“Nay, but swear, your highness. By my halidame, if it should ever be known that I said it—why, truth is truth, I do not think my Lady Isabella ever much affectioned my young lord, your son—yet he was a sweet youth, as one should see. I am sure, if I had been a princess—but bless me! I must attend my Lady Matilda; she will marvel what is become of me.”

“Stay!” cried Manfred, “thou hast not satisfied my question. Hast thou ever carried any message, any letter?”

“I! good gracious!” cried Bianca; “I carry a letter? I would not to be a queen. I hope your highness thinks, though I am poor, I am honest—did your highness never hear what Count Marsigli offered me when he came a-wooing to my Lady Matilda?”

“I have not leisure,” said Manfred, “to listen to thy tales. I do not question thy honesty; but it is thy duty to conceal nothing from me. How long has Isabella been acquainted with Theodore?”

“Nay, there is nothing can escape your highness,” said Bianca: “not that I know anything of the matter. Theodore, to be sure, is a proper young man, and, as my Lady Matilda says, the very image of good Alfonso: has not your highness remarked it?”

“Yes, yes,—no,—thou torturest me,” said Manfred: “where did they meet? when?”

“Who? my Lady Matilda?” said Bianca.

“No, no, not Matilda; Isabella. When did Isabella first become acquainted with this Theodore?”

“Virgin Mary!” said Bianca, “how should I know?”

“Thou dost know,” said Manfred, “and I must know; I will.”

“Lord! your highness is not jealous of young Theodore!” said Bianca.

“Jealous! no, no: why should I be jealous? perhaps I mean to unite them, if I were sure Isabella would have no repugnance.”

“Repugnance! no, I’ll warrant her,” said Bianca: “he is as comely a youth as ever trod on Christian ground. We are all in love with him; there is not a soul in the castle but would be rejoiced to have him for our prince—I mean, when it shall please Heaven to call your highness to itself.”

“Indeed,” said Manfred, “has it gone so far? oh, this cursed friar! but I must not lose time:—go, Bianca, attend Isabella; but I charge thee, not a word of what has passed. Find out how she is affected towards Theodore: bring me good news, and that ring has a companion. Wait at the foot of the winding staircase: I am going to visit the marquis, and will talk further with thee at my return.”

Manfred, after some general conversation, desired Frederic to dismiss the two knights his companions, having to talk with him on urgent affairs. As soon as they were alone, he began, in artful guise, to sound the marquis on the subject of Matilda; and finding him disposed to his wish, he let drop hints on the difficulties that would attend the celebration of their marriage, unless— At that instant Bianca burst into the room with a wildness in her look and gestures that spoke the utmost terror.

“Oh, my lord, my lord!” cried she; “we are all undone! it is come again! it is come again!”

“What is come again?” cried Manfred, amazed.

“Oh, the hand! the giant! the hand!—support me! I am terrified out of my senses,” cried Bianca; “I will not sleep in the castle to-night. Where shall I go? my things may come after me to-morrow—would I had been content to wed Francesco!—this comes of ambition.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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