Mordecastelli gave the list of the ringleaders which he had prepared, and watched the countenance of Castruccio as he read it. He observed contempt and carelessness on his countenance, until the name of the countess of Valperga met his eyes; he then saw the expression change, and a slight convulsion on his lips, which he evidently strove to suppress. Vanni could contain himself no longer.

‘You see, my lord, you see her name. And, as true as there is a sun in heaven, as true, as she is false, this saintlike Euthanasia has spotted her soul with treason. I have proofs, here they are. It would make one doubt one’s salvation, to see her with her Madonna face creep into this nest of traitors. There they must have been, closeted in a cellar, or hid in some dark hole; for else my spies would have earthed them out long ago. And I figure her to myself, with her golden hair, and eyes which illumined even the night, they were so dazzling,—entering a room made dark enough to hide treason;—and to think that the hellish bat did not take wing out at the window when she appeared! but no, she cherished him in her bosom.’

‘You are eloquent, Vanni.’

‘I am, my lord. I took her for an angel, and I find her a woman;— one of those frail, foolish creatures we all despise——’

‘Peace, peace, my dear Vanni; you talk insufferable nonsense. Let us proceed to more serious business. What have you done with these people?’

‘They are all in prison.’

‘The countess among them?’

‘Why, my lord, would you have had her spared?’

‘She is in prison then?’

‘She is.’

‘Vanni, you must look to these people. I assure you that I by no means find myself mercifully inclined towards them. These continual plots, and this foolish ingratitude, to give it no worse name, disturb our government too much. I will tear it away root and branch; and the punishment of these fellows shall be a terrible warning to those who may think of treading in the same steps.’

Castruccio fixed his eyes upon Mordecastelli; but there was an expression in them that made the confident cast his upon the ground. They glared; and his face became paler, so that his very lips were white. He looked steadily on Mordecastelli for some minutes; and then said:

‘They must all die.’

‘They shall, my lord.’

‘Yet not by an easy death. That were a poor revenge. They shall die, as they have lived, like traitors; and on their living tombs shall be written, Thus Castruccio punishes his rebel subjects. Have I toiled, exposed my person to danger, become the fear and hope of Tuscany, to stain with my best blood the dagger of one of these miserable villains? Do you see that they die so, Vanni, as that I may be satisfied.’

‘I will, my lord. And the countess?’—

‘Leave her to me. I will be her judge and executioner.’


  By PanEris using Melati.

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