He was Count Matteo, a nobleman of the days when the Messenians revolted against the chancellor of Queen Margaret. He was placed over this castle; and when a certain Count Riccardo was discovered in a conspiracy to murder the chancellor, and was taken captive, he was given into Matteo’s charge, and imprisoned here. The Messenians came and surprised the lower city of Taormina, but they could not gain Mola nor persuade Matteo to yield Riccardo up to them. So they thought to overcome his fidelity cruelly. They took his wife and children, who were at Messina, threw them into a dungeon, and condemned them to death. Then they sent Matteo’s brother-in-law to treat with him. But when the count knew the reason of the visit he said: “It seems to me that you little value the zeal of an honest man who, loyal to his office, does not wish, neither knows how, to break his sworn faith. My wife and children would look on me with scornful eyes should I be renegade; for shame is not the reward that sweetens life, but burdens it. If the Messenians stain themselves with innocent blood, I shall weep for the death of my wife and sons, but the heart of an honest citizen will have no remorse.” Then he was silent. But treachery could do what such threats failed to accomplish. One Gavaretto was found, who unlocked the prison, and Riccardo was already escaping when Matteo, roused at a slight noise, came, sword in hand, and would have slain him; but the traitor behind, “to save his wages,” struck Matteo in the body, and the faithful count fell dead in his blood. I thought of this story, standing there, and nothing else in the castle’s filled with bloom; then the infinite beauty, slowly fading, withdrew the scene, and sweetly it parted from my eyes.
Yet once more I step out upon the terrace into the night. I hear the long roar of the breakers; I see the flickering fishers’ lights, and Etna pale under the stars. The place is full of ghosts. In the darkness I seem to hear vaguely arising, half sense, half thought, the murmur of many tongues that have perished here, Sicanian and Siculian and the lost Oscan, Greek and Latin and the hoarse jargon of barbaric slaves, Byzantine and Arabic confused with strange African dialects, Norman and Sicilian, French and Spanish, mingling, blending, changing, the sharp battle-cry of a thousand assaults rising from the low ravines, the death-cry of twenty bloody massacres within these walls, ringing on the hard rock and falling to silence only to rise more full with fiercer pain—century after century of the battle-wrath and the battle-woe. My fancy shapes the air till I see over the darkly lifted, castle-rock the triple crossing swords of Greek, Carthaginian, and Roman in the age-long duel, and as these fade, the springing brands of Byzantine, Arab, and Norman, and yet again the heavy blades of France, Spain, and Sicily; and ever, like rain or snow, falls the bloody dew on this lone hill-wide.