By Erminia Bazzocchi Edit

Translated from the Italian, by E. Cavazza, for Short Stories 1892. 

A simple-minded youth, with his eyes on the stars and an unattainable love in his breast, unwittingly crushes a tender heart that has been laid at his feet. “I am listening to you," said Annella, bending her blond little head ; and Mario felt that her slender hand trembled in his. 

Who was Annella ? 

The beautiful widow of Count Giummi had found her one day, pale, desolate, and exhausted, beside a dead woman in a squalid, dark room. That dead woman was the aunt of the countess and the mother of Annella ; and the poverty which surrounded her was the sole inheritance of the fair young girl. 

Countess Giummi, rich, admired, and courted by the fine flower of aristocratic salons^ lived upon vanity and coquetry. But, in spite of that, she had a morsel of heart; and poor Annella's little white face had the power to draw two beautiful tears, more lucent than pearls, from her great, black, enchanting eyes. If the baron, the viscount, or the marquis could have seen those two pearls, surely they would have loved her even more than they did — so compassionate and tender did she seem amid the triumphs of her happy youth. 

That same evening Annella reposed in a soft bed, under a counterpane of pink silk, while at the balcony window, that she had left partly open, the moon peered in and laid a tint of pallor upon the rose-red divans of the elegant little room. 

Two years passed after that first tranquil sleep. Annella's beauty, which early privations and sorrows had almost withered in the bud, bloomed again as if by magic. It was a pleasure to see the radiant girl; a* slender little person, but with perfect curves of outline; the bust full, the throat of admirable softness, and the little head — oh, that dainty little head was like an artist's thought. Like a golden wave, the curling hair, which she wore unbound and floating, rippled down her shoulders; her eyes laughed with the color of the clear heavens under arching, delicate eyebrows, that were black against the whiteness of her forehead and gave a resolute expression to her beautiful countenance. Her small, rosy mouth was always smiling ; it was but a languid smile, and tinged with an expression of melancholy or bitterness. 

Now, after having sketched Annella's graceful figure, it seems strange not to be able to give it a background of bright colors. We know how much a brilliant setting adds to a gem, and certainly the Countess Giummi's beauty gained greatly by the luxury and richness of her dress and surroundings. A fashionable dressmaker, an artist in his line, dressed her with Parisian taste; a skilful young woman, who was maid and confidante together, combed the wealth of her dark hair, that touched the floor, and adapted to her shapely person stuffs, colors, flowers, and jewels. From their hands, the countess issued a true goddess of love ; and her shrine, gleaming with silks, marbles, silver, and crystal, increased the enchantment and rendered her marvellous to the eyes of visitors. 

Poor Annella! so simple in her little muslin gown; so timid in that rich house, not her own, how could she contend for the palm with that superb queen? And it is no new thing that the bright rays of the moon dim the placid light of the quiet stars. So the hundred gentleman that flocked into those gilded rooms had eyes only for the beautiful countess; and if they deigned to bestow a passing word or look on the timid girl, that was merely an act of homage to the reigning lady ; homage that showed their admiration for her charity to a dependent. They all knew, and from her own mouth, too, the countess had taken the forsaken orphan to this beautiful home and changed her sorrow to happiness. 

But was Annella really happy ? 

Her young heart thirsted for love. In her childhood she had been the one treasure of her poor mother, and, though she had often lacked bread, air, and sunlight, caresses were never wanting. She knew the sweetness of a kiss into which is transfused all a lovingsoul ; she knew the dual life, the breath mingled with another breath from a breast palpitating with tenderness. Yes, her mother's love had taught her all these things, and taught them to her in poverty. Then came fine times; abundance of everything, new amusements every day and every hour, noisy gayeties, and the luxury of carriages and dinners. But, strange to say, amid all this laughter of life, her heart was narrowed, closed ; she, indeed, no longer suffered from hunger, cold, or fear of worse misfortunes, but henceforth she had no one to love her, nor a simple object to call forth her own love, though she felt an overpowering need to bestow on some one all her warm impassioned soul. 

At first she had tried for this exchange of affection with her cousin, the magnificent countess. Alas! she had found her kind, courteous, generous, but frivolous, full of herself and her attractions, and incapable not only of feeling love, but even of comprehending it. 

Discomfited, Annella had looked about her, and, amid that array of faces, coats, and decorations that made a circle around her beautiful cousin, she. had sought and sought. An odd girl ! She had actually found those polished gentlemen empty and unsympathetic, although finely clad and unexceptionable from top to toe. How could she have dared to raise even her thoughts to the heights on which they moved ? Which of them would have deigned to descend to her, a poor little orphan, sheltered by the pity of her cousin ? 

Thus set apart and averse to all flatteries, she led her own life, amid the festivities and the constant noise and confusion of the house. 

But one evening she discovered among the crowd a newcomer — blond and handsome like herself, and like herself sad, timid, and embarrassed. At once a secret sympathy attracted her toward young Mario. It seemed to her that she might be able to comfort him with her words, for surely he cherished a deep sorrow in his heart, since his fine face never brightened with lively color, and his eyes often glistened as if with restrained tears. 

He welcomed sympathy so eagerly that it appeared as if he sought her, as if he came solely for her sake. And they soon talked freely together. After their first meeting, which was full of embarrassment to both of them, they passed all the reception evenings of the splendid countess together. Annella always awaited him with indescribable emotion, and when she saw him, appearing in the doorway, diffident and shy, all her life was concentrated in her heart, that beat, beat as if it would burst its bonds. Then with studied carelessness, he wandered through the rooms until he succeeded in placing himself at her side, from whence he did not stir until the last guests were about to leave. 

Mario had told the story of his life — ^his poor life of discomfort and isolation. He too was an orphan, brought up by strangers who had speculated upon his talent. By force of study and effort he had at last made for himself a position that had enabled him to demand his liberty in exchange for a monthly payment. Never, poor soul, had he tasted the sweetness of mutual love. 

Annella, in her secret heart, rejoiced at all this. For would it not be her privilege to give him the delights that he had never experienced, her task to make him forget the bitternesses of so many years, and to reward him for all his sufferings. At night how many dreams of this kind peopled the virginal little room of the young girl, and in fancy she saw herself already an adored wife, clasped to the gentle and noble breast of her beloved Mario. 

One thing, however, preoccupied her mind. When she met Mario for the first time, a cloud of sadness had veiled his attractive countenance, a sadness behind which she had perceived a deeply wounded heart. Of that wound Mario had never spoken to her, but the cloud had not passed away, notwithstanding the love that Annella breathed toward him from her eyes, her smile, her entire personality. And then, too, there was something else that she would have wished — indeed, she expected it every evening, and always vainly — the final outburst of Mario's love. He loved her — oh! she was sure of that — but why did he not tell her so? Of course, natural timidity — the fear of troubling her simple life. He was so noble, her Mario! But finally he must explain himself. Oh I and she would not stammer, in giving him a favorable answer; such d^yes would escape her lips — and then what mutual joy, what warmth in their future talks! Then she would be obliged to tell it to her cousin, and the kind countess would willingly consent. But why did he not speak to her ? 

One evening when they were alone in the shadow of the little yellow drawing-room, Mario suddenly let himself go, seized her trembling hand and murmured to her: " I will — I must speak to you — at last ! " 

And Annella, bending her fair head and almost suffocated with emotion, replied: " I am listening to you! " 

"Dear Annella," Mario began, "have you never asked yourself why I first came to this house ? " 

"How should I ? Chance, perhaps," murmured Annella, hardly able to contain her joy, while her heart cried out the answer, " For me, for me alone! " 

" It was not a chance, no— I came here conquered, led by passion alone. I loved and was wild with pain before I set foot inside the house," declared Mario. 

Annella trembled, not daring to interrupt him; but she would have liked to fling herself upon his neck without letting him finish, and to say to him amid a world of kisses, " Here is joy for you ! " But he continued : “ I loved, and to-day I love more than then; I suffered, and to-day I suffer more than ever." 

The girl started and looked, wide-eyed, at his face. Why did he speak of suffering ? Had he not understood her great love ? Or was he feigning, perhaps, in order to hear her confess it ? 

"Dear girl," and here Mario caressed her hand, "you, indeed, have comforted me, you have helped me to bear my grief; but now my anguish has reached the last degree — I know that my love will never be returned." 

" No, no, you mistake! " Annella involuntarily interrupted, bending toward him. 

" I mistake ? " he exclaimed, with hope beaming in his glance. " Why do you say so ? Do you know who it is that I love ? " 

And Annella, shame-faced and confused, stammered, "I imagine." 

"Well," continued Mario, bitterly, "if you know whom I love, you will have seen for some time that she not only does not even dream^ of this tempest in my soul, but she would never imagine that one so low would dare to lift his eyes to her. " 

What! was he going mad ? Why did he talk of descending ? And the girl, profoundly troubled, asked him quickly: " She ! Who ! " 

"Your cousin, the countess, of course." 

"Do you love her.? Her!" And Annella could say no more. She felt a chill like ice through her veins, a ringing in her ears; she saw sparks, shadows, before her eyes — then nothing. 

When she came to herself she was upon her bed, with the beautiful countess bending a little uneasily over her. 

" Oh, what was the matter ? " asked the countess ; “ have you quarrelled this evening ? " 

" With whom ? " said Annella, not yet quite herself. 

" With Mario, with your impassioned Mario, who I hope, will decide to ask me for your hand." 

"Ah! " exclaimed the poor girl, " Mario loves only you." 

" Me ! " replied the countess, with a haughty mien. " What a stupid man ! " And she went to the mirror to arrange the corsage of the scarlet gown that set off the marble whiteness of her perfect shoulders. 

Annella buried her face in the pillow, and drenched it with scalding tears. 

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