Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

TANCRED AND SIGISMUNDA.

(A Tale from the Italian.)

TANCRED, Prince of Salerno, was distinguished in the age in which he lived for the courtesy of his manners, and the kindness and generosity of his disposition; and he would have preserved this character to his grave, if, in his old age, he had not, by a strange concurrence of events, become the murderer of his child and of his friend. This child, the only one - he ever had, was a daughter; and happier far would it have been for the souls of both, if she had never existed. No father ever loved a daughter with more tenderness; insomuch that it was not until Sigismunda had passed the age usually destined for the marriages of the Ita-, lian Princesses, that Tancred could prevail upon himself to part from her. She was, however, at length betrothed to the son of the Duke of Capua, who dying within a very short time afterwards, she returned, as the custom is, to her father's palace, a blooming widow. There are some old natives of Salerno who remember having seen her in their boyhood, and they relate, that her shape was exquisitely proportioned, that she was rather taller than the ordinary run of women, with a most pleasing roundness of figure, quite consistent with perfect elegance; all they could say of her face was, that they had never seen any thing like it since throughout their lives; and that altogether, her youth, her vivacity and wit, rendered her the gem, or the rose, of the south of Italy.

When the days of her mourning were expired, her father introduced her publicly in his court, which was one of the most spléndid of the age, and took great pleasure in indulging her in every sort of luxury and amusement that she had a fancy to, chiefly with a view to prevent her from desiring a second marriage, and so to keep her near him for the remainder of his life. But it is not the first time that love has baffled the plans of greater princes than

Tancred; and in the present instance, before that potent influence, · all the nets, which were hung around the heart of Sigismunda, were ineffectual to bar the access of the little Corsair God. Amongst the numerous retainers of the court, there was a youth called Guiscard, who, though of low birth and mean connexions, had, by means of the beauty of his person, his gentle and polite manners, and well-known courage, been taken great notice of by Tancred, and at length raised from extreme poverty to be his constant attendant, in quality rather of companion than page. With this youth Sigismunda fell passionately in love, as was not much to

be wondered at: and he, from the first moment he had seen Sigismunda, had scarcely dismissed her image from his mind, but knowing the vast distinction of rank between himself and the Princess, it had never entered into his head that his love could ever be ought else but a fruitless romantic attachment, which he must conceal within his heart from the eyes of all the world. Thus affairs stood some little time; each loving in secret, without the consciousness of being beloved in return, and each despairing of that which despair alone rendered impossible. But it is the nature of all passion, more especially of love, to be always in motion, increasing or decreasing, and so it fell out, (and let not the gentle lover, Knight or Lady, blame the poor girl for her rashness,) that Sigismunda, becoming more and more enthusiastic in her devotion to Guiscard every time she saw him, and perceiving that the dignity of her rank constrained her to make the first advances, resolved at length to drop somewhat of the reserve usual to females in these matters, and contrive, by means of a stratagem, to make known the condition of her heart to the young and amiable, but humble, object of her affection. To this end she wrote a letter, containing minute instructions to Guiscard of the mode which he should adopt of procuring an interview with her on the following day, and concealing it within a hollow cane or tube, which, in that country, is used for the purpose of blowing a fire,' she sportively presented it to him, with these words :-“ If you are wise you will make use of this cane to kindle a flame at home.” The youth took it, and reflecting within himself that Sigismunda would not have given him such a present without some hidden meaning, he went to his own house, and, finding upon examination that the cane was cut through on one side, he opened it, and discovered the letter, and read it, and blessed his stars for his good fortune, considering himself, not without some appearance of reason, as the happiest man living. The means of accomplishing the proposed plan of meeting now occupied all his thoughts.

Now, adjoining the royal palace, there was a grotto excavated in the mountain, which had been used in former days for purposes of war and rapine, and into which a scanty light descended through an aperture at the top, which aperture, however, owing to its having been for many years entirely abandoned, was now, in a great measure, choked up by thorns and wild bushes growing there. Into this grotto a secret staircase led from that part of the palace in which the Princess herself had taken up her particular residence, though it had been so entirely disused for a great length of time, that most probably not a person in the palace remembered its situation, or even its existence. But Love, to whose eyes nothing is so hidden that it will not become manifest,

had turned the ardent imagination of the enamoured maiden to benefit by this ancient prison, or receptacle for booty. She employed herself many days in effecting an opening into the staircase, which had been guarded by a large massy door, and having at length descended into the grotto itself, she calculated the height from the ground to the opening, and told Guiscard in her letter the result, and whither he was to betake himself, and at what time, to accomplish the intended interview. Accordingly, the youth procured a rope-ladder of sufficient strength and length, and protecting himself from the thorny bushes at the opening by a coat of leather, without letting another soul into the secret, went by night to the mountain, and, having fastened his ropes to a stump of a tree, descended safely and quietly into the cavern below. The next day the maiden pretended to her damsels that she wished to sleep, and having caused them all to retire, and fastened her chamber door inside, she opened the staircase entrance, and flew down into the grotto, where Guiscard expected her. Need I describe the rapturous expressions of love and joy which burst forth from the happy pair on their first embrace? Need I say that Guiscard fell at the Princess's feet, and swore eternal fealty to the Sovereign of his Heart, and that Sigismunda, half blushing and half smiling, bade him not swear lightly, for that Love was a tyrant, and would not endure or pardon rebellion? After their first emotions were a little subsided, the maiden conducted her lover into her apartment; and, taking their seats by the side of a window, which commanded all the romantic country and seaview around Salerno, they mused in sweetest melancholy upon their unequal lot in life, which forbade their openly avowing their attachment to the world : and the Princess often sighed, and wished she had been born a shepherdess; and the youth as often responded to her look by an aspiration that he could have been able to have demanded her hand as a Prince. At length, by a simultaneous movement of their feelings, the idea of a secret marriage suggested itself; and, when once either had taken the courage to communicate it to the other, it was immediately determined upon, and the means alone formed the subject of their doubts. Guiscard was nephew to an aged priest, whose godchild he was, and with whom he was an absolute favourite. After leaving the grotto with the same precautions as before, he flew to this priest; whom, after long entreaty and much argument about the danger and propriety of such a step, he engaged to attend him to the mountain the next night; and, having let themselves down by the ladder, they waited but a few minutes, until Sigismunda, arrayed in white, and resplendent with jewels, made her appearance with a torch. Upon Guiscard's expressing his surprise at seeing her so richly dressed, she said, “ I was

02

2605633

willing to do our nuptials all the honour which I could have bestowed upon them if they had been open and notorious ; for, dearest Guiscard, this rugged grot and single torch, sanctuary and light as they are of genuine love, please me, far better than gilded roofs and ten thousand lamps, when they only serve to add the weight of splendor to that of sorrow.” This tender speech filled the heart of her lover with the softest emotions; and he thought that he had never, to this moment, loved the beautiful creature before him with half the fervour and devotion of soul with which he now felt himself animated. The aged priest shortly placed their hands within each other; and, faintly chaunting a Latin service, and pronouncing a benediction upon the lovers, bade them ever, in all holiness and sincerity, protect and defend each other, and know no change of affection to the end of their lives. "

It was two months after their marriage, whilst they were yet intoxicated with their own perfect happiness, and fondly believed it would last for ever, that Fortune, envious of so much and so pure delight, determined to crush the opening blossoms of their garden of bliss, and in an instant sweep away with a hurricane all the airy illusions of the love-created Elysium. To understand how all this came to pass, you must know, gentle Reader, that Tancred delighted so much in his daughter's company, that he very frequently went without attendants into her apartment, and would spend many hours in conversation with her, and take great pleasure in hearing her play upon the guitar, upon which instrument she was accounted an excellent performer. Now it happened one day that the Prince, after dinner, took it into his head to pay one of these visits to his daughter; and finding, upon entering her apartment, that she was amusing herself in the gardens with her maidens, he was not willing to call her away from her diversion; but, perceiving the windows all closed, and the curtains of the summer couch let down, he sat himself at the foot of the said couch upon a cushion, and, reclining his head against the side of the frame, and drawing the curtains over him, he fell sound asleep. Soon after this, Sigismunda softly entered the room without her attendants; and, not perceiving her father, proceeded immediately to open the door of the grotto staircase to admit Guiscard ; whom, as the Fates were determined to destroy them, she had appointed to meet her that day. Guiscard was there; and, going to their favourite seat by the window, which they opened, they were absorbed in fond questions and eager answers, and indulging in the chaste and innocent endearments of nuptial love, until upon Guiscard's saying, with an animated tone of voice, " My dearest wife, let us fly from hence, and live in humble liberty;" and accompanying the speech with

a kiss upon her cheek, Tancred awoke, saw the action, but heard not the words, was struck dumb with astonishment; and was at first upon the point of rushing forwards with his drawn sword upon the couple, but the natural hesitation attending old age checked him, and he determiņed to remain concealed, and make sure of his victim by other means; and, besides, he was anxious to spare his daughter's reputation as much as possible. The two lovers continued a long time in the same manner repeating their caresses, until, upon its growing dark, they separated ; Guiscard to the grotto, and Sigismunda to call her maidens. In this interval Tancred emerged from his hiding-place; and, being willing to escape observation, he let himself into the garden from a small window which communicated very nearly with the ground, by a flight of steps, to another window below. Upon his return to his chamber he gave loose to his restrained indignation and deadly sorrow; for it seemed to him certain that his daughter had dishonoured herself, and that with one of such low and ignoble condition, as aggravated the disgrace. Inflamed with rage, he gave orders that two of his guards should watch the egress of the grotto, through which he immediately conjectured that Guiscard must make his escape, and strictly enjoined them, at all hazards, to bring him alive into his presence; which was shortly after accomplished: for though Guiscard was strong and brave, yet, being taken unexpectedly, with such odds, and encumbered with his leathern dress, he could make no effectual resistance. Upon being brought into his presence, Tancred gazed upon the prisoner ; and, hardly refraining from tears, from the recollection of his past affection for the youth, and the fate which now awaited him, said—" Guiscard, my kindness towards you did not, methinks, deserve the outrage and the shame which you have inflicted upon me, and of which, alas ! I myself have this day been an agonized witness.” To which Guiscard replied nothing but this :-“ Love was more powerful than either you or myself.” Tancred upon this ordered him to be removed quietly into some inner chamber, and there guarded until further orders; which was instantly performed. The next day (Sigismunda all this while knowing nothing of the fate of her husband), Tancred ruminated for many hours upon his future conduct towards his daughter; which ended at length in his going about the same hour as in the preceding evening to her apartment; and, having closed the door, and called her to him, he took her hand for a moment in silence, then let it go; and, withdrawing himself somewhat from her, burst into a passionate fit of weeping, to the amazement of Sigismunda : in a few minutes, however, he recovered himself; and, with a distressed, yet kind tone of voice, he began thus :-“ Sigismunda, supposing as I did, that I knew your virtue and sincerity, it would never have

« AnteriorContinuar »