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Chapter XXXI

Table of Contents

“Your’s in the ranks of death.”

Shakespeare.

Near three weeks had elapsed since the Marchese’s arrival at Rome, and not any decisive answer was returned by the Inquisition to his application, when he and Vivaldi received at the same time a summons to attend father Schedoni in his dungeon. To meet the man who had occasioned so much suffering to his family, was extremely painful to the Marchese, but he was not allowed to refuse the interview; and at the hour appointed he called at the chamber of Vivaldi; and, followed by two officials, they passed on together to that of Schedoni.

While they waited at the door of the prison-room, till the numerous bars and locks were unsastened, the agitation, which Vivaldi had suffered, on receiving the summons, returned with redoubled force, now that he was about to behold, once more, that wretched man, who had announced himself to be the parent of Ellena di Rosalba. The Marchese suffered emotions of a different nature, and with his reluctance to see Schedoni, was mingled a degree of curiosity as to the event, which had occasioned this summons.

The door being thrown open, the officials entered first, and the Marchese and Vivaldi, on following, discovered the Confessor lying on a mattress. He did not rise to receive them, but, as he lifted his head, and bowed it in obeisance, his countenance, upon which the little light admitted through the triple grate of his dungeon gleamed, seemed more than usually ghastly; his eyes were hollow, and his shrunk features appeared as if death had already touched them. Vivaldi, on perceiving him, groaned, and averted his face; but, soon recovering a command of himself, he approached the mattress.

The Marchese, suppressing every expression of resentment towards an enemy, who was reduced to this deplorable condition, inquired what he had to communicate.

“Where is father Nicola?” said Schedoni to an official, without attending to the question: “I do not see him here. Is he gone so soon, and without having heard the purport of my summons? Let him be called.”

The official spoke to a centinel, who immediately lest the chamber.

“Who are these that surround me?” said Schedoni. “Who is he that stands at the foot of the bed?” While he spoke, he bent his eyes on Vivaldi, who rested in deep dejection there, and was lost in thought, till, aroused by Schedoni’s voice, he replied, “It is I, Vincentio dr Vivaldi I obey your requisition, and inquire the purpose of it?”

The Marchese repeated the demand. Schedoni appeared to meditate; sometimes he fixed his eyes upon Vivaldi, for an instant, and when he withdrew them, he seemed to sink into deeper thoughtfulness. As he raised them once again, they assumed a singular expression of wildness, and then settling, as if on vacancy, a sudden glare shot from them, while he said — “Who is he, that glides there in the dusk?”

His eyes were directed beyond Vivaldi, who, on turning, perceived the monk, father Nicola, passing behind him.

“I am here,” said Nicola: “what do you require of me?”

“That you will bear testimony to the truth of what I shall declare,” replied Schedoni.

Nicola, and an inquisitor who had accompanied him, immediately arranged themselves on one side of the bed, while the Marchese stationed himself on the other. Vivaldi remained at its foot.

Schedoni, after a pause, began: “That which I have to make known relates to the cabal formerly carried on by him, the father Nicola, and myself, against the peace of an innocent young woman, whom, at my instigation, he has basely traduced.”

At these words, Nicola attempted to interrupt the Confessor, but Vivaldi restrained him.

“Ellena di Rosalba is known to you?” continued Schedoni, addressing the Marchese.

Vivaldi’s countenance changed at this abrupt mention of Ellena, but he remained silent.

“I have heard of her,” replied the Marchese, coldly.

“And you have heard falsely of her,” rejoined Schedoni. “Lift your eyes, my lord Marchese, and say, do you not recollect that face?” pointing to Nicola.

The Marchese regarded the monk attentively, “It is a face not easily to be forgotten,” he replied; “I remember to have seen it more than once.”

“Where have you seen him, my Lord?”

“In my own palace, at Naples; and you yourself introduced him to me there.”

“I did,” replied Schedoni.

“Why, then, do you now accuse him of falshood,” observed the Marchese, “since you acknowledge yourself to have been the instigator of his conduct?”

“O heavens!” said Vivaldi, “this monk, then, this father Nicola, is, as I suspected, the slanderet of Ellena di Rosalba!”

“Most true,” rejoined Schedoni; “and it is for the purpose of vindicating — “ “And you acknowledge yourself to be the author of those infamous slanders!” passionately interrupted Vivaldi; — “you, who but lately declared yourself to be her father!”

In the instant, that Vivaldi had uttered this, he became sensible of his indiscretion, for till now he had avoided informing the Marchese, that Ellena had been declared the daughter of Schedoni. This abrupt disclosure, and at such a moment, he immediately perceived might be satal to his hopes, and that the Marchese would not consider the promise he had given to his dying wife, however solemn, as binding, under circumstances so peculiar and unforeseen as the present. The astonishment of the Marchese, upon this discovery, cannot easily be imagined; he looked at his son for an explanation of what he had heard, and then with increased defestation at the Confessor; but Vivaldi was not in a state of mind to give any explanation at this moment, and he requested his father to suspend even his conjectures till he could converse with him alone.

The Marchese desisted for the present from further inquiry, but it was obvious that his opinion and his resolution, respecting the marriage of Vivaldi, was already formed.

“You, then, are the author of those slanders!” repeated Vivaldi.

“Hear me!” cried Schedoni, in a voice which the strength of his spirit contending with the seebleness of his condition, rendered hollow and terrible. — “Hear me”

He stopped, unable to recover immediately from the effect of the exertion he had made. At length, he resumed, “I have declared, and I continue to declare, that Ellena di Rosalba, as she has been named for the purpose, I conjecture, of concealing her from an unworthy father, is my daughter!”

Vivaldi groaned in the excess of his despair, but made no further attempt to interrupt Schedoni. The Marchese was not equally passive. “And was it to listen to a vindication of your daughter,” said he, “that I have been summoned hither? But let this Signora Rosalba, be who she may, of what importance can it be to me whether she is innocent or otherwise!”

Vivaldi, with the utmost difficulty, forbore to express the feelings, which this sentence excited. It appeared to recall all the spirit of Schedoni. “She is the daughter of a noble house,” said the Confessor, haughtily, while he half raised himself from his mattress. “In me you behold the last of the Counts di Bruno.”

The Marchese smiled contemptuously.

Schedoni proceeded “I call upon you, Nicola di Zampari, who have declared yourself, on a late occasion, so strenuous for justice, I call upon you now to do justice in this instance, and to acknowledge, before these witnesses, that Ellena Rosalba is innocent of every circumstance of misconduct, which you have formerly related to the Marchese di Vivaldi!”

“Villain! do you hesitate,” said Vivaldi to Nicola, “to retract the cruel slanders which you have thrown upon her name, and which have been the means of destroying her peace, perhaps for ever? Do you persist — “ The Marchese interrupted his son:— “Let me put an end to the difficulty, by concluding the interview; I perceive that my presence has been required for a purpose that does not concern me.”

Before the Confessor could reply, the Marchese had turned from him to quit the chamber; but the vchemence of Vivaldi’s distress prevailed with him to pause, and thus allowed him to understand from Schedoni, that the justification of the innocent Ellena, though it had been mentioned first, as being the object nearcst to his heart, was not the only one that had urged him to require this meeting.

“If you consent,” added Schedoni, “to listen to the vindication of my child, you shall afterwards perceive, Signor, that I, fallen though I am, have still been desirous of counteracting, as far as remains for me, the evil I have occasioned. You shall acknowledge, that what I then make known is of the utmost confequence to the repose of the Marchese di Vivaldi, high in influence, and haughty in prosperity as he now appears.”

The latter part of this assurance threatened to overcome the effect of the first; the pride of the Marchese swelled high; he took some steps towards the door, but then stopped, and, conjecturing that the subject, to which Schedoni alluded, concerned the liberation of his son, he consented to attend to what Nicola should disclose.

This monk, meanwhile, had been balancing the necessity for acknowledging himself a slanderer, against the possibility of avoiding it; and it was the resolute manner of Vivaldi, who appeared to have no doubt as to his guilt in this instance, that made him apprehend the consequence of persisting in falshood, not either remorse of conscience, or the appeal of Schedoni. He acknowledged then, after considerable circumlocution, in which he contrived to defend himself, by throwing all the odium of the original design upon the Confessor, that he had been prevailed upon by his arts to impose on the credulity of the Marchese, respecting the conduct of Ellena di Rosalba. This avowal was made upon oath, and Schedoni, by the questions he put to him, was careful it should be so full and circumstantial that even the most prejudiced hearer must have been convinced of its truth; while the most unfeeling must have yielded for once to indignation against the asperser, and pity of the aspersed. Its effect upon the present auditors was various. The Marchese had listened to the whole explanation with an unmoved countenance, but with profound attention. Vivaldi had remained in a fixed attitude, with eyes bent on father Nicola, in such eager and stern regard, as seemed to search into his very soul; and, when the monk concluded, a smile of triumphant joy lighted up his features, as he looked upon the Marchese, and claimed an acknowledgment of his conviction, that Ellena had been calumniated. The cold glance, which the Marchese returned, struck the impassioned and generous Vivaldi to the heart, who perceived that he was not only totally indifferent as to the injustice, which an innocent and helpless young woman had suffered, but fancied that he was unwilling to admit the truth, which his judgment would no longer allow him to reject.

 

Schedoni, meanwhile, appeared almost to writhe under the agony, which his mind inflieted upon him, and it was only by strong effort, that he sustained his spirit so far as to go through with the interrogations he had judged it necessary to put to Nicola. When the subject was finished, he sunk back on his pillow, and, closing his eyes, a hue so pallid, succeeded by one so livid, overspread his features, that Vivaldi for an instant believed he was dying; and in this supposition he was not singular, for even an official was touched with the Confessor’s condition, and had advanced to assist him, when he unclosed his eyes, and seemed to revive.

The Marohese, without making any comment upon the avowal of father Nicola, demanded, on its conclusion, the disclosure, which Schedoni had afforted to be intimately connected with his peace; and the latter now inquired of a person near him, whether a secretary of the Inquisition was in the chamber, who he had requested might attend, to take a formal deposition of what he should declare. He was answered, that such an one was already in waiting. He then asked, what other persons were in the room, adding, that he should require inquisitorial witnesses to his deposition; and was answered, that an inquisitor and two officials were present; and that their evidence was more than sufficient for his purpose.

A lamp was then called for by the secretary; but, as that could not immediately be procured, the torch of one of the centinels, who watched in the dark avenue without, was brought in its stead, and this discovered to Schedoni the various sigures assembled in his dusky chamber, and to them the emaciated form and ghastly visage of the Confessor. As Vivaldi now beheld him by the stronger light of the torch, he again fancied that death was in his aspect.

Every person was now ready for the declaration of Schedoni; but he himself seemed not fully prepared. He remained for some moments reclining on his pillow in silence, with his eyes shut, while the changes in his features indicated the strong emotion of his mind. Then, as if by a violent effort, he half raised himself, and made an ample confession of the arts he had practised against Vivaldi. He declared himself to be the anonymous accuser, who had caused him to be arrested by the Holy Office, and that the charge of heresy, which he had brought against him, was false and malicious.

At the moment when Vivaldi received this confirmation of his suspicions, as to the identity of his accuser, he discovered more fully that the charge was not what had been stated to him at the chapel of San Sebastian, in which Ellena was implicated; and he demanded an explanation of this circumstance. Schedoni acknowledged, that the persons, who had there arrested him, were not officers of the Inquisition, and that the instrument of arrest, containing the charge of elopement with a nun, was forged by himself, for the purpose of empowering the ruffians to carry off Ellena, without opposition from the inhabitants of the convent, in which she was then lodged.

To Vivaldi’s inquiry, why it had been thought necessary to employ stratagem in the removal of Ellena, since, if Schedoni had only claimed her for his daughter, he might have removed her without any, the Confessor replied, that he was then ignorant of the relationship which existed between them. But to the further inquiries, with what design, and whither Ellena had been removed, and the means by which he had discovered her to be his daughter, Schedoni was silent; and he sunk back, overwhelmed by the recollections they awakened.

The depositions of Schedoni having been taken down by the secretary, were formally signed by the inquisitor and the officials present; and Vivaldi thus saw his innocence vindicated by the very man who had thrown him among the perils of the Inquisition. But the near prospect of release now before him failed to affect him with joy, while he understood that Ellena was the daughter of Schedoni, the child of a murderer, whom he himself had been in some degree instrumental in bringing to a dreadful and ignominious death. Still, however, willing to hope, that Schedoni had not spoken the truth concerning his relationship to Ellena, he claimed, in consideration of the affection he had so long cherished for her, a full explanation of the circumstances connected with the discovery of her family.

At this public avowal of his attachment, a haughty impatience appeared on the countenance of the Marchese, who forbade him to make further inquiry on the subject, and was immediately retiring from the chamber.

“My presence is no longer necessary,” he added: “the prisoner has concluded the only detail which I could be interested to hear from him; and, in confideration of the confession he has made as to the innocence of my son, I pardon him the suffering, which his false charge has occasioned to me and my family. The paper containing his depositions is given to your responsibility, holy father,” addressing the inquisitor; “and you are required to lay it upon the table of the Holy Office, that the innocence of Vincentio di Vivaldi may appear, and that he may be released from these prisons without further delay. But first, I demand a copy of those deelarations, and that the copy also shall be signed by the present witnesses.”

The secretary was now bidden to copy them, and, while the Marchese waited to receive the paper, (for he would not leave the chamber till he had secured it) Vivaldi was urging his claim for an explantion respecting the family of Ellena, with unconquerable perseverance. Schedoni, no longer permitted to evade the inquiry, could not, however, give a circumstantial explanation, without partly diselosing, also, the satal designs which had been mediated by him and the late Marchesa di Vivaldi, of whose death he was ignorant; he related, therefore, little more respecting Ellena than that a portrait, which she wore as being her father’s, had first led to the discovery of her family.

While the Confessor had been giving this brief explanation, Nicola, who was somewhat withdrawn from the circle, stood gazing at him with the malignity of a demon. His glowing cyes just appeared under the edge of his cowl, while, rolled up in his dark drapery, the lower features of his face were muffled; but the intermediate part of his countenance, reciving the full glare of the torch, displayed all its speaking and terrific lines. Vivaldi, as his eye glanced upon him, saw again the very monk of Paluzzi, and he thought he beheld also a man capable of the very crimes of which he had accused Schedoni. At this instant, he remembered the dreadful garment that had been discovered in a dungeon of the fortress; and, yet more, he remembered the extraordinary circumstances attending the death of Bianchi, together with the immediate knowledge which the monk had displayed of that event. Vivaldi’s suspicions respecting the cause of her death being thus revived, he determined to obtain, if possible, either a relief from, or a confirmation of them; and he solemnly called upon Schedoni, who, ready condemned to die, had no longer any thing to fear from a disclosure of the truth, whatever it might be, to declare all that he knew on the subject. As he did so, he looked at Nicola, to observe the effect of this demand, whose countenance was, however, so much shrouded, that little of its expression could be seen; but Vivaldi remarked, that, while he had spoken, the monk drew his garment closer over the lower part of his face, and that he had immediately turned his eyes from him upon the Confessor.

With most solemn protestations, Schedoni declared himself to be both innocent and ignorant of the cause of Bianchi’s death.

Vivaldi then demanded by what means his agent, Nicola, had obtained such immediate information, as the warning he had delivered at Paluzzi proved him to have, of an event, in which it appeared that he could be so little interested; and why that warning had been given.

Nicola did not attempt to anticipate the reply of Schedoni, who, after a momentary silence, said, “That warming, young man, was given to deter you from visiting Altieri, as was every circumstance of advice or intelligence, which you received beneath the arch of Paluzzi.”

“Father,” replied Vivaldi, “you have never loved, or you would have spared yourself the practice of artifices so ineffectual to mislead or to conquer a lover. Did you believe that an anonymous adviser could have more influence with me than my affection, or that I could could be terrisied by such stratagems into a renunciation of its object?”

“I believed,” rejoined the Confessor, “that the disinterested advice of a stranger might have some weight with you; but I trusted more to the impression of awe, which the conduct and seeming fore-knowledge of that stranger were adapted to inspire in a mind like your’s; and I thus endeavoured to avarl myself of your prevailing weakness.”

“And what do you term my prevailing weakness,” said Vivaldi, blushing.

“A susceptibility which renders you especially liable to superstition,” replied Schedoni.

“What! does a monk call superstition a weakness!” rejoined Vivaldi. “But grant he does, on what occasion have I betrayed such weakness?”

“Have you forgotten a conversation which I once held with you on invisible spirits?” said Schedoni.

As he asked this, Vivaldi was struck with the tone of his voice; he thought it was different from what he had remembered ever to have heard from him; and he looked at Schedoni more intently, that he might be certain it was he who had spoken. The Confessor’s eyes were fixed upon him, and he repeated slowly in the same tone, “Have you forgotten?”

“I have not forgotten the conversation to which you allude,” replied Vivaldi, “and I do not recollect that I then disclosed any opinion that may justify your assertion.”

“The opinions you avowed were rational,” said Schedoni, “but the ardour of your imagination was apparent, and what ardent imagination ever was contented to trust to plain reasoning, or to the evidence of the senses? It may not willingly confine itself to the dull truths of this earth, but, eager to expand its faculties, to fill its capacity, and to experience its own peculiar delights, soars after new wonders into a world of its own!”

Vivaldi blushed at this reproof, now conscious of its justness; and was surprised that Schedoni should so well have understood the nature of his mind, while he himself, with whom conjecture had never assumed the stability of opinion, on the subject to which the Confessor alluded, had been ignorant even of its propensities.

“I acknowledge the truth of your remark,” said Vivaldi, “as far as it concerns myself. I have, however, inquiries to make on a point less abstracted, and towards explaining which the evidence of my senses themselves have done little. To whom belonged the bloody garments I found in the dungeon of Paluzzi, and what became of the person to whom they had pertained?”

Consternation appeared for an instant on the features of Schedoni. “What garments?” said he.

“They appeared to be those of a person who had died by violence,” replied Valdi, “and they were discovered in a place frequented by your avowed agent, Nicola, the monk.”

 

As he concluded the sentence, Vivaldi looked at Nicola, upon whom the attention of every person present was now directed.

“They were my own,” said this monk.

“Your own! and in that condition!” exclaimed Vivaldi. “They were covered with gore!”

“They were my own,” repeated Nicola. “For their condition, I have to thank you, — the wound your pistol gave me occasioned it.”

Vivaldi was astonished by this apparent subtersuge. “I had no pistol,” he rejoined, “my sword was my only weapon!”

“Pause a moment,” said the monk.

“I repeat that I had no fire-arms,” replied Vivaldi.

“I appeal to father Schedoni,” rejoined Nicola, “whether I was not wounded by a pistol shot.”

“To me you have no longer any right of appeal,” said Schedom. “Why should I save you from suspicions, that may bring you to a state like this, to which you have reduced me!”

“Your crimes have reduced you to it,” replied Nicola, “I have only done my duty, and that which another person could have effected without my aid — the priest to whom Spalatro made his last confession.”

“It is, however, a duty of such a kind,” observed Vivaldi, “as I would not willingly have upon my conscience. You have betrayed the life of your former friend, and have compelled me to assist in the destruction of a fellow being.”

“You, like me, have assisted to destroy a destroyer,” replied the monk. “He has taken life, and deserves, therefore, to lose it. If, however, it will afford you consolation to know that you have not materially assisted in his destruction, I will hereafter give you proof for this assurance. There were other means of shewing that Schedoni was the Count di Bruno, than the testimony of Ansaldo, though I was ignorant of them when I bade you summon the penitentiary.”

“If you had sooner avowed this,” said Vivaldi, the assertion would have been more plausible. Now, I can only understand that it is designed to win my silence, and prevent my retorting upon you your own maxim — that he who has taken the life of another, deserves to lose his own. — To whom did those bloody garments belong?”

“To myself, I repeat,” replied Nicola, “Shedoni can bear testimony that I received at Paluzzi a pistol wound.”

“Impossible,” said Vivaldi, “I was armed only with my sword!”

“You had a companion,” observed the monk, “had not he fire-arms?”

Vivaldi, after a momentary consideration, recollected that Paulo had pistols, and that he had fired one beneath the arch of Paluzzi, on the first alarm occasioned by the stranger’s voice. He immediately acknowledged the recollection. “But I heard, no groan, no symptom of distress!” he added. “Besides, the garments were at a considerable distance from the spot where the pistol was fired! How could a person, so severely wounded as those garments indicated, have silently withdrawn to a remote dungeon, or, having done so, is it probable he would have thrown aside his dress!”

“All that is nevertheless true,” replied Nicola. “My resolution enabled me to stifle the expression of my anguish; I withdrew to the interior of the ruin, to escape from you, but you pursued me even to the dungeon, where I threw off my discoloured vestments, in which I dared not return to my convent, and departed by a way which all your ingenuity failed to discover. The people who were already in the fort, for the purpose of assisting to confine you and your servant during the night on which Signora Rosalba was taken from Altieri, procured me another habit, and relief for my wound. But, though I was unseen by you during the night, I was not entirely unheard, for my groans reached you more than once from an adjoining chamber, and my companions were entertained with the alarn which your servant testified. — Are you now convinced?”

The groans were clearly remembered by Vivaldi, and many other circumstances of Nicola’s narration accorded so well with others, which he recollected to have occurred on the night alluded to, that he had no longer a doubt of its veracity. The suddenness of Bianchi’s death, however, still occasioned him suspicions as to its cause; yet Schedoni had declared not only that he was innocent, but ignorant of this cause, which it appeared from his unwillingness to give testimony in favour of his agent, he would not have affirmed, had he been conscious that the monk was in any degree guilty in this instance. That Nicola could have no inducement for attempting the life of Bianchi other than a reward offered him by Schedoni, was clear; and Vivaldi, after more fully considering these circumstances, became convinced that her death was in consequence of some incident of natural decay.

While this conversation was passing, the Marchese, impatient to put a conclusion to it, and to leave the chamber, repeatedly urged the secretary to dispatch; and, while he now earnestly renewed his request, another voice answered for the secretary, that he had nearly concluded. Vivaldi thought that he had heard the voice on some former occasion, and on turning his eyes upon the person who had spoken, discovered the stranger to be the same who had first visited him in prison. Perceiving by his dress, that he was an officer of the Inquisition, Vivaldi now understood too well the purport of his former visit, and that he had come with a design to betray him by affected sympathy into a confession of some heretical opinions. Similar instances of treachery Vivaldi had heard were frequently practised upon accused persons, but he had never fully believed such cruelty possible till now, that it had been attempted towards himself.

The visit of this person bringing to his recollection the subsequent one he had received from Nicola, Vivaldi inquired whether the centinels had really admitted him to his cell, or he had entered it by other means; a question to which the monk was silent, but the smile on his features, if so strange an expression deserved to be called a smile, seemed to reply, “Do you believe that I, a servant of the Inquisition, will betray its secrets?”

Vivaldi, however, urged the inquiry, for he wished to know whether the guard, who appeared to be faithful to their office, had escaped the punishment that was threatened.

“They were honest,” replied Nicola, “seek no further.”

“Are the tribunal convinced of their integrity?”

Nicola smiled again in derision, and replied, “They never doubted it.”

“How!” said Vivaldi. “Why were these men put under arrest, if their faithfulness was not even suspected?”

“Be satisfied with the knowledge, which experience has given you of the secrets of the Inquisition,” replied Nicola solemnly, “seek to know no more!”

“It has terrible secrets!” said Schedoni, who had been long silent. “Know, young man, that almost every cell of every prisoner has a concealed entrance, by which the ministers of death may pass unnoticed to their victims. This Nicola is now one of those dreadful summoners, and is acquainted with all the secret avenues, that lead to murder.”

Vivaldi shrunk from Nicola in horror, and Schedoni paused; but while he had spoken, Vivaldi had again noticed the extraordinary change in his voice, and shuddered at its sound no less than at the information it had given. Nicola was silent; but his terrible eyes were fixed in vengeance on Schedoni.

“His office has been short,” resumed the Confessor, turning his heavy eyes upon Nicola, “and his task is almost done!” As he pronounced the last words his voice saltered, but they were heard by the monk, who drawing nearer to the bed, demanded an explanation of them. A ghastly smile triumphed in the features of Schedoni; “Fear not but that an explanation will come full soon,” said he.