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A GRAVE, in which we lay our best-beloved,
AN ITALIAN ROMANCE OF THE 17TH CENTURY.
By C. M. P.
(FOUNDED ON FACTS.)
THE Villa Salviati (a ducal residence dating from the thirteenth century, and picturesquely situated on the summit of one of the hills surrounding Florence) was, on the 2nd of November, 1537, all gaiety and life. The guests of Jacobo Salviati, all nobles of distinction, had evidently done full justice to their host's hospitality, judging from the goodly array of flasks and flagons of every conceivable shape and design, as well as from the repeated bursts of laughter: an observant spectator, however, might have detected but a forced acquiescence in the latter, on the part of the host himself. The Duke's thoughts were evidently much pre-occupied during the festivities, except at intervals, when performing the honours of his table, listening to some joke or tale, by which his neighbour endeavoured to arouse his attention. Not so, however, his consort, the noble and beautiful Dama Veronica Cybo, born Princess of Massa, whose excited conversation and constrained laughter ill-concealed her suppressed anger; while the fiery glances which she cast at the Duke during the repast, by degrees convinced the not too keen perceptions of the guests that some open quarrel was likely soon to take place between them. In the meantime, however, well sped the feast-the merry laughter increased—the wine circled—and the Duke, taking up his glass to conclude the banquet, proposed the health of his Duchess. Glancing uneasily towards her from the bottom of the board, he said
'Madama Veronica, I drink to your health and happiness.”
These words turned all eyes towards her, when starting up asif stung by a viper, she replied with trembling lips, her hand closed firmly on her goblet
My happiness, Signor Jacobo! is this an insult? . or .... and from ashy whiteness her face became vermilion, while those who sat near her perceived that she trembled violently, her lips being firmly closed, and tears standing in her flashing eyes. This sudden emotion arose from a passion which was now, alas! stronger in her breast than love—the passion of jealousy! The guests little imagined what the result of that suppressed rage would be. Some thought, while looking at her, how beautiful she looked in that fierce attitude; others deplored that jealousy should make a slave of such a lovely
The Duke, on perceiving her anger, hastened to propose another toast in order to divert the attention of the guests from her, and soon after they all rose and dispersed through the garden. Salviati, with haughty step and head erect, passing the Duchess in silence, so left the hall (having previously given a secret sign to his page), and proceeded through tbe groined entrance-court, hung round with massive iron lamps, to a small door on his left, where in a few minutes he was joined by the page leading a splendid black horse. He immediately took the reins, and giving a few hasty instructions to his faithful attendant (to tell his guests that a royal command necessitated his immediate presence at Court), he sprang lightly into the saddle, and rode away towards Florence, urging the animal to its utmost speed.
The Duchess, finding herself unobserved, walked rapidly towards a heavy piece of tapestry hanging at the extreme end of the vast banqueting hall, which, on being pushed aside, disclosed a small door opening on to a winding stone staircase that led into a spacious, handsome bed-chamber, with a painted, heavily-gilt ceiling. On a round, white marble table in the centre of this room, stood a small, antique, bronze lamp, which cast a pale sombre light on a bed at the farthest end of the room, that was still more thrown into shadow by the heavy damask curtains which hung from a beautiful inlaid, carved wooden canopy, beneath which now lay sleeping a lovely boy. His little hand moved occasionally in a restless way about his head, as if to chase away some mosquitoes which were humming about his face and ears. Perchance they were, as yet, the only annoyance which his peaceful young life had experienced ! His dark curly hair, long eyelashes, delicate, well-chiselled features, and small mouth .(the corners of which were slightly
drawn down), gave a firm, proud look to the youthful face, showing at once the likeness to his mother, Veronica Cybo. She hastily opened the door of this apartment, and without bestowing a single glance upon its sleeping inmate, precipitated herself towards the small latticed window, opening on to what may be called a roofed terrace, or “ loggia," and there strained
her eyes in the direction of a cloud of dust which indicated the road that the Duke was then pursuing. Who can describe the conflicting thoughts which were at that moment passing through her mind ? Now stamping her foot as if in a rage, and tearing her hair ; now quivering violently as though seized with some sudden horror or fear, while her agitated heart beat audibly; she felt a rapid rush to her temples as of a torrent, and through deep sobs exclaimed
“Oh! my Jacobo! Leave me not thus, Jacobo ! Turn back! turn back! .... Save me from the torments of the demon which I feel gnawing at my heart ! .... Is that heart still thine ? or has the demon already possessed himself of it? If I have offended thee in word or deed, I now ask pardon of God, and of thee, my Jacobo ! .. How wouldst thou have me-humble and meek? . I will force myself to be so I will try to become so and never again shalt thou hear any bitter words from me .. Only turn back! turn back! Good God! still farther on he goes !
. . Stop, Jacobo !-Duke!-in the name of Heaven don't break the heart of thy unhappy wife ....
... the mother of thy children! .... Oh, how thou hast robbed me of all my happiness in this world, and yet I have not murmured Wilt thou also rob me of that in the next world ?
... Good God!” she exclaimed, on losing every trace of the horseman, “while I am now speaking, he may be already in the arms of another.
She ceased, her eyes grew dizzy-she was stunned by the greatness of her despair. . . . Casting up her arms, as if to call down the Divine wrath, she cried out
“ Traitor! great shall be my vengeance.”
The child, at this moment awakening, sat up in the bed, and, perceiving his mother, exclaimed
“Mamma mia," extending his little arms at the same time for his accustomed caress.
Veronica threw herself on the bed, casting her arms round his neck, and wept tears of agony. ... They were not those tears which may relieve an overburdened heart, but rather the
fiery rain of an internal storm. the outward sign of the fierce tumult that was rending her heart and very existence.
“Mother, mother, why do you cry thus?" asked the child, startled by her wild look.
“Leave me, child ; it is my only relief,” she replied; and suddenly starting up, began pacing the room in an excited state, murmuring at intervals to herself: “What fatal fascination can this Catarina have to estrange thus my husband's heart from me? They tell me she is even low-born .... yet, rare beauty she must possess to attract my Jacobo! .. Oh! why is beauty, which is also shared by the angels, made the cause of so much misery and crime in this world ? .... Yet, can she be as beautiful as I?”. ... Stopping before a mirror, and pushing back her disordered black hair, she gazed long and fixedly at her own fierce but beautiful face. Then snatching up the lamp, she took from her breast a small miniature, on which she gazed with mingled curiosity and hatred. "Ah! my poor friend, Marchesa Bianca, you little dreamed the service you rendered me by giving me this picture!” she said, closing her hand with a grasp as though it were the throat of her rival. The miniature represented a lovely girl about twenty years
age, whose beauty was enriched by masses of golden hair, so rarely seen and so much admired in Italy. Her soft almond-shaped blue eyes were shaded by long black eyelashes; the small red lips were parted in a gentle smile ; the whole face being saint-like and pure, with that loving, soft, tender expression which is so charming in woman.
The more one looked at the face, the more one felt the extraordinary fascination of its loveliness. ... But oh ! fatal charm ! turn your gaze from it, for it is but a fallen spirit that looks through the mask of an angel to entrap all who gaze to worship her by ineans of the dangerous disguise of her rare beauty. And so thought the Duchess as she looked again and again at the picture, while drop by drop the poison of jealousy stole closer to her heart. She pondered over the many lonely hours and
. weary days she had passed, thinking of him who was even now with his adored mistress.. Then raising her head from the painting which represented such fresh young loveliness, with a painful smile she contrasted her own worn but still splendid beauty.*
Yet she also was young, but what tortures she had endured! .. What fierce battles she had fought within herself
* She was born in 1611.