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Rest and food recruited the spirits and charms of Claudia; and when her benefactor saw her the next day, he was struck with admiration at her beauty. The signor was in the decline of life, and he had long determined never to marry; but though he had not rejected the favours of complying beauty, the
sin of seduction was one from which he was wholly free. The youth and innocence of Claudia called for protection, and he strove to quel the tumultuous emotions which her surpassing loveliness excited.
"It would be the act of a fiend, to take advantage of her situation (thought he), I will be to her as a father."
The illness of a nephew, whom he meant to inherit his fortune, called him at this time from his home, and Claudia remained under the care of Viletta, his housekeeper. The goodness of her master, his extensive charities, his ample fortune, were the continual subjects of Viletta's praise. In the short inter
view which Claudia had with the signor, she saw the admiration which she had inspired him with (for vanity is even more eagle-eyed than love), and most heartily did she wish that he might be the great signor destined to raise her from obscurity; any hope of his marrying her, she did not indulge, but she would have thought herself happy in being his mistress.
Montoni soon returned to Rome, and during his absence, Claudia had so ingratiated herself with Viletta, that she asked her master's permission to keep her as an assistant in the duties of her office.
"She is so apt, and so industrious (said the good woman), that I should find her a perfect treasure."
"Then you may suffer her to remain Viletta (said the signor); provide for her whatever may be necessary, and remember that I do not wish you to be sparing of expence."
Viletta carried this intelligence to Claudia, who heard it with delight; but for some time she saw little of the signor; a fit of illness, in which she assisted Viletta to nurse him, threw her more in his way; she had naturally a sweet voice, and she warbled some simple airs, with a degree of feeling and taste, that to the partial Montoni appeared surprising; the magic of her tones always chaced away his pains, and she was frequently employed to lull him to repose. At length he began to recover, though slowly, and every hour made the company of Claudia more necessary to him; but the languid state of his health, concealed from him the danger to which he exposed himself, and in one unguarded moment every good resolution gave way, and he became, as he imagined, the seducer of the young orphan.
This event introduced to his bosom a new guest; it was remorse, from whose terrible visits he had been hither
to free. "At what a price (thought he), have I purchased a transient pleasure; and what compensation can I make to the wretched victim of my unhallowed desires? The behaviour of Claudia, while it augmented his love for her, added to the weight of self-reproach,.. which was but too oppressive to his feelings. To provide for her amply, and to part with her immediately, was his firm resolve; but when, with well-dissembled sorrow, she implored not to be wholly banished his presence, when amidst her tears and her confusion, he thought he could perceive that she loved him, he was not proof against the wish she expressed to remain with him. He desired her to retire, and he began to consider the matter in a new light; that Claudia. loved him, he was strongly inclined to believe, but the pride of birth forbade him to transplant this lovely flower into that soil, where she would bloom, and which she would ornament. "Yet, if she loves me (thought he), what injury can our con
nexion be productive of to her? All that love and splendour can bestow she shall command." "Can either compensate for loss of innocence ?" whispered Conscience; but her voice was. drowned by the stronger one of passion, and Montoni made Claudia an offer of becoming his mistress. She accepted it with the greatest satisfaction; and the deceived Montoni thought that her love for him had reconciled her to a life of infamy.
The first masters in Rome were engaged by the signor for the instruction of his Claudia, whose progress in every accomplishment was his pride and delight. Well had it been for this evilminded woman, had her natural disposition been capable of cultivation, but she was a rare example of inherent depravity; the benefits which Montoni lavished upon her, made not the smallest impression on her heart; shé had never liked the signor, and a new passion, which superseded even avarice