Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership


Title: The Word of Borgia
Author: Rafael Sabatini
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1400321.txt
Language: English
Date first posted:  January 2014
Most recent update: January 2014

This eBook was produced by: Corrado Comini

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Word of Borgia
Author: Rafael Sabatini


* * *


The Word of Borgia
by
Rafael Sabatini

*

I

MISTRUSTING the object of this gathering to which so secretly he had
been bidden, Messer Graziani ambushed a half-score of his men about the
street below, with orders to force their way into the house should he
smash one of the windows as a signal.

Therefore it was with a mind comparatively at ease that he entered the
long, low-ceilinged room where the conspirators awaited him. Situated
in the mezzanine, this room ran the entire width of that palace of the
Lord Ranieri, near the Bridge of Augustus, in Rimini, and overlooked
the street at one end and the River Marecchia at the other.

It had an air of gloomy splendor; the walls were hung with gloomy
tapestries, the carpet was of darkest purple, and amid the sparse
furniture there was a deal of ebony, looking the more funereal for
its ivory inlays. It was lighted by an alabaster-globed lamp on the
ponderous overmantel, and by two silver candle-branches on the long
table in mid-apartment. An enormous fire was roaring on the hearth, for
it was a bitterly cold night of January, and the snow lay thick upon
the city.

Graziani was cordially received by the Lord Ranieri--a portly, florid
patrician of middle age--and conducted by him to the table about which
the five remaining conspirators were seated. One of these rose instantly
to add to Ranieri's his own welcome of the _condottiere_. He was a tall
and very stately gentleman, with a long, swarthy face that was rendered
longer by a brown, pointed beard. He was dressed in black, but with a
superlative elegance, and a medallion of brilliants blazed upon his
breast. He was the Prince Sinibaldi; a nobleman of Venice sent as an
envoy by the Most Serene Republic to felicitate Cesare Borgia, Duke of
Valentinois and Romagna, upon the recent conquest of Rimini.

Now this ambassador it was--and not Ranieri--who had bidden Graziani to
that meeting. And it was this circumstance that had had awakened the
suspicions of the Borgian soldier, ever mistrustful of all that came
from Venice.

Of the others--whose eight eyes were intent now upon Graziani's
face--three were gentlemen of Rimini, men of little account to the
_condottiere_; but the fourth--a slight untidy fellow with a ghastly,
hollow-cheeked face and lank hair that was faded to the color of
ashes--he knew for a Roman named Gino d'Agnolo, and his presence went
to swell the soldier's mistrust.

The fellow had but one hand--his left--which was as gnarled and yellow
as a hen's foot. The other he had left in Rome together with his
tongue, having been deprived of both by order of Cesare Borgia, whom
he had defamed. His hatred of the Borgias and his virulence had been
terrific; and they remained unabated by his punishment, though their
expression was temporarily curtailed.

His fierce eyes glared mistrustfully at Graziani as the officer took
the seat that was offered him; he opened his empty mouth to make a
horrid, croaking sound, accompanying it by gestures to the Venetian.

* * *

THE Lord Ranieri resumed his seat at the table's foot; at its head
Prince Sinibaldi remained standing, and from the breast of his doublet,
where two buttons were unfastened, he drew now a small ebony and ivory
crucifix.

"When we shall have made known to you the reason for which we sought
your presence here to-night, Messer Graziani," said he, "it shall be
yours to determine whether you will lend us your aid in the undertaking
that is afoot. Should you refuse, it shall be yours to depart as you
have come. But first we must engage you by solemn oath that neither
by word nor deed shall you divulge what may be revealed to you of our
designs."

The Prince paused. Graziani reared his young head and looked slowly
round the board. All eyes were upon him intently, alive with a mistrust
and enmity that naught could efface but the oath required of him.

Sinibaldi gently pushed the crucifix down the table toward him.

"First, upon that sacred Symbol of our Redeemer--" he was beginning,
when Graziani pushed back his chair and rose.

He knew enough. Here was for certain a conspiracy against the State or
against the life of his lord the Duke of Valentinois. It needed no more
words to tell him that; and he was no fool to bind himself by oath to a
silence that must make him a party to the treason.

"Sirs," said he, "it is not my way to thrust myself blindly into any
business and make oath upon matters that are unknown to me. Suffer me,
therefore, to take my leave at once."

He stepped back from the table, clearly intent upon departure; and
instantly all six were upon their feet and looking to their weapons.

Graziani turned to the Lord Ranieri, who had flung himself between the
soldier and the door.

"My lord," said he, "I came hither in friendliness, bidden to your
house with no knowledge of what awaited me. I trust to your honor, my
lord, to see that I depart in like case--in friendliness and with no
knowledge of what is here toward. I would urge--"

A stealthy sound behind him made him turn, and Agnolo--who had crept
up--leapt upon him, fierce as a rat, his dagger raised. The blade
descended, and snapped upon the links of the shirt of mail the soldier
wore beneath his quilted doublet.

The next instant Graziani had caught up that wretched wisp of humanity
by the breast, and had dashed him across the room. The mute hurtled
into one of the conspirators who stood midway between the table and the
window, and threw the latter off his balance, so that in his turn he
staggered against an ebony pedestal, and sent the marble Cupid that had
occupied it crashing through the casement into the street below.

It was more than Graziani had intended, but no more than he could have
desired. He observed the effect, smiled grimly, whipped out his blade,
swung his cloak upon his left arm, and attempted to reach the door
backward. But his enemies closed about him to cut him down, and when
one sword had been shivered against his armored body, the remaining
sought to reach his head.

He defended himself desperately, intent upon gaining time. If he could
but hold out for a few moments, his men would be there in answer to the
signal of the broken window. With that intent he backed before them
until his shoulders touched the tapestried wall. There they pressed him
hard, three swords at once, and he had no chance of further breaking
ground, no chance of lessening the number of his opponents, no chance
of doing more than parry their blows until relief should come, and
little chance of that.

* * *

SUDDENLY Sinibaldi's blade licked in and out again with lightning
quickness in a feint, and was swung round to a cutting stroke at
Graziani's head. Dazzled Graziani was slow to the parry. He threw up
his blade, but too late to do more than break the force of the blow as
it descended. The edge, though somewhat deflected, sheared through his
bonnet and laid his scalp open.

He dropped his sword, slithered gently down the wall and sat huddled
at the foot of it, insensible, the blood streaming down his face.
Sinibaldi was for putting a dagger through the soldier's windpipe,
and thus making quite sure of him, but he was suddenly checked by the
horrible, vehement outcry of the mute who had remained by the window,
and simultaneously by blows upon thee door below.

For a long moment the conspirators stood at gaze, smitten with sudden
terror, whilst the blows upon the door were repeated and loud voices
summoned them to open.

Ranieri swore thickly and horribly.

"We are trapped! Betrayed!"

Uproar followed, until the mute showed the way out. He had crossed the
room at a run, and, nimble as a cat, he had leaped upon a table under
the window that overlooked the river, from which the house rose sheer.
He never stayed to open. The acquaintance he had already made with
Borgia justice quickened his terrors to the point of frenzy. He hurled
himself bodily through, shivering the window and going down in a shower
of broken glass to the black, icy waters below.

Like sheep they followed him. One after another they took the leap.
Fortunately for them the tide was flowing, and it bore them up toward
the Bridge of Augustus, where they could effect a landing--all save
Agnolo, the mute, who was drowned, and Sinibaldi, who remained behind.
Like Graziani, the Venetian, too, had come to that meeting with a shirt
of mail under his doublet; and he had bethought him that this armor
must sink him. So he had paused to doff it, vainly calling upon the
others to wait for him.

Ranieri had answered him, standing upon the table, ready for the leap.

"Wait?" he had echoed. "Are you mad? Is this time to wait? Now more
than ever must the thing be done, or we are all dead men--and it must
be done to-night, as was planned. Your men are at their post. Come on,
then!"

And he went through the window, and into the water with a thudding
splash. Like an echo of it came a crash from below to announce that the
door had given way. Heavy steps thundered up the stairs.

* * *

SINIBALDI, tearing still at the buttons of his doublet, sprang
desperately for the window and wondered a moment whether he should risk
drowning. Then he remembered that after all as the envoy of Venice
he was inviolable, a man upon whom no finger was to be laid without
provoking the resentment of the Republic. He had nothing to fear,
where nothing could be proved against him. Not even Graziani could have
said enough to imperil the sacred person of an envoy; and Graziani, he
was assured, would never say anything again.

So he sheathed his sword and composed himself.

The door burst open and Graziani's men swarmed in, all ten of them,
so furiously that they bore the Prince backward and all but trampled
on him. A grizzled ancient, heading them, checked in mid-chamber and
looked round, bewildered until he espied his fallen captain huddled at
the wall's foot. He roared his anger at the sight, what time his men
closed about the saturnine Venetian.

With as great dignity as was possible to a man so circumstanced,
Sinibaldi sought to hold them off.

"You touch me at your peril," he warned them. "I am Prince Sinibaldi,
the Envoy of Venice."

Over his shoulder the ancient answered him:

"Were you Prince Lucifer, Envoy of Topset, you should still account for
what was doing here and how my Captain came by his hurt. Make him fast!"

Vainly did the Venetian storm, threaten and plead. They disarmed him,
bound his wrists behind his back, and thrust him from the room, down
the stairs and out into the snow-spread street.

Four remained above with the ancient who, on his knees, was looking to
his Captain. And Graziani began to show signs of life. With one hand he
smeared away some of the blood from his face, and opened his eyes dully
to survey his ancient.

"You were no more than in time, Barbo," said he, his voice hoarse and
feeble. "Get you to my lord Duke. Tell him that here was some treason
plotting--something that is to be done to-night by those who escaped.
Bid His Magnificence beware. Haste man, I--"

"Their names! Their names, Captain!" cried the ancient urgently.

But it was as if by sheer will Graziani had kept a grip of his senses
until he could utter his warning. That done he relinquished the painful
hold and slipped back into the peace and shadows of unconsciousness.

II

IN THE Communal palace of Rimini a great banquet was spread in honor
of Cesare Borgia, the conqueror--the _"Minister Divinae Justitiae"_--who
had delivered the State from the thraldom of Pandolfaccio, the
hated Malatesta. Gathered there was a great number of repatriated
_fuorusciti_--the nobles whom Pandolfaccio had exiled from his dominions
that he might strip them of their possessions.

Jubilant, assured that Borgia justice would right the wrongs that had
been done, these patricians gave free expression to their high spirits.
Present too were the ambassadors and envoys of several powers, sent to
congratulate the Duke upon his latest conquest. But it was in vain that
Cesare turned his beautiful hazel eyes this way and that in quest of
Sinibaldi, the princely Envoy of Venice.

The Orator of the Most Serene Republic, the smug and portly Capello,
was in attendance, seated near the Duke. But the Envoy Extraordinary
was nowhere to be seen; and Cesare, who missed nothing and left no
riddles unsolved--particularly when they concerned a power so crafty
and so hostile as that of Venice--was vexed to know the reason of this
absence. It was the more remarkable in that Sinibaldi's princess--a
stately, blonde woman, whose stomacher was a scintillating cuirass of
gems--was seated on Cesare's right hand, between the sober black of the
President of the Council and the scarlet of the handsome Cardinal-Legate.

The young Duke lounged in his great chair, a tall, supple gentleman of
some five and twenty years, resplendent in a close-fitting doublet of
cloth of gold that was edged with miniver. His pale, beautiful face
was thoughtful, and his tapering, jeweled fingers strayed ever and anon
to the point of his tawny beard.

The actual banquet touched its end, and the great hall, about three
sides of which the tables were set, was being cleared by the seneschal.
A comedy was about to be performed for the company's delectation.
Tragedy, however--all unsuspected--was in preparation; and the actor
who suddenly stalked in to speak its prologue, thrusting aside the
lackeys who would have hindered him, was Barbo, the ancient of
Graziano's company.

"My lord!" he bellowed. "My lord Duke!" And his hands fiercely buffeted
the grooms. "I tell you, fools, that I must speak instantly with his
Highness."

The company had fallen silent, some startled by this intrusion, others
wondering if this might be the opening of the comedy that impended. One
or two rose to their feet. But it was Cesare who spoke, his voice crisp
and metallic, bidding the man approach.

"What brings you thus?" quoth he, when Barbo stood before him.

"Treason, my lord," said the soldier, startling the company with that
ugly word.

Cesare signed to him to proceed, and the fellow plunged headlong into
the speech he had prepared.

"Messer Graziani lies senseless with a broken head, else were he
here in my place, Most Potent. By his command, we--ten men of his
company--broke to-night into the palace of the Lord Ranieri, and--

"Stay!" the Duke interrupted him peremptorily. "We are too public here."

But that was not his real motive. The real motive was that at Barbo's
words Cesare's keen ears had caught the sounds of a sudden gasp and
rustle on his right. He had shot a glance in the direction of the sound
to see that Sinibaldi's lady had sunk back in her chair, her cheeks
livid, her blue eyes staring with terror.

In a flash his swift brain had laid fact to fact and had found the
solution of the riddle that had earlier puzzled him--the riddle of
Sinibaldi's absence. He knew now where Sinibaldi had been that night,
though he had yet to learn what manner of treason the Prince had been
engaged upon.

He rose, and the company rose with him out of deference--all save
Sinibaldi's Princess, who made the effort, but failed in it, as Cesare
noted. He waved a hand to the feasters, smiling urbanely.

"Sirs and ladies, it is my desire that you be not disturbed by this."
He turned to the President o: the Council: "If you, messer, will give
me leave apart a moment with this fellow--"

"Assuredly, my lord, assuredly!" cried the President, flung into a sort
of confusion by Cesare's lordly deference. "This way, Magnificent--this
closet here--you will be private so." Stammering, fluttering, he
stepped down the hall to throw open a side-door. Drawing back, he waved
the Duke into a small antechamber.

Cesare entered, followed by Barbo. The door closed upon them, and
beyond it there broke forth a babble of excited voices, as the guests
fell to discussing this interruption.

Shortly now Barbo related the happenings of that night at Ranieri's
house, repeating what Graziani had bidden him, and announcing that he
held captive at least one of the conspirators--the Prince Sinibaldi.

"I trust that in this I have done nothing to deserve reproach,
Magnificent," the fellow added with some hesitation. "His Excellency
spoke of being an envoy of the Most Serene--"

Cesare waved his doubts aside.

"You have done well," he cut in shortly.

He turned, and strode the chamber's length and back again, slowly,
fingering his beard, his brow dark with thought.

"You have no hint of the aim of the conspiracy? Of what this thing is
they are to attempt to-night?" he asked.

"None, my lord--alas!"

"Nor who the men were that escaped?"

"No, my lord, save that one of them would probably be the Lord Ranieri."

"Ay--but the others--And we do not even know how many there were."

Cesare checked. He remembered the Princess Sinibaldi. She knew. Her
bearing had betrayed that knowledge. He smiled darkly.

"Desire the Princess Sinibaldi to attend me here."

Barbo saluted and withdrew. Soon the door opened again. Barbo ushered
in the princess, and at a sign from Cesare vanished!

* * *

THE Venetian lady stood before Cesare, deathly pale, her bosom
galloping. With the very courtliest grace his Highness waved her to
a chair. She sank into it limply. She moistened her dry lips, her
startled eyes upon the Duke's face.

He set his finger-tips upon the edge of the table, and leaned across
toward her.

"I have sent for you, madonna," he said, his tone the very gentlest,
"to afford you an opportunity of rescuing your husband's neck from the
hands of the strangler."

"Oh, my God!" gasped the afflicted woman, and clutched her bosom with
both hands.--"I knew it! My heart had told me!"

"You alarm yourself without need," he said, and no tone could have been
more soothing and reassuring. "Prince Sinibaldi is a prisoner below,
awaiting my pleasure. But my pleasure, madonna, is your pleasure. I
place his life in your hands."

She looked at him--looked up into that beautiful, smiling young face,
into those hazel eyes that looked so gentle now--and cowered a moment,
abjectly, Then her spirit rallied. He saw her stiffen, and if her voice
shook there was defiance in her glance.

"My lord is the accredited envoy of the Most Serene," she said. "His
person is inviolate. A hurt to him were a hurt to the Republic whose
representative he is, and the Republic is not slow to avenge herself.
You dare not touch him! You dare not! You dare not!" Her voice, grew
strident.

Smiling still, he bowed. "I will leave you happy, then, in that
conviction," said he, with a note of mockery so sinister that it broke
her new-found spirit into shards.

She staggered to her feet, a hand to her heart, her eyes dilating.

"My lord! My lord! A moment! Have pity!"

He paused, his hand already upon the latch.

"Pity, madonna, as I have told you, lies with you. Your husband has
been taken in treason. If--as I seem to see--you love him, and would
not have him strangled this very night, it is yours to rescue him."

Wildly she scanned his face for some clue to his meaning. Thus in
silence for a dozen heart-beats. Then--

"What--What do you require of me?"

Slowly he retraced his steps until he stood before her again. "All that
is known to you of this conspiracy in which he was taken."

She covered her face with her hands and moaned a little. She swayed a a
moment. He steadied her with gentle hands, and gently pressed her back
into her chair.

"It is true," he explained, "that I do not wish to embroil myself with
the Most Serene. And so I seek to gain my ends by gentle measures. But
by the saints! If my gentle measures do not prevail with you, Prince
Sinibaldi shall be stretched taut on the rack, and what is left of him
shall be strangled afterward--ay, though he were an envoy of the Empire
itself. My name," he ended, "is Cesare Borgia. You may have heard of
me."

Of his determination his words left her no slightest doubt; and she had
heard of his ways, as he suggested. She looked into his eyes again, and
caught avidly now at the straw he held out to her.

"You give me his life for this information?" she cried.

"Tell me all you know of the treason that was plotting this night at
Ranieri's, and I swear to you by my honor and my hopes of heaven that
neither I not man of mine shall hurt so much as a hair of Sinibaldi's
beard."

"He may blame me--" she began faltering.

Cesare's eyes gleamed.

"He need never know," said he insidiously. He was eager now.
Reluctantly did he offer such a bargain. But it must be made. The
matter was urgent. The blow--whatever its nature--was to be struck that
very night; so that time pressed. He must learn at once, and at all
costs, how to elude and parry it.

"You pledge me your word--" she began again.

"Already have I pledged it, madonna, and I do not forswear myself."

* * *

AT LAST he drew from her the sum of her considerable knowledge. Last
night the Lord Ranieri had visited her husband. Already had she
suspected that Sinibaldi was plotting with this friend of the fallen
Malatesta. So she had been spurred to listen; and she had overheard
that it was against Cesare Borgia's life that they conspired. Ranieri
spoke of this banquet at the Communal. Cesare was to be escorted by
torch-light back to the fortress of Sigismondo where he was lodged; and
that should be their opportunity.

At some point on the road two crossbow-men were to be posted, to shoot
the Duke as he rode by. To make doubly sure of Cesare's offering a
fair mark, it was to be arranged that no mounted guards should hang
upon his flank at this point; the halberdiers, being footmen, would
not signify, as the crossbowmen could fire over their heads. To insure
this Sinibaldi proposed to seduce Graziani, whom he had some cause to
believe disaffected.

"That was all I overheard, my lord," she ended.

"Enough, as I live!" snorted Cesare, his eyes blazing.

His countenance flung her into fresh terror. She rose in her agitation,
and appealed to him to remember his plighted word. He put aside his
wrath, as a man puts off a mask, and smiled.

"Have no doubt," said he. "Neither I nor man of mine shall lay a finger
upon your husband. And now, madonna, you were best away, I think. You
arc overwrought."

She confessed it, and professed herself glad to depart.

"The prince shall follow you," said Cesare, as he hurried her to
the door. "But first we shall endeavor to make our peace with him.
Be content," he added, noting the fresh terror that leaped to her
eyes--for she bethought her of what manner of peace Cesare was wont to
make with his enemies---"he shall be treated with all honor. I shall
convert him by friendliness from these traitors who have seduced him."

"It is so! It is so!" she exclaimed eagerly.

He bowed his agreement, and opened the door. He entrusted her to the
President of the Council to conduct her thence and to her litter; then
he stepped back to his place at the head of the board, and set a brave
example of mirth, as if not a care or thought weighed upon his mind.
Thus he restored a gay humor to the feast.

But when the President had returned from his mission, Cesare raised a
finger, and signed to the steel-clad Barbo, who stood waiting as he had
been bidden.

"Bring in Prince Sinibaldi," he said, and with that laid constraint and
silence anew upon the company.

The Orator of Venice, the portly, slimy Capello, heaved himself to his
feet, and, in the intensity of his perturbation, made so bold as to go
round to Cesare's chair, to whisper a protest in the ducal ear.

"A little patience, sir," was all that Cesare answered him; but the
glance in the Duke's eyes drove back the flabby ambassador like a blow.

* * *

THE double doors at the hall's end were opened, and Barbo returned
with Sinibaldi and an escort of four men of Graziani's company. The
prince's wrists were still pinioned behind him; he was without hat or
cloak and his clothes were in some disarray.

The company's amazement deepened; a murmur ran round the board. At a
sign from Cesare the guards fell away from the Venetian, whilst Barbo
parsed to remove, at last, the prisoner's bonds.

Sinibaldi, the very incarnation now of scornful dignity, held his
head high and boldly fixed his eyes on Cesare's impassive face. Then,
without being bidden, he burst into angry speech.

"Is it by your Potency's commands that these indignities are put upon
me--upon the sacred person of an envoy?" he cried. "The Most Serene,
whose mouthpiece I have the honor to be, whose representative I am, is
not one lightly to brook such treatment."

Cesare sniffed delicately at his pomander ball.

"I trust I apprehend you amiss when I gather that you threaten. It
is not well to threaten us, Excellency; not even for an Envoy of
the Most Serene." There was something terrible in the cold, level
tones, something still more terrible in the eyes that smiled upon
the Venetian, so that Sinibaldi quailed and lost much of his fine
arrogance, as many another tall fellow had done when face to face with
the young Duke of Valentinois.

Capello in the background wrung his hands and suppressed a groan.

"Let us hear, my lord, your own version of this night's affair," quoth
Cesare.

The Venetian had his tale prepared, and out it came forthwith. It was
the tale that might have been Graziani's, and was cunningly adapted to
Sinibaldi's need.

"I was bidden my lord, in secret to-night to the house of my lord
Ranieri, urged by the statement that a matter of life and death was
to be treated which concerned me closely. I found a small company
assembled there; but ere they would tell me the purpose of that
gathering, they desired me to make an irrevocable oath that whether or
not I became a party to the matters that were to be disclosed to me, I
would never divulge a single word of it, nor the name of any whom I had
met there.

"I am not a fool, Magnificent, and I scented treason, as they knew I
must. I would have drawn back; but already had I gone too far in going
there, and it was plain that they would never suffer me to depart again
to spread the alarm. So in self-defense I took the oath imposed; and
having taken it I announced that I desired to hear no more of any plot
that might be theirs, and I begged them to let me depart now that they
had sworn me to silence.

"But men of their sort are easily fearful of betrayal. They refused to
let me go; a fight ensued in which one of them fell to my sword. Then
the noise of our brawling brought in a patrol. The conspirators flung
themselves from a window into the river. But I--having nothing to fear
since I was innocent of any evil--remained, and so, came to be taken."

There was a gasp of relief from Capello at that explanation.

"You see, Magnificent, you see--" he was beginning.

"Peace, man!" the Duke bade him impatiently. Then very courteously he
turned to Sinibaldi.

"My lord," he said, "it grieves me that you should have been mishandled
by my guards; but you will perceive that until you told your tale the
appearances convicted you; and so, you will acquit us, I am sure, of
any discourtesy to the representative of the Most Serene.

"I may add that in the case of any one less accredited, I might be
less ready to accept the explanation you have proffered, and I might
press for the names of the men who, you are satisfied, were engaged in
treason."

"Those names I should already have afforded your Magnificence but for
the oath that binds me," answered Sinibaldi.

"That, too, I understand; and so, my lord, I do not ask a question
which you might have a difficulty in answering. Let us forget this
unhappy incident. A place for the Prince Sinibaldi--here at my side.
Come, my lord, let me play host to you, and make you amends for the
rude handling you have suffered in this my city. Here is a wine that
in itself should be some recompense. A whole Tuscan Summer is in every
flagon."

Scarcely believing himself so easily out of his terrible position,
wondering whether he were not perhaps dreaming, Sinibaldi sank into
the chair that was set for him at the Duke's side. The men-at-arms
clattered out, the mimes were summoned to perform their comedy, and
the evening wore merrily on to its conclusion, what time Cesare Borgia
played the host to the Venetian prince, leaving him overwhelmed, by the
courtly charm in which no man of his day could surpass the Duke.

And whilst he laughed and jested, Cesare's mind was pondering the
situation. He was wondering how far the Serene Republic herself might
have a hand in this matter, how far Sinibaldi might be an agent sent
expressly to do this work of murder. At every step, in every way,
Venice had betrayed her hostility. By arms and money she had secretly
reinforced his enemies against him. By intrigues and audacious slanders
she had sought to embroil him, now with France and now with Spain. Was
Sinibaldi the hand of the Republic in this affair?

It behooved the Duke to walk with caution. He must respect the word he
had pledged to Sinibaldi's lady; yet he must punish Sinibaldi, and he
must take the fellow's confederates so that the treason be stamped out.
And he must perform all this without giving Venice the least cause for
grievance, remembering that Sinibaldi's story was not to be refuted
since Graziani--the only man who knew the truth besides Cesare--was
insensible and not likely to live.

Toward midnight, at last, Cesare rose to withdraw. But not yet would he
part with his new-found friend Sinibaldi. The Venetian must ride with
him to the citadel--ay, and the Venetian Orator, too, must be of the
party.

Arm in arm the Duke of Valentinois and Prince Sinibaldi went down the
ball and along the gallery toward the great courtyard, where men were
getting to horse and ladies into their litters, and where a hundred
torches were already blazing.

Near the guard-house a lackey in Cesare's livery of black advanced,
bearing the Duke's cap and cloak.

* * *

NOW it happened that this cloak--which was of tiger-skin very richly
laced with gold--was as costly as it was conspicuous. It was a present
that Sultan Bajazet had sent to Borgia out of Turkey; and Cesare had
worn it constantly since the cold weather had set in, not only out of
his love of splendor, but also for the great warmth that it afforded.

As the lackey now advanced with that noble garment, Cesare turned
suddenly to his companion.

"You have no cloak, my lord, and it is a bitter night. Since out of
loyalty to me you lost your own, let me replace it and at the same time
offer you this poor token of the esteem in which I hold you and the
Serene Republic which you represent."

He took the cloak from the servant and held it for the Prince.
Sinibaldi's eye looked into Cesare's. The Duke was smiling; ad yet, to
the Venetian there was something terribly significant in that smile.
Cesare knew. Sinibaldi realized it, and saw that he was trapped.

What could he say? How, short of an open avowal, short of declaring
that the wearing of that cloak would be a danger to him, should he
decline the proffered honor? And in that moment the fat Capello
shuffled up, rubbing his hands in satisfaction, for he had overheard
the Duke's gracious words.

"A noble gift, Magnificent!" he purred. "And the honor to our Prince
will be held by the Most Serene as an honor to herself."

"Nay," laughed Cesare, "it is no more than the Prince's due."

Sinibaldi alone caught the sinister second meaning of the words, and
trembled in the heart of him, cursing Capello for a fool. Then he took
courage. He bethought him that it would be more than likely after what
had passed that the conspirators would hold their hands that night.
If so, then all would be well. After all, Cesare could no more than
suspect. With definite knowledge the Duke must have acted in a more
definite manner.

Reasoning thus, Sinibaldi recovered some of his assurance, murmured
some words of gratitude and hints of his unworthiness, and submitted
to have the cloak thrust upon him and even a scarlet velvet cap, which
too, was Cesare's own. Then he mounted the splendid charger that
likewise--further to do him honor--Cesare placed at his disposal. And
all the while Messer Capello stood by, licking his lips to see so much
deference paid the envoy of his Government.

"That is a lively horse, my lord," said Cesare to the prince, at
parting. "But my footmen will be about you in case it should grow
restive." And again Sinibaldi read the threat that underlay the words,
and conceived their true meaning to be that it would be futile for him
to attempt to escape the test to which he was being submitted.

Thus they rode out through streets that were still thronged to see
this magnificent cavalcade flanked by footmen bearing torches. And few
perceived that the tall man on the splendidly caparisoned horse, in the
scarlet bonnet and tiger-skin cloak, riding with the Venetian Orator for
only companion, was not the Duke of Valentinois; few paid any heed to
the man in the black cloak and heavy hat, who rode a little way behind,
almost eclipsed by a group of gay cavaliers that surrounded him. And
such was the clamor of the crowd that none heard the twice-repeated
twang of an arbalest from a house at the corner of the Piazza della
Cittadella. But the grooms sprang forward to seize the bridle of
Sinibaldi's charger, and a great uproar was raised when the man in the
tiger-skin cloak rolled sideways from the saddle with an arbalest-bolt in
his brain.

First was heard the awful cry:

"The Duke is dead!"

And then, as if by magic, there, on horseback, sat the duke himself,
his brazen voice ringing above the din and confusion.

"In there!" he shouted, flinging an arm toward the house. "In, I say;
and see that not a man escapes you. It is the Envoy of Venice whom they
have murdered, and they shall pay for it with their necks, whosoever
they may be!"

The house was already surrounded, and into Cesare's net fell the four
conspirators together with two _sbirri_ who were of the household of
Sinibaldi, as their liveries showed.

They were dragged forward into the square, where a great circle
had been formed by the torch-bearers, and at last the truth of the
matter entered the sluggish brain of Capello, Sinibaldi had been
mistaken for the Duke. Had the Duke, he wondered, so intended it? If
so, heavy should be the reckoning with Venice. He swung round upon
Cesare, a fury in his eyes. But ere he could speak Cesare had seized
him by the shoulder and was pointing to the stricken Ranieri and his
fellow-prisoners.

"Look, Messer Capello!" he cried "Look--Ranieri, of all men, to have
done this thing. And the others--all Sicibaldi's friends; and two of
them in his own livery--his own servants, as I live! And they have
murdered him!"

And Capello understood that to declare that Sinibaldi had been shot
in Cesare's stead was to declare that Sinibaldi had planned the
shooting--to convict by a very simple inference the envoy of the Most
Serene.

Blankly, trembling, Capello looked into the Borgia's eyes, and saw that
the Borgia mocked him. And, bitterer still, he was forced to play
the dupe; forced to pretend that he saw in this no more than Cesare
intended that the world should see. He stifled his rage and chagrin,
and stood there with bowed head. He must play the part imposed upon him.

"My lord," he cried, "I appeal to you for justice against these
murderers in the name of Venice!"

"It shall be done, sir. Trust me to avenge a servant of the Most
Serene."

Next morning six bodies dangled from the balcony of the house whence
the bolts had been shot--Cesare Borgia's justice upon the murderers of
Prince Sinibaldi.

He was pleased when Capello came, white-faced, to thank him in the name
of the Republic for that summary justice; but best pleased to reflect
that he had kept his word to the prince's lady, and that neither he nor
any man of his had set a finger upon Sinibaldi to avenge the Venetian's
plotting against himself.

THE END


This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia