By the late CHARLES EDWARDS, Esq.

[MAGA. December 1826.]


“It is the Plague Fiend—the King of Fever!
Look! at his garments of the grave;
His bloodless lip, white cheek, and glassy eye!
See how he shoots, borne on his car of fogs, over our city!”

It was somewhere about the middle of the fourteenth century, or, to fix dates more precisely, in the autumn of the year 1343, that the great plague, described by various Italian writers, and especially by Boccaccio in his Decameron, for the sins or admonition of the Tuscans, fell upon the rich and beauteous city of Florence. The means by which this calamity, after spreading desolation through the Levant, and also through many of the maritime cities of Italy, was first introduced into Florence, have been matter of dispute. Some historians declare, that it first came in by the dealing of certain Jews; who introduced into the town, and bartered with the inhabitants, large quantities of condemned apparel—clothes belonging to the dead—which they had bought privately, getting them at a low market, in the infected city of Ancona. And of this suspicion, whether it was well or ill founded, the accused in the end bore the consequences; for, with only twelve hours allowed for preparation, in the fourth week of the disease, they were driven beyond the walls of the city; the streets in which they had dwelt being levelled with the ground, and themselves adjudged to death in case they attempted to return. Other writers, however, assert, on the contrary, that the malady itself was never “infectious;” but merely “endemic;” and that it was not imported at all, but arose from some malaria, or general predisposition to disease in the atmosphere. And certain it is, which so far goes to set up the theory of these last speculators, that the weather, during the whole of the spring and summer preceding the visitation, had been unusually close and sultry. Foul and offensive exhalations had proceeded, in a remarkable degree, from all pools, and fens, and marshes, in the neighbourhood of the city. The bed of the Arno, though afterwards replenished by sudden and heavy rains, had, at one period, sunk lower than the oldest citizen ever remembered to have seen it. Insects, moreover, in all fields and gardens, had appeared in numbers quite unprecedented; so as even, in many places, combined with the effect of the drought, entirely to destroy vegetation. And—a circumstance which still more attracted notice—the rats, both in the houses of Florence, and in the farms in the neighbouring villages, multiplied with such rapidity, and to such an excess, that all temporal remedies being found unavailing, it was thought necessary to have recourse to the aid of the church, and formally to excommunicate them. The success of this extraordinary measure, or how far it operated at all, does not appear; but the fact of its being applied, is distinctly stated in all the chronicles of the time. Notice was formally read in open church against the rats; that, unless they withdrew from all houses, wheat-stacks, barns, or granaries, in Florence and the vicinity, within four days from the date of those presents, process of “deprivation” would be issued against them. And a curious feature in the superstition of the time was, that the officer of the spiritual court, appointed to maintain the interests of all “non-appearing defendants,” interfered for the rats, and actually obtained leave to “enlarge the rule” for their departure, from four days to six, on the ground that the cats of the city, knowing of the order, would be upon the watch to intercept them.

During a considerable time, however, from whatever cause the distemper in Florence arose, it seems that the authorities of the state had presence of mind enough strenuously to maintain, that it was not the “plague.” The increasing deaths which occurred in the meaner and closer quarters of the city, were declared to proceed from the Typhus Carcerum, or putrid gaol fever. Cleanliness was recommended, and a cheap antiseptic process about all houses, and charitable distribution of wine and food by the richer citizens among the needy. Separation of the infected people from the sound, by removing them to distant hospitals, was in a few instances accomplished by force; and those who contradicted the official statement, or expressed their own alarm too obtrusively, were thrown into prison, here and there, as public agitators. But the truth, even by these expedients, was not long capable of being concealed. Some of the offenders who were sent to gaol for clamouring about the plague died of it in confinement, without waiting for the formality of a trial. The physicians who had attended the sick in the city began themselves to be attacked with illness; and hurried through their visits at the fever hospitals, in spite of their published certificates that nothing serious was the matter. At length Brother Gasparo Marcelli, a monk of the Dominican Convent of Santa Croce, who had been slightly indisposed on the night of the Feast of St Michael, was found dead in his bed on the next morning, and with appearances which admitted of no equivocation. The alarm quickly ran through the monastery; the prior and several monks were seized with sickness. The deceased had been one of the most popular confessors in Florence; and three of his penitents, who had never dreamed that fever might enter palaces, were dead—almost between the next sunrise and sunset—in different directions of the city. Upon which, personal apprehension among the higher classes superseding every consideration of public policy, those who had most actively chastised the terrors of other persons, could now make no secret of their own. The rich began openly to provide for their safety. The seditious, always active in moments of danger, thundered against the government for its deception. The executive power gave up its doubts, whether real or pretended; and it was openly confessed that the plague was in Florence.

The panic which spread through the city upon this admission became, as might have been expected, an evil scarcely second to the original calamity. Almost all parties had been vehement in desiring to have the declaration. It could do nothing but mischief to any. When it came, by a strange seeming anomaly in the ordering of men’s minds, numbers began directly to question or discredit it. While among the lower classes (who had been the most anxious to get it), doubt or belief made little difference, for few had any power to act upon it at all.

Day and night, as soon as the proclamation came out, the streets and squares of Florence were filled—the gates of all the palaces surrounded—with carriages and waggons, loading up household furniture, pictures, and treasure, and carrying them away into the country. Long trains of mules and horses, and companies even of persons on foot, were seen moving, first at night, to avoid too open publicity, but very soon in broad day, and without disguise, out at all the gates of the city. But still these fugitives were chiefly from among the landed proprietors, and the small capitalists who had ready money at command; and the bulk of the population yet had ties, which, in spite of danger, confined them to the place. For the merchant was bankrupt if he gave up his trade. And the farmer paused where he had to leave ungathered crops behind him. The physician staid, for he hoped in some antidote; and if he could live, the sickness was his harvest. The monks staid; most because their convent was their only home; some because they hoped its privacy would shut out danger. Public officers staid, to save the posts they had; or in the hope that their resolution would be the means of promoting them to better. The vast tribe that lived only by their daily labour had no choice but to stay; for to want the day’s meal was to starve, and they had no way to gain it but by staying where they were, and going on to exercise their calling. So that, upon the whole, as soon as it became lawful to declare the extent of the mischief, vast hordes became very unwilling to confess it; and it was the progress of death itself, in the end, rather than the desertions, numerous as they were, occasioned by the fear of it, which brought the great crowd of the city of Florence, first to little, and then to nothing.

For the evil in the future is no evil, and this it is that laughs theorists and legislators to scorn! the reckoning which shall come hereafter ever is forgotten, against but a little measure of advantage offered in the present. The vengeance of Heaven, is it sure? we trust that it is far off. The axe, and the gibbet? “Chance” may save us from them; and though that deliverance hangs on the one ace cast with two dies, every sinner believes that it will be his own! The thief plans a robbery—executes it—escapes with the booty—and the “chance” that has saved him brings a hundred to the gallows! The projector trades against probability—wins in the teeth of principle—His very blindness—which could not see the risk—passes for sagacity, and crowds are beggared who follow his example! This “chance” it is—this “hope”—which makes fools—and fools are villains—of us all! Its seeds are rooted in the strongest minds; and in the weak they flourish even to insanity. The liar elects to speak on “hope.” The gamester arranges to live (in a castle) upon it. But woman’s brain—there is its chosen seat of quicksand empire!—where to desire an impossibility, and to account upon it, are but as one. Hope it is that makes her frail. Hope makes her false. Hope makes her the dupe of those who care not for her, and the curse of those who do. She fires a palace, and “hopes” that it will not burn. Casts herself into the sea, and “hopes” that the waters will quit their bed to leave her upon land. Her confidence—and this perhaps is the case with all of us—becomes invariably more unbounded in proportion with the real desperateness of her condition. And the worst of all is—that, as human nature is constituted, for nothing of all this is there any remedy!

And “Hope” worked strange wonders in the earlier stages of the plague; especially among those who had all to gain and little to lose; a sort of persons, whose fearlessness, and spirit of reliance, since the world began, has always been proverbial. There is a point to which you civilise mankind; but beyond which education cannot go. You seem to tame the wolf, while he sees you hold the whip over him: but—blood will have its way—he flies at your throat at last, if you give him opportunity. Man’s instinct makes him war on man! ’Tis trash! my strength must be my neighbour’s weakness. The miller, when his granaries are full, laughs loud, and well he laughs—he buys a lordship—out of the ruined harvest. What is that flood that wastes my neighbour’s fields but blessing, so it doubles, in the common market, the produce of my own? Go to! they who gain by the dead, when did they love the living? When agues thrive, do not the sextons delve merrily? Does not the surgeon fatten on the miseries, the headsman on the vices of mankind? In no general blessing yet did all men ever find contentment; in no common infliction have there not always been some who saw a good. Battles and blood make soldiers generals. Revolts and revolutions peasants princes. Out of broken windows, as the adage tells us, do there not arise rich glaziers? And he who wants a fortune may find one even in the PLAGUE.

And, accordingly, among the most curious results of the visitation, when it first began to show its strength in Florence, was the extra quantity of actual rejoicing, as well as of mourning; the great increase of hilarity in the midst of tears; and the decided, immediate gain to individuals, which arose out of the thinning in the numbers of the community. Husbands, many, wept for the death of their wives; wives, often, for the death of their husbands; both, constantly, for the deaths of their children; for these were, generally, losses, at least in some sort, of present sources of happiness; disturbances of long habit and existing arrangements; and no benefit (to balance) accruing to the survivor. But sons did not always mourn for their fathers—nephews for their uncles—younger brothers, destined to exertion and poverty, for their elders, who had shut them from title and estate: those who were the best disposed to do all this, often could not do it; their wants, in spite of themselves, were relieved, and their desires of pleasure administered to—they thought that they grieved for the fate of the dead—perhaps they did grieve; but before the bell had ceased tolling, they would not have had him live again. For even the comparatively poor who died, had something to leave behind them, which was an object to those as poor, or poorer, than themselves. Very soon the constant occurrence of such falls of fortune began to make men expect and look for them. They could not help recollecting the fact, that there was one particular life stood between them and happiness. The possibility of a change would just present itself—the wish, perhaps not yet. And among the labouring classes, too, the diminished number of hands at work in every calling soon gave the remainder high rates of wages, which they spent in idleness and excess. The mere passage of wealth into fresh hands, always unthrifty, created an immense demand out of the very general mourning and distress for articles of cost and luxury. All who had been rich, had not drank choice wines, or maintained brilliant equipages. All who rose from poverty did so—often to the most prodigal dissipation of their means—on the instant. Until even the very same calamity which in a few months made the city absolutely a desert, in its outset actually gave a new and increased impulse to its pleasurable and commercial movements!

In the mean time, however, the shroud-maker plied his needle almost as rapidly as the maker of new robes; and, as the fury of the pestilence increased, all this jollity, which at first had some show of the mirth of madness about it, ran on till, like the merriment produced by wine in company, by degrees, it broke into bloodshed and misrule. In the beginning of the scourge, the succession to an estate or a title had not carried with it—as of course—a notice that the inheritor was only tenant for an hour. But when the deaths had risen to more than a hundred a-day in the city, and when the man who became heir to an estate in one twenty-four hours left it to somebody else—or perhaps left it without a claimant—in the next, this general state of insecurity, added to the extraordinary description of hands into which property passed, seemed first to repeal all sanity and principle; and soon led to the wildest and most unheard-of outrages.

The successor to a splendid mansion—the fifth or sixth remove perhaps within a month—seized possession—it might be, with a title—but certainly without waiting for the forms of law to ratify it. Great quantities of personal property, of houses and movables especially, were sometimes left in a few hours without any certain claimants at all; and ruffians and outcasts—the police of the city being virtually almost extinct—fought and scrambled for the right of rifling such possessions in open day. Antonio Malespini, the servant of a goldsmith who had fled the city and died under the walls of Pisa, produced a will, alleged to have been left by his master, bequeathing to him the whole of his effects. On the very next day, this title passing undisputed, there were twenty claimants for similar successions! From inheriting after those who had fled and died, it was but one step farther to presume the death, and a man’s flight then at once conveyed his effects to those who stayed behind. And within the expiration of eight-and-forty hours farther (no interference by the authorities taking place), both lie and forgery began to be considered unnecessary; and the rights of health and strength became the only rights acknowledged in the new community.

It was then that the general tumult and terror reached its height; and that Florence appeared like a city delivered over to pillage, in which each man made his best of what came next him; or rather like a vast ship tost in a tempest, under which she could not choose but founder, and where each man, according to the usage of desperate mariners, resolved to live, at common cost, the short while longer that existence lasted. Domestics, left in charge of their masters’ houses, burst open the cellars and cabinets, and used the treasure as their own. The richest garments were seen worn by common beggars; the most costly wines intoxicated the lowest of the population. All safe people fled the city at every hazard, or shut themselves up, and refused to communicate even with each other; and a scarcity of food—in the very excess of valuables and money—began to aggravate the general distress. Those physicians who still lived now made off, with one consent, to secure what they had gained. The monks barred the gates of their convents: some would say no mass; and scarce any would confess the sick any longer. Some men lay dead or dying in their houses, and none would come to aid or bury them. Others were found with marks of violence on their bodies and their chambers rifled; and none could say, nor did any inquire, who had done it. The hired nurses, it was reported, poisoned their patients; and one beldam confessed afterwards to having caused the death of five women, by administering the eau forte (aqua fortis) to them instead of common water. Brute strength, and freedom from the plague, became the only sources of power; and the slave spat in the face of his master. Those few who still dwelt within the city, or near it, watched armed, and shut their doors by day; for murders were done even in the broad light. The cemeteries now became choked, and there was more room in the streets and market places. Houses got cheap, and graves were hard to come by. The great fosse which had been hastily opened and consecrated, at the back of the Spedale St Martino, ran over with bodies, from all ranks, ages, and conditions, which night after night were cast promiscuously into it. And, to quote the words used by a writer of the time, in describing the state of Florence at the close of the malady—almost for want of matter to feed upon—“Worth was useless; strength gone; glory sullied; title was buried; honours were forgotten; greatness humiliated; dignity scorned;—and of the good and of the evil equally perished the memory!”

It was on one night, however, about this time, in the month of October, when the ravages of the plague were at their height; when no stranger, unless he were insane, or sought his death, could have been expected to enter Florence, nor any inhabitant any longer abided there, but such to whom it would have been ruin as bad as death to leave it;—it was on one night while affairs were in this condition—the night of the vigil of St Luke—that two horsemen, moving on a track once the most frequented of all Italy, but to which the tread of travellers had now become almost a thing forgotten, were seen rapidly stretching towards the city from the eastward, by the road that led from the direction of Arezzo.

The foremost rider was a cavalier scarce twenty years, apparently, of age; clad simply, but elegantly, in the travelling dress of a Tuscan gentleman of that day. His vest, which was of the richest velvet, slashed and embroidered in the fashion of the time, was covered, on back and breast, by the strong “Jazeran,” or scaled corslet, which was the armour then generally worn in Italy, and which, while it was less cumbrous than complete steel, was yet fully proof against the thrust either of lance or poniard. A belt of gold, four fingers broad, drawn tightly round the waist, and clasped by a jewel of price in front, marked the division between the bottom of the “Camiciuola,” or upper garment, and the long breeches and stockings of woven silk,—the “Calzoni alla pantalona”—which, with yellow Morocco boots and massy spurs of gold, terminated the lower portion of the figure. And the broad “mantello” or cloak, of ample extent—on foot or horseback, still the constant equipment of every Italian gentleman—gathered plaidlike round the body, clinging upon the bridle shoulder, and passing under the right arm, so as to clothe the bust and loins, yet leave the sword-hand free—swelled with the damp and unwholesome “libeccio” which blew in the rider’s face, and seemed to bring a death in every gust, as he lifted his strong horse, all dust and foaming—plunging with short springs, and gathered almost upon its haunches—down the last sharp pitch of hill which marked the boundary of the Apennines, and carried the traveller forward into the fair valley of the Arno.

The hard unbeaten road clattered hollow beneath the footsteps of the steeds, as both the strangers plied onwards, at a steady yet rapid pace, in the direction of Florence. Did they know the peril to which they went? It seemed they did, or should do so: for the long arm of the calamity reaching to the distance, spoke already too plainly to be mistaken. The whole route along which they were passing had but a short time back been lined with populous and flourishing villages: the houses yet remained, but every door and window now was barred and bolted; and the hare and the rabbit gazed on the passenger through the broken hedges in every garden. Three months since, and, if the moon shone bright, looking down from that raised road into the vale beneath, a hundred palaces were seen rearing their marble fronts amid the delicious woods and waters of the Val d’Arno! Three months since, and, if the night was dark, the very tapers that glistened in those mansions, from their bowers and lattices, showed in the deep vale like a world of stars below the gazer’s path, in mimic rivalry of those that reigned above! Now, all was solitude on the near approach, and gloom and darkness in the distance. The marble mansions, black and silent, stood like the sepulchres of former greatness, for the spirits that gave life to them had departed. No song, sung by Italy’s voices, rose from the cot of the peasant; there was no music of dancing feet; no tinkling of the guitar or the theorba. There stood the village church! but its doors hung open, swinging on their hinges with every blast. The village inn remained: but no smoke poured now from its chimney; and the branch that should have invited the traveller was dead and leafless. Here and there a few stray dogs, lean and masterless, who seemed to have grown wild as the hares and foxes had grown tame, barked and sneaked off as the strangers approached. The frogs croaked hoarsely in the marsh land; and the lizard rustled through the long rank grass that grew upon the tops of the cabins or loose stone wall. But other tokens of inhabitancy—or even of existence—in their path, the travellers found none.

In the realms of death, we look for solitude and silence; on the battle-field, when the fight is done, and in the lone churchyard; but not within the beat and haunts of men. The foremost horseman halted his speed one moment as he advanced deeper into the cheerless scene. With every point in that prospect his eye had been familiar! it could not be all death—all darkness—all ruin—in a few short weeks? Here and afar—at hand and in the distance—it could not be that all were gone! There was surprise and impatience in the stranger’s look, rather than sadness:—alarm and incredulity, rather than woe or grief.

“Jacopo!” he exclaimed, turning hastily to his attendant—and speaking rather as a man who makes a comment than asks a question—“I see no light in the palace or gardens of the Orsini?”

The individual to whom this question was addressed followed his master’s eye slowly, as he raised himself from the pommel of his saddle. “Nevertheless, my lord,” he said, “they should be here, for they have not fled, although they retired beyond the walls of the city.”

“But the Vitrani too—their villa is all gloom?”

The reply was given in a more subdued tone. “It is too true, my lord! The Marchioness and both her daughters were among the first victims of the disease.”

“But it cannot surely be with all thus?” pursued Di Vasari, with increasing agitation. “This house—Cinthio da Pontelli’s?”

“There are weeds, my lord, in its garden; and the pedestals of its statues are grown green with moss.”

“But the Counts Di Bruno—Lord Vincent, and his brothers?” continued the alarmed inquirer.

“May be here, my lord; or may have fled; or may have perished,” returned the party questioned, “the last of them. They were living and safe two days since, when I set out for Arezzo; but half that time has made strange havoc in many a noble house, since your lordship quitted Florence.”

The stranger started as the last words fell upon his ear, from his own inward thought, as though an asp had stung him! Striking his strong horse on both sides with the spur, as one who had already paused too long, and suddenly recollected himself, involuntarily at the same instant he curbed the fierce animal with the rein, until it stood erect—striking at the air, and reared almost beyond the perpendicular. Then stooping low, with slackened bit, and signing to his companion to follow, the rider once more plied both scourge and steel, with the strong impulse of a man who strives by mere motion to escape from his own sensations. With hoof of speed, he scattered into foam the shallow brawling stream of the Mugnone: dashed onwards, and looked neither to the right nor left, through the picturesque villages of La Loggia and Benevento. At the convent of St Giovanni, the evening prayer was saying; but he bent on his steed’s neck as he passed; crossed himself; and again rode forward. The nuns of Spirito Santo sang a requiem for a departed sister: but though the lights beamed on his path through the stained windows of their chapel, he still kept on his way. By the shrine of Our Lady of Florence he pressed; and he saw it not, for he uttered no vow. He crossed the “Giustiziere,” or area of public execution; but had no time even to breathe an Ave for the souls of the thousands who had suffered upon it. Nor checked he in his long gallop, until entering the “Via di Querci”—the wide, fair avenue of trees, by which Florence is approached on the road which leads from Arezzo. This point at length being won, he held in his well-breathed horse, who still obeyed the rein with difficulty; and soothed the gallant brute with voice and hand, as they turned more slowly towards the Porta alla Croce, or eastern gate of the city.

The narrow, ill-paved road, now known as the Via dei Mal-contenti, by which Florence is entered in the Quartiere alla Croce, was, in the 13th century, a mere straggling suburb, inhabited by the meanest artisans of the city. At the particular time, however, to which our tale refers, it was altogether without occupants of any description; not so much because those who originally dwelt in it had been all cut off by the plague, as that better lodgings were to be had in the upper parts of the town, for taking, and therefore no one thought fit to remain in it. From this long street, or lane, which was in entire unbroken darkness, some more reputable avenues branched on the right hand—the Via Ghibellina, the Via Jesu Cristo, and the Via di Mecca; and, looking up these, here and there, a dull light might be seen glimmering through the lattices of an upper window; and, in such situations, low moanings, and sometimes shrieks of grief, were to be heard, as of some who lamented for the dead, or were themselves perhaps shortly to be so. But, for the greater part, the houses in all the streets within the city, like those in the villages eastward of the walls, bore the aspect of abandonment and desertion. Doors closely barred, and battened with spars on the outside; unless where they had been burst open, on suspicion of containing dead, or else in search of plunder. Casements open in abundance; flapping and swinging to and fro in the wind; but all wreck and disorder, or total emptiness, within, and, in some places, wide gaps, with heaps of half-burnt ruins, obstructed the way—the remnants of fallen houses, with others falling, half destroyed, and blackened by smoke and fire; for, among the minor scourges which, during the time of the plague, had visited the city, conflagrations, wilful or accidental, had been frequent and extensive.

Familiar as both travellers were with this locale, they had yet difficulty in getting their horses forward, so completely dark were the narrow streets, and encumbered with rubbish of every description. They had looked for a light by the shrine of “Our Lady of Grace;” but even the hopes of the pious were fled; not a shrine in all Florence had a taper now burning before it. The splendid and extensive Palazzo di Borgo, the mansion of the family of Antilla, lay in their way; but its lords had left all for life, and fled to Lucca; and the huge building, towering above all but ruin—frowned in dark and sullen silence. They passed, still amid the signs of emptiness and dilapidation, over the Piazza Santa Croce—the great area for gymnastic exercises of the city; crossed the narrow bridge, with the rivulet and sewer, which ran under the walls of the Church of St Jacops tra i Fossi; but so fearfully was the population diminished, and so deep the dread which (except a few desperate wretches) the survivors had of each other, that the busiest streets of the city, and the most gorgeous squares and terraces, were all alike wrapped in gloom and desertion. Nor was it until turning northwards, and winding for some time in the direction of the river, they reached the Piazza Santa Maria—the square in which stood the “Spedale,” or great hospital of Florence—that any decided signs of life and activity, or, indeed, of human existence, presented themselves.

At this point, however, there was light and activity enough—and both riders instinctively tightened their reins, as a sharp turning at right angles threw them in front of the “Spedale;” for so sudden a change, from the thickest darkness to a glare of illumination—as of a thousand lamps alight at once—might have startled many steeds, worse tutored, or less true.

The building itself was a bold and striking object; lofty and well-proportioned, though heavy in its style of architecture; and so extensive as to form, with its tributary offices, one entire side of the quadrangle, or “Piazza,” in which it stood. Under ordinary circumstances, the traffic and bustle of such an establishment, which was of capacity to furnish accommodation for all the charitable purposes of the city, must have been considerable and imposing; but, at this period, the immense accession of duty, and consequently of activity, which the calamity of the time had thrust upon it, rendered some of its features extraordinary and interesting in the highest possible degree. The overwhelming excess of patients poured into the house (vast numbers being still every day compelled to be rejected) had called every lobby—every crevice and corner—in addition to the ordinary apartments allotted to the sick, into requisition; and the building being profusely furnished, up to the very fourth story, with windows and lattices of ventilation—from the immense additional array of lamps and candles in every quarter, which its increase of business and multiplication of inhabitants presented—the whole front of the edifice blazed like the face of an immense lantern; and, in spite of the damp breath of the sufferers within, which condensed in streams upon the glass window-panes, and dimmed their transparency, poured out a volume of light, not merely across the whole area of the Piazza, but into the very recesses of the houses on the farther side of it.

In the mean time, the hoarse roar, less of suffering or grief, than of hurry and trade, that went on within the edifice, rose at intervals so high as to be dumbly and indistinctly heard on the outside. Shadows upon the white-clouded window-panes were seen rapidly passing and repassing. And the space in the immediate vicinity of the Spedale, especially the ground and dwellings of the square of Santa Maria, which had long been deserted—for, at the very commencement of the infection, every hospital, as might well be expected, soon cleared a neighbourhood round it—presented a curious spectacle to the attention, even under the general appalling circumstances of the time. The Piazza, or square itself, which was unpaved, stood fetlock-deep in mire and filth; for the gravedigger had more than work enough to do; and the duty of the scavenger was little heeded. In the earlier stages of the pestilence, clothes and bedding, the property of those who died, had been used to be burnt in the front of the hospital; that custom was now laid aside, either because there was no authority to enforce it, or because it had been found unavailing; but the original pile of half-consumed rags and ashes still remained, grown cold and mouldy, for man and horse to flounder through. All the houses in those three sides of the square which consisted of dwellings—the Spedale forming the fourth—without an exception stood open; they had been broken into and rifled by the hospital servants (who ransacked all before them in their nightly rounds) for what they contained; and the wood-work of the doors and staircases had gone to make fires to burn the bedding with. The area of the Piazza was strewed all over with matters of domestic litter: pots, pans, broken furniture, worn-out kitchen utensils, and remnants of apparel, cast forth from the hospital. In the centre of the square there was a marble fountain playing; but to little purpose, for another rose within the walls of the Spedale; and no creature out of the building, though perishing of thirst, would have ventured to taste such water. Some evil jester, desirous, perhaps, to spend the last hour of his life in mischief, had thrown an old saddle into the reservoir into which the stream discharged itself; and broken away all the teeth of the couchant lion, from whose mouth the chief jet issued.

“And this immense house is full, then!” said the Chevalier Di Vasari, as he paused for a moment in front of the hospital. The speaker had interests enough of his own, and vital ones, to contend with; but—it was not in man—the very criminal who went to the scaffold, could not have beheld such a scene without wonder and curiosity.

“Put on, my lord, if you love your life, put on,” exclaimed Jacopo. “Full! Ay, it has been filled, and emptied again, into the great fosse behind it,—Your lordship shudders? Spirits of the blest! if you could but have seen that fosse when it was dug!—twenty times over in the course of the last month. Hark again, Signor!—for Mercy’s sake put on!—to the roar of voices inside the building!—and those black shadows, how they flit to and fro again upon the windows, though the steam on the glass hinders our seeing what goes on within! Full? my lord, it is full now!—and the Hospital of St Roque is full!—and so is the Lazaretto—that was the gaol—Sancta Maria!—and the Church of the Padri Reformati is turned, besides, into an hospital!—and the Prigione delle Stinche is open for the sick; and——”

Farther yet would the enumeration have gone, but that a noise, as if of loosening bolts and bars in the hospital, interrupted it. In the next moment, one of the massy folding-doors at the great entrance was flung open; and, right hand and left, from its farthest extremity, as far as the eye could see, down to that very door, the common corridor of the house appeared on each side closely set with pallets. Every bed was occupied doubly, and even trebly; or rather the whole range of beds—for each touched the other—was formed into one great litter; crowded with sufferers, in all moods and in all stages of disease. Some—they might be living, or they might be dead—all that could be seen was a strange shapeless lump, rolled in the wretched bed-clothes! Others, covered up in hoods and caps, incapable of speech, stared from the pillows with their glassy eyes and ghastly faces—that the viewer shrank to look on them! Some, furious and strong in agony, sat in their beds bolt upright,—raving, tossing their arms, and muttering horrible imprecations—hideous objects of misery. The most fearful of all were the most healthy,—those whom they called the “Convalescents;” and who glided about in their long, white, shroud-like hospital-gowns and dresses; looking and moving like creatures emerged from the grave—even more appalling to Nature than those who were ready to descend into it.

“This is too hideous!” exclaimed Di Vasari, turning his horse away. Pages are insufficient sometimes to convey that impression which the eye takes in in a moment. But a cry now arose of “Room, room!” and between the double row of beds, jolting carelessly along the corridor, two hospital servants appeared, bearing a long tray—that looked like a shutter with handles to it—covered with a sheet. Out they came, swinging through the hall-door, and descended the steps in front of the building.

“Santa Madonna! it is one of the dead,—a corpse fresh of the plague,—and we stand here!” cried Jacopo.

“Twenty-five this makes!” said the hindmost bearer, stopping, as he came down the stairs, to trim the load in its descent.

“Twenty-seven it makes, if I can count,” returned the other; “and by this time last night, we had thirty-one.”

As he spoke, they reached the bottom of the staircase. In turning the corner, one of the carved ornaments of the balustrade caught the cloth that covered the shutter; and, at the next step—the corpse lay naked!

It was the body of a man—and of a fine one. The plague had evidently made brief work with him. Still robust—almost florid—full of flesh and muscle—no victim of decay—no sign of age or of consumption. The tree had been struck in its full strength! The limbs and the trunk were those of a living man still. But the face was distorted and discoloured; and there was one broad dark badge upon the breast, that showed what it was had done the business.

The bearers never stopped to recover their wretched pall, but shouldered onwards to a small, low, grated door. Jacopo’s eye followed—he knew the place well—it was the door of the dead-house.

The key turned, and the door opened; there was no light within. The two men entered. There was a sound as of some heavy mass falling upon soft ground. It was the fall of a body of flesh and blood, which no other object in the creation falls like; and they returned, in a moment, freed from their burthen. And then a cry arose, to “make haste, and close the hospital gates again;” for the sick were gathering round them, and trying to escape—tumultuous—like lost spirits on the bank of the infernal river!

The crash as the heavy gates were slammed together roused the Chevalier from the stupor in which the scene had plunged him. Slowly pressing his horse with the spur, and followed by his attendant, he again rode forward. They left the ground upon the right hand, which now forms the Piazza di Granduca, passed the high towers of the Duomo, or chief Cathedral; and entered the great thoroughfares of the Porta via de Repoli, and the Via della Scala, intending to cross the river at the Pont St Trinita. But the passage along the south or farther bank of the Arno (as the travellers stood) was now wholly impracticable. This portion of the town had comprehended what was called the Jews’ Quarter; and, on the expulsion of that wretched race, the whole neighbourhood in which they dwelt had been given up to destruction. Their houses had been torn down, and fire laid to their synagogue; and one of the last acts of authority on the part of the government, had been the barricading, as far as possible, and publicly forbidding all passage through, or entrance into, their demesne.

“Does your lordship wish to cross here?” asked Jacopo. “The north bank would be the best.”

“I know not that,” replied Di Vasari. “Our arrangement above may have failed; and this, if we can accomplish it—that is, the passage here—is certain.”

The moon, which just then began to rise, threw a dim and dusky light over the long, narrow, squalid lines of building, which had formed the abode of the banished Israelites. The sheds and stalls on which they had exposed their tattered ware for sale were torn down, and left lying in the streets. Heavier and inferior articles of property, such as in the general abundance of plunder had not been thought worth carrying away, were strewed up and down, and here and there, for sport, had been gathered in heaps and set fire to. Nothing living stirred, but an amazing swarm of the black house-rats—which had gone on multiplying, in spite of Papal fulmination, during the plague—dark and obscene as the hillocks of litter over which they gambolled. It seemed a locality which, in such a time of terror and contagion, the boldest man might have felt a dislike to enter.

“We shall not have failed above, my lord,” said Jacopo. “And, at worst, it is but fording the river higher up, which would be safer a thousand times than passing here. It is tempting fortune to approach a place like this.”

“In Heaven’s name, by the north bank be it then,” returned Di Vasari; “for we already lose time.” And, leading the way by the Piazza della Gracia, and through the Borgo Ogni Santo, in a few minutes the travellers had again cleared the city by the Porto Pisano, now the Porto el Prata. Resuming here their former rapid pace, they kept the high-road some half mile towards Cajano; then turned southward once more where the little rivulet, the Torrente Terzolle, crossed their path; and kept the edge of the stream as it darted through a copse of Alpine trees, to empty itself into the main river.

“This is the spot, my lord,” said Jacopo, as they reached a point where the wood grew thickest; throwing himself from his horse, to clear the way, and assist the progress of his master.

The Chevalier sprang lightly down; he paused for no assistance; and, in a few moments, both travellers had halted upon the banks of the Arno.


“It is late, and that castle seems lulled in sleep,
But within its walls are tapers gleaming;
And along its apartments the females creep,
With steps all hush’d, and eyes that are streaming.”

For oh! softly glides that serpent, whose sting is the surest death; and smooth shows that dark water, which has blackest rocks beneath it. There is silence, and calmness, and all is still, without the walls of the Arestino Palace; but a volcano of fever and of passion—of fierceness, rage, and fury—flames within!

It is night, and the lady of that bright palace lies upon a bed from which she never more must rise! Is it the course of age—Nature’s slow wane—that calls upon the lady?—No! She shows yet in beauty’s fullest—loveliest—prime. Her youth has seen its spring, but scarce yet fallen into summer. July has yet to come, though May has passed from us! And all that was the opening blossom—bud of love—now revels in the glorious flower. Not age? Not age. Why then—the plague?—Why ay—the plague! for there be other plagues—is it not so—than pestilence? There is the fire that burns, and the famine that pines us—the sun-stroke that withers, the tempest to wreck—there is the mildew that blasts, and the quicksand that swallows—there are floods—lightnings—hurricanes—earthquakes—fear ye for these? Alas! for every one poor life that dies by such slight accidents—think!—think of ambition—envy—avarice—false honour—glory in arms—the lust of beauty—pride—the thirst of power—the zealot’s triumph—and the soldier’s dreams!—for every single wretch, since order first arose, that perished, cut off by nature’s shock or violence—how many thousands—say!—have drawn their timeless fates from that worst spring of human woe, the human heart?

Alas! alas! Yet why is the lady thus passing—untouched by sickness—in the pride of youth? Enough—enough! she sleeps—or shortly shall do so. Oh, gentle Death, there is no sleep blest and secure but thine! Revenge! “’tis Heaven’s prerogative, not ours.” So say divines; but men think otherwise when injury stirs them. Now, all her crimes, with all her charms, rest in eternal silence! Has the owl shrieked, or the bat struck on the window? No! these are the death-tokens of sterner regions. But the livelong night yon thistlefinch has sung under the casement—she sings the last dirge of the Lady of Arestino! Yet the lady’s fault was common in the land where she lived. Common? Ay, common! Common as the penalty—she is dying—which has followed it.

She dies! and justly—let her meet her doom! She is the ruin of a name that never knew reproach before. The honour of a noble house is gone—their shield is sullied! Blood may wash out the spot—but what the stain? Scorn crooks her white lip, and says, “That shall endure for ever!”

And if, for such a crime, blood must be spilled—what slave is he denies that blood should be the blood of woman?—For man—ay, smile!—he has wronged me. And though his body were a poisonous plant that it were death to touch, I’d cast myself upon it! cut—carve it—to morsels—motes. He dies, though Life died with him—for I am suffering! but—in death—he shall have justice.

Man wars on man. It is his instinct—compact. He injures—stabs me! Granted. What should stay him? Is it love for his fellow—kindness—charity? What will—for “love” or “charity”—that “fellow” do for him? Will he honour in poverty? Defend in danger? Abstain to prey upon when time shall serve? No!—none of these, methinks. He may deride his weakness; insult his misery; publish for sport the tale that maddens him; maltreat and crush, as far as strength and law will serve! Away then with the jest of “Duty”—my “Practice” towards my neighbour is to eye him as my spoil!

Man breaks no faith with man, for he has pledged none. He casts away no fame, no reputation. He does not wreck the heart that blindly trusted—leaned upon—him. He does not, for an hour’s indulgence, whim, or vanity, give up all honour—name—esteem—respect—rank—kindred—friends—the world—for ever! This is the sacrifice that woman offers. Let her demand it from her lover—see if he dares to make it? Ask him—let the mistress that he sues to ask him!—to lie—to beg—to steal—to take a blow—be branded as a wretch—shunned by the honoured of his own sex—scorned even by the worthy of the other? His answer is—that he can bleed—can die—can give up fortune—hope—nay, even her love—but may not lose his caste—live in the world’s contempt—his own disgust—for ever.

Yet fate had dealt harshly with the lady of Arestino! She was a wife, but she was the unwooed, unwilling wife of a proud and unfeeling husband. Eight years she had been wedded, and eight years her heart had slept as dead; or, waking, waked but to swell with sullen bitterness against that power by which its rights had been despised. He who is wise, though his self-love may suffer, makes his wooing otherwise than this. He will not trust his all of hope in life to one whose every hope in life himself has blasted! Ye who seek service, love, or safety, seek it with the free! Will ye have chains?—then look that they be chains of adamant! ye made a traitor when ye made a slave.

Chained to the twisted roots of a tall willow which hung its branches across the stream, and almost hidden from view by the drapery of weeping foliage that surrounded it, a light skiff lay pulling in the soft current of the Arno. Towards this point the travellers made their way with rapid and anxious steps, and, as if by common agreement, both in silence. The Chevalier, pressing strongly through the low copsewood, was the first that reached it; and when he saw the stream, and the small boat rippling upon it, he never spoke one word, but drew a long-repressed breath, as of one relieved from much apprehension, and forthwith fell upon his knees, and returned thanks to Heaven. For a gleam of hope seemed to make it possible that his journey might yet be a fortunate one; and though the business was such as Heaven might scarcely countenance, yet the Chevalier had a kind heart, and was a good Catholic; and he could not help feeling that gratitude was due somewhere. And, for the rest, he had no nice scruples, or reserves of pride, that he should check his feelings in the sight of his domestic; for those were days in which the distinctions of rank made no question; they were understood and settled; and a nobleman might even pray to God by the side of his vassal, without looking for assumption, or supposing any infraction of his dignity.

But it was on the north bank of the river that the Chevalier and his attendant had halted. It was hard upon the hour of midnight now, and the moon was up, for she was near her full; and the prospect which, under her broad light, presented itself, southward and west of Florence, over one of the richest plains of Italy, was singularly opposed to the scene of ruin and desertion which had exhibited itself in the country eastward of the city. On their left, winding along the stream, lay the “City of Flowers” itself, glorious and rich as ever, even in that brief distance. The work of man remained entire, where man himself was fallen; and the tall spires of the Italian churches glittered with their gilded vanes in the cold moonshine, as they lightly shot upwards, towering into the clear blue sky. In front was the south bank of the Arno, scarce three bow-shots across—crowded with splendid palaces and villas—the chosen seat of half the great and gay of Florence. And this spot, by some wild hazard or caprice, the pestilence had scarcely touched on. It might be that the west winds, which had prevailed almost constantly since the commencement of the malady, had carried the city’s infection in an opposite course; but certainly all here was safe—all lived and flourished.

The rich moonlight played among the trellised vines, and trembled in the orange groves in the wide gardens of these mansions, which stretched themselves, sloping downwards, to the very margin of the river. The lilies that grew in the last flower-bed bent their white necks as they sprang to kiss the stream; and the perfume which they exhaled rose the sweeter from its cool freshness.

And the Arno itself was no tide-water, no stream for traffic here. Though bolder and deeper, then, at the bridge of Florence, than its current flows at present, yet the little draught that was carried upon it never came above the city. A light breeze from the southward had just swept the mist from the surface of the water; and the white fleeces of weed which floated on its shallows, gently waving with the motion of the stream, gave lustre by their contrast to the deeper blue tint of those calm, unruffled, basin-like, unfathomable pools, which seemed to drink up the strong light from above, rather than to reflect it, so glorious was the brightness of the scene. There was a calm, a repose, at that hour, on the banks of that bright river, as if peace and safety had reigned throughout the world. Yet the silence was not the silence of desolation—it was not the repose of death—but the repose of nature sleeping. The soul felt as though it could lie down for ever upon those green banks, content, and happy, and at rest; and a voice seemed to float across the bright still water, calling on it to come and dwell beneath its lucid deepness.

But there are minds to which repose must live a stranger; hearts which in the tomb alone can hope for slumber, or the folding of the hands to sleep: the eye of the Chevalier Di Vasari gazed on the mild scene before him, but in his soul there was a fever which defied its influence. Two months before, and at that same hour, he had stood, as he stood now, upon the banks of the Arno; he had crossed that river then to fly from Florence, pursued by danger, and struggling for his life. He now returned. For what?—for love, or vengeance? What was his hope—his wish? He scarce knew what. End as his errand might, it must be in perplexity, in wretchedness!

It was no time, however, then, for thought. A task was to be done; the hour was arrived, and the way lay open before him. Passing his horse’s rein to his attendant, he first loosened the long cloak from his shoulder, and cast it over the loins of the reeking, yet still untired brute. “Poor Bayard!” he said, patting the gallant animal’s neck, who thrust his nose against his master’s breast, as if acknowledging the attention, “you have striven hard to-night for a work in which you have but little interest! Look to him well, Jacopo,” continued the Chevalier; “and—take my sword also—see that your own horse be well clothed up, for they are sweating both; and when the day breaks, the air from the river here will be cold and chilly.”

“Your lordship will not go quite unarmed?” said the domestic, as he took the offered sword from his master’s hand.

“I scarcely know that,” returned the latter, in a melancholy tone. “A light foot, and the skill of a physician, would be the gifts most like to aid me now. But should I need defence, which Heaven avert, my poniard here, Jacopo, would be the better weapon, which lies as close and silent till I want its service, next my own heart, as it would do the next moment within that of my enemy.”

As he spoke, the Chevalier drew from its sheath (within his vest) a dagger of unusual breadth and strength, and rich and costly workmanship. The handle of the weapon was of gold embossed; the sheath of the same metal, set with jewels; the blade of pure Damascus steel, but wrought with curious emblems. It was an heirloom in the family of Di Vasari, brought from the East by their first ancestor, famous in the wars of Spain and of the Crusades; and for eight score years, sleeping or waking, that dagger had never left the bosom of the leader of their house.

“This is defence—more than defence enough!” said the Chevalier, as he slowly replaced the instrument in its scabbard. The broad blade flashed as he waved it in the moonlight; and the name of the first proprietor, “Di Vasari” showed in cold, dull characters, like unpolished silver, worked upon the dark unburnished steel.

At that moment the deep tones of the great bell at the Duomo chimed midnight. The Chevalier drew his boat shoreward, and cast off the fastening which confined it.

“Sleep not, Jacopo, I charge you!” were his last words. “Look to our horses carefully. It is three hours yet to daylight; and within two, at farthest, expect my return.”

A long low neigh from the black horse Bayard followed the skiff as it pushed off from the shore. Silently, yet swiftly, as it cut through the glassy water, the fish were scared that fed or sported at the bottom. Plunging from sedge and shallow, they turned their broad sides to the moonlight, as they shot along; and showed, exaggerated in the liquid medium as by a lens, to twenty times their real bulk.

Still the oars touched the stream lightly; there was no plash, no rolling in the thowls; they scarcely broke the water as they dipped. Jacopo marked his master’s progress steadfastly till the boat gained the centre of the stream. A small islet, planted with willow and acacia, here broke the view across; the little skiff shot round it like a swallow on the wing, but then could be discerned no farther.

“Be quiet, knave!” exclaimed the valet, checking a second neigh of anxiety from the black horse, as the bark disappeared. “I doubt I had better make thee fast yet, or thou’lt be off into the river after our master, and leave me here behind.” He unbitted both the horses, loosened the girths of their heavy saddles, and clothing them as well as he might with the spare mantello and their own housings, fed them copiously with meal that had been brought along. Then, first feeling for the rosary within the breast of his garment, he drew his good broadsword from its scabbard, gave a last glance to see that his beasts were in safety, and seated himself, with his face to the river, at the foot of the most convenient tree he could select. And in this position, well on the alert to guard against surprise, and recommending himself especially to the protection of St Jago, with his weapon in one hand, and his wine-flask in the other, in silence he expected the event.

It was a chamber for luxury to dwell in, that in which the Countess Arestino lay, suited to tastes which knew no limit but their will, and decked for climates to which winter was a stranger. The walls were hung with draperies of pale-blue silk; richly wrought carpets—the treasures of the East—were spread at intervals upon the floor of shining marble. Oil from the Tuscan olive, mixed with frankincense and myrrh, burned in silver lamps, whose pale flames lighted the lofty chamber without sullying its delicious coolness. And in every window, flowers disposed in vases of alabaster, each carved with the work of half an artist’s life, loaded the light breeze which whispered through the lattice with the richest odours of the season.

The painting of the roof—alone a masterpiece!—was executed by such hands as already, if not noble, claimed little less than noble’s deference, and showed more even than noble’s pride. The mattressed couches, ranged around the chamber, suiting in colour with its pale-blue tapestry, were of a satin, rich, and quaintly patterned, and bordered with embroidery of flowering silver. And those couches, with their pillows of down and velvet—light and elastic as they bounded to the touch—were harsh and rude compared with the bed on which the Countess lay—but she slept not.

“Giuletta! Giuletta! The twelfth hour is passed, and still comes he not? Camilla—Girl, canst thou hear nothing—is Camilla surely at the gate?”

“What, nothing! why then the messenger——? Yet he had not failed; it was impossible!”

“The danger, perhaps?” doubtfully whispered a dark-haired girl, who watched beside the turret-stair.

“Danger! When had Lorenzo di Vasari gone back for danger!”


“Why, sickness?——Yet, no—no—he was not sick—it was not that!—Once more, Giuletta—for mercy! How sayest thou! All is silent still? Then he would not come! He was false—faithless—perjured—fled to his new minion—wedded to another!—Why, rather than that, let him have died—have perished! by plague—by flood—by fire—by knife or poison! Was not she, the Countess, dying—(and did she shrink to die?)—dying for the love she had borne him? Let her behold him lifeless! Mark his last gasp! Hear his last sigh! Know that he died without help—without hope—but let her not know him the husband of Perline di Francavilla!”

Following on that last word, like its response or echo—raised, spell-like, by its utterance—a distant foot is heard upon the winding turret-stair. Light as it falls, the Countess’s ear has caught and recognised it! Low as it treads, the rush with which it comes is that of lightning. In one moment more the tapestried door has flown open—a cavalier, hurried and travel-worn, flings himself by the Countess’s bedside. The door is closed; the attendant has left the chamber; the Knight has redeemed his faith; and the lady and her lover—it is for the last time—are to be alone together!

The Chevalier di Vasari held his lady’s hand clasped within both his own; and he so held it long, and spoke not. He pressed it to his burning forehead, not to his lips; his face was buried in the drapery of the bed by which he knelt; and his sobs, although repressed with pain, were deep and audible. Justly condemned by his mistress, or unjustly; false to his vows, or true; he was at least no lover of profession, no idler, who gained and flung away for pride: but what he felt, he spoke right on, whether from the heart or from the senses (which are nearer akin, perhaps, in the purest passion, than philosophers will admit); and if he had changed—why was it, but because, in love, there can be no such pledge as “Constancy?” because men can hold no control over an emotion which is as involuntary as their laughter or their tears;—and because he who promises, but for one day, the continuance of his passion to a woman—if he were to promise the continuance of life, might as well have the power to perform!

And if Love, as sure he is so, be the child of accident—of situation; warmed in this hour, and cherished by that which chills and wastes him in the next; aided to-day by absence, which makes that precious which possession held too cheap; to-morrow, triumphing by that very presence which overcomes, when at a distance we might have denied;—if these be truths—as sure they are—take one truth more, and let who can gainsay it—love, born amidst zephyrs, lives but in a storm! Flowers may charm; but these have thorns; which, cease to pique, and he will cease to worship them. Pain is his food, of life—far more than pleasure! mistresses or wives, the women who goad us to distraction are those ever from whom we have the hardest task to part. Di Vasari was of that age, and of that temperament, in which absence was likely to weaken a passion rather than increase it. We sigh to Eugenia of Sophia’s coldness, and end in forgetting Sophia altogether! But the heart that wanders is not lost for ever. He had quitted Florence with unwillingness—in horror—almost in despair. Quitted it only, at last, because, unhappily, his stay might have aggravated those dangers which were past his hope to aid. And was it in man, now, that he could look upon that beautiful form—that form which he had so loved, so worshipped—and fancy but the possibility of its destruction—of its decay! See those dark eyes, into which he had so often gazed for hope and happiness—their lustre yet undimmed, but shining over a pallid cheek, and soon to shine no more! That long black hair which flowed in ringlets down a neck so full and white! Those fair round arms and polished throat—these are charms to live, and still have power, long after the transient red and white, which charms the first observer, is familiar! Could he behold his mistress—so young and beauteous still—so soon to be resigned for ever—now before him, and not forget that any other woman lived, on whom he ever had bestowed a thought? not feel that, without her life—her love—her safety—life—all the world—to him, would be no longer worth possessing?

The Countess gazed upon her lover as he knelt; and she, too, for a long space, gazed without speaking; for with her, far less than even with Di Vasari, was there that full indulgence of grief which soothes and satisfies the heart: but her thoughts were those of doubt—and fancied wrong—and wounded pride—and passion scorned or slighted. Fierce as had been the paroxysms which that day had convulsed and shaken her; bodily pain, and mental suffering; her pride still towered over all; her beauty showed untainted! Scorning death in his triumph; hating his approach, yet smiling on it; never more carefully than in that hour—her last of life—had the Countess’s toilet been adjusted. Her force of mind, and feverish heat of purpose, rose even above the anodynes which gave her a temporary release from personal suffering. Excited as she already was by passion, almost to frenzy, the very narcotics which should have deadened the brain’s action, turned to stimulants, and served only to add new fury to its purpose. Her cheek had lost its tint of freshness. Her eyes, that glistened with tears repressed, had something of wildness in their expression. And her lips had faded from their ruby hue. But, other than this, her beauty was still uninjured; all her features were full and animated; it was scarce possible to contemplate her as a being who in a few hours should cease to move—to think—to have intent—existence.

At length the Countess spoke. Her hand lay passive in her lover’s grasp. But it was cold—damp—and nerveless—trembling;—it suffered, not returned, his ardent pressure. “You would see me once more then, Lorenzo?” she said; and her words were uttered with pain and difficulty. For though her features remained unmoved, her eyes were blind with tears; and the tone of her voice was more terrible in its hollow, wilful steadiness, than if she had at once resigned the contest, and given way to the storm of grief that overwhelmed her.—“You have left Arezzo, and safety, and your new bride that shall be, to watch the last moments of one who can now no more be worth your thinking of; but who, whatever may be the faults she has to answer for, dies for one only, Lorenzo,—the fault of having loved you!”

The Chevalier’s cheek was paler even than that of the Countess. His voice was drowned with sobs—he could not speak—the words choked him in their utterance. He lifted his face from the velvet covering in which it had lain buried—he clasped his hands together;—the hand of the Countess fell from his grasp.—“And is there then,” at last he said, “oh God!—is there then, Angiolina, indeed no hope?”

“For me, Lorenzo,” said the Countess, “there is no hope. Worlds could not purchase for me another hour’s life. We meet now for the last time! You are ill, Lorenzo,—you have travelled far—I should not have sent to you—I trouble you too much. But I am going on a long journey—a travel from which I shall not return. I am a weak creature—too weak—but I am dying. Bless you, Lorenzo, for thinking of me this once! I shall die now content—content and happy. For I shall not have seen him, for whom I sacrificed both life and honour—while I still lived—devoted to another.”

Avarice, ambition, terror, may have mercy; but there is one passion lurks within the human breast, whose very instinct’s murder. Once lodged within the heart, for life it rules—ascendant and alone! Sports in the solitude like an antic fiend; it feeds on blood, and rivers would not sate its appetite. Minds strongest in worth and valour stoop to meanness and disgrace before it. The meanest soul—the weakest—it can give courage to, beyond the daring of despair! What is the sting which no balm can assuage? What is the wound that death alone can heal? What is the injury that—once done—can never be repaired? whose is the sword that, once when drawn, the scabbard must be cast away for ever? When is it that man has no ear but for the tale that falls like molten lead upon his brain; no eye but for the plucked-out heart of him he hates; no hand but for that clutch—that one last clutch—which earth may not resist—that gripes his dagger? Who is it that bears about him a life, horrible to himself, and dangerous to the world? Who has been wise, yet now will cast away reason?—was kind and pitiful, yet mimics the humanity of the wild dog? Who is it hews his foe to mammocks; writes “Acquittal” on his tomb—and dies? Who is it that stabs, yet will not blame; drinks—as his draught of life—another’s blood; yet feels there is but one relief—to shed his own? That wretch is Jealous! Oh! talk not of remembrance—consciousness beyond the grave!—once sleeping, let the jealous never wake again! Pity him, whatever his crimes! Were they ten thousand fathom past the reach of mercy, they are punished. The gamester whose last piece is lost—the merchant whose whole risk the sea has swallowed up—the child whose air-bubble has burst,—may each create a bauble like the former! But he whose treasure was in woman’s love; who trusted as men once trust, and was deceived!—that hope once gone! weep—search—regret—despair—seek thyself blind—there is again no finding—no restoring it! Woman! symbol of woe, and nature’s weakness! gamester of hope and happiness! thy love must be integral—single—perfect—or be nothing. Like the glass toy that has amused thy childhood, entire it sparkles, shining, bright, and precious; but from the farthest thread—the finest—break off but one fibre—it is gone—form—shape—design—material—substance! That flaw has shivered it to countless atoms; and where the jewel was, a heap of dust, which men despise and trample on, alone remains!

“Lorenzo!” said the Countess, in a hurried tone,—“Lorenzo, a chill is creeping over me. It is cold now—cold as the grave—I feel that I am dying. It is terrible, Lorenzo, to die so young! You will pray for me, though you have ceased to love me? Think of me, once more—only once—when Perline di Francavilla is your happy bride. Do not let her triumph too far; but think of me even on your bridal day, one moment, before you forget me for ever. For then, oh, Lorenzo—then—I shall be a thing fit only to forget. A poor, passive, nameless thing, beyond the reach of memory or sensation. And the tears of my friends, and the triumph of my foes, will be alike; for they will both be unknown and unnoticed by me.”

“Angiolina!” cried the Chevalier, “if you would not destroy me quite, have mercy!”

“Have you not now come from Arezzo, Di Vasari?”

There are moments in which, even to serve its need, the heart revolts from falsehood.—There was no answer. “Have you not daily seen Perline di Francavilla there? Have you not—perjured as you are—have you not pledged your false heart to her?”

“Then, never—by all my hopes in heaven!” exclaimed the Chevalier, urged almost beyond self-control; and changing his tone from that of sorrow almost into one of injury and recrimination—for if his conscience did not entirely acquit him of blame, yet neither was he guilty in the extent to which he was accused.—“Forced, by your own command—would I had never listened to it!—to quit Florence, chance more than purpose led me to Arezzo. If I have seen Perline di Francavilla there,” continued the speaker—and here his voice did falter something—“it has been only in that common intercourse, which the long connection of our houses rendered unavoidable. But your token said, that you were in sickness—in danger—What was Perline, then, or all the world, to me? Am I not here to save—to perish for—Angiolina—to perish with you? For why should one live on, who now can live only to a sense of wretchedness! If I had wronged your trust—say that I had been light and thoughtless—he trifles with the richest gem in fancied safety, who hugs his treasure close, and feels its value when its loss is threatened. Angiolina, you have wronged me. You will regret to have done so; but my errand shall be fulfilled. I came to aid—to avenge—or perish with you.”

The words of the Chevalier were wild; but he spoke them heartily, and his manner was sincere. For the outward act too—it was at some hazard—and the plague still raging—that he had returned to Florence. It was at some hazard that he stood, even at that moment, unaided, and almost unarmed, within walls where but a whisper of his name would have armed an hundred swords against his life. But Perline di Francavilla lived!—the Countess saw but that—would live and triumph—when she should be no more—despised—forgotten. The helplessness—the hopelessness—of all defence against such a consummation—the very sense of that helplessness seemed to exasperate her almost to frenzy.

Eagerly grasping her lover’s hands, her action seemed to demand the repetition of his promise. But the words which should have expressed the demand were wanting. A sudden, but sinking change was taking place in the lady’s appearance—the poison had run its course; and the crisis of her fate was approaching.

Slowly drawing her hand across her brow, as if to clear the mist that made her vision indistinct, she seemed anxiously to search out some object, which the fading sight had scarcely strength enough to reach.

At that moment, a dial, which faced the feet of the couch on which she lay, struck, with its shrill bell, the first hour of the morning.

The stroke seemed to fall upon the Countess, and paralyse her remaining faculties.

“Angiolina!” cried the Chevalier, springing from the floor—“Angiolina! speak, for mercy’s sake! Angiolina!—she is dying!”

His attention was quickly called to his own safety: a footstep as he spoke approached distinctly through the corridor.

“Angiolina!” He started to the door by which he had entered. “Ruin and despair!” it was closed without—it would not open.

The footsteps came on still. Why, then, there was but one hope—his dagger was in his hand.

The Lady Angiolina heard—she saw what was passing. She moved—she pointed. No—it was wrong—not there! She made a last effort—she spoke, once more. “Yonder, Lorenzo—There—there!

It was but the advantage of a moment. The curtains of the couch on which the Countess was lying parted the coming and the going guest. The light fall of the swinging door by which the new visitor entered the chamber, echoed the heavy drop of that which had shut the Chevalier from view.

It was not the Count di Arestino whose approach had created this alarm, but that which followed made the presence of his Lordship speedily desired. The female who entered the chamber found her mistress lying insensible, and in a state which left little doubt of her immediate dissolution. From that moment the Countess lived nearly two hours, but she never spoke again. Her confessor came. He pressed the cross to the lips of the expiring lady, and some said that she shrank from it; but the most believed that she was insensible, and the last absolution of the dying was administered. The Count Ubaldi stood by his wife’s bedside. He wore no outward semblance of excessive grief. It might be that his heart bled inwardly; but he scarcely dreamed who had knelt on that same spot so short a time before him.

“It was at the bell of one,” said Giuletta, in a low voice to her companion, “that my lady desired me to waken her. And when I came, as the clock struck, I found her even alone, and thus.”

As she spoke, the shrill tongue of the dial once more struck the hour of two. A slight struggle agitated the features of the Countess at the sound! she clasped her hands as if in prayer, or from some suddenly excited recollection.

In another moment the source of all the anxiety expressed around was at an end. The domestics yet wept; the confessor still bent with the sacred image over his penitent; the Count Arestino still gazed coldly on—upon what? It was not upon his wife—for the Countess Arestino was no more.


“For though he ’scaped by steel or ball,
And safe through many a peril pass’d,
The pitcher oft goes to the well,
But the pitcher comes home broke at last.”

The judges of Florence were met, and there were crowds round the gate of the Palazzo di Governo; for a criminal, sentenced to death that day, was to suffer the torture before he underwent his final doom.

Of what crime had the prisoner been guilty? He was a common robber, guilty of a hundred crimes, for any of which his life was forfeit. But there was one charge to which, guilty or not guilty, he refused to plead; and as a disclosure was important, he was to be racked to induce him to confess.

On the morning of the Vigil of St Luke it was that Lorenzo di Vasari had quitted Arezzo. His journey had been taken on the sudden, and no one had been acquainted with its object. Various circumstances in the manner of his departure led to the inference that his absence was to be a short one; and yet two months had elapsed since he had so departed, and intelligence of his course, or of his safety, his family had none.

It was strange—and men declared it so—where the Chevalier Lorenzo could be hidden. He had been traced to Florence. On that dark night, and in those deserted streets, when he felt most sure no eye beheld him, he had nevertheless been seen, mounted on his black horse, and followed by his servant, first passing the column of Victory in the Via di Repoli, and afterwards halting in conference upon the Ponta St Trinita.

But those who had seen the travellers as they paused upon the bridge, were themselves night prowlers, digging after hidden spoil in the Jews’ Quarter, and they had not watched them, for they had business of their own, more urgent, to attend to. It was recollected that they had at length ridden off westwards, in the direction of the Porto Pisano; but with that movement all traces both of master and attendant ceased.

Now this disappearance was strange; and except that there had been foul play in some quarter, what other solution could be imagined for it? Why had the Chevalier Lorenzo first quitted Florence? It was not from fear of the plague, for he had returned in the height of it. And when was it that he had so returned—himself to disappear so strangely? when but on the very night, and almost at the very hour, that the Countess Arestino had died! The belief of all made the duty of none. Men might suffer wrong, and never know they suffered it; or they might be wronged, and yet sit down contented. But yet the Count Ubaldi, by those who knew him, was scarcely numbered as one who would so sit down; and there had been a rumour once, though it had passed away, which joined the name of the Chevalier di Vasari too closely with that of the Lady Angiolina. And had Lorenzo’s true kinsman, the soldier Carlo, lived, less doubt had drawn his sword for vengeance or for explanation.

But “true Carlo” was dead—your honest men are ever so—dead in the wars of Germany and Spain. And Gonsalvo di Vasari, the last relative and next heir, seemed less curious to revenge his kinsman’s death than to inherit. No man in Florence doubted Gonsalvo’s courage, but still his dagger slept in its sheath. It might be he believed his cousin had taken no wrong; or it might be that—take the worst to be proved—his conscience whispered he might have juster cause of quarrel. But week after week elapsed, and even month after month; and though all concluded the absent Lorenzo to be dead, yet no certain tidings even of his death could be obtained, so that the title to his large estates remained in abeyance. The disappearance of the servant Jacopo, too, seemed more puzzling to many people than any other part of the affair. When one morning, about ten weeks after the absentees had been lost sight of, and while men were still debating whether they had been swallowed up, horses, arms, purses, and all, by some local earthquake, or translated suddenly to the skies, and there converted into constellations, as a great mob was sweeping over the piazza Santa Croce, conducting a robber, who had just been condemned, to the place of execution, a citizen, whom accident or curiosity had drawn close to the person of the culprit, suddenly exclaimed, that “he wore a cloak which had belonged to Lorenzo di Vasari!”

“Holy Virgin! will you not hear what I say?” insisted the person who thus stopped his fellow-creatures on their passage to the other world.—“Should I not know the cloak, when I made it myself?” he continued. Which was at least so far likely to be true, that the spokesman was a tailor.

“But the man is going to be hanged, and what more can you have if he had stolen fifty cloaks?” replied the superintending officer, giving the word that the cavalcade, which had halted, should again move forward.

The chief party (as one would have thought) to this dispute—that is, the prisoner who sat in the cart—remained perfectly silent; but the interruption of Nicolo Gozzi bade fair, nevertheless, to be overruled. For the culprit was no other than the famous Luigino Arionelli, or, as he was surnamed, “Luigino the Vine-dresser,” who had been the terror of all Florence during the period of the plague; and a great many people had come out to see him hanged, who were not disposed to go home disappointed of the ceremony. And the provost, too, who commanded, was well disposed to get rid of the interference, if he could; for since the law had resumed its powers, despatch (in matters of justice) was rather the order of the day. The disorders which had to be regulated were many and dangerous; and the object being to get rid of such as suddenly as possible, a good many of the delays which were used to lie between the commission of crimes and their final punishment had been agreed to be dispensed with. So that, upon the whole, Signor Gozzi’s remonstrances were generally treated as impertinent; and it was a moot point, whether he did not seem more likely to be personally added to the execution, than to put a stop to it; when luckily there came up a servant of the house of Di Vasari, attracted by the uproar, who identified the cloak in question, not merely as having belonged to the Chevalier Lorenzo, but as being the same which he had worn on the night of his disappearance.

This strange declaration—backed by a recollection that Gonsalvo di Vasari’s interests must not be treated lightly—decided the commander of the escort in favour of delay; and the culprit, who had been observed to pay deep attention to all that passed, was reconducted to prison. When questioned, however, both casually in his way back to the jail by the officer of justice, and formally, afterwards, by Gonsalvo di Vasari himself, he maintained a determined silence. A sort of examination—if such it could be called when no answers were given—was prolonged for several hours; but no further facts were discovered; and not a word, either by persuasions or menaces, could be extorted from the prisoner. In the end, the chief judge, the Marquis Peruzzi, to whose daughter Gonsalvo di Vasari was affianced, suggested that time should be given for consideration, and that—Arionelli being retained in close confinement—all proceedings should be staid for four days. This recommendation was agreed to, not because it was the course which any one desired to take, but because it was the only course, under the circumstances, which seemed open. Arionelli was then shut up anew under close caution. Gonsalvo di Vasari and his friends betook themselves to study how they might hunt out fresh evidence; or, against the next day of examination, work upon the prisoner so that he should confess. And the gossips of Florence had enough of employment in discussing the singular providence which had at last led to the detection of the Chevalier’s murderer, puzzling what could be the object of his present silence, and disputing whom his disclosures would impeach.

“Bring in the prisoner,” said the presiding judge.

The day of examination was come, and the judges had taken their seats in the Palazzo di Governo. The Gonfalonière, the Marquis Peruzzi, sat as president, with Gonsalvo di Vasari and the Count Arestino, both as members of the Council. Two secretaries, with writing implements before them, sat at the head of a long table placed below the president’s chair; and a few ushers and inferior retainers of the Court, distinguished by their robes and wands, waited in different quarters of the apartment. But no other members of the Council than those already described were present, for the affair was one rather of individual than of general interest; and the heads of Florence were still too much engaged with private calamities and difficulty, to have any more leisure to spare than was absolutely necessary for the service or direction of the public.

“Let the prisoner be brought in!” said the Marquis Peruzzi.

One of the secretaries signed to an attendant, who rang a small hand-bell which stood upon the table.

Upon which the folding-doors at the lower end of the hall were thrown open, and a guard of soldiers, marching in, ranged themselves (a precaution temporarily adopted in that stormy period) on two sides of the chamber. The prisoner, Arionelli, came next, handcuffed and heavily ironed, followed by six or seven unpleasant but not formidable-looking persons, the servants of the executioner. The doors were then again closed and carefully fastened, as if to prevent the possibility of intrusion from without; the soldiers rested their lances, but remained in an attitude of attention; and a curtain was drawn aside by some unseen hand from a recess in the south side of the apartment, which showed the rack and its apurtenances prepared, and the machinery for the water torture.

“Luigino Arionelli!” then said the chief secretary, “do you yet repent you of your contumacy; and will you confess to this tribunal that which you know touching the fate of Lorenzo di Vasari?”

The culprit, to whom this demand was addressed, had he been forty times an outlaw, was a man of excellent presence. Of a stature sufficient to convey the impression of much bodily command and strength, yet boldly and handsomely, rather than very robustly, proportioned; the rich cavalier’s dress in which he had been disguised when he was first taken, and of which he still wore the faded remains, accorded well with a deportment as high and unconstrained as that of any noble in whose presence he was standing. His countenance was pale, and something worn as with fatigue; perhaps it was with anxiety; for a dungeon, and the prospect of being hanged on quitting it, are not the best helps to any man’s personal appearance. But he looked at the rack straightforward and steadily, not as with a forced defiance, but as at an object for which he was prepared, if not with which he was familiar; and when he spoke, there was neither faltering in his voice nor apprehension in his feature. “Carlo Benetti!” he said, when the chief secretary had done speaking—“nay, never bend your brow, my lord, for I have worse dangers than your displeasure to meet already. I am at the point of death, when men in most ranks are equal. Have nothing left to lose, so may make shift to bear the heaviest farther penalty you can inflict. Therefore write down—and see you blur it not—that unless upon terms, and not such terms as the rack to begin, and the gibbet to conclude with, neither you nor your masters shall have any information from me.”

The Gonfalonière turned his eye slowly on the instruments of torture. “Do you not fear,” he said, “to die upon that wheel? Reflect! it is a fate to which you have not yet been sentenced; and it is one, compared with which, the death you have to suffer will be as the pleasures of paradise set against the torments of purgatory.”

“When I became a robber,” returned Arionelli, coolly, “I looked for some such fate. I reckoned with myself, that I could scarcely live gaily, and not die irregularly. I wished to rein a fleet horse in the field, rather than wait on one in the stable. To sing and thrum on my guitar in idleness half the night, rather than hold the plough, or ply the hatchet, in labour all day. In short, I wished to feed luxuriously—drink freely—have a brave mistress—spurn at law and honesty—in brief, my lord, become a nobleman, not having been born one; and I was content to pay something, at a long day, for the change.”

The prisoner’s demand was for his own life secured, and for pardon of two of his comrades, who were not yet brought to trial. The disclosures which he could make were desirable; but these were terms on which the State could not purchase them.

“Between the rope and the wheel,” added Arionelli, “it is but an hour’s endurance, which troubles me little.”

“We will try the strength of that endurance,” said the President, turning to Gonsalvo di Vasari, who slightly assented. “Executioner! do your duty. Let the prisoner strip.”

The executioner and his assistants then proceeded immediately to strip the culprit naked to the waist, which they did almost in silence, and very temperately, without any show of violence or roughness; but yet the cold, ready, business-like civility of their manner—the expeditiousness with which they stripped a man for murder and agony, as they might have stripped him for the bath—chilled the heart with more sickness than a demeanour of coarseness or ferocity would have done.

The outlaw smiled bitterly; but it was a smile of confidence and impatience rather than insolence. “Gonfalonière!” he cried, “once more beware! One moment’s haste may kill your hopes for ever. Crack but a sinew—strain but a single limb—let your blind rage but do the smallest act that makes Arionelli’s life not worth preserving,—not all the wealth that Florence holds shall ever buy your secret: I die, and it dies with me.”

No notice was taken of this menace, except by an order to complete the necessary preparations. The criminal was bound to the rack. An attendant had brought the pot of water which stood by to wet the lips of sufferers in their extremity. And the cords were tightened, ready for the first pull, which was commonly followed by a dislocation of both the wrists and shoulders.

At this point many gave way; and it was the custom to try the resolution of culprits under it by a moment’s suspense. But Arionelli uttered no word, nor gave any look, which could be construed into an appeal for mercy. His cheek was flushed—hands clenched—the lips strongly drawn in—the teeth set firm together; but in the whole countenance there was but one expression—that of defiance and disdain; and all eyes were fixed, and all ears were open, for the moment of allowance had expired; when, just as the Gonfalonière’s hand was raised to give the last sign for which the executioner waited, and the prisoner was collecting his strength to meet the impending shock, Gonsalvo di Vasari, who had watched the whole scene in silence, but with the closest attention, made a movement to interfere.

A consultation of some length ensued between the judges, or rather between the first two of them, Gonsalvo di Vasari and the President Peruzzi; for the Count Arestino, although many had been curious to think whether he would or would not be present at the process, seemed merely to have taken his seat as an ordinary member of the council, without feeling any peculiar interest in it. The discussion at the table was carried on in a low tone; but the prisoner watched its progress with an eye of keen and penetrating inquiry. Presently (as well as might be judged from his gestures) the Gonfalonière appeared to yield to some proposal from Gonsalvo di Vasari; and the latter wrote a few words on a slip of paper, and handed them to an usher, who bowed and left the room; after which the President made some communication (which was not heard) to the Count Arestino; and Gonsalvo himself took up the examination.

“You demand, then,” said Gonsalvo di Vasari, addressing Arionelli, “your own life, and a pardon for two of your associates who are in custody, as the price of the confession which you are to make relative to the disappearance of the Chevalier Lorenzo di Vasari?”

“As the price of my full answer to all your questions on that subject, as far as my knowledge goes, my lord,” was the reply—“provided, in the mean time, your lordship causes these cords to be loosened, which give me pain something unnecessarily, and which another turn would have drawn too tight for the advantage of your lordship’s objects, or of mine.”

“And these associates, for whose lives you covenant?” continued Di Vasari, when the prisoner’s request had been complied with.

“Are my friends, my lord—men of my own band. They came, indeed, after I was taken, to rescue me at the scaffold; and the least I can do now is to let our cause go together.”

“And what if your obstinate silence (to repay that intended obligation) should cause them to die a death of torture, as you are like to do yourself?”

“They will be as able to endure such a fate as I am. I play for the higher stake—our lives. And if the die goes against me, we must suffer.”

“And when their turn upon the rack comes,” interrupted the Gonfalonière, “then they will disclose your secret.”

“That they will tell you no word of it, my lord, I have the best security—they know nothing of it themselves.”

“You are called,” said Gonsalvo di Vasari, “Luigino Arionelli. Are you not that Luigino Arionelli who is known by the name of ‘The Vine-dresser?’”

“I am known by an hundred names, and seen in an hundred shapes,” returned the robber. “Ask your officers how many they have seen me in, in this last month, and in this very city? I am the Venetian monk from Palestine, who was preaching at the Cross in the Piazza dei Leoni, while the three great houses beyond the square were emptied, on the fifth day of the plague. And I was the Austrian officer who came with his long retinue to the inn of ‘The Golden Flask’ (the host will remember what fell out in that lodging), bringing letters and despatches to the Gonfalonière from Cologne. I was the Genevese physician, who got good practice, and some money, by the ‘infallible remedy against the plague;’ and your lordships see, whatever I did for others, I had skill enough to keep clear from it myself. And it was I who ransacked half the houses in the Quartiere St Giovanni in only one night; robbing in a bull’s hide, disguised with horns, when two fathers of the Order of Mercy met me, and ran away, mistaking me for the devil.”

“Have you not a wife, or a mistress, who is called Aurelia la Fiore?”

“I have. Close with my proposal!” said the outlaw, who seemed excited by the conversation. “I would live, and be once more at liberty, for her sake!”

“Is she your wife, or your mistress only?”

“As chance will have it, not my wife according to the usages of our church. But she might have been. As far as affection is worth—passion, devotion—the asking in vain no prize which hand can win, or sacrifice which heart can make; as far as to have no rival—never to have had a rival—in the heart of her husband, so far she is my wife! There are women, perhaps, worse treated, and wives—the wives of princes—worse deserving.”

“Was not this Aurelia the daughter of an oil-farmer near Ferrara?”

“She was. Then you have heard the tale? I stabbed the noble who thought her worth dishonouring, and would have borne her from me. Fortune had shared her stores more evenly between us than he imagined. To him she gave the wealth to purchase pleasure; to me the hand to win it. I was a vine-dresser then; and, but for that event, might have been one still.”

“Does Aurelia know this secret, which you would sell to us?”

“That you shall know, my good lord, after you have bought it from me.”

“Where is Aurelia now?”

“If you inherit not your kinsman’s patrimony, Gonsalvo di Vasari, till you learn that, your patience, as well as your purse, shall fare the harder.”

“What if she were in our power?”

The robber smiled contemptuously at the supposition.

“What if I should tell you that she is here—in chains and peril—and that every insolence you utter added to her danger?”

“That would be almost a false assertion, Gonsalvo di Vasari; and the mouths of your race should be clear from dishonour.”

“Why, let him then see!” exclaimed Di Vasari, starting from his seat. A door opposite to the recess in which the prisoner stood was thrown open; and a female—it was Aurelia herself—bound, and guarded by Gonsalvo’s servants, stood before him.

The recoil of the outlaw burst his bonds like threads; the cords that tied him seemed to fall off by witchcraft more than to be broken. But the effort was involuntary; it was followed by no movement, and indicated no purpose. For one moment the hands of the guards were upon their swords; but a single glance was enough, and showed the precaution was needless.

The shadow of that passing door, as it swung slowly to upon its muffled hinges, seemed to sweep every trace of former expression from Arionelli’s countenance. Familiar with objects of danger and alarm, a moment sufficed him to perceive that the ground on which he had stood, as on a rock, was gone. One convulsive shudder ran through his frame, as the high clear voice of Aurelia pronounced, in trembling agony, the name of “Luigino!” He bowed his face, as one who abandoned further contest, and seemed to await what was to come.

“Luigino Arionelli,” said Gonsalvo, coldly, and in the measured tone of conscious power, “do you yet repent you of your obstinacy; and will you make confession as to the fate of Lorenzo di Vasari?”

A pause ensued, and the robber attempted to rally his faculties; but the effort was unsuccessful. At length he spoke, but not as he had before spoken; there was a difference in the steadiness of his tone, and a still wider in the carelessness of his manner.—“You know, my lords,” he said, “that the power is now yours. There was but one creature on earth for whom I could have wept or trembled, and she is in your hands. The struggle is over; I and my companions have lived like men; and I trust we shall die like men. Let my wife depart; she has done the state no wrong, and has no knowledge of that which you desire to learn. And as soon as she shall have passed the boundaries of the Florentine territory, I will confess the whole—much or little—that I can disclose of the fate of the Chevalier di Vasari.”

The very deep, though repressed, anxiety with which the speaker put this proposal, seemed to imply a doubt how far it could be accepted. He was not mistaken; those who held the power, knew the tenure by which they held it, and that tenure they were not disposed to part with.

“Trifle not with the sword and with the fire, if you are wise, Arionelli!” said Gonsalvo di Vasari. “Press not too far upon the patience of this court. She whom you call your wife stands, no less than yourself, within the scope of our danger. Whatever mercy is extended to her, must be upon your full and unconditional submission; and not until all questions which may be put to you have been answered satisfactorily. Therefore I caution you once more; speak instantly, and without reserve; and press no longer on the forbearance of this tribunal; for you guess not the fate which you may draw down upon yourself if you do so.”

The outlaw’s passion rose in his fear’s despite. “And press me not too far, my lords,” he exclaimed, “if you are wise. For once remove the temptation of Aurelia’s safety—and ten thousand times the torments you command shall never win an answer from me. Take heed, good Gonfalonière, what you do! Ask your slaves here, if, at the foot of the gibbet, I shrank from the death which was before me. You have the power; beware you strain it not too far. I am in your chains—defenceless—helpless. Those arms are bound, whose strength, if they were free, perhaps the stoutest soldier here might find too much to cope with. But go one point only too far—To tear the hook from the fish’s entrails is not to land him! You cannot kill the robber Luigino, though you kill him in extremest tortures, but you kill the secret which you want—the secret for which he dies—at the same moment.”

If there be truth in threats like these, it is a truth for which no man (until they are executed) ever gets credit. He who will die, and die content, for his own vengeance, is the exception to the common rule. Arionelli was bound again to the wheel, and with cords which were stronger than before. Up to that moment his wife had never spoken. Her eyes had remained fixed upon the earth, and there were no sobs accompanied the large drops which fell from them; nor signs scarcely that she wept, beyond the convulsive heaving of her bosom. Once, when the dark attendants surrounded her lover, her lips opened to speak; but she only sank upon her knees—the lips were closed again—and one long shriek issued from them, that seemed to cleave the very roof of the palazzo. And then came the command from Gonsalvo di Vasari—not that which she dreaded, but another—cool, distinct, calculating, and delayed until the confinement of Arionelli was complete.—“Official, bind Aurelia la Fiore, and let the question by water be administered to her.”

An obvious effect was perceptible upon the countenances of the soldiers in the hall when this command was uttered. The outlaw himself was bound—this time his bonds did not give way—and when he heard the words, they seemed to paralyse—to engender a doubt that he miscomprehended—rather than to alarm him. He turned his eye rapidly from his kneeling wife to the judges. Its expression was not of humility, and scarcely that even of entreaty. His appeal was not that of a culprit to the mercy of a judge, but the demand which man makes upon man—upon the common feeling of his fellows—“In the name of God!” was all that he exclaimed, “you cannot mean it?”

Nevertheless, however, the men in black surrounded Aurelia, who stood motionless, attempting neither effort nor remonstrance; and having raised her from the ground, were proceeding to cut the laces which held her bodice; for a part of the horrible system was, that all who suffered, male or female, were stripped naked before the application of the question. The soldiers, though, from their cold silence and averted looks, they evidently disliked their duty, showed no disposition to flinch from it; and a passionate flood of tears burst from the eyes of the unhappy Aurelia, as the first infamous preparations for adding degradation to the tortures which she was to endure, were completed.

The cold sweat poured in streams down Arionelli’s forehead.—“In the name of Heaven,” he cried, “hold but one moment! If you are men, you will not do this deed! Gonfalonière! my Lord di Vasari! Count of Arestino! will you—as your souls may answer it—will you degrade this helpless and innocent female—and in the presence of her husband? Villains! cowards! slaves!” pursued the outlaw, violently, seeing that his words produced no cessation of the proceedings,—“have you not this frame, more noble than your own, but on which you may trample, still unbent and unbroken? Cannot you burst these sinews with a nod? Rend and destroy, with but a word, these limbs, whose force, naked as they are, and even in bonds, your pale hearts quail at? Am I not bound before you? Will not these miscreant agents delight to crush a frame to ruin, which shames, and shows their own too mean and insignificant? and yet will you—dare you—touch such a piece of Heaven’s handiwork as that woman! My Lord Gonfalonière—you have daughters—Man—if you are one—look at her! Is she more fit than they are for a deed of blood?—Di Vasari!—Gonsalvo!—Villain!—Usurer!—you are a man—young—passionate—can you look upon such a form as hers—and if she had sought your very life a thousand times—would you see it mangled, disgraced, and ruined?—Gonfalonière!—Count Arestino!—Mercy! This wretch I waste my words on. If he can do the deed—no matter with what cause—my words must be too useless to dissuade him from it!”

“Luigino Arionelli!” said the Gonfalonière, more mildly, “why, if this female’s safety be so precious to you, do you not secure it, and answer the questions which we propose?”

“It is because——” The outlaw hesitated.—“Now, Gonfalonière—you are a human creature—make that toad-like wretch take his base hands from her! Now she has fainted—let her not be bound! Villain! rogue! bare but one spot of her fair flesh, and you shall yet expire in tortures!—Marquis! Now thanks and blessings! Let the villains stand from her. Captain! Gentleman of honour! You wear a sword—I have seen you use it in the fight—support her—and may your own wife or sister never ask the same assistance, or lie in the same need!—All who know me—robber as I am—know that I never inflicted injury or insult on a woman. I sent back the Podesta of Trieste’s daughter to her father safe, and without ransom, when the villain churl refused to pay it. Why, thanks! Aurelia! Wife! look up! Oh treat me—robber as I am—but as a man! Let me be free—only to sustain her; and command or question what you will.”

“Luigino!” said the Marquis Arestino, who seemed something affected by the outlaw’s passion, though reasons perhaps prevented his doing anything which might be construed into the showing him favour—“the court in mercy has granted this momentary delay; why is it that you do not use it to confess?”

“It is because—because,” continued Arionelli, passionately, but not violently, “my hope is over—I have nothing to confess. It is because—as I stand in this danger—as I have a soul—I have nothing that can assist you in what you desire to know. When I was stopped and brought back to prison from my way to execution, I was ignorant even of how it arose that I was suspected of this crime. I saw your anxiety for the information which you thought I possessed; and would, if I could, have gained a promise of life for myself and my comrades before I declared the truth. You will not blame me for this effort? It was not quite base or selfish; for, win or lose, it included those who had put themselves in danger to aid in my escape. But it is over now. I give it up. The cloak which your people recognise, may or may not, for aught I know, have been taken from the Signor Lorenzo di Vasari. But it was the property—this is all I know—of a robber of my band, who died ten days before my apprehension.”

The countenances of the judges darkened. “Where is this man?” asked the secretary Benetti; “how did he obtain this spoil, and is he one of those already in our power?”

“He is dead, as I have declared already,” said Arionelli—“dead of the plague. I have proof of this. Send for the visitors of the Ospedale St Sulpice, and ask whether two of them did not find, fourteen days since, in the upper floor of a deserted house in the Rua Pulita, a man dead of the plague; and, in the same apartment, a garment of bull’s hide, curiously fitted with a mask and horns? This last garment was mine—I named it before—and it was left there by accident. By the farther token that the directors of St Sulpice commanded the finders to burn it privately, lest its profane exhibition should scandalise the church.”

“That is true, my lord,” whispered the chief secretary to the Gonfalonière; “the fact was known to us when it happened.”

“The man who was found in that apartment,” continued Arionelli, “was called Dominico Torelli: and he died with the cloak which you now challenge in his possession. How he obtained it I know not, for I saw little of his pursuits. We were on ill terms because at other times he had concealed his booty, instead of bringing it fairly to division. Those who follow our profession think but little about forms of burial; when he was dead, his arms and money were shared by such of his associates as were at hand. This rich mantle and the doublet that I wear fell to another’s lot; but they struck my fancy, and I purchased them.”

Gonsalvo di Vasari listened patiently till the outlaw had concluded, but it was with the air of a man who was not unmoved by anything that was saying.

“We are approaching the truth,” said he, coldly; “but we must have it fully. Mark me, Arionelli! Your object is seen, and you deceive yourself to hope it can prevail. This dead robber, whom you would palm upon us, if ever he had existence, was your comrade, your follower. The crime for which you would make him answerable no single hand ever committed; and the spoil obtained was too large to have been so lightly disposed of, as you would persuade us, or concealed. Now listen to me. There are some in Florence know I am not used to trifle. The clue which lies in my hands now to my kinsman’s fate—whether of life or death—words will not induce me to give up. Therefore be wise, and speak at once; for, by the great Heaven, there is no hope that fraud or obstinacy will avail you! If you should find resolution enough to die silent under this torture, I will try whether your wife here has strength to be equally contumacious.”

The rage of the hunted wolf was in the robber’s countenance. He saw his danger—saw that he was caught in his own toils. The very error of his judges (more than their mercilessness) led inevitably to his destruction.

“Gonfalonière!” he cried, furiously—“Gonsalvo di Vasari! Hold once more! Reflect—there is a line beyond which human suffering does not pass! The meanest wretch in Florence, who cares not for his own life, holds the fate of the highest among ye at his mercy. You feel that you dare not, for fifty times your titles and possessions, commit this villany you meditate, and let me live. There are others—companions—friends—reflect on it!—who will be left behind, and whom an act like this will rouse to certain vengeance. You have no fault to charge on this helpless woman. You can gain nothing of that you seek from her. You sacrifice her to gain that which cannot be gained—for, so help me Heaven in my last hour, I have it not!—from me. Beware! for no deed like that of tyranny and baseness ever passed unpunished. Do not drive a trodden-down wretch to desperation! Do not rush uselessly upon an act which will stand alone in the annals of infamy and crime!—Or, tell me at least,” continued Arionelli, passionately, “if there is indeed no hope—no chance—of mercy! Before you ruin your own objects, and mine, past helping—Signor di Vasari—I know whom it is I have to deal with—Definitively—what is it that you demand?”

“For the last time,” said Gonsalvo di Vasari, “that this Court will deign to question—full confession as to the fate of my cousin, the Chevalier Lorenzo.”

“If he be dead?”

“A token of his death, and the story of its manner.”

“And though he be dead, shall Aurelia then be free?”

The Gonfalonière replied—“Of that you have our pledge.”

The outlaw paused for a moment, anxiously, and in thought.—“My Lord di Vasari,” he said, “I have already sworn that I had no share in your cousin’s fate. I believe that he has fallen. But means of inquiry I have none, except by message to those who are beyond your warrant, and who knew more of Dominico Torelli’s latter course than I know. Who but myself can do an errand such as this? Who else can search out those who hold life only while they are not found? And me you will not part with? There is but one resource. Aurelia knows the haunts of my band; she can seek those whose aid I need, and will be trusted by them as myself. Let me then be carried back to prison; and let her depart whither I direct; and if in twenty-four hours she return not with some intelligence, my life shall answer the event.”

“Would it not be safer to reverse that arrangement?” said Gonsalvo, significantly,—“to retain Aurelia here in prison; and suffer you, Arionelli, in whom I trust more than you credit, to depart?”

A long silence followed, which was broken at last by the robber; but the tone in which he spoke, and his manner, was, for the first time, strangely contrasted with the expression of his features. “My Lord!” he said, interrupting the Gonfalonière, “let us close this conference.” (And his voice was steady, even to seeming unconcern; though his countenance was deadly pale, and his eye was livid and glassy, and his lips seemed to perform their office with an effort—as if some swelling in the throat choked up the utterance.) “The proof which Signor Gonsalvo demands may be furnished more easily than I had recollected. Two men of my band are now in your jails of Florence. One of them is named Vincentio Rastelli: he is the lesser offender—set him free. Let Aurelia and myself then be carried back to prison—only one demand must be conceded—that our dungeon shall be the same. Let Rastelli have free access to me at will, and free passage to go and come, unfollowed and unwatched, wherever I shall send him. Promise that, my bond being kept—before I die—I shall see Aurelia at liberty. And before midnight to-morrow, Signor Gonsalvo shall have that put into his hands, which shall for ever set his mind at rest as to the fate—whatever it has been—of Lorenzo di Vasari.”

It was the hour of midnight on the morrow; and Gonsalvo di Vasari sat in his library alone; and he rejoiced in the fortune of his arrangements. The robber Rastelli had been set at liberty. He had visited Arionelli in his prison. He had gone upon one mission, and had returned as unsuccessful; but at once again he had sped forth upon another. Was it possible that the outlaw might yet fail? Scarcely so! for Aurelia’s sake, his strength would be put forth to the utmost. Would the agent make sure of his own safety and escape? This was not likely, for already he had once returned; and the fidelity of such people, generally, to their friends and leaders, was as well known as their enterprise and ferocity.

It was not likely either that Arionelli would have taken his course, without feeling a strong reliance upon its success. A few hours then—nay, a few moments now—were to put him in possession of that evidence which would end all doubt as to his cousin’s rich inheritance. For Aurelia—her safety was promised; but her liberty—this evidence obtained—might be a matter for consideration. The outlaw himself would die upon the scaffold. It was pity that so much beauty as Aurelia’s should be cast away.—Meantime Gonsalvo di Vasari sat alone in his palace; and the hour of midnight was passed, and yet there was no messenger. He arose and opened the lattice—the moon shone brightly—but the streets of Florence were at rest. Was it possible that he should be trifled with! A servant was summoned. But—no!—no person had appeared.

At that instant, a man, wrapt in a dark cloak, was seen stealing across the Piazza of St Mark. His form was robust, and his step firm; it was the figure of the robber—of Rastelli. He paused a moment under the shadow of the church of St Benedick, as if to watch if any one observed him; then crossed the square—the portico concealed him;—but it was the hour—the very moment—it must be the messenger!

There was a hasty tap at the door of the cabinet——

“My lord—he has come.”

“Admit him.”

“He did not stay.”

“Where is his message?”

“My lord, it is here.”

The servant placed a small iron casket in the hands of his master; a folded packet accompanied it; and retired.

Gonsalvo broke the seal of the packet. There was not a word—the paper was blank. But it contained a small key, apparently that of the casket, of a singular form and workmanship.

The letter was a blank! The chest then, which was in his hands, contained the secret? Gonsalvo hesitated. Was it fit that the deposit should be at once opened? Was it not more fit that the disclosure (whatever it was) should be public—in the presence of the Gonfalonière, and in the apartment of the Senate?

And yet it might be that the casket contained matter hostile to his desires, rather than tending to assist them. It might be that the proof even of Lorenzo’s death failed wholly; and such truth, once openly declared, could never be got rid of.

He poised the chest in his hands. It weighed heavily. What could be its contents? Perhaps the written confession of Arionelli, or some of his companions. At all events, the course of a private search was safe: a public one might be made formally, in the morning, if convenient.

He took the key, secured the door, approached the taper, and cautiously examined the lock of the casket.

The key entered freely. It turned in the lock. The bolt shot. The hand that lay upon the lid tightened its grasp to lift it open.

At that moment the magazine within exploded. The chest, with a report that shook the apartment, burst into a thousand atoms. The household of Di Vasari was alarmed. His domestics rushed in a body to their master’s chamber. They tried to enter, but the door was fast. They knocked, but no answer was returned. While they stood irresolute in horror and alarm, an officer of justice, attended, came thundering at the gate. The prison of the Seralio had been alarmed in the night. The robber Arionelli and his wife were dead by poison, and the Gonfalonière in council desired the presence and assistance of Signor di Vasari. The affrighted domestics burst the door open. The message from the State was answered by the spectacle within. On the floor lay Gonsalvo di Vasari—dead; his garments scorched; his face and hands discoloured; his body mangled with a shower of balls; and the shell of the fatal casket at his feet.


“Then lay us together for ever to rest,
For the grave ends all strife, and all sorrow:
As the sun, which, at eve, sinks in blood to the west,
Rises calm and serene on the morrow!”

Forty years had passed over from the date of these events; and the horrors of the plague of Florence were forgotten. The tale lived in the recollection of a few old people who had escaped the wreck; but their accounts wavered between fiction and reality, and were held as exaggerations among the juniors. Times had changed, and things had changed with them. The ploughshare passed over that ground which had been the site of palaces in the time of the pestilence; and churches stood, and streets, where cemeteries had been glutted with the remains of thousands. Those who listened to the stories of mortality—of five hundred dead in one week, and three hundred in another—counted the numbers as men hear of thousands dead upon a field of battle: they believed the fact, because it was avouched, but scarcely could understand the possibility.

And with the traces of the plague, other wonders of the time had disappeared. The mystery of Lorenzo di Vasari’s fate was forgotten. The desperate revenge of the outlaw Arionelli lived only in the songs of the lower classes, or in the legends of those who still exercised his dangerous profession. The Count Arestino had long paid the debt which all men owe. His sins might, or they might not, be forgiven; but he was gone to his reckoning—had briefly, indeed, followed her whom his vengeance had sent thither perhaps too soon. The great crowd who had lived in that earlier day were now departed or departing; they gave up the post of action and existence to those who had been children in their day.

And in the Chateau Arestino now, there was feasting and all delight. It was the autumn again, and the hedges of myrtle on the banks of the Arno gave out their most delicious scent. The roses that hung faint with the noonday’s heat, gathered new life in the cool of the twilight, as they drooped their heads to drink of that fresh stream; and the last rays of the sun fell with a mellowed brightness upon the red and yellow leaves of the chestnut tree, or lingered, where the eye paused with less effort, among the dark-green branches of the olive.

And in the halls of the castle, too, there was a sound of music, and of dancing, and of revelry. And gay forms flitted lightly along its lofty corridors, or dashed in mimic pursuit, with the light step and lighter laugh of youth, through its water-side arbours and gardens. And there were gallant forms of cavaliers, their crests nodding brightly in the sun; and fair, transparent, sylph-like figures of females, their flowing drapery catching in the light breeze, and but adorning the form it seemed to hide, sported gaily through hall and bower. That day was the new lord’s wedding-day. He had wandered long abroad, unknowing of his rich inheritance. But all since his return was splendour and fitting and decoration. For he had sighed sometimes at the thought of that palace when he had little hope to possess it. And now it would become his favourite seat—he kept his day of bridal there.

And his bride was come, and her fair bridesmaids; and she was welcomed by the grey-haired domestics who hoped to live yet in ease and comfort from her bounty. And all was gaiety and sparkle. There was the light boat plied upon the river, filled with such freight as showed as though the nymphs fabled to dwell in ocean’s depths had risen to glide upon its surface. And the speckled trout checked at the long line, or snapped the brittle wand, while shouts of triumph or of laughter—equally gay—hailed his appearance above water or his escape.

And in the midst of all this tumult, the bride and her attendants, with girlish curiosity, wandered through the rich saloons, and even through every chamber in the castle. The pictures—the china—the statues—nothing was spared from their curious view. “And what was this? and whence came that? This painting, was it from Venice or from Rome? That armour, was it of the French or of the Danish workmanship? Those jewels too—and those rich plumes, now of past fashion, that filled the Garde-robe—whose had they been? from what great ancestor of Theodore’s had they descended?”

The attentive governante’s answer was always ready. She had the knowledge and the memory fitting to her station. The china was from one illustrious house—the statues, in succession, from another—the armour had belonged to the first or to the third Lord of Arestino, famous for his conduct in the wars of Charlemagne, against the Saracens or elsewhere. But the jewels and plumes had been the property of the Lady Angiolina Arestino, the wife of the last Count Ubaldi, and one of the handsomest women of her time; “Who died,” said the ancient governante, “on this very day forty-four years, even on the very night of the Vigil of St Luke; and on the same night that the young Chevalier di Vasari, whom some—Heaven pardon them!—accounted her lover, was basely murdered. How my lady met her death, some doubted, for the Lord Arestino was of an unforgiving temper, and severe! But it was a strange business, at least for the Chevalier and his attendant, who disappeared on that night, and no traces were ever heard of them more!”

“But the Chevalier’s body was found, was it not, good Beatrice?” said a fair Florentine girl; “I am sure I have heard that it was; and that he was one of the noblest cavaliers of his time. And that is a beautiful bust—if it was like him—which stands in the Church of St Marco, on the tomb erected to his memory!”

“His body was found, with your ladyship’s leave, three months after he was missing; but never the persons by whom he met his death. And up to this time, the servant who waited on him, and who I always thought had a share in his murder, has never been heard of. Some say that there were signs of his escape to France, and that his master’s famous black horse, Bayard, was many years afterwards recognised in the capital of that country. I do not know how that was; but I just recollect the finding of the Chevalier Lorenzo’s body, poor gentleman! He was found dead in a ravine, scarce four miles from the city; stripped of everything—naked—no doubt by those who had robbed and murdered him; and would never have been recognised but for his sword, which was found beside him, lying broken within a few yards of the spot where he fell!”

“But the Count Ubaldi——, my Lord Theodore’s ancestor—he died, too, early—did he not?” said the fair Lady Amina.

“He did, by your ladyship’s pleasure—alas! he did—soon after his lady; and her death was sudden—it was said that she was poisoned. It was all in the dreadful time of the plague, before the eldest of you, fair signoras—before your mothers almost, I might say—were born. Poor lady! it was in this very chamber, this chamber we now stand in, that she died.”

“Good Heaven!” said the Lady Amina, “in this chamber? Surely this was not the Countess Angiolina’s bed on which I am leaning?”

“Not the bed, your ladyship,” said Beatrice, “but all the other furniture of the room is exactly the same. These are the pictures which used to hang in it; and the marble busts; and those fine flower-vases, of which my lady was so fond. This cabinet contained her jewels, and many of them remain still. Some of the diamonds his lordship, the count, presented to the nuns of St Agnes la Fontagna. But the turquoises are here, that my lady wore mightily, for they became her complexion. And the pearls, too; but they are spoiled, quite black with age and want of wearing! That robe-chest, too—I pray your ladyship’s pardon for the dust upon it—this house has been unused and empty so long—and servants will neglect where one is not always—that chest was her ladyship’s, and I daresay contains choice fineries, for it stood always in her chamber, and has never been opened since she died.”

This last fact seemed more extraordinary than any of the wonders which had preceded it. “Has it really never been opened!” said the young Lady Olympia. “But what a pity that such beautiful ornaments should have been left to decay!”

“Never opened, may it please your ladyship; nor could it, but by violence,” returned the governante. “For it is a Spanish piece of work, and was sold to my lady by a foreign merchant, who told the secret of opening it only to her. It opens, your ladyship sees, with some spring—Heaven knows where! but there is neither lock nor bolt. Nobody could open it ever but my lady; and I am sure, since I lived in this house, I have tried a hundred times.”

There could scarcely fail, in such an assembly, to be some desire as strong as the governante’s to see the fair Countess’s hidden treasure; but the having to open the chest by force was a difficulty too formidable rather to surmount. To have performed such a feat (independent of any other objection) would apparently have required strong assistance; and therefore, whatever anxiety curiosity felt, modesty checked its expression; and the gay party proceeded on their rambling review, amidst various strange conjectures as to the manner of Di Vasari’s death; or comments upon the conduct of the Count Ubaldi, and the unhappy fate of his fair lady.

But at the close of the evening, when the song rose loudest, and the feast was still enlivening the hall, there were two female forms seen to glide with lighted tapers along the oaken gallery, and enter the light-blue chamber; it was the beautiful bride—the Lady Amina—and her favourite companion, Olympia Montefiore.

The Lady Amina led the way, laughing; but there was a touch of apprehension mingled in her smile. “For Heaven’s sake,” said she, pausing in the doorway, “let us go back!”

“What folly! what can we have to apprehend!” was the reply.

“But Theodore may have missed us.”

“And if he has!—Is it not his wedding-night, and can anything you do displease him? Besides—to-morrow he will cause the chest to be opened himself.”

“Then let us wait until to-morrow; and we can then see it.”

“Yes! and then everybody will have seen it—and it will not be worth seeing!”

As the beautiful tempter passed her companion, and knelt beside the case, her figure looked like that of Psyche, bending on the couch of Cupid.

“If we should not be able to open it after all!” said the bride, half fearful, half laughing.

“We will—depend on me,” said the other, anxious and excited. “I know the secret of these Spanish chests. My father has one—they are common now in Venice—the spring is concealed—but once know the situation of it—as I do—and it is simple.”

“But—I tremble all over!”

“Why, what nonsense!”

“But—I’ll go away if you don’t stop.”

“But only think how we shall laugh at Lavinia and Euryanthe! Now—hold the taper. It is but one touch. Now—I have it. There!—do you see?—Now—Amina—now—hold here—help me while I lift the lid——”

Within the chest there lay a skeleton—stretched at its length, and bleached to whiteness. There was a jewel mocked one of the bony fingers; and a corslet of mail enclosed the trunk. And the right hand clutched—as though yet in question—a long and massive dagger. Its handle was of gold embossed; its blade was of the manufacture of Damascus. And on that blade, though rusted here and there, were characters which still appeared distinctly. Their pale brightness flashed as the light of the taper fell upon them; they formed the name—and they told the fortunes—of Di Vasari.