'The great proof of madness is the disproportion of one's designs to one's means'.—Napoleon Bonaparte
Madness had always manifested in man, with an insatiable quench by gradual degrees that superseded countless vicissitudes of his persona, and impressible were the impetuous and indefatigable penchants craved passionately in reprise. His innumerable transgressions were beholden only, to the duplicitous malice of the seductive whims of his inquietude and ingannation. It is an uncontrollable urge engrossing the desire pursuing man, with a fervent passion incomparable in nature.
You, who deem man to be ever noble and decorous, will soon know of his afflated connivances and treachery that unfolded upon the Ides of March. I shall introduce you to such a man that is the vile embodiment of that example. He is called Gaston Bonifati, but you will know him merely, as the Machiavellian Gaston.
This story begins in the year of 1798, amidst the setting of a bustling and festive night of carnival in Venice in a Gothic Palazzo, with a masked ball upon that horrendous night. Distinguished members of the local aristocracy including Signora Veneto and Signor Bondemiro, who was an affluent Patrician, and a reputable connoisseur of the arts were both invited. Vengeance had sown its malicious seed upon Bonifati's tormenting psyche that unforgettable night of demise, as he sought therefore to impose his brutal and irremissible wrath with impunity. Verily, the redress must never be unredressed, if the deed is supercilious.
Signora Veneto and the other guests would succumb to his madness and vindictivolence, but in particular Signor Bondemiro a misanthropist, who mocked his virtuous lineage, and doubted his connoisseurship with imposition. Signor Bondemiro was fully dressed in a green and gold silken damask dress coat and trousers, green silk moireé waistcoat finished with laces, gold braids and a silk ribbon, ivory silk shirt with cuff lacing and lace jabot, tricorn, tights, gloves, a wig, a hat, and the Arlecchino mask. As for Signora Veneto, she was fully dressed in a fuchsia silk velvet flared dress finished with white fur border, cockades and lace at the front and on the sleeves, a handbag, ivory gloves, a tricorn, a hoop, a wig, a hat, and the Volta mask.
When she and Signor Bondemiro arrived at the gate of the palazzo during the night, they were greeted by the ceremonious butler, who led them through the door next to the cerulean lagoon, and a labyrinthal courtyard that on the north side was closed by the junction, between the glorious palace and a venerable basilica. At the centre of the courtyard stood two elaborated well-heads dating from the mid-16th century, with a beautiful façade that was a wrought exercise within the discernible classicism of the Renaissance bedecked. The long enormous stairway and the solemn courtyards of sublimity were what impressed unanimously the guests, upon their immediate arrival. It was comparative to the fleeting view of luminous orbs of the night.
Bonifati was dressed in the habiliment of a black whole-wheeled silk velvet cloak with a double cape and a detachable hood, a tricorn, a black lace cape zendale, gloves and a Bauta mask. As the eccentric proprietor and host of the ball, Bonifati greeted them inside as was his wont, and then explained the architecture of the palazzo.
'Benvenuti al palazzo, my name is Signor Gaston Bonifati. This palazzo has huge walls of white limestone and pink marble softened by porticos, finely wrought loggias, a crenellated roof and a series of wondrous balconies. It is a superb example of Venetian Gothic architecture, with decoration supremely elaborated and conceived. The 36 capitals on the lower colonnade of the building have carvings of beasts, flowers and representations of the months of the year. Didactic moral sculptures represent scenes such as the Judgement of Solomon, the Drunkenness of Noah and Adam and Eve with the Archangel Gabriel. Indeed, enough wonders to exude the beauty of Venice'.
'This is an impeccable palazzo Signor Bonifati, and a grand place to have the magnificent ball', Signora Veneto had expressed.
Bonifati merely smiled and had answered amorevolously, 'Thank you for that generous compliment, and please call me Gaston. There will be no need, for trivial formalities upon this night. It is Carnival, and let us all enjoy the ball!'
'Agreed!' Signor Bondemiro responded.
'You are a very chivalrous aristocrat yet, a vague man sir. Your voice seems quite familiar to me, but I cannot at this moment, distinguish where I have heard this voice before', Signor Bondemiro spoke.
'Perhaps it was at the Piazza San Marco, before the villeggiatura?' He replied.
Signor Bondemiro contemplated, 'Piazza San Marco, perhaps so sir'.
How could Bonifati forget the august decorum of hauteur of Signor Bondemiro, who was nothing more than a supercilious nobleman of a pompous nature and parsimony? He carried in his right hand a shining walking stick that was imbued with a hue of gold that shone very bright. Magnificent was the abode that we were in, and splendid were the invited guests that attended the traboccant ball. Of the guests Bonifati knew them, by mere acquaintanceship only. Once all of the guests were present and gathered, the harmonious music began in earnest.
There was an orchestra playing instruments of the harp and the violin in the background fitfully, whilst the ostensible guests were treated with fine wine from the plentiful grapes of the vineyards of Venice and the succulent hors d'oeuvres. All was going according to Bonifati's scheming plan that was elaborated without cunctation. No one suspected his true and abditive intention, for the occasion of the evening.
'The marvellous architectural wonder inside is evident, with the palatial museum displayed from the exterior arcade of the palazzo, Gaston', Signora Veneto said.
Bonifati simply smiled elucidating to her, 'The stairway beneath the south-east of the portico leads to a succession of chambers from the 16th century, and the gilt stuccoes in the ceiling to the stairs. Upstairs, are the Palazzo's private chambers to the Anticollegio, and the Anticollegio has four Tintorettos. The Sala del Collegio is a chamber by Palladio hung with canvases; the Sala del Consiglio dei Dieci; and the Sala dell’Armamento the remains of Guariento’s fresco, Paradise. And then there is of course, the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, the most magnificent chamber in the palazzo'.
'However, there is an eerie conception of malevolence that could be hidden and confined, beyond the tenantable walls of this prominent palazzo, and its cramoisy velvet draperies', retorted Signor Bondemiro.
He then asked him, 'Why, are the shutters completely shut?'
Bonifati responded, 'It is due to the cold waft that blows from the lagoon'.
Soon the music ended and Bonifati began to speak, 'My dear guests let us toast, to this convivial gathering of tonight!'
'Now my dear Signor Bondemiro, join me in the cellar, as I shall take you to see my exquisite collection of wines. Perhaps, you could share with me your excellent and qualitative proficiency in the matter that is if, you do not object at all', Bonifati said.
They all had raised their glasses and toasted the merry night anew. Bonifati then perceived that the night was transpiring to perfection at that moment. Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine made in the region was the wine chosen for this special occasion. He had bidden Signor Bondemiro to follow him to the cellar underneath, so that he could see his luxuriant collection of wines he had. He acquiesced and followed him to the cellar below, with such heightened curiosity that Bonifati realised.
Signor Bondemiro unmitigated attention was on descrying the vast collection of wines that Bonifati had possessed. Thence, they continued to the cellar of the palazzo, as Signor Bondemiro was intrigued even more. When they arrived Bonifati showed him his vast collection, and there were plentiful casks and bottles of wine galore to be seen. He was eager to see Signor Bondemiro's reaction, and hear his words of perception and oenology.
'Signor Bondemiro, this is my eternal collection of wines. Come, come, drink, and sip the wonders of Venice at once!'
Naturally, he began to imbibe the wine. 'Is not the taste of the wine, such a delectable taste; especially the taste of vernage?'
'’Tis a bit sour, for my satisfaction. I have been bonifate to have tasted better wine before. If I may enquire Bonifati, how long have you been collecting different wines?'
'Oh for manifold years, Signor Bondemiro. O thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil—William Shakespeare'.
Bonifati noticed in Signor Bondemiro, a brazen tone of derision in his voice that was very discernible, as he perceived the ullage of the cask. Never would he imagine himself upbraided, by a cozener who was not him. He was rather an obstinate man and not a mulcible vinipote, and his barbs were not mere charientism. Therefore, Bonifati knew that he would be a challenge for him. However, he was definitely prepared for this interesting challenge. He felt the quote was directed towards him, with a foreboding quip attached to those glorious words of Shakespeare.
Signor Bondemiro had been a conceited swine, all his life and a very good one indeed. But all his ingenuity and intellect would be of little comparison to Bonifati's masterful plot. Even with his intuitive wit, he failed to notice Bonifati's idiosyncrasy. Nonetheless, Bonifati did notice his conceit unreluctantly, and with vehemence.
'Before we proceed, taste a spirit', Bonifati imposed.
He took a drink and then replied, 'Cognac, now this is a fine drink!' He replied.
He continued to drink as Bonifati took him to a damp and eerie catacomb, behind a secret passage that existed behind the tenebrous cellar, where he presented to him strange devices of death that could be seen plainly, with dead figures within them. There were endless rows of bones and skulls heaved in piles all around the area. It was such an otherworldly sight for Signor Bondemiro to cast his eyes upon, and all Bonifati could think at that very moment in time was how beautiful the night had developed into complete suspense. What began as a festive night of mirth would become a macabre sequence of events that occurred gradually. Signor Bondemiro did not perceive the intimate aura of death to be an obvious premonition of what was to supervene. Nevertheless, Bonifati could not underestimate his prowess.
'Let me introduce you first to the infamous Strappado, as you can see her body hangs by her arms, which were fastened behind the head, and wrenched from the shoulder sockets, impairing the breath. Second, there is the nefarious German chair, the body placed in a metal chair, and the legs and arms are secured to the seat, whilst the back of the chair is pulled back and down towards the ground. Third, there is the Cat O'Nine Tails, a wanton device that is a multi-tails whip, with claws that can inflict vicious parallel wounds upon the body. They have metal balls with spikes added to the cords to make it more excruciating', Bonifati had paused and then continued.
'Fourth, there is the thrilling Chair of Torture, layered with 500 spikes on every surface with tight straps to restrain its victim. Fifth, there is the predatory Iron Maiden, a conical frame of a torture device consisted of an iron cabinet with a hinged front and spike-covered interior to enclose a human, with steel spikes that impale with its jagged edges. Sixth, there is the impressive Breaking wheel, used for breaking the bones of criminals or bludgeoning them. And last of all, is the unbearable Impaler, where the body you see, is seated on a sharp and thick pole. The pole is upright, as the victim sled down the pole with weight'.
'The pall of demise shrouds this dark place of chastisement, with such plenary terror, Bonifati', Signor Bondemiro answered.
'How exciting is the thrill of death, for it is more exciting than fine wine. Do you not think so, Signor Bondemiro?' He retorted.
Bonifati could feel the madness rise in his voice, as he had described in details, every one of those malevolent and lurid artifices of death. Did he know then that this was no innocent jest to laugh facetiously, but the unbridled delirium of a sickening nature that had a justifiable finality? Slowly and slowly, he began to feel lethargic and under the inebriated effects of the Cognac, as the spirit was perfervidly effective to have caused a drunken state of intoxication. Bonifati stopped for a moment, as he noticed that he was beginning to feel the effects of the spirit. Bonifati's memorable guise was the last thing he espied, before losing consciousness.
When Signor Bondemiro awoke the next morning sober, he saw a gloomy underground catacomb alone enveloping, in a miasma of despair above a lagoon. He could hear the stir of the lagoon flowing. It was a comfortless and damp vault beyond a long, sloping corridor that led to a narrow egress. He was bound in shackles around his feet and hands that restrained his movement, as he lay on a table from the Inquisition, with a solid and sharp blade of the pendulum that was swinging from side to side. His immediate reaction was to free himself, but after he realised that he could not achieve that, he screamed thinking someone would hear him. But the echoes of his strepent screams would only be heard by me. He was surrounded by the shocking images of bones and skulls of dead individuals, who had perished and were left here to rot away in this lonely catacomb. But what caught his attention more, were the daunting contrivances. Then he heard the voice of a stranger standing behind him, as he walked in front of the table he was bound in. At first, Bonifati's voice was not known to him, until he saw him standing before him, dressed in his festal array speaking, with his visard. He knew then who the stranger was—it was no other than Bonifati.
'To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; no more; and, by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep; to sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub. For in this sleep of death what dreams may come—Hamlet'.
'What am I doing here Bonifati? Have you gone mad, and this is a morbid trick of your concoction?' Signor Bondemiro uttered.
Bonifati chuckled and then riposted, 'Have you not been entertained enough Signor Bondemiro? Did you not come to be entertained, you and Signora Veneto? You are no more than a worthless swine, sir!'
'Am I led to believe, this is all an engaging jest of your conniving?'
Bonifati chuckled again and said, 'Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear; seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come—Julius Caesar'.
'Signora Veneto, what have you done to her Bonifati?' He enquired.
Bonifati paused then responded, 'Do not worry, for her death will be more merciful than yours. I shall attempt Signor Bondemiro to not bore you, with such intricate details of ennui that deign your intellect'.
Bonifati departed and suddenly Signor Bondemiro felt the incipient prick of urgent desperation prevailing over him, as he struggled to retain his composure and sanity. Time elapsed and the growing seconds had become incessant minutes, as he felt his body cringed in the writhing pain that his hands and feet were enduring, under the pressure of the shackles. The glittering steel of the blade was encroaching even more, as the sweat from his forehead, had raught the table that appeared to be his sepulchre. He kept on struggling to free himself, but the shackles were impenetrable and impossible to tear it would seem. Even though he had no inkling of knowing what time it was, he could detect the token of the midday approaching. He became more restless and fretful, and he searched around up and down, near and far of any object that could break these heavy shackles that bound him. Time was terminating, as the fear of death was becoming more expedient, as the agonising seconds transpired. He understood his only option to be saved and freed from these shackles was to effectuate a rapid plan.
Thus, he came to a rational conclusion that to live, he would have to be precise in his calculations. If he could lift his hands up, and put one before the other than he could perhaps slice the chains, allowing him to be rid of the shackles binding his hands. As the blade of the pendulum got closer and closer, he swiftly reacted, by lifting his left hand in the air, when the blade sliced off the shackles. He screamed, as the blade had reached his wrist, and blood poured on the ground. He was fortunate enough that the wound was not severe and he was able to rescue himself from the rusty shackles and the heavy blade of steel. Abruptly he rolled to the side and grabbed a stone that was near and threw it up at the overhead support that was sustaining the pendulum oscillating. Miraculously, the stone caused the pendulum to halt in the equilibrium position, as its proximity was only a metre away. He used stones that were heaved in a pile around the table, to break the shackles that bound him previously. He was fortuitous that the shackles were rusty, and that the stones nearby, had allowed him to rid himself from the death of the blade of the pendulum. The blood, the pouring blood from the wound he bore, was slowly debilitating his vigour.
Once freed, he rose to his feet drenched in a patent pallor and sought to find an escape from this fearsome catacomb. He tore off one of the cuffs from the shirt of his disguise, to swathe the wound and prevent the effects of the hemorrhage, from becoming truly a grave concern. He threw the mask he had still been wearing from his arrival on the ground. His ankles were swollen as well were his wrists, due to the effort to be freed. He was lorn and a prisoner within this Cimmerian vault—for what reason he did not know. He could see a poor man haggard and gaunt alive in one of those artifices of death. When he came to him, the man was in an atrocious condition, but was not able to speak. He moaned and groaned, as he stared at Signor Bondemiro. He took the mask off that the inflicted man was wearing, as he pleaded for help and for mercy. He told the weary man that he would return, since there was nothing he could do.
Afterwards, he put his hands against the walls seeking the egress, knowing that the vault had a secretive passage that allowed one to exit the catacomb. After a brief period of time, he was able to be adroit enough, to find that wall bearing the passage he was searching. On the other side of the wall was a solitary cellar. In the cellar there were dusty bottles in the niches, and wooden casks along the walls that were perceptible to his eyes. There was a need to quench his thirst, and he opened up a cask that was put against the wall and drank the fermented wine. He hastened through the long dim and drear corridor, as he could see a feeble gleam of light at intervals, then glistening from the torches ahead.
When he arrived at the door, it was shut, and after attempting to open the door, he could not open it. He knew he was below in the cellar, and if he could only find the narrow stairway leading upstairs, he would able to flee straightway from what he believed to be, a horrid phantasmagoric place of dread. He had not fully understood what had happened to him, and why he was shackled and left to die under the oppressive blade of a pendulum, at the mercy of my ego that relished the artifices of death. He looked around him to see what he could use to open the padlock to the door. His immediate thought was the use of wine, since the padlock was rusty and old as well as the door. Perhaps he told himself!
Then, he had found what, was a bottle of olive oil nearby, and quickly he used the oil to attempt to loosen the padlock. After several attempts, he was able to open the padlock with a shim that was in the cellar. Once out of the clammy cellar, he walked towards the stairway and climbed upstairs, reaching the vat room that was above the cellar. He was startled, at the light colour that was at variance with the gleam. Was this a token to be interpreted portentously, and a day destined for his death? Or was this a psychedelic hallucination he was a slave of?
Signor Bondemiro heard a sudden noise of footsteps approaching, and he hid behind another cask along the corridor, as the individual got closer. The stranger kept walking straight ahead at the front of the corridor, as the echoes of his steps resounded through the webwork of the arches. From his distance, Signor Bondemiro was not capable of discerning his insoluble guise, but his resolve to indagate the mystery compelled him to seek answers to this sinister occurrence. Then, he headed towards the stairway anew, hoping that the stranger had left, and he could escape quickly. He had an eerie premonition that the individual was not of his convenience. For that reason, Signor Bondemiro proceeded with extreme caution with every step taken, not knowing what he was to expect once upstairs. Was he to discover a ghastly scenario—or was he to discover that his ordeal was nothing more than a nightmare?
Uncontrollable anxiety grew with every fleeting moment, but fortunately for him, the blood had subsided for the nonce. He hesitated and then started to walk up the stairs mindful of the stranger he had seen before. He was also mindful of his anxiety becoming an overt paranoia that would bring absolute delirium in him. Subsequently, he found himself upon the main corridor above.
Once more, he heard the walking steps of a stranger, within that upper corridor, and he could hear only the sounds of his footsteps. He hid behind a wall, until the stranger had left. Signor Bondemiro was becoming too wont, to his spectral footsteps that his nerves were unsettling. After the stranger quitted, he could only think of rescuing Signora Veneto. He was led to believe that the other guests were dead—or were they not? This was a psychological game being imposed on his mind, and reason had abdicated his thoughts.
Therefore with caution, he attempted to find Signora Veneto, searching from chamber to chamber. But the only thing that he found, were countless mannequins dressed in disguises in every chamber. Finally Signor Bondemiro found her, in a hall with her back towards him. She was wearing the exact disguise that she came to the ball with and seated upon a lone chair. He looked around to see if the villain was close-by, and when he saw that he was not, he turned the chair around and took off the mask she was wearing and would be horrified with what he discovered then. All Signor Bondemiro saw of her was her body totally embalmed, as a listless torso of an adorned mannequin. He would be absolutely aghast by the discovery, and sudden trepidation had overcome him at that moment in time. Signor Bondemiro knew then, she was dead, cold dead, and her anima lain somewhere in this Ophelian palazzo of unmerciful hell.
But he was not truly prepared for what transpired afterwards. This he would soon discover with immediacy and disbelief. Behind him sitting in his grand throne of the sybarites was the fiend, that duplicitous and serpentine fiend of brash vengeance, Signor Bonifati in person. Bonifati had effectuated a very remarkable ending for the night, and the night was still not over.
'Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily—Napoleon', he said.
Signor Bondemiro turned around to face him and screamed, 'Enough with the historical quotes Bonifati without a doubt, you are a lunatic whose mine is totally non compos mentis. I am indeed a swine, but you are a devilish and currish fiend!'
Bonifati laughed at him, before he answered defiantly, 'You, you threaten my persona, with useless bravura and worldly tones of persuasion? You will not mock my persona anymore!'
Signor Bondemiro would be struck on the head with a swift bastinade and left unconscious afterwards, by an individual he did not see coming at all from behind. When he awoke he was inside the steel spikes that impaled him with its jagged edges of the Iron Maiden. Signor Bondemiro was now in a jester disguise, and wearing the mask of a jester as well. However, this was no laughing matter for Signor Bondemiro, who met his cunning redresser. And he was again in the unsightly catacomb that had immured him before. A luminous light had shone upon his face, as he looked straight ahead, and saw Bonifati dressed in his familiar guise, with that inconspicuous mask. He started to react, as he appeared to comprehend his surroundings.
'Beware of the Ides of March', Bonifati said.
When he was lucid, he screamed audaciously, 'You will not get away with this Bonifati!'
Bonifati laughed obstreperously, before he replied one last quote. 'Be not deceived: if I have veil'd my look, I turn the trouble of my countenance merely upon myself. Vexed I am of late with passions of some difference, conceptions only proper to myself—Julius Caesar'.
'Who are you truly, and why have you done all this?' Signor Bondemiro had enquired.
'Ecce homo, behold the man. I am the Machiavellian Gaston. Look very closely Signor Bondemiro, do you not remember my countenance at the Piazza San Marco? You thought it prudent to dismiss me, with your debasing hauteur. You who depraved me of my name, my childhood, my honour, I shall exact a severe retribution upon you, as I have done unto the others. You are ever so credent and contentious Signor Bondemiro. Yes, I am mad, but maddened by the voices of vengeance', Bonifati claimed as he took off his Bauta mask, and at last, Signor Bondemiro saw his fanatical face.
'For the love of God Bonifati!' He had implored pathetically.
Bonifati had smiled and said, 'God has condemned my nullifidian soul, since my birth and arrivance into this world Signor Bondemiro. You see, there is no love for me to reciprocate'.
He shouted, 'Bonifati!'
Signor Bondemiro knew thereafter that his imminent hour of doom and immolation was at hand, and Bonifati's hour of retribution had arrived in the end. That was the last thing Signor Bondemiro saw and heard—for the chilling Iron Maiden, he was inside was then closed completely by Bonifati his unforgiving executioner! What he was not prevalent to was that the poor man suffering in the catacomb below was Bonifati's first actual victim, who had been sequestered.
When Bonifati's delightful madness had ended a decade afterwards, the multitudinous cadavers were discovered within the desolate and harrowing catacomb, with Signor Bondemiro's bones and skull manifest. And the unforgettable motto above the arch was, 'Eram quod es, eris quod sum'.—I was what you are, you will be what I am.