Chapter 25

Valperga taken.

After the departure of Tripalda, Euthanasia remained long on the battlements of her castle, watching the men who were employed in repairing and erecting some outworks for its defence. Every now and then she heard a murmuring near her, a slight noise, and then a voice which said—‘Aye, that will do; this helmet is still too large, I must find some way to cut it round the edges.’

Looking up, she saw at a small window of one of the projecting towers the Albinois, who appeared furbishing and repairing arms. ‘Are we so straitened for men,’ she said, ‘that you are obliged to turn armourer, my poor Bindo?’

‘Not an armourer, but a soldier, lady; tomorrow I gird on my sword for your defence.’

‘You, and a sword! Nay, that is impossible; you must not expose yourself to danger, where you can do no good.’

‘Countess, have firm hope; I have learned from the stars, that tomorrow is a fortunate day for us. I have visited the holy fountain; and, sprinkling its waters three times around, I have called on its saints to aid us: tomorrow is named as a lucky day for us and I will be among your defenders.’

He spoke earnestly; and so highly wrought were the feelings of Euthanasia, that, although at another time she might have smiled, she could now with difficulty repress her tears. ‘If you would defend me,’ she replied, ‘wait then near me; I will not indeed have you risk your life to no end.’

‘Why, Madonna,’ said Bindo, ‘should you care more for my life, than for those of the brave fellows who will tomorrow die for you? We shall succeed; but death will be among us; and tomorrow many a child will lose its father, and many a wife her husband, fighting for this heap of stones which can feel neither defeat nor triumph. I will be among them; fear not, St Martin has declared for us.’

There are moments in our lives, when the chance-word of a madman or a fool is sufficient to cause our misery; and such was the present state of Euthanasia’s mind. She hastily retreated to solitude, and in earnest thought tried to overcome the effect of the conscience-stricken wound which the Albinois had inflicted. We are distrustful of ourselves; so little do we depend upon our human reason, that, on the eve of any action, even the most praiseworthy, it will sometimes assume another semblance, and that will appear selfish wilfulness, or at best a distorted freak of the imagination, which, when we first contemplated it, seemed the highest effort of human virtue. It had appeared to Euthanasia her first duty to resist the incroachments of Castruccio, and to preserve the independence of her subjects. Now again she paused, and thought that all the shows this world presents were dearly bought at the price of one drop of human blood. She doubted the purity of her own motives; she doubted the justification which even now she was called upon to make at the tribunal of her conscience, and hereafter before that of her God; she stopt, and shivered on the brink of her purpose, as a mighty fragment of rock will pause shaking at the edge of a precipice, and then fall to the darkness that must receive it.

‘The earth is a wide sea,’ she cried, ‘and we its passing bubbles; it is a changeful heaven, and we its smallest and swiftest driven vapours; all changes, all passes—nothing is stable, nothing for one moment the same. But, if it be so, oh my God! if in Eternity all the years that man has numbered on this green earth be but a point, and we but the minutest speck in the great whole, why is the present moment every thing to us? Why do our minds, grasping all, feel as if eternity and immeasurable space were kernelled up in one instantaneous sensation? We look back to times past, and we mass them together, and say in such a year such and such events took place, such wars occupied that year, and during the next there was peace. Yet each year was then divided into weeks, days, minutes, and slow-moving seconds, during which there were human minds to note and distinguish them, as now. We think of a small motion of the dial as of an eternity; yet ages have past, and they are but hours; the present moment will soon be only a memory, an unseen atom in the night of by-gone time. A hundred years hence, and young and old we shall all be gathered to the dust, and I shall no longer feel the coil that is at work in my heart, or

  By PanEris using Melati.

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