Pepi paused with an inquisitive look; and Castruccio, assuring him of his amicable dispositions, intreated him to continue his explanation, and to name what he called his terms. Benedetto continued: ‘My terms are these, and truly they may easily be fulfilled; of course Cane only wishes to take the town out of the hands of the Guelphs, and to place it in trust with some sure Ghibeline; now let him make me lord of Cremona, and I will engage, first to put the town into his hands, and afterwards on receiving the investiture, to aid him with men during war, and pay him a tribute in time of peace. If he agree to this, let him only lead his troops to the gate of the town, and it shall be his without costing him one drop of blood.’

Castruccio listened with uncontrolable astonishment. He looked at the wrinkled and hardly human face of the speaker, his uncouth gait and manners, and could scarcely restrain his contempt; he remembered Pepi’s want of every principle and his boasted cruelty; and disgust overcame every other feeling; but, considering that it was as well to understand the whole of the man’s drift, after a moment’s pause he replied: ‘And where are the keys of the town which you say are in your possession?’

‘Would you see them?’ cried Pepi, starting up with a grin of triumph; ‘follow me, and you shall behold them.’

He called his old woman, and, taking the lamp from her hand, he bade her prepare the supper; and then with quick steps he conducted Castruccio from the apartment: they crossed the court into the second hall, and he opened the door of the secret staircase. After Pepi had again carefully closed it, he opened another door on the staircase, which Castruccio had not before observed, and which was indeed entirely concealed in the dirty plaster of the wall. ‘Even she,’ said Pepi, pointing towards the hall, ‘even my old witch, does not know of this opening.’

After closing it, he led the way through a dark gallery, to another long and narrow flight of stairs, which seemed to lead to the vaults underneath the castle. Castruccio paused before he began to descend, so deeply was he impressed with the villainy of his companion; but, remembering that they were man to man, and that he was young and strong, and his companion old and weak, and that he was armed with a sword, while Pepi had not even a knife at his girdle, he followed his conductor down the stairs. Flight after flight succeeded, until he thought they would never end; at length they came to another long gallery, windowless and damp, which by its close air indicated that it was below the surface of the ground, and then to various dreary and mildewed vaults in one of which stood two large chests.

‘There,’ cried Pepi, ‘are the keys of the town.’

‘Where?’ asked Castruccio, impatiently, ‘I see them not.’

Pepi turned to him with a grin of joy; and, taking two keys from his bosom, he knelt down, and exerting his strength, turned them in their locks, and threw back the lids of the chests, first one, and then the other: they were filled with parchments.

‘I do not understand this mummery; how can these musty parchments be the keys of your town?’

Pepi rubbed his hands with triumphant glee; he almost capered with delight; unable to stand still, he walked up and down the vault, crying, ‘They are not musty! they are parchments of this age! they are signed, they are sealed;—read them! read them!’

Castruccio took up one, and found it to be a bond obliging the signer to pay the sum of twenty thousand crowns on a certain day, in return for certain monies lent, or to forfeit the sum of thirty thousand, secured on the lands of a noble count of Cremona.

‘They are usurious bonds,’ said Castruccio, throwing it down angrily.

‘They are,’ replied Pepi, picking up the deed, and folding it carefully; ‘said I not well that I had the keys of the town? Every noble owes me a part, many the best part, of his estate. Many bonds are forfeited; and

  By PanEris using Melati.

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