Make your own free website on

List Of Contents | Contents of The Cenci, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

The two sbirri departed, and the imprisoned conspirators anxiously
awaited their return.  On the day fixed, they were seen again.
Monsignor Guerra had paid the thousand piastres, and Giacomo had
given his consent.  Nothing now stood in the way of the execution of
this terrible deed, which was fixed for the 8th of September, the day
of the Nativity of the Virgin; but Signora Lucrezia, a very devout
person, having noticed this circumstance, would not be a party to the
committal of a double sin; the matter was therefore deferred till the
next day, the 9th.

That evening, the 9th of September, 1598, the two women, supping with
the old man, mixed some narcotic with his wine so adroitly that,
suspicious though he was, he never detected it, and having swallowed
the potion, soon fell into a deep sleep.

The evening previous, Marzio and Olympio had been admitted into the
castle, where they had lain concealed all night and all day; for, as
will be remembered, the assassination would have been effected the
day before had it not been for the religious scruples of Signora
Lucrezia Petroni.  Towards midnight, Beatrice fetched them out of
their hiding-place, and took them to her father's chamber, the door
of which she herself opened.  The assassins entered, and the two
women awaited the issue in the room adjoining.

After a moment, seeing the sbirri reappear pale and nerveless,
shaking their heads without speaking, they at once inferred that
nothing had been done.

"What is the matter?" cried Beatrice; "and what hinders you?"

"It is a cowardly act," replied the assassins, "to kill a poor old
man in his sleep.  At the thought of his age, we were struck with

Then Beatrice disdainfully raised her head, and in a deep firm .voice
thus reproached them.

"Is it possible that you, who pretend to be brave and strong, have
not courage enough to kill a sleeping old man?  How would it be if he
were awake?  And thus you steal our money!  Very well: since your
cowardice compels me to do so, I will kill my father myself; but you
will not long survive him."

Hearing these words, the sbirri felt ashamed of their irresolution,
and, indicating by signs that they would fulfil their compact, they
entered the room, accompanied by the two women.  As they had said, a
ray of moonlight shone through the open window, and brought into
prominence the tranquil face of the old man, the sight of whose white
hair had so affected them.

This time they showed no mercy.  One of them carried two great nails,
such as those portrayed in pictures of the Crucifixion; the other
bore a mallet: the first placed a nail upright over one of the old
man's eyes; the other struck it with the hammer, and drove it into
his head.  The throat was pierced in the same way with the second
nail; and thus the guilty soul, stained throughout its career with
crimes of violence, was in its turn violently torn from the body,
which lay writhing on the floor where it had rolled.
The young girl then, faithful to her word, handed the sbirri a large
purse containing the rest of the sum agreed upon, and they left.
When they found themselves alone, the women drew the nails out of the
wounds, wrapped the corpse in a sheet, and dragged it through the
rooms towards a small rampart, intending to throw it down into a
garden which had been allowed to run to waste.  They hoped that the
old man's death would be attributed to his having accidentally fallen
off the terrace on his way in the dark to a closet at the end of the
gallery.  But their strength failed them when they reached the door
of the last room, and, while resting there, Lucrezia perceived the
two sbirri, sharing the money before making their escape.  At her
call they came to her, carried the corpse to the rampart, and, from a
spot pointed out by the women, where the terrace was unfenced by any
parapet, they threw it into an elder tree below, whose branches
retained' it suspended.

When the body was found the following morning hanging in the branches
of the elder tree, everybody supposed, as Beatrice and her stepmother
had foreseen, that Francesco, stepping over the edge of the 386
terrace in the dark, had thus met his end.  The body was so scratched
and disfigured that no one noticed the wounds made by the two nails.
The ladies, as soon as the news was imparted to them, came out from
their rooms, weeping and lamenting in so natural a manner as to
disarm any suspicions.  The only person who formed any was the
laundress to whom Beatrice entrusted the sheet in which her father's
body had been wrapped, accounting for its bloody condition by a lame
explanation, which the laundress accepted without question, or
pretended to do so; and immediately after the funeral, the mourners
returned to Rome, hoping at length to enjoy quietude and peace.
For some time, indeed, they did enjoy tranquillity, perhaps poisoned
by remorse, but ere long retribution pursued them.  The court of
Naples, hearing of the sudden and unexpected death of Francesco
Cenci, and conceiving some suspicions of violence, despatched a royal
commissioner to Petrella to exhume the body and make minute
inquiries, if there appeared to be adequate grounds for doing so.  On
his arrival all the domestics in the castle were placed under arrest
and sent in chains to Naples.  No incriminating proofs, however, were
found, except in the evidence of the laundress, who deposed that
Beatrice had given her a bloodstained sheet to wash.  This, clue led
to terrible consequences; for, further questioned she declared that
she could not believe the explanation given to account for its
condition.  The evidence was sent to the Roman court; but at that
period it did not appear strong enough to warrant the arrest of the
Cenci family, who remained undisturbed for many months, during which
time the youngest boy died.  Of the five brothers there only remained
Giacomo, the eldest, and Bernardo, the youngest but one.  Nothing
prevented them from escaping to Venice or Florence; but they remained
quietly in Rome.

Meantime Monsignor Guerra received private information that, shortly
before the death of Francesco, Marzio and Olympio had been seen
prowling round the castle, and that the Neapolitan police had
received orders to arrest them.

The monsignor was a most wary man, and very difficult to catch
napping when warned in time.  He immediately hired two other sbirri
to assassinate Marzio and Olympio.  The one commissioned to put
Olympio out of the way came across him at Terni, and conscientiously
did his work with a poniard, but Marzio's man unfortunately arrived
at Naples too late, and found his bird already in the hands of the

He was put to the torture, and confessed everything.  His deposition
was sent to Rome, whither he shortly afterwards followed it, to be
confronted with the accused.  Warrants were immediately issued for
the arrest of Giacomo, Bernardo, Lucrezia, and Beatrice; they were at
first confined in the Cenci palace under a strong guard, but the
proofs against them becoming stronger and stronger, they were removed
to the castle of Corte Savella, where they were confronted with
Marzio; but they obstinately denied both any complicity in the crime
and any knowledge of the assassin.  Beatrice, above all, displayed
the greatest assurance, demanding to be the first to be confronted
with Marzio; whose mendacity she affirmed with such calm dignity,
that he, more than ever smitten by her beauty, determined, since he
could not live for her, to save her by his death.  Consequently, he
declared all his statements to be false, and asked forgiveness from
God and from Beatrice; neither threats nor tortures could make him
recant, and he died firm in his denial, under frightful tortures.
The Cenci then thought themselves safe.

God's justice, however, still pursued them.  The sbirro who had
killed Olympio happened to be arrested for another crime, and, making
a clean breast, confessed that he had been employed by Monsignor
Guerra--to put out of the way a fellow-assassin named Olympio, who
knew too many of the monsignor's secrets.

Luckily for himself, Monsignor Guerra heard of this opportunely.  A
man of infinite resource, he lost not a moment in timid or irresolute
plans, but as it happened that at the very moment when he was warned,
the charcoal dealer who supplied his house with fuel was at hand, he
sent for him, purchased his silence with a handsome bribe, and then,
buying for almost their weight in gold the dirty old clothes which he
wore, he assumed these, cut off all his beautiful cherished fair
hair, stained his beard, smudged his face, bought two asses, laden
with charcoal, and limped up and down the streets of Rome, crying,
"Charcoal!  charcoal!" Then, whilst all the detectives were hunting
high and low for him, he got out of the city, met a company of
merchants under escort, joined them, and reached Naples, where he
embarked.  What ultimately became of him was never known; it has been
asserted, but without confirmation, that he succeeded--in reaching
France, and enlisted in a Swiss regiment in the pay of Henry IV.

The confession of the sbirro and the disappearance of Monsignor
Guerra left no moral doubt of the guilt of the Cenci.  They were
consequently sent from the castle to the prison; the two brothers,
when put to the torture, broke down and confessed their guilt.
Lucrezia Petroni's full habit of body rendered her unable to bear the
torture of the rope, and, on being suspended in the air, begged to be
lowered, when she confessed all she knew.

As for Beatrice, she continued unmoved; neither promises, threats,
nor torture had any effect upon her; she bore everything
unflinchingly, and the judge Ulysses Moscati himself, famous though
he was in such matters, failed to draw from her a single
incriminating word.  Unwilling to take any further responsibility, he
referred the case to Clement VIII; and the pope, conjecturing that
the judge had been too lenient in applying the torture to, a young
and beautiful Roman lady, took it out of his hands and entrusted it

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: