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It was a fine autumnal evening; I had been walking with a friend until dusk on the Piazza Grand, or principal square in the town of Lucca. We had been conversing of England, our own country, from which I had then banished myself for nearly four years, having taken up my residence in Italy to fortify a weak constitution, and having remained there long after it was requisite for my health from an attachment to its pure sky, and the dolce far niente which so wins upon you in that luxurious climate. We had communicated to each other the contents of our respective letters arrived by the last mail, had talked over politics, great men, acquaintances, friends and kindred, and, tired of conversation, had both sank into a pleasing reverie as we watched the stars twinkling above us, when my friend rose hastily and bid me good night.
“Where are are you going, Alfred ?” inquired I.
“ I had nearly forgotten I had an appointment this evening. I promised to meet somebody at the Marquesa di Cesto's masquerade."
“ Pshaw! are you not tired of these things ?” replied I; “ that eternal round of black masks and dominos of all colours; heavy harlequins, fools and clowns by nature wearing their proper dresses there, and only in masquerade when out of it; nuns who have no sins in their composition flirt, friars without a spice of religion, ugly Venuses, Dianas without chastity, and Hebes as old as your grandmother.”
“ All very true, Herbert; and life itself is masquerade enough, but the fact is, that I have made an appointment; it is of importance, and I must not fail.”
“Well, I wish you more amusement than I have generally extracted from these burlesque meetings," replied I. Adieu, and may you be successful!" and my Albert hastened away.
I remained another half hour reclining on the bench, and then returned to my lodgings. My servant Antonio lighted the candle and withdrew. On the table laid a note; it was an invitation from the Marquesa. I threw it on one side and took up a book; one that required reflection and deep examination; but the rattling of the wheels of the carriages as they whirled along past my window, would not permit me to command my attention. I threw down the book, and taking a chair at the window, watched the carriages full of masks as they rolled past, apparently so eager in the pursuit of pleasure. I was in a cynical humour. What fools, thought I, and yet what numbers will be there; there will be an immense crowd, and what can be the assignation which Albert said was of such consequence ? Such was my reflection for the next ten minutes, during which at least fifty carriages and other vehicles had passed in review before me.
And then I thought of the princely fortune of the Marquesa, the splendid palazzo at which the masquerade was given, and the brilliant scene which would take place.
“ The Grand Duke is to be there, and every body of distinction in Lucca. I have a great mind to go myself.”
A few minutes more elapsed. I felt that I was lonely, and I made up my mind that I would go. I turned from the window and rang the bell.
“ Antonio, see if you can procure me a domino, a dark-coloured one if possible, and tell Carlo to bring the carriage round as soon as he can."
Antonio departed, and was away so long, that the carriage was at the door previous to his return.
“ Signor, I am sorry, very, very sorry, but I have run to every shop in Lucca, and there is nothing left but a sky-blue domino, which I have brought with me.”
“ Sky-blue! why, there will not be two sky-blue dominos in the whole masquerade; I might as well tell my name at once, I shall be so conspicuous."
“You are as well hidden under a sky-blue domino as a black one, Signor, if you choose to keep your own secrets,” observed Antonio.
Very true,” replied I; "give me my mask.” Enshrouding myself in the sky-blue domino, I went down the stairs, threw myself into the carriage, and directed Carlo to drive to the palazzo of the Marquesa.
In half an hour we arrived at the entrance gates of the Marquesa's superb country seat. From these gates to the palazzo, a sweep of several hundred yards, the trees through which the driver passed were loaded with variegated lamps, hanging in graceful festoons from branch to branch, and the notes of music from the vast entrance-hall of the palazzo floated through the still air. When I arrived at the area in front of the flight of marble steps which formed the entrance of the palazzo, I was astonished at the magnificence, the good taste, and the total disregard of expense which was exhibited. The palazzo itself appeared like the fabric built of diamonds and precious stones by the genii who obeyed the ring and lamp of Aladdin, so completely was its marble front hidden with a mass of many-coloured lamps, the reflection from whose galaxy of light rendered it bright as day for nearly one hundred yards around; various cluras and transparencies were arranged in the walks nearest to the palazzo, and then all was dark, rendered still darker from the contrast with the Hood of light which poured to a certain distance from the scene of festivity. Groups of characters and dominos were walking to and fro in every direction, most of them retracing their steps when they arrived at the sombre walks and valleys, some few pairs continuing their route, where no listeners were to be expected.
This is an animating scene, thought I, as the carriage stopped, and I am not sorry that I made one of the party. As soon as I had descended, I walked up the broad flight of marble steps which led to the spacious hall in which the major part of the company were collected. The music had, for a moment, ceased to play, and finding that the perfume of the exotics which decorated the hall was too powerful, I was again descending the marble steps when my hand was seized and warmly pressed by one in a violet-coloured domino.
“I am so glad that you are come; we were afraid that you would not. I will see you again directly,” said the domino, and it then fell back into the crowd and disappeared.
It immediately occurred to me that it was my friend Albert who
spoke to me. " Very odd," thought I, "that he should have found me out!” and again I fell into the absurdity of imagining that because I had put on a conspicuous domino, I was sure to be recognised. “What can he want with me? He must be in some difficulty, some unexpected one, that certain.” Such were my reflections as I slowly descended the steps, occasionally pausing for a moment on one, as I was lost in conjecture, when I was again arrested by a slight slap on the shoulder. I looked around; it was a female, and although she wore her half-mask, it was evident that she was young, and I felt convinced that she was beautiful.
“Not a word,” whispered she, putting her finger to her lip; “ follow me." Of course I followed; who could resist such a challenge ?
“ You are late,” said the incognito, when we had walked so far away from the palazzo as to be out of hearing of the crowd.
“ I did not make up my mind to come until an hour ago,” replied I.
“ I was so afraid that you would not come. Albert was sure that you would. He was right. He told me just now that he had spoken to you."
“ What! was that Albert in the rose-coloured domino ?”
“ Yes; but I dare not stay now, my father will be looking for me. Albert is keeping him in conversation. In half an hour he will speak to you again. Has he explained to you what has occurred ?”
is Not one word.”
“ If he has not time—and I doubt if he will have, as he must attend to the preparations--I will write a few lines, if I can, and explain, or at least tell you what to do; but I am so harassed, so frightened! We do indeed require your assistance. Adieu :" so saying, the fair unknown tripped hastily away.
“What the deuce is all this?” muttered I, as I watched her retreating figure. “ Albert said that he had an appointment, but he did not make me his confidant. It appears that something which has occurred this night occasions him to require my assistance. Well, I will not fail him."
For about half an hour I sauntered up and down between the lines of orange-trees which were dressed up with variegated lamps, and shed their powerful fragrance in the air : I ruminated upon what might be my friend's intentions, and what might be thc result of an intrigue carried on in a country where the stiletto follows Love so close through all the mazes of his labyrinth, when I was again accosted by the violetcoloured domino.
“ Hist!” whispered he, looking carefully round as he thrust a paper into my hand,“ read this after I leave you. In one hour from this be you on this spot. Are you armed ?” "No," replied I ; “ but Albert" You
may not need it; but nevertheless take this, I cannot wait.” So saying, he put a stiletto into my hand, and again made a hasty retreat.
It had been my intention to have asked Albert what was his plan, and further, why he did not speak English instead of Italian, as he would have been less liable to be understood if overheard by eavesdroppers; but a little reflection told me that he was right in speaking Italian, as the English language overheard would have betrayed him, or at least have identified him as a foreigner.
“A very mysterious affair this !” thought I; “ but, however, this paper will, I presume, explain the business. That there is a danger in it is evident, or he would not have given me this weapon;" and I turned the stiletto once or twice to the light of the lamp next to me, examining its blade, when, looking up, I perceived a black domino standing before me.
“ It is sharp enough, I warrant," said the domino; “ you have but to strike home. I have been waiting for you in the next walk, which I thought was to be our rendezvous. Here is a paper which you will fasten to his dress. I will contrive that he shall be here in an hour hence by a pretended message. After his death you will put this packet into his bosom ;-you understand. Fail not: remember the one thousand sequins ; and here is my ring, which I will redeem as soon as your work is done. The others will soon be here. The password is Milano. But I must not be seen here. Why a sky-blue domino ? it is too conspicuous for retreat:" and as I received from him the packet and ring, the black domino retreated through the orange grove which encircled us.
I was lost in amazement: there I stood with my hands full-two papers, a packet, a stiletto, and a diamond ring! "Well,” thought I,
this time I am most assuredly taken for somebody else—for a bravo I am not. There is some foul work going on, which, perhaps, I may prevent.” “But why a sky-blue domino ?” said he. I may well ask the same question. " Why the deuce did I come here in a sky-blue domino, or any domino at all ?” I put the ring on my finger, the stiletto and packet in my bosom, and then hastened away to the garden on the other side of the palazzo, that I might read the mysterious communication put into my hands by my friend Albert; and as I walked on, my love for admiration led me away so as to find myself pleased with the mystery and danger attending upon the affair ; and feeling secure, now that I had a stiletto in my bosom for my defence, I resolved that I would go right through until the whole affair should be unravelled.
I walked on till I had gained the last lamp on the other side of the palazzo. I held up to its light the mysterious paper; it was in Italian, and in a woman's handwriting.
“ We have determined upon flight, as we cannot hope for safety here, surrounded as we are by stilettoes on every side. We feel sure of pardon as soon as the papers which Albert received by this day's mail, and which he will entrust to you when you meet again, are placed in my father's hands. We must have your assistance in removing our treasure. Our horses are all ready, and a few hours will put us in safety ; but we must look to you for following us in your carriage, and conveying for me what would prove so great an incumbrance to our necessary speed. When Albert sees you again, he will be able to tell you where it is deposited. Follow us quick, and you will always have the gratitude of
“ VIOLA. “ P.S. I write in great haste, as I cannot leave my father's side for a moment without his seeking for me.'
" What can all this mean? Albert told me of no papers by this day's mail. Viola! I never heard him mention such a name. He said to me, Read this, and all will be explained.' I'll be hanged if I am not as much in the dark as ever!-follow them in my carriage with the treasure-never says where! I presume he is about to run off with some rich heiress. Confound this sky-blue domino! Here I am with two papers, a packet, a stiletto, and a ring; I am to receive another packet, and am to convey treasure. Well, it must solve itself-I will back to my post; but first let me see what is in this paper which I am to affis upon the man's dress after I have killed him.” I held it up to the light, and read, in capital letters, “ The reward of a traitor !"
" Short and pithy,” muttered I, as I replaced it in my pocket: “now, I'll back to the spot of assignation, for the hour must be nearly expired.”
As I retraced my steps, I again reverted to the communication of Viola—" Surrounded as we are by stilettoes on every side !! Why, surely Albert cannot be the person that I am required by the black doniino to despatch; and yet it may be so-and others are to join me here before the hour is passed.” A thought struck me: whoever the party might be whose life was to be taken, whether Albert or another, I could save him.
My reverie was again broken by a tap on the shoulder.
“ All's right, then-Giacomo and Tomaso are close by—I will fetch them.”
The man turned away, and in a minute reappeared with two others, bending as they forced their way under the orange-trees.
“ Here we all are, Felippo,” whispered the first. “ He is to be here in a few minutes."
“ Hush !" replied I, in a whisper, and holding up to them the brilliant ring which sparkled on my finger.
Ah, Signor, I cry your mercy,” replied the man, in a low voice; “ I thought it was Felippo.”
“ Not so loud,” replied I, still in a whisper. “All is discovered, and Felippo is arrested. You must away immediately. You shall hear from me to-morrow."
“ Corpo di Bacco! Where, Signor? at the old place ?” “Yes—now away, and save yourselves.”
In a few seconds the desperate men disappeared among the trees, and I was left alone.
" Will you
“ Slaves of the Ring, you have done my bidding at all events, this time,” thought I, and I looked at the ring more attentively. It was a splendid solitaire diamond, worth many hundred crowns. ever find your way back to your lawful owner ?" was the question in my mind when Albert made his appearance in his violet-coloured domino.
“ 'Twas imprudent of you to send me the paper by the black domino," said he, hastily. “ Did I not tell you that I would be here in an hour ? We have not a moment to spare. Follow me quickly, and be silent."
I followed--the paper which Albert referred to needed no explanation ; it was, indeed, the only part of the whole affair which I comprehended. He led the way to about three hundred yards of the path through the wood.
“ There,” said he,“ in that narrow avenue you will find my faithful negro with his charge. He will not deliver it up without you show him this ring.” And Albert put a ring upon my finger.
“ But, Albert,”—my mind misgave me-- Albert never had a faithful