Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/39

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Jan. 2, 1864.
31
ONCE A WEEK.

"And why should you hate him? He is a very nice little man."

"And Beppo, perhaps, thought I seemed not to hate him—though I do! I do, Lisa!"

"And what if Beppo did think so? What right has he to object, I should like to know, if you liked the Corporal ever so much?"

"Because I told him once, Lisa, that—that—I—hated—all—men!"

"Meaning him in particular, of course. That is one way for a girl to tell a man that she cannot love him. That don't bind her, I suppose, always to hate all the men she ever sees."

"But I told him, Lisa,"—and here the little panting groans became out-and-out sobs, and the difficulty with the handkerchief became so complicated that the fingers began to twitch and jerk at it in impatient desperation,—"I told him that I did not hate him!"

"Giulia! you told him that you hated all other men, and did not hate him. Oh, Giulia! that seems to me very like the same thing as telling him that you did love him."

Then, at last, the flood-gates were opened, and the great pent-up deeps of poor Giulia's soul poured themselves forth.

"And I do!" she cried. "I do! I do! I do love him! I do love him better than all the world beside! And oh, Lisa, Lisa! I am so miserable—so very, very miserable. And I can do nothing but make misery for him! I could have kissed his feet when he was saying those dreadful things in the street, I could. Oh, Lisa! you don't know how good he is, and how true! And he thinks me false and worthless! Oh, me! oh, me! what shall I do? what shall I do? Oh, Lisa! I shall die! I shall break my heart!"

"And you do not care anything, then, for the Corporal?" said Lisa, much perplexed, but persisting in drawing her logical inferences, and putting two and two together.

"Lisa!" cried Giulia, turning on her with the air of an enraged tigress; "Lisa! how can you? I would tear him limb from limb, if it would do Beppo a service, or make him know that I was not false!"

"But why not tell him so, then? Why did you make him think, for these two years past, that you did not care for him?"

"What else could? do? And he rich, and his father's heir! And I living there upon their charity! And all of them watching me from morning to night to see if I so much as looked at him! To be told that I paid their charity by snaring the love of their son, because he was rich! My heart is breaking, Lisa—it is! but I would rather it should break, twenty times over, than live to hear that said. I wish I could die, Lisa! I wish I could die! But I am as strong as a horse!" she said, shaking her head, and stretching out, as she spoke, her two magnificently rounded and moulded arms in front of her, and gazing on them ruefully. "I wish I was tisica, and could die! Then Beppo might be told afterwards that I was not false, but loved him, oh, so dearly, so dearly! And then he would be free to forget me, and marry some rich wife, according to his father's will."

"But if you as good as told him that you loved him," persisted Lisa.

"But I did not. I told him there could never be any love between us: I told him that I would never love him. And now, must I not do all I can to make him believe me, and show him that I was in earnest? Must not I all the more make him think that I do not care for him, if I let him see how much I did care when I left Bella Luce? But it is very, very hard."

"I should tell him that I loved him," said Lisa.

"I cannot do it, Lisa. And you would not, if you had heard and seen the sneers and hints and all the cruel words that I have heard. I could not do it to save my soul. You will keep my secret, Lisa?" she cried suddenly, half getting up, turning towards her companion, and seizing her hand in her own: "you will keep my secret?"

"Of course I will, Giulia. Though I think you are wrong, your secret is safe."

"You promise—swear to me that you will breathe to no living soul what I have told you. I could not help telling you, because you were blaming Beppo, when it is I who ought to be blamed—only I."

"I swear to you that I will tell no one, unless you some day give me leave," replied Lisa.

"Ah! that time will never, never come in this world!" said Giulia, sighing heavily. "I must go in, or la Dossi will be wondering what has become of me. Are my eyes very red?"

"Yes, very; and you look like a ghost. You had better wash your eyes before you go to her; and tell her that the heat of the hall where the drawing was knocked you up. Good bye, dear! I shall see you again soon—perhaps this evening."

"Thanks, Lisa dear; come, if you can. But I hope Corporal Tenda will not come this afternoon. I should be more apt to cry than to laugh with him."

So Giulia let herself in with a latch-key; and Lisa returned down the great staircase