A WEEK later. The scene Alexander Borgia's pri- vate apartment. The old man was seated by a table, evidently musing. His thoughts at last found utterance.
" All goes well," he soliloquized. " There 's not a day that passes but that I add to the wealth and influence of the church, and consequently to my own. My private affairs are also in the most prospering and flattering state. The fair Lucretia is mine ; her lover safely confined in a dungeon, where he will never see her or trouble me j and thus have I gratified my revenge on the child of the proud beauty who scorned me years ago. O, Lucretia Borgia, poor, vain fool ! little are you aware of the hate, the long- meditated revenge, that instigated me to the deed ! "
A door opened as the Pope paused, and his son, Caesar Borgia, reeled into the room, in a state of intoxication.
" How are you, most respectable old Gripus ? " he ex- claimed; " and how are the funds? "
" Caesar," said the Pope, in a stern voice, " do not address me in this brutal way. Where have you been, that you have lost the little sense nature endowed you with? Among a crowd of gallants, drinking and carous-
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 47
ing all day, I '11 be sworn. As for the funas, you have squandered them. Where are the thousand maravedis I gave you two days since ? "
" Applied to spiritual uses ; and now I want as much more, for the same laudable purpose."
" You will not have it. Your demands on my purse are beyond all forbearance, and I am heartily tired of listen- ing to the evil reports that are in circulation concerning your shameful debauchery and dissipation. But come to me to-morrow morning, when you have recovered from the potations of to-day, and I will see what can be done for you."
" Thank you. You are quite an amiable old cut-throat, only when you are in pursuit of a jugular under diffi- culties. But farewell ; I 'm going. I shall see you iu the morning. Farewell; I'm going."
" "Well, why in the devil's name don't you go ? I have no patience to talk with you now ; but in the morning I '11 attend to you, if you are sober."
" I tell you I am going. I have an appointment with the fair the fair and lovely the fair and lovely
what-do-you-call her? D d if I can remember what
her name is. But I am going. I see you are disgusted with me, as I am with you, vesa varcy. Farewell ! I shall see you in the morning."
And Caesar departed, going out of one door as Lucre- tia entered by another.
48 THE CRIMES OF
THE PLOT DEEPENS.
A GREAT change had been wrought in the appearance of Donna Lucretia in one short week. Her cheeks were very pale. A wild, reckless light had taken the place of the gentle, loving expression that had formerly rested in her eyes, like a gem on an ocean of pearl ; and there was an unusual look of resolution upon her features, as she paused before the Pope.
" I have kept my promise," she commenced, in a voice that quivered with emotion; "I now ask you to keep yours."
"Well, well; we will talk of this to-morrow. I am wearied with the business of the day, and would fain re- tire to rest with thee. To-morrow, dearest Lucretia, your requests shall be attended to."
" Ah, this to-morrow, with which we ward off the evils of the present, and banish subjects we would fain elude ! But I am weaned with these repeated delays. I urge the fulfilment of your promise now, this very hour."
" And what if I refuse ? " asked Borgia, with assumed carelessness, as an evil look appeared in his dark eyes.
"Refuse! You dare not; nor is it wise in you to trifle longer with me. Mercado is still in a loathsome dun- geon "
" Where he will remain till he becomes food for worms," interrupted the Pope, with a look of infernal tri- umph. " Dare not ! There 's not a heaven I dare not defy, a hell I dare not brave, when, by so doing, I can avenge the injuries I received at the hands of your mother."
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 49
" She never injured you ; or, if she did, the wrong was unintentionally given."
" 'T is false ! " cried Borgia, passionately. " Did she not scorn me, despise my love, and drive me from her presence ? But I had a glorious revenge. Ha ! ha ! They who brave the vengeance of Alexander Borgia should have a myriad of lives ! "
" And my mother she, too, was fearfully wronged by this demon," said Lucretia, musingly, as her hand in- voluntarily sought the hilt of a dagger.
" Wronged ! You can call it what you choose. She scorned, defied me, as queenly as thou hast done ; but I had my pay for it. I made her life her hell ; I put upon her a curse like that of Cain, and would have worn her life away by inches, had she not taken poison and died, to escape me. Do you hear, girl ? Was I not fully re- venged ? "
"0, God! my poor, murdered mother!" exclaimed Donna Lucretia, in anguish, as she bowed her head upon her hands.
" Ay, grieve on ! By my soul, I never knew what gratified hate and revenge was until this hour. Not with your mother's death, poor fool, did I feel satisfied. 0, no ; I had sworn to have my choicest feast in the destruc- tion of her child. You, Lucretia Borgia, you, ha, ha ! and fearfully have I kept my oath. Listen. Know you that it was I that called the cardinal's atten- tion to Mercado ! know you that I was instrumental in getting his death-warrant, that I might terrify you into compliance with my wishes ! I have done so, and am con- tent."
0, monster ! " 5
50 THE CRIMES OF
" But, think you, that I would now free your lover ? No. The cardinals think him already dead, agreeably to the orders they gave the mask. It would be dangerous for me were they informed to the contrary. Dead your lover is to all intents and purposes ; for, by the vengeance of a Borgia, he shall never leave his dungeon alive ! Dost hear?"
Donna Lucretia was wrought up to a terrible state of excitement. She saw the whole damning plot, of which she had been the victim. She saw how Mercado had been denounced and doomed, how she had been inveigled in the hope of saving him, and now she realized that Borgia was still determined on his death. Her excite- ment amounted to a species of madness, and, drawing a dagger, with the quickness of thought, she aimed a power- ful blow at his heart.
v The steel struck against a concealed corslet, and was
shivered to the hilt.
" You can save yourself further trouble," said Borgia, quietly, as he rang a bell.
Two servants entered.
" Conduct Donna Lucretia to her rooms ; she is faint."
They proceeded to obey the order, receiving no opposi- tion from her. She turned but once, once only, as she passed from the apartment; but it was a look in which the hate and revenge of a lifetime seemed concen- trated.
" Were she not Iwr child, and there were few of her sex to command my admiration, I would not carry my vindictiveness so far," soliloquized Borgia. " As it is, I am determined. She has not the place in my heart that is possessed by La Belle Florctta ; therefore she shall not
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 51
receive any mercy. But, speaking of La Belle Floretta, I must see how thrives my suit with her, and how Delano is passing his time. I '11 away at once."
THE WEIRD SISTERS.
THE scene a cave high up on one of the seven hilla on which the " eternal city " is built. It was a dark, gloomy-looking spot, possessing an exterior that would have deterred a person of ordinary nerve from entering ; yet we will pass in, and see what new phase of mystery is revealed.
Upon a rude couch, in the corner of that cave, lay a female form, that of an old woman, with thin, atten- uated features, deeply-sunken eyes, which gleamed like funeral torches in their sockets, and a figure that seemed strangely wasted by age and disease. She was the sister of mad Seta ; and mad Seta herself was kneeling beside her.
" I am going to my long home, Seta," said the dying woman, in a low, tremulous voice. " There is something in my heart that tells me I shall not behold another day ; and, therefore, I must now reveal a secret I have cher- ished so long and guardedly, or see it lost forever."
" Speak on ; I listen."
" Nineteen years have passed since first I made the acquaintance of Alexander Borgia, the present head of the Catholic church. He was then a young man of pleas- ing appearance, with a smooth tongue and agreeable man-
52 THE CRIMES OF
ners. I was a young woman, considered good-looking, and possessed all the passionate qualities that mark the daughters of Italy. I loved this young soldier and priest, this Spanish adventurer, if it pleases you to call him so, and was beloved by him ; at least, he so professed. Under a sacredly-uttered promise, he triumphed over my weak opposition to his wishes, and I, in time, became a mother by Alexander Borgia." t
" Sister, you astonish me ; I never knew aught of this before."
" But, ere the child was born, I became well convinced that its father had ceased to feel for me the love he first professed, and had become smitten with the many charms of a noble Italian lady. I watched him, and saw circum- stances quite sufficient to satisfy/iny jealous eyes and em- bittered heart. I also learned J^at the object of his love was with child ; and, as token after token of his coldness and neglect was given me, strange thoughts of revenge arose in my mind. Knowing that both children would be born at about the same time, feeling assured that I would be cast off and left to poverty and disgrace, in which to rear my babe, I determined "
" Hold ! " exclaimed Seta, wildly, clasping her hand to her brow. " Do not say that you changed the babes ! that she the Italian mother reared your child ! "
The dying woman smiled grimly. The paleness of death was on her features.
" That was the very course I took to accomplish my revenge," she continued, in a low voice. " But here are the papers ; my confessions relative to the affair. Read, read ! they will tell you that my object was fully accom- plished. Though I was cast off by the father of my child,
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 63
that child found a home where it was tenderly cared for ; and when the noble Italian lady died, the little girl was adopted by a wealthy man. By whom, do you think? "
" I do not know."
" By Alexander Borgia, her father "
Mad Seta started wildly to her feet, and a hot flush ap- peared on her features, as she shrieked,
"And the real child of this Italian lady, what became of her?"
" She still lives, though in humble circumstances. She, she " The weird woman paused, gasping for breath. It was evident that she was failing fast.
" Speak ! " exclaimed mad Seta, " speak, and give me the name by which she is known, and tell me where she
" She she is called La " Again the dying woman paused, and closed her eyes, even as if life were departing. Then she rallied, making a desperate effort to reveal the secret she had sacredly guarded so long ; but she was too much exhausted. Clutching Seta by the arm, and staring into her face, with a terrible expression of anxiety, she essayed once, twice, thrice, to speak ; but in vain. She could only hold up the papers, motion her sister to read them, and point at three names upon one of them ; then she sank back and died.
And, deadly pale, and trembling in every limb, tho weird woman read those three names from the paper :
" Floretta Delano Lucretia Borgia." 5*
54 THE CRIMES Off
DONNA LUCRETIA had taken but a few steps in the hall, after leaving the Pope, when she dismissed her attendants, telling them that she had quite recovered from her sudden indisposition. Th6n she threw herself into a chair, and seemed musing, abstractedly uttering her thoughts.
" Hell has been masked ere now with the semblance of heaven," she murmured, " and angels have been lured within its borders, ere the deceit was discovered. And as deeply, fatally, have I been deceived and cheated. The land has disappeared, the wind is driving me far from the shore on which the beacon-light of hope was gleaming, and henceforth I wander over stormy waters. All is lost, ex- cept a wretched existence ; and if I still endure that, still struggle on amid the sorrows by which I am sur- rounded, it is only to claim the great and terrible re- venge I have bought at such a fearful price."
For a brief instant she was silent, while a deep fount of emotion seemed raging in her heart ; then she continued in the low, deep voice which bespeaks a strong resolution and a deadly purpose :
" Alexander Borgia has taught me that I am not his daughter, and would now teach me that I am his slave, his mistress, his dupe ! " and the words were hissed with the venom of a fiend. "But let him look well to himself; let him watch me, and let him guard his prisoner ! Mer- cado, if Heaven approves the deed, and woman's wit and woman's courage can avail aught, thou shalt soon be as free as the air we breathe. I '11 get a priestly cloak
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 55
and cowl, and see if I cannot gain admittance to Mer- cado's dungeon."
With this, she passed into her room. In a moment, she came out into the hall again, disguised as a priest. Plac- ing an unsheathed dagger in her bosom, she murmured,
"Now for a deed that 'shall free Mercado, and convince even Alexander Borgia that man's power for wrong is not always equal to his will."
As she was passing from the hall, a servant placed him- self on her path. " Well, sirrah, what do you want ? " demanded Lucretia, angrily.
" Excuse me ; but it is the Pope's order that you do not leave the palace. I dare not permit you to pass."
" Nor need you permit me," said Donna Lucretia, scorn- fully, " for I shall go and come without your permission, or that of your most worthy master ! " and she essayed to move on.
The servant seized her by the arm.
" My orders are strict," he exclaimed ; " I must answer with my life for their fulfilment."
" Ay, you must," responded Lucretia, bitterly ; and, drawing her dagger, she added, " I will give your master a proof of your services, one that will convince him that you endeavored to obey his orders ; " and, quick as thought, the weapon was buried in the servant's bosom, and he sank bleeding to the floor.
" Thus is my career of blood begun," shrieked the pas- sionate Italian, laughing hysterically; "but I am ab- solved, nobly absolved, Mercado, for it is for thee ! "
And then she passed quickly from the hall, even at the moment that Alexander Borgia entered it.
56 THE CRIMES OF
" "What is this ? " he exclaimed. " My faithful Prato wounded ! Whose hand has dared to do this deed ? "
" Donna Lucretia, your Eminence "
" Ha ! then there is some dare-devil purpose in her brain. I must see to this at once. Perhaps she means to free her lover."
" 'T is the very mission on which she is gone," groaned the wounded man.
" Then I must be up and doing. Remain quiet, my faithful Prato. I will send those who will attend to thee."
And the Pope hurried from the hall, muttering, as he passed through the door,
" If, by chance, she succeeds in freeing Mercado, the mask of St. Peter's shall execute the warrant he has for his death. As a prisoner, he might live ; but, the hour he becomes a free man, the self-same hour he dies."
LUCRETIA BORGIA'S FIRST ASSASSINATION.
A CORRIDOR in the Inquisition. Donna Lucretia and a jailer entered, the former still wearing the cowl and cloak.
" You say that you are a priest, and have a message for Mercado ? " asked the officer, as he eyed her sus- piciously.
Donna Lucretia bowed.
" But I have very good authority for thinking other- wise," said the jailer. " Priests don't wear satin slippers, and I can swear that you had on a very elegant specimen of that style of goods as you came down stairs."
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 57
" Give me the key to Mercado's cell, and allow me to pass, or else lead the way yourself," commanded Donna Lucretia. " You can divine my purpose from my dress, and have no authority to prevent one of the ' Holy Fathers ' from seeing a prisoner ; therefore lead on."
" No, no, Donna Lucretia. Ha ! you start at the name. I thought I was right in my conjectures. You are the daughter of the Pope ! "
The fair Italian turned her face away, and a look of unutterable anguish appeared on her features, while she trembled from head to foot.
" Must I kill this man ? " she murmured. " 0, why is it that such opposition meets me at every step ? It is the fatality that ever hovers over the victims of Alexander Borgia ! Sir," she added, aloud, " you have, indeed, penetrated my disguise ; but allow me to pass, and a for- tune shall be yours."
" I cannot, lady. Your father bade me to prevent and forbid all admittance to -Mercado ; and you you, Donna Lucretia were specially excepted by name."
" Ay, I must kill him ! " murmured the agonized woman, again turning away, and her hand clutched the hilt of a dagger. " He must not baulk my purpose ; my lover dies unless this man is removed at once. Thou, God, who seest all things, look down upon me in this extremity, and judge of the deed by the motive ! "
Then she threw herself upon her knees before the jailer, and exclaimed,
" Grant me permission to see the prisoner for a few moments only, and I will never ask a favor of you again. Do this, if you are a man. Have you no sister or mother, the memory of whom can plead for me ? "
58 THE CRIMES OF
" I have a sister and a mother "
" Then show me the favor I ask. I conjure you, by your love for them," cried Donna Lucretia, wildly. " I will make them rich, powerful ; they shall have as high a position as any in the land "
" Hold ! I must not listen to these words. I tell thee, once for all, I cannot admit thee to Mercado's cell."
Donna Lucretia started to her feefy and cast her eyes wildly toward heaven.
" God forgive the deed ! " she murmured, with quiver- ing lips and deathly-pale cheeks. Then she drew her dagger, already stained with blood, and, with the quick- ness of electricity, drove it deep, deep into the jailer's breast, through and through his very vitals.
" You have slain me," he gasped, as he sank to the cold stone floor. " My mother sister "
" They shall be cared for," cried Donna Lucretia, kneel- ing beside him. " I '11 make them rich, and do all I can to atone for this crime."
" God bless you ! " was the reply.
The miserable woman stared wildly upon the face before her.
" What do I hear ? A blessing on your murderess ! No, no, no ! "
" I do not blame you. Had I been in your place, I had done as much, or more."
" Heaven bless thee forever for the words ! And you will not curse me ? You will not appear against me in a future world ? "
" No, no ! I am glad to die for thee. Save Mercado. He too is noble and good, and has spoken kindly to poor Marco. I am dying ! I feel the dews of death on my
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 59
brow, and its icy fingers at my heart. Give me your hand, dear lady ! let me kiss it thus and "
His voice ceased ; his nerves relaxed, and he sank back upon the floor. His soul had gone to its God.
TUB scene changes to Mercado's dungeon. The young noble stood by the grated door ; his hands were clasped around the iron bars, that kept him from the enjoyment of liberty. His face was very pale, yet it wore a stern and resolute expression; and his eyes gleamed with the light of a noble purpose and a high resolve.
"Dear Lucretia," he murmured, "by the Heaven which alone has heard our mutual vows, I swear that they shall be kept, if not here, in that great hereafter, to which every human being, savage or civilized, looks with rever- ence. They may take my life, but they cannot take away the cheering consciousness of being beloved by thee ; nor can they make me false to thee, a traitor to myself, an apostate to my God ! "
A door leading into the corridor, a short distance from him, was opened, and the rays of a light dissevered a por- tion of the darkness that reigned around.
" Ha, what do I see ? A priest ? He comes this way, doubtless to offer me the consolation of the ' holy church.' I will not see him, or speak to him."
With this, Mercudo retired to the rear of his cell, and' seated himself upon a rude stool. The person be had seen enter soon paused before the door of his dungeon. He
60 THE CRIMES OF
saw the rays of the light flashing into his cell, but deter- mined not to raise his head. He heard a key placed in the massive lock ; he heard the creaking noise it made, as it was turned ; and then he heard the ponderous door swing back on its rusty hinges ; but still he remained with his head bowed upon his hand?, even after his visitor paused before him.
" Mercado, dear Mercado ! " whispered Donna Lucre- tia, in a low tone.
The effect was instantaneous. The prisoner sprang to his feet. For a moment he stared wildly upon the pale face before him ; then he murmured " Dear Lucretia ! " and clasped her in a warm embrace.
" But how did you gain admittance t " was his first interrogation.
The fair Italian woman shuddered. " Do not ask me," she responded. " It is enough that I have the keys, and that I am here to save you. Come."
" I must not. It would be known that yon were instru- mental in my escape, and vengeance would fall upon you. No, dear Lucretia, I cannot go."
" Have no fears for me. Believe me, all will be well for us both, if you will only improve the opportunity now given you."
" 0, noblest, best of women ! " cried Mercado, enthusi- astically, as he pressed her to his heart. " Thou art the light of my soul, the altar on which my offerings of love and affection are laid, the idol around which my hopes and aspirations cluster ! Thou art "
" A murderess ! " and Donna Lucretia held up her bloody hand, and pointed to the stains upon her dress. " To gain admittance, I have slain the jailer."
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 61
" Then be thou "
" Hold, Mercado ! Not one word of reproach from you is needed, to make my heart and bosom the abode of living torments. My love, your life, everything called for the sacrifice ; and poor Marco himself was glad that I had taken it, and blessed me for the deed. Murder, as in this case, is often committed against the wishes of those who do the deed. They may be intoxicated, or self-preservation may enjoin the blow ; but is it the less regretted by them, and should they be held accountable and punished as murderers ? Religion, man and God, alike say No ! "
" You are right, dearest. I was wrong to think ill of you, even for one brief moment. Poor Marco was the victim, you the executioner, and both made so against your wishes."
" God only knows how much his death was against my wishes. Had I possessed a thousand lives, I would have yielded up them all to gain the end secured by the jailer's death, before I would have harmed him. But let it all pass. Only one course remains : to fly this spot ; to gain security, and revenge ourselves and him"
" It shall be so, if we can only gain our liberty "
" Which we can readily do, if you will trust to my guidance. The way by which I passed within these walls shall guide me back with thee to liberty. Come, let us away, silently, but with all possible despatch." 6
62 THE CRIMES
LA BELLE FLORETTA.
SLUMBER is never more beautiful than when it rests upon beauty and innocence.
La Belle Floretta was sleeping on a luxurious couch in a room of queenly splendor. Her beautiful features were wreathed with a sweet smile, even as if she were convers- ing with angels in her dreams ; her hair was scattered in bewitching confusion over a neck and bosom as white and smooth as Parian marble ; and never was there a more perfect picture of a sleeping beauty than could have been drawn by a skilful artist from that she presented.
Nor was her loveliness destined to be unobserved. A secret door at one side of the apartment was drawn aside, and Alexander Borgia entered. He moved forward until he stood beside the couch of the sleeping maiden, keeping his attention riveted upon the many charms that met his gaze.
" She is, indeed, a prize worth possessing," soliloquized the priestly libertine, as his gloating eyes feasted upon the exquisite outlines of that voluptuous form, rendered all the more fascinating by the slight drapery that rested o'er them. " A prize of beauty, indeed ; and I will move heaven and earth but that she shall be mine."
He bent down and pressed his hot, burning lips to those of the sleeper, once, twice, again, and yet again, as if he were mad with passion.
The maiden moved uneasily ; a flush appeared on her cheeks, as she murmured,
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 63
" Do not kiss me so often now, dear Hernaldo ; wait till we are married."
The Pope started as if an adder had stung him, and a frown appeared upon his brow.
" Ah, this accounts for her refusal to hearken to my wishes, as expressed through the mask of St. Peter's. She has a lover ; his name, Hernaldo. Hernaldo what ? I must find out. Some ignorant, poverty-stricken bumpkin, I '11 be sworn."
He paused ; for La Belle Floretta moved, as if about to awaken from her slumbers.
"She to love one of the low herd, the ignorant rabble ! By my soul, she is worthy of being the wife of an emperor, well worthy of being the mistress of Pope Alexander VI."
And again he bent down and kissed her. The maiden started up, with an exclamation of alarm, and stared wildly upon the form before her.
" You are not that fearful mask," she murmured ; " but is he not here, is not this his palace ? "
" No, dear Floretta. A drug was administered to you, and while you were under its influence you were re- moved from the mask's mansion, and brought here, here, where true love and happiness awaits thee."
" Love, happiness ! " responded the maiden. " 0, sir, do not speak of these ; for they are like funeral pyres in my memory. But who are you, who visit me at this un- timely hour; and why do you gaze so earnestly upon me ? "
" Because I love you, dear Floretta. Eyes can never tire of gazing on the object loved by their possessor. I could gaze on thee till time has given all it here controls
64 THE CRIMES 0*
to dark eternity. I love thee, maiden. I have brought thee here to bless me with thy charms, and cheer me with thy smiles."
"You?" cried La Belle Floretta, recoiling from him; " who dares to utter language such as this to me ? "
" One who dares do all things that can add to his wealth, or promote his happiness. La Belle Floretta, you are now in the palace of the Borgias "
A cry of alarm interrupted him.
" And in the power of one who has sworn to make you all his own, ay, in the very arms of Alexander Borgia, Pope of Rome ! "
As he spoke, he threw his arms around the maiden's waist, and drew her to his heart.
" Mine, mine ! " he exclaimed ; but even as he spoke three hasty raps were given on the door.
" Ila ! that signal cannot be disregarded. Something of vital importance has occurred," soliloquized Borgia ; and he moved hurriedly forward and opened the door, dis- covering a servant.
" Mercado has escaped," said the man, excitedly, " and the jailer has been slain."
The Pope did not start or look surprised, nor desire the servant to reiterate his statement. He knew that it was true, for he had taught his servants that a false report would cost the one who uttered it his life.
" Enough. We understand you," was all the reply he made ; and the man departed.
" Farewell, Floretta," continued Borgia, with a smile, as he bestowed an admiring glance upon the maiden. " I have business of importance to attend to, but shall soon see you again. Farewell ! "
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 65
And then he passed from the room.
But the smile was gone from his features the instant he found himself alone, and in its place was a fierce and vin- dictive look, as he muttered,
" This is the work of that she-devil, Lucretia ; but, by the Papal crown, her lover shall atone for it with his life ! The mask of St. Peter's never fails in his duty."
THE bridge of St. Angelo's. Near one end of it Mer- cado and Lucretia Borgia were standing. They had passed safely from the dungeons of the Inquisition, and were now uttering their parting adieus.
" We shall meet again, dear Lucretia," said the young noble, with the gentle accents of love, as he gazed with a look of undying affection upon the lovely woman, and pressed his lips to her pale cheeks. " For a while I must bid adieu to Rome, as the blood-hounds are on my track, but it will not always be so. The time will come when I can claim you as mine when we shall be happy."
" Heaven grant it ! God knows I should have died, had this bold effort for your freedom not been successful. But you must hasten away. .Already may the minions of the church, or the officers of the Inquisition, be on your track. Take my blessing,-*- this farewell kiss, and go ; and may Heaven watch over thee now and forever, and grant that we may soon meet again, iu peace and happi- ness ! "
W> THE CRIMES OF
And then they parted, with what feelings we shall not attempt to describe.
Scarcely had Mercado moved away towards the opposite end of the bridge, often looking behind, when a look of agony passed over her features, and she murmured,
" 0, dear, noble Mercado ! If thou but knew that I have already sold myself to Alexander Borgia, to buy thy life, and failed even at that fearful price, what misery would be thine ! "
The fair being was silent for a brief instant ; then she continued,
" A thought strikes me. I will follow Mercado, keep- ing at a distance behind him, until he is out of danger ; for now a chilling remembrance sweeps across my mind with prophetic earnestness. I remember how a young nobleman, who had fallen under the displeasure of the church, and been confined some time, received his liberty, only to be struck down the following night by the hand of the mask of St. Peter's. Though Mercado has escaped from his dungeon, he may be watched by that terrible being, may be doomed to be his victim ! At any rate, right or wrong, I will follow him."
And Donna Lucretia moved hastily away in the direc- tion taken by Mercado.
" Ha, ha ! " laughed a hoarse voice, in tones of infernal triumph, from behind a pillar near where the lovers had been standing ; and a pair of dark eyes were fixed intently upon the retreating form of the woman.
It was the exulting laugh of the mask of St. Peter's.
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 67
A DEED OF BLOOD.
MERCADO had crossed the bridge, and was passing along the street.
" Once more I breathe the air of liberty," he solilo- quized, " and soon shall be beyond the reach of those who would, at one blow, rob me of love, life and fortune. Still I am in danger, and must be prepared to sell my life as dearly as possible, should I be discovered."
" Mercado," said a voice close to his side, " you are free ; but do not linger."
He turned, and beheld mad Seta. Her thin features were wreathed with a look of terrible anxiety, and in her hand she held the papers she had received from her sister ere she died.
" I do not question how you gained your freedom," con- tinued the old woman, " for I can readily understand that Donna Lucretia had no small share in your fortunate escape. But go go at once. You may think that your flight is not discovered, because there is not a great hue and cry raised ; but you should bear in mind that the church works secretly and silently, and its officers would not make a stir sufficient to attract the attention of the rabble, were half a dozen prisoners, instead of one, to escape. Away, at once."
" I will do so, good Seta. If you see Donna Lucretia, bear her my blessing ; and so, farewell ! "
Mercado moved hastily away as he spoke ; but had not gone half a dozen steps before a dark figure threw itself in his path.
08 THE CRIMES OF
"The mask of St. Peter's!" cried the young noble, wildly, as he made an effort to draw the dagger Lucretia Borgia had given him ; but he was too late.
For the mask's dagger was already drawn ; and, before the victim could move or speak, it was driven home to the hilt in his vitals !
" They have triumphed," gasped the fated nobleman, as he sank to the ground in death. Then he murmured " Dear Lucretia ! " and died.
" Thus do I add another link to my chain of revenge ! "
A terrible cry succeeded, a shriek of terror that seemed to freeze upon the still air of the night, and Lucretia Borgia darted forward, and sank down insensible by the side of her murdered lover.
" Ha, ha ! " laughed the assassin, exultingly. " Thus do I add another link to my chain of revenge. But the
- body that must be thrown into the Tiber ! He was to
have been slain a week ago, so read the orders of the oardinals, and I do not desire to have it known to them that I have neglected their orders until now."
With this, he raised Mercado's body in his strong arms, and flung it into the river. As it fell splashing into the rushing waters beneath him, he bestowed an earnest look upon the insensible form of Donna Lucretia, then adjusted his mask, sheathed his bloody weapon, and walked rapidly away, muttering,
' Thus are fulfilled the wishes of a Borgia ! "
ALEXANDER BORGIA. O9
THE MYSTERY DEEPENS.
" I FEARED he would be slain ! " cried mad Seta, as the mask disappeared. She had observed the whole scene with the most agonizing emotions. She now darted for- ward, and bent over the form of Donna Lucretia, and applied herself to an effort to restore her exhausted facul- ties.
Lucretia soon recovered, and arose to her feet, with the assistance of the weird woman, and gazed wildly around. Her eyes finally rested upon her companion.
"Woman !" she cried, sternly, seizing her arm, "where is the body of Mercado ? "
" Ask the Tiber, or the mask of St. Peter's ; both can give ye a true account of it," was the reply. " 0, Donna Lucretia, I would that I had died ere this misery was meted out to you ! Ere these tears of pity "
" Hush ! do not speak of pity to me," and there was a ghastly smile of desperation upon the woman's features, and her eyes glittered fearfully as she spoke. " Ha, ha ! Who shall dare to speak of pity to Lucretia Borgia ? List you, mad Seta, and judge if I am not a fiend in the shape of a woman, and one already damned ! Know you that I sold my honor to the Pope for his false and treach- erous promise to save Mercado "
" No, no ! " shrieked the weird woman, starting back with a wild exclamation of horror.
" 'T is true ; and then, after finding that I had been deceived, I slew the jailer to gain admission to Mer- cado's dungeon "
70 THE CRIMES OF
" 'T is false ; you could not have done the fearful deed ! " exclaimed mad Seta, with another cry of horror.
" I have the proof of it, as you can see," and she held her hand before the old woman's face, while the nickering rays of a neighboring lamp shone dimly on the stains of blood. " Nor is that all I 've done. I tell you, Seta, I have damned myself eternally, body and soul, in the hope of saving Mercado's life ; and yet he has been murdered in cold blood."
" Hush, Donna Lucretia, do not speak so wildly "
" But I will have revenge a vengeance dark and bloody full and terrible as has been the measure of my wrongs. This night, this very hour, I '11 hasten to the palace ; and the first work of my hand, the first stroke of revenge, shall be the death of Alexander Borgia. I '11 avenge my shame and infamy "
" Ha, ha ! a noble vengeance."
" I '11 avenge my mother's wrongs ; the miseries that have been heaped upon me ; the curses woven with my destiny ; the sufferings of Mercado ; his death ; his dying agonies ! Ha, ha ! I '11 have a feast of blood ; I '11 be the mightiest monster in this sea of human gore. I '11 slay, kill, destroy "
" 0, God ! could I but tell thee all, the mystery of thy father, mother "
"All, all? I have heard already more than I can bear. My brain and heart are changed to living hells, they burn, they burn, and fiends are warring there. Farewell, hope, and love, and happiness, gone, all gone forever ! Come night, come desolation, bloodshed and vengeance now are wooing thee ! No more peace ; no
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 71
more rest ! On, on ! To the palace of the Borgias ! Blood, ha, ha ! Vengeance ! death ! "
And, with wildly-gleaming eyes, deathly-pale features, dishevelled hair, and garments disarranged, the wretched woman drew her dagger, twice stained with- blood since evening came, and rushed wildly from the spot, followed by mad Seta, who wept and prayed and cursed by turns, and said, at last,
" 0, God ! how deeply cursed, how surely damned, are both the infamous father and his fated child ! "
ALEXANDER BORGIA was seated in his private apart- ment. A bottle of wine was before him ; a glass, which he had drained several times, was in his hand.
The expression that rested upon his countenance was a singular one. It spoke of gratified hate, and revenge yet to be accomplished.
" 'T is done, and well done," he observed, in a musing manner. " The whole of the immense wealth of Mercado now belongs to the church, and will soon be in its treas- ury, from whence no small portion of it will find its way to my hands. 'T was I that led the cardinals to believ*- that Mercado was a heretic, and a dangerous man to oup cause ; 't was I that made such dupes of them that the^ determined on his death, agreeably to my wishes and the plans I had formed ; and yet none of them have discov- ered my hand in the affair ; none of them have suspected
72 THE CRIMES 0*
the truth, that I have made tools of them for the gratifica- tion of the feelings I bear my reputed daughter."
A frown appeared upon his brow as he made this allu- sion to Donna Lucretia, and he added :
" Speaking of Lucretia, I must be on my guard against her, or her vengeance will fall upon me."
. A secret door behind him was opened at this juncture, and Lucretia Borgia entered. Her face was still pale, her appearance wild and haggard, but she had evidently striven to subdue the emotions which had been aroused in her heart.
" The girl has a dare-devil spirit," continued the Pope, " and, being conscious of her wrongs, and having seen her lover slain, she will doubtless form some plan of revenge. I must be prepared, ever be on my guard against her."
Donna Lucretia now stood close behind the Pope's chair, deathly pale, but with resolution stamped upon every feature. She had already drawn her dagger, and her hands trembled nervously upon its hilt.
And, at this critical moment, a new feature was added to the exciting scene. A servant entered at the secret door, and stole cautiously up behind the woman, unseen by her or Borgia.
" Poor Lucretia ! " added the Pope, after remaining silent a moment. " Little is she aware that I was the cause of her lover's death ; that I have drawn her into a cunningly-woven web ; that I have ruined, polluted her, with the intention of casting her off "
The sentence was unfinished. There was a shout, a hasty noise behind him, a terrible cry, and the Pope started to his feet and turned. Donna Lucretia had aimed a blow at his heart, but her hand had been stayed
ALEXANDER BORCIIA. 73
by the servant; and he was struggling to confine her. He finally succeeded in wresting the weapon from her frenzied grasp.
" What, another attempt to murder me ! " cried Borgia. " By Heavens, this outrage shall not pass unpunished ! What, ho ! my guards ! "
Two or three armed servants soon entered the room.
" Seize that woman ! " commanded the infuriated man, pointing to Lucretia ; "seize her, and bear her to the dungeons of the Inquisition ! She is a wanton and a murderess ! "
The men moved forward ; but, ere they laid hands upon Donna Lucretia, a dark figure darted before her, and a shrill voice exclaimed,
" Hold, as ye love life ! I forbid you to approach ! "
THE intruder was mad Seta.
" Harm not a hair of this poor girl's head," she cried, as she shook her long, bony finger menacingly at the Pope and his minions ; " for she is your daughter ! "
" Liar ! " shouted Borgia, as he seized her fiercely by the arm. " Say those words again, and, by the demons in hell, that moment shall be your last ! Hag, witch, devil ! Why do you come here at this time, with your infernal croakings ? "
" Bid these men leave us, and I will tell you all."
Borgia waved his hand ; the servants all left the room, and the door was closed. 7
74 THE CRIMES OT
" 0, fool, fool ! " exclaimed the weird woman, as sho bestowed a look of scorn, hate and detestation, upon the man before her. " Would you murder one of your own flesh ? "Would you slay your own daughter ? Listen to me, Alexander Borgia ; I have a tale to tell thee that will freeze thy soul with nameless horror. Many years ago, thou didst woo and win the love of a fair Italian girl, named Donna Zuella. She was my sister. You won her confidence, and, by means of that confidence, as swayed by her affection, .effected her ruin. The fruit of your connec- tion was a child, a daughter "
" True, most true," muttered Borgia.
" At about the same time, you made the acquaintance of a noble Italian lady, named Senorita Caselli, whom you professed to love, but who did not regard you with a single feeling of affection. You deserted my sister, and she swore revenge. Learning that her rival, the object of your love, the noble Lady Caselli, would become a mother at about the same time her own child was born, she determined to change the children in their cradles "
" 'T is false ! " cried Borgia, passionately, as a hot flush appeared upon his face, and his form fairly quivered with excitement. " False as hell ! "
" I pledge my life to its truth. The children ivere changed by the nurse in the employ of my sister. The noble lady's child grew up in poverty, while my sister's child your child, Alexander Borgia was tenderly cared for by the Senorita Caselli, who deemed it her own."
" Liar ! This be thy passport to hell, where you can tell the story to the fiends ! " cried the madly-excited man, as he drew his dagger and plunged it to the hilt in mad
ALEXANDEB BORGL1. 75
Seta's bosoin, who instantly fell to the floor in the agonies of death.
" I spoke the truth," she gasped, " and here is the proof," and she drew forth the papers that had been given her by her sister. " Take these papers ; they will tell you all, how the child of which I have spoken, your child, lived with the Lady Caselli until that estimable woman died ; how the girl was then adopted by you ; how you reared her ; how she grew up in the belief that you were her father. Ay, and that child now stands before you in the person of Lucretia Borgia ! "
" 'T is false ! " again cried Borgia, with an agony it was terrible to behold.
" They are my dying words ; and, by my hope of heaven, I swear that they are true, as these papers will convince you. Pope Alexander VI., you have committed incest, you have seduced your own daughter .' "
They were the last words she uttered. They had scarcely left her lips when life departed.
A wild, fearful cry of horror and excitement rang throughout the room, and Lucretia Borgia sank down in a fainting-fit.
And he, the incestuous father, the priestly libertine, turned deathly pale, and raised his hands to his eyes as if to shut out a horrid vision^ as he shrieked, in a husky voice :
" Damned, doubly damned ! "