« AnkstesnisTęsti »
the leaves of the manuscript. Sometimes he paused to meditate; again he would resume his task, and a smile of triumph would light up his countenance, although its predominating expression was remarkably serious and calm. It was the master of the castle, John Galeazzo Visconti.
The chamber which he occupied was fitted up more for convenience than elegance. The furniture was plain and massive, and the tapestry on the walls was somewhat faded: both the floor and ceiling were of solid oak; and the whole apartment had a sombre and lonely air, entirely in accordance with the appearance and pursuits of its owner.
"So," he said at length, throwing aside the manuscript, and striding thoughtfully across the room; "Father Hugo* has predicted the fall of the Eagle, and the rise of the Viper ;†-nay, that the Visconti shall one day be Lords of Italy.
* A celebrated Italian astrologer, who flourished in the early part of the 14th century.
The viper was the armorial device of the Visconti, the eagle that of the Emperors.
If his prophecy is to be fulfilled, it must be now or never! Let me but look around.-First of all, we have the Emperor Wenceslas, who spends his days and nights carousing with his drunken electors in Bohemia :—it is whispered, too, that a plot is on foot to dethrone him for incapacity, so nothing can be feared from him. Young Charles of France is mad; and Richard of England reigns only by the sufferance of his kinsman, the crafty Lancaster. Then within the
Alps, Genoa has her Doria and Fiesci ; Florence her wild democracy; and the voluptuous Joanna of Naples is trembling on her throne betwixt the fierce adherents of Hungary and Anjou. And last of all, we have two rival Popes-Urban at Rome, Clement at Avignon, pouring upon each other's heads the daily thunders of the Church, to the scandal of the faithful, and the sport of all their enemies. Truly, truly, a most Christian world!"
A faint smile overspread his features as he uttered the last words; and when they had resumed their wonted composure, he stood motionless, until he was roused from his reverie
by the appearance of a lady, who entered the room by a private door concealed behind the tapestry.
She wore a rich black velvet dress, and her countenance would have been handsome but for its haughty and somewhat bold expression. Her features were slightly flushed, and her step was quick and unequal, as though she was under the influence of some recent excitement.
"How now, Catharine?" said her husband, in a tone which expressed surprise rather than anxiety; "why astir so late?"
"My lord," she replied, in a voice which trembled perceptibly with anger, "read this scroll."
She put a letter in his hand as she spoke. Visconti eyed her for an instant, and then perused it in silence, without betraying any emotion. After he had finished, he folded it up, and throwing it on the table before him, said, in a quiet tone,
"Well, love, what reply do you mean to make to this?"
Reply, my lord," rejoined the lady, piqued
at his apparent coldness; "I do not understand you. Here your uncle, Bernabo, makes a proposal of the basest kind to me."
"He does, indeed."
"And proposes to deprive you both of your dominions and of your life; yet there you stand motionless as marble."
"When did you receive the letter?"
"This instant; I found it in my chamber." "Indeed!"
"And is that the only reply you can find me?—or do you mean tamely to submit to this insult?"
No, Catharine, I will not," rejoined Visconti, in that deliberate tone which, from those who have their passions under control, has a more startling effect than the most violent bursts of anger; 66 although he were a thousand times my father's brother, he shall answer for his perfidy."
Nay," replied the lady, "I could stake my head that his wife Beatrice, the queen of La Scala-as she, forsooth, styles herself is at the bottom of the plot. She thinks that because
you have no sons, her children must inherit our dominions."
"Likely enough," replied her husband, carelessly; "but, Catharine, I must leave you early to-morrow morning."
Why so?—where are you going?"
"I have a vow to fulfil to our blessed Lady
of Varese, on the Lake Maggiore."
He crossed himself as he spoke.
"A most likely tale!" replied the lady; your object is nothing save the fulfilment of a vow, why am I not to accompany you?”
"The journey will be fatiguing, perhaps dangerous-you will be safer at home."
The lady frowned, and appeared about to make an angry reply; but checking herself, turned to leave the room.
"Catharine," said Visconti, as she was moving away, "you may reply to the letter or not, as you please; but my uncle must not know that I have seen it—you understand me."
His wife replied by a slight nod, and withdrew.
"Well," said Visconti, when he was once more