Blackwood's Magazine/Volume 46/Issue 286/Pietro d'Abano; a Tale of Enchantment, from the German of Tieck
A TALE OF ENCHANTMENT.
FROM THE GERMAN OF TIECK.
The red rays of the setting sun were streaming upon the towers and houses of Padua, when a young foreigner, who had just entered that city, found his attention attracted, and himself hurried forward, by a bustling concourse of people who were pushing eagerly along. He asked a young maiden who was rapidly passing by him, what it was that bad stirred up such an unwonted commotion. "Are you not aware," answered she, "that the funeral of the fair Crescentia, the young daughter of the house of Podesta, takes place this evening? Every one is anxious to look for the last time upon the face of her who was accounted the loveliest damsel in all Padua. Her parents are inconsolable."
The maiden could say no more, for by this time the pressure of the crowd had carried her to a considerable distance.
The foreigner having turned the corner of a gloomy palace, had entered the main street, now heard the funeral dirge, and encountered the glare of the pale red torches; and, approaching nearer, he beheld a scaffold covered with black cloth. On this lofty black chairs had been placed, and on these were seated the disconsolate parents and relations of the dead maiden, all in profound sorrow, and some of them bearing in their countenances the expression of despair. Dark figures were now observed to issue from the doorway of the palace; and the priests, with their black attendants, bore forwards an open coffin, from which green wreaths of flowers were hanging. Pale, amid these blooming garlands, lay a female form in the raiment of the grave, her gentle hands, which held a crucifix, placidly folded on her bosom, her eyes closed, and her dark tresses, which fell in heavy masses around her head, enwreathed with a chaplet of roses, cypresses, and myrtles. The priests, having placed the coffin with its fair dead on the scaffold, prostrated themselves in prayer—the lamentations of the parents flowed forth afresh—the dirge of death broke out into more uncontrollable strains—and all seemed to share the burden of an almost insupportable sorrow. The foreigner thought be bad never beheld any thing so beautiful as the corpse before him, which so wofully reminded him of the transitoriness of human life, with all its charms.
By this time the funeral bells were pealing, and the bearers were about to lift the coffin, in order to convey it to its vaulted tomb in the great church, when suddenly the mourners were disturbed and shocked by a loud noise of riotous rejoicing, and shouts of the most obstreperous mirth. All looked around them with indignation, to discover the cause of this ill-timed merriment, when there came thronging forth, out of another street, a procession of young people, singing and huzzaing almost without intermission. They turned out to be the students of the University, who we carrying on their shoulders an elderly man, who sate on his chair like a king on his throne, clothed in a purple mantle, his head covered with a doctor's cap, from under which his silver locks streamed forth, in unison with a long snowy beard which flowed majestically down his black doublet: and it was in honour of him, their renowned and venerable teacher, that all this shouting took place. A fool with bells, and in a party-coloured vest, went skipping along with the procession. and, by his pokings and jokings, was in the act of forcing a way through the funeral crowd; when, upon a sign from the venerable old man, the students lowered their burden, their teacher stepped down from his seat, and, with a sad and sympathetic aspect, approached the weeping parents. "Forgive us." said he earnestly, and with tears in his eyes; "forgive us for having disturbed this sad solemnity by our wild uproar. I am profoundly distressed and shocked. I have Just returned from my travels: my scholars insisted on celebrating my arrival by an outburst of rejoicing. I yielded to their entreaties and preparations; and now, amid our festivity, I find—alas, what do I find? —your Crescentia dead—that pattern of all grace and virtue dead, and lying before you here in her coffin. Around me I behold but the ghastly paraphernalia of the grave, and you mourning forms who are about to accompany her with tears and breaking hearts to her place of rest." Here he made a sign to his attendants, and addressed a few words to them. They had already all become silent, but now most of them withdrew, in order to allow the funeral to proceed without any interruption. Then came forward the bereaved and trembling mother, and sank down at the feet of the old man, and embraced his knees in a paroxysm of grief. " Alas! wherefore were you not present when my daughter died," cried she, in despair; "your art —your skill—would have saved her. Oh, Pietro! Pietro! you the friend of our family! How can you permit your darling—the apple of your eye, air you used to call hereto be torn from us for ever! Awaken her yet out of her sleep of death. Administer to her some of those miraculous essences which you know how to prepare. Oh, make her but once more to move among us, and to speak to us, and take, as thanks, every thing that we possess!"
"Do not thus give way to despair," answered Pietro d'Abano; "the Lord gave her, and the Lord hath taken her away: let us not be desirous of thwarting his wise determinations. What are we that we should murmur against him? Shall the son of dust, who flutters in the wind, lift up his weak voice to challenge the eternal decrees? No! my friends, bear your affliction as pious parents ought to bear it. Sorrow ought to be the domesticated guest of our souls, as much as joy and pleasure: it also is sent down upon us from above: and He who counts all tears, who tries our hearts and our reins, He knows well what we weak mortals are fitted to endure." More to the same effect was uttered by the wise man of Abano, and he concluded thus: "Carry her," my friends; " carry her whom you have lost to her place of rest, and follow her thither in resigned and God-given humility, so that no impious repinings on your part may disturb her spirit in its mansion of eternal peace."
All present were moved by these words. The father stretched forth his hand to the speaker, with a mute expression that he had given comfort to his soul. The funeral now proceeded on its way; and guided by the masks and other attendants, whose business it was to accompany the corpse, the procession had almost reached the church, when it was suddenly met by a young horseman, who came galloping forwards on a steed covered with foam. "What is the matter?" cried the young man. He threw a glance upon the coffin; and then, with a cry of despair, wheeling round his horse, darted off from the crowd; while his cap, falling from his head in the hurry of the movement, left his long locks floating behind him in the evening breeze. This was the bridegroom who had come to wed the fair Crescentia.
The shades of night now settled down on the mourners and ended the ceremony: and the maiden's corpse was left to repose in the vault of her ancestors.
As soon as the crowd had dispersed, Alphonso (for that was the name of the young foreigner who had followed the procession and taken part in the mourning) turned to an old priest who tarried alone in prayer over the grave. He longed to know who that majestic old man was, who appeared to him as if endowed with godlike power and supernatural wisdom. Accordingly, he respectfully interrogated the priest concerning him; upon which the latter, standing still, keenly scrutinized his countenance by the light of a lamp which shone upon them from a window hard by. The old priest was a little emaciated figure, whose small pale visage enhanced the fire that burned in his penetrating eyes. His tight-drawn lips trembled as he replied, in a tone of displeasure, —
"What! know you not our world-renowned Pietro d'Abano, a name which is in the mouths of all Paris, London, the Germanic empire, and the whole of Italy? Know you not the great philosopher and physician, astronomer and astrologer, to receive whose instructions the unbridled youth even of distant Poland come flocking hither in shoals?"
On hearing this name, the young Spaniard receded a step in delighted astonishment; for it was the fame of this great man which had attracted him also to Padua, across the sea from Barcelona.
"It was indeed himself, then!" cried he, in a tone of enthusiasm. "Hence it was that my heart was so deeply moved; —my soul instinctively recognised his. And you, my reverend friend, how much I love you because you also appear to revere this great man as much as any saint or martyr in the calendar."
"Is it your intention to study under this man?" asked the priest, in a harsh angry tone.
"Certainly it is," replied Alphonso, "if he will deign to receive me as his pupil."
The old man stood still, and, laying his hand on the youth's shoulder, addressed him in gentler accents.
"My dear young friend, the season of safety is not yet past; pray, give ear to my fatherly warning before it be too late. Do not deceive yourself, as multitudes have already done, but be on your guard, and preserve your precious soul from the snares of the tempter."
"I understand you not, father," replied Alphonso. "Did not you yourself see and hear how piously, how Christian-like, and with what overpowering majesty that glorious being spake, when by his heavenly consolations he turned back into the right path those who had been led astray by the affliction their too fond love was groaning under?"
"Ay! what is there he dare not, he cannot do, juggler and sorcerer that he is?" cried the old priest, much excited.
"Sorcerer!" exclaimed Alphonso. "It appears, then, that you also share in the foolish fancy of the rabble, who, being incapable of appreciating the science of lofty minds, will believe every thing that is absurd, rather than strengthen their own understandings by gazing on the sublime career of a mortal like themselves."
"If you have already gone so far in your admiration of him," returned the priest," you have but little occasion to enter yourself as a pupil in his famous school; it is manifest that he has already caught you in his magic snares. Thus it is that he entraps every heart that beats in his neighbourhood. Yes, heathen as he is, he has this day spoken like a Christian minister, and coloured his lying schemes with the hues of holiness. Thus it was that he gained an ascendency in the house of Podesta. The poor Crescentia, on her deathbed, could scarcely find her way back into the bosom of the Holy Church, so much had she been led astray by the false doctrines which this wicked hypocrite wove, in poisonous meshes. around her young soul. Thank Heaven, however, she has escaped him! The Lord has called her to himself, and, visiting her with a mortal sickness, has saved her soul at the expense of her body."
The speakers had now reached the open square. The youth was in a state of excitement, and gave vent to his feelings thus: —
"Pray, Mr. Priest, whence comes this spirit of furious envy on your part? Is not the secret of it this, that the more you see the world day after day falling away from its obedience to you, the more are you determined to beat down beneath your exterminating curse the new spirit—the spirit of eternal truth—which is now beginning to quicken every region of the globe. In vain, however, would you endeavour to smother this spirit, and restore your musty legends to the place they once held in the estimation of the people."
"Be it so, then," cried the old man, in high indignation. "Let us have Averroes instead of Christ. Aristotle instead of Almighty God, and your Pietro here—that Iscariot— stead of the Holy Ghost! But wait a while: watch the end of this man, and see whether the seven spirits over whom he exercises a sorcerer's power, together with that Famulus of his—that imp of hell—will be able, when his hour comes, to rescue him from a most miserable doom."
"Was his Famulus present to-day?" asked Alphonso.
"Did you not observe the spectre that was dizened out in fool's attire—the humpbacked abortion, with distorted hands and arms, bowed shins, leering eyes, and monstrous nose, projecting from a hideous visage! That was his Famulus, or familiar attendant."
"I thought that figure had had a mask on."
"Not a bit of him," said the priest; "there is no occasion for him to mask himself. Take him as nature has made him, and he is already a mask and a monster. If ever there was a spirit of bell upon earth, this Berecynth, as they call him, is that spirit. But it is drawing late; will you put up with the accommodations of our cloister until you have provided yourself with a lodging elsewhere?"
The young foreigner declined this invitation, chiefly on account of the very different opinions which each of them entertained respecting the subject of their late discussion; and they parted mutually dissatisfied.
The Robbers' Den.
The young Florentine, who had met in a miserable hour the funeral of her who was to have been his bride, rushed like a mad man through the city gates, and took his course in reckless haste through wood and wold. When he found himself in the open country, many were the bitter curses he poured forth against the world and his own fate; and, tearing his hair, he again dashed onwards, unconscious whither he was going. He spurred against the wind, which blew upon him with the freshness of night, as if to cool the burning fever of his cheeks. At length his horse, stumbling and overdriven, fairly sank under him, and he was compelled to continue his career on foot. He knew not where he was, or what he would be at: only, encompassed by the black infinitude, he prayed despairingly for death. "Oh, death, take me to thyself, and still the beatings of this stormy heart! Would that I might this moment expire in mortal pangs, so that my place might know me no more in the light of to-morrow's sun, and that no beam of his might ever again awaken me to the consciousness of my woe. Am I not the most miserable of all living creatures? —and all the more so, because a few hours ago I was the happiest of men. Alas for youthful love, which ends by bringing such bitter disappointment to all the rapturous feelings of the heart!"
The rain, which for some time had been drizzling through the cold air, now began to descend in heavier drops. The youth was already deep in the forest, and no shelter, as far as he knew, was at hand. He began to collect his scattered senses; his anguish grew milder, and tears at last forced themselves from his eyes. His hatred of life became less and less intense, and he felt as if comfort were poured into his troubled soul by the soft voice of the dark sobbing night.
While he stood in suspense, considering whether he should search for his lost horse, or shelter himself from the storm in any hole or cranny he could find, his eye was suddenly caught by a distant light, which, dancing behind bush and dale, appeared to greet him with a friendly glance through the thick darkness. He hastened after the fickle fire, which now vanished and now reappeared. All his faculties and feelings were bound up as if in slumber—his whole being felt as if wrapt in a dream.
The storm was now raging with fearful violence; and after struggling on for some time, almost blinded by the lightning and deafened by the thunder, he found himself close to the light by which he had been attracted. He knocked at the window of a small cottage which stood behind some trees, and begged for admittance and shelter from the inclemency of the elements. A loud hoarse voice answered from within, but the youth could not distinguish the words, for the tempest and the rain and the tossing trees raved so frightfully around him, that no other sound could be distinctly heard.
The door of the cottage entered from the garden, through which, having passed, he was conducted by a female hand along a dark passage into a small chamber, in which there was a lighted lamp and a fire burning on the hearth. In a corner beside the lamp sate a hideous old woman spinning. The young maid who had introduced him busied herself about the fireplace, and kept so moving about that he was unable to obtain a near or correct view of her countenance; while the deafening peals of thunder for a long time rendered any thing like conversation impossible.
"This is a dreadful storm!" said the old woman in a croaking voice, during a lull in the tempest. "From whence come you, young man?"
"From Padua this evening."
"That is a long way," cried the old woman; "twenty good miles from hence. What business have you here, in a place to which no high-road leads?"
"I know not," replied the youth.
"The miserable are incapable of forming plans, or of taking thought for the future. Well would it be if there were no futurity at all in reserve for me."
"Badly said, badly said, young man; you must not speak so. What!" exclaimed she, rising up and scrutinizing him by the light of the lamp—"A Florentine! by all that's wonderful. It is long since I have t eyes on the garb of fair Florence. This visit must betoken me some good-luck. Truly this storm has sent me a welcome guest; for know, my young sir, that I myself come from that blessed country—from Florence. Ah! what would I give to tread thy soil once more, and to behold thy beloved mountains and gardens! But your name, my dear young master?"
"Antonio Cavalcanti," answered the youth, who felt his heart somewhat warmed towards the old hag, because she was his countrywoman.
"Oh, glorious name!" exclaimed she enthusiastically, "Cavalcanti! years ago I knew a man of that name, Guido Cavalcanti."
"He was my father," said Antonio.
"And he is dead?"
"He is dead," said the young man; "and my mother, too, has long since been taken from me."
"I know it, my beautiful youth," cried the old woman. " It is now fifteen years since she died. Alas! she yielded up her spirit in an unhappy time. And your dear good father, I have to thank him that I was not condemned some years afterwards to the fagot. The judges had taken it into their heads that I was a witch, and would not be convinced to the contrary. But, by his threats and entreaties, my Lord Guido bore me through, and they at length consented merely to banish me from my native land. And now the storm has driven the son of my benefactor into my poor little hut! Give me your hand, my young master."
Antonio gave her his hand, and, although inwardly repelled by her forbidding appearance, he constrained himself to appear gay, and listened attentively to the tattling of the old dame, who, on account of her former acquaintance with his family, seemed inclined to exert a sort of authority over him. But what was his astonishment and consternation when she suddenly cried out—"Crescentia?"
"For Godsake!" cried the youth, trembling all over, "do you know her? —do you behold her? Do you know any thing at all about her?"
"What ails you?" shrieked the old woman. "I think I ought to know something about her, seeing that she is my own daughter. Look yourself how the lazy wench sits yonder fast asleep, allowing the fire to go out, and our supper to grow cold."
She took the lamp. and approached the hearth. And now the youth's bewilderment may be conceived, when he beheld Crescentia before him, just as he had seen her that very evening, lying in her coffin, in Padua. The pale countenance, the closed eyes, the heavy tresses, and all the features, were those of his bride elect; her small hands, also, were folded, and between them lay an image of our Saviour on the cross. Her white robe heightened the illusion.
"She is dead!" cried he, gazing upon her, and rooted to the spot.
"She is lazy, the idle huzzy!" croaked the hag, shaking the fair sleeper. "The useless baggage can do nothing but pray and sleep."
Crescentia aroused herself, and her confusion heightened her charms. Antonio was wellnigh distracted when he saw before him her whom be thought he had lost for ever.
"Old sorceress!" cried he with vehemence—"Where am I? And what image is that which you have placed before my wandering senses? Speak! —who is that blessed being? Crescentia, is it really thou! Dost thou still know thine own Antonio? Tell me how comest thou to be here?"
"Hollo! my young gallant," cried the old woman, "really you rave, as if you had lost your judgment. Is the storm still raging in your brain? —has the lightning blasted your reason? This girl is my daughter, and has ever been so as far as I know."
"I know you not," said Crescentia blushing deeply and addressing Antonio. "I have never been in Padua."
"Come," said the old woman, interrupting them, "let us go to supper."
The meal was set, and consisted of vegetables and a flask of rich Florentine wine, which the old dame produced out of a small cupboard. Antonio could eat but little. He kept his eyes riveted on Crescentia, and his disturbed fancy was ever whispering him that she was his dead bride. Then, again, he believed that he lay bound up in a heavy dream—the victim of a delirium which changed all the objects around him—that, perhaps, at that moment he was in the city, in his own home, suffering under the pressure of his own wild imagination, and incapable of perceiving or recognizing any of his friends, who yet might be weeping around him, and striving to comfort his afflicted spirit.
The storm was now past, and the stars were shining in the dark quiet sky. The old woman ate well, and drank better of the sweet wine. "Come, Master Antonio," said she, after a pause, "tell us what it was that took you to Padua, and brought you hither."
Antonio started from his revery.
"You are certainly entitled," replied be, "to interrogate your guest; besides, you appear to have known my father, and. perhaps, my mother also."
"Well, indeed, did I know her," said the old woman. "No one knew her better. Ay, ay, she died just six months before your father made out his second marriage with the Marchioness of Manfredi."
"So you are acquainted with that circumstance, too, are you?"
"Yes, truly," continued she; "it appears as if I had that fair puppet for ever before mine eyes. Tell me, is your beautiful stepmother still alive? When she came up from the country to be married, she was just in the hey-day of her charms."
"I cannot tell you," said Antonio, with a sigh, all that I endured at the hands of this stepmother. She had thrown the spells of enchantment, as it were, around my father, who would rather have acted with the greatest injustice towards his oldest friends, and his own son, than have subjected her to the smallest inconvenience. But matters between him and her were at length very much changed. Yet, I believe, my heart now suffered more from witnessing their mutual hatred than it had formerly done under its own multiplied vexations."
"It appears, then, that matters went on bitter bad in your household?" inquired the old woman, with a discordant chuckle.
Antonio darted a keen glance at the hag as he replied, in a tone of confusion, "I know not how I have been led to speak, in this place, of my own misery and that of my parents."
The old woman drained the red wine which stood mantling in her glass like blood, and with loud laughter replied—"I know no such glorious sport—no such perfect heaven upon earth as is to be witnessed when we see a husband and wife, once a most loving couple, now living together like cat and dog—tearing, scolding, and banning one another like two tigers, and both ready to devote themselves to Satan, provided by doing so each can annoy the other, and break the band that unites them. That, my boy, is the divinest spectacle that human life affords, and greatly is the sport enhanced if we know that the pair, in the early delirium of their passion, broke through every law of God and man in order to come together, and to tie the band which they now abominate so heartily. That, believe me, is a high festival for Satan and all his powers, and is celebrated as a jubilee throughout hell with tinkling cymbals. And now, touching these family affairs of yours——But I must hold my tongue perhaps I might say too much."
Crescentia looked sorrowfully towards the astonished Antonio. "Never mind her," whispered she. "She is drunk, miserable woman."
But the old woman's word, had powerfully recalled to the mind of Antonio the past, with all its dismal scenes. The gloomy day came back upon his soul in which he had seen his stepmother on her deathbed, and his father, in despair, cursing the hour of his birth, and intreating forgiveness of the spirit of his first wife.
"Have you nothing more to tell us?" asked the old woman, arousing him with these words out of his deep revery.
"What more can I have?" said Antonio, bitterly. "You appear to know all about me, or to have learnt it by means of some sort of second sight. Need I tell you that it was our old servant Roberto who poisoned my stepmother, stirred up to revenge by her dislike of him, and that he afterwards endeavoured, most accursedly, to fasten the crime on my father? He escaped from prison, scaled the wall of the garden, and in the grotto there, plunged his dagger into my father's heart."
"Roberto! the old Roberto!" cried the hag as if in high glee; "ay, ay, what is there that one does not live to learn! This Roberto was in his early years a right good hypocrite— to all appearance a most holy dog; but he is now become, as I hear, a lad of the most determined metal. He stabbed him in the grotto, too? —well, it is wonderful how all things hang together. In that same grotto your father often sat with his first bride in the early years of their love and there did he first swear to her eternal constancy. But drink, my son, drink, and go on with your story."
"I swore to avenge my father's death," said Antonio.
"Quite right," answered the old woman; "revenge, revenge is a sweet and precious word!"
"But Roberto," added Antonio, "had escaped, and was nowhere to be found."
"What a pity!" cried she. "And now the thirst for revenge drives you through the world in pursuit of him?"
"It does. I have traversed Italy and searched every city, but as yet have discovered no trace of the murderer. The fame of Pietro d'Abano at length made me a sojourner in Padua. I wished to learn wisdom from his lips; but when I was introduced to the family of Podesta"—
"Now, speak out, child!"
"I know not what to say. I know not whether I am mad or dreaming. There I beheld the daughter of that house, the charming, the lovely Crescentia: and here also I behold her very self. Surely that funeral ceremony was a bad unseasonable jest, and surely this disguise, this flight into the wilderness, is just as ill-timed a deception. Discover yourself, discover yourself to me, my dear delightful Crescentia; do you not k now that my heart lives only in your bosom? Wherefore subject me to this cruel trial? Perhaps your parents are in the next room, and hear all that we are saying. Oh! if so, let them be called in. I have now suffered enough from this terrible test, which has been like to drive me mad."
The pale Crescentia gazed upon him with such an unutterable woefulness of expression, that tears forced themselves from his eyes. "The man is surely drunk!" said the old woman. "Come, tell me, is the daughter of Podesta dead? And when did she die?"
"This very evening," answered the weeping Antonio, "I met her funeral." "Is it. possible?" cried the old woman, delighted, and filling herself another glass. "That will be news for the family of Marconi in Venice."
"Why so!" asked Antonio.
"Because they are now the sole heirs of the wealthy Podesta. This is what that crafty family wished, but scarcely could have hoped ever to be."
"Woman!" cried Antonio, with renewed astonishment, "you know every thing!"
"Not quite every thing," returned she, "but some things; and witchcraft, let me tell you, has something to do with it. Do not be too much shocked; but it was not for nothing that these Florentine gentry wished to bring me to the stake. Look me in the face. youngster, and brush aside the locks from your forehead. There now, give me your left hand—now your right. Well, that is strange and wonderful! —a terrible danger impends over you. but if you survive it, you shall again behold your beloved one."
"T'other side the grave!" sighed Antonio.
"T'other side the grave!" shouted the old woman, reeling with intoxication—"T'other side—what means that! I say on this side of it. T'other side, indeed? The grave has no t'other side. What words fools make use of!"
Antonio was about to give her an angry answer, when Crescentia threw upon him such a beseeching glance as much as to say "Spare my mother!" that his indignation was completely disarmed. The old woman now began to yawn and rub her eyes, and at length overpowered by her repeated draughts of strong wine, she sank down fast asleep. The fire was extinguished on the hearth, and the lamp was burning low. Antonio stood meditating on his strange situation, and Crescentia was sitting at the window on a low footstool. At length the wearied youth put the question—" Where am I to sleep?"
"There is a chamber above us," said Crescentia, with a sigh—and now for the first time he remarked that she had been weeping bitterly. She trimmed the lamp, and preceded him in silence. He followed her up the narrow steps; and when they had entered the small dark chamber, the maid placed the lamp on a table, and was in the act of retiring. However, when she got to the door, she turned round and surveyed the young man with a death-like glance; she stood for a moment trembling before him, and then, uttering a loud shriek, fell in convulsions at his feet. "What ails you, my dear child!" said he, lifting her up. "Be composed, and tell me your affliction." "No," cried the weeping damsel, "let me lie where I am. Would to God that I could die this moment at your feet! This is too dreadful. And I can do nothing. I cannot prevent it. Dumb and powerless, I must be a spectator of the infernal deed. Alas! You are a doomed man."
"Collect yourself," said Antonio, comforting her, "and tell me plainly what is the meaning of all this."
"I resemble," said she, in a voice broken by violent sobs—"I resemble, you say, your dead love, and yet I am she whose hand must lead you to a murder-grave. It is easy for my mother to foretell that some terrible danger is near you, knowing as she does the company—that harbour nightly in this den. No man ever went forth alive out of this hell. Every moment brings nearer and nearer the steps of the dreadful Ildefons and the accursed Andrea, with their helpmates and followers. And yet I can do nothing but be the herald of your death. I can afford you no help, and no means of escape."
Antonio became alarmed. In considerable agitation, he groped for his sword, and examined the point of his dagger: and then he felt his courage and determination revive. Ardently as he had wished for death, he now felt that there was something too dreadful in meeting it in a robber's den. "But you, my girl," said he—"you, with such a countenance, and such a form—how can you consent to be the companion and helpmate of these murderous ruffians?"
"I cannot escape," answered she, "otherwise how gladly would I fly this house. And, alas! it has been determined that to-morrow I shall be carried away across the sea—the wife of Andrea or Ildefons. Would to God that I might perish now!"
"Come," cried Antonio, "the door is open. Fly with me—the night—the wood will protect us."
"Behold," said the maiden, "how strongly the windows are secured by thick iron stanchels. The door of the house is fastened with a great lock, the key of which my mother never parts with. Did you not observe how she turned the bolt immediately after you bad entered the house?"
"We might despatch the old hag," said Antonio, "and then obtain possession of her key."
"Murder my mother!" cried the maiden, turning pale, and clinging to Antonio, so that he could not stir hand or foot.
The young man quieted her apprehensions. He then proposed, that as the old woman was intoxicated and fast asleep, they could softly abstract the key from her side, then open the door and escape. Crescentia appeared to have some hopes of the success of this plan. They therefore descended gently into the lower chamber, in which they found the old woman still sleeping soundly. Crescentia, with trembling hands, sought and found the key, and after some time, succeeded in loosening it from her girdle. She made a sign to the youth: they softly approached the door, and cautiously inserted the key into the lock: Antonio was in the act of forcing back the bolt with a firm noiseless hand, when he found that another person was, at the same moment, turning the lock from the outside. The door opened, and there stood before him, face to face, a huge savage-looking man. "Ildefonso!" shrieked the maiden; and the youth recognised, at the first glance, the murderer of his father—Roberto.
"What is the meaning of this!" said the robber, in a hoarse voice, "How came you by the key!"
"Roberto!" exclaimed. Antonio. seizing the ruffian furiously by the throat. They struggled violently together; but the strength and activity of the youth at length prevailed: he hurled the miscreant to the earth, and planting his knee upon his breast, plunged his dagger into his heart. Meanwhile the old dame awoke with loud cries: she sprang up, and tore away her daughter from the scene of strife, with shrieks and curses: she dragged her into the upper chamber, and bolted the door from within. Antonio was about to go up stairs to burst open the door, when several dark figures entered the cottage, and were not a little astonished to find their leader dead upon the floor. "I now am your captain!" cried a stout figure, all over ornaments, savagely drawing his sword as he said it. "Yes, provided Crescentia be given up to me"—replied a younger robber fiercely. In a moment their swords were crossed, and they fell murderously to work. The lamp was upset, and they fought in the darkness, from corner to corner, amid yells and curses. "Are ye mad?" cried another voice, striking in during the fray—"Ye will allow the stranger to escape. Cut him down first, and settle your own disputes afterwards." But the combatants, blind with rage, heard not what was said. The first streaks of dawn were now beginning to dapple the horizon. At this moment Antonio felt a hand aiming at his throat: he struck the murderer from him: "I am slain!" cried the latter, falling to the earth. —"Fool why don't ye guard the door, and prevent his escape!" Meanwhile Antonio had got to the open door—he bolted through the garden, and over the hedge, with the robbers at his heels. He was only a few paces ahead of them, and they did their best to overtake him. Followed by their yells and threats, he reached a spot in the wood from which several pathways diverged, and was uncertain which to take. He looked behind him, and seeing that his pursuers were separated, he attacked the nearest of them, and. disabled him from following farther. But, at the same instant, be heard renewed shouts, and looking into the wood, he saw new assailants coming upon him from a side-path, and likely to cut off his retreat. In this perplexity, he luckily fell in with his horse, grazing in a small open space, and seemingly quite refreshed. He lost not a moment in springing upon its back; and no sooner had he seized the bridle, than the animal as if aware of his master's danger, carried him along a beaten track, with the speed of the wind, out of the wood. By degrees, the cries of his pursuers became fainter and fainter: he reached the open country; and by the time he had recovered from his frightful adventure, the city spires appeared shining before him in the light of the morning sun.
The strange appearance he presented, without his hat, and with his dress otherwise disordered, excited great curiosity among the crowds of country people whom he fell in with on their way to the market, and the citizens looked upon him with astonishment as he dismounted before the great palace of Podesta.
That same night there were strange doings at Padua, which, as yet, men little wot of. No sooner had darkness enveloped the city in its heavy folds, than Pietro d'Abano set about arranging all the utensils and instruments of his art, for the performance of a mysterious and wonderful operation. He was clothed in a long robe inwrought with hieroglyphics; already had he described the magic circle on the floor of his apartment, and made all the other preparations requisite for ensuring the mighty result which he desired. He had diligently scrutinized the position of the stars, and now was waiting patiently for the propitious moment which was to crown all his expectations.
His attendant. the hateful Berecynth, was likewise clothed in magical attire, and moved about fetching and arranging all things according to his master's commands. Painted coverlets were spread upon the walls, and along the floor of the chamber; the great magic mirror was set upright; and now the moment drew on which the enchanter deemed most favourable for his schemes.
"Have you placed the crystal. within the circle?" cried Pietro. "I have," answered the caricature of humanity, bustling about unweariedly among the phials, glasses, human skeletons, and other extraordinary furniture which littered that strange apartment. The incense-vessel was now produced—a flame was kindled on the altar—and the magician drew forth cautiously, and with almost trembling hand, from an innermost recess, the mighty book of his science. "Is it time?" cried Berecynth. "Peace!" said the old man solemnly, "and disturb not the holy charm with any useless mischievous babbling." He read, at first softly, and then in a louder and more vehement voice, as he moved up and down with measured steps, within the circle. After a time, he stopped and cried out, "Go, and see what sort of appearance the heavens present."
"Thick darkness," answered his servant, returning, "is over the face of the sky; the clouds are gathering, and rain is beginning to fall." "The heavens are propitious!" cried the old man—"we must succeed." He now knelt down, and, muttering imprecations, frequently touched the floor with his forehead. His countenance was flushed, and his eyes sparkled. He muttered the holy names which man is forbid to speak; and after a while he again sent his servant out to examine the firmament. Meanwhile, the gathering storm began to rage with all its force; lightning and thunder were slipt from their leashes, and the house trembled to its foundations. " Hearken to the storm!" cried Berecynth, coming back in haste, —"Hell bas broken loose from below, and is abroad with all his fires; and what with the crashing thunderbolts that are bursting upon us from above, the globe herself is almost shaken from her sphere. Cease your incantations, lest the very bands break which hold the solid universe together!"
"Fool! madman!" cried the magician—" Peace with that drivelling chatter! Haste and throw wide open all the doors—the door of the house also."
The dwarf departed to execute his master's commands. The magician, in the mean time lighted the consecrated tapers. With shuddering steps he approached the great torch which stood upon a lofty stand, and when it, too, had taken fire, then he prostrated himself to the ground, and offered up louder and louder adjurations. His eyes streamed with fire; his limbs trembled as if convulsively; and the cold sweat of anxiety burst forth from every pore. With frantic gestures, and in dreadful terror, the dwarf came bounding back from his errand, and took refuge within the circle. "The world is bursting into pieces!" cried he, with pale features and chattering teeth. "All the elements of honor and fury are abroad; but every living creature has retreated into the innermost recess of its dwelling, in order to escape the anguish of this terrible time."
The old man raised his countenance from the ground, death-pale, and with an expression of unfathomable horror, cried aloud in a strange accent "Silence! miserable slave! and disturb not the work. Take heed that you lose not your senses. The most appalling is yet to come."
With a loud voice, as if he would burst his chest, he again commenced reading and praying. His breath often tailed; and the violent exertions he made, appeared as if they would kill him. Then suddenly was heard a confused noise of voices wrangling with one another. They whispered they raved —they laughed —they blended together in song and with the whole was mixed up an intricate chiming of strange instruments. All the utensils now became living, and danced up and down the apartment. From every wall in the house, strange creatures of all kinds came pouring forth —beasts and monsters, abortions and living caricatures of the most abominable description —and writhed and twisted themselves about in figures of the most complicated variety.
"Master!" cried Berecynth, the house will soon be too small to hold them. What is to be done with this interminable host of spectres? Surely they must eat up one another. Alas! woe's me! each one of them is ever developing itself into ghastlier and more frantic numbers. I shall lose my senses amid their swarms, their yellings, and fitings—their bursts of laughter, and shrieks of passionate dreariment. Look! master, look! the walls are dilating—the chambers are stretching themselves away into vistas of infinity. We stand amid immeasurable halls. The ceilings are lifting themselves up into vaults of unfathomable height. And still the phantoms are shooting forth on all sides, and ever keep multiplying themselves with the growing space. What is to be done? Have you no succour for us amid the trials of this dreadful hour?"
Here Pietro raised himself up, dreadfully exhausted. "Look out once more," said be in a low voice; "direct thine eyes to the Cathedral, and tell me what thou see'st."
"If I stir a step," said Berecynth in perplexity, "I shall trample on the heads of these good people here. They are writhing on all sides of me like snakes and laughing scornfully in my face. Are they spirits—real substantial goblins, or mere empty phantoms? I say, you devils, unless you get out of my way, I shall certainly tread on the green or blue snouts of some of you. Let every one look out for himself!" So saying, he dashed into the midst of them.
All was now still, and Pietro stood up. He made a sign, and the whole spectre host vanished from the place. He wiped the sweat from his forehead, and drew his breath more freely. Here his servant returned, and said, "Master, every thing is now quiet and gracious. At first, light phantoms went flying past me, and vanished in the dark sky; and then, when I had fixed my eyes on the Cathedral, a mighty peal arose, as if all the chords of a giant's harp had at once been made shiver, while, at the stroke, every street and house trembled. Then the great door of the cathedral flew open; sweet flutings arose upon the air, and a soft serene light flooded the interior of the church. A female form came forth into the beams, pale, but radiant as an angel, and crowned with a coronet of flowers. She stepped out of the church door, and an escort of gentle lights guided her steps along the streets through which she had to pass. With erect head and folded hands she glided on towards our dwelling. Is this she whom you expect?"
"Take this golden key," answered Pietro, "and open with it the innermost and most sumptuous apartment in my house. The purple couch is spread, and the perfumes are burning. Then betake yourself to rest. Make no further inquiries about what you have witnessed tonight. Be silent and obedient as you value your life."
"I know my own place, I believe," said the dwarf, taking himself off with the key, and darting a malicious glance behind him as he went. Meanwhile gentle strains were heard coming nearer and nearer. Pietro went down into his entrance-hall, and at the same moment there glided into it the pale corpse of Crescentia, dressed in her winding-sheet, and still holding the crucifix in her folded hands. The magician placed himself before her; she opened her eyes wide, and, trembling from head to foot, started back from him in horror, so that the crown of flowers was shaken from her head. In silence he parted her folded hands; but in the left she still held fast the cross. Taking her by the right, he led her through the range of his apartments; and she went with him—a rigid and unconscious form that regarded him not.
At length they reached a remote chamber, in which they halted. It was most sumptuously adorned with purple and gold, silk and satin, and the light even of broad day tell with faint and deadened rays through the heavy curtains. The sorcerer motioned his victim towards the couch, and the unconscious being, filled so strangely with life, lifted and let fall her fair head, like a lily stirred by the wind, as she sank down on the purple coverlet, breathing as if in agony. The old man poured a precious essence from a golden flask into a small crystal saucer, and held it to her lips. The maiden swallowed the miraculous draught, opened her eyes once more, and gazed upon him whom in life she had regarded as her friend; she then turned from him with an expression of abhorrence, and sank into a deep slumber.
The magician now retired, locking the apartment. The whole house was buried in profound repose. He betook himself to his own chamber, there, amid his books and magical instruments, to await the sunrise and the business of the day.
When the unhappy youth Antonio was sufficiently rested, Podesta and a large troop of armed followers rode out with him on the following day, to search for the hut and to capture the hateful hag and her banditti. The account given by Antonio had made the disconsolate father very anxious to behold the maiden who so closely resembled his dead daughter.
"Is it possible," said the old man as he rode along, "that a dream I have often had should turn out to be really true?"
The father was too eager to reach the spot to carry on much conversation with Antonio. They at length entered the wood, and the youth expected to be able to recover the traces of his late journey. But so terribly had the events of that dreadful night perplexed and shaken his soul, that he was unable, with all his pains, to fix upon the path along which, during the storm, he had been carried with the madness of despair. They crossed the country in all directions; and wherever a thicket or trees were to be seen, Antonio spurred up to them, in hopes of detecting the robbers' den, or (if its inhabitants had taken themselves off; as he thought extremely probable) of at least discovering some traces that they had been there. At length, after they had spent the greater part of the day in a fruitless quest, Podesta came to the conclusion that the whole had been a mere vision, fabricated by the youth's brain, fevered by the bewilderment of grief. "The discovery," exclaimed he, "would be too great good-luck for me, for I was born to be the most unfortunate of men!"
It was now necessary that they should bait their horses at a village hard by. Its inhabitants had never heard of their suspected neighbours, and the corpse of the slain robber had not been found any where in the country round about. After a time they again took the road, although Podesta now followed Antonio with very little hopes of success. They questioned every peasant they met, but could get no satisfactory answer to their queries. Towards evening they came upon a spot which had the appearance of having been much disturbed; ashes and rubbish lay scattered around—here and there charred beams were visible among the ruins, and the neighbouring trees also bore the traces of fire. The youth thought he recognised the place. Here, thought he, surely stood the dwelling of the murderers; here it was that that strange apparition of Crescentia appeared to me. The company halted. Far and wide there was not a house in sight—not a human being to be seen. They despatched a servant to the nearest farm, and, after a time, he brought back with him an old man on horseback. The old man said that, about a year ago, a cottage on this spot had been set on fire by some soldiers; that the proprietor of the ground had been living for the last ten years at Rome, in expectation of some priestly office; and that his steward had gone to Ravenna to collect some outstanding debts.
Dispirited and weary, the travellers returned to the city. Podesta determined to give up all his offices, to retire from business, and even to leave Padua, where every thing reminded him of his misfortune. Antonio resolved to become a pupil of the renowned Abano, and to try to forget his miseries in the studies of that famous school. He obtained lodgings in the home of that great man, who now for some time past had been his friend.
A short time after these events, the old priest met the melancholy Antonio, and thus accosted him—"You also, then, have joined that unhappy school and its pernicious teacher, who will lead your soul to perdition?"
"What makes you so bitter against him, my pious friend?" replied Antonio. "Why should not religion and science go hand in hand, as they certainly do in the case of my worthy teacher? He is a man whom the whole world honours, whom princes love and cherish, and whom our holy father himself is about to elevate to high ecclesiastical dignity. Why should you chafe against him whom every one else loves? You do so because you know not the man. Get acquainted with him, cultivate his society, and you will soon venerate him, and recant all your prejudices."
"Never!" cried the priest, with vehemence. " Young man," continued he, "let me warn you to be on your guard against him, and that hellish retainer of his; for, whatever doubts there may be about his master, there is no mistaking who he is."
"The little Berecynth," answered Antonio, "is certainly an absurd and unprepossessing figure, and I often wonder that the noble Pietro can endure to have him so much about him as he has. But why should a hump-back, and other grievous deformities, prejudice in against a poor fellow-creature, to whom nature has been so illiberal!"
"Mighty fine words! —a very delicate mode of expressing it!" cried the priest scornfully. "Let me tell you, young man, that such sentiments are marrow to the bones of these sorcerers and liars. But look, here comes the scarecrow—I cannot bear even to look upon him, much less could I endure to converse with him. Well and wisely has it been said, Cave quos Deus ipse notavit."
Berecynth, who had caught up these last words, came skipping forwards. "Is your beauty, then, my good sir," said he "so transcendent as to entitle you to pronounce such severe judgments upon others? My master, who is a handsome, majestic man, entertains no such harsh, illiberal notions. What! you little, stunted, rickety, red-nosed, snivelling abortion —you wry-mouthed, wrinkled old wretch, it is truly a good one to hear you preaching about my ugliness! Why, you miserable dwarf your head is hardly on a level with the pulpit cushion when you are holding forth there; and you dare not cross the street when the wind blows, such spindles are your shanks. The congregation cannot even see you when you are gesticulating before the altar, and require all their Christian faith to believe that you are really present; and yet this mannikin, this nonentity, is talking big here, as if he were a Goliah. Believe me, I could cut as good a priest as you are, any day, out of my own nose, to say nothing of the hump I carry both in front and rear."
The enraged priest had withdrawn before the conclusion of this attack, and Antonio was about to chide Berecynth for his petulant behaviour, when the latter cried out, "A truce with your moralizing—I can stand that at the hands of no man except my own master, and he beats the world at morality, philosophy, and all that sort of thing. But this weathercock monk here, who goes creaking round on the pivot of envy and malignity, because he perceives that his authority and prosperity are declining before the influence of my glorious master—he, let me tell you, shall never be permitted to open his toothless gums in my presence, without my bringing all my jaw to bear upon him; and let me add, that from a young student like yourself I can abide no contradiction; for I had begun to shave long before your father was out of his baby-clothes, and I was a boy at school before your illustrious grandsire was breeched, therefore show respect where respect is due, and remember whose presence you are in."
"Do not be angry, my little man," said Antonio—" I mean you well."
"Mean what you please!" said Berecynth. "My master is now prelate—do you know that! —and rector of the university; and a new gold chain of office has just been sent to him from Paris. You must come and see him, for he is about to set out upon a journey, and wishes to converse with you before he starts. A word in your ear—you must be shyer of priests' company if you would be a philosopher."
So saying, the dwarf hirpled off; and Antonio turning to his friend. the young Spaniard Alphonso, who had that moment joined him, said, "I never know, when conversing with that abortion, whether he is in jest or earnest, he appears to make such scornful sport of himself and all other creatures."
"That," answered Alphonso, "is by way of comforting and compensating himself for his own ungainliness. In his scornful imagination he conceives all other people to be like himself. But have you heard of the new honours which have been bestowed upon our great teacher?"
"The world," returned Antonio, "recognises his lofty worth; and since our holy father the Pope has now made him a prelate, that surely ought to tie the tongues of all those envious priests and monks who have never ceased traducing this excellent and pious man."
The friends parted, and Antonio hastened to take farewell of his teacher for some days. The dwarf received him at the door with a grinning attempt to appear cordial
The Purple Chamber.
Twilight bad now set in, and Antonio. after Berecynth had left him, went in quest of his teacher. Finding him neither in the hall nor the library, he traversed many rooms, and at length came to an apartment in the very interior of the house, which he had never before been in. Here, beside a glimmering lamp, sat Pietro, who was not a little surprised to behold the young Florentine enter; while the latter, in his turn, paused in astonishment over the skeletons and strange implements by which the old man was surrounded. Pietro came forward in some confusion: "It was not here that I expected you," said he, "I intended to have met you out of doors, or to have visited you in your own apartment. I am about to set out to meet the Pope's ambassador, in order to receive at his hands, in all humility and thankfulness, the new honours our holy father hatt been pleased to lavish upon me." Then perceiving that Antonio still continued to gaze with astonishment upon the strange apparatus before him—he continued, "You are surprised to behold all these strange instruments: they are necessary for the prosecution of my studies; and, after you have regularly attended my lectures on natural philosophy, their use shall probably be explained to you."
At this moment an occurrence took place which completely drew off Antonio's attention from all these objects. A door, which appeared closed, but which was in reality ajar, opened itself wide, and the youth saw into a chamber filled with purple light. In the rosy glow stood a pale spectral form, which nodded and smiled. Swift as lightning the old man wheeled round, banged-to the door, and locked it with a golden key. Trembling, and pale as death, he then threw himself into a chair, while great drops of sweat ran down his forehead. When he had somewhat recovered himself, he made a sign to Antonio to approach, and said with a quivering voice, "This mystery, too, my young friend, shall one day be cleared up to you. Do not think ill of me, my beloved son. Thee, before all others, have chosen to initiate into my profound knowledge. Thou shalt be my true scholar and my heir. But leave me now: retire to thine own chamber, and pray to heaven and the holy powers to befriend thee."
Antonio could take no reply, so greatly was he surprised and shocked by the apparition he had seen, and so much was he bewildered by the manner of his revered teacher; for it appeared to him as if Pietro were struggling to keep down a storm of wrath, and as if suppressed fury were burning in his ferocious eyes.
On retreating into the antechamber, he there found Berecynth engaged in catching flies, and throwing them to an ape. The two appeared to vie with each other which could make the most hideous faces. At this moment the master summoned his familiar with a voice of thunder, and the abortion hobbled into his chamber. Antonio heard high words ensue, and Pietro rating him in a towering passion. The dwarf then rushed forth, weeping and howling, with a stream of blood running down his nose. "Cannot he close his own doors, and be damned to him!" bellowed he out, "all powerful miscreant that he is. The master is stupid, and the servant must bear the blame." Turning to Antonio, "And you, sir—his most devoted—take yourself off to your garret, and leave me alone with my good friend, my dear Pavian, here. He, at least, has a human heart, and is the very brother of my soul. Come, tramp! —my Pylades must finish his feast of flies, and his Orestes must set about catching them."
Antonio withdrew in great bewilderment. He retired to his own apartment—an attic in a remote quarter of the house which he had Selected, because there he could pursue his studies in greater privacy. He looked out over flood and field, and his thoughts turned upon her whom he had lately lost. Her picture was in his hand, and some playthings which had been hers in childhood, were lying on the floor: but especially dear to him was a nightingale, which was pouring forth its notes of sorrow, as if its own heart had been overburdened with woe. This bird bad been Crescentia's favorite, and now the enthusiastic youth cherished it as a holy possession— the last memorial of his earthly happiness.
He had given up the society of all his friends except the Spaniard Alphonso, who was attached to him by the admiration they shared in common for the great Pietro. Podesta had left Padua and gone to Rome, with the full intention of disinheriting his relations—the Marconi family in Venice. The old man despaired of recovering the twin-daughter of Crescentia, who had been stolen from him in her infancy; and he now felt her loss all the more bitterly, on account of the hopes that had been awakened within him by the night-adventure of Antonio.
Next morning Pietro set out on his journey accompanied by the faithful Berecynth; and Antonio was left alone in the great house, every room of which was locked. When night came, sleep was a stranger to his eyes: that bewildering figure he bad caught a glimpse of, stood for ever before him: its presence had shaken his very soul—yet he now contemplated it with feelings of delight. He felt that he had lost all power over his thoughts, and that images he could not grasp were incessantly flitting before his fancy.
The nightingale was singing on the outside of the window; he looked out, and saw that it was raining hard: accordingly, he took the bird in, and placed it on the top of an old cupboard. While he was in the act of stretching forth to put down the cage more securely, the chain broke by which the miniature of Crescentia was suspended round his neck, and the picture, rolling towards the wall, got behind the cupboard. The youth stooped down to search for the beloved token; but with all his groping he could not recover it from beneath the huge lumbering press. Fate seemed determined to persecute him in the small as well as in the great occurrences of his life. He endeavoured to drag the cupboard from its place, but found that it was fastened to the wall. His impetuosity now knew no bounds. He seized an old iron bar which he found in the antechamber, and laboured with all his might to force the press from its position; it at length gave way, and was torn from its fastenings with a loud crash. By degrees, he so far removed it as to be able to insert himself between it and the wall; and, on looking down, he beheld his beloved picture. It lay on the broad handle of a door which opened into the wall. He placed the miniature in his bosom, and turned the handle; the door opened, and, after he had pushed the old press somewhat further out of his way, he perceived that it stood at the top of a flight of steps leading down into deep darkness. He commenced the descent, which appeared as if it wound away into some of the lower apartments. At length he came to the bottom of the stairs; and, after groping about for some time in the dark, his hand came in contact with an iron ring, which he pulled, and immediately the wall opened, while a flood of purple light flowed in upon him. Before entering, he examined the door, and found that it opened by a spring, which was touched whenever the ring was pulled. He closed the door behind him, and stepped forwards softly into the chamber. A rich crimson carpet covered the floor; heavy hangings of purple silk curtained the windows, and scarlet cloth decorated with gold hung around a bed which stood in the apartment. Profound repose reigned around; no noise from the street could reach that quiet chamber, the windows of which looked out upon a small garden. With suspended breath the youth stood in the middle of the chamber and listened—at length he thought he heard the respiration as if of a person sleeping. With beating heart he approached the bed, to see whether any one was in it; and, drawing aside the curtains, what was his consternation, when be beheld before him, pale as a corpse, but sleeping sweetly, the image of his own beloved Crescentia! Her bosom rose and fell visibly, and a tender bloom began to suffuse her pail lips, which were stirred by an almost imperceptible smile. Her hair was dishevelled, and fell in heavy tresses down her shoulders. For a long time Antonio stood entranced; but at length, driven by a supernatural impulse, he seized her white hand, and endeavoured to awaken the fair sleeper. She uttered a piercing cry; in terror he let go her arm. which sunk, as if wearied, on the cushion. After a time, however, the bands of her charmed sleep gave way, and like clouds, that, stirred by the light morning wind, rise and sink in wavering wreathe among the mountain valleys, she began to move—again she relapsed into her trance, and again she strove to draw herself forth out of the captivity of slumber. She raised her arms to her head, and the sleeves of her dress falling back, disclosed their fair proportions; she folded her hands, and again let them drop on the coverlet; she lifted up her head, and her neck shone fair in the rosy light, but still her eyes were closed, and her hair fell in black ringlets over her face; she braided it back with her long delicate fingers; at last she raised herself upright and, heaving a profound sigh, opened her eyes wide.
She gazed upon Antonio as if she saw him not; she shook her head, and, grasping the golden tassels that hung down from the top of the bed, she raised herself upon her feet, and stood, a tall slender form, surrounded by purple shadows; she then advanced a few steps towards the youth, who gave way as she approached, and with a childlike expression of surprise, laying her hand upon his shoulder, she smiled graciously, and said, in a gentle voice, Antonio!"
The youth overpowered by a crowd of mixed emotions—fear, astonishment, and delight blending with the profoundest pity—knew not what to do—whether he should rush to embrace her, fall at her feet, or yield up his soul in a passion of tears. That was the very same tone which he so often before heard, and which his heart was never able to resist. "Thou livest!" he exclaimed, in a voice choked by the swelling feelings of his heart.
The sweet smile which was spreading from her pale lips over her cheeks and eyes, suddenly disappeared, and was succeeded by a fixed expression of the deepest and most unutterable anguish. Antonio could not sustain her look; he covered his face with his hand, and cried out, "Art thou a spirit?"
The apparition came nearer him, and, removing his arm from before his face, said, in a soft quivering voice, "Nay, look upon me—I am not dead, but neither am I alive. Reach me the saucer yonder."
A fragrant liquid stood in the crystal dish; he handed it to her with trembling hand: she put it to her lips, and swallowed it in slow draughts. "Alas! my poor Antonio," said she, "I borrow earthly strength from this cup merely that I may reveal to you a most hellish deed, and entreat you to assist in restoring me to that repose from which I have been so unnaturally torn, and which I long to return to with all the longings of my soul."
She had sunk down in an arm-chair, and Antonio placed himself at her feet. "The arts of hell," continued she, "have apparently aroused me from the sleep of death. The man whom I, in my inexperience, worshipped as an apostle, is, let me tell you, one of the lowest of the spirits of perdition. To him I am indebted for this dread semblance of life. He loves me, he says—Oh! how I shrank from him in horror as soon as my eyes, opened from their death-sleep, recognised him! I sleep, I breathe, I live, and the monster promises that my life shall continue, provided I will give myself up to him with my whole heart, and become his bride within the secrecy of these mysterious walls. But oh! Antonio, how heavy each hated word of his falls upon my soul. All my passionate longings for death are counteracted by his infernal art. Was it not dreadful for my soul, already in its place of rest, and beginning to develope new intuitions, to be torn back so cruelly from its mansions of repose? My body had become strange to me, and I looked upon it as a hateful thing. Like a slave who had been freed, I came back to fetters and a dungeon. Assist me, my faithful one, assist me to break through these accursed spells."
"How?" cried Antonio; "God in heaven! what must I endure? Have I again found thee? and canst thou not tarry with us in the land of the living! Wilt thou not come and live with thy parents and me?"
" 'Tis impossible," cried Crescentia, her paleness waxing of a yet more ashen hue. "Ah, life! —who would ever wish for life who had once parted from it? Thou, my poor Antonio, canst not conceive the longing, the love, the rapture with which I desire death, and pray for it to come. In God's bosom I am restored to my parents, and there I love thee and them with a freer and more enduring love. But alas! when the thought of our love and of our youthful years comes over my present soul—when, in my solitude here, I hear the well-known singing of my nightingale—what sweet anguish and what dismal joy flit across the twilight of my existence. Oh, help to rescue me from such a life as this!"
"What can I do for thee?" asked Antonio.
The powers of the apparition were by this time exhausted. She reposed for a while with closed eyes, and then answered in a faint voice, "Ah! if I could but enter a church, and be present when the host is elevated before all the congregation, methinks in that blessed moment I could die with joy."
"What is there to prevent me," said Antonio, "from delivering up this monster Pietro to the Inquisition?"
"No, you must not think of that," sighed Crescentia, in dismay. " You know him not; he is too powerful; he would escape, and again spirit me away by means of his accursed spells. You must go quietly to work, if you would succeed."
The youth collected his scattered senses. and conversed for a considerable time with his formerly affianced bride. At length her speech grew indistinct and her eyes waxed heavy; she drank again of the enchanted cup, and then went to lie down upon her couch. "Farewell," cried she as if in a dream; "forget me not!" She ascended the bed, and laid herself peacefully down; her hands clasped the crucifix, and she kissed it with closed eyes; she then motioned her lover away, and sunk back in slumber. Antonio gazed upon her as he withdrew; he touched the spring in the wall, and the invisible door opened; he ascended the narrow winding stairs, and, entering his own room, replaced the cupboard in its former position, and then, when the nightingale welcomed him back with her swelling notes of woe, he burst into a flood of tears. He, too, like his own affianced one, now longed ardently for death; but meanwhile his whole mind was bent upon delivering her from her present dreadful condition.
All the bells in the city were pealing merrily in celebration of the festival of Easter. The people were thronging towards the Cathedral in order to keep that holy fast, as well as to behold the renowned Abano invested with his new dignities. The students were escorting their illustrious teacher, who moved humbly along amid the respectful greetings of all classes of people—the pride of the city, and the model which all the youth strove to imitate. At the door of the Cathedral the crowd drew back in profound reverence to make way for the consecrated Pietro, who, in his prelate's robes and golden chain, and with his long beard and silver locks, resembled an aged emperor or ancient father of the church.
A lofty seat had been prepared for him near the altar, in order that the congregation might get a good view of him; and the church being now filled, the celebration of high mass began. The little priest read the lessons of the day—and old and young, rich and poor, united with one heart to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, and to console themselves under all the trials and troubles of this world with the hope of a life of eternal happiness hereafter.
The first part of the service was just over, when the astonished congregation beheld Antonio leading into the church a figure shrouded in a thick veil. He led the figure close up to the altar, placed it right over against Pietro, and then prostrated himself in prayer. The veiled figure stood as if frozen, and those who were near saw its dark eyes burning within the shadow of the veil. Pietro raised himself from his seat, and again sank back pale and trembling. The sacred music was pealing forth its full symphonies when the figure began slowly to unveil itself—its countenance was disclosed—and the people recognised with horror the features of the dead Crescentia. A shudder ran through the whole church; even those who were farthest off felt their flesh creep when they beheld that death-pale form praying fervently, and turning its large flashing eyes upon the priests at the altar. The mighty Pietro appeared as if he had been struck dead; his ghastly features might have been taken for those of a corpse, but for the violent convulsions which, from time to time, agitated his frame. The priests now elevated the consecrated host, and the trumpets announced the actual presence of our Lord. At that moment the pale apparition, with a cry of joy, and an expression of rapture on her face, stretching forth her arms, shouted, "Hosannah!" so that the whole church rang—and then fell down dead, and lay rigid and motionless at the feet of the magician. The music ceased—the people rushed to the spot, with consternation and horror depicted on every countenance; the noblemen and students were endeavouring to comfort and support the venerable old man whom the scene had so dreadfully agitated, when Antonio shouted aloud, "Death and destruction! —he was the man that did it!" He then recounted to them the terrible tale—he laid bare the hellish art and magical practices of the trembling Pietro—he told them of his own fearful interview with the dead alive Crescentia. No sooner had he finished than a storm of wrath, curses, and abhorrence broke forth on all sides against the agonized sinner; and in the blindness of their fury the people had well nigh torn him in pieces on the spot. "Away with him," they cried, "to the gallows or the rack!" At this moment the inquisitors approached: Pietro raised himself up, and his person appearing to dilate, he struck out furiously around him with a giant's strength. He strode up to the corps of Crescentia, which lay smiling before him like an image of holiness—he gazed upon it for a moment, and then, with eyes flashing fire, forced his way through the middle of the crowd. The people gave way before the terror of his presence, and he escaped into the streets. Here, however, the crowd rallied, and pursued him with yells and curses. Not being able to overtake him, they pelted him with stones; but at length the magician, bleeding and dropping with sweat, while his teeth chattered with agony, reached the threshold of his own door.
He secreted himself in the innermost chamber in his house, while Berecynth, curious to know what the disturbance was all about, went out into the street and encountered the full fury of the mob. "Seize the devil's-mask" cried they; "tear his famulus in pieces! The wretch does not know what the inside of a church is like." Berecynth was seized—his cries and entreaties were in vain. Nothing was heard on all sides but imprecations and menaces of death. "Carry me before a judge," cried the dwarf" and my innocence will be made apparent." The police upon this laid hold of him, and conveyed him to prison. The mob thronged after him. "Come along!" cried the jailer, "I have plenty of chains and fagots in readiness for you, my little man." Berecynth endeavoured to escape, but the constables kept fast hold of him. One held him by the throat, another by the arms, another by the legs, and a fourth by the head, in order to make sure of their victim. While all this tumult was going on, and while the people were thus cursing and laughing, his bearers were driven suddenly asunder—a cravat remained in the hands of some of them, a jacket in the hands of another—the third held a cap, and the fourth a shoe—but the dwarf himself was nowhere to be seen. He could not be said to have escaped—he had vanished—the people knew not how.
The mob now broke open the mansion of Abano, and found the magician lying dead and drenched in blood upon his couch. They plundered the house, and set on fire all the magical instruments, books, and other strange furniture which it contained; and now the city resounded with nothing but execrations on the man whom yesterday all had honoured as the very ambassador of God. Their abhorrence of his unheard-of wickedness was the greater on that very account.
The Hermit's Cell.
A few days afterwards, when the popular agitation had somewhat subsided, the corpse of Pietro was buried at mid night, out of consecrated ground. The body of the fair Crescentia was also again solemnly interred. Then Antonio, and his friend Alphonso, determined to leave Padua—Antonio to go to Florence, and after having settled his affairs there, to retire into a cloister for life; and Alphonso to proceed to Rome, where a great festival was about to be celebrated by command of the Pope, and to which all the neighbouring nations had been invited—and so the friends parted.
Antonio, desirous of avoiding all public notice, pursued his journey by the most unfrequented paths. One evening, about sunset, he found himself in a valley among the Apennines, where no habitation of any sort was to be seen. After wandering about for some time in the gathering darkness, he heard the sound of a hermit's bell in the distance. He walked forwards in the direction from whence the sound came, and at length reached a small hut, situated in a thicket, which he entered by a wooden bridge that had been thrown across a torrent. Here he found an infirm old man, kneeling, in profound devotion, before a crucifix. The old man welcomed the youth kindly, prepared for him a bed of moss in an inner cave, which was separated by a door from his own cell, and placed before him a repast of fruits, water, and wine. When Antonio had refreshed himself, he sat up, enjoying the conversation of the monk, who having been a soldier in his younger days, had seen a good deal of the world, and served in a number of campaigns. Thus it was near midnight before the youth thought of retiring to rest; and, just as he was doing so, another frail old monk entered the cell to join the hermit in his nightly devotions.
Antonio had not rested above an hour, when he awakened suddenly from his sleep. He thought he heard a noise of voices and wrangling. He raised himself up, and listened, until he was certain that his senses did not misinform him. The tones also appeared to be familiar to him, so that he could not help again asking himself whether he was not still dreaming. He rose and approached the door, and put his eye to a chink, through which he could see into the next room. And, what was his astonishment, when he beheld Pietro d'Abano—the man whom he considered dead—speaking in loud wrath—his face flushed, and his eyes darting fire. Opposite him stood the figure of the hateful Berecynth.
"Your persecutor," cried the latter, in a cracked voice—"the man who is the cause of all your misery— the pious loving fool, is under the same roof with us. He has come to your very hand to be slaughtered like a tame rabbit, and yet you delay to strike!"
"Silence!" exclaimed Pietro; "I have consulted my familiars, and find that I cannot prevail against him for as yet he has fallen into no sin."
"Then have at him, without minding your familiars!" cried the abortion. "Strike him dead with your own gracious hand, and see how much his youth or his innocence will avail him! And I must be a miserable second if I do not heartily back you in so honorable a deed."
"Let us fall to work, then," exclaimed Pietro; "do you take the hammer—I will carry the hatchet. He is at this moment fast asleep."
They approached the door; upon which Antonio flung it wide open, and courageously came forward to confront his assailants. He had his drawn sword in his hand, but was struck motionless as a statue when he beheld, at some distance before him, nothing but two infirm old hermits on their knees at the cross, fervently breathing forth their prayers.
"Do you want anything?" asked his entertainer, slowly rising from the ground.
Antonio could not reply for astonishment.
"Wherefore have you your drawn sword in your hand?" asked the frail old man; "why is your aspect so threatening?"
Antonio excused himself on the ground that he had been troubled by a dreadful dream, and retired.
He did not, however, attempt to go to sleep so terribly was be agitated by what had happened. After a time he again heard Berecynth's cracked voice, and Pietro speaking to him in distinct tones.
"You see it is vain attempting it," said the latter; " he is armed, and on his guard, and is not likely to go to sleep again to-night."
"We must overpower him, however," returned the fiend; "he has recognised us, and, if we do not settle him our fate is sealed. He will band us over to the Inquisition to-morrow morning, and it won't be tardy in consigning us to the stake."
Antonio again looked through the chink, and again he perceived the two sorcerers. Sword in band, he dashed into the room, but, as before, he found nothing but two frail old men prostrate on the ground in prayer. Driven frantic by the illusion, be seized them in his arms, and wrestled with them violently. They turned upon him in despair; at one moment the countenance seemed to be that of Pietro—at another, that of the hermit—then it seemed to be the spectre Berecynth's, and again that of an infirm old man. Amid shrieks and yells, he at last succeeded in hurling them out of the cell which he bolted fast. Then was heard from without a sobbing of many voices dying wailings, and dreary shrieks while a storm passing over at the time filled up the pauses of the concert. At length Antonio, in spite of his agitation, fell asleep, resting on his sword, before the crucifix; and, when he awakened in the cold morning wind, he found himself lying on the top of a small rock, surrounded by thick woods, while he thought he heard a sound as if of scornful laughter dying away in the distance. Not knowing what road to take, he wandered about at random during the greater part of that day; but, towards evening reached the door of a collier's cottage, and on the following morning proceeded on his journey towards Florence.
The Meeting In Rome.
Antonio's object in going to Florence was to visit his family and relations. He was undecided what course of life to pursue, so much did he appear to be the sport of fortune, while the reality of existence, he thought, was no better than a miserable dream. He set his affairs in order; and, in his ancestral palace, gave himself up to grief, representing to himself in lively colours, in these well-known halls, his own misery and that of his parents. He often thought of that hateful witch, and of her who bore so close a resemblance to his affianced bride—that other Crescentia whom he had so strangely found and lost. This indolent prostration of mind, however, at length gave way to the desire of visiting Rome and its curiosities. He wished again to enjoy the society of his friend Alphonso and the father Crescentia, who were living there; and accordingly he left Florence, and proceeded towards that city.
The tumult of Rome, so different from any thing he had been accustomed to in Florence or Padua, greatly surprised him as he entered that city. He thought he should never be able to find any of his friends amid the mighty throng. His satisfaction was therefore the greater, when, on going up to the capitol, he met Podesta coming down from the same. The old man took him home with him, where he had the gratification of paying his respects to the mother of his Crescentia. The news of the singular death of Pietro, of Crescentia's strange restoration to life, and subsequent disenchantment. had reached Rome upon every wind that blew. But of course many perverted and false versions of the story were abroad, and therefore the parents were both glad and grieved to hear the true account of it from Antonio's lips. The abhorrence expressed for the magician, by Crescentia's mother especially, was unbounded. In the bitterness of her soul, she believed that he had been bribed by the Marconi family to poison her daughter; and that he had an additional motive thereto in the feeling, that he could again restore her to life for the gratification of his own diabolical purposes.
"Let us leave every thing to Providence," said the old man. "The circumstances as they stand are dreadful enough without our seeking to exaggerate them, by involving others in crimes of such unheard-of magnitude. However, be they guilty or innocent, I am resolved to disinherit the Marconi family, and shall leave all my possessions to the monasteries and other religious establishments here, in one of which I myself shall probably spend the remainder of my days."
"But," said the mother, with tears in her eyes, "what if it were possible to recover that other Crescentia—our lost daughter's twin-sister—whom Antonio has told us about? During your absence she was stolen away from me in her infancy; and the expressions made use of before Antonio by that old witch, who was in the pay of the Marconi family, appear to me so remarkable, that I think we ought not even yet to despair of getting back our lost child."
"My good Eudoxia," replied the father, "lay aside your dreams and vain imaginations. We have nothing to hope for on this earth but death; and that it may be soft and holy, is the only boon we ought now to pray for at the hands of Heaven."
"And if afterwards, when too late, we were to find that our poor lost child might have been recovered, what would be our remorse for not having relied with greater confidence on the merciful dispensations of the Most High!"
Podesta threw a gloomy look on Antonio, as he rejoined—"Nothing was wanting to complete our misery but those idle imaginations of yours, which, by inspiring the mother of Crescentia with hopes that are never to be realized, have deprived her for ever of repose."
May I ask you to explain yourself?" said Antonio.
Young man," said the father, "since that night on which you pretended to have met"—
"Pretended!" cried Antonio, laying his hand on his sword.
"Nay!" continued the old man, "let that pass. Far be it from me to accuse you of falsehood. I know well the truth and nobleness of your nature. But do you think I can have failed to observe that your senses have been to a certain extent disordered ever since that unhappy night on which you met the funeral of my daughter—of her who, on the following day, was to have been your bride? Then, during the night of agony you passed in the forest, is it wonderful that. in the excess of your passionate grief, you should have imagined that you again beheld the image of Crescentia—and that you should have mixed up the vision with the remembrance of your own unhappy parents? Consider, were we able to discover the smallest trace of the hut you said you had spent the night in, or of the robber you had slain? Not a vestige—and not a soul in the neighbourhood had ever heard either of the one or the other. No, my dear young friend, your meeting with my real dead daughter had turned your brain and overthrown your reason; and the same disordered fantasy will account for your vision of the hermit's cell, in which the image of the dead Pietro presented itself to your imagination. Believe me, all these phantoms were brought before your senses merely by the jugglery of pain and sorrow."
Antonio was perplexed, and knew not what to reply. Dreadfully as his faculties had been shaken by the loss of his beloved Crescentia, he yet felt convinced that the events of that awful night in the forest, were not the mere offspring of his imagination. At the same time, he became doubly desirous of restoring that second Crescentia to her disconsolate parents—if it were only for the purpose of convincing the sceptical Podesta of the truth of his story. With these feelings he bade them farewell, and went forth into the crowded streets of the city.
A New Friend.
As he was proceeding along the thronged thoroughfares, he caught an indistinct glimpse of what appeared to him to be the figure of the hideous old woman of the forest. In the utmost anxiety he pressed forward to overtake her, and had almost done so, when a long procession of pilgrims, streaming forth out of a side street, cut him off from the object of his pursuit, and, when the pageant had passed, the old woman was nowhere to be seen. In great perplexity, he ascended the steps of the Temple of St. John, in order to obtain a more extensive view, and, while standing there, he felt a friendly tap upon the shoulder, and heard his name pronounced by a well-known voice. On turning round, he recognised his Spanish friend Alphonso.
"Here you are," said the latter, in a tone of cordiality, "on the very spot where I expected to find you."
"What do you mean by that " asked Antonio.
"Let us leave these crowded streets," said Alphonso, "where we can hardly hear ourselves speaking for the worse than Babylonian confusion of tongues that prevails."
Accordingly, they walked into the country, and here Alphonso informed his friend, that since he came to Rome, he had addicted himself to the study of astrology, fortune-telling, and other similar pursuits—pursuits which he had formerly condemned, in the belief that they could be successfully practised only through the instrumentality of evil spirits. "But," continued he, "since I became acquainted with the incomparable Castalio, I have viewed these matters in a totally different light."
"Is it possible," cried Antonio, "that, after our terrible experience in Padua, you can again put your soul in peril by cultivating such studies? Are you, then, of opinion that the sciences which stand within the limits of nature and reason are not worth the pains bestowed upon them; and that all our labour ought to be devoted to those which are based in deception, and in which, at any rate, no success is to be obtained except through fellowship with the powers of darkness?"
"Warmth, my good friend," rejoined the Spaniard, "is not argument. We are much too young to understand ourselves thoroughly, or to have fathomed all the mysteries of the universe. And if you but saw the man to whom I owe so much, I am sure all your scruples would vanish. So pious is he, so simple; and so pure is the faith that may be read in the depth of his serene eyes."
"And what say you to Pietro?" replied Antonio. "Were not our feelings towards him precisely of this description?"
"No," answered his friend. "Pietro was a man who laid claim to more than mortal endowments. He came among us like an ambassador from heaven, and strove to dazzle the eyes of ordinary men by the brightness of supernatural accomplishments. He gloried in ceremony and pomp; and even in his condescension he made you feel the prodigious distance that separated him from you. But my new friend, Castalio, is quite a different sort or person. He does not deal in the magnificent or the sublime; rather believing that there must be something spurious or defective in the nature of those who indulge in over lofty aspirations; and that even the greatest of men, in the genuine consciousness of his soul, must bear witness to the truth that he, no less than the most ignorant beggar in the streets, is but a child of clay."
"You excite my curiosity," said Antonio. "Can he read the past and the future, and foretell the destinies of men? Can he, think you, unriddle for me the mysteries of my own particular fate?"
"It is precisely in that sort of research that his wonderful capacity displays itself," answered Alphonso. "And he goes to work in an extremely simple and innocent manner. There are none of the customary adjurations, formulas, shrieks, and death-agonies, to be found in his practice. He has no magical apparatus, no crystals, or imprisoned spirits—no mirror, or skeletons, or smoking incense-vessels. He is in himself all-sufficient. I spoke to him of you, and he informed me that to-day, at this very hour, I should find you standing on the steps of the Lateran church; and you see that it has so come to pass."
Antonio now became extremely anxious; to be introduced to the gifted seer, and to learn from him his destiny. They dined in a garden in the country, and towards evening returned to town.
It was twilight when they entered a small street which ran behind the monument to Augustus. Here they crossed a little grass plot, and knocking at the entrance of a small house, the door was opened, and, arm in arm (Antonio filled with the most intense expectations)—the two friends walked into the hall.
A young man, about thirty years of age, and with nothing remarkable in his appearance, came forward to meet them. He greeted them with great simplicity of manner. "You are welcome," said he to Antonio, "your Spanish friend has spoken so highly in your favour, that I have long been desirous of making your acquaintance. Only you must not imagine that you have come to an adept to whom all mysteries are known, or to a man before whom the foundations of hell tremble. No, my friend, a mere mortal man stands before you—one like yourself, or at least one whom you or any man may resemble, if you fear not to renounce the vain pursuits and tumults of the world, and to devote yourself to a life of severe and earnest study.
"Look around you," continued he, "this is my unostentatious dwelling-place—and in yonder chamber stands my bed. There is no room here for the mighty instruments and treacherous preparations of magic. You see here no circles, or glasses, or globes, or signs of the zodiac—and, in truth, there is no occasion for them. The man who, in humility and profound earnestness of purpose, descends into the depths of his own soul, in order to know himself, has all those secrets laid bare before him, which he would in vain, by any other process, conjure heaven and hell to render up. 'Be. come ye like little children!' These are the words which throw wide the gates of the whole world of mystery—Unsophisticate your nature; and then, though but for an hour or a moment, ye shall be lightened of the load laid upon you by the rash impiety of our first parents—then shall ye wander back into the bosom of paradise, and, with unscaled eyes, shall behold nature and all her powers as she appeared on the first day of creation in her bride-like attire."
While the meek student was thus speaking, Alphonso cast a triumphant glance upon his friend, and Antonio could not help confessing that he was more prepossessed by the discourse and humble demeanour of their new friend, than he had ever been by the ostentatious parade and grandiloquence of the mighty Abano. He now began to think that the wisdom usually deemed supernatural and unlawful, was perfectly compatible with true piety and lowliness of heart.
"Can you tell me what my destiny is to be?" asked Antonio.
"If I knew the year, the day, and the hour of your birth," replied Castalio, "I should then draw your horoscope, and, after comparing it with the lineaments of your countenance and the lines of your hand, I think I could reveal to you something of your future fate."
Antonio handed a pocket-book to the seer, in which his father had put down the precise hour of his birth. Castalio made the young men sit down, and placed wine before them, of which he himself also partook while he was making his calculations. He likewise, from time to time, joined gaily in the conversation; and, in short, went through his work in such an easy off-hand manner, as plainly showed that it by no means required his undivided attention. When about an hour had passed over in this way, Castalio rose, and beckoned Antonio to a window. "I have called you aside," said he, " because I do not know how far your friend is in your confidence." He then, after attentively examining his countenance and the lines upon his hands, related to him, step by step, the history of his parents' misery—his mother's violent death—the guilty passion, and the murder of his father. He then passed on to the events of Antonio's own life—how, while pursuing his father's murderer, he had been detained in Padua by an attachment to the lovely Crescentia. "And it is with the utmost astonishment," he concluded, " that I discover you to be the man who brought to light the hellish practices of the accursed Abano, and delivered that miscreant over to the punishment he so richly deserved. Alas, my young friend, how deeply do I sympathize with your affliction, for twice over had you to sustain the terrible loss of your beloved one!"
Antonio opened his whole soul to his new friend, with as much confidence as if he had been merely speaking to himself. He related to him the adventures of that dreadful night in which he seemed to have discovered a second Crescentia in the cottage of the old witch, whom, he was convinced, he had seen that very day in the streets. "Can you inform me," asked he, with eagerness, "whether what I then beheld was real, and whether there be another Crescentia alive, whom I shall yet have the happiness of restoring to her parents?"
Castalio became more thoughtful than before— "Provided the person you saw to-day," said he "be not the fiend Berecynth disguised as a woman, I have little doubt but that we shall detect the old hag. However, wait patiently till the morning, and in the mean time let us part. Rest assured of this, that the events of that night were no mere fancies bred in your distempered brain; but were actual realities—you and your friends may be perfectly satisfied of that."
The young men bade adieu to Castalio; and Antonio thanked the Spaniard very heartily for having procured him such an agreeable acquaintance.
A Chapter on Beauty, and other Matters.
Antonio had not been mistaken. The old woman he had caught a glimpse of in the crowded streets, was really she in whose cottage in the forest he had passed the night. She dwelt in a small hovel, behind some ruined houses near the Lateran church. Persecuted, and in want—hated, feared, and forsaken—her house seemed the very abode of despair. She seldom ventured abroad, but on this occasion had gone out into the town to look for her Crescentia, who was absent without leave. After her return, when sitting up at night, she was greatly surprised to hear a violent knocking at the door, and a confused noise of cries and lamentation. She took up her lamp and went to the door, where she found a mob collected, and busily engaged in persecuting a little hump-backed figure, who wore a red velvet cloak, fantastically decorated with gold.
"Does not the good woman Pancretia dwell here?" cried the little man, as soon as he saw the door opened.
"She does," said the old woman, admitting him, and slamming back the door in the faces of the mob, who were left to expend their taunts and threats on the empty air. "Who may you be, my noble sir?" continued she—"and what brings you to the hovel of a poor forlorn old woman?"
"Sit down," said the dwarf—"and let us have a little more light, that we may see what we are doing. And since you say that you are poor, take this piece of gold, and let us consolidate our acquaintance over a glass of good wine."
The hag looked pleased, lighted a couple of tapers, and replied—"You shall have a flask of Florentine wine, which is no poor drink, I promise you." She opened a small cupboard, and set a long-necked bottle on the table, pushing it across to her guest.
"Why did you call me noble?" asked the dwarf.
"Does not that gold piece speak volumes in favour of your nobility?" returned the old woman. "Besides, don't I see the fineness of your cloak, the feather in your hat, and so forth. Are you not a prince, or a duke at the least?"
"Neither the one nor the other," rejoined the little man. "What! my old aunt—donner and blitzen! don't you know me? Don't you know your own nephew, the little Berecynth of Milan? It is said we are very like one another."
"Gemini!" cried the old woman, quite delighted, "are you Berecynth of Milan, of whom I have heard so much! It does my old eyes good to see you here before me, face to face."
"Ay," replied Berecynth, "say, rather, nose to nose; for that, I fancy, is the only feature either of us have worth mentioning. For the sake of curiosity, dear aunt, let us try if we cannot accomplish a kiss between us. No—it won't do——we have already locked noses. If we would make it out, we must forcibly hold them to one side with both hands. There—that will do. Now good aunt, take care you don't let yours fly back suddenly. If you do, it will fetch me such a box on the ear that not a remaining tooth will be left in my head!"
The old woman laughed, and said, "I know not when I have been so happy. You are in a merry mood to night, nephew. But what were the people tormenting you about in the streets?"
"What about?" answered he. "About my appearance, to be sure: it affords them rare amusement. Now, is not man, my good nurse, an incomprehensibly stupid animal? Here are upwards of a hundred thousand souls collected together in Rome, within the last few months, for the purpose of doing honour to their Saviour, and of atoning for their own sins. Well, the moment I happen to put my head out of my window— (I only arrived here yesterday)— be it with only my nightcap on; or to show my whole person in the market-place, in my best attire, you would take your oath that all this myriad of people had come together from every quarter of Europe on my sole and particular account: —such peeping, and ogling, and shouting, and roaring, and laughing, does the appearance of your humble servant excite. I could make a fortune, Iam certain, if I were to show myself for payment. They pull out their purses to see an ape, an Indian, or a sea-cat; and yet the ungrateful blockheads, who can see me for nothing, raise a tumult, and overwhelm me with abuse whenever I appear."
"It is the same with me," sighed the old woman, "my case is just as bad. Why the very brute beasts are not so irrational. Each of them may have any sort of nose or eyes he pleases, and is yet allowed to pass peaceably on his way."
"Ay," continued Berecynth, "look at fishes, for example; what philosophic toleration is to be witnessed among them? And yet some of them are all nose together. Look down into the waters and you behold countenances cold and serious, and yet perfectly aware of their own and each other's originality. One, perhaps, but a mouth in his belly, and another eyes upon his back, and yet none of their fellow-fishes ever think of making sport of them on that account. Unmolesting and unmolested, the strange-visaged monsters move about on all sides. Man alone is foolish enough, and base enough to make a mockery of his fellow-creatures."
"And yet," said the old woman, "wherein does all the mighty difference between one man and another consist! I never yet saw a nose an ell long. It is but an inch, or at the most two, which makes the whole difference between beauty and deformity in this feature. And as for a hump-back, if it were not so confoundedly inconvenient in bed, I know not that I should not prefer it to a straight one, in which none of the beautiful bends and flourishes of nature are to be seen."
"You're right there," replied the drunken dwarf, nodding to his drunken companion; "I know not what nature means by throwing off so many straight people from her potter's wheel. Surely it is a great waste of labour, for they are not in general worth their clay. But, mother, we who have been more highly favoured, must not be too vain of our superior charms. We must remember that we did not make ourselves."
"Well, then," answered the old woman, "let us change the subject. Come, tell me what trade you are now driving, and where you live."
"To tell the truth," replied Berecynth, "I have been leading a sort of vagabond life—at one time here—at another there. But now I am determined to settle down; for, hearing that I had a near relation alive, I resolved to search her out; you are she, and with you I shall henceforth live. In my early youth I was an apothecary's apprentice in Calabria; but my master drove me from his shop, because it was alleged that I compounded love-potions. Ah, happy days! I still look back upon them with delight. I then became a tailor, but was found to cabbage too much cloth; and next a pastry-cook, but had soon to give that up—the outcry against me being, that my mutton-pies were made of the flesh of dogs and cats. I then became a monk, but no monastery would admit me. Having passed doctor, I narrowly escaped being: burned for witchcraft. I devoted myself to study—wrot poetry and so forth—but my effusions fell into discredit, the people having taken it into their heads that they glanced sarcastically at Christianity. After many years I fell in with the illustrious Pietro d'Abano, and became his famulus. I afterwards was a hermit, and many other things besides; but the best of it is, that, in whatsoever situation I was thrown, there I was sure to accumulate money, so that I am under no fear of spending my old age in poverty and need. And now my good aunt, tell me your history."
"My history," answered she, "is not unlike your own. Innocence is every where alike persecuted. I have stood in the pillory—I have been banished my native land—I have been within an ace of being burned alive. It was alleged that I practised sorcery, stole children, bewitched the people, and brewed poison."
"And was there not a spice of truth in all these allegations?" asked Berecynth with a chuckle. "I can answer for myself at least—and I believe it runs in the family—that I do not stand quite clear of such practices. Believe me, my fair friend, he or she who has once dabbled in witchcraft retains a liquorish liking for the same as long as life lasts. Sorcery in this resembles dram-drinking; once fairly wet your tooth with either, and tongue, throat, palate, liver, lights, and the whole alimentary canal, are filled day and night, with clamorous cravings for the stimulating enjoyment."
"You know mankind well," said the hag, laughing. "No doubt, innocent people like us are permitted to practise a little murder, witchcraft, stealing and poisoning. There is no great harm in all that; but what are we to think of the ingratitude of our own children! There is my daughter, or at least she whom I have brought up as such—have I not pinched myself in all manner of ways to put decent clothes on her back, and to get her handsomely married? Did I not throw her in the way of Ildefons and Andrea, and other men, any one of whom would have made her a husband ten times better than she deserved? but the ungrateful monkey would have nothing to say to them, on the ground, forsooth, that they were robbers and murderers; and now she has fled from her own home to a nunnery, and I cannot get her back. That is the way in which parents are treated now-a-days."
"Let her go," said Berecynth, "we shall get on very well without her, so admirably do our dispositions harmonize."
"But wherefore should she have run away from me, ungrateful baggage that she is? If we were to part, why would we not part friends? Confound her, though! I might have made a good market of her, and would have done so, had she not obstinately held out in the strength of her love for that silly young gallant who came to our collage in the forest."
"Hold there!" cried Berecynth, hiccuping, and reeling, and half asleep. "If you begin to talk of love, I have done with you—ha, ha, ha! Love! —it was that stupid word that demolished my great master Pietro. He might have been a professor to this hour, and fed his young goslings with philosophy, but he tumbled over love, and broke his neck; and so, farewell to him—and farewell to you also, dear aunt. To-morrow night I shall return to you about the same hour; and then we meet never to part more."
"Farewell!" responded Pancretia. "Since you entered I have felt myself quite a different being. What a joyous time we shall have of it!"
"That we shall," stammered Berecynth, who, staggering forth into the street, went in the direction of his own dwelling.
The End of Pietro.
Meanwhile Antonio apprised Podesta and his wife of his absolute conviction that he had seen the old woman, and should yet succeed in restoring their lost daughter to their arms. The mother placed implicit confidence in what he said, but the father still continued sceptical. Before sunset, he went, in company with his friend Alphonso, to visit the wise Castalio.
Castalio received them with much cordiality, and said to Antonio—"Here, my friend, take this paper; you will find marked upon it the particular street and house in which that wicked old woman is to be found. When you have discovered her, I think you will no longer doubt the accuracy of my science."
"I am already convinced of its certainty," replied Antonio. "You are certainly the wisest of mortals; and, through your means, I expect to be made the happiest. I shall straightway proceed to the old woman's house, and, if Crescentia be not dead or carried off, I shall at once restore her to her parents."
Full of these expectations he laid his hand on the handle of the door, and was about to leave the house, when a knocking was heard from without, accompanied by a violent coughing and a scraping of feet. "Who is there? " cried Castalio. Antonio opened the door, and in walked Berecynth.
"Your most obedient," said he, making a variety of grimaces as he paid his respects to Castalio.
"Who are you?" cried the latter, turning pale and recoiling a few paces before the presence of the dwarf.
"He is a miscreant of the worst description," answered Antonio—"a sorcerer, whom we must deliver up to the Inquisition. This is the accursed Berecynth himself, whose story you are already acquainted with."
"So you think, youngster!" said the dwarf, with an expression of the profoundest contempt. "But my business is not with you, child. Do you not know me?" roared he aloud to Castalio, "or have you no need of my services at present?"
"How should I," said Castalio, with faltering voice, "when I never saw you in my life before Begone, I must decline your services; my poor house is too small to accommodate any more than myself."
Berecynth paced up and down the floor. "You do not know me, then?" said he. "It may be so—people change, and a man is not always in his prime. Yet, I think, that any one who has once seen me, would not easily forget me. And you, my young gentlemen, (turning to the youths,) do you not know who this precious wisdom-hunter is?"
"To be sure we do," answered Antonio, " he is our friend, the excellent Castalio."
The little man shouted with laughter till walls and roof rang; "Castalio! Castalio!" cried he, like one possessed, "and why not Aganippe or Hippocrene? Where are your eyes, my good sirs? What can have bewitched these pumpkins of heads of yours? Take another look at him, and tell me whether the man before you be not the renowned Pietro d'Abano, the great artist of Padua?"
Castalio had sunk down into a chair, trembling violently, while the muscles of his countenance worked so frightfully, that not a feature could be rightly distinguished; but, after the young men had viewed him attentively for some time, they traced with horror, in the distorted lineaments of his face, the expression of the old sorcerer of Abano.
The magician started from his seat, and, rising into giant stature, exclaimed, in a voice of thunder, "Yes, Iam that Pietro! and you, caitiff; you have crossed me in the schemes by which I intended to have crushed these youths into the dust—tremble, worm, before the vengeance of your master!"
Berecynth again laughed a loud laugh of mockery: "The vengeance of my master!" echoed he —"Fool without an equal, to apply such language unto me! Knowest thou not, thou wretched juggler, that one glance of my eyes——one grasp of my hand, can blast you for ever? —Thou earth-born tamperer with the things of hell—were not all thy power and success derived from me?"
A phantom of horror filled the hall in which they stood. Its eyes streamed with fire, and its arms were stretched forth like eagles' wings. Pietro prostrated himself shrieking for mercy at its feet. "It was my might," said the demon, "which upheld thy hellish machinations; it was I that gave success to the jugglery with which thou didst dazzle the eyes of men. But all the while thou madest me thy scoff; and didst trample me under foot. Now my time has come, and thou must be my servant. Thou must go down with me into my kingdom, to be my slave throughout eternity. Begone, ye strangers!" continued he, addressing the young men. "He and I have accounts to settle, and ye may not be present at the reckoning." A violent peal of thunder shook the house to its foundation, as Antonio and Alphonso rushed out of it in terror. They got into the streets they knew not how, and fled to a neighbouring church, while the storm broke over their heads with ever increasing fury. They looked back to the house from which they had fled, and saw that it was enveloped in flames. Two dark shadows were seen wavering and wrestling among the blazing rafters; and howlings of despair, blended with the loud laughter of scorn, drifted towards them between the pauses of the loud-raging tempest.
It was a considerable time before Antonio was strong enough to go in quest of the old woman whose house had been pointed out to him. When he did so, he found the old lady gaily attired, and she welcomed him with smiles.
"Ah! my young Florentine," said she, "have you again come to pay a visit to your old friend of the forest?"
"Where is your daughter?" asked Antonio, trembling with anxiety.
"If you are determined to have her," said the old woman, "I won't keep her back from you. But either you or the Podesta family must pay for her right handsomely, for she is their child, having been kidnapped by me in her infancy, under the temptation of a large bribe which I received from the family of Marconi."
"How can you prove that she is their child?" asked Antonio.
"In a hundred ways," answered the old woman. "I have still by me the dress she wore when I carried her off. She has a mole upon her right shoulder, which her mother cannot fail to remember; and besides, I still have in my possession the letters themselves of the Marconi family, urging me to the deed. All these shall be laid before you; but I must have gold in a good round sum—mind you that."
Antonio told down all the money be had with him, and added a diamond ring—and golden chain to the heap. The old woman greedily scraped the gold towards her, and laughed as she said, "Do not be surprised that I am so easily satisfied; the truth is, the girl has fled from me, because she did not like the lovers I wished to provide her with. She has taken refuge in a cloister near Trajan's pillar, and the abbey refuses to deliver her up to me. But just mention your name at the door, and the gipsy will leap into your arms: for she can dream and think of nothing but you, so much has her silly heart been bewitched since that night on which you met her in my cottage in the forest. Indeed I am glad to be quit of her. I have got a better sort of person to keep me company in my declining years. Farewell, young man; go to your Crescentia, and may you be happy with her."
Antonio carried with him all the letters, the child's clothes, and the other proofs of her identity. As he was leaving the house he met Berecynth at the door. A storm passing ewer at the time, showed who it was that was abroad; but the young man never perceived it, so light of heart was be as he winged his way to the parents of Crescentia.
The happy parents were soon convinced that the twin-sister of Crescentia was still alive; and on the following morning her father took her from the cloister. The maiden's joy was unspeakable in being restored to her parents, and in again finding the youth to whom she had given up her whole heart from the moment she first saw him in the forest.
Shortly after this she and Antonio were married, and went to reside with Podesta. and his wife in the neighbourhood of Naples. In the happiness and repose of love, Antonio forgot the afflictions of his youth; and in their children and grandchildren the parents were recompensed for the loss of their beautiful and deeply-beloved Crescentia.
- ↑ Pietro d'Abano, so called from his birthplace, a small village near Padua, was a real personage, and flourished during the 13th century. Like most others at that period, whose knowledge surpassed that of the vulgar, he got the credit of being a sorcerer;—but in reality he was no inconsiderable philosopher, and is known in the history of philosophy under the title of the Conciliator.