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down, as it were, upon the crowd with lightning speed. I shuddered as I watched them, for I thought the people in the street could not see or hear them. There was no cry of signal or alarm as the horsemen flew along; the mass of people moved back as if by instinct, clearing a little circular space, which moved along with the rapidity of the horses through the crowded multitude. Still the leaping of the dancers, the bantering, joking, singing and laughing went on as before; the Corso was no more open for the race of the horses than it had been. Soon from my high position I saw again the troop of dragoons, returning. The crowd, intoxicated with the excitement and merriment, seemed to languish laughingly back from before the very horses' hoofs, and fall in behind them, as if the street were as safely theirs as the floor of a ballroom. 'Surely,' thought I 'these people will be killed when the horses are let loose!' Their recklessness made me weary. I knew that every moment we might expect the signal-gun and the foaming, maddened steeds, but still the people kept up the constant crowded sway up and down and across, tossing flowers, exchanging noisy salutations and harmless blows, and apparently forgetting that the race was still to come. Suddenly the gun sounded, and it made the blood tingle through my veins. Hardly daring to look out, I glanced far up the street and saw a narrow light line of pavement rapidly opening down through the mass of people, as though a sword, unseen but not unfelt, were cleaving its way through the street. In this narrow passage came rushing, as though on wings, six maddened horses, with their colors fluttering from their manes, and sharp pieces of metal attached to the girt by strings, beating against and piercing their flanks. They passed beneath me like a flash, blinded by their speed, only following in their terror the opening space before them, which closed up immediately as they passed. The crowd cheered with shouts and clapping of hands, as though the poor animals understood and enjoyed their applause, and the noise and fun went on, if possible increasing in violence, while the shades of evening gradually fell and the day was drawing to its close.
I remember the hour that followed as one of the happiest I ever knew. I did not indeed feel that deep, strong emotion of happiness which in rare moments of one's life stirs our deepest feelings, and is caused by some event of great importance, or uncommon interest, but rather that easy, careless, cheerful content; that little tremulous excitement of hope and passion; that sympathy with every thing glad about me; that consciousness of secret joy within, as well as overflowing good-nature without; that care-absorbing, soul-enlivening pleasure which rests on the heart like the sun-set on a river. Such was the happiness that I felt as I stood in my window that evening, when Joe came home and found me, and we both remained watching the 'mocoletti,' which, like little stars, began to glimmer forth, one after another, up and down the Corso.
Joe, too, was in good spirits, and inclined to talk. He made no inquiries about my adventures of the day, but rather described his long and pleasant stroll, and told me of the letter he had just received from home, with a delightful budget of news about our dear and distant friends. We were so absorbed
in this ever-pleasant and refreshing subject of thought and conversation that our attention was quite withdrawn from the Corso and its brilliant scene. When again we looked from the window, a sight greeted our eyes such as not often even the Romans see, so uncommonly brilliant was the illumination which ended the street festivities of the Carnival of 1859. Every window and balcony shone with its galaxy of golden stars, and the street was as a turbid sea of glimmering lights. The carriages had again begun to course up and down, the riders all bearing lighted candles, which illuminating the strange figures of the maskers, produced a most unnatural, dream-like effect. Every where were heard the merry cry, 'Sanza 'l moccolo!' and hats and handkerchiefs were waving and crossing in the attempt to extinguish one another's lights. The rude crowd jostled about the street, running from side to side, under the very horses' feet, jumping on the backs of carriages, and raising a din which quite completed the demoniacal effect of the scene. The strange forms of the Polincinelli were seen fluttering in their white ruffles and wing-like sleeves, like terrified ghosts, running wildly through the crowd, beating those whom they passed with the long skin-bag, blown up with air, which they carried in their hands, and now and then dexterously leaping along with a violent spring from man, horse, or carriage, whatever they placed their hands on. The common lanterns had been removed from the gas-posts, and in their place burned a beautiful arrangement of jets, which formed broad streams of light on either side the street, and illuminated it with the brilliancy of a ball-room. Thus shone the gay and brilliant hour of the moccoletti, giving, as a last vision of the Carnival, the most spectral, strange, and beautiful of all. We stood in our window watching the moving mass, fluttering our handkerchiefs, fastened to our canes, about the neighboring balcony, and joining our voices with the cry, 'Sanza'l moccolo,' until, at length, the lights began gradually to lessen in brilliancy and number, and the song, loud and uproarious, but pleasing to hear, rose from the vast multitude, 'Buona Sera,' from the 'Barbiere di Siviglia.' Every one knew and could sing the simple air, and so appropriate, hearty, and good-humored was the song, that it lent an indescribable charm to the closing scene of confusion and tumult. 'And now,' said Joe, 'let's go to dinner; surely carnival is over for both of us,' and he drew my arm in his, and led me from the window.
'Ah! not yet, not quite yet, Joe,' said I, and added with mock seriousness, 'Our paths still diverge - you go to dinner, I to the mask-ball.'
'You are not in earnest!' said Joe almost imploringly. 'Well, well, my boy, you are deep in it, I must say. I shall, at any rate, sit up for you tonight, and expect you to give a full account of yourself. After it's all over, you know, you can tell me, won't you?'
'I certainly will, Joe,' said I, pressing his warm hand in mine; 'to-night you shall know all.'
My voice trembled with the emotions of happy expectation for the evening and my earnest friendship for Joe, who I thought felt that I was treating him coolly in my enthusiasm in the pleasures of carnival.
Remember, then, and don't stay out all night. I shall await you when
the clock strikes twelve, with open ears and a steaming punch-bowl!' and with this promise, which seemed too kind in Joe at this time, he left the room, and I proceeded to dress for the ball.
My mind now returned with full, fresh ardor and enthusiasm to the thought of my bella donna, and of what awaited me that evening. Again and again I read the mysterious little billet, to assure myself that I was not deceived, that she herself had written it, had the same as asked me to meet her at the ball. Who was she really, without mask and not in carnival season? Had she ever seen me? did she know me personally? who would be there of my friends? could I be recognized? All these and many other questions followed in rapid succession through my mind, which was too confused to answer them, and only absorbed in one idea, that of meeting and speaking with the beautiful Italian.
I took a hasty lunch in my room, for I could not have eaten dinner, and drained a few glasses of Marsala, and, it being already late, hastened down into the street. A few voices were still reëchoing the pleasing strain of song, which had lately swelled, with the roar of the multitude, through the street; and occasionally a carriage passed along, occupied with the graceful figures of girls, arrayed in their white dominoes, which, as they shone in the yellow light of the still burning moccoli, reminded one of the vestal virgins, who carried torches in Rome's procession long, long ago. Now and then a gay costume passed me, or a group of chattering maskers on their way to the ball. I fell in with one of these companies, unnoticed among the various and more eccentric characters, and hurried along the narrow and dark street that leads to the Theatre Apollo. With trembling hand I gave up my ticket, and lifted for a moment my mask to the guard at the entrance, and passing in with many others, found myself in a brilliant world of light, beauty, and entrancing sound. My heart beat quick with excitement as I thought of the numbers '5, 2,' and yet I hardly dared look toward the box thus indicated, for fear of finding myself deceived and disappointed. But after wandering about in a dreamy, bewildered state of mind, until I had twice made the circuit of the floor, I ventured to lift my eyes to the second tier of boxes, and began to count from the stage. One-two-three! - a thrill shot through me, as my rapid glance then caught the vision of my enchantress, more queenly and splendid, I thought, than ever before, and, best of all, alone!
The object of my dreams, my fervent anticipations, was thus at length before me, within my power to attain. There she sat awaiting me, her head reclining on her hand, and partly concealed by her fan, while she seemed to be listening to the delicious strains of music which came from the orchestra. It is not strange that I hesitated, that I quailed a little at the thought of presenting myself to her, of breaking over all the rules of society to which I was accustomed, and losing, almost my identity, in the customs and privileges of the Carnival at Rome. But my hesitation was for a moment only, a glance at my brilliant disguise, and the consciousness that I was masked, relieved my mind, and I hastened up the stairs, and along the corridor, and, without knocking, abruptly entered the box, and placed myself beside the fair unknown. The
bravado of my entrée was the key to my entire success for the evening; I forgot embarrassment, all responsibility or consequence, and gave myself up to the intoxication of the present moment. My inamorata received me with a grace and ease of manner which at once relieved and delighted me, telling me that she had been awaiting me some time, and correcting me for my want of punctuality. She pointed to the clock over the stage-curtain, and said laughingly Only two hours of carnival remain; you were not anxious to improve them.' It were vain for me to attempt to tell now in slow and clogging words that which passed so quickly and strangely and dreamily that night; that I was then hardly conscious of where I was, what I saw and heard. I only know that I felt a passionate love glowing within me, increased every moment by the admiration with which I recognized the genius, the refined intelligence and cultivation, the splendid wit, and the dignified though familiar deportment of my incognita. I only remember now that we sat together, leaning on the cushioned railing, carelessly watching the gay and brilliant assemblage of dancers, and listening to the music of the orchestra, which seemed to me to have a depth of feeling and meaning in it such as I never knew before; while in a low tone of voice we talked of things which older acquaintances than we would have hardly dared venture upon in any other than carnival time. We talked of beautiful Italy, of the warm-hearted people, of their merry festas in general, and their glorious Carnival in particular. Of the transient visits of the forestieri, of friendships quickly made and long enduring, and the reverse; of art, of the drama, and of dancing, and finally of music. Equally enthusiastic on this subject, we expressed our opinion with a depth of emotion which on that occasion was excusable, but elsewhere would have been most amusing. I almost forgot while I talked with her what a stranger she was to me, and I to her; it seemed so much as if she had known me a long time, and knew just what subjects would interest me. If it should seem strange to my reader that we talked of any such out-door subjects as these, instead of searching each other's hearts more deeply and directly, I hardly need explain that it was not from choice altogether that we talked of Italy and art and music. Whoever has been in a similar situation knows that for appearance's sake, to relieve embarrassment, to prevent a pause, one must talk, while the heart's silence is still unbroken, and its happy flood of feeling is content to ebb and flow, unheard and unseen, save where it gleams through a careless word of jest, or a glance of the eye, or a touch of the hand. Our well-conducted stage-play of words, however, became at length dull, and we relapsed into a silence, to me a blissful dream. The music worked its magic spell upon us both, and for some moments we spoke not a word, but sat listening with our heart to the strains which, 't is true, guided the dancers' feet, but was at the same time to be burdened with the delicious melancholy of love. Suddenly my companion spoke: 'The music makes you sad as well as thoughtful ? '
'I am thinking,' said I, 'of the glow of brightness which all our pleasures put on when they leave us. In all this splendor there is a sadness of death!'
'Alas! it is the death of the Carnival, and all that the Carnival brings, my fair page!' said she, with a half-serious, half-mocking tone; 'but the dancers do n't
think of this! It always makes me sad to listen to dance-music, while I myself sit still.'
'Will you then waltz?' said I fervently, delighted with the hint she had thrown out.
'Willingly, for a few turns,' replied she, with a smile, as she slowly rose from her chair, and placed her arm in mine.
I trust that it will not be thought vanity in me if I say, that it was the proudest moment of my life, when with my arm around her waist, we swept out upon the smooth floor, and noticed, admired by every one, we mingled with the company of waltzers, carelessly winding our mazy path, borne along, as it were, on the notes of the music. A dizziness came over me, not enough to make me uncomfortable or unsteady on my feet, but making my vision confused, and shutting out the practical reality of life, it lifted me higher into a blissful, ideal world. I know not how long we wound our circles through the crowd, nor do I remember what my partner said to me, as with a stately grace she moved around, with one fair hand leaning on my shoulder, the other held in my own, and our masks often almost meeting. Suddenly she became dizzy, and begged me to stop, at the same time pointing to the clock, which had struck the third quarter after eleven. 'I must dance no more,' said she, as she proceeded to walk about the outer circuit of the floor, with her arm still in mine; it is nearly twelve, and we must soon part.'
'But you will surely let your devoted page accompany you to your home?' said I with much confidence.
'I am otherwise accompanied,' replied she abruptly; 'I did not come alone.' 'Then I have to thank you most deeply for your gracious acceptance of my attentions,' said I laughing. We walked on awhile in silence. I knew that the moments were rapidly flying, and I felt that there was yet something untold, which, before we should part, I must disclose. 'And must it all end here?' said I, as though I were but speaking aloud the inward thoughts of both; 'the evening has been too short!'
'In a year will come another,' gayly responded she; 'it would not be well for such evenings to be frequent.'
'But indeed this may be for us, if you but say the word. My happiness has depended little on either the dance, the assemblage, or the music. Is not a parlor as good as a box?'
'Ah! but you are too presuming, my fine page; your gallantry, which once was so wanting, is now getting beyond bounds. I trusted that you would not take advantage of my indiscretion in lifting my mask.'
'A thousand pardons, my fair incognita, for my rudeness,' said I fervently, 'but I really don't understand you. My want of gallantry —'
'There are but a few moments left,' said she hurriedly, and pressing closer to my side, and I will explain quickly. I was really sorry that I offended you, and willingly complied with your request to lift my mask. Your cool reception of my note, and your silence to this moment on the subject, have troubled me considerably; and knowing that you strangers do not understand the Italians, I feared you would think me rude and cruel. I was the more un