페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

equalled, and thus many a bright golden coin flowed into my purse.

Quitting France I crossed into Italy, and travelled onwards in my usual way, and with even more than my usual success, until I reached Florence, where I determined to tarry some time; partly because the place pleased me, and partly because I required rest from the fatigues of my late wandering life.

My first step was to engage apartments and a warehouse, my next to issue notices announcing myself in my double capacity of merchant and physician. Directly my warehouse was opened customers flocked in, and although my prices were high, the charm of novelty, aided perhaps by the suavity of my manners, caused me to sell more than any of my competitors. On the evening of the fourth day, as I was looking over my essence boxes and perfume caskets, previous to closing all up, I perceived a billet lying under one which I did not remember to have placed there. Some- | what surprised I tore it open, and found it to contain an invitation, or rather a request that I would meet the writer on the Ponte Vecchio at twelve o'clock that night. There was no signature appended to it, and I vainly puzzled myself with conjectures as to who was the author of it, as I did not know a soul in Florence. At length the idea struck me that it might possibly be some person who having heard of my fame as a physician, wished to consult me secretly, and consequently I resolved to keep the appointment thus strangely made, taking the precaution, however, to go armed. Shortly before midnight I stepped on to the Ponte Vecchio; no living creature was visible on that desolate bridge. It was a bright, cold night, and I paced rapidly up and down while waiting for my mysterious acquaintance; the moon shone brilliantly, and I could not forbear pausing to gaze on the sparkling waters of the Arno, as each bright ripple was silvered by its beams. Even while I did so the clock chimed forth the twelfth hour, and looking up as the last stroke vibrated in the air, I became aware of the presence of a tall man enveloped in a crimson mantle, one corner of which he held before his face. So sudden and noiseless was his appearance that for a moment I felt startled, but collecting myself I said, "Are you the person at whose request I am now here? If so, speak your commands.'

The stranger turned round, saying, "All is right-follow me!"

Not feeling exactly inclined to accompany this mysterious man I knew not whither, I remained where I was, saying, "Net so fast, Signor! Have the complaisance, in the first place, to tell me where you wish me to go; and, in the second place, to uncover your face, that I may judge from its expression whether your purpose is good or evil.”

He paused when I began to speak, although without turning towards me, and as I ceased, replied coolly, "Follow me, or remain where you are, Zaleukos; it is exactly as you please:" and moved away.

Enraged, I bounded after him, exclaiming, "Am I to be fooled thus with mysteries, and brought here, in the dead of the night, for nothing?"

| I siezed him by the mantle with one hand, and laid the other on my sword; but before I could unsheath it, the mantle remained in my hands and the stranger had disappeared round an adjacent corner. Gradually my anger gave way to wonder; at any rate, I had the mantle, and that might afford some clue to the elucidation of the mystery. Throwing it over my shoulders, I was walking towards my own house, when a man brushed closely by me, and whispered as he passed, "Have a care, Count! nothing must be attempted tonight!" So rapid were his motions that before I could turn round ne was some distance off, and I could see him gliding swiftly away under the shadow of the houses.

That he had addressed the owner of the mantle, and not me, was quite evident; but his words threw no light on the subject. I debated with myself as to what I should do with my strangely acquired prize: at first, I thought of having it cried, but then-how easy would it be for the owner to reclaim it, through some third person. I examined it carefully; it was composed of the richest Genoese velvet, lined with costly fur, and splendidly embroidered with gold, and must have belonged to some wealthy and distinguished person. At length, I resolved to expose it for sale in my warehouse, setting so high a price on it as would effectually prevent any one who was not interested in possessing it, from becoming the purchaser, and determined carefully to examine every bidder, in hopes of discovering the mysterious stranger who, notwithstanding his disguise, I felt sure I should immediately recognise.

A great many persons came in to look at the mantle in the course of the day; all admired it, and declared that nothing so rich had ever been seen in Florence before; but none were willing to give two hundred zechins, the price I had put on it, nor could I trace the slightest resemblance to the unknown in any of them. Evening was approaching when a young man, who had previously dealt with me, and had been in two or three times before on that day to look with longing eyes at the mantle, and try to induce me to take less for it, entered once more, and throwing his purse on the counter, exclaimed,

"Well, Zaleukos, take your own price! I have set my mind on yonder gaud, aud I must have it if I beggar myself to obtain it." With this he began hastily to count out the required sum.

I knew not what to do. When I exposed the mantle in my warehouse, it was in the hope of catching the attention of the unknown, and not with the least idea of disposing of it; and now here was a young spendthrift willing to give the enormous sum I asked for it; but I had no excuse for refusing to let him have it, and accordingly handed it over to him, consoling myself with the reflection that, at any rate, I had made a tolerably handsome profit by my last night's adventure.

The youth put his new purchase on, surveyed himself with a satisfied look, and turned to depart. On the threshold, however, he paused, and throwing me a piece of paper, which he found attached to the lining, said, "Here Zaleukos, this was not included in the bargain, I suppose." I picked it

up carelessly, but on looking at it, to my astonishment, read these words-" Bring this mantle to the Ponte Vecchio at the same hour to-night as you obtained it on, and you will receive four hun- | dred zochins."

66

For a moment I stood transfixed with amazement; I had lost this opportunity of satisfying my curiosity and gaining so large a sum. No, this must not be!" I exclaimed, and hastily gathering up the zechins, I sprang after my late customer, exclaiming as I reached him-" Here, sir-here are your zechius again; take them and give me my mantle I must not, cannot sell it."

At first the young man believed me to be joking, but when he perceived that I was in earnest he grew angry, refused to comply with my request, abused me, and from words we came to blows. In the contest, however, I was fortunate enough to get possession of my treasure, and throwing him his money was walking off with it, when he summoned the police and gave me in charge. We were immediately taken before a justice, who appeared much astonished at the strangeness of the case, but, after hearing both sides, adjudged the mantle to my opponent. I offered him twenty, fifty, eighty, even a hundred zechins over and above what he had paid me, if he would let me have it again, and, tempted by the bribe, he at length acquiesced. I snatched my prize triumphantly, and returned home well pleased, while all the witnesses of the affair shrugged their shoulders, and set me down for either a fool or a madinan. Their opinion, however, was to me a matter of perfect indifference, for I knew that I was still a gainer by the bargain.

Impatiently did I wait for night, and, as the appointed time drew nigh, betook myself with the mantle under my arm to the Ponte Vecchio. As the last stroke of the midnight hour resounded through the city, the form of the unknown glided out of the darkness. "Hast thou the mantle ?" he said.

"Yes, Signor; but it has cost me a hundred good zechins."

"I am aware of it," was the reply. "Approach and receive the sum I promised."

He drew near to the balustrades of the bridge, and counted out on them four hundred bright golden zechins. How beautifully they glistened in the clear moonlight! The sight of them rejoiced my heart; little did I think it was the last throb of joy it was to feel for many a long year. I gathered them into my purse, and then turned to look at the munificent unknown; but his features were masked, and all I could discern were his dark and glittering eyes.

"I thank your generosity, Signor," said I; "tell me, what more do you require of me. Speak your behests, and I will obey them, if they are such as an honest man may comply with."

"Fear not, Zalenkos," he replied; "it is in your capacity of surgeon that I require your assistance; but it is a dead and not a living patient you have to operate on."

"How, Signor! a dead person!" I exclaimed, in astonishment.

"Follow me," he said, moving onwards, “and

you shall know all. I came to Florence with my only sister on a visit to some near relatives. She died yesterday after a very short illness, and is to be buried to-morrow. From time immemorial all our ancestors have been entombed in one family vault, and those who died in foreign lands have been enbalmed and carried thither. My relations here have entreated me to let the body of my sister be buried at Florence, and overcome by their importunity, I have consented; but the head I must carry to my aged father, that he may gaze on the last remains of his lost child; it is therefore that I require you to take it off, and embalm it." There seemed to me something horrible in thus mutilating the dead, and a cold shudder passed over me; but some indescribable fear of this mysterious man prevented me from opposing or objecting to his wishes. I therefore merely replied, that I perfectly understood the process of embalming; but ventured to inquire whether the head could not be obtained in the day, instead of thus in the silence of midnight.

He said, that on merely hinting his wishes, he had encountered so much opposition from the prejudices of his relatives, that he was compelled to effect his purpose at this hour. "I would have brought it to you to embalm," he continued, "but a natural feeling of horror prevented me from cutting off my poor sister's head with my own hands, and I had no person about me in whose skill and secrecy I could confide."

We had now reached a magnificent house, which my conductor signified to me was the dwellingplace of his relatives. Passing by the portico we entered through a small side door, which he carefully closed behind him, and then enjoining silence preceded me up a narrow winding staircase and along a gloomy passage, until we reached a room lighted by a lamp which hung from the ceiling. A bed stood at the further end on which lay the corse. The unknown turned away his head, as if to conceal his tears, and then pointing to the bed, bade me, in a low suffocated voice, to get through my task as skilfully and expeditiously as possible, and quitted the chamber.

I drew out the instrument case which, as a phy sician, I always carried about me, and approached the couch. The head alone was visible, and that was so beautiful that an involuntary feeling of the deepest commiseration stole over me. Rich masses of dark hair hung around that deathly pale face, and the long lashes of the closed eyes contrasted strangely with the fair cheeks on which they lay. At first I made a slight incision round that white throat, as surgeons do when about to amputate a limb, and then seizing my sharpest knife cut through it with one firm stroke.

But how shall I describe the horror which paralyzed me when the corpse opened its eyes, glared wildly on me, and then closed them again with a deep sob of expiring agony! A stream of hot blood gushed up from the wound, and fell on me like drops of living fire. I had murdered this unfortunate! Yes, too surely murdered her, for the gash was too deep to leave room for the least shadow of hope. For many minutes I stood like one struck with lightning gazing on my work,

while rapid thoughts whirled through my brain. Was it possible that the unknown had deceived me? Oh no! he was himself deceived by the death-like trance in which his sister lay the former supposition was too horrible. But dared I break this awful tale to a brother's ear--hint to him that his strange wish, and my over haste, had murdered her? Distracted by conflicting emotions, it seemed to me my best plan to fulfil his commands and bury the frightful secret in my own bosom. Acting upon this idea, I manned myself and once more approached the side of my victim, to complete my dreadful task; but as I did so a deep groan burst from her, and the muscles were convulsed in the agonies of death. Overcome with horror I rushed wildly from the room. The passage was dark, my conductor had vanished, but I was goaded on by my excited feeling and groped my way to the staircase, down which I tottered with uncertain steps. The door at the bottom stood ajar, I tore it open, and seemed to breathe again as the cool night-breeze came freshly on my burning brow. But I dared not linger, footsteps seemed to pursue me, the dying groan of my victim knelled in my ears, and I relaxed not my speed until I reached my own dwelling, where throwing myself on the bed I endeavoured, by burying my face in the pillows, to shut out the events of the past hour.

But in vain, sleep fled my eyes, fever parched my throat, the whole scene floated before me with frightful distinctness, while those drops of blood seemed to eat like a living fire into my very bones. Morning's light, however, chased these horrors in some measure away, and showed me the necessity of composing myself.

I resolved to open my warehouse and go about my business as usual. "Surely suspicion cannot rest on me," I said, "surely that mysterious man will be silent for his own sake. Yes, yes, I am safe from all, but my own remorse." But even while these words passed my lips I discovered that my instrument case and knives were missing. Could I have left them in that fatal chamber, or had I dropt them in my hasty flight? The former supposition was only too probable; the hand of fate was upon me!

At the usual hour I opened my warehouse, and hardly had I done so, than my neighbour, a friendly talkative man, came in and addressed me with "Good morning, Zaleukos! Have you heard of the shocking event which took place last night?"

I replied in the negative; and he continued, "Is it possible? Why the whole town is ringing with it. Bianca, the flower of her sex, the beloved of all hearts, the only daughter of our noble governor, has been cruelly murdered. It was only yesterday that I saw her riding through the town with her intended bridegroom, all beauty and animation. They were to have been married to-day."

Every word he uttered was like a dagger plunged in my heart; nor did my martyrdom end here, for each person who entered could talk of nothing else; and the tale was repeated again and again until it seemed burnt into my brain. Every fresh narrator added some new horror, but their most

vivid colouring could not equal the frightful picture ever before my eyes.

About noon an officer of justice entered, and having requested a private conference with me, said, while he laid before me the instrument case and knives yet stained with dark crimson, “Signor Zaleukos, do these things belong to you?"

My first impulse was to disown them, but a moment's reflection showed me that this would only be to make appearances still worse, and therefore bowed a silent assent.

"I must trouble you then to give up your keys into my hands, and follow me."

I obeyed, and soon found myself the inmate of a solitary chamber. For some hours I was thus left to the companionship of my own thoughts, and they failed not to present my situation to me in the blackest colours. I was a murderer! not willfully or premeditatedly so, it is true, but still were my hands imbued in blood. For that accursed gold I had sold myself to sin, to crime, to death. At length the officer appeared once more, and signing me to follow him, conducted me through many vaulted passages to a large chamber hung with black, in the centre of which was a long table, at which twelve elderly men were seated. Around the apartment were benches occupied by the Florentine nobles, and the galleries above were crowded with spectators. The president, an old man of noble mien, but whose brow was clouded with sorrow, arose as I was led up the room, and addressed the council, saying, that as the father of the murdered Bianca he could not preside in this case, and therefore resigned his seat to a brother senator. The one who replaced him was perhaps ninety years of age, and long silver locks flowed from his venerable head, but his eyes flashed with intellect, and his voice was clear and audible. "Prisoner," he said, addressing me, "it appears that you are accused of a cruel murder: speak, are you guilty or not guilty?"

I entreated their patient hearing, and then in reply, narrated as succinctly and clearly as I was then able, my share in the events of the last few days. While I spoke the Governor appeared much moved; his countenance was now crimson, now pale as ashes, and he broke in upon me several times, with exclamations of disbelief or reproaches; but his brother senators reproved him, and when I had ceased speaking, inquired if anything was missing from the chamber of the murdered lady. "Not the smallest trifle," was the reply.

The council debated together in whispers for some time, and at length the president stated that it would be necessary, before they proceeded further, that they should be made thoroughly acquainted with the history of the Lady Bianca for the last few months, and also that her papers should be laid before them: the case, he said, was so involved in mystery, that without such information it would be impossible to form any judgment as to the truth or falsity of my statement: he therefore adjourned the case.

I was led back to my solitary cell, and there passed the weary day and night in prayers and hopes that the papers or enquiries might throw

some light on the connection between my victim and the mysterious stranger. Again was I led before the council. Numerous letters lay upon the table; one was handed to me, with the inquiry as to whether it was my writing. I replied in the negative, but stated it to correspond exactly with the writing in the notes received by me; but I evidently was not believed, and more than one of the council pointed to the initial "Z." attached to the letters, and noticed the curious coincidence of initials. These letters, it seems, contained warnings to the deceased to abandon all thoughts of the proposed marriage, and threats in case of her daring to complete it.

I entreated them to send to my dwelling for my own papers, among which were the mysterious notes, which could then be compared with these; but was told that search had already been made, and no papers whatever had been found. All hope seemed to vanish as I heard this announcement; I felt that my fate was sealed, and heard with a numbed composure the sentence of "death" pronounced death! Far away from my friends, my kindred, in the very prime of life-must I then thus end my days in a foreign land, ignominiously, by the hand of an executioner!

On the evening of this frightful day, as I sat alone in my dungeon, meditating gloomily on my fate, the door opened, and a man entered, who surveyed me silently for some minutes, and then said, "And is it thus I meet thee again, Zaleukos?"

For two long miserable days did I remain in this state of uncertainty, and on the third, Baletty once more appeared.

"I bring you some consolation," he said, "painful as it is. Your life is spared, and you will be set at liberty, but-you are banished; your property is confiscated, and you must lose one hand,"

Much moved by this intelligence, I thanked my friend for the boon of life, even accompanied as it was to be by poverty and loss of limb; and listened, while he related how he had wearied the council with importunities and representations, until, at last, they commuted the sentence. I will not harrow up your feelings by any description of my sufferings on the day on which, in the public square, I laid my hand on the block, there to leave it; and saw my blood streaming around me. Baletty conducted me to his dwelling until I was well enough to travel, generously provided me with money sufficient to enable me to reach my native land, and took leave of me with every demonstration of friendship and sympathy.

My hopes for the future now lay in the money which I had vested in a merchant's hands before I left Constantinople. He received me kindly, and in reply to my request that he would procure a dwelling for me, inquired why I did not go to my own house.

[ocr errors]

My house!" I exclaimed, in astonishment. "Yes, Signor Zaleukos; a stranger has engaged By the uncertain glimmer of my darkened cell, and fitted up a house for you, stating that you I had failed to recognize him; but that well-would be here very shortly to take possession of remembered voice awakened past memories of it." And here is a note which was left for you, Paris-my studies-my then joyous, buoyant, and the key of your new residence." youthful spirits. "Baletty!" I exclaimed. "Can it be? What brings you hither?"

He replied that, being here on a visit to his father-a man of some consequence in Florencehe had heard of my trial, and come himself to see if he could discover what could have led me to the commission of so foul a crime, one which he would have said was utterly foreign to my nature. Again I related every circumstance: he heard me in silence; but my words evidently failed to convince of my innocence.

"And did you not know the Lady Bianca,

Zaleukos?" he said.

I assured him that until that fatal night I had never seen her. Baletty then informed me that it was generally believed, that I had been a lover of the lady's, and had murdered her from jealousy; that the governor was determined on my destruction, and the public voice condenined me. He implored me not to conceal one tittle of the truth from him. Most solemnly did I assure him that I had spoken the whole truth. That the stranger was a lover I had little doubt; and I, fool that I was, urged on by my curiosity, and blinded by his gold, had been the tool of his jealousy.

Baletty embraced me at parting, and promised to leave no means untried to obtain, at least, a mitigation of the sentence. I thanked him, but entertained little hopes of success, although I knew him to be well versed in all the niceties of

law.

I hastily tore the letter open, and again beheld that well remembered writing, the source of all my misery. The contents were as follow.—

"Zaleukos, there are two hands which will endeaof one. The house taken in your name, and all it vour so to act as to prevent you from feeling the loss contains, are yours for life; and also a yearly sum of one thousand gold pieces. Farewell! forgive one who is far more unhappy than even you can be!"

Ten years have elapsed since that period, the annuity has been regularly paid, but I have never heard or seen anything of the unknown. I still continue my mercantile journeys, but rather from habit than necessity; or perhaps still more in order, by constant activity and change of scene, to obliterate from my memory the vision of the dying Bianca, which still haunts me as vividly as if the events took place but yesterday. There are times when I murmer, and reproach the unknown who has laid this weight of grief and blood upon my soul; but in calmer moments I seek consolation in that blessed book which teaches us even to love our enemies, and then I pity him who is "far more unhappy than even I can be."

How subtly modified are self-delineations by a variety or shame, or misjudging interest; the boundaries between truth and falsehood becoming scarcely perceptible.

THE LETTRE DE CACHET.

A CHRONICLE OF OLD PARIS.

(An Inedited Fragment of Victor Hugo.)

CHAP. I.

LOVE, LAW, AND POLICE.

Midnight in a street in Paris is like midnight all the northern world over-a cold, chilly, unpleasant, disagreeable concern; a time when the air is murky, the landscape sombre: in fact, it is not mid-day, but quite the reverse. A street in Paris, however, and particularly in old Paris, that was something sui generis; it was neither London nor Vienna, Åthens nor Constantinople; it was Paris-Paris all over; the city of "Bastilles," of "Notre-dames," of "Louvres," of " Pont Neufs" -nine not new-of " Boulevards," and what not beside. In this great capital streets are rare old concerns, and more especially a little, small, dirty, low street, where none, save the poorest, the neediest could be expected to congregate; where honest people never showed themselves after sundown, save it was the agens de police-doubtless very honourable and respectable individuals. Now, of all the dirty, narrow, gloomy lanes which it rsected la Courtille, the Rue Petit Thouars was the dirtiest, the narrowest, the most gloomy; and this in Paris is saying a good deal.

a very tall man. Where it led to, no honest man knew; though it was a generally received opinion that it led somewhere. The moon fell upon about a foot of its one side-dark, shining, smooth, and slippery, as if fifty thousand backs had leaned against it, since its foundation, fifty thousand times. It was formed of large masses of stone, chipped and carved and cut, until they took the appearance of honeycombs. The house was of nine stories; narrow, full of rough joints, like an overgrown boy; with long, narrow, irregular windows. It doubtless contained some hundred human beings -or dozen, perhaps, more or less-but at present not one of them was to be seen. In the alley, however, something moved; what it was, at first, was not very clear; it certainly had motion, if not life. It looked wondrously like a tall, decrepid pillar, wandering about in search of a pedestal; but as it gradually advanced to the light, it turned out that it was a man, wrapped in a long cloak, which totally concealed his person; a slouched hat, which originally looked like the broad capital of the column, hid his face and nothing very interesting, therefore, presented itself; for, though a long cloak and slouched hat be wondrously mysterious, yet the human form and face is rather more indicative of character. Our comedians think otherwise; hence we oftener see Robert Macaire's ragged breeches, than Robert_Macaire himself, unless we have Lemaitre. Bertram's crownless, rimless hat-that and an old one was all he had-is more common than Bertram as the dramatist depicted him.

:

"Sacre-bleu, it is cold !" muttered the stranger. He had been thinking so these two hours; and it was but right he should say so. Pent-up thought is burdensome: the ladies know this; hence curtain lectures, matutinal moralities, ma

It was the second of February, just one hundred years ago, about the time when our great grandfathers were squalling brats, our great grandmammas probably not in existence, when, at the hour of midnight, the Rue Petit Thouars was aban-trimonial catechisms, &c. doned solely to the gaze of the moon, whose dim rays fell slantingly upon it, lighting up the rude pavement, the muddy gutter, the tall houses which seemed to meet over head-in fact, all save those spots hid by the many projections in the walls, and which looked like stains upon white marble. Luckily the moon's light came down the street, not across it; in which last case but the upper stories would have been illumined, so narrow was the street and so lofty the houses. On the rightband side, as you walked up the Rue Petit Thouars, was a house older than the rest, and of course loftier, more disproportioned, more a collection of huge, shapeless masses. It must have been built more than three centuries previous to the time we speak of: generation after generation had inhabited it and passed away; but the stone building still existed, still reared its head aloft, as if unconscious of all that had been transacting within and without it. Perhaps it was as well it didn't, the poor house's old age would have saddened had it known all to which it had been an unconscious accessory. Close to the door of this building was the entrance to a narrow lane, so dark, so gloomy, that no mortal courage could have carried any sane person down it at any time, much more at the midnight hour. It was low, too, and its arched roof could have been reached without exertion by the hand of

He took a walk across the street. The tall man looked at the tall house: the tall house did not return the compliment; its eyes never closed, neither did they ever open. He shook his head, and returned to his quarters.

The bells of a neighbouring church struck the half hour.

"La Rianta is wondrous charming to-night, doubtless, but the street would be the place to try the force of her charms. Had I watched up stairs, he made love down here, I should have been in bed these two hours."

He had hardly uttered these words when the rattling of wheels was heard-the rattling of wheels which moved with slow and grave impulses: a coach was coming down the Rue Petit Thouars. It did'nt gallop, that coach; in the Rue Petit Thouars such things cannot be. The long cloak and the slouched hat disappeared in a niche in the wall of the alley, perfectly concealed in the deep and even sepulchral gloom, and every thing in and around the house was once more buried in silence. The long cloak and the slouched hat had watched in that spot for seventeen nights, each night six hours or thereabouts, and had never seen a coach come that way before. Still, strange as it was, the coach was coming down the street; it went very slowly, and yet it had two horses, as if

« 이전계속 »