Mad with fear, the lovely aristocratic young girl tugged hysterically at the long chain which shackled her to the sweating wall of the dungeon. As she struggled frenziedly to break free, the shimmering satin shift that was her only covering twisted even more tightly about her nubile and voluptuous body.
Muffled footsteps outside the rusty iron-studded door that led out into the gloomy castle were the cause of her sudden panic. She knew only too well what they meant.
A key rattled dully in the lock. Bolts were pulled back. Slowly, purposefully slowly, the door swung inward, creaking hideously on its ancient hinges. Blackness yawned beyond.
A sick, dry gasp of pure terror came from the girl's tremulous lips.
Three nightmare figures stood framed in the entrance.
One was a giant, a huge man clad entirely in black, his head concealed by a velvet hood. Through slits in the hood the man's eyes glittered like polished emeralds, hard and cold. Appraisingly, they swept over the girl's lush figure, half-concealed by the folds of the shift, the silken fabric wrapped tight around her thrusting breasts, the filigree lace hem twisted about her soft white thighs.
His two companions, obvious underlings, were creatures of hell.
One was a squat dwarf with a grotesque, almost spherical head and long matted hair foul with clotted gore. The other was a muscular bull of a man with a hare-lip, whose shaven skull looked like carved ivory.
Like hyenas sensing soft and defenseless prey, the hellish trio eyed the chained and semiclad girl with unnatural lusts, their loathsome minds filled with diabolic visions of things to come.
Black Hood sucked in a breath with a sibilant hiss. His green eyes burned evilly behind their slits. "So, signorina, we meet again," he said icily.
The girl said nothing. She seemed petrified.
The dwarf licked his gross lips with an animal tongue, turned his monstrous head and raised an inquiring eyebrow.
Black Hood shrugged.
"Perhaps I might put the question first, and hope sense prevails," he said. "Do you hear me, signorina? Ah, I see that you do. Will you answer a question or two about your father's castle?"
Deep within her scantily-clad body the girl felt a sudden reserve of aristocratic pride. Momentarily mastering her fear, she managed to push herself erect, standing before the lust-filled gaze of her captors with something of the hauteur that was her normal bearing, bracing her palms against the slime-encrusted wall. Black Hood leaned forward to await her reply. The girl spat full in his face.
For a moment his massive bulk shook with rage. His fingernails dug into his palms, then opened again, bloodied.
"Very well, signorina. Ugo, give her a taste. Tun, you hold her."
Before the girl could move the bull-head with a hare-lip had her pinioned against the slimy wetness of the wall.
In an instant her hauteur vanished. She was cringing, frozen with terror for her well-kept body. She shuddered and tried to avoid Tun's clammy hands as his fingers strayed insinuatingly over the silken surface of her shift.
Meanwhile the dwarf was heating several long needles over the flame of a cauldron. Then he advanced within a step of the girl, waiting.
In the semi-darkness Black Hood's eyes shone like green windows into hell.
"Now, signorina, are you ready to talk?"
"The Virgin pity me, I do not know," she sobbed.
"Come, signorina, you can't expect us to believe that."
"P-please," she stammered. "I - I k-know nothing."
"Very well," Black Hood sighed in a velvet whisper. "Ugo!"
The dwarf extended a glowing needle to touch the girl's silk-covered flesh.
A shrill, mind-shattering shriek of unbelieving agony and terror broke from the girl's red lips. This was the first time she had felt pain.
A demented, quirking smile touched the corners of the dwarf's slobbering mouth where it loomed cavern-like below her horrified face, ghastly with the stink of decaying teeth.
"Undress her, Tun," he gibbered. "Show me her beauty," he cackled, as Bullhead ripped the sleazy shift. "I'm going to burn you, pretty girl. I'm going to - "
"Nooooo! Don't touch me!" his lovely victim screamed, squirming nakedly in the cruel grip of the fiend called Tun. "Don't hurt me!"
The dwarf leered evilly. A tic started in one bloodshot eye. Carefully he selected another needle and held it over the flame. Saliva dribbled out from behind his rotting snags.
Black Hood chuckled. "Imagine how she'll look when Ugo's finished with her. No man will want to caress you, signorina. Will you speak? Will you tell us what we want to know?"
The lovely aristocrat fought to suppress the pain screaming through her pampered body, fought to remember that she was the daughter of a duke, a member of the nobility. But her terror and hopelessness were too much for her. "Signore," she sobbed, prepared now to humble herself before her captor, "I swear I do not possess the information you seek."
Black Hood's laugh was pregnant with menace. In disbelief the terrified girl heard hateful acid dripping from his mouth.
The amber light from the lantern bathed the girl's sleeky smooth body it its caressing glow. It fell across her ivory skin, starting at her slim ankles, and swept over to highlight the perfection of her body and face.
She writhed and squinted in an agony of anticipation as the dwarf held the burning needle close. It sent searing torment through her even before it pierced her tender flesh, pain that poured out of her outraged lips in a long, shrill shriek of agony. She collapsed weakly sagging in the merciless grip of the grinning demon who held her.
The nauseating stench of smoldering flesh filled the dim lit cave. The girl gagged with horror. The smell and the unbearable pain plunged her down, down, into black and bottomless oblivion.
But once more she came awake, wishing only for death now, hoping for release. Through the blur of her pain-dimmed vision she saw the dwarf's idiot face like a phantasm in a trick mirror, distorted and hideous, the mouth working in perverted glee.
"Who would have thought you could have withstood such pain!" Black Hood's voice held a flicker of admiration. But we have plenty of time, Signorina, please pay attention!"
His hand knotted in her long golden hair, jerking her lovely head up. Three stinging slaps brought her blue eyes flying open.
"Better," Black Hood purred. "Since our questioning will obviously take longer than I'd thought, perhaps I shall call a halt for the moment and give my faithful servants a chance to appreciate your distinctive charms for themselves. After coarse peasant wenches they'll find you a tasty morsel."
Gazing up through a lock of blonde hair across her forehead the girl could see the abominable dwarf shuffle forward like some grotesque human spider, clawing at his belt as he wetly licked his lips. Black Hood picked up the lantern, held it high. It swayed back and forth, throwing a flickering light.
Now the dwarf's loathsome face descended over the girl's beautiful and anguished features. She writhed, tried to fight him off, but the pain had taken its toll of her young body. In one final instant of agony she screamed the name of the young nobleman to whom she was betrothed, but it came out a wordless syllable. With brutal strength, the demented dwarf assaulted her. As Black Hood and Tun began to shout encouragement, the girl's mind again went mercifully dark.
Torturing and raping young girls to death was just one of the outrages that delighted the diseased mind of the ogre named Gaetano Mammone. The girl in the scene just described was Sanchia Biscelia, the lovely, eighteen-year-old daughter of the Duke of Aorta. Captured by Gaetano's brigands, her fate could accurately be described as worse than death.
Gaetano, born about 1769, began to prey upon travelers in the valleys and mountains of his native Campania when he was little more than a lad. Like most Neopolitans, he married young, but unlike his compatriots, on finding that his wife and child were useless encumbrances, he decided to free himself of family restraint by murdering both of them. The child had annoyed him by its wailings during an illness. The butchering of his teenage wife followed because she had irritated Gaetano's peace with lamentations concerning the infant.
He was an enormous man, with a strength of limb and muscle that caused legends to cling to his name. It was said of him that he could lift a horse with ease, could bend a thick iron bar across his knee. It was also claimed that he seemed to absorb vitality from everyone with whom he came in contact, leaving them exhausted.
This mental and emotional vampirism, particularly where women were concerned, was eclipsed by a more literal and horrible vampirism to be referred to later.
Gaetano suffered from scrofula, the horrible strumous skin disease that causes a grotesque swelling and degeneration of the lymphatic glands. The face erupts in loathsome pussy sores. As a consequence the bandit leader always wore a hood, it being a toss up as to which was more terrifying -the black hood or his ghastly leperous face.
His methods were extraordinarily simple. Operating out of a ruined castle, he would waylay likely travelers, ordering his victim to deliver up their property. If this was not sufficiently valuable, or if the brigand chief had an idea something was being withheld, he would order his gang to inflict unprintable tortures on the wretched victims to get them to disclose the treasure Gaetano thought was being concealed.
Thus, on one occasion, they encountered a wealthy merchant and his pretty pampered daughter, both of whom Gaetano immediately ordered out of their luxurious carriage. When the victims refused, the bandits dragged them out.
"You'll hang for this, blackguard!" the merchant screeched, shaking his puny fist in Gaetano's hooded face. A moment later he regretted his bravado as the brigand calmly ordered his lovely daughter stripped.
''Tear off her clothes, Cesare," he roared at a black-bearded lout who was already studying the luscious redhead with eyes moist with primitive lust.
He smirked, a disgusting string of drool coming from one corner of his twisted lips as he ripped her dress.
The girl panted in fear, she was rich, lovely, pampered and soft. What was happening to her was incomprehensible. She clawed desperately with her exquisitely manicured fingernails. Silk ripped again. The bandit laughed. The girl knew, sick, that he had torn her lingerie to shreds, was even now making ready for the hideous assault, preparing the way by kissing her powdered cheek.
After all the gang had had the girl, both she and her father were put to death in a manner so horrible it staggers the imagination they were slowly roasted over the glowing embers of a cedarwood fire.
No, the hooded bandit was no respector of persons. Having learned that the French ambassador was on his way to the court of King Ferdinand, his gang lay in wait for the diplomat, who at length came into view while the brigands were in close ambush. For some reason which the records do not state, the ambassador was traveling alone with his attractive seventeen-year-old wife, unaccompanied by retinue.
Not only did Gaetano rob the ambassador of his purse and jewelry, but he permitted his men to outrage the teenage wife in ways that defy description before the diplomat's horrified eyes. The Frenchman was then tied to the tail of one of his own nervous horses, and in this manner allowed to depart for Naples.
The ambassador was furious and complained bitterly to the king. Ferdinand sent for his minister and charged him to take "immediate steps for the capture of the brigand." But at this point, diplomacy intervened to save the head of Gaetano Mammone. The minister explained that Gaetano was too valuable an asset to the safety of the throne to be sacrificed to an ambassador's desire for vengeance.
Brigandage in Italy had political origins: peasants, harshly exploited by the aristocracy, had early banded together in sporadic little revolts. Hence, even centuries later, the life of a brigand in Italy was a more agreeable proposition than that of a highwayman in England. The highwayman was a solitary creature, little more than a street thief who had taken to the road. The brigand had the solace of numbers and a certain dreaded prestige.
Frequently he was a member of some semi-political group whose aims were not entirely connected with personal gain. Often he played both camps -the aristocracy and the radicals -one against the other.
The bandits lived in style: they had their campfires and their songs, their orgies with lovely captives and their own fiery women. But seldom were they as rapacious and bloodlusting as Gaetano Mammone.
He was a man without virtues. He knew himself for what he was -a human fiend who laughed at patriotism except when it served his purpose, who reveled in unspeakable cruelty for its own sake, who time and again inflicted horrible outrages on the soft bodies of young girls in order that be might gloat over the agonies of their dying.
In 1799, this monster had rendered certain services to the reigning house that actually gained him the rank of captain in the army. It is an ironical reflection on the ethics of war that he was able to rejoice in his new occupation because it afforded him greater opportunities for plunder, rape and torture. Gaetano was now free to inflict a reign of terror without fear of restraint, and in the years that followed he gratified his perverted cravings in a non-stop orgy of blood.
Blood in its literal sense had become a sort of obsession with this ogre. For some time he had made a practice of drinking blood. He boasted that the taste of it was more delightful than that of the finest wines.
Satan protects his own, or so it seems. Gaetano's health was wonderful. Plagues passed him by, leaving him untouched. He went his bloody way unworried, unconcerned. He bragged at times that he ought to be miserable because of his abnormal crimes, but that, fortunately, he had not been burdened with a conscience. He came to look upon himself as a privileged person, blessed by the Evil One.
As an officer of the king, Gaetano now had an opportunity to win distinction for himself by the use of his strategic gifts, but with the natural preference of a blood-mad monster, he relied upon savagery even when less brutal methods would have served his purpose. He gloried in the knowledge that people became sick with terror at his approach. Some perverted twist in his nature made him crave the sight of pain, and if he had the choice of putting captives to death quickly and mercifully, or protracting their agonies with torture, he always chose the latter.
Sometimes this human fiend organized spectacular horrors that would have delighted Caligula or Ivan the Terrible. Thus, on one occasion when he had captured a number of women and children in one of the interecine wars that raged across the Campania, he drove them all into a large barn. Their hands were then nailed to tables and walls. An hour later the barn was filled with straw soaked in oil, the doors were barred, and the screaming victims burned to death.
Gaetano loved blasphemies and frequently committed hideous sacrilege. After the capture of Altamara, he entered the cathedral and organized a burlesque mass. The Duchess of Altamara, a woman whose beauty was famous throughout Europe, tried to protest the blasphemy.
The monster's reaction was characteristic.
He had the lovely duchess stripped naked before the congregation and chained to the altar. He then encouraged his men - most of whom had not even seen a woman in months - to have their fill of her. Then, with his own hands, he skinned her alive.
But finally this ogre was struck down, and oddly enough the instrument was a beautiful woman. Carla Ludovicia, the courtesan whose excesses and voluptuous skill made her mistress of the king, became furious with Gaetano when he spurned her jaded charms for those of her fourteen-year-old maid-in-waiting.
Instantly she began to plot the bandit's destruction. Eventually, when he was nearly sixty years old, Gaetano was arrested on a trumped up charge and sentenced to death.
The severity of the sentence - boiling to death in a vat of oil - indicates the degree of horror with which decent people viewed his abnormal crimes.
The Neopolitans -ardent, passionate, with fiery Latin temperament -are apt to be more lenient as regards the sins of the flesh than their more northerly brothers. But a butcher and sex pervert like Gaetano, coldly indulging his natural lusts for forbidden delight, is a figure of revulsion to them, incomprehensible in his psychopathic desires.
Sadism is a debasement of sex and a filthy crime of the lowest order. This, the permissive Neopolitan will never forgive.
This, also, is why he will not forget the crimes of the blood-lusting beast known as Gaetano Mammone.