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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Shame Of Motley - Part 2. The Ogre Of Cesena - Chapter 18. The Letter
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The Shame Of Motley - Part 2. The Ogre Of Cesena - Chapter 18. The Letter Post by :karrine Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :1978

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The Shame Of Motley - Part 2. The Ogre Of Cesena - Chapter 18. The Letter


On tiptoe I crept down that corridor to the gallery above the banqueting-hall, secure from sight in the enveloping darkness, and intent upon allowing no sound to betray my presence, lest Ramiro should have awakened. Behind me, treading as lightly, came Messer Mariani.

Thus we gained the gallery. I leaned against the stout oaken balustrade, and looked down into the black pit of the hall, broken in the centre by the circle of light from the two tapers that burnt upon the table. The other torches had all been quenched.

At the table sat Messer Ramiro, his head fallen forward and sideways upon his right arm which was outstretched and limp along the board. Before him lay a paper which I inferred to be the letter whose possession might mean so much.

I could hear the old man breathing heavily beside me as I leaned there in the dark, and sought to devise a means by which that paper might be obtained. No doubt it would be the easiest thing in the world to snatch it away without disturbing him. But there was always to be considered that when he waked and missed the letter we should have to reckon with his measures to regain possession of it.

It became necessary, therefore, to go about it in a manner that should leave him unsuspicious of the theft. A little while I pondered this, deeming the thing desperate at first. Then an idea came to me on a sudden, and turning to Mariani I asked him could he find me a sheet of paper of about the size of that letter held by Ramiro. He answered me that he could, and bade me wait there until he should return.

I waited, watching the sleeper below, my excitement waxing with every second of the delay. Ramiro was snoring now--a loud, sonorous snore that rang like a trumpet-blast through that vast empty hall.

At last Mariani returned, bringing the sheet of paper I had asked for, and he was full of questions of what I intended. But neither the place nor the time was one in which to stand unfolding plans. Every moment wasted increased the uncertainty of the success of my design. Someone might come, or Ramiro might awaken despite the potency of the wine he had been given--for on so well-seasoned a toper the most potent of wines could have but a transient effect.

So I left Mariani, and moved swiftly and silently to the head of the staircase.

I had gone down two steps, when, in the dark, I missed the third, the bells in my cap jangling at the shock. I brought my teeth together and stood breathless in apprehension, fearing that the noise might awaken him, and cursing myself for a careless fool to have forgotten those infernal bells. Above me I heard a warning hiss from old Mariani, which, if anything, increased my dread. But Ramiro snored on, and I was reassured.

A moment I stood debating whether I should go on, or first return to divest myself of that cap of mine. In the end I decided to pursue the latter course. The need for swift and sudden movement might come ere I was done with this adventure, and those bells might easily be the undoing of me. So back I went to the surprise and infinite dismay of Mariani until I had whispered in his ear the reason. We retreated together to the corridor, and there, with his help, I removed my jangling headgear, which I left him to restore to my chamber.

Whilst he went upon that errand I returned once more on mine, and this time I gained the foot of the stairs without mishap, and stood in the hall. Ramiro's back was towards me. On my right stood the tall buffet from which the boy had fetched him wine that evening; this I marked out as the cover to which I must fly in case of need.

A second I stood hesitating, still considering my course; then I went softly forward, my feet making no sound in the rushes of the floor. I had covered half the distance, and, growing bolder, I was advancing more swiftly and with less caution, when suddenly my knee came in contact with a three-legged stool that had been carelessly left where none would have suspected it. The blow may have hurt afterwards, indeed, I was conscious of a soreness at the knee; but at the moment I had no thought or care for physical pain. The bench went over with a crash, and for all that the rushes may have deadened in part the sound of its fall, to my nervous ear it boomed like the report of a cannon through the stillness of the place.

I turned cold as ice, and the sweat of fear sprang out to moisten me from head to foot. Instantly I dropped on all fours, lest Ramiro, awaking suddenly, should turn; and I waited for the least sign that should render advisable my seeking the cover of the buffet. In the gallery above I could picture old Mariani clenching his teeth at the noise, his knees knocking together, and his face white with horror; for Ramiro's snoring had abruptly ceased. It came to an end with a choking catch of the breath, and I looked to see him raise his head and start up to ascertain what it was that had aroused him. But he never stirred, and for all that he no longer snored, his breathing continued heavy and regular, so that I was cheered by the assurance that I had but disturbed his slumber, not dispelled it.

Yet, since I had disturbed and lightened it, a greater precaution was now necessary, and I waited there for some ten minutes maybe, a period that must have proved a very eternity to the old man upstairs. At last I had the reward of hearing the snoring recommence; lightly at first, but soon with all its former fullness.

I rose and proceeded now with a caution that must guard me from any more unlooked-for obstacles. Moreover, as I approached, the darkness was dispelled more and more at every stride in the direction of the light. At last I reached the table, and stood silent as a spectre at Ramiro's side, looking down upon the features of the sleeping man.

His face was flushed, and his tawny hair tumbled about his damp brow; his lips quivered as he breathed. For a moment, as I stood gazing on him, there was murder in my mind. His dagger hung temptingly in his girdle. To have drawn it and rid the world of this monster might have been a worthy deed, acceptable in the eyes of Heaven. But how should it profit me? Rather must it prove my destruction at the hands of his followers, and to be destroyed just then, with Paola depending upon me, and life full of promise once I regained my liberty, was something I had no mind to risk.

My eyes wandered to the letter lying on the table. If this were of the nature we suspected, it should prove a safer tool for his destruction.

To read it as it lay was an easy matter, and it came to me then that ere I decided upon my course it might be well that I should do so. If by chance it were innocent of treason, why, then, I might resort to the risk of that other and more desperate weapon--his own dagger.

At the foot of the short flight of steps that led from the hall to the courtyard I could hear the slow pacing of the sentry placed there by Ramiro. But unless he were summoned, it was extremely unlikely that the fellow would leave his post, so that, I concluded, I had little to fear from that quarter. I drew back and taking up a position behind Ramiro's chair--a position more favourable to escape in the untoward event of his awaking--I craned forward to read the letter over his shoulder. I thanked God in that hour for two things: that my sight was keen, and that Vitellozzo Vitelli wrote a large, bold hand.

Scarcely breathing, and distracted the while by the mad racing of my pulses, I read; and this, as nearly as I can remember, is what the letter contained:

"ILLUSTRIOUS RAMIRO--Your answer to my last letter reached me safely, and it rejoiced me to learn that you had found a man for our undertaking. See that you have him in readiness, for the hour of action is at hand. Cesare goes south on the second or third day of the New Year, and he has announced to me his intention of passing through Cesena on his way, there to investigate certain charges of maladministration which have been preferred against you. These concern, in particular, certain misappropriation of grain and stores, and an excessive severity of rule, of which complaints have reached him. From this you will gather that out of a spirit of self-defence, if not to earn the reward which we have bound ourselves to pay you, it is expedient that you should not fail us. The occasion of the Duke's visit to Cesena will be, of all, the most propitious for our purpose. Have your arbalister posed, and may God strengthen his arm and render true his aim to the end that Italy may be rid of a tyrant. I commend myself to your Excellency, and I shall anxiously await your news.


Here indeed were my hopes realised. A plot there was, and it aimed at nothing less than the Duca Valentino's life. Let that letter be borne to Cesare Borgia at Faenza, and I would warrant that within a dozen hours of his receipt of it he would so dispose that all who had suffered by the cruel tyranny of Ramiro del' Orca would be avenged, and those who were still suffering would be relieved. In this letter lay my own freedom and the salvation of Madonna Paula, and this letter it behoved me at once to become possessed. It was a safer far alternative than that dagger of his.

A moment I stood pondering the matter for the last time, then stepping sideways and forward, so that I was again beside him, I put out my hand and swiftly whipped the letter from the table. Then standing very still, to prevent the slightest rustle, I remained a second or two observing him. He snored on, undisturbed by my light-fingered action.

I drew away a pace or two, as lightly as I might, and folding the letter I thrust it into my girdle. Then from my open doublet I drew the sheet that Mariani had supplied me, and, advancing again, I placed it on the table in a position almost identical with that which the original had occupied, saving that it was removed a half-finger's breadth from his hand, for I feared to allow it actually to touch him lest it should arouse him.

Holding my breath, for now was I come to the most desperate part of my undertaking, I caught up one of the tapers and set fire to a corner of the sheet. That done, I left the candle lying on its side against the paper, so as to convey the impression to him, when presently he awakened, that it had fallen from it sconce. Then, without waiting for more, I backed swiftly away, watching the progress of the flames as they devoured the paper and presently reached his hand and scorched it.

At that I dropped again on all fours, and having gained the corner of the buffet, I crouched there, even as with a sudden scream of pain he woke and sprang upright, shaking his blistered hand. As a matter of instinct he looked about to see what it was had hurt him. Then his eyes fell upon the charred paper on the table, and the fallen candle, which was still burning across one end of it, and even to the dull wits of Ramiro del' Orca the only possible conclusion was suggested. He stared at it a moment, then swept that flimsy sheet of ashes from the table with an oath, and sank back once more into his great leathern chair.

"Body of God!" he swore aloud, "it is well that I had read it a dozen times. Better that it should have been burnt than that someone should have read it whilst I slept."

The idea of such a possibility seemed to rouse him to fresh action, for seizing the fallen candle and replacing it in its socket, he rose once more, and holding it high above his head he looked about the hall.

The light it shed may have been feeble, and the shadows about my buffet thick; but, as I have said, my doublet was open, and some ray of that weak candlelight must have found out the white shirt that was showing at my breast, for with a sudden cry he pushed back his chair and took a step towards me, no doubt intent upon investigating that white something that he saw gleaming there.

I waited for no more. I had no fancy to be caught in that corner, utterly at his mercy. I stood up suddenly.

"Magnificent, it is I," I announced, with a calm and boundless effrontery.

The boldness of it may have staggered him a little, for he paused, although his eyes were glowing horribly with the frenzy that possessed him, the half of which was drunkenness, the other fear and wrath lest I should have seen his treacherous communication from Vitelli.

"What make you here?" he questioned threateningly.

"I thirsted, Excellency," I answered glibly. "I thirsted, and I bethought me of this buffet where you keep your wine."

He continued to eye me, some six paces off, his half-drunken wits no doubt weighing the plausibility of my answer. At last--

"If that be all, what cause had you to hide?" he asked me shrewdly.

"One of your candles fell over and awakened you," said I. "I feared you might resent my presence, and so I hid."

"You came not near the table?" he inquired. "You saw nothing of the paper that I held? Nay, by the Host! I'll take no risks. You were born 'neath an unlucky star, fool; for be your reason for your presence here no more than you assert, you have come in a season that must be fatal to you."

He set the candle on the table, then carrying his hand to his girdle he withdrew it sharply, and I caught the gleam of a dagger.

In that instant I thought of Mariani waiting above, and like a flash it came to me that if I could outpace this drunken brigand, and, gaining the gallery well ahead of him, transfer that letter to the old man's hands, I should not die in vain. Cesare Borgia would avenge me, and Madonna Paola, at least, would be safe from this villain. If Mariani could reach Valentino at Faenza, I would answer for it that within four-and-twenty hours Messer Ramiro del' Orca would be the banner on that ghastly beam that he facetiously dubbed his flagstaff; and he would be the blackest, dirtiest banner that ever yet had fluttered there.

The thought conceived in the twinkling of an eye, I acted upon without a second's hesitation. Ere Ramiro had taken his first step towards me, I had sprung to the stairs and I was leaping up them with the frantic speed of one upon whose heels death is treading closely.

A singular, fierce joy was blent with my measure of fear; a joy at the thought that even now, in this extremity, I was outwitting him, for never a doubt had he that the burnt paper he had found on the table was all that was left of Vitelli's letter. His fears were that I might have read it, but never a suspicion crossed his mind of such a trick as I had played upon him.

So I sped on, the gigantic Ramiro blundering after me, panting and blaspheming, for although powerful, his bulk and the wine he had taken left him no nimbleness. The distance between us widened, and if only Mariani would have the presence of mind to wait for me at the mouth of the passage, all would be as I could wish it before his dagger found my heart.

I was assuring myself of this when in the dark I stumbled, and striking my legs against a stair I hurtled forward. I recovered almost immediately, but, in my frenzy of haste to make up for the instant lost, I stumbled a second time ere I was well upon my feet.

With a roar Ramiro must have hurled himself forward, for I felt my ankle caught in a grip from which there was no escaping, and I was roughly and brutally dragged back and down those stairs; now my head, now my breast beating against the steps as I descended them one by one.

But even in that hour the letter was my first thought, and I found a way to thrust it farther under my girdle so that it should not be seen.

At last I reached the hall, half-stunned, and with all the misery of defeat and the certainty of the futility of my death to further torture my last moments. Over me stood Ramiro, his dagger upheld, ready to strike.

"Dog!" he taunted me, "your sands are run."

"Mercy, Magnificent," I gasped. "I have done nothing to deserve your poniard."

He laughed brutally, delaying his stroke that he might prolong my agony for his drunken entertainment.

"Address your prayers to Heaven," he mocked me, "and let them concern your soul."

And then, like a flash of inspiration came the words that should delay his hand.

"Spare me," I cried "for I am in mortal sin."

Impious, abandoned villain, though he was, he said too much when he boasted that he feared neither God nor Devil. He was prone to forget his God, and the lessons that as a babe he had learnt at his mother's knee--for I take it that even Ramiro del' Orca had once been a babe--but deep down in his soul there had remained the fear of Hell and an almost instinctive obedience to the laws of Mother Church. He could perform such ruthless cruelties as that of hurling a page into the fire to punish his clumsiness; he could rack and stab and hang men with the least shadow of compunction or twinge of conscience, but to slay a man who professed himself to be in mortal sin was a deed too appalling even for this ruthless butcher.

He hesitated a second, then he lowered his hand, his face telling me clearly how deeply he grudged me the respite which, yet, he dared not do other than accord me.

"Where shall I find me a priest?" he grumbled. "Think you the Citadel of Cesena is a monastery? I will wait while you make an act of contrition for your sins. It is all the shrift I can afford you. And get it done, for it is time I was abed. You shall have five minutes in which to clear your soul."

By this it seemed to me--as it may well seem to you--that matters were but little mended, and instead of employing the respite he accorded me in the pious collecting of thoughts which he enjoined, I sat up--very sore from my descent of the stairs--and employed those precious moments in putting forward arguments to turn him from, his murderous purpose.

"I have lived too ungodly a life," I protested, "to be able to squeeze into Paradise through so narrow a tate. As you would hope for your own ultimate salvation, Excellency, I do beseech you not to imperil mine."

This disposed him, at least, to listen to me, and proceeded to assure him of the harmless nature of my visit to the hall in quest of wine to quench my thirst. I was running the grave risk of dying with lies on my lips, but I was too desperate to give the matter thought just then. His mood seemed to relent; the delay, perhaps, had calmed his first access of passion, and he was grown more reasonable. But when Ramiro cooled he was, perhaps, more malignant than ever, for it meant a return to natural condition, and Ramiro's natural condition was one of cruelty unsurpassed.

"It may be as you say," he answered me at last, sheathing his dagger, "and at least you have my word that I will not slay you without first assuring myself that you have lied. For to-night you shall remain in durance. To-morrow we will apply the question to you."

The hope that had been reviving in my breast fell dead once more, and I turned cold at that threat. And yet, between now and to-morrow, much might betide, and I had cause for thankfulness, perhaps, for this respite. Thus I sought to cheer myself. But I fear I failed. To-morrow he would torture me, not so much to ascertain whether I had spoken truly, but because to his diseased mind it afforded diversion to witness a man's anguish. No doubt it was that had urged him now to spare my life and accord me this merciless piece of mercy.

In a loud voice he called the sentry who was pacing below; and in a moment the man appeared in answer to that summons.

"You will take this knave to the chamber set apart for him up there, and you will leave him secure under lock and bar, bringing me the key of his door."

The fellow informed himself which was the chamber, then turning to me he curtly bade me go with him. Thus was I haled back to my room, with the promise of horrors on the morrow, but with the night before me in which to scheme and pray for some miracle that might yet save me. But the days of miracles were long past. I lay on my bed and deplored with many a sigh that bitter fact. And if aught had been wanting to increase the weight of fear and anguish on my already over-burdened mind, and to aid in what almost seemed an infernal plot to utterly distract me, I had it in fresh, wild conjectures touching Madonna Paola. Where indeed could she be that Ramiro's men had failed to find her for all that they had scoured that part of the country in which I had left her to wait for my return? What if, by now, worse had befallen her than the capture with which Ramiro's lieutenant was charged?

With such doubts as these to haunt me, fretted as I was by my utter inability to take a step in her service, I lay. There for an hour or so in such agony of mind as is begotten only of suspense. In my girdle still reposed the treasonable letter from Vitelli to Ramiro, a mighty weapon with which to accomplish the butcher's overthrow. But how was I to wield it imprisoned here?

I wondered why Mariani had not returned, only to remember that the soldier who had locked me in had carried the key of my prison-chamber to Ramiro.

Suddenly the stillness was disturbed by a faint tap at my door. My instincts and my reason told me it must be Mariani at last. In an instant I had leapt from the bed and whispered through the keyhole:

"Who is there?"

"It is I--Mariani--the seneschal," came the old man's voice, very softly, but nevertheless distinctly. "They have taken the key."

I groaned, then in a gust of passion I fell to cursing Ramiro for that precaution.

"You have the letter?" came Mariani's voice again.

"Aye, I have it still," I answered.

"Have you seen what it contains?"

"A plot to assassinate the Duke--no less. Enough to get this bloody Ramiro broken on the wheel."

I was answered by a sound that was as a gasp of malicious joy. Then the old man's voice added:

"Can you pass it under the door? There is a sufficient gap."

I felt, and found that he was right; I could pass the half of my hand underneath. I took the letter and thrust it through. His hands fastened on it instantly, almost snatching it from my fingers before they were ready to release it.

"Have courage," he bade me. "Listen. I shall endeavour to leave Cesena in the morning, and I shall ride straight for Faenza. If I find the Duke there when I arrive, he should be here within some twelve or fourteen hours of my departure. Fence with Ramiro, temporise if you can till then, and all will be well with you."

"I will do what I can," I answered him. "But if he slays me in the meantime, at least I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that he will not be long in following me."

"May God shield you," he said fervently.

"May God speed you," I answered him, with a still greater fervour.

That night, as you may well conceive, I slept but little, and that little ill. The morning, instead of relieving the fears that in the darkness had been with me, seemed to increase them. For now was the time for Mariani to act, and I was fearful as to how he might succeed. I was full of doubts lest some obstacle should have arisen to prevent his departure from Cesena, and I spent my morning in wearisome speculation.

I took an almost childish satisfaction in the thought that since, being a prisoner, I could no longer count myself the Fool of the Court of Cesena, I was free to strip the motley and assume the more sober garments in which I had been taken, and which--as you may recall--had been placed in my chamber on the previous evening. It was the very plainest raiment. For doublet I wore a buff brigandine, quilted and dagger-proof, and caught at the waist by a girdle of hammered steel; my wine-coloured hose was stout and serviceable, as were my long boots of untanned leather. Yet prouder was I of this sober apparel than ever king of his ermine.

It may have been an hour or so past noon when, at last, my solitude was invaded by a soldier who came to order me into the presence of the Governor. I had been sitting at the window, leaning against the bars and looking out at the desolate white landscape, for there had been a heavy fall of snow in the night, which reminded me--as snow ever did--of my first meeting with Madonna Paola.

I rose upon the instant, and my fears rose with me. But I kept a bold front as I went down into the hall, where Ramiro and the blackguards of his Court were sitting, with three or four men-at-arms at attention by the door. Close to the pulleys appertaining to the torture of the cord stood two leather-clad ruffians--Ramiro's executioners.

At the head of the board, which was still strewn with fragments of food-for they had but dined--sat Ramiro del' Orca. With him were half a dozen of his officers, whose villainous appearance pronounced them worthy of their brutal leader. The air was heavy with the pungent odour of viands. I looked round for Mariani, and I took some comfort from the fact that he was absent. Might heaven please that he was even then on his way to Faenza.

Ramiro watched my advance with a smile in which mockery was blent with satisfaction, for all that of the resumption of my proper raiment he seemed to take no heed. No doubt he had dined well, and he was now disposing himself to be amused.

"Messer Bocadaro," said he, when I had come to a standstill, "there was last night a matter that was not cleared up between us and concerning which I expressed an intention of questioning you to-day. I should proceed to do so at once, were it not that there is yet another matter on which I am, if possible, still more desirous you should tell us all you know. Once already have you evaded my questions with answers which at the time I half believed. Even now I do not say that I utterly disbelieve them, but I wish to assure myself that you told the truth; for if you lied, why then we may still be assisted by such information the cord shall squeeze from you. I am referring to the mysterious disappearance of Madonna Paola di Santafior--a disappearance of which you have assured me that you knew nothing, being even in ignorance of the fact that the lady was not really dead. I had confidently expected that the party searching for Madonna Paola would have succeeded ere this in finding her. But this morning my hopes suffered disappointment. My men have returned empty-handed once more."

"For which mercy may Heaven be praised!" I burst out.

He scowled at me; then he laughed evilly.

"My men have returned--all save three. Captain Lucagnolo with two of his followers, has undertaken to go beyond the area I appointed for the search, and to proceed to the village of Cattolica. While he is pursuing his inquiries there, I have resolved to pursue my own here. I now call upon you, Boccadoro, to tell us what you know of Madonna Paola's whereabouts."

"I know nothing," I answered stoutly. "I am prepared to take oath that I know nothing of her whereabouts."

"Tell me, then, at least," said he, "where you bestowed her."

I shook my head, pressing my lips tight.

"Do you think that I would tell you if I had the knowledge?" was the scornful question with which I answered him. "You may pursue your inquiries as you will and where you will, but I pray God they may all prove as futile as must those that you would pursue here and upon my own person."

This was how I fenced with him, this was the manner in which I followed Mariani's sound advice that I should temporise! Oh! I know that my words were the words of a fool, yet no fear that Ramiro would inspire me could have restrained them.

There was a murmur at the table, and his fellows turned their eyes on Ramiro to see how he would receive this bearding. He smiled quietly, and raising his hand he made a sign to the executioners.

Rude hands seized me from behind, and the doublet was torn from my back by fingers that never paused to untruss my points.

They turned me about, and hurried me along until I stood under the pulleys of the torture, and one of the men held me securely whilst the other passed the cords about my wrists. Then both the executioners stepped back, to be ready to hoist me at the Governor's signal.

He delayed it, much as an epicure delays the consumption of a delectable morsel, heightening by suspense the keen desire of his palate. He watched me closely, and had my lips quivered or my eyelids fluttered, he would have hailed with joy such signs of weakness. But I take pride in truthfully writing that I stood bold and impassively before him, and if I was pale I thank Heaven that pallor was the habit of my countenance, so that from that he could gather no satisfaction. And standing there, I gave him back look for look, and waited.

"For the last time, Boccadoro," he said slowly, attempting by words to shake a demeanour that was proof against the impending facts of the cord, "I ask you to remember what must be the consequences of this stubbornness. If not at the first hoist, why then at the second or the third, the torture will compel you to disclose what you may know. Would you not be better advised to speak at once, while your limbs are soundly planted in their sockets, rather than let yourself be maimed, perhaps for life, ere you will do so?"

There was a stir of hoofs without. They thundered on the planks of the drawbridge and clattered on the stones of the courtyard. The thought of Cesare Borgia rose to my mind. But never did drowning man clutch at a more illusory straw. Cold reason quenched my hope at once. If the greatest imaginable success attended Mariani's journey, the Duke could not reach Cesena before midnight, and to that it wanted some ten hours at least. Moreover, the company that came was small to judge by the sound--a half-dozen horses at the most.

But Ramiro's attention had been diverted from me by the noise. Half-turning in his chair, he called to one of the men-at-arms to ascertain who came. Before the fellow could do his bidding, the door was thrust open and Lucagnolo appeared on the threshold, jaded and worn with hard riding.

A certain excitement arose in me at sight of him, despite my confidence that he must be returning empty-handed.

Ramiro rose, pushed back his chair and advanced towards the new-comer.

"Well?" he demanded. "What news?"

"Excellency, the girl is here."

That answer seemed to turn me into stone, so great was the shock of this sudden shattering of the confidence that had sustained me.

"My search in the country failing," pursued the captain, as he came forward, "I made bold to exceed your orders by pushing my inquiries as far as the village of Cattolica. There I found her after some little labour."

Surely I dreamt. Surely, I told myself, this was not possible. There was some mistake. Lucagnolo had drought some wench whom he believed to be Madonna Paola.

But even as I was assuring myself of this, the door opened again, and between two men-at-arms, white as death, her garments stained with mud and all but reduced to rags, and her eyes wild with a great fear, came my beloved Paola.

With a sound that was as a grunt of satisfaction, Ramiro strode forward to meet her. But her eyes travelled past him and rested upon me, standing there between the leather-clad executioners with the cords of the torture pinioning my wrists, and I saw the anguish deepen in their blue depths.

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