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List Of Contents | Contents of The Borgias, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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numerous and so densely packed that one might have said each window
was walled up with heads.  Now all this multitude had its eyes fixed
on one single point in the Vatican; for in the Vatican was the
Conclave, and as Innocent VIII had been dead for sixteen days, the
Conclave was in the act of electing a pope.

Rome is the town of elections: since her foundation down to our own
day--that is to say, in the course of nearly twenty-six centuries--
she has constantly elected her kings, consuls, tribunes, emperors,
and popes: thus Rome during the days of Conclave appears to be
attacked by a strange fever which drives everyone to the Vatican or
to Monte Cavallo, according as the scarlet-robed assembly is held in
one or the other of these two palaces: it is, in fact, because the
raising up of a new pontiff is a great event far everybody; for,
according to the average established in the period between St. Peter
and Gregory XVI, every pope lasts about eight years, and these eight
years, according to the character of the man who is elected, are a
period either of tranquillity or of disorder, of justice or of
venality, of peace or of war.

Never perhaps since the day when the first successor of St. Peter
took his seat on the, pontifical throne until the interregnum which
now occurred, had so great an agitation been shown as there was at
this moment, when, as we have shown, all these people were thronging
on the Piazza of St. Peter and in the streets which led to it.  It is
true that this was not without reason; for Innocent VIII--who was
called the father of his people because he had added to his subjects
eight sons and the same number of daughters--had, as we have said,
after living a life of self-indulgence, just died, after a death-
struggle during which, if the journal of Stefano Infessura may be
believed, two hundred and twenty murders were committed in the
streets of Rome.  The authority had then devolved in the customary
way upon the Cardinal Camerlengo, who during the interregnum had
sovereign powers; but as he had been obliged to fulfil all the duties
of his office--that is, to get money coined in his name and bearing
his arms, to take the fisherman's ring from the finger of the dead
pope, to dress, shave and paint him, to have the corpse embalmed, to
lower the coffin after nine days' obsequies into the provisional
niche where the last deceased pope has to remain until his successor
comes to take his place and consign him to his final tomb; lastly, as
he had been obliged to wall up the door of the Conclave and the
window of the balcony from which the pontifical election is
proclaimed, he had not had a single moment for busying himself with
the police; so that the assassinations had continued in goodly
fashion, and there were loud cries for an energetic hand which should
make all these swords and all these daggers retire into their

Now the eyes of this multitude were fixed, as we have said, upon the
Vatican, and particularly upon one chimney, from which would come the
first signal, when suddenly, at the moment of the 'Ave Maria'--that
is to say, at the hour when the day begins to decline--great cries
went up from all the crowd mixed with bursts of laughter, a
discordant murmur of threats and raillery, the cause being that they
had just perceived at the top of the chimney a thin smoke, which
seemed like a light cloud to go up perpendicularly into the sky.
This smoke announced that Rome was still without a master, and that
the world still had no pope; for this was the smoke of the voting
tickets which were being burned, a proof that the cardinals had not
yet come to an agreement.

Scarcely had this smoke appeared, to vanish almost immediately, when
all the innumerable crowd, knowing well that there was nothing else
to wait for, and that all was said and done until ten o'clock the
next morning, the time when the cardinals had their first voting,
went off in a tumult of noisy joking, just as they would after the
last rocket of a firework display; so that at the end of one minute
nobody was there where a quarter of an hour before there had been an
excited crowd, except a few curious laggards, who, living in the
neighbourhood or on the very piazza itself; were less in a hurry than
the rest to get back to their homes; again, little by little, these
last groups insensibly diminished; for half-past nine had just
struck, and at this hour the streets of Rome began already to be far
from safe; then after these groups followed some solitary passer-by,
hurrying his steps; one after another the doors were closed, one
after another the windows were darkened; at last, when ten o'clock
struck, with the single exception of one window in the Vatican where
a lamp might be seen keeping obstinate vigil, all the houses,
piazzas, and streets were plunged in the deepest obscurity.

At this moment a man wrapped in a cloak stood up like a ghost against
one of the columns of the uncompleted basilica, and gliding slowly
and carefully among the stones which were lying about round the
foundations of the new church, advanced as far as the fountain which,
formed the centre of the piazza, erected in the very place where the
obelisk is now set up of which we have spoken already; when he
reached this spot he stopped, doubly concealed by the darkness of the
night and by the shade of the monument, and after looking around him
to see if he were really alone, drew his sword, and with its point
rapping three times on the pavement of the piazza, each time made the
sparks fly.  This signal, for signal it was, was not lost: the last
lamp which still kept vigil in the Vatican went out, and at the same
instant an object thrown out of the window fell a few paces off from
the young man in the cloak: he, guided by the silvery sound it had
made in touching the flags, lost no time in laying his hands upon it
in spite of the darkness, and when he had it in his possession
hurried quickly away.

Thus the unknown walked without turning round half-way along the
Borgo Vecchio; but there he turned to the right and took a street at
the other end of which was set up a Madonna with a lamp: he
approached the light, and drew from his pocket the object he had
picked up, which was nothing else than a Roman crown piece; but this
crown unscrewed, and in a cavity hollowed in its thickness enclosed a
letter, which the man to whom it was addressed began to read at the
risk of being recognised, so great was his haste to know what it

We say at the risk of being recognised, for in his eagerness the
recipient of this nocturnal missive had thrown back the hood of his
cloak; and as his head was wholly within the luminous circle cast by
the lamp, it was easy to distinguish in the light the head of a
handsome young man of about five or six and twenty, dressed in a
purple doublet slashed at the shoulder and elbow to let the shirt
come through, and wearing on his head a cap of the same colour with a
long black feather falling to his shoulder.  It is true that he did
not stand there long; for scarcely had he finished the letter, or
rather the note, which he had just received in so strange and
mysterious a manner, when he replaced it in its silver receptacle,
and readjusting his cloak so as to hide all the lower part of his
face, resumed his walk with a rapid step, crossed Borgo San Spirito,
and took the street of the Longara, which he followed as far as the
church of Regina Coeli.  When he arrived at this place, he gave three
rapid knocks on the door of a house of good appearance, which
immediately opened; then slowly mounting the stairs he entered a room
where two women were awaiting him with an impatience so unconcealed
that both as they saw him exclaimed together:

"Well, Francesco, what news?"

"Good news, my mother; good, my sister," replied the young man,
kissing the one and giving his hand to the other.  "Our father has
gained three votes to-day, but he still needs six to have the

"Then is there no means of buying them?" cried the elder of the two
women, while the younger, instead of speaking, asked him with a look.

"Certainly, my mother, certainly," replied the young man; "and it is
just about that that my father has been thinking.  He is giving
Cardinal Orsini his palace at Rome and his two castles of Monticello
and Soriano; to Cardinal Colanna his abbey of Subiaca; he gives
Cardinal Sant' Angelo the bishopric of Porto, with the furniture and
cellar; to the Cardinal of Parma the town of Nepi; to the Cardinal of
Genoa the church of Santa Maria-in-Via-Lata; and lastly, to Cardinal
Savelli the church of Santa Maria Maggiore and the town of Civita
Castellana; as to Cardinal Ascanio-Sforza, he knows already that the
day before yesterday we sent to his house four mules laden with
silver and plate, and out of this treasure he has engaged to give
five thousand ducats to the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice."

"But how shall we get the others to know the intentions of Roderigo?"
asked the elder of the two women.

"My father has provided for everything, and proposes an easy method;
you know, my mother, with what sort of ceremonial the cardinals'
dinner is carried in."

"Yes, on a litter, in a large basket with the arms of the cardinal
far whom the meal is prepared."

"My father has bribed the bishop who examines it: to-morrow is a
feast-day; to the Cardinals Orsini, Colonna, Savelli, Sant' Angelo,
and the Cardinals of Parma and of Genoa, chickens will be sent for
hot meat, and each chicken will contain a deed of gift duly drawn up,
made by me in my father's name, of the houses, palaces, or churches
which are destined for each."

"Capital!" said the elder of the two women; "now, I am certain, all
will go well."

"And by the grace of God," added the younger, with a strangely
mocking smile, "our father will be pope."

"Oh, it will be a fine day for us!" cried Francesco.

"And for Christendom," replied his sister, with a still more ironical

"Lucrezia, Lucrezia," said the mother, "you do not deserve the
happiness which is coming to us."

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