Chapter 5

Every reflection which Manfred made on the friar’s behaviour conspired to persuade him that Jerome was privy to an amour between Isabella and Theodore. But Jerome’s new presumption, so dissonant from his former meekness, suggested still deeper apprehensions. The prince even suspected that the friar depended on some secret support from Frederic, whose arrival coinciding with the novel appearance of Theodore seemed to bespeak a correspondence. Still more was he troubled with the resemblance of Theodore to Alfonso’s portrait. The latter he knew had unquestionably died without issue. Frederic had consented to bestow Isabella on him. These contradictions agitated his mind with numberless pangs. He saw but two methods of extricating himself from his difficulties. The one was to resign his dominions to the marquis.—Pride, ambition, and his reliance on ancient prophecies, which had pointed out a possibility of his preserving them to his posterity, combated that thought. The other was to press his marriage with Isabella. After long ruminating on these anxious thoughts, as he marched silently with Hippolita to the castle, he at last discoursed with that princess on the subject of his disquiet, and used every insinuating and plausible argument to extract her consent to, even her promise of promoting, the divorce. Hippolita needed little persuasions to bend her to his pleasure. She endeavoured to win him over to the measure of resigning his dominions; but finding her exhortations fruitless she assured him, that, as far as her conscience would allow, she would raise no opposition to a separation, though without better founded scruples than what he yet alleged she would not engage to be active in demanding it.

This compliance, though inadequate, was sufficient to raise Manfred’s hopes. He trusted that his power and wealth would easily advance his suit at the court of Rome, whither he resolved to engage Frederic to take a journey on purpose. That prince had discovered so much passion for Matilda, that Manfred hoped to obtain all he wished by holding out or withdrawing his daughter’s charms, according as the marquis should appear more or less disposed to co-operate in his views. Even the absence of Frederic would be a material point gained, until he could take further measures for his security.

Dismissing Hippolita to her apartment, he repaired to that of the marquis; but crossing the great hall, through which he was to pass, he met Bianca. The damsel he knew was in the confidence of both the young ladies. It immediately occurred to him to sift her on the subject of Isabella and Theodore. Calling her aside into the recess of the oriel window of the hall, and soothing her with many fair words and promises, he demanded of her whether she knew aught of the state of Isabella’s affections.

“I! my lord! no, my lord—yes, my lord—poor lady! she is wonderfully alarmed about her father’s wounds! but I tell her he will do well; don’t your highness think so?”

“I do not ask you,” replied Manfred, “what she thinks about her father; but you are in her secrets. Come, be a good girl, and tell me; is there any young man—ha!—you understand me.”

“Lord bless me! understand your highness, no, not I: I told her a few vulnerary herbs and repose——”

“I am not talking,” replied the prince, impatiently, “about her father; I know he will do well.”

“Bless me, I rejoice to hear your highness say so; for though I thought it not right to let my young lady despond, methought his greatness had a wan look, and a something—I remember when young Ferdinand was wounded by the Venetian——”

“Thou answerest from the point,” interrupted Manfred; “but here, take this jewel, perhaps that may fix thy attention; nay, no reverences: my favour shall not stop here:—come, tell me truly, how stands Isabella’s heart!”

“Well, your highness has such a way!” said Bianca, “to be sure; but can your highness keep a secret? if it should ever come out of your lips——”

“It shall not, it shall not,” cried Manfred.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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