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Neptune Cast in Bronze

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PART ONE

(Paper the First)
To my dread Lord Escalus, as I take up this sollem solim sollim charge laid on my by His Grace the Duke, who would have none other to do it, writ down by my goodwife Margery, for she has letters and I none, just as I spake it other than when I maun say it again for her pen goes slow and I misremember.

Saving your reverence, I am much distressed that your lordly eyes will be much offended by the deal of scurvy matter of naught said to me by scandalous persons. I would that, under our good Duke’s government, the day will come that the steeled thief-taker can have doings with virtuous men of good repute and not benefactors and such-like.

Comes first the deponent LUCIO, a man of very vile countenance and worser speech. Meseems that I have seen this man before and heard the bray of the donkey he must carry concealed in his throat but I know not when and how but that it must have been very ill and, now I recollect me, aught to do with prunes.

He saith that the late Duchess had no children, which all men know. This saying he followed with much filth and corruption. He saith that the Duchess Isabella, like the Lady Mary of England, puffed up her belly often and often, but ‘twas with wind or happen they thought they were brought to bed of the Holy Ghost, for the embraces of their husbands had but little savor to them.

All men say that when Her Grace’s corse was discovered in an alley, she wore a hair shirt beneath her silver-laced silk gown. Next to her body of death was a fine velvet bag, studded with rubies, in which she carried a knotted discipline all clogged and most virtuously filthy with blood both old and wet. So she must have been bound for some holy house of profession, thence most piteously and feloniously slain along the way. No one could say she did ill when she carried such implements of virtue about her.

And yet the murderer took not the gold ring from her finger, nor those aforesaid rubies, nor the purse in her placket nor the pearls in her ears each one richer than a tribe.

The man Lucio saith, his voice growing louder at the word, that when the Duchess was about her works of CHARITY that she went alone, whatever the hour of the glass, unattended by a bravo to guard her or even a lady’s maid to preserve the decencies.

He saith also that he hath a wife, and that he keeps her well indoors and suffereth her not to gad about. He ought not to say such things of a Duchess, and this Duchess that was chose to wed the Duke and leave the cloister so her confessor must have told her that she could go where men could see her and yet speak to them and her husband our good Duke must have commanded it or at the very least let it be for even if he reproached her privately he did not lock her up.

(Paper the Second)
Then, good my lord Escalus, I bethought me that whilom the LORD ANGELO, before his disgrace and marriage, was accounted a learned judge and one who would thole no uncleanness unless ‘twas his own. I went to the villa where he lived but none was there but an old servant, sweeping at the dust of an empty house. She saith that the Lord Angelo had not come there for many a long day, and that his lady wife betook her once again to the moated grange.

Thither went I. The LADY MARIANA received me still in her night-rail though it was close to noon. She breathed brown bastard, though it was not yet noon. She kept boys to sing. I do not think this is an honest practice and such boys are not good boys and tempt men to uncleanness.

She saith that her marriage was no marriage. She has been put aside once again, and her gold (for her dowry appeared at last, some years after her first betrothal) all ta’en to buy a dispensation that her husband and no husband could go for a friar.

A dispensation was needful, no annulment could be got, for she said in open day that she lacked of a maid, wife, widow, or even punk, so it could not be denied now that the man Angelo knew her and thus made the match.

Of her grace the Duchess, the LADY MARIANA said that nothing she knew of her death, but that once the Duchess thought she did hard service for the Lady Mariana’s sake, and now the lady wishes she had spared her trouble for she was better as she was before.

(Paper the Third)
So went I back to that evil place—it is accounted a tavern yet I think it a bagnio or little better notwithstanding that it is not in the suburbs—kept by MISTRESS BUM. All men say that she hath had nine husbands, which is more even than the wench in Bible as was read out loud e’en but three Sundays past and I know not which will be her husband in Heaven so I am glad to know that she will never go there.

There was a muffled fellow in corner, much declined in drink. He said that she once was lief enough for him to die but now he cannot forbear but weep. This was but wild and whirling words and no one marked him.

One MASTER FROTH said that the great, tall Bohemian fellow who was much bound to the Duke for the saving of his life had been oft seen in this tavern, if so it may be called, and he had a purse of gold. But when that was spent, he was no more seen. I, as constable, knew that the corpse of a huge heavy man, such as took two donkeys to pull the dead-cart, was found in an alley not three days ago but the corpse was headless so how could any know who he had been when he was alive?

MISTRESS BUM said that MASTER FROTH had spent nigh to all his own gold so she hoped not to see him more for she would extend him no credit, and all laughed. This betokeneth that they lack bowels for it is no joke for a man to lack gold.

(Paper the Fourth)
Dread my Lord, I know not where else to look to uncover how evil befell Her Grace. I doubt not that she was set upon and most vilely murdered by an Italian, for ‘tis known that many such come into the realm of Vienna and they brawl with swords in the street, even servants who ought to have but a cudgel or dagger of lath. They are great whales to virginity, and they get with child wenches of twelve years old.

Lord Escalus, the men of my watch say all with me that you should send out a commission for the headsman, to strike off the heads of any Italians found within our realm who could have done this evil thing. This is aye how the laws have been enforced in Vienna and it is a good way and we would be happy were it back again.

PART TWO

Escalus, judge in Vienna, to his brother, Lord Cornelius, at the Sign of the Infidel’s Turban, Innsbruck

To my good brother:
I know not if this will reach you. It seems most like that you would already have embarked for Vienna, in the train of the Duke of Innsbruck, to negotiate the marriage treaty of my master, Duke Vincentio, and your master’s daughter Griselda.

But little time elapsed betwixt the Duchess Isabella’s death and this second suit. It was much wondered at how quickly the ambassadors and the lawyers drew up the ells of parchment with the terms to be given for the Countess Griselda’s dowry. They must have passed nights in watching, scribbling by rushlight. Yet all the suit has come to naught, for Duke Vincentio himself is very sudden dead.

He was ever constant in his ghostly duties, although not so much so as the whileom Duchess. She was a good lady, we shall not see her like again. It was ever the Duke’s habit to go to shrift on Friday. There is a chapel in the palace, most wonderfully wrought, although not all devout. The marble statues are of the holy saints, as is right, but the bronze depict the demons of the pagans.

The Duke had a regular confessor, of course, who oft refreshed his tired spirit with talk of the holy and removed life. But Father Tancredi is much stricken in years, so it would not have been a matter of note that another ghostly father filled his place in the confessional.

As our own dear earthly father taught us, I have a young clerk, Eustachius, who stands almost in the place of a son to me. I have counseled him that he, too, for his soul’s sake should go to shrift in the palace chapel. It was well that the Duke would esteem my clerk for his piety and thereby repose trust in him. Many a time, when their paths crossed in the chapel, Eustachius has been able to give the Duke some message from me, perhaps to grant him some intelligence that was not honest to give in daylight.

Eustachius therefore said that on Friday last, Father Tancredi must have been taken ill, for a friar strange to him sate in the confessional. Eustachius told his sins, and went from the confessional to say his penance. The Duke spent, as ever, but little time in the confessional, for what sins could such a great man have? His penance must have been but a light one, for Eustachius still labored over his beads when the Duke went to the side altar where the friar was saying a Mass.

If my late master had a fault, it was to be too busy. I conjecture he must have decided, his confession made, to partake of the holy wafer, so he might stay at business on Saturday all the morning and not hear the daily Mass as was his wont.

From where he sate in the midst of the chapel, Eustachius heard a great cry. The Duke shouted, “You!” or perhaps, interrogatively, “You?” Then Eustachius saw the Duke stagger forth from the chapel, clutching his throat. The Duke fell, dead of an instant.

Eustachius is but a clerk and not a judge such as I am, so he knew not what to do. He rushed to the side altar, where he saw the altar cloth profaned by a crimson stain of spilled wine. He said there was a golden ring on the altar, the stone fallen open on its hinge, but none other has seen that ring since.

My clerk stood a while, amazed, and then fetched some soldiers. Eustachius told me that, at the corner of his eye, he saw the friar leave the chapel. The hood of his robe was over his head, so Eustachius saw not his face, and could depone only that he appeared to be of common stature and in no wise unable to walk; he did not use a crutch or cane, or stumble or drag a foot.

My consolation is that, dying as he did, my late master must be in Heaven. But it is an ill thing for the realm. Had the nuptials been consummated already, then the citizens of Vienna might grumble at the imperatry of Innsbruck, but they might accept it without a war. And it is an ill thing for a realm to be ruled by a child and be at the mercy of the connivances of a regency. The Duke is dead. He had no children.

Now I know not what will befall. I am frightened. It is well that the Almighty has fixed a canon ‘gainst self-slaughter, for I despair.