IT was two weeks later. Among the events of this pe- riod, Caesar Borgia had become a cardinal. He was seated alone in his room, engaged in earnest thoughts.
" Some means must be employed, and speedily, to re- plenish the treasury of the church and the pockets of the Borgias," he observed, in a musing manner. " My troops are clamorous for money, and many of the late expenses they have incurred remain unliquidated. From whence is this money to come ? This is the question to be seriously asked and quickly answered ; from whence is the required amount to come ? "
He rested his elbows upon his knees, and his chin upon his hands, and gave himself up to reflection. He was soon disturbed, however; for a door of the apartment was opened, and Alexander Borgia entered.
" Ah," said Caesar, as he beheld his father, " I am devilish glad to see you."
The Pope did not reply. He was evidently in no pleas- ant mood. A sullen, half-angry look was upon his features. He threw himself dejectedly into a chair, and
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 119
gave himself up to the stormy emotions that raged in his heart.
" Bah." exclaimed Caesar, contemptuously, as he ob- served these signs of the old man's moodiness. " You are in one of your ill humors again. Don't make such a fool of yourself! Be a little more the Pope, and a little less the man ! Drive your cares and troubles to the devil, as I do. ^Jere is some excellent wine, which will expedite the departure of all such gloomy feelings most wonderfully. Won't you try a glass with me ? Do, and banish this cursed ill-nature, if you have any pity for me, or regard for yourself. But I suppose you are still meditating on that affair with Lucretia."
" Caesar," said the Pope, sternly, starting to his feet, and giving his companion a most commanding look, " don't you ever allude to that circumstance again. Let the past be forgotten, all save that portion of it which can be remembered with pleasurable emotions. It is worse than the mouthings of a fool, or the ravings of a madman, to call up such reminiscences. Speak of the present, it' at all ; you will find that subject quite disagreeable enough."
" Ay, too much so," said Caosar, with a moody look. " The present is not a very agreeable subject to either of us. The treasury is empty the church is impoverished ; and both of us have urgent need for money* Under these circumstances, it becomes an urgent, a serious question for us to decide, where the money is to come from. Have you any plans or prospects on the subject? "
" None," was the brief and gloomily-uttered reply.
"Then allow me to advance mine. I have plans on that subject plans that have just been decided upon in my mind. Listen, and you shall know what they are.
120 THE CRIMES OF
You are aware that Cardinal Corneto is a very rich man, and you are quite as well aware that the whole of his property, in the event of his decease, comes to the treasury of the Catholic church. Such being the case, I propose that Cardinal Corneto obliges us by departing from mun- dane affairs at a very short notice."
" What, would you have him assassinated ? "
" I did not say that ; I simply insinuated that I should be happy to hear that he was happy and doing well in a better world than ours happens to be. If this man, this wealthy cardinal, were to die suddenly about this time, he would do us both a great favor, as a portion of his money would come into our possession."
" You are right," said the Pope, with emphasis. " How do you propose to assassinate him ? "
" Assassinate ? That is a hard word. Did I say as- sassinate ? I merely intended to suggest that it is possible for him to drink a glass of poisoned wine."
" I understand ; you would have him die by poison. It is a good .idea ; we will act upon it. Come to my private apartment, and we will have some further consideration on this subject. Poison! It will be our salvation it shall be used ; and Cardinal Corneto shall make us his heirs, nnilens volens heirs by circumstances ! Come on the thought is right ; it has only to be matured ! "
Each hastily drank a glass of wine, and then both re- tired from the room.
THE APPROACHING MARRIAGE.
LUCRETIA BORGIA was seated alone in her room. Change terrible change was written in every glance of her eyes, and in every expression that mantled her face. She appeared but a shadow of the beautiful and gay-hearted being she had been but a few short months previous. Her face was very pale and haggard ; her eyea gleamed restlessly in their sockets ; and her whole appear- ance proclaimed the misery that was rankling in her heart, and wasting her life away. Yet, despite all this change, despite all she had suffered, Lucretia Borgia was strangely fascinating gloriously beaatiful!
" It is hard to live thus," she murmured, as she clasped her hands to her feverish brow ; " to live under the con- viction that I am cursed for this life, and damned for that to come. No mortal knows the agony that is given me by this thought ; none can comprehend the terrible nature of my sufferings. It is a terrible thing a thousand times more terrible than death for one to live until all his hopes have been destroyed, brain seared, heart blighted, name disgraced, and life's pleasures all wasted away, and naught is left but the sickening consciousness, the dread realiza- tion, that grief and despair are his heritage for all com- ing time ! A terrible thing to feel that everything that made life desirable has been buried in the events of the past, and nothing left to cheer the present save the mock- ing memories of long, long ago! A terrible thing to stand upon the shores of time, and gaze forth upon the dreary sea that stretches far away into eternity, and real- ize that demon hands are driving one's frail bark of life 11
122 THE CRIMES <W
over its billows, hurrying it on and on, in darkness and gloom ! A terrible thing <o feel that the heart has become a sepulchre ; a yawning grave of bright hopes, noble aspir- ations, lofty resolves, and waking dreams of glory and renown ; a living tomb, in which is buried everything that is good, and in which everything that is bad, polluting and unholy, shall live and live forever.
" But I will be avenged," continued the woman, after pausing a brief instant ; and her face wore a look of deter- mination that could not have been mistaken. " Those who have embittered my happiness, and made me the miserable object I am, shall feel the deadliest revenge that woman's brain can plan or her hand execute ! "
A door opened as Donna Lucretia ceased speaking, and a portly, commanding-looking gentleman, whose age could not have varied much from forty-five, entered hastily, threw himself at the woman's feet, took her hand, and ex- claimed :
" Still sad and desponding, dear Lucretia ! I feared as much, and have come to cheer up your spirits and make you happy."
" You are very kind, Count Lunaza," responded Lucre- tia, with a faint smile. " I am glad you have come, for I have been gloomy all the afternoon."
" What, gloomy so near your wedding-day ! This is not in character. To-morrow evening we are to be united in the bonds of matrimony ; and the thought of this should bring joy to your heart, and a glow of enthusiasm and expected happiness to your cheeks."
" So it should, my lord, but I am a strange and per- verse being, you know.' Sometimes I think I am not worthy of becoming the wife of one so kind and attentive
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 123
as you have proved yourself since our acquaintance begun ; and if you ever have such a thought, I shall not hesitate to release you from the promises made "
" Do not speak of it, dear Lucretia. Were I a hun- dred times more wealthy, respected and influential, I should deem you well worthy of being my wife. I am impatient for the hour to arrive that is to unite us in mar- riage. With thee I shall be happy. With thee the world will be a heaven, and life a continual round of the deepest joys and pleasures the soul can feel."
" Heaven grant it ! " was the response of Lucretia, as a look of agony flitted over her face, tears dimmed her eyes, a tremor of emotion swept over her form, and her head sunk forward upon the count's bosom.
IT was an hour later. The mask of St. Peter's was standing in the shadow cast by one of the mighty arches of the bridge of St. Anglo's, and gazing forth upon the turbid waters of the Tiber. Near him, behind a pillar of the bridge, stood a man that presented a similar appear- ance, as he wore a mask and a black cloak.
The stranger was observing the mask very attentively, and signified by his actions a desire to address him. Their eyes met at last, and the stranger beckoned the man of crime and mystery to the shade in which he stood con- cealed.
" You are the mask of St. Peter's," was the first Balu-
124 THE CRIMES OF
tation of the unknown, after that personage had crossed over to him.
" I am, as you very well know, without my assurance. The black cloak, my blacker mask, and the good dagger I wear at my belt, have long since rendered it needless for any dweller in Rome to question who I am."
" True ; but we must have our preliminaries, in convers- ing with strangers, you know," rejoined the unknown, with a smile. " I am very well aware that you are the mask of St. Peter's, and it is this knowledge that has led me to call upon you at the present time. I have some urgent business with you "
" Excuse me, sir, but no man has any business with me who comes with his face disguised. You cannot command my attention until you have removed that mask frraa your countenance."
"But, consider that there are certain circumstances under which a man does not care to become known to the agents he employs."
" 0, very well ; I do not intend to exchange any words on the subject. I have only to say that I meant what I said, and bid you a very good-evening; " and the mask turned upon his heel, as if about to depart.
" Stay," said the other, seizing his arm. " I will un- mask, if you pledge your word of honor that you will never make use against me of whatever knowledge you may gain by the transaction. Do you promise ? "
" Seiior, I do not promise anything. Were there any occasion for such a pledge on my part, it should be given ; but you very well know it is not required. I do as I please. If I have a motive sufficient to warrant me in denouncing a man, I do it. If I choose to do a 'good
ALEXANDER BOBGIA. 125
deed, I do it ; and if I choose to do a bad one, it is need- less for any one to offer opposition. If I have cause to be a man's friend, I am so ; if I have a motive and a reason for being his enemy, I am generally a deadly one. Neither love or hate can ever sour in my breast. You now know a few of my views ; and if you choose to trust me, you can do so. If not, you are at liberty to keep your secrets in your own heart."
" I must trust you must have your aid ; and there- fore I will not offer any further objections to your desire," was the reply of the unknown, as he removed the mask from his visage.
The mask of St. Peter's started at the face that met his vie\% and there was a significant gleam in his eye as he observed,
" I know you very well. You are Cardinal Montelli. You have sought the mask of St. Peter's. Thus far I understand you. Now, sir, your business."
" Is of a peculiar nature. You already know that I am rich and powerful, and that I have a desire to become Pope. All I have now to do is, to secure your aid, and inform you that I have thought of a method for placing myself in the pontifical chair ! "
" Indeed ! " and the mask started. " I shall be pleased to hear your plans for the execution of such a project." .
" But I can trust you? "
" Certainly. If you feel even the shadow of a sus- picion on the subject, reflect for a moment upon the feel- ings I must necessarily bear those who made me the odious monster I am, a thing for general.abhorrence. Does it eeem likely that one who has been forced, under penalty of death, to fill the position I have done for the last fif-
126 THE CRIMES OP
teen years or more, would be capable of betraying any one to those who forced him to such a revolting step, the Pope and the cardinals?"
" Say no more. I am convinced that I can confide in you ; and so, to the business that called me hither. As I before observed, I have matured a plan for becoming Pope. I have contrived to make myself the most powerful man in Rome, not excepting Pope Alexander VI. "
" True most true ! " muttered the mask, with a slight intonation of bitterness.
" I have made myself alike popular with the cardinals, the priests and the people. Were Borgia to die, I should undoubtedly be called to fill his place. Such being the state of affairs, you can readily understand that fcdo not pray that his life may be unusually lengthy."
" I understand you ; the project bears the evidence of a master mind on its front. But how do you propose to remove the Pope ? "
Cardinal Montelli gazed upon the form before him for a moment, as if he would fain read his thoughts ; then he replied, laconically,
" By employing your dagger ! "
Again the mask started, in a manner that would have struck an observer as being somewhat peculiar.
" What reward have you concluded to offer as an equiv- alent for my friendly offices in this matter ? " he asked, at length.
"Enough to make it an object for you to aid me. What do you say to five thousand maravedi ? "
" Just half enough^" was the decisive response.
" I see you are determined to name the price, and make no words about it. Well, I will not complain. Levers
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 127
must rest upon a substantial fulcrum. Do the deed, slay Alexander Borgia, and you shall have the ten thousand maravedi ! "
" You are generous ! " observed the mask, as his dark eyes flashed vengefully, his form trembled, and his hand toyed nervously with the hilt of his dagger. " Most generous ! I shall accept your offer. But when must the deed be done, and the money be paid ? "
" The sooner your part of the contract is fulfilled, the better. As for mine, you can have the money now, if you choose, as I brought it with me ; " and he produced a heavy bag of gold.
" You are quite thoughtful and considerate ! " said the mask, as he received it ; and the expression of his eyes grew Aore malignant as he spoke. His excitement had now become so evident that his companion noticed it.
" What means this agitation?" he demanded. " Haa any one been witnessing what we have done, or listening to our words? You tremble; you clutch your weapon nervously. Are you ill ? "
The mask did not reply in words, his answer was a terrible deed. He turned with the quickness of thought, and buried his dagger in Montelli's bosom !
" Treachery ! Help ! " exclaimed the fated man, as he sank down in the agonies of death.
The mask uttered a hoarse laugh, as he dragged him where the shade lay deeper on the bridge, and knelt beside him.
" Treachery ! help ! " he repeated, mockingly. " It ill becomes a traitor of your stamp to use such words. List you, Cardinal Montelli ; I would have you under- stand the cause of this conduct, which to you appears BO
128 TIP CRIMES OF
singular. Know you that I am a friend of Alexander Borgia his particular friend ; ay, one so much bound up in his interest that, had passion not got the better of reason, and caused me to take summary justice, I would have hung you on a gallows higher than Hainan's ! It is well that you came to me ; I thank you for this judicious selection of a tool for this purpose."
The mask ceased speaking, for he saw that his victim was dead. A moment he gazed upon the pale, distorted features that were upturned to his view ; then he clutched the bag of gold with a tighter grasp, and a low chuckle of - satisfaction escaped him.
" All goes well," he muttered. " The most dangerous enemy the Pope has had for years is dead. I have taken his life, and now possess a portion of his money, which comes, just at this time, as a godsend. Ten thousand maravedi ! There 's quite enough to celebrate Donna Lu- cretia's wedding in grand style, and it shall be applied for that purpose. As for this self-deluded fool, he is justly punished. I knew he was ambitious, but did not suspect him of such boldness. He may have had backers ; indeed, I am led to believe that he did, as he alluded to his popu- larity with his fellow-cardinals. I must see to this at once. There may be many concerned in this conspiracy. But let them beware ! Those who offend Alexander Bor- gia, or plot against him, are treading on a volcano that may destroy them at any moment. I will pay the council of cardinals a visit at their next sitting, and see if I can gain any new insight into their sentiments."
The mask now wiped the blade of his weapon on the garments of the murdered man ; replaced it in its sheath, and walked musingly away in the direction of the palaco of the Borgias.
ALEXANDER BORGIA. . 129
THE scene was a room in the Inquisition. A number of cardinals were seated therein, among them Corneto.
" Where is Caesar Borgia and Cardinal Montelli ? " he asked. " It appears that they have absented themselves from this meeting. Well, so much the better. Fasten the door, Hugi, and admit no one without my orders."
The messenger obeyed. Corneto then turned to his companions, and thus addressed them :
" Probably you are all anxious to know why I have called you together to-night. I will tell you. Dangers unseen and deadly are menacing us, especially myself. The Pope and his son have been plotting against my life, perhaps against the life of each of you ! "
" How learned you this ? " asked one of the cardinals.
" By accident on the part of Hugi, our messenger. I sent him to Borgia's palace last evening, on business. The Pope was not in his room, but the servants said he was doubtless in the palace. The messenger went in search of him, and soon found him in his son's room. They two were conversing together ; and there was something so peculiar in their manners, at the moment Hugi pushed the door ajar and looked in upon. them, that he could not resist his inclination to listen. Listen he did, and heard them decide upon poisoning me ; which knowledge had so much influence upon him, that he hastened to me, without waiting to make known his business."
" But are you sure that this twain have thus plotted against you ? Can you depend upon Hugi's word 7 "
THE CRIMES OF
" Most implicitly, and could not be more firmly con- vinced of the plot against me had I heard it with my own ears. I have long been suspicious of the Pope, have long thought that there is no crime too revolting for him to execute ; and you can all rest assured that I shall be on my guard against him."
A door at the further end of the apartment opened at this juncture, and the mask of St. Peter's entered, unseen and unheard by any person in the group.
" And there 's the mask," continued Corneto. " He seems to have changed for the worse of late. It may be that he has not really turned traitor to us, but he is most wofully careless lately in the execution of his orders. I told you at our last meeting of his affair with Delano, how he allowed him to live more than two weeks after we condemned him, and finally slew him in the most barbar- ous manner. Such things are far from being satisfactory to me, as a member of this council ; and I motion that we establish a secret espionage over Borgia, and take measures to punish the mask ! "
" Agreed ; the proposition is a good one, and should be acted upon at once," said the cardinal on the immediate left of Corneto. " For my part, I am satisfied that there is an urgent necessity for us to be on our guard against both of the persons to whom you have alluded, the Pope and the mask. They - both work together ; both seem to have a terrible understanding between themselves, and both may be even now plotting against the life of every one of us ! "
" Ay, and it is more than likely that they are," added another of the group. " You may all think what you please, but I am convinced that the mask has plotted
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 131
against others, and may against us. To speak more plain- ly, I am satisfied that the mask could explain the absence of Montelli from this meeting. It has been rumored to- day that a man, who might have been Montelli, was as- sassinated on the bridge of St. Anglos last evening, and his body sunk by two servants in the Tiber. The story may be but a rumor, and the object of our suspicion may have had nothing to do with the deed, if it has really been committed ; but still, I second the words of Corneto let Borgia be watched, and the mask punished for his past neglect of our orders ! "
" Agreed ! " was the response, coming from an unex- pected quarter ; and, as the cardinals started to their feet, the mask of St. Peter's moved forward and stood before them.
THE MYSTERY OF THE MASK.
FOR the space of a minute the cardinals all gazed upon the mask without moving or speaking, while anger and confusion were written upon their features.
" You here ! " cried Corneto, at length. " Devil ! how dare you thus intrude upon us ? "
"Cardinal Corneto forgets the character of the mask when he insinuates that there is anything evil the mask dare not do," was the sneering response. " When I have been painted in as black and revolting colors as certain persons now present have used in speaking of me, there ia no occasion to wonder at anything I may do, at least, I should so judge," and again the mocking sneer curled his lips, though it was unseen.
132 TIIE CRIMES OP
" You have heard no good of yourself by listening," continued Corneto. " To the contrary, you have heard, as listeners always do of themselves, much that is ill ; and I, for one, am glad that you have presented yourself thus, unasked and unexpected, in our midst. We now have an opportunity of questioning you, perhaps a chance to learn whether you are as guilty as report bespeaks you, or not."
" Very well, sir ; question me, if such is your desire," was the reply, indifferently uttered.
" In the first place, I would ask you why you came here without a summons from our Council ? "
" Because it pleased me to do so."
" And so you have become so self-willed, and a person of such importance in your own estimation, that you con- sult no one's will but your own, eh ? Matters have reached a pretty crisis, indeed, when a mere hireling of the Coun- cil ventures to assume the privileges you are taking to yourself. If we submit to such insults as these from a man whose very life is not his own, but held through our clemency, then are we the most despicable of men. For one, I will not longer brook your insolent conduct and your neglect of our orders ; and I now summons you, in the name of the Council, to lay aside your cloak, mask, and dagger, and surrender yourself a prisoner."
The mask received the words with a sneering laugh.
"Indeed, my lord," was the calm reply, "you are quite moderate in your requests ; but I beg leave to ipform you that I cannot comply with your wishes at present."
" But you shall comply with them, even if force has to be used to effect that purpose. You are a traitor, a spy,
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 133
and a renegade. The pledges under which you held your life have all been broken ; and I shall be much mistaken if the death you have merited by your late deportment is not speedily yours. Do you understand me ? Surrender at once, or we shall resort to force."
" Try it, if you dare ! " said the mask, coolly, though it was evident that strong excitement was raging in his breast. " The first man that lays hands upon me will be the first to die. If any one of your number is ambitious of such distinction, let him come on ! "
There was no reply. The very audacity of the mask's words, no less than his position, seemed sufficient to keep them silent.
" Now, senors," said the mask, quietly, after a short pause, " if you are ready to hear an explanation, I am ready to give it ; but I wish you to distinctly understand that I do not come here to be bullied or frightened. You, Cardinal Corneto, have alluded to the circumstances under which I hold my life, as you flatter yourself, from your august body j but allow me to observe that you are all mistaken."
" That is net possible. Were you not found guilty of assassinating a man in one of the streets of Rome, and condemned to death, and only released on your promise of becoming the executioner of our victims, which charac- ter you assumed something like fifteen years ago "
" Fifteen years ago," interrupted the mask, " a man was discovered standing beside the body of a person he had slain, discovered by members of this Council. The assassin was condemned, as you have just stated, but was spared on the conditions you have mentioned, and of which 12
134 THE CHIMES 0*
you have often taken occasion to remind me, under the belief that I am that assassin."
" Under the belief ? What do you mean ? Do you intend to say that you are not the man whose life was thus spared ? "
" That is just wha^I wish you to understand, for I am not that person. It matters not who or what I was at that time ; it is sufficient for me to say that I envied the security, and coveted the power, the assumption of this cloak and mask gave the possessor. My mind was deter- mined on a deed that should win me both ; my hand was strong to execute that determination. I laid in wait for this assassin, on the bridge of St. Angelo, and was emi- nently successful in the design. The assassin was in his turn assassinated ; and I /, my lord cardinals, became the executioner of your wishes, the mask of St. Peter's ! "
All started back in the greatest surprise at this an- nouncement.
" And who are you?" asked Corneto, as soon as his astonishment would permit him.
The mask moved forward, and laid his hand impress- ively upon the questioner's arm ; and when he spoke his voice was sterner than ever.
" Who am I ? Listen, and you shall know. I am one who knows each and every one of you better than you know yourselves. I know your thoughts, your motives, and your intentions ; and when they are of an order it is not my pleasure to countenance, I know very well how to thwart them. Some one of your number has intimated his belief that I know something in reference to the dis- appearance of Cardinal Montelli. He is right; I have that knowledge. 'T was my dagger, my hand, that let out
the miscreant's traitorous blood ; and," he added, with a fierce look, " there are more than one of this assemblage who will be similarly dealt with, if there is not a speedy change in their deportment ! "
" Ha ! do you threaten us ? " exclaimed Corneto, draw- ing his sword. " What, ho ! Hugi ! ftll the guard ! "
" Call away till doomsday, if it please you ! " said the mask, with a sneer. " No one hears you save my friends, your enemies. Would you know who they are ? Be- hold them ! " and he stamped his foot heavily upon the floor.
A door opened, and admitted half a dozen masked men, wearing black cloaks, and each carrying a blood-stained dagger in his right hand. They gazed silently upon the cardinals for a moment ; then the mask waved his hand, and they retired as they came.
" In Heaven's name, what means this mystery, and who are you ? " cried Corneto, excitedly.
" I am simply the mask of St. Peter's," was the reply. " If you have become convinced that I am not so much the tool but that I can, if necessary, be the master, my business is settled, and I will take my leave. But allow me to caution you all against plotting to injure me, for such attempts will be very likely to recoil on your own heads. Remember this, and govern yourselves according- ly. Farewell, and a pleasant night to each of you ! "
And turning, with an air of contempt, the mask strode from the room, leaving the cardinals in a state of stupe- faction.
136 THE CHIMES OJ
THE surprise of the cardinals kept them silent for sev- eral moments. Coraeto was the first to speak.
" Cardinals," said he, " there goes a dangerous man ! One whom we must crush, or who will crush us ; a man of mystery, whom none of us understand. He has been the most humble of servants ; you see that he can be the most stern and powerful of masters. He must be re- moved, or from this hour we hold our lives only by his permission. But, how can we dispose of him? Send priests among the people, to incite them to vengeance against the mask, for the many assassinations from which they have suffered at his hands ? No, that will not do ; he would hear of the plot, and thwart it. We must con- trive something that will prove speedily sure. But what shall it be ? Let me think. What shall it be ? "
" A summary arrest and instant execution," was the reply of an old, gray-headed cardinal, who sat opposite Corneto. " The emergency is one that will admit of no child's play; we must strike boldly and at once. My advice is to send a strong detachment of officers from the Inquisition to arrest the mask at his residence, the palace that was built for him by the church, in consideration of his services as public executioner. Let us drag him forth to a dungeon, try him by our right as the secret council of cardinals, condemn him by our authority, and gibbet him by our power. This is the only way in which he can be placed beyond the power to do us harm."
" You have spoken very sensibly, and to the point,"
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 137
said Corneto. " I most strongly advocate the course you have advanced. We have all been insulted, again and again, by the mask. He has neglected our orders, and despised all our intimations of punishment. Even in our very presence, within the hour, he has dared to boast that it was his hand that assassinated Montelli, one of the most worthy and respected members of our Council. In view of such outrages as these, there is but one course to adopt towards him, death ! "
The cardinals severally expressed their approval of the plan, and the result of a few moments' deliberation was, that a body of Inquisitorial officers should arrest the mask as soon as arrangements could be made for that purpose. The council then adjourned.
IT was later still. The Count Luanza stood in a lonely hall, gazing forth upon the sullen waters of the Tiber.
" The lady does not confess ; never visits a confessional, or receives the visits of a priest. Why is it ? There is a mystery here which I must unravel. She has secrets which I must gain. Only one person has power to draw them forth, Father Janzen. I will see him at once ! "
He had only to ring a bell, give his orders to a servant, and wait a few moments, at the end of which time Father Janzen was ushered into his presence.
" Leave us," commanded the count, and the servant obeyed.
138 THE CRIMES OF
" Now to business. Be seated, Father Janzen, and join me in a glass of wine."
The priest obeyed, drinking it with an apparent relish that proclaimed he was not a total stranger to its good qualities.
"So much for the wine. Now, good Father Janzen, I '11 proceed to make known the purpose of this interview. You know that I am engaged to be married to Donna Lucretia. Indeed, the ceremony was to have taken place this evening, but she has desired me to postpone it a day or two, as she was this morning taken suddenly and seri- ously ill. She is now in her room at the palace."
" Well," muttered the priest, who seemed to have an intuitive perception of what was required of him.
" I wish you to see Donna Lucretia, and make an attempt to gain possession of the secrets that weigh so heavily upon her mind and body. You have doubtless marked the change that has lately taken place in her appearance. I hardly know what to attribute it to ; but I have come to the conclusion that there has been a terri- ble cause, which she conceals in her own breast. You must see her, and learn whether my suspicions are true or not."
" I will gladly do so," was the reply.
" Then do so at once. She will probably be at home to-night. I have an engagement with her ; but you shall bear my apologies for not keeping it, and do the service I require of you."
Again the priest muttered his acquiescence.
" And while she is revealing her secrets, should she favor us by doing so, you need not be surprised if you should see me enter your presence, by a secret door, a
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 139
hidden panel, or an open window. I have a peculiar method for making calls when I desire to be invisible ; and I possess a sufficient knowledge of the mysteries of the Borgia palace to make it the scene of an exploit of this kind. To sum up all, bring about this interview, to which I shall make it an especial point of my conduct to listen."
" I understand you, and will do all I can to execute your wishes. If it is possible for me to wring the secret from her, I will do so."
" Thanks. This is not the first time you have made me your debtor."
A few words more passed between them relative to preliminary arrangements, and then Father Janzen de- parted.
STERN, pale, and trembling with excitement, Hernaldo Zinna stood in the midst of the " Leaguers," the body of men that looked up to him as their leader. They were in the underground hall, where they had met on previous occasions. The young man had been addressing them, he had spoken of their own wrongs, and of those that he feared had befallen La Belle Floretta.
' If not dead," were his concluding remarks, " she is confined in the palace of the Borgias, or in the dungeon of the Inquisition. How many are there in this assem- blage that will go with me to the rescue ? "
" All, all ! " came up from the lips of each, like a mighty echo of his will.
140 THE CRIMES OF
" And you will go with me now, this very hour ? "
" Ay, the sooner the better for our purpose, the bet- ter for the gratification of our own wishes. Death to the Borgias ! death to the cardinals ! death to the mask of St. Peter's ! death to the church of Rome ! "
A mocking laugh succeeded, coming from the man who guarded the door. It was not loud, nor hoarse ; but it came so unexpectedly, and under such circumstances, that it seemed truly infernal, a demoniac laugh of exultation.
And it was not one laugh alone that fell upon their ears ; it was caught up, it was echoed by many voices, until the very walls around them rang with a chorus of infernal laughter.
" In the name of Heaven, what mean these sounds ? Have fiends taken possession of our hall ? "
" Ha, ha ! " laughed those malignant and exultant voices in reply. " Ha, ha ! "
And then those strong men cowered down, and trembled with horror, while their faces became deathly pale ; for it flashed upon their minds that they were beset by the Inquisition.
" Fiend ! " cried Zinna, darting toward the door-keeper, who had commenced the mocking laughter that now as- sailed his ears. " Why this laugh ? Art thou a demon in the guise of man ? Speak, and tell me who thou art ! "
Then he recoiled with a terrible cry, for the cloak had fallen from the form of the man before him, a mask that concealed a mask was torn from his face, and Zinna saw that the mask of St. Peter's stood before him.
" Ha, ha ! " he laughed, in tones of hellish glee.
And those mocking voices echoed it, echoed it
ALEXANDER BORGIA. 141
throughout the hall, until the sense of hearing on the part of the " Leaguers " seemed benumbed.
Zinna drew his weapon, as did one of his followers ; but the mask stepped calmly towards them, as calmly spoke.
" Gentlemen, you are all the prisoners of the mask of St. Peter's. If you doubt my word?, behold the proof! "
The door by which all had entered opened as he ceased speaking. Then another was discovered, another, the fourth, the fifth ; and now they were thrown open in such numbers around them, that the walls seemed full of them.
In breathless silence the Leaguers waited the denoue- ment. Nor waited long. A host of silent men, wearing the cowl and cloak that characterized them as officers of the Inquisition, made their appearance, entering quietly one after the other, and all well armed. Their numbers soon exceeded those of the " Leaguers ; " and still they continued coming. The hall was crowded with them, the doorways were guarded by them, and every avenue of escape cut off. t
" Lost, lost ! " cried Zinna. " Hell is reigning on earth ; its demons all before me ! "
In the course of two minutes every one of the " Leag- uers " were seized and ironed by the Inquisitors. They made no resistance ; they knew it was useless to contend against such odds. Zinna alone remained free. He noticed the omission, and thought he had been reserved for some additional insult. With a sneer upon his lips, a look of defiance on his face, he held out his hands to be bound.
11 No, no ! " and the mask shook his head. " We do not want you ; we give you your liberty ; you are free to go."
142 THE CRIMES OP ALEXANDER BORGIA.
" But I will not stir one step. I desire to die with my comrades ! "
" Then, if you are so obstinate, we will depart with your friends here, and you may remain alone in these vaults," was the reply, and the intimation was acted upon as soon as possible. The hall waa soon cleared, Zinna was left alone.
" Alone ! " He uttered the word, and it rang through- out the hall like a knell. " Alone ! " Again he repeated it, as he thought of La Belle Floretta ; and he threw himself upon his knees beside the table, weeping and praying.
It was midnight ere he arose and went forth, and when he finally sought the open air he was still frenziedly mut- tering that word, " Alone, alone ! "
For the light of reason had left his soul forever. Her- naldo Zinna was a maniac !
And not the first or the last that has been driven insane iy the horrors of the church of Home !