|Chapter Title||THE FURTHER CONFESSION OF ROUBILLAC.|
|Newspaper Title||Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||The Dagger and the Cross!|
CHAPTER X Lill.-THE FURTHER CON-
FESSION OF KoUHIU,AC.
" Yes, Lorenzo, I did it, that nameless deed of profanity, of sacrilege ; ami more. Listen !" continued thc penitent, beads of perspiration breaking out upon his forehead. " Kol alone thc impiety of it to thc ('hutch, lo (iod the Father, hut to her, that innocent girl of thc ICnvlUh ullage, daughter of the chief citizen, the magistrate, the titled courtier, thuknigh', honoured hy his King no doubt for some deed of valour, I, Homard» Koubillae, painter of thc allara of God, mate of that pure soul Francesca - I, thc friend of their youth- I did
j ibis thing."
And such is human nature, such tho pride of country, that Lorenzo remembered ut thu moment that Roubillac was of .Spanish origin.
*' Nay, dear friend, there needs no purga tory utter this life, no fiery passage to the hell that is prepared for the impious outcast. There arc fiercer fires than the material flame. . . . . I stood before the niter, I joined their hands, I pronounced the benediction. She thought I ho voice was Costvlli's. 'Twas
the voice of the fiend. The hand that t remoled on her bended head was minc. But lie hud possession of mc-Zilctto, thc evil one, i 'ic tempter, thc serpent who had beguiled the woman. She was the Gretchen of thu German h'geud, but there was no Faust; the devil himself WAS her paramour, for I had no com- panionship in it ; and yet it seemed that I did it for love, a eel tish unreasoning love. . . . And so I did this woeful thing ; I, a layman, arrogating lo myself the priestly orfiec. In Costclli's reverend name, I, a pretender to God's ordinances, I dared to bless them. . . . She looked up into Ziletto's face and passed out into thc night, leaning with happy faith und love upon his ann.And I-'tis almost black enough for fiends to laugh at-I went to Frances :a's chamber. Finding her upon her knees, 1 sought to kneel by her side, hut fell senseless at ber feet. It was kindness in Him, without whose per- mission not even a sparrow falls, to sleep my soul in oblivion, until it should achieve its balance once more. The good Father Gostelli, who had just returned from a journey, pitied inc, and, with Francesca, ministered unto mc. Tiley ascribed my malady to overwork ; for I had been much engrossed iu the decoration of oneof Kyam's holy wells io honour of the Ascen- sion ! . . . Didst ever confess so vile a hypocrite, Lorenzo?"
Unco more bc flung himself upon thc couch face downwards, and groaned in agony of spirit.
" I pity theo !" said the prieBt ; " I pity
" Nay, pity mc not," said Roubillac, Bland ing up afresh aud pushing back his grey hair ; " tis early to pity me. Were it not that my poor weak soul lougs to meet ber once again, in tho sacred halls whither she has fled, and had I not promised ber that I would uonfeis tn thee, perchance I would have asked nought better than to follow Zilctto to hell and meet him there, face to fuco, and stab him again to the death, if il might be so, and spit upon him ?"
"Thou art mad, my son. "I'll hear no more until thou has* calmed thy spirit with prayer. Thou speakeat in a tangle, without sequence
of fact or circunstance. "
" Nay, thou shalt her mc lo thu end ! I told thee he went forth into the night ; she, trusting, and in good faith, leaning upon his arm. Ho had his will of that sweet innocent ; for, with words of holy import and masquerading iu thc character of Gostelli, 1 had given him thc rights of a husband-I, Roubillac, tho just man, who had been permitted to paint an angel nf the Ascension
that dominates thc famous attar of San
Stefano ! . . . . (Jut oh, I was rightly punished ; for within one short week he lind returned to that baser passion from which Francesca and I had fled, and I had reason to believe that he had achieved the ruin of my wife, blasted her happiness and mine, broken thc hideous boud of truce he swore to me, preyed upon her pure soul, bedabbled her immortal wings with mud-''
" Tho« wrongedst her !" said the priest.
"God help mc, I know it now ! I did not know it thou, for the demon j -alousy had me by thc throat. Yet I forgave her, and in my heart disbelieved thc damning thing that he put into my thoughts ; for, thou scest," from vanity or hatred of my happiness, he boasted of his victory, not in words, but with subtle suggestion that filled me with misery; and
thenceforward he renewed his visits to thc Old Hall, professing that he came to sec Father Gostelli. Francesca grew unhappy, and pined for home, and thero was thu old look of appnal and fear in her eyes. . . One day I missed her for many hours, and knew not whither she had strayed. Zilctto brought her home. She had missed her way, he said, in thc mazes of tho Old Hall gardens, and as he said so there was thc devil iu his cruel eye. . . I made no vow, but 1 kuew that I should murder him ; I knew it as by sn instinct ; and I, too, smiled with the red thought burning into my life, when Ziletto's false lips curled as if with some mirthful scoffing at thc mock ho had made of me. But I took her by thu hand, my wife that bad fallen, as, God forgive me, I thought-and of all the sins of my soul and body, thc greatest of all is that I doubled her, but only as one would say of some poor victim, that thc fiend had bewitched her, that she knew not what she did. And yet I should have known then, as I know now, that she was as far beyond bia power as thc Virgin's .Son Himself when the devil took Him iota a high mountain and showed Him the kingdoms of thc earth. But I knew it not ; I had no talismanic touch in my shrivelled nature equal to such divination of her pure soul, though, God knows, I tried to bc worthy of her."
Thc chanting of a dist ant choir caine in I brough the half-open window, and Roubillac, drawing his robo about his spare figure, paced thc room with head low bent, and eyes, for thc first, time in all that solemn time, dimmed with tears. Thu priest Blood beside him mid laid his hand upon his ann, und paced the room with sympathetic tread. He was not all priest, Lorenzo, mid his heart was very .human.
" Didst thou not question lier?''he presently
" lt seeemed lo me there was confession in
her eyes, as I herc was triumph in Iiis. 1 loved her too deeply for aught but pity for her plight.
I knew that hu worked by spells. Did she not fly from him in Vonice, and discover his plot unto both of us, theo and mo?" It came into my mind to remember thut CVCD then his
influence hud wcll-niuh prevailed. And we
met, he und I ; but neiilier the craft of Pisani thc swnrdinan nor the justice of my course could overthrow him. What, question needs tho dove touching thc deadly facinatinu of thc serpent, who controverts thu strength of thc wolf against the lamb?"
" Nay, our Heavenly Father bc thanked that thou spared berthe humiliation of such qucslioning. How much thou wrongedst her in thought, I may not say, least I became OB unworthy a priest as thou, poor mocker of the living and the dead !"
_ " Thou are very good to me," said Roubillac, his voice softening, .. Twas not of his impulse
that spared her ; if there ia miraculous inter- position, only thus could the dove escape the serpent. There was, nevertheless, thc boast of the deeds in bis looks and in his voice, that mocked me with thc same intensity of hatred that blazed in his
baleful countenance when wc parted at Venice, I he triumphant, I grovelling at Iiis feet,
disarmed, disgraced. . . Ah, dear friend, ? 'twas hard to boar und live ; but 1 bore it
with patience-did I not to! I became on! exile that 1 might bc free from his persecution, j and Francesca untrammelled by bis devilish ! designs. Nay, 1 do not seek to justify : myself. . . I slew hint, without quarter, I without remorse ; uud lest he might uot know |
thc hand that struck him, I whispered iu his ear, "Devil! 'I'is I, Roubillac. Oct thee back to hell, thou fiend incarnate ; 'tis Roubillac that speed» the thither !"'
Then one-- more Roubillac gave way lo thu frenzy of passion and remorse ; not remorse for thc dentil of /Hello, but that he should have harboured au unkind thought of Francesca. In his imagination he saw her, still alive and happy but for that fateful spell, thu evil eye of thc 1'loren I inc devil. Waving Lorenzo aside, he flung himself upon the floor uud guashed his teeth ; thcu rose tn MB tcr-t audieviled Ilia Maker, ami delivered himself of such imptoiiH things that the priest cove red his face with his hood uud groaned aloud with pitying horror.
"Peace, in thc name of Our Holy Mother, and in God's name !" he exelaimeil, when al last Rouhilluc g-*vc momentary pause und wiped thc sweat iron] his pale yet burning face. " Oh, Bernardo, for her sake, for thine own !"
"Kuy, 'lis úseles", prb-t !" Itoubilluc ex- claimed, confronting Loni!/." with déliant action mid fl tining .-yet, ; " thou enlist no* stay mc! llamo him ! Ten lliousaliii CUI'M'S shrivel him where h.- lies howling in the pil ! . ... I should havu dragged him lo the Bcenc of his riot uud tortured him, his flush torn with pincers ! I was loo gentle. 'Twas thc vengeance of a poltroon, a paltering with opportunity ; I did but cut the ihren! of his vile life, as ono might, still the besting of some sad heart tor pity !"
As if thc word pity bad found an echo in sonic tender corner of his nature he flung up his arms in deprecation of bis rage, and turning his drawn face, wrinkled with his passion, towards the priest he said, "Forgive mc, dear friend ; have patience. I um mad.
. . . But the coward in his black heart cried aloud nevertheless ; the listeniug night heard his shriek, and my soul responded willi delight ns 1 fled through the darkness.
. . . 'Twas thus. Lorenzo Í I knew his rendezvous. They called it 'My Lady's Bower.' I had smoothed his way thither on that night when I played thc part of Father Costclli-I, the good and honest Roubillac, the famous Vcuetiau, mark you, thc noble blood of Spanish dons and Italiau virtue in his unworthy veins. . . . Hut I was not alone in this fatal secret, ai it seemed. There is no subterfuge thut eau blind the true lover, the devoted heart. There was a native suitor for the hand of Mary Talbot, one Reuben Clcgg, a man nf soiicr mien and earnest purpose, a student, a man of science, though, mayhap, groping in the dark : but. ii man of
heart and brain. Until Ziletto came bc was happy in his hopes, for this woman, Marv Talbot, was beautiful und of a rare nature.
. . . It was moonlight ; a moon ihat seemed to have secrets of her own ; u moon that shut out the world from my My Lady's Bower at intervals, ns if to protect thc English belle from herself, then shone out again, with inspiring, if wavering beams.
. . . All nature might have been interested in the tragedy of that far-away corner in thc world beyond the seas. There were strange stirrings in the trees, weird cries of night birds, und thc fox crossed my path more than once as I crept through the woods and the bracken to the cover by the glen where I knew he must pass. And behold tbey came forth, down thc elope from Sir George Talbot's garden, ZiletU* and ihe woman I had fraudulently given over to him with thc mock blessing* of the Church."