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Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 419 Volume 17, New Series, January 10, 1852
Produced by Richard J. Shiffer and the PG Online Distributed
Proofreading Team






CHAMBERS' EDINBURGH JOURNAL


CONDUCTED BY WILLIAM AND ROBERT CHAMBERS, EDITORS OF 'CHAMBERS'S
INFORMATION FOR THE PEOPLE,' 'CHAMBERS'S EDUCATIONAL COURSE,' &c.


No. 419. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, JANUARY 10, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2 _d_.




THE LOST AGES.


My friends, have you read Elia? If so, follow me, walking in the
shadow of his mild presence, while I recount to you my vision of the
Lost Ages. I am neither single nor unblessed with offspring, yet,
like Charles Lamb, I have had my 'dream-children.' Years have flown
over me since I stood a bride at the altar. My eyes are dim and
failing, and my hairs are silver-white. My real children of flesh
and blood have become substantial men and women, carving their own
fortunes, and catering for their own tastes in the matter of wives
and husbands, leaving their old mother, as nature ordereth, to the
stillness and repose fitted for her years. Understand, this is not
meant to imply that the fosterer of their babyhood, the instructor
of their childhood, the guide of their youth, is forsaken or
neglected by those who have sprung up to maturity beneath her eye.
No; I am blessed in my children. Living apart, I yet see them often;
their joys, their cares are mine. Not a Sabbath dawns but it finds
me in the midst of them; not a holiday or a festival of any kind is
noted in the calendar of their lives, but Grandmamma is the first to
be sent for. Still, of necessity, I pass much of my time alone; and
old age is given to reverie quite as much as youth. I can remember a
time--long, long ago--when in the twilight of a summer evening it
was a luxury to sit apart with closed eyes; and, heedless of the
talk that went on in the social circle from which I was withdrawn,
indulge in all sorts of fanciful visions. Then my dream-people were
all full-grown men and women. I do not recollect that I ever thought
about children until I possessed some of my own. Those waking
visions were very sweet--sweeter than the realities of life that
followed; but they were neither half so curious nor half so
wonderful as the dreams that sometimes haunt me now. The imagination
of the old is not less lively than that of the young: it is only
less original. A youthful fancy will create more new images; the
mind of age requires materials to build with: these supplied, the
combinations it is capable of forming are endless. And so were born
my dream-children.

Has it never occurred to you, mothers and fathers, to wonder what
has become of your children's lost ages? Look at your little boy of
five years old. Is he at all, in any respect, the same breathing
creature that you beheld three years back? I think not. Whither,
then, has the sprite vanished? In some hidden fairy nook, in some
mysterious cloud-land he must exist still. Again, in your
slim-formed girl of eight years, you look in vain for the sturdy elf
of five. Gone? No; that cannot be--'a thing of beauty is a joy for
ever.' Close your eyes: you have her there! A breeze-like, sportive,
buoyant thing; a thing of breathing, laughing, unmistakable life;
she is mirrored on your retina as plainly as ever was dancing
sunbeam on a brook. The very trick of her lip--of her eye; the
mischief-smile, the sidelong saucy glance,

'That seems to say,
I know you love me, Mr Grey;'

is it not traced there--all, every line, as clear as when it
brightened the atmosphere about you in the days that are no more? To
be sure it is; and being so, the thing must exist--somewhere.

I never was more fully possessed with this conviction than once
during the winter of last year. It was Christmas-eve. I was sitting
alone, in my old armchair, and had been looking forward to the
fast-coming festival-day with many mingled thoughts--some tender,
but regretful; others hopeful, yet sad; some serious, and even
solemn. As I laid my head back and sat thus with closed eyes,
listening to the church-clock as it struck the hour, I could not but
feel that I was passing--very slowly and gently it is true--towards
a time when the closing of the grave would shut out even that sound
so familiar to my ear; and when other and more precious sounds of
life-human voices, dearer than all else, would cease to have any
meanings for me--and even their very echoes be hushed in the silence
of the one long sleep. Following the train of association, it was
natural that I should recur to the hour when that same church's
bells had chimed my wedding-peal. I seemed to hear their music once
again; and other music sweeter still--the music of young vows that
'kept the word of promise to the ear, and broke it' _not_ 'to the
hope.' Next in succession came the recollection of my children. I
seemed to lose sight of their present identity, and to be carried
away in thought to times and scenes far back in my long-departed
youth, when they were growing up around my knees--beautiful forms of
all ages, from the tender nursling of a single year springing with
outstretched arms into my bosom, to the somewhat rough but ingenuous
boy of ten. As my inner eye traced their different outlines, and
followed them in their graceful growth from year to year, my heart
was seized with a sudden and irresistible longing to hold fast these
beloved but passing images of the brain. What joy, I thought, would
it be to transfix the matchless beauty which had wrought itself thus
into the visions of my old age! to preserve for ever, unchanging,
every varied phase of that material but marvellous structure which
the glorious human soul had animated and informed through all its
progressive stages from the child to the man!

Scarcely was the thought framed when a dull, heavy weight seemed to
press upon my closed eyelids. I now saw more clearly even than
before my children's images in the different stages of their being.
But I saw these, and these alone, as they stood rooted to the
ground, with a stony fixedness in their eyes: every other object
grew dim before me. The living faces and full-grown forms which
until now had mingled with and played their part among my younger
phantoms, altogether disappeared. I had no longer any eyes, any
soul, but for this my new spectre-world. Life, and the things of
life, had lost their interest; and I knew of nothing, conceived of
nothing, but those still, inanimate forms from which the informing
soul had long since passed away.

And now that the longing of my heart was answered, was I satisfied?
For a time I gazed, and drew a deep delight from the gratification
of my vain and impious craving. But at length the still, cold
presence of forms no longer of this earth began to oppress me. I
grew cold and numb beneath their moveless aspect; and constant
gazing upon eyes lighted up by no varying expression, pressed upon
my tired senses with a more than nightmare weight. I felt a sort of
dull stagnation through every limb, which held me bound where I sat,
pulseless and moveless as the phantoms on which I gazed.

As I wrestled with the feeling that oppressed me, striving in vain
to break the bonds of that strange fascination, under the pressure
of which I surely felt that I must perish--a soft voice, proceeding
from whence I knew not, broke upon my ear. 'You have your desire,'
it said gently; 'why, then, struggle thus? Why writhe under the
magic of that joy you have yourself called up? Are they not here
before you, the Lost Ages whose beauty and whose grace you would
perpetuate? What would you more? O mortal!'

'But these forms have no life,' I gasped--'no pulsating, breathing
soul!'

'No,' replied the same still, soft voice; 'these forms belong to the
things of the past. In God's good time they breathed the breath of
life; they had _then_ a being and a purpose on this earth. Their day
has departed--their work is done.'

So saying, the voice grew still: the leaden weight which had pressed
upon my eyelids was lifted off: I awoke.

Filled with reveries of the past--my eyes closed to everything
without--sleep had indeed overtaken me as I sat listening to the old
church-clock. But my vision was not all a vision: my dream-children
came not without their teaching. If they had been called up in
folly, yet in their going did they leave behind a lesson of wisdom.

The morning dawned--the blessed Christmas-morning! With it came my
good and dutiful, my real life--children. When they were all
assembled round me, and when, subdued and thoughtful beneath the
tender and gracious associations of the day, each in turn
ministered, reverently and lovingly, to the old mother's need of
body and of soul, my heart was melted within me. Blessed, indeed,
was I in a lot full to overflowing of all the good gifts which a
wise and merciful Maker could lavish upon his erring and craving
creature. I stood reproved. I felt humbled to think that I should
ever for a moment have indulged one idle or restless longing for the
restoration of that past which had done its appointed work, and out
of which so gracious a present had arisen. One idea impressed me
strongly: I could not but feel that had the craving of my soul been
answered in reality, as my dream had foreshadowed; and had the wise
and beneficent order of nature been disturbed and distorted from its
just relations, how fearful would have been the result! Here, in my
green old age, I stood amongst a new generation, honoured for what I
was, beloved for what I had been. What if, at some mortal wish in
some freak of nature, the form which I now bore were for ever to
remain before the eyes of my children! Were such a thing to befall,
how would their souls ever be lifted upward to the contemplation of
that higher state of being into which it is my hope soon to pass
when the hand which guided me hither shall beckon me hence? At the
thought my heart was chastened. Never since that night have I
indulged in any one wish framed in opposition to nature's laws.
_Now_ I find my dream-children in the present; and to the past I
yield willingly all things which are its own--among the rest, the
Lost Ages.




STORY OF GASPAR MENDEZ.

BY CATHERINE CROWE.


The extraordinary motives under which people occasionally act, and
the strange things they do under the influence of these motives,
frequently so far transcend the bounds of probability, that we
romance-writers, with the wholesome fear of the critics before our
eyes, would not dare to venture on them. Only the other day we read
in the newspapers that a Frenchman who had been guilty of
embezzlement, and was afraid of being found out, went into a theatre
in Lyon and stabbed a young woman whom he had never seen before in
his life, in order that he might die by the hands of the
executioner, and so escape the inconvenience of rushing into the
other world without having time to make his peace with Heaven. He
desired death as a refuge from the anguish of mind he was suffering;
but instead of killing himself he killed somebody else, because the
law would allow him leisure for repentance before it inflicted the
penalty of his crime.

It will be said the man was mad--I suppose he was; and so is
everybody whilst under the influence of an absorbing passion,
whether the mania be love, jealousy, fanaticism, or revenge. The
following tale will illustrate one phase of such a madness.

In the year 1789, there resided in Italy, not far from Aquila in the
Abruzzo, a man called Gaspar Mendez. He appears to have been a
Spaniard, if not actually by birth, at least by descent, and to have
possessed a small estate, which he rendered valuable by pasturing
cattle. Not far from where he resided there lived with her parents a
remarkably handsome girl, of the name of Bianca Venoni, and on this
fair damsel Mendez fixed his affections. As he was by many degrees
the best match about the neighbourhood, he never doubted that his
addresses would be received with a warm welcome, and intoxicated
with this security, he seems to have made his advances so abruptly
that the girl felt herself entitled to give him an equally abrupt
refusal. To aggravate his mortification, he discovered that a young
man, called Giuseppe Ripa, had been a secret witness to the
rejection, which took place in an orchard; and as he walked away
with rage in his heart, he heard echoing behind him the merry laugh
of the two thoughtless young people. Proud and revengeful by nature,
this affront seems to have rankled dreadfully in the mind of Gaspar;
although, in accordance with that pride, he endeavoured to conceal
his feelings under a show of indifference. Those who knew the
parties well, however, were not deceived; and when, after an
interval, it was discovered that Giuseppe himself was the favoured
lover of Bianca, the enmity, though not more open, became more
intense than ever.

In the meantime old Venoni, Bianca's father, had become aware of the
fine match his daughter had missed, and was extremely angry about
it; more particularly as he was poor, and would have been very much
pleased to have a rich son-in-law. Nor was he disposed to relinquish
the chance so easily. After first trying his influence on Bianca,
upon whom he expended a great deal of persuasion and cajolery in
vain, he went so far as to call upon Gaspar, apologising for his
daughter's ignorance and folly in refusing so desirable a proposal,
and expressing a hope that Mendez would not relinquish the pursuit,
but try his fortune again; when he hoped to have brought her to a
better state of mind.

Gaspar received the old man with civility, but answered coldly, that
any further advances on his own part were out of the question,
unless he had reason to believe the young lady was inclined to
retract her refusal; in which case he should be happy to wait upon
her. With this response Venoni returned to make another attack upon
his daughter, whom, however, fortified by her strong attachment to
Ripa, he found quite immovable; and there for several months the
affair seems to have rested, till the old man, urged by the
embarrassment of his circumstances, renewed the persecution,
coupling it with certain calumnies against Giuseppe, founded on the
accidental loss of a sum of money which had been intrusted to him by
a friend, who wanted it conveyed to a neighbouring village, whither
the young man had occasion to go. This loss, which seems to have
arisen out of some youthful imprudence, appears to have occasioned
Ripa a great deal of distress; and he not only did his utmost to
repair it by giving up everything he had, which was indeed very
little, but he also engaged to pay regularly a portion of his weekly
earnings till the whole sum was replaced.

His behaviour, in short, was so satisfactory, that the person to
whom the money had belonged does not seem to have borne him any
ill-will on the subject; but Venoni took advantage of the
circumstance to fling aspersions on the young man's character,
whilst it strengthened his argument against the connection with his
daughter; for how was Giuseppe to maintain a wife and family with
this millstone of debt round his neck? Bianca, however, continued
faithful to her lover, and for some time nothing happened to advance
the suit of either party. In that interval a sister of Gaspar's had
married a man called Alessandro Malfi, who, being a friend of
Giuseppe's, endeavoured to bring about a reconciliation betwixt the
rivals, or, rather, to produce a more cordial feeling, for there had
never been a quarrel; and as far as Ripa was concerned, as he had no
cause for jealousy, there was no reason why he should bear ill-will
to the unsuccessful candidate. With Gaspar it was different: he
hated Ripa; but as it hurt his pride that this enmity to one whom he
considered so far beneath him should be known, he made no open
demonstration of dislike, and when Malfi expressed a wish to invite
his friend to supper, hoping that Mendez would not refuse to meet
him, the Spaniard made no objection whatever. 'Why not?' he said:
'he knew of no reason why he should not meet Giuseppe Ripa, or any
other person his brother-in-law chose to invite.'

Accordingly the party was made; and on the night appointed Giuseppe,
after a private interview in the orchard with his mistress, started
for Malfi's house, which was situated about three miles off, in the
same direction as Gaspar's, which, indeed, he had to pass; on which
account he deferred his departure to a later hour than he otherwise
would have done, wishing not to come in contact with his rival till
they met under Malfi's roof. Mendez had a servant called Antonio
Guerra, who worked on his farm, and who appears to have been much in
his confidence, and just as Ripa passed the Spaniard's door, he met
Guerra coming in an opposite direction, and asked him if Mendez had
gone to the supper yet; to which Guerra answered that he supposed he
had, but he did not know. Guerra then took a key out of his pocket,
and, unlocking the door, entered the house, whilst Ripa walked on.

In the meanwhile the little party had assembled in Malfi's parlour,
all but the two principal personages, Gaspar and Giuseppe; and as
time advanced without their appearing, some jests were passed
amongst the men present, who wished they might not have fallen foul
of each other on the way. At length, however, Ripa arrived, and the
first question that was put to him was: 'What had he done with his
rival?' which he answered by inquiring if the Spaniard was not come.
But although he endeavoured to appear unconcerned, there was a
tremor in his voice and a confusion of manner that excited general
observation. He made violent efforts, however, to appear at his
ease, but these efforts were too manifest to be successful; whilst
the continued absence of Mendez became so unaccountable, that a
cloud seems to have settled on the spirits of the company, which
made the expected festivity pass very heavily off.

'Where could Mendez be? What could have detained him? It was to be
hoped no harm had happened to him!' Such was the burden of the
conversation till--when at about an hour before midnight the party
broke up--Alessandro Malfi said, that to allay the anxiety of his
wife, who was getting extremely alarmed about her brother, he would
walk as far as Forni--which was the name of Gaspar's farm--to
inquire what had become of him.

As Ripa's way lay in the same direction, they naturally started
together; and after what appears to have been a very silent
walk--for the spirits of Giuseppe were so depressed that the other
found it impossible to draw him into conversation--they reached
Forni, when, having rung the bell, they were presently answered by
Antonio Guerra, who put his head out of an upper window to inquire
who they were, and what they wanted.

'It is I, Alessandro Malfi. I want to know where your master is, and
why he has not been to my house this evening as he promised?'

'I thought he was there,' said Antonio. 'He set off from here to go
soon after seven o'clock.'

'That is most extraordinary!' returned Malfi. 'What in the world can
have become of him?'

'It is very strange, certainly,' answered the servant. 'He has never
come home; and when you rang I thought it was he returned from the
party.'

As there was no more to be learned, the two friends now parted;
Malfi expressing considerable surprise and some uneasiness at the
non-appearance of his brother-in-law: whilst of Giuseppe we hear
nothing more till the following afternoon, when, whilst at work in
his vineyard, he was accosted by two officers of justice from
Aquila, and he found himself arrested, under an accusation of having
waylaid Mendez in a mountain-pass on the preceding evening, and
wounded him with the design of taking his life.

The first words Ripa uttered on hearing this impeachment--words
that, like all the rest of his behaviour, told dreadfully against
him--were: 'Isn't he dead, then?'

'No thanks to you that he's not,' replied the officer; 'but he's
alive, and likely to recover to give evidence against his assassin.'

'_Dio_!' cried Giuseppe, 'I wish I'd known he wasn't dead!'

'You confess, then, that you wounded him with the intent to kill?'

'No,' answered Ripa; 'I confess no such thing. As I was going
through the pass last night I observed a man's hat lying a little
off the road, and on lifting it, I saw it belonged to Seņor Mendez.
Whilst I was wondering how it came there without the owner, and was
looking about for him, I spied him lying behind a boulder. At first
I thought he was asleep, but on looking again, I saw he didn't lie
like a sleeping man, and I concluded he was dead. Had it been any
one but he, I should have lifted him up; but it being very well
known that we were no friends, I own I was afraid to do so. I
thought it better not to meddle with him at all. However, if he is
alive, as you say, perhaps he can tell himself who wounded him.'

'To be sure he can,' returned the officer: 'he says it's you!'

'_Perduto son' io!_--Then I am lost!' exclaimed Ripa; who, on being
brought before the authorities, persisted in the same story; adding,
that so far from seeking Mendez, he had particularly wished to avoid
him, and that that was the reason he had started so late; for he had
been warned that the Spaniard was his enemy, and he apprehended that
if they met alone some collision might ensue.

It appeared, however, that he had consumed much more time on the
road than could be fairly accounted for; for two or three people had
met him on the way before he reached Forni; and then Antonio Guerra
could speak as to the exact hour of his passing. This discrepancy he
attempted to explain by saying, that after seeing Mendez on the
ground, dead--as he believed--he had been so agitated and alarmed
that he did not like to present himself at Malfi's house, lest he
should excite observation. He had also spent some time in
deliberating whether or not he should mention what he had seen; and
he had made up his mind to do so on his arrival, but was deterred by
everybody's asking him, when he entered the room, what he had done
with Mendez--a question that seemed to imply a suspicion against
himself.

This tale, of course, was not believed: indeed his whole demeanour
on the night in question tended strongly to his condemnation; added
to which, Malfi, who had been his friend, testified that not only
had Ripa betrayed all the confusion of guilt during the walk from
his house to Forni, but that having hold of his arm, he had
distinctly felt him tremble as they passed the spot where Mendez was
subsequently discovered.

With regard to Mendez himself, it appeared that when found he was in
a state of insensibility, and he was still too weak to give evidence
or enter into any particulars; but when, under proper remedies, he
had recovered his senses, Faustina Malfi, his sister--to whose house
he had been carried--asked him if Giuseppe Ripa was not the
assassin; and he answered in the affirmative.

Giuseppe was thrown into prison to await his trial; and having
public opinion, as well as that of the authorities against him, he
was universally considered a dead man. The only person that adhered
to him was Bianca, who visited him in the jail, and refused to
believe him guilty. But if he was innocent, who was the criminal? It
appeared afterwards that Ripa himself had his own suspicions on that
subject, but as they were founded only on two slight indications, he
felt it was useless to advance them.

In the meantime Gaspar Mendez was slowly recovering the injuries he
had received, and was of course expected to give a more explanatory
account of what had happened to him after he left Forni on his way
to Alessandro Malfi's. That he had been robbed as well as wounded
was already known--his brother and sister having found his pockets
empty and his watch gone. The explanation he could give, however,
proved to be very scanty. Indeed, he seemed to know very little
about the matter, but he still adhered to his first assertion, that
Ripa was the assassin. With regard to the money he had lost, there
was necessarily less mystery, since it consisted of a sum that he
was carrying to his sister, and was indeed her property, being the
half share of some rents which he had received on that morning, the
produce of two houses in the town of Aquila which had been
bequeathed to them conjointly by their mother. The money was in a
canvas bag, and the other half which belonged to himself he had left
locked in his strong box at home, where, on searching for it, it was
found. As Ripa was known to be poor, and very much straitened by his
endeavours to make good the sum he had lost, that he should add
robbery to assassination was not to be wondered at. On the contrary,
it strengthened the conviction of his guilt, by supplying an
additional motive for the crime.

The injuries having been severe, it was some time before Mendez
recovered sufficiently to return home; and when he was well enough
to move, instead of going to Forni, he discharged his servant
Antonio Guerra, and went himself to Florence, where he remained
several months.

All this time Giuseppe Ripa was in prison, condemned to die, but not
executed; because after his trial and sentence, a letter had been
received by the chief person in authority, warning him against
shedding the blood of the innocent. 'Seņor Mendez is mistaken,' the
letter said: 'he did not see the assassin, who attacked him from
behind, and Giuseppe Ripa is not guilty.'

This judge, whose name was Marino, appears to have been a just man,
and to have felt some dissatisfaction with the evidence against
Ripa; inasmuch as Mendez, who, when first questioned, had spoken
confidently as to his identity, had since faltered when he came to
give his evidence in public, and seemed unable to afford any
positive testimony on the subject. The presumption against the
prisoner, without the evidence of the Spaniard, was considered by
the other judges strong enough to convict him; but Marino had
objected that since the attack was made by daylight--for it was in
the summer, and the evenings were quite light--it seemed
extraordinary that Mendez could give no more certain indications of
his assailant. Added to this, although every means had been used to
obtain a confession--such means as are permitted on the continent,
but illegal in this country--Giuseppe persisted in his innocence.
Moreover, as no money had been found about him, and Faustina Malfi
was exceedingly desirous of recovering what had been lost, she
exerted herself to obtain mercy to at least the extent that hopes of
a commutation of his sentence should be held out to the prisoner,
provided he would reveal where he had concealed the bagful of silver
he had taken from her brother. But in vain. Ripa was either
guiltless or obstinate, for nothing could be extracted from him but
repeated declarations of his innocence.

In the meantime Bianca had been undergoing a terrible persecution
from her father on the subject of Mendez, who had returned from
Florence and taken up his abode, as formerly, at Forni. Her former
lover was a condemned man, and altogether _hors de combat_: she
might regret him as she would, and lament his fate to her heart's
content, but he could never be her husband; and there was the
Spaniard, rich and ready; whilst the increasing age and poverty of
her parent rendered a good match of the greatest importance. In
short, under the circumstances of the case, it was urged upon her on
all hands, that she was bound both by her duty to her father and to
evince her abhorrence of Ripa's crime--which otherwise it might be
supposed she had instigated--to marry Mendez without delay.

Persuaded of Giuseppe's innocence, and half believing that the
accusation was prompted by jealousy, it may be imagined how
unwelcome these importunities were, and for a considerable time she
resisted them; indeed she seems only to have been overcome at last
by a ruse. A rumour being set afloat that the day was about to be
appointed for Ripa's execution, a hint was thrown out that it lay in
her power to save his life: she had only to become the wife of
Mendez, and her lover's sentence should be commuted from death to
banishment. This last argument prevailed, and poor Bianca, with a
heavy heart, consented to become the mistress of Forni. The Malfis,
however, do not seem to have been amongst those who desired the
match; and it would appear that they even made some attempts to
prevent its taking place, by circulating a report that she had been
privy to the assault and robbery. Perhaps they hoped, if Gaspar
remained unmarried, to inherit his property themselves; but however
that may be, their opposition was of no avail, and an early period
was fixed for the wedding.

The year had now come round to the summer season again, and it
happened, by mere accident, that the day appointed for the marriage
was the anniversary of that on which Mendez had been robbed and
wounded. Nobody, however, appears to have thought of this
coincidence, till Mendez himself, observing the day of the month,
requested that the ceremony might be postponed till the day after:
'Because,' said he, 'I have business which will take me to Aquila on
the 7th, so the marriage had better take place on the 8th.' And thus
it was arranged.

This alteration was made about ten days before the appointed period,
and nothing seems to have occurred in the interval worth recording,
except that as the hour of sacrifice drew nigh, the unwillingness of
the victim became more evident. We must conclude, however, that
Mendez, whose object in marrying her appears to have been fully as
much the soothing of his pride as the gratification of his love, was
not influenced by her disinclination, for when he started for Aquila
on the 7th, every preparation had been made for the wedding on the
following day.

The object of his journey was to receive the rents before named,
which became due at this period, and also to purchase a
wedding-present for his bride. On this occasion Alessandro Malfi was
to have accompanied him; but when Mendez stopped at his door to
inquire if he was ready, Malfi came down stairs half-dressed, saying
that he had been up all night with his wife, who was ill, and that
as she had now fallen asleep, he was going to lie down himself, and
try to get a little rest. This occurred early in the morning; and
Mendez rode on, saying that he should call as he came back in the
evening, to inquire how his sister was. Upon this Malfi went to bed,
where he remained some hours--indeed till he received a message from
his wife, begging him to go to her. When he entered the room, the
first question she asked was whether Gaspar was gone to Aquila; and
on being told that he was, she said she was very sorry for it, for
that she had dreamed she saw a man with a mask lying in wait to rob
him.

'I saw the man as distinctly as possible,' she said, 'but I could
not see his face for the mask; and I saw the place, so that I'm sure
if I were taken there I should recognise it.'

Her husband told her not to mind her dreams, and that this one was
doubtless suggested by the circumstance that had occurred the year
before. 'But,' said he, 'Ripa's safely locked up in jail now, and
there's no danger.'

Nevertheless the dream appears to have made so deep an impression on
the sick woman's fancy, that she never let her husband rest till he
promised to go with his own farm-servant to meet her brother--a
compliance which was at length won from him by her saying that she
had seen the man crouching behind a low wall that surrounded a
half-built church; 'and close by,' she added, 'there was a
direction-post with something written on it, but I could not read
what it was.'

Now it happened that on the horse-road to Aquila, which Faustina
herself had never travelled, there was exactly such a spot as that
she described. Malfi knew it well. Struck by the circumstance, he
desired to have his dinner immediately, and then, accompanied by his
hind, he set off to meet Gaspar.

In the meanwhile the Spaniard had got his money and made his
purchases in good time, not wishing to be late on the road, so that
they had scarcely got a mile beyond the church when they met him;
and in answer to his inquiries what had brought them there, Malfi
related his wife's dream, adding that he might have spared himself
the ride, for he had looked over the wall, and saw nobody there. 'I
told her it was nonsense,' he said, 'whilst we know your enemy's
under such good keeping at Aquila; but she wouldn't be satisfied
till I came.'

Mendez, however, appeared exceedingly struck with the dream,
inquired the particulars more in detail, and asked if they were sure
there was nobody concealed in the place Faustina indicated. Malfi
answered that he did not alight, but he looked over the wall and saw
nobody. During the course of this conversation they had turned their
horses' heads, and were riding back towards the church, Malfi
talking about Ripa's affair, remarking on the impropriety of
deferring his execution so long; Mendez more than usually silent and
serious, and the servant riding beside them, when, as they
approached the spot, they saw coming towards them on foot a man,
whom they all three recognised as Antonio Guerra, the Spaniard's
late servant. As this person was supposed to have gone to another
part of the country after quitting Gaspar's service, Malfi expressed
some surprise at seeing him; whilst Mendez turned very pale, making
at the same time some exclamation that attracted the attention of
his brother-in-law, who, however, drew up his horse to ask Guerra
what had brought him back, and if he was out of a situation, adding
that a neighbour of his, whom he named, was in want of a servant.
Guerra, who looked poorly dressed, and by no means in such good case
as formerly, answered that he should be very glad if Malfi would
recommend him.

'You had better turn about, then, and come on with us,' said Malfi,
as he rode forward. During this conversation Mendez had sat by
saying nothing; and if he was grave and silent before, he was still
more so now, insomuch that his behaviour drew the attention of his
brother-in-law, who asked him if there was anything wrong with him.

'Surely it's not Faustina's dream you are thinking of?' he said;
adding, 'that the meeting with Guerra had put it out of his head, or
he would have examined the place more narrowly.'

Mendez entered into no explanation; and as the servant, who was
acquainted with Guerra, took him up behind him, they all arrived at
their journey's end nearly together: Mendez, instead of proceeding
homewards, turning off with the others to Malfi's house, where the
first thing he did after his arrival was to visit his sister, whom
he found better; whilst she, on the contrary, was struck with the
pallor of his features and the agitation of his manner--a disorder
which, like her husband, she attributed to the shock of her dream,
acting upon a mind prepared by the affair of the preceding year to
take alarm. In order to remove the impression, she laughed at the
fright she had been in; but it was evident he could not share her
merriment, and he quickly left her, saying he had a message to send
to Rocca, which was the village where Bianca and her father resided,
and that he must go below and write a note, which he did, giving it
to Malfi's servant to take.

It appeared afterwards that this man, having other work in hand,
gave the note to Guerra, who willingly undertook the commission, and
who, to satisfy his own curiosity, broke the seal on the way, and
possessed himself of its contents before he delivered it. These
were, however, only a request that Bianca and her father would come
over to Malfi's house that evening and bring the notary of the
village with them, he (Mendez) being too tired to go to Rocca to
sign the contract, as had been arranged.

It being between six and seven o'clock when this dispatch arrived,
Bianca, who was very little inclined to sign the contract at all,
objected to going; but her father insisting on her compliance, they
set off in company with Guerra and the notary, who, according to
appointment, was already in waiting. They had nearly three miles to
go, and as Venoni had no horse, the notary gave Bianca a seat on
his, and the old man rode double with Guerra.

When they arrived, Mendez was standing at the door waiting for them,
accompanied by Malfi, his servant, a priest, and two or three other
persons of the neighbourhood; some of whom advanced to assist Bianca
and her father to alight, whilst the others surrounded Guerra as he
set his foot on the ground, pinioning his arms and plunging their
hands into his pockets, from whence they drew two small pistols and
a black mask, such as was worn at the carnivals; besides these
weapons, he carried a stiletto in his bosom.

Whilst the last comers were gaping with amazement at this unexpected
scene, the new-made prisoner was led away to a place of security,
and the company proceeded into the house, where the notary produced
the contract and laid it on the table, inquiring at the same time
what Guerra had done to be so treated.

Then Mendez rose, and taking hold of the contract, he tore it in two
and flung it on the ground; at which sight Venoni started up with a
cry, or rather a howl--an expression of rage and disappointment
truly Italian, and of which no Englishman who has not heard it can
have an idea.

'_Peccato!_ I have sinned!' said the Spaniard haughtily; 'but I have
made my confession to the padre; and why I have torn that paper my
brother-in-law, Alessandro, will presently tell you!' He then
offered his hand to Bianca, who, no less pleased than astonished to
see the contract destroyed, willingly responded to this token of
good-will by giving him hers, which he kissed, asking her pardon for
any pain he had occasioned her; after which, bowing to the company,
he quitted the room, mounted his horse, and rode off to Forni.

When the sound of the animal's feet had died away, and the parties
concerned were sufficiently composed to listen to him, Malfi
proceeded to make the communication he had been charged with;
whereby it appeared that Ripa had been unjustly accused, and that
Antonio Guerra was the real criminal. Mendez knew this very well,
and would not have thought of accusing his rival had not his brother
and sister, and indeed everybody else, assumed Ripa's guilt as an
unquestionable fact. The temptation was too strong for him, and
after he had once admitted it, pride would not allow him to retract.
At the same time he declared that he would never have permitted the
execution to take place, and that after the marriage with Bianca he
intended to use every effort to procure the innocent man's
liberation, on the condition of his quitting that part of the
country. Of course it was he who wrote the letter to Marino, and he
had used the precaution of placing a sealed packet, containing a
confession of the truth, in the hands of a notary at Aquila, with
strict directions to deliver it to Ripa if the authorities should
appear disposed to carry his sentence into execution.

He had nevertheless suffered considerable qualms of conscience about
the whole affair; and the moment he saw Guerra on the road that
night, he felt certain that he had come with the intention of
waylaying him as before--the man being well aware that it was on
that day he usually received his rents. He perceived that he should
never be safe as long as this villain was free, and that he must
either henceforth live in continual terror of assassination, or
confront the mortification of a confession whilst the fellow was in
his power.

With respect to Guerra himself, he made but feeble resistance when
he was seized. He had, in the first instance, left Mendez for dead;
and he would have immediately fled when he heard he was alive, had
not the news been accompanied with the further information that the
Spaniard had pointed out Ripa as his assailant. He was exceedingly
surprised, for he could scarcely believe that he had not been
recognised. Nevertheless it was possible; and whether it were so or
not, he did not doubt that what Mendez had once asserted he would
adhere to. On receiving his dismissal, he had gone to some distance
from the scene of his crime; but having, whilst the money lasted,
acquired habits of idleness and dissipation that could not be
maintained without a further supply, these necessities had provoked
this last enterprise.

He had really been concealed behind the wall when Malfi and his
servant passed; but concluding that they were going to meet Mendez,
and that his scheme was defeated, he had thought it both useless and
dangerous to remain, and was intending to make off in another
direction, when their sudden return surprised him.

A few hours more saw Antonio Guerra in Giuseppe Ripa's cell; and
whilst the first paid the penalty of his crimes, the latter was
rewarded for his sufferings by the hand of Bianca, to whom the
Spaniard gave a small marriage-portion before finally quitting the
country, which he did immediately after Antonio's trial.

Ripa said he had always had a strong persuasion that Guerra was the
real criminal from two circumstances: the first was the hurried
manner in which he was walking on the evening he met him at the gate
of Forni, and some strange expression of countenance which he had
afterwards recalled.



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Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 419 Volume 17, New Series, January 10, 1852