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The Borgias by Alexandre Dumas, Pere

Part 5 out of 5

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enough of life, and his heroism was rather the result of satiety than
courage: however that may be, he defended himself like a lion; but,
riddled with arrows and bolts, his horse at last fell, with Caesar's
leg under him. His adversaries rushed upon him, and one of them
thrusting a sharp and slender iron pike through a weak place in his
armour, pierced his breast; Caesar cursed God and died.

But the rest of the enemy's army was defeated, thanks to the courage
of Michelotto, who fought like a valiant condottiere, but learned, on
returning to the camp in the evening, from those who had fled, that
they had abandoned Caesar and that he had never reappeared. Then
only too certain, from his master's well-known courage, that disaster
had occurred, he desired to give one last proof of his devotion by
not leaving his body to the wolves and birds of prey. Torches were
lighted, for it was dark, and with ten or twelve of those who had
gone with Caesar as far as the little wood, he went to seek his
master. On reaching the spot they pointed out, he beheld five men
stretched side by side; four of them were dressed, but the fifth had
been stripped of his clothing and lay completely naked. Michelotto
dismounted, lifted the head upon his knees, and by the light of the
torches recognised Caesar.

Thus fell, on the 10th of March, 1507, on an unknown field, near an
obscure village called Viane, in a wretched skirmish with the vassal
of a petty king, the man whom Macchiavelli presents to all princes as
the model of ability, diplomacy, and courage.

As to Lucrezia, the fair Duchess of Ferrara, she died full of years,
and honours, adored as a queen by her subjects, and sung as a goddess
by Ariosto and by Bembo.

EPILOGUE

There was once in Paris, says Boccaccio, a brave and good merchant
named Jean de Civigny, who did a great trade in drapery, and was
connected in business with a neighbour and fellow-merchant, a very
rich man called Abraham, who, though a Jew, enjoyed a good
reputation. Jean de Civigny, appreciating the qualities of the
worthy Israelite; feared lest, good man as he was, his false religion
would bring his soul straight to eternal perdition; so he began to
urge him gently as a friend to renounce his errors and open his eyes
to the Christian faith, which he could see for himself was prospering
and spreading day by day, being the only true and good religion;
whereas his own creed, it was very plain, was so quickly diminishing
that it would soon disappear from the face of the earth. The Jew
replied that except in his own religion there was no salvation, that
he was born in it, proposed to live and die in it, and that he knew
nothing in the world that could change his opinion. Still, in his
proselytising fervour Jean would not think himself beaten, and never
a day passed but he demonstrated with those fair words the merchant
uses to seduce a customer, the superiority of the Christian religion
above the Jewish; and although Abraham was a great master of Mosaic
law, he began to enjoy his friend's preaching, either because of the
friendship he felt for him or because the Holy Ghost descended upon
the tongue of the new apostle; still obstinate in his own belief, he
would not change. The more he persisted in his error, the more
excited was Jean about converting him, so that at last, by God's
help, being somewhat shaken by his friend's urgency, Abraham one day
said--

"Listen, Jean: since you have it so much at heart that I should be
converted, behold me disposed to satisfy you; but before I go to Rome
to see him whom you call God's vicar on earth, I must study his
manner of life and his morals, as also those of his brethren the
cardinals; and if, as I doubt not, they are in harmony with what you
preach, I will admit that, as you have taken such pains to show me,
your faith is better than mine, and I will do as you desire; but if
it should prove otherwise, I shall remain a Jew, as I was before; for
it is not worth while, at my age, to change my belief for a worse
one."

Jean was very sad when he heard these words; and he said mournfully
to himself, "Now I have lost my time and pains, which I thought I had
spent so well when I was hoping to convert this unhappy Abraham; for
if he unfortunately goes, as he says he will, to the court of Rome,
and there sees the shameful life led by the servants of the Church,
instead of becoming a Christian the Jew will be more of a Jew than
ever." Then turning to Abraham, he said, "Ah, friend, why do you
wish to incur such fatigue and expense by going to Rome, besides the
fact that travelling by sea or by land must be very dangerous for so
rich a man as you are? Do you suppose there is no one here to
baptize you? If you have any doubts concerning the faith I have
expounded, where better than here will you find theologians capable
of contending with them and allaying them? So, you see, this voyage
seems to me quite unnecessary: just imagine that the priests there
are such as you see here, and all the better in that they are nearer
to the supreme pastor. If you are guided by my advice, you will
postpone this toil till you have committed some grave sin and need
absolution; then you and I will go together."

But the Jew replied--

"I believe, dear Jean, that everything is as you tell me; but you
know how obstinate I am. I will go to Rome, or I will never be a
Christian."

Then Jean, seeing his great wish, resolved that it was no use trying
to thwart him, and wished him good luck; but in his heart he gave up
all hope; for it was certain that his friend would come back from his
pilgrimage more of a Jew than ever, if the court of Rome was still as
he had seen it.

But Abraham mounted his horse, and at his best speed took the road to
Rome, where on his arrival he was wonderfully well received by his
coreligionists; and after staying there a good long time, he began to
study the behaviour of the pope, the cardinals and other prelates,
and of the whole court. But much to his surprise he found out,
partly by what passed under his eyes and partly by what he was told,
that all from the pope downward to the lowest sacristan of St.
Peter's were committing the sins of luxurious living in a most
disgraceful and unbridled manner, with no remorse and no shame, so
that pretty women and handsome youths could obtain any favours they
pleased. In addition to this sensuality which they exhibited in
public, he saw that they were gluttons and drunkards, so much so that
they were more the slaves of the belly than are the greediest of
animals. When he looked a little further, he found them so
avaricious and fond of money that they sold for hard cash both human
bodies and divine offices, and with less conscience than a man in
Paris would sell cloth or any other merchandise. Seeing this and
much more that it would not be proper to set down here, it seemed to
Abraham, himself a chaste, sober, and upright man, that he had seen
enough. So he resolved to return to Paris, and carried out the
resolution with his usual promptitude. Jean de Civigny held a great
fete in honour of his return, although he had lost hope of his coming
back converted. But he left time for him to settle down before he
spoke of anything, thinking there would be plenty of time to hear the
bad news he expected. But, after a few days of rest, Abraham himself
came to see his friend, and Jean ventured to ask what he thought of
the Holy Father, the cardinals, and the other persons at the
pontifical court. At these words the Jew exclaimed, "God damn them
all! I never once succeeded in finding among them any holiness, any
devotion, any good works; but, on the contrary, luxurious living,
avarice, greed, fraud, envy, pride, and even worse, if there is
worse; all the machine seemed to be set in motion by an impulse less
divine than diabolical. After what I saw, it is my firm conviction
that your pope, and of course the others as well, are using all their
talents, art, endeavours, to banish the Christian religion from the
face of the earth, though they ought to be its foundation and
support; and since, in spite of all the care and trouble they expend
to arrive at this end, I see that your religion is spreading every
day and becoming more brilliant and more pure, it is borne in upon me
that the Holy Spirit Himself protects it as the only true and the
most holy religion; this is why, deaf as you found me to your counsel
and rebellious to your wish, I am now, ever since I returned from
this Sodom, firmly resolved on becoming a Christian. So let us go at
once to the church, for I am quite ready to be baptized."

There is no need to say if Jean de Civigny, who expected a refusal,
was pleased at this consent. Without delay he went with his godson
to Notre Dame de Paris, where he prayed the first priest he met to
administer baptism to his friend, and this was speedily done; and the
new convert changed his Jewish name of Abraham into the Christian
name of Jean; and as the neophyte, thanks to his journey to Rome, had
gained a profound belief, his natural good qualities increased so
greatly in the practice of our holy religion, that after leading an
exemplary life he died in the full odour of sanctity.

This tale of Boccaccio's gives so admirable an answer to the charge
of irreligion which some might make against us if they mistook our
intentions, that as we shall not offer any other reply, we have not
hesitated to present it entire as it stands to the eyes of our
readers.

And let us never forget that if the papacy has had an Innocent VIII
and an Alexander VI who are its shame, it has also had a Pius VII and
a Gregory XVI who are its honour and glory.

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