Lest those who read the following pages should deem this story at all improbable, it is perhaps necessary to say that its chief incidents are founded on an actual occurrence which took place in Naples during the last scathing visitation of the cholera in 1884. We know well enough, by the chronicle of daily journalism, that the infidelity of wives is, most unhappily, becoming common—far too common for the peace and good repute of society. Not so common is an outraged husband’s vengeance—not often dare he take the law into his own hands—for in England, at least, such boldness on his part would doubtless be deemed a worse crime than that by which he personally is doomed to suffer. But in Italy things are on a different footing—the verbosity and red-tape of the law, and the hesitating verdict of special juries, are not there considered sufficiently efficacious to sooths a man’s damaged honor and ruined name. And thus—whether right or wrong—it often happens that strange and awful deeds are perpetrated—deeds of which the world in general hears nothing, and which, when brought to light at last, are received with surprise and incredulity. Yet the romances planned by the brain of the novelist or dramatist are poor in comparison with the romances of real life-life wrongly termed commonplace, but which, in fact, teems with tragedies as great and dark and soul-torturing as any devised by Sophocles or Shakespeare. Nothing is more strange than truth—nothing, at times, more terrible!
I, who write this, am a dead man. Dead legally—dead by absolute proofs—dead and buried! Ask for me in my native city and they will tell you I was one of the victims of the cholera that ravaged Naples in 1884, and that my mortal remains lie moldering in the funeral vault of my ancestors. Yet—I live! I feel the warm blood coursing through my veins—the blood of thirty summers—the prime of early manhood invigorates me, and makes these eyes of mine keen and bright—these muscles strong as iron—this hand powerful of grip— this well-knit form erect and proud of bearing. Yes!—I am alive, though declared to be dead; alive in the fullness of manly force— and even sorrow has left few distinguishing marks upon me, save one. My hair, once ebony-black, is white as a wreath of Alpine snow, though its clustering curls are thick as ever.
“A constitutional inheritance?” asks one physician, observing my frosted locks.
“A sudden shock?” suggests another.
“Exposure to intense heat?” hints a third.
I answer none of them. I did so once. I told my story to a man I met by chance—one renowned for medical skill and kindliness. He heard me to the end in evident incredulity and alarm, and hinted at the possibility of madness. Since then I have never spoken.