Just the day before, Piachi had buried the unfortunate Elvira, who had died from the effects of a high fever brought on by the episode. Maddened by this double grief, he put the decree in his pocket, went to the house, and, with the strength that rage lent him, threw Nicolo, who was the naturally weaker one, to the floor and dashed his brains out against the wall. The deed was done before the people in the house knew he was there; when they found him, he was holding Nicolo between his knees and stuffing the decree down his throat. After which he got up and surrendered all his arms; he was put in jail, tried, and condemned to be hanged by the neck until dead.
In the Papal States there is a law forbidding a criminal to be executed without his first receiving absolution. Piachi, after he was condemned to death, obstinately refused absolution. After every means that religion offers had been tried without success to make him feel the heinousness of his offense, it was hoped that the sight of the death in store for him might frighten him into a feeling of remorse and he was led out to the gallows. On one side stood a priest who, with the voice of the last trumpet, depicted all the terrors of that hell whither his soul was about to depart; on the other side another, with the Body of Christ, the holy means of atonement, in his hand, extolled to him the abode of eternal peace.
"Do you wish to share in the blessings of redemption?" both demanded. "Do you wish to receive the Holy Communion?"
"No," Piachi answered.
"I don't want to be saved. I want to go down to the lowest pit of hell. I want to find Nicolo again, who won't be in heaven, and take up my revenge again, which I could only satisfy partly here!" And with these words he climbed the ladder and told the hangman to do his duty. In short, they saw nothing for it but to stop the execution and take the unfortunate man, whom the law protected, back to prison. On three successive days the same attempt was made, and always with the same result. When, on the third day, he again had to come down the ladder without being hanged, he raised his hands up in a fierce gesture and cursed the inhuman law that kept him from going to hell. He summoned all the host of devils to come and fetch him, swore his only wish was to be executed and damned, and promised he would take the first priest that came along by the throat just so he could lay his hands on Nicolo again in hell!
When this was reported to the Pope, he gave orders for him to be executed without absolution; unaccompanied by any priest, he was hanged, very quietly, in the Piazza del Popolo.
[ 'The foundling'
Heinrich von Kleist ]