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“ That part of the tale is most surprising, signore; the child disappeared when about three years old, and has never since been heard of. Some say that he must have fallen into the canal, and that seems most probable.”
“ Do you ever see the count abroad?”
“ Not frequently, signore; the last time I saw him was a few days ago, and then by accident."
“ How ? and where?”.
“ You seem interested, signore; and as a stranger, I do not fear telling what to a Venetian ear it would be hazardous to disclose. I live in a street to the right of yon church, the Church of St. Mary, and nearly opposite reside an old woman and her daughter. The girl is very beautiful, and the count, I suppose, thinks so; for I saw him enter the house a few evenings since, where he remained nearly an hour.”
“ How could you know him? I thought the fashion of Venice was to go masked on such adventures."
“ So did the count, signore; but as he was leaving the house, in putting up his purse, his mask fell off. He seemed terribly angry at the chance, and instantly restored it."
“ No wonder. Men of his age and rank should be careful. Can a stranger have access to the noble ?"
“ Not usually, signore ; but if you were to introduce yourself as wishing to be present at the wedding of the Lady Giulia, the count's courtesy might be taxed to welcome you."
“ I am determined to try, friend. So turn about, and make for the palace. Here is for thy pains."
A second piece of gold chinked in the pouch of the gondolier, as he dexterously swung round his boat, and a succession of vigorous strokes again brought them to the mansion.
“ Where will you enter, signore ?"
The gondola shot through the dark passage, and reached the landing platform. The stranger sprang from the boat.
“ You will ascend those stairs, signore, and turn to your right, where you will find a porter who can bring you to the count.”
“ He thanks you.”
The doors above flew open, and a strong light fell upon the stranger's form. He removed the mask, and the terrified gondolier quailed before the sneer of the Count Morentali. The next moment the gates through which they had entered, closed, the noble waved his hand, and the unfortunate boatman found himself a prisoner.
“ Remove the gondola, and place the fellow in the dungeon ;” and Morentali ascended the stairs without deigning another glance at his victim.
The Lady Giulia sat in her chamber. Before an enormous mirror, in a rich gold and flower-enamelled frame stood an exquisitely inlaid marble table, on which reposed the awful instruments of the toilet of an Italian damsel. The odour of several delicate plants filled the apartment, a young girl rested on a low couch near her mistress, mingling the sound of a guitar with the plaintive notes of an oriental ballad, while another maiden assisted the bride. Both, seen alone, had been esteemed pretty, but by the side of their lovely lady were forgotten. If the poet's dream of the incarnation of beauty were ever fulfilled, it was in the person of Giulia. Proudly lofty was her snowy brow, which had seemed even haughty, but for the soft large eyes below, which carried their eloquent pleading into the very soul. Her long, glossy, dark bair now hung loosely round her face, heightening the effect of an exquisite complexion. She raised to her ruby lips a cross of pearls, which were far surpassed by those her kiss disclosed. A dark robe which she wore at the toilet left bare her lustrous arm and shoulder, and flowed to the little feet resting uncovered on a velvet cushion. She raised her hand, its tiny form is hidden in her ringlets, she leans upon her arm, and weeps.
And why flow the tears of Giulia Morentali ? Are they for her bridal on the morrow? Why should the ceremony, the thought of which, and of the feast and ball to follow, turns the heads of half the maidens of Venice, moisten the eye of the bride ? Perchance those tears are the usual tribute of love to modesty—perchance the lady thinks of the horrible screams which sounded on her ear, as, some months before, when, with a party of companions, she visited the Doge's palace, she had missed her way, and wandered alone towards a part of the building unknown to her. Perhaps the agonized supplication she heard, “ One drop of water for the love of God!” was not forgotten. Perhaps the bridal dress had not been made to please the
We will not waste time in conjecture. “ Do not weep, signora, it will make your eyes red. Let me sing you a merry song.”
“ You make so much noise with your guitar," said the other maiden," that you have given my lady the headache.'
“ Trust me, Claudine,” said the laughing songstress, “it is rather your great hands in the signora's hair."
“ Your's are not so small, Maria, but they can hold a love letter," retorted the elder; “ which, I thank the saints, mine never did.”
“ I believe you, Claudine; but father Anselmo says, that a person who has had no temptation, deserves no praise."
Claudine was far too dignified to reply; she tossed up her head, and having completed adorning her lady's head, inquired whether la signora was satisfied.
“ It is very well, Claudine ; but as I shall not leave the palazzo today, you need not stay to dress me. I will send for you in a short time. Maria, you will remain with me.
“ And now, signora,” said the latter, as the door closed, “how can you be so melancholy on the eve of your wedding? I'm sure if I were going to be married I should do nothing but laugh, and dance, and sing, for a month. Pray, signora, tell me, are you unhappy ?"
“O Maria, if I might tell you!” and the lady burst into a violent flood of tears. Her attendant caught the infection, and clasping her mistress in her arms, they mingled their sorrows.
The Count Morentali entered the apartment.
“ What! daughter, weeping, and at such a time as this ! For shame, for shame, up and be dressed, or the gondola races will be over,
and the chains awarded, before Giulia di Morentali has left her chamber."
“I cannot join the party at St. Angelo to-day, my father, nor would you wish it, I am sure.”
“ Not wish it, when my word was pledged to Lorenzo that I would bring you to the terrace myself
, as the only means of preventing his fetching you in person ; which you so earnestly desired he might not do. By St. Mark, I think thou art offended that he has not disobeyed thee-a maiden had rather be surprised by a young gallant, than by an old father, perhaps."
“ Dear father, do not ask me to leave the house to day."
“ Ask thee! faith, not l; asking twice suits not my humour. Either be dressed, and accompany me immediately, or Lorenzo shall do his errand himself.”
“ What I cannot do for you, my father, I will not do for another,” said Giulia, with the flashing eye which spoke her Italian birth.
“ Pretty, forsooth—and dutiful too,” returned Morentali, with a half laugh ; “but even with all, by your leave, we will try our youth's skill at persuasion-an art he may not need long,” he added, waving his hand, as he departed.
“ He may not, indeed, as far as poor Giulia is concerned,” said the lady; “ but he will surely come, and we must prepare for his reception.”
A forced smile was on her lip, but her eye swam in moisture. We will leave her for the present.
Terrible, indeed, was the secret council chanıber of the Doge of Venice. A large and lofty room, lighted not by the sun, but by several lamps carefully arranged, to throw their strong lustre away from the judgment seats, and upon a central point, surrounded by a low massive rail, was rendered utterly impervious to sound, by means of doubly quilted arras, and treble doors. The foor was thickly carpeted, save in the space ålluded to, which was about twelve feet in diameter, and appeared to be boarded. Within this room deeds we whispered to have been done, at the mention of which human blood is freezingly arrested. A concealed door behind the arras led to a smaller apartment, where every engine for wrenching the joints, crushing the flesh, and grinding the marrow of their fellow mortals, had been stored by the relentless agents of Venetian tyranny. Those boards surrounded by the rail could be raised, and the half breathing body, which had undergone the agonies of that chamber, was thrown into an abyss of appalling depth, at whose bottom, it was rumoured, years before a machine had been placed, which the falling mass set in motion, and by which it was mangled to atoms. A winding staircase, entered from a corner, also hidden by the tapestry, conducted down to a spot where a more hideous torture than all was prepared. A small low roofed room was there, built entirely of iron, not sufficiently large to enable the inmate to stand erect, but allowing the full range of limb in every other direction. Below was a furnace. Stripped to the skin, the victim was led thither, and though in utter darkness, ventilation was supplied him. For some hours, perchance, he was thus left, until he began to dread a perpetual imprisonment. But the atmosphere grows more confined, still more so, and the blood is thrown violently to his head. Air is again admitted, he breathes again,-it must have been a fancy. But no, this time there is no deception, the heat is stilling, the floor below him is unbearable, he raises himself on his extremities, he raves, he screams for mercy. Anon his scorched limbs become blistered, and writhings and shrieks proclaim his excruciating agony. A few minutes, and all must cease in death. No. The tormentor's craft has been better taught. Suddenly the iron floor is drawn from beneath him, its place is supplied by a slab of the coldest marble, while gushes of icy water from above fall upon his burning frame. The transition is exquisite, almost too delicious for mortal bearing. For a time he lies in semi-insensibility, but not long. The chill comes over him, and the relief becomes another torment. Then is accomplished the crowning efforts of the fiends, who know too well the indescribable effect of the unexpected substitution of one agony for another. The marble bed is drawn away, and the wretch is writhing on a red-hot floor. Then scream follows scream, and the body is drawn into every form and posture conceivable, with terrible swiftness. Malice has now done its utmost, a few more struggles, and a few more groans, and a blackened and undistinguishable corpse is withdrawn from its fiery cavern, and hurled through a trap-door near, eventually to find its way into one of the canals of Venice. Such had been the fate of that Miollano, whom the gondoliers have mentioned as one of the last victims of Count. Morentali. Who is to be the next?
The count sat alone in the secret council chamber, reclining with Italian indolence upon a richly cushioned couch. The lamps were lighted, and beneath them stood two half-dressed muscular men, in visors, the executioners of his pleasure. “Bring in the hound;" and the ill-fated gondolier, Speranza, heavily manacled, stood before Morentali.
“ So, thou art here. Hast any more tales of the cruel and merciless count to tell ?"
The prisoner, pale as death, muttered only, “My lord I my lord !" and convulsive breathings seemed to drown his voice.
“ Thou shalt know another," continued Morentali, in the same cold, sneering tone, “ere long. Pity that thou wilt not be able to tell it."
“ My lord I remember-your promise
“ Was of secrecy, I believe ; and it shall be kept. Look around, whom dost thou fear can overhear thy stories of the count, or thy screams which may follow them ? Recollect,
my lord, I am servant to the Duke di Regola." “ I do not forget that ; on the contrary, it shall add to thy reward. For the rest, dost thou think Antonio, though beardless, will discover thee here? Should he indeed recognize thee floating before his palazzo, perhaps he might be amazed, to prevent which surprise thou shalt find thy way down the abyss below thee, which, I think, does not lead to the canal."
“Oh! mercy, my good lord, as you hope for it yourself hereafter, as you
“ So! menaces and remembrances having failed, thou wouldst now try prayers—'tis well, but address them elsewhere, while thy worthy
friends on each side remove thy superfluous dress, preparatory to a pleasure thou hast not dreamed of.”
At a sign from the count, some of the chains were removed, with the upper portion of Speranza's garments. Morentali then spoke again.
“ If there is any peculiar torment thou wouldst select, name it, and we, to the best of our poor abilities, will humour thee. There is the rack, or the screw, or the sharp pendulum, or the bath of molten lead. Or thou mayst prefer the barrel of razors. Or, as thou art a man of a friendly disposition, there is the burning chamber, in which thy companion Miollano some few weeks since expiated the crime of noticing a jewel in a lady's hair, as being once the property of a Venetian noble. Thou didst find his body, and therefore knowest something of the sentence he underwent. Truly he did our machinery credit; his cries were loud, and his agonised struggles and contortions vigorous. I myself was present at the operation of reducing him to a cinder, and have seldom been more delighted. What sayst thou, wilt try that room, in a spirit of friendly emulation ?”
During the count's speech, the gondolier stood as a man half awakened, but at its conclusion, as the noble's taunting laugh rang on his ear, he staggered from his companions, and sank at the edge of the rail in complete insensibility. Terror had benumbed him.
“ Nay,” said Morentali, “’twere hardly worth while to submit the fool to the torture in this state. Remove him, let the surgeon attend, and see him prepared for my visit this night.”
We will briefly trace so much of the life and situation of the count as is necessary to elucidate this careful and veracious history. He had been raised from low rank to sudden nobility, when young, by the rapid successive deaths of the various heirs to the title, which occurred with such unexampled speed as to excite widely-spread notice, and almost suspicion. But the glittering circlet having once wreathed his brow, the new count effectually silenced all slanderous tongues-some by the splendour and liberality of his entertainments, others by a more certain method. He married a young lady of great beauty, and the gorgeous nuptial ceremony was for a month the theme of Venice, but the countess dying within a year, the noble widower retired in a great measure from the pursuit of pleasure to that of ambition. Wealth and intrigue here, as elsewhere, crowned his wishes with full success, and Morentali became a member of the Council of Ten, and, as men whispered with fearful caution, of another tribunal none dared to name in public. One misfortune only had befallen the count, and, independently of its own severity, it became the more galling from novelty. His children, in giving birth to whom their mother had been sacrificed, were one day playing on the terrace before the mansion, when their attendant's eye was withdrawn from her charge by a passing gondola. On again reverting to the terrace, to her unbounded dismay the young Adolpho had disappeared, his terrified sister knew not where. Every search was made without success, the boy was never again heard of, and the general rumour of the count's power and severity produced such an effect on the female attendant, that in a moment of threw herself into the canal, the noble's last hope of eliciting informa