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The Strolling Saint
Rafael Sabatini


Being the Confessions of the High & Mighty Agostino D'Anguissola
Tyrant of Mondolfo & Lord of Carmina, in the State of Piacenza




CONTENTS



BOOK ONE

THE OBLATE


CHAPTER

    I.  NOMEN ET OMEN
   II.  GINO FALCONE
  III.  THE PIETISTIC THRALL
   IV.  LUISINA
    V.  REBELLION
   VI.  FRA GERVASIO



BOOK TWO

GIULIANA


    I.  THE HOUSE OF ASTORRE FIFANTI
   II.  HUMANITIES
  III.  PREUX-CHEVALIER
   IV.  MY LORD GAMBARA CLEARS THE GROUND
    V.  PABULUM ACHERONTIS
   VI.  THE IRON GIRDLE



BOOK THREE

THE WILDERNESS


    I.  THE HOME-COMING
   II.  THE CAPTAIN OF JUSTICE
  III.  GAMBARA'S INTERESTS
   IV.  THE ANCHORITE OF MONTE ORSARO
    V.  THE RENUNCIATION
   VI.  HYPNEROTOMACHIA
  VII.  INTRUDERS
 VIII.  THE VISION
   IX.  THE ICONOCLAST



BOOK FOUR

THE WORLD


    I.  PAGLIANO
   II.  THE GOVERNOR OF MILAN
  III.  PIER LUIGI FARNESE
   IV.  MADONNA BIANCA
    V.  THE WARNING
   VI.  THE TALONS OF THE HOLY OFFICE
  VII.  THE PAPAL BULL
 VIII.  THE THIRD DEGREE
   IX.  THE RETURN
    X.  THE NUPTIALS OF BIANCA
   XI.  THE PENANCE
  XII.  BLOOD
 XIII.  THE OVERTHROW
  XIV.  THE CITATION
   XV.  THE WILL OF HEAVEN


* * * * *


BOOK ONE

THE OBLATE



CHAPTER I

NOMEN ET OMEN


In seeking other than in myself--as men will--the causes of my
tribulations, I have often inclined to lay the blame of much of the ill
that befell me, and the ill that in my sinful life I did to others, upon
those who held my mother at the baptismal font and concerted that she
should bear the name of Monica.

There are in life many things which, in themselves, seeming to the vulgar
and the heedless to be trivial and without consequence, may yet be causes
pregnant of terrible effects, mainsprings of Destiny itself.  Amid such
portentous trifles I would number the names so heedlessly bestowed upon us.

It surprises me that in none of the philosophic writings of the learned
scholars of antiquity can I find that this matter of names has been touched
upon, much less given the importance of which I account it to be deserving.

Possibly it is because no one of them ever suffered, as I have suffered,
from the consequences of a name.  Had it but been so, they might in their
weighty and impressive manner have set down a lesson on the subject, and so
relieved me--who am all-conscious of my shortcomings in this direction-
from the necessity of repairing that omission out of my own experience.

Let it then, even at this late hour, be considered what a subtle influence
for good or ill, what a very mould of character may lie within a name.

To the dull clod of earth, perhaps, or, again, to the truly strong-minded
nature that is beyond such influences, it can matter little that he be
called Alexander or Achilles; and once there was a man named Judas who fell
so far short of the noble associations of that name that he has changed for
all time the very sound and meaning of it.

But to him who has been endowed with imagination--that greatest boon and
greatest affliction of mankind--or whose nature is such as to crave for
models, the name he bears may become a thing portentous by the images it
conjures up of some mighty dead who bore it erstwhile and whose life
inspires to emulation.

Whatever may be accounted the general value of this premiss, at least as it
concerns my mother I shall hope to prove it apt.

They named her Monica.  Why the name was chosen I have never learnt; but I
do not conceive that there was any reason for the choice other than the
taste of her parents in the matter of sounds.  It is a pleasing enough
name, euphoniously considered, and beyond that--as is so commonly the
case--no considerations were taken into account.

To her, however, at once imaginative and of a feeble and dependent spirit,
the name was fateful.  St. Monica was made the special object of her
devotions in girlhood, and remained so later when she became a wife.  The
Life of St. Monica was the most soiled and fingered portion of an old
manuscript collection of the life histories of a score or so of saints that
was one of her dearest possessions.  To render herself worthy of the name
she bore, to model her life upon that of the sainted woman who had sorrowed
and rejoiced so much in her famous offspring, became the obsession of my
mother's soul.  And but that St. Monica had wed and borne a son, I do not
believe that my mother would ever have adventured herself within the bonds
of wedlock.

How often in the stressful, stormy hours of my most unhappy youth did I not
wish that she had preferred the virginal life of the cloister, and thus
spared me the heavy burden of an existence which her unholy and mistaken
saintliness went so near to laying waste!

I like to think that in the days when my father wooed her, she forgot for a
spell in the strong arms of that fierce ghibelline the pattern upon which
it had become her wont to weave her life; so that in all that drab,
sackcloth tissue there was embroidered at least one warm and brilliant
little wedge of colour; so that in all that desert waste, in all that
parched aridity of her existence, there was at least one little patch of
garden-land, fragrant, fruitful, and cool.

I like to think it, for at best such a spell must have been brief indeed;
and for that I pity her--I, who once blamed her so very bitterly.  Before
ever I was born it must have ceased; whilst still she bore me she put from
her lips the cup that holds the warm and potent wine of life, and turned
her once more to her fasting, her contemplations, and her prayers.

That was in the year in which the battle of Pavia was fought and won by the
Emperor.  My father, who had raised a condotta to lend a hand in the
expulsion of the French, was left for dead upon that glorious field.
Afterwards he was found still living, but upon the very edge and border of
Eternity; and when the news of it was borne to my mother I have little
doubt but that she imagined it to be a visitation--a punishment upon her
for having strayed for that brief season of her adolescence from the narrow
flinty path that she had erst claimed to tread in the footsteps of Holy
Monica.

How much the love of my father may still have swayed her I do not know.
But to me it seems that in what next she did there was more of duty, more
of penitence, more of reparation for the sin of having been a woman as God
made her, than of love.  Indeed, I almost know this to be so.  In delicate
health as she was, she bade her people prepare a litter for her, and so she
had herself carried into Piacenza, to the Church of St. Augustine.  There,
having confessed and received the Sacrament, upon her knees before a minor
altar consecrated to St. Monica, she made solemn vow that if my father's
life was spared she would devote the unborn child she carried to the
service of God and Holy Church.

Two months thereafter word was brought her that my father, his recovery by
now well-nigh complete, was making his way home.

On the morrow was I born--a votive offering, an oblate, ere yet I had drawn
the breath of life.

It has oft diverted me to conjecture what would have chanced had I been
born a girl--since that could have afforded her no proper parallel.  In the
circumstance that I was a boy, I have no faintest doubt but that she saw a
Sign, for she was given to seeing signs in the slightest and most natural
happenings.  It was as it should be; it was as it had been with the Sainted
Monica in whose ways she strove, poor thing, to walk.  Monica had borne a
son, and he had been named Augustine.  It was very well.  My name, too,
should be Augustine, that I might walk in the ways of that other Augustine,
that great theologian whose mother's name was Monica.

And even as the influence of her name had been my mother's guide, so was
the influence of my name to exert its sway upon me.  It was made to do so.
Ere I could read for myself, the life of that great saint--with such
castrations as my tender years demanded--was told me and repeated until I
knew by heart its every incident and act.  Anon his writings were my
school-books.  His De Civitate Dei and De Vita Beata were the paps at which
I suckled my earliest mental nourishment.

And even to-day, after all the tragedy and sin and turbulence of my life,
that was intended to have been so different, it is from his Confessions
that I have gathered inspiration to set down my own--although betwixt the
two you may discern little indeed that is comparable.

I was prenatally made a votive offering for the preservation of my father's
life, for his restoration to my mother safe and sound.  That restoration
she had, as you have seen; and yet, had she been other than she was, she
must have accounted herself cheated of her bargain in the end.  For betwixt
my father and my mother I became from my earliest years a subject of
contentions that drove them far asunder and set them almost in enmity the
one against the other.

I was his only son, heir to the noble lordships of Mondolfo and Carmina.
Was it likely, then, that he should sacrifice me willingly to the seclusion
of the cloister, whilst our lordship passed into the hands of our renegade,
guelphic cousin, Cosimo d'Anguissola of Codogno?

I can picture his outbursts at the very thought of it; I can hear him
reasoning, upbraiding, storming.  But he was as an ocean of energy hurling
himself against the impassive rock of my mother's pietistic obstinacy.
She had vowed me to the service of Holy Church, and she would suffer
tribulation and death so that her vow should be fulfilled.  And hers was a
manner against which that strong man, my father, never could prevail.
She would stand before him white-faced and mute, never presuming to return
an answer to his pleading or to enter into argument.

"I have vowed," she would say, just once; and thereafter, avoiding his
fiery glance, she would bow her head meekly, fold her hands, the very
incarnation of long-suffering and martyrdom.

Anon, as the storm of his anger crashed about her, two glistening lines
would appear upon her pallid face, and her tears--horrid, silent weeping
that brought no trace of emotion to her countenance--showered down.  At
that he would fling out of her presence and away, cursing the day in which
he had mated with a fool.

His hatred of these moods of hers, of the vow she had made which bade fair
to deprive him of his son, drove him ere long to hatred of the cause of it
all.  A ghibelline by inheritance, he was not long in becoming an utter
infidel, at war with Rome and the Pontifical sway.  Nor was he one to
content himself with passive enmity.  He must be up and doing, seeking the
destruction of the thing he hated.  And so it befell that upon the death of
Pope Clement (the second Medici Pontiff), profiting by the weak condition
from which the papal army had not yet recovered since the Emperor's
invasion and the sack of Rome, my father raised an army and attempted to
shatter the ancient yoke which Julius II had imposed upon Parma and
Piacenza when he took them from the State of Milan.

A little lad of seven was I at the time, and well do I remember the martial
stir and bustle there was about our citadel of Mondolfo, the armed
multitudes that thronged the fortress that was our home, or drilled and
manoeuvred upon the green plains beyond the river.

I was all wonder-stricken and fascinated by the sight.  My blood was
quickened by the brazen notes of their trumpets, and to balance a pike in
my hands was to procure me the oddest and most exquisite thrills that I had
known.  But my mother, perceiving with alarm the delight afforded me by
such warlike matters, withdrew me so that I might see as little as possible
of it all.

And there followed scenes between her and my father of which hazy
impressions linger in my memory.  No longer was she a mute statue, enduring
with fearful stoicism his harsh upbraidings.  She was turned into a
suppliant, now fierce, now lachrymose; by her prayers, by her prophecies of
the evil that must attend his ungodly aims, she strove with all her poor,
feeble might to turn him from the path of revolt to which he had set his
foot.

And he would listen now in silence, his face grim and sardonic; and when
from very weariness the flow of her inspired oratory began to falter, he
would deliver ever the same answer.

"It is you who have driven me to this; and this is no more than a
beginning.  You have made a vow--an outrageous votive offering of something
that is not yours to bestow.  That vow you cannot break, you say.  Be it
so.  But I must seek a remedy elsewhere.  To save my son from the Church to
which you would doom him, I will, ere I have done, tear down the Church and
make an end of it in Italy."

And at that she would shrivel up before him with a little moan of horror,
taking her poor white face in her hands.

"Blasphemer!" she would cry in mingled terror and aversion, and upon that
word--the "Amen" to all their conferences in those last days they spent
together--she would turn, and dragging me with her, all stunned and
bewildered by something beyond my understanding, she would hurry me to the
chapel of the citadel, and there, before the high altar, prostrate herself
and spend long hours in awful sobbing intercessions.

And so the gulf between them widened until the day of his departure.

I was not present at their parting.  What farewells may have been spoken
between them, what premonitions may have troubled one or the other that
they were destined never to meet again, I do not know.

I remember being rudely awakened one dark morning early in the year, and
lifted from my bed by arms to whose clasp I never failed to thrill.  Close
to mine was pressed a hot, dark, shaven hawk-face; a pair of great eyes,
humid with tears, considered me passionately.  Then a ringing voice--that
commanding voice that was my father's--spoke to Falcone, the man-at-arms
who attended him and who ever acted as his equerry.

"Shall we take him with us to the wars, Falcone?"

My little arms went round his neck and tightened there convulsively until
the steel rim of his gorget bit into them.

"Take me!" I sobbed.  "Take me!"

He laughed for answer, with something of exultation in his voice.  He swung
me to his shoulder, and held me poised there, looking up at me.  And then
he laughed again.

"Dost hear the whelp?" he cried to Falcone.  "Still with his milk-teeth in
his head, and already does he yelp for battle!"

Then he looked up at me again, and swore one of his great oaths.

"I can trust you, son of mine," he laughed.  "They'll never make a
shaveling of you.  When your thews are grown it will not be on thuribles
they'll spend their strength, or I'm a liar else.  Be patient yet awhile,
and we shall ride together, never doubt it."

With that he pulled me down again to kiss me, and he clasped me to his
breast so that the studs of his armour remained stamped upon my tender
flesh after he had departed.

The next instant he was gone, and I lay weeping, a very lonely little
child.

But in the revolt that he led he had not reckoned upon the might and vigour
of the new Farnese Pontiff.  He had conceived, perhaps, that one pope must
be as supine as another, and that Paul III would prove no more redoubtable
than Clement VIII.  To his bitter cost did he discover his mistake.  Beyond
the Po he was surprised by the Pontifical army under Ferrante Orsini, and
there his force was cut to pieces.

My father himself escaped and with him some other gentlemen of Piacenza,
notably one of the scions of the great house of Pallavicini, who took a
wound in the leg which left him lame for life, so that ever after he was
known as Pallavicini il Zopo.

They were all under the pope's ban, outlaws with a price upon the head of
each, hunted and harried from State to State by the papal emissaries, so
that my father never more dared set foot in Mondolfo, or, indeed, within
the State of Piacenza, which had been rudely punished for the
insubordination it had permitted to be reared upon its soil.

And Mondolfo went near to suffering confiscation.  Assuredly it would have
suffered it but for the influence exerted on my mother's and my own behalf
by her brother, the powerful Cardinal of San Paulo in Carcere, seconded by
that guelphic cousin of my father's, Cosimo d'Anguissola, who, after me,
was heir to Mondolfo, and had, therefore, good reason not to see it
confiscated to the Holy See.

Thus it fell out that we were left in peace and not made to suffer from my
father's rebellion.  For that, he himself should suffer when taken.  But
taken he never was.  From time to time we had news of him.  Now he was in
Venice, now in Milan, now in Naples; but never long in any place for his
safety's sake.  And then one night, six years later, a scarred and grizzled
veteran, coming none knew whence, dropped from exhaustion in the courtyard
of our citadel, whither he had struggled.  Some went to minister to him,
and amongst these there was a groom who recognized him.

"It is Messer Falcone!" he cried, and ran to bear the news to my mother,
with whom I was at table at the time.  With us, too, was Fra Gervasio, our
chaplain.

It was grim news that old Falcone brought us.  He had never quitted my
father in those six weary years of wandering until now that my father was
beyond the need of his or any other's service.

There had been a rising and a bloody battle at Perugia, Falcone informed
us.  An attempt had been made to overthrow the rule there of Pier Luigi
Farnese, Duke of Castro, the pope's own abominable son.  For some months my
father had been enjoying the shelter of the Perugians, and he had repaid
their hospitality by joining them and bearing arms with them in the
ill-starred blow they struck for liberty.  They had been crushed in the
encounter by the troops of Pier Luigi, and my father had been among the
slain.

And well was it for him that he came by so fine and merciful an end,
thought I, when I had heard the tale of horrors that had been undergone by
the unfortunates who had fallen into the hands of Farnese.

My mother heard him to the end without any sign of emotion.  She sat there,
cold and impassive as a thing of marble, what time Fra Gervasio--who was my
father's foster-brother, as you shall presently learn more fully--sank his
head upon his arm and wept like a child to hear the piteous tale of it.
And whether from force of example, whether from the memories that came to
me so poignantly in that moment of a fine strong man with a brown, shaven
face and a jovial, mighty voice, who had promised me that one day we should
ride together, I fell a-weeping too.

When the tale was done, my mother coldly gave orders that Falcone be cared
for, and went to pray, taking me with her.

Oftentimes since have I wondered what was the tenour of her prayers that
night.  Were they for the rest of the great turbulent soul that was gone
forth in sin, in arms against the Holy Church, excommunicate and foredoomed
to Hell?  Or were they of thanksgiving that at last she was completely
mistress of my destinies, her mind at rest, since no longer need she fear
opposition to her wishes concerning me?  I do not know, nor will I do her
the possible injustice that I should were I to guess.




CHAPTER II

GINO FALCONE


When I think of my mother now I do not see her as she appeared in any of
the scenes that already I have set down.  There is one picture of her that
is burnt as with an acid upon my memory, a picture which the mere mention
of her name, the mere thought of her, never fails to evoke like a ghost
before me.  I see her always as she appeared one evening when she came
suddenly and without warning upon Falcone and me in the armoury of the
citadel.

I see her again, a tall, slight, graceful woman, her oval face of the
translucent pallor of wax, framed in a nun-like coif, over which was thrown
a long black veil that fell to her waist and there joined the black
unrelieved draperies that she always wore.  This sable garb was no mere
mourning for my father.  His death had made as little change in her apparel
as in her general life.  It had been ever thus as far as my memory can
travel; always had her raiment been the same, those trailing funereal
draperies.  Again I see them, and that pallid face with its sunken eyes,
around which there were great brown patches that seemed to intensify the
depth at which they were set and the sombre lustre of them on the rare
occasions when she raised them; those slim, wax-like hands, with a chaplet
of beads entwined about the left wrist and hanging thence to a silver
crucifix at the end.

She moved almost silently, as a ghost; and where she passed she seemed to
leave a trail of sorrow and sadness in her wake, just as a worldly woman
leaves a trail of perfume.

Thus looked she when she came upon us there that evening, and thus will she
live for ever in my memory, for that was the first time that I knew
rebellion against the yoke she was imposing upon me; the first time that
our wills clashed, hers and mine; and as a consequence, maybe, was it the
first time that I considered her with purpose and defined her to myself.

The thing befell some three months after the coming of Falcone to Mondolfo.

That the old man-at-arms should have exerted a strong attraction upon my
young mind, you will readily understand.  His intimate connection with that
dimly remembered father, who stood secretly in my imagination in the
position that my mother would have had St. Augustine occupy, drew me to his
equerry like metal to a lodestone.

And this attraction was reciprocal.  Of his own accord old Falcone sought
me out, lingering in my neighbourhood at first like a dog that looks for a
kindly word.  He had not long to wait.  Daily we had our meetings and our
talks and daily did these grow in length; and they were stolen hours of
which I said no word to my mother, nor did others for a season, so that all
was well.

Our talks were naturally of my father, and it was through Falcone that I
came to know something of the greatness of that noble-souled, valiant
gentleman, whom the old servant painted for me as one who combined with the
courage of the lion the wiliness of the fox.

He discoursed of their feats of arms together, he described charges of
horse that set my nerves a-tingle as in fancy I heard the blare of trumpets
and the deafening thunder of hooves upon the turf.  Of escalades, of
surprises, of breaches stormed, of camisades and ambushes, of dark
treacheries and great heroisms did he descant to fire my youthful fancy, to
fill me first with delight, and then with frenzy when I came to think that
in all these things my life must have no part, that for me another road was
set--a grey, gloomy road at the end of which was dangled a reward which did
not greatly interest me.

And then one day from fighting as an endeavour, as a pitting of force
against force and astuteness against astuteness, he came to talk of
fighting as an art.

It was from old Falcone that first I heard of Marozzo, that miracle-worker
in weapons, that master at whose academy in Bologna the craft of
swordsmanship was to be acquired, so that from fighting with his irons as a
beast with its claws, by sheer brute strength and brute instinct, man might
by practised skill and knowledge gain advantages against which mere
strength must spend itself in vain.

What he told me amazed me beyond anything that I had ever heard, even from
himself, and what he told me he illustrated, flinging himself into the
poises taught by Marozzo that I might appreciate the marvellous science of
the thing.

Thus was it that for the first time I made the acquaintance--an
acquaintance held by few men in those days--of those marvellous guards of
Marozzo's devising; Falcone showed me the difference between the mandritto
and the roverso, the false edge and the true, the stramazone and the tondo;
and he left me spellbound by that marvellous guard appropriately called by
Marozzo the iron girdle--a low guard on the level of the waist, which on
the very parry gives an opening for the point, so that in one movement you
may ward and strike.

At last, when I questioned him, he admitted that during their wanderings,
my father, with that recklessness that alternated curiously with his
caution, had ventured into the city of Bologna notwithstanding that it was
a Papal fief, for the sole purpose of studying with Marozzo that Falcone
himself had daily accompanied him, witnessed the lessons, and afterwards
practised with my father, so that he had come to learn most of the secrets
that Marozzo taught.

One day, at last, very timidly, like one who, whilst overconscious of his
utter unworthiness, ventures to crave a boon which he knows himself without
the right to expect, I asked Falcone would he show me something of
Marozzo's art with real weapons.

I had feared a rebuff.  I had thought that even old Falcone might laugh at
one predestined to the study of theology, desiring to enter into the
mysteries of sword-craft.  But my fears were far indeed from having a
foundation.  There was no laughter in the equerry's grey eyes, whilst the
smile upon his lips was a smile of gladness, of eagerness, almost of
thankfulness to see me so set.

And so it came to pass that daily thereafter did we practise for an hour or
so in the armoury with sword and buckler, and with every lesson my
proficiency with the iron grew in a manner that Falcone termed prodigious,
swearing that I was born to the sword, that the knack of it was in the very
blood of me.

It may be that affection for me caused him to overrate the progress that I
made and the aptitude I showed; it may even be that what he said was no
more than the good-natured flattery of one who loved me and would have me
take pleasure in myself.  And yet when I look back at the lad I was, I
incline to think that he spoke no more than sober truth.

I have alluded to the curious, almost inexplicable delight it afforded me
to feel in my hands the balance of a pike for the first time.  Fain would I
tell you something of all that I felt when first my fingers closed about a
sword-hilt, the forefinger passed over the quillons in the new manner, as
Falcone showed me.  But it defies all power of words.  The sweet seduction
of its balance, the white gleaming beauty of the blade, were things that
thrilled me with something akin to the thrill of the first kiss of passion.
It was not quite the same, I know; yet I can think of nothing else in life
that is worthy of being compared with it.

I was at the time a lad in my thirteenth year, but I was well-grown and
strong beyond my age, despite the fact that my mother had restrained me
from all those exercises of horsemanship, of arms, and of wrestling by
which boys of my years attain development.  I stood almost as tall then as
Falcone himself--who was accounted of a good height--and if my reach fell
something short of his, I made up for this by the youthful quickness of my
movements; so that soon--unless out of good nature he refrained from
exerting his full vigour--I found myself Falcone's match.

Fra Gervasio, who was then my tutor, and with whom my mornings were spent
in perfecting my Latin and giving me the rudiments of Greek, soon had his
suspicions of where the hour of the siesta was spent by me with old
Falcone.  But the good, saintly man held his peace, a matter which at that
time intrigued me.  Others there were, however, who thought well to bear
the tale of our doings to my mother, and thus it happened that she came
upon us that day in the armoury, each of us in shirt and breeches at
sword-and-target play.

We fell apart upon her entrance, each with a guilty feeling, like children
caught in a forbidden orchard, for all that Falcone held himself proudly
erect, his grizzled head thrown back, his eyes cold and hard.

A long while it seemed ere she spoke, and once or twice I shot her a
furtive comprehensive glance, and saw her as I shall ever see her to my
dying day.

Her eyes were upon me.  I do not believe that she gave Falcone a single
thought at first.  It was at me only that she looked, and with such a
sorrow in her glance to see me so vigorous and lusty, as surely could not
have been fetched there by the sight of my corpse itself.  Her lips moved
awhile in silence; and whether she was at her everlasting prayers, or
whether she was endeavouring to speak but could not for emotion, I do not
know.  At last her voice came, laden with a chill reproach.

"Agostino!" she said, and waited as if for some answer from me.

It was in that instant that rebellion stirred in me.  Her coming had turned
me cold, for all that my body was overheated from the exercise and I was
sweating furiously.  Now, at the sound of her voice, something of the
injustice that oppressed me, something of the unreasoning bigotry that
chained and fettered me, stood clear before my mental vision for the first
time.  It warmed me again with the warmth of sullen indignation.  I
returned her no answer beyond a curtly respectful invitation that she
should speak her mind, couched--as had been her reproof--in a single word
of address.

"Madonna?" I challenged, and emulating something of old Falcone's attitude,
I drew myself erect, flung back my head, and brought my eyes to the level
of her own by an effort of will such as I had never yet exerted.

It was, I think, the bravest thing I ever did.  I felt, in doing it, as one
feels who has nerved himself to enter fire.  And when the thing was done,
the ease of it surprised me.  There followed no catastrophe such as I
expected.  Before my glance, grown suddenly so very bold, her own eyes
drooped and fell away as was her habit.  She spoke thereafter without
looking at me, in that cold, emotionless voice that was peculiar to her
always, the voice of one in whom the founts of all that is sweet and
tolerant and tender in life are for ever frozen.

"What are you doing with weapons, Agostino?" she asked me.

"As you see, madam mother, I am at practice," I answered, and out of the
corner of my eye I caught the grim approving twitch of old Falcone's lips.

"At practice?" she echoed, dully as one who does not understand.  Then very
slowly she shook her sorrowful head.  "Men practise what they must one day
perform, Agostino.  To your books, then, and leave swords for bloody men,
nor ever let me see you again with weapons in your hands if you respect
me."

"Had you not come hither, madam mother, you had been spared the sight
to-day," I answered with some lingering spark of my rebellious fire still
smouldering.

"It was God's will that I should come to set a term to such vanities before
they take too strong a hold upon you," answered she.  "Lay down those
weapons."

Had she been angry, I think I could have withstood her.  Anger in her at
such a time must have been as steel upon the flint of my own nature.  But
against that incarnation of sorrow and sadness, my purpose, my strength of
character were turned to water.  By similar means had she ever prevailed
with my poor father.  And I had, too, the habit of obedience which is not
so lightly broken as I had at first accounted possible.

Sullenly then I set down my sword upon a bench that stood against the wall,
and my target with it.  As I turned aside to do so, her gloomy eyes were
poised for an instant upon Falcone, who stood grim and silent.  Then they
were lowered again ere she began to address him.

"You have done very ill, Falcone," said she.  "You have abused my trust in
you, and you have sought to pervert my son and to lead him into ways of
evil."

He started under that reproof like a fiery stallion under the spur.  His
face flushed scarlet.  The habit of obedience may have been strong in
Falcone too; but it was obedience to men; with women he had never had much
to do, old warrior though he was.  Moreover, in this he felt that an
affront had been put upon the memory of Giovanni d'Anguissola, who was my
father and who went nigh to being Falcone's god.  And this his answer
plainly showed.

"The ways into which I lead your son, Madonna," said he in a low voice that
boomed up and echoed in the groined ceiling overhead, "are the ways that
were trod by my lord his father.  And who says that the ways of Giovanni
d'Anguissola were evil ways lies foully, be he man or woman, patrician or
villein, pope or devil."  And upon that he paused magnificently, his eyes
aflash.

She shuddered under his rough speech.  Then answered without looking up,
and with no trace of anger in her voice:

"You are restored to health and strength by now, Messer Falcone.  The
seneschal shall have orders to pay you ten gold ducats in discharge of all
that may be still your due from us.  See that by night you have left
Mondolfo."

And then, without changing her deadly inflection, or even making a
noticeable pause, "Come, Agostino," she commanded.

But I did not move.  Her words had fixed me there with horror.  I heard
from Falcone a sound that was between a growl and a sob.  I dared not look
at him, but the eye of my fancy saw him standing rigid, pale, and
self-contained.

What would he do, what would he say?  Oh, she had done a cruel, a bitterly
cruel wrong.  This poor old warrior, all scarred and patched from wounds
that he had taken in my father's service, to be turned away in his old age,
as we should not have turned away a dog!  It was a monstrous thing.
Mondolfo was his home.  The Anguissola were his family, and their honour
was his honour, since as a villein he had no honour of his own.  To cast
him out thus!

All this flashed through my anguished mind in one brief throb of time, as I
waited, marvelling what he would do, what say, in answer to that dismissal.

He would not plead, or else I did not know him; and I was sure of that,
without knowing what else there was that must make it impossible for old
Falcone to stoop to ask a favour of my mother.

Awhile he just stood there, his wits overthrown by sheer surprise.  And
then, when at last he moved, the thing he did was the last thing that I had
looked for.  Not to her did he turn; not to her, but to me, and he dropped
on one knee before me.

"My lord!" he cried, and before he added another word I knew already what
else he was about to say.  For never yet had I been so addressed in my
lordship of Mondolfo.  To all there I was just the Madonnino.  But to
Falcone, in that supreme hour of his need, I was become his lord.

"My lord," he said, then.  "Is it your wish that I should go?"

I drew back, still wrought upon by my surprise; and then my mother's voice
came cold and acid.

"The Madonnino's wish is not concerned in this, Mester Falcone.  It is I
who order your departure."

Falcone did not answer her; he affected not to hear her, and continued to
address himself to me.

"You are the master here, my lord," he urged.  "You are the law in
Mondolfo.  You carry life and death in your right hand, and against your
will no man or woman in your lordship can prevail."

He spoke the truth, a mighty truth which had stood like a mountain before
me all these months, yet which I had not seen.

"I shall go or remain as you decree, my lord," he added; and then, almost
in a snarl of defiance, "I obey none other," he concluded, "nor pope nor
devil."

"Agostino, I am waiting for you," came my mother's voice from the doorway

Something had me by the throat.  It was Temptation, and old Falcone was the
tempter.  More than that was he--though how much more I did not dream, nor
with what authority he acted there.  He was the Mentor who showed me the
road to freedom and to manhood; he showed me how at a blow I might shiver
the chains that held me, and shake them from me like the cobwebs that they
were.  He tested me, too; tried my courage and my will; and to my undoing
was it that he found me wanting in that hour.  My regrets for him went near
to giving me the resolution that I lacked.  Yet even these fell short.

I would to God I had given heed to him.  I would to God I had flung back my
head and told my mother--as he prompted me--that I was lord of Mondolfo,
and that Falcone must remain since I so willed it.

I strove to do so out of my love for him rather than out of any such fine
spirit as he sought to inspire in me.  Had I succeeded I had established my
dominion, I had become arbiter of my fate; and how much of misery, of
anguish, and of sin might I not thereafter have been spared!

The hour was crucial, though I knew it not.  I stood at a parting of ways;
yet for lack of courage I hesitated to take the road to which so invitingly
he beckoned me.

And then, before I could make any answer such as I desired, such as I
strove to make, my mother spoke again, and by her tone, which had grown
faltering and tearful--as was her wont in the old days when she ruled my
father--she riveted anew the fetters I was endeavouring with all the
strength of my poor young soul to snap.

"Tell him, Agostino, that your will is as your mother's.  Tell him so and
come.  I am waiting for you."

I stifled a groan, and let my arms fall limply to my sides.  I was a
weakling and contemptible.  I realized it.  And yet to-day when I look back
I see how vast a strength I should have needed.  I was but thirteen and of
a spirit that had been cowed by her, and was held under her thrall.

I...I am sorry, Falcone," I faltered, and there were tears in my eyes.

I shrugged again--shrugged in token of my despair and grief and impotence--
and I moved down the long room towards the door where my mother waited.

I did not dare to bestow another look upon that poor broken old warrior,
that faithful, lifelong servant, turned thus cruelly upon the world by a
woman whom bigotry had sapped of all human feelings and a boy who was a
coward masquerading under a great name.

I heard his gasping sob, and the sound smote upon my heart and hurt me as
if it had been iron.  I had failed him.  He must suffer more in the
knowledge of my unworthiness to be called the son of that master whom he
had worshipped than in the destitution that might await him.

I reached the door.

"My lord! My lord!" he cried after me despairingly.  On the very threshold
I stood arrested by that heartbroken cry of his.  I half turned.

"Falcone..." I began.

And then my mother's white hand fell upon my wrist.

"Come, my son," she said, once more impassive.

Nervelessly I obeyed her, and as I passed out I heard Falcone's voice
crying:

"My lord, my lord!  God help me, and God help you!"  An hour later he had
left the citadel, and on the stones of the courtyard lay ten golden ducats
which he had scattered there, and which not one of the greedy grooms or
serving-men could take courage to pick up, so fearful a curse had old
Falcone laid upon that money when he cast it from him.




CHAPTER III

THE PIETISTIC THRALL


That evening my mother talked to me at longer length than I remember her
ever to have done before.

It may be that she feared lest Gino Falcone should have aroused in me
notions which it was best to lull back at once into slumber.  It may be
that she, too, had felt something of the crucial quality of that moment in
the armoury, just as she must have perceived my first hesitation to obey
her slightest word, whence came her resolve to check this mutiny ere it
should spread and become too big for her.

We sat in the room that was called her private dining­room, but which, in
fact, was all things to her save the chamber in which she slept.

The fine apartments through which I had strayed as a little lad in my
father's day, the handsome lofty chambers, with their frescoed ceilings,
their walls hung with costly tapestries, many of which had come from the
looms of Flanders, their floors of wood mosaics, and their great carved
movables, had been shut up these many years.

For my mother's claustral needs sufficient was provided by the alcove in
which she slept, the private chapel of the citadel in which she would spend
long hours, and this private dining-room where we now sat.  Into the
spacious gardens of the castle she would seldom wander, into our town of
Mondolfo never.  Not since my father's departure upon his ill-starred
rebellion had she set foot across the drawbridge.

"Tell me whom you go with, and I will tell you what you are," says the
proverb.  "Show me your dwelling, and I shall see your character," say I.

And surely never was there a chamber so permeated by the nature of its
tenant as that private dining-room of my mother's.

It was a narrow room in the shape of a small parallelogram, with the
windows set high up near the timbered, whitewashed ceiling, so that it was
impossible either to look in or to look out, as is sometimes the case with
the windows of a chapel.

On the white space of wall that faced the door hung a great wooden
Crucifix, very rudely carved by one who either knew nothing of anatomy, or
else--as is more probable--was utterly unable to set down his knowledge
upon timber.  The crudely tinted figure would be perhaps half the natural
size of a man; and it was the most repulsive and hideous representation of
the Tragedy of Golgotha that I have ever seen.  It filled one with a horror
which was far indeed removed from the pious horror which that Symbol is
intended to arouse in every true believer.  It emphasized all the ghastly
ugliness of death upon that most barbarous of gallows, without any
suggestion of the beauty and immensity of the Divine Martyrdom of Him Who
in the likeness of the sinful flesh was Alone without sin.

And to me the ghastliest and most pitiful thing of all was an artifice
which its maker had introduced for the purpose of conveying some suggestion
of the supernatural to that mangled, malformed, less than human
representation.  Into the place of the wound made by the spear of Longinus,
he had introduced a strip of crystal which caught the light at certain
angles--more particularly when there were lighted tapers in the room--so
that in reflecting this it seemed to shed forth luminous rays.

An odd thing was that my mother--who looked upon that Crucifix with eyes
that were very different from mine--would be at pains in the evening when
lights were fetched to set a taper at such an angle as was best calculated
to produce the effect upon which the sculptor had counted.  What
satisfaction it can have been to her to see reflected from that glazed
wound the light which she herself had provided for the purpose, I am lost
to think.  And yet I am assured that she would contemplate that shining
effluence in a sort of ecstatic awe, accounting it something very near akin
to miracle.

Under this Crucifix hung a little alabaster font of holy­water, into the
back of which was stuck a withered, yellow branch of palm, which was
renewed on each Palm Sunday.  Before it was set a praying-stool of plain
oak, without any cushion to mitigate its harshness to the knees.

In the corner of the room stood a tall, spare, square cupboard, capacious
but very plain, in which the necessaries of the table were disposed.  In
the opposite corner there was another smaller cupboard with a sort of
writing­pulpit beneath.  Here my mother kept the accounts of her household,
her books of recipes, her homely medicines and the heavy devotional tomes
and lesser volumes--mostly manuscript--out of which she nourished her poor
starving soul.

Amongst these was the Treatise of the Mental Sufferings of Christ--the book
of the Blessed Battista of Varano, Princess of Camerino, who founded the
convent of Poor Clares in that city--a book whose almost blasphemous
presumption fired the train of my earliest misgivings.

Another was The Spiritual Combat, that queer yet able book of the cleric
Scupoli--described as the "aureo libro," dedicated "Al Supremo Capitano e
Gloriosissimo Trionfatore, Gesu Cristo, Figliuolo di Maria," and this
dedication in the form of a letter to Our Saviour, signed, "Your most
humble servant, purchased with Your Blood."1

1 This work, which achieved a great vogue and of which several editions
were issued down to 1750, was first printed in 1589.  Clearly, however, MS.
copies were in existence earlier, and it is to one of these that Agostino
here refers.


Down the middle of the chamber ran a long square­ended table of oak, very
plain like all the rest of the room's scant furnishings.  At the head of
this table was an arm-chair for my mother, of bare wood without any cushion
to relieve its hardness, whilst on either side of the board stood a few
lesser chairs for those who habitually dined there.  These were, besides
myself, Fra Gervasio, my tutor; Messer Giorgio, the castellan, a
bald-headed old man long since past the fighting age and who in times of
stress would have been as useful for purposes of defending Mondolfo as
Lorenza, my mother's elderly woman, who sat below him at the board; he was
toothless, bowed, and decrepit, but he was very devout--as he had need to
be, seeing that he was half dead already--and this counted with my mother
above any other virtue.2

2 Virtu is the word used by Agostino, and it is susceptible to a wider
translation than that which the English language affords, comprising as it
does a sense of courage and address at arms.  Indeed, it is not clear that
Agostino is not playing here upon the double meaning of the word.


The last of the four who habitually sat with us was Giojoso, the seneschal,
a lantern-jawed fellow with black, beetling brows, about whom the only
joyous thing was his misnomer of a name.

Of the table that we kept, beyond noting that the fare was ever of a lenten
kind and that the wine was watered, I will but mention that my mother did
not observe the barrier of the salt.  There was no sitting above it or
below at our board, as, from time immemorial, is the universal custom in
feudal homes.  That her having abolished it was an act of humility on her
part there can be little doubt, although this was a subject upon which she
never expressed herself in my hearing.

The walls of that room were whitewashed and bare.

The floor was of stone overlain by a carpet of rushes that was changed no
oftener than once a week.

From what I have told you, you may picture something of the chill gloom of
the place, something of the pietism which hung upon the very air of that
apartment in which so much of my early youth was spent.  And it had, too,
an odour that is peculiarly full of character, the smell which is never
absent from a sacristy and rarely from conventual chambers; a smell
difficult to define, faint and yet tenuously pungent, and like no other
smell in all the world that I have ever known.  It is a musty odour, an
odour of staleness which perhaps an open window and the fresh air of heaven
might relieve but could not dissipate; and to this is wed, but so subtly
that it would be impossible to say which is predominant, the slight, sickly
aroma of wax.

We supped there that night in silence at about the hour that poor Gino
Falcone would be taking his departure.  Silence was habitual with us at
meal-times, eating being performed--like everything else in that drab
household--as a sort of devotional act.  Occasionally the silence would be
relieved by readings aloud from some pious work, undertaken at my mother's
bidding by one or another of the amanuenses.

But on the night in question there was just silence, broken chiefly by the
toothless slobber of the castellan over the soft meats that were especially
prepared for him.  And there was something of grimness in that silence; for
none--and Fra Gervasio less than any--approved the unchristian thing that
out of excess of Christianity my mother had done in driving old Falcone
forth.

Myself, I could not eat at all.  My misery choked me.  The thought of that
old servitor whom I had loved being sent a wanderer and destitute, and all
through my own weakness, all because I had failed him in his need, just as
I had failed myself, was anguish to me.  My lip would quiver at the
thought, and it was with difficulty that I repressed my tears.

At last that hideous repast came to an end in prayers of thanksgiving whose
immoderate length was out of all proportion to the fare provided.

The castellan shuffled forth upon the arm of the seneschal; Lorenza
followed at a sign from my mother, and we three--Gervasio, my mother, and
I--were left alone.

And here let me say a word of Fra Gervasio.  He was, as I have already
written, my father's foster-brother.  That is to say, he was the child of a
sturdy peasant-woman of the Val di Taro, from whose lusty, healthy breast
my father had suckled the first of that fine strength that had been his
own.

He was older than my father by a month or so, and as often happens in such
cases, he was brought to Mondolfo to be first my father's playmate, and
later, no doubt, to have followed him as a man-at-arms.  But a chill that
he took in his tenth year as a result of a long winter immersion in the icy
waters of the Taro laid him at the point of death, and left him thereafter
of a rather weak and sickly nature.  But he was quick and intelligent, and
was admitted to learn his letters with my father, whence it ensued that he
developed a taste for study.  Seeing that by his health he was debarred
from the hardy open life of a soldier, his scholarly aptitude was
encouraged, and it was decided that he should follow a clerical career.

He had entered the order of St. Francis; but after some years at the
Convent of Aguilona, his health having been indifferent and the conventual
rules too rigorous for his condition, he was given licence to become the
chaplain of Mondolfo.  Here he had received the kindliest treatment at the
hands of my father, who entertained for his sometime playmate a very real
affection.

He was a tall, gaunt man with a sweet, kindly face, reflecting his sweet,
kindly nature; he had deep-set, dark eyes, very gentle in their gaze, a
tender mouth that was a little drawn by lines of suffering and an upright
wrinkle, deep as a gash, between his brows at the root of his long, slender
nose.

He it was that night who broke the silence that endured even after the
others had departed.  He spoke at first as if communing with himself, like
a man who thinks aloud; and between his thumb and his long forefinger, I
remember that he kneaded a crumb of bread upon which his eyes were intent.

"Gino Falcone is an old man, and he was my lord's best-loved servant.  He
would have died for my lord, and joyfully; and now he is turned adrift, to
die to no purpose.  Ah, well."  He heaved a deep sigh and fell silent,
whilst I--the pent-up anguish in me suddenly released to hear my thoughts
thus expressed--fell soundlessly to weeping.

"Do you reprove me, Fra Gervasio?" quoth my mother, quite emotionless.

The monk pushed back his stool and rose ere he replied.  "I must," he said,
"or I am unworthy of the scapulary I wear.  I must reprove this unchristian
act, or else am I no true servant of my Master."

She crossed herself with her thumb-nail upon the brow and upon the lips, to
repress all evil thoughts and evil words--an unfailing sign that she was
stirred to anger and sought to combat the sin of it.  Then she spoke,
meekly enough, in the same cold, level voice.

"I think it is you who are at fault," she told him, "when you call
unchristian an act which was necessary to secure this child to Christ."

He smiled a sad little smile.  "Yet even so, it were well you should
proceed with caution and with authority; and in this you have none."

It was her turn to smile, the palest, ghostliest of smiles, and even for so
much she must have been oddly moved.  "I think I have," said she, and
quoted, "'If thy right hand offend thee, hack it off.'"

I saw a hot flush mount to the friar's prominent cheek­bones.  Indeed, he
was a very human man under his conventual robe, with swift stirrings of
passion which the long habit of repression had not yet succeeded in
extinguishing.  He cast his eyes to the ceiling in such a glance of despair
as left me thoughtful.  It was as an invocation to Heaven to look down upon
the obstinate, ignorant folly of this woman who accounted herself wise and
who so garbled the Divine teaching as to blaspheme with complacency.

I know that now; at the time I was not quite so clear­sighted as to read
the full message of that glance.

Her audacity was as the audacity of fools.  Where wisdom, full-fledged,
might have halted, trembling, she swept resolutely onward.  Before her
stood this friar, this teacher and interpreter, this man of holy life who
was accounted profoundly learned in the Divinities; and he told her that
she had done an evil thing.  Yet out of the tiny pittance of her knowledge
and her little intellectual sight--which was no better than a blindness--
must she confidently tell him that he was at fault.

Argument was impossible between him and her.  Thus much I saw, and I feared
an explosion of the wrath of which I perceived in him the signs.  But he
quelled it.  Yet his voice rumbled thunderously upon his next words.

"It matters something that Gino Falcone should not starve," he said.

"It matters more that my son should not be damned," she answered him, and
with that answer left him weapon-less, for against the armour of a
crassness so dense and one-ideaed there are no weapons that can prevail.

"Listen," she said, and her eyes, raised for a moment, comprehended both of
us in their glance.  "There is something that it were best I tell you, that
once for all you may fathom the depth of my purpose for Agostino here.  My
lord his father was a man of blood and strife..."

"And so were many whose names stand to-day upon the roll of saints and are
its glory," answered the friar with quick asperity.

"But they did not raise their arms against the Holy Church and against
Christ's Own most holy Vicar, as did he," she reminded him sorrowfully.
"The sword is an ill thing save when it is wielded in a holy cause.  In my
lord's hands, wielded in the unholiest of all causes, it became a thing
accursed.  But God's anger overtook him and laid him low at Perugia in all
the strength and vigour that had made him arrogant as Lucifer.  It was
perhaps well for all of us that it so befell."

"Madonna!" cried Gervasio in stern horror.

But she went on quite heedless of him.  "Best of all was it for me, since I
was spared the harshest duty that can be imposed upon a woman and a wife.
It was necessary that he should expiate the evil he had wrought; moreover,
his life was become a menace to my child's salvation.  It was his wish to
make of Agostino such another as himself, to lead his only son adown the
path of Hell.  It was my duty to my God and to my son to shield this boy.
And to accomplish that I would have delivered up his father to the papal
emissaries who sought him."

"Ah, never that!" the friar protested.  "You could never have done that!"

"Could I not?  I tell you it was as good as done.  I tell you that the
thing was planned.  I took counsel with my confessor, and he showed me my
plain duty."

She paused a moment, whilst we stared, Fra Gervasio white-faced and with
mouth that gaped in sheer horror.

"For years had he eluded the long arm of the pope's justice," she resumed.
"And during those years he had never ceased to plot and plan the overthrow
of the Pontifical dominion.  He was blinded by his arrogance to think that
he could stand against the hosts of Heaven.  His stubbornness in sin had
made him mad.  Quem Deus vult perdere..."  And she waved one of her
emaciated hands, leaving the quotation unfinished.  "Heaven showed me the
way, chose me for Its instrument.  I sent him word, offering him shelter
here at Mondolfo where none would look to find him, assuming it to be the
last place to which he would adventure.  He was to have come when death
took him on the field of Perugia."

There was something here that I did not understand at all.  And in like
case, it seemed, was Fra Gervasio, for he passed a hand over his brow, as
if to clear thence some veils that clogged his understanding.

"He was to have come?" he echoed.  "To shelter?" he asked.

"Nay," said she quietly, "to death.  The papal emissaries had knowledge of
it and would have been here to await him."

"You would have betrayed him?"  Fra Gervasio's voice was hoarse, his eyes
were burning sombrely.

"I would have saved my son," said she, with quiet satisfaction, in a tone
that revealed how incontestably right she conceived herself to be.

He stood there, and he seemed taller and more gaunt than usual, for he had
drawn himself erect to the full of his great height--and he was a man who
usually went bowed.  His hands were clenched and the knuckles showed
blue-white like marble.  His face was very pale and in his temple a little
pulse was throbbing visibly.  He swayed slightly upon his feet, and the
sight of him frightened me a little.  He seemed so full of terrible
potentialities.

When I think of vengeance, I picture to myself Fra Gervasio as I beheld him
in that hour.  Nothing that he could have done would have surprised me.
Had he fallen upon my mother then, and torn her limb from limb, it would
have been no more than from the sight of him I might have expected.

I have said that nothing that he could have done would have surprised me.
Rather should I have said that nothing would have surprised me save the
thing he did.

Whilst a man might have counted ten stood he so--she seeing nothing of the
strange transfiguration that had come over him, for her eyes were downcast
as ever.  Then quite slowly, his hands unclenched, his arms fell limply to
his sides, his head sank forward upon his breast, and his figure bowed
itself lower than was usual.  Quite suddenly, quite softly, almost as a man
who swoons, he sank down again into the chair from which he had risen.

He set his elbows on the table, and took his head in his hands.  A groan
escaped him.  She heard it, and looked at him in her furtive way.

"You are moved by this knowledge, Fra Gervasio," she said and sighed.  "I
have told you this--and you, Agostino--that you may know how deep, how
ineradicable is my purpose.  You were a votive offering, Agostino; you were
vowed to the service of God that your father's life might be spared, years
ago, ere you were born.  From the very edge of death was your father
brought back to life and strength.  He would have used that life and that
strength to cheat God of the price of His boon to me."

"And if," Fra Gervasio questioned almost fiercely, "Agostino in the end
should have no vocation, should have no call to such a life?"

She looked at him very wistfully, almost pityingly.  "How should that be?"
she asked.  "He was offered to God.  And that God accepted the gift, He
showed when He gave Giovanni back to life.  How, then, could it come to
pass that Agostino should have no call?  Would God reject that which He had
accepted?"

Fra Gervasio rose again.  "You go too deep for me, Madonna," he said
bitterly.  "It is not for me to speak of my gifts save reverently and in
profound and humble gratitude for that grace by which God bestowed them
upon me.  But I am accounted something of a casuist.  I am a doctor of
theology and of canon law, and but for the weak state of my health I should
be sitting to-day in the chair of canon law at the University of Pavia.
And yet, Madonna, the things you tell me with such assurance make a mock of
everything I have ever learnt."

Even I, lad as I was, perceived the bitter irony in which he spoke.  Not so
she.  I vow she flushed under what she accounted his praise of her wisdom
and divine revelation; for vanity is the last human weakness to be
discarded.  Then she seemed to recollect herself.  She bowed her head very
reverently.

"It is God's grace that reveals to me the truth," she said.

He fell back a step in his amazement at having been so thoroughly
misunderstood.  Then he drew away from the table.  He looked at her as he
would speak, but checked on the thought.  He turned, and so, without
another word, departed, and left us sitting there together.

It was then that we had our talk; or, rather, that she talked, whilst I sat
listening.  And presently as I listened, I came gradually once more under
the spell of which I had more than once that day been on the point of
casting off the yoke.

For, after all, you are to discern in what I have written here, between
what were my feelings at the time and what are my criticisms of to-day in
the light of the riper knowledge to which I have come.  The handling of a
sword had thrilled me strangely, as I have shown.  Yet was I ready to
believe that such a thrill was but a lure of Satan's, as my mother assured
me.  In deeper matters she might harbour error, as Fra Gervasio's irony had
shown me that he believed.  But we went that night into no great depths.

She spent an hour or so in vague discourse upon the joys of Paradise, in
showing me the folly of jeopardizing them for the sake of the fleeting
vanities of this ephemeral world.  She dealt at length upon the love of God
for us, and the love which we should bear to Him, and she read to me
passages from the book of the Blessed Varano and from Scupoli to add point
to her teachings upon the beauty and nobility of a life that is devoted to
God's service--the only service of this world in which nobility can exist.

And then she added little stories of martyrs who had suffered for the
faith, of the tortures to which they had been subjected, and of the
happiness they had felt in actual suffering, of the joy that their very
torments had brought them, borne up as they were by their faith and the
strength of their love of God.

There was in all this nothing that was new to me, nothing that I did not
freely accept and implicitly believe without pausing to judge or criticize.
And yet, it was shrewd of her to have plied me then as she did; for
thereby, beyond doubt, she checked me upon the point of self-questioning to
which that day's happenings were urging me, and she brought me once more
obediently to heel and caused me to fix my eyes more firmly than ever
beyond the things of this world and upon the glories of the next which I
was to make my goal and aim.

Thus came I back within the toils from which I had been for a moment
tempted to escape; and what is more, my imagination fired to some touch of
ecstasy by those tales of sainted martyrs, I returned willingly to the
pietistic thrall, to be held in it more firmly than ever yet before.

We parted as we always parted, and when I had kissed her cold hand I went
my way to bed.  And if I knelt that night to pray that God might watch over
poor errant Falcone, it was to the end that Falcone might be brought to see
the sin and error of his ways and win to the grace of a happy death when
his hour came.




CHAPTER IV

LUISINA


Of the four years that followed little mention need be made in these pages,
save for one incident whose importance is derived entirely from that which
subsequently befell, for at the time it had no meaning for me.  Yet since
later it was to have much, it is fitting that it should be recorded here.

It happened that a month or so after old Falcone had left us there wandered
one noontide into the outer courtyard of the castle two pilgrim fathers, on
their way--as they announced--from Milan to visit the Holy House at Loreto.

It was my mother's custom to receive all pilgrim wayfarers and beggars in
this courtyard at noontide twice in each week to bestow upon them food and
alms.  Rarely was she, herself, present at that alms-giving; more rarely
still was I.  It was Fra Gervasio who discharged the office of almoner on
the Countess of Mondolfo's behalf.  Occasionally the whines and snarls of
the motley crowd that gathered there--for they were not infrequently
quarrelsome--reached us in the maschio tower where we had our apartments.
But on the day of which I speak I chanced to stand in the pillared gallery
above the courtyard, watching the heaving, surging human mass below, for
the concourse was greater than usual.

Cripples there were of every sort, and all in rags; some with twisted,
withered limbs, others with mere stumps where limbs had been lopped off,
others again-- and there were many of these--with hideous running sores,
some of which no doubt would be counterfeit--as I now know--and contrived
with poultices of salt for the purpose of exciting charity in the piteous.
All were dishevelled, unkempt, ragged, dirty, and, doubtless, verminous.
Most were greedy and wolfish as they thrust one another aside to reach Fra
Gervasio, as if they feared that the supply of alms and food should be
exhausted ere their turn arrived.  Amongst them there was commonly a small
sprinkling of mendicant friars, some of these, perhaps, just the hypocrite
rogues that I have since discovered many of them to be, though at the time
all who wore the scapulary were holy men in my innocent eyes.  They were
mostly, or so they pretended, bent upon pilgrimages to distant parts,
living upon such alms as they could gather on their way.

On the steps of the chapel Fra Gervasio would stand--gaunt and impassive--
with his posse of attendant grooms behind him.  One of the latter, standing
nearest to our almoner, held a great sack of broken bread; another
presented a wooden, trough-like platter filled with slices of meat, and a
third dispensed out of horn cups a poor, thin, and rather sour, but very
wholesome wine, which he drew from the skins that were his charge.

From one to the other were the beggars passed on by Fra Gervasio, and
lastly came they back to him, to receive from his hands a piece of money--a
grosso, of which he held the bag himself.

On the day of which I write, as I stood there gazing down upon that mass of
misery, marvelling perhaps a little upon the inequality of fortune, and
wondering vaguely what God could be about to inflict so much suffering upon
certain of His creatures, to cause one to be born into purple and another
into rags, my eyes were drawn by the insistent stare of two monks who stood
at the back of the crowd with their shoulders to the wall.

They were both tall men, and they stood with their cowls over their
tonsures, in the conventual attitude, their hands tucked away into the
ample sleeves of their brown habits.  One of this twain was broader than
his companion and very erect of carriage, such as was unusual in a monk.
His mouth and the half of his face were covered by a thick brown beard, and
athwart his countenance, from under the left eye across his nose and cheek,
ran a great livid scar to lose itself in the beard towards the right jaw.
His deep-set eyes regarded me so intently that I coloured uncomfortably
under their gaze; for accustomed as I was to seclusion, I was easily
abashed.  I turned away and went slowly along the gallery to the end; and
yet I had a feeling that those eyes were following me, and, indeed, casting
a swift glance over my shoulder ere I went indoors, I saw that this was so.

That evening at supper I chanced to mention the matter to Fra Gervasio.

"There was a big bearded capuchin in the yard at alms-time to-day--" I was
beginning, when the friar's knife clattered from his hand, and he looked at
me with eyes of positive fear out of a face from which the last drop of
blood had abruptly receded.  I checked my inquiry at the sight of him thus
suddenly disordered, whilst my mother, who, as usual, observed nothing,
made a foolish comment.

"The little brothers are never absent, Agostino."

"This brother was a big brother," said I.

"It is not seemly to make jest of holy men," she reproved me in her
chilling voice.

"I had no thought to jest," I answered soberly.  "I should never have
remarked this friar but that he gazed upon me with so great an intentness--
so great that I was unable to bear it."

It was her turn to betray emotion.  She looked at me full and long--for
once--and very searchingly.  She, too, had grown paler than was her habit.

"Agostino, what do you tell me?" quoth she, and her voice quivered.

Now here was a deal of pother about a capuchin who had stared at the
Madonnino of Anguissola!  The matter was out of all proportion to the stir
it made, and I conveyed in my next words some notion of that opinion.

But she stared wistfully.  "Never think it, Agostino," she besought me.
"You know not what it may import."  And then she turned to Fra Gervasio.
"Who was this mendicant?" she asked.

He had by now recovered from his erstwhile confusion.  But he was still
pale, and I observed that his hand trembled.

"He must have been one of the two little brothers of St. Francis on their
way, they said, from Milan to Loreto on a pilgrimage."

"Not those you told me are resting here until to­morrow?"

From his face I saw that he would have denied it had it lain within his
power to utter a deliberate falsehood.

"They are the same," he answered in a low voice.

She rose.  "I must see this friar," she announced, and never in all my life
had I beheld in her such a display of emotion.

"In the morning, then," said Fra Gervasio.  "It is after sunset," he
explained.  "They have retired, and their rule..."  He left the sentence
unfinished, but he had said enough to be understood by her.

She sank back to her chair, folded her hands in her lap and fell into
meditation.  The faintest of flushes crept into her wax-like cheeks.

"If it should be a sign!" she murmured raptly, and then she turned again to
Fra Gervasio.  "You heard Agostino say that he could not bear this friar's
gaze.  You remember, brother, how a pilgrim appeared near San Rufino to the
nurse of Saint Francis, and took from her arms the child that he might
bless it ere once more he vanished?  If this should be a sign such as
that!"

She clasped her hands together fervently.  "I must see this friar ere he
departs again," she said to the staring, dumbfounded Fra Gervasio.

At last, then, I understood her emotion.  All her life she had prayed for a
sign of grace for herself or for me, and she believed that here at last was
something that might well be discovered upon inquiry to be an answer to her
prayer.  This capuchin who had stared at me from the courtyard became at
once to her mind--so ill-balanced upon such matters--a supernatural
visitant, harbinger, as it were, of my future saintly glory.

But though she rose betimes upon the morrow, to see the holy man ere he
fared forth again, she was not early enough.  In the courtyard whither she
descended to make her way to the outhouse where the two were lodged, she
met Fra Gervasio, who was astir before her.

"The friar?" she cried anxiously, filled already with forebodings.  "The
holy man?"

Gervasio stood before her, pale and trembling.  "You are too late, Madonna.
Already he is gone."

She observed his agitation now, and beheld in it a reflection of her own,
springing from the selfsame causes.  "Oh, it was a sign indeed!" she
exclaimed.  "And you have come to realize it, too, I see."  Next, in a
burst of gratitude that was almost pitiful upon such slight foundation,
"Oh, blessed Agostino!" she cried out.

Then the momentary exaltation fell from that woman of sorrows.  "This but
makes my burden heavier, my responsibility greater," she wailed.  "God help
me bear it!"

Thus passed that incident so trifling in itself and so misunderstood by
her.  But it was never forgotten, and from time to time she would allude to
it as the sign which had been vouchsafed me and for which great should be
my thankfulness and my joy.

Save for that, in the four years that followed, time flowed an uneventful
course within the four walls of the big citadel--for beyond those four
walls I was never once permitted to set foot; and although from time to
time I heard rumours of doings in the town itself, of the affairs of the
State whereof I was by right of birth the tyrant, and of the greater
business of the big world beyond, yet so trained and schooled was I that I
had no great desire for a nearer acquaintance with that world.

A certain curiosity did at times beset me, spurred not so much by the
little that I heard as by things that I read in such histories as my
studies demanded I should read.  For even the lives of saints, and Holy
Writ itself, afford their student glimpses of the world.  But this
curiosity I came to look upon as a lure of the flesh, and to resist.
Blessed are they who are out of all contact with the world, since to them
salvation comes more easily; so I believed implicitly, as I was taught by
my mother and by Fra Gervasio at my mother's bidding.

And as the years passed under such influences as had been at work upon me
from the cradle, influences which had known no check save that brief one
afforded by Gino Falcone, I became perforce devout and pious from very
inclination.

Joyous transports were afforded me by the study of the life of that Saint
Luigi of the noble Mantuan House of Gonzaga--in whom I saw an ideal to be
emulated, since he seemed to me to be much in my own case and of my own
estate--who had counted the illusory greatness of this world well lost so
that he might win the bliss of Paradise.  Similarly did I take delight in
the Life, written by Tommaso da Celano, of that blessed son of Pietro
Bernardone, the merchant of Assisi, that Francis who became the Troubadour
of the Lord and sang so sweetly the praises of His Creation.  My heart
would swell within me and I would weep hot and very bitter tears over the
narrative of the early and sinful part of his life, as we may weep to see a
beloved brother beset by deadly perils.  And greater, hence, was the joy,
the exultation, and finally the sweet peace and comfort that I gathered
from the tale of his conversion, of his wondrous works, and of the Three
Companions.

In these pages--so lively was my young imagination and so wrought upon by
what I read--I suffered with him again his agonies of hope, I thrilled with
some of the joy of his stupendous ecstasies, and I almost envied him the
signal mark of Heavenly grace that had imprinted the stigmata upon his
living body.

All that concerned him, too, I read: his Little Flowers, his Testament, The
Mirror of Perfection; but my greatest delight was derived from his Song of
the Creatures, which I learnt by heart.

Oftentimes since have I wondered and sought to determine whether it was the
piety of those lauds that charmed me spiritually, or an appeal to my senses
made by the beauty of the lines and the imagery which the Assisian used in
his writings.

Similarly I am at a loss to determine whether the pleasure I took in
reading of the joyous, perfumed life of that other stigmatized saint, the
blessed Catherine of Siena, was not a sensuous pleasure rather than the
soul-ecstasy I supposed it at the time.

And as I wept over the early sins of St. Francis, so too did I weep over
the rhapsodical Confessions of St. Augustine, that mighty theologian after
whom I had been named, and whose works--after those concerning St.
Francis--exerted a great influence upon me in those early days.

Thus did I grow in grace until Fra Gervasio, who watched me narrowly and
anxiously, seemed more at ease, setting aside the doubts that earlier had
tormented him lest I should be forced upon a life for which I had no
vocation.  He grew more tender and loving towards me, as if something of
pity lurked within the strong affection in which he held me.

And, meanwhile, as I grew in grace of spirit, so too did I grow in grace of
body, waxing tall and very strong, which would have been nowise surprising
but that those nurtured as was I are seldom lusty.  The mind feeding
overmuch upon the growing body is apt to sap its strength and vigour,
besides which there was the circumstance that I continued throughout those
years a life almost of confinement, deprived of all the exercises by which
youth is brought to its fine flower of strength.

As I was approaching my eighteenth year there befell another incident,
which, trivial in itself, yet has its place in my development and so should
have its place within these confessions.  Nor did I judge it trivial at the
time--nor were trivial the things that followed out of it--trivial though
it may seem to me to-day as I look back upon it through all the murk of
later life.

Giojoso, the seneschal, of whom I have spoken, had a son, a great raw-boned
lad whom he would have trained as an amanuensis, but who was one of
Nature's dunces out of which there is nothing useful to be made.  He was
strong-limbed, however, and he was given odd menial duties to perform about
the castle.  But these he shirked where possible, as he had shirked his
lessons in earlier days.

Now it happened that I was walking one spring morning--it was in May of
that year '44 of which I am now writing--on the upper of the three spacious
terraces that formed the castle garden.  It was but an indifferently tended
place, and yet perhaps the more agreeable on that account, since Nature had
been allowed to have her prodigal, luxuriant way.  It is true that the
great boxwood hedges needed trimming, and that weeds were sprouting between
the stones of the flights of steps that led from terrace to terrace; but
the place was gay and fragrant with wild blossoms, and the great trees
afforded generous shade, and the long rank grass beneath them made a
pleasant couch to lie on during the heat of the day in summer.  The lowest
terrace of all was in better case.  It was a well-planted and well-tended
orchard, where I got many a colic in my earlier days from a gluttony of
figs and peaches whose complete ripening I was too impatient to await.

I walked there, then, one morning quite early on the upper terrace
immediately under the castle wall, and alternately I read from the De
Civitate Dei which I had brought with me, alternately mused upon the matter
of my reading.  Suddenly I was disturbed by a sound of voices just below
me.

The boxwood hedge, being twice my height and fully two feet thick, entirely
screened the speakers from my sight.

There were two voices, and one of these, angry and threatening, I
recognized for that of Rinolfo--Messer Giojoso's graceless son; the other,
a fresh young feminine voice, was entirely unknown to me; indeed it was the
first girl's voice I could recall having heard in all my eighteen years,
and the sound was as pleasantly strange as it was strangely pleasant.

I stood quite still, to listen to its expostulations.

"You are a cruel fellow, Ser Rinolfo, and Madonna the Countess shall be
told of this."

There followed a crackling of twigs and a rush of heavy feet.

"You shall have something else of which to tell Madonna's beatitude,"
threatened the harsh voice of Rinolfo.

That and his advances were answered by a frightened screech, a screech that
moved rapidly to the right as it was emitted.  There came more snapping of
twigs, a light scurrying sound followed by a heavier one, and lastly a
panting of breath and a soft pattering of running feet upon the steps that
led up to the terrace where I walked.

I moved forward rapidly to the opening in the hedge where these steps
debouched, and no sooner had I appeared there than a soft, lithe body
hurtled against me so suddenly that my arms mechanically went round it, my
right hand still holding the De Civitate Dei, forefinger enclosed within
its pages to mark the place.

Two moist dark eyes looked up appealingly into mine out of a frightened but
very winsome, sun-tinted face.

"0 Madonnino!" she panted.  "Protect me!  Save me!"

Below us, checked midway in his furious ascent, halted Rinolfo, his big
face red with anger, scowling up at me in sudden doubt and resentment.

The situation was not only extraordinary in itself, but singularly
disturbing to me.  Who the girl was, or whence she came, I had no thought
or notion as I surveyed her.  She would be of about my own age, or perhaps
a little younger, and from her garb it was plain that she belonged to the
peasant class.  She wore a spotless bodice of white linen, which but
indifferently concealed the ripening swell of her young breast.  Her
petticoat, of dark red homespun, stopped short above her bare brown ankles,
and her little feet were naked.  Her brown hair, long and abundant, was
still fastened at the nape of her slim neck, but fell loose beyond that,
having been disturbed, no doubt, in her scuffle with Rinolfo.  Her little
mouth was deeply red and it held strong young teeth that were as white as
milk.

I have since wondered whether she was as beautiful as I deemed her in that
moment.  For it must be remembered that mine was the case of the son of
Filippo Balducci--related by Messer Boccaccio in the merry tales of his
Decamerone1--who had come to years of adolescence without ever having
beheld womanhood, so that the first sight of it in the streets of Florence
affected him so oddly that he vexed his sire with foolish questions and
still more foolish prayers.

1  In the Introduction to the Fourth Day.


So was it now with me.  In all my eighteen years I had by my mother's
careful contriving never set eyes upon a woman of an age inferior to her
own.  And--consider me foolish if you will but so it is--I do not think
that it had occurred to me that they existed, or else, if they did, that in
youth they differed materially from what in age I found them.  Thus I had
come to look upon women as just feeble, timid creatures, over-prone to
gossip, tears, and lamentations, and good for very little that I could
perceive.

I had been unable to understand for what reason it was that San Luigi of
Gonzaga had from years of discretion never allowed his eyes to rest upon a
woman; nor could I see wherein lay the special merit attributed to this.
And certain passages in the Confessions of St. Augustine and in the early
life of St. Francis of Assisi bewildered me and left me puzzled.

But now, quite suddenly, it was as if revelation had come to me.  It was as
if the Book of Life had at last been opened for me, and at a glance I had
read one of its dazzling pages.  So that whether this brown peasant girl
was beautiful or not, beautiful she seemed to me with the radiant beauty
that is attributed to the angels of Paradise.  Nor did I doubt that she
would be as holy, for to see in beauty a mark of divine favour is not
peculiar only to the ancient Greeks.

And because of the appeal of this beauty--real or supposed--I was very
ready with my protection, since I felt that protection must carry with it
certain rights of ownership which must be very sweet and were certainly
desired.

Holding her, therefore, within the shelter of my arms, where in her
heedless innocence she had flung herself, and by very instinct stroking
with one hand her little brown head to soothe her fears, I became truculent
for the first time in my new-found manhood, and boldly challenged her
pursuer.

"What is this, Rinolfo?" I demanded.  "Why do you plague her?"

"She broke up my snares," he answered sullenly, and let the birds go free."

"What snares?  What birds?" quoth I.

"He is a cruel beast," she shrilled.  "And he will lie to you, Madonnino."

"If he does I'll break the bones of his body," I promised in a tone
entirely new to me.  And then to him--"The truth now, poltroon!" I
admonished him.

At last I got the story out of them: how Rinolfo had scattered grain in a
little clearing in the garden, and all about it had set twigs that were
heavily smeared with viscum; that he set this trap almost daily, and daily
took a great number of birds whose necks he wrung and had them cooked for
him with rice by his silly mother; that it was a sin in any case to take
little birds by such cowardly means, but that since amongst these birds
there were larks and thrushes and plump blackbirds and other sweet
musicians of the air, whose innocent lives were spent in singing the
praises of God, his sin became a hideous sacrilege.

Finally I learnt that coming that morning upon half a score of poor
fluttering terrified birds held fast in Rinolfo's viscous snares, the
little girl had given them their liberty and had set about breaking up the
springes.  At this occupation he had caught her, and there is no doubt that
he would have taken a rude vengeance but for the sanctuary which she had
found in me.

And when I had heard, behold me for the first time indulging the
prerogative that was mine by right of birth, and dispensing justice at
Mondolfo like the lord of life and death that I was there.

"You, Rinolfo," I said, "will set no more snares here at Mondolfo, nor will
you ever again enter these gardens under pain of my displeasure and its
consequences.  And as for this child, if you dare to molest her for what
has happened now, or if you venture so much as to lay a finger upon her at
any time and I have word of it, I shall deal with you as with a felon.  Now
go."

He went straight to his father, the seneschal, with a lying tale of my
having threatened him with violence and forbidden him ever to enter the
garden again because he had caught me there with Luisina--as the child was
called--in my arms.  And Messer Giojoso, full of parental indignation at
this gross treatment of his child, and outraged chastity at the notion of a
young man of churchly aims, as were mine, being in perversive dalliance
with that peasant-wench, repaired straight to my mother with the story of
it, which I doubt not lost nothing by its repetition.

Meanwhile I abode there with Luisina.  I was in no haste to let her go.
Her presence pleased me in some subtle, quite indefinable manner; and my
sense of beauty, which, always strong, had hitherto lain dormant within me,
was awake at last and was finding nourishment in the graces of her.

I sat down upon the topmost of the terrace steps, and made her sit beside
me.  This she did after some demur about the honour of it and her own
unworthiness, objections which I brushed peremptorily aside.

So we sat there on that May morning, quite close together, for which there
was, after all, no need, seeing that the steps were of a noble width.  At
our feet spread the garden away down the flight of terraces to end in the
castle's grey, buttressed wall.  But from where we sat we could look beyond
this, our glance meeting the landscape a mile or so away with the waters of
the Taro glittering in the sunshine, and the Apennines, all hazy, for an
ultimate background.

I took her hand, which she relinquished to me quite freely and frankly with
an innocence as great as my own; and I asked her who she was and how she
came to Mondolfo.  It was then that I learnt that her name was Luisina,
that she was the daughter of one of the women employed in the castle
kitchen, who had brought her to help there a week ago from Borgo Taro,
where she had been living with an aunt.

To-day the notion of the Tyrant of Mondolfo sitting--almost coram populo--
on the steps of the garden of his castle, clasping the hand of the daughter
of one of his scullions, is grotesque and humiliating.  At the time the
thought never presented itself to me at all, and had it done so it would
have troubled me no whit.  She was my first glimpse of fresh young
maidenhood, and I was filled with pleasant interest and desirous of more
acquaintance with this phenomenon.  Beyond that I did not go.

I told her frankly that she was very beautiful.  Whereupon she looked at me
with suddenly startled eyes that were full of fearful questionings, and
made to draw her hand from mine.  Unable to understand her fears, and
seeking to reassure her, to convince her that in me she had a friend, one
who would ever protect her from the brutalities of all the Rinolfos in the
world, I put an arm about her shoulders and drew her closer to me, gently
and protectingly.

She suffered it very stonily, like a poor fascinated thing that is robbed
by fear of its power to resist the evil that it feels enfolding it.

"0 Madonnino!" she whispered fearfully, and sighed.  "Nay, you must not.
It...it is not good."

"Not good?" quoth I, and it was just so that that fool of a son of
Balducci's must have protested in the story when he was told by his father
that it was not good to look on women.  "Nay, now, but it is good to me."

"And they say you are to be a priest," she added, which seemed to me a very
foolish and inconsequent thing to add.

"Well, then?  And what of that?" I asked.

She looked at me again with those timid eyes of hers.  "You should be at
your studies," said she.

"I am," said I, and smiled.  "I am studying a new subject."

"Madonnino, it is not a subject whose study makes good priests," she
announced, and puzzled me again by the foolish inconsequence of her words.

Already, indeed, she began to disappoint me.  Saving my mother--whom I did
not presume to judge at all, and who seemed a being altogether apart from
what little humanity I had known until then--I had found that foolishness
was as natural to women as its bleat to a sheep or its cackle to a goose;
and in this opinion I had been warmly confirmed by Fra Gervasio.  Now here
in Luisina I had imagined at first that I had discovered a phase of
womanhood unsuspected and exceptional.  She was driving me to conclude,
however, that I had been mistaken, and that here was just a pretty husk
containing a very trivial spirit, whose companionship must prove a dull
affair when custom should have staled the first impression of her fresh
young beauty.

It is plain now that I did her an injustice, for there was about her words
none of the inconsequence I imagined.  The fault was in myself and in the
profound ignorance of the ways of men and women which went hand in hand
with my deep but ineffectual learning in the ways of saints.

Our entertainment, however, was not destined to go further.  For at the
moment in which I puzzled over her words and sought to attach to them some
intelligent meaning, there broke from behind us a scream that flung us
apart, as startled as if we had been conscious indeed of guilt.

We looked round to find that it had been uttered by my mother.  Not ten
yards away she stood, a tall black figure against the grey background of
the lichened wall, with Giojoso in attendance and Rinolfo slinking behind
his father, leering.




CHAPTER V

REBELLION


The sight of my mother startled me more than I can say.  It filled me with
a positive dread of things indefinable.  Never before had I seen her coldly
placid countenance so strangely disordered, and her unwonted aspect it must
have been that wrought so potently upon me.

No longer was she the sorrowful spectre, white-faced, with downcast eyes
and level, almost inanimate, tones.  Her cheeks were flushed unnaturally,
her lips were quivering, and angry fires were smouldering in her deep-set
eyes.

Swiftly she came down to us, seeming almost to glide over the ground.  Not
me she addressed, but poor Luisina; and her voice was hoarse with an awful
anger.

"Who are you, wench?" quoth she.  "What make you here in Mondolfo?"

Luisina had risen and stood swaying there, very white and with averted
eyes, her hands clasping and unclasping.  Her lips moved; but she was too
terrified to answer.  It was Giojoso who stepped forward to inform my
mother of the girl's name and condition.  And upon learning it her anger
seemed to increase.

"A kitchen-wench!" she cried.  "0 horror!"

And quite suddenly, as if by inspiration, scarce knowing what I said or
that I spoke at all, I answered her out of the store of the theological
learning with which she had had me stuffed.

"We are all equals in the sight of God, madam mother."

She flashed me a glance of anger, of pious anger than which none can be
more terrible.

"Blasphemer!" she denounced me.  "What has God to do with this?"

She waited for no answer, rightly judging, perhaps, that I had none to
offer.

"And as for that wanton," she commanded, turning fiercely to Giojoso, "let
her be whipped hence and out of the town of Mondolfo.  Set the grooms to
it."

But upon that command of hers I leapt of a sudden to my feet, a tightening
about my heart, and beset by a certain breathlessness that turned me pale.

Here again, it seemed, was to be repeated--though with methods a thousand
times more barbarous and harsh--the wrong that was done years ago in the
case of poor Gino Falcone.  And the reason for it in this instance was not
even dimly apparent to me.  Falcone I had loved; indeed, in my eighteen
years of life he was the only human being who had knocked for admission
upon the portals of my heart.  Him they had driven forth.  And now, here
was a child--the fairest creature of God's that until that hour I had
beheld, whose companionship seemed to me a thing sweet and desirable, and
whom I felt that I might love as I had loved Falcone.  Her too they would
drive forth, and with a brutality and cruelty that revolted me.

Later I was to perceive the reasons better, and much food for reflection
was I to derive from realizing that there are no spirits so vengeful, so
fierce, so utterly intolerant, ungovernable, and feral as the spirits of
the devout when they conceive themselves justified to anger.

All the sweet teaching of Charity and brotherly love and patience is
jettisoned, and by the most amazing paradox that Christianity has ever
known, Catholic burns heretic, and heretic butchers Catholic, all for the
love of Christ; and each glories devoutly in the deed, never heeding the
blasphemy of his belief that thus he obeys the sweet and gentle mandates of
the God Incarnate.

Thus, then, my mother now, commanding that hideous deed with a mind at
peace in pharisaic self-righteousness.

But not again would I stand by as I had stood by in the case of Falcone,
and let her cruel, pietistic will be done.  I had grown since then, and I
had ripened more than I was aware.  It remained for this moment to reveal
to me the extent.  Besides, the subtle influence of sex--all unconscious of
it as I was--stirred me now to prove my new-found manhood.

"Stay!" I said to Giojoso, and in uttering the command I grew very cold and
steady, and my breathing resumed the normal.

He checked in the act of turning away to do my mother's hideous bidding.

"You will give Madonna's order to the grooms, Ser Giojoso, as you have been
bidden.  But you will add from me that if there is one amongst them dares
to obey it and to lay be it so much as a finger upon Luisina, him will I
kill with these two hands."

Never was consternation more profound than that which I flung amongst them
by those words.  Giojoso fell to trembling; behind him, Rinolfo, the cause
of all this garboil, stared with round big eyes; whilst my mother, all
a-quiver, clutched at her bosom and looked at me fearfully, but spoke no
word.

I smiled upon them, towering there, conscious and glad of my height for the
first time in my life.

"Well?" I demanded of Giojoso.  "For what do you wait?  About it, sir, and
do as my mother has commanded you."

He turned to her, all bent and grovelling, arms outstretched in ludicrous
bewilderment, every line of him beseeching guidance along this path so
suddenly grown thorny.

Ma--madonna!" he stammered.

She swallowed hard, and spoke at last.

"Do you defy my will, Agostino?"

"On the contrary, madam mother, I am enforcing it.  Your will shall be
done; your order shall be given.  I insist upon it.  But it shall lie with
the discretion of the grooms whether they obey you.  Am I to blame if they
turn cowards?"

0, I had found myself at last, and I was making a furious, joyous use of
the discovery.

"That...that were to make a mock of me and my authority," she protested.
She was still rather helpless, rather breathless and confused, like one who
has suddenly been hurled into cold water.

"If you fear that, madam, perhaps you had better countermand your order."

"Is the girl to remain in Mondolfo against my wishes?  Are you so...so lost
to shame?"  A returning note of warmth in her accents warned me that she
was collecting herself to deal with the situation.

"Nay," said I, and I looked at Luisina, who stood there so pale and
tearful.  "I think that for her own sake, poor maid, it were better that
she went, since you desire it.  But she shall not be whipped hence like a
stray dog."

"Come, child," I said to her, as gently as I could.  "Go pack, and quit
this home of misery.  And be easy.  For if any man in Mondolfo attempts to
hasten your going, he shall reckon with me."

I laid a hand for an instant in kindliness and friendliness upon her
shoulder.  "Poor little Luisina," said I, sighing.  But she shrank and
trembled under my touch.  "Pity me a little, for they will not permit me
any friends, and who is friendless is indeed pitiful."

And then, whether the phrase touched her, so that her simple little nature
was roused and she shook off what self-control she had ever learnt, or
whether she felt secure enough in my protection to dare proclaim her mind
before them all, she caught my hand, and, stooping, kissed it.

"0 Madonnino!" she faltered, and her tears showered upon that hand of mine.
"God reward you your sweet thought for me.  I shall pray for you,
Madonnino."

"Do, Luisina," said I.  "I begin to think I need it."

"Indeed, indeed!" said my mother very sombrely.  And as she spoke, Luisina,
as if her fears were reawakened, turned suddenly and went quickly along the
terrace, past Rinolfo, who in that moment smiled viciously, and round the
angle of the wall.

"What...what are my orders, Madonna?" quoth the wretched seneschal,
reminding her that all had not yet been resolved.

She lowered her eyes to the ground, and folded her hands.  She was by now
quite composed again, her habitual sorrowful self.

"Let be," she said.  "Let the wench depart.  So that she goes we may count
ourselves fortunate."

"Fortunate, I think, is she," said I.  "Fortunate to return to the world
beyond all this--the world of life and love that God made and that St.
Francis praises.  I do not think he would have praised Mondolfo, for I
greatly doubt that God had a hand in making it as it is to-day.  It is
too...too arid."

0, my mood was finely rebellious that May morning.

"Are you mad, Agostino?" gasped my mother.

"I think that I am growing sane," said I very sadly.  She flashed me one of
her rare glances, and I saw her lips tighten.

"We must talk," she said.  "That girl..."  And then she checked.  "Come
with me," she bade me.

But in that moment I remembered something, and I turned aside to look for
my friend Rinolfo.  He was moving stealthily away, following the road
Luisina had taken.  The conviction that he went to plague and jeer at her,
to exult over her expulsion from Mondolfo, kindled my anger all anew.

"Stay!  You there!  Rinolfo!" I called.

He halted in his strides, and looked over his shoulder, impudently.

I had never yet been paid by any the deference that was my due.  Indeed, I
think that among the grooms and serving-men at Mondolfo I must have been
held in a certain measure of contempt, as one who would never come to more
manhood than that of the cassock.

"Come here," I bade him, and as he appeared to hesitate I had to repeat the
order more peremptorily.  At last he turned and came.

"What now, Agostino?" cried my mother, setting a pale hand upon my sleeve

But I was all intent upon that lout, who stood there before me shifting
uneasily upon his feet, his air mutinous and sullen.  Over his shoulder I
had a glimpse of his father's yellow face, wide-eyed with alarm.

"I think you smiled just now," said I.

"Heh!  By Bacchus!" said he impudently, as who would say: "How could I help
smiling?"

"Will you tell me why you smiled?" I asked him.

"Heh!  By Bacchus!" said he again, and shrugged to give his insolence a
barb.

"Will you answer me?" I roared, and under my display of anger he looked
truculent, and thus exhausted the last remnant of my patience.

"Agostino!" came my mothers voice in remonstrance, and such is the power of
habit that for a moment it controlled me and subdued my violence.

Nevertheless I went on, "You smiled to see your spite succeed.  You smiled
to see that poor child driven hence by your contriving; you smiled to see
your broken snares avenged.  And you were following after her no doubt to
tell her all this and to smile again.  This is all so, it is not?"

"Heh!  By Bacchus!" said he for the third time, and at that my patience
gave out utterly.  Ere any could stop me I had seized him by throat and
belt and shaken him savagely.

"Will you answer me like a fool?" I cried.  "Must you be taught sense and a
proper respect of me?"

"Agostino!  Agostino!" wailed my mother.  "Help, Ser Giojoso!  Do you not
see that he is mad!"

I do not believe that it was in my mind to do the fellow any grievous hurt.
But he was so ill-advised in that moment as to attempt to defend himself.
He rashly struck at one of the arms that held him, and by the act drove me
into a fury ungovernable.

"You dog!" I snarled at him from between clenched teeth.  "Would you raise
your hand to me?  Am I your lord, or am I dirt of your own kind?  Go learn
submission."  And I flung him almost headlong down the flight of steps.

There were twelve of them and all of stone with edges still sharp enough
though blunted here and there by time.  The fool had never suspected in me
the awful strength which until that hour I had never suspected in myself.
Else, perhaps, there had been fewer insolent shrugs, fewer foolish answers,
and, last of all, no attempt to defy me physically.

He screamed as I flung him; my mother screamed; and Giojoso screamed.

After that there was a panic-stricken silence whilst he went thudding and
bumping to the bottom of the flight.  I did not greatly care if I killed
him.  But he was fortunate enough to get no worse hurt than a broken leg,
which should keep him out of mischief for a season and teach him respect
for me for all time.

His father scuttled down the steps to the assistance of that precious son,
who lay moaning where he had fallen, the angle at which the half of one of
his legs stood to the rest of it, plainly announcing the nature of his
punishment.

My mother swept me indoors, loading me with reproaches as we went.  She
dispatched some to help Giojoso, others she sent in urgent quest of Fra
Gervasio, me she hurried along to her private dining-room.  I went very
obediently, and even a little fearfully now that my passion had fallen from
me.

There, in that cheerless room, which not even the splashes of sunlight
falling from the high-placed windows upon the whitewashed wall could help
to gladden, I stood a little sullenly what time she first upbraided me and
then wept bitterly, sitting in her high-backed chair at the table's head.

At last Gervasio came, anxious and flurried, for already he had heard some
rumour of what had chanced.  His keen eyes went from me to my mother and
then back again to me.

"What has happened?" he asked.

"What has not happened?" wailed my mother.  "Agostino is possessed."

He knit his brows.  "Possessed?" quoth he.

"Ay, possessed--possessed of devils.  He has been violent.  He has broken
poor Rinolfo's leg."

"Ah!" said Gervasio, and turned to me frowning with full tutorial
sternness.  "And what have you to say, Agostino?"

"Why, that I am sorry," answered I, rebellious once more.  "I had hoped to
break his dirty neck."

"You hear him!" cried my mother.  "It is the end of the world, Gervasio.
The boy is possessed, I say."

"What was the cause of your quarrel?" quoth the friar, his manner still
more stern.

"Quarrel?" quoth I, throwing back my head and snorting audibly.  "I do not
quarrel with Rinolfos.  I chastise them when they are insolent or displease
me.  This one did both."

He halted before me, erect and very stern--indeed almost threatening.  And
I began to grow afraid; for, after all, I had a kindness for Gervasio, and
I would not willingly engage in a quarrel with him.  Yet here I was
determined to carry through this thing as I had begun it.

It was my mother who saved the situation.

"Alas!" she moaned, "there is wicked blood in him.  He has the abominable
pride that was the ruin and downfall of his father."

Now that was not the way to make an ally of Fra Gervasio.  It did the very
opposite.  It set him instantly on my side, in antagonism to the abuser of
my father's memory, a memory which he, poor man, still secretly revered.

The sternness fell away from him.  He looked at her and sighed.  Then, with
bowed head, and hands clasped behind him, he moved away from me a little.

"Do not let us judge rashly," he said.  "Perhaps Agostino received some
provocation.  Let us hear..."

"0, you shall hear," she promised tearfully, exultant to prove him wrong.
"You shall hear a yet worse abomination that was the cause of it."

And out she poured the story that Rinolfo and his father had run to tell
her--of how I had shown the fellow violence in the first instance because
he had surprised me with Luisina in my arms.

The friar's face grew dark and grave as he listened.  But ere she had quite
done, unable longer to contain myself, I interrupted.

"In that he lied like the muckworm that he is," I exclaimed.  "And it
increases my regrets that I did not break his neck as I intended."

"He lied?" quoth she, her eyes wide open in amazement--not at the fact, but
at the audacity of what she conceived my falsehood.

"It is not impossible," said Fra Gervasio.  "What is your story, Agostino?"

I told it--how the child out of a very gentle and Christian pity had
released the poor birds that were taken in Rinolfo's limed twigs, and how
in a fury he had made to beat her, so that she had fled to me for shelter
and protection; and how, thereupon, I had bidden him begone out of that
garden, and never set foot in it again.

"And now," I ended, "you know all the violence that I showed him, and the
reason for it.  If you say that I did wrong, I warn you that I shall not
believe you."

"Indeed..." began the friar with a faint smile of friendliness.  But my
mother interrupted him, betwixt sorrow and anger.

"He lies, Gervasio.  He lies shamelessly.  0, into what a morass of sin has
he not fallen, and every moment he goes deeper!  Have I not said that he is
possessed?  We shall need the exorcist."

"We shall indeed, madam mother, to clear your mind of foolishness," I
answered hotly, for it stung me to the soul to be branded thus a liar, to
have my word discredited by that of a lout such as Rinolfo.

She rose a sombre pillar of indignation.  "Agostino, I am your mother," she
reminded me.

"Let us thank God that for that, at least, you cannot blame me," answered
I, utterly reckless now.

The answer crushed her back into her chair.  She looked appealingly at Fra
Gervasio, who stood glum and frowning.  "Is he...is he perchance
bewitched?" she asked the friar, quite seriously.  "Do you think that any
spells might have..."

He interrupted her with a wave of the hand and an impatient snort

"We are at cross purposes here," he said.  "Agostino does not lie.  For
that I will answer."

"But, Fra Gervasio, I tell you that I saw them--that I saw them with these
two eyes--sitting together on the terrace steps, and he had his arm about
her.  Yet he denies it shamelessly to my face."

"Said I ever a word of that?" I appealed me to the friar.  "Why, that was
after Rinolfo left us.  My tale never got so far.  It is quite true.  I did
sit beside her.  The child was troubled.  I comforted her.  Where was the
harm?"

"The harm?" quoth he.  "And you had your arm about her--and you to be a
priest one day?"

"And why not, pray?" quoth I.  "Is this some new sin that you have
discovered--or that you have kept hidden from me until now?  To console the
afflicted is an ordination of Mother Church; to love our fellow­creatures
an ordination of our Blessed Lord Himself.  I was performing both.  Am I to
be abused for that?"

He looked at me very searchingly, seeking in my countenance--as I now
know--some trace of irony or guile.  Finding none, he turned to my mother.
He was very solemn.

"Madonna," he said quietly, "I think that Agostino is nearer to being a
saint than either you or I will ever get."

She looked at him, first in surprise, then very sadly.  Slowly she shook
her head.  "Unhappily for him there is another arbiter of saintship, Who
sees deeper than do you, Gervasio."

He bowed his head.  "Better not to look deep enough than to do as you seem
in danger of doing, Madonna, and by looking too deep imagine things which
do not exist."

"Ah, you will defend him against reason even," she complained.  "His anger
exists.  His thirst to kill--to stamp himself with the brand of Cain--
exists.  He confesses that himself.  His insubordination to me you have
seen for yourself; and that again is sin, for it is ordained that we shall
honour our parents.

"0!" she moaned.  "My authority is all gone.  He is beyond my control.  He
has shaken off the reins by which I sought to guide him."

"You had done well to have taken my advice a year ago, Madonna.  Even now
it is not too late.  Let him go to Pavia, to the Sapienza, to study his
humanities."

"Out into the world!" she cried in horror.  "0, no, no!  I have sheltered
him here so carefully!"

"Yet you cannot shelter him for ever," said he.  "He must go out into the
world some day."

"He need not," she faltered.  "If the call were strong enough within him, a
convent..."  She left her sentence unfinished, and looked at me.

"Go, Agostino," she bade me.  "Fra Gervasio and I must talk."

I went reluctantly, since in the matter of their talk none could have had a
greater interest than I, seeing that my fate stood in the balance of it.
But I went, none the less, and her last words to me as I was departing were
an injunction that I should spend the time until I should take up my
studies for the day with Fra Gervasio in seeking forgiveness for the
morning's sins and grace to do better in the future.




CHAPTER VI

FRA GERVASIO


I did not again see my mother that day, nor did she sup with us that
evening.  I was told by Fra Gervasio that on my account was she in retreat,
praying for light and guidance in the thing that must be determined
concerning me.

I withdrew early to my little bedroom overlooking the gardens, a room that
had more the air of a monastic cell than a bedchamber fitting the estate of
the Lord of Mondolfo.  The walls were whitewashed, and besides the crucifix
that hung over my bed, their only decoration was a crude painting of St.
Augustine disputing with the little boy on the seashore.

For bed I had a plain hard pallet, and the room contained, in addition, a
wooden chair, a stool upon which was set a steel basin with its ewer for my
ablutions, and a cupboard for the few sombre black garments I possessed--
for the amiable vanity of raiment usual in young men of my years had never
yet assailed me; I had none to emulate in that respect.

I got me to bed, blew out my taper, and composed myself to sleep.  But
sleep was playing truant from me.  Long I lay there surveying the events of
that day--the day in which I had embarked upon the discovery of myself; the
most stirring day that I had yet lived; the day in which, although I
scarcely realized it, if at all, I had at once tasted love and battle, the
strongest meats that are in the dish of life.

For some hours, I think, had I lain there, reflecting and putting together
pieces of the riddle of existence, when my door was softly opened, and I
started up in bed to behold Fra Gervasio bearing a taper which he sheltered
with one hand, so that the light of it was thrown upwards into his pale,
gaunt face.

Seeing me astir he came forward and closed the door.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Sh!" he admonished me, a finger to his lips.  He advanced to my side, set
down the taper on the chair, and seated himself upon the edge of my bed.

"Lie down again, my son," he bade me.  "I have something to say to you."

He paused a moment, whilst I settled down again and drew the coverlet to my
chin not without a certain premonition of important things to come.

"Madonna has decided," he informed me then.  "She fears that having once
resisted her authority, you are now utterly beyond her control; and that to
keep you here would be bad for yourself and for her.  Therefore she has
resolved that to-morrow you leave Mondolfo."

A faint excitement began to stir in me.  To leave Mondolfo--to go out into
that world of which I had read so much; to mingle with my fellow-man, with
youths of my own age, perhaps with maidens like Luisina, to see cities and
the ways of cities; here indeed was matter for excitement.  Yet it was an
excitement not altogether pleasurable; for with my very natural curiosity,
and with my eagerness to have it gratified, were blended certain fears
imbibed from the only quality of reading that had been mine.

The world was an evil place in which temptations seethed, and through which
it was difficult to come unscathed.  Therefore, I feared the world and the
adventuring beyond the shelter of the walls of the castle of Mondolfo; and
yet I desired to judge for myself the evil of which I read, the evil which
in moments of doubt I even permitted myself to question.

My reasoning followed the syllogism that God being good and God having
created the world, it was not possible that the creation should be evil.
It was well enough to say that the devil was loose in it.  But that was not
to say that the devil had created it; and it would be necessary to prove
this ere it could be established that it was evil in itself--as many
theologians appeared to seek to show--and a place to be avoided.

Such was the question that very frequently arose in my mind, ultimately to
be dismissed as a lure of Satan's to imperil my poor soul.  It battled for
existence now amid my fears; and it gained some little ascendancy.

"And whither am I to go?" I asked.  "To Pavia, or to the University of
Bologna?"

"Had my advice been heeded," said he, "one or the other would have been
your goal.  But your mother took counsel with Messer Arcolano."

He shrugged, and there was contempt in the lines of his mouth.  He
distrusted Arcolano, the regular cleric who was my mother's confessor and
spiritual adviser, exerting over her a very considerable influence.  She,
herself, had admitted that it was this Arcolano who had induced her to that
horrid traffic in my father's life and liberty which she was mercifully
spared from putting into effect.

"Messer Arcolano," he resumed after a pause, "has a good friend in
Piacenza, a pedagogue, a doctor of civil and canon law, a man who, he says,
is very learned and very pious, named Astorre Fifanti.  I have heard of
this Fifanti, and I do not at all agree with Messer Arcolano.  I have said
so.  But your mother..."  He broke off.  "It is decided that you go to him
at once, to take up your study of the humanities under his tutelage, and
that you abide with him until you are of an age for ordination, which your
mother hopes will be very soon.  Indeed, it is her wish that you should
enter the subdeaconate in the autumn, and your novitiate next year, to fit
you for the habit of St. Augustine."

He fell silent, adding no comment of any sort, as if he waited to hear what
of my own accord I might have to urge.  But my mind was incapable of
travelling beyond the fact that I was to go out into the world to-morrow.

The circumstance that I should become a monk was no departure from the idea
to which I had been trained, although explicitly no more than my mere
priesthood had been spoken of.  So I lay there without thinking of any
words in which to answer him.

Gervasio considered me steadily, and sighed a little.  "Agostino," he said
presently, "you are upon the eve of taking a great step, a step whose
import you may never fully have considered.  I have been your tutor, and
your rearing has been my charge.  That charge I have faithfully carried out
as was ordained me, but not as I would have carried it out had I been free
to follow my heart and my conscience in the matter.

"The idea of your ultimate priesthood has been so fostered in your mind
that you may well have come to believe that to be a priest is your own
inherent desire.  I would have you consider it well now that the time
approaches for a step which is irrevocable."

His words and his manner startled me alike.

"How?" I cried.  "Do you say that it might be better if I did not seek
ordination?  What better can the world offer than the priesthood?  Have you
not, yourself, taught me that it is man's noblest calling?"

"To be a good priest, fulfilling all the teachings of the Master, becoming
in your turn His mouthpiece, living a life of self-abnegation, of self-
sacrifice and purity," he answered slowly, "that is the noblest thing a man
can be.  But to be a bad priest--there are other ways of being damned less
hurtful to the Church."

"To be a bad priest?" quoth I.  "Is it possible to be a bad priest?"

"It is not only possible, my son, but in these days it is very frequent.
Many men, Agostino, enter the Church out of motives of self-seeking.
Through such as these Rome has come to be spoken of as the Necropolis of
the Living.  Others, Agostino--and these are men most worthy of pity--enter
the Church because they are driven to it in youth by ill-advised parents.
I would not have you one of these, my son."

I stared at him, my amazement ever growing.  "Do you...do you think I am in
danger of it?" I asked.

"That is a question you must answer for yourself.  No man can know what is
in another's heart.  I have trained you as I was bidden train you.  I have
seen you devout, increasing in piety, and yet..."  He paused, and looked at
me again.  "It may be that this is no more than the fruit of your training;
it may be that your piety and devotion are purely intellectual.  It is very
often so.  Men know the precepts of religion as a lawyer knows the law.  It
no more follows out of that that they are religious--though they conceive
that it does--than it follows that a lawyer is law-abiding.  It is in the
acts of their lives that we must seek their real natures, and no single act
of your life, Agostino, has yet given sign that the call is in your heart.

"To-day, for instance, at what is almost your first contact with the world,
you indulge your human feelings to commit a violence; that you did not kill
is as much an accident as that you broke Rinolfo's leg.  I do not say that
you did a very sinful thing.  In a worldly youth of your years the
provocation you received would have more than justified your action.  But
not in one who aims at a life of humility and self-forgetfulness such as
the priesthood imposes."

"And yet," said I, "I heard you tell my mother below stairs that I was
nearer sainthood than either of you."

He smiled sadly, and shook his head.  "They were rash words, Agostino.  I
mistook ignorance for purity--a common error.  I have pondered it since,
and my reflection brings me to utter what in this household amounts to
treason."

"I do not understand," I confessed.

"My duty to your mother I have discharged more faithfully perhaps than I
had the right to do.  My duty to my God I am discharging now, although to
you I may rather appear as an advocatus diaboli.  This duty is to warn you;
to bid you consider well the step you are to take.

"Listen, Agostino.  I am speaking to you out of the bitter experience of a
very cruel life.  I would not have you tread the path I have trodden.  It
seldom leads to happiness in this world or the next; it seldom leads
anywhere but straight to Hell."

He paused, and I looked into his haggard face in utter stupefaction to hear
such words from the lips of one whom I had ever looked upon as goodness
incarnate.

"Had I not known that some day I must speak to you as I am speaking now, I
had long since abandoned a task which I did not consider good.  But I
feared to leave you.  I feared that if I were removed my place might be
taken by some time-server who to earn a livelihood would tutor you as your
mother would have you tutored, and thrust you forth without warning upon
the life to which you have been vowed.

"Once, years ago, I was on the point of resisting your mother."  He passed
a hand wearily across his brow.  "It was on the night that Gino Falcone
left us, driven forth by her because she accounted it her duty.  Do you
remember, Agostino?"

"0, I remember!" I answered.

"That night," he pursued, "I was angered--righteously angered to see so
wicked and unchristian an act performed in blasphemous self-righteousness.
I was on the point of denouncing the deed as it deserved, of denouncing
your mother for it to her face.  And then I remembered you.  I remembered
the love I had borne your father, and my duty to him, to see that no such
wrong was done you in the end as that which I feared.  I reflected that if
I spoke the words that were burning my tongue for utterance, I should go as
Gino Falcone had gone.

"Not that the going mattered.  I could better save my soul elsewhere than
here in this atmosphere of Christianity misunderstood; and there are always
convents of my order to afford me shelter.  But your being abandoned
mattered; and I felt that if I went, abandoned you would be to the
influences that drove and moulded you without consideration for your nature
and your inborn inclinations.  Therefore I remained, and left Falcone's
cause unchampioned.  Later I was to learn that he had found a friend, and
that he was...that he was being cared for."

"By whom?" quoth I, more interested perhaps in this than in anything that
he had yet said.

"By one who was your father's friend," he said, after a moment's
hesitation, "a soldier of fortune by name of Galeotto--a leader of free
lances who goes by the name of Il Gran Galeotto.  But let that be.  I want
to tell you of myself, that you may judge with what authority I speak.

"I was destined, Agostino, for a soldier's life in the following of my
valiant foster-brother, your father.  Had I preserved the strength of my
early youth, undoubtedly a soldier's harness would be strapped here to-day
in the place of this scapulary.  But it happened that an illness left me
sickly and ailing, and unfitted me utterly for such a life.  Similarly it
unfitted me for the labour of the fields, so that I threatened to become a
useless burden upon my parents, who were peasant-folk.  To avoid this they
determined to make a monk of me; they offered me to God because they found
me unfitted for the service of man; and, poor, simple, self-deluded folk,
they accounted that in doing so they did a good and pious thing.

I showed aptitude in learning; I became interested in the things I studied;
I was absorbed by them in fact, and never gave a thought to the future; I
submitted without question to the wishes of my parents, and before I
awakened to a sense of what was done and what I was, myself, I was in
orders."

He sank his voice impressively as he concluded--"For ten years thereafter,
Agostino, I wore a hair-shirt day and night, and for girdle a knotted
length of whip-cord in which were embedded thorns that stung and chafed me
and tore my body.  For ten years, then, I never knew bodily ease or proper
rest at night.  Only thus could I bring into subjection my rebellious
flesh, and save myself from the way of ordinary men which to me must have
been a path of sacrilege and sin.  I was devout.  Had I not been devout and
strong in my devotion I could never have endured what I was forced to
endure as the alternative to damnation, because without consideration for
my nature I had been ordained a priest.

"Consider this, Agostino; consider it well.  I would not have you go that
way, nor feel the need to drive yourself from temptation by such a spur.
Because I know--I say it in all humility, Agostino, I hope, and thanking
God for the exceptional grace He vouchsafed me to support me--that for one
priest without vocation who can quench temptation by such agonizing means,
a hundred perish, which is bad; and by the scandal of their example they
drive many from the Church and set a weapon in the hands of her enemies,
which is a still heavier reckoning to meet hereafter."

A spell of silence followed.  I was strangely moved by his tale, strangely
impressed by the warning that I perceived in it.  And yet my confidence, I
think, was all unshaken.

And when presently he rose, took up his taper, and stood by my bedside to
ask me once again did I believe myself to be called, I showed my confidence
in my answer.

"It is my hope and prayer that I am called, indeed," I said.  "The life
that will best prepare me for the world to come is the life I would
follow."

He looked at me long and sadly.  "You must do as your heart bids you," he
sighed.  "And when you have seen the world, your heart will have learnt to
speak to you more plainly."  And upon that he left me.

Next day I set out.

My leave-takings were brief.  My mother shed some tears and many prayers
over me at parting.  Not that she was moved to any grief at losing me.
That were a grief I should respect and the memory of which I should
treasure as a sacred thing.  Her tears were tears of dread lest, surrounded
by perils in the world, I should succumb and thus falsify her vows

She, herself, confessed it in the valedictory words she addressed to me.
Words that left the conviction clear upon my mind that the fulfilment of
her vow was the only thing concerning me that mattered.  To the price that
later might be paid for it I cannot think that she ever gave a single
thought.

Tears there were too in the eyes of Fra Gervasio.  My mother had suffered
me to do no more than kiss her hand--as was my custom.  But the friar took
me to his bosom, and held me tight a moment in his long arms.

"Remember!" he murmured huskily and impressively.  And then, putting me
from him, God help and guide you, my son," were his last words.

I went down the steps into the courtyard where most of the servants were
gathered to see their lord's departure, whilst Messer Arcolano, who was to
go with me, paused to assure my mother of the care that he would have of
me, and to receive her final commands concerning me.

Four men, mounted and armed, stood waiting to escort us, and with them were
three mules, one for Arcolano, one for myself, and the third already laden
with my baggage.

A servant held my stirrup, and I swung myself up into the saddle, with
which I was but indifferently acquainted.  Then Arcolano mounted too,
puffing over the effort, for he was a corpulent, rubicund man with the
fattest hands I have ever seen.

I touched my mule with the whip, and the beast began to move.  Arcolano
ambled beside me; and behind us, abreast, came the men-at-arms.  Thus we
rode down towards the gateway, and as we went the servants murmured their
valedictory words.

"A safe journey, Madonnino!"

"A good return, Madonnino!"

I smiled back at them, and in the eyes of more than one I detected a look
of commiseration.

Once I turned, when the end of the quadrangle was reached, and I waved my
cap to my mother and Fra Gervasio, who stood upon the steps where I had
left them.  The friar responded by waving back to me.  But my mother made
no sign.  Likely enough her eyes were upon the ground again already

Her unresponsiveness almost angered me.  I felt that a man had the right to
some slight display of tenderness from the woman who had borne him.  Her
frigidity wounded me.  It wounded me the more in comparison with the
affectionate clasp of old Gervasio's arms.  With a knot in my throat I
passed from the sunlight of the courtyard into the gloom of the gateway,
and out again beyond, upon the drawbridge.  Our hooves thudded briskly upon
the timbers, and then with a sharper note upon the cobbles beyond.

I was outside the walls of the castle for the first time.  Before me the
long, rudely paved street of the borgo sloped away to the market-place of
the town of Mondolfo.  Beyond that lay the world, itself--all at my feet,
as I imagined.

The knot in my throat was dissolved.  My pulses quickened with
anticipation.  I dug my heels into the mule's belly and pushed on, the
portly cleric at my side.

And thus I left my home and the gloomy, sorrowful influence of my most
dolorous mother.






BOOK II

GIULIANA




CHAPTER I

THE HOUSE OF ASTORRE FIFANTI


Let me not follow in too close detail the incidents of that journey lest I
be in danger of becoming tedious.  In themselves they contained laughable
matter enough, but in the mere relation they may seem dull.

Down the borgo, ahead of us, ran the rumour that here was the Madonnino of
Mondolfo, and the excitement that the announcement caused was something at
which I did not know whether to be flattered or offended.

The houses gave up their inhabitants, and all stood at gaze as we passed,
to behold for the first time this lord of theirs of whom they had heard
Heaven knows what stories--for where there are elements of mystery human
invention can be very active.

At first so many eyes confused me; so that I kept my own steadily upon the
glossy neck of my mule.  Very soon, however, growing accustomed to being
stared at, I lost some of my shyness, and now it was that I became a
trouble to Messer Arcolano.  For as I looked about me there were a hundred
things to hold my attention and to call for inquiry and nearer inspection.

We had come by this into the market-place, and it chanced that it was a
market-day and that the square was thronged with peasants from the Val di
Taro who had come to sell their produce and to buy their necessaries.

I was for halting at each booth and inspecting the wares, and each time
that I made as if to do so, the obsequious peasantry fell away before me,
making way invitingly.  But Messer Arcolano urged me along, saying that we
had far to go, and that in Piacenza there were better shops and that I
should have more time to view them.

Then it was the fountain with its surmounting statues that caught my eye--
Durfreno's arresting, vigorous group of the Laocoon--and I must draw rein
and cry out in my amazement at so wonderful a piece of work, plaguing
Arcolano with a score of questions concerning the identity of the main
figure and how he came beset by so monstrous a reptile, and whether he had
succeeded in the end in his attempt to strangle it.

Arcolano, out of patience by now, answered me shortly that the reptile was
the sculptor's pious symbolization of sin, which St. Hercules was
overcoming.

I am by no means sure that such was not indeed his own conception of the
matter, and that there did not exist in his mind some confusion as to
whether the pagan demigod had a place in the Calendar or not.  For he was
an uncultured, plebeian fellow, and what my mother should have found in him
to induce her to prefer him for her confessor and spiritual counsellor to
the learned Fra Gervasio is one more of the many mysteries which an attempt
to understand her must ever present to me.

Then there were the young peasant girls who thronged about and stood in
groups, blushing furiously under my glance, which Arcolano vainly bade me
lower.  A score of times did it seem to me that one of these brown-legged,
lithe, comely creatures was my little Luisina; and more than once I was on
the point of addressing one or another, to discover my mistake and be
admonished for my astounding frivolousness by Messer Arcolano.

And when once or twice I returned the friendly laughter of these girls,
whilst the grinning serving-men behind me would nudge one another and wink
to see me--as they thought--so very far off the road to priesthood to which
I was vowed, hot anathema poured from the fat cleric's lips, and he urged
me roughly to go faster.

His tortures ended at last when we came into the open country.  We rode in
silence for a mile or two, I being full of thought of all that I had seen,
and infected a little by the fever of life through which I had just passed.
At last, I remember that I turned to Arcolano, who was riding with the ears
of his mule in line with my saddle-bow, and asked him to point out to me
where my dominions ended.

The meek question provoked an astonishingly churlish answer.  I was shortly
bidden to give my mind to other than worldly things; and with that he began
a homily, which lasted for many a weary mile, upon the vanities of the
world and the glories of Paradise--a homily of the very tritest, upon
subjects whereupon I, myself, could have dilated to better purpose than
could His Ignorance.

The distance from Mondolfo to Piacenza is a good eight leagues, and though
we had set out very early, it was past noon before we caught our first
glimpse of the city by the Po, lying low as it does in the vast Aemilian
plain, and Arcolano set himself to name to me this church and that whose
spires stood out against the cobalt background of the sky.

An hour or so after our first glimpse of the city, our weary beasts brought
us up to the Gate of San Lazzaro.  But we did not enter, as I had hoped.
Messer Arcolano had had enough of me and my questions at Mondolfo, and he
was not minded to expose himself to worse behaviour on my part in the more
interesting thoroughfares of this great city.

So we passed it by, and rode under the very walls by way of an avenue of
flowering chestnuts, round to the northern side, until we emerged suddenly
upon the sands of Po, and I had my first view at close quarters of that
mighty river flowing gently about the islands, all thick with willows, that
seemed to float upon its gleaming waters.

Fishermen were at work in a boat out in mid-stream, heaving their nets to
the sound of the oddest cantilena, and I was all for pausing there to watch
their operations.  But Arcolano urged me onward with that impatience of his
which took no account of my very natural curiosity.  Presently I drew rein
again with exclamations of delight and surprise to see the wonderful bridge
of boats that spanned the river a little higher up.

But we had reached our destination.  Arcolano called a halt at the gates of
a villa that stood a little way back from the road on slightly rising
ground near the Fodesta Gate.  He bade one of the grooms get down and open,
and presently we ambled up a short avenue between tall banks of laurel, to
the steps of the villa itself.

It was a house of fair proportions, though to me at the time, accustomed to
the vast spaces of Mondolfo, it seemed the merest hut.  It was painted
white, and it had green Venetian shutters which gave it a cool and pleasant
air; and through one of the open windows floated a sound of merry voices,
in which a woman's laugh was predominant.

The double doors stood open and through these there emerged a moment after
our halting a tall, thin man whose restless eyes surveyed us swiftly, whose
thin-lipped mouth smiled a greeting to Messer Arcolano in the pause he made
before hurrying down the steps with a slip-slop of ill-fitting shoes.

This was Messer Astorre Fifanti, the pedant under whom I was to study, and
with whom I was to take up my residence for some months to come.

Seeing in him one who was to be set in authority over me, I surveyed him
with the profoundest interest, and from that instant I disliked him.

He was, as I have said, a tall, thin man; and he had long hands that were
very big and bony in the knuckles.  Indeed they looked like monstrous
skeleton hands with a glove of skin stretched over them.  He was quite
bald, save for a curly grizzled fringe that surrounded the back of his
head, on a level with his enormous ears, and his forehead ran up to the
summit of his egg-shaped head.  His nose was pendulous and his eyes were
closely set, with too crafty a look for honesty.  He wore no beard, and his
leathery cheeks were blue from the razor.  His age may have been fifty; his
air was mean and sycophantic.  Finally he was dressed in a black gaberdine
that descended to his knees, and he ended in a pair of the leanest shanks
and largest feet conceivable.

To greet us he fawned and washed his bony hands in the air.

"You have made a safe journey, then," he purred.  "Benedicamus Dominum!"

"Deo gratias!" rumbled the fat priest, as he heaved his rotundity from the
saddle with the assistance of one of the grooms.

They shook hands, and Fifanti turned to survey me for the second time.

"And this is my noble charge!" said he.  "Salve!  Be welcome to my house,
Messer Agostino."

I got to earth, accepted his proffered hand, and thanked him.

Meanwhile the grooms were unpacking my baggage, and from the house came
hurrying an elderly servant to receive it and convey it within doors.

I stood there a little awkwardly, shifting from leg to leg, what time
Doctor Fifanti pressed Arcolano to come within and rest; he spoke, too, of
some Vesuvian wine that had been sent him from the South and upon which he
desired the priest's rare judgment.

Arcolano hesitated, and his gluttonous mouth quivered and twitched.  But he
excused himself in the end.  He must on.  He had business to discharge in
the town, and he must return at once and render an account of our safe
journey to the Countess at Mondolfo.  If he tarried now it would grow late
ere he reached Mondolfo, and late travelling pleased him not at all.  As it
was his bones would be weary and his flesh tender from so much riding; but
he would offer it up to Heaven for his sins.

And when the too-amiable Fifanti had protested how little there could be
the need in the case of one so saintly as Messer Arcolano, the priest made
his farewells.  He gave me his blessing and enjoined upon me obedience to
one who stood to me in loco parentis, heaved himself back on to his mule,
and departed with the grooms at his heels.

Then Doctor Fifanti set a bony hand upon my shoulder, and opined that after
my journey I must be in need of refreshment; and with that he led me within
doors, assuring me that in his house the needs of the body were as closely
cared for as the needs of the mind.

"For an empty belly," he ended with his odious, sycophantic geniality,
"makes an empty heart and an empty head."

We passed through a hall that was prettily paved in mosaics, into a chamber
of good proportions, which seemed gay to me after the gloom by which I had
been surrounded.

The ceiling was painted blue and flecked with golden stars, whilst the
walls were hung with deep blue tapestries on which was figured in grey and
brownish red a scene which, I was subsequently to learn, represented the
metamorphosis of Actaeon.  At the moment I did not look too closely.  The
figures of Diana in her bath with her plump attendant nymphs caused me
quickly to withdraw my bashful eyes.

A good-sized table stood in the middle of the floor, bearing, upon a broad
strip of embroidered white napery, sparkling crystal and silver, vessels of
wine and platters of early fruits.  About it sat a very noble company of
some half-dozen men and two very resplendent women.  One of these was
slight and little, very dark and vivacious with eyes full of a malicious
humour.  The other, of very noble proportions, of a fine, willowy height,
with coiled ropes of hair of a colour such as I had never dreamed could be
found upon human being.  It was ruddy and glowed like metal.  Her face and
neck--and of the latter there was a very considerable display--were of the
warm pale tint of old ivory.  She had large, low-lidded eyes, which lent
her face a languid air.  Her brow was low and broad, and her lips of a most
startling red against the pallor of the rest.

She rose instantly upon my entrance, and came towards me with a slow smile,
holding out her hand, and murmuring words of most courteous welcome.

"This, Ser Agostino," said Fifanti, "is my wife."

Had he announced her to be his daughter it would have been more credible on
the score of their respective years, though equally incredible on the score
of their respective personalities.

I gaped foolishly in my amazement, a little dazzled, too, by the effulgence
of her eyes, which were now raised to the level of my own.  I lowered my
glance abashed, and answered her as courteously as I could.  Then she led
me to the table, and presented me to the company, naming each to me.

The first was a slim and very dainty young gentleman in a scarlet walking-
suit, over which he wore a long scarlet mantle.  A gold cross was suspended
from his neck by a massive chain of gold.  He was delicately featured, with
a little pointed beard, tiny mustachios, and long, fair hair that fell in
waves about his effeminate face.  He had the whitest of hands, very
delicately veined in blue, and it was--as I soon observed--his habit to
carry them raised, so that the blood might not flow into them to coarsen
their beauty.  Attached to his left wrist by a fine chain was a gold
pomander-ball of the size of a small apple, very beautifully chiselled.
Upon one of his fingers he wore the enormous sapphire ring of his rank.

That he was a prince of the Church I saw for myself; but I was far from
being prepared for the revelation of his true eminence--never dreaming that
a man of the humble position of Doctor Fifanti would entertain a guest so
exalted.

He was no less a person than the Lord Egidio Oberto Gambara, Cardinal of
Brescia, Governor of Piacenza and Papal Legate to Cisalpine Gaul.

The revelation of the identity of this elegant, effeminate, perfumed
personage was a shock to me; for it was not thus by much that I had
pictured the representative of our Holy Father the Pope.

He smiled upon me amiably and something wearily, the satiate smile of the
man of the world, and he languidly held out to me the hand bearing his
ring.  I knelt to kiss it, overawed by his ecclesiastical rank, however
little awed by the man within it.

As I rose again he looked up at me considering my inches.

"Why," said he, "here is a fine soldier lost to glory."  And as he spoke,
he half turned to a young man who sat beside him, a man at whom I was eager
to take a fuller look, for his face was most strangely familiar to me.

He was tall and graceful, very beautifully dressed in purple and gold, and
his blue-black hair was held in a net or coif of finest gold thread.  His
garments clung as tightly and smoothly as if he had been kneaded into
them--as, indeed, he had.  But it was his face that held my eyes.  It was a
sun-tanned, shaven hawk-face with black level brows, black eyes, and a
strong jaw, handsome save for something displeasing in the lines of the
mouth, something sardonic, proud, and contemptuous.

The Cardinal addressed him.  "You breed fine fellows in your family,
Cosimo," were the words with which he startled me, and then I knew where I
had seen that face before.  In my mirror.

He was as like me--save that he was blacker and not so ta1l--as if he had
been own brother to me instead of merely cousin as I knew at once he was.
For he must be that guelphic Anguissola renegade who served the Pope and
was high in favour with Farnese, and Captain of Justice in Piacenza.  In
age he may have been some seven or eight years older than myself.

I stared at him now with interest, and I found attractions in him, the
chief of which was his likeness to my father.  So must my father have
looked when he was this fellow's age.  He returned my glance with a smile
that did not improve his countenance, so contemptuously languid was it, so
very supercilious.

"You may stare, cousin," said he, "for I think I do you the honour to be
something like you."

"You will find him," lisped the Cardinal to me, "the most self-complacent
dog in Italy.  When he sees in you a likeness to himself he flatters
himself grossly, which, as you know him better, you will discover to be his
inveterate habit.  He is his own most assiduous courtier."  And my Lord
Gambara sank back into his chair, languishing, the pomander to his
nostrils.

All laughed, and Messer Cosimo with them, still considering me.

But Messer Fifanti's wife had yet to make me known to three others who sat
there, beside the little sloe-eyed lady.  This last was a cousin of her
own--Donna Leocadia degli Allogati, whom I saw now for the first and last
time.

The three remaining men of the company are of little interest save one,
whose name was to be well known--nay, was well known already, though not to
one who had lived in such seclusion as mine.

This was that fine poet Annibale Caro, whom I have heard judged to be all
but the equal of the great Petrarca himself.  A man who had less the air of
a poet it would not be easy to conceive.  He was of middle height and of a
habit of body inclining to portliness, and his age may have been forty.
His face was bearded, ruddy, and small-featured, and there was about him an
air of smug prosperity; he was dressed with care, but he had none of the
splendour of the Cardinal or my cousin.  Let me add that he was secretary
to the Duke Pier Luigi Farnese, and that he was here in Piacenza on a
mission to the Governor in which his master's interests were concerned.

The other two who completed that company are of no account, and indeed
their names escape me, though I seem to remember that one was named Pacini
and that he was said to be a philosopher of considerable parts.

Bidden to table by Messer Fifanti, I took the chair he offered me beside
his lady, and presently came the old servant whom already I had seen,
bearing meat for me.  I was hungry, and I fell to with zest, what time a
pleasant ripple of talk ran round the board.  Facing me sat my cousin, and
I never observed until my hunger was become less clamorous with what an
insistence he regarded me.  At last, however, our eyes met across the
board.  He smiled that crooked, somewhat unpleasant smile of his.

"And so, Ser Agostino, they are to make a priest of you?" said he.

"God pleasing," I answered soberly, and perhaps shortly.

"And if his brains at all resemble his body," lisped the Cardinal-legate,
"you may live to see an Anguissola Pope, my Cosimo."

My stare must have betrayed my amazement at such words.  "Not so,
magnificent," I made answer.  "I am destined for the life monastic."

"Monastic!" quoth he, in a sort of horror, and looking as if a bad smell
had suddenly been thrust under his nose.  He shrugged and pouted and had
fresh recourse to his pomander.  "0, well!  Friars have become popes before
to-day."

"I am to enter the hermit order of St. Augustine," I again corrected.

"Ah!" said Caro, in his big, full voice.  "He aspires not to Rome but to
Heaven, my lord."

"Then what the devil does he in your house, Fifanti?" quoth the Cardinal.
"Are you to teach him sanctity?"

And the table shook with laughter at a jest I did not understand any more
than I understood my Lord Cardinal.

Messer Fifanti, sitting at the table-head, shot me a glance of anxious
inquiry; he smiled foolishly, and washed his hands in the air again, his
mind fumbling for an answer that should turn aside that barbed jest.  But
he was forestalled by my cousin Cosimo.

"The teaching might come more aptly from Monna Giuliana," said he, and
smiled very boldly across at Fifanti's lady who sat beside me, whilst a
frown grew upon the prodigious brow of the pedant.

"Indeed, indeed," the Cardinal murmured, considering her through half-
closed eyes, "there is no man but may enter Paradise at her bidding."  And
he sighed furiously, whilst she chid him for his boldness; and for all that
much of what they said was in a language that might have been unknown to
me, yet was I lost in amazement to see a prelate made so free with.  She
turned to me, and the glory of her eyes fell about my soul like an
effulgence.

"Do not heed them, Ser Agostino.  They are profane and wicked men," she
said, "and if you aspire to holiness, the less you see of them the better
will it be for you."

I did not doubt it, yet I dared not make so bold as to confess it, and I
wondered why they should laugh to hear her earnest censure of them.

"It is a thorny path, this path of holiness," said the Cardinal sighing.

"Your excellency has been told so, we assume," quoth Caro, who had a very
bitter tongue for one who looked so well-nourished and contented.

"I might have found it so for myself but that my lot has been cast among
sinners," answered the Cardinal, comprehending the company in his glance
and gesture.  "As it is, I do what I can to mend their lot."

"Now here is gallantry of a different sort!" cried the little Leocadia with
a giggle.

"0, as to that," quoth Cosimo, showing his fine teeth in a smile, "there is
a proverb as to the gallantry of priests.  It is like the love of women,
which again is like water in a basket--as soon in as out."  And his eyes
hung upon Giuliana.

"When you are the basket, sir captain, shall anyone blame the women?" she
countered with her lazy insolence.

"Body of God!" cried the Cardinal, and laughed wholeheartedly, whilst my
cousin scowled.  "There you have the truth, Cosimo, and the truth is better
than proverbs."

"It is unlucky to speak of the dead at table," put in Caro.

"And who spoke of the dead, Messer Annibale?" quoth Leocadia.

"Did not my Lord Cardinal mention Truth?" answered the brutal poet.

You are a derider--a gross sinner," said the Cardinal languidly.  "Stick to
your verses, man, and leave Truth alone."

"Agreed--if your excellency will stick to Truth and quit writing verses.  I
offer the compact in the interest of humanity, which will be the gainer."

The company shook with laughter at this direct and offensive hit.  But my
Lord Gambara seemed nowise incensed.  Indeed, I was beginning to conclude
that the man had a sweetness and tolerance of nature that bordered on the
saintly.

He sipped his wine thoughtfully, and held it up to the light so that the
deep ruby of it sparkled in the Venetian crystal.

"You remind me that I have written a new song," said he.

"Then have I sinned indeed," groaned Caro.

But Gambara, disregarding the interruption, his glass still raised, his
mild eyes upon the wine, began to recite:

     "Bacchus saepe visitans
      Mulierum genus
      Facit eas subditas
      Tibi, 0 tu Venus!"

Without completely understanding it, yet scandalized beyond measure at as
much as I understood, to hear such sentiments upon his priestly lips, I
stared at him in candid horror.

But he got no farther.  Caro smote the table with his fist.

"When wrote you that, my lord?" he cried.

"When?" quoth the Cardinal, frowning at the interruption.  "Why,
yestereve."

"Ha!"  It was something between a bark and a laugh from Messer Caro.  "In
that case, my lord, memory usurped the place of invention.  That song was
sung at Pavia when I was a student--which is more years ago than I care to
think of."

The Cardinal smiled upon him, unabashed.  "And what then, pray?  Can we
avoid these things?  Why, the very Virgil whom you plagiarize so freely was
himself a plagiarist."

Now this, as you may well conceive, provoked a discussion about the board,
in which all joined, not excepting Fifanti's lady and Donna Leocadia.

I listened in some amazement and deep interest to matters that were
entirely strange to me, to the arguing of mysteries which seemed to me--
even from what I heard of them--to be strangely attractive.

Anon Fifanti joined in the discussion, and I observed how as soon as he
began to speak they all fell silent, all listened to him as to a master,
what time he delivered himself of his opinions and criticisms of this
Virgil, with a force, a lucidity and an eloquence that revealed his
learning even to one so ignorant as myself.

He was listened to with deference by all, if we except perhaps my Lord
Gambara, who had no respect for anything and who preferred to whisper to
Leocadia under cover of his hand, ogling her what time she simpered.  Once
or twice Monna Giuliana flashed him an unfriendly glance, and this I
accounted natural, deeming that she resented this lack of attention to the
erudite dissertation of her husband.

But as for the others, they were attentive, as I have said, and even Messer
Caro, who at the time--as I gathered then--was engaged upon a translation
of Virgil into Tuscan, and who, therefore, might be accounted something of
an authority, held his peace and listened what time the doctor reasoned and
discoursed.

Fifanti's mean, sycophantic air fell away from him as by magic.  Warmed by
his subject and his enthusiasm he seemed suddenly ennobled, and I found him
less antipathic; indeed, I began to see something admirable in the man,
some of that divine quality that only deep culture and learning can impart.

I conceived that now, at last, I held the explanation of how it came to
pass that so distinguished a company frequented his house and gathered on
such familiar terms about his board.

And I began to be less amazed at the circumstance that he should possess
for wife so beautiful and superb a creature as Madonna Giuliana.  I thought
that I obtained glimpses of the charm which that elderly man might be able
to exert upon a fine and cultured young nature with aspirations for things
above the commonplace.




CHAPTER II

HUMANITIES


As the days passed and swelled into weeks, and these, in their turn,
accumulated into months, I grew rapidly learned in worldly matters at
Doctor Fifanti's house.

The curriculum I now pursued was so vastly different from that which my
mother had bidden Fra Gervasio to set me, and my acquaintance with the
profane writers advanced so swiftly once it was engaged upon, that I
acquired knowledge as a weed grows.

Fifanti flung into strange passions when he discovered the extent of my
ignorance and the amazing circumstance that whilst Fra Gervasio had made of
me a fluent Latin scholar, he had kept me in utter ignorance of the classic
writers, and almost in as great an ignorance of history itself.  This the
pedant set himself at once to redress, and amongst the earliest works he
gave me as preparation were Latin translations of Thucydides and Herodotus
which I devoured--especially the glowing pages of the latter--at a speed
that alarmed my tutor.

But mere studiousness was not my spur, as he imagined.  I was enthralled by
the novelty of the matters that I read, so different from all those with
which I had been allowed to become acquainted hitherto.

There followed Tacitus, and after him Cicero and Livy, which latter two I
found less arresting; then came Lucretius, and his De Rerum Naturae proved
a succulent dish to my inquisitive appetite.

But the cream and glory of the ancient writers I had yet to taste.  My
first acquaintance with the poets came from the translation of Virgil upon
which Messer Caro was at the time engaged.  He had definitely taken up his
residence in Piacenza, whither it was said that Farnese, his master, who
was to be made our Duke, would shortly come.  And in the interval of
labouring for Farnese, as Caro was doing, he would toil at his translation,
and from time to time he would bring sheaves of his manuscript to the
doctor's house, to read what he had accomplished.

He came, I remember, one languid afternoon in August, when I had been with
Messer Fifanti for close upon three months, during which time my mind had
gradually, yet swiftly, been opening out like a bud under the sunlight of
much new learning.  We sat in the fine garden behind the house, on the
lawn, in the shade of mulberry trees laden with yellow translucent fruit,
by a pond that was all afloat with water-lilies.

There was a crescent-shaped seat of hewn marble, over which Messer Gambara,
who was with us, had thrown his scarlet cardinal's cloak, the day being
oppressively hot.  He was as usual in plain, walking clothes, and save for
the ring on his finger and the cross on his breast, you had never conceived
him an ecclesiastic.  He sat near his cloak, upon the marble seat, and
beside him sat Monna Giuliana, who was all in white save for the gold
girdle at her waist.

Caro, himself, stood to read, his bulky manuscript in his hands.  Against
the sundial, facing the poet, leaned the tall figure of Messer Fifanti, his
bald head uncovered and shining humidly, his eyes ever and anon stealing a
look at his splendid wife where she sat so demurely at the prelate's side.

Myself, I lay on the grass near the pond, my hand trailing in the cool
water, and at first I was not greatly interested.  The heat of the day and
the circumstance that we had dined, when played upon by the poet's booming
and somewhat monotonous voice, had a lulling effect from which I was in
danger of falling asleep.  But anon, as the narrative warmed and quickened,
the danger was well overpast.  I was very wide-awake, my pulses throbbing,
my imagination all on fire.  I sat up and listened with an enthralled
attention, unconscious of everything and everybody, unconscious even of the
very voice of the reader, intent only upon the amazing, tragic matter that
he read.

For it happened that this was the Fourth Book of the Aeneid, and the most
lamentable, heartrending story of Dido's love for Aeneas, of his desertion
of her, of her grief and death upon the funeral pyre.

It held me spellbound.  It was more real then anything that I had ever read
or heard; and the fate of Dido moved me as if I had known and loved her; so
that long ere Messer Caro came to an end I was weeping freely in a most
exquisite misery.

Thereafter I was as one who has tasted strong wine and finds his thirst
fired by it.  Within a week I had read the Aeneid through, and was reading
it a second time.  Then came the Comedies of Terence, the Metamorphoses of
Ovid, Martial, and the Satires of Juvenal.  And with those my
transformation was complete.  No longer could I find satisfaction in the
writings of the fathers of the church, or in contemplating the lives of the
saints, after the pageantries which the eyes of my soul had looked upon in
the profane authors.

What instructions my mother supposed Fifanti to have received concerning me
from Arcolano, I cannot think.  But certain it is that she could never have
dreamed under what influences I was so soon to come, no more than she could
conceive what havoc they played with all that hitherto I had learnt and
with the resolutions that I had formed--and that she had formed for me--
concerning the future.

All this reading perturbed me very oddly, as one is perturbed who having
long dwelt in darkness is suddenly brought into the sunlight and dazzled by
it, so that, grown conscious of his sight, he is more effectively blinded
than he was before.  For the process that should have been a gradual one
from tender years was carried through in what amounted to little more than
a few weeks.

My Lord Gambara took an odd interest in me.  He was something of a
philosopher in his trivial way; something of a student of his fellow-man;
and he looked upon me as an odd human growth that was being subjected to an
unusual experiment.  I think he took a certain delight in helping that
experiment forward; and certain it is that he had more to do with the
debauching of my mind than any other, or than any reading that I did.

It was not that he told me more than elsewhere I could have learnt; it was
the cynical manner in which he conveyed his information.  He had a way of
telling me of monstrous things as if they were purely normal and natural to
a properly focussed eye, and as if any monstrousness they might present to
me were due to some distortion imparted to them solely by the imperfection
of my intellectual vision.

Thus it was from him that I learnt certain unsuspected things concerning
Pier Luigi Farnese, who, it was said, was coming to be our Duke, and on
whose behalf the Emperor was being importuned to invest him in the Duchy of
Parma and Piacenza.

One day as we walked together in the garden--my Lord Gambara and I--I asked
him plainly what was Messer Farnese's claim.

"His claim?" quoth he, checking, to give me a long, cool stare.  He laughed
shortly and resumed his pacing, I keeping step with him.  "Why, is he not
the Pope's son, and is not that claim enough?"

"The Pope's son!" I exclaimed.  "But how is it possible that the Holy
Father should have a son?"

"How is it possible?" he echoed mockingly.  "Why, I will tell you, sir.
When our present Holy Father went as Cardinal-legate to the Mark of Ancona,
he met there a certain lady whose name was Lola, who pleased him, and who
was pleased with him.  Alessandro Farnese was a handsome man, Ser Agostino.
She bore him three children, of whom one is dead, another is Madonna
Costanza, who is wed to Sforza of Santafiora, and the third--who really
happens to have been the first-born--is Messer Pier Luigi, present Duke of
Castro and future Duke of Piacenza."

It was some time ere I could speak.

"But his vows, then?" I exclaimed at last.

"Ah!  His vows!" said the Cardinal-legate.  "True, there were his vows.  I
had forgotten that.  No doubt he did the same."  And he smiled
sardonically, sniffing at his pomander-ball.

From that beginning in a fresh branch of knowledge much followed quickly.
Under my questionings, Messer Gambara very readily made me acquainted
through his unsparing eyes with that cesspool that was known as the Roman
Curia.  And my horror, my disillusionment increased at every word he said.

I learnt from him that Pope Paul III was no exception to the rule, no such
scandal as I had imagined; that his own elevation to the purple was due in
origin to the favour which his sister, the beautiful Giulia, had found in
the eyes of the Borgia Pope, some fifty years ago.  Through him I came to
know the Sacred College as it really was; not the very home and fount of
Christianity, as I had deemed it, controlled and guided by men of a sublime
saintliness of ways, but a gathering of ambitious worldlings, who had
become so brazen in their greed of temporal power that they did not even
trouble to cloak the sin and evil in which they lived; men in whom the
spirit that had actuated those saints the study of whose lives had been my
early delight, lived no more than it might live in the bosom of a harlot.

I said so to him one day in a wild, furious access of boldness, in one of
those passionate outbursts that are begotten of illusions blighted.

He heard me through quite calmly, without the least trace of anger, smiling
ever his quiet mocking smile, and plucking at his little, auburn beard.

"You are wrong, I think," he said.  "Say that the Church has fallen a prey
to self-seekers who have entered it under the cloak of the priesthood.
What then?  In their hands the Church has been enriched.  She has gained
power, which she must retain.  And that is to the Church's good."

"And what of the scandal of it?" I stormed.

"0, as to that--why, boy, have you never read Boccaccio?"

"Never," said I.

"Read him, then," he urged me.  "He will teach you much that you need to
know.  And read in particular the story of Abraam, the Jew, who upon
visiting Rome was so scandalized by the licence and luxury of the clergy
that he straightway had himself baptized and became a Christian, accounting
that a religion that could survive such wiles of Satan to destroy it must
indeed be the true religion, divinely inspired."  He laughed his little
cynical laugh to see my confusion increased by that bitter paradox.

It is little wonder that I was all bewildered, that I was like some poor
mariner upon unknown waters, without stars or compass.

Thus that summer ebbed slowly, and the time of my projected minor
ordination approached.  Messer Gambara's visits to Fifanti's grew more and
more frequent, until they became a daily occurrence; and now my cousin
Cosimo came oftener too.  But it was their custom to come in the forenoon,
when I was at work with Fifanti.  And often I observed the doctor to be
oddly preoccupied, and to spend much time in creeping to the window that
was all wreathed in clematis, and in peeping through that purple-decked
green curtain into the garden where his excellency and Cosimo walked with
Monna Giuliana.

When both visitors were there his anxiety seemed less.  But if only one
were present he would give himself no peace.  And once when Messer Gambara
and she went together within doors, he abruptly interrupted my studies,
saying that it was enough for that day; and he went below to join them.

Half a year earlier I should have had no solution for his strange
behaviour.  But I had learnt enough of the world by now to perceive what
maggot was stirring in that egg-shaped head.  Yet I blushed for him, and
for his foul and unworthy suspicions.  As soon would I have suspected the
painted Madonna from the brush of Raffaele Santi that I had seen over the
high altar of the Church of San Sisto, as suspect the beautiful and
noble­souled Giuliana of giving that old pedant cause for his uneasiness.
Still, I conceived that this was the penalty that such a withered growth of
humanity must pay for having presumed to marry a young wife.

We were much together in those days, Monna Giuliana and I.  Our intimacy
had grown over a little incident that it were well I should mention.

A young painter, Gianantonio Regillo, better known to the world as Il
Pordenone, had come to Piacenza that summer to decorate the Church of Santa
Maria della Campagna.  He came furnished with letters to the Governor, and
Gambara had brought him to Fifanti's villa.  From Monna Giuliana the young
painter heard the curious story of my having been vowed prenatally to the
cloister by my mother, learnt her name and mine, and the hope that was
entertained that I should walk in the ways of St. Augustine after whom I
had been christened.

It happened that he was about to paint a picture of St. Augustine, as a
fresco for the chapel of the Magi of the church I have named.  And having
seen me and heard that story of mine, he conceived the curious notion of
using me as the model for the figure of the saint.  I consented, and daily
for a week he came to us in the afternoons to paint; and all the time Monna
Giuliana would be with us, deeply interested in his work.

That picture he eventually transferred to his fresco, and there--O bitter
irony !--you may see me to this day, as the saint in whose ways it was
desired that I should follow.

Monna Giuliana and I would linger together in talk after the painter had
gone; and this would be at about the time that I had my first lessons of
Curial life from my Lord Gambara.  You will remember that he mentioned
Boccaccio to me, and I chanced to ask her was there in the library a copy
of that author's tales.

"Has that wicked priest bidden you to read them?" she inquired, 'twixt
seriousness and mockery, her dark eyes upon me in one of those glances that
never left me easy.

I told her what had passed; and with a sigh and a comment that I would get
an indigestion from so much mental nourishment as I was consuming, she led
me to the little library to find the book.

Messer Fifanti's was a very choice collection of works, and every one in
manuscript; for the doctor was something of an idealist, and greatly averse
to the printing-press and the wide dissemination of books to which it led.
Out of his opposition to the machine grew a dislike to its productions,
which he denounced as vulgar; and not even their comparative cheapness and
the fact that, when all was said, he was a man of limited means, would
induce him to harbour a single volume that was so produced.

Along the shelves she sought, and finally drew down four heavy tomes.
Turning the pages of the first, she found there, with a readiness that
argued a good acquaintance with the work, the story of Abraam the Jew,
which I desired to read as it had been set down.  She bade me read it
aloud, which I did, she seated in the window, listening to me.

At first I read with some constraint and shyness, but presently warming to
my task and growing interested, I became animated and vivacious in my
manner, so that when I ceased I saw her sitting there, her hands clasped
about one knee, her eyes upon my face, her lips parted a little, the very
picture of interest.

And with that it happened that we established a custom, and very often,
almost daily, after dinner, we would repair together to the library, and
I--who hitherto had no acquaintance with any save Latin works--began to
make and soon to widen my knowledge of our Tuscan writers.  We varied our
reading.  We dipped into our poets.  Dante we read, and Petrarca, and both
we loved, though better than the works of either--and this for the sake of
the swift movement and action that is in his narrative, though his
melodies, I realized, were not so pure--the Orlando of Ariosto.

Sometimes we would be joined by Fifanti himself; but he never stayed very
long.  He had an old-fashioned contempt for writings in what he called the
"dialettale," and he loved the solemn injuvenations of the Latin tongue.
Soon, as he listened, he would begin to yawn, and presently grunt and rise
and depart, flinging a contemptuous word at the matter of my reading, and
telling me at times that I might find more profitable amusement.

But I persisted in it, guided ever by Fifanti's lady.  And whatever we read
by way of divergence, ever and anon we would come back to the stilted,
lucid, vivid pages of Boccaccio.

One day I chanced upon the tragical story of "Isabetta and the Pot of
Basil," and whilst I read I was conscious that she had moved from where she
had been sitting and had come to stand behind my chair.  And when I reached
the point at which the heart-broken Isabetta takes the head of her murdered
lover to her room, a tear fell suddenly upon my hand.

I stopped, and looked up at Giuliana.  She smiled at me through unshed
tears that magnified her matchless eyes.

"I will read no more," I said.  "It is too sad."

"Ah, no!" she begged.  "Read on, Agostino!  I love its sadness."

So I read on to the story's cruel end, and when it was done I sat quite
still, myself a little moved by the tragedy of it, whilst Giuliana
continued to lean against my chair.  I was moved, too, in another way;
curiously and unaccountably; and I could scarcely have defined what it was
that moved me.

I sought to break the spell of it, and turned the pages.  "Let me read
something else," said I.  "Something more gay, to dispel the sadness of
this."

But her hand fell suddenly upon mine, enclasping and holding it.  "Ah, no!"
she begged me gently.  "Give me the book.  Let us read no more to-day.

I was trembling under her touch--trembling, my every nerve a-quiver and my
breath shortened--and suddenly there flashed through my mind a line of
Dante's in the story of Paolo and Francesca:

     "Quel giorno piu non vi leggemo avanti."

Giuliana's words: "Let us read no more to-day"--had seemed an echo of that
line, and the echo made me of a sudden conscious of an unsuspected
parallel.  All at once our position seemed to me strangely similar to that
of the ill-starred lovers of Rimini.

But the next moment I was sane again.  She had withdrawn her hand, and had
taken the volume to restore it to its shelf.

Ah, no!  At Rimini there had been two fools.  Here there was but one.  Let
me make an end of him by persuading him of his folly.

Yet Giuliana did nothing to assist me in that task.  She returned from the
book-shelf, and in passing lightly swept her fingers over my hair.

"Come, Agostino; let us walk in the garden," said she.

We went, my mood now overpast.  I was as sober and self-contained as was my
habit.  And soon thereafter came my Lord Gambara--a rare thing to happen in
the afternoon.

Awhile the three of us were together in the garden, talking of trivial
matters.  Then she fell to wrangling with him concerning something that
Caro had written and of which she had the manuscript.  In the end she
begged me would I go seek the writing in her chamber.  I went, and hunted
where she had bidden me and elsewhere, and spent a good ten minutes vainly
in the task.  Chagrined that I could not discover the thing, I went into
the library, thinking that it might be there.

Doctor Fifanti was writing busily at the table when I intruded.  He looked
up, thrusting his horn-rimmed spectacles high upon his peaked forehead

"What the devil!" quoth he very testily.  "I thought you were in the garden
with Madonna Giuliana."

"My Lord Gambara is there," said I.

He crimsoned and banged the table with his bony hand.  "Do I not know
that?" he roared, though I could see no reason for all this heat.  "And why
are you not with them?"

You are not to suppose that I was still the meek, sheepish lad who had come
to Piacenza three months ago.  I had not been learning my world and
discovering Man to no purpose all this while.

"It has yet to be explained to me," said I, "under what obligation I am to
be anywhere but where I please.  That firstly.  Secondly--but of infinitely
lesser moment--Monna Giuliana has sent me for the manuscript of Messer
Caro's Gigli d'Oro."

I know not whether it was my cool, firm tones that quieted him.  But quiet
he became.

"I...I was vexed by your interruption," he said lamely, to explain his late
choler.  "Here is the thing.  I found it here when I came.  Messer Caro
might discover better employment for his leisure.  But there, there"--he
seemed in sudden haste again.  "Take it to her in God's name.  She will be
impatient."  I thought he sneered.  "0, she will praise your diligence," he
added, and this time I was sure that he sneered.

I took it, thanked him, and left the room intrigued.  And when I rejoined
them, and handed her the manuscript, the odd thing was that the subject of
their discourse having meanwhile shifted, it no longer interested her, and
she never once opened the pages she had been in such haste to have me
procure.

This, too, was puzzling, even to one who was beginning to know his world

But I was not done with riddles.  For presently out came Fifanti himself,
looking, if possible, yellower and more sour and lean than usual.  He was
arrayed in his long, rusty gown, and there were the usual shabby slippers
on his long, lean feet.  He was ever a man of most indifferent personal
habits.

"Ah, Astorre," his wife greeted him.  "My Lord Cardinal brings you good
tidings."

"Does he so?" quoth Fifanti, sourly as I thought; and he looked at the
legate as though his excellency were the very reverse of a happy harbinger.

"You will rejoice, I think, doctor," said the smiling prelate, "to hear
that I have letters from my Lord Pier Luigi appointing you one of the ducal
secretaries.  And this, I doubt not, will be followed, on his coming
hither, by an appointment to his council.  Meanwhile, the stipend is three
hundred ducats, and the work is light."

There followed a long and baffling silence, during which the doctor grew
first red, then pale, then red again, and Messer Gambara stood with his
scarlet cloak sweeping about his shapely limbs, sniffing his pomander and
smiling almost insolently into the other's face; and some of the insolence
of his look, I thought, was reflected upon the pale, placid countenance of
Giuliana.

At last, Fifanti spoke, his little eyes narrowing.

"It is too much for my poor deserts," he said curtly.

"You are too humble," said the prelate.  "Your loyalty to the House of
Farnese, and the hospitality which I, its deputy, have received..."

"Hospitality!" barked Fifanti, and looked very oddly at Giuliana; so oddly
that a faint colour began to creep into her cheeks.  "You would pay for
that?" he questioned, half mockingly.  "Oh, but for that a stipend of three
hundred ducats is too little."

And all the time his eyes were upon his wife, and I saw her stiffen as if
she had been struck.

But the Cardinal laughed outright.  "Come now, you use me with an amiable
frankness," he said.  "The stipend shall be doubled when you join the
council."

"Doubled?" he said.  "Six hundred...?"  He checked.  The sum was vast.  I
saw greed creep into his little eyes.  What had troubled him hitherto, I
could not fathom even yet.  He washed his bony hands in the air, and looked
at his wife again.  "It...it is a fair price, no doubt, my lord," said he,
his tone contemptuous.

"The Duke shall be informed of the value of your learning," lisped the
Cardinal.

Fifanti knit his brows.  "The value of my learning?" he echoed, as if
slowly puzzled.  "My learning?  Oh!  Is that in question?"

"Why else should we give you the appointment?" smiled the Cardinal, with a
smile that was full of significance.

"It is what the town will be asking, no doubt," said Messer Fifanti.  "I
hope you will be able to satisfy its curiosity, my lord."

And on that he turned, and stalked off again, very white and trembling, as
I could perceive.

My Lord Gambara laughed carelessly again, and over the pale face of Monna
Giuliana there stole a slow smile, the memory of which was to be hateful to
me soon, but which at the moment went to increase my already profound
mystification.




CHAPTER III

PREUX-CHEVALIER


In the days that followed I found Messer Fifanti in queerer moods than
ever.  Ever impatient, he would be easily moved to anger now, and not a day
passed but he stormed at me over the Greek with which, under his guidance,
I was wrestling.

And with Giuliana his manner was the oddest thing conceivable; at times he
was mocking as an ape, at times his manner had in it a suggestion of the
serpent; more rarely he was his usual, vulturine self.  He watched her
curiously, ever between anger and derision, to all of which she presented a
calm front and a patience almost saintly.  He was as a man with some mighty
burden on his mind, undecided whether he shall bear it or cast it off.

Her patience moved me most oddly to pity; and pity for so beautiful a
creature is Satan's most subtle snare, especially when you consider what a
power her beauty had to move me as I had already discovered to my erstwhile
terror.  She confided in me a little in those days, but ever with a most
saintly resignation.  She had been sold into wedlock, she admitted, with a
man who might have been her father, and she confessed to finding her lot a
cruel one; but confessed it with the air of one who intends none the less
to bear her cross with fortitude.

And then, one day, I did a very foolish thing.  We had been reading
together, she and I, as was become our custom.  She had fetched me a volume
of the lascivious verse of Panormitano, and we sat side by side on the
marble seat in the garden what time I read to her, her shoulder touching
mine, the fragrance of her all about me.

She wore, I remember, a clinging gown of russet silk, which did rare
justice to the splendid beauty of her, and her heavy ruddy hair was
confined in a golden net that was set with gems--a gift from my Lord
Gambara.  Concerning this same gift words had passed but yesterday between
Giuliana and her husband; and I deemed the doctor's anger to be the fruit
of a base and unworthy mind.

I read, curiously enthralled--though whether by the beauty of the lines or
the beauty of the woman there beside me I could not then have told you

Presently she checked me.  "Leave now Panormitano," she said.  "Here is
something else upon which you shall give me your judgment."  And she set
before me a sheet upon which there was a sonnet writ in her own hand, which
was as beautiful as any copyist's that I have ever seen.

I read the poem.  It was the tenderest and saddest little cry from a heart
that ached and starved for an ideal love; and good as the manner seemed,
the matter itself it was that chiefly moved me.  At my admission of its
moving quality her white hand closed over mine as it had done that day in
the library when we had read of "Isabetta and the Pot of Basil."  Her hand
was warm, but not warm enough to burn me as it did.

"Ah, thanks, Agostino," she murmured.  "Your praise is sweet to me.  The
verses are my own."

I was dumbfounded at this fresh and more intimate glimpse of her.  The
beauty of her body was there for all to see and worship; but here was my
first glimpse of the rare beauties of her mind.  In what words I should
have answered her I do not know, for at that moment we suffered an
interruption.

Sudden and harsh as the crackling of a twig came from behind us the voice
of Messer Fifanti.  "What do you read?"

We started apart, and turned.

Either he, of set purpose, had crept up behind us so softly that we should
not suspect his approach, or else so engrossed were we that our ears had
been deafened for the time.  He stood there now in his untidy gown of
black, and there was a leer of mockery on his long, white face.  Slowly he
put a lean arm between us, and took the sheet in his bony claw.

He peered at it very closely, being without glasses, and screwed his eyes
up until they all but disappeared.

Thus he stood, and slowly read, whilst I looked on a trifle uneasy, and
Giuliana's face wore an odd look of fear, her bosom heaving unsteadily in
its russet sheath.

He sniffed contemptuously when he had read, and looked at me.

"Have I not bidden you leave the vulgarities of dialect to the vulgar?"
quoth he.  "Is there not enough written for you in Latin, that you must be
wasting your time and perverting your senses with such poor illiterate
gibberish as this?  And what is it that you have there?" He took the book.
"Panormitano!" he roared.  "Now, there's a fitting author for a saint in
embryo!  There's a fine preparation for the cloister!"

He turned to Giuliana.  He put forward his hand and touched her bare
shoulder with his hideous forefinger.  She cringed under the touch as if it
were barbed.

"There is not the need that you should render yourself his preceptress," he
said, with his deadly smile.

"I do not," she replied indignantly.  "Agostino has a taste for letters,
and..."

"Tcha!  Tcha!" he interrupted, tapping her shoulder sharply.  "I had no
thought for letters.  There is my Lord Gambara, and there is Messer Cosimo
d'Anguissola, and there is Messer Caro.  There is even Pordenone, the
painter."  His lips writhed over their names.  "You have friends enough, I
think.  Leave, then, Ser Agostino here.  Do not dispute him with God to
whom he has been vowed."

She rose in a fine anger, and stood quivering there, magnificently tall,
and Juno, I imagined, must have looked to the poets as she looked then to
me.

"This is too much!" she cried.

"It is, madam," he snapped.  "I agree with you."  She considered him with
eyes that held a loathing and contempt unutterable.  Then she looked at me,
and shrugged her shoulders as who would say: "You see how I am used!"
Lastly she turned, and took her way across the lawn towards the house.

There was a little silence between us after she had gone.  I was on fire
with indignation, and yet I could think of no words in which I might
express it, realizing how utterly I lacked the right to be angry with a
husband for the manner in which he chose to treat his wife.

At last, pondering me very gravely, he spoke.

"It were best you read no more with Madonna Giuliana," he said slowly.
"Her tastes are not the tastes that become a man who is about to enter holy
orders."  He closed the book, which hitherto he had held open; closed it
with an angry snap, and held it out to me.

"Restore it to its shelf," he bade me.

I took it, and quite submissively I went to do his bidding.  But to gain
the library I had to pass the door of Giuliana's room.  It stood open, and
Giuliana herself in the doorway.  We looked at each other, and seeing her
so sorrowful, with tears in her great dark eyes, I stepped forward to
speak, to utter something of the deep sympathy that stirred me.

She stretched forth a hand to me.  I took it and held it tight, looking up
into her eyes.

"Dear Agostino!" she murmured in gratitude for my sympathy; and I,
distraught, inflamed by tone and look, answered by uttering her name for
the first time.

"Giuliana!"

Having uttered it I dared not look at her.  But I stooped to kiss the hand
which she had left in mine.  And having kissed it I started upright and
made to advance again; but she snatched her hand from my clasp and waved me
away, at once so imperiously and beseechingly that I turned and went to
shut myself in the library with my bewilderment.

For full two days thereafter, for no reason that I could clearly give, I
avoided her, and save at table and in her husband's presence we were never
once together.

The repasts were sullen things at which there was little said, Madonna
sitting in a frozen dignity, and the doctor, a silent man at all times,
being now utterly and forbiddingly mute.

But once my Lord Gambara supped with us, and he was light and trivial as
ever, an incarnation of frivolity and questionable jests, apparently
entirely unconscious of Fifanti's chill reserve and frequent sneers.
Indeed, I greatly marvelled that a man of my Lord Gambara's eminence and
Governor of Piacenza should so very amiably endure the boorishness of that
pedant.

Explanation was about to be afforded me.

On the third day, as we were dining, Giuliana announced that she was going
afoot into the town, and solicited my escort.  It was an honour that never
before had been offered me.  I reddened violently, but accepted it, and
soon thereafter we set out, just she and I together.

We went by way of the Fodesta Gate, and passed the old Castle of Sant'
Antonio, then in ruins--for Gambara was demolishing it and employing the
material to construct a barrack for the Pontifical troops that garrisoned
Piacenza.  And presently we came upon the works of this new building, and
stepped out into mid-street to avoid the scaffoldings, and so pursued our
way into the city's main square--the Piazza del Commune, overshadowed by
the red-and-white bulk of the Communal Palace.  This was a noble building,
rather in the Saracenic manner, borrowing a very warlike air from the
pointed battlements that crowned it.

Near the Duomo we came upon a great concourse of people who were staring up
at the iron cage attached to the square tower of the belfry near its
summit.  In this cage there was what appeared at first to be a heap of
rags, but which presently resolved itself into a human shape, crouching in
that narrow, cruel space, exposed there to the pitiless beating of the sun,
and suffering Heaven alone can say what agonies.  The murmuring crowd
looked up in mingled fear and sympathy.

He had been there since last night, a peasant girl informed us, and he had
been confined there by order of my Lord the Cardinal-legate for the odious
sin of sacrilege.

"What!" I cried out, in such a tone of astonished indignation that Monna
Giuliana seized my arm and pressed it to enjoin prudence.

It was not until she had made her purchases in a shop under the Duomo and
we were returning home that I touched upon the matter.  She chid me for the
lack of caution that might have led me into some unpardonable indiscretions
but for her warning.

"But the very thought of such a man as my Lord Gambara torturing a poor
wretch for sacrilege!" I cried.  "It is grotesque; it is ludicrous; it is
infamous!"

"Not so loud," she laughed.  "You are being stared at."  And then she
delivered herself of an amazing piece of casuistry.  "If a man being a
sinner himself, shall on that account refrain from punishing sin in others,
then is he twice a sinner."

"It was my Lord Gambara taught you that," said I, and involuntarily I
sneered.

She considered me with a very searching look.

"Now, what precisely do you mean, Agostino?"

"Why, that it is by just such sophistries that the Cardinal-legate seeks to
cloak the disorders of his life.  'Video meliora proboque, deteriora
sequor?' is his philosophy.  If he would encage the most sacrilegious
fellow in Piacenza, let him encage himself."

"You do not love him?" said she.

"0--as to that--as a man he is well enough.  But as an ecclesiastic...0,
but there!" I broke off shortly, and laughed.  "The devil take Messer
Gambara!"

She smiled.  "It is greatly to be feared that he will."

But my Lord Gambara was not so lightly to be dismissed that afternoon.  As
we were passing the Porta Fodesta, a little group of country-folk that had
gathered there fell away before us, all eyes upon the dazzling beauty of
Giuliana--as, indeed, had been the case ever since we had come into the
town, so that I had been singularly and sweetly proud of being her escort.
I had been conscious of the envious glances that many a tall fellow had
sent after me, though, after all, theirs was but as the jealousy of Phoebus
for Adonis.

Wherever we had passed and eyes had followed us, men and women had fallen
to whispering and pointing after us.  And so did they now, here at the
Fodesta Gate, but with this difference, that, at last, I overheard for once
what was said, for there was one who did not whisper.

"There goes the leman of my Lord Gambara," quoth a gruff, sneering voice,
"the light of love of the saintly legate who is starving Domenico to death
in a cage for the sin of sacrilege."

Not a doubt but that he would have added more, but that at that moment a
woman's shrill voice drowned his utterance.  "Silence, Giuffre!" she
admonished him fearfully.  "Silence, on your life!"

I had halted in my stride, suddenly cold from head to foot, as on that day
when I had flung Rinolfo from top to bottom of the terrace steps at
Mondolfo.  It happened that I wore a sword for the first time in my life--a
matter from which I gathered great satisfaction--having been adjudged
worthy of the honour by virtue that I was to be Madonna's escort.  To the
hilt I now set hand impetuously, and would have turned to strike that foul
slanderer dead, but that Giuliana restrained me, a wild alarm in her eyes.

"Come!" she panted in a whisper.  "Come away!"

So imperious was the command that it conveyed to my mind some notion of the
folly I should commit did I not obey it.  I saw at once that did I make an
ensample of this scurrilous scandalmonger I should thereby render her the
talk of that vile town.  So I went on, but very white and stiff, and
breathing somewhat hard; for pent-up passion is an evil thing to house.

Thus came we out of the town and to the shady banks of the gleaming Po.
And then, at last, when we were quite alone, and within two hundred yards
of Fifanti's house, I broke at last the silence.

I had been thinking very busily, and the peasant's words had illumined for
me a score of little obscure matters, had explained to me the queer
behaviour and the odd speeches of Fifanti himself since that evening in the
garden when the Cardinal-legate had announced to him his appointment as
ducal secretary.  I checked now in my stride, and turned to face her.

"Was it true?" I asked, rendered brutally direct by a queer pain I felt as
a result of my thinking.

She looked up into my face so sadly and wistfully that my suspicions fell
from me upon the instant, and I reddened from shame at having harboured
them.

"Agostino!" she cried, such a poor little cry of pain that I set my teeth
hard and bowed my head in self-contempt.

Then I looked at her again.

"Yet the foul suspicion of that lout is shared by your husband himself,"
said I.

"The foul suspicion--yes," she answered, her eyes downcast, her cheeks
faintly tinted.  And then, quite suddenly, she moved forward.  "Come," she
bade me.   "You are being foolish."

"I shall be mad," said I, "ere I have done with this."  And I fell into
step again beside her.  "If I could not avenge you there, I can avenge you
here."  And I pointed to the house.  "I can smite this rumour at its
foulest point."

Her hand fell on my arm.  "What would you do?" she cried.

"Bid your husband retract and sue to you for pardon, or else tear out his
lying throat," I answered, for I was in a great rage by now.

She stiffened suddenly.  "You go too fast, Messer Agostino," said she.
"And you are over-eager to enter into that which does not concern you.  I
do not know that I have given you the right to demand of my husband reason
of the manner in which he deals with me.  It is a thing that touches only
my husband and myself."

I was abashed; I was humiliated; I was nigh to tears.  I choked it all
down, and I strode on beside her, my rage smouldering within me.  But it
was flaring up again by the time we reached the house with no more words
spoken between us.  She went to her room without another glance at me, and
I repaired straight in quest of Fifanti.

I found him in the library.  He had locked himself in, as was his frequent
habit when at his studies, but he opened to my knock.  I stalked in,
unbuckled my sword, and set it in a corner.  Then I turned to him.

"You are doing your wife a shameful wrong, sir doctor," said I, with all
the directness of youth and indiscretion.

He stared at me as if I had struck him--as he might have stared, rather, at
a child who had struck him, undecided whether to strike back for the
child's good, or to be amused and smile.

"Ah!" he said at last.  "She has been talking to you?"  And he clasped his
hands behind him and stood before me, his head thrust forward, his legs
wide apart, his long gown, which was open, clinging to his ankles.

"No," said I.  "I have been thinking."

"In that case nothing will surprise me," he said in his sour, contemptuous
manner.  "And so you have concluded...?"

"That you are harbouring an infamous suspicion."

"Your assurance that it is infamous would offend me did it not comfort me,"
he sneered.  "And what, pray, is this suspicion?

"You suspect that...that--0 God!  I can't utter the thing."

"Take courage," he mocked me.  And he thrust his head farther forward.  He
looked singularly like a vulture in that moment.

"You suspect that Messer Gambara...that Messer Gambara and Madonna...
that..."  I clenched my hands together, and looked into his leering face.
"You understand me well enough," I cried, almost angrily.

He looked at me seriously now, a cold glitter in his small eyes.

"I wonder do you understand yourself?" he asked.  "I think not.  I think
not.  Since God has made you a fool, it but remains for man to make you a
priest, and thus complete God's work."

"You cannot move me by your taunts," I said.  You have a foul mind, Messer
Fifanti."

He approached me slowly, his untidily shod feet slip-slopping on the wooden
floor.

"Because," said he, "I suspect that Messer Gambara...that Messer Gambara
and Madonna...that...You understand me," he mocked me, with a mimicry of my
own confusion.  "And what affair may it be of yours whom I suspect or of
what I suspect them where my own are concerned?"

"It is my affair, as it is the affair of every man who would be accounted
gentle, to defend the honour of a pure and saintly lady from the foul
aspersions of slander."

"Knight-errantry, by the Host!" quoth he, and his brows shot up on his
steep brow.  Then they came down again to scowl.  "No doubt, my preux-
chevalier, you will have definite knowledge of the groundlessness of these
same slanders," he said, moving backwards, away from me, towards the door;
and as he moved now his feet made no sound, though I did not yet notice
this nor, indeed, his movement at all.

"Knowledge?" I roared at him.  "What knowledge can you need beyond what is
afforded by her face?  Look in it, Messer Fifanti, if you would see
innocence and purity and chastity!  Look in it!"

"Very well," said he.  "Let us look in it."

And quite suddenly he pulled the door open to disclose Giuliana standing
there, erect but in a listening attitude.

"Look in it!" he mocked me, and waved one of his bony hands towards that
perfect countenance.

There was shame and confusion in her face, and some anger.  But she turned
without a word, and went quickly down the passage, followed by his evil,
cackling laugh.

Then he looked at me quite solemnly.  "I think," said he, "you had best get
to your studies.  You will find more than enough to engage you there.
Leave my affairs to me, boy."

There was almost a menace in his voice, and after what had happened it was
impossible to pursue the matter.

Sheepishly, overwhelmed with confusion, I went out--a knight-errant with a
shorn crest.




CHAPTER IV

MY LORD GAMBARA CLEARS THE GROUND


I had angered her!  Worse; I had exposed her to humiliation at the hands of
that unworthy animal who soiled her in thought with the slime of his
suspicions.  Through me she had been put to the shameful need of listening
at a door, and had been subjected to the ignominy of being so discovered.
Through me she had been mocked and derided!

It was all anguish to me.  For her there was no shame, no humiliation, no
pain I would not suffer, and take joy in the suffering so that it be for
her.  But to have submitted that sweet, angelic woman to suffering--to have
incurred her just anger!  Woe me!

I came to the table that evening full of uneasiness, very unhappy, feeling
it an effort to bring myself into her presence and endure be it her regard
or her neglect.  To my relief she sent word that she was not well and would
keep her chamber; and Fifanti smiled oddly as he stroked his blue chin and
gave me a sidelong glance.  We ate in silence, and when the meal was done,
I departed, still without a word to my preceptor, and went to shut myself
up again in my room.

I slept ill that night, and very early next morning I was astir.  I went
down into the garden somewhere about the hour of sunrise, through the wet
grass that was all scintillant with dew.  On the marble bench by the pond,
where the water-lilies were now rotting, I flung myself down, and there was
I found a half-hour later by Giuliana herself.

She stole up gently behind me, and all absorbed and moody as I was, I had
no knowledge of her presence until her crisp boyish voice startled me out
of my musings.

"Of what do we brood here so early, sir saint?" quoth she.

I turned to meet her laughing eyes.  "You...you can forgive me?" I faltered
foolishly.

She pouted tenderly.  "Should I not forgive one who has acted foolishly out
of love for me?"

"It was, it was..." I cried; and there stopped, all confused, feeling
myself growing red under her lazy glance.

"I know it was," she answered.  She set her elbows on the seat's tall back
until I could feel her sweet breath upon my brow.  "And should I bear you a
resentment, then?  My poor Agostino, have I no heart to feel?  Am I but a
cold, reasoning intelligence like that thing my husband?  0 God!  To have
been mated to that withered pedant!  To have been sacrificed, to have been
sold into such bondage!  Me miserable!"

"Giuliana!" I murmured soothingly, yet agonized myself.

"Could none have foretold me that you must come some day?"

"Hush!" I implored her.  "What are you saying?"

But though I begged her to be silent, my soul was avid for more such words
from her--from her, the most perfect and beautiful of women.

"Why should I not?" said she.  "Is truth ever to be stifled?  Ever?"

I was mad, I know--quite mad.  Her words had made me so.  And when, to ask
me that insistent question, she brought her face still nearer, I flung down
the reins of my unreason and let it ride amain upon its desperate, reckless
course.  In short, I too leaned forward, I leaned forward, and I kissed her
full upon those scarlet, parted lips.

I kissed her, and fell back with a cry that was of anguish almost--so
poignantly had the sweet, fierce pain of that kiss run through my every
fibre.  And as I cried out, so too did she, stepping back, her hands
suddenly to her face.  But the next moment she was peering up at the
windows of the house--those inscrutable eyes that looked upon our deed;
that looked and of which it was impossible to discern how much they might
have seen.

"If he should have seen us!" was her cry; and it moved me unpleasantly that
such should have been the first thought my kiss inspired in her.  "If he
should have seen us!  Gesu!  I have enough to bear already!"

"I care not," said I.  "Let him see.  I am not Messer Gambara.  No man
shall put an insult upon you on my account, and live."

I was become the very ranting, roaring, fire-breathing type of lover who
will slaughter a whole world to do pleasure to his mistress or to spare her
pain--I--I--I, Agostino d'Anguissola--who was to be ordained next month and
walk in the ways of St. Augustine!

Laugh as you read--for very pity, laugh!

"Nay, nay," she reassured herself.  "He will be still abed.  He was snoring
when I left."  And she dismissed her fears, and looked at me again, and
returned to the matter of that kiss.

"What have you done to me, Agostino?"

I dropped my glance before her languid eyes.  "What I have done to no other
woman yet," I answered, a certain gloom creeping over the exultation that
still thrilled me.  "0 Giuliana, what have you done to me?  You have
bewitched me; You have made me mad!"  And I set my elbows on my knees and
took my head in my hands, and sat there, overwhelmed now by the full
consciousness of the irrevocable thing that I had done, a thing that must
brand my soul for ever, so it seemed.

To have kissed a maid would have been ill enough for one whose aims were
mine.  But to kiss a wife, to become a cicisbeo!  The thing assumed in my
mind proportions foolishly, extravagantly beyond its evil reality.

"You are cruel, Agostino," she whispered behind me.  She had come to lean
again upon the back of the bench.  "Am I alone to blame?  Can the iron
withstand the lodestone?  Can the rain help falling upon the earth?  Can
the stream flow other than downhill?"  She sighed.  "Woe me!  It is I who
should be angered that you have made free of my lips.  And yet I am here,
wooing you to forgive me for the sin that is your own."

I cried out at that and turned to her again, and I was very white, I know.

"You tempted me!" was my coward's cry.

"So said Adam once.  Yet God thought otherwise, for Adam was as fully
punished as was Eve."  She smiled wistfully into my eyes, and my senses
reeled again.  And then old Busio, the servant, came suddenly forth from
the house upon some domestic errand to Giuliana, and thus was that
situation mercifully brought to an end.

For the rest of the day I lived upon the memory of that morning, reciting
to myself each word that she had uttered, conjuring up in memory the vision
of her every look.  And my absent-mindedness was visible to Fifanti when I
came to my studies with him later.  He grew more peevish with me than was
habitual, dubbed me dunce and wooden-head, and commended the wisdom of
those who had determined upon a claustral life for me, admitting that I
knew enough Latin to enable me to celebrate as well as another without too
clear a knowledge of the meaning of what I pattered.  All of which was
grossly untrue, for, as none knew better than himself, the fluency of my
Latin was above the common wont of students.  When I told him so, he
delivered himself of his opinion upon the common wont of students with all
the sourness of his crabbed nature.

"I'll write an ode for you upon any subject that you may set me," I
challenged him.

"Then write one upon impudence," said he.  "It is a subject you should
understand."  And upon that he got up and flung out of the room in a pet
before I could think of an answer.

Left alone, I began an ode which should prove to him his lack of justice.
But I got no further than two lines of it.  Then for a spell I sat biting
my quill, my mind and the eyes of my soul full of Giuliana.

Presently I began to write again.  It was not an ode, but a prayer, oddly
profane--and it was in Italian, in the "dialettale" that provoked Fifanti's
sneers.  How it ran I have forgotten these many years.  But I recall that
in it I likened myself to a sailor navigating shoals and besought the
pharos of Giuliana's eyes to bring me safely through, besought her to
anoint me with her glance and so hearten me to brave the dangers of that
procellous sea.

I read it first with satisfaction, then with dismay as I realized to the
full its amorous meaning.  Lastly I tore it up and went below to dine.

We were still at table when my Lord Gambara arrived.  He came on horseback
attended by two grooms whom he left to await him.  He was all in black
velvet, I remember, even to his thigh-boots which were laced up the sides
with gold, and on his breast gleamed a fine medallion of diamonds.  Of the
prelate there was about him, as usual, nothing but the scarlet cloak and
the sapphire ring.

Fifanti rose and set a chair for him, smiling a crooked smile that held
more hostility than welcome.  None the less did his excellency pay Madonna
Giuliana a thousand compliments as he took his seat, supremely calm and
easy in his manner.  I watched him closely, and I watched Giuliana, a queer
fresh uneasiness pervading me.

The talk was trivial and chiefly concerned with the progress of the
barracks the legate was building and the fine new road from the middle of
the city to the Church of Santa Chiara, which he intended should be called
the Via Gambara, but which, despite his intentions, is known to-day as the
Stradone Farnese.

Presently my cousin arrived, full-armed and very martial by contrast with
the velvety Cardinal.  He frowned to see Messer Gambara, then effaced the
frown and smiled as, one by one, he greeted us.  Last of all he turned to
me.

"And how fares his saintliness?" quoth he.

"Indeed, none too saintly," said I, speaking my	thoughts aloud.

He laughed.  "Why, then, the sooner we are in orders, the sooner shall we
be on the road to mending that.  Is	it not so, Messer Fifanti?

"His ordination will profit you, I nothing doubt," said Fifanti, with his
habitual discourtesy and acidity.  "So you do well to urge it."

The answer put my cousin entirely out of countenance a moment.  It was a
blunt way of reminding me that in this Cosimo I saw one who followed after
me in the heirship to Mondolfo, and in whose interests it was that I should
don the conventual scapulary.

I looked at Cosimo's haughty face and cruel mouth, and conjectured in that
hour whether I should have found him so very civil and pleasant a cousin
had things been other than they were.

0, a very serpent was Messer Fifanti; and I have since wondered whether of
intent he sought to sow in my heart hatred of my guelphic cousin, that he
might make of me a tool for his own service--as you shall come to
understand.

Meanwhile, Cosimo, having recovered, waved aside the imputation, and smiled
easily.

"Nay, there you wrong me.  The Anguissola lose more than I shall gain by
Agostino's renunciation of the world.  And I am sorry for it.  You believe
me, cousin?"

I answered his courteous speech as it deserved, in very courteous terms.
This set a pleasanter humour upon all.  Yet some restraint abode.  Each
sat, it seemed, as a man upon his guard.  My cousin watched Gambara's every
look whenever the latter turned to speak to Giuliana; the Cardinal-legate
did the like by him; and Messer Fifanti watched them both.

And, meantime, Giuliana sat there, listening now to one, now to the other,
her lazy smile parting those scarlet lips--those lips that I had kissed
that morning--I, whom no one thought of watching!

And soon came Messer Annibale Caro, with lines from the last pages of his
translation oozing from him.  And when presently Giuliana smote her hands
together in ecstatic pleasure at one of those same lines and bade him
repeat it to her, he swore roundly by all the gods that are mentioned in
Virgil that he would dedicate the work to her upon its completion.

At this the surliness became general once more and my Lord Gambara ventured
the opinion--and there was a note of promise, almost of threat, in his
sleek tones-- that the Duke would shortly be needing Messer Caro's presence
in Parma; whereupon Messer Caro cursed the Duke roundly and with all a
poet's volubility of invective.

They stayed late, each intent, no doubt, upon outstaying the others.  But
since none would give way they were forced in the end to depart together.

And whilst Messer Fifanti, as became a host, was seeing them to their
horses, I was left alone with Giuliana.

"Why do you suffer those men?" I asked her bluntly.  Her delicate brows
were raised in surprise.  "Why, what now?  They are very pleasant
gentlemen, Agostino."

"Too pleasant," said I, and rising I crossed to the window whence I could
watch them getting to horse, all save Caro, who had come afoot.  "Too
pleasant by much.  That prelate out of Hell, now..."

"Sh!" she hissed at me, smiling, her hand raised.  "Should he hear you, he
might send you to the cage for sacrilege.  0 Agostino!" she cried, and the
smiles all vanished from her face.  "Will you grow cruel and suspicious,
too?"

I was disarmed.  I realized my meanness and unworthiness.

"Have patience with me," I implored her.  "I...I am not myself to-day." I
sighed ponderously, and fell silent as I watched them ride away.  Yet I
hated them all; and most of all I hated the dainty, perfumed, golden-headed
Cardinal-legate.

He came again upon the morrow, and we learnt from the news of which he was
the bearer that he had carried out his threat concerning Messer Caro.  The
poet was on his way to Parma, to Duke Pier Luigi, dispatched thither on a
mission of importance by the Cardinal.  He spoke, too, of sending my cousin
to Perugia, where a strong hand was needed, as the town showed signs of
mutiny against the authority of the Holy See.

When he had departed, Messer Fifanti permitted himself one of his bitter
insinuations.

"He desires a clear field," he said, smiling his cold smile upon Giuliana.
"It but remains for him to discover that his Duke has need of me as well."

He spoke of it as a possible contingency, but sarcastically, as men speak
of things too remote to be seriously considered.  He was to remember his
words two days later when the very thing came to pass.

We were at breakfast when the blow fell.

There came a clatter of hooves under our windows, which stood open to the
tepid September morning, and soon there was old Busio ushering in an
officer of the Pontificals with a parchment tied in scarlet silk and sealed
with the arms of Piacenza.

Messer Fifanti took the package and weighed it in his hand, frowning.
Perhaps already some foreboding of the nature of its contents was in his
mind.  Meanwhile, Giuliana poured wine for the officer, and Busio bore him
the cup upon a salver.

Fifanti ripped away silk and seals, and set himself to read.  I can see him
now, standing near the window to which he had moved to gain a better light,
the parchment under his very nose, his short-sighted eyes screwed up as he
acquainted himself with the letter's contents.  Then I saw him turn a
sickly leaden hue.  He stared at the officer a moment and then at Giuliana.
But I do not think that he saw either of them.  His look was the blank look
of one whose thoughts are very distant.

He thrust his hands behind him, and with head forward, in that curious
attitude so reminiscent of a bird of prey, he stepped slowly back to his
place at the table-head.  Slowly his cheeks resumed their normal tint.

"Very well, sir," he said, addressing the officer.  "Inform his excellency
that I shall obey the summons of the Duke's magnificence without delay."

The officer bowed to Giuliana, took his leave, and went, old Busio
escorting him.

"A summons from the Duke?" cried Giuliana, and then the storm broke

"Ay," he answered, grimly quiet, "a summons from the Duke."  And he tossed
it across the table to her.

I saw that fateful document float an instant in the air, and then, thrown
out of poise by the blob of wax, swoop slanting to her lap.

"It will come no doubt as a surprise to you," he growled; and upon that his
hard-held passion burst all bonds that he could impose upon it.  His great
bony fist crashed down upon the board and swept a precious Venetian beaker
to the ground, where it burst into a thousand atoms, spreading red wine
like a bloodstain upon the floor.

"Said I not that this rascal Cardinal would make a clear field for himself?
Said I not so?"  He laughed shrill and fiercely.  "He would send your
husband packing as he has sent his other rivals.  0, there is a stipend
waiting--a stipend of three hundred ducats yearly that shall be made into
six hundred presently, and all for my complaisance, all that I may be a
joyous and content cornuto!"

He strode to the window cursing horribly, whilst Giuliana sat white of face
with lips compressed and heaving bosom, her eyes upon her plate.

"My Lord Cardinal and his Duke may take themselves together to Hell ere I
obey the summons that the one has sent me at the desire of the other.  Here
I stay to guard what is my own."

"You are a fool," said Giuliana at length, "and a knave, too, for you
insult me without cause."

"Without cause?  0, without cause, eh?  By the Host!  Yet you would not
have me stay?"

"I would not have you gaoled, which is what will happen if you disobey the
Duke's magnificence," said she.

"Gaoled?" quoth he, of a sudden trembling in the increasing intensity of
his passion.  "Caged, perhaps--to die of hunger and thirst and exposure,
like that poor wretch Domenico who perished yesterday, at last, because he
dared to speak the truth.  Gesu!" he groaned.  "0, miserable me!"  And he
sank into a chair.

But the next instant he was up again, and his long arms were waving
fiercely.  "By the Eyes of God!  They shall have cause to cage me.  If I am
to be horned like a bull, I'll use those same horns.  I'll gore their
vitals.  O madam, since of your wantonness you inclined to harlotry, you
should have wedded another than Astorre Fifanti."

It was too much.  I leapt to my feet.

"Messer Fifanti," I blazed at him.  "I'll not remain to hear such words
addressed to this sweet lady."

"Ah, yes," he snarled, wheeling suddenly upon me as if he would strike me.
"I had forgot the champion, the preux-chevalier, the saint in embryo!  You
will not remain to hear the truth, sir, eh?"  And he strode, mouthing, to
the door, and flung it wide so that it crashed against the wall.  "This is
your remedy.  Get you hence!  Go!  What passes here concerns you not.  Go!"
he roared like a mad beast, his rage a thing terrific.

I looked at him and from him to Giuliana, and my eyes most clearly invited
her to tell me how she would have me act.

"Indeed, you had best go, Agostino," she answered sadly.  "I shall bear his
insults easier if there be no witness.  Yes, go."

"Since it is your wish, Madonna," I bowed to her, and very erect, very
defiant of mien, I went slowly past the livid Fifanti, and so out.  I heard
the door slammed after me, and in the little hall I came upon Busio, who
was wringing his hand and looking very white.  He ran to me.

"He will murder her, Messer Agostino," moaned the old man.  "He can be a
devil in his anger."

"He is a devil always, in anger and out of it," said I.  "He needs an
exorcist.  It is a task that I should relish.  I'd beat the devils out of
him, Busio, and she would let me.  Meanwhile, stay we here, and if she
needs our help, it shall be hers."

I dropped on to the carved settle that stood there, old Busio standing at
my elbow, more tranquil now that there was help at hand for Madonna in case
of need.  And through the door came the sound of his storming, and
presently the crash of more broken glassware, as once more he thumped the
table.  For well-high half an hour his fury lasted, and it was seldom that
her voice was interposed.  Once we heard her laugh, cold and cutting as a
sword's edge, and I shivered at the sound, for it was not good to hear.

At last the door was opened and he came forth.  His face was inflamed, his
eyes wild and blood-injected.  He paused for a moment on the threshold, but
I do not think that he noticed us at first.  He looked back at her over his
shoulder, still sitting at table, the outline of her white-gowned body
sharply defined against the deep blue tapestry of the wall behind her.

"You are warned," said he.  "Do you heed the warning!"  And he came
forward.

Perceiving me at last where I sat, he bared his broken teeth in a snarling
smile.  But it was to Busio that he spoke.  "Have my mule saddled for me in
an hour," he said, and passed on and up the stairs to make his
preparations.  It seemed, therefore, that she had conquered his suspicions.

I went in to offer her comfort, for she was weeping and all shaken by that
cruel encounter.  But she waved me away.

"Not now, Agostino.  Not now," she implored me.  "Leave me to myself, my
friend."

I had not been her friend had I not obeyed her without question.




CHAPTER V

PABULUM ACHERONTIS


It was late that afternoon when Astorre Fifanti set out.  He addressed a
few brief words to me, informing me that he should return within four days,
betide what might, setting me tasks upon which I was meanwhile to work, and
bidding me keep the house and be circumspect during his absence.

From the window of my room I saw the doctor get astride his mule.  He was
girt with a big sword, but he still wore his long, absurd and shabby gown
and his loose, ill-fitting shoes, so that it was very likely that the
stirrup-leathers would engage his thoughts ere he had ridden far.

I saw him dig his heels into the beast's sides and go ambling down the
little avenue and out at the gate.  In the road he drew rein, and stood in
talk some moments with a lad who idled there, a lad whom he was wont to
employ upon odd tasks about the garden and elsewhere.

This, Madonna also saw, for she was watching his departure from the window
of a room below.  That she attached more importance to that little
circumstance than did I, I was to learn much later.

At last he pushed on, and I watched him as he dwindled down the long grey
road that wound along the river-side until in the end he was lost to view--
for all time, I hoped; and well had it been for me had my idle hope been
realized.

I supped alone that night with no other company than Busio's, who
ministered to my needs.

Madonna sent word that she would keep her chamber.  When I had supped and
after night had fallen I went upstairs to the library, and, shutting myself
in, I attempted to read, lighted by the three beaks of the tall brass lamp
that stood upon the table.  Being plagued by moths, I drew the curtains
close across the open window, and settled down to wrestle with the opening
lines of the [Title in Greek] of Aeschylus.

But my thoughts wandered from the doings of the son of Iapetus, until at
last I flung down the book and sat back in my chair all lost in thought, in
doubt, and in conjecture.  I became seriously introspective.  I made an
examination not only of conscience, but of heart and mind, and I found that
I had gone woefully astray from the path that had been prepared for me.
Very late I sat there and sought to determine upon what I should do.

Suddenly, like a manna to my starving soul, came the memory of the last
talk I had with Fra Gervasio and the solemn warning he had given me.  That
memory inspired me rightly.  To-morrow--despite Messer Fifanti's orders--I
would take horse and ride to Mondolfo, there to confess myself to Fra
Gervasio and to be guided by his counsel.  My mother's vows concerning me I
saw in their true light.  They were not binding upon me; indeed, I should
be doing a hideous wrong were I to follow them against my inclinations.  I
must not damn my soul for anything that my mother had vowed or ever I was
born, however much she might account that it would be no more than filial
piety so to do.

I was easier in mind after my resolve was taken, and I allowed that mind of
mine to stray thereafter as it listed.  It took to thoughts of Giuliana--
Giuliana for whom I ached in every nerve, although I still sought to
conceal from myself the true cause of my suffering.  Better a thousand
times had I envisaged that sinful fact and wrestled with it boldly.  Thus
should I have had a chance of conquering myself and winning clear of all
the horror that lay before me.

That I was weak and irresolute at such a time, when I most needed strength,
I still think to-day--when I can take a calm survey of all--was the fault
of the outrageous rearing that was mine.  At Mondolfo they had so nurtured
me and so sheltered me from the stinging blasts of the world that I was
grown into a very ripe and succulent fruit for the Devil's mouth.  The
things to whose temptation usage would have rendered me in some degree
immune were irresistible to one who had been tutored as had I.

Let youth know wickedness, lest when wickedness seeks a man out in his
riper years he shall be fooled and conquered by the beauteous garb in which
the Devil has the cunning to array it.

And yet to pretend that I was entirely innocent of where I stood and in
what perils were to play the hypocrite.  Largely I knew; just as I knew
that lacking strength to resist, I must seek safety in flight.  And
to­morrow I would go.  That point was settled, and the page, meanwhile,
turned down.  And for to-night I delivered myself up to the savouring of
this hunger that was upon me.

And then, towards the third hour of night, as I still sat there, the door
was very gently opened, and I beheld Giuliana standing before me.  She
detached from the black background of the passage, and the light of my
three-beaked lamp set her ruddy hair aglow so that it seemed there was a
luminous nimbus all about her head.  For a moment this gave colour to my
fancy that I beheld a vision evoked by the too great intentness of my
thoughts.  The pale face seemed so transparent, the white robe was almost
diaphanous, and the great dark eyes looked so sad and wistful.  Only in the
vivid scarlet of her lips was there life and blood.

I stared at her.  "Giuliana!" I murmured.

"Why do you sit so late?" she asked me, and closed the door as she spoke.

"I have been thinking, Giuliana," I answered wearily, and I passed a hand
over my brow to find it moist and clammy.  "To-morrow I go hence."

She started round and her eyes grew distended, her hand clutched her
breast.  "You go hence?" she cried, a note as of fear in her deep voice.
"Hence?  Whither?"

"Back to Mondolfo, to tell my mother that her dream is at an end."

She came slowly towards me.  "And...and then?" she asked.

"And then?  I do not know.  What God wills.  But the scapulary is not for
me.  I am unworthy.  I have no call.  This I now know.  And sooner than be
such a priest as Messer Gambara--of whom there are too many in the Church
to-day--I will find some other way of serving God."

"Since...since when have you thought thus?"

"Since this morning, when I kissed you," I answered fiercely.

She sank into a chair beyond the table and stretched a hand across it to
me, inviting the clasp of mine.  "But if this is so, why leave us?"

"Because I am afraid," I answered.  "Because...O God!  Giuliana, do you not
see?"  And I sank my head into my hands.

Steps shuffled along the corridor.  I looked up sharply.  She set a finger
to her lips.  There fell a knock, and old Busio stood before us.

"Madonna," he announced, "my Lord the Cardinal-legate is below and asks for
you."

I started up as if I had been stung.  So!  At this hour!  Then Messer
Fifanti's suspicions did not entirely lack for grounds.

Giuliana flashed me a glance ere she made answer.

"You will tell my Lord Gambara that I have retired for the night and
that...But stay!"  She caught up a quill and dipped it in the ink-horn,
drew paper to herself, and swiftly wrote three lines; then dusted it with
sand, and proffered that brief epistle to the servant.

"Give this to my lord."

Busio took the note, bowed, and departed.

After the door had closed a silence followed, in which I paced the room in
long strides, aflame now with the all-consuming fire of jealousy.  I do
believe that Satan had set all the legions of hell to achieve my overthrow
that night.  Naught more had been needed to undo me than this spur of
jealousy.  It brought me now to her side.  I stood over her, looking down
at her between tenderness and fierceness, she returning my glance with such
a look as may haunt the eyes of sacrificial victims.

"Why dared he come?" I asked.

"Perhaps...perhaps some affair connected with Astorre..." she faltered.

I sneered.  "That would be natural seeing that he has sent Astorre to
Parma."

"If there was aught else, I am no party to it," she assured me.

How could I do other than believe her?  How could I gauge the turpitude of
that beauty's mind--I, all unversed in the wiles that Satan teaches women?
How could I have guessed that when she saw Fifanti speak to that lad at the
gate that afternoon she had feared that he had set a spy upon the house,
and that fearing this she had bidden the Cardinal begone?  I knew it later.
But not then.

"Will you swear that it is as you say?" I asked her, white with passion.

As I have said, I was standing over her and very close.  Her answer now was
suddenly to rise.  Like a snake came she gliding upwards into my arms until
she lay against my breast, her face upturned, her eyes languidly veiled,
her lips a-pout.

"Can you do me so great a wrong, thinking you love me, knowing that I love
you?" she asked me.

For an instant we swayed together in that sweetly hideous embrace.  I was
as a man sapped of all strength by some portentous struggle.  I trembled
from head to foot.  I cried out once--a despairing prayer for help, I think
it was--and then I seemed to plunge headlong down through an immensity of
space until my lips found hers.  The ecstasy, the living fire, the anguish,
and the torture of it have left their indelible scars upon my memory.  Even
as I write the cruelly sweet poignancy of that moment is with me again--
though very hateful now.

Thus I, blindly and recklessly, under the sway and thrall of that terrific
and overpowering temptation.  And then there leapt in my mind a glimmer of
returning consciousness: a glimmer that grew rapidly to be a blazing light
in which I saw revealed the hideousness of the thing I did.  I tore myself
away from her in that second of revulsion and hurled her from me, fiercely
and violently, so that, staggering to the seat from which she had risen,
she fell into it rather than sat down.

And whilst, breathless with parted lips and galloping bosom, she observed
me, something near akin to terror in her eyes, I stamped about that room
and raved and heaped abuse and recriminations upon myself, ending by going
down upon my knees to her, imploring her forgiveness for the thing I had
done--believing like a fatuous fool that it was all my doing--and imploring
her still more passionately to leave me and to go.

She set a trembling hand upon my head; she took my chin in the other, and
raised my face until she could look into it.

"If it be your will--if it will bring you peace and happiness, I will leave
you now and never see you more.  But are you not deluded, my Agostino?"

And then, as if her self-control gave way, she fell to weeping.

"And what of me if you go?  What of me wedded to that monster, to that
cruel and inhuman pedant who tortures and insults me as you have seen?"

"Beloved, will another wrong cure the wrong of that?" I pleaded.  "0, if
you love me, go--go, leave me.  It is too late--too late!"

I drew away from her touch, and crossed the room to fling myself upon the
window-seat.  For a space we sat apart thus, panting like wrestlers who
have flung away from each other.  At length--"Listen, Giuliana," I said
more calmly.  "Were I to heed you, were I to obey my own desires, I should
bid you come away with me from this to-morrow."

"If you but would!" she sighed.  "You would be taking me out of hell."

"Into another worse," I countered swiftly.  "I should do you such a wrong
as naught could ever right again."

She looked at me for a spell in silence.  Her back was to the light and her
face in shadow, so that I could not read what passed there.  Then, very
slowly, like one utterly weary, she got to her feet.

"I will do your will, beloved; but I do it not for the wrong that I should
suffer--for that I should count no wrong--but for the wrong that I should
be doing you."

She paused as if for an answer.  I had none for her.  I raised my arms,
then let them fall again, and bowed my head.  I heard the gentle rustle of
her robe, and I looked up to see her staggering towards the door, her arms
in front of her like one who is blind.  She reached it, pulled it open, and
from the threshold gave me one last ineffable look of her great eyes, heavy
now with tears.  Then the door closed again, and I was alone.

From my heart there rose a great surge of thankfulness.  I fell upon my
knees and prayed.  For an hour at least I must have knelt there, seeking
grace and strength; and comforted at last, my calm restored, I rose, and
went to the window.  I drew back the curtains, and leaned out to breathe
the physical calm of that tepid September night.

And presently out of the gloom a great grey shape came winging towards the
window, the heavy pinions moving ponderously with their uncanny sough.  It
was an owl attracted by the light.  Before that bird of evil omen, that
harbinger of death, I drew back and crossed myself.  I had a sight of its
sphinx-like face and round, impassive eyes ere it circled to melt again
into the darkness, startled by any sudden movement.  I closed the window
and left the room.

Very softly I crept down the passage towards my chamber, leaving the light
burning in the library, for it was not my habit to extinguish it, and I
gave no thought to the lateness of the hour.

Midway down the passage I halted.  I was level with Giuliana's door, and
from under it there came a slender blade of light.  But it was not this
that checked me.  She was singing, Such a pitiful little heartbroken song
it was:

     "Amor mi muojo; mi muojo amore mio!"

ran its last line.

I leaned against the wall, and a sob broke from me.  Then, in an instant,
the passage was flooded with light, and in the open doorway Giuliana stood
all white before me, her arms held out.




CHAPTER VI

THE IRON GIRDLE


From the distance, drawing rapidly nearer and ringing sharply in the
stillness of the night, came the clatter of a mule's hooves.

But, though heard, it was scarcely heard consciously, and it certainly went
unheeded until it was beneath the window and ceasing at the door.

Giuliana's fingers locked themselves upon my arm in a grip of fear.

"Who comes?" she asked, below her breath, fearfully.  I sprang from the bed
and crouched, listening, by the window, and so lost precious time.

Out of the darkness Giuliana's voice spoke again, hoarsely now and
trembling.

"It will be Astorre," she said, with conviction.  "At this hour it can be
none else.  I suspected when I saw him talking to that boy at the gate this
afternoon that he was setting a spy upon me, to warn him wherever he was
lurking, did the need arise."

"But how should the boy know...?" I began, when she interrupted me almost
impatiently.

"The boy saw Messer Gambara ride up.  He waited for no more, but went at
once to warn Astorre.  He has been long in coming," she added in the tone
of one who is still searching for the exact explanation of the thing that
is happening.  And then, suddenly and very urgently, "Go, go--go quickly!"
she bade me.

As in the dark I was groping my way towards the door she spoke again:

"Why does he not knock?  For what does he wait?"  Immediately, from the
stairs, came a terrific answer to her question--the unmistakable, slip-
slopping footstep of the doctor.

I halted, and for an instant stood powerless to move.  How he had entered I
could not guess, nor did I ever discover.  Sufficient was the awful fact
that he was in.

I was ice-cold from head to foot.  Then I was all on fire and groping
forward once more whilst those footsteps, sinister and menacing as the very
steps of Doom, came higher and nearer.

At last I found the door and wrenched it open.  I stayed to close it after
me, and already at the end of the passage beat the reflection of the light
Fifanti carried.  A second I stood there hesitating which way to turn.  My
first thought was to gain my own chamber.  But to attempt it were assuredly
to run into his arms.  So I turned, and went as swiftly and stealthily as
possible towards the library.

I was all but in when he turned the corner of the passage, and so caught
sight of me before I had closed the door.

I stood in the library, where the lamp still burned, sweating, panting, and
trembling.  For even as he had had a glimpse of me, so had I had a glimpse
of him, and the sight was terrifying to one in my situation.

I had seen, his tall, gaunt figure bending forward in his eager, angry
haste.  In one hand he carried a lanthorn; a naked sword in the other.  His
face was malign and ghastly, and his bald, egg-like head shone yellow.  The
fleeting glimpse he had of me drew from him a sound between a roar and a
snarl, and with quickened feet he came slip-slopping down the passage.

I had meant, I think, to play the fox: to seat myself at the table, a book
before me, and feigning slumber, present the appearance of one who had been
overcome by weariness at his labours.  But now all thought of that was at
an end.  I had been seen, and that I fled was all too apparent.  So that in
every way I was betrayed.

The thing I did, I did upon instinct rather than reason; and this again was
not well done.  I slammed the door, and turned the key, placing at least
that poor barrier between myself and the man I had so deeply wronged, the
man whom I had given the right to slay me.  A second later the door shook
as if a hurricane had smitten it.  He had seized the handle, and he was
pulling at it frenziedly with a maniacal strength.

"Open!" he thundered, and fell to snarling and whimpering horribly.
"Open!"

Then, quite abruptly he became oddly calm.  It was as if his rage grew
coldly purposeful; and the next words he uttered acted upon me as a dagger-
prod, and reawakened my mind from its momentary stupefaction.

"Do you think these poor laths can save you from my vengeance, my Lord
Gambara?" quoth he, with a chuckle horrible to hear.

My Lord Gambara!  He mistook me for the Legate!  In an instant I saw the
reason of this.  It was as Giuliana had conceived.  The boy had run to warn
him wherever he was--at Roncaglia, perhaps, a league away upon the road to
Parma.  And the boy's news was that my Lord the Governor had gone to
Fifanti's house.  The boy had never waited to see the Legate come forth
again; but had obeyed his instructions to the letter, and it was Gambara
whom Fifanti came to take red-handed and to kill as he had the right to do.

When he had espied my flying shape, the length of the corridor had lain
between us, Fifanti was short-sighted, and since it was Gambara whom he
expected to find, Gambara at once he concluded it to be who fled before
him.

There was no villainy for which I was not ripe that night, it seemed.  For
no sooner did I perceive this error than I set myself to scheme how I might
profit by it.  Let Gambara by all means suffer in my place if the thing
could be contrived.  If not in fact, at least in intent, the Cardinal-
legate had certainly sinned.  If he was not in my place now, it was through
the too great good fortune that attended him.  Besides, Gambara would be in
better case to protect himself from the consequences and from Fifanti's
anger.

Thus cravenly I reasoned; and reasoning thus, I reached the window.  If I
could climb down to the garden, and then perhaps up again to my own
chamber, I might get me to bed, what time Fifanti still hammered at that
door.  Meanwhile his voice came rasping through those slender timbers, as
he mocked the Lord Cardinal he supposed me.

"You would not be warned, my lord, and yet I warned you enough.  You would
plant horns upon my head.  Well, well!  Do not complain if you are gored by
them."

Then he laughed hideously.  "This poor Astorre Fifanti is blind and a fool.
He is to be sent packing on a journey to the Duke, devised to suit my Lord
Cardinal's convenience.  But you should have bethought you that suspicious
husbands have a trick of pretending to depart whilst they remain."

Next his voice swelled up again in passion, and again the door was shaken.

"Will you open, then, or must I break down the door!  There is no barrier
in the world shall keep me from you, there is no power can save you.  I
have the right to kill you by every law of God and man.  Shall I forgo that
right?"  He laughed snarlingly.

"Three hundred ducats yearly to recompense the hospitality I have given
you--and six hundred later upon the coming of the Duke!" he mocked.  "That
was the price, my lord, of my hospitality--which was to include my wife's
harlotry.  Three hundred ducats!  Ha! ha!  Three hundred thousand million
years in Hell!  That is the price, my lord--the price that you shall pay,
for I present the reckoning and enforce it.  You shall be shriven in iron--
you and your wanton after you.

"Shall I be caged for having shed a prelate's sacred blood? for having sent
a prelate's soul to Hell with all its filth of sin upon it?  Shall I?
Speak, magnificent; out of the fullness of your theological knowledge
inform me."

I had listened in a sort of fascination to that tirade of venomous mockery.
But now I stirred, and pulled the casement open.  I peered down into the
darkness and hesitated.  The wall was creeper-clad to the window's height;
but I feared the frail tendrils of the clematis would never bear me.  I
hesitated.  Then I resolved to jump.  It was but little more than some
twelve feet to the ground, and that was nothing to daunt an active lad of
my own build, with the soft turf to land upon below.  It should have been
done without hesitation; for that moment's hesitation was my ruin.

Fifanti had heard the opening of the casement, and fearing that, after all,
his prey might yet escape him, he suddenly charged the door like an
infuriated bull, and borrowing from his rage a strength far greater than
his usual he burst away the fastenings of that crazy door.

Into the room hurtled the doctor, to check and stand there blinking at me,
too much surprised for a moment to grasp the situation.

When, at last, he understood, the returning flow of rage was overwhelming.

"You!" he gasped, and then his voice mounting--"You dog!" he screamed.  "So
it was you!  You!"

He crouched and his little eyes, all blood-injected, peered at me with
horrid malice.  He grew cold again as he mastered his surprise.  "You!" he
repeated.  "Blind fool that I have been!  You!  The walker in the ways of
St. Augustine--in his early ways, I think.  You saint in embryo, you
postulant for holy orders!  You shall be ordained this night--with this!"
And he raised his sword so that little yellow runnels of light sped down
the livid blade.

"I will ordain you into Hell, you hound!"  And thereupon he leapt at me.

I sprang away from the window, urged by fear of him into a very sudden
activity.  As I crossed the room I had a glimpse of the white figure of
Giuliana in the gloom of the passage, watching.

He came after me, snarling.  I seized a stool and hurled it at him.  He
avoided it nimbly, and it went crashing through the half of the casement
that was still closed.

And as he avoided it, grown suddenly cunning, he turned back towards the
door to bar my exit should I attempt to lead him round the table.

We stood at gaze, the length of the little low-ceilinged chamber between
us, both of us breathing hard.

Then I looked round for something with which to defend myself; for it was
plain that he meant to have my life.  By a great ill-chance it happened
that the sword which I had worn upon that day when I went as Giuliana's
escort into Piacenza was still standing in the very corner where I had set
it down.  Instinctively I sprang for it, and Fifanti, never suspecting my
quest until he saw me with a naked iron in my hand, did nothing to prevent
my reaching it.

Seeing me armed, he laughed.  "Ho, ho!  The saint-at-arms!" he mocked.
"You'll be as skilled with weapons as with holiness!"  And he advanced upon
me in long stealthy strides.  The width of the table was between us, and he
smote at me across it.  I parried, and cut back at him, for being armed
now, I no more feared him than I should have feared a child.  Little he
knew of the swordcraft I had learnt from old Falcone, a thing which once
learnt is never forgotten though lack of exercise may make us slow.

He cut at me again, and narrowly missed the lamp in his stroke.  And now, I
can most solemnly make oath that in the thing that followed there was no
intent.  It was over and done before I was conscious of the happening.  I
had acted purely upon instinct as men will in performing what they have
been taught.

To ward his blow, I came almost unconsciously into that guard of Marozzo's
which is known as the iron girdle.  I parried and on the stroke I lunged,
and so, taking the poor wretch entirely unawares, I sank the half of my
iron into his vitals ere he or I had any thought that the thing was
possible.

I saw his little eyes grow very wide, and the whole expression of his face
become one of intense astonishment.

He moved his lips as if to speak, and then the sword clattered from his one
hand, the lanthorn from his other; he sank forward quietly, still looking
at me with the same surprised glance, and so came further on to my rigidly
held blade, until his breast brought up against the quillons.  For a moment
he remained supported thus, by just that rigid arm of mine and the table
against which his weight was leaning.  Then I withdrew the blade, and in
the same movement flung the weapon from me.  Before the sword had rattled
to the floor, his body had sunk down into a heap beyond the table, so that
I could see no more than the yellow, egg-like top of his bald head.

Awhile I stood watching it, filled with an extraordinary curiosity and a
queer awe.  Very slowly was it that I began to realize the thing I had
done.  It might be that I had killed Fifanti.  It might be.  And slowly,
gradually I grew cold with the thought and the apprehension of its horrid
meaning.

Then from the passage came a stifled scream, and Giuliana staggered
forward, one hand holding flimsy draperies to her heaving bosom, the other
at her mouth, which had grown hideously loose and uncontrolled.  Her
glowing copper hair, all unbound, fell about her shoulders like a mantle.

Behind her with ashen face and trembling limbs came old Busio.  He was
groaning and ringing his hands.  Thus I saw the pair of them creep forward
to approach Fifanti, who had made no sound since my sword had gone through
him.

But Fifanti was no longer there to heed them--the faithful servant and the
unfaithful wife.  All that remained, huddled there at the foot of the
table, was a heap of bleeding flesh and shabby garments.

It was Giuliana who gave me the information.  With a courage that was
almost stupendous she looked down into his face, then up into mine, which I
doubt not was as livid.

"You have killed him," she whispered.  "He is dead."

He was dead and I had killed him!  My lips moved.

"He would have killed me," I answered in a strangled voice, and knew that
what I said was a sort of lie to cloak the foulness of my deed.

Old Busio uttered a long, croaking wail, and went down on his knees beside
the master he had served so long--the master who would never more need
servant in this world.

It was upon the wings of that pitiful cry that the full understanding of
the thing I had done was borne in upon my soul.  I bowed my head, and took
my face in my hands.  I saw myself in that moment for what I was.  I
accounted myself wholly and irrevocably damned, Be God never so clement,
surely here was something for which even His illimitable clemency could
find no pardon.

I had come to Fifanti's house as a student of humanities and divinities;
all that I had learnt there had been devilries culminating in this hour's
work.  And all through no fault of that poor, mean, ugly pedant, who indeed
had been my victim--whom I had robbed of honour and of life.

Never man felt self-horror as I felt it then, self-loathing and self-
contempt.  And then, whilst the burden of it all, the horror of it all was
full upon me, a soft hand touched my shoulder, and a soft, quivering voice
murmured urgently in my ear:

"Agostino, we must go; we must go."

I plucked away my hands, and showed her a countenance before which she
shrank in fear.

"We?" I snarled at her.  "We?" I repeated still more fiercely, and drove
her back before me as if I had done her a bodily hurt.

0, I should have imagined--had I had time in which to imagine anything--
that already I had descended to the very bottom of the pit of infamy.  But
it seems that one more downward step remained me; and that step I took.
Not by act, nor yet by speech, but just by thought.

For without the manliness to take the whole blame of this great crime upon
myself, I must in my soul and mind fling the burden of it upon her.  Like
Adam of old, I blamed the woman, and charged her in my thoughts with having
tempted me.  Charging her thus, I loathed her as the cause of all this sin
that had engulfed me; loathed her in that moment as a thing unclean and
hideous; loathed her with a completeness of loathing such as I had never
experienced before for any fellow­creature.

Instead of beholding in her one whom I had dragged with me into my pit of
sin and whom it was incumbent upon my manhood thenceforth to shelter and
protect from the consequences of my own iniquity, I attributed to her the
blame of all that had befallen.

To-day I know that in so doing I did no more than justice.  But it was not
justly done.  I had then no such knowledge as I have to-day by which to
correct my judgment.  The worst I had the right to think of her in that
hour was that her guilt was something less than mine.  In thinking
otherwise was it that I took that last step to the very bottom of the hell
that I had myself created for myself that night.

The rest was as nothing by comparison.  I have said that it was not by act
or speech that I added to the sum of my iniquities; and yet it was by both.
First, in that fiercely echoed "We?" that I hurled at her to strike her
from me; then in my precipitate flight alone.

How I stumbled from that room I scarcely know.  The events of the time that
followed immediately upon Fifanti's death are all blurred as the
impressions of a sick man's dream.

I dimly remember that as she backed away from me until her shoulders
touched the wall, that as she stood so, all white and lovely as any snare
that Satan ever devised for man's ruin, staring at me with mutely pleading
eyes, I staggered forward, avoiding the sight of that dreadful huddle on
the floor, over which Busio was weeping foolishly.

As I stepped a sudden moisture struck my stockinged feet.  Its nature I
knew by instinct upon the instant, and filled by it with a sudden
unreasoning terror, I dashed with a loud cry from the room.

Along the passage and down the dark stairs I plunged until I reached the
door of the house.  It stood open and I went heedlessly forth.  From
overhead I heard Giuliana calling me in a voice that held a note of
despair.  But I never checked in my headlong career.

Fifanti's mule, I have since reflected, was tethered near the steps.  I saw
the beast, but it conveyed no meaning to my mind, which I think was numbed.
I sped past it and on, through the gate, round the road by the Po, under
the walls of the city, and so away into the open country.

Without cap, without doublet, without shoes, just in my trunks and shirt
and hose, as I was, I ran, heading by instinct for home as heads the animal
that has been overtaken by danger whilst abroad.  Never since Phidippides,
the Athenian courier, do I believe that any man had run as desperately and
doggedly as I ran that night.

By dawn, having in some three hours put twenty miles or so between myself
and Piacenza, I staggered exhausted and with cut and bleeding feet through
the open door of a peasant's house.

The family, sat at breakfast in the stone-flagged room into which I
stumbled.  I halted under their astonished eyes.

"I am the Lord of Mondolfo," I panted hoarsely, "and I need a beast to
carry me home."

The head of that considerable family, a grizzled, suntanned peasant, rose
from his seat and pondered my condition with a glance that was laden with
mistrust.

"The Lord of Mondolfo--you, thus?" quoth he.  "Now, by Bacchus, I am the
Pope of Rome!"

But his wife, more tender-hearted, saw in my disorder cause for pity rather
than irony.

"Poor lad!" she murmured, as I staggered and fell into a chair, unable
longer to retain my feet.  She rose immediately, and came hurrying towards
me with a basin of goat's milk.  The draught refreshed my body as her
gentle words of comfort soothed my troubled soul.  Seated there, her stout
arm about my shoulders, my head pillowed upon her ample, motherly breast, I
was very near to tears, loosened in my overwrought state by the sweet touch
of sympathy, for which may God reward her.

I rested in that place awhile.  Three hours I slept upon a litter of straw
in an outhouse; whereupon, strengthened by my repose, I renewed my claim to
be the Lord of Mondolfo and my demand for a horse to carry me to my
fortress.

Still doubting me too much to trust me alone with any beast of his, the
peasant nevertheless fetched out a couple of mules and set out with me for
Mondolfo.





BOOK III

THE WILDERNESS




CHAPTER I

THE HOME-COMING


It was still early morning when we came into the town of Mondolfo, my
peasant escort and I.

The day being Sunday there was little stir in the town at such an hour, and
it presented a very different appearance from that which it had worn when
last I had seen it.  But the difference lay not only in the absence of
bustle and the few folk abroad now as compared with that market-day on
which, departing, I had ridden through it.  I viewed the place to-day with
eyes that were able to draw comparisons, and after the wide streets and
imposing buildings of Piacenza, I found my little township mean and rustic.

We passed the Duomo, consecrated to Our Lady of Mondolfo.  Its portals
stood wide, and in the opening swung a heavy crimson curtain, embroidered
with a huge golden cross which was bellying outward like an enormous
gonfalon.  On the steps a few crippled beggars whined, and a few faithful
took their way to early Mass.

On, up the steep, ill-paved street we climbed to the mighty grey citadel
looming on the hill's crest, like a gigantic guardian brooding over the
city of his trust.  We crossed the drawbridge unchallenged, passed under
the tunnel of the gateway, and so came into the vast, untenanted bailey of
the fortress.

I looked about me, beat my hands together, and raised my voice to shout

"0la!  Ola!"

In answer to my call the door of the guardhouse opened presently, and a man
looked out.  He frowned at first; then his brows went up and his mouth fell
open.

"It is the Madonnino!" he shouted over his shoulder, and hurried forward to
take my reins, uttering words of respectful welcome, which seemed to
relieve the fears of my peasant, who had never quite believed me what I
proclaimed myself.

There was a stir in the guardhouse, and two or three men of the absurd
garrison my mother kept there shuffled in the doorway, whilst a burly
fellow in leather with a sword girt on him thrust his way through and
hurried forward, limping slightly.  In the dark, lowering face I recognized
my old friend Rinolfo, and I marvelled to see him thus accoutred.

He halted before me, and gave me a stiff and unfriendly salute; then he
bade the man-at-arms to hold my stirrup.

"What is your authority here, Rinolfo?" I asked him shortly.

I am the castellan," he informed me.

"The castellan?  But what of Messer Giorgio?"

"He died a month ago."

"And who gave you this authority?"

"Madonna the Countess, in some recompense for the hurt you did me," he
replied, thrusting forward his lame leg.

His tone was surly and hostile; but it provoked no resentment in me now.  I
deserved his unfriendliness.  I had crippled him.  At the moment I forgot
the provocation I had received--forgot that since he had raised his hand to
his lord, it would have been no great harshness to have hanged him.  I saw
in him but another instance of my wickedness, another sufferer at my hands;
and I hung my head under the rebuke implicit in his surly tone and glance.

"I had not thought, Rinolfo, to do you an abiding hurt," said I, and here
checked, bethinking me that I lied; for had I not expressed regret that I
had not broken his neck?

I got down slowly and painfully, for my limbs were stiff and my feet very
sore.  He smiled darkly at my words and my sudden faltering; but I affected
not to see.

"Where is Madonna?" I asked.

"She will have returned by now from chapel," he answered.

I turned to the man-at-arms.  "You will announce me," I bade him.  "And
you, Rinolfo, see to these beasts and to this good fellow here.  Let him
have wine and food and what he needs.  I will see him again ere he sets
forth."

Rinolfo muttered that all should be done as I ordered, and I signed to the
man-at-arms to lead the way.

We went up the steps and into the cool of the great hall.  There the
soldier, whose every feeling had been outraged no doubt by Rinolfo's
attitude towards his lord, ventured to express his sympathy and
indignation.

"Rinolfo is a black beast, Madonnino," he muttered.

"We are all black beasts, Eugenio," I answered heavily, and so startled him
by words and tone that he ventured upon no further speech, but led me
straight to my mother's private dining-room, opened the door and calmly
announced me.

"Madonna, here is my Lord Agostino."

I heard the gasp she uttered before I caught sight of her.  She was seated
at the table's head in her great wooden chair, and Fra Gervasio was pacing
the rush-strewn floor in talk with her, his hands behind his back, his head
thrust forward.

At the announcement he straightened suddenly and wheeled round to face me,
inquiry in his glance.  My mother, too, half rose, and remained so, staring
at me, her amazement at seeing me increased by the strange appearance I
presented.

Eugenio closed the door and departed, leaving me standing there, just
within it; and for a moment no word was spoken.

The cheerless, familiar room, looking more cheerless than it had done of
old, with its high-set windows and ghastly Crucifix, affected me in a
singular manner.  In this room I had known a sort of peace--the peace that
is peculiarly childhood's own, whatever the troubles that may haunt it.  I
came into it now with hell in my soul, sin-blackened before God and man, a
fugitive in quest of sanctuary.

A knot rose in my throat and paralysed awhile my speech.  Then with a
sudden sob, I sprang forward and hobbled to her upon my wounded feet.  I
flung myself down upon my knees, buried my head in her lap, and all that I
could cry was:

"Mother!  Mother!"

Whether perceiving my disorder, my distraught and suffering condition, what
remained of the woman in her was moved to pity; whether my cry acting like
a rod of Moses upon that rock of her heart which excess of piety had long
since sterilized, touched into fresh life the springs that had long since
been dry, and reminded her of the actual bond between us, her tone was more
kindly and gentle than I had ever known it.

"Agostino, my child!  Why are you here?"  And her wax-like fingers very
gently touched my head.  "Why are you here--and thus?  What has happened to
you?"

"Me miserable!" I groaned.

"What is it?" she pressed me, an increasing anxiety in her voice.

At last I found courage to tell her sufficient to prepare her mind.

"Mother, I am a sinner," I faltered miserably.

I felt her recoiling from me as from the touch of something unclean and
contagious, her mind conceiving already by some subtle premonition some
shadow of the thing that I had done.  And then Gervasio spoke, and his
voice was soothing as oil upon troubled waters.

"Sinners are we all, Agostino.  But repentance purges sin.  Do not abandon
yourself to despair, my son."

But the mother who bore me took no such charitable and Christian view.

"What is it?  Wretched boy, what have you done?"  And the cold repugnance
in her voice froze anew the courage I was forming.

"0 God help me!  God help me!" I groaned miserably.

Gervasio, seeing my condition, with that quick and saintly sympathy that
was his, came softly towards me and set a hand upon my shoulder.

"Dear Agostino," he murmured, "would you find it easier to tell me first?
Will you confess to me, my son?  Will you let me lift this burden from your
soul?"

Still on my knees I turned and looked up into that pale, kindly face.  I
caught his thin hand, and kissed it ere he could snatch it away.  "If there
were more priests like you," I cried, "there would be fewer sinners like
me."

A shadow crossed his face; he smiled very wanly, a smile that was like a
gleam of pale sunshine from an over­clouded sky, and he spoke in gentle,
soothing words of the Divine Mercy.

I staggered to my bruised feet.  "I will confess to you, Fra Gervasio," I
said, "and afterwards we will tell my mother."

She looked as she would make demur.  But Fra Gervasio checked any such
intent.

"It is best so, Madonna," he said gravely.  "His most urgent need is the
consolation that the Church alone can give."

He took me by the arm very gently, and led me forth.  We went to his modest
chamber, with its waxed floor, the hard, narrow pallet upon which he slept,
the blue and gold image of the Virgin, and the little writing-pulpit upon
which lay open a manuscript he was illuminating, for he was very skilled in
that art which already was falling into desuetude.

At this pulpit, by the window, he took his seat, and signed to me to kneel.
I recited the Confiteor.  Thereafter, with my face buried in my hands, my
soul writhing in an agony of penitence and shame, I poured out the hideous
tale of the evil I had wrought.

Rarely did he speak while I was at that recitation.  Save when I halted or
hesitated he would interject a word of pity and of comfort that fell like a
blessed balsam upon my spiritual wounds and gave me strength to pursue my
awful story.

When I had done and he knew me to the full for the murderer and adulterer
that I was, there fell a long pause, during which I waited as a felon
awaits sentence.  But it did not come.  Instead, he set himself to examine
more closely the thing I had told him.  He probed it with a question here
and a question there, and all of a shrewdness that revealed the extent of
his knowledge of humanity, and the infinite compassion and gentleness that
must be the inevitable fruits of such sad knowledge.

He caused me to go back to the very day of my arrival at Fifanti's; and
thence, step by step, he led me again over the road that in the past four
months I had trodden, until he had traced the evil to its very source, and
could see the tiny spring that had formed the brook which, gathering volume
as it went, had swollen at last into a raging torrent that had laid waste
its narrow confines.

"Who that knows all that goes to the making of a sin shall dare to condemn
a sinner?" he cried at last, so that I looked up at him, startled, and
penetrated by a ray of hope and comfort.  He returned my glance with one of
infinite pity.

"It is the woman here upon whom must fall the greater blame," said he.

But at that I cried out in hot remonstrance, adding that I had yet another
vileness to confess--for it was now that for the first time I realized it.
And I related to him how last night I had repudiated her, cast her off and
fled, leaving her to bear the punishment alone.

Of my conduct in that he withheld his criticism.  "The sin is hers," he
repeated.  "She was a wife, and the adultery is hers.  More, she was the
seducer.  It was she who debauched your mind with lascivious readings, and
tore away the foundations of virtue from your soul.  If in the cataclysm
that followed she was crushed and smothered, it is no more than she had
incurred."

I still protested that this view was all too lenient to me, that it sprang
of his love for me, that it was not just.  Thereupon he began to make clear
to me many things that may have been clear to you worldly ones who have
read my scrupulous and exact confessions, but which at the time were still
all wrapped in obscurity for me.

It was as if he held up a mirror--an intelligent and informing mirror--in
which my deeds were reflected by the light of his own deep knowledge.  He
showed me the gradual seduction to which I had been subjected; he showed me
Giuliana as she really was, as she must be from what I had told him; he
reminded me that she was older by ten years than I, and greatly skilled in
men and worldliness; that where I had gone blindly, never seeing what was
the inevitable goal and end of the road I trod, she had consciously been
leading me thither, knowing full well what the end must be, and desiring
it.

As for the murder of Fifanti, the thing was grievous; but it had been done
in the heat of combat, and he could not think that I had meant the poor
man's death.  And Fifanti himself was not entirely without blame.  Largely
had he contributed to the tragedy.  There had been evil in his heart.  A
good man would have withdrawn his wife from surroundings which he knew to
be perilous and foul, not used her as a decoy to enable him to trap and
slay his enemy.

And the greatest blame of all he attached to that Messer Arcolano who had
recommended Fifanti to my mother as a tutor for me, knowing full well--as
he must have known--what manner of house the doctor kept and what manner of
wanton was Giuliana.  Arcolano had sought to serve Fifanti's interests in
pretending to serve mine and my mother's; and my mother should be
enlightened that at last she might know that evil man for what he really
was.

"But all this," he concluded, "does not mean, Agostino, that you are to
regard yourself as other than a great sinner.  You have sinned monstrously,
even when all these extenuations are considered."

"I know, I know!" I groaned.

"But beyond forgiveness no man has ever sinned, nor have you now.  So that
your repentance is deep and real, and when by some penance that I shall
impose you shall have cleansed yourself of all this mire that clings to
your poor soul, you shall have absolution from me."

"Impose your penance," I cried eagerly.  "There is none I will not
undertake, to purchase pardon and some little peace of mind.

"I will consider it," he answered gravely.  "And now let us seek your
mother.  She must be told, for a great deals hangs upon this, Agostino.
The career to which you were destined is no longer for you, my son."

My spirit quailed under those last words; and yet I felt an immense relief
at the same time, as if some overwhelming burden had been lifted from me.

"I am indeed unworthy," I said.

"It is not your unworthiness that I am considering, my son, but your
nature.  The world calls you over-strongly.  It is not for nothing that you
are the child of Giovanni d'Anguissola.  His blood runs thick in your
veins, and it is very human blood.  For such as you there is no hope in the
cloister.  Your mother must be made to realize it, and she must abandon her
dreams concerning you.  It will wound her very sorely.  But better that
than..."  He shrugged and rose.  "Come, Agostino."

And I rose, too, immensely comforted and soothed already, for all that I
was yet very far from ease or peace of mind.  Outside his room he set a
hand upon my arm.

"Wait," he said, "we have ministered in some degree to your poor spirit.
Let us take thought for the body, too.  You need garments and other things.
Come with me."

He led me up to my own little chamber, took fresh raiment for me from a
press, called Lorenza and bade her bring bread and wine, vinegar and warm
water.

In a very weak dilution of the latter he bade me bathe my lacerated feet,
and then he found fine strips of linen in which to bind them ere I drew
fresh hose and shoes.  And meanwhile munching my bread and salt and taking
great draughts of the pure if somewhat sour wine, my mental peace was
increased by the refreshment of my body.

At last I stood up more myself than I had been in these last twelve awful
hours--for it was just noon, and into twelve hours had been packed the
events that well might have filled a lifetime.

He put an arm about my shoulder, fondly as a father might have done, and so
led me below again and into my mother's presence.

We found her kneeling before the Crucifix, telling her beads; and we stood
waiting a few moments in silence until with a sigh and a rustle of her
stiff black dress she rose gently and turned to face us.

My heart thudded violently in that moment, as I looked into that pale face
of sorrow.  Then Fra Gervasio began to speak very gently and softly.

"Your son, Madonna, has been lured into sin by a wanton woman," he began,
and there she interrupted him with a sudden and very piteous cry.

"Not that!  Ah, not that!" she exclaimed, putting out hands gropingly
before her.

"That and more, Madonna," he answered gravely.  "Be brave to hear the rest.
It is a very piteous story.  But the founts of Divine Mercy are
inexhaustible, and Agostino shall drink therefrom when by penitence he
shall have cleansed his lips."

Very erect she stood there, silent and ghostly, her face looking diaphanous
by contrast with the black draperies that enshrouded her, whilst her eyes
were great pools of sorrow.  Poor, poor mother!  It is the last
recollection I have of her; for after that day we never met again, and I
would give ten years to purgatory if I might recall the last words that
passed between us.

As briefly as possible and ever thrusting into the foreground the immensity
of the snare that had been spread for me and the temptation that had
enmeshed me, Gervasio told her the story of my sin.

She heard him through in that immovable attitude, one hand pressed to her
heart, her poor pale lips moving now and again, but no sound coming from
them, her face a white mask of pain and horror.

When he had done, so wrought upon was I by the sorrow of that countenance
that I went forward again to fling myself upon my knees before her.

"Mother, forgive!" I pleaded.  And getting no answer I put up my hands to
take hers.  "Mother!" I cried, and the tears were streaming down my face.

But she recoiled before me.

"Are you my child?" she asked in a voice of horror.  "Are you the thing
that has grown out of that little child I vowed to chastity and to God?
Then has my sin overtaken me--the sin of bearing a son to Giovanni
d'Anguissola, that enemy of God!"

"Ah, mother, mother!" I cried again, thinking perhaps by that all-powerful
word to move her yet to pity and to gentleness.

"Madonna," cried Gervasio, "be merciful if you would look for mercy."

"He has falsified my vows," she answered stonily.  "He was my votive
offering for the life of his impious father.  I am punished for the
unworthiness of my offering and the unworthiness of the cause in which I
offered it.  Accursed is the fruit of my womb!"  She moaned, and sank her
head upon her breast.

"I will atone!" I cried, overwhelmed to see her so distraught.

She wrung her pale hands.

"Atone!" she cried, and her voice trembled.  "Go then, and atone.  But
never let me see you more; never let me be reminded of the sinner to whom I
have given life.  Go!  Begone!"  And she raised a hand in tragical
dismissal.

I shrank back, and came slowly to my feet.  And then Gervasio spoke, and
his voice boomed and thundered with righteous indignation.

"Madonna, this is inhuman!" he denounced.  "Shall you dare to hope for
mercy being yourself unmerciful?"

"I shall pray for strength to forgive him; but the sight of him might tempt
me back with the memory of the thing that he has done," she answered, and
she had returned to that cold and terrible reserve of hers.

And then things that Fra Gervasio had repressed for years welled up in a
mighty flood.  "He is your son, and he is as you have made him."

"As I have made him?" quoth she, and her glance challenged the friar.

"By what right did you make of him a votive offering?  By what right did
you seek to consecrate a child unborn to a claustral life without thought
of his character, without reck of the desires that should be his?  By what
right did you make yourself the arbiter of the future of a man unborn?"

"By what right?" quoth she.  "Are you a priest, and do you ask me by what
right I vowed him to the service of God?"

"And is there, think you, no way of serving God but in the sterility of the
cloister?" he demanded.  "Why, since no man is born to damnation, and since
by your reasoning the world must mean damnation, then all men should be
encloistered, and soon, thus, there would be an end to man.  You are too
arrogant, Madonna, when you presume to judge what pleases God.  Beware lest
you fall into the sin of the Pharisee, for often have I seen you stand in
danger of it."

She swayed as if her strength were failing her, and again her pale lips
moved.

"Enough, Fra Gervasio!  I will go," I cried.

"Nay, it is not yet enough," he answered, and strode down the room until he
stood between her and me.  "He is what you have made him," he repeated in
denunciation.  "Had you studied his nature and his inclinations, had you
left them free to develop along the way that God intended, you would have
seen whether or not the cloister called him; and then would have been the
time to have taken a resolve.  But you thought to change his nature by
repressing it; and you never saw that if he was not such as you would have
him be, then most surely would you doom him to damnation by making an evil
priest of him.

"In your Pharisaic arrogance, Madonna, you sought to superimpose your will
to God's will concerning him--you confounded God's will with your own.  And
so his sins recoil upon you as much as upon any.  Therefore, Madonna, do I
bid you beware.  Take a humbler view if you would be acceptable in the
Divine sight.  Learn to forgive, for I say to you to-day that you stand as
greatly in need of forgiveness for the thing that Agostino has done, as
does Agostino himself."

He paused at last, and stood trembling before her, his eyes aflame, his
high cheek-bones faintly tinted.  And she measured him very calmly and
coldly with her sombre eyes.

"Are you a priest?" she asked with steady scorn.  "Are you indeed a
priest?"  And then her invective was loosened, and her voice shrilled and
mounted as her anger swayed her.  "What a snake have I harboured here!" she
cried.  "Blasphemer!  You show me clearly whence came the impiety and
ungodliness of Giovanni d'Anguissola.  It had the same source as your own.
It was suckled at your mother's breast."

A sob shook him.  "My mother is dead, Madonna!" he rebuked her.

"She is more blessed, then, than I; since she has not lived to see what a
power for sin she has brought forth.  Go, pitiful friar.  Go, both of you.
You are very choicely mated.  Begone from Mondolfo, and never let me see
either of you more."

She staggered to her great chair and sank into it, whilst we stood there,
mute, regarding her.  For myself, it was with difficulty that I repressed
the burning things that rose to my lips.  Had I given free rein to my
tongue, I had made of it a whip of scorpions.  And my anger sprang not from
the things she said to me, but from what she said to that saintly man who
held out a hand to help me out of the morass of sin in which I was being
sunk.  That he, that sweet and charitable follower of his Master, should be
abused by her, should be dubbed blasphemer and have the cherished memory of
his mother defiled by her pietistic utterances, was something that inflamed
me horribly.

But he set a hand upon my shoulder.

"Come, Agostino," he said very gently.  He was calm once more.  "We will
go, as we are bidden, you and I."

And then, out of the sweetness of his nature, he forged all unwittingly the
very iron that should penetrate most surely into her soul.

"Forgive her, my son.  Forgive her as you need forgiveness.  She does not
understand the thing she does.  Come, we will pray for her, that God in His
infinite mercy may teach her humility and true knowledge of Him."

I saw her start as if she had been stung.

"Blasphemer, begone!" she cried again; and her voice was hoarse with
suppressed anger.

And then the door was suddenly flung open, and Rinolfo clanked in, very
martial and important, his hand thrusting up his sword behind him.

"Madonna," he announced, "the Captain of Justice from Piacenza is here."




CHAPTER II

THE CAPTAIN OF JUSTICE


There was a moment's silence after Rinolfo had flung that announcement.

"The Captain of Justice?" quoth my mother at length, her voice startled.
"What does he seek?"

"The person of my Lord Agostino d'Anguissola," said Rinolfo steadily.

She sighed very heavily.  "A felon's end!" she murmured, and turned to me.
"If thus you may expiate your sins," she said, speaking more gently, "let
the will of Heaven be done.  Admit the captain, Ser Rinolfo."

He bowed, and turned sharply to depart.

"Stay!" I cried, and rooted him there by the imperative note of my command.

Fra Gervasio was more than right when he said that mine was not a nature
for the cloister.  In that moment I might have realized it to the full by
the readiness with which the thought of battle occurred to me, and more by
the anticipatory glow that warmed me at the very thought of it.  I was the
very son of Giovanni d'Anguissola.

"What force attends the captain?" I inquired.

"He has six mounted men with him," replied Rinolfo.  "In that case," I
answered, "you will bid him begone in my name."

"And if he should not go?" was Rinolfo's impudent question.

"You will tell him that I will drive him hence--him and his braves.  We
keep a garrison of a score of men at least--sufficient to compel him to
depart."

"He will return again with more," said Rinolfo.

"Does that concern you?" I snapped.  "Let him return with what he pleases.
To-day I enrol more forces from the countryside, take up the bridge and
mount our cannon.  This is my lair and fortress, and I'll defend it and
myself as becomes my name and blood.  For I am the lord and master here,
and the Lord of Mondolfo is not to be dragged away thus at the heels of a
Captain of Justice.  You have my orders, obey them.  About it, sir."

Circumstances had shown me the way that I must take, and the folly of going
forth a fugitive outcast at my mother's bidding.  I was Lord of Mondolfo,
as I had said, and they should know and feel it from this hour--all of
them, not excepting my mother.

But I reckoned without the hatred Rinolfo bore me.  Instead of the prompt
obedience that I had looked for, he had turned again to my mother.

"Is it your wish, Madonna?" he inquired.

"It is my wish that counts, you knave," I thundered and advanced upon him.

But he fronted me intrepidly.  "I hold my office from my Lady the Countess.
I obey none other here."

"Body of God!  Do you defy me?" I cried.  "Am I Lord of Mondolfo, or am I a
lackey in my own house?  You'ld best obey me ere I break you, Ser Rinolfo.
We shall see whether the men will take my orders," I added confidently.

The faintest smile illumined his dark face.  "The men will not stir a
finger at the bidding of any but Madonna the Countess and myself," he
answered hardily.

It was by an effort that I refrained from striking him.  And then my mother
spoke again.

"It is as Ser Rinolfo says," she informed me.  "So cease this futile
resistance, sir son, and accept the expiation that is offered you."

I looked at her, she avoiding my glance.

"Madonna, I cannot think that it is so," said I.  "These men have known me
since I was a little lad.  Many of them have followed the fortunes of my
father.  They'll never turn their backs upon his son in the hour of his
need.  They are not all so inhuman as my mother."

"You mistake, sir," said Rinolfo.  "Of the men you knew but one or two
remain.  Most of our present force has been enrolled by me in the past
month."

This was defeat, utter and pitiful.  His tone was too confident, he was too
sure of his ground to leave me a doubt as to what would befall if I made
appeal to his knavish followers.  My arms fell to my sides, and I looked at
Gervasio.  His face was haggard, and his eyes were very full of sorrow as
they rested on me.

"It is true, Agostino," he said.

And as he spoke, Rinolfo limped out of the room to fetch the Captain of
Justice, as my mother had bidden him; and his lips smiled cruelly.

"Madam mother," I said bitterly, "you do a monstrous thing.  You usurp the
power that is mine, and you deliver me--me, your son--to the gallows.  I
hope that, hereafter, when you come to realize to the full your deed, you
will be able to give your conscience peace."

"My first duty is to God," she answered; and to that pitiable answer there
was nothing to be rejoined.

So I turned my shoulder to her and stood waiting, Fra Gervasio beside me,
clenching his hands in his impotence and mute despair.  And then an
approaching clank of mail heralded the coming of the captain.

Rinolfo held the door, and Cosimo d'Anguissola entered with a firm, proud
tread, two of his men, following at his heels.

He wore a buff-coat, under which no doubt there would be a shirt of mail;
his gorget and wristlets were of polished steel, and his headgear was a
steel cap under a cover of peach-coloured velvet.  Thigh-boots encased his
legs; sword and dagger hung in the silver carriages at his belt; his
handsome, aquiline face was very solemn.

He bowed profoundly to my mother, who rose to respond, and then he flashed
me one swift glance of his piercing eyes.

"I deplore my business here," he announced shortly.  "No doubt it will be
known to you already."  And he looked at me again, allowing his eyes to
linger on my face.

"I am ready, sir," I said.

"Then we had best be going, for I understand that none could be less
welcome here than I.  Yet in this, Madonna, let me assure you that there is
nothing personal to myself.  I am the slave of my office.  I do but perform
it."

"So much protesting where no doubt has been expressed," said Fra Gervasio,
"in itself casts a doubt upon your good faith.  Are you not Cosimo
d'Anguissola--my lord's cousin and heir?"

"I am," said he, "yet that has no part in this, sir friar."

"Then let it have part.  Let it have the part it should have.  Will you
bear one of your own name and blood to the gallows?  What will men say of
that when they perceive your profit in the deed?"

Cosimo looked him boldly between the eyes, his hawk-face very white.

"Sir priest, I know not by what right you address me so.  But you do me
wrong.  I am the Podesta of Piacenza bound by an oath that it would
dishonour me to break; and break it I must or else fulfil my duty here.
Enough!" he added, in his haughty, peremptory fashion.  "Ser Agostino, I
await your pleasure."

"I will appeal to Rome," cried Fra Gervasio, now beside himself with grief.

Cosimo smiled darkly, pityingly.  "It is to be feared that Rome will turn a
deaf ear to appeals on behalf of the son of Giovanni d'Anguissola."

And with that he motioned me to precede him.  Silently I pressed Fra
Gervasio's hand, and on that departed without so much as another look at my
mother, who sat there a silent witness of a scene which she approved.

The men-at-arms fell into step, one on either side of me, and so we passed
out into the courtyard, where Cosimo's other men were waiting, and where
was gathered the entire family of the castle--a gaping, rather frightened
little crowd.

They brought forth a mule for me, and I mounted.  Then suddenly there was
Fra Gervasio at my side again.

"I, too, am going hence," he said.  "Be of good courage, Agostino.  There
is no effort I will not make on your behalf."  In a broken voice he added
his farewells ere he stood back at the captain's peremptory bidding.  The
little troop closed round me, and thus, within a couple of hours of my
coming, I departed again from Mondolfo, surrendered to the hangman by the
pious hands of my mother, who on her knees, no doubt, would be thanking God
for having afforded her the grace to act in so righteous a manner.

Once only did my cousin address me, and that was soon after we had left the
town behind us.  He motioned the men away, and rode to my side.  Then he
looked at me with mocking, hating eyes.

"You had done better to have continued in your saint's trade than have
become so very magnificent a sinner," said he.

I did not answer him, and he rode on beside me in silence some little way.

"Ah, well," he sighed at last.  "Your course has been a brief one, but very
eventful.  And who would have suspected so very fierce a wolf under so
sheepish an outside?  Body of God!  You fooled us all, you and that white-
faced trull."

He said it through his teeth with such a concentration of rage in his tones
that it was easy to guess where the sore rankled.

I looked at him gravely.  "Does it become you, sir, do you think, to gird
at one who is your prisoner?"

"And did you not gird at me when it was your turn?" he flashed back
fiercely.   "Did not you and she laugh together over that poor, fond fool
Cosimo whose money she took so very freely, and yet who seems to have been
the only one excluded from her favours?"

"You lie, you dog!" I blazed at him, so fiercely that the men turned in
their saddles.  He paled, and half raised the gauntleted hand in which he
carried his whip.  But he controlled himself, and barked an order to his
followers:

"Ride on, there!"

When they had drawn off a little, and we were alone again, "I do not lie,
sir," he said.  "It is a practice which I leave to shavelings of all
degrees."

"If you say that she took aught from you, then you lie," I repeated.

He considered me steadily.  "Fool!" he said at last.  "Whence else came her
jewels and fine clothes?  From Fifanti, do you think--that impecunious
pedant?  Or perhaps you imagine that it was from Gambara?  In time that
grasping prelate might have made the Duke pay.  But pay, himself?  By the
Blood of God! he was never known to pay for anything.

"Or, yet again, do you suppose her finery was afforded her by Caro?--Messer
Annibale Caro--who is so much in debt that he is never like to return to
Piacenza, unless some dolt of a patron rewards him for his poetaster's
labours.

"No, no, my shaveling.  It was I who paid--I who was the fool.  God! I more
than suspected the others.  But you.  You saint...You!"

He flung up his head, and laughed bitterly and unpleasantly.  "Ah, well!"
he ended, "You are to pay, though in different kind.  It is in the family,
you see."  And abruptly raising his voice he shouted to the men to wait.

Thereafter he rode ahead, alone and gloomy, whilst no less alone and gloomy
rode I amid my guards.  The thing he had revealed to me had torn away a
veil from my silly eyes.  It had made me understand a hundred little
matters that hitherto had been puzzling me.  And I saw how utterly and
fatuously blind I had been to things which even Fra Gervasio had
apprehended from just the relation he had drawn from me.

It was as we were entering Piacenza by the Gate of San Lazzaro that I again
drew my cousin to my side.

"Sir Captain!" I called to him, for I could not bring myself to address him
as cousin now.  He came, inquiry in his eyes.

"Where is she now?" I asked.

He stared at me a moment, as if my effrontery astonished him.  Then he
shrugged and sneered.  "I would I knew for certain," was his fierce answer.
"I would I knew.  Then should I have the pair of you."  And I saw it in his
face how unforgivingly he hated me out of his savage jealousy.  "My Lord
Gambara might tell you.  I scarcely doubt it.  Were I but certain, what a
reckoning should I not present!  He may be Governor of Piacenza, but were
he Governor of Hell he should not escape me."  And with that he rode ahead
again, and left me.

The rumour of our coming sped through the streets ahead of us, and out of
the houses poured the townsfolk to watch our passage and to point me out
one to another with many whisperings and solemn head-waggings.  And the
farther we advanced, the greater was the concourse, until by the time we
reached the square before the Communal Palace we found there what amounted
to a mob awaiting us.

My guards closed round me as if to protect me from that crowd.  But I was
strangely without fear, and presently I was to see how little cause there
was for any, and to realize that the action of my guards was sprung from a
very different motive.

The people stood silent, and on every upturned face of which I caught a
glimpse I saw something that was akin to pity.  Presently, however, as we
drew nearer to the Palace, a murmur began to rise.  It swelled and grew
fierce.  Suddenly a cry rose vehement and clear.

"Rescue!  Rescue!"

"He is the Lord of Mondolfo," shouted one tall fellow, "and the Cardinal-
legate makes a cat's-paw of him!  He is to suffer for Messer Gambara's
villainy!"

Again he was answered by the cry--"Rescue!  Rescue!" whilst some added an
angry--"Death to the Legate!"

Whilst I was deeply marvelling at all this, Cosimo looked at me over his
shoulder, and though his lips were steady, his eyes seemed to smile,
charged with a message of derision--and something more, something that I
could not read.  Then I heard his hard, metallic voice.

"Back there, you curs!  To your kennels!  Out of the way, or we ride you
down."

He had drawn his sword, and his white hawk-face was so cruel and determined
that they fell away before him and their cries died down.

We passed into the courtyard of the Communal Palace, and the great studded
gates were slammed in the faces of the mob, and barred.

I got down from my mule, and was conducted at Cosimo's bidding to one of
the dungeons under the Palace, where I was left with the announcement that
I must present myself to-morrow before the Tribunal of the Ruota.

I flung myself down upon the dried rushes that had been heaped in a corner
to do duty for a bed, and I abandoned myself to my bitter thoughts.  In
particular I pondered the meaning of the crowd's strange attitude.  Nor was
it a riddle difficult to resolve.  It was evident that believing Gambara,
as they did, to be Giuliana's lover, and informed perhaps--invention
swelling rumour as it will--that the Cardinal-legate had ridden late last
night to Fifanti's house, it had been put about that the foul murder done
there was Messer Gambara's work.

Thus was the Legate reaping the harvest of all the hatred he had sown, of
all the tyranny and extortion of his iron rule in Piacenza.  And willing to
believe any evil of the man they hated, they not only laid Fifanti's death
at his door, but they went to further lengths and accounted that I was the
cat's-paw; that I was to be sacrificed to save the Legate's face and
reputation.  They remembered perhaps the ill-odour in which we Anguissola
of Mondolfo had been at Rome, for the ghibelline leanings that ever had
been ours and for the rebellion of my father against the Pontifical sway;
and their conclusions gathered a sort of confirmation from that
circumstance.

Long upon the very edge of mutiny and revolt against Gambara's injustice,
it had needed but what seemed a crowning one such as this to quicken their
hatred into expression.

It was all very clear and obvious, and it seemed to me that to-morrow's
trial should be very interesting.  I had but to deny; I had but to make
myself the mouthpiece of the rumour that was abroad, and Heaven alone could
foretell what the consequences might be.

Then I smiled bitterly to myself.  Deny?  0, no!  That was a last vileness
I could not perpetrate.  The Ruota should hear the truth, and Gambara
should be left to shelter Giuliana, who--Cosimo was assured--had fled to
him in her need as to a natural protector.

It was a bitter thought.  The intensity of that bitterness made me realize
with alarm how it still was with me.  And pondering this, I fell asleep,
utterly worn out in body and in mind by the awful turmoil of that day.




CHAPTER III

GAMBARA'S INTERESTS


I awakened to find a man standing beside me.  He was muffled in a black
cloak and carried a lanthorn.  Behind him the door gaped as he had left it.

Instantly I sat up, conscious of my circumstance and surroundings, and at
my movement this visitor spoke.

"You sleep very soundly for a man in your case." said he, and the voice was
that of my Lord Gambara, its tone quite coldly critical.

He set down the lanthorn on a stool, whence it shed a wheel of yellow light
intersected with black beams.  His cloak fell apart, and I saw that he was
dressed for riding, very plainly, in sombre garments, and that he was
armed.

He stood slightly to one side that the light might fall upon my face,
leaving his own in shadow; thus he considered me for some moments in
silence.  At last, very slowly, very bitterly, shaking his head as he
spoke.

"You fool, you clumsy fool!" he said.

Having drawn, as you have seen, my own conclusions from the attitude of the
mob, I was in little doubt as to the precise bearing of his words.

I answered him sincerely.  "If folly were all my guilt," said I, "it would
be well."

He sniffed impatiently.  "Still sanctimonious!" he sneered.  "Tcha!  Up
now, and play the man, at least.  You have shed your robe of sanctity,
Messer Agostino; have done with pretence!"

"I do not pretend," I answered him.  "And as for playing the man, I shall
accept what punishment the law may have for me with fortitude at least.  If
I can but expiate..."

"Expiate a fig!" he snapped, interrupting me.  "Why do you suppose that I
am here?"

"I wait to learn."

"I am here because through your folly you have undone us all.  What need,"
he cried, the anger of expostulation quivering in his voice, "what need was
there to kill that oaf Fifanti?"

"He would have killed me," said I.  "I slew him in self-defence."

"Ha!  And do you hope to save your neck with such a plea?"

"Nay.  I have no thought of urging it.  I but tell it you."

"There is not the need to tell me anything," he answered, his anger very
plain.  "I am very well informed of all.  Rather, let me tell you
something.  Do you realize, sir, that you have made it impossible for me to
abide another day in Piacenza?"

"I am sorry..." I began lamely.

"Present your regrets to Satan," he snapped.  "Me they avail nothing.  I am
put to the necessity of abandoning my governorship and fleeing by night
like a hunted thief.  And I have you to thank for it.  You see me on the
point of departure.  My horses wait above.  So you may add my ruin to the
other fine things you accomplished yesternight.  For a saint you are over-
busy, sir."  And he turned away and strode the length of my cell and back,
so that, at last, I had a glimpse of his face, which was drawn and
scowling.  Gone now was the last vestige of his habitual silkiness; the
pomander-ball hung neglected, and his delicate fingers tugged viciously at
his little pointed beard, his great sapphire ring flashing sombrely.

"Look you, Ser Agostino, I could kill you and take joy in it.  I could, by
God!"

His eyes upon me, he drew from his breast a folded paper.  "Instead, I
bring you liberty.  I open your doors for you, and bid you escape.  Here,
man, take this paper.  Present it to the officer at the Fodesta Gate.  He
will let you pass.  And then away with you, out of the territory of
Piacenza."

For an instant my heart-beats seemed suspended by astonishment.  I swung my
legs round, and half rose, excitedly.  Then I sank back again.  My mind was
made up.  I was tired of the world; sick of life the first draught of which
had turned so bitter in my throat.  If by my death I might expiate my sins
and win pardon by my submission and humility, it was all I could desire.  I
should be glad to be released from all the misery and sorrow into which I
had been born.

I told him so in some few words.  "You mean me well, my lord," I ended,
"and I thank you.  But..."

"By God and the Saints!" he blazed, "I do not mean you well at all.  I mean
you anything but well.  Have I not said that I could kill you with
satisfaction?  Whatever be the sins of Egidio Gambara, he is no hypocrite,
and he lets his enemies see his face unmasked."

"But, then," I cried, amazed, "why do you offer me my freedom?"

"Because this cursed populace is in such a temper that if you are brought
to trial I know not what may happen.  As likely as not we shall have an
insurrection, open revolt against the Pontifical authority, and red war in
the streets.  And this is not the time for it.

"The Holy Father requires the submission of these people.  We are upon the
eve of Duke Pier Luigi's coming to occupy his new States, and it imports
that he should be well received, that he should be given a loving welcome
by his subjects.  If, instead, they meet him with revolt and defiance, the
reasons will be sought, and the blame of the affair will recoil upon me.
Your cousin Cosimo will see to that.  He is a very subtle gentleman, this
cousin of yours, and he has a way of working to his own profit.  So now you
understand.  I have no mind to be crushed in this business.  Enough have I
suffered already through you, enough am I suffering in resigning my
governorship.  So there is but one way out.  There must be no trial
to-morrow.  It must be known that you have escaped.  Thus they will be
quieted, and the matter will blow over.  So now, Ser Agostino, we
understand each other.  You must go."

"And whither am I to go?" I cried, remembering my mother and that
Mondolfo--the only place of safety--was closed to me by her cruelly pious
hands.

"Whither?" he echoed.  "What do I care?  To Hell--anywhere, so that you get
out of this."

"I'ld sooner hang," said I quite seriously.

"You'ld hang and welcome, for all the love I bear you," he answered, his
impatience growing.  "But if you hang blood will be shed, innocent lives
will be lost, and I myself may come to suffer."

"For you, sir, I care nothing," I answered him, taking his own tone, and
returning him the same brutal frankness that he used with me.  "That you
deserve to suffer I do not doubt.  But since other blood than yours might
be shed as you say, since innocent lives might be lost...Give me the
paper."

He was frowning upon me, and smiling viperishly at the same time.  "I like
your frankness better than your piety," said he.  "So now we understand
each other, and know that neither is in the other's debt.  Hereafter beware
of Egidio Gambara.  I give you this last loyal warning.  See that you do
not come into my way again."

I rose and looked at him--looked down from my greater height.  I knew well
the source of this last, parting show of hatred.  Like Cosimo's it sprang
from jealousy.  And a growth more potential of evil does not exist.

He bore my glance a moment, then turned and took up the lanthorn.  "Come,"
he said, and obediently I followed him up the winding stone staircase, and
so to the very gates of the Palace.

We met no one.  What had become of the guards, I cannot think; but I am
satisfied that Gambara himself had removed them.  He opened the wicket for
me, and as I stepped out he gave me the paper and whistled softly.  Almost
at once I heard a sound of muffled hooves under the colonnade, and
presently loomed the figures of a man and a mule; both dim and ghostly in
the pearly light of dawn--for that was the hour.

Gambara followed me out, and pulled the wicket after him.

"That beast is for you," he said curtly.  "It will the better enable you to
get away."

As curtly I acknowledged the gift, and mounted whilst the groom held the
stirrup for me.

0! it was the oddest of transactions!  My Lord Gambara with death in his
heart very reluctantly giving me a life I did not want.

I dug my heels into the mule's sides and started across the silent, empty
square, then plunged into a narrow street where the gloom was almost as of
midnight, and so pushed on.

I came out into the open space before the Porta Fodesta, and so to the gate
itself.  From one of the windows of the gatehouse, a light shone yellow,
and, presently, in answer to my call, out came an officer followed by two
men, one of whom carried a lanthorn swinging from his pike.  He held this
light aloft, whilst the officer surveyed me.

"What now?" he challenged.  "None passes out to-night."

For answer I thrust the paper under his nose.  "Orders from my Lord
Gambara," said I.

But he never looked at it.  "None passes out to-night," he repeated
imperturbably.  "So run my orders."

"Orders from whom?" quoth I, surprised by his tone and manner.

"From the Captain of Justice, if you must know.  So you may get you back
whence you came, and wait till daylight."

"Ah, but stay," I said.  "I do not think you can have heard me.  I carry
orders from my Lord the Governor.  The Captain of Justice cannot overbear
these."  And I shook the paper insistently.

"My orders are that none is to pass--not even the Governor himself," he
answered firmly.

It was very daring of Cosimo, and I saw his aim.  He was, as Gambara had
said, a very subtle gentleman.  He, too, had set his finger upon the pulse
of the populace, and perceived what might be expected of it.  He was
athirst for vengeance, as he had shown me, and determined that neither I
nor Gambara should escape.  First, I must be tried, condemned, and hanged,
and then he trusted, no doubt, that Gambara would be torn in pieces; and it
was quite possible that Messer Cosimo himself would secretly find means to
fan the mob's indignation against the Legate into fierce activity.  And it
seemed that the game was in his hands, for this officer's resoluteness
showed how implicitly my cousin was obeyed.

Of that same resoluteness of the lieutenant's I was to have a yet more
signal proof.  For presently, whilst still I stood there vainly
remonstrating, down the street behind me rode Gambara himself on a tall
horse, followed by a mule-litter and an escort of half a score of armed
grooms.

He uttered an exclamation when he saw me still there, the gate shut and the
officer in talk with me.  He spurred quickly forward.

"How is this?" he demanded haughtily and angrily.  "This man rides upon the
business of the State.  Why this delay to open for him?"

"My orders," said the lieutenant, civilly but firmly, "are that none passes
out to-night."

"Do you know me?" demanded Gambara.

"Yes, my lord."

"And you dare talk to me of your orders?  There are no orders here in
Piacenza but my orders.  Set me wide the wicket of that gate.  I myself
must pass."

"My lord, I dare not."

"You are insubordinate," said the Legate, of a sudden very cold.

He had no need to ask whose orders were these.  At once he saw the trammel
spread for him.  But if Messer Cosimo was subtle, so, too, was Messer
Gambara.  By not so much as a word did he set his authority in question
with the officer.

"You are insubordinate," was all he answered him, and then to the two
men-at-arms behind the lieutenant--"Ho, there!" he called.  "Bring out the
guard.  I am Egidio Gambara, your Governor."

So calm and firm and full of assurance was his tone, so unquestionable his
right to command them, that the men sprang instantly to obey him.

"What would you do, my lord?" quoth the officer, and he seemed daunted.

"Buffoon," said Gambara between his teeth.  "You shall see."

Six men came hurrying from the gatehouse, and the Cardinal called to them.

"Let the corporal stand forth," he said.

A man advanced a pace from the rank they had hastily formed and saluted.

"Place me your officer under arrest," said the Legate coldly, advancing no
reason for the order.  "Let him be locked in the gatehouse until my return;
and do you, sir corporal, take command here meanwhile."

The startled fellow saluted again, and advanced upon his officer.  The
lieutenant looked up with sudden uneasiness in his eyes.  He had gone too
far.  He had not reckoned upon being dealt with in this summary fashion.
He had been bold so long as he conceived himself no more than Cosimo's
mouthpiece, obeying orders for the issuing of which Cosimo must answer.
Instead, it seemed, the Governor intended that he should answer for them
himself.  Whatever he now dared, he knew--as Gambara knew--that his men
would never dare to disobey the Governor, who was the supreme authority
there under the Pope.

"My lord," he exclaimed, "I had my orders from the Captain of Justice."

"And dare you to say that your orders included my messengers and my own
self?" thundered the dainty prelate.

"Explicitly, my lord," answered the lieutenant.

"It shall be dealt with on my return, and if what you say is proved true,
the Captain of Justice shall suffer with yourself for this treason--for
that is the offence.  Take him away, and someone open me that gate."

There was an end to disobedience, and a moment or two later we stood
outside the town, on the bank of the river, which gurgled and flowed away
smoothly and mistily in the growing light, between the rows of stalwart
poplars that stood like sentinels to guard it.

"And now begone," said Gambara curtly to me, and wheeling my mule I rode
for the bridge of boats, crossed it, and set myself to breast the slopes
beyond.

Midway up I checked and looked back across the wide water.  The light had
grown quite strong by now, and in the east there was a faint pink flush to
herald the approaching sun.  Away beyond the river, moving southward, I
could just make out the Legate's little cavalcade.  And then, for the first
time, a question leapt in my mind concerning the litter whose leathern
curtains had remained so closely drawn.  Whom did it contain?  Could it be
Giuliana?  Had Cosimo spoken the truth when he said that she had gone to
Gambara for shelter?

A little while ago I had sighed for death and exulted in the chance of
expiation and of purging myself of the foulness of sin.  And now, at the
sudden thought that occurred to me, I fell a prey to an insensate jealousy
touching the woman whom I had lately loathed as the cause of my downfall.
0, the inconstancy of the human heart, and the eternal battles in such poor
natures as mine between the knowledge of right and the desire for wrong!

It was in vain that I sought to turn my thoughts to other things; in vain
that I cast them back upon my recent condition and my recent resolves; in
vain that I remembered the penitence of yestermorn, the confession at Fra
Gervasio's knee, and the strong resolve to do penance and make amends by
the purity of all my after-life.  Vain was it all.

I turned my mule about, and still wrestling with my conscience, choking it,
I rode down the hill again, and back across the bridge, and then away to
the south, to follow Messer Gambara and set an end to doubt.

I must know.  I must!  It was no matter that conscience told me that here
was no affair of mine; that Giuliana belonged to the past from which I was
divorced, the past for which I must atone and seek forgiveness.  I must
know.  And so I rode along the dusty highway in pursuit of Messer Gambara,
who was proceeding, I imagined, to join the Duke at Parma.

I had no difficulty in following them.  A question here, and a question
there, accompanied by a description of the party, was all that was
necessary to keep me on their track.  And ever, it seemed to me from the
answers that I got, was I lessening the distance that separated us.

I was weak for want of food, for the last time that I had eaten was
yesterday at noon, at Mondolfo; and then but little.  Yet all I had this
day were some bunches of grapes that I stole in passing from a vineyard and
ate as I trotted on along that eternal Via Aemilia.

It was towards noon, at last, that a taverner at Castel Guelfo informed me
that my party had passed through the town but half an hour ahead of me.  At
the news I urged my already weary beast along, for unless I made good haste
now it might well happen that Parma should swallow up Gambara and his party
ere I overtook them.  And then, some ten minutes later, I caught a flutter
of garments half a mile or so ahead of me, amid the elms.  I quitted the
road and entered the woodland.  A little way I still rode; then,
dismounting, I tethered my mule, and went forward cautiously on foot.

I found them in a little sunken dell by a tiny rivulet.  Lying on my belly
in the long grass above, I looked down upon them with a black hatred of
jealousy in my heart.

They were reclining there, in that cool, fragrant spot in the shadow of a
great beech-tree.  A cloth had been spread upon the ground, and upon this
were platters of roast meats, white bread and fruits, and a flagon of wine,
a second flagon standing in the brook to cool.

My Lord Gambara was talking and she was regarding him with eyes that were
half veiled, a slow, insolent smile upon her matchless face.  Presently at
something that he said she laughed outright, a laugh so tuneful and light-
hearted that I thought I must be dreaming all this.  It was the gay, frank,
innocent laughter of a child; and I never heard in all my life a sound that
caused me so much horror.  He leaned across to her, and stroked her velvet
cheek with his delicate hand, whilst she suffered it in that lazy fashion
that was so peculiarly her own.

I stayed for no more.  I wriggled back a little way to where a clump of
hazel permitted me to rise without being seen.  Thence I fled the spot.
And as I went, my heart seemed as it must burst, and my lips could frame
but one word which I kept hurling out of me like an imprecation, and that
word was "Trull!"

Two nights ago had happened enough to stamp her soul for ever with sorrow
and despair.  Yet she could sit there, laughing and feasting and trulling
it lightly with the Legate!

The little that remained me of my illusions was shivered in that hour.
There was, I swore, no good in all the world; for even where goodness
sought to find a way, it grew distorted, as in my mother's case.  And yet
through all her pietism surely she had been right!  There was no peace, no
happiness save in the cloister.  And at last the full bitterness of
penitence and regret overtook me when I reflected that by my own act I had
rendered myself for ever unworthy of the cloister's benign shelter.




CHAPTER IV

THE ANCHORITE OF MONTE ORSARO


I went blindly through the tangle of undergrowth, stumbling at every step
and scarce noticing that I stumbled; and in this fashion I came presently
back to my mule.

I mounted and rode amain, not by the way that I had come, but westward; not
by road, but by bridle-paths, through meadow-land and forest, up hill and
down, like a man entranced, not knowing whither I went nor caring.

Besides, whither was I to go?  Like my father before me I was an outcast, a
fugitive outlaw.  But this troubled me not yet.  My mind, my wounded,
tortured mind was all upon the past.  It was of Giuliana that I thought as
I rode in the noontide warmth of that September day.  And never can human
brain have held a sorer conflict of reflection than was mine.

No shadow now remained of the humour that had possessed me in the hour in
which I had repudiated her after the murder of Fifanti.  I had heard Fra
Gervasio deliver judgment upon her, and I had doubted his justice, felt
that he used her mercilessly.  My own sight had now confirmed to me the
truth of what he had said; but in doing so--in allowing me to see her in
another man's possession--a very rage of jealousy had been stirred in me
and a greater rage of longing.

This longing followed upon my first bitter denunciation of her; and it
followed soon.  It is in our natures, as I then experienced, never more to
desire a thing than when we see it lost to us.  Bitterly now did I reproach
myself for not having borne her off with me two nights ago when I had fled
Fifanti's house, when she herself had urged that course upon me.  I
despised myself, out of my present want, for my repudiation of her--a
hundred times more bitterly than I had despised myself when I imagined that
I had done a vileness by that repudiation.

Never until now, did it seem to me, had I known how deeply I loved her, how
deeply the roots of our passion had burrowed down into my heart, and
fastened there to be eradicated only with life itself.  So thought I then;
and thinking so I cried her name aloud, called to her through the scented
pine-woods, thus voicing my longing and my despair.

And swift on the heels of this would come another mood.  There would come
the consciousness of the sin of it all, the imperative need to cleanse
myself of this, to efface her memory from my soul which could not hold it
without sinning anew in fierce desire.  I strove to do so with all my poor
weak might.  I denounced her to myself again for a soulless harlot; blamed
her for all the ill that had befallen me; accounted her the very hand that
had wielded me, a senseless instrument, to slay her importunate husband.

And then I perceived that this was as pitiful a ruse of self-deception as
that of the fox in the fable unable to reach the luscious grapes above him.
For as well might a starving man seek to compel by an effort of his will
the hunger to cease from gnawing at his vitals.

Thus were desire and conscience locked in conflict, and each held the
ascendancy alternately what time I pushed onward aimlessly until I came to
the broad bed of a river.

A grey waste of sun-parched boulders spread away to the stream, which was
diminished by the long drought.  Beyond the narrow sheen of water,
stretched another rocky space, and then came the green of meadows and a
brown city upon the rising ground.

The city was Fornovo, and the diminished river was the Taro, the ancient
boundary between the Gaulish and Ligurian folk.  I stood upon the historic
spot where Charles VIII had cut his way through the allies to win back to
France after the occupation of Naples.  But the grotesque little king who
had been dust for a quarter of a century troubled my thoughts not at all
just then.  The Taro brought me memories not of battle, but of home.  To
reach Mondolfo I had but to follow the river up the valley towards that
long ridge of the Apennines arrayed before me, with the tall bulks of Mount
Giso and Mount Orsaro, their snow-caps sparkling in the flood of sunshine
that poured down upon them.  Two hours, or perhaps three at most, along the
track of that cool, glittering water, and the grey citadel of Mondolfo
would come into view.

It was this very reflection that brought me now to consider my condition;
to ask myself whither I should turn.  Money I had none--not so much as a
single copper grosso.  To sell I had nothing but the clothes I stood
in--black, clerkly garments that I had got yesterday at Mondolfo.  Not so
much as a weapon had I that I might have bartered for a few coins.  There
was the mule; that should yield a ducat or two.  But when this was spent,
what then?  To go a suppliant to that pious icicle my mother were worse
than useless.

Whither was I to turn--I, Lord of Mondolfo and Carmina, one of the
wealthiest and most puissant tyrants of this Val di Taro?  It provoked me
almost to laughter, of a fierce and bitter sort.  Perhaps some peasant of
the contado would take pity on his lord and give him shelter and
nourishment in exchange for such labour as his lord might turn his stout
limbs to upon that peasant's land, which was my own.

I might perhaps essay it.  Certainly it was the only thing that was left
me.  For against my mother and to support my rights I might not invoke a
law which had placed me under a ban, a law that would deal me out its
rigours did I reveal myself.

Then I had thoughts of seeking sanctuary in some monastery, of offering
myself as a lay-brother, to do menial work, and in this way perhaps I might
find peace, and, in a lesser degree than was originally intended, the
comforts of the religion to which I had been so grossly unfaithful.  The
thought grew and developed into a resolve.  It brought me some comfort.  It
became a desire.

I pushed on, following the river along ground that grew swiftly steeper,
conscious that perforce my journey must end soon, for my mule was showing
signs of weariness.

Some three miles farther, having by then penetrated the green rampart of
the foothills, I came upon the little village of Pojetta.  It is a village
composed of a single street throwing out as its branches a few narrow
alleys, possessing a dingy church and a dingier tavern; this last had for
only sign a bunch of withered rosemary that hung above its grimy doors.

I drew rein there as utterly weary as my mule, hungry and thirsty and weak.
I got down and invited the suspicious scrutiny of the lantern-jawed
taverner, who, for all that my appearance was humble enough in such
garments as I wore, must have accounted me none the less of too fine an air
for such a house as his.

"Care for my beast," I bade him.  "I shall stay here an hour or two.

He nodded surlily, and led the mule away, whilst I entered the tavern's
single room.  Coming into it from the sunlight I could scarcely see
anything at first, so dark did the place seem.  What light there was came
through the open door; for the chamber's single window had long since been
rendered opaque by a screen of accumulated dust and cobwebs.  It was a
roomy place, low-ceilinged with blackened rafters running parallel across
its dirty yellow wash.

The floor was strewn with foul rushes that must have lain unchanged for
months, slippery with grease and littered with bones that had been flung
there by the polite guests the place was wont to entertain.  And it stank
most vilely of rancid oil and burnt meats and other things indefinable in
all but their acrid, nauseating, unclean pungency.

A fire was burning low at the room's far end, and over this a girl was
stooping, tending something in a stew-pot.  She looked round at my advent,
and revealed herself for a tall, black-haired, sloe-eyed wench, comely in a
rude, brown way, and strong, to judge by the muscular arms which were bared
to the elbow.

Interest quickened her face at sight of so unusual a patron.  She slouched
forward, wiping her hands upon her hips as she came, and pulled out a stool
for me at the long trestle-table that ran down the middle of the floor.

Grouped about the upper end of this table sat four men of the peasant type,
sun-tanned, bearded, and rudely garbed in loose jerkins and cross gartered
leg cloths.

A silence had fallen upon them as I entered, and they too were now
inspecting me with a frank interest which in their simple way they made no
attempt to conceal.

I sank wearily to the stool, paying little heed to them, and in answer to
the girl's invitation to command her, I begged for meat and bread and wine.
Whilst she was preparing these, one of the men addressed me civilly; and I
answered him as civilly but absently, for I had enough of other matters to
engage my thoughts.  Then another of them questioned me in a friendly tone
as to whence I came.  Instinctively I concealed the truth, answering
vaguely that I was from Castel Guelfo--which was the neighbourhood in which
I had overtaken my Lord Gambara and Giuliana.

"And what do they say at Castel Guelfo of the things that are happening in
Piacenza?" asked another.

"In Piacenza?" quoth I.  "Why, what is happening in Piacenza?"

Eagerly, with an ardour to show themselves intimate with the affairs of
towns, as is the way of rustics, they related to me what already I had
gathered to be the vulgar version of Fifanti's death.  Each spoke in turn,
cutting in the moment another paused to breathe, and sometimes they spoke
together, each anxious to have the extent of his information revealed and
appreciated.

And their tale, of course, was that Gambara, being the lover of Fifanti's
wife, had dispatched the doctor on a trumped-up mission, and had gone to
visit her by night.  But that the suspicious Fifanti lying near by in wait,
and having seen the Cardinal enter, followed him soon after and attacked
him, whereupon the Lord Gambara had slain him.  And then that wily,
fiendish prelate had sought to impose the blame upon the young Lord of
Mondolfo, who was a student in the pedant's house, and he had caused the
young man's arrest.  But this the Piacentini would not endure.  They had
risen, and threatened the Governor's life; and he was fled to Rome or
Parma, whilst the authorities to avoid a scandal had connived at the escape
of Messer d'Anguissola, who was also gone, no man knew whither.

The news had travelled speedily into that mountain fastness, it seemed.
But it had been garbled at its source.  The Piacentini conceived that they
held some evidence of what they believed--the evidence of the lad whom
Fifanti had left to spy and who had borne him the tale that the Cardinal
was within.  This evidence they accounted well-confirmed by the Legate's
flight.

Thus is history written.  Not a doubt but that some industrious scribe in
Piacenza with a grudge against Gambara, would set down what was the talk of
the town; and hereafter, it is not to be doubted, the murder of Astorre
Fifanti for the vilest of all motives will be added to the many crimes of
Egidio Gambara, that posterity may execrate his name even beyond its
already rich enough deserts.

I heard them in silence and but little moved, yet with a question now and
then to probe how far this silly story went in detail.  And whilst they
were still heaping abuse upon the Legate--of whom they spoke as Jews may
speak of pork--came the lantern-jawed host with a dish of broiled goat,
some bread, and a jug of wine.  This he set before me, then joined them in
their vituperation of Messer Gambara.

I ate ravenously, and for all that I do not doubt the meat was tough and
burnt, yet at the time those pieces of broiled goat upon that dirty table
seemed the sweetest food that ever had been set before me.

Finding that I was but indifferently communicative and had little news to
give them, the peasants fell to gossiping among themselves, and they were
presently joined by the girl, whose name, it seemed, was Giovannozza.  She
came to startle them with the rumour of a fresh miracle attributed to the
hermit of Monte Orsaro.

I looked up with more interest than I had hitherto shown in anything that
had been said, and I inquired who might be this anchorite.

"Sainted Virgin!" cried the girl, setting her hands upon her generous hips,
and turning her bold sloe-eyes upon me in a stare of incredulity.  "Whence
are you, sir, that you seem to know nothing of the world?  You had not
heard the news of Piacenza, which must be known to everyone by now; and you
have never heard of the anchorite of Monte Orsaro!"  She appealed by a
gesture to Heaven against the Stygian darkness of my mind.

"He is a very holy man," said one of the peasants.

"And he dwells alone in a hut midway up the mountain," added a second.

"In a hut which he built for himself with his own hands," a third
explained.

"And he lives on nuts and herbs and such scraps of food as are left him by
the charitable," put in the fourth, to show himself as full of knowledge as
his fellows.

But now it was Giovannozza who took up the story, firmly and resolutely;
and being a woman she easily kept her tongue going and overbore the
peasants so that they had no further share in the tale until it was
entirely told.  From her I learnt that the anchorite, one Fra Sebastiano,
possessed a miraculous image of the blessed martyr St. Sebastian, whose
wounds miraculously bled during Passion Week, and that there were no ills
in the world that this blood would not cure, provided that those to whom it
was applied were clean of mortal sin and imbued with the spirit of grace
and faith.

No pious wayfarer going over the Pass of Cisa into Tuscany but would turn
aside to kiss the image and ask a blessing at the hands of the anchorite;
and yearly in the season of the miraculous manifestation, great pilgrimages
were made to the hermitage by folk from the Valleys of the Taro and
Bagnanza, and even from beyond the Apennines.  So that Fra Sebastiano
gathered great store of alms, part of which he redistributed amongst the
poor, part of which he was saving to build a bridge over the Bagnanza
torrent, in crossing which so many poor folk had lost their lives.

I listened intently to the tale of wonders that followed, and now the
peasants joined in again, each with a story of some marvellous cure of
which he had direct knowledge.  And many and amazing were the details they
gave me of the saint--for they spoke of him as a saint already--so that no
doubt lingered in my mind of the holiness of this anchorite.

Giovannozza related how a goatherd coming one night over the pass had heard
from the neighbourhood of the hut the sounds of singing, and the music was
the strangest and sweetest ever sounded on earth, so that it threw the poor
fellow into a strange ecstasy, and it was beyond doubt that what he had
heard was an angel choir.  And then one of the peasants, the tallest and
blackest of the four, swore with a great oath that one night when he
himself had been in the hills he had seen the hermit's hut all aglow with
heavenly light against the black mass of the mountain.

All this left me presently very thoughtful, filled with wonder and
amazement.  Then their talk shifted again, and it was of the vintage they
discoursed, the fine yield of grapes about Fontana Fredda, and the heavy
crop of oil that there would be that year.  And then with the hum of their
voices gradually receding, it ceased altogether for me, and I was asleep
with my head pillowed upon my arms.

It would be an hour later when I awakened, a little stiff and cramped from
the uncomfortable position in which I had rested.  The peasants had
departed and the surly-faced host was standing at my side.

"You should be resuming your journey," said he, seeing me awake.  "It wants
but a couple of hours to sunset, and if you are going over the pass it were
well not to let the night overtake you."

"My journey?" said I aloud, and looked askance at him.

Whither, in Heaven's name, was I journeying?

Then I bethought me of my earlier resolve to seek shelter in some convent,
and his mention of the pass caused me to think now that it would be wiser
to cross the mountains into Tuscany.  There I should be beyond the reach of
the talons of the Farnese law, which might close upon me again at any time
so long as I was upon Pontifical territory.

I rose heavily, and suddenly bethought me of my utter lack of money.  It
dismayed me for a moment.  Then I remembered the mule, and determined that
I must go afoot.

"I have a mule to sell," said I, "the beast in your stables."

He scratched his ear, reflecting no doubt upon the drift of my
announcement.  "Yes?" he said dubiously.  "And to what market are you
taking it?"

"I am offering it to you," said I.

"To me?" he cried, and instantly suspicion entered his crafty eye and
darkened his brow.  "Where got you the mule?" he asked, and snapped his
lips together.

The girl entering at that moment stood at gaze, listening.

"Where did I get it?" I echoed.  "What is that to you?"

He smiled unpleasantly.  "It is this to me: that if the bargelli were to
come up here and discover a stolen mule in my stables, it would be an ill
thing for me."

I flushed angrily.  "Do you imply that I stole the mule?" said I, so
fiercely that he changed his air.

"Nay now, nay now," he soothed me.  "And, after all, it happens that I do
not want a mule.  I have one mule already, and I am a poor man, and..."

"A fig for your whines," said I.  "Here is the case.  I have no money--not
a grosso.  So the mule must pay for my dinner.  Name your price, and let us
have done."

"Ha!" he fumed at me.  "I am to buy your stolen beast, am I?  I am to be
frightened by your violence into buying it?  Be off, you rogue, or I'll
raise the village and make short work of you.  Be off, I say!"

He backed away as he spoke, towards the fireplace, and from the corner took
a stout oaken staff.  He was a villain, a thieving rogue.  That much was
plain.  And it was no less plain that I must submit, and leave my beast to
him, or else perhaps suffer a worse alternative.

Had those four honest peasants still been there, he would not have dared to
have so borne himself.  But as it was, without witnesses to say how the
thing had truly happened, if he raised the village against me how should
they believe a man who confessed that he had eaten a dinner for which he
could not pay?  It must go very ill with me.

If I tried conclusions with him, I could break him in two notwithstanding
his staff.  But there would remain the girl to give the alarm, and when to
dishonesty I should have added violence, my case would be that of any
common bandit.

"Very well," I said.  "You are a dirty, thieving rascal, and a vile one to
take advantage of one in my position.  I shall return for the mule another
day.  Meanwhile consider it in pledge for what I owe you.  But see that you
are ready for the reckoning when I present it."

With that, I swung on my heel, strode past the big­eyed girl, out of that
foul kennel into God's sweet air, followed by the ordures of speech which
that knave flung after me.

I turned up the street, setting my face towards the mountains, and trudged
amain.

Soon I was out of the village and ascending the steep road towards the Pass
of Cisa that leads over the Apennines to Pontremoli.  This way had Hannibal
come when he penetrated into Etruria some two thousand years ago.  I
quitted the road and took to bridle-paths under the shoulder of the mighty
Mount Prinzera.  Thus I pushed on and upward through grey-green of olive
and deep enamelled green of fig-trees, and came at last into a narrow gorge
between two great mountains, a place of ferns and moisture where all was
shadow and the air felt chill.

Above me the mountains towered to the blue heavens, their flanks of a green
that was in places turned to golden, where Autumn's fingers had already
touched those heights, in places gashed with grey and purple wounds, where
the bare rock thrust through.

I went on aimlessly, and came presently upon a little fir thicket, through
which I pushed towards a sound of tumbling waters.  I stood at last upon
the rocks above a torrent that went thundering down the mighty gorge which
it had cloven itself between the hills.  Thence I looked down a long,
wavering valley over which the rays of the evening sun were slanting, and
hazily in the distance I could see the russet city of Fornovo which I had
earlier passed that day.  This torrent was the Bagnanza, and it effectively
barred all passage.  So I went up, along its bed, scrambling over lichened
rocks or sinking my feet into carpets of soft, yielding moss.

At length, grown weary and uncertain of my way, I sank down to rest and
think.  And my thoughts were chiefly of that hermit somewhere above me in
these hills, and of the blessedness of such a life, remote from the world
that man had made so evil.  And then, with thinking of the world, came
thoughts of Giuliana.  Two nights ago I had held her in my arms.  Two
nights ago!  And already it seemed a century remote--as remote as all the
rest of that life of which it seemed a part.  For there had been a break in
my existence with the murder of Fifanti, and in the past two days I had
done more living and I had aged more than in all the eighteen years before.

Thinking of Giuliana, I evoked her image, the glowing, ruddy copper of her
hair, the dark mystery of her eyes, so heavy-lidded and languorous in their
smile.  My spirit conjured her to stand before me all white and seductive
as I had known her, and my longings were again upon me like a searing
torture.

I fought them hard.  I sought to shut that image out.  But it abode to mock
me.  And then faintly from the valley, borne upon the breeze that came
sighing through the fir-trees, rose the tinkle of an Angelus bell.

I fell upon my knees and prayed to the Mother of Purity for strength, and
thus I came once more to peace.  That done I crept under the shelter of a
projecting rock, wrapped my cloak tightly about me, and lay down upon the
hard ground to rest, for I was very weary.

Lying there I watched the colour fading from the sky.  I saw the purple
lights in the east turn to an orange that paled into faintest yellow, and
this again into turquoise.  The shadows crept up those heights.  A star
came out overhead, then another, then a score of stars to sparkle silvery
in the blue-black heavens.

I turned on my side, and closed my eyes, seeking to sleep; and then quite
suddenly I heard a sound of unutterable sweetness--a melody so faint and
subtle that it had none of the form and rhythm of earthly music.  I sat up,
my breath almost arrested, and listened more intently.  I could still hear
it, but very faint and distant.  It was as a sound of silver bells, and yet
it was not quite that.  I remembered the stories I had heard that day in
the tavern at Pojetta, and the talk of the mystic melodies by which
travellers had been drawn to the anchorite's abode.  I noted the direction
of the sound, and I determined to be guided by it, and to cast myself at
the feet of that holy man, to implore of him who could heal bodies the
miracle of my soul's healing and my mind's purging from its torment.

I pushed on, then, through the luminous night, keeping as much as possible
to the open, for under trees lesser obstacles were not to be discerned.
The melody grew louder as I advanced, ever following the Bagnanza towards
its source; and the stream, too, being much less turbulent now, did not
overbear that other sound.

It was a melody on long humming notes, chiefly, it seemed to me, upon two
notes with the occasional interjection of a third and fourth, and, at long
and rare intervals, of a fifth.  It was harmonious beyond all description,
just as it was weird and unearthly; but now that I heard it more distinctly
it had much more the sound of bells--very sweet and silvery.

And then, quite suddenly, I was startled by a human cry--a piteous, wailing
cry that told of helplessness and pain.  I went forward more quickly in the
direction whence it came, rounded a stout hazel coppice, and stood suddenly
before a rude hut of pine logs built against the side of the rock.  Through
a small unglazed window came a feeble shaft of light.

I halted there, breathless and a little afraid.  This must be the dwelling
of the anchorite.  I stood upon holy ground.

And then the cry was repeated.  It proceeded from the hut.  I advanced to
the window, took courage and peered in.  By the light of a little brass oil
lamp with a single wick I could faintly make out the interior.

The rock itself formed the far wall of it, and in this a niche was
carved--a deep, capacious niche in the shadows of which I could faintly
discern a figure some two feet in height, which I doubted not would be the
miraculous image of St. Sebastian.  In front of this was a rude wooden
pulpit set very low, and upon it a great book with iron clasps and a
yellow, grinning skull.

All this I beheld at a single glance.  There was no other furniture in that
little place, neither chair nor table; and the brass lamp was set upon the
floor, near a heaped-up bed of rushes and dried leaves upon which I beheld
the anchorite himself.  He was lying upon his back, and seemed a vigorous,
able-bodied man of a good length.

He wore a loose brown habit roughly tied about his middle by a piece of
rope from which was suspended an enormous string of beads.  His beard and
hair were black, but his face was livid as a corpse's, and as I looked at
him he emitted a fresh groan, and writhed as if in mortal suffering.

"0 my God!  My God!" I heard him crying.  "Am I to die alone?  Mercy!  I
repent me!"  And he writhed moaning, and rolled over on his side so that he
faced me, and I saw that his livid countenance was glistening with sweat.

I stepped aside and lifted the latch of the rude door.

"Are you suffering, father?" I asked, almost fearfully.  At the sound of my
voice, he suddenly sat up, and there was a great fear in his eyes.  Then he
fell back again with a cry.

"I thank Thee, my God!  I thank Thee!"

I entered, and crossing to his side, I went down on my knees beside him.

Without giving me time to speak, he clutched my arm with one of his clammy
hands, and raised himself painfully upon his elbow, his eyes burning with
the fever that was in him.

"A priest!" he gasped.  "Get me a priest!  Oh, if you would be saved from
the flames of everlasting Hell, get me a priest to shrive me.  I am dying,
and I would not go hence with the burden of all this sin upon my soul."

I could feel the heat of his hand through the sleeve of my coat.  His
condition was plain.  A raging fever was burning out his life.

"Be comforted," I said.  "I will go at once."  And I rose, whilst he poured
forth his blessings upon me.

At the door I checked to ask what was the nearest place.

"Casi," he said hoarsely.  "To your right, you will see the path down the
hill-side.  You cannot miss it.  In half an hour you should be there.  And
return at once, for I have not long.  I feel it."

With a last word of reassurance and comfort I closed the door, and plunged
away into the darkness.




CHAPTER V

THE RENUNCIATION


I found the path the hermit spoke of, and followed its sinuous downhill
course, now running when the ground was open, now moving more cautiously,
yet always swiftly, when it led me through places darkened by trees.

At the end of a half-hour I espied below me the twinkling lights of a
village on the hill-side, and a few minutes later I was among the houses of
Casi.  To find the priest in his little cottage by the church was an easy
matter; to tell him my errand and to induce him to come with me, to tend
the holy man who lay dying alone in the mountain, was as easy.  To return,
however, was the most difficult part of the undertaking; for the upward
path was steep, and the priest was old and needed such assistance as my own
very weary limbs could scarcely render him.  We had the advantage of a
lanthorn which he insisted upon bringing, and we made as good progress as
could be expected.  But it was best part of two hours after my setting out
before we stood once more upon the little platform where the hermit had his
hut.

We found the place in utter darkness.  Through lack of oil his little lamp
had burned itself out; and when we entered, the man on the bed of wattles
lay singing a lewd tavern-song, which, coming from such holy lips, filled
me with horror and amazement.

But the old priest, with that vast and doleful experience of death-beds
which belongs to men of his class, was quick to perceive the cause of this.
The fever was flickering up before life's final extinction, and the poor
moribund was delirious and knew not what he said.

For an hour we watched beside him, waiting.  The priest was confident that
there would be a return of consciousness and a spell of lucidity before the
end.

Through that lugubrious hour I squatted there, watching the awful process
of human dissolution for the first time.

Save in the case of Fifanti I had never yet seen death; nor could it be
said that I had really seen it then.  With the pedant, death had been a
sudden sharp severing of the thread of life, and I had been conscious that
he was dead without any appreciation of death itself, blinded in part by my
own exalted condition at the time.

But in this death of Fra Sebastiano I was heated by no participation.  I
was an unwilling and detached spectator, brought there by force of
circumstance; and my mind received from the spectacle an impression not
easily to be effaced, an impression which may have been answerable in part
for that which followed.

Towards dawn at last the sick man's babblings--and they were mostly as
profane and lewd as his occasional bursts of song--were quieted.  The
unseeing glitter of his eyes that had ever and anon been turned upon us was
changed to a dull and heavy consciousness, and he struggled to rise, but
his limbs refused their office.

The priest leaned over him with a whispered word of comfort, then turned
and signed to me to leave the hut.  I rose, and went towards the door.  But
I had scarcely reached it when there was a hoarse cry behind me followed by
a gasping sob from the priest.  I started round to see the hermit lying on
his back, his face rigid, his mouth open and idiotic, his eyes more leaden
than they had been a moment since.

"What is it?" I cried, despite myself.

"He has gone, my son," answered the old priest sorrowfully.  "But he was
contrite, and he had lived a saint."  And drawing from his breast a little
silver box, he proceeded to perform the last rites upon the body from which
the soul was already fled.

I came slowly back and knelt beside him, and long we remained there in
silent prayer for the repose of that blessed spirit.  And whilst we prayed
the wind rose outside, and a storm grew in the bosom of the night that had
been so fair and tranquil.  The lightning flashed and illumined the
interior of that hut with a vividness as of broad daylight, throwing into
livid relief the arrow-pierced St. Sebastian in the niche and the ghastly,
grinning skull upon the hermit's pulpit.

The thunder crashed and crackled, and the echoes of its artillery went
booming and rolling round the hills, whilst the rain fell in a terrific
lashing downpour.  Some of it finding a weakness in the roof, trickled and
dripped and formed a puddle in the middle of the hut.

For upwards of an hour the storm raged, and all the while we remained upon
our knees beside the dead anchorite.  Then the thunder receded and
gradually died away in the distance; the rain ceased; and the dawn crept
pale as a moon-stone adown the valley.

We went out to breathe the freshened air just as the first touches of the
sun quickened to an opal splendour the pallor of that daybreak.  All the
earth was steaming, and the Bagnanza, suddenly swollen, went thundering
down the gorge.

At sunrise we dug a grave just below the platform with a spade which I
found in the hut.  There we buried the hermit, and over the spot I made a
great cross with the largest stones that I could find.  The priest would
have given him burial in the hut itself; but I suggested that perhaps there
might be some other who would be willing to take the hermit's place, and
consecrate his life to carrying on the man's pious work of guarding that
shrine and collecting alms for the poor and for the building of the bridge.

My tone caused the priest to look at me with sharp, kindly eyes.

"Have you such thoughts for yourself, perchance?" he asked me.

"Unless you should adjudge me too unworthy for the office," I answered
humbly.

"But you are very young, my son," he said, and laid a kindly hand upon my
shoulder.  "Have you suffered, then, so sorely at the hands of the world
that you should wish to renounce it and to take up this lonely life?"

"I was intended for the priesthood, father," I replied.  "I aspired to holy
orders.  But through the sins of the flesh I have rendered myself unworthy.
Here, perhaps, I can expiate and cleanse my heart of all the foulness it
gathered in the world."

He left me an hour or so later, to make his way back to Casi, having heard
enough of my past and having judged sufficiently of my attitude of mind to
approve me in my determination to do penance and seek peace in that
isolation.  Before going he bade me seek him out at Casi at any time should
any doubts assail me, or should I find that the burden I had taken up was
too heavy for my shoulders.

I watched him go down the winding, mountain path, watched the bent old
figure in his long black gaberdine, until a turn in the path and a clump of
chestnuts hid him from my sight.

Then I first tasted the loneliness to which on that fair morning I had
vowed myself.  The desolation of it touched me and awoke self-pity in my
heart, to extinguish utterly the faint flame of ecstasy that had warmed me
when first I thought of taking the dead anchorite's place.

I was not yet twenty, I was lord of great possessions, and of life I had
tasted no more than one poisonous, reckless draught; yet I was done with
the world--driven out of it by penitence.  It was just; but it was bitter.
And then I felt again that touch of ecstasy to reflect that it was the
bitterness of the resolve that made it worthy, that through its very
harshness was it that this path should lead to grace.

Later on I busied myself with an inspection of the hut, and my first
attentions were for the miraculous image.  I looked upon it with awe, and I
knelt to it in prayer for forgiveness for the unworthiness I brought to the
service of the shrine.

The image itself was very crude of workmanship and singularly ghastly.  It
reminded me poignantly of the Crucifix that had hung upon the whitewashed
wall of my mother's private dining-room and had been so repellent to my
young eyes.

From two arrow wounds in the breast descended two brown streaks, relics of
the last miraculous manifestation.  The face of the young Roman centurion
who had suffered martyrdom for his conversion to Christianity was smiling
very sweetly and looking upwards, and in that part of his work the sculptor
had been very happy.  But the rest of the carving was gruesome and the
anatomy was gross and bad, the figure being so disproportionately broad as
to convey the impression of a stunted dwarf.

The big book standing upon the pulpit of plain deal proved, as I had
expected, to be a missal; and it became my custom to recite from it each
morning thereafter the office for the day.

In a rude cupboard I found a jar of baked earth that was half full of oil,
and another larger jar containing some cakes of maize bread and a handful
of chestnuts.  There was also a brown bundle which resolved itself into a
monkish habit within which was rolled a hair-shirt.

I took pleasure in this discovery, and I set myself at once to strip off my
secular garments and to don this coarse brown habit, which, by reason of my
great height, descended but midway down my calves.  For lack of sandals I
went barefoot, and having made a bundle of the clothes I had removed I
thrust them into the cupboard in the place of those which I had taken
thence.

Thus did I, who had been vowed to the anchorite order of St. Augustine,
enter upon my life as an unordained anchorite.  I dragged out the wattles
upon which my blessed predecessor had breathed his last, and having swept
the place clean with a bundle of hazel-switches which I cut for the
purpose, I went to gather fresh boughs and rushes by the swollen torrent,
and with these I made myself a bed.

My existence became not only one of loneliness, but of grim privation.
People rarely came my way, save for a few faithful women from Casi or Fiori
who solicited my prayers in return for the oil and maize-cakes which they
left me, and sometimes whole days would pass without the sight of a single
human being.  These maize-cakes formed my chief nourishment, together with
a store or nuts from the hazel coppice that grew before my door and some
chestnuts which I went further afield to gather in the woods.
Occasionally, as a gift, there would be a jar of olives, which was the
greatest delicacy that I savoured in those days.  No flesh-food or fish did
I ever taste, so that I grew very lean and often suffered hunger.

My days were spent partly in prayer and partly in meditation, and I
pondered much upon what I could remember of the Confessions of St.
Augustine, deriving great consolation from the thought that if that great
father of the Church had been able to win to grace out of so much sin as
had befouled his youth, I had no reason to despair.  And as yet I had
received no absolution for the mortal offences I had committed at Piacenza.
I had confessed to Fra Gervasio, and he had bidden me do penance first, but
the penance had never been imposed.  I was imposing it now.  All my life
should I impose it thus.

Yet, ere it was consummated I might come to die; and the thought appalled
me, for I must not die in sin.

So I resolved that when I should have spent a year in that fastness I would
send word to the priest at Casi by some of those who visited my hermitage,
and desire him to come to me that I might seek absolution at his hands.




CHAPTER VI

HYPNEROTOMACHIA


At first I seemed to make good progress in my quest after grace, and a
certain solatium of peace descended upon me, beneficent as the dew of a
summer night upon the parched and thirsty earth.  But anon this changed and
I would catch the thoughts that should have been bent upon pious meditation
glancing backward with regretful longings at that life out of which I had
departed.

I would start up in a pious rage and cast out such thoughts by more
strenuous prayer and still more strenuous fasting.  But as my body grew
accustomed to the discomforts to which it was subjected, my mind assumed a
rebellious freedom that clogged the work of purification upon which I
strove to engage it.  My stomach out of its very emptiness conjured up evil
visions to torment me in the night, and with these I vainly wrestled until
I remembered the measures which Fra Gervasio told me that he had taken in
like case.  I had then the happy inspiration to have recourse to the hair-
shirt, which hitherto I had dreaded.

It would be towards the end of October, as the days were growing colder,
that I first put on that armour against the shafts of Satan.  It galled me
horribly and fretted my tender flesh at almost every movement; but so at
least, at the expense of the body, I won back to some peace of mind, and
the flesh, being quelled and subdued, no longer interposed its evil humours
to the purity I desired for my meditations.

For upwards of a month, then, the mild torture of the goat's-hair cilice
did the office I required of it.  But towards December, my skin having
grown tough and callous from the perpetual irritation, and inured to the
fretting of the sharp hair, my mind once more began to wander mutinously.
To check it again I put off the cilice, and with it all other
undergarments, retaining no more clothing than just the rough brown monkish
habit.  Thus I exposed myself to the rigours of the weather, for it had
grown very cold in those heights where I dwelt, and the snows were creeping
nearer adown the mountain-side.

I had seen the green of the valley turn to gold and then to flaming brown.
I had seen the fire perish out of those autumnal tints, and with the
falling of the leaves, a slow, grey, bald decrepitude covering the world.
And to this had now succeeded chill wintry gales that howled and whistled
through the logs of my wretched hut, whilst the western wind coming down
over the frozen zone above cut into me like a knife's edge.

And famished as I was I felt this coldness the more, and daily I grew
leaner until there was little left of my erstwhile lusty vigour, and I was
reduced to a parcel of bones held together in a bag of skin, so that it
almost seemed that I must rattle as I walked.

I suffered, and yet I was glad to suffer, and took a joy in my pain,
thanking God for the grace of permitting me to endure it, since the greater
the discomforts of my body, the more numbed became the pain of my mind, the
more removed from me were the lures of longing with which Satan still did
battle for my soul.  In pain itself I seemed to find the nepenthes that
others seek from pain; in suffering was my Lethean draught that brought the
only oblivion that I craved.

I think that in those months my reason wandered a little under all this
strain; and I think to-day that the long ecstasies into which I fell were
largely the result of a feverishness that burned in me as a consequence of
a chill that I had taken.

I would spend long hours upon my knees in prayer and meditation.  And
remembering how others in such case as mine had known the great boon and
blessing of heavenly visions, I prayed and hoped for some such sign of
grace, confident in its power to sustain me thereafter against all possible
temptation.

And then, one night, as the year was touching its end, it seemed to me that
my prayer was answered.  I do not think that my vision was a dream;
leastways, I do not think that I was asleep when it visited me.  I was on
my knees at the time, beside my bed of wattles, and it was very late at
night.  Suddenly the far end of my hut grew palely lucent, as if a
phosphorescent vapour were rising from the ground; it waved and rolled as
it ascended in billows of incandescence, and then out of the heart of it
there gradually grew a figure all in white over which there was a cloak of
deepest blue all flecked with golden stars, and in the folded hands a sheaf
of silver lilies.

I knew no fear.  My pulses throbbed and my heart beat ponderously but
rapturously as I watched the vision growing more and more distinct until I
could make out the pale face of ineffable sweetness and the veiled eyes.

It was the Blessed Madonna, as Messer Pordenone had painted her in the
Church of Santa Chiara at Piacenza; the dress, the lilies, the sweet pale
visage, all were known to me, even the billowing cloud upon which one
little naked foot was resting.

I cried out in longing and in rapture, and I held out my arms to that sweet
vision.  But even as I did so its aspect gradually changed.  Under the
upper part of the blue mantle, which formed a veil, was spread a mass of
ruddy, gleaming hair; the snowy pallor of the face was warmed to the tint
of ivory, and the lips deepened to scarlet and writhed in a voluptuous
smile; the dark eyes glowed languidly; the lilies faded away, and the pale
hands were held out to me.

"Giuliana!" I cried, and my pure and piously joyous ecstasy was changed
upon the instant to fierce, carnal longings.

"Giuliana!" I held out my arms, and slowly she floated towards me, over the
rough earthen floor of my cell.

A frenzy of craving seized me.  I was impatient to lock my arms once more
about that fair sleek body.  I sought to rise, to go to meet her slow
approach, to lessen by a second this agony of waiting.  But my limbs were
powerless.  I was as if cast in lead, whilst more and more slowly she
approached me, so languorously mocking.

And then revulsion took me, suddenly and without any cause or warning.  I
put my hands to my face to shut out a vision whose true significance I
realized as in a flash.

"Retro me, Sathanas!" I thundered.  "Jesus!  Maria!"

I rose at last numbed and stiff.  I looked again.  The vision had departed.
I was alone in my cell, and the rain was falling steadily outside.  I
groaned despairingly.  Then I swayed, reeled sideways and lost all
consciousness.

When I awoke it was broad day, and the pale wintry sun shone silvery from a
winter sky.  I was very weak and very cold, and when I attempted to rise
all things swam round me, and the floor of my cell appeared to heave like
the deck of a ship upon a rolling sea.

For days thereafter I was as a man entranced, alternately frozen with cold
and burning with fever; and but that a shepherd who had turned aside to ask
the hermit's blessing discovered me in that condition, and remained, out of
his charity, for some three days to tend me, it is more than likely I
should have died.

He nourished me with the milk of goats, a luxury upon which my strength
grew swiftly, and even after he had quitted my hut he still came daily for
a week to visit me, and daily he insisted that I should consume the milk he
brought me, overruling my protests that my need being overpast there was no
longer the necessity to pamper me.

Thereafter I knew a season of peace.

It was, I then reasoned, as if the Devil having tried me with a
masterstroke of temptation, and having suffered defeat, had abandoned the
contest.  Yet I was careful not to harbour that thought unduly, nor glory
in my power, lest such presumption should lead to worse.  I thanked Heaven
for the strength it had lent me, and implored a continuance of its
protection for a vessel so weak.

And now the hill-side and valley began to put on the raiment of a new year.
February, like a benignant nymph, tripped down by meadow and stream, and
touched the slumbering earth with gentler breezes.  And soon, where she had
passed, the crocus reared its yellow head, anemones, scarlet, blue and
purple, tossed from her lap, sang the glories of spring in their tender
harmonies of hue, coy violet and sweet-smelling nardosmia waved their
incense on her altars, and the hellebore sprouted by the streams.

Then as birch and beech and oak and chestnut put forth a garb of tender
pallid green, March advanced and Easter came on apace.

But the approach of Easter filled me with a staggering dread.  It was in
Passion Week that the miracle of the image that I guarded was wont to
manifest itself.  What if through my unworthiness it should fail?  The fear
appalled me, and I redoubled my prayers.  There was need; for spring which
touched the earth so benignly had not passed me by.  And at moments certain
longings for the world would stir in me again, and again would come those
agonizing thoughts of Giuliana which I had conceived were for ever laid to
rest, so that I sought refuge once more in the hair-shirt; and when this
had once more lost its efficacy, I took long whip-like branches of tender
eglantine to fashion a scourge with which I flagellated my naked body so
that the thorns tore my flesh and set my rebellious blood to flow.

One evening, at last, as I sat outside my hut, gazing over the rolling
emerald uplands, I had my reward.  I almost fainted when first I realized
it in the extremity of my joy and thankfulness.  Very faintly, just as I
had heard it that night when first I came to the hermitage, I heard now the
mystic, bell-like music that had guided my footsteps thither.  Never since
that night had the sound of it reached me, though often I had listened for
it.

It came now wafted down to me, it seemed, upon the evening breeze, a sound
of angelic chimes infinitely ravishing to my senses, and stirring my heart
to such an ecstasy of faith and happiness as I had never yet known since my
coming thither.

It was a sign--a sign of pardon, a sign of grace.  It could be naught else.
I fell upon my knees and rendered my deep and joyous thanks.

And in all the week that followed that unearthly silver music was with me,
infinitely soothing and solacing.  I could wander afield, yet it never left
me, unless I chanced to go so near the tumbling waters of the Bagnanza that
their thunder drowned that other blessed sound.  I took courage and
confidence.  Passion Week drew nigh; but it no longer had any terrors for
me.  I was adjudged worthy of the guardianship of the shrine.  Yet I
prayed, and made St. Sebastian the special object of my devotions, that he
should not fail me.

April came, as I learnt of the stray visitors who, of their charity,
brought me the alms of bread, and the second day of it was the first of
Holy Week.




CHAPTER VII

INTRUDERS


It was on Holy Thursday that the image usually began to bleed, and it would
continue so to do until the dawn of Easter Sunday.

Each day now, as the time drew nearer, I watched the image closely, and on
the Wednesday I watched it with a dread anxiety I could not repress, for as
yet there was no faintest sign.  The brown streaks that marked the course
of the last bleeding continued dry.  All that night I prayed intently, in a
torture of doubt, yet soothed a little by the gentle music that was never
absent now.

With the first glint of dawn I heard steps outside the hut; but I did not
stir.  By sunrise there was a murmur of voices like the muttering of a sea
upon its shore.  I rose and peered more closely at the saint.  He was just
wood, inanimate and insensible, and there was still no sign.  Outside, I
knew, a crowd of pilgrims was already gathered.  They were waiting, poor
souls.  But what was their waiting compared with mine?

Another hour I knelt there, still beseeching Heaven to take mercy upon me.
But Heaven remained unresponsive and the wounds of the image continued dry.

I rose, at last, in a sort of despair, and going to the door of the hut, I
flung it wide.

The platform was filled with a great crowd of peasantry, and an overflow
poured down the sides of it and surged up the hill on the right and the
left.  At sight of me, so gaunt and worn, my eyes wild with despair and
feverish from sleeplessness, a tangled growth of beard upon my hollow
cheeks, they uttered as with one voice a great cry of awe.  The multitude
swayed and rippled, and then with a curious sound as that of a great wind,
all went down upon their knees before me--all save the array of cripples
huddled in the foreground, brought thither, poor wretches, in the hope of a
miraculous healing.

As I was looking round upon that assembly, my eyes were caught by a flash
and glitter on the road above us leading to the Cisa Pass.  A little troop
of men-at-arms was descending that way.  A score of them there would be,
and from their lance-heads fluttered scarlet bannerols bearing a white
device which at that distance I could not make out.

The troop had halted, and one upon a great black horse, a man whose armour
shone like the sun itself, was pointing down with his mail-clad hand.  Then
they began to move again, and the brightness of their armour, the
fluttering pennons on their lances, stirred me strangely in that fleeting
moment, ere I turned again to the faithful who knelt there waiting for my
words.  Dolefully, with hanging head and downcast eyes, I made the dread
announcement.

"My children, there is yet no miracle."

A deathly stillness followed the words.  Then came an uproar, a clamour, a
wailing.  One bold mountaineer thrust forward to the foremost ranks, though
without rising from his knees.

"Father," he cried, "how can that be?  The saint has never failed to bleed
by dawn on Holy Thursday, these five years past."

"Alas!" I groaned, "I do not know.  I but tell you what is.  All night have
I held vigil.  But all has been vain.  I will go pray again, and do you,
too, pray."

I dared not tell them of my growing suspicion and fear that the fault was
in myself; that here was a sign of Heaven's displeasure at the impurity of
the guardian of that holy place.

"But the music!" cried one of the cripples raucously.  "I hear the blessed
music!"

I halted, and the crowd fell very still to listen.  We all heard it pealing
softly, soothingly, as from the womb of the mountain, and a great cry went
up once more from that vast assembly, a hopeful cry that where one miracle
was happening another must happen, that where the angelic choirs were
singing all must be well.

And then with a thunder of hooves and clank of metal the troop that I had
seen came over the pasture-lands, heading straight for my hermitage, having
turned aside from the road.  At the foot of the hillock upon which my hut
was perched they halted at a word from their leader.

I stood at gaze, and most of the people too craned their necks to see what
unusual pilgrim was this who came to the shrine of St. Sebastian

The leader swung himself unaided from the saddle, full-armed as he was;
then going to a litter in the rear, he assisted a woman to alight from it.

All this I watched, and I observed too that the device upon the bannerols
was the head of a white horse.  By that device I knew them.  They were of
the house of Cavalcanti--a house that had, as I had heard, been in alliance
and great friendship with my father.  But that their coming hither should
have anything to do with me or with that friendship I was assured was
impossible.  Not a single soul could know of my whereabouts or the identity
of the present hermit of Monte Orsaro.

The pair advanced, leaving the troop below to await their return, and as
they came I considered them, as did, too, the multitude.

The man was of middle height, very broad and active, with long arms, to one
of which the little lady clung for help up the steep path.  He had a proud,
stern aquiline face that was shaven, so that the straight lines of his
strong mouth and powerful length of jaw looked as if chiselled out of
stone.  It was only at closer quarters that I observed how the general
hardness of that countenance was softened by the kindliness of his deep
brown eyes.  In age I judged him to be forty, though in reality he was
nearer fifty.

The little lady at his side was the daintiest maid that I had ever seen.
The skin, white as a water-lily, was very gently flushed upon her cheeks;
the face was delicately oval; the little mouth, the tenderest in all the
world; the forehead low and broad, and the slightly slanting eyes--when she
raised the lashes that hung over them like long shadows--were of the deep
blue of sapphires.  Her dark brown hair was coifed in a jewelled net of
thread of gold, and on her white neck a chain of emeralds sparkled
sombrely.  Her close-fitting robe and her mantle were of the hue of bronze,
and the light shifted along the silken fabric as she moved, so that it
gleamed like metal.  About her waist there was a girdle of hammered gold,
and pearls were sewn upon the back of her brown velvet gloves.

One glance of her deep blue eyes she gave me as she approached; then she
lowered them instantly, and so weak--so full of worldly vanities was I
still that in that moment I took shame at the thought that she should see
me thus, in this rough hermit's habit, my face a tangle of unshorn beard,
my hair long and unkempt.  And the shame of it dyed my gaunt cheeks.  And
then I turned pale again, for it seemed to me that out of nowhere a voice
had asked me:

"Do you still marvel that the image will not bleed?"

So sharp and clear did those words arise from the lips of Conscience that
it seemed to me as if they had been uttered aloud, and I looked almost in
alarm to see if any other had overheard them.

The cavalier was standing before me, and his brows were knit, a deep
amazement in his eyes.  Thus awhile in utter silence.  Then quite suddenly,
his voice a ringing challenge:

"What is your name?" he said.

"My name?" quoth I, astonished by such a question, and remarking now the
intentness and surprise of his own glance.  "It is Sebastian," I answered,
and truthfully, for that was the name of my adoption, the name I had taken
when I entered upon my hermitage.

"Sebastian of what and where?" quoth he.

He stood before me, his back to the peasant crowd, ignoring them as
completely as if they had no existence, supremely master of himself.  And
meanwhile, the little lady on his arm stole furtive upward glances at me.

"Sebastian of nowhere," I answered.  "Sebastian the hermit, the guardian of
this shrine.  If you are come to..."

"What was your name in the world?" he interrupted impatiently, and all the
time his eyes were devouring my gaunt face.

"The name of a sinner," answered I.  "I have stripped it off and cast it
from me."

An expression of impatience rippled across the white face

"But the name of your father?" he insisted.

"I have none," answered I.  "I have no kin or ties of any sort.  I am
Sebastian the hermit."

His lips smacked testily.  "Were you baptized Sebastian?" he inquired.

"No," I answered him.  "I took the name when I became the guardian of this
shrine."

"And when was that?"

"In September of last year, when the holy man who was here before me died."

I saw a sudden light leap to his eyes and a faint smile to his lips.  He
leaned towards me.  "Heard you ever of the name of Anguissola?" he
inquired, and watched me closely, his face within a foot of mine.

But I did not betray myself, for the question no longer took me by
surprise.  I was accounted to be very like my father, and that a member of
the house of Cavalcanti, with which Giovanni d'Anguissola had been so
intimate, should detect the likeness was not unnatural.  I was convinced,
moreover, that he had been guided thither by merest curiosity at the sight
of that crowd of pilgrims.

"Sir," I said, "I know not your intentions; but in all humility let me say
that I am not here to answer questions of worldly import.  The world has
done with me, and I with the world.  So that unless you are come hither out
of piety for this shrine, I beg that you will depart with God and molest me
no further.  You come at a singularly inauspicious time, when I need all my
strength to forget the world and my sinful past, that through me the will
of Heaven may be done here."

I saw the maid's tender eyes raised to my face with a look of great
compassion and sweetness whilst I spoke.  I observed the pressure which she
put on his arm.  Whether he gave way to that, or whether it was the sad
firmness of my tone that prevailed upon him I cannot say.  But he nodded
shortly.

"Well, well!" he said, and with a final searching look, he turned, the
little lady with him, and went clanking off through the lane which the
crowd opened out for him.

That they resented his presence, since it was not due to motives of piety,
they very plainly signified.  They feared that the intrusion at such a time
of a personality so worldly must raise fresh difficulties against the
performance of the expected miracle.

Nor were matters improved when at the crowd's edge he halted and questioned
one of them as to the meaning of this pilgrimage.  I did not hear the
peasant's answer; but I saw the white, haughty face suddenly thrown up, and
I caught his next question:

"When did it last bleed?"

Again an inaudible reply, and again his ringing voice--"That would be
before this young hermit came?  And to-day it will not bleed, you say?"

He flashed me a last keen glance of his eyes, which had grown narrow and
seemed laden with mockery.  The little lady whispered something to him, in
answer to which he laughed contemptuously.

"Fool's mummery," he snapped, and drew her on, she going, it seemed to me,
reluctantly.

But the crowd had heard him and the insult offered to the shrine.  A deep-
throated bay rose up in menace, and some leapt to their feet as if they
would attack him.

He checked, and wheeled at the sound.  "How now?" he cried, his voice a
trumpet-call, his eyes flashing terribly upon them; and as dogs crouch to
heel at the angry bidding of their master, the multitude grew silent and
afraid under the eyes of that single steel-clad man.

He laughed a deep-throated laugh, and strode down the hill with his little
lady on his arm.

But when he had mounted and was riding off, the crowd, recovering courage
from his remoteness, hurled its curses after him and shrilly branded him,
"Derider!" and "Blasphemer!"

He rode contemptuously amain, however, looking back but once, and then to
laugh at them.

Soon he had dipped out of sight, and of his company nothing was visible but
the fluttering red pennons with the device of the white horse-head.
Gradually these also sank and vanished, and once more I was alone with the
crowd of pilgrims.

Enjoining prayer upon them again, I turned and re-entered the hut.




CHAPTER VIII

THE VISION


Pray as we might, night came and still the image gave no sign.  The crowd
melted away, with promises to return at dawn--promises that sounded almost
like a menace in my ears.

I was alone once more, alone with my thoughts and these made sport of me.
It was not only upon the unresponsiveness of St. Sebastian that my mind now
dwelt, nor yet upon the horrid dread that this unresponsiveness might be a
sign of Heaven's displeasure, an indication that as a custodian of that
shrine I was unacceptable through the mire of sin that still clung to me.
Rather, my thoughts went straying down the mountain-side in the wake of
that gallant company, that stern-faced man and that gentle-eyed little lady
who had hung upon his arm.  Before the eyes of my mind there flashed again
the brilliance of their arms, in my ears rang the thunder of their
chargers' hooves, whilst the image of the girl in her shimmering, bronze-
hued robe remained insistently.

Theirs the life that should have been mine!  She such a companion as should
have shared my life and borne me children of my own.  And I would burn with
shame again in memory, as I had burnt in actual fact, to think that she
should have beheld me in so unkempt and bedraggled a condition.

How must I compare in her eyes with the gay courtiers who would daily hover
in her presence and hang upon her gentle speech?  What thought of me could
I hope should ever abide with her, as the image of her abode with me?  Or,
if she thought of me at all, she must think of me just as a poor hermit, a
man who had donned the anchorite's sackcloth and turned his back upon a
world that for him was empty.

It is very easy for you worldly ones who read, to conjecture what had
befallen me.  I was enamoured.  In a meeting of eyes had the thing come to
me.  And you will say that it is little marvel, considering the seclusion
of all my life and particularly that of the past few months, that the first
sweet maid I beheld should have wrought such havoc, and conquered my heart
by the mere flicker of her lashes.

Yet so much I cannot grant your shrewdness.

That meeting was predestined.  It was written that she should come and tear
the foolish bandage from my eyes, allowing me to see for myself that, as
Fra Gervasio had opined, my vocation was neither for hermitage nor
cloister; that what called me was the world; and that in the world must I
find salvation since I was needed for the world's work.

And none but she could have done that.  Of this I am persuaded, as you
shall be when you have read on.

The yearnings with which she filled my soul were very different from those
inspired by the memory of Giuliana.  That other sinful longing, she
entirely effaced at last, thereby achieving something that had been
impossible to prayers and fasting, to scourge and cilice.  I longed for her
almost beatifically, as those whose natures are truly saintly long for the
presence of the blessed ones of Heaven.  By the sight of her I was purified
and sanctified, washed clean of all that murk of sinful desire in which I
had lain despite myself; for my desire of her was the blessed, noble desire
to serve, to guard, to cherish.

Pure was she as the pale narcissus by the streams, and serving her what
could I be but pure?

And then, quite suddenly, upon the heels of such thoughts came the
reaction.  Horror and revulsion were upon me.  This was but a fresh snare
of Satan's baiting to lure me to destruction.  Where the memory of Giuliana
had failed to move me to aught but penance and increasing rigours, the foul
fiend sought to engage me with a seeming purity to my ultimate destruction.
Thus had Anthony, the Egyptian monk, been tempted; and under one guise or
another it was ever the same Circean lure.

I would make an end.  I swore it in a mighty frenzy of repentance, in a
very lust to do battle with Satan and with my own flesh and a phrenetic joy
to engage in the awful combat.

I stripped off my ragged habit, and standing naked I took up my scourge of
eglantine and beat myself until the blood flowed freely.  But that was not
enough.  All naked as I was, I went forth into the blue night, and ran to a
pool of the Bagnanza, going of intent through thickets of bramble and
briar-rose that gripped and tore my flesh and lacerated me so that at times
I screamed aloud in pain, to laugh ecstatically the next moment and
joyfully taunt Satan with his defeat.

Thus I tore on, my very body ragged and bleeding from head to foot, and
thus I came to the pool in the torrent's course.  Into this I plunged, and
stood with the icy waters almost to my neck, to purge the unholy fevers out
of me.  The snows above were melting at the time, and the pool was little
more than liquid ice.  The chill of it struck through me to the very
marrow, and I felt my flesh creep and contract until it seemed like the
rough hide of some fabled monster, and my wounds stung as if fire were
being poured into them.

Thus awhile; then all feeling passed, and a complete insensibility to the
cold of the water or the fire of the wounds succeeded.  All was numbed, and
every nerve asleep.  At last I had conquered.  I laughed aloud, and in a
great voice of triumph I shouted so that the shout went echoing round the
hills in the stillness of the night:

"Satan, thou art defeated!"

And upon that I crawled up the mossy bank, the water gliding from my long
limbs.  I attempted to stand.  But the earth rocked under my feet; the
blueness of the night deepened into black, and consciousness was
extinguished like a candle that is blown out.

       .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .

She appeared above me in a great effulgence that emanated from herself as
if she were grown luminous.  Her robe was of cloth of silver and of a
dazzling sheen, and it hung closely to her lissom, virginal form, defining
every line and curve of it; and by the chaste beauty of her I was moved to
purest ecstasy of awe and worship.

The pale, oval face was infinitely sweet, the slanting eyes of heavenly
blue were infinitely tender, the brown hair was plaited into two long
tresses that hung forward upon either breast and were entwined with threads
of gold and shimmering jewels.  On the pale brow a brilliant glowed with
pure white fires, and her hands were held out to me in welcome.

Her lips parted to breathe my name.

"Agostino d'Anguissola!"  There were whole tomes of tender meaning in those
syllables, so that hearing her utter them I seemed to learn all that was in
her heart.

And then her shining whiteness suggested to me the name that must be hers

"Bianca!" I cried, and in my turn held out my arms and made as if to
advance towards her.  But I was held back in icy, clinging bonds, whose
relentlessness drew from me a groan of misery.

"Agostino, I am waiting for you at Pagliano," she said, and it did not
occur to me to wonder where might be this Pagliano of which I could not
remember ever to have heard.  "Come to me soon."

"I may not come," I answered miserably.  "I am an anchorite, the guardian
of a shrine; and my life that has been full of sin must be given henceforth
to expiation.  It is the will of Heaven."

She smiled all undismayed, smiled confidently and tenderly.

"Presumptuous!" she gently chid me.  "What know you of the will of Heaven?
The will of Heaven is inscrutable.  If you have sinned in the world, in the
world must you atone by deeds that shall serve the world--God's world.  In
your hermitage you are become barren soil that will yield naught to
yourself or any.  Come then from the wilderness.  Come soon!  I am
waiting!"

And on that the splendid vision faded, and utter darkness once more
encompassed me, a darkness through which still boomed repeatedly the fading
echo of the words:

"Come soon!  I am waiting!"

          .      .      .      .      .      .      .      .

I lay upon my bed of wattles in the hut, and through the little unglazed
windows the sun was pouring, but the dripping eaves told of rain that had
lately ceased.

Over me was bending a kindly faced old man in whom I recognized the good
priest of Casi.

I lay quite still for a long while, just gazing up at him.  Soon my memory
got to work of its own accord, and I bethought me of the pilgrims who must
by now have come and who must be impatiently awaiting news.

How came I to have slept so long?  Vaguely I remembered my last night's
penance, and then came a black gulf in my memory, a gap I could not bridge.
But uppermost leapt the anxieties concerning the image of St. Sebastian.

I struggled up to discover that I was very weak; so weak that I was glad to
sink back again.

"Does it bleed?  Does it bleed yet?" I asked, and my voice was so small and
feeble that the sound of it startled me.

The old priest shook his head, and his eyes were very full of compassion.

"Poor youth, poor youth!" he sighed.

Without all was silent; there was no such rustle of a multitude as I
listened for.  And then I observed in my cell a little shepherd-lad who had
been wont to come that way for my blessing upon occasions.  He was half
naked, as lithe as a snake and almost as brown.  What did he there?  And
then someone else stirred--an elderly peasant-woman with a wrinkled kindly
face and soft dark eyes, whom I did not know at all.

Somehow, as my mind grew clearer, last night seemed ages remote.  I looked
at the priest again.

"Father," I murmured, "what has happened?"

His answer amazed me.  He started violently.  Looked more closely, and
suddenly cried out:

"He knows me!  He knows me!  Deo gratias!"  And he fell upon his knees

Now here it seemed to me was a sort of madness.  "Why should I not know
you?" quoth I.

The old woman peered at me.  "Ay, blessed be Heaven!  He is awake at last,
and himself again."  She turned to the lad, who was staring at me,
grinning.  "Go tell them, Beppo!  Haste!"

"Tell them?" I cried.  "The pilgrims?  Ah, no, no--not unless the miracle
has come to pass!"

"There are no pilgrims here, my son," said the priest.

"Not?" I cried, and cold horror descended upon me.  "But they should have
come.  This is Holy Friday, father."

"Nay, my son, Holy Friday was a fortnight ago."

I stared askance at him, in utter silence.  Then I smiled half tolerantly.
"But father, yesterday they were all here.  Yesterday was..."

"Your yesterday, my son, is sped these fifteen days," he answered.  "All
that long while, since the night you wrestled with the Devil, you have lain
exhausted by that awful combat, lying there betwixt life and death.  All
that time we have watched by you, Leocadia here and I and the lad Beppo."

Now here was news that left me speechless for some little while.  My
amazement and slow understanding were spurred on by a sight of my hands
lying on the rude coverlet which had been flung over me.  Emaciated they
had been for some months now.  But at present they were as white as snow
and almost as translucent in their extraordinary frailty.  I became
increasingly conscious, too, of the great weakness of my body and the great
lassitude that filled me.

"Have I had the fever?" I asked him presently.

"Ay, my son.  And who would not?  Blessed Virgin! who would not after what
you underwent?"

And now he poured into my astonished ears the amazing story that had
overrun the country-side.  It would seem that my cry in the night, my
exultant cry to Satan that I had defeated him, had been overheard by a
goatherd who guarded his flock in the hills.  In the stillness he
distinctly heard the words that I had uttered, and he came trembling down,
drawn by a sort of pious curiosity to the spot whence it had seemed to him
that the cry had proceeded.

And there by a pool of the Bagnanza he had found me lying prone, my white
body glistening like marble and almost as cold.  Recognizing in me the
anchorite of Monte Orsaro, he had taken me up in his strong arms and had
carried me back to my hut.  There he had set about reviving me by friction
and by forcing between my teeth some of the grape-spirit that he carried in
a gourd.

Finding that I lived, but that he could not arouse me and that my icy
coldness was succeeded by the fire of fever, he had covered me with my
habit and his own cloak, and had gone down to Casi to fetch the priest and
relate his story.

This story was no less than that the hermit of Monte Orsaro had been
fighting with the devil, who had dragged him naked from his hut and had
sought to hurl him into the torrent; but that on the very edge of the river
the anchorite had found strength, by the grace of God, to overthrow the
tormentor and to render him powerless; and in proof of it there was my body
all covered with Satan's claw-marks by which I had been torn most cruelly.

The priest had come at once, bringing with him such restoratives as he
needed, and it is a thousand mercies that he did not bring a leech, or else
I might have been bled of the last drops remaining in my shrunken veins.

And meanwhile the goatherd's story had gone abroad.  By morning it was on
the lips of all the country-side, so that explanations were not lacking to
account for St. Sebastian's refusal to perform the usual miracle, and no
miracle was expected--nor had the image yielded any.

The priest was mistaken.  A miracle there had been.  But for what had
chanced, the multitude must have come again confidently expecting the
bleeding of the image which had never failed in five years, and had the
image not bled it must have fared ill with the guardian of the shrine.  In
punishment for his sacrilegious ministry which must be held responsible for
the absence of the miracle they so eagerly awaited, well might the crowd
have torn me limb from limb.

Next the old man went on to tell me how three days ago there had come to
the hermitage a little troop of men-at-arms, led by a tall, bearded man
whose device was a sable band upon an argent field, and accompanied by a
friar of the order of St. Francis, a tall, gaunt fellow who had wept at
sight of me.

"That would be Fra Gervasio!" I exclaimed.  "How came he to discover me?"

"Yes--Fra Gervasio is his name," replied the priest.

"Where is he now?" I asked.

"I think he is here."

In that moment I caught the sound of approaching steps.  The door opened,
and before me stood the tall figure of my best friend, his eyes all
eagerness, his pale face flushed with joyous excitement.

I smiled my welcome.

"Agostino!  Agostino!" he cried, and ran to kneel beside me and take my
hand in his.  "0, blessed be God!" he murmured.

In the doorway stood now another man, who had followed him--one whose face
I had seen somewhere yet could not at first remember where.  He was very
tall, so that he was forced to stoop to avoid the lintel of the low
door--as tall as Gervasio or myself--and the tanned face was bearded by a
heavy brown beard in which a few strands of grey were showing.  Across his
face there ran the hideous livid scar of a blow that must have crushed the
bridge of his nose.  It began just under the left eye, and crossed the face
downwards until it was lost in the beard on the right side almost in line
with the mouth.  Yet, notwithstanding that disfigurement, he still
possessed a certain beauty, and the deep-set, clear, grey-blue eyes were
the eyes of a brave and kindly man.

He wore a leather jerkin and great thigh-boots of grey leather, and from
his girdle of hammered steel hung a dagger and the empty carriages of a
sword.  His cropped black head was bare, and in his hand he carried a cap
of black velvet.

We looked at each other awhile, and his eyes were sad and wistful, laden
with pity, as I thought, for my condition.  Then he moved forward with a
creak of leather and jingle of spurs that made pleasant music.

He set a hand upon the shoulder of the kneeling Gervasio.

"He will live now, Gervasio?" he asked.

"0, he will live," answered the friar with an almost fierce satisfaction in
his positive assurance.  "He will live and in a week we can move him hence.
Meanwhile he must be nourished."  He rose.  "My good Leocadia, have you the
broth?  Come, then, let us build up this strength of his.  There is haste,
good soul; great haste!"  She bustled at his bidding, and soon outside the
door there was a crackling of twigs to announce the lighting of a fire.
And then Gervasio made known to me the stranger.

"This is Galeotto," he said.  "He was your father's friend, and would be
yours."

"Sir," said I, "I could not desire otherwise with any who was my father's
friend.  You are not, perchance, the Gran Galeotto?" I inquired,
remembering the sable device on argent of which the priest had told me.

"I am that same," he answered, and I looked with interest upon one whose
name had been ringing through Italy these last few years.  And then, I
suddenly realized why his face was familiar to me.  This was the man who in
a monkish robe had stared so insistently at me that day at Mondolfo five
years ago.

He was a sort of outlaw, a remnant of the days of chivalry and free-lances,
whose sword was at the disposal of any purchaser.  He rode at the head of a
last fragment of the famous company that Giovanni de' Medici had raised and
captained until his death.  The sable band which they adopted in mourning
for that warrior, earned for their founder the posthumous title of Giovanni
delle Bande Nere.

He was called Il Gran Galeotto (as another was called Il Gran Diavolo) in
play upon the name he bore and the life he followed.  He had been in bad
odour with the Pope for his sometime association with my father, and he was
not well-viewed in the Pontifical domains until, as I was soon to learn, he
had patched up a sort of peace with Pier Luigi Farnese, who thought that
the day might come when he should need the support of Galeotto's free-
lances.

"I was," he said, "your father's closest friend.  I took this at Perugia,
where he fell," he added, and pointed to his terrific scar.  Then he
laughed.  "I wear it gladly in memory of him."

He turned to Gervasio, smiling.  "I hope that Giovanni d'Anguissola's son
will hold me in some affection for his father's sake, when he shall come to
know me better."

"Sir," I said, "from my heart I thank you for that pious, kindly wish; and
I would that I might fully correspond to it.  But Agostino d'Anguissola,
who has been so near to death in the body, is, indeed, dead to the world
already.  Here you see but a poor hermit named Sebastian, who is the
guardian of this shrine."

Gervasio rose suddenly.  "This shrine..." he began in a fierce voice, his
face inflamed as with sudden wrath.  And there he stopped short.  The
priest was staring at him, and through the open door came Leocadia with a
bowl of steaming broth.  "We'll talk of this again," he said, and there was
a sort of thunder rumbling in the promise.




CHAPTER IX

THE ICONOCLAST


It was a week later before we returned to the subject.

Meanwhile, the good priest of Casi and Leocadia had departed, bearing with
them a princely reward from the silent, kindly eyed Galeotto.

To tend me there remained only the boy Beppo; and after my long six months
of lenten fare there followed now a period of feasting that began to
trouble me as my strength returned.  When, finally, on the seventh day, I
was able to stand, and, by leaning on Gervasio's arm, to reach the door of
the hut and to look out upon the sweet spring landscape and the green tents
that Galeotto's followers had pitched for themselves in the dell below my
platform, I vowed that I would make an end of broths and capons' breasts
and trout and white bread and red wine and all such succulences.

But when I spoke so to Gervasio, he grew very grave.

"There has been enough of this, Agostino," said he.  "You have gone near
your death; and had you died, you had died a suicide and had been damned--
deserving it for your folly if for naught else."

I looked at him with surprise and reproach.  "How, Fra Gervasio?" I said.

"How?" he answered.  "Do you conceive that I am to be fooled by tales of
fights with Satan in the night and the marks of the fiend's claws upon your
body?  Is this your sense of piety, to add to the other foul impostures of
this place by allowing such a story to run the breadth of the country-
side?"

"Foul impostures?" I echoed, aghast.  "Fra Gervasio, your words are
sacrilege."

"Sacrilege?" he cried, and laughed bitterly.  "Sacrilege?  And what of
that?"  And he flung out a stern, rigid, accusing arm at the image of St.
Sebastian in its niche.

"You think because it did not bleed..." I began.

"It did not bleed," he cut in, "because you are not a knave.  That is the
only reason.  This man who was here before you was an impious rogue.  He
was no priest.  He was a follower of Simon Mage, trafficking in holy
things, battening upon the superstition of poor humble folk.  A black
villain who is dead--dead and damned, for he was not allowed time when the
end took him to confess his ghastly sin of sacrilege and the money that he
had extorted by his simonies."

"My God!  Fra Gervasio, what do you say?  How dare you say so much?

"Where is the money that he took to build his precious bridge?" he asked me
sharply.  "Did you find any when you came hither?  No.  I'll take oath that
you did not.  A little longer, and this brigand had grown rich and had
vanished in the night--carried off by the Devil, or borne away to realms of
bliss by the angels, the poor rustics would have said."

Amazed at his vehemence, I sank to a tree-bole that stood near the door to
do the office of a stool.

"But he gave alms!" I cried, my senses all bewildered.

"Dust in the eyes of fools.  No more than that.  That image--" his scorn
became tremendous--"is an impious fraud, Agostino."

Could the monstrous thing that he suggested be possible?  Could any man be
so lost to all sense of God as to perpetrate such a deed as that without
fear that the lightnings of Heaven would blast him?

I asked the question.  Gervasio smiled.

"Your notions of God are heathen notions," he said more quietly.  "You
confound Him with Jupiter the Thunderer.  But He does not use His
lightnings as did the father of Olympus.  And yet--reflect!  Consider the
manner in which that brigand met his death."

"But...but..." I stammered.  And then, quite suddenly, I stopped short, and
listened.  "Hark, Fra Gervasio!  Do you not hear it?"

"Hear it?  Hear what?"

"The music--the angelic melodies!  And you can say that this place is a
foul imposture; this holy image an impious fraud!  And you a priest!
Listen!  It is a sign to warn you against stubborn unbelief."

He listened, with frowning brows, a moment; then he smiled.

"Angelic melodies!" he echoed with gentlest scorn.  "By what snares does
the Devil delude men, using even suggested holiness for his purpose!  That,
boy--that is no more than the dripping of water into little wells of
different depths, producing different notes.  It is in there, in some cave
in the mountain where the Bagnanza springs from the earth."

I listened, half disillusioned by his explanation, yet fearing that my
senses were too slavishly obeying his suggestion.  "The proof of that?  The
proof!" I cried.

"The proof is that you have never heard it after heavy rain, or while the
river was swollen."

That answer shattered my last illusion.  I looked back upon the time I had
spent there, upon the despair that had beset me when the music ceased, upon
the joy that had been mine when again I heard it, accepting it always as a
sign of grace.  And it was as he said.  Not my unworthiness, but the rain,
had ever silenced it.  In memory I ran over the occasions, and so clearly
did I perceive the truth of this, that I marvelled the coincidence should
not earlier have discovered it to me.

Moreover, now that my illusions concerning it were gone, the sound was
clearly no more than he had said.  I recognized its nature.  It might have
intrigued a sane man for a day or a night.  But it could never longer have
deceived any but one whose mind was become fevered with fanatic ecstasy.

Then I looked again at the image in the niche, and the pendulum of my faith
was suddenly checked in its counter-swing.  About that image there could be
no delusions.  The whole country-side had witnessed the miracle of the
bleeding, and it had wrought cures, wondrous cures, among the faithful.
They could not all have been deceived.  Besides, from the wounds in the
breast there were still the brown signs of the last manifestation.

But when I had given some utterance to these thoughts Gervasio for only
answer stooped and picked up a wood-man's axe that stood against the wall.
With this he went straight towards the image.

"Fra Gervasio!" I cried, leaping to my feet, a premonition of what he was
about turning me cold with horror.  "Stay!" I almost screamed.

But too late.  My answer was a crashing blow.  The next instant, as I sank
back to my seat and covered my face, the two halves of the image fell at my
feet, flung there by the friar.

"Look!" he bade me in a roar.

Fearfully I looked.  I saw.  And yet I could not believe.

He came quickly back, and picked up the two halves.  "The oracle of Delphi
was not more impudently worked," he said.  "Observe this sponge, these
plates of metal that close down upon it and exert the pressure necessary to
send the liquid with which it is laden oozing forth."  As he spoke he tore
out the fiendish mechanism.  "And see now how ingeniously it was made to
work--by pressure upon this arrow in the flank."

There was a burst of laughter from the door.  I looked up, startled, to
find Galeotto standing at my elbow.  So engrossed had I been that I had
never heard his soft approach over the turf.

"Body of Bacchus!" said he.  "Here is Gervasio become an image breaker to
some purpose.  What now of your miraculous saint, Agostino?"

My answer was first a groan over my shattered illusion, and then a deep-
throated curse at the folly that had made a mock of me.

The friar set a hand upon my shoulder.  "You see, Agostino, that your
excursions into holy things do not promise well.  Away with you, boy!  Off
with this hypocrite robe, and get you out into the world to do useful work
for God and man.  Had your heart truly called you to the priesthood, I had
been the first to have guided your steps thither.  But your mind upon such
matters has been warped, and your views are all false; you confound
mysticism with true religion, and mouldering in a hermitage with the
service of God.  How can you serve God here?  Is not the world God's world
that you must shun it as if the Devil had fashioned it?  Go, I say--and I
say it with the authority of the orders that I bear--go and serve man, and
thus shall you best serve God.  All else are but snares to such a nature as
yours."

I looked at him helplessly, and from him to Galeotto who stood there, his
black brows knit; watching me with intentness as if great issues hung upon
my answer.  And Gervasio's words touched in my mind some chord of memory.
They were words that I had heard before--or something very like them,
something whose import was the same.

Then I groaned miserably and took my head in my hands.  "Whither am I to
go?" I cried.  "What place is there in all the world for me?  I am an
outcast.  My very home is held against me.  Whither, then, shall I go?"

"If that is all that troubles you," said Galeotto, his tone unctuously
humorous, "why we will ride to Pagliano."

I leapt at the word--literally leapt to my feet, and stared at him with
blazing eyes.

"Why, what ails him now?" quoth he.

Well might he ask.  That name--Pagliano--had stirred my memory so
violently, that of a sudden as in a flash I had seen again the strange
vision that visited my delirium; I had seen again the inviting eyes, the
beckoning hands, and heard again the gentle voice saying, "Come to
Pagliano!  Come soon!"

And now I knew, too, where I had heard words urging my return to the world
that were of the same import as those which Gervasio used.

What magic was there here?  What wizardry was at play?  I knew--for they
had told me--that it had been that cavalier who had visited me, that man
whose name was Ettore de' Cavalcanti, who had borne news to them of one who
was strangely like what Giovanni d'Anguissola had been.  But Pagliano had
never yet been mentioned.

"Where is Pagliano?" I asked.

In Lombardy--in the Milanes," replied Galeotto.

"It is the home of Cavalcanti."

"You are faint, Agostino," cried Gervasio, with a sudden solicitude, and
put an arm about my shoulders as I staggered.

"No, no," said I.  "It is nothing.  Tell me--"  And I paused almost afraid
to put the question, lest the answer should dash my sudden hope.  For it
seemed to me that in this place of false miracles, one true miracle at
least had been wrought; if it should be proved so indeed, then would I
accept it as a sign that my salvation lay indeed in the world.  If not..."

"Tell me," I began again; "this Cavalcanti has a daughter.  She was with
him upon that day when he came here.  What is her name?"

Galeotto looked at me out of narrowing eyes.

"Why, what has that to do with anything?" quoth Gervasio.

"More than you think.  Answer me, then.  What is her name?"

"Her name is Bianca," said Caleotto.

Something within me seemed to give way, so that I fell to laughing
foolishly as women laugh who are on the verge of tears.  By an effort I
regained my self-control.

"It is very well," I said.  "I will ride with you to Pagliano."

Both stared at me in utter amazement at the suddenness of my consent
following upon information that, in their minds, could have no possible
bearing upon the matter at issue.

"Is he quite sane, do you think?" cried Galeotto gruffly.

"I think he has just become so," said Fra Gervasio after a pause.

"God give me patience, then," grumbled the soldier, and left me puzzled by
the words.





BOOK IV

THE WORLD




CHAPTER I

PAGLIANO


The lilac was in bloom when we came to the grey walls of Pagliano in that
May of '45, and its scent, arousing the memory of my return to the world,
has ever since been to me symbolical of the world itself.

Mine was no half-hearted, backward-glancing return.  Having determined upon
the step, I took it resolutely and completely at a single stride.  Since
Galeotto placed his resources at my disposal, to be repaid him later when I
should have entered upon the enjoyment of my heritage of Mondolfo, I did
not scruple to draw upon them for my needs.

I accepted the fine linen and noble raiment that he offered, and I took
pleasure in the brave appearance that I made in them, my face shorn now of
its beard and my hair trimmed to a proper length.  Similarly I accepted
weapons, money, and a horse; and thus equipped, looking for the first time
in my life like a patrician of my own lofty station, I rode forth from
Monte Orsaro with Galeotto and Gervasio, attended by the former's troop of
twenty lances.

And from the moment of our setting out there came upon me a curious peace,
a happiness and a great sense of expectancy.  No longer was I oppressed by
the fear of proving unworthy of the life which I had chosen--as had been
the case when that life had been monastic.

Galeotto was in high spirits to see me so blithe, and he surveyed with
pride the figure that I made, vowing that I should prove a worthy son of my
father ere all was done.

The first act of my new life was performed as we were passing through the
village of Pojetta.

I called a halt before the doors of that mean hostelry, over which hung
what no doubt would still be the same withered bunch of rosemary that had
been there in autumn when last I went that way.

To the sloe-eyed, deep-bosomed girl who lounged against the door-post to
see so fine a company ride by, I gave an order to fetch the taverner.  He
came with a slouch, a bent back, and humble, timid eyes--a very different
attitude from that which he had last adopted towards me.

"Where is my mule, you rogue?" quoth I.

He looked at me askance.  "Your mule, magnificent?  said he.

"You have forgotten me, I think--forgotten the lad in rusty black who rode
this way last autumn and whom you robbed."

At the words be turned a sickly yellow, and fell to trembling and babbling
protestations and excuses.

"Have done," I broke in.  "You would not buy the mule then.  You shall buy
it now, and pay for it with interest."

"What is this, Agostino?" quoth Galeotto at my elbow.  "An act of justice,
sir," I answered shortly, whereupon he questioned me no further, but looked
on with a grim smile.  Then to the taverner, "Your manners to-day are not
quite the same as on the last occasion when we met.  I spare you the
gallows that you may live to profit by the lesson of your present near
escape.  And now, rogue, ten ducats for that mule."  And I held out my
hand.

"Ten ducats!" he cried, and gathering courage perhaps since he was not to
hang.  "It is twice the value of the beast," he protested.

"I know," I said.  "It will be five ducats for the mule, and five for your
life.  I am merciful to rate the latter as cheaply as it deserves.  Come,
thief, the ten ducats without more ado, or I'll burn your nest of infamy
and hang you above the ruins."

He cowered and shrivelled.  Then he scuttled within doors to fetch the
money, whilst Galeotto laughed deep in his throat.

"You are well-advised," said I, when the rogue returned and handed me the
ducats.  "I told you I should come back to present my reckoning.  Be warned
by this."

As we rode on Galeotto laughed again.  "Body of Satan!  There is a
thoroughness about you, Agustino.  As a hermit you did not spare yourself;
and now as a tyrant you do not seem likely to spare others."

"It is the Anguissola way," said Gervasio quietly.

"You mistake," said I.  "I conceive myself in the world for some good
purpose, and the act you have witnessed is a part of it.  It was not a
revengeful deed.  Vengeance would have taken a harsher course.  It was
justice, and justice is righteous."

"Particularly a justice that puts ten ducats in your pocket," laughed
Galeotto.

"There, again, you mistake me," said I.  "My aim is that thieves be mulcted
to the end that the poor shall profit."  And I drew rein again.

A little crowd had gathered about us, mostly of very ragged, half-clad
people, for this village of Pojetta was a very poverty-stricken place.
Into that little crowd I flung the ten ducats--with the consequence that on
the instant it became a seething, howling, snarling, quarrelling mass.  In
the twinkling of an eye a couple of heads were cracked and blood was
flowing, so that to quell the riot my charity had provoked, I was forced to
spur my horse forward and bid them with threats disperse.

And I think now," said Galeotto when it was done, "that you are just as
reckless in the manner of doing charity.  For the future, Agostino, you
would do well to appoint an almoner."

I bit my lip in vexation; but soon I smiled again.  Were such little things
to fret me?  Did we not ride to Pagliano and to Bianca de' Cavalcanti?  At
the very thought my pulses would quicken, and a sweetness of anticipation
would invade my soul, to be clouded at moments by an indefinable dread.

And thus we came to Pagliano in that month of May, when the lilac was in
bloom, as I have said, and after Fra Gervasio had left us, to return to his
convent at Piacenza.

We were received in the courtyard of that mighty fortress by that sturdy,
hawk-faced man who had recognized me in the hermitage on Monte Orsaro.  But
he was no longer in armour.  He wore a surcoat of yellow velvet, and his
eyes were very kindly and affectionate when they rested on Galeotto and
from Galeotto passed on to take survey of me.

"So this is our hermit!" quoth he, a note of some surprise in his crisp
tones.  "Somewhat changed!"

"By a change that goes deeper than his pretty doublet," said Galeotto.

We dismounted, and grooms, in the Cavalcanti livery of scarlet with the
horse-head in white upon their breasts, led away our horses.  The seneschal
acted as quarter­master to our lances, whilst Cavalcanti himself led us up
the great stone staircase with its carved balustrade of marble, from which
rose a file of pillars to support the groined ceiling.  This last was
frescoed in dull red with the white horse-head at intervals.  On our right,
on every third step, stood orange-trees in tubs, all flowering and shedding
the most fragrant perfume.

Thus we ascended to a spacious gallery, and through a succession of
magnificent rooms we came to the noble apartments that had been made ready
for us.

A couple of pages came to tend me, bringing perfumed water and macerated
herbs for my ablutions.  These performed, they helped me into fresh
garments that awaited me--black hose of finest silk and velvet trunks of
the same sable hue, and for my body a fine close-fitting doublet of cloth
of gold, caught at the waist by a jewelled girdle from which hung a dagger
that was the merest toy.

When I was ready they went before me, to lead the way to what they called
the private dining-room, where supper awaited us.  At the very mention of a
private dining-room I had a vision of whitewashed walls and high-set
windows and a floor strewn with rushes.  Instead we came into the most
beautiful chamber that I had ever seen.  From floor to ceiling it was hung
with arras of purple brocade alternating with cloth of gold; thus on three
sides.  On the fourth there was an opening for the embayed window which
glowed like a gigantic sapphire in the deepening twilight.

The floor was spread with a carpet of the ruddy purple of porphyry, very
soft and silent to the feet.  From the frescoed ceiling, where a joyous
Phoebus drove a team of spirited white stallions, hung a chain that was
carved in the semblance of interlocked Titans to support a great
candelabrum, each branch of which was in the image of a Titan holding a
stout candle of scented wax.  It was all in gilded bronze and the
workmanship--as I was presently to learn--of that great artist and rogue
Benvenuto Cellini.  From this candelabrum there fell upon the board a soft
golden radiance that struck bright gleams from crystals and plate of gold
and silver.

By a buffet laden with meats stood the master of the household in black
velvet, his chain of office richly carved, his badge a horse's head in
silver, and he was flanked on either hand by a nimble-looking page.

Of all this my first glance gathered but the most fleeting of impressions.
For my eyes were instantly arrested by her who stood between Cavalcanti and
Galeotto, awaiting my arrival.  And, miracle of miracles, she was arrayed
exactly as I had seen her in my vision.

Her supple maiden body was sheathed in a gown of cloth of silver; her brown
hair was dressed into two plaits interlaced with gold threads and set with
tiny gems, and these plaits hung one on either breast.  Upon the low, white
brow a single jewel gleamed--a brilliant of the very whitest fire.

Her long blue eyes were raised to look at me as I entered, and their glance
grew startled when it encountered mine, the delicate colour faded gradually
from her cheeks, and her eyes fell at last as she moved forward to bid me
welcome to Pagliano in her own name.

They must have perceived her emotion as they perceived mine.  But they gave
no sign.  We got to the round table--myself upon Cavalcanti's left,
Galeotto in the place of honour, and Bianca facing her father so that I was
on her right.

The seneschal bestirred himself, and the silken ministering pages fluttered
round us.  My Lord of Pagliano was one who kept a table as luxurious as all
else in his splendid palace.  First came a broth of veal in silver basins,
then a stew of cocks' combs and capons' breasts, then the ham of a roasted
boar, the flesh very lusciously saturated with the flavour of rosemary; and
there was venison that was as soft as velvet, and other things that I no
longer call to mind.  And to drink there was a fragrant, well-sunned wine
of Lombardy that had been cooled in snow.

Galeotto ate enormously, Cavalcanti daintily, I but little, and Bianca
nothing.  Her presence had set up such emotions in me that I had no thought
for food.  But I drank deeply, and so came presently to a spurious ease
which enabled me to take my share in the talk that was toward, though when
all is said it was but a slight share, since Cavalcanti and Galeotto
discoursed of matters wherein my knowledge was not sufficient to enable me
to bear a conspicuous part.

More than once I was on the point of addressing Bianca herself, but always
courage failed me.  I had ever in mind the memory she must have of me as
she had last seen me, to increase the painful diffidence which her presence
itself imposed upon me.  Nor did I hear her voice more than once or twice
when she demurely answered such questions as her father set her.  And
though once or twice I found her stealing a look at me, she would instantly
avert her eyes when our glances crossed.

Thus was our first meeting, and for a little time it was to be our last,
because I lacked the courage to seek her out.  She had her own apartments
at Pagliano with her own maids of honour, like a princess; and the castle
garden was entirely her domain into which even her father seldom intruded.
He gave me the freedom of it; but it was a freedom of which I never took
advantage in the week that we abode there.  Several times was I on the
point of doing so.  But I was ever restrained by my unconquerable
diffidence.

And there was something else to impose restraint upon me.  Hitherto the
memory of Giuliana had come to haunt me in my hermitage, by arousing in me
yearnings which I had to combat with fasting and prayer, with scourge and
dice.  Now the memory of her haunted me again; but in a vastly different
way.  It haunted me with the reminder of all the sin in which through her I
had steeped myself; and just as the memory of that sin had made me in purer
moments deem myself unworthy to be the guardian of the shrine on Monte
Orsaro, so now did it cause me to deem myself all unworthy to enter the
garden that enshrined Madonna Bianca de' Cavalcanti.

Before the purity that shone from her I recoiled in an awe whose nature was
as the feelings of a religion.  I felt that to seek her presence would be
almost to defile her.  And so I abstained, my mind very full of her the
while, for all that the time was beguiled for me in daily exercise with
horse and arms under the guidance of Galeotto.

I was not so tutored merely for the sake of repairing a grave omission in
my education.  It had a definite scope, as Galeotto frankly told me,
informing me that the time approached in which to avenge my father and
strike a blow for my own rights.

And then at the end of a week a man rode into the courtyard of Pagliano one
day, and flung down from his horse shouting to be led to Messer Galeotto.
There was something about this courier's mien and person that awoke a
poignant memory.  I was walking in the gallery when the clatter of his
advent drew my attention, and his voice sent a strange thrill through me.

One glance I gave to make quite sure, and then I leapt down the broad steps
four at a time, and a moment later, to the amazement of all present, I had
caught the dusty rider in my arms, and I was kissing the wrinkled, scarred,
and leathery old cheeks.

"Falcone!" I cried.  "Falcone, do you not know me?"

He was startled by the violence of my passionate onslaught.  Indeed, he was
almost borne to the ground by it, for his old legs were stiff now from
riding.

And then--how he stared!  What oaths he swore!

"Madonnino!" he babbled.  "Madonnino!"  And he shook himself free of my
embrace, and stood back that he might view me.  "Body of Satan!  But you
are finely grown, and how like to what your father was when he was no older
than are you!  And they have not made a shaveling of you, after all.  Now
blessed be God for that!"  Then he stopped short, and his eyes went past
me, and he seemed to hesitate.

I turned, and there, leaning on the balustrade of the staircase, looking on
with smiling eyes stood Galeotto with Messer Cavalcanti at his elbow.

I heard Galeotto's words to the Lord of Pagliano.  "His heart is sound--
which is a miracle.  That woman, it seems, could not quite dehumanize him."
And he came down heavily, to ask Falcone what news he bore.

The old equerry drew a letter from under his leathern jacket.

"From Ferrante?" quoth the Lord of Pagliano eagerly, peering over
Galeotto's shoulder.

"Ay," said Galeotto, and he broke the seal.  He stood to read, with knitted
brows.  "It is well," he said, at last, and passed the sheet to Cavalcanti.
"Farnese is in Piacenza already, and the Pope will sway the College to give
his bastard the ducal crown.  It is time we stirred."

He turned to Falcone, whilst Cavalcanti read the letter.  "Take food and
rest, good Gino.  For to-morrow you ride again with me.  And so shall you,
Agostino."

"I ride again?" I echoed, my heart sinking and some of my dismay showing
upon my face.  "Whither?"

"To right the wrongs of Mondolfo," he answered shortly, and turned away.




CHAPTER II

THE GOVERNOR OF MILAN


We rode again upon the morrow as he had said, and with us went Falcone and
the same goodly company of twenty lances that had escorted me from Monte
Orsaro.  But I took little thought for them or pride in such an escort now.
My heart was leaden.  I had not seen Bianca again ere I departed, and
Heaven knew when we should return to Pagliano.  Thus at least was I
answered by Galeotto when I made bold to ask the question.

Two days we rode, going by easy stages, and came at last upon that
wondrously fair and imposing city of Milan, in the very heart of the vast
plain of Lombardy with the distant Alps for background and northern
rampart.

Our destination was the castle; and in a splendid ante-chamber, packed with
rustling, silken courtiers and clanking captains in steel, a sprinkling of
prelates and handsome, insolent-eyed women, more than one of whom reminded
me of Giuliana, and every one of whom I disparaged by comparing her with
Bianca, Galeotto and I stood waiting.

To many there he seemed known, and several came to greet him and some to
whisper in his ear.  At last a pert boy in a satin suit that was striped in
the Imperial livery of black and yellow, pushed his way through the throng.

"Messer Galeotto," his shrill voice announced, "his excellency awaits you."

Galeotto took my arm, and drew me forward with him.  Thus we went through a
lane that opened out before us in that courtly throng, and came to a
curtained door.  An usher raised the curtain for us at a sign from the
page, who, opening, announced us to the personage within.

We stood in a small closet, whose tall, slender windows overlooked the
courtyard, and from the table, on which there was a wealth of parchments,
rose a very courtly gentleman to receive us out of a gilded chair, the arms
of which were curiously carved into the shape of serpents' heads.

He was a well-nourished, florid man of middle height, with a resolute
mouth, high cheek-bones, and crafty, prominent eyes that reminded me
vaguely of the eyes of the taverner of Pojetta.  He was splendidly dressed
in a long gown of crimson damask edged with lynx fur, and the fingers of
his fat hands and one of his thumbs were burdened with jewels.

This was Ferrante Gonzaga, Prince of Molfetta, Duke of Ariano, the
Emperor's Lieutenant and Governor of the State of Milan.

The smile with which he had been ready to greet Galeotto froze slightly at
sight of me.  But before he could voice the question obviously in his mind
my companion had presented me.

"Here, my lord, is one upon whom I trust that we may count when the time
comes.  This is Agostino d'Anguissola, of Mondolfo and Carmina."

Surprise overspread Gonzaga's face.  He seemed about to speak, and checked,
and his eyes were very searchingly bent upon Galeotto's face, which
remained inscrutable as stone.  Then the Governor looked at me, and from me
back again at Galeotto.  At last he smiled, whilst I bowed before him, but
very vaguely conscious of what might impend.

"The time," he said, "seems to be none too distant.  The Duke of Castro--
this Pier Luigi Farnese--is so confident of ultimate success that already
he has taken up his residence in Piacenza, and already, I am informed, is
being spoken of as Duke of Parma and Piacenza."

"He has cause," said Galeotto.  "Who is to withstand his election since the
Emperor, like Pilate, has washed his hands of the affair?"

A smile overspread Gonzaga's crafty face.  "Do not assume too much
concerning the Emperor's wishes in the matter.  His answer to the Pope was
that if Parma and Piacenza are Imperial fiefs--integral parts of the State
of Milan--it would ill become the Emperor to alienate them from an empire
which he holds merely in trust; whereas if they can be shown rightly to
belong to the Holy See, why then the matter concerns him not, and the Holy
See may settle it."

Galeotto shrugged and his face grew dark.  "It amounts to an assent," he
said.

"Not so," purred Gonzaga, seating himself once more.  "It amounts to
nothing.  It is a Sibylline answer which nowise prejudices what he may do
in future.  We still hope," he added, "that the Sacred College may refuse
the investiture.  Pier Luigi Farnese is not in good odour in the Curia."

"The Sacred College cannot withstand the Pope's desires.  He has bribed it
with the undertaking to restore Nepi and Camerino to the States of the
Church in exchange for Parma and Piacenza, which are to form a State for
his son.  How long, my lord, do you think the College will resist him?"

"The Spanish Cardinals all have the Emperor's desires at heart."

"The Spanish Cardinals may oppose the measure until they choke themselves
with their vehemence," was the ready answer.  "There are enough of the
Pope's creatures to carry the election, and if there were not it would be
his to create more until there should be sufficient for his purpose.  It is
an old subterfuge."

"Well, then," said Gonzaga, smiling, "since you are so assured, it is for
you and the nobles of Piacenza to be up and doing.  The Emperor depends
upon you; and you may depend upon him."

Galeotto looked at the Governor out of his scarred face, and his eyes were
very grave.

"I had hoped otherwise," he said.  "That is why I have been slow to move.
That is why I have waited, why I have even committed the treachery of
permitting Pier Luigi to suppose me ready at need to engage in his
service."

"Ah, there you play a dangerous game," said Gonzaga frankly.

"I'll play a more dangerous still ere I have done," he answered stoutly.
"Neither Pope nor Devil shall dismay me.  I have great wrongs to right, as
none knows better than your excellency, and if my life should go in the
course of it, why"--he shrugged and sneered--"it is all that is left me;
and life is a little thing when a man has lost all else."

"I know, I know," said the sly Governor, wagging his big head, "else I had
not warned you.  For we need you, Messer Galeotto."

"Ay, you need me; you'll make a tool of me--you and your Emperor.  You'll
use me as a cat's-paw to pull down this inconvenient duke."

Gonzaga rose, frowning.  "You go a little far, Messer Galeotto," he said.

"I go no farther than you urge me," answered the other.

"But patience, patience!" the Lieutenant soothed him, growing sleek again
in tone and manner.  "Consider now the position.  What the Emperor has
answered the Pope is no more than the bare and precise truth.  It is not
clear whether the States of Parma and Piacenza belong to the Empire or the
Holy See.  But let the people rise and show themselves ill-governed, let
them revolt against Farnese once he has been created their duke and when
thus the State shall have been alienated from the Holy See, and then you
may count upon the Emperor to step in as your liberator and to buttress up
your revolt."

"Do you promise us so much?" asked Galeotto.

"Explicitly," was the ready answer, "upon my most sacred honour.  Send me
word that you are in arms, that the first blow has been struck, and I shall
be with you with all the force that I can raise in the Emperor's name."

"Your excellency has warrant for this?" demanded Galeotto.

"Should I promise it else?  About it, sir.  You may work with confidence."

"With confidence, yes," replied Galeotto gloomily, "but with no great hope.
The Pontifical government has ground the spirit out of half the nobles of
the Val di Taro.  They have suffered so much and so repeatedly--in
property, in liberty, in life itself--that they are grown rabbit-hearted,
and would sooner cling to the little liberty that is still theirs than
strike a blow to gain what belongs to them by every right.  Oh, I know them
of old!  What man can do, I shall do; but..."  He shrugged, and shook his
head sorrowfully.

"Can you count on none?" asked Gonzaga, very serious, stroking his smooth,
fat chin.

"I can count upon one," answered Galeotto.  "The Lord of Pagliano; he is
ghibelline to the very marrow, and he belongs to me.  At my bidding there
is nothing he will not do.  There is an old debt between us, and he is a
noble soul who will not leave his debts unpaid.  Upon him I can count; and
he is rich and powerful.  But then, he is not really a Piacentino himself.
He holds his fief direct from the Emperor.  Pagliano is part of the State
of Milan, and Cavalcanti is no subject of Farnese.  His case, therefore, is
exceptional and he has less than the usual cause for timidity.  But the
others..."  Again he shrugged.  "What man can do to stir them, that will I
do.  You shall hear from me soon again, my lord."

Gonzaga looked at me.  "Did you not say that here was another?"

Galeotto smiled sadly.  "Ay--just one arm and one sword.  That is all.
Unless this emprise succeeds he is never like to rule in Mondolfo.  He may
be counted upon; but he brings no lances with him."

"I see," said Gonzaga, his lip between thumb and forefinger.  "But his
name..."

"That and his wrongs shall be used, depend upon it, my lord--the wrongs
which are his by inheritance."

I said no word.  A certain resentment filled me to hear myself so disposed
of without being consulted; and yet it was tempered by a certain trust in
Galeotto, a faith that he would lead me into nothing unworthy.

Gonzaga conducted us to the door of the closet.  "I shall look to hear from
you, Ser Galeotto," he said.  "And if at first the nobles of the Val di
Taro are not to be moved, perhaps after they have had a taste of Messer
Pier Luigi's ways they will gather courage out of despair.  I think we may
be hopeful if patient.  Meanwhile, my master the Emperor shall be
informed."

Another moment and we were out of that florid, crafty, well-nourished
presence.  The curtains had dropped behind us, and we were thrusting our
way through the press in the ante-chamber, Galeotto muttering to himself
things which as we gained the open air I gathered to be curses directed
against the Emperor and his Milanese Lieutenant.

In the inn of the sign of the Sun, by the gigantic Duomo of Visconti's
building, he opened the gates to his anger and let it freely forth.

"It is a world of cravens," he said, "a world of slothful, self-seeking,
supine cowards, Agostino.  In the Emperor, at least, I conceived that we
should have found a man who would not be averse to acting boldly where his
interests must be served.  More I had not expected of him; but that, at
least.  And even in that he fails me.  Oh, this Charles V!" he cried.
"This prince upon whose dominions the sun never sets!  Fortune has bestowed
upon him all the favours in her gift, yet for himself he can do nothing.

"He is crafty, cruel, irresolute, and mistrustful of all.  He is without
greatness of any sort, and he is all but Emperor of the World!  Others must
do his work for him; others must compass the conquests which he is to
enjoy.

"Ah, well!" he ended, with a sneer, "perhaps as the world views these
things there is a certain greatness in that--the greatness of the fox."

Naturally there was much in this upon which I needed explanation, and I
made bold to intrude upon his anger to crave it.  And it was then that I
learnt the true position of affairs.

Between France and the Empire, the State of Milan had been in contention
until quite lately, when Henri II had abandoned it to Charles V.  And in
the State of Milan were the States of Parma and Piacenza, which Pope Julius
II had wrested from it and incorporated in the domain of the Church.  The
act, however, was unlawful, and although these States had ever since been
under Pontifical rule, it was to Milan that they belonged, though Milan
never yet had had the power to enforce her rights.  She had that power at
last, now that the Emperor's rule there was a thing determined, and it was
in this moment that papal nepotism was to make a further alienation of them
by constituting them into a duchy for the Farnese bastard, Pier Luigi, who
was already Duke of Castro.

Under papal rule the nobles--more particularly the ghibellines--and the
lesser tyrants of the Val di Taro had suffered rudely, plundered by
Pontifical brigandage, enduring confiscations and extortions until they
were reduced to a miserable condition.  It was against the beginnings of
this that my father had raised his standard, to be crushed thorough the
supineness of his peers, who would not support him to save themselves from
being consumed in the capacious maw of Rome.

But what they had suffered hitherto would be as nothing to what they must
suffer if the Pope now had his way and if Pier Luigi Farnese were to become
their duke--an independent prince.  He would break the nobles utterly, to
remain undisputed master of the territory.  That was a conclusion foregone.
And yet our princelings saw the evil approaching them, and cowered
irresolute to await and suffer it.

They had depended, perhaps, upon the Emperor, who, it was known, did not
favour the investiture, nor would confirm it.  It was remembered that
Ottavio Farnese-- Pier Luigi's son--was married to Margaret of Austria, the
Emperor's daughter, and that if a Farnese dominion there was to be in Parma
and Piacenza, the Emperor would prefer that it should be that of his own
son-in-law, who would hold the duchy as a fief of the Empire.  Further was
it known that Ottavio was intriguing with Pope and Emperor to gain the
investiture in his own father's stead.

"The unnatural son!" I exclaimed upon learning that.

Galeotto looked at me, and smiled darkly, stroking his great beard.

"Say, rather, the unnatural father," he replied.  "More honour to Ottavio
Farnese in that he has chosen to forget that he is Pier Luigi's son.  It is
not a parentage in which any man--be he the most abandoned--could take
pride."

"How so?" quoth I.

"You have, indeed, lived out of the world if you know nothing of Pier Luigi
Farnese.  I should have imagined that some echo of his turpitudes must have
penetrated even to a hermitage--that they would be written upon the very
face of Nature, which he outrages at every step of his infamous life.  He
is a monster, a sort of antichrist; the most ruthless, bloody, vicious man
that ever drew the breath of life.  Indeed, there are not wanting those who
call him a warlock, a dealer in black magic who has sold his soul to the
Devil.  Though, for that matter, they say the same of the Pope his father,
and I doubt not that his magic is just the magic of a wickedness that is
scarcely human.

"There is a fellow named Paolo Giovio, Bishop of Nocera, a charlatan and a
wretched dabbler in necromancy and something of an alchemist, who has
lately written the life of another Pope's son--Cesare Borgia, who lived
nigh upon half a century ago, and who did more than any man to consolidate
the States of the Church, though his true aim, like Pier Luigi's, was to
found a State for himself.  I am given to think that for his model of a
Pope's bastard this Giovio has taken the wretched Farnese rogue, and
attributed to the son of Alexander VI the vices and infamies of this son of
Paul III.

"Even to attempt to draw a parallel is to insult the memory of the Borgia;
for he, at least, was a great captain and a great ruler, and he knew how to
endear to himself the fold that he governed; so that when I was a lad--
thirty years ago--there were still those in the Romagna who awaited the
Borgia's return, and prayed for it as earnestly as pray the faithful for
the second coming of the Messiah, refusing to believe that he was dead.
But this Pier Luigi!"  He thrust out a lip contemptuously.  "He is no
better than a thief, a murderer, a defiler, a bestial, lecherous dog!

And with that he began to relate some of the deeds of this man; and his
life, it seemed, was written in blood and filth--a tale of murders and
rapes and worse.  And when as a climax he told me of the horrible, inhuman
outrage done to Cosimo Gheri, the young Bishop of Fano, I begged him to
cease, for my horror turned me almost physically sick.1

1  The incident to which Agostino here alludes is fully set forth by
Benedetto Varchi at the end of Book XVI of his Storia Fiorentina.


"That bishop was a holy man, of very saintly life," Galeotto insisted, "and
the deed permitted the German Lutherans to say that here was a new form of
martyrdom for saints invented by the Pope's son.  And his father pardoned
him the deed, and others as bad, by a secret bull, absolving him from all
pains and penalties that he might have incurred through youthful frailty or
human incontinence!"

It was the relation of those horrors, I think, which, stirring my
indignation, spurred me even more than the thought of redressing the wrongs
which the Pontifical or Farnesian government would permit my mother to do
me.

I held out my hand to Galeotto.  "To the utmost of my little might," said
I, "you may depend upon me in this good cause in which you have engaged."

"There speaks the son of the house of Anguissola," said he, a light of
affection in his steel-coloured eyes.  "And there are your father's wrongs
to right as well as the wrongs of humanity, remember.  By this Pier Luigi
was he crushed; whilst those who bore arms with him at Perugia and were
taken alive..."  He paused and turned livid, great beads of perspiration
standing upon his brow.  "I cannot," he faltered, "I cannot even now, after
all these years, bear to think upon those horrors perpetrated by that
monster."

I was strangely moved at the sight of emotion in one who seemed emotionless
as iron.

"I left the hermitage," said I, "in the hope that I might the better be
able to serve God in the world.  I think you are showing me the way, Ser
Galeotto."




CHAPTER III

PIER LUIGI FARNESE


We left Milan that same day, and there followed for some months a season of
wandering through Lombardy, going from castle to castle, from tyranny to
tyranny, just the three of us--Galeotto and myself with Falcone for our
equerry and attendant.

Surely something of the fanatic's temperament there must have been in me;
for now that I had embraced a cause, I served it with all the fanaticism
with which on Monte Orsaro I sought to be worthy of the course I had taken
then.

I was become as an apostle, preaching a crusade or holy war against the
Devil's lieutenant on earth, Messer Pier Luigi Farnese, sometime Duke of
Castro, now Duke of Parma and Piacenza--for the investiture duly followed
in the August of that year, and soon his iron hand began to be felt
throughout the State of which the Pope had constituted him a prince.

And to the zest that was begotten of pure righteousness, Galeotto cunningly
added yet another and more worldly spur.  We were riding one day in late
September of that year from Cortemaggiore, where we had spent a month in
seeking to stir the Pallavicini to some spirit of resistance, and we were
making our way towards Romagnese, the stronghold of that great Lombard
family of dal Verme.

As we were ambling by a forest path, Galeotto abruptly turned to me,
Falcone at the time being some little way in advance of us, and startled me
by his words.

"Cavalcanti's daughter seemed to move you strangely, Agostino," he said,
and watched me turn pale under his keen glance.

In my confusion--more or less at random--"What should Cavalcanti's daughter
be to me?" I asked.

"Why, what you will, I think," he answered, taking my question literally.
"Cavalcanti would consider the Lord of Mondolfo and Carmina a suitable mate
for his daughter, however he might hesitate to marry her to the landless
Agostino d'Anguissola.  He loved your father better than any man that ever
lived, and such an alliance was mutually desired."

"Do you think I need this added spur?" quoth I.

"Nay, I know that you do not.  But it is well to know what reward may wait
upon our labour.  It makes that labour lighter and increases courage."

I hung my head, without answering him, and we rode silently amain.

He had touched me where the flesh was raw and tender.  Bianca de'
Cavalcanti!  It was a name I uttered like a prayer, like a holy invocation.
Just so had I been in a measure content to carry that name and the memory
of her sweet face.  To consider her as the possible Lady of Mondolfo when I
should once more have come into my own, was to consider things that filled
me almost with despair.

Again I experienced such hesitations as had kept me from ever seeking her
at Pagliano, though I had been given the freedom of her garden.  Giuliana
had left her brand upon me.  And though Bianca had by now achieved for me
what neither prayers nor fasting could accomplish, and had exorcized the
unholy visions of Giuliana from my mind, yet when I came to consider Bianca
as a possible companion--as something more or something less than a saint
enthroned in the heaven created by my worship of her--there rose between us
ever that barrier of murder and adultery, a barrier which not even in
imagination did I dare to overstep.

I strove to put such thoughts from my mind that I might leave it free to do
the work to which I had now vowed myself.

All through that winter we pursued our mission.  With the dal Verme we had
but indifferent success, for they accounted themselves safe, being, like
Cavalcanti, feudatories of the Emperor himself, and nowise included in the
territories of Parma and Piacenza.  From Romagnese we made our way to the
stronghold of the Anguissola of Albarola, my cousins, who gave me a very
friendly welcome, and who, though with us in spirit and particularly urged
by their hatred of our guelphic cousin Cosimo who was now Pier Luigi's
favourite, yet hesitated as the others had done.  And we met with little
better success with Sforza of Santafiora, to whose castle we next repaired,
or yet with the Landi, the Scotti, or Confalonieri.  Everywhere the same
spirit of awe was abroad, and the same pusillanimity, content to hug the
little that remained rather than rear its head to demand that which by
right belonged.

So that when the spring came round again, and our mission done, our crusade
preached to hearts that would not be inflamed, we turned our steps once
more towards Pagliano, we were utterly dispirited men--although, for
myself, my despondency was tempered a little by the thought that I was to
see Bianca once more.

Yet before I come to speak of her again, let me have done with these
historical matters in so far as they touched ourselves.

We had left the nobles unresponsive, as you have seen.  But soon the
prognostications of the crafty Gonzaga were realized.  Soon Farnese,
through his excessive tyranny, stung them out of their apathy.  The first
to feel his iron hand were the Pallavicini, whom he stripped of their lands
of Cortemaggiore, taking as hostages Girolamo Pallavicini's wife and
mother.  Next he hurled his troops against the dal Verme, forcing Romagnese
to capitulate, and then seeking similarly to reduce their other fief of
Bobbio.  Thence upon his all-conquering way, he marched upon Castel San
Giovanni, whence he sought to oust the Sforza, and at the same time he
committed the mistake of attempting to drive the Gonzaga out of Soragna.

This last rashness brought down upon his head the direct personal
resentment of Ferrante Gonzaga.  With the Imperial troops at his heels the
Governor of Milan not only intervened to save Soragna for his family, but
forced Pier Luigi to disgorge Bobbio and Romagnese, restoring them to the
dal Verme, and compelled him to raise the siege of San Giovanni upon which
he was at the time engaged--claiming that both these noble houses were
feudatories of the Empire.

Intimidated by that rude lesson, Pier Luigi was forced to draw in his
steely claws.  To console himself, he turned his attention to the Val di
Taro, and issued an edict commanding all nobles there to disarm, disband
their troops, quit their fortresses, and go to reside in the principal
cities of their districts.  Those who resisted or demurred, he crushed at
once with exile and confiscation; and even those who meekly did his will,
he stripped of all privileges as feudal lords.

Even my mother, we heard, was forced to dismiss her trivial garrison,
having been ordered to close the Citadel of Mondolfo, and take up her
residence in our palace in the city itself.  But she went further than she
was bidden--she took the veil in the Convent of Santa Chiara, and so
retired from the world.

The State began to ferment in secret at so much and such harsh tyranny.
Farnese was acting in Piacenza as Tarquin of old had acted in his garden,
slicing the tallest poppies from their stems.  And soon to swell his
treasury, which not even his plunder, brigandage, and extortionate
confiscations could fill sufficiently to satisfy his greed, he set himself
to look into the past lives of the nobles, and to promulgate laws that were
retroactive, so that he was enabled to levy fresh fines and perpetrate
fresh sequestrations in punishment of deeds that had been done long years
ago.

Amongst these, we heard that he had Giovanni d'Anguissola decapitated in
effigy for his rebellion against the authority of the Holy See, and that my
tyrannies of Mondolfo and Carmina were confiscated from me because of my
offence in being Giovanni d'Anguissola's son.  And presently we heard that
Mondolfo had been conferred by Farnese upon his good and loyal servant and
captain, the Lord Cosimo d'Anguissola, subject to a tax of a thousand
ducats yearly!

Galeotto ground his teeth and swore horribly when the news was brought us
from Piacenza, whilst I felt my heart sink and the last hope of Bianca--the
hope secretly entertained almost against hope itself--withering in my soul.

But soon came consolation.  Pier Luigi had gone too far.  Even rats when
cornered will turn at bay and bare their teeth for combat.  So now the
nobles of the Valnure and the Val di Taro.

The Scotti, the Pallavicini, the Landi, and the Anguissola of Albarola,
came one after the other in secret to Pagliano to interview the gloomy
Galeotto.  And at one gathering that was secretly held in a chamber of the
castle, he lashed them with his furious scorn.

"You are come now," he jeered at them, "now that you are maimed; now that
you have been bled of half your strength; now that most of your teeth are
drawn.  Had you but had the spirit and good sense to rise six months ago
when I summoned you so to do, the struggle had been brief and the victory
certain.  Now the fight will be all fraught with risk, dangerous to engage,
and uncertain of issue."

But it was they--these men who themselves had been so pusillanimous at
first--who now urged him to take the lead, swearing to follow him to the
death, to save for their children what little was still left them.

"In that spirit I will not lead you a step," he answered them.  "If we
raise our standard, we fight for all our ancient rights, for all our
privileges, and for the restoration of all that has been confiscated; in
short, for the expulsion of the Farnese from these lands.  If that is your
spirit, then I will consider what is to be done--for, believe me, open
warfare will no longer avail us here.  What we have to do must be done by
guile.  You have waited too long to resolve yourselves.  And whilst you
have grown weak, Farnese has been growing strong.  He has fawned upon and
flattered the populace; he has set the people against the nobles; he has
pretended that in crushing the nobles he was serving the people, and they--
poor fools!--have so far believed him that they will run to his banner in
any struggle that may ensue."

He dismissed them at last with the promise that they should hear from him,
and on the morrow, attended by Falcone only, he rode forth again from
Pagliano, to seek out the dal Verme and the Sforza of Santafiora and
endeavour to engage their interest against the man who had outraged them.

And that was early in August of the year '46.

I remained at Pagliano by Galeotto's request.  He would have no need of me
upon his mission.  But he might desire me to seek out some of the others of
the Val  di Taro with such messages as he should send me.

And in all this time I had seen but little of Monna Bianca.  We met under
her father's eye in that gold-and-purple dining-room; and there I would
devoutly, though surreptitiously, feast my eyes upon the exquisite beauty
of her.  But I seldom spoke to her, and then it was upon the most trivial
matters; whilst although the summer was now full fragrantly unfolded, yet I
never dared to intrude into that garden of hers to which I had been bidden,
ever restrained by the overwhelming memory of the past.

So poignant was this memory that at times I caught myself wondering
whether, after all, I had not been mistaken in lending an ear so readily to
the arguments of Fra Gervasio, whether Fra Gervasio himself had not been
mistaken in assuming that my place was in the world, and whether I had not
done best to have carried out my original intention of seeking refuge in
some monastery in the lowly position of a lay brother.

Meanwhile the Lord of Pagliano used me in the most affectionate and
fatherly manner.  But not even this sufficed to encourage me where his
daughter was concerned, and I seemed to observe also that Bianca herself,
if she did not actually avoid my society, was certainly at no pains to seek
it.

What the end would have been but for the terrible intervention there was in
our affairs, I have often surmised without result.

It happened that one day, about a week after Galeotto had left us there
rode up to the gates of Pagliano a very magnificent company, and there was
great braying of horns, stamping of horses and rattle of arms.

My Lord Pier Luigi Farnese had been on a visit to his city of Parma, and on
his return journey had thought well to turn aside into the lands of ultra-
Po, and pay a visit to the Lord of Pagliano, whom he did not love, yet
whom, perhaps, it may have been his intention to conciliate, since hurt him
he could not.

Sufficiently severe had been the lesson he had received for meddling with
Imperial fiefs; and he must have been mad had he thought of provoking
further the resentment of the Emperor.  To Farnese, Charles V was a
sleeping dog it was as well to leave sleeping.

He rode, then, upon his friendly visit into the Castle of Pagliano,
attended by a vast retinue of courtiers and ladies, pages, lackeys, and a
score of men-at-arms.  A messenger had ridden on in advance to warn
Cavalcanti of the honour that the Duke proposed to do him, and Cavalcanti,
relishing the honour no whit, yet submitting out of discreetness, stood to
receive his excellency at the foot of the marble staircase with Bianca on
one side and myself upon the other.

Under the archway they rode, Farnese at the head of the cavalcade.  He
bestrode a splendid white palfrey, whose mane and tail were henna-dyed,
whose crimson velvet trappings trailed almost to the ground.  He was
dressed in white velvet, even to his thigh-boots, which were laced with
gold and armed with heavy gold spurs.  A scarlet plume was clasped by a
great diamond in his velvet cap, and on his right wrist was perched a
hooded falcon.

He was a tall and gracefully shaped man of something over forty years of
age, black-haired and olive-skinned, wearing a small pointed beard that
added length to his face.  His nose was aquiline, and he had fine eyes, but
under them there were heavy brown shadows, and as he came nearer it was
seen that his countenance was marred by an unpleasant eruption of sores.

After him came his gentlemen, a round dozen of them, with half that number
of splendid ladies, all a very dazzling company.  Behind these, in blazing
liveries, there was a cloud of pages upon mules, and lackeys leading
sumpter-beasts; and then to afford them an effective background, a grey,
steel phalanx of men-at-arms.

I describe his entrance as it appeared at a glance, for I did not study it
or absorb any of its details.  My horrified gaze was held by a figure that
rode on his right hand, a queenly woman with a beautiful pale countenance
and a lazy, insolent smile.

It was Giuliana.

How she came there I did not at the moment trouble to reflect.  She was
there.  That was the hideous fact that made me doubt the sight of my own
eyes, made me conceive almost that I was at my disordered visions again,
the fruit of too much brooding.  I felt as if all the blood were being
exhausted from my heart, as if my limbs would refuse their office, and I
leaned for support against the terminal of the balustrade by which I stood.

She saw me.  And after the first slight start of astonishment, her lazy
smile grew broader and more insolent.  I was but indifferently conscious of
the hustle about me, of the fact that Cavalcanti himself was holding the
Duke's stirrup, whilst the latter got slowly to the ground and relinquished
his falcon to a groom who wore a perch suspended from his neck, bearing
three other hooded birds.  Similarly I was no more than conscious of being
forced to face the Duke by words that Cavalcanti was uttering.  He was
presenting me.

"This, my lord, is Agostino d'Anguissola."

I saw, as through a haze, the swarthy, pustuled visage frown down upon me.
I heard a voice which was at once harsh and effeminate and quite
detestable, saying in unfriendly tones:

"The son of Giovanni d'Anguissola of Mondolfo, eh?"

"The same, my lord," said Cavalcanti, adding generously--"Giovanni
d'Anguissola was my friend."

"It is a friendship that does you little credit, sir," was the harsh
answer.  "It is not well to befriend the enemies of God."

Was it possible that I had heard aright?  Had this human foulness dared to
speak of God?

"That is a matter upon which I will not dispute with a guest," said
Cavalcanti with an urbanity of tone belied by the anger that flashed from
his brown eyes.

At the time I thought him greatly daring, little dreaming that, forewarned
of the Duke's coming, his measures were taken, and that one blast from the
silver whistle that hung upon his breast would have produced a tide of men-
at-arms that would have engulfed and overwhelmed Messer Pier Luigi and his
suite.

Farnese dismissed the matter with a casual laugh.  And then a lazy,
drawling voice--a voice that once had been sweetest music to my ears, but
now was loathsome as the croaking of Stygian frogs--addressed me.

"Why, here is a great change, sir saint!  We had heard you had turned
anchorite; and behold you in cloth of gold, shining as you would out-dazzle
Phoebus."

I stood palely before her, striving to keep the loathing from my face, and
I was conscious that Bianca had suddenly turned and was regarding us with
eyes of grave concern.

"I like you better for the change," pursued Giuliana.  "And I vow that you
have grown at least another inch.  Have you no word for me, Agostino?"

I was forced to answer her.  "I trust that all is well with you, Madonna,"
I said.

Her lazy smile grew broader, displaying the dazzling whiteness of her
strong teeth.  "Why, all is very well with me," said she, and her sidelong
glance at the Duke, half mocking, half kindly with an odious kindliness,
seemed to give added explanations.

That he should have dared bring here this woman whom no doubt he had
wrested from his creature Gambara--here into the shrine of my pure and
saintly Bianca--was something for which I could have killed him then, for
which I hated him far more bitterly than for any of those dark turpitudes
that I had heard associated with his odious name.

And meanwhile there he stood, that Pope's bastard, leaning over my Bianca,
speaking to her, and in his eyes the glow of a dark and unholy fire what
time they fed upon her beauty as the slug feeds upon the lily.  He seemed
to have no thought for any other, nor for the circumstance that he kept us
all standing there.

"You must come to our Court at Piacenza, Madonna," I heard him murmuring.
"We knew not that so fair a flower was blossoming unseen in this garden of
Pagliano.   It is not well that such a jewel should be hidden in this grey
casket.  You were made to queen it in a court, Madonna; and at Piacenza you
shall be hailed and honoured as its queen."  And so he rambled on with his
rough and trivial flattery, his foully pimpled face within a foot of hers,
and she shrinking before him, very white and mute and frightened.  Her
father looked on with darkling brows, and Giuliana began to gnaw her lip
and look less lazy, whilst in the courtly background there was a respectful
murmuring babble, supplying a sycophantic chorus to the Duke's detestable
adulation.

It was Cavalcanti, at last, who came to his daughter's rescue by a
peremptory offer to escort the Duke and his retinue within.




CHAPTER IV

MADONNA BIANCA


Pier Luigi's original intent had been to spend no more than a night at
Pagliano.  But when the morrow came, he showed no sign of departing, nor
upon the next day, nor yet upon the next.

A week passed, and still he lingered, seeming to settle more and more in
the stronghold of the Cavalcanti, leaving the business of his Duchy to his
secretary Filarete and to his council, at the head of which, as I learnt,
was my old friend Annibale Caro.

And meanwhile, Cavalcanti, using great discreetness, suffered the Duke's
presence, and gave him and his suite most noble entertainment.

His position was perilous and precarious in the extreme, and it needed all
his strength of character to hold in curb the resentment that boiled within
him to see himself thus preyed upon; and that was not the worst.  The worst
was Pier Luigi's ceaseless attentions to Bianca, the attentions of the
satyr for the nymph, a matter in which I think Cavalcanti suffered little
less than did I.

He hoped for the best, content to wait until cause for action should be
forced upon him.  And meanwhile that courtly throng took its ease at
Pagliano.  The garden that hitherto had been Bianca's own sacred domain,
the garden into which I had never yet dared set foot, was overrun now by
the Duke's gay suite--a cloud of poisonous butterflies.  There in the
green, shaded alleys they disported themselves; in the lemon-grove, in the
perfumed rose-garden, by hedges of box and screens of purple clematis they
fluttered.

Bianca sought to keep her chamber in those days, and kept it for as long on
each day as was possible to her.  But the Duke, hobbling on the terrace--
for as a consequence of his journey on horseback he had developed a slight
lameness, being all rotten with disease--would grow irritable at her
absence, and insistent upon her presence, hinting that her retreat was a
discourtesy; so that she was forced to come forth again, and suffer his
ponderous attentions and gross flatteries.

And three days later there came another to Pagliano, bidden thither by the
Duke, and this other was none else than my cousin Cosimo, who now called
himself Lord of Mondolfo, having been invested in that tyranny, as I have
said.

On the morning after his arrival we met upon the terrace.

"My saintly cousin!" was his derisive greeting.  "And yet another change in
you--out of sackcloth into velvet!  The calendar shall know you as St.
Weathercock, I think--or, perhaps, St. Mountebank."

What followed was equally bitter and sardonic on his part, fiercely and
openly hostile on mine.  At my hostility he had smiled cruelly.

"Be content with what is, my strolling saint," he said, in the tone of one
who gives a warning, "unless you would be back in your hermitage, or within
the walls of some cloister, or even worse.  Already have you found it a
troublesome matter to busy yourself with the affairs of the world.  You
were destined for sanctity."  He came closer, and grew very fierce.  "Do
not put it upon me to make a saint of you by sending you to Heaven."

"It might end in your own dispatch to Hell," said I.  "Shall we essay it?"

"Body of God!" he snarled, laughter still lingering on his white face.  "Is
this the mood of your holiness at present?  What a bloodthirsty brave are
you become!  Consider, pray, sir, that if you trouble me I have no need to
do my own office of hangman.  There is sufficient against you to make the
Tribunal of the Ruota very busy; there is--can you have forgotten it?--that
little affair at the house of Messer Fifanti."

I dropped my glance, browbeaten for an instant.  Then I looked at him
again, and smiled

"You are but a poor coward, Messer Cosimo," said I, "to use a shadow as a
screen.  You know that nothing can be proved against me unless Giuliana
speaks, and that she dare not for her own sake.  There are witnesses who
will swear that Gambara went to Fifanti's house that night.  There is not
one to swear that Gambara did not kill Fifanti ere he came forth again; and
it is the popular belief, for his traffic with Giuliana is well-known, as
it is well-known that she fled with him after the murder--which, in itself,
is evidence of a sort.  Your Duke has too great a respect for the feelings
of the populace," I sneered, "to venture to outrage them in such a matter.
Besides," I ended, "it is impossible to incriminate me without
incriminating Giuliana and, Messer Pier Luigi seems, I should say,
unwilling to relinquish the lady to the brutalities of a tribunal."

"You are greatly daring," said he, and he was pale now, for in that last
mention of Giuliana, it seemed that I had touched him where he was still
sensitive.

"Daring?" I rejoined.  "It is more than I can say for you, Ser Cosimo.
Yours is the coward's fault of caution."

I thought to spur him.  If this failed, I was prepared to strike him, for
my temper was beyond control.  That he, standing towards me as he did,
should dare to mock me, was more than I could brook.  But at that moment
there spoke a harsh voice just behind me.

"How, sir?  What words are these?"

There, very magnificent in his suit of ivory velvet, stood the Duke.  He
was leaning heavily upon his cane, and his face was more blotched than
ever, the sunken eyes more sunken.

"Are you seeking to quarrel with the Lord of Mondolfo?" quoth he, and I saw
by his smile that he used my cousin's title as a taunt.

Behind him was Cavalcanti with Bianca leaning upon his arm just as I had
seen her that day when she came with him to Monte Orsaro, save that now
there was a look as of fear in the blue depths of her eyes.  A little on
one side there was a group composed of three of the Duke's gentlemen with
Giuliana and another of the ladies, and Giuliana was watching us with half-
veiled eyes.

"My lord," I answered, very stiff and erect, and giving him back look for
look, something perhaps of the loathing with which he inspired me imprinted
on my face, "my lord, you give yourself idle alarms.  Ser Cosimo is too
cautious to embroil himself."

He limped toward me; leaning heavily upon his stick, and it pleased me that
of a good height though he was, he was forced to look up into my face.

"There is too much bad Anguissola blood in you," he said.  "Be careful lest
out of our solicitude for you, we should find it well to let our leech
attend you."

I laughed, looking into his blotched face, considering his lame leg and all
the evil humours in him.

"By my faith, I think it is your excellency needs the attentions of a
leech," said I, and flung all present into consternation by that answer.

I saw his face turn livid, and I saw the hand shake upon the golden head of
his cane.  He was very sensitive upon the score of his foul infirmities.
His eyes grew baleful as he controlled himself.  Then he smiled, displaying
a ruin of blackened teeth.

"You had best take care," he said.  "It were a pity to cripple such fine
limbs as yours.  But there is a certain matter upon which the Holy Office
might desire to set you some questions.  Best be careful, sir, and avoid
disagreements with my captains."

He turned away.  He had had the last word, and had left me cold with
apprehension, yet warmed by the consciousness that in the brief encounter
it was he who had taken the deeper wound.

He bowed before Bianca.  "Oh, pardon me," he said.  "I did not dream you
stood so near.  Else no such harsh sounds should have offended your fair
ears.  As for Messer d'Anguissola..."  He shrugged as who would say, "Have
pity on such a boor!"

But her answer, crisp and sudden as come words that are spoken on impulse
or inspiration, dashed his confidence.

"Nothing that he said offended me," she told him boldly, almost scornfully.

He flashed me a glance that was full of venom, and I saw Cosimo smile,
whilst Cavalcanti started slightly at such boldness from his meek child.
But the Duke was sufficiently master of himself to bow again.

"Then am I less aggrieved," said he, and changed the subject.  "Shall we to
the bowling lawn?"  And his invitation was direct to Bianca, whilst his
eyes passed over her father.  Without waiting for their answer, his
question, indeed, amounting to a command, he turned sharply to my cousin.
"Your arm, Cosimo," said he, and leaning heavily upon his captain he went
down the broad granite steps, followed by the little knot of courtiers,
and, lastly, by Bianca and her father.

As for me, I turned and went indoors, and there was little of the saint
left in me in that hour.  All was turmoil in my soul, turmoil and hatred
and anger.  Anon to soothe me came the memory of those sweet words that
Bianca had spoken in my defence, and those words emboldened me at last to
seek her but as I had never yet dared in all the time that I had spent at
Pagliano.

I found her that evening, by chance, in the gallery over the courtyard.
She was pacing slowly, having fled thither to avoid that hateful throng of
courtiers.  Seeing me she smiled timidly, and her smile gave me what little
further encouragement I needed.  I approached, and very earnestly rendered
her my thanks for having championed my cause and supported me with the
express sign of her approval.

She lowered her eyes; her bosom quickened slightly, and the colour ebbed
and flowed in her cheeks.

"You should not thank me," said she.  "What I did was done for justice's
sake."

"I have been presumptuous," I answered humbly, "in conceiving that it might
have been for the sake of me."

"But it was that also," she answered quickly, fearing perhaps that she had
pained me.  "It offended me that the Duke should attempt to browbeat you.
I took pride in you to see you bear yourself so well and return thrust for
thrust."

"I think your presence must have heartened me," said I.  "No pain could be
so cruel as to seem base or craven in your eyes."

Again the tell-tale colour showed upon her lovely cheek.  She began to pace
slowly down the gallery, and I beside her.  Presently she spoke again.

"And yet," she said, " I would have you cautious.  Do not wantonly affront
the Duke, for he is very powerful."

"I have little left to lose," said I.

"You have your life," said she.

"A life which I have so much misused that it must ever cry out to me in
reproach."

She gave me a little fluttering, timid glance, and looked away again.  Thus
we came in silence to the gallery's end, where a marble seat was placed,
with gay cushions of painted and gilded leather.  She sank to it with a
little sigh, and I leaned on the balustrade beside her and slightly over
her.  And now I grew strangely bold.

"Set me some penance," I cried, "that shall make me worthy."

Again came that little fluttering, frightened glance.

"A penance?" quoth she.  "I do not understand."

"All my life," I explained, "has been a vain striving after something that
eluded me.  Once I deemed myself devout; and because I had sinned and
rendered myself unworthy, you found me a hermit on Monte Orsaro, seeking by
penance to restore myself to the estate from which I had succumbed.  That
shrine was proved a blasphemy; and so the penance I had done, the signs I
believed I had received, were turned to mockery.  It was not there that I
should save myself.  One night I was told so in a vision."

She gave an audible gasp, and looked at me so fearfully that I fell silent,
staring back at her.

"You knew!" I cried.

Long did her blue, slanting eyes meet my glance without wavering, as never
yet they had met it.  She seemed to hesitate, and at the same time openly
to consider me.

"I know now," she breathed.

"What do you know?"  My voice was tense with excitement.

"What was your vision?" she rejoined.

"Have I not told you?  There appeared to me one who called me back to the
world; who assured me that there I should best serve God; who filled me
with the conviction that she needed me.  She addressed me by name, and
spoke of a place of which I had never heard until that hour, but which
to-day I know."

"And you?  And you?" she asked.  "What answer did you make?"

"I called her by name, although until that hour I did not know it."

She bowed her head.  Emotion set her all a-tremble.

"It is what I have so often wondered," she confessed, scarce above a
whisper.  "And it is true--as true as it is strange!"

"True?" I echoed.  "It was the only true miracle in that place of false
ones, and it was so clear a call of destiny that it decided me to return to
the world which I had abandoned.  And yet I have since wondered why.  Here
there seems to be no place for me any more than there was yonder.  I am
devout again with a worldly devotion now, yet with a devotion that must be
Heaven-inspired, so pure and sweet it is.  It has shut out from me all the
foulness of that past; and yet I am unworthy.  And that is why I cry to you
to set me some penance ere I can make my prayer."

She could not understand me, nor did she.  We were not as ordinary lovers.
We were not as man and maid who, meeting and being drawn each to the other,
fence and trifle in a pretty game of dalliance until the maid opines that
the appearances are safe, and that, her resistance having been of a seemly
length, she may now make the ardently desired surrender with all war's
honours.  Nothing of that was in our wooing, a wooing which seemed to us,
now that we spoke of it, to have been done when we had scarcely met, done
in the vision that I had of her, and the vision that she had of me.

With averted eyes she set me now a question.

"Madonna Giuliana used you with a certain freedom on her arrival, and I
have since heard your name coupled with her own by the Duke's ladies.  But
I have asked no questions of them.  I know how false can be the tongues of
courtly folk.  I ask it now of you.  What is or was this Madonna Giuliana
to you?"

"She was," I answered bitterly, "and God pity me that I must say it to
you--she was to me what Circe was to the followers of Ulysses."

She made a little moan, and I saw her clasp her hands in her lap; and the
sound and sight filled me with sorrow and despair.  She must know.  Better
that the knowledge should stand between us as a barrier which both could
see than that it should remain visible only to the eyes of my own soul, to
daunt me.

"0 Bianca!  Forgive me!" I cried.  "I did not know!  I did not know!  I was
a poor fool reared in seclusion and ripened thus for the first temptation
that should touch me.  That is what on Monte Orsaro I sought to expiate,
that I might be worthy of the shrine I guarded then.  That is what I would
expiate now that I might be worthy of the shrine whose guardian I would
become, the shrine at which I worship now."

I was bending very low above her little brown head, in which the threads of
the gold coif-net gleamed in the fading light.

"If I had but had my vision sooner," I murmured, "how easy it would have
been!  Can you find mercy for me in your gentle heart?  Can you forgive me,
Bianca?

"0 Agostino," she answered very sadly, and the sound of my name from her
lips, coming so naturally and easily, thrilled me like the sound of the
mystic music of Monte Orsaro.  "What shall I answer you?  I cannot now.
Give me leisure to think.  My mind is all benumbed.  You have hurt me so!"

"Me miserable!" I cried.

"I had believed you one who erred through excess of holiness."

"Whereas I am one who attempted holiness through excess of error."

"I had believed you so, so...0 Agostino!"  It was a little wail of pain.

"Set me a penance," I implored her.

"What penance can I set you?  Will any penance restore to me my shattered
faith?"

I groaned miserably and covered my face with my hands.  It seemed that I
was indeed come to the end of all my hopes; that the world was become as
much a mockery to me as had been the hermitage; that the one was to end for
me upon the discovery of a fraud, as had the other ended--with the
difference that in this case the fraud was in myself.

It seemed, indeed, that our first communion must be our last.  Ever since
she had seen me step into that gold-and-purple dining-room at Pagliano, the
incarnation of her vision, as she was the incarnation of mine, Bianca must
have waited confidently for this hour, knowing that it was foreordained to
come.  Bitterness and disillusion were all that it had brought her.

And then, ere more could be said, a thin, flute-like voice hissed down the
vaulted gallery:

"Madonna Bianca!  To hide your beauty from our hungry eyes.  To quench the
light by which we guide our footsteps.  To banish from us the happiness and
joy of your presence!  Unkind, unkind!"

It was the Duke.  In his white velvet suit he looked almost ghostly in the
deepening twilight.  He hobbled towards us, his stick tapping the black-
and-white squares of the marble floor.  He halted before her, and she put
aside her emotion, donned a worldly mask, and rose to meet him.

Then he looked at me, and his brooding eyes seemed to scan my face.

"Why!  It is Ser Agostino, Lord of Nothing," he sneered, and down the
gallery rang the laugh of my cousin Cosimo, and there came, too, a ripple
of other voices.

Whether to save me from friction with those steely gentlemen who aimed at
grinding me to powder, whether from other motives, Bianca set her finger-
tips upon the Duke's white sleeve and moved away with him.

I leaned against the balustrade all numb, watching them depart.  I saw
Cosimo come upon her other side and lean over her as he moved, so slim and
graceful, beside her own slight, graceful figure.  Then I sank to the
cushions of the seat she had vacated, and stayed there with my misery until
the night had closed about the place, and the white marble pillars looked
ghostly and unreal.




CHAPTER V

THE WARNING


I prayed that evening more fervently than I had prayed since quitting Monte
Orsaro.  It was as if all the influences of my youth, which lately had been
shaken off in the stir of intrigue and of rides that had seemed the prelude
to battle, were closing round me again.

Even as a woman had lured me once from the ways to which I seemed
predestined, only to drive me back once more the more frenziedly, so now it
almost seemed as if again a woman should have lured me to the world but to
drive me from it again and more resolutely than ever.  For I was anew upon
the edge of a resolve to have done with all human interests and to seek the
peace and seclusion of the cloister.

And then I bethought me of Gervasio.  I would go to him for guidance, as I
had done aforetime.  I would ride on the morrow to seek him out in the
convent near Piacenza to which he had withdrawn.

I was disturbed at last by the coming of a page to my chamber with the
announcement that my lord was already at supper.

I had thoughts of excusing myself, but in the end I went.

The repast was spread, as usual, in the banqueting-hall of the castle; and
about the splendid table was Pier Luigi's company, amounting to nigh upon a
score in all.  The Duke himself sat on Monna Bianca's right, whilst on her
left was Cosimo.

Heeding little whether I was observed or not, I sank to a vacant place,
midway down the board, between one of the Duke's pretty young gentlemen and
one of the ladies of that curious train--a bold-eyed Roman woman, whose
name, I remember, was Valeria Cesarini, but who matters nothing in these
pages.  Almost facing me sat Giuliana, but I was hardly conscious of her,
or conscious, indeed, of any save Monna Bianca.

Once or twice Bianca's glance met mine, but it fell away again upon the
instant.  She was very pale, and there were wistful lines about her lips;
yet her mood was singular.  Her eyes had an unnatural sparkle, and ever and
anon she would smile at what was said to her in half-whispers, now by the
Duke, now by Cosimo, whilst once or twice she laughed outright.  Gone was
the usual chill reserve with which she hedged herself about to distance the
hateful advances of Pier Luigi.  There were moments now when she seemed
almost flattered by his vile ogling and adulatory speeches, as if she had
been one of those brazen ladies of his Court.

It wounded me sorely.  I could not understand it, lacking the wit to see
that this queer mood sprang from the blow I had dealt her, and was the
outward manifestation of her own pain at the shattering of the illusions
she had harboured concerning myself.

And so I sat there moodily, gnawing my lip and scowling darkly upon Pier
Luigi and upon my cousin, who was as assiduous in his attentions as his
master, and who seemed to be receiving an even greater proportion of her
favours.  One little thing there was to hearten me.  Looking at the Lord of
Pagliano, who sat at the table's head, I observed that his glance was dark
as it kept watch upon his daughter--that chaste white lily that seemed of a
sudden to have assumed such wanton airs.

It was a matter that stirred me to battle, and forgotten again were my
resolves to seek Gervasio, forgotten all notion of abandoning the world for
the second time.  Here was work to be done.  Bianca was to be guarded.
Perhaps it was in this that she would come to have need of me.

Once Cosimo caught my gloomy looks, and he leaned over to speak to the
Duke, who glanced my way with languid, sneering eyes.  He had a score to
settle with me for the discomfiture he had that morning suffered at my
hands thanks to Bianca's collaboration.  He was a clumsy fool, when all is
said, and confident now of her support--from the sudden and extreme
friendliness of her mood--he ventured to let loose a shaft at me in a tone
that all the table might overhear.

"That cousin of yours wears a very conventual hang-dog look," said he to
Cosimo.  And then to the lady on my right--"Forgive, Valeria," he begged,
"the scurvy chance that should have sat a shaveling next to you."  Lastly
he turned to me to complete this gross work of offensiveness.

"When do you look, sir, to enter the life monastic for which Heaven has so
clearly designed you?"

There were some sycophants who tittered at his stupid pleasantry; then the
table fell silent to hear what answer I should make, and a frown sat like a
thundercloud upon the brow of Cavalcanti.

I toyed with my goblet, momentarily tempted to fling its contents in his
pustuled face, and risk the consequences.  But I bethought me of something
else that would make a deadlier missile.

"Alas!" I sighed.  "I have abandoned the notion--constrained to it."

He took my bait.  "Constrained?" quoth he.  "Now what fool did so constrain
you?"

"No fool, but circumstance," I answered.  "It has occurred to me," I
explained, and I boldly held his glance with my own, "that as a simple monk
my life would be fraught with perils, seeing that in these times even a
bishop is not safe."

Saving Bianca (who in her sweet innocence did not so much as dream of the
existence of such vileness as that to which I was referring and by which a
saintly man had met his death) I do not imagine that there was a single
person present who did not understand to what foul crime I alluded.

The silence that followed my words was as oppressive as the silence which
in Nature preludes thunder.

A vivid flame of scarlet had overspread the Duke's countenance.  It
receded, leaving his cheeks a greenish white, even to the mottling pimples.
Abashed, his smouldering eyes fell away before my bold, defiant glance.
The fingers of his trembling hand tightened about the slender stem of his
Venetian goblet, so that it snapped, and there was a gush of crimson wine
upon the snowy napery.  His lips were drawn back--like a dog's in the act
of snarling--and showed the black stumps of his broken teeth.  But he made
no sound, uttered no word.  It was Cosimo who spoke, half rising as he did
so.

"This insolence, my lord Duke, must be punished; this insult wiped out.
Suffer me..."

But Pier Luigi reached forward across Bianca, set a hand upon my cousin's
sleeve, and pressed him back into his seat silencing him.

"Let be," he said.  And looked up the board at Cavalcanti.  "It is for my
Lord of Pagliano to say if a guest shall be thus affronted at his board."

Cavalcanti's face was set and rigid.  "You place a heavy burden on my
shoulders," said he, "when your excellency, my guest, appeals to me against
another guest of mine--against one who is all but friendless and the son of
my own best friend."

"And my worst enemy," cried Pier Luigi hotly.

"That is your excellency's own concern, not mine," said Cavalcanti coldly.
"But since you appeal to me I will say that Messer d'Anguissola's words
were ill-judged in such a season.  Yet in justice I must add that it is not
the way of youth to weigh its words too carefully; and you gave him
provocation.  When a man--be he never so high--permits himself to taunt
another, he would do well to see that he is not himself vulnerable to
taunts."

Farnese rose with a horrible oath, and every one of his gentlemen with him.

"My lord," he said, "this is to take sides against me; to endorse the
affront."

"Then you mistake my intention," rejoined Cavalcanti, with an icy dignity.
"You appeal to me for judgment.  And between guests I must hold the scales
dead-level, with no thought for the rank of either.  Of your chivalry, my
lord Duke, you must perceive that I could not do else."

It was the simplest way in which he could have told Farnese that he cared
nothing for the rank of either, and of reminding his excellency that
Pagliano, being an Imperial fief, was not a place where the Duke of Parma
might ruffle it unchecked.

Messer Pier Luigi hesitated, entirely out of countenance.  Then his eyes
turned to Bianca, and his expression softened.

"What says Madonna Bianca?" he inquired, his manner reassuming some measure
of its courtliness.  "Is her judgment as unmercifully level?"

She looked up, startled, and laughed a little excitedly, touched by the
tenseness of a situation which she did not understand.

"What say I?" quoth she.  "Why, that here is a deal of pother about some
foolish words."

"And there," cried Pier Luigi, "spoke, I think, not only beauty but
wisdom--Minerva's utterances from the lips of Diana!"

In glad relief the company echoed his forced laugh, and all sat down again,
the incident at an end, and my contempt of the Duke increased to see him
permit such a matter to be so lightly ended.

But that night, when I had retired to my chamber, I was visited by
Cavalcanti.  He was very grave.

"Agostino," he said, "let me implore you to be circumspect, to keep a curb
upon your bitter tongue.  Be patient, boy, as I am--and I have more to
endure."

"I marvel, sir, that you endure it," answered I, for my mood was petulant.

"You will marvel less when you are come to my years--if, indeed, you come
to them.  For if you pursue this course, and strike back when such men as
Pier Luigi tap you, you will not be likely to see old age.  Body of Satan!
I would that Galeotto were here!  If aught should happen to you..."  He
checked, and set a hand upon my shoulder.

"For your father's sake I love you, Agostino, and I speak as one who loves
you."

"I know, I know!" I cried, seizing his hand in a sudden penitence.  "I am
an ingrate and a fool.  And you upheld me nobly at table.  Sir, I swear
that I will not submit you to so much concern again."

He patted my shoulder in a very friendly fashion, and his kindly eyes
smiled upon me.  "If you but promise that--for your own sake, Agostino--we
need say no more.  God send this papal by-blow takes his departure soon,
for he is as unwelcome here as he is unbidden."

"The foul toad!" said I.  "To see him daily, hourly bending over Monna
Bianca, whispering and ogling--ugh!"

"It offends you, eh?  And for that I love you!  There.  Be circumspect and
patient, and all will be well.  Put your faith in Galeotto, and endure
insults which you may depend upon him to avenge when the hour strikes."

Upon that he left me, and he left me with a certain comfort.  And in the
days that followed, I acted upon his injunction, though, truth to tell,
there was little provocation to do otherwise.  The Duke ignored me, and all
the gentlemen of his following did the like, including Cosimo.  And
meanwhile they revelled at Pagliano and made free with the hospitality to
which they had not been bidden.

Thus sped another week in which I had not the courage again to approach
Bianca after what had passed between us at our single interview.  Nor for
that matter was I afforded the opportunity.  The Duke and Cosimo were ever
at her side, and yet it almost seemed as if the Duke had given place to his
captain, for Cosimo's was the greater assiduity now.

The days were spent at bowls or pallone within the castle, or upon hawking-
parties or hunting-parties when presently the Duke's health was
sufficiently improved to enable him to sit his horse; and at night there
was feasting which Cavalcanti must provide, and on some evenings we danced,
though that was a diversion in which I took no part, having neither the
will nor the art.

One night as I sat in the gallery above the great hall, watching them
footing it upon the mosaic floor below, Giuliana's deep, slow voice behind
me stirred me out of my musings.  She had espied me up there and had come
to join me, although hitherto I had most sedulously avoided her, neither
addressing her nor giving her the opportunity to address me since the first
brazen speech on her arrival.

"That white-faced lily, Madonna Bianca de' Cavalcanti, seems to have caught
the Duke in her net of innocence," said she.

I started round as if I had been stung, and at sight of my empurpling face
she slowly smiled, the same hateful smile that I had seen upon her face
that day in the garden when Gambara had bargained for her with Fifanti.

"You are greatly daring," said I.

"To take in vain the name of her white innocence?" she answered, smiling
superciliously.  And then she grew more serious.  "Look, Agostino, we were
friends once.  I would be your friend now."

"It is a friendship, Madonna, best not given expression."

"Ha!  We are very scrupulous--are we not?--since we have abandoned the ways
of holiness, and returned to this world of wickedness, and raised our eyes
to the pale purity of the daughter of Cavalcanti!"  She spoke sneeringly.

"What is that to you?" I asked.

"Nothing," she answered frankly.  "But that another may have raised his
eyes to her is something.  I am honest with you.  If this child is aught to
you, and you would not lose her, you would do well to guard her more
closely than you are wont.  A word in season.  That is all my message."

"Stay!" I begged her now, for already she was gliding away through the
shadows of the gallery.

She laughed over her shoulder at me--the very incarnation of effrontery and
insolence.

"Have I moved you into sensibility?" quoth she.  "Will you condescend to
questions with one whom you despise?--as, indeed," she added with a
stinging scorn, you have every right to do."

"Tell me more precisely what you mean," I begged her, for her words had
moved me fearfully.

"Gesu!" she exclaimed.  "Can I be more precise?  Must I add counsels?  Why,
then, I counsel that a change of air might benefit Madonna Bianca's health,
and that if my Lord of Pagliano is wise, he will send her into retreat in
some convent until the Duke's visit here is at an end.  And I can promise
you that in that case it will be the sooner ended.  Now, I think that even
a saint should understand me."

With that last gibe she moved resolutely on and left me.

Of the gibe I took little heed.  What imported was her warning.  And I did
not doubt that she had good cause to warn me.  I remembered with a shudder
her old-time habit of listening at doors.  It was very probable that in
like manner had she now gathered information that entitled her to give me
such advice.

It was incredible.  And yet I knew that it was true, and I cursed my
blindness and Cavalcanti's.  What precisely Farnese's designs might be I
could not conceive.  It was hard to think that he should dare so much as
Giuliana more than hinted.  It may be that, after all, there was no more
than just the danger of it, and that her own base interests urged her to do
what she could to avert it.

In any case, her advice was sound; and perhaps, as she said, the removal of
Bianca quietly might be the means of helping Pier Luigi's unwelcome visit
to an end.

Indeed, it was so.  It was Bianca who held him at Pagliano, as the blindest
idiot should have perceived.

That very night I would seek out Cavalcanti ere I retired to sleep.




CHAPTER VI

THE TALONS OF THE HOLY OFFICE


Acting upon my resolve, I went to wait for Cavalcanti in the little
anteroom that communicated with his bedroom.  My patience was tried, for he
was singularly late in coming; fully an hour passed after all the sounds
had died down in the castle and it was known that all had retired, and
still there was no sign of him.

I asked one of the pages who lounged there waiting for their master, did he
think my lord would be in the library, and the boy was conjecturing upon
this unusual tardiness of Cavalcanti's in seeking his bed, when the door
opened, and at last he appeared.

When he found me awaiting him, a certain eagerness seemed to light his
face; a second's glance showed me that he was in the grip of some unusual
agitation.  He was pale, with a dull flush under the eyes, and the hand
with which he waved away the pages shook, as did his voice when he bade
them depart, saying that he desired to be alone with me awhile.

When the two slim lads had gone, he let himself fall wearily into a tall,
carved chair that was placed near an ebony table with silver feet in the
middle of the room.

But instead of unburdening himself as I fully expected, he looked at me,
and--

"What is it, Agostino?" he inquired.

"I have thought," I answered after a moment's hesitation, "of a means by
which this unwelcome visit of Farnese's might be brought to an end."

And with that I told him as delicately as was possible that I believed
Madonna Bianca to be the lodestone that held him there, and that were she
removed from his detestable attentions, Pagliano would cease to amuse him
and he would go his ways.

There was no outburst such as I had almost looked for at the mere
suggestion contained in my faltering words.  He looked at me gravely and
sadly out of that stern face of his.

"I would you had given me this advice two weeks ago," he said.  "But who
was to have guessed that this pope's bastard would have so prolonged his
visit?  For the rest, however, you are mistaken, Agostino.  It is not he
who has dared to raise his eyes as you suppose to Bianca.  Were such the
case, I should have killed him with my hands were he twenty times the Duke
of Parma.  No, no.  My Bianca is being honourably wooed by your cousin
Cosimo."

I looked at him, amazed.  It could not be.  I remembered Giuliana's words.
Giuliana did not love me, and were it as he supposed she would have seen no
cause to intervene.  Rather might she have taken a malicious pleasure in
witnessing my own discomfiture, in seeing the sweet maid to whom I had
raised my eyes, snatched away from me by my cousin who already usurped so
much that was my own.

"0, you must be mistaken," I cried.

"Mistaken?" he echoed.  He shook his head, smiling bitterly.  "There is no
possibility of mistake.  I am just come from an interview with the Duke and
his fine captain.  Together they sought me out to ask my daughter's hand
for Cosimo d'Anguissola."

"And you?" I cried, for this thrust aside my every doubt.

"And I declined the honour," he answered sternly, rising in his agitation.
"I declined it in such terms as to leave them no doubt upon the irrevocable
quality of my determination; and then this pestilential Duke had the
effrontery to employ smiling menaces, to remind me that he had the power to
compel folk to bend the knee to his will, to remind me that behind him he
had the might of the Pontiff and even of the Holy Office.  And when I
defied him with the answer that I was a feudatory of the Emperor, he
suggested that the Emperor himself must bow before the Court of the
Inquisition."

"My God!" I cried in liveliest fear.

"An idle threat!" he answered contemptuously, and set himself to stride the
room, his hands clasped behind his broad back.

"What have I to do with the Holy Office?" he snorted.  "But they had worse
indignities for me, Agostino.  They mocked me with a reminder that Giovanni
d'Anguissola had been my firmest friend.  They told me they knew it to have
been my intention that my daughter should become the Lady of Mondolfo, and
to cement the friendship by making one State of Pagliano, Mondolfo and
Carmina.  And they added that by wedding her to Cosimo d'Anguissola was the
way to execute that plan, for Cosimo, Lord of Mondolfo already, should
receive Carmina as a wedding-gift from the Duke."

"Was such indeed your intention?" I asked scarce above a whisper, overawed
as men are when they perceive precisely what their folly and wickedness
have cost them.

He halted before me, and set one hand of his upon my shoulder, looking up
into my face.  "It has been my fondest dream, Agostino," he said.

I groaned.  "It is a dream that never can be realized now," said I
miserably.

"Never, indeed, if Cosimo d'Anguissola continues to be Lord of Mondolfo,"
he answered, his keen, friendly eyes considering me.

I reddened and paled under his glance.

"Nor otherwise," said I.  "For Monna Bianca holds me in the contempt which
I deserve.  Better a thousand times that I should have remained out of this
world to which you caused me to return--unless, indeed, my present torment
is the expiation that is required of me unless, indeed, I was but brought
back that I might pay with suffering for all the evil that I have wrought."

He smiled a little.  "Is it so with you?  Why, then, you afflict yourself
too soon, boy.  You are over-hasty to judge.  I am her father, and my
little Bianca is a book in which I have studied deeply.  I read her better
than do you, Agostino.  But we will talk of this again."

He turned away to resume his pacing in the very moment in which he had
fired me with such exalted hopes.  "Meanwhile, there is this Farnese dog
with his parcel of minions and harlots making a sty of my house.  He
threatens to remain until I come to what he terms a reasonable mind--until
I consent to do his will and allow my daughter to marry his henchman; and
he parted from me enjoining me to give the matter thought, and impudently
assuring me that in Cosimo d'Anguissola--in that guelphic jackal--I had a
husband worthy of Bianca de' Cavalcanti."

He spoke it between his teeth, his eyes kindling angrily again.

"The remedy, my lord, is to send Bianca hence," I said.  "Let her seek
shelter in a convent until Messer Pier Luigi shall have taken his
departure.  And if she is no longer here, Cosimo will have little
inclination to linger."

He flung back his head, and there was defiance in every line of his clear-
cut face.  "Never!" he snapped.  "The thing could have been done two weeks
ago, when they first came.  It would have seemed that the step was
determined before his coming, and that in my independence I would not alter
my plans.  But to do it now were to show fear of him; and that is not my
way.

"Go, Agostino.  Let me have the night to think.  I know not how to act.
But we will talk again to-morrow."

It was best so; best leave it to the night to bring counsel, for we were
face to face with grave issues which might need determining sword in hand.

That I slept little will be readily conceived.  I plagued my mind with this
matter of Cosimo's suit, thinking that I saw the ultimate intent--to bring
Pagliano under the ducal sway by rendering master of it one who was devoted
to Farnese.

And then, too, I would think of that other thing that Cavalcanti had said:
that I had been hasty in my judgment of his daughter's mind.  My hopes rose
and tortured me with the suspense they held.  Then came to me the awful
thought that here there might be a measure of retribution, and that it
might be intended as my punishment that Cosimo, whom I had unconsciously
bested in my sinful passion, should best me now in this pure and holy love.

I was astir betimes, and out in the gardens before any, hoping, I think,
that Bianca, too, might seek the early morning peace of that place, and
that so we might have speech.

Instead, it was Giuliana who came to me.  I had been pacing the terrace
some ten minutes, inhaling the matutinal fragrance, drawing my hands
through the cool dew that glistened upon the boxwood hedges, when I saw her
issue from the loggia that opened to the gardens.

Upon her coming I turned to go within, and I would have passed her without
a word, but that she put forth a hand to detain me.

"I was seeking you, Agostino," she said in greeting.

"Having found me, Madonna, you will give me leave to go," said I.

But she was resolutely barring my way.  A slow smile parted her scarlet
lips and broke over that ivory countenance that once I had deemed so lovely
and now I loathed.

"I mind me another occasion in a garden betimes one morning when you were
in no such haste to shun me."

I crimsoned under her insolent regard.  "Have you the courage to remember?"
I exclaimed.

"Half the art of life is to harbour happy memories," said she.

"Happy?" quoth I.

"Do you deny that we were happy on that morning?--it would be just about
this time of year, two years ago.  And what a change in you since then!
Heigho!  And yet men say that woman is inconstant!"

"I did not know you then," I answered harshly.

"And do you know me now?  Has womanhood no mysteries for you since you
gathered wisdom in the wilderness?"

I looked at her with detestation in my eyes.  The effrontery, the ease and
insolence of her bearing, all confirmed my conviction of her utter
shamelessness and heartlessness.

"The day after...after your husband died," I said, "I saw you in a dell
near Castel Guelfo with my Lord Gambara.  In that hour I knew you."

She bit her lip, then smiled again.  "What would you?" answered she.
"Through your folly and crime I was become an outcast.  I went in danger of
my life.  You had basely deserted me.  My Lord Gambara, more generous,
offered me shelter and protection.  I was not born for martyrdom and
dungeons," she added, and sighed with smiling plaintiveness.  "Are you, of
all men, the one to blame me?"

"I have not the right, I know," I answered.  "Nor do I blame you more than
I blame myself.  But since I blame myself most bitterly--since I despise
and hate myself for what is past, you may judge what my feelings are for
you.  And judging them, I think it were well you gave me leave to go."

"I came to speak of other than ourselves, Ser Agostino," she answered, all
unmoved still by my scorn, or leastways showing nothing of what emotions
might be hers.  "It is of that simpering daughter of my Lord of Pagliano."

"There is nothing I could less desire to hear you talk upon," said I.

"It is so very like a man to scorn the thing I could tell him after he has
already heard it from me."

"The thing you told me was false," said I.  "It was begotten of fear to see
your own base interests thwarted.  It is proven so by the circumstance that
the Duke has sought the hand of Madonna Bianca for Cosimo d'Anguissola."

"For Cosimo?" she cried, and I never saw her so serious and thoughtful.
"For Cosimo?  You are sure of this?"  The urgency of her tone was such that
it held me there and compelled my answer.

"I have it from my lord himself."

She knit her brows, her eyes upon the ground; then slowly she raised them,
and looked at me again, the same unusual seriousness and alertness in every
line of her face.

"Why, by what dark ways does he burrow to his ends?" she mused.

And then her eyes grew lively, her expression cunning and vengeful.  "I see
it!" she exclaimed.  "0, it is as clear as crystal.  This is the Roman
manner of using complaisant husbands."

"Madonna!" I rebuked her angrily--angry to think that anyone should
conceive that Bianca could be so abused.

"Gesu!" she returned with a shrug.  "The thing is plain enough if you will
but look at it.  Here his excellency dares nothing, lest he should provoke
the resentment of that uncompromising Lord of Pagliano.  But once she is
safely away--as Cosimo's wife..."

"Stop!" I cried, putting out a hand as if I would cover her mouth.  Then
collecting myself.  "Do you suggest that Cosimo could lend himself to so
infamous a compact?"

"Lend himself?  That pander?  You do not know your cousin.  If you have any
interest in this Madonna Bianca you will get her hence without delay, and
see that Pier Luigi has no knowledge of the convent to which she is
consigned.  He enjoys the privileges of a papal offspring, and there is no
sanctuary he will respect.  So let the thing be done speedily and in
secret."

I looked at her between doubt and horror.

"Why should you mistrust me?" she asked, answering my look.  "I have been
frank with you.  It is not you nor that white-faced ninny I would serve.
You may both go hang for me, though I loved you once, Agostino."  And the
sudden tenderness of tone and smile were infinitely mocking.  "No, no,
beloved, if I meddle in this at all, it is because my own interests are in
peril."

I shuddered at the cold, matter-of-fact tone in which she alluded to such
interests as those which she could have in Pier Luigi.

"Ay, shrink and cringe, sir saint," she sneered.  "Having cast me off and
taken up holiness, you have the right, of course."  And with that she moved
past me, and down the terrace-steps without ever turning her head to look
at me again.  And that was the last I ever saw of her, as you shall find,
though little was it to have been supposed so then.

I stood hesitating, half minded to go after her and question her more
closely as to what she knew and what she did no more than surmise.  But
then I reflected that it mattered little.  What really mattered was that
her good advice should be acted upon without delay.

I went towards the house and in the loggia came face to face with Cosimo.

"Still pursuing the old love," he greeted me, smiling and jerking his head
in the direction of Giuliana.  "We ever return to it in the end, they say;
yet you had best have a care.  It is not well to cross my Lord Pier Luigi
in such matters; he can be a very jealous tyrant."

I wondered was there some double meaning in the words.  I made shift to
pass on, leaving his taunt unanswered, when suddenly he stepped up to me
and tapped my shoulder.

"One other thing, sweet cousin.  You little deserve a warning at my hands.
Yet you shall have it.  Make haste to shake the dust of Pagliano from your
feet.  An evil is hanging over you here."

I looked into his wickedly handsome face, and smiled coldly.

"It is a warning which in my turn I will give to you, you jackal," said I,
and watched the expression of his countenance grow set and frozen, the
colour recede from it.

"What do you mean?" he growled, touched to suspicion of my knowledge by the
term I had employed.  "What things has that trull dared to..."

I cut in.  "I mean, sir, to warn you.  "Do not drive me to do more."

We were quite alone.  Behind us stretched the long, empty room, before us
the empty gardens.  He was without weapons as was I.  But my manner was so
fierce that he recoiled before me, in positive fear of my hands, I think.

I swung on my heel and pursued my way.

I went above to seek Cavalcanti, and found him newly risen.  Wrapped in a
gown of miniver, he received me with the news that having given the matter
thought, he had determined to sacrifice his pride and remove Bianca not
later than the morrow, as soon as he could arrange it.  And to arrange it
he would ride forth at once.

I offered to go with him, and that offer he accepted, whereafter I lounged
in his antechamber waiting until he should be dressed, and considering
whether to impart to him the further information I had that morning
gleaned.  In the end I decided not to do so, unable to bring myself to tell
him that so much turpitude might possibly be plotting against Bianca.  It
was a statement that soiled her, so it seemed to me.  Indeed I could
scarcely bear to think of it.

Presently he came forth full-dressed, booted, and armed, and we went along
the corridor and out upon the gallery.  As side by side we were descending
the steps, we caught sight of a singular group in the courtyard.

Six mounted men in black were drawn up there, and a little in the
foreground a seventh, in a corselet of blackened steel and with a steel cap
upon his head, stood by his horse in conversation with Farnese.  In
attendance upon the Duke were Cosimo and some three of his gentlemen.

We halted upon the steps, and I felt Cavalcanti's hand suddenly tighten
upon my arm.

"What is it?" I asked innocently, entirely unalarmed.  "These are familiars
of the Holy Office," he answered me, his tone very grave.  In that moment
the Duke, turning, espied us.  He came towards the staircase to meet us,
and his face, too, was very solemn.

We went down, I filled by a strange uneasiness, which I am sure was
entirely shared by Cavalcanti.

"Evil tidings, my Lord of Pagliano," said Farnese.  "The Holy Office has
sent to arrest the person of Agostino d'Anguissola, for whom it has been
seeking for over a year."

"For me?" I cried, stepping forward ahead of Cavalcanti.  "What has the
Holy Office to do with me?"

The leading familiar advanced.  "If you are Agostino d'Anguissola, there is
a charge of sacrilege against you, for which you are required to answer
before the courts of the Holy Office in Rome."

"Sacrilege?" I echoed, entirely bewildered--for my first thought had been
that here might be something concerning the death of Fifanti, and that the
dread tribunal of the Inquisition dealing with the matter secretly, there
would be no disclosures to be feared by those who had evoked its power.

The thought was, after all, a foolish one; for the death of Fifanti was a
matter that concerned the Ruota and the open courts, and those, as I well
knew, did not dare to move against me, on Messer Gambara's account.

"Of what sacrilege can I be guilty?" I asked.

"The tribunal will inform you," replied the familiar--a tall, sallow,
elderly man.

"The tribunal will need, then, to await some other opportunity," said
Cavalcanti suddenly.  "Messer d'Anguissola is my guest; and my guests are
not so rudely plucked forth from Pagliano."

The Duke drew away, and leaned upon the arm of Cosimo, watching.  Behind me
in the gallery I heard a rustle of feminine gowns; but I did not turn to
look.  My eyes were upon the stern sable figure of the familiar.

"You will not be so ill-advised, my lord," he was saying, "as to compel us
to use force."

"You will not, I trust, be so ill-advised as to attempt it," laughed
Cavalcanti, tossing his great head.  "I have five score men-at-arms within
these walls, Messer Black­clothes."

The familiar bowed.  "That being so, the force for to-day is yours, as you
say.  But I would solemnly warn you not to employ it contumaciously against
the officers of the Holy Office, nor to hinder them in the duty which they
are here to perform, lest you render yourself the object of their just
resentment."

Cavalcanti took a step forward, his face purple with anger that this
tipstaff ruffian should take such a tone with him.  But in that instant I
seized his arm.

"It is a trap!" I muttered in his ear.  "Beware!"

I was no more than in time.  I had surprised upon Farnese's mottled face a
sly smile--the smile of the cat which sees the mouse come venturing from
its lair.  And I saw the smile perish--to confirm my suspicions--when at my
whispered words Cavalcanti checked in his rashness.

Still holding him by the arm, I turned to the familiar.

"I shall surrender to you in a moment, sir," said I.  "Meanwhile, and you,
gentlemen--give us leave apart."  And I drew the bewildered Cavalcanti
aside and down the courtyard under the colonnade of the gallery.

"My lord, be wise for Bianca's sake," I implored him.  "I am assured that
here is nothing but a trap baited for you.  Do not gorge their bait as your
valour urges you.  Defeat them, my lord, by circumspection.  Do you not see
that if you resist the Holy Office, they can issue a ban against you, and
that against such a ban not even the Emperor can defend you?  Indeed, if
they told him that his feudatory, the Lord of Pagliano, had been guilty of
contumaciously thwarting the ends of the Holy Inquisition, that bigot
Charles V would be the first to deliver you over to the ghastly practices
of that tribunal.  It should not need, my lord, that I should tell you
this."

"My God!" he groaned in utter misery.  "But you, Agostino?"

"There is nothing against me," I answered impatiently.  "What sacrilege
have I ever committed?  The thing is a trumped-up business, conceived with
a foul purpose by Messer Pier Luigi there.  Courage, then, and self-
restraint; and thus we shall foil their aims.  Come, my lord, I will ride
to Rome with them.  And do not doubt that I shall return very soon."

He looked at me with eyes that were full of trouble, indecision in every
line of a face that was wont to look so resolute.  He knew himself between
the sword and the wall.

"I would that Galeotto were here!" cried that man usually so self-reliant.
"What will he say to me when he comes?  You were a sacred charge, boy."

"Say to him that I will be returning shortly--which must be true.  Come,
then.  You may serve me this way.  The other way you will but have to
endure ultimate arrest, and so leave Bianca at their mercy, which is
precisely what they seek."

He braced himself at the thought of Bianca.  We turned, and in silence we
paced back, quite leisurely as if entirely at our ease, for all that
Cavalcanti's face had grown very haggard.

"I yield me, sir," I said to the familiar.

"A wise decision," sneered the Duke.

"I trust you'll find it so, my lord," I answered, sneering too.

They led forward a horse for me, and when I had embraced Cavalcanti, I
mounted and my funereal escort closed about me.  We rode across the
courtyard under the startled eyes of the folk of Pagliano, for the
familiars of the Holy Office were dread and fearful objects even to the
stoutest-hearted man.  As we neared the gateway a shrill cry rang out on
the morning air:

"Agostino!"

Fear and tenderness and pain were all blent in that cry.

I swung round in the saddle to behold the white form of Bianca, standing in
the gallery with parted lips and startled eyes that were gazing after me,
her arms outheld.  And then, even as I looked, she crumpled and sank with a
little moan into the arms of the ladies who were with her.

I looked at Pier Luigi and from the depths of my heart I cursed him, and I
prayed that the day might not be far distant when he should be made to pay
for all the sins of his recreant life.

And then, as we rode out into the open country, my thoughts were turned to
tenderer matters, and it came to me that when all was done, that cry of
Bianca's made it worth while to have been seized by the talons of the Holy
Office.




CHAPTER VII

THE PAPAL BULL


And now, that you may understand to the full the thing that happened, it is
necessary that I should relate it here in its proper sequence, although
that must entail my own withdrawal for a time from pages upon which too
long I have intruded my own doings and thoughts and feelings.

I set it down as it was told to me later by those who bore their share in
it, and particularly by Falcone, who, as you shall learn, came to be a
witness of all, and retailed to me the affair with the greatest detail of
what this one said and how that one looked.

I reached Rome on the fourth day after my setting out with my grim escort,
and on that same day, at much the same hour as that in which the door of my
dungeon in Sant' Angelo closed upon me, Galeotto rode into the courtyard of
Pagliano on his return from his treasonable journey.

He was attended only by Falcone, and it so chanced that his arrival was
witnessed by Farnese, who with various members of his suite was lounging in
the gallery at the time.

Surprise was mutual at the encounter; for Galeotto had known nothing of the
Duke's sojourn at Pagliano, believing him to be still at Parma, whilst the
Duke as little suspected that of the five score men-at-arms garrisoned in
Pagliano, three score lances were of Galeotto's free company.

But at sight of this condottiero, whose true aims he was far from
suspecting, and whose services he was eager to enlist, the Duke heaved
himself up from his seat and went down the staircase shouting greetings to
the soldier, and playfully calling him Galeotto in its double sense, and
craving to know where he had been hiding himself this while.

The condottiero swung down from his saddle unaided--a thing which he could
do even when full-armed--and stood before Farnese, a grim, dust-stained
figure, with a curious smile twisting his scarred face.

"Why," said he, in answer, "I have been upon business that concerns your
magnificence somewhat closely."

And with Falcone at his heels he advanced, the horses relinquished to the
grooms who had hastened forward.

"Upon business that concerns me?" quoth the Duke, intrigued.

"Why, yes," said Galeotto, who stood now face to face with Farnese at the
foot of the steps up which the Duke's attendants were straggling.  "I have
been recruiting forces, and since one of these days your magnificence is to
give me occupation, you will see that the matter concerns you."

Above leaned Cavalcanti, his face grey and haggard, without the heart to
relish the wicked humour of Galeotto that could make jests for his own
entertainment.  True there was also Falcone to overhear, appreciate, and
grin under cover of his great brown hand.

"Does this mean that you are come to your senses on the score of a stipend,
Ser Galeotto?" quoth the Duke.

"I am not a trader out of the Giudecca to haggle over my wares," replied
the burly condottiero.  "But I nothing doubt that your magnificence and I
will come to an understanding at the last."

"Five thousand ducats yearly is my offer," said Farnese, "provided that you
bring three hundred lances."

"Ah, well!" said Galeotto softly, "you may come to regret one of these
days, highness, that you did not think well to pay me the price I ask."

"Regret?" quoth the Duke, with a frown of displeasure at so much frankness.

"When you see me engaged in the service of some other," Galeotto explained.
"You need a condottiero, my lord; and you may come to need one even more
than you do now."

"I have the Lord of Mondolfo," said the Duke.

Galeotto stared at him with round eyes.  "The Lord of Mondolfo?" quoth he,
intentionally uncomprehending.

"You have not heard?  Why, here he stands."  And he waved a jewelled hand
towards Cosimo, a handsome figure in green and blue, standing nearest to
Farnese.

Galeotto looked at this Anguissola, and his brow grew very black.

"So," he said slowly, "you are the Lord of Mondolfo, eh?  I think you are
very brave."

"I trust my valour will not be lacking when the proof of it is needed,"
answered Cosimo haughtily, feeling the other's unfriendly mood and
responding to it.

"It cannot," said Galeotto, "since you have the courage to assume that
title, for the lordship of Mondolfo is an unlucky one to bear, Ser Cosimo.
Giovanni d'Anguissola was unhappy in all things, and his was a truly
miserable end.  His father before him was poisoned by his best friend, and
as for the last who legitimately bore that title--why, none can say that
the poor lad was fortunate."

"The last who legitimately bore that title?" cried Cosimo, very ruffled.
"I think, sir, it is your aim to affront me."

"And what is more," continued the condottiero, as if Cosimo had not spoken,
"not only are the lords of Mondolfo unlucky in themselves, but they are a
source of ill luck to those they serve.  Giovanni's father had but taken
service with Cesare Borgia when the latter's ruin came at the hands of Pope
Julius II.  What Giovanni's own friendship cost his friends none knows
better than your highness.  So that, when all is said, I think you had
better look about you for another condottiero, magnificent."

The magnificent stood gnawing his beard and brooding darkly, for he was a
grossly superstitious fellow who studied omens and dabbled in horoscopes,
divinations, and the like.  And he was struck by the thing that Galeotto
said.  He looked at Cosimo darkly.  But Cosimo laughed.

"Who believes such old wives' tales?  Not I, for one."

"The more fool you!" snapped the Duke.

"Indeed, indeed," Galeotto applauded.  "A disbelief in omens can but spring
from an ignorance of such matters.  You should study them, Messer Cosimo.
I have done so, and I tell you that the lordship of Mondolfo is unlucky to
all dark-complexioned men.  And when such a man has a mole under the left
ear as you have--in itself a sign of death by hanging--it is well to avoid
all risks."

"Now that is very strange!" muttered the Duke, much struck by this
whittling down of Cosimo's chances, whilst Cosimo shrugged impatiently and
smiled contemptuously.  "You seem to be greatly versed in these matters,
Ser Galeotto," added Farnese.

"He who would succeed in whatever he may undertake should qualify to read
all signs," said Galeotto sententiously.  "I have sought this knowledge."

"Do you see aught in me that you can read?" inquired the Duke in all
seriousness.

Galeotto considered him a moment without any trace in his eyes of the
wicked mockery that filled his soul.  "Why," he answered slowly, "not in
your own person, magnificent--leastways, not upon so brief a glance.  But
since you ask me, I have lately been considering the new coinage of your
highness."

"Yes, yes!" exclaimed the Duke, all eagerness, whilst several of his
followers came crowding nearer--for all the world is interested in omens.
"What do you read there?"

"Your fate, I think."

"My fate?"

"Have you a coin upon you?"

Farnese produced a gold ducat, fire-new from the mint.  The condottiero
took it and placed his finger upon the four letters P L A C--the
abbreviation of "Placentia" in the inscription.

"P--L--A--C," he spelled.  "That contains your fate, magnificent, and you
may read it for yourself."  And he returned the coin to the Duke, who
stared at the letters foolishly and then at this reader of omens.

"But what is the meaning of PLAC?" he asked, and he had paled a little with
excitement.

"I have a feeling that it is a sign.  I cannot say more.  I can but point
it out to you, my lord, and leave the deciphering of it to yourself, who
are more skilled than most men in such matters.  Have I your excellency's
leave to go doff this dusty garb?" he concluded.

"Ay, go, sir," answered the Duke abstractedly, puzzling now with knitted
brows over the coin that bore his image.

"Come, Falcone," said Galeotto, and with his equerry at his heels he set
his foot on the first step.

Cosimo leaned forward, a sneer on his white hawk-face, "I trust, Ser
Galeotto, that you are a better condottiero than a charlatan."

"And you, sir," said Galeotto, smiling his sweetest in return, "are, I
trust, a better charlatan than a condottiero."

He went up the stairs, the gaudy throng making way before him, and he came
at last to the top, where stood the Lord of Pagliano awaiting him, a great
trouble in his eyes.  They clasped hands in silence, and Cavalcanti went in
person to lead his guest to his apartments.

"You have not a happy air," said Galeotto as they went.  "And, Body of God!
it is no matter for marvel considering the company you keep.  How long has
the Farnese beast been here?"

"His visit is now in its third week," said Cavalcanti, answering
mechanically.

Galeotto swore in sheer surprise.  "By the Host!  And what keeps him?"

Cavalcanti shrugged and let his arms fall to his sides.  To Galeotto this
proud, stern baron seemed most oddly dispirited.

"I see that we must talk," he said.  "Things are speeding well and swiftly
now," he added, dropping his voice.  "But more of that presently.  I have
much to tell you."

When they had reached the chamber that was Galeotto's, and the doors were
closed and Falcone was unbuckling his master's spurs--"Now for my news,"
said the condottiero.  "But first, to spare me repetitions, let us have
Agostino here.  Where is he?"

The look on Cavalcanti's face caused Galeotto to throw up his head like a
spirited animal that scents danger.

"Where is he?" he repeated, and old Falcone's fingers fell idle upon the
buckle on which they were engaged.

Cavalcanti's answer was a groan.  He flung his long arms to the ceiling, as
if invoking Heaven's aid; then he let them fall again heavily, all strength
gone out of them.

Galeotto stood an instant looking at him and turning very white.  Suddenly
he stepped forward, leaving Falcone upon his knees.

"What is this?" he said, his voice a rumble of thunder.  "Where is the boy?
I say."

The Lord of Pagliano could not meet the gaze of those steel coloured eyes.

"0 God!" he groaned.  "How shall I tell you?"

"Is he dead?" asked Galeotto, his voice hard.

"No, no--not dead.  But...But..."  The plight of one usually so strong, so
full of mastery and arrogance, was pitiful.

"But what?" demanded the condottiero.  "Gesu!  Am I a woman, or a man
without sorrows, that you need to stand hesitating?  Whatever it may be,
speak, then, and tell me."

"He is in the clutches of the Holy Office," answered Cavalcanti miserably.

Galeotto looked at him, his pallor increasing.  Then he sat down suddenly,
and, elbows on knees, he took his head in his hands and spoke no word for a
spell, during which time Falcone, still kneeling, looked from one to the
other in an agony of apprehension and impatience to hear more.

Neither noticed the presence of the equerry; nor would it have mattered if
they had, for he was trusty as steel, and they had no secrets from him.

At last, having gained some measure of self-control, Galeotto begged to
know what had happened, and Cavalcanti related the event.

"What could I do?  What could I do?" he cried when he had finished.

"You let them take him?" said Galeotto, like a man who repeats the thing he
has been told, because he cannot credit it.  "You let them take him?"

"What alternative had I?" groaned Cavalcanti, his face ashen and seared
with pain.

"There is that between us, Ettore, that...that will not let me credit this,
even though you tell it me."

And now the wretched Lord of Pagliano began to use the very arguments that
I had used to him.  He spoke of Cosimo's suit of his daughter, and how the
Duke sought to constrain him to consent to the alliance.  He urged that in
this matter of the Holy Office was a trap set for him to place him in
Farnese's power.

"A trap?" roared the condottiero, leaping up.  "What trap?  Where is this
trap?  You had five score men-at-arms under your orders here--three score
of them my own men, each one of whom would have laid down his life for me,
and you allowed the boy to be taken hence by six rascals from the Holy
Office, intimidated by a paltry score of troopers that rode with this
filthy Duke!"

"Nay, nay--not that," the other protested.  "Had I dared to raise a finger
I should have brought myself within the reach of the Inquisition without
benefiting Agostino.  That was the trap, as Agostino himself perceived.  It
was he himself who urged me not to intervene, but to let them take him
hence, since there was no possible charge which the Holy Office could
prefer against him."

"No charge!" cried Galeotto, with a withering scorn.  "Did villainy ever
want for invention?  And this trap?  Body of God, Ettore, am I to account
you a fool after all these years?  What trap was there that could be sprung
upon you as things stood?  Why, man, the game was in your hands entirely.
Here was this Farnese in your power.  What better hostage than that could
you have held?  You had but to whistle your war-dogs to heel and seize his
person, demanding of the Pope his father a plenary absolution and indemnity
for yourself and for Agostino from any prosecutions of the Holy Office ere
you surrendered him.  And had they attempted to employ force against you,
you could have held them in check by threatening to hang the Duke unless
the parchments you demanded were signed and delivered to you.  My God,
Ettore!  Must I tell you this?"

Cavalcanti sank to a seat and took his head in his hands.

"You are right," he said.  "I deserve all your reproaches.  I have been a
fool.  Worse--I have wanted for courage."  And then, suddenly, he reared
his head again, and his glance kindled.  "But it is not yet too late," he
cried, and started up.  "It is still time!"

"Time!" sneered Galeotto.  "Why, the boy is in their hands.  It is hostage
for hostage now, a very different matter.  He is lost--irretrievably lost!"
he ended, groaning.  "We can but avenge him.  To save him is beyond our
power."

"No," said Cavalcanti.  "It is not.  I am a dolt, a dotard; and I have been
the cause of it.  Then I shall pay the price."

"What price?" quoth the condottiero, pondering the other with an eye that
held no faintest gleam of hope.

"Within an hour you shall have in your hands the necessary papers to set
Agostino at liberty; and you shall carry them yourself to Rome.  It is the
amend I owe you.  It shall be made."

"But how is it possible?"

"It is possible, and it shall be done.  And when it is done you may count
upon me to the last breath to help you to pull down this pestilential Duke
in ruin."

He strode to the door, his step firm once more and his face set, though it
was very grey.  "I will leave you now.  But you may count upon the
fulfilment of my promise."

He went out, leaving Galeotto and Falcone alone, and the condottiero flung
himself into a chair and sat there moodily, deep in thought, still in his
dusty garments and with no thought for changing them.  Falcone stood by the
window, looking out upon the gardens and not daring to intrude upon his
master's mood.

Thus Cavalcanti found them a hour later when he returned.  He brought a
parchment, to which was appended a great seal bearing the Pontifical arms.
He thrust it into Galeotto's hand.

"There," he said, "is the discharge of the debt which through my weakness
and folly I have incurred."

Galeotto looked at the parchment, then at Cavalcanti, and then at the
parchment once more.  It was a papal bull of plenary pardon and indemnity
to me.

"How came you by this?" he asked, astonished.

"Is not Farnese the Pope's son?" quoth Cavalcanti scornfully.

"But upon what terms was it conceded?  If it involves your honour, your
life, or your liberty, here's to make an end of it."  And he held it across
in his hands as if to tear it, looking up at the Lord of Pagliano.

"It involves none of these," the latter answered steadily.  "You had best
set out at once.  The Holy Office can be swift to act."




CHAPTER VIII

THE THIRD DEGREE


I was haled from my dungeon by my gaoler accompanied by two figures that
looked immensely tall in their black monkish gowns, their heads and faces
covered by vizored cowls in which two holes were cut for their eyes.  Seen
by the ruddy glare of the torch which the gaoler carried to that
subterranean place of darkness, those black, silent figures, their very
hands tucked away into the wide­mouthed sleeves of their habits, looked
spectral and lurid--horrific messengers of death.

By chill, dark passages of stone, through which our steps reverberated,
they brought me to a pillared, vaulted underground chamber, lighted by
torches in iron brackets on the walls.

On a dais stood an oaken writing-table bearing two massive wax tapers and a
Crucifix.  At this table sat a portly, swarthy-visaged man in the black
robes of the order of St. Dominic.  Immediately below and flanking him on
either hand sat two mute cowled figures to do the office of amanuenses.

Away on the right, where the shadows were but faintly penetrated by the
rays of the torches, stood an engine of wood somewhat of the size and
appearance of the framework of a couch, but with stout straps of leather to
pinion the patient, and enormous wooden screws upon which the frame could
be made to lengthen or contract.  From the ceiling grey ropes dangled from
pulleys, like the tentacles of some dread monster of cruelty.

One glance into that gloomy part of the chamber was enough for me.

Repressing a shudder, I faced the inquisitor, and thereafter kept my eyes
upon him to avoid the sight of those other horrors.  And he was horror
enough for any man in my circumstances to envisage.

He was very fat, with a shaven, swarthy face and the dewlap of an ox.  In
that round fleshliness his eyes were sunken like two black buttons,
malicious through their very want of expression.  His mouth was loose-
lipped and gluttonous and cruel.

When he spoke, the deep rumbling quality of his voice was increased by the
echoes of that vaulted place.

"What is your name?" he said.

I am Agostino d'Anguissola, Lord of Mondolfo and..."

"Pass over your titles," he boomed.  "The Holy Office takes no account of
worldly rank.  What is your age?"

"I am in my twenty-first year."

"Benedicamus Dominum," he commented, though I could not grasp the
appositeness of the comment.  "You stand accused, Agostino d'Anguissola, of
sacrilege and of defiling holy things.  What have you to say?  Do you
confess your guilt?"

"I am so far from confessing it," I answered, "that I have yet to learn
what is the nature of the sacrilege with which I am charged.  I am
conscious of no such sin.  Far from it, indeed..."

"You shall be informed," he interrupted, imposing silence upon me by a wave
of his fat hand; and heaving his vast bulk sideways--"Read him the
indictment," he bade one of the amanuenses.

From the depths of a vizored cowl came a thin, shrill voice:

"The Holy Office has knowledge that Agostino d'Anguissola did for a space
of some six months, during the winter of the year of Our Blessed Lord 1544,
and the spring of the year of Our Blessed Lord 1545, pursue a fraudulent
and sacrilegious traffic, adulterating, for moneys which he extorted from
the poor and the faithful, things which are holy, and adapting them to his
own base purposes.  It is charged against him that in a hermitage on Monte
Orsaro he did claim for an image of St. Sebastian that it was miraculous,
that it had power to heal suffering and that miraculously it bled from its
wounds each year during Passion Week, whence it resulted that pilgrimages
were made to this false shrine and great store of alms was collected by the
said Agostino d'Anguissola, which moneys he appropriated to his own
purposes.  It is further known that ultimately he fled the place, fearing
discovery, and that after his flight the image was discovered broken and
the cunning engine by which this diabolical sacrilege was perpetrated was
revealed."

Throughout the reading, the fleshy eyes of the inquisitor had been
steadily, inscrutably regarding me.  He passed a hand over his pendulous
chin, as the thin voice faded into silence.

"You have heard," said he.

"I have heard a tangle of falsehood," answered I.  "Never was truth more
untruly told than this."

The beady eyes vanished behind narrowing creases of fat; and yet I knew
that they were still regarding me.  Presently they appeared again.

"Do you deny that the image contained this hideous engine of fraud?"

"I do not," I answered.

"Set it down," he eagerly bade one of the amanuenses.  "He confesses thus
much."  And then to me--" Do you deny that you occupied that hermitage
during the season named?"

"I do not."

"Set it down," he said again.  "What, then, remains?" he asked me.

"It remains that I knew nothing of the fraud.  The trickster was a
pretended monk who dwelt there before me and at whose death I was present.
I took his place thereafter, implicitly believing in the miraculous image,
refusing, when its fraud was ultimately suggested to me, to credit that any
man could have dared so vile and sacrilegious a thing.  In the end, when it
was broken and its fraud discovered, I quitted that ghastly shrine of
Satan's in horror and disgust."

There was no emotion on the huge, yellow face.  "That is the obvious
defence," he said slowly.  "But it does not explain the appropriation of
the moneys."

"I appropriated none," I cried angrily.  That is the foulest lie of all."

"Do you deny that alms were made?"

"Certainly they were made; though to what extent I am unaware.  A vessel of
baked earth stood at the door to receive the offerings of the faithful.  It
had been my predecessor's practice to distribute a part of these alms among
the poor; a part, it was said, he kept to build a bridge over the Bagnanza
torrent, which was greatly needed."

"Well, well?" quoth he.  "And when you left you took with you the moneys
that had been collected?"

"I did not," I answered.  "I gave the matter no thought.  When I left I
took nothing with me--not so much as the habit I had worn in that
hermitage."

There was a pause.  Then he spoke slowly.  "Such is not the evidence before
the Holy Office."

"What evidence?" I cried, breaking in upon his speech.  "Where is my
accuser?  Set me face to face with him."

Slowly he shook his huge head with its absurd fringe of greasy locks about
the tonsured scalp--that symbol of the Crown of Thorns.

"You must surely know that such is not the way of the Holy Office.  In its
wisdom this tribunal holds that to produce delators would be to subject
them perhaps to molestation, and thus dry up the springs of knowledge and
information which it now enjoys.  So that your request is idle as idle as
is the attempt at defence that you have made, the falsehoods with which you
have sought to clog the wheels of justice."

"Falsehood, sir monk?" quoth I, so fiercely that one of my attendants set a
restraining hand upon my arm.

The beady eyes vanished and reappeared, and they considered me impassively.

"Your sin, Agostino d'Anguissola," said he in his booming, level voice, "is
the most hideous that the wickedness of man could conceive or diabolical
greed put into execution.  It is the sin that more than any other closes
the door to mercy.  It is the offence of Simon Mage, and it is to be
expiated only through the gates of death.  You shall return hence to your
cell, and when the door closes upon you, it closes upon you for all time in
life, nor shall you ever see your fellow-man again.  There hunger and
thirst shall be your executioners, slowly to deprive you of a life of which
you have not known how to make better use.  Without light or food or drink
shall you remain there until you die.  This is the punishment for such
sacrilege as yours."

I could not believe it.  I stood before him what time he mouthed out those
horrible and emotionless words.  He paused a moment, and again came that
broad gesture of his that stroked mouth and chin.  Then he resumed:

"So much for your body.  There remains your soul.  In its infinite mercy,
the Holy Office desires that your expiation be fulfilled in this life, and
that you may be rescued from the fires of everlasting Hell.  Therefore it
urges you to cleanse yourself by a full and contrite avowal ere you go
hence.  Confess, then, my son, and save your soul."

"Confess?" I echoed.  "Confess to a falsehood?  I have told you the truth
of this matter.  I tell you that in all the world there is none less prone
to sacrilege than I that I am by nature and rearing devout and faithful.
These are lies which have been uttered to my hurt.  In dooming me you doom
an innocent man.  Be it so.  I do not know that I have found the world so
delectable a place as to quit it with any great regret.  My blood be upon
your own heads and upon this iniquitous and monstrous tribunal.  But spare
yourselves at least the greater offence of asking my confession of a
falsehood."

The little eyes had vanished.  The face grew very evil, stirred at last
into animosity by my denunciation of that court.  Then the inscrutable mask
slipped once more over that odious countenance.

He took up a little mallet, and struck a gong that stood beside him.

I heard a creaking of hinges, and saw an opening in the wall to my right,
where I had perceived no door.  Two men came forth--brawny, muscular,
bearded men in coarse, black hose and leathern waistcoats cut deep at the
neck and leaving their great arms entirely naked.  The foremost carried a
thong of leather in his hands.

"The hoist," said the inquisitor shortly.

The men advanced towards me and came to replace the familiars between whom
I had been standing.  Each seized an arm, and they held me so.  I made no
resistance.

"Will you confess?" the inquisitor demanded.  There is still time to save
yourself from torture."

But already the torture had commenced, for the very threat of it is known
as the first degree.  I was in despair.  Death I could suffer.  But under
torments I feared that my strength might fail.  I felt my flesh creeping
and tightening upon my body, which had grown very cold with the awful chill
of fear; my hair seemed to bristle and stiffen until I thought that I could
feel each separate thread of it.

"I swear to you that I have spoken the truth," I cried desperately.  "I
swear it by the sacred image of Our Redeemer standing there before you."

"Shall we believe the oath of an unbeliever attainted of sacrilege?" he
grumbled, and he almost seemed to sneer.

"Believe or not," I answered.  "But believe this--that one day you shall
stand face to face with a Judge Whom there is no deceiving, to answer for
the abomination that you make of justice in His Holy Name.  Let loose
against me your worst cruelties, then; they shall be as caresses to the
torments that will be loosed against you when your turn for Judgment
comes."

"To the hoist with him," he commanded, stretching an arm towards the grey
tentacle-like ropes.  "We must soften his heart and break the diabolical
pride that makes him persevere in blasphemy."

They led me aside into that place of torments, and one of them drew down
the ropes from the pulley overhead, until the ends fell on a level with my
wrists.  And this was torture of the second degree--to see its imminence.

"Will you confess?" boomed the inquisitor's voice.  I made him no answer.

"Strip and attach him," he commanded.

The executioners laid hold of me, and in the twinkling of an eye I stood
naked to the waist.  I caught my lips in my teeth as the ropes were being
adjusted to my wrists, and as thus I suffered torture of the third degree.

"Will you confess?" came again the question.

And scarcely had it been put--for the last time, as I well knew--than the
door was flung open, and a young man in black sprang into the chamber, and
ran to thrust a parchment before the inquisitor.

The inquisitor made a sign to the executioners to await his pleasure.

I stood with throbbing pulses, and waited, instinctively warned that this
concerned me.  The inquisitor took the parchment, considered its seals and
then the writing upon it.

That done he set it down and turned to face us.

"Release him," he bade the executioners, whereat I felt as I would faint in
the intensity of this reaction.

When they had done his bidding, the Dominican beckoned me forward.  I went,
still marvelling.

"See," he said, "how inscrutable are the Divine ways, and how truth must in
the end prevail.  Your innocence is established, after all, since the Holy
Father himself has seen cause to intervene to save you.  You are at
liberty.  You are free to depart and to go wheresoever you will.  This bull
concerns you."  And he held it out to me.

My mind moved through these happenings as a man moves through a dense fog,
faltering and hesitating at every step.  I took the parchment and
considered it.  Satisfied as to its nature, however mystified as to how the
Pope had come to intervene, I folded the document and thrust it into my
belt.

Then the familiars of the Holy Office assisted me to resume my garments;
and all was done now in utter silence, and for my own part in the same
mental and dream-like confusion.

At length the inquisitor waved a huge hand doorwards.  "Ite!" he said, and
added, whilst his raised hand seemed to perform a benedictory gesture--"Pax
Domini sit tecum."

"Et cum spiritu tuo," I replied mechanically, as, turning, I stumbled out
of that dread place in the wake of the messenger who had brought the bull,
and who went ahead to guide me.




CHAPTER IX

THE RETURN


Above in the blessed sunlight, which hurt my eyes--for I had not seen it
for a full week--I found Galeotto awaiting me in a bare room; and scarcely
was I aware of his presence than his great arms went round me and enclasped
me so fervently that his corselet almost hurt my breast, and brought back
as in a flash a poignant memory of another man fully as tall, who had held
me to him one night many years ago, and whose armour, too, had hurt me in
that embrace.

Then he held me at arms' length and considered me, and his steely eyes were
blurred and moist.  He muttered something to the familiar, linked his arm
through mine and drew me away, down passages, through doors, and so at last
into the busy Roman street.

We went in silence by ways that were well known to him but in which I
should assuredly have lost myself, and so we came at last to a fair
tavern--the Osteria del Sole--near the Tower of Nona.

His horse was stalled here, and a servant led the way above-stairs to the
room that he had hired.

How wrong had I not been, I reflected, to announce before the Inquisition
that I should have no regrets in leaving this world.  How ungrateful was
that speech, considering this faithful one who loved me for my father's
sake!  And was there not Bianca, who, surely--if her last cry, wrung from
her by anguish, contained the truth--must love me for my own?

How sweet the revulsion that now came upon me as I sank into a chair by the
window, and gave myself up to the enjoyment of that truly happy moment in
which the grey shadow of death had been lifted from me.

Servants bustled in, to spread the board with the choice meats that
Galeotto had ordered, and great baskets of luscious fruits and flagons of
red Puglia wine; and soon we seated ourselves to the feast.

But ere I began to eat, I asked Galeotto how this miracle had been wrought;
what magic powers he wielded that even the Holy Office must open its doors
at his bidding.  With a glance at the servants who attended us, he bade me
eat, saying that we should talk anon.  And as my reaction had brought a
sharp hunger in its train, I fell to with the best will in all the world,
and from broth to figs there were few words between us.

At last, our goblets charged and the servants with­drawn, I repeated my
inquiry.

"The magic is not mine," said Galeotto.  "It is Cavalcanti's.  It was he
who obtained this bull."

And with that he set himself briefly to relate the matters that already are
contained here concerning that transaction, but the minuter details of
which I was later to extract from Falcone.  And as he proceeded with his
narrative I felt myself growing cold again with apprehension, just as I had
grown cold that morning in the hands of the executioners.  Until at last,
seeing me dead-white, Galeotto checked to inquire what ailed me.

"What--what was the price that Cavalcanti paid for this?" I inquired in
answer.

"I could not glean it, nor did I stay to insist, for there was haste.  He
assured me that the thing had been accomplished without hurt to his honour,
life, or liberty; and with that I was content, and spurred for Rome."

"And you have never since thought what the price was that Cavalcanti might
have paid?"

He looked at me with troubled eyes.  "I confess that in this matter the
satisfaction of coming to your salvation has made me selfish.  I have had
thoughts for nothing else."

I groaned, and flung out my arms across the table.  "He has paid such a
price," I said, "that a thousand times sooner would I that you had left me
where I was."

He leaned forward, frowning darkly.  "What do you mean?" he cried.

And then I told him what I feared; told him how Farnese had sued for
Bianca's hand for Cosimo; how proudly and finally Cavalcanti had refused;
how the Duke had insisted that he would remain at Pagliano until my lord
changed his mind; how I had learned from Giuliana the horrible motive that
urged the Duke to press for that marriage.

Lastly--"And that is the price he consented to pay," I cried wildly.  "His
daughter--that sweet virgin--was the price!  And at this hour, maybe, the
price is paid and that detestable bargain consummated.  0, Galeotto!
Galeotto!  Why was I not left to rot in that dungeon of the Inquisition--
since I could have died happily, knowing naught of this?"

"By the Blood of God, boy!  Do you imply that I had knowledge?  Do you
suggest that I would have bought any life at such a price?"

"No, no!" I answered.  "I know that you did not--that you could not..."
And then I leaped to my feet.  "And we sit talking here, whilst
this...whilst this...O God!" I sobbed.  "We may yet be in time.  To horse,
then!  Let us away!"

He, too, came to his feet.  "Ay, you are right.  It but remains to remedy
the evil.  Come, then.  Anger shall mend my spent strength.  It can be done
in three days.  We will ride as none ever rode yet since the world began."

And we did--so desperately that by the morning of the third day, which was
a Sunday, we were in Forli (having crossed the Apennines at Arcangelo) and
by that same evening in Bologna.  We had not slept and we had scarcely
rested since leaving Rome.  We were almost dead from weariness.

Since such was my own case, what must have been Galeotto's?  He was of
iron, it is true.  But consider that he had ridden this way at as desperate
a pace already, to save me from the clutches of the Inquisition; and that,
scarce rested, he was riding north again.  Consider this, and you will not
marvel that his weariness conquered him at last.

At the inn at Bologna where we dismounted, we found old Falcone awaiting
us.  He had set out with his master to ride to Rome.  But being himself
saddle-worn at the time, he had been unable to proceed farther than this,
and here Galeotto in his fierce impatience had left him, pursuing his way
alone.

Here, then, we found the equerry again, consumed by anxiety.  He leapt
forward to greet me, addressing me by the old title of Madonnino which I
loved to hear from him, however much that title might otherwise arouse
harsh and gloomy memories.

Here at Bologna Galeotto announced that he would be forced to rest, and we
slept for three hours--until night had closed in.  We were shaken out of
our slumbers by the host as he had been ordered; but even then I lay
entranced, my limbs refusing their office, until the memory of what was at
issue acted like a spur upon me, and caused me to fling my weariness aside
as if it had been a cloak.

Galeotto, however, was in a deplorable case.  He could not move a limb.  He
was exhausted--utterly and hopelessly exhausted with fatigue and want of
sleep.  Falcone and I pulled him to his feet between us; but he collapsed
again, unable to stand.

"I am spent," he muttered.  "Give me twelve hours--twelve hours' sleep,
Agostino, and I'll ride with you to the Devil."

I groaned and cursed in one.  "Twelve hours!" I cried.  "And she...I can't
wait, Galeotto.  I must ride on alone."

He lay on his back and stared up at me, and his eyes had a glassy stare.
Then he roused himself by an effort, and raised himself upon his elbow.

"That is it, boy--ride on alone.  Take Falcone.  Listen, there are three
score men of mine at Pagliano who will follow you to Hell at a word that
Falcone shall speak to them from me.  About it, then, and save her.  But
wait, boy!  Do no violence to Farnese, if you can help it."

"But if I can't?" I asked.

"If you can't--no matter.  But endeavour not to offer him any hurt!  Leave
that to me--anon when all is ripe for it.  To-day it would be premature,
and...and we ...we should be...crushed by the..."  His speech trailed off
into incoherent mutterings; his eyelids dropped, and he was fast asleep
again.

Ten minutes later we were riding north again, and all that night we rode,
along the endless Aemilian Way, pausing for no more than a draught of wine
from time to time, and munching a loaf as we rode.  We crossed the Po, and
kept steadily on, taking fresh horses when we could, until towards sunset a
turn in the road brought Pagliano into our view--grey and lichened on the
crest of its smooth emerald hill.

The dusk was falling and lights began to gleam from some of the castle
windows when we brought up in the shadow of the gateway.

A man-at-arms lounged out of the guardhouse to inquire our business.

"Is Madonna Bianca wed yet?" was the breathless greeting I gave him.

He peered at me, and then at Falcone, and he swore in some surprise.

"Well, returned my lord!  Madonna Bianca?  The nuptials were celebrated
to-day.  The bride has gone."

"Gone?" I roared.  "Gone whither, man?"

"Why, to Piacenza--to my Lord Cosimo's palace there.  They set out some
three hours since."

"Where is your lord?" I asked him, flinging myself from the saddle.

"Within doors, most noble."

How I found him, or by what ways I went to do so, are things that are
effaced completely from my memory.  But I know that I came upon him in the
library.  He was sitting hunched in a great chair, his face ashen, his eyes
fevered.  At sight of me--the cause, however innocent, of all this evil--
his brows grew dark, and his eyes angry.  If he had reproaches for me, I
gave him no time to utter them, but hurled him mine.

"What have you done, sir?" I demanded.  "By what right did you do this
thing?  By what right did you make a sacrifice of that sweet dove?  Did you
conceive me so vile as to think that I should ever owe you gratitude--that
I should ever do aught but abhor the deed, abhor all who had a hand in it,
abhor the very life itself purchased for me at such a cost?"

He cowered before my furious wrath; for I must have seemed terrific as I
stood thundering there, my face wild, my eyes bloodshot, half mad from pain
and rage and sleeplessness.

"And do you know what you have done?" I went on.  "Do you know to what you
have sold her?  Must I tell you?"

And I told him, in a dozen brutal words that brought him to his feet, the
lion in him roused at last, his eyes ablaze.

"We must after them," I urged.  "We must wrest her from these beasts, and
make a widow of her for the purpose.  Galeotto's lances are below and they
will follow me.  You may bring what more you please.  Come, sir--to horse!"

He sprang forward with no answer beyond a muttered prayer that we might
come in time.

"We must," I answered fiercely, and ran madly from the room, along the
gallery and down the stairs, shouting and raging like a maniac, Cavalcanti
following me.

Within ten minutes, Galeotto's three score men and another score of those
who garrisoned Pagliano for Cavalcanti were in the saddle and galloping
hell-for-leather to Piacenza.  Ahead on fresh horses went Falcone and I,
the Lord of Pagliano spurring beside me and pestering me with questions as
to the source of my knowledge.

Our great fear was lest we should find the gates of Piacenza closed on our
arrival.  But we covered the ten miles in something under an hour, and the
head of our little column was already through the Fodesta Gate when the
first hour of night rang out from the Duomo, giving the signal for the
closing of the gates.

The officer in charge turned out to view so numerous a company, and
challenged us to stand.  But I flung him the answer that we were the Black
Bands of Ser Galeotto and that we rode by order of the Duke, with which
perforce he had to be content; for we did not stay for more and were too
numerous to be detained by such meagre force as he commanded.

Up the dark street we swept--the same street down which I had last ridden
on that night when Gambara had opened the gates of the prison for me--and
so we came to the square and to Cosimo's palace.

All was in darkness, and the great doors were closed.  A strange appearance
this for a house to which a bride had so newly come.

I dismounted as lightly as if I had not ridden lately more than just the
ten miles from Pagliano.  Indeed, I had become unconscious of all fatigue,
entirely oblivious of the fact that for three nights now I had not slept--
save for the three hours at Bologna.

I knocked briskly on the iron-studded gates.  We stood there waiting,
Cavalcanti and Falcone afoot with me, the men on horseback still, a silent
phalanx.

I issued an order to Falcone.  "Ten of them to secure our egress, the rest
to remain here and allow none to leave the house."

The equerry stepped back to convey the command in his turn to the men, and
the ten he summoned slipped instantly from their saddles and ranged
themselves in the shadow of the wall.

I knocked again, more imperatively, and at last the postern in the door was
opened by an elderly serving-man.

"What's this?" he asked, and thrust a lanthorn into my face.

"We seek Messer Cosimo d'Anguissola," I answered.  He looked beyond me at
the troop that lined the street, and his face became troubled.  "Why, what
is amiss?" quoth he.

"Fool, I shall tell that to your master.  Conduct me to him.  The matter
presses."

"Nay, then--but have you not heard?  My lord was wed to-day.  You would not
have my lord disturbed at such a time?"  He seemed to leer.

I put my foot into his stomach, and bore him backward, flinging him full
length upon the ground.  He went over and rolled away into a corner, where
he lay bellowing.

"Silence him!" I bade the men who followed us in.  "Then, half of you
remain here to guard the stairs; the rest attend us."

The house was vast, and it remained silent, so that it did not seem that
the clown's scream when he went over had been heard by any.

Up the broad staircase we sped, guided by the light of the lanthorn, which
Falcone had picked up--for the place was ominously in darkness.  Cavalcanti
kept pace with me, panting with rage and anxiety.

At the head of the stairs we came upon a man whom I recognized for one of
the Duke's gentlemen-in-waiting.  He had been attracted, no doubt, by the
sound of our approach; but at sight of us he turned to escape.  Cavalcanti
reached forward in time to take him by the ankle, so that he came down
heavily upon his face.

In an instant I was sitting upon him, my dagger at his throat.

"A sound," said I, "and you shall finish it in Hell!"  Eyes bulging with
fear stared at me out of his white face.  He was an effeminate cur, of the
sort that the Duke was wont to keep about him, and at once I saw that we
should have no trouble with him.

"Where is Cosimo?" I asked him shortly.  "Come, man, conduct us to the room
that holds him if you would buy your dirty life."

"He is not here," wailed the fellow.

"You lie, you hound," said Cavalcanti, and turning to me--"Finish him,
Agostino," he bade me.

The man under me writhed, filled now by the terror that Cavalcanti had so
cunningly known how to inspire in him.  "I swear to God that he is not
here," he answered, and but that fear had robbed him of his voice, he would
have screamed it.  "Gesu!  I swear it--it is true!"

I looked up at Cavalcanti, baffled, and sick with sudden dismay.  I saw
Cavalcanti's eye, which had grown dull, kindle anew.  He stooped over the
prostrate man.

"Is the bride here--is my daughter in this house?"

The fellow whimpered and did not answer until my dagger's edge was at his
throat again.  Then he suddenly screeched--"Yes!"

In an instant I had dragged him to his feet again, his pretty clothes and
daintily curled hair all crumpled, so that he looked the most pitiful thing
in all the world.

"Lead us to her chamber," I bade him.

And he obeyed as men obey when the fear of death is upon them.




CHAPTER X

THE NUPTIALS OF BIANCA


An awful thought was in my mind as we went, evoked by the presence in such
a place of one of the Duke's gentlemen; an awful question rose again and
again to my lips, and yet I could not bring myself to utter it.

So we went on in utter silence now, my hand upon his shoulder, clutching
velvet doublet and flesh and bone beneath it, my dagger bare in my other
hand.

We crossed an antechamber whose heavy carpet muffled our footsteps, and we
halted before tapestry curtains that masked a door, Here, curbing my fierce
impatience, I paused.  I signed to the five attendant soldiers to come no
farther; then I consigned the courtier who had guided us to the care of
Falcone, and I restrained Cavalcanti, who was shaking from head to foot.

I raised the heavy, muffling curtain, and standing there an instant by the
door, I heard my Bianca's voice, and her words seemed to freeze the very
marrow in my bones.

"0, my lord," she was imploring in a choking voice, "0, my lord, have pity
on me!"

"Sweet," came the answer, "it is I who beseech pity at your hands.  Do you
not see how I suffer?  Do you not see how fiercely love of you is torturing
me--how I burn--that you can so cruelly deny me?"

It was Farnese's voice.  Cosimo, that dastard, had indeed carried out the
horrible compact of which Giuliana had warned me, carried it out in a more
horrible and inhuman manner than even she had suggested or suspected.

Cavalcanti would have hurled himself against the door but that I set a hand
upon his arm to restrain him, and a finger of my other hand--the one that
held the dagger--to my lips.

Softly I tried the latch.  I was amazed to find the door yield.  And yet,
where was the need to lock it?  What interruption could he have feared in a
house that evidently had been delivered over to him by the bridegroom, a
house that was in the hands of his own people?

Very quietly I thrust the door open, and we stood there upon the
threshold--Cavalcanti and I--father and lover of that sweet maid who was
the prey of this foul Duke.  We stood whilst a man might count a dozen,
silent witnesses of that loathsome scene.

The bridal chamber was all hung in golden arras, save the great carved bed
which was draped in dead-white velvet and ivory damask--symbolizing the
purity of the sweet victim to be offered up upon that sacrificial altar.

And to that dread sacrifice she had come--for my sake, as I was to learn--
with the fearful willingness of Iphigenia.  For that sacrifice she had been
prepared; but not for this horror that was thrust upon her now.

She crouched upon a tall-backed praying-stool, her gown not more white than
her face, her little hands convulsively clasped to make her prayer to that
monster who stood over her, his mottled face all flushed, his eyes glowing
as they considered her helplessness and terror with horrible, pitiless
greed.

Thus we observed them, ourselves unperceived for some moments, for the
praying-stool on which she crouched was placed to the left, by the cowled
fire-place, in which a fire of scented wood was crackling, the scene
lighted by two golden candlebranches that stood upon the table near the
curtained window.

"0, my lord!" she cried in her despair, "of your mercy leave me, and no man
shall ever know that you sought me thus.  I will be silent, my lord.  0, if
you have no pity for me, have, at least, pity for yourself.  Do not cover
yourself with the infamy of such a deed--a deed that will make you hateful
to all men."

"Gladly at such a price would I purchase your love, my Bianca!  What pains
could daunt me?  Ah, you are mine, you are mine!"

As the hawk that has been long poised closes its wings and drops at last
upon its prey, so swooped he of a sudden down upon her, caught and dragged
her up from the praying-stool to crush her to him.

She screamed in that embrace, and sought to battle, swinging round so that
her back was fully towards us, and Farnese, swinging round also in that
struggle, faced us and beheld us.

It was as if a mask had been abruptly plucked from his face, so sudden and
stupendous was its alteration.  From flushed that it had been it grew livid
and sickly; the unholy fires were spent in his eyes, and they grew dull and
dead as a snake's; his jaw was loosened, and the sensual mouth looked
unutterably foolish.

For a moment I think I smiled upon him, and then Cavalcanti and I sprang
forward, both together.  As we moved, his arms loosened their hold, and
Bianca would have fallen but that I caught her.

Her terror still upon her, she glanced upwards to see what fresh enemy was
this, and then, at sight of my face, as my arms closed about her, and held
her safe--

"Agostino!" she cried, and closed her eyes to lie panting on my breast.

The Duke, fleeing like a scared rat before the anger of Cavalcanti,
scuttled down the room to a small door in the wall that held the fire-
place.  He tore it open and sprang through, Cavalcanti following
recklessly.

There was a snarl and a cry, and the Lord of Pagliano staggered back,
clutching one hand to his breast, and through his fingers came an ooze of
blood.  Falcone ran to him.  But Cavalcanti swore like a man possessed.

"It is nothing!" he snapped.  "By the horns of Satan! it is nothing.  A
flesh wound, and like a fool I gave back before it.  After him!  In there!
Kill!  Kill!"

Out came Falcone's sword with a swish, and into the dark closet beyond went
the equerry with a roar, Cavalcanti after him.

It seemed that scarce had Farnese got within that closet than, flattening
himself against the wall, he had struck at Cavalcanti as the latter
followed, thus driving him back and gaining all the respite he needed.  For
now they found the closet empty.  There was a door beyond, that opened to a
corridor, and this was locked.  Not a doubt but that Farnese had gone that
way.  They broke that door down.  I heard them at it what time I comforted
Bianca, and soothed her, stroking her head, her cheek, and murmuring fondly
to her until presently she was weeping softly.

Thus Cavalcanti and Falcone found us presently when they returned.  Farnese
had escaped with one of his gentlemen who had reached him in time to warn
him that the street was full of soldiers and the palace itself invaded.
Thereupon the Duke had dropped from one of the windows to the garden, his
gentleman with him, and Cavalcanti had been no more than in time to see
them disappearing through the garden gate.

The Lord of Pagliano's buff-coat was covered with blood where Pier Luigi
had stabbed him.  But he would give the matter no thought.  He was like a
tiger now.   He dashed out into the antechamber, and I heard him bellowing
orders.  Someone screamed horribly, and then followed a fierce din as if
the very place were coming down about our ears.

"What is it?" cried Bianca, quivering in my arms.  "Are...are they
fighting?"

"I do not think so, sweet," I answered her.  "We are in great strength.
Have no fear."

And then Falcone came in again.

"The Lord of Pagliano is raging like a madman," he said.  "We had best be
getting away or we shall have a brush with the Captain of Justice."

Supporting Bianca, I led her from that chamber.

"Where are we going?" she asked me.

"Home to Pagliano," I answered her, and with that answer comforted that
sorely tried maid.

We found the antechamber in wreckage.  The great chandelier had been
dragged from the ceiling, pictures were slashed and cut to ribbons, the
arras had been torn from the walls and the costly furniture was reduced to
fire-wood; the double-windows opening to the balcony stood wide, and not a
pane of glass left whole, the fragments lying all about the place.

Thus, it seemed, childishly almost, had Cavalcanti vented his terrible
rage, and I could well conceive what would have befallen any of the Duke's
people upon whom in that hour he had chanced.  I did not know then that the
poor pimp who had acted as our guide was hanging from the balcony dead, nor
that his had been the horrible scream I had heard.

On the stairs we met the raging Cavalcanti reascending, the stump of his
shivered sword in his hand.

"Hasten!" he cried.  "I was coming for you.  Let us begone!"

Below, just within the main doors we found a pile of furniture set on a
heap of straw.

"What is this?" I asked.

"You shall see," he roared.  "Get to horse."

I hesitated a moment, then obeyed him, and took Bianca on the withers in
front of me, my arm about her to support her.

Then he called to one of the men-at-arms who stood by with a flaring torch.
He snatched the brand from his hand, and stabbed the straw with it in a
dozen places, from each of which there leapt at once a tongue of flame.
When, at last, he flung the torch into the heart of the pile, it was all a
roaring, hissing, crackling blaze.

He stood back and laughed.  "If there are any more of his brothel-mates in
the house, they can escape as he did.  They will be more fortunate than
that one." And he pointed up to the limp figure hanging from the balcony,
so that I now learnt what already I have told you.

With my hand I screened Bianca's eyes.  "Do not look," I bade her.

I shuddered at the sight of that limply hanging body.  And yet I reflected
that it was just.  Any man who could have lent his aid to the foul crime
that was attempted there that night deserved this fate and worse.

Cavalcanti got to horse, and we rode down the street, bringing folk to
their windows in alarm.  Behind us the flames began to lick out from the
ground floor of Cosimo's palace.

We reached the Porta Fodesta, and peremptorily bade the guard to open for
us.  He answered, as became his duty, with the very words that had been
addressed to me at that place on a night two years ago:

"None passes out to-night."

In an instant a group of our men surrounded him, others made a living
barrier before the guard-house, whilst two or three dismounted, drew the
bolts, and dragged the great gates open.

We rode on, crossing the river, and heading straight for Pagliano.

For a while it was the sweetest ride that ever I rode, with my Bianca
nestling against my breast, and responding faintly to all the foolishness
that poured from me in that ambrosial hour.

And then it seemed to me that we rode not by night but in the blazing light
of day, along a dusty road, flanking an arid, sun-drenched stretch of the
Campagna; and despite the aridity there must be water somewhere, for I
heard it thundering as the Bagnanza had thundered after rain, and yet I
knew that could not be the Bagnanza, for the Bagnanza was nowhere in the
neighbourhood of Rome.

Suddenly a great voice, and I knew it for the voice of Bianca, called me by
name.

"Agostino!"

The vision was dissipated.  It was night again and we were riding for
Pagliano through the fertile lands of ultra-Po; and there was Bianca
clutching at my breast and uttering my name in accents of fear, whilst the
company about me was halting.

"What is it?" cried Cavalcanti.  Are you hurt?"  I understood.  I had been
dozing in the saddle, and I must have rolled out of it but that Bianca
awakened me with her cry.  I said so.

"Body of Satan!" he swore.  "To doze at such a time!"

"I have scarce been out of the saddle for three days and three nights--this
is the fourth," I informed him.  I have had but three hours' sleep since we
left Rome.  I am done," I admitted.  "You, sir, had best take your
daughter.  She is no longer safe with me."

It was so.  The fierce tension which had banished sleep from me whilst
these things were doing, being now relaxed, left me exhausted as Galeotto
had been at Bologna.  And Galeotto had urged me to halt and rest there!  He
had begged for twelve hours!  I could now thank Heaven from a full heart
for having given me the strength and resolution to ride on, for those
twelve hours would have made all the difference between Heaven and Hell.

Cavalcanti himself would not take her, confessing to some weakness.  For
all that he insisted that his wound was not serious, yet he had lost much
blood through having neglected in his rage to stanch it.  So it was to
Falcone that fell the charge of that sweet burden.

The last thing I remember was Cavalcanti's laugh, as, from the high ground
we had mounted, he stopped to survey a ruddy glare above the city of
Piacenza, where, in a vomit of sparks, Cosimo's fine palace was being
consumed.

Then we rode down into the valley again; and as we went the thud of hooves
grew more and more distant, and I slept in the saddle as I rode, a man-at-
arms on either side of me, so that I remember no more of the doings of that
strenuous night.




CHAPTER XI

THE PENANCE


I awakened in the chamber that had been mine at Pagliano before my arrest
by order of the Holy Office, and I was told upon awakening that I had slept
a night and a day and that it was eventide once more.

I rose, bathed, and put on a robe of furs, and then Galeotto came to visit
me.

He had arrived at dawn, and he too had slept for some ten hours since his
arrival, yet despite of it his air was haggard, his glance overcast and
heavy.

I greeted him joyously, conscious that we had done well.  But he remained
gloomy and unresponsive.

"There is ill news," he said at last.  "Cavalcanti is in a raging fever,
and he is sapped of strength, his body almost drained of blood.  I even
fear that he is poisoned, that Farnese's dagger was laden with some venom."

"0, surely...it will be well with him!"I faltered.  He shook his head
sombrely, his brows furrowed.

"He must have been stark mad last night.  To have raged as he did with such
a wound upon him, and to have ridden ten miles afterwards!  0, it was
midsummer frenzy that sustained him.  Here in the courtyard he reeled
unconscious from the saddle; they found him drenched with blood from head
to foot; and he has been unconscious ever since.  I am afraid..."  He
shrugged despondently.

"Do you mean that...that he may die?" I asked scarce above a whisper.

"It will be a miracle if he does not.  And that is one more crime to the
score of Pier Luigi."  He said it in a tone of indescribable passion,
shaking his clenched fist at the ceiling.

The miracle did not come to pass.  Two days later, in the presence of
Galeotto, Bianca, Fra Gervasio, who had been summoned from his Piacenza
convent to shrive the unfortunate baron, and myself, Ettore Cavalcanti sank
quietly to rest.

Whether he was dealt an envenomed wound, as Galeotto swore, or whether he
died as a result of the awful draining of his veins, I do not know.

At the end he had a moment of lucidity.

"You will guard my Bianca, Agostino," he said to me, and I swore it
fervently, as he bade me, whilst upon her knees beyond the bed, clasping
one of his hands that had grown white as marble, Bianca was sobbing
brokenheartedly.

Then the dying man turned his head to Galeotto.  "You will see justice done
upon that monster ere you die," he said.  "It is God's holy work."

And then his mind became clouded again by the mists of approaching
dissolution, and he sank into a sleep, from which he never awakened.

We buried him on the morrow in the Chapel of Pagliano, and on the next day
Galeotto drew up a memorial wherein he set forth all the circumstances of
the affair in which that gallant gentleman had met his end.  It was a
terrible indictment of Pier Luigi Farnese.  Of this memorial he prepared
two copies, and to these--as witnesses of all the facts therein related--
Bianca, Falcone, and I appended our signatures, and Fra Gervasio added his
own.  One of these copies Galeotto dispatched to the Pope, the other to
Ferrante Gonzaga in Milan, with a request that it should be submitted to
the Emperor.

When the memorial was signed, he rose, and taking Bianca's hand in his own,
he swore by his every hope of salvation that ere another year was sped her
father should be avenged together with all the other of Pier Luigi's
victims.

That same day he set out again upon his conspirator's work, whose aim was
not only the life of Pier Luigi, but the entire shattering of the
Pontifical sway in Parma and Piacenza.  Some days later he sent me another
score of lances--for he kept his forces scattered about the country whilst
gradually he increased their numbers.

Thereafter we waited for events at Pagliano, the drawbridge raised, and
none entering save after due challenge.

We expected an attack which never came; for Pier Luigi did not dare to lead
an army against an Imperial fief upon such hopeless grounds as were his
own.  Possibly, too, Galeotto's memorial may have caused the Pope to impose
restraint upon his dissolute son.

Cosimo d'Anguissola, however, had the effrontery to send a messenger a week
later to Pagliano, to demand the surrender of his wife, saying that she was
his by God's law and man's, and threatening to enforce his rights by an
appeal to the Vatican.

That we sent the messenger empty-handed away, it is scarce necessary to
chronicle.  I was in command at Pagliano, holding it in Bianca's name, as
Bianca's lieutenant and castellan, and I made oath that I would never lower
the bridge to admit an enemy.

But Cosimo's message aroused in us a memory that had lain dormant these
days.  She was no longer for my wooing.  She was the wife of another.

It came to us almost as a flash of lightning in the night; and it startled
us by all that it revealed.

"The fault of it is all mine," said she, as we sat that evening in the
gold-and-purple dining-room where we had supped.

It was with those words that she broke the silence that had endured
throughout the repast, until the departure of the pages and the seneschal
who had ministered to us precisely as in the days when Cavalcanti had been
alive.

"Ah, not that, sweet!" I implored her, reaching a hand to her across the
table.

"But it is true, my dear," she answered, covering my hand with her own.
"If I had shown you more mercy when so contritely you confessed your sin,
mercy would have been shown to me.  I should have known from the sign I had
that we were destined for each other; that nothing that you had done could
alter that.  I did know it, and yet..."  She halted there, her lip
tremulous.

"And yet you did the only thing that you could do when your sweet purity
was outraged by the knowledge of what I really had been."

"But you were so no more," she said with a something of pleading in her
voice.

"It was you--the blessed sight of you that cleansed me," I cried.  "When
love for you awoke in me, I knew love for the first time, for that other
thing which I deemed love had none of love's holiness.  Your image drove
out all the sin from my soul.  The peace which half a year of penance, of
fasting and flagellation could not bring me, was brought me by my love for
you when it awoke.  It was as a purifying fire that turned to ashes all the
evil of desires that my heart had held."

Her hand pressed mine.  She was weeping softly.

"I was an outcast," I continued.  "I was a mariner without compass, far
from the sight of land, striving to find my way by the light of sentiments
implanted in me from early youth.  I sought salvation desperately-­sought
it in a hermitage, as I would have sought it in a cloister but that I had
come to regard myself as unworthy of the cloistered life.  I found it at
last, in you, in the blessed contemplation of you.  It was you who taught
me the lesson that the world is God's world and that God is in the world as
much as in the cloister.  Such was the burden of your message that night
when you appeared to me on Monte Orsaro."

"0, Agostino!" she cried, "and all this being so can you refrain from
blaming me for what has come to pass?  If I had but had faith in you--the
faith in the sign which we both received--I should have known all this;
known that if you had sinned you had been tempted and that you had atoned."

"I think the atonement lies here and now, in this," I answered very
gravely.  "She was the wife of another who dragged me down.  You are the
wife of another who have lifted me up.  She through sin was attainable.
That you can never, never be, else should I have done with life in earnest.
But do not blame yourself, sweet saint.  You did as your pure spirit bade
you; soon all would have been well but that already Messer Pier Luigi had
seen you."

She shuddered.

"You know, dear that if I submitted to wed your cousin, it was to save
you--that such was the price imposed?"

"Dear saint!" I cried.

"I but mention it that upon such a score you may have no doubt of my
motives."

"How could I doubt?" I protested.

I rose, and moved down the room towards the window, behind which the night
gleamed deepest blue.  I looked out upon the gardens from which the black
shadows of stark poplars thrust upward against the sky, and I thought out
this thing.  Then I turned to her, having as I imagined found the only and
rather obvious solution.

"There is but one thing to do, Bianca."

"And that?" her eyes were very anxious, and looked perhaps even more so in
consequence of the pallor of her face and the lines of pain that had come
into it in these weeks of such sore trial.

"I must remove the barrier that stands between us.  I must seek out Cosimo
and kill him."

I said it without anger, without heat of any sort: a calm, cold statement
of a step that it was necessary to take.  It was a just measure, the only
measure that could mend an unjust situation.  And so, I think, she too
viewed it.  For she did not start, or cry out in horror, or manifest the
slightest surprise at my proposal.  But she shook her head, and smiled very
wistfully.

"What a folly would not that be!" she said.  "How would it amend what is?
You would be taken, and justice would be done upon you summarily.  Would
that make it any easier or any better for me?  I should be alone in the
world and entirely undefended."

"Ah, but you go too fast," I cried.  "By justice I could not suffer, I need
but to state the case, the motive of my quarrel, the iniquitous wrong that
was attempted against you, the odious traffic of this marriage, and all men
would applaud my act.  None would dare do me a hurt."

"You are too generous in your faith in man," she said.  "Who would believe
your claims?"

"The courts," I said.

"The courts of a State in which Pier Luigi governs?"

"But I have witnesses of the facts."

"Those witnesses would never be allowed to testify.  Your protests would be
smothered.  And how would your case really look?" she cried.  "The world
would conceive that the lover of Bianca de' Cavalcanti had killed her
husband that he might take her for his own.  What could you hope for,
against such a charge as that?  Men might even remember that other affair
of Fifanti's and even the populace, which may be said to have saved you
erstwhile, might veer round and change from the opinion which it has ever
held.  They would say that one who has done such a thing once may do it
twice; that..."

"0, for pity's sake, stop!  Have mercy!" I cried, flinging out my arms
towards her.  And mercifully she ceased, perceiving that she had said
enough.

I turned to the window again, and pressed my brow against the cool glass.
She was right.  That acute mind of hers had pierced straight to the very
core of this matter.  To do the thing that had been in my mind would be not
only to destroy myself, but to defile her; for upon her would recoil a
portion of the odium that must be flung at me.  And--as she said--what then
must be her position?  They would even have a case upon which to drag her
from these walls of Pagliano.  She would be a victim of the civil courts;
she might, at Pier Luigi's instigation, be proceeded against as my
accomplice in what would be accounted a dastardly murder for the basest of
motives.

I turned to her again.

"You are right," I said.  "I see that you are right.  Just as I was right
when I said that my atonement lies here and now.  The penance for which I
have cried out so long is imposed at last.  It is as just as it is cruelly
apt."

I came slowly back to the table, and stood facing her across it.  She
looking up at me with very piteous eyes.

"Bianca, I must go hence," I said.  "That, too, is clear."

Her lips parted; her eyes dilated; her face, if anything, grew paler.

"0, no, no!" she cried piteously.

"It must be," I said.  "How can I remain?  Cosimo may appeal for justice
against me, claiming that I hold his wife in duress--and justice will be
done."

"But can you not resist?  Pagliano is strong and well­manned.  The Black
Bands are very faithful men, and they will stand by you to the end."

"And the world?" I cried.  "What will the world say of you?  It is you
yourself have made me see it.  Shall your name be dragged in the foul mire
of scandal?  The wife of Cosimo d'Anguissola a runagate with her husband's
cousin?  Shall the world say that?"

She moaned, and covered her face with her hands.  Then she controlled
herself again, and looked at me almost fiercely.

"Do you care so much for what men say?"

"I am thinking of you."

"Then think of me to better purpose, my Agostino.  Consider that we are
confronted by two evils, and that the choice of the lesser is forced upon
us.  If you go, I am all unprotected, and...and...the harm is done
already."

Long I looked at her with such a yearning to take her in my arms and
comfort her!  And I had the knowledge that if I remained, daily must I
experience this yearning which must daily grow crueller and more fierce
from the very restraint I must impose upon it.  And then that rearing of
mine, all drenched in sanctity misunderstood, came to my help, and made me
see in this an added burden to my penance, a burden which I must accept if
I would win to ultimate grace.

And so I consented to remain, and I parted from her with no more than a
kiss bestowed upon her finger-tips, and went to pray for patience and
strength to bear my heavy cross and so win to my ultimate reward, be it in
this world or the next.

In the morning came news by a messenger from Galeotto--news of one more
foul crime that the Duke had committed on that awful night when we had
rescued Bianca from his evil claws.  The unfortunate Giuliana had been
found dead in her bed upon the following morning, and the popular voice
said that the Duke had strangled her.

Of that rumour I subsequently had confirmation.  It would appear that
maddened with rage at the loss of his prey, that ravening wolf had looked
about to discover who might have betrayed his purpose and procured that
intervention.  He bethought him of Giuliana.  Had not Cosimo seen her in
intimate talk with me on the morning of my arrest, and would he not have
reported it to his master?

So to the handsome mansion in which he housed her, and to which at all
hours he had access, the Duke went instantly.  He must have taxed her with
it; and knowing her nature, I can imagine that she not only admitted that
his thwarting was due to her, but admitted it mockingly, exultingly,
jeering as only a jealous woman can jeer, until in his rage he seized her
by the throat.

How bitterly must she not have repented that she had not kept a better
guard upon her tongue, during those moments of her agony, brief in
themselves, yet horribly long to her, until her poor wanton spirit went
forth from the weak clay that she had loved too well.

When I heard of the end of that unfortunate, all my bitterness against her
went out of me, and in my heart I set myself to find excuses for her.
Witty and cultured in much; in much else she had been as stupid as the dumb
beast.  She was irreligious as were many because what she saw of religion
did not inspire respect in her, and whilst one of her lovers had been a
prince of the Church another had been the son of the Pope.  She was by
nature sensuous, and her sensuousness stifled in her all perception of
right or wrong.

I like to think that her death was brought about as the result of a good
deed--so easily might it have been the consequence of an evil one.  And I
trust that that deed--good in itself, whatever the sources from which it
may have sprung--may have counted in her favour and weighed in the balance
against the sins that were largely of her nature.

I bethought me of Fra Gervasio's words to me: "Who that knows all that goes
to the making of a sin shall ever dare to blame a sinner?"  He had applied
those words to my own case where Giuliana was concerned.  But do they not
apply equally to Giuliana?  Do they not apply to every sinner, when all is
said?




CHAPTER XII

BLOOD


The words that passed between Bianca and me that evening in the dining-room
express all that can be said of our attitude to each other during the
months that followed.  Daily we met, and the things which our lips no
longer dared to utter, our eyes expressed.

Days passed and grew to weeks, and these accumulated into months.  The
autumn faded from gold to grey, and the winter came and laid the earth to
sleep, and then followed spring to awaken it once more.

None troubled us at Pagliano, and we began with some justice to consider
ourselves secure.  Galeotto's memorial, not a doubt, had stirred up
matters; and Pier Luigi would be under orders from his father not to add
one more scandal to the many of his life by venturing to disturb Madonna
Bianca in her stronghold at Pagliano.

From time to time we were visited by Galeotto.  It was well for him that
fatigue had overwhelmed him that day at Bologna, and so hindered him from
taking a hand with us in the doings of that hideous night, else he might no
longer have freedom to roam the State unchallenged as he did.

He told us of the new citadel the Duke was building in Piacenza, and how
for the purpose he was pulling down houses relentlessly to obtain material
and to clear himself a space, and how, further, he was widening and
strengthening the walls of the city.

"But I doubt," he said one morning in that spring, "if he will live to see
the work completed.  For we are resolved at last.  There is no need for an
armed rising.  Five score of my lances will be all that is necessary.  We
are planning a surprise, and Ferrante Gonzaga is to be at hand to support
us with Imperial troops and to receive the State as the Emperor's
vicegerent when the hour strikes.  It will strike soon," he added, "and
this, too, shall be paid for with the rest."  And he touched the black
mourning gown that Bianca wore.

He rode away again that day, and he went north for a last interview with
the Emperor's Lieutenant, but promising to return before the blow was
struck to give me the opportunity to bear my share in it.

Spring turned to summer, and we waited, wandering in the gardens together;
reading together, playing at bowls or tennis, though the latter game was
not considered one for women, and sometimes exercising the men-at-arms in
the great inner bailey where they lodged.  Twice we rode out ahawking,
accompanied by a strong escort, and returned without mishap, though I would
not consent to a third excursion, lest a rumour having gone abroad, our
enemies should lie in wait to trap us.  I grew strangely fearful of losing
her who did not and who never might belong to me.

And all this time my penance, as I regarded it, grew daily heavier to bear.
Long since I had ceased so much as to kiss her finger-tips.  But to kiss
the very air she breathed was fraught with danger to my peace of mind.  And
then one evening, as we paced the garden together, I had a moment's
madness, a moment in which my yearnings would no longer be repressed.
Without warning I swung about, caught her in my arms, and crushed her to
me.

I saw the sudden flicker of her eyelids, the one swift upward glance of her
blue eyes, and I beheld in them a yearning akin to my own, but also a
something of fear that gave me pause.

I put her from me.  I knelt and kissed the hem of her mourning gown.

"Forgive me, sweet." I besought her very humbly.

"My poor Agostino," was all she answered me, what time her fingers
fluttered gently over my sable hair.

Thereafter I shunned her for a whole week, and was never in her company
save at meals under the eyes of our attendants.

At last, one day in the early part of September, on the very anniversary of
her father's death--the eighth of that month it was, and a Thursday--came
Galeotto with a considerable company of men-at-arms; and that night he was
gay and blithe as I had never seen him in these twelve months past.

When we were alone, the cause of it, which already I suspected, at last
transpired.

"It is the hour," he said very pregnantly.  "His sands are swiftly running
out.  To-morrow, Agostino, you ride with me to Piacenza.  Falcone shall
remain here to captain the men in case any attempt should be made upon
Pagliano, which is not likely."

And now he told us of the gay doings there had been in Piacenza for the
occasion of the visit of the Duke's son Ottavio--that same son-in-law of
the Emperor whom the latter befriended, yet not to the extent of giving him
the duchy in his father's place when that father should have gone to answer
for his sins.

Daily there had been jousts and tournaments and all manner of gaieties, for
which the Piacentini had been sweated until they could sweat no more.
Having fawned upon the people that they might help him to crush the barons,
Farnese was now crushing the people whose service he no longer needed.
Extortion had reduced them to poverty and despair and their very houses
were being pulled down to supply material for the new citadel, the Duke
recking little who might thus be left without a roof over his head.

"He has gone mad," said Galeotto, and laughed.  "Pier Luigi could not more
effectively have played his part so as to serve our ends.  The nobles he
alienated long ago, and now the very populace is incensed against him and
weary of his rapine.  It is so bad with him that of late he has remained
shut in the citadel, and seldom ventures abroad, so as to avoid the sight
of the starving faces of the poor and the general ruin that he is making of
that fair city.  He has given out that he is ill.  A little blood-letting
will cure all his ills for ever."

Upon the morrow Galeotto picked thirty of his men, and gave them their
orders.  They were to depose their black liveries, and clad as countryfolk,
but armed as countryfolk would be for a long journey, they were severally
to repair afoot to Piacenza, and assemble there upon the morning of
Saturday at the time and place he indicated.  They went, and that afternoon
we followed.

"You will come back to me, Agostino?" Bianca said to me at parting.

"I will come back," I answered, and bowing I left her, my heart very heavy.

But as we rode the prospect of the thing to do warmed me a little, and I
shook off my melancholy.  Optimism coloured the world for me all of the
rosy hue of promise.

We slept in Piacenza that night, in a big house in the street that leads to
the Church of San Lazzaro, and there was a company of perhaps a dozen
assembled there, the principals being the brothers Pallavicini of
Cortemaggiore, who had been among the first to feel the iron hand of Pier
Luigi; there were also present Agostino Landi, and the head of the house of
Confalonieri.

We sat after supper about a long table of smooth brown oak, which reflected
as in a pool the beakers and flagons with which it was charged, when
suddenly Galeotto span a coin upon the middle of it.  It fell flat
presently, showing the ducal arms and the inscription of which the
abbreviation PLAC was a part.

Galeotto set his finger to it.  "A year ago I warned him," said he, "that
his fate was written there in that shortened word.  To-morrow I shall read
the riddle for him."

I did not understand the allusion and said so.

"Why," he explained, not only to me but to others whose brows had also been
knit, "first 'Plac' stands for Placentia where he will meet his doom; and
then it contains the initials of the four chief movers in this
undertaking--Pallavicini, Landi, Anguissola, and Confalonieri."

"You force the omen to come true when you give me a leader's rank in this
affair," said I.

He smiled but did not answer, and returned the coin to his pocket.

And now the happening that is to be related is to be found elsewhere, for
it is a matter of which many men have written in different ways, according
to their feelings or to the hand that hired them to the writing.

Soon after dawn Galeotto quitted us, each of us instructed how to act.

Later in the morning, as I was on my way to the castle, where we were to
assemble at noon, I saw Galeotto riding through the streets at the Duke's
side.  He had been beyond the gates with Pier Luigi on an inspection of the
new fortress that was building.  It appeared that once more there was talk
between the Duke and Galeotto of the latter's taking service under him, and
Galeotto made use of this circumstance to forward his plans.  He was, I
think, the most self-contained and patient man that it would have been
possible to find for such an undertaking.

In addition to the condottiero, a couple of gentlemen on horseback attended
the Duke, and half a score of his Swiss lanzknechte in gleaming corselets
and steel morions, shouldering their formidable pikes, went afoot to hedge
his excellency.

The people fell back before that little company; the citizens doffed their
caps with the respect that is begotten of fear, but their air was sullen
and in the main they were silent, though here and there some knave, with
the craven adulation of those born to serve at all costs, raised a feeble
shout of "Duca!"

The Duke moved slowly at little more than a walking pace, for he was all
crippled again by the disease that ravaged him, and his face, handsome in
itself, was now repulsive to behold; it was a livid background for the
fiery pustules that mottled it, and under the sunken eyes there were great
brown stains of suffering.

I flattened myself against a wall in the shadow of a doorway lest he should
see me, for my height made me an easy mark in that crowd.  But he looked
neither to right nor to left as he rode.  Indeed, it was said that he could
no longer bear to meet the glances of the people he had so grossly abused
and outraged with deeds that are elsewhere abundantly related, and with
which I need not turn your stomachs here.

When they had gone by, I followed slowly in their wake towards the castle.
As I turned out of the fine road that Gambara had built, I was joined by
the brothers Pallavicini, a pair of resolute, grizzled gentlemen, the elder
of whom, as you will remember, was slightly lame.  With an odd sense of
fitness they had dressed themselves in black.  They were accompanied by
half a dozen of Galeotto's men, but these bore no device by which they
could be identified.  We exchanged greetings, and stepped out together
across the open space of the Piazza della Citadella towards the fortress.

We crossed the drawbridge, and entered unchallenged by the guard.  People
were wont to come and go, and to approach the Duke it was necessary to pass
the guard in the ante-chamber above, whose business it was to question all
comers.

Moreover the only guard set consisted of a couple of Swiss who lounged in
the gateway, the garrison being all at dinner, a circumstance upon which
Galeotto had calculated in appointing noon as the hour for the striking of
the blow.

We crossed the quadrangle, and passing under a second archway came into the
inner bailey as we had been bidden.  Here we were met by Confalonieri, who
also had half a dozen men with him.  He greeted us, and issued his orders
sharply.

"You, Ser Agostino, are to come with us, whilst you others are to remain
here until Messer Landi arrives with the remainder of our forces.  He
should have a score of men with him, and they will cut down the guard when
they enter.  The moment that is done let a pistol-shot be discharged as the
signal to us above, and proceed immediately to take up the bridge and
overpower the Swiss who should still be at table.  Landi has his orders and
knows how to act."

The Pallavicini briefly spoke their assents, and Confalonieri, taking me by
the arm, led me quickly above-stairs, his half-dozen men following close
upon our heels.  Upon none was there any sign of armour.  But every man
wore a shirt of mail under his doublet or jerkin.

We entered the ante-chamber--a fine, lofty apartment, richly hung and
richly furnished.  It was empty of courtiers, for all were gone to dine
with the captain of the guard, who had been married upon that very morning
and was giving a banquet in honour of the event, as Galeotto had informed
himself when he appointed the day.

Over by a window sat four of the Swiss--the entire guard--about a table
playing at dice, their lances deposited in an angle of the wall.

Watching their game--for which he had lingered after accompanying the Duke
thus far--stood the tall, broad-shouldered figure of Galeotto.  He turned
as we entered, and gave us an indifferent glance as if we were of no
interest to him, then returned his attention to the dicers.

One or two of the Swiss looked up at us casually.  The dice rattled
merrily, and there came from the players little splutters of laughter and
deep guttural, German oaths.

At the room's far end, by the curtains that masked the door of the chamber
where Farnese sat at dinner, stood an usher in black velvet, staff in hand,
who took no more interest in us than did the Swiss.

We sauntered over to the dicers' table, and in placing ourselves the better
to watch their game, we so contrived that we entirely hemmed them into the
embrasure, whilst Confalonieri himself stood with his back to the pikes, an
effective barrier between the men and their weapons.

We remained thus for some moments whilst the game went on, and we laughed
with the winners and swore with the losers, as if our hearts were entirely
in the dicing and we had not another thought in the world.

Suddenly a pistol-shot crackled below, and startled the Swiss, who looked
at one another.  One burly fellow whom they named Hubli held the dice-box
poised for a throw that was never made.

Across the courtyard below men were running with drawn swords, shouting as
they ran, and hurled themselves through the doorway leading to the quarters
where the Swiss were at table.  This the guards saw through the open
window, and they stared, muttering German oaths to express their deep
bewilderment.

And then there came a creak of winches and a grinding of chains to inform
us that the bridge was being taken up.  At last those four lanzknechte
looked at us.

"Beim blute Gottes!" swore Hubli.  "Was giebt es?"

Our set faces, showing no faintest trace of surprise, quickened their
alarm, and this became flavoured by suspicion when they perceived at last
how closely we pressed about them.

"Continue your game," said Confalonieri quietly, "it will be best for you."

The great blonde fellow Hubli flung down the dice-box and heaved himself up
truculently to face the speaker who stood between him and the lances.
Instantly Confalonieri stabbed him, and he sank back into his chair with a
cry, intensest surprise in his blue eyes, so sudden and unlooked-for had
the action been.

Galeotto had already left the group about the table, and with a blow of his
great hand he felled the usher who sought to bar his passage to the Duke's
chamber.  He tore down the curtains, and he was wrapping and entangling the
fellow in the folds of them when I came to his aid followed by
Confalonieri, whose six men remained to hold the three sound and the one
wounded Swiss in check.

And now from below there rose such a din of steel on steel, of shouts and
screams and curses, that it behoved us to make haste.

Bidding us follow him, Galeotto flung open the door.  At table sat Farnese
with two of his gentlemen, one of whom was the Marquis Sforza-Fogliani, the
other a doctor of canon law named Copallati.

Alarm was already written on their faces.  At sight of Galeotto--"Ah!  You
are still here!" cried Farnese.  "What is taking place below?  Have the
Swiss fallen to fighting among themselves?"

Galeotto returned no answer, but advanced slowly into the room; and now
Farnese's eyes went past him and fastened upon me, and I saw them suddenly
dilate; beyond me they went and met the cold glance of Confalonieri, that
other gentleman he had so grievously wronged and whom he had stripped of
the last rag of his possessions and his rights.  The sun coming through the
window caught the steel that Confalonieri still carried in his hands; its
glint drew the eyes of the Duke, and he must have seen that the baron's
sleeve was bloody.

He rose, leaning heavily upon the table.

"What does this mean?" he demanded in a quavering voice, and his face had
turned grey with apprehension.

"It means," Galeotto answered him, firmly and coldly, "that your rule in
Piacenza is at an end, that the Pontifical sway is broken in these States,
and that beyond the Po Ferrante Gonzaga waits with an army to take
possession here in the Emperor's name.  Finally, my Lord Duke, it means
that the Devil's patience is to be rewarded, and that he is at last to have
you who have so faithfully served him upon earth."

Farnese made a gurgling sound and put a jewelled hand to his throat as if
he choked.  He was all in green velvet, and every button of his doublet was
a brilliant of price; and that gay raiment by its incongruity seemed to
heighten the tragedy of the moment.

Of his gentlemen the doctor sat frozen with terror in his high-backed seat,
clutching the arms of it so that his knuckles showed white as marble.  In
like case were the two attendant servants, who hung motionless by the
buffet.  But Sforza-Fogliani, a man of some spirit for all his effeminate
appearance, leapt to his feet and set a hand to his weapons.

Instantly Confalonieri's sword flashed from its sheath.  He had passed his
dagger into his left hand.

"On your life, my Lord Marquis, do not meddle here," he warned him in a
voice that was like a trumpet-call.

And before that ferocious aspect and those naked weapons Sforza-Fogliani
stood checked and intimidated.

I too had drawn my poniard, determined that Farnese should fall to my steel
in settlement of the score that lay between us.  He saw the act, and if
possible his fears were increased, for he knew that the wrongs he had done
me were personal matters between us for which it was not likely I should
prove forgiving.

"Mercy!" he gasped, and held out supplicating hands to Galeotto.

"Mercy?" I echoed, and laughed fiercely.  "What mercy would you have shown
me against whom you set the Holy Office, but that you could sell my life at
a price that was merciless?  What mercy would you have shown to the
daughter of Cavalcanti when she lay in your foul power?  What mercy did you
show her father who died by your hand?  What mercy did you show the
unfortunate Giuliana whom you strangled in her bed?  What mercy did you
ever show to any that you dare ask now for mercy?"

He looked at me with dazed eyes, and from me to Galeotto.  He shuddered and
turned a greenish hue.  His knees were loosened by terror, and he sank back
into the chair from which he had risen.

"At least...at least," he gasped, "let me have a priest to shrive me.  Do
not...do not let me die with all my sins upon me!"

In that moment there came from the ante-chamber the sound of swiftly moving
feet, and the clash of steel mingling with cries.  The sound heartened him.
He conceived that someone came to his assistance.  He raised his voice in a
desperate screech:

"To me!  To me!  Help!"

As he shouted I sprang towards him, to find my passage suddenly barred by
Galeotto's arm.  He shot it out, and my breast came against it as against a
rod of iron.  It threw me out of balance, and ere I had recovered it had
thrust me back again.

"Back there!" said Galeotto's brazen voice.  "This affair is mine.  Mine
are the older wrongs and the greater."

With that he stepped behind the Duke's chair, and Farnese in a fresh spurt
of panic came to his feet.  Galeotto locked an arm about his neck and
pulled his head back.  Into his ear he muttered words that I could not
overhear, but it was matter that stilled Farnese's last struggle.  Only the
Duke's eyes moved, rolling in his head as he sought to look upon the face
of the man who spoke to him.  And in that moment Galeotto wrenched his
victim's head still farther back, laying entirely bare the long brown
throat, across which he swiftly drew his dagger.

Copallati screamed and covered his face with his hands; Sforza-Fogliani,
white to the lips, looked on like a man entranced.

There was a screech from Farnese that ended in a gurgle, and suddenly the
blood spurted from his neck as from a fountain.  Galeotto let him go.  He
dropped to his chair and fell forward against the table, drenching it in
blood.  Thence he went over sideways and toppled to the floor, where he lay
twitching, a huddle of arms and legs, the head lolling sideways, the eyes
vitreous, and blood, blood, blood all about him.




CHAPTER XIII

THE OVERTHROW


The sight turned me almost physically sick.

I faced about, and sprang from the room out into the ante-chamber, where a
battle was in progress.  Some three or four of the Duke's gentlemen and a
couple of Swiss had come to attempt a rescue.  They had compelled
Galeotto's six men to draw and defend themselves, the odds being suddenly
all against them.  Into that medley I went with drawn sword, hacking and
cutting madly, giving knocks and taking them, glad of the excitement of it;
glad of anything that would shut out from my mind the horror of the scene I
had witnessed.

Presently Confalonieri came out to take a hand, leaving Galeotto on guard
within, and in a few minutes we had made an end of that resistance--the
last splutter of resistance within those walls.

Beyond some cuts and scratches that some of us had taken, not a man of ours
was missing, whilst of the Duke's followers not a single one remained alive
in that ante­chamber.  The place was a shambles.  Hangings that had been
clutched had been torn from the walls; a great mirror was cracked from top
to bottom; tables were overset and wrecked; chairs were splintered; and
hardly a pane of glass remained in any of the windows.  And everywhere
there was blood, everywhere dead men.

Up the stairs came trooping now our assembled forces led by Landi and the
Pallavicini.  Below all was quiet.  The Swiss garrison taken by surprise at
table, as was planned, had been disarmed and all were safe and impotent
under lock and bolt.  The guards at the gate had been cut down, and we were
entirely masters of the place.

Sforza-Fogliani, Copallati, and the two servants were fetched from the
Duke's chamber and taken away to be locked up in another room until the
business should be ended.  For after all, it was but begun.

In the town the alarm-bell was ringing from the tower of the Communal
Palace, and at the sound I saw Galeotto's eyes kindling.  He took command,
none disputing it him, and under his orders men went briskly to turn the
cannon of the fortress upon the square, that an attack might be repulsed if
it were attempted.  And three salvoes were fired, to notify Ferrante
Gonzaga where he waited that the castle was in the hands of the
conspirators and Pier Luigi slain.

Meanwhile we had returned with Galeotto to the room where the Duke had
died, and where his body still lay, huddled as it had fallen.  The windows
of this chamber were set in the outer wall of the fortress, immediately
above the gates and commanding a view of the square.  We were six--
Confalonieri, Landi, the two Pallavicini, Galeotto, and myself, besides a
slight fellow named Malvicini, who had been an officer of light-horse in
the Duke's service, but who had taken a hand in betraying him.

In the square there was by now a seething, excited mob through which a
little army of perhaps a thousand men of the town militia with their
captain, da Terni, riding at their head, was forcing its way.  And they
were shouting "Duca!" and crying out that the castle had been seized by
Spaniards--by which they meant the Emperor's troops.

Galeotto dragged a chair to the window, and standing upon it, showed
himself to the people.

"Disperse!" he shouted to them.  "To your homes!  The Duke is dead!"

But his voice could not surmount that raging din, above which continued to
ring the cry of "Duca!  Duca!"

"Let me show them their Duca," said a voice.  It was Malvicini's.

He had torn down a curtain-rope, and had attached an end of it to one of
the dead man's legs.  Thus he dragged the body forward towards the window.
The other end of the rope he now knotted very firmly to a mullion.  Then he
took the body up in his arms, whilst Galeotto stood aside to make way for
him, and staggering under his ghastly burden, Malvicini reached the window,
and heaved it over the sill.

It fell the length of the rope and there was arrested with a jerk to hang
head downwards, spread-eagle against the brown wall; and the diamond
buttons in his green velvet doublet sparkled merrily in the sunshine.

At that sight a great silence swept across the multitude, and availing
himself of this, Galeotto again addressed those Piacentini.

"To your homes," he cried to them, "and arm yourselves to defend the State
from your enemies if the need should arise.  There hangs the Duke--dead.
He has been slain to liberate our country from unjust oppression."

Still, it seemed, they did not hear him; for though to us they appeared to
be almost silent, yet there was a rustle and stir amongst them, which must
have deafened each to what was being announced.

They renewed their cries of "Duca!" of "Spaniards!" and "To arms!"

"A curse on your 'Spaniards!'" cried Malvicini.  "Here!  Take your Duke.
Look at him, and understand."  And he slashed the rope across, so that the
body plunged down into the castle ditch.

A few of the foremost of the crowd ran forward and scrambled down into the
ditch to view the body, and from them the rumour of the truth ran like a
ripple over water through that mob, so that in the twinkling of an eye
there was no man in that vast concourse--and all Piacenza seemed by now to
be packed into the square--but knew that Pier Luigi Farnese was dead.

A sudden hush fell.  There were no more cries of "Duca!"  They stood
silent, and not a doubt but that in the breasts of the majority surged a
great relief.  Even the militia ceased to advance.  If the Duke was dead
there was nothing left to do.

Again Galeotto spoke to them, and this time his words were caught by those
in the ditch immediately below us, and from them they were passed on, and
suddenly a great cry went up--a shout of relief, a paean of joy.  If
Farnese was dead, and well dead, they could, at last, express the thing
that was in their hearts.

And now at the far end of the square a glint of armour appeared; a troop of
horse emerged, and began slowly to press forward through the crowd, driving
it back on either side, but very gently.  They came three abreast, and
there were six score of them, and from their lance-heads fluttered
bannerols showing a sable bar on an argent field.  They were Galeotto's
free company, headed by one of his lieutenants.  Beyond the Po they too had
been awaiting the salvo of artillery that should be their signal to
advance.

When their identity was understood, and when the crowd had perceived that
they rode to support the holders of the castle, they were greeted with
lusty cheers, in which presently even the militia joined, for these last
were Piacentini and no Swiss hireling soldiers of the Duke's.

The drawbridge was let down, and the company thundered over it to draw up
in the courtyard under the eyes of Galeotto.  He issued his orders once
more to his companions.  Then calling for horses for himself and for me,
and bidding a score of lances to detach themselves to ride with us, we
quitted the fortress.

We pressed through the clamant multitude until we had reached the middle of
the square.  Here Galeotto drew rein and, raising his hand for silence,
informed the people once more that the Duke had been done to death by the
nobles of Piacenza, thus to avenge alike their own and the people's wrongs,
and to free them from unjust oppression and tyranny.

They cheered him when he had done, and the cry now was "Piacenza!
Piacenza!"

When they had fallen silent again--"I would have you remember," he cried,
"that Pier Luigi was the Pontiff's son, and that the Pontiff will make
haste to avenge his death and to re-establish here in Piacenza the Farnese
sway.  So that all that we have done this day may go for naught unless we
take our measures."

The silence deepened.

"But you have been served by men who have the interest of the State at
heart; and more has been done to serve you than the mere slaying of Pier
Luigi Farnese.  Our plans are made, and we but wait to know is it your will
that the State should incorporate itself as of old with that of Milan, and
place itself under the protection of the Emperor, who will appoint you
fellow-countrymen for rulers, and will govern you wisely and justly,
abolishing extortion and oppression?"

A thunder of assent was his answer.  "Cesare!  Cesare!" was now the cry,
and caps were tossed into the air.

"Then go arm yourselves and repair to the Commune, and there make known
your will to the Anziani and councillors, and see that it is given effect
by them.  The Emperor's Lieutenant is at your gates.  I ride to surrender
to him the city in your name, and before nightfall he will be here to
protect you from any onslaught of the Pontificals."

With that he pushed on, the mob streaming along with us, intent upon going
there and then to do the thing that Galeotto advised.  And by now they had
discovered Galeotto's name, and they were shouting it in acclamation of
him, and at the sound he smiled, though his eyes seemed very wistful.

He leaned over to me, and gripped my hand where it lay on the saddle-bow
clutching the reins.

"Thus is Giovanni d'Anguissola at last avenged!" he said to me in a deep
voice that thrilled me.

"I would that he were here to know," I answered.

And again Galeotto's eyes grew wistful as they looked at me.

We won out of the town at last, and when we came to the high ground beyond
the river, we saw in the plain below phalanx upon phalanx of a great army.
It was Ferrante Gonzaga's Imperial force.

Galeotto pointed to it.  "That is my goal," he said.  "You had best ride on
to Pagliano with these lances.  You may need them there.  I had hoped that
Cosimo would have been found in the castle with Pier Luigi.  His absence
makes me uneasy.  Away with you, then.  You shall have news of me within
three days."

We embraced, on horseback as we were.  Then he wheeled his charger and went
down the steep ground, riding hard for Ferrante's army, whilst we pursued
our way, and came some two hours later without mishap to Pagliano.

I found Bianca awaiting me in the gallery above the courtyard, drawn
thither by the sounds of our approach.

"Dear Agostino, I have been so fearful for you," was her greeting when I
had leapt up the staircase to take her hand.

I led her to the marble seat she had occupied on that night, two years ago,
when first we had spoken of our visions.  Briefly I gave her the news of
what had befallen in Piacenza.

When I had done, she sighed and looked at me.

"It brings us no nearer to each other," she said.

"Nay, now--this much nearer, at least, that the Imperial decree will return
me the lordships of Mondolfo and Carmina, dispossessing the usurper.  Thus
I shall have something to offer you, my Bianca."

She smiled at me very sadly, almost reproachfully.

"Foolish," said she.  "What matter the possessions that it may be yours to
cast into my lap?  Is that what we wait for, Agostino?  Is there not
Pagliano for you?  Would not that, at need, be lordship enough?"

"The meanest cottage of the countryside were lordship enough so that you
shared it," I answered passionately, as many in like case have answered
before and since.

"You see, then, that you are wrong to attach importance to so slight a
thing as this Imperial decree where you and I are concerned.  Can an
Imperial decree annul my marriage?"

"For that a papal bull would be necessary."

"And how is a papal bull to be obtained?"

"It is not for us," I admitted miserably.

"I have been wicked," she said, her eyes upon the ground, a faint colour
stirring in her cheeks.  "I have prayed that the usurper might be
dispossessed of his rights in me.  I have prayed that when the attack was
made and revolt was carried into the Citadel of Piacenza, Cosimo
d'Anguissola might stand at his usual post beside the Duke and might fall
with him.  Surely justice demanded it!" she cried out.  "God's justice, as
well as man's.  His act in marrying me was a defilement of one of the
holiest of sacraments, and for that he should surely be punished and struck
down!"

I went upon my knees to her.  "Dear love!" I cried.  "See, I have you daily
in my sight.  Let me not be ungrateful for so much."

She took my face in her hands and looked into my eyes, saying no word.
Then she leaned forward, and very gently touched my forehead with her 1ips.

"God pity us a little, Agostino," she murmured, her eyes shining with
unshed tears.

"The fault is mine--all mine!" I denounced myself.  "We are being visited
with my sins.  When I can take you for my own--if that blessed day should
ever dawn--I shall know that I have attained to pardon, that I am cleansed
and worthy of you at last."

She rose and I escorted her within; then went to my own chamber to bathe
and rest.




CHAPTER XIV

THE CITATION


We were breaking our fast upon the following morning when Falcone sent word
to me by one of the pages that a considerable force was advancing towards
us from the south.

I rose, somewhat uneasy.  Yet I reflected that it was possible that, news
of the revolt in Piacenza having reached Parma, this was an army of
Pontificals moving thence upon the rebellious city.  But in that case, what
should they be doing this side of Po?

An hour later, from the battlements where we paced side by side--Bianca and
I--we were able to estimate this force and we fixed its strength at five
score lances.  Soon we could make out the device upon their bannerols--a
boar's head azure upon an argent field--my own device, that of the
Anguissola of Mondolfo; and instantly I knew them for Cosimo's men.

On the lower parapet six culverins had been dragged into position under the
supervision of Falcone--who was still with us at Pagliano.  These pieces
stood loaded and manned by the soldiers to whom I had assigned the office
of engineers.

Thus we waited until the little army came to a halt about a quarter of a
mile away, and a trumpeter with a flag of truce rode forward accompanied by
a knight armed cap-a-pie, his beaver down.

The herald wound a challenge; and it was answered from the postern by a
man-at-arms, whereupon the herald delivered his message.

"In the name of our Holy Father and Lord, Paul III, we summon Agostino
d'Anguissola here to confer with the High and Mighty Cosimo d'Anguissola,
Tyrant of Mondolfo and Carmina."

Three minutes later, to their infinite surprise, the bridge thudded down to
span the ditch, and I walked out upon it with Bianca at my side.

"Will the Lord Cosimo come within to deliver his message?" I demanded.

The Lord Cosimo would not, fearing a trap.

"Will he meet us here upon the bridge, divesting himself first of his
weapons?  Myself I am unarmed."

The herald conveyed the words to Cosimo, who hesitated still.  Indeed, he
had wheeled his horse when the bridge fell, ready to gallop off at the
first sign of a sortie.

I laughed.  "You are a paltry coward, Cosimo, when all is said," I shouted.
"Do you not see that had I planned to take you, I need resort to no
subterfuge?  I have," I added--though untruthfully--" twice your number of
lances under arms, and by now I could have flung them across the bridge and
taken you under the very eyes of your own men.  You were rash to venture so
far.  But if you will not venture farther, at least send me your herald."

At that he got down from his horse, delivered up sword and dagger to his
single attendant, received from the man a parchment, and came towards us,
opening his vizor as he advanced.  Midway upon the bridge we met.  His lips
curled in a smile of scorn.

"Greetings, my strolling saint," he said.  "Through all your vagaries you
are at least consistent in that you ever engage your neighbour's wife to
bear you company in your wanderings."

I went hot and cold, red and white by turns.  With difficulty I controlled
myself under that taunt--the cruellest he could have flung at me in
Bianca's hearing.

"Your business here?" I snarled.

He held out the parchment, his eyes watching me intently, so that they
never once strayed to Bianca.

"Read, St. Mountebank," he bade me.

I took the paper, but before I lowered my eyes to it, I gave him warning.

"If on your part you attempt the slightest treachery," I said, "you shall
be repaid in kind.  My men are at the winches, and they have my orders that
at the first treacherous movement on your part they are to take up the
bridge.  You will see that you could not reach the end of it in time to
save yourself."

It was his turn to change colour under the shadow of his beaver.  "Have you
trapped me?" he asked between his teeth.

"If you had anything of the Anguissola besides the name," I answered, "you
would know me incapable of such a thing.  It is because I know that of the
Anguissola you have nothing but the name, that you are a craven, a dastard
and a dog, that I have taken my precautions."

"Is it your conception of valour to insult a man whom you hold as if bound
hand and foot against striking you as you deserve?"

I smiled sweetly into that white, scowling face.

"Throw down your gauntlet upon this bridge, Cosimo, if you deem yourself
affronted, if you think that I have lied; and most joyfully will I take it
up and give you the trial by battle of your seeking."

For an instant I almost thought that he would take me at my word, as most
fervently I hoped.  But he restrained himself.

"Read!" he bade me again, with a fierce gesture.  And accounting him well
warned by now, I read with confidence.

It was a papal brief ordering me under pain of excommunication and death to
make surrender to Cosimo d'Anguissola of the Castle of Pagliano which I
traitorously held, and of the person of his wife, Madonna Bianca.

"This document is not exact," said I.  "I do not hold this castle
traitorously.  It is an Imperial fief, and I hold it in the Emperor's
name."

He smiled.  "Persist if you are weary of life," he said.  "Surrender now,
and you are free to depart and go wheresoever you list.  Continue in your
offence, and the consequences shall daunt you ere all is done.  This
Imperial fief belongs to me, and it is for me, who am Lord of Pagliano by
virtue of my marriage and the late lord's death, to hold it for the
Emperor.

"And you are not to doubt that when this brief is laid before the Emperor's
Lieutenant at Milan, he will move instantly against you to cast you out and
to invest me in those rights which are mine by God's law and man's alike."

My answer may, at first, have seemed hardly to the point.  I held out the
brief to him.

"To seek the Emperor's Lieutenant you need not go as far as Milan.  You
will find him in Piacenza."

He looked at me, as if he did not understand.  "How?" he asked.

I explained.  "While you have been cooling your heels in the ante-chambers
of the Vatican to obtain this endorsement of your infamy, the world
hereabouts has moved a little.  Yesterday Ferrante Gonzaga took possession
of Piacenza in the Emperor's name.  To-day the Council will be swearing
fealty to Caesar upon his Lieutenant's hands."

He stared at me for a long moment, speechless in his utter amazement.  Then
he swallowed hard.

"And the Duke?" he asked.

"The Duke has been in Hell these four-and-twenty hours."

"Dead?" he questioned, his voice hushed.

"Dead," said I.

He leaned against the rail of the bridge, his arms fallen limply to his
sides, one hand crushing the Pontifical parchment.  Then he braced himself
again.  He had reviewed the situation, and did not see that it hurt his
position, when all was said.

"Even so," he urged, "what can you hope for?  The Emperor himself must bow
before this, and do me justice."  And he smacked the document.  "I demand
my wife, and my demand is backed by Pontifical authority.  You are mad if
you think that Charles V can fail to support it."

"It is possible that Charles V may take a different view of the memorial
setting forth the circumstances of your marriage, from that which the Holy
Father appears to have taken.  I counsel you to seek the Imperial
Lieutenant at Piacenza without delay.  Here you waste time."

His lips closed with a snap.  Then, at last, his eyes wandered to Bianca,
who stood just beside and slightly behind me.

"Let me appeal to you, Monna Bianca..." he began.

But at that I got between them.  "Are you so dead to shame," I roared,
"that you dare address her, you pimp, you jackal, you eater of dirt?  Be
off, or I will have this drawbridge raised and deal with you here and now,
in despite of Pope and Emperor and all the other powers you can invoke.
Away with you, then!"

"You shall pay!" he snarled, "By God, you shall pay!"

And on that he went off, in some fear lest I should put my threat into
execution.

But Bianca was in a panic.  "He will do as he says." she cried as soon as
we had re-entered the courtyard.  "The Emperor cannot deny him justice.  He
must, he must!  0, Agostino, it is the end.  And see to what a pass I have
brought you!"

I comforted her.  I spoke brave words.  I swore to hold that castle as long
as one stone of it stood upon another.  But deep down in my heart there was
naught but presages of evil.

On the following day, which was Sunday, we had peace.  But towards noon on
Monday the blow fell.  An Imperial herald from Piacenza rode out to
Pagliano with a small escort.

We were in the garden when word was brought us, and I bade the herald be
admitted.  Then I looked at Bianca.  She was trembling and had turned very
white.

We spoke no word whilst they brought the messenger--a brisk fellow in his
black-and-yellow Austrian livery.  He delivered me a sealed letter.  It
proved to be a summons from Ferrante Gonzaga to appear upon the morrow
before the Imperial Court which would sit in the Communal Palace of
Piacenza to deliver judgment upon an indictment laid against me by Cosimo
d'Anguissola.

I looked at the herald, hesitation in my mind and glance.  He held out a
second letter.

"This, my lord, I was asked by favour to deliver to you also."

I took it, and considered the superscription:

"These to the Most Noble Agostino d'Anguissola, at Pagliano.

     Quickly.
     Quickly.
     Quickly."

The hand was Galeotto's.  I tore it open.  It contained but two lines:

"Upon your life do not fail to obey the Imperial summons.  Send Falcone to
me here at once."  And it was signed--"GALEOTTO."

"It is well," I said to the herald, "I will not fail to attend."

I bade the seneschal who stood in attendance to give the messenger
refreshment ere he left, and upon that dismissed him.

When we were alone I turned to Bianca.  "Galeotto bids me go," I said.
"There is surely hope."

She took the note, and passing a hand over her eyes, as if to clear away
some mist that obscured her vision, she read it.  Then she considered the
curt summons that gave no clue, and lastly looked at me.

"It is the end," I said.  "One way or the other, it is the end.  But for
Galeotto's letter, I think I should have refused to obey, and made myself
an outlaw indeed.  As it is--there is surely hope!"

"0, Agostino, surely, surely!" she cried.  "Have we not suffered enough?
Have we not paid enough already for the happiness that should be ours?
To­morrow I shall go with you to Piacenza."

"No, no," I implored her.

"Could I remain here?" she pleaded.  "Could I sit here and wait?  Could you
be so cruel as to doom me to such a torture of suspense?"

"But if...if the worst befalls?"

"It cannot," she answered.  "I believe in God."




CHAPTER XV

THE WILL OF HEAVEN


In the Chamber of Justice of the Communal Palace sat that day not the
Assessors of the Ruota, but the Councillors in their damask robes--the
Council of Ten of the City of Piacenza.  And to preside over them sat not
their Prior, but Ferrante Gonzaga himself, in a gown of scarlet velvet
edged with miniver.

They sat at a long table draped in red at the room's end, Gonzaga slightly
above them on a raised dais, under a canopy.  Behind him hung a golden
shield upon which was figured, between two upright columns each surmounted
by a crown, the double-headed black eagle of Austria; a scroll intertwining
the pillars was charged with the motto "PLUS ULTRA."

At the back of the court stood the curious who had come to see the show,
held in bounds by a steel line of Spanish halberdiers.  But the concourse
was slight, for the folk of Piacenza still had weightier matters to concern
them than the trial of a wife-stealer.

I had ridden in with an escort of twenty lances.  But I left these in the
square when I entered the palace and formally made surrender to the officer
who met me.  This officer led me at once into the Chamber of Justice, two
men-at-arms opening a lane for me through the people with the butts of
their pikes, so that I came into the open space before my judges, and bowed
profoundly to Gonzaga.

Coldly he returned the salutation, his prominent eyes regarding me from out
of that florid, crafty countenance.

On my left, but high up the room and immediately at right angles to the
judges' tables, sat Galeotto, full-armed.  He was flanked on the one side
by Fra Gervasio, who greeted me with a melancholy smile, and on the other
by Falcone, who sat rigid.

Opposite to this group on the judges' other hand stood Cosimo.  He was
flushed, and his eyes gleamed as they measured me with haughty triumph.
From me they passed to Bianca, who followed after me with her women, pale,
but intrepid and self-contained, her face the whiter by contrast with the
mourning-gown which she still wore for her father, and which it might well
come to pass that she should continue hereafter to wear for me.

I did not look at her again as she passed on and up towards Galeotto, who
had risen to receive her.  He came some few steps to meet her, and escorted
her to a seat next to his own, so that Falcone moved down to another vacant
stool.  Her women found place behind her.

An usher set a chair for me, and I, too, sat down, immediately facing the
Emperor's Lieutenant.  Then another usher in a loud voice summoned Cosimo
to appear and state his grievance.

He advanced a step or two, when Gonzaga raised his hand, to sign to him to
remain where he was so that all could see him whilst he spoke.

Forthwith, quickly, fluently, and lucidly, as if he had got the thing by
heart, Cosimo recited his accusation: How he had married Bianca de'
Cavalcanti by her father's consent in her father's own Castle of Pagliano;
how that same night his palace in Piacenza had been violently invested by
myself and others abetting me, and how we had carried off his bride and
burnt his palace to the ground; how I had since held her from him, shut up
in the Castle of Pagliano, which was his fief in his quality as her
husband; and how similarly I had unlawfully held Pagliano against him to
his hurt.

Finally he reminded the Court that he had appealed to the Pope, who had
issued a brief commanding me, under pain of excommunication and death, to
make surrender; that I had flouted the Pontifical authority, and that it
was only upon his appeal to Caesar and upon the Imperial mandate that I had
surrendered.  Wherefore he begged the Court to uphold the Holy Father's
authority, and forthwith to pronounce me excommunicate and my life forfeit,
restoring to him his wife Bianca and his domain of Pagliano, which be would
hold as the Emperor's liege and loyal servitor.

Having spoken thus, he bowed to the Court, stepped back, and sat down.

The Ten looked at Gonzaga.  Gonzaga looked at me.

"Have you anything to say?" he asked.

I rose imbued by a calm that surprised me.

"Messer Cosimo has left something out of his narrative," said I.  "When he
says that I violently invested his palace here in Piacenza on the night of
his marriage, and dragged thence the Lady Bianca, others abetting me, he
would do well to add in the interests of justice, the names of those who
were my abettors."

Cosimo rose again.  "Does it matter to this Court and to the affair at
issue what caitiffs he employed?" he asked haughtily.

"If they were caitiffs it would not matter," said I.  "But they were not.
Indeed, to say that it was I who invested his palace is to say too much.
The leader of that expedition was Monna Bianca's own father, who, having
discovered the truth of the nefarious traffic in which Messer Cosimo was
engaged, hastened to rescue his daughter from an infamy."

Cosimo shrugged.  "These are mere words," he said.

"The lady herself is present, and can bear witness to their truth," I
cried.

"A prejudiced witness, indeed!" said Cosimo with confidence; and Gonzaga
nodded, whereupon my heart sank.

"Will Messer Agostino give us the names of any of the braves who were with
him?" quoth Cosimo.  "It will no doubt assist the ends of justice, for
those men should be standing by him now."

He checked me no more than in time.  I had been on the point of citing
Falcone; and suddenly I perceived that to do so would be to ruin Falcone
without helping myself.

I looked at my cousin.  "In that case," said I, "I will not name them."

Falcone, however, was minded to name himself, for with a grunt he made
suddenly to rise.  But Galeotto stretched an arm across Bianca, and forced
the equerry back into his seat.

Cosimo saw and smiled.  He was very sure of himself by now.

"The only witness whose word would carry weight would be the late Lord of
Pagliano," he said.  "And the prisoner is more crafty than honest in naming
one who is dead.  Your excellency will know the precise importance to
attach to that."

Again his excellency nodded.  Could it indeed be that I was enmeshed?  My
calm deserted me.

"Will Messer Cosimo tell your excellency under what circumstances the Lord
of Pagliano died?" I cried.

"It is yourself should be better able to inform the Court of that,"
answered Cosimo quickly, "since he died at Pagliano after you had borne his
daughter thither, as we have proof."

Gonzaga looked at him sharply.  "Are you implying, sir, that there is a
further crime for which Messer Agostino d'Anguissola should be indicted?"
he inquired.

Cosimo shrugged and pursed his lips.  "I will not go so far, since the
matter of Ettore Cavalcanti's death does not immediately concern me.
Besides, there is enough contained in the indictment as it stands."

The imputation was none the less terrible, and could not fail of an effect
upon the minds of the Ten.  I was in despair, for at every question it
seemed that the tide of destruction rose higher about me.  I deemed myself
irrevocably lost.  The witnesses I might have called were as good as
gagged.

Yet there was one last question in my quiver--a question which I thought
must crumple up his confidence.

"Can you tell his excellency where you were upon your marriage night?" I
cried hoarsely, my temples throbbing.

Superbly Cosimo looked round at the Court; he shrugged, and shook his head
as if in utter pity.

"I leave it to your excellency to say where a man should be upon his
marriage night," he said, with an astounding impudence, and there were some
who tittered in the crowd behind me.  "Let me again beg your excellency and
your worthinesses to pass to judgment, and so conclude this foolish
comedy."

Gonzaga nodded gravely, as if entirely approving, whilst with a fat
jewelled hand he stroked his ample chin.

"I, too, think that it is time," he said, whereupon Cosimo, with a sigh of
relief, would have resumed his seat but that I stayed him with the last
thing I had to say.

"My lord," I cried, appealing to Gonzaga, "the true events of that night
are set forth in a memorial of which two copies were drawn up, one for the
Pope and the other for your excellency, as the Emperor's vicegerent.  Shall
I recite its contents--that Messer Cosimo may be examined upon them.

"It is not necessary," came Gonzaga's icy voice.  "The memorial is here
before me."  And he tapped a document upon the table.  Then he fixed his
prominent eyes upon Cosimo.  "You are aware of its contents?" he asked.

Cosimo bowed, and Galeotto moved at last, for the first time since the
trial's inception.

Until now he had sat like a carved image, save when he had thrust out a
hand to restrain Falcone, and his attitude had filled me with an
unspeakable dread.  But at this moment he leaned forward turning an ear
towards Cosimo, as if anxious not to miss a single word that the man might
utter.  And Cosimo, intent as he was, did not observe the movement.

"I saw its fellow at the Vatican," said my cousin, "and since the Pope in
his wisdom and goodness judged worthless the witnesses whose signatures it
bears, his holiness thought well to issue the brief upon which your
excellency has acted in summoning Agostino d'Anguissola before you here.

"Thus is that memorial disposed of as a false and lying document."

"And yet," said Gonzaga thoughtfully, his heavy lip between thumb and
forefinger, "it bears, amongst others, the signature of the Lord of
Pagliano's confessor."

"Without violation of the seal of the confessional, it is impossible for
that friar to testify," was the answer.  "And the Holy Father cannot grant
him dispensation for so much.  His signature, therefore, stands for
nothing."

There followed a moment's silence.  The Ten whispered among themselves.
But Gonzaga never consulted them by so much as a glance.  They appeared to
serve none but a decorative office in that Court of his, for they bore no
share in the dispensing of a justice of which he constituted himself the
sole arbiter.

At last the Governor spoke.

"It seems, indeed, that there is no more to say and the Court has a clear
course before it, since the Emperor cannot contravene the mandates of the
Holy See.  Nothing remains, then, but to deliver sentence; unless..."

He paused, and his eyes singularly sly, his lips pursed almost humorously,
he turned his glance upon Galeotto.

"Ser Cosimo," he said, "has pronounced this memorial a false and lying
document.  Is there anything that you, Messer Galeotto, as its author, can
have to tell the Court?"

Instantly the condottiero rose, his great scarred face very solemn, his
eyes brooding.  He advanced almost to the very centre of the table, so that
he all but stood immediately before Gonzaga, yet sideways, so that I had
him in profile, whilst he fully faced Cosimo.

Cosimo at least had ceased to smile.  His handsome white face had lost some
of its supercilious confidence.  Here was something unexpected, something
upon which he had not reckoned, against which he had not provided.

"What has Ser Galeotto to do with this?" he demanded harshly.

"That, sir, no doubt he will tell us, if you will have patience," Gonzaga
answered, so sweetly and deferentially that of a certainty some of Cosimo's
uneasiness must have been dissipated.

I leaned forward now, scarce daring to draw breath lest I should lose a
word of what was to follow.  The blood that had earlier surged to my face
had now all receded again, and my pulses throbbed like hammers.

Then Galeotto spoke, his voice very calm and level.

"Will your excellency first permit me to see the papal brief upon which you
acted in summoning hither the accused?"

Silently Gonzaga delivered a parchment into Galeotto's hands.  The
condottiero studied it, frowning.  Then he smote it sharply with his right
hand.

"This document is not in order," he announced.

"How?" quoth Cosimo, and he smiled again, reassured completely by now,
convinced that here was no more than a minor quibble of the law.

"You are here described as Cosimo d'Anguissola, Lord of Mondolfo and
Carmina.  These titles are not yours."

The blood stirred faintly in Cosimo's cheeks.

"Those fiefs were conferred upon me by our late lord, Duke Pier Luigi," he
replied.

Gonzaga spoke.  "The confiscations effected by the late usurping Duke, and
the awards made out of such confiscations, have been cancelled by Imperial
decree.  All lands so confiscated are by this decree revertible to their
original holders upon their taking oath of allegiance to Caesar."

Cosimo continued to smile.  "This is no matter of a confiscation effected
by Duke Pier Luigi," he said.  "The confiscation and my own investiture in
the confiscated fiefs are a consequence of Agostino d'Anguissola's
recreancy--at least, it is in such terms that my investiture is expressly
announced in the papal bull that has been granted me and in the brief which
lies before your excellency.  Nor was such express announcement necessary,
for since I was next heir after Ser Agostino to the Tyranny of Mondolfo, it
follows that upon his being outlawed and his life forfeit I enter upon my
succession."

Here, thought I, were we finally checkmated.  But Galeotto showed no sign
of defeat.

"Where is this bull you speak of?" he demanded, as though he were the judge
himself.

Cosimo haughtily looked past him at Gonzaga.  "Does your excellency ask to
see it?"

"Assuredly," said Gonzaga shortly.  "I may not take your word for its
existence."

Cosimo plucked a parchment from the breast of his brown satin doublet,
unfolded it, and advanced to lay it before Gonzaga, so that he stood near
Galeotto--not more than an arm's length between them.

The Governor conned it; then passed it to Galeotto.  "It seems in order,"
he said.

Nevertheless, Galeotto studied it awhile; and then, still holding it, he
looked at Cosimo, and the scarred face that hitherto had been so sombre now
wore a smile.

"It is as irregular as the other," he said.  "It is entirely worthless."

"Worthless?" quoth Cosimo, in an amazement that was almost scornful.  "But
have I not already explained..."

"It sets forth here," cut in Galeotto with assurance, "that the fief of
Mondolfo and Carmina are confiscated from Agostino d'Anguissola.  Now I
submit to your excellency, and to your worthinesses," he added, turning
aside, "that this confiscation is grotesque and impossible, since Mondolfo
and Carmina never were the property of Agostino d'Anguissola, and could no
more be taken from him than can a coat be taken from the back of a naked
man--unless," he added, sneering, "a papal bull is capable of miracles."

Cosimo stared at him with round eyes, and I stared too, no glimmer of the
enormous truth breaking yet upon my bewildered mind.  In the court the
silence was deathly until Gonzaga spoke.

"Do you say that Mondolfo and Carmina did not belong--that they never were
the fiefs of Agostino d'Anguissola?" he asked.

"That is what I say," returned Galeotto, towering there, immense and
formidable in his gleaming armour.

"To whom, then, did they belong?"

"They did and do belong to Giovanni d'Anguissola--Agostino's father."

Cosimo shrugged at this, and some of the dismay passed from his
countenance.

"What folly is this?" he cried.  "Giovanni d'Anguissola died at Perugia
eight years ago."

"That is what is generally believed, and what Giovanni d'Anguissola has
left all to believe, even to his own priest-ridden wife, even to his own
son, sitting there, lest had the world known the truth whilst Pier Luigi
lived such a confiscation as this should, indeed, have been perpetrated.

"But he did not die at Perugia.  At Perugia, Ser Cosimo, he took this scar
which for thirteen years has served him for a mask."  And he pointed to his
own face.

I came to my feet, scarce believing what I heard.  Galeotto was Giovanni
d'Anguissola--my father!  And my heart had never told me so!

In a flash I saw things that hitherto had been obscure, things that should
have guided me to the truth had I but heeded their indications.

How, for instance, had I assumed that the Anguissola whom he had mentioned
as one of the heads of the conspiracy against Pier Luigi could have been
myself?

I stood swaying there, whilst his voice boomed out again.

"Now that I have sworn fealty to the Emperor in my true name, upon the
hands of my Lord Gonzaga here; now that the Imperial aegis protects me from
Pope and Pope's bastards; now that I have accomplished my life's work, and
broken the Pontifical sway in this Piacenza, I can stand forth again and
resume the state that is my own.

"There stands my foster-brother, who has borne witness to my true identity;
there Falcone, who has been my equerry these thirty years; and there are
the brothers Pallavicini, who tended me and sheltered me when I lay at the
point of death from the wounds that disfigured me at Perugia."

"So, my Lord Cosimo, ere you can proceed further in this matter against my
son, you will need to take your brief and your bull back to Rome and get
them amended, for there is in Italy no Lord of Mondolfo and Carmina other
than myself."

Cosimo fell back before him limp and trembling, his spirit broken by this
shattering blow.

And then Gonzaga uttered words that might have heartened him.  But after
being hurled from what he accounted the pinnacle of success, he mistrusted
now the crafty Lieutenant, saw that he had been played with as a mouse by
this Imperial cat with the soft, deadly paws.

"We might waive the formalities in the interests of justice," purred the
Lieutenant.  "There is this memorial, my lord," he said, and tapped the
document, his eyes upon my father.

"Since your excellency wishes the matter to be disposed of out of hand, it
can, I think, be done," he said, and he looked again at Cosimo.

"You have said that this memorial is false, because the witnesses whose
names are here cannot be admitted to testify."

Cosimo braced himself for a last effort.  "Do you defy the Pope?" he
thundered.

"If necessary," was the answer.  "I have done so all my life."

Cosimo turned to Gonzaga.  "It is not I who have branded this memorial
false," he said, "but the Holy Father himself."

"The Emperor," said my father, "may opine that in this matter the Holy
Father has been deluded by liars.  There are other witnesses.  There is
myself, for one.  This memorial contains nothing but what was imparted to
me by the Lord of Pagliano on his death-bed, in the presence of his
confessor."

"We cannot admit the confessor," Gonzaga thrust in.

"Give me leave, your excellency.  It was not in his quality as confessor
that Fra Gervasio heard the dying man depone.  Cavalcanti's confession
followed upon that.  And there was in addition present the seneschal of
Pagliano who is present here.  Sufficient to establish this memorial alike
before the Imperial and the Pontifical Courts.

"And I swear to God, as I stand here in His sight," he continued in a
ringing voice, "that every word there set down is as spoken by Ettore
Cavalcanti, Lord of Pagliano, some hours before he died; and so will those
others swear.  And I charge your excellency, as Caesar's vicegerent, to
accept that memorial as an indictment of that caitiff Cosimo d'Anguissola,
who lent himself to so foul and sacrilegious a deed--for it involved the
defilement of the Sacrament of Marriage."

"In that you lie!" screamed Cosimo, crimson now with rage, the veins at his
throat and brow swelling like ropes.

A silence followed.  My father turned to Falcone, and held out his hand.
Falcone sprang to give him a heavy iron gauntlet.  Holding this by the
fingers, my father took a step towards Cosimo, and he was smiling, very
calm again after his late furious mood.

"Be it so," he said.  "Since you say that I lie, I do here challenge you to
prove it upon my body."

And he crashed the iron glove straight into Cosimo's face so that the skin
was broken, and blood flowed about the mouth, leaving the lower half of the
visage crimson, the upper dead-white.

Gonzaga sat on, entirely unmoved, and waited, indifferent to the stir there
was amid the Ten.  For by the ancient laws of chivalry--however much they
might be falling now into desuetude--if Cosimo took up the glove, the
matter passed beyond the jurisdiction of the Court, and all men must abide
by the issue of the trial by battle.

For a long moment Cosimo hesitated.  Then he saw ruin all about him.  He--
who had come to this court so confidently--had walked into a trap.  He saw
it now, and saw that the only loophole was the chance this combat offered
him.  He played the man in the end.  He stooped and took up the glove.

"Upon your body, then--God helping me," he said.

Unable longer to control myself, I sprang to my father's side.  I caught
his arm.

"Let me!  Father, let me!

He looked into my face and smiled, and the steel-coloured eyes seemed moist
and singularly soft.

"My son!" he said, and his voice was gentle and soothing as a woman's
caress.

"My father!" I answered him, a knot in my throat.

"Alas, that I must deny you the first thing you ask me by that name," he
said.  "But the challenge is given and accepted.  Do you take Bianca to the
Duomo and pray that right may be done and God's will prevail.  Gervasio
shall go with you."

And then came an interruption from Gonzaga.

"My lord," he said, "will you determine when and where this battle is to be
fought?"

"Upon the instant," answered my father, "on the banks of Po with a score of
lances to keep the lists."

Gonzaga looked at Cosimo.  "Do you agree to this?"

"It cannot be too soon for me," replied the quivering Cosimo, black hatred
in his glance.

"Be it so, then," said the Governor, and he rose, the Court rising with
him.

My father pressed my hand again.  "To the Duomo, Agostino, till I come," he
said, and on that we parted.

My sword was returned to me by Gonzaga's orders.  In so far as it concerned
myself the trial was at an end, and I was free.

At Gonzaga's invitation, very gladly I there and then swore fealty to the
Emperor upon his hands, and then, with Bianca and Gervasio, I made my way
through the cheering crowd and came out into the sunshine, where my lances,
who had already heard the news, set up a great shout at sight of me.

Thus we crossed the square, and went to the Duomo, to render thanks.  We
knelt at the altar-rail, and Gervasio knelt above us upon the altar's
lowest step.

Somewhere behind us knelt Bianca's women, who had followed us to the
church.

Thus we waited for close upon two hours that were as an eternity.

And kneeling there, the eyes of my soul conned closely the scroll of my
young life as it had been unfolded hitherto.  I reviewed its beginnings in
the greyness of Mondolfo, under the tutelage of my poor, dolorous mother
who had striven so fiercely to set my feet upon the ways of sanctity.  But
my ways had been errant ways, even though, myself, I had sought to walk as
she directed.  I had strayed and blundered, veered and veered again, a very
mockery of what she strove to make me--a strolling saint, indeed, as Cosimo
had dubbed me, a wandering mummer when I sought after holiness.

But my strolling, my errantry ended here at last at the steps of this
altar, as I knew.

Deeply had I sinned.  But deeply and strenuously had I expiated, and the
heaviest burden of my expiation had been that endured in the past year at
Pagliano beside my gentle Bianca who was another's wedded wife.  That cross
of penitence--so singularly condign to my sin--I had borne with fortitude,
heartened by the confidence that thus should I win to pardon and that the
burden would be mercifully lifted when the expiation was complete.  In the
lifting of that burden from me I should see a sign that pardon was mine at
last, that at last I was accounted worthy of this pure maid through whom I
should have won to grace, through whom I had come to learn that Love--God's
greatest gift--is the great sanctifier of man.

That the stroke of that ardently awaited hour was even now impending I did
not for a moment doubt.

Behind us, the door opened and steps clanked upon the granite floor.

Fra Gervasio rose very tall and gaunt, his gaze anxious.

He looked, and the anxiety passed.  Thankfulness overspread his face.  He
smiled serenely, tears in his deep-set eyes.  Seeing this, I, too, dared to
look at last.

Up the aisle came my father very erect and solemn, and behind him followed
Falcone with eyes a-twinkle in his weather-beaten face.

"Let the will of Heaven be done," said my father.  And Gervasio came down
to pronounce the nuptial blessing over us.



THE END





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