“Give the ten thousand scudi at once!” said Albani, with decision.
“And the drops?”
“The pope’s wine is too strong: I will reduce it a little with this pure water."(*)
(*) The poison, Acqua Tofana, is pure and clear as water, without taste or smell. It is prepared from opium and Spanish flies, combined with some other ingredients, which, however, are only known to the makers of it. That the Acqua Tofana is made from the foam sometimes found upon the lips of the dying, is an idle tale. Allessandro Borgia was the first to bring it into use.
On the following day there was a solemn high office in St. Peter’s. All Rome flocked there, to see this great and touching spectacle. A dense crowd thronged the streets, and all shouted and cried when the pope, surrounded by his Swiss guard, appeared in their midst in his gilded armchair, and received the greetings of the people with a bland smile.
Toward St. Peter’s waved the human throng, and to St. Peter’s the pope was borne. The features of Ganganelli had an expression of sadness, and as he now glanced down upon the thousands of his subjects who, shouting, followed him, he asked in his heart, “Who among you will be my murderers? And how long will you yet allow me to live? Ah, were I yet the poor Franciscan monk I was, then no one would take the pains to assassinate me. Why, then, does the world, precisely now, seem so fair to me, now, when I know that I must leave it so soon?” And the pope shed a secret tear while, surrounded by royal splendor, he imparted his blessing to the thousands who reverently knelt at his feet.
The bells rang, the organ resounded, the wide halls of St. Peter’s were penetrated by the marvellous singing of the Sistine chapel. Thousands and thousands of wax tapers lighted the noble space of the church, thousands and thousands of people pressed into the sacred halls. Under his canopy, opposite the high altar, sat the vicegerent of God upon his golden throne, surrounded by the consecrated cardinals and bishops, protected by the Swiss guard! Who could have ventured to attack the holy father—who would have been so foolhardy as to attempt to penetrate that thick wall of Swiss guards and princes of the Church—who could have been successful in such an attempt? No human being! But where the people could not penetrate, where there was no room for the swinging of a dagger, there the malignant poison lurked unseen!
Ganganelli sat upon his golden throne, intoxicated by the clang of the organ and charmed by the singing of the high choir, and the pope, looking down upon the human crowd, again asked himself: “Who among you are my murderers?”
The singing ceased, the organ was silent, and only the solemn tones of all the bells of St. Peter’s resounded through the church. A death-like stillness else; the people lay upon their knees and crossed themselves; before the altar kneeling priests murmured prayers.