We both went different ways; Beltrami to search for his key, and myself to hasten home to my hotel, and prepare myself for the fatigues of this midnight excursion, which, however much it appealed to the Marchese’s sense of the romantic, was certainly not relished by me.
CHAPTER XIII. “DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN.”
Do you know that gruesome old ballad, with its sombre refrain of “Down! Down! Down among the dead men?” A friend of mine with a deep bass voice, used to sing it in order to display his lower notes, upon which–and not without reason–he flattered himself greatly; but in after years, I never heard
it sung without a shudder, so vividly did it recall to my mind the grotesque horror of that midnight visit to the Tomb of the Morone, in that old burial-ground of Verona. Of late I had been so much mixed up with ghosts, vaults, ghouls and crimes, that I was by no means anxious to continue the category, and would have infinitely preferred to have let Beltrami, who liked such uncomfortable things, go alone; but being an Englishman, I had to uphold the honour of my country, so never thought for a moment of showing the white feather. Besides, the 长沙桑拿会所哪里最好玩 only chance of saving Pallanza was by obtaining possession of the antidote, and in spite of my repugnance to the errand, I fully made up my mind to be on the Ponte Aleardi at the appointed time.
Meanwhile I fortified myself against possible horrors by having an excellent dinner, supplemented
by a small bottle of champagne. I could not afford that luxurious wine, and it was sinfully extravagant of me to waste my small stock of money upon such a thing, but in the face of this midnight adventure I really felt that a little stimulant would comfort me under the circumstances. The result was admirable, for all my nervous apprehensions disappeared, and I sat in the smoking-room puffing at my after-dinner pipe in a very contented frame of mind, considering what awaited me at twelve o’clock p.m. Was I a coward? I don’t think so. 长沙桑拿休闲场所 Many men who have no physical fear, and would ride gaily enough into battle, shrink with superstitious awe from the eerie neighbourhood of the dead, and I, owing to the causes I have stated before, am of this class. Come, then, ye dauntless scoffers, who would dare anything–in the broad daylight, and let me see if you would contemplate a midnight visit to an antique vault with equanimity! I think not, for however brave a man may be, it is the law of Nature that he should thrill with fear at the approach of the supernatural.
I sat smoking and thinking in the twilight, which was a bad preparation for the event, as twilight thoughts are invariably mournful, and my own dear dead ones seemed to throng in the dusky shadow of the room, reproaching me in voiceless grief for the intention I had of profaning the sanctity of the Tomb. 长沙桑拿体验 To rid myself of these melancholy reflections, and banish from my brain the mute crowd of ghosts, I went out for a walk, intending to call at the Casa Angello, in order to ask after the Signorina Bianca.
Petronella told me that the poor child was much better, but exhausted by the shock she had sustained at the Palazzo Morone, and had fallen into a deep sleep which would do her more good than all the drugs of the doctor. The worthy domestic was very wrathful at me, and wanted to know what I had told her “piccola,” but I put her off with some excuse, as I had no desire that she should know the events of that day. On taking my departure I gave Petronella a note for the Signorina, which contained only three words, “Wait and hope,” with instructions that it was to be delivered to her when she woke up. Petronella, somewhat mollified by my assurance that all would be right, promised to fulfil this commission, and I returned to my hotel very contented with the present aspect of affairs.
On regaining my bedroom I lay down about eight o’clock, in order to get a little sleep, but the remedy was worse than the disease, for when my eyes were closed the phantoms of waking hours reappeared still more vividly to my inner senses. However, I fought against the dread which threatened to overwhelm me, and fell into a comparatively dreamless slumber, from which I awoke shortly after eleven. Rising from the bed upon which I had thrown myself half dressed, I hurriedly completed my toilette, and bathed my burning face in cold water. On my arrival in Milan, I had bought one of those picturesque Italian cloaks which one only sees in England on the operatic stage, and throwing this around me; I put on a soft black wide-awake, so that what with the mantle draped around me, and my naturally dark face, I looked very much like a native of Italy. Lighting a cigarette, I took my heavy stick, and thus prepared, went out to keep my appointment with Luigi Beltrami on the Ponte Aleardi.
To the hot day had succeeded the hot night, but a strong dry wind was blowing which drove the filmy clouds across the face of the haggard-looking moon. A few stars peeped out here and there through the frail woof, and the chill moonlight waxed and waned with the appearing and disappearing of the pale planet, almost lost amid the wild confluence of drifting clouds. A misty circle round the moon was prophetic of rain, and under this wild, wind-vexed sky lay the sleeping city, dark and sombre, with the rough blasts sweeping drearily down the lonely streets.
In spite of the heat, so eerie was the aspect of the night that I drew my cloak around me with a shiver of nervous fear, and leaving the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, hastened along the Via Pallone, in the direction of the Ponte Aleardi. I arrived there just as the clock of St. Fermo sounded the three-quarters, and as Beltrami was not yet at the meeting place, I leaned on the balustrade of the bridge and watched the grey waters swirling under the fitful light of the moon. I could not help thinking of the strange events which had taken place since I had last occupied the same position–the antique chamber with its associations of love and crime–the Teatro Ezzelino, where I had beheld the phantom of Lucrezia Borgia–the grief and pain of poor little Bianca, and the extraordinary-conversation I had held with Beltrami a few hours before. It was all most unreal and feverish, this mediaeval intrigue into which I had been drawn; and I question if any student of singing had ever before been involved in such a bizarre adventure–an adventure which I hoped and prayed and trusted would end to-night.
Buried in these sombre reflections I did not hear the sound of approaching footsteps, and it was only when I felt a hand on my shoulder that I turned round, with a sudden start, to see the Marchesa standing beside me wrapped in his military cloak, and accompanied by a man who waited a little way off in respectful silence.
“Bravo, Signor Hugo!” cried the Marchesa in a cheerful tone, “you have been waiting long?”
“About a quarter of an hour. So you have not obtained the key, Beltrami?”
“Unfortunately I have not! However, here is Matteo, and I daresay we shall manage to get the door open in some way. Come, Caro,” continued Beltrami, taking my arm, “we have no time to lose. Ecco!”
I do not believe Beltrami had any nerves, for the whole way to the burial-ground he chatted cheerfully about the antidote, the Contessa and the tenor, not appearing to be at all impressed with the solemnity of the affair. What Matteo felt I do not know, as he never opened his mouth, but glided after us like a shadow, until we arrived at the broken wall.
The Marchesa climbed over first, his long sabre clashing heavily against the stones as he jumped down on the other side. I followed without delay, and Matteo, having joined us, we went on through the dense shade of the cypress trees, until we arrived at the forbidding-looking tomb, the sight of which put me in mind of my uncanny adventure.
Beltrami, undeterred by the flaming sword of the guardian angel, tried the iron door, on the chance that it might be unlocked; but finding it fast closed, signed to Matteo to get to work at once. Without a word the man obeyed, and as the moon was now shining down in her full splendour, he could see perfectly well, without the aid of artificial light, for, although he carried a torch, Beltrami did not wish it lighted, in case the glare should attract attention.
While Matteo was working away at the lock I took my seat on the fallen stone near the door, and Beltrami, throwing off his cloak, flung himself down on the grass beside me.
“Dio, how hot I am!” he exclaimed, wiping his brow.
“And how very imprudent, Luigi. Remember, you are in uniform.”
“Ma foi, I’m never in anything else,” retorted the Marchese gaily; “don’t trouble yourself, Hugo, no one will dare to come near the cemetery, at this hour, so, uniform or no uniform, I’m safe from observation. Will you have a cigar?”
“No, thank you. But you surely do not intend to smoke now?”
“Why not?” said Beltrami, lighting his cigar; “it cannot harm the Signori Morone, and I’ve no wish to go down into that evil-smelling vault without taking some precaution against fever. Ecco!”
“Oh, well, do as you will,” I replied, indifferently, beginning myself to grow callous; “but I want to ask you something, Luigi.”
“Was Count Giorgio Morone really mad?”