Imelda of Bologna


Imelda of Bologna


Romance, Tragedy, Italy


In the Italian city of Bologna, a tragedy unites Imelda with her family’s enemy, the lord Boniface. The two fall in love, but are plotted against by Imelda’s brothers. While Imelda and Boniface plan their escape from danger, Imelda’s brothers plan his death.


Sedgwick, Catharine M.
Miss Catharine M. Sedgwick


Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine [edited by John Inman and Robert A. West] (May 1846): 253-61.


Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine




Shawn Riggins






In the year 1273, and on as bright a day as ever shone, even on that bright land of Italy, two females issued from the bronze gate of the palace Lanbertazzi at Bologna. The one by her stature, her elastic step, rich dress, and close veiling, inspired the ideas of youth, beauty and rank. The other stood revealed, a sturdy serving-woman, who vigilantly watched and cared for the lady she attended. As they threaded their way, through one of the narrow passes which characterized those old fortress-like cities, to the grand square, the elder woman stretched her arm behind the younger as a sort of rampart to defend her from even the accidental touch of a passer-by.
Suddenly they heard the tramping of horses behind them, and the elder exclaimed, “Quick, my lady! Turn the corner; these precious gallants of our city, will think no more of trampling us under their horses’ hoofs, than if we were the grass made to be trodden on! There, now we are safe, for they cannot reach us here,” she added, following the young lady who sprang on the elevated pedestal of a cross. “Here how they come, by whether our people or old Orlando’s, who can tell?” At this moment, out poured from the narrow street, some fifty horsemen— horses and men so disguised by paint, caparison, dress and masks, that it would have seemed impossible for those who knew them best to recognize them.
It was market day in Bologna, and the square, though it was early morning, was already filled with peasantry. The crowd receded to the right and the left, but as the horsemen did not halt nor scarcely check the speed of their horses, it seemed inevitable that life would be sacrificed.
“Holy Virgin! Save the poor wretches!” cried the young lady, in a voice whose sweet tone was to her attendants like that of a lute to a brazen instrument.
To exclude the frightful peril from her sight, she put her hands before her eyes, just in time to save herself the torture of seeing a poor woman, who was walking forward with her back to the cavaliers, knocked down by one of them and ridden over by three others, whose horses, though they instinctively recoiled from the body, seemed to tread the life out of it. Loud exclamations burst out on every side. A cry of “Shame! Shame!” “Every bone in her body is broken!” “See the blood from her head!” “She is dead! “She is dead!” One of the cavaliers made a motion as if turning his horse’s head, but an urgent order from the leader of the troop checked this single movement of humanity, and turning out of the square into another narrow and devious passage, they rode unheeding on through the gates of the city in pursuit of some lawless adventure.
“Kneel not here, by dear lady Imelda,” said her attendant; “rise up and let us hasten to church and pray to Madonna for the soul so, without rush, sent out of this world.”
“Yes, yes, dear Nilla, but first,” she added, taking her purse from her pocket and giving it to her, “go in among these people, take this money and see what can be done for her body or soul. Oh, Nilla— Frederico was their leader. It is but half an hour ago that he came to me to tie that blood read band around his arm. I told him it was an evil omen.
“Was it Frederico? Then save thy money, for it will empty the coffers of the Lambertazzi to pay for the sins they brothers are heaping on their wild heads. Alas! That the young should think so long and judgment so far!”
“Nay, I tell thee go, Nilla, and offer aid!” said the young lady, with the air of one not to be disobeyed, even by a privileged nurse. “Money may buy bread and cataplasms, but it will not efface sin.” If it would, she thought as Nilla left her side, it were well that our nobles are rich; by precious. Oh, Frederico! My brother! God stay thy violent hand.
After a few moments, Nilla returned with the purse.
“There is no use,” she said, “in showing it there— she is not dead. She bids them carry her into Santa Maria, and lay her before the alter of Madonna. There where she has prayed all her life— there will she die.”
“We will follow her, Nilla.”
“Nay, my dear lady Imelda, we cannot. The alter is in the Giéréméi chapel, and I gathered from the words dropped, that this woman’s family are their followers.”
“Be it so. We have nought to do with their hates, Nilla; ours is a better part.”
“But if your father or your brothers hear you have been in that chapel, my lady?”

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“I care not— they pursue bloody work. We are vowed to our lady of mercy; follow me.”
The train bearing the body of the dying woman preceded them into the church of Santa Maria, and turning into the Giéréméi chapel they laid her on the floor before a richly decorated alter of the Virgin. A hundred wax lights were burning before it; a crucifix of silver and precious gems stood on it, surrounded by lamps, images and vases of the same precious metal. Over them hung a holy family fresh from the hands of Grotto, and below stood a sculptured sarcophagus containing a saint’s ashes; all bespoke the riches and devotion of the Giéréméi. Beside the alter was a sitting figure of the Madonna herself, with the infant Jesus in her arms, both sparking with jewels and surrounded with the votive offerings. To the pious Catholic the image of Madonna symbolizes all suffering, sympathy and love. From her sanctified heart radiates the whole circle of human affections. She is far enough above humanity for homage, and near enough for fellow-feeling and aid.
The priest officiating at the altar, continued his service without heeding the many feet that came clattering over the marble floor. Even the boy who waived the censer, gave not a swing the less for the spectacle of a violent death.
Imelda had thrown back her veil, and discovered a face resembling (if the traditionary portrait may be believed) the immortal Cenci of Guido. There was the same potency of purpose with the undimmed freshness of youth— the same ripeness for Heaven, with the intense susceptibility to human suffering. The crowd gave place to her, as if an angel were passing among them, and still closely attended by Nilla, she knelt beside the bleeding woman, and taking her veil off to staunch the wound, “Can nothing be done for you?” she asked.
The woman painfully strained open her failing eyelids, and a faint color returned to her ghastly cheek.
“No, no,” she answered, “I want nothing. Madonna has heard me— she smiles on me,” and she turned her eye lovingly to the compassionate face over the altar. “Day and night, lady, I have prayed that my weary life might end. This is joy to me, but wo to those by whom it cometh.”
Imelda shuddered.
“Perhaps,” she said, “You leave those behind you who can be served by such as are willing and able to serve them. Gold shall not be spared.”
“Gold! Oh! You cannot bring the dead to life if you filled their graves with gold— but stay, stay,” she added, and she clenched Imelda’s arm so that the blood trickled down her ermined glove; “I had two sons dearer to me than my life was even then when they made every minute of it glad; they were stabbed by the young Labertazzi on cold blood while they kept faithful ward and watch for old lord Boniface. Oh, they were good sons to me, but they were daring, hot blooded youths. Buy masses for their souls, lady— not for mine— not for mine. Madonna will take care of mine— it matters not for me.” Her voice sank away. “Pray for them, dear lady,” she added, in a whisper, “the prayers of saints are heard. Oh, bid the priest hasten to me!”
Imelda beckoned eagerly to the priest who had just finished the morning mass. He came, knelt on the other side, and performed the office for the dying. It was a rough sight for Imelda, that old woman struggling between life and death, her muscles stiffening and tremors and convulsions affecting her whole frame; but she did not shrink from it. She looked like an angel come to attend the parting spirit. Tresses of her bright hair disengaged by the removal of her veil had fallen over her cheek and neck on one side. Her cheek was deeply colored by her emotion, and her blue eyes glowed as she raised it with every amen ejaculated to the priest’s prayer.
“Is that angel or mortal!” said a young man, who had just risen from a brief prayer in a retired part of the chapel.
“Mortal, I trow, my lord,” replied the person addressed. “It is warm blood that colors that cheek, and that look of pity and sorrow is the common privilege of our humanity.”
“Whence comes she, Giovanni?” Surely we know all the beauties of Bologna, and I have seen those of Florence and Pisa, but never has my eye lighted on such as vision as this.”
“It is not, my lord, the pearl we have heard of, shit up in old Labertazzi’s oyster shell?”
“No, no, it cannot be.”
“Cannot! Your wish would say must not, my lord. But though kept like a nun in her cell, I have heard rumors of the young lady Imelda’s rare loveliness. Such a gem will sparkle through the cervices in the walls. They do say that her crafty father is plotting to match her with royalty.”
“But, Giovanni, this cannot be the lady Imelda. The Lambertazzi are dark me.”
“Nature has such freaks, my lord; the lily grows beside the night-shade.”
“My lord Boniface,” said an old man, advancing eagerly from the group, “Why stand ye here and poor Alexa dying? The mother of the boys who lost their lives for you at your palace gate.”
“Old Alexa!” God forgive me!” The thought that he had vowed to watch over and protect this most unfortunate woman, pierced his heart as he sprang toward her. She did not see him; her ears received no sound; a thick film was gathering over her eyes. She turned gasping toward Imelda and, nature rally for a last effort, she

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pressed her lips a small crucifix and giving it to Imelda, said, “Seek out my goof young lord Boniface; give him this sign of love and mercy— tell him to forgive the Lambertazzi. No revenge— no revenge for me!”
“I will— God so help me as I will.”
The agony passed from the dying woman’s face.
“She is dead,” exclaimed Nilla, “come away, my lady, quickly. I see the followers of the Giéréméi gathering. You are unveiled in their chapel!”
Imelda drew up her mantle close over her head and face and disappeared.

Bologna had long been harassed by the rival factions of the Labertazzi and the Giéréméi, its two most noble families. The Lambertazzi were at the head of the Ghibelines, their rivals commanded the Guelphs. Political, religious and domestic elements inflamed their feud. The spirit of democracy which then pervaded the Italian states governed Bologna. The nobles were still permitted to live within the same walls and sit in the same councils with the citizens, but they were subordinate to them and kept in check by them. The state was free, the factions still were governed by their respective chiefs. Gregory X had just dies, and the unhappy consequence of the removal of a pontiff, whose vigor and sanctity had bridled the hates and restrained the hostile tendencies of the times, was son obvious in new demonstrations of enmity between states and factions.
From this kindling of the fevered elements, came bright gold.
“In the height of the convulsions of its civil wars,” says the historian of the Italian republics, “Florence renewed architecture, sculpture and painting. It then produced the greatest poet Italy can yet boast; it restored philosophy to honor; it gave an impulse to science which spread through all the free states of Italy, and made the age of taste and the fine arts succeed to barbarism!”
“Whether these were the legitimate effects of contention may be questioned. Co-existence is sometimes mistaken for cause, and it is very difficult for human wisdom to solve the mysteries of human development. We know that after the thunderbolt the most delicate of flowers unfold, but is it not the simultaneous shower, and not the dissolving and destructive power, that brings them forth?
But these speculations are not for our narrow space. We know, from tradition, that the arts of the 14th century had touched the soul of Boniface Giéréméi to better issues than hatred and war; that though always ready and gallant defense, he was never forward to provoke a quarrel nor first to draw the sword. It is said he brought more painting with his father’s walls than battle trophies, and preferred the society of artists and learned men to the companionship of those whose exploits filled the mouths of the vulgar.


“Dear Nilla,” said Imelda, “do not persuade me from my duty. I will do what I promised.”
“Yes, but can’t you see, my lady, that if you do it by my hand, it is the same as if your own dainty hand carried this crucifix to my lord Boniface? I will swear to you to do your bidding— to give this token it into the hand of the young lord; and to speak every word you shall tell me— not a syllable, not a letter more nor less.”
“But you are not me, Nilla.”
“No, my dear young lady, and the mischief is that the young lord knows the difference too well already. I shall never forget to my dying day how he looked at you were kneeling by old Alexa. He had better have been looking at her. Strange you did not see him, my lady.”
“Nilla!” Distrust not my word and obey me. Ask him to meet me in the upper cloister of San Georgio to-morrow morning when I come from confession after matins.”
Nilla well knew that her mistress’ gentleness was fortified by the characteristic energy of the Lambertazzi, and she obeyed; muttering to herself retrospective, the vainest of all, wishes. Oh if old Alexa had but dies in the street, or her young lady had but said her prayers at home! And where should she be if her lords, Frederico and Alberti, should know she had gone between their deadly enemy and their sister. They would think no more of poking cold steel into her than if she were a cat! Poor Nilla! It was a fatal embassy.
The next morning lord Boniface outwatched the stars, in the cloisters of San Georgio. Every minute seemed an hour and yet never were minutes so precious, for they were freighted with the most golden expectations of his life. He was to see again that face which seemed to him to vivify and make real the ideal beauty of art. He was to hear that voice which was the very concentration of music. He was to communicate, were it but for one brief moment, with a soul indicated by symbols. He was startled by every flutter of the breeze— his heart sank with every receding sound. The place of rendezvous was far retired within the intricate windings of San Georgio, and the day, which was pouring its full light on all Bologna, was still dim and shadowy in her cloisters.
At length a door, communicating with the interior of the church, opened and a form issued from it so wrapped in a full gray mantle that nothing but its stature and graceful movement could be perceived. But these were quite enough to assure Boniface that the lady Imelda was coming toward him. The agitation he could scarcely restrain contrasted with the assured step of the young lady who felt nothing but that she was performing a

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simple act of duty. She was conscious of a new interest in it when she was near enough to perceive for the first time the noble figure and soul lit countenance of the hereditary enemy of her house.
“Thanks, my lord,” she said “for granting a request that I was compelled to make by a promise to a dying woman.”
“Thanks from you, lady Imelda! Haven has my devoutest thanks that I am permitted this unhoped for meeting!”
“Nothing short of a sacred promise,” resumed Imelda, with a cold dignity that was meant to qualify the rapturous tone in which she was addressed, “would justify me in breaking through the observances of my sex and venturing to solicit a meeting with my hereditary enemy.”
“Enemy, lady Imelda! Love may come against our free will— enmity cannot.”
“That sacred promise,” continued Imelda, as if not hearing Boniface’s last words, “was given to Alexa, a client of your house. You, doubles, have heard the tragic circumstances of her death.”
“They could not long unknown to me, lady, where there are so many who live by feeding the feud between the Lambertazzi and my father’s house.”
“It is to avert the evil effect of these facts reaching you that I am here. Alexa’s last act,” she added, showing him the crucifix, “was to send you this symbol of our Lord and master’s submission to wrong and forgiveness of injuries, and by this token she prayed for you to forgive— not to revenge her death. We may not turn a deaf ear to the words of the dying; they stand on the threshold of the other world. Give good heed, I pray to you.”
“In aught else, lady, Alexa’s dying wish— your faintest word, should be law to me, but—”
“But you fear the reproach of your faction—or perhaps the scornful taunt of my brothers. These are vulgar fears, my lord. There is a nobler fear; fear above fear— a fear worthy of God’s creatures— a fear of violating his law. This takes the sting and reproach from every other fear.”
“Aye, lady, this is true; but truth fitter for these cloisters than the world we live in. He who should adopt it must exchange his good sword for the monk’s cowl.”
“Do you then reject this blessed sign?” said Imelda, once more extending to him Alexa’s crucifix.
“Nay, nay, sweet lady,” he relied, pressing his lips to it, and bringing them so nearly in contact with Imelda’s beautiful hand, that the spirituality of his devotion was somewhat questionable.
“I do not reject— I would fain accept it; but in doing so I should pledge myself to possible dishonor and disgrace. The death of Alexa pass as accidental till I am taunted with my forbearance, and then I must—”
“Must like other men— must come down to the level of their standard. Farewell, my lord. My errand is done.”
“One moment!” Listen to me, lady Imelda. Command me in aught I can do. I will go to the farthest verge of the world to serve you.”
“And yet for my prayer you will not do the duty that lies at your door.”
She turned to leave him; he followed her through the cloister. He entreated her to give him the crucifix on his promise to consecrate it to Madonna, and pray to her to enable him without loss of honor to obey Alexa’s last injunction.
What we have briefly summed up, Boniface contrived to dilate and involve, and Imelda found herself yielding, perhaps too willingly, to these little arts of delay, when she rejoined Nilla at the church door.
“Thanks to our lady!” she whispered; “You are come at last! Did you see him?”
“He was there before me.”
“So indeed he should be. Were you seen? Through all those long dark passages did no one see you? It were not well that you were seen alone there. Were you met? Are you struck deaf and dumb, my lady? Did you meet no one, I say?”
“No-yes-no-I think not.”
“The good Lord make me patient! You don’t hear a word I say. I have been a good hour on my knees praying to St. Ursula, and all the blessed saints that watch over young virgins, that no human eye, save that of lord Boniface, might fall on you; and, for aught you care, you may have met half Bologna. Call up your wits, dear my lady, and tell me what has happened in the last hour?”
“Hour, Nilla! It seems to me you may count on your fingers the minutes since we parted.”
“Humph!” ejaculated Nilla, as she thought that time had a different measure for an old woman waiting, and a young one talking with him of all Bologna’s youth most renowned for all manly graces. “Be it hours or minutes, my lady,” she added, “I care not which, but only if you were observed?”
“Only, I think, by father Jerome, whom I met as I returned from the cloister.”
“Father Jerome! Our lady forbid! All the gray mantles in Bologna would not hide you from father Jerome. He sees through stone walls. If he should have seen lord Boniface!”
Old Nilla was right. Father Jerome was, of all men, to be dreaded and shunned by Imelda. Born with strong passions and condemned by his priestly profession to a passionless life, he used the fuel which should have burned to ashes in the furnace of his holy order, to feed the fiery natures of

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the brothers Lambertazzi, and plied all his craftiness to stimulate their reckless pursuit of personal exaltation. It was their object to extinguish the only family that questioned their supremacy in Bologna. They were fitted for the stripes of barbaric times, natural “enemies of God, of pity and mercy.” Their rival was gifted with the qualities that belonged to the developments of civilized life. He was the friend of poets and philosophers, and the worshiper of art which had sprung forth in all her freshness and beauty from the conflicts of free Italy, like Venus from the tumultuous waves.
Imelda’s instinctive sympathy with him was most natural, perhaps inevitable. Her delicate nature had shrunk from the clang of her brothers’ armor and the clamor of their voices. She had devoted herself in the retirement of her own apartments to the study of science and poetry under the guidance of her father confessor, Silvio- a learned and holy man. Lord Boniface, already her ardent lover, had appeared to her as Ferdinand did to Miranda—
“A spirit—
A thing divine— for nothing natural
She ever saw so noble;”

and it was most certain that they had but met and parted when they felt that “both were in either’s power.” Love ripens fast in the land of the orange and the myrtle, and love in all lands is miraculously quick in device. The lovers contrived to meet going to confession or returning from mass. Few of these blissful meetings escaped the snaky eye of father Jerome. Did malice and envy stimulate his senses to preternatural acuteness? It seemed so when he overheard a whispering appointment they made to meet at a masked-ball. He communicated this appointment to the brothers.
“It is a safe opportunity,” he said.
“We can make out opportunity when we are ready to execute our vengeance,” replied the younger brother, Alberti.
“Yes, and expose yourself to expulsion from the city. Remember, my son, that the nobles no longer rule Bologna. That scum has risen to the top- the citizens above the noble.”
“Curse them! Yes,” muttered Frederico.
“Remember, too, that your sister’s lover is a favorite with our masters. He studies the courses of the stars with their sons and lavishes his gold on workers destined to their common use, and employment.”
“He earns their favor, then, methinks,” said Alberti.
“Yes, my son, their favor is no gratuity.”
“He shall pay another debt in another kind- at short reckoning,” growled Frederico.
“He who would steal your sister is a felon and deserves to pay this reckoning,” insinuated the priest, “but take heed, my son, if two to one you assault this gallant the blow will recoil on yourselves.”
“We need not two; my steel is sure, as you know, father,” said Alberti, glancing significantly at the priest. “I will follow him from the palace Ansiani. A felon merits a stab in the back.”
“But, Frederico, what does he merit who this stabs?” asked Alberti.
“My son,” interposed the priest, “the means are sanctified by the end. The executioner does God’s will when he takes the felon’s life.”
“Let Frederico then be the executioner- an open field and a fair fight for me. I’ll not meddle with this dark work,” and thus making his honest protest, Alberti left the priest and his less scrupulous brother to contrive their plan of assassination.
Father Jerome looked after Alberit with a drawing up of the brow and a drawing down of the mouth, expressive of contempt, and then said to Frederico, “I distinctly heard your sister’s”… he hesitated and added, “lover,” with an accent to indicate that a more offensive worked pressed on his lips, “say that he had a friend among the followers of the Ansiani, who would introduce him by a secret entrance which communicated with a passage from the court of the Eastern balcony; he could this enter the halls without a passport, and, once there, mingle unsuspected with the guests. You, forewarned that he is there, will easily identify him. His stature and grace are not common among out gallants of Bologna. While he is dallying with your sister you may glide into that passage and the slightest brush you can give him will be enough if- as I think you meant when you said your steel was ‘sure’ – you have it well anointed with the Saracen’s oil.”
“I have – all the posts of Heaven cannot save him from my extreme unction.”
“To night, then, as the bell of San Georgio tolls ten. But, my son, sport not, even in word, with the holy offices of the church.”
“No, father,” replied Frederico, with a loud laugh, that proved he had at least the merit of not flattering the priest by hypocrisy, “not while I have you to teach me reverence.”
Father Jerome had not yet quite reached the meridian of life. Under his priest’s cowl were hidden the worst passions of man. Before the vesper hour he had a private and long interview with Imelda. He told her plainly that her love was discovered, and that mortal danger threatened her lover; and then he darkly hinted at a means of escape. His hints she did not understand, for his foul thoughts passed over her pure mind like breath over the highest polished glass, leaving no stain, and when he came to state more plainly on what conditions he would save her lover’s life – she recoiled as if a venomous snake

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lay across her path. Her face, which had paled a moment before at thought of her lover’s peril, grew red with angry blood. Father Jerome quailed under her glance. She was silent till she could speak calmly.
“Go, priest,” she then said, “all life is in God’s hands— the most precious as the most worthless. My honor is in mine own trust. Leave my presence.”
Nilla found her mistress an hour after in an ague of terror. “Oh, why have you staid, Nilla?” she said. “Did you find him? What said he?”
“Why, firstly, I did not find him; a pretty chase my old legs have had of it over half Bologna.”
“Oh, Nilla, do not spend your breath talking of yourself.”
“Lord’s love! I have little breath to do any thing for myself.”
“What said he, Nilla!”
“Why, first, he said nothing.”
“No, in truth. What should he say, till he had read your letter? But deal, my lady, why so red, and so white, and shaking as if you had a tertian ague on you?”
“Think not of me, Nilla? Say in a word is my lord coming?”
“Yes – is one word, he is coming?”
“Oh, then, Nilla, you must back to him; his life is threatened; he must not come ton-night.”
“Then, my sweet lady, he must escape the danger through some other mode then my croaking. He mounted his horse as I left him and bade me tell you he should ride till the time of meeting.”
“We are lost,,” cried Imelda, wringing her hands. “There is no help for us. They know he meets me ton-night. The Ansiani are his enemies – he will have no friends near him, and my brothers – my cruel brothers! That bad priest, Jerome, Nilla!”
“Set against him the good priest Silvio, my lady. The children of light should be a match for the children of darkness.”
“You are right, Nilla. Call father Silvio to me. If he be possible, truly he will find it.”
Silvio came, and listened pitifully to Imelda’s relation of her interview with Jerome. “God alone can help us, my child,” he said; “we know not how nor where the snare is spread, but He who delivereth the bird from the fowler can surely help if he seeth fit.”
“And is this all, father, that your wisdom can suggest to me?”
“For the present exigency, all, my poor child; but should you escape to-night, I will no longer oppose your lover’s prayer. Come to my cell at dawn to-morrow. I will perform the holy sacrament of marriage for you, and at the first suspicious moment you may escape and take refuge in Florence or Pisa. It is not fitting you should longer swell where the demons of hate – and worse than hate, beset you.”
“Is this your counsel, dear father Silvio?” exclaimed Imelda, while for a moment the sun seemed to break through the clouds and shine on her head, so radiant was she with hope. The light passed off as she flatteringly exclaimed, “But there is an abyss of danger, of despair to be overleaped before we reach this happiness. Go, dear, holy father, spend these fearful hours in prayer and vigil and penance for us. Here, take my purse; give all to the wretched, and here,” she added, stripping the brilliants from her fingers, “do what good you can with these; all I ask in place of them is my wedding ring.”
“God’s love is not bought with a price, dear daughter.”
“Oh, I know, I know – these jewels are but the earnest of what I will be and do if His protection be over us this night. Your blessing, dear father, and depart. I must dress and be first at the palace. They will not dare touch him in my presence.”
Alas! Poor Imelda knew not what bad men dare do!
While Imelda was kneeling before Madonna to fortify herself by prayer for the trials of the evening, Nilla was preparing for her toilet. “There, my lady,” she said, as Imelda came from her oratory, “there is your green robe embroidered with gold flowers, and buttoned from top to bottom with such diamonds as no family can boast in Bologna, save the Lambertazzi. You shake your head? Well, here is the azure silk knotted with the purest orient pearls. No, again? The silks are fresh from the riches looms of Florence. No married dame or maiden in Bologna has the like of them.”
“It matters not, Nilla. Give me a dress all of white – fitting for a bride or for the dead.”
“My dear lady!”
“Obey me, Nilla. Give me, too, my pearl collar, bracelets and head-gear.”
Nilla obeyed in silence and trembling, for she had had bad dreams the night before and her lady’s words seemed their interpretation. When Imelda was arrayed and surveyed herself in her Venetian glass, a blush of conscious beauty overspread her pale cheek. The luster of her white satin harmonized with the soft tints of her Italian complexion, and the dead white of pearls wreathed on her dark hair gave a look of life to the almost colorless hue of her white brow.
“Your eyes are dull to-night, my dear lady,” said Nilla, “but for that you would look a king’s bride.”

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“He who only shall make me a bride is a king by divine right, Nilla. Bring me my Persian veil; that will serve me at the altar or – for a winding sheet.”
The festivities at the Ansiana palace had but begun when Imelda appeared there. As she entered leaning on the arm of her proud old father, every eye was curiously fixed on her. Her prolonged seclusion in her father’s palace and the rumor of her beauty had sharpened curiosity; but as she tenaciously kept the mask on her face attention was turned to other known beauties, and after a little while she escaped observation.
She soon found herself near a balcony toward which the dancers pressed for air and refreshment. She dropped her fan and a blue domino, who she had just noticed and eyed with intense interest, picked it up and restored it to her, saying, in a voice audible only to her, “The balcony will be empty when the dance begins – linger here till then.” She did so and in a few brief moments her plan was concerted with Lord Boniface, and their fate sealed.
The night wore on, the gayety increased, and the lovers again met, near the gallery by which Boniface had gained access to the palace, and by which he purposed to depart. Frederico was lurking there. There was a narrow passage from one saloon to another; out of this passage a door opened into the gallery. Imelda standing mid some ladies at the door of the saloon saw her lover approach his place of exit and saw that at the very bottom he raised his hand to open the door he was encountered by Alberti, in a black domino. “He who seeks a secret passage,” he said rudely in an undisguised voice, “is no friend to the house.”
“Who interferes with the liberty of the Ansiani guests is surely not their friend,” replied lord Boniface, in a voice that even Imelda would scarcely have recognized as his.”
“Then drop your mask, and verify your right to this liberty,” said Alberti, haughtily.
“Not at your bidding, most courteous gentleman, but since you guard this egress I will take any other that may be opened to the guests of our good old host,” and turning away, as if quite indifferent, he re-entered the saloon, encountered face to face, the old count Ansiani, and stopped, as if quite at east, to exchange courtesies with his host. His seeming coolness disconcerted and perplexed Alberti, who stood at a short distance behind him. Imelda with a fluttering heart watched every movement and heard every word. “Alberti, Alberti,” she said, eagerly, in a low voice, and pointing through the door to a lady in an adjourning apartment, “Pray, tell me, is not that the lady Julia!”
“By my faith, it is,” he replied, his attention completely diverted; “I have in vain sought her all the evening.”
“She has but just entered,” said Imelda, “or you would earlier have recognized her, for though her simple dress denies her princely rant her queenly bearing betrays it. I knew her only from your description, Alberti, or, perhaps, from the instinct of out coming relationship.”
“Bravo, Imelda!”
“Present me to her, Alberti. You promised it, and surely I deserve it.”
“You do – come with me.”
If Imelda had dared to look back, she would have seen that Boniface, profiting by the opportunity she had just procured for him, complied at the instant with the rule made by a jealous nobles of Bologna, that every guest, on taking leave of his host, should withdraw his mask. There being no eye on him but the old count’s, dulled with some seventy years wear, Boniface did this fearlessly, and walked slowly past Alberti and out to the grand stair-case. He had scarcely disappeared from the count’s sight when father Jerome whispered in his ear, “Does my lord suspect that the bold youth who but now took leave of him is the boasted Giéréméi?”
“My word – my oath for it.”
“Follow him. Give orders to my men to seize him; he shall pay dearly for this audacity.” He was followed, but perceiving this he had, after deliberately walking the stair-case, glided down to the light, passed the retainers of the Ansiani at the gate of their court, and, at the corner of the street, mounted a horse, which, with a trust servant, was awaiting him.”
At the dawn of the morning Imelda, closely muffled and attended only by Nilla, entered father Silvio’s cell. Her lover was awaiting her, and the good father performed the marriage rite. “My children,” he said, retaining in his their clasped hands, “these are such bonds as God’s priest may ratify – not accidental, imaginary or selfish, but wrought in the furnace of trial out of your hearts’ best affections; their temper is proof against all the shifting chances of life; death cannot dissolve them, and there, where there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage, eternal shall be written on them.”
“Amen! Amen!” cried old Nilla. Father Silvio stood back, and Boniface clasping Imelda in his arms, whispered, “Courage, my love – my wife! One brief separation more, and then o earthly power shall divide us. Remain here one half hour, then father Silvio will meet me with you at the city gate. In Florence we shall find friends and safety, till the old wound that separates our families is healed.”

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“Go grant it!” she whispered, “but my heart bids me cling to you, with fearful prophecy.”
“Take courage, love,” he said, “it is but the shadow of past sorrow – we will soon get beyond it.” He left her, and in one half hour she followed with the good father and Nilla.
“Stop – stop, my lady,” said Nilla, who stumbled after her mistress’s fleet steps. “I saw the shadow of armed men behind the gate-way we just passed, and I am sure I saw father Jerome just slink behind that wall.”
Imelda, trembling, clung to Silvio’s arm.
“If it be they,” whispered father Silvio, “it is impossible to gain the gate – but we may evade them by artifice. Return, Nilla, as if you were seeking something dropped on the ground. Eye them closer, and if they be the brothers, still retrace your steps, and we will turn the next corner, gain the palace, and dispel their suspicions and be sage for the present.”
He then walked slowly on with Imelda, and before they reached the turn, the old woman had paused at the gate-way, and was receding beyond it.
“Patience, dear daughter,” said the priest, “you are baffled this time, but your husband’s vigilance will soon make another opportunity. If they follow lord Boniface to the gate he betrays nothing for he ill infer that you are intercepted, and he will only appear to them armed and equipped for a ride to the hills. We owe this to the diabolical malice and art of Jerome,” he thought as Imelda yielded to his counsel. “So, through life he has crossed and baffled me,” and his thoughts, like an electric flash, retraced the wrongs done him by the envious rival of his childhood – how he had closed against him the avenues of friendship, love and honorable fame, and driven him to seek refuge in the priest’s cell – the precinct of the tomb.
One week passed away. The day was near its dawn, and Imelda was receiving the last embraces of her faithful nurse. “Dear Nilla,” she said, “take it not so hard; it is for present safety that we are separated – my lord says father Silvio urges too that we should be free, unembarrassed, in case of pursuit – you see,” she added with a faint smile, “that now I fear nothing. I have no foolish presentiment as before. When I put on my veil I thought it would prove my winding-sheet. If danger beset us, and Heaven please, a way of escape will be opened, and if not death since father Silvio assures me that there we cannot be separated. God’s love casts out all fear, dear Nilla.”
“It should – but –”
“Nay, nay, Nilla, not another word – time presses – the day is already dawning – you must not follow me one step. All depends on my passing unobserved and unheard through the long, dark galleries to the outer court; to that my lord has secured an entrance. Farewell, dear Nilla – to your prayers found us;” – and then hastily embracing her old friend, she left her in an agony of love and tears, (from which prayer exhales,) passed now swiftly, now slowly, along her perilous descent and gained the landing of the last stair-case – there she heard the ringing of a loud and hasty footstep mounting the winding stairs, and, in time, she darted into a broad niche in the wall, behind the pedestal of a statue. She caught a glimpse of the passing figure, and knew it to be Frederico. His appearance filled her with alarm and apprehension. She had believed her brothers were at Padua, and her flight had, in this belief, been fixed and hastily arranged. Could father Jerome, who seemed to have inscrutable power, have penetrated their secret plans? And was some fatal blow now preparing for them? Should she turn back and avoid the danger? No – for still her husband was in peril, and what was safety to her that did not include him! Her decision was made, and as the sound of the footsteps dies away, she sprang from her retreat, and hardly touching the stairs, passed down and turned to enter a narrow gallery that communicated with the private court. Frederico’s favorite dog, a fierce wolf-hound, was lying across the passage as if stealthily keeping it. He growled without moving. Poor Imelda had an unconquerable fear of dogs, and a particular terror of this brute of her brother’s, which had always seemed to her an impersonation of evil. She instinctively started back and remounted half the stairs before the instinct of fear yielded. Love – oh, how much stronger than fear – overcame. She retracted her steps, boldly stooped to the dog, spoke low and gently to him, looked him directly in the eye, stroked and patted him. There are strange and mysterious modes of communication between all intelligent beings. Our modern Mesmerite would probably sat the dog was magnetized. We cannot explain or name the cause – perhaps it is true that there is “un mystere de sympathie et d’affection entre touit ce qui respire sous le ciel.” Certain it it is, the animal became tractable, rose, stretched himself, “like an innocent beast and of a good conscience,” permitted Imelda to pass without molestation. She scarcely breathed again before she was in the court and in her husband’s arms where, for one instant, danger and fear, the past and future, were forgotten – the rapturous present filled brimmingly the whole of her life.
Such moments give us some notion of what may constitute the measurement of time in a more advanced condition of existence. Keenness of sensation, intensity of feeling takes place of duration – the point of time stretches backward and forward, with the velocity of light; and in the

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retrospect, the rest of life is compacted into small space – a dark line of shadow along fields of light. We must be forgiven for pausing at this point – it was Imelda’s first and last of perfect human happiness.
A sound reached her ear that struck upon it like a death-knell. She uttered a piercing shriek and cried, “Fly – fly!” and at the same instant her brothers with their swords drawn rushed into the court.
“Stand back, Imelda!” shouted Frederico to his sister, who had planted herself steadfastly before her lord; “Stand back, I say, or through your body my sword shall pierce that villain – robber!”
“Imelda,” said her lover, gently putting her aside, “I can defend myself.”
Imelda sprang toward Alberti – “Oh, my brother,” she cried, putting both her hands upon his breast, “there is a drop of mercy in your hear – stand back. It is not manly two to one – get between them – he is no robber. He is my husband! My chosen lord!”
“Your husband, Imelda? Then let them have a fair fight. I’ll not make nor mar between them.”
The encounter was fierce and obstinate. Both parties were accomplished swordsmen, but Boniface, having but the single purpose of defending himself, armed with the righteous cause, was more adroit; an overmatch for his opponent maddened with conflicting passions. He defended himself at all points, till at the sight of his wife kneeling, her eyes raised and her arms outreached in an agony of supplication, his arm wavered and he failed to quite to parry a blow which aimed at his hear, grazed his shoulder, so that the blood followed.
“Enough! Enough!” cried Frederico, with a demonic howl, “you have poison in you for every drop of blood in your veins. You are welcome now to your husband!” he added to Imelda, driving his sword into its sheath. Her husband had already fallen fainting on the ground. “The work is done Alberti,” he concluded – “the day is breaking; we must be gone, or the city-guard on their last round will find us here.” He hastily disappeared.
“Cowardice and cruelty, are fit companions,” muttered Alberti, slowly following.

The accomplished historian of Italian Republics this finishes his notice (which we have somewhat amplified) of this tragedy.
“The only mode of treatment which left any hope of curing the empoisoned wound, was sucking it while still bleeding. This, it is said, three years before Edward of England had been saved by the devoted Eleanor. Imelda undertook her sad ministry, and from the wound of her husband, she drew the poisoned blood which diffused through her own system the cause of sudden death. When her woman came to her they found her extended lifeless beside the dead body of the husband she had loved too well.”




Sedgwick, Catharine M. Miss Catharine M. Sedgwick, “Imelda of Bologna,” Sedgwick Stories: The Periodical Writings of Catharine Maria Sedgwick, accessed July 14, 2024,