Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

which Astaroth assumed himself; he would have blushed to acknowledge his inferiority.

“I am curious to see your Hall of Chess," said Astaroth, “unless it is disagreeable to you to play before so large an assembly." For sole reply, Vincenzio bowed politely, and led the way. shall never be said," were his thoughts, " that demon or angel could intimidate the powerful Vincenzio. That is a triumph that I will yield to none, were hell itself to yawn at my feet!”

On their entrance into the gallery a crowd of curious witnesses surrounded them; and as they seated themselves at a table, the most skilful players present, by a natural impulse of curiosity, abandoned their own games to watch their play. They felt a presentiment that Vincenzio had met his match.

“Is there any of these gentlemen that knows how to play?" asked Astaroth with an ironical air.

“Silence! I entreat you," answered Vincenzio, who dreaded every thing that might betray his secret. Alas ! how often is it not seen that the fear of detection is stronger than the fear of crime !

“ The move is yours, my lord,” said Astaroth. ** No," replied Vincenzio, “all shall be equal; let us draw !

Chance decided in favor of the demon, and the struggle commenced. The spectators drew closer, and there were several that offered to bet that Vincenzio would win; but no one would accept.

As the game advanced, strange! an indefinable uneasiness penetrated gradually into the spirits of the spectators. Every look was fixed on Astaroth, as by a species of fascination; they felt ill at ease, and each in his heart wished the stranger at the devil, without daring to express it aloud.

Vincenzio, however, talked and smiled, as in defiance of fate, while Astaroth laughed and chatted with every body.

“ The devil take the puppy's impudence," whispered the young Alonzo di Ortégano to his friend Lucentio di Razzoli. “I should be delighted to send him to take a walk in the bottom of the canal! Who can he be?”

“Satan himself, I imagine !" was the prompt answer of Lucentio.

A number of moves were played. Vincenzio did his best; but, at the bottom of his heart, he was profoundly convinced that he must infallibly lose. The play of Astaroth was admirable! He never made a false play. Our hero remained afterwards convinced that he could give the odds of a piece to any player. The despair of Vincenzio was in proportion to the importance of the game; but his courage increased with the danger. He fought for his life in this world, and his soul in the other.

A considerable number of moves succeeded; and on both sides, the action closing in more and more, the issue became uncertain. To judge by appearances, and according to human science, our hero s game was unquestionably the better ; yet Vincenzio was sad, for he knew by experience that the demon was but mocking him. He felt exactly in the situation of a mouse between the claws of a cat, which suffers it to escape, and all but reach its hole; then, by a rapid bound, seizes it, and cuts short all hope of escape. Astaroth had not the advantage of numbers ; he had the White, and it was his play. The following was the position of the game:

WHITE.—King at Queen's Rook's square; Queen at Queen's Bishop's second; Bishop at King's seventh.

BLACK.—King at Queen's Knight's third square; Queen at King's Rook's sixth; Rooks at King's Rook's second, and King's Bishop's second; Pawns at Queen's Rook's third-Queen's Knight's second-Queen's Knight's fourth, and. King's Bishop's third.

“My new gondola to five hundred gold sequins, on the Black," whispered the young Alonzo to his friend.

“ The Blacks seem to have the advantage; but the Whites can give some checks with their Queen and Bishop. I would not bet," replied Lucentio.

“And what good will those checks be to him? The King, after those checks, will retire behind his pawns, and there will laugh, at bis leisure, at the devil and all his wiles."

"There can be no doubt,” continued Alonzo ; “ Vincenzio has strength enough to crush him. I cannot imagine why that stupid fool has exposed his pieces in that way, to lose them one after the other !"

Astaroth cast a rapid glance over the group of the spectators, and his sardonic laugh struck upon the ear of his adversary like the funereal stroke of a death knell.

“If you play all the moves correctly, my dear Vincenzio, you will not be checkmated till the seventh move." And sueh, in fact, proved the case.

The amazement of the spectators was at its height. They were astonished that Vincenzio did not ask his revenge, and all tumulo uously pressed the stranger to return on he morrow. Vincenzio took no part in their solicitations; he knew too well that his con queror would come but too soon. Astaroth bowed, and left the apartment with a noble and majestic step. Alonzo followed him, resolved if possible to make his acquaintance. But, by the time our young madcap reached the marble steps of the palace, Astaroth had disappeared from his sight.

The friends of Vincenzio surrounded him, seeking to console him for his defeat. To their great astonishment, they found him quíte composed ;-in everything certainty is always better thar doubt. Our hero was content to know his fate, and when Astaroth relieved him from his detested presence, it seemed to poor Vineenzio that the earth and heaven smiled again, and that the the gates of hell were once more closed to him,

On the following day, Vincenzio di Guadagnaro caused to be constructed a vast funeral pile. There were heaped upon it, by his command, his magnificent chess-tables, set out with their pieces, as well as all the works and manuscripts that treated of the game. Vincenzio himself set fire to it, and the whole was reduced to ashes. The gallery of Chess was deserted; and as for the masters and distinguished amateurs of this noble game, Vincenzio gave them their dismissal, loaded with magnificent presents, and they returned to their homes, their hearts overpowered with grief.

A short time after, the most illustrious personages of Venice were invited to a splendid banquet at the Buondelmorte palace. In a speech prepared beforehand, and full of courteous and friendly expressions, our hero declared solemnly to them, that if any one should hereafter propose to him a game of Chess, the proposition, from whomsoever it might corne, would be regarded by him as a challenge to mortal combat, which should be despatched on the spot. And as all the friends of Vincenzio knew that he was the man to keep his word, they received it as a settled thing, and contented themselves thenceforth to play without him at the noble game of Chess.

CHAPTER IV.

It was near at hand, the hour that was to place Astaroth for the last time face to face with Vincenzio. If he loses this last game, never again a hope for him! He will be reduced to pass on the earth the rest of those miserable hundred years promised him, gnashing his teeth like a criminal struck by a sentence of death ; for since the last appearance of Astaroth, nine years and nine months had already expired. Let us see how Vincenzio had passed that period.

In exterior, little change was to be observed in his person; only the curls of his hair had whitened, and his brow was furrowed with innumerable wrinkles.

From success to success, Vincenzio had reached the summit of dignity and renown. He it was, that fathers cited to their children as a model to follow. The name of the noble Guadagnaro was placed side by side with those of an Aristides or a Pericles. In his judicial robe, as in one of his magnificent palaces at Venice, he was resplendent with power and glory. The ducal crown graced his brow, but that accursed brand was still around his neck. Horrible necklace!

A sentiment of terror and despair had proceeded the last visit of Astaroth. Often did Vincenzio hover like a shade, about the tombs, and at times would he exclaim : “Why am I not icy cold like these dead that repose beneath these stones!” Did he make an excur

waves.

sion on the Adriatic, he cursed his vessel that it foated upon the

He knew, however, the wretched man, that were he sunk to the bottom of the sea he could not have died! The elements had no power over him,—was he not damned ? Profound was the wound that despair and a cruel agony had made in his heart. The powerful Vincenzio resembled a ghost escaped from the tomb. The miserable man was a prey to the most dreadful tortures !

However, a sudden change took place in Vincenzio. That violent despair was suddenly succeeded by a gloomy dejection and a stoic insensibility. He seemed to await with the most disdainful indifference, the coming of his infernal guest. Oh, what a type was that man, of the human race!

It was the festival of St. Mark, and the waves of the Adriatic were ploughed by a thousand gondolas. Nobles and beggars, in the most picturesque costumes, jostled each other in the crowd. The sky was clear and of a deep blue, the sea smooth and tranquil, and the air balmy. In the midst of the crowd that filled the square of St. Mark, might be distinguished our hero, who attracted all eyes. He was magnificently attired, but his sadness contrasted strangely with the gaiety of that festival.

The crowd swelled, moved to and fro, and like the waves of the sea, ended by being thrown into a tumult. A poor old monk, iu seeking to retire from this scene of confusion, was on the point of being inevitably thrown down and trampled under foot, but for the succor of the arm of Vincenzio, who kept the crowd at a distance, and sustaining the steps of the aged man, conducted him to another little retired spot of safety.

May God bless thee, my son!” said the old monk. These words pierced the heart of Vincenzio. He shuddered.

“Mockery!” murmured he ; “no more blessing for me! Never, never!” Then suppressing his emotions, which under the sway of a deep impression, were ready to burst forth, he answered the monk-"Thanks, good father! The blessing of the virtuous mau is like water to the parched flower!

“Well spoken, my son," replied the monk, who was evidently a stranger in Venice. “The prayers and blessings of the good man are indeed of great price! Religion can alone heal the wound which has resisted all the art of the leech."

“ Monk! What mean you? Do you know me ?"

“ No, I know thee not, man that needest succor! For fifty years have I lived among the Saracens, seeking to win souls to God, and I am unknown here. How many strange things have I not beheld in the course of my life!”

“ Have you ever encountered Satan in person, good father?” • My son," said the monk, “let us not jest on such a subject! You will not perhaps believe me, but often have I found myself in his presence, and, with the grace and aid of God, have I vanquished him under all his disguises. More than once have I seen him flee before me, under the form of man!”

And the monk muttered a prayer, and crossed himself, with his eyes raised towards Heaven, while the wind played amidst the long floating locks of his silvery hair.

A sudden thought struck Vincenzio, as he gazed upon the old monk standing before him. He quickly seized his arm, and conducted him to an isolated apartment of his palace, and there rerelated to him his wretched history.

Some minutes had elapsed, and Vincenzio was pressing the monk to his bosom, exclaiming with a loud voice and joyous tone, “ I am saved!”

Vincenzio is saved-how? That is what you shall soon learn. His soul is henceforth lightened of its heavy burthen, and all within him is joy and happiness. Satisfied as to the discretion of the monk, Vincenzio said to himself:

There was nothing wanting to my happiness but to be able to baffle the demon, and now, thank God, I have the means for that. He has given me a severe lesson, to-morrow I will take my revenge."

On the following day, the last of the appointed period, Astaroth presented himself, and great was his astonishment at the courteous reception that he met with from our Venetian. Far from trembling in the presence of his infernal guest, Vincenzio bids him cordially welcome, and even says that the time had seemed very long since he last had the pleasure of seeing him.

“ Never fear,” replied Astaroth ; " the day will soon come when we shall part no more."

Vincenzio had the table and box of chessmen brought, which were all ready beforehand, and ranged his pawns in order of battle. Astaroth was amazed at his composure.

“One justice I must indeed,” said he, “ render you, Vincenziothat for firmness of resolution, urbanity of manners, and courage to sustain any trial, it is impossible to meet your equal. I have waited patiently; your caprices have given me a great deal of trouble, hut, candidly, I cannot remember them with the slightest regret."

"Come, come, you flatter me, Astaroth! My dear friend, yours the first move, if you please!”—and the game commenced.

“We so rarely meet," said Vincenzio after a moment's silence, " that I seize this opportunity to request some information from you-(Check!)-relative to a mystery which I should greatly like to penetrate. You know that science has always been my idol;

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »