Nathan Gallizier.

The sorceress of Rome online

. (page 1 of 33)
Online LibraryNathan GallizierThe sorceress of Rome → online text (page 1 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

3 1822 01097 1562

3 1822 01097 1562


he Sorceress
of Rome



Castel del Monte . . . . $1.50
The Sorceress of Rome . . 1.5

New England Building, Boston, Mass.










Entered at Stationer s Hall, London

All rights reserved

First impression, October, 1907


Eltctrotyped and Printed by C. H . Simonds & Co.
Boston, U.S.A.


The darkness of the tenth century is dissipated by no con
temporary historian. Monkish chronicles alone shed a faint
light over the discordant chaos of the Italian world. Rome
was no longer the capital of the earth. The seat of empire had
shifted from the banks of the Tiber to the shores of the Bosporus,
and the seven hilled city of Constantino had assumed the im
perial purple of the ancient capital of the Caesars.

Centuries of struggles with the hosts of foreign invaders
had hi time lowered the state of civilization to such a degree,
that hi point of literature and art the Rome of the tenth century
could not boast of a single name worthy of being trans
mitted to posterity. Even the memory of the men whose
achievements in the days of its glory constituted the pride and
boast of the Roman world, had become almost extinct. A
great lethargy benumbed the Italian mind, engendered by the
reaction from the incessant feuds and broils among the petty
tyrants and oppressors of the country.

Together with the rest of the disintegrated states of Italy,
united by no common bond, Rome had become the prey of the
most terrible disorders. Papacy had fallen into all manner of
corruption. Its former halo and prestige had departed. The
chair of St. Peter was sought for by bribery and controlling
influence, often by violence and assassination, and the city was
oppressed by factions and awed into submission by foreign
adventurers in command of bands collected from the outcasts of
all nations.

From the day of Christmas hi the year 800, when at the hands
of Pope Leo III, Charlemagne received the imperial crown
of the West, the German Kings dated their right as rulers of



Rome and the Roman world, a right, feebly and ineffectually
contested by the emperors of the East. It was the dream of
every German King immediately upon his election to cross the
Alps to receive at the hand of the Pope the crown of a country
which resisted and resented and never formally recognized a
superiority forced upon it. Thus from time to time we rind
Rome alternately in revolt against German rule, punished,
subdued and again imploring the aid of the detested foreigners
against the misrule of her own princes, to settle the disputes
arising from pontifical elections, or as protection against
foreign invaders and the violence of contending factions.

Plunged in an abyss from which she saw no other means of
extricating herself, harassed by the Hungarians hi Lombardy
and the Saracens hi Calabria, Italy had, in the year 961, called
on Otto the Great, King of Germany, for assistance. Little
opposition was made to this powerful monarch. Berengar II,
the reigning sovereign of Italy, submitted and agreed to hold
his kingdom of him as a fief. Otto thereupon returned to
Germany, but new disturbances arising, he crossed the Alps
a second time, deposed Berengar and received at the hands
of Pope John XII the imperial dignity nearly suspended for
forty years.

Every ancient prejudice, every recollection whether of
Augustus or Charlemagne, had led the Romans to annex the
notion of sovereignty to the name of Roman emperor, nor were
Otto and his two immediate descendants inclined to waive
these supposed prerogatives, which they were well able to en
force. But no sooner had they returned to Germany than the
old habit of revolt seized the Italians, and especially the Romans
who were ill disposed to resume habits of obedience even to the
sovereign whose aid they had implored and received. The
flames of rebellion swept again over the seven hilled city
during the rule of Otto II, whose aid the Romans had invoked
against the invading hordes of Islam, and the same republican



spirit broke out during the brief, but fantastic reign of his son,
the third Otto, directing itself in the latter instance chiefly
against the person of the youthful pontiff, Bruno of Carinthia,
the friend of the King, whose purity stands out in marked con
trast against the depravity of the monsters, who, to the number
of ten, had during the past five decades defiled the throne of
the Apostle. Gregory V is said to have been assassinated during
Otto s absence from Rome.

The third rebellion of Johannes Crescentius, Senator of Rome,
enacted after the death of the pontiff and the election of Syl
vester II, forms but the prelude to the great drama whose final
curtain was to fall upon the do om of the third Otto, of whose
love for Stephania, the beautiful wife of Crescentius, innu
merable legends are told in the old monkish chronicles and
whose tragic death caused a lament to go throughout the world
of the Millennium.



Chapter Page

I. The Grand Chamberlain 3

II. The Pageant in the Navona 15

III. On the Palatine 28

IV. The Wanton Court of Theodora 40

V. The Wager ] 53

VI. John of the Catacombs 73

VII. The Vision of San Pancrazio 85

VIII. Castel San Angelo 97

IX. The Sermon in the Ghetto 116

X. The Cicilian Dancer 132

XI. Nilus of Gaeta 144

XII. Red Falernian 154

XIII. Dead Leaves 162

XIV. The Phantom at the Shrine 173

XV. The Death Watch 184

XVI. The Conclave 196


I. The Meeting 201

II. The Queen of Night 208

III. The Elixir of Love 222

IV. The Secret of the Tomb 233

V. The Grottos of Egeria 243

VI. Beyond the Grave 261

VII. Ara Coeli 273


Chapter Page

VIII. The Gothic Tower 285

IX. The Snare of the Fowler 294

X. The Temple of Neptune 302

XI. The Incantation 314

XII. The Hermitage of Nilus 323

XIII. The Lion of Basalt 339

XIV. The Last Tryst 350

XV. The Storm of Castel San Angelo .... 374

XVI. The Forfeit 397

XVII. Nemesis 407

XVIII. Vale Roma 423


I. Paterno 433

II. Memories 437

III. The Consummation 445

IV. The Angel of the Agony 455

V. Return 462



" Was Stephania not overacting her part?" (See page j//) Frontispiece
"Looking up from the task he was engaged in " . . .81
" Persisting in his endeavour to remove her mask "... 138
" The haunting memories of Stephania " 438

Book the First

he Truce
of God

" As I came through the desert, thus it was
As I came through the desert: All was black,
In heaven no single star, on earth no track;
A brooding hush without a stir or note,
The air so thick it clotted in my throat.
And thus for hours ; then some enormous things
Swooped past with savage cries and clanking wings ;

But I strode on austere;

No hope could have no fear."

James Thomson.




T was the hour of high noon
on a sultry October day in
Rome, in the year of our Lord
nine hundred and ninety-nine.
In the porphyry cabinet of
the imperial palace on Mount
Aventine, before a table covered
with parchments and scrolls,
there sat an individual, who
even in the most brilliant as
sembly would have attracted general and immediate attention.
Judging from his appearance he had scarcely passed his
thirtieth year. His bearing combined a marked grace and in
tellectuality. The finely shaped head poised on splendid
shoulders denoted power and intellect. The pale, olive tints
of the face seemed to intensify the brilliancy of the black eyes
whose penetrating gaze revealed a singular compound of
mockery and cynicism. The mouth, small but firm, was not
devoid of disdain, and even cruelty, and the smile of the thin,
compressed lips held something more subtle than any passion
that can be named. His ears, hands and feet were of that
delicacy and smallness, which is held to denote aristocracy of
birth. And there was in his manner that indescribable com
bination of unobtrusive dignity and affected elegance which, in
all ages and countries, through all changes of manners and
customs has rendered the demeanour of its few chosen pos
sessors the instantaneous interpreter of their social rank.



He was dressed in a crimson tunic, fastened with a clasp of
mother-of-pearl. Tight fitting hose of black and crimson
terminating in saffron-coloured shoes covered his legs, and a red
cap, pointed at the top and rolled up behind brought the head
into harmony with the rest of the costume.

Now and then, Benilo, the Grand Chamberlain, cast quick
glances at the sand-clock on the table before him; at last
with a gesture of mingled impatience and annoyance, he
pushed back the scrolls he had been examining, glanced again
at the clock, arose and strode to a window looking out upon
the western slopes of Mount Aventine.

The sun was slowly setting, and the light green silken curtains
hung motionless, in the almost level rays. The stone houses of
the city and her colossal rums glowed with a brightness almost
overpowering. Not a ripple stirred the surface of the Tiber,
whose golden coils circled the base of Aventine ; not a breath
of wind filled the sails of the deserted fishing boats, which
swung lazily at their moorings. Over the distant Campagna
hung a hot, quivering mist and hi the vineyards climbing the
Janiculan Mount not a leaf stirred upon its slender stem.
The ramparts of Castel San Angelo dreamed deserted in the
glow of the westering sun, and beyond the horizon of ancient
Portus, torpid, waveless and suffused hi a flood of dazzling
brightness, the Tyrrhene Sea stretched toward the cloudless
horizon which closed the sun-bright view.

How long the Grand Chamberlain had thus abstractedly
gazed out upon the seven-hilled city gradually sinking into the
repose of evening, he was scarcely conscious, when a slight
knock, which seemed to come from the wall, caused him to
start. After a brief interval it was repeated. Benilo drew the
curtains closer, gave another glance at the sand-clock, nodded
to himself, then, approaching the opposite wall, decorated
with scenes from the Metamorphoses of Ovid, touched a hidden
spring. Noiselessly a panel receded and, from the chasm thus



revealed, something like a shadow passed swiftly into the
cabinet, the panel closing noiselessly behind it.

Benilo had reseated himself at the table, and beckoned his
strange visitor to a chair, which he declined. He was tall and
lean and wore the gray habit of the Penitent friars, the cowl
drawn over his face, concealing his features.

For some minutes neither the Grand Chamberlain nor his
visitor spoke. At last Benilo broke the silence.

" You are the bearer of a message? "

The monk nodded.

" Tell me the worst! Bad news is like decaying fruit. It
becomes the more rotten with the keeping."

" The worst may be told quickly enough," said the monk
with a voice which caused the Chamberlain to start.

" The Saxon dynasty is resting on two eyes."

Benilo nodded.

" On two eyes," he repeated, straining his gaze towards the

" They will soon be closed for ever! "

The Chamberlain started from his seat.

" I do not understand."

" The fever does not temporize."

" Tis the nature of the raven to croak. Let thine im
provising damn thyself."

" Fate and the grave are relentless. I am the messenger
of both! "

" King Otto dying ? " the Chamberlain muttered to himself.
" Away from Rome, the Fata Morgana of his dreams ? "

A gesture of the monk interrupted the speaker.

" When a knight makes a vow to a lady, he does not thereby
become her betrothed. She oftener marries another."

" Yet the Saint may work a miracle. The Holy Father is
praying so earnestly for his deliverance, that Saint Michael
may fear for his prestige, did he not succour him."



" Your heart is tenderer than I had guessed."

" And joined by the prayers of such as you "

The monk raised his hand.

" Nay, I am not holy enough."

" I thought they were all saints at San Zeno."

" That is for Rome to say."

There was a brief pause during which Benilo gazed into
space. The monk heard him mutter the word " Dying -
dying " as if therein lay condensed the essence of all his

Reseating himself the Chamberlain seemed at last to remem
ber the presence of his visitor, who scrutinized him stealthily
from under his cowl. Pointing to a parchment on the table
before him, he said dismissing the subject:

" You are reported as one in whom I may place full trust,
in whom I may implicitly confide. I hate the black cassocks.
A monk and misfortune are seldom apart. You see I dissemble

The Grand Chamberlain s visitor nodded.

" A viper s friend must needs be a viper, like to like ! "

" Tis not the devil s policy to show the cloven hoof."

" Yet an eavesdropper is best equipped for a prophet."

Again the Chamberlain started.

Straining his gaze towards the monk, who stood immobile
as a phantom, he said:

" It is reported that you are about to render a great service
to Rome."

The monk nodded.

" A country without a king is bad ! But to carry the matter
just a trifle farther, to dream of Christendom without a
Pope "

" You would not dare ! " exclaimed Benilo with real or
feigned surprise, " you would not dare ! In the presence of
the whole Christian world ? Rome can do nothing without



the Sun, nothing without the Pope. Take away his bene
diction : * Urbi et Orbi What would prosper ? "

" You are a poet and a Roman. I am a monk and a native
of Aragon."

Benilo shrugged his shoulders.

" Tis but the old question : Cui bono? How many pontiffs
have, within the memory of man, defiled the chair of Saint
Peter ? Who are your reformers ? Libertines and gossipers in
the taverns of the Suburra, among fried fish, painted women,
and garlic; in prosperity proud, in adversity cowards, but
infamous ever! The fifth Gregory alone soars so high above
the earth, he sees not the vermin, the mire beneath."

" Perhaps they wished to let the mire accumulate, to furnish
work for the iron broom of your tramontane saint! Are not
his shoulders bent in holy contemplation, like the moon in the
first quarter ? Is he not shocked at the sight of misery and of
dishevelled despair? His sensitive nerves would see them with
the hair dressed and bound like that of an antique statue."

" Ay ! And the feudal barons stick in his palate like the hook
in the mouth of the dog fish."

" We want no more martyrs ! The light of the glow-worm
continues to shine after the death of the insect."

" It was a conclave, that disposed of the usurper, John

" Ay ! And the bravo, when he discovered his error, paid for
three candles for the pontiff s soul, and the monk who officiated
at the last rites praised the departed so loudly, that the corpse
sat up and laughed. And now he is immortal and possesses the
secret of eternal life," the monk concluded with downcast

" Yet there is one I fear, one who seems to enlist a special
providence in his cause."

" Gerbert of Cluny "

" The monk of Aurillac ! "



" They say that he is leagued with the devil ; that in his
closet he has a brazen head, which answers all questions,
and through which the devil has assured him that he shall not
die, till he has said mass hi Jerusalem."

"He is competent to convert a brimstone lake."

" Yet a true soldier seeks for weak spots in the armour."

" I am answered. But the time and the place? "

" In the Ghetto at sunset."

" And the reward ? "

" The halo of a Saint."

" What of your conscience s peace ? "

" May not a man and his conscience, like ill-mated consorts,
be on something less than speaking terms ? "

" They kill by the decalogue at San Zeno."

" Exitus acta probat! " returned the monk solemnly.

Benilo raised his hand warningly.

" Let him disappear quietly ecclesiastically."

" What is gamed by caution when one stands on an earth
quake ? " asked the monk.

" You deem not, then, that Heaven might take so strong an
interest in Gerbert s affairs, as to send some of the blessed to
his deliverance? " queried Benilo suavely.

The Chamberlain s visitor betrayed impatience.

" If Heaven troubled itself much about what is done on earth,
the world s business would be well-nigh bankrupt."

"Ay! And even the just may fall by his own justice!"
nodded Benilo. " He should have made his indulgences dearer,
and harder to win. Why takes he not the lesson from women? "

There was a brief pause, during which Benilo had arisen
and paced up and down the chamber. His visitor remained
immobile, though his eyes followed Benilo s every step.

At last the Grand Chamberlain paused directly before him.

" How fares his Eminence of Orvieto ? He was ailing at
last reports," he asked.



" He died on his way to Rome, of a disease, sudden as the
plague. He loved honey, they will accuse the bees."

With a nod of satisfaction Benilo continued his peram

" Tell me better news of our dearly beloved friend, Mon-
signor Agnello, Archbishop of Cosenza, Clerk of the Chamber
and Vice-Legate of Viterbo."

" He was found dead in his bed, after eating a most hearty
supper," the monk spoke dolefully.

" Alas, poor man ! That was sudden. But such holy men
are always ready for their call," replied the Grand Chamberlain
with downcast eyes. " And what part has his Holiness as
signed me in his relics? "

" Some flax of his hair shirt, to coil a rope therewith,"
replied the monk.

"A princely benefaction! But your commission for the
Father of Christendom? For indeed I fear the vast treasures
he has heaped up, will hang like a leaden mountain on his
ascending soul."

" The Holy Father himself has summoned me to Rome! "
The words seemed to sound from nowhere. Yet they hovered
on the air like the knell of Fate.

The Grand-Chamberlain paused, stared and shuddered.

" And who knows," continued the monk after a pause,
" but that by some divine dispensation all the refractory
cardinals of the Sacred College may contract some incurable
disease? Have you secured the names, just to ascertain if
their households are well ordered ? "

" The name of every cardinal and bishop in Rome at the
present hour."

" Give it to me."

A hand white as that of a corpse came from the monk s
ample parting sleeves in which Benilo placed a scroll, which he
had taken from the table.



The monk unrolled it. After glancing down the list of names,
he said:

" The Cardinal of Gregorio."

The Chamberlain betokened his understanding with a nod.

" He claims kinship with the stars."

" The Cardinal of San Pietro in Montorio."

An evil smile curved Benilo s thin, white lips.

" An impostor, proved, confessed, his conscience pawned
to a saint "

" The Cardinal of San Onofrio, he, who held you over the
baptismal fount," said the monk with a quick glance at the

" I had no hand in my own christening."

The monk nodded.

" The Cardinal of San Silvestro."

" He vowed he would join the barefoot friars, if he re

" He would have made a stalwart mendicant. All the women
would have confessed to him."

" It is impossible to escape immortality," sighed Benilo.

" Obedience is holiness," replied the other.

After carefully reviewing the not inconsiderable list of names,
and placing a cross against some of them, the monk returned
the scroll to its owner.

When the Chamberlain spoke again, his voice trembled

" What of the Golden Chalice? "

" Offerimus tibi Domine, Calicem Salutaris," the monk
quoted from the mass. " What differentiates Sacramental
Wine from Malvasia? "

The Chamberlain pondered.

" Perhaps a degree or two of headiness? "

" Is it not rather a degree or two of holiness? " replied the
monk with a strange gleam in his eyes.



" The Season claims its mercies."

" Can one quench a furnace with a parable? "

" The Holy Host may work a miracle."

" It is the concern of angels to see their sentences enforced."

" Sic itur ad astra," said the Chamberlain devoutly.

And like an echo it came from his visitor s lips :

" Sic itur ad astra ! "

" We understand each other," Benilo spoke after a pause,
arising from his chair. " But remember," he added with a
look, which seemed to pierce his interlocutor through and
through. " What thou dost, monk, thou dost. If thy hand
fail, I know thee not ! "

Stepping to the panel, Benilo was about to touch the secret
spring, when a thought arrested his hand.

" Thou hast seen my face," he turned to the monk. " It is
but meet, that I see thine."

Without a word the monk removed his cowl. As he did so,
Benilo stood rooted to the spot, as if a ghost had arisen from
the stone floor before him.

" Madman ! " he gasped. " You dare to show yourself in
Rome ? "

A strange light gleamed in the monk s eyes.

" I came in quest of the End of Time. Do you doubt the
sincerity of my intent ? "

For a moment they faced each other in silence, then the
monk turned and vanished without another word through the
panel which closed noiselessly behind him.

When Benilo found himself once more alone, all the elas
ticity of temper and mind seemed to have deserted him. All
the colour had faded from his face, all the light seemed to
have gone from his eyes. Thus he remained for a space,
neither heeding his surroundings, nor the flight of time. At
last he arose and, traversing the cabinet, made for a remote
door and passed out. Whatever were his thoughts, no out-



ward sign betrayed them, as with the suave and impenetrable
mien of the born courtier, he entered the vast hall of audience.

A motley crowd of courtiers, officers, monks and foreign
envoys, whose variegated costumes formed a dazzling kaleido
scope almost bewildering to the unaccustomed eye, met the
Chamberlain s gaze.

The greater number of those present were recruited from
the ranks of the Roman nobility, men whose spare, elegant
figures formed a striking contrast to the huge giants of the
German imperial guard. The mongrel and craven descendants
of African, Syrian and Slavonian slaves, a strange jumble of
races and types, with all the visible signs of their hetero
geneous origin, stared with insolent wonder at the fair-haired
sons of the North, who took their orders from no man, save the
grandson of the mighty emperor Otto the Great, the vanquisher
of the Magyars on the tremendous field of the Lech.

A strange medley of palace officials, appointed after the
ruling code of the Eastern Empire, chamberlains, pages and
grooms, masters of the outer court, masters of the inner
court, masters of the robe, masters of the horse, seneschals,
high stewards and eunuchs, in their sweeping citron and
orange coloured gowns, lent a glowing enchantment to the

No glaring lights marred the pervading softness of the
atmosphere; all objects animate and inanimate seemed in
complete harmony with each other. The entrance to the
great hall of audience was flanked with two great pillars of
Numidian marble, toned by time to hues of richest orange.
The hall itself was surrounded by a colonnade of the Corinthian
order, whereon had been lavished exquisite carvings ; in niches
behind the columns stood statues in basalt, thrice the size of
life. Enormous pillars of rose-coloured marble supported the
roof, decorated in the fantastic Byzantine style; the floor,
composed of serpentine, porphyry and Numidian marble, was a



superb work of art. In the centre a fountain threw up sprays
of perfumed water, its basin bordered with glistening shells
from India and the Archipelago.

Passing slowly down the hall, Benilo paused here and there
to exchange greetings with some individual among the
numerous groups, who were conversing in hushed whispers
on the event at this hour closest to their heart, the illness of
King Otto III, in the cloisters of Monte Gargano in Apulia
whither he had journeyed on a pilgrimage to the grottoes of
the Archangel. Conflicting rumours were rife as to the course
of the illness, and each seemed fearful of venturing a surmise,
which might precipitate a crisis, fraught with direst conse

Online LibraryNathan GallizierThe sorceress of Rome → online text (page 1 of 33)