Iron shroud, or, Italian revenge (1)

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Iron shroud, or, Italian revenge (1)  (1840-48) 
by William Mudford

Attributed to William Mudford.









The castle of the Prince of Tolfi was built on the summit of the towering and precipitious rock of Scylla, and commanded a magnificent view of Sicily in all its grandeur. Here during the wars of tho middle ages, when the fertile plains of Italy were devastated by hostile factions, those prisoners were confined, for whose ransom a costly price was demanded. Here, too, in a dungeon, excavated deep in tho solid rock, the miserable victim was immurled, whom, revenge pursued,—the dark, fierce, and unpitying revenge of an Italian heart.

Vivenzio—the noble, and the generous, the fearless in battle, and the pride of Naples in her sunny hours of peace—the young, the brave, the proud, Vivenzio fell beneath this subtile and remorseless spirit. He was the prisoner of Tolfi, and he languished in that rock-encircled dungeon, which stood alone, and whose portals never opened twice upon a living captive.

It had tho resemblance of a vast cage, for tho roof, and floor, and sides, were of iron, solidly wrought, and spaciously constructed. High above there ran a range of seven grated windows, guarded with massy bars of the same metal, which admitted light and air. Save these, and the tall folding doors them, which occupied the ccntre, no chink, or chasm, projection, broke the smooth black surfacc of the walls. An iron bedstead, littered with straw, stood in one corner; and beside it, a vessel with water, and a coarse dish filled with coarser food.

Even the intrepid soul of Vivenzio shrunk with dismay as he entered this abodc, and heard the ponderous doors triple-locked by the silent ruffians who conducted him to it. Their silence seemed prophetic of his fate, of the living grave that had been prepared for him. His menaces and his entreaties, his indignant appeals for justice, and his impatient questioning of their intentions, were alike vain. They listened, but spokc not. Fit ministers of a crime that should have no tongue!

How dismal was the sound of their retiring steps! And, as their faint cchoes died along the winding passagcs, a fearful presage grew within him, that never more the face, or voice, or tread, of man, would greet his senses. He had seen human beings for the last time! And hc had looked his last upon the bright sky, and upon the smiling earth and upon a beautiful world he lovcd and whose minion he had been! Herc he was to cnd his life—a life he had just begun to revel in! And by what means? By secret poison? or by murderous assault ? No—for then it had been needless to bring him thither. Famine perhaps—a thousand deaths in one ! It was terrible to think of it—but it was yet more terrible to picture long, long years of captivity in a solitude so appalling, a loncliness so drcary, that thought, for want of fellowship, would lose itself in madness, or stagnato into idiocy.

He could not hope to escapc, unlcss he had the power, with his bare hands, of rending asunder tho solid iron walls of his prison. He could not hopo for liberty from the relenting mcrcies of his enemy. His instant death, under any form of refined cruelty, was not the object of Tolfi, for he might have inflicted it, and he had not. It was too evident, therefore, he was reserved for some premeditated scheme of subtile vengeance ; and what vengeanco could transcend in fiendish malice, either the slow death of famine, or the still slower one of solitary incarceration, till the last lingering spark of life expired, or reason fled, and nothing should remain to perish but the brutc functions of the body!

It was evening when Vivcnzio entered his dungcon, and the approaching shades of night wrapped it in total darkness, as he paeed up and down, revolving in his mind thcse horrible forebodings. No tolling bell from the castlc, or from any neighbouring church or convent struck upon his ear to tell how the hours passcd. Frequently he would stop and for some sound that might betoken the vicinity of man ; but the solitude of the desert, the silenee of the tomb, are not so still and deep as the oppressive desolation by which he was cneompassed. His heart sunk within him, and hc threw himself dejectedly upon his couch of straw. Hero sleep gradually obliterated the conscioucness of misery, and bland dreams wafted his delightcd spirit to scenes which were once glowing realities for him, in whose ravishing illusions he soon lost the remembrance that he was Tolfi’s prisoner.

When hc awoke, it was daylight; but how long he had slept he knew not. It might be early morning, or it might be sultry noon, for he could measure time by no other note of its progress than light and darkness. He had been so happy in his sleep, amid friends that loved him, and sweeter endearments of those who loved him as fricnds could not, that in the first moments of waking, his startled mind secmed to admit the knowledge of his situation as if it had burst upon it for the first time, fresh in all its appalling horrors. He gazed round with an air of doubt and amazcment, and took up a handful of the straw upon which he lay, as though he would ask himself what it meant. But memory, too faithful to her office, soon unveiled the mclancholy past, while reason, shuddering at the task, flashed before his cyes the trcmendous future. The contrast overpowered him. He remained for some timc lamenting, like a truth, the bright visions that had vanished; and recoiling from the prescnt, which clung to him as a poisoned garment.

When he grew more calm, he surveyed his gloomy dungeon. Alas! thc stronger light of day only served to confirm what the gloomy indistinctness of the preceding evcning had partially disclosed, the utter impossibility of escape. As, however, his eyes wandered round and round, and from place to place, he noticed two circumstances which excited his surprisc and curiosity. Thc onc, he thought might be fancy; but the other, was positive. His pitcher of water, and the dish which contained his food, had been removed from his sido while he slept, and now stood near the door. Were he even inclined to doubt this, by supposing ho had mistaken the spot where he saw them over night, he could not, for the pitcher now in his dungeon was neither of the same form nor colour as the other, while thc food was changed for some other of better quality. He had been visited therefore during the night. But how had the person obtained entrance? Could he have slept so soundly, that the unlocking and opening of those ponderous portals were affected without waking him? He would have said this was not possible, but that in doing so, he must admit a greater difficulty, on entrance by other means, of which he was convinced there existed none. It was not intended, then, that he should bo left to perish from hunger. But the secret and mysterious mode of supplying him with food, seemed to indicate he was to have no opportunity of communicating with a human being.

The other circumstance which had attracted his notice, was the disappearance, as he believed, of one of the seven grated windows that ran along the top of his prison. He felt confident that he had observed and counted them; for he was rather surprised at their number, and there was something peculiar in their form, as well as in the manner of their arrangement, at equal distances It was so much easier, however, to suppose he was mistaken, than that a portion of the solid iron, which formed the walls, could have escaped from its position, that he soon dismissed the thought from his mind.

Vivenzio partook of the food that was before him, without apprehension. It might be poisoned; but if it were, he knew he could not escape death, should such be the design of Tolfi; and the quickest death would be the speediest release.

The day passed wearily and gloomily; though not without a hope that, by keeping watch at night, he might observe when the person came again to bring him food, which he supposed he would do in the same way as before. The mere thought of being approached by a living creature, and the opportunity it might present of learning the doom prepared, or preparing, for him, imparted some comfort. Besides, if he came alone, might he not in a furious onset overpower him? Or he might be accessible to pity, or the influence of such munificient rewards as he could bestow, if once more at liberty and master of himself. Say he wcro armed. The worse that could befall, if not bribe, nor prayers, nor force prevaled, was a faithful blow, which though dealt in a damncd cause might work a desired end. There was no chance so desperate, but it lookcd lovely in Vivenzio’s eyes compared with the idea of being totally abandoned.

The night came, and Vivenzio watched. Morning came, and Vivenzio was confounded! He must have slumbered without knowing it. Sleep must have stolen over him when exhausted by fatigue, and in the interval of feverish repose, he had been baffled; for there stood his replenished pitcher of water, and there his day’s meal! Not was this all. Casting his looks towards the windows of his dungeon, he counted but five! there was no deception; and he was now convinced there had been seven the day before. But what did all this portend? Into what strange and mysterious den had he been cast? He gazed till his eyes ached; he could discover nothing to explain the mystery. That it was so, he knew. Why it was so, he racked his imagination in vain conjecture. He examined the doors. A single circumstance convinced him that they had not been opened.

A wisp of straw, which he had carelessly thrown against them the preceding day, as hc paced to and fro, remained where he had cast it, though it must havo been displaced by the slightest motion of either of the doors. This was evidence that could not be disputed; and it followed thcre must be some secret machinery in the walls by which a person could enter. He inspected them closely. They appeared to him one solid and compact mass of iron; or joined, if joined they were, with sueh niee art, that no mark of divison was perceptible. Again and again he surveyed them—and the floor—and the roof—and the range of visionary windows, and he was now almost tempted to eonsider them ; he could discover nothing, absolutely nothing, to relieve his doubts or satisfy his curiosity. Sometimes he faneied that altogether the dungeon had a more contracted appearance—that it looked smaller; but this he ascribed to fancy, and the impression naturally produced upon his mind by the undeniable disappearance of two of the windows.

With intense anxiety, Vivenzio looked forward to the return of night; and as it approaehed, he resolved that no treaeherous sleep should again betray him. Instead of seeking his bed of straw, he continued to walk up and down his dungeon till daylight, straining his eyes in every direction through the darkness, to watch for any appearance that might explain these mysteries. While thus engaged, and as nearly as he could judge, (by the time that afterwards elapsed before the morning came in,) about two o’ eloek, there was a slight tremulous motion of the floors. He stooped. The motion lasted nearly a minute; but it was so extremely gentle, that he almost doubted whether it was real, or only imaginary. He listened. Not a sound eould be heard. Presently, however, he felt a rush of eold air blow upon him; and dashing towards the quarter whence it seemed to proceed, he stumbled over something whieh he judged to be the water ewer. The rush of cold air was no longer perceptible; and as Vivenzio stretched out his hands, he fonud himself close to tho walls. He remained motionless for a considerable time; but nothing occurred during the remainder of the night to excite his attention, though he continued to watch with unabated vigilance.

The first approaches of the morning were visiblo through the grated windows, breaking, with faint divisions of light, the darkness that still pervaded every other part, long before Vivenzio was enabled to distinguish any object in his dungeon. Instinctively and fearfully he turned his eyes, hot and inflamed with watching, towards them. Thero were four! He could see only four; but it might be that some intervening object prevented the fifth from being perceptible; and he walked impatiently to ascertain if it were so. As the light strengthened, however, and penetrated every corner of the cell, other objects of amazement struck his sight. On the ground lay the broken fragments of tho pitcher he had used the day before, and at a small distance from them, nearer the wall, stood, the ono he had noticed the first night. It was filled with water, and beside it was his food. He was now certain, that, by somo mechanical contrivance, an opening was obtained through the iron wall, and that through this opening the current of air had found entrance. But how noiseless! For had a feather almost waved at the time, he must have heard it. Again he examined that part of the wall: but both to sight and touch it appeared one even and uniform surface, whilo to repeated and violent blows, there was no reverberating sound indicative of hollowness.

This perplexing mystery had for a time withdrawn his thoughts from the windows; but now directing his eyes again towards them, he saw that the fifth had disappeared in the same manner as the preceding two, without the least distinguishable alteration of external appearances. The remaining four looked as the seven had originally looked; that is, occupying, at irregular distances, the top of the wall on that side of the dungeon. The tall folding door, too, still seemed to stand beneath in the centre of these four, as it had at first stood in the centre of the seven. But he could no longer doubt, what, on the preceding day, he fancied might be the effect of visual deception. The dungeon was smaller. The roof had lowered —and the opposite ends had contracted the intermediate distance by a space equal, he thought, to that over which three windows had extended. He was bewildered in vain imaginations to account for these things. Some frightful purpose—some devilish torture of mind or body—some unheard-of device for producing exquisite misery, lurked, ho was sure, in what had taken place.

Oppressed with this belief, and distracted more by the dreadful uncertainty of whatever fate impended, than he could be dismayed, he thought, by the knowledge of the worst, he sat ruminating, hour after hour, yielding his fears in succession to every haggard fancy. At last a horrible suspicion flashed across his mind, and he started up with a frantic air. "Yes!" he exclaimed, looking wildly round his dungeon, and shuddering as he spoke—"Yes! it must be so! I see it!—I feel the maddening truth like scorching flames upon my brain! Eternal God?—support me! It must be so!—Yes, yes, that is to be my fate! Yon roof will descend! — these walls will hem me round—and slowly, slowly, crush me in their iron arms! Lord God! look down upon me, and in mercy strike me with instant death! Oh fiend, devil—is this your revenge?”

He dashed himself upon the ground in agony; —tears burst from him, and the sweat stood in large drops upon his face—he sobbed aloud—he tore his hair—he rolled about like one suffering intolerable anguish of body, and would have bitten the iron floor beneath him ; he breathed fearful eurses upon Tolfi, and the next moment passionate prayers to heaven for immediate death. Then the violenee of his grief became exhausted, and he lay still, weeping as a child would weep. The twilight of departing day shed its gloom around him ere he arose from that posture of utter and h hopeless sorrow. He had taken no food. Not one drop of water had eooled the fever of his parehed lips. Sleep had not visited his eyes for six and thirty hours. He was faint with hunger; weary with watching, and with the excess of his emotions. IIe tasted of his food ; he drank with avidity of the water ; and reeling like a drunken man to his straw, east himself upon it to brood again over the appaling image that had fastened itself upon his almost frenzied thoughts.

He slept. But his slumbers were not tranquil. He resisted, as long as he could, their approaeh; and when, at last, enfeebled nature yielded to their influence, he found no oblivion from his cares. Terrible dreams haunted him—ghastly visions harrowed up his imagination—he shouted and screamed, as if he already felt.the dungeon’s ponderous roof descending on him—he breathed hard and thick, as though writhing between its iron walls. Then would he spring up—stare wildly about him—stretch forth his hands to be sure he yet had space enough to live—and, muttering some incoherent word, sink down again, to pass through the same fierce vicissitudes of delirious sleep.

The morning of the fourth day dawned upon Vivenzio. But it was high noon before his mind shook off its stupcr, or he awoke to a full consciousness of his situation. And what a fixed cncrgy of despair sat upon his pale fcatures, as he cast his eyes upwards, and gazed upon the three windows that now alone remained! The thrce!—thcrc were no more!—and they seemed to number his own alloted days. Slowly and calmly he next surveyed the top and sides, and comprehended all the meaning of the diminished height of the former, as well as of the gradual approximination of the latter. The contracted dimensions of his mystcrious prison were now too gross and palpablc to be the juggle of his imagination. Still lost in wondcr at the means, Vivenzio could put no cheat upon his rcason, as to the end. By what horrible ingenuity it was contrived, that walls, and roof, and windows should thus silently and imperceptibly, without noise, and without motion almost, fold, as it were, within each other, he knew not. He only kncw they did so; and hc vainly strove to persuade himself it was the intention of thc contriver, to rack thc miserable wretch who might be immured there, with anticipation, merely, of a fate, from which in the very crisis of his agony, hc was to be reprieved.

Gladly would ho have clung even to this possibility, if his heart would have let him; but he felt a dreadful assurance of its fallacy. And what matchless inhumanity it was to doom tho sufferer to such lingering torments—to lead him day by day to so appalling a death, unsupported by tho consolations of religion, unvisited by any human being, abandoned to himself, descrted of all, and denied even the sad privilego of knowing that his cruel destiny would awaken pity! Alone he was to pcrish!—alone he was to wait a slow coming torture, whose most exquisite pangs would be inflicted by that very solitude and that tardy coming!

"It is not death I fear," he exclaimed, "but the death I must prepare for! Methinks, too, I could meet even that—all horrible and revolting as it is—if it might overtake me now. But whero shall I find fortitude to tarry till it come! How can I outlive the three long days and nights I have to live? There is no power within me to bid tho hideous spectre hence—none to make it familiar to my thoughts; or mysclf, patient of its errand. My thoughts, rather will flee from me, and I grow mad in looking at it. Oh! for a deep sleep to fall upon me! that so, in death’s likeness, I might embrace death itsclf, and drink no more of the cup that is presented to me, than my fainting spirit has already tasted!"

In the midst of these lamentations, Vivenzio noticed that his accustomed meal, with the pitcher of water, had been conveyed, as before, into his dungeon. But this circumstance no longer excited his surprise, IIis mind was overwhelmed with others of a far grcater magnitude. It suggested, however, a feeble hope of deliverancc; and there is no hope so feeble, as not to yield some support to a heart bending under despair. He resolved to watch, during the ensuing night, for the signs hc had before obscrved; and should ho again feel the gentle, tremulous motion of the floor, or the current of air, to seize that moment for giving audible expression to his misery. Some pcrson must bo near him, and within reach of his voice, at the instant when his food was supplied; some one perhaps susceptible of pity. Or if not, to be told even that his apprehensions were just, and that his fate was to be what he foreboded would be preferable to a suspense which hung upon the possibility of his worst fears being visionary.

The night eame; and as the hour approached when Vivenzio imagined he might expect the signs, he stood fixed and silent as a statue. He feared to breathe, almost, lest ho might lose any sound which would warn him of their coming. While thus listening, with every faeulty of mind and body strained to an agony of attention, it occured to him he should be more sensible of the motion, probably, if he stretched himself along the iron floor. He accordingly laid himself softly down, and had not been long in that position when—yes—he was eertain of it—the floor moved under him! He sprang up, and in a voiee suffoeated nearly with emotion called, aloud. He paused—the motion eeased—he felt no stream of air all was hushed—no voice answered to his—he burst into tears; and as he sunk to the ground, in renewed anguish, exclaimed, —"Oh, my God! my God! You alone have power to save me now, or strengthen me for the trial you permit."

Another morning dawned upon the wretehed eaptive, and the fatal index of his doom met his eyes. Two windows! and two days, and all would be over! Fresh food and fresh water! The mysterious visit had been paid, though he had implored it in vain. But how awfully was his prayer answered in what he now saw! The roof of the dungeon was within a foot of his head. The two ends were so near, that in six paees he trod the space between them. Vivenzio shuddered as he gazed, and as his steps traversed the narrowed area. But his feelings no longer vented themselves in frantie wailings. With folded arms, and elenehed teeth, with eyes that were blood-shot from much watching, and fixed with a vaeant glare upon tho ground, with a hard quick breathing, and a hurried walk, he strode baekwards and forwards in silent musing for several hours. What mind shall eoneeive, What tongue utter, or what pen deseribe the dark and terrible character of his thoughts! Like the fate that moulded them, they had no similitude in the wide range of this world’s agony for man. Suddenly he stopped, and his eyes were riveted upon that part of the wall which was over his bed of straw. Words are inscribed here! A human language, traeed by a human hand! He rushes towards them: but his blood freezes as he reads:

"I, Ludovica Sforza, tempted by the gold of the prinee of Tolfi, spent three years in eontriving and exeeuting this aceursed triumph of my art. When it was completed, the perfidious Tolfi, more devil than man, who condueted me hither one morning, to be witness as he said, of its perfection, doomed me to be the first victim of my own pernieious skill; lest as he declared, I should divulge the seeret, or repeat the effort of my ingenuity. May God pardon him, as I hope he will me, that ministered to his unhallowed purpose! Miserable wreteh, whoe’er thou art, that readest thesc lines, fall on thy knees, and invoke as I have done, His sustaining mercy, who alone can nervo thee to meet tho vengeanee of Tolfi, armed with his tremendous engine, which in a few hours must crush you, as it will the needy wreteh that made it."

A deep groan burst from Vivenzio. He stood like one transfixed, with dilated eyes, expanded nostrils, and quivering lips, gazing at this fatal inscription. It was as if a voice from the sepulchre had sounded in his ears, "Prepare!" Hope forsook him. There was his sentence, recorded in these dismal words. The future stood unveiled before him, ghastly and appalling. His brain already feels the descending horror,—his bones seemed to crack and crumble in the mighty grasp of the iron walls! Unknowing what it is he does, he fumbles in his garment for some weapon of self-destruction. He clenches his throat in his convulsive gripe, as though he would strangle himself at once. He stares upon the walls, and his warring spirit demands, "will they not anticipate their office if I dash my head against them?" An hysterical laugh chokes him as he exclaims, "why should I? He was but a man who died first in their fierce embrace ; and I should be less than man not to do as much?"

The evening sun was descending, and Vivenzio beheld its golden beams streaming through one of the windows. What a thrill of joy shot through his soul at the sight! It was a precious link, that uuited him, for the moment, with the world beyond. There was ecstacy in the thought. As he gazed, long and earnestly, it seemed as if the windows had lowered sufficiently for him to reach them. With one bound he was beneath them—with one wild spring ho clung to the bars. Whether it was so contrived, purposely to madden with delight the wretch who looked, he knew not; but at the extremity of a long vista, cut through the solid rocks the ocean, the sky, the setting sun, olive groves, shady walks, and in the farthest distance, delicious glimpses of magnificent Sicily, burst upon his sight. How exquisite was the cool breeze as it swept across his cheek, loaded with fragranee! He inhaled it as though it were the breath of continued life. And there was a freshness in the landscape, and in the rippling of tho calm green sea, that fell upon his withering heart like dew upon the parched earth. How he gazed and panted, and still clung to his hold! sometimes hanging by one hand, sometimes by the other, and then grasping the bars with both, as loath to quite the smiling paradise outstretched before him; till exhausted, and his hands swollen and benumbed, he droped helpless down, and lay stunned for a considerable time by the fall.

When he recovered, the glorious vision had vanished. He was in darkness. Ho doubted whether it was not a dream that had passed before his sleeping fancy; but gradually his scattered thoughts returned, and with them remembranee. Yes; he had looked once again upon the gorgeous splendour of nature! Onee again his eyes had trembled beneath their veiled lids, at the sun’s radiance, and sought repose in the soft verdure of the olive tree, or the gentle swell of undulating waves. Oh, that ho were a mariner, exposod upon the waves to the worst fury of storm and tempest; or a very wretch, loathsome with disease, plaguestricken, and his body one leprous contagion from crown to sole, hunted forth to grasp out the remnant of infectious life beneath those verdant trees, so he might shun the destiny upon whoso edge ho tottered!

Vain thoughts like these would steal over his mind from time to time, in spite of himself; but they scarcely moved it from that stupor into which it had sunk, and which kept him, during the whole night, like one who had been drugged with opium. He was equally insensible to the calls of hunger and of thirst, though the third day was now commencing since even a drop of water had passed his lips. He remained on the ground, sometimes sitting, somctimes lying; at intervals, sleeping heavily; and when not sleeping, silently brooding over what was to come, or talking aloud, in disordered speech, of his wrongs, of his friends, of his home, and of thosc he loved, with a confused mingling of all.

In this pitiable condition, the sixth and last morning dawned upon Vivenzio, if dawn it might be callcd—the dim obscure light which faintly struggled through the one solitary window of his dungeon. He could hardly be said to notice the mclancholy token. And yet he did notice it; for as hc raiscd his eyes and saw the portentous sign, thcrc was a slight convulsive distortion of his countenance. But what did attract his notice, and at the sight of which his agitation was excessive, was the change his iron bed had undergone. It was a bed no longer. It stood before him, the visible semblance of a funeral couch or bier! When he beheld this, he startcd from thc ground; and, in raising himself, suddenly struck his head against the roof, which was now so low that he could no longer stand upright. "God’s will be done!" was all he said, as he crouched his body, and placed his hand upon the bier; for such it was. Thc iron bedstead had been so contrived, by the mechanical art of Ludovico Sforza, that as the advancing walls came in contact with it, head and feet, a pressuro was produced upon concealed springs, which when made to play, sct in motion a very simple though ingeniously contrived machinery, that effected the transformation. The object was, of course, to heighten, in the closing scene of this horrible drama, all the feelings of despair and anguish whieh the preceding ones had aroused. For the same reason, the last window was so made as to admit only a shadowy kind of gloom, rather than light, that the wretehed captive might be surrounded, as it were, with every seeming preparation for approaching death.

Vivenzio seated himself on his bier. Then he knelt and prayed fervently ; and sometimes tears would gush from him. The air seemed thick, and he breathed with diffieulty; or it might be that he fancied it was so, from the hot and narrow limits of his dungeon, whieh were now so diminished that he eould neither stand up nor lio down at his full length. But his wasted spirits and oppressed mind no longer struggled within him. He was past hope, and fear shook him no more. Happy if thus revenge had struek its final blow; for he would havo fallen beneath it almost unconseious of a pang. But sueh a lethargy of tho soul, after sueh an exeitement of its fiercest passions, had entered into tho diabolieal calculations of Tolfi; and tho full artifieer of his designs had imagined a counteracting devieo.

The tolling of an enormous bell struek upon the ears of Vivenzio! He started. It beat but once. The sound was too close and stunning, it seemed to shatter his very brain, while it echoed through the rocky passages like reverberating peals of thunder. This was followed by a sudden crash of the roof and walls, as if they were about to fall upon and closo around him at once. Vivenzio screamed, and instinctively spread forth his arms, as though he had a giant’s strength to hold them back. They had moved nearer to him, and were now motionlcss. Vivenzio looked up, and saw tho roof almost touching his head, even as he sat cowering beneath it; and he felt that a further contraction of but a few inches only must commence the frightful opcration. Roused as he had becn, he now gasped for breath. His body shook violently —he was bent nearly double. His hands rested upon either wall, and his feet were drawn under him to avoid the prcssurc in front. Thus he remained for more than an hour, when that deafening bell beat again, and again there came the crash of horrid death. But the concussion was now so great that it struck Vivenzio down. As he lay gathered up in lessened bulk, the bell beat loud and frcquent—crash succeedcd crash—and on, and on, and on came the mysterious engine of death, till Vivenzio’s smothered groans werc heard no more! He was horribly crushed by the ponderous roof and collapsing sides—and tho flattened bier was his Iron Shroud.


An odd whim onco possessed a country ’squire, that he would not hire any servant whatever, until ten pounds should be deposited between the master and servant; and the first that grumbled at any thing, let it bc what it might, was to forfcit tho money. Being in want of a coachman, not one round the country would venture to go after the placo. Now it happened that one Thomas Winterbourn, a coachman of London, who had bcen discharged from a nobleman’s family, was in that part of the country on a visit, and being acquainted with the oddity of the ’squire’s whim, resolved to accept of tho place, and, on application, was admitted into the family.

Thomas was greatly surprised, after living there for two months, that nothing was allowed him for breakfast, dinner, or supper, but bread and cheese and small beer. Being heartly tired of this kind of fare, he applied to the cook: ‘Cookee,’ says Thomas, ‘is it the standing rule of this family to keep their servants on nothing but bread and cheese?‘ 'What!’ says the cook, ‘do you grumble?’ ‘No, no, by no means, cookee,’ replied Thomas, being fearful of forfeiting the money. But recollecting his master’s park was stocked with fine deer, he took a musket and shot a fawn, skinned it, and brought it to the cook. ‘Here cookee,’ said Thomas, ‘take and roast this fawn for me immediately; for I have an acquaintance or two coming down from London, to pay me a visit.’ The cook seemed to object to it, having some meat to dress directly for her master; ‘What,’ says Thomas, ‘cookee, do you grumble?’ ‘No,’ replied the cook; so down to roast went the fawn.

The appointed time arrived that the master ordered dinner, and no sign of any coming to his table occasioned him to ring the bell, to know tho reason of it ; the cook acquainted the 'squiro with all Thomas’s proceedings, who in a great hurry bolted down stairs into the kitchen, where he found Thomas very busy in basting the fawn. ‘How got you that fawn?’ says the ’squire. ‘Shot it,’ replied Thomas. ‘Where?’ says the ’squire. ‘In your park,’ replied Thomas. ‘By whose orders?’ quoth the ’squire. ‘Do you grumble? says Thomas. ‘No, Thomas,’ says the squire; and retired to his dining-room, greatly perplexed at Thomas’s proceedings.

He instantly wrote a letter to a gentleman who lived near six miles from, his house, and ordered that Thomas should carry it immediately. Poor Thomas was obliged to comply, though with a sorrowful heart to leave the fawn. After his departure, the ’squire ordered the fawn, when dressed, to be brought to his table, which was done accordingly. On Thomas’s return, he found himself fairly tricked out of the fawn; and instead of it, to his mortifieation, bread and cheese, and small beer, his old diet; however, Thomas vowed within himself to revenge it the first opportunity.

A little while after, the ’squire, (who was going to pay his addresses to a young lady,) gave orders to Thomas to get the carriage, together with tho horses and harness, well cleaned. Thomas obeyed the order, and on the road from the stable to the ’squire’s house, he met a man with a small sandcart, drawn by two remarkably fine jack-asses. Thomas insisted upon an exchange, the horses for the asses, which being obtained, he cut all his master’s fine harness to pieces, to fit these Arabian ponies, as ho styled them. Matters being completed, he drove up boldly to the ’squire’s, and knocked at the gate; the porter pereeiving the droll figure his master's equipage cut, burst out into an immoderate fit of laughter! ‘C’up, c’up,’ says Thomas, ‘what’s the fool laughing at?—Go and acquaint the ’squire his carriage is ready.’

Shortly after the ’squire came, and seeing his carriage so beautifully adorned with cattle, was struck with astonishment. ‘Why, what the devil,’ quoth the ’squire, ‘have you got harnessed to my carriage?’ ‘I will tell you,’says Thomas. ‘As I was driving from your stable to the gate, I met a fellow driving a sand-cart, drawn by these two fine Arabian ponies, and knowing you to be fond of good cattle, I gave your horses for these two fine creatures; they draw well, and are ornaments to your carriage; only observe what fine ears they have got?’ ‘D—n their ears and ornaments too, says the squire: ‘why, the fellow’s mad!’ ‘What!’ cries Thomas, ‘do you grumble?’ ‘Grumble,’ quoth the ’squire, ‘why, I think it is high time to grumble: the next thing, I suppose, my carriage is to be given away for a sand-cart!’

On Thomas procuring the horses again, he paid him his wages and forfeit-money, being heartily tired with the oddity of his whims, and declared that Thomas, the London coachman, was the drollest dog he ever met with.


This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.