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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Shame Of Motley - Part 2. The Ogre Of Cesena - Chapter 11. Madonna's Summons
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The Shame Of Motley - Part 2. The Ogre Of Cesena - Chapter 11. Madonna's Summons Post by :karrine Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :3083

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The Shame Of Motley - Part 2. The Ogre Of Cesena - Chapter 11. Madonna's Summons


However great the part that my mother--sainted woman that she was--may have played in my life, she nowise enters into the affairs of this chronicle, so that it would be an irrelevance and an impertinence to introduce her into these pages. Of the joy with which she welcomed me to the little home near Biancomonte, in which the earnings of Boccadoro the Fool had placed her, it could interest you but little to read in detail, nor could it interest you to know of the gentle patience with which she cheered and humoured me during the period that I sojourned there, tilling the little plot she owned, reaping and garnering like any born villano. With a woman's quick intuition she guessed perhaps the canker that was eating at my heart, and with a mother's blessed charity she sought to soothe and mitigate my pain.

It was during this period of my existence that the poetic gifts I had discovered myself possessed of whilst at Pesaro, burst into full bloom; and not a little relief did I find in the penning of those love-songs--the true expression of what was in my heart--which have since been given to the world under the title of Le Rime di Boccadoro. And what time I tended my mother's land by day, and wrote by night of the feverish, despairing love that was consuming me, I waited for the call that, sooner or later, I knew must come. What prophetic instinct it was had rooted that certainty in my heart I do not pretend to say. Perhaps my hope was of such a strength that it assumed the form of certainty to solace the period of my hermitage. But that some day Madonna Paola's messenger would arrive bringing me the Borgia ring, I was as confident as that some day I must die.

Two years went by, and we were in the Autumn of 1502, yet my faith knew no abating, my confidence was strong as ever. And, at last, that confidence was justified. One night of early October, as I sat at supper with my mother after the labours of the day, a sound of hoofs disturbed the peace of the silent night. It drew rapidly nearer, and long before the knock fell upon our door, I knew that it was the messenger from my lady.

My mother looked at me across the board, an expression of alarm overspreading her old face. "Who," her eyes seemed to ask me, "was this horseman that rode so late?"

My hound rose from the hearth with a growl, and stood bristling, his eyes upon the door. White-haired old Silvio, the last remaining retainer of the House of Biancomonte, came forth from the kitchen, with inquiry and fear blending on his wrinkled, weather-beaten countenance.

And I, seeing all these signs of alarm, yet knowing what awaited me on the threshold, rose with a laugh, and in a bound had crossed the intervening space. I flung wide the door, and from the gloom without a man's voice greeted me with a question.

"Is this the house of Messer Lazzaro Biancomonte?"

"I am that Lazzaro Biancomonte," answered I. "What may your pleasure be?"

The stranger advanced until he came within the light. He was plainly dressed, and wore a jerkin of leather and long boots. From his air I judged him a servant or a courier. He doffed his hat respectfully, and held out his right hand in which something was gleaming yellow. It was the Borgia ring.

"Pesaro," was all he said.

I took the ring and thanked him, then bade him enter and refresh himself ere he returned, and I called old Silvio to bring wine.

"I am not returning," the man informed me. "I am a courier riding to Parma, whom Madonna charged with that message to you in passing."

Nevertheless he consented to rest him awhile and sip the wine we set before him, and what time he did so I engaged him in talk, and led him to tell me what he knew of the trend of things at Pesaro, and what news there was of the Lord Giovanni. He had little enough to tell. Pesaro was flourishing and prospering under the Borgia dominion. Of the Lord Giovanni there was little news, saving that he was living under the protection of the Gonzagas in Mantua, and that so long as he was content to abide there the Borgias seemed disposed to give him peace.

Next I made him tell me what he knew of Filippo di Santafior and Madonna Paola. On this subject he was better informed. Madonna Paola was well and still lived with her brother at the Palace of Pesaro. The Lord Filippo was high in favour with the Borgias, and Cesare lately had been frequently his guest at Pesaro, whilst once, for a few days, the Lord Ignacio de Borgia had accompanied his illustrious cousin.

I flushed and paled at that piece of news, and the reason of her summons no longer asked conjecture. It was an easy thing for me, knowing what I knew, to fill in the details which the courier omitted in ignorance from the story.

The Lord Filippo, seeking his own advancement, had so urged his sister upon the notice of the Borgia family--perhaps even approached Cesare--in such a manner that it was again become a question of wedding her to Ignacio, who had, meanwhile, remained unmarried. I could read that opportunist's motives as easily as if he had written them down for my instruction. Giovanni Sforza he accounted lost beyond redemption, and I could imagine how he had plied his wits to aid his sister to forget him, or else to remember him no longer with affection. Whether he had succeeded or not I could not say until I had seen her; but meanwhile, deeming ripe the soil of her heart for the new attachment that should redound so much to his own credit--now that the House of Borgia had risen to such splendid heights--he was driving her into this alliance with Ignacio.

Faithful to the very letter of the promise I had made her, I set out that same night, after embracing my poor, tearful mother, and promising to return as soon as might be. All night I rode, my soul now tortured with anxiety, now exalted at the supreme joy of seeing Madonna, which was so soon to be mine. I was at the gates of Pesaro before matins, and within the Palazzo Sforza ere its inmates had broken their fast.

The Lord Filippo welcomed me with a certain effusion, chiding me for my long absence and the ingratitude it had seemed to indicate, and never dreaming by what summons I was brought back.

"You are well-returned," he told me in conclusion. "We shall need you soon, to write an epithalamium."

"You are to be wed, Magnificent?" quoth I at last, at which he laughed consumedly.

"Nay, we shall need the song for my sister's nuptials. She is to wed the Lord Ignacio Borgia, before Christmas."

"A lofty theme," I answered with humility, "and one that may well demand resources nobler than those of my poor pen."

"Then get you to work at once upon it. I will have your chamber prepared."

He sent for his seneschal, a person--like most Of the servants at the Palace--strange to me, and he gave orders that I should be sumptuously lodged. He was grown more splendid than ever in the prosperity that seemed to surround him here at Pesaro, in this Palace that had undergone such changes and been so enriched during the past two years as to go near defying recognition.

When the seneschal had shown me to the quarters he had set apart for me, I made bold to make inquiries concerning Madonna Paola.

"She is in the garden, Illustrious," answered the seneschal, deeming me, no doubt, a great lord, from the respect which Filippo had indicated should be shown me. "Madonna has the wisdom to seek the little sunshine the year still holds. Winter will be soon upon us."

I agreed with the old man, and dismissed him. So soon as he was gone, I quitted my chamber, and all dust staineded as I was I made my way down to the garden. A turn in one of the boxwood-bordered alleys brought me suddenly face to face with Madonna Paola.

A moment we stood looking at each other, my heart swelling within me until I thought that it must burst. Then I advanced a step and sank on one knee before her.

"You sent for me, Madonna. I am here." There was a pause, and when presently I looked up into her blessed face I saw a smile of infinite sorrow on her lips, blending oddly with the gladness that shone from her sweet eyes.

"You faithful one," she murmured at last. "Dear Lazzaro, I did not look for you so soon."

"Within an hour of your messenger's arrival I was in the saddle, nor did I pause until I had reached the gates of Pesaro. I am here to serve you to the utmost of my power, Madonna, and the only doubt that assails me is that my power may be all too small for the service that you need."

"Is its nature known to you?" she asked in wonder. Then, ere I had answered, she bade me rise, and with her own hand assisted me.

"I have guessed it," answered I, "guided by such scraps of information as from your messenger I gleaned. It concerns, unless I err, the Lord Ignacio Borgia."

"Your wits have lost nothing of their quickness," she said, with a sad smile, "and I doubt me you know all."

"The only thing I did not know your brother has just told me--that you are to be wed before Christmas. He has ordered me to write your epithalamium."

She drew into step beside me, and we slowly paced the alley side by side, and, as we went, withered leaves overhead, and withered leaves to make a carpet for our fret, she told me in her own way more or less what I have set down, even to her brother's self-seeking share in the transaction that she dubbed hideous and abhorrent.

She was little changed, this winsome lady in the time that was sped. She was in her twenty-first year, but in reality she seemed to me no older than she had been on that day when first I saw her arguing with her grooms upon the road to Cagli. And from this I reassured myself that she had not been fretted overmuch by the absence of the Lord Giovanni.

Presently she spoke of him and of her plighted word which her brother and those supple gentlemen of the House of Borgia were inducing her to dishonour.

"Once before, in a case almost identical, when all seemed lost, you came--as if Heaven directed--to my rescue. This it is that gives me confidence in such aid as you might lend me now."

"Alas! Madonna," I sighed, "but the times are sorely changed and the situations with them. What is there now that I can do?"

"What you did then. Take me beyond their reach."

"Ah! But whither?"

"Whither but to the Lord Giovanni? Is it not to him that my troth is plighted?"

I shook my head in sorrow, a thrust of jealousy cutting me the while.

"That may not be," said I. "It were not seemly, unless the Lord Giovanni were here himself to take you hence."

"Then I will write to the Lord Giovanni," she cried. "I will write, and you shall bear my letter."

"What think you will the Lord Giovanni do?" I burst out, with a scorn that must have puzzled her. "Think you his safety does not give him care enough in the hiding-place to which he has crept, that he should draw upon himself the vengeance of the Borgias?"

She stared at me in ineffable surprise. "But the Lord Giovanni is brave and valiant," she cried, and down in my heart I laughed in bitter mockery.

"Do you love the Lord Giovanni, Madonna?" I asked bluntly.

My question seemed to awaken fresh astonishment. It may well be that it awakened, too, reflection. She was silent for a little space. Then--

"I honour and respect him for a noble, chivalrous and gifted gentleman," she answered me, and her answer made me singularly content, spreading a balm upon the wounds my soul had taken. But to her fresh intercessions that I should carry a letter to him, I shook my head again. My mood was stubborn.

"Believe me, Madonna, it were not only unwise, but futile."

She protested.

"I swear it would be," I insisted, with a convincing force that left her staring at me and wondering whence I derived so much assurance. "We must wait. From now till Christmas we have more than two months. In two months much may befall. As a last resource we may consider communication with the Lord Giovanni. But it is a forlorn hope, Madonna, and so we will leave it until all else has failed us."

She brightened at my promise that at least if other measures proved unavailing, we should adopt that course, and her brightening flattered me, for it bore witness to the supreme confidence she had in me.

"Lazzaro," said she, "I know you will not fail me. I trust you more than any living mam; more, I think, than even the Lord Giovanni, whom, if God pleases, I shall some day wed."

"Thanks, Madonna mia," I answered, gratefully indeed. "It is a trust that I shall ever strive to justify. Meanwhile have faith and hope, and wait."

Once before, when, to escape the schemes of her brother who would have wed her to the Lord Giovanni, she had appealed to me, the counsel I had given her had been much the same as that which I gave her now. At the irony of it I could have laughed had any other been in question but Madonna Paola--this tender White Flower of the Quince that was like to be rudely wilted by the ruthless hands of scheming men.

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