Read CHAPTER XXVI of The Bravo, free online book, by James Fenimore Cooper, on ReadCentral.com.

“My limbs are bowed, though not with toil,
But rusted with a vile repose,
For they have been a dungeon’s spoil,
And mine hath been the fate of those
To whom the goodly earth and air
Are banned, and barred forbidden fare.”
Prisoner of chillon.

When the day dawned on the following morning the square of St. Mark was empty. The priests still chanted their prayers for the dead near the body of old Antonio, and a few fishermen still lingered in and near the cathedral, but half persuaded of the manner in which their companion had come to his end. But as was usual at that hour of the day the city appeared tranquil, for though a slight alarm had passed through the canals at the movement of the rioters, it had subsided in that specious and distrustful quiet, which is more or less the unavoidable consequence of a system that is not substantially based on the willing support of the mass.

Jacopo was again in the attic of the Doge’s palace, accompanied by the gentle Gelsomina. As they threaded the windings of the building, he recounted to the eager ear of his companion all the details connected with the escape of the lovers; omitting, as a matter of prudence, the attempt of Giacomo Gradenigo on the life of Don Camillo. The unpractised and single-hearted girl heard him in breathless attention, the color of her cheek and the changeful eye betraying the force of her sympathies at each turn in their hazardous adventure.

“And dost thou think they can yet escape from those up above?” murmured Gelsomina, for few in Venice would trust their voices, by putting such a question aloud. “Thou knowest the Republic hath at all times its galleys in the Adriatic!”

“We have had thought of that, and the Calabrian is advised to steer for the mole of Ancona. Once within the States of the Church the influence of Don Camillo and the rights of his noble wife will protect them. Is there a place here whence we can look out upon the sea?”

Gelsomina led the Bravo into an empty room of the attic which commanded a view of the port, the Lido, and the waste of water beyond. The breeze came in strong currents over the roofs of the town, and causing the masts of the port to rock, it lighted on the Lagunes, without the tiers of the shipping. From this point to the barrier of sand, it was apparent by the stooping sails and the struggles of the gondoliers who pulled towards the quay, that the air was swift. Without the Lido itself, the element was shadowed and fitful, while further in the distance the troubled waters, with their crests of foam, sufficiently proved its power.

“Santa Maria be praised!” exclaimed Jacopo, when his understanding eye had run over the near and distant view “they are already far down the coast, and with a wind like this they cannot fail to reach their haven in a few hours. Let us go to the cell.”

Gelsomina smiled when he assured her of the safety of the fugitives, but her look saddened when he changed the discourse. Without reply, however, she did as he desired, and in a very few moments they were standing by the side of the prisoner’s pallet. The latter did not appear to observe their entrance, and Jacopo was obliged to announce himself.

“Father!” he said, with that melancholy pathos which always crept into his voice when he addressed the old man, “it is I.”

The prisoner turned, and though, evidently much enfeebled since the last visit, a wan smile gleamed on his wasted features.

“And thy mother, boy?” he asked, so eagerly as to cause Gelsomina to turn hastily aside.

“Happy, father happy.”

“Happy without me?”

“She is ever with thee in spirit, father. She thinks of thee in her prayers. Thou hast a saint for an intercessor in my mother father.”

“And thy good sister?”

“Happy too doubt it not, father. They are both patient and resigned.”

“The Senate, boy?”

“Is the same: soulless, selfish, and pretending!” answered Jacopo sternly; then turning away his face, in bitterness of heart, though without permitting the words to be audible, he cursed them.

“The noble Signori were deceived in believing me concerned in the attempt to rob their revenues,” returned the patient old man; “one day they will see and acknowledge their error.”

Jacopo made no answer, for unlettered as he was, and curtailed of that knowledge which should be, and is bestowed on all by every paternal government, the natural strength of his mind had enabled him to understand that a system, which on its face professed to be founded on the superior acquirements of a privileged few, would be the least likely to admit the fallacy of its theories, by confessing it could err.

“Thou dost the nobles injustice, son; they are illustrious patricians, and have no motive in oppressing one like me.”

“None, father, but the necessity of maintaining the severity of the laws, which make them senators and you a prisoner.”

“Nay, boy, I have known worthy gentlemen of the Senate! There was the late Signor Tiepolo, who did me much favor in my youth. But for this false accusation, I might now have been one of the most thriving of my craft in Venice.”

“Father, we will pray for the soul of the Tiepolo.”

“Is the senator dead?”

“So says a gorgeous tomb in the church of the Redentore.”

“We must all die at last,” whispered the old man, crossing himself. “Doge as well as patrician patrician as well as gondolier, Jaco ”

“Father!” exclaimed the Bravo, so suddenly as to interrupt the coming word; then kneeling by the pallet of the prisoner, he whispered in his ear, “thou forgettest there is reason why thou should’st not call me by that name. I have told thee often if thus called my visits must stop.”

The prisoner looked bewildered, for the failing of nature rendered that obscure which was once so evident to his mind. After gazing long at his son, his eye wandered between him and the wall, and he smiled childishly.

“Wilt thou look, good boy, if the spider is come back?”

Jacopo groaned, but he rose to comply.

“I do not see it, father; the season is not yet warm.”

“Not warm! my veins feel heated to bursting. Thou forgettest this is the attic, and that these are the leads, and then the sun oh! the sun! The illustrious senators do not bethink them of the pain of passing the bleak winter below the canals, and the burning summers beneath hot metal.”

“They think of nothing but their power,” murmured Jacopo “that which is wrongfully obtained, must be maintained by merciless injustice but why should we speak of this, father; hast thou all thy body needs?”

“Air son, air! give me of that air, which God has made for the meanest living thing.”

The Bravo rushed towards those fissures in the venerable but polluted pile he had already striven to open, and with frantic force he endeavored to widen them with his hands. The material resisted, though blood flowed from the ends of his fingers in the desperate effort.

“The door, Gelsomina, open wide the door!” he cried, turning away from the spot, exhausted with his fruitless exertions.

“Nay, I do not suffer now, my child it is when thou hast left me, and when I am alone with my own thoughts, when I see thy weeping mother and neglected sister, that I most feel the want of air are we not in the fervid month of August, son?”

“Father, it is not yet June.”

“I shall then have more heat to bear! God’s will be done, and blessed Santa Maria, his mother undefiled! give me strength to endure it.”

The eye of Jacopo gleamed with a wildness scarcely less frightful than the ghastly look of the old man, his chest heaved, his fingers were clenched, and his breathing was audible.

“No,” he said, in a low, but in so determined a voice, as to prove how fiercely his resolution was set, “thou shalt not await their torments: arise, father, and go with me. The doors are open, the ways of the palace are known to me in the darkest night, and the keys are at hand. I will find means to conceal thee until dark, and we will quit the accursed Republic for ever.”

Hope gleamed in the eye of the old captive, as he listened to this frantic proposal, but distrust of the means immediately altered its expression.

“Thou forgettest those up above, son.”

“I think only of One truly above, father.”

“And this girl how canst thou hope to deceive her?”

“She will take thy place she is with us in heart, and will lend herself to a seeming violence. I do not promise for thee idly, kindest Gelsomina?”

The frightened girl, who had never before witnessed so plain evidence of desperation in her companion, had sunk upon an article of furniture, speechless. The look of the prisoner changed from one to the other, and he made an effort to rise, but debility caused him to fall backwards, and not till then did Jacopo perceive the impracticability, on many accounts, of what, in a moment of excitement, he had proposed. A long silence followed. The hard breathing of Jacopo gradually subsided, and the expression of his face changed to its customary settled and collected look.

“Father,” he said, “I must quit thee; our misery draws near a close.”

“Thou wilt come to me soon again?”

“If the saints permit thy blessing, father.”

The old man folded his hands above the head of Jacopo, and murmured a prayer. When this pious duty was performed, both the Bravo and Gelsomina busied themselves a little time in contributing to the bodily comforts of the prisoner, and then they departed in company.

Jacopo appeared unwilling to quit the vicinity of the cell. A melancholy presentiment seemed to possess his mind, that these stolen visits were soon to cease. After a little delay, however, they descended to the apartments below, and as Jacopo desired to quit the palace without re-entering the prisons, Gelsomina prepared to let him out by the principal corridor.

“Thou art sadder than common, Carlo,” she observed, watching with feminine assiduity his averted eye. “Methinks thou should’st rejoice in the fortunes of the Neapolitan, and of the lady of the Tiepolo.”

“That escape is like a gleam of sunshine in a wintry day. Good girl but we are observed! who is yon spy on our movements?”

“’Tis a menial of the palace; they constantly cross us in this part of the building: come hither, if thou art weary. The room is little used, and we may again look out upon the sea.”

Jacopo followed his mild conductor into one of the neglected closets of the second floor, where, in truth, he was glad to catch a glimpse of the state of things in the piazza, before he left the palace. His first look was at the water, which was still rolling southward, before the gale from the Alps. Satisfied with this prospect, he bent his eye beneath. At the instant, an officer of the Republic issued from the palace gate, preceded by a trumpeter, as was usual, when there was occasion to make public proclamation of the Senate’s will. Gelsomina opened the casement, and both leaned forward to listen. When the little procession had reached the front of the cathedral, the trumpet sounded, and the voice of the officer was heard.

“Whereas many wicked and ruthless assassinations have of late been committed on the persons of divers good citizens of Venice,” he proclaimed “the Senate, in its fatherly care of all whom it is charged to protect, has found reason to resort to extraordinary means of preventing the repetition of crimes so contrary to the laws of God and the security of society. The illustrious Ten therefore offer, thus publicly, a reward of one hundred sequins to him who shall discover the perpetrator of any of these most horrible assassinations; and, whereas, during the past night, the body of a certain Antonio, a well known fisherman, and a worthy citizen, much esteemed by the patricians, has been found in the Lagunes, and, whereas, there is but too much reason to believe that he has come to his death by the hands of a certain Jacopo Frontoni, who has the reputation of a common Bravo, but who has been long watched in rain by the authorities, with the hope of detecting him in the commission of some one of the aforesaid horrible assassinations; now, all good and honest citizens of the Republic are enjoined to assist the authorities in seizing the person of the said Jacopo Frontoni, even though he should take sanctuary: for Venice can no longer endure the presence of one of his sanguinary habits, and for the encouragement of the same, the Senate, in its paternal care, offers the reward of three hundred sequins.” The usual words of prayer and sovereignty closed the proclamation.

As it was not usual for those who ruled so much in the dark to make their intentions public, all near listened with wonder and awe to the novel procedure. Some trembled, lest the mysterious and much-dreaded power was about to exhibit itself; while most found means of making their admiration of the fatherly interest of their rulers audible.

None heard the words of the officer with more feeling than Gelsomina. She bent her body far from the window, in order that not a syllable should escape her.

“Did’st thou hear, Carlo?” demanded the eager girl, as she drew back her head; “they proclaim, at last, money for the monster who has committed so many murders!”

Jacopo laughed; but to the ears of his startled companion the sounds were unnatural.

“The patricians are just, and what they do is right,” he said. “They are of illustrious birth, and cannot err! They will do their duty.”

“But here is no other duty than that they owe to God, and to the people.”

“I have heard of the duty of the people, but little is said of the Senate’s.”

“Nay, Carlo, we will not refuse them credit when in truth they seek to keep the citizens from harm. This Jacopo is a monster, detested by all, and his bloody deeds have too long been a reproach to Venice. Thou hearest that the patricians are not niggard of their gold, when there is hope of his being taken. Listen! they proclaim again!”

The trumpet sounded, and the proclamation was repeated between the granite columns of the Piazzetta, and quite near to the window occupied by Gelsomina and her unmoved companion.

“Why dost thou mask, Carlo?” she asked, when the officer had done; “it is not usual to be disguised in the palace at this hour.”

“They will believe it the Doge, blushing to be an auditor of his own liberal justice, or they may mistake me for one of the Three itself.”

“They go by the quay to the arsenal; thence they will take boat, as is customary, for the Rialto.”

“Thereby giving this redoubtable Jacopo timely notice to secrete himself! Your judges up above are mysterious when they should be open; and open when they should be secret. I must quit thee, Gelsomina; go, then, back to the room of thy father, and leave me to pass out by the court of the palace.”

“It may not be, Carlo thou knowest the permission of the authorities I have exceeded why should I wish to conceal it from thee but it was not permitted to thee to enter at this hour.”

“And thou hast had the courage to transgress the leave for my sake, Gelsomina?”

The abashed girl hung her head, and the color which glowed about her temples was like the rosy light of her own Italy.

“Thou would’st have it so,” she said.

“A thousand thanks, dearest, kindest, truest Gelsomina; but doubt not my being able to leave the palace unseen. The danger was in entering. They who go forth do it with the air of having authority.”

“None pass the halberdiers masked by day, Carlo, but they who have the secret word.”

The Bravo appeared struck with this truth, and there was great embarrassment expressed in his manner. The terms of his admittance were so well understood to himself, that he distrusted the expediency of attempting to get upon the quays by the prison, the way he had entered, since he had little doubt that his retreat would be intercepted by those who kept the outer gate, and who were probably, by this time, in the secret of his true character. It now appeared that egress by the other route was equally hazardous. He had not been surprised so much by the substance of the proclamation, as by the publicity the Senate had seen fit to give to its policy, and he had heard himself denounced, with a severe pang, it is true, but without terror. Still he had so many means of disguise, and the practice of personal concealment was so general in Venice, that he had entertained no great distrust of the result until he now found himself in this awkward dilemma. Gelsomina read his indecision in his eye, and regretted that she should have caused him so much uneasiness.

“It is not so bad as thou seemest to think, Carlo,” she observed; “they have permitted thee to visit thy father at stated hours, and the permission is a proof that the Senate is not without pity. Now that I, to oblige thy wishes, have forgotten one of their injunctions, they will not be so hard of heart as to visit the fault as a crime.”

Jacopo gazed at her with pity, for well did he understand how little she knew of the real nature and wily policy of the state.

“It is time that we should part,” he said, “lest thy innocence should be made to pay the price of my mistake. I am now near the public corridor, and must trust to my fortune to gain the quay.”

Gelsomina hung upon his arm, unwilling to trust him to his own guidance in that fearful building.

“It will not do, Carlo; thou wilt stumble on a soldier, and thy fault will be known; perhaps they will refuse to let thee come again; perhaps altogether shut the door of thy poor father’s cell.”

Jacopo made a gesture for her to lead the way, and followed. With a beating, but still lightened heart, Gelsomina glided along the passages, carefully locking each door, as of wont, behind her, when she had passed through it. At length they reached the well known Bridge of Sighs. The anxious girl went on with a lighter step, when she found herself approaching her own abode, for she was busy in planning the means of concealing her companion in her father’s rooms, should there be hazard in his passing out of the prison during the day.

“But a single minute, Carlo,” she whispered, applying the key to the door which opened into the latter building the lock yielded, but the hinges refused to turn. Gelsomina paled as she added “They have drawn the bolts within!”

“No matter; I will go down by the court of the palace, and boldly pass the halberdier unmasked.”

Gelsomina, after all, saw but little risk of his being known by the mercenaries who served the Doge, and, anxious to relieve him from so awkward a position, she flew back to the other end of the gallery. Another key was applied to the door by which they had just entered, with the same result. Gelsomina staggered back, and sought support against the waft.

“We can neither return nor proceed!” she exclaimed, frightened she knew not why.

“I see it all,” answered Jacopo, “we are prisoners on the fatal bridge.”

As he spoke, the Bravo calmly removed his mask, and showed the countenance of a man whose resolution was at its height.

“Santa Madre di Dio! what can it mean?”

“That we have passed here once too often, love. The council is tender of these visits.”

The bolts of both doors grated, and the hinges creaked at the same instant. An officer of the inquisition entered armed, and bearing manacles. Gelsomina shrieked, but Jacopo moved not limb or muscle, while he was fettered and chained.

“I too!” cried his frantic companion. “I am the most guilty bind me cast me into a cell, but let poor Carlo go.”

“Carlo!” echoed an officer, laughing unfeelingly.

“Is it such a crime to seek a father in his prison! They knew of his visits they permitted them he has only mistaken the hour.”

“Girl, dost thou know for whom thou pleadest?”

“For the kindest heart the most faithful son in Venice! Oh! if ye had seen him weep as I have done, over the sufferings of the old captive if ye had seen his very form shivering in agony, ye would have pity on him!”

“Listen,” returned the officer, raising a finger for attention.

The trumpeter sounded on the bridge of St. Mark, immediately beneath them, and proclamation was again made, offering gold for the arrest of the Bravo.

“’Tis the officer of the Republic, bidding for the head of one who carries a common stiletto,” cried the half-breathless Gelsomina, who little heeded the ceremony at that instant; “he merits his fate.”

“Then why resist it?”

“Ye speak without meaning!”

“Doting girl, this is Jacopo Frontoni!”

Gelsomina would have disbelieved her ears, but for the anguished expression of Jacopo’s eye. The horrible truth burst upon her mind, and she fell lifeless. At that moment the Bravo was hurried from the bridge.