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  • The Beautiful Horror
    A Florentine Legend
    Page 2
    Continued from page 1

    "The Grand Duke has need of you at this hour?" the Duchess whispered, or rather hissed out between her closed teeth.

    "Why not?" answered Salviati, aloud. "All my hours are at his command."

    He bowed courteously, sprang into the saddle, and waved his hand in graceful adieu as he rode rapidly from the door.

    Even while he was speaking, the lady's fingers clutched the little package she had hidden in her pocket, and as she forced her white lips into a sort of smile, and strung unmeaning words together in idle talk, she could not relax her hold.

    The last guest turned to depart; then, without a second's pause, the casket tightly grasped in her trembling hands, she flew up the broad stair to her sumptuous chamber. A child, sleeping beneath a canopy of cerulean silk, was wakened by her sudden entrance, and lifted up its little face, flushed with the roses of sleep, and watched her with great, wondering blue eyes, like his father's. She pressed the spring of the morocco case, and shivering, gasping, gazed wildly upon something within. It was a countenance of child-like loveliness, shining out from amid the wealth of loosened tresses, as through a clond which the sunset had turned to gold. The eyes were blue, and had that pleadingly pathetic expression which told they had early been familiar with sorrow, though they seemed formed only to brighten with joy. And there was the long, slender throat, slender to a fault, which she had so often heard Salviati admire as an especial charm in womanhood. The Duchess raised her eyes; a mirror opposite reflected her own dark, pain-distorted face, her sunken, lustreless eyes, her thick, ungraceful throat. With a look of passionate despair, and a fierce cry, she flung down the miniature and stamped upon it, and tossed her arms above her head, and wheeling round as she staggered towards the bed, suddenly faced the amazed boy.

    "Oh, mamma, you frighten me!" he cried; "oh, don't! How ugly you look, mamma!"

    The word "ugly" had scarcely passed the child's lips, when she struck him upon the mouth.

    "Ugly! Ugly! Do I not know it? Do I not see it? Must even my own child tell me so?"

    Then she wept violently, and caught the boy in her arms, and caressed him with a sort of savage remorse until his sobs were hushed.

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    Ritchie, Anna Cora Italian Life and Legends. New York: Carleton, Publisher, 1870. 211-226

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