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Title: A Creature of the Night - An Italian Enigma
Author: Hume, Fergus
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's Notes:
     1. Page scan source: The Internet Archive
        https://archive.org/details/creatureofnighti00hume_0
        (The Library of Congress.)
     2. Chapter XVII. (Nemesis) is misnumbered as  XV. in this
        edition.



A CREATURE OF THE NIGHT



A CREATURE OF THE NIGHT
_AN ITALIAN ENIGMA_

BY
FERGUS HUME
AUTHOR OF
"THE MYSTERY OF A HANSOM CAB," "MADAME MIDAS,"
"MISS MEPHISTOPHELES," "MONSIEUR JUDAS"



   Yea, out of the womb of the night
        For evil a rod,
   With vampire wings plumed for a flight
        It cometh abroad,
   The mission to curse and to blight
        Permitted by God.



NEW YORK
JOHN W. LOVELL COMPANY
150 WORTH ST., COR. MISSION PLACE



Copyright, 1891,
BY
UNITED STATES BOOK COMPANY
--------

_All rights reserved_.



TO
GRAHAM PRICE,
IN REMEMBRANCE OF ITALIAN IDLINGS,
SPRING, 1891.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER.

I.       The Ghoul.
II.      A Boccaccian Adventure.
III.     The Feast of Ghosts.
IV.      The Angello Household.
V.       Lost.
VI.      A Haunted Palace.
VII.     At the Teatro Ezzelino.
VIII.    The Phantom of Lucrezia Borgia.
IX.      Fiore della Casa.
X.       A Voice in the Darkness.
XI.      The Marchese Beltrami.
XII.     Death in Life.
XIII.    "Down among the Dead Men."
XIV.     The New Lazarus.
XV.      Found.
XVI.     An Interrupted Honeymoon.
XVII.    Nemesis.
XVIII.   A Last Word.



CREATURE OF THE NIGHT.



CHAPTER I.
THE GHOUL.


I think it is Lord Beaconsfield who, in one of his brilliant stories,
makes the clever observation that "adventures are to the adventurous,"
and certainly he who seeks for adventures even in this prosaic
nineteenth century will surely succeed in his quest. Fate leads him,
chance guides him, luck assists him, and although the adventure
supplied by this trinity of circumstances may be neither so dangerous
nor so picturesque as in the time of Borgia or Lazun, still it will
probably be interesting, which after all is something to be grateful
for in this eminently commonplace age of facts and figures. Still,
even he who seeks not to prove the truth of Disraeli's aphorism, may,
after the principle of Mahomet's mountain, have the adventure come to
him, without the trouble of looking for it, and this was my case at
Verona in the summer of 18--.

The Cranstons were always a poor family, that is, as regards money,
although they certainly could not complain of a lack of ancestors; and
when it came to my turn to represent the race, I found that my lately
deceased father had left me comparatively nothing. Not having any
fixed income, I therefore could not live without doing something to
earn my bread; and not having any business capacity, I foresaw failure
would be my lot in mercantile enterprise. I was not good-looking
enough to inveigle a wealthy heiress into matrimony; and as, after a
survey of my possessions, I found I had nothing but a few hundred
pounds and an excellent baritone voice, I made up my mind to use the
former in cultivating the latter with a view to an operatic career.

Italy, living on the traditions of the days of Rossini, of Donizetti
and of Bellini, has still the reputation of possessing excellent
singing-masters, so to Italy I went with a hopeful heart and a light
purse, and established myself at Milan, where I took lessons, in
singing, from Maestro Angello. Milan is a detestable city, hot and
arid in summer, cold and humid in winter; and as a year after I
arrived in the land of song the end of spring was unusually
disagreeable, Maestro Angello went to Verona for a change of air, and
thither I followed him with no small pleasure at escaping from that
dreary commercial capital of the north which has all the disagreeables
of Italian life without any of the compensating advantages of romance
and beauty.

But Verona! ah, it was truly delightful, that sleepy town lying so
peacefully on the banks of the rapid Adige, dreaming amid the riotous
present of the splendid past, when Can Grande held his brilliant
court, and received as an honoured guest the great poet Dante, exiled
by ungrateful Florence. The city of the gay rhymer Catullus, merry
lover of Lesbia, who wept more tears over her sparrow than she did
over her poet. The city of Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers as
they were, who were recompensed for their short, unhappy lives by
gaining immortality from the pen of Shakespeare as types of eternal
love and eternal constancy, for the encouragement of all succeeding
youths and maidens of later generations. Yes, indeed, with all these
memories, historical and poetical, Verona was a pleasant place in
which to idle away a summer, so I thanked the kind gods for my good
fortune and enjoyed myself.

Not that I was idle. By no means! Maestro Angello kept me hard at work
at exercises and scales, so I studied industriously most of the day
and wandered about most of the night in the soft, cool moonlight, when
Verona looked much more romantic than in the garish blaze of the
Italian sun.

It was on one of these nights that an adventure happened to me, an
adventure in which I was involved by the merest chance, although I
confess that the vice of curiosity had a good deal to do with my
entanglement therein.

After dining at the hotel I went out for my customary stroll, and
having lighted a pipe as a preventive against the evil odours which
seem inseparable from all Italian towns, I wandered on through the
deserted streets in a listless, aimless fashion, contrasting in my own
mind the magnificent Verona of the past with the dismal Verona of the
present. Taken up with these fantastic dreamings, I did not notice
particularly where I was going, or how quickly the time was passing,
until I found myself on the Ponte Aleardi--that iron bridge which
spans the Adige--and heard the church bells chiming the hour of
eleven.

The moon was shining in the darkly blue sky amid the brilliant stars,
and the leaden waters of the river shone like a band of steel in
the pale, silvery light. On either side of the stream lowered dark
masses of houses, from the windows of which gleamed here and there
orange-coloured lights, while against the clear sky arose the tall
steeples of the churches and the serrated outlines of full-foliaged
trees. It was wonderfully beautiful, and the soft wind blowing through
the night, rippled the swift waters to lines of ever-vanishing white;
so leaning over the balustrade of the bridge, I dreamed and smoked,
and smoked and dreamed, until the chiming of the half-hour warned me
to return to my hotel.

The night, however, was so beautiful and cool, that I could not but
think of my hot sleeping-chamber with repugnance, and feeling
disinclined for rest, I made up my mind to stroll onward for some
time. I might have visited that fraudulent tomb of Juliet in the
moonlight, but as I had already seen it by day, and could not feel
enthusiastic about such a palpable deception, I refused to be further
victimised, and crossed over the bridge to the left shore of the
river.

It was somewhat solitary, there, but I was not afraid of robbers, as I
had but little money and no jewellery on me, and moreover I felt that,
should occasion arise, I could use my fists sufficiently well to
protect myself. Being thus at ease regarding my personal safety, I
lighted a cigar which luckily happened to be in my pocket, and
wandered on until I came within sight, of the cemetery.

Now I firmly believe that every one has in him a vein of superstition
which is developed in accordance with his surroundings. Place a man at
midday in a bustling city, and he scoffs at the idea of the
supernatural; but let him find himself at midnight alone on a solitary
moor, with the shadows of moonlight on every side, and all his
inherent superstition will start to life, peopling the surrounding
solitude with unseen phantoms, more terrible than those of the Arabian
Nights. Whether it was the time of night, or the proximity of the
burial-ground, I do not know, but I felt my breast fill with vague
fears, and hastened to leave the uncanny spot as quickly as possible.

Fate, however, was against me, for in my blind speed, instead of
crossing the bridge, I turned to the left, and unexpectedly found
myself in the vicinity of another burial-ground. It was apparently
much older than the one I had first seen, and there was a ruined wall
around it, overtopped by tall, melancholy cypresses, looming black and
funereal against the midnight sky. By this time I had recovered my
nerve, and feeling somewhat ashamed of my former ignominious flight, I
determined to punish myself by entering this antique abode of the
dead, and examining it thoroughly.

With this idea I climbed over a portion of the broken wall, and in the
shadow of the cypress-trees--shadow dense as the darkness of Egypt--I
viewed the mournful scene before me, with mingled feelings of
curiosity and dread.

It was evidently very old, for even under the softening light of the
moon, the near tombs looked discoloured and time-worn. I saw the soft
swell of the green turf, betokening graves, upon which grew the grass
long and rank; the milky gleam of slender white columns, broken at the
top to typify the short lives of those who slept below; and while
yonder, in frowning grey stone, stood a solemn pyramid, built in
imitation of those Egyptian monsters by the Nile, here, near at hand,
a miniature temple of white marble, delicate and fragile in
construction, hinted at the graceful architecture of Greece. Among
these myriad tombs arose the slender, lance-shaped cypress-trees, and
their dark forms alternating with gleaming crosses of white marble,
sombre pyramids, classic temples, and innumerable lines of tall
columns, gave to this singular scene the aspect of a visionary city of
the dead, which had become visible to mortal eyes by the enchantments
of the moon.

Fascinated by the weirdness of this solitude, I let my cigar fall to
the ground, and, hidden in the gloom of the cypress-trees, stared long
and earnestly at this last abode of the old Veronese, when suddenly my
hair bristled at the roots, a cold sweat broke out on my forehead, and
a nervous shudder made my frame tremble as if with ague.

The cause of this sudden fear was that, while wrapt in contemplation
of this desolate necropolis, I heard a laugh, a low, wicked laugh,
which seemed to come from the bowels of the earth. It was now nearly
midnight, that hour when the dead are said to come forth and wander
among the living, whose nightly sleep so strangely mocks the semblance
of that still repose which chains these spectres to their tombs during
the day. This idea pierced my brain like a knife, and for the moment,
under the influence of the hour, the ghastly scene, the evil laugh, I
believed that I was about to witness this terrible resurrection. I
tried to turn and fly, but my limbs were paralyzed, and like a statue
of stone I stood there rooted to the earth, feeling as if I were under
the influence of some horrible nightmare.

Again I heard that wicked laugh, and this time it seemed to come from
a tomb near me, a square block of gray stone, in the centre of which
was an iron door, evidently the entrance to some vault. Beside this
portal stood a life-sized figure in white marble of the Angel of
Death, guarding the entrance with a flaming sword, the undulating
blade of which seemed, to my startled eye, to waver against the
blackness of the door. All round this strange tomb the grass grew long
and thick, but, half veiled by the tangled herbage, star-shaped
flowers glimmered in the moonlight.

In another moment I would have fled, when for the third time I heard
the evil laugh, the iron door of the tomb slowly opened, and a dark
figure appeared on the threshold. The sight was so terrifying that I
tried to mutter a prayer, feeling at the time as firm a belief in the
visitation of the dead as any old woman; but my throat was so dry that
I could do nothing but remain silent in my hiding-place and stare at
this ghoul, vampire, wraith, or whatever it was, leaving its tomb.

To add to the horror of the situation, the moon had obscured herself
behind a thick cloud, and there was now a deep darkness over all the
graveyard, a darkness in which I could see nothing, and only hear the
faint sigh of the wind, the rustle of the dry grasses, and the loud
beating of my heart.

Suddenly I felt that this creature of the night was passing near me,
and in abject terror I shrank back against the rough trunk of the tree
under which I was standing. I heard nothing in the still night, I saw
nothing in the thick darkness; but I felt it pass, by that sixth sense
which is possessed by those who have highly strung nerves. In another
moment the moon emerged from behind the clouds in all her splendour,
and the burst of light gave me courage, for without considering the
danger, either material or immaterial, I rushed quickly towards the
broken wall, in which direction I judged this unseen ghoul had gone.

The white moonlight flooded the whole space between the burial-ground
and the river, so that I saw clearly this figure walking quickly away
in the direction of the Ponte Aleardi. It was draped in a long black
cloak with a monkish hood, and with its trailing, noiseless garments
it seemed to glide along in the moonlight like a shadow.

I had been so quick in my pursuit that it was only a little distance
away, and as I peered cautiously over the broken wall it paused for a
moment, and, throwing back its hood, looked towards the place where I
was hiding. The space between us was so small and the moonlight so
lustrous that I could see the face and head plainly rising from amid
the dark drapery.

The face was that of a woman, a beautiful woman with full crimson
lips, large dark eyes, and great masses of reddish-coloured hair, for
even in the cold moonlight I could see the warm, bronze glint of her
tresses. One hand, slender and white, clasped the dark robe to her
breast, and she looked towards the darkness of the broken wall as if
she knew that some one had seen her terrible resurrection. On her
delicate features there was a cold, stern look, like that of the
ancient Medusa, and truly I felt as if I were turning into stone
before the cruel glare of those eyes which seemed to pierce the gloom
in which I lay hid. It will be said that I describe somewhat minutely
the appearance of this ghoul, seeing that I only beheld her for a
moment in the pale, uncertain gleam of the moon; but so close was she
to the wall, and so highly strung were my nerves by the weirdness of
the situation, that the sudden apparition of this creature of the
night photographed itself indelibly on my brain.

At last she seemed satisfied with her gazing at the burial-ground from
whence she had emerged, and, again drawing her hood over her face,
glided rapidly away towards the Ponte Aleardi. Moved by curiosity and
supernatural fear, I determined to follow this spectre and find out
where she was going, so without a moment's hesitation I jumped down,
and, keeping in the shadow of the wall, stole after her noiselessly
and swiftly.

Who was she? Some unhappy ghost of antique Verona, who had committed
one of those terrible crimes invented by Lucrezia Borgia, and who was
condemned by God to nightly revisit the scene of her former splendour
as a punishment for her evil life? Some ghoul who left the feast of
the dead in order to prey upon the living? Some vampire, lusting for
blood, hastening towards the sleeping city to select her victim and
drain him of his life-blood? All the wild, weird tales which I had
heard recurred to my memory; all the terrible legends of Brittany, of
the East, of Spain, and of the savage North. The memories of witches
rifling the dead for their unholy needs, of wizards holding orgies in
lonely churchyards, of magicians evoking the silent tenants of the
grave by powerful spells, and of demons entering the bodies of the
newly dead in order to roam the midnight world--all these gruesome
ideas surged in my brain like the delirium of fever.

My fear had passed away. I felt intensely curious to know the errand
upon which this woman was bent, and, with all my faculties sharpened
by danger, I sped swiftly after this flying spectre, which, looking
neither to right nor left, glided rapidly onward towards the sleeping
city of Verona.



CHAPTER II.
A BOCCACCIAN ADVENTURE.


Italian towns are very perplexing to strangers. Keep to the principal
thoroughfares built in modern days, and you may have a reasonable hope
of finding your way about; but once get enmeshed in the crooked,
narrow, winding streets of the period of the middle ages and you are
lost. The Italians, like Nature, delight in curves, and these narrow
alleys, with cobble-stone pavements and no side-walks, dignified by
the name of streets, twist in and out, and here and there, between
forbidding houses, seven or eight stories in height, under heavy
archways, which threaten to fall and crush the unwary stranger, and
down steep flights of worn steps, until you become quite bewildered by
the labyrinthian windings. Then these houses are built high in order
to exclude the burning sun from the alleys, and a cold, humid feeling
pervades the entire network of streets; so that what with the gloom,
the twistings, and the treacherous pitfalls in dark corners, one feels
like Orpheus going down to Hades in search of lost Eurydice.

Having been warned of the difficulty of exploring these unknown
depths, I had mostly confined my wanderings to the broad, modern
streets and the populous piazzas; therefore as long as my spectre
guide kept to the Via Pallone, which begins at the Ponte Aleardi and
ends at the Piazza Vittoria Emanuele, I felt quite safe. When,
however, after leaving the Piazza she plunged into the narrow streets
of the medieval period, I hesitated at first to follow her. I did not
know my way, I was a stranger, and unarmed; moreover, I knew not into
what unknown dangers I might be led by this mysterious woman who had
emerged from the graveyard.

Curiosity, however, prevailed over fear, and as at any moment I might
lose sight of her, and thereby never discover if she were of this or
the other world, I followed her boldly into the intense gloom into
which she had vanished. My eyes could hardly pierce the darkness, and
I feared I would not be able to keep her in sight, when luckily a
portion of her cloak became disarranged, and I saw the vivid glimmer
of a white dress, on which I kept my eyes fastened as a guiding star.

Here and there in the houses lights were burning dimly, but the hour
being late, no people were in the streets; and as I followed this
noiseless phantom along the solitary alleys, with the dark houses on
either hand, and the white gleam of the moonlit sky above, I felt as
if I were moving in a dream.

Onward she glided, turning down here, climbing up there, until my feet
were weary with walking; and besides, not knowing the way, I stumbled
frequently, which gave me many a bruise. The darkness, however, seemed
no obstacle to the ghoul, who walked onward as rapidly as if she were
still in the moonlight; on the contrary, it was only by the greatest
care that I could grope my way sufficiently quickly to keep her in
sight, and prevent her from discovering me by my frequent stumbles.

I was about to give up the chase in despair, when suddenly she led me
out on to a small square, and hastening across it, disappeared into a
palace at the further end. I remained in the alley until she vanished,
as I feared if I followed her too closely she might perceive me in the
moonlight. The place, which occupied the whole of one side of the
square, was a richly decorated building, with a great arched portal in
the centre; but I had no time to examine it closely, for, fearful of
losing my ghoul, I ran quickly across the square, came to the portal,
and was stopped by an iron gate.

It was one of those heavy iron gates common to Italian palaces, which
stretching across from wall to wall, afford a view of the inner court,
and are only open on festive occasions, or to admit vehicles. I knew
that entrance was ordinarily afforded by a side door, and without
doubt this was the way she had gone, unless indeed, being
supernatural, she found bolts and bars no hindrance. Determined to
pursue this strange adventure to the end, I sought the side door, but,
on finding it, discovered to my vexation that it was locked. I could
not enter that way, and the bars of the iron gate were so close
together, that a man of my size could not possibly squeeze through
them, so to all appearances the adventure, as far as I was concerned,
was finished.

Making one last effort, however, I felt all the iron bars singly, to
see if any one was loose, in which case I could remove it and thus
slip through; when to my astonishment, on the left side of the gate
furthest from the door, I found that one of the bars had been wrenched
away. Without waiting to consider this, which was curious to say the
least of it, I concluded that the woman, if indeed she were flesh and
blood, had entered by this breach in the gate, so at once took
advantage of my discovery and soon found myself in the courtyard. The
palace appeared to be quite deserted, as the windows were all broken,
and the ironwork of the balconies which ran round the four sides of
the courtyard, at different heights, was twisted out of all shape;
besides which, the mosaic pavement upon which I stood was smashed in
several places, and grass grew between the interstices. I could see
all this plainly in the moonlight, and, moreover, as a great door at
the end of the courtyard opposite the iron gate was slightly ajar,
while all the other smaller doors were closed, I came to the
conclusion that the ghoul had gone in there. My conjecture proved
correct, for as, hiding in the shadow, I peered into the gloom of the
building, I saw the sudden flare of a torch which the woman had just
fired, and with this in her hand she began to climb up a flight of
steps--at least, so I judged from seeing the torch rise higher and
higher in the darkness until it vanished altogether.

The lightning of the torch made me believe that I had to do with flesh
and blood, as certainly no phantom would use natural ways and means in
preference to supernatural; so directly the light disappeared, I stole
cautiously across what appeared to be a large hall, grasping my
walking-stick tightly in case of any surprise. I could not disguise
from myself that my curiosity had led me into a very perilous
adventure, but, as since the affair of the torch I had quite recovered
my nerve, I went resolutely forward, and, feeling my way carefully in
the dark, climbed up the staircase.

At the first turning of the ascent all was still in darkness, but on
taking the second turning I saw the torch gleaming like a fierce
yellow star in the gloom of a long corridor. Luckily I had very light,
thin shoes on, and trod cautiously, otherwise the echo of my footsteps
would most surely have betrayed me to the mysterious torch-bearer. The
palace was certainly not inhabited, as I heard nothing to support such
a belief; but as I hastened along the wide corridor, through the
windows on the left side streamed the pale moonlight, and I saw that
the glass in these windows was painted to represent coats-of-arms, so
without doubt this deserted mansion had once been the residence of
some great Veronese noble.

But what was the ghoul doing here? Why had she come from her vault in
the churchyard to this neglected habitation? Again the fear seized me
that this creature was a phantom of some splendid lady of the middle
ages, come to revisit the scenes or her antique magnificence. The cold
air as I passed along seemed full of the strange perfume of
sandalwood, and this sensuous odour in conjunction with the flitting
torch, the coloured shadows cast on the floor by the moonlight
streaming in through the painted windows, and the state of nervous
excitement in which I was, all made me feel like the hero of one of
those amorous adventures which are described in the glowing pages of
Boccaccio.

Once more the torch disappeared round a corner to the left, but in a
moment I had it again in sight; another flight of shallow steps,
another short corridor, and at the end an arched door, through which
the phantom disappeared. At the door I paused to consider what I
should do next, as, if I rashly entered the room, I might pay for my
temerity with my life; so I stood irresolutely at the half-open door,
ready to fly at the least sign of danger.

As I stood at the door in the intense gloom, for there were no windows
in this corridor, I saw a faint glimmer of light in the room within,
and this light remaining stationary for some considerable time, I
judged that the lady of the sepulchre had left the torch there and
retired into some inner chamber. Resolving, therefore, to risk the
attempt, I peered into the apartment, and saw the torch stuck in a
socket made in a small table in the centre of this small hall, which
was hung with ancient tapestry. At the end opposite the portal through
which I was looking, was an opening draped with heavy red curtains
embroidered with gold, for every now and then as they stirred I saw
the dull glitter of the tarnished metal.

Determined not to be discovered, I thought it a capital plan to hide
between the tapestry and the wall, so as to secure good concealment,
and then steal along the walls until I arrived at the curtained
opening, through which I hoped to be able to see into the room beyond.
Just as I made up my mind to put this plan into practice, the torch,
which had been burning very low, flickered and went out, so that the
hall was in complete darkness. In the gloom, however, rays of bright
light shone through the embroidered curtains. I heard the murmur of
voices, and then the sharp, clear notes of a mandolin. The ghoul
evidently had some one with her, perhaps the unfortunate individual
whom she proposed to devour; so as no time was to be lost, I slipped
into the apartment, enconced myself between the tapestry and the wall
on the left of the door, and prepared to creep along, if possible, to
the curtained archway. While I paused a moment to regain breath and
courage, for certainly the situation was not without an element of
danger, the metallic notes of the mandolin ceased and a man's voice
began singing some Italian song, but one with which, in spite of my
knowledge of music, I was not acquainted. It was a slow and sensuous
melody of passionate sweetness with an undercurrent of sadness, and
the singer had a remarkably fine tenor voice, sounding full and rich
even through the heavy curtains, which prevented me hearing the words
clearly. Evidently this was an amorous rendezvous, but why was it
taking place in this deserted palace, and why had the lady come from a
vault in a graveyard to keep it?

All at once the singer stopped abruptly in the middle of a phrase, I
heard the mandolin suddenly smashing on the marble floor, and then
sounded the low, wicked laugh I had first heard at the burial-ground.
Filled with anxiety to learn the meaning of all these strange events,
I glided rapidly along the wall, and speedily arrived at the curtained
opening. Being afraid to pull it to one side lest I should be
discovered, I took out my penknife and made a slit in the heavy
embroidery; then, looking through the opening thus obtained, I beheld
a most extraordinary spectacle.

A circular chamber, not very large, but very lofty, surrounded by
eight half-pillars of veined white marble built into the wall, and
supporting a domed ceiling richly painted with garlands of flowers,
from amid which peered the smiling faces of beautiful women. Between
these noble pillars hung voluminous draperies of darkly red velvet,
all magnificently embroidered with fantastic designs in tarnished gold
thread, but, curiously enough, the apartment had no windows, neither
in the ceiling nor at the sides, so whatever took place within could
not be seen save through the curtained archway.

In the centre of the white marble floor stood a low, heavy table,
richly gilt, and covered with the remains of a splendid feast. The
gorgeousness of the vessels thereon was truly marvellous, consisting,
as they did, of elaborately chased silver epergnes filled with
brilliantly-coloured fruits; many-branched candelabra of gold, bearing
slender wax tapers to illuminate the apartment; gracefully carved
jugs, of wonderful designs which must have emanated from the brains of
Cellini himself; and strangely shaped antique goblets which put me in
mind of the sacramental cups used in Italian churches at the
celebration of the mass. The voluptuous scent of sandalwood pervaded
the heavy atmosphere of the chamber; gold and silver and crystal shone
in the mellow light of the myriad tapers, and the whole appearance of
this sensuous banquet was like those of former ages presided over by
Can Grande or splendour-loving Cæsar Borgia. I thought I was in
dreamland, the more so when I saw the bizarre costumes worn by the two
occupants of the room.

One was the lady I had followed from the graveyard, who, having thrown
off her heavy cloak, now appeared in a white silk dress of antique
cut, richly embroidered with gold. Round her slender neck she wore an
old-fashioned necklace of superb rubies, set in silver, which flashed
forth crimson flame with every heave of her snowy bosom, while strings
of soft-shining pearls were twisted in her magnificent red hair; an
Eastern girdle of gold fretwork encircled her waist, and broad gold
bracelets radiant with gems clasped her milk-white arms. The profusion
of jewels she wore scintillated, with her every motion, throwing out
sparks of many-coloured fire, and she looked like one of those proud
dames of Venice who smile so haughtily in the pictures of Titian. But
her face! Oh, heavens! what a beautiful, cruel, relentless face!--the
tigerish look in the splendid eyes, the wicked laugh of the full red
lips! Was she truly a woman, or some fiend sent upon earth to lure men
to hell by the fascination of her evil beauty?

If the woman was curiously dressed for modern days, her companion, a
handsome young man of seven-and-twenty was still more so, as he wore a
doublet of pale-blue velvet slashed with white satin and diapered with
gold embroidery; a small ruff round his neck; high riding-boots of
black leather, reaching to the thigh, with gilt spurs; and a short
mantle of azure silk, which drooped gracefully from his shoulders. He
had no rapier, but at his girdle hung a small poniard, the handle of
which was thickly encrusted with gems, and on the velvet-covered chair
beside him lay a large cloak and a small mask of black velvet. I
rubbed my eyes and pinched myself to see if I were really awake, for
the whole fantastic scene looked like one of those which had doubtless
taken place at Verona in the opulent days of her splendour.

"I am mad, asleep, or intoxicated," I thought, as I looked at this
Boccaccian feast, at these Boccaccian lovers. "What does it mean? This
must be the phantom of Lucrezia Borgia, who has risen from the tomb to
meet one of her dead lovers and renew for a time the joys of the past.
Oh! I am mad or asleep. I will wake up and find this is all a
dream--some fantasy of the brain created by the delirium of fever!"

Between the lovers lay the broken mandolin, and the woman, pointing to
this, talked volubly while the young man stood listening with a
scornful smile on his lips. Not being a very good Italian scholar, I
could not follow all this rapid talk without great difficulty, but
from what I could gather it seemed to me that the phantom of Lucrezia
Borgia was accusing her lover of infidelity. At length, when she
seemed exhausted, he caught up his mantle and mask as if about to go,
but she fell prostrate before him, and seemed to implore him to stay.
He shook his head, and then springing to her feet in anger, she
snatched the poniard from his belt and tried to strike him. The young
man warded off the thrust with his left arm, round which was wrapped
his heavy black cloak, whereupon she let the dagger fall and began to
beseech him again. I could not understand the meaning of this terrible
dumb-show any more than I could the curious dresses, the antique
chamber or the deserted palace. It was the phantasmagoria of a dream
seen by the soft light of the tapers, and my brain being quite upset
by the strange events of the night, I entirely forgot the nineteenth
century, and seemed to live, to breathe, to tremble, on the threshold
of one of those fatal chambers wherein the Medici, the Scaligers and
the Borgias feasted, loved, betrayed, and slew their friends, their
lovers, and their enemies.

The woman, evidently seeing it was useless, stopped beseeching the
young man, upon which he picked up his dagger, and throwing the fold
of his cloak over his right shoulder, advanced towards the door
without saying good-bye to the lady. I withdrew quickly, fearful of
discovery, when, just as his hand was on the curtains, her voice
sounded once more slow and deliberate, so that I was able to
understand what she said:--

"So you leave me for ever?"

"Yes!" he replied with the same deliberation, "for ever."

"Then before you go, let me drink to your future happiness."

"With pleasure, madame."

He appeared to hesitate at first, but after saying these words I heard
him move away from the curtain, upon which I looked again and saw him
standing by the chair, while the woman, with her face turned away, was
filling a goblet with wine. Her back was towards him, so that he could
not see what she was doing, but I could perceive her least action. She
filled two goblets with wine, then taking something from her breast,
dropped it into one of them, and, turning round with a smile,
presented the cup to him. It flashed across me that she was trying to
poison her lover, and I would have called out to warn him, but the
extreme peril of my position, the terrible appearance of this woman,
and the uselessness of interference kept me silent during this supreme
moment.

The young man took the cup she gave him, and drained it with a bow,
while she simply touched her lips with the other goblet, and smiled
again.

"To your future happiness," she said in a significant voice, and set
the goblet down on the table.

They talked together after this reconciliation for some time and
seemed better friends than before, but I saw that the woman kept
furtively glancing at his face with a wicked smile on her lips. At
length he handed her the mask, which evidently did not belong to him,
and, after kissing her hand, was about to turn in the direction of the
archway, when suddenly he grew pale, put his hand to his head quickly,
and grasped the chair near which he stood to keep himself from
falling.

"Why, what is this?" he cried in a hoarse, strained voice. "Gran Dio!
what does it mean?"

She bent forward with a wicked laugh, and the rubies flashed forth
venomous red flame in the soft light.

"It means that you have betrayed me and I have revenged myself!"

He looked at her with a dazed expression, made a step forward as if to
kill this terrible woman, who, dangling the mask in her hand, stood
mocking at his agony with a cruel smile, then suddenly flung up his
hands with a wild cry of despair and fell at her feet--dead.

"Fool!" she said, without displaying the least sign of emotion.
"Fool!"

I wished to rush forward and denounce the demon in woman's shape who
had so vilely perpetrated this cold-blooded murder, but, overcome with
horror, I reeled away from the curtain and fell--fell into the arms of
some one who held me with a powerful grip. I gasped with alarm and was
about to call out, when I felt a handkerchief dashed suddenly over my
face wet with some liquid. In spite of my struggles it was held firmly
there, and I gradually felt my senses leave me until I knew no more.


*     *     *     *     *     *


When I came to myself it was early morning, and I was seated on a
stone bench in the Piazza Vittoria Emanuele, surrounded by a group of
curious onlookers.

"Where am I?" I asked in English.

No one answered, and I repeated the question in Italian, upon which a
fat woman spoke up,--

"Signor, you are in the Piazza Vittoria!" she said in a husky voice;
"we found you here when we came first."

"But the palace, the woman, the poison!" I said stupidly, for my head
was aching terribly.

The peasants looked at one another with a meaning smile and shook
their heads. I saw that they thought I had been drinking, so, giving a
piece of money to the fat woman who had spoken, I took my way at once
to my hotel, which I reached in a state of bewilderment better
imagined than described.



CHAPTER III.
THE FEAST OF GHOSTS.


Was it a dream? Common-sense said "Yes." My bruises said "No!" But
certainly the whole affair was most remarkable, and quite out of the
ordinary kind of events which take place in this prosaic nineteenth
century. We have done with those romantic episodes in which the heroes
and heroines of Boccaccio, Le Sage and M. Dumas père take part, and in
the searching light of the Press lantern, which is nowadays turned on
all things and on all men, it is impossible to encounter those strange
events of the middle ages. Judging from my experiences of the previous
night I had been entangled in a terrible intrigue, which might have
taken place under Henri Trois or Lorenzo di Medici, yet, as the past
can never become the present, the whole affair was a manifest
anachronism. I was inclined to think that I had been the sport of some
Italian Puck, but as there are no fairies nowadays, such an idea was
absurd, so the only feasible explanation of the bizarre occurrence was
that I had been dreaming.

I had certainly gone to the old burial-ground and had seen the phantom
of Lucrezia Borgia emerge from an old Veronese tomb, and as certainly
I had followed her to the Piazza Vittoria Emanuele, but here, without
doubt, reality ended and fiction began. Evidently I had sat down upon
the stone bench where I was discovered by the peasants, and had there
fallen asleep to undergo this extravagant adventure in a vision of the
night. In sleep I had dreamed a dream after the fashion of the
Athenian lovers in Shakespeare's comedy, and the antique chamber, the
quaint costumes, and the phantom characters had been idle visions of
the brain, which had played their several parts in this mediæval
phantasmagoria.

To put entirely to one side the impossibility of living people
dressing themselves in rococo costumes in order to play a fantastic
comedy-tragedy in a deserted place, if I had really seen all I
imagined, how did I find myself in the Piazza Vittoria Emanuele at
daybreak? The visionary pursuit of the lady of the sepulchre had been
a long one, and I certainly could not have walked back such a distance
to the Piazza without knowing something about it. But memory ceased at
my fainting at the door of the fatal chamber, and revived on my
finding myself on the stone bench in the Piazza; therefore, granting
that the whole adventure had actually occurred, how had I been taken
from the deserted palace to the Piazza?

Idling over my midday meal at the Hotel d'Este, I thought of the
extraordinary series of events in which I had taken part, and kept
puzzling my brain as to whether they had really occurred or whether I
had been the victim of a grotesque nightmare. I had received a letter
from the Maestro Angello, saying he could not give me my usual lesson,
therefore I determined to devote the whole day, which was thus at my
disposal, to finding out the truth or falsehood of this mysterious
adventure.

My bruises were very painful, but I doctored myself as I best could,
so that without much difficulty I was able to walk. Doubtless I had
received these bruises whilst pursuing the unknown from the graveyard
to the Piazza Vittoria Emanuele, and thus far I was certain of the
actuality of my adventure. With this idea in my head, I made up my
mind to go to the old graveyard and discover, if possible, who was
buried in the tomb from which the ghoul had emerged. By finding out
the name I might possibly ascertain that of the lady, as there must
certainly have been some connection between her and the person buried
in the mysterious vault. No sooner had I thus sketched out my plan of
action than I put it at once into execution, and as I found some
difficulty in walking, I sent for Peppino's fiacre in order to drive
to the cemetery.

Peppino was a merry little Florentine, whose services I employed for
two reasons, one being that he spoke excellent Italian, so that I
understood him easier than I did the general run of these Northern
Italians, who usually gabble a vile patois which no Englishman can
understand without constant practice, and my acquaintance with the
modern Latin tongue was not sufficient to warrant my indulging in
liberties with it; the other reason was that Peppino, having lived a
long time in Verona, knew the town thoroughly, and would be able to
tell me better than any one if such a deserted palace as I had dreamed
of really existed; besides which, he was also a very amusing
companion.

The fiacre duly arrived, and on going outside I found Peppino grinning
like a small black monkey as he held the door open for me to enter.

"Dio!" said Peppino in a commiserating tone, seeing how I leaned on my
stick, "is the Signor not well?"

"Oh, yes! quite well, Peppino, only I fell yesterday and hurt myself,
so you see I have to get you to drive me to-day."

"Bene!" replied Peppino philosophically, mounting the box, "the ill of
one is the good of another. To where, Signore?"

"To the cemetery near the Porto Vittoria."

"The new or the old one, Signore?"

"The old cemetery!"

Peppino cast a queer look at me over his shoulder, and, muttering
something about the "mad English," drove away towards the Via Pallone.
As he was on the box-seat, and the fiacre made a good deal of noise
going over the rugged stone pavement, in addition to the incessant
jingling of the bells, I could not question him as I desired to do,
so, making up my mind to wait until I arrived at the graveyard, I
leaned back in the carriage and gave myself up to my own thoughts.

Then a curious thing occurred which made me certain that the events of
the previous night had actually taken place, for without the least
effort of memory on my part the strange melody sung by the young man
in the palace came into my head. I could not possibly have dreamed
that, and I could not possibly have composed the air, so I concluded
that I had really heard the song, and, having an excellent musical
ear, it had impressed itself on my memory. Of course I did not
recollect the words, but only the tune, and thinking it might prove
useful as a link in the chain of circumstances, I hummed it over twice
or thrice so as to keep it in my mind.

I therefore concluded from this piece of evidence that I had actually
been to the deserted palace and witnessed that strange feast, but if
so, how had I found myself at dawn in the Piazza Vittoria Emanuele? It
was no use puzzling my brains any more over this mysterious affair, so
the wisest plan would be to wait until I found out the name on the
tomb, and then perhaps Peppino would be able to tell me about the
palace, in which case, with these two facts to go on, I might hope to
discover the meaning of these extraordinary events.

Meanwhile the fiacre had left the Via Pallone, crossed over the
Ponte Aleardi, and was now being driven rapidly along the left bank of
the Adige, past the Campo Marzo. We speedily arrived at the old
burial-ground, and Peppino, stopping his horse near the gate, assisted
me to alight from the carriage.

"Peppino," I said, when this was done, "tie your horse up somewhere
and come with me into the cemetery."

"Diamine!" replied Peppino, crossing himself with superstitious
reverence. "I like not these fields of the dead."

"It's broad daylight, you coward; besides, I wish you to tell me about
the tombs."

"But why does not the Signor go to the beautiful new cemetery?" said
Peppino, leading his horse to the wall and fastening him to a heavy
stone; "the statues there are beautiful. This is old, very old; no one
is buried here now."

"When was the last person buried, Peppino?"

"Dio! I don't know--eh, oh, yes, Signore, last year an illustrious was
buried in his own vault; but he was mad. Ecco!"

"Why did he have a vault built in such an old cemetery?"

"Oh, the vault was old--as old as the Trezza. All the signori of his
family had been buried there for many days."

"Since the Republic?"

"Dio! yes, and before."

"What is the name of this family?"

"I don't know, Signore, I forget!"

"Well, come along, Peppino. As you know so much about one tomb, you
will probably know something about another."

"Command me, Illustrious."

I did not enter the burial-ground by the gate, as I wanted to go the
same way as on the previous night, in order to be certain of finding
the tomb I was in search of, so, with some little difficulty, and the
help of Peppino, I managed to climb over the broken wall, and soon
found myself in my old hiding-place. Peppino looked at me with
considerable curiosity, as he could not conceive my object in coming
to this dreary locality; but ultimately, shrugging his shoulders, he
put it down to a freak on the part of a mad Englishman, and waited for
me to speak.

The tomb looked scarcely less forbidding and gloomy in the daytime
than it did at night, with its massive-looking architecture, and the
stern-faced angel guarding the iron door. Advancing through the long
grass which grew all round it, I looked every where for a name, but
could find none, then tried to open the iron door, to the great dismay
of Peppino.

"Signore," he said in a faltering voice, "do not let out the ghosts."

"There are no ghosts here, Peppino. They have all departed," I
replied, finding the door locked.

"Dio! I'm not so sure of that, Illustrious. Many dead are in there."

"Oh, they've been dead so long that their ghosts must have grown weary
of this gloomy sepulchre."

"Yes, Signore, but the ghost of the mad Count buried last year!"

"Oh!" I cried with lively curiosity, "is this the vault where he was
buried?"

"Yes, Illustrious!"

"And the name, Peppino? What was his name?"

The little Italian looked perplexed, as he could not understand the
interest I took in this sepulchre; still, seeing I was in earnest, he
tried to think of the name, but evidently could not recall it.

"Cospetto! Signore, I have the memory of Beppo, who forgot the mother
who bore him; but the name will be here, Illustrious, for certain."

"See if you can find it, Peppino," I replied, sitting down on a stone
near the iron door. "I am anxious to know to whom this tomb belongs."

Peppino, being more conversant with Italian tombs than myself, went to
look for the name, and in a wonderfully short space of time came back
with a satisfied smile on his face.

"Signore, the tomb is that of the Morone."

"The Morone?"

"Yes, Signore, they were a great family of Verona, as great as the
cursed Medici of my beautiful Florence."

"And this Count, who died last year, was their descendant?"

"Dio! Illustrious, he was the last of them. No father, no brother, no
child. He was the last. Basta, basta!"

"Had he a wife?" I asked, thinking of the woman who had emerged from
this tomb.

"Yes, Signore, a beautiful wife, but when he died she left Verona for
Rome I heard. She is not now here."

Well, I had found out the name of the family buried in the tomb, and
that the wife was the sole representative of the race, so I naturally
thought she was the only person who would have been able to enter the
tomb; although why she did so, unless it was to pray beside the corpse
of her late husband, I could not understand. Besides, Peppino, who was
one of the greatest gossips in the town, said she had left Verona, so
perhaps the midnight visitor was not the Contessa Morone at all.

"Were the Count and Countess an attached couple, Peppino?"

The Italian shrugged his shoulders.

"Dio! I know not indeed," he replied carelessly; "the Signor Conte was
certainly mad. I saw him at times, and he had the evil eye. Diamine!
often have I made horns for that eye, Illustrious."

"And the Countess, Peppino? Have you ever seen the Countess?"

"No, Signore! The Conte let her not out. Ah! he was jealous, that
madman. He was old and the Signora was young. Per Bacco! the husband
was afraid of the handsome officers. Ecco!"

A mad and jealous husband, old, too, into the bargain. With such a
trinity of imperfections a young and beautiful woman could hardly be
much in love with him, and, a year after his death, would certainly
not have taken the trouble to pray at his tomb. No! the unknown lady
could not possibly have been the Contessa. Who, then was this
mysterious visitant? I had now quite got over my fancy that she was a
spectre, and felt profoundly curious to find out who she was, and why
she had come to this ancient burial-place at midnight.

"Is there a Palazzo Morone, Peppino?"

Peppino changed colour.

"What do you know of the Palazzo Morone, Signore?"

"Oh, there is one then!"

"Yes, Illustrious! It is haunted!"

"Haunted! Nonsense!"

"Dio! Signore, I speak the truth. No one has lived there for the last
two hundred years. It is shut up for the rats and the owls and the
spectres of the tomb."

"What tomb--this one?"

"Ah, Signore, do not jest, I pray you, or the illustrious Signori
Morone will hear us."

Peppino looked so serious that I forebore to smile at this absurdity,
lest I should offend his pride and thus lose the story.

"Well, Peppino, tell me all about this haunted palace."

"Not here, Signore, I am afraid!"

"Then help me back to the carriage."

He obeyed with great alacrity, and, when I was once more in the
fiacre, prepared to loosen his horse.

"No, no! Peppino," I said, smiling; "the ghosts can't hear us here, so
tell me the story of the Morone."

Peppino cast a doubtful glance in the direction of the burial-ground,
and then, seating himself on the step of the carriage, began his
story. His Italian, as I have said before, was very good, so, making
him speak slowly, I was easily able to understand the strange legend
he related.

"Signore," he began, with a solemn look on his usually merry face,
"the Morone were very famous in Verona four hundred years ago. Dio!
they fought with the Scaligers, and afterwards with the Visconti. They
were Podestas of the city before the Della Scala, and several of them
were great Cardinals. One would have been his Holiness himself, but
the Borgia asked him to supper and he died of their poison. About two
hundred years ago Mastino Morone wedded the Donna Renata della Moneta,
who was said to have been descended on the wrong side from Donna
Lucrezia herself."

"You mean that this Renata was an illegitimate descendant of Lucrezia
Borgia?"

"Yes, Signore. Ah! she was a devil of a woman, that Madonna Lucrezia.
Ebbene! Signore. This Donna Renata wedded with Count Mastino Morone,
and a pleasant life she led him, for she loved all other men but him.
Cospetto! he would have strangled her, but he was afraid of her many
lovers. There was a room in the Palazzo Morone, without any windows,
where Donna Renata supped with those she favoured."

"And the room is there still?" I said, thinking of that mysterious
chamber.

"Of a surety, Signore! It is haunted by the ghost of the Marchese
Tisio!"

"Who was he?"

"Signore, he was the last lover of Donna Renata, whom she killed with
the Borgia poison because he was faithless. Eh! it is true,
Illustrious. She found out by her spies that the Marchese loved
another, so she asked him to a last feast in her room, and when he was
going she gave him a cup of wine. Dio! he drank it, the poor young
man, and died. Ecco!"

"And why was he her last lover? Did she repent?"

"No, Signore! The Count Mastino was watching at the door, and when she
had killed the Marchese he went in to see her."

"And killed her, I suppose?"

"Per Bacco! Signore, no one knows. She never came out of that room
again. The friends of the poor Tisio found his body, but they never
found Donna Renata."

"Then what became of her?"

"Cospetto! No one ever found out. Mastino married again and said
nothing, but after that last feast his first wife was never seen
again. Diamine! it is strange."

"It's a curious story, Peppino, but it does not explain how the palace
is haunted."

"Listen, Illustrious! I will tell," said Peppino in a subdued whisper.
"The spirits of the Donna Renata, of the Conte Mastino, and of the
Marchese Tisio, haunt the palace, and in the Month of May, when the
crime was committed, the lovers hold a feast in that secret room while
the husband watches at the door. Then the Donna Renata poisons the
Marchese, the husband enters, and cries of pain and terror are heard.
Then the lights go out and all is still."

It was certainly very curious, for Peppino was describing the very
same I had beheld--the terrible Renata, the unhappy lover, and the
poisoned cup, but the Count----

"Tell me, Peppino, has any one ever beheld this feast of ghosts?"

"Dio! Signore, the people who lived in the palace were so afraid of
the ghosts, that they left altogether, and no one has lived there for
two hundred years."

"Yes, yes! but this spectral banquet seems all imagination--no one has
seen it?"

"Yes, Signore. A holy Frate, who did not fear the devil, went one
night in May and saw the feast through the door, but just as the
poisoned cup was given, the ghost of the Conte dragged him away and
tried to kill him."

"Oh! and did the ghost succeed?"

"No, Illustrious! The Frate made the sign of the cross and called on
the Madonna, on which the ghosts all vanished with loud cries, and the
Frate fainted. Next morning he found himself----"

"In the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele?"

"No, Signore; lying on the floor of the palace."

I was somewhat disappointed at this different ending to the narrative
of Peppino, but it was very extraordinary that my adventure and that
of the Frate should be so similar. It was broad day, I had overcome my
superstitious fancies, yet the whole affair was so strange that I
could not help feeling a qualm of fear, which I tried to laugh off, a
proceeding which mightily offended Peppino.

"Signore, it is the truth I tell."

"Suppose I prove it, Peppino. This is the month of May, and no doubt
the feast takes place every night. You will show me the palace, and I
will watch at the door of the secret room."

"Dio! do not think of it, Illustrious," cried Peppino in alarm; "the
Frate himself, a holy priest, was nearly killed, and you, Signore, you
are a heretic."

"And, therefore, liable to be carried off by his Satanic Majesty. You
are complimentary, Peppino. Nevertheless, to-morrow you must show me
the palace."

"The Illustrious must excuse me."

"And watch with me for this feast of ghosts."

"Dio? the Signore jests!"

"No, indeed, Peppino! I am in sober earnest. We will go to the Palazzo
Morone to-morrow; and now drive back to my hotel, as I feel very
tired. Your story has been very entertaining, nevertheless."

"Ah! the Signor does not believe me?" said Peppino, getting on the box
again.

"Yes, I do, Peppino; but I believe your ghostly party can be explained
away."



CHAPTER IV.
THE ANGELLO HOUSEHOLD.


The bruises I had received during my nocturnal adventure turned out to
be worse than I expected, especially one on the left knee-cap, which
quite incapacitated me from walking; therefore I was forced to remain
in the house all day. This was somewhat annoying, as I was anxious to
find out the Palazzo Morone, and see the chamber of Donna Renata
during daylight. I thought also that as the palace bore such an evil
reputation, my lady of the sepulchre would think herself safe in
leaving the dead body of the young man lying in the room, and if I
discovered the corpse I intended to give notice to the authorities of
the crime I had seen committed.

Unluckily, however, I had to remain in bed most of the day, and when
Peppino came in to say that his fiacre was at the door I was obliged
to send him away, much to his gratification, as he was by no means
anxious to guide me to the haunted palace. The curious resemblance
between my own experience and the legend related by Peppino had rather
startled me; but, being certain that I had to deal with the natural,
and not the supernatural, I was firmly resolved to unravel this
mystery before leaving Verona. To do this every moment was of value,
and I bitterly regretted that my stiff knee kept me confined to the
house. Everything, however, is for the best, and before I saw the
Palazzo Morone, fresh light was thrown upon the events of the night in
a most unexpected manner.

After my one day of enforced idleness I was fully determined to seek
the conclusion of my adventure the next, when on the following morning
I received a note from Maestro Angello, asking me to be sure and come
to my lesson. As the Maestro was always annoyed at the non-appearance
of a pupil, I judged it wise to go, and arranged with Peppino to
search for the Palazzo Morone in the afternoon. The lesson would only
last an hour, and I would thus have plenty of time to carry out my
intention, as Peppino, knowing the palazzo, would be able to take me
there direct.

I felt much better this second day after my adventure, as the pain had
quite left my knee, so having thus arranged my plans for the
afternoon, I started in a very contented frame of mind for the Casa
Angello.

It was a dreary day, for there are dreary days even in Italy, and at
intervals there fell heavy showers, which made me feel somewhat
depressed. Pedestrians were hurrying along with large umbrellas of the
Gamp species, red being the prevailing colour; and what with the
sloppy streets, the gloomy houses, and the absence of the chattering
Italian populace, the whole place looked infinitely melancholy, so in
order to keep up my spirits I hummed the weird air I had heard in the
Palazzo Morone.

Maestro Angello lived in a narrow street more like a drain than
anything else, and I entered into a damp courtyard through a dismal
little tunnel barred by an iron gate. The portinaia, who lived in a
glass-fronted room as if she were a unique specimen of the human race
preserved in a case, nodded her head to intimate that the Maestro was
at home, so I climbed up the evil-smelling stone stairs which went up
the side of the courtyard, and soon arrived at Angello's door. Ringing
a little bell which tinkled in a most irritating manner, I was
admitted into the dingy ante-chamber by Petronella, a short, fat,
good-natured woman who managed the whole household, and made a great
deal of noise over doing so. She was dressed in an untidy print gown,
with a bright red shawl over her shoulders, and wore wooden clogs
which clattered noisily on the terra-cotta floor. Her plenteous hair
was roughly twisted into a knot and stuck through with large brass
pins, which gave her a spiky appearance about the head. This curious
apparition saluted me with a jolly smile in a gruff voice, with the
usual familiarity of Italian servants,--

"Sta bene! Signore. Ah, the Maestro! povero Maestro!"

"What's the matter with him, Petronella?"

"Eh! Signore, he cannot live much longer."

As Angello was considerably over eighty years of age I thought this
highly probable, but was about to condole with Petronella over his
illness, when she saved me the trouble of a reply by bursting out into
a long speech delivered with much dramatic effect:--

"It is nothing but trouble, Signore. Such a fine young man, and the
piccola loved him so! It will surely place the Maestro among the
saints. Four masses for his soul, Signore; and those priests are such
thieves. I said 'No lesson,' but the Maestro is a mule for having his
own way. Let him teach, say I; it will divert his mind! There,
Signore, go in with you! But I always thought it would come; four
times I heard the cock crowing, a bad sign, as Saint Peter knew.
There, there! the Madonna aid us!"

Not understanding in the least what Petronella was talking about, I
allowed myself to be pushed mechanically into the inner room in a
state of bewilderment. The Maestro, seated in his usual chair, was
waiting for me, and his granddaughter, Bianca, who assisted him in his
lessons, was looking out of the window at the falling rain. An
atmosphere of sadness seemed to pervade the dull, grey room, and as
Bianca advanced to meet me I saw that her eyes were red with crying,
while old Angello stared at her in a listless, indifferent manner,
being so old as to be past all sympathetic feelings.

He was a mere mummy, this old man who had been celebrated as a teacher
of singing in the days of Pasta and Malibran; a faint shadow of his
former self, only kept alive by the mechanical exercise of his art.
Yet, in spite of his great age, his ear was wonderfully keen and true;
the sense of hearing, from continuous cultivation, being the only one
which had survived the wreck of his faculties, and with the assistance
of Bianca, he was still enabled to teach his wonderful system in an
intelligible manner. Many of his pupils had been European, celebrities
on the operatic stage during the past fifty years, and his rooms in
Milan were crowded with souvenirs of famous artists of undying fame.
His children, and, with the exception of Bianca, his grandchildren,
were all dead; his friends and acquaintances and the generation that
knew him had all passed away; but this Nestor of lyrical art still
survived, alone and sad, amid the ruins of his past. White-haired,
wrinkled, blear-eyed, silent, he sat daily in his great armchair,
taking but little notice of the life around him, save to ask childish
questions or talk about some dead-and-gone singer whose fame had once
filled the world; but place a baton in his hand, strike the piano,
lift the voice, and this apparent corpse awoke to life. He beat time,
he corrected the least false note, he explained the necessary
instructions in a faltering voice, and, during the lesson, bore at
least some semblance of life; but when all was finished, the baton
fell from his withered hand as he relapsed into his former apathy. One
would have thought that he would have been glad to rest in his old
age, but such was his love for his art that he insisted upon teaching
still, and it was this alone which kept him alive. His granddaughter,
Bianca, trained in the family traditions, was enabled to interpret his
words, and, as his system of singing was unique, in spite of his
apparent uselessness, he had many pupils.

Bianca herself was a charming Italian girl of twenty, more like a
graceful white lily in appearance than anything else, so fragile, so
delicate, so pallid did she seem. Her mournful eyes, dark and soft as
those of a gazelle, seemed too large for her pale, oval face; and her
figure, small and slender, always put me in mind of that of a fairy.
Indeed, in sport, I sometimes called her the Fairy of Midnight, after
some poet-fancy that haunted my brain, for all her strength seemed to
have gone into those glorious masses of raven-black hair, coiled so
smoothly round her small head. This portraiture seems to give the idea
that Bianca was a melancholy young person, yet such was not the case,
for I have seen her as gay as a bird on bright days, or when she
received a letter from her lover.

Yes! she had a lover to whom she was engaged to be married, but,
curiously enough, I knew nothing about this lover, not being intimate
enough with Bianca to be the confidant of her tender little secret.
This unknown lover was always away in other parts of Italy, and when
he did visit Bianca it was during my absence, so I used to joke with
the Signorina about this visionary being. But she, with one delicate
finger on her lip and an arch smile of glee, would tell me that
he--she never mentioned his name--that he had an actual existence, and
some day I would see him in person at Verona. Well, here was Verona,
here was Bianca, but the lover had not appeared, so I would have
jestingly asked this Fairy of Midnight the reasons of his absence, had
not the real grief expressed on her face deterred me.

"Signorina, are you in trouble?"

"Yes, yes! Signore, great trouble; but you cannot help me. No one can
help me."

"But perhaps I----"

"No, Signore, it is useless. Come, you must have the lesson at once.
The Maestro is dull to-day, he needs amusement; so come, the lesson."

"It is very cruel of you to make a joke of my lesson, Signorina."

Bianca made no reply to my jesting remark, but heaving a little sigh,
placed the ivory baton in the hand of the Maestro and sat down at the
piano. The mummy, finding his services required, woke up and had a
little conversation with me before beginning the lesson.

"Eh! Signor Inglése," he croaked--this being his name for me--"London
is dark!"

He had a fearful prejudice against London, which he had once visited
at a foggy season, and always made the above remark to his English
pupils, which no one ever thought of contradicting.

"Yes, yes!" he said, nodding his old head like a Chinese mandarin;
"London is always dark."

"Yes, Maestro."

"You've not been working?"

"Indeed I have, Maestro."

"Come then, Signor Inglése, we will see," and the lesson commenced.

Oh, those lessons! what agonies I suffered during them, trying to
attain the impossible! To how many fits of despair have I given
way in failing time after time to manage my breathing! It was all
breathing--a deep drawing in, a slow letting out--the exercise of
internal muscles of which I had never heard even the name--the
weariness of incessantly practising notes in a still, small voice
hardly audible,--it was enough to discourage the most persevering.
Some of the female pupils, I believe, cried with vexation when not
able to do what was required by the severe Maestro, who denied the
existence of the word "impossible" in connection with singing; but I,
not being a woman, was reduced to swearing, which certainly relieved
my feelings after a battle with a particularly aggravating exercise.

Even now, when I am successful in my art, I often turn cold as I think
of those apparently insurmountable obstacles which I had to overcome;
but with these painful memories there is mixed at the same time a
kindly thought of that noble old Maestro, so patient, so courteous, so
painstaking, whose devotion to his art was so great, who was so severe
on the least fault and so encouraging of the least success in
conquering a difficulty.

Well, the lesson went on slowly with frequent interruptions from the
Maestro, who was satisfied with nothing less than perfection, and I
breathed according to directions, sang "ah!" "eh," "ee's" in a tiny,
tiny voice, until at the end of the hour I was glad to sit down and
rest before departing. I felt tired out, I felt hungry, and, as the
weather was bad, I felt cross, but at the same time I felt curious to
know what was the matter with Bianca.

The Maestro, having remarked encouragingly that I had the voice of a
goose and would never sing in La Scala, relapsed into silence,
evidently thinking of his colezione which was being prepared in the
kitchen with some trouble, judging from the raised, tones of
Petronella's voice; and as Bianca still sat at the piano, striking
random chords, there was nothing for me to do but to take my
departure. She was not prepared to tell me her trouble, and indeed she
had no reason to do so, but feeling anxious to aid the poor child if I
could, I ventured to speak to her on the subject.



CHAPTER V.
LOST.


While I was wondering which was the best way to approach this somewhat
delicate matter, the door was flung open to its fullest extent and
Petronella stalked majestically into the room. There was a wrathful
look on her strongly marked features, and Bianca trembled in
expectation of a storm. Both she and the Maestro were terribly afraid
of Petronella, who ruled the household and looked after them as she
would a couple of children, so now that she frowned they acted like
children; and were cowed by her eagle eye. Petronella surveyed the
three of us grimly, and, being satisfied that her entrance had
produced an effect, spoke with a dramatic gesture that Rachel herself
might have envied,--

"I am enraged to-day. Let no one speak to me." Neither the Maestro nor
Bianca seemed inclined to accept this tread-on-the-tail-of-my-coat
challenge, so Petronella looked from one to the other to see on whom
she should pour out the vials of her wrath. Ultimately she chose
Bianca.

"Ah, it is you, Signorina! it is you who enrage me. And for why? you
ask. Holy Saints! you ask why. Because you sit there like a statue in
the Duoma. Will that bring him back? say I. No, Signora, let the bad
young man go. Ecco!"

"Guiseppe is not a bad young man," cried Bianca, rising angrily to her
feet.

"Are you older than I am, piccola? No! Have you been married like I
was? No! Then let me speak, child that you are. All men are bad--ask
the Signor there! All men are bad!"

Petronella made a comprehensive sweep of her arms so as to indicate
the whole masculine portion of the human race, and I, seeing an
opportunity of finding out what was the matter, did not attempt
to defend masculine depravity in any way, but artfully asked a
question,--

"I can hardly say. I don't know what you are talking about!"

"Eh! has the Signore no ears? I speak of Guiseppe Pallanza!"

"What, the tenor at the Teatro Ezzelino?"

"Yes, Signore, he is the engaged one of the Signorina here, and----"

"Enough, enough, Petronella!" cried Bianca, her face flushing. "Do not
trouble the Signor with these chatterings."

"Oh, it's no trouble," I replied quickly. "Perhaps I can help you,
Signorina, if you require help!"

"Eh, eh!" assented Petronella approvingly, "the English have long
heads, piccola. Tell him all and he will find out what others cannot
find out. And you, Maestro, the colezione is ready."

She tenderly led the old man into the next room, and I was thus left
alone with Bianca, who had retreated to the window, where she stood
twisting her handkerchief with nervous confusion.

"Do not tell me, Signorina, if you would rather not," I said gently.

"Ah, Signore, if I thought you would be my friend!"

"Certainly I will be your friend."

"The Maestro is so old. Petronella is so foolish. We know none in
Verona, and I can do nothing for my poor Guiseppe!"

"Your lover, Signorina?"

"Yes. I promised you should see him at Verona, but--now--ah now!--but
perhaps you have heard him singing at the Ezzelino?"

"No; I have not been to the opera since my arrival here. What is the
matter with him? Is he ill?"

"I know not! I know not! He is lost!"

"Lost?"

"Yes, Signore. My Guiseppe has disappeared and no one knows where he
is!"

Could there be any connection between the disappearance of Guiseppe
and the death of that young man I had seen in the fatal chamber? The
thought flashed across me as she spoke, but I dismissed it as idle.

"And you want some one to look for Signor Pallanza?"

"Yes, yes!"

"Well, I will undertake the task."

"You, Signore!" she cried joyfully; "will you search for him?"

"Certainly, Signorina; I promised to be your friend. Now sit down, and
tell me all about your lover and his disappearance. I may be able to
do more for you than you think."

The fact is, that by some subtle instinct I connected the
disappearance of this young man with the curious events of two nights
before, and, leading Bianca to a seat, I prepared to listen
attentively to her recital.

"Signore," she began in her flute-like voice, "I have been engaged to
marry Guiseppe Pallanza for some months. He was a pupil of the
Maestro, and we loved each other when we first met; but ah! Signore,
he was poor then, and we could not marry, but now he is rich and
famous."

"Yes, I have heard of the tenor Pallanza, but have never seen him on
the stage."

"He has the voice of a god, Signore, and at La Scala, two seasons
ago--oh, Signore, it was the talk of the whole city. The papers called
him the New Mario, and he is so handsome--like an angel. After La
Scala he went to Florence, to Naples, and then to Rome, where he sang
in 'Faust' and 'Polyeuct' at the Apollo, then he came on here a week
ago for the season at the Ezzelino; but now he is lost. Dio! how
unhappy I am."

She covered her face with her hands, and wept quietly for a few
minutes, and, impatient as I was to hear the particulars of the
affair, I did not dare to disturb her grief. After a time she dried
her tears, and went on again,--

"He came to Verona on Saturday, Signore, and we were so happy together
talking about our marriage; and on Monday he sang in 'Faust' at the
Ezzelino. I went to the theatre with Petronella, and that was the last
time I saw him."

"Oh, then he disappeared on Monday night!" I asked quickly, feeling my
heart begin to beat rapidly with excitement, for it was on Monday
night that my extraordinary adventure had taken place.

"Yes, Signore. He was to come hereafter the opera, to tell the Maestro
how he had sung--you know how anxious the Maestro is over his pupils,
but he never came, nor the next day either; so this morning I went to
ask at the Ezzelino, and they told me he had disappeared."

"It's curious I never heard of it. The disappearance of a popular
tenor is not a common thing!"

"Signore, he sang on Monday and was to sing again to-night, so nothing
was thought about him not coming to the theatre yesterday; but this
morning they sent to his lodgings, to find that he had not been there
since he left the Ezzelino after the opera on Monday."

"The papers will be full of it to-night!"

"Ah! that will not bring him back," said poor little Bianca in a
melancholy tone, shaking her small head, which drooped like a faded
flower.

I was now certain that my adventure on Monday night had something to
do with the disappearance of Guiseppe Pallanza, and doubtless the
young man I had seen in the deserted palace was the missing tenor; but
the antique dress, the amorous rendezvous--these needed some
explanation.

"Was he in love with any one, Signorina?"

It was a cruel but necessary question which angered Bianca, who threw
back her little head with great haughtiness.

"Signore, he loved me and no one else."

"Had he any reason for disappearing?"

"Signore!"

"Forgive me if I appear rude," I said in a deprecating tone; "but
indeed, Signorina, to find out all I must know all."

"Well, Signore, I am telling you all," she replied petulantly. "It was
most strange his going away from the theatre."

"How so?"

"He left the Ezzelino in his stage-dress!"

"Ah!"

I jumped to my feet in a state of uncontrollable excitement, for I saw
at once that I was on the right track. The antique dress was explained
now! it was the dress he wore in the last act of "Faust."

"But surely, Signorina, that was very extraordinary," I said, pausing
in my walk; "no one would walk the streets of Verona in a dress like
that."

"I can explain that, Signore. When Guiseppe came from Rome, a friend
came with him who was very ill--a baritone singer, who was in the same
company at the Apollo. I was told at the Ezzelino that just before the
last act of the opera, Guiseppe received a note saying that his friend
was dying, so as soon as the curtain fell, he threw on a cloak which
hid his dress, and went away as quickly as possible, so as to see his
friend before he died."

"Oh! and is the friend dead yet?"

"I do not know, Signore."

The story of the dying friend might be true, yet to me it seemed
highly improbable, and I guessed that the people at the theatre had
told this fiction to pacify the fears of Signorina Angello, to whom
they knew that Pallanza was engaged. The real truth of the matter was
doubtless that the letter came from the woman I had followed, asking
him to meet her at the deserted Palazzo Morone, and he had gone there
innocently enough to be poisoned as I had seen. This explained a great
deal, but it did not explain why the meeting should have taken place
at such an extraordinary spot, and why the woman should have come from
a burial-ground to keep the appointment. Taking all the circumstances
into consideration, I was certain that it was Pallanza I had seen
murdered on Monday night, but in order to be quite sure of his
identity, I asked Bianca if she had any photograph of her betrothed.

"Of a surety, Signore," she replied, and going to an album on the
table, brought me a cabinet portrait. "This is Guiseppe as Faust, the
dress in which he left the theatre."

It was as I surmised. The portrait was coloured, and I saw an exact
representation of the young man I had beheld at the Palazzo Morone.
The typical Italian face with the black curly hair, dark eyes, small
moustache and sallow skin; the slender figure arrayed in a doublet of
blue velvet, slashed with white satin; the azure silk cloak, the
poniard and the high riding-boots--nothing was wanting; the successful
tenor of the portrait was the man who had taken poison from the hand
of the lady of the sepulchre. Still it was no use telling Bianca of my
suspicions until I had discovered the whole secret; and besides, as
Guiseppe was dead, I naturally shrank from being the bearer of such
bad news. I suppose my face betrayed my thoughts, for I saw the
Signorina watching me anxiously; so to lull any fancies she might
have, I made the first remark that came into my head,--

"I never saw Faust in riding-boots before!"

"Ah, Signore!" replied the girl with a fond look, "Guiseppe was an
artist as well as a singer, and designed his own dresses. He said that
as Faust in the last act was going to fly with Marguerite, and
Mephistopheles speaks of the horses waiting, it is natural that he
should wear a riding-dress."

This explanation was quite satisfactory, and having thus learned the
identity of the young man whom I had seen murdered, I prepared to go,
when another idea entered my head, and, going over to the piano, I
began to play by ear the strange air I had heard at the Palazzo
Morone. Bianca gave a cry of surprise as she heard the melody, and
came over to the piano with a puzzled look on her face.

"Ah, you know it, Signorina?" I said, turning round quickly.

"Yes! in fact I gave it to Guiseppe. It is an old air by Palestrina,
which I found among the music of the Maestro, to which Guiseppe set
words. He is very fond of it and sings it a great deal. Ah, Signore,
you must have heard him sing it, for no one else has a copy."

I turned off the matter with a careless remark, not caring to tell
Bianca where I had heard it; and now being quite certain that I would
be able to unravel the whole mystery, I wanted to get away as quickly
as possible in order to arrange my plans.

"Addio, Signorina," I said, giving her my hand. "When I see you again
I may be able to give you news."

"Good news?"

"Yes, I hope so, Signorina," I replied hurriedly as Petronella
appeared at the door. "Do not anticipate evil, I beg of you. I have no
doubt Guiseppe is quite well."

"Oh, I hope so! I trust so! Addio! Signor Hugo, you will come back
soon?"

"To-morrow, Signorina."

"Ah! I see you have brought back the smiles," said Petronella's gruff
voice as she ushered me out. "What do you think of this evil one going
away, Signore? I was going to have four masses if he is dead, but
those priests are such thieves. Ecco!"

"Why should you think he is dead, Petronella?"

"Eh, Signore, he loves the piccola so much that nothing but death
would keep him away."

"Except----"

"I know what you would say, Signore, except a woman. Well, maybe men
are all bad. I've been married, Signore--I know, I know."

"Well, I don't think I'm particularly bad, Petronella."

"Eh! then you're not a true man, Signore," retorted Petronella,
closing the argument and the door at the same time.



CHAPTER VI.
A HAUNTED PALACE.


I need hardly say that I was very much excited over the strange
discovery I had made, as there now appeared to be a reasonable chance
of clearing up the mystery of the Palazzo Morone. I had discovered the
name of the unhappy young man, which gave me a most important clue to
the reading of the enigma; but I had yet to find out the name of the
lady who had behaved in such an extraordinary manner and committed so
daring a crime. After hearing Peppino's story I fancied that she might
perchance be the Contessa Morone, but had later on dismissed this idea
as idle, seeing that she had been absent from Verona for many months;
but now that Bianca had told me that Pallanza had come straight from
Rome, I began to suspect that I had been right in my surmise.
According to Peppino the Contessa had taken up her residence at the
Italian capital, so what was more likely than that she had fallen in
love with Guiseppe while he was singing at the Teatro Apollo, and,
following him to Verona, had killed him by means of poison, in revenge
for his determination to leave her?

So far everything was feasible enough, but two points of the affair
perplexed me very much, one being the choosing of the deserted palace
as a place of meeting, the other the visit to the burial ground by the
woman. We do not live in the times of the Borgias, when noble ladies
can thus rid themselves of their lovers with impunity, else I might
have believed that this phantom of Donna Lucrezia had gone to the old
Veronese cemetery to select a grave for the unfortunate young man she
intended to murder. To think thus, however, was foolish, and although
I guessed that she had used the old palace of her family as a safe
place for a lovers' meeting, seeing its gruesome reputation secured
it from public curiosity, yet I was quite unable to explain the
cemetery mystery. One thing, however, appeared to me to be certain,
that Guiseppe Pallanza had been carrying on an intrigue with the
Contessa--presuming the ghoul to be her--and that he had gone to the
Palazzo Morone on the night in question at her request. As to the sick
friend----

Now I greatly mistrusted that sick-friend story. So many fast young
Englishmen whom I knew had adopted the same lie to cover their little
peccadilloes that I was quite sure Pallanza had employed the same
fiction to prevent the scandal of his intrigue with this unknown woman
from reaching the ears of his _fiancée_. Bianca was a very proud girl,
and I felt certain, from what little I had seen of her character, that
if she discovered Guiseppe was playing her false, she would at
once break off the engagement at any cost. Like all Italian women,
when she loved she loved with her whole soul, and expected the same
single-hearted return to her passion; so that the discovery of her
lover's infidelity could only be punished sufficiently, according to
her ideas, by an everlasting parting between them. Pallanza knew this,
and therefore tried to hide his guilt by the plausible story of his
dying friend, which appeared to me to be such a remarkably weak
fabrication that, before going to the Palazzo Morone, I determined to
find out if this mythical invalid existed.

Curiously enough, although I was studying for the musical profession
and was devoted to operatic performances, I had not been to the Teatro
Ezzelino since my arrival at Verona, preferring to wander about the
streets of the romantic old city in the moonlight to sitting night
after night in a stifling atmosphere of heat, glare, and noise. I made
up my mind, however, to go on this special night, in the hope that I
might hear some talk about Pallanza's disappearance, and be guided
thereby in any future movements; but meantime I went to the theatre in
the afternoon, and, introducing myself to the impresario as a friend
of Guiseppe's, asked him if he had heard any news of the missing
tenor.

The impresario, a dingy old man of doubtful cleanliness, was in
despair, and raged against the absent Pallanza like a Garrick of the
gutter. He had heard nothing of this birbánte--this ladrone who had
thus disappeared, and left an honest impresario in the lurch. "Faust"
was the success of the season; without Pallanza there could be no
"Faust," and the season would be a failure. What was he to do?
Cospetto! it was the luck of the devil. Why had this scellerato run
away? A sick friend? Bah! there was no sick friend. It was a woman who
had enticed away this pazzo. A dying friend from Rome was not a very
likely story, but a lie--a large and magnificent lie. Here was the
basso of his company, who had been singing with Pallanza at the
Apollo; ask him, truth is on his lips, Behold this good man!

Signor Basso-profundo advanced, and though truth might have been on
his lips it certainly was not apparent on his face, for a more
deceitful countenance I never beheld. However, I have no doubt he
spoke truth on this occasion, as there was no money to be made by
telling a lie, and he confirmed the words of the wrathful impresario.
The sick friend was a myth, but in Rome Pallanza had been friendly
with a lady. Per Bacco! a great lady, but the name was unknown to him.
It appeared that Signor Basso-profundo dressed in the same room as
Pallanza, and it was just before the last act of "Faust" that Guiseppe
received the note. He told the basso-profundo that it was from a dying
friend, and had departed quickly when the opera was ended, in his
stage-dress, with a cloak wrapped round him. The basso-profundo was
sure the note was from a lady. The impresario was also sure, and
devoted the lady in question to the infernal gods with a richness of
expression I have never heard equalled in any language.

Having thus found out what I suspected from the first, that the dying
friend was a mere invention to cloak an intrigue, I left the
impresario to tear his hair and call Guiseppe names in company with
Signor Basso-profundo, and went back to my hotel, where I found
Peppino waiting with his fiacre to drive me to the Palazzo Morone.

He was still unwilling to take me to this place of evil reputation,
and made one last effort to shake my determination by gruesome stories
of people who had gone into the palazzo and never came out again; but
I laughed at all these hobgoblin romances, and getting into the
fiacre, told him to drive off at once, which he did, after crossing
himself twice, so as to secure his own safety should the ghosts of
Palazzo Morone take a fancy to carry me off as a heretic.

We speedily left the broad, modern streets, and rattled down gloomy,
mediæval passages, the humid atmosphere of which chilled me to the
bone, in spite of the heat of the day. The fiacre--with its jingling
bells--bumped on the uneven stones, turned abruptly round unexpected
corners, corkscrewed itself between narrow walls, crept under low
archways, and after innumerable dodgings, twistings, hairbreadth
escapes from upsettings, and perilous balancings on the edges of
drains, at length emerged into that queer little piazza at the end of
which I saw the great façade of the richly-decorated palace I had
beheld in the moonlight of two nights before.

I had been an ardent student of Baedeker since my arrival in Italy,
and from the fortified appearance of the palazzo, judged that it had
been built by Michelo Sammicheli, who, according to the guide-book,
was the greatest military architect of the middle ages. The building
was four stories high, with long lines of narrow windows closely
barred by curiously ornamented iron cages--which bulged outward,---as
a protection against thieves or enemies, and the whole front was
adorned with almost obliterated paintings after the style of the
Genoese palaces. In addition to the brush, the chisel had done its
work, and wreaths of flowers, grinning masks, nude figures of boys and
girls, elaborate crests and armorial devices with fishes, birds,
tritons, shells, and fruit were sculptured round the windows, along
the fortified castellated top, and over the great portal. All the
square in front of this splendid specimen of Renaissance art was
overgrown with grass. The houses on every side were also deserted, and
what with the broken windows, the empty piazza, and the closed doors,
everything had a melancholy, desolate appearance, as if a curse rested
upon the whole neighbourhood.

Peppino evidently was of this opinion, for although it was broad
daylight, and the hot sunlight poured down on the grass-grown square,
yet he kept muttering prayers in a low voice; and if by chance he
looked towards the Palazza, he always crossed himself with great
devoutness. I was not, however, going to be baulked of my intention by
any superstitious feeling on the part of an Italian cab-driver, so I
ordered Peppino to tie up his horse and come with me into the palace.
This modest request, however, so horrified Peppino that he absolutely
squeaked with horror, like a rabbit caught in a snare.

"I, Signore!" he whimpered, touching the relic on his breast. "Dio!
not to be King of Italy would I go into that house! If you are wise,
Signore, look and come away lest evil befall you. Cospetto! Signore,
remember the Frate. Think of Madonna Matilda!"

"What about Madonna Matilda, Peppino?"

"Eh, Illustrious, do you not know? She was a friend of his Holiness at
Canossa, and, though a woman, wanted to celebrate mass, but Il Cristo
burnt her to ashes with fire from above!--and she died. Ecco!
Cospetto! Signore, it is foolish to meddle with holy things."

"Well, you can't call this palace holy, Peppino?"

"No, Illustrious. It is accursed!" replied the Italian, crossing
himself, "but there is fire below as well as above, and you are a
heretic."

"Which means that I had better beware of the devil! eh, Peppino. Well,
well; I'm not afraid, so I will enter the palace, and if you see me
carried off by the ghosts, you can tell the carabinieri."

"Dio! Illustrious, do not jest; but if you will go you must go. I will
wait here and pray for your soul."

Peppino was as obstinate as a mule in his fear of ghosts, so leaving
him to smoke his long Italian cigar and watch the brown lizards
scuttling over the hot stones in the sunshine, I advanced towards the
palace with the determination to find out the secret chamber. As I
knew it would be dark therein, owing to its want of windows, I had
taken the precaution to provide myself with a candle and a box of
matches. Feeling that these were safe in my pocket, I went to the iron
gate and entered the courtyard in the same way as I had done on that
night. This time, however, I examined the ironwork, and found to my
surprise that the missing bar had been half filed through and then
wrenched away. The marks left were quite fresh, and it had been done
so recently that the bar had not had time to grow rusty. This
discovery astonished me not a little, as I did not see the reason of
such an entrance being made. If it were the Contessa who used the
palace, she would have the key of the side door, and could thus admit
herself and her lover at her pleasure, while this breach could only
have been made by some one who could not enter in any other way.

I thought of the person into whose arms I had fallen, the person who
had placed a handkerchief wet with some liquid over my face, and
although, according to Peppino's story, this watcher at the door was
the phantom of Count Mastino Morone, yet dismissing such an
explanation as due to superstition, I began to think that another
person had followed the lady of the sepulchre besides myself. Yes,
there could be no doubt about it, some third person had tracked her to
the palazzo, and, unable to enter in the ordinary way, had filed
through and broken the iron bar in the gate. Gaining access to the
interior of the palazzo in this way, the unknown had penetrated to the
secret chamber, and doubtless had witnessed the same strange scene as
I had done. My presence had been discovered, and to preserve for some
unknown reason, the secret of this terrible chamber, I had been
seized, rendered insensible by chloroform, and taken to the Piazza
Vittorio Emanuele, so that I would be unable to re-discover the
Palazzo Morone.

All these thoughts flashed through my brain with the rapidity of
lightning, and I wondered whom this unknown could be--a friend of
Pallanza? an accomplice of the Contessa! I did not know what to think,
so leaving all such conjectures to a more seasonable time, I crossed
over the dreary courtyard and entered the great hall.

It was a magnificent entrance, and when thronged with courtiers,
men-at-arms, pages, and ladies, must have presented a noble
appearance. Of enormous size, the high walls and lofty roof were
painted with glowing frescoes representing the ancient glories of the
Republic, and the floor was brilliant with gorgeous mosaics of
coats-of-arms and fantastic figures. The painted windows on either
side of the huge portal blazed with variegated tints, and the bright
sun streaming in through the glass--as many-coloured as Joseph's
coat--dyed the floor with vivid lights and gaudy hues. Ancient
tapestries hung here and there between the two lines of black marble
columns running down the sides of the hall, and the wind, stealing in
through the open door, shook the grey dust from these mouldering
splendours of the loom. At the end of this immense vestibule arose a
broad staircase of white marble with balustrades of elaborate bronze
fretwork, and from the first landing two other flights sloped off to
right and left of the main branch. All the air was filled with
floating shadows, the soft wind moved the hangings without sound, and
I was alone in the deserted hall, over which brooded an intense
silence, which made me shiver in the chill atmosphere pervading this
abode of desolation.

However, the afternoon was passing quickly, and as I had plenty to do
before nightfall, I rapidly ascended the shallow stairs. Turning to
the right, which was the way the unknown lady had taken the other
night, I soon found myself in the long corridor with the windows
looking out on to the courtyard. Many of these were broken, but others
were quite whole, their colours as bright and glowing as when they had
first been placed there.

At the end of the corridor I turned to the left, and found the short
flight of shallow steps, which, however, led up into darkness, so that
before ascending them I had to light my candle. Luckily there were no
draughts, for the air was absolutely still, and the flame of my candle
burned clear and steadily. Up these steps I went, entered the short
corridor, and paused before the heavy door which gave admission into
the ante-chamber of the fatal room. Realizing what had taken place
inside on that fatal night, I dreaded to enter, lest I should find the
corpse of the unfortunate Pallanza on the floor; but overcoming my
emotions, with a strong effort I thrust open the door and entered.

The tapestried chamber presented exactly the same appearance, with the
small table in the centre, the burnt-out torch lying on the floor, and
at the end the rich folds of the gold-worked curtains veiling the
entrance to the inner apartment. I stood on the threshold, half
expecting to hear the shrill notes of the mandolin, and the passionate
song ring through the silence, but all was still and mute, as if it
were indeed the tomb of the dead I expected to find.

At last, with a thrill of dread, I parted the heavy curtains and found
myself in the circular chamber. The faint light of the candle just
hollowed out a gulf in the Cimmerian darkness, and I saw the dim
glitter of the gold and silver on the table, the ghastly glimmer of
the white cloth, and the sparks of weak fire flashing from the
tarnished gold embroidery of the curtains. All was as I had seen
it--the eight white pillars, the dull-red hangings with their
Arabesque patterns of golden thread, the gilt table, the massive metal
goblets and silver candelabra, even the half-eaten fruit, with
everything on the table in disorder; but, somewhat to my relief, I
found nothing else. The dead body, which I had seen lying at the feet
of that terrible woman, had vanished, and although I searched over
every inch of the chamber, I could find no trace of the fearful crime
which had been committed. The demon who had enticed the unhappy young
man to his ruin had completed her evil work by secreting his body, and
I began to think that all trace of Guiseppe Pallanza had disappeared
from the earth for evermore.

Who was this woman who, in this room, had so wickedly slain her lover?
Who was the man--I felt sure it was a man--who had seized me at the
door, and borne me insensible from the palace? I could answer neither
of these questions, and had it not been for the story of Bianca, for
the disappearance of Pallanza, I would have fancied the whole some
hideous dream, some nightmare of medieval devilry, which had filled my
brain with the phantasmagoria of delirium. Everything, however, was
too real, too terrible, to admit of such an explanation; so as I could
discover nothing more from examining the chamber I prepared to leave.
The atmosphere yet had a faint aroma of the sandalwood perfume which
emanated from the unknown woman; at my feet still lay the broken
mandolin; and the rich wine-cups still glittered in the dim light. I
no longer wondered at such wealth being left here undefended, for
superstition, more of a safeguard than bolts and bars, protected this
cave of Aladdin from thievish Italian fingers; and even if a thief had
known of these riches, I doubt whether he would have had the courage
to dare the unseen horrors of the palazzo.

For myself, standing there in the perfumed atmosphere, with the light
just showing the intense gloom, the dim glitter of gold and silver,
the absolute stillness and the horrible memories of the chamber--I
felt as though I were in the presence of the dead. At the table sat
the phantoms of Donna Renata and her lover, smiling at one another
with hatred in their ghostly hearts; at the door watched the evil face
of the outraged husband awaiting the consummation of the tragedy; and
in imagination I could see the wicked smile of the woman, the scowl of
the husband, the loathing look on the face of the lover. My breath,
coming quick and fast, made the flame of the candle flicker and flare
until, overcome by the horror of the room, and by the workings of my
imagination, I turned and fled--fled from the evil gloom, from that
blood-stained splendour, out into the blessed sunshine and pure air of
heaven.

"Dio!" cried Peppino, as I walked quickly out into the square, "how
pale you are, Illustrious! Eh, Signore, have the ghosts----"

"I have seen no ghosts, Peppino, but I have felt their presence."

"Cospetto! did I not warn the Signore against the accursed place?
Come, Illustrious, jump in and we will leave this abode of devils."

"Very well, Peppino," I replied, entering the fiacre, "but drive
slowly, as I want to know the way to this palazzo."

"Dio! the Signore will not come again?"

"Yes! I am coming some night this month."

"Saints! the Signore is mad and lost!" muttered Peppino with a pale
face. Then, hastily gathering up the reins, he drove rapidly away from
the lonely square, leaving this gruesome palace to the night and to
the feast of ghosts.



CHAPTER VII.
AT THE TEATRO EZZELINO.


From my mother I had inherited one of those highly strung
organizations which are largely affected by their surroundings, and
which, like an Æolian harp, to the sighing wind vibrate with every
breath of passion that passes over them--organizations which take
their colour, their bias, their desires from the last event which
occurs, and which are entirely in sympathy with the predominating
feeling of the moment. In childhood this dangerous spirit of moods and
fancies had been fostered by an old Scottish nurse, who used to thrill
me with wild stories of Highland superstitions, and with weird ballads
of elfish fantasy; but since I had mixed in the world I had learned to
control and sway my imaginative faculty, and had thus acquired a
command over myself. But, as I said before, superstition is in every
one, and waxes or wanes according to their surroundings; so the
terrors of childish tales, which had been half-forgotten in the bustle
of worldly life, now came upon my soul with full force in this haunted
city of Verona. The burial-ground, the ghostly room, the accursed
palace, the phantoms of evil-seeming, all these peopled the chambers
of my brain, with their unreal horrors, until I became so nervous and
unstrung, that every sudden noise, every unexpected sound, and every
shadowy comer, made me thrill with supernatural fear as if I were
again a child listening to tales of devildom.

I knew this mood was a bad one, and would have sought cheerful society
to drive away the evil spirit had I known where to seek it. But there
were no English at my hotel, and, in the present state of affairs, the
Casa Angello was not particularly cheerful, so as I did not care about
spending a lonely evening, I methought myself of my intention to go to
the Teatro Ezzelino. On glancing at the paper I saw that the opera for
the night was "Lucrezia Borgia;" and this name gave me a renewed
sensation of horror. The lady of the sepulchre had taken in my
imagination the semblance of Ferrara's Duchess, and the memory of the
terrible daughter of Pope Alexander seemed never to leave me. She had
come from the graveyard, she had supped in the fatal chamber, she had
murdered her lover; and now, when she had vanished into thin air, I
was to see her represented on the stage in all her magnificent
wickedness. I had a good mind not to go, but seeing that there was a
ballet after the opera, I thought I would brave this phantom of the
brain, and find in the lightness of the dancing an antidote to the
gloomy terrors of the lyrical drama.

The cooking at my hotel was somewhat better than the usual run of
Italian culinary ideas, so I made an excellent dinner, drank some Asti
Spumati, an agreeable wine of an exhilarating nature, and felt much
better when I started for the Ezzelino.

It was one of those perfect Italian evenings such as one sees depicted
by the glowing brush of Turner, and there yet lingered in the quiet
evening sky a faint purple reflection of the sunset glories. No moon
as yet, but here and there a burning star throbbing in the deep heart
of the sky, and under the peaceful heavens the weather-worn red roofs
and grey walls of antique Verona mellowed to warm loveliness in the
twilight shadows. Beautiful as it was, however, with the memory of
that eerie night still on me, I had no desire to renew my moonlight
wanderings, so, without pausing to admire the enchanting scene, I
hastened on to the theatre to be in time for the first notes of
Donnizetti's opera.

The Teatro Ezzelino is a very charming opera-house, built in a light,
airy fashion, with plenty of ventilation, a thing to be grateful for
on hot summer nights. All the decorations are white and gold, so that
it has a delightfully cool appearance; nevertheless, what with the
warmth of the season without, and the glaring heat of the gas within,
I felt unpleasantly hot. The gallery and stalls were crowded, but as
it was only eight o'clock, most of the boxes were empty, and I knew
would not be filled until late in the evening by those who, tired of
the well-known music of "Lucrezia," wanted to see the new ballet.

Having glanced round the theatre, I bought a book of the words, hired
an opera-glass from an obsequious attendant, and settled myself
comfortably for the evening. The orchestra--a very excellent one,
directed by Maestro Feraldi, of Milan--played the prelude in a
sufficiently good style, and the pictured curtain arose on the
well-known Venetian scene which I had so often beheld. The chorus, in
their heterogeneous costumes of no known age, wandered about in their
usual aimless fashion, shouted their approval of smiling Venice in the
ordinary indifferent style; and a very good contralto who sang Orsini,
having delivered her first aria with great dramatic fervour, they all
vanished from the stage, leaving the sleeping Genaro to be
contemplated by Lucrezia Borgia.

I was disappointed with the Duchess when she arrived, and I must say
that my majestic evil lady of the sepulchre looked far more like the
regal sister of Cæsar Borgia than this diminutive singer with the big
voice, who raged round the stage like a spitfire, and gave one no idea
of the terrible Medusa of Ferrara, whose smile was death to all,
lovers and friends alike. The tenor was a long individual, and
Lucrezia being so small, their duets, in point of physical appearance,
were sufficiently ridiculous; but as they sang well together, their
rendering of the characters, artistically speaking, was enjoyable. The
chorus entered and discovered Lucrezia with Genaro; the prima-donna
defied them all with the look and ways of a cross child; there was the
usual dramatic chorus, and the curtain fell on the prologue with but
slight applause. I did not go out, as I felt very comfortable, so
amused myself with looking round the house, when, during the first act
of the opera, two officers entered the theatre and took their seats in
front of mine; They were two gay young men, who talked a great deal
about one thing and another in such raised voices that I could hear
all they said, some of which was not particularly edifying.

During the first act which succeeds the prologue they were
comparatively quiet, but when Lucrezia entered in the second to sing
the celebrated duet with Alfonso, they were loud in their expressions
of disapproval concerning her appearance. The music of this part of
the opera is particularly loud and noisy, but even through the crash
of the orchestra I could hear their expressions of disapproval.

"The voice is not bad, but the appearance--the acting--oime!"

"Eh, Teodoro, what would you? Donna Lucrezia is not on the stage."

"Not on the stage!" said Teodoro in an astonished tone. "Ebbene! where
is she?"

"Look at the box yonder!"

"Per Bacco! the Contessa Morone."

I started as I heard this name, and, looking in the same direction as
the young men, saw a woman seated far back in the shadow of a box, the
fourth or fifth from the stage. She was talking to three gentlemen,
and her face was turned away so that I could not see her features;
but, judging from the glimpse I caught of her head and bust, she
seemed to be a very majestic woman.

The Contessa Morone! She was then in Verona after all. This discovery
removed all my doubts concerning the identity of the ghoul. She was
the woman who had left the vault in the burial-ground. She was the
woman who had slain Guiseppe Pallanza in the secret chamber of the
deserted palace, and she was the woman seated in the shadow of the
box, talking idly as though she had no terrible crime to burden her
conscience. If I could only see her face I would then recognise her;
but, as if she had some presentiment of danger, she persistently
looked everywhere but in my direction. As I gazed she moved slightly,
the bright light of a lamp shone on her neck, and I saw a sudden
tongue of red flame flash through the semi-twilight of the box, which
at once reminded me of the necklace of rubies worn by that terrible
vampire of the graveyard.

Eager to know all about this woman, whom I felt sure was the murderess
of Pallanza, I listened breathlessly to the two officers who were
still talking about her.

"It is a year since Morone died," said Teodoro, lowering his
opera-glass, "and she has lived since at Rome, where I met her. Why
has she returned here?"

"Eh, who knows! Perhaps to reside again at the Palazzo Morone."

"That tomb. Diamine! She must become a ghost to live there."

"Ebbene, Teodoro! the ghost of Lucrezia Borgia! Why does she not marry
again?"

"Who knows! I wouldn't like to be her husband in spite of her money.
Corpo di Bacco! a woman who sees in the dark like a cat."

"The evil eye!"

"Yes! and everything else that's wicked. I do not like that Signora at
all."

"Che peccato! you might marry her."

"Or her money! Ecco!"

They both laughed, and, the act being ended, left their seats. I also
went out into the corridor for a smoke and a breath of fresh air,
feeling deeply sorry that this interesting conversation had been
interrupted. From what one of the officers had said she was evidently
a nyctalopyst, and could see in the dark, which accounted at once for
the unerring way in which she had threaded the dark streets, and was
also the reason that she now remained secluded in the shadow of her
box, preferring the darkness to the light. Puzzling over these things,
and wondering how I could get a glimpse of her face, I lighted a
cigarette and strolled about in the vestibule of the theatre with the
rest of the crowd.

There were a goodly number of civilians of all sizes, ages, and
complexions, while the military element was represented by a fair
sprinkling of officers in the picturesque uniforms of the Italian
army. The air was thick with tobacco-smoke there was a clatter of
vivacious voices, and the great doors of the theatre were thrown wide
open to admit the fresh night air into the overpoweringly hot
atmosphere. Being wrapt up in my ideas about the Contessa Morone and
her extraordinary behaviour, I leaned against a pillar and took no
notice of any one, when suddenly a tall officer stopped in front of me
and held out his hand.

"What! Is it you, Signor Hugo? Come sta!"

"Beltrami! You here! I am surprised!"

"Ma foi," replied Beltrami, who constantly introduced French words
into his conversation; "you are not so surprised as I am. I thought
you were in your foggy island, and behold you appear at Verona. How
did you come here? What are you doing? Eh! Hugo, tell me all."

I do not think I have mentioned Beltrami before, which is curious,
considering I have been talking so much about Italy and the Italians;
but the fact is, my friend the Marchese only now enters into this
curious story I am relating, so thus being introduced in due season I
will tell all I know about him.

During my narrative I fancy I have mentioned that I spoke and
understood Italian tolerably for an Englishman. Well, I did not learn
my Italian in Italy--no, indeed! Foggy London saw my maiden efforts to
acquire that soft bastard Latin which Byron talks of, and the Marchese
Luigi Beltrami gave me my first lessons in his melodious language. He
had come to England some years before with a card of introduction to
my father from a friend in Florence, and on being introduced to our
household we had taken a great fancy to one another. Even in those
days, perhaps as a premonitory symptom of my operatic leanings, I was
mad on all things Italian, and discoursed about art, raved of Cimabue
and Titian, and quoted Dante, Ariosto, and Alfieri until every one of
my friends were, I am sure, heartily wearied of my enthusiasm.
Beltrami appeared, and feeling flattered by my great admiration for
his country, advised me to learn Italian. I did so, and with his help
soon became no mean proficient in the tongue which the Marchese, being
a Florentine, spoke very purely. In return I taught him English; but
either I was a bad master, or Beltrami was an idle scholar, for all
the English he ever learned consisted of two sentences: "You are a
beautiful miss," and "I love you," but with these two he got along
comparatively well, particularly with woman.

English ladies at first were indignant at this outspoken admiration,
but Beltrami was so good-looking, and apparently so sincere in his use
of these two English sentences, that they usually ended by pardoning
him; nevertheless the Marchese found that if he wanted to get on in
society he would have to moderate his transports. Ultimately, if I
remember rightly, he took refuge in French, and said a great many
pretty things in that very pretty tongue.

My friend Beltrami and myself were the antithesis of one another in
character, as he had a great deal of the subtle craft of the old
Italian despot about him; yet somehow we got on capitally together,
perhaps by the law of contrast, and when he returned to Italy I was
sorry to see the last of him. I promised to some day visit him at his
palazzo in Florence, and fully intended to do so before leaving Italy;
but here was Verona, and here, by the intervention of chance, was the
Marchese, as suave, as subtle-faced, and as handsome as ever. He
appeared to be delighted to see me, and as I was a stranger in a
strange land, I was glad to find at least one familiar face.

In response to his request I told him about the death of my father, of
my determination to study singing, and the circumstances which had led
me to Verona, to all of which Beltrami listened attentively, and at
the conclusion of my story shook hands with me again.

"Ebbene! my friend Hugo, I am glad to see you in our Italy. As you
see, I serve the King and am stationed in his dismal palace, so while
you are here I will make things pleasant. Ecco!"

"No, no! my dear Marchese, I know what you mean by making things
pleasant. I have come here to work, not to play."

"Dame, mon ami! too much work is bad."

"Eh, Marchese, and too much play is worse; but tell me how have you
been since I saw you last?"

"Oh, just the same; I am as poor as ever, but soon I will be rich!"

"Bravo, Beltrami! Is your uncle, the Cardinal, dead?"

"My uncle, the Cardinal, is immortal," replied the Marchese cynically.
"No, he still lives in the hope to succeed to the Fisherman's Chair. I
am going to be married!"

"I congratulate you."

"Eh, Hugo, I think you will when you see the future Marchesa! She is
in the theatre to-night. I am engaged to marry her, and as she takes
my friends for her own, come with me and I will introduce you."

I drew back, as I wanted to watch the Contessa Morone, and if I went
to Beltrami's box I would perhaps lose sight of her.

"You must excuse me, Signor Luigi, because--because you see I am not
in evening dress."

It was the best excuse I could think of, but, being a very weak one,
Beltrami laughed, and, slipping his arm into mine, dragged me along
the corridor.

"Sapristi! you talk like a child. You are my friend. Signora Morone
will be delighted to see you. She adores the English."

"Madame Morone!" I exclaimed, thunderstruck.

"Yes, the Contessa! Do you know her by sight? Mon Dieu! is she not
beautiful? You shall speak the English to her. She loves your foggy
islanders."

I was so bewildered by the chance thrown in my way of finding out if
the Contessa Morone had anything to do with the burial-ground episode,
that I only replied to Beltrami's chatter by an uneasy laugh, and
suffered myself to be led unresistingly along.

The Marchese did not take me into the box itself, but into one of
those small ante-rooms, on the opposite side of the corridor, which
are used by Italian ladies as reception saloons for their friends when
at the theatre. I heard the loud chatter of many voices as Beltrami
opened the door, and there, standing under the glare of the gas-lamp,
with the wicked smile on her lips, the pearls in her hair, the ruby
necklace round her throat, I saw the woman who had come from the
vault, the woman who had poisoned Pallanza in the secret room, the
phantom of Lucrezia Borgia.



CHAPTER VIII.
THE PHANTOM OF LUCREZIA BORGIA.


I was duly introduced by the Marchese, and Signora Morone received me
in the most amiable manner. She was certainly a very charming woman,
and had I not known her true character, I would doubtless have been
fascinated by her gracious affability; but, in spite of her courtesy,
I could hardly speak to her without a feeling of repulsion. This
beautiful woman, so suave, so smiling, so seductive, inspired me with
that sensation of absolute dread which one experiences at the sight of
a sleek, velvet-footed pantheress--a comely beast to admire, but a
terrible one to caress. I replied to her polite inquiries in a
somewhat mechanical fashion, which she doubtless put down to my
imperfect knowledge of Italian, for in spite of all my efforts to feel
at ease in her society, yet I was unable to do more than behave with
strained courtesy towards this woman whose mask I had torn off, whose
secret I had penetrated, and the wickedness of whose heart I knew.

There were several other gentlemen in the room, who talked gaily with
the Contessa, and amused themselves by eating the bonbons and
crystallised fruits provided for refreshments. The last act of the
opera had not yet commenced, so Signora Morone sank gracefully into a
velvet-cushioned chair, and permitted her courtiers to retail all the
news of the day for her amusement. I am afraid this description sounds
somewhat hyperbolical, but indeed it is the only way in which I can
describe this woman, whose every movement was full of sinuous grace
and feline treachery. Cat, tigress, pantheress as she was, her claws
were now sheathed in her velvet paws, but the claws were there all the
same, and would doubtless scratch at the least provocation.

Some people do not believe in transmigration, but I am a true disciple
of Pythagoras in that bizarre doctrine, and I firmly believe that in a
former existence the soul of Giulietta Morone had animated the body of
some tawny tigress who had stolen through the jungle beneath the
burning skies of Hindostan, slaying and devouring her victims in
conformity with the instincts of her savage nature. Now she was a
woman--a fair, majestic woman--but the instinct of the beast was
there, the desire for slaughter and the lust for blood. What made me
indulge still more in this fancy was the colours of the dress she wore
black and yellow--all twisted in and out with a curious resemblance to
the sleek fur of the beast to which I had likened her. The soft
glimmer of the pearl strings twined in her magnificent red hair seemed
out of place as ornaments for this woman; but the rubies suited her
nature well, the red, angry rubies that shot flashes of purple fire
from her neck at every heave of her white bosom. Leaning back in her
deep chair with a cruel smile on her full crimson lips, the glimmer of
pearls, the fire-glint of the fierce-tinted gems, and the bizarre
mixture of amber and black in her dress, she slowly waved her
sandalwood fan to and fro, diffusing a strange, sleepy perfume through
the room, and looking what I verily believed her to be, the type of
incarnate evil in repose.

While I was thinking in this fanciful fashion, the Contessa was
talking to her friends in a slow, rich voice, and Beltrami--well,
Beltrami was watching me closely. Do you know that strange sensation
of being watched? that uneasy consciousness that some unseen eye is
observing the least movement? Yes, of course you do! Every one has
felt it, in a more or less degree, according to their nervous
susceptibility. At the present time, with all my senses on the alert
for unexpected events, it was therefore little to be wondered at that
I felt the magnetism of Beltrami's gaze, and, on looking up, saw his
keen black eyes fixed upon me with an enigmatical expression. For the
moment I was startled, but immediately that feeling passed away for I
well knew the strange nature of the Marchese, which was a peculiar
mixture of good and evil, of kindness and cruelty, of hate and love,
which must have proceeded from some aberration of his subtle
intellect.

Beltrami's face always put me in mind of that sinister countenance of
Sigismondo Malatesta, which sneers so malevolently at the curious
onlooker from the walls of the Duomo at Rimini. He had the same
treacherous droop of the eyelids, the same thin nose with wide,
sensitive nostrils, and the same malignant smile on his thin lips. Yet
he was handsome enough, this young Italian; but his face, in spite of
my friendship, repelled me--in a less degree, it is true, but still it
repelled me in the like manner as did that of the Contessa Morone. So
he was going to marry her. Well, they were certainly well-matched in
every respect, and if the man had not the active wickedness of the
woman, still the capability of evil was there, and would awaken to
life when necessary to be exercised. Both Beltrami and his future wife
were anachronisms in this nineteenth century, and should have lived,
smiled, and died in the time of the Renaissance, when they would have
been fitted companions of those Italian despots of whom Machiavelli
gives the typical examples in his book "The Prince."

The Marchese saw my inquiring look, and with an enigmatic smile walked
across to where I was standing in the warm, yellow light.

"Ebbene! Signor Hugo," he whispered, with a swift glance at the
Contessa, "tell me what you think of my choice."

"It does you credit, Marchese. You will have a beautiful wife."

"And a loving one, I hope. Tell me, mon ami, do you not envy me?"

I hesitated a moment before replying, and then blurted out the
truth,--

"Honestly speaking, Signor Luigi, I do not!"

"Dame! and why?"

"Well, I can hardly tell you my reasons, but I have them,
nevertheless."

Beltrami looked hard at me with an inquisitive look in his dark eyes,
and a satirical smile on his thin lips.

"You are not complimentary, my friend," he said, turning away with a
supercilious laugh.

I laid my hand on his shoulder and explained,--

"Pardon me, Beltrami, you do not understand----"

"Eh! do not apologise! I understand better than you think."

He was evidently not at all offended, and I felt puzzled by his
manner. It was true he had candidly acknowledged that he was making
this marriage for money, but surely he must also love this woman,
whose ripe beauty was so attractive to the passionate nature of the
Italians. Yet, judging from his mode of speech, he evidently had some
mistrust--a mistrust for which I could not account. He could know
nothing of the affair at the Palazzo Morone, so there certainly could
be no reason for suspicion on his part. She was a beautiful woman, a
rich woman, an attractive woman, so with this trinity of perfections
she decidedly merited a warmer love than Beltrami appeared inclined to
give her. Could it be that her evil beauty repelled him, as it did me?
No! that was impossible, seeing that, according to my idea, their
natures were wonderfully alike. Altogether the whole demeanour of the
Marchesa perplexed me by its strangeness, and I watched him narrowly
as he approached the Contessa, to see if she perceived the lack of
warmth on the part of her lover.

To my surprise, as he bent over her chair to speak, she shrank away
with a gesture of disdain, and the rubies shot forth a red flame, as
if to warn the lover that there was danger in pressing upon this woman
his unwelcome attentions. Unwelcome, I am sure they were, for as he
adjusted her cloak and aided her to rise, in order to return to the
box, I saw that she accepted all his politeness with forced civility
and cold smiles. So then she did not love him--he had almost openly
acknowledged to me that he did not love her, and yet these two people,
who had no feeling of love in their hearts, were about to marry. It
was most extraordinary, and I marvelled greatly at the juxtaposition
of these two human beings, who evidently hated one another heartily.

At this moment the Contessa spoke of the man she had murdered, and I
was horrified in the cold, callous tones in which she veiled her
iniquity.

"Do you know, gentlemen, if anything has been heard of this lost
tenor?"

Beltrami shot a keen glance at her, then a second at me, and I felt
more bewildered than ever by this strange action.

"Nothing has been heard of him, Contessa," he said quickly, before the
others could speak; "he has vanished altogether, but no doubt he will
appear again."

"Ah, you think so?" observed the Contessa, with a cruel smile.

"I am sure of it!"

She winced, and looked at him in a startled manner, upon which,
impelled by some mysterious impulse, I know not what, I joined in the
conversation,--

"On the contrary, madame, I do not think Signor Pallanza will ever be
seen again."

All present turned round in surprise, and the Contessa darted a look
at me which seemed to pierce my soul. Only Beltrami was unmoved, and
he, with a smile on his face, laid his hand upon my shoulder.

"Eh, Signor Hugo, and why do you think so?"

"A mere fancy, Marchese, nothing more."

"Ma foi! and a fancy that may turn out true!"

I was annoyed at having yielded to the impulse and spoken out, as,
unless I told all about my adventure, I could not substantiate my
statement, and I was certainly not going to reveal anything I knew,
particularly in the presence of the woman so deeply implicated in the
affair. Beltrami's mocking manner irritated me fearfully, the more so
as it was so very unaccountable, and I was about to make some sharp
reply, when the opening chorus of the last act sounded, and all the
gentlemen, after making their adieux to the Contessa, left the room.

The Marchese offered his arm to Madame Morone, but she dismissed him
with a haughty gesture.

"One moment, Marchese--I wish to speak with this Signor for a few
minutes."

Beltrami darted one of his enigmatic looks at us both, and with a low
bow to conceal the smile on his lips, left the room. As soon as he had
disappeared, Madame Morone turned round on me with a quick gesture of
surprise.

"Signor Hugo, why did you say the tenor Pallanza would never be seen
again?"

"I have no reason, Signora," I replied, being determined to baffle her
curiosity; "I merely spoke on the impulse of the moment."

"Do you know Signor Pallanza?"

"No, madame, I have not the pleasure of his acquaintance."

"Ah!"

She heaved a sigh of relief, and looked at me long and earnestly, as
if to see whether I was speaking the truth. Apparently she was
satisfied with her scrutiny, for she laughed softly, and placed her
hand within my arm.

"Confess now, Signor Hugo, you think me most mysterious, but I will
tell you why I speak thus. I heard Pallanza at Rome, when he sang at
the Apollo, and I hoped to see him again here, therefore I am annoyed
at his disappearance and anxious for him to be found. A selfish wish,
Signor Hugo, for it is only my desire to hear him sing again. Ecco!"

"I do not think your wish at all selfish, madame, for I hear he is a
charming singer."

"Oh, yes! the New Mario they call him in Milan. Will you not hear the
rest of the opera in my box?"

"If you will excuse me, madame, I will say no, as I have an
engagement."

This was a lie, but I was so fearful of betraying myself to this
terrible woman, who had evidently a half-suspicion that I knew
something of Pallanza, that I was anxious to get away as soon as
possible. She, saying good-night, in a cold, polite manner, re-entered
the box, and I was moving away when Beltrami suddenly appeared.

"Eh, Hugo, how cruel! the Contessa tells me you must go?"

"Yes. I will see you again, Marchese!"

"To-morrow then; if not, the next day. Here is my card, and I am
always at home in the afternoon. Do not fail to come, mon ami--I wish
to speak to you about--about----"

He paused, and I asked curiously,--

"About what?"

"Eh, dame! I forget. I will tell you at our next meeting' A rivederci!
Signor Hugo. Don't forget your old friend, or he will quarrel with
you."

He nodded, smiled, and vanished, then I took my departure from the
theatre, and wandered up and down the street in the moonlight. I felt
that to sit out the ballet would be more than I could bear, as I was
so excited over the meeting with the Contessa Morone, therefore I
strolled up and down the street, smoking and thinking. As time passed
on I grew calmer, and thought I would return to the Ezzelino, not to
see the ballet, but to catch a glimpse of the Contessa once more.

As I reached the portico of the theatre she was just coming down the
steps to her carriage, leaning on the arm of Beltrami, and I, hidden
in the crowd, could see her looking hither and thither as if searching
for some one. She could not see me, and in order to satisfy myself in
every way as to her identity with the creature of the night I had seen
leave the graveyard, with a sudden inspiration I hummed a few bars of
the strange song I had heard in the fatal chamber.

Being close to me she could hear quite plainly, and gave a kind of
gasping cry as she fell back into the arms of Beltrami, just as he was
helping her into the carriage.

"What is the matter, cara?" he asked quickly.

She clutched his arm with so powerful a grasp that it made him wince,
and I heard her mutter with white lips,--

"Pallanza! Pallanza!"

This was all I wanted to hear, and, fearful of discovery, I threaded
my way quickly among the crowd, and hastened home to my hotel.

I had recognised Guiseppe, I had found the woman who had slain him,
but I had yet to discover where she had hidden the body of her
victim--and then!--well, my future movements would be guided by
circumstances.



CHAPTER IX.
FIORE DELLA CASA.


I did not get much sleep that night after the excitements of the day,
but towards the morning fell into an uneasy slumber, during which I
had fragmentary dreams in which Pallanza, the Contessa, and the
antique chamber were all mixed up together. One moment I was at the
iron door of the tomb, and the guardian angel took the semblance of
Signora Morone; the next I was kneeling beside the corpse of Pallanza,
illuminated by the faint light of the candles; and I ever saw the
pallid shade of Donna Renata pointing towards the watchful face of her
husband, filled with ghastly meanings in the dim shadows. No wonder,
after these terrific visions which blended the real and the ideal, I
awoke in the grey morning light unrefreshed and haggard; so when the
waiter brought me my roll and coffee I left them untouched, and, lying
quietly in bed, wondered what step it was necessary to take next in
solving this riddle.

Riddle do I say? No! it was a riddle no longer, save as to the visit
of the Contessa to the vault of her family, for otherwise everything
was clear enough. She had met Pallanza at Rome, and had fallen in love
with his handsome face. The young man, flattered by the attentions of
a great lady, had yielded readily enough to the charm of the
situation, but, growing tired of the intrigue, had come to Verona,
where Bianca awaited him, with the intention of breaking it off. With
a woman of Giulietta Morone's fiery nature the sequel can easily be
guessed--she had followed him hither, and having in some way forced
him to come to the deserted palace, had there poisoned him out of
revenge for his contemplated infidelity.

Of course, this was all theoretical, but from one thing and another I
guessed that this could be the only feasible way of accounting for the
whole affair. Two points, however, remained to be cleared up before
the reading of the riddle could be successfully accomplished: the
first being the reason of the burial-ground episode, the second the
strange disappearance of the dead man's body.

In thinking over the legend related by Peppino, one thing struck me as
peculiar--that Donna Renata had never been seen again after her
husband entered the chamber, and I guessed from this that there was
some secret oubliette or alcove in the room, with a concealed entrance
in which Mastino Morone had entombed his guilty wife as a punishment
for her crimes. Doubtless, from tradition or from old family papers,
Madame Morone knew of this secret hiding-place, and having killed
Pallanza, had put his body therein so as to destroy all evidences of
her criminality. No one had seen Pallanza enter this deserted palace,
so once his body was hidden in the secret alcove it would remain there
for ever undiscovered, and no human being, save the Contessa herself,
could ever tell what had become of him. She, for her own sake, would
remain silent, and thus Guiseppe Pallanza's fate would remain a
mystery for evermore.

Fortunately, however, God, who had thus permitted this evil woman to
conceive and carry out her crime, had also permitted me to behold the
murder, so that, secure as she no doubt felt of her safety, yet one
word from me and the whole affair would be revealed. I never thought,
however, of going to the Veronese police and telling them what I had
seen, as in their suspicions of foreigners they would doubtless regard
me as an accessory, and thus I would get myself into trouble, which I
had no desire to do. I therefore determined to once more go to the
fatal chamber and make a final effort to discover what had become of
the body of the unfortunate Pallanza.

So far so good, but now the question arose, how much of this story was
I to reveal to Bianca? I could not tell her the whole, for if the body
of her lover were discovered, the poor child would suffer quite enough
without the additional information of Guiseppe's infidelity; so,
making a virtue of necessity, I determined upon telling her a pious
lie. To do this it was necessary to leave out the Contessa Morone
altogether, as the least mention of a woman's name would arose
Bianca's suspicions, and for the Contessa I substituted a robber, who
had decoyed Guiseppe to the deserted palace by means of a false
letter, and there ended his life. Of course it was somewhat difficult
to be consistent in the narrative; but I was so anxious to hide the
cruel truth of Pallanza's worthlessness from Bianca that I went over
the story I had invented, again and again, until I thought I had the
whole pious fraud quite perfect.

Having thus arranged my plans, I arose, finished my roll and coffee,
then, having dressed myself rapidly, set off at once for the Casa
Angello, as it was nearly time for my lesson. All my bruises were now
quite well, yet I felt very depressed and downcast, as the state of
nervous excitement which I had been in for the last few days had told
terribly on my system. However, having once put my hand to the plough
I could not, with satisfaction to myself, turn back; and although I
heartily dreaded the coming interview with Bianca, yet it was
unavoidable, as the poor child was so anxious over her lost lover that
it was necessary to tell my fictitious story without delay in order to
set her mind at rest.

On my arrival at the Casa Angello I found no one there but Bianca, who
was anxiously awaiting me. It appeared that the Maestro had taken it
into his head that he would like a walk in the sunshine, and had gone
out under the care of Petronella; but, as Bianca knew I was coming to
take my usual lesson, and was anxious to hear if I had any news of her
lover, she remained indoors to speak to me.

The "Fiorè della Casa," as old Petronella tenderly called her in the
poetic language of the Italians, looked even paler than usual, and the
dark shadows under her dark eyes made them appear wonderfully large
and star-like. She had a bunch of delicate lilies-of-the-valley in the
bosom of her white dress, and she looked as pale and blanched as the
frail flowers themselves. Lying back on the green-covered sofa on
which she was seated, she reminded me of a late snowflake resting on
the emerald grass of early spring, which at any moment might vanish
under the pale rays of the sun.

We were talking together in the room in which I generally had my
lessons, and my eyes wandered from one thing to another with vague
hesitation as I looked everywhere but on the face of this delicate
girl to whom I had to tell such a cruel story--for, soften it as I
might, the story was cruel and could not fail to affect her terribly.
Every object in the apartment photographed itself on my memory with
terrible distinctness, and, even after the lapse of years, by simply
closing my eyes I can recall the whole scene with the utmost
truthfulness. The dull red of the terra-cotta floor, the heavy
time-worn furniture, covered with faded green rep, the small ebony
piano with its glistening white keys alternating with the black, the
mirror-fronted press in which Petronella kept everything from food to
clothes, the many photographs of operatic celebrities, and the gaudily
painted picture of St. Paul, the Maestro's patron saint, encircled by
a faded wreath of withered laurel-leaves and dead flowers, flung to
some favourite pupil in her hour of triumph. Even the view from the
window I can recall, with the slender campanile tower, from whence
every quarter rang the brazen bells, and then the faltering voice of
Bianca, "Fiorè della Casa," stealing like a melancholy wind through
the silence of the room.

"Signor!" she said, twisting her thin white hands nervously together,
"you have something to tell me of Guiseppe. I can see it in your
face--is it good or evil?"

"What does my face tell you, Signorina?"

"Evil, evil! your eyes are sad, your mouth does not smile! Oh, tell me
quickly what you know! Is he found? is he ill? is he--dead?"

She brought out the last word in a shrill scream, with dilated eyes
that almost terrified me by the fear expressed in them, and, dreading
the effect of a sudden shock on this fragile child, I hastily replied
in the negative.

"No, Signorina, no! Do not look so fearful, I pray you. He is not
dead. Child, I am sure he is not dead!"

"Then you have not found him yet?"

"No; I have not found him, but I think I know where he is to be
found."

"What do you mean, Signor Hugo, tell me all--tell me all. See, I am
strong, I can bear it--I wish to know everything."

"Signorina, the note which Guiseppe Pallanza received at the Ezzelino
was not from a friend but from an enemy."

"An enemy!"

"Yes! from one who wished him ill. Thinking it was from his dying
friend, he obeyed the letter and was lured to the deserted Palazzo
Morone."

"I do not know that palazzo, Signor. I am a stranger in Verona."

"I know where it is, Signorina, for on that night I was wandering
about near it, when I saw Pallanza go into it alone. Knowing the
evil reputation of the place, I followed him, although he was a
stranger to me. He went to a room in the palace where his enemy met
him, and--and----"

"Yes! yes, Signor--for the love of the Saints, go on."

"I can tell you no more, Signorina, except that I do not believe
Guiseppe left that room again. I believe he is there still, perhaps
held captive by the robber who lured him thither in the hope of
obtaining a ransom."

Bianca looked at me searchingly. She was a simple little thing as a
rule, but this ridiculous story I had manufactured of brigands in the
heart of Verona was too much even for her confiding nature, and she
made a gesture of disbelief.

"It is not true! it is not true!" she cried vehemently. "Why do you
deceive me, Signor?"

"I am not deceiving you."

"An enemy! a false letter! a deserted palace! held captive! Oh, I
cannot believe it. If it is true, why did you not rescue him?"

"Because some one I do not know seized me from behind as I watched,
and, rendering me insensible with chloroform, bore me away from the
palace. I had great difficulty in finding it again, I assure you."

"Signor, your story is that of a dream. I cannot believe you."

"It is true, nevertheless."

Bianca said nothing, but tapped her little foot on the ground with a
thoughtful frown on her small face. I was glad that my task was over,
for absurd as was the story I had told her, it was more merciful than
the truth. Now that I had to some extent quieted her fears by telling
her that Guiseppe was alive--a thing, alas! that I could not be
certain of myself--I hoped to get away at once to the Palazzo Morone
and make one last effort to find his body. If I failed there would be
nothing left for me to do but to inform the police, and in the
interests of Bianca I was unwilling to do this until I had exhausted
every means of solving the mystery myself.

Suddenly Bianca's face cleared, and she looked at me with steady
determination.

"Signor, you know this palazzo?"

"Yes, Signorina."

"And this room where you think Guiseppe is held captive?"

"I do, Signorina."

"Then take me to it at once."

She started to her feet with a deep flush on her face, and threw out
her hands towards me with an appealing gesture. As for me, I sat
still, transfixed with astonishment at the spirit displayed by this
gentle girl, who was thus willing to dare the dangers, of the unknown
in order to save her lover.

"Take me to it at once!" she repeated quickly.

"Signorina, I--I cannot. You are mad to think of such a thing."

"Is your story true or false, Signor Hugo?"

"True! yes, it is true!"

"Then I will judge of its truth myself--with my own eyes. Wait, I will
put on my hat, and you will take me to this palazzo at once."

"Signorina----"

"Not another word, I have made up my mind. You promised to be my
friend, Signor Hugo. I hold you to that promise. Ecco!"

She was gone before I could utter further remonstrance, and during her
absence I reflected rapidly. It was true that Guiseppe was dead, that
I believed his body was concealed somewhere in that room, so perhaps
after all it was best that Bianca should come, as her quick woman's
wit might succeed where I had failed. She knew nothing about the
implication of the Contessa Morone in the affair, the palazzo would be
quite deserted during the daytime, so I would be able to take her
there, let her examine the room, and if by chance the truth was
revealed that Guiseppe was dead, it would be a more merciful way than
by the lips of a stranger. Yes, I would take her there at once. If we
failed in our mission she would be no wiser than before, but if we
succeeded--ah! how I pitied the poor child if we succeeded in finding
out the terrible secret of the Contessa. At this moment she returned
trembling with ill-suppressed excitement.

"Well, Signor Hugo, are you ready--are you willing to help me?"

"With all my heart, Signorina."

"Ebbene! come, then."

She ran lightly out of the room, and I followed with a heavy heart,
for I had a presentiment of evil. I feared that fatal chamber, which
held so many impure memories--I feared the discovery of the dead--I
feared for this child who went forward in ignorance to face such
horrors.



CHAPTER X.
A VOICE IN THE DARKNESS.


On returning from my last visit to the palace I had carefully noted
the way thereto, so I was able to escort Signorina Angello without
calling in the services of Peppino. I was unwilling to drive there, as
the presence of a fiacre even in that deserted piazza might be
noticed, and I did not want any comment made by the scandal-loving
Italian populace on our visit to this out-of-the-way locality. So in
company with Bianca, who had put on a veil, and who said nothing to me
from the time we left Casa Angello, being apparently occupied with her
own reflections, I walked down the gloomy, narrow streets towards that
terrible Palazzo Morone, the very idea of which inspired me with
horror and dismay.

It was one of those burning days common to that time of the year in
Italy, and much as I despised and cursed those drain-like alleys in
wet weather, yet I now saw there was method in the madness of their
style of building, for their cool shadow and humid atmosphere was
wonderfully pleasant after the glare, the dust, and heat of the great
piazza. We walked on the broad carriage-way, which was less painful to
the feet than the cobble-stone paving between, and every now and then
saw some typical picture of Italian life. A dark-faced woman with a
red handkerchief twisted carelessly round her head, leaning from a
high balcony, on the iron railings of which was displayed the family
washing; a purple cloud of wisteria blooming in some pergola near the
red roof-tops; sleek grey donkeys laden with panniers, stepping
complacently along the narrow way; slender Italian men presiding over
fruit-stalls, piled high with their picturesque contents; and over
all, the vivacious clatter and din of voices, struck through at times
with the sharp, metallic notes of the mandolin. It was very charming,
and, I would have enjoyed it thoroughly, artistically speaking, had it
not been for the local odours. Oh, the smells of those picturesque
streets! they were too terrible for description; and how the Italians
are not swept off the face of the earth by a plague of typhoid is more
than I can understand. I smoked cigarettes most of the time, as a
preventive against infection; but on beholding ideal paintings of
Italian scenes, I always shudder at the memory of the malodorous
reality, and on arriving in well-drained London again, my first prayer
was one of thanks for having escaped from ill-smelling Italy.

My thoughts during this portentous walk were, I am afraid, rather
frivolous; but so fearful had been the strain on my nerves for the
past few days, that it was a great relief to think idly of anything
and any one. Not so Bianca; even through her veil I could see the
glisten of tears, and catch the sound of her quick indrawn breath as
she strove to fight down the emotion that threatened to overwhelm her.
I saw that the poor child was nearly hysterical with her efforts to
control herself, and stopped short in dismay.

"Signorina, you are not well. Do not go to this palazzo."

"Yes, yes! I must, Signor Hugo. I cannot pass another night in this
state of suspense. I must know all, and at once. Is the Palazzo Morone
far off?"

"We are just at it, Signorina."

And so we were; for at that moment we entered the silent, grass-grown
square, at the end of which stood the palazzo, looking gruesome even
in the sunshine, with its broken windows, damp, disfigured walls, and
general air of weird solitude. Some swallows were shooting through the
still air and twittering round the rich sculptures of the façade, but
their merry chirpings only added to the eerie feeling inspired by the
great mansion--a feeling which I noticed thrilled Bianca with fear as
she paused shuddering, under the grinning masks and unlovely faces
peering downward from the arched entrance.

"Oh, how could he come to this terrible place at night!" she cried,
crossing herself, with a look of fear in her eyes. "Desolate as it is
in the sun, what must it be when the moon shines! It is an abode of
the dead--a tomb--a tomb! Dio! his tomb."

"Signorina, do not affright yourself thus! Things may not be so bad as
you think."

"It is like the Inferno of Dante! and turns my blood cold with fear;
but I will not go back! I must find Guiseppe, even if it cost me my
life. Come, Signor, presto! there is no time to lose."

She crossed herself once more, then flitted through the opening in the
iron gate like a noiseless-winged bird, upon which I hastily followed
her, and we stood for a moment in the lonely courtyard, gazing at the
great portals of the door leading to the hall, which stood half-open.

"Signorina, I will lead you to the room. You are not afraid? You do
not tremble?"

"Ah! I am afraid, and I do tremble, Signor, for I am only a girl; but
lead on, love will make me strong, and you will protect me. Give me
your hand, Signor; I am not afraid when I hold your hand."

With a fleeting smile on her pale lips, she placed her hand in mine,
and as I grasped its cold whiteness, I guessed how terrified this
delicate, superstitious girl was of this unholy place. But for the
resolute look on her pallid face, I would have insisted upon her
turning back; but it was useless to urge retreat now, so with the name
"Guiseppe! Guiseppe!" on her lips, as if to inspire her with courage,
she almost dragged me through the half-closed door into the hall of
shadows.

"Ah! Mother Mary, it is like a church!"

It was like a church--like some old deserted church, filled with
the chill atmosphere of the grave; and the slow movement of the
wind-shaken tapestries, the glimmer of the ghostly white stairs in the
dim distance, and the solemnity of the huge pillars of black marble,
made me think of those God-cursed cities of the "Thousand and One
Nights," whose silence is only broken by the voice of the one survivor
chanting the melancholy verses of the Koran. Bianca, overpowered by
this mute spectacle of a dead past, clung convulsively to my arm with
faltering prayers on her lips, and I became afraid lest, by a feeling
of sympathy, her terror should unnerve me also, so with a cheerful
laugh, which echoed dismally through the vast vestibule, I led her
onward towards the grand staircase.

"Come, Signorina, do not be afraid. You are quite safe with me."

"Yes, yes! Guiseppe! Guiseppe!"

We slowly ascended the staircase, gained the corridor, and at length
arrived at the second flight of shallow steps leading to the secret
room. Here Bianca, seeing the darkness, nearly fainted with nervous
fear, for, deeply imbued with grim Italian superstitions, she beheld
unseen terrors in every shadowy corner. I again wanted her to return,
but with wilful obstinacy she refused, so, as I luckily had a
pocket-flask of brandy with me, I made her take a little to revive
her. The fiery spirit put new life into her sinking limbs, and, after
lighting my candle as usual, I led her up the steps, through the short
corridor, through the tapestried ante-chamber, until at last we stood
in the fatal room.

"Here, Signor Hugo!"

"Yes!"

She flung back her veil with a feverish gesture, and peered into the
darkness, which was hardly broken by the feeble light of the small
candle I carried. Suddenly a thought struck me which I at once put
into execution, and lighted all the tapers yet remaining in the
candelabra on the table. To the darkness succeeded a blaze of mellow
light, and Bianca, with a look of surprise on her face, gazed round
the singular room with the white pillars, the ominous blood-red
hangings, and the banquet of the dead set forth with such splendid
display on the gilt table.

"What a strange room!" she said timidly. "Signor Hugo! what does it
mean?"

"I have told you all I know, Signorina. Your lover was lured to this
room. I saw him pass through that door, and then I was drugged as I
have said."

"You did not then see who received him here?"

"No! I did not."

The first part of the lie was difficult to utter on account of a
choking feeling in my throat, but the last sentence came out with
tolerable grace.

"And you do not think Guiseppe left this room again?"

"I'm afraid not, Signorina!"

"Then, where can he be?" she asked with an anxious look around.

"I think he is concealed in some secret cell, the entrance to which is
from this apartment."

"Oh, Signor Hugo, let us look for it at once."

"Certainly!"

"A meal on the table--all this gold and silver. It is a robbers' cave,
Signor."

"Y--es--I suppose so!"

"Come, let us be quick then, or the robbers may arrive."

She looked nervously towards the door, but I, taking a candle off the
table, reassured her with a gay laugh,--

"Do not be afraid, Signorina. No one comes here during the day."

"Hush! what is that?"

Infected by her terror my heart gave a jump, and I listened intently,
but could hear no sound.

"It is nothing, Signorina. Your nerves are unstrung!"

"No! No! I can hear it. Some one is coming. Listen!"

In order to humour her fancy I remained silent with all my senses on
the alert, and with a feeling of dread I heard the sound. The light
fall of footsteps, the rustle of a silken dress--a dress!--the full
horror of the situation rushed on me at once.

"It must be the Contessa Morone!"

In a moment I had blown out all the candles, and, dragging Bianca with
me, retreated in the darkness to the far end of the room. The girl
gave a little cry as the lights disappeared, but I pressed her hand
significantly.

"Hush, Signorina. Not a word!"

At the time I heard the steps they were at the door of the
ante-chamber, where the new-comer was evidently pausing a moment, and
as the curtains of the inner room had been half drawn aside on our
entrance, it was for this reason we had heard them so clearly. The
steps recommenced. I heard their soft, light fall on the marble floor,
the rustle of the silken gown, like the sound of dry leaves in an
autumnal wind, and then I felt that this woman was standing in the
arched doorway, looking straight at myself and the shrinking girl
through the darkness.

"Why are you here, Signor Hugo, and who is that woman?"

It was the voice of the Contessa, and I gave a cry of horror as I
suddenly remembered how ineffectual the darkness was to conceal us
from the eyes of this nyctalopist. Bianca, however, knew nothing of
this woman, or of her gift of seeing in the dark; so, overcome with
fear at the demoniac power she believed the unknown possessed, she
gave a shriek of terror and sank fainting at my feet.

"What does this mean?"

Again the voice of the Contessa sounded cruel and menacing in its
tones; so feeling myself at a disadvantage in the dark, through not
possessing the terrible attribute of this woman, I staggered forward
and lighted the candles. At once out of the gloom sprang that evil
face with a frown on the white brow, a deadly glitter in the cruel
eyes, and an ominous tightening of the thin lips.

I don't think I can call myself a coward, but at that moment my blood
ran cold at the horror of that Medusa-like countenance, and I stood
before this phantom of Lucrezia Borgia as if turned into stone, unable
to move or speak.

The Contessa moved forward to the table and looked at me steadily,
with a wicked smile frozen on her red lips.

"You do not reply, Signor Hugo; but I begin to understand. You have
been here before?"

"Yes!"

I hardly recognised my own voice, so hoarse and broken did it sound,
stealing in a whisper from between my dry lips. She still looked at me
steadily, and I felt fascinated with dread by the snake-like glare of
those cruel eyes.

"When were you here, Signor?"

"On Monday night!"

"And you saw--nothing," she said in a meaning tone.

"Yes!" I replied, lifting my head boldly, "I saw you receive Guiseppe
Pallanza, and I saw you give him the poisoned cup!"

She gave a cry of rage like a trapped animal, and made a step forward,
but restraining herself with a powerful effort, sank into a chair and
leaned her elbow on the table. Dressed in heavy black garments of
velvet and silk, she looked more like the Borgia than ever, and the
ruby necklace she constantly wore flashed forth rays of red fire in
the glimmer of the tremulous light.

"I understand now why you said Guiseppe Pallanza would not come back,"
she said with a scornful smile. "I thought last night you knew more
than you told. Eh! Signor, and it was you who sang at the door of the
Ezzelino."

"Yes, it was I."

"Meddlesome Englishman that you are, do you not fear that I will treat
you as I treated that false one?"

"No! I mistrust your wine!"

"True, Signor Machiavella! forewarned is forearmed. So you came here
to look for Pallanza?"

"I came to look for his body, Madame Morone, but I do not know where
it is."

"No; nor will you find it. And who is this woman?"

"Guiseppe's betrothed."

The Contessa gave a cry of rage, and, rising from her seat, rushed
towards the unconscious girl where she lay in the darkness. Owing to
her singular gift she needed no light to see by, but examined the face
of her rival minutely in the gloom. I had stepped forward, fearing
lest, carried away by jealous anger, she should do the poor child an
injury; but such was not her intention, for after a minute's
examination, she arose from her stooping position with a burst of
wicked laughter.

"So it was for this white-faced thing that he was going to leave
me--me, Giulietta Morone! Eh, I feel much flattered at having such a
rival. Why is she here, Signor Hugo?"

"To find Pallanza," I replied shortly.

"She will never find him; he is lost to her for ever. But," she added,
with a wicked smile, "I am not afraid of your betraying me, Signor
Hugo. I am not afraid of this poor fool, who thought to take Guiseppe
from me, so I will revenge myself."

"Revenge yourself?"

"Yes; I have said it. You came here like a thief in the night, and saw
what you were not meant to see. She comes in the daylight to seek her
lover. Well, she shall see him. Wait till she revives, and I will
blast her eyes with the sight of what he is now."

"You are a demon!"

"I am a wronged woman, whom a man sought to deceive. Ecco! Behold,
then, Englishman that you are, how we Italian women revenge
ourselves!"

She stepped past the unconscious body Of the girl, and, going to one
of the pillars on the right side of the room, apparently touched a
spring, for the whole pillar--which, as I have described before, was
half built into the wall--revolved slowly with a grating sound and
displayed a cavity. I bent forward with a shudder of horror, and
saw--nothing!

The cavity was empty!

Signora Morone gazed at it with a look of horror on the wild beauty of
her face; then, with a cry of rage, of fear, and of dread, rushed out
of the room.

I heard her shriek, "Lost! lost! lost!" three times, then the sound of
her retreating footsteps died away in the distance, and I was left
alone in the ghastly gloom with the unconscious girl at my feet, and
an agony in my heart such as I never hope to feel again in this life.

How I got out of that accursed room I hardly know; but I faintly
remember lifting Bianca in my arms, and, guided by instinct, stagger
through the dark corridors, down the silent stairs, and out into the
courtyard. The fresh air seemed to revive me, and, collecting my
scattered senses together with a gigantic effort, I looked round for
some means by which to bring Bianca out of her faint, the length of
which alarmed me terribly.

In the corner of the courtyard there was a sculptured trough, which
the late rains had brimmed over, so, hastening towards this, I filled
my cap with water, and, returning to Bianca, threw it in her face.

She revived slowly with a shuddering sigh, and looked round vacantly;
then, with a sudden recollection of what she had come through, she
flung herself into my arms with an imploring cry,--

"Oh, that voice! that voice! Take me away from that cruel voice!"



CHAPTER XI.
THE MARCHESE BELTRAMI.


I managed to take Bianca home without much difficulty, for it was my
good fortune to meet a disengaged fiacre in one of the narrow streets
leading to the piazza Vittorio Emanuele, and placing the poor girl
therein, we drove straight to the Casa Angello. The Signorina was in a
very excited state, as that menacing voice, issuing out of the
darkness, had quite unnerved her; so, placing her in charge of
Petronella, who made her lie down, I went for a doctor. Being a
stranger in Verona it was difficult to find one, but at last I did so,
and took him at once to see Bianca, for whom he prescribed a soothing
draught, and assured me that she would be all right after a few hours'
sleep. This trouble therefore being off my mind, I went back to my
hotel, in order to consider what was best to be done in the present
emergency.

I now saw that my surmise was right, and that the Contessa had hidden
the body of the unfortunate Pallanza in the concealed tomb contrived
by Count Mastino Morone for his guilty wife. It was a horribly
ingenious idea that revolving pillar, and no one would have guessed
its ghastly secret without being shown. Doubtless the wicked Donna
Renata, shut up in this circular prison, had there starved slowly to
death in an upright position, for, of course, the cavity was too
narrow and too shallow to admit of any human being lying down. The
skilful devilry of the device made me feel quite ill, especially when
I thought how the worthy descendant of Borgia's accursed daughter had
utilised this secret cell for her own infamous purpose. In this
frightful oubliette the body of Guiseppe Pallanza would have remained
for ever concealed; but then, according to the evidence of my own
eyes, the body was not there.

That the Contessa had placed the corpse in the pillar I had not the
slightest doubt, as in showing the hiding-place she evidently expected
to overwhelm me by the hideous evidence of her barbarous criminality.
That the cavity was empty was as much a surprise to her as to me, and
the shriek of terror she had given when flying from the chamber showed
me that she was overpowered with fear at the thought that her gruesome
secret was shared by another person, for, putting me out of the
question altogether, there appeared to be a third party implicated in
this singular affair.

For my own part I believed it to be the man who had watched with me at
the curtained archway, and who, after drugging me, bore me insensible
from that terrible place. After doing so, and thus, according to his
idea, putting it out of my power to re-discover the palace, he had
returned to his post and seen the Contessa conceal the body of her
victim in the cavity of the pillar. On her departure, for some reason
best known to himself, he had removed the corpse, and hidden it
somewhere else. This was, no doubt, the true story of the affair, but
who was the man who had watched at the door, and who had taken away
the body of Pallanza? It was impossible to guess the reasons for his
behaving in this mysterious way, and the Contessa was evidently as
ignorant as myself of his actions, judging from her terrified flight
on discovering the truth. Whomsoever this unknown person was, he, to
all appearances, held the key to the whole riddle, and, could I find
him, I would doubtless learn the reason of Madame Morone's visit to
the burial-ground, and the final fate of the unhappy tenor whom she
had lured to his destruction.

But how to find him! that was the question, and one to which I could
find no satisfactory answer; so in the dilemma in which I thus found
myself involved, I decided to tell Luigi Beltrami, as the only friend
I had in Verona, the whole devilish story. In addition to the desire I
felt of asking his advice and opinion, I thought it but right that he
should know the real character of the woman he was about to marry, and
not discover too late that he was tied for life to a ghoul, a vampire,
a murderess.

With this determination I looked for the card the Marchese had given
me, and finding it in one of my pockets, discovered that my Italian
friend lived in the Via Cartoni. As he had mentioned that he was
always at home in the afternoon, doubtless to take a siesta during the
heat of the day, on finishing my midday meal I went out to pay him a
visit.

In spite of his assertion that he was poor, Beltrami had a sufficient
income to warrant him living in a moderately expensive manner, and on
my arrival at his rooms in the Via Cartoni, I was shown into a very
well-furnished apartment. As the Marchese was stationed with his
regiment at Verona for some considerable time, he had evidently
brought a portion of his furniture from his Florentine palazzo, for
the room was too handsome to be that of the ordinary class of
furnished apartments. As usual, the ceiling was charmingly painted;
the floor was of marble, covered here and therewith square Turkish
carpets; and in addition to a piano there were plenty of pictures and
photographs, showing the artistic taste of the owner of the place.

Beltrami himself, dressed as usual in his uniform, was seated at a
desk placed in the window, writing letters, but he desisted when I was
announced, and arose to greet me with marked cordiality.

"Ma foi, Hugo, this is kind of you to call so soon," he said when I
was comfortably established in a chair. "I was just writing you a
letter asking you to dine with me and go to the Ezzelino to-night, but
as you are here the note is useless."

"The fact is, my dear Marchese, I have called on a selfish errand."

"Indeed!"

"Yes; still it is one that concerns yourself also."

"How so, mon ami? Come, tell me this mystery about which I know
nothing and you know everything; but first here are some excellent
cigarettes--Russian, my friend, not Italian. Dame! the tobacco of this
country, it is horrible. Will you have some wine?"

"No, thank you, Beltrami, but I will be glad to smoke."

"Bene! help yourself."

He pushed the box towards me, and, after I had taken a cigarette,
followed my example, then, throwing himself into a chair near me, he
nodded his head to show that he was ready to hear what I had to say.

"Marchese!" I said, after some slight hesitation, "I think we are old
enough friends to admit of my speaking to you freely."

"Eh! certainly!"

"I trust you will not be offended."

Beltrami blew a wreath of smoke, and laying back his handsome head on
the cushions of the chair, laughed heartily.

"No, my doubting Englishman, I promise you I will not be offended at
anything you say."

"But, Luigi, it is about the Contessa Morone!"

"Eh! about the Contessa?--I thought as much!"

"How so?" I asked in some surprise.

The face of the Marchese assumed that cruel, cunning look I so much
disliked to see, and he eyed me in a nonchalant manner.

"Dame! Signor Hugo, I will tell you when I hear your story of the
Contessa."

Thus committed to narrative, I told Beltrami the whole story of my
adventure from the time I had seen the Contessa at the graveyard to
the hour when she had fled in dismay from the Palazzo Morone. He
listened attentively, and when I had finished remained silent for a
few minutes with a thoughtful look on his dark face.

"Why do you tell me all this, mon ami?" he asked, at length, twisting
his moustache in a reflective manner.

"For two reasons. First, you may be able to aid me in my search for
Pallanza; and second, you must have been ignorant of the character of
the woman you are going to marry."

"As to the first reason, Hugo, you are right. As to the second, you
are wrong."

"What, you know----"

"I know most of the story you have told me, and as to the Signora
Morone, mon Dieu! I know her better than she does herself."

"Then why marry her?"

Beltrami shrugged his shoulders and selected another cigarette.

"Eh! she is rich and I am poor. It is time I ranged myself, as the
French say, and I cannot afford to marry a poor wife; besides----"

"Besides what?"

"I rather like the task of taming this demon of a woman. Madame Morone
is Satan's mistress in the matter of temper, I know, but I come of a
race who either broke the will of their wives or----"

"Or?" I asked interrogatively.

"Or killed them!"

"That's rather risky nowadays, Marchese. We do not live in the time of
the Renaissance remember. But let us leave off this discussion of
Madame Morone. I have told you my story, and you say you knew most of
it before!"

"And I say truly. Now listen, you cold-blooded islander, and see if I
cannot disturb your phlegmatic disposition."

He paused a moment to give greater weight to his remarks, the
conclusion of which I impatiently awaited.

"I was the man who drugged you and had you carried to the Piazza
Vittorio."

"You!"

"I was the man who carried away the body of Guiseppe Pallanza."

"You!"

"I am the man who, knowing what I do, calmly and with open eyes, have
made up my mind to marry Madame Morone."

"You!"

I was so overwhelmed with the disclosures made by Beltrami that I
could only sit thunderstruck in my chair, looking like an idiot and
repeating "You! you! you!" parrot-fashion. Beltrami enjoyed my
confusion for some time, and then went on speaking with a mocking
smile:--

"Eh! I astonish you, Hugo. Well, I admit I treated you rather badly,
my friend; but then at the time I did not know whom you were. Dame! I
cannot see in the dark like Madame Gatta."

The Marchese then was the man who held the key to this enigma, and,
far from being offended at his rough treatment of me on that fatal
night, I was only too delighted at discovering the unknown person who,
in this strange repetition of the old legend, had played the part of
Count Mastino Morone.

"I have rather startled you, I fancy, Hugo?" said Beltrami with an
ironical laugh.

"I would be a fool to deny it; but now that your dramatic surprise has
come off so excellently, perhaps you will tell me what it all means."

"Without doubt; confidence for confidence! Besides, I want your help
to carry this comedy to its legitimate conclusion."

"Comedy, you call it? To my mind it is more like a tragedy."

"There you are wrong, mon ami. In a tragedy there must be a death."

"Well! You forget Pallanza?"

"Not at all, Hugo; that is the whole point. Pallanza is not dead."

I stared at the Marchese in astonishment.

"Pallanza not dead! Impossible! I saw him die on that night."

"Dame! You saw him fall insensible at the feet of the Contessa Morone,
but insensibility is not death."

"Then he is alive?"

"Naturally! One must either be alive or dead. And as this devil of a
tenor is not the latter, he must therefore be the former."

"Then where is he?"

"Eh! that is part of the story."

This epigrammatic fencing on the part of Beltrami annoyed me greatly,
as it piqued my curiosity without satisfying it, and I threw my
half-smoked cigarette away with an outburst of bad temper.

"My dear Luigi, you have promised to tell me the story of this
mystery, and instead of doing so you fire off epigrammatic squibs like
Pasquin during the Carnival. The story, the story! I beg of you."

"Eh! certainly! Then take another cigarette, and I will tell you this
'Thousand and Second Night' romance."



CHAPTER XII.
DEATH IN LIFE.


"It is such a long story, Hugo," said Beltrami, a trifle maliciously,
"that we must really have some wine."

"I do not want wine; I want 'The Thousand and Second Night.'"

"Bene! you shall have both."

The Marchese arose and summoned his servant, who brought up a bottle
of Barbera, that rough-tasting wine which is so pleasant and cool in
hot weather. For the sake of companionship I took some with Beltrami,
and haying thus attended to the duties of hospitality, he signed to
his servant to withdraw, and without further preamble began his tale.

"Eh, Hugo, mon ami," he said, settling himself comfortably in his
chair, "this would be a charming story for M. Bourget, that modern
Balzac, who analyses the hearts of the ladies of this generation in so
masterly a fashion. Dame! I would like to give him Madame Morone's to
dissect--he'd find some strange things there. Yet--would you believe
it?--this woman, worthy to be a sister of Lucrezia Borgia, came out of
a convent to marry my poor friend Morone."

"You knew him then?"

"Ma foi! I should think so, for many years. People said he was mad,
but the only mad action he committed, to my mind, was in marrying
Giulietta Rossana."

"Yet you propose to do the same thing?"

"True, but I possess a means of taming this tigress of which the
unfortunate Giorgio Morone knew nothing. He was a great chemist, this
poor Count, and particularly fond of toxicology, a dangerous science
with such a wife, as he found out to his cost. Cospetto! I would not
care myself about forging weapons for another to use against me, but
that is exactly what Morone did."

"She poisoned him?"

"Eh! nobody says so, yet everybody thinks so. For my part, I believe
the Contessa capable of anything. At all events, Morone died very
suddenly, and was duly buried in that old ancestral vault to which his
devoted wife, a year after his death, paid a visit. Well, before he
died, Morone grew suspicious of the Contessa, and as he had just
invented or rediscovered a poison which left no trace of having been
used, and also an antidote to the same, he determined not to give the
Signora an opportunity of exercising it on him, so this toxicological
secret was buried with him."

"Ah! I see now why she went to the graveyard. It was to get this
poison."

"Exactly! Whether it was put in the coffin of the dead man, or merely
hidden in the vault, I don't know, but we will go and see."

"To what end? She has the poison!"

"Certainly! I believe that, after seeing it exercised upon Pallanza;
but she has not got the antidote."

"How do you know that, Beltrami."

"Because the Contessa knows nothing of the existence of the antidote.
Morone talked enough about the poison itself, but he only mentioned
the antidote to one man, and that was myself. You see, Hugo, he
thought madame might try a little of his own poison on himself, in
which case I would be able to give him the antidote."

"Couldn't he have taken it himself?"

"No! this poison does not kill unless given in a large quantity; five
drops make you feel chill and listless; ten drops take away your
senses and converts you into what I may paradoxically call a
breathing corpse; but fifteen drops kill. So, if madame had given her
husband fifteen drops he would have lapsed into a stupor and died,
unless the antidote was given, so that is why he bestowed it on me."

"Well, but she killed him after all?"

"Yes, but with another poison not of home manufacture. Eh! what would
you, Hugo, the Contessa was not going to be thwarted by a husband who
kept his laboratory locked. However, he tricked her over this
particular poison, for he either gave instructions that it was to be
put into his coffin without the knowledge of his dear wife, or he hid
it himself in the vault, as he hinted to me one day he intended to
do."

"There's no doubt then that the Contessa went to the vault for the
poison; but what about the antidote? Is it in your possession?"

"Unfortunately, no, mon ami. I was ordered away from Verona, and
gave back the antidote to the Count; but on my return here, I heard
casually that he had left a letter for me, to be delivered after his
death. I went to Rome, where the Contessa was one of the ornaments of
the Court, and asked for the letter. Of course she denied ever having
heard of it."

"And what do you think was in this letter?"

"Eh! ma foi, I believe it told me where the poison was hidden in the
vault, and that our dear Contessa found the letter, went to the vault
on the night you saw her and obtained the poison."

"Also the antidote?"

"Dame! I'm not so sure of that. I knew about the antidote so well that
I don't think Morone would have mentioned it in the letter, in case it
should meet the eye of his wife. No! No! mon ami! she has the poison,
of course; but the antidote, I believe it is still in the vault, where
we will look for it."

"For what reason?"

"Diamine! to revive this devil of a tenor who has had the misfortune
to take ten drops of the Signora Morone's mixture."

"But where is Pallanza?"

"All in good time, Hugo, all in good time. I must tell you the rest of
the story first."

"I am all impatience, Beltrami."

The Marchese, I saw, was enjoying this conversation, as the
subject-matter was of an involved and difficult character which
appealed to the subtleties of his Italian nature; and the chance of
playing a part in this intrigue, worthy of the Court of Lorenzo di
Medici, delighted him beyond measure. He was, as I have said before,
an anachronism, and this everyday, commonplace life of the nineteenth
century offered no field for the exercise of his cunning brain and
delicate diplomacy, which revelled in those bizarre complications,
full of sophistry and double meanings, which distinguished the
intricate statecraft of the Italian republics.

"You wonder," continued the Marchese reflectively; "you wonder, no
doubt, after hearing my opinions about the Contessa Morone, that I
should care to marry her; but, as I told you before, there are
reasons. I am poor, she is rich, and I marry her for her money. This
is brutal is it not? but then you see I look at the matter from a
Latin point of view, you from an English. As Euclid---whom, by the
way, I always hated--says, 'Two parallel straight lines cannot meet,'
it is no use our arguing over this point, as neither of us would
convince the other. It is a question of race, Hugo, nothing more.
Ebbene! my other reason is that I wish to tame this woman with the
heart of a tigress. I am wearied of the dulness of this present life,
and the task of fencing with Signora Morone will be a perpetual
excitement, particularly as I know it will not be unattended with
danger. This is also a question of race, and the theory of straight
lines applies, so again we will not argue; but you can see one thing
plainly, that I want to marry the Contessa?"

"Yes, I can see that, and I wonder at your daring."

"Straight lines, for the third time, Signor Hugo. Ebbene! Although I
wanted to marry the Contessa, she hating and detesting me with her
whole soul, as a friend of her late husband, would not listen to me at
all, so as she would not go to the altar willingly, I determined to
force her there. I made it my business to find out all about her life,
and a devil of a life it is, I can tell you. Pallanza is not the first
lover this daughter of Venus has smiled on."

"Oh!" I broke out in disgust, "how can you think of marrying this
infamous woman--a murderess, a poisoner, a fiend in human form?"

"Dio! I have given you my reasons, and you, straitlaced Englishman
that you are, cannot understand them. However, we will talk of this
again; meantime to continue. The Contessa was so madly in love with
Pallanza, who I grant you is a handsome fellow with a charming voice,
that I foresaw when he attempted to leave her there would be trouble.
I discovered that he was engaged to some Signorina of Milan, that she
was at Verona, and that Pallanza was going to sing at Verona; so when
he did arrive I was in nowise astonished at the appearance of Madame
Morone at the Ezzelino. Things were coming to a climax, so I watched
for the bursting of the storm. The rendezvous of these lovers would
be, I knew, at the deserted Palazzo Morone. How did I know? Mon cher
ami, you are simplicity itself. Have I not told you that I knew the
Contessa when she lived at Verona with her husband, and--and--well it
is not the first time she has used that palazzo and played at
Boccaccian stories in that room. You know she fancies herself like
Lucrezia Borgia, and tries to imitate those picturesque feasts to
which Ferrara's Duchess was so addicted--yes, even to the use of
poison. Dame! I thought I was at the opera when I saw that supper the
other night."

"How did you get into the palazzo?"

"Ah, that is an adventure worthy of Gil Bias. I filed through a bar in
the gate and wrenched it out."

"I thought so, for I entered the same way!"

"I guessed as much, my friend. Ebbene! I watched the palace from the
time Madame Morone arrived in Verona, and my patience was rewarded on
Monday night by seeing our picturesque tenor use his key and enter by
the side door. I was not alone, for I greatly mistrusted Madame Morone
should she discover me in that lonely palazzo; so, as I had two men
absolutely devoted to me, I took them with me."

"They were very brave to go near that ghastly palace, considering the
reputation it has."

"Ma foi, they are Florentines, and know nothing about Verona. Their
ancestors have been in the service of mine for many years, and in
their eyes a Beltrami can do no wrong. Now is that not wonderful in
this present age of ducats and steam-engines?"

"So wonderful, Marchese, that I can hardly believe it!"

"Cospetto! it is true I tell you. These men are absolutely devoted to
me, and think me a much greater man than Umberto of Savoy. Ebbene! I
posted my two men in a dark corner of the palazzo with instructions
not to move until I told them; then I went after our tenor, and found
him strumming on the mandolin while he awaited the arrival of the
Contessa."

"Ah! she had gone to the burial-ground."

"Yes! I did not know that until you told me. However, I hid myself
behind the tapestry in the outer room and waited. The Contessa
arrived, and, to my surprise, you also appeared. I caught a glimpse of
you at the door before that torch went out, but, of course, I did not
recognise you, and was puzzled to account for your presence there.
Luckily, I had a bottle of chloroform in my pocket, which I took with
me to the palace in case of accidents----"

"But what good would chloroform do?"

"Dame! have you ever seen Madame Morone in a rage?"

"No!"

"Then it is not a pretty sight, I can tell you. That woman is a devil,
and, for all I know, might have had some one in the palace to do her
bidding. If I had been found there, and taken at a disadvantage, I
might have occupied that delightful pillar and never been seen again.
Ah! you smile, mon ami, but remember this is Italy, not England, and
with a woman like the Contessa, who recalls the Borgia times so
admirably, it is always well to be prepared If she had discovered me,
my chloroform might have come in useful."

"It certainly did in my case!"

"Ma foi, I've told you before I did not know it was you. I only beheld
a stranger, and thinking that the stranger might interfere with my
plans, I stole across the ante-chamber, and when you fell back--well, I
used my chloroform. Then I left you lying hidden behind the tapestry,
and went on watching Madame Morone at her Borgian supper. She was
dragging Pallanza's body to the pillar, and, having safely shut him up
there, departed with a satisfied smile on her face; so I was left
alone with two apparently dead men--Pallanza in the pillar, and you
behind the tapestry."

"A sufficiently dramatic situation I think, Marchese."

"Eh! no doubt. There is more drama in life---especially in Italian
life--than people think, and there are even stranger events than this
comedy of the Palazzo Morone take place in our midst."

"From what I have seen of your people, Luigi, I quite believe it.
Well, about this dramatic situation--what did you do next?"

"Cospetto! I played my part on the stage with great judgment, I can
tell you. When I was sure that Madame Morone had left the palazzo I
re-lighted the candles, and went to see what appearance my man behind
the tapestry presented. To my surprise I recognised Signor Hugo
Cranston, and you may fancy I was considerably astonished, as I could
not understand how you had become mixed up in this Boccaccian
adventure. Friendship said, 'Revive him and apologize.' Caution
remarked, 'Remove him from the palazzo, and let him think the events
of the night a dream.'"

"Oh! and you adopted the advice of caution?"

"Diavolo! what else could I do? You might have interfered with my
plans; and, besides, I always intended to give you an explanation when
the Contessa became the Marchesa Beltrami. Circumstances, however,
have brought about the explanation sooner than I intended."

"So I see," I replied drily. "However, you removed me from the
palace."

"Yes! I called up my two men, and, telling them you
were--well--overcome by Bacchus, ordered them to take you to the
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele and leave you there. Ecco!"

"Oh, Beltrami."

"Eh, you reproach me. Well, I no doubt deserve your reproaches, but it
was the best excuse I could think of, as it doesn't do to trust
servants too much. Ebbene! they took you away and left you in the
Piazza, where you awoke in the morning?"

"I did, with a confounded headache."

"Ma foi! that was the chloroform, no doubt. Having thus arranged your
little matter I went to the pillar and released Guiseppe Pallanza."

"He was not dead, then?"

"No! She gave him ten drops, I tell you. So that, although he was not
actually dead, he had all the appearance of a corpse. I could not
revive him as I had not the antidote; so, when my two men returned, I
had him brought here."

"Here! In this house?"

"Precisely! he is in the next room. We will go and look at him
presently. But to continue: the next day I called upon the Contessa,
and told her I had seen all, suppressing, however, the fact that I had
carried off this unfortunate lover."

"Which accounted for her surprise to-day on seeing the pillar empty?"

"Of course; she never dreamed that I would meddle with her work. Well,
I gave her a choice of either explaining her little adventure to the
authorities, and thus run a chance of being imprisoned for life, or of
becoming my wife. Of these two evils she chose the least; so now I am
engaged to marry her, and she will become the Marchesa Beltrami next
month. Interesting, is it not, Hugo?"

It was no use arguing with this man, who, as he said himself, looked
at the affair in a totally different light from what I did, and I did
not know whether to loathe his brutal candour, to despise his
mercenary designs, or to admire his undoubted courage in marrying this
woman. However, I reflected that his subtle intriguing would
undoubtedly be sufficiently punished by his marriage with this tigress
of a Contessa, and as my only desire was to restore Pallanza to the
arms of Bianca, I neither condemned nor praised Beltrami's singular
conduct, which seemed admirable in his own eyes, but simply
complimented him on his adroitness in following the precepts of
Niccolo Machiavelli. He listened to my cold remarks with a
disbelieving smile on his face, and laughed mockingly when I ceased
speaking.

"Eh! Hugo, you do not approve of my ideas? Well, I do not wonder at
that Fire and water are not more different than an Italian and an
Englishman. Your cool blood comes from generations of church-going,
straight-laced ancestors, whose beliefs ruled their lives in a simple
manner; but my fiery blood burned in the veins of those condottieri of
the Renaissance who were at war with King and Pope and Republic, who
constantly stood on the verge of unseen precipices, and who needed all
their craft, their courage, and their iron nerve to preserve their
lives and fortunes. Dame! let us talk no more of such contrasts, but
come with me, and I will show you this missing lover of Madame
Morone."

I acquiesced eagerly in this proposal, and followed Beltrami, who led
me into his bedroom, and, having unlocked a door in the opposite wall,
ushered me into a small, bare apartment, containing a bed on which lay
the still form of Guiseppe Pallanza. There he was dressed the same as
on that fatal night, with his eyes closed, a frozen look on his white
face, and his hands crossed on his breast. Lying thus in his antique
garb he put me in mind of one of those coloured statues which adorn
the tombs of great men; where the face, the hair, and the vestments
are all tinted so as to produce the semblance of life. But was life
here, in the body of this young man, who lay so passively before me
with closed eyes as though he were indeed buried in some sepulchre of
the dead?

"Oh! he is alive," said Beltrami, guessing my thought as I shrank back
from the bed; "it is a case of suspended animation."

"But lasting three---four days?"

"Dame, yes! It would last much longer, I have no doubt. Ten drops
produce this life-in-death state which you see, fifteen drops the same
thing; but the one ends in death after a certain time, the other does
not."

"But why did you not go to the vault and find this antidote at once?"

"Well, to tell you the truth, Hugo, I thought it would be a useless
errand, as I do not know where to look for it. I fancied that Madame
Morone might have found another bottle of this damnable poison, but it
never struck me until I heard your story that she had read the letter
addressed by Morone to me, and gone to the vault for the poison."

"And what are we to do now?"

"Go to the vault, to be sure, and look for this antidote."

"But, the vault is locked!"

"True, I forgot that," said Beltrami, with a thoughtful frown,
"however, I think I can procure the key."

"From Madame Morone?"

"Dame! No! that would put her on her guard at once. I want her to
think Pallanza is still in this cataleptic state, otherwise she won't
marry me, as my power over her will be gone. I'll get the key somehow;
if not, one of my men knows something about picking locks, so we will
take him with us."

"A reputable servant, truly!"

"Eh! What would you!" said Beltrami carelessly, as he led the way out
of the room and locked the door. "Even lock-picking is useful on
occasions--witness the present one. Well, are you ready to go to the
vault with me to-night?"

"At night, Beltrami?"

"Most certainly. If we went in the daytime all Verona would be in
commotion. No! we must go at midnight when no one is about. Have you
the courage?"

"I think so! but I hope Madame Morone will not be there!"

"There's no fear of that, as she has no reason to pay a second
visit to the remains of her husband. She has got the poison, and knows
nothing about the antidote, so make yourself easy on that score.
Ecco!"

"What are you going to do now, Marchesa!"

"See if I can obtain that key. If I fail to obtain it, I will bring
Matteo with me. As for you, my friend, go and take something to eat,
and meet me on the Ponte Aleardi at midnight."

"I will be there, Beltrami. Good-bye for the present."

"À revederci, Hugo; I am obliged for your confidence, as it has solved
the difficulty of knowing what to do with Signor Cupid."

We both went different ways; Beltrami to search for his key, and
myself to hasten home to my hotel, and prepare myself for the fatigues
of this midnight excursion, which, however much it appealed to the
Marchese's sense of the romantic, was certainly not relished by me.



CHAPTER XIII.
"DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN."


Do you know that gruesome old ballad, with its sombre refrain of
"Down! Down! Down among the dead men?" A friend of mine with a deep
bass voice, used to sing it in order to display his lower notes, upon
which--and not without reason--he flattered himself greatly; but in
after years, I never heard it sung without a shudder, so vividly did
it recall to my mind the grotesque horror of that midnight visit to
the Tomb of the Morone, in that old burial-ground of Verona. Of late I
had been so much mixed up with ghosts, vaults, ghouls and crimes, that
I was by no means anxious to continue the category, and would have
infinitely preferred to have let Beltrami, who liked such
uncomfortable things, go alone; but being an Englishman, I had to
uphold the honour of my country, so never thought for a moment of
showing the white feather. Besides, the only chance of saving Pallanza
was by obtaining possession of the antidote, and in spite of my
repugnance to the errand, I fully made up my mind to be on the Ponte
Aleardi at the appointed time.

Meanwhile I fortified myself against possible horrors by having an
excellent dinner, supplemented by a small bottle of champagne. I could
not afford that luxurious wine, and it was sinfully extravagant of me
to waste my small stock of money upon such a thing, but in the face of
this midnight adventure I really felt that a little stimulant would
comfort me under the circumstances. The result was admirable, for all
my nervous apprehensions disappeared, and I sat in the smoking-room
puffing at my after-dinner pipe in a very contented frame of mind,
considering what awaited me at twelve o'clock p.m. Was I a coward? I
don't think so. Many men who have no physical fear, and would ride
gaily enough into battle, shrink with superstitious awe from the eerie
neighbourhood of the dead, and I, owing to the causes I have stated
before, am of this class. Come, then, ye dauntless scoffers, who would
dare anything--in the broad daylight, and let me see if you would
contemplate a midnight visit to an antique vault with equanimity! I
think not, for however brave a man may be, it is the law of Nature
that he should thrill with fear at the approach of the supernatural.

I sat smoking and thinking in the twilight, which was a bad
preparation for the event, as twilight thoughts are invariably
mournful, and my own dear dead ones seemed to throng in the dusky
shadow of the room, reproaching me in voiceless grief for the
intention I had of profaning the sanctity of the Tomb. To rid myself
of these melancholy reflections, and banish from my brain the mute
crowd of ghosts, I went out for a walk, intending to call at the Casa
Angello, in order to ask after the Signorina Bianca.

Petronella told me that the poor child was much better, but exhausted
by the shock she had sustained at the Palazzo Morone, and had fallen
into a deep sleep which would do her more good than all the drugs of
the doctor. The worthy domestic was very wrathful at me, and wanted to
know what I had told her "piccola," but I put her off with some
excuse, as I had no desire that she should know the events of that
day. On taking my departure I gave Petronella a note for the
Signorina, which contained only three words, "Wait and hope," with
instructions that it was to be delivered to her when she woke up.
Petronella, somewhat mollified by my assurance that all would be
right, promised to fulfil this commission, and I returned to my hotel
very contented with the present aspect of affairs.

On regaining my bedroom I lay down about eight o'clock, in order to
get a little sleep, but the remedy was worse than the disease, for
when my eyes were closed the phantoms of waking hours reappeared still
more vividly to my inner senses. However, I fought against the dread
which threatened to overwhelm me, and fell into a comparatively
dreamless slumber, from which I awoke shortly after eleven. Rising
from the bed upon which I had thrown myself half dressed, I hurriedly
completed my toilette, and bathed my burning face in cold water. On my
arrival in Milan, I had bought one of those picturesque Italian cloaks
which one only sees in England on the operatic stage, and throwing
this around me; I put on a soft black wide-awake, so that what with
the mantle draped around me, and my naturally dark face, I looked very
much like a native of Italy. Lighting a cigarette, I took my heavy
stick, and thus prepared, went out to keep my appointment with Luigi
Beltrami on the Ponte Aleardi.

To the hot day had succeeded the hot night, but a strong dry wind
was blowing which drove the filmy clouds across the face of the
haggard-looking moon. A few stars peeped out here and there through
the frail woof, and the chill moonlight waxed and waned with the
appearing and disappearing of the pale planet, almost lost amid the
wild confluence of drifting clouds. A misty circle round the moon was
prophetic of rain, and under this wild, wind-vexed sky lay the
sleeping city, dark and sombre, with the rough blasts sweeping
drearily down the lonely streets.

In spite of the heat, so eerie was the aspect of the night that I drew
my cloak around me with a shiver of nervous fear, and leaving the
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, hastened along the Via Pallone, in the
direction of the Ponte Aleardi. I arrived there just as the clock of
St. Fermo sounded the three-quarters, and as Beltrami was not yet at
the meeting place, I leaned on the balustrade of the bridge and
watched the grey waters swirling under the fitful light of the moon. I
could not help thinking of the strange events which had taken place
since I had last occupied the same position--the antique chamber with
its associations of love and crime--the Teatro Ezzelino, where I had
beheld the phantom of Lucrezia Borgia--the grief and pain of poor
little Bianca, and the extraordinary-conversation I had held with
Beltrami a few hours before. It was all most unreal and feverish, this
mediaeval intrigue into which I had been drawn; and I question if any
student of singing had ever before been involved in such a bizarre
adventure--an adventure which I hoped and prayed and trusted would end
to-night.

Buried in these sombre reflections I did not hear the sound of
approaching footsteps, and it was only when I felt a hand on my
shoulder that I turned round, with a sudden start, to see the Marchesa
standing beside me wrapped in his military cloak, and accompanied by a
man who waited a little way off in respectful silence.

"Bravo, Signor Hugo!" cried the Marchesa in a cheerful tone, "you have
been waiting long?"

"About a quarter of an hour. So you have not obtained the key,
Beltrami?"

"Unfortunately I have not! However, here is Matteo, and I daresay we
shall manage to get the door open in some way. Come, Caro," continued
Beltrami, taking my arm, "we have no time to lose. Ecco!"

I do not believe Beltrami had any nerves, for the whole way to the
burial-ground he chatted cheerfully about the antidote, the Contessa
and the tenor, not appearing to be at all impressed with the solemnity
of the affair. What Matteo felt I do not know, as he never opened his
mouth, but glided after us like a shadow, until we arrived at the
broken wall.

The Marchesa climbed over first, his long sabre clashing heavily
against the stones as he jumped down on the other side. I followed
without delay, and Matteo, having joined us, we went on through
the dense shade of the cypress trees, until we arrived at the
forbidding-looking tomb, the sight of which put me in mind of my
uncanny adventure.

Beltrami, undeterred by the flaming sword of the guardian angel, tried
the iron door, on the chance that it might be unlocked; but finding it
fast closed, signed to Matteo to get to work at once. Without a word
the man obeyed, and as the moon was now shining down in her full
splendour, he could see perfectly well, without the aid of artificial
light, for, although he carried a torch, Beltrami did not wish it
lighted, in case the glare should attract attention.

While Matteo was working away at the lock I took my seat on the fallen
stone near the door, and Beltrami, throwing off his cloak, flung
himself down on the grass beside me.

"Dio, how hot I am!" he exclaimed, wiping his brow.

"And how very imprudent, Luigi. Remember, you are in uniform."

"Ma foi, I'm never in anything else," retorted the Marchese gaily;
"don't trouble yourself, Hugo, no one will dare to come near the
cemetery, at this hour, so, uniform or no uniform, I'm safe from
observation. Will you have a cigar?"

"No, thank you. But you surely do not intend to smoke now?"

"Why not?" said Beltrami, lighting his cigar; "it cannot harm the
Signori Morone, and I've no wish to go down into that evil-smelling
vault without taking some precaution against fever. Ecco!"

"Oh, well, do as you will," I replied, indifferently, beginning myself
to grow callous; "but I want to ask you something, Luigi."

"Ebbene!"

"Was Count Giorgio Morone really mad?"

"Eh! I'm not sure. Every one said he was, but I did not think so.
Dame! they call every man mad who has brains above his fellows, and
Morone was a clever man. Though, to be sure, it was curious his hiding
this poison in the vault, instead of destroying it altogether."

"That would certainly have been the wisest plan."

"Very likely, but you see, my wise Englishman, Morone had a tenderness
for this child of his brain, and he could not bear to destroy his
work. Oh! inventors are wonderful egotists, I assure you."

At this moment Matteo, who had been working in silence for some
considerable time, approached his master.

"Eccellenza, it is open!"

"Bene!" cried Beltrami, springing to his feet, and wrapping his cloak
around him again, "give me the torch. Come, Signor Hugo, let us go
down, and you, Matteo, stay at the door, and see that we are not
interrupted."

"Si, Eccellenza!"

Beltrami stepped cautiously into the tomb, and I followed him, then
half closing the iron door so that the light might not attract
attention, he fired the torch, the flame of which shot upward with a
red flare and resinous odour of smoke, showing us that we stood on the
top of a flight of steep steps which led downward into the darkness. A
chill, humid atmosphere pervaded this abode of the dead, and seemed to
penetrate into my very bones, notwithstanding the heavy cloak I wore.

For a moment we paused on the height, looking downward into the thick
gloom; then Beltrami descended the steps slowly, tossing the flaring
torch up and down, to and fro, in order to illuminate the darkness,
and as I followed him the smoke, with its pungent odour, streamed
backward towards my face. A bat, startled by the glare, flew round our
heads with a rapid sweep of its noiseless wings, then vanished through
the half-open door into the night beyond, like some escaping spectre
of the tomb.

At last we reached the floor of the vault, which was paved with broad
black marble slabs, so highly polished that the crimson blaze of the
torch was reflected therein. All around in niches were innumerable
coffins, some covered with tattered velvet palls, while others stood
out grim and bare in their leaden hideousness, the coverings having
long since mouldered away. In the gloom, there every no w and then
could be perceived the glimmer of some white figure sculptured on the
massive wall, the glitter of tarnished silver ornaments, and the
outlines of painted devices, while the smoky torch with its angry
flame cast strange gleams upon these mouldy splendours of the dead.

In the centre, on a square stone hidden by a rich pall of black
velvet, embroidered with armorial devices in silver braid, rested the
gorgeous coffin of the last Morone, which I presume was to remain
there until the death of the Contessa, when it would be removed to its
already-prepared niche to make way for the sole survivor of the proud
race.

The Marchesa at once advanced to the coffin, and waving the torch
above it, examined the decorations closely. True to his determination
he was smoking, and it gave me an unpleasant shock to see this cloaked
figure behaving so disrespectfully in the solemn presence of the dead.

"Bene!" he said at length in a satisfied tone, "there is one thing
certain. It is not _in_ the coffin!"

"How do you know that, Beltrami?"

"Because the lid is screwed down, and the Contessa, who as you say was
alone, could not have taken that off. Besides, even if she did, Madame
Morone knows the value of time too well to waste it in replacing the
lid. No, it is not in the coffin, but it's somewhere about the
coffin."

"What makes you think so, Luigi?"

"All this elaborate silver work! There's too much of it to be there
without some reason. Caro, Hugo, just hold the torch and I will make
an examination."

I took the torch in silence and watched his actions with great
curiosity. The coffin, as he said, was most elaborately adorned with
silver work representing the arms of the Morone family, interspersed
with wreaths of flowers and tangled seaweed. On the lid was a broad
silver plate similarly adorned, setting forth the name, titles, and
date of death of the deceased, and round the oblong sides of this
shell ran another broad wreath of flowers, shells, crests, and
seaweeds, designed in the same style as the decorations on the lid.
Beltrami, who was a clever prestidigitateur and could perform the most
marvellous tricks with cards, had a wonderfully delicate sense of
touch, and trusting to this more than to his eyes he ran his slender
fingers rapidly over the raised silver ornaments on the lid of the
coffin.

I saw at once that he suspected this useless silver ornamentation
concealed some secret hiding-place in which the bottles of the poison
and its antidote were hidden, and I could not help admiring the
wonderful cleverness of the man in thinking of such an extraordinary
idea, particularly as I saw at once that if the poison were anywhere
it would be in some such ingenious hiding-place.

After running his hands twice or thrice over the lid, he shook his
head with an angry ejaculation, and desisted from his apparently
useless task.

"Dame! it's not on the top, that's certain," he said, stamping his
foot with vexation. "My fingers never, deceive me, and I'm sure I
haven't missed anything. From what I've told you I don't think it can
be within the coffin. Ecco! let us try the sides."

He carefully wiped the tips of his fingers with his handkerchief, and
beginning at the side nearest the head ran his fingers delicately
along the cold silver work. Nothing was discoverable at the side, but
when he came to the end of the coffin at the feet of the corpse he
gave a cry of triumph which brought me at once to his side.

"Bravo, Hugo! what did I tell you! The poison-bottle was in the silver
work. Behold, infidel, how truly I speak. Ecco!"

The decoration at this narrow end was a heart-shape shield, bearing
the arms of the Morone family and wreathed with flowers, but this
shield, which curved outward had a spring at the top. In touching
this, the whole shield fell downward, working on a single hinge, and
there was a cavity in which a small bottle might easily be concealed.

"I see the hiding-place, Beltrami; but where is the poison!"

"Eh! have you forgotten the visit of the Contessa, mon ami?"

"No, no! of course not! She, no doubt, took the poison away, and, I
daresay, the antidote with it."

"Mon cher, I will never make anything of you," cried the Marchese in
despair; "what did I tell you about that letter?"

"You said that no doubt as the Count was afraid of it being found by
his wife he would only mention where the poison was concealed, and
keep silent about the antidote."

"Ebbene! The Contessa knew nothing of the existence of the antidote,
so when she found the poison she thought she had found all. Is that
not so, you stupid Englishman?"

"Yes, I suppose so."

"Good! Well I, knowing of the existence of the antidote not mentioned
in the letter, and only finding the poison at the feet, would
naturally look for the antidote--where?"

"I daresay at the head," I suggested, after a pause; upon which
Beltrami laughed, and walked to the other end of the coffin.

"Of course; it would be the most natural thing to do. Behold, mon
ami!"

He touched the top of a similar shield at the head of the coffin; it
fell stiffly outward, and lo! in the hollow of the curve, lay a small
bottle, which Beltrami took in his hand, and then restored the shield
to its former position.

"Luigi, you are a most wonderful man!" I cried, with a burst of
genuine admiration at the clever way in which he had guessed this
riddle.

"I only use my brains," he replied, with a gratified laugh. "The
poison being at the feet, it was not difficult to guess the antidote
was at the head; particularly as the decorations on both ends of the
coffin are the same precisely. Dame! if the Contessa had only known
the antidote was in existence she would have argued in the same way as
I have done, and carried it off as she had done the poison."

"Well, we can now restore that unfortunate Pallanza to life."

"Yes, I suppose so," said the Marchese, slipping the bottle containing
the antidote into his pocket; "though he certainly does not deserve to
have another chance of existence. But as it is inconvenient keeping
him in my house, I suppose I must send him away on his legs. Ecco! But
come along, Hugo. We have what we desire, and I care not for this
abode of death."

We went up the stairs and out of the iron door, where we found Matteo
still keeping guard. It was quite a relief to get out of the fetid
atmosphere of the tomb into the cool, fresh air again, and I felt like
a released prisoner who was free for the first time after many years.
The Marchese, however, man of iron as he was, did not seem to be
affected in any way, but wrapping his cloak round him, prepared to go.

"Can you close that door again, Matteo?"

"Eccellenza! it is done!"

"Bene! Let us go!"

In fact the moment we emerged, Matteo, knowing our task was concluded,
had reclosed the door by some trick known to himself; so we all three
climbed over the broken wall, and took our way to the Ponte Aleardi.

"And when are you going to give Pallanza the antidote?" I asked, as we
walked along arm-in-arm.

"Eh! Signor Hugo, to-morrow!"

"Why not to-night?"

"Ma foi! I am tired. A few hours will not make much difference;
besides, I want a doctor to be present. The antidote will revive the
poor devil, but he will be so weak after going without food all these
days that the doctor will have to take charge of him."

"Well, then, I will see you to-morrow, Marchese. At what hour?"

"Two and a half in the afternoon. I attend to my military duties in
the morning. Buona sera, Hugo!"

"Good-night, Beltrami."

We parted with a hearty shake of the hand, and I suppose after all I
had gone through, nature was thoroughly tired out; for I went straight
to bed and slept soundly without dreams, visions, or phantoms of any
kind coming to disturb my rest.



CHAPTER XIV.
THE NEW LAZARUS.


For the first time during the week I had a good night's rest, for ever
since my adventure the events in connection therewith had succeeded
one another so rapidly that my brain was kept in too active a state to
admit of slumber, but now that everything seemed to be at an end, that
the antidote had been found, and that Pallanza would be restored to
Bianca Angello, my mind was relieved of the strain upon it, and I
slept soundly till morning. In fact, I did not waken till nearly
eleven o'clock, and having taken my bath I dressed myself slowly, made
a good meal at midday, and altogether felt better than I had done for
the last week.

As my appointment with Beltrami was for half-past two I did not go to
Casa Angello for my usual singing lesson, not wishing to see the
Signorina until I could tell her the good news that her lover was
alive and well. It was true Beltrami had asserted that the antidote
would awaken the young man from his death-like slumber, but
remembering that he had now been in this state of catalepsy for nearly
a week, I felt doubtful as to the success of the experiment. However,
a few hours would now decide the fate of Pallanza for life or death,
and in the event of the antidote acting according to the expectations
of the Marchese, I promised myself I should be the first to carry the
joyful news of this wonderful resurrection to the Signorina Bianca.

When two o'clock struck I could no longer restrain my impatience, but
set off without further delay to see Beltrami at his apartments. He
had just returned from the barracks, and was taking some biscuits and
wine when I was announced, but jumped up when he saw me and came
forward with outstretched hand,--

"Eh! mon ami, I am delighted to see you! Sit down, while I finish this
small meal. Will you have a glass of wine?"

"No, thank you, Marchese!"

"Then take a cigarette, there are some on that table."

The Marchese returned to his wine and biscuits, while I lighted a
cigarette, and lay down On the sofa.

"Excuse me lying down, Luigi, but our last night's experience has
knocked me up terribly."

"You would never do for a soldier, Signor Hugo! I've been drilling
some stupid recruits all the morning, and I feel perfectly fresh.
Ecco! I'm glad to see you, however, as I have some news to tell you."

"About Pallanza?"

"Eh? No! About Madame Morone."

"Ah! she has found out we were at the vault?"

"Dame! not a bit of it. She left Verona by the five o'clock train last
night."

"Left Verona!" I cried, rising hastily from my recumbent position.
"Why has she gone away?"

"Eh! who knows?" replied Beltrami, shrugging his shoulders. "She
didn't even leave a message for me, her promised husband. I think,
myself, the empty pillar of yesterday startled her. She evidently
thought everything was discovered, therefore has gone to Rome so that
she Can appeal to the King in case of trouble."

"And what are you going to do, Marchese?"

"The best thing I can do under the circumstances. I have applied for,
and obtained, leave of absence, so I will give this infernal tenor the
antidote to-day, and start for Rome by the night train."

"But when you arrive at Rome?"

"I will see Madame Morone, and tell her that I removed the body of
Pallanza from the pillar."

"The body, Beltrami! You forget Pallanza is alive!"

"Of course he is, but I'm not going to tell her that. Cospetto! if she
discovered that this devil of a tenor was still in existence my power
over her would be gone, and she would not marry me. Ecco!"

"But as Pallanza will sing again, she is bound to find it out sooner
or later."

"Eh! no doubt, Signor Hugo; but by the time she finds out I hope to be
married. In that case it does not matter. Besides, I am going to make
Pallanza promise not to sing anywhere for a month."

"Suppose he refuses?"

"He won't refuse. Dame! he owes me something for bringing him into
existence again."

"And what about the doctor?"

"He will soon be here," said Beltrami, glancing at his watch; "I
expect him every minute."

"Will he keep this affair quiet?"

"Per Bacco! I should think so, mon ami. I ascertained that before I
told him anything. Not that I told him much, ma foi, no! I invented a
delightful story about Pallanza, which he swallowed as easily as I do
this wine."

"And the story?"

"I have not the time to tell it to you, but it is a beautiful story,
worthy of Boccaccio. Oh, he will keep his mouth shut, I promise you,
Hugo. He is a great friend of mine, and I never associate with those
who talk of other people's business."

"Have you the antidote, Marchese?"

"Here it is," said Beltrami, rising and taking the small bottle from
his desk near the window; "and, ma foi! here is the doctor coming up
the street."

"How fond you are of French," I remarked, laughingly. "Parisian
ejaculations are never out of your mouth."

"One must ejaculate in some language, Hugo, and I've been so often in
Paris that I've got into the trick in some way."

"What about London?"

"Your city of fogs! Eh! You know I cannot master your tongue, Signor
Hugo. 'You are a beautiful mees; I loove you'--Dio! what a difficulty
I had in learning those two sentences."

"Which are perfectly useless."

"I have not found them so. But here is Signor Avenza, the doctor I
spoke of. Good-day, for the second time, my friend. Permit me to
introduce Signor Hugo Cranston, an Englishman."

The doctor, a fat little man with a round smiling face and two
twinkling black eyes, executed an elaborate bow, for which purpose he
brought his feet smartly together in military fashion, and, having
thus saluted me, rashly entered into a contest with the English
language, which vanquished him at once.

"I spik Inglis," he said, mincingly. Then, with a gigantic effort, "Gif
me your tongue! Ah! he is bad. Dis writing is your cure. Goot-day! I
vil taake a leetle valk wis you agin."

Signor Avenza had evidently learned these choice English phrases for
the purposes of his profession.

While this lesson in philology was going on the Marchese had opened
the door leading into the room where Pallanza was concealed, and
called to us to enter. Both the doctor and myself, obeying the
summons, went through the bedroom, and soon found ourselves by the
couch, whereon lay the still form of the young man, with that terrible
death-in-life look on his white face.

"See, Avenza, this is what I spoke about," said Beltrami, holding up a
small phial filled with a red liquid. "It is the antidote to the
poison which this Pallanza was foolish enough to take."

"And all through a love disappointment," replied Avenza, lifting his
eyes. "Ah! the poor young man!"

I now began to see the kind of story Beltrami had told Avenza to
account for the condition of Pallanza, and I must say it did credit to
his powers of invention.

"The amount of the poison he took was ten drops." went on Beltrami,
uncorking the bottle, "so it will require ten drops of this antidote
to revive him, but when the life is once more in him I suppose he will
be weak."

"Most certainly," answered Avenza, nodding his head, "since you say
he has been like this for nearly a week. But proceed, Marchese, I am
anxious to see the result of this antidote."

Beltrami bent over the face of the unconscious man, and forced the
teeth slightly apart with a spoon he held in his left hand. Having
done this, he poised the bottle over the pale lips, and began to pour
the red liquid drop by drop into the mouth.

Both Avenza and myself bent forward eagerly to watch the operation,
and held our breaths with anxiety as the Marchese counted, slowly,--

"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten!"

The body made no movement, and Beltrami drew back, looking somewhat
anxious.

"Dio! I am afraid ten drops are not enough!"

"Wait," said Avenza, taking his watch out of his pocket, and placing
his fingers on the pulse of the seemingly-dead man. "You cannot expect
this antidote to act at once."

The minutes passed slowly, and we all three remained with our eyes
eagerly watching for some sign of life on that still face, while
Avenza occasionally glanced at his chronometer.

"His pulse beats," he said at length in a low voice, "faintly, it is
true, but still it beats."

I heaved a sigh of relief, but Beltrami remained silently looking at
the face of Pallanza with an anxious frown.

"She cannot have given him fifteen," he muttered under his breath, "if
So, he would have been dead by this time; but his pulse beats, so
he is alive."

He looked irresolutely at the phial in his hand, and then turned to
Avenza, who Was still counting the feeble pulsation of the blood.

"Doctor, I will give him three more drops!"

"Eh! and why not?" replied Avenza, raising his eye-brows; "as that is
an antidote a few drops more or less cannot kill him after the dose of
poison he has taken."

The Marchese made no further remark, but, bending forward again, he
held the phial over the half-open mouth for the second time.

"One, two, three!"

This time the effect was magical; for after an interval of about two
or three minutes, we saw a shudder run through the rigid body, the
left arm jerked upward in a spasmodic manner, the face flushed crimson
with the rush of blood once more flowing freely through the arteries,
and at last the heavy eyelids lifted slowly. Pallanza gazed at us with
a dazed, unseeing expression, then some tremendous force seemed to
take possession of the body, for a spasm of pain passed over his face,
a choking cry issued from his lips, and in a moment he was shrieking,
writhing, twisting, rolling and plunging about the bed like a
demoniac. All the nerves and muscles which had been dead and inert for
so many days were now waking again to life, and the agony which racked
his frame from head to foot must have been truly terrible. Both
Beltrami and myself made a step forward to hold down this agonized
body, but Avenza stopped us.

"The antidote is doing its work," he said rapidly; "the dead body is
renewing its life throughout every particle. Wait! wait! the paroxysm
will soon pass away."

The doctor was right, for in a short time the writhing stopped, the
cries grew fainter, and at last, with a heavy sigh, the young man sank
back on the pillows in a state of exhaustion, on seeing which, both
Beltrami and the doctor ran out of the room to get some brandy,
leaving me alone with this new Lazarus. During their absence he opened
his eyes, to which the light of sanity had now returned, and spoke in
a feeble voice,--

"Where am I?"

"With friends."

"And the Contessa?"

"She is not here! You are quite safe! Hush! do not speak, I beg of
you."

Pallanza gave me a look of gratitude, then, closing his eyes, relapsed
into silence. Avenza returned with a glass of weak brandy and water,
which he gave to the young man in spoonfuls, 'while I went back into
the sitting-room to see Beltrami, whom I found standing by the window
with a frown on his face.

"Ebbene?" he asked, turning round.

"He is much better, and I think will soon be all right."

"That's a blessing. But what a nuisance! I want to go to Rome to-night
by the five o'clock train, but Avenza tells me that Pallanza will have
to sleep for a few hours, so I won't have an opportunity of speaking
to him."

"Go with a light heart, my dear Beltrami; I will arrange everything."

"You will?"

"Yes; Pallanza can sleep in that room for an hour or two, then I will
get a fiacre and take him to his lodgings. No one shall come near him
but myself, and when he is quite sensible I will make him promise all
you want."

"Bene! you are a good friend, my dear Hugo," said the Marchese, in a
tone of relief; "but do you think he will do what you ask?"

"Most certainly! I can force him to obey me."

"How so?"

"By threatening to tell Signorina Angello about his affair with Madame
Morone. She knows nothing as yet, and Pallanza is afraid of her
knowing. Witness the lie he told about that note at the Ezzelino,
asking him to come to the Palazzo!"

Beltrami, with his cynical estimate of the Contessa's character, was
not at all disturbed by this somewhat blunt speech, but laughed
cheerfully.

"Eh! Hugo. I think I will make you. Italian after all. Your plan is a
good one, mon ami, so make Pallanza promise not to sing anywhere for a
month, to leave Verona and keep quiet. By that time I will be married
to the Contessa, and all will be well."

"I will arrange everything as you desire, Luigi."

"Excellent! Then that trouble is off my mind."

At this moment the doctor entered, rubbing his fat hands together with
an expression of glee.

"Eh, he sleeps, this young man," he said in a satisfied tone, "he
will sleep for one, two, three hours, then, if you like, Marchese, you
can send him to his own house."

"Signor Hugo will attend to all that, Avenza."

"Bene! Well, Marchese, à revederci! And you, Signor."

"Wait a moment, Signor Avenza; I am coming too."

"Where are you going! Hugo?" asked Beltrami, looking at me in some
surprise, and nodding his head in the direction of Pallanza. I crossed
over to him, and while Avenza was getting his hat, whispered in his
ear,--

"I am going to the Ezzelino to find out Pallanza's address, so as to
know where to take him."

"Ah! a good idea! I will wait here till you return."

I accompanied Signor Avenza to the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, where we
parted. I then went to the Teatro Ezzelino and found out Pallanza's
address from the stage-door keeper. While I was returning to
Beltrami's rooms I saw Peppino, and arranged with him to be at the Via
Cartoni at seven o'clock that evening to take a sick gentleman away.
At first Peppino objected, being, like all Italians, terribly afraid
of disease, but I soon quieted his objections, and he promised to call
as directed.

On returning to Beltrami I found him packing up, and at five o'clock
he took his departure for Rome, promising to write me immediately he
arrived, and in return I assured him I would let him know everything
as soon as I arranged matters with Pallanza.

That young man slept until nearly seven, when he woke up and began to
ask me questions as to where he was. I insisted upon his keeping
quiet, telling him I was a doctor, and when Peppino arrived with his
fiacre I wrapped him up in his cloak so as to hide his stage costume,
and helped him downstairs to the carriage. We soon arrived at his
lodgings, where, dismissing Peppino, I made Pallanza go to bed at
once, and gave him a light supper, together with some weak brandy and
water. After this he fell asleep, and I sat watching by his bed all
night, wondering why I was such a fool as to do all this for a cynical
man of the world like Beltrami, who would probably laugh at my good
nature when all was over. Yet there was something about Luigi Beltrami
which I liked; and in spite of his affected cynicism and his
extraordinarily loose notions of right and wrong, I believe that he
had a sincere regard for me, which regard I considered not the least
curious part of his whimsical nature, seeing that my character was the
antithesis of his own in every way. Perhaps it was by the law of
contrast, or illustrated inversely the saying that "like draws to
like;" but whatever was the reason, though we had nothing in common
either in nationality or character, yet we were friends, and I leave
this problem to be worked out by those who deny that such an enigma
can exist.



CHAPTER XV.
FOUND.


Guiseppe Pallanza slept soundly all night, while I took snatches of
sleep in the armchair by his bedside. At nine o'clock in the morning
he awoke, feeling much stronger, and after I had given him something
to eat I prepared to go out.

"Where are you going, Signor?" asked Pallanza in an anxious tone.

"I am going to send a doctor to see you, and then I am going to the
Casa Angello."

"And for what reason?"

"To bring Signorina Bianca here!"

"Do you know the Signorina Bianca?"

"Very well, Signor Pallanza. I am the Englishman of whom you have no
doubt heard her speak."

"Signor Hugo! yes, I know," muttered Guiseppe; and then, after a
pause, "I wish to speak to you, I wish to tell you something."

"You shall tell me all shortly, but meanwhile lie down quietly, and
when the doctor comes say nothing about the Palazzo Morone."

"Ah!" cried Pallanza, starting up in his bed, "do you know that
horrible place?"

"I know all! But there, you are still weak," I answered, forcing him
to lie down. "When I return I will speak to you about some important
matters."

"Important!--to me?"

"Yes, and to the Contessa Morone."

"Ah! that terrible woman."

"Meanwhile, Signor Pallanza, say nothing about your visit to the
palace or about Madame Morone."

"Not a word! And you will bring Bianca to see me?"

"Yes! I promise you."

With this hope, Pallanza was perfectly contented, and after
instructing his landlady, who was in a state of great bewilderment at
this sudden reappearance, to look after him, I went out to find
Avenza. Fortunately he was well known in Verona, and I had no
difficulty in discovering his house. He saw me at once, listened to my
account of the way Pallanza had passed the night, and promised to see
him without delay. Having thus carried out satisfactorily the first
part of my mission, I departed to perform the second, which involved a
somewhat embarrassing interview with Signorina Angello.

On arriving at the house of the Maestro, I was received by Petronella,
who threw up her hands with an appeal to the saints when she saw my
haggard appearance and burst out into a volley of questions.

"Eh! Signor Inglese. Is it not well with you? San Pietro! how the wine
does change a face. Here has the Maestro been asking for you every
day! 'Well! Well!' said I, 'he has gone away like the lover of the
piccola!' And it is true! I see how you return. Eh! Madonna, all men
are bad. I have been married--I know."

"You are wrong on this occasion, Petronella. I have not been at the
wine, as you seem to think!"

"But your face, Signor Inglese--like that of a sick person! Gran dio!"

"Comes from sitting up all night by the bedside of Guiseppe Pallanza."

Petronella clapped her hands together with an ejaculation of delight

"He is found, then, the poor young man! Ah! it is well I did not waste
a centesimo in masses; and those priests are such thieves. Eh! this
news will be like wine to the piccola. Go in! go in, Signor Inglese!
the Signorina is there, but the Maestro! he is in bed, which is the
best place for him, say I."

After this breathless harangue Petronella ushered me into the
sitting-room, where I found Bianca sitting by the window, contemplating
a portrait of her lost lover. She arose when she saw me and came
forward with an anxious look on her paleface, while the faithful but
noisy domestic left the apartment.

"Well, Signorina, do you feel better?"

"Yes, yes, Signore, much better; but you have news!--news of
Guiseppe."

"The best of news, my poor child. Guiseppe is found, and is now at his
lodgings."

The blood rushed into her hitherto pale cheeks, her melancholy dark
eyes sparkled with joy, and from a pallid, worn-looking girl she
changed into a bright, joyful woman. It was a most wonderful
transformation, as if a wan lily had suddenly blossomed under the wand
of some fairy into a rich red rose.

"Signor Hugo! Signor Hugo! Ah, the good news! Oh, how happy I am! He
is alive, then? he is well! Oh, say he is well, Signor Hugo!"

"Signorina, he is still weak after his adventure, and at present he is
in bed."

"Oh, let me go to him! let me go at once! He may die, my poor
Guiseppe!"

"No he will not die; but put on your hat and I will take you to him,
for you alone, Signorina, can nurse him back to health and strength."

Bianca ran to put on her hat and tell the Maestro the good news, which
evidently delighted the old man greatly, judging from the
extraordinary chuckling sounds which shortly proceeded from his
bedroom. Petronella at the doorway celebrated a noisy triumph on her
own account, and at last amid the chucklings of the patriarch and the
loud delight of his handmaiden, Bianca took her departure under my
wing to visit the newly-found prodigal.

She absolutely danced along the pavement, so exuberant was her delight
at the good news, and I thought how easily I could damp this joy by
telling her the true story of Guiseppe's disappearance. It was a cruel
thought, and I regretted it the moment after it flashed across my
mind; for it would have been the wanton act of a boy crushing a
butterfly to have destroyed the happy ignorance of this merry child,
who, tripping gaily along by my side, put me in mind of the smiling
Hebe of the Greeks, that charming incarnation of joyous maidenhood.

"Signore!" said Bianca, moderating her transports, "you have not told
me the reason of Guiseppe's absence."

"I am afraid there is very little to tell, Signorina! He was lured to
the Palazzo by an enemy, who kept him there until last night, when,
luckily, I discovered where he was concealed and released him."

"Ah, Signor Hugo, how can I thank you for your kindness! Then my poor
Guiseppe was hidden in that terrible room?"

"He was concealed near it, at all events," I replied evasively.

"And the voice in the darkness, Signor? Oh, that cruel, cruel voice!
It. has haunted my dreams ever since!"

"It was nothing, Signorina; it was--it was a friend of mine, who came
to assist me to look for Guiseppe!"

"Was it a signor or a Signora?" asked Bianca, who, evidently in her
nervous agitation, had not distinguished the feminine tones of the
unknown.

"It was a signor! a young signor whom I know!"

"But he saw us in the darkness. Dio! how terrible."

"No; he did not see us. He guessed we were there, as I told him we
were going to look for Guiseppe, and he came to assist me."

Bianca was satisfied with this--I flatter myself--skilful explanation,
and stopped asking questions, much to my relief. The number of lies I
was forced to tell in connection with this affair was truly
surprising, but as it was absolutely necessary to keep this poor child
in ignorance of the true state of the case, I ventured to hope that
the Recording Angel would treat them in the same way as he did the
oath of my Uncle Toby, in Sterne's delightful story. Italian intrigue,
from the experience I had of it, was certainly very little to my
taste, as I was by no means a convert to the Jesuitical maxim that the
end justifies the means, therefore it was with a thankful heart that I
saw the whole intricate affair was nearly finished.

By this time we had arrived at Pallanza's lodgings, and I placed
Bianca in an outer room with strict injunctions that she was not to
leave it until I called her.

"Guiseppe is still weak, Signorina, and I must prepare him for your
coming."

The fact is I wanted to carry out my promise to Beltrami, in asking
Pallanza to live in retirement for a few months, and, until this was
arranged, I was unwilling that he should see Bianca. The poor child
fully believing what I said, promised to obey me faithfully in all
things; so leaving her in the outer room I went in to see Pallanza,
whom I found eagerly expecting my arrival.

To my surprise, the young man was up and dressed, as Dr. Avenza,
finding him So much better, had insisted on him leaving his bed, to
remain in which, he declared, was weakening; so I found Pallanza
walking slowly to and fro to exercise his muscles, but on seeing me he
came forward With an anxious look,--

"Is she here, Signor Hugo? Has Bianca come?"

"She is in the next room, Signor! No, do not go to her. I wish to
speak to you."

"I am at your service, Signor Hugo. You have done so much for me that
I can never repay you."

"Yes, you can by telling me how you went to the Palazzo Morone on that
night."

"I will tell all, Signore! You have a right to know. But, Bianca?"

"She knows nothing."

A look of relief came over the anxious face of the young man, and we
both sat down to continue the conversation.

"I met Madame Morone at Rome, Signore," said Pallanza with some faint
hesitation, "and we were together a great deal. I did not love her
exactly, but she being a great lady flattered my pride. Of course, I
should have remembered Bianca, but she was not beside me, and as to
the Contessa! ah, Signore Hugo, who can escape when a woman wills?
Madame Morone made me afraid at last. She is a tigress, that woman,
and threatened to kill me if I left her for another. I saw how
dangerous was her love, and telling her I was going to marry the
Signorina Angello, left Rome for Verona. She followed me here and took
me to the Palazzo Morone on Sunday, where she exhausted every means of
making me give up Bianca. I should not tell you all this about a
woman, Signor, but by her attempt to kill me she has released me from
the laws of honour. Cospetto! she is a mistress of the devil. Her rage
is terrible, and on Sunday she implored, she wept, she raged, she
threatened, but I was true to Bianca, and at last escaped from the
palazzo intending never to see her again. On Monday night, however, I
received a letter----"

"From a dying friend?" I interrupted meaningly.

"Eh! I said so in order to keep the affair from Bianca, as I knew if
she heard about it I should be lost. No! Signor Hugo. The letter was
from the Contessa, saying that if I did not come by eleven o'clock to
the room in the palazzo, in order to bid her farewell, she would go at
once to the Signorina Angello and tell all. Per Bacco! Signor, you may
guess my fear at this message; and I determined to go to the palazzo
at any cost. The opera was long that night, and before the curtain
descended it was past eleven. I was so afraid of the Contessa
fulfilling her threat that I did not wait to change my costume, but
throwing on my cloak over my dress of Faust, went at once to the
palazzo. She was not in the room, and I had a horrible fear that I was
too late, but I waited for some time, and she came. We had another
scene of tears, reproaches and rage, then----"

"I can tell you the rest, Signor Pallanza. She gave you the poison in
a cup of wine, and when you fell at her feet she shut you up in a
hiding-place, from whence you were rescued."

"By you, Signor, by you?"

"No; by the Marchese Beltrami, who took you to his house, and after
many days revived you with an antidote to the poison which he obtained
with great difficulty."

"But the Marchese! You, Signor, how did you see all this?"

"Ah! that is a long story. I will tell it to you another time, but at
present you must promise me something."

"Anything, Signor Hugo! For you have saved my life from that terrible
woman."

"She is indeed a terrible woman! and it is to escape her vengeance
that I advise you not to sing for at least two months."

"But my engagement at the Ezzelino?"

"Pay forfeit-money. Say you are ill and cannot sing. Then return to
Milan with the Signorina and marry her at once."

"But the Contessa?"

"Has gone to Rome for the present; but as soon as she finds out you
are alive she will come after you; so, if you are wise, Signor
Pallanza, you will obtain some engagement out of Italy."

"Basta, Signor! your advice is good, and I will do what you ask. For
two months I will not sing. I will pay the forfeit-money to the
Ezzelino and return to Milan with Bianca. It is best so. Per Bacco!
what a demon I have escaped!"

I felt greatly relieved that everything had thus been settled, so
arose from my chair to take Pallanza to the Signorina, after which I
intended to go straight to my hotel and write a letter to Beltrami,
telling him of all that had taken place.

"Come, Signor Pallanza, lean on me, and I will take you to Bianca."

"Ah! cara Bianca," he cried joyfully, as I led him to the door;
"Bianca, Bianca, gioja della mia vita!"

"Guiseppe!"

She saw him standing with outstretched arms on the threshold of the
room, and with a cry of joy flew towards him like a bird to its nest,
and flung herself on his breast.

As for me, I went out of the room and left them together.



CHAPTER XVI.
AN INTERRUPTED HONEYMOON.


Well, at last I was back in Milan, much to my satisfaction, as after
the strange adventures I had met with in Verona that city became
positively hateful to me. Two months had elapsed since the affair of
the Palazzo Morone had come to an end, and during that time two
marriages in connection therewith had been celebrated--that of
Beltrami with the Contessa Morone, at Rome; and that of Guiseppe
Pallanza with Signorina Bianca, at Milan. True to his promise,
Guiseppe had forfeited his engagement at the Ezzelino, much to the
wrath of the impresario, and had rested quietly since at Milan,
passing most of his time with Bianca, who was now in a state of high
glee preparing for her marriage.

It took place at the church of St. Stefano, in Milan, and out of
consideration for the great age of the Maestro it was a very quiet
affair, I being the only one present beyond the Angello household, but
that was at the urgent request of both Bianca and her husband, who
never forgot the services I had rendered them at Verona.

Thanks to my dexterity, Bianca never discovered the truth, and fully
believed that Guiseppe had been kept a prisoner at the Palazzo Morone
by some enemy who had lured him thither, by means of the letter
purporting to come from a dying friend. At first, considering the weak
way in which Guiseppe had acted, I did not consider that he deserved
his good fortune in marrying such a charming girl as the Signorina,
but during the time that preceded the marriage he was so devoted to
her in every way, and apparently so remorseful for his amorous folly,
that I quite forgave him his momentary infidelity. It was a very
pretty wedding, the bride and bridegroom making a handsome couple, and
when the ceremony was ended Signor and Signora Pallanza went to spend
the honeymoon of a few days at Monza, and I was left alone in Milan.

Guiseppe had obtained an engagement at the Madrid Opera House, and on
their return from Monza the young couple were to start almost
immediately for Spain, leaving the Maestro under the tender care of
Petronella. The old man's health had been failing sadly of late, and I
doubted very much whether Bianca would find him alive on her return to
Italy, seeing how frail he was in every respect.

Now that he was deprived of his right hand by the marriage of his
granddaughter, the Maestro decided to give up teaching, at which
decision I was profoundly sorry, as only having been with him a year I
had still many things to learn in the art of vocalisation. There was,
unfortunately, no one else with whom I could study the same system,
for Paolo Angello taught the old, pure Italian method, of which he
was the last exponent; and I infinitely preferred the round sonorous
notes which his training produced to the shouting, colourless style of
present-day singing, which curses the voice with a perpetual tremolo.
The elaborate fioriture school of Pasta, Grisi, Ronconi, and Malibran
has almost entirely passed away, and in its place what have we in
Italy?--nothing but the present abominable fortissimo singing, without
grace, sweetness, steadiness, or colour. The old Italian operas were
composed not so much as stage performances as to show off the beauty,
execution and brilliancy of the voice, while this new school of
music-drama; designed principally for dramatic effect, is interpreted
by singers who rely but little on the perfection of the vocal organ,
and pride themselves not so much on the individual colouring of a
single number as on the general broad effect of the whole. Fortunately,
however, by incessant work during my one year under Angello, I had
acquired a pretty good idea of his system of vocalisation, and hoped,
by cautious industry in following out his hard and fast rules, to
perfect my singing in accordance with his severely pure method.

Of the Marchese Beltrami and his wife I heard but little, save through
the medium of the papers, as except one letter announcing his marriage
with the Contessa, and thanking me for my attention to his interests,
this ungrateful Luigi had not written to me. I consoled myself with
philosophical reflections on the hollowness of friendship, when one
day, towards the end of July, I was astonished to receive a visit from
the Marchese.

Pallanza and his wife had returned to Milan, and were making
preparations for their departure, which was now near at hand. I had
just come back from a visit to the Maestro with whom they were
staying, and was writing letters in my bedroom, when Beltrami's card
was brought to me, upon which I ordered him to be shown into the room
in which I was scribbling, so as to secure perfect privacy during our
conversation.

In those days of poverty I lived like a cat on the tiles, up four
flights of stairs just under the roof, and my one room served me for
everything,--that is, as dining-room, reception-salon, and sleeping
chamber. I took my meals at a sufficiently good restaurant near at
hand, but otherwise the whole of my indoor life was bounded by the
four walls of that small apartment, which contained an ingenious bed
made to look like a sofa during the day, a wardrobe, a wash-stand, and
a diminutive piano of German manufacture hired by myself. Yet, as
Beranger sings, "One is happy in a garret at twenty years of age," and
I think the days spent in that dingy Milanese eyry were among the
most delightful of my life. I was young, enthusiastic, not badly off
for a poor man, and devoted to my art, so I used to strum chords on
that small piano while I practised my voice, act operatic scenes in
front of the looking glass, and dream impossible dreams of applausive
multitudes, of recklessly-generous impresarios, and of a career like
that of the kings of song.

Then I had a view--a delightful view--of the red-roofed houses of
Milan, seen from the window, with here and there a tall factory
chimney, the slender tower of a church from whence sounded the
jangling bells which used to irritate me, at least, every quarter of
an hour, and just a glimpse of the white miracle of the great Duomo,
rising like a fairy creation of milky lacework against the deeply blue
sky. Even a vision of green trees I obtained by craning my head round
the corner of the window, and when it was fine weather I looked at my
roof-top view while enjoying a pipe, but when it rained--oh! heavens,
Milan was as dreary as London in a fog, and the blue skies of Italy
became a fable of inventive minds. The intense heat changed to humid
cold, and then I used to shut out this deceptive city of the Visconti
by closing my window, and, retreating to the piano, practise exercises
with a voice rendered, I am afraid, rather gruff by the chill
terra-cotta floor and the damp atmosphere.

It was in this poor but honest abode, as the novelists say, that I
received Beltrami, who entered gaily in civilian dress with
outstretched hands, looking exactly the same as when I had last seen
him at Verona. Marriage evidently had not changed him, as he had the
same subtle smile on his dark face, talked in the same vein of
cynicism, and interlarded his conversation with his usual number of
French ejaculations.

"Eh! Hugo, mon ami," shaking both my hands heartily, "you are
astonished to see me!"

"Considering you have never written me a line since your marriage,
Beltrami, I certainly am."

I suppose I spoke with a certain bitterness, for the Marchese shrugged
his shoulders, with a slight flush reddening his cheeks, and sat down
on the bed--I mean, seeing it was daytime--the sofa.

"Ma foi! I am a newly-married man, Hugo!" he said, in an apologetic
tone, "I have forgotten everything in the delightful society of that
dear Contessa. But you are right to reproach me; I ought to have
written, only I am so terribly negligent."

"And fickle; don't forget that trait of your character, Luigi.
However, I'm glad to see you, fickle friend as you are."

"Dame! you don't spare me. I have called on you for a purpose!"

"That goes without saying. When one requires a friend one always knows
where to find him. Well, Marchese, and in what way can I assist you?"

"I will tell you! but I see you do not ask after my wife?"

"I trust Madame Beltrami is well!" I said stiffly, not feeling any
particularly warm feeling towards that lady.

"Yes! her health is good."

"And you are happy, Beltrami?"

"Tolerably! But tell me, how is Pallanza and his wife?"

"Oh, they live in Elysium, Marchese. At present they are in Milan, but
leave next week for Madrid, where Pallanza is going to sing."

"He'll have to go by himself, then!"

"What do you mean?"

"That Madame, my very good wife, is hunting through Milan for his
Elysium, with that famous bottle of poison in her pocket."

"Great heavens! Is she going to try and poison Pallanza again?"

"No! you remember the Latin maxim, 'Non bis in idem.' She is going to
try the effect of the poison on his wife."

"And yet you can sit there calmly without making an attempt to save
this innocent creature! Beltrami, it is infamous!"

I was walking up and down the room in a state of great excitement, for
it seemed horrible and incomprehensible to see the Marchese sitting
there so calm and composed, when he knew that a reckless, dangerous
woman like his wife was in Milan bent on murder.

"Eh! Hugo, keep cool," said Beltrami, quietly. "It is just this affair
I have come to see you about. Sit down, mon ami, and I'll tell you all
about it."

"But every moment is of value!"

"No doubt, but as it will take madame some time to find out where
Signor Pallanza is staying, I think we can safely talk for five
minutes."

"Go on, then! I am all impatience!"

"So I see! Ebbene! When I went to Rome I told the Contessa that I had
taken away Pallanza's body; but of course I did not say he was alive,
and swore that if she did not marry me I would tell everything to the
authorities. The sequel you know--she married me."

"A horrible contract," I muttered savagely, looking at the whole
affair from an English point of view.

"I-think we argued that matter before," said Beltrami, coolly, "and,
if I remember rightly, you did not agree with my reasons. However, it
is too late now to blame me, seeing I have been married for nearly
five weeks. We spent our honeymoon at Como--in fact, mon ami, we are
spending it there still, only a perusal of yesterday's Lombardia sent
my excellent wife off to this city in search of Signora Pallanza."

"I do not understand."

"No? Then I will enlighten you. Madame, my wife, thought this devil of
a tenor dead, and, as he has been keeping quiet all this time, she
never for a moment suspected the truth. I saw an announcement of his
marriage in the newspapers, but you may be sure I did not let the
Marchesa see it. Everything was going beautifully, and we were a model
couple--outwardly--when, as ill-luck would have it, this paragraph
appeared in the paper."

Beltrami handed me a copy of La Lombardia, and pointed to a paragraph,
which I read. It stated that Guiseppe Pallanza, the famous tenor, was
going to sing at the Grand Opera House, Madrid, and would be
accompanied to Spain by his wife, the granddaughter of Maestro
Angello, the celebrated teacher of singing.

"You can guess what a rage she was in," said Beltrami, when I had
finished reading this fatal information. "Diavolo! she has a temper;
but, as I told you, I am quite a match for Madame, and held my own
during this furious quarrel. She demanded an explanation, and I gave
her one."

"What? you told her----"

"Everything, mon ami. Your story, my story, Pallanza's story--all
about the antidote, the vault, the supper. Eh! Hugo, she now knows as
much as you or I. Mon Dieu, you should have seen her when I had
finished!"

"Why? what did she do?"

"She smiled, that was all; but it was the smile that alarmed me."

"For your own safety?"

"Ma foi, no! I told her she need not try the poison on me, as I had
the antidote. In reply, she gave one of those wicked laughs that
freeze your blood, and said that Signora Pallanza had not an antidote,
and it would be the worse for her."

"Then she intends to poison the poor girl?"

"I fancied so yesterday, and I was sure of it this morning, when I
heard from my servants that the Marchesa Beltrami had gone to Milan. I
knew what she was after, so followed by the next train, and came
straight to you."

"And what do you want me to do, Beltrami?"

"Come with me at once to the Casa Angello, to warn Signora Pallanza! I
suppose she is still staying with the Maestro Angello?"

"Yes, until she goes to Spain with her husband. Let us go at once,
Luigi. But, oh! Beltrami, if we are too late!"

"Do not be alarmed! I have the antidote in my pocket."



CHAPTER XVII.
NEMESIS.


The Maestro had a very comfortable suite of apartments in Milan
overlooking the Via Carlo Alberto, near the Piazza del Duomo, which
were chosen by him on account of their situation, as he could sit at
the window of his bedroom and amuse himself by gazing at the crowded
street. This watching of the populace was his great delight, and when
not giving a lesson he was generally stationed at his window, or else
employed in reading _Il Seccolo_, which he did in a curious fashion,
by holding it close to his best-seeing eye.

Of course, like all the entrances to these Milanese flats, the stairs
were singularly damp, dark, and malodorous, and after running the
gauntlet of a fat _portanaia_, who was devouring a large dish of
polenta in her glass house, we climbed up the humid steps, and
speedily arrived at the second storey, where dwelt the Maestro when in
Milan. To make up for the filth under our feet the ceilings over our
heads were gorgeously painted with mythological figures; and even at
that moment I could not help recalling George Sands' remark anent the
contrast between these two. However, we had no time to admire the
clumsy Jupiter throwing fire-brand thunderbolts, for at this moment
Petronella, who had seen us through the dingy glass of her own little
sanctum, opened the door, and was about to burst into a torrent of
greetings, when I stopped her to ask if the Signora Pallanza was at
home.

"Yes! yes! the Signora is in, but she is engaged--engaged in talking
with a lady--Dio! a great lady!

"Great heavens! we may be too late!" I muttered to Beltrami, who
nodded his head silently. "Petronella, speak low. This gentleman and
myself came on an important errand to the Signora. What is the lady's
name?"

"Signor, she said she was the Marchesa Beltrami," replied Petronella,
her jolly face growing rather grave at all this mystery.

"Is Signor Pallanza in?"

"No, Signor Hugo; he has gone to see an impresario."

"She is alone with Madame, let us go in at once," whispered Beltrami,
exhibiting the first signs of alarm I had ever beheld in him.

"One moment! What about the Maestro, Petronella?"

"In his bedroom, Signor Hugo, at the window. Holy Saints! what is
wrong?"

"Nothing! nothing! I will explain all shortly; but meanwhile,
Petronella, show us a place where we can see into the room where the
Signora is talking to the Marchesa, without being seen."

Beltrami nodded his head approvingly, for he saw my plan was to
overhear the conversation, and only interrupt it should there be any
danger to the Signora. Petronella was bursting with curiosity, but
seeing, from the expression of our faces, that something important was
going on, she screwed up her mouth with a shrewd look, to assure us we
could depend upon her, and, closing the outside door cautiously, led
us into the room adjacent to that in which the conversation was taking
place. Pointing to an archway, veiled by curtains, to intimate that
there was nothing else but the drapery to impede our hearing, she
retired on tiptoe, with a puzzled, serious look on her usually merry
face.

It seemed my fate to overhear mysterious conversations through veiled
archways, but this one was not used as an entrance between the two
rooms, for, as I peered through the curtains, 1 saw in front of them a
small square table, upon which was placed a lacquered tray with
glasses, and an oval straw-covered bottle of Chianti wine. I drew back
for a moment, to see if Beltrami had noticed this obstacle to our
sudden entrance into the room; but, instead of appearing dismayed, he
had a grim, satisfied smile on his lips, as if he rather approved than
otherwise of this table blocking up the doorway. Puzzled at this, I
withdrew my eyes from his face, and looked again into the room beyond,
where the Marchesa Beltrami was seated, talking to Bianca in what
appeared to be a very friendly fashion.

It must be remembered that Bianca knew nothing about the Contessa
Morone's intrigue with her husband, as both Guiseppe and myself had
carefully kept all knowledge of the affair from her; and moreover,
owing to her nervous agitation, she had not recognized the voice of
the Marchesa when she spoke to us in the darkness of that fatal
chamber at Verona. Consequently she was completely in ignorance of the
real character of her visitor, and only beheld in her a lady who had
called to see Signor Pallanza about some important business; this, as
I afterwards learned, being the excuse she gave for her presence in
the Casa Angello. It was truly terrible to see these two women seated
together in friendly discourse, the one so innocent of the danger she
was in, the other so ruthless in her determination to revenge herself
on her rival. The pure white dove was in the clutches of this
relentless hawk, who, while watching her victim so closely, was
meditating as to the best means of carrying out her plans.

"Oh, it is horrible!" I murmured, turning pale with emotion.

"Hush!" whispered Beltrami with a sinister look; "she will fall into
her own pit."

What did he mean by these strange words? I could not understand; but I
had no time nor desire to ask for an explanation, as the terrible
drama being played out in the next room riveted my attention; so, with
a violent effort of self-repression, I resumed my post of observation,
and listened to the conversation between the two actresses in the
tragedy. It was idle and frivolous, the conversation of two strangers
who had nothing to talk about but the merest commonplace; but this
frivolity had for us a ghastly meaning; this commonplace concealed a
frightful intention.

"And so, Signora Pallanza, you have never heard your husband mention
my name!"

"No, Madame!"

"It is strange," said the Marchesa, smiling; "for in Rome I did what I
could to help him in his profession. Eh! yes. I heard him singing
Faust at the Apollo, and told all my friends to go and hear the New
Mario."

"That is what they call him here, Signora," replied Bianca proudly;
"but, indeed, it was kind of you to aid him. I wonder Guiseppe never
spoke to me about you, for he never forgets a kindness."

"Ah! I'm afraid some men have not much gratitude," said Madame
Beltrami with a laugh. "Never mind, when Signor Pallanza comes in you
will see he has not forgotten me."

"He could hardly do that, Madame," answered Bianca, looking with
honest admiration at the splendid beauty of the woman before her. "Had
I seen you before I would always have remembered you! But--it is so
strange!"

"What is strange, Signora?"

"I do not recognize your face, and yet I seem to have heard your voice
before."

"Possibly!" said the Marchesa indifferently. "I go about a good deal."

"Were you ever in Verona?"

Madame Beltrami was startled for the moment at this apparently
innocent question, but recovered her self-possession in a moment, and
laughed gaily in a rather forced fashion,--

"Yes, Signora! I lived there a long time with my first husband, Count
Giorgio Morone."

"Morone!" cried Bianca, starting to her feet with a cry of alarm. "Oh!
Madame, do you know that palace?"

The Marchesa saw that she had made a mistake by mentioning that fatal
name, but with iron nerve opened a fan she had hanging to her girdle
and fanned herself slowly.

"Of course I do," she answered quietly; "it belongs to the family of
my late husband, and is said to be haunted."

Bianca shivered.

"So it is! so it is!" she muttered in a fearful tone. "I have been in
that room. Signor Hugo took me there."

"Signor Hugo!" repeated the Marchesa reflectively. "I think I have
heard my husband speak of that gentleman. He is English, is he not?"

"Yes, Madame. A great friend of my husband's. A terrible thing
happened to Guiseppe at Verona! Oh! a terrible thing. And that room,
that fearful room! Dio! I shall never forget it."

"You are trembling, Signora! You are ill," cried Madame Beltrami,
rising to her feet and crossing quickly to the table before the
curtain behind which we were concealed. "Let me give you some wine."

"No, no! thank you. I am quite well!" said Bianca, going to the window
and opening it. "It is only the heat. The fresh air will do me good."

"A glass of wine will be better," replied the Marchesa, pouring out a
glass of Chianti.

I felt myself seized with a kind of vertigo at seeing this demon take
from her breast a small bottle and empty the whole contents of it into
the glass. I would have cried out only the voice of Bianca arrested
me,--

"I am perfectly well, Madame; but will you not take some wine
yourself, since the day is so warm?"

"Certainly, if you will drink with me!" said Madame Beltrami, turning
round with a calm smile; "but indeed the wine will do you good, you
seem to faint."

She poured out another glass of the Chianti for herself, and was about
to take the fatal drink to Bianca, when the latter called quickly from
the window,--

"Madame! quick! come here! Guiseppe is coming down the street!"

Out of courtesy the Marchesa was forced to obey the call of her
hostess, and went quickly to the window, leaving the two wine-glasses
close together on the table, the one on the left containing the poison
destined for Bianca, the other on the right innocent of any drug,
which she intended to drink herself.

At this moment, while the two women were looking out of the window, I
heard the voice of Beltrami, hoarse and broken, sound in my ear,--

"Go to the door and tell the servant to detain Pallanza!"

I looked at him in astonishment, for there was a frightful look of
agitation in his pale face, and great drops of sweat were standing on
his brow; but he made an imperative gesture, and I obeyed him without
a word.

Petronella was in the kitchen, and I hurriedly told her to keep
Pallanza at the door on some pretext or another, and stole quickly
back to the room, where I found Beltrami leaning against the wall with
a haggard look on his face.

"What is the matter?" I whispered quickly. "Are you ill?"

"No, no! Look!--look!--see! See what she is doing!"

I had only been gone a little over two minutes between the time I had
last looked in the room and the moment I resumed my post of
observation, but during that period the Marchesa, evidently afraid of
the entrance of Pallanza, had given Bianca the fatal wine, and the
girl was drinking it at the window. Madame Beltrami herself, with
rather a pale face, but a devilish look in her eyes, had just set down
her glass upon the table, empty. A moment after Bianca, having drained
the fatal draught to the dregs, came across to the table and placed
her glass beside that of the Marchesa's with a merry laugh.

"I am glad you persuaded me to have the wine, Signora. It is so
refreshing."

"Yes, I think you will find it so," replied the Marchesa, with a
strange smile.

The whole of this terrible scene had passed so rapidly that I had no
time to interfere. My tongue clove to the roof of my mouth, as I saw
Bianca drink the Borgian wine; yet with a mighty effort I was about to
cry out, when Beltrami seized my arm in his powerful grasp, and dared
me, with lurid eyes, to utter a sound.

The Marchesa, having completed her devilish work, was about to go, for
I heard her say something to Bianca about seeing Pallanza on the
stairs, when suddenly we heard Guiseppe's gay voice talking to
Petronella, who strove to detain him; but with a merry laugh he
brushed past her, and a moment afterwards was in the room. Standing
there in the grasp of Beltrami, hidden by the curtains, there seemed
to be a silence lasting an eternity; then we heard Guiseppe give a
terrible cry of rage and fear, and despair,--

"Giulietta! you here! Demon! what are you doing?"

Slow and soft, like the hiss of a snake, came the answer,--

"Doing to her what I did to you."

"Poison! Bianca!"

The poor girl gave a terrible shriek of agony, and flung herself into
the arms of her husband, while again there sounded the wicked laugh of
the Marchesa.

"Ah! you cannot save her now, traitor! perjurer that you are! she will
die!"

There was a sudden smash of glass, as Beltrami hurled himself through
the archway and stood before his terrible wife.

"You lie, wretch! Here is the antidote!"

Bianca was lying unconscious in Guiseppe's arms, and he, with a cry of
joy, stretched out his hand for the phial which Beltrami, standing
midway between his wife and the tenor, was holding. Suddenly, with a
shriek of rage, the Marchesa sprang forward, and tearing the phial
from his hand, hurled it through the open window into the street.

"No, no! She shall die! She shall die!"

I shall never forget that supreme moment of anguish. Bianca lying pale
as a lily in the arms of her agonized husband; myself standing amid
the ruins of the table in the archway; the Marchesa erect, defiant,
and snarling like an enraged tigress; and only Beltrami calm--Beltrami
standing cold and inflexible, with folded arms and a sinister smile on
his thin lips. The whole of this frightful drama had only lasted a few
minutes, but the denouement, more terrible than anything that had gone
before, had now arrived.

"She shall die!" repeated the Marchesa with devilish persistency.

Beltrami gave a wild laugh that sounded like the mocking merriment of
a fiend,--

"Fool! you have thrown away your life!"

Guiseppe looked up with sudden hope, and the Marchesa with a cry of
abject terror reeled back with staring eyes and outstretched arms as
the truth flashed across her mind.

"Life! life! oh! devil that you are, you--you--have changed--"

The fierce beauty of her face was suddenly distorted by a spasm of
agony. She put her hands to her throat and tore open her dress, tore
off the ruby necklace, the gems of which flashed down to the floor
like a rain of blood, then with a yell of fear which had nothing human
in its despair, she fell at our feet--dead.

Yes, she had fallen into her own pit; she had flung away her only
chance of life in her desire to doom her rival and there amid the
brilliant sunshine, amid the blood-red jewels scattered around her,
with all her crimes, devilries, and wickedness on her head, lay the
dead body of that Creature of the Night I had seen issue like a
vampire from the old sepulchre to fulfil her evil destiny; and over
her with folded arms, sinister and cruel, towered the man who, as the
instrument of God, had sent her back to the hell from whence she had
emerged.



CHAPTER XVIII.
A LAST WORD.


It was at the Paris Opera House that I last saw Beltrami, three years
after the death of that terrible woman. Things had gone exceedingly
well with me since my student life in Milan, and I can say without
vanity that Signor Hugo Urbino holds a very good position among
operatic artists of to-day. After leaving Angello I devoted another
year to hard study, and was finally pronounced fit to appear before an
Italian audience by my last Maestro. This, however, was only half the
battle, for now, having gained complete control of my vocal powers, I
had to take lessons in scena from Maestro Biagio, or, in other words,
I had to study the art of acting. I elected to make my débût in the
fine part of Renato in Verdi's opera, "Un Ballo in Maschera," and
having learned the music thoroughly, Biagio taught me how to render
the character, dramatically speaking. This took some time, as every
movement, every action, every gesture had to be studied; but with
perseverance I overcame all difficulties, and at length found myself
capable of rendering the character of Renato in a sufficiently good
style. In passing I may say that, as far as I have found, it is
ridiculous to think that acting comes instinctively. No doubt a
histrionic genius is able to give a gesture or strike an attitude
during the emotion engendered by the performance of a part, but he
must always hold himself well under control, and, broadly speaking,
act the character, as he studied it, in cold blood. Otherwise, carried
away by his powers, he would do things likely to upset the entire
mechanism of the scene. I have sung the part of Renato many times
since my first appearance, and the critics are pleased to consider it
a striking performance, but whatever touches on the spur of the moment
I have introduced, the broad rendering of the character always remains
precisely the same as taught to me by Maestro Biagio.

Being thus in a position to sing and act the part, my greatest
difficulties commenced, and I can safely say that I never met a more
unscrupulous set of scoundrels than these sixth-rate impresarios who
go about Milan, like degraded Satans, seeking whom they may devour.
English students, being popularly supposed to be made of money, are
their favourite victims, and they demand from these the sum of four or
five hundred francs as the price of a scrittura, _i.e_., an appearance
on the stage. In a playful, ironical fashion they call this sum a
present, I suppose after the fashion of Henry VIII.--I think it was
that king--who dubbed his taxes "Benevolences;" and if you do not make
the impresario "a present," you certainly will not get an appearance
in Italy. With this money they take a theatre in a small town and put
on the opera in which you desire to sing, but even then it is doubtful
whether the débût so dearly purchased will come off at all.

The first impresario with whom I had to deal was a dingy individual,
who, according to his own account, had brought out all the greatest
singers of Europe for the last twenty years, and, having made him "a
present" of two hundred francs--he was a modest man and asked no
more--it was arranged that I should make my débût at Como but on
arriving there for rehearsals I found that both the present and the
impresario had vanished, like Macbeth's witches, into thin air.
Considerably disheartened by this sample of Italian honesty, I yet had
sufficient faith to trust another gentleman in the same fashion, but
he must have been a brother of the first impresario, for he too
vanished. I now began to perceive that there were still brigands
in Italy, but that having become civilised, they were either
hotel-keepers or impresarios, and as my two unfortunate attempts to
get a scrittura had ended in disaster, I was not very anxious to make
any one a third "present."

However, it was no use turning back when within the sight of the goal,
so I consulted Maestro Biagio, who kindly interested himself on my
behalf, and introduced me to an honest impresario, who required the
necessary present, but nevertheless fulfilled his promise of
introducing me to the Italian public. I made my débût at Brescia with
great success, and at the conclusion of the season, for which, of
course, I did not receive a penny, I had plenty of offers from all
parts of the Continent. To make a long story short, I sang everywhere
I possibly could, and, having secured an excellent reputation, by an
unexpected stroke of good fortune I was engaged to sing at the Paris
Opera House two years after my débût. I think Dame Fortune was anxious
to make reparation to Hugo Urbino for the misfortunes of Hugh
Cranston, for, to my great delight, I was favourably received by the
critical Parisians, and before the season ended was overwhelmed with
offers of lucrative engagements.

What with my good fortune and the constant excitement of the life of
an artiste, I had almost forgotten the episode of Verona when I was
reminded of it by the unexpected appearance of Luigi Beltrami, who
came to my dressing-room one night at the conclusion of "Il Barbiere,"
in which I had been singing the part of Figaro.

He was changed, this cynical Marchese, since I had last seen him, and
changed for the better, as he had lost his former sinister air and
looked much happier and brighter than formerly. Since our parting in
Milan he had written me frequently, but of late his letters ceased, so
I was somewhat puzzled how to account for this new air of
cheerfulness. However, we shook hands heartily, being glad to see one
another, and Beltrami, lighting one of his eternal cigarettes, sat
down to wait until I was ready to leave the theatre.

"Eh! Hugo," he said, gaily blowing a cloud of smoke, "so things have
gone well with you, mon ami?"

"Exceedingly well, Beltrami, or you would not see me in this room."

"Bene! I congratulate you."

"Many thanks, Marchese; but you look as if life were agreeing with
you."

Beltrami laughed, not with his former sardonic merriment, but with a
hearty sense of enjoyment.

"Ma foi, yes! I am married again!"

"Oh! I hope I can congratulate you this time," I said with great
significance.

"The present Marchesa is an angel, mon ami. Dame! I had enough of
demons with the Contessa Morone."

"Well, she was punished for her sins."

"Eh! what would you? There is a God, mon ami, and He was wearied of
the crimes of that Lucrezia Borgia. But what about the poor girl she
tried to poison?"

"Signora Pallanza! Oh, I hear she is in America with her husband. He
has made a wonderful success in New York, and Bianca tells me they
have two children, a boy and a girl."

"A new Mario and Patti, I suppose. Diavolo! what a pity the old
Maestro is not alive to train the voices of his great-grandchildren!"

"Yes, he is dead, poor old man! I heard all about it in Vienna, and
Petronella has gone to America to look after her beloved piccola.
Well, Angello had a long life, but he was not immortal."

"Dame! perhaps his system is immortal. It ought to be if your singing
is an example."

"Ah, flatterer!"

"No; upon my word your Figaro was delightful. It is such a relief to
hear a voice without that awful tremolo. But come, are you ready? I
want you to sup with me."

"I will be delighted, Beltrami. Is the Marchesa in Paris?"

"Eh! no, not this time. I am here _en garçon_ for a few days. Madame
is in Florence, where you must come and visit us. We are wonderfully
happy. Dame! who wouldn't be with health, wealth, and an angel of a
wife? Ecco!"

"You inherited the wealth of Madame Morone?"

"Ma foi! yes. It was the only good turn she ever did me."

"Oh!" I cried, with a revulsion of feeling, "you are becoming cynical
again."

"I always become cynical when I think of that demon."

"Beltrami," I said after a pause, as we left the Opera House, "there
is a question I have often wished to ask you."

I felt the Marchese's arm tremble a little in mine, but he laughed in
a nonchalant manner.

"Eh! ask what you will, mon ami."

"Did you put your hand through the curtains and change the position of
those glasses?"

Beltrami stopped and looked at me steadily with a grave look in his
bright eyes.

"Hugo, mon ami," he said slowly, "I neither deny nor affirm, what you
say. Giulietta Morone was a demon who came into the world to work
evil, and God, wearied of her crimes, sent her back to the hell from
whence she came. I am not much given to religion, Hugo, as you know,
but I believe in a God; and whosoever He chose as an instrument to
destroy that which He permitted to exist, rest assured that such a one
will be held guiltless for executing the just decree of Heaven!"

He ceased speaking, and we walked on in silence through the crowded
streets under the dark-blue summer sky. I understood perfectly what he
meant, and whether it was right or wrong it is not for me to say,
still I firmly believe that this man obeyed his impulse at that
terrible time, not from any selfish motive, but because he saw clearly
that in removing this frightful creature from the world he was doing a
service to the humanity upon which she preyed.

All the same, I do not intend to visit the Marchese Beltrami at his
Florentine palazzo.



FINIS.





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