Part 5 out of 7
the Devil delude men, using even suggested holiness for his purpose! That,
boy--that is no more than the dripping of water into little wells of
different depths, producing different notes. It is in there, in some cave
in the mountain where the Bagnanza springs from the earth."
I listened, half disillusioned by his explanation, yet fearing that my
senses were too slavishly obeying his suggestion. "The proof of that? The
proof!" I cried.
"The proof is that you have never heard it after heavy rain, or while the
river was swollen."
That answer shattered my last illusion. I looked back upon the time I had
spent there, upon the despair that had beset me when the music ceased, upon
the joy that had been mine when again I heard it, accepting it always as a
sign of grace. And it was as he said. Not my unworthiness, but the rain,
had ever silenced it. In memory I ran over the occasions, and so clearly
did I perceive the truth of this, that I marvelled the coincidence should
not earlier have discovered it to me.
Moreover, now that my illusions concerning it were gone, the sound was
clearly no more than he had said. I recognized its nature. It might have
intrigued a sane man for a day or a night. But it could never longer have
deceived any but one whose mind was become fevered with fanatic ecstasy.
Then I looked again at the image in the niche, and the pendulum of my faith
was suddenly checked in its counter-swing. About that image there could be
no delusions. The whole country-side had witnessed the miracle of the
bleeding, and it had wrought cures, wondrous cures, among the faithful.
They could not all have been deceived. Besides, from the wounds in the
breast there were still the brown signs of the last manifestation.
But when I had given some utterance to these thoughts Gervasio for only
answer stooped and picked up a wood-man's axe that stood against the wall.
With this he went straight towards the image.
"Fra Gervasio!" I cried, leaping to my feet, a premonition of what he was
about turning me cold with horror. "Stay!" I almost screamed.
But too late. My answer was a crashing blow. The next instant, as I sank
back to my seat and covered my face, the two halves of the image fell at my
feet, flung there by the friar.
"Look!" he bade me in a roar.
Fearfully I looked. I saw. And yet I could not believe.
He came quickly back, and picked up the two halves. "The oracle of Delphi
was not more impudently worked," he said. "Observe this sponge, these
plates of metal that close down upon it and exert the pressure necessary to
send the liquid with which it is laden oozing forth." As he spoke he tore
out the fiendish mechanism. "And see now how ingeniously it was made to
work--by pressure upon this arrow in the flank."
There was a burst of laughter from the door. I looked up, startled, to
find Galeotto standing at my elbow. So engrossed had I been that I had
never heard his soft approach over the turf.
"Body of Bacchus!" said he. "Here is Gervasio become an image breaker to
some purpose. What now of your miraculous saint, Agostino?"
My answer was first a groan over my shattered illusion, and then a deep-
throated curse at the folly that had made a mock of me.
The friar set a hand upon my shoulder. "You see, Agostino, that your
excursions into holy things do not promise well. Away with you, boy! Off
with this hypocrite robe, and get you out into the world to do useful work
for God and man. Had your heart truly called you to the priesthood, I had
been the first to have guided your steps thither. But your mind upon such
matters has been warped, and your views are all false; you confound
mysticism with true religion, and mouldering in a hermitage with the
service of God. How can you serve God here? Is not the world God's world
that you must shun it as if the Devil had fashioned it? Go, I say--and I
say it with the authority of the orders that I bear--go and serve man, and
thus shall you best serve God. All else are but snares to such a nature as
I looked at him helplessly, and from him to Galeotto who stood there, his
black brows knit; watching me with intentness as if great issues hung upon
my answer. And Gervasio's words touched in my mind some chord of memory.
They were words that I had heard before--or something very like them,
something whose import was the same.
Then I groaned miserably and took my head in my hands. "Whither am I to
go?" I cried. "What place is there in all the world for me? I am an
outcast. My very home is held against me. Whither, then, shall I go?"
"If that is all that troubles you," said Galeotto, his tone unctuously
humorous, "why we will ride to Pagliano."
I leapt at the word--literally leapt to my feet, and stared at him with
"Why, what ails him now?" quoth he.
Well might he ask. That name--Pagliano--had stirred my memory so
violently, that of a sudden as in a flash I had seen again the strange
vision that visited my delirium; I had seen again the inviting eyes, the
beckoning hands, and heard again the gentle voice saying, "Come to
Pagliano! Come soon!"
And now I knew, too, where I had heard words urging my return to the world
that were of the same import as those which Gervasio used.
What magic was there here? What wizardry was at play? I knew--for they
had told me--that it had been that cavalier who had visited me, that man
whose name was Ettore de' Cavalcanti, who had borne news to them of one who
was strangely like what Giovanni d'Anguissola had been. But Pagliano had
never yet been mentioned.
"Where is Pagliano?" I asked.
In Lombardy--in the Milanes," replied Galeotto.
"It is the home of Cavalcanti."
"You are faint, Agostino," cried Gervasio, with a sudden solicitude, and
put an arm about my shoulders as I staggered.
"No, no," said I. "It is nothing. Tell me--" And I paused almost afraid
to put the question, lest the answer should dash my sudden hope. For it
seemed to me that in this place of false miracles, one true miracle at
least had been wrought; if it should be proved so indeed, then would I
accept it as a sign that my salvation lay indeed in the world. If not..."
"Tell me," I began again; "this Cavalcanti has a daughter. She was with
him upon that day when he came here. What is her name?"
Galeotto looked at me out of narrowing eyes.
"Why, what has that to do with anything?" quoth Gervasio.
"More than you think. Answer me, then. What is her name?"
"Her name is Bianca," said Caleotto.
Something within me seemed to give way, so that I fell to laughing
foolishly as women laugh who are on the verge of tears. By an effort I
regained my self-control.
"It is very well," I said. "I will ride with you to Pagliano."
Both stared at me in utter amazement at the suddenness of my consent
following upon information that, in their minds, could have no possible
bearing upon the matter at issue.
"Is he quite sane, do you think?" cried Galeotto gruffly.
"I think he has just become so," said Fra Gervasio after a pause.
"God give me patience, then," grumbled the soldier, and left me puzzled by
The lilac was in bloom when we came to the grey walls of Pagliano in that
May of '45, and its scent, arousing the memory of my return to the world,
has ever since been to me symbolical of the world itself.
Mine was no half-hearted, backward-glancing return. Having determined upon
the step, I took it resolutely and completely at a single stride. Since
Galeotto placed his resources at my disposal, to be repaid him later when I
should have entered upon the enjoyment of my heritage of Mondolfo, I did
not scruple to draw upon them for my needs.
I accepted the fine linen and noble raiment that he offered, and I took
pleasure in the brave appearance that I made in them, my face shorn now of
its beard and my hair trimmed to a proper length. Similarly I accepted
weapons, money, and a horse; and thus equipped, looking for the first time
in my life like a patrician of my own lofty station, I rode forth from
Monte Orsaro with Galeotto and Gervasio, attended by the former's troop of
And from the moment of our setting out there came upon me a curious peace,
a happiness and a great sense of expectancy. No longer was I oppressed by
the fear of proving unworthy of the life which I had chosen--as had been
the case when that life had been monastic.
Galeotto was in high spirits to see me so blithe, and he surveyed with
pride the figure that I made, vowing that I should prove a worthy son of my
father ere all was done.
The first act of my new life was performed as we were passing through the
village of Pojetta.
I called a halt before the doors of that mean hostelry, over which hung
what no doubt would still be the same withered bunch of rosemary that had
been there in autumn when last I went that way.
To the sloe-eyed, deep-bosomed girl who lounged against the door-post to
see so fine a company ride by, I gave an order to fetch the taverner. He
came with a slouch, a bent back, and humble, timid eyes--a very different
attitude from that which he had last adopted towards me.
"Where is my mule, you rogue?" quoth I.
He looked at me askance. "Your mule, magnificent? said he.
"You have forgotten me, I think--forgotten the lad in rusty black who rode
this way last autumn and whom you robbed."
At the words be turned a sickly yellow, and fell to trembling and babbling
protestations and excuses.
"Have done," I broke in. "You would not buy the mule then. You shall buy
it now, and pay for it with interest."
"What is this, Agostino?" quoth Galeotto at my elbow. "An act of justice,
sir," I answered shortly, whereupon he questioned me no further, but looked
on with a grim smile. Then to the taverner, "Your manners to-day are not
quite the same as on the last occasion when we met. I spare you the
gallows that you may live to profit by the lesson of your present near
escape. And now, rogue, ten ducats for that mule." And I held out my
"Ten ducats!" he cried, and gathering courage perhaps since he was not to
hang. "It is twice the value of the beast," he protested.
"I know," I said. "It will be five ducats for the mule, and five for your
life. I am merciful to rate the latter as cheaply as it deserves. Come,
thief, the ten ducats without more ado, or I'll burn your nest of infamy
and hang you above the ruins."
He cowered and shrivelled. Then he scuttled within doors to fetch the
money, whilst Galeotto laughed deep in his throat.
"You are well-advised," said I, when the rogue returned and handed me the
ducats. "I told you I should come back to present my reckoning. Be warned
As we rode on Galeotto laughed again. "Body of Satan! There is a
thoroughness about you, Agustino. As a hermit you did not spare yourself;
and now as a tyrant you do not seem likely to spare others."
"It is the Anguissola way," said Gervasio quietly.
"You mistake," said I. "I conceive myself in the world for some good
purpose, and the act you have witnessed is a part of it. It was not a
revengeful deed. Vengeance would have taken a harsher course. It was
justice, and justice is righteous."
"Particularly a justice that puts ten ducats in your pocket," laughed
"There, again, you mistake me," said I. "My aim is that thieves be mulcted
to the end that the poor shall profit." And I drew rein again.
A little crowd had gathered about us, mostly of very ragged, half-clad
people, for this village of Pojetta was a very poverty-stricken place.
Into that little crowd I flung the ten ducats--with the consequence that on
the instant it became a seething, howling, snarling, quarrelling mass. In
the twinkling of an eye a couple of heads were cracked and blood was
flowing, so that to quell the riot my charity had provoked, I was forced to
spur my horse forward and bid them with threats disperse.
And I think now," said Galeotto when it was done, "that you are just as
reckless in the manner of doing charity. For the future, Agostino, you
would do well to appoint an almoner."
I bit my lip in vexation; but soon I smiled again. Were such little things
to fret me? Did we not ride to Pagliano and to Bianca de' Cavalcanti? At
the very thought my pulses would quicken, and a sweetness of anticipation
would invade my soul, to be clouded at moments by an indefinable dread.
And thus we came to Pagliano in that month of May, when the lilac was in
bloom, as I have said, and after Fra Gervasio had left us, to return to his
convent at Piacenza.
We were received in the courtyard of that mighty fortress by that sturdy,
hawk-faced man who had recognized me in the hermitage on Monte Orsaro. But
he was no longer in armour. He wore a surcoat of yellow velvet, and his
eyes were very kindly and affectionate when they rested on Galeotto and
from Galeotto passed on to take survey of me.
"So this is our hermit!" quoth he, a note of some surprise in his crisp
tones. "Somewhat changed!"
"By a change that goes deeper than his pretty doublet," said Galeotto.
We dismounted, and grooms, in the Cavalcanti livery of scarlet with the
horse-head in white upon their breasts, led away our horses. The seneschal
acted as quartermaster to our lances, whilst Cavalcanti himself led us up
the great stone staircase with its carved balustrade of marble, from which
rose a file of pillars to support the groined ceiling. This last was
frescoed in dull red with the white horse-head at intervals. On our right,
on every third step, stood orange-trees in tubs, all flowering and shedding
the most fragrant perfume.
Thus we ascended to a spacious gallery, and through a succession of
magnificent rooms we came to the noble apartments that had been made ready
A couple of pages came to tend me, bringing perfumed water and macerated
herbs for my ablutions. These performed, they helped me into fresh
garments that awaited me--black hose of finest silk and velvet trunks of
the same sable hue, and for my body a fine close-fitting doublet of cloth
of gold, caught at the waist by a jewelled girdle from which hung a dagger
that was the merest toy.
When I was ready they went before me, to lead the way to what they called
the private dining-room, where supper awaited us. At the very mention of a
private dining-room I had a vision of whitewashed walls and high-set
windows and a floor strewn with rushes. Instead we came into the most
beautiful chamber that I had ever seen. From floor to ceiling it was hung
with arras of purple brocade alternating with cloth of gold; thus on three
sides. On the fourth there was an opening for the embayed window which
glowed like a gigantic sapphire in the deepening twilight.
The floor was spread with a carpet of the ruddy purple of porphyry, very
soft and silent to the feet. From the frescoed ceiling, where a joyous
Phoebus drove a team of spirited white stallions, hung a chain that was
carved in the semblance of interlocked Titans to support a great
candelabrum, each branch of which was in the image of a Titan holding a
stout candle of scented wax. It was all in gilded bronze and the
workmanship--as I was presently to learn--of that great artist and rogue
Benvenuto Cellini. From this candelabrum there fell upon the board a soft
golden radiance that struck bright gleams from crystals and plate of gold
By a buffet laden with meats stood the master of the household in black
velvet, his chain of office richly carved, his badge a horse's head in
silver, and he was flanked on either hand by a nimble-looking page.
Of all this my first glance gathered but the most fleeting of impressions.
For my eyes were instantly arrested by her who stood between Cavalcanti and
Galeotto, awaiting my arrival. And, miracle of miracles, she was arrayed
exactly as I had seen her in my vision.
Her supple maiden body was sheathed in a gown of cloth of silver; her brown
hair was dressed into two plaits interlaced with gold threads and set with
tiny gems, and these plaits hung one on either breast. Upon the low, white
brow a single jewel gleamed--a brilliant of the very whitest fire.
Her long blue eyes were raised to look at me as I entered, and their glance
grew startled when it encountered mine, the delicate colour faded gradually
from her cheeks, and her eyes fell at last as she moved forward to bid me
welcome to Pagliano in her own name.
They must have perceived her emotion as they perceived mine. But they gave
no sign. We got to the round table--myself upon Cavalcanti's left,
Galeotto in the place of honour, and Bianca facing her father so that I was
on her right.
The seneschal bestirred himself, and the silken ministering pages fluttered
round us. My Lord of Pagliano was one who kept a table as luxurious as all
else in his splendid palace. First came a broth of veal in silver basins,
then a stew of cocks' combs and capons' breasts, then the ham of a roasted
boar, the flesh very lusciously saturated with the flavour of rosemary; and
there was venison that was as soft as velvet, and other things that I no
longer call to mind. And to drink there was a fragrant, well-sunned wine
of Lombardy that had been cooled in snow.
Galeotto ate enormously, Cavalcanti daintily, I but little, and Bianca
nothing. Her presence had set up such emotions in me that I had no thought
for food. But I drank deeply, and so came presently to a spurious ease
which enabled me to take my share in the talk that was toward, though when
all is said it was but a slight share, since Cavalcanti and Galeotto
discoursed of matters wherein my knowledge was not sufficient to enable me
to bear a conspicuous part.
More than once I was on the point of addressing Bianca herself, but always
courage failed me. I had ever in mind the memory she must have of me as
she had last seen me, to increase the painful diffidence which her presence
itself imposed upon me. Nor did I hear her voice more than once or twice
when she demurely answered such questions as her father set her. And
though once or twice I found her stealing a look at me, she would instantly
avert her eyes when our glances crossed.
Thus was our first meeting, and for a little time it was to be our last,
because I lacked the courage to seek her out. She had her own apartments
at Pagliano with her own maids of honour, like a princess; and the castle
garden was entirely her domain into which even her father seldom intruded.
He gave me the freedom of it; but it was a freedom of which I never took
advantage in the week that we abode there. Several times was I on the
point of doing so. But I was ever restrained by my unconquerable
And there was something else to impose restraint upon me. Hitherto the
memory of Giuliana had come to haunt me in my hermitage, by arousing in me
yearnings which I had to combat with fasting and prayer, with scourge and
dice. Now the memory of her haunted me again; but in a vastly different
way. It haunted me with the reminder of all the sin in which through her I
had steeped myself; and just as the memory of that sin had made me in purer
moments deem myself unworthy to be the guardian of the shrine on Monte
Orsaro, so now did it cause me to deem myself all unworthy to enter the
garden that enshrined Madonna Bianca de' Cavalcanti.
Before the purity that shone from her I recoiled in an awe whose nature was
as the feelings of a religion. I felt that to seek her presence would be
almost to defile her. And so I abstained, my mind very full of her the
while, for all that the time was beguiled for me in daily exercise with
horse and arms under the guidance of Galeotto.
I was not so tutored merely for the sake of repairing a grave omission in
my education. It had a definite scope, as Galeotto frankly told me,
informing me that the time approached in which to avenge my father and
strike a blow for my own rights.
And then at the end of a week a man rode into the courtyard of Pagliano one
day, and flung down from his horse shouting to be led to Messer Galeotto.
There was something about this courier's mien and person that awoke a
poignant memory. I was walking in the gallery when the clatter of his
advent drew my attention, and his voice sent a strange thrill through me.
One glance I gave to make quite sure, and then I leapt down the broad steps
four at a time, and a moment later, to the amazement of all present, I had
caught the dusty rider in my arms, and I was kissing the wrinkled, scarred,
and leathery old cheeks.
"Falcone!" I cried. "Falcone, do you not know me?"
He was startled by the violence of my passionate onslaught. Indeed, he was
almost borne to the ground by it, for his old legs were stiff now from
And then--how he stared! What oaths he swore!
"Madonnino!" he babbled. "Madonnino!" And he shook himself free of my
embrace, and stood back that he might view me. "Body of Satan! But you
are finely grown, and how like to what your father was when he was no older
than are you! And they have not made a shaveling of you, after all. Now
blessed be God for that!" Then he stopped short, and his eyes went past
me, and he seemed to hesitate.
I turned, and there, leaning on the balustrade of the staircase, looking on
with smiling eyes stood Galeotto with Messer Cavalcanti at his elbow.
I heard Galeotto's words to the Lord of Pagliano. "His heart is sound--
which is a miracle. That woman, it seems, could not quite dehumanize him."
And he came down heavily, to ask Falcone what news he bore.
The old equerry drew a letter from under his leathern jacket.
"From Ferrante?" quoth the Lord of Pagliano eagerly, peering over
"Ay," said Galeotto, and he broke the seal. He stood to read, with knitted
brows. "It is well," he said, at last, and passed the sheet to Cavalcanti.
"Farnese is in Piacenza already, and the Pope will sway the College to give
his bastard the ducal crown. It is time we stirred."
He turned to Falcone, whilst Cavalcanti read the letter. "Take food and
rest, good Gino. For to-morrow you ride again with me. And so shall you,
"I ride again?" I echoed, my heart sinking and some of my dismay showing
upon my face. "Whither?"
"To right the wrongs of Mondolfo," he answered shortly, and turned away.
THE GOVERNOR OF MILAN
We rode again upon the morrow as he had said, and with us went Falcone and
the same goodly company of twenty lances that had escorted me from Monte
Orsaro. But I took little thought for them or pride in such an escort now.
My heart was leaden. I had not seen Bianca again ere I departed, and
Heaven knew when we should return to Pagliano. Thus at least was I
answered by Galeotto when I made bold to ask the question.
Two days we rode, going by easy stages, and came at last upon that
wondrously fair and imposing city of Milan, in the very heart of the vast
plain of Lombardy with the distant Alps for background and northern
Our destination was the castle; and in a splendid ante-chamber, packed with
rustling, silken courtiers and clanking captains in steel, a sprinkling of
prelates and handsome, insolent-eyed women, more than one of whom reminded
me of Giuliana, and every one of whom I disparaged by comparing her with
Bianca, Galeotto and I stood waiting.
To many there he seemed known, and several came to greet him and some to
whisper in his ear. At last a pert boy in a satin suit that was striped in
the Imperial livery of black and yellow, pushed his way through the throng.
"Messer Galeotto," his shrill voice announced, "his excellency awaits you."
Galeotto took my arm, and drew me forward with him. Thus we went through a
lane that opened out before us in that courtly throng, and came to a
curtained door. An usher raised the curtain for us at a sign from the
page, who, opening, announced us to the personage within.
We stood in a small closet, whose tall, slender windows overlooked the
courtyard, and from the table, on which there was a wealth of parchments,
rose a very courtly gentleman to receive us out of a gilded chair, the arms
of which were curiously carved into the shape of serpents' heads.
He was a well-nourished, florid man of middle height, with a resolute
mouth, high cheek-bones, and crafty, prominent eyes that reminded me
vaguely of the eyes of the taverner of Pojetta. He was splendidly dressed
in a long gown of crimson damask edged with lynx fur, and the fingers of
his fat hands and one of his thumbs were burdened with jewels.
This was Ferrante Gonzaga, Prince of Molfetta, Duke of Ariano, the
Emperor's Lieutenant and Governor of the State of Milan.
The smile with which he had been ready to greet Galeotto froze slightly at
sight of me. But before he could voice the question obviously in his mind
my companion had presented me.
"Here, my lord, is one upon whom I trust that we may count when the time
comes. This is Agostino d'Anguissola, of Mondolfo and Carmina."
Surprise overspread Gonzaga's face. He seemed about to speak, and checked,
and his eyes were very searchingly bent upon Galeotto's face, which
remained inscrutable as stone. Then the Governor looked at me, and from me
back again at Galeotto. At last he smiled, whilst I bowed before him, but
very vaguely conscious of what might impend.
"The time," he said, "seems to be none too distant. The Duke of Castro--
this Pier Luigi Farnese--is so confident of ultimate success that already
he has taken up his residence in Piacenza, and already, I am informed, is
being spoken of as Duke of Parma and Piacenza."
"He has cause," said Galeotto. "Who is to withstand his election since the
Emperor, like Pilate, has washed his hands of the affair?"
A smile overspread Gonzaga's crafty face. "Do not assume too much
concerning the Emperor's wishes in the matter. His answer to the Pope was
that if Parma and Piacenza are Imperial fiefs--integral parts of the State
of Milan--it would ill become the Emperor to alienate them from an empire
which he holds merely in trust; whereas if they can be shown rightly to
belong to the Holy See, why then the matter concerns him not, and the Holy
See may settle it."
Galeotto shrugged and his face grew dark. "It amounts to an assent," he
"Not so," purred Gonzaga, seating himself once more. "It amounts to
nothing. It is a Sibylline answer which nowise prejudices what he may do
in future. We still hope," he added, "that the Sacred College may refuse
the investiture. Pier Luigi Farnese is not in good odour in the Curia."
"The Sacred College cannot withstand the Pope's desires. He has bribed it
with the undertaking to restore Nepi and Camerino to the States of the
Church in exchange for Parma and Piacenza, which are to form a State for
his son. How long, my lord, do you think the College will resist him?"
"The Spanish Cardinals all have the Emperor's desires at heart."
"The Spanish Cardinals may oppose the measure until they choke themselves
with their vehemence," was the ready answer. "There are enough of the
Pope's creatures to carry the election, and if there were not it would be
his to create more until there should be sufficient for his purpose. It is
an old subterfuge."
"Well, then," said Gonzaga, smiling, "since you are so assured, it is for
you and the nobles of Piacenza to be up and doing. The Emperor depends
upon you; and you may depend upon him."
Galeotto looked at the Governor out of his scarred face, and his eyes were
"I had hoped otherwise," he said. "That is why I have been slow to move.
That is why I have waited, why I have even committed the treachery of
permitting Pier Luigi to suppose me ready at need to engage in his
"Ah, there you play a dangerous game," said Gonzaga frankly.
"I'll play a more dangerous still ere I have done," he answered stoutly.
"Neither Pope nor Devil shall dismay me. I have great wrongs to right, as
none knows better than your excellency, and if my life should go in the
course of it, why"--he shrugged and sneered--"it is all that is left me;
and life is a little thing when a man has lost all else."
"I know, I know," said the sly Governor, wagging his big head, "else I had
not warned you. For we need you, Messer Galeotto."
"Ay, you need me; you'll make a tool of me--you and your Emperor. You'll
use me as a cat's-paw to pull down this inconvenient duke."
Gonzaga rose, frowning. "You go a little far, Messer Galeotto," he said.
"I go no farther than you urge me," answered the other.
"But patience, patience!" the Lieutenant soothed him, growing sleek again
in tone and manner. "Consider now the position. What the Emperor has
answered the Pope is no more than the bare and precise truth. It is not
clear whether the States of Parma and Piacenza belong to the Empire or the
Holy See. But let the people rise and show themselves ill-governed, let
them revolt against Farnese once he has been created their duke and when
thus the State shall have been alienated from the Holy See, and then you
may count upon the Emperor to step in as your liberator and to buttress up
"Do you promise us so much?" asked Galeotto.
"Explicitly," was the ready answer, "upon my most sacred honour. Send me
word that you are in arms, that the first blow has been struck, and I shall
be with you with all the force that I can raise in the Emperor's name."
"Your excellency has warrant for this?" demanded Galeotto.
"Should I promise it else? About it, sir. You may work with confidence."
"With confidence, yes," replied Galeotto gloomily, "but with no great hope.
The Pontifical government has ground the spirit out of half the nobles of
the Val di Taro. They have suffered so much and so repeatedly--in
property, in liberty, in life itself--that they are grown rabbit-hearted,
and would sooner cling to the little liberty that is still theirs than
strike a blow to gain what belongs to them by every right. Oh, I know them
of old! What man can do, I shall do; but..." He shrugged, and shook his
"Can you count on none?" asked Gonzaga, very serious, stroking his smooth,
"I can count upon one," answered Galeotto. "The Lord of Pagliano; he is
ghibelline to the very marrow, and he belongs to me. At my bidding there
is nothing he will not do. There is an old debt between us, and he is a
noble soul who will not leave his debts unpaid. Upon him I can count; and
he is rich and powerful. But then, he is not really a Piacentino himself.
He holds his fief direct from the Emperor. Pagliano is part of the State
of Milan, and Cavalcanti is no subject of Farnese. His case, therefore, is
exceptional and he has less than the usual cause for timidity. But the
others..." Again he shrugged. "What man can do to stir them, that will I
do. You shall hear from me soon again, my lord."
Gonzaga looked at me. "Did you not say that here was another?"
Galeotto smiled sadly. "Ay--just one arm and one sword. That is all.
Unless this emprise succeeds he is never like to rule in Mondolfo. He may
be counted upon; but he brings no lances with him."
"I see," said Gonzaga, his lip between thumb and forefinger. "But his
"That and his wrongs shall be used, depend upon it, my lord--the wrongs
which are his by inheritance."
I said no word. A certain resentment filled me to hear myself so disposed
of without being consulted; and yet it was tempered by a certain trust in
Galeotto, a faith that he would lead me into nothing unworthy.
Gonzaga conducted us to the door of the closet. "I shall look to hear from
you, Ser Galeotto," he said. "And if at first the nobles of the Val di
Taro are not to be moved, perhaps after they have had a taste of Messer
Pier Luigi's ways they will gather courage out of despair. I think we may
be hopeful if patient. Meanwhile, my master the Emperor shall be
Another moment and we were out of that florid, crafty, well-nourished
presence. The curtains had dropped behind us, and we were thrusting our
way through the press in the ante-chamber, Galeotto muttering to himself
things which as we gained the open air I gathered to be curses directed
against the Emperor and his Milanese Lieutenant.
In the inn of the sign of the Sun, by the gigantic Duomo of Visconti's
building, he opened the gates to his anger and let it freely forth.
"It is a world of cravens," he said, "a world of slothful, self-seeking,
supine cowards, Agostino. In the Emperor, at least, I conceived that we
should have found a man who would not be averse to acting boldly where his
interests must be served. More I had not expected of him; but that, at
least. And even in that he fails me. Oh, this Charles V!" he cried.
"This prince upon whose dominions the sun never sets! Fortune has bestowed
upon him all the favours in her gift, yet for himself he can do nothing.
"He is crafty, cruel, irresolute, and mistrustful of all. He is without
greatness of any sort, and he is all but Emperor of the World! Others must
do his work for him; others must compass the conquests which he is to
"Ah, well!" he ended, with a sneer, "perhaps as the world views these
things there is a certain greatness in that--the greatness of the fox."
Naturally there was much in this upon which I needed explanation, and I
made bold to intrude upon his anger to crave it. And it was then that I
learnt the true position of affairs.
Between France and the Empire, the State of Milan had been in contention
until quite lately, when Henri II had abandoned it to Charles V. And in
the State of Milan were the States of Parma and Piacenza, which Pope Julius
II had wrested from it and incorporated in the domain of the Church. The
act, however, was unlawful, and although these States had ever since been
under Pontifical rule, it was to Milan that they belonged, though Milan
never yet had had the power to enforce her rights. She had that power at
last, now that the Emperor's rule there was a thing determined, and it was
in this moment that papal nepotism was to make a further alienation of them
by constituting them into a duchy for the Farnese bastard, Pier Luigi, who
was already Duke of Castro.
Under papal rule the nobles--more particularly the ghibellines--and the
lesser tyrants of the Val di Taro had suffered rudely, plundered by
Pontifical brigandage, enduring confiscations and extortions until they
were reduced to a miserable condition. It was against the beginnings of
this that my father had raised his standard, to be crushed thorough the
supineness of his peers, who would not support him to save themselves from
being consumed in the capacious maw of Rome.
But what they had suffered hitherto would be as nothing to what they must
suffer if the Pope now had his way and if Pier Luigi Farnese were to become
their duke--an independent prince. He would break the nobles utterly, to
remain undisputed master of the territory. That was a conclusion foregone.
And yet our princelings saw the evil approaching them, and cowered
irresolute to await and suffer it.
They had depended, perhaps, upon the Emperor, who, it was known, did not
favour the investiture, nor would confirm it. It was remembered that
Ottavio Farnese-- Pier Luigi's son--was married to Margaret of Austria, the
Emperor's daughter, and that if a Farnese dominion there was to be in Parma
and Piacenza, the Emperor would prefer that it should be that of his own
son-in-law, who would hold the duchy as a fief of the Empire. Further was
it known that Ottavio was intriguing with Pope and Emperor to gain the
investiture in his own father's stead.
"The unnatural son!" I exclaimed upon learning that.
Galeotto looked at me, and smiled darkly, stroking his great beard.
"Say, rather, the unnatural father," he replied. "More honour to Ottavio
Farnese in that he has chosen to forget that he is Pier Luigi's son. It is
not a parentage in which any man--be he the most abandoned--could take
"How so?" quoth I.
"You have, indeed, lived out of the world if you know nothing of Pier Luigi
Farnese. I should have imagined that some echo of his turpitudes must have
penetrated even to a hermitage--that they would be written upon the very
face of Nature, which he outrages at every step of his infamous life. He
is a monster, a sort of antichrist; the most ruthless, bloody, vicious man
that ever drew the breath of life. Indeed, there are not wanting those who
call him a warlock, a dealer in black magic who has sold his soul to the
Devil. Though, for that matter, they say the same of the Pope his father,
and I doubt not that his magic is just the magic of a wickedness that is
"There is a fellow named Paolo Giovio, Bishop of Nocera, a charlatan and a
wretched dabbler in necromancy and something of an alchemist, who has
lately written the life of another Pope's son--Cesare Borgia, who lived
nigh upon half a century ago, and who did more than any man to consolidate
the States of the Church, though his true aim, like Pier Luigi's, was to
found a State for himself. I am given to think that for his model of a
Pope's bastard this Giovio has taken the wretched Farnese rogue, and
attributed to the son of Alexander VI the vices and infamies of this son of
"Even to attempt to draw a parallel is to insult the memory of the Borgia;
for he, at least, was a great captain and a great ruler, and he knew how to
endear to himself the fold that he governed; so that when I was a lad--
thirty years ago--there were still those in the Romagna who awaited the
Borgia's return, and prayed for it as earnestly as pray the faithful for
the second coming of the Messiah, refusing to believe that he was dead.
But this Pier Luigi!" He thrust out a lip contemptuously. "He is no
better than a thief, a murderer, a defiler, a bestial, lecherous dog!
And with that he began to relate some of the deeds of this man; and his
life, it seemed, was written in blood and filth--a tale of murders and
rapes and worse. And when as a climax he told me of the horrible, inhuman
outrage done to Cosimo Gheri, the young Bishop of Fano, I begged him to
cease, for my horror turned me almost physically sick.1
1 The incident to which Agostino here alludes is fully set forth by
Benedetto Varchi at the end of Book XVI of his Storia Fiorentina.
"That bishop was a holy man, of very saintly life," Galeotto insisted, "and
the deed permitted the German Lutherans to say that here was a new form of
martyrdom for saints invented by the Pope's son. And his father pardoned
him the deed, and others as bad, by a secret bull, absolving him from all
pains and penalties that he might have incurred through youthful frailty or
It was the relation of those horrors, I think, which, stirring my
indignation, spurred me even more than the thought of redressing the wrongs
which the Pontifical or Farnesian government would permit my mother to do
I held out my hand to Galeotto. "To the utmost of my little might," said
I, "you may depend upon me in this good cause in which you have engaged."
"There speaks the son of the house of Anguissola," said he, a light of
affection in his steel-coloured eyes. "And there are your father's wrongs
to right as well as the wrongs of humanity, remember. By this Pier Luigi
was he crushed; whilst those who bore arms with him at Perugia and were
taken alive..." He paused and turned livid, great beads of perspiration
standing upon his brow. "I cannot," he faltered, "I cannot even now, after
all these years, bear to think upon those horrors perpetrated by that
I was strangely moved at the sight of emotion in one who seemed emotionless
"I left the hermitage," said I, "in the hope that I might the better be
able to serve God in the world. I think you are showing me the way, Ser
PIER LUIGI FARNESE
We left Milan that same day, and there followed for some months a season of
wandering through Lombardy, going from castle to castle, from tyranny to
tyranny, just the three of us--Galeotto and myself with Falcone for our
equerry and attendant.
Surely something of the fanatic's temperament there must have been in me;
for now that I had embraced a cause, I served it with all the fanaticism
with which on Monte Orsaro I sought to be worthy of the course I had taken
I was become as an apostle, preaching a crusade or holy war against the
Devil's lieutenant on earth, Messer Pier Luigi Farnese, sometime Duke of
Castro, now Duke of Parma and Piacenza--for the investiture duly followed
in the August of that year, and soon his iron hand began to be felt
throughout the State of which the Pope had constituted him a prince.
And to the zest that was begotten of pure righteousness, Galeotto cunningly
added yet another and more worldly spur. We were riding one day in late
September of that year from Cortemaggiore, where we had spent a month in
seeking to stir the Pallavicini to some spirit of resistance, and we were
making our way towards Romagnese, the stronghold of that great Lombard
family of dal Verme.
As we were ambling by a forest path, Galeotto abruptly turned to me,
Falcone at the time being some little way in advance of us, and startled me
by his words.
"Cavalcanti's daughter seemed to move you strangely, Agostino," he said,
and watched me turn pale under his keen glance.
In my confusion--more or less at random--"What should Cavalcanti's daughter
be to me?" I asked.
"Why, what you will, I think," he answered, taking my question literally.
"Cavalcanti would consider the Lord of Mondolfo and Carmina a suitable mate
for his daughter, however he might hesitate to marry her to the landless
Agostino d'Anguissola. He loved your father better than any man that ever
lived, and such an alliance was mutually desired."
"Do you think I need this added spur?" quoth I.
"Nay, I know that you do not. But it is well to know what reward may wait
upon our labour. It makes that labour lighter and increases courage."
I hung my head, without answering him, and we rode silently amain.
He had touched me where the flesh was raw and tender. Bianca de'
Cavalcanti! It was a name I uttered like a prayer, like a holy invocation.
Just so had I been in a measure content to carry that name and the memory
of her sweet face. To consider her as the possible Lady of Mondolfo when I
should once more have come into my own, was to consider things that filled
me almost with despair.
Again I experienced such hesitations as had kept me from ever seeking her
at Pagliano, though I had been given the freedom of her garden. Giuliana
had left her brand upon me. And though Bianca had by now achieved for me
what neither prayers nor fasting could accomplish, and had exorcized the
unholy visions of Giuliana from my mind, yet when I came to consider Bianca
as a possible companion--as something more or something less than a saint
enthroned in the heaven created by my worship of her--there rose between us
ever that barrier of murder and adultery, a barrier which not even in
imagination did I dare to overstep.
I strove to put such thoughts from my mind that I might leave it free to do
the work to which I had now vowed myself.
All through that winter we pursued our mission. With the dal Verme we had
but indifferent success, for they accounted themselves safe, being, like
Cavalcanti, feudatories of the Emperor himself, and nowise included in the
territories of Parma and Piacenza. From Romagnese we made our way to the
stronghold of the Anguissola of Albarola, my cousins, who gave me a very
friendly welcome, and who, though with us in spirit and particularly urged
by their hatred of our guelphic cousin Cosimo who was now Pier Luigi's
favourite, yet hesitated as the others had done. And we met with little
better success with Sforza of Santafiora, to whose castle we next repaired,
or yet with the Landi, the Scotti, or Confalonieri. Everywhere the same
spirit of awe was abroad, and the same pusillanimity, content to hug the
little that remained rather than rear its head to demand that which by
So that when the spring came round again, and our mission done, our crusade
preached to hearts that would not be inflamed, we turned our steps once
more towards Pagliano, we were utterly dispirited men--although, for
myself, my despondency was tempered a little by the thought that I was to
see Bianca once more.
Yet before I come to speak of her again, let me have done with these
historical matters in so far as they touched ourselves.
We had left the nobles unresponsive, as you have seen. But soon the
prognostications of the crafty Gonzaga were realized. Soon Farnese,
through his excessive tyranny, stung them out of their apathy. The first
to feel his iron hand were the Pallavicini, whom he stripped of their lands
of Cortemaggiore, taking as hostages Girolamo Pallavicini's wife and
mother. Next he hurled his troops against the dal Verme, forcing Romagnese
to capitulate, and then seeking similarly to reduce their other fief of
Bobbio. Thence upon his all-conquering way, he marched upon Castel San
Giovanni, whence he sought to oust the Sforza, and at the same time he
committed the mistake of attempting to drive the Gonzaga out of Soragna.
This last rashness brought down upon his head the direct personal
resentment of Ferrante Gonzaga. With the Imperial troops at his heels the
Governor of Milan not only intervened to save Soragna for his family, but
forced Pier Luigi to disgorge Bobbio and Romagnese, restoring them to the
dal Verme, and compelled him to raise the siege of San Giovanni upon which
he was at the time engaged--claiming that both these noble houses were
feudatories of the Empire.
Intimidated by that rude lesson, Pier Luigi was forced to draw in his
steely claws. To console himself, he turned his attention to the Val di
Taro, and issued an edict commanding all nobles there to disarm, disband
their troops, quit their fortresses, and go to reside in the principal
cities of their districts. Those who resisted or demurred, he crushed at
once with exile and confiscation; and even those who meekly did his will,
he stripped of all privileges as feudal lords.
Even my mother, we heard, was forced to dismiss her trivial garrison,
having been ordered to close the Citadel of Mondolfo, and take up her
residence in our palace in the city itself. But she went further than she
was bidden--she took the veil in the Convent of Santa Chiara, and so
retired from the world.
The State began to ferment in secret at so much and such harsh tyranny.
Farnese was acting in Piacenza as Tarquin of old had acted in his garden,
slicing the tallest poppies from their stems. And soon to swell his
treasury, which not even his plunder, brigandage, and extortionate
confiscations could fill sufficiently to satisfy his greed, he set himself
to look into the past lives of the nobles, and to promulgate laws that were
retroactive, so that he was enabled to levy fresh fines and perpetrate
fresh sequestrations in punishment of deeds that had been done long years
Amongst these, we heard that he had Giovanni d'Anguissola decapitated in
effigy for his rebellion against the authority of the Holy See, and that my
tyrannies of Mondolfo and Carmina were confiscated from me because of my
offence in being Giovanni d'Anguissola's son. And presently we heard that
Mondolfo had been conferred by Farnese upon his good and loyal servant and
captain, the Lord Cosimo d'Anguissola, subject to a tax of a thousand
Galeotto ground his teeth and swore horribly when the news was brought us
from Piacenza, whilst I felt my heart sink and the last hope of Bianca--the
hope secretly entertained almost against hope itself--withering in my soul.
But soon came consolation. Pier Luigi had gone too far. Even rats when
cornered will turn at bay and bare their teeth for combat. So now the
nobles of the Valnure and the Val di Taro.
The Scotti, the Pallavicini, the Landi, and the Anguissola of Albarola,
came one after the other in secret to Pagliano to interview the gloomy
Galeotto. And at one gathering that was secretly held in a chamber of the
castle, he lashed them with his furious scorn.
"You are come now," he jeered at them, "now that you are maimed; now that
you have been bled of half your strength; now that most of your teeth are
drawn. Had you but had the spirit and good sense to rise six months ago
when I summoned you so to do, the struggle had been brief and the victory
certain. Now the fight will be all fraught with risk, dangerous to engage,
and uncertain of issue."
But it was they--these men who themselves had been so pusillanimous at
first--who now urged him to take the lead, swearing to follow him to the
death, to save for their children what little was still left them.
"In that spirit I will not lead you a step," he answered them. "If we
raise our standard, we fight for all our ancient rights, for all our
privileges, and for the restoration of all that has been confiscated; in
short, for the expulsion of the Farnese from these lands. If that is your
spirit, then I will consider what is to be done--for, believe me, open
warfare will no longer avail us here. What we have to do must be done by
guile. You have waited too long to resolve yourselves. And whilst you
have grown weak, Farnese has been growing strong. He has fawned upon and
flattered the populace; he has set the people against the nobles; he has
pretended that in crushing the nobles he was serving the people, and they--
poor fools!--have so far believed him that they will run to his banner in
any struggle that may ensue."
He dismissed them at last with the promise that they should hear from him,
and on the morrow, attended by Falcone only, he rode forth again from
Pagliano, to seek out the dal Verme and the Sforza of Santafiora and
endeavour to engage their interest against the man who had outraged them.
And that was early in August of the year '46.
I remained at Pagliano by Galeotto's request. He would have no need of me
upon his mission. But he might desire me to seek out some of the others of
the Val di Taro with such messages as he should send me.
And in all this time I had seen but little of Monna Bianca. We met under
her father's eye in that gold-and-purple dining-room; and there I would
devoutly, though surreptitiously, feast my eyes upon the exquisite beauty
of her. But I seldom spoke to her, and then it was upon the most trivial
matters; whilst although the summer was now full fragrantly unfolded, yet I
never dared to intrude into that garden of hers to which I had been bidden,
ever restrained by the overwhelming memory of the past.
So poignant was this memory that at times I caught myself wondering
whether, after all, I had not been mistaken in lending an ear so readily to
the arguments of Fra Gervasio, whether Fra Gervasio himself had not been
mistaken in assuming that my place was in the world, and whether I had not
done best to have carried out my original intention of seeking refuge in
some monastery in the lowly position of a lay brother.
Meanwhile the Lord of Pagliano used me in the most affectionate and
fatherly manner. But not even this sufficed to encourage me where his
daughter was concerned, and I seemed to observe also that Bianca herself,
if she did not actually avoid my society, was certainly at no pains to seek
What the end would have been but for the terrible intervention there was in
our affairs, I have often surmised without result.
It happened that one day, about a week after Galeotto had left us there
rode up to the gates of Pagliano a very magnificent company, and there was
great braying of horns, stamping of horses and rattle of arms.
My Lord Pier Luigi Farnese had been on a visit to his city of Parma, and on
his return journey had thought well to turn aside into the lands of ultra-
Po, and pay a visit to the Lord of Pagliano, whom he did not love, yet
whom, perhaps, it may have been his intention to conciliate, since hurt him
he could not.
Sufficiently severe had been the lesson he had received for meddling with
Imperial fiefs; and he must have been mad had he thought of provoking
further the resentment of the Emperor. To Farnese, Charles V was a
sleeping dog it was as well to leave sleeping.
He rode, then, upon his friendly visit into the Castle of Pagliano,
attended by a vast retinue of courtiers and ladies, pages, lackeys, and a
score of men-at-arms. A messenger had ridden on in advance to warn
Cavalcanti of the honour that the Duke proposed to do him, and Cavalcanti,
relishing the honour no whit, yet submitting out of discreetness, stood to
receive his excellency at the foot of the marble staircase with Bianca on
one side and myself upon the other.
Under the archway they rode, Farnese at the head of the cavalcade. He
bestrode a splendid white palfrey, whose mane and tail were henna-dyed,
whose crimson velvet trappings trailed almost to the ground. He was
dressed in white velvet, even to his thigh-boots, which were laced with
gold and armed with heavy gold spurs. A scarlet plume was clasped by a
great diamond in his velvet cap, and on his right wrist was perched a
He was a tall and gracefully shaped man of something over forty years of
age, black-haired and olive-skinned, wearing a small pointed beard that
added length to his face. His nose was aquiline, and he had fine eyes, but
under them there were heavy brown shadows, and as he came nearer it was
seen that his countenance was marred by an unpleasant eruption of sores.
After him came his gentlemen, a round dozen of them, with half that number
of splendid ladies, all a very dazzling company. Behind these, in blazing
liveries, there was a cloud of pages upon mules, and lackeys leading
sumpter-beasts; and then to afford them an effective background, a grey,
steel phalanx of men-at-arms.
I describe his entrance as it appeared at a glance, for I did not study it
or absorb any of its details. My horrified gaze was held by a figure that
rode on his right hand, a queenly woman with a beautiful pale countenance
and a lazy, insolent smile.
It was Giuliana.
How she came there I did not at the moment trouble to reflect. She was
there. That was the hideous fact that made me doubt the sight of my own
eyes, made me conceive almost that I was at my disordered visions again,
the fruit of too much brooding. I felt as if all the blood were being
exhausted from my heart, as if my limbs would refuse their office, and I
leaned for support against the terminal of the balustrade by which I stood.
She saw me. And after the first slight start of astonishment, her lazy
smile grew broader and more insolent. I was but indifferently conscious of
the hustle about me, of the fact that Cavalcanti himself was holding the
Duke's stirrup, whilst the latter got slowly to the ground and relinquished
his falcon to a groom who wore a perch suspended from his neck, bearing
three other hooded birds. Similarly I was no more than conscious of being
forced to face the Duke by words that Cavalcanti was uttering. He was
"This, my lord, is Agostino d'Anguissola."
I saw, as through a haze, the swarthy, pustuled visage frown down upon me.
I heard a voice which was at once harsh and effeminate and quite
detestable, saying in unfriendly tones:
"The son of Giovanni d'Anguissola of Mondolfo, eh?"
"The same, my lord," said Cavalcanti, adding generously--"Giovanni
d'Anguissola was my friend."
"It is a friendship that does you little credit, sir," was the harsh
answer. "It is not well to befriend the enemies of God."
Was it possible that I had heard aright? Had this human foulness dared to
speak of God?
"That is a matter upon which I will not dispute with a guest," said
Cavalcanti with an urbanity of tone belied by the anger that flashed from
his brown eyes.
At the time I thought him greatly daring, little dreaming that, forewarned
of the Duke's coming, his measures were taken, and that one blast from the
silver whistle that hung upon his breast would have produced a tide of men-
at-arms that would have engulfed and overwhelmed Messer Pier Luigi and his
Farnese dismissed the matter with a casual laugh. And then a lazy,
drawling voice--a voice that once had been sweetest music to my ears, but
now was loathsome as the croaking of Stygian frogs--addressed me.
"Why, here is a great change, sir saint! We had heard you had turned
anchorite; and behold you in cloth of gold, shining as you would out-dazzle
I stood palely before her, striving to keep the loathing from my face, and
I was conscious that Bianca had suddenly turned and was regarding us with
eyes of grave concern.
"I like you better for the change," pursued Giuliana. "And I vow that you
have grown at least another inch. Have you no word for me, Agostino?"
I was forced to answer her. "I trust that all is well with you, Madonna,"
Her lazy smile grew broader, displaying the dazzling whiteness of her
strong teeth. "Why, all is very well with me," said she, and her sidelong
glance at the Duke, half mocking, half kindly with an odious kindliness,
seemed to give added explanations.
That he should have dared bring here this woman whom no doubt he had
wrested from his creature Gambara--here into the shrine of my pure and
saintly Bianca--was something for which I could have killed him then, for
which I hated him far more bitterly than for any of those dark turpitudes
that I had heard associated with his odious name.
And meanwhile there he stood, that Pope's bastard, leaning over my Bianca,
speaking to her, and in his eyes the glow of a dark and unholy fire what
time they fed upon her beauty as the slug feeds upon the lily. He seemed
to have no thought for any other, nor for the circumstance that he kept us
all standing there.
"You must come to our Court at Piacenza, Madonna," I heard him murmuring.
"We knew not that so fair a flower was blossoming unseen in this garden of
Pagliano. It is not well that such a jewel should be hidden in this grey
casket. You were made to queen it in a court, Madonna; and at Piacenza you
shall be hailed and honoured as its queen." And so he rambled on with his
rough and trivial flattery, his foully pimpled face within a foot of hers,
and she shrinking before him, very white and mute and frightened. Her
father looked on with darkling brows, and Giuliana began to gnaw her lip
and look less lazy, whilst in the courtly background there was a respectful
murmuring babble, supplying a sycophantic chorus to the Duke's detestable
It was Cavalcanti, at last, who came to his daughter's rescue by a
peremptory offer to escort the Duke and his retinue within.
Pier Luigi's original intent had been to spend no more than a night at
Pagliano. But when the morrow came, he showed no sign of departing, nor
upon the next day, nor yet upon the next.
A week passed, and still he lingered, seeming to settle more and more in
the stronghold of the Cavalcanti, leaving the business of his Duchy to his
secretary Filarete and to his council, at the head of which, as I learnt,
was my old friend Annibale Caro.
And meanwhile, Cavalcanti, using great discreetness, suffered the Duke's
presence, and gave him and his suite most noble entertainment.
His position was perilous and precarious in the extreme, and it needed all
his strength of character to hold in curb the resentment that boiled within
him to see himself thus preyed upon; and that was not the worst. The worst
was Pier Luigi's ceaseless attentions to Bianca, the attentions of the
satyr for the nymph, a matter in which I think Cavalcanti suffered little
less than did I.
He hoped for the best, content to wait until cause for action should be
forced upon him. And meanwhile that courtly throng took its ease at
Pagliano. The garden that hitherto had been Bianca's own sacred domain,
the garden into which I had never yet dared set foot, was overrun now by
the Duke's gay suite--a cloud of poisonous butterflies. There in the
green, shaded alleys they disported themselves; in the lemon-grove, in the
perfumed rose-garden, by hedges of box and screens of purple clematis they
Bianca sought to keep her chamber in those days, and kept it for as long on
each day as was possible to her. But the Duke, hobbling on the terrace--
for as a consequence of his journey on horseback he had developed a slight
lameness, being all rotten with disease--would grow irritable at her
absence, and insistent upon her presence, hinting that her retreat was a
discourtesy; so that she was forced to come forth again, and suffer his
ponderous attentions and gross flatteries.
And three days later there came another to Pagliano, bidden thither by the
Duke, and this other was none else than my cousin Cosimo, who now called
himself Lord of Mondolfo, having been invested in that tyranny, as I have
On the morning after his arrival we met upon the terrace.
"My saintly cousin!" was his derisive greeting. "And yet another change in
you--out of sackcloth into velvet! The calendar shall know you as St.
Weathercock, I think--or, perhaps, St. Mountebank."
What followed was equally bitter and sardonic on his part, fiercely and
openly hostile on mine. At my hostility he had smiled cruelly.
"Be content with what is, my strolling saint," he said, in the tone of one
who gives a warning, "unless you would be back in your hermitage, or within
the walls of some cloister, or even worse. Already have you found it a
troublesome matter to busy yourself with the affairs of the world. You
were destined for sanctity." He came closer, and grew very fierce. "Do
not put it upon me to make a saint of you by sending you to Heaven."
"It might end in your own dispatch to Hell," said I. "Shall we essay it?"
"Body of God!" he snarled, laughter still lingering on his white face. "Is
this the mood of your holiness at present? What a bloodthirsty brave are
you become! Consider, pray, sir, that if you trouble me I have no need to
do my own office of hangman. There is sufficient against you to make the
Tribunal of the Ruota very busy; there is--can you have forgotten it?--that
little affair at the house of Messer Fifanti."
I dropped my glance, browbeaten for an instant. Then I looked at him
again, and smiled
"You are but a poor coward, Messer Cosimo," said I, "to use a shadow as a
screen. You know that nothing can be proved against me unless Giuliana
speaks, and that she dare not for her own sake. There are witnesses who
will swear that Gambara went to Fifanti's house that night. There is not
one to swear that Gambara did not kill Fifanti ere he came forth again; and
it is the popular belief, for his traffic with Giuliana is well-known, as
it is well-known that she fled with him after the murder--which, in itself,
is evidence of a sort. Your Duke has too great a respect for the feelings
of the populace," I sneered, "to venture to outrage them in such a matter.
Besides," I ended, "it is impossible to incriminate me without
incriminating Giuliana and, Messer Pier Luigi seems, I should say,
unwilling to relinquish the lady to the brutalities of a tribunal."
"You are greatly daring," said he, and he was pale now, for in that last
mention of Giuliana, it seemed that I had touched him where he was still
"Daring?" I rejoined. "It is more than I can say for you, Ser Cosimo.
Yours is the coward's fault of caution."
I thought to spur him. If this failed, I was prepared to strike him, for
my temper was beyond control. That he, standing towards me as he did,
should dare to mock me, was more than I could brook. But at that moment
there spoke a harsh voice just behind me.
"How, sir? What words are these?"
There, very magnificent in his suit of ivory velvet, stood the Duke. He
was leaning heavily upon his cane, and his face was more blotched than
ever, the sunken eyes more sunken.
"Are you seeking to quarrel with the Lord of Mondolfo?" quoth he, and I saw
by his smile that he used my cousin's title as a taunt.
Behind him was Cavalcanti with Bianca leaning upon his arm just as I had
seen her that day when she came with him to Monte Orsaro, save that now
there was a look as of fear in the blue depths of her eyes. A little on
one side there was a group composed of three of the Duke's gentlemen with
Giuliana and another of the ladies, and Giuliana was watching us with half-
"My lord," I answered, very stiff and erect, and giving him back look for
look, something perhaps of the loathing with which he inspired me imprinted
on my face, "my lord, you give yourself idle alarms. Ser Cosimo is too
cautious to embroil himself."
He limped toward me; leaning heavily upon his stick, and it pleased me that
of a good height though he was, he was forced to look up into my face.
"There is too much bad Anguissola blood in you," he said. "Be careful lest
out of our solicitude for you, we should find it well to let our leech
I laughed, looking into his blotched face, considering his lame leg and all
the evil humours in him.
"By my faith, I think it is your excellency needs the attentions of a
leech," said I, and flung all present into consternation by that answer.
I saw his face turn livid, and I saw the hand shake upon the golden head of
his cane. He was very sensitive upon the score of his foul infirmities.
His eyes grew baleful as he controlled himself. Then he smiled, displaying
a ruin of blackened teeth.
"You had best take care," he said. "It were a pity to cripple such fine
limbs as yours. But there is a certain matter upon which the Holy Office
might desire to set you some questions. Best be careful, sir, and avoid
disagreements with my captains."
He turned away. He had had the last word, and had left me cold with
apprehension, yet warmed by the consciousness that in the brief encounter
it was he who had taken the deeper wound.
He bowed before Bianca. "Oh, pardon me," he said. "I did not dream you
stood so near. Else no such harsh sounds should have offended your fair
ears. As for Messer d'Anguissola..." He shrugged as who would say, "Have
pity on such a boor!"
But her answer, crisp and sudden as come words that are spoken on impulse
or inspiration, dashed his confidence.
"Nothing that he said offended me," she told him boldly, almost scornfully.
He flashed me a glance that was full of venom, and I saw Cosimo smile,
whilst Cavalcanti started slightly at such boldness from his meek child.
But the Duke was sufficiently master of himself to bow again.
"Then am I less aggrieved," said he, and changed the subject. "Shall we to
the bowling lawn?" And his invitation was direct to Bianca, whilst his
eyes passed over her father. Without waiting for their answer, his
question, indeed, amounting to a command, he turned sharply to my cousin.
"Your arm, Cosimo," said he, and leaning heavily upon his captain he went
down the broad granite steps, followed by the little knot of courtiers,
and, lastly, by Bianca and her father.
As for me, I turned and went indoors, and there was little of the saint
left in me in that hour. All was turmoil in my soul, turmoil and hatred
and anger. Anon to soothe me came the memory of those sweet words that
Bianca had spoken in my defence, and those words emboldened me at last to
seek her but as I had never yet dared in all the time that I had spent at
I found her that evening, by chance, in the gallery over the courtyard.
She was pacing slowly, having fled thither to avoid that hateful throng of
courtiers. Seeing me she smiled timidly, and her smile gave me what little
further encouragement I needed. I approached, and very earnestly rendered
her my thanks for having championed my cause and supported me with the
express sign of her approval.
She lowered her eyes; her bosom quickened slightly, and the colour ebbed
and flowed in her cheeks.
"You should not thank me," said she. "What I did was done for justice's
"I have been presumptuous," I answered humbly, "in conceiving that it might
have been for the sake of me."
"But it was that also," she answered quickly, fearing perhaps that she had
pained me. "It offended me that the Duke should attempt to browbeat you.
I took pride in you to see you bear yourself so well and return thrust for
"I think your presence must have heartened me," said I. "No pain could be
so cruel as to seem base or craven in your eyes."
Again the tell-tale colour showed upon her lovely cheek. She began to pace
slowly down the gallery, and I beside her. Presently she spoke again.
"And yet," she said, " I would have you cautious. Do not wantonly affront
the Duke, for he is very powerful."
"I have little left to lose," said I.
"You have your life," said she.
"A life which I have so much misused that it must ever cry out to me in
She gave me a little fluttering, timid glance, and looked away again. Thus
we came in silence to the gallery's end, where a marble seat was placed,
with gay cushions of painted and gilded leather. She sank to it with a
little sigh, and I leaned on the balustrade beside her and slightly over
her. And now I grew strangely bold.
"Set me some penance," I cried, "that shall make me worthy."
Again came that little fluttering, frightened glance.
"A penance?" quoth she. "I do not understand."
"All my life," I explained, "has been a vain striving after something that
eluded me. Once I deemed myself devout; and because I had sinned and
rendered myself unworthy, you found me a hermit on Monte Orsaro, seeking by
penance to restore myself to the estate from which I had succumbed. That
shrine was proved a blasphemy; and so the penance I had done, the signs I
believed I had received, were turned to mockery. It was not there that I
should save myself. One night I was told so in a vision."
She gave an audible gasp, and looked at me so fearfully that I fell silent,
staring back at her.
"You knew!" I cried.
Long did her blue, slanting eyes meet my glance without wavering, as never
yet they had met it. She seemed to hesitate, and at the same time openly
to consider me.
"I know now," she breathed.
"What do you know?" My voice was tense with excitement.
"What was your vision?" she rejoined.
"Have I not told you? There appeared to me one who called me back to the
world; who assured me that there I should best serve God; who filled me
with the conviction that she needed me. She addressed me by name, and
spoke of a place of which I had never heard until that hour, but which
to-day I know."
"And you? And you?" she asked. "What answer did you make?"
"I called her by name, although until that hour I did not know it."
She bowed her head. Emotion set her all a-tremble.
"It is what I have so often wondered," she confessed, scarce above a
whisper. "And it is true--as true as it is strange!"
"True?" I echoed. "It was the only true miracle in that place of false
ones, and it was so clear a call of destiny that it decided me to return to
the world which I had abandoned. And yet I have since wondered why. Here
there seems to be no place for me any more than there was yonder. I am
devout again with a worldly devotion now, yet with a devotion that must be
Heaven-inspired, so pure and sweet it is. It has shut out from me all the
foulness of that past; and yet I am unworthy. And that is why I cry to you
to set me some penance ere I can make my prayer."
She could not understand me, nor did she. We were not as ordinary lovers.
We were not as man and maid who, meeting and being drawn each to the other,
fence and trifle in a pretty game of dalliance until the maid opines that
the appearances are safe, and that, her resistance having been of a seemly
length, she may now make the ardently desired surrender with all war's
honours. Nothing of that was in our wooing, a wooing which seemed to us,
now that we spoke of it, to have been done when we had scarcely met, done
in the vision that I had of her, and the vision that she had of me.
With averted eyes she set me now a question.
"Madonna Giuliana used you with a certain freedom on her arrival, and I
have since heard your name coupled with her own by the Duke's ladies. But
I have asked no questions of them. I know how false can be the tongues of
courtly folk. I ask it now of you. What is or was this Madonna Giuliana
"She was," I answered bitterly, "and God pity me that I must say it to
you--she was to me what Circe was to the followers of Ulysses."
She made a little moan, and I saw her clasp her hands in her lap; and the
sound and sight filled me with sorrow and despair. She must know. Better
that the knowledge should stand between us as a barrier which both could
see than that it should remain visible only to the eyes of my own soul, to
"0 Bianca! Forgive me!" I cried. "I did not know! I did not know! I was
a poor fool reared in seclusion and ripened thus for the first temptation
that should touch me. That is what on Monte Orsaro I sought to expiate,
that I might be worthy of the shrine I guarded then. That is what I would
expiate now that I might be worthy of the shrine whose guardian I would
become, the shrine at which I worship now."
I was bending very low above her little brown head, in which the threads of
the gold coif-net gleamed in the fading light.
"If I had but had my vision sooner," I murmured, "how easy it would have
been! Can you find mercy for me in your gentle heart? Can you forgive me,
"0 Agostino," she answered very sadly, and the sound of my name from her
lips, coming so naturally and easily, thrilled me like the sound of the
mystic music of Monte Orsaro. "What shall I answer you? I cannot now.
Give me leisure to think. My mind is all benumbed. You have hurt me so!"
"Me miserable!" I cried.
"I had believed you one who erred through excess of holiness."
"Whereas I am one who attempted holiness through excess of error."
"I had believed you so, so...0 Agostino!" It was a little wail of pain.
"Set me a penance," I implored her.
"What penance can I set you? Will any penance restore to me my shattered
I groaned miserably and covered my face with my hands. It seemed that I
was indeed come to the end of all my hopes; that the world was become as
much a mockery to me as had been the hermitage; that the one was to end for
me upon the discovery of a fraud, as had the other ended--with the
difference that in this case the fraud was in myself.
It seemed, indeed, that our first communion must be our last. Ever since
she had seen me step into that gold-and-purple dining-room at Pagliano, the
incarnation of her vision, as she was the incarnation of mine, Bianca must
have waited confidently for this hour, knowing that it was foreordained to
come. Bitterness and disillusion were all that it had brought her.
And then, ere more could be said, a thin, flute-like voice hissed down the
"Madonna Bianca! To hide your beauty from our hungry eyes. To quench the
light by which we guide our footsteps. To banish from us the happiness and
joy of your presence! Unkind, unkind!"
It was the Duke. In his white velvet suit he looked almost ghostly in the
deepening twilight. He hobbled towards us, his stick tapping the black-
and-white squares of the marble floor. He halted before her, and she put
aside her emotion, donned a worldly mask, and rose to meet him.
Then he looked at me, and his brooding eyes seemed to scan my face.
"Why! It is Ser Agostino, Lord of Nothing," he sneered, and down the
gallery rang the laugh of my cousin Cosimo, and there came, too, a ripple
of other voices.
Whether to save me from friction with those steely gentlemen who aimed at
grinding me to powder, whether from other motives, Bianca set her finger-
tips upon the Duke's white sleeve and moved away with him.
I leaned against the balustrade all numb, watching them depart. I saw
Cosimo come upon her other side and lean over her as he moved, so slim and
graceful, beside her own slight, graceful figure. Then I sank to the
cushions of the seat she had vacated, and stayed there with my misery until
the night had closed about the place, and the white marble pillars looked
ghostly and unreal.
I prayed that evening more fervently than I had prayed since quitting Monte
Orsaro. It was as if all the influences of my youth, which lately had been
shaken off in the stir of intrigue and of rides that had seemed the prelude
to battle, were closing round me again.
Even as a woman had lured me once from the ways to which I seemed
predestined, only to drive me back once more the more frenziedly, so now it
almost seemed as if again a woman should have lured me to the world but to
drive me from it again and more resolutely than ever. For I was anew upon
the edge of a resolve to have done with all human interests and to seek the
peace and seclusion of the cloister.
And then I bethought me of Gervasio. I would go to him for guidance, as I
had done aforetime. I would ride on the morrow to seek him out in the
convent near Piacenza to which he had withdrawn.
I was disturbed at last by the coming of a page to my chamber with the
announcement that my lord was already at supper.
I had thoughts of excusing myself, but in the end I went.
The repast was spread, as usual, in the banqueting-hall of the castle; and
about the splendid table was Pier Luigi's company, amounting to nigh upon a
score in all. The Duke himself sat on Monna Bianca's right, whilst on her
left was Cosimo.
Heeding little whether I was observed or not, I sank to a vacant place,
midway down the board, between one of the Duke's pretty young gentlemen and
one of the ladies of that curious train--a bold-eyed Roman woman, whose
name, I remember, was Valeria Cesarini, but who matters nothing in these
pages. Almost facing me sat Giuliana, but I was hardly conscious of her,
or conscious, indeed, of any save Monna Bianca.
Once or twice Bianca's glance met mine, but it fell away again upon the
instant. She was very pale, and there were wistful lines about her lips;
yet her mood was singular. Her eyes had an unnatural sparkle, and ever and
anon she would smile at what was said to her in half-whispers, now by the
Duke, now by Cosimo, whilst once or twice she laughed outright. Gone was
the usual chill reserve with which she hedged herself about to distance the
hateful advances of Pier Luigi. There were moments now when she seemed
almost flattered by his vile ogling and adulatory speeches, as if she had
been one of those brazen ladies of his Court.
It wounded me sorely. I could not understand it, lacking the wit to see
that this queer mood sprang from the blow I had dealt her, and was the
outward manifestation of her own pain at the shattering of the illusions
she had harboured concerning myself.
And so I sat there moodily, gnawing my lip and scowling darkly upon Pier
Luigi and upon my cousin, who was as assiduous in his attentions as his
master, and who seemed to be receiving an even greater proportion of her
favours. One little thing there was to hearten me. Looking at the Lord of
Pagliano, who sat at the table's head, I observed that his glance was dark
as it kept watch upon his daughter--that chaste white lily that seemed of a
sudden to have assumed such wanton airs.
It was a matter that stirred me to battle, and forgotten again were my
resolves to seek Gervasio, forgotten all notion of abandoning the world for
the second time. Here was work to be done. Bianca was to be guarded.
Perhaps it was in this that she would come to have need of me.
Once Cosimo caught my gloomy looks, and he leaned over to speak to the
Duke, who glanced my way with languid, sneering eyes. He had a score to
settle with me for the discomfiture he had that morning suffered at my
hands thanks to Bianca's collaboration. He was a clumsy fool, when all is
said, and confident now of her support--from the sudden and extreme
friendliness of her mood--he ventured to let loose a shaft at me in a tone
that all the table might overhear.
"That cousin of yours wears a very conventual hang-dog look," said he to
Cosimo. And then to the lady on my right--"Forgive, Valeria," he begged,
"the scurvy chance that should have sat a shaveling next to you." Lastly
he turned to me to complete this gross work of offensiveness.
"When do you look, sir, to enter the life monastic for which Heaven has so
clearly designed you?"
There were some sycophants who tittered at his stupid pleasantry; then the
table fell silent to hear what answer I should make, and a frown sat like a
thundercloud upon the brow of Cavalcanti.
I toyed with my goblet, momentarily tempted to fling its contents in his
pustuled face, and risk the consequences. But I bethought me of something
else that would make a deadlier missile.
"Alas!" I sighed. "I have abandoned the notion--constrained to it."
He took my bait. "Constrained?" quoth he. "Now what fool did so constrain
"No fool, but circumstance," I answered. "It has occurred to me," I
explained, and I boldly held his glance with my own, "that as a simple monk
my life would be fraught with perils, seeing that in these times even a
bishop is not safe."
Saving Bianca (who in her sweet innocence did not so much as dream of the
existence of such vileness as that to which I was referring and by which a
saintly man had met his death) I do not imagine that there was a single
person present who did not understand to what foul crime I alluded.
The silence that followed my words was as oppressive as the silence which
in Nature preludes thunder.
A vivid flame of scarlet had overspread the Duke's countenance. It
receded, leaving his cheeks a greenish white, even to the mottling pimples.
Abashed, his smouldering eyes fell away before my bold, defiant glance.
The fingers of his trembling hand tightened about the slender stem of his
Venetian goblet, so that it snapped, and there was a gush of crimson wine
upon the snowy napery. His lips were drawn back--like a dog's in the act
of snarling--and showed the black stumps of his broken teeth. But he made
no sound, uttered no word. It was Cosimo who spoke, half rising as he did
"This insolence, my lord Duke, must be punished; this insult wiped out.
But Pier Luigi reached forward across Bianca, set a hand upon my cousin's
sleeve, and pressed him back into his seat silencing him.
"Let be," he said. And looked up the board at Cavalcanti. "It is for my
Lord of Pagliano to say if a guest shall be thus affronted at his board."
Cavalcanti's face was set and rigid. "You place a heavy burden on my
shoulders," said he, "when your excellency, my guest, appeals to me against
another guest of mine--against one who is all but friendless and the son of
my own best friend."
"And my worst enemy," cried Pier Luigi hotly.
"That is your excellency's own concern, not mine," said Cavalcanti coldly.
"But since you appeal to me I will say that Messer d'Anguissola's words
were ill-judged in such a season. Yet in justice I must add that it is not
the way of youth to weigh its words too carefully; and you gave him
provocation. When a man--be he never so high--permits himself to taunt
another, he would do well to see that he is not himself vulnerable to
Farnese rose with a horrible oath, and every one of his gentlemen with him.
"My lord," he said, "this is to take sides against me; to endorse the
"Then you mistake my intention," rejoined Cavalcanti, with an icy dignity.
"You appeal to me for judgment. And between guests I must hold the scales
dead-level, with no thought for the rank of either. Of your chivalry, my
lord Duke, you must perceive that I could not do else."
It was the simplest way in which he could have told Farnese that he cared
nothing for the rank of either, and of reminding his excellency that
Pagliano, being an Imperial fief, was not a place where the Duke of Parma
might ruffle it unchecked.
Messer Pier Luigi hesitated, entirely out of countenance. Then his eyes
turned to Bianca, and his expression softened.
"What says Madonna Bianca?" he inquired, his manner reassuming some measure
of its courtliness. "Is her judgment as unmercifully level?"
She looked up, startled, and laughed a little excitedly, touched by the
tenseness of a situation which she did not understand.
"What say I?" quoth she. "Why, that here is a deal of pother about some
"And there," cried Pier Luigi, "spoke, I think, not only beauty but
wisdom--Minerva's utterances from the lips of Diana!"
In glad relief the company echoed his forced laugh, and all sat down again,
the incident at an end, and my contempt of the Duke increased to see him
permit such a matter to be so lightly ended.
But that night, when I had retired to my chamber, I was visited by
Cavalcanti. He was very grave.
"Agostino," he said, "let me implore you to be circumspect, to keep a curb
upon your bitter tongue. Be patient, boy, as I am--and I have more to
"I marvel, sir, that you endure it," answered I, for my mood was petulant.
"You will marvel less when you are come to my years--if, indeed, you come
to them. For if you pursue this course, and strike back when such men as
Pier Luigi tap you, you will not be likely to see old age. Body of Satan!
I would that Galeotto were here! If aught should happen to you..." He
checked, and set a hand upon my shoulder.
"For your father's sake I love you, Agostino, and I speak as one who loves
"I know, I know!" I cried, seizing his hand in a sudden penitence. "I am
an ingrate and a fool. And you upheld me nobly at table. Sir, I swear
that I will not submit you to so much concern again."
He patted my shoulder in a very friendly fashion, and his kindly eyes
smiled upon me. "If you but promise that--for your own sake, Agostino--we
need say no more. God send this papal by-blow takes his departure soon,
for he is as unwelcome here as he is unbidden."
"The foul toad!" said I. "To see him daily, hourly bending over Monna
Bianca, whispering and ogling--ugh!"
"It offends you, eh? And for that I love you! There. Be circumspect and
patient, and all will be well. Put your faith in Galeotto, and endure
insults which you may depend upon him to avenge when the hour strikes."
Upon that he left me, and he left me with a certain comfort. And in the
days that followed, I acted upon his injunction, though, truth to tell,
there was little provocation to do otherwise. The Duke ignored me, and all
the gentlemen of his following did the like, including Cosimo. And
meanwhile they revelled at Pagliano and made free with the hospitality to
which they had not been bidden.
Thus sped another week in which I had not the courage again to approach
Bianca after what had passed between us at our single interview. Nor for
that matter was I afforded the opportunity. The Duke and Cosimo were ever
at her side, and yet it almost seemed as if the Duke had given place to his
captain, for Cosimo's was the greater assiduity now.
The days were spent at bowls or pallone within the castle, or upon hawking-
parties or hunting-parties when presently the Duke's health was
sufficiently improved to enable him to sit his horse; and at night there
was feasting which Cavalcanti must provide, and on some evenings we danced,
though that was a diversion in which I took no part, having neither the
will nor the art.
One night as I sat in the gallery above the great hall, watching them
footing it upon the mosaic floor below, Giuliana's deep, slow voice behind
me stirred me out of my musings. She had espied me up there and had come
to join me, although hitherto I had most sedulously avoided her, neither
addressing her nor giving her the opportunity to address me since the first
brazen speech on her arrival.
"That white-faced lily, Madonna Bianca de' Cavalcanti, seems to have caught
the Duke in her net of innocence," said she.
I started round as if I had been stung, and at sight of my empurpling face
she slowly smiled, the same hateful smile that I had seen upon her face
that day in the garden when Gambara had bargained for her with Fifanti.
"You are greatly daring," said I.
"To take in vain the name of her white innocence?" she answered, smiling
superciliously. And then she grew more serious. "Look, Agostino, we were
friends once. I would be your friend now."
"It is a friendship, Madonna, best not given expression."
"Ha! We are very scrupulous--are we not?--since we have abandoned the ways
of holiness, and returned to this world of wickedness, and raised our eyes
to the pale purity of the daughter of Cavalcanti!" She spoke sneeringly.
"What is that to you?" I asked.
"Nothing," she answered frankly. "But that another may have raised his
eyes to her is something. I am honest with you. If this child is aught to
you, and you would not lose her, you would do well to guard her more
closely than you are wont. A word in season. That is all my message."
"Stay!" I begged her now, for already she was gliding away through the
shadows of the gallery.
She laughed over her shoulder at me--the very incarnation of effrontery and
"Have I moved you into sensibility?" quoth she. "Will you condescend to
questions with one whom you despise?--as, indeed," she added with a
stinging scorn, you have every right to do."
"Tell me more precisely what you mean," I begged her, for her words had
moved me fearfully.
"Gesu!" she exclaimed. "Can I be more precise? Must I add counsels? Why,
then, I counsel that a change of air might benefit Madonna Bianca's health,
and that if my Lord of Pagliano is wise, he will send her into retreat in
some convent until the Duke's visit here is at an end. And I can promise
you that in that case it will be the sooner ended. Now, I think that even
a saint should understand me."
With that last gibe she moved resolutely on and left me.
Of the gibe I took little heed. What imported was her warning. And I did
not doubt that she had good cause to warn me. I remembered with a shudder
her old-time habit of listening at doors. It was very probable that in
like manner had she now gathered information that entitled her to give me
It was incredible. And yet I knew that it was true, and I cursed my
blindness and Cavalcanti's. What precisely Farnese's designs might be I
could not conceive. It was hard to think that he should dare so much as
Giuliana more than hinted. It may be that, after all, there was no more
than just the danger of it, and that her own base interests urged her to do
what she could to avert it.
In any case, her advice was sound; and perhaps, as she said, the removal of
Bianca quietly might be the means of helping Pier Luigi's unwelcome visit
to an end.
Indeed, it was so. It was Bianca who held him at Pagliano, as the blindest
idiot should have perceived.
That very night I would seek out Cavalcanti ere I retired to sleep.
THE TALONS OF THE HOLY OFFICE
Acting upon my resolve, I went to wait for Cavalcanti in the little
anteroom that communicated with his bedroom. My patience was tried, for he
was singularly late in coming; fully an hour passed after all the sounds
had died down in the castle and it was known that all had retired, and
still there was no sign of him.
I asked one of the pages who lounged there waiting for their master, did he
think my lord would be in the library, and the boy was conjecturing upon
this unusual tardiness of Cavalcanti's in seeking his bed, when the door
opened, and at last he appeared.
When he found me awaiting him, a certain eagerness seemed to light his
face; a second's glance showed me that he was in the grip of some unusual
agitation. He was pale, with a dull flush under the eyes, and the hand
with which he waved away the pages shook, as did his voice when he bade
them depart, saying that he desired to be alone with me awhile.
When the two slim lads had gone, he let himself fall wearily into a tall,
carved chair that was placed near an ebony table with silver feet in the
middle of the room.
But instead of unburdening himself as I fully expected, he looked at me,
"What is it, Agostino?" he inquired.
"I have thought," I answered after a moment's hesitation, "of a means by
which this unwelcome visit of Farnese's might be brought to an end."
And with that I told him as delicately as was possible that I believed
Madonna Bianca to be the lodestone that held him there, and that were she
removed from his detestable attentions, Pagliano would cease to amuse him
and he would go his ways.
There was no outburst such as I had almost looked for at the mere
suggestion contained in my faltering words. He looked at me gravely and
sadly out of that stern face of his.
"I would you had given me this advice two weeks ago," he said. "But who
was to have guessed that this pope's bastard would have so prolonged his
visit? For the rest, however, you are mistaken, Agostino. It is not he
who has dared to raise his eyes as you suppose to Bianca. Were such the
case, I should have killed him with my hands were he twenty times the Duke
of Parma. No, no. My Bianca is being honourably wooed by your cousin
I looked at him, amazed. It could not be. I remembered Giuliana's words.
Giuliana did not love me, and were it as he supposed she would have seen no
cause to intervene. Rather might she have taken a malicious pleasure in
witnessing my own discomfiture, in seeing the sweet maid to whom I had
raised my eyes, snatched away from me by my cousin who already usurped so
much that was my own.
"0, you must be mistaken," I cried.
"Mistaken?" he echoed. He shook his head, smiling bitterly. "There is no
possibility of mistake. I am just come from an interview with the Duke and
his fine captain. Together they sought me out to ask my daughter's hand
for Cosimo d'Anguissola."
"And you?" I cried, for this thrust aside my every doubt.
"And I declined the honour," he answered sternly, rising in his agitation.
"I declined it in such terms as to leave them no doubt upon the irrevocable
quality of my determination; and then this pestilential Duke had the
effrontery to employ smiling menaces, to remind me that he had the power to
compel folk to bend the knee to his will, to remind me that behind him he
had the might of the Pontiff and even of the Holy Office. And when I
defied him with the answer that I was a feudatory of the Emperor, he
suggested that the Emperor himself must bow before the Court of the
"My God!" I cried in liveliest fear.
"An idle threat!" he answered contemptuously, and set himself to stride the
room, his hands clasped behind his broad back.
"What have I to do with the Holy Office?" he snorted. "But they had worse
indignities for me, Agostino. They mocked me with a reminder that Giovanni
d'Anguissola had been my firmest friend. They told me they knew it to have
been my intention that my daughter should become the Lady of Mondolfo, and
to cement the friendship by making one State of Pagliano, Mondolfo and
Carmina. And they added that by wedding her to Cosimo d'Anguissola was the
way to execute that plan, for Cosimo, Lord of Mondolfo already, should
receive Carmina as a wedding-gift from the Duke."
"Was such indeed your intention?" I asked scarce above a whisper, overawed
as men are when they perceive precisely what their folly and wickedness
have cost them.
He halted before me, and set one hand of his upon my shoulder, looking up
into my face. "It has been my fondest dream, Agostino," he said.
I groaned. "It is a dream that never can be realized now," said I
"Never, indeed, if Cosimo d'Anguissola continues to be Lord of Mondolfo,"
he answered, his keen, friendly eyes considering me.
I reddened and paled under his glance.
"Nor otherwise," said I. "For Monna Bianca holds me in the contempt which
I deserve. Better a thousand times that I should have remained out of this
world to which you caused me to return--unless, indeed, my present torment
is the expiation that is required of me unless, indeed, I was but brought
back that I might pay with suffering for all the evil that I have wrought."
He smiled a little. "Is it so with you? Why, then, you afflict yourself
too soon, boy. You are over-hasty to judge. I am her father, and my
little Bianca is a book in which I have studied deeply. I read her better
than do you, Agostino. But we will talk of this again."
He turned away to resume his pacing in the very moment in which he had
fired me with such exalted hopes. "Meanwhile, there is this Farnese dog
with his parcel of minions and harlots making a sty of my house. He
threatens to remain until I come to what he terms a reasonable mind--until
I consent to do his will and allow my daughter to marry his henchman; and
he parted from me enjoining me to give the matter thought, and impudently
assuring me that in Cosimo d'Anguissola--in that guelphic jackal--I had a
husband worthy of Bianca de' Cavalcanti."
He spoke it between his teeth, his eyes kindling angrily again.
"The remedy, my lord, is to send Bianca hence," I said. "Let her seek
shelter in a convent until Messer Pier Luigi shall have taken his
departure. And if she is no longer here, Cosimo will have little
inclination to linger."
He flung back his head, and there was defiance in every line of his clear-
cut face. "Never!" he snapped. "The thing could have been done two weeks
ago, when they first came. It would have seemed that the step was
determined before his coming, and that in my independence I would not alter
my plans. But to do it now were to show fear of him; and that is not my
"Go, Agostino. Let me have the night to think. I know not how to act.
But we will talk again to-morrow."