Part 3 out of 7
impossible to pursue the matter.
Sheepishly, overwhelmed with confusion, I went out--a knight-errant with a
MY LORD GAMBARA CLEARS THE GROUND
I had angered her! Worse; I had exposed her to humiliation at the hands of
that unworthy animal who soiled her in thought with the slime of his
suspicions. Through me she had been put to the shameful need of listening
at a door, and had been subjected to the ignominy of being so discovered.
Through me she had been mocked and derided!
It was all anguish to me. For her there was no shame, no humiliation, no
pain I would not suffer, and take joy in the suffering so that it be for
her. But to have submitted that sweet, angelic woman to suffering--to have
incurred her just anger! Woe me!
I came to the table that evening full of uneasiness, very unhappy, feeling
it an effort to bring myself into her presence and endure be it her regard
or her neglect. To my relief she sent word that she was not well and would
keep her chamber; and Fifanti smiled oddly as he stroked his blue chin and
gave me a sidelong glance. We ate in silence, and when the meal was done,
I departed, still without a word to my preceptor, and went to shut myself
up again in my room.
I slept ill that night, and very early next morning I was astir. I went
down into the garden somewhere about the hour of sunrise, through the wet
grass that was all scintillant with dew. On the marble bench by the pond,
where the water-lilies were now rotting, I flung myself down, and there was
I found a half-hour later by Giuliana herself.
She stole up gently behind me, and all absorbed and moody as I was, I had
no knowledge of her presence until her crisp boyish voice startled me out
of my musings.
"Of what do we brood here so early, sir saint?" quoth she.
I turned to meet her laughing eyes. "You...you can forgive me?" I faltered
She pouted tenderly. "Should I not forgive one who has acted foolishly out
of love for me?"
"It was, it was..." I cried; and there stopped, all confused, feeling
myself growing red under her lazy glance.
"I know it was," she answered. She set her elbows on the seat's tall back
until I could feel her sweet breath upon my brow. "And should I bear you a
resentment, then? My poor Agostino, have I no heart to feel? Am I but a
cold, reasoning intelligence like that thing my husband? 0 God! To have
been mated to that withered pedant! To have been sacrificed, to have been
sold into such bondage! Me miserable!"
"Giuliana!" I murmured soothingly, yet agonized myself.
"Could none have foretold me that you must come some day?"
"Hush!" I implored her. "What are you saying?"
But though I begged her to be silent, my soul was avid for more such words
from her--from her, the most perfect and beautiful of women.
"Why should I not?" said she. "Is truth ever to be stifled? Ever?"
I was mad, I know--quite mad. Her words had made me so. And when, to ask
me that insistent question, she brought her face still nearer, I flung down
the reins of my unreason and let it ride amain upon its desperate, reckless
course. In short, I too leaned forward, I leaned forward, and I kissed her
full upon those scarlet, parted lips.
I kissed her, and fell back with a cry that was of anguish almost--so
poignantly had the sweet, fierce pain of that kiss run through my every
fibre. And as I cried out, so too did she, stepping back, her hands
suddenly to her face. But the next moment she was peering up at the
windows of the house--those inscrutable eyes that looked upon our deed;
that looked and of which it was impossible to discern how much they might
"If he should have seen us!" was her cry; and it moved me unpleasantly that
such should have been the first thought my kiss inspired in her. "If he
should have seen us! Gesu! I have enough to bear already!"
"I care not," said I. "Let him see. I am not Messer Gambara. No man
shall put an insult upon you on my account, and live."
I was become the very ranting, roaring, fire-breathing type of lover who
will slaughter a whole world to do pleasure to his mistress or to spare her
pain--I--I--I, Agostino d'Anguissola--who was to be ordained next month and
walk in the ways of St. Augustine!
Laugh as you read--for very pity, laugh!
"Nay, nay," she reassured herself. "He will be still abed. He was snoring
when I left." And she dismissed her fears, and looked at me again, and
returned to the matter of that kiss.
"What have you done to me, Agostino?"
I dropped my glance before her languid eyes. "What I have done to no other
woman yet," I answered, a certain gloom creeping over the exultation that
still thrilled me. "0 Giuliana, what have you done to me? You have
bewitched me; You have made me mad!" And I set my elbows on my knees and
took my head in my hands, and sat there, overwhelmed now by the full
consciousness of the irrevocable thing that I had done, a thing that must
brand my soul for ever, so it seemed.
To have kissed a maid would have been ill enough for one whose aims were
mine. But to kiss a wife, to become a cicisbeo! The thing assumed in my
mind proportions foolishly, extravagantly beyond its evil reality.
"You are cruel, Agostino," she whispered behind me. She had come to lean
again upon the back of the bench. "Am I alone to blame? Can the iron
withstand the lodestone? Can the rain help falling upon the earth? Can
the stream flow other than downhill?" She sighed. "Woe me! It is I who
should be angered that you have made free of my lips. And yet I am here,
wooing you to forgive me for the sin that is your own."
I cried out at that and turned to her again, and I was very white, I know.
"You tempted me!" was my coward's cry.
"So said Adam once. Yet God thought otherwise, for Adam was as fully
punished as was Eve." She smiled wistfully into my eyes, and my senses
reeled again. And then old Busio, the servant, came suddenly forth from
the house upon some domestic errand to Giuliana, and thus was that
situation mercifully brought to an end.
For the rest of the day I lived upon the memory of that morning, reciting
to myself each word that she had uttered, conjuring up in memory the vision
of her every look. And my absent-mindedness was visible to Fifanti when I
came to my studies with him later. He grew more peevish with me than was
habitual, dubbed me dunce and wooden-head, and commended the wisdom of
those who had determined upon a claustral life for me, admitting that I
knew enough Latin to enable me to celebrate as well as another without too
clear a knowledge of the meaning of what I pattered. All of which was
grossly untrue, for, as none knew better than himself, the fluency of my
Latin was above the common wont of students. When I told him so, he
delivered himself of his opinion upon the common wont of students with all
the sourness of his crabbed nature.
"I'll write an ode for you upon any subject that you may set me," I
"Then write one upon impudence," said he. "It is a subject you should
understand." And upon that he got up and flung out of the room in a pet
before I could think of an answer.
Left alone, I began an ode which should prove to him his lack of justice.
But I got no further than two lines of it. Then for a spell I sat biting
my quill, my mind and the eyes of my soul full of Giuliana.
Presently I began to write again. It was not an ode, but a prayer, oddly
profane--and it was in Italian, in the "dialettale" that provoked Fifanti's
sneers. How it ran I have forgotten these many years. But I recall that
in it I likened myself to a sailor navigating shoals and besought the
pharos of Giuliana's eyes to bring me safely through, besought her to
anoint me with her glance and so hearten me to brave the dangers of that
I read it first with satisfaction, then with dismay as I realized to the
full its amorous meaning. Lastly I tore it up and went below to dine.
We were still at table when my Lord Gambara arrived. He came on horseback
attended by two grooms whom he left to await him. He was all in black
velvet, I remember, even to his thigh-boots which were laced up the sides
with gold, and on his breast gleamed a fine medallion of diamonds. Of the
prelate there was about him, as usual, nothing but the scarlet cloak and
the sapphire ring.
Fifanti rose and set a chair for him, smiling a crooked smile that held
more hostility than welcome. None the less did his excellency pay Madonna
Giuliana a thousand compliments as he took his seat, supremely calm and
easy in his manner. I watched him closely, and I watched Giuliana, a queer
fresh uneasiness pervading me.
The talk was trivial and chiefly concerned with the progress of the
barracks the legate was building and the fine new road from the middle of
the city to the Church of Santa Chiara, which he intended should be called
the Via Gambara, but which, despite his intentions, is known to-day as the
Presently my cousin arrived, full-armed and very martial by contrast with
the velvety Cardinal. He frowned to see Messer Gambara, then effaced the
frown and smiled as, one by one, he greeted us. Last of all he turned to
"And how fares his saintliness?" quoth he.
"Indeed, none too saintly," said I, speaking my thoughts aloud.
He laughed. "Why, then, the sooner we are in orders, the sooner shall we
be on the road to mending that. Is it not so, Messer Fifanti?
"His ordination will profit you, I nothing doubt," said Fifanti, with his
habitual discourtesy and acidity. "So you do well to urge it."
The answer put my cousin entirely out of countenance a moment. It was a
blunt way of reminding me that in this Cosimo I saw one who followed after
me in the heirship to Mondolfo, and in whose interests it was that I should
don the conventual scapulary.
I looked at Cosimo's haughty face and cruel mouth, and conjectured in that
hour whether I should have found him so very civil and pleasant a cousin
had things been other than they were.
0, a very serpent was Messer Fifanti; and I have since wondered whether of
intent he sought to sow in my heart hatred of my guelphic cousin, that he
might make of me a tool for his own service--as you shall come to
Meanwhile, Cosimo, having recovered, waved aside the imputation, and smiled
"Nay, there you wrong me. The Anguissola lose more than I shall gain by
Agostino's renunciation of the world. And I am sorry for it. You believe
I answered his courteous speech as it deserved, in very courteous terms.
This set a pleasanter humour upon all. Yet some restraint abode. Each
sat, it seemed, as a man upon his guard. My cousin watched Gambara's every
look whenever the latter turned to speak to Giuliana; the Cardinal-legate
did the like by him; and Messer Fifanti watched them both.
And, meantime, Giuliana sat there, listening now to one, now to the other,
her lazy smile parting those scarlet lips--those lips that I had kissed
that morning--I, whom no one thought of watching!
And soon came Messer Annibale Caro, with lines from the last pages of his
translation oozing from him. And when presently Giuliana smote her hands
together in ecstatic pleasure at one of those same lines and bade him
repeat it to her, he swore roundly by all the gods that are mentioned in
Virgil that he would dedicate the work to her upon its completion.
At this the surliness became general once more and my Lord Gambara ventured
the opinion--and there was a note of promise, almost of threat, in his
sleek tones-- that the Duke would shortly be needing Messer Caro's presence
in Parma; whereupon Messer Caro cursed the Duke roundly and with all a
poet's volubility of invective.
They stayed late, each intent, no doubt, upon outstaying the others. But
since none would give way they were forced in the end to depart together.
And whilst Messer Fifanti, as became a host, was seeing them to their
horses, I was left alone with Giuliana.
"Why do you suffer those men?" I asked her bluntly. Her delicate brows
were raised in surprise. "Why, what now? They are very pleasant
"Too pleasant," said I, and rising I crossed to the window whence I could
watch them getting to horse, all save Caro, who had come afoot. "Too
pleasant by much. That prelate out of Hell, now..."
"Sh!" she hissed at me, smiling, her hand raised. "Should he hear you, he
might send you to the cage for sacrilege. 0 Agostino!" she cried, and the
smiles all vanished from her face. "Will you grow cruel and suspicious,
I was disarmed. I realized my meanness and unworthiness.
"Have patience with me," I implored her. "I...I am not myself to-day." I
sighed ponderously, and fell silent as I watched them ride away. Yet I
hated them all; and most of all I hated the dainty, perfumed, golden-headed
He came again upon the morrow, and we learnt from the news of which he was
the bearer that he had carried out his threat concerning Messer Caro. The
poet was on his way to Parma, to Duke Pier Luigi, dispatched thither on a
mission of importance by the Cardinal. He spoke, too, of sending my cousin
to Perugia, where a strong hand was needed, as the town showed signs of
mutiny against the authority of the Holy See.
When he had departed, Messer Fifanti permitted himself one of his bitter
"He desires a clear field," he said, smiling his cold smile upon Giuliana.
"It but remains for him to discover that his Duke has need of me as well."
He spoke of it as a possible contingency, but sarcastically, as men speak
of things too remote to be seriously considered. He was to remember his
words two days later when the very thing came to pass.
We were at breakfast when the blow fell.
There came a clatter of hooves under our windows, which stood open to the
tepid September morning, and soon there was old Busio ushering in an
officer of the Pontificals with a parchment tied in scarlet silk and sealed
with the arms of Piacenza.
Messer Fifanti took the package and weighed it in his hand, frowning.
Perhaps already some foreboding of the nature of its contents was in his
mind. Meanwhile, Giuliana poured wine for the officer, and Busio bore him
the cup upon a salver.
Fifanti ripped away silk and seals, and set himself to read. I can see him
now, standing near the window to which he had moved to gain a better light,
the parchment under his very nose, his short-sighted eyes screwed up as he
acquainted himself with the letter's contents. Then I saw him turn a
sickly leaden hue. He stared at the officer a moment and then at Giuliana.
But I do not think that he saw either of them. His look was the blank look
of one whose thoughts are very distant.
He thrust his hands behind him, and with head forward, in that curious
attitude so reminiscent of a bird of prey, he stepped slowly back to his
place at the table-head. Slowly his cheeks resumed their normal tint.
"Very well, sir," he said, addressing the officer. "Inform his excellency
that I shall obey the summons of the Duke's magnificence without delay."
The officer bowed to Giuliana, took his leave, and went, old Busio
"A summons from the Duke?" cried Giuliana, and then the storm broke
"Ay," he answered, grimly quiet, "a summons from the Duke." And he tossed
it across the table to her.
I saw that fateful document float an instant in the air, and then, thrown
out of poise by the blob of wax, swoop slanting to her lap.
"It will come no doubt as a surprise to you," he growled; and upon that his
hard-held passion burst all bonds that he could impose upon it. His great
bony fist crashed down upon the board and swept a precious Venetian beaker
to the ground, where it burst into a thousand atoms, spreading red wine
like a bloodstain upon the floor.
"Said I not that this rascal Cardinal would make a clear field for himself?
Said I not so?" He laughed shrill and fiercely. "He would send your
husband packing as he has sent his other rivals. 0, there is a stipend
waiting--a stipend of three hundred ducats yearly that shall be made into
six hundred presently, and all for my complaisance, all that I may be a
joyous and content cornuto!"
He strode to the window cursing horribly, whilst Giuliana sat white of face
with lips compressed and heaving bosom, her eyes upon her plate.
"My Lord Cardinal and his Duke may take themselves together to Hell ere I
obey the summons that the one has sent me at the desire of the other. Here
I stay to guard what is my own."
"You are a fool," said Giuliana at length, "and a knave, too, for you
insult me without cause."
"Without cause? 0, without cause, eh? By the Host! Yet you would not
have me stay?"
"I would not have you gaoled, which is what will happen if you disobey the
Duke's magnificence," said she.
"Gaoled?" quoth he, of a sudden trembling in the increasing intensity of
his passion. "Caged, perhaps--to die of hunger and thirst and exposure,
like that poor wretch Domenico who perished yesterday, at last, because he
dared to speak the truth. Gesu!" he groaned. "0, miserable me!" And he
sank into a chair.
But the next instant he was up again, and his long arms were waving
fiercely. "By the Eyes of God! They shall have cause to cage me. If I am
to be horned like a bull, I'll use those same horns. I'll gore their
vitals. O madam, since of your wantonness you inclined to harlotry, you
should have wedded another than Astorre Fifanti."
It was too much. I leapt to my feet.
"Messer Fifanti," I blazed at him. "I'll not remain to hear such words
addressed to this sweet lady."
"Ah, yes," he snarled, wheeling suddenly upon me as if he would strike me.
"I had forgot the champion, the preux-chevalier, the saint in embryo! You
will not remain to hear the truth, sir, eh?" And he strode, mouthing, to
the door, and flung it wide so that it crashed against the wall. "This is
your remedy. Get you hence! Go! What passes here concerns you not. Go!"
he roared like a mad beast, his rage a thing terrific.
I looked at him and from him to Giuliana, and my eyes most clearly invited
her to tell me how she would have me act.
"Indeed, you had best go, Agostino," she answered sadly. "I shall bear his
insults easier if there be no witness. Yes, go."
"Since it is your wish, Madonna," I bowed to her, and very erect, very
defiant of mien, I went slowly past the livid Fifanti, and so out. I heard
the door slammed after me, and in the little hall I came upon Busio, who
was wringing his hand and looking very white. He ran to me.
"He will murder her, Messer Agostino," moaned the old man. "He can be a
devil in his anger."
"He is a devil always, in anger and out of it," said I. "He needs an
exorcist. It is a task that I should relish. I'd beat the devils out of
him, Busio, and she would let me. Meanwhile, stay we here, and if she
needs our help, it shall be hers."
I dropped on to the carved settle that stood there, old Busio standing at
my elbow, more tranquil now that there was help at hand for Madonna in case
of need. And through the door came the sound of his storming, and
presently the crash of more broken glassware, as once more he thumped the
table. For well-high half an hour his fury lasted, and it was seldom that
her voice was interposed. Once we heard her laugh, cold and cutting as a
sword's edge, and I shivered at the sound, for it was not good to hear.
At last the door was opened and he came forth. His face was inflamed, his
eyes wild and blood-injected. He paused for a moment on the threshold, but
I do not think that he noticed us at first. He looked back at her over his
shoulder, still sitting at table, the outline of her white-gowned body
sharply defined against the deep blue tapestry of the wall behind her.
"You are warned," said he. "Do you heed the warning!" And he came
Perceiving me at last where I sat, he bared his broken teeth in a snarling
smile. But it was to Busio that he spoke. "Have my mule saddled for me in
an hour," he said, and passed on and up the stairs to make his
preparations. It seemed, therefore, that she had conquered his suspicions.
I went in to offer her comfort, for she was weeping and all shaken by that
cruel encounter. But she waved me away.
"Not now, Agostino. Not now," she implored me. "Leave me to myself, my
I had not been her friend had I not obeyed her without question.
It was late that afternoon when Astorre Fifanti set out. He addressed a
few brief words to me, informing me that he should return within four days,
betide what might, setting me tasks upon which I was meanwhile to work, and
bidding me keep the house and be circumspect during his absence.
From the window of my room I saw the doctor get astride his mule. He was
girt with a big sword, but he still wore his long, absurd and shabby gown
and his loose, ill-fitting shoes, so that it was very likely that the
stirrup-leathers would engage his thoughts ere he had ridden far.
I saw him dig his heels into the beast's sides and go ambling down the
little avenue and out at the gate. In the road he drew rein, and stood in
talk some moments with a lad who idled there, a lad whom he was wont to
employ upon odd tasks about the garden and elsewhere.
This, Madonna also saw, for she was watching his departure from the window
of a room below. That she attached more importance to that little
circumstance than did I, I was to learn much later.
At last he pushed on, and I watched him as he dwindled down the long grey
road that wound along the river-side until in the end he was lost to view--
for all time, I hoped; and well had it been for me had my idle hope been
I supped alone that night with no other company than Busio's, who
ministered to my needs.
Madonna sent word that she would keep her chamber. When I had supped and
after night had fallen I went upstairs to the library, and, shutting myself
in, I attempted to read, lighted by the three beaks of the tall brass lamp
that stood upon the table. Being plagued by moths, I drew the curtains
close across the open window, and settled down to wrestle with the opening
lines of the [Title in Greek] of Aeschylus.
But my thoughts wandered from the doings of the son of Iapetus, until at
last I flung down the book and sat back in my chair all lost in thought, in
doubt, and in conjecture. I became seriously introspective. I made an
examination not only of conscience, but of heart and mind, and I found that
I had gone woefully astray from the path that had been prepared for me.
Very late I sat there and sought to determine upon what I should do.
Suddenly, like a manna to my starving soul, came the memory of the last
talk I had with Fra Gervasio and the solemn warning he had given me. That
memory inspired me rightly. To-morrow--despite Messer Fifanti's orders--I
would take horse and ride to Mondolfo, there to confess myself to Fra
Gervasio and to be guided by his counsel. My mother's vows concerning me I
saw in their true light. They were not binding upon me; indeed, I should
be doing a hideous wrong were I to follow them against my inclinations. I
must not damn my soul for anything that my mother had vowed or ever I was
born, however much she might account that it would be no more than filial
piety so to do.
I was easier in mind after my resolve was taken, and I allowed that mind of
mine to stray thereafter as it listed. It took to thoughts of Giuliana--
Giuliana for whom I ached in every nerve, although I still sought to
conceal from myself the true cause of my suffering. Better a thousand
times had I envisaged that sinful fact and wrestled with it boldly. Thus
should I have had a chance of conquering myself and winning clear of all
the horror that lay before me.
That I was weak and irresolute at such a time, when I most needed strength,
I still think to-day--when I can take a calm survey of all--was the fault
of the outrageous rearing that was mine. At Mondolfo they had so nurtured
me and so sheltered me from the stinging blasts of the world that I was
grown into a very ripe and succulent fruit for the Devil's mouth. The
things to whose temptation usage would have rendered me in some degree
immune were irresistible to one who had been tutored as had I.
Let youth know wickedness, lest when wickedness seeks a man out in his
riper years he shall be fooled and conquered by the beauteous garb in which
the Devil has the cunning to array it.
And yet to pretend that I was entirely innocent of where I stood and in
what perils were to play the hypocrite. Largely I knew; just as I knew
that lacking strength to resist, I must seek safety in flight. And
tomorrow I would go. That point was settled, and the page, meanwhile,
turned down. And for to-night I delivered myself up to the savouring of
this hunger that was upon me.
And then, towards the third hour of night, as I still sat there, the door
was very gently opened, and I beheld Giuliana standing before me. She
detached from the black background of the passage, and the light of my
three-beaked lamp set her ruddy hair aglow so that it seemed there was a
luminous nimbus all about her head. For a moment this gave colour to my
fancy that I beheld a vision evoked by the too great intentness of my
thoughts. The pale face seemed so transparent, the white robe was almost
diaphanous, and the great dark eyes looked so sad and wistful. Only in the
vivid scarlet of her lips was there life and blood.
I stared at her. "Giuliana!" I murmured.
"Why do you sit so late?" she asked me, and closed the door as she spoke.
"I have been thinking, Giuliana," I answered wearily, and I passed a hand
over my brow to find it moist and clammy. "To-morrow I go hence."
She started round and her eyes grew distended, her hand clutched her
breast. "You go hence?" she cried, a note as of fear in her deep voice.
"Back to Mondolfo, to tell my mother that her dream is at an end."
She came slowly towards me. "And...and then?" she asked.
"And then? I do not know. What God wills. But the scapulary is not for
me. I am unworthy. I have no call. This I now know. And sooner than be
such a priest as Messer Gambara--of whom there are too many in the Church
to-day--I will find some other way of serving God."
"Since...since when have you thought thus?"
"Since this morning, when I kissed you," I answered fiercely.
She sank into a chair beyond the table and stretched a hand across it to
me, inviting the clasp of mine. "But if this is so, why leave us?"
"Because I am afraid," I answered. "Because...O God! Giuliana, do you not
see?" And I sank my head into my hands.
Steps shuffled along the corridor. I looked up sharply. She set a finger
to her lips. There fell a knock, and old Busio stood before us.
"Madonna," he announced, "my Lord the Cardinal-legate is below and asks for
I started up as if I had been stung. So! At this hour! Then Messer
Fifanti's suspicions did not entirely lack for grounds.
Giuliana flashed me a glance ere she made answer.
"You will tell my Lord Gambara that I have retired for the night and
that...But stay!" She caught up a quill and dipped it in the ink-horn,
drew paper to herself, and swiftly wrote three lines; then dusted it with
sand, and proffered that brief epistle to the servant.
"Give this to my lord."
Busio took the note, bowed, and departed.
After the door had closed a silence followed, in which I paced the room in
long strides, aflame now with the all-consuming fire of jealousy. I do
believe that Satan had set all the legions of hell to achieve my overthrow
that night. Naught more had been needed to undo me than this spur of
jealousy. It brought me now to her side. I stood over her, looking down
at her between tenderness and fierceness, she returning my glance with such
a look as may haunt the eyes of sacrificial victims.
"Why dared he come?" I asked.
"Perhaps...perhaps some affair connected with Astorre..." she faltered.
I sneered. "That would be natural seeing that he has sent Astorre to
"If there was aught else, I am no party to it," she assured me.
How could I do other than believe her? How could I gauge the turpitude of
that beauty's mind--I, all unversed in the wiles that Satan teaches women?
How could I have guessed that when she saw Fifanti speak to that lad at the
gate that afternoon she had feared that he had set a spy upon the house,
and that fearing this she had bidden the Cardinal begone? I knew it later.
But not then.
"Will you swear that it is as you say?" I asked her, white with passion.
As I have said, I was standing over her and very close. Her answer now was
suddenly to rise. Like a snake came she gliding upwards into my arms until
she lay against my breast, her face upturned, her eyes languidly veiled,
her lips a-pout.
"Can you do me so great a wrong, thinking you love me, knowing that I love
you?" she asked me.
For an instant we swayed together in that sweetly hideous embrace. I was
as a man sapped of all strength by some portentous struggle. I trembled
from head to foot. I cried out once--a despairing prayer for help, I think
it was--and then I seemed to plunge headlong down through an immensity of
space until my lips found hers. The ecstasy, the living fire, the anguish,
and the torture of it have left their indelible scars upon my memory. Even
as I write the cruelly sweet poignancy of that moment is with me again--
though very hateful now.
Thus I, blindly and recklessly, under the sway and thrall of that terrific
and overpowering temptation. And then there leapt in my mind a glimmer of
returning consciousness: a glimmer that grew rapidly to be a blazing light
in which I saw revealed the hideousness of the thing I did. I tore myself
away from her in that second of revulsion and hurled her from me, fiercely
and violently, so that, staggering to the seat from which she had risen,
she fell into it rather than sat down.
And whilst, breathless with parted lips and galloping bosom, she observed
me, something near akin to terror in her eyes, I stamped about that room
and raved and heaped abuse and recriminations upon myself, ending by going
down upon my knees to her, imploring her forgiveness for the thing I had
done--believing like a fatuous fool that it was all my doing--and imploring
her still more passionately to leave me and to go.
She set a trembling hand upon my head; she took my chin in the other, and
raised my face until she could look into it.
"If it be your will--if it will bring you peace and happiness, I will leave
you now and never see you more. But are you not deluded, my Agostino?"
And then, as if her self-control gave way, she fell to weeping.
"And what of me if you go? What of me wedded to that monster, to that
cruel and inhuman pedant who tortures and insults me as you have seen?"
"Beloved, will another wrong cure the wrong of that?" I pleaded. "0, if
you love me, go--go, leave me. It is too late--too late!"
I drew away from her touch, and crossed the room to fling myself upon the
window-seat. For a space we sat apart thus, panting like wrestlers who
have flung away from each other. At length--"Listen, Giuliana," I said
more calmly. "Were I to heed you, were I to obey my own desires, I should
bid you come away with me from this to-morrow."
"If you but would!" she sighed. "You would be taking me out of hell."
"Into another worse," I countered swiftly. "I should do you such a wrong
as naught could ever right again."
She looked at me for a spell in silence. Her back was to the light and her
face in shadow, so that I could not read what passed there. Then, very
slowly, like one utterly weary, she got to her feet.
"I will do your will, beloved; but I do it not for the wrong that I should
suffer--for that I should count no wrong--but for the wrong that I should
be doing you."
She paused as if for an answer. I had none for her. I raised my arms,
then let them fall again, and bowed my head. I heard the gentle rustle of
her robe, and I looked up to see her staggering towards the door, her arms
in front of her like one who is blind. She reached it, pulled it open, and
from the threshold gave me one last ineffable look of her great eyes, heavy
now with tears. Then the door closed again, and I was alone.
From my heart there rose a great surge of thankfulness. I fell upon my
knees and prayed. For an hour at least I must have knelt there, seeking
grace and strength; and comforted at last, my calm restored, I rose, and
went to the window. I drew back the curtains, and leaned out to breathe
the physical calm of that tepid September night.
And presently out of the gloom a great grey shape came winging towards the
window, the heavy pinions moving ponderously with their uncanny sough. It
was an owl attracted by the light. Before that bird of evil omen, that
harbinger of death, I drew back and crossed myself. I had a sight of its
sphinx-like face and round, impassive eyes ere it circled to melt again
into the darkness, startled by any sudden movement. I closed the window
and left the room.
Very softly I crept down the passage towards my chamber, leaving the light
burning in the library, for it was not my habit to extinguish it, and I
gave no thought to the lateness of the hour.
Midway down the passage I halted. I was level with Giuliana's door, and
from under it there came a slender blade of light. But it was not this
that checked me. She was singing, Such a pitiful little heartbroken song
"Amor mi muojo; mi muojo amore mio!"
ran its last line.
I leaned against the wall, and a sob broke from me. Then, in an instant,
the passage was flooded with light, and in the open doorway Giuliana stood
all white before me, her arms held out.
THE IRON GIRDLE
From the distance, drawing rapidly nearer and ringing sharply in the
stillness of the night, came the clatter of a mule's hooves.
But, though heard, it was scarcely heard consciously, and it certainly went
unheeded until it was beneath the window and ceasing at the door.
Giuliana's fingers locked themselves upon my arm in a grip of fear.
"Who comes?" she asked, below her breath, fearfully. I sprang from the bed
and crouched, listening, by the window, and so lost precious time.
Out of the darkness Giuliana's voice spoke again, hoarsely now and
"It will be Astorre," she said, with conviction. "At this hour it can be
none else. I suspected when I saw him talking to that boy at the gate this
afternoon that he was setting a spy upon me, to warn him wherever he was
lurking, did the need arise."
"But how should the boy know...?" I began, when she interrupted me almost
"The boy saw Messer Gambara ride up. He waited for no more, but went at
once to warn Astorre. He has been long in coming," she added in the tone
of one who is still searching for the exact explanation of the thing that
is happening. And then, suddenly and very urgently, "Go, go--go quickly!"
she bade me.
As in the dark I was groping my way towards the door she spoke again:
"Why does he not knock? For what does he wait?" Immediately, from the
stairs, came a terrific answer to her question--the unmistakable, slip-
slopping footstep of the doctor.
I halted, and for an instant stood powerless to move. How he had entered I
could not guess, nor did I ever discover. Sufficient was the awful fact
that he was in.
I was ice-cold from head to foot. Then I was all on fire and groping
forward once more whilst those footsteps, sinister and menacing as the very
steps of Doom, came higher and nearer.
At last I found the door and wrenched it open. I stayed to close it after
me, and already at the end of the passage beat the reflection of the light
Fifanti carried. A second I stood there hesitating which way to turn. My
first thought was to gain my own chamber. But to attempt it were assuredly
to run into his arms. So I turned, and went as swiftly and stealthily as
possible towards the library.
I was all but in when he turned the corner of the passage, and so caught
sight of me before I had closed the door.
I stood in the library, where the lamp still burned, sweating, panting, and
trembling. For even as he had had a glimpse of me, so had I had a glimpse
of him, and the sight was terrifying to one in my situation.
I had seen, his tall, gaunt figure bending forward in his eager, angry
haste. In one hand he carried a lanthorn; a naked sword in the other. His
face was malign and ghastly, and his bald, egg-like head shone yellow. The
fleeting glimpse he had of me drew from him a sound between a roar and a
snarl, and with quickened feet he came slip-slopping down the passage.
I had meant, I think, to play the fox: to seat myself at the table, a book
before me, and feigning slumber, present the appearance of one who had been
overcome by weariness at his labours. But now all thought of that was at
an end. I had been seen, and that I fled was all too apparent. So that in
every way I was betrayed.
The thing I did, I did upon instinct rather than reason; and this again was
not well done. I slammed the door, and turned the key, placing at least
that poor barrier between myself and the man I had so deeply wronged, the
man whom I had given the right to slay me. A second later the door shook
as if a hurricane had smitten it. He had seized the handle, and he was
pulling at it frenziedly with a maniacal strength.
"Open!" he thundered, and fell to snarling and whimpering horribly.
Then, quite abruptly he became oddly calm. It was as if his rage grew
coldly purposeful; and the next words he uttered acted upon me as a dagger-
prod, and reawakened my mind from its momentary stupefaction.
"Do you think these poor laths can save you from my vengeance, my Lord
Gambara?" quoth he, with a chuckle horrible to hear.
My Lord Gambara! He mistook me for the Legate! In an instant I saw the
reason of this. It was as Giuliana had conceived. The boy had run to warn
him wherever he was--at Roncaglia, perhaps, a league away upon the road to
Parma. And the boy's news was that my Lord the Governor had gone to
Fifanti's house. The boy had never waited to see the Legate come forth
again; but had obeyed his instructions to the letter, and it was Gambara
whom Fifanti came to take red-handed and to kill as he had the right to do.
When he had espied my flying shape, the length of the corridor had lain
between us, Fifanti was short-sighted, and since it was Gambara whom he
expected to find, Gambara at once he concluded it to be who fled before
There was no villainy for which I was not ripe that night, it seemed. For
no sooner did I perceive this error than I set myself to scheme how I might
profit by it. Let Gambara by all means suffer in my place if the thing
could be contrived. If not in fact, at least in intent, the Cardinal-
legate had certainly sinned. If he was not in my place now, it was through
the too great good fortune that attended him. Besides, Gambara would be in
better case to protect himself from the consequences and from Fifanti's
Thus cravenly I reasoned; and reasoning thus, I reached the window. If I
could climb down to the garden, and then perhaps up again to my own
chamber, I might get me to bed, what time Fifanti still hammered at that
door. Meanwhile his voice came rasping through those slender timbers, as
he mocked the Lord Cardinal he supposed me.
"You would not be warned, my lord, and yet I warned you enough. You would
plant horns upon my head. Well, well! Do not complain if you are gored by
Then he laughed hideously. "This poor Astorre Fifanti is blind and a fool.
He is to be sent packing on a journey to the Duke, devised to suit my Lord
Cardinal's convenience. But you should have bethought you that suspicious
husbands have a trick of pretending to depart whilst they remain."
Next his voice swelled up again in passion, and again the door was shaken.
"Will you open, then, or must I break down the door! There is no barrier
in the world shall keep me from you, there is no power can save you. I
have the right to kill you by every law of God and man. Shall I forgo that
right?" He laughed snarlingly.
"Three hundred ducats yearly to recompense the hospitality I have given
you--and six hundred later upon the coming of the Duke!" he mocked. "That
was the price, my lord, of my hospitality--which was to include my wife's
harlotry. Three hundred ducats! Ha! ha! Three hundred thousand million
years in Hell! That is the price, my lord--the price that you shall pay,
for I present the reckoning and enforce it. You shall be shriven in iron--
you and your wanton after you.
"Shall I be caged for having shed a prelate's sacred blood? for having sent
a prelate's soul to Hell with all its filth of sin upon it? Shall I?
Speak, magnificent; out of the fullness of your theological knowledge
I had listened in a sort of fascination to that tirade of venomous mockery.
But now I stirred, and pulled the casement open. I peered down into the
darkness and hesitated. The wall was creeper-clad to the window's height;
but I feared the frail tendrils of the clematis would never bear me. I
hesitated. Then I resolved to jump. It was but little more than some
twelve feet to the ground, and that was nothing to daunt an active lad of
my own build, with the soft turf to land upon below. It should have been
done without hesitation; for that moment's hesitation was my ruin.
Fifanti had heard the opening of the casement, and fearing that, after all,
his prey might yet escape him, he suddenly charged the door like an
infuriated bull, and borrowing from his rage a strength far greater than
his usual he burst away the fastenings of that crazy door.
Into the room hurtled the doctor, to check and stand there blinking at me,
too much surprised for a moment to grasp the situation.
When, at last, he understood, the returning flow of rage was overwhelming.
"You!" he gasped, and then his voice mounting--"You dog!" he screamed. "So
it was you! You!"
He crouched and his little eyes, all blood-injected, peered at me with
horrid malice. He grew cold again as he mastered his surprise. "You!" he
repeated. "Blind fool that I have been! You! The walker in the ways of
St. Augustine--in his early ways, I think. You saint in embryo, you
postulant for holy orders! You shall be ordained this night--with this!"
And he raised his sword so that little yellow runnels of light sped down
the livid blade.
"I will ordain you into Hell, you hound!" And thereupon he leapt at me.
I sprang away from the window, urged by fear of him into a very sudden
activity. As I crossed the room I had a glimpse of the white figure of
Giuliana in the gloom of the passage, watching.
He came after me, snarling. I seized a stool and hurled it at him. He
avoided it nimbly, and it went crashing through the half of the casement
that was still closed.
And as he avoided it, grown suddenly cunning, he turned back towards the
door to bar my exit should I attempt to lead him round the table.
We stood at gaze, the length of the little low-ceilinged chamber between
us, both of us breathing hard.
Then I looked round for something with which to defend myself; for it was
plain that he meant to have my life. By a great ill-chance it happened
that the sword which I had worn upon that day when I went as Giuliana's
escort into Piacenza was still standing in the very corner where I had set
it down. Instinctively I sprang for it, and Fifanti, never suspecting my
quest until he saw me with a naked iron in my hand, did nothing to prevent
my reaching it.
Seeing me armed, he laughed. "Ho, ho! The saint-at-arms!" he mocked.
"You'll be as skilled with weapons as with holiness!" And he advanced upon
me in long stealthy strides. The width of the table was between us, and he
smote at me across it. I parried, and cut back at him, for being armed
now, I no more feared him than I should have feared a child. Little he
knew of the swordcraft I had learnt from old Falcone, a thing which once
learnt is never forgotten though lack of exercise may make us slow.
He cut at me again, and narrowly missed the lamp in his stroke. And now, I
can most solemnly make oath that in the thing that followed there was no
intent. It was over and done before I was conscious of the happening. I
had acted purely upon instinct as men will in performing what they have
To ward his blow, I came almost unconsciously into that guard of Marozzo's
which is known as the iron girdle. I parried and on the stroke I lunged,
and so, taking the poor wretch entirely unawares, I sank the half of my
iron into his vitals ere he or I had any thought that the thing was
I saw his little eyes grow very wide, and the whole expression of his face
become one of intense astonishment.
He moved his lips as if to speak, and then the sword clattered from his one
hand, the lanthorn from his other; he sank forward quietly, still looking
at me with the same surprised glance, and so came further on to my rigidly
held blade, until his breast brought up against the quillons. For a moment
he remained supported thus, by just that rigid arm of mine and the table
against which his weight was leaning. Then I withdrew the blade, and in
the same movement flung the weapon from me. Before the sword had rattled
to the floor, his body had sunk down into a heap beyond the table, so that
I could see no more than the yellow, egg-like top of his bald head.
Awhile I stood watching it, filled with an extraordinary curiosity and a
queer awe. Very slowly was it that I began to realize the thing I had
done. It might be that I had killed Fifanti. It might be. And slowly,
gradually I grew cold with the thought and the apprehension of its horrid
Then from the passage came a stifled scream, and Giuliana staggered
forward, one hand holding flimsy draperies to her heaving bosom, the other
at her mouth, which had grown hideously loose and uncontrolled. Her
glowing copper hair, all unbound, fell about her shoulders like a mantle.
Behind her with ashen face and trembling limbs came old Busio. He was
groaning and ringing his hands. Thus I saw the pair of them creep forward
to approach Fifanti, who had made no sound since my sword had gone through
But Fifanti was no longer there to heed them--the faithful servant and the
unfaithful wife. All that remained, huddled there at the foot of the
table, was a heap of bleeding flesh and shabby garments.
It was Giuliana who gave me the information. With a courage that was
almost stupendous she looked down into his face, then up into mine, which I
doubt not was as livid.
"You have killed him," she whispered. "He is dead."
He was dead and I had killed him! My lips moved.
"He would have killed me," I answered in a strangled voice, and knew that
what I said was a sort of lie to cloak the foulness of my deed.
Old Busio uttered a long, croaking wail, and went down on his knees beside
the master he had served so long--the master who would never more need
servant in this world.
It was upon the wings of that pitiful cry that the full understanding of
the thing I had done was borne in upon my soul. I bowed my head, and took
my face in my hands. I saw myself in that moment for what I was. I
accounted myself wholly and irrevocably damned, Be God never so clement,
surely here was something for which even His illimitable clemency could
find no pardon.
I had come to Fifanti's house as a student of humanities and divinities;
all that I had learnt there had been devilries culminating in this hour's
work. And all through no fault of that poor, mean, ugly pedant, who indeed
had been my victim--whom I had robbed of honour and of life.
Never man felt self-horror as I felt it then, self-loathing and self-
contempt. And then, whilst the burden of it all, the horror of it all was
full upon me, a soft hand touched my shoulder, and a soft, quivering voice
murmured urgently in my ear:
"Agostino, we must go; we must go."
I plucked away my hands, and showed her a countenance before which she
shrank in fear.
"We?" I snarled at her. "We?" I repeated still more fiercely, and drove
her back before me as if I had done her a bodily hurt.
0, I should have imagined--had I had time in which to imagine anything--
that already I had descended to the very bottom of the pit of infamy. But
it seems that one more downward step remained me; and that step I took.
Not by act, nor yet by speech, but just by thought.
For without the manliness to take the whole blame of this great crime upon
myself, I must in my soul and mind fling the burden of it upon her. Like
Adam of old, I blamed the woman, and charged her in my thoughts with having
tempted me. Charging her thus, I loathed her as the cause of all this sin
that had engulfed me; loathed her in that moment as a thing unclean and
hideous; loathed her with a completeness of loathing such as I had never
experienced before for any fellowcreature.
Instead of beholding in her one whom I had dragged with me into my pit of
sin and whom it was incumbent upon my manhood thenceforth to shelter and
protect from the consequences of my own iniquity, I attributed to her the
blame of all that had befallen.
To-day I know that in so doing I did no more than justice. But it was not
justly done. I had then no such knowledge as I have to-day by which to
correct my judgment. The worst I had the right to think of her in that
hour was that her guilt was something less than mine. In thinking
otherwise was it that I took that last step to the very bottom of the hell
that I had myself created for myself that night.
The rest was as nothing by comparison. I have said that it was not by act
or speech that I added to the sum of my iniquities; and yet it was by both.
First, in that fiercely echoed "We?" that I hurled at her to strike her
from me; then in my precipitate flight alone.
How I stumbled from that room I scarcely know. The events of the time that
followed immediately upon Fifanti's death are all blurred as the
impressions of a sick man's dream.
I dimly remember that as she backed away from me until her shoulders
touched the wall, that as she stood so, all white and lovely as any snare
that Satan ever devised for man's ruin, staring at me with mutely pleading
eyes, I staggered forward, avoiding the sight of that dreadful huddle on
the floor, over which Busio was weeping foolishly.
As I stepped a sudden moisture struck my stockinged feet. Its nature I
knew by instinct upon the instant, and filled by it with a sudden
unreasoning terror, I dashed with a loud cry from the room.
Along the passage and down the dark stairs I plunged until I reached the
door of the house. It stood open and I went heedlessly forth. From
overhead I heard Giuliana calling me in a voice that held a note of
despair. But I never checked in my headlong career.
Fifanti's mule, I have since reflected, was tethered near the steps. I saw
the beast, but it conveyed no meaning to my mind, which I think was numbed.
I sped past it and on, through the gate, round the road by the Po, under
the walls of the city, and so away into the open country.
Without cap, without doublet, without shoes, just in my trunks and shirt
and hose, as I was, I ran, heading by instinct for home as heads the animal
that has been overtaken by danger whilst abroad. Never since Phidippides,
the Athenian courier, do I believe that any man had run as desperately and
doggedly as I ran that night.
By dawn, having in some three hours put twenty miles or so between myself
and Piacenza, I staggered exhausted and with cut and bleeding feet through
the open door of a peasant's house.
The family, sat at breakfast in the stone-flagged room into which I
stumbled. I halted under their astonished eyes.
"I am the Lord of Mondolfo," I panted hoarsely, "and I need a beast to
carry me home."
The head of that considerable family, a grizzled, suntanned peasant, rose
from his seat and pondered my condition with a glance that was laden with
"The Lord of Mondolfo--you, thus?" quoth he. "Now, by Bacchus, I am the
Pope of Rome!"
But his wife, more tender-hearted, saw in my disorder cause for pity rather
"Poor lad!" she murmured, as I staggered and fell into a chair, unable
longer to retain my feet. She rose immediately, and came hurrying towards
me with a basin of goat's milk. The draught refreshed my body as her
gentle words of comfort soothed my troubled soul. Seated there, her stout
arm about my shoulders, my head pillowed upon her ample, motherly breast, I
was very near to tears, loosened in my overwrought state by the sweet touch
of sympathy, for which may God reward her.
I rested in that place awhile. Three hours I slept upon a litter of straw
in an outhouse; whereupon, strengthened by my repose, I renewed my claim to
be the Lord of Mondolfo and my demand for a horse to carry me to my
Still doubting me too much to trust me alone with any beast of his, the
peasant nevertheless fetched out a couple of mules and set out with me for
It was still early morning when we came into the town of Mondolfo, my
peasant escort and I.
The day being Sunday there was little stir in the town at such an hour, and
it presented a very different appearance from that which it had worn when
last I had seen it. But the difference lay not only in the absence of
bustle and the few folk abroad now as compared with that market-day on
which, departing, I had ridden through it. I viewed the place to-day with
eyes that were able to draw comparisons, and after the wide streets and
imposing buildings of Piacenza, I found my little township mean and rustic.
We passed the Duomo, consecrated to Our Lady of Mondolfo. Its portals
stood wide, and in the opening swung a heavy crimson curtain, embroidered
with a huge golden cross which was bellying outward like an enormous
gonfalon. On the steps a few crippled beggars whined, and a few faithful
took their way to early Mass.
On, up the steep, ill-paved street we climbed to the mighty grey citadel
looming on the hill's crest, like a gigantic guardian brooding over the
city of his trust. We crossed the drawbridge unchallenged, passed under
the tunnel of the gateway, and so came into the vast, untenanted bailey of
I looked about me, beat my hands together, and raised my voice to shout
In answer to my call the door of the guardhouse opened presently, and a man
looked out. He frowned at first; then his brows went up and his mouth fell
"It is the Madonnino!" he shouted over his shoulder, and hurried forward to
take my reins, uttering words of respectful welcome, which seemed to
relieve the fears of my peasant, who had never quite believed me what I
There was a stir in the guardhouse, and two or three men of the absurd
garrison my mother kept there shuffled in the doorway, whilst a burly
fellow in leather with a sword girt on him thrust his way through and
hurried forward, limping slightly. In the dark, lowering face I recognized
my old friend Rinolfo, and I marvelled to see him thus accoutred.
He halted before me, and gave me a stiff and unfriendly salute; then he
bade the man-at-arms to hold my stirrup.
"What is your authority here, Rinolfo?" I asked him shortly.
I am the castellan," he informed me.
"The castellan? But what of Messer Giorgio?"
"He died a month ago."
"And who gave you this authority?"
"Madonna the Countess, in some recompense for the hurt you did me," he
replied, thrusting forward his lame leg.
His tone was surly and hostile; but it provoked no resentment in me now. I
deserved his unfriendliness. I had crippled him. At the moment I forgot
the provocation I had received--forgot that since he had raised his hand to
his lord, it would have been no great harshness to have hanged him. I saw
in him but another instance of my wickedness, another sufferer at my hands;
and I hung my head under the rebuke implicit in his surly tone and glance.
"I had not thought, Rinolfo, to do you an abiding hurt," said I, and here
checked, bethinking me that I lied; for had I not expressed regret that I
had not broken his neck?
I got down slowly and painfully, for my limbs were stiff and my feet very
sore. He smiled darkly at my words and my sudden faltering; but I affected
not to see.
"Where is Madonna?" I asked.
"She will have returned by now from chapel," he answered.
I turned to the man-at-arms. "You will announce me," I bade him. "And
you, Rinolfo, see to these beasts and to this good fellow here. Let him
have wine and food and what he needs. I will see him again ere he sets
Rinolfo muttered that all should be done as I ordered, and I signed to the
man-at-arms to lead the way.
We went up the steps and into the cool of the great hall. There the
soldier, whose every feeling had been outraged no doubt by Rinolfo's
attitude towards his lord, ventured to express his sympathy and
"Rinolfo is a black beast, Madonnino," he muttered.
"We are all black beasts, Eugenio," I answered heavily, and so startled him
by words and tone that he ventured upon no further speech, but led me
straight to my mother's private dining-room, opened the door and calmly
"Madonna, here is my Lord Agostino."
I heard the gasp she uttered before I caught sight of her. She was seated
at the table's head in her great wooden chair, and Fra Gervasio was pacing
the rush-strewn floor in talk with her, his hands behind his back, his head
At the announcement he straightened suddenly and wheeled round to face me,
inquiry in his glance. My mother, too, half rose, and remained so, staring
at me, her amazement at seeing me increased by the strange appearance I
Eugenio closed the door and departed, leaving me standing there, just
within it; and for a moment no word was spoken.
The cheerless, familiar room, looking more cheerless than it had done of
old, with its high-set windows and ghastly Crucifix, affected me in a
singular manner. In this room I had known a sort of peace--the peace that
is peculiarly childhood's own, whatever the troubles that may haunt it. I
came into it now with hell in my soul, sin-blackened before God and man, a
fugitive in quest of sanctuary.
A knot rose in my throat and paralysed awhile my speech. Then with a
sudden sob, I sprang forward and hobbled to her upon my wounded feet. I
flung myself down upon my knees, buried my head in her lap, and all that I
could cry was:
Whether perceiving my disorder, my distraught and suffering condition, what
remained of the woman in her was moved to pity; whether my cry acting like
a rod of Moses upon that rock of her heart which excess of piety had long
since sterilized, touched into fresh life the springs that had long since
been dry, and reminded her of the actual bond between us, her tone was more
kindly and gentle than I had ever known it.
"Agostino, my child! Why are you here?" And her wax-like fingers very
gently touched my head. "Why are you here--and thus? What has happened to
"Me miserable!" I groaned.
"What is it?" she pressed me, an increasing anxiety in her voice.
At last I found courage to tell her sufficient to prepare her mind.
"Mother, I am a sinner," I faltered miserably.
I felt her recoiling from me as from the touch of something unclean and
contagious, her mind conceiving already by some subtle premonition some
shadow of the thing that I had done. And then Gervasio spoke, and his
voice was soothing as oil upon troubled waters.
"Sinners are we all, Agostino. But repentance purges sin. Do not abandon
yourself to despair, my son."
But the mother who bore me took no such charitable and Christian view.
"What is it? Wretched boy, what have you done?" And the cold repugnance
in her voice froze anew the courage I was forming.
"0 God help me! God help me!" I groaned miserably.
Gervasio, seeing my condition, with that quick and saintly sympathy that
was his, came softly towards me and set a hand upon my shoulder.
"Dear Agostino," he murmured, "would you find it easier to tell me first?
Will you confess to me, my son? Will you let me lift this burden from your
Still on my knees I turned and looked up into that pale, kindly face. I
caught his thin hand, and kissed it ere he could snatch it away. "If there
were more priests like you," I cried, "there would be fewer sinners like
A shadow crossed his face; he smiled very wanly, a smile that was like a
gleam of pale sunshine from an overclouded sky, and he spoke in gentle,
soothing words of the Divine Mercy.
I staggered to my bruised feet. "I will confess to you, Fra Gervasio," I
said, "and afterwards we will tell my mother."
She looked as she would make demur. But Fra Gervasio checked any such
"It is best so, Madonna," he said gravely. "His most urgent need is the
consolation that the Church alone can give."
He took me by the arm very gently, and led me forth. We went to his modest
chamber, with its waxed floor, the hard, narrow pallet upon which he slept,
the blue and gold image of the Virgin, and the little writing-pulpit upon
which lay open a manuscript he was illuminating, for he was very skilled in
that art which already was falling into desuetude.
At this pulpit, by the window, he took his seat, and signed to me to kneel.
I recited the Confiteor. Thereafter, with my face buried in my hands, my
soul writhing in an agony of penitence and shame, I poured out the hideous
tale of the evil I had wrought.
Rarely did he speak while I was at that recitation. Save when I halted or
hesitated he would interject a word of pity and of comfort that fell like a
blessed balsam upon my spiritual wounds and gave me strength to pursue my
When I had done and he knew me to the full for the murderer and adulterer
that I was, there fell a long pause, during which I waited as a felon
awaits sentence. But it did not come. Instead, he set himself to examine
more closely the thing I had told him. He probed it with a question here
and a question there, and all of a shrewdness that revealed the extent of
his knowledge of humanity, and the infinite compassion and gentleness that
must be the inevitable fruits of such sad knowledge.
He caused me to go back to the very day of my arrival at Fifanti's; and
thence, step by step, he led me again over the road that in the past four
months I had trodden, until he had traced the evil to its very source, and
could see the tiny spring that had formed the brook which, gathering volume
as it went, had swollen at last into a raging torrent that had laid waste
its narrow confines.
"Who that knows all that goes to the making of a sin shall dare to condemn
a sinner?" he cried at last, so that I looked up at him, startled, and
penetrated by a ray of hope and comfort. He returned my glance with one of
"It is the woman here upon whom must fall the greater blame," said he.
But at that I cried out in hot remonstrance, adding that I had yet another
vileness to confess--for it was now that for the first time I realized it.
And I related to him how last night I had repudiated her, cast her off and
fled, leaving her to bear the punishment alone.
Of my conduct in that he withheld his criticism. "The sin is hers," he
repeated. "She was a wife, and the adultery is hers. More, she was the
seducer. It was she who debauched your mind with lascivious readings, and
tore away the foundations of virtue from your soul. If in the cataclysm
that followed she was crushed and smothered, it is no more than she had
I still protested that this view was all too lenient to me, that it sprang
of his love for me, that it was not just. Thereupon he began to make clear
to me many things that may have been clear to you worldly ones who have
read my scrupulous and exact confessions, but which at the time were still
all wrapped in obscurity for me.
It was as if he held up a mirror--an intelligent and informing mirror--in
which my deeds were reflected by the light of his own deep knowledge. He
showed me the gradual seduction to which I had been subjected; he showed me
Giuliana as she really was, as she must be from what I had told him; he
reminded me that she was older by ten years than I, and greatly skilled in
men and worldliness; that where I had gone blindly, never seeing what was
the inevitable goal and end of the road I trod, she had consciously been
leading me thither, knowing full well what the end must be, and desiring
As for the murder of Fifanti, the thing was grievous; but it had been done
in the heat of combat, and he could not think that I had meant the poor
man's death. And Fifanti himself was not entirely without blame. Largely
had he contributed to the tragedy. There had been evil in his heart. A
good man would have withdrawn his wife from surroundings which he knew to
be perilous and foul, not used her as a decoy to enable him to trap and
slay his enemy.
And the greatest blame of all he attached to that Messer Arcolano who had
recommended Fifanti to my mother as a tutor for me, knowing full well--as
he must have known--what manner of house the doctor kept and what manner of
wanton was Giuliana. Arcolano had sought to serve Fifanti's interests in
pretending to serve mine and my mother's; and my mother should be
enlightened that at last she might know that evil man for what he really
"But all this," he concluded, "does not mean, Agostino, that you are to
regard yourself as other than a great sinner. You have sinned monstrously,
even when all these extenuations are considered."
"I know, I know!" I groaned.
"But beyond forgiveness no man has ever sinned, nor have you now. So that
your repentance is deep and real, and when by some penance that I shall
impose you shall have cleansed yourself of all this mire that clings to
your poor soul, you shall have absolution from me."
"Impose your penance," I cried eagerly. "There is none I will not
undertake, to purchase pardon and some little peace of mind.
"I will consider it," he answered gravely. "And now let us seek your
mother. She must be told, for a great deals hangs upon this, Agostino.
The career to which you were destined is no longer for you, my son."
My spirit quailed under those last words; and yet I felt an immense relief
at the same time, as if some overwhelming burden had been lifted from me.
"I am indeed unworthy," I said.
"It is not your unworthiness that I am considering, my son, but your
nature. The world calls you over-strongly. It is not for nothing that you
are the child of Giovanni d'Anguissola. His blood runs thick in your
veins, and it is very human blood. For such as you there is no hope in the
cloister. Your mother must be made to realize it, and she must abandon her
dreams concerning you. It will wound her very sorely. But better that
than..." He shrugged and rose. "Come, Agostino."
And I rose, too, immensely comforted and soothed already, for all that I
was yet very far from ease or peace of mind. Outside his room he set a
hand upon my arm.
"Wait," he said, "we have ministered in some degree to your poor spirit.
Let us take thought for the body, too. You need garments and other things.
Come with me."
He led me up to my own little chamber, took fresh raiment for me from a
press, called Lorenza and bade her bring bread and wine, vinegar and warm
In a very weak dilution of the latter he bade me bathe my lacerated feet,
and then he found fine strips of linen in which to bind them ere I drew
fresh hose and shoes. And meanwhile munching my bread and salt and taking
great draughts of the pure if somewhat sour wine, my mental peace was
increased by the refreshment of my body.
At last I stood up more myself than I had been in these last twelve awful
hours--for it was just noon, and into twelve hours had been packed the
events that well might have filled a lifetime.
He put an arm about my shoulder, fondly as a father might have done, and so
led me below again and into my mother's presence.
We found her kneeling before the Crucifix, telling her beads; and we stood
waiting a few moments in silence until with a sigh and a rustle of her
stiff black dress she rose gently and turned to face us.
My heart thudded violently in that moment, as I looked into that pale face
of sorrow. Then Fra Gervasio began to speak very gently and softly.
"Your son, Madonna, has been lured into sin by a wanton woman," he began,
and there she interrupted him with a sudden and very piteous cry.
"Not that! Ah, not that!" she exclaimed, putting out hands gropingly
"That and more, Madonna," he answered gravely. "Be brave to hear the rest.
It is a very piteous story. But the founts of Divine Mercy are
inexhaustible, and Agostino shall drink therefrom when by penitence he
shall have cleansed his lips."
Very erect she stood there, silent and ghostly, her face looking diaphanous
by contrast with the black draperies that enshrouded her, whilst her eyes
were great pools of sorrow. Poor, poor mother! It is the last
recollection I have of her; for after that day we never met again, and I
would give ten years to purgatory if I might recall the last words that
passed between us.
As briefly as possible and ever thrusting into the foreground the immensity
of the snare that had been spread for me and the temptation that had
enmeshed me, Gervasio told her the story of my sin.
She heard him through in that immovable attitude, one hand pressed to her
heart, her poor pale lips moving now and again, but no sound coming from
them, her face a white mask of pain and horror.
When he had done, so wrought upon was I by the sorrow of that countenance
that I went forward again to fling myself upon my knees before her.
"Mother, forgive!" I pleaded. And getting no answer I put up my hands to
take hers. "Mother!" I cried, and the tears were streaming down my face.
But she recoiled before me.
"Are you my child?" she asked in a voice of horror. "Are you the thing
that has grown out of that little child I vowed to chastity and to God?
Then has my sin overtaken me--the sin of bearing a son to Giovanni
d'Anguissola, that enemy of God!"
"Ah, mother, mother!" I cried again, thinking perhaps by that all-powerful
word to move her yet to pity and to gentleness.
"Madonna," cried Gervasio, "be merciful if you would look for mercy."
"He has falsified my vows," she answered stonily. "He was my votive
offering for the life of his impious father. I am punished for the
unworthiness of my offering and the unworthiness of the cause in which I
offered it. Accursed is the fruit of my womb!" She moaned, and sank her
head upon her breast.
"I will atone!" I cried, overwhelmed to see her so distraught.
She wrung her pale hands.
"Atone!" she cried, and her voice trembled. "Go then, and atone. But
never let me see you more; never let me be reminded of the sinner to whom I
have given life. Go! Begone!" And she raised a hand in tragical
I shrank back, and came slowly to my feet. And then Gervasio spoke, and
his voice boomed and thundered with righteous indignation.
"Madonna, this is inhuman!" he denounced. "Shall you dare to hope for
mercy being yourself unmerciful?"
"I shall pray for strength to forgive him; but the sight of him might tempt
me back with the memory of the thing that he has done," she answered, and
she had returned to that cold and terrible reserve of hers.
And then things that Fra Gervasio had repressed for years welled up in a
mighty flood. "He is your son, and he is as you have made him."
"As I have made him?" quoth she, and her glance challenged the friar.
"By what right did you make of him a votive offering? By what right did
you seek to consecrate a child unborn to a claustral life without thought
of his character, without reck of the desires that should be his? By what
right did you make yourself the arbiter of the future of a man unborn?"
"By what right?" quoth she. "Are you a priest, and do you ask me by what
right I vowed him to the service of God?"
"And is there, think you, no way of serving God but in the sterility of the
cloister?" he demanded. "Why, since no man is born to damnation, and since
by your reasoning the world must mean damnation, then all men should be
encloistered, and soon, thus, there would be an end to man. You are too
arrogant, Madonna, when you presume to judge what pleases God. Beware lest
you fall into the sin of the Pharisee, for often have I seen you stand in
danger of it."
She swayed as if her strength were failing her, and again her pale lips
"Enough, Fra Gervasio! I will go," I cried.
"Nay, it is not yet enough," he answered, and strode down the room until he
stood between her and me. "He is what you have made him," he repeated in
denunciation. "Had you studied his nature and his inclinations, had you
left them free to develop along the way that God intended, you would have
seen whether or not the cloister called him; and then would have been the
time to have taken a resolve. But you thought to change his nature by
repressing it; and you never saw that if he was not such as you would have
him be, then most surely would you doom him to damnation by making an evil
priest of him.
"In your Pharisaic arrogance, Madonna, you sought to superimpose your will
to God's will concerning him--you confounded God's will with your own. And
so his sins recoil upon you as much as upon any. Therefore, Madonna, do I
bid you beware. Take a humbler view if you would be acceptable in the
Divine sight. Learn to forgive, for I say to you to-day that you stand as
greatly in need of forgiveness for the thing that Agostino has done, as
does Agostino himself."
He paused at last, and stood trembling before her, his eyes aflame, his
high cheek-bones faintly tinted. And she measured him very calmly and
coldly with her sombre eyes.
"Are you a priest?" she asked with steady scorn. "Are you indeed a
priest?" And then her invective was loosened, and her voice shrilled and
mounted as her anger swayed her. "What a snake have I harboured here!" she
cried. "Blasphemer! You show me clearly whence came the impiety and
ungodliness of Giovanni d'Anguissola. It had the same source as your own.
It was suckled at your mother's breast."
A sob shook him. "My mother is dead, Madonna!" he rebuked her.
"She is more blessed, then, than I; since she has not lived to see what a
power for sin she has brought forth. Go, pitiful friar. Go, both of you.
You are very choicely mated. Begone from Mondolfo, and never let me see
either of you more."
She staggered to her great chair and sank into it, whilst we stood there,
mute, regarding her. For myself, it was with difficulty that I repressed
the burning things that rose to my lips. Had I given free rein to my
tongue, I had made of it a whip of scorpions. And my anger sprang not from
the things she said to me, but from what she said to that saintly man who
held out a hand to help me out of the morass of sin in which I was being
sunk. That he, that sweet and charitable follower of his Master, should be
abused by her, should be dubbed blasphemer and have the cherished memory of
his mother defiled by her pietistic utterances, was something that inflamed
But he set a hand upon my shoulder.
"Come, Agostino," he said very gently. He was calm once more. "We will
go, as we are bidden, you and I."
And then, out of the sweetness of his nature, he forged all unwittingly the
very iron that should penetrate most surely into her soul.
"Forgive her, my son. Forgive her as you need forgiveness. She does not
understand the thing she does. Come, we will pray for her, that God in His
infinite mercy may teach her humility and true knowledge of Him."
I saw her start as if she had been stung.
"Blasphemer, begone!" she cried again; and her voice was hoarse with
And then the door was suddenly flung open, and Rinolfo clanked in, very
martial and important, his hand thrusting up his sword behind him.
"Madonna," he announced, "the Captain of Justice from Piacenza is here."
THE CAPTAIN OF JUSTICE
There was a moment's silence after Rinolfo had flung that announcement.
"The Captain of Justice?" quoth my mother at length, her voice startled.
"What does he seek?"
"The person of my Lord Agostino d'Anguissola," said Rinolfo steadily.
She sighed very heavily. "A felon's end!" she murmured, and turned to me.
"If thus you may expiate your sins," she said, speaking more gently, "let
the will of Heaven be done. Admit the captain, Ser Rinolfo."
He bowed, and turned sharply to depart.
"Stay!" I cried, and rooted him there by the imperative note of my command.
Fra Gervasio was more than right when he said that mine was not a nature
for the cloister. In that moment I might have realized it to the full by
the readiness with which the thought of battle occurred to me, and more by
the anticipatory glow that warmed me at the very thought of it. I was the
very son of Giovanni d'Anguissola.
"What force attends the captain?" I inquired.
"He has six mounted men with him," replied Rinolfo. "In that case," I
answered, "you will bid him begone in my name."
"And if he should not go?" was Rinolfo's impudent question.
"You will tell him that I will drive him hence--him and his braves. We
keep a garrison of a score of men at least--sufficient to compel him to
"He will return again with more," said Rinolfo.
"Does that concern you?" I snapped. "Let him return with what he pleases.
To-day I enrol more forces from the countryside, take up the bridge and
mount our cannon. This is my lair and fortress, and I'll defend it and
myself as becomes my name and blood. For I am the lord and master here,
and the Lord of Mondolfo is not to be dragged away thus at the heels of a
Captain of Justice. You have my orders, obey them. About it, sir."
Circumstances had shown me the way that I must take, and the folly of going
forth a fugitive outcast at my mother's bidding. I was Lord of Mondolfo,
as I had said, and they should know and feel it from this hour--all of
them, not excepting my mother.
But I reckoned without the hatred Rinolfo bore me. Instead of the prompt
obedience that I had looked for, he had turned again to my mother.
"Is it your wish, Madonna?" he inquired.
"It is my wish that counts, you knave," I thundered and advanced upon him.
But he fronted me intrepidly. "I hold my office from my Lady the Countess.
I obey none other here."
"Body of God! Do you defy me?" I cried. "Am I Lord of Mondolfo, or am I a
lackey in my own house? You'ld best obey me ere I break you, Ser Rinolfo.
We shall see whether the men will take my orders," I added confidently.
The faintest smile illumined his dark face. "The men will not stir a
finger at the bidding of any but Madonna the Countess and myself," he
It was by an effort that I refrained from striking him. And then my mother
"It is as Ser Rinolfo says," she informed me. "So cease this futile
resistance, sir son, and accept the expiation that is offered you."
I looked at her, she avoiding my glance.
"Madonna, I cannot think that it is so," said I. "These men have known me
since I was a little lad. Many of them have followed the fortunes of my
father. They'll never turn their backs upon his son in the hour of his
need. They are not all so inhuman as my mother."
"You mistake, sir," said Rinolfo. "Of the men you knew but one or two
remain. Most of our present force has been enrolled by me in the past
This was defeat, utter and pitiful. His tone was too confident, he was too
sure of his ground to leave me a doubt as to what would befall if I made
appeal to his knavish followers. My arms fell to my sides, and I looked at
Gervasio. His face was haggard, and his eyes were very full of sorrow as
they rested on me.
"It is true, Agostino," he said.
And as he spoke, Rinolfo limped out of the room to fetch the Captain of
Justice, as my mother had bidden him; and his lips smiled cruelly.
"Madam mother," I said bitterly, "you do a monstrous thing. You usurp the
power that is mine, and you deliver me--me, your son--to the gallows. I
hope that, hereafter, when you come to realize to the full your deed, you
will be able to give your conscience peace."
"My first duty is to God," she answered; and to that pitiable answer there
was nothing to be rejoined.
So I turned my shoulder to her and stood waiting, Fra Gervasio beside me,
clenching his hands in his impotence and mute despair. And then an
approaching clank of mail heralded the coming of the captain.
Rinolfo held the door, and Cosimo d'Anguissola entered with a firm, proud
tread, two of his men, following at his heels.
He wore a buff-coat, under which no doubt there would be a shirt of mail;
his gorget and wristlets were of polished steel, and his headgear was a
steel cap under a cover of peach-coloured velvet. Thigh-boots encased his
legs; sword and dagger hung in the silver carriages at his belt; his
handsome, aquiline face was very solemn.
He bowed profoundly to my mother, who rose to respond, and then he flashed
me one swift glance of his piercing eyes.
"I deplore my business here," he announced shortly. "No doubt it will be
known to you already." And he looked at me again, allowing his eyes to
linger on my face.
"I am ready, sir," I said.
"Then we had best be going, for I understand that none could be less
welcome here than I. Yet in this, Madonna, let me assure you that there is
nothing personal to myself. I am the slave of my office. I do but perform
"So much protesting where no doubt has been expressed," said Fra Gervasio,
"in itself casts a doubt upon your good faith. Are you not Cosimo
d'Anguissola--my lord's cousin and heir?"
"I am," said he, "yet that has no part in this, sir friar."
"Then let it have part. Let it have the part it should have. Will you
bear one of your own name and blood to the gallows? What will men say of
that when they perceive your profit in the deed?"
Cosimo looked him boldly between the eyes, his hawk-face very white.
"Sir priest, I know not by what right you address me so. But you do me
wrong. I am the Podesta of Piacenza bound by an oath that it would
dishonour me to break; and break it I must or else fulfil my duty here.
Enough!" he added, in his haughty, peremptory fashion. "Ser Agostino, I
await your pleasure."
"I will appeal to Rome," cried Fra Gervasio, now beside himself with grief.
Cosimo smiled darkly, pityingly. "It is to be feared that Rome will turn a
deaf ear to appeals on behalf of the son of Giovanni d'Anguissola."
And with that he motioned me to precede him. Silently I pressed Fra
Gervasio's hand, and on that departed without so much as another look at my
mother, who sat there a silent witness of a scene which she approved.
The men-at-arms fell into step, one on either side of me, and so we passed
out into the courtyard, where Cosimo's other men were waiting, and where
was gathered the entire family of the castle--a gaping, rather frightened
They brought forth a mule for me, and I mounted. Then suddenly there was
Fra Gervasio at my side again.
"I, too, am going hence," he said. "Be of good courage, Agostino. There
is no effort I will not make on your behalf." In a broken voice he added
his farewells ere he stood back at the captain's peremptory bidding. The
little troop closed round me, and thus, within a couple of hours of my
coming, I departed again from Mondolfo, surrendered to the hangman by the
pious hands of my mother, who on her knees, no doubt, would be thanking God
for having afforded her the grace to act in so righteous a manner.
Once only did my cousin address me, and that was soon after we had left the
town behind us. He motioned the men away, and rode to my side. Then he
looked at me with mocking, hating eyes.
"You had done better to have continued in your saint's trade than have
become so very magnificent a sinner," said he.
I did not answer him, and he rode on beside me in silence some little way.
"Ah, well," he sighed at last. "Your course has been a brief one, but very
eventful. And who would have suspected so very fierce a wolf under so
sheepish an outside? Body of God! You fooled us all, you and that white-
He said it through his teeth with such a concentration of rage in his tones
that it was easy to guess where the sore rankled.
I looked at him gravely. "Does it become you, sir, do you think, to gird
at one who is your prisoner?"
"And did you not gird at me when it was your turn?" he flashed back
fiercely. "Did not you and she laugh together over that poor, fond fool
Cosimo whose money she took so very freely, and yet who seems to have been
the only one excluded from her favours?"
"You lie, you dog!" I blazed at him, so fiercely that the men turned in
their saddles. He paled, and half raised the gauntleted hand in which he
carried his whip. But he controlled himself, and barked an order to his
"Ride on, there!"
When they had drawn off a little, and we were alone again, "I do not lie,
sir," he said. "It is a practice which I leave to shavelings of all
"If you say that she took aught from you, then you lie," I repeated.
He considered me steadily. "Fool!" he said at last. "Whence else came her
jewels and fine clothes? From Fifanti, do you think--that impecunious
pedant? Or perhaps you imagine that it was from Gambara? In time that
grasping prelate might have made the Duke pay. But pay, himself? By the
Blood of God! he was never known to pay for anything.
"Or, yet again, do you suppose her finery was afforded her by Caro?--Messer
Annibale Caro--who is so much in debt that he is never like to return to
Piacenza, unless some dolt of a patron rewards him for his poetaster's
"No, no, my shaveling. It was I who paid--I who was the fool. God! I more
than suspected the others. But you. You saint...You!"
He flung up his head, and laughed bitterly and unpleasantly. "Ah, well!"
he ended, "You are to pay, though in different kind. It is in the family,
you see." And abruptly raising his voice he shouted to the men to wait.
Thereafter he rode ahead, alone and gloomy, whilst no less alone and gloomy
rode I amid my guards. The thing he had revealed to me had torn away a
veil from my silly eyes. It had made me understand a hundred little
matters that hitherto had been puzzling me. And I saw how utterly and
fatuously blind I had been to things which even Fra Gervasio had
apprehended from just the relation he had drawn from me.
It was as we were entering Piacenza by the Gate of San Lazzaro that I again
drew my cousin to my side.
"Sir Captain!" I called to him, for I could not bring myself to address him
as cousin now. He came, inquiry in his eyes.
"Where is she now?" I asked.
He stared at me a moment, as if my effrontery astonished him. Then he
shrugged and sneered. "I would I knew for certain," was his fierce answer.
"I would I knew. Then should I have the pair of you." And I saw it in his
face how unforgivingly he hated me out of his savage jealousy. "My Lord
Gambara might tell you. I scarcely doubt it. Were I but certain, what a
reckoning should I not present! He may be Governor of Piacenza, but were
he Governor of Hell he should not escape me." And with that he rode ahead
again, and left me.
The rumour of our coming sped through the streets ahead of us, and out of
the houses poured the townsfolk to watch our passage and to point me out
one to another with many whisperings and solemn head-waggings. And the
farther we advanced, the greater was the concourse, until by the time we
reached the square before the Communal Palace we found there what amounted
to a mob awaiting us.
My guards closed round me as if to protect me from that crowd. But I was
strangely without fear, and presently I was to see how little cause there
was for any, and to realize that the action of my guards was sprung from a
very different motive.
The people stood silent, and on every upturned face of which I caught a
glimpse I saw something that was akin to pity. Presently, however, as we
drew nearer to the Palace, a murmur began to rise. It swelled and grew
fierce. Suddenly a cry rose vehement and clear.
"He is the Lord of Mondolfo," shouted one tall fellow, "and the Cardinal-
legate makes a cat's-paw of him! He is to suffer for Messer Gambara's
Again he was answered by the cry--"Rescue! Rescue!" whilst some added an
angry--"Death to the Legate!"
Whilst I was deeply marvelling at all this, Cosimo looked at me over his
shoulder, and though his lips were steady, his eyes seemed to smile,
charged with a message of derision--and something more, something that I
could not read. Then I heard his hard, metallic voice.
"Back there, you curs! To your kennels! Out of the way, or we ride you
He had drawn his sword, and his white hawk-face was so cruel and determined
that they fell away before him and their cries died down.
We passed into the courtyard of the Communal Palace, and the great studded
gates were slammed in the faces of the mob, and barred.
I got down from my mule, and was conducted at Cosimo's bidding to one of
the dungeons under the Palace, where I was left with the announcement that
I must present myself to-morrow before the Tribunal of the Ruota.
I flung myself down upon the dried rushes that had been heaped in a corner
to do duty for a bed, and I abandoned myself to my bitter thoughts. In
particular I pondered the meaning of the crowd's strange attitude. Nor was
it a riddle difficult to resolve. It was evident that believing Gambara,
as they did, to be Giuliana's lover, and informed perhaps--invention
swelling rumour as it will--that the Cardinal-legate had ridden late last
night to Fifanti's house, it had been put about that the foul murder done
there was Messer Gambara's work.
Thus was the Legate reaping the harvest of all the hatred he had sown, of
all the tyranny and extortion of his iron rule in Piacenza. And willing to
believe any evil of the man they hated, they not only laid Fifanti's death
at his door, but they went to further lengths and accounted that I was the
cat's-paw; that I was to be sacrificed to save the Legate's face and
reputation. They remembered perhaps the ill-odour in which we Anguissola
of Mondolfo had been at Rome, for the ghibelline leanings that ever had
been ours and for the rebellion of my father against the Pontifical sway;
and their conclusions gathered a sort of confirmation from that
Long upon the very edge of mutiny and revolt against Gambara's injustice,
it had needed but what seemed a crowning one such as this to quicken their
hatred into expression.
It was all very clear and obvious, and it seemed to me that to-morrow's
trial should be very interesting. I had but to deny; I had but to make
myself the mouthpiece of the rumour that was abroad, and Heaven alone could
foretell what the consequences might be.
Then I smiled bitterly to myself. Deny? 0, no! That was a last vileness
I could not perpetrate. The Ruota should hear the truth, and Gambara
should be left to shelter Giuliana, who--Cosimo was assured--had fled to
him in her need as to a natural protector.
It was a bitter thought. The intensity of that bitterness made me realize
with alarm how it still was with me. And pondering this, I fell asleep,
utterly worn out in body and in mind by the awful turmoil of that day.
I awakened to find a man standing beside me. He was muffled in a black
cloak and carried a lanthorn. Behind him the door gaped as he had left it.
Instantly I sat up, conscious of my circumstance and surroundings, and at
my movement this visitor spoke.
"You sleep very soundly for a man in your case." said he, and the voice was
that of my Lord Gambara, its tone quite coldly critical.
He set down the lanthorn on a stool, whence it shed a wheel of yellow light
intersected with black beams. His cloak fell apart, and I saw that he was
dressed for riding, very plainly, in sombre garments, and that he was
He stood slightly to one side that the light might fall upon my face,
leaving his own in shadow; thus he considered me for some moments in
silence. At last, very slowly, very bitterly, shaking his head as he
"You fool, you clumsy fool!" he said.
Having drawn, as you have seen, my own conclusions from the attitude of the
mob, I was in little doubt as to the precise bearing of his words.
I answered him sincerely. "If folly were all my guilt," said I, "it would
He sniffed impatiently. "Still sanctimonious!" he sneered. "Tcha! Up
now, and play the man, at least. You have shed your robe of sanctity,
Messer Agostino; have done with pretence!"
"I do not pretend," I answered him. "And as for playing the man, I shall
accept what punishment the law may have for me with fortitude at least. If
I can but expiate..."
"Expiate a fig!" he snapped, interrupting me. "Why do you suppose that I
"I wait to learn."
"I am here because through your folly you have undone us all. What need,"
he cried, the anger of expostulation quivering in his voice, "what need was
there to kill that oaf Fifanti?"