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Don Tarquinio
A Kataleptic Phantasmatic

Chapter XII


Ippolito said

“We admire the plan, but know not how an escape can be effected under such conditions.”

To whom Cesare responded, saying:

“Know that the Borgia of Velletri, though little insignificant people, are of the same origin as the Roman Borgia: but they have been established in Italy many gliding lustrums longer. Know also that the Regent of Velletri hath a son, by name Pietro Gregorio Borgia, an adolescent of parts, very anxious for a career, very friendly to Ourself, and of equal age with and similar appearance to Us. A messenger instantly must be sent to the said Pietrogorio: who knoweth that he can make his own fortune by caring for Ours. Wherefore, o Cardinal of Ferrara, seeing that the fame of thy collection of barbaric athletes hath come to the ears of our


Lord the Paparch, thou art commanded, by thine obedience to the bearer of this ring thou art commanded, to produce a swift runner here and now.”

I think that Ippolito was dazzled, at the moment, by so distinct a recognition of his exquisite connoisseurship of physique: for he sat there smiling and blinking his eyes while one might say a paternoster.

Cesare closely regarded him, until his countenance resumed its normal gravity, shewing that the intellect within was operating; and then he turned away, drawing Gioffredo on to his knees, feeding him with comfits from the table.

But Ippolito approached me where I stood rigid by the door; and would have consulted me, naming his runners one by one, Liparo, Hygropyrrho, Bueselvatico, Fantedifiume, Teres, Lo Skytho, Lo Skoto, the sleek one, the supple redhead, the wild bull, the servant of the sea, the smooth-fleshed one, the Skythian, the Skot, demanding my judgment of each.

But I could not think of anything saving the


great good fortune of Pietrogorio, my stars being malignant. I envied and hated him as much as possible; and I wished to occupy his place. There came before mine eyes a phantasm of my maid, as she stood before me at Vatican, with her dear brows so finely lifted and her sweet lips so rapturously trembling, pitying me and urging me. Yet, here I was, stone-still, unable to move, for I knew neither whither nor how.

Ippolito looked at me with inquiry. I vacantly returned his gaze. And anon, having led me aside, he opened the door.

The wedge of Numidians, basaltine, gigantic, turned to face him, making a path for him. A vermilion page advanced, impertinently bending to the ground. That one had the form of a young Hyakinthos, and the face of a beautiful white fiend framed in a web of buttercup-coloured hair. Ippolito commanded him to summon the chief chamberlain.

The page’s parthenean voice shrilled through the outer antechambers.


The chief chamberlain trotted toward us, bustling and genuflecting. To whom Ippolito delivered a mandate, saying:

“Lo Skoto, in secret.”

The chief chamberlain fled. In flying, he swept before him all the pages and gentlemen until the door of the private stairs was passed, driving them out of sight and hearing, leaving only those mute eunuchs of the Numidian guard. Anon, he returned accompanied by a half-savage runner, a lanky, stone-deaf youth of the age of xviiij years bought out of the horrible and ultimate Britains. This animal was pushed into the secret chamber; and the door again was shut.

I shall describe this singular barbarian, o Prospero, who was of astonishing leanness, stepping like a prancing horse, and very archaic as to his aspect. He was clad in an oblong cloth, chequered in brown and green and yellow. The lower quarter of the said cloth was belted in folds round his waist. The upper three-quarters were folded together lengthways, and


passed upward, behind his back, over his left shoulder and breast; and the end was tucked into the front of the right side of his belt.1 A goat-skin pouch2 depended from the fore-part of the said belt. All the rest of him was uncovered. His arms were very long and very thin. His breast was enormous. His long legs also were very lean, but round and sinewy. His feet were horny. His heavy head was pear-shaped: the brow, white: the cheeks and nose and pointed jaw, thickly freckled: the hair, a nasty light mud-coloured brown knot on the crown; and the steel-coloured eyes awkwardly wavered behind small slits, unlashed, sly. His stench was abominable.

The Cardinal of Valencia sniffed at the perfumed amber ball which was chained to his left wrist; and, having examined Lo Skoto’s points in the way which one useth for horses, he appeared to be satisfied. So he came to us

1. This “oblong cloth” seems to be the original “kilt and plaid” in one garment.

2. Obviously a fifteenth century “sporran.”


sitting on the cushions; and demanded of Ippolito that a mage should be summoned, who could cause the runner to sleep instantly and heavily during a half-hour without impeding his speed thereafter.

Ippolito went into the antechamber, commanding the service of Messer Nerone Diotisalvi, the mage who tolerated natural death by strangling after the conclave which elected the Piccolhuomini. But, to occupy the time which preceded the arrival of this one, Cesare took writing materials; and wrote this letter:

To Our well-beloved Don Pietro Gregorio Borgia of Velletri.

These with speed, speed, speed.2

Our Lord the Paparch suddenly sendeth Us as hostage with the Christian King, leaving

1. Alexander the Sixth’s successor, Pius the Third (Francesco de’ Piccolhuomini). What particular cantrips Diotisalvi engaged in at that conclave, the gods only know. Anyhow, he richly deserved a hanging long before he got it.

2. “Cito: Cito: Cito:” in the original holograph.


Us no opportunity of attending to Our proper affairs. Wherefore thou art to know that the bearer of these letters is an unruly slave, who (if We remained here) should tolerate not more than one hour of Our private pillory, distended as to arms and legs, not stringently enough to harm, but stringently enough, with divers apt and commodious actions on the flesh of his bare back. For which cause, o well-beloved Pietrogorio, by the affection which thou dost nourish for Us, thy trusty kinsman, We lay it upon thee to treat our said slave conveniently as aforesaid, with all other order known to thy piety, that he may have amended his said naughty ways before Our return. And so earn Our gratitude.


When we were permitted to peruse the screed, Gioffredo denounced it as nonsense. Ippolito uttered the opinion that it meant what it did not say. But I, being perplexed and angry, gave favour to my tongue.


Cesare, having guffawed at our stolidity, said:

“Be it known unto these princes that Our use is to keep, in every city, at least one adolescent on whom We may depend in need. Such an one in Velletri is Pietrogorio, prepared for any emergency, prompt to serve; and he will know what ought to be done. Furthermore, if the Kelts, or Colonna, or Orsini, or Savelli, or Dellarovere, or Cajetani, or any other bandits, shall catch the runner of such a message as this, having read it, will they not rather most hilariously hasten him on to his whipping?”

We iij laughed, conceding the point.

Messer Nerone presently entered, indulging himself in a phrenetic spasm of obeisances, chirruping like a slow tomtit. He was antique, humpty-backed. He spoke always in monotone, using a high shrill scream with most exasperating deliberation.

At whom Ippolito rushed, explaining what was to be done. We others stuffed our kerchieves in our nostrils, standing laughing near Lo Skoto, anxious to see the doing.


But the physician forthwith crossed the room to the table where the wine was and the water, prattling of the virtues of belladonna and stramonium. There, standing with his back to Lo Skoto and having taken ij little silver pots from his burse, he put a pinch from each into a cup of wine. This cup he put on a salver with another similar cup which he filled with pure water; and so he brought them both to the runner.

As this was being done, the ij cardinals and Gioffredo held a parley on the cushions: but I moved toward the window, whence I watched all, unseen, breathing cleaner air.

Messer Nerone offered the water to the runner. Lo Skoto reluctantly sipped it, longingly leering at the wine. The mage, having pretended to assure himself that no one was observing, simulated a sudden access of liberality; and offered the wine instead. It was done most admirably, with absolute art.

Lo Skoto gulched down the infected potion, stroking himself, vacuously grinning.


The mage replaced the salver with the cups on the ivory table. The Cardinal of Valencia took the ij little silver pots from him, and pouched them: giving him the jewel with its slight chains from the back of his own hand, and putting him outside the ivory door in the antechamber among the Numidians with a word of dismissal.

As he went, I touched his hump for luck; for it seemed that I needed all the aids which fortune had in store, my stars being most malignant. We heard the shrill whining of his voice dying away as he was escorted beyond the antechambers.

The door having been shut, we continued to entertain ourselves, paying no attention to the drugged runner, except with the corners of our eyes.

But I was staring at the innumerable lights of the waxen torches, reflected in endless vistas in the polished ivory of the circular walls and the dome of the roof, until mine eyes were dazzled by the sheen. And I chafed: being in


that agony of bewilderment when the whole world seems to whirl round, near, very near, but just out of reach. For nothing is more exasperating than to find oneself still and alone, when everything else is in myriads violently moving, eluding one’s grasp.

Anon, the runner suddenly started as though a phantom had touched him unawares. He, cast suspicious glances round him: but we iiij were in the middle of the chamber, while he was alone by the door. We stood up, openly looking at him as though we were astounded at his audacity: for, in starting, he had knocked down the double-cross, golden, which leaned against the pedestal of the ivory faun near him, nor did he attempt to replace it. Indeed, his eyes began to glare like those of one who unadvisedly had looked upon a cluster of hobgoblins. His knees also began to bend like those of one pressed downward by an incubus, gently, irresistibly. Anon he became prone on the black carpet.

Having approached him, Cesare opened one


of his eyes with thumb and index-finger. Naught but white was seen. Having pinched together iij barleycorns’ length of the freckled flesh of the neck, the said cardinal transfixed the same with a needle-point from Ippolito’s hand-case. But the sleeper soundly slept.

Cesare returned to the black cushions and seated himself by side of Ippolito, saying:

“Let Us have the skin of this barbarian’s back.”

Gioffredo assisted me. We left the runner in possession of nothing but himself. He was very heavy and inert; and we pulled him about rather roughly. Anon, having dragged him to the feet of the cardinals, we laid him out on the black carpet, limp as a freshly-made cadaver, a lean long form, huge of loin, the breast deeply arched, puny and narrow of shoulder and arm. The tan of the sinuous legs faded at the middle of the thighs: thence, to the ribs on the right side and to the shoulder on the left side, there was dazzling whiteness. Having inspected him, we turned


him downward; and left him, eagerly fixing our gaze on the Cardinal of Valencia.

That purpled person produced from his burse a tiny crystal vial containing a flesh-coloured liquid, viscous and opaque as cream, with a little brush of very fine hogs’ bristles. Having unstopped the vial, he gave it into Ippolito’s ready hand; and dipped the brush. We became conscious of a certain fœtor, mysterious, mephitic.

Cesare said:

“Know that ye are savouring a solution in spirit of the juice of an Indian fig,1 which We took from Messer Leone Abrabanel of Naples. Know also that We habitually bereave mages of their drugs when We have seen the method of using and the effect of the same: for a prince very often hath need of such matters.”

Mark well, o Prospero, those words of wisdom.

Thus he spoke: but we signified assent with

1. I am inclined to think that this is what we call indiarubber.


our eyebrows very intently watching his actions. He began to write with the brush upon the runner’s back.

But a terrific catastrophe instantly happened.

For, at the first touch of the said brush on the top of the left shoulder-blade, the malignance of his stars caused the sleeper to think fit to move his head, and to attempt to rise. Immense confusion instantly invaded the secret chamber.

Cesare sprang up, vociferating maledictions. Ippolito stopped the vial; and pouched it, preparing himself to rebut accusations of treachery. Gioffredo danced up and down like a cat who inopportunely hath stepped on an oven.

Lo Skoto with a bound was on his feet, phrenetic with fear, capering hither and thither, babbling in an unknown savage jargon. Upon whom I launched myself like a flash of white thunder.

But, before I could touch and crush his flesh with mine, Cesare whipped a raging poignard into him, and out: a clever Roman thrust


upward through the heart from the stomach. The runner wriggled and choked, spouting red blood; and fell. He kicked the carpet iiij times very quickly; and writhed; and died straight. I never have seen so short an agony.

The Cardinal of Valencia at once recovered his equanimity; and dried his poignard in the knot of dead hair, saying to Ippolito:

“Pardon, o Cardinal of Ferrara, on account of this puddle on thy carpet. It is not caused by malice but by necessity. But now, before we consider new plans, let us be rid of this carrion, secretly.”

Ippolito continued to gaze at the carcase.

But, by favour of some benignant star, my wits seemed to be coming back to me. I began to know, one by one in order, the things which I ought to do.

Wherefore, I beckoned to Gioffredo to take the ankles: but I myself took the hollow armpits; and terribly the head waggled between. In this manner we flung the dead slave from the balcony: but, after we had heard the splash


of his fall in Tiber, we returned, expecting new events.

Still was the gaze of Ippolito fixed on the mess on the carpet. Cesare walked like a tiger to and fro in a fume. Now my vision was clear; my stars being very benignant: nor did perplexity blind me any more to my chance.