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Trumpets at Rome:
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Date first posted: Jun 2023
Most recent update: Jun 2023
This eBook was produced by Colin Choat and Roy Glashan
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Pearls and Daises
Two Norman Esquires
The Cardinal's Bathroom
Battle of Pavia
Marguerite of Marguerites
The League of Cognac
Georg von Frundsberg
Sack of Rome
Sack of Rome
A story of one of the world's most remarkable men. One who was envied and praised by two kings and an Emperor for his great gifts, but who, in his heroic end, found himself without a country or hope, and being thus desperate, collected all his old soldiers and mercenaries and marched against Rome. Duke Charles of Bourbon, Constable of France, was so extraordinary a man that it is surprising how few are the novels about him. Miss Bowen, who knows all the by-ways of history and can put them before her readers with such remarkable force, has in "Trumpets at Rome" produced a memorable work.
Among the characters appearing throughout the novel are the beautiful Louise of Savoy, King François I of France, the Emperor Charles V, and many other famous personages. It is a story of magnificence, courage, and ambition, and apart from historical interest can stand on its own merits as a moving and splendid narrative.
Though these whispers stir and trouble
Like a bright, unfinished dream,
They are as lost as the spent bubble
At the verge of the shallow stream;
From dead lips these lost echoes
Have died in the listening ear,
Lost is the last of the echoes
That only the dead can hear.
But I in that quiet listening
That comes to a brooding mind
At eve, when the marsh flares glistening
Show where the false tracks wind,
Think that I hear these echoes,
As I peer through my window pane
At the ghosts that follow the echoes
Through the dusk, the swamp and the rain.
"Do you challenge the Emperor?"
asked the Imperial Envoy of the Pope.
His Holiness replied: "When I make war you will hear
the trumpets at Rome."
—Pope Clement VII to the duc de Sessa,
the Imperial Ambassador, 1526.
The traveller mused above the gates of Rome
The fallen, amber gates of Rome,
He saw the fallen Panes, the thorny briars,
He drank the chilled Lethe foam
The amber, dreadful foam
From out the agate cup where rising fires
Of stars that rose above the ilex leaves
Glittered through the enchanted wine
The bitter, soothing wine,
The wine that brings oblivion with the lees.
A YOUNG man was hastening with a buoyant step and an air of expectancy up the Palatine Hill at the hour of a tranquil, warm dawn.
It was December; but there was no touch of winter in the balmy atmosphere, and among the heavy blocks of marble that strewed his way were tufts of freshly budding grasses, and beneath the boulders of tawny stone deep-pink cyclamen and densely blue violets showed in knots of dark colour.
The traveller now and then glanced backwards at the view of the Imperial and Holy City that he saw beneath him; but he did not stay his steps, and walking with trained brace soon gained the summit of the Roman hill, where, amid the scattered ruins of ancient temples, were groves of ilex, palm, and laurel trees among the white façades of convents and monasteries and fair, delicate churches with bell-towers of red brick beside them.
When he had gained what he considered the highest point, he turned deliberately and seated himself upon a block of fallen masonry, round which grew a coronal of sweet briar, and, folding his arms on his breast, gazed down at the great city.
He was about five-and-twenty years of age, tall, fair, with spare, athletic limbs; he was dressed with the greatest possible precision and care—the garments and colours of them being balanced one against the other; his cloak was of a dark violet colour, lined with black, the hood was quilted, fastened by a clasp of very pale gold, his doublet and breeches were of white wool, his boots were of finely tanned skin, his gloves were embroidered with a monogram worked in gold thread; he wore in his belt a short dagger with a crystal handle, and a reliquary, enclosed in a small case also of rock crystal enfoiled with gold, hung at his neck; his hair was brushed into a black net.
The scene at which he gazed with enthusiastic interest might have been taken to be that of the crown of the world, for he looked down on Rome—the Rome of the Caesars and the Pontiffs—lying serene in the pallid gold of the early morning.
The penetrating and concentrated glance of the traveller's keen eyes could see the entire irregular circle of the thick walls, now rising, now sinking, there broken, there repaired—the walls of Rome, in some places mouldered to a heap of bricks and rubble, in other places still strong enough to defy an invader, and everywhere tufted with small ferns, grasses, and budding wild pinks and wallflowers.
The ancient city had shrunk in its ancient bulwarks; the walls did not enclose streets and houses only, but vineyards, where the vines were cultivated on artificial terraces, pastures where goats and cows wandered among sweet grasses broken by the half-buried acanthus-crowned columns of a temple, groves which had a sacred air and where deserted altars still stood in the myrtle shades, rich gardens laid out with alabaster fountains, dusky grottoes and painted summer-houses. In between were stretches of undergrowth, bramble, wild rose, and ferns, out of which sprang the smooth boles and the dark foliage of ilex and laurel; hard, glossy trails of ivy and the lighter garlands of the eglantine hung over the massy outlines of the classical ruins which were stained by the suns of centuries into hues of dusky gold and honeyed yellow.
As the young man gazed, entirely absorbed in the spectacle, the rising sun shot long brilliant rays across a heaven of pellucid azure, and flocks of pigeons and doves, as if obeying a signal, rose from amidst the whispering creepers of the golden ruins and raised their blue and purple plumes into the pure upper air.
This was the first time that the stranger had looked upon Rome. He had received a severe education, was a tolerable Latinist, and amused himself by trying to name the different parts of the city below him. He wished to trace the outline of the Via Sacra, but could not find it; that strip of marsh covered with stunted shrubs, above which a few groups of elegant, broken pillars still rose, was, he thought, the Forum.
He frowned at the neglected desolation of this spot; it looked as if it were used for a cattle-market: there Were the wattle pens beneath the shattered marble shafts and trampled filth along what might have been, he supposed, the Via Sacra. Behind this, clearly outlined in the strengthening sun, was the superb magnificence of what the stranger believed to be the Flavian amphitheatre. Everywhere were remains of the ancient world: on the hill that he had climbed, amid the new convents and churches, amid the pasturages and vineyards; on those other hills that he could see, the Coelian and the Aventine, where the neglected pagan temples showed through the thick woods of dark pine, cedar, oak, and ilex, the huge modern fortress on the Capitol was standing on foundations laid down when Rome was at the height of her heathen pride.
Beside the Capitol a bleak cliff was outlined sharply against the thin air; white-bearded goats were climbing on it, balancing in the clefts and ridges and snatching at the small tufts of grass it bore: the Tarpeian Rock. The young man smiled with that sharp mingling of pleasure and disillusionment that comes from beholding a famous object for the first time.
He was partly pleased to recognize these famous places so well known to him from books, and partly disappointed to see how they had been changed and in some cases desecrated by modern needs, ambitions, and greeds. He had taken, the day before, a severe delight in wandering over Rome by himself; in passing in and out of the huddled and filthy streets between the Capitol and the thick yellow river, which ran so rapidly through the city; in walking through Trastevere, where the glittering coloured-marble basilicas and palaces rose out of narrow, dark alleys packed close with small, dirty houses, many of which overhung the polluted waters of the Tiber and could be reached only by boat.
He had been, this eager and inquisitive stranger, through the new Papal quarter of the Vatican, which the Borgia Pontiff, not long since dead, had greatly improved and strengthened, by beautifying the façades, raising a tower, and casting out a bridge from the Papal residence to the enormous castle of Sant' Angelo, which seemed impregnable—that massive fortress crowned with a glittering angel, which had been built on the tomb of the Emperor Hadrian.
The young man had entered the ancient Basilica and had discovered that, behind the brilliant pretence of the new façade, it was but a ruin, which had half fallen down and half been purposely demolished. Workmen's huts and scaffolding poles were about the walls of the first church in Christendom, whilst amidst the trampled mud lay split columns of marble, alabaster, and stone, which the straining oxen had dragged with infinite toil from despoiled temples and palaces of the Ancient World.
The stranger had turned his errant steps towards San Giovanni Laterano, where the first Christian Emperor, Constantine, had been baptized, and which was the Mother and Head of all the churches in Christendom.
He brought his mind back from yesterday's wandering he had found his rest in a place that was very strange to him, a humble osteria where he had slept on hay and eaten black bread and winter apples for his breakfast; and where he had had great difficulty in procuring the ewer of fresh water and the finely laundered white linen napkins that were to him a necessity. He had had to pay gold at last and they had gone out and bought the linen and the acqua dolce. Laughingly they had told him, as far as he could understand their tongue, to be careful how he showed his money or was so lavish with his gold; and they had looked, half mocking, half good-humoured, at the ornaments at his throat and on the backs of his gloves.
The flight of pigeons and doves, with glittering breasts and sharp-cut wings, filled the blue air with movement. Pure and thin the violet wood-smoke mounted above the huddled roof-tops, and the scent of small green plants, growing amid the fallen stones about him, seemed to sting his nostrils with the intense perfume of Weeds. The bells from the different towers began to peal, suddenly, harshly, as if the harmonious pattern of the early morning were broken. The young man could see some of the bronze bells moving from side to side in their latticed turrets. The pigeons, startled, sped higher into the heavens, until they might have been a flight of angels, flashing purple wings, returning to Paradise.
The young man heard a tinkle behind him and turned his head. An old bent fellow in a girdled, drab-coloured smock, who seemed a beggar or Anchorite, was guiding a small herd of goats along the crest of the hill—or so it seemed to the stranger. The old man was walking slowly, leaning on his staff, and the beasts, handsome with their rough white coats, pink faces, slant eyes, and shining horns, were following him patiently.
The traveller walked slowly over to the old man, who was making but tedious progress across the rough ground.
Carefully picking his words and using an admixture of Italian and Latin, in a French accent the young man asked if he might rest in the goat-herd's cottage or farm and study at his ease the noble prospect of Rome which was to him so odd and inspiring.
The other looked the traveller over quickly; his small, deep-set eyes were sparkling with good humour and intelligence; his brown features were twisted like those of a mask in a grotto.
"They are not my goats. They follow me because sometimes I give them a morsel of salt to lick. It amuses me, too, to attach a little bell to my staff—they will come after that, you know. This is very early for travellers to be on Monte Palatino," he added with a civil curiosity. "Naturally, everybody comes to Rome sooner or later, but they don't usually come up as high as this so early in the morning."
"I have very little time. I am with the French King at Bologna; you know that he has come there to meet the Pope? Eh, well, there is so much feasting, pageantry, play-acting, and church ceremony there that I had a mind to get away from it all for a little and to See Rome for myself, as I have seen it."
"Though I have neither cottage nor farm," said the old man, who appeared extremely interested in the stranger, "you may, if you will, come to my hut. I am what they call a hermit; that is, I do nothing, observe my fellows, and, when anyone comes near me, appear to be communing with heaven."
"I see you do not hesitate to give away the secret of your trade to me."
"It is only," replied the hermit with great simplicity, "the peasants, and sometimes the women, on whom one seeks to impose, and that for their good. For the rest I lead a harmless life, and even do a little good now and then."
The young man followed him along the wall of the convent and past the nuns' kitchen-garden; there the goats left them and, sticking their beards into the newly sprouting grass, munched and bleated contentedly.
The abode of the hermit was in a wood of ilexes on the summit of the hill, close beneath the majestic ruins of the Palace of the Caesars. It was the hermit's opinion, warmly expressed to the stranger, that this had been a sacred grove and that this dwelling had once been a temple, dedicated, he believed, to the Four Winds of Heaven; but the young Frenchman thought that this was perhaps an ancient glade in the Imperial Garden and that the place where the hermit had made his rude dwelling had once been a summerhouse where the ladies of the Imperial household had sat to take the cool airs of evening.
It was a circular building with pale-yellow, fluted marble pillars and had been built round three parts of its circumference with clay and wattle. The interior floor was covered with dry branches and leaves, there were a hay mattress with two thick blankets, some wooden receptacles for food, a tall red pottery jar for water; on a table stood a wooden crucifix delicately carved and several little amulets and charms, including a sprig of yew tied with a scarlet thread. In front of this abode sat a short, dark-haired man in worn but comfortable Clothing, who was cooking small, spitted birds over a pan of charcoal.
"This is my guest, Testard," remarked the hermit without embarrassment. "He, too, has left the train of the King of France at Bologna, and does not mean to return—like yourself, perhaps?"
"Oh, I shall return today, or at the least tomorrow," the traveller replied. "This adventure is but a brief interlude in my life."
"Ah, I can see you are rich," grinned Testard, leering up from his cooking and speaking in French. "You have good clothes on and gold ornaments and a sword by your side. As for me, I am nothing but a miniature painter, and I have very little to gain by dancing attendance on the King of France."
"Why," exclaimed the other, with a slightly severe accent of surprise, "the King of France is very magnificent, and employs all manner of talents. You should do very well in his train, Monsieur Testard."
"I dare say—one earns one's keep, and perhaps a little money besides. But think of the work one has to do, always to order! If one gets a book to illuminate, one must put in the exploits of His Majesty and all his ancestors. One must show him as Jove, as Jason, as Hercules—as God Himself! one must sit all day working out his mottoes and emblems, one must work in all his armorial bearings, and see they are right, too! And, perhaps," he added, giving the birds a dexterous twist of the stick, "all the while one is wishing to do something else—perhaps a landscape or a simple bunch of pinks or a girl one likes, or an old man, a charming old man whom one loves."
This protest seemed to open up a new point of view to the young stranger. He pushed back his hood and looked thoughtfully at the painter.
"But art must always be at the service of—" he hesitated for a word—"of great people, of kings and nobles."
"I suppose you think so," replied Testard cheerfully. "No doubt you can afford to employ some poor wretched devil yourself; but as for me, I have done with it. I intend to live up here with our friend and do what I like, for a while at least."
"No doubt," said the hermit gently, "the day is not far distant when you will be driven down to beg for work from His Holiness, from some of the Cardinals, or some of the great Roman nobles. Perhaps you will be even glad, before you have finished, to get some scene-painting, daubing a backcloth, or putting up one of those canvas triumphal arches that they are so fond of spending their money on when some king or prince comes into Rome. You know that Calvo, who used to live as I do, has been dragged into the service of the Pope and is now translating Vitruvius."
He put out platters, knives, bread, and a bottle of wine.
"I've had my breakfast," said the stranger negligently. "This is a curious place, I've never seen anything like it before. Rome! Well, I dreamed of it differently."
"I suppose it will be different," replied the hermit in a practical tone, "when the Pope has finished with it. Every Pope does something, you know. The Borgia spent a great deal of money. Then there was Julius—he did something too, although it was all to be a tomb for himself. And now we've this Leo, the Medici. Have you seen him? He is a most commonplace-looking fellow," the old man chattered on, "but magnificent, magnificent! Have you seen what he is building—the Vatican down there, St. Peter's? He employs the very best artists."
"But," put in the miniaturist bitterly, "they have to do as he says, I suppose."
"Well, that, of course. But they work under Raffaello Sanzio, who is appointed keeper of the antiquities of Rome. What money he makes! What fame he has!" The hermit raised his twinkling eyes to the young Frenchman's face. "My name is Ottavo—the eighth child. That's easy to remember, isn't it?"
The stranger refused the breakfast which the miniature painter and the hermit shared with a good deal of relish. They asked him his name and station and seemed a little overawed by his aloof bearing and fine clothes.
"I seem to know your face," said the Frenchman. "I have seen you, have I not, in the train of the King—or perhaps in that of Charles Monsieur?"
"You must call him," replied the young man, with a faint ironic smile, "the Connétable de Bourbon now. The King gave him that honour when he came to the throne. Yes, you may have seen me there. My name is also Charles."
He had not removed his quilted hood; the early air was sharp; he kept on his padded gloves also and sat back stiffly in the attitude of one well trained, a hand on each knee; he had an air of incomparable distinction in his graceful precision. He was so fine and well bred and severe that he seemed out of place in that rich, romantic scene.
Testard peered with tired eyes, which had become lined with much fine brushwork, at the young man's dark face, which he felt sure he had seen before. But it was not a very individual face, rather that of a typical, patrician Frenchman, lean and dark, with straight clipped hair, hollow cheek-bones, and large eyes, clear grey-brown, light as agate under heavy lids; as this elegant stranger did not seem disposed to disclose himself further, but sat apart from the others, absorbed in gazing at the prospect of Rome, Testard shrugged his plump shoulders and began to engage the hermit in a lively conversation. Ottavo was ready to gossip.
The little painter had been for twenty-four hours living in this strange retreat, which he had found by chance; he was delighted with his circumstances and had not yet finished regaling Ottavo, who was only too willing to listen, with all the gossip of Bologna—how Leo had given a Scarlet Hat to Adrian de Boissy, the King's tutor, and how François had created Giuliano de' Medici Duke of Nemours. At the same time, he added with a leer, though there were many fine sentiments passing and both the King and the Pontiff pretended to nothing but the general good of mankind and the service of God, there was a great deal of trickery going on and it was a question of which was the sharper—the Pope or the King. Of course, after the great victory that the French had had, the Pope could not say much; it was amusing to see what a good face he put on the situation. The sly Medici!
The hermit interrupted: "Do you know that His Holiness sent his troops to Marignano under his nephew Lorenzo and told him to hold off from the engagement until he saw which side was winning, and then to join that?"
"Is that known?" asked the elegant stranger sharply.
"Of course it is known," replied the hermit with a comfortable smile. "After all, it was quite a wise precaution to take."
"Yet he made a mistake after all," remarked Charles Monsieur with a thin smile, "and threw his thirty thousand Switzers into the losing side."
"Of course, there will be trouble about that," grinned Ottavo. "Lorenzo is not a very good general, he could not see in the confusion who was winning."
"And I could not see either at Bologna," said Testard. "There were meetings and conferences and banquets and great church services till one's eyes ached with the glitter and one's ears ached with the noise. I heard that Leo had to give up Parma and Modena, but François could not get the kingdom of Naples out of him. But I'll tell you what was amusing. There were exchanges of gifts, of course, and the Pope gave François a diamond as large as a pigeon's egg and a golden reliquary with a piece of the true Cross. But the King was not satisfied. What do you think he asked for?"
"Is he is a good Christian," said the hermit slyly, "what could he have that would please him better than a morsel of the true Cross, eh?"
"Perhaps he knows," said Testard, "that there is enough of the true Cross in Rome to build a large house. In any case, His Majesty asked for a piece of antique statuary."
"Oh, there's enough of that here," said Ottavo. "I dare say there are several good pieces lying beneath us now if we cared to dig."
"But he wanted one in particular, that which Felice de Fredis dug up on his vineyard, which was on the site of the Baths of Titus. That piece of breathing marble as it's called, 'The Laocoön.'"
"And do you think that is a very impertinent request for the King of France to make of the Pope of Rome?" asked Charles Monsieur.
"The Pope was speechless. I believe that neither he nor any of his Cardinals had ever heard of such audacity. But he consented, of course. He said that the group should be sent to France at the first opportunity. Did you," he asked, addressing the young man, "visit the galleries in the Vatican?"
Charles Monsieur shook his head. "I should like to have seen some of the frescoes in the Pope's apartments."
"It is difficult to get into them. The painters do not like to be disturbed at their work. I expect this meeting at Bologna will be one of the subjects they will paint—I believe that was arranged before His Holiness set out from Rome. The painters had already begun on the Coronation of Charlemagne, and he, the Emperor, is to have the features of your François, while the Pope is to have the countenance of the Medici." The hermit added abruptly, wiping his fingers, greasy from eating the roasted bird, on the grass: "He is very handsome, is he not, your King?"
The young Frenchman slightly raised his thin upper lip.
"He is very expensive, he pleases everybody. They think him handsome, they know him gay—at least he has avenged all the defeats we suffered in Italy.
"But," said the painter, "I do not think it was his generalship that won at Marignano. The Connétable de Bourbon is the better soldier. It was he who gained that victory. After all, what can you expect? François de Valois is only twenty years of age, but shrewd as a fox cub. Those narrow eyes of his and that long nose! Who would trust him? Why, he will even be a match for the Medici. And so extravagant! Everything he touches must be of gold."
Charles Monsieur rose slowly and flicked some scraps of dry moss and marble dust from his black and violet mantle.
"I thank you for your hospitality," he said gravely. "I cannot remain here any longer. This evening I must return to Bologna. Now what would you, wise man, suggest that I do with my one day in Rome?"
He opened his purse, which was carefully embroidered in scarlet and golden thread, and put a piece of money on the stone. "This is for your patron saint," he added with an accent of light irony, "or for your poor. Now, give me your advice, venerable father."
The old man did not disdain the gold piece, which he picked up with a thoughtful air.
"My advice depends on your tastes," he said, "yet I think I can guess them from your appearance. There is everything in Rome, in those marble palaces, in those glittering churches. Everywhere they are building, The Pope is very splendid, even more splendid than your King. But if you were to go to the Campo dei Fiori and knock at the little crooked door beside the inn that has the sign of the Corona Triumphalis and ask for one Gian Battista Vercelli, a charlatan, you would find there something that would interest and perhaps please you, though I am sure you are difficult."
"And who is this Vercelli?" asked the Frenchman negligently, as if he had already forgotten his own request and was again absorbed in the prospect of Rome, which began to glitter from the gilt of a hundred fanes in the strengthening light of the winter sun.
"He is an astrologer," replied the hermit. "He has been in the East for twenty years and has learnt much there from the Magi and mathematicians. He does not work for money. He will tell you a great deal if he thinks you are interested. He is a doctor, too—he can heal the body and the soul. He lives there in poverty in that vile quarter, because he despises everything in this world—or perhaps because he has never had a chance of attracting the attention of the great."
"I would rather," replied the Frenchman, "see something beautiful. Why do you send me to some filthy charlatan, a wizard or a quack? Yet, after all," he added with a sudden change of tone as if mocking at himself, "no doubt I shall go there."
His unexpected, gay smile at the miniature painter much changed his face.
"Adieu, Monsieur Testard. I wish you good luck with your experiment—freedom in art! But if you disdain all patronage you may yet come to painting doors."
He made his way quickly, with precision and grace, down the turfy slope encumbered with the blocks of yellow masonry, many of which bore elaborate carvings, and down the path, darkened by clusters of bramble and groups of ilex and laurel trees, which showed their dull greenish-black leaves in the blue air.
"He is a great lord," said the painter, looking after him, "I wish I could remember who he is. After all, his face is very much like that of all the others. But see how richly he is dressed—it is a common caprice of the nobles, too, to go wandering about in disguise. He was wearied with all that pageantry at Bologna, sickened, perhaps, by the lies and hypocrisy. Do you think that he will be safe in your dome, that they will not beguile him into some den and murder him for the sake of his gold and appointments?"
The hermit reached out a withered hand and clutched the broad-leaved hat trimmed with a few dirty cockle-shells, and the worn wooden bowl that hung inside the door of his hut. It was his custom to go down every day into Rome and to beg outside the inns where the wealthy foreigners lodged. He had not much need of money himself and was quite happy in his retreat on the Palatine, but his sons were respectable small farmers, and one of them wanted to dower a daughter. "He is shrewd and he is armed, your countryman," he said, "and I don't suppose anyone in Rome would care to touch a Frenchman just now. Let him be."
Charles Monsieur made his way leisurely through the awakened city. He was not remarked among that crowd of pilgrims, of foreigners, of sight-seers, of painters, architects, sculptors, and their students. He looked on this busy scene with the mingled enthusiasm and disappointment of the man who expects too much from life, and who is, therefore, never quite satisfied. He was searching for something far beyond common pleasures or common success, and the sense of his own inadequacy lay upon him like a weight; he was conscious of weakness in himself, of his own indecision, of his own confusion of belief; he knew that he was passionately drawn towards beauty, and mysteriously drawn towards God, and he could hardly separate in his mind the old pagan deities so richly alluring in their strength and loveliness from the worn, diseased, hideous figures of the emaciated saints and martyrs who had driven the pagan gods and goddesses back to hell.
Both seemed deserving of his belief and of his worship. He had seen images of these gods and saints, standing side by side on the arches, beautifully designed and painted, made by the best architects and artists of Italy, which had been set up to welcome the King of France, that glorious young conqueror, into There they had stood, the pictures of the filthy, bleeding men and women bearing the martyr's palms, next to the radiant forms of nymphs and fauns, and shoulder to shoulder with the most formidable Christian virtues—Prudence, Temperance, and Chastity; while above them all had towered the gigantic symbolic figures with wings and swords—Philosophy, Rhetoric, Resolution, and Fortitude.
If even the Pope, the head of the Christian Church, thus intermingled his gods and his symbols, was there not created a confusion for all sons of Holy Church and all worshippers of pagan beauty?
The young man's serious mind held tenaciously to that word, beauty; he wished, he thought, for nothing else—not beauty that could be purchased, hoarded and looked at occasionally, but beauty that would be continuous, about him always, like the air and the sunshine; and not a spendthrift, gorgeous extravagance, like that of the young King of France, but something choice, austere, difficult of attainment.
Ay, that was it—too difficult of attainment. How could one exist in this coarse, bloody world and yet attain daily loveliness of life? He was too fine-bred, too fastidious, too carefully trained, too thin of blood, perhaps, and reserved in nature to enjoy anything that was not orderly and precise and delicate. It distressed him to hate anyone; he was afraid of hatred, it seemed to mar the serenity of his thoughts, as a festering wound would mar the smoothness of his well-kept body. But he hated the young King of France, and it was because of that passion that he had come away from Bologna where his master was wheedling, beguiling, and deceiving the crafty Pope.
To ease his mind from hatred he thought of love. He had an austere, loyal affection for his brothers and sisters, all younger than himself, and for the memory of his father and his elder brother, both of whom had died outside Naples, fighting for France.
They were buried in one ornate mausoleum, and he wished that it might be possible for him to go southwards to say prayers beside this tomb.
But there were two others, whom he loved with that strong, serene passion which he held to be the highest form of human felicity, his young wife and her mother. These women seemed to him holy in their fragrant piety, in their austere self-denial, in their cheerful and diligent application to the little things of everyday, in their fastidious breeding and in their loyalty, their fidelity, their affection towards him. When he thought of them, he thought of pearls and daisies, of cool spring water in crystal flagons, and fine, laborious embroidery on pure linen and white woollens; of prayers rising upwards to the Virgin's foot-stool.
He made his way, walking daintily, across the slums and the market-places where the peasantry were selling their wares, the quacks shouting their nostrums, and the bare-footed friars, whose rough gowns were girdled with rope, were incessantly threading through the crowds.
He found the inn in the Field of Flowers; a battered sign hung out, on which was a defaced painting of a Roman general's triumphal crown. Smiling in his hood, the young Frenchman knocked at the humble door. It was opened by a small negro, whose beautifully modelled face, of a bluish-grey tinge, expressed an intelligent anxiety.
"Is your master one Vercelli, a wise man?"
The negro nodded and beckoned the stranger inside the narrow, tiled corridor.
Charles Monsieur, who was utterly fearless and who never thought of treachery or danger, followed the black by up a narrow spiral, darkish staircase, which led to an upper room that looked upon a small courtyard, in which grew an immense cypress tree.
It was the chamber of a student: books, some in manuscript and some printed, were carefully arranged upon the shelves; there was a desk with a lamp, paper, ink, and mathematical instruments beneath a high-set window; a long couch piled with several Eastern shawls and rugs, their bright colours fading, their fringes worn. There was an ebony cabinet adorned with ivory masks, on which stood various bottles of coloured glass; the window, which looked north, escaped the sun, and a stream of colourless light fell into the melancholy chamber.
Vercelli, a man neither young nor old, who wore a doctor's robe, greeted his visitor without surprise, for every morning he held consultations, and his presence and his advice were free to any who chose to ask for them. Some of the Cardinals considered him a dangerous man, one who indulged in perilous speculations and whose opinions were tinged with scepticism; others thought he was the spy of a foreign power or a Roman faction and powerfully protected.
Charles Monsieur was depressed when he saw the apartment—he had seen so many like it in his own country but Vercelli looked at him with great interest and courteously offered him a seat.
"I wonder why I have intruded on you," said the Frenchman with his thin smile. "I have no good introductions either. I was sent here by one—an old hermit—a beggar man, who lives on the Palatine. I came with King François to Bologna and I had the great desire to see Rome."
"You will not," replied Vercelli civilly, "see much of it, sir, from my chamber window. It is plain then that Rome does not satisfy you. You, like everyone else who comes here, seek something. You are discontented and yet you have many gifts."
"You do not know me," smiled the Frenchman; he sat as he had sat on the block of golden stone on the Palatine, precise and graceful, his athletic figure erect, his mantle falling in smooth folds. As he spoke he pushed back the quilted hood, and the pallid light fell upon his composed face, which, though hollowed and lined for his age, had a grave beauty.
"I can say with the young man who could not bring himself to follow our Lord, 'I have great possessions'. I can say also that I am something of a fool, or I should not be here now."
"What is it that you dread?" asked the Italian quietly.
As if he had not heard the question, the Frenchman continued in his low, pleasing voice: "I am happy in my love. I was married when I was fifteen years old. She is most dear to me, we live together in great harmony—and her mother is as close to me as my own mother, whom I lost when I was a child. I have power over a large number of people and I try to be just and generous, and I know I am liked, sometimes blessed. I hate a man whom I think in every way my inferior, yet he is placed by a whim of birth above me. I am strong, healthy, and never afraid, but four or five times in the year I have attacks of fever that bring me very low—during which I have dreams."
"I am restless and undecided. All my fortunes are pledged to the world, yet I would not be of the world."
"You want, I suppose, to live in an enchanted castle on a magic mountain, undisturbed even by the winds of heaven?"
"You laugh at me, and with good reason. I do not know why I came to interrupt your studies, learned doctor. Take it that I indulge a mood."
"I take it, sir, that you are one who can afford to indulge moods. What have you seen in Rome?"
"Much that makes me homesick," replied the young man with sudden vehemence rising. "I would that I had been born in that golden age before the shadow of the Cross fell over all the beauty of the world!"
"I can tell you this," said Vercelli. "The vase of fine porcelain is broken when it is jostled against vases of clay and iron. If you and fastidious, difficult, and wish to keep clean hands and a serene soul, and loathe any befoulments of mind or body, leave the world to those who do not care how they soil their fingers as long as they rake up golden pieces from the mud. Leave the world to men like your King François, to the Pope, the Medici and all their parasites. It is for them it is made. They know the game and they will win the stakes."
"But I have much worldly stuff—almost everything a man may have. I own almost as much as King or Pope, and might have had quite as much could I act more boldly."
"And in that boldness you lack all," said Vercelli. "This is no age nor place for fine-drawn scruples. If you are of the world you must behave as the world behaves. If you try to be with them and not of them you will do more evil than the biggest rogue among them."
"Do evil?" sighed the young Frenchman. "It never occurred to me that I could do evil."
"You will do harm—you are weak, and you hesitate and meddle." He rose and took down a bottle of pale, rosy wine from the cabinet of ebony and ivory, poured some of the liquid into a long-stemmed glass, and offered it to his guest.
"Drink that and rest a little while on my couch. Your hands are trembling and there is sweat on your brow. It is easy for the blood to be chilled in these Roman evenings and mornings. The miasma comes up from the marshes and sickens a man's spirit."
Charles Monsieur did as he was bid. He felt drowsy and fatigued, a heaviness in his limbs and a weariness on his spirit.
"You trust me," said Vercelli, smiling at him curiously.
"I trust everyone but the King of France and his mother," said the young man, throwing himself down with a sigh on the Eastern rug, which had a dry but pleasing perfume.
He felt already tired and slightly ashamed of his adventure, which had seemed so charming at the outset. It was probable that he would be missed at Bologna and that his absence would be the occasion for comment and even mocks. He would have to ride hard if he was to get back in time for the comedy that the Pope was offering the King of France, and if he were not there his absence would be taken ill.
He stretched his long, slim limbs on that strange couch; Vercelli put into his hand a mirror of polished steel, telling him to stare into it.
"There is no magic in it," he said with his pleasant, slightly tired smile. "You will see there your own dreams, your own soul, and when you have dreamed away what now oppresses you, you will be more at ease."
Charles Monsieur fell asleep, as he supposed, almost at once—lying there with the perfume of the dead iris and violet roots in his nostrils, and before him the dim yet gleaming surface of the mirror, which seemed to expand until it filled the entire room, blocking out the homely furnishings and the shabby figure of the doctor in his darned and faded gown.
Waves of light passed over the monstrous surface of the mirror and these shook into the glittering form of a woman—the woman whose name the young man had just taken on his lips, the Queen Mother, Louise. She wore the colours of her House of Savoy, which she always affected, the scarlet of carnations and that small hedgerow flower called "the eye of day"; this pure scarlet is a rare colour in nature and the Heralds were put to it to find symbols for the hue of Savoy; for the other hue it was easy; she had everything that was white, from the ermine to the snowdrop; all her luxurious books, her handsome apartments, her gorgeous robes, her horses, her pages, her musicians, and her ladies were clad and emblazoned in these two hues.
So Charles Monsieur saw her now, with the tight scarlet dress, the white veil, the hard little face bleached to the colour of a pearl, the narrow, vermilion painted lips, the plucked eyebrows, and eyes green-grey as glass beads or bubbles of sea water. He had not believed that he had had her in his mind at all—he was always striving to forget her very existence; but there she was, and soon he was following her through a thick wood of pines where the needles were close packed underfoot, and the sky made little bright patches between the dense flat boughs overhead. Louise rode a white palfrey trapped in scarlet net—the long braided tassels touched the ground; and he, Charles Monsieur, was leading the bridle; the thick, scarlet, twisted silk of it showed across his white hand.
Louise was singing—she had a low, rather harsh voice, which gave her words spirit and meaning. Charles Monsieur wished to turn back, to leave her, but was impelled to go forward. She took no heed of him, but he knew she was leading him like a captive to some destination of her own choosing; her song was echoed in the upper boughs of the pine trees, in the jingle of the pony's harness.
They came out on to a large meadow and it was twilight, that pale and sinister colour of dreams which may be between dawn and day or between evening and night. A large palace stood on the meadow and it was lit up from within so that every window was a patch of brightness. Above the palace hung the banner of Savoy, white and scarlet in the dusk. The ground was enamelled with flowers; as the borders of a jewel are studded with smaller stones set in gold, so the borders of this castle, the green swards, were strewn with flowers, strewn as a miniature painter strews the borders of his picture; there were daisies, violets and cyclamen, primroses, pinks, wallflowers, and little bright and starry wreaths and everything that grows low and humbly in the open fields in the thick grass.
Charles Monsieur thought of Testard the painter, of how he would spend one morning collecting the tiny flowers and tiny leaves and one afternoon in copying them carefully on to the vellum surrounding a great letter L, in which would be a picture of Louise seated at the table playing cards with a blond page.
A wind blew from inside the silent palace and cast out into the dusk the scarlet-and-white curtains hanging at the open door. Louise dismounted, Charles gave her his hand and led her up the steps into the palace. A masquerade was in progress. The hall was the largest he had ever seen; it seemed to have no limit, and the lights that were suspended from the ceiling in clusters appeared to be one with the stars, save that they gave out a brilliant illumination. Music came from a half-seen orchestra that appeared to be set up high and surrounded by clouds. Here air smelt dank and rotten as if there were dank dead leaves mouldering. A large, silent company was moving gravely in the intricate figures of a dance.
Charles, against his own volition, put his arm round Madame Louise's brocaded waist, and joined in the measure. The music was drumming in his ears monotonously, like the beating of his own blood when he had fever; he seemed to have a veil before his eyes, for he saw everything dimly; the shapes seemed to shift and move one into another; a cavalier in pearl-coloured satin passed him and the next second had changed into a huge white beast with blunt horns; many of the ladies had the faces of does or vixens, which, even as he looked, changed into some other more terrifying mask; through the persistent thudding of the music was a thin fluting, which rose and fell on two notes with a monotony maddening to the nerves.
At the end of the vast ballroom in an alcove, lit by a shifting and uncertain light, a group of gigantic statuary—a man and his two sons in their death agonies, being crushed and poisoned by powerful snakes, which moved and writhed with the rhythm of the music. A faint perfume of staled church incense penetrated the fetid odours of the masquerade.
The head of Charles Monsieur ached—he would willingly have been gone, he would willingly have left the dance, but his partner drew him on and on. It seemed as if there were no floor beneath their feet, no ceiling above their heads. Hooded figures sat gloomily beyond the dancers; their faces were unseen and their hands moved busily with a long thread and shuttle; the dancers moved aside as a procession entered the room; it was that of the baptism of a Princess of France; all the ladies were in white; they had come in from the winter weather, for there was snow on their cloaks and hoods. The baby Princess was swaddled in white and silver, with the fleurs de lis on her mantle; her little sister, undersized, pale, her thin yellow hair combed straight on to the ermine, walked beside the nurse.
This procession, which seemed composed of frost and icicles, melted like snow before a fire in the sullen warmth of the infernal masquerade; its place was taken by another the funeral processions of two royal infants and their mother, all white and pallid, colourless and helpless as tears, yet blotted all over with the royal splendour of Valois.
As this white procession of the dead children of France passed across and vanished into the infernal masquerade, the melody of the high-placed, cloud-swept orchestra changed; the strings of harp and violin were muted, the flutes hushed, and drums and trumpets sounded harshly. It was a painted show of war enacted by ghosts, who rose and fell without a sound like a cloud of coloured vapour across the ballroom.
Charles Monsieur, dancing mechanically with the red and white woman in his arms, stared up at this image of all the wars whereby the French had surged to and fro the Alps on to the voluptuous plains of Italy; forests of spears from which fluttered multi-coloured pennons with a variety of grotesque devices—golden spurs and silver armour and white horses armoured and caparisoned in leather and metal. These figures rode at each other, fell back, returned, and so continued their ceaseless charges in a wordless show.
Charles Monsieur was oppressed by the monotony of this show; there were grins of stiff agony on the faces of the soldiers, it seemed as if they were under an enchantment and could neither forbear the combat nor die and be at peace. He saw the Switzers tramping down from their mountains, where the perpetual snow hung in white avalanches along the purple ravines and between the giant pines; he saw Cardinal Matthew Schinner coming up from the Valaise with his body-guard of mountaineers in their parti-coloured uniforms, which seemed to be of gold and flame, which had been designed by the painter Michael Angelo; as Charles Monsieur looked at this show he thought that he looked at a painting by this same painter where monstrous figures of giants were for ever interlinked in sombre combat or moody meditation; he tried to speak, to call aloud, "Ho, why have we all this fighting and contending? Who is a whit the better for it, and is not the whole world weary of the tramp of armed feet?"
In the vision, which seemed to shrink and compose itself into the form of a whirling globe, he saw the map of Europe scattered with little towns like those mock structures of wood used at jousts and plays that go down at the touch of a toy lance; he saw that these were real towns, falling as the phantom knight charged them and going up into thin flames that turned the stars blood-red. He moved, he struggled against the strength of his dream, but it held him firmly, as a manacle about his wrists, as a rope about his feet and yet he knew he was dreaming and puzzled over the meaning of much that he saw; why two dead children? only one had died; he remembered it, only a few years ago, the old, ill, sad Kind, the ugly, ill, sad Queen; and that battering at the gate of heaven for a child, for an heir to the throne of France, an heir for the House of Valois. And one had come, and it was a girl—and another had come, and it was dead; and then the Queen had folded her hands and died too, even as he had just seen in his vision.
But a tomb, with twin infants side by side, swaddled in white and silver—that had not been; he tried to piece this dream within a dream and find out the meaning of it; a great weariness consumed him, fatigue crept into his marrow, that he must dance and dance with the woman in red and white; her face was very close to his and presently seemed to expand and fill the whole smoky atmosphere—the plucked eyebrows, the narrow painted lips, the close nostrils, the pale hair and, round the eyes and under the throat, little wrinkles.
She was talking about her son, her Caesar, her Apollo, who was now King of France; she was striking Charles Monsieur on the breast with her thin, ringed hands till the jewels rattled against her delicate bones, and telling him that he must go on his knees and do homage to her Caesar, and he struggled and cried out for his gentle wife Suzanne, and for her mother, Anne of France, who had been Regent of that realm in her young brother's time.
He cried out to them to save him from these phantoms of war, from the white-and-scarlet woman, from all the figures of the infernal masquerade, who plucked at his black-and-violet cloak, who put filthy fingers on his fine linen and soiled it, who flicked him with their dank tresses as they passed, who glared at him with livid eyes through the holes in their detestable masks.
He longed passionately, desperately, for serenity, for a cool mead at dawn, for the new grass, for daisies, for the tall, narrow chapel with the pure crimson and blue windows that was at Moulins, for clear water in crystal flagons and green apples folded in a white napkin, for all that was dainty and precise and fresh from the earth. The woman in white and scarlet pouted out her thin lips, stretched forward her slim neck as if about to kiss him.
He twisted back his head in sick disgust and woke, to find himself on that bed, scented with orris and violet root, in the commonplace chamber of Vercelli, the doctor, in Rome.
It was midday; a wan light filled the chamber and glittered through the rows of coloured bottles on the ebony and ivory cabinet. The negro was standing at a desk, pounding herbs in a stone mortar, camomile daisies surely, from the acrid perfume. Charles Monsieur sat up and turned his drowsy eyes towards the doctor.
"You gave me some drug. I dreamt heavily."
"You had nothing. Your dreams were of your own making."
"So," said the Frenchman, carefully adjusting his tumbled garments, "that is all you have to give me—a dream, which you admit is of my own making, and some advice. Yes, you gave me some advice, but I forget what it was."
Only this: do not meddle with the world unless you are a worldling. If you are a philosopher or an artist, you must dwell apart and take the crusts that are thrown you—but if you want the prizes, you must be of them who compete.
He put his hands in the pockets of his worn coat and then added, in an indifferent voice:
"Have you seen the statues in San Lorenzo which Michael Angelo hewed? The Pope is building a mausoleum there for the Medici family—all in pietra serena—you know, of a grey colour, and cold and chill. The statues are very wonderful. They say, though, that he does not like making them—he thinks he is wasting his time; he spends months at the quarries watching the stone being cut."
"I wish he would come to France and work for me," said Charles Monsieur. "And yet I do not know. There is something fiendish and monstrous about his figures, they disturb and excite me."
He put a gold piece carefully and precisely on the table, as he had placed a gold piece carefully and precisely on the tawny rock outside the beggar-hermit's hut.
"If you will take nothing for yourself, I suppose you know those who are in need. My head aches a little. I would I had not seen what I saw in my dream, although I have already forgotten it."
The doctor bowed courteously without replying, and looked at the coin on which was the image of the twelfth Louis.
Charles Monsieur went down the twisting staircase into the square, which was now hot and dusty, smelling of stale country products and of dried winter fruits which were brought there for disposal, sticky figs, raisins, preserves, spices, and lees of wine. The battered sign, "The Triumphal Crown", hung directly above his head. He wondered why he had come to this place and greatly blamed himself for the restless irresolution that had brought him to Rome.
The press of the parti-coloured passers-by affected him almost with nausea. They irritated him, all these different people—the monks with smug or cadaverous faces, in black or white or brown, with girdles hanging to their feet; these peasants, in from the campagna, dressed in goats' skins and small black hats from which fluttered ribbons; the handsome, dark-eyed women with their winter hoods, who glanced at him with the bold stare of birds of prey, marking his gold chain and embroidered gloves with envy; these pilgrims and deformed beggars, even the little golden-brown children, hardy and bold-eyed; he disliked them all because they made him feel weak and compassionate, desirous of saving them from tyrants and scoundrels, from the ambitions and lusts of men like François the King, and Leo the Pope.
As he made his way to the inn where he had left his horse he was impressed—nay, more than that—his whole soul was caught up in an enthusiasm at the splendour and beauty of the ruined city that seemed in herself so much greater and more magnificent than any tyrant who had ever ruled within her mouldering walls.
Rome—the colour of dead flowers and of summer dusk seeming, even in the winter, to be powdered with gold; with her massive towers, triumphal arches, glittering fanes, and superb palaces that rose from amidst the dark tresses of ilex, bay, and laurel, the flat blue-black boughs of cypress, the metallic leaves of palms—affected this foreigner with painful pleasure. From great fountains of golden stone, placed at the corners of the streets, water, pure and cold as diamonds, glittered in shallow basins. Flocks of doves and pigeons rose from the ruined pillars of broken palaces and temples—the temples of Jove the Thunderer and Mars the Avenger, now clear in the noonday sun; they had lost their morning colours of blue, lilac, and green and appeared as white as the sails of a distant ship at sea.
Charles Monsieur, though it was urgent for him to be on his way, paused by the low parapet of the river and looked down on that turgid flood which, thick and yellow, hurried towards the sea at Ostia. He gazed at the mighty circular outline of Hadrian's tomb, the Castello Sant' Angelo that was supposed to house the fabulous treasures of the Pope, and he smiled to himself when he noticed again the light, newly constructed bridge that connected the Papal apartments in the Vatican with this impregnable fortress.
Did even His Holiness fear war, and think the day might come when he would be glad to take refuge in the tomb of the heathen Emperor? What had the tiara'd Medici to fear? thought Charles Monsieur, in light irony. Leo X, who was protected by all the superstition of all mankind! Then the Frenchman crossed himself humbly—surely the thought had been blasphemous; one must not, even for an instant, confuse Almighty God with his Vicegerent, de' Medici.
The Pope had ordered a comedy to be presented in Bologna for the entertainment of King François; His Holiness was not in a good humour and his habitual courtesy had become nervously strained. The French victory had meant a defeat of his policy and he was ill-pleased to see a conqueror on Italian soil. He had had many small personal vexations of late also: it had been delightful, and had caused him to weep sentimental tears, when he had been received with such loyal enthusiasm by his countrymen in Florence; but in painful contrast had been his reception in Bologna, when he and his eighteen scarlet clad Cardinals, riding on mules, had been forced to proceed through undecorated streets without one triumphal arch and with only one poor canopy of silk and another of worn and stained cloth—Leo had ordered the first to be borne over the Host and had himself refused the second. Then there had been the effort required to get together a State procession for the King, whose impetuous and unexpected victory had so spoiled all his, Leo's, long-conceived and far-reaching schemes; yes, they had been very tedious, all those formal ceremonies, and he would be glad of the comedy—it would be a chance of relaxing, of laughing a little, perhaps of forgetting himself.
François was so young and so charming, Leo would like to have had his portrait painted by Raffaello or his bust carved by Michael Angelo; yet he disliked him, because he was no mere beautiful, empty-headed youth but a shrewd and, as the Pope feared, treacherous diplomat; it had taken all Leo's art, courtesies, blandishments, and tricks to prevent this young conqueror from marching southward and seizing what he most coveted—the Kingdom of Naples; but the Pope had been able to prevent that—he sighed with relief when he thought of that success. There had been many pageants and ceremonies, and Leo had been able, he hoped, to impress the young French King, who had always stood bareheaded in his presence and had knelt before him at his first reception; neither had François disdained, when Leo held High Mass at San Petronio, to hold the water used at the lavabo; but all this and all these insincere expressions of goodwill and delight in the virtues of Christian peace and charity had been most exhausting, and Leo, who had not been well when he left Rome, felt himself at the end of his nerves.
What had really upset him more than anything else was that insolent request for the Laocoön group; he trembled with rage whenever he thought of that—he must not think of it, for it would not do to be angry with François before they had parted more or less on good terms, and he had driven with the astute Frenchman as good a bargain as was, under the circumstances, possible.
A stage had been arranged in the magnificent hall of the Piazza Pubblica and though the Pope had brought the architect and painters, sculptors, actors, poets, and splendid paraphernalia from Rome he regretted the lack of the handsome theatre in the Holy City. The news of the French victory had been so unexpected that everything had been done in a hurry and some of the choicest buffoons and musicians, dwarfs and jesters, had not yet arrived at Bologna.
Moreover Leo had wished to show the King of France the elephant that had been sent him by the King of Portugal and that was considered the greatest curiosity in Europe; but the monstrous beast refused to leave its stable in the Vatican. There was another pleasure that the Pope had been forced to forgo; he loved above everything practical jests and he did not dare to play any of these on François de Valois. Still, such as it was—and to one of his lavish tastes, his supreme extravagance, it was not very magnificent—the pageantry went forward. The Pope took his place on his golden throne with the King of France on his right and a chair placed for the Connétable de Bourbon on his left; his spirits rose when he saw the elegant circles of wax lights and heard the scarlet-clad musicians tuning their elegant, shining instruments; he could never resist, even in a moment of difficulty and depression, the joy of a spectacle.
He sat heavily in his white brocade rochet and red mozzetta; his crimson cap with its tiny edging of white fur came to his ears so that he appeared bald. He was forty years of age, gross in his person, bloated with disease, his huge paunch borne on weak, spindly legs; his profile rolled in fat to his throat, but was dignified by a massive nose; his eyes were pale, close-set, penetrating and shrewd in expression; he was so short-sighted that a spy-glass was constantly in his hand—without it he was almost blind; he bore himself with an easy majesty, and despite his clumsy figure his air was one of both grace and dignity.
The Pope's courtesy was magnificent, bland, smiling, and exquisitely adjusted to people and to circumstances. Behind him stood two priests, Giulio de' Medici, the bastard son of the Pope's elder brother, whose black, almond eyes expressed haughty reserve, and Luigi de' Rossi.
The Medici Cardinal was forbidding in aspect, with handsome features and heavy black hair combed straight round the tonsure. He was hand-in-glove with his uncle; they worked together for the power of the House of Medici.
The young King of France was a charming figure, what his countrymen called beau chevalier; he was tall, with wide shoulders and narrow hips, slim and active; his long, peculiar face, which the French considered extremely attractive, was continually smiling with an expression of insolent gaiety, with upward lines of nostrils, lips, and eyes; his nose was very long with fine flat nostrils, his eyes black and sparkling with inexpressible animation and enthusiasm; lank black hair fell on either side of his narrow cheeks; and he was dressed in gold, very carefully tailored. With his large white hands set upon his knees he leaned forward in his throne, looked with the greatest interest at the company, and waited in expectancy for the spectacle to begin.
Immediately before the brocaded and flowered curtains were drawn, there was a stir in the closely packed audience. The third most important figure in this splendid pageant arrived: Charles de Montpensier, Duc de Bourbon, Connétable de France, who took the third chair, put a little lower than those of King and Pope, which had been placed with due pomp for the conqueror of Marignano.
This young Prince, descended from Saint Louis, was the greatest subject in the world, a feudal lord who held unlimited power over a third of France; he was the first soldier in that kingdom, and to him François owed the late victory, the golden fruits of which he was now enjoying.
The King ignored his entry, but the Pope greeted him with unblemished courtesy. Charles Monsieur answered with cold reverence: he had ridden hard to be in time for the spectacle, he was fatigued; the dream that had disturbed his sleep in the chamber of Vercelli, the Roman charlatan, still troubled his mind; he did not wish to view this obscene and glittering comedy, which was supposed to be one of the rewards of his victory, and he glanced with hatred at the lascivious, cunning face of the King, who, at twenty-one years of age, was an expert at what he termed love, and was forever seeking some beautiful and easy woman; the brilliant rings of pure wax candles made the eyes of Charles ache; the air was tainted from the great press on the floor below the dais.
It had been said of the Pope that he could no more save a thousand ducats than a stone could fly up into the sky, and though without the help of the great Florentine bankers he would long ago have been bankrupt, though he often had to raise money at forty per cent, he lived in a state of splendour never equalled outside an Eastern fairy tale.
As a dance melody was being played by the Papal musicians on their gilded platform a crowd of buffoons in animal masks scampered in, in front of the great painted curtains; as these were drawn aside a cleverly lit drop-scene painted by Raffaello was disclosed and the close-packed audience of bishops, priests, courtiers, and nobles gave a murmur of gratification and astonishment as they saw the stage lit by clusters of coloured lamps which formed the Papal cypher and that of the King of France.
The scene was a marvellous perspective of a street. Before this appeared a herald who, in the Medici livery, advancing to the footlights, recited an obscene prologue which sent the Pope into laughter that shook his huge stomach; the King of France also enjoyed this unseemly wit, which, for his benefit, was partly expressed in French; but some of those present—Ambassadors from some of the Italian states and the Imperial Envoy—thought the verses too free to be given before His Holiness, and grimaced in disgust at one another behind their hands.
The play was the work of Ludovico Ariosto; and Innocenzo Cybo, Leo's nephew and the youngest Cardinal, was taking the leading part. The spectacle was enriched by several ballets and some beautiful incidental music—some of this was performed on an organ which had lately been presented to the Pope by the Cardinal of Aragon.
A pavilion of sad coloured cloth at the back of the stage suddenly opened and out stepped a beautiful young woman, whose smooth, white limbs were scarcely concealed by a thin gauze drapery spangled with stars; her crisp, blonde locks were piled high above her head and intertwined with pearls, which spread into an enormous coronet stuck with white roses.
In correct Latin verses, which had been written for her by Cardinal Cybo, the young actress besought Venus to provide her with a husband; trumpets sounded from the wings and eight Anchorites in dismal robes of dusty grey rushed upon the scene from the left, to stop short, while from the right strutted on a rosy youth in gilt buskins with tinsel wings and red roses among his gold sprinkled tresses, who announced that his mother had granted the Fair Supplicant's request.
The indignant hermits thereupon discharged arrows at the God of Love, who was protected by Venus, who now appeared upon the stage in a silver chariot of antique design, drawn by white mules, led by black pages in green costumes. The splendour of this vision cast the hermits unconscious upon the ground, and while they were thus defenceless the God of Love transfixed them with their own arrows. These wounds at once awakened them—they sprang up and executed an intricate dance round Venus and the Fair Supplicant, to whom they declared their passionate love. Soft and graceful music was played as the hermits cast aside their sad-coloured robes and appeared as handsome youths who wore long, tight-fitting purple hose, quilted white doublets, and lawn shirts cut low and open on their necks and bosoms.
The Pope with easy courtesy explained the moral of this spectacle to the Duc de Bourbon.
"They mean to say that it is better for a young man to be dead than to live as a cloistered monk."
Charles Monsieur praised civilly the magnificence of the show, but it was for him all too luscious, too heavy with lustful hints and provocations, and, tired as he was, his blood a little inflamed by his recurrent fever, he could scarcely tell this spectacle from the infernal masquerade in which he had dreamt he had taken part when he had slept in Vercelli's chamber in Rome.
He thought that both the Fair Supplicant, with smooth limbs so perfectly proportioned, looking as if she might have been one of Angelo Bronzino's models, and the Venus, who had been chosen for her likeness to the most exquisite classic statues, might have been sisters or handmaidens of Louise of Savoy, the woman in white and scarlet who had clung to him in that infernal ballroom and whose proffered kiss had awakened him from his nightmare.
He remained for a while in his place after the Pope had risen and escorted the King of France to the salon with the frescoes, where long tables covered with pearly damask were set with almond cakes, jellies, winter fruits, and wine of golden, white, and crimson hue in crystal flagons encased in silver.
In the great hall below there was a sudden scramble towards the door into the room where the refreshments were laid out; a prelate's leg was broken in the press and several people were trampled underfoot.
The Pope laughed heartily when told of this; he liked any jest founded on the misfortunes of another, and he began easily to tell the King of France the story of Barbello, his buffoon poet, who, to amuse the Papal Court, had been taken on the King of Portugal's elephant to the Capitol, there to be crowned with laurel; the elephant had refused to cross the bridge despite the blows rained upon his head by the poor, disappointed poet, who had been tipsy with vanity and wine.
François, leaning against the buffet, laughed, but his eyes were restless and his long fingers fidgeted with the thick links of red gold round his neck. Everything was settled between himself and the Pope as far as it could be settled; he was tired of diplomacy and of pageantry, he wished to get away to his frivolous pleasures but the Pope, who also knew that there was nothing more to be done in the way of serious business between them, continued to tell amusing stories and to flatter the King, whom he addressed as Caesar. François was used to this term, which was employed in reference to him by his mother, Louise, and his sister, Marguerite.
The Pope also turned with soft words to the young Duc de Bourbon; he was glad, he said, that so great a soldier and so courteous a gentleman was to be left in command of Milan, which had been handed over to the King of France by the indolent and timorous Sforza, and he asked about the health of Charles Monsieur's young wife, Suzanne, and hoped that she would soon bear him an heir to inherit his great estates.
They all politely discussed the play and Leo regretted that he had not his more elaborate stage machinery with him, and described some of the spectacles he had contrived in the theatre in the Vatican; he added that the two beautiful women who had taken the parts of Venus and the Fair Supplicant had both sat as models to his famous painter, Raffaello San Zio.
These exquisite creatures were, smiled Leo, having supper in the chamber behind the stage, and if His Christian Majesty wished he could send for them and receive their personal homage. François laughed, careless, distracted by excitement and success. The forced, civil talk came to an end; the last glass of valerian was drunk, the last almond pâté broken; and the two young French conquerors at length took their reverent leave of His Holiness the Pope.
When everyone else had gone the Pope remained alone in his bed-chamber with his nephew, Cardinal Giulio de' Medici. Leo at once ordered another supper to be brought in, for he had a capricious appetite: sometimes for days he would eat nothing but pulse and drink nothing but water, and then he would indulge in gluttony for a long period.
He sighed, rubbed his weak, short-sighted eyes with his handkerchief, and then dabbed at his flabby, trembling mouth. He was irritated and disappointed; he would gladly have seen the two insolent Frenchmen's heads cut off and bouncing neatly into the Tiber. He wanted to discuss the whole unpleasant business with Giulio, but controlled himself; it was getting late and he had his health to think of—he had been in pain with horrible attacks of nausea and retching ever since he came to Bologna, and his sight had dazzled so much that he had hardly been able to see the stage play.
"François is a fox and a viper," he muttered, with unsteady fingers reaching out towards the silver dish of ortolans that was brought him. "And I should like to have a painting of that peculiar face of his. Did you ever, my Giulio, see so long a nose? And his eyes appeared just under his cap as if he had no forehead. The young Connétable is a handsomer man, and, as I think, a more honest—but weak, and that is worse."
Leo sighed and ate, thinking of what was, after extravagant splendour, his greatest pleasure—the chase. This had been considered an unseemly diversion in a Pontiff, but he had been unable to control his lustful joy in the hunt. Most of all he liked to kill the prey; when the trembling, exhausted beasts were taken and lying helpless in the net, it was the Pope's great joy to be helped off his white palfrey, to walk to the victims, and to draw a sharp knife across the smooth, shuddering throats.
He would like to have been at the hunt now as he sliced the legs off the ortolans, and he thought, not of the throat of a wild animal, but of the slim neck of François—ay, and of that of the Duc de Bourbon, the victor of Marignano.
How insolent they both were! It was clear that they considered themselves conquerors of the whole of Italy, and François had nearly outwitted him and secured Naples—ay, that would have been a blow!
Leo peered up at Giulio de' Medici, who, with a detached and slightly disagreeable air, stood beside his chair. There was much in his nephew that Leo regretted—what a pity, for instance, that he was a bastard! It had been very tedious making that pretence of a marriage between his murdered father, Giuliano, and some unknown woman, a secret, unwitnessed, unregistered marriage, but this fraud had been necessary before it had been possible for Giulio to become a Cardinal; of course, nobody had believed in the lie and it had lowered the Pope's repute, not only for holiness but for common sense.
The sly, subtle Italians had laughed in their sleeves and Leo had known it; yet Giulio was necessary to him, bastard or no; this man must support the splendour of the House of Medici—perhaps some day Giulio would be Pope; and Leo did not think his own life was likely to be a long one. When he had received the usual solemn warning on the day of his coronation "Thou shalt reign less days than St. Peter", he had thought through his triumph, "I am the youngest Pope that has ever been elected, I am only thirty-seven rears of age"—but now he wondered. He was so often ill; his body was feeble, racked with ignoble pain; he suffered from recurrent malaria, from deep ulcers, from indigestion—perhaps, after all, he would not live longer than most of his predecessors had lived, old men as they all had been.
Leo picked up his spy-glass and peered at his nephew; Giulio was strong, tall and lean, with long handsome Medici eyes and a fine, classic profile. It was a pity, regretted the suave and courteous Leo, that he had such a disagreeable exterior—so haughty an air, so Harsh a voice.
The Cardinal, looking at him sideways, spoke:
"The King of France is of no use to anyone. He will lie and cheat and deceive and always be laughing and gay. His word is worthless, he is always playing a double game."
Leo thought of the last dispatches from the Emperor—bitter foe of François, with whom he was keeping in constant touch—and sucked in his loose lips.
"We all do that, my Giulio—there is no living on other terms. The question is how cleverly can you do it. You, for instance, I think, could be very clumsy."
He set his elbows on the table and put his fat hands before his aching, bloodshot eyes.
"Tell the pages to come and take away the food. I want to sleep, yet I know it is of no use laying my head on the pillow—my mind is too full of stupid matters. Why are we plagued with all this intricacy of policy? Can you or I, or that King of France, or that young Bourbon who commands thousands of men, or any of us, really understand what we should be at, what other people are at? What is the malady that ails Europe?"
"We all want our own way," replied Giulio de Medici dryly. "No man will give up what he has and every man wants more than he has. You at least should be satisfied—you are at the summit of all ambition."
"But I wonder if I were not happier," mused Leo, "when I was in Florence, a young boy. It is true that I was a Cardinal by the time I was thirteen, but then I understood very little about anything—the world seemed free and joyous—yes, one did seem really free, as if one could do and say what one liked, as if it didn't matter about deceiving people or making a good impression. I did not have much money, but what I had I could spend as I wished. I did not think of the Jews and the bankers, and how my debts were piling up. It has always, you know, Giulio," he added rapidly, "been impossible for me to save. If life is not splendid it is to me meaningless. I am glad that I shall see Florence again in a few days when we return to Rome. But perhaps," he added with a sigh, "it will be for the last time."
In this moment of fatigue he was deeply homesick for his father's country house at Caffagiolo. He had often stayed there with his brothers and sisters—two gay, brilliant brothers and four charming little sisters, Lucrezia, Maddalena, Contessina, and Luisa. They had once been in that retreat a long time, quietly living like the children of a country gentleman after the conspiracy of the Pazzi, when Giuliano, his uncle, and this Cardinal Guilio's father, had been murdered.
How high and tranquil it was up there in the Tuscan mountain!
The Pope recalled the thin, keen air of the Apennines—the shepherds and their white, curled flocks; the dark, dry, fragrant pine trees tossing against the clear sky, or the pure, thick curdling Clouds, the distant azure mountain; the elegant grandmother and the tutor, Messer Angelo Poliziano, in his great coat and slippers by thy sweet wood fire discussing the rival merits of a biblical and a classical education, and he, Giovanni, coming in hungry and smelling the good soup—ah, well, it was gone!
Leo took his hands from his puffy eyes and rose heavily, leaning at once upon the arm of the page in the Medici livery who stood ready to support his gross weight. Indigestion had followed the rapid eating of his late meal, his forehead was pearled with sweat, and his gross features trembled; but Giulio looked at him with understanding and sympathy, for he knew his cousin to be, in his way, a great man; one who had worked hard, behaved well, and always been loyal to his House.
"Giulio," sighed the Pope, "I wish that those two—the King of France and the Emperor, who are continually provoking wars out of pride and spite—would destroy each other, and leave us in peace. Peace, peace, Giulio what could we not do if we had an eternal peace! Think of the money there would be to spend on spectacles, feasting, and building some churches and palaces, and on our monument in San Lorenzo."
"That goes on very slowly," replied the Cardinal. "Michael Angelo does not like the work. He is always grumbling, and I think he does not make the haste he might. It is costing a great deal of money. The last time I went there it looked empty as a northern dawn."
"It must be the grey stone," sighed Leo, moving slowly and painfully towards his bed with the emblazoned tester, still leaning on the slim and upright form of the page. "It must be that grey stone, Giulio, the pietra serena, that is rarely found. I wonder who will be the first to lie there. I wonder whose funeral statue Michael Angelo will carve first."
He seated himself on the chair beside his canopied bed, and the page, dropping on one knee, removed his loose, easy slippers and the fine wool stockings from his cold, spindly legs. "François wanted 'The Laocoön'," gasped the Pope, Whose breath had become short. "Consider, he had that insolence! Remember that we send tomorrow to Rome to Bandinelli, to make a copy of it, exact as possible, to be sent immediately to France. Of course, I intended to do that from the first—the insolence of it! And I shall have to hide the original group so that no one sees it who comes here to the Vatican." sighed and with his own hands pulled off his cap, revealing his large pink head faintly covered with golden hairs. "Giulio, do not you wish we were in Rome watching Raffaello paint his frescoes? Ah, me! They say haggling is in our blood, but I do not like it. After all, what are we bargaining for with these upstart conquerors, as they call themselves?"
"We are bargaining and haggling, I suppose," said Giulio harshly, "just in order that we may go back to Rome and watch Raffaello paint his frescoes, and have a palace in which he can paint and some credit on which to draw the money to pay him and his assistants and for all their materials."
"Those, Raffaello and Michael Angelo Buonarroti, are the really great men, and we are nothing compared to them," said Leo. He swung his clumsy body into the bed and drew the fine linen sheets and thick wool blankets and embroidered quilts up to his chin. "Nothing, I tell you, nothing!"
"But if we did not provide the means, what would happen to them? They would have no walls to paint, no one for whom to build a mausoleum, they would not be able even to buy paints or marble."
"I will try to sleep now, Giulio. Leave the night-light burning. My Laocoön group! Imagine, he had the insolence to ask for that!"
The Pope tried to console himself by staring at the splendour of the female griffins who, holding up shields with the arms of the Medici, supported his crimson Canopies.
The Duc de Bourbon dismissed all his attendants and sat alone in the handsome room assigned to him in the Piazza Pubblica in Bologna. The King would return to Paris; he, the Connétable, would be left in Milan, shut up there in the stern Northern city with the white cathedral, that looked like frost flowers in the centre and the white frontier mountains round it, far away from his own domain, from those two women whom he loved, who loved him.
As Leo had felt homesick for Florence, so Charles felt homesick for the Bourbonnais; but he remembered his childhood with dislike—there had been so much to learn, the toil had been incessant; tutors and masters all day long, everything done by the clock, half an hour for Latin, half an hour for Humanism, an hour's riding, an hour's fencing, a meal where he had to sit silent while someone read a learned book aloud to him, the laws of France and the laws of the Bourbonnais to get by rote, elaborate games to learn and all the intricate laws of hunting and falconry, the rituals of the Church to learn, the lives of the saints and long Latin prayers.
Charles had been taught patiently, sedulously, how to dress, how to walk, how to ride, how to defend himself, courtesy towards women, civility towards his inferiors, pride towards his superiors; since he had been a few years old the greatest possible trouble had been taken with him because he was heir to such great possessions.
Chiara Gonzaga, his Italian mother, sister of the Marchese of Mantua, had early found this task too difficult; she had returned to her pleasant Southern home leaving him in the hands of the old Duke and Duchess of Bourbon, whose estates he was to inherit, and they had never faltered from what they considered their severe duty—that of training, training, training this young man to be great and set high over other men.
In this bedroom in a foreign town he threw off all festival garments and stood in a brown chamber-robe edged with fur, and stretched his long limbs and wondered if he had been educated only that he might come to Italy as a conqueror to destroy.
All he cared about was beauty, and he had been destroying beauty ever since he was fifteen years of age, leading armies over devastated fields, watching men sack and plunder towns, leading men in battle where many were slain and mutilated, men, animals, and the women and children who followed the warriors.
Charles went to the window and pulled aside the saffron-coloured curtains suspended from ivory rings, hung in front of clustered marble pillars; he looked out into the street, which was lit by a winter moon, and a wild longing for another life than his own life, or perhaps for another death than his own death would be, absorbed him; he wished he were back in Rome; this longing was the same as the longing expressed by the Pope, who slept in the other chamber near at hand—to be away in Rome, watching Raffaello paint his frescoes and Michael Angelo chip his marble.
The young Frenchman yearned for Rome, for those gold and tawny ruins, that yellow river, the dark foliage of laurel and ilex rising above broken pillars twisted with the eglantine and clematis, the ivy and the bryony, those flocks of birds which, when they rose high overhead, seemed angels returning to Paradise, those airy churches and palaces where the architects and painters played with space as lesser men played with ornaments, arranging space, dividing it, setting it there between arches and colonnades to the infinite peace and comfort of the spectator; he wished that he could return to the beggar man who played at being a hermit on the hills of the Palatine close to the Caesars' ancient palace, whose hut was a wattle wall round a summer-house where ancient Patrician ladies had once sat and smiled away the golden evenings.
What a delicious sensation that had been, climbing up, up past the fallen blocks of marble, past the fresh and clustered weeds, past the feeding goats with their tinkling bells, until he had reached the summit—that grove of trees whose tops seemed to touch the sky, that fragment of yellow masonry, where he had sat and seen Rome, the half-fabulous city, the crown of the world!
Charles envied the Pope, who would return to Rome and live in his sumptuous palace directing his painters and his architects, watching his clear, grey tomb grow from day to day, precise, slow-forming, and delicate as a lily standing under water.
But these were sick dreams; Charles must take his archers, his Switzers, his cavalry, his men-at-arms, and ride to Milan, to hold it against the Emperor, who, he had heard, was a man like himself, caring nothing for war but absorbed in all the arts that please.
Charles clasped his thin hands in prayer and dropped on his knees on the prie-dieu that had been placed between the windows; the night air blowing in where he had drawn the curtains lifted back his heavy locks as he prayed, the prayer of one who does not believe, yet for his soul's sake must try to do so:
"O God, why must we fight, why must we have these wars and battles, building up only to trample down, sowing only to tear up the harvest, making beauty only to defile it?"
It was late before François returned to his chamber; he had been behind the stage set up in the great painted salon, where, seated amidst gauzy curtains which fell from the flies, was the Fair Supplicant and Venus, clothed in the tenderest, rosiest purple gauzes with imitation pearls and silver horns in their fair hair; they were expecting him and greeted him with little amused signs of laughter and pale, outstretched hands.
The woman from Siena with the amber-coloured hair, who had taken the part of Venus, reminded François of Mademoiselle de Pissleu, one of the mistresses who had been found and trained for him by his adroit mother Louise, and who was one of the most charming creatures that he had ever seen. The other, who had taken the part of the Fair Supplicant, was merry and bold and asked him impertinent questions about his Queen, Claude; everyone knew that she was plain, silly, and deformed, and that he had only married her because she was the daughter of old, sad Bing Louis, who had hated him; who was dead at last.
Behind his brilliant smiling he was quietly vexed because the Italian women seemed to make but small account of his regal favours and to regard him as some forward, amusing boy. They talked continually of Rome, where they wished to return; they were both posing as models for the nymphs in the bathroom of Cardinal Bibbiena, which was to be one of the most gorgeous of the smaller chambers in the sumptuous new palace in the Vatican. They talked of Rome in their sweet language, in their sweet voices, until the young conqueror himself became discontented and wanted to see the Golden City and to live there.
But he consoled himself, with his fingers to his long nose, by saying:
"I am to have 'The Laocoön', you know—the most beautiful piece of statuary that has ever been discovered in Rome is to be mine. I shall put it in my palace at Fontainebleau."
The pale, round-faced girls had laughed merrily so that the false pearls, dripping like dew-drops, like lily-bells on their piled tresses, had mingled delicately together. François did not like to recall that laughter; once or twice amid all the feasting and the flattery he had thought that these sly Italians had laughed at him. Yet he was the victor, the conqueror. No, that was not true: Charles the Connétable had won Marignano, and everyone knew it; it was Charles who had forced young Massimiliano Sforza to surrender the famous castello of Il Moro and Cremona. Yes, he, the King, had been much praised when he had established his Court in Milan, but everyone had known that it was Charles who had gained the city that had been the lure to bring three Kings of France into Italy. François reflected, as his page unlaced his shirt of gold tissue, that he did not like, nay, that he hated, Charles, who was too great for a subject, too wealthy, too magnificent, too haughty and handsome.
François yawned as he kicked off his purple shoes; he had wanted to be a hero, like Gaston de Foix, a peerless knight like Bayard, and Charles had stolen his fame, his renown, his title of conqueror.
Some incidents stuck in the King's mind, as thorns will stick in the tender flesh. When in Milan he had tried to lure Donna Brogina from the Convent of Gioto, believed to be the fairest woman in Italy, and she had returned an insolent message to his entreaties: "If I came to Milan for anyone, it would not be for François de Valois, but for the victor of Marignano, the Connétable of France." François bathed his hands and face with rose-water. There was winter silence in the streets of Bologna; the leaning towers, their shadows dark in the moonlight, rose against the snow clouds. In the palace was silence also, the silence of fatigue, of brooding uneasy thought, of disturbed sleep.
"Charles must go," said François suddenly, looking up from the fine linen and smiling at his long face, hung with drops of rose-water, reflected in the round steel mirror; then he laughed gaily at himself. How could he rid himself of Charles, who was his most able general, his most powerful subject? It was not to be thought of. Charles would remain in Italy as Governor of Milan; but the two women—Louise, the King's mother, Marguerite, the King's sister—would think of some way whereby their Caesar, their Phoebus, their Jason, their demigod, could rid himself of Charles Monsieur. François slept on his down pillows, breathing lightly, his curled mouth twitching under his long nose; at the end of the tall bed the French pages slept, before the door the French sentries paced, in the antechamber the guards kept watch, alert, for this was treacherous Italy.
Under the red canopy, upheld by the elegant female griffins, the Pope snored and tossed; the air of his room was that of a sick-chamber sharpened by drugs and spices; in his ante-rooms the physicians nodded over the charcoal fire that a black boy kept fanning with an eagle's wing.
On a low couch, in an alcove near, slept Giulio de' Medici. On the tasselled stool beside him was a costly toy: a crystal-bodied mermaid with a pearl tail, enamelled face and hair, and a belt of star stones; the Cardinal had bought this from the work-shop of Benvenuto Cellini before he left Rome. The stage stood empty before the empty thrones in the great salon; Raffaello's painted perspective scene, canvas and linen, fluttered in the night air; torn paper, tinsel, broken sweets and cakes lay along the floor; in the circular stands were gathered stumps of candles; shadows lay where the crowd had pressed, mice ran over the boards where the fair, half-nude women had posed; some paper flowers had been cast down on the Papal throne, and on that of the King of France was a paper of comfits.
In closets off the stage slept the models for Venus and Diana, for Juno and the Virgin, with coverlets pulled up to their chins, their amber Siennese locks falling down under the crushed coronals of false pearls and silver-tissue roses and stars.
Between his windows with saffron curtains Charles knelt at his prie-dieu and shivered in the chill wind that crept in between the clustered pillars, under the folds of silk; his hollow face was serene, his large eyes closed as he prayed, as he had been taught to pray, to a God who sat beyond the sun and guided the affairs of men.
Charles prayed that he might have an heir, that he might be healed of his hatred for the King, that he might find peace. Suddenly he opened his eyes and turned his head sharply; he thought that he had heard his door open, and as he stared across the strange chamber lit only by the single night taper, it seemed as if that white funeral procession of dead children, ermine lilies, ice, satin, entered the room and, passing upwards, vanished.
We shall forget so much,
Rich books are clasped, sweet viols dumb,
The flame has vanished at a touch,
A little ash upon my thumb,
The taper's out, the verse forgot,
The music vanished out of mind,
There is no more of cold or hot,
But you within my arm I find.
THE snow had fallen heavily at Moulins. The massive round towers and sloping roofs of the great château, covered with sparkling crystal-white, seemed to be absorbed into the blankness of the colourless sky. The white Bourbon flag with the motto Espérance hung heavily rimed with frost from the highest turret. The wide landscape was frozen, there was neither light, colour, nor movement on the earth, and from the heavens only the pale glow that fell from a sky dappled like the breast of a pale-grey goose.
The bedchamber of the Châtelaine was white also. Suzanne de Bourbon lay in a tall, silver bed, draped with the finest linens and silks innocent of dye or pattern; her pallid face was swathed in white lawn, which hid all her hair; she wore a white silk robe, which covered her thin throat and slightly deformed shoulders. The hood of the alabaster chimney-piece rose to the roof and bore the arms of Bourbon; on the hearth the thick, orange-coloured logs sprinkled with aromatics gave out a delicious perfume and clear, ragged flames, which brightly lit and tinged with gold the pale furnishings of the chamber.
In a silver cradle on a little brocade-covered dais at the foot of the bed lay the heir of the House of Bourbon who would unite the claims of Suzanne and her husband Charles to the greatest property in Europe that was not an empire or a kingdom.
Everything in the chamber was pure, clean, and precise; nothing disorderly or offensive was permitted, nothing loud or harsh or unseemly.
Suzanne de Bourbon was as well trained as her husband; she filled her high place as gracefully as a stone statue occupied its niche high on the façade of the Cathedral.
Her husband sat by her bedside holding his thin hands open on the soft coverlet; they were full of pearls that he had brought for the mother of his little son. She sat propped up against linen pillows and looked from the pearls to her husband with a deep and gentle tenderness; she loved him for everything he had and was, for his valiant soul, for his fine nature touched with weakness, for his fastidious taste, for all his graces and accomplishments, for his lean dark face with the lean cheeks and straight black eyebrows and the long locks of lank black hair.
"There is no reason," she mused, "why we should not be happy for ever and ever."
Her mother sat on the other side of the bed, Anne de Beaujeu, daughter of Louis XI, and Duchess of Bourbon, who had ruled the whole kingdom wisely, patiently, graciously. In her pale, clear-cut garments she had the dignity of a nun or a saint, but her smiling, haggard face had the grace and charm of worldliness. For three years the two women and the man had lived in reserved contentment on their wide lands, going in stately procession from one castle to another, looking to their revenues, administering justice, running their great households carefully, with economy and dignity.
It was three years since Charles had been suddenly recalled by the King from Milan, ordered to lay down his command, his governorship, and come home; the thing had been unprecedented, an unexplained affront but, without protest, Charles, no longer holding any post save the nominal one of Connétable, had withdrawn silently to his own estates, which comprised almost a third of France, and so had lived unmolested. Now there was the male child, some months old, it seemed that none of them had anything else to wish for.
There had been some doubt, some question, some parley about the claim of Charles to the Bourbonnais; some thought that Suzanne had had the better right, being daughter of the last Duke of Bourbon—and so her wise parents had married her to Charles and trained him to be her lord and master of her lands. That little pricking fear, like an unseen flame spitting in the dark, was now gone; there lay the heir in his silver cradle—none could dispute his right. The King was coming to the festival of Christmas. They began to discuss that, the three of them, in low tones. Suzanne put her perfumed hands out for the pearls, and turned them over on the coverlet.
These three people were in perfect harmony; they were of the same race, the same caste, the same great House; identical traditions, hopes, likes, dislikes, loves, and hatreds influenced them. They understood each other without many words being used; Charles spoke slowly, easing his mind by a delicate pattern of sentences that seemed to weave to and fro between his wife and his wife's mother as a shuttle charged with fine silk is thrown across the loom.
The burden of his discourse was, "I hate François and François hates me, and he is the King."
Both the women knew the bitterness that could be added to that. François was King by chance, not King in the direct line; they all of them thought of those white regal christenings and white funerals that Charles had seen in the vision of the infernal masquerade in Rome. How different it would have been for all of them if King Louis had had a living son! They could not rid their minds of the feeling that François de Valois, bred in poverty, in doubt and apprehension, trained by a frivolous, vicious, unscrupulous woman, was an upstart and no true heir to King Louis.
Charles poured the pearls in and out of his fingers on his wife's coverlet.
"I sometimes think," he said, "that one of us must go, but perhaps when I say that I put it too subtly. What I mean is that he is determined that I shall go."
Suzanne sighed on her swan's-down pillow.
Anne de Beaujeu said with an ironic smile:
"It is certainly dangerous for us to be placed so high and to have such great possessions."
"The King owes me," said Charles, "an immense fortune. I have asked for it again and again. How many times does he think I am to equip his armies at my expense? I have never even had the sixty thousand livres the old King owed me. He would have paid had he lived."
"So much fatigue for nothing," whispered Suzanne, "fighting other men's quarrels! You are too fine for that, Charles."
Her young husband did not answer. His mind went back to the great festivities held at Tours, soon after his own marriage, when he had been a boy of fifteen. The pageantry had been to celebrate the betrothal of François d'Angoulême to the daughter of the King, and he, Charles, had been wounded in a tournament; there had been rivalries between the two boys then and they had never ceased.
Two years later Charles, at seventeen years of age, had joined the ageing King in the Italian expedition. They had started at Eastertide, he remembered; it had been a fine year, the land had seemed like a bouquet of flowers.
It had been interesting to learn the art of war; but he had been plagued for the first time by fits of tertian ague. Another two years and he had been a general in the League of Cambrai against Venice; he was victorious at the battle of Agnadello. It was during that expedition that he had spent the sixty thousand livres which King Louis did not offer to repay. He was too disinterested and in his mind too fastidious to dwell on the quarrels that had followed with the fierce old Pope, the Spanish, and the insolent English.
He recalled the sharp disappointment with which he had discovered the hollowness of King Louis' affection; the old King had asked him to lead eight hundred lances and seven thousand infantry to regain lost Italy—it was a suggestion of suicide for himself and his men, and there had been cold looks from the King and ungracious slights when he had refused to lead so many soldiers to humiliation and disaster.
Soon after the King had been broken down by the news of the battle of Novara and the flight of the French across the Mont Cenis, and then he, Charles, had been blamed because he had not gone to Italy...
Charles checked himself nervously:
"My mind keeps dwelling on the past." He smiled to his wife. "It is useless now to think of these things.
"Anne of France said:
"Does not this give you comfort?" She pointed her thin, white hand down to the silver cradle where his heir lay swaddled in silk and covered with cloth.
Charles smiled and pressed his wife's finger, which lay over the pearls on the coverlet. It was a marvel, the doctors and the wise women had said, that the slight, twisted, almost deformed body of Suzanne de Bourbon had been able to bear one child. If he lost the infant! To his anxious eyes the little creature seemed frail and silent; he could hardly believe the eager reassurances of the women that the little Comte de Clermont was really a fine, healthy child, that his fragile Suzanne would ever bear another infant.
"Do not look so sad," implored his wife. "Was not peace signed last year? When all these noisy pageantries are over and the King and his mother have gone, we will go to Chantelle, where it is quiet—with the children."
"Would we could live there for ever!" sighed Charles, "would that the peace could endure for ever! But look at Europe, as if it were a peep-show, see all these strong yet helpless figures blown about in the tumults of fear and greed, and wonder if there can be peace! What of the young King of Spain, the Archduke Charles, the Emperor's grandson—I think often of him. He is only a boy, but wise; his mother is a madwoman, the worse for that!"
Charles picked the pearls up and then let them fall back again on to the coverlet. They held the pale, fresh colours of the winter skies and the untrodden snow without, the pallor of his wife's exhausted face. Everything in the room was white, as if the winter were inflected there—yes, even under the glow of the log fire now sinking on the marble hearth that whiteness seemed complete.
"The King has had no work for me since I was recalled from Italy—and why was I recalled?" he asked moodily, with the air of a man who turns over a bitter, half-understood grief. "Did I not do well enough in Milan?"
"It was his jealousy," said Anne of France, "his spite, his mother's vindictiveness, his sister's malice. You must be where the King is, you must show you are as magnificent and as powerful as he is, that you are as beloved in France, that you own nearly as much land as he does, that your people are loyal to you, that you can command everything, knights, men-at-arms, horses, treasure."
"Would it not be dangerous," pleaded Suzanne, "for Charles to challenge the King? His mother? His sister?"
"It would be more dangerous for him to hide away. In the Valois we deal with one who is swift, plausible, and utterly treacherous. He will promise anything and never keep his word."
"Eh, I know! I know!" said Charles with a low laugh.
He rose, went to the window and pulled aside the thick woollen curtains, and looked out on to the smooth fields of snow. "Add him, add them to the figures you see in your peep-show, madame, this dark fox from France, this astute young man in Spain trained to be an Emperor! Maximilian is dead, they say And Charles has no grip on affairs. And what do you see in England? Henry Tudor, a lusty, arrogant, vain man with a mighty fortune behind him. Then the Pope! Does he mean peace? I have never forgotten him—a powerful and a treacherous man, with his Medici Cardinal for ever at his ear."
Charles turned and looked at Anne of France, a person who influenced him more than any other, in whom he believed and whom he trusted above every other human being.
"I have no heart to take part in this game," he said; "let me give it up, let me retreat to Chantelle, or some such place, and do all that is Within my power to placate the King. Let me not solicit for any more posts, either about the Court or in the Army. I will not provoke François by magnificence or even by asking for the money which he owes me..." His voice faltered and then ceased under the pitying gaze of those clear pale eyes.
The old stateswoman sat grey and implacable.
"You cannot escape from your destiny, Charles. You are among those who are born to rule. When you married Suzanne, when I obtained for you the dignity of Duke of Bourbon, the head of my family, you took on responsibilities which you must not evade."
Charles let the curtain fall across the snowy prospect and turned back into the room:
"What then do you want me to do?"
"Put aside all your fantasies, Charles, and act the part that has been assigned to you."
He laughed with that sudden gaiety which transformed his sombre face into great charm, and lifting his slim shoulders kissed his finger-tips to his wife, then to her mother, and left the white, fire-lit chamber.
Suzanne lay very still. She too had her dreams, but stronger than these was her desire to do her duty, to love and to serve her husband and bear him children. More precious to her than all her resplendent possessions was her little son; she hoped that she might have many children to consolidate the great heritage she had brought her lord; she had longed so passionately for this child; she had prayed for him so constantly that she had been exhausted at the hour of his birth and hardly able to rejoice in this great blessing that had seemed to have been sent to her from the Mother of Heaven, like a white flower, a white daisy, dropped from the Virgin's coronal. She hoped and waited for other children, another son, if God willed.
She half closed her tired eyes, and all the pearls on her bed seemed to her to be changed to daisies; she thought of the spring and fields and fields of daisies. They said that her foot, little as it was, could cover three daisies at a time—how many daisies were there then in all those acres she could see from her window stretching to the horizon where, blending into the blue veils of distance, they looked like snow! This vision was an expression of her own soul, which was pure and precise like the daisy that grows lowly and fragrant amid the clear-cut green leaves and is trodden underfoot and raises its resilient head again.
She opened her large, pale-grey eyes. If only it would please God to make her stronger from these constant illnesses; she felt her spirit running through her body in a desperate urgency to action and then flickering down again, leaving her exhausted on her wide pillow.
"Tell me, mother, is the child really strong?"
Anne of France smiled compassionately.
"How often do you ask me that? You should ask the Madonna and the Saints who sent the blessing—all have done what they can."
"You mean that he is not strong. Sometimes weakly children have lived. How seldom he moves or cries out! They say the Queen's boy wails all day—the Queen is as feeble as I am."
Then Suzanne was silent, wondering why God, who took such pains with the flowers, even little daisies, permitted some women to be deformed, misshapen, pale, and twisted as a leaf stripped from a rose that is cankered at the heart.
Anne rose and took the stool beside her daughter's bed. She never sat in an easy chair nor assumed any but a rigid yet graceful upright attitude. She began to talk to her daughter of the aviary and menagerie, how the animals and birds were being kept warm during the winter, and how impressed the King and his mother would be when they saw the splendours of Moulins.
Suzanne did not listen.
"I had to be silent when you gave me that advice, mother, but I too was fearful. I do not want Charles to compete with the King, the Emperor, the Pope. I want us to be at peace always, to live together in some pleasant place."
The mother put her hand over her daughter's trembling mouth, silencing her with a serene, patient look.
"You are not well, Suzanne. See, I have brought you your book—this always soothes you."
She laid on the bed the manuscript book L'Enseignement, which had been made especially for the young Duchess, and adorned, according to her instructions, with miniatures of herself and her lord and the arms and mottoes of the House of Bourbon.
Anne of France put her long finger on one of these last, Espérance.
"Hope," she said. "You are too fearful, and I am grieved that Charles is fearful too."
Suzanne flushed and bit her lips, dry and ragged from fever.
"He has had great misfortune," she said hurriedly. "He has heavy dreams, too, the fever—yes, we both have fever too often. I dream of dead people—Charles's father Gilbert, and his brother Louis, lying in the same tomb at Pozzuoli."
She raised herself up on her thin elbows and looked at her mother with glittering eyes.
"Last night I dreamt of my father's funeral—all those people, seventeen thousand of them, following his bier to Sauvigny—and I thought some day I too must go that same journey."
"Hush," said Anne of France, "no weakening! Have I trained you to shudder at the thought of death? Yes, you and I and Charles, that child in the cradle there, must all go to Sauvigny. And I must go soon enough, I do not doubt—I am an old woman and I have done my work. But you have many years—you should dream of life, not of death. Remember you are my heiress, heiress of Bourbon."
Suzanne looked curiously at her mother, so saintly, yet so proud, the daughter of the great King, the eleventh Louis.
"You think a great deal of that, do you not, mother? our names, our possessions? I can tell by the way you say them," she smiled. "Valois, Bourbon—they are like jewels to you. And the titles of our estates, the Bourbonnais, Auvergne, Le Forez, Beaujolais, Les Dombes, Clermont en Beauvois, Marche, Gien, Ardèche! Ah, yes, you like to see your dukedoms, countships, lordships emblazoned!"
"You have never attached enough importance to these dignities that were given to us that we might endeavour to merit them."
"I cannot feel it so. Sometimes it seems to me that I am no more than the little peasant girl I see carrying sticks in the woods. I rose from bed last night and peeped out of the window, and there was the wood-cutter going home, warmly wrapped up, with his children behind him and a little lantern hanging at the end of a faggot. And I could see through the bare trees across the snow the tiny light in their window, and I thought I would that I and Charles and the baby were there—it seemed more like home than this castle, more like home indeed than any of our castles. I never feel so high up, mother, like an eagle in an eyrie next to the sun, but rather as if I were one of those modest brown birds that hop among the daisies."
She lifted the pearls from her coverlet and put them on the large gold salver that stood on the table by her bed.
"I like those because Charles brought them—if they had been daisies I had valued them as much."
The tired eyes of Anne of France gazed at her daughter keenly. Suzanne de Bourbon was also the child of long expectancy, of passionate prayer she was also the child of parents well on in age, who had given up all hope of issue, the frail and feeble flower of two Withered branches. As if a cold breath of the veering wind that had risen outside had entered that white, golden apartment and struck at her heart, Anne of France shivered. If Suzanne should die! If the child should die! There would be only Charles; the next heir was Louise, the King's mother.
"When does the King come?" sighed Suzanne.
"The harbingers were here today, some of the heralds, too. Perhaps tomorrow. However ill you feel, my daughter, you must rise and put on some gorgeous gown and make this festival splendid."
"I wish he would pay Charles all that money he owes him. It is not easy for us to keep up this magnificence; even with our revenue, are debts never to be paid?" Suzanne turned restlessly on her pillow and again sat up, leaning on her elbows.
"You know, mother, that Louise, the King's mother, loves my husband?"
"Love is not the word, Suzanne. I know that she desires him and his fortune. But you, as far as she is concerned, are invulnerable."
"I know," replied Suzanne simply, "and should be, even if I did not bring these titles and these lands to him. Is not that curious, mother, that he really loves me as much as if I were beautiful? Every man who went to Italy, I think, found some woman fairer than the wife or mistress he had left at home but Charles, no! All for me!..."
"Some men are like that, with high heart and faithful mind."
"Yet he loves beauty, too."
"And you to him are beautiful. You must always understand that! To him you are beautiful. Do not be too humble. You are his daisy, his pearl, his angel, and his prayer."
"If we were not here, what could Louise not do to Charles! She would have him or ruin him—the King can deny her nothing."
"She has ruined the King, her Caesar, as she calls him. See how spoilt, impulsive, impetuous, and false he is, idle and vicious—woman-trained."
"But the people love him."
"Yes. He pleases the peasants and the traders because he is bold, gay and lavish with his money. See what he has squandered on Guillaume de Bonnivet, while Charles must beg in vain for his dues!"
The two women sat silent, not noticing how chill dusk was encroaching on the fading twilight. Everything in the white room was faintly tinged by the dying flames on the wide hearth. Their minds went to the past and forward to the future; they were both heavy with the burdens of love and duty, each concerned and troubled by the great affairs in which she had but little part.
What could they do, the women, among the monstrous figures of Kings and Popes and Emperors? It was all very well to say that they influenced the men, that the King of France was still tied to his mother's apron strings, that the Connétable would not move unless his wife or mother gave him leave; when it came to the point, the men did exactly as they liked, they followed out their own ambitions, lusts, and cruelties, and the women had to sit at home and wait and pretend to be content.
That young man in Spain, the Archduke Charles, who was now Emperor. He was free from all women now, but a woman, his aunt, had trained him austerely, with infinite skill and patience, as Anne of France had trained Charles de Montpensier. It was known that he, the late Emperor's grandson, had spent huge sums of money to become Emperor of the West—a high-sounding but empty title. What was a peace signed on a scrap of paper against two such strong ambitions?
The two women felt nervous and restless, as if the air were already full of the sound of trumpets and the shouts of war, and across the peaceful chamber in the flickering firelight passed the shadows of hundreds of banners surging to and from the Alps down on to the sunny plains of Italy where already so many Frenchmen had rotted in their armour; back again into retreat, forward again into revenge—all for nothing that women understood or valued.
Suzanne absently turned over the pages of her beautiful hand-painted book, which seldom failed to give her pleasure but which now she saw dimly as if through the tears that blur and magnify.
A sudden harsh clangour of noise outside their room roused both the women sharply. Anne of France went to the window and peered out into the cold blueness of the night; the scarlet and orange flare of flambeaux was in the courtyard. The wind tore out the flames like banners and stirred the icy folds of the Bourbon flag on the Tour mal coiffée.
"Someone is arriving," she said, "sooner than we expected. Yes, it must be Madame Louise. Why has she come so early, even before her son?"
"Louise is here?" asked Suzanne, putting down her rich book and sitting up in bed.
"Yes, those are her liveries, all that white and red—how she plays upon it, making a frivolous elegance of her own colours! She is there in her ermine and brocade, in her gilt litter. More luxury than the King can afford! Will she never have done with lovers and vanities? There is Madame Marguerite too, her daughter. She is very elegant and very clever, but where her brother is concerned she is a fool!"
Anne dropped the curtain and returned to her daughter's white bedside.
"You shall not receive them tonight, Suzanne. They should not have come unexpectedly. I Will entertain them—rest tonight."
"Tell Charles to entertain them," smiled Suzanne from her pillow. "I do not mind if Louise tries to enchant him. Put the cradle close beside my bed, mother, and leave the book here under my hand. I shall be strong tomorrow, but now I want to sleep. Tell the women to be ready in case I have the fever again—and do not go far away."
Anne of France touched her daughter's high brow. The frail, white-swathed head sank into the pillow; Suzanne de Bourbon closed her large eyes and mused upon the fields of daisies stretching away to the horizon where, when the flowerets met the blue sky, they were white as snow.
I must go. Farewell!
The door is open, and the bell
Rings in the aerial tower;
Take my land, my love, my power,
Take all dross from me.
Now on the dark hill leaps the fire,
Now blooms the rose upon the briar,
Now blows the conch across the sea.
THE King and his mother came again to Moulins; not Christmas now, but Easter, would they spend with Anne de France and the Connétable. The little Comte de Clermont was dead and taken to Sauvigny. Suzanne de Bourbon waited for her cherished hope to be fulfilled—for her second child to be born; but François did not stay for these things. Moulins was the most magnificent establishment in France after Fontainebleau, and Madame Louise was very economical, for all her splendour, and liked to keep these great festivals at another's expense.
So again the harbingers and heralds in red and white came to Moulins, and all the great rooms were opened, hung with tapestry, and strewn with rushes or laid with carpets; Anne de Beaujeu saw to the ordering of food and drink, to the setting out of plate and linen, mattresses, pillows and coverlets, to the instructing of servants, and to the adornment of the chapel; all the golden trappings for Easter were ready to replace the black draperies of Lent.
Suzanne de Bourbon lay tranquilly in her white room. She could count on the fingers of one hand the weeks that she had been able to leave the room, since her last child was born; now the masons laboured at the stone shields round his tomb in Sauvigny, and the woollen shroud his father had given him was shut away in a coffin, with his toys and swaddling clothes; Suzanne de Bourbon waited.
An altar was arranged in her room, which was kept wreathed with fresh spring flowers and before which light burnt continually from crystal lamps and candles of pure wax.
Doctors came and went in their long, furred robes and the bird-like masks that now and there they dropped over their faces, afraid of contagion; servants went softly about the château with downcast looks, the peasants and the woodmen gave one another sly glances as they passed in the fields and forests, and all the men on the estates at Moulins looked up constantly at the flag on the Tour mal coiffée as if they expected to see it, by some supernatural agency, cast to the ground with broken staff and tattered edge. The deepest misfortune seemed presaged by the death of the little heir to the House of Bourbon and by the illness of the Duchess on the eve of the birth of her second child.
Anne de Beaujeu Held bier head high as if she said, "My daughter will live, her heir will be born." In her grey gown and smooth linen scented from the bunches of violets that lay in the press with her clothes, she looked, as she aged, more like her father's queer Valois face, with the large nose and screwed-up eyes and the expression of kindliness and shrewdness.
She held her state with undiminished splendour and abated nothing of the ceremonies that she prepared for the reception of the King and his mother, though in her heart she scorned them for the lack of courtesy that brought them to a house that was half-way between a child's funeral and a child's birth.
On a glittering May day the young Duchess sent for her husband; she had asked him not to come unless she sent for him. He had guessed her reason. She was much changed, even her poor remnant of beauty further despoiled; she was always suffering and she did not wish him to see her in her humiliation. Attiring himself in a parti-coloured dress of white and silver, as if he went to a festival, and without any weapon, Charles went into his wife's chamber and, not looking at her, knelt on the bedstep beside the high white bed, the lights from the altar flickering on his dark hair. He felt her fingers on his brow and heard her speak.
"Charles, I have thought what my death might mean to you."
"The loss of everything," he murmured, and pulled those small fingers down from his forehead to his lips.
"Do not speak, my love, till I have said all I have to say." Her voice sounded like that of one who spoke from a sleep, a dream. "Were I to die, my Charles, there is something beside my love that you would lose."
"All I am is through you," he replied; the scene was to him so strange, the pale room, the sunshine showing in lines of gold where the white curtains did not quite meet at the long window, that shimmering, steady, flickering light of those thick wax candles and small crystal lamps before a white statue round which the May lilies wreathed.
"All I am is through you," he repeated, "and all I have I hold through you."
"Charles, I have made my will. My mother and I have often spoken of this. We have passed many days together during my sickness. You know, Charles, that the world is strange to women, to women like me at least. One can never understand why so much must threaten those whom one loves."
"Nothing threatens me," he protested, looking up at last at Suzanne's tired face.
"No man can say that, and you least of all."
He bit his lip to steady it, for she looked lifeless as a withered white rose, her long face surrounded by folds of the finest cambric, her shoulders covered with a cape of royal ermine, the linen of the bed folded high across her breast; her arms, slender as the stems of flowers, in tight sleeves of silver, lay on the coverlet.
"The King," she breathed, "the King and the King's mother—you know what they designed against us, Charles. If I were to die I think that Madame Louise might claim all the inheritance of the House of Bourbon, even during my mother's life."
He clasped her hands close.
"The child—and the child, Suzanne!"
She did not answer, and he said under his breath,
"The child shall be born alive and you shall Live!"
He looked down into her face, across which the light from the holy lamps flickered; her eyes were closed. Presently she murmured:
"I am so tired, Charles. There is no more to say. Fetch my mother."
He kissed her hands and left her, hurrying into the antechamber where Anne of France waited. She was attended by two notaries. Before Charles could speak she put between his hands a scroll, from which hung five large seals at the end of scarlet ribbon. It was the will. He lost Control of his voice, his movements. He began to roll up the parchment in his fingers; tears reddened his eyes.
"What is all of this to me if I lose her?"
The stately old woman put her thin hands on his shoulders, kissed his cheeks without speaking, then passed into her daughter's bedchamber.
Two sounds simultaneously broke the quiet of the château of Moulins on that spring afternoon: the sound of a cavalcade arriving with laughter, high speech, shouting, servitors and pages in the courtyard; and the sound of the women and the doctors hurrying through the corridors that led to the Duchess Suzanne's chamber, hurrying with piles of fresh linen, ewers and bowls of water, with unguents and perfumes and urns, the sound of the feet of the priests and the acolytes bearing the Host to the dying woman.
Charles, in his gown of crimson velvet girdled with gold and a chaplet of gold on his head, followed by all his household, was going down the wide stairs to greet the King and his mother, when a little chamber-page came to fetch him; the boy was crying from the excitement of a half-understood misfortune. Charles, motioning to his household to remain where they were to receive the royal party, took the little boy by the hand and followed him to his wife's apartment, the boy in his eagerness going a step or two ahead. The young man looked down at the little fellow, so lusty and healthy, with so rosy a face, crying for him in his misfortune. How happy he would have been if this had been his son!
When he came to her door they would not let him go any further. The doctor stood there and the priest, and beyond were the women. The curtains were raised; he could see Anne of France's figure, bowed, curved, in an attitude of mourning beside the tall, white bed round which they were drawing the curtains.
She was dead, and the children—two boys—had never drawn breath.
The King was vexed because he had been cheated of his entertainment and his hunting, as not so long before he had been cheated of the Imperial Crown, but he behaved good-humouredly and courteously, saying he would not intrude into a house of mourning. Yet for a few days he and his suite had to remain in Moulins; it was not so easy to move so vast a train of people that he could at once take his departure, and he tried to give a gracious excuse for his delay in leaving Moulins by saying that he and his mother would attend the funeral of the Duchess Suzanne at Sauvigny, where she would be laid with her dead children, one in each arm, in a gorgeous mausoleum close to that of her father and her infant son.
The great household ran smoothly; the elaborate ceremonial of death and mourning softened the sting of loss. Anne de Beaujeu supervised everything; each official of the huge establishment received his instructions from her. The pageantry of the sumptuous funeral was of a stately splendour: the cool chorales hardly ceased in the chapel; the perfume of incense, of bruised herbs, of spiced wines, penetrated every chamber in the château; the heralds arranged banners, armorial robes, shields with painted devices; horses, mules, and ennets were trapped with mourning habits; pounds of fair, sweet, fine, wax candles were distributed, while to and from their hives in the clover fields flew the little insects on whom mankind depended for sweetness and light, the golden honeybees.
The kitchens were busy with the preparation of food for so many people; the maids and pages went to and fro all day with piles of clean linen, with ewers of fresh water, with flagons of wine and baskets of candied sweets. Charles remained praying in his oratory until he had to put on his mourning hood and mantle and go forth out of that enclosed scented twilight into the brilliancy of May, where the hedges were close-packed with almond-scented blossom, the brown birds sang on the apple boughs, and the daisies whitened the meadows beyond the woods where the young leaves quivered.
Anne de Beaujeu visited her daughter's chamber; it had been swept and aired, the draperies taken down, the altar removed; the cradles, the garments, the cushions, the bed furniture had all been put away; clean, wide, and empty stood the pale chamber where the sick woman had lain so long, where her three dead children had been born.
The old woman swung her household keys in her withered hand and smiled grimly at the sharpness of her own grief; she mourned the loss of her life's work, the end of the younger branch of the House of Bourbon. She mourned for Charles. Through the unshuttered, narrow windows showed the lowly daisies, the delicate tracery of the spring woods, the milky white vapours softly spread over the May-day sky. Anne de Beaujeu left the room slowly, her slippered feet shuffling on the cold floor. When she reached her little closet where she conducted her business affairs, and which was now hung with grey serge, she found Louise, the King's mother, seated by the desk; the two women kissed lightly; Anne de Beaujeu had educated Louise, her niece, when she had been poor, obscure, and neglected.
"I have been weeping for your grief, madame. I hope that poor Suzanne is happier in heaven than she ever was on earth."
"Suzanne was a very happy women."
"Ah, madame, she was so often ill!" lisped Louise, whose suit of mourning was too splendid, whose face was too painted, to please her aunt, the austere Princess of France. "And to love one's children! I could not live without my Caesar, my François."
Anne Beaujeu did not answer. She seated herself before a high desk and turned over the pages of a little book that lay there: Les Heures de Madame la Duchesse de Bourbon.
Louise began to chatter in her affected, lisping voice. She lamented the failure of François the secure the Imperial diadem—he had been willing to pay two millions of golden crowns for it, but at the last moment the Fuggers, those insolent Flemish bankers, had refused him credit!
"Which they gave to the Archduke Charles," smiled Anne. "You should, Louise, teach your François to honour his debts. He has the name of a bad pay-master."
"Ah, madame, you refer to the money we owe to Charles!"
"No, neither Charles has need of money nor have I. But the King is very extravagant. You did not train him as I trained you, Louise."
"Who can restrain a handsome young chevalier?" simpered Louise. "The world is his, he must enjoy it! Ah, he ought to have been Emperor! But there is that German heresy—perhaps it would have been very difficult to struggle against that! Let the Emperor deal with this Martin Luther and his hordes. François shall have Milan."
"Take care how you promise cities as if they were toys. Milan is a luxury to François, to the Emperor a necessity."
"François is a great conqueror—he won Milan before."
"You talk like a child. It was Charles the Connétable that won Milan."
Louise laughed slyly at the stern, old, bleached woman, but her manner remained one of great respect.
She was very clever, adroit, and alert, she knew when to be direct and when to be subtle; neither the atmosphere of the room nor the cold contempt of the other woman discomposed her. Since her son, her love, her idol, her Caesar, had been King of France, nothing could provoke Louise of Savoy. She had waited so many years for that supreme triumph, and a lifetime would not be too long for her to enjoy it—nay, in a hundred years she would not be tired of being the mother of the King of France.
"Madame," lisped her thin, light, high voice, "you have had great misfortunes lately: the loss of a little child, the loss of your daughter and her two infants. I should like to bring you some joy and pleasure.
"Madame Louise, I am too old for either," replied the other grimly. "I look for neither joy nor pleasure on this earth."
"And probably you would not expect to get either from me, whom you remember as your tiresome Louise! Eh, well, who knows? Perhaps what I have to say will startle you, perhaps you were expecting it. We are both too high for pretences. Your sainted daughter, alas, is dead, and you must be prepared for Charles Monsieur to marry again."
"Suzanne wished him to marry again. I believe that she gave him the name of the lady whom she desired to be her successor, but Charles will make a long period of mourning."
"Not if he is wise," smiled Louise. "A Prince of his rank cannot long remain unwed."
Anne de Beaujeu turned over the bright, smooth pages of the book on the stand before her and passed her thin fingers over the gold in the initial letter, as if the smooth glitter of the metal adhering to the parchment gave her pleasure. She was breathing hurriedly, there was a spot of colour on either cheek, and her heavy-lidded eyes remained fixed with a challenging glance on the smooth, hard features of the other woman.
"The question of the succession of the House of Bourbon will be raised," continued Louise, lisping and sighing. "My son and I have spoken of it. Forgive me, but we knew that your daughter could not live; we knew that she was not likely to have any heirs. Many People have thought it a wicked thing that Charles should have been tied to a dying wife, a barren wife. Madame de Bourbon, you do not need the lawyers or the heralds to tell you that my claim as niece of your late husband, Monseigneur de Bourbon, is as good as that of Charles, or that in default of heirs, male of your line, the Duchy reverts to the Crown."
"That claim has been twice renounced, but we will not dispute. I do, indeed, know what you might claim, what no one but you would claim. What more have you to say?"
"I cannot stay here long now," said Louise. "The King and I must return to Fontainebleau. But Charles will remain here, he will be your close companion during your period of mourning. Therefore, suggest to him, madame, that he asks the King for my hand."
Anne of France smiled sourly without appearing in the least surprised.
"Did you expect that?" asked Louise sharply. "You should not be astonished. Charles married the heiress of the House of Bourbon before and might do so again."
"You are forty-five years old, Louise, and you have had many chevaliers. Neither have you been discreet; you are spoken of very lightly. But let that go. You are forty-five years old, I say."
"And Charles is thirty-one. Why do you not tell me that? I am not here to debate. There are my terms."
"Yes. You remind me that I am forty-five years of age. I remind you that I am the King's mother. I have a mind to have these estates, the Bourbonnais, the Duchy—the man too. I like him. You shall have your apanage during your lifetime and all due honour and service—and I must have these estates. Consider what I say; tell Charles."
"The King is behind this?"
"Perhaps," said Louise, throwing back her small, neatly-shaped head. "Did you, madame, not understand that Charles was too great to be a subject? He holds a third of France and we must have it. I give you the chance of surrendering it in a gay and pleasant way. I like this Charles; he takes my fancies, my caprice, shall we say? Tell him, you who were always so wise, madame, so adroit, so well-trained, to ask for my hand, and it shall not be refused."
The other woman looked at the blank wall where the dark draperies hung over the handsome tapestries. She thought of the massive Abbey church at Sauvigny, and the masons who laboured there and the new coffins in the vault. A spasm of pain distorted her face. Was it possible that Suzanne was dead? She had had a lunatic impulse to say, "I must ask Suzanne about this." But Suzanne had known what was coming; she had said: "Louise will try to get the estates, mother. Louise will try to get Charles." The old woman brushed her hand across her brow, which was half hidden by the mourning bands.
"I cannot speak for my son-in-law. This proposal must be put direct to him. He is, whether he weds you or no, sole heir to the estates of the House of Bourbon."
"That will have to be proved in a court of law."
"You—you and the King would bring a lawsuit?"
"If we could not get justice any other way."
"So that is what you meant by your terms.
"That," said Madame Louise, rising and hastening to the door, "is exactly what I mean by my terms, madame."
She opened the door herself and passed through it with a quick step and her head held high and a gay little salutation to the bleached woman in mourning who sat at the high desk.
Madame de Bourbon gave herself no respite. Never during her long, arduous life had she spared herself any toil or avoided any disagreeable duty. She took from her waist a little crystal cross with knobs of pearl that hung on a gold chain, and kissed it. She had taken it from her dead daughter's breast. Then she went through the hushed corridors of the château, without page or attendant, to find Charles.
He was in the oratory, kneeling before the altar in his full suit of mourning, with his dark hair hanging over his clasped hands; Anne de Beaujeu knelt beside him, then rested her head on his shoulder; they bowed together before the altar. She held the little reliquary that she had taken from the dead bosom of Suzanne. The Connétable rose and raised the old, fatigued woman, holding her close to his widowed heart. He saw the difficult tears creep under her lids and led her away to his tall chamber beneath the Tour mal coiffée, where they were shut away from all the clatter of the King's departure.
A west wind had risen. It shook the blossoms from the apple trees, the petals on the hawthorn hedge, and blew the slight trees in the wood beyond the daisies and fro; it sent out straining into the sun, the white Bourbon banner on the tower.
Anne de Beaujeu repeated what Louise had told her. Charles sat silent, his hands clasped on the table before him. His mood was mournful and bitter; his hatred for the King chilled his blood; the thought of Louise filled him with nausea; because of her, so fleshly, shallow, and greedy, he shuddered from all sensuality; he longed to dedicate himself for ever to the memory of Suzanne; he felt that he would sooner become an Anchorite than the husband of that thin-lipped, grey eyed creature who had had so many lovers, who adored with such fulsome passion her son the King, who hated him. Old dreams returned to Charles, thickening in his mind like the fumes of fever; he could hardly understand his own pain for a little lame woman and three dead infants.
"Stay by me," he Whispered. He put out his cold hand and clasped the old woman's bony fingers. "Stay by me always. Remember I have no one now but you, and I shall always take your advice.
"I am here," she replied; and there was reluctant pity for his weakness in the deep affection of her tone. "And I give you my advice, either marry Louise or be prepared to defy the King."
"Madame, you Could not suggest that I should take that woman?"
"No. But understand what it means to slight her: she has good claims to—all you possess. I can do nothing more for you, Charles. My desires, my will—what does Louise or her son care for them? They want the towns, the forts, the lands, the treasure, all that and you. He intends to try for Italy, to keep Milan."
"Always Italy! I won him Milan—why did he recall me? Without me it will be lost."
"He must have money," continued Anne de Beaujeu. "You see how expensive he is! He intends to struggle against this young Emperor. Jealous, vainglorious, frivolous! He intends to have all you possess."
"All I possess," repeated Charles, thinking of his great lordships, of everything that was his, from the horses in his stables to the clothes in his press, the books in his library. "Would they strip me like a winter tree?"
The old woman's eyes, coloured like steel, turned on him a pitiful glance.
"It is a pity that you are so fastidious," she said dryly, "or you might marry her and break them both afterwards. She would be wax in the hands of one who profess the passionate lover."
"I cannot. The very thought is so noisome, I sicken at it."
"You will pay a high price for that nicety—only a worldling can win the world."
Charles frowned, seeking in his memory—when had he heard those words before? With a sad frown he recalled the old man at Rome, Vercelli, in the shabby apartments next door to the Corona Triumphalis in the slum named the Field of Flowers.
"Madame, I should like to go again to Italy. You know, when we were in Bologna, I rode to Rome." He caressed the tired fingers fluttering under his strong hand. "I climbed up above the ruins and the gardens, the vineyards and the houses—Rome! I had such dreams there. Sometimes they return to me—an infernal masquerade—and the daisies. How these fantasies cloud the mind! Some day I shall go, a poor pilgrim, to Rome, to gaze on the pictures Raffaello painted in the Pope's palace. She disturbed me then, this Louise. I danced with her in her red and white—I saw the processions of the dead children..."
"Moody, reserved, and dream-stricken!" thought Anne de Beaujeu compassionately. She said aloud "While you brooded in Rome, François bargained with the Pope and got Milan."
"And 'The Laocoön'," smiled Charles negligently—"a copy, as all say. I kept Milan for him—without me he will lose it. I can, when I will, rule cities and men, but there are other things that I would rather do." He sighed, his thoughts all at Sauvigny, and added: "For Madame Louise—no—no, I shall go on and take my destiny."
A shower of sudden rain spattered against the painted glass in the window, and hung with mournful drops the arms of Montpensier and Bourbon emblazoned there.
Let me be quiet, I need to dream
of Plato, Christ and my poor clown,
The weed within the running stream.
My mask that shows a frown
of wonderment. This gaudy show confuses
Even the angels, leering down.
I marvel what Lorenzo muses
In the gray church. The triple Crown
Death takes, and God refuses.
HIS HOLINESS leaned out of the window and watched the men-at-arms building up a bonfire in the courtyard of his villa at Magliana. He had just returned from the chase, heated, breathless, spattered with blood, when he had been met by a messenger sent by Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, who was awaiting him with news of the fall of Milan.
Nothing could have been more welcome to His Holiness; Parma and Piacenza had been recovered by the Church, and now Milan by the Emperor! Leo, when he had read the dispatches, had at once issued his orders for an official celebration in Rome, but his Master of the Ceremonies had told him that it was hardly fitting for the Holy See to show open rejoicings at the victory of one Christian monarch over another. The Pope, however, brushed this tedious objection aside; he had every reason to be satisfied, he had said, that the Emperor had won a victory over the King of France, and he had ordered a full Consistory of the Cardinals to be summoned for the next Wednesday. Then he had gone smiling, nodding to himself, to his chamber to rest.
The excitement of this news, acting on his overheated blood, had brought on the fever to which he was so subject; he decided that it would be wise for him to rest, but found that he could not do so; his mind was full of pictures that seemed to go round and round inside his head and sparkling thoughts that prevented him from easing his fatigue, and when he saw in his chamber the reflected light of the first flames of the bonfire he had to hoist his heavy body out of bed and go to the window. Sweat beaded his forehead, and his unwieldy limbs trembled; the day had been close though damp, but now a keen north wind was blowing the trees—still green in winter—the ilex and the laurel, sideways above the narrow brick walls of the courtyard of the villa where the Papal servants in the Medici livery and the men-at-arms were piling up wood round the bonfire. The flames blew out like scarlet ribbons across the darkness of the Roman Campagna.
Never since that tremendous moment when he had known himself elected Pope had Leo felt such a strong excitement. It had been a day of great pleasure; he had been able to slaughter many beasts; again and again he had been helped down from his horse and run his sharp knife over warm, soft throats—a good day's sport! Then, returning to news like this! Milan wrenched from France again, Parma and Piacenza too, and that insolent, crafty François humbled at last.
The Pope rubbed his white hands, wrinkling and curling into the fatness of middle age, as he called out in his melodious voice to the men-at-arms below to keep the bonfire piled high that it might burn all the night. France should understand at last that he was a Medici and the master of the world, he and that young Emperor whom François had so despised—that chaste, austere, and precocious boy who was the faithful son of the Holy Church.
"They should have sent Charles, the Connétable," he said to himself, shivering in the strong wind that was like an angry tooth in his soft flesh, but refusing to leave the window because he did not wish to lose the pleasure of the sight below—the bonfire, the men in his livery hurrying to and fro to feed it. "But, no, that young French fool must quarrel with his one good general and keep him idle, if not worse. Eh, I should not be surprised if Bourbon did not leave the service of France. Do not the King and the King's mother intend to bring a lawsuit to rob him of all he has?"
Again he clapped his hands to call the attention of the men below, who looked up and waved their caps and continued to pile on the bonfire great logs of pine, of chestnut, and of cedar.
At last the Pope drew back into his chamber and let the curtain fall across the casement. He was shivering violently; a slight hallucination passed over his senses, usually so acute, for he thought:
"Raffaello shall paint me this. It will make another great picture for the frescoed rooms in the Vatican."
Leo had worked out all the details of the design, and dwelt with much pleasure on the instructions that he would give the master, before he remembered that Raffaello had been dead for a year.
"Oh, eh, me, the young Master was dead, but thirty-seven years old, nearly ten years younger than I am, the Pope, who still account myself young!" That was stupid that God should have taken Raffaello with all his work unfinished—God or the Devil or that blind chance which was more powerful than either. How charming he was, that young Master, so courteous, excellent and graceful, modest and good. Why had he died, with his winning charm and his great, great genius? Eh, there were his pupils left, but they were nothing without him!
Leo sighed bitterly when he thought of that studio, full of unfinished sketches, uncompleted designs, of the canvases being filled in by imitators, plans for villas being painfully completed by copyists. Ah, well, Raffaello was dead and would not paint on the walls of the chamber in the Vatican the victory of the Emperor at Milan!
The Pope drew near the fire; the chamber-boy put Leo's feet, which had suddenly become cold, into fur slippers and piled another log on the hearth. Leo had ordered an extravagant supper, but now he sickened at the thought of it and would have nothing but some heated, sweetened milk. He felt a great uneasiness in his body—the fever was surely increasing; he would not send for the doctors, he would not admit that he was ill; he would sit there in the cosy chamber where the walls reflected the light of the bonfire without and the light of the fire on the hearth, and think over his good fortune.
Always impulsive and extravagant in his ideas, he was minded now to send François a message telling him that it was only a copy of "The Laocoön" that he had at Fontainebleau. Why should he, the conqueror, hide for fear the original marble and allow the defeated King to keep in triumph a stupid copy?
"Not even a very good one," chuckled the Pope to himself. "That was not a very fine piece of work that Bacio Bandinello did for me."
His mind, which the fever jerked out of his control, travelled to Michael Angelo and the great, grey mausoleum in San Lorenzo...Two Medici were buried there, his brother Giuliano, his nephew Lorenzo. Ah, that sent him off to joyous chuckling memories of Lorenzo's embassy to France to marry the Princess Madeleine, the King's cousin—that had startled the French.
They considered themselves luxurious, but the magnificence of Lorenzo de' Medici, the Pope's nephew, had set them all chattering; the haughty young Duke whom Leo himself did not greatly care for had outdone even the magnificence of the Field of the Cloth of Gold; and now all those French people, who considered themselves so exquisite and so superb, had gaped when they had seen the bed that the Pope had sent for bride and groom, tortoiseshell inlaid with mother of pearl and set with coloured stones every one of which was worthy to be in a royal crown!
The Pope's mind glanced away from the end of that story—Lorenzo had died soon after his marriage, and a fortnight later his frail wife had followed him, and they had not left a male heir behind—only a dark and wizened little girl, a dull, an ugly little brat; yes, only that female child, the little Duchess to be the heir of the House of Medici.
The Pope's fat hand rose and fell impatiently on the arm of his chair of sweet chestnut wood.
That was an unpleasant turn of fate; he was almost sorry that he had made Giulio, the bastard, a Cardinal; it would have been better for him to remain in the world and beget heirs for the glory of the House of Medici; but now it was too late, for with a great deal of craft, trouble, and expenditure of money and some loss of dignity he had made Giulio a Cardinal. There was little Alessandro, a Medici bastard reputed to be Lorenzo's son, but Giulio was the father as Leo thought—what did it matter? Alessandro was as coarse as a mule.
Leo's short-sighted eyes blinked at the flames; a pity that he had always been chaste himself, better if he had had sons. What was the use of building up all this magnificence and splendour if there was nobody to inherit it? Giulio must be Pope, he must see to that whatever it cost. If the Medici had Rome they could forgo Florence. Ah, Rome, Rome, where one could be safe, like the pearl in an oyster, a relic in a shrine. The Pope's whole being went out in passionate love to Rome—Rome that he had beautified, Rome that he almost felt he had built, Rome where his tomb was waiting for him in the cool grey shadows of San Lorenzo.
He found that his milk had grown cold and called for more. His sight was always bad, but never had he known the figures of those about him waver as they did now, seeming to shake into impossible shapes; thoughts that he did not wish to entertain pressed on him; suddenly, and for no reason, he thought he was in that battle nine years before where his countrymen had been butchered like the mice that run out of the corn when it is being reaped; the room seemed full of the horrid sounds made by the dying and the mutilated, and he started up in his chair, crying out that they were to stop the slaughter at Prato.
That had been only a wave of fever such as he ought to expect—beside, there was nothing unusual in it, he always got heated at the chase; and then the excitement of the news sent by Giulio, and leaning out of the window to see the bonfire in that clean, keen wind...
They helped him to bed and he smiled on them with many courtesies. Several times he spoke of Raffaello as if he lived, and often of the battle of Prato as if it were taking place in his chamber.
In the morning his mind was clearer and he seemed to have recovered from his illness; he spoke much of France and the King of France, of humbling the pride of that long-nosed fox; he pressed the hand of his secretary, the faithful Seratica. When he tried to get up he found his head was more than usually choked with catarrh and that he was sick and languid.
He would, he insisted, return to the Vatican for the official rejoicings for the Imperial victory at Milan; his secretary reminded him that the Papal treasury was almost empty, but he waved that aside—was he not a Medici, did he ever fail to obtain money even if he had to pay forty per cent for it?
"If only I could find another Raffaello!" he sighed as they lifted him into the litter. The woollen curtains were drawn close and the white horses paced with discreet care so that the unwieldy body of the Pontiff might not be shaken. But such was his energy that now and then he drew the stuff aside with unsteady fingers and asked if those who rode beside him had any more news. Surely some more messengers had come up from Rome, surely something more had been heard of the victories in the North?
Leo wanted to talk about France too; had no one heard anything of the great lawsuit that was being brought against the Connétable?
"How long do you think," whispered the Pope from his pillows, "he will endure such a treatment as the King of France gives him? Do you know, Seratica, I am very much minded to sound him myself. We can do with some such captains."
"We could not pay them," replied the quiet little secretary. "Your Holiness knows—"
"Ah, money, money! Seratica, you will always talk to me of that. I like rather to think of the members of the House of Medici that are living and well. Giuliano and Lorenzo are dead—but there are Giulio, Alessandro, the little girl Caterina, and my nephew Ippolito." He suddenly laughed and said: "If I were to die now nearly all the Florentine bankers would be ruined, would they not?"
His secretary peered at him with apprehension; he thought that his master's mind was wandering and his reason perhaps was going; he wrung his hands together in his fur cuffs.
The Pope settled on his pillows as the litter jolted along. It was true that he had never felt so ill or so sick, as if all the warm blood he had shed yesterday lay clotted on his chest; horrible fears that he had never known before touched his mind; was Bernardo Malespifla, his cupbearer, really to be trusted?
Supposing that he was in the pay of the King of France or the Duke of Urbino!
"These fears are ignoble, they are unworthy of me." He tried to drive them from his mind; he pulled aside the curtains again, not this time to babble about news but to stare across the winter landscape. Death began entirely to occupy his thoughts—the murder of his uncle as he knelt at Mass, the death of Giuliano the younger from a filthy consumption, the death of Lorenzo, rotten from evil living, the death of all those men butchered by the Spaniards at Prato.
"Eh, eh, o Fiend, in how many forms lost thou come!" muttered the Pope, tossing his head on his pillows and trying to move his clumsy body, for even the soft mattress began to irk his bones aching from fever. The death of all those children too, that great lawsuit that was rending France—that would never have occurred if the Connétable had not lost his wife and his infants.
"Eh, they die, young and old, and even I, Leo, some day must die."
But why did such sombre thoughts possess him? This was the hour of his triumph! He steadied his wavering mind with an effort and turned his thoughts backwards to the conspiracy in the Papal College last year—that had been a triumph, a personal triumph, he must think of that; they had all been jealous, the red hats, because of his favouritism towards Giulio, the bastard whom he had raised to the purple.
They had been weary too of the long war of Urbino, on which he, de' Medici, had spent so much money; and they had dared to plan a conspiracy against him led by that dissolute boy the Cardinal of Vienna, Alfonso Petrucci; that treacherous young fool had been encouraged by the old Raffaele Riario, who had turned republican and tried to steal his secrets; then there had been Cardinal Adrian of Corneto, who had listened to some half-crazed soothsayer who had told him that the next Pope's name would be Adrian. They were all under obligations to him, all of them; they had conspired against him and tried to kill him in a humiliating and contemptible manner. Some of them had wished to stab him when he was hunting, to strike him down as he struck down the animals, and then they had got hold of a quack named Vercelli and introduced him into the Vatican as a new skilled physician able to cure the Pope's continual disease. When they had accomplished this, what did they intend to do? Why, this wretched charlatan would poison him, Giovanni de' Medici, by means of bandages he would apply to his ulcerous wound.
The Pope writhed on the litter; he pulled aside the curtains. Seratica informed him nervously that they had nearly reached the gates of Rome.
"Rome!" said the Pope. "Rome! The gates of Rome!"
He closed his eyes; he did not wish to think any more of the conspiracy of the Cardinals. It came up into his mind again. Death there once more, and death dealt by his hand; he had tried to save this boy, Cardinal Petrucci, he had told him that he suspected something, but no, the young viper would go on and then it had all been discovered and he had had them arrested; two Cardinals of the Church arrested in the courtyard of the Vatican! Leo could remember that scene, which he had watched standing at a window with his glass to his eye; even then he had observed it but dimly, little figures moving violently, the two Princes of the Church with a great train of servants, one of them tearing his rochet in a fury, the other—the boy—cursing the pope shrilly until, like a couple of street brawlers, they were forced away to the Castel Sant' Angelo, down into the underground dungeons full of a sickening stench.
Well, he had triumphed; even though the two had not been in the conspiracy but had only uttered a few injudicious words against him and been forced to beg his pardon on their knees, bowed and curved before his seat. He had had them all except Corneto, who had escaped, and who, hunted down by the Papal spies, died at last in obscurity; then those two in the Castel Sant' Angelo...
He raised himself on his elbow and pulled aside the curtains of the litter yet once more and stared out to where the dark circular form of the mighty fortress rose out of the faint lilac winter mist.
Eh, they had not proved heroes, these two would-be murderers, for they had fallen into convulsions of terror at the very sight of the rack; they had confessed everything without its being necessary to turn a single screw; they had undergone the torture, however, just the same—one of them, the Genoese, had claimed to be the subject of the King of France and for diplomatic reasons had to be released, but he died soon afterwards from what he had suffered in the dungeons of Sant' Angelo; he, Leo, had seen to that.
But the boy Petrucci, the little Cardinal whom he had loved and caressed, calling him his Cupid, his Phoebus, his Ganymede—he had to die.
He had been Leo's playmate, his toy, his companion, and yet he had plotted against him; with love and pity on his lips and treachery in his heart he had hung over the Papal chair—and he had to die. He must be damned, too, if there was anything in Christianity; he had refused to make a confession or receive the Sacrament; he had said, that Cardinal of twenty-two years of age, that if he was doomed to lose his life he cared nothing of what became of his soul; in the foul underground dungeon he had cursed the Medici. Orlando, the Mohammedan hangman of the Papal Court, had strangled the boy in his dark dungeon on a July night.
Leo put his hand to his throat as the litter approached the Imperial gates of Rome. There were the others too, the little villains, the underlings; they had suffered—pulled on hurdles through the filthy streets of Rome and torn to pieces with red-hot pincers, gibbeted on the parapet of the bridge of Sant' Angelo. "Eh, that was a triumph," gasped Leo; he let the curtains fall again from his slack fingers. Triumph! The word went to and fro in his head.
He thought he was seated once more before one of his gilded, obscene comedies, the King of France on one hand, the Connétable on the other, and before him two fair women—Venus, the mother of love, and the Fair Supplicant, veiled only in silver gauze with crowns spiked with pearls on their heads.
He wanted to tell Seratica to hurry the cavalcade, he wanted to be in his splendid palace in the Vatican again with Giulio near him—he wanted to make his Rome impregnable, the inviolable, magnificent crown of Italy, superb diadem of the world.
Why did he think of the boy Cardinal, twenty-two years old, when he was buried, like a dog, in a ditch outside the walls of the City at night?
"'Tis a fearful thing to die without Sacraments, without confession."
Leo wished that his favourite buffoon, Fra Mariano Fetti, were with him—he always amused him, the poor, crazy, ape-like creature.
A lion—was he not a lion? Had not his mother Clarice dreamed before his birth that she was about to bring a lion into the world and had he not for that reason chosen the name Leo when he was made Supreme Pontiff? Ah, surely, the fever must be strong in his veins; stupid and evil suggestions kept creeping into his thoughts. What was that scurrilous distich which had been made on Pope Boniface VIII?
Thou didst creep into our midst like a fox. Thou didst live among us like a lion. Thou hast died like a dog.
"Do not let me recall that now. Not now."
Through the gates of Rome, along the streets of Rome to the yet unfinished Palace of the 'Vatican, Pope Leo X was brought; they carried him to his chamber, and his spirit rose at the sight of the familiar splendours; nothing would satisfy him but, his unwieldy body supported on either side by the two Medici Cardinals, Ippolito and Giulio, he must walk once more through the great chambers painted by Raffaello; he stood long looking at The Deliverance of Saint Peter, the angel leading the apostle out of prison, and he paused again, peering with his short-sighted and fever-dimmed eyes in the Hall of the Incendio, and looked upon The Destruction of Ancient Troy by Fire; he smiled to see the painting of The Coronation of Charlemagne, which brought to his mind his meeting with the French King at Bologna.
"How beautiful they are, how beautiful!" he murmured, and his face became transformed to a dignity and his diseased and bowed figure into nobility as he straightened himself to gaze at the superb compositions. "If Raffaello had lived, I would have had another suite of apartments—as fine as this."
They set a padded chair and a footstool for him in front of the Disputa; he gripped the velvet arms and wheezed and coughed.
"Perhaps Giulio Romano could do it," he muttered. Then he turned over in his clouded mind what subjects he should set this painter. The Turks, under that great pagan Soliman. They were menacing Rhodes, harrying the borders of the Empire on the Hungarian Marches. There were hundreds of thousands of these Infidels. Christendom ought to unite against them—ay, there was matter for one great painting! The Turks hurled backwards into the East!
Martin Luther—that fat brown monk, clamouring, ignorant, with his gross German followers; there should be a picture of the heretic and his heresy being cast to hell. The Emperor was facing him at the Diet of Worms—poor young Emperor, how much he had to harass him! The Infidel, the heretic revolt in his Empire—and lack of money.
The Pope said aloud, "Money"—so that his secretary and Giulio de' Medici behind his chair bent down to listen.
"If Raffaello had lived," said Leo, "should I have been able to pay him?"
He thought of the wealth dammed up in Germany by the heresy of Luther, of all the gold possessed by Soliman, and he sighed enviously.
"There is the New World," remarked Giulio de' Medici. "Every year they find goldmines, or the value of goldmines.
"It is shipped to Spain or Portugal, not to Rome," answered Leo drowsily his head sank on his wheezing chest. The New World! His fingers twitched as if they dug deeply in quarries of golden ore and precious stones. Why had God allowed this treasure to be for so long hidden? "If I had had that, what a Rome I could have built!" he muttered; the bridges, the palaces, the churches, the towers, the streets that he might have built in Rome, crowded before him in a phantasmagoria.
He tried to think out the great problems that tormented him: the Infidels—the Heretic—the quarrel between François I and Charles the Emperor—his own feud with the Colonna—the power of the Fuggers which was behind the Emperor; he tried to pierce beyond all this and to reach the supreme, the eternal truth that must be hid behind these paltry figures, these earthly puzzles, these cloudy symbols.
Jesus Christ or Plato? Neither or both? Were they not the same? He blinked his blood-shot eyes open and stared at the Disputa, then his mind closed to all these difficulties and before it moved only the rounded figures, created by Raffaello, with oval faces, pursed lips, serene eyes, and fair hair in little spirals about their brows.
"I will go to my chamber," he whispered; four of his guards raised the chair and carried him to his apartments. "I will order Cellini to make me a model of the world in lapis lazuli with agate and crystal ships crossing it, and lumps of gold where the Indies are."
He was pleased to see the fine flames burning on his marble hearth; the red gold came up like the plumes Giulio Romano loved to paint. He was glad of the brazier of charcoal that they had ready for him to hold his hands over, but when he peered at the table of green marble by the window, he shuddered.
"What have you brought me?"
Giulio de' Medici lovingly touched the elaborate model.
"It is by Torrigiano, Holiness. A tomb for the late King of England; a fair chapel is being built for it in the Church of St. Peter in the City of Westminster."
"A tomb!" repeated the Pope uneasily, and he turned his back on the table that held the beautiful design.
"How superstitious he is!" whispered Giulio de' Medici aloud; he ordered the work to be taken away and rated the page, who, hoping to give a pleasure to the Pope, had snatched the cover off the model.
Leo lay in his high, ornate bed; he wished that they had not shown him the tomb; all night he had dreamt of Lorenzo and Giuliano, lying in the clear, chilly twilight of the grey church, and of the boy Cardinal strangled by his orders and thrown into a ditch outside Rome.
He was not ill; only his usual catarrh and a touch of fever, that malaria which rose like the Devil's breath from the undrained swamps about Rome.
The doctors had visited him, purged him, bled him, and given him some medicine; the taste of this still lingered in his mouth; he did not like nor trust the physicians, but he was glad of their assurances that he was not ill—only a little fatigued, a little excited and tormented by dreams. The night-lamp was burning clearly: Leo could see the outlines of the heavy pieces of furniture, each in a blur of shadow, and the shape of his buffoon, Fra Mariano, sleeping on his little bed by the painted coffer, the outline of the female griffins holding the shields with the arms of the Medici—Palle! Palle!—on the columns of his own bed.
Leo turned his dim eyes from the dimness of the room and stared up at the darkness of his silken and brocade canopy.
Across this moved silent phantoms; a shadow play of the Italians slain at Prato, of the boy strangled in his cell below the fortress of Sant' Angelo, of all the wounded beasts panting in the net, waiting for the knife.
Leo groaned; his fat, creased, white hand hung over the edge of the bed; someone was slobbering over it—his whining, soft old dog? No, Fra Mariano, the fool, who was kissing his hand. They were alone together, the Pope and the fool.
Leo lay on his back, staring up.
"Think on God, Holy Father!" exclaimed the buffoon in a terrible voice that did not seem to be his own.
The Pope stirred and struggled as if he lay chained, and without lowering his eyes exclaimed, "God! God! God!"
"Is it so terrible to die without the Sacrament or a confession?" asked the fool; he pulled his cowl over his face and began to blubber like a beaten child. The Pope lay, after one convulsion, as still as if he were on his grey stone pillow; his heavy jaw dropped, and, mouth open, his glazed eyes continued to stare up as if he looked through the canopy that expressed extreme and worldly pomp into the cold night beyond the draperies, beyond the ceiling, beyond the roof of the Vatican.
At that moment in the middle of the dead night Lucretia Salviati, who had heard of her brother's illness, arrived at the Vatican with a train of Florentines; the buffoon was hopping along the corridors, screaming out that the Pope was dead.
Madonna Lucretia waited, breathless, in her brother's apartments until she heard that he was dead; then with delicate precision she went through his possessions, snatching up and hiding in her silken skirts every small object of value she could find, diamonds in gold boxes, strings of pearls, crystal buttons, and buckles of agate.
Outside, the pale snow clouds gathered over Rome and the white flakes fell crisp and delicate as the dawn brightened above on the Seven Hills and on the black ashes of the bonfire in the courtyard at the Papal villa.
Let us sit beneath the trees
Here on the long grass
And tell of old treacheries
As the slow shadows pass
Across the mill, the sheep, the stream
And our hearts that drowse and dream.
IN the inn of "The Three Kings" at Vendôme two young Norman gentlemen waited to keep what was to them a mysterious appointment.
Monsieur de Lurcy, one of the gentlemen most in favour with the Connétable de Bourbon, had asked them to meet him in a secluded room of this hostel; and they had each received a letter from the Duke himself earnestly bidding them to wait on his agent. Roth these gentlemen had been, before the death of the Duchess Anne, attached to the Court of the Duke of Bourbon; they now resided on their considerable estates in Normandy, but as they had been treated with the greatest generosity and splendour by the House of Bourbon, they made no demur to Monsieur de Lurcy's request.
They were young men, neither more than thirty, tall, well made, with straight features, fair hair, and grey eyes, and well clothed in cloth and silk. One of them was the Sieur de Matignon, and the other the Sieur d'Argouges. While they waited for the Bourbon agent they discussed together, in a cosy, gossiping manner, the possibilities there might be behind this command. Since the death of the Duchess Anne the year before, the Connétable had been much alone, without a woman to console him or a counsellor to advise him, and it was now well known to these two young Normans, and indeed to the whole of France, that he was on bad terms with the King, as he had refused the hand of Madame Louise, who was bringing a great lawsuit against him. He had been given no high military command nor Court appointment, nor had he received the vast sums of money due to him from François. He had not, therefore, meddled in politics nor in the coming war against the Emperor, but had lived in remote splendour in his magnificent châteaux, those of Montbrison, Moulins, and Chantelle, administering his Duchy with prudence, discretion, and justice. But everyone knew that he was too great a man to be able to live thus for long, and the two Norman gentlemen, discussing with glib approbation the character and conduct of their splendid patron, commended him for his unblemished if cool loyalty, though they eyed each other slyly as they spoke, each searching the secret soul of the other.
Why had Bourbon lately accepted the miserable task of going to the borders of Champagne and Burgundy, to put down a band of marauding adventurers, while the King was behind the legal action that Madame Louise brought, which, if successful, would deprive him of his estates, even of the means of livelihood?
"Can any man," asked de Matignon, "be so high and consent to fall so low?"
"The King will see that he is not stripped," replied the other gentleman. "Eh, do you not think so? But what has it to do with us? Why have we been sent for?"
The shrewd, businesslike Normans, very loyal to the Duke of Bourbon, declared, but in prudent undertones, that the King's mother was the worst of women and that the whole lawsuit was a scandal.
"But if she is minded to have the estates, she will have them," said d'Argouges; and they referred, briefly and half ashamed, to the horrible affair of the Sieur de Semblançay, the Treasurer of France, who had had four hundred thousand crowns to send to Maréchal de Lautrec commanding the French troops in France; but the money had never reached the De Lautrec, and for lack of it there had been a defeat and a retreat; it was on the Maréchal's return that the story had come out—Madame Louise had taken the four hundred thousand crowns for herself; for once the King had lost his temper with his mother and violently accused her of being the cause of the loss of the Duchy of Milan. Then the sly, cruel woman had given the lie to this de Semblançay and declared that she had had the money, but it had been her own savings, and the four hundred thousand crowns sent for the Army had been stolen by the Treasurer himself. What was the use of the unfortunate man's word against that of Louise? A criminal suit was brought against him, he was imprisoned.
The two young Norman nobles, looking at each other with pursed sips, said that he would not be likely to leave prison, save for the scaffold. They did not think that the Connétable stood in much better state. What chance had he now, for instance, when the King was going to Italy to take command of his forces in person, and Madame Louise was to be Regent? Would she not take every opportunity her power afforded her of tormenting him?
They then again began to ask each other, eagerly and with a touch of apprehension, what the Duke's agent was likely to want of them, and it was with some anxiety that they welcomed de Lurcy when he arrived.
During the meal nothing but formal courtesies was spoken. De Lurcy gave the two Norman gentlemen accounts of the Duke's health and habits; he had had a sharp touch of tertian fever, he had been very melancholy and reserved since the death of the Duchess Anne, and, though surrounded by so many courtiers and officers of his great household, spent much of his time alone in his apartment or his oratory; he was at present on a pilgrimage to Notre Dame de Puy and was high up in the mountains at Montbrison, the capital of the Hautforez.
His loneliness, said de Lurcy, was a piteous thing to see, and he was much changed in his countenance, having grown pale and thin and complaining often of a pain in his side; the insolent lawsuit was enough to wear away any man's strength, and though the King assured him constantly that it was not his intention to strip him of his estates, what else could this persecution mean?
"I suppose," said d'Argouges, "Madame Louise still hopes to obtain his hand? But this is a fine way to set about a wooing."
"The Duke will not have her," said de Lurcy earnestly. "Nay, not for all the gold in Christendom. And he is wise. It were better to be ruined than to marry such a one as this Madame Louise."
"Well, what is to be the next step?" asked de Matignon, who was still nervous and uneasy as to what might be behind this mysterious meeting. "His Highness the Duke has had the goodness to send you to us. Well, we are at his service."
"So I hope," said de Lurcy, smiling.
The cloth had been drawn and they were alone in the room; the Connétable's agent took the precaution of going to the door and drawing the tapestry closely over it; he knew that his own servant was watching without, and that the chamber was high-placed so that no one could listen at the windows. He then went to the hearth, where, under a large stone cowl that rose to the ceiling, logs were piled on the andirons; the eyes of the two young men were on him keenly and he on his part had a serious and earnest air, as he spoke:
"I wish you to keep in your minds Moulins, that ancient city on the Allier where the Bourbon princes have lived since their ancestor, the son of Saint Louis, built the castle there—the great fortress at Chantelle, the strongest in the country, which is surrounded by a rocky precipice and a river as well as man-made battlements. It is also," he added, "the most beautiful palace in France. Think of some of the possessions of this great prince as you have seen them yourself—you know how he loves all that is choice and lovely, you have seen his furniture, his pictures, his tapestry, his priceless library of books and of manuscripts. You know the establishment he has, his chamberlain, his equerries, squires, gentlemen and pensioners of his household, pages, heralds-at-arms, cupbearers, stewards, secretaries; you know that he has his own chancellor, the right to levy soldiers, that he has in his pay both writers and artists. I need not tell you his titles, the duchies, lordships, and countships that he holds. He is a Sovereign Prince, he is First Subject of the Realm, and near to the Throne itself."
"I do not know," said d'Argouges quietly, "why you bring this picture before our minds? Have we not both lived in the households you speak of! No doubt we hold ourselves very bounden to the Duke and wish to serve him in every particular. If it is his desire to have us back in his service, I at least can speak for myself and say that I will go."
"I also," added de Matignon. "I will serve the Connétable in any way possible. I and all my friends and household think that an insolent injustice has been done him in the matter of the lawsuit, and no one in France loves or respects Madame Louise."
"Those are the words I hoped to hear!" exclaimed de Lurcy with enthusiasm. "You are under an obligation to this magnificent Prince and in the time of his misfortune, his threatened misfortune, he calls on you. His affairs reach a crisis. Madame Louise will soon be in power in France, and the King, who might show some kindness, some generosity, will be the other side of the Alps. He does not, you notice, take Monseigneur de Bourbon, his best general, with him. No, he trusts in unworthy favourites."
"Tell us what you want of us, de Lurcy, for if we are closeted here too long it will seem like a conspiracy."
The agent of the Connétable then produced a large crystal from his pocket foiled with gold and containing a lock of the Virgin's hair. Placing this reverently on a handkerchief of lilac silk he laid it on the table, and asked both the gentlemen to hold their hands above it and swear not to reveal what he was about to disclose to them.
The prudent Normans hesitated a second before taking this oath—the fact that it was required of them proved the matter in hand to be serious. But it was true that they were under great obligations to Charles de Bourbon and both admired him and held him in a certain affection; there was also an urgency in de Lurcy's manner that was hard to withstand, so they held out their hands and swore.
When they had done so there was a silence in the inn room while the Duke's agent returned the relic to his pocket. Thin, again taking up his stand by the hearth and looking at the two young men sitting at the table, on which still stood the wine-bottles and glasses, he said:
"I am trusting you with the lives of many men, the life and honour of the Connétable. I must tell you that soon after the death of the Duchess Suzanne, Phillibert Naturelli, the Emperor's Ambassador, said to the Connétable: 'You are now free to marry. The Emperor, my master, has a sister, about whom I am commissioned to speak to you.' The Duke put him by with courtly thanks; but as the matter of the lawsuit became more perilous to my lord he began to reopen negotiations with the Spanish Minister. The King heard of this, and one day when he was at the Louvre, standing by the chair of Queen Claude, the King challenged him, saying, 'You are on the point of being married.' My lord replied it was not so, but the King said angrily that he knew it, and he added: 'I shall remember you and your plottings with the Emperor.' This was before the death of the Duchess Anne," continued de Lurcy. "I think the King would have stopped the Duke then—had him arrested, I mean—but so many noblemen went with him when he left the Palace that the King durst not interfere with him. Well, messeigneurs, you know how things have gone since then, and now it seems that the King has the intention of reducing the Connétable to the position of a poor gentleman with four thousand livres a year."
"Where is this leading us?" asked d'Argouges anxiously.
"I am telling you as briefly as possible, but I must lead you step by step to what I would tell you. I have said that the Connétable is on a pilgrimage to Notre Dame de Puy. While he has been on this journey or residing at Montbrison he has sent for Adrian de Croy, Sieur de Beaurain, the Emperor's man, and they have been shut up for several days together. Well, perhaps you can guess of what they are talking."
"I would rather not," muttered de Matignon, putting his elbows on the table and his hands over his face.
But de Lurcy, as if he had not seen the gesture or heard the words, continued: "My master is surrounded by faithful adherents: the Bishop of Puy, the Bishop of Autun, all the young nobility of the Auvergne, of Forez, of the Beaujolais; with him is Jean de Poitiers, lord of Saint Vallier."
"What do all these people do, shut up in the castle in the mountains?"
"I will tell you. They discuss letters from Charles V, the Emperor, and Henry VIII, the King of England. A treaty has been drawn up: the Connétable has been promised the hand of the Emperor's sister, Eleanor, the Dowager Queen of Portugal, or else the Infanta Catalina with a dowry of two hundred thousand crowns, and he, on his side, has sworn that he will serve the Emperor, even against the whole world."
The two young Normans crossed their breasts, glanced at each other, and remained silent. De Lurcy continued:
"So far my trust goes in you that I will tell you everything. There is to be a rising in the kingdom as soon as the King has crossed the Alps; there is to be an invasion. The Emperor is to enter France by Narbonne."
"England and the Emperor!" cried d'Argouges. "Has it gone as far as that?"
"Further," smiled de Lurcy. "There is no possibility of failure. The Emperor will have with him nearly twenty thousand Spaniards, half that number of Switzers, ten thousand men-at-arms, and four thousand horse. For his part, the King of England will descend on the western coast with nearly twenty thousand foot-soldiers and horse. As soon as the King has left Lyons on his way to Italy the signal will be given for the revolt and the invasions."
"Has there been made a treaty for this?" asked d'Argouges.
"Yes; before I left Montbrison to come to you, Sieur Bonnet had accompanied de Croy to Genoa with copies of the treaty that the Connétable has signed. Dispatches in cipher have been sent off to the King of England, to the Archduke Ferdinand, the Emperor's brother. We must raise another ten thousand Switzers to help—"
D'Argouges broke in: "Has the King had no inkling of this vast conspiracy?"
"Maybe he has his suspicions," smiled de Lurcy. "He does not know anything certainly; it is clear that he would not leave the kingdom if he had any sure knowledge."
D'Argouges, biting his narrow nether lip, said: "A revolt, you said, Sieur de Lurcy. How many men does the Connétable hope to be able to raise?"
"He cannot," replied de Lurcy, "be sure of the number, but at least two thousand nobles have given their word to stand behind him. He has fortified his two great strongholds Chantelle and Carlat and sent the captain of his men-at-arms—you remember him, La Glayette—to call to arms, exercise, and train the men of the Bourbonnais, who are very loyal to His Highness. He has also persuaded the Bishop of Puy to ask his kinsman, the Duke of Savoy, to join them. The Connétable has perfect confidence in all his friends and dependants; he has perfect confidence in you, gentlemen, as you can understand by my candour."
"Most amazing candour!" muttered d'Argouges, slightly raising his shoulders.
"You think it is astonishing, but I know you, surely I know you? The Duke told me to treat you as two knights who might be in everything trusted."
"What does he want, sir?" asked the Sieur de Matignon, rising.
"He wants you to prepare the way for the descent of the English army on Normandy. After this has been successful he promises you, between you, the government of that Province."
"We are to have that out of it—the governorship of Normandy," said d'Argouges, rising also. "And what is the Connétable to have?"
"He, with the English, and the Emperor if he is here in time, will march to Paris. The country will be divided among the conquerors. For himself, the Connétable hopes to revive ancient Kingdom of Arles."
"And François de Valois?" exclaimed the two young men together.
"François will be made prisoner between Moulins—you know he proposes to pause there on his way to Italy—and Lyons."
"And what is to become of him?"
"For my part," said de Lurcy, "I strongly recommend that he should be put to death—an expensive fool, a wanton fripple entirely under the dominion of his mother and his sister. What do we want with this extravagant Valois who has involved the country in one senseless war after another? But my lord would not have that; he said that François was to be kept in honourable captivity at Chantelle."
"You have told us enough!" exclaimed d'Argouges, throwing out his hands. "Say no more. I will have no part in this. Your news has astonished me. I had no suspicion of such a great, a treasonable affair."
"What," cried de Lurcy, "you would draw back?"
"Nay," replied the Norman vehemently, "I have never been in it. I thought that you meant that some service in full honour was required of me—that, I owe the Duke—but nothing else, nothing like this. What, you expect me to open Normandy to the English that France may be dismembered? You say that king François is worthless and extravagant—what are we to expect from these foreigners? By God, no! My ancestors gave their blood to defend France, I will not shed mine to betray her."
"That is my opinion also," cried the other Norman gentleman. "I'll have nothing of this plot. God save France from such a King as the Connétable would be, should he begin his reign by such treachery as this!"
"What has he met but treachery and injustice?" cried de Lurcy indignantly. "His right to the Throne is as good as that of François or only by a hair's-breadth less."
"Say nothing more of it!" exclaimed d'Argouges. "I speak for my friend also. We are Normans, we do not want the government of Normandy on the terms on which you offer it, we do not want to see the armies of King Harry of England marching across our fields. Say no more. We have sworn; we shall try to forget what you have told us. Go back to your master, de Lurcy, and tell him that we are sorry indeed we have heard what we have heard."
The Connétable's agent stood silent, his arms folded on his breast. He was amazed by this reception of his news, which he had thought would have provoked enthusiastic loyalty.
How confident the Connétable had been when he had arranged this meeting at Vendôme! He had said the two Norman squires were to be absolutely trusted. He knew them, he had declared, like his own brothers; he had covered them with benefits, given them his love and friendship; he was sure of their support—now this...
The two young men gathered up their swords, cloaks, and gloves they had laid on the chair against the tapestried wall.
"Remember you have sworn," said de Lurcy, frowning on the ground and seeing beyond the floor an ugly scene of the scaffold and the headsman; what if these two young men were not to be trusted even with the deadly secret he had so carelessly given them? He must return at once to Moulins, where the Duke had been brought in a litter from Montbrison.
"Remember you have sworn," he repeated harshly; he touched his pocket where the relic lay wrapped in the lilac silk. "You will be damned in this world and in the next if you betray us."
He then left the room abruptly, called up his servants, and turned his train towards Moulins, riding fiercely.
The two shrewd, honourable, and patriotic Norman squires went to the town of Lisieux in their native Normandy. They had discussed together what they had better do in the terrible situation in which they were placed, and they had soon devised a plan whereby they could compromise with their oath, their obligation to the Connétable, their loyalty to the King, and their loyalty to Normandy.
Requesting an audience of the Bishop of Lisieux, they imparted to him under the seal of confession the tale that de Lurcy had told them in the inn of "The Three Kings" at Vendôme. The Bishop listened, made no comment, offered the two gentlemen the hospitality of his palace, and that night sent a messenger to the Regent Louise with a close-writ paper containing the story of the two Norman gentlemen; then, for greater security, he sent a duplicate letter by another courier.
The King received these two letters at Saint Pierre de Moustier after they had been read by the Regent Louise at Clery; he had been on the eve of departing for Moulins, where he had heard that Charles de Bourbon was lying sick with a tertian fever. This was the second warning he had received about the Connétable's conspiracy; the first was vague enough, but disquieting: one of his household, the Sieur Descars, had said to him, "Sire, if I were you, I should have an eye to the Connétable who, in his solitary castle among the mountains, receives messages from the Kind of England and the Emperor of Germany."
The King's long face took on a brooding and crafty expression as he recalled this warning and read the two letters from the Bishop of Lisieux.
His mother had, she wrote, taken all possible precautions—she had sent out messengers on all the ways to discover what was afoot in the Bourbonnais and the other estates of the Connétable; she had written to Lisieux for the two Norman gentlemen to be sent to her at once under a strong escort.
François, after only a short hesitation, wrote his mother a gay letter telling her that he had the matter well in hand and knew perfectly well what to do. Then he sent another epistle to the Connétable at Moulins saying that he could not visit him as soon as he had hoped, as he had hurt his leg and must stay at Saint Pierre till it was recovered. Having, through this pretence, gained a certain delay, the King at once collected a company of Switzers and four hundred archers. He also sent out directions that all the roads were to be guarded, all the garrisons were to be strengthened in Normandy, and the coast of that Duchy strongly defended so that the King of England might receive a warm reception should he dare to land there.
When François had taken all these precautions, which he did with cool alertness, he retired to his chamber in the best house Saint Pierre de Moustier could afford, and, taking his long face in his long white fingers, turned over in his mind what he should do with Charles Bourbon.
Perhaps it was a fortunate thing for himself that the Connétable had engaged in this conspiracy. It made an excellent excuse for ruining him, for stripping him of everything. Since the arrogant Bourbon had refused the hand of Madame Louise, François had intended to set down this subject, who had always been too great and too haughty; now perhaps it could be done immediately without any tedious delays of lawsuits; but there were dangers too; how many were involved in this conspiracy and what of the two great invading armies? And what of Charles himself, was he really a man to be feared? François read over again the letters that contained the confessions of the two Norman squires; the scheme seemed well planned and detailed. De Lurcy had said that Saint Vallier had urged Charles to give up the conspiracy, and the Duke had replied:
"Cousin, what can I do? The King and Madame have done me much wrong and wish to destroy me. They have already taken away my property, and they wish to put me to death." And then, refusing to discuss the matter any more, he had gone to play at the game of flux.
"Well"—the King smiled with foxy elegance to himself—"I, too, must play my game."
Charles de Bourbon, waking out of the uneasy slumber of fever, asked de Lurcy standing by his bed: "What is that great noise without?" Then, confused in his mind, he answered: "Ah, I know, it is the King arriving."
De Lurcy looked at him curiously. "Sire, why should you think it is the King? He was to have come with but a small escort."
Charles smiled, more at his thoughts than at what de Lurcy said. He remembered the Christmases and Easters that the King had spent at Moulins; he had always arrived with so much noise and clatter, the harsh light of torches, the jingle of horses' bells, the shouts of the pages and the attendants, and always with, above everything, the high laughter of Madame Louise.
De Lurcy had gone to the window and parted the curtains over the strong blue of the summer night.
"It is indeed the King," he said after he had looked long and steadily below. "His liveries without doubt. But he has with him near a thousand men."
Charles raised himself on one elbow. "François comes to Moulins with near a thousand men. Has something come out, have we somewhere been indiscreet?" He could not think long or clearly; he lay back again, shaken and bitten by the fever.
De Lurcy stood still at the window holding the curtains back with his strong warrior's hands. If they had been betrayed there was an end of this drama—death would come down like a black curtain on all of them.
"Tell him," whispered the sick man from the high-set bed in the alcove, "that I cannot see him now. Indeed, I am too ill. He may send his own doctors to ascertain as much, if he doubts my word. When I can, I will wait upon him."
De Lurcy left the room on this uneasy errand, and Charles lay still, his hands folded on his breast, and thought himself in the Abbey at Sauvigny with the two Duchesses, Anne and Suzanne, his two beloved women, one either side of him. He had a great longing for death, for the space and silence and enclosed light of the great Dominican Abbey.
O to lie there, for ever and ever at peace, with the heart empty and the mind closed and the hands clasped upon the breast in hopes of the Resurrection—with a stone dog on which to rest his feet and a stone angel to bend over his head!
He tossed into dreams; he thought his wife was there, in crumpled white, her hunched shoulders showing under the veil, her hands busy with garments for the children who would be born dead; he thought that the other side of his bed was Anne of France urging him to have nothing to do with the King of France or with the King's mother, but to trust in the Emperor.
"And so I will," muttered Charles, suddenly twisting out of his dream, half rising from the bed and setting his bare foot upon the step, "so I will! I will have nothing to do with the King of France."
The fever overcame him in surges; with difficulty he held himself steady, sitting between his curtains.
De Lurcy had left the shutters open at the window—how blue the night was, like the Virgin's robe, and faintly studded with pin-pricks of stars! He thought of Rome, he longed for Rome almost as deeply as he longed for death. To be there, on one of the Seven Hills, seated on some of the golden-coloured masonry, among the fallen pillars of antiquity, where the pigeons and the doves circled their blue and violet pinions above the palaces, the squares, and the churches. O, to be there seated in his black and violet hood and robe, between the miniature painter and the beggar-hermit, talking of everything and of nothing, but looking down through the swathes of eglantine and ivy on to the Holy City, the Eternal City.
Raffaello, the Umbrian painter, was dead, and he, Charles de Bourbon, had never met him. But all the rooms that he had painted could be seen, all those frescoed apartments—they were the most beautiful in the world, people said, there was nothing like them to be seen anywhere else; surely one day he, Charles, could go in peace and gaze on them. There was the great Church of St. Peter that was being raised with infinite labour on the ruins of the old Basilica; there was the Library of priceless books, there were all those things he wished to see; he believed that there too, somewhere hidden, was the original group of "The Laocoön", for surely that which François had showed so boastfully at Fontainebleau was but a sham, as the gossips said. The word echoed in the man's fevered mind—a sham, a pretence; what was everything but that?
Nothing mattered but serving God by the way of beauty, and how could that be achieved?
If he were only in Rome, a poor priest, a poor student, a singer in the Vatican Chapel, a boy who ground the colours for whoever painted in Raffaello's place; why, even a beggar sitting before one of the leather mattresses at the top of the flights of golden steps before the Basilica—surely there was peace!
How beautiful was Rome, how beautiful! He put his cold fingers before his hot forehead and eyes, and saw the city pass, as it were, in the palm of his hand—the thick, half-mouldering walls where once the Emperor's sentinels had marched, and in between the broken temples the façades with handsome pillars, the goats browsing on the Tarpeian Rock, the huge magnificence of the Circus Maximus.
Leo was dead these two years, the man whom he, Charles, had sat beside at the obscene, gay comedy at Bologna; dead, that stout man who had peered with such avidity at the lewd scene behind the gilded curtains on the raised, empurpled stage. He had died alone, they said, without Sacraments or any company, no one being with him but his buffoon. There was a different kind of man on the Papal throne now, a Fleming of lowly birth, a saintly, peace-loving man whom everybody despised and who was reported to be dying—when the breath went out of his body surely the second Medici would snatch the tiara that he had missed on his uncle's death?
There was no splendour, they said, now in the Vatican; the beautiful rooms were empty, shuttered away, the designs of Raffaello becoming covered with dust, the tapestries rolled up and put aside, all the jewels packed for safety in the cellars. The Pope Adrian was economical, careful, and pious, he despised all the lures and gawds of the world, his life was one of humble simplicity and virtuous sincerity—the Romans called him a barbarian.
Charles got out of bed, threw on his dark-violet chamber robe, and began walking up and down the room. He remembered the infernal masquerade that he had attended after the doctor Vercelli had given him that draught, and those dancers seemed to be surging about him now, with thick curling gilt horns and gilt-white masks, and necks strung with blood-coloured stones and bosoms bare above corslets of bronze.
He was still encircled by these visions of the fever when his doctors entered and de Lurcy led him to his bed in the alcove. There was a stranger among these physicians, one sent by the King, for François believed that Charles might be feigning sickness to avoid an unpleasant interview. But this man took back such a report to François that the King's thin mouth curled in a satyr-like smile. The doctor had said: "I would not be in the position of Monsieur de Bourbon for anything—I believe that his account is made."
That night Charles was very ill, his soul almost loose from his body, and he did not seem like a man who had worked long and earnestly on a vast conspiracy, negotiating with a King and an Emperor, trying to rouse a country against its monarch, organizing here, contriving there, making all preparations for a revolt that would send Europe into confusion; but rather like some poor pilgrim who had travelled far and overcome his strength, and must lie down and perish by the wayside long before he had reached his object, the shrine of his adoration. For hours he was in delirium, and it seemed to him that he was transported to Rome—it was the Roman streets he walked, the Roman palaces he visited, and more often than any other thing did he mount up that Roman hill and sit upon the broken golden masonry and look down upon the yellow river and the massive ruins.
Towards the dawn his mind cleared a little, and he saw de Lurcy sitting there, two doctors behind him. They gave him a potion that stung his throat, they propped him up in bed—his valet was ready to comb his hair, wash his hands, and shave his face. When all this had been done de Lurcy wave him his news. The King had taken possession of the castle, he had posted sentinels at all the doors, they had been changed twice in the night; he must know something, if not everything.
"Who has betrayed me?" asked Charles wearily. De Lurcy answered in a low voice, the doctors having withdrawn to the window space. "I have thought much of those two Norman gentlemen—we were too sure there. They seemed greatly astonished and dismayed."
"Did you not make their swear on a relic?" whispered Charles, his head hanging on his pillows.
"Eh, but who knows they may have found a way? The King wishes to see you. Will you let him come into your chamber?"
"Let him come."
At midday the King of France entered the Connétable's chamber. His Majesty was attired in black satin cut over silver, everything about him being ostentatiously splendid. A fine dark beard in the Italian fashion now outlined his long, high-bred, and crafty face, which the French so much admired; his black hair was combed straight down either side of his slightly sunken cheeks. He was now twenty-eight years of age, and his peculiar countenance had become accentuated—the bony structure was very visible; traces of disease, due to reckless ill-living, had marred that manly beauty which his mother and sister still extolled—but he remained a gay cavalier, very splendid and debonair, with a mincing manner.
He spoke to the Connétable with the greatest friendliness, resting on the bed his long hand, from the wrist of which hung his black ruffles with a multitude of little cords. He could see that the Connétable was a very sick man, and his flickering smile was emphasized. Monseigneur de Bourbon was certainly much changed: his face, almost thin, had the ugly grey colour of sickness; his hair, carefully parted and combed and hanging either side of his cheeks in the same fashion that the King used, was lank and lustreless; the beautiful well-proportioned contours of the face had a death-like sharpness; he maintained himself with great dignity, though he had not the strength to sit upright.
"I have heard," cried the King, with that apparent frankness which covered his deepest duplicities, "that you have been engaged with the Sieur de Croy in some plot against me, but of course I do not believe anything so fantastic. Surely, cousin, you would not have listened to any temptations from the Emperor, even for the fear of losing your estates!"
"Have I not some reason," asked Charles with difficulty, raising his head from the pillows, "to fear losing my estate, being reduced to nothing? That is not easy, sire, when one has been placed high."
"You need dread no such disaster," replied the King with easy geniality. "Even if this lawsuit goes against you, my mother, Madame Louise, and I will return you all you possess."
"It is strange, sire, that Madame Louise has been to the toil and expense of this long lawsuit only to relinquish everything if she wins it."
"It was a woman's caprice, and you, cousin, know on what it was founded. Perhaps we can make a compromise there yet, eh? A wedding instead of a lawsuit, fees for the priests instead of the lawyers?"
Charles was silent; he closed his eyes, the corners of his pale mouth set obstinately.
"Ah," replied the King, peering at him spitefully, "it is, I Suppose, the Emperor's sister after all! Well, we shall see. The real reason of my visit was not to talk of this stupid conspiracy, in which of course I do not believe, but to urge you to come with me to Italy."
"I am in no state to travel, sire."
"I mean, of course, when your illness is mended. Come cousin, do you not wish to come with me to Italy, do you not wish to repeat the successes of eight years ago, when we supped with the Pope at Bologna?"
Charles contrived to raise himself on one elbow; he looked straight at the Kind and replied:
"I wish very much to go with Your Majesty to Italy, and I give you my word that as soon as I can bear to travel in my litter I will set forth. This will probably be in a week's time."
"I would take you with me now," said the King; "I cannot delay, my presence is urgently required at Lyons—but the doctors tell me that I shall kill you if I move you."
François rose abruptly, pressed the sick man's hand in his strong fingers, and strolled out of the room.
Charles soon learnt from de Lurcy that the King's fair words had meant nothing—they were only spoken in order to effect his arrest more securely; François had left Perault de Warthy in charge of the castle with instructions to keep strict watch on the Connétable, not to let him out of his sight until he had brought him to Lyons, and to send constant reports of all that happened at Moulins to Lyons.
Charles was thus no longer master in his own castle, which de Warthy held for the King; the royal guard kept watch day and night, and Perault de Warthy had all the keys.
For a fortnight Charles remained enclosed in his chamber, admitting no one but his intimates; then de Warthy insisted on seeing him, but was made to wait four or five hours in an antechamber before he was admitted to the closet where the Connétable lay, partly dressed in black and violet, reposing on a couch at an open window looking out upon the rich field where Susanne and Anne, the two Duchesses, had so often gazed, busy with their women's work and talking of the children who never lived.
"I am here, de Warthy," smiled Charles, sitting up with an air of animation. "You see that I am much recovered. I was abroad on my mule for a few moments this morning in the park—I went out in order to get accustomed to the air. I hope in a few days to be able to travel to Lyons."
His looks belied his words; he was thin, hollow-faced, and spoke with an unnatural nervousness. De Warthy believed that he had not the strength to resist the royal orders any longer and so set out for Lyons. The King waited there, upon de Warthy's report, another five days for the coming of the Connétable, but as his cousin still delayed, de Warthy was sent back to Moulins and brought Charles in a litter as far as La Palice, when the Connétable seemed in such great pain and was so feeble that the doctors dare not take his pulse; nor could de Warthy get any satisfaction out of the sick man himself, who sent for him to come to his bedside and told him that it was not so much his illness as his inability to obey the King that troubled him.
"My doctors advise me to try my native air—tell His Majesty that when I am a little stronger I will go to him."
When Perault de Warthy brought this news to the King, François perceived that it was impossible to trap the Connétable into his power, so he took extreme measures, ordering the arrest of all the men whom he knew to be involved in this conspiracy—Saint Vanier, who had supped with the King that very night; Aymard Deprie, the Bishop of Puy; and several others whose names had been given by de Lurcy to the Norman squires, and by the Norman squires to the Bishop of Lisieux. And he again sent Perault de Warthy to the Connétable with the message that hitherto he, the king, had hesitated to believe in his cousin's treachery, but that now he began to feel suspicious; the royal message implored Monsieur de Bourbon to come to Lyons in order to clear himself of all possible implication. With unnecessary treachery François gaily added his royal promise to forget any matter of dispute there might be between them and to use mercy rather than justice in dealing with his beloved cousin. But at the same time as he sent this message to lure the Connétable into his power he sent the Bastard of Savoy and the Maréchal de la Palice with four thousand footsoldiers to take possession of the person of Charles de Montpensier, Duc de Bourbon, Connétable of France.
Charles, on his side, was endeavouring to carry out the engagements he had made with the Emperor and the King of England. He sent his archer, Baudemarche, to bring up the four thousand foot-soldiers that had been levied by the Seigneur de Saint Saporin, and when de Warthy had left him at La Palice, he, throwing off his largely feigned sickness, had hurried back to Gayete, where he had seen Sir John Russell, sent by the King of England, a Spanish captain, and a secretary of the Emperor, who had, by divers secret ways and with much skill and circumspection, made their way to this rendezvous.
That night another treaty was signed between the King of England and Charles; it was decided that Henry should land in Picardy while the Emperor invaded Languedoc; Henry was to send the hundred thousand crowns which were to provide the first instalment of the payment due to the Switzers whom the Connétable intended to enrol; Sir John Russell suggested the addition of one clause to the agreement that Charles steadily and even contemptuously refused—this was that he should recognize Henry Tudor as King of France, and as his vassal take an oath of allegiance to His Britannic Majesty.
Charles put through this dull business with great energy. He had in part recovered from his sickness, but still felt weak and was troubled by the hallucinations of fever; he was, however, stimulated by his danger. The fact that he had been betrayed had almost ruined his plans; he did not know now if he would be able to keep his engagements to the Emperor, and when he heard of the arrest of his friends and allies he knew that he was playing for more than the success of his conspiracy, but for his very life itself.
"I can," he said to de Lurcy, "do nothing better than take refuge in my strongest fortress, Chantelle. I might hold it until the arrival of the Switzers."
He was carried from Gayete in a litter, but on learning from one of his own men, who came up exhausted from hard riding, that Perault de Warthy had been sent after him to bring him to the King's presence by force, he, sick as he was, threw on a robe lined with fur, a quilted silk hood, mounted a bay horse, and rode eighteen miles without a pause until the great drawbridge of the impregnable fortress of Chantelle was drawn up behind him; when the King's messenger arrived, Charles ordered him to be admitted and received him in the great hall, where a fire had been lit to disperse the autumn airs. The Connétable's pale face in the quilted violet hood was sunken and drawn, and there was an unnatural gleam in the narrow eyes beneath the straight fringe of lank hair, as he smiled with an expression that de Warthy had not observed on his face before.
"Welcome, sieur; you have soon overtaken me."
"Monseigneur, your spurs have served you well," replied King François' man. "But why do you fly from me? I am come nothing but to clear away the stain on your honour—"
Charles interrupted with a quick, nervous movement of his fine hands.
"Have we not played that buffoonery to an end? I know how eagerly I have been pursued, I know how many armed men have set out to take me, I know how I have been betrayed. I have come to this little house of mine to wait until the King will listen to me, but now I am tired and wish to rest."
Then Perault de Warthy, who had but a few men with him, retired, and hastened back to François to inform him that the Connétable guessed his intention and could only be taken by force.
No sooner had he gone than Charles summoned his friends, among whom were those who had always been faithful to him and who desired to share his fortunes to the end: Jean de l'Hôpital, his surgeon; his two body-servants, Guinot and Bartholomé, and Monsieur de Pompérant. There were also several captains of the guard and of the archers, the Duke's chaplain, and many of those who had long formed part of his household, and who were loyal not only to him but to the memories of the two Duchesses, Suzanne and Anne.
Before he spoke with them the Duke dictated a letter, which he sent by Monsieur d'Autan after Perault de Warthy. Thus it read:
To my Sovereign Lord,
Monseigneur—I have written you fully by Perault de Warthy. Now I send you Monsieur d'Autan in order that he may make you understand the desire I have to serve you. I implore you, Monseigneur, to believe what he will tell you from me, and I assure you on my honour that I will not fail you, Monseigneur. I pray God to give you a good and long life.
Written in our house at Chantelle this 7th of September. Your very humble and very obedient subject and servitor,
At the bottom of this letter Charles had written in his own handwriting:
But may it please the King to restore him his properties, Monseigneur de Bourbon promises to serve the King with all his heart wherever and whenever he pleases.
The Sieur de Lurcy was surprised, when the Duke showed him the letters, and also at other epistles that he had written to Madame Louise, and Madame Marguerite, the King's sister.
"Monseigneur, do you write this to deceive the King? He knows everything."
Charles did not reply; he was conscious of his own inner core of weakness—or was it very fine honour, which a man downright like de Lurcy could not possibly understand? He, Charles, Duc de Bourbon, did not want war; he would rather live in peace on his estates and be at least outward friends with François than be forced to fight the lawsuit, to listen to the temptations of the Emperor and of the King of England.
Betrayal! His head was not quite clear yet; the fever confused him; yes, he had sent the letters out of weakness—touched with treachery, perhaps, and spite. If Anne of France had been there he would not have written them. He shrugged his shoulders, refusing all explanation, and asked his friends if they thought he could withstand a siege in Chantelle.
The captains who were in charge of the great fortress declared that though it was accredited the most difficult place to take in the whole of France, yet there were only fifteen pieces of artillery and it was doubtful whether, if the King approached it with all his force, it could long hold out; nor was it fully provisioned—in the case of a long siege there would soon be a scarcity of food, powder, and even water.
There was no news of the Switzers' coming up, and who knew how long it might be before either the Emperor or the King of England arrived in France?
"Everything has been ruined by this betrayal," said Charles with a cold smile. "De Lurcy, was it your two Norman gentlemen? You see what they have done."
"You see what I have done, monseigneur, in trusting them! It was you who were so sure."
"The fault is my own," mused Charles. "I am not a man with a single purpose."
None questioned him as to what he meant by this comment. They said afterwards when they had left his presence that he was not the same man since Anne of France had died.
The next morning, when the plans were still undecided, news came, brought in by a peasant loyal to Charles, that the Bishop with the Duke's letters to the King had been arrested by the Bastard of Savoy at La Pacaudiere and taken prisoner with all his escort; this move showed the King's hand plainly enough and that his promises had all been false, the hopes he held out fallacious.
"He intends to ruin me," smiled the Connétable.
How long was it since François had intended to ruin Charles?
They had seemed, when they had been boys playing together, equals, Princes both, little to choose between them, for pride, presence, and great possessions and a fair future; yet François had always perhaps intended to ruin Charles, who was placed too high ever to be safe.
"What shall we do now?" said Charles, opening and shutting his hand and looking down on the emptiness of his palm.
The answer was—in one word—flight.
The Connétable had himself spoken the shameful word, and he took command of all the preparations for his departure from Chantelle, yet it seemed to him insufferable that he should leave this place; and, as he went from room to room giving his orders and seeing that they were carried out, he was turning over in his heart the things that he left behind, and it seemed to him that he could not leave France as a proscribed man, as a hunted man, a man not likely to return. In his head, still weakened with the fever, ran the words of the story in the Bible—of the young man who was exceedingly sorrowful because he had "great possessions".
Charles repeated to himself: "Great possessions." What were they? A catalogue of them would have filled a large book.
Was it not truly worse than death to leave them? Why was it that he could not stay to face the King and die? Even—if need be—by the headsman's hand, kneeling on the scaffold in the middle of the public square? His subtle, divided mind began to wonder why it was men clung to life even when life was stripped of all that made it worth the living.
Sauvigny, the great grey Abbey church full of peace and light, where the Duchess Suzanne and the Duchess Anne, his dead children and his ancestors, lay peacefully on the stone-tasselled pillows—that must be left, and his castles, Moulins, Chantelle—where he stood now—Montbrison, and all the fields, those pastures that Suzanne had loved to see covered with daisies, the blue horizon, the river that fed the capital of his Duchy, the farms, and even the sheepfolds and the woodmen's huts, the trees that made so rich a shade on the rising upland, all the rich outline of the Bourbonnais and the Auvergne, the little walled towns where walked the sentinels who wore his colours, the citadels where his flag floated—all lost, all to be left behind to feed the cruel extravagance of François de Valois and the hard rapacity of Madame Louise.
There were his personal possessions, too; there were the paintings that he had paid men large sums of money for, the carvings, the great library of books, printed and manuscript—nay, he would even have to leave behind the great volume L'Enseignement that Suzanne had so loved, that she had turned over with her pale hands on the white bed when he had put the pearls beside her, the day that she had lain sick with the little heir who had not lived, in the cradle at the foot of her couch.
He had not that precious book with him at Chantelle, it was at Moulins; it would have to be left behind. There were his dogs, his horses and all his servitors, young men whom he was training, the women of his household whom Suzanne and her mother Anne had trained; there were the furniture, the tapestries, the silken and fur garments—yea, even his dead wife's garments with the small waists and the flowing over-robes and the tight sleeves, some of them embroidered by her own hands; there were the musical instruments, the flutes, the little portable organs, the violas, some of them with great smooth bellies like autumn melons, some with heads carved at the handles like swans, some set with amber and agate, tortoiseshell and pearl; there were his own robes of velvet lined with martin fur and vair; there were his caps and hats, with chains of gold, with drops of jewels; but his mind went again and again to his books.
Charles paused in the midst of the directions he was giving to de Lurcy.
"Is it possible that I am to leave my library behind?" he asked, and the grim man glanced at him sideways to see if he were sick and weakening, But Charles thought only of the book as he had seen it in the frail hands of Suzanne. On the flyleaf was written, This book is mine, Susanne de Bourbon—beneath this some verses that he had himself written for her, shortly before their marriage, and then their initials intertwined, mottoes and palms. Then, most precious of all, portraits of the two Duchesses, Anne and Suzanne, seated at their reading, and the arms of Bourbon, the three fleurs de lis, placed two and two...Charles felt that if that volume had been in his possession now, he would have felt the less pain even at leaving France.
De Lurcy touched his arm anxiously, and spoke in a tone of reproach.
"Of what are you thinking, monseigneur? our lives hang upon quick action now.
"Why," answered Charles, "do we think so much of our lives when we love other things of higher value?"
"I spoke as a man. If you escape now, you may yet return to regain all your possessions—"
"And to lie beside my wife and kin in Sauvigny?" smiled Charles.
He held up the lamp that he carried and looked round the large, dusk-filled apartment; the light gleamed in the gold threads of the bright tissues on the walls, on the gold in the spines of the volumes in the tall cases, in the gilding of the angels' heads and wings in the bosses of the ceiling. De Lurcy gazed mournfully at the tall, hesitant, and dark figure of his master, whose thin face was so brooding and overcast; had he not known Charles de Montpensier, Duc de Bourbon, to be a great captain, he would have thought him in that moment a weakling.
Charles lowered the lamp and gripped his friend's arm.
"Come, let us save our lives, since there is nothing else that we can save!"
In the warm, humid darkness the little party left Chantelle; they were soon absorbed in the night, as they turned in the direction of the valley of the Creuse. A few lanterns lit their way; it was not possible for Charles, though he often looked back, to see more than the massive outline of Chantelle, a shadow among the shadows; from some of the upper windows a little brightness gleamed; no flag floated above the keep.
"De Lurcy," said Charles, "it is one of the fairest most stately homes in the world—containing some of the rarest treasures—and it is but one of many that I leave behind!"
"Monseigneur, you have your life and your sword."
"De Lurcy, do you think that one may trust the Emperor?"
"I should, where I in your place, monseigneur, trust no one save yourself and those servitors who have risked something for your sake."
"Myself! Had I been worthy of trust, de Lurcy, I had not been in this shameful case now!"
As the soft night-wind blew on his face he felt bitterly conscious of his own weakness and failure—as if he had betrayed the love and trust of those two dead women who would perhaps wait for him in vain in Sauvigny. He rode without state, unarmed save for his sword, in civilian attire, wearing a red cap under his black hat; his garment was a short robe of black cashmere over a doublet of violet satin; two hundred and forty horsemen followed him; thirty thousand gold crowns were divided amongst them; this treasure was placed in the saddlebags; the Duke's own body-servants carried caskets of jewels, among them the pearls of the Duchess Suzanne. All his personal followers had some valuable hidden in their sleeves, their chests, their pockets, some object of gold or silver, of diamond, pearl, sapphire, ruby.
As they rode through the night the Connétable thought of the promises he had made the Emperor, none of which he would be able to keep. It was not possible now for him to rouse a third of France to support the invaders or to put any men into the field to help the King of England; he would not be able to send any treasure, or indeed to offer the Emperor anything at all save his own person.
He thought, with austere simplicity, "I am glad I am a good general—at least as good as any the Emperor has in his service," and Charles smiled thinly in the dark to think it should come to this, that he, the Connétable of France, should be no better than one of the Switzers offering his services for pay.
As the autumn dawn broke they entered the long valley of the Creuse; at the little church of Montaigut, the Duke heard Mass. They stopped again at the château of La Fayette, where the Connétable made himself known to the lord and drank some wine; he refused food and shivered often. His followers muttered among themselves, anxious as to their safety, excited because of the treasure that they carried. The country was peaceful, there was no sign of any pursuit; the sky was the colour of a dead violet behind the amber outline of the low, near hills; the men-at-arms rode slowly at their ease, the mules and horses burdened with the saddlebags weighted with gold. Twice the Duke fainted and had to be lifted off his horse and set under a tree to rest; and each time when he came back to his senses he thought to himself:
"It would have been better if I had died before worse happened."
At nightfall they gained the little castle of Herment. The lord, Henri Arnauld, received them courteously; the Duke, his friends, and body-servants entered this place to pass the night, for there seemed no fear of immediate pursuit; and the archers camped in the sloping field and orchards where the little red apples were tumbling into the dry grass, and picketed their horses under trees full of plums drying in the autumn sun and covered with buzzing, yellow wasps.
As soon as they were closeted together, the Sieur de Lurcy told Charles that he believed the archers were not to be trusted; he knew that some of the captains among them were secretly in the pay or service of the King and were going about even now, bribing and exhorting the men to make him prisoner.
He took the Duke to the uncurtained window and, holding him by the arm, pointed out the scene in the orchards of apple trees and plum trees where the horses were picketed, and showed him the dark figures of the men moving about from one rude encampment to another.
"Think how much money they have, my lord," he said, "and how easy it would be for them to seize you and the few of us who are faithful to you and take us to Lyons. Think what a reward they would have from the king."
"Why should I not trust them?" asked Charles faintly. His limbs could no longer support him; he sank down on the old high-backed chair with arms.
"Trust them if you will," said de Lurcy, "but it is an ignoble end to die on a scaffold, knowing that one's name is dishonoured for ever."
The Duke made no answer but took off his sword, his black coat, scarlet cap, and black woollen robe, and flung them down and crossed himself on the bed where the bare rings hung on the bare poles, the curtains having not yet been put in place; and there he slept, half drowsed by fever, half unconscious from fatigue.
Then de Lurcy took the business into his own hands and sent out one of the body-servants, Peloux, as soon as it was light, to inform the archers in the orchard that the Duke had already gone on his way.
Some of the men seemed to listen to this with relief, as if they were glad to be rid of a difficult loyalty, while some seemed in fear and trouble; and one of the captains demanded:
"But what, then, are we to do? To follow him or to turn back across France?"
The servant shrugged his shoulders and said, "Let him save himself who can," and turned back into the château.
Some of the archers and men-at-arms and their officers dispersed, dividing among themselves the booty in the saddle-bags, many returning across France to take service with the King and to boast of their loyalty to the House of Valois, and some making their way to their homes, and a few going towards Italy to make their fortunes in the chances of war and travel. And when all had gone and nothing was left in the despoiled orchard but the boughs broken on the ground where the men had pulled down and plucked the fruit, and the ashes of the fires where they had cooked with their pannikins, and the sweet, trampled, broken grass where the horses had been picketed, the Connétable sent for the five people who remained with him—Jean de l'Hôpital, his surgeon; one Goudinières; two body-servants, Guinot and Bartholomé; and Monsieur de Pompérant.
This last gentleman had been condemned to death for slaying a miserable mignon of the King's in a duel, and the Connétable had saved his life. As for the servant Peloux, he had not returned after his message to the archers, but had gone with them.
Charles and these five, then, guided by the lord of Herment, Henri Arnauld, who had promised to act as guide, set out on horseback; the two body-servants led mules, which were laden with bags of gold and caskets of jewels; all had received orders to treat the Duke as if he were one of themselves.
They passed through La Tour and Saint Donnatt near Mount Dore. There, at a rude inn, they took some food; Monsieur Pompérant sat at the head of the table as if he were the master and the others were his servants; the Connétable sat in the ingle and watched the pale smoke go up from the wood fire.
The night was passed at Coudat-en-Ferrières, but at dawn they were on horseback again, and that night they reached the little village of Ruines, which was in the mountains of Auvergne near the old walled city of Saint Flour. They brought a guide with them from the last village, a cobbler, for Monsieur Arnauld was no longer sure of the path, but the cobbler soon lost his Way in these trackless mountains.
At length when they came on to the highroad they encountered fresh dangers, for they saw, close to Saint Flour, a company of about eight thousand Garcon foot-soldiers marching from Lyons to Bayonne to join Maréchal Lautrec in Italy.
Without any effort to disguise himself Charles rode forward, his company surrounding him, and passed the soldiers without exciting any attention. Thus they reached a small house belonging to Monsieur Pompérant, which was named La Garde, and there the Connétable lay for four days. He had been travelling across his own lands and his subjects had all been faithful—no one had betrayed him, though many had seen him and many must have guessed his identity.
One of these loyal servants brought news to La Garde that King François had, by the sound of trumpets, published the rebellion of the Connétable of France throughout the kingdom; he had also promised ten thousand gold crowns to anyone who should deliver to him this Charles de Montpensier, Duc de Bourbon. Charles then had to think of his future plans; his mind and his body were sunk and weak. De Pompérant suggested that he should go to his faithful town of Carlat, but he knew that this place was not well fortified.
"If I could not hold Chantelle," he said, "I could not hold Carlat"; and it seemed to him as he lay there in the peace of the little country house that his only chance was to get across the frontier, to make his way across the mountains—the Emperor with his forces was at Roussillon. But de Pompérant, going out to See how the land lay, came tack with the news that it would be impossible to cross the mountains because the Maréchal Foix was keeping watch and ward there and looking out for de Bourbon, who was known to be somewhere in that district.
By one chance and another the Connétable had now with him only de Pompérant and the valet Bartholomé, and they turned back towards Lyons, passing by way of the village of Vauquelles, where the woman at the inn recognized de Pompérant but thought that Charles was only his servant.
They then went to Vienne. There they pretended to be three archers of the King's guard and learnt that the whole Dauphiné side of the river was guarded, because Charles was known to be in the neighbourhood. So they avoided the bridge and crossed by a ferry further on.
On this boat were twelve of those soldiers who were searching for the Connétable, and they recognized de Pompérant but took no notice of Monsieur de Bourbon, whom they regarded as a servant, for he was now wearing his own livery and kept his quilted hood over his face. After they had reached the opposite bank they marched along the highroad to Grenoble, but presently slipped across the fields towards the deeply wooded hills.
They found some rest and refreshment at the house of an ancient widow who was known to Monsieur de Pompérant. In the middle of the meal that she gave them one of the servants came in with the news that the Provost with a large body of archers was about a league off searching for the Duc de Bourbon. They affected to take no notice of this intelligence but finished their food, slipped away from the table, mounted their horses, and rode away up the wildest part of the mountains, up the rough road that led towards Chambéry.
That night they slept under the sky, and in the morning when they started again they met many soldiers hunting for Monsieur de Bourbon. They had meant to go to Susa, but they heard that Saint Pol, one of the King's generals, was on that road, marching to join Admiral Bonnivet. So again the way had to be altered and they passed over the Mont du Chat near Aix-les-Bains, crossed the Rhône about eight leagues above Lyons, and reached Sainte Claude in Burgundy.
The Connétable was now out of the power of the King of France; he was received with great respect and magnificence by the Sovereign Bishop of Geneva, the partisan of the Emperor, who honoured him by a large escort of cavalry and after he had rested awhile in the care of this Prelate, he was joined by most of those whom he had been forced to leave on the way—de Lurcy, Peloux, and others.
Soon after came a messenger from the King of France with a dispatch, in which François, who declared that he had heard with amazement of the flight of the Connétable, offered to restore to the fugitive all his dominions and to repay to him all the amounts due to him for the costs that he had been put to for his law-suit and his flight.
Charles saw nothing in this but a monstrous duplicity. He handed the King's letter back to the messenger saying:
"It is too late."
Then the man demanded of him the Sword of Connétable of France and the Collar of the order of St. Michael; Charles replied:
"Tell the King that he took from me the Sword of Connétable as he took from me the command of the vanguard and gave it to Monsieur d'Alençon. As for the Collar of his order, you will find it at Chantelle under the pillow of my bed."
That night he sat up alone in the manor house where he stayed at Besançon and changed the devices and mottoes that he had used in the days of his splendours to those that he intended to use in the days of his difficulties and perils. He wrote out on a sheet of parchment his desires and then gave this to his secretary to give to his armourer, for now, by the courtesy of the Emperor he was surrounded by a handsome household again.
On his sword was to be cut the words Omnis Spes in Ferro, and his device of the flying stag, with the motto Espérance, was to be altered to Victory or Death.
When he had done this, which seemed to him to strip him of all connection with the past, he reviewed his position.
He had lost everything; he was a fugitive, a landless man; he had lost his great possessions, his enormous wealth, his high castles, splendid position; he had nothing to offer the young Emperor but himself, his name for what it might still be worth, his skill as a soldier. The old Pope, Adrian VI, was dead; the Conclave was electing his successor, and no one doubted but that it would be another Medici, who, by gigantic bribery and intricate art, would contrive to snatch the Papal Tiara.
The Connétable's thoughts went to Rome and the Red Hats sitting there and the prospect of another Medici's ruling in the Vatican. He dropped his tired face in his hands; he had forced his own character, done things against his better judgment and been driven to desperate action, while his mind was misted by fever.
"I think," he mused, "I should have done none of it had I been well."
He sat there out of all personal peril, ignominiously safe, with the future before him like a confused web spun out of blood and tears, and an odd unbidden picture came before his mind. It was of that heretic German monk, who had, for some years, troubled the world and had defied the great Pope Leo (now dead), calling, upon God, and who now was a prisoner in the Wartburg, translating the Latin Bible into the homely German tongue.
Charles had never thought much of this man, who seemed to him partly ignorant, partly spiteful—a presumptuous, stupid monk.
Now this figure of the coarse, heavy German who had dared to defy Rome came into his mind; he thought of the Diet of Worms held two years before and of the figure that this Martin Luther had made there. What had he said, that lonely man, faced by two hundred and four judges, the Emperor's six Electors, twenty-four Dukes, seven Margraves, thirty Prelates, seven ambassadors, and crowds of princes and deputies.
He was asked:
"Are these writings yours?"
"Will you retract them?"
And what had been his final words?
"Here am I. I cannot do otherwise, so help me God, Amen."
The Emperor, whom the Connétable of France was now bound to serve, had styled this monk a fiend in human form; but Charles de Bourbon, the weary fugitive, thought of him with envy and admiration.
"Could I have done as much? Could I have stood like that and defied them all? No, with my high position, my careful training, I had to fly like a dog that fears the whip."
He crushed out his candle with nervous fingers, and flung his arms across the table and rested his head on them so that the lank, black hair fell over his violet coat; and all his kin seemed to crowd about him—the women, the children and the old men, his young warlike brother, who lay in his father's grave in Naples—demanding of him what he had done with their heritage and their name and their possessions.
"But what hope have I, what chance, when I scarcely know what it is I wish to do? To serve the Emperor against the King of France, to bring down the King of France and Madame Louise, his mother?"
There was something ignoble about such ambitions—they did not warm his chilled and lifeless heart.
He remembered, as one in mid-winter may remember the daisies and the spring, those nobler hopes he had once had—to leave all these worldly gawds and retire with his wife to some castle, high among the pines end mountains that were his by long right; and to live there in the pure thin air among painters, sculptors, and writers of magnificent books, composing poetry, brooding over philosophy, educating his son, riding abroad in the early morning when the dew was on the firm grass, returning at night when the light was level across the fields where the clean sheep browsed; and so up to that mountain home where she, in her white gown with her little malformed shoulder raised under her fine veil, would be waiting.
It had not been such an impossible dream, but it had been snatched from him as a glass of wine may be snatched from thirsty lips and broken so that the liquor within is lost for ever.
"And so I must go on and take my place."
He thought with a stir about his heart of Rome, the golden ruins, the purple sky, the flight of doves and pigeons. Perhaps some day when all was over and he had kept his word to the Emperor, and fought for him, perhaps won battles for him, he would retire to Rome and live among those antique ruins within the sound of the church bells, within sight of the massive theatres and palaces, of the goats browsing on the Tarpeian Rock; live and die a hermit with shells in his hat and sandals on his feet, and repent of his sins with the memory of Suzanne in his heart—at peace, at peace for ever, in Rome, the Eternal, the Sacred City, which lay at the heart of the universe, as gold lies at the bottom of a crucible.
He put the dream aside and, sighing, faced his uncertain and toilsome future.
Misspent, fair rose, your tiny day
Within a candied sweet,
Your dainty beauty cast away,
That fools may sniff and eat.
Better far, your sister flower
Unpraised upon the tree,
Who sweetens the neglected hour,
That gains eternity.
THE great regret of Giulio de' Medici, Pope Clement VII, was that Raffaello was dead. Michael Angelo lived, but was sullen and out of humour with His Holiness, and only worked reluctantly to complete the great mausoleum in San Lorenzo. But Clement had Benvenuto Cellini in his service and Giulio Romano and other pupils of the Umbrian, and the Pope began again to continue the decoration of the Vatican apartments that had remained closed during the short, sad Pontificate of Adrian VI.
All the artists and craftsmen of Rome, who had believed themselves ruined while the ascetic Fleming who had abhorred art as a satanic device was on the Papal throne, now hastened to begin eagerly their beautiful labours.
Great chambers that Raffaello had begun were to be finished; Clement ordered Romano and his assistant to paint The Triumph of Constantine from the master's design.
The huge palace and the magnificent church that had been, under the Fleming, silent, save for the sound of prayers and the singing of holy chants, now resounded with the blows of hammers, the sound of chisels, and the quick footsteps and loud voices of the workmen hurrying to and fro with scaffolding, with carvings, with mortar and plaster, with all the paraphernalia of the arts of the decorator.
All Rome was glad that another Medici wore the Tiara in place of that sad saint who had cared nothing for the Bawds of this world.
Clement moved amid the splendour with his light step and his high-held, handsome, disagreeable face, his long black eyes and unpleasantly smiling lips, not altogether content though his ambitions had been so strangely gratified. He might have thought it beyond his furthest hopes that he, a bastard Medici, should have contrived, however highly he had bribed, to reach this height; but the thing was done and he was there, and he had no thought save to hold his position by using every possible shifty intrigue and treacherous device that he had learnt while in his uncle's service. He cared nothing for either Emperor or King; he meant to hold the balance between them and to see that if it tipped any way it would be into that which would be to the benefit of the House of Medici. No one trusted him and few liked him—but he was a Medici and magnificent.
At first he remained, outwardly at least, allied with the young Emperor, and it was with nervous dissatisfaction that he had learnt of the failure of the two expeditions; that of the Imperial Forces and that of the King of England, which had followed the conspiracy of the Connétable.
While the fugitive Charles had been at the Court of his cousin, the Marchese of Mantua, the English expedition had totally failed and had been led back to Calais by Suffolk; the Emperor had led his vast forces across the Pyrenees, but had been driven back by odet de Foix, Maréchal de Lautrec, who had repulsed him to the walls of Bayonne.
Irritated by having his mind distracted from his personal pleasures by these dull politics, Clement had waited anxiously for news of the movements of the French: François had remained at Lyons to stamp out the Bourbon conspiracy; Admiral Bonnivet in command of the French Army had crossed the Ticino; Bourbon, coming down from Mantua, where his aunt thought him "very handsome and very melancholy" and condoled with him in all his misfortunes, was given the command of the Imperial troops.
The Duchy of Milan had been again lost to France, and when Clement had found himself Pope, affairs had been going so well for the Emperor that there had been no occasion for His Holiness to hesitate as to which side he should secretly and not openly support.
Charles de Bourbon had been sent on an expedition into Provence to take Marseilles, that spring of 1524, and while the Pope was occupied with recommencing the work in the Vatican, he was waiting for the dispatches which would inform him of the fall of the great Provençal town.
Clement remembered the Frenchman at Bologna when they had together watched the comedy in the painted salon. He felt no sympathy for him, for he had no warm feelings to give any man, being cold-hearted and wholly selfish; but he considered that the Connétable was a good soldier and also a great noble who had been deeply wronged, and that both his generalship and his hatred might be useful to the Emperor and therefore to Rome.
When Clement looked abroad he saw many troubles that caused his smooth and haughty brow to frown peevishly. There was that ex-monk Martin Luther, who had at length thrown off his monk's habit and defied the Church of Rome—little matter for that, Rome was used to dealing with half-witted fanatics, but this Martin Luther numbered his supporters by hundreds, by thousands; Papal envoys placed all over Europe sent daily reports to Clement of the intrigues of these heretics, who might be compared to locusts over Europe, eating up the fresh green corn and sucking the sweet honey that should have been the perquisites of Holy Church.
Clement suspected everyone; he felt hostile towards the young Emperor—a strong, hard-working, sincere and simple man; he disliked and envied the magnificent King of France with his long, foxy face, and his sly, treacherous mother, and it had given him some pleasure to bring out the marble group of "The Laocoön" from the chamber where Leo had hidden it and so let the King know that it was but a copy that he showed so boastfully at Fontainebleau.
The Pope was vexed at the failure of the Bourbon conspiracy; it had made the King of France so much more powerful, because he had been able to annex, on the Connétable's flight, all his vast estates thus destroying the last of the great feudal lords and consolidating the Kingdom of France. Clement envied all the Bourbon treasures, which François had confiscated, the superb library, the gorgeous tapestry, the caskets of jewels, the carvings and statues, the suits of armour, the horses and dogs—all the accumulated grandeur that the House of Bourbon had gathered during generations had been divided between the boastful, extravagant King and his avaricious, wanton mother.
Clement had lifted his haughty lips at that news; he despised the Connétable for not having been able to play the game better.
"You have been trained so discreetly, you have been fooled so utterly, you have fallen so low from such a height! You must have been," thought de Medici coldly, "imprudent, foolish, weak."
Who was it that Charles had trusted too much; how had his plans, devised so carefully with the King of England, with the Emperor—gone so wrong?
The Medici pressed the tips of his long, delicate fingers together, and thought with scorn of all these men; he was so safe in Rome, so supreme; he was able to play them all off one against another—King, Emperor, Connétable, and that Englishman who meddled so clumsily in European affairs.
The Pope had left Cellini's workshop, where he had viewed with a deep and serene satisfaction all the rich and gorgeous objects that his goldsmith had completed—brooches as large as saucers, goblets of rock crystal, a piece of unicorn's horn set with squares of gold and silver, pins with emerald heads, daggers. One by one he had taken them up in his delicate perfumed hands and put them down again; he had said nothing, but through his mind had always gone the triumphant thought: "I am the Medici, I am the Pope. Here in Rome I am safe, creating my own splendour, spinning it out of my own bowels as the spider spins the web, not to be harmed or threatened, while outside the walls of Rome lesser men play their stupid, bloody games."
Clement loved pageantry as much as Leo had loved it; anything in the way of a show or a spectacle diverted him so that he forgot all serious matters; he liked masquerades and costly suppers, bullfights, processions of triumphal cars, and regattas on the yellow waters of the Tiber; he even, like Leo too, enjoyed seeing the diversions of the people, the rolling of barrels, with fat pigs inside, down the long slope of the grass-grown mound near the Porta San Sebastiano. How amusing it was to see the peasants fighting for the casks and their contents as they bumped on the sward at the bottom of this hill! Clement enjoyed every moment of Carnival-time and had revived that Tuscan spectacle which had so pleased Leo—a battle of oranges—when the Papal lackeys in a wooden fortress defended themselves with the golden fruit against another party who attacked them similarly armed.
The new Pope had himself designed cars for the triumphal processions through the narrow streets of Rome—one of them had shown in symbolic figures Italy, another the Tiber, another the she-wolf of Rome, and yet another Alexander the Great.
Michael Angelo, Cellini, Giulio Romano, and other artists had designed the costumes for these pageants. The Pope liked anything that was scarlet and purple, that was clasped with jewels; he admired handsome caps that had long feathers and diamonds or pearls pendent on the forehead; he was passionately interested in the grotesque and odd, and nothing pleased him better than a visit to the Papal menagerie, where he kept the elephant sent by the King of Portugal, and two camels, as well as lions and tigers beautiful as Fame.
On this glorious day of high summer the Pope, dismissing all sordid cares from his mind, went to inspect the apartment which contained Raffaello's pictures and where Giulio Romano was then working. He knew them all by heart, these splendid frescoes that contained representations of all the Pagan deities and all the Christian virtues, and portraits of every notable personage who had adorned the Court of Julius II or Leo X. Giulio Romano was completing the great picture of The Triumph of Constantine from the designs of the master. When the Pope, making a sign to the workmen to take no notice of his presence, stepped behind the artist, he thought again with a pang of deep emotion:
"If only Raffaello had lived!"
This friendship with the Umbrian painter seemed to him the most beautiful event in his life—he was proud to think that it was for him, when he had been Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, that Raffaello had painted his last picture, The Transfiguration, which had been carried in silent procession through the streets of Rome to the painter's tomb in the Pantheon after it had stood in his death-chamber; the Cardinal had ordered the picture for the Cathedral Church at Narbonne, when he had been appointed to that bishopric; now he intended that it should never leave Rome.
He stood, elegant and silent, leaning on his secretary's shoulder and watching the glowing figures, still glistening with wet paint, which seemed to move across the wall of the spacious chamber known as the Hall of Constantine. He looked so earnestly at that crowd of Christian and Pagan warriors mounted on their prancing, feathered horses that he seemed to lose himself in those ancient days. He identified himself with these ancient heroes and thought of himself as greater than he was, as indeed greater than any man could be. Giulio Romano was glorifying him in many pictures—he was to be seen in the Baptism of Constantine, disguised as Pope Sylvester; not only were these unparalleled pictures to celebrate the secular pride and power of the Pontiff, and the great glories of the House of Medici, but they were to celebrate him—the bastard Giulio, Clement Septimus, Pontifex Maximus.
How different were these days from those two miserable years when the saintly old Adrian had lived on a ducat a day in one of the most obscure of the apartments in the Vatican, attended by no one but an old Flemish hag!
Clement looked round upon the splendid salon, and his black, almond eyes became drowsy with pleasure. He was, like his uncle, chaste, and had no vices; temperate in all his habits, he loved only splendour; he intended that the Vatican should be again as it once had been—the centre for hunts, for feasts, for music, for jests, for everything that was gay and beautiful and strange.
With a gracious sign to the artists to continue their work, Clement proceeded to an antechamber and looked at the gorgeous pair of carved doors on which were being cut his curious emblem the rays of the sun falling in full splendour on a crystal globe that stood on a pedestal marked with the words Candor Illaesus, and passing hence so as to set fire to a tree in full leaf.
This device, which had been invented by the Pope's treasurer, was to show that Clement's candour of mind would render him proof against the slanders of his enemies. Clement's cold lips curved into a little smile as he placed his strong fingers over the sharp wood. He thought of the grey mausoleum in San Lorenzo, not with dread or melancholy but with eagerness and delight; he wished to erect a library near by to contain the magnificent collections of books and manuscripts that had been left him by his uncle, Leo X. He wished that Michael Angelo, whom he admired so deeply, would show more interest in this work. As he had said in a letter of instruction to the artist:
Thou art aware that Popes are short-lived, and we are all eagerness to behold the chapel with the monument of our race, or at least to learn of its completion. So also with the library; therefore we rely on thy diligence to perform our commands. Be assured that commissions and rewards will never be lacking during our lifetime.
But he was yet young, not fifty years of age, and he intended to see his own tomb completed by the hands of Michael Angelo in his own lifetime; and Clement, as he touched his own armorial bearings, thought with deep joy of the day when he would see put into place the two great statues that Michael Angelo had already finished, those of Lorenzo and Giuliano.
Dismissing this excitement from his mind, the Pope proceeded to an apartment that he intended to see completed. It was the bath-chamber of Cardinal Bibbiena, that witty, learned, charming man who had been dead four years and whose bathroom, which was to have been the most delicious of all the gorgeous chambers in the Vatican, had never been completed. Bernardo Dovizi, Cardinal Bibbiena, had begged of Raffaello to decorate for him a chamber on the model of those that had been found in the Imperial Palace of the Palatine, and the painter had taken great interest in the bathroom, providing the designs, and even touching them with his own hand.
Clement went to this apartment alone save for the secretary, on whose shoulders he negligently leaned. He liked to look down on his own hands, which lay on the young man's violet robe and on which dully shone a large ring of sardonyx, designed by Cellini.
The bathroom of the Cardinal was adorned with Raffaello's most exquisite art in paintings that represented the story of Venus and Cupid. The bath itself was of translucent marble, and by the Pope's orders large alabaster jars of roses had been placed beneath the fair, fresh paintings; these flowers, trembling in the sunlight that fell straight from the small windows, moved and fluttered like butterflies at rest and seemed to pass in and out of the painted flowers of the decoration; the figures of the beautiful women and the lovely children seemed by this means to have a kind of transient light also.
The Cardinal, who knew no fleshly lusts and was stirred by no gross desires, was moved into a cold delight when he saw this beauty, pure of line and pale of colour, that took his soul away from the crudities, grossnesses, and troubles of everyday into those Pagan times that he would like to have dwelt in.
Agostino Chigi, the most magnificent man in Rome, had been so envious, when he saw this bath-chamber, that he had asked Raffaello to design the story of Cupid, Psyche, and Venus for the frieze of the hall in his villa on the Tiber; but the great Sienese banker had not such a treasure in his possession as this bathroom of the Cardinal. How lamentable it was that the master had died so young!
"If I had been Pope then," thought Clement, "I should not have worked him so hard. He should not have undertaken to do all those villas, fountains, and designs for other men. He should have worked for me, and me alone—he would have been alive now and he and I should have sat for hours together planning other chambers in the Vatican as beautiful as this."
The charm and harmony of the delicate figures on the walls passed into the Pope's own being; he forgot the Emperor and the King of France and the news that he was waiting for of the siege of Marseilles. He forgot the constant necessity of scheming, of plotting, of lying and setting one man against the other; he forgot all his envious dislikes of those who crossed or questioned him; and he stood there smiling, his long hand with the clean jewel moving very faintly up and down to the rhythm of a man's deep sighing.
How beautiful it was, how much beauty there was in the world! He was surprised that men concerned themselves with anything else—this bathroom, those paintings, Venus tying her sandal, Cupid driving a snail, a butterfly, the water, the light through the fine white pillars, the varieties of roses, their petals scattered on the clear, tessellated pavements! Clement mused on other works that he would undertake—yes, he would build more bridges, he would drain marshes, he would excavate and restore some of the ancient fanes and temples, he would set gilded angels above the churches and gold and silver altars within them; the world should remember that Giulio de' Medici had been Pontiff in Rome. He thought of the city with a pride that was stronger than affection; a Florentine himself, he had become Roman of the Romans in his arrogant delight in the Papal City.
Bramante was dead, and Michael Angelo was sullen; Raffaello was dead and Giulio Roman was not as fine an artist; Cellini lived, and was a genius, but only worked at small things; ah, well, with what he had, he, Clement VII, would create much splendour.
He continued to look at the fine and airy figures that moved in their graceful chaste dignity round the wall of the Cardinal's bathroom, and his long, black eyes behind the heavy fringed lashes grew hard with nostalgia. It was curious not to belong to this modern world, but always to walk in spirit the slopes of Parnassus or of Mount Ida.
He sighed and walked negligently out of the bathroom, ordering the door to be kept locked—locked, and special attention given to the paintings, which were not to be touched by the hand of pupil or copyist.
There were dispatches waiting for him when he reached his closet. The Connétable, who had not been supported by either the Emperor or the King of England, had raised the siege of Marseilles and retreated into Italy.
The Pope looked out beyond his purple silk curtain at the brilliant sunshine over Rome; the delicate figure of Venus tying her sandal was present in his mind, blotting out the disagreeable news from France.
"How weak he is!" he thought contemptuously of Charles. "What a failure! Not even a good general Why could he not take Marseilles?"
Clement went to the window. The summer air was lustrous; it seemed to have a sheen like silk; it was perfumed with scents of ripe fruit, of flowers opening their hearts to the sun.
Through such rich, sweet air had moved the Venus of Raffaello's imagining, with her amber-coloured tresses in knots above her pale brow, treading the blue violets and the pink cyclamen amid the groves of the Palatine, when the yellow stone palaces and temples had been unbroken and the sacred groves unprofaned.
The Pope sighed.
Steel and flame the battle ran
About the forts of Pavia town
Above the woe of horse and man
The barren poplar trees shake down
Pure drops of melting snow
on trampled flag and fallen crown
And quick death riding to and fro.
MEN and money—men and money. These three words were imprinted on the Connétable's mind, they never left his consciousness day or night, they marched through his dreams. Since he had begun to lead a life of such energetic action, all his former days, even his early campaign—vigorous enough in themselves had seemed to be very far away.
He would pause suddenly in some of his toils—perhaps riding a great warrior horse or a strong mule, or sitting at his bureau, or reviewing his men—to see, as in a glimpse taken slantwise through a narrow window, those old days: the Duchess Anne, the Duchess Suzanne, the dead children, the fields of the Bourbonnais covered with daisies; then again it would go and he could hardly believe that it had ever been.
Locking down into the palm of his gloved hand it would be sometimes as if he looked into a window and saw those two dead women and himself, quiet, elegant figures in the library at Moulins, turning over the great books enamelled with flowers and armorial bearings; sometimes he would see it through a page of a dispatch or flashed for a second on a sunset cloud—the old days! He was fighting with every nerve to regain his ancient possessions, his beautiful estates, his magnificent castles, his furniture, his jewels. He had heard with a most bitter indignation how Madame Louise with a cavalcade of wanton women had ridden down to Moulins and amused themselves by taking out of the presses the garments of his dead wife and mother-in-law, and attiring themselves in the ermine and vair, and trying on the coronets and pearls which the Duchess Suzanne had worn; and even, so he had been told, amusing themselves by rocking with their elegant feet the little cradle in which his son had slept for those few brief months during which he had sojourned on earth.
Yes, he was working for the return of his possessions, but he knew in his heart that even if by some stroke of fortune he wrested everything back again from the King of France, he would never bring back those old days of peace with the two women whom he had loved and who had loved him.
He was astonished sometimes at his own coldness. Why was it impossible for him to love any other woman beside Suzanne, with the white linen round her head and the raised shoulder, the narrow chest, and the thin, pinched face that was yet lovely as a pearl? Pearls and daisies! They always mingled in his mind with thoughts of his dead wife.
But these visions were fragmentary, seen now and then, and then lost, as a petal thrust on a stormy ocean may be glimpsed for a second, then disappear beneath the foam until a turn of the wavelets casts it up further along the tempest-strewn coast.
But these three words—men and money, men and money—were with him always.
François was besieging Pavia. All the fortune of the war was gathered there, as once it had been gathered round Milan. Things went ill for the Emperor, as if Bourbon had brought misfortune instead of help to the Imperial cause: François had made a secret alliance with the Pope, Venice, and Florence; and the young Emperor, resolute, hard-living, chaste, impatient, expressed himself with sharp wrath when he heard of the treachery of the Medici, whom he had raised to the Papal throne.
To Charles V, well trained by his wise and virtuous, pious and honourable aunt, Marguerite of Savoy, such behaviour as that of the bastard Medici, who wore the Tiara, was incomprehensible. The Connétable, cool and implacable as the master whom he had never seen, resolved to raise the siege of Pavia, that great city by the rapid waters of the Ticino that had defied the hordes of Theodoric and Charlemagne.
The splendid, famous city occupied the imagination of Charles de Montpensier as if she had been a woman, a queen, and he her lover; he thought often of her, with her towers, her bastions, her moats, her walls, her citadels and palaces, her fortified gates and draw-bridges—and he vowed in his reserved soul that she should not fall into the hands of France, whose gay army lay encamped beyond the city walls, in those luxurious domains that travellers had termed an earthly paradise: the grounds of the splendid Abbey of San Lanfranco, the park of Bergaretto, and the beautiful grounds of Mirabello with its charming pleasure-houses—which were, however, strongly fortified—which the Dukes of Milan had once used as a hunting-box.
Charles de Bourbon, working to gather men and money in Germany and Switzerland, had spent many hours studying on paper the position of the King of France as it had been brought to him by spies. François lay to the west of the city between the rapid river and the stout walls; with him was his favourite, the luxurious and flattering Guillaume de Gouffier, Admiral de Bonnivet, the Bastard of Savoy, and the major portion of his forces.
In the suburb of San Antonio was the Maréchal de Montmorency, who had with him three thousand Switzers, two thousand Italians, a thousand Corsicans, and two thousand men-at-arms.
The gorgeous park at Mirabello was occupied by the King's brother-in-law, the Duke d'Alençon; the forces of the King thus completely invested the city; her proud churches, her splendid University, her rich palaces rose from behind her walls clasped by the conqueror yet still inviolate.
To save Pavia meant more to Charles de Bourbon than the mere rescue of an Italian town from the French forces. He believed that if he could defeat the King at this point it would mean the turn of all his own fortune and be a long step towards the recovery of his estates. He believed also, and this to his reserved proud and shy soul was more important, that he would thus prove to the Emperor that though he had come to him a beggar, a landless man, a mercenary, he was not without his worth as a soldier and a general.
The Connétable's great faith was in Antonio de Leyva, the Spanish Governor of Pavia, who had sent him by one of his secret messengers a dispatch declaring that he would never surrender. This general was a man of great sagacity, courage, and resolution; he had neglected no details that might help him in his task; to his garrison of five thousand German mercenaries, five hundred Spanish soldiers, three hundred men-at-arms, and two hundred light cavalry, he had added all the male inhabitants, organized into a strong Militia.
He had ably and energetically fortified the city, and—that which gave Charles de Bourbon most satisfaction—he had driven off the French attack when François had endeavoured to take the place by assault, opening trenches, bringing up his big cannon, and throwing all his forces on to the broken walls as his balls demolished them.
Despite, however, the French cannon, the ramparts were manned by the German mercenaries with pikes ten feet long, and so vigorous was their defence that the French retired with devastating loss.
Upon this failure the French King had thought of a daring plan; it was to turn the Ticino from its bed, block up the water with stones and earth, and enter Pavia by the south walls, which were not fortified, as de Leyva had trusted at this point to the defence of the river. This plan also came to nothing, for a great storm of rain arose as the French engineers finished their labours; the river rose in flood and carried away their earthwork and returned once more to flow rapidly round the unconquered walls of Pavia.
It was after this setback that François had sat down to reduce the garrison of Pavia by famine, and increased his blockading forces by five thousand foot-soldiers from the Grisons.
The Connétable knew that the French army was probably the finest in Europe. The King had with him many notable captains; among them was a poor Prince of the House of Medici, Giovanni delle Bande Nere, a mercenary soldier of a high reputation. He served anywhere that he thought his interests lay; and he had made a good bargain with the King of France, who was paying him ten thousand crowns a month and lavish pay for his Black Bands for his services outside Pavia.
But the haughty prince had sent back the Collar of St. Michael which the King of France had sent him, and torn up the agreement that had made provision for himself and his soldiers and his wife because he did not wish to bind himself for more than a short term to serve any man; he was following in secret the wishes of the Pope, who had told him to fight for the King of France.
In the Vatican was his skilful wife, Maria Salviati, with her little son Cosimo; the Pope petted them and filled the ambitious young woman with promises, while he gave the boy horses splendidly equipped with purple silks, and presents of money. But what the wife of Giovanni de Medici most needed—an estate for her husband, herself, and her son—the Pope withheld.
This brutal young captain was with the King of France in the palace of Mirabello, defending the Ticino on the west of the camp and helping to drive back the sallies of the garrison. He had also, for he was unscrupulous and callous, amused himself by burning all the surrounding villages and slaying anything that might live on the long marshes which undulated across the plains of Lombardy.
The Connétable was enduring every manner of personal hardship while he heard of the extravagant gaiety which was taking place in the royal camp outside Pavia; from the plains of Piedmont and Lombardy supplies were continually arriving so that there was no scarcity among the soldiers who followed the oriflamme of France. The great park of the Dukes of Milan was like a fair and a pleasure-ground in one; the Abbey was fitted up as apartments for the princes and captains. The King of France lived with as much splendour as if he had been in Fontainebleau, with his gold and his silver vessels, his pages and his white horses trapped in white and scarlet, with his masques, gambling, and plays of every kind; every night there was some manner of entertainment or pageant, and de Bourbon smiled to himself when he heard how Madame Clarice Visconti had allowed herself to be carried down in a litter of saffron-coloured silk and golden carving to be shown to the King of France, to whom Bonnivet had boasted of her beauty.
Charles knew of the other scene that was taking place within the splendid, besieged city; everyone there was starving, every horse, mule and ass had been eaten. The winter was bitterly cold, but there was no fuel for firing after every unoccupied house and even some of the churches had been pulled down for the sake of the beams, the planks, and the panelling.
The Switzers were on the verge of mutinying because their pay was overdue; Antonio de Leyva, who had borrowed to the last farthing from the wealthy inhabitants of the city, had sacrificed his own one possession—the heavy gold chain he wore across his breast.
Charles heard that even the sacred treasures in the churches had been taken and melted down, that the famous silver maces of the University had been sacrificed; still it was not enough, nay, not even though on one occasion three thousand ducats had been smuggled through the French forces, and on another occasion forty horsemen, each with a bag of gunpowder, had managed to skirt the feasting and the lights in the park of Mirabello to cross the wintry woods and slip into the beleaguered town.
The keen cold held into February; the low clouds were lead-coloured over the frozen marshy plains of Lombardy. Charles de Bourbon heard now this news, that Giovanni de Medici had been wounded in a sortie, shot by one of the modern firearms that he so despised, and been carried down the Po from Pavia to Piacenza.
But the loss of this captain made little difference to the garrison of Pavia, now, as the Connétable knew, reduced to the last extremity; but a little incident gained them a short respite.
The Swiss from the Grisons who were in the service of the King of France heard that their great fortress at Phiavenna on the lake at Como had been taken by some of the Emperor's men. Summoned home by this disaster, the Swiss turned at once, although François had just paid them; no threat or appeal was of any avail; they marched away from the gorgeous camp at Mirabello towards their own threatened country.
De Leyva, having heard of this, made a sortie with his gaunt and desperate horsemen and harried the Swiss as they left the French camp, and even succeeded in carrying off some of their baggage, which contained food and powder. This relief was sufficient to enable him to hold out for another few days; he continued to pace the battlements and to pray for the sight of the banners of Charles de Bourbon.
Men and money, men and money. Charles had at length obtained both. The hard-pressed young Emperor had sent him some supplies and he had engaged the services of the famous Switzers under Georg Frundsberg, Prince of Mindelheim, and those of the Archduke Ferdinand, and with these men in the still, black cold of winter he crossed the Alps and reached the camp at Lodi before the last day of the year.
He had no hope in any man save himself and those whom he might command. Again the King of England had failed to keep his promise to invade the North of France. The Emperor, in whom Charles still believed and trusted, could do no more than he had done.
The Connétable took an austere and poignant pleasure in his own self-reliance, in the difficulty and peril of the things he did; he had his moments of exaltation as he rode through those narrow, rocky defiles where the snow lay thick, and saw the lines of the sturdy men-at-arms, their faces blackened by dirt and frost, their armour tarnished, their banners hanging limply in the thin mountain air. Always before his mind was Pavia circled by the luxurious, laughing armies of King François; in his brain beat the words "Men and money. If I can only keep them together, if I can only pay them, if I can only get there in time!"
He had not reached Lodi before his soldiers were clamouring for pay that was already in arrears. Twelve thousand Germans! A force almost equal to that which the King of France commanded! But if he could not obtain the money to pay them...
He pushed on at once. A battle would be as good as pay, and if there was a victory, the question of money would be decided. The last message that had come from the commander of the garrison of Pavia was shown by Bourbon to his fellow commander, Ferdinando d'Alvalos, Marchese de Pescara.
"We are not ordinary men, nor in an ordinary situation," said Charles de Bourbon, "and we must do an extraordinary thing."
So he broke up his camp at Lodi before the end of the month, though the weather was ice-bound, the clouds low, grey, and looking as cold, as heavy as iron, while the shrill wind whistled over the icy marshes and the deep gloom of nature seemed reflected in all this grim panoply of war.
The three generals, the Marchese de Pescara, Charles de Lannoy (Viceroy of Naples), and Charles de Bourbon, reviewed their troops. They had twenty thousand foot-soldiers, seven hundred men-at-arms, and a few pieces of artillery. The Germans were under command of Frundsberg, a princely giant, who was like one of his native mountains, rugged, serene, majestic; whose men loved him and who loved them; a fanatic Protestant, though a mercenary soldier who would fight for anyone who paid him. Along train of baggage waggons followed this stern, tired host as they moved across the bitter marshes. On their way they took the town and fortress of Sant' Angelo, then moved northward to Belgiojoso, and encamped on the east of the city; short of food, of money, but determined and inflexible.
François I did not lose his gay confidence; he did not think that Charles de Bourbon and his Swiss mercenaries could relieve Pavia. He wrote to his mother that the relieving army, by merely marching round, could not make Pavia hold out, "as I know that the besieged have not tasted wine, meat, or cheese for a month and have exhausted all their powder".
For three weeks the two armies remained in camp close to each other, wrapped in the harsh veils of winter sleet and snow, and clouds that seemed to come so low that they touched the tent-poles and the wet, sagging banners.
Charles de Bourbon could not long avoid battle, for the German mercenaries were brusquely demanding their pay; but it was to the Imperialists' interests to fight and to the interests of François not to fight, and the astute envoy of Clement VII advised him to hold his hand. But the gay, subtle, and flattering Bonnivet urged the King to go into battle and gain personal glory and renown, as Louis XII did at Agnadello, as Charles VIII did at Taro...
"And as you yourself, sacred Majesty, did at Marignano".
On February 4, 1525, which was the birthday of the Emperor, a messenger from the Connétable contrived to get into Pavia in the name of the Imperial Commanders; he asked de Leyva to second the attack of the relieving force when he should hear two cannon shots; he was asked to place five thousand men-at-arms ready for a sortie; they were to put on white shirts or white cloths outside their armour, that they might recognize each other in the murk of the winter night.
That same night the Connétable, wearing a suit of silver, which shone more brightly than any white of cloth, over his own armour, rode along the ranks of the German mercenaries and Switzers and told them that he had no longer food nor wine to give them, but urged them for the honour of the Empire to fight well, and told them that when they had won they would find everything in abundance in the French camp; he reminded them that five thousand Germans were shut up and starving in Pavia.
As he rode up and down, speaking these words, matters that had nothing to do with what he said went through his mind; the possibility that he might die tomorrow, the wonder if death meant reunion with Suzanne, the sense of the blasting cold chilling his blood, the sense of the wind, carried in the darkness, whistling in his ears, a certain amazement that he should be here now doing this.
He could not see Pavia that he had come so far to save, nor the brilliant forces that beleaguered her, nor any star, for the midnight clouds were dense; the torches and lanterns showed him the ranks of the men whom he had brought through the winter to save Pavia, their bearded faces, slashed and padded coats, polished armour and heavy weapons. This yellow, flickering light showed him also pockets of snow in the ruts of the trampled ground, flakes of snow on the great gloves he wore, on his horse's ears and on his saddle-bow.
A flare of tawny light through the bare trees showed where François was encamped in Mirabello. When Charles paused to listen he could hear the strains of music coming from the houses where the French officers lay, and the sound of the Imperialist engineers demolishing the massive walls of the park.
The snow increased; by the reluctant, grey dawn the air was full of fine flakes that turned to water as they fell.
Charles learned that the breach in the walls was now large enough for a column of men to pass through, and he ordered the vanguard of three thousand men under Charles de Lannoy to advance across the park towards the hunting-box and pavilions where the French lodged.
These troops found these buildings deserted; empty and desolate they stood in the colourless grey light. Beyond them, behind sturdy fortifications, were the French and their allies in battle array, Swiss, English, and the Black Bands under the Duke of Lorraine and the Duke of Suffolk.
The French artillery threw back the vanguard and prevented their making a junction with the sally expected from Pavia; but as the Imperialists hesitated, de Lannoy, making the sign of the Cross on his heart, stood up in his stirrups and shouted out "There is no hope but in God! Follow me and do as I do!"
At this moment he was reinforced by the Marchese de Pescara with some of the German mercenaries, and the wavering line of Imperialists straightened and moved forward against the French fire. The snow ceased, blown northward by a low wind that cast icy drippings off the boughs of the bare poplar trees in the park and fluttered the plumes and scarves of the soldiers; the Imperial banner on the citadel of Pavia was lifted skyward and the lowering clouds split across a pale golden sky.
Into the mêlée beneath the walls of Pavia moved the King of France with all his chivalry, knights, men-at-arms, and companies of foot. With dashing impetuosity and little cries of excitement he set his lance in rest and drove at the enemy, his feathers and wreath, his mantle and sash, streaming in the murky air behind him; his thrust, skilfully directed, brought down the leader of the light cavalry opposed to him, and as he saw through his visor the plunging horses and reeling men, he cried out:
"Now indeed, I am Duke of Milan!"
Like a bolt of wild fire flying and flaring across a plain brittle from drought, the chivalry of France flashed across the ranks of the Imperialists in the park of Mirabello, while the rift in the torn clouds widened and a wan sunlight slanted down on the struggling hosts.
A messenger brought the news to Charles de Bourbon when he advanced with Georg Frundsberg and Swiss mercenaries:
"De Lannoy and Pescara fall back—the King of France drives all before him!"
Defeat! Charles thought what defeat would men to him, a shameful death if captured, or, if he fled across the ice-bound marshes to safety, the cold young Emperor to face, who would receive him with pity, possibly contempt. He looked up at the thick, grey clouds that were falling apart either side of the yellow space of sky and, riding beside Frundsberg, led the best-trained soldiers in Europe towards the park of Mirabello.
The news of the French success had revived all his hatred of François. He cried out to Frundsberg:
"I have heard much of your men; let me see how they fight!"
With the steady drive of a great engine of war, the famous Swiss followed Frundsberg and the Connétable through the breach in the walls of Mirabello and flung themselves straight at François and his nearly victorious ranks, now increased by the advance of the Black Bands under Lorraine and Suffolk.
As the Spanish arquebusiers brought down the French lancers, the cold air became tainted with the smell of powder and flecked by the flash of fire; Charles looked through the press for François and saw him in his surtout with the fleurs de lis. He had thrown away his lance and swung a great sword, while he shouted to the gentlemen about him who tried to manage their snorting, rearing horses with blood-filled nostrils.
The Connétable pressed on. Fighting every step of the way, the Black Bands fell back before the onslaught of Frundsberg's Swiss; the clouds, as if they too were in conflict, closed over the yellow rift, extinguishing the pallid moon; the snow began to fall again, outlining the branches of the bare trees, whirling in front of the bleeding, furious faces of the fighting men, sinking into the trampled, bloody ground.
Charles peered through his vizor at a little strip of brilliant colour and violent movement; he was looking for the King. Through the neighing of the horses, struggling in their armour, and the shouts in many tongues, Charles heard distant trumpets.
"De Leyva!" he cried to Frundsberg, who, unmoved amid the tumult, continued to urge on his men. The Spanish Captain, with the entire garrison of Pavia, had flung himself out of the blockaded town, full on the flanks of the French, whose forces were already broken by the Imperialists.
"The King!" cried Charles, when he saw this turn. "Find the King!"
He plunged his rearing horse forward into the scattered hosts of France that now, doubly beset, retreated as best they could, some taking to flight across the scattered dead and wounded, under the wind-smitten trees, towards the icy river.
François shouted to his God and to his soldiers when he heard the Spanish trumpets sounding from Pavia, when he saw the Swiss closing round him; but the ranks of French chivalry that pressed round him thinned; one great shining figure after another fell from the startled and bleeding horses and was trampled into the ground, encased in useless, stifling armour.
The King himself was wounded in hand and face, so that he saw everything through blood and snow, and his own blood ran down his sword. His great warrior-steed was shot beneath him and dropped, pitching the King off the high, steel-protected saddle. The Spaniards and Germans clustered round him, shouting out to him to surrender. François, whose helmet had fallen off, shook his head, smiling, and some of the Switzers, angry at his obstinacy, pressed on him threateningly; the Spaniards seized him and tore his surcoat of silver, embroidered with fleurs de lis, from his armour and, rending it into shreds, divided it among themselves in memory of the fight in the park of Mirabello.
Seeing this confusion and guessing its cause, the Viceroy de Lannoy rode up, forcing his way through the shouting press and, flinging himself from his horse, dragged the King from the ground, where he lay, harried by the Switzers and holding his arm above his face to protect it from the Spaniards, who shouted to him:
"Who are you?" gasped François, struggling with his captor.
"Charles de Lannoy, Viceroy of Naples. Sire, I receive you as the Emperor's prisoner..."
François smiled round at the enemies who closed in on him, then, exhausted and half fainting, fell on to the shoulder of de Lannoy, who snatched his sword from his feeble hand. The shouts of the Switzers, "Victory! Victory!" rose hoarsely above the cries and groans of the battle. A scurry of snow fell, and the hurrying clouds flew low as if they were pressing on the shuddering tops of the bare trees.
"Do not take me into Pavia," said François, leaning heavily on de Lannoy; his natural gaiety was overcast by his extreme humiliation, his face twitched under the blood and dirt that encrusted it. "Do not show me to those people whom I tried to starve."
"Sire" replied de Lannoy, "I shall take you to the monastery of Saint Pol, which is the best shelter our camp can afford."
Charles de Bourbon, with an escort of Frundsberg's Switzers, came riding up, searching here and there in the confusion for the King of France. He halted when he saw de Lannoy on foot, holding up the tall man on whose dinted armour hung the tattered fleur de lis in shreds of silver.
The two met under a massive poplar that shook the snow from erect branches. Charles the Connétable sprang from his horse, threw the reins to one of the Switzers, and stammered: "The Majesty of France!"
"Fallen low today, cousin," smiled François, clapping his hand to his swordless side.
"Sire, it is the chance of battle," said Charles. "You are now the Emperor's guest—"
"His captive!" François moved away from de Lannoy, and his long eyes glittered as he raised his high, wide shoulders in the broken armour. A drummer, sprawled in the slush, lay dying under the poplar tree; the furious sounds of the battle were fused in one clamour above the trampled park; two riderless horses galloped past, splashing the King, de Lannoy, and the Connétable with cold mud and shreds of ice cast up from the fouled ground.
"I am the Emperor's man," said Charles de Bourbon, not with triumph, but with ironic acceptance of his destiny.
"We have caged the fox, not tamed him," said de Lannoy. "It is a mighty stroke of good fortune; it remains for the Emperor to turn it to account." He glanced at the melancholy reserve of the Connétable. "You, at least, monseigneur, will be able to dictate terms to François de Valois—all your possessions and honours will be restored to you."
"I think of what he cannot restore to me," said Charles; he did not voice his great longing for peace, for repose, but his elegant hands, tired from the battle, newly washed and rubbed with aromatics, closed together in an attitude of prayer. "I am glad that I have now proved of some worth to the Emperor, that I brought up the Switzers in time to save Pavia."
"You will have the Emperor's sister," said de Lannoy, "and the Pope's blessing."
Charles thought how little he cared for either the strange woman or the benediction of the Medici; he was angry with himself because he could not value more all that it was possible for him to gain.
"I shall be too well rewarded," he smiled. He put a napkin over his arm and took up a flagon of silver-gilt that had come from Pescara's baggage. "I must serve this King as cup-bearer."
"You will find him good company, he has recovered his spirits and flatters everyone."
"How shallow he is! How frivolous!"
"Yet he has courage, too; he must know that he is ruined."
"Is he ruined?" asked Charles shrewdly. "He has those two subtle women in France who work for him—and the Pope, this Medici, will he be pleased if the Emperor grows too great?"
"Whatever comes," smiled de Lannoy, "we have gained the victory at Pavia."
Across the narrow windows of the Abbey the snow fell in large flakes, driven slantwise by the intermittent northern wind, as Charles went down into the monks' refectory, where the captive King supped before a great wood fire, and the light of church candles wavered on the rough walls.
His Hatred of François was not lessened by his victory; the laughing, easy, false Prince seemed to Charles as dangerous now as he had ever been—"Yet he is ruined and must ransom himself with whatever the Emperor asks."
The victor of Pavia mused in the cross-lights and shadows of the monks' hall where the vanquished King sat amid his enemies at the long trestle table.
François was laughing loudly, as if at a jest, and as Charles looked at him he felt as if he were the defeated captain and the gay young Valois triumphant. Charles looked at the cold darkness beyond the window and wished himself away from this victory.
Women set traps, here is mine
Made from my beauty's grace
That I may see my Cèsar shine
Fair in a Kingly glace.
CHARLES DE BOURBON looked at the great lady with a poignant curiosity and an interest that surprised himself. She had been familiar to him since they had been children together, and often he had entertained her at Moulins; but now she and circumstances were changed. He, too, was another man, he thought, from the Prince who had played the host to Marguerite d'Alençon, the King's sister, the daughter of the woman who ruined the House of Bourbon.
Louise of Savoy, as Regent of France, had sent her daughter to Spain as Ambassadress to negotiate for the release of her son; Charles could understand the motive behind this move. The Emperor, twenty-five years of age, was to be flattered, seduced by the charm and beauty of the famous Marguerite, lately widowed herself, and one of the loveliest and most audacious ladies in Christendom. Perhaps, too, Louise had calculated on her effect on another of the victors of Pavia, the Connétable himself. She was lodged with all honour in the Alcazar, the palace where her brother was ill with chagrin, the long journey from Italy to Spain, and the confinement to which he was so little used. The Emperor had treated his prisoner with every courtesy; but François made nothing of any civilities or pleasantries, and longed only for his freedom; and it was to obtain this on the best possible terms that his sister, Marguerite of Marguerites, pearl of pearls, had come to Spain. Hardly resting, she had been borne across the level highlands of Castile in her litter, taking less than a fortnight for the tedious journey.
She had been met at the great gates of Madrid by the young Emperor in his plain black frieze coat and flat looped hat. There was never any ostentation about the fine breeding of Charles V, and he treated the sister of his captive as if she had been a reigning and a powerful queen.
She had hurried to the bedside of her brother, whose spirits were much revived by the appearance of this beautiful and beloved sister, and by the words which she quickly whispered to him as she knelt on his bedstep and pressed his hand to her cheek, as also by the letter which she gave him from Louise, his mother.
Now the bright lady, who was engaged to proceed to Toledo to meet the Emperor again and discuss the terms for her brother's release, had asked for an interview with Charles de Bourbon.
She greeted him with honey on her tongue and sweetness in her eyes, yet the young man, standing beside the window with its Moorish pillars and curtains of saffron silk, looked at her not only with suspicion but almost with aversion. His hatred of François, his loathing of Louise, tinged his feelings towards this creature who was a little too radiant, too fine, too elegant. She was, like her brother, extremely accomplished. François had spent some of his leisure while he had been in captivity in writing a rhymed account of the Battle of Pavia, and Marguerite wrote poems and composed music and romances, and had all the accomplishments possible to a high-born lady.
She had also, Charles suspected, many lovers, as had her mother Louise. Ay, that was it, she was the daughter of the Serpent and the sister of the Serpent. He had thought once, in the old days before he had grown to love his wife so deeply, that he might become enamoured of Marguerite de Valois, setting her in his thoughts like a bright star never to be attained but always to be worshipped; but now he thought that she was not so desirable. Still, she fascinated him, and he looked at her keenly out of his long eyes; he could see the change in her manner towards himself. once she had treated him with a casual graciousness, now she recognized in the victor of Pavia the man whom her brother had pursued to slay.
She sat in the high chair of gilded Spanish leather, with her long white hands on the knees of her black gown. Because of her recent widowhood, though she had never loved her husband, and because of the troubles of her brother, she was dressed in deep mourning—plain black velvet without jewel or ornament, with a long white veil falling over her shoulders and slightly obscuring the stiff crimping of her tawny hair. Her face was fine as a carving in pearl, with a slight vermilion in the lips and cheeks and gold in the bright, slanting eyes, which had the look of her mother's; and her smile was too much her brother's smile.
She praised the young Duke to his face, extolling his exploits at the battle of Pavia, inducing him to talk of that event when in two hours her brother's magnificent army in the park of Mirabello had been utterly routed and almost annihilated.
She seemed to dwell with delicate zest on such details as the ten thousand men who had been left to rot on the pleasure-park that had become the battlefield, or had been drowned in the Ticino while endeavouring to fly from the commander of the garrison, who had come out and destroyed the bridge across which some of the fugitives endeavoured to escape. She mentioned the names of the noble captains who had been taken prisoner, the King of Navarre, the Duc de Nemours, d'Aubigny, Montmorency, the Vidame of Chartres, the Seigneur de Fleurange, who were held safely in prison. She did not mention her own husband, who had been neither slain nor captured on the battlefield, but had fled in a way shameful to a man of breeding, and who had died shortly afterwards—of chagrin and humiliation, it was believed.
Ah, yes, the Duc de Bourbon had the honours of that great victory, and Marguerite de Valois did not hesitate to give them to him. She named with reverence those who had fallen fighting round their King. With tact and elegance she talked about the noble dead, and her fine hands moved slightly on her black-clad knees, and her liquid eyes were turned towards the young Duke; in her low, pleasing voice she praised everyone, victor and defeated. She said that it was good to live in a world that held so much nobility and chivalry, and her sweet breath seemed to waft away all causes of discord between her brother and the Connétable de Bourbon.
"Do you not know that my brother, on the papers that the Emperor has given him with his terms, had written 'Easy, easy' against all the demands that relate to yourself?"
"Madame, my terms have been put before the Emperor, my master. He knows what is owing to me and he has been pleased to say that he will make my restoration to my dominions one of the conditions on which he releases the King of France."
He saw her eyes glitter with spite behind the golden lashes. He thought, "She must hate me, they all hate me, all the Valois"—and he wondered how he could ever live in France again with these people, mother, daughter, brother, in power.
He wished that the King of England could have invaded France as he had promised and followed up the great success of Pavia. But though he was not exultant and triumphant over the victory which had set him so high, yet the hope revived in his heart to tumble the House of Valois down and overset their throne; nor was he softened because of this fair woman who sat there, hating him and flattering him.
"You know the Emperor's terms," sighed Marguerite softly; "they are very hard."
"It may be so, madame, but the Emperor has everything in his power. Think of it as a game of chess, that he has taken your King, and let the Queen, who is unsupported, go carefully."
"He desires the Duchy of Burgundy; it is almost impossible. Cannot you, to whom he owes so much, persuade him that he asks too much?"
"Burgundy is his hereditary land, and dearer to him than all the gold-mines of the New World. The Emperor demands all that was once ceded by the Treaties of Conflans and Péronne. He wishes the King of France to give up his claims in Italy, the Duchy of Milan, and he wishes him to restore everything to me—all that he claims through Anne de France. There is also another rebel whom the Emperor wishes forgiven, and that is Philibert Châlon, the Prince of Orange, who is to receive back his dominions."
"Those then, as I heard, are the Emperor's terms!" sighed the Duchess. "I wished to hear them from your lips, for all say you are deep in his confidence, before I meet him at Toledo."
Her narrow, finely cut lips closed tightly together, and the Duke saw her hands leave her lap and cross the arms of her chair. She was angry, she was cornered; but he felt no compassion for her—only a further leaping up of his hatred.
"My brother will refuse to give up Burgundy and his Flemish possessions. As for the restoration of your estates, it is as I told you, easy. You should be my friend because I tell you that."
"Perhaps the King will find another of the Emperor's terms easy: that which stipulates that when the King is free he is to join the Emperor in crusades against heresy and the Turks. I must also say that besides and even before I require the restoration of my goods, my palaces, my lands—I require a pardon for all my friends and adherents. I have put them by name in the terms which I submitted to the Emperor. I wish, too, that I may be allowed to remain at the service of the Emperor during his life."
"Oh, that is easy, I have told you!" exclaimed Marguerite. "How many times am I to tell you that it is easy? I will undertake that the King will return to you your position, pension, and offices nay, more than that he will give you in marriage one of his daughters with a regal dowry."
"They are children," smiled the Connétable, "and the Emperor has promised me the hand of his sister, the Dowager Queen of Portugal."
"Queen Claude died last year," said Marguerite abruptly, "and it was the hand of Queen Isabelle that I wished to ask for of the Emperor for my brother."
"Now why that, madame?" asked the Connétable, smiling. "Why that? of all the terms you might have demanded, of all the marriages you might have contrived for your brother, why that? The lady is promised to me, and I hold it a greater honour to be the brother-in-law of the Emperor than to be the husband of a Princess of France."
Marguerite smiled and lowered her eyes. He knew that she was thinking of her mother, Louise, who had offered herself to him again and again, directly, indirectly, for years. Perhaps she was thinking of herself, for he was aware that since her coming to Spain rumour and gossip had been busy with their names. He wondered if she, unscrupulous and adroit as she was, would make that suggestion now. If he would not take the mother, perhaps the daughter would please him, and so the great estates of Bourbon might remain in the possession of the House of Valois.
He almost wished that she would delicately offer herself that he might as delicately refuse.
She rose from her chair and fingered the white veil that fell down either side of her face and crossed her bosom, which heaved in agitation.
He was not sorry for her; she had every resource, and he despised her House and felt an aversion from that passionate affection which she felt towards her brother, and which would, he believed, prevent her giving a true love to any other man.
"For what has happened in the past," she said, "I have my regrets; I am sorry that our House has lost such a servitor as yourself. I hope that your next victory, Monseigneur de Bourbon, will be gained under the banners of France."
"It is not possible, since I am engaged in the service of the Emperor."
She looked at him sideways at that, and said:
"Do you like him, so young, so brave? So brave, so industrious? Why, there is neither gaiety nor mirth, nor art nor letters, nor any joy, in his Court!"
"He is high-minded and finely bred. He has a terrible heritage which is like a burden on his back. I have seen few faults in him, he has committed no errors yet. He will keep his word, he will do his utmost to satisfy all demands on him. I have pledged to him a lifetime of fidelity."
"So," said Marguerite, "so." She raised her hand and let it fall again. "Well, I must go to Toledo, there to confirm the terms of my brother's release."
He watched her go across the room to the group of ladies who waited for her inside the door. He stood like her attendant, with bowed head and his hands on his hips, waiting for the departure of this Princess. The thick September sunshine falling through the windows turned her white veil and black dress and pallid face for a moment to warm gold. She was a rare and fascinating creature, but not for him. At the door she paused, then dismissing her ladies turned resolutely back with a sudden laugh.
"Do not let us disguise ourselves one from the other, Charles. We have known each other as children. I shall not be able to do anything with your Emperor, who is cold and dry, life a monk, and betrothed to a woman whom he likes—loves perhaps."
"You speak truly," smiled Charles. "Not even Marguerite of Alençon will be able to move Charles V to abate his just demands."
"Impossible demands," whispered Marguerite. "You know that. Tell your master—any ransom that he likes to name—but not a foot of territory! Everything restored to you—but no relinquishment of Milan—"
"Madame, I will not be your go-between. The Emperor invites you to Toledo—"
"And I shall go to Toledo. But I speak to you, Charles, the victor of Pavia—a Frenchman..."
She came close to him, richly coloured in the slumbrous yellow light of the Spanish autumn sunshine, and he admired her resource, her energy and courage.
"How great is your love for your brother, madame, since it forces you to flatter me!"
Even that did not penetrate her composure; she put her finger to her lip, smiled, and shook her head.
"You are mistaken, Charles. I was never your enemy. I did not advise the bringing of this lawsuit."
"You are too much your brother's friend ever to be mine."
"I never did you any harm."
"Did you not go to Moulins and Chantelle, my houses, and turn over my books, garments, and treasures?"
"Everything you had shall be restored to you. Do not hate me because I went to your houses, where once I was happy."
"Tell me, madame," asked Charles abruptly, as if he had not heard her words, "did you, at Moulins, see a book of mine—L'Enseignement—which I gave my wife—long ago?"
"Yes, it is safe at Fontainebleau. It shall be returned to you—with everything else."
Charles bit his lip without replying. How they had plundered him, the two women! And now she was here, trying to coax him, to flatter him, to trick him into an instrument to serve that gaudy idol she adored—her false, shallow brother.
"You must hate me," he declared brusquely. "You ought to hate me. I betrayed you all and would have divided your kingdom among your enemies."
"I could forgive that—treachery."
"I could not forgive what provoked it," cried Charles. "I am the Emperor's man. I shall not ask him to abate his terms."
Marguerite sighed and opened her clear, golden eyes full on the implacable young man. "You and I as enemies," she sighed. "Ah, well—I must do what I can by myself. Good-bye, Charles, enemy of France!"
She turned towards the door, walking slowly in her black and white garments through the thick sunshine.
In November the King of France was taken to Barcelona and Charles V met the Connétable de Bourbon on the bridge of the Alcantara, where there was a great ceremony such as Charles V knew how to contrive when he wished to do honour to the victor of Pavia. There were over a hundred triumphal chariots hung with draperies which glittered with the armorial bearings of the House of Bourbon—the three golden fleurs de lis on an azure shield.
The Emperor himself, in his usual plain clothes, riding a mule, was on the centre of the bridge to greet the Frenchman, though the rain was falling heavily like broken silver spears from a level grey sky, drenching the brocades and soaking the tall feathers of the attendants.
The Connétable appeared, the curious spectators thought, of a very handsome figure and fine carriage; his thick black hair was combed either side his thin face with a gilt coif which he wore under a hat of black silk. He wore a surcoat of black velvet lined with cloth and silver and trimmed with fox, and cuffs of cloth and silver showing through the slashes. His horse was a splendid grey with steel harness and black velvet saddle-cloth. When he saw the Emperor he dismounted, but Charles spurred on his mule to stop his doing so, but as the Duke had already reached the ground the Emperor slipped from his mule and embraced him, saying that he was worthy of all honour.
Charles, as he rode beside his new master, whom he had not yet seen, looked at him with earnest, sidelong glances, while the Emperor spoke in his slow, quiet voice, praising the Frenchman and extolling him for the victory of Pavia.
He was modest in attire and manner, with wrinkled brows, tired eyes, and an underhung jaw; he looked much older than his years, and bowed and depressed by anxiety and fatigue. In person he was tall, athletic, and finely made; his air was very well tired, his hands white and fine.
The Connétable liked him because of his manifest simplicity and sincerity.
When they reached the modest white, green-shuttered palace where the Emperor lodged, Charles was bidden into a little closet lined with dark wood where an ebony crucifix hung above a plain desk covered with cases and papers.
A little fire spluttered on the hearth; the Emperor held out his cold fingers to the warmth and cried pleasantly:
"How cold it is!" He leaned forward, the thick, fair hair falling either side his high, peculiar profile. He added abruptly, "Marguerite d'Alençon came to see you, Connétable, in the Alcazar."
"Sire, I know her. She cares for nothing but her brother. I refused to be her go-between."
"I never thought she would move you," replied the Emperor quietly. "She is clever, but false. Nay, perhaps not so clever. When she found that she could not get her terms from me, she tried to plot her brother's escape disguised as a negro servant. But I," added the Emperor simply, "am better served than Madame d'Alençon thinks. Her scheme—childish, was it not?—was instantly betrayed to me."
"May Your Majesty always be as fortunate in discovering the Valois intrigues."
Charles V sighed.
"King François has agreed to everything."
"Everything!" The Connétable was startled.
"Ay, I had a letter in his own hand today; he agrees, unconditionally, to all my terms in exchange for his liberty."
"I mistrust such a sudden surrender, sire; everything—Milan, Burgundy, my estates!"
"Yes, and he will join me in a crusade against the Turks. Do not fear, Monsieur de Bourbon, I shall bind him with such oaths before God and man as he will never dare break."
"I would not trust him."
The emperor smiled.
"I do. I must. He cannot lie to me before all Christendom." Charles V turned and laid his hand on the other young man's embroidered sleeve. "There is one clause in this pact that will displease you. I promised you the hand of my sister Isabelle. Now she is asked of me for François, to seal our alliance, so, Monsieur de Bourbon, you see," added the Emperor, almost timidly, "why I cannot suppose that the King of France will break his word to me."
Charles had never seen the Emperor's sister, but his sense of loss, of affront, was profound; he crushed his hat against his side in strong distress.
"I could not do otherwise," said the Emperor sadly.
Charles thought, with humiliation, "Woman's work!"—and he asked the King if it was not Marguerite d'Alençon that had suggested this match.
The Emperor, looking up with brilliant, troubled eyes, said:
"Yes. But, Monsieur de Bourbon, I will make up to you for the loss of my sister's hand. I will give you the Duchy of Milan."
Charles de Bourbon bent his head; this was a splendid offer, but he was sorely hurt in his pride, as Marguerite de Valois had meant he should be, and he sighed, "I would rather have had an alliance with Your Majesty than any possession on earth."
The Emperor, clasping his hands nervously in front of him and speaking with an emphasis and haste most unusual to him, tried to justify himself, using all the argument that he could think of to clear himself of the stain of breaking his promise; he could not say that his sister had declared that she would rather be Queen of France than wife of a landless rebel.
The Connétable made no reply; he knew that he was powerless; he pulled his jewelled gloves in his strong fingers and bit his underlip. This was a deliberate humiliation, a deliberate breaking of a promise, and he could not forgive the Emperor—who kept repeating in a troubled voice that François had yielded on every both as regards Charles de Bourbon and his friends and the Imperial demands; he would give up all claims to Italy, Aragon, Catalonia, Roussillon; he would abandon Flanders and Artois, he would yield up Arras and Tournai, he would restore the Duchy of Burgundy...
"And you," said Charles V anxiously, "you shall have Milan—the cause of all these wars."
"I must take," smiled the Connétable, "what Your Majesty chooses to give me. Milan is too much—yet less than your sister's hand, which was promised me."
The Emperor bit his full underlip; he had never broken his word before, he liked de Bourbon and would gladly have united him to his House; but the temptation to bind François to him by this marriage was not to be withstood.
"I am not free to keep my word," he laid. "You must forgive me, Monsieur de Bourbon."
The Emperor spoke humbly, as if he were the subject and the Frenchman the monarch; but Charles de Bourbon felt humiliated by the gentle courtesy. He thought of all the possessions of this quiet young man—the old World, the New World, cities, forts, territories, castles, palaces, towns, villages, mountains and rivers—all belonging to the Emperor.
"While I have nothing but promises—Milan! Mercenary's pay..."
The young Emperor looked up at the sombre crucifix on the dark walls.
"We must—all of us who try to rule the world—bear a heavy burden, even that of some dishonour," he said in his fatigued voice. "I offer you Milan. I do what I can."
"Sire, I would rather have my estates than Milan; I would rather have the Bourbonnais, Auvergne, Chantelle, Moulins, Montbrison, Sauvigny—where my wife and children lie."
"All these François has promised to restore to you."
Charles de Bourbon did not reply; he too looked at the crucifix, fearing the betrayal of the man whom he had himself betrayed, fearing that never again would he see France. The light of the fluttering flames, the haggard face of the young Emperor—who, as if speaking to himself, declared nervously:
"Yes, I will trust him; he is a Christian—a King. I must hazard something on his honour. I pray that he will keep his word."
"Amen," said Charles de Bourbon.
In the January of the next year François de Valois swore on an altar arranged in his chamber after the Archbishop of Bembrum had said Mass and the treaty had been read, swore on the Holy Gospel to keep faith; he then signed the document on which the terms were inscribed, and, as if this was not sufficient, he passed his knightly word in a most binding manner, putting his hand in that of the Viceroy of Naples, Charles de Lannoy.
I, François de Valois, King of France, give my word to the Emperor Charles that six weeks after I am set at liberty I will restore to him Burgundy and all the places mentioned in this Treaty of Peace, and that if all is not delivered up within four months I will return within the power of the Emperor as his prisoner of war.
A month afterwards Charles and François met half-way between Toledo and Madrid, and there François repeated personally his promises to the Emperor; and the two Princes parted, commending each other to the care of his Creator. The Emperor returned to his labours and the King to freedom and his own country, where, at Saint Jean de Luz, his mother and his sister waited for him in triumph.
Charles de Bourbon waited for the fulfilment of the King's promise while, outwardly magnificent, he attended the marriage festivities of the Emperor in Seville.
He felt an exile in the Spanish city, and he could not look upon the Emperor's sister—the widowed Queen of Portugal, now betrothed to François—without thinking of a broken promise and the delicate malice of Marguerite de Valois and the subtle hate of Louise of Savoy. Yet Charles seemed at the summit of his fortune. The future was golden with promise; everything that was lost would be his again—ay, and more besides. As Duke of Milan he would be a sovereign prince, and if he was not the Emperor's brother-in-law he was the Emperor's friend and trusted general.
But something was amiss and out of harmony. His dreams were continuous and heavy; he could hardly close his eyes without seeing the pale face of Suzanne and that other pearl-like countenance of Marguerite de Valois—one that seemed to warn and one that seemed a menace; and too often he trod in visions the slopes above Rome, sat upon the amber-coloured blocks of masonry, looked down upon the yellow river, and looked up at the flight of doves—whose coloured pinions of purple, blue, and green seemed to beat like angels' wings under the blue dome of heaven. Too much of the past impinged upon the present, and in the severe yet splendid Spanish city he was not at home, and every day increased his nostalgia for the Bourbonnais, the pearls, the daisies, Chantelle and Moulins—the past that could never be again.
"When will you be satisfied?" asked de Lurcy, who was nearer his confidence than any man.
"When I rule in Moulins again," replied Charles. "Satisfied? No, not then. De Lurcy, I have a great desire to see Rome again. I should like to see the paintings of the Umbrian—the Tomb of the Medici in San Lorenzo. I wonder what has happened to the old beggar on the Palatine, and the poor little painter Testard. De Lurcy, those Valois women have the book of Madame Suzanne.
"Truly, I never saw a man so homesick as you are, monseigneur."
"Not many men have lost so much."
"Not many men have so much to gain, monseigneur. You stand at the Emperor's right hand. When he crosses the Alps to receive the Iron Crown of Lombardy you will be invested with the Duchy of Milan."
"You speak as if I were a child to be amused by toys!" smiled Charles. "Milan! I think a man must fight for that; and I am tired of fighting, de Lurcy."
The Emperor sent for the Connétable suddenly in the heart of a midsummer day, when the hot streets were full of dust and the succulent flowers drooped for lack of water in the palace courtyard.
Charles V was in his little closet that the Connétable knew so well—that plain room where, with his industrious secretaries, he spent hours of toil exhausting himself to rule his Empire, planning to maintain Christendom against the Turk and the heretic.
Contrary to his custom he was not bowed over his desk, but standing in front of his chair as Charles de Bourbon entered; the Frenchman saw that he was deeply moved, his face slightly distorted as if he grimaced to keep his control, his long fine fingers were clutched in the ruffles at his wrist, and his spare frame shook under his black doublet with the silver points; but he spoke unfalteringly and at once.
"You shall hear this news from no one save myself, Monsieur de Bourbon."
"François de Valois!" exclaimed the Connétable.
"Yes; the Pope—that bastard Medici, that lying, huckstering Florentine—has absolved him from his oath?"
"From the treaty of Madrid, sire?
"Yes, from everything. François defies me. He declares that the word of a prisoner is worthless—he will keep none of the conditions.
"So much I feared!" exclaimed Charles de Bourbon, with exceeding bitterness.
"There is more," said the Emperor deliberately. "They league against me. A few hours ago I received the dispatches. An alliance has been made at Cognac between—this—this—liar—this forsworn traitor, and Venice, the Sforza, the English King—and that false Medici at Rome."
"War," smiled Charles de Bourbon.
"War between Christians, while the Turk harries our frontiers and the heretic gnaws our vitals. Never would I have believed such folly, such treachery. You, who knew him, did not trust him. I should have listened to you."
"Sire, you are too high-minded to deal with François de Valois."
The Emperor turned his wan face aside.
"A second time I break my promise to you. You will not have your estates unless you win another victory like Pavia. You will never have the Duchy of Milan unless you can win it by force of arms—"
"What, sire, is the object of this league?" asked Charles de Bourbon.
"To destroy me," replied the Emperor with great simplicity. "Because François would have had my place. The Pope thinks that I grow too great, I suppose; but who knows what is the motive of the Medici?"
"François de Valois intends to destroy me also, sire."
"I think so. If he would forgive, the women will not."
"Farewell, the Bourbonnais, the Auvergne, Moulins, Chantelle!"
"We must go on," said the Emperor, still looking aside. "I am much shaken by this treachery—but we must go on. Perhaps you despise me. You captured my enemy for me, and I lost him."
"I will fight for you, sire," replied the Connétable, "against a world in arms."
"That it will be," smiled Charles V. "A world in arms." He moved slowly, wearily, to his desk, and made a gesture towards his heaped papers. "You in the field, Monsieur de Bourbon; I here—to see if we can break this League of Cognac."
He put his hand on the other man's shoulder, seemed about to speak, but said no more and turned to his desk.
"I must go on," thought Charles de Bourbon. "Ay, indeed I must go on and follow a dark way."
As he stepped into the May sunshine it seemed as if he could hear the laughter of Louise and Marguerite blowing past his ears.
Dead Painter, whom I praised
Caress'd and even fee'd
What high hope hast thou raised
To help my tedious need?
only Beauty, who speaks no word
Who fades upon my walls,
What truth is it I never heard
What voice that never calls,
Do I await? Umbrian, good night
on my grave, too, the shadow falls
In my sky, too, the sun is out of sight.
"WHAT says the Pope?" asked Charles de Bourbon. "Will he in no way disclose his mind?"
The Imperial Envoy, returned from Rome, answered:
"When I spoke to His Holiness about this League of Cognac and asked whether or no he was in it, he said, 'You may go or stay as you please, but if I make war, you will hear the trumpets at Rome.'"
Charles de Bourbon replied:
"There is so much treachery that a man knows not how to behave."
To those three words which had always tormented him—men and money—was now added this fourth—treachery. How could a man make any headway, take any definite action, attain any worth-while achievement, when on every side was treachery? The treachery of the King of France, that now! Who would have believed that when he had been given his freedom with all honour and courtesy he would have repudiated his knightly word, his solemn oath, his signature to a pact? He had lied, that man, in the face of his friends, his enemies, and God.
Charles de Bourbon himself was stripped of everything, even hope. He was now no more than was Giovanni delle Bande Nere—who, disappointed of his pay by the King of France, had joined the Imperial League against him. Ay, no more than a mercenary, though his title was Generalissimo for His Imperial Majesty in Italy.
Charles took up this high post with a sense of bitter irony, which was as much for himself as for his fortune. A man who is continually cheated and betrayed and left at last with nothing must come to despise himself; and Charles looked back continually into the past, spying out in his own actions those little traces of weakness, of indecision, even of lying and of treachery, that had at last—together with some ill luck—left him where he was: a soldier of fortune fighting for his pay.
Milan was besieged again—he had to keep that fact before his mind; he must save that city as he had saved Pavia. He sailed from Barcelona with six ships laden with eight hundred soldiers, and then, having landed, by forced marches arrived before the walls in the first week of July, there taking command of the besieging army, which amounted, with Spaniards and Germans, to nine thousand men. He had brought some money from the Imperial bankers in Genoa, a hundred thousand ducats, which he distributed at once among the troops. This, with his reputation for audacity and courage and magnificent appearance and great name, at once raised his prestige high among the Imperial troops.
Charles had everything required to grace his position as Generalissimo for the Emperor. Whatever was weak or faulty in his character did not show in his person; he went splendidly, as bold and as beautiful as his new banner, in his gilt hats and black toques, and mantles of watered crimson and scarlet, and corslets of silver, and with the jewels that he wore over his gloves and in his belt and on his spurs; he rode only the finest horses, richly caparisoned and armoured in wrought steel; attendants, pages, and men-at-arms wearing his own liveries and carrying his own banderoles accompanied him. He was very careful about all this display, thus covering up by all the means in his power that he was a landless man, a man without a wife or an establishment or an heir; but when he was alone in the gorgeous tent above which floated the white plumes of Bourbon, his dreams invaded him, and the days given to action and stern labour gave place to nights broken by many fancies.
War and destruction! These two things obsessed him. Sometimes he would sit by his table with his helmet in front of him, and out of the open vizor he would see small figures of men-at-arms and wounded horses charging, fighting, returning and in this phantasmagoria, like an infernal dance of war, the Turks advancing on the Christians with diamonds blazing in their turbans and the Crescent held high above their gleaming lances; the Christians rending one another and so unable to combine against the Turks; the heretics advancing in fanatic haste against the adherents of the Church; the Church striking back not only with open weapons but with all the devices of treachery; and above all, throned so high that his head seemed in the clouds, the second Medici to wear the Papal Tiara glittering darkly in the richness of the Vatican, surrounded by Raffaello's pictures and Michael Angelo's statues and the jewels of Benvenuto Cellini, with his music and his comedy and his slim young pages and his cold face with the black almond eyes and curling lips.
Charles de Bourbon, in those brief moments when he was alone in his tent, saw all these things passing round him, and they made life seem foolish and flavouless as if he were but a puppet and some unknown power were jerking the strings. He did not know why he fought for the Emperor, who had not paid him the one price he had asked—his sister's hand. He scarcely knew why he hated François or Louise, his mother, nor why they pursued him with such bitter fury.
When had begun that first spark of jealousy which now had been turned into a flame that would surely destroy him?
The Duchy of Milan—he had been promised that rich lure; the Duchy that had tempted François across the Alps and that the Emperor had defended so passionately was to be his if he could win it. Charles hardly knew whether that would please him or no, and always his longings and his yearnings went back to the hill outside Rome when he had sat on the golden stone and watched the yellow river running beside the palaces and the slums below.
To escape from it all, to be at peace—if not in a hermitage, then in a fine villa, high up, with the water trickling over blue rocks and the ilex trees bending their grey branches against the sky's faint azure; to sit there at leisure by a marble table, leaning out of a window where the sharp leaves and yellow fruit of the citron brushed against the sill; to turn over a book or handle a gleaming musical instrument, perchance to write a sonnet or leisurely, ironic memoirs; even to pass one's fingers over a curling plume of white ostrich or over the raised design of a Venetian brocade or Genoese damask.
Why could not life be so composed of these little delights? His soul needed no more, those things and a gentle companion like his Suzanne.
His face hardened when he thought of her. No other man had desired her, she had not been loved by any save himself; why, then, could she not have been spared if he alone valued her? He tried to decide if he believed in the God who had taken his children and Suzanne.
Often he was tormented by his old enemy the tertian fever, and though in the daytime he kept it down, in the night it would master him and colour his visions into bitter and alarming fancies; sometimes in those feverish hours he was walking the corridor of the Vatican, where he had never put his mortal foot, and gazing at the group of "The Laocoön" which François had been cheated into believing that he possessed at Fontainebleau, or seated beside the dead Pope watching the comedy at Bologna, staring at Leo, who, with bloodshot eyes, peered through his spy-glass at the figures of the two half-naked women on the stage trailing star-sprinkled gauzes against the dropcloth painted by Raffaello.
Charles found a certain dullness and monotony in this siege, though it was so full of high incident, of perils, and of the chances of death. Urbino, commanding for Venice, retreated with his artillery; but Giovanni de' Medici, who commanded the Black Bands composing the Papal infantry, refused to withdraw until it was broad daylight, when he moved his men back in sullen defiance; the Imperial garrison in Milan, heartened by this, sent an appeal to the Connétable to come more resolutely to their aid and to attack the Citadel, which was held by Francesco Sforza for the League.
By the end of July this Citadel was surrendered to the Connétable; but no sooner had Charles found Himself in Milan than the Duke of Urbino changed his mind and, instead of retreating, came back, this time not to take Milan by assault but to reduce it by famine. But Charles was not disheartened, for he knew that the King of France was playing his usual game and betraying the League as he had betrayed everyone else with whom he had ever had any dealings. He had not sent the galleys that he had promised to blockade the harbour of Genoa, nor had he sent across the Alps the five hundred men-at-arms and four thousand foot-soldiers that were to have joined the army of the League, nor had he supplied the promised money that was to have paid the Swiss levies. Both the Pope and Venice began to be irritated and to lose courage.
In August, Urbino left Milan to besiege Cremona, leaving Giovanni de' Medici in charge of the siege of Milan.
With an interest that was half sympathy and half scorn, Charles de Bourbon heard how the young soldier of fortune who commanded the besiegers employed his time and the great banquets that he gave with five services of forty dishes: partridges, pheasants, wild boars, peacocks, bustards, ducks garnished with macaroni, wines from Lombardy and Piedmont, Tuscany and Sicily.
When the Connétable made his inspection of the walls he could see the brilliant torchlight flaming and smoking from the camp of the Medici. Courtesies were exchanged between the garrison and the besiegers; once Giovanni de' Medici sent to Lombardy for fresh pomegranates because he had heard that the Marquis del Vasto was ill with fever and longed for fresh fruit, but he could not refrain from sending under the disguise of courtesy news of the fall of Cremona—to which de Leyva replied by sending the Medici an account of the raid of Cardinal Pompeo Colonna on Rome.
The figure of the Medici Pope took on fantastic proportions to Charles, shut up in Milan in his harassed inactivity.
Clement had fled before Colonna and his eight thousand peasants who sacked the Vatican quarter, and from the safety of Sant' Angelo promised everything demanded—even to leaving the League.
Charles waited for the Papal levies to leave the walls of Milan, but they remained, for the Pope continued to pay the Black Bands of Giovanni de' Medici, recalling some of them to devastate the lands of the Colonna, nor were his galleys withdrawn from Genoa.
"De Lurcy," said Charles de Bourbon, "I hope there may be some rest in heaven, for there is none on earth—yet nothing else seems good to me but rest."
He was weary of the alien city, sullen in the sweet autumn days, full of discontented troops, dying men, and a hostile population; his homesickness increased daily; even in the mighty Cathedral he did not feel as near God as he had felt in his chapel at Moulins.
He often reminded de Lurcy of that ride from Chantelle, that rapid flight through the dark, the adventures they had had before they reached Burgundy.
"I should never have fled like a hare, de Lurcy. I have never been happy since."
By various devices dispatches from the Emperor were smuggled through Giovanni de' Medici's men to Charles de Bourbon. They were always precisely worded, expressing a quiet resolution, a steadfast courage, cool and able.
"A great man, I think," thought Charles; "but what shall that avail me?"
The Emperor's implacable anger fell most harshly on the Pope; he wrote that he intended to summon Clement VII before a General Council for his unworthy behaviour in interfering in the quarrels of Christendom.
The Emperor wrote to Charles of other measures he had, with obstinate energy, concerted against the League.
A fleet had been equipped on the Spanish coast to convey ten thousand Spanish and German soldiers to Italy. A levy had been made in Germany of Landsknechte, who were to be sent to Lombardy under the command of Georg Frundsberg. But Charles de Bourbon himself, heavy with fever and much oppressed by dreams, could send but ill news in return.
During the last month there have been quite three thousand of your men laid up with sickness. The money I have received from Spain is not enough to pay the soldiers...
Men and money! Men and money! Again the burden of his thoughts and the burden of his letters.
Send the Landsknechte, send the Switzers, send money, I implore Your Majesty. I am reduced to the most terrible extremities.
He was beaten in his mind, too, by the monotony, by the inaction, by the constant fever, by the continual dreams. If only there could be a battle like the fight outside Pavia in the park of Mirabello, if only he could do something except rot in idleness!
When this help arrives I hope by the Grace of God to prevent your enemies from making war upon Your Majesty by gaining such a victory as will be a perpetual settlement of your dominions.
Charles rode through the silent streets of Milan; the few passers-by gave him looks of hatred, shutters were closed, women retired from balconies as he passed with his little train of officers, the monks going to and from the pesthouse glanced at him and shuffled out of his way. The great city was drained of money, almost of food; neither the bankers, nor the merchants, nor the private citizens could give Charles any more pay or provisions for his troops.
"De Lurcy," asked Charles, looking round the gloomy streets, "do you think it possible that the Emperor will leave us here—to starve surrounded by mutinying troops?"
"The Emperor will send the money if he has it," replied de Lurcy. "But if the Fuggers will advance no more?"
"Dispatches—always dispatches, words, and promises!" sighed Charles. "But without the money, del Vasto and de Leyva are for breaking out through the Medici's men and trying to join Frundsberg—"
"Two difficulties there, monseigneur," said de Lurcy. "The troops will not leave Milan without pay, and Frundsberg will never be able to cross the Alps with winter coming on."
"I know him—I think he will. As for the money, we must get it somehow. Look at those children, de Lurcy, how listless they are, and how often the church-bells toll!"
"The malaria comes up from the plain in winter; there are many deaths, monseigneur."
Charles sent for Antonio de Leyva and the young Marchese del Vasto, Pescara's nephew; a charcoal fire warmed the chamber lined with gilt leather and cut velvet from Genoa. On the table of purple marble, resting on the clawed feet of griffins, was a service of silver gilt for wine and a basalt bowl of fruit, the last half-withered harvest of the autumn. Beside this was a heap of rings, chains, and brooches.
"We three," said Charles, smiling slightly, "have much to decide."
"There is nothing that we can decide," replied the swarthy Spanish soldier, "until the Emperor sends us money."
"The Emperor will send us no money, de Leyva, he will, indeed, scarcely think of us at all. A disaster has occurred that will make his Italian adventurer seem small to him."
"A disaster!" exclaimed del Vasto.
"One of the spies whom I sent out has contrived to return in the disguise of a Franciscan. Giovanni de' Medici arrested him, but allowed him to go without discovering who he was. Messieurs," added Charles, "not long ago the Emperor told me in very simple words news that destroyed all my hopes, the news that François had broken the treaty of Madrid. Now I, in my turn, have to give horrid tidings in a brief manner.
"What can there be," asked de Leyva grimly, "worse than we know—that we are shut up here, besieged, with starving, mutinous troops, an exhausted city, and no hope of help?"
"There is this," said Charles. "The Turk has broken across the frontiers of Christendom and defeated the Hungarians at Mohàcs, King Louis and all his force are slain; I suppose by now the Infidel is at Buda."
The two soldiers crossed themselves; del Vasto, who loathed the Medici, exclaimed:
"It is the Pope that has brought this disgrace on Christendom with his meddling, his double dealing, his treachery!"
"It is François de Valois," declared de Leyva; "did not all say that when he was a prisoner in Madrid his sister sent letters to the Turk bidding him invade the Empire?"
"It is a great disaster," said Charles, "but one must consider how it affects us. Remember that the widowed Queen of Hungary is the Emperor's sister, remember how pious he is, how hot against the Infidel! He will no longer have any concern for us. We are now but the desperate end of a dead adventure—every ducat, every man that the emperor can raise will be used for the defence of Buda."
The young Italian Marchese laughed shortly and stared down at his fingers outspread on his knees. "Santa Maria! but I am weary of it all."
"Have you thought of anything we can do?" asked del Vasto keenly.
"I have other news. My man brought a message from one of Frundsberg's scouts who had got down into Italy. Frundsberg is coming with thirteen thousand men. He asks me to send him money."
De Leyva, who was stimulated by difficulty and danger, laughed harshly.
"But Frundsberg is no longer needed in Italy, and we have not a white piece to give him."
"Who can turn him back? He must be half across the Tyrolese Alps. He was engaged, he comes to take his pay." Charles pulled some of the dusky, withered grapes from the bowl and arranged them in groups on the table.
"Has Frundsberg heard of Mohàcs?" asked del Vasto.
"I do not know. He has done as the Emperor bade him."
The three men were silent in the still room hung with gilded leather; the thoughts of all of them were his on that valiant old mercenary, Georg Frundsberg, Prince of Mindelheim, who was crossing the Tyrolese Alps with his thirteen thousand Germans from Swabia, Franconia, and Bavaria and the Tyrol; four thousand of these were Lutherans who had served without pay in a crusade against the Pope and were inspired by fanatic zeal.
Charles knew the quality of these men, who had so largely helped in the victory of Pavia.
"The Pope and François," he said, "have brought the Infidel into the Empire, and the Emperor has brought the heretic into Italy."
"Let them live on the Papal estates," said del Vasto. "There must be enough money in Florence to pay them."
"Urbino protects that; the forces of Venice are large, well equipped, well paid;" said Charles. He played with his grapes, thinking of Frundsberg leading his men over the Alps with winter approaching; with their cumbrous baggage and provisions, with their long pikes and massive two-handed swords, under falling stones, avoiding avalanches, across untrodden snow with hidden glaciers, over the icy summits of the untrodden mountains, along unfrequented paths, through mists of blinding snow, the Lutherans were advancing on the plains of Italy, as once the barbarians had made their way to Rome—as Hannibal had crossed the mountains of Savoy.
"He is making for the Col di Sabbia. I suppose he should be there by January. He has, I think, received nothing beyond the fifty thousand ducats the Emperor sent by way of Flanders, and the thirty-six thousand I raised here; by the time he reaches Italy at least a hundred thousand ducats will be due to him, and there will be the expense of maintaining his army."
"If he comes down between Brescia and Mantua," said de Leyva, "he will be in the territory of the d'Este; which side does he take?"
"Who knows?" exclaimed del Vasto impatiently. "The Marchese Frederico is prudent, he acknowledges the Emperor to be his feudal lord, and he is Gonfalonière of the Pope; let him feed the Landsknechte."
"He cannot for long do so," said Charles, "nor pay them. Frundsberg considers himself employed by me, Imperial Generalissimo in Italy." He smiled in self-mockery. "I am, as you know, without orders, without money, in command of unpaid, mutinous troops. I wish to fulfil my obligations to Prince Georg."
"Even when he gains Mantua how can you reach him?" asked del Vasto. "Consider the rivers, the marshes between us and Mantua—the floods of winter—"
"Will you sit here and starve or rot with disease?" demanded Charles with sudden passion. "What can be greater misery than to sit here inactive in this city which, by sour jest, is mine by the Emperor's gift?"
"How are we to get out?" asked de Leyva sharply.
"I know from spies that Giovanni de' Medici is as weary of this siege as we are, and I think that Urbino will withdraw him to meet Frundsberg. It is clear that, at all costs, they will try to save Florence."
"The soldiers will not move without pay," said de Leyva.
Charles moved his hand towards the pile of chains, rings, and brooches beside the bowl of fruit.
"That is all I have. I thought that if we could raise Forty thousand ducats the men might march."
De Leyva took off the gold chain he wore and added it to the heap of valuables.
"That is all I have of any value," he said. "I doubt if there are forty thousand ducats in Milan."
The young Italian had little to give—he had already sold almost everything he possessed for the maintenance of his own men; he took off two rings, a buckle from his cloak, a brooch from his shirt.
The three men smiled at each other; Charles poured wine for the other two soldiers.
"I have taken every valuable that I could find in Milan," he said, "even to the precious metals in the churches. For myself I have nothing left but my personal equipment. There are many costly things in Milan—pictures, furniture, stuffs, and statuary—but it is impossible to turn these into ready money."
Antonio de Leyva drank his wine slowly.
"Let us supper the impossible, Monsieur de Bourbon; imagine that we have induced our men to move, that we have crossed these swollen marshes, these rivers in spate, that we have joined Frundsberg and his unpaid, desperate men at Mantua; what then?"
The Marchese del Vasto at Charles, who said with irony, crushing his hand down on the withered grapes:
"Perhaps by then the Emperor will have sent some money."
"Why did the Emperor send for these men?" asked del Vasto impatiently. "He must have known that he could never pay them."
"He did not know of Mohàcs," replied Charles.
"Let Frundsberg take Florence and pay his troops from the coffers of the Medici," said de Leyva.
"Urbino will protect Florence," said Charles.
A bell tolled outside; the day was beginning to leave the dark chamber where the three men sat round the bowl of withered fruit, the pile of pale gold and jewels, the glasses of wine.
"Then," smiled de Leyva, "we must march on Rome. Let the Pope pay Frundsberg's men."
Giovanni delle Bande Nere was ordered by the Duke of Urbino to leave the walls of Milan and to advance against Frundsberg as he descended into the Italian plains between Brescia and Mantua.
For months the cry of the weary young captain had been "Let me depart". He was sickened by the long siege, by the sight of the massive ramparts round Milan, of the flags of the Empire and of Bourbon floating above them, of the poplars on the Lombard plain, of the cold night mists, of the long idleness.
The Pope sent money regularly to pay his troops, but the Black Bands wanted more than their pay; they required action, the chances of victory, of spoil, the excitement of change and opportunity.
From one of the towers of the fortifications Charles watched the Medici strike camp and so raise the long siege; as the dark train moved away into the mists, horses, mules, standards, baggage-wagons, bands of fighting men passing out of sight into the colourless day, Charles knew that he was now free to join Frundsberg—if he could. By straining every resource he had raised from the stricken city by the sale of his personal effects and those of de Leyva and del Vasto nearly forty thousand ducats; this sum had been divided among his men and they had promised to march towards Mantua. It was far away and the weather was severe; every day the snow fell, and Charles shuddered in his furs. No message came from the Emperor, and an increasing loneliness enveloped his soul as he saluted the dark image of his enemy passing across Italy with his long train; the shadows of war, pest, and death were over the land, the skies were as dark as if black wings covered them.
Giovanni de' Medici and his Black Bands moved heavily across the Mantuan marshes; the hired fighting men from Italy nosed about for the hired fighting men from beyond the Alps. They were weary and dispirited from the long beleaguerment of Milan, from the black winter, the foul mud that splashed to their knees, the icy wind that blew on them continuously; they could not find out where Frundsberg and his mercenaries were encamped, but a captured spy told the Medici that the Duke of Ferrara, out of hatred for the Pope, had sent Frundsberg some pieces of artillery and provisions.
Giovanni cursed and pushed forward across the swamps; a straggler from his rearguard came up one night to his desolate encampment and found him melancholy in the tent where the wind whistled in the cordage.
"Yes," said Giovanni, "the Frenchman, Charles de Bourbon, has left Milan and is advancing to join Frundsberg."
"Let him come on—has the Emperor sent him any money?" Giovanni put his rough hand to his cropped hair and stern brow; his attitude, his look, were grim with tedium.
"Not that we have discovered. He has had everything out of Milan to the last white piece."
Giovanni bent to trim the poor lamp. He lacked everything; the Pope's supplies were barely sufficient to pay his men, and he was himself a penniless cadet of his famous House. He sighed, thinking of his wife and son who lived at the Vatican and importuned the Pope in vain for favours.
"If I could meet Charles de Bourbon or Frundsberg I should be satisfied. I wish that I had led these men over the Alps in winter. Such feats are the only ones worth performing."
He stretched his powerful arms and muttered some complaints of the Duke of Urbino, who was playing too prudent a game for the liking of Giovanni de' Medici; why had he divided his army, leaving half on the banks of the Adda?
"I should not marvel if he allowed Bourbon and Frundsberg to meet," grumbled the stern captain. The tent flaps were torn aside; one of the officers of the Black Bands, wet and wind-blown, reported breathlessly that a column of Frundsberg's men had been espied hastening with a train of artillery across the road through the swamps towards Castiglione delle Stivere.
Within half an hour Giovanni de' Medici was in the saddle of his great black horse and galloping with a body of his cavalry towards the rearguard of the Germans.
Frundsberg's men, proceeding slowly with their falconets, which Ferrara had given them, turned to face the attackers. Planting their ragged yellow, red, and black standards in their midst they fired their newly acquired artillery at the Italians.
The sharp onslaught of the Black Bands drove the gunners from their posts, and after a short scuffle Frundsberg's mercenaries retreated, leaving many of their number dying in the mud.
Giovanni de' Medici called his men off the pursuit, for the bitter night was falling and the thick snow-storm increasing; but as he rejoiced in blood and death, in all the horrid gages of victory, he turned his sweating horse aside in order that he might gaze at the Switzers and Germans sprawled in the icy mud. The gunners with the last of the retreating breech-loading guns saw his black figure gigantic against the break in the western clouds where the sun was sinking behind snowy vapours.
The Germans fired at this mighty target, and with a shout of rage Giovanni de' Medici fell down among the dead he had been gazing at, while his neighing horse reared in the air.
His men rushed stumbling in the freezing mud, cursing the Germans, whose clattering train was swallowed up into the cold murk of the winter night.
Giovanni de' Medici had been shot in the thigh; the ball had driven the light cuissard he wore round his thigh into the bone, and the great captain lay helpless on the black Mantuan marsh. It was impossible to move him, even though from the leaden sky the snow was falling steadily. His soldiers sent for the Jewish physician, Abraham, who had attended him after his wound at Pavia. But this man could do nothing; the entire leg was crushed, fragments of metal being embedded in the flesh. The old doctor, his Eastern face pinched and yellow from the cold, his furred robe blowing about his shrunken limbs, stood staring down at the young man who smiled up at him from the purple cloaks they had put as his pillow.
"Take him to Mantua," shivered Abraham. "An amputation might save his life. Will they receive him in Mantua?"
"Ay, the Duke is neutral," smiled Giovanni. "So—I must lose my leg! Damnation on their new-fangled weapons!"
The heavy man was raised on to a litter hastily made from spears and horses' harness, and under the black sky was carried by his men, eight and eight in turn, through the stinging snow eight weary miles to Mantua. There the Captain of the Black Bands was taken to the palace of Federico Gonzaga, and his dear friend Pietro the Aretino was sent for.
When the cloths with which the doctor had bound the leg were removed, the limb was found to be a mass of broken bone, fragments of steel, and torn flesh. The Mantuan doctors declared that it must be amputated, and old Abraham suggested that ten or twelve persons should hold the powerful man during the agony of the operation.
The young Medici, hearing this, smiled.
"Twenty could not hold me if I wished to move."
The bed-chamber in the Gonzaga palace had red walls, with a freize of angels; the winter hangings of the bed were of white wool; under the wounded man lay three mattresses, blankets, and piles of linen. The doctors took off his armour, his leather coat, and he lay back against the pillows in his shirt. On his massive breast, damp with sweat, hung a little silver reliquary given him by his wife; his clean-shaven face with the small, frowning eyes was as still as a mask. His favourite captain, Anibale Testa, stood by the bedside with Pietro the Aretino. It was cold in the chamber despite the Tastily lit fire of pine logs; the wind whistled in the chimney and under the heavy door; outside the snow fell heavily.
"Do it quickly," said Giovanni de' Medici.
The instruments were brought in and the warrior stretched out his large, scarred hand for the candle in the stick of red copper.
"No," whispered the Aretino, shuddering, "there is light enough in the room.
"I shall hold it," smiled Giovanni. He heaved his huge, half-naked torso up from the pillows and held the wax taper to light the mangled mass of flesh, steel, and bone that the doctors had uncovered.
The night passed heavily; in the antechamber the exhausted doctors and pages slept uneasily; in the red chamber with the angels hovering along the upper walls the fire burnt to ashes and the ashes were scattered by the rising wind into the silent room.
Half that night Giovanni seemed to Pietro the Aretino, who anxiously watched him, to sleep well; but in the morning the pain coiled round the body like a serpent, and the Medici, who had nothing to leave, made his will, leaving to his beloved wife Maria Salviati the guardianship of his beloved young son Cosimo. He owed money, and he had no trust in the promises of his fickle uncle, the Pope; he had delighted in slaughter, in blood and all that was fierce and savage, but he believed in religion and mercy, and confessed to the priest, whispering:
"Father, I have followed the profession of arms and I have lived a soldier's life. If it were not forbidden, I could confess in the presence of all that I have never done anything unworthy of myself."
When the stooping, slippered priest and the neat lawyer had gone, the sick man called his friends about him; the reluctant, winter dawn had not penetrated this chamber, where only a lamp dispelled the shadows. Giovanni de' Medici whispered of worldly affairs.
"Will my uncle, the Pope, pay my men? Urbino will never prevent Frundsberg and Bourbon from meeting. What does he, Bourbon, mean to do? Attack Florence? These falconets on pivots are pestilent weapons. How much did that ball weigh? Thirty pounds?" He clasped Pietro's hand impulsively. "Comfort Maria. It is hard to lose one's husband at twenty-eight years of age."
His sight began to fail and strong shoots of agony shook his mutilated frame.
"I am at peace," he muttered. I have done no wrong.
But he was not resigned, and as he felt Death gaining on him, he tried to fight him as he had fought so many other enemies; and crying out, "I will not die in the midst of these plasters," he was taken from his soft mattresses and down cushions and all the devices of the doctors, and, raised in the arms of his friends, laid on a camp bed in the antechamber, where he died suddenly, twenty-eight years of age and the greatest captain of the Holy League.
When Charles de Bourbon heard of the death of his enemy, he said to himself, "And who next?" and, glancing up, smiled at his own stern face in the mirror of steel that hung in his tent.
Men and money! Men and money—and treachery! Further into the background of his thoughts receded those ancient days of peace when at Moulins he had sat beside the two women talking of a future that then seemed happy and assured.
He was a good soldier, a good general, forcing himself, forcing his character and his inclination, going on doggedly with set teeth and sweating brow, as a man does who refuses to give up a race though he knows that he is straining his heart to cracking. Before him rose the picture of the dead Medici, a man even younger than himself; he could see that procession across the icy Mantuan marshes with the snow coming down from the funereal sky and the strong limb crushed, the skin and bone and blood and flesh together.
"I too," he thought, "I too. There is no other end possible."
He knew that he was undertaking more than he could do, more indeed than any man could do with the means at his disposal. The Emperor was still absorbed in holding the Empire against the Turk and in patiently endeavouring to detach the different members of the League of Cognac from one another; he seemed to have forgotten his armies of mercenaries in Italy, who were now useless to him.
With the death of Giovanni de' Medici, the Duke of Urbino withdrew to protect Florence and made no further effort to impede the bitter, tedious marches whereby Charles was stumbling on with his broken columns towards Mantua.
At Pavia he waited, hoping that the Emperor might send some money—but nothing came. From a wealthy prisoner, Charles extracted as ransom twenty thousand crowns, which served to keep his grumbling men quiet for a short time longer.
Before he left Pavia he was joined by another landless adventurer—a tall young man with a lean, beautiful face and frowning brows—Philibert de Châlon, Prince of Orange.
This young Prince had been assured the return of all his dominions by the treaty of Madrid, and had, like the Connétable himself, received nothing.
These two noble and landless captains set out from the park of Mirabello, still ruined from the battle, through the icy weather towards the camp of the Lutherans.
Charles told the Prince that it was said among the Spanish soldiers that Georg Frundsberg bore at his saddle-bow a gold chain with which to strangle the pope of Rome.
"So we bring the heretic into Italy!" smiled Charles.
"The Emperor hired Frundsberg, not you or I," replied Philibert. "Let him answer to God for what he has done. What are we but his poor paid captains?"
"Where shall we lead these Landsknechte if Urbino covers Florence?" asked Charles. "And still the Emperor sends no money?"
"We must take them to Rome. Let the Pope pay them."
"So Antonio de Leyva said. Rome! To lead these fanatic Lutherans on Rome! We speak as men who have lost everything when we speak of that."
Yet the thought remained in his mind as he led his ragged, fever-bitten, sullen men towards the place where Frundsberg waited with his fierce, unpaid mercenaries.
When, from the fallen yellow columns of the Palatine, he had looked down on Rome, he had seen heavy breaches in those great walls where wild flowers and ferns grew. What manner of garrison would a man like Giulio de' Medici, Pope Clement VII, have in Rome? The rich fantasy of the adventure attracted his weary, unhappy mind.
"Why not make the Pope pay the Emperor's mercenaries?" he smiled. "There must be treasure enough in the Vatican." He laughed at himself. "Then perhaps I—at last—shall see Raffaello's paintings and Michael Angelo's statues—and 'The Laocoön'."
"I, too, should like to see Rome," said the Prince of Orange. "I should like to dictate terms to the Medici, even if he is Pope."
The wind blew across their thin faces and tossed their banners into the winter air.
Straight on a tassell'd bed,
In the still church, alone,
A dragon guards his head,
Snarling in stone.
All the bells ringing
Nights and days,
All the holy singing
Is with him always.
Never blows outer air,
on to his face,
Ever sighs prayer on prayer
Imploring for grace.
Shut from the town away
Bones in the dusk
outside the rose on the spray
Damask and musk.
The children are shouting
Loud at their sport,
Stout weeds are sprouting
In his ruined court.
CHARLES felt himself pushed forward as by some powerful, invisible hand. Everything he did seemed to be done without his own volition; though he followed in his laborious days a stern routine, he was always confused and baffled by this sense of being but a pawn, moved by the impassive fingers of Destiny or Providence or God, or whatever name man might give to fate.
The Imperial Captain-General in Italy, with his high-sounding title and brilliant fame and manifold gifts such as most men would have envied, felt himself to be like one subtly entangled in a net which by his most frantic efforts he tries to escape, yet draws more closely round him.
Looking back over his career it seemed to him as if he could trace when, where, and how this net had been cast over him. He had gone forward, like a man blindfold and doomed, ever since the day he had ridden out of Chantelle with the King's archers at his heels. He had been given impossible tasks, and even his successes like the great fight of Pavia had been fruitless through the treachery of others.
Now, on the plains of Italy, where the spring broke at last through the long grey winter, he felt himself trapped and taken. With every day he had sent dispatches to the Emperor for help, money to pay the troops—ay, here was the old saying, "Men and money, men and money, men and money and treachery". He had squeezed every drop out of his last resources before he had left Milan. He had marched to join Frundsberg with murmuring, sullen troops; and there was the German with his ten thousand unpaid mercenaries—who, fierce, lean, and ragged from their long, tedious march across the Alps, waited now like so many starving wolves for their reward. And he—Charles de Bourbon, the Emperor's representative—had no reward to give them. He and his officers and captains were stripped; he had no jewels to put on his finger or breast or in his bosom; even the last savings of his wife and his mother-in-law had gone to the money-lenders and the bankers in Milan; even the gifts that the Emperor had given him in Spain had all been sold.
He was so used to wealth and splendour that he found it difficult to realize that he was not only a landless but a penniless man, whose credit was worth nothing among the Jews of Italy. The forty thousand ducats which he had scraped together to bring his troops to the rendezvous with Frundsberg represented his last effort.
He told Frundsberg as much, sitting in the tent no longer now splendid and costly, but plain as that which covered any hired captain-at-arms set up on the plains of Lombardy, where his troops and the German mercenaries were camped.
Charles, a general of long experience and one used to handling large bodies of men, knew what it cost not only to pay a soldier but to feed and maintain him, his equipment, and his horse.
Georg Frundsberg felt himself betrayed. He had brought his men through incredible perils on the promise of the Emperor, but now it seemed that that promise was worth nothing. He stared, breathing heavily, grasping his sword.
"Nothing!" repeated Bourbon, raising his fine hand and letting it fall. "It is not the Emperor's fault that his word is worth nothing. He cannot get the money—and as far as we command it, Italy is drained."
Looking; at Frundsberg's terrible face, he added "I wrote a final appeal to Charles V. I said, 'We are all ruined if you do not send the money for which you have made yourself responsible. These soldiers must be paid or they will mutiny.' I ended my letter to the Emperor with these words, 'As for us, we can only place our lives at your service.'"
"My men," muttered Frundsberg. "My men—never have I failed them."
"I have not failed you, Prince. I have done impossible things to get here and tell you this news myself. I evade nothing. I flinch from nothing."
"Florence," said Frundsberg. "Let us march on Florence."
"Urbino guards it—he has everything."
Georg Frundsberg sat mute; his scarred, withered, magnificent face hardened until it seemed as if it were cast in iron.
"So," he muttered, "the Emperor has betrayed me—me and my men."
"When the Emperor engaged you he did not foresee Mohàcs, he did not know that the Fuggers would not be able to advance him any more money. We are all in the same position." Charles smiled slightly. "Del Vasto—Captain-General of the Spanish Foot—is entirely without means to pay his troops; the commander of my vanguard—my light cavalry and my men-at-arms—is the Prince of Orange, like myself, a landless, penniless Prince—like myself, a mercenary."
Frundsberg rose, a gigantic figure in his scarlet and orange undress.
"My men, my men, they trust me; as if I were their father they look to me. I brought them over the Alps in winter—for this—this."
"Some of them—the Lutherans—serve without pay for religious zeal?" asked Charles, still smiling.
"Ay," replied Frundsberg simply. "But even those must be fed."
Charles de Bourbon, with an ironic smile at himself and his destiny, put his plans as clearly as he could. The army must march down into central Italy as long as it would hold together without pay; as long as promises would induce the men to proceed, proceed they must.
"Ferrara," he added, "who hates the Pope, has promised us provisions. Let us move on to San Giovanni to obtain this help. Charles de Lanfloy, the Viceroy of Naples, is invading the Papal States from the south—that may cause a diversion in our favour."
"Can you see no further than that?"
"No." Charles paused in front of Frundsberg. "But—my life on this—I will stay by you." He put his hand into the gnarled, dry fingers of Frundsberg. "The air is dark and confused with treacheries—from what I can learn François has betrayed the Pope, who waits desperately and in vain for the promised French aid; we are like men crossing a swamp in the dark. But we can remain today—you, I, del Vasto, de Leyva."
"God help us, I pray the good God to help us," said the old mercenary simply, "the captains and my men."
As Charles de Bourbon and his motley army were marching towards Ferrara, Clement VII, awaking to a sense of his danger from amidst his austere and refined pleasures—laying aside for a moment Michael Angelo's sketches, Giulio Romano's designs, and Cellini's jewels secretly implored the Emperor for peace. The treaty of Madrid was again offered to him. In a panic His Holiness accepted these humiliating terms and signed the treaty, but repudiated it immediately on hearing of the victory of the Cardinal Legate Trivulzi over the Viceroy of Naples and Pompeo Colonna at Frosinone; thus, by his complicated duplicities, treacheries, treaties made secretly and secretly denied, treaties made openly and openly repudiated, the Pope had contrived to isolate himself from every possible friend and ally in Europe.
His need, too, was men—men and money—as he began to see the shadow of the Imperial Eagles across the Vatican, as he heard with increasing dread of the march of those bold heretics across the Alps, across Italy, as near as Ferrara. On the other side Rome was menaced by the Viceroy of Naples and the Spaniards, while Clement mourned the loss of his best Captain, Giovanni de' Medici; he was also dubious of the loyalty of those who surrounded him; there was no one man whom he could trust. The King of France sent him promises and nothing more, and, amusing himself with the gay hunting-party in Champagne, forgot the troubles of Italy while he indulged his own frivolous pleasures.
Clement neglected even the beautiful apartments where Giulio Romano and his assistants worked on the designs of Raffaello; he troubled himself no more about the grey Medici chapel in San Lorenzo; the bathroom of Cardinal Bibbiena remained closed—Venus tied her sandals in the dark; the workshop of Cellini was unvisited.
Brooding and fuming in his closet, the Pope's slender figure was curved over his desk; his almond eyes were narrowed with anxiety as he patiently tried to combine some intrigue against his enemies.
Towards Buda swept the infidel forces of Soliman the Magnificent, across Germany spread the doctrines of Martin Luther. In the corridor of the Vatican palace "The Laocoön" twisted in agony, men and snakes together frigid in the marble that seemed to writhe.
Though affairs seemed to go thus flourishingly for the Emperor, Charles de Bourbon and his captains holding together their sullen troops outside Ferrara did not see where they could gain any advantage from the weaknesses and treacheries of their enemies. They felt their difficulties to be more than those which mortal could affront; it was as if the gods themselves were preparing to take a hand in their overthrow.
Day by day the haggard captains consulted together, Bourbon, Frundsberg, Orange, del Vasto, Frederico, Gonzaga. What was to become of this vast army of brutal soldiers, many of them fanatic heretics, unless they were given a definite goal at which to aim, precise work with which to employ themselves? Not one of the leaders could answer.
The help that the Duke of Ferrara sent, in money, provisions, and ammunition, was soon exhausted, as Charles de Bourbon knew it must be among so many hungry mouths, so many empty firearms and pouchs, so much artillery gaping for food. When Ferrara could give nothing more, the mercenaries marched forward into Italy.
The leaders themselves had no concrete design; they could but march from day to day over the Southern plains, beginning now to brighten and flourish with leaf and flower, and let their men live on the daily pillage which barely sufficed their fierce needs.
When he had marched out of Milan with his destitute and rebellious forces, Charles had not obeyed his own instinct or judgment; he had done all that was possible for him to do in making a juncture with the German mercenaries in the desperate hope that the Emperor might send the money—some money, enough to keep his army together.
Frundsberg had no plan; Orange was only a bold, skilful adventurer. Whom were they to attack? Against what rich city were they to direct their starving soldiers? It was impossible even to think of advancing without money and without supplies.
The fair, pearl-like days of early spring clouded over and heavy rain tell, turning the low-lying fields to mud and soaking the roads beneath the twisted forms of olive trees and the black boughs of cypress.
At the first halt Charles rode among his men, thirty thousand veterans, grim and stern as the steel and iron they wore. Their affection, their trust—these combined to form his last hope. Frundsberg, too, was adored by his German Lutherans, but even when they saw their beloved leaders ride among them, the troops were sullen and murmuring. They demanded their pay, all the money that was owing to them, and even those fanatic heretics who were willing to serve without pay, as long as they might strike a blow at the Pope, demanded food and clothing and ammunition, or leave to go abroad on their own across Italy and obtain these necessaries for themselves.
Charles, spurring his great bay warrior-horse, rode about among the men, saying a word here and a word there, repeating again and again his promises. He told them that his necessities were as great as theirs, that he would die in want or make them all rich, that they must have a little patience, for he had no intention of defrauding them of the just payments for their services and their suffering.
When they did not seem satisfied, even by these eloquent appeals, he gathered together some of the leading officers, Germans, Swiss, Spanish, Italian, took them into his ragged tent, and showed them what he had left of personal possessions—a few silver vessels, some rings and buttons, some furnishing stuff and rich clothes. He had left Milan with very little of his personal belongings, but some few jewels that took up but little room he had kept in his bosom or his pocket or fastened to the back of a glove. These now he offered, casting them down on the floor of his tent.
"I will keep for myself," he said, "only the clothes I stand up in, and that coat of silver cloth which I wear above my armour. It is necessary that I should have this that you may distinguish me in battle."
He stood unarmed before them, his hand on his hip, his sword and straps on the rough iron bed where he slept, his helm with the white plumes on the cloak that served for his pillow; Philibert of Orange sat on the end of this bed mending carefully the lacing of the leather jerkins he wore under his mail; Frundsberg, heroic in stature, stood in the shadow of the tent.
"Take," said Charles, "all I possess. Once I had nearly a kingdom—castles, cities—all lost. All in the hands of my enemies, ay, even to the tombs of my wife and children. I care little what becomes of this body of mine, which is all that I have to lose. But I mean to remain with you, to serve the Emperor with honour." He pointed to the small pile of valuables. "All else that was left I sold to give you the forty-thousand ducats you had, before you left Milan."
The men, gaunt, scarred, marks of old frost-bite and Alpine winds on their flayed, unshaved faces, muttered together inside the entrance flaps of the tent; then the spokesman, a Spanish captain who had seen a hundred fights, said, stepping forward:
"Excellency, we will stay with you and fight for you, even against the Devil himself. Only lead us soon somewhere where we can help ourselves to our necessaries. And you shall not be ashamed of us. We will not take a ducat of your property."
When they had left the tent, the Prince of Orange laughed grimly.
"That is all very well. But can they keep their men quiet?"
Charles sighed. "Who knows? I am so weary. Yet how long it is since I slept!"
Frundsberg said nothing; he had implicit trust in his men. His courage, like his stature, was heroic. With the greatest possible audacity, resource, and energy he had led his men, who, when they started on their journey, had but a single ducat each, across the Alps, down into an enemy country; he had contrived to support them through every kind of peril and suffering, and to keep them together with no more than the hope of a possible and distant victory; and even now he remained resolute and tranquil.
Charles also stood silent. He could not imagine what the end of this desperate enterprise might be; he recounted over to himself his position: he had no scouts nor pioneers, no provisions, no money, no ammunition—nothing but the spirit of resolution, fortitude, and fanatic enthusiasm among his men.
And against whom, he asked himself, should he direct this terrible, reckless power?
Antonio de Leyva, lean, dark-faced, energetic, broke into the tent; news had come through from Charles de Lannoy, the Viceroy. It appeared that the Pope and his allies fared no better than the Imperialists. The Papal army in Apulia, receiving neither pay nor provisions, had disbanded; the Viceroy of Naples had crossed the frontier, invaded the Papal State, and had thrust forward to the midst of the Volscian hills.
"So you see," said de Leyva with his dark smile, "there is no one to check us if we march forward."
"Urbino?" asked Frundsberg, glancing up from the dispatches he had taken.
Charles remarked that the Duke of Urbino, cold, hesitating, and following out the selfish policy of Venice that was at bottom hostile to the Pope, would make no attempt to prevent the advance of the mercenaries. "Nor," he added, half cheating himself with his own pretended hopes, "is the position of the Pope good in other ways—he can wring no more money either out of the Treasury of St. Peter or from the States of his native Florence, which have already advanced him eight hundred thousand ducats since the beginning of the war."
"My correspondent in Rome," remarked the Prince of Orange, rising, "tells me that Clement is negotiating with the Emperor through Cesare Ferramosta. Suppose Emperor and Pope should make a treaty and leave us with this unpaid, starving army on our hands!" He laughed, stretching his fine young limbs.
"Let us camp here, still in touch with Ferrara, until we hear from de Lannoy," said Charles. He too laughed, but not with the vigour and ardour of the other young man; the night wind which penetrated the flaps of his tent seemed to him to blow from another world.
By the middle of March, Charles, still encamped near Ferrara, learned definite news from Rome. Cesare Ferramosta, after long negotiations, had induced the exasperated and timorous Medici Pope to make a treaty with the Emperor, by which he was to pay six thousand ducats for the payment of Bourbon's army, which was first to be sent into Venetian territory and then gradually disbanded and sent home.
"My God," cried Charles, "this on paper and I here with these men!"
The thing seemed to him incredible. Did the Emperor know what Ferramosta had undertaken in his name? Impossible, surely! Sixty thousand ducats to satisfy these fierce, these desperate mercenaries, who had come so far, who had suffered so much!
Charles felt an insensate fury against the treacherous Medici—as if he would have liked to throttle him, the core of all this mischief, with his own hands.
A treaty! Well enough on paper, but it meant nothing to the mercenaries whom Charles was leading. Ferrara's hatred of the Pope induced him to strain every nerve to give this powerful army oxen, provisions, and ammunition, but sufficient money to satisfy the troops he would not give. AS the delays continued, the fury of the soldiery would flame higher—what then?
Charles hurled himself out of his tent and rode away between the fields that stretched towards the red walls of Ferrara; groves of twisted, grey-leaved olives sent their fragile shadows over the first sprouts of the wheat and maize; the roads that traversed the farms were deeply rutted from the chariots that had brought powder and bullets to the camp of the mercenaries.
The sky was a pallid blue, half covered with a curdle of white clouds. Charles looked upwards, savouring the loveliness with an acrid pleasure.
There was a bitter satisfaction in losing everything, in being stripped of all earthly encumbrances, in standing face to face with supreme disaster. He glanced down at his lean, finely shaped hands holding the reins loosely; he glanced about him on the spring fields where another crop was swelling slowly to the harvest.
He thought of his long, laborious training, of the hard lessons he had diligently learned, of his gifts of mind and body, of his heritage—to what end, all this?
"That I may die at thirty-seven, trying to do an impossible task?" He looked upwards again. "If only God would give some sign to show what it all means!"
He rode back to the camp and perceived that the open mutiny that had long been expected had broken out. As he hastened past the picketed horses and the sullen sentries, del Vasto came riding towards him and caught his reins.
"Do not go to your quarters—the Spaniards are storming them—de Lurcy has been killed."
"Ah!" A sigh broke from the Connétable; he turned in his saddle and looked towards his tent, where the Bourbon flag still floated, white in the first abrupt fading of the day. "What can I do?"
"Come to Frundsberg—his men are in an uproar too."
"Ay, some talk has got about that a peace has been signed, and that they are to be disbanded."
"It is true. I had news from Rome an Hour ago—the Pope will offer sixty thousand ducats."
The two young men grinned at each other, and the Italian cursed the Medici roundly. Drums were sounding about them, short cries in several languages, the rasp of steel on steel; here and there a spurt of flame from torch or lantern broke the blue gloom as the brief twilight fell.
"De Lurcy!" said Charles. "How many people have been ruined for me—all my poor gentlemen and servants!..."
"We must think of Frundsberg," replied del Vasto. "He and de Leyva are facing them alone."
Forcing their way through a press of Swiss and Germans, the two captains came to the quarters of Georg Frundsberg, Prince of Mindelheim, whose great voice they heard rising hoarsely above a clamour of desperate sound.
"Stand back!" cried Charles, striking out with his glove and forcing his rearing charger forward. Plunging through the soldiery, he took his place beside Georg Frundsberg, who sat his black horse like a rock in front of his tent, above which fluttered his arms in black and scarlet; the Marchese del Vasto swerved his white horse the other side of the old General, and when faced by the three leaders the men drew back a little.
Georg Frundsberg was bare-headed; his thick grey hair, dark with sweat, clung to his purpling brow; the cords of his neck were swollen above his steel gorget; his huge frame, encased in metal and crimson velvet, sat heavily on his great saddle and powerful iron-grey horse. Famous for the valour proved in a hundred fights, of the best blood in Europe, used to deference, respect, and obedience, the stern old Lutheran had never known his soldiery refuse to listen to him; now he found that his words of reproach and appeal floated unheard into the din. Hoarsely he begged his soldiers, his children, to serve the Emperor faithfully, to wait for the money that must surely be now upon its way.
Harsh cries answered him: "We have been sold to the Pope! To Antichrist! We starve! We die! You have deceived us!"
Gaunt faces stared from the blotting shadows; scarred, frost-bitten arms and hands from which fell filthy rags were thrust upwards amid the spear-heads and halberds. All the cries mingled into one wail of despair as the Swiss pressed forward round their leader.
"Poor beasts!" whispered Charles, and he smiled slightly, thinking of the Pope.
Georg Frundsberg was suddenly silent; the sweat rolled down his face; he shuddered.
"Soldiers!" cried Charles, raising his Band. "Listen to your leader! If you suffer, does he not suffer too?"
"He deceived us!" groaned the Lutherans.
"We have all been deceived!" shouted Charles. "The Spaniards are pillaging my tents, they have killed my friend to what end?"
The words, which were spoken in German, were caught in a rolling echo from the heaving press of men—"To what end—to what end? How many months since we left our homes!"
Like the last sigh of a dying man the word "home" rose from the mercenaries.
"I too!" cried Charles. "Exiled, penniless, ruined!"
"Soldiers," said Georg Frundsberg in a gurgling voice, "men, children! Listen to me! Did I not lead you over the Alps? Have I ever forsaken you? Have I ever betrayed you? I have made no treaty with the infernal Medici, the accursed Antichrist—"
A roar of rage drowned his words; the soldiers pressed closer to the three horsemen.
Del Vasto drew his sword.
"Before you tear me to pieces I shall kill some of you dirty heretics, filthy German swine!" he cried, showing his white teeth in his dark face. "Where is Leyva?" he added fiercely.
"Gone," whispered Frundsberg, "to help Prince Philibert with his Spaniards. My voice—my heart—God help me!" He turned his massive head towards Charles. "They will not listen to me, they are not listening!" he sighed. He stared at the Frenchman and saw that he, too, was speaking in tones of authority which were not heeded.
"My troops, my men, mutinying, refusing to listen to me!"
His powerful, gnarled and twitching hands loosened upon the reins, his eyes turned in his head, and his gigantic mailed figure slipped sideways off the prancing frightened horse and crashed on to del Vasto, then on to a drum that stood at the side of the half-spoiled tent.
Charles seized the bridle of the rearing, riderless horse, while he held in his own steed with the left hand.
"Ay, you have killed him! What good has that done you?"
Cries of fury and anger turned to exclamations of remorse and grief. Georg Frundsberg was truly beloved by his soldiery; some of them rushed forward and raised him. The old man had been stricken by an apoplexy; his massive frame and his noble heart, which had weathered the passage of the Alps and the long, perilous hardships of the sojourn in Italy, were both broken by the disobedience of his mercenaries.
"You can do nothing more," said Charles, dismounting and freeing himself from the horses, which some of the men took. "Make a litter, take him up and carry him into Ferrara."
Charles rode, through the cold blue night where the first faint perfumes of spring sweetened the air, to the city behind the litter in which the old man lay dying. Before the mind of the Frenchman was the picture of Giovanni de' Medici being borne thus to Mantua.
He thought of the Swiss and Germans swarming round their leader, shouting out reproaches and—"Money! Money! Money!" Upright on his great horse in his gleaming armour the valiant and magnificent old soldier, who had trained these men for so long and who had led them through so many hardships and perils, and who had never lost his hold on them, had spoken to them by the light of the stars and the torches with an enthusiasm and a fury equal to their own, now appealing to them as his children, now rebuking them as if they had been angry dogs...
All in vain; he was now low enough and silent enough.
Charles recalled how, when the soldiers saw him, they had sent up another cry of rage and scorn, expressing their wolfish fury with these leaders who could neither pay nor feed them nor give them the means with which to obtain money and provisions for themselves.
"Frundsberg will die," mused Charles. "And what can I do for these wretches?"
His own thought answered him: Rome—Rome—Rome!
That night Georg Frundsberg died, muttering nothing of God or heaven or of the heresy to which he had pledged his life, but only now and then thickly from his twisted lips: "My children, my soldiers, they would not listen to me."
There was no one now who was in command of the German mercenaries, but Charles, with the indifference of a man so burdened that a little more added to his load is no matter, decided to tell the German captains that he would henceforth be their leader.
To the Duke of Ferrara, in whose palace Frundsberg died, he said ironically: "What do you advise? You know my situation; you see what I command!"
And Alfonso of Ferrara answered without a pause:
"Lead them against Florence or against Rome."
"You know what that will mean. Most of these Germans are fanatic heretics."
"What does that matter," replied the Italian Prince, "if they can be used to destroy that bastard who usurps the throne of St. Peter?"
"I am a Christian," said Bourbon, more to himself than to the Duke. "I am a son of Holy Church. Is it for me to lead these wolves against Rome?" Then he added abruptly: "Give me some money, but enough to give a ducat to each soldier, and I will lead them."
"Where?" asked Ferrara keenly.
"The Emperor has abandoned us," replied Charles. "Since Frundsberg is dead, the bargain with him is void. What are we then but banditti? As banditti I shall lead them."
"I will give you thirty thousand ducats," said Ferrara, "if you will take the men out of my Duchy—and lead them against Florence or Rome."
Charles looked down on the linen sheet that covered the massive rigid form of Georg Frundsberg, at the dinted armour and worn, red-velvet garments piled on the chair beside the bed, on the two-edged sword lying beside the dead man.
"Give me the money and I will do it."
With this money, carried in bags by two of his French gentlemen behind him, Charles went out on the morning after Frundsberg's death and, calling together the captains of the mercenaries, he offered them a ducat each for every man.
"And," said he, with his hands on his hips and his uncovered head held high, "I will lead you either to Florence, which is one of the richest cities in the world, or to Rome, which may be called the pearl of Europe—and there you may obtain what will be your arrears of pay, and more."
This pleased both the mercenaries who served for sheer pay and the fanatics who served for nothing against the Church of Rome; for they had all been shaken by the death of their beloved leader, which they imputed to themselves as little better than a murder, and repented that, after they had shared so many perils and hardships with him, they should at the last leave mutinied and broken his heart. So they accepted the terms of the Duke of Bourbon, who appointed twelve captains of their own nationality to look after their interests but to be under his orders.
Thus far had Charles organized his affairs when Cesare Ferramosta, the Imperial Envoy, with a small train of Papal guards, rode up in haste on a sweating horse with official news of the treaty made by the Emperor with the Pope. He brought a copy of this, which he showed to the Duke of Bourbon, and offered him sixty thousand ducats, which was to cover all the expenses of the mercenaries.
"Let them," said Ferramosta, still panting from his ride, "take this money and disband, and each man get back as best he may to his own home or country."
Bourbon laughed in Ferramosta's face. "Have you seen my army? Do you realize that these men have been six months in the field with no pay, that at least two hundred thousand crowns are due to them, that they are half starved, in rags, without shoes? Do you understand, Ferramosta, that besides what is due to the Germans, I have five or six thousand Spanish troops who have received no pay since they left Milan? Do you know what it means to feed this army, the horses of the cavalry and the baggage wagons? Do you understand that I have had to borrow heavily from the Duke of Ferrara? And you come here with these terms—which are not new to us: at the very rumour of them the men mutinied."
Charles expressed himself with a violence that was contrary to his usual manner and, taking the Envoy by the arm, bid him turn his horse's head and come with him to the camp itself—Charles had met Ferramosta a furlong from the walls of Ferrara, as the Envoy had, by his messenger, asked.
"I serve the Emperor," Charles said, "and I will try to support you in getting this treaty accepted, but I warn you that you ask an impossible thing."
There being no tent large enough for the purpose, all the leaders and captains of the mercenaries were summoned on to a little knoll that was surrounded by olive and ilex trees, and there they listened to the treaty of the Emperor and the Pope, which was read aloud by Cesare Ferramosta in a clear, high voice, sharp with anxiety, for the ragged soldiers looked hostile and fierce.
No sooner had the Envoy concluded than Charles spurred his horse forward and tried to enforce some arguments for the acceptance of this tremendous sacrifice.
He told the captains, Spanish, German, and Italian, that he had but four small pieces of cannon; that they would have to cross desolate and arid country, which would not be able to supply them with food; that both Florence and Rome were powerfully fortified cities, and that he had only suggested marching against them in a moment of desperation; that now here was help and hope—here were sixty thousand crowns in good cash and promise of more.
"The Emperor has made peace," repeated Charles in that singularly winning voice which he usually kept low, and which was powerful and penetrating when raised. "Peace, I say. I am no politician to tell you the rights and wrongs of it, but only his Imperial Majesty's Captain-General—and now there is no war and no army for me to lead. For myself I have nothing, not so much as a word of thanks or a single ducat. I bid you to take all that Cesare Ferramosta has brought and make your way as best you can back to your peoples and your homes."
The reception of his frank appeal was what Charles had known it would be. The captains with one accord refused to listen further; each turned to gallop back to his men, hardly deigning to glue an answer to proposals that seemed to them infamous.
"You see, it is too late," said Charles, smiling at Ferramosta, "and as for you, if you value your life, you will take the swiftest horse you can find. I believe Fernando Gonzaga will give you one—that is his tent there, close to mine—and ride for your life back to Rome! When the soldiers learn what their captains have gone to tell them, you are not safe here, not for an instant."
"But what shall I tell His Holiness?" asked the Ambassador, clutching up his reins in a panic.
"Tell him to commend himself and his city to God, whom he represents," smiled Charles de Bourbon, "for I think from man he can get no more help. Rome! Rome! It is strange how long that word has echoed in my heart, Ferramosta. Perhaps it was this that all the time I dimly foresaw, not knowing what I foresaw."
"You mean," cried the Imperial Envoy, "you would march on Rome! But His Majesty has signed a peace with the Pope! And the thing is unthinkable! The pearl of Christendom! The gem of the Church to be the prey of these starving hordes of ruffians!"
"I have been so netted in, circumvented, and betrayed," replied Bourbon, "that I cannot behave like a free man. There are others with me in a like case. We are doomed, marked down one by one. Frundsberg died yesterday; he was an old man. There are del Vasto, Orange—both young. De Leyva too, I never heard him complain. Well, no doubt my time will come soon." He smiled wildly and waved his gauntleted band towards Gonzaga's tent. "Make haste, I say, make haste!"
Up the slope through the ilex and olive trees the captains were returning with the straggling ranks of angry mercenaries at their horses' heels.
As Cesare Ferramosta saw these he gave a short cry and turned his horse's head.
"Leave the money you brought," smiled Charles, "and that will cover your escape—"
The Envoy galloped towards his waiting retinue who, on a word from him, threw down under the quivering ilex trees most of the bags of ducats they had brought from Rome, and took to the high road, where a cloud of dust soon enveloped them.
"Another two ducats each," thought Charles. "How many miles to Rome? Can I do it?"
The captains came sweating up the knoll where the young Duke sat bare-headed on his great bay, outlined against the mounting clouds that overtopped the distant walls of Ferrara.
"Well," he said, "what do you say? As for the Imperial Envoy, he has gone."
"It is as well," replied the great blond Swabian captain, who was the first to gain the ilex trees. "For our men meant to have torn him limb from limb for bringing proposals so shameful and so degrading. The Emperor makes peace, does he, when he has brought us down here across the Alps into Italy without a white piece of pay, with nothing but empty promises! And you, too, Prince, you too are betrayed, as was Georg Frundsberg, now at Heaven's Gate."
"I have always been betrayed," replied Charles de Bourbon, "as much by myself as by any Emperor, or by any God." He raised his voice. "Soldiers, tell me now what you wish me to do!"
And from the ranks rose the one cry: "To Rome Florence! We desire to march forward. To Rome! To Florence!"
In the dialects of Swabia and Franconia and the Tyrol, in the accents of Italy and Spain, of Naples and Genoa, rose the words: Rome! To Rome! Florence! Let the Medici pay!
"So be it," replied Charles. "Tomorrow we, who no longer have any Emperor or, as I think, any God, will march onwards."
He put himself at the head of the men, who, quick to realize that he could have fled with Ferramosta, shouted for him with a zeal that he found oddly piteous.
To the Frenchmen with him he said:
"Take up the money left under the ilex trees. I shall divide it among the men tonight, and tomorrow morning we shall strike camp."
To himself he reasoned: "To keep trust with these poor devils, with that dead old man, with Ferrara who paid me to leave, with myself—not to falter, not to turn back..."
He returned to his camp and ordered two of his French gentlemen to fashion a new flag out of one of his remaining sheets and to write, in any ink they might find, his motto Espérance across it. "That which I have is so blackened and ragged." He stumbled with fatigue when he dismounted, and turned aside, sickened, when he noticed, untouched amid the slush, a knot of daisies growing by his unfurled tent.
My torn lilies flout the sky,
My ragged scouts nose out the foe,
My broken columns tramping by
Leave bloody ashes as they go.
The hillside church at vespers rang
A bell for pity and for fear,
My Germans at the pale priest sprang
And slit his throat from ear to ear.
The woman and her little maid
They spitted on the sword,
And roared out, as they wiped the blade,
A hymn unto their Lord.
Above the gale, the snow, the marsh,
I see the moonlit night,
The grate of rusty mail is harsh
And sad as dead delight.
I ride until each bone does ache
And fever's in my blood,
I see the hired starvelings break
And stumble in the mud.
This host is damned and I am lost,
Who lead them on to Rome,
on alien winds my dreams are toss'd
To daisied fields at home.
HIS HOLINESS, Pope Clement VII, bitterly regretted the sixty thousand ducats that he had been forced to send out to pay off Charles de Bourbon's force.
How much better this sum of money, desperately scraped up from an exhausted treasury could have been spent! It was exactly the amount that the late Pope Leo X, his revered and beloved uncle, had laid out every year on the rebuilding of St. Peters Church, while Raffaello, for each of his famous rooms, had received only one thousand two hundred ducats. The tapestries of gold and silver tissue that adorned the corridors of the Vatican library, and that were considered one of the wonders of the world, had cost only fifty thousand ducats; the most exquisite lute-player in Europe had been purchased by the title of Count and a castle, neither of which was worth anything near sixty thousand ducats. One thousand five hundred ducats had been paid for a narwhal's horn, a unique treasure, while a thousand ducats had purchased the marvellous clock and the superb musical instrument made by Conrad Trompa of Nuremberg, which the Pope could never look at without the greatest pleasure. Even the sum spent on Cardinal Bibbiena's bathroom had been but a very small portion of sixty thousand ducats.
The Pope raised his elegant hands in disgust, almost in despair.
How wretched to be civilized in an age of barbarism, to be forced to give money to these brutal hordes merely in order to purchase a measure of safety!
He thought with bitter hatred of the young Emperor, who was the cause of this misfortune, and already began turning over in his mind how he could do him some injury, although he had only just signed a treaty of alliance with him; the Medici's restless wits began once more to shift into a fresh combination all the different policies of Europe, and he checked off on his long fingers Urbino, Ferrara, Venice, Milan, France, England—rapidly calculating how one could be combined with the others to his advantage.
Then, in order to soothe himself, both by an illusion of peace and by the contemplation of the grandeur of his House, he went to the grey mausoleum in San Lorenzo, where the two statues of Giuliano and Lorenzo had lately been put into position, and stood there musing awhile on the splendour of the House of Medici, until his mind was once more arrogantly at ease and he was no longer troubled by fear of barbarians, heretics, or infidels, or any of the Kings or potentates of Europe, but satisfied with being Clement, Pope of Rome and Head of Christendom. His mind turned on his heiress, the little sharp-faced, dark-eyed child Catherine—he might marry her to the Royal House of France...
When the Pope returned to the Vatican these soothing dreams were speedily dispelled; Cesare Ferramosta had returned from the mercenaries' camp, and he brought with him the news of the rejection of the Pope's offer; he had contrived to carry away from the camp twenty thousand of the sixty thousand ducats. There they were in bags, standing on the Pope's desk; he had again some of the money that he so bitterly regretted and could spend it on ordering more crystal flagons and figures of sardonyx and agate from Benvenuto Cellini, or in paying some of Giuliano Romano's workmen, who were finishing the Hall of Constantine.
But Clement felt no pleasure in the return of this portion of his gold; he stood by his desk with the green marble top and stared like a stricken man at the bags of money while he listened to Ferramosta's quick patter of frightened words: "They will not take it, they will not stop. They left Ferrara shortly after I did."
"Where are they going?" asked Clement with slant black eyes downcast. "What is their goal?"
"Florence or Rome," panted Ferramosta, "Florence or Rome."
"Bourbon is leading them on Rome!" exclaimed the Pope.
"Ay, what else can he do? He is a man driven by his army, not controlling it. He seemed to me a man giving reins to his destiny. He has suffered. He will try for Florence—but Urbino guards it."
"But I have made peace with the Emperor," stammered Clement. "I have signed a treaty, and Bourbon knows it."
"What is the use of treaties, Holiness? Pieces of paper, signatures in ink! There is a large horde there of half-starving, fanatic men. I only just escaped with my life; had I not seized young Gonzaga's horse and thrown down most of the money, they had seized me and torn me limb from limb, for bringing such terms."
"The money," said the Pope, pointing to the bags on the green marble desk, "do these wretches then despise money?"
"It is not enough, Holiness, it is not enough. It would not pay them one half of what is owed them. Besides, after the hardships they have undergone, and the promises that have been made them, will they be content with their mere pay?"
"What more do they need?" asked Clement, blanching.
"They need a city to plunder."
"But Rome!" exclaimed the Pope, clasping his elegant hands. "That Bourbon should even dare to think of it!"
"I heard the words," said Ferramosta, "even before I left the camp. 'Rome!' they all cried. 'Rome Lead us to Rome!'"
For a second the tall Pope stood rigid in sheer terror, his quick craftiness supplied his lack of courage.
"They will not find it so easy to get to Rome," he whispered rapidly. "There are the Appenines to cross, the snow will still be on the hills—many of them will perish with cold and hunger. Yes, yes, there are no harvests yet, and the granaries will be empty—they will starve."
"But many may survive to march on Rome."
"The Viceroy of Naples," the Pope hurried on, "he knows that I have made a pact with his master. You have failed, but another may succeed. I will send Charles de Lannoy to Bourbon, let him take the treaty with him, let him insist on these men's being disbanded on their withdrawal."
"Another sixty thousand ducats," said Ferramosta, with a sneering look at the bags on the green marble, "will not be sufficient now, Holiness. It must be at least a hundred and fifty thousand. Forty thousand they have, as it were, stolen—that has gone, yes, two hundred thousand are needed."
"I cannot raise them," sighed Clement. "There is not that amount of ready money in Rome."
He put his beautiful hands on either side of his long face and closed his handsome, dark, narrow eyes; he knew that had his credit been better he might have raised the money with some of the bankers in Rome, for instance the great House of Chigi, with their insolent extravagance.
He had always hated the Chigi with their vulgar ostentation. He had been present at the banquet they had given to Pope Leo X, when after every course they had flung the gold and silver plate into the pond in the garden; of course, it was all a trick—when the guests had departed the servants, with nets, had fished up the vessels again.
Then that display when they had led the Pope and his train into a gorgeously furnished hall and, after he had expressed his admiration of it, they had let down the tapestries from the rollers and shown that this was but the stables.
Clement spitefully remembered those tricks—but why? He must clear his mind; this was not the moment to be considering the vulgarity of the Chigi, but only how he could raise money from them. There were things he would not sell, he would not even pledge—Benvenuto Cellini's jewels, some of the pictures and statuary, some of his tapestries, the Raffaello drawings and cartoons, the picture of The Transfiguration that stood by Raffaello's deathbed, "The Laocoön"; no, there must be some other way!
"Florence," he said, opening his eyes and looking at Ferramosta, who stood with his arms folded on his breast staring down at him; "we will try Florence. I know the man to send and he will start today. I must raise a loan there, even if I pledge the vessels of Holy Church."
When forced to action Clement was a good business man, quick and punctual in his affairs, and that evening one of his stewards, with a handsome train, fared from Rome to Florence to raise a loan of at least a hundred thousand ducats to be sent at once to the Imperial and Holy City. When he thought over his position Clement found another hope besides that of bribing Bourbon's army to disband; Florence was nearly as rich, nearly as famous as Rome, and though it was his native city he hoped that the mercenaries might be diverted by this rich prize in their way, and, if they must sack a city, might plunder Florence instead of Rome.
Clement did not share his uncle Leo's love for the Florentines, who, because they considered him a bastard, had often treated him with disrespect and even insults; and his fine lips curled unpleasantly as he thought of the barbarian hordes let loose upon the wealthy and insolent Florentine burghers, upon those purse-proud bankers who had so often refused him a loan or had granted him one only at a ridiculously high rate of interest.
Charles de Lannoy, the Viceroy of Naples, and a trusted servant of the Emperor, was soon at the Vatican and accepted the mission of going to Bourbon's army and endeavouring to get him to respect the treaty and accept the Pope's offer of a large sum of money, a hundred and fifty thousand ducats at least.
Charles de Lannoy had not set out on his difficult mission before the Deputies of Florence arrived with the hundred thousand ducats in gold. The bankers had advanced this sum without much difficulty, partly because the interest offered was high and the securities no other than the gold and silver plate of St. Peter's, and partly because they too wished to see this savage and fanatic army disbanded before it was at their own city gates.
On Easter Day the Viceroy of Naples joined the Connétable of Bourbon between Arezzo and Montevarchi, where the mercenaries, further exasperated and exhausted by the miseries of crossing the Apennines on empty stomachs and empty pockets through the last severity of the late spring, were in camp. Charles de Lannoy had always been jealous of Bourbon, and the two men had now less than ever in common. Bourbon received the Viceroy grimly, with a scant courtesy. On him, Bourbon alone, rested the entire responsibility of this vast army of desperate and implacable men.
He told de Lannoy that, for himself, he was willing to respect the treaty, but his first duty lay now not with the Emperor but with his men, and that a larger sum of money than either Florence or Rome could provide would be necessary to turn them from their dream of receiving as their reward and prize and payment one of the great cities of Italy, which in their minds were of almost fabulous wealth and luxury.
De Lannoy found the Frenchman much changed since he had last seen him outside Pavia; his powerful figure was gaunt, his nobly shaped face lean to emaciation, but he still preserved a severe elegance; he was carefully shaved, his hair cut straight across his brow and on to his shoulders, his hands white and even, rubbed with aromatics, but de Lannoy noticed that his clothes were simple, worn and mended, that he did not wear a single jewel, that his soft riding-boots were patched and his spurs of iron.
"Tell Ferramosta," said Bourbon grimly, "that he was stupid to cheat me of twenty thousand ducats. I had promised my men two ducats each and the sum was short."
"Ferramosta serves the Pope," replied de Lannoy, "as you and I, monseigneur, serve the Emperor."
"The Pope! The Emperor! What have I to do with either? I serve necessity."
"You cannot take Florence," declared the Viceroy brusquely. "It is madness to think of Rome—impossible."
"Do not use that word to me," smiled Charles sternly. He unrolled from his pocket a rough map that he had made himself. "See where Frundsberg brought these men from, across the Tyrol to Brescia—see where I led my starving garrison from Milan to Mantua—then to where the Este helped us at Ferrara—see where we are now, at Arezzo not so far from Florence, eh? Siena has promised provisions—when I have left that Republic I shall be in Umbria, the Patrimony of St. Peter—Viterbo—Cività Castellana—Rome."
"You would not dare—such an outrage would amaze all Christendom—"
"Consider who I am, de Lannoy, and my position. What can daunt a man who has lost everything save the trust of a few thousand wretches, who look to him as their sole hope?"
"Ah, those vile wretches!" exclaimed de Lannoy disdainfully.
"Ay, vile enough, no doubt, but not viler than the Medici in Rome, or the Valois in Paris. Return to the Pope de Lannoy, and tell him that I demand immediately one hundred and fifty thousand ducats in gold. Let it be sent to the walls of Siena, where I shall encamp."
"You will, then, advance?"
"Yes, if I find Florence too well defended to attack."
"You put yourself in the position of a bandit," said de Lannoy. "I hear that del Vasto does not follow you, nor de Leyva."
"No. I miss them," said Charles simply. "They returned to Ferrara—knowing that I have no commands from the Emperor for what I do—"
"You will have to answer to God and man for what you do."
"Ay, and for man I have my answer. As for God—let Him answer me some questions."
As Charles de Lannoy rode away from the camp he heard the hoarse voices of the Germans rising in Lutheran hymns.
Charles sat alone in his camp, gazing at his map, measuring off, in his mind, the miles—Arezzo, Florence, Siena, Viterbo, Civita Castellana—Rome.
Without waiting for a reply from Clement, Charles de Bourbon led his mercenaries through the valley of the Arno towards Florence, but when they were at San Giovanni, thirty miles from the Tuscan capital, the light Spanish horse that acted as scouts brought news back to the main body that two armies were converging on Florence: one, that of the League commanded by the Genoese Marchese di Saluces and, the other, that of Venice commanded by the Duke of Urbino.
The Connétable, upon this news, called together his captains, among whom was only one man of rank or importance, Philibert de Châlon, Prince of Orange. He laconically pointed out to them that it was useless to think of attacking Florence, now protected by two powerful forces; only one possible prize now remained for them, distant, glittering, perhaps unattainable—Rome.
He told them that their one chance of success lay in the rapidity of their movements; if, by a series of forced marches, they could reach Rome before it was able to be put in a state of defence, it was possible they might take it by assault; and he suggested that they went to Siena, which had, by messengers lately sent, promised the Imperial troops provisions.
The loud acclamations of the men, as the Connétable's words were passed from rank to rank, buzzed in his ears; he smiled at the Prince of Orange, who sat his white horse beside him.
"I have always wanted," he said, "to see Rome—the new Church of St. Peter, the rooms painted by Raffaello and the group of 'The Laocoön', of which King François has but a poor copy. I have been to Rome, but I did not see these wonders."
"You have been to Rome?"
"Ay, when the King of France went to Bologna. I remember the ruins. Raffaello then was the inspector of the ancient buildings and had done much to preserve them. I found a hermit who was living like that Calvo who translated Vitruvius for Raffaello. These trifles come into my mind—I think I am a little broken, though I still contrive to use my body and my mind."
The Prince of Orange glanced at him sharply. He was lean, his cheeks sunken, his eyes shadowed; he had the air of a man stricken by fever; he smiled sideways at his companion.
"The emperor knows what we shall have to do; like all these great ones, he makes use of us. Do you suppose he was displeased when the Colonna raided the quarters of the Vatican? We are but pawns, my Prince, you and I, high-placed as we think ourselves.
"Ay," replied Philibert de Châlon, looking back over his shoulder at the ragged hordes behind him, tramping on in disordered columns, starving, ferocious, and implacable. "But whose pawns? Is it God's hands or those of the Emperor that move us from one place to another?"
"Perhaps when we are dead we shall know," replied Charles, "or will that be but a dreamless sleep? If I could be rid of dreams, Prince, I should be much easier in my waking hours. I have thought so often of late that I was in the Abbey Church of Sauvigny, where I think I shall never lie. I ride," he added, "every day nearer to my father's and my brother's tombs in Naples. Where do one's dreams go when one dies?"
But though Charles was often light-headed with fever and from dreams, he manoeuvred his terrible army with great skill and precision.
The weather began to be hot and the plains of central Italy between Umbria and the marshes of the Maremma were laden with malarious mists; when the soldiers had struggled through these swamps they encountered barren plains, but always they pressed on with indomitable resolution, fortified by the sight of that leader riding ahead, his sole possession the silver corslet, following the ragged white banner on which was his self-chosen ironic device—"By the sword alone."
When the rapid river, the Paglia, seemed to check their progress, Charles had at once a device to ford it. He ordered his foot-soldiers to arrange themselves in ranks of thirty or forty abreast, and so with their arms interlaced, to wade across at the moment that the cavalry, taking the ford a little higher, brake the force of the current; even so, the water was so deep that it came up to the chins even of the tallest men. They had been instructed that, if one of them weakened and lost his foothold, the others were to let him go, for further down the stream were stationed Germans of special strength and stature whose duty was to snatch their fellows as they drifted down the current.
The Pope had counted much on the River Paglia's stopping the progress of the mercenaries, who were, as he knew, without boats with which to make pontoons or any other devices whereby they might cross a current swollen by the spring rains; and when he heard that they had without any considerable loss got, as it were by a miracle, across the river and had advanced on the little hill towns—Montifiascone, Ronciglione—which they had sacked without mercy after provisions had been refused, filling themselves with food and wine, he began to shudder and tremble.
Partly from native duplicity, partly because he had in the hour of his peril lost his head, Clement had signed another treaty with the Holy League in the presence of the English Ambassador, his object being to obtain money; he had demanded thirty thousand ducats, to be paid monthly, from the King of France and the State of Venice, fifteen thousand ducats and three thousand five hundred foot-soldiers from the King of England, and stipulated that these combined armies and these large sums of money should at once be sent to protect him from the barbarian hordes of the Emperor. In return for these benefits, and, as he believed, the security of Rome, he had vowed that he would excommunicate Charles V and take from him the kingdom of Naples.
When he had made this treaty the Pope felt a little ease of mind and even had again begun to take pleasure in his buildings, his tapestry, his statuary, and the workshop of Benvenuto Cellini; but when he heard that Charles de Bourbon had crossed the Paglia he became again oppressed by a sense of doom. How was it possible for the men and money from Venice, France, and England to arrive in time to save him from these ruffian mercenaries?
Clement could neither eat nor sleep for anxiety, and paced his brilliant galleries restlessly, taking no interest in the workmen who hurried to and fro with plaster, pricked cartoons, and pots of colours to complete their work in the Hall of Constantine.
On the second day of May, a footsore, sweating rustic came running in from Viterbo bringing letters from the Commandant of that town to say that the Imperial light cavalry, under Scianna Colonna, were under the walls; the main body under Bourbon and Orange were at Montifiascone and Ronciglione.
"Under the walls of Viterbo!" exclaimed the Pope, shrinking into his silken garments, his face becoming the colour of one of his own scented wax candles. Too late, then, his treaty with England and France, his return to the Holy League!
Clement sent for the most trustworthy captain he had in Rome, Renzo da Ceri, and asked him to raise what force he could for the defence of the city. Ceri, who was an able and experienced man, but who yet scarcely believed that Bourbon would dare to attack Rome, got together a garrison, composed partly of disbanded soldiers, partly of clerks and shopmen, partly of the servants of the Cardinals and the nobility, from pages to stable-boys.
These, who were neither disciplined nor trained, nor in many cases armed, were placed in defence of the walls of the Borgo and Trastevere; some of these fortifications were entirely neglected and even crumbling to pieces, and the first task of the hastily raised soldiery was to repair them and place some guns upon them. The immediate pay of these men amounted to a thousand crowns, and that, the Pope had not got, as he had already dissipated the Florentine loan; after having pledged all the silver vessels, chains, jewels, and rings in his personal possession, he fell back on his last resource and made five new Cardinals at the price of forty thousand ducats each.
Yet, even while he took these desperate precautions, the Pope scarcely believed that Bourbon would dare to attack the Holy City. He sent for the Marchesa d'Este, one of whose sons was in Bourbon's army and the other of whom had been one of the purchasers of a Cardinal's hat so lately set up for sale, and questioned her anxiously as to what manner of man the Connétable, Duc de Bourbon, might be—he was the son of her sister, Chiara di Gonzaga...
The cool and clever lady answered adroitly that she had always known her nephew to be a loyal, grave, handsome, and accomplished cavalier, and that she had herself sent a messenger to him asking him if he took Rome to spare her house, and that he had replied promising to do so and telling her to provision and fortify her palace. She added, with a flicker of contempt for Clement's panic fear:
"While my nephew is in command of the Imperial forces, Your Holiness need fear no outrage. While he lives he will be able to control and restrain his troops, though I do not doubt it will take the last ducat in your Treasury to be rid of them."
"I met him at Bologna," said Clement. "But I do not recall him very well. He said very little—I observed a great jealousy that King François had for him because of Marignato—a good general. Ah, well, be has no cause to hate me."
"No cause, Holiness?" rebated the Marchesa. "Did you not absolve King François from the oath he took to restore all to my nephew Charles? But be assured he will not act from petty motives."
Renzo da Ceri broke in upon the audience of the Marchesa to declare bluntly that three thousand untrained men and a few thousand ducats were not sufficient to put Rome in a state of defence.
"You must do what you can," stammered the Pope. "Surely, surely it is impossible that these ruffians will dare to march on Rome."
"It is impossible," replied da Ceri shortly, "for me to defend the city with a handful of scullions and stable-boys. The walls are in a state of disrepair—in some places broken—the breaches made by Pompeo Colonna have not been mended."
"Do what you can," repeated the Pope nervously, shrinking back from the stern, angry soldier, who lifted his shoulders scornfully and turned away on his difficult business.
"He knows his work," said Clement with a sigh. "He distinguished himself at the siege of Marseilles—a capable man, everything is safe in his hands."
"Even a capable man can do little without material," said the Marchesa Isabella, waving her plume of ostrich feathers; "for my part I am glad that the Duc de Bourbon is my sister's son. I have taken his advice to fortify my house."
Clement gave the bright lady a disagreeable look.
"Ah, well, madame, you may be thankful for this threat to Rome—only such a need of money would have forced me to give your son a Cardinal's hat."
When the Marchesa had left him, the Pope, alone in his gorgeous closet, turned over shrewdly and anxiously in his mind the chances of the mercenaries' reaching Rome.
It was disturbing to know that they had crossed the Paglia been supplied by Siena, sacked Ronciglione and Montifiascone, and were under the walls of Viterbo—ay, since the first day of May the had been in Papal territory and their rate of march was sixteen to twenty miles a day—disturbing and incredible, all this. The news from Florence was ugly too; the citizens, angry at the threat of the mercenaries and blaming the Pope for their peril, had risen in revolt against the House of Medici, and the young Ippolito de Medici had left the city to join the Duke of Urbino.
Clement sighed: what a chance was lost! If only Bourbon could have paid his troops by sacking ungrateful, rebellious Florence—how unfortunate that the junction of the armies of Urbino and Salutes should have forced Bourbon to turn towards Rome.
But it was unthinkable!
Bourbon would not dare; his master the Emperor would not dare; even the mercenaries themselves would not dare—no, de Lannoy had said they wanted one hundred and fifty thousand ducats, and that had been promised by Florentine bankers; it ought to arrive before Bourbon reached San Giovanni, two days' march from Rome. The mind of Giulio de' Medici could not long remain fixed on unpleasant matters; he opened his beautiful, dark eyes with their cold, unpleasant expression and looked round the magnificence of his cabinet—the walls painted with brilliant figures; the furniture of carved sweet-chestnut wood inlaid with mother of pearl, the purple marble bust of a Caesar; the desk of green stone and twisted gilding; the cushions of crushed Genoese and Venetian velvet, the colours of peaches and grapes, with heavy bullion fringes; the bowls of transparent alabaster filled with buckles and brooches of pearl, emerald and turkis, wrought by Cellini. Clement sighed and looked down at his own fine garments, his own perfumed hands on which clustered the fires of costly diamonds; he thought of "The Laocoön", the Venus tying her sandal, the cupidons driving butterflies and snails in the bathroom of Cardinal Bibbiena, of the glories of the Hall of Constantine, where Guilio Romano worked with his pupils on the designs of Raffaello—surely all this splendour, this beauty, was sacred, inviolate; no one would dare...
The Pope went into the loggia, which was hung with the first cascades of roses, damask and musk, crimson and white, and set with terra-cotta vases, in which grew laurel, bay, and myrtle trees; in between the glossy green of these sharp clusters of leaves stood antique statues, rescued by the care of Raffaello and Calvo from the vineyards and meadows of the Campagna Romana; the mellow spring sun cast a golden hue over their rounded, still earth-stained limbs and filled their hollow eyes and the curves of their smiling lips with light.
The Pope sank into a low seat filled with violet silk cushions and commanded a concert of music from the little page who always followed him.
The players came in their Medici liveries, with their instruments of gleaming, pale wood, lutes, flutes, violins, and a little portable organ with golden pipes; seating themselves on gilt stools in the blue shade of the loggia, they began to play the overture to a comedy that was one of Clement's favourite pieces.
Under the influence of the music, the Pope's fears vanished; the antique statues, the roses, damask and musk, the sunlight falling between the delicate pillars, the slim figures and fine dark faces of the musicians, all of whom had been selected for their comeliness, the plump grace of the little page who waited his master's orders—all made a harmony delicious to Giulio de' Medici.
"The only thing that is needed here," he mused, "is water—falling water, yes, the sound and sight of that is required. Cellini must design me a fountain. I shall grow iris—white and yellow striped. I think I shall have it between the two nymphs that Calvo found on the Janiculum."
Sixteen, twenty miles a day, Charles de Bourbon pressed on towards Rome; he was very much alone amid his thirty thousand men. Philibert of Orange was the only man of rank on whom he had to rely; a fine man, a good soldier, a superb general, this young Prince, but to Charles almost a stranger—at least, neither kin nor friend, though now, perforce, a confidant.
"You are the second-in-command," he said.
"If I fall—"
"I shall not be able to control them," interrupted the Prince of Orange. "They hardly know me. You are the Emperor's General in Italy—while you live they are the Imperial army."
These words were echoed in the heart of the Connétable.
"While I live," he thought, "I can control them." But if he did not live? If he died as the Medici and Frundsberg had died?
"If I do not live?" He smiled at the other Frenchman.
"Then this army will be a rabble whom none can lead, master, or control."
"The Emperor?" said Charles. "By now he knows what we do—yet he gives no Sign. If I fail he will deny me—if I succeed he will have the benefit. Yet I liked him. He, too, is not master of his actions. You noticed that de Lannoy did nothing to persuade the troops to accept the Pope's money, nothing to stay our march—does he know t the Emperor's mind, or was he afraid of the men?"
"Something of both, my Prince: he knows or guesses that the Emperor will be pleased to see the Medici Pope humbled to the dust; he had no wish to face the men."
Onward, still onward, under skies now clear and blue as a hyacinth bell, over roads white with dust and by fields rich with promise of harvest; when Charles looked back at those ragged, obstinate, implacable columns, he marvelled how the thing had been done—first by Frundsberg, then by himself—six months of keeping these hordes together, by false promises, by food and ducats begged or borrowed from Ferrara, from Siena; by sacking those little hill towns, by sacrificing everything down to one's finger-ring.
Then the garrison he had brought from Milan—how had they survived?—those forced marches across the wintry swamps to Mantua; the junction, at last, with Frundsberg; then this tramp down Italy again...Charles did not know how many men Frundsberg had lost; five thousand German and Swiss corpses at least must have been left to litter the high passes of the Alps, the slopes into Lombardy, the Duchy of Mantua; of his own men, a thousand had perished of disease, of wounds received in skirmishes, of fatigue, since he had led them from Milan.
The survivors were bent, scarred, ragged, frightful to see with their weather-bitten faces blotched with sores, their filthy beards and matted hair, their clothes knotted together with strips of leather, with straw round their feet, some with the sandals of murdered peasants, some with the brown robes of monks slit into mantles, some with frayed rope for girdles, others with their legs bound with linen stolen from the altars of wayside chapels...how harshly the rough dialects of Franconia, Swabia, and the Tyrol struck upon the delicate ear of Charles, how uncouth were the rude hymns that the heretics howled out at night as they shared the day's bloody plunder! Charles sickened when he thought of the hill towns—left with their dead among the ashes; he winced at the bodies of murdered men and women left along his line of march; he could not save even the children—like a huge, foul beast whose breath slays all it touches his army sprawled along the road to Rome.
Charles ate little and slept little; he washed frequently; at every stream, pool, or wayside freshet he paused to bathe his face and hands; every night his French gentlemen shaved him and dressed his long hair; when there were but two shirts left in his baggage the Frenchmen washed these every day, so that he always went in clean linen under his silver corslet. He was glad that Suzanne was richly clad in her tomb; he had himself clasped the pearls round her throat, the emeralds round her waist—laid the daisies of silver in her empty hands.
His bay horse died; a Franconian gave him a white steed that had been stolen from a villa outside Ferrara.
"It is well that it is not cold," smiled Charles, "since I have no cloak."
He thought of all that he had once possessed; mantles of ermine, vair, and purple velvet, of taffetas and sable, of satin and brocade—no doubt Louise of Savoy had some of them now in her wardrobe.
With the Prince of Orange and the captains who represented the mercenaries, he made his plans: they would take the city by assault and dictate terms to the Medici in the Vatican—not forty thousand ducats now, nor two hundred and fifty thousand, but every white piece that there was in Rome—no pay now, but prizes to gorging for every desperate devil.
"Europe will stare when we take Rome," said the Prince of Orange. "It will be a feat of arms unequaled. I would rather share in this than have my estates again."
The air blew warm and sweet, the acacia trees strewed blossoms on their way, the grasses grew tall for their horses, there were bread and wine, meat and fowls, at every deserted villa, house, and farm that they passed. The Lutherans overturned the wayside crucifixes and polluted the wayside shrines, the Spaniards laughed and told them that they would roast in hell for sacrilege.
On to thirty miles from Rome, past that—nothing from the Emperor, nothing from the Pope.
Charles felt light-headed, his bones ached and his flesh shuddered; he breathed in the pure air as a thirsty beast laps water, and it brought him no ease; his armour galled and he was weary of the saddle.
On Sunday, the fifth day of May, after four days' march through Papal territory, Charles de Bourbon brought his mercenaries out on to the height of Monte Mario; again the worn, lean man in the silver corslet on the white horse looked down upon Rome, that he had last seen twelve years ago when in his black-and-violet gown he had mounted the Palatine and gazed upon the city that he now saw spread before him in the sweet light of a spring day.
"Did not the Medici say," he asked of the Prince of Orange, "that when he made war, we should hear the trumpets at Rome? Let us sound them."
The orders were given and from the heights of Monte Mario the ragged trumpeters sent their challenging blasts over the city.
Charles rode ahead of his troop and looked down at Rome.
Into the still, gold air rose those domes and bell-towers, those magnificent palaces towering above the shadows of the narrow streets; the Pantheon, the Coliseum, the sharp, dark lines of the cypress trees, the grey leaves of oak and ilex and olive—all as he remembered.
He leaned forward eagerly, trying to trace the line of the rapid, yellow river now hidden by the outlines of the heavy houses either side; he tried to trace the square where had been the house of the old doctor, beside the inn named "The Triumphal Crown," where he had looked into the polished mirror and dreamed his dream.
With his gauntleted hand shading his tired eyes from the level rays of the sun, Charles stared down; he heard all around him the rising murmurs from his ragged host, as they saw at length before them the incredible reward of incredible toils and pain, of bitter miseries, of hideous privation.
Rome! The golden pearl! The emerald jewel! Crown of Christendom!
Once more, and after centuries, the barbarians were before Rome. By a solemn impulse of deep fervour, the Lutheran ranks of heretic Germany broke into a deep-throated hymn as they beheld below them and, as they supposed, at their mercy, the city of abomination, Babylon, the home of the Scarlet Woman.
With this hymn swelling up behind him, the sound of the bells of Rome floating across the breeze in front of him, Charles thought of the Pope with loathing and contempt, without a sparkle of pity or compassion. It was this false, bastard Medici who had persuaded François to break the treaty of Madrid, which would have restored to him, Charles de Bourbon, his honours and possessions. It was through this Pope of Rome that he now stood here a landless leader of mercenaries; he intended to treat the Pontiff with scornful severity and to force him to bring out of the Vatican treasures every ducat that his troops demanded.
"And for myself," he thought, dreaming of success, "what shall I have? I believe that I shall demand, for my new Duchy of Milan, even that group of 'The Laocoön'."
That night he laid his plans with the Prince of Orange and his other captains. The city was to be taken by assault. The first attack was to be made at the Borgo, where the ramparts were lower, and the Connétable chose for this task three parties of different nationalities—Spanish, German, and Italian—in order that they might be stimulated by rivalry. At the same time there was to be an attack on the walls of Trastevere; then the three bridges across the Tiber, from which the Popes obtained their name of Pontiff, were to be destroyed, and if these plans succeeded the Imperial troops would find themselves in the centre of the city—the Forum, the Capitol, the Palatine, and the Quirinal. If these three separate assaults, which would have to be desperate and magnificent, were successful, the Imperialists would find themselves masters of Rome.
After he had worked his plans out with his captains to the least detail, the Connétable led his men from Monte Mario across the meadows towards the Vatican hill, near the quarters of the Borgo and Trastevere.
He decided not to make the assault that night, but to give his exhausted men a few hours' rest; he also wished once more to ride among them, to raise their courage and ardour to the highest pitch, by reminding them of their long hardships, of the pay due to them, of the riches before them in Rome. As he rode in his silver corslet from rank to rank, he could see, every time he turned his tired eyes towards Rome, the outline of the Imperial City darkening against the green pallor of the sunset sky, against which the dark mass of Hadrian's tomb rose grim and formidable.
Charles exerted himself to raise his voice loudly, clearly—he spoke in German, Spanish, Italian, repeating his sentences as he rode among the expectant men.
"Your sufferings have been hideous! Hundreds of thousands of crowns are due to you! The Emperor offers you Rome for your pay! Remember, tomorrow, your sufferings, your fame, what is owing to you—fight as you know how to fight—follow me—you see this silver corslet which is my sole possession—follow that through smoke, through fire, into the heart of Rome! You must be quick! We have food for only two days!"
Charles heard these words repeated again and again, until he could hardly believe that it was his own voice shouting them. The Prince of Orange rode by his side and seconded him; he was encouraging the already frenzied men by relating to them the prowess of the Connétable, as he termed Charles.
"When three of the Imperial galleys were cast on the shore on the banks of the Var, it was Charles de Bourbon that called Adrian de Croy and Pescara to help him and rescued the galleys and the artillery, under a fierce fire from the French fleet—ay, he showed the way to the others as he will show you tomorrow!"
Charles rode along the lines of German mercenaries, saying:
"Remember Georg Frundsberg!"
A deep roar answered him.
As he rode away he said to Philibert:
"Why did you tell them about the galleys? I had forgotten that. Have you heard who is in command in Rome?"
"Ay, those prisoners we made said it was Renzo da Ceri, of the Princes of Orsini—"
"He will not have been able to do much—make mines or trenches, or put gun-shelters on the walls."
"No, he will hardly have been able to repair the walls themselves."
"I remember," said Charles, "noticing the great breaches in them—that day I was on the Palatine. Was not Vercelli the name of the quack who tried to poison Leo X? It was his house I went to. My Prince, I have shouted myself hoarse, but these men will fight tomorrow."
"Ay, and for my part, I shall be glad of a soft bed, some fresh linen, and a rest from the saddle. I see the banner of St. Peter—how the breeze lifts it!"
The mercenaries slept in shifts during that warm night—some watched, some made scaling-ladders, some looked to their firearms and their swords.
Charles, having done all that man could do, gave to one of those few faithful gentlemen who had followed him from Chantelle, his horse, his sword, his helmet, and the heavier portions of his armour, and in his worn leather undress went to lie down for an hour's repose under the group of tall pine trees that rose half-way down the slopes of Monte Mario into the night; folding his short cloak for a pillow, he closed his eyes, shutting out the starlight, the torchlight, the outline of Sant' Angelo. His mind was oddly, and much to his own discomfiture, detached from the tremendous action of which he was part and leader.
He clasped his hands behind his neck underneath his long, dark hair, trying to gain what ease he could; and he smiled to himself to think that he was there, lying on the ground outside the walls of Rome with the Italian pines murmuring overhead, and into his mind came the thought of the field of daisies in the Bourbonnais, and the pearls that he had put into the hands of his sick wife, and the great book she had been reading emblazoned with all the arms of the Bourbons.
"These toys and trifles must not come into my mind—let me recall the situation of Rome, have I not learned it by heart? We are on the right bank of the river—the quarters of the Borgo and Trastevere lie before us—the walls will have to be scaled, one after another—how much artillery has da Ceri? The Leonine city is to our left—that contains the Vatican, St. Peter's—Sant' Angelo—there will be two gates to take, Santo-Spirito, Torrione—to the right two other gates, San Pancrazio and Settimaria—when all these are taken, there are the inner towers and ramparts to assault—those that lie along the right bank of the Tiber—those that protect the Quirinal, the Forum, the Capitol, the Palatine—yes, three different attacks will have to be made—can the men do it? What resources has the Orsini?"
Charles opened his eyes on the stars that sparkled through the black boughs overhead; he could not sleep, he could not rest—"No repose for me until I stand face to face with the Medici and dictate my terms."
He raised himself on one elbow; the bruised grass smelt sweet beneath him. He called out softly to the Frenchmen resting near him; he liked to hear his own Language—he regretted De Lurcy, murdered by the Spaniards.
A gentleman came with a little lantern.
"See all my mail is ready," whispered Charles. "I will lead them to the ramparts between the Porta Torrione and the Porta Santo-Spirito—is there a chapel near?"
"Yes, monseigneur, many captains have been there."
"I will go too—before I lead these heretics on Rome. I wonder why!" He rose and leaned against the pine tree; everything looked dark in the pearl-coloured air.
"Will it soon be dawn?" asked the Connétable.
One of his gentlemen said "yes" and that a mist was rising; the page knew the way to the chapel.
"The mist will be better for our assault," replied Charles, and he followed the boy round a little vineyard where the first leaves were beginning to shoot and curl on the vines, and so to a small roadside chapel built at the foot of the hill for the spiritual refreshment of pilgrims to Rome and dedicated to All the Saints. outside was a spring of water leaping from a rock, where grew clusters of ferns, violets, and cyclamen unfolding amid the drenched leaves.
Charles called up his page, bathed his hands and face, and wiped them on a napkin that the boy carried.
Then he entered the chapel where there was a young priest with a severe, haggard face and a little child serving at the altar, which was hung with silver offerings that glittered in the light of the cheap, yellow candles; the place was perfumed by the earthy smell of the wildflowers, pulled up by their roots and laid as offerings beneath the carved statues that stood either side the altar. Many Spanish and Italian captains had come in that night to make Confession and take the Sacrament; and the young priest did not know who was this tall, lean man in the leathern coat, but accepted his devotions and listened to his Confession with austere indifference, while the little boy stood by, round-eyed and round-mouthed, swinging a small censer from which the incense floated in a blue cloud, while he wondered what was all this tumult of armed men, neighing horses, tattered banners, and trumpets sounding, with uncouth songs rising into the Roman air.
Charles came out again into the vineyard and saw that the sky was becoming grey while all the ground was covered with a light mist; then from the Castle of Sant' Angelo he heard the Papal trumpets and saw the yellow splutter of artillery fire as the Papal guns spat defiance. He looked back at the little chapel, smiling at himself.
"Why did I go there? And has it brought me peace?"
With these two questions unanswered he went to where his squire held his horse, stood still while his gentlemen buckled on all the heavy pieces of his armour, and above his cuirass placed the worn yet still glittering silver corslet that he designed as a mark for his men. When his gentlemen had attired him, he stood with the white plumes in his helmet seven feet high, and, when mounted on the white horse, masked by the pointed visor, seemed gigantic and inhuman. Placing himself in front of the Spanish cavalry that del Vasto had once commanded, he gave the order for attacking the low walls of the Borgo.
The advancing Spanish arquebusiers unslung and set their weapons, then fired at the motley forces, which, behind hastily improvised defences, guarded the walls of Rome.
As Charles de Bourbon rode at the head of the cavalry, he thought of the day when he had climbed the hill of the Palatine and seated himself on the amber-coloured masonry and looked across the Tarpeian Rock, where the white goats had browsed among the ruins of ancient grandeur.
He looked forward through the slit in his vizor on the great city, and a second's wild exaltation touched him:
"I have at length achieved this incredible thing—I have brought these ragged, starving, rebellious troops by sheer force of one man's will-power to the wills of Rome."
The mist came down suddenly, heavily: the besiegers hastened forward under this thick cover, evading the random fire from the walls.
When Charles saw the brickwork of the ramparts a few yards ahead, blurred by the white vapours, he sprang from his horse, threw the reins to his esquire, from the lean hands of a Spaniard snatched one of the scaling-ladders the men had made the previous night and, calling to the men to follow him, ran forward, alert in his armour, setting the ladder against the western wall of the Borgo; the mist cleared away as if a sudden breath had been blown from heaven, and his white plumes and silver corslet were conspicuous in that gush of light.
"Follow," cried Charles, "follow!"—and glanced back over his shoulder at the Spaniards as he put his foot on the first rung of the scaling-ladder. A Cardinal's stable-man, who that day handled an arquebus for the first time, saw, as he Peered down, this brilliant figure and, grinning with excitement and fear, fired from behind the shield on the wall that protected him.
Charles fell back with the ball in his groin, and the Spaniards behind him bore swiftly out of the press towards the little chapel where he had confessed an hour before; bullets, flaming torches, stones, and boiling pitch were being hurled by Renzo da Ceri's soldiers from the ramparts; but the Spaniards had seen the Duc de Bourbon fall, and their furious onslaught was not to be resisted; the Prince of Orange leaped forward to take the place of leader, and with shouts of an inexpressible fury the assailants hurled themselves on the ramparts of Rome, while the Duc de Bourbon, unconscious in his heavy armour and sagging in the arms of six Spaniards, was carried across the meadows and vineyards. The priest and the boy had fled from the chapel. The candles still burnt upon the altar; the wildflowers still wilted among their fresh earth at the foot of the statues, and faint wreaths of incense still lingered in the enclosed air.
The cursing men piled up their torn and soiled cloaks as a bed for their leader; with love and fury and disappointment, they saw him dying before their eyes, and crudely they tried to staunch the wound in his thigh, from which the blood was running on to the stone floor—no priest came, no doctor; he was bleeding to death.
He moved once and threw up his eyes...his chaplain was by his side now, held his twitching hand, bent down and tried to hear what he muttered—something about loyalty to the Emperor, and if matters were ever accommodated with the King of France, he wished his nephew the Prince Roche-sur-Yon to be his heir, and might all those who had suffered by following his crazy fortunes be protected. He stared into the dark, sallow faces of the Spaniards that were distorted with grief and rage, and then into the haggard features of his chaplain, and seemed to know none of them, but crossed his hands upon his breast and smiled and sighed in a terrible whisper, "Rome! Rome!" and so died.
They laid his torn banner with the terrible inscription "By the sword only" over him and ran out to tell his soldiery that he was dead and that nothing remained now but to revenge him. It was his name that the assailants shouted—"Bourbon! Bourbon! Bourbon!"—as they took the walls and ramparts by assault, one after another, and, forcing the Roman soldiers back into the heart of the city, reached the base of the fortress of Sant' Angelo as the portcullis was dropped.
The Pope, running wildly along the corridor that connected the palace of the Vatican with the fortress, his purple train upheld by Paolo Giovio, and followed by a press of Cardinals and Court officials, had but just gained the safety of Sant' Angelo as the frantic Imperialists swarmed round it; from all sides, from the Ponte Sisto, from the Porta San Pancrazio, down the Janiculum swarmed the Germans, the Spaniards, the Italians, shouting the name of Bourbon and the word "blood". The heretics singing hoarsely their grim Lutheran hymns, beating their drums, and blowing their trumpets, the mercenaries crossed the yellow waters of the Tiber by the Papal bridges, and entered the Piazza Navana and the Campo dei Fiori.
When the swift darkness fell, the Prince of Orange was master of Rome and his exultant, fanatic, half-bewildered hordes surged through all the narrow streets, across all the great squares, through every quarter; beating their drums, sounding their trumpets.
In the Campo dei Fiori, where Charles had visited the charlatan Vercelli, the Lutherans encamped. Only the great fortress—the pagan tomb that had become a Christian castle, where the Pope cowered amid his cardinals, his officials, and his ambassadors—was safe from the Imperialists, who roared and staggered through Rome, shouting, "Bourbon! Blood!"
Watched by those weary Frenchmen who had accompanied him from Chantelle, Charles de Bourbon lay rigid on the floor of the little chapel that opened on to the vineyards and the meadows, and where the sounds of the tumult in Rome echoed faintly like the echo of the sea heard in a shell.
Street and rampart, bridge and moat,
With Roman blood is RED;
Above the conquered city float
WHITE banners of the dead.
IN Cardinal Bibbiena's bathroom the painted Venus tied her sandals in tranquillity, the little Loves guided their teams of doves and snails; in Cellini's workroom the gems winked among the beaten metals and the enameller's tools; in the cool galleries of the Vatican the writhing group of "The Laocoön" grinned its agony in silence and emptiness; in the grey, serene mausoleum of San Lorenzo the two Medici Princes in their shadowed alcoves pondered in unutterable loneliness; in Raffaello's painting, the Pope, with a saintly gesture, stayed the fire in the Borgo: but no power, human or Divine, stayed the sack of Rome; like a fine crown of gems and flowers shattered by a brutal hammer-blow the city lay broken, at the mercy of the barbarians.
The shrieks of the dying and the tortured mingled with the shouts of triumph and derision, as the drunken mercenaries staggered from house to house massacring, burning, pillaging. The jangling church-bells beaten by frantic hands clanged against the yells of the Landsknechte, as they ran from quarter to quarter, from palace to palace; through the arcades of despoiled mansions flashed the scarlet robes of Cardinals, brocades of great ladies, the battered armour of great lords, as they took to helpless flight; on winged stone steps and in courtyards beautiful with palms and fountains lay the murdered pages and waiting-women, their scented locks defiled with blood; the shopkeepers were slain beside their goods, the bankers beside their desks; the tradesmen's bodies lay across the counters which but yesterday had been heaped with pretty fineries; children were speared at their mothers' knees and women hung up by their hair; tapestries of gold and silver were trailed in the bloody streets, and Greek and Latin manuscripts torn up to light camp fires in the public square; mutilated corpses were heaped up before the splendour of the church-doors; within, the priests lay before their defiled altars, their brains beaten out by statues of alabaster and silver, the sacred wine and wafers spilled and trampled into the silk carpets on the altar steps.
"This is Bourbon's funeral-pyre!" cried the Prince of Orange, riding from street to street through the smoke that blackened the palaces and blotted out the sky; he could do nothing to stay the sack. The Medici and three thousand people were safe in Sant' Angelo. Renzo da Ceri and his soldiers, fighting inch by inch, had been driven from the walls, the towers, the houses where they had taken refuge; all of them were dead or dying save those who had stampeded into Sant' Angelo. "If Bourbon had lived, he had controlled them." Philibert de Châlons, like a leaf on a torrent, was swept here and there by the rushes of the mercenaries he tried to restrain as they flung themselves here and there in search of fresh prey; never had they dreamt of such riches, such delights as were now at their mercy, such vessels of gold, silver, and bronze, set with gems, such vases and statues of basalt, porphyry, and alabaster, such draperies of velvet, silk, and satin, such painted chambers, such scented gardens—Rome, the treasure house of the world.
The Lutherans destroyed and slew for fanaticism, the Spaniards for cruelty, the Italians for wantonness, for they plundered even the wretches in the slums, and all because they were mad with sudden victory after long striving. In every quarter fires broke out, flaring palely in the spring air, from which all perfume of flower and leaf had been burnt away. Bridges were choked by flying figures, who one by one were overcome, throttled, and cast into the river below; the yellow waters of the Tiber moved slowly, impeded by the burden of the dead, the bodies blocking their progress; mingled with the amber wavelets were the amber locks of the two women who had been Raffaello's models and who had played in the worldly comedies for the Pope; their oval faces, staring in terror, gleamed for a second beneath the muddy wavelets as their corpses were carried down to Ostia.
Drunken Germans, whose slobbering lips were dripping with rich wine from priestly cellars, staggered against the parapets, and their sacks of plunder fell into the river, which glittered here and there with gold and silver vessels, with jewelled bracelets and brooches, before the precious metals sank into the mud; costly books, illuminated with flowers and pictures of saints, floated on the current; birds of delicate plumage, snatched from gilded silver-wire cages and strangled, were swept down among the corpses between the scarlet and blue draperies, the billowing folds of white linen; boughs of oleander, of myrtle, of laurel and palm, torn down in frantic struggles, were clasped in the stiffening hands of the dead Roman women borne down the Tiber.
Roman patricians, who saw their families being massacred before their eyes, mounted their horses and drove frantically through the press and leaped into the river—beast and man struggling to the mercy of oblivion. The grey and white, the black and brown habits of monks strewed the spacious steps of the great churches and the walled convent gardens; their blood soaked into the ground which bore the herbs that yesterday they had been tending, and stained the marbles and mosaics where yesterday they had knelt in prayer.
Only the Vatican was spared, because the mercenaries hoped to get, as a ransom from the Papal palace, an enormous sum of money, worth more even than its contents. The band of drunken and fanatic Lutherans would have sacked the Vatican library had not a young Cardinal, protected by his armed retinue, beguiled them away by leading them to his own cellars and rolling among them out of his palace gates casks of Salarian and choice wines from Naples and Greece.
With desperate valour the fortified palaces of the Colonna were defended, the Cancelleria and the Apostoli held out even against the onrush of the Landsknechte, but every other house, even those of the ambassadors and Imperialist Cardinals, fell to the mercenaries; and those who tried to resist the victors were slaughtered where they stood.
The Cardinal of Gosta was seized by the Protestants and with a fool's cap on his head paraded in front of Sant' Angelo for the torment of the imprisoned Pope; the long-treasured relics snatched from the churches—even from the most respected church in Christendom, San Giovanni Laterano—were kicked into the gutters and cast into the flaming ruins; women and priests had their ears, arms, and fingers lopped off by German swords for the sake of earrings, bracelets, and rings; the Italians descended even to the ancient sewers in the search for treasure trove, the Spaniards broke open the tombs, gorgeous in the cool spaces of the churches; the corpse of Julius II was dragged into the light, and the rich ornaments torn from his Papal robes; these, fiercely fought for, finally reached the eager clutches of the Jews who ran here and there, offering ready money for valuables. These gold and silver pieces, these priestly vestments, these bloody ornaments twisted from the writhing limbs of the living, this dimmed finery dragged from the corruption of the grave, all went to pay and to clothe the harlots who swarmed, like bees round the honey-pot, about the triumphant barbarians.
These women, dishevelled, half mad, half naked, wholly drunk, were dragged to the broken altar and, seated there by the Lutherans, sang bawdy ditties, with their feet on a litter of sacred manuscripts, and coronets torn from statues of the Virgin in their hair.
The white flag of Bourbon, out of respect to the dead leader, was raised in every quarter of the city, above the churches, above the camps; some were the original standards semés with lilies that Charles had brought from Milan, others were sheets and table-cloths. "Bourbon! Bourbon!" cried the mercenaries as they slew, tortured, plundered, drank, and gambled; never was dead general avenged in a more terrible manner. Shouting the name of Martin Luther in the accents of Franconia and Swabia the Landsknechte hurtled round the impregnable fortress of Sant' Angelo, the Pagan tomb that protected the Pope.
Cardinal Pompeo Colonna, who had shortly before ravaged the Borgo himself, dashed into the city to triumph over the Medici, and instead wept at the horrors he beheld; joining the Prince of Orange in the Apostolic Palace, he helped this frantic young leader to save the treasures of the Vatican, by riding among the mercenaries and promising them heavy ransom, and full vengeance on the Pope, whom the Lutherans and the Spaniards both wished to hang. Hideous riches began to foul the May days; the weather was sweltering; the slaughter, the fires, continued day and night.
The French gentlemen took off the armour from the long corpse of Charles de Bourbon, washed his bloodless limbs, combed his straight hair, wrapped him in one of his own flags, and buried him in the ground beyond the chapel.
Frightened by the continuous cries of anguish, by the smoke and flames, the doves flew so high above Rome that they were lost in the lilac haze of the spring day. Ottavo, the beggar, remained crouched in his hut on the Palatine; no fugitive could get out of Rome, for the gates and walls were guarded, and so rich was the plunder and so plentiful the victims in the quarters by the river that none of the mercenaries troubled to mount the hills, which appeared from a distance to be deserted.
So Ottavo was unmolested, and he looked down on the scene below—red flame and white banner and the yellow river running thickly with its rich burden of spoil and of dead—as one might look through a hole in the curtain at the peepshow beyond. The convent near by was deserted; the nuns had fled one by one and in disguise became lost in the Campagna, making their way with other fugitives from the suburbs towards the mountains.
The old man crept among the golden blocks of masonry till he had reached a vantage point where he could see below. Everything seemed far away there were tawny gleams here and there on the armour of the soldiery as they marched or ran from street to street; here and there the May sun gleamed on a gun or the line of a sword. Ottavo could see little figures gaily clad, flying with their arms outstretched and their hair flowing; he could hear the bells and the shouts, but from this height it was difficult to distinguish the cries of joyous, ferocious triumph from those of despair and agony. Now and then a puff of smoke from a burning building veiled his view; occasionally there was a dull explosion as some store of powder blew up, and flames, livid and yet transparent, would rise up in erect tongues into the blue. Round the old man's feet were cyclamens and violets and little ferns growing undisturbed; the leaves of the ilex and the olive trees shivered in the reverberation of the violent noises from below.
Ottavo peered at the massive outline of Castel Sant' Angelo, where the Pope shuddered in mortal peril and in mortal fear. He saw, here and there, where there was an opening in the houses, a white banner carried across from one street to another; he heard snatches of uncouth hymns and trumpet-blasts.
At noon another old beggar-man, too insignificant to be molested, came creeping up out of the city and told the hermit that the Duc de Bourbon was dead and that his soldiers for a week had been massacring in Rome. He sat down on a stone, getting his breath after the steep ascent; he shuddered and whimpered, sucking in his underlip. He would not talk of what he had seen; he believed that by tomorrow there would be no one left alive in Rome save the mercenaries. Then he began to laugh weakly and related how one of the Cardinals had reached the castle of Sant' Angelo after the portcullis had been drawn up and how he had had to be raised into the fortress in a basket.
Then, out of his ragged bosom, he pulled a gold bracelet: "I found this in the street." He wiped the dry blood off the metal with the corner of his sleeve.
"What use is that to you or me?" said Ottavo.
"One never knows, things may change—the Jews are already buying and selling again." The beggar added cunningly: "It is almost worth while going back to Rome—it is easy to be overlooked, and there is really a great deal to be picked up. They're all mad and drunk and destroy as much as they take. I have seen much thrown away that would have fetched a good price in any market." The beggar added, grinning: "They are murdering everyone in the Borgo. I saw some of the young masons and painters who were working in the Vatican and who tried to escape. They were spitted and thrown into the Tiber with the rest."
"Who has Bourbon's place?"
"The other Frenchman, the Prince of Orange, as I suppose, but he can do little. I saw him in his yellow plumes and silver armour—calling out like a madman on one of the bridges, he was—it was chance he was not thrown over too. Ay, but you should see the river—all those dead women being carried down to the sea." The beggar laughed nervously with his fingers on his toothless lips.
"And Bourbon is dead," grinned the hermit. "They say he was a great man of war."
"Ay, he was the first to put a scaling-ladder against the ramparts of the Borgo. He's dead. I heard he lay in a little chapel with no one with him but his Frenchmen—but one sees his banner everywhere in Rome."
"Come farther up the hill," whispered Ottavo, "come farther up the hill, come farther away."
The two old men walked slowly through the ruins, keeping themselves cunningly hidden behind the clumps of brambles, the bushes, the broken pillars, the ancient overturned altars. They kept together, and now and then halted to recover breath; the newly arrived beggar had some broken scraps in his pocket and he suggested supper. They crept into the shelter of the little temple that Ottavo had plastered into the likeness of a hut. They ate their meal in silence and waited for the coming out of the stars, for in these remote and supernatural lights they found much comfort.
The painted Venus in the Cardinal's bathroom tied up her sandals, and in the grey mausoleum of San Lorenzo the two Medici Princes remained pondering in unutterable loneliness.
Prince, farewell, the pipes are mute
That once with tabor and with flute
The dancers brought across the green
Where now the naked willows lean
Beside the winter bitten tomb
Where thy shrunk frame has easy room.
THAT summer the dead Connétable of France was tried for high treason in the presence of King François. Louise of Savoy enjoyed his treasure; she a little regretted the man so comely, reserved, and brilliant; a man able to do difficult things, to endure reverse of fortune, to live without women.
A pity, she thought, that he had wasted himself by defying her wishes. She began to lack lovers, and it would have been amusing to have taught him some of her tricks. What had he gained by his foolish rebellion? He had merely become the Emperor's scapegoat. The Emperor had benefited from the capture and sack of Rome, which had made him the most powerful Prince in the world, and all the blame of it had been put on Charles de Bourbon. Louise thought it was all stupid. But none of it really mattered—and in her mind she turned over greedily all this man's possessions, the rich clothes he had worn, the jewels that hung on his neck and wrists, the furniture and toys that had belonged to his dead wife and children, all his horses, dogs, and houses; even the fields of the Bourbonnais, which in the spring were covered with daisies that melted into the horizon like snow.
Three times the dead man was summoned by the usher of the court to the Bar of the Parliament—"Charles de Bourbon!" At the marble table "Charles de Bourbon!" At the marble steps: "Charles de Bourbon!"
There was no reply, and so the dead man was condemned, and all his goods returned to the Crown. It was also ordered that the door of his palace by the Louvre should be painted yellow as a mark that the late master was a traitor.
Jacques Testard, once a miniature painter, was employed on this work; with two assistants, one of whom swung a pot of paint while the other carried a large brush, he set out for the Connétable's handsome palace near the Louvre; a garrulous, disappointed man, Testard talked incessantly to his two discontented assistants.
"I met this Prince once outside Rome. He wore a black and violet robe and seemed very melancholy. It was stupid of me not to recognize him. I had seen him before, of course, but never dressed like that—and after all one does not expect to find a great Prince wandering alone. Ah, here's the palace—that great door! Why, it will take us all the morning to paint it. What an ugly shade of yellow they have given us—more like sulphur than gold! I suppose he deserved it. This is a strange work for me to have to do—for a man trained to do miniature-painting; but, anyway, one is lucky to get anything at all these times. I wish I had that Italian Cellini's luck. They say he was on the ramparts during the assault, out of sheer curiosity."
Testard stood by the door, measured its breadth and height with his eye, sighed, took off his outer garment and rolled up his sleeves.
"Thousands of people were massacred in the sack of Rome," he remarked. "It is astonishing how many people are killed one way and another every year, and how hard it is for those who survive to get a living."
With another sigh he dipped his brush into the pot of yellow paint and proceeded to daub the colour of infamy over the dead man's palace-door.
THIS book is a narrative of an event, the sack of Rome in 1527, describing how it came to pass, the characters who took part in it, and what it meant in the lives of many people. It forms the third volume of a trilogy I planned some few years ago, dealing with Europe just before and during the Renaissance. The first volume was "The Golden Roof" (Das Goldene Dächl), written and published in 1928, which dealt with the dreams of the idealistic Emperor Maximilian I of Hapsburg and the Europe of 1460-1520, the beginning of the epoch called the Reformation.
The second novel of this trilogy, "The Triumphant Beast", written and published in 1934, showed the rise of Neo-Platonism and free-thinking in the person of Giordano Bruno, who was murdered by the forces of reaction in 1600 on the Campo Fiorito; he was burnt as a heretic, after appealing from the verdict of his jury to that of Posterity, which has judged him to be one of the greatest names of all time.
As already noted, this present novel, "Trumpets at Rome" (Il Sacco di Roma), comes third in the trilogy and deals with the pomp of the Medicean Popes, the French Renaissance under François I, the internecine wars in Italy, culminating in that brutal and grotesque climax, the sack of Rome.
To such men, the end of the century that spelt weariness and disillusion to so many after the upheavals of the Reformation and the Renaissance, was full of hope and promise; these men were the forerunners of modern scientific knowledge and liberal thought.
The scenes of these novels are as widespread as the Renaissance itself, and the stories are developed in terms of the everyday life of the times depicted; no one of the characters in this trilogy ever knew that he was living in a definite epoch—history takes even the thoughtful unawares. Engrossed in their private passions and interests, people do not notice that they are part of a large movement which is to be definitely labelled by posterity.
These three novels relate not only large events, but the details of everyday, and they take into account that supernatural realm in which the people of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries passed much of their existence. The background and detail of the foregoing novel are authentic for a history of these times; the reader, however, can only be referred to the historians.
Project Gutenberg Australia