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in so doing, lost his balance, and just escaped, by an effort, from
sprawling on the floor.

Then he looked helplessly at the audience; and there was no longer any
doubt entertained that Chickson was slightly intoxicated. Getting drunk,
now and then, was an infirmity of Chickson's genius.

The stage manager had the good sense to ring down the curtain on this
painful scene, and, the next moment, there was a dull sound, as of
somebody falling on the floor behind the green baize.

After an interval of fifteen minutes - protracted by the "unexpected
indisposition" of the poet, and the consequent necessity of intrusting
Signor Rodicaso to other hands - the curtain rises again, and discloses
Alberto in a humble cot, surrounded by three-legged stools, and other
evidences of extreme poverty. He is seated on a rickety table (in
preference to the greater uncertainty of the stools), his arms are
folded, and his head droops upon his breast.

In this attitude, he begins to soliloquize, and informs the audience
(what they did not know before) that, from a clump of shrubbery, he had
seen fully as much as they of the preceding scene. He does not blame
Fidelia. Oh! no. In her cruel dilemma, she could do no less. But he
curses - and curses again - and continues to curse for some time - that
Fate which deprives him of the "paltry means" (one hundred and seventy
thousand florins) to buy off the "heartless monster" (Rodicaso). Having
wreaked himself upon Destiny to his own satisfaction, he suddenly
remembers that he has not eaten anything for thirty-six hours. He feels
in all his pockets successively, but finds nothing. He then draws from
his bosom a portrait of his father, set with antique gems. He gazes upon
it reverently, kisses it, and says: "Shall I part with this sacred
memento for vulgar bread? Never! Let me die!" He restores the portrait
to his bosom, folds his arms again, inclines his head, and shuts his
eyes, as if preparing to expire comfortably.

All this time, a fat red face, belonging to a corpulent body, has been
watching the depressed lover from the right wing. As Alberto utters the
last sad ejaculation, a thick hand attached to a short arm raises a
kerchief to a pair of small eyes in this fat red face, and wipes them.
Then the stout gentleman reflects a moment, nods his head approvingly,
draws forth a wallet, opens it slowly, takes out some paper that rustles
like bank notes, produces a memorandum book, writes a few lines on one
of the leaves hastily with a pencil, tears out the leaf, encloses the
leaf and the bank notes in an envelope, emerges with his entire figure
into the full light of the stage, walks stealthily toward Alberto with a
pair of creaking shoes that would have waked the soundest sleeper,
places the note on the table by his side, raises his hands to heaven,
murmuring, "God bless the boy!" and retires in the same feline but
tumultuous manner.

This mysterious visitor was Bignolio (Matthew Maltboy), a rich money
lender, uncle of Alberto, and commonly reported to be the "tightest old
skinflint in Venice."

After a pause, scarcely long enough to allow his uncle's heavy footsteps
to die away in the distance, Alberto came out of his revery. His first
act was to look at the ceiling, then at the floor, then all about
him - everywhere but at the note on the table. At last, when nothing else
remained to be scrutinized, his eyes naturally fell upon this valuable
communication.

"What is this?" he asked. Then he answered his own question by opening
the letter, and reading it, as follows:

Venice, Oct. 16, - - .

Dear Nephew:

I have watched you, and know all. You are indeed the son of
your father, and, I am proud to add, the nephew of your
uncle. Enclosed are sixty thousand florins. Go to Jinkerini
Bros., on the Rialto, and buy up judgments that they hold
against Rodicaso for three times that amount, and offset them
against old Corpetto's debts. Rodicaso conceals his property
so well, that none has ever been found to satisfy these
judgments. Drive a sharp bargain, and show yourself a chip of
the old block. Keep the balance for your wedding gift.

Farewell - till we meet again.

Bignolio.

"Dear, dear uncle!" exclaimed Alberto, carefully buttoning up his pocket
over the funds, and kissing the letter in transports of joy. "And only
yesterday he would not lend me a _scudi_ to get my dinner. Generous man!
how have I wronged him! Now, Fate, I will floor thee and Rodicaso
together."

[Exit Alberto, rapidly, by shortest land route to the Rialto.]

Overtop's acting, throughout this difficult scene, was of a superior
order. Nothing could be more natural, for instance, than the buttoning
up of his pocket over his uncle's gift. But neither that, nor the other
strong point, where he exulted in the finest tragedy tones over the
anticipated downfall of Fate and Rodicaso, produced the slightest
sensation among his hearers. Matthew Maltboy paid the penalty of his
intimate relations with Overtop, by an equal unpopularity. His fine
rendition of the character of Bignolio might as well have been played to
a select company of gravestones.

There was a necessary interval of twenty minutes for the fitting out of
the stage - during which time the amateur orchestra performed selections
from "Semiramide," but, happily, not loud enough to interfere with the
easy flow of conversation all over the room. The second flutist, while
looking over his shoulder angrily at the garrulous audience, executed a
false note, which almost threw the first (and only) violinist into fits.
In turning round to rebuke the errant performer, the violinist struck
his elbow against a similar projection of the other flutist, and knocked
a false note out of that gentleman too, besides momentarily ruffling his
temper. This little episode diffused unhappiness over the entire music.



CHAPTER III.

ACT SECOND.

The spectators had been told that there were imposing stage effects in
the second and last act; and they were not disappointed. The entire
front was filled with furniture, real mahogany and brocade, leaving
barely room for human beings to walk about. The background was a
perspective of pillars, conveying the idea of unlimited saloons, all
opening into each other. Three Bohemian vases, filled with natural
flowers, were placed on pedestals in places where they would be least in
the way, if it were possible to make such a discrimination. But the
great feature of the scene was a magnificent paper chandelier of nine
candles, which hung from the centre of the framework, and made every
spectator, while he admired, tremble with fear that it would set the
house on fire.

At a small table in front, covered by a rich cloth, sat the heroine,
dressed in a gorgeousness of apparel that mocked her misery. Beneath the
gems that studded her bosom, there was supposed to be unappeasable
wretchedness; and the white brow, covered with a spangled wreath, was
presumed to ache with mental agony. She was pale and beautiful. Murmurs
of applause ran round the apartment.

By her side was the faithful Bidette, armed with a bottle of salts. She
bent affectionately over her mistress, and asked if she wanted anything.

"Nothing, my child - but death," was the thrilling reply.

Bidette was taken somewhat aback. She made a respectful pause. Then she
said:

"But, my dear mistress, though you do not love Signor Rodicaso - "

"In Heaven's name, stop, child! You are piercing my heart with a hot
iron. Name not love to me. Henceforth I erase it from the tablets of my
brain. Now go on" (with tranquil despair).

"I was about to say, dear mistress, please, that Signor Rodicaso has a
splendid town house, and a beautiful country seat (they say), and
thousands of acres of land, which will all be yours - "

The eloquent grief of her mistress's face checked the maid.

"Bidette," she said, "I shall want but a small portion of all his
lands."

"What do you mean, dear mistress?" asked the frightened maid.

"Only enough for - a grave," was the harrowing reply.

This dreary dialogue was here interrupted by the appearance of the
father in tights, knee buckles, velvet coat, ruffles, a powdered wig,
and a general air of having been got up for a great occasion. He
carefully picked his way through the furniture to his daughter, and
kissed her on the forehead.

"Are you happy, my dear daughter?" he asked.

"Happy? Oh! yes, father, I am _so_ happy! See how I smile." So saying,
she made a feeble attempt to smile, which was a most artistic failure,
and brought out another tribute of applause.

The father, not detecting the sad irony of the smile, replied:

"It is indeed fortunate that you are enabled not only to achieve your
own happiness by this marriage, but also to redeem what is dearer to me
than all else in this world - my mercantile credit. But here they come."

"Here they come," was the cue which was to bring in Signor Rodicaso and
party; but the Signor was momentarily delayed by the giving way of two
buttons in his doublet. When he had repaired damages with pins as well
as he could, he emerged into view, accompanied by a notary and a pair of
friendly witnesses. The Signor, this time, proved to be the author of
the play, who had kindly consented, at five minutes' notice, to take the
part in which the hapless Chickson had broken down. Stealing behind, in
the shadow of the others, was distinctly seen (by all except the people
on the stage) the burly form of Uncle Bignolio.

To satisfy the conventional idea of dramatic concealment, his left leg
was plunged in obscurity behind the scenes, while the rest of his figure
stood out in bold relief. He was observed, by those who watched him
narrowly, to send a pleasant wink and nod to Bidette, who responded with
a scarcely perceptible pout.

On the entrance of Signor Rodicaso and friends, Fidelia rose, turned
toward them, and made a profound courtesy, as if to signify her abject
submission. Signor Rodicaso bowed with equal profundity, and straightway
proceeded to make a speech to the lady, in which he spoke of the wild
idolatry that he had long felt for her, and alluded most disparagingly
to his own merits. If the Signor's statements could be relied on, he was
totally unworthy of an alliance with the beautiful Fidelia; in fact, was
a "dog who would be proud only but to bask in the sunshine of
her smile."

This singular address, extending over "one length," or forty-five lines,
excited little less astonishment on the stage than in the audience. For
it was not set down in the acting copy, but had been improvised by the
author, to better the part of the Signor, which, as originally written,
was destitute of Long and effective orations.

Fidelia smiled, and could only reply to this unpremeditated effusion by
several modest inclinations of the head. The other actors and actress
turned aside to conceal their grins. Uncle Bignolio alone fulfilled the
requirements of his part, by casting Mephistophelean leers at the
Signor, and now and then stealthily shaking his fists at him.

The father, not being apt at off-hand oratory, did not attempt any
response to this speech, but merely bowed, to express his perfect
agreement in everything that had been said, and waved his hand toward a
table in the rear of the stage, as if to say, "Let us proceed to
business."

The notary, taking the hint, seated himself at the table, opened his
black bag, drew forth a document from it, and spread it out. Then he
dipped a pen into an inkstand, and said:

"We now await the signing of the contract of marriage between Signor
Alessandro Arturo Rodicaso, gentleman, and Signorina Giulia Innocenza
Fidelia Corpetto, only daughter of Signor Francesco Corpetto, merchant."

In the absence of any definite information on the Venetian formula
adopted in such cases, the author had selected this style of
announcement as being sufficiently stiff and imposing.

Signor Rodicaso sprang forward with joyful alacrity to sign the
contract, dashing off his name in two strokes, as is the invariable
custom on the stage.

The climax of the drama had now arrived, and everybody stood aside for
the wretched Fidelia. Mrs. Slapman proved equal to the great occasion.
Directing one look to heaven, as if for strength, and pressing a hand
over the jewelled bodice which covered her bursting heart, she walked
with firm steps toward the fatal table. Never in her life had she been
more grandly simple. It was sublime!

As Fidelia came up to the little table, she faltered, and leaned upon it
to support herself; then, with a nervous motion, grasped the pen.
Several times she dipped the pen in the empty inkstand, and each time
her face assumed a look of more settled anguish. Then, bracing all her
nerves for the decisive act of woman's life, she put down the pen
boldly on the paper, and made one up stroke. Before she could make the
other down stroke which was necessary to complete her signature, a wild
figure, with hair dishevelled, and other evidences of hasty purpose,
burst upon the stage.

Fidelia paused; all stood back; and gentlemen who had swords laid hands
on them.

"Who is this?" asked the Father, with mercantile calmness.

"Who dares thus break in upon my happiness?" inquired Signor Rodicaso.

"Know you not, young man, that you are committing a breach of the
peace?" remarked the notary, regarding the intrusion with the eye of
a lawyer.

The wild figure answered them all at once: "I am Alberto, and I come to
rend this impious contract - thus - thus - thus!" (snatching the parchment
from the table, tearing it to pieces, and trampling on it).

Fidelia, astonished at the turn events were taking, leaned back in her
chair, and looked on silently. Her time for fainting had not yet come.

"Draw and defend yourself, caitiff!" exclaimed Signor Rodicaso,
brandishing his sword.

"Anywhere but in the presence of a lady," was the sarcastic reply.
"Besides, I have claims on you, which, perhaps may teach you to
respect me."

"Claims! Thou liest! What claims?"

"These! Hast seen them before? Ha! ha!" shouted Alberto, shaking a
bundle of papers in the face of his rival.

"Allow me to examine them, if you please?" asked Signor Rodicaso, with
forced calmness.

"No, you don't," was the response. "But I'll tell you what they are.
They are judgments to the extent of one hundred and seventy thousand
florins - dost hear? one hundred and seventy thousand florins - against
you, which I have bought for less than quarter price from Jinkerini
Bros, No. 124 Rialto. With them I offset the sum which this unhappy but
excellent merchant" (pointing to the father) "owes you. Here, sir; now
you are released from yon monster's clutches." (Hands package of
judgments to the father, who, overpowered by the scene, takes and holds
them in dumb amazement.)

An expression of silent joy begins to steal over the face of Fidelia.
But her time for fainting had not yet come!

"Boy!" said Signor Rodicaso, with a composure that was perfectly
wonderful, "there is another hand than thine in all this work. Thou art
but the poor tool and I despise thee!"

"Here is the hand!" exclaimed the uncle Bignolio, drawing out his leg
from its seclusion, and bringing his whole body into full view. "Dost
know it?" He held up his right hand, to carry out the idea of
the author.

"It is the hand of Bignolio the usurer," said Signor Rodicaso,
despondingly, seeing now that the game was clearly against him.

"Bignolio the usurer!" exclaimed the father, still wrapped in amazement.

"Bignolio the usurer!" murmured Fidelia, whose woman's wit divined the
mystery of his appearance. But her time to faint had not _yet_ come.

"Bignolio the usurer!" cried the notary, witnesses, and Bidette in
chorus.

"Yes," returned that gentleman; "Bignolio the _usurer,_ who now is proud
to claim the dearer title of 'own uncle' to his nephew Alberto. That
nephew he this day receives into his partnership, and proclaims his only
heir. Come to my arms, adopted son!"

Alberto flew to his uncle, and was silently embraced. Even at this
moment, sacred to the interchange of the noblest affections, several
persons in the audience distinctly saw the uncle's left eye wink over
Alberto's shoulder to Bidette, who responded to the unwelcome
familiarity, this time, with an indignant frown.

The nephew gently uncoiled his uncle, and addressed himself to the
father:

"Respected sir, I have long loved your daughter, and am not totally
unprepared to believe that she may, in some slight measure, reciprocate
my affections. I humbly solicit her hand in marriage."

The father, with the characteristic decision of an old man of business,
had already made up his mind. Alberto, the young partner and heir of the
rich usurer of Venice, would be a more manageable son-in-law than the
middle-aged though wealthy Rodicaso. The father said words to this
effect in an "aside," and then replied aloud:

"Her hand is yours; and may your union be crowned with felicity. Come,
children, and receive a parent's blessing."

"My bitter curse be on you all! Boy, we shall meet again!" shouted
Rodicaso, striding off the stage, and followed by the notary for his
pay, and by the laughter and scorn of the rest of the company.

Fidelia's little cup of earthly happiness was now full. Her time for
fainting had arrived at last. Everybody moved to clear a space for her.
She rose, and walked with an unfaltering step toward Alberto. There was
no overdone rapture in her gait; no exaggerated ecstasy in her face. As
a practised critic remarked, "her calmness was the truest expression of
her agony of joy."

Alberto advanced halfway with a lover's ardor, and extended his arms.
Then was her time to faint; and she fainted with a slight scream,
sinking gently upon a faithful breast.

The father raised his hands above the couple, and blessed them in the
correct way, never seen off the stage. Uncle Bignolio wiped his eyes,
and murmured, "Dear boy! How much he looks like his father now!" - a
remark somewhat out of place, considering that Alberto's back was turned
to the uncle. Bidette hovered near the happy group, and danced for joy.

It was a touching tableau, and the spectators applauded it In a way
that tickled the heart of the author, who was watching the effect
through an eyehole of the left wing.



CHAPTER IV.

HOW THE PLAY ENDED.

Just as the curtain was to be rung down on the end of the play, a mad
clatter of boots was heard behind the scenes. Then a man, dressed in
complete black, and excessively pale, jumped upon the stage. His black
hair was tossed all over his head, and his black eyes were rolling
wildly. Thus much all the spectators saw at a glance.

The strange man's first intention appeared to be to dash at the happy
couple; but, if so, he checked himself, and, standing at a distance of
four feet from them, uttered these words: "Scoundrel! what are you doing
with my wife there?" The man's whole figure could be seen to tremble.

Many of the spectators, supposing this was a part of the play - though
they did not see its precise connection with the plot - applauded what
was apparently a fine piece of acting.

"Good!" "Capital!" "Bravo!" were heard from all parts of the room,
mingled with stamping and clapping.

The man darted looks of concentrated hate at the audience.

"Who is he?" "How well he does it!" "What splendid tragedy powers!" were
some of the audible remarks that this called forth.

It was also observed that a wonderfully natural style of acting was
instantly developed among the other _dramatis personae_. Fidelia sprang
from the arms of Alberto, and put on a lifelike expression of insulted
dignity, mingled with astonishment. Alberto took a step away from the
ghastly intruder, and was evidently at a loss what to do. His face was
eloquent with bewilderment and mortification. The father looked confused
and sheepish, and put his hands into his pockets. Bidette screamed a
little, and fled to the opposite scenes. Uncle Bignolio whistled and
smiled, and was evidently amused at the occurrence.

All this, done in five seconds, so delighted the spectators, that they
cheered, and cheered again. "As good as a theatre!" ejaculated a new
friend of Mrs. Slapman's, on the front row.

The strange, disorderly man plunged forward with one leg toward Alberto,
and then drew himself back suddenly, as if in a state of harassing
indecision. (Applause.) Then he cast a diabolical look (worthy of the
elder Booth in Richard III) at the young lover, and shrieked, "Wretch!
villain! I will - I will - " He hesitated to add what he would do, but
shook his fists in a highly natural manner at the object of his hate.
(Great applause.)

"Sir!" said Fidelia, stretching her proud young form erect, like a
tragedy queen, "How dare you, sir!" (Boisterous applause, and this
remark from an elderly gentleman: "The picture of Mrs. Siddons!")

The singular individual in black was seen to tremble with increased
violence. His eyes rolled more wildly, while his face took on a chalkier
hue. He stepped back, as if to insure his retreat. Then, mustering all
his resolution, he said:

"M-Mrs. M-Mrs. Slapman, you - you ought to be a-ashamed of yourself!"

The real character of the strange actor was now made evident, and the
whole house was hushed in awe and expectation. There was not a man or
woman present but knew too well the folly of mingling in a family
quarrel. So they held their tongues, and enjoyed the scene.

Mrs. Slapman turned to the audience. She was pale, but perfectly
composed. She said:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is my husband, a very quiet and well-behaved
man, whose only fault is excessive nervousness. This fault, I am sorry
to say, he encourages, by constantly smoking cigars and drinking strong
black tea. He has been indulging in both of these stimulants to-night,
till he is quite beside himself. I trust you will excuse and pity him.
He has no other vices that I know of."

Then, turning to her husband, whose hands had now dropped listlessly by
his side, she added:

"My dear, bathe your head, and go to bed immediately."

He struggled to say something in the presence of this calm embodiment of
satire, but could not. Hanging down his head, and looking very silly, he
slinked off the stage.

"Now, ladies and gentlemen," said Mrs. Slapman, "after an interval of
fifteen minutes, we will proceed with the comedietta of 'A Morning
Call,' as if nothing had happened."

When she had said this, Mrs. Slapman fainted - this time in earnest. She
was caught in the arms of Fayette Overtop, who immediately, and with the
utmost delicacy, resigned her to the arms of Miss Wick (Bidette), and of
several other ladies, who came upon the stage and proffered salts,
cologne, and other restoratives.

The gentlemen present, actors and audience, unanimously decided that the
best thing for them to do, under all the circumstances, was to leave
the premises.

This they did as soon as they could, reserving all discussion of the
painful event of the evening for the free air of the street.

As Overtop, very serious, and Maltboy, very jovial, were about to
descend the steps to the sidewalk, they were met by a messenger, who
desired them to go with him immediately to the station house to see some
friends (names forgotten) who had been arrested, and had sent for them.

Thither they went, and experienced the greatest surprise of the evening.



BOOK NINTH.

THE INQUEST.



CHAPTER I.

Coroner and Jury.

The post-mortem examination had been held; and three doctors had sworn
that deceased came to his death from a great variety of Greek and Latin
troubles, all caused by a learned something which signified, in plain
English, a blow on the head. Coroner Bullfast was so struck with the
clear and explicit nature of the medical evidence, that he had it
reduced to writing for his private regalement.

The post-mortem examination, and the testimony of the three doctors, and
of all the people in the house (except Patty Minford, daughter of the
deceased) - whose joint knowledge upon the subject amounted to nothing
more than hearing somebody with heavy boots come down stairs about
midnight - occupied the whole of the first day. Patty, or Pet, was so
thoroughly unnerved by the events of that horrible night, that the
coroner found it impossible to take her evidence on that day. She had
fainted twice before she could make Coroner Bullfast clearly understand
that Marcus Wilkeson, her benefactor, and her father's best friend, was
THE MURDERER. Having learned thus much, the coroner had put the police



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