Wagner the Wehr-wolf/Chapter XXVIII
Fair and beauteous art thou, O City of Flowers! with thy domes and spires, and turrets overlooking the Arno's silver stream, and crowding together in that river's classic pale; surrounded, too, by oak-covered hills, and cypress groves, and gardens of olives and evergreens, and presenting to the view of the spectator who stands on the lofty summit of Monte Senario, so vast an assemblage of palaces as to justify the saying of Ariosto, that it seemed as if the very soil produced them!
Or seen from the olive-crowned hill of Fesole, consecrated by the genius of Milton, how glorious is thy rich combination of beauty, thou Athens of Etruria!
The sun dawned upon the eventful night, the incidents of which have occupied so many chapters. The golden flood poured upon the Florentine scene, so fair even in winter, bathing in yellow luster the mighty dome of the cathedral of St. Mary, the ducal palace on its left, and the cupola of the Medicean chapel on its right, and bringing out into strong relief against the deep foliage of the evergreens the marble fronts of palaces, villas, and convents, seated amidst the hills, or scattered through the vale—the whole affording a rich and varied view, as if eternal summer reigned in that delightful region and beneath the purple canopy of that warm Italian sky!
Alas! that the selfish interests, dark passions, conflicting feeling, clashing aims, and black, black crimes of men should mar the serenity and peace which ought to maintain an existence congenial to this scene!
Scarcely had the orient beams penetrated through the barred casements of the Jew Isaachar's house in the suburb of Alla Croce, when the old man was awakened from a repose to which he had only been able to withdraw a couple of hours previously, by a loud and impatient knocking at his gate.
Starting from his couch, he glanced from the window, and, to his dismay, beheld the lieutenant of police, accompanied by half a dozen of his terrible sbirri, and by an individual in the plain, sober garb of a citizen.
A cold tremor came over the unhappy Israelite, for he knew that this official visit could bode him no good: and the dread of having encountered the resentment of the Count of Arestino, immediately conjured up appalling scenes of dungeons, chains, judgment-halls and tortures, to his affrighted imagination.
The dark hints which Manuel d'Orsini had dropped relative to the possibility of the count's discovering the affair of the diamonds, and the certain vengeance that would ensue, flashed to the mind of Isaachar ben Solomon; and he stood, as it were, paralyzed at the window, gazing with the vacancy of despair upon the armed men, on whose steel morions and pikes the morning sunbeams now fell in radiant glory.
The knocking was repeated more loudly and with greater impatience than before; and Isaachar, suddenly restored to himself, and remembering that it was dangerous as well as useless to delay the admittance of those who would not hesitate to force a speedy entry, huddled on his garments, and descended to the door.
The moment it was opened, the sbirri and the citizen entered; and the lieutenant, turning shortly round upon the Jew, said, "His Excellency the Count of Arestino demands, through my agency, the restoration of certain diamonds which his lordship has good reason to believe are in your possession. But think not that his lordship is desirous of plundering you of these jewels which you hold as security for certain moneys advanced, for here is the gold to repay thee."
Thus speaking, the lieutenant produced from beneath his cloak a heavy bag of gold; and Isaachar, now considerably relieved of his apprehensions, led the way into the apartment where he had received the Marquis of Orsini and Stephano de Verrina during the past night.
"Hast thou heard my message, Israelite?" demanded the lieutenant.
"Yes, yes; and his lordship is a worthy man—an estimable man. No oppressor of the poor defenseless Jew is he! Would that Florence abounded in such nobles as the Count of Arestino!"
"Cease thy prating, Jew, and let us dispatch this business," cried the officer. "You see," he added, glancing toward his men, "that with these at my disposal, the ransacking of your dwelling would be a light and easy matter."
"I will not render it necessary," returned the Jew. "Tarry ye here a few moments and the diamonds shall be delivered up."
Isaachar proceeded into another apartment, the lieutenant following him as far as the passage to see that he did not escape. When the old man returned, he had a small rosewood case in his hand: and from this box he produced the stones which had been extracted from the settings the very day the jewels were first mortgaged to him.
"Now, signor," said the lieutenant, turning to the citizen in the plain sober garb, "as you are the diamond merchant of whom his lordship the count originally purchased the precious stones which have been traced to the possession of Isaachar, it is for you to declare whether those be the true diamonds or not."
The citizen examined the stones, and having pronounced them to be the genuine ones, took his departure, his services being no longer required.
The lieutenant secured the rosewood case with its valuable contents about his person, and then proceeded to settle with interest the amount claimed by the Jew, as the sum which he had advanced on the jewels.
While this transaction was in progress, the notice of one of the sbirri was attracted by the marks of blood which appeared on the floor, and which, as the reader will recollect, had been caused by the wound that the Marquis of Orsini had received from the robber Stephano.
"It is decidedly blood," whispered the sbirro to one of his companions.
"Not a doubt of it," observed another. "We must mention it to the lieutenant when he has done counting out that gold."
"Do you know what I have heard about the Jews?" asked the first speaker, drawing his comrades still further aside.
"What?" was the general question.
"That they kill Christian children to mix the blood in the dough with which they make the bread used at their religious ceremonies," answered the sbirro.
"Depend upon it. Isaachar has murdered a Christian child for that purpose!" said one of his companions.
This atrocious idea gained immediate belief among the ignorant sbirri; and as the Jew now quitted the room for a few moments to secure the gold which he had just received, in his coffer in the adjacent apartment, the police officers had leisure to point out to their superior the traces of blood which they had noticed, and the suspicion which these marks had engendered.
The lieutenant was not further removed beyond the influence of popular prejudice and ridiculous superstition than even his men: and though by no means of a cruel disposition, yet he thought it no sin nor injustice to persecute the Hebrew race, even when innocent and unoffending. But, now that suspicion, or what he chose to consider suspicion, pointed at Isaachar ben Solomon as a dreadful criminal, the lieutenant did not hesitate many moments how to act.
Thus, when the Jew returned to the room with the fond hope of seeing his visitors take their speedy departure, he was met by the terrible words, uttered by the officer of the sbirri. "In the name of the most high inquisition, Isaachar, do I make you my prisoner!"
The unhappy Jew fell upon his knees, stunned, terrified by the appalling announcement; and although he assumed this attitude of supplication, he had not the power to utter a syllable of intercession or of prayer. Horror had for the moment stricken him dumb: and a thousand images of terror, conjured up by the fearful words, "the inquisition," suddenly sprung up to scare, bewilder and overwhelm him.
"Bind him, gag him!" ejaculated the lieutenant: and this order was immediately obeyed: for whenever a prisoner was about to be conveyed to the dungeons of the inquisition, he was invariably gagged, in order that no questions on his part might evoke answers at all calculated to afford him a clew to the cause of his arrest.
This precaution was originally adopted in reference to those only who were ignorant of the charges laid against them: but it had subsequently become common in all cases of arrest effected in the name or on the part of the holy brotherhood.
The Palazzo del Podesta, or ducal palace, was one of the most celebrated edifices in Florence. In strong contrast with the various beautiful specimens of composite Tuscan, combined with a well-assimilated portion of the Grecian character, which abounded in Florence, the ducal palace was remarkable for the stern and gloomy character of its architecture. Its massive and heavy tower, crowned with embattled and overhanging parapets, seemed to frown in sullen and haughty defiance at the lapse of Time. The first range of windows were twelve feet from the ground, and were grated with enormous bars of iron, producing a somber and ominous effect. Within were the apartments of the duke's numerous dependents; and the lower portion of the palace had been rendered thus strong to enable the edifice to withstand a siege in those troublous times, when the contentions of the Guelphs and Ghibelines desolated Florence. On the second floor there was in front a plain and simple architrave, and on that story the windows were high and arched; for those casements belonged to the ducal apartments. The upper stories were in the same style; but the general aspect was stern and mournful to a degree.
The palace was built, as indeed nearly all the Florentine mansions then were, and still are, in the form of a square; and around this court, which was of an antique and gloomy cast, were numerous monumental stones, whereon were inscribed the names of the nobles and citizens who had held high offices in the state previous to the establishment of the sway of the Medici.
It was beneath the Palazzo del Podesta that the dungeons of the criminal prison and also those of the inquisition were situated.
In a cell belonging to the former department, Fernand Wagner was already a captive; and Isaachar ben Solomon now became the inmate of a narrow, cold, and damp stone chamber, in that division of the subterrane which was within the jurisdiction of the holy office.