“The best swordsman in Italy,” said Belgioso.
“Before I could guess why or wherefore,” resumed Cetoxa, “I found myself in the garden behind the house, with Ughelli (that was the Sicilian’s name) facing me, and five or six gentlemen, the witnesses of the duel about to take place, around. Zanoni beckoned me aside. ’This man will fall,’ said he. ’When he is on the ground, go to him, and ask whether he will be buried by the side of his father in the church of San Gennaro?’ ‘Do you then know his family?’ I asked with great surprise. Zanoni made me no answer, and the next moment I was engaged with the Sicilian. To do him justice, his imbrogliato was magnificent, and a swifter lounger never crossed a sword; nevertheless,” added Cetoxa, with a pleasing modesty, “he was run through the body. I went up to him; he could scarcely speak. ‘Have you any request to make,—any affairs to settle?’ He shook his head. ‘Where would you wish to be interred?’ He pointed towards the Sicilian coast. ‘What!’ said I, in surprise, ’not by the side of your father, in the church of San Gennaro?’ As I spoke, his face altered terribly; he uttered a piercing shriek,—the blood gushed from his mouth, and he fell dead. The most strange part of the story is to come. We buried him in the church of San Gennaro. In doing so, we took up his father’s coffin; the lid came off in moving it, and the skeleton was visible. In the hollow of the skull we found a very slender wire of sharp steel; this caused surprise and inquiry. The father, who was rich and a miser, had died suddenly, and been buried in haste, owing, it was said, to the heat of the weather. Suspicion once awakened, the examination became minute. The old man’s servant was questioned, and at last confessed that the son had murdered the sire. The contrivance was ingenious: the wire was so slender that it pierced to the brain, and drew but one drop of blood, which the grey hairs concealed. The accomplice will be executed.”
“And Zanoni,—did he give evidence, did he account for—”
“No,” interrupted the count: “he declared that he had by accident visited the church that morning; that he had observed the tombstone of the Count Ughelli; that his guide had told him the count’s son was in Naples,—a spendthrift and a gambler. While we were at play, he had heard the count mentioned by name at the table; and when the challenge was given and accepted, it had occurred to him to name the place of burial, by an instinct which he either could not or would not account for.”
“A very lame story,” said Mervale.
“Yes! but we Italians are superstitious,—the alleged instinct was regarded by many as the whisper of Providence. The next day the stranger became an object of universal interest and curiosity. His wealth, his manner of living, his extraordinary personal beauty, have assisted also to make him the rage; besides, I have had the pleasure in introducing so eminent a person to our gayest cavaliers and our fairest ladies.”