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It was noon, and the citizens of learned Padua swarmed towards the Palazzo de Ragione. It wils plain, there was some show afoot: some quacksalver hot from Venice; or, perhaps, some beatific Filippo Neri, with new-made relics, fresh from Rome. Of a surety, it was something rare and strange that drew hundreds as one man towards the same spot.
“ 'Tis forty years since such a thing was seen," said an old man who, his shaking hand grasping a staff, and leaning on the shoulder of his grandson, hobbled onwards as though he hastened to a shrine where youth and health might be had for kneeling
“Ha! ha! that I should live to see this !" crowed a withered beldam, and she clapt her hands and sprang forward like a witch at the Sabbath.
“ Could any man have looked for it?" asked a grave tradesman of his neighbour, as they both went with the crowd.
It seemed that all the people of Padua were assembled at the Hall. It was with much labour that the city-guards kept the multitude closewedged, so vigorously did every one press to behold—what?
A criminal, in shameful nakedness, seated on a low, round stone at the end of the Hall on the Stone of Infamy. The culprit was an old man, with that in his face which makes old age terrible. Years lay heavily upon his back, but a defying scorn had, for a time, flung off the load, and he sat upright as a staff. He sat, and his eyes glowed like burning coals upon the crowd that pressed to stare at him. He looked back the looks of hundreds, who quailed from his eyes as from the eyes of a snake. Many a rejoicing foe who came to chuckle at the sight shrank back, still fearful of his ancient enemy. There was a tumult in the heart of the old man—a fire in his brainas he caught the eager face of many a fellowcitizen ; and he would tighten his arms across his breast as though holding in a passion that swelled to burst it. Old Creso Quattrino sat nakedly upon the stone of infamy—his grave was dug at his footand yet no despot from his throne could have looked more fiercely, more contemptuously around him. The crowd heeded not the fate of the victim, but-his grave was dug at his living foot.
Creso Quattrino was the youngest son of a noble, though impoverished house. His elder brothers talked of glory, and cut their daily bread with hired-out swords. One by one, they died in their vocation, and still the eulogy that Creso uttered over each was—“ fool.” Creso, in early life, became a trader; it was his one hope to “ die rich;" it would be his glory to quit life leaving heavy coffers. Fortune smiled upon his desire; and ere the mouth of his first brother was stopped with the bloody mire of fame, Creso could have thrice outweighed the helm, cuirass, and sword of the immortal warrior with merchant's gold. His four brothers, hired by four different states, died in battle. “ They have their laurels,” Creso would cry, with a sneering humility,—“ I have only ducats. They are sleeping on the wide bed of glory, and when the historian shall some day make known that in such a skirmish such a king was repulsed, such a duke was victorious, such a count kept his ground with a trifling loss, he will write in everlasting words the glowing epithets of my happy brothers.”
This humour increased with the wealth, with the years of Creso. With him, gold was power
was reputation : no strength could overcome itno shame could tarnish it. He looked upon his ducats as kings look upon their mercenaries—the instruments of his will, the sure doers of his behests, however vile and ruthless. He was that squalid despot—a tyrannous miser. And he would die rich !
Creso was past forty, when, with his gold he bought himself a wife - a creature of lustrous beauty—the eldest child of Marco Spori, a poor trader of Padua. Marco was doomed for a petty sum in the books of the man of wealth ; early and late he toiled to pay his creditor, and still some new misfortune made the labour vain. Creso, with a grim smile, would proffer further aid, and then would praise the gentle looks of Marianna.
“ No, Messer Quattrino,” cried Marco, awakening to the meaning of his patron, “ Marianna is wedded."
6 Wedded !” exclaimed Quattrino, and his face darkened wedded!”
“In promise,” said Marco, “'tis all as one, Messer Quattrino; if I understand you rightly.”
“ Betrothed ? To whom, friend Marco ?” asked Quattrino, with constrained composure; for love-or call the feeling by a grosser name-before unknown to the miser, had made him like one possessed.
“ To Pietro Leti."
“ Doubtless, some wealthy merchant ? No? Humph! A scholar, perhaps, with a tongue silvery as Satan's ? Is your future son-in-law, good Marco Spori, of the · Inflammati,' or ?”
“ He rents a little vineyard,” replied Marco, unmoved by the malignant banter of his creditor. “ His father lived and died upon it—a happy old man. Why should not Pietro ?”
“ And you will give your child—the tender, the beautiful Marianna, to hopeless poverty? You will blast that beauty with early care? You will fling her a prey to the tooth of want?” said Creso.
“ She will be poor-granted. Wherefore should she not be happy?” asked Marco.
* The poor cannot be happy. Never open your eyes, man ; I speak a plain truth-a truth the rich well know, but never preach. No; it is their trick, folding their purple round them, to hymn the praise of low estate—to paint the happy carelessness of rags—the excellence of appetite begotten by hard drudgery. Poverty! Of all the arrows shot at our miserable nature, is there one that is not made the keener if whetted on the poor man's hearth ?”
“ That is true,” said Marco, despondingly—“ too true, Messer Quattrino."
6 What is your state now, while I speak, Marco Spori? Are you not hunted-even as a wild beast,