Pietro of Abano/IV

In the city on that same night strange things had been going on, which as yet were a secret to everybody. Scarcely had the darkness spread thickly abroad, when Pietro, whom people commonly called by the name of his birthplace, Apone or Abano, retiring into his secret study at the back of his house, set all his apparatus, all the instruments of his art, in due order, for some mysterious and extraordinary undertaking. He himself was clad in a long robe charactered with strange hieroglyphs; he had described the magical circles in the hall, and he arranged everything with his utmost skill, to be certain of the result. He had searcht diligently into the configuration of the stars, and was now awaiting the auspicious moment.

His companion, the hideous Beresynth, was also drest in magical garments. He fetcht everything at his master's bidding, and set it down just as Pietro thought needful. Painted hangings were unrolled over the walls; the floor of the room was covered over; the great magical mirror was placed upright; and nearer and nearer came the moment which the magician deemed the most fortunate.

Hast thou put the crystals within the circles? demanded Pietro.

Yes; returned his busy mate, whose ugliness kept bustling to and fro merrily and unweariably amid the vials, mirrors, human skeletons, and all the other strange implements. The incense was now brought; a flame blazed upon the altar; and the magician cautiously, almost with trembling, took the great volume out of his most secret cabinet.

Do we start now? cried Beresynth.

Silence! answered the old man solemnly: interrupt not these holy proceedings by any profane or any useless words.

He read, at first in a low voice, then louder and more earnestly as he paced with measured steps to and fro, and then again round in a circle. After a while he paused and said:

Look out, how the heavens are shaping themselves.

Thick darkness, replied the servant on his return, has enwrapt the sky; the clouds are driving along; rain is beginning to drip.

They favour me! exclaimed the old man: it must succeed.

He now knelt down, and murmuring his incantations often toucht the ground with his forehead. His face was heated; his eyes sparkled. He was heard to pronounce the holy names which it is forbidden to utter; and after a long time he sent his servant out again to look at the firmament. Meanwhile the onrush of the storm was heard; lightning and thunder chased each other; and the house seemed to tremble to its lowest foundations.

Hearken to the tempest! shouted Beresynth coming back hastily: Hell has risen up from below, and is raging with fire and fierce cracking crashes of thunder; a whirlwind is raving through the midst of it; and the earth is quaking with fear. Hold with your conjuring, lest the spokes of the world splinter, and the rim that holds it together burst.

Fool! simpleton! cried the magician: have done with thy useless prating! Tear back all the doors; throw the house door wide open.

The dwarf withdrew to perform his master's orders. Meanwhile Pietro lighted the consecrated tapers; with a shudder he walkt up to the great torch that stood upon the high candlestick; this too at last was burning; then he threw himself on the ground and conjured louder and louder. His eyes flasht; all his limbs shook and shrunk as in convulsions; and a cold sweat of agony trickled from his brow.

With wild gestures, as if scared out of his senses, the dwarf rusht in again, and leapt for safety within the circles.

The world is at the last gasp, he shriekt, pale and with chattering teeth: the storms are rolling onward; but all beneath the voiceless night is dismay and horrour; every living thing has fled into its closet, or crept beneath the pillows of its bed to skulk away from its fears.

The old man lifted up a face of ghastly paleness from the floor, and with wrencht and indistinguishable features screamed in sounds not his own:

Be silent, wretch, and disturb not the work. Give heed, and keep a fast hold on thy senses. The greatest things are still behind.

With a voice as if he would split his breast, he read and conjured again: his breath seemed often to fail him; it was as though the gigantic effort must kill him.

Hereupon a medley of voices were suddenly heard as in a quarrel, then again as in talk: they whispered; they shouted and laught; songs darted from among them, together with the jumbled notes of strange instruments. All the vessels grew alive, and strode forward, and went back again; and out of the walls in every room gusht creatures of every kind, vermin and monsters and hideous abortions in the richest confusion.

Master! screamed Beresynth: the house is growing too tight. What shall we do with all these ghosts? they must eat one another. O woe! O woe! they are all with cub, and are come here to whelp: new brutes keep sprouting out of the old ones, and the child is always wilder and frightfuller than its dam. My wits are leaving me in the lurch. And then this music into the bargain, this ringing and piping, and laughter athwart it, and funeral hymns enough to make one cry! Look master! look! the walls, the rooms are stretching themselves, and spreading out into vast halls; the ceilings are running away out of sight; and the creatures are still shooting forth, and thicken as fast as the space grows. Have you no counsel? have you no help?

In complete exhaustion Pietro now raised himself; his whole form was changed, and he seemed to be dying.

Look out once more, he said faintly: turn thine eyes toward the dome, and bring me tidings of what thou seest.

I am treading the rabble here on the head, roared Beresynth, totally bewildered; they are disporting themselves in twining about me like serpents, and are laughing me to scorn. Are they ghosts? are they demons, or empty phantoms? Get away! Well, if you won't move out of my path, I'll stamp downright upon your green and blue snouts. Everybody must take care of number one, even if a devil is to be the sufferer.

He stumbled out muttering.

Things now grew tranquil, and Pietro stood up. He waved his arm, and all those strange forms which had been crawling about the floor and twisting around each other in the air, vanisht. He wiped off the sweat and tears, and drew his breath more freely.

His servant came back and said:

Master, all is quiet and well; but sundry light forms flitted by me and lost themselves in the dark sky. Thereupon, while I kept staring immovably toward the dome, a mighty crash sounded, as if all the strings of a harp were breaking at once, and a clap came that made the streets and the houses all tremble. The great door of the church burst open; flutes warbled sweetly and lovelily; and a soft light brightness streamed forth from the heart of the church. Immediately after the form of a woman stept into the radiance, pale, but glancing, bedeckt with crowns of flowers; she glided through the door, and gleams of light strewed a path for her to tread along. Her head upright, her hands folded, she is floating hither toward our dwelling. Is this she for whom you have been waiting?

Take the golden key, answered Pietro, and unlock the innermost richest chamber of my house. See that the purple tapestries are spread out, that the perfumes are scattering their sweetness. Then away, and get thee to bed. Make no further inquiry into what happens. Be obedient and silent, as thou valuest thy life.

I know you too well, returned the dwarf, and walkt off with the key, casting back another look of something like mischievous delight.

Meanwhile a lovely murmur approacht. Pietro went into the entrance-hall, and in glided the pale body of Crescentia, in her robe of death, still holding the crucifix in her folded hands. He stood still before her; she drew up the lids from her large eyes, and shrank back from him with such a quick start that the wreaths of flowers dropt down from her shaking head.

Without speaking a word he wrested her fast-claspt hands asunder; but in the left she kept the crucifix tightly clencht. By the right hand he led her through room after room, and she moved by his side stiffly and with indifference, never looking around.

They reacht the furthest chamber. Purple and gold, silk and velvet, were its costly garniture. The light only glimmered in faintly by day through the heavy curtains. He pointed to the couch; and the unconscious holder of a charmed life stoopt and bent down like a lily that the wind shakes; she sank upon the red coverlet and breathed painfully.

From a golden vial the old man poured a precious essence into a little crystal cup, and set it before her mouth. Her pale lips sipt the wonderous draught; she again unfolded her eyes, fixt them on her former friend, turned away from him with an expression of loathing, and fell into a deep sleep.

The old man carefully closed the chamber again. Everything in the house was quiet. He betook himself to his own room, there in the midst of his books and magical instruments to await the rising of the sun and the business of the day.