This etext was prepared by David Price, email firstname.lastname@example.org from the 1886 Cassell & Company edition edition.
THE BRAVO OF VENICE—A ROMANCE
by M. G. Lewis
Matthew Gregory Lewis, who professed to have translated this romance out of the German, very much, I believe, as Horace Walpole professed to have taken The Castle of Otranto from an old Italian manuscript, was born in 1775 of a wealthy family. His father had an estate in India and a post in a Government office. His mother was daughter to Sir Thomas Sewell, Master of the Rolls in the reign of George III. She was a young mother; her son Matthew was devoted to her from the first. As a child he called her "Fanny," and as a man held firmly by her when she was deserted by her husband. From Westminster School, M. G. Lewis passed to Christ Church, Oxford. Already he was busy over tales and plays, and wrote at college a farce, never acted, a comedy, written at the age of sixteen, The East Indian, afterwards played for Mrs. Jordan's benefit and repeated with great success, and also a novel, never published, called The Effusions of Sensibility, which was a burlesque upon the sentimental school. He wrote also what he called "a romance in the style of The Castle of Otranto," which appeared afterwards as the play of The Castle Spectre.
With his mind thus interested in literature of the romantic form, young Lewis, aged seventeen, after a summer in Paris, went to Germany, settled for a time at Weimar, and, as he told his mother, knocked his brains against German as hard as ever he could. "I have been introduced," he wrote, in July, 1792, "to M. de Goethe, the celebrated author of Werter, so you must not be surprised if I should shoot myself one of these fine mornings." In the spring of 1793 the youth returned to England, very full of German romantic tale and song, and with more paper covered with wild fancies of his own. After the next Christmas he returned to Oxford. There was a visit to Lord Douglas at Bothwell Castle; there was not much academic work done at Oxford. His father's desire was to train him for the diplomatic service, and in the summer of 1794 he went to the Hague as attache to the British Embassy. He had begun to write his novel of The Monk, had flagged, but was spurred on at the Hague by a reading of Mrs. Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho, a book after his own heart, and he wrote to his mother at this time, "You see I am horribly bit by the rage of writing."
The Monk was written in ten weeks, and published in the summer of 1795, before its author's age was twenty. It was praised, attacked, said by one review to have neither originality, morals, nor probability to recommend it, yet to have excited and to be continuing to excite the curiosity of the public: a result set down to the "irresistible energy of genius." Certainly, Lewis did not trouble himself to keep probability in view; he amused himself with wild play of a fancy that delighted in the wonderful. The controversy over The Monk caused the young author to be known as Monk Lewis, and the word Monk has to this day taken the place of the words Matthew Gregory so generally, that many catalogue-makers must innocently suppose him to have been so named at the font. The author of The Monk came back from the Hague to be received as a young lion in London society. When he came of age he entered Parliament for Hindon, in Wiltshire, but seldom went to the House, never spoke in it, and retired after a few sessions. His delight was in the use of the pen; his father, although disappointed by his failure as a statesman, allowed him a thousand a year, and he took a cottage at Barnes, that he might there escape from the world to his ink-bottle. He was a frequent visitor at Inverary Castle, and was fascinated by his host's daughter, Lady Charlotte Campbell. Still he wrote on. The musical drama of The Castle Spectre was produced in the year after The Monk, and it ran sixty nights. He translated next Schiller's Kabale und Liebe as The Minister, but it was not acted till it appeared, with little success, some years afterwards at Covent Garden as The Harper's Daughter. He translated from Kotzebue, under the name of Rolla, the drama superseded by Sheridan's version of the same work as Pizarro. Then came the acting, in 1799, of his comedy written in boyhood, The East Indian. Then came, in the same year, his first opera, Adelmorn the Outlaw; then a tragedy, Alfonso, King of Castile. Of the origin of this tragedy Lewis gave a characteristic account. "Hearing one day," he said, "my introduction of negroes into a feudal baron's castle" (in The Castle Spectre) "exclaimed against with as much vehemence as if a dramatic anachronism had been an offence undeserving of benefit of clergy, I said in a moment of petulance, that to prove of how little consequence I esteemed such errors, I would make a play upon the Gunpowder Plot, and make Guy Faux in love with the Emperor Charlemagne's daughter. By some chance or other, this idea fastened itself upon me, and by dint of turning it in my mind, I at length formed the plot of Alfonso."
To that time in Lewis's life belongs this book, The Bravo of Venice; which was published in 1804, when the writer's age was twenty-nine. It was written at Inverary Castle, dedicated to the Earl of Moira, and received as one of the most perfect little romances of its kind, "highly characteristic of the exquisite contrivance, bold colouring, and profound mystery of the German school." In 1805 Lewis recast it into a melodrama, which he called Rugantino.
THE BRAVO OF VENICE.
BOOK THE FIRST.
CHAPTER I: VENICE.
It was evening. Multitudes of light clouds, partially illumined by the moonbeams, overspread the horizon, and through them floated the full moon in tranquil majesty, while her splendour was reflected by every wave of the Adriatic Sea. All was hushed around; gently was the water rippled by the night wind; gently did the night wind sigh through the Colonnades of Venice.
It was midnight; and still sat a stranger, solitary and sad, on the border of the great canal. Now with a glance he measured the battlements and proud towers of the city; and now he fixed his melancholy eyes upon the waters with a vacant stare. At length he spoke -
"Wretch that I am, whither shall I go? Here sit I in Venice, and what would it avail to wander further? What will become of me? All now slumber, save myself! the Doge rests on his couch of down; the beggar's head presses his straw pillow; but for ME there is no bed except the cold, damp earth! There is no gondolier so wretched but he knows where to find work by day and shelter by night—while I— while I—Oh! dreadful is the destiny of which I am made the sport!"
He began to examine for the twentieth time the pockets of his tattered garments.
"No! not one paolo, by heavens!—and I hunger almost to death."
He unsheathed his sword; he waved it in the moonshine, and sighed, as he marked the glittering of the steel.
"No, no, my old true companion, thou and I must never part. Mine thou shalt remain, though I starve for it. Oh, was not that a golden time when Valeria gave thee to me, and when she threw the belt over my shoulder, I kissed thee and Valeria? She has deserted us for another world, but thou and I will never part in this."
He wiped away a drop which hung upon his eyelid.
"Pshaw! 'twas not a tear; the night wind is sharp and bitter, and makes the eyes water; but as for TEARS—Absurd! my weeping days are over."
And as he spoke, the unfortunate (for such by his discourse and situation he appeared to be) dashed his forehead against the earth, and his lips were already unclosed to curse the hour which gave him being, when he seemed suddenly to recollect himself. He rested his head on his elbow, and sang mournfully the burthen of a song which had often delighted his childhood in the castle of his ancestors.
"Right," he said to himself; "were I to sink under the weight of my destiny, I should be myself no longer."
At that moment he heard a rustling at no great distance. He looked around, and in an adjacent street, which the moon faintly enlightened, he perceived a tall figure, wrapped in a cloak, pacing slowly backwards and forwards.
"'Tis the hand of God which hath guided him hither—yes—I'll—I'll BEG—better to play the beggar in Venice than the villain in Naples; for the beggar's heart may beat nobly, though covered with rags."
He then sprang from the ground, and hastened towards the adjoining street. Just as he entered it at one end, he perceived another person advancing through the other, of whose approach the first was no sooner aware than he hastily retired into the shadow of a piazza, anxious to conceal himself.
"What can this mean?" thought our mendicant. "Is yon eavesdropper one of death's unlicensed ministers? Has he received the retaining fee of some impatient heir, who pants to possess the wealth of the unlucky knave who comes strolling along yonder, so careless and unconscious? Be not so confident, honest friend! I'm at your elbow."
He retired further into the shade, and silently and slowly drew near the lurker, who stirred not from his place. The stranger had already passed them by, when the concealed villain sprang suddenly upon him, raised his right hand in which a poniard was gleaming, and before he could give the blow, was felled to the earth by the arm of the mendicant.
The stranger turned hastily towards them; the bravo started up and fled; the beggar smiled.
"How now?" cried the stranger; "what does all this mean?"
"Oh, 'tis a mere jest, signor, which has only preserved your life."
"What? my life? How so?"
"The honest gentleman who has just taken to his heels stole behind you with true cat-like caution, and had already raised his dagger, when I saw him. You owe your life to me, and the service is richly worth one little piece of money! Give me some alms, signor, for on my soul I am hungry, thirsty, cold."
"Hence, scurvy companion! I know you and your tricks too well. This is all a concerted scheme between you, a design upon my purse, an attempt to procure both money and thanks, and under the lame pretence of having saved me from an assassin. Go, fellow, go! practise these dainty devices on the Doge's credulity if you will; but with Buonarotti you stand no chance, believe me."
The wretched starving beggar stood like one petrified, and gazed on the taunting stranger.
"No, as I have a soul to save, signor, 'tis no lie I tell you!—'tis the plain truth; have compassion, or I die this night of hunger."
"Begone this instant, I say, or by Heaven—"
The unfeeling man here drew out a concealed pistol, and pointed it at his preserver.
"Merciful Heaven! and is it thus that services are acknowledged in Venice?"
"The watch is at no great distance, I need only raise my voice and— "
"Hell and confusion! do you take me for a robber, then?"
"Make no noise, I tell you. Be quiet—you had better."
"Hark you, signor. Buonarotti is your name, I think? I will write it down as belonging to the second scoundrel with whom I have met in Venice."
He paused for a moment, then continuing in a dreadful voice, "And when," said he, "thou, Buonarotti, shalt hereafter hear the name of ABELLINO—TREMBLE!"
Abellino turned away, and left the hard-hearted Venetian.
CHAPTER II: THE BANDITTI.
And now rushed the unfortunate wildly through the streets of Venice. He railed at fortune; he laughed and cursed by turns; yet sometimes he suddenly stood still, seemed as pondering on some great and wondrous enterprise, and then again rushed onwards, as if hastening to its execution.
Propped against a column of the Signoria, he counted over the whole sum of his misfortunes. His wandering eyeballs appeared to seek comfort, but they found it not.
"Fate," he at length exclaimed in a paroxysm of despair, "Fate has condemned me to be either the wildest of adventurers, or one at the relation of whose crimes the world must shudder. To astonish is my destiny. Rosalvo can know no medium; Rosalvo can never act like common men. Is it not the hand of fate which has led me hither? Who could ever have dreamt that the son of the richest lord in Naples should have depended for a beggar's alms on Venetian charity? I—I, who feel myself possessed of strength of body and energy of soul fit for executing the most daring deeds, behold me creeping in rags through the streets of this inhospitable city, and torturing my wits in vain to discover some means by which I may rescue life from the jaws of famine! Those men whom my munificence nourished, who at my table bathed their worthless souls in the choicest wines of Cyprus, and glutted themselves with every delicacy which the globe's four quarters could supply, these very men now deny to my necessity even a miserable crust of mouldy bread. Oh, that is dreadful, cruel—cruel of men—cruel of Heaven!"
He paused, folded his arms, and sighed.
"Yet will I bear it—I will submit to my destiny. I will traverse every path and go through every degree of human wretchedness; and whate'er may be my fate, I will still be myself; and whate'er may be my fate, I will still act greatly! Away, then, with the Count Rosalvo, whom all Naples idolised; now—now, I am the beggar Abellino. A beggar—that name stands last in the scale of worldly rank, but first in the list of the famishing, the outcast, and the unworthy."
Something rustled near him. Abellino gazed around. He was aware of the bravo, whom he struck to the ground that night, and whom two companions of a similar stamp had now joined. As they advanced, they cast inquiring glances around them. They were in search of some one.
"It is of me that they are in search," said Abellino; then advanced a few steps, and whistled.
The ruffians stood still; they whispered together, and seemed to be undecided.
Abellino whistled a second time.
"'Tis he," he could hear one of them say distinctly, and in a moment after they advanced slowly towards him.
Abellino kept his place, but unsheathed his sword. The three unknown (they were masked) stopped a few paces from him.
"How now, fellow!" quoth one of them; "what is the matter? Why stand you on your guard?"
Abellino.—It is as well that you should be made to keep your distance, for I know you; you are certain honest gentlemen, who live by taking away the lives of others.
The First Ruffian.—Was not your whistling addressed to us?
A Ruffian.—And what would you with us?
Abellino.—Hear me! I am a miserable wretch, and starving; give me an alms out of your booty!
A Ruffian.—An alms? Ha! ha! ha! By my soul that is whimsical!— Alms from us, indeed!—Oh, by all means! No doubt, you shall have alms in plenty.
Abellino.—Or else give me fifty sequins, and I'll bind myself to your service till I shall have worked out my debt.
A Ruffian.—Aye? and pray, then, who may you be?
Abellino.—A starving wretch, the Republic holds none more miserable. Such am I at present; but hereafter—I have powers, knaves. This arm could pierce a heart, though guarded by three breastplates; this eye, though surrounded by Egyptian darkness, could still see to stab sure.
A Ruffian.—Why, then, did you strike me down, even now?
Abellino.—In the hope of being paid for it; but though I saved his life, the scoundrel gave me not a single ducat.
A Ruffian.—No? So much the better. But hark ye, comrade, are you sincere?
Abellino.—Despair never lies.
A Ruffian.—Slave, shouldst thou be a traitor -
Abellino.—My heart would be within reach of your hands, and your daggers would be as sharp as now.
The three dangerous companions again whispered among themselves for a few moments, after which they returned their daggers into the sheath.
"Come on, then," said one of them, "follow us to our home. It were unwise to talk over certain matters in the open streets."
"I follow you," was Abellino's answer, "but tremble should any one of you dare to treat me as a foe. Comrade, forgive me that I gave your ribs somewhat too hard a squeeze just now; I will be your sworn brother in recompense."
"We are on honour," cried the banditti with one voice; "no harm shall happen to you. He who does you an injury shall be to us as a foe. A fellow of your humour suits us well; follow us, and fear not."
And on they went, Abellino marching between two of them. Frequent were the looks of suspicion which he cast around him; but no ill design was perceptible in the banditti. They guided him onwards, till they reached a canal, loosened a gondola, placed themselves in it, and rowed till they had gained the most remote quarter of Venice. They landed, threaded several by-streets, and at length knocked at the door of a house of inviting appearance. It was opened by a young woman, who conducted them into a plain but comfortable chamber. Many were the looks of surprise and inquiry which she cast on the bewildered, half-pleased, half-anxious Abellino, who knew not whither he had been conveyed, and still thought it unsafe to confide entirely in the promises of the banditti.
CHAPTER III: THE TRIAL OF STRENGTH.
Scarcely were the bravoes seated, when Cinthia (for that was the young woman's name) was again summoned to the door; and the company was now increased by two new-comers, who examined their unknown guest from head to foot.
"Now, then," cried one of these, who had conducted Abellino to this respectable society, "let us see what you are like."
As he said this he raised a burning lamp from the table, and the light of its flame was thrown full upon Abellino's countenance.
"Lord, forgive me my sins!" screamed Cinthia; "out upon him! what an ugly hound it is!"
She turned hastily round, and hid her face with her hands. Dreadful was the look with which Abellino repaid her compliment.
"Knave," said one of the banditti, "Nature's own hand has marked you out for an assassin—come, prithee be frank, and tell us how thou hast contrived so long to escape the gibbet? In what gaol didst thou leave thy last fetters? Or from what galley hast thou taken thy departure, without staying to say adieu?"
Abellino, folding his arms—"If I be such as you describe," said he, with an air of authority, and in a voice which made his hearers tremble, "'tis for me all the better. Whate'er may be my future mode of life, Heaven can have no right to find fault with it, since it was for that it formed and fitted me."
The five bravoes stepped aside, and consulted together. The subject of their conference is easy to be divined. In the meanwhile Abellino remained quiet and indifferent to what was passing.
After a few minutes they again approached him. One, whose countenance was the most ferocious, and whose form exhibited the greatest marks of muscular strength, advanced a few paces before the rest, and addressed Abellino as follows:-
"Hear me, comrade. In Venice there exist but five banditti; you see them before you; wilt thou be the sixth? Doubt not thou wilt find sufficient employment. My name is Matteo, and I am the father of the band: that sturdy fellow with the red locks is called Baluzzo; he, whose eyes twinkle like a cat's, is Thomaso, an arch-knave, I promise you; 'twas Pietrino whose bones you handled so roughly to- night; and yon thick-lipped Colossus, who stands next to Cinthia, is named Stuzza. Now, then, you know us all—and since you are a penniless devil, we are willing to incorporate you in our society; but we must first be assured that you mean honestly by us."
Abellino smiled, or rather grinned, and murmured hoarsely—"I am starving."
"Answer, fellow! Dost thou mean honestly by us?"
"That must the event decide."
"Mark me, knave; the first suspicion of treachery costs you your life. Take shelter in the Doge's palace, and girdle yourself round with all the power of the Republic—though clasped in the Doge's arms, and protected by a hundred cannons, still would we murder you! Fly to the high altar; press the crucifix to your bosom, and even at mid-day, still would we murder you. Think on this well, fellow, and forget not we are banditti!"
"You need not tell me that. But give me some food, and then I'll prate with you as long as you please. At present I am starving. Four-and-twenty hours have elapsed since I last tasted nourishment."
Cinthia now covered a small table with her best provisions, and filled several silver goblets with delicious wine.
"If one could but look at him without disgust," murmured Cinthia; "if he had but the appearance of something human! Satan must certainly have appeared to his mother, and thence came her child into the world with such a frightful countenance. Ugh! it's an absolute mask, only that I never saw a mask so hideous."
Abellino heeded her not; he placed himself at the table, and ate and drank as if he would have satisfied himself for the next six months. The banditti eyed him with looks of satisfaction, and congratulated each other on such a valuable acquisition.
If the reader is curious to know what this same Abellino was like, he must picture to himself a young, stout fellow, whose limbs perhaps might have been thought not ill-formed, had not the most horrible countenance that ever was invented by a caricaturist, or that Milton could have adapted to the ugliest of his fallen angels, entirely marred the advantages of his person. Black and shining, but long and straight, his hair flew wildly about his brown neck and yellow face. His mouth so wide, that his gums and discoloured teeth were visible, and a kind of convulsive twist, which scarcely ever was at rest, had formed its expression into an internal grin. His eye, for he had but one, was sunk deep into his head, and little more than the white of it was visible, and even that little was overshadowed by the protrusion of his dark and bushy eyebrow. In the union of his features were found collected in one hideous assemblage all the most coarse and uncouth traits which had ever been exhibited singly in wooden cuts, and the observer was left in doubt whether this repulsive physiognomy expressed stupidity of intellect, or maliciousness of heart, or whether it implied them both together.
"Now, then, I am satisfied," roared Abellino, and dashed the still full goblet upon the ground. "Speak! what would you know of me? I am ready to give you answers."
"The first thing," replied Matteo, "the first thing necessary is to give us a proof of your strength, for this is of material importance in our undertakings. Are you good at wrestling?"
"I know not; try me."
Cinthia removed the table.
"Now, then, Abellino, which of us will you undertake? Whom among us dost thou think that thou canst knock down as easily as yon poor dabbler in the art, Pietrino?"
The banditti burst into a loud fit of laughter.
"Now, then," cried Abellino, fiercely; "now, then, for the trial. Why come you not on?"
"Fellow," replied Matteo, "take my advice; try first what you can do with me alone, and learn what sort of men you have to manage. Think you, we are marrowless boys, or delicate signors?"
Abellino answered him by a scornful laugh. Matteo became furious. His companions shouted aloud, and clapped their hands.
"To business!" said Abellino; "I'm now in a right humour for sport! Look to yourselves, my lads." And in the same instant he collected his forces together, threw the gigantic Matteo over his head as had he been an infant, knocked Struzza down on the right hand, and Pietrino on the left, tumbled Thomaso to the end of the room head over heels, and stretched Baluzzo without animation upon the neighbouring benches.
Three minutes elapsed ere the subdued bravoes could recover themselves. Loudly shouted Abellino, while the astonished Cinthia gazed and trembled at the terrible exhibition.
"By the blood of St. Januarius!" cried Matteo at length, rubbing his battered joints, "the fellow is our master! Cinthia, take care to give him our best chamber."
"He must have made a compact with the devil!" grumbled Thomaso, and forced his dislocated wrist back into its socket.
No one seemed inclined to hazard a second trial of strength. The night was far advanced, or rather the grey morning already was visible over the sea. The banditti separated, and each retired to his chamber.
CHAPTER IV: THE DAGGERS.
Abellino, this Italian Hercules, all terrible as he appeared to be, was not long a member of this society before his companions felt towards him sentiments of the most unbounded esteem. All loved, all valued him, for his extraordinary talents for a bravo's trade, to which he seemed peculiarly adapted, not only by his wonderful strength of body, but by the readiness of his wit, and his never- failing presence of mind. Even Cinthia was inclined to feel some little affection for him, but—he really was too ugly.
Matteo, as Abellino was soon given to understand, was the captain of this dangerous troop. He was one who carried villainy to the highest pitch of refinement, incapable of fear, quick and crafty, and troubled with less conscience than a French financier. The booty and price of blood, which his associates brought in daily, were always delivered up to him: he gave each man his share, and retained no larger portion for himself than was allotted to the others. The catalogue of those whom he had despatched into the other world was already too long for him to have repeated it: many names had slipped his memory, but his greatest pleasure in his hour of relaxation was to relate such of these murderous anecdotes as he still remembered, in the benevolent intention of inspiring his hearers with a desire to follow his example. His weapons were kept separate from the rest, and occupied a whole apartment. Here were to be found daggers of a thousand different fashions, WITH guards and WITHOUT them; two, three, and four-edged. Here were stored air- guns, pistols, and blunderbusses; poisons of various kinds and operating in various ways; garments fit for every possible disguise, whether to personate the monk, the Jew, or the mendicant; the soldier, the sailor, or the gondolier.
One day he summoned Abellino to attend him in his armoury.
"Mark me," said he, "thou wilt turn out a brave fellow, that I can see already. It is now time that you should earn that bread for yourself which hitherto you have owed to our bounty. Look! Here thou hast a dagger of the finest steel; you must charge for its use by the inch. If you plunge it only one inch deep into the bosom of his foe, your employer must reward you with only one sequin: if two inches, with ten sequins; if three, with twenty; if the whole dagger, you may then name your own price. Here is next a glass poniard; whomsoever this pierces, that man's death is certain. As soon as the blow is given, you must break the dagger in the wound. The flesh will close over the point which has been broken off, and which will keep its quarters till the day of resurrection! Lastly, observe this metallic dagger; its cavity conceals a subtle poison, which, whenever you touch this spring, will immediately infuse death into the veins of him whom the weapon's point hath wounded. Take these daggers. In giving them I present you with a capital capable of bringing home to you most heavy and most precious interest."
Abellino received the instruments of death, but his hand shook as it grasped them.
"Possessed of such unfailing weapons, of what immense sums must your robberies have made you master!"
"Scoundrel!" interrupted Matteo, frowning and offended, "amongst us robbery is unknown. What? Dost take us for common plunderers, for mere thieves, cut-purses, housebreakers, and villains of that low, miserable stamp?"
"Perhaps what you wish me to take you for is something worse; for, to speak openly, Matteo, villains of that stamp are contented within plundering a purse or a casket, which can easily be filled again; but that which we take from others is a jewel which a man never has but once, and which stolen can never be replaced. Are we not, then, a thousand times more atrocious plunderers?"
"By the house at Loretto, I think you have a mind to moralise, Abellino?"
"Hark ye, Matteo, only one question. At the Day of Judgment, which think you will hold his head highest, the thief or the assassin?"
"Ha! ha! ha!"
"Think not that Abellino speaks thus from want of resolution. Speak but the word, and I murder half the senators of Venice; but still—"
"Fool! know, the bravo must be above crediting the nurse's antiquated tales of vice and virtue. What is virtue? What is vice? Nothing but such things as forms of government, custom, manners, and education have made sacred: and that which men are able to make honourable at one time, it is in their power to make dishonourable at another, whenever the humour takes them; had not the senate forbidden us to give opinions freely respecting the politics of Venice, there would have been nothing wrong in giving such opinions; and were the senate to declare that it is right to give such opinions, that which to-day is thought a crime would be thought meritorious to-morrow. Then, prithee, let us have no more of such doubts as these. We are men, as much as the Doge and his senators, and have reasons as much as THEY have to lay down the law of right and wrong, and to alter the law of right and wrong, and to decree what shall be vice, and what shall be virtue."
Abellino laughed. Matteo proceeded with increased animation -
"Perhaps you will tell me that your trade is DISHONOURABLE! And what, then, is the thing called HONOUR! 'Tis a word, an empty sound, a mere fantastic creature of the imagination! Ask, as you traverse some frequented street, in what honour consists? The usurer will answer—'To be honourable is to be rich, and he has most honour who can heap up the greatest quantity of sequins.' 'By no means,' cries the voluptuary; 'honour consists in being beloved by a very handsome woman, and finding no virtue proof against your attacks.' 'How mistaken!' interrupts the general; 'to conquer whole cities, to destroy whole armies, to ruin all provinces, THAT indeed brings REAL honour.' The man of learning places his renown in the number of pages which he has either written or read; the tinker, in the number of pots and kettles which he has made or mended; the nun, in the number of GOOD things which she has done, or BAD things which she has resisted; the coquette, in the list of her admirers; the Republic, in the extent of her provinces; and thus, my friend, every one thinks that honour consists in something different from the rest. And why, then, should not the bravo think that honour consists in reaching the perfection of his trade, and in guiding a dagger to the heart of an enemy with unerring aim?"
"By my life, 'tis a pity, Matteo, that you should be a bravo; the schools have lost an excellent teacher of philosophy."
"Do you think so? Why, the fact is thus, Abellino. I was educated in a monastery; my father was a dignified prelate in Lucca, and my mother a nun of the Ursuline order, greatly respected for her chastity and devotion. Now, Signor, it was thought fitting that I should apply closely to my studies; my father, good man, would fain have made me a light of the Church; but I soon found that I was better qualified for an incendiary's torch. I followed the bent of my genius, yet count I not my studies thrown away, since they taught me more philosophy than to tremble at phantoms created by my own imagination. Follow my example, friend, and so farewell."
CHAPTER V: SOLITUDE.
Abellino had already passed six weeks in Venice, and yet, either from want of opportunity, or of inclination, he had suffered his daggers to remain idle in their sheaths. This proceeded partly from his not being as yet sufficiently acquainted with the windings and turnings, the bye-lanes and private alleys of the town, and partly because he had hitherto found no customers, whose murderous designs stood in need of his helping hand.
This want of occupation was irksome to him in the extreme; he panted for action, and was condemned to indolence.
With a melancholy heart did he roam through Venice, and number every step with a sigh. He frequented the public places, the taverns, the gardens, and every scene which was dedicated to amusement. But nowhere could he find what ho sought—tranquillity.
One evening he had loitered beyond the other visitants in a public garden, situated on one of the most beautiful of the Venetian islands. He strolled from arbour to arbour, threw himself down on the sea-shore, and watched the play of the waves as they sparkled in the moonshine.
"Four years ago," said he, with a sigh, "just such a heavenly evening was it, that I stole from Valeria's lips the first kiss, and heard from Valeria's lips for the first time the avowal that she loved me."
He was silent, and abandoned himself to the melancholy recollections which thronged before his mind's eye.
Everything around him was so calm, so silent! Not a single zephyr sighed among the blades of grass; but a storm raged in the bosom of Abellino.
"Four years ago could I have believed that a time would come when I should play the part of a bravo in Venice! Oh, where are they flown, the golden hopes and plans of glory which smiled upon me in the happy days of my youth? I am a bravo: to be a beggar were to be something better."
"When my good old father, in the enthusiasm of paternal vanity, so oft threw his arms around my neck, and cried, 'My boy, thou wilt render the name of Rosalvo glorious!' God, as I listened, how was my blood on fire? What thought I not, what that was good and great did I not promise myself to do! The father is dead, and the son is a Venetian bravo! When my preceptors praised and admired me, and, carried away by the warmth of their feelings, clapped my shoulder, and exclaimed, 'Count, thou wilt immortalise the ancient race of Rosalvo!' Ha, in those blessed moments of sweet delirium, how bright and beauteous stood futurity before me! When, happy in the performance of some good deed, I returned home, and saw Valeria hasten to receive me with open arms, and when, while she clasped me to her bosom I heard her whisper 'Oh, who could forbear to love the great Rosalvo?' God! oh, God! Away, away, glorious visions of the past. To look on you drives me mad!"
He was again silent; he bit his lips in fury, raised one emaciated hand to heaven, and struck his forehead violently with the other.
"An assassin, the slave of cowards and rascals, the ally of the greatest villains that the Venetian sun ever shines upon, such is now the great Rosalvo. Fie, ah, fie on't; and yet to this wretched lot hath fatality condemned me."
Suddenly he sprang from the ground after a long silence; his eyes sparkled, his countenance was changed; he drew his breath easier.
"Yes, by Heaven, yes. Great as Count Rosalvo, that can I be no longer; but from being great as a Venetian bravo, what prevents me? Souls in bliss," he exclaimed, and sank on his knee, while he raised his folded hands to heaven, as if about to pronounce the most awful oath, "Spirit of my father; spirit of Valeria, I will not become unworthy of you. Hear me, if your ghosts are permitted to wander near me, hear me swear that the bravo shall not disgrace the origin, nor render vain the hopes which soothed you in the bitterness of death. No, sure as I live, I will be the only dealer in this miserable trade, and posterity shall be compelled to honour that name, which my actions shall render illustrious."
He bowed his forehead till it touched the earth, and his tears flowed plenteously. Vast conceptions swelled his soul; he dwelt on wondrous views, till their extent bewildered his brain; yet another hour elapsed, and he sprang from the earth to realise them.
"I will enter into no compact against human nature with five miserable cut-throats. ALONE will I make the Republic tremble, and before eight days are flown, these murderous knaves shall swing upon a gibbet. Venice shall no longer harbour FIVE banditti; ONE and ONE only shall inhabit here, and that one shall beard the Doge himself, shall watch over right and wrong, and according as he judges, shall reward and punish. Before eight days are flown, the State shall be purified from the presence of these outcasts of humanity, and then shall I stand here alone. Then must every villain in Venice, who hitherto has kept the daggers of my companions in employment, have recourse to me; then shall I know the names and persons of all those cowardly murderers, of all those illustrious profligates, with whom Matteo and his companions carry on the trade of blood. And then— Abellino! Abellino, that is the name. Hear it, Venice, hear it, and tremble."
Intoxicated with the wildness of his hopes, he rushed out of the garden. He summoned a gondolier, threw himself into the boat, and hastened to the dwelling of Cinthia, where the inhabitants already were folded in the arms of sleep.
CHAPTER VI: ROSABELLA, THE DOGE'S LOVELY NIECE.
"Hark, comrade," said Matteo the next morning to Abellino; "to-day thou shalt make thy first step in our profession."
"To-day!" hoarsely murmured Abellino; "and on whom am I to show my skill?"
"Nay, to say truth, 'tis but a woman; but one must not give too difficult a task to a young beginner. I will myself accompany you, and see how you conduct yourself in the first trial."
"Hum!" said Abellino, and measured Matteo with his eye from head to foot.
"To-day, about four o'clock, thou shalt follow me to Dolabella's gardens, which are situated on the south side of Venice. We must both be disguised, you understand. In these gardens are excellent baths; and after using the baths, the Doge's niece, the lovely Rosabella of Corfu, frequently walks without attendants. And then— you conceive me?"
"And you will accompany me?"
"I will be a spectator of your first adventure; 'tis thus I deal by every one."
"And how many inches deep must I plunge my dagger?"
"To the hilt, boy, to the very hilt! Her death is required, and the payment will be princely; Rosabella in the grave, we are rich for life."
Every other point was soon adjusted. Noon was now past, the clock in the neighbouring church of the Benedictines struck four, and Mattes and Abellino were already forth. They arrived at the gardens of Dolabella, which that day were unusually crowded. Every shady avenue was thronged with people of both sexes; every arbour was occupied by persons most distinguished in Venice. In every corner sighed lovesick couples, as they waited for the wished approach of twilight; and on every side did strains of vocal and instrumental music pour their harmony on the enchanted ear.
Abellino mingled with the crowd. A most respectable looking peruke concealed the repulsive ugliness of his features; he imitated the walk and manners of a gouty old man, and supported himself by a crutch, as he walked slowly through the assembly. His habit, richly embroidered, procured for him universally a good reception, and no one scrupled to enter into conversation with him respecting the weather, the commerce of the Republic, or the designs of its enemies; and on none of these subjects was Abellino found incapable of sustaining the discourse.
By these means he soon contrived to gain intelligence that Rosabella was certainly in the gardens, how she was habited, and in what quarter he was most likely to find her.
Thither he immediately bent his course; and hard at his heels followed Matteo.
Alone, and in the most retired arbour, sat Rosabella of Corfu, the fairest maid in Venice.
Abellino drew near the arbour; he tottered, as he passed its entrance, like one oppressed with sudden faintness, and attracted Rosabella's attention.
"Alas, alas!" cried he, "is there no one at hand who will take compassion on the infirmity of a poor old man?"
The Doge's fair niece quitted the arbour hastily, and flew to give assistance to the sufferer.
"What ails you, my good father?" she inquired in a melodious voice, and with a look of benevolent anxiety.
Abellino pointed towards the arbour; Rosabella led him in, and placed him on a seat of turf.
"God reward you, lady," stammered Abellino, faintly. He raised his eyes; they met Rosabella's, and a blush crimsoned her pale cheeks.
Rosabella stood in silence before the disguised assassin, and trembled with tender concern for the old man's illness; and oh, that expression of interest ever makes a lovely women look so much more lovely! She bent her delicate form over the man who was bribed to murder her, and after a while asked him, in gentlest tone, "Are you not better?"
"Better?" stammered the deceiver, with a feeble voice, "better—oh, yes, yes, yes. You—you are the Doge's niece—the noble Rosabella of Corfu?"
"The same, my good old man."
"Oh, lady, I have somewhat to tell you. Be on your guard, Start not! What I would say is of the utmost consequence, and demands the utmost prudence. Ah, God, that there should live men so cruel! Lady, your life is in danger."
The maiden started back; the colour fled from her cheeks.
"Do you wish to behold your assassin? You shall not die, but if you value your life, be silent."
Rosabella knew not what to think; the presence of the old man terrified her.
"Fear nothing, lady, fear nothing; you have nothing to fear, while I am with you. Before you quit this arbour you shall see the assassin expire at your feet."
Rosabella made a movement as if she would have fled; but suddenly the person who sat beside her was no longer an infirm old man. He who a minute before had scarcely strength to mutter out a few sentences, and reclined against the arbour trembling like an aspen, sprang up with the force of a giant, and drew her back with one arm.
"For the love of heaven!" she cried, "release me. Let me fly!"
"Lady, fear nothing; I protect you." This said, Abellino placed a whistle at his lips, and blew it shrilly.
Instantly sprang Matteo from his concealment in a neighbouring clump of trees, and rushed into the arbour. Abellino threw Rosabella on the bank of turf, advanced a few steps to meet Matteo, and plunged his dagger in his heart.
Without uttering a single cry, sank the banditti captain at the feet of Abellino: the death-rattle was heard in his throat, and after a few horrible convulsions all was over.
Now did Matteo's murderer look again towards the arbour, and beheld Rosabella half senseless, as she lay on the bank of turf.
"Your life is safe, beautiful Rosabella," said he; "there lies the villain bleeding, who conducted me hither to murder you. Recover yourself; return to your uncle, the Doge, and tell him that you owe your life to Abellino."
Rosabella could not speak. Trembling, she stretched her arms towards him, grasped his hand, and pressed it to her lips in silent gratitude.
Abellino gazed with delight and wonder on the lovely sufferer; and in such a situation, who could have beheld her without emotion? Rosabella had scarcely numbered seventeen summers; her light and delicate limbs, enveloped in a thin white garment, which fell around her in a thousand folds; her blue and melting eyes, whence beamed the expression of purest innocence; her forehead, white as ivory, overshadowed the ringlets of her bright dark hair; cheeks, whence terror had now stolen the roses; such was Rosabella, a creature in whose formation partial Nature seemed to have omitted nothing which might constitute the perfection of female loveliness—such was she; and being such, the wretched Abellino may be forgiven if for some few minutes he stood like one enchanted, and bartered for those few minutes the tranquillity of his heart for ever.
"By Him who made me," cried he at length, "oh! thou art fair, Rosabella; Valeria was not fairer."
He bowed himself down to her, and imprinted a burning kiss on the pale cheeks of the beauty.
"Leave me, thou dreadful man," she stammered in terror; "oh, leave me."
"Ah, Rosabella, why art thou so beauteous, and why am I—Knowest thou who kissed thy cheek, Rosabella? Go, tell thy uncle, the proud Doge—'TWAS THE BRAVO, ABELLINO," he said, and rushed out of the arbour.
CHAPTER VII: THE BRAVO'S BRIDE.
It was not without good reason that Abellino took his departure in such haste. He had quitted the spot but a few minutes, when a large party accidentally strolled that way, and discovered with astonishment the corpse of Matteo, and Rosabella pale and trembling in the arbour.
A crowd immediately collected itself round them. It increased with every moment, and Rosabella was necessitated to repeat what had happened to her for the satisfaction of every newcomer.
In the meanwhile some of the Doge's courtiers, who happened to be among the crowd, hastened to call her attendants together; her gondola was already waiting for her, and the terrified girl soon reached her uncle's palace in safety.
In vain was an embargo laid upon every other gondola; in vain did they examine every person who was in the gardens of Dolabella at the time, when the murdered assassin was first discovered. No traces could be found of Abellino.
The report of this strange adventure spread like wildfire through Venice. Abellino, for Rosabella had preserved but too well in her memory that dreadful name, and by the relation of her danger had given it universal publicity, Abellino was the object of general wonder and curiosity. Every one pitied the poor Rosabella for what she had suffered, execrated the villain who had bribed Matteo to murder her, and endeavoured to connect the different circumstances together by the help of one hypothesis or other, among which it would have been difficult to decide which was the most improbable.
Every one who heard the adventure, told it again, and every one who told it, added something of his own, till at length it was made into a complete romantic novel, which might have been entitled with great propriety, "The Power of Beauty;" for the Venetian gentlemen and ladies had settled the point among themselves completely to their own satisfaction, that Abellino would undoubtedly have assassinated Rosabella, had he not been prevented by her uncommon beauty. But though Abellino's interference had preserved her life, it was doubted much whether this adventure would be at all relished by her destined bridegroom, the Prince of Monaldeschi, a Neapolitan of the first rank, possessed of immense wealth and extensive influence. The Doge had for some time been secretly engaged in negotiating a match between his niece and this powerful nobleman, who was soon expected to make his appearance at Venice. The motive of his journey, in spite of all the Doge's precautions, had been divulged, and it was no longer a secret to any but Rosabella, who had never seen the prince, and could not imagine why his expected visit should excite such general curiosity.
Thus far the story had been told much to Rosabella's credit; but at length the women began to envy her for her share in the adventure. The kiss which she had received from the bravo afforded them an excellent opportunity for throwing out a few malicious insinuations. "She received a great service," said one, "and there's no saying how far the fair Rosabella in the warmth of gratitude may have been carried in rewarding her preserver." "Very true," observed another, "and for my part, I think it not very likely that the fellow, being alone with a pretty girl, whose life he had just saved, should have gone away contented with a single kiss." "Come, come," interrupted a third, "do not let us judge uncharitably; the fact may be exactly as the lady relates it, though I MUST say, that gentlemen of Abellino's profession are not usually so pretty-behaved, and that this is the first time I ever heard of a bravo in the Platonics."
In short, Rosabella and the horrible Abellino furnished the indolent and gossiping Venetians with conversation so long, that at length the Doge's niece was universally known by the honourable appellation of the "Bravo's Bride."
But no one gave himself more trouble about this affair than the Doge, the good but proud Andreas. He immediately issued orders that every person of suspicious appearance should be watched more closely than ever, the night patrols were doubled, and spies were employed daily in procuring intelligence of Abellino; and yet all was in vain. Abellino's retreat was inscrutable.
CHAPTER VIII: THE CONSPIRACY.
"Confusion!" exclaimed Parozzi, a Venetian nobleman of the first rank, as he paced his chamber with a disordered air on the morning after Matteo's murder; "now all curses light upon the villain's awkwardness; yet it seems inconceivable to me how all this should have fallen out so untowardly. Has any one discovered my designs? I know well that Verrino loves Rosabella. Was it he who opposed this confounded Abellino to Matteo, and charged him to mar my plans against her? That seems likely; and now, when the Doge inquires who it was that employed assassins to murder his niece, what other will be suspected than Parozzi, the discontented lover, to whom Rosabella refused her hand, and whom Andreas hates past hope of reconciliation? And now, having once found the scent—Parozzi! Parozzi! should the crafty Andreas get an insight into your plans, should he learn that you have placed yourself at the head of a troop of hare-brained youths—hare-brained may I well call children—who, in order to avoid the rod, set fire to their paternal mansions. Parozzi, should all this be revealed to Andreas—?"
Here his reflections were interrupted. Memmo, Falieri, and Contarino entered the room, three young Venetians of the highest rank, Parozzi's inseparable companions, men depraved both in mind and body, spendthrifts, voluptuaries, well known to every usurer in Venice, and owing more than their paternal inheritance would ever admit of their paying.
"Why, how is this, Parozzi?" cried Memmo as he entered, a wretch whose every feature exhibited marks of that libertinism to which his life had been dedicated; "I can scarce recover myself from my astonishment. For Heaven's sake, is this report true? Did you really hire Matteo to murder the Doge's niece?"
"I?" exclaimed Parozzi, and hastily turned away to hide the deadly paleness which overspread his countenance; "why should you suppose that any such designs—surely, Memmo, you are distracted."
Memmo.—By my soul, I speak but the plain matter of fact. Nay, only ask Falieri; he can tell you more.
Falieri.—Faith, it is certain, Parozzi, that Lomellino has declared to the Doge as a truth beyond doubting that you, and none but you, were the person who instigated Matteo to attempt Rosabella's life.
Parozzi.—And I tell you again that Lomellino knows not what he says.
Contarino.—Well, well, only be upon your guard. Andreas is a terrible fellow to deal with.
Falieri.—HE terrible. I tell you he is the most contemptible blockhead that the universe can furnish! Courage perhaps he possesses, but of brains not an atom.
Contarino.—And I tell you that Andreas is as brave as a lion, and as crafty as a fox.
Falieri.—Pshaw! pshaw! Everything would go to rack and ruin were it not for the wiser heads of this triumvirate of counsellors, whom Heaven confound! Deprive him of Paolo Manfrone, Conari, and Lomellino, and the Doge would stand there looking as foolish as a schoolboy who was going to be examined and had forgotten his lesson.
Parozzi.—Falieri is in the right.
Falieri.—And then Andreas is as proud as a beggar grown rich and dressed in his first suit of embroidery. By St. Anthony, he is become quite insupportable. Do you not observe how he increases the number of his attendants daily?
Memmo.—Nay, that is an undoubted fact.
Contarino.—And then, to what an unbounded extent has he carried his influence. The Signoria, the Quaranti, the Procurators of St. Mark, the Avocatori, all think and act exactly as it suits the Doge's pleasure and convenience! Every soul of them depends as much on that one man's honour and caprices as puppets do who nod or shake their wooden heads just as the fellow behind the curtain thinks proper to move the wires.
Parozzi.—And yet the populace idolises this Andreas.
Memmo.—Ay, that is the worst part of the story.
Falieri.—But never credit me again if he does not experience a reverse of fortune speedily.
Contarino.—That might happen would we but set our shoulders to the wheel stoutly. But what do we do? We pass our time in taverns; drink and game, and throw ourselves headlong into such an ocean of debts, that the best swimmer must sink at last. Let us resolve to make the attempt. Let us seek recruits on all sides; let us labour with all our might and main. Things must change, or if they do not, take my word for it, my friends, this world is no longer a world for us.
Memmo.—Nay, it's a melancholy truth, that during the last half-year my creditors have been ready to beat my door down with knocking. I am awakened out of my sleep in the morning, and lulled to rest again at night with no other music than their eternal clamour.
Parozzi.—Ha! ha! ha! As for me, I need not tell you how I am suited.
Falieri.—Had we been less extravagant, we might at this moment have been sitting quietly in our palaces; but as things stand now -
Parozzi.—Well, as things stand now—I verily believe that Falieri is going to moralise.
Contarino.—That is ever the way with old sinners when they have lost the power to sin any longer. Then they are ready enough to weep over their past life, and talk loudly about repentance and reformation. Now, for my own part, I am perfectly well satisfied with my wanderings from the common beaten paths of morality and prudence. They serve to convince me that I am not one of your every-day men, who sit cramped up in the chimney-corner, lifeless, phlegmatic, and shudder when they hear of any extraordinary occurrence. Nature evidently has intended me to be a libertine, and I am determined to fulfil my destination. Why, if spirits like ours were not produced every now and then, the world would absolutely go fast asleep, but we rouse it by deranging the old order of things, force mankind to quicken their snail's pace, furnish a million of idlers with riddles which they puzzle their brains about without being able to comprehend, infuse some hundreds of new ideas into the heads of the great multitude, and, in short, are as useful to the world as tempests are, which dissipate those exhalations with which Nature otherwise would poison herself.
Falieri.—Excellent sophistry, by my honour. Why, Contarino, ancient Rome has had an irreparable loss in not having numbered you among her orators. It is a pity, though, that there should be so little that's solid wrapped up in so many fine-sounding words. Now learn that while you, with this rare talent of eloquence, have been most unmercifully wearing out the patience of your good-natured hearers, Falieri has been in ACTION. The Cardinal Gonzaga is discontented with the government—Heaven knows what Andreas has done to make him so vehemently his enemy—but, in short, Gonzaga now belongs to our party.
Parozzi (with astonishment and delight).—Falieri, are you in your senses? The Cardinal Gonzaga—?
Falieri.—Is ours, and ours both body and soul. I confess I was first obliged to rhodomontade a good deal to him about our patriotism, our glorious designs, our love for freedom, and so forth; in short, Gonzaga is a hypocrite, and therefore is Gonzaga the fitter for us.
Contarino (clasping Falieri's hand).—Bravo, my friend! Venice shall see a second edition of Catiline's conspiracy. Now, then, it is MY turn to speak, for I have not been idle since we parted. In truth, I have as yet CAUGHT nothing, but I have made myself master of an all-powerful net, with which I doubt not to capture the best half of Venice. You all know the Marchioness Olympia?
Parozzi.—Does not each of us keep a list of the handsomest women in the Republic, and can we have forgotten number one?
Falieri.—Olympia and Rosabella are the goddesses of Venice; our youths burn incense on no other altars.
Contarino.—Olympia is my own.
Contarino.—Why, how now? Why stare ye as had I prophesied to you that the skies were going to fall? I tell you Olympia's heart is mine, and that I possess her entire and most intimate confidence. Our connection must remain a profound secret, but depend on it, whatever I wish SHE wishes also; and you know she can make half the nobility in Venice dance to the sound of her pipe, let her play what tune she pleases.
Parozzi.—Contarino, you are our master.
Contarino.—And you had not the least suspicion how powerful an ally I was labouring to procure for you?
Parozzi.—I must blush for myself while I listen to you, since as yet I have done nothing. Yet this I must say in my excuse: Had Matteo, bribed by my gold, accomplished Rosabella's murder, the Doge would have been robbed of that chain with which he holds the chief men in Venice attached to his government. Andreas would have no merit, were Rosabella once removed. The most illustrious families would care no longer for his friendship with their hopes of a connection with him by means of his niece buried in her grave. Rosabella will one day be the Doge's heiress.
Memmo.—All that I can do for you in this business is to provide you with pecuniary supplies. My old miserable uncle, whose whole property becomes mine at his death, has brimful coffers, and the old miser dies whenever I say the word.
Falieri.—You have suffered him to live too long already.
Memmo.—Why, I never have been able to make up my mind entirely to— You would scarcely believe it, friends, but at times I am so hypochondriac, that I could almost fancy I feel twinges of conscience.
Contarino.—Indeed. Then take my advice, go into a monastery.
Memmo.—Our care first must be to find out our old acquaintances, Matteo's companions: yet, having hitherto always transacted business with them through their captain, I know not where they are to be met with.
Parozzi.—As soon as they are found, their first employment must be the removal of the Doge's trio of advisers.
Contarino.—That were an excellent idea, if it were as easily done as said. Well, then, my friends, this principal point at least is decided. Either we will bury our debts under the ruins of the existing constitution of the Republic, or make Andreas a gift of our heads towards strengthening the walls of the building. In either case, we shall at least obtain quiet. Necessity, with her whip of serpents, has driven us to the very highest point of her rock, whence we must save ourselves by some act of extraordinary daring, or be precipitated on the opposite side into the abyss of shame and eternal oblivion. The next point to be considered is, how we may best obtain supplies for our necessary expenses, and induce others to join with us in our plans. For this purpose we must use every artifice to secure in our interests the courtesans of the greatest celebrity in Venice. What WE should be unable to effect by every power of persuasion, banditti by their daggers, and princes by their treasuries, can one of those Phrynes accomplish with a single look. Where the terrors of the scaffold are without effect, and the exhortations of the priests are heard with coldness, a wanton look and a tender promise often perform wonders. The bell which sounded the hour of assignation has often rang the knell of the most sacred principles and most steadfast resolutions. But should you either fail to gain the mastery over the minds of these women, or fear to be yourselves entangled in the nets which you wish to spread for others, in these cases you must have recourse to the holy father confessors. Flatter the pride of these insolent friars; paint for them upon the blank leaf of futurity bishops' mitres, patriarchal missions, the hats of cardinals, and the keys of St. Peter; my life upon it, they will spring at the bait, and you will have them completely at your disposal. These hypocrites who govern the consciences of the bigoted Venetians, hold man and woman, the noble and the mendicant, the Doge and the gondolier, bound fast in the chains of superstition, by which they can head them wheresoever it best suits their pleasure. It will save us tons of gold in gaining over proselytes, and keeping their consciences quiet when gained, if we can but obtain the assistance of the confessors, whose blessings and curses pass with the multitude for current coin. Now, then, to work, comrades, and so farewell.
CHAPTER IX: CINTHIA'S DWELLING.
Scarcely had Abellino achieved the bloody deed which employed every tongue in Venice, when he changed his dress and whole appearance with so much expedition and success as to prevent the slightest suspicion of his being Matteo's murderer. He quitted the gardens unquestioned, nor left the least trace which could lead to a discovery.
He arrived at Cinthia's dwelling. It was already evening. Cinthia opened the door, and Abellino entered the common apartment.
"Where are the rest?" said he in a savage tone of voice whose sound made Cinthia tremble.
"They have been asleep," she answered, "since mid-day. Probably they mean to go out on some pursuit to-night." Abellino threw himself into a chair, and seemed to be lost in thought.
"But why are you always so gloomy, Abellino?" said Cinthia, drawing near him; "it's that which makes you so ugly. Prithee away with those frowns; they make your countenance look worse than nature made it?"
Abellino gave no answer.
"Really, you are enough to frighten a body! Come, now, let us be friends, Abellino; I begin not to dislike you, and to endure your appearance; and I don't know but—"
"Go, wake the sleepers!" roared the bravo.
"The sleepers? Pshaw, let them sleep on, the stupid rogues. Sure you are not afraid to be alone with me? Mercy on me, one would think I looked as terrible as yourself? Do I? Nay, look on me, Abellino."
Cinthia, to say the truth, was by no means an ill-looking girl; her eyes were bright and expressive; the hair fell in shining ringlets over her bosom; her lips were red and full, and she bowed them towards Abellino's. But Abellino's were still sacred by the touch of Rosabella's cheek. He started from his seat, and removed, yet gently, Cinthia's hand, which rested on his shoulder.
"Wake the sleepers, my good girl," said he, "I must speak with them this moment."
"Nay, go," said he, in a fierce voice.
Cinthia retired in silence; yet as she crossed the threshold, she stopped for an instant and menaced him with her finger.
Abellino strode through the chamber with hasty steps, his head reclining on his shoulder, his arms folded over his breast.
"The first step is taken," said he to himself. "There is one moral monster the less on earth. I have committed no sin by this murder; I have but performed a sacred duty. Aid me, thou Great and Good, for arduous is the task before me. Ah, should that task be gone through with success, and Rosabella be the reward of my labours— Rosabella? What, shall the Doge's niece bestow on the outcast Abellino? Oh, madman that I am to hope it, never can I reach the goal of my wishes! No, never was there frenzy to equal mine. To attach myself at first sight to—Yet Rosabella alone is capable of thus enchanting at first sight—Rosabella and Valeria? To be beloved by two such women—Yet, though 'tis impossible to attain, the striving to attain such an end is glorious. Illusions so delightful will at least make me happy for a moment, and alas, the wretched Abellino needs so many illusions that for a moment will make him happy! Oh, surely, knew the world what I gladly would accomplish, the world would both love and pity me."
Cinthia returned; the four bravoes followed her, yawning, grumbling, and still half asleep.
"Come, come!" said Abellino, "rouse yourselves, lads. Before I say anything, be convinced that you are wide awake, for what I am going to tell you is so strange that you would scarce believe it in a dream."
They listened to him with an air of indifference and impatience.
"Why, what's the matter now?" said Thomaso, while he stretched himself.
"Neither more nor less than that our honest, hearty, brave Matteo is murdered."
"What, murdered!" every one exclaimed, and gazed with looks of terror on the bearer of this unwelcome news; while Cinthia gave a loud scream, and, clasping her hands together, sank almost breathless into a chair.
A general silence prevailed for some time.
"Murdered"' at length repeated Thomaso, "and by whom?"
Pietrino.—What? this forenoon?
Abellino.—In the gardens of Dolabella, where he was found bleeding at the feet of the Doge's niece. Whether he fell by her hand, or by that of one of her admirers, I cannot say.
Cinthia (weeping).—Poor dear Matteo.
Abellino.—About this time to-morrow you will see his corpse exhibited on the gibbet.
Pietrino.—What! Did any one recognise him?
Abellino.—Yes, yes! there's no doubt about his trade, you may depend on't.
Cinthia.—The gibbet! Poor dear Matteo!
Thomaso.—This is a fine piece of work.
Baluzzo.—Confound the fellow, who would have thought of anything happening so unlucky?
Abellino.—Why, how now? You seem to be overcome.
Struzza.—I cannot recover myself; surprise and terror have almost stupefied me.
Abellino.—Indeed! By my life, when I heard the news I burst into laughter. "Signor Matteo," said I, "I wish your worship joy of your safe arrival."
Struzza.—You laughed? Hang me if I can see what there is to laugh at.
Abellino.—Why, surely you are not afraid of receiving what you are so ready to bestow on others? What is your object? What can we expect as our reward at the end of our labours except the gibbet or the rock? What memorials of our actions shall we leave behind us, except our skeletons dancing in the air, and the chains which rattle round them? He who chooses to play the bravo's part on the great theatre of the world must not be afraid of death, whether it comes at the hands of the physician or the executioner. Come, come, pluck up your spirits, comrades.
Thomaso.—That's easy to say, but quite out of my power.
Pietrino.—Mercy on me, how my teeth chatter.
Baluzzo.—Prithee, Abellino, be composed for a moment or two, your gaiety at a time like this is quite horrible.
Cinthia.—Oh, me! oh, me! Poor murdered Matteo.
Abellino.—Hey-day. Why, what is all this! Cinthia, my life, are you not ashamed of being such a child? Come, let you and I renew that conversation which my sending you to wake these gentlemen interrupted. Sit down by me, sweetheart, and give me a kiss.
Cinthia.—Out upon you, monster.
Abellino.—What, have you altered your mind, my pretty dear? Well, well, with all my heart, when YOU are in the humour, perhaps I may not have the inclination.
Baluzzo.—Death and the devil, Abellino, is this a time for talking nonsense? Prithee keep such trash for a fitter occasion, and let us consider what we are to do just now.
Pietrino.—Nay, this is no season for trifling.
Struzza.—Tell us, Abellino; you are a clever fellow; what course is it best for us to take?
Abellino (after a pause).—Nothing must be done, or a great deal. One of two things we must choose. Either we must remain WHERE we are, and WHAT we are, murder honest men to please any rascal who will give us gold and fair words, and make up our minds to be hung, broken on the wheel, condemned to the galleys, burnt alive, crucified, or beheaded, at the long run, just as it may seem best to the supreme authority; or else -
Thomaso.—Or else? Well?
Abellino.—Or else we must divide the spoils which are already in our possession, quit the Republic, begin a new and better life, and endeavour to make our peace with Heaven. We have already wealth enough to make it unnecessary for us to ask how shall we get our bread? You may either buy an estate in some foreign country, or keep Osteria, or engage in commerce, or set up some trade, or, in short, do whatever you like best, so that you do but abandon the profession of an assassin. Then we may look out for a wife among the pretty girls of our own rank in life, become the happy fathers of sons and daughters may eat and drink in peace and security, and make amends by the honesty of our future lives for the offences of our past.
Thomaso.—Ha! ha! ha!
Abellino.—What YOU do, that will I do too; I will either hang or be broken on the wheel along with you, or become an honest man, just as you please. Now, then, what is your decision?
Thomaso.—Was there ever such a stupid counsellor.
Pietrino.—Our decision? Nay, the point's not very difficult to decide.
Abellino.—I should have thought it HAD been.
Thomaso.—Without more words, then, I vote for our remaining as we are, and carrying on our old trade; that will bring us plenty of gold, and enable us to lead a jolly life.
Pietrino.—Right, lad, you speak my thoughts exactly.
Thomaso.—We are bravoes, it's true; but what then? We are honest fellows, and the devil take him who dares to say we are not. However, at any rate, we must keep within doors for a few days, lest we should be discovered; for I warrant you the Doge's spies are abroad in search of us by this. But as soon as the pursuit is over, be it our first business to find out Matteo's murderer, and throttle him out of hand as a warning to all others.
Pietrino.—And from this day forth I vote that Thomaso should be our captain.
Struzza.—Aye, in Matteo's stead.
Abellino.—To which I say amen with all my heart. Now, then, all is decided.
BOOK THE SECOND.
CHAPTER I: THE BIRTHDAY.
In solitude and anxiety, with barred windows and bolted doors, did the banditti pass the day immediately succeeding Matteo's murder; every murmur in the street appeared to them a cause of apprehension; every footstep which approached their doors made them tremble till it had passed them.
In the meanwhile the ducal palace blazed with splendour and resounded with mirth. The Doge celebrated the birthday of his fair niece, Rosabella; and the feast was honoured by the presence of the chief persons of the city, of the foreign ambassadors, and of many illustrious strangers who were at that time resident in Venice.
On this occasion no expense had been spared, no source of pleasure had been neglected. The arts contended with each other for superiority; the best poets in Venice celebrated this day with powers excelling anything which they had before exhibited, for the subject of their verses was Rosabella; the musicians and virtuosi surpassed all their former triumphs, for their object was to obtain the suffrage of Rosabella. The singular union of all kinds of pleasure intoxicated the imagination of every guest; and the genius of delight extended his influence over the whole assembly, over the old man and the youth, over the matron and the virgin.
The venerable Andreas had seldom been in such high spirits as on this occasion. He was all life; smiles of satisfaction played round his lips; gracious and condescending to every one, he made it his chief care to prevent his rank from being felt. Sometimes he trifled with the ladies, whose beauty formed the greatest ornament of this entertainment; sometimes he mingled among the masks, whose fantastic appearance and gaiety of conversation enlivened the ball- room by their variety; at other times he played chess with the generals and admirals of the Republic; and frequently he forsook everything to gaze with delight on Rosabella's dancing, or listen in silent rapture to Rosabella's music.
Lomellino, Conari, and Paolo Manfrone, the Doge's three confidential friends and counsellors, in defiance of their grey hairs, mingled in the throng of youthful beauties, flirted first with one and then with another, and the arrows of raillery were darted and received on both sides with spirit and good humour.
"Now, Lomellino," said Andreas to his friend, who entered the saloon in which the Doge was at that time accidentally alone with his niece, "you seem in gayer spirits this evening than when we were lying before Scardona, and had so hard a game to play against the Turks."
Lomellino.—I shall not take upon me to deny that, signor. I still think with a mixture of terror and satisfaction on the night when we took Scardona, and carried the half-moon before the city walls. By my soul, our Venetians fought like lions.
Andreas.—Fill this goblet to their memory, my old soldier; you have earned your rest bravely.
Lomellino.—Aye, signor, and oh, it is so sweet to rest on laurels. But in truth, 'tis to you that I am indebted for mine; it is you who have immortalised me. No soul on earth would have known that Lomellino existed, had he not fought in Dalmatia and Sicilia under the banners of the great Andreas, and assisted him in raising eternal trophies in honour of the Republic.
Andreas.—My good Lomellino, the Cyprus wine must have heated your imagination.
Lomellino.—Nay, I know well I ought not to call you great, and praise you thus openly to your face; but faith, signor, I am grown too old for it to be worth my while to flatter. That is a business which I leave to our young courtiers, who have never yet come within the smell of powder, and never have fought for Venice and Andreas.
Andreas.—You are an old enthusiast. Think you the Emperor is of the same opinion?
Lomellino.—Unless Charles the Fifth is deceived by those about him, or is too proud to allow the greatness of an enemy, he must say, perforce, "There is but one man on earth whom I fear, and who is worthy to contend with me, and that man is Andreas."
Andreas.—I suspect he will be sorely displeased when he receives my answer to the message by which he notified to me the imprisonment of the French king.
Lomellino.—Displeased he will be, signor, no doubt of it; but what then? Venice need not fear his displeasure, while Andreas still lives. But when you and your heroes are once gone to your eternal rest—then, alas for thee, poor Venice. I fear your golden times will soon come to their conclusion.
Andreas.—What! Have we not many young officers of great promise?
Lomellino.—Alas, what are most of them? Heroes in the fields of Venus. Heroes at a drinking-bout. Effeminate striplings, relaxed both in mind and body. But how am I running on, forgetful. Ah, when one is grown old, and conversing with an Andreas, it is easy to forget everything else. My lord, I sought you with a request, a request, too, of consequence.
Andreas.—You excite my curiosity.
Lomellino.—About a week ago there arrived here a young Florentine nobleman called Flodoardo, a youth of noble appearance and great promise.
Lomellino.—His father was one of my dearest friends. He is dead now, the good old generous nobleman. In our youth we served together on board the same vessel, and many a turbaned head has fallen beneath his sword. Ah, he was a brave soldier.
Andreas.—While celebrating the father's bravery, you seem to have quite forgotten the son.
Lomellino.—His son is arrived in Venice, and wishes to enter into the service of the Republic. I entreat you, give the young man some respectable situation; he will prove the boast of Venice when we shall be in our graves, on that would I hazard my existence.
Andreas.—Has he sense and talent?
Lomellino.—That he has; a heart like his father's. Will it please you to see and converse with him? He is yonder, among the masks in the great saloon. One thing I must tell you, as a specimen of his designs. He has heard of the banditti who infest Venice, and he engages that the first piece of service which he renders the Republic shall be the delivering into the hands of justice those concealed assassins, who hitherto have eluded the vigilance of our police.
Andreas.—Indeed! I doubt that promise will be too much for his power to perform. Flodoardo, I think you called him? Tell him I would speak with him.
Lomellino.—Oh! then I have gained at least the HALF of my cause, and I believe the WHOLE of it, for to see Flodoardo and not to like him is as difficult as to look at Paradise and not wish to enter. To see Flodoardo and to hate him is as unlikely as that a blind man should hate the kind hand which removes the cataract from his eyes, and pours upon them the blessings of light and beauties of nature.
Andreas (smiling).—In the whole course of our acquaintance, Lomellino, never did I hear you so enthusiastic! Go, then, conduct this prodigy hither.
Lomellino.—I hasten to find him. And as for you, signora, look to yourself! look to yourself, I say!
Rosabella.—Nay, prithee, Lomellino, bring your hero hither without delay; you have raised my curiosity to the height.
Lomellino quitted the saloon.
Andreas.—How comes it that you rejoin not the dancers, my child?
Rosabella.—I am weary, and, besides, curiosity now detains me here, for I would fain see this Flodoardo, whom Lomellino thinks deserving of such extraordinary praise. Shall I tell you the truth, my dear uncle? I verily believe that I am already acquainted with him. There was a mask in a Grecian habit, whose appearance was so striking, that it was impossible for him to remain confounded with the crowd. The least attentive eye must have singled him out from among a thousand. It was a tall light figure, so graceful in every movement; then his dancing was quite perfection.
Andreas (smiling, and threatening with his finger).—Child, child!
Rosabella.—Nay, my dear uncle, what I say is mere justice; it is possible, indeed, that the Greek and the Florentine may be two different persons, but still, according to Lomellino's description— Oh! look, dear uncle, only look yonder; there stands the Greek, as I live.
Andreas.—And Lomellino is with him; they approach. Rosabella, you have made a good guess.
The Doge had scarcely ceased to speak, when Lomellino entered the room, conducting a tall young man, richly habited in the Grecian fashion.
"My gracious lord," said Lomellino, "I present to you the Count Flodoardo, who humbly sues for your protection."
Flodoardo uncovered his head in token of respect, took off his mask, and bowed low before the illustrious ruler of Venice.
Andreas.—I understand you are desirous of serving the Republic?
Flodoardo.—That is my ambition, should your Highness think me deserving of such an honour.
Andreas.—Lomellino speaks highly of you; if all that he says be true, how came you to deprive your own country of your services?
Flodoardo.—Because my own country is not governed by an Andreas.
Andreas.—You have intentions, it seems, of discovering the haunts of the banditti, who for some time past have caused so many tears to flow in Venice?
Flodoardo.—If your Highness would deign to confide in me, I would answer with my head for their delivery into the hands of your officers, and that speedily.
Andreas.—That were much for a stranger to perform. I would fain make the trial whether you can keep your word.
Flodoardo.—That is sufficient. To-morrow, or the day after at least, will I perform my promise.
Andreas.—And you make that promise so resolutely? Are you aware, young man, how dangerous a task it is to surprise these miscreants? They are never to be found when sought for, and always present when least expected; they are at once everywhere and nowhere. There exists not a nook in Venice which our spies are not acquainted with, or have left unexamined, and yet has our police endeavoured in vain to discover the place of their concealment.
Flodoardo.—I know all this, and to know it rejoices me, since it affords me an opportunity of convincing the Doge of Venice, that my actions are not those of a common adventurer.
Andreas.—Perform your promise, and then let me hear of you. For the present our discourse shall end here, for no unpleasant thoughts must disturb the joy to which this day is dedicated. Rosabella, would you not like to join the dancers? Count, I confide her to your care.
Flodoardo.—I could not be entrusted with a more precious charge.
Rosabella, during this conversation, had been leaning against the back of her uncle's chair. She repeated to herself Lomellino's assertion, "that to see Flodoardo, and not to like him, was as difficult as to look at Paradise and not wish to enter;" and while she gazed on the youth, she allowed that Lomellino had not exaggerated. When her uncle desired Flodoardo to conduct her to the dancers, a soft blush overspread her cheek, and she doubted whether she should accept or decline the hand which was immediately offered.
And to tell you my real opinion, my fair ladies, I suspect that very few of you would have been more collected than Rosabella, had you found yourselves similarly situated. In truth, such a form as Flodoardo's; a countenance whose physiognomy seemed a passport at once to the hearts of all who examined it; features so exquisitely fashioned that the artist who wished to execute a model of manly beauty, had he imitated them, would have had nothing to supply or improve; features, every one of which spoke so clearly, "The bosom of this youth contains the heart of a hero." Ah, ladies, my dear ladies, a man like this might well make some little confusion in the head and heart of a poor young girl, tender and unsuspicious!
Flodoardo took Rosabella's hand, and led her into the ball-room. Here all was mirth and splendour, the roofs re-echoed with the full swell of harmony, and the floor trembled beneath the multitude of dancers, who formed a thousand beautiful groups by the blaze of innumerable lustres. Yes, Flodoardo and Rosabella passed on in silence till they reached the extreme end of the great saloon. Here they stopped, and remained before an open window. Some minutes passed, and still they spoke not. Sometimes they gazed on each other, sometimes on the dancers, sometimes on the moon; and then again they forgot each other, the dancers, and the moon, and were totally absorbed in themselves.
"Lady," said Flodoardo, at length, "can there be a greater misfortune?"
"A misfortune?" said Rosabella, starting as if suddenly awaking from a dream; "what misfortune, signor? Who is unfortunate?"
"He who is doomed to behold the joys of Elysium and never to possess them. He who dies of thirst and sees a cup stand full before him, but which he knows is destined for the lips of another."
"And are you, my lord, this outcast from Elysium? Are you the thirsty one who stands near the cup which is filled for another? Is it thus that you wish me to understand your speech?"
"You understand it as I meant: and now tell me, lovely Rosabella, am I not indeed unfortunate?"
"And where, then, is the Elysium which you must never possess?"
"Where Rosabella is, there is indeed Elysium. You are not offended, signora?" said Flodoardo, and took her hand with an air of respectful tenderness. "Has this openness displeased you?"
"You are a native of Florence, Count Flodoardo. In Venice we dislike this kind of compliment: at least I dislike them, and wish to hear them from no one less than from you."
"By my life, signora, I spoke but as I thought! my words concealed no flattery."
"See, the Doge enters the saloon with Manfrone and Lomellino: he will seek us among the dancers. Come, let us join them."
Flodoardo followed her in silence. The dance began. Heavens! how lovely looked Rosabella, as she glided along to the sweet sounds of music, conducted by Flodoardo. How handsome looked Flodoardo, as, lighter than air, he flew down the dance, while his brilliant eyes saw no object but Rosabella.
He was still without his mask, and bareheaded: but every eye glanced away from the helmets and barettes, waving with plumes, and sparkling with jewels, to gaze on Flodoardo's raven locks, as they floated on the air in wild luxuriance. A murmur of admiration rose from every corner of the saloon, but it rose unmarked by those who were the objects of it. Neither Rosabella nor Flodoardo at that moment formed a wish to be applauded, except by each other.
CHAPTER II: THE FLORENTINE STRANGER
Two evenings had elapsed since the Doge's entertainment. On the second, Parozzi sat in his own apartment, with Memmo and Falieri. Dimly burnt the lights; lowering and tempestuous were the skies without; gloomy and fearful were the souls of the libertines within.
Parozzi (after a long silence).—What, are you both dreaming? Ho, there, Memmo, Falieri, fill your goblets.
Memmo (with indifference).—Well, to please you—. But I care not for wine to-night.
Falieri.—Nor I. Methinks it tastes like vinegar: yet the wine itself is good: 'tis our ill temper spoils it.
Parozzi.—Confound the rascals.
Memmo.—What, the banditti?
Parozzi.—Not a trace of them can be found. It is enough to kill one with vexation.
Falieri.—And in the meanwhile the time runs out, our projects will get wind, and then we shall sit quietly in the State prisons of Venice, objects of derision to the populace and ourselves. I could tear my flesh for anger. (A universal silence.)
Parozzi (striking his hand against the table passionately).— Flodoardo, Flodoardo.
Falieri.—In a couple of hours I must attend the Cardinal Gonzaga, and what intelligence shall I have to give him?
Memmo.—Come, come, Contarino cannot have been absent so long without cause; I warrant you he will bring some news with him when he arrives.
Falieri.—Pshaw, pshaw! My life on't he lies at this moment at Olympia's feet, and forgets us, the Republic, the banditti, and himself.
Parozzi.—And so neither of you know anything of this Flodoardo?
Memmo.—No more than of what happened on Rosabella's birthday.
Falieri.—Well, then, I know one thing more about him; Parozzi is jealous of him.
Parozzi.—I? Ridiculous, Rosabella may bestow her hand on the German Emperor, or a Venetian gondolier, without its giving me the least anxiety.
Falieri.—Ha! ha! ha!
Memmo.—Well, one thing at least even envy must confess; Flodoardo is the handsomest man in Venice. I doubt whether there's a woman in the city who can resist him.