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had been engraved there. Vincenzio shuddered, for that fatal mark appeared to him as if the seal of his infernal compact! But the lord of Guadagnaro did not possess an ordinary spirit; and strange as it may be, his strongest emotion at that moment was an inex. pressible sense of happiness. He was certain that his hour of vengeance was at hand. He sprang therefore from his couch, and his first glance fell upon immense coffers filled with gold. Venetian sequins, of the finest purity, glittered before his eyes, mixed with ducats, which did not change into dust in his hand, as he had at first for a moment feared. One might have supposed that Pactolus, with its waves of gold, had in passing through his chamber forgotten these miraculous treasures. But Vincenzio, was he thinking of that gold which he grasped by handfuls, and covered with kisses ? Was he enjoying the possession of such vast riches, as he rolled in the midst of sequins and ducats ? No; it was his approaching vengeance that alone caused the wild tumults of his joy.
On the top of the gold was a parchment containing the condi. tions of the dark personage, conditions accepted by Vincenzio, and which were already registered in hell. Such was the principal clause of the contract; our Venetian had pledged himself to play three games of Chess with Astaroth, and an interval of ten years was to elapse between each of these games. Should our hero win or lose, a hundred years of an existence full of joy and happiness were granted to him, independently of the twenty summers that he reckoned already. A single one of these games won or drawn destroyed the compact, and guaranteed Vincenzio against all punishment in the next world. But, on the other hand, should he lose the three games, he was indeed to enjoy his hundred years or the earth ; but then, horrible alternative !--the flames of hell through all eternity.
The pages of Vincenzio carried to the Buondelmonte palace all the gold that he had lost. His enchanting and adorable enemy was sadly grieved at the sight of such vast treasures; and I regret not to be able to relate in detail what passed between her and Vincenzio. All the information I can give you is, that three days after this interview a fisherman drew from the canal a corpse which, by its long and beautiful hair, even before a sight of its features, was recognized as that of a woman. It was in fact the body of the princess Buondelmonte, but so horribly mutilated, and so far decomposed, that if on the preceding night she had not been seen at a banquet given by the Doge, it might have been supposed that her corpse had remained a month under the water. How had that misfortune happened? Who could be her murderer? Such were the questions men asked each other in vain, in the midst of a profound stupefaction.
Some weeks after, the palace of the Buondelmontes had become the property of Vincenzio di Guadagnaro. Soon his joyous humor, his generosity, his wit, and his goodness of heart, were everywhere spoken of, and drew down the most flattering praises. No one gave more splendid festivals, nor more brilliant soirées ; nor did any one display in the dance more grace and lightness. The charm of his conversation and the courtesy of his manners rendered him soon the idol of Venice. The highest nobility of Italy assembled around him, and more than one timid and tender heart sighed in secret to wear his chains. Vincenzio did not, however, devote all of his time to pleasure, but he understood, in the highest degree, the art of carrying out in practice the “Carpe Diem" of the ancients; he loved, above all, to cultivate his mind, and placed his highest glory in meriting the praises of the learned. Devoted particularly to the game of Chess, from all quarters of Europe he would invite to his palace the most renowned masters of that noble game. All that accepted his invitation were magnificently entertained; and the players that proved skilful were sure to find all their desires gratified. By force of practice, our hero finally became the equal of the first masters, if indeed he did not surpass them. His happiness was at its height, and he beheld as it were the world at his feet. His deportment with women was unexceptionable; they had never the slightest wrong to complain of at his hands, unless it be that when it became the fashion to wear the collar low, and falling over the shoulders, Vincenzio refused to adopt this innovation, and continued as before to wear a very high and upright collar
In those days, as in the present, time flew rapidly. Vincenzio, who was now close upon his thirtieth year, experienced a sort of vague uneasiness, as he saw the fatal period arrive that was to bring on his encounter with Astaroth.
It may be thought strange, perhaps, that the demon had exhibited 60 unusual a degree of liberality towards our hero; but Astaroth was a demon of the third order, and Satan in point of craft and wiles could easily have given him the odds of pawn and two moves. Perhaps, too, there might have entered into his constitution a sufficient proportion of that of man, to make similar adventures a matter of amusement to him ;-and, besides, who can say what extravagances the caprices of these supernatural beings may not commit?
Astaroth had made rather an extravagant bargain; but Vincenzio was not, after all, a prey to be despised. He was an esprit-fort ; and far from trembling at the idea of the approaching visit of his dark adversary, he prepared himself courageously to give him a good reception. Though young in years, he was old in experience, and if his hand was practised in filling and emptying the goblet, his arm knew well, too, to wield the battle steel; more than once had he distinguished himself against the Turks, for the defence of Christianity. The portals of science had opened before him, and the sages of Arabia and of Grenada regarded him as their favorite pupil. I ought not, however, to omit to mention that Vincenzio had had a difficulty with our holy mother the Church, and had even fallen into the hands of the Inquisition, for having dared to maintain that damnable heresy, that the earth revolves around the sun! But the power of gold had cleansed him from that mortal sin; and he took very good care, at least in public, no longer to manifest an opinion so absurd.
“ But, after all,”-thus reflected Vincenzio—“ may it not be pos. sible that this Astaroth, if he is indeed a supernatural being, was only amusing himself with a little jest, and may have entirely forgotten me? Within ten years, he must have seen so many things, and traversed so many different countries—how can he have retained the recollection of so trifling an adventure? However, let him come-I await him-and nothing in the world should induce me to shrink a step before him. We will play; he cannot deceive me; the contract was made after the laws of men, and it is as a man that he must execute its conditions. But, what an idea!--let me call in the aid of our Venetian cunning! Let us see, at our coming encounter, how far he approaches the nature of man. I have read somewhere that the spirits of darkness are mortal at certain times, and are invulnerable only at other periods of their existence. And, moreover, the ducats that I have received from him were certainly material enough--why may not himself be the same? He cannot be of a purely ethereal nature, else how came it that my dagger, after piercing his garments, was only repulsed by his skin, harder than steel? God knows, it was not my fault that my blade did not penetrate farther. We shall see! Meantime, I am determined that on my side no chance of success shall be neglected. Though I should lose, it would be but one game in three; and within the space of ten more years, with the advantage of the experience of this first trial, I shall have time enough to find out some means of triumphing over him. Come, come then, my good friend of the other world, the field of battle is not your own yet!”
Vincenzio gave his favorite page, Montalto, numerous instructions, without betraying his great secret;-and then he awaited calmly the bursting of the storm. He had not to wait long.
At the Buondelmonte palace, the most illustrious personages of Venice were seated at a sumptuous banquet, and the gaiety had mounted to its highest pitch. The bursts of laughter of Vincenzio resounded through the saloon, when Montalto handed him, from a stranger who was awaiting him in his cabinet, a collar ornamented
with precious stones. It was the chain of sapphires which he well knew already. “The devil confound him!” muttered Guadagnaro; and then, politely begging his noble guests to excuse his abrupt departure-"Remember my instructions, Montalto," he said as he left the room; “the hour has struck, and the man is come !"
“Here I am," said Astaroth, as he saw Vincenzio enter; “I was afraid you might have forgotten the period of my visit. A lapse of ten years destroys attachments and friendships more intimate than ours. Is your chess-table ready? Let us make haste, for in four hours I am expected in India.”
At a sign from his master, Montalto placed before them a chessboard, and the mysterious being sat down to play with his victim. The countenance of Vincenzio was firm but sad. He had more than once met death face to face; but at this moment it was against the angel of death himself that he had to engage. He began by examining the countenance of Astaroth, whose features at their former meeting had been covered with a mask. The expression was there to be seen of pride and of scorn, with a mixture of nobleness and even of beauty. Upon his pale lips played a spirit of sarcasm, and his smile was full of irony and malignity. His eyes flashed such a fire that Vincenzio could scarcely endure its brilliancy. He appeared to be in the very prime of life. He offered Vincenzio the advantage of the move, which he accepted without Łesitation, and the game commenced.
Do you know that celebrated picture, the master-piece of one of the greatest painters of Europe,-I mean the picture of Retsch, in which Satan is playing at Chess with a man, who has his soul staked upon the game? Such was aovut the physiognomy of our two antagonists; and I might venture to assert that they possessed a still deeper interest. The youth in the picture exhibits in his countenance such an expression of genueness and innocence, that even with the assistance of the angel by his side, he seems scarcely capable of a struggle against his adversary.
Our two players had essayed but a few moves, when Vincenzio ordered refreshments to be brought. Immediately Montalto offered them, in golden goblets, the sparkling liquors of Chios and Xerez. To the astonishment of our hero, Astaroth emptied all the cups that were presented to him; and under the apparent influence of these generous wines, the infernal spirit redoubled his laughter and his jests. But, alas, poor Vincenzio! the more freely Astaroth talked, the more profound were his combinations. The page still continued to fill his goblet, and the demon still to cry—“Holà ! page, wine!”
Montalto was overwhelmed with astonishment, and crossing himself devoutly, he exclaimed apart: “What may this man be? The first cup that I presented him contained poison enough to be the death of a hundred, and yet he still continues to ask to drink ! Most assuredly this man has taken some counter-poison, or some other protecting antidote. Since my master's stratagem is thus baffled, well, I will put into execution the plan I have myself conceived."
“ This wine is delicious,” said Astaroth; “ but still it does not please me as much as the first. Vincenzio, have you any more of that which you first had poured out for me?”
Vincenzio, agitated with deep anxiety, was about to reply, when he heard a burst of Astaroth's infernal laughter. The page had just brought down a terrible blow of a battle-axe upon the back of the head of Astaroth.
“What mean you, fair page?" said the demon; “if I were of as delicate a complexion as your master, you might have prevented me from continuing the game.-Oh, wretched mortals! Wo to whosoever has to do with you, if he be not proof against fire, steel, and poison !"
Montalto rushed from the apartment, and addressed I know not how many vows to the Virgin, if he should live till the morrow. The game continued with various fortune. Vincenzio brought out his whole skill, whereas Astaroth, as he played, scarcely seemed to pay any attention to the march of his pieces.
“You have much improved,” he at last remarked, "since that night that I saw you play against the princess Buondelmonte. You have indeed acquired a great deal of practice. But take care ! if you place your Knight on that square, as you intend, you will be forced to lose it.”—“I am indeed lost,” thought Vincenzio " the demon reads my very thoughts !"
The chance seemed, however, to turn against Astaroth. He exposed one or two pieces in succession, which he lost, and our Venetian almost flattered himself with an expectation of success. Infatuate! his adversary was but mocking him! Astaroth made still several sacrifices which Vincenzio was compelled to accept; and by this manœuvre he scattered the pieces of his enemy. The King was left unguarded. The demon remained with only two miserable pawns and a Bishop, against the Queen and the principal pieces of the board; but Vincenzio perceived that this series of sacrifices was the result of scientific maneuvring and profound calculations; and presently, what was his consternation on perceiving that he was under an immediate checkmate which it was no longer in his power to avoid. Such was the position of the players :
WHITE.—King at Queen's Bishop's fifth square; Bishop at King's sixth; Pawns at Queen's Rook's third, and Queen's Knight's third.
BLACK.-King at Queen's Rook's fourth square; Queen at King's Rock's sixth; Rooks at King's Bishop's square, and at King's Knight's square; Knights at King's Bishop's sixth, and at Queen's Bishop's square; Bishop at King's fifth Pawns at King's Bishop's fourth, and Queen's Knight's fifth.