Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

creature, to whom nature has been so illiberal?"

"Mighty fine words!-a very delicate mode of expressing it!" cried the priest scornfully. "Let me tell you, young man, that such sentiments are marrow to the bones of these sorcerers and liars. But look, here comes the scarecrow-I cannot bear even to look upon him, much less could I endure to converse with him. Well and wisely has it been said, Cave quos Deus ipse notavit."

Berecynth, who had caught up these last words, came skipping forwards. "Is your beauty, then, my good sir," said he, "so transcendant as to entitle you to pronounce such severe judgments upon others? My master, who is a handsome, majestic man, entertains no such harsh, illiberal notions. What! you little, stunted, rickety, red-nosed, snivelling abortion-you wry-mouthed, wrinkled old wretch, it is truly a good one to hear you preaching about my ugliness! Why, you miserable dwarf, your head is hardly on a level with the pulpit cushion when you are holding forth there; and you dare not cross the street when the wind blows, such spindles are your shanks. The congregation cannot even see you when you are gesticulating before the altar, and require all their Christian faith to believe that you are really present; and yet this mannikin, this nonentity, is talking big here, as if he were a perfect Goliath. Believe me, I could cut as good a priest as you are, any day, out of my own nose, to say nothing of the hump I carry both in front and rear.'

[ocr errors]

The enraged priest had withdrawn before the conclusion of this attack, and Antonio was about to chide Berecynth for his petulant behaviour, when the latter cried out, "A truce with your moralizing-I can stand that at the hands of no man except my own master, and he beats the world at morality, philosophy, and all that sort of thing. But this weathercock monk here, who goes creaking round on the pivot of envy and malignity, because he perceives that his authority and prosperity are declining before the influence of my glorious

master-he, let me tell you, shall never be permitted to open his toothless gums in my presence, without my bringing all my jaw to bear upon him; and let me add, that from a young student like yourself I can abide no contradiction; for I had begun to shave long before your father was out of his baby-clothes, and I was a boy at school before your illustrious grandsire was breeched, therefore show respect where respect is due, and remember whose presence you are in."

"Do not be angry, my little man," said Antonio-" I mean you well."

"Mean what you please!" said Berecynth. "My master is now prelate-do you know that?-and rector of the university; and a new gold chain of office has just been sent to him from Paris. You must come and see him, for he is about to set out upon a journey, and wishes to converse with you before he starts. A word in your ear-you must be shyer of priests' company if you would be a philosopher."

So saying, the dwarf hirpled off, and Antonio turning to his friend, the young Spaniard Alphonso, who had that moment joined him, said, “ I never know, when conversing with that abortion, whether he is in jest or earnest, he appears to make such scornful sport of himself and all other creatures."

"That," answered Alphonso, "is by way of comforting and compensating himself for his own ungainli

ness.

In his scornful imagination he conceives all other people to be like himself. But have you heard of the new honours which have been bestowed upon our great teacher ?"

"The world," returned Antonio, "recognises his lofty worth; and since our holy father the Pope has now made him a prelate, that surely ought to tie the tongues of all those envious priests and monks who have never ceased traducing this excellent and pious man.

The friends parted, and Antonio hastened to take farewell of his teacher for some days. The dwarf received him at the door with a grinning attempt to appear cordial.

CHAP. VII.

THE PURPLE CHAMBER.

Twilight had now set in, and Antonio, after Berecynth had left him,

went in quest of his teacher. Finding him neither in the hall nor the library,

he traversed many rooms, and at length came to an apartment in the very interior of the house, which he had never before been in. Here, beside a glimmering lamp, sat Pietro, who was not a little surprised to behold the young Florentine enter; while the latter, in his turn, paused in astonishment over the skeletons and strange implements by which the old man was surrounded. Pietro came forward in some confusion: "It was not here that I expected you," said he, "I intended to have met you out of doors, or to have visited you in your own apartment. I am about to set out to meet the Pope's ambassador, in order to receive at his hands, in all humility and thankfulness, the new honours our holy father has been pleased to lavish upon me." Thenperceiving that Antonio still continued to gaze with astonishment upon the strange apparatus before him he continued, "You are suprised to behold all these strange instruments: they are necessary for the prosecution of my studies; and, after you have regularly attended my lectures on natural philosophy, their use shall probably be explained to you."

[ocr errors]

At this moment an occurrence took place which completely drew off Antonio's attention from all these objects. A door, which appeared closed, but which was in reality ajar, opened itself wide, and the youth saw into a chamber filled with purple light. In the rosy glow stood a pale spectral form, which nodded and smiled. Swift as lightning the old man wheeled round, banged to the door, and locked it with a golden key. Trembling, and pale as death, he then threw himself into a chair, while great drops of sweat ran down his forehead. When he had somewhat recovered himself, he made a sign to Antonio to approach, and said with a quivering voice, "This mystery, too, my young friend, shall one day be cleared up to you. Do not think ill of me, my beloved son. Thee, before all others, have I chosen to initiate into my profound knowledge. Thou shalt be my true scholar and my heir. But leave me now: retire to thine own chamber, and pray to heaven and the holy powers to be friend thee."

Antonio could make no reply, so greatly was he surprised and shocked by the apparition he had seen, and so much was he bewildered by the man

NO. CCLXXXVI, VOL. XLVI.

ner of his revered teacher; for it appeared to him as if Pietro were struggling to keep down a storm of wrath, and as if suppressed fury were burning in his ferocious eyes.

On retreating into the antechamber, he there found Berecynth engaged in catching flies, and throwing them to an ape. The two appeared to vie with each other which could make the most hideous faces. At this moment the master summoned his familiar with a voice of thunder, and the abortion hobbled into his chamber. Antonio heard high words ensue, and Pietro rating him in a towering passion. The dwarf then rushed forth, weeping and howling, with a stream of blood running down his nose. "Cannot he close his own doors, and be damned to him!" bellowed he out, "all-powerful miscreant that he is. The master is stupid, and the servant must bear the blame." Turning to Antonio, "And you, sir-his most devotedtake yourself off to your garret, and leave me alone with my good friend, my dear Pavian, here. He, at least, has a human heart, and is the very brother of my soul. Come, tramp!

-my Pylades must finish his feast of flies, and his Orestes must set about catching them.'

Antonio withdrew in great bewilderment. He retired to his own apartment-an attic in a remote quarter of the house which he had selected, because there he could pursue his studies in greater privacy. He looked out over flood and field, and his thoughts turned upon her whom he had lately lost. Her picture was in his hand, and some playthings, which had been hers in childhood, were lying on the floor: but especially dear to him was a nightingale, which was pouring forth its notes of sorrow, as if its own heart had been overburdened with woe. This bird had been Crescentia's favourite, and now the enthusiastic youth cherished it as a holy possession-the last memorial of his earthly happiness.

He had given up the society of all his friends except the Spaniard Alphonso, who was attached to him by the admiration they shared in common for the great Pietro. Podesta had left Padua and gone to Rome, with the full intention of disinheriting his relations- the Marconi family in Venice. The old man despaired of recovering the twin-daughter of Cres-`

centia, who had been stolen from him in her infancy; and he now felt her loss all the more bitterly, on account of the hopes that had been awakened within him by the night-adventure of Antonio.

Next morning Pietro set out on his journey, accompanied by the faithful Berecynth; and Antonio was left alone in the great house, every room of which was locked. When night came, sleep was a stranger to his eyes: that bewildering figure he had caught a glimpse of, stood for ever before him its presence had shaken his very soul-yet he now contemplated it with feelings of delight. He felt that he had lost all power over his thoughts, and that images he could not grasp were incessantly flitting before his fancy.

The nightingale was singing on the outside of the window; he looked out, and saw that it was raining hard: accordingly, he took the bird in, and placed it on the top of an old cupboard. While he was in the act of stretching forth to put down the cage more securely, the chain broke by which the miniature of Crescentia was suspended round his neck, and the picture, rolling towards the wall, got behind the cupboard. The youth stooped down to search for the beloved token; but with all his groping, he could not recover it from beneath the huge lumbering press.

Fate seemed determined to persecute him in the small as well as in the great occurrences of his life. He endeavoured to drag the cupboard from its place, but found that it was fastened to the wall. His impetuosity now knew no bounds. He seized an old iron bar which he found in the antechamber, and laboured with all his might to force the press from its position; it at length gave way, and was torn from its fastenings with a loud crash. By degrees, he so far removed it as to be able to insert himself between it and the wall; and, on looking down, he beheld his beloved picture. It lay on the broad handle of a door which opened into the wall. He placed the miniature in his bosom, and turned the handle; the door opened, and, after he had pushed the old press somewhat further out of his way, he perceived that it stood at the top of a flight of steps leading down into deep darkness. He commenced the descent, which appeared as if it wound

away into some of the lower apartments. At length he came to the bottom of the stairs; and, after groping about for some time in the dark, his hand came in contact with an iron ring, which he pulled, and immediately the wall opened, while a flood of purple light flowed in upon him. Before entering, he examined the door, and found that it opened by a spring, which was touched whenever the ring was pulled. He closed the door behind him, and stepped forwards softly into the chamber. A rich crimson carpet covered the floor; heavy hangings of purple silk curtained the windows, and scarlet cloth decorated with gold hung around a bed which stood in the apartment. Profound repose reigned around; no noise from the street could reach that quiet chamber, the windows of which looked out upon a small garden. With suspended breath the youth stood in the middle of the chamber and listened—at length he thought he heard the respiration as if of a person sleeping. With beating heart he approached the bed, to see whether any one was in it; and, drawing aside the curtains, what was his consternation, when he beheld before him, pale as a corpse, but sleeping sweetly, the image of his own beloved Crescentia! Her bosom rose and fell visibly, and a tender bloom began to suffuse her pale lips, which were stirred by an almost imperceptible smile. Her hair was dishevelled, and fell in heavy tresses down her shoulders. For a long time Antonio stood entranced; but at length, driven by a supernatural impulse, he seized her white hand, and endeavoured to awaken the fair sleeper. She uttered a piercing cry; in terror he let go her arm, which sunk, as if wearied, on the cushion. After a time, however, the bands of her charmed sleep gave way, and like clouds, that, stirred by the light morning wind, rise and sink in wavering wreaths among the mountain valleys, she began to move-again she relapsed into her trance, and again she strove to draw herself forth out of the captivity of slumber. She raised her arms to her head, and, the sleeves of her dress falling back, disclosed their fair proportions; she folded her hands, and again let them drop on the coverlet ; she lifted up her head, and her neck shone fair in the rosy light, but still her eyes were closed, and her hair fell

in black ringlets over her face; she braided it back with her long delicate fingers; at last she raised herself upright, and, heaving a profound sigh, opened her eyes wide.

She gazed upon Antonio as if she saw him not; she shook her head, and, grasping the golden tassels that hung down from the top of the bed, she raised herself upon her feet, and stood, a tall slender form, surrounded by purple shadows; she then advanced a few steps towards the youth, who gave way as she approached, and, with a childlike expression of surprise, laying her hand upon his shoulder, she smiled graciously, and said, in a gentle voice, "Antonio!

[ocr errors]

The youth, overpowered by a crowd of mixed emotions-fear, astonishment, and delight blending with the profoundest pity-knew not what to do-whether he should rush to embrace her, fall at her feet, or yield up his soul in a passion of tears. That was the very same tone which he so often before heard, and which his heart was never able to resist. "Thou livest!" he exclaimed, in a voice choked by the swelling feelings of his heart.

The sweet smile which was spreading from her pale lips over her cheeks and eyes, suddenly disappeared, and was succeeded by a fixed expression of the deepest and most unutterable anguish. Antonio could not sustain her look; he covered his face with his hand, and cried out, "Art thou a spirit?"

The apparition came nearer him, and, removing his arm from before his face, said, in a soft quivering voice," Nay, look upon me-I am not dead, but neither am I alive. Reach me the saucer yonder."

A fragrant liquid stood in the crystal dish; he handed it to her with trembling hand; she put it to her lips, and swallowed it in slow draughts. "Alas! my poor Antonio," said she, "I borrow earthly strength from this cup merely that I may reveal to you a most hellish deed, and entreat you to assist in restoring me to that repose from which I have been so unnaturally torn, and which I long to return to with all the longings of my soul."

She had sunk down in an arm-chair, and Antonio placed himself at her feet. "The arts of hell," continued she, "have apparently aroused me

from the sleep of death. The man whom I, in my inexperience, worshipped as an apostle, is, let me tell you, one of the lowest of the spirits of perdition. To him I am indebted for this dread semblance of life. He loves me, he says-Oh! how I shrank from him in horror as soon as my eyes, opened from their death-sleep, recognised him! I sleep, I breathe, I live, and the monster promises that my life shall continue, provided I will give myself up to him with my whole heart, and become his bride within the secrecy of these mysterious walls. But oh! Antonio, how heavy each hated word of his falls upon my soul. All my passionate longings for death are counteracted by his infernal art. Was it not dreadful for my soul, already in its place of rest, and beginning to develope new intuitions, to be torn back so cruelly from its mansions of repose? My body had become strange to me, and I looked upon it as a hateful thing. Like a slave who had been freed, I came back to fetters and a dungeon. Assist me, my faithful one, assist me to break through these accursed spells."

"How?" cried Antonio; "God in heaven! what must I endure? Have I again found thee? and canst thou not tarry with us in the land of the living? Wilt thou not come and live with thy parents and me?

"

In

"'Tis impossible," cried Crescentia, her paleness waxing of a yet more ashen hue. "Ah, life!-who would ever wish for life who had once parted from it? Thou, my poor Antonio, canst not conceive the longing, the love, the rapture with which.I desire death, and pray for it to come. God's bosom I am restored to my parents, and there I love thee and them with a freer and more enduring love. But alas! when the thought of our love and of our youthful years comes over my present soul-when, in my solitude here, I hear the well-known singing of my nightingale - what sweet anguish and what dismal joy flit across the twilight of my existence. Oh, help to rescue me from such a life as this!"

"What can I do for thee ?" asked Antonio.

The powers of the apparition were by this time exhausted. She reposed for a while with closed eyes, and then answered in a faint voice, “Ah! if I could but enter a church, and be pre

sent when the host is elevated before all the congregation, methinks in that blessed moment I could die with joy." "What is there to prevent me," said Antonio, “from delivering up this monster Pietro to the Inquisition ?"

"No, you must not think of that," sighed Crescentia in dismay. "You know him not; he is too powerful; he would escape, and again spirit me away by means of his accursed spells. You must go quietly to work, if you would succeed."

The youth collected his scattered senses, and conversed for a considerable time with his formerly affianced bride. At length her speech grew indistinct and her eyes waxed heavy; she drank again of the enchanted cup, and then went to lie down upon her

couch. "Farewell," cried she, as if in a dream; "forget me not!" She ascended the bed, and laid herself peacefully down; her hands clasped the crucifix, and she kissed it with closed eyes; she then motioned her lover away, and sunk back in slumber. Antonio gazed upon her as he withdrew; he touched the spring in the wall, and the invisible door opened; he ascended the narrow winding stairs, and, entering his own room, replaced the cupboard in its former position, and then, when the nightingale welcomed him back with her swelling notes of woe, he burst into a flood of tears. He, too, like his own affianced one, now longed ardently for death; but mean-while his whole mind was bent upon delivering her from her present dreadful condition.

CHAP. VIII.

THE DISENCHANTMENT.

All the bells in the city were pealing merrily in celebration of the festival of Easter. The people were thronging towards the Cathedral in order to keep that holy fast, as well as to behold the renowned Abano invested with his new dignities. The students were escorting their illustrious teacher, who moved humbly along amid the respectful greetings of all classes of people-the pride of the city, and the model which all the youth strove to imitate. At the door of the Cathedral the crowd drew back in profound reverence to make way for the consecrated Pietro, who, in his prelate's robes and golden chain, and with his long beard and silver locks, resembled an aged emperor or ancient father of the church.

A lofty seat had been prepared for him near the altar, in order that the congregation might get a good view of him; and the church being now filled, the celebration of high mass began. The little priest read the lessons of the day-and old and young, rich and poor, united with one heart to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, and to console themselves under all the trials and troubles of this world with the hope of a life of eternal happiness hereafter.

The first part of the service was just over, when the astonished congregation beheld Antonio leading into the church a figure shrouded in a thick veil. He led the figure close up to

the altar, placed it right over against Pietro, and then prostrated himself in prayer. The veiled figure stood as if frozen, and those who were near saw its dark eyes burning within the shadow of the veil. Pietro raised himself from his seat, and again sank back pale and trembling. The sacred music was pealing forth its full symphonies when the figure began slowly to unveil itself-its countenance was disclosed-and the people recognised with horror the features of the dead Crescentia. A shudder ran through the whole church; even those who were farthest off felt their flesh creep when they beheld that death pale form praying fervently, and turning its large flashing eyes upon the priests at the altar. The mighty Pietro appeared as if he had been struck dead; his ghastly features might have been taken for those of a corpse, but for the violent convulsions which, from time to time, agitated his frame. The priests now elevated the consecrated host, and the trumpets announced the actual presence of our Lord. moment the pale apparition, with a cry of joy and an expression of rapture on her face, stretching forth her arms, shouted, "Hosannah!" so that the whole church rang-and then fell down dead, and lay rigid and motionless at the feet of the magician. The music ceased-the people rushed to the spot, with consternation and hor ror depicted on every countenance;

At that

« VorigeDoorgaan »