Chapter 61305976

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Chapter NumberXV
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article61305976
Full Date1899-12-30
Page Number6
Corrections0
Word Count3027
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleClarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1889 - 1915)
Trove TitleFrom Convict to Countess
article text

All. RlQHTS XE8BRVED.

FROM CONVICT

TO COUNTESS.

A NOVEL BY DR. GREY.

Continued from Tuesday's issue.

CHAPTER XV. '

THE ESCAPE rnosi inn BniOAírDs.

Aurelia still abode in tho carri]), ¡md she began to »eek the society of the Englishman she wanted to know, , ' so she informed Eric about other lands,

other towns, other women-of course with the tact of her sex, she did not ask him about other, men-and ns there was no chango and no amuse- ment, and Eric had nothing bettor to do, he giive her long graphic descrip- tions of tho outside world. Ho found Aurelia liad a Btrong quick intelligence which gave her a firm grasp of auy subject. At tlie same, time she ap- peared; tb have no principle; as Enc said, sho was a beautiful panther.

Once or twice Eric thought lier eyes challenged his, and that her interest' and warmth of manner was more thau a mere thirst for information would explain j but lie could not feel certain about this. No doubt, be thought, ehe lins the faculty of an actress, mid .can counterfeit any feeling or passion

at will.

Two or three members of tho Band did not seem to approve that tho Englishman, should monopolise the pride of "tho camp, and scowling looks flushed out, and muttered threats wero caught by Kita dui Fiore, of which she . spoke to Eric, and told him to'be on

Ins'. guard, as a hostile feeling was ptrowiii» in the minda of eertniu Bandits towards him. So that Eric was relieved when word was' sent in

.' that tho money for tho ransom of tho prisoners hud arrived at Vilhxtu.ro, mid that in two days it would bo paid and the captives released.

This intelligence, whilo it gratified Brigands ¡md prisoners , alike, yet «¡cerned to have iv disturbing effect on Aurelia. Her mond* seemed variable, and to change 'continually.

Thc Siguoria .del Eiore carno in for n fair »hare of black look»-from s'omo occult CHUSO she always spoke of tho* lady in a mocking spirit,'und latterly there was a tinge of envy or bitterness in heir tone which was very noticeable. Eric had: tried without effect to enlist lier sympathy for Kita, Aurelia had un ono or two occasions come .down with her torch bearer Phillipp», and glanced into the prisoners' cave, after, they luid retired to rest,' and her stiug-. ing jest and bitter laugh wero not Agreeable to Eric, ami in list Kare been doubly painful to Hitit del Fiore. . .

Eric took Aurelia to task ono day, and suggested that whilo she was in . camp she ought to take Rita to her , own sleeping apartments. This Aur-(

elia'absolutely refused to do, saying that such an action on, her part was, tantamount to charging herself with ltita's protection-a chargo which she had. no intention of assuming-and concluding her blank denial of his requost with the assertion that'Bhe could not think of depriving him of such a charming companion, and that »ho felt Büro she would iucur ? the

Signora's displeasure did she even hint at Buch a thing. It was' quito evident that rio love was lost between tho two ladies.

. After having! listened to Eric's talk: with groat ' interest, and,; patîonce, Aurolia, in her ' turn,' had ; become lecturer, and "discoursed with" much animation of the charms of .liberty, and painted in lively.colours tho joys of-her wild life ¡ and sho asked Eric would lie not like to throw off the trammala of society and live unfettered and free. . *

. . f Seo, Signor Eric, how free, we are,

bow pleasant is lifo. Why, you could ' buy land on the edge ot the moun-

tains and livo;'amoiig us-wo would, npt'hurtyou.v ' Do you love freedom ? ' iii vis hero.. Do you .love wealth ? Nay, you have it." .

.' "Yes, Aurelia." " . .

..'<>-¿Then,-in a soft voice,-with a touch

"íilíd" a smile, "Do you 1OT*3 beauty? Then, Englishman, you can. have it for tho asking," laying her brown hand upon his knee.

Her tone waa half jost, half earnest, but lier eyes made unutterable promises, and there was a light in

thom which Eric did not care to meet.

Ho only said "The Deuce " under his breath,, and pulled his moustache in a brown' study as to what was the beBÍ thing to say next. . .

"I do not think;.ao, Aurelia," he said gravely ; " l am a stranger, and I have no friends among the maidenB of

this land."

"You pretend yo.u don't under- stand," sho, bitterly said. " Do you think, Signor Erie "-and her ' tone ; softened again-"that the women.of * this land are' like those you told me

of-cold, half-hearted. Do you think it takes-would take me a year to find . my heart, when- theS eye is satisfied ?

Do you, Signor ? " .'.' ,r ; '.

." Nay,'. howVshoúld;',I-vtell;, without experience, 'Aurelia? " '? ; ,' . - -,

"Experience, Signor!'V : She-laid her hiind.upon'her. tieart.'. ' " Yoit try me Borély : you talk' of 1 ack' of expert- . '-euee,"'.her. face .paled withremotion.,

" Bah ! " .with a muttered curse, her pain and jealousy becoming, too great to be concealed. " I know what it is that makes, you BO that you will not understand.- It ia because you prefer Kita del Eioro to me. Have not I; looked in on the lovers Bleeping side ' by Bide', and I sleepless, tortured.- I

would have killed you, but my hand refused to woild tho knife. "What

power was it that stopped me tolling Phillippo to put- his knife botween . your nbB. I waa not wont to bo BO weak; but. if my heart conquers me . and forbids my taking revenge on you

-if, you (and alie ground her teeth) \ have bereft me of all of my love, my

power, my pride, my revenge--I can . and shall be revenged on her. You

little know:-you little know," and her voice died away into an indistinct murmur. " Then you can keep and love her nh longer when: she is dis- graced." '.' '' v>\ :

"I love neither of you," Baid Eric,

chuted ,uud alarmed nt the passions displayed on her mobile features. ? " That is the Btrict truth, and I pledge you my honour to that. But who is to bo disgraced, Aurelia ? "

" Del Kore," she said, with, flashing eyes. " ' ? -

" Did "not your brother pledge his word, to deliver her up safe? "

"Signor, he promised- to let her go free,; only that ;~ it is often so among

theuv-" ? '--..

""Well, Aurelia?" . .

"Some of the men are wolves, Signor, nnd they have persuaded the rest that, since they have so much . gold from you, that they are rich enough for the-present ; that they would keep her at the camp and forgo

her ransom."

" "What did your brother say ? "

" He insisted ba the promise being kept.".

" Well, Aurelia ?"

"Signor, Bhe will go free," said Aurelia, hanging her head ; " but to-morrow night. Don't ask me any moro; I can't.tell you."

" She is not safe after to-night. Is that what you mean, Aurelia ? "

" Yes, Signor ; she is not safe."

" 2iqw, Aurelia, I ,havo heard you ; thou hear me. The man that touches .that woman Bhall die-"

"Ah!" she cried, " yet you any do not love her." ?_'...

" jSTor do I. Think for a moment, Aurelia. All men have not tho sanio ways, and I am a heretic; I cannot love a woman bf a different faith-but if that woman cries for help, ns,she will, help her I must, and help her my servant must. It is tho way with the

men of our race."

"Thoa you will? die, Signor Eric. Pietro and Bnptistii.hate you, because I lovo you ; lind they will kill you if there is a. struggle." ;

"I must do my duty by. a hapless woman, Aurelia,' cost what it limy.

How cnn I'dio better ?. "

"Alu is it sb, Signoiv It is mag- nificent ; but it is HO sad. It seems so Htrnnge, too, Ave minutes ago I could 'have: put-my knifo into the pair of you, and now-I will stand by your side and strike a blow¡' " But the pity of it, tho Band will ;bo split' up into two. factions ; blood'will, be spilt,'the money all: lost, and wo shall be.dead. How.; strange , it seems ; and we have no choice, you and I, we cannot help ..it ; it is our-fate. Terhaj^à when I .am" dying;'if you can, you will, put .your arm round me, Signor?-" "

I V.ii" Now, Aurelia, I; feel I cantruBt

you with !óúr:;liy«.\;:-::y^eTOver;I'bÍBj' either in thisienmp 'pr in-Tülaturorr; . it;mntíers. nQt~whére-I will pay over

'the ransom that has been agreed unto, tho ^ànd.'*Ç!àn\iyou' trust me-who never deceivedr"á%oman.' . Help lis to ; get tq Yillaturo to-njght, and you . shaU'have the money Pi',' : -> ,. , , Look at ine, Signor ? "

' 'i-Sh'o gazed intently into Eric's eyes.

''.f'Swéar.^Sigiiór' Eric, on-the Cross, ,that? /every~~word you. have, told. me. ÍB .ás true as the Virgin herself. Hore on the Cross."" .' '?"i^i-H'.W . ? She produced a gold cross from her bosom and placed it" in Eric's hand.

' ' ," Iiswear : it," he said, ."on the CrosB." ,-' ..«?'.-.V !<í;*.¡ '

." Then, Eric, I will' serveyou, ^ trust you, hot for gold; ;nor for the sake of the Band, nor for that girl's, sake nor fate, but for something else.:You do not and cannot love me, and you havo told me so plainly-well, tliei truth is. better' than lie's.. You could have deceived me if. you ; h'ad;;wished'; I would have believed you, It is au easy task to make a poor girl believo that which she wnnts to believe. It yeas to your ititerest .to stand well with me; so I know now. that though you are cold hearted you are truo. ; An; Italian in your position would have

lied to'me. And no\\vwhat':'shall I ?say?. - -lO. '''-;'?"'';

"Tell me, my heart,.'what shall I do .with this' man, who ;has rejected me finally, I may say'.with brutal truth, and no word of pity! or ot. hope. My . heart tolls me, Eric, that 1 must stive you for love's sake. I must Bavo you ' because 1 have given you all, and you have uothing to give. me. So I must - save? you . of my royal bounty, and

take nothing from you ; but your ring I must keep, don't ask'-it back, Eric? : . ?. '-.'.'?'': ??

" You must sleep in your cave, till I come for you to lead-you down the mountain track. Then make you all speed to Viilaturo ; löse not a inoment, for the Signora will travel slowly, at the end, and our. men, if they get upon your track, will overtake you, for they are UBed to the mountains. '. After

supper, sit in ybur^cave till I come.

,1 <s hull leave for home now, so as to , put suspicions from me. Do; not toll

the Signora anything, or she will lose her rest, and she; will want all ..tho sleep- she> can get for to-morrow.'So good-nighty Signor," shaking ' handsaB if she were bidding him farewell ; and then, she went to various members of

tho! Band, talking and laughing with . them, and presently, departed through

the gateway; and WUB lost to view. '?'

. Eric carefully followed the direc- tions given him hy Aurelia, and having imparted to Jim the news he lind' obtained, the prisoners laid themselves

down to rest.

Eric thought to himself that he had boen only a few minutes asleep

when a small soft hand was laid on his forehead, and he sat up. Then a shadowy form knelt by the Signora, and there' were whisperings, and a low gasp of horror. . Kita del Eiore rose

hurriedly, and Aurelia flitted bofore ? them to the portal of tho cave. For ,lunately, the opening faced the west,' and the moon was not high. So in deep shadow they 'slipped along tho clift, face into tho other cave, through the main hall ; then a turu to the right, down a winding deseoudiug piiBsage. Presently , the sound of falling water grew closer, and Aurelia Itch ted a - torch. The rocltB grow'

close Together, leaving only a narrow tracie, but the roof was invisible in the gloom. -It . appeared like a rift in the heart of the mountain. Almost im- mediately they came f tb a deep chasm which extended right across tho track.

A little stream of water fell from' a chasm above, and was lost in ono

below, as it wont splashing down the ! rocks into tho darkness. A strong plank, hinged to a block in the ground, stood upright.

" Take the rope which hangs down from the end of it," Aurelia said to Jim, " and lower the plank across

the hole."

When it was doue, she crossed, steadving herself by placing her hand

on tiie rocky wall opposite to the , falling stream of water. Tho plank vibrated under her weight,

.-"Come," she said, turning and holding the torch above her head so as to throw the light down upon the frail bridge. . " You had better come over one at a time. Signor Eric, do you como next ? " Eric passed in safety.

""Wait a minute," she said, as Rita prepared to cross. Eric, put your hand into that crevice in the rock, and pull out a pole that is there. Nb," she said smiling, " not that way. It is too long for tho width of tho passage ; raiso it endways to ? the roof. That is right; now run tho end along; the }>lank to Jim ; now then, you and Jim

îold it firmly a yard above the plank as aband rail for tho Signora. Now,. Signora, you can venture ; there is no dangori Come, see you aro safely over. "Were you afraid? "

"Nb," said del Kore, " I would die before I would stay there."

" I am glad to hear you speak with courage, Signora. I begin to think you are worth saving ; hut, forward."

Thejiassago presently contracted in width and height,' until they were creeping on thoirhands aud knees.

" Now,',' said Aurolia, as she stopped,

" we aro at ; the end of tlÜB passage':; I have only to remove a stono and.we shall, bo out olva shelf pf rock two. foot wide, with a precipico below us. Thu rock revolves on a pivot; tell

your man, Eric, to replace it when we. aro througlt."

She then turned aside tho stone and

squeezed through, passing to tho right

with some caution when outsido tho

passage. Tho others followed ono by oho into the moonlight, which flooded tho mountain walls with'light, and showed the party hanging on the sheer cliff hulE way between tho summit above and the 'depths below.

... ? " Keop vour face to the cliff, Eita,"

said Aurelia, "and your hand on the wall." ,* .

" She roao to her feet as sho spoke, and. bogan to crawl carefully, along the rough surfivco of tho shelf. Occasion^, ally tho cry of some hight bird or some displaced stone rolling .over the edge and bounding into tho depth below, made. them pause in their slow pro- gress. At times ;.the - shelving, path sloped downwards at such .a dangerous angle that Eric and Jim had to assist del Piora across these dangerous bits of track. ' At last, after'a time that seemed endless, the track widened, and Aurelia climbed over a flat rock some four feet high, and led them along the dry bed of a mountain stream; and now. ? ¿ho said,' stopping at a stony crossing place, ... We are où the moun- tain "track at last.' ' She turned to the left, andrapidly led /them down the' path they i had ascended when they wero captured.

" Come, push on," she said, in a low voice as she glided onwards and down- wards, scarcely discernable in the moonlight checkered by tho trees, " the hill will help us to get over the ground."

Por over' two' hours they travelled the downward winding path. Then Aurelia stopped.

"Here' is the via Romano, your road to AHlaturo. Eric, I have done all I can for you. Twenty miles will bring you to safety, and you will not

bo safe till you are there. Remember the woman will not travel BO fast as men."

"I will give you a parting memorial of our áco/uáintence-shall I say of our friendship. Surely that will bo a true word, i£ nothing moro." She drew a long knife with a jewelled hilt. "Keep it for the sake of me who loved aud served you with all her

heart." \

Rita drew near and put her arm

round Aurelia.

" You have saved me, Aurelia. If ever you are in trouble, come to me. "My husband and I will do to you as you have done to me." ;

"Good-bye, Aurelia," said Eric, taking her hand. "Think kindly of me, as I think of you. I »will neyér forget you. God bless you, and send you happy days."

"Go ! " said the girl, pointing down the path. "There lies your road. Mine leads apart from yours. Go ! Eric ; delay only makes parting more bitter to me, and time is precious."

She half turned away, paused a moment, and then flung her arms roung Eric'B neck .and kissed him passionately. "Adieu, my love, for ever!" and then was lost in the shadow of the trees.