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Stradella - Chapter 21 Post by :flashzoe Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2012 Read :539

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Stradella - Chapter 21

CHAPTER XXI

When Stradella came down from the organ-loft after the Benediction he was in haste to reach the sacristy before any of the choristers, as he did not mean to keep Ortensia waiting a moment longer than necessary. But to his annoyance a number of his admiring acquaintances had already made their way to that side; and this was the more easy, because the throng of common people who had pressed upon the fashionable company had already retreated down the church to the main entrance in haste to see the beginning of the witches' feast and the snail-shell illumination.

At every step the musician had to shake hands and receive civilly the congratulations that were showered upon him; and suddenly Don Alberto was beside him, and was drawing him away.

'The Queen insists on thanking you herself, dear Maestro,' said the courtier, smiling. 'I see that you are in a hurry, but royalty is royalty, and you must sacrifice yourself on the altar of your own fame with a good grace!'

Unsuspecting of harm as he was, Stradella yielded, and tried not to look displeased. While speaking Altieri had dragged him through the crowd towards Christina, who was standing up, evidently waiting for them, and looking particularly mannish in her three-cornered hat and short skirt. The only ornament she had put on was the magnificent cross of diamonds which she wore on her bosom at all times.

'One has to come to church to see you, Maestro,' she cried in a heavily playful manner. 'Do you know that you have not darkened my doors for a fortnight, sir? What is the meaning of this? But I forgive you, for your music has ravished my soul, falling like a refreshing shower on my burning anger!'

The metaphors were badly mixed, but Stradella bent one knee and made a pretence of kissing the unshapely hand she held out to him, and he muttered a formula expressive of gratitude.

'I am overcome by your Majesty's kindness,' he said, or something to that effect.

'To-morrow,' said the ex-Queen, 'I shall send you the medal and diploma of my Academy as a slight acknowledgment of the pleasure I have had this afternoon. At present Don Alberto is going to introduce me to the quaint Roman custom of eating snails in the open air. Will you join us, Maestro? But I see that you are still in your robes, and I have no doubt you look forward to a more substantial supper than a dish of molluscs fried in oil! Good-night, my dear Maestro. _Vale_, as those delightful ancients used to say!'

She waved her hand affectedly as she turned to go. It seemed an age to Stradella before he reached the sacristy, and when he got there he was surprised to find Trombin waiting by the door of the choristers' robing-room. The Bravo went in with him, and began to help him out of his cotta and cassock.

'I came to tell you that your lady is already gone home,' Trombin said in a low voice. 'She felt a sudden dizziness and weakness, as if she were going to faint. Luckily I was not far off, and when I saw Cucurullo supporting her I went to his assistance, and we took her out to her carriage, which was waiting.'

Stradella looked at him anxiously, but the Bravo only smiled.

'Nothing serious, I am sure,' the latter said, in a reassuring tone. 'But she will be glad to see you as soon as possible, and if the Canons' carriage has not come back, my friend and I will take you home at once in ours; we have just bought one for our convenience.'

'Thank you,' Stradella answered, letting Trombin help him to pull his arms out of the tight sleeves of the purple silk cassock. 'You are very kind.'

He was evidently too anxious about Ortensia to say more, and in a few seconds he had got into his coat, and Trombin was arranging the broad linen collar for him as cleverly as any valet could have done.

Trombin was well aware that Tommaso was not coming back to the Lateran with the coach, since the bells were already ringing for Ave Maria, and the man was to meet Don Alberto behind the Baptistery in an hour--'the first hour of the night'; but he pretended angry surprise at not finding the carriage waiting. The one provided by the Canons was there, however, and Stradella recognised it, which Trombin could not have done, amongst the crowd of equipages that were waiting for the numerous ecclesiastics who had taken part in the service. It was now all but quite dark, but the coachman had received orders to be near the door and ready, lest the famous singer should catch cold.

Stradella was in far too great a hurry to question him, and jumped in at once, glad that Trombin should go with him. The carriage drove away at a smart pace, long before the owners of the other coaches were ready to go home.

Before the gateway of the Palazzo Altieri, Stradella got out, and tossed a florin up to the coachman, who caught it with a grin, and drove away at once.

'A thousand thanks!' the musician said, shaking Trombin's hand.

'I have done nothing,' the Bravo answered. 'I hope to hear to-morrow that your lady----'

But Stradella was already gone, and was running up the broad staircase at the top of his speed. A moment more and he knocked at his own door, of which the heavy key had been in Cucurullo's keeping when they had all left the house together to go to the Lateran.

Pina opened the door in her usual quiet way, and was a little surprised to see Stradella alone.

'How is she?' he asked, as soon as he saw her face by the light of the hanging lamp in the hall.

'Who, sir?' inquired the woman, not understanding.

'My wife----' He sprang past her to go in.

'The Lady Ortensia has not come home,' he heard Pina say behind him, in a tone of such astonishment that he stopped before he had reached the door of the sitting-room.

'Not come home?' he cried in amazement. 'You are out of your senses!'

Pina had shut the front door, and she followed him as he rushed into the sitting-room after speaking. She had lit the lamp, and it was burning quietly on the table. The door of the bedroom was opened wide to let the air circulate, but there was no light there. Nevertheless Stradella ran on to the bed.

'Ortensia!' he cried, feeling for her head on the pillows, for he could not see.

Then he uttered a low exclamation of surprise and looked round. Pina was already bringing in the lamp, and he realised at once that she had spoken the truth. Ortensia had not come home; but even now no doubt of the Bravi crossed his mind, and he was anxious only because Trombin had said that she was feeling ill. The carriage must have broken down or some other accident had happened which would explain why Trombin had not found the conveyance waiting as he had expected. The thought of a possible accident was distressing enough, but it was a comfort to think that Gambardella and Cucurullo were with her, and would bring her home in due time.

In a few words Stradella repeated to Pina what Trombin had told him, and in his own anxiety he did not see that she was now very pale, and that her hand shook so violently that she had to set down the lamp she held for fear of dropping it.

'She will be at home in a few minutes,' Stradella said in conclusion, trying to reassure himself. 'I will go downstairs again and wait for her. Give me my cloak, Pina, for I am very hot, and it will be cool under the archway.'

Trembling in every limb, Pina got his wide black cloak and laid it upon his shoulders. He drew up one corner of it and threw it round his neck, so as to muffle his throat against the outer air.

'Pina,' he said, 'your mistress was feeling ill. She was dizzy, my friend said. We must have something ready for her to take. What will be best?'

'Perhaps a little infusion of camomile,' Pina answered, her teeth chattering with fear.

He could not help noticing from her voice that there was something wrong, and he now looked at her for the first time and saw that she was livid.

'I have a chill,' she managed to say. 'I have caught the fever, sir. It does not matter! I have some camomile leaves, and I will make the infusion while you wait downstairs.'

'You ought to be in bed yourself,' Stradella said kindly, but at the same instant it occurred to him that Ortensia had perhaps taken a fever too. 'To-morrow I will try to procure from the Pope's physician some of that wonderful Peruvian bark that cures the fever,' he added. 'They call it quina, I think, and few apothecaries have it.'

This was true, though nearly forty years had then already passed since the Spanish Countess of Cinchon had first brought the precious bark to Europe, and had named it after herself, Cinchona.

Stradella was not yet by any means desperately anxious about his wife when he went downstairs again, as may be understood from his last words to the serving-woman. He was, in fact, wondering whether Ortensia herself had not a touch of the ague, which was so common then that no one thought it a serious illness. He went downstairs with the conviction that she would appear within a quarter of an hour escorted by Gambardella and Cucurullo, and he began to walk under the great archway, from the entrance to the courtyard and back again.

As soon as he was gone Pina went to her own little room, taking the lamp with her. First she dressed herself in her best frock, which was of good brown Florentine cloth; and then she took a large blue cotton kerchief and made a bundle consisting of some linen and a few necessaries. On that very morning Stradella had paid her wages, expecting to leave Rome the next day, and she took the money and tied it up securely in a little scrap of black silk and hid it in her dress. Lastly, she put on the same brown cloak and hood she had worn on the journey from Venice, took her bundle under it, replaced the lamp on the sitting-room table, and left the apartment by the small door which gave access to the servants' staircase; a few moments later she slipped out of the palace, unobserved except by the old door-keeper who kept the back entrance and let her out.

'I am going to the apothecary's for some camomile,' she said quietly, and the old man merely nodded as he opened the street door for her.

The Bravi had cared very little whether Pina was at home or not when Cucurullo came to get the objects for which Stradella had sent him at Gambardella's suggestion. One of two things must happen, they thought, for it was clear that Cucurullo would explain everything to her, if he saw her. Either she would come with him to Santa Prassede, and there she might wait with him all night, for all they cared; or else she would run away as soon as he left the house, for they guessed that she would be afraid. But things had turned out differently. When Cucurullo had reached the apartment Pina was not there, for she had just gone down the backstairs to get the evening supply of milk which the milkman left with the keeper of the back door. Cucurullo, not finding her, had picked up the lute, the case of manuscripts, and a small hand valise which was already packed for the journey with necessaries belonging both to Stradella and his wife, and he had gone off again before Pina had returned.

She did not miss the things till Stradella came, and she carried the lamp into the bedroom; but then she understood that some one had been in the house during her short absence, and it flashed upon her that Ortensia had already been carried off, though she could not have told why she connected such a possibility with what she took for a theft committed in the apartment. Insane terror took possession of her then, with the vision of being left behind at the mercy of Don Alberto, and she fled without hesitation, taking with her nothing that was not her own, and only what she could easily carry for a journey. As for Cucurullo, he had no time to waste, and thought that in any case she would be safe enough from Don Alberto's men, whose only business would be to seize her mistress. Being fearless himself, it never occurred to him that she would run away out of sheer fright.

Stradella paced the flagstones under the archway, waiting for the carriage, and as the time passed his anxiety grew steadily till it became almost unbearable. The tall bearded porter stood motionless by the entrance, resting both his hands on the huge silver pommel of his polished staff. He could stand in that position for hours without moving. At last Stradella spoke to him.

'Has Don Alberto come home yet, Gaetano?' he asked.

'No, sir.' The porter touched his large three-cornered hat respectfully, for the musician had that morning given him a handsome tip preparatory to leaving. 'His Excellency may not come home till very late,' he vouchsafed to add, with a faint smile.

Stradella saw that he was inclined to talk, and though he himself had no fancy for entering into conversation with servants, he made a remark in the nature of a question.

'I dare say his Excellency sometimes does not come home before morning.'

'Sometimes, sir,' answered Gaetano, grinning in his big black beard. 'But then he generally gives me notice, so that I need not sit up all night. He is a very good-hearted young gentleman, sir, as I dare say you know, for you are a friend of his. And since you have asked me if he has come home, and you are perhaps waiting for him, I can tell you that he will not be back to-night, nor perhaps to-morrow, for that was the message he sent me by his valet this afternoon.'

'Thank you,' said Stradella. 'But I am not waiting for him. I am expecting my wife and my man.'

He nodded and went back to his beat under the archway, and before he had walked twice the distance between the gate and the courtyard, all the bells of Rome rang out the first hour of the night. An hour had passed since Ortensia had let Gambardella out of the little house in the Via di Santa Sabina.

The peal was still ringing from the belfry of the Lateran when Don Alberto and Tommaso met on the green behind the church, not far from the closed door of the sacristy. They came from opposite directions, and Tommaso was leading two saddled mules. The young courtier had succeeded in making his escape from Queen Christina and her party, promising to join them at supper at the Palazzo Riario within an hour.

In the lonely little house in Via di Santa Sabina, Ortensia was sitting upstairs by the table, pale and upright in her chair, and listening for the slightest sound that might break the profound silence.

But she heard nothing. The three wicks of the brass lamp on the table burned with a steady flame, and without any of those very faint crepitations which olive-oil lamps make heard when the weather is about to change. There was not the least sound in the small house: if there were mice anywhere they were asleep; if worms were boring in the old furniture they were working silently; if any house swallows had made their nests under the eaves they were roosting. The stillness was like that of a solid and inert mass, as if all the world had been suddenly petrified and made motionless.

It seemed to Ortensia that she had never been quite alone for so long a time in her life; it was certainly true that she had never before been locked up in a lonely house at night without a human being within call. First, her feet grew strangely cold; then she felt a sort of creeping fear stealing up to her out of the floor, as if she had drunk hemlock and death were travelling slowly towards her heart, paralysing every limb and joint on its relentless way.

It was not senseless physical fright, like Pina's; it would not drive her to leave the house and run away into the darkness outside; if there were anything to face Ortensia would face it, or try to, but what terrified her now was that there was nothing, not a sound of life, not the breath of a night breeze amongst leaves outside, not the stirring of a mouse indoors. It was like the silence of the tomb.

Suddenly she heard bells, but they sounded far off, and all the windows were tightly closed. She crossed herself with difficulty, and whispered a 'Requiem aeternam' for all Christian souls, as good Catholics are enjoined to do at the first hour of night. But it was an effort to raise her hand to her forehead in making the sign; and suddenly, as if in answer to her prayer, she seemed to hear the Bravo's voice close beside her:--

'"And Judas went out and hanged himself."'

With the energy of a healthy young nature that revolts against supernatural fears, she rose to her feet and went to one of the windows, of which there were two on each side, looking over the road and towards the vineyard respectively. She tried the fastenings of the first and moved them, but she could not do more, though she used all her strength. The frame seemed to be stuck beyond the possibility of being opened without tools. She went to the next, and the next, till she had tried all four; then her fear came back, for it was all more like a bad dream than a reality, and the certainty flashed upon her that the windows had been purposely fastened with nails or screws to prevent her from looking out.

Gambardella had promised to come back with her husband in twenty minutes. Three times that interval had now passed, and more too, and she was still alone. It was not possible that any one should have knocked for admittance without her hearing the sound, for the door of the sitting-room was open to the stairs, and the house was no bigger than a cottage.

She went back to her chair by the table, ashamed of feeling that she could hardly stand. It was not strange that her fear of her own situation should be stronger just then than her anxiety for Stradella, believing, as she did, that Don Alberto had made his plans for that very night, and thinking, as was natural, that his great power in Rome might even have sufficed to have her followed from the Lateran, in which case he could well hinder her husband and Gambardella from joining her, and she would be at his mercy just as if she had gone home to sleep in the palace.

Tommaso and young Altieri rode quickly away from the illuminated meadow, which was now full of people who either thronged the overflowing booths, or walked about on the grass laughing and talking, and waiting till those who were supping should make room for them. The riding mules of those times were swift and much surer of foot than horses, and it was not long before the two men reached the rickety wooden gate of the old Jewish cemetery.

Here Tommaso dismounted, and whispering to Don Alberto to do the same, he tied the mules' bridles to the gate-post, which was still sound. Then he led the way up the hill, and both men trod so cautiously that when they passed the little house Ortensia did not hear a footfall in the road through the closed windows. Tommaso did not stop at the house door, however, but led Altieri on to the next, which was placed in the long wall and gave access to the vineyard. It was not fastened, and both went in, Tommaso putting his arm through Don Alberto's to guide him and help him if he stumbled.

The rain on the previous night had softened the earth, and there was a path between the inside of the wall and the trained vines. They followed this, until they were twenty paces from the house, when Tommaso stopped.

'The lady is alone in there,' he said, pointing. 'Show me the money.'

Don Alberto was prepared. With his left hand he produced a heavy deerskin purse, and with the other he drew a long knife from under his cloak. It gleamed in the starlight, and Tommaso saw it not far from his throat; but with the utmost coolness he took the purse and tried its weight in his hand, before untying the strings to feel the coins. When he was satisfied, he tied the purse again and gave it back to Don Alberto, who at once returned his knife to its sheath.

'To satisfy you,' said the old highwayman, 'I have set a ladder against the window of the room where she is probably waiting, and I have made a small hole through the outer shutter, through which you can see her. You will then come down the ladder, and I will let you into the house by the back door, which is open. Before you go in, you will hand me the money, and I will leave you, after giving you a light. We had better make no noise, lest she should come downstairs.'

'Very well. Take me to the ladder.'

Tommaso now struck through the vines, skirting the angle of the house at some distance, till he came to the straight walk that led to the back door. Don Alberto was used to night adventures, and saw the ladder distinctly before he came to it. When they had reached it, walking on tip-toe, Tommaso planted his foot firmly against the foot of it, so as to hold it steady, and he pointed to a little ray of light that shone out through the hole in the shutter. Don Alberto nodded and went up very cautiously. It was one of those long ladders used by Italian vine-dressers and had heavy rungs very far apart. Tommaso had wound rags round the tops of the side pieces, so that they should make no noise against the wall. Don Alberto stopped when his head was on a level with the ray of light, and applying his eye to the hole he saw the beautiful Venetian sitting motionless by the table. Having satisfied himself that she was within and alone, he lost no time in coming down, and the rest happened as Tommaso had explained that it should, except that it did not prove necessary to strike a light; for the back door opened under the stairs, in the small vestibule, and the door above being open, the lamp in the sitting-room sent down a glimmer from above that was quite enough to show the way.

At the first sound of steps below Ortensia started to her feet, understanding instantly that some one had entered the house by stealth, since she herself had put up the chain at the front door.

For one fatal moment she hesitated and stood motionless. Then, as the footsteps mounted the little staircase at a run, she sprang to shut the door; but it was too late, for Don Alberto was already on the threshold. He caught her with one arm and almost lifted her back into the room, while with the other hand he slammed the door, turned the key, and thrust it into his pocket.

She was struggling wildly in his arms then, but he laughed, as ruthless children do when they have caught a little bird and can torment it at their will.

'Softly, softly!' he cried. 'You will hurt yourself, my sweet! There, there! You have scratched your pretty arm already!'

It was true. She had cut her arm against one of the chiselled buttons of his coat, just above the wrist, and the red drops ran down over his lace wristband. But she felt no pain and she fought like a tigress against his hold; so far she had uttered no sound, but now her voice rang out.

'Coward!' she cried suddenly, and with one mad wrench she had her hands at his throat, and her strong little fingers were almost crushing his windpipe.

He could not hold her now, for she was strangling him; to free himself he let go of her waist and caught at her wrists to tear her hands away. But her strength was like a strong man's in that moment, and he could not loosen her hold.

He felt that in another moment she would have strangled him outright, for his eyes were already starting from his head, and the room swam. With furious violence he twisted himself sideways and tried to hurl her from him. Even then she did not loosen her desperate grip, but as he swung her and himself half round, her head struck the wall of the room. Then her hands relaxed instantly, and as he reeled backwards in regaining his balance, he saw her sink to the floor, stunned and unconscious.

(Illustration: 'Trombin advanced upon him slowly, looking more like an avenging demon than a man')

A crash like thunder broke upon the moment's silence that followed. The window opposite the table was wide open and shattered, the frame and shutters split to matchwood, the glass in splinters, and, almost as Don Alberto started and turned round, Trombin sprang into the room hatless, with his long rapier in his hand, his round blue eyes wide open and glaring like a wild cat's, his pink cheeks fiery red, and his long yellow hair streaming out from his head like a mane.

At this terrific and most unexpected vision, young Altieri staggered back towards the locked door. Trombin advanced upon him slowly, sword in hand, till he was within three paces, looking more like an avenging demon than a man. Yet when he spoke his voice was calm and steady.

'If it is agreeable to you to draw, sir,' he said, 'I will do you the honour of killing you like a gentleman. If, on the other hand, as I gather from your attitude, you do not think the moment propitious for fighting, I will throw you out of the window as I would a lackey who insulted a lady, sir. Pray choose quickly, sir, before I have counted three, sir, for I am in haste. One--two--three!'

The last word was scarcely out of his mouth when Trombin dashed forward, and, dropping his rapier at the same time, threw his arms round the courtier's knees; he flung him over his shoulder like a sack of flour, ran with him to the open window and dropped him out.

Whether he meant to kill him, or did not care what became of him, is not certain, but Trombin was a gentleman who generally kept his head, even when he seemed to be most excited; and it is certain that, instead of falling some four or five yards directly to the ground, Don Alberto found himself clinging to the ladder halfway down. It turned sideways with his weight, slowly at first, and fell with a clatter on the drip-stones, when his feet were already touching the ground. He was dizzy, the tumble had bruised his shins, and he had sprained his hands a little, but he was otherwise unhurt, and the blood on his wristbands and collar was from the scratch on Ortensia's arm.

For a few seconds he steadied himself against the corner of the house where he had fallen with the ladder. Then he began to make his way towards the door in the vineyard wall, and when he had walked thirty or forty yards he stood still, whistled twice, and waited for an answer. But none came.

He had, in fact, sent his own valet and a running footman to the Lateran to follow him and Tommaso, and to note the house they entered. The runner was then to hasten back to the Basilica, where Don Alberto's coach was waiting, and was to come to the house with it, or to the nearest point it could reach. The footman was the most famous runner in Roman lackeydom and boasted that he could always cover a mile in five minutes, up hill and down and over the worst roads, and in a shorter time on a smooth and level path. As for the coach, it could drive to the very door of the little house; for the Via di Santa Sabina had always been practicable for vehicles, because it led to the castle of the Savelli, which was then partly in ruins and partly turned into a Dominican monastery. So all was well planned, and Don Alberto's valet was to hide near the last door his master entered in case the latter needed help.

Yet when Altieri whistled softly there was no answer. He went on twenty paces farther and whistled again, with the same result. He reached the door in the wall, and whistled a third time, peering into the gloom amongst the vines. At last he went out into the road, determined to go away on foot and alone, rather than to risk another interview with the quick-tempered man who had thrown him out of the window.

He went away on foot, indeed, but neither alone nor unaided; for he had no sooner stepped out of the door than a most unpleasant and unexpected thing happened. To his surprise and mortification, not to mention the pain he felt, an iron hand caught him by the back of his collar and ran him down the hill at the double-quick, encouraging his speed with a hearty kick at every third step or so. He ran by the house in a moment, being positively kicked past the door, and he ran on to the gate of the Jewish cemetery, whence the mules had now disappeared, and the boot of his implacable driver almost lifted him off his feet. The hand that held him was like iron, and the foot felt very like it too. Down the hill he was forced to run, till suddenly, at the turn near the bottom, where the road is wider, he came upon his own coach on its way up.

Then the kicking ceased indeed, but the hand did not relax its hold, while the coachman stopped his horses at the sound of quick footsteps just ahead. An instant later Don Alberto's tormentor had opened the coach, flung him up inside, and slammed the door on him.

'Palazzo Altieri!' cried a voice the courtier had heard only once before. 'Be quick! Your master is ill!'

The running footman had already dropped to the ground from behind, and was at the open carriage window in an instant, springing upon the step for orders. But Don Alberto was exhausted and had sunk back in the cushioned seat, panting for breath and aching, not only in every joint, but elsewhere.

'Home!' he managed to say, as he saw the footman's head at the window.

There was just room in the road to turn, and a few seconds later the carriage was rumbling along over the bad road towards the paved streets of the city, while its only inmate slowly recovered his breath and made attempts in the dark to repair the disorder of his dress before he reached his palace. But that was not easy, for he had dropped his cloak in the struggle with Ortensia and had lost his hat in falling with the ladder; moreover, his collar and wristbands were covered with blood, and his usually smooth hair looked like a wild man's. Last, and perhaps least in his estimation, he had given a thousand crowns, in the shape of two hundred and fifty gold ducats of Naples, for the pleasure of being half-strangled by a young woman, thrown out of the window by her rescuer, and finally kicked downhill for a distance of at least two hundred and fifty yards by an unseen boot. As an equivalent for so much money these mishaps were unsatisfactory; but what the sufferer now most desired was to save some remnant of his dignity before his servants, and then to be avenged on those who had so signally frustrated his plans.

He was disappointed in the first of these wishes, at all events, for when he was helped from his carriage by the porter and the running footman at the foot of the grand staircase, he found himself face to face with Alessandro Stradella, who was as pale as his own collar and half mad with anxiety. One glance told the musician that Altieri had been worsted in an adventure, which, he was sure, could only be accounted for by Ortensia's disappearance.

'Where is my wife?' asked Stradella, standing in the way on the step.

Don Alberto was surprised and angry, and his shame at being seen in such plight, in his own house, overcame any prudence or self-control he had left. Besides, he felt himself sufficiently defended by his servants.

'Your wife?' he said, trying to push Stradella aside. 'She is in a little house near the Lateran, with her lover!'

'Liar!'

With the ringing insult, the Sicilian's open hand struck Don Alberto such a blow across the face that he staggered back against the carriage step, the blood spurting from his nose and lips.

But almost at the same instant Gaetano, the big porter, and the athletic footman threw themselves bodily upon Stradella, shouting for help at the same time. Stablemen and grooms came running from the courtyard at the cry, and the singer was overpowered in a few moments, though he struggled fiercely, not so much for his freedom as to strike Don Alberto again.

'Call the watch,' said the latter, staunching his blood with a lace handkerchief as well as he could. 'You are all witnesses. He can be taken to Tor di Nona in my carriage.'

Thereupon, with more dignity than might have been expected of a young dandy in such a condition, he turned and went slowly up the broad stone stairs, holding his handkerchief to his mouth. He expected his valet to meet him at his door, but the man was not there: as a matter of fact he was then lying on his back on a tombstone in the Jewish cemetery, bound hand and foot, and securely gagged; and while he contemplated the stars, he felt much too cool for his comfort. For Gambardella had come upon him lurking near the door in the wall, after Tommaso had passed with Altieri, and the Bravo had made short work of his liberty, returning to the door in the wall just in time to catch Don Alberto as he came out.

Don Alberto's commands were law at all times in his father's palace, and on the present occasion the wrath of the whole establishment was on his side. Moreover, to strike the nephew of both Popes in the face and call him a liar was an offence which would have sent the noblest patrician in Rome to a dungeon in Sant' Angelo, if not to the galleys of Civita Vecchia.

It was therefore not surprising that Stradella should find himself in Tor di Nona within the hour, solidly chained to the wall in a dark cell; and so he was left to reflect upon the consequences of his rashness, though not to regret it, if indeed his gnawing anxiety for Ortensia left him room to think of anything else.

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Stradella - Chapter 22 Stradella - Chapter 22

Stradella - Chapter 22
CHAPTER XXIIWhen Trombin had dropped Don Alberto upon the ladder, to take the chances of a bad fall, he looked down to see what happened, and being satisfied that the courtier was not much hurt, he turned at once to Ortensia; for if young Altieri had broken his neck, it might have been necessary to hasten what was to take place next. As for anything the courtier might do on the spur of the moment, Trombin knew that Gambardella and Tommaso were in the vineyard, ready to stop any mischief. Ortensia was lying by the wall where she had fallen, but
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Stradella - Chapter 20 Stradella - Chapter 20

Stradella - Chapter 20
CHAPTER XXThe following days passed quietly, and Don Alberto did not again attempt to see Ortensia alone. He was, indeed, much occupied with more urgent affairs, for Queen Christina had noticed the signs of his approaching defection and was becoming daily more exigent. On his side, young Altieri only desired to be dismissed, and instead of submitting to her despotic commands in a spirit of contrition, he cleverly managed to obey them with a sort of superior indifference that irritated her to the verge of fury. She wreaked her temper on every one who came near her, and so far forgot
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