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[Apartment in palace of Nina. Nina alone.]
Nina. Ever thus alone, mourning for him who loves me not; was ever heart so sad as mine. Oh, Adrian, couldst thou but return even for one short hour to thy poor Nina. [Enter Adrian, disguised.] Ha, who art thou that dares to enter here in such mysterious guise? Thine errand, quickly,—speak.
Adrian. Forgive me, lady, if I cause thee fear; I would have thee know me as a friend, one who will watch above thee, and seek to spare thee every sorrow. Dear lady, think me not too bold, for I have known thee long and have a right to all thy confidence. Thy husband was my nearest friend; and, when he left thee friendless and alone, I vowed to guard and save thee in all peril. Wilt thou trust me? See, I bear his ring,—thou knowest it?
Nina. 'Tis indeed his ring. Whence came it? Ah, hast thou seen him? Tell me, and I will give thee all my confidence and thanks [takes the ring and gazes beseechingly upon Adrian, who turns aside].
Adrian. He is well, lady, and happy as one can be who bears a cold, proud heart within his breast. He has cast away an angel who could have cheered and blessed his life, and sought to find in gold the happiness thy love alone could bring. He has suffered, as he well deserves to do. Spend not thy pity upon him.
Nina [proudly]. And who art thou to speak thus of him? Thou canst not judge till thou also hast been tried and like him deceived. He sought for wealth to bring him fame and honor; and when he found it not, what wonder that he cast aside the love that could not bring him happiness. Thou art no true friend to speak thus of one so worthy to be loved. And think not I reproach him for my lonely lot. Ah, no, I still love on; and if he wins the wealth he covets I can give my heart's best blessing, and so pass away that he shall never know whose hand hath crushed the flower that would have clung about his life and shed its perfume there [turns away weeping].
Adrian [aside]. She loves me still. I'll try her further [aloud]. Lady, idle tongues have whispered that when thy lord deserted thee thou didst find a solace for thy grief in a new lover's smiles. Perchance yon picture may be some gay lord who hath cheered thy solitude and won thy heart. I fain would ask thee.
Nina. Sir stranger, little dost thou know a woman's heart. I have found a comfort for my lonely hours in weeping o'er the face whose smiles could brighten life for me, or dim it by disdain and coldness. The face is there; my first, last, only love is given to him who thinks it worthless and hath cast it by.
Adrian [taking the picture]. 'Tis the Count, thy husband. Lady, he is unworthy such true love; leave him to his fate, and let not thy life be darkened by his cruelty and hate.
Nina. Thou canst not tempt me to forget. No other love can win me from the only one who hath a place within my heart. Let me cherish all the memories of him, and till life shall cease be true unto my husband. Now leave me, unknown friend; I trust thee for his sake, and will accept thy friendship and protection. I offer thee my gratitude and thanks for thy kind service, and will gladly seek how best I may repay it.
Adrian. Thanks, lady. Thou shalt find me true and faithful, and my best reward will be the joy I labor to restore to thee [kneels and kisses her hand].
Nina. Farewell, again I thank thee.
Adrian. So young, so lovely, so forsaken, who would not pity and protect. I will guard her well, and ere long claim the treasure I so madly cast away ere I had learned its priceless value. Nina, thou shalt yet be happy on the bosom of thy erring and repentant husband.
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