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for the last few years ! And wherefore?. . For this base woman was she losing both happiness and beauty !
Beware, Veronica Cybo, bewåre of that deadly enemy Vengeance, which is so closely coiling like a serpent round your life! . . . Cast it from you, there is yet time! .... But now her heart was throbbing—her breath was becoming short and quick—a mist was gradually stealing over her eyes—her lips moved, but without words—her hand relaxed its firm grasp on the miniature ! . . . . She was fainting! ..
.... “Oh, mamma! what is it? . . . . What has happened ?" exclaimed the boy, " that your face is so changed ?"
The child's words recalled her to herself.
“Changed !” repeated she, the passionate anger which had been smouldering in her breast now getting the better of her.
You, the child of a traitor! .... You also dare to sneer at the mother whose all has been destroyed by the falseness of your father! . ... Why was I not struck dead when I gave birth to you ? . Why should I live to see my children also turn against me? ... . May your life be haunted by the cries of an unhappy mother calling to Heaven for vengeance !
e! .... May your death-bed be tormented by the sighs of a lost soul, which was brought to perdition by the infamous acts of your father!”
And, like a maniac, she struck the poor child, whose terror was so great that he seemed quite stunned. But soon his little breast heaved, and he burst into a torrent of tears and sobs, which pierced the heart of his mother, even through her tempestuous rage; and now she became conscious that her fury should not be vented on that innocent head. ... The blow she had struck him rebounded even more heavily on her own heart, and she exclaimed, “Oh, God! I am detestable to myself! I have struck and caused agony to my poor innocent child ! . . . . But why all this misery, this suffering ?” Then with a fierce determined look she continued, “ My mind is now resolved ! . . . . Catarina, my vengeance shall be terrible!”
That same night Giovanni Pellicia, a servant of the house of Cybo, rode off, fully equipped and armed, by order of the Duchess, for Massa.
CHAPTER II. THE doleful bells of the church of St. Ambrogio, Via dei Pilastri, were calling out in their melancholy tones, on the
morning of the 16th of December, to the usual worshippers at the early prayers. The peasants on their way to work would enter in, and kneel down to repeat a hasty Latin prayer to some faded, badly-painted picture of the Virgin and Child, which was usually surrounded by curious medals of crosses or hearts of various kinds, and lit up by a miserable candle ; and then they would pass on their way, happy and contented within themselves. Others would just look in, to make the sign of the cross to the altar, and then leave the church, perhaps immediately after to curse some unfortunate cripple (also about to enter for the purpose of telling his beads, or begging) who might chance to push against him. The altars were lighted by numerous dim candles, and in the choir the monotonous chant of the monks had begun, through which at intervals might be heard the voice of the Dominican, who, with crucifix in hand, was preaching in some side pulpit to a small knot of coarsely-clad artisans and peasants, all listening in breathless silence. Some dames of gentle birth also entered quietly, occasionally to kneel before an image, or pass into one of the confessionals, waiting patiently there until the “Padre Confessore” should come to listen to the recital of their daily sins.
At the angle between the nave and the choir, kneeling before an image of our Saviour on the Cross, might be observed an old man (with a young woman kneeling beside him), who with closed eyes was praying devoutly. He was apparently about sixty years of age, with grey hair, but still vigorous, stronglymarked features. Silent as the entrance of this pair had been, many eyes near the doorway had been turned upon them; some in pity for him ; others in admiration of the lovely face and slight form of his companion and wife, who evidently visited the church, not from any devout feeling, but merely to accompany her husband, Giustino Canacci. This lovely face was the same we have already described as represented in the miniature which so much excited the feelings and passions of Veronica Cybo. Though kneeling, Catarina plainly showed that her thoughts were not occupied in prayer; her eyes wandered restlessly from object to object, and were then absently fixed on the pavement at her feet; while her fair brow was frequently contracted by a frown, as she looked at her husband who, motionless, with closed eyes, still continued his devotions, heedless of her impatience to quit the sacred edifice. I shall now give you a brief sketch of the life of Catarina
Canacci, which was certainly not much fitted for the sanctuary of the church, where I must leave her for the present. Giustino Canacci had been previously happily married, and
the father of several children by his deceased wife ; although not rich, or of high birth, he was in easy circumstances and of good connections. His second bride was the fair Catarina, who, though superior in personal attractions, was much inferior in station to his first choice, being the daughter of an honest man, by trade a dyer, who lived close to the Porta Santa Maria. During the month of May, 1630, while the pest was devastating the various cities of Lombardy, Tuscany, and Bologna, the first to fall victims to this terrible scourge were the parents of the youthful Catarina, who was thus left unprotected and without guidance at a very tender age. Being one of those gay, light-hearted mortals, who care little for the frowns cast upon them, and being possessed of unusual beauty, it is scarcely surprising that she should have been thrown into the society of many of the libertine citizens of Florence, where she soon attracted the attention of many young idlers.
Amongst the foremost of these were two Florentine gallants, named Lorenzo Serzelli and Vincenzo Carlini, and they in course of time introduced a third, of much more exalted rank :ind condition—the amiable and handsome Jacobo Salviati, Duke of San Giuliano. In a short time the Duke's admiration ripened into a real attachment for the young Catarina, and for her sake he began to neglect his handsome, nobly-born consort, Veronica Cybo. Meanwhile, during the pest, Giustino Canacci (now become a widower) had been obliged to quit Florence, in order to save his own life and those of his children; but immediately on his return he hastened to visit his old friend, the dyer, of Porta Santa Maria. With grief he learned from the neighbours, not only the news of the sad deaths of his friends, the dyer and his wife, from the pest, but was also made acquainted with the shameful life their once-loved daughter Catarina was then leading. He instantly sought her out, and, taking her to his humble home, married her; partly from affection to her parents, and partly to save her from ruin, being also at this time getting weary of his widower's life. Catarina considered the good old man merely as a means by which to ascend to a life of wealth, splendour, and admiration; as also a convenient screen for those levities in which she determined to indulge without scruple or restraint. Giustino soon came to love her dearly as his wife, and he hoped, by kind and careful
attention, and by inducing her constant attendance to her devotions, to turn her thoughts upwards from the levities and gaieties of this world. But, alas ! in this he was mistaken; for in spite of all his care and loving tenderness, she still contrived to meet but too often her former friends, also Jacobo Salviati. Meanwhile, the Duke flattered himself that his haughty Duchess was too much enveloped in her own conscious dignity to inquire into his proceedings, or trouble herself with his infidelities, even were she aware of their existence. He likewise was deceived, as he soon discovered; for jealousy is furnished with innumerable eyes and ears, and, when once awakened, speedily becomes paramount to every other passion, raging most furiously in the haughtiest breasts, inasmuch as mortified pride rushes to the aid of disappointed affection. Veronica, as we have already seen, was well informed of the fascination to which her husband had surrendered his fancy, and now thought on him only as a base unworthy traitor; while in the depth of her heart she was harbouring a dark and deadly scheme of vengeance against the Circe whose seductions had dared to trouble the tranquillity of a daughter of the Princes of Massa.
But to return. Catarina, who was still kneeling, suddenly raised her head towards the church door, and was startled by seeing a tall muffled figure standing close to her, whose large fierce eyes, she could perceive through the dim light of the church, were fixed upon her. It so happened that her
. detested rival, Veronica Cybo, had selected the same place and hour for her devotions, and being by no means strangers to each other, it is more than probable that on their eyes meeting the countenance of the fair Catarina should wear, or seem to wear, an air of saucy triumph. However that might be, the injured wife now broke forth with irresistible violence. She approached the object of her wrath, and, kneeling down beside her, whispered in her ear: “I command thee from this hour never again to admit the scandalous visits of the Duke Salviati ; thy life hangs on thy obedience. . . .
.. Dare to admit or see him at one interview more, and dread the vengeance of an insulted wife.” Catarina, though startled, tauntingly replied, “That she was perfectly willing to relinquish the Duke's society, provided the Duchess had sufficient influence to detain him.” The voice and angry tones of his wife soon aroused Canacci, who, hastily rising, stared in bewilderment from one face to another, and as the people were now leaving the Mass the Duchess uplifted her veil for a moment, and casting one
withering glance at the imprudent Catarina, speedily quitted the church. That glance, however, conveyed a most eloquent and emphatic denunciation of vengeance !
vengeance speedy and terrible! .... Catarina, though inwardly conscious that a woman possessed with such a spirit of vengeance was a most fearful enemy, yet after her momentary terror cast the thought from her, and with a low contemptuous laugh moved towards the door with her usual graceful step. Canacci, however, who after a short pause proceeded towards home at a quick pace, with his hand clasped firmly on her arm; and she perceived by his firmly-knitted brow, compressed lips, and the sharp glances which he cast on her now and then as they wended their way, that he had overheard the angry discussion, and would undoubtedly demand an explanation.
CHAPTER III. Ox reaching their house, which was situated in the same street as the church (Via dei Pilastri), Canacci immediately on entering turned hastily towards Catarina, and exclaimed, while furious and maddening thoughts were revolving in his almost distracted brain, whether he should cast her from him at once, or still have pity on her
“Oh, Catarina ! Catarina !” his voice trembling with emotion, and almost broken down with passion and pain, “is this disgraceful and outrageous act the return for all I have bestowed on you? pity! .... love ! the affection of a father! every whim of your fancy gratified . . . . constant care and tenderness and all this time you have perfidiously and secretly continued your scandalous meetings with Salviati ! . . . . and in my own house too! ... the very
home to which I removed you to shelter and save you from ruin ! Catarina, do you not dread the wrath of God, if not that of man?” (striking his breast with his hand). “Do you wish to bring these grey hairs prematurely to the grave, leaving you a bitter curse, instead of a blessing? . . And after all the vows and promises you made me that you would quit the old path, and strive to turn to a new and better life? that you really felt a deep affection for me I who have thus learned to love and adore thee!
Oh, Catarina! this is cruel ... cruel