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The Strolling Saint by Raphael Sabatini

Part 7 out of 7

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Long since I had ceased so much as to kiss her finger-tips. But to kiss
the very air she breathed was fraught with danger to my peace of mind. And
then one evening, as we paced the garden together, I had a moment's
madness, a moment in which my yearnings would no longer be repressed.
Without warning I swung about, caught her in my arms, and crushed her to

I saw the sudden flicker of her eyelids, the one swift upward glance of her
blue eyes, and I beheld in them a yearning akin to my own, but also a
something of fear that gave me pause.

I put her from me. I knelt and kissed the hem of her mourning gown.

"Forgive me, sweet." I besought her very humbly.

"My poor Agostino," was all she answered me, what time her fingers
fluttered gently over my sable hair.

Thereafter I shunned her for a whole week, and was never in her company
save at meals under the eyes of our attendants.

At last, one day in the early part of September, on the very anniversary of
her father's death--the eighth of that month it was, and a Thursday--came
Galeotto with a considerable company of men-at-arms; and that night he was
gay and blithe as I had never seen him in these twelve months past.

When we were alone, the cause of it, which already I suspected, at last

"It is the hour," he said very pregnantly. "His sands are swiftly running
out. To-morrow, Agostino, you ride with me to Piacenza. Falcone shall
remain here to captain the men in case any attempt should be made upon
Pagliano, which is not likely."

And now he told us of the gay doings there had been in Piacenza for the
occasion of the visit of the Duke's son Ottavio--that same son-in-law of
the Emperor whom the latter befriended, yet not to the extent of giving him
the duchy in his father's place when that father should have gone to answer
for his sins.

Daily there had been jousts and tournaments and all manner of gaieties, for
which the Piacentini had been sweated until they could sweat no more.
Having fawned upon the people that they might help him to crush the barons,
Farnese was now crushing the people whose service he no longer needed.
Extortion had reduced them to poverty and despair and their very houses
were being pulled down to supply material for the new citadel, the Duke
recking little who might thus be left without a roof over his head.

"He has gone mad," said Galeotto, and laughed. "Pier Luigi could not more
effectively have played his part so as to serve our ends. The nobles he
alienated long ago, and now the very populace is incensed against him and
weary of his rapine. It is so bad with him that of late he has remained
shut in the citadel, and seldom ventures abroad, so as to avoid the sight
of the starving faces of the poor and the general ruin that he is making of
that fair city. He has given out that he is ill. A little blood-letting
will cure all his ills for ever."

Upon the morrow Galeotto picked thirty of his men, and gave them their
orders. They were to depose their black liveries, and clad as countryfolk,
but armed as countryfolk would be for a long journey, they were severally
to repair afoot to Piacenza, and assemble there upon the morning of
Saturday at the time and place he indicated. They went, and that afternoon
we followed.

"You will come back to me, Agostino?" Bianca said to me at parting.

"I will come back," I answered, and bowing I left her, my heart very heavy.

But as we rode the prospect of the thing to do warmed me a little, and I
shook off my melancholy. Optimism coloured the world for me all of the
rosy hue of promise.

We slept in Piacenza that night, in a big house in the street that leads to
the Church of San Lazzaro, and there was a company of perhaps a dozen
assembled there, the principals being the brothers Pallavicini of
Cortemaggiore, who had been among the first to feel the iron hand of Pier
Luigi; there were also present Agostino Landi, and the head of the house of

We sat after supper about a long table of smooth brown oak, which reflected
as in a pool the beakers and flagons with which it was charged, when
suddenly Galeotto span a coin upon the middle of it. It fell flat
presently, showing the ducal arms and the inscription of which the
abbreviation PLAC was a part.

Galeotto set his finger to it. "A year ago I warned him," said he, "that
his fate was written there in that shortened word. To-morrow I shall read
the riddle for him."

I did not understand the allusion and said so.

"Why," he explained, not only to me but to others whose brows had also been
knit, "first 'Plac' stands for Placentia where he will meet his doom; and
then it contains the initials of the four chief movers in this
undertaking--Pallavicini, Landi, Anguissola, and Confalonieri."

"You force the omen to come true when you give me a leader's rank in this
affair," said I.

He smiled but did not answer, and returned the coin to his pocket.

And now the happening that is to be related is to be found elsewhere, for
it is a matter of which many men have written in different ways, according
to their feelings or to the hand that hired them to the writing.

Soon after dawn Galeotto quitted us, each of us instructed how to act.

Later in the morning, as I was on my way to the castle, where we were to
assemble at noon, I saw Galeotto riding through the streets at the Duke's
side. He had been beyond the gates with Pier Luigi on an inspection of the
new fortress that was building. It appeared that once more there was talk
between the Duke and Galeotto of the latter's taking service under him, and
Galeotto made use of this circumstance to forward his plans. He was, I
think, the most self-contained and patient man that it would have been
possible to find for such an undertaking.

In addition to the condottiero, a couple of gentlemen on horseback attended
the Duke, and half a score of his Swiss lanzknechte in gleaming corselets
and steel morions, shouldering their formidable pikes, went afoot to hedge
his excellency.

The people fell back before that little company; the citizens doffed their
caps with the respect that is begotten of fear, but their air was sullen
and in the main they were silent, though here and there some knave, with
the craven adulation of those born to serve at all costs, raised a feeble
shout of "Duca!"

The Duke moved slowly at little more than a walking pace, for he was all
crippled again by the disease that ravaged him, and his face, handsome in
itself, was now repulsive to behold; it was a livid background for the
fiery pustules that mottled it, and under the sunken eyes there were great
brown stains of suffering.

I flattened myself against a wall in the shadow of a doorway lest he should
see me, for my height made me an easy mark in that crowd. But he looked
neither to right nor to left as he rode. Indeed, it was said that he could
no longer bear to meet the glances of the people he had so grossly abused
and outraged with deeds that are elsewhere abundantly related, and with
which I need not turn your stomachs here.

When they had gone by, I followed slowly in their wake towards the castle.
As I turned out of the fine road that Gambara had built, I was joined by
the brothers Pallavicini, a pair of resolute, grizzled gentlemen, the elder
of whom, as you will remember, was slightly lame. With an odd sense of
fitness they had dressed themselves in black. They were accompanied by
half a dozen of Galeotto's men, but these bore no device by which they
could be identified. We exchanged greetings, and stepped out together
across the open space of the Piazza della Citadella towards the fortress.

We crossed the drawbridge, and entered unchallenged by the guard. People
were wont to come and go, and to approach the Duke it was necessary to pass
the guard in the ante-chamber above, whose business it was to question all

Moreover the only guard set consisted of a couple of Swiss who lounged in
the gateway, the garrison being all at dinner, a circumstance upon which
Galeotto had calculated in appointing noon as the hour for the striking of
the blow.

We crossed the quadrangle, and passing under a second archway came into the
inner bailey as we had been bidden. Here we were met by Confalonieri, who
also had half a dozen men with him. He greeted us, and issued his orders

"You, Ser Agostino, are to come with us, whilst you others are to remain
here until Messer Landi arrives with the remainder of our forces. He
should have a score of men with him, and they will cut down the guard when
they enter. The moment that is done let a pistol-shot be discharged as the
signal to us above, and proceed immediately to take up the bridge and
overpower the Swiss who should still be at table. Landi has his orders and
knows how to act."

The Pallavicini briefly spoke their assents, and Confalonieri, taking me by
the arm, led me quickly above-stairs, his half-dozen men following close
upon our heels. Upon none was there any sign of armour. But every man
wore a shirt of mail under his doublet or jerkin.

We entered the ante-chamber--a fine, lofty apartment, richly hung and
richly furnished. It was empty of courtiers, for all were gone to dine
with the captain of the guard, who had been married upon that very morning
and was giving a banquet in honour of the event, as Galeotto had informed
himself when he appointed the day.

Over by a window sat four of the Swiss--the entire guard--about a table
playing at dice, their lances deposited in an angle of the wall.

Watching their game--for which he had lingered after accompanying the Duke
thus far--stood the tall, broad-shouldered figure of Galeotto. He turned
as we entered, and gave us an indifferent glance as if we were of no
interest to him, then returned his attention to the dicers.

One or two of the Swiss looked up at us casually. The dice rattled
merrily, and there came from the players little splutters of laughter and
deep guttural, German oaths.

At the room's far end, by the curtains that masked the door of the chamber
where Farnese sat at dinner, stood an usher in black velvet, staff in hand,
who took no more interest in us than did the Swiss.

We sauntered over to the dicers' table, and in placing ourselves the better
to watch their game, we so contrived that we entirely hemmed them into the
embrasure, whilst Confalonieri himself stood with his back to the pikes, an
effective barrier between the men and their weapons.

We remained thus for some moments whilst the game went on, and we laughed
with the winners and swore with the losers, as if our hearts were entirely
in the dicing and we had not another thought in the world.

Suddenly a pistol-shot crackled below, and startled the Swiss, who looked
at one another. One burly fellow whom they named Hubli held the dice-box
poised for a throw that was never made.

Across the courtyard below men were running with drawn swords, shouting as
they ran, and hurled themselves through the doorway leading to the quarters
where the Swiss were at table. This the guards saw through the open
window, and they stared, muttering German oaths to express their deep

And then there came a creak of winches and a grinding of chains to inform
us that the bridge was being taken up. At last those four lanzknechte
looked at us.

"Beim blute Gottes!" swore Hubli. "Was giebt es?"

Our set faces, showing no faintest trace of surprise, quickened their
alarm, and this became flavoured by suspicion when they perceived at last
how closely we pressed about them.

"Continue your game," said Confalonieri quietly, "it will be best for you."

The great blonde fellow Hubli flung down the dice-box and heaved himself up
truculently to face the speaker who stood between him and the lances.
Instantly Confalonieri stabbed him, and he sank back into his chair with a
cry, intensest surprise in his blue eyes, so sudden and unlooked-for had
the action been.

Galeotto had already left the group about the table, and with a blow of his
great hand he felled the usher who sought to bar his passage to the Duke's
chamber. He tore down the curtains, and he was wrapping and entangling the
fellow in the folds of them when I came to his aid followed by
Confalonieri, whose six men remained to hold the three sound and the one
wounded Swiss in check.

And now from below there rose such a din of steel on steel, of shouts and
screams and curses, that it behoved us to make haste.

Bidding us follow him, Galeotto flung open the door. At table sat Farnese
with two of his gentlemen, one of whom was the Marquis Sforza-Fogliani, the
other a doctor of canon law named Copallati.

Alarm was already written on their faces. At sight of Galeotto--"Ah! You
are still here!" cried Farnese. "What is taking place below? Have the
Swiss fallen to fighting among themselves?"

Galeotto returned no answer, but advanced slowly into the room; and now
Farnese's eyes went past him and fastened upon me, and I saw them suddenly
dilate; beyond me they went and met the cold glance of Confalonieri, that
other gentleman he had so grievously wronged and whom he had stripped of
the last rag of his possessions and his rights. The sun coming through the
window caught the steel that Confalonieri still carried in his hands; its
glint drew the eyes of the Duke, and he must have seen that the baron's
sleeve was bloody.

He rose, leaning heavily upon the table.

"What does this mean?" he demanded in a quavering voice, and his face had
turned grey with apprehension.

"It means," Galeotto answered him, firmly and coldly, "that your rule in
Piacenza is at an end, that the Pontifical sway is broken in these States,
and that beyond the Po Ferrante Gonzaga waits with an army to take
possession here in the Emperor's name. Finally, my Lord Duke, it means
that the Devil's patience is to be rewarded, and that he is at last to have
you who have so faithfully served him upon earth."

Farnese made a gurgling sound and put a jewelled hand to his throat as if
he choked. He was all in green velvet, and every button of his doublet was
a brilliant of price; and that gay raiment by its incongruity seemed to
heighten the tragedy of the moment.

Of his gentlemen the doctor sat frozen with terror in his high-backed seat,
clutching the arms of it so that his knuckles showed white as marble. In
like case were the two attendant servants, who hung motionless by the
buffet. But Sforza-Fogliani, a man of some spirit for all his effeminate
appearance, leapt to his feet and set a hand to his weapons.

Instantly Confalonieri's sword flashed from its sheath. He had passed his
dagger into his left hand.

"On your life, my Lord Marquis, do not meddle here," he warned him in a
voice that was like a trumpet-call.

And before that ferocious aspect and those naked weapons Sforza-Fogliani
stood checked and intimidated.

I too had drawn my poniard, determined that Farnese should fall to my steel
in settlement of the score that lay between us. He saw the act, and if
possible his fears were increased, for he knew that the wrongs he had done
me were personal matters between us for which it was not likely I should
prove forgiving.

"Mercy!" he gasped, and held out supplicating hands to Galeotto.

"Mercy?" I echoed, and laughed fiercely. "What mercy would you have shown
me against whom you set the Holy Office, but that you could sell my life at
a price that was merciless? What mercy would you have shown to the
daughter of Cavalcanti when she lay in your foul power? What mercy did you
show her father who died by your hand? What mercy did you show the
unfortunate Giuliana whom you strangled in her bed? What mercy did you
ever show to any that you dare ask now for mercy?"

He looked at me with dazed eyes, and from me to Galeotto. He shuddered and
turned a greenish hue. His knees were loosened by terror, and he sank back
into the chair from which he had risen.

"At least...at least," he gasped, "let me have a priest to shrive me. Do
not...do not let me die with all my sins upon me!"

In that moment there came from the ante-chamber the sound of swiftly moving
feet, and the clash of steel mingling with cries. The sound heartened him.
He conceived that someone came to his assistance. He raised his voice in a
desperate screech:

"To me! To me! Help!"

As he shouted I sprang towards him, to find my passage suddenly barred by
Galeotto's arm. He shot it out, and my breast came against it as against a
rod of iron. It threw me out of balance, and ere I had recovered it had
thrust me back again.

"Back there!" said Galeotto's brazen voice. "This affair is mine. Mine
are the older wrongs and the greater."

With that he stepped behind the Duke's chair, and Farnese in a fresh spurt
of panic came to his feet. Galeotto locked an arm about his neck and
pulled his head back. Into his ear he muttered words that I could not
overhear, but it was matter that stilled Farnese's last struggle. Only the
Duke's eyes moved, rolling in his head as he sought to look upon the face
of the man who spoke to him. And in that moment Galeotto wrenched his
victim's head still farther back, laying entirely bare the long brown
throat, across which he swiftly drew his dagger.

Copallati screamed and covered his face with his hands; Sforza-Fogliani,
white to the lips, looked on like a man entranced.

There was a screech from Farnese that ended in a gurgle, and suddenly the
blood spurted from his neck as from a fountain. Galeotto let him go. He
dropped to his chair and fell forward against the table, drenching it in
blood. Thence he went over sideways and toppled to the floor, where he lay
twitching, a huddle of arms and legs, the head lolling sideways, the eyes
vitreous, and blood, blood, blood all about him.



The sight turned me almost physically sick.

I faced about, and sprang from the room out into the ante-chamber, where a
battle was in progress. Some three or four of the Duke's gentlemen and a
couple of Swiss had come to attempt a rescue. They had compelled
Galeotto's six men to draw and defend themselves, the odds being suddenly
all against them. Into that medley I went with drawn sword, hacking and
cutting madly, giving knocks and taking them, glad of the excitement of it;
glad of anything that would shut out from my mind the horror of the scene I
had witnessed.

Presently Confalonieri came out to take a hand, leaving Galeotto on guard
within, and in a few minutes we had made an end of that resistance--the
last splutter of resistance within those walls.

Beyond some cuts and scratches that some of us had taken, not a man of ours
was missing, whilst of the Duke's followers not a single one remained alive
in that ante­chamber. The place was a shambles. Hangings that had been
clutched had been torn from the walls; a great mirror was cracked from top
to bottom; tables were overset and wrecked; chairs were splintered; and
hardly a pane of glass remained in any of the windows. And everywhere
there was blood, everywhere dead men.

Up the stairs came trooping now our assembled forces led by Landi and the
Pallavicini. Below all was quiet. The Swiss garrison taken by surprise at
table, as was planned, had been disarmed and all were safe and impotent
under lock and bolt. The guards at the gate had been cut down, and we were
entirely masters of the place.

Sforza-Fogliani, Copallati, and the two servants were fetched from the
Duke's chamber and taken away to be locked up in another room until the
business should be ended. For after all, it was but begun.

In the town the alarm-bell was ringing from the tower of the Communal
Palace, and at the sound I saw Galeotto's eyes kindling. He took command,
none disputing it him, and under his orders men went briskly to turn the
cannon of the fortress upon the square, that an attack might be repulsed if
it were attempted. And three salvoes were fired, to notify Ferrante
Gonzaga where he waited that the castle was in the hands of the
conspirators and Pier Luigi slain.

Meanwhile we had returned with Galeotto to the room where the Duke had
died, and where his body still lay, huddled as it had fallen. The windows
of this chamber were set in the outer wall of the fortress, immediately
above the gates and commanding a view of the square. We were six--
Confalonieri, Landi, the two Pallavicini, Galeotto, and myself, besides a
slight fellow named Malvicini, who had been an officer of light-horse in
the Duke's service, but who had taken a hand in betraying him.

In the square there was by now a seething, excited mob through which a
little army of perhaps a thousand men of the town militia with their
captain, da Terni, riding at their head, was forcing its way. And they
were shouting "Duca!" and crying out that the castle had been seized by
Spaniards--by which they meant the Emperor's troops.

Galeotto dragged a chair to the window, and standing upon it, showed
himself to the people.

"Disperse!" he shouted to them. "To your homes! The Duke is dead!"

But his voice could not surmount that raging din, above which continued to
ring the cry of "Duca! Duca!"

"Let me show them their Duca," said a voice. It was Malvicini's.

He had torn down a curtain-rope, and had attached an end of it to one of
the dead man's legs. Thus he dragged the body forward towards the window.
The other end of the rope he now knotted very firmly to a mullion. Then he
took the body up in his arms, whilst Galeotto stood aside to make way for
him, and staggering under his ghastly burden, Malvicini reached the window,
and heaved it over the sill.

It fell the length of the rope and there was arrested with a jerk to hang
head downwards, spread-eagle against the brown wall; and the diamond
buttons in his green velvet doublet sparkled merrily in the sunshine.

At that sight a great silence swept across the multitude, and availing
himself of this, Galeotto again addressed those Piacentini.

"To your homes," he cried to them, "and arm yourselves to defend the State
from your enemies if the need should arise. There hangs the Duke--dead.
He has been slain to liberate our country from unjust oppression."

Still, it seemed, they did not hear him; for though to us they appeared to
be almost silent, yet there was a rustle and stir amongst them, which must
have deafened each to what was being announced.

They renewed their cries of "Duca!" of "Spaniards!" and "To arms!"

"A curse on your 'Spaniards!'" cried Malvicini. "Here! Take your Duke.
Look at him, and understand." And he slashed the rope across, so that the
body plunged down into the castle ditch.

A few of the foremost of the crowd ran forward and scrambled down into the
ditch to view the body, and from them the rumour of the truth ran like a
ripple over water through that mob, so that in the twinkling of an eye
there was no man in that vast concourse--and all Piacenza seemed by now to
be packed into the square--but knew that Pier Luigi Farnese was dead.

A sudden hush fell. There were no more cries of "Duca!" They stood
silent, and not a doubt but that in the breasts of the majority surged a
great relief. Even the militia ceased to advance. If the Duke was dead
there was nothing left to do.

Again Galeotto spoke to them, and this time his words were caught by those
in the ditch immediately below us, and from them they were passed on, and
suddenly a great cry went up--a shout of relief, a paean of joy. If
Farnese was dead, and well dead, they could, at last, express the thing
that was in their hearts.

And now at the far end of the square a glint of armour appeared; a troop of
horse emerged, and began slowly to press forward through the crowd, driving
it back on either side, but very gently. They came three abreast, and
there were six score of them, and from their lance-heads fluttered
bannerols showing a sable bar on an argent field. They were Galeotto's
free company, headed by one of his lieutenants. Beyond the Po they too had
been awaiting the salvo of artillery that should be their signal to

When their identity was understood, and when the crowd had perceived that
they rode to support the holders of the castle, they were greeted with
lusty cheers, in which presently even the militia joined, for these last
were Piacentini and no Swiss hireling soldiers of the Duke's.

The drawbridge was let down, and the company thundered over it to draw up
in the courtyard under the eyes of Galeotto. He issued his orders once
more to his companions. Then calling for horses for himself and for me,
and bidding a score of lances to detach themselves to ride with us, we
quitted the fortress.

We pressed through the clamant multitude until we had reached the middle of
the square. Here Galeotto drew rein and, raising his hand for silence,
informed the people once more that the Duke had been done to death by the
nobles of Piacenza, thus to avenge alike their own and the people's wrongs,
and to free them from unjust oppression and tyranny.

They cheered him when he had done, and the cry now was "Piacenza!

When they had fallen silent again--"I would have you remember," he cried,
"that Pier Luigi was the Pontiff's son, and that the Pontiff will make
haste to avenge his death and to re-establish here in Piacenza the Farnese
sway. So that all that we have done this day may go for naught unless we
take our measures."

The silence deepened.

"But you have been served by men who have the interest of the State at
heart; and more has been done to serve you than the mere slaying of Pier
Luigi Farnese. Our plans are made, and we but wait to know is it your will
that the State should incorporate itself as of old with that of Milan, and
place itself under the protection of the Emperor, who will appoint you
fellow-countrymen for rulers, and will govern you wisely and justly,
abolishing extortion and oppression?"

A thunder of assent was his answer. "Cesare! Cesare!" was now the cry,
and caps were tossed into the air.

"Then go arm yourselves and repair to the Commune, and there make known
your will to the Anziani and councillors, and see that it is given effect
by them. The Emperor's Lieutenant is at your gates. I ride to surrender
to him the city in your name, and before nightfall he will be here to
protect you from any onslaught of the Pontificals."

With that he pushed on, the mob streaming along with us, intent upon going
there and then to do the thing that Galeotto advised. And by now they had
discovered Galeotto's name, and they were shouting it in acclamation of
him, and at the sound he smiled, though his eyes seemed very wistful.

He leaned over to me, and gripped my hand where it lay on the saddle-bow
clutching the reins.

"Thus is Giovanni d'Anguissola at last avenged!" he said to me in a deep
voice that thrilled me.

"I would that he were here to know," I answered.

And again Galeotto's eyes grew wistful as they looked at me.

We won out of the town at last, and when we came to the high ground beyond
the river, we saw in the plain below phalanx upon phalanx of a great army.
It was Ferrante Gonzaga's Imperial force.

Galeotto pointed to it. "That is my goal," he said. "You had best ride on
to Pagliano with these lances. You may need them there. I had hoped that
Cosimo would have been found in the castle with Pier Luigi. His absence
makes me uneasy. Away with you, then. You shall have news of me within
three days."

We embraced, on horseback as we were. Then he wheeled his charger and went
down the steep ground, riding hard for Ferrante's army, whilst we pursued
our way, and came some two hours later without mishap to Pagliano.

I found Bianca awaiting me in the gallery above the courtyard, drawn
thither by the sounds of our approach.

"Dear Agostino, I have been so fearful for you," was her greeting when I
had leapt up the staircase to take her hand.

I led her to the marble seat she had occupied on that night, two years ago,
when first we had spoken of our visions. Briefly I gave her the news of
what had befallen in Piacenza.

When I had done, she sighed and looked at me.

"It brings us no nearer to each other," she said.

"Nay, now--this much nearer, at least, that the Imperial decree will return
me the lordships of Mondolfo and Carmina, dispossessing the usurper. Thus
I shall have something to offer you, my Bianca."

She smiled at me very sadly, almost reproachfully.

"Foolish," said she. "What matter the possessions that it may be yours to
cast into my lap? Is that what we wait for, Agostino? Is there not
Pagliano for you? Would not that, at need, be lordship enough?"

"The meanest cottage of the countryside were lordship enough so that you
shared it," I answered passionately, as many in like case have answered
before and since.

"You see, then, that you are wrong to attach importance to so slight a
thing as this Imperial decree where you and I are concerned. Can an
Imperial decree annul my marriage?"

"For that a papal bull would be necessary."

"And how is a papal bull to be obtained?"

"It is not for us," I admitted miserably.

"I have been wicked," she said, her eyes upon the ground, a faint colour
stirring in her cheeks. "I have prayed that the usurper might be
dispossessed of his rights in me. I have prayed that when the attack was
made and revolt was carried into the Citadel of Piacenza, Cosimo
d'Anguissola might stand at his usual post beside the Duke and might fall
with him. Surely justice demanded it!" she cried out. "God's justice, as
well as man's. His act in marrying me was a defilement of one of the
holiest of sacraments, and for that he should surely be punished and struck

I went upon my knees to her. "Dear love!" I cried. "See, I have you daily
in my sight. Let me not be ungrateful for so much."

She took my face in her hands and looked into my eyes, saying no word.
Then she leaned forward, and very gently touched my forehead with her 1ips.

"God pity us a little, Agostino," she murmured, her eyes shining with
unshed tears.

"The fault is mine--all mine!" I denounced myself. "We are being visited
with my sins. When I can take you for my own--if that blessed day should
ever dawn--I shall know that I have attained to pardon, that I am cleansed
and worthy of you at last."

She rose and I escorted her within; then went to my own chamber to bathe
and rest.



We were breaking our fast upon the following morning when Falcone sent word
to me by one of the pages that a considerable force was advancing towards
us from the south.

I rose, somewhat uneasy. Yet I reflected that it was possible that, news
of the revolt in Piacenza having reached Parma, this was an army of
Pontificals moving thence upon the rebellious city. But in that case, what
should they be doing this side of Po?

An hour later, from the battlements where we paced side by side--Bianca and
I--we were able to estimate this force and we fixed its strength at five
score lances. Soon we could make out the device upon their bannerols--a
boar's head azure upon an argent field--my own device, that of the
Anguissola of Mondolfo; and instantly I knew them for Cosimo's men.

On the lower parapet six culverins had been dragged into position under the
supervision of Falcone--who was still with us at Pagliano. These pieces
stood loaded and manned by the soldiers to whom I had assigned the office
of engineers.

Thus we waited until the little army came to a halt about a quarter of a
mile away, and a trumpeter with a flag of truce rode forward accompanied by
a knight armed cap-a-pie, his beaver down.

The herald wound a challenge; and it was answered from the postern by a
man-at-arms, whereupon the herald delivered his message.

"In the name of our Holy Father and Lord, Paul III, we summon Agostino
d'Anguissola here to confer with the High and Mighty Cosimo d'Anguissola,
Tyrant of Mondolfo and Carmina."

Three minutes later, to their infinite surprise, the bridge thudded down to
span the ditch, and I walked out upon it with Bianca at my side.

"Will the Lord Cosimo come within to deliver his message?" I demanded.

The Lord Cosimo would not, fearing a trap.

"Will he meet us here upon the bridge, divesting himself first of his
weapons? Myself I am unarmed."

The herald conveyed the words to Cosimo, who hesitated still. Indeed, he
had wheeled his horse when the bridge fell, ready to gallop off at the
first sign of a sortie.

I laughed. "You are a paltry coward, Cosimo, when all is said," I shouted.
"Do you not see that had I planned to take you, I need resort to no
subterfuge? I have," I added--though untruthfully--" twice your number of
lances under arms, and by now I could have flung them across the bridge and
taken you under the very eyes of your own men. You were rash to venture so
far. But if you will not venture farther, at least send me your herald."

At that he got down from his horse, delivered up sword and dagger to his
single attendant, received from the man a parchment, and came towards us,
opening his vizor as he advanced. Midway upon the bridge we met. His lips
curled in a smile of scorn.

"Greetings, my strolling saint," he said. "Through all your vagaries you
are at least consistent in that you ever engage your neighbour's wife to
bear you company in your wanderings."

I went hot and cold, red and white by turns. With difficulty I controlled
myself under that taunt--the cruellest he could have flung at me in
Bianca's hearing.

"Your business here?" I snarled.

He held out the parchment, his eyes watching me intently, so that they
never once strayed to Bianca.

"Read, St. Mountebank," he bade me.

I took the paper, but before I lowered my eyes to it, I gave him warning.

"If on your part you attempt the slightest treachery," I said, "you shall
be repaid in kind. My men are at the winches, and they have my orders that
at the first treacherous movement on your part they are to take up the
bridge. You will see that you could not reach the end of it in time to
save yourself."

It was his turn to change colour under the shadow of his beaver. "Have you
trapped me?" he asked between his teeth.

"If you had anything of the Anguissola besides the name," I answered, "you
would know me incapable of such a thing. It is because I know that of the
Anguissola you have nothing but the name, that you are a craven, a dastard
and a dog, that I have taken my precautions."

"Is it your conception of valour to insult a man whom you hold as if bound
hand and foot against striking you as you deserve?"

I smiled sweetly into that white, scowling face.

"Throw down your gauntlet upon this bridge, Cosimo, if you deem yourself
affronted, if you think that I have lied; and most joyfully will I take it
up and give you the trial by battle of your seeking."

For an instant I almost thought that he would take me at my word, as most
fervently I hoped. But he restrained himself.

"Read!" he bade me again, with a fierce gesture. And accounting him well
warned by now, I read with confidence.

It was a papal brief ordering me under pain of excommunication and death to
make surrender to Cosimo d'Anguissola of the Castle of Pagliano which I
traitorously held, and of the person of his wife, Madonna Bianca.

"This document is not exact," said I. "I do not hold this castle
traitorously. It is an Imperial fief, and I hold it in the Emperor's

He smiled. "Persist if you are weary of life," he said. "Surrender now,
and you are free to depart and go wheresoever you list. Continue in your
offence, and the consequences shall daunt you ere all is done. This
Imperial fief belongs to me, and it is for me, who am Lord of Pagliano by
virtue of my marriage and the late lord's death, to hold it for the

"And you are not to doubt that when this brief is laid before the Emperor's
Lieutenant at Milan, he will move instantly against you to cast you out and
to invest me in those rights which are mine by God's law and man's alike."

My answer may, at first, have seemed hardly to the point. I held out the
brief to him.

"To seek the Emperor's Lieutenant you need not go as far as Milan. You
will find him in Piacenza."

He looked at me, as if he did not understand. "How?" he asked.

I explained. "While you have been cooling your heels in the ante-chambers
of the Vatican to obtain this endorsement of your infamy, the world
hereabouts has moved a little. Yesterday Ferrante Gonzaga took possession
of Piacenza in the Emperor's name. To-day the Council will be swearing
fealty to Caesar upon his Lieutenant's hands."

He stared at me for a long moment, speechless in his utter amazement. Then
he swallowed hard.

"And the Duke?" he asked.

"The Duke has been in Hell these four-and-twenty hours."

"Dead?" he questioned, his voice hushed.

"Dead," said I.

He leaned against the rail of the bridge, his arms fallen limply to his
sides, one hand crushing the Pontifical parchment. Then he braced himself
again. He had reviewed the situation, and did not see that it hurt his
position, when all was said.

"Even so," he urged, "what can you hope for? The Emperor himself must bow
before this, and do me justice." And he smacked the document. "I demand
my wife, and my demand is backed by Pontifical authority. You are mad if
you think that Charles V can fail to support it."

"It is possible that Charles V may take a different view of the memorial
setting forth the circumstances of your marriage, from that which the Holy
Father appears to have taken. I counsel you to seek the Imperial
Lieutenant at Piacenza without delay. Here you waste time."

His lips closed with a snap. Then, at last, his eyes wandered to Bianca,
who stood just beside and slightly behind me.

"Let me appeal to you, Monna Bianca..." he began.

But at that I got between them. "Are you so dead to shame," I roared,
"that you dare address her, you pimp, you jackal, you eater of dirt? Be
off, or I will have this drawbridge raised and deal with you here and now,
in despite of Pope and Emperor and all the other powers you can invoke.
Away with you, then!"

"You shall pay!" he snarled, "By God, you shall pay!"

And on that he went off, in some fear lest I should put my threat into

But Bianca was in a panic. "He will do as he says." she cried as soon as
we had re-entered the courtyard. "The Emperor cannot deny him justice. He
must, he must! 0, Agostino, it is the end. And see to what a pass I have
brought you!"

I comforted her. I spoke brave words. I swore to hold that castle as long
as one stone of it stood upon another. But deep down in my heart there was
naught but presages of evil.

On the following day, which was Sunday, we had peace. But towards noon on
Monday the blow fell. An Imperial herald from Piacenza rode out to
Pagliano with a small escort.

We were in the garden when word was brought us, and I bade the herald be
admitted. Then I looked at Bianca. She was trembling and had turned very

We spoke no word whilst they brought the messenger--a brisk fellow in his
black-and-yellow Austrian livery. He delivered me a sealed letter. It
proved to be a summons from Ferrante Gonzaga to appear upon the morrow
before the Imperial Court which would sit in the Communal Palace of
Piacenza to deliver judgment upon an indictment laid against me by Cosimo

I looked at the herald, hesitation in my mind and glance. He held out a
second letter.

"This, my lord, I was asked by favour to deliver to you also."

I took it, and considered the superscription:

"These to the Most Noble Agostino d'Anguissola, at Pagliano.


The hand was Galeotto's. I tore it open. It contained but two lines:

"Upon your life do not fail to obey the Imperial summons. Send Falcone to
me here at once." And it was signed--"GALEOTTO."

"It is well," I said to the herald, "I will not fail to attend."

I bade the seneschal who stood in attendance to give the messenger
refreshment ere he left, and upon that dismissed him.

When we were alone I turned to Bianca. "Galeotto bids me go," I said.
"There is surely hope."

She took the note, and passing a hand over her eyes, as if to clear away
some mist that obscured her vision, she read it. Then she considered the
curt summons that gave no clue, and lastly looked at me.

"It is the end," I said. "One way or the other, it is the end. But for
Galeotto's letter, I think I should have refused to obey, and made myself
an outlaw indeed. As it is--there is surely hope!"

"0, Agostino, surely, surely!" she cried. "Have we not suffered enough?
Have we not paid enough already for the happiness that should be ours?
To­morrow I shall go with you to Piacenza."

"No, no," I implored her.

"Could I remain here?" she pleaded. "Could I sit here and wait? Could you
be so cruel as to doom me to such a torture of suspense?"

"But if...if the worst befalls?"

"It cannot," she answered. "I believe in God."



In the Chamber of Justice of the Communal Palace sat that day not the
Assessors of the Ruota, but the Councillors in their damask robes--the
Council of Ten of the City of Piacenza. And to preside over them sat not
their Prior, but Ferrante Gonzaga himself, in a gown of scarlet velvet
edged with miniver.

They sat at a long table draped in red at the room's end, Gonzaga slightly
above them on a raised dais, under a canopy. Behind him hung a golden
shield upon which was figured, between two upright columns each surmounted
by a crown, the double-headed black eagle of Austria; a scroll intertwining
the pillars was charged with the motto "PLUS ULTRA."

At the back of the court stood the curious who had come to see the show,
held in bounds by a steel line of Spanish halberdiers. But the concourse
was slight, for the folk of Piacenza still had weightier matters to concern
them than the trial of a wife-stealer.

I had ridden in with an escort of twenty lances. But I left these in the
square when I entered the palace and formally made surrender to the officer
who met me. This officer led me at once into the Chamber of Justice, two
men-at-arms opening a lane for me through the people with the butts of
their pikes, so that I came into the open space before my judges, and bowed
profoundly to Gonzaga.

Coldly he returned the salutation, his prominent eyes regarding me from out
of that florid, crafty countenance.

On my left, but high up the room and immediately at right angles to the
judges' tables, sat Galeotto, full-armed. He was flanked on the one side
by Fra Gervasio, who greeted me with a melancholy smile, and on the other
by Falcone, who sat rigid.

Opposite to this group on the judges' other hand stood Cosimo. He was
flushed, and his eyes gleamed as they measured me with haughty triumph.
From me they passed to Bianca, who followed after me with her women, pale,
but intrepid and self-contained, her face the whiter by contrast with the
mourning-gown which she still wore for her father, and which it might well
come to pass that she should continue hereafter to wear for me.

I did not look at her again as she passed on and up towards Galeotto, who
had risen to receive her. He came some few steps to meet her, and escorted
her to a seat next to his own, so that Falcone moved down to another vacant
stool. Her women found place behind her.

An usher set a chair for me, and I, too, sat down, immediately facing the
Emperor's Lieutenant. Then another usher in a loud voice summoned Cosimo
to appear and state his grievance.

He advanced a step or two, when Gonzaga raised his hand, to sign to him to
remain where he was so that all could see him whilst he spoke.

Forthwith, quickly, fluently, and lucidly, as if he had got the thing by
heart, Cosimo recited his accusation: How he had married Bianca de'
Cavalcanti by her father's consent in her father's own Castle of Pagliano;
how that same night his palace in Piacenza had been violently invested by
myself and others abetting me, and how we had carried off his bride and
burnt his palace to the ground; how I had since held her from him, shut up
in the Castle of Pagliano, which was his fief in his quality as her
husband; and how similarly I had unlawfully held Pagliano against him to
his hurt.

Finally he reminded the Court that he had appealed to the Pope, who had
issued a brief commanding me, under pain of excommunication and death, to
make surrender; that I had flouted the Pontifical authority, and that it
was only upon his appeal to Caesar and upon the Imperial mandate that I had
surrendered. Wherefore he begged the Court to uphold the Holy Father's
authority, and forthwith to pronounce me excommunicate and my life forfeit,
restoring to him his wife Bianca and his domain of Pagliano, which be would
hold as the Emperor's liege and loyal servitor.

Having spoken thus, he bowed to the Court, stepped back, and sat down.

The Ten looked at Gonzaga. Gonzaga looked at me.

"Have you anything to say?" he asked.

I rose imbued by a calm that surprised me.

"Messer Cosimo has left something out of his narrative," said I. "When he
says that I violently invested his palace here in Piacenza on the night of
his marriage, and dragged thence the Lady Bianca, others abetting me, he
would do well to add in the interests of justice, the names of those who
were my abettors."

Cosimo rose again. "Does it matter to this Court and to the affair at
issue what caitiffs he employed?" he asked haughtily.

"If they were caitiffs it would not matter," said I. "But they were not.
Indeed, to say that it was I who invested his palace is to say too much.
The leader of that expedition was Monna Bianca's own father, who, having
discovered the truth of the nefarious traffic in which Messer Cosimo was
engaged, hastened to rescue his daughter from an infamy."

Cosimo shrugged. "These are mere words," he said.

"The lady herself is present, and can bear witness to their truth," I

"A prejudiced witness, indeed!" said Cosimo with confidence; and Gonzaga
nodded, whereupon my heart sank.

"Will Messer Agostino give us the names of any of the braves who were with
him?" quoth Cosimo. "It will no doubt assist the ends of justice, for
those men should be standing by him now."

He checked me no more than in time. I had been on the point of citing
Falcone; and suddenly I perceived that to do so would be to ruin Falcone
without helping myself.

I looked at my cousin. "In that case," said I, "I will not name them."

Falcone, however, was minded to name himself, for with a grunt he made
suddenly to rise. But Galeotto stretched an arm across Bianca, and forced
the equerry back into his seat.

Cosimo saw and smiled. He was very sure of himself by now.

"The only witness whose word would carry weight would be the late Lord of
Pagliano," he said. "And the prisoner is more crafty than honest in naming
one who is dead. Your excellency will know the precise importance to
attach to that."

Again his excellency nodded. Could it indeed be that I was enmeshed? My
calm deserted me.

"Will Messer Cosimo tell your excellency under what circumstances the Lord
of Pagliano died?" I cried.

"It is yourself should be better able to inform the Court of that,"
answered Cosimo quickly, "since he died at Pagliano after you had borne his
daughter thither, as we have proof."

Gonzaga looked at him sharply. "Are you implying, sir, that there is a
further crime for which Messer Agostino d'Anguissola should be indicted?"
he inquired.

Cosimo shrugged and pursed his lips. "I will not go so far, since the
matter of Ettore Cavalcanti's death does not immediately concern me.
Besides, there is enough contained in the indictment as it stands."

The imputation was none the less terrible, and could not fail of an effect
upon the minds of the Ten. I was in despair, for at every question it
seemed that the tide of destruction rose higher about me. I deemed myself
irrevocably lost. The witnesses I might have called were as good as

Yet there was one last question in my quiver--a question which I thought
must crumple up his confidence.

"Can you tell his excellency where you were upon your marriage night?" I
cried hoarsely, my temples throbbing.

Superbly Cosimo looked round at the Court; he shrugged, and shook his head
as if in utter pity.

"I leave it to your excellency to say where a man should be upon his
marriage night," he said, with an astounding impudence, and there were some
who tittered in the crowd behind me. "Let me again beg your excellency and
your worthinesses to pass to judgment, and so conclude this foolish

Gonzaga nodded gravely, as if entirely approving, whilst with a fat
jewelled hand he stroked his ample chin.

"I, too, think that it is time," he said, whereupon Cosimo, with a sigh of
relief, would have resumed his seat but that I stayed him with the last
thing I had to say.

"My lord," I cried, appealing to Gonzaga, "the true events of that night
are set forth in a memorial of which two copies were drawn up, one for the
Pope and the other for your excellency, as the Emperor's vicegerent. Shall
I recite its contents--that Messer Cosimo may be examined upon them.

"It is not necessary," came Gonzaga's icy voice. "The memorial is here
before me." And he tapped a document upon the table. Then he fixed his
prominent eyes upon Cosimo. "You are aware of its contents?" he asked.

Cosimo bowed, and Galeotto moved at last, for the first time since the
trial's inception.

Until now he had sat like a carved image, save when he had thrust out a
hand to restrain Falcone, and his attitude had filled me with an
unspeakable dread. But at this moment he leaned forward turning an ear
towards Cosimo, as if anxious not to miss a single word that the man might
utter. And Cosimo, intent as he was, did not observe the movement.

"I saw its fellow at the Vatican," said my cousin, "and since the Pope in
his wisdom and goodness judged worthless the witnesses whose signatures it
bears, his holiness thought well to issue the brief upon which your
excellency has acted in summoning Agostino d'Anguissola before you here.

"Thus is that memorial disposed of as a false and lying document."

"And yet," said Gonzaga thoughtfully, his heavy lip between thumb and
forefinger, "it bears, amongst others, the signature of the Lord of
Pagliano's confessor."

"Without violation of the seal of the confessional, it is impossible for
that friar to testify," was the answer. "And the Holy Father cannot grant
him dispensation for so much. His signature, therefore, stands for

There followed a moment's silence. The Ten whispered among themselves.
But Gonzaga never consulted them by so much as a glance. They appeared to
serve none but a decorative office in that Court of his, for they bore no
share in the dispensing of a justice of which he constituted himself the
sole arbiter.

At last the Governor spoke.

"It seems, indeed, that there is no more to say and the Court has a clear
course before it, since the Emperor cannot contravene the mandates of the
Holy See. Nothing remains, then, but to deliver sentence; unless..."

He paused, and his eyes singularly sly, his lips pursed almost humorously,
he turned his glance upon Galeotto.

"Ser Cosimo," he said, "has pronounced this memorial a false and lying
document. Is there anything that you, Messer Galeotto, as its author, can
have to tell the Court?"

Instantly the condottiero rose, his great scarred face very solemn, his
eyes brooding. He advanced almost to the very centre of the table, so that
he all but stood immediately before Gonzaga, yet sideways, so that I had
him in profile, whilst he fully faced Cosimo.

Cosimo at least had ceased to smile. His handsome white face had lost some
of its supercilious confidence. Here was something unexpected, something
upon which he had not reckoned, against which he had not provided.

"What has Ser Galeotto to do with this?" he demanded harshly.

"That, sir, no doubt he will tell us, if you will have patience," Gonzaga
answered, so sweetly and deferentially that of a certainty some of Cosimo's
uneasiness must have been dissipated.

I leaned forward now, scarce daring to draw breath lest I should lose a
word of what was to follow. The blood that had earlier surged to my face
had now all receded again, and my pulses throbbed like hammers.

Then Galeotto spoke, his voice very calm and level.

"Will your excellency first permit me to see the papal brief upon which you
acted in summoning hither the accused?"

Silently Gonzaga delivered a parchment into Galeotto's hands. The
condottiero studied it, frowning. Then he smote it sharply with his right

"This document is not in order," he announced.

"How?" quoth Cosimo, and he smiled again, reassured completely by now,
convinced that here was no more than a minor quibble of the law.

"You are here described as Cosimo d'Anguissola, Lord of Mondolfo and
Carmina. These titles are not yours."

The blood stirred faintly in Cosimo's cheeks.

"Those fiefs were conferred upon me by our late lord, Duke Pier Luigi," he

Gonzaga spoke. "The confiscations effected by the late usurping Duke, and
the awards made out of such confiscations, have been cancelled by Imperial
decree. All lands so confiscated are by this decree revertible to their
original holders upon their taking oath of allegiance to Caesar."

Cosimo continued to smile. "This is no matter of a confiscation effected
by Duke Pier Luigi," he said. "The confiscation and my own investiture in
the confiscated fiefs are a consequence of Agostino d'Anguissola's
recreancy--at least, it is in such terms that my investiture is expressly
announced in the papal bull that has been granted me and in the brief which
lies before your excellency. Nor was such express announcement necessary,
for since I was next heir after Ser Agostino to the Tyranny of Mondolfo, it
follows that upon his being outlawed and his life forfeit I enter upon my

Here, thought I, were we finally checkmated. But Galeotto showed no sign
of defeat.

"Where is this bull you speak of?" he demanded, as though he were the judge

Cosimo haughtily looked past him at Gonzaga. "Does your excellency ask to
see it?"

"Assuredly," said Gonzaga shortly. "I may not take your word for its

Cosimo plucked a parchment from the breast of his brown satin doublet,
unfolded it, and advanced to lay it before Gonzaga, so that he stood near
Galeotto--not more than an arm's length between them.

The Governor conned it; then passed it to Galeotto. "It seems in order,"
he said.

Nevertheless, Galeotto studied it awhile; and then, still holding it, he
looked at Cosimo, and the scarred face that hitherto had been so sombre now
wore a smile.

"It is as irregular as the other," he said. "It is entirely worthless."

"Worthless?" quoth Cosimo, in an amazement that was almost scornful. "But
have I not already explained..."

"It sets forth here," cut in Galeotto with assurance, "that the fief of
Mondolfo and Carmina are confiscated from Agostino d'Anguissola. Now I
submit to your excellency, and to your worthinesses," he added, turning
aside, "that this confiscation is grotesque and impossible, since Mondolfo
and Carmina never were the property of Agostino d'Anguissola, and could no
more be taken from him than can a coat be taken from the back of a naked
man--unless," he added, sneering, "a papal bull is capable of miracles."

Cosimo stared at him with round eyes, and I stared too, no glimmer of the
enormous truth breaking yet upon my bewildered mind. In the court the
silence was deathly until Gonzaga spoke.

"Do you say that Mondolfo and Carmina did not belong--that they never were
the fiefs of Agostino d'Anguissola?" he asked.

"That is what I say," returned Galeotto, towering there, immense and
formidable in his gleaming armour.

"To whom, then, did they belong?"

"They did and do belong to Giovanni d'Anguissola--Agostino's father."

Cosimo shrugged at this, and some of the dismay passed from his

"What folly is this?" he cried. "Giovanni d'Anguissola died at Perugia
eight years ago."

"That is what is generally believed, and what Giovanni d'Anguissola has
left all to believe, even to his own priest-ridden wife, even to his own
son, sitting there, lest had the world known the truth whilst Pier Luigi
lived such a confiscation as this should, indeed, have been perpetrated.

"But he did not die at Perugia. At Perugia, Ser Cosimo, he took this scar
which for thirteen years has served him for a mask." And he pointed to his
own face.

I came to my feet, scarce believing what I heard. Galeotto was Giovanni
d'Anguissola--my father! And my heart had never told me so!

In a flash I saw things that hitherto had been obscure, things that should
have guided me to the truth had I but heeded their indications.

How, for instance, had I assumed that the Anguissola whom he had mentioned
as one of the heads of the conspiracy against Pier Luigi could have been

I stood swaying there, whilst his voice boomed out again.

"Now that I have sworn fealty to the Emperor in my true name, upon the
hands of my Lord Gonzaga here; now that the Imperial aegis protects me from
Pope and Pope's bastards; now that I have accomplished my life's work, and
broken the Pontifical sway in this Piacenza, I can stand forth again and
resume the state that is my own.

"There stands my foster-brother, who has borne witness to my true identity;
there Falcone, who has been my equerry these thirty years; and there are
the brothers Pallavicini, who tended me and sheltered me when I lay at the
point of death from the wounds that disfigured me at Perugia."

"So, my Lord Cosimo, ere you can proceed further in this matter against my
son, you will need to take your brief and your bull back to Rome and get
them amended, for there is in Italy no Lord of Mondolfo and Carmina other
than myself."

Cosimo fell back before him limp and trembling, his spirit broken by this
shattering blow.

And then Gonzaga uttered words that might have heartened him. But after
being hurled from what he accounted the pinnacle of success, he mistrusted
now the crafty Lieutenant, saw that he had been played with as a mouse by
this Imperial cat with the soft, deadly paws.

"We might waive the formalities in the interests of justice," purred the
Lieutenant. "There is this memorial, my lord," he said, and tapped the
document, his eyes upon my father.

"Since your excellency wishes the matter to be disposed of out of hand, it
can, I think, be done," he said, and he looked again at Cosimo.

"You have said that this memorial is false, because the witnesses whose
names are here cannot be admitted to testify."

Cosimo braced himself for a last effort. "Do you defy the Pope?" he

"If necessary," was the answer. "I have done so all my life."

Cosimo turned to Gonzaga. "It is not I who have branded this memorial
false," he said, "but the Holy Father himself."

"The Emperor," said my father, "may opine that in this matter the Holy
Father has been deluded by liars. There are other witnesses. There is
myself, for one. This memorial contains nothing but what was imparted to
me by the Lord of Pagliano on his death-bed, in the presence of his

"We cannot admit the confessor," Gonzaga thrust in.

"Give me leave, your excellency. It was not in his quality as confessor
that Fra Gervasio heard the dying man depone. Cavalcanti's confession
followed upon that. And there was in addition present the seneschal of
Pagliano who is present here. Sufficient to establish this memorial alike
before the Imperial and the Pontifical Courts.

"And I swear to God, as I stand here in His sight," he continued in a
ringing voice, "that every word there set down is as spoken by Ettore
Cavalcanti, Lord of Pagliano, some hours before he died; and so will those
others swear. And I charge your excellency, as Caesar's vicegerent, to
accept that memorial as an indictment of that caitiff Cosimo d'Anguissola,
who lent himself to so foul and sacrilegious a deed--for it involved the
defilement of the Sacrament of Marriage."

"In that you lie!" screamed Cosimo, crimson now with rage, the veins at his
throat and brow swelling like ropes.

A silence followed. My father turned to Falcone, and held out his hand.
Falcone sprang to give him a heavy iron gauntlet. Holding this by the
fingers, my father took a step towards Cosimo, and he was smiling, very
calm again after his late furious mood.

"Be it so," he said. "Since you say that I lie, I do here challenge you to
prove it upon my body."

And he crashed the iron glove straight into Cosimo's face so that the skin
was broken, and blood flowed about the mouth, leaving the lower half of the
visage crimson, the upper dead-white.

Gonzaga sat on, entirely unmoved, and waited, indifferent to the stir there
was amid the Ten. For by the ancient laws of chivalry--however much they
might be falling now into desuetude--if Cosimo took up the glove, the
matter passed beyond the jurisdiction of the Court, and all men must abide
by the issue of the trial by battle.

For a long moment Cosimo hesitated. Then he saw ruin all about him. He--
who had come to this court so confidently--had walked into a trap. He saw
it now, and saw that the only loophole was the chance this combat offered
him. He played the man in the end. He stooped and took up the glove.

"Upon your body, then--God helping me," he said.

Unable longer to control myself, I sprang to my father's side. I caught
his arm.

"Let me! Father, let me!

He looked into my face and smiled, and the steel-coloured eyes seemed moist
and singularly soft.

"My son!" he said, and his voice was gentle and soothing as a woman's

"My father!" I answered him, a knot in my throat.

"Alas, that I must deny you the first thing you ask me by that name," he
said. "But the challenge is given and accepted. Do you take Bianca to the
Duomo and pray that right may be done and God's will prevail. Gervasio
shall go with you."

And then came an interruption from Gonzaga.

"My lord," he said, "will you determine when and where this battle is to be

"Upon the instant," answered my father, "on the banks of Po with a score of
lances to keep the lists."

Gonzaga looked at Cosimo. "Do you agree to this?"

"It cannot be too soon for me," replied the quivering Cosimo, black hatred
in his glance.

"Be it so, then," said the Governor, and he rose, the Court rising with

My father pressed my hand again. "To the Duomo, Agostino, till I come," he
said, and on that we parted.

My sword was returned to me by Gonzaga's orders. In so far as it concerned
myself the trial was at an end, and I was free.

At Gonzaga's invitation, very gladly I there and then swore fealty to the
Emperor upon his hands, and then, with Bianca and Gervasio, I made my way
through the cheering crowd and came out into the sunshine, where my lances,
who had already heard the news, set up a great shout at sight of me.

Thus we crossed the square, and went to the Duomo, to render thanks. We
knelt at the altar-rail, and Gervasio knelt above us upon the altar's
lowest step.

Somewhere behind us knelt Bianca's women, who had followed us to the

Thus we waited for close upon two hours that were as an eternity.

And kneeling there, the eyes of my soul conned closely the scroll of my
young life as it had been unfolded hitherto. I reviewed its beginnings in
the greyness of Mondolfo, under the tutelage of my poor, dolorous mother
who had striven so fiercely to set my feet upon the ways of sanctity. But
my ways had been errant ways, even though, myself, I had sought to walk as
she directed. I had strayed and blundered, veered and veered again, a very
mockery of what she strove to make me--a strolling saint, indeed, as Cosimo
had dubbed me, a wandering mummer when I sought after holiness.

But my strolling, my errantry ended here at last at the steps of this
altar, as I knew.

Deeply had I sinned. But deeply and strenuously had I expiated, and the
heaviest burden of my expiation had been that endured in the past year at
Pagliano beside my gentle Bianca who was another's wedded wife. That cross
of penitence--so singularly condign to my sin--I had borne with fortitude,
heartened by the confidence that thus should I win to pardon and that the
burden would be mercifully lifted when the expiation was complete. In the
lifting of that burden from me I should see a sign that pardon was mine at
last, that at last I was accounted worthy of this pure maid through whom I
should have won to grace, through whom I had come to learn that Love--God's
greatest gift--is the great sanctifier of man.

That the stroke of that ardently awaited hour was even now impending I did
not for a moment doubt.

Behind us, the door opened and steps clanked upon the granite floor.

Fra Gervasio rose very tall and gaunt, his gaze anxious.

He looked, and the anxiety passed. Thankfulness overspread his face. He
smiled serenely, tears in his deep-set eyes. Seeing this, I, too, dared to
look at last.

Up the aisle came my father very erect and solemn, and behind him followed
Falcone with eyes a-twinkle in his weather-beaten face.

"Let the will of Heaven be done," said my father. And Gervasio came down
to pronounce the nuptial blessing over us.

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