Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF GUSTAVE FLAUBERT
'Wage Du zu irren und zu träumen!'--SCHILLER
This is what I read in an old Italian manuscript:--
About the middle of the sixteenth century there were living in Ferrara
(it was at that time flourishing under the sceptre of its magnificent
archdukes, the patrons of the arts and poetry) two young men, named Fabio
and Muzzio. They were of the same age, and of near kinship, and were
scarcely ever apart; the warmest affection had united them from early
childhood ... the similarity of their positions strengthened the bond. Both
belonged to old families; both were rich, independent, and without family
ties; tastes and inclinations were alike in both. Muzzio was devoted to
music, Fabio to painting. They were looked upon with pride by the whole
of Ferrara, as ornaments of the court, society, and town. In appearance,
however, they were not alike, though both were distinguished by a graceful,
youthful beauty. Fabio was taller, fair of face and flaxen of hair, and
he had blue eyes. Muzzio, on the other hand, had a swarthy face and black
hair, and in his dark brown eyes there was not the merry light, nor on his
lips the genial smile of Fabio; his thick eyebrows overhung narrow eyelids,
while Fabio's golden eyebrows formed delicate half-circles on his pure,
smooth brow. In conversation, too, Muzzio was less animated. For all that,
the two friends were both alike looked on with favour by ladies, as well
they might be, being models of chivalrous courtliness and generosity.
At the same time there was living in Ferrara a girl named Valeria. She was
considered one of the greatest beauties in the town, though it was very
seldom possible to see her, as she led a retired life, and never went
out except to church, and on great holidays for a walk. She lived with
her mother, a widow of noble family, though of small fortune, who had no
other children. In every one whom Valeria met she inspired a sensation of
involuntary admiration, and an equally involuntary tenderness and respect,
so modest was her mien, so little, it seemed, was she aware of all the
power of her own charms. Some, it is true, found her a little pale; her
eyes, almost always downcast, expressed a certain shyness, even timidity;
her lips rarely smiled, and then only faintly; her voice scarcely any one
had heard. But the rumour went that it was most beautiful, and that, shut
up in her own room, in the early morning when everything still slumbered in
the town, she loved to sing old songs to the sound of the lute, on which
she used to play herself. In spite of her pallor, Valeria was blooming with
health; and even old people, as they gazed on her, could not but think,
'Oh, how happy the youth for whom that pure maiden bud, still enfolded in
its petals, will one day open into full flower!'
Fabio and Muzzio saw Valeria for the first time at a magnificent public
festival, celebrated at the command of the Archduke of Ferrara, Ercol, son
of the celebrated Lucrezia Borgia, in honour of some illustrious grandees
who had come from Paris on the invitation of the Archduchess, daughter of
the French king, Louis XII. Valeria was sitting beside her mother on an
elegant tribune, built after a design of Palladio, in the principal square
of Ferrara, for the most honourable ladies in the town. Both Fabio and
Muzzio fell passionately in love with her on that day; and, as they never
had any secrets from each other, each of them soon knew what was passing
in his friend's heart. They agreed together that both should try to get
to know Valeria; and if she should deign to choose one of them, the
other should submit without a murmur to her decision. A few weeks later,
thanks to the excellent renown they deservedly enjoyed, they succeeded in
penetrating into the widow's house, difficult though it was to obtain an
entry to it; she permitted them to visit her. From that time forward they
were able almost every day to see Valeria and to converse with her; and
every day the passion kindled in the hearts of both young men grew stronger
and stronger. Valeria, however, showed no preference for either of them,
though their society was obviously agreeable to her. With Muzzio, she
occupied herself with music; but she talked more with Fabio, with him she
was less timid. At last, they resolved to learn once for all their fate,
and sent a letter to Valeria, in which they begged her to be open with
them, and to say to which she would be ready to give her hand. Valeria
showed this letter to her mother, and declared that she was willing to
remain unmarried, but if her mother considered it time for her to enter
upon matrimony, then she would marry whichever one her mother's choice
should fix upon. The excellent widow shed a few tears at the thought of
parting from her beloved child; there was, however, no good ground for
refusing the suitors, she considered both of them equally worthy of her
daughter's hand. But, as she secretly preferred Fabio, and suspected that
Valeria liked him the better, she fixed upon him. The next day Fabio heard
of his happy fate, while all that was left for Muzzio was to keep his word,
and submit. And this he did; but to be the witness of the triumph of his
friend and rival was more than he could do. He promptly sold the greater
part of his property, and collecting some thousands of ducats, he set off
on a far journey to the East. As he said farewell to Fabio, he told him
that he should not return till he felt that the last traces of passion had
vanished from his heart. It was painful to Fabio to part from the friend
of his childhood and youth ... but the joyous anticipation of approaching
bliss soon swallowed up all other sensations, and he gave himself up wholly
to the transports of successful love.
Shortly after, he celebrated his nuptials with Valeria, and only then
learnt the full worth of the treasure it had been his fortune to obtain.
He had a charming villa, shut in by a shady garden, a short distance
from Ferrara; he moved thither with his wife and her mother. Then a
time of happiness began for them. Married life brought out in a new and
enchanting light all the perfections of Valeria. Fabio became an artist of
distinction--no longer a mere amateur, but a real master. Valeria's mother
rejoiced, and thanked God as she looked upon the happy pair. Four years
flew by unperceived, like a delicious dream. One thing only was wanting
to the young couple, one lack they mourned over as a sorrow: they had no
children ... but they had not given up all hope of them. At the end of
the fourth year they were overtaken by a great, this time a real sorrow;
Valeria's mother died after an illness of a few days.
Many tears were shed by Valeria; for a long time she could not accustom
herself to her loss. But another year went by; life again asserted its
rights and flowed along its old channel. And behold, one fine summer
evening, unexpected by every one, Muzzio returned to Ferrara.
During the whole space of five years that had elapsed since his departure
no one had heard anything of him; all talk about him had died away, as
though he had vanished from the face of the earth. When Fabio met his
friend in one of the streets of Ferrara he almost cried out aloud, first in
alarm and then in delight, and he at once invited him to his villa. There
happened to be in his garden there a spacious pavilion, apart from the
house; he proposed to his friend that he should establish himself in this
pavilion. Muzzio readily agreed and moved thither the same day together
with his servant, a dumb Malay--dumb but not deaf, and indeed, to judge
by the alertness of his expression, a very intelligent man.... His tongue
had been cut out. Muzzio brought with him dozens of boxes, filled with
treasures of all sorts collected by him in the course of his prolonged
travels. Valeria was delighted at Muzzio's return; and he greeted her with
cheerful friendliness, but composure; it could be seen in every action
that he had kept the promise given to Fabio. During the day he completely
arranged everything in order in his pavilion; aided by his Malay, he
unpacked the curiosities he had brought; rugs, silken stuffs, velvet
and brocaded garments, weapons, goblets, dishes and bowls, decorated
with enamel, things made of gold and silver, and inlaid with pearl and
turquoise, carved boxes of jasper and ivory, cut bottles, spices, incense,
skins of wild beasts, and feathers of unknown birds, and a number of other
things, the very use of which seemed mysterious and incomprehensible. Among
all these precious things there was a rich pearl necklace, bestowed upon
Muzzio by the king of Persia for some great and secret service; he asked
permission of Valeria to put this necklace with his own hand about her
neck; she was struck by its great weight and a sort of strange heat in it
... it seemed to burn to her skin. In the evening after dinner as they sat
on the terrace of the villa in the shade of the oleanders and laurels,
Muzzio began to relate his adventures. He told of the distant lands he had
seen, of cloud-topped mountains and deserts, rivers like seas; he told of
immense buildings and temples, of trees a thousand years old, of birds and
flowers of the colours of the rainbow: he named the cities and the peoples
he had visited ... their very names seemed like a fairy tale. The whole
East was familiar to Muzzio; he had traversed Persia, Arabia, where the
horses are nobler and more beautiful than any other living creatures; he
had penetrated into the very heart of India, where the race of men grow
like stately trees; he had reached the boundaries of China and Thibet,
where the living god, called the Grand Llama, dwells on earth in the guise
of a silent man with narrow eyes. Marvellous were his tales. Both Fabio
and Valeria listened to him as if enchanted. Muzzio's features had really
changed very little; his face, swarthy from childhood, had grown darker
still, burnt under the rays of a hotter sun, his eyes seemed more deep-set
than before--and that was all; but the expression of his face had become
different: concentrated and dignified, it never showed more life when he
recalled the dangers he had encountered by night in forests that resounded
with the roar of tigers or by day on solitary ways where savage fanatics
lay in wait for travellers, to slay them in honour of their iron goddess
who demands human sacrifices. And Muzzio's voice had grown deeper and more
even; his hands, his whole body had lost the freedom of gesture peculiar
to the Italian race. With the aid of his servant, the obsequiously alert
Malay, he showed his hosts a few of the feats he had learnt from the
Indian Brahmins. Thus for instance, having first hidden himself behind a
curtain, he suddenly appeared sitting in the air cross-legged, the tips
of his fingers pressed lightly on a bamboo cane placed vertically, which
astounded Fabio not a little and positively alarmed Valeria.... 'Isn't he a
sorcerer?' was her thought. When he proceeded, piping on a little flute, to
call some tame snakes out of a covered basket, where their dark flat heads
with quivering tongues appeared under a parti-coloured cloth, Valeria was
terrified and begged Muzzio to put away these loathsome horrors as soon as
possible. At supper Muzzio regaled his friends with wine of Shiraz from a
round long-necked flagon; it was of extraordinary fragrance and thickness,
of a golden colour with a shade of green in it, and it shone with a strange
brightness as it was poured into the tiny jasper goblets. In taste it was
unlike European wines: it was very sweet and spicy, and, drunk slowly in
small draughts, produced a sensation of pleasant drowsiness in all the
limbs. Muzzio made both Fabio and Valeria drink a goblet of it, and he
drank one himself. Bending over her goblet he murmured something, moving
his fingers as he did so. Valeria noticed this; but as in all Muzzio's
doings, in his whole behaviour, there was something strange and out of the
common, she only thought; 'Can he have adopted some new faith in India, or
is that the custom there?' Then after a short silence she asked him: 'Had
he persevered with music during his travels?' Muzzio, in reply, bade the
Malay bring his Indian violin. It was like those of to-day, but instead
of four strings it had only three, the upper part of it was covered with
a bluish snake-skin, and the slender bow of reed was in the form of a
half-moon, and on its extreme end glittered a pointed diamond.
Muzzio played first some mournful airs, national songs as he told them,
strange and even barbarous to an Italian ear; the sound of the metallic
strings was plaintive and feeble. But when Muzzio began the last song, it
suddenly gained force and rang out tunefully and powerfully; the passionate
melody flowed out under the wide sweeps of the bow, flowed out, exquisitely
twisting and coiling like the snake that covered the violin-top; and such
fire, such triumphant bliss glowed and burned in this melody that Fabio and
Valeria felt wrung to the heart and tears came into their eyes; ... while
Muzzio, his head bent, and pressed close to the violin, his cheeks pale,
his eyebrows drawn together into a single straight line, seemed still more
concentrated and solemn; and the diamond at the end of the bow flashed
sparks of light as though it too were kindled by the fire of the divine
song. When Muzzio had finished, and still keeping fast the violin between
his chin and his shoulder, dropped the hand that held the bow, 'What is
that? What is that you have been playing to us?' cried Fabio. Valeria
uttered not a word--but her whole being seemed echoing her husband's
question. Muzzio laid the violin on the table--and slightly tossing back
his hair, he said with a polite smile: 'That--that melody ... that song
I heard once in the island of Ceylon. That song is known there among the
people as the song of happy, triumphant love.' 'Play it again,' Fabio was
murmuring. 'No; it can't be played again,' answered Muzzio. 'Besides, it
is now too late. Signora Valeria ought to be at rest; and it's time for
me too ... I am weary.' During the whole day Muzzio had treated Valeria
with respectful simplicity, as a friend of former days, but as he went
out he clasped her hand very tightly, squeezing his fingers on her palm,
and looking so intently into her face that though she did not raise her
eyelids, she yet felt the look on her suddenly flaming cheeks. She said
nothing to Muzzio, but jerked away her hand, and when he was gone, she
gazed at the door through which he had passed out. She remembered how
she had been a little afraid of him even in old days ... and now she was
overcome by perplexity. Muzzio went off to his pavilion: the husband and
wife went to their bedroom.
Valeria did not quickly fall asleep; there was a faint and languid fever in
her blood and a slight ringing in her ears ... from that strange wine, as
she supposed, and perhaps too from Muzzio's stories, from his playing on
the violin ... towards morning she did at last fall asleep, and she had an
She dreamt that she was going into a large room with a low ceiling.... Such
a room she had never seen in her life. All the walls were covered with tiny
blue tiles with gold lines on them; slender carved pillars of alabaster
supported the marble ceiling; the ceiling itself and the pillars seemed
half transparent ... a pale rosy light penetrated from all sides into the
room, throwing a mysterious and uniform light on all the objects in it;
brocaded cushions lay on a narrow rug in the very middle of the floor,
which was smooth as a mirror. In the corners almost unseen were smoking
lofty censers, of the shape of monstrous beasts; there was no window
anywhere; a door hung with a velvet curtain stood dark and silent in a
recess in the wall. And suddenly this curtain slowly glided, moved aside
... and in came Muzzio. He bowed, opened his arms, laughed.... His fierce
arms enfolded Valeria's waist; his parched lips burned her all over.... She
fell backwards on the cushions.
* * * * *
Moaning with horror, after long struggles, Valeria awaked. Still not
realising where she was and what was happening to her, she raised herself
on her bed, looked round.... A tremor ran over her whole body ... Fabio was
lying beside her. He was asleep; but his face in the light of the brilliant
full moon looking in at the window was pale as a corpse's ... it was sadder
than a dead face. Valeria waked her husband, and directly he looked at
her. 'What is the matter?' he cried. 'I had--I had a fearful dream,' she
whispered, still shuddering all over.
But at that instant from the direction of the pavilion came floating
powerful sounds, and both Fabio and Valeria recognised the melody Muzzio
had played to them, calling it the song of blissful triumphant love. Fabio
looked in perplexity at Valeria ... she closed her eyes, turned away, and
both holding their breath, heard the song out to the end. As the last
note died away, the moon passed behind a cloud, it was suddenly dark in
the room.... Both the young people let their heads sink on their pillows
without exchanging a word, and neither of them noticed when the other fell
The next morning Muzzio came in to breakfast; he seemed happy and greeted
Valeria cheerfully. She answered him in confusion--stole a glance at
him--and felt frightened at the sight of that serene happy face, those
piercing and inquisitive eyes. Muzzio was beginning again to tell some
story ... but Fabio interrupted him at the first word.
'You could not sleep, I see, in your new quarters. My wife and I heard you
playing last night's song.'
'Yes! Did you hear it?' said Muzzio. 'I played it indeed; but I had been
asleep before that, and I had a wonderful dream too.'
Valeria was on the alert. 'What sort of dream?' asked Fabio.
'I dreamed,' answered Muzzio, not taking his eyes off Valeria, 'I was
entering a spacious apartment with a ceiling decorated in Oriental fashion,
carved columns supported the roof, the walls were covered with tiles, and
though there were neither windows nor lights, the whole room was filled
with a rosy light, just as though it were all built of transparent stone.
In the corners, Chinese censers were smoking, on the floor lay brocaded
cushions along a narrow rug. I went in through a door covered with a
curtain, and at another door just opposite appeared a woman whom I once
loved. And so beautiful she seemed to me, that I was all aflame with my old
Muzzio broke off significantly. Valeria sat motionless, and only gradually
she turned white ... and she drew her breath more slowly.
'Then,' continued Muzzio, 'I waked up and played that song.'
'But who was that woman?' said Fabio.
'Who was she? The wife of an Indian--I met her in the town of Delhi.... She
is not alive now--she died.'
'And her husband?' asked Fabio, not knowing why he asked the question.
'Her husband, too, they say is dead. I soon lost sight of them both.'
'Strange!' observed Fabio. 'My wife too had an extraordinary dream last
night'--Muzzio gazed intently at Valeria--'which she did not tell me,'
But at this point Valeria got up and went out of the room. Immediately
after breakfast, Muzzio too went away, explaining that he had to be in
Ferrara on business, and that he would not be back before the evening.
A few weeks before Muzzio's return, Fabio had begun a portrait of his
wife, depicting her with the attributes of Saint Cecilia. He had made
considerable advance in his art; the renowned Luini, a pupil of Leonardo da
Vinci, used to come to him at Ferrara, and while aiding him with his own
counsels, pass on also the precepts of his great master. The portrait was
almost completely finished; all that was left was to add a few strokes
to the face, and Fabio might well be proud of his creation. After seeing
Muzzio off on his way to Ferrara, he turned into his studio, where Valeria
was usually waiting for him; but he did not find her there; he called her,
she did not respond. Fabio was overcome by a secret uneasiness; he began
looking for her. She was nowhere in the house; Fabio ran into the garden,
and there in one of the more secluded walks he caught sight of Valeria.
She was sitting on a seat, her head drooping on to her bosom and her hands
folded upon her knees; while behind her, peeping out of the dark green of a
cypress, a marble satyr, with a distorted malignant grin on his face, was
putting his pouting lips to a Pan's pipe. Valeria was visibly relieved at
her husband's appearance, and to his agitated questions she replied that
she had a slight headache, but that it was of no consequence, and she was
ready to come to sit to him. Fabio led her to the studio, posed her, and
took up his brush; but to his great vexation, he could not finish the face
as he would have liked to. And not because it was somewhat pale and looked
exhausted ... no; but the pure, saintly expression, which he liked so
much in it, and which had given him the idea of painting Valeria as Saint
Cecilia, he could not find in it that day. He flung down the brush at
last, told his wife he was not in the mood for work, and that he would not
prevent her from lying down, as she did not look at all well, and put the
canvas with its face to the wall. Valeria agreed with him that she ought
to rest, and repeating her complaints of a headache, withdrew into her
bedroom. Fabio remained in the studio. He felt a strange confused sensation
incomprehensible to himself. Muzzio's stay under his roof, to which he,
Fabio, had himself urgently invited him, was irksome to him. And not that
he was jealous--could any one have been jealous of Valeria!--but he did not
recognise his former comrade in his friend. All that was strange, unknown
and new that Muzzio had brought with him from those distant lands--and
which seemed to have entered into his very flesh and blood--all these
magical feats, songs, strange drinks, this dumb Malay, even the spicy
fragrance diffused by Muzzio's garments, his hair, his breath--all this
inspired in Fabio a sensation akin to distrust, possibly even to timidity.
And why did that Malay waiting at table stare with such disagreeable
intentness at him, Fabio? Really any one might suppose that he understood
Italian. Muzzio had said of him that in losing his tongue, this Malay had
made a great sacrifice, and in return he was now possessed of great power.
What sort of power? and how could he have obtained it at the price of his
tongue? All this was very strange! very incomprehensible! Fabio went into
his wife's room; she was lying on the bed, dressed, but was not asleep.
Hearing his steps, she started, then again seemed delighted to see him just
as in the garden. Fabio sat down beside the bed, took Valeria by the hand,
and after a short silence, asked her, 'What was the extraordinary dream
that had frightened her so the previous night? And was it the same sort
at all as the dream Muzzio had described?' Valeria crimsoned and said
hurriedly: 'O! no! no! I saw ... a sort of monster which was trying to tear
me to pieces.' 'A monster? in the shape of a man?' asked Fabio. 'No, a
beast ... a beast!' Valeria turned away and hid her burning face in the
pillows. Fabio held his wife's hand some time longer; silently he raised it
to his lips, and withdrew.
Both the young people passed that day with heavy hearts. Something dark
seemed hanging over their heads ... but what it was, they could not tell.
They wanted to be together, as though some danger threatened them; but what
to say to one another they did not know. Fabio made an effort to take up
the portrait, and to read Ariosto, whose poem had appeared not long before
in Ferrara, and was now making a noise all over Italy; but nothing was of
any use.... Late in the evening, just at supper-time, Muzzio returned.
He seemed composed and cheerful--but he told them little; he devoted
himself rather to questioning Fabio about their common acquaintances, about
the German war, and the Emperor Charles: he spoke of his own desire to
visit Rome, to see the new Pope. He again offered Valeria some Shiraz wine,
and on her refusal, observed as though to himself, 'Now it's not needed, to
be sure.' Going back with his wife to their room, Fabio soon fell asleep;
and waking up an hour later, felt a conviction that no one was sharing his
bed; Valeria was not beside him. He got up quickly and at the same instant
saw his wife in her night attire coming out of the garden into the room.
The moon was shining brightly, though not long before a light rain had been
falling. With eyes closed, with an expression of mysterious horror on her
immovable face, Valeria approached the bed, and feeling for it with her
hands stretched out before her, lay down hurriedly and in silence. Fabio
turned to her with a question, but she made no reply; she seemed to be
asleep. He touched her, and felt on her dress and on her hair drops of
rain, and on the soles of her bare feet, little grains of sand. Then he
leapt up and ran into the garden through the half-open door. The crude
brilliance of the moon wrapt every object in light. Fabio looked about him,
and perceived on the sand of the path prints of two pairs of feet--one pair
were bare; and these prints led to a bower of jasmine, on one side, between
the pavilion and the house. He stood still in perplexity, and suddenly once
more he heard the strains of the song he had listened to the night before.
Fabio shuddered, ran into the pavilion.... Muzzio was standing in the
middle of the room playing on the violin. Fabio rushed up to him.
'You have been in the garden, your clothes are wet with rain.'
'No ... I don't know ... I think ... I have not been out ...' Muzzio
answered slowly, seeming amazed at Fabio's entrance and his excitement.
Fabio seized him by the hand. 'And why are you playing that melody again?
Have you had a dream again?'
Muzzio glanced at Fabio with the same look of amazement, and said nothing.
'"The moon stood high like a round shield ...
Like a snake, the river shines ...,
The friend's awake, the foe's asleep ...
The bird is in the falcon's clutches.... Help!"'
muttered Muzzio, humming to himself as though in delirium.
Fabio stepped back two paces, stared at Muzzio, pondered a moment ... and
went back to the house, to his bedroom.
Valeria, her head sunk on her shoulder and her hands hanging lifelessly,
was in a heavy sleep. He could not quickly awaken her ... but directly she
saw him, she flung herself on his neck, and embraced him convulsively; she
was trembling all over. 'What is the matter, my precious, what is it?'
Fabio kept repeating, trying to soothe her. But she still lay lifeless
on his breast. 'Ah, what fearful dreams I have!' she whispered, hiding
her face against him. Fabio would have questioned her ... but she only
shuddered. The window-panes were flushed with the early light of morning
when at last she fell asleep in his arms.
The next day Muzzio disappeared from early morning, while Valeria informed
her husband that she intended to go away to a neighbouring monastery, where
lived her spiritual father, an old and austere monk, in whom she placed
unbounded confidence. To Fabio's inquiries she replied, that she wanted by
confession to relieve her soul, which was weighed down by the exceptional
impressions of the last few days. As he looked upon Valeria's sunken face,
and listened to her faint voice, Fabio approved of her plan; the worthy
Father Lorenzo might give her valuable advice, and might disperse her
doubts.... Under the escort of four attendants, Valeria set off to the
monastery, while Fabio remained at home, and wandered about the garden till
his wife's return, trying to comprehend what had happened to her, and a
victim to constant fear and wrath, and the pain of undefined suspicions....
More than once he went up to the pavilion; but Muzzio had not returned, and
the Malay gazed at Fabio like a statue, obsequiously bowing his head, with
a well-dissembled--so at least it seemed to Fabio--smile on his bronzed
face. Meanwhile, Valeria had in confession told everything to her priest,
not so much with shame as with horror. The priest heard her attentively,
gave her his blessing, absolved her from her involuntary sin, but to
himself he thought: 'Sorcery, the arts of the devil ... the matter can't be
left so,' ... and he returned with Valeria to her villa, as though with the
aim of completely pacifying and reassuring her. At the sight of the priest
Fabio was thrown into some agitation; but the experienced old man had
thought out beforehand how he must treat him. When he was left alone with
Fabio, he did not of course betray the secrets of the confessional, but
he advised him if possible to get rid of the guest they had invited to
their house, as by his stories, his songs, and his whole behaviour he was
troubling the imagination of Valeria. Moreover, in the old man's opinion,
Muzzio had not, he remembered, been very firm in the faith in former days,
and having spent so long a time in lands unenlightened by the truths of
Christianity, he might well have brought thence the contagion of false
doctrine, might even have become conversant with secret magic arts; and,
therefore, though long friendship had indeed its claims, still a wise
prudence pointed to the necessity of separation. Fabio fully agreed with
the excellent monk. Valeria was even joyful when her husband reported to
her the priest's counsel; and sent on his way with the cordial good-will
of both the young people, loaded with good gifts for the monastery and the
poor, Father Lorenzo returned home.
Fabio intended to have an explanation with Muzzio immediately after supper;
but his strange guest did not return to supper. Then Fabio decided to defer
his conversation with Muzzio until the following day; and both the young
people retired to rest.
Valeria soon fell asleep; but Fabio could not sleep. In the stillness of
the night, everything he had seen, everything he had felt presented itself
more vividly; he put to himself still more insistently questions to which
as before he could find no answer. Had Muzzio really become a sorcerer,
and had he not already poisoned Valeria? She was ill ... but what was
her disease? While he lay, his head in his hand, holding his feverish
breath, and given up to painful reflection, the moon rose again upon a
cloudless sky; and together with its beams, through the half-transparent
window-panes, there began, from the direction of the pavilion--or was it
Fabio's fancy?--to come a breath, like a light, fragrant current ... then
an urgent, passionate murmur was heard ... and at that instant he observed
that Valeria was beginning faintly to stir. He started, looked; she rose
up, slid first one foot, then the other out of the bed, and like one
bewitched of the moon, her sightless eyes fixed lifelessly before her, her
hands stretched out, she began moving towards the garden! Fabio instantly
ran out of the other door of the room, and running quickly round the corner
of the house, bolted the door that led into the garden.... He had scarcely
time to grasp at the bolt, when he felt some one trying to open the door
from the inside, pressing against it ... again and again ... and then there
was the sound of piteous passionate moans....
'But Muzzio has not come back from the town,' flashed through Fabio's head,
and he rushed to the pavilion....
What did he see?
Coming towards him, along the path dazzlingly lighted up by the moon's
rays, was Muzzio, he too moving like one moonstruck, his hands held out
before him, and his eyes open but unseeing.... Fabio ran up to him, but he,
not heeding him, moved on, treading evenly, step by step, and his rigid
face smiled in the moonlight like the Malay's. Fabio would have called him
by his name ... but at that instant he heard, behind him in the house, the
creaking of a window.... He looked round....
Yes, the window of the bedroom was open from top to bottom, and putting one
foot over the sill, Valeria stood in the window ... her hands seemed to be
seeking Muzzio ... she seemed striving all over towards him....
Unutterable fury filled Fabio's breast with a sudden inrush. 'Accursed
sorcerer!' he shrieked furiously, and seizing Muzzio by the throat with one
hand, with the other he felt for the dagger in his girdle, and plunged the
blade into his side up to the hilt.
Muzzio uttered a shrill scream, and clapping his hand to the wound, ran
staggering back to the pavilion.... But at the very same instant when Fabio
stabbed him, Valeria screamed just as shrilly, and fell to the earth like
grass before the scythe.
Fabio flew to her, raised her up, carried her to the bed, began to speak to
She lay a long time motionless, but at last she opened her eyes, heaved a
deep, broken, blissful sigh, like one just rescued from imminent death, saw
her husband, and twining her arms about his neck, crept close to him. 'You,
you, it is you,' she faltered. Gradually her hands loosened their hold, her
head sank back, and murmuring with a blissful smile, 'Thank God, it is all
over.... But how weary I am!' she fell into a sound but not heavy sleep.
Fabio sank down beside her bed, and never taking his eyes off her pale and
sunken, but already calmer, face, began reflecting on what had happened ...
and also on how he ought to act now. What steps was he to take? If he had
killed Muzzio--and remembering how deeply the dagger had gone in, he could
have no doubt of it--it could not be hidden. He would have to bring it
to the knowledge of the archduke, of the judges ... but how explain, how
describe such an incomprehensible affair? He, Fabio, had killed in his own
house his own kinsman, his dearest friend? They will inquire, What for?
on what ground?... But if Muzzio were not dead? Fabio could not endure
to remain longer in uncertainty, and satisfying himself that Valeria was
asleep, he cautiously got up from his chair, went out of the house, and
made his way to the pavilion. Everything was still in it; only in one
window a light was visible. With a sinking heart he opened the outer door
(there was still the print of blood-stained fingers on it, and there were
black drops of gore on the sand of the path), passed through the first dark
room ... and stood still on the threshold, overwhelmed with amazement.
In the middle of the room, on a Persian rug, with a brocaded cushion under
his head, and all his limbs stretched out straight, lay Muzzio, covered
with a wide, red shawl with a black pattern on it. His face, yellow as wax,
with closed eyes and bluish eyelids, was turned towards the ceiling, no
breathing could be discerned: he seemed a corpse. At his feet knelt the
Malay, also wrapt in a red shawl. He was holding in his left hand a branch
of some unknown plant, like a fern, and bending slightly forward, was
gazing fixedly at his master. A small torch fixed on the floor burnt with
a greenish flame, and was the only light in the room. The flame did not
flicker nor smoke. The Malay did not stir at Fabio's entry, he merely
turned his eyes upon him, and again bent them upon Muzzio. From time to
time he raised and lowered the branch, and waved it in the air, and his
dumb lips slowly parted and moved as though uttering soundless words. On
the floor between the Malay and Muzzio lay the dagger, with which Fabio
had stabbed his friend; the Malay struck one blow with the branch on the
blood-stained blade. A minute passed ... another. Fabio approached the
Malay, and stooping down to him, asked in an undertone, 'Is he dead?' The
Malay bent his head from above downwards, and disentangling his right
hand from his shawl, he pointed imperiously to the door. Fabio would have
repeated his question, but the gesture of the commanding hand was repeated,
and Fabio went out, indignant and wondering, but obedient.
He found Valeria sleeping as before, with an even more tranquil expression
on her face. He did not undress, but seated himself by the window, his head
in his hand, and once more sank into thought. The rising sun found him
still in the same place. Valeria had not waked up.
Fabio intended to wait till she awakened, and then to set off to Ferrara,
when suddenly some one tapped lightly at the bedroom door. Fabio went out,
and saw his old steward, Antonio. 'Signor,' began the old man, 'the Malay
has just informed me that Signor Muzzio has been taken ill, and wishes to
be moved with all his belongings to the town; and that he begs you to let
him have servants to assist in packing his things; and that at dinner-time
you would send pack-horses, and saddle-horses, and a few attendants for the
journey. Do you allow it?'
'The Malay informed you of this?' asked Fabio. 'In what manner? Why, he is
'Here, signor, is the paper on which he wrote all this in our language, and
'And Muzzio, you say, is ill?' 'Yes, he is very ill, and can see no one.'
'Have they sent for a doctor?' 'No. The Malay forbade it.' 'And was it the
Malay wrote you this?' 'Yes, it was he.' Fabio did not speak for a moment.
'Well, then, arrange it all,' he said at last. Antonio withdrew.
Fabio looked after his servant in bewilderment. 'Then, he is not dead?' he
thought ... and he did not know whether to rejoice or to be sorry. 'Ill?'
But a few hours ago it was a corpse he had looked upon!
Fabio returned to Valeria. She waked up and raised her head. The husband
and wife exchanged a long look full of significance. 'He is gone?' Valeria
said suddenly. Fabio shuddered. 'How gone? Do you mean ...' 'Is he gone
away?' she continued. A load fell from Fabio's heart. 'Not yet; but he is
going to-day.' 'And I shall never, never see him again?' 'Never.' 'And
these dreams will not come again?' 'No.' Valeria again heaved a sigh of
relief; a blissful smile once more appeared on her lips. She held out both
hands to her husband. 'And we will never speak of him, never, do you hear,
my dear one? And I will not leave my room till he is gone. And do you now
send me my maids ... but stay: take away that thing!' she pointed to the
pearl necklace, lying on a little bedside table, the necklace given her by
Muzzio, 'and throw it at once into our deepest well. Embrace me. I am your
Valeria; and do not come in to me till ... he has gone.' Fabio took the
necklace--the pearls he fancied looked tarnished--and did as his wife
had directed. Then he fell to wandering about the garden, looking from
a distance at the pavilion, about which the bustle of preparations for
departure was beginning. Servants were bringing out boxes, loading the
horses ... but the Malay was not among them. An irresistible impulse drew
Fabio to look once more upon what was taking place in the pavilion. He
recollected that there was at the back a secret door, by which he could
reach the inner room where Muzzio had been lying in the morning. He stole
round to this door, found it unlocked, and, parting the folds of a heavy
curtain, turned a faltering glance upon the room within.
Muzzio was not now lying on the rug. Dressed as though for a journey, he
sat in an arm-chair, but seemed a corpse, just as on Fabio's first visit.
His torpid head fell back on the chair, and his outstretched hands hung
lifeless, yellow, and rigid on his knees. His breast did not heave. Near
the chair on the floor, which was strewn with dried herbs, stood some flat
bowls of dark liquid, which exhaled a powerful, almost suffocating, odour,
the odour of musk. Around each bowl was coiled a small snake of brazen hue,
with golden eyes that flashed from time to time; while directly facing
Muzzio, two paces from him, rose the long figure of the Malay, wrapt in a
mantle of many-coloured brocade, girt round the waist with a tiger's tail,
with a high hat of the shape of a pointed tiara on his head. But he was
not motionless: at one moment he bowed down reverently, and seemed to be
praying, at the next he drew himself up to his full height, even rose on
tiptoe; then, with a rhythmic action, threw wide his arms, and moved them
persistently in the direction of Muzzio, and seemed to threaten or command
him, frowning and stamping with his foot. All these actions seemed to cost
him great effort, even to cause him pain: he breathed heavily, the sweat
streamed down his face. All at once he sank down to the ground, and drawing
in a full breath, with knitted brow and immense effort, drew his clenched
hands towards him, as though he were holding reins in them ... and to the
indescribable horror of Fabio, Muzzio's head slowly left the back of the
chair, and moved forward, following the Malay's hands.... The Malay let
them fall, and Muzzio's head fell heavily back again; the Malay repeated
his movements, and obediently the head repeated them after him. The dark
liquid in the bowls began boiling; the bowls themselves began to resound
with a faint bell-like note, and the brazen snakes coiled freely about each
of them. Then the Malay took a step forward, and raising his eyebrows and
opening his eyes immensely wide, he bowed his head to Muzzio ... and the
eyelids of the dead man quivered, parted uncertainly, and under them could
be seen the eyeballs, dull as lead. The Malay's face was radiant with
triumphant pride and delight, a delight almost malignant; he opened his
mouth wide, and from the depths of his chest there broke out with effort
a prolonged howl.... Muzzio's lips parted too, and a faint moan quivered
on them in response to that inhuman sound.... But at this point Fabio
could endure it no longer; he imagined he was present at some devilish
incantation! He too uttered a shriek and rushed out, running home, home as
quick as possible, without looking round, repeating prayers and crossing
himself as he ran.
Three hours later, Antonio came to him with the announcement that
everything was ready, the things were packed, and Signor Muzzio was
preparing to start. Without a word in answer to his servant, Fabio went out
on to the terrace, whence the pavilion could be seen. A few pack-horses
were grouped before it; a powerful raven horse, saddled for two riders, was
led up to the steps, where servants were standing bare-headed, together
with armed attendants. The door of the pavilion opened, and supported by
the Malay, who wore once more his ordinary attire, appeared Muzzio. His
face was death-like, and his hands hung like a dead man's--but he walked
... yes, positively walked, and, seated on the charger, he sat upright
and felt for and found the reins. The Malay put his feet in the stirrups,
leaped up behind him on the saddle, put his arm round him, and the whole
party started. The horses moved at a walking pace, and when they turned
round before the house, Fabio fancied that in Muzzio's dark face there
gleamed two spots of white.... Could it be he had turned his eyes upon him?
Only the Malay bowed to him ... ironically, as ever.
Did Valeria see all this? The blinds of her windows were drawn ... but it
may be she was standing behind them.
At dinner-time she came into the dining-room, and was very quiet and
affectionate; she still complained, however, of weariness. But there was
no agitation about her now, none of her former constant bewilderment and
secret dread; and when, the day after Muzzio's departure, Fabio set to work
again on her portrait, he found in her features the pure expression, the
momentary eclipse of which had so troubled him ... and his brush moved
lightly and faithfully over the canvas.
The husband and wife took up their old life again. Muzzio vanished for
them as though he had never existed. Fabio and Valeria were agreed, as it
seemed, not to utter a syllable referring to him, not to learn anything of
his later days; his fate remained, however, a mystery for all. Muzzio did
actually disappear, as though he had sunk into the earth. Fabio one day
thought it his duty to tell Valeria exactly what had taken place on that
fatal night ... but she probably divined his intention, and she held her
breath, half-shutting her eyes, as though she were expecting a blow.... And
Fabio understood her; he did not inflict that blow upon her.
One fine autumn day, Fabio was putting the last touches to his picture of
his Cecilia; Valeria sat at the organ, her fingers straying at random over
the keys.... Suddenly, without her knowing it, from under her hands came
the first notes of that song of triumphant love which Muzzio had once
played; and at the same instant, for the first time since her marriage, she
felt within her the throb of a new palpitating life.... Valeria started,
What did it mean? Could it be....
* * * * *
At this word the manuscript ended.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.