Well, I could not smoke, but I could strike a light. And there was the funeral taper ready for use. The sun had not yet risen. I must certainly wait till broad day before I could hope to attract by my shouts any stray person who might pass through the cemetery. Meanwhile, a fantastic idea suggested itself. I would go and look at my own coffin! Why not? It would be a novel experience. The sense of fear had entirely deserted me; the possession of that box of matches was sufficient to endow me with absolute hardihood. I picked up the church-candle and lighted it; it gave at first a feeble flicker, but afterward burned with a clear and steady flame. Shading it with one hand from the draught, I gave a parting glance at the fair daylight that peeped smilingly in through my prison door, and then went down--down again into the dismal place where I had passed the night in such indescribable agony.
Numbers of lizards glided away from my feet as I descended the steps, and when the flare of my torch penetrated the darkness I heard a scurrying of wings mingled with various hissing sounds and wild cries. I knew now—none better—what weird and abominable things had habitation in this storehouse of the dead, but I felt I could defy them all, armed with the light I carried. The way that had seemed so long in the dense gloom was brief and easy, and I soon found myself at the scene of my unexpected awakening from sleep. The actual body of the vault was square-shaped, like a small room inclosed within high walls—walls which were scooped out in various places so as to form niches in which the narrow caskets containing the bones of all the departed members of the Romani family were placed one above the other like so many bales of goods arranged evenly on the shelves of an ordinary warehouse. I held the candle high above my head and looked about me with a morbid interest. I soon perceived what I sought—my own coffin.
There it was in a niche some five feet from the ground, its splintered portions bearing decided witness to the dreadful struggle I had made to obtain my freedom. I advanced and examined it closely. It was a frail shell enough—unlined, unornamented—a wretched sample of the undertaker’s art, though God knows I had no fault to find with its workmanship, nor with the haste of him who fashioned it. Something shone at the bottom of it—it was a crucifix of ebony and silver. That good monk again! His conscience had not allowed him to see me buried without this sacred symbol; he had perhaps laid it on my breast as the last service he could render me; it had fallen from thence, no doubt, when I had wrenched my way through the boards that inclosed me. I took it and kissed it reverently—I resolved that if ever I met the holy father again, I would tell him my story, and, as a proof of its truth, restore to him this cross, which he would be sure to recognize. Had they put my name on the coffin-lid? I wondered. Yes, there it was—painted on the wood in coarse, black letters, “Fabio Romani”—then followed the date of my birth; then a short Latin inscription, stating that I had died of cholera on August 15, 1884. That was yesterday—only yesterday! I seemed to have lived a century since then.