Scaroni, or The Mysterious Cave



The night was dark and Stormy and the snow fell in abundance just as the Marquis di Scaroni and his two attendants entered a thick and extensive forest in Italy. To proceed further with their mules was impossible, and to advance on foot was dangerous; the torch which Philippo held had just expired and that of Gobbletti was glaring with its last flame; they look’d around once more, but nothing was to be seen but the barren branches of the surrounding trees and the snowy tops of the neighbouring mountains. They listened, but nothing was to be heard but the rushing of a cascade which was accompanied at intervals by the roaring of wolves. ‘Saint Januarius protect us,’ muttered Gobbletti, ‘the wolves have smelled our flesh and blood and will soon provide us a comfortable lodging in their stomachs.’ ‘Silence,’ exclaimed the Marquis, ‘shelter your torch and let us proceed.’ Just as the Marquis spoke a sudden gust of wind extinguished their only remaining torch and they were in total darkness. ‘Nevertheless, good Master,’ replied Gobbletti, whose natural glibness of tongue the fear of death had not in the least impaired, ‘nevertheless I don’t see the harm of just speaking a little, for there are mighty few nightingales in this forest to amuse us and the Lord knows that we may all be minced meat before the morning.’ His respect for his master decreased every moment, as he considered that they would soon have a common grave, and that his master would have no opportunity of punishing him; fear made him talk faster and louder, it supplied the place of a speaking trumpet and Gobbletti continued to distract his silent companions and to beguile the dreariness of the way by talking in the loudest strain, till he was interrupted by a hoarse voice, which exclaimed ‘Stop !’ Philippo’s blood froze in his veins, he fell on the ground and lay as silent and still as if he was dead; Gobbletti fell on his knees and began to pray to all the saints in heaven with more volubility than a French Abbé, but so confounded the various Litanies and rosaries he had been accustomed to say that he stopped short and his tongue only uttered a variety of indistinct and inarticulate sounds. The Marquis drew his sword and continued to advance by himself; he had heard the voice but only considered it as the warning of some friendly hermit who could afford him a night’s lodging;—whatever it might be however he was prepared to encounter it. Danger he had been accustomed to in his youth and this was not the first time he had been benighted in a forest; he feared more for his servants than himself, and advanced vigorously to find out a shelter for them. The forest was now silent and Scaroni had almost persuaded himself that the voice had existed only in his imagination, when he heard a loud and shrill whistle, and a troop of armed men carrying torches rose as it were out of the ground beneath him. There was now some cause for fear but our hero resolutely went forwards with a firm step; the band silently arranged themselves in two files and stood as if expecting some one; another whistle was heard and answered by a shout from the torch-bearers; a man sprung from among the trees and joined the company who received him on their knees, and he spoke to them in a low voice; in the mean time the Marquis beheld a figure sufficiently terrible to strike terror into the bravest heart; the stature of this person was immense, and as he darted from the trees he almost seemed to bend them by his weight; he was clothed in a long robe made of wolf’s skin, his hands and legs were bare and besmeared with blood, and the diabolical expression of his large red eyes was rendered more horrible by the torch-light. Scaroni’s heart was almost failing but he plucked up resolution and having crossed himself advanced. As soon [as] he was in sight of the torch bearers the savage rushed towards him and laid him insensible on the ground with one blow of his hand; he then snatched him up and, directing others to search for his companions, rushed back again through the woods with his burden thrown over his shoulder.— When the Marquis recovered he found himself in the corner of a dungeon with Gobbletti who was still on his knees and in the act of prayer though his senses seemed not a little bewildered. ‘Ho-ho-holy mother of—Hallelujah—absolve us from our—manifest mercies thro’ thy goodness and—iniquities,’ repeated he as if talking in his sleep. ‘Gobbletti,’ exclaimed his master, ‘Gobbletti arise, your praying is of no avail if you continue confusing your sentences.’ He spoke in vain; Gobbletti’s tongue went as it were by clock work, and he uttered the same broken prayers. Scaroni seized the only lamp that illuminated the dungeon and held it in Gobbletti’s face and called him by his name several times;—at length his prayers became a series of convulsive sobs, his stiff limbs relaxed from the attitude of praying and he started up as if he was wakened from a dream. ‘Saints be praised, and is your honour alive and safe, and where are we, who has lodged us thus from the rain?’ ‘Alas,’ said his master, ‘I know not where we are, nor in whose power; but what concerns me most is the fate of Philippo: he, poor fellow, was so overcome by terror that he fainted.’ Gobbletti whose nature was affectionate and kind, now his own immediate danger was over, began to fear for his fellow servant, whose absence presented him with a string of enquiries which were mostly answered by himself. As soon as the spirit of conjecture was exhausted in him, he began to examine the apartment in which they were confined, in company with his master. It was an arched vault to which for a long while they could perceive no entrance, until looking up to the roof they saw a small trap-door secured by a thick iron grating through which appeared a light but no human figure; as soon as they had completed their unsatisfactory search, they laid down and notwithstanding the danger and difficulty of their situation were both soon fast asleep. After some hours sleep the Marquis was wakened by a noise and looking upwards he saw the iron grating slowly open, and a rope-ladder was thrown down by which a man with a basket of provisions descended. He came up to the Marquis & offered him the food; Scaroni took the opportunity of asking by whom he so was confined in this Loathsome dungeon. ‘Loathsome dungeon,’ reiterated the man, ‘why is my master King of the forest, and are not you in his palace and in his noblest room? Ah! Ye are ungrateful. Say, how would you like to live in a quagmire up to the neck, or in water as is the custom in his dungeons. Here has he sent ye food from his own table, the best of his vipers which have been well roasted. Eat them, grumble not, or you will starve. And wake that snoring ruffian in the corner. He’ll eat it, I warrant, if you don’t.’ Having spoken thus the strange cook returned by the ladder and closed the grating. Whatever dislike or suspicion he might entertain of such uncommon food; hunger obliged Scaroni to eat which he did plentifully and then awakened his companion, whose tongue was interrupted only by the appearance of the fea[st] which he swallowed eagerly. They went on thus for a considerable time, the Marquis in vain repeating his enquiries into the cause of his detention and the person who imprisoned him. Gobbletti’s conjectures failed, and the Marquis was once suddenly awakened from a deep and long nap by the Exclamations of his fellow prisoner, ‘Awake, Marquis, awake to joy and happiness, awake to liberty. We are free! we are free!’ The Marquis enquired the cause of these loud exclamations and Gobbletti pointed to a corner of the dungeon; Scaroni perceived that several stones had been removed from the wall and a sufficient aperture was made to admit a man; he cautioned his companion to be less noisy in his joy and having made him creep thro’ first followed him on his hands and knees; they were now in a small square vault lighted by a dim lamp and strewed plentifully with bones; they did not pause here long. Scaroni seized the Lamp and hurried Gobbletti with him down a flight of broken stone steps into a large hall, through which they were proceeding when interrupted by a wellknown and terrible voice which commanded them to desist. It was the same they had heard before; Gobbletti trembled and whimpered, Scaroni stood still; he considered that if he advanced he would most likely meet the person whose voice they heard, and therefore dragged back Gobbletti up the steps into their dreary abode; he then closed up the hole as speedily as he could, but had hardly finished his labour before the grating opened and the gigantic savage dropped into the dungeon; his eye had not the same murderous expression as on a former occasion but it’s glow of malignity and triumph was sufficient to set Gobbletti on his knees and make him pray most lustily; the savage turned from him to Scaroni, and told him that he had discovered his paltry endeavour to escape but was not come to destroy him,—he had pity for once,—but told him that if the same happened again he would kill him, but it was foolish to attempt ever again to appear in the world as the pope had excommunicated him at the Suggestion of Peter the hermit for not joining the crusaders, and his father was exasperated with him beyond measure at his supposed cowardice;—here he left Scaroni absorbed in thought. It is necessary to inform the reader that Scaroni had been appointed by Peter the hermit and by the pope to the command of a certain body of crusaders who were shortly to embark for the Holy Land; as he was travelling to Rome to take leave of his family and join the holy army, he had been interrupted in the woods of Italy as our reader already knows; his father was enraged & ashamed at the tardiness of his son; and though the pope did not wish to offend the Scaroni family who were equal to the Grimaldis in power, yet for fear other crusaders encouraged by this example should fail to appear, he suffered holy Peter to declaim against him and his family as an accursed race and at last excommunicated the young Marquis di Scaroni with his own papal mouth; and threatened the whole family with the same punishment unless the offender was produced; this was impossible; his father, unable to find him, complained of the pope’s injustice and was denounced as an heretic. Things were in this posture during the confinement of Scaroni, and were represented to him with exaggeration by his unknown tormenter. He imagined that his venerable and noble father was endangered by the inquisition, and that his brother, the friend of his heart, was suffering through his own unavoidable misfortunes. He in vain endeavoured to compose himself to sleep, or to listen to the stories which Gobbletti incessantly told him to amuse his thoughts; still it recurred to his mind, that he was regarded in Rome as an outlaw, that his family was despised, his father—his venerable, his brave and pious father—was denounced by the infatuated and madly enthusiastic Peter and his coadjutor the Pope. ‘And is this,’ he would say to himself, ‘is this the reward of my pious intent to join the army; is this the way that virtue and religion reward their adorers and supporters? Am I wretched because I am good? then will I become depraved and abandoned, a violator of laws and a scoffer at virtue.’ But these were only the turbulent thoughts of an exasperated mind; his nature forbade him to be a villain, and his disposition always enclined him to virtue. His fellow prisoner however by his tales and naturally merry disposition sometimes was able to restore him to serenity if not to peace of mind; and more frequently put him to sleep; but his sleep was not the sleep of health, his imagination dreamt of nought but racks and torture, he beheld his father burnt as an heretic and his paternal mansion rased to the ground; he saw his brother flying and pursued by the ministers of superstition; he heard dying groans, and the exclamations of an infuriated populace. But such a turbulent state of mind could not last long and his mind was diverted by a new and terrible adventure. One day as he was sitting and musing in his melancholy way, Gobbletti proposed to him to venture again down the steps; Scaroni gave his consent and after their jailor had brought [the] daily allowance of food they again set out on their perilous expedition; they gained the hall in silence and safety; their retreat was undiscovered and at length Gobbletti and his master were in the open air. ‘Thanks, to Saint Januarius and the host’ said Gobbletti, ‘here we are, but heaven defend us from that monstrous savage, here let us creep among the trees.’ Scaroni wandered among the trees till he was tired, and then determined to wait till it was dark before they left the forest; he and Gobbletti therefore laid themselves down and attempted to sleep, but the joy of having escaped and the fear of discovery and surprise kept their eyes open. Just as it was becoming dark and Scaroni had proposed to his companion to advance; they were astonished by a loud and sudden yell; it was not human, it could not be, it was a yell of fiendish triumph followed by a discordant laugh; they were astonished. ‘Well, now,’ muttered Gobbletti, ‘I should imagine all the devils in hell were broken loose; and I begin to smell brimstone already. I’m thinking it’s time to pray.’ Indeed his ears and nose did not much deceive him and his conjecture, (however preposterous and impossible it may appear to readers who imagine that I am not writing the truth,) was not ill founded; he looked around him and beheld on his left a large open platform of rock which presently cracked and emitted more smoke and effluvia than Vesuvius, succeeded by immense flames which illuminated the whole forest far and near. Out of this rock rose on a cloud of sulphur several Demons with torches in their hands; they hurried to and fro and seemed to be preparing for some ceremony; Gobbletti rolled himself among some leaves and covered with branches only left room to breathe and a small hole to see thro’. His curiosity overcame his loquacity, he held his tongue and, having attracted his masters attention to the strange scene by gestures, continued to observe it attentively. The Demons now stood in a regular circle and waved their torches above their heads; a large cloud detached itself from the rest and coming within a few yards above the ground emitted flashes of bloodred lightning accompanied by immense claps of thunder and a shower of hot blood!!! Accompanied by such music the diabolical assembly yelled out the following hymn.

     Hail our master, hail him well
     Hail our master, lord of hell:
     Now the thunder loud shall roar
     Now the lightning tinge the shore.
     He, the King of hell, descends
     Down to earth his course he bends.
     In the lightning’s flash, and thunder’s roar
     The lord of Hell shall reach the shore.
     Hail our master, hail him well,
     Hail our master, lord of Hell.

As soon as this chorus was finished the cloud cracked with an immense noise and, seated on a throne of fire, they beheld the superhuman savage. ‘Angels be our guides,’ said Gobbletti, ‘we may now just think of trudging back to prison again.’ ‘Gobbletti,’ replied the marquis, ‘we shall certainly be descried by this fiend; we must return, for it is impossible to escape him.’ Gobbletti obeyed for once in silence; he followed his master home whose soul was so affected by what had passed that Gobbletti to divert his master or to put him to sleep,—I know not which, but the reader can decide, from the effect it has upon him,—told the following story.

‘During the reign of an old French King when unhappy France was convulsed with all the horrors of a civil war, the Marquis Di Alenzio prepared to leave the capital of that distracted kingdom and to return with his family to Italy, the country of his birth, where he had always resided, until a protracted law-suit carried him to France and detained him there many years. This tedious affair being settled he determined on quitting the scene of so much factious violence, and, with a diminished fortune but still sufficient, to live for and with his family alone in the castle of Alenzio. His youngest daughter was born in France and the eldest retained only a very faint recollection of her native home. The evening previous to their departure, as the Marchioness and her eldest daughter were alone sitting in the oratory of the former, they were informed that a lady wished to see the Marchioness for a few minutes. “What is her name?” said she. “I enquired and the lady replied that it was unknown to you, madam,” replied the servant, “but she has something material to say to you and she added”—Here the lady entered; she was dressed in deep mourning, her air was lofty and commanding, but her face was concealed by a large and thick black veil; she advanced slowly and replying to the Marchioness’s courteous salutation by a slight reverence, asked in a low & pleasing voice if the Marchioness would allow her to speak to her in private. The Lady Valeria immediately arose and left the room. She descended to the saloon and joined her father and sisters.

‘In less than half an hour her mother joined them. Valeria looked at her and perceived with surprize that her eyes were red and her countenance agitated. The Marchioness observed that her daughter’s eyes were continually fixed upon her, and began to converse with assumed cheerfulness. She left no opportunity for mentioning the visit she had received nor did she allude to it.

‘The next morning Valeria was dressing when her mother came into the room, and dismissing the attendant said—“The person who came to me yesterday requires my assistance in a trifling affair, but, except to herself, it is of no consequence, therefore I shall think no more of it, and you will oblige me, Valeria, by not speaking of her visit.” “You know her then,” cried Valeria eagerly. “Not personally,” replied the Marchioness. “Is She of Italy?” asked her daughter; “I am not at liberty to mention her again,” said the mother, “because it might injure her without benefitting you. I caution you therefore against any further thoughts on the subject.” At breakfast the Marchioness informed the party that having heard of an excellent opportunity of sending letters to her sister in England by a private and safe hand, she must write them to-day, and therefore begged the marquis to postpone his journey fora day as the Comte de Quiton who was to carry the letters went the next day. The Marquis readily assented and the next day was fixed for their farewell to France.

‘The Marchioness retired to her chamber to write. For some hours she remained undisturbed; at length Valeria tapped gently at the door in order to speak to her; no answer being returned the young lady opened the door, and saw no one in the room, but the door of an adjoining oratory was open, and there Valeria saw her mother sitting opposite the door leaning back in her chair, her face as white as marble, her eyes drawn open, immoveable, and seemingly insensible of what they were thinking of. By her, to Valeria’s great surprise, stood the female stranger bending over her and speaking in a low and hollow tone; her face was still undiscovered. The Marchioness neither spoke nor moved; the stranger at the sight of Valeria, as she drew nearer, started and rushing by her with the impetuosity of lightning was gone in a moment. Valeria entered the oratory; her mother remained fixed in the same attitude and saw her not. Dreadfully alarmed she spoke to her, then taking her hand found it as cold and insensible as clay. “Mother, dear Mother, speak,” said she, “we are alone.” “Who are you?” said the Marchioness, “your promise is fulfilled.” She turned her heavy eyes on her daughter and stopped. “The stranger is gone,” said Valeria, “come, you are cold here, let me conduct you to the saloon. They are waiting for you with impatience.” “Are we indeed alone?” said her mother, “No, poor thing, you do not, can not know her. Aye but those times are over. I will never desert them,” continued she addressing some imaginary being. The Marchioness sighed. A Door was heard to open. Valeria rose and believing it to be one of her sisters, went to meet her wishing her not to be alarmed by seeing her mother in such a state. She saw nobody and immediately returned to the oratory where she saw her mother had risen and in attempting to leave the room, had fallen lifeless on the floor.

‘The Marchioness at length opened her eyes, she thanked her daughter for her affectionate care kindly but in a hurried manner. She did not seem to be in her accustomed temper of mind, she hesitated often and talked incoherently of former times. She said that she should never see Italy and that her family must think of her no more, “for,” continued she “I shall not outlive the night,

     “with the first cock’s crow
     my breath shall go,”

She has been here since and told me—But you are young and beautiful, you shall get married while I—but she cannot disturb me in the grave”.—The Marchioness ran on deliriously speaking about death as of some great good;—it was true that her cheek was not so white—but it was the hectic flush of fever that supplied its place; it is true that her eye was not so fixed and livid, but it was the glare of madness that shone there. Valeria excessively terrified at her mother’s irritable state, besought [her] to leave the oratory and accompany her to the saloon; “No, no,” replied she, “I can die here, I am not able to move—besides she said so—and it would only affright my dear girls and my husband.—Oh! I come, but hurry me not, it is not morning yet, it is not light, is it my Valeria?” “It is not night, it is not dark yet, dearest mother, but compose yourself, you will be better after a little Sleep.” The Marchioness rose up, she stretched her large and magnificent figure, and exclaimed, “I tell you my next sleep shall be an eternal one; I shall not open my eyes in this world, therefore keep me awake while you can!” The effort had exhausted her, she sank upon a couch and there was a temporal end to her miseries. Valeria ran to inform her father and sisters of the dreadful accident which had befallen her mother. And they were all assembled round the sofa when she opened her eyes. “Are you all here?” said she, “then I am alive still. I thought that all my pain was over, but it will soon:” she took her husbands hand and kissed [it], she burst into tears, “thou hast been kind to me, very, very kind, I have to thank you for all, but She has divorced us cruelly; well we may meet hereafter but I cannot forget you; as a husband you have been the best, as a friend the kindest; all would have been well—but she called me away, she gave me time indeed to wish you farewell;” she withdrew her hand and looked upon her daughters; “those three shall live yet and be happy, but do not forget that you had a mother, one who would have done everything for you, and let not my death afflict you, we must all die sooner or later, my time is come now.” “My dearest mother,” exclaimed Valeria, “think of something else, the physicians all say that you had better lie quiet and think of something else.” “And what would you have me think of—would you have me die thoughtless and heedless? ah no ! the physician can not tell me I shall not die—I must—I shall.” For a great part of the night her delirium continued, and though she was attended by the best physicians in Paris, they were of no avail. Her thoughts were still on death and she still was persuaded that before daybreak she would be no more. Whether her state of mind prepared her for dissolution or not, she died at Day break, in despite of the physician’s efforts. Just as the morning star arose a light tap was heard at the chamber door, the Marquis went to see who was there, but found no one. However when he returned he saw a black figure sitting on the Marchioness’s bed holding her hand; Valeria started at the sight as the stranger pull’d the curtain aside, for no one had seen her enter. “Give her breath,” said the low hollow voice, “open the casement that her soul may fly easily. Sleep you,” continued she, “sleep you? and is the time I have .granted you neglected and abandoned to sleep? Awake and look around once more.” “I sleep not,” said the Marchioness, “who could sleep after having known you? ah! this is not the first sleepless night you have cost me! Have I not often watched over you in sickness when you have slept, and this is the end of all. You come to deprive me of children and of a husband.” “I have a superior claim,” replied the figure, “have I not by your own bond.” “You have, You have,” replied the Marchioness, “I have assisted in killing myself; but let me think of something else.” “Think of your time,” cried the veiled figure, “think of your promise, think of your time, and that your time is come!” “Come,” said the Marchioness, “the cock has not yet crowed, you have no claim on me before. And you, good husband, when I am dead, although my unfortunate story must remain a mystery, think not that I have wilfully been guilty of any bad deed. I have been unfortunate but innocent and pardon me, for my imprudence;” she ceased speaking and taking her youngest daughter in her arms gave her a blessing. In the mean time Valeria had taken her father aside and was telling him of what she had seen of the veiled lady; the black figure rose and approached her; “Silence,” said she, “silence, I charge you, young woman, my actions are not to be enquired into by mortals, be satisfied that all is right. Your mother’s own imprudence has killed her; beware, be warned by her fate, sow not destruction, and you shall not reap death.” She now turned to the dying lady, she took a time piece from the table and held it opposite the Marchioness, whose eyes were immoveably fixed on it. “Thirty years hast thou lived, and never yet valued time as thou dost, each moment is valuable. Had you thirty more to live, the same indifference would accompany you; yet you are going into a state where thirty years shall be as a moment. Perhaps too you shall have to watch the deathbed of some heedless and imprudent mortal; but heark, another voice warns you,” she retired to a window and drew aside the curtain; the sunbeam entered and cast a beam upon the couch, at the same instant a cock crew. “Farewell, my children, my husband,” the Marchioness kissed Valeria’s hand. The lady waved her hand, “Peace to your spirit,” cried she. The Marchioness groaned and closed her eyes. All was silence, she breathed not again.—“She is dead,” said the marquis. Valeria caught hold of her mother’s hand, it was cold but she kissed it and wept. “Victory,” exclaimed the veiled female, “I have performed at last my promise.” “She is dead,” said the marquis, “but think not, diabolical woman, to escape justice; thou hast murdered the best of women and shalt atone with the death of the most wretched—Detain her”—cried he to his servants. “Mortal,” said the mysterious stranger, “thou cant not detain me, let not thy vain curiosity prove a source of misery to thee, I would begone,” said she rising. “Thou shalt not,” returned the Marquis, “thou shalt not.” “Tremble mortal,” said the female, “behold and hear,”—she stretched out her hand, Valeria involuntarily started back—the veil was thrown back and showed beneath it the face of a skeleton. The servants rushed out of the room but the Marquis seizing hold of his daughters remained looking intently on her. “Hast thou not heard of thy wife’s English sister? the flesh is gone and the beauty is fled and so will the beauty of that corpse fly, but I was her sister; we were brought up together, but as I was the youngest and most delicate and consequently less known of the two, my sister’s beauty and wit was seen by all, and all were attracted by it whilst only the most discerning perceived mine; an English Lord however saw and loved me—he offered riches and abundance and, what was no more, his heart; but I was so taken up with friendship for my sister that I imagined no one else could ever have a share in my affections. One day as we two were sitting together and talking of the grief that either would suffer in case of the death of the other, we both promised that the one who was first dead should visit the other wherever she was, and desire her to die too. Alas, we little thought then that we should ever be parted; but some years after my sister married you at her father’s desire. After her departure having no other companion I insensibly took a liking to the young English Lord who was particularly attentive in his addresses to me; after some time I married him; we retired to England and lived many years in the enjoyment of the most exquisite domestic happiness which that country is so peculiarly calculated to afford;—A few days ago I died in childbed and leaving my husband in the greatest affliction was compelled to come here and cause another affecting scene of misery, but it is over, and may your tenderness for the departed be rewarded hereafter by an eternal enjoyment of her company. I have observed Valeria’s affection to her mother, and oh! may she inherit her mother’s virtues, as it is I leave her my blessing and I leave it to you all.” The skeleton ceased speaking and having hovered a short time around Valeria vanished for ever. The Marquis was in haste to leave the scene which recalled to his memory so much affliction, and returned to the castle of Alenzio to cultivate and improve the virtues of his beloved daughter.’

When Gobbletti finished speaking he found his master asleep, and we hope that the reader is not in the same unlucky situation or he will lose a requisite part of the story. Finding his master asleep he was himself going to take a nap, when he was interrupted by the entrance of the man who distributed the food. ‘Why squire Turnkey,’ said Gobbletti, indulging in a little freedom as his master was asleep, ‘Squire Turnkey, I dont think your food in this country is the most savoury I ever tasted, you might allow us a little pepper to our toad-broth and some sauce to our grand dish of stewed vipers.’ ‘Truly,’ answered the Turnkey, ‘one would think you meant to find fault with his majesty’s food, but he’s within call and he can speak to more purpose than I can.’ ‘My good fellow,’ said Gobbletti, ‘you are obliging, but I have seen enough of his highness.’ Then recollecting his late adventure in the wood, ‘pray does he ever give concerts?’ ‘Aye to be sure, and is suppers of man’s flesh; but I’ve got a bit of a letter for that sleepy lubber your master.’ Gobbletti wakened his master and delivered the letter; it was from his father he guessed by the super-scription and dated from his own castle, ‘He is not imprisoned then,’ exclaimed he, and was just going to open the letter when a voice cried, ‘Stop!’ He looked up to the grating and beheld the long lost Philippo hasten down the Ladder; he ran up to the Marquis and snatching the letter from his hand without speaking a word burnt it with the lamp; when this was done he ran up to the astonished jailor and felled him down with a single blow, he then drew his sword and cut his throat. The Marquis asked the meaning of all this; ‘Silence,’ said Philippo, ‘follow me, but remember your lives depend upon your silence and expedition,’ having spoken he ran up the ladder & was followed with alacrity by Scaroni and Gobbletti; when they were all off the ladder, Philippo cut it with his sword and carried it with them; they were now in a long stone gallery the floor of which was spotted with numbers of the same kind of gratings. Gobbletti tho’ he held his tongue could not refrain from peeping now and then through these gratings and the sights he saw there afforded him foundation for many a long story afterwards although we have not time to describe them all; most of the dungeons however contained some imprisoned beings not so fortunate as themselves, who were detained by the merciless Demon. They had now almost come to the end of the gallery, when Philippo stopped and lifting up a stone took from beneath it three large iron masks; they fastened them on in silence and then Philippo pointed to a small iron grating which had as yet escaped even Gobbletti’s notice; they looked thro’ this and beheld two figures in iron masks like their own busied about a furnace, the room they were in was surrounded with glass cases containing human bodies, and at one end was a range of shelves filled with bottles; of these two figures one in a female dress was mixing several drugs in a large marble mortar, and having taken some out and put it into a Venice glass the glass was immediately broken. The other figure hung over a cha[u]ldron into which he had thrown viper’s stings, toads and several venomous animals and poisonous plants. The steam which arose from the chauldron was so dense that it shaded the room, like a thick fog thro’ which nothing could be distinguished. When Philippo perceived this he cautiously opened the grating and lowered the ladder, then having signed to the others to follow him he descended; when they were in the apartment Philippo whispered to them to stand still, while he softly advanced to the male figure; when he had got close behind him he cut the bandages which fastened his mask and the man groaning terribly fell dead at his feet; when the woman saw this she fell upon her knees and promised to obey Philippo. ‘First then,’ said he, ‘be silent and then show us the mysteries of thy damnable art, rise, old hag, thine hypocrisy is too well known to deceive me, begin or I will instantly make an end of thee.’ The woman rose from her knees and conducted them round the apartment; she said that she and her son had made their livelihood by making and selling poisons and that they had killed upwards of ten thousand people; she then shewed the various preparations and told them that the vapour was so deleterious that if the iron mask was removed one minute they would die; she told them also that besides the poisons which kill people there were others which keep people half alive in a state of extreme pain but that such might be recovered by the use of certain elixirs which she showed them; she shewed them the body of a Lady who had been in this half animated state for five years; at length Philippo said, ‘Is this all, and hast thou no more to show us?’ ‘Nothing,’ replied their haggard conductor, ‘thou hast seen the whole process of poisoning.’ ‘‘Tis well,’ replied he, ‘then die most detestable hag and with thee die all the secrets of thy pernicious art.’ He then cut of[f ] her head with his sword and cast it into the chauldron whilst the tongue was yet uttering a volley of curses. Having done this piece of justice they endeavoured to bring to life the half animated lady in which they soon succeeded, and having formed a litter with some planks, Philippo and Gobbletti carried her out of the dismal vault after having destroyed the vials and turned out the mischievous liquor from the chauldron which immediately consumed the bodies of the wretched preparers;—in the mean time the protectors of the lady arrived in the open air; they hastened from the hateful cave and under the conduct of Philippo soon entered a neighbouring town. The Marquis here wrote to his father and to the Pope an account of his imprisonment and detention which Gobbletti found means to spread through the town so quickly that the woods were henceforth avoided as haunted. One evening as the Marquis was sitting alone he sent for Philippo to entertain him with the adventures that befel him after he was left on the ground in the wood; just as Philippo was going to begin Gobbletti put in his head and said he made bold considering his sufferings and services to intrude and listen to Mr Philippo’s history; as soon as permission was given to him and he was desired to hold his tongue, Philippo began: ‘As soon as I heard that horrible voice in the wood all the stories that I had heard in my childhood of the Demon of that place recurred to my memory, my heart failed me, and, I am ashamed to own it, I fainted and fell back like a coward instead of following my master; when I recovered I saw Gobbletti surrounded by a troop of men who were hastening him away; I determined to take advantage of my situation and lie still. I heard them talking of me and saw them seeking, but after an ineffectual search they were obliged to depart without me; I followed them at a distance and saw them go into the mouth of the cave; here I continued to lurk and one day found an opportunity, when they were all gone out, to explore the place; there I saw you and Gobbletti fast asleep; but, as I had no settled plan for your rescue, I satisfied myself with marking the grating so that I should know it again. As I was going back I heard two low voices in conference often mentioning your name. I looked down a grating and saw two people preparing a poisonous letter, of which I had heard before; I heard them mention the day it would be ready; as I guessed it was intended for you, I resolved to prevent their detestable intentions, and therefore came to this town, and found lodgings with an old man, who was an alchemist; he would sometimes talk to me of poison and the way to prevent it. “Some poisons,” said he, “are so deleterious to the human frame that the very smell is sufficient to kill a strong man in a few hours, against such as these the only preservative is an iron mask, which is worn by those who make poisons, but if these masks by accident fall off, death is inevitable.” Having learnt this from my good old Landlord, I provided three large iron masks and found means to conceal them in the cave, beneath a large stone; when the appointed day arrived I left the town and rambled into the wood; I fortunately entered your dungeon before you had read that fatal letter, one line of which would have killed you; the rest you know, through the providence of heaven I have been able to preserve my dear master and fellow servant, and I hope I have sufficiently atoned for my cowardice in the forest.’ ‘You have indeed, Good Philippo,’ said Scaroni, ‘you have done the greatest favour to your master, and whatever mine or my father’s influence can command is yours.’ ‘You are very kind, my lord, very kind and always were, but Philippo does not want a reward for doing his duty; I have been fortunate enough to preserve you, my lord; the action itself is so great a pleasure that no reward is necessary’—here Philippo was interrupted by Gobbletti’s citing several instances to prove that Philippo deserved a reward; but his master, convinced of that, thought proper to dismiss him for the present. Some days afterwards a letter arrived from Scaroni’s father and as nothing material happened at the same time we take the liberty to lay it before our readers.

My dearest son, your absence has been a source of great disquietude to me, not only on account of your safety, but also lest the motive which detained you should be unworthy of the brave heart of a Scaroni. Your letter, however, has cleared up every thing, and has given me better health and spirits than I have enjoyed for some time. I am now at the castle where I shall wait till you arrive, and convince you how truly I am yours
     Albert di Scaroni.

Much consolation as this afforded to Scaroni, he was as well pleased with a letter from his brother; and an official notice from the pope, in which an excuse for his impatience was as clumsily written as his holiness himself (for it was in his own hand writing,) could devise.

The unknown lady had, since her delivery and arrival in the town recovered much from her former weak state, and, by Scaroni’s constant attention, was soon declared to be fit for a journey. As soon as the young Marquis heard this, (and Gobbletti was the first to tell him of it,) he made hasty preparations for his journey and after an imprisonment of six long months again set forward, by easy stages, to the place of his nativity, the castle in which his father was expecting to meet and embrace his long lost son.

Being somewhat dull on the road he desired Gobbletti to entertain him with some narrative, when his servant delivered in his usual prolix style the

     Castle of Falenzia, or the
            Yellow Banner

‘Some years ago in a lone and uninhabited part of the country, there stood the ruins of an ancient castle, from the ruined tower of which waved a broad Yellow Banner, which no one had been able to pull down and which, tradition said, was immoveable to all except the rightful heir of Valenzia. In the village lived an old couple who were blessed with three children, two beautiful girls and one flourishing boy; they had indeed another whom they were accustomed to call their son, but Florio was a foundling, whom many years ago his supposed mother had discovered near the old castle, and had nursed with the most affectionate care; as he grew older his noble figure declared him of no mean extraction, and his strong and athletic form together with his commanding air and incredible prowess rendered him formidable to his village companions. There was not an eagle’s nest in the neighbourhood but Florio in his boyhood had deprived of the eggs in despite of the vigorous defence of the enraged mother; there were no longer any ravenous wolves which formerly had been the terror of the farmers, every forest had been cleared by the strong hand of Florio.

‘Although his haughtiness and reserve had completely awed all the other peasants of the village yet in Huberto, his supposed brother, he found an agreeable and steady friend. Huberto had not the commanding air and gentle ease of Florio, but he was kind and affable and thro’ all his manners there appeared the noble pride of independence; he had not the wit or ingenuity of Florio, but his general knowledge was superior; in fine, he was adapted in every possible way to be a faithful friend and agreeable companion. Such qualities were not lost upon Florio, and though they were both naturally reserved yet their acquaintance soon ripened into intimacy and in a short time they felt uneasy in each other’s absence.

‘It happened one winter evening that a travelling improvisatore stopped in the village and Huberto’s father offered him a night’s lodging; and [he] entertained the family with national tales and Romances till a late hour. Amongst other legends he mentioned that of the castle of Valenzia and the Yellow Banner; Florio’s curiosity was awakened, and he lay all night considering how he should visit it; early the next morning he awakened his brother and told him of his intention to go and at the same time enjoined him to secrecy: Huberto would willingly have accompanied his brother but the fear of distressing his father and mother prevented him. Florio departed immediately for the Castle and Huberto turned on his side to sleep another hour. In the day Florio was missed by every body, the farmers complained that they had lost a protector and assistant and the young girls that the most agreeable partner at the dance had deserted them.

‘In the mean time Florio advanced to the castle which was distinguished from the neighbouring ones by the large Yellow banner on which was written in red letters, “Tremble.” This however had little effect upon Florio except rather to instigate him to proceed, which he did with alacrity; he with difficulty got along the rotten draw bridge into the ruined quadrangle where were strewn the helmets and swords of knights long since forgotten; Florio snatched up a sword whose superior polish caught his eye and climbing over the battered gate which the wind had blown down, ascended the dark steps of the tower; Florio, unaccustomed to larger buildings than the village cottage passed through room after room in despair and thought he should never reach the Yellow Banner; he however soon arrived at the summit where it was displayed; he eagerly rushed forward and seized it, it yielded and in a violent whirlwind the castle fell to the ground. When Florio was able to look about him he found he was lying in the outer quadrangle of a large and magnificent castle, which was illuminated; he entered it and was met cordially by the lord who embraced him affectionately and declared him to be his eldest son whom he had lost in infancy, which was followed by a detail of adventures more interesting to themselves than any indifferent persons. I shall pass over Huberto’s amazement and the old couple’s joy at the success of Florio and only add that Huberto and his friend lived long to be true patterns of nobility and virtue.’

Scaroni had been so absorbed in attention to Gobbletti’s story that he had not perceived the turrets of the castle which now appeared through the trees; Philippo pointed them out, and they were soon met by a party of country people who conducted them with acclamations of joy while Gobbletti from his mule repeated in as loud a voice as the town crier’s on a market day, ‘Silence, good people,’ continued he, ‘take an example of order from me, and pray pay a little more respect to your superior; do you think a man is to be imprisoned in a cave for nothing? indeed I expect to be treated with the greatest respect and admiration when you have heard the wonderful account of my dangers and valour; these are not things that happen every day, and nothing but the most heroic virtue like mine could have endured them; stand a little aside that I may advance with a dignified canter up the avenue.’ What effect Gobbletti’s dignified canter had on Albert we cannot say, for the moment he beheld his son, he embraced him warmly and conducted him to his apartment while Philippo and Gobbletti received no less warm a welcome from their fellow servants. After Scaroni had related his adventures to his father the latter declared his impatience to see the unfortunate female whom his son so gallantly rescued from torment; they were admitted to her apartment and she received Scaroni with dignified ease and thanked him for his protection, but the moment she saw his father, to Scaroni’s astonishment she rushed into his arms exclaiming—’My Albert! my long lost Albert!’ Immediately afterwards she was introduced to Scaroni as his mother whom his father had lost for a long time; when they were more composed the Marchioness unfolded a remarkable tale, which if the public desire it, I will publish from an authentic copy in my own hands.


[Donner, 1935]