The Strolling Saint
Being the Confessions of the High & Mighty Agostino D'Anguissola
Tyrant of Mondolfo & Lord of Carmina, in the State of Piacenza
By Raphael Sabatini
I. NOMEN ET OMEN
II. GINO FALCONE
III. THE PIETISTIC THRALL
VI. FRA GERVASIO
I. THE HOUSE OF ASTORRE FIFANTI
IV. MY LORD GAMBARA CLEARS THE GROUND
V. PABULUM ACHERONTIS
VI. THE IRON GIRDLE
I. THE HOME-COMING
II. THE CAPTAIN OF JUSTICE
III. GAMBARA'S INTERESTS
IV. THE ANCHORITE OF MONTE ORSARO
V. THE RENUNCIATION
VIII. THE VISION
IX. THE ICONOCLAST
II. THE GOVERNOR OF MILAN
III. PIER LUIGI FARNESE
IV. MADONNA BIANCA
V. THE WARNING
VI. THE TALONS OF THE HOLY OFFICE
VII. THE PAPAL BULL
VIII. THE THIRD DEGREE
IX. THE RETURN
X. THE NUPTIALS OF BIANCA
XI. THE PENANCE
XIII. THE OVERTHROW
XIV. THE CITATION
XV. THE WILL OF HEAVEN
NOMEN ET OMEN
In seeking other than in myself--as men will--the causes of my
tribulations, I have often inclined to lay the blame of much of the ill
that befell me, and the ill that in my sinful life I did to others, upon
those who held my mother at the baptismal font and concerted that she
should bear the name of Monica.
There are in life many things which, in themselves, seeming to the vulgar
and the heedless to be trivial and without consequence, may yet be causes
pregnant of terrible effects, mainsprings of Destiny itself. Amid such
portentous trifles I would number the names so heedlessly bestowed upon us.
It surprises me that in none of the philosophic writings of the learned
scholars of antiquity can I find that this matter of names has been touched
upon, much less given the importance of which I account it to be deserving.
Possibly it is because no one of them ever suffered, as I have suffered,
from the consequences of a name. Had it but been so, they might in their
weighty and impressive manner have set down a lesson on the subject, and so
relieved me--who am all-conscious of my shortcomings in this direction-
from the necessity of repairing that omission out of my own experience.
Let it then, even at this late hour, be considered what a subtle influence
for good or ill, what a very mould of character may lie within a name.
To the dull clod of earth, perhaps, or, again, to the truly strong-minded
nature that is beyond such influences, it can matter little that he be
called Alexander or Achilles; and once there was a man named Judas who fell
so far short of the noble associations of that name that he has changed for
all time the very sound and meaning of it.
But to him who has been endowed with imagination--that greatest boon and
greatest affliction of mankind--or whose nature is such as to crave for
models, the name he bears may become a thing portentous by the images it
conjures up of some mighty dead who bore it erstwhile and whose life
inspires to emulation.
Whatever may be accounted the general value of this premiss, at least as it
concerns my mother I shall hope to prove it apt.
They named her Monica. Why the name was chosen I have never learnt; but I
do not conceive that there was any reason for the choice other than the
taste of her parents in the matter of sounds. It is a pleasing enough
name, euphoniously considered, and beyond that--as is so commonly the
case--no considerations were taken into account.
To her, however, at once imaginative and of a feeble and dependent spirit,
the name was fateful. St. Monica was made the special object of her
devotions in girlhood, and remained so later when she became a wife. The
Life of St. Monica was the most soiled and fingered portion of an old
manuscript collection of the life histories of a score or so of saints that
was one of her dearest possessions. To render herself worthy of the name
she bore, to model her life upon that of the sainted woman who had sorrowed
and rejoiced so much in her famous offspring, became the obsession of my
mother's soul. And but that St. Monica had wed and borne a son, I do not
believe that my mother would ever have adventured herself within the bonds
How often in the stressful, stormy hours of my most unhappy youth did I not
wish that she had preferred the virginal life of the cloister, and thus
spared me the heavy burden of an existence which her unholy and mistaken
saintliness went so near to laying waste!
I like to think that in the days when my father wooed her, she forgot for a
spell in the strong arms of that fierce ghibelline the pattern upon which
it had become her wont to weave her life; so that in all that drab,
sackcloth tissue there was embroidered at least one warm and brilliant
little wedge of colour; so that in all that desert waste, in all that
parched aridity of her existence, there was at least one little patch of
garden-land, fragrant, fruitful, and cool.
I like to think it, for at best such a spell must have been brief indeed;
and for that I pity her--I, who once blamed her so very bitterly. Before
ever I was born it must have ceased; whilst still she bore me she put from
her lips the cup that holds the warm and potent wine of life, and turned
her once more to her fasting, her contemplations, and her prayers.
That was in the year in which the battle of Pavia was fought and won by the
Emperor. My father, who had raised a condotta to lend a hand in the
expulsion of the French, was left for dead upon that glorious field.
Afterwards he was found still living, but upon the very edge and border of
Eternity; and when the news of it was borne to my mother I have little
doubt but that she imagined it to be a visitation--a punishment upon her
for having strayed for that brief season of her adolescence from the narrow
flinty path that she had erst claimed to tread in the footsteps of Holy
How much the love of my father may still have swayed her I do not know.
But to me it seems that in what next she did there was more of duty, more
of penitence, more of reparation for the sin of having been a woman as God
made her, than of love. Indeed, I almost know this to be so. In delicate
health as she was, she bade her people prepare a litter for her, and so she
had herself carried into Piacenza, to the Church of St. Augustine. There,
having confessed and received the Sacrament, upon her knees before a minor
altar consecrated to St. Monica, she made solemn vow that if my father's
life was spared she would devote the unborn child she carried to the
service of God and Holy Church.
Two months thereafter word was brought her that my father, his recovery by
now well-nigh complete, was making his way home.
On the morrow was I born--a votive offering, an oblate, ere yet I had drawn
the breath of life.
It has oft diverted me to conjecture what would have chanced had I been
born a girl--since that could have afforded her no proper parallel. In the
circumstance that I was a boy, I have no faintest doubt but that she saw a
Sign, for she was given to seeing signs in the slightest and most natural
happenings. It was as it should be; it was as it had been with the Sainted
Monica in whose ways she strove, poor thing, to walk. Monica had borne a
son, and he had been named Augustine. It was very well. My name, too,
should be Augustine, that I might walk in the ways of that other Augustine,
that great theologian whose mother's name was Monica.
And even as the influence of her name had been my mother's guide, so was
the influence of my name to exert its sway upon me. It was made to do so.
Ere I could read for myself, the life of that great saint--with such
castrations as my tender years demanded--was told me and repeated until I
knew by heart its every incident and act. Anon his writings were my
school-books. His De Civitate Dei and De Vita Beata were the paps at which
I suckled my earliest mental nourishment.
And even to-day, after all the tragedy and sin and turbulence of my life,
that was intended to have been so different, it is from his Confessions
that I have gathered inspiration to set down my own--although betwixt the
two you may discern little indeed that is comparable.
I was prenatally made a votive offering for the preservation of my father's
life, for his restoration to my mother safe and sound. That restoration
she had, as you have seen; and yet, had she been other than she was, she
must have accounted herself cheated of her bargain in the end. For betwixt
my father and my mother I became from my earliest years a subject of
contentions that drove them far asunder and set them almost in enmity the
one against the other.
I was his only son, heir to the noble lordships of Mondolfo and Carmina.
Was it likely, then, that he should sacrifice me willingly to the seclusion
of the cloister, whilst our lordship passed into the hands of our renegade,
guelphic cousin, Cosimo d'Anguissola of Codogno?
I can picture his outbursts at the very thought of it; I can hear him
reasoning, upbraiding, storming. But he was as an ocean of energy hurling
himself against the impassive rock of my mother's pietistic obstinacy.
She had vowed me to the service of Holy Church, and she would suffer
tribulation and death so that her vow should be fulfilled. And hers was a
manner against which that strong man, my father, never could prevail.
She would stand before him white-faced and mute, never presuming to return
an answer to his pleading or to enter into argument.
"I have vowed," she would say, just once; and thereafter, avoiding his
fiery glance, she would bow her head meekly, fold her hands, the very
incarnation of long-suffering and martyrdom.
Anon, as the storm of his anger crashed about her, two glistening lines
would appear upon her pallid face, and her tears--horrid, silent weeping
that brought no trace of emotion to her countenance--showered down. At
that he would fling out of her presence and away, cursing the day in which
he had mated with a fool.
His hatred of these moods of hers, of the vow she had made which bade fair
to deprive him of his son, drove him ere long to hatred of the cause of it
all. A ghibelline by inheritance, he was not long in becoming an utter
infidel, at war with Rome and the Pontifical sway. Nor was he one to
content himself with passive enmity. He must be up and doing, seeking the
destruction of the thing he hated. And so it befell that upon the death of
Pope Clement (the second Medici Pontiff), profiting by the weak condition
from which the papal army had not yet recovered since the Emperor's
invasion and the sack of Rome, my father raised an army and attempted to
shatter the ancient yoke which Julius II had imposed upon Parma and
Piacenza when he took them from the State of Milan.
A little lad of seven was I at the time, and well do I remember the martial
stir and bustle there was about our citadel of Mondolfo, the armed
multitudes that thronged the fortress that was our home, or drilled and
manoeuvred upon the green plains beyond the river.
I was all wonder-stricken and fascinated by the sight. My blood was
quickened by the brazen notes of their trumpets, and to balance a pike in
my hands was to procure me the oddest and most exquisite thrills that I had
known. But my mother, perceiving with alarm the delight afforded me by
such warlike matters, withdrew me so that I might see as little as possible
of it all.
And there followed scenes between her and my father of which hazy
impressions linger in my memory. No longer was she a mute statue, enduring
with fearful stoicism his harsh upbraidings. She was turned into a
suppliant, now fierce, now lachrymose; by her prayers, by her prophecies of
the evil that must attend his ungodly aims, she strove with all her poor,
feeble might to turn him from the path of revolt to which he had set his
And he would listen now in silence, his face grim and sardonic; and when
from very weariness the flow of her inspired oratory began to falter, he
would deliver ever the same answer.
"It is you who have driven me to this; and this is no more than a
beginning. You have made a vow--an outrageous votive offering of something
that is not yours to bestow. That vow you cannot break, you say. Be it
so. But I must seek a remedy elsewhere. To save my son from the Church to
which you would doom him, I will, ere I have done, tear down the Church and
make an end of it in Italy."
And at that she would shrivel up before him with a little moan of horror,
taking her poor white face in her hands.
"Blasphemer!" she would cry in mingled terror and aversion, and upon that
word--the "Amen" to all their conferences in those last days they spent
together--she would turn, and dragging me with her, all stunned and
bewildered by something beyond my understanding, she would hurry me to the
chapel of the citadel, and there, before the high altar, prostrate herself
and spend long hours in awful sobbing intercessions.
And so the gulf between them widened until the day of his departure.
I was not present at their parting. What farewells may have been spoken
between them, what premonitions may have troubled one or the other that
they were destined never to meet again, I do not know.
I remember being rudely awakened one dark morning early in the year, and
lifted from my bed by arms to whose clasp I never failed to thrill. Close
to mine was pressed a hot, dark, shaven hawk-face; a pair of great eyes,
humid with tears, considered me passionately. Then a ringing voice--that
commanding voice that was my father's--spoke to Falcone, the man-at-arms
who attended him and who ever acted as his equerry.
"Shall we take him with us to the wars, Falcone?"
My little arms went round his neck and tightened there convulsively until
the steel rim of his gorget bit into them.
"Take me!" I sobbed. "Take me!"
He laughed for answer, with something of exultation in his voice. He swung
me to his shoulder, and held me poised there, looking up at me. And then
he laughed again.
"Dost hear the whelp?" he cried to Falcone. "Still with his milk-teeth in
his head, and already does he yelp for battle!"
Then he looked up at me again, and swore one of his great oaths.
"I can trust you, son of mine," he laughed. "They'll never make a
shaveling of you. When your thews are grown it will not be on thuribles
they'll spend their strength, or I'm a liar else. Be patient yet awhile,
and we shall ride together, never doubt it."
With that he pulled me down again to kiss me, and he clasped me to his
breast so that the studs of his armour remained stamped upon my tender
flesh after he had departed.
The next instant he was gone, and I lay weeping, a very lonely little
But in the revolt that he led he had not reckoned upon the might and vigour
of the new Farnese Pontiff. He had conceived, perhaps, that one pope must
be as supine as another, and that Paul III would prove no more redoubtable
than Clement VIII. To his bitter cost did he discover his mistake. Beyond
the Po he was surprised by the Pontifical army under Ferrante Orsini, and
there his force was cut to pieces.
My father himself escaped and with him some other gentlemen of Piacenza,
notably one of the scions of the great house of Pallavicini, who took a
wound in the leg which left him lame for life, so that ever after he was
known as Pallavicini il Zopo.
They were all under the pope's ban, outlaws with a price upon the head of
each, hunted and harried from State to State by the papal emissaries, so
that my father never more dared set foot in Mondolfo, or, indeed, within
the State of Piacenza, which had been rudely punished for the
insubordination it had permitted to be reared upon its soil.
And Mondolfo went near to suffering confiscation. Assuredly it would have
suffered it but for the influence exerted on my mother's and my own behalf
by her brother, the powerful Cardinal of San Paulo in Carcere, seconded by
that guelphic cousin of my father's, Cosimo d'Anguissola, who, after me,
was heir to Mondolfo, and had, therefore, good reason not to see it
confiscated to the Holy See.
Thus it fell out that we were left in peace and not made to suffer from my
father's rebellion. For that, he himself should suffer when taken. But
taken he never was. From time to time we had news of him. Now he was in
Venice, now in Milan, now in Naples; but never long in any place for his
safety's sake. And then one night, six years later, a scarred and grizzled
veteran, coming none knew whence, dropped from exhaustion in the courtyard
of our citadel, whither he had struggled. Some went to minister to him,
and amongst these there was a groom who recognized him.
"It is Messer Falcone!" he cried, and ran to bear the news to my mother,
with whom I was at table at the time. With us, too, was Fra Gervasio, our
It was grim news that old Falcone brought us. He had never quitted my
father in those six weary years of wandering until now that my father was
beyond the need of his or any other's service.
There had been a rising and a bloody battle at Perugia, Falcone informed
us. An attempt had been made to overthrow the rule there of Pier Luigi
Farnese, Duke of Castro, the pope's own abominable son. For some months my
father had been enjoying the shelter of the Perugians, and he had repaid
their hospitality by joining them and bearing arms with them in the
ill-starred blow they struck for liberty. They had been crushed in the
encounter by the troops of Pier Luigi, and my father had been among the
And well was it for him that he came by so fine and merciful an end,
thought I, when I had heard the tale of horrors that had been undergone by
the unfortunates who had fallen into the hands of Farnese.
My mother heard him to the end without any sign of emotion. She sat there,
cold and impassive as a thing of marble, what time Fra Gervasio--who was my
father's foster-brother, as you shall presently learn more fully--sank his
head upon his arm and wept like a child to hear the piteous tale of it.
And whether from force of example, whether from the memories that came to
me so poignantly in that moment of a fine strong man with a brown, shaven
face and a jovial, mighty voice, who had promised me that one day we should
ride together, I fell a-weeping too.
When the tale was done, my mother coldly gave orders that Falcone be cared
for, and went to pray, taking me with her.
Oftentimes since have I wondered what was the tenour of her prayers that
night. Were they for the rest of the great turbulent soul that was gone
forth in sin, in arms against the Holy Church, excommunicate and foredoomed
to Hell? Or were they of thanksgiving that at last she was completely
mistress of my destinies, her mind at rest, since no longer need she fear
opposition to her wishes concerning me? I do not know, nor will I do her
the possible injustice that I should were I to guess.
When I think of my mother now I do not see her as she appeared in any of
the scenes that already I have set down. There is one picture of her that
is burnt as with an acid upon my memory, a picture which the mere mention
of her name, the mere thought of her, never fails to evoke like a ghost
before me. I see her always as she appeared one evening when she came
suddenly and without warning upon Falcone and me in the armoury of the
I see her again, a tall, slight, graceful woman, her oval face of the
translucent pallor of wax, framed in a nun-like coif, over which was thrown
a long black veil that fell to her waist and there joined the black
unrelieved draperies that she always wore. This sable garb was no mere
mourning for my father. His death had made as little change in her apparel
as in her general life. It had been ever thus as far as my memory can
travel; always had her raiment been the same, those trailing funereal
draperies. Again I see them, and that pallid face with its sunken eyes,
around which there were great brown patches that seemed to intensify the
depth at which they were set and the sombre lustre of them on the rare
occasions when she raised them; those slim, wax-like hands, with a chaplet
of beads entwined about the left wrist and hanging thence to a silver
crucifix at the end.
She moved almost silently, as a ghost; and where she passed she seemed to
leave a trail of sorrow and sadness in her wake, just as a worldly woman
leaves a trail of perfume.
Thus looked she when she came upon us there that evening, and thus will she
live for ever in my memory, for that was the first time that I knew
rebellion against the yoke she was imposing upon me; the first time that
our wills clashed, hers and mine; and as a consequence, maybe, was it the
first time that I considered her with purpose and defined her to myself.
The thing befell some three months after the coming of Falcone to Mondolfo.
That the old man-at-arms should have exerted a strong attraction upon my
young mind, you will readily understand. His intimate connection with that
dimly remembered father, who stood secretly in my imagination in the
position that my mother would have had St. Augustine occupy, drew me to his
equerry like metal to a lodestone.
And this attraction was reciprocal. Of his own accord old Falcone sought
me out, lingering in my neighbourhood at first like a dog that looks for a
kindly word. He had not long to wait. Daily we had our meetings and our
talks and daily did these grow in length; and they were stolen hours of
which I said no word to my mother, nor did others for a season, so that all
Our talks were naturally of my father, and it was through Falcone that I
came to know something of the greatness of that noble-souled, valiant
gentleman, whom the old servant painted for me as one who combined with the
courage of the lion the wiliness of the fox.
He discoursed of their feats of arms together, he described charges of
horse that set my nerves a-tingle as in fancy I heard the blare of trumpets
and the deafening thunder of hooves upon the turf. Of escalades, of
surprises, of breaches stormed, of camisades and ambushes, of dark
treacheries and great heroisms did he descant to fire my youthful fancy, to
fill me first with delight, and then with frenzy when I came to think that
in all these things my life must have no part, that for me another road was
set--a grey, gloomy road at the end of which was dangled a reward which did
not greatly interest me.
And then one day from fighting as an endeavour, as a pitting of force
against force and astuteness against astuteness, he came to talk of
fighting as an art.
It was from old Falcone that first I heard of Marozzo, that miracle-worker
in weapons, that master at whose academy in Bologna the craft of
swordsmanship was to be acquired, so that from fighting with his irons as a
beast with its claws, by sheer brute strength and brute instinct, man might
by practised skill and knowledge gain advantages against which mere
strength must spend itself in vain.
What he told me amazed me beyond anything that I had ever heard, even from
himself, and what he told me he illustrated, flinging himself into the
poises taught by Marozzo that I might appreciate the marvellous science of
Thus was it that for the first time I made the acquaintance--an
acquaintance held by few men in those days--of those marvellous guards of
Marozzo's devising; Falcone showed me the difference between the mandritto
and the roverso, the false edge and the true, the stramazone and the tondo;
and he left me spellbound by that marvellous guard appropriately called by
Marozzo the iron girdle--a low guard on the level of the waist, which on
the very parry gives an opening for the point, so that in one movement you
may ward and strike.
At last, when I questioned him, he admitted that during their wanderings,
my father, with that recklessness that alternated curiously with his
caution, had ventured into the city of Bologna notwithstanding that it was
a Papal fief, for the sole purpose of studying with Marozzo that Falcone
himself had daily accompanied him, witnessed the lessons, and afterwards
practised with my father, so that he had come to learn most of the secrets
that Marozzo taught.
One day, at last, very timidly, like one who, whilst overconscious of his
utter unworthiness, ventures to crave a boon which he knows himself without
the right to expect, I asked Falcone would he show me something of
Marozzo's art with real weapons.
I had feared a rebuff. I had thought that even old Falcone might laugh at
one predestined to the study of theology, desiring to enter into the
mysteries of sword-craft. But my fears were far indeed from having a
foundation. There was no laughter in the equerry's grey eyes, whilst the
smile upon his lips was a smile of gladness, of eagerness, almost of
thankfulness to see me so set.
And so it came to pass that daily thereafter did we practise for an hour or
so in the armoury with sword and buckler, and with every lesson my
proficiency with the iron grew in a manner that Falcone termed prodigious,
swearing that I was born to the sword, that the knack of it was in the very
blood of me.
It may be that affection for me caused him to overrate the progress that I
made and the aptitude I showed; it may even be that what he said was no
more than the good-natured flattery of one who loved me and would have me
take pleasure in myself. And yet when I look back at the lad I was, I
incline to think that he spoke no more than sober truth.
I have alluded to the curious, almost inexplicable delight it afforded me
to feel in my hands the balance of a pike for the first time. Fain would I
tell you something of all that I felt when first my fingers closed about a
sword-hilt, the forefinger passed over the quillons in the new manner, as
Falcone showed me. But it defies all power of words. The sweet seduction
of its balance, the white gleaming beauty of the blade, were things that
thrilled me with something akin to the thrill of the first kiss of passion.
It was not quite the same, I know; yet I can think of nothing else in life
that is worthy of being compared with it.
I was at the time a lad in my thirteenth year, but I was well-grown and
strong beyond my age, despite the fact that my mother had restrained me
from all those exercises of horsemanship, of arms, and of wrestling by
which boys of my years attain development. I stood almost as tall then as
Falcone himself--who was accounted of a good height--and if my reach fell
something short of his, I made up for this by the youthful quickness of my
movements; so that soon--unless out of good nature he refrained from
exerting his full vigour--I found myself Falcone's match.
Fra Gervasio, who was then my tutor, and with whom my mornings were spent
in perfecting my Latin and giving me the rudiments of Greek, soon had his
suspicions of where the hour of the siesta was spent by me with old
Falcone. But the good, saintly man held his peace, a matter which at that
time intrigued me. Others there were, however, who thought well to bear
the tale of our doings to my mother, and thus it happened that she came
upon us that day in the armoury, each of us in shirt and breeches at
We fell apart upon her entrance, each with a guilty feeling, like children
caught in a forbidden orchard, for all that Falcone held himself proudly
erect, his grizzled head thrown back, his eyes cold and hard.
A long while it seemed ere she spoke, and once or twice I shot her a
furtive comprehensive glance, and saw her as I shall ever see her to my
Her eyes were upon me. I do not believe that she gave Falcone a single
thought at first. It was at me only that she looked, and with such a
sorrow in her glance to see me so vigorous and lusty, as surely could not
have been fetched there by the sight of my corpse itself. Her lips moved
awhile in silence; and whether she was at her everlasting prayers, or
whether she was endeavouring to speak but could not for emotion, I do not
know. At last her voice came, laden with a chill reproach.
"Agostino!" she said, and waited as if for some answer from me.
It was in that instant that rebellion stirred in me. Her coming had turned
me cold, for all that my body was overheated from the exercise and I was
sweating furiously. Now, at the sound of her voice, something of the
injustice that oppressed me, something of the unreasoning bigotry that
chained and fettered me, stood clear before my mental vision for the first
time. It warmed me again with the warmth of sullen indignation. I
returned her no answer beyond a curtly respectful invitation that she
should speak her mind, couched--as had been her reproof--in a single word
"Madonna?" I challenged, and emulating something of old Falcone's attitude,
I drew myself erect, flung back my head, and brought my eyes to the level
of her own by an effort of will such as I had never yet exerted.
It was, I think, the bravest thing I ever did. I felt, in doing it, as one
feels who has nerved himself to enter fire. And when the thing was done,
the ease of it surprised me. There followed no catastrophe such as I
expected. Before my glance, grown suddenly so very bold, her own eyes
drooped and fell away as was her habit. She spoke thereafter without
looking at me, in that cold, emotionless voice that was peculiar to her
always, the voice of one in whom the founts of all that is sweet and
tolerant and tender in life are for ever frozen.
"What are you doing with weapons, Agostino?" she asked me.
"As you see, madam mother, I am at practice," I answered, and out of the
corner of my eye I caught the grim approving twitch of old Falcone's lips.
"At practice?" she echoed, dully as one who does not understand. Then very
slowly she shook her sorrowful head. "Men practise what they must one day
perform, Agostino. To your books, then, and leave swords for bloody men,
nor ever let me see you again with weapons in your hands if you respect
"Had you not come hither, madam mother, you had been spared the sight
to-day," I answered with some lingering spark of my rebellious fire still
"It was God's will that I should come to set a term to such vanities before
they take too strong a hold upon you," answered she. "Lay down those
Had she been angry, I think I could have withstood her. Anger in her at
such a time must have been as steel upon the flint of my own nature. But
against that incarnation of sorrow and sadness, my purpose, my strength of
character were turned to water. By similar means had she ever prevailed
with my poor father. And I had, too, the habit of obedience which is not
so lightly broken as I had at first accounted possible.
Sullenly then I set down my sword upon a bench that stood against the wall,
and my target with it. As I turned aside to do so, her gloomy eyes were
poised for an instant upon Falcone, who stood grim and silent. Then they
were lowered again ere she began to address him.
"You have done very ill, Falcone," said she. "You have abused my trust in
you, and you have sought to pervert my son and to lead him into ways of
He started under that reproof like a fiery stallion under the spur. His
face flushed scarlet. The habit of obedience may have been strong in
Falcone too; but it was obedience to men; with women he had never had much
to do, old warrior though he was. Moreover, in this he felt that an
affront had been put upon the memory of Giovanni d'Anguissola, who was my
father and who went nigh to being Falcone's god. And this his answer
"The ways into which I lead your son, Madonna," said he in a low voice that
boomed up and echoed in the groined ceiling overhead, "are the ways that
were trod by my lord his father. And who says that the ways of Giovanni
d'Anguissola were evil ways lies foully, be he man or woman, patrician or
villein, pope or devil." And upon that he paused magnificently, his eyes
She shuddered under his rough speech. Then answered without looking up,
and with no trace of anger in her voice:
"You are restored to health and strength by now, Messer Falcone. The
seneschal shall have orders to pay you ten gold ducats in discharge of all
that may be still your due from us. See that by night you have left
And then, without changing her deadly inflection, or even making a
noticeable pause, "Come, Agostino," she commanded.
But I did not move. Her words had fixed me there with horror. I heard
from Falcone a sound that was between a growl and a sob. I dared not look
at him, but the eye of my fancy saw him standing rigid, pale, and
What would he do, what would he say? Oh, she had done a cruel, a bitterly
cruel wrong. This poor old warrior, all scarred and patched from wounds
that he had taken in my father's service, to be turned away in his old age,
as we should not have turned away a dog! It was a monstrous thing.
Mondolfo was his home. The Anguissola were his family, and their honour
was his honour, since as a villein he had no honour of his own. To cast
him out thus!
All this flashed through my anguished mind in one brief throb of time, as I
waited, marvelling what he would do, what say, in answer to that dismissal.
He would not plead, or else I did not know him; and I was sure of that,
without knowing what else there was that must make it impossible for old
Falcone to stoop to ask a favour of my mother.
Awhile he just stood there, his wits overthrown by sheer surprise. And
then, when at last he moved, the thing he did was the last thing that I had
looked for. Not to her did he turn; not to her, but to me, and he dropped
on one knee before me.
"My lord!" he cried, and before he added another word I knew already what
else he was about to say. For never yet had I been so addressed in my
lordship of Mondolfo. To all there I was just the Madonnino. But to
Falcone, in that supreme hour of his need, I was become his lord.
"My lord," he said, then. "Is it your wish that I should go?"
I drew back, still wrought upon by my surprise; and then my mother's voice
came cold and acid.
"The Madonnino's wish is not concerned in this, Mester Falcone. It is I
who order your departure."
Falcone did not answer her; he affected not to hear her, and continued to
address himself to me.
"You are the master here, my lord," he urged. "You are the law in
Mondolfo. You carry life and death in your right hand, and against your
will no man or woman in your lordship can prevail."
He spoke the truth, a mighty truth which had stood like a mountain before
me all these months, yet which I had not seen.
"I shall go or remain as you decree, my lord," he added; and then, almost
in a snarl of defiance, "I obey none other," he concluded, "nor pope nor
"Agostino, I am waiting for you," came my mother's voice from the doorway
Something had me by the throat. It was Temptation, and old Falcone was the
tempter. More than that was he--though how much more I did not dream, nor
with what authority he acted there. He was the Mentor who showed me the
road to freedom and to manhood; he showed me how at a blow I might shiver
the chains that held me, and shake them from me like the cobwebs that they
were. He tested me, too; tried my courage and my will; and to my undoing
was it that he found me wanting in that hour. My regrets for him went near
to giving me the resolution that I lacked. Yet even these fell short.
I would to God I had given heed to him. I would to God I had flung back my
head and told my mother--as he prompted me--that I was lord of Mondolfo,
and that Falcone must remain since I so willed it.
I strove to do so out of my love for him rather than out of any such fine
spirit as he sought to inspire in me. Had I succeeded I had established my
dominion, I had become arbiter of my fate; and how much of misery, of
anguish, and of sin might I not thereafter have been spared!
The hour was crucial, though I knew it not. I stood at a parting of ways;
yet for lack of courage I hesitated to take the road to which so invitingly
he beckoned me.
And then, before I could make any answer such as I desired, such as I
strove to make, my mother spoke again, and by her tone, which had grown
faltering and tearful--as was her wont in the old days when she ruled my
father--she riveted anew the fetters I was endeavouring with all the
strength of my poor young soul to snap.
"Tell him, Agostino, that your will is as your mother's. Tell him so and
come. I am waiting for you."
I stifled a groan, and let my arms fall limply to my sides. I was a
weakling and contemptible. I realized it. And yet to-day when I look back
I see how vast a strength I should have needed. I was but thirteen and of
a spirit that had been cowed by her, and was held under her thrall.
I...I am sorry, Falcone," I faltered, and there were tears in my eyes.
I shrugged again--shrugged in token of my despair and grief and impotence--
and I moved down the long room towards the door where my mother waited.
I did not dare to bestow another look upon that poor broken old warrior,
that faithful, lifelong servant, turned thus cruelly upon the world by a
woman whom bigotry had sapped of all human feelings and a boy who was a
coward masquerading under a great name.
I heard his gasping sob, and the sound smote upon my heart and hurt me as
if it had been iron. I had failed him. He must suffer more in the
knowledge of my unworthiness to be called the son of that master whom he
had worshipped than in the destitution that might await him.
I reached the door.
"My lord! My lord!" he cried after me despairingly. On the very threshold
I stood arrested by that heartbroken cry of his. I half turned.
"Falcone..." I began.
And then my mother's white hand fell upon my wrist.
"Come, my son," she said, once more impassive.
Nervelessly I obeyed her, and as I passed out I heard Falcone's voice
"My lord, my lord! God help me, and God help you!" An hour later he had
left the citadel, and on the stones of the courtyard lay ten golden ducats
which he had scattered there, and which not one of the greedy grooms or
serving-men could take courage to pick up, so fearful a curse had old
Falcone laid upon that money when he cast it from him.
THE PIETISTIC THRALL
That evening my mother talked to me at longer length than I remember her
ever to have done before.
It may be that she feared lest Gino Falcone should have aroused in me
notions which it was best to lull back at once into slumber. It may be
that she, too, had felt something of the crucial quality of that moment in
the armoury, just as she must have perceived my first hesitation to obey
her slightest word, whence came her resolve to check this mutiny ere it
should spread and become too big for her.
We sat in the room that was called her private diningroom, but which, in
fact, was all things to her save the chamber in which she slept.
The fine apartments through which I had strayed as a little lad in my
father's day, the handsome lofty chambers, with their frescoed ceilings,
their walls hung with costly tapestries, many of which had come from the
looms of Flanders, their floors of wood mosaics, and their great carved
movables, had been shut up these many years.
For my mother's claustral needs sufficient was provided by the alcove in
which she slept, the private chapel of the citadel in which she would spend
long hours, and this private dining-room where we now sat. Into the
spacious gardens of the castle she would seldom wander, into our town of
Mondolfo never. Not since my father's departure upon his ill-starred
rebellion had she set foot across the drawbridge.
"Tell me whom you go with, and I will tell you what you are," says the
proverb. "Show me your dwelling, and I shall see your character," say I.
And surely never was there a chamber so permeated by the nature of its
tenant as that private dining-room of my mother's.
It was a narrow room in the shape of a small parallelogram, with the
windows set high up near the timbered, whitewashed ceiling, so that it was
impossible either to look in or to look out, as is sometimes the case with
the windows of a chapel.
On the white space of wall that faced the door hung a great wooden
Crucifix, very rudely carved by one who either knew nothing of anatomy, or
else--as is more probable--was utterly unable to set down his knowledge
upon timber. The crudely tinted figure would be perhaps half the natural
size of a man; and it was the most repulsive and hideous representation of
the Tragedy of Golgotha that I have ever seen. It filled one with a horror
which was far indeed removed from the pious horror which that Symbol is
intended to arouse in every true believer. It emphasized all the ghastly
ugliness of death upon that most barbarous of gallows, without any
suggestion of the beauty and immensity of the Divine Martyrdom of Him Who
in the likeness of the sinful flesh was Alone without sin.
And to me the ghastliest and most pitiful thing of all was an artifice
which its maker had introduced for the purpose of conveying some suggestion
of the supernatural to that mangled, malformed, less than human
representation. Into the place of the wound made by the spear of Longinus,
he had introduced a strip of crystal which caught the light at certain
angles--more particularly when there were lighted tapers in the room--so
that in reflecting this it seemed to shed forth luminous rays.
An odd thing was that my mother--who looked upon that Crucifix with eyes
that were very different from mine--would be at pains in the evening when
lights were fetched to set a taper at such an angle as was best calculated
to produce the effect upon which the sculptor had counted. What
satisfaction it can have been to her to see reflected from that glazed
wound the light which she herself had provided for the purpose, I am lost
to think. And yet I am assured that she would contemplate that shining
effluence in a sort of ecstatic awe, accounting it something very near akin
Under this Crucifix hung a little alabaster font of holywater, into the
back of which was stuck a withered, yellow branch of palm, which was
renewed on each Palm Sunday. Before it was set a praying-stool of plain
oak, without any cushion to mitigate its harshness to the knees.
In the corner of the room stood a tall, spare, square cupboard, capacious
but very plain, in which the necessaries of the table were disposed. In
the opposite corner there was another smaller cupboard with a sort of
writingpulpit beneath. Here my mother kept the accounts of her household,
her books of recipes, her homely medicines and the heavy devotional tomes
and lesser volumes--mostly manuscript--out of which she nourished her poor
Amongst these was the Treatise of the Mental Sufferings of Christ--the book
of the Blessed Battista of Varano, Princess of Camerino, who founded the
convent of Poor Clares in that city--a book whose almost blasphemous
presumption fired the train of my earliest misgivings.
Another was The Spiritual Combat, that queer yet able book of the cleric
Scupoli--described as the "aureo libro," dedicated "Al Supremo Capitano e
Gloriosissimo Trionfatore, Gesu Cristo, Figliuolo di Maria," and this
dedication in the form of a letter to Our Saviour, signed, "Your most
humble servant, purchased with Your Blood."1
1 This work, which achieved a great vogue and of which several editions
were issued down to 1750, was first printed in 1589. Clearly, however, MS.
copies were in existence earlier, and it is to one of these that Agostino
Down the middle of the chamber ran a long squareended table of oak, very
plain like all the rest of the room's scant furnishings. At the head of
this table was an arm-chair for my mother, of bare wood without any cushion
to relieve its hardness, whilst on either side of the board stood a few
lesser chairs for those who habitually dined there. These were, besides
myself, Fra Gervasio, my tutor; Messer Giorgio, the castellan, a
bald-headed old man long since past the fighting age and who in times of
stress would have been as useful for purposes of defending Mondolfo as
Lorenza, my mother's elderly woman, who sat below him at the board; he was
toothless, bowed, and decrepit, but he was very devout--as he had need to
be, seeing that he was half dead already--and this counted with my mother
above any other virtue.2
2 Virtu is the word used by Agostino, and it is susceptible to a wider
translation than that which the English language affords, comprising as it
does a sense of courage and address at arms. Indeed, it is not clear that
Agostino is not playing here upon the double meaning of the word.
The last of the four who habitually sat with us was Giojoso, the seneschal,
a lantern-jawed fellow with black, beetling brows, about whom the only
joyous thing was his misnomer of a name.
Of the table that we kept, beyond noting that the fare was ever of a lenten
kind and that the wine was watered, I will but mention that my mother did
not observe the barrier of the salt. There was no sitting above it or
below at our board, as, from time immemorial, is the universal custom in
feudal homes. That her having abolished it was an act of humility on her
part there can be little doubt, although this was a subject upon which she
never expressed herself in my hearing.
The walls of that room were whitewashed and bare.
The floor was of stone overlain by a carpet of rushes that was changed no
oftener than once a week.
From what I have told you, you may picture something of the chill gloom of
the place, something of the pietism which hung upon the very air of that
apartment in which so much of my early youth was spent. And it had, too,
an odour that is peculiarly full of character, the smell which is never
absent from a sacristy and rarely from conventual chambers; a smell
difficult to define, faint and yet tenuously pungent, and like no other
smell in all the world that I have ever known. It is a musty odour, an
odour of staleness which perhaps an open window and the fresh air of heaven
might relieve but could not dissipate; and to this is wed, but so subtly
that it would be impossible to say which is predominant, the slight, sickly
aroma of wax.
We supped there that night in silence at about the hour that poor Gino
Falcone would be taking his departure. Silence was habitual with us at
meal-times, eating being performed--like everything else in that drab
household--as a sort of devotional act. Occasionally the silence would be
relieved by readings aloud from some pious work, undertaken at my mother's
bidding by one or another of the amanuenses.
But on the night in question there was just silence, broken chiefly by the
toothless slobber of the castellan over the soft meats that were especially
prepared for him. And there was something of grimness in that silence; for
none--and Fra Gervasio less than any--approved the unchristian thing that
out of excess of Christianity my mother had done in driving old Falcone
Myself, I could not eat at all. My misery choked me. The thought of that
old servitor whom I had loved being sent a wanderer and destitute, and all
through my own weakness, all because I had failed him in his need, just as
I had failed myself, was anguish to me. My lip would quiver at the
thought, and it was with difficulty that I repressed my tears.
At last that hideous repast came to an end in prayers of thanksgiving whose
immoderate length was out of all proportion to the fare provided.
The castellan shuffled forth upon the arm of the seneschal; Lorenza
followed at a sign from my mother, and we three--Gervasio, my mother, and
I--were left alone.
And here let me say a word of Fra Gervasio. He was, as I have already
written, my father's foster-brother. That is to say, he was the child of a
sturdy peasant-woman of the Val di Taro, from whose lusty, healthy breast
my father had suckled the first of that fine strength that had been his
He was older than my father by a month or so, and as often happens in such
cases, he was brought to Mondolfo to be first my father's playmate, and
later, no doubt, to have followed him as a man-at-arms. But a chill that
he took in his tenth year as a result of a long winter immersion in the icy
waters of the Taro laid him at the point of death, and left him thereafter
of a rather weak and sickly nature. But he was quick and intelligent, and
was admitted to learn his letters with my father, whence it ensued that he
developed a taste for study. Seeing that by his health he was debarred
from the hardy open life of a soldier, his scholarly aptitude was
encouraged, and it was decided that he should follow a clerical career.
He had entered the order of St. Francis; but after some years at the
Convent of Aguilona, his health having been indifferent and the conventual
rules too rigorous for his condition, he was given licence to become the
chaplain of Mondolfo. Here he had received the kindliest treatment at the
hands of my father, who entertained for his sometime playmate a very real
He was a tall, gaunt man with a sweet, kindly face, reflecting his sweet,
kindly nature; he had deep-set, dark eyes, very gentle in their gaze, a
tender mouth that was a little drawn by lines of suffering and an upright
wrinkle, deep as a gash, between his brows at the root of his long, slender
He it was that night who broke the silence that endured even after the
others had departed. He spoke at first as if communing with himself, like
a man who thinks aloud; and between his thumb and his long forefinger, I
remember that he kneaded a crumb of bread upon which his eyes were intent.
"Gino Falcone is an old man, and he was my lord's best-loved servant. He
would have died for my lord, and joyfully; and now he is turned adrift, to
die to no purpose. Ah, well." He heaved a deep sigh and fell silent,
whilst I--the pent-up anguish in me suddenly released to hear my thoughts
thus expressed--fell soundlessly to weeping.
"Do you reprove me, Fra Gervasio?" quoth my mother, quite emotionless.
The monk pushed back his stool and rose ere he replied. "I must," he said,
"or I am unworthy of the scapulary I wear. I must reprove this unchristian
act, or else am I no true servant of my Master."
She crossed herself with her thumb-nail upon the brow and upon the lips, to
repress all evil thoughts and evil words--an unfailing sign that she was
stirred to anger and sought to combat the sin of it. Then she spoke,
meekly enough, in the same cold, level voice.
"I think it is you who are at fault," she told him, "when you call
unchristian an act which was necessary to secure this child to Christ."
He smiled a sad little smile. "Yet even so, it were well you should
proceed with caution and with authority; and in this you have none."
It was her turn to smile, the palest, ghostliest of smiles, and even for so
much she must have been oddly moved. "I think I have," said she, and
quoted, "'If thy right hand offend thee, hack it off.'"
I saw a hot flush mount to the friar's prominent cheekbones. Indeed, he
was a very human man under his conventual robe, with swift stirrings of
passion which the long habit of repression had not yet succeeded in
extinguishing. He cast his eyes to the ceiling in such a glance of despair
as left me thoughtful. It was as an invocation to Heaven to look down upon
the obstinate, ignorant folly of this woman who accounted herself wise and
who so garbled the Divine teaching as to blaspheme with complacency.
I know that now; at the time I was not quite so clearsighted as to read
the full message of that glance.
Her audacity was as the audacity of fools. Where wisdom, full-fledged,
might have halted, trembling, she swept resolutely onward. Before her
stood this friar, this teacher and interpreter, this man of holy life who
was accounted profoundly learned in the Divinities; and he told her that
she had done an evil thing. Yet out of the tiny pittance of her knowledge
and her little intellectual sight--which was no better than a blindness--
must she confidently tell him that he was at fault.
Argument was impossible between him and her. Thus much I saw, and I feared
an explosion of the wrath of which I perceived in him the signs. But he
quelled it. Yet his voice rumbled thunderously upon his next words.
"It matters something that Gino Falcone should not starve," he said.
"It matters more that my son should not be damned," she answered him, and
with that answer left him weapon-less, for against the armour of a
crassness so dense and one-ideaed there are no weapons that can prevail.
"Listen," she said, and her eyes, raised for a moment, comprehended both of
us in their glance. "There is something that it were best I tell you, that
once for all you may fathom the depth of my purpose for Agostino here. My
lord his father was a man of blood and strife..."
"And so were many whose names stand to-day upon the roll of saints and are
its glory," answered the friar with quick asperity.
"But they did not raise their arms against the Holy Church and against
Christ's Own most holy Vicar, as did he," she reminded him sorrowfully.
"The sword is an ill thing save when it is wielded in a holy cause. In my
lord's hands, wielded in the unholiest of all causes, it became a thing
accursed. But God's anger overtook him and laid him low at Perugia in all
the strength and vigour that had made him arrogant as Lucifer. It was
perhaps well for all of us that it so befell."
"Madonna!" cried Gervasio in stern horror.
But she went on quite heedless of him. "Best of all was it for me, since I
was spared the harshest duty that can be imposed upon a woman and a wife.
It was necessary that he should expiate the evil he had wrought; moreover,
his life was become a menace to my child's salvation. It was his wish to
make of Agostino such another as himself, to lead his only son adown the
path of Hell. It was my duty to my God and to my son to shield this boy.
And to accomplish that I would have delivered up his father to the papal
emissaries who sought him."
"Ah, never that!" the friar protested. "You could never have done that!"
"Could I not? I tell you it was as good as done. I tell you that the
thing was planned. I took counsel with my confessor, and he showed me my
She paused a moment, whilst we stared, Fra Gervasio white-faced and with
mouth that gaped in sheer horror.
"For years had he eluded the long arm of the pope's justice," she resumed.
"And during those years he had never ceased to plot and plan the overthrow
of the Pontifical dominion. He was blinded by his arrogance to think that
he could stand against the hosts of Heaven. His stubbornness in sin had
made him mad. Quem Deus vult perdere..." And she waved one of her
emaciated hands, leaving the quotation unfinished. "Heaven showed me the
way, chose me for Its instrument. I sent him word, offering him shelter
here at Mondolfo where none would look to find him, assuming it to be the
last place to which he would adventure. He was to have come when death
took him on the field of Perugia."
There was something here that I did not understand at all. And in like
case, it seemed, was Fra Gervasio, for he passed a hand over his brow, as
if to clear thence some veils that clogged his understanding.
"He was to have come?" he echoed. "To shelter?" he asked.
"Nay," said she quietly, "to death. The papal emissaries had knowledge of
it and would have been here to await him."
"You would have betrayed him?" Fra Gervasio's voice was hoarse, his eyes
were burning sombrely.
"I would have saved my son," said she, with quiet satisfaction, in a tone
that revealed how incontestably right she conceived herself to be.
He stood there, and he seemed taller and more gaunt than usual, for he had
drawn himself erect to the full of his great height--and he was a man who
usually went bowed. His hands were clenched and the knuckles showed
blue-white like marble. His face was very pale and in his temple a little
pulse was throbbing visibly. He swayed slightly upon his feet, and the
sight of him frightened me a little. He seemed so full of terrible
When I think of vengeance, I picture to myself Fra Gervasio as I beheld him
in that hour. Nothing that he could have done would have surprised me.
Had he fallen upon my mother then, and torn her limb from limb, it would
have been no more than from the sight of him I might have expected.
I have said that nothing that he could have done would have surprised me.
Rather should I have said that nothing would have surprised me save the
thing he did.
Whilst a man might have counted ten stood he so--she seeing nothing of the
strange transfiguration that had come over him, for her eyes were downcast
as ever. Then quite slowly, his hands unclenched, his arms fell limply to
his sides, his head sank forward upon his breast, and his figure bowed
itself lower than was usual. Quite suddenly, quite softly, almost as a man
who swoons, he sank down again into the chair from which he had risen.
He set his elbows on the table, and took his head in his hands. A groan
escaped him. She heard it, and looked at him in her furtive way.
"You are moved by this knowledge, Fra Gervasio," she said and sighed. "I
have told you this--and you, Agostino--that you may know how deep, how
ineradicable is my purpose. You were a votive offering, Agostino; you were
vowed to the service of God that your father's life might be spared, years
ago, ere you were born. From the very edge of death was your father
brought back to life and strength. He would have used that life and that
strength to cheat God of the price of His boon to me."
"And if," Fra Gervasio questioned almost fiercely, "Agostino in the end
should have no vocation, should have no call to such a life?"
She looked at him very wistfully, almost pityingly. "How should that be?"
she asked. "He was offered to God. And that God accepted the gift, He
showed when He gave Giovanni back to life. How, then, could it come to
pass that Agostino should have no call? Would God reject that which He had
Fra Gervasio rose again. "You go too deep for me, Madonna," he said
bitterly. "It is not for me to speak of my gifts save reverently and in
profound and humble gratitude for that grace by which God bestowed them
upon me. But I am accounted something of a casuist. I am a doctor of
theology and of canon law, and but for the weak state of my health I should
be sitting to-day in the chair of canon law at the University of Pavia.
And yet, Madonna, the things you tell me with such assurance make a mock of
everything I have ever learnt."
Even I, lad as I was, perceived the bitter irony in which he spoke. Not so
she. I vow she flushed under what she accounted his praise of her wisdom
and divine revelation; for vanity is the last human weakness to be
discarded. Then she seemed to recollect herself. She bowed her head very
"It is God's grace that reveals to me the truth," she said.
He fell back a step in his amazement at having been so thoroughly
misunderstood. Then he drew away from the table. He looked at her as he
would speak, but checked on the thought. He turned, and so, without
another word, departed, and left us sitting there together.
It was then that we had our talk; or, rather, that she talked, whilst I sat
listening. And presently as I listened, I came gradually once more under
the spell of which I had more than once that day been on the point of
casting off the yoke.
For, after all, you are to discern in what I have written here, between
what were my feelings at the time and what are my criticisms of to-day in
the light of the riper knowledge to which I have come. The handling of a
sword had thrilled me strangely, as I have shown. Yet was I ready to
believe that such a thrill was but a lure of Satan's, as my mother assured
me. In deeper matters she might harbour error, as Fra Gervasio's irony had
shown me that he believed. But we went that night into no great depths.
She spent an hour or so in vague discourse upon the joys of Paradise, in
showing me the folly of jeopardizing them for the sake of the fleeting
vanities of this ephemeral world. She dealt at length upon the love of God
for us, and the love which we should bear to Him, and she read to me
passages from the book of the Blessed Varano and from Scupoli to add point
to her teachings upon the beauty and nobility of a life that is devoted to
God's service--the only service of this world in which nobility can exist.
And then she added little stories of martyrs who had suffered for the
faith, of the tortures to which they had been subjected, and of the
happiness they had felt in actual suffering, of the joy that their very
torments had brought them, borne up as they were by their faith and the
strength of their love of God.
There was in all this nothing that was new to me, nothing that I did not
freely accept and implicitly believe without pausing to judge or criticize.
And yet, it was shrewd of her to have plied me then as she did; for
thereby, beyond doubt, she checked me upon the point of self-questioning to
which that day's happenings were urging me, and she brought me once more
obediently to heel and caused me to fix my eyes more firmly than ever
beyond the things of this world and upon the glories of the next which I
was to make my goal and aim.
Thus came I back within the toils from which I had been for a moment
tempted to escape; and what is more, my imagination fired to some touch of
ecstasy by those tales of sainted martyrs, I returned willingly to the
pietistic thrall, to be held in it more firmly than ever yet before.
We parted as we always parted, and when I had kissed her cold hand I went
my way to bed. And if I knelt that night to pray that God might watch over
poor errant Falcone, it was to the end that Falcone might be brought to see
the sin and error of his ways and win to the grace of a happy death when
his hour came.
Of the four years that followed little mention need be made in these pages,
save for one incident whose importance is derived entirely from that which
subsequently befell, for at the time it had no meaning for me. Yet since
later it was to have much, it is fitting that it should be recorded here.
It happened that a month or so after old Falcone had left us there wandered
one noontide into the outer courtyard of the castle two pilgrim fathers, on
their way--as they announced--from Milan to visit the Holy House at Loreto.
It was my mother's custom to receive all pilgrim wayfarers and beggars in
this courtyard at noontide twice in each week to bestow upon them food and
alms. Rarely was she, herself, present at that alms-giving; more rarely
still was I. It was Fra Gervasio who discharged the office of almoner on
the Countess of Mondolfo's behalf. Occasionally the whines and snarls of
the motley crowd that gathered there--for they were not infrequently
quarrelsome--reached us in the maschio tower where we had our apartments.
But on the day of which I speak I chanced to stand in the pillared gallery
above the courtyard, watching the heaving, surging human mass below, for
the concourse was greater than usual.
Cripples there were of every sort, and all in rags; some with twisted,
withered limbs, others with mere stumps where limbs had been lopped off,
others again-- and there were many of these--with hideous running sores,
some of which no doubt would be counterfeit--as I now know--and contrived
with poultices of salt for the purpose of exciting charity in the piteous.
All were dishevelled, unkempt, ragged, dirty, and, doubtless, verminous.
Most were greedy and wolfish as they thrust one another aside to reach Fra
Gervasio, as if they feared that the supply of alms and food should be
exhausted ere their turn arrived. Amongst them there was commonly a small
sprinkling of mendicant friars, some of these, perhaps, just the hypocrite
rogues that I have since discovered many of them to be, though at the time
all who wore the scapulary were holy men in my innocent eyes. They were
mostly, or so they pretended, bent upon pilgrimages to distant parts,
living upon such alms as they could gather on their way.
On the steps of the chapel Fra Gervasio would stand--gaunt and impassive--
with his posse of attendant grooms behind him. One of the latter, standing
nearest to our almoner, held a great sack of broken bread; another
presented a wooden, trough-like platter filled with slices of meat, and a
third dispensed out of horn cups a poor, thin, and rather sour, but very
wholesome wine, which he drew from the skins that were his charge.
From one to the other were the beggars passed on by Fra Gervasio, and
lastly came they back to him, to receive from his hands a piece of money--a
grosso, of which he held the bag himself.
On the day of which I write, as I stood there gazing down upon that mass of
misery, marvelling perhaps a little upon the inequality of fortune, and
wondering vaguely what God could be about to inflict so much suffering upon
certain of His creatures, to cause one to be born into purple and another
into rags, my eyes were drawn by the insistent stare of two monks who stood
at the back of the crowd with their shoulders to the wall.
They were both tall men, and they stood with their cowls over their
tonsures, in the conventual attitude, their hands tucked away into the
ample sleeves of their brown habits. One of this twain was broader than
his companion and very erect of carriage, such as was unusual in a monk.
His mouth and the half of his face were covered by a thick brown beard, and
athwart his countenance, from under the left eye across his nose and cheek,
ran a great livid scar to lose itself in the beard towards the right jaw.
His deep-set eyes regarded me so intently that I coloured uncomfortably
under their gaze; for accustomed as I was to seclusion, I was easily
abashed. I turned away and went slowly along the gallery to the end; and
yet I had a feeling that those eyes were following me, and, indeed, casting
a swift glance over my shoulder ere I went indoors, I saw that this was so.
That evening at supper I chanced to mention the matter to Fra Gervasio.
"There was a big bearded capuchin in the yard at alms-time to-day--" I was
beginning, when the friar's knife clattered from his hand, and he looked at
me with eyes of positive fear out of a face from which the last drop of
blood had abruptly receded. I checked my inquiry at the sight of him thus
suddenly disordered, whilst my mother, who, as usual, observed nothing,
made a foolish comment.
"The little brothers are never absent, Agostino."
"This brother was a big brother," said I.
"It is not seemly to make jest of holy men," she reproved me in her
"I had no thought to jest," I answered soberly. "I should never have
remarked this friar but that he gazed upon me with so great an intentness--
so great that I was unable to bear it."
It was her turn to betray emotion. She looked at me full and long--for
once--and very searchingly. She, too, had grown paler than was her habit.
"Agostino, what do you tell me?" quoth she, and her voice quivered.
Now here was a deal of pother about a capuchin who had stared at the
Madonnino of Anguissola! The matter was out of all proportion to the stir
it made, and I conveyed in my next words some notion of that opinion.
But she stared wistfully. "Never think it, Agostino," she besought me.
"You know not what it may import." And then she turned to Fra Gervasio.
"Who was this mendicant?" she asked.
He had by now recovered from his erstwhile confusion. But he was still
pale, and I observed that his hand trembled.
"He must have been one of the two little brothers of St. Francis on their
way, they said, from Milan to Loreto on a pilgrimage."
"Not those you told me are resting here until tomorrow?"
From his face I saw that he would have denied it had it lain within his
power to utter a deliberate falsehood.
"They are the same," he answered in a low voice.
She rose. "I must see this friar," she announced, and never in all my life
had I beheld in her such a display of emotion.
"In the morning, then," said Fra Gervasio. "It is after sunset," he
explained. "They have retired, and their rule..." He left the sentence
unfinished, but he had said enough to be understood by her.
She sank back to her chair, folded her hands in her lap and fell into
meditation. The faintest of flushes crept into her wax-like cheeks.
"If it should be a sign!" she murmured raptly, and then she turned again to
Fra Gervasio. "You heard Agostino say that he could not bear this friar's
gaze. You remember, brother, how a pilgrim appeared near San Rufino to the
nurse of Saint Francis, and took from her arms the child that he might
bless it ere once more he vanished? If this should be a sign such as
She clasped her hands together fervently. "I must see this friar ere he
departs again," she said to the staring, dumbfounded Fra Gervasio.
At last, then, I understood her emotion. All her life she had prayed for a
sign of grace for herself or for me, and she believed that here at last was
something that might well be discovered upon inquiry to be an answer to her
prayer. This capuchin who had stared at me from the courtyard became at
once to her mind--so ill-balanced upon such matters--a supernatural
visitant, harbinger, as it were, of my future saintly glory.
But though she rose betimes upon the morrow, to see the holy man ere he
fared forth again, she was not early enough. In the courtyard whither she
descended to make her way to the outhouse where the two were lodged, she
met Fra Gervasio, who was astir before her.
"The friar?" she cried anxiously, filled already with forebodings. "The
Gervasio stood before her, pale and trembling. "You are too late, Madonna.
Already he is gone."
She observed his agitation now, and beheld in it a reflection of her own,
springing from the selfsame causes. "Oh, it was a sign indeed!" she
exclaimed. "And you have come to realize it, too, I see." Next, in a
burst of gratitude that was almost pitiful upon such slight foundation,
"Oh, blessed Agostino!" she cried out.
Then the momentary exaltation fell from that woman of sorrows. "This but
makes my burden heavier, my responsibility greater," she wailed. "God help
me bear it!"
Thus passed that incident so trifling in itself and so misunderstood by
her. But it was never forgotten, and from time to time she would allude to
it as the sign which had been vouchsafed me and for which great should be
my thankfulness and my joy.
Save for that, in the four years that followed, time flowed an uneventful
course within the four walls of the big citadel--for beyond those four
walls I was never once permitted to set foot; and although from time to
time I heard rumours of doings in the town itself, of the affairs of the
State whereof I was by right of birth the tyrant, and of the greater
business of the big world beyond, yet so trained and schooled was I that I
had no great desire for a nearer acquaintance with that world.
A certain curiosity did at times beset me, spurred not so much by the
little that I heard as by things that I read in such histories as my
studies demanded I should read. For even the lives of saints, and Holy
Writ itself, afford their student glimpses of the world. But this
curiosity I came to look upon as a lure of the flesh, and to resist.
Blessed are they who are out of all contact with the world, since to them
salvation comes more easily; so I believed implicitly, as I was taught by
my mother and by Fra Gervasio at my mother's bidding.
And as the years passed under such influences as had been at work upon me
from the cradle, influences which had known no check save that brief one
afforded by Gino Falcone, I became perforce devout and pious from very
Joyous transports were afforded me by the study of the life of that Saint
Luigi of the noble Mantuan House of Gonzaga--in whom I saw an ideal to be
emulated, since he seemed to me to be much in my own case and of my own
estate--who had counted the illusory greatness of this world well lost so
that he might win the bliss of Paradise. Similarly did I take delight in
the Life, written by Tommaso da Celano, of that blessed son of Pietro
Bernardone, the merchant of Assisi, that Francis who became the Troubadour
of the Lord and sang so sweetly the praises of His Creation. My heart
would swell within me and I would weep hot and very bitter tears over the
narrative of the early and sinful part of his life, as we may weep to see a
beloved brother beset by deadly perils. And greater, hence, was the joy,
the exultation, and finally the sweet peace and comfort that I gathered
from the tale of his conversion, of his wondrous works, and of the Three
In these pages--so lively was my young imagination and so wrought upon by
what I read--I suffered with him again his agonies of hope, I thrilled with
some of the joy of his stupendous ecstasies, and I almost envied him the
signal mark of Heavenly grace that had imprinted the stigmata upon his
All that concerned him, too, I read: his Little Flowers, his Testament, The
Mirror of Perfection; but my greatest delight was derived from his Song of
the Creatures, which I learnt by heart.
Oftentimes since have I wondered and sought to determine whether it was the
piety of those lauds that charmed me spiritually, or an appeal to my senses
made by the beauty of the lines and the imagery which the Assisian used in
Similarly I am at a loss to determine whether the pleasure I took in
reading of the joyous, perfumed life of that other stigmatized saint, the
blessed Catherine of Siena, was not a sensuous pleasure rather than the
soul-ecstasy I supposed it at the time.
And as I wept over the early sins of St. Francis, so too did I weep over
the rhapsodical Confessions of St. Augustine, that mighty theologian after
whom I had been named, and whose works--after those concerning St.
Francis--exerted a great influence upon me in those early days.
Thus did I grow in grace until Fra Gervasio, who watched me narrowly and
anxiously, seemed more at ease, setting aside the doubts that earlier had
tormented him lest I should be forced upon a life for which I had no
vocation. He grew more tender and loving towards me, as if something of
pity lurked within the strong affection in which he held me.
And, meanwhile, as I grew in grace of spirit, so too did I grow in grace of
body, waxing tall and very strong, which would have been nowise surprising
but that those nurtured as was I are seldom lusty. The mind feeding
overmuch upon the growing body is apt to sap its strength and vigour,
besides which there was the circumstance that I continued throughout those
years a life almost of confinement, deprived of all the exercises by which
youth is brought to its fine flower of strength.
As I was approaching my eighteenth year there befell another incident,
which, trivial in itself, yet has its place in my development and so should
have its place within these confessions. Nor did I judge it trivial at the
time--nor were trivial the things that followed out of it--trivial though
it may seem to me to-day as I look back upon it through all the murk of
Giojoso, the seneschal, of whom I have spoken, had a son, a great raw-boned
lad whom he would have trained as an amanuensis, but who was one of
Nature's dunces out of which there is nothing useful to be made. He was
strong-limbed, however, and he was given odd menial duties to perform about
the castle. But these he shirked where possible, as he had shirked his
lessons in earlier days.
Now it happened that I was walking one spring morning--it was in May of
that year '44 of which I am now writing--on the upper of the three spacious
terraces that formed the castle garden. It was but an indifferently tended
place, and yet perhaps the more agreeable on that account, since Nature had
been allowed to have her prodigal, luxuriant way. It is true that the
great boxwood hedges needed trimming, and that weeds were sprouting between
the stones of the flights of steps that led from terrace to terrace; but
the place was gay and fragrant with wild blossoms, and the great trees
afforded generous shade, and the long rank grass beneath them made a
pleasant couch to lie on during the heat of the day in summer. The lowest
terrace of all was in better case. It was a well-planted and well-tended
orchard, where I got many a colic in my earlier days from a gluttony of
figs and peaches whose complete ripening I was too impatient to await.
I walked there, then, one morning quite early on the upper terrace
immediately under the castle wall, and alternately I read from the De
Civitate Dei which I had brought with me, alternately mused upon the matter
of my reading. Suddenly I was disturbed by a sound of voices just below
The boxwood hedge, being twice my height and fully two feet thick, entirely
screened the speakers from my sight.
There were two voices, and one of these, angry and threatening, I
recognized for that of Rinolfo--Messer Giojoso's graceless son; the other,
a fresh young feminine voice, was entirely unknown to me; indeed it was the
first girl's voice I could recall having heard in all my eighteen years,
and the sound was as pleasantly strange as it was strangely pleasant.
I stood quite still, to listen to its expostulations.
"You are a cruel fellow, Ser Rinolfo, and Madonna the Countess shall be
told of this."
There followed a crackling of twigs and a rush of heavy feet.
"You shall have something else of which to tell Madonna's beatitude,"
threatened the harsh voice of Rinolfo.
That and his advances were answered by a frightened screech, a screech that
moved rapidly to the right as it was emitted. There came more snapping of
twigs, a light scurrying sound followed by a heavier one, and lastly a
panting of breath and a soft pattering of running feet upon the steps that
led up to the terrace where I walked.
I moved forward rapidly to the opening in the hedge where these steps
debouched, and no sooner had I appeared there than a soft, lithe body
hurtled against me so suddenly that my arms mechanically went round it, my
right hand still holding the De Civitate Dei, forefinger enclosed within
its pages to mark the place.
Two moist dark eyes looked up appealingly into mine out of a frightened but
very winsome, sun-tinted face.
"0 Madonnino!" she panted. "Protect me! Save me!"
Below us, checked midway in his furious ascent, halted Rinolfo, his big
face red with anger, scowling up at me in sudden doubt and resentment.
The situation was not only extraordinary in itself, but singularly
disturbing to me. Who the girl was, or whence she came, I had no thought
or notion as I surveyed her. She would be of about my own age, or perhaps
a little younger, and from her garb it was plain that she belonged to the
peasant class. She wore a spotless bodice of white linen, which but
indifferently concealed the ripening swell of her young breast. Her
petticoat, of dark red homespun, stopped short above her bare brown ankles,
and her little feet were naked. Her brown hair, long and abundant, was
still fastened at the nape of her slim neck, but fell loose beyond that,
having been disturbed, no doubt, in her scuffle with Rinolfo. Her little
mouth was deeply red and it held strong young teeth that were as white as
I have since wondered whether she was as beautiful as I deemed her in that
moment. For it must be remembered that mine was the case of the son of
Filippo Balducci--related by Messer Boccaccio in the merry tales of his
Decamerone1--who had come to years of adolescence without ever having
beheld womanhood, so that the first sight of it in the streets of Florence
affected him so oddly that he vexed his sire with foolish questions and
still more foolish prayers.
1 In the Introduction to the Fourth Day.
So was it now with me. In all my eighteen years I had by my mother's
careful contriving never set eyes upon a woman of an age inferior to her
own. And--consider me foolish if you will but so it is--I do not think
that it had occurred to me that they existed, or else, if they did, that in
youth they differed materially from what in age I found them. Thus I had
come to look upon women as just feeble, timid creatures, over-prone to
gossip, tears, and lamentations, and good for very little that I could
I had been unable to understand for what reason it was that San Luigi of
Gonzaga had from years of discretion never allowed his eyes to rest upon a
woman; nor could I see wherein lay the special merit attributed to this.
And certain passages in the Confessions of St. Augustine and in the early
life of St. Francis of Assisi bewildered me and left me puzzled.
But now, quite suddenly, it was as if revelation had come to me. It was as
if the Book of Life had at last been opened for me, and at a glance I had
read one of its dazzling pages. So that whether this brown peasant girl
was beautiful or not, beautiful she seemed to me with the radiant beauty
that is attributed to the angels of Paradise. Nor did I doubt that she
would be as holy, for to see in beauty a mark of divine favour is not
peculiar only to the ancient Greeks.
And because of the appeal of this beauty--real or supposed--I was very
ready with my protection, since I felt that protection must carry with it
certain rights of ownership which must be very sweet and were certainly
Holding her, therefore, within the shelter of my arms, where in her
heedless innocence she had flung herself, and by very instinct stroking
with one hand her little brown head to soothe her fears, I became truculent
for the first time in my new-found manhood, and boldly challenged her
"What is this, Rinolfo?" I demanded. "Why do you plague her?"
"She broke up my snares," he answered sullenly, and let the birds go free."
"What snares? What birds?" quoth I.
"He is a cruel beast," she shrilled. "And he will lie to you, Madonnino."
"If he does I'll break the bones of his body," I promised in a tone
entirely new to me. And then to him--"The truth now, poltroon!" I
At last I got the story out of them: how Rinolfo had scattered grain in a
little clearing in the garden, and all about it had set twigs that were
heavily smeared with viscum; that he set this trap almost daily, and daily
took a great number of birds whose necks he wrung and had them cooked for
him with rice by his silly mother; that it was a sin in any case to take
little birds by such cowardly means, but that since amongst these birds
there were larks and thrushes and plump blackbirds and other sweet
musicians of the air, whose innocent lives were spent in singing the
praises of God, his sin became a hideous sacrilege.
Finally I learnt that coming that morning upon half a score of poor
fluttering terrified birds held fast in Rinolfo's viscous snares, the
little girl had given them their liberty and had set about breaking up the
springes. At this occupation he had caught her, and there is no doubt that
he would have taken a rude vengeance but for the sanctuary which she had
found in me.
And when I had heard, behold me for the first time indulging the
prerogative that was mine by right of birth, and dispensing justice at
Mondolfo like the lord of life and death that I was there.
"You, Rinolfo," I said, "will set no more snares here at Mondolfo, nor will
you ever again enter these gardens under pain of my displeasure and its
consequences. And as for this child, if you dare to molest her for what
has happened now, or if you venture so much as to lay a finger upon her at
any time and I have word of it, I shall deal with you as with a felon. Now
He went straight to his father, the seneschal, with a lying tale of my
having threatened him with violence and forbidden him ever to enter the
garden again because he had caught me there with Luisina--as the child was
called--in my arms. And Messer Giojoso, full of parental indignation at
this gross treatment of his child, and outraged chastity at the notion of a
young man of churchly aims, as were mine, being in perversive dalliance
with that peasant-wench, repaired straight to my mother with the story of
it, which I doubt not lost nothing by its repetition.
Meanwhile I abode there with Luisina. I was in no haste to let her go.
Her presence pleased me in some subtle, quite indefinable manner; and my
sense of beauty, which, always strong, had hitherto lain dormant within me,
was awake at last and was finding nourishment in the graces of her.
I sat down upon the topmost of the terrace steps, and made her sit beside
me. This she did after some demur about the honour of it and her own
unworthiness, objections which I brushed peremptorily aside.
So we sat there on that May morning, quite close together, for which there
was, after all, no need, seeing that the steps were of a noble width. At
our feet spread the garden away down the flight of terraces to end in the
castle's grey, buttressed wall. But from where we sat we could look beyond
this, our glance meeting the landscape a mile or so away with the waters of
the Taro glittering in the sunshine, and the Apennines, all hazy, for an
I took her hand, which she relinquished to me quite freely and frankly with
an innocence as great as my own; and I asked her who she was and how she
came to Mondolfo. It was then that I learnt that her name was Luisina,
that she was the daughter of one of the women employed in the castle
kitchen, who had brought her to help there a week ago from Borgo Taro,
where she had been living with an aunt.
To-day the notion of the Tyrant of Mondolfo sitting--almost coram populo--
on the steps of the garden of his castle, clasping the hand of the daughter
of one of his scullions, is grotesque and humiliating. At the time the
thought never presented itself to me at all, and had it done so it would
have troubled me no whit. She was my first glimpse of fresh young
maidenhood, and I was filled with pleasant interest and desirous of more
acquaintance with this phenomenon. Beyond that I did not go.
I told her frankly that she was very beautiful. Whereupon she looked at me
with suddenly startled eyes that were full of fearful questionings, and
made to draw her hand from mine. Unable to understand her fears, and
seeking to reassure her, to convince her that in me she had a friend, one
who would ever protect her from the brutalities of all the Rinolfos in the
world, I put an arm about her shoulders and drew her closer to me, gently
She suffered it very stonily, like a poor fascinated thing that is robbed
by fear of its power to resist the evil that it feels enfolding it.
"0 Madonnino!" she whispered fearfully, and sighed. "Nay, you must not.
It...it is not good."
"Not good?" quoth I, and it was just so that that fool of a son of
Balducci's must have protested in the story when he was told by his father
that it was not good to look on women. "Nay, now, but it is good to me."
"And they say you are to be a priest," she added, which seemed to me a very
foolish and inconsequent thing to add.
"Well, then? And what of that?" I asked.
She looked at me again with those timid eyes of hers. "You should be at
your studies," said she.
"I am," said I, and smiled. "I am studying a new subject."
"Madonnino, it is not a subject whose study makes good priests," she
announced, and puzzled me again by the foolish inconsequence of her words.
Already, indeed, she began to disappoint me. Saving my mother--whom I did
not presume to judge at all, and who seemed a being altogether apart from
what little humanity I had known until then--I had found that foolishness
was as natural to women as its bleat to a sheep or its cackle to a goose;
and in this opinion I had been warmly confirmed by Fra Gervasio. Now here
in Luisina I had imagined at first that I had discovered a phase of
womanhood unsuspected and exceptional. She was driving me to conclude,
however, that I had been mistaken, and that here was just a pretty husk
containing a very trivial spirit, whose companionship must prove a dull
affair when custom should have staled the first impression of her fresh
It is plain now that I did her an injustice, for there was about her words
none of the inconsequence I imagined. The fault was in myself and in the
profound ignorance of the ways of men and women which went hand in hand
with my deep but ineffectual learning in the ways of saints.
Our entertainment, however, was not destined to go further. For at the
moment in which I puzzled over her words and sought to attach to them some
intelligent meaning, there broke from behind us a scream that flung us
apart, as startled as if we had been conscious indeed of guilt.
We looked round to find that it had been uttered by my mother. Not ten
yards away she stood, a tall black figure against the grey background of
the lichened wall, with Giojoso in attendance and Rinolfo slinking behind
his father, leering.
The sight of my mother startled me more than I can say. It filled me with
a positive dread of things indefinable. Never before had I seen her coldly
placid countenance so strangely disordered, and her unwonted aspect it must
have been that wrought so potently upon me.
No longer was she the sorrowful spectre, white-faced, with downcast eyes
and level, almost inanimate, tones. Her cheeks were flushed unnaturally,
her lips were quivering, and angry fires were smouldering in her deep-set
Swiftly she came down to us, seeming almost to glide over the ground. Not
me she addressed, but poor Luisina; and her voice was hoarse with an awful
"Who are you, wench?" quoth she. "What make you here in Mondolfo?"
Luisina had risen and stood swaying there, very white and with averted
eyes, her hands clasping and unclasping. Her lips moved; but she was too
terrified to answer. It was Giojoso who stepped forward to inform my
mother of the girl's name and condition. And upon learning it her anger
seemed to increase.
"A kitchen-wench!" she cried. "0 horror!"
And quite suddenly, as if by inspiration, scarce knowing what I said or
that I spoke at all, I answered her out of the store of the theological
learning with which she had had me stuffed.
"We are all equals in the sight of God, madam mother."
She flashed me a glance of anger, of pious anger than which none can be
"Blasphemer!" she denounced me. "What has God to do with this?"
She waited for no answer, rightly judging, perhaps, that I had none to
"And as for that wanton," she commanded, turning fiercely to Giojoso, "let
her be whipped hence and out of the town of Mondolfo. Set the grooms to
But upon that command of hers I leapt of a sudden to my feet, a tightening
about my heart, and beset by a certain breathlessness that turned me pale.
Here again, it seemed, was to be repeated--though with methods a thousand
times more barbarous and harsh--the wrong that was done years ago in the
case of poor Gino Falcone. And the reason for it in this instance was not
even dimly apparent to me. Falcone I had loved; indeed, in my eighteen
years of life he was the only human being who had knocked for admission
upon the portals of my heart. Him they had driven forth. And now, here
was a child--the fairest creature of God's that until that hour I had
beheld, whose companionship seemed to me a thing sweet and desirable, and
whom I felt that I might love as I had loved Falcone. Her too they would
drive forth, and with a brutality and cruelty that revolted me.
Later I was to perceive the reasons better, and much food for reflection
was I to derive from realizing that there are no spirits so vengeful, so
fierce, so utterly intolerant, ungovernable, and feral as the spirits of
the devout when they conceive themselves justified to anger.
All the sweet teaching of Charity and brotherly love and patience is
jettisoned, and by the most amazing paradox that Christianity has ever
known, Catholic burns heretic, and heretic butchers Catholic, all for the
love of Christ; and each glories devoutly in the deed, never heeding the
blasphemy of his belief that thus he obeys the sweet and gentle mandates of
the God Incarnate.
Thus, then, my mother now, commanding that hideous deed with a mind at
peace in pharisaic self-righteousness.
But not again would I stand by as I had stood by in the case of Falcone,
and let her cruel, pietistic will be done. I had grown since then, and I
had ripened more than I was aware. It remained for this moment to reveal
to me the extent. Besides, the subtle influence of sex--all unconscious of
it as I was--stirred me now to prove my new-found manhood.
"Stay!" I said to Giojoso, and in uttering the command I grew very cold and
steady, and my breathing resumed the normal.
He checked in the act of turning away to do my mother's hideous bidding.
"You will give Madonna's order to the grooms, Ser Giojoso, as you have been
bidden. But you will add from me that if there is one amongst them dares
to obey it and to lay be it so much as a finger upon Luisina, him will I
kill with these two hands."
Never was consternation more profound than that which I flung amongst them
by those words. Giojoso fell to trembling; behind him, Rinolfo, the cause
of all this garboil, stared with round big eyes; whilst my mother, all
a-quiver, clutched at her bosom and looked at me fearfully, but spoke no
I smiled upon them, towering there, conscious and glad of my height for the
first time in my life.
"Well?" I demanded of Giojoso. "For what do you wait? About it, sir, and
do as my mother has commanded you."
He turned to her, all bent and grovelling, arms outstretched in ludicrous
bewilderment, every line of him beseeching guidance along this path so
suddenly grown thorny.
Ma--madonna!" he stammered.
She swallowed hard, and spoke at last.
"Do you defy my will, Agostino?"
"On the contrary, madam mother, I am enforcing it. Your will shall be
done; your order shall be given. I insist upon it. But it shall lie with
the discretion of the grooms whether they obey you. Am I to blame if they
0, I had found myself at last, and I was making a furious, joyous use of
"That...that were to make a mock of me and my authority," she protested.
She was still rather helpless, rather breathless and confused, like one who
has suddenly been hurled into cold water.
"If you fear that, madam, perhaps you had better countermand your order."
"Is the girl to remain in Mondolfo against my wishes? Are you so...so lost
to shame?" A returning note of warmth in her accents warned me that she
was collecting herself to deal with the situation.
"Nay," said I, and I looked at Luisina, who stood there so pale and
tearful. "I think that for her own sake, poor maid, it were better that
she went, since you desire it. But she shall not be whipped hence like a
"Come, child," I said to her, as gently as I could. "Go pack, and quit
this home of misery. And be easy. For if any man in Mondolfo attempts to
hasten your going, he shall reckon with me."
I laid a hand for an instant in kindliness and friendliness upon her
shoulder. "Poor little Luisina," said I, sighing. But she shrank and
trembled under my touch. "Pity me a little, for they will not permit me
any friends, and who is friendless is indeed pitiful."
And then, whether the phrase touched her, so that her simple little nature
was roused and she shook off what self-control she had ever learnt, or
whether she felt secure enough in my protection to dare proclaim her mind
before them all, she caught my hand, and, stooping, kissed it.
"0 Madonnino!" she faltered, and her tears showered upon that hand of mine.
"God reward you your sweet thought for me. I shall pray for you,
"Do, Luisina," said I. "I begin to think I need it."
"Indeed, indeed!" said my mother very sombrely. And as she spoke, Luisina,
as if her fears were reawakened, turned suddenly and went quickly along the
terrace, past Rinolfo, who in that moment smiled viciously, and round the
angle of the wall.
"What...what are my orders, Madonna?" quoth the wretched seneschal,
reminding her that all had not yet been resolved.
She lowered her eyes to the ground, and folded her hands. She was by now
quite composed again, her habitual sorrowful self.
"Let be," she said. "Let the wench depart. So that she goes we may count
"Fortunate, I think, is she," said I. "Fortunate to return to the world
beyond all this--the world of life and love that God made and that St.
Francis praises. I do not think he would have praised Mondolfo, for I
greatly doubt that God had a hand in making it as it is to-day. It is
0, my mood was finely rebellious that May morning.
"Are you mad, Agostino?" gasped my mother.
"I think that I am growing sane," said I very sadly. She flashed me one of
her rare glances, and I saw her lips tighten.