliance must be that of the head of the Buondelmonti with the heiress of the Donati: and you, Giovanni-you whose mother was my dearest friend-you whom I once hoped to call my son-look (it is not vanity), look upon your advantages. Say, is there any one in Florence so worthy of you as my beautiful, my unrivalled Imma?”
“ Beautiful! beautiful !" sighed Buondelmonte ; “ worthy of a better, a nobler man than I am."
“We seek no better nor nobler," answered La Donati. “Giovanni, be frank-you love Imma-do not begin to exculpate yourself-I do not blame you. How could you see her and not love her? I have seen your love for her in every look and gesture; and daily I expected from you the avowal of it—daily I expected your breaking those disgraceful Ghibelline trammels: and a thousand times have you acted the lover, in all but words perhaps, to Imma."
Buondelmonte knew this charge was true, and cast down his eyes.
“But perhaps," resumed the Widow, with a slight tinge of sarcasm,“ perhaps I was mistaken, and you were only wooing her for your future kinsman, Mosca Lamberti." .
“Mosca Lamberti ! ” cried Buondelmonte; “ has he dared
“ Yes; he has made his proposals in form. Do not you, who set the example of mixed marriages, approve of the shrewd Ghibelline as a husband for the beautiful Guelph ? " : “Oh, name not Mosca! I could not bear to think of him as
as aspiring to the happiness I would purchase with my blood, but not with my honour-not with the sufferings of another."
La Donati, like all cunning people, was not without some meanness in her mind; and to attain her ends she scrupled not to compromise her daughter's dignity.
“You,” said she, " who are so mindful of the feelings of one you cannot love, are you careless of the feelings of her whom you do love? Suppose the part that you know you have acted with Imma has succeeded, and that you have gained her affections, what will be the consequences ? She is younger than Amideashe is more simple- her mind less schooled - her health is delicate-her frame fragile. Oh, Giovanni! must I owe to you the probable loss of my daughter? For I will own to you, I must own it- her young heart is all your own. I have not only seen that it is so, but I have drawn the confession from her innocent lips in the first burst of feeling, when we learned the appointing of that ill-omened Thursday.”
Buondelmonte felt an exquisite thrill of delight shoot through his whole frame when he learned the certainty that he was dear to the beautiful Imma—a delight which prevented him from seeing the impropriety of the Widow's conduct all through, both to her daughter and himself, engaged as he was to another. He stood a moment in a whirl of thoughts, then abruptly raising his head, requested the indulgence of an inverview with Imma.
“He is ours,” said the Widow to herself exultingly, as she directed him to the door of the room whither Imma had retired, and left him to the meeting unrestrained.
Imma was seated on a couch, resting her head with an air of despondency on her arm. Buondelmonte saw her attitude, though she started up immediately on his entrance. He knelt at her feet, and said in a hurried tone,
“Imma !” (he had never called her so before, and she looked surprised) “Imma! lovely and beloved Imma!” :
Imma's heart beat for an instant joyfully at the words, " beloved Imma; ” but her delicacy came to her assistance..
“Rise, Messer Buondelmonte, and be silent. The bridegroom of another must speak to me in more measured terms, or never speak to me at all.”
"Hear me, hear me, Imma,” urged Buondelmonte ; “I speak by your mother's sanction. From the hour I first beheld you my whole heart has been yours, so wholly yours that my engagement with the Amidei (arranged by my kinsmen's choice alone) has been painful to me. But I determined to fulfil it to honour Amidea if I could not love her. Imma, I could not, I dared not - a shackled man-have sought your hand; but now your mother has given me thoughts I could not entertain before. Imma, I do not ask you to confirm in words what she has said, one look will
be sufficient to make me at once the proudest and the happiest man in Italy.”
Imma became covered with a glow of confusion.
“ What!” said she, “ has my mother”. . . . betrayed me, she was going to say, but she could not; and with wounded delicacy she turned away from the anxious Guelph.
“ Imma,” cried Buondelmonte, “one word; say you will be mine, or look it only if you will ; confirm to me by word or look that I am not indifferent to you, and let Italy say what it will, I am yours for ever.” . “And Amidea ?" whispered Imma.
“ Amidea is kind and high-minded; I will appeal to her generosity. Besides, her heart was not voluntarily given to me.”
66 And Florence?" remonstrated Imma.
“ The Buondelmonti and the Donati united may defy Florence. But, my beautiful, my beloved, let Florence rage, let Amidea condemn me, let the Ghibellines reproach me, I brave all rather than lose you; you, the only one I have ever really loved ; you, the most worthy of love that the sun ever saw."
“Oh! had you but been free,” sighed Imma. “But we have met too early or too late."
“What, Imma! do you reject me? You will not tell me that you hate me?"
“ Surely not," said Imma, with a blush ; “but I know what a solemn engagement is contracted in the face of our country. I fear it; I dare not let you break it. Oh! Buondelmonte, it is not for myself I fear, but for you. I can bear sorrow and blighted affections-if I must say it" (and she coloured deeply)" but I cannot bear exposing you to danger and obloquy. Florence ought to be proud of you, and shall į make you hated and despised? My heart tells me I have erred greatly, perhaps inexcusably. When we met you were not free; I should have regarded you as a married man. I have erred. Oh! how truly did the nuns of Livorno tell me that the world was deceitful ; my first steps in it have been a lesson in evil and sorrow."
“Imma, my dearest Imma !” Buondelmonte began, but she interrupted him—
“I must not hear such words from the plighted husband of another woman. I imagine myself for a moment in Amidea's place, and I know how bitterly she would feel could she witness you now-you who have been so long as her lover. Yes," added Imma, with some of that bitterness which often so paradoxically accompanies passionate attachment, “ yes, I have heard of the fickleness of men-I see it now. You have been for months uttering vows to Amidea, and the moment your marriage day is fixed you hasten to offer your hand to another, and that other .... Alas! I have listened too long."
- "Spare me, Imma! spare me," said Buondelmonte, in a voice of so much feeling that Imma, angry with herself for the petulance that only sprang from an aching heart, burst into tears, gave him her hand, and suffered him to support her till she had recovered breath. At length she summoned firmness.
“Go, leave me; I could not bear the scorn of Florence for you and myself. How shameful, how cruel, to appoint the very wedding day with a noble lady, and then forsake her! And how could her kinsmen bear it ? Oh, Buondelmonte ! a frightful thought forces itself upon my mind,- they would wash out the insult in your blood—the Ghibellines are so revengeful. Ah! Santa Maria, have pity on us.”
And she covered her eyes as if to shut out the fearful image she had conjured up. The idea of danger to her lover decided her the more strongly in the sacrifice of her own feelings, and she ad. dressed him with forced calmness
“Buondelmonte, be satisfied if I own to you that had you been free I should have been happy in your preference, that I am at least far from happy now. But I know your duties and my own. Stop! Do not expostulate, else I must bind myself by some solemn vow never to speak with you again."
“Oh ! do not do that, Imma; I have some superstitious dread of such a vow."
“Then urge me no more. It is too much to combat both you and myself. Must I so soon forget the lessons of my early youth ! Go, go! fulfil your duty ; let Florence bless, not curse you."
Buondelmonte, divided between love and honour, knew not how to combat the resolution of Imma, feeling that she was but too right. After a pause of mournful thought he said,
“But after next Thursday-ill-omened day !-how shall we meet again ?"
“We must not meet again,” replied Imma; “ at least for a long time. I will entreat my mother to let me return to the convent of Livorno. She will see the necessity of granting me at least a temporary retreat, where I may hide my heart-sickness till I recover a little."
“And I," said Buondelmonte, “ I have no retreat where I may lie down in my heart-sickness and wait for recovery. What can be more miserable than for a lacerated heart to be forced into society—to come in contact with the frivolous or the disagreeable, to be driven into activity when it longs for repose, to feel as an insult the gaiety of the happy who intrude their satisfaction upon us in rude contrast with our silently-enduring sorrow? Oh! this is martyrdom ; it is worse, for there is no crown to reward it.”
“Time-trust to time,” said Imma, gently.
“ Time! ay, time may work miracles. In time I may learn to value Amidea as I ought; in time my heart may learn its dụties too well to deviate from them; in time I may bear to see you the happy bride of some one who may deserve, but cannot love, you better. But that reminds me, your mother tells me that Mosca Lamberti aspires to you. Imma, there is something in that man's eye that makes me dread him for you more than any man on earth. Alas! I should envy any man, and think him scarce worthy of you; but Mosca !-the thought is hideous.”
“ Mosca Lamberti !” said Imma. “In sooth I have never thought of him ; but were he the best and worthiest, I would be governed by your judgment—it is the only poor boon I can grant you. Mosca shall never have my hand. No, nor any Ghibelline," she added, half reproachfully; " unlike you, Buondelmonte, I will ever be true to the party of my friends and of my lineage.”
“ Imma, Imma! let this our first, our last interview of love pass over without any added pang. Let us at least part in peace."
Imma's tears flowed again, and she half averted her head from her lover.
"I must go-I must bid farewell, or you must permit me to stay for ever.”
“You must go," replied Imma, “and let us, if possible, meet no more. I have had strength now to refuse to steal the busband of another—to be happy at the price of perfidy and cruelty-I must not be tempted again. I will entreat my mother to spare me that sad part that Amidea's unsuspecting friendship has urged upon me."
“ I know it,” said Buondelmonte; “spare me, too, if you can, that trial.”
“But," continued Imma, “if my mother compel me to be present, I shall go in a spirit of endurance to accept the trials of that hour as a penance for having looked upon you and listened to you as I have done. Now farewell, Buondelmonte; but when you leave me, avoid my mother and Carlo. I fear they would not be as jealous of your honour and your fame as I am. Farewell, Buondelmonte, we have had some pleasant hours together; forget them-farewell, and be happy.”
Buondelmonte was kneeling beside her; he looked sadly and earnestly upon her as if taking a last look.
“Farewell, then, too beautiful, too generous Imma. Forgive me, forgive my past errors, forgive every hour I sought you, every word and look I addressed to you; forgive my unrepressed admiration, forgive the tenderness I did not conceal from you, and the pains I have half unconsciously taken to render you and myself wretched. Imma, you are silent; am I not forgiven?"
“ More than forgiven," she could scarcely speak; "go-go in
He fixed on her an earnest look. “The best wish I can make for you is, may your future happiness equal your beauty." Then