From "The Italian Novelists" translated from the originals with Critical and Biographical Notices by Thomas Roscoe; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; [undated edition, c. 1900; first published c. 1824]; pp. 302-329.
Novels of Anton-Francesco Grazzini.
Besides his novels, Grazzini was the author of several comedies and poems, most of which are richly imbued with the same humorous spirit that he displayed in his stories and conversation, and he often expresses himself with attic elegance and wit. With regard to style, his works were held in such estimation as to be enumerated among the testi di lingua, being in general easy, simple, and elegant. They betray no traces of imitation, and are free from the affectation of employing obsolete words and phrases. Of all the writers of his age, no one therefore can be proposed as a more perfect model of the simplicity and beauty of which the Italian language is so highly susceptible.
Lasca has, moreover, the merit of originality in his manner of introducing 304 his stories. Instead of availing himself, like Cinthio and so many others, of the example of Boccaccio, which produced a host of servile imitators, who would seem to have caught everything but the exquisite ease and spirit of their original, Lasca feigns that during the pontificate of Paul III., and in the reign of those great princes Charles V. and Francis I., a party of young people met together one afternoon at the house of a rich widow lady, in order to visit her brother, then residing with her, one of the most amiable young men in all Florence, and who being passionately fond of music, possessed a collection of the finest musical instruments and melodies for the entertainment of his young friends. While engaged on this occasion in performing a little concert, the sky suddenly becomes overcast, and a heavy snowstorm follows, of which the company take advantage to amuse themselves by assailing one another with snowballs. When wearied with their other sports, they assemble round their evening fire, and as a last resource, it is suggested that they should attempt to beguile the time until the hour of supper with relating these stories. As the notice, however, is so very short, the tales of their first winter evening are soon told; and it is therefore agreed, after the preparation of a week or two, to assemble again in order to regale themselves with other stories of greater length. Whether they had ever the pleasure of hearing these remains a secret, as it is certain that many of them never made their appearance, having either been altogether lost or continuing still unedited, if yet in existence.
The second evening, comprehending ten stories, was first edited in 1743, and was afterwards republished, along with the first evening, at Paris, though with the date of London, in 1756. “The ninth of the second night,’ says Mr. Dunlop, “corresponds with the seventh of Firenzuola, and the tenth with a tale of Fortini. The last story contains an account of a cruel, and by no means ingenious trick, practised by Lorenzo de’ Medici on a physician of Florence.”
The death of Lasca occurred in 1583, in the 80th year of his age.
* La Prima e la Seconda Cena di Anton-Francesco Grazzini, detto il Lasca, &c.
Soon after he had the pleasure of having it frequently hinted to him by several respectable Pisanese that the honour of his alliance would by no means be unacceptable to them, and many were the young beauties who passed in review before him. Yet he at length fixed his eyes upon a young lady, both of whose parents were deceased, and who, though not rich, was of a good family. She brought the doctor little more as her wedding portion than the house she lived in, though she afterwards presented him with a large family; and for many years, increasing in wealth, they lived extremely happily together. By this lady he had three sons and a daughter, the latter of whom, as well as one of her brothers, their parents very happily bestowed in marriage when they became old enough to settle in the world. The youngest boy had a decided taste for letters, while the second, who gave his parents great anxiety, was of an extremely dull and obstinate disposition, with a great aversion to learning and every species of improvement; morose, abstracted, and unamiable, when his negative was once pronounced, it was as unalterable as his own nature. The doctor at last finding that he could mould him into nothing, to get rid of him, sent him into the country, where he had purchased at least half a dozen different estates, and whither he was fond of retiring to escape the continued noise and turbulence of the city. But about ten years after he had despatched his son Lazzaro — for this was the fool’s name — into this retreat, there arose a dreadful malady in Pisa, which carried off numbers of people in a violent fever, which subsiding into a deep lethargy, they awakened no more, and it was, moreover, as infectious as the plague. The doctor, desirous of showing his skill, and taking the lead of the other physicians on this occasion, exposed himself so fearlessly for his fees, that he took the infection, which soon set at defiance every application of his most esteemed syrups and recipes, and in a few hours he retired from the profession for ever. Nor was this all, for he communicated the disease to his family, and one after another they all died, until there was only an old nurse left alive in the house.
It was indeed a dreadful visitation upon all Pisa, and the mortality would have been still greater had not the survivors fled in haste from the city. With the change of season, however, its severity seemed to mitigate, the persons attacked gradually recovered, the inhabitants returned to their houses, and the people resumed their usual occupations.
It was now that Lazzaro succeeded to all the property left by his deceased relations, though he merely added a single domestic to the reduced establishment of his father, consisting only of the old servant. His farms and the receipt of his rents were left in the care of an 306 agent, as he bestowed no attention upon business. Many families, notwithstanding, appeared anxious for the honour of his alliance, without making the slightest objection to his rusticity and folly; but the only answer that he uniformly returned to these proposals was, that he had made up his mind to wait for at least four years, and that he afterwards might perhaps be induced to think of it. As he was known never to have changed his mind, no one importuned him further upon the subject. Though he was fond of amusements in his own way, he admitted no one to his confidence, and started on beholding a card of invitation like a guilty spirit at the sign of the cross.
Opposite to his house there resided a man of the name of Gabriello, with his wife and two children, a boy about five years old and a little girl, whom he supported as well as he was able by his skill in bird-catching and fishing. Though his abode was humble, his nets and cages were of the very best construction, and he managed them so judiciously, that, with the assistance of his wife, Santa, who had the reputation of an excellent sempstress, he made a very pretty livelihood. It happened that Gabriello was an exact counterpart in voice, countenance, and appearance of our foolish friend Lazzaro; their very complexion and their beards were of the same cut and quality. If they were not twin brothers, they ought to have been so, for they were not only of the same age and stature, but in their taste and manners they greatly resembled each other. It would have been impossible even for the fisherman’s wife to have recognised Lazzaro disguised in the dress of her husband; the only distinction that could be made was that one was dressed as a labourer and the other like a gentleman. Pleased with the happy resemblance which he could not but acknowledge between himself and the fisherman, and fancying it laid him under a sort of obligation for which he felt grateful, he began to solicit his acquaintance. This he did in the pleasantest manner possible, frequently sending him good things from his table and a bottle of old wine. The fisherman’s gratitude was so pleasing that he soon also sent for him to dine and sup with him, passing the evenings in the most agreeable conversations imaginable; the adventures of the good fisherman, and the prodigious lies he told, being a never-failing source of admiration and delight to Lazzaro. For the fisherman’s skill extended far beyond his art, and the rogue contrived to insinuate himself into the good graces of his patron, until the latter was hardly ever easy out of his company.
Thus having one day treated his rustic friend to a noble feast, they began to talk, over their wine, of the various modes of fishing, all of which were explained greatly to the satisfaction of the host. None, however, seemed to take his fancy so much as the description of the diving net, on which the fisherman dwelt with uncommon enthusiasm, as the most useful and delightful invention in the world. It inspired Lazzaro with the ambition of immediately witnessing a specimen of this part of the piscatory art, in which great fish may be caught, not with nets and lines merely, but with the very mouth, a drag-net hanging round the neck of the diving fisherman! “Oh, let us go now! let us go now!” exclaimed the happy Lazzaro, while the guest, as 307 usual, expressed himself ready to attend his patron. As it happened to be the middle of summer, nothing could be better; and finishing their dessert, Gabriello took his drag-nets and they went out together. They bent their way through the Porta à Mare directly towards the Arno, along the fence of pales, above the great bank crowned with alder-trees, spreading a most delicious shade. There the fisherman begged his patron to sit down and refresh himself while he observed the manner in which he should proceed. Having first stripped himself, he bound the nets round his arms and neck, and then, boldly plunging into the river, down he went. But being a complete adept at his business, he rose again very shortly to the surface, bringing up with him at one drag, eight or ten great fish, all of the best kind. This was a real miracle in the eyes of Lazzaro, who could not divine how he could possibly see to catch them under water, and he resolved to ascertain the manner in which it was done. With this view, being a hot July day, and thinking that a cold bath might refresh him, he prepared, with Gabriello’s assistance, to step in. He was conducted by him to a shallow part, and when about up to his knees, Gabriello left him to his own discretion, only warning him that though the bottom shelved down very gradually, he had better go no farther than where a certain post rose above the rest; and pointing it out to him once more, he pursued his business. Lazzaro felt singular pleasure in being thus left to himself, and splashing about, performed all sorts of antics in the water. His eyes were often fixed in admiration upon his friend Gabriello, who every now and then rose from the bottom with a fish in his mouth, the better to please his patron, who at this sight could not longer restrain his applause.
“It is very plain now,” he cried, “that it must be light under water, or he could never have seen how to catch that fish in his mouth, besides all the others in his net. I wish I knew how.” So saying, the next time that he saw Gabriello dive, he imitated the motion by ducking his head, and at the same time losing his footing, slipped gently down, till he not only reached the post, but passed it with his head still under water. When he fairly got out of his depth, still trying whether he could see, it appeared a strange thing to him; for he found he could no longer get his breath, and he endeavoured in vain to fight his way up again, the water pouring in at his mouth and ears, at his nose and eyes, in such a way that he could see nothing. In short, the current at length catching him, bore him away in perfect amazement, and he was too far gone to cry out for help. Gabriello was in the meantime employed in diving down into a large hole he had discovered near the stakes, full of fish, which he was handing into his net with the greatest alacrity, while his poor friend and patron was already more than half dead, having now come up and gone down again for the third time, and at the fourth he rose no more.
Just at this moment, Gabriello, with a prodigious draught, again appeared, and turning round with a joyous face to look at Lazzaro, what was his surprise and terror when he found his master was gone! Gazing round with the hope of perceiving him somewhere, he only found his clothes, just as he had left them. In the utmost alarm he 308 ran again to the water, and in a short time discovered his body thrown by the current on the opposite bank. He swam to the place, and on perceiving that his good patron was quite cold and lifeless, he stood for some moments like a statue, overpowered with grief and terror, without knowing how to act. In the first place he was afraid, if he published the tidings of his death, of being accused of having drowned him to plunder him of his money, an idea which threw him into such alarm, that covering his face with his hands, he stood buried in profound grief and reflection. At length he suddenly uttered an exclamation of joy, as the thought rushed into his mind, “I am safe! I am safe! There are no witnesses of the accident, and I know what I will do: it is the hour, when, luckily, everybody is asleep.” With these words the thrust the nets and the fish into his great basket, and taking the dead body of Lazzaro on his shoulders, heavy as it was, he placed it among some wet reeds hard by the shore. He then bound the nets round his poor friend’s arms, and again bearing him to the water, he contrived to fasten the strings in such a way round one of the deepest stakes, that they could with difficulty be withdrawn, giving the body the appearance of having been thus entangled while fishing. He then assumed his patron’s attire, and got even into his very shoes, and sat down quietly on the bank, resolved to try what fortune would do for him. His strong resemblance to his deceased friend, if successful, would now not only save his life, but make it ever after, as he believed, most happy and comfortable. As the hour seemed now arrived, with equal skill and courage, he entered upon the dangerous experiment, and began to call out lustily for help in the person of poor Lazzaro: “Help! help, good people, or the poor fisherman will be drowned! Oh, he comes up no more!” and with this he roared out tremendously. The miller was the first man who reached the spot, but numbers of people were gathering on all sides to learn what could possibly cause such an insufferable noise. Gabriello continued to bellow even for some time after they arrived, the better to counterfeit his patron, weeping the whole time as he told his tale — how the poor fisherman had dipped, and brought up fish so often; but the last time he had stopped nearly an hour under water, and having waited for him in vain, he began to be afraid he was coming up no more. The people inquiring, with a smile at his simplicity, whereabouts it was, he pointed out the spot, on which the miller, who was a great friend of Gabriello’s, began to strip, and plunged into the river, And there, sure enough, as he believed, he found his friend Gabriello caught in his own net, and entangled fast by his neck and heels to the unlucky stake.
“Heaven have mercy on us!” cried the miller; “here he is, poor Gabriello, poor Gabriello! quite drowned in his own entangled net;” using his utmost efforts at the same time to loosen it from about the stake. Such were the lamentations of Gabriello’s friends on hearing this, that he could scarcely refrain from betraying himself. Two more threw themselves into the water to assist the miller, and at length, with some difficulty, they fished the body out. The arms and legs were all entangled in the net, and his relations in their indignation 309 tore the unlucky cords to tatters. The tidings of his death being spread abroad, a priest immediately attended, and the body was borne upon a bier to the nearest church, where it was laid out in order to be recognised by Gabriello’s friends. His disconsolate widow, accompanied by other relations bewailing him and her children, now hastened to the spot. Believing the body to be his, a scene of tender affliction ensued. After beating her breast and tearing her hair, she sat down and wept with her little children, while every one around, and above all the real Gabriello, could not restrain their tears. So overpowered indeed was he by his feelings, that pulling his poor patron’s hat over his brows and hiding his face in the pocket-handkerchief, he addressed his wife before all the people in a hoarse and piteous voice: “Come, good woman, do not despair, do not cry so. I will provide for you, and take care both of you and your children; the poor man lost his life in trying to amuse me, and I shall not forget it. He was a clever fisherman; but leave off crying — I tell you I will provide for you. So go home, and go in peace, for you shall want for nothing while I live, and when I die I will leave you what is handsome;” and this he ended with a kind of growl, intended to express his concern both for her and the deceased fisherman. For these words he was highly applauded by all the people present, while the imaginary widow, somewhat consoled by his promises, was conveyed back by her relations to her own dwelling. But Gabriello in his new character immediately marched and took possession of Lazzaro’s house, walking in exactly as he had often observed his poor friend was wont to do, without noticing any one. He went into a richly furnished chamber overlooking some beautiful gardens, and taking the keys out of his deceased patron’s pockets, he began to search the trunks and boxes, where he found other lesser keys, which admitted him to all the treasures and valuables in the place. It was a storehouse of wealth indeed, for it not only contained the fortunes of the deceased doctor and other relations of Lazzaro, to the amount of several thousand florins of gold, but was equally rich in jewels and plate. At the sight of these Gabriello repressed with difficulty loud exclamations of rapture and surprise, and he sat down to devise fresh means of supporting his title to Lazzaro’s estates. With this view, being perfectly acquainted with his late friend’s character, he went down about supper-time uttering the most strange and wild exclamations of grief. The two servants of the house, who had heard of the fatal accident, and the cause of it, ran hastily to his relief. But instead of listening to their consolation, he directly ordered six loaves and a portion of the supper, with two flasks of wine, to be carried to the disconsolate widow across the way. On the return of the domestic with the poor widow’s grateful thanks, Gabriello partook of a light supper set out in the handsomest style, and, without saying a word to any one, shut himself up in his chamber, and went to bed. There he remained until the hour of nine the next morning, in order the better to indulge his reflections and his grief. Though the difference between his voice and language and those of their former master was perceptible to his domestics, they attributed it entirely to his violent 310 sorrow for his deceased friend. And the poor widow, finding how well he seemed inclined to keep his word of supporting her and her children, very soon dismissed the condolences of her relations and retired as usual quietly to rest. The next day Gabriello began to rise at his old friend’s usual hour, and though he had now a variety of cares upon his hands, he never permitted the poor widow, Santa, to want for anything. He imitated his late patron’s way of life very exactly, for he really seemed to have also succeeded to his indolence, which he adopted without an effort. He was still, however, extremely concerned to hear that his wife’s grief for his death continued unabated, though he certainly felt flattered by it, and began to think in what way he could console her, and how he could contrive means to marry her again. Feeling not a little puzzled upon the subject, he resolved to go to her house, where he found her, accompanied by one of her cousins, it not being long since the period of his supposed death. Having informed her that he wished to speak to her upon an affair of some importance, her kind relation immediately took his leave, aware of the numerous obligations which her rich neighbour had so charitably conferred upon her. When he had left them, Gabriello closed the door with the same air of familiarity and confidence as formerly, at which the poor woman could not help testifying some surprise, fearful lest he might presume too far upon the services he had rendered her. When Gabriello advanced, taking her little boy by the hand, she drew back timidly, at which action he could not help expressing his admiration of his wife’s propriety in an audible voce and with a grin of delight. Then taking her by the hand, he spoke to her in his accustomed manner, and she gazed for a moment doubtfully in his face, while Gabriello, taking his little boy in his arms, tenderly caressed him, saying, “What, boy, is your mother weeping at our good fortune?” and shaking some money in his hand with a triumphant air, he gave it to him, and went on playing with him as usual. But perceiving that his wife was overpowered with a variety of emotions which she could not control, unable longer to disguise the truth, he first fastened the door, and, fearful lest any one might overhear the strange story he had to reveal, he drew her into an inner chamber, and there related the whole affair just as it had passed. It is impossible to convey an idea of her surprise and joy as she hung weeping upon his neck. But they were delicious tears, and her husband kissed them away with far greater rapture than he had ever before felt, and they sank overpowered with emotion into each other’s arms.
It was necessary, however, to use the utmost precaution in retaining the fortune they had so strangely won; and after explaining the plans he had in view, and engaging his wife’s promise to keep the matter secret, Gabriello returned to his new house. His wife, still affecting to retain her grief for his loss, frequently took care, before all her neighbours, to recommend her poor children to the gentleman’s notice, who uniformly treated them with kindness.
The ensuing night he lay broad awake devising how he might best put his future plans into execution. Having at length resolved, he rose early, and bent his way to the Church of Santa Catterina, 311 where he knew a venerable and devout monk, almost worshipped by the good people of Pisa, whose name was Fra Anselmo. He here announced a very strange and important piece of business, respecting which he wished to consult the conscience of the learned friar. The good father carried him into his cell, where Gabriello introduced himself as Lazzaro di Maestro Basilio da Milano, relating at the same time his whole family genealogy, and how he had remained sole heir of the whole property owing to the late plague. He at last came to the story of poor Gabriello, the fisherman, laying the sole blame of the accident upon himself in persuading the wretched man to accompany him in a fishing excursion along the Arno. He then proceeded to related the deplorable circumstances in which he had left his family, and taking into serious consideration the cause of the calamity, he felt it weigh so heavily upon his conscience, that he was resolved at all risks to make every reparation in his power. But what reparation, could be made to a woman, who, however lowly her condition, had fondly loved her husband, except by consoling her for her loss by directing her affections towards another object. “And the truth is,” he continued, “I am willing to marry her, and become a father to her children, and then,” he continued with the greatest simplicity, “perhaps God will forgive me for the great sin I committed in taking him out a fishing with me.” Though the pious father here smiled, it appeared so conscientious a proposal that he did not venture to oppose it, saying that he would not fail in this way to obtain the mercy of Heaven upon many of his past sins. Hearing this comfortable doctrine, Gabriello opened his purse-strings and presented the friar with thirty pieces, observing that he wished the mss of San Gregorio to be sung for three Mondays together, to ensure peace to the soul of the deceased fisherman. The venerable monk’s eyes brightened at the sight, and he promised mass should be sung the very next Monday. With respect to the projected alliance, he observed to Gabriello, that he rather praised him for his disregard to wealth and nobility in the proposed union. “Make no account of it,” he continued; “you will be rich enough in the grace of Heaven: we all belong to the same father and the same mother, and virtue is the only true nobility. I know both her and her parents; you could not do better, for she is born of a good family. So, go home, my good signor, and I will attend you when you please.” “Well, to-day, to-day, then!” cried Gabriello, as he prepared to depart. “Ah! leave it to me,” returned the friar, “and take my blessing with you, my son, and bring the ring in the meantime.” Gabriello hastened home, and purchased the ring accordingly, persuading himself there could be no harm in making sure that everything was quite correct in the difficult circumstances under which he laboured. So, with the consent of all the lady’s friends and relations, the marriage was celebrated a second time. Gabriello, in the person of Lazzaro, then conducted his wife to her new house, where a splendid feast was prepared, and all their friends met to receive them. Soon after, Gabriello gradually assuming the manners of a gentleman, dismissed the old maid and man-servant with liberal gratuities, and set up a handsome equipage and noble 312 establishment. He astonished all Lazzaro’s friends with the striking improvement that had taken place in the simpleton’s manners, while his wife, Santa, became exceedingly genteel in all her actions. The twice-married pair spent together a tranquil and happy life, and had two sons subsequently born, who, assuming a new family surname, called themselves De’ Fortunati, and from these children sprung a race of men renowned both in letters and in arms.
His old friends, waiting dinner for him a long while, began to wonder whither he could have withdrawn himself, and after in vain searching all the likely and all the unlikely places they could think of, they accidentally heard, just as their best wines were getting low, that he was actually gone to live with his family at the villa, a place where of all others they least thought of looking for him. They began to be seriously afraid that there was now an end to their usual course of festivity; but our hero in a short time becoming weary of the villa, resolved to return to town, where Pilucca one day accidentally met him walking along the streets of Florence. Joyfully hailing and shaking him by the hand, Pilucca welcomed him back, observing as he invited him for the same evening to a feast. “Heavens! how truly rejoiced I am to see you here once more! Where can you have been? I have not had the flavour of good wine in my mouth nor heard the stave of a good song since you left us.” Guasparri, drawing back, replied that he was sorry he could not come; but on being questioned more narrowly, unable to give any excuse, and longing at the same time to be admitted to their company, he fairly confessed that there was not resisting such an offer — he would come; but that he could not pretend any longer to dictate to them what wines they ought to drink. Then relating the conversation he had had with his cousin, he declared he had come to the resolution of furnishing no more. His companion on hearing this affected to laugh outright, though he really felt little inclination when he considered the difference it would make were each of them to furnish his proportion, instead of laying the whole expense of the bottles upon their friend. At the same time he flattered himself he should soon be able to bring him round to his usual habits. When the party assembled in the evening, Pilucca communicated what had passed between him and Guasparri, to the great dismay of his companions, and they then held a regular counsel as to how they should proceed. They resolved to receive him with cheerful and happy looks, 314 and soon succeeded so well in flattering him into good-humour, that they obtained his company for several successive nights; but finding that they could never bring him to the same liberal way of thinking as formerly, they at length, after repeated trials, came to the resolution of fairly casting him off, declaring that he was no longer worthy of keeping company with gentlemen like themselves.
They deliberated, therefore, on the best method of getting rid of him by playing him some humorous trick, and fleecing him of his money at the same time in such a way as to give him no sort of inclination to return. Calculating upon the fears which they suspected he entertained for goblins, especially of such as haunted the churchyards, they proceeded to deliberate in what way they might turn them to good account. The ghostly council accordingly met; and aware that our hero when visiting certain friends had to return home in the evening over the bridge of Carraja in order to reach his own house, situated in Borgo Stella, and that no one slept in the same house, his family being at the villa, they forthwith commenced their operations. There was a certain Signor Meino, a manufacturer, and a great friend of Scheggia’s, who resided next door to our hero, and great facility of communication existed between the houses. With some persuasion, Scheggia won over his friend to enter into their designs; and the day being arrived when they were to try the strength of Guasparri’s vain boasting and resolution against spirits, they had everything prepared before evening for the execution of their plot. They were all supping together, and turning the conversation to the proper topic, they dwelt so long and fearfully upon the theory of apparitions, that our friend Guasparri’s hair began to bristle up, and he reflected with dread upon the solitary walk he had before him ere he reached his beloved home. He would fain have requested one of them to accompany him at least as far as the bridge, had he not already committed his valour so deeply in the vain boastings he had so long been in the habit of indulging upon the subject. At one time he came to the resolution of staying and sleeping where he was, but when he began to advance excuses for this purpose, Zoroastro, who saw into his design, completely foiled him by instantly proposing cards, at which our hero had already lost such immense sums, that he started as if he had really seen a ghost. Declaring that he must instantly keep an appointment, he set out, followed quietly at a distance by his wily companions, and took the road by Santa Maria Novella until he reached the fosse which led straight to the bridge of Carraja. Scheggia now quickened his pace, and running through the Borgo Ognissanti, arrived at the bridge before Guasparri by this shorter cut, and quickly marshalled his companions, he himself lying hid in the little Church of Santo Antonio, on the verge of the Arno, adjoining Santa Trinita.
It happened to be a dark night in September, and agreeably to the orders of Zoroastro and Scheggia, their companions were stationed near the first pillars, each of whom held a long pike in his hand, to which were attached several large white sheets, with a cross upon the summit to resemble arms, and a huge mask of a most diabolical aspect. Two lanterns all on fire served for the eyes, while the mouth 315 grinned with a horrible smile, flaming with another lantern, which showed off the long sharp teeth to advantage. A long flat nose, sharp chin, and an immense slouched hat, completed the terrific figure, a sight of which would have been almost sufficient to put to flight the most doughty heroes of romance, not excepting the mad Orlando himself. Such was the ambuscade that lay glaring in secret, awaiting the arrival of the unfortunate Guasparri. They were all to rise up at the same moment, just as he passed these horrid apparitions, addressing each other by the name of Cuccobeoni, in order more effectually to alarm their hapless victim with their voices, who at length cautiously approached the bridge, using his utmost efforts at the same time to banish the idea of spectres from his mind. A low whistle from Scheggia was now the signal for the apparitions to appear, when they gradually rose from the earth, spreading larger and larger till they assumed their full terrific dimensions. Guasparri had just got half over the bridge; some of the apparitions stood before and some behind him; and his little strength and courage failing him together, he turned round each way, but had no power left to escape on either hand. The next moment the whole Arno seemed to teem with spectres, as tall, in our poor hero’s opinion, as the church steeples, and exceeding the number, as he afterwards asserted, of thirty thousand demons, whose diabolical features now riveted him to the spot. “The Lord help me! the Lord help me!” he exclaimed in a doleful voice, but had no power to move. Soon observing that they were approaching as if to gather round him, and believing that he should be instantly devoured, he cried out in a still louder voice, “The Lord help me to pray! the Lord help me to run! I will run in the name of the Lord!” and away he wildly rushed through the midst of the apparitions, never once staying to breathe or to look behind him until he had arrived at the house of Pilucca, where he knocked with such violence as nearly to burst open the door. Here his friends were many of them assembled to welcome him back, having understood from their companions on the bridge that they might expect him in a short time, and that they must do all in their power to restore his suspended faculties. He threw himself upon a couch, unable for some time to recover breath; he could not utter a word, and he appeared on the point of swooning away when they applied the necessary restoratives.
The moment Guasparri had disappeared, Scheggia despatched his companions to Meino’s house in order to secure the fruits of their adventure in the manner we shall soon recount; while he himself hastened to Pilucca’s, where he found his friend Guasparri already so far recovered, as to be giving the most strange and unintelligible description of the wonderful and appalling scenes through which he had passed. His audience, by affecting to discredit the truth of the relation, threw him into the utmost rage, when Scheggia, walking quietly into the room from an inner chamber, as if he had remained there the whole of the evening, persuaded our hero to begin his story anew. Still he could not be persuaded, in spite of Guasparri’s swearing that such was the fact, that the apparitions had literally appeared 316 to him; and the latter was thrown into the greatest despair when Scheggia, persisting in his unbelief, declared that he only meant to make fools of them all, and challenged Guasparri at the same time to accompany him to the bridge. Declining this offer, however, Guasparri contented himself with pointing out the exact situation in which the spirits attacked him, when both banks of the Arno were covered with their troops, clothed in white uniform, with faces of fire and heads as black as Erebus, all rushing on him at once to make him their prisoner. But when his friends pretended to return from a visit to the bridge without discovering any remains of the apparitions, they all with one consent began to upbraid him for his folly and cowardice, declaring that he must have drunk his senses away, and that he must be delirious to think of coming to interrupt them over their cards with such tales as these. They then sat down again quietly to play, while Guasparri was revolving in his mind how he could contrive to obtain the escort of the nightly watch as far as his own house. The moment he heard them passing, the moon having now risen, he sallied forth, and offered them a handsome reward if they would see him safe over the bridge. As they approached it, he seized the officer more closely by the arm, shutting his eyes to avoid the sight of the same distracting objects as he passed along.
On reaching his house, he felt some qualms of fear at the idea of sleeping there alone, his family residing at the villa, and he would gladly have gone farther to the house of one of his relations, had not the night been so very far advanced. It was his custom during that season to go to rest in a room upon the ground-floor which Meino, his neighbour, had been prevailed upon by Scheggia to hang entirely with black drapery, borrowed from the Osso Company, adorned with emblems adapted to sacred occasions, such as death’s-heads, crosses, and remnants of mortality of every description. Round the room were placed many large wax candles such as are used at burials, casting a fearful and glaring light; while in the midst of all was placed a bier covered with a carpet, on which lay the resemblance of a corpse, with orange flowers and rosemary strewed all round. A crucifix was fixed over the head, and two wax-lights at each side, for the convenience of those who might wish to contemplate the features more narrowly. Guasparri proceeded to take possession as usual of his own apartment, and as he opened the door beheld a scene which might have startled a stouter philosopher than himself. With his eyes fixed upon the whole apparatus of mortality he stood fascinated to the spot, and when he attempted to retreat he could proceed no farther than the door, where he fell, overpowered with horror, once more upon his knees, his head turned slightly back to ascertain whether the dead man were following to show him out. But though he could not speak, he uttered an inward prayer, which at length endued him with so much strength as to enable him to rise up from his knees, and with another effort of despair he got through the door, and locking it eagerly after him to prevent pursuit, rushed out of the house. He then once more took to flight, with the intention of again seeking the residence of the very enemies who had thus cruelly invaded his repose. And as the 317 greater fear is always apt to remove the impression of a slighter, our hero in this his extremity no longer regarding the apparitions on the bridge which had lately inspired him with so much awe, pressed valiantly forward until he reached the very house he had not long since left. Here was a fresh scene of pleasure for his malicious companions, who for a long time permitted him to knock in vain. At length Pilucca made his appearance, exclaiming in an angry tone, “What! are you here again? Will you never leave off these mad tricks of yours? What do you mean by this conduct?” “Oh, help, help! have mercy on me, good gentlemen!” was our hero’s reply. “My house is full of spirits; and I think all the demons in Tartarus must this night have broken loose. Oh, such a night!” and he immediately proceeded with a fresh account of his adventures. Such was the violence of his gesticulations and his perturbations, that his wicked friends at length consented, yielding to his vehement entreaties to accompany him home, where he vowed he would fully satisfy them in regard to the truth of his statements. In the meantime, however, another party had been busily employed in removing the fearful preparations which had so much disturbed the equanimity of our hero’s soul; and before he returned home with his fresh escort, the whole house had resumed its usual state, while the wary authors of the change had already taken refuge in the dwelling of Meino. “Why do you tremble so?” cried Zoroastro, as our poor friend laid his hand upon his own door, and then drew back. “Really, if you had not played us this trick once before to-night, we should almost be inclined to believe you; but you are not the man to impose upon us as you think.” To this, Guasparri, bidding him enter before him, replied that he would forfeit his eyes if he had spoken a single word more than the truth, which they would find to their cost when they ventured in. “Neither your eyes nor your head will be of any use to us,” returned Zoroastro; “but if you are serious, pledge us this diamond ring upon it, and two dozen bottles of your Monte Pulciano to encourage us. The truth is, we do not believe that you have seen anything either here or at the bridge; but pledge us the wine, and keep your head upon your own shoulders, and we will encounter the ghosts.” To this the poor wretch consented; feeling assured that they would find a pretty warm reception from the visible and invisible spirits which swarmed about the room. So he put the diamond ring into their hands, worth at least thirty gold ducats, at the same time challenging each of the party to advance. Scheggia at first drew back as if afraid, saying: “Suppose your house should have been robbed in your absence. Do you go first,” he continued, addressing Pilucca. “No, do you! do you!” cried each in their turn, which threw Guasparri into greater consternation than ever. “It is so very dark,” added Monaco; “I dread going in the dark into a place where there may be thieves.” “Well, here is a lantern,” rejoined another; “take it, and forward in the name of Heaven.” So Monaco pretended to be obliged to advance, and the others followed, Guasparri bringing up the rear with evident fears of the event. When he laid his hand on the door of the haunted chamber, Monaco paused; on which a thrill ran through our hero’s frame, and his hair began to bristle up. 318 Seeing Zoroastro about to press forward, he held him back by the skirt of the coat, whispering, “It is not safe; let us go back;” when suddenly opening the room door, and pushing him forwards, they burst into a loud laugh, declaring that the wage was won. Everything stood in its usual place, to the no small surprise and confusion of our hero, who cast his eyes in every direction in search of the demons, the sulphur tapers, the death’s-head, and the dead man; but everything had disappeared. “Oh, thou villain, thou impostor!” they all cried out. “We never suspected, Guasparri, that you could have used us thus. Once would have thought from your looks you were leading us into the infernal pit. Everything here is just as it was; it is really too bad; and yet you pretend to be shocked and surprised. We shall be compelled to decline your acquaintance: this is carrying matters quite too far.”
It is impossible to do justice to our hero during this scene; he knew not whether he was really awake or in a dream; he raved and he rolled his eyes, but took not the least notice of what they said. To restore him a little to his wits, his friends began entreat him, that as he had succeeded so well in his scheme of imposing upon them and rousing them from their beds, he would at least not think of carrying the affair further, and exposing them to the laughter of the whole city on the ensuing day. “We have secured the ring and the wine, however; that part of the joke is ours, so we are content: and if you please,” continued Scheggia, observing that our hero remained far from easy in his mind, “if you please, I will stay with you here all night.” Though he gratefully accepted his friend’s offer, he never closed his eyes during that night, dwelling on the scenes which had so strongly impressed themselves upon his imagination. The next morning he rose early and set out to join his family at the villa, desirous of trying what a change of scene would effect in removing the unpleasant associations of the previous night. He had nearly, however, fallen a victim to this unfeeling and injudicious prank on the part of his old friends; for on the third day he was in so violent a fever that the physicians almost despaired of his life. They might be said to have flayed him alive, for during his convalescence he really cast away his old skin. Nor was it only in this respect that he underwent a change: he no longer left his family, and a blessed regeneration was the consequence of the frolic of his false friends.
On their side, the ensuing day was a day of triumph and festivity; they laughed and feasted at the expense of their unfortunate companion; but such triumphs and such follies usually end in bitterness and tears, the fate of their authors being still more pitiable than that of the victims they pursue. They even attempted to get the credulous Guasparri into their snares, and to betray him once more, in which they would most likely have succeeded, had it not been for the kind relation who interfered in his favour on a former occasion, and who now persuaded him to dispose of his house in town and to attach himself to rural pursuits. 319
Having in this way taken leave one evening of his beloved, and musing upon her perfections by moonlight as he followed the windings of the river, his reverie was somewhat disagreeably disturbed by a voice which seemed to proceed from the place of public execution, just opposite to him. Ora pro eo! ora pro eo! was repeated pretty audibly several times; and on turning his eyes towards the gallows, he beheld three or four figures apparently dancing in the air, and it being now the “witching hour of night,” our lover testified no sort of pleasure at the view. He was quite at a loss to discover whether the forms were fanciful or real; when just as the moon went behind a cloud he again heard the Ora pro eo. While in some doubt how he should proceed, the light of the moon again broke from behind the clouds, and he imagined he saw another figure dancing upon the scaffold far above the rest. But our lover being possessed of great courage, and holding the theory of demons and apparitions in supreme contempt, on hearing for the third time the Ora pro eo, exclaimed in a tone of self-accusation, “What then! shall I be such a coward as to go away without ascertaining the meaning of this, and ever afterwards indulge doubt and fear upon the subject?” He had no sooner uttered this valiant speech, than he advanced boldly towards the gallows and began to mount the ladder. Now, unluckily for our hero, it so happened that about that time there was a poor maniac girl in Florence, who was in the habit of wandering towards evening beyond the confines of the city, and on this occasion she had directed her steps to this seat of final justice. It being now harvest-time, she had gathered several large pumpkins in the surrounding fields, and performed the office of executioner upon them, suspending them by the 320 heads, with the huge sprouts hanging down in the shape of legs; and having duly turned them off like an executioner, she left them thus quivering to the breeze. She had been amusing herself with observing their motions just as Malespini made his approach, and was preparing to turn off another of her pumpkins, when, suddenly stopping, she cried out in a horrid voice to our poor hero, who had ascended about half way up, “Stop, stop! and I will hang you too;” and the next moment, running down the ladder like a cat, our hero was seized with such a sudden fit of terror at the sight, that, believing it must at least be some demon in disguise, he relinquished his hold, and losing his presence of mind, fell down to the ground. The maniac was not long in descending after him, and desirous of adding him to the number of her victims, she endeavoured to lift him up with the intention of immediately hanging him by the neck. Finding him somewhat too heavy, she unlaced her apron-strings, and binding them round his throat, she dragged him in this manner towards the foot of the ladder, where fastening him very securely, she left him to his fate, pursuing fresh adventures wherever Fortune might choose to lead. Daylight at length appeared, when some peasants proceeding to the city perceived the strange exhibition which the whimsical lady had left behind her, and on approaching nearer they descried the gibbet adorned with flowers, and at its foot our poor hero tied by the neck and heels, and still in a deep swoon. Tidings of this affair having reached the city, numbers of people assembled, and the lover, to all appearance dead, was released from his very disagreeable situation. No one, however, could give any account of the strange apparition of the mock culprits which were observed swinging by their heads, nor was enabled to throw any light on the catastrophe of the unfortunate lover. His father and friends were in a short time upon the spot, and amidst tears and lamentations caused the body to be transported into the adjoining church, and placed in the cell of one of the priests, where an examination took place. The physician, finding some degree of warmth still lingering about the heart, declared there was a chance that he might still survive, and ordering a litter, caused him to be conveyed into one of the warmest apartments in his father’s house. There, after making use of the strongest applications, and bathing the body in Malmsey wine and vinegar, to restore suspended animation, his friends had at length the pleasure of observing him gradually recover. But more than an hour elapsed before he could utter a word, and he then began to talk at random, and was unable to recollect where he was. His physician then bled him very copiously, which, though it restored him to his senses, left him in a lingering state for several weeks. The sudden alarm, however, had not only changed the colour of his hair and skin, but he actually lost them, nor did he ever afterwards assume the same appearance, or entirely recover from the effects of the mad lady’s unceremonious attack. His case gave rise to a good deal of disputation amongst the faculty and his own friends; for such was the wild and unsettled expression of his countenance, that many of the latter were at a loss to recognise him. The same appearance is known by physicians to occur in certain stages of various diseases, and they 321 attributed it entirely to the sudden impulse of fear when the maniac girl proposed, in so unexpected a manner, to cut short his thread of existence, and had so nearly executed her threat.
Yet the cause would have remained a mystery to this day, had not the same lady returned about sunset to take down the bodies she had suspended when she was discovered in the act, and very properly put upon her trial in order to ascertain the real facts. Malespini, however, could scarcely be persuaded that he had not really seen something more than mortal, and that some horrid necromancer had not suspended those fearful forms by the neck for some diabolical purpose.
Listen to me, then, kindly, while I tell you that in the annals of Pisa is found the name of Guglielmo Grimaldi, who came to settle in Pisa from the confines of Genoa. He was then a youth of about two-and-twenty, with very few resources, and living in a hired apartment; yet, with saving habits and some ability, he was at length enabled to lend little sums of money upon usury. And in this way, by hoarding his gains, while he spent little, he became in no very long time a rich man, without losing his desire of adding to his wealth. He lived alone, and, with the most unremitting diligence and secrecy, amassed and 322 concealed his increasing stores, until growing old at length, he found himself in possession of thousands, of which he would not have parted with a single crown to save the life of a friend or to redeem the whole world from eternal punishment. On this account he was detested by all his fellow-citizens, and paid dearly enough for it in the end. Having one evening supped out with some of his miserly acquaintance, he was returning late to his own house when he was assaulted by an unknown hand, and feeling himself wounded in the breast, he cried out and fled for help. Just at this moment came on a terrific storm of hail and wind and thunder, which increased his distress and compelled him to look out for shelter. Becoming faint from the loss of blood, he ran into the first house that he found open, belonging to one Fazio, a goldsmith, attracted by the blaze of a large fire at which he, the said Fazio, was making chemical experiments, having for some time past devoted the whole of his earnings to these pursuits, attempting to convert the dull metals of lead and tin into fine silver or gold. For this purpose had he now made so glorious an illumination that he was compelled to open the door to admit air while he melted down his metals; but hearing the sound of footsteps, he turned round, and beheld Guglielmo Grimaldi, the miser. “What are you doing here, friend,” he inquired, “at such an hour and in such a night as this?” “Alas!” answered the miser, “I am ill; I have been attacked and wounded; I know not why nor by whom;” and he had no sooner uttered these words than he sat down and died upon the spot.
Fazio was greatly surprised and alarmed on beholding him fall dead at his feet, and opening his bosom to receive air, he tried to recall him to life, believing at first that the poor miser was dying of pure exhaustion and inanition by denying himself food. But on discovering the wound in his breast, and finding that his pulse no longer beat, he concluded that his visitor had really departed this life. Running to the door, he was about to alarm the neighbourhood, when hearing the terrific raging of the storm, he again drew back and sought refute in his house. Now his wife Pippa and twin boys happened just at this time to be on a visit to his father-in-law, who was likewise about to take his leave of the world. Instead of calling a physician, then, he suddenly changed his measures and closed the door; examining next the body of the deceased, he found only four florins in his purse. Then, hid in a heap of old rags, he discovered a great bunch of keys, which from their appearance belonged to the house and chambers, the chests and strong boxes, of the miser, who, if report were true, had hoarded up immense wealth, especially in ready cash, secured in his own house.
The moment the idea flashed across Fazio’s mind, being of a keen and penetrating genius, he determined to turn it to his own account, and to aim a bold stroke at fortune, whatever were the event. “Why not hasten,” he said, “to his stronghold at once? I am sure to find it in his house, without a living creature near to say me nay. Why not transport it quietly, I say, into my own dwelling? I think no one will hinder me, such a night as it is, thundering as if the sky would fall! Besides, it is past midnight, and every living soul is either 323 sheltering or asleep. I am alone here, too, and the assassin of the poor miser must by this time, I think, have taken to flight, without stopping to see where he took refuge. So, if I can only keep my own counsel, who will ever suspect that Grimaldi the miser ran into my house thus grievously wounded and died? This is surely, then, an unlooked-for blessing; and were I to go about telling the real truth, who knows whether I should be believed? People might say I had robbed and murdered him, and I should infallibly be taken and put to the question; and now should I be able to clear myself? I dread to encounter the ministers of justice, for most probably I should never come alive out of their hands. What, therefore, will be the best? Why, Fortune is said to aid the bold; bold, then, will I be, and try to rescue myself at once from a lot of penury and pain.” Saying these words, he thrust the keys into his bosom, and throwing a fur cloak over his shoulders, his face half buried in a huge slouched hat, he issued forth with a dark lantern in his hand, offering his bosom to the pelting of the pitiless storm with a secure and joyous air. Arriving at the miser’s house, that stood at no great distance, he seized two of the largest keys, and soon made good his entrance; then advancing at once to the most secret chamber he could find, he gained admittance by double keys, and beheld a large chest, which after much difficulty he succeeded in opening. This contained others which were equally well secured, and which he had still more difficulty in unlocking; but what treasures opened upon his view when his task was completed! One contained all kinds of gold rings, chains, and jewels, with other ornaments, the most massy and valuable in their nature. In another were bags almost bursting with gold ducats, all regularly numbered and parcelled. Fazio, overpowered with joy, relinquished the bags filled with chains and jewels, saying, “As these may perhaps be recognised, I will stick to the solid gold.” Having secured the last, then, under his arm, he departed with the keys in his belt towards his own house, without meeting a single person by the way; such were the pealing thunders and the flashes of terrific light which redoubled the terrors of the storm. Fazio, however, reached his house, and having secured the treasure, changed his dress; and being stout and active, he took the dead body of the miser in his arms, and bore it into his cellar. There he proceeded to make in the floor an excavation sufficiently large to contain his remains, into which, dressed exactly as he was, with the keys of all his treasures in his pocket, Fazio now thrust the body at least six feet below the earth, and covering it up, he fixed the whole firmly down with certain pieces of lime and tiles, in such a way that no one could perceive the place had been at all disturbed. Having thus disposed of the old miser, he proceeded very leisurely to count over the bags of money to which he had thus become the heir; and such was the sudden blaze of gold that opened on his eyes, that it was with difficulty he could support the sight. Each bag contained exactly three thousand ducats, as it had been marked, which he deposited in a large chest of drawers secured by a secret lock. His next care was to consume the trunk and bags in which he had brought the treasure in the great fire prepared for the transmutation of his metals; and to 324 these he added his crucibles, his bellows, and his base metals, having no further use for them; and having thus completed his labours, he went to rest.
By the time the storm had abated, and it was already daybreak; Fazio, therefore, continued to sleep and recruit his exhausted strength until near vespers. He then rose and went as far as the piazza and upon the Exchange, in order to learn whether there were any reports yet afloat in regard to the disappearance of the deceased, but he heard nothing either that day or the following. On the third day, however, the miser being no longer seen about his usual affairs, people began to make remarks, more especially when they saw his house shut up, suspecting some evil must have befallen him. Several of his friends with whom he had last been in company then made their appearance relating everything they knew; but no further intelligence could in any way be elicited. Upon this the court issued an order that his dwelling should be forcibly entered, where everything was found apparently as he had left it, to the surprise of the spectators, and the whole of his property was taken possession of in the name of the government. Books, writings, jewels, and furniture, everything was it ought to be, in such as way as to preclude the idea of any attempt at robbery. Advertisements, however, were immediately issued, offering high rewards for the production of his person, either dead or alive. All inquiries were in vain; and though the subject excited considerable noise and alarm, nothing whatever transpired. At the end of three months the government, being at war with Genoa, and no relatives advancing their claims, the whole of Grimaldi’s goods were confiscated for the use of the state; but it was considered an extraordinary circumstance that there was no appearance of ready money.
Fazio in the meanwhile continued quiet and unmolested, rejoiced to perceive how well he affair went off, and leading a happy life with his wife and family, who were now returned to him. To them he did not venture to breathe a syllable of his good fortune; and had he fortunately persisted in this resolution he would have avoided the utter downfall and ruin of his family. For the affair had already begun to be forgotten, gradually dying away for ever, and Fazio had given out that he was about to take a journey into France for the purpose of disposing of several bars of silver which he had recently made; a report ridiculed by many who were aware that he had already thrown away his time, his labour, and money in forging the precious metals, while his friends strongly dissuaded him from leaving the place, observing that he might carry on his experiments at Pisa as well as at Paris. But our goldsmith had adopted his plan very well knowing that he had plenty of good silver to dispose of; though, pretending that he had not money enough for his journey, he mortgaged a little farm for one hundred florins, half of which he took with him, and left the other half for his wife. He then took his passage in a vessel to Marseilles, deaf to all the tears and entreaties of his wife, who besought him not to throw away the last of their little substance, and abandon her and her little ones to penury and to 325 woe. “When,” she said, “were we happier or better than when you pursued your own trade, bringing us daily enough for all our wants? Leave us not, then, to solitude and despair!” Fazio, tenderly soothing her, promised on his return to throw such a golden harvest into her lap as would console her for all past sufferings; but still in vain. “For,” she continued, “if all this fine silver really exist, it will surely be as valuable here as in France; but I fear you want to desert us for ever; and when once these fifty ducats are spent, what will become of me, wretch that I am? Alas! must I go begging with these helpless little ones? Must I lose you, and be left to solitude and tears?” Her husband, who loved her most affectionately, unable to behold her affliction, determined to acquaint her with his good fortune, and kissing her tenderly, he took her one day after dinner into the chamber where he had concealed his newly acquired wealth, and related to her the particulars that had occurred. He then exhibited the whole of the riches he possessed, bags of ducats, silver and gold without end; and such was the astonishment and delight of his now happy wife, that she flung her arms in an ecstasy of pleasure round his neck, and weeping, begged forgiveness for all the complaints and reproaches she had used. Insisting upon her promise of secrecy, Fazio then acquainted her with his future plans, explaining how shortly he meant to return to her, and what a joyful and uninterrupted course of happiness would thenceforward be theirs. She no longer objected to his departure; but taking a tender farewell, bade him to think of her, and hasten as soon as possible his return.
The next morning, accordingly, having well secured the valuable metals he was taking along with him, double-locked and barred, and leaving a large portion of his treasures with his wife, he went on board, accompanied by the regrets and reproaches of all his friends, in which his wife, the better to conceal her feelings, affected to join. Indeed, the whole city united in ridiculing his enterprise, and some who had known him in his better days expressed their opinion that he ought to be taken care of, for that he was certainly inclined to run mad. Others said that they had long been aware what would be the consequence, and he would very soon share the fate of his mad predecessors in the accursed art of alchemy, that ruined instead of enriching its followers. In spite of all, however, Fazio set sail, and with prosperous breezes soon arrived at Marseilles, taking care by the way to throw the whole of his chemical apparatus into the sea, reserving only the more valuable articles he had obtained from the miser’s house, with which he landed, and proceeded with the carriers as far as Lyons. In a few days after he emptied the contents of his money-bags, depositing a large sum at one of the first banks, for which he received letters of exchange on Pisa, some at the house of Lanfranchi, and others at that of Gualandi; after which he sat down to write to his wife, acquainting her that he had disposed of his silver, and intended shortly to return to Pisa. This letter the lady showed to her father, as well as to the rest of Fazio’s friends and relations, some of whom expressed themselves much surprised, while others declared that he was a ruined man, the truth of which would speedily appear. Soon after, having 326 received his letters of credit, Fazio left Lyons for Marseilles, and thence taking ship for Leghorn, he had the pleasure in a short time of again beholding his wife and children. Embracing them again and again, he declared that he had succeeded beyond his utmost expectations, while the tidings quickly spread among his acquaintance that he had returned home rich with the products of his metals. He lost no time in presenting his letters of credit, on which he received nine thousand gold ducats, which were immediately sent to his house, exciting the joy and congratulations of all his relatives and friends.
Thus finding himself one of the richest men in his trade, and with the credit of having realised his fortune by his own ingenious experiments, Fazio began to think of living in a more splendid manner, and of sharing some of his happiness with his friends. In the first place, therefore, he bought an estate, and then a handsome house, besides making several other rich purchases; and investing his money in such advantageous concerns as offered, he soon assumed the manners and establishment of a prince. He added to the number of his domestics, and set up two equipages, the one for himself and the other for his lady; his sons were distinguished for the richness of their apparel; and he continued to live on the happiest terms with his wife, enjoying together the luxuries and pleasures which they had at command. Pippa, to whom such a life was wholly new, became somewhat vain of the change, and was in the habit of inviting her acquaintance to witness it, among whom was an old lady with her fair daughter, whom she invited to come and stay some time with her. Fazio, to whom she said that they would be of use to her in a variety of ways, was induced to give his consent, happy to perceive that they assisted his wife in the cares of her establishment, and that they all lived on the best terms together.
But Fortune, the constant enemy of any long-continued enjoyment and content, was preparing to change the colour of their fate, and turn this summer sweetness and glory of their days into the chilling winter of sorrow and despair. For it was the cruel lot of Fazio to become enamoured of the young charms of the fair Maddelena, the daughter of their guest; and such was his continued and violent passion, that he at length succeeded, by the most consummate art, in leading her from the paths of innocence. Their intercourse continued for some time unknown to his poor wife, and he conferred on his unhappy victim the most lavish proofs of his regard. But as they became bolder with impunity, the unsuspicious Pippa could not at length fail to be aware of the truth, and displayed the indignation of her feelings on the subject in no very gentle terms. She reproached her fair guest with still more bitterness, and one day took occasion, in Fazio’s absence, to drive her with the utmost fury and opprobrium from her house. Fazio, on returning home, was greatly incensed at these proceedings, and continued with the same infatuation to lavish the same favours upon the young Maddelena as before. On this account scenes of the most cruel and distressing nature were continually occurring between him and his wife; the demon of jealousy had taken possession of her bosom, and family peace and love were thenceforward banished alike from their 327 bed and board. It was in vain that Fazio now attempted to soothe or to subdue her irritated feelings. She spurned his divided affection, and she met his threats with still more violent passion, treating them with merited indignation and contempt. In order to avoid these reproaches, her husband went to one of his villas at some distance, whither he invited his young mistress, and continued to lead the same abandoned course of life, while his wife remained plunged in the profoundest wretchedness and despair. These feelings, however, were soon absorbed in rage and jealousy, when she found after some months that her husband did not return, and was lavishing still greater proofs of tenderness and favour upon her rival. Thus dwelling with ceaseless anxiety and pain upon one hateful idea, the sense of her wrongs became too great to bear, and in a short time she came to the resolution of accusing her faithless and abandoned husband to the state, by revealing the transaction which had led to his sudden elevation and prosperity. And this appearing the only resource she had left to revenge her injuries upon the authors of them, without further warning or consultation she proceeded alone to consult a magistrate, who, holding an office similar to that of the Council of Eight in our own city, took down her deposition, comprehending everything she knew relative to the affairs of her husband. She, moreover, directed them to the exact spot where the remains of the miser had been buried in the cellar of their former house, and where the officers of justice accordingly found them. Then, still retaining her in custody, the magistrate despatched the captain of the band to the residence of her husband, where they found him enjoying himself in the society of his fair Maddelena. Immediately seizing him as a prisoner of the state, they conducted him back to Pisa, overwhelmed with the most abject despair; and when brought up for examination he refused to utter a syllable. But his wife being ordered to appear against him, he cried out with a loud voice, at the sight of her, “This is justice, indeed!” and then turning towards her, he added, “My too great affection for you has brought me to this;” and taking one of the magistrates aside, he freely revealed to him the truth of the affair, exactly as it had occurred. With one accord, however, the whole Council refused to give credit to the story, asserting that there was every appearance of his having himself robbed and murdered the unfortunate Guglielmo, and threatening instantly to put him to the torture if he did not confess. This, upon his maintaining his own story, they proceeded to do, and by dint of repeated trials they at length compelled him to say what they pleased, and afterwards proceeded to sentence him to be broken alive upon the wheel, while the state appropriated the whole of his possessions. The remains of the miser, Grimaldi, were then ordered to be removed and interred in sacred ground; the beautiful Maddelena and her mother were driven with ignominy from the villa to their former abode, and the establishment of Fazio was completely broken up; his wife, with her family and domestics, being compelled to take refuge wherever they could. On being released from court, where she had appeared as evidence against her own husband, the wretched Pippa returned home, but to a home desolate and deserted 328 by all but her children. In the agony of her grief, she wept, she raved, she tore her hair, too late perceiving, with feelings of remorse, the grievous error she had committed.
The tidings spread rapidly throughout all Pisa, and the people joined in expressing their astonishment, no less at the supposed enormity and deceit of which Fazio was accused, than at the strange treachery and ingratitude of his wife. Even her own relatives and friends, who assisted her, unanimously agreed in condemning her conduct, reproaching her bitterly for the degradation and ruin which she had brought upon her family, besides the inhumanity of having thus betrayed her husband to a painful and ignominious death. Having said this, they left her weeping bitterly and overpowered with intolerable remorse. On the ensuing day the wretched Fazio was led forth, and drawn through the streets of Pisa on a sledge, and after being thus exhibited to the people, he was conducted to the place of execution. There, having been first broken upon the wheel, he was executed in the presence of the people, and left on the same spot, by way of example, during the rest of the day.
The tidings of this terrific scene coming to the ears of his wife, whom he had continued cursing and reviling to his latest hour, in a fit of desperation she resolved to take vengeance upon herself. About dinner-time, then, there being few people to observe her, she seized her two little boys by the hand, and led them, weeping, towards the great square, the scene of the execution, while such as met her by the way only bestowed their maledictions on her, and allowed her to pass on. When she arrived at the foot of the platform where the body lay, few spectators being present, she proceeded, still weeping bitterly, to ascend the steps of the platform, with the children along with her, no one around offering the least resistance. There, affecting to lament over the wretched fate of her husband, she was sternly and severely upbraided by all who stood near, who said aloud, “See how she can weep now that it is done! It is her own work; she would have it so; and let her therefore despair!” The wretched wife then tearing her hair, and striking her lovely face and bosom with her clenched hands, while she pressed her burning lips to the cold features of her husband, next bade her little boys kneel down to kiss their father; at which sight the surrounding spectators, forgetting their anger, suddenly burst into tears. But their distracted mother, drawing a knife from her bosom, with remorseless fury hastily plunged it into the breasts of her sons, and before the people were prepared to wrest the deadly weapon from her hand, she had already turned it against herself, and fallen upon the lifeless bodies of her husband and her children. With a loud cry the people ran towards the fatal spot, where they found the dying mother and her two infants pouring out their last sighs as they lay weltering in their blood. Tidings of this tragic scene having spread rapidly throughout all Pisa, crowds of people came hastening from all sides, filled with lamentation and terror, to witness so heartrending a spectacle, where the yet warm and reeking bodies of the father, the mother, and the children were piled indiscriminately upon each other. And surely nothing we have heard of the woes of Thebes, of Syracuse, or 329 of Athens, of Troy, or of Rome, can be said to equal the domestic sorrow and calamity which Pisa thus witnessed in the lot of a single family, the whole of which was swept away in one day, the innocent victims of mistaken justice. The terror and surprise of the inhabitants of Pisa shortly spreading through the other parts of Italy, caused so great a sensation in the different cities, that people left their houses to visit the fatal spot, lamenting over the bodies of the innocent children, lying with smiling countenances, as if buried in a profound slumber, on their parents’ funeral bier. It was impossible for them to restrain their tears at the sight — a sight sufficient to soften a heart of stone, and at which Justice herself now dropped her fatal sword. For she at length consented to grant to the prayers of Fazio’s relatives that the bodies of the hapless children should be decently interred in the burial-ground of Santa Catalina, while those of the parents, who had died a desperate and unrepentant death, were to be placed without the sacred bounds, under the walls of the city. The procession was accompanied with the tears and lamentations of thousands, whose outcries against the cruelty and injustice of their fate, and whose expressions of pity for their sufferings, were loud and vehement.
† This very tragic story has long been a favourite subject of imitation, no less with the Italians than with the writers of other nations. Among the dramatic pieces, however, which appear to have been formed upon it, there is certainly no single production which can at all compete, in point of richness of poetry and dramatic pathos, with that presented to us by a distinguished writer of our own age and country. The “Fazio” of Professor Milman, though one of his earliest efforts, gave ample promise of his maturer powers. It would be fruitless to attempt here to point out the numerous improvements and ornaments which the English author has judiciously blended with his drama, and which confer upon his work the merit of an original composition.