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would look for such unnatural humours in a simple bird.'1
Therewith, taking the monkish fowl from his dull leafy cloisters, she disposed him once more on the sunny lawn, where he made still fresh attempts to get away from the over painful radiance—but was now become too feeble and ill to remove. Zerlina therefore began to believe that he was reconciled to his situation; but she had hardly cherished this fancy, when a dismal film came suddenly over his large round eyes; and then falling over upon his back, after one or two slow gasps of his beak, and a few twitches of his aged claws, the poor martyr of kindness expired before her sight. It cost her a few tears to witness the tragical issue of her endeavours; but she was still more grieved afterwards, when she was told of the cruelty of her unskilful treatment:—and the poor owl, with its melancholy death, was the frequent subject of her meditations.
In the year after this occurrence, it happened
VOL. II. c
that the Countess of Marezzo was in want of a young female attendant, and being much struck with the modesty and lively temper of Zerlina she requested of her parents to let her live with her. The poor people having a numerous family to provide for, agreed very cheerfully to the proposal; and Zerlina was carried by her benefactress to Rome. Her good conduct confirming the prepossessions of the Countess, the latter showed her many marks of her favour and regard, not only furnishing her handsomely with apparel, but taking her as a companion, on her visits to the most rich and noble families, so that Zerlina was thus introduced to much gaiety and splendour. Her heart, notwithstanding, ached oftentimes under her silken dresses, for in spite of the favour of the Countess, she met with many slights from the proud and wealthy, on account of her humble origin, as well as much envy and malice from persons of her own condition. She fell therefore into a deep melancholy, and being interrogated by the Countess, she declared that she pined for her former humble but happy estate: and begged with all humility that she might return to her native village.
The Countess being much surprised as well as grieved at this confession, enquired if she had ever given her cause to repent of her protection, to which Zerlina replied with many grateful tears, but still avowing the ardour of her wishes.
"Let me return," said she," to my own homely life; this oppressive splendour dazzles and bewilders me. I feel by a thousand humiliating misgivings and disgraces, that it is foreign to my nature ; my defects of birth and manners making me shrink continually within myself, whilst those who were born for its blaze, perceive readily that I belong to an obscurer race, and taunt me with jests and indignities for intruding on their sphere. Those also, who should be my equals, are quite as bitter against me for overstepping their station, so that my life is thus a round of perpetual mortifications and uneasiness. Pray, therefore, absolve me of ingratitude, if I long to return to my native and proper shades—with their appointed habits. I am dying, like the poor owl, for lack of my natural obscurity."
The curiosity of the Countess being awakened by her last expression, Zerlina related to her the story of that unfortunate bird, and applied it with a very touching commentary to her own condition; so that the Countess was affected even to the shedding of tears: she immediately comprehended the moral, and carrying back Zerlina to her native village, she bestowed her future favour so judiciously, that instead of being a misfortune, it secured the complete happiness of the pretty peasant.