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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Strolling Saint - Book 2. Giuliana - Chapter 4. My Lord Gambara Clears The Ground
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The Strolling Saint - Book 2. Giuliana - Chapter 4. My Lord Gambara Clears The Ground Post by :Odilia_Paula Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :2923

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The Strolling Saint - Book 2. Giuliana - Chapter 4. My Lord Gambara Clears The Ground

BOOK II. GIULIANA
CHAPTER IV. MY LORD GAMBARA CLEARS THE GROUND

I had angered her! Worse; I had exposed her to humiliation at the hands of that unworthy animal who soiled her in thought with the slime of his suspicions. Through me she had been put to the shameful need of listening at a door, and had been subjected to the ignominy of being so discovered. Through me she had been mocked and derided!

It was all anguish to me. For her there was no shame, no humiliation, no pain I would not suffer, and take joy in the suffering so that it be for her. But to have submitted that sweet, angelic woman to suffering--to have incurred her just anger! Woe me!

I came to the table that evening full of uneasiness, very unhappy, feeling it an effort to bring myself into her presence and endure be it her regard or her neglect. To my relief she sent word that she was not well and would keep her chamber; and Fifanti smiled oddly as he stroked his blue chin and gave me a sidelong glance. We ate in silence, and when the meal was done, I departed, still without a word to my preceptor, and went to shut myself up again in my room.

I slept ill that night, and very early next morning I was astir. I went down into the garden somewhere about the hour of sunrise, through the wet grass that was all scintillant with dew. On the marble bench by the pond, where the water-lilies were now rotting, I flung myself down, and there was I found a half-hour later by Giuliana herself.

She stole up gently behind me, and all absorbed and moody as I was, I had no knowledge of her presence until her crisp boyish voice startled me out of my musings.

"Of what do we brood here so early, sir saint?" quoth she.

I turned to meet her laughing eyes. "You... you can forgive me?" I faltered foolishly.

She pouted tenderly. "Should I not forgive one who has acted foolishly out of love for me?"

"It was, it was..." I cried; and there stopped, all confused, feeling myself growing red under her lazy glance.

"I know it was," she answered. She set her elbows on the seat's tall back until I could feel her sweet breath upon my brow. "And should I bear you a resentment, then? My poor Agostino, have I no heart to feel? Am I but a cold, reasoning intelligence like that thing my husband? O God! To have been mated to that withered pedant! To have been sacrificed, to have been sold into such bondage! Me miserable!"

"Giuliana!" I murmured soothingly, yet agonized myself.

"Could none have foretold me that you must come some day?"

"Hush!" I implored her. "What are you saying?"

But though I begged her to be silent, my soul was avid for more such words from her--from her, the most perfect and beautiful of women.

"Why should I not?" said she. "Is truth ever to be stifled? Ever?"

I was mad, I know--quite mad. Her words had made me so. And when, to ask me that insistent question, she brought her face still nearer, I flung down the reins of my unreason and let it ride amain upon its desperate, reckless course. In short, I too leaned forward, I leaned forward, and I kissed her full upon those scarlet, parted lips.

I kissed her, and fell back with a cry that was of anguish almost--so poignantly had the sweet, fierce pain of that kiss run through my every fibre. And as I cried out, so too did she, stepping back, her hands suddenly to her face. But the next moment she was peering up at the windows of the house--those inscrutable eyes that looked upon our deed; that looked and of which it was impossible to discern how much they might have seen.

"If he should have seen us!" was her cry; and it moved me unpleasantly that such should have been the first thought my kiss inspired in her. "If he should have seen us! Gesu! I have enough to bear already!"

"I care not," said I. "Let him see. I am not Messer Gambara. No man shall put an insult upon you on my account, and live."

I was become the very ranting, roaring, fire-breathing type of lover who will slaughter a whole world to do pleasure to his mistress or to spare her pain--I--I--I, Agostino d'Anguissola--who was to be ordained next month and walk in the ways of St. Augustine!

Laugh as you read--for very pity, laugh!

"Nay, nay," she reassured herself. "He will be still abed. He was snoring when I left." And she dismissed her fears, and looked at me again, and returned to the matter of that kiss.

"What have you done to me, Agostino?"

I dropped my glance before her languid eyes. "What I have done to no other woman yet," I answered, a certain gloom creeping over the exultation that still thrilled me. "O Giuliana, what have you done to me? You have bewitched me; You have made me mad!" And I set my elbows on my knees and took my head in my hands, and sat there, overwhelmed now by the full consciousness of the irrevocable thing that I had done, a thing that must brand my soul for ever, so it seemed.

To have kissed a maid would have been ill enough for one whose aims were mine. But to kiss a wife, to become a cicisbeo! The thing assumed in my mind proportions foolishly, extravagantly beyond its evil reality.

"You are cruel, Agostino," she whispered behind me. She had come to lean again upon the back of the bench. "Am I alone to blame? Can the iron withstand the lodestone? Can the rain help falling upon the earth? Can the stream flow other than downhill?" She sighed. "Woe me! It is I who should be angered that you have made free of my lips. And yet I am here, wooing you to forgive me for the sin that is your own."

I cried out at that and turned to her again, and I was very white, I know.

"You tempted me!" was my coward's cry.

"So said Adam once. Yet God thought otherwise, for Adam was as fully punished as was Eve." She smiled wistfully into my eyes, and my senses reeled again. And then old Busio, the servant, came suddenly forth from the house upon some domestic errand to Giuliana, and thus was that situation mercifully brought to an end.

For the rest of the day I lived upon the memory of that morning, reciting to myself each word that she had uttered, conjuring up in memory the vision of her every look. And my absent-mindedness was visible to Fifanti when I came to my studies with him later. He grew more peevish with me than was habitual, dubbed me dunce and wooden-head, and commended the wisdom of those who had determined upon a claustral life for me, admitting that I knew enough Latin to enable me to celebrate as well as another without too clear a knowledge of the meaning of what I pattered. All of which was grossly untrue, for, as none knew better than himself, the fluency of my Latin was above the common wont of students. When I told him so, he delivered himself of his opinion upon the common wont of students with all the sourness of his crabbed nature.

"I'll write an ode for you upon any subject that you may set me," I challenged him.

"Then write one upon impudence," said he. "It is a subject you should understand." And upon that he got up and flung out of the room in a pet before I could think of an answer.

Left alone, I began an ode which should prove to him his lack of justice. But I got no further than two lines of it. Then for a spell I sat biting my quill, my mind and the eyes of my soul full of Giuliana.

Presently I began to write again. It was not an ode, but a prayer, oddly profane--and it was in Italian, in the "dialettale" that provoked Fifanti's sneers. How it ran I have forgotten these many years. But I recall that in it I likened myself to a sailor navigating shoals and besought the pharos of Giuliana's eyes to bring me safely through, besought her to anoint me with her glance and so hearten me to brave the dangers of that procellous sea.

I read it first with satisfaction, then with dismay as I realized to the full its amorous meaning. Lastly I tore it up and went below to dine.

We were still at table when my Lord Gambara arrived. He came on horseback attended by two grooms whom he left to await him. He was all in black velvet, I remember, even to his thigh-boots which were laced up the sides with gold, and on his breast gleamed a fine medallion of diamonds. Of the prelate there was about him, as usual, nothing but the scarlet cloak and the sapphire ring.

Fifanti rose and set a chair for him, smiling a crooked smile that held more hostility than welcome. None the less did his excellency pay Madonna Giuliana a thousand compliments as he took his seat, supremely calm and easy in his manner. I watched him closely, and I watched Giuliana, a queer fresh uneasiness pervading me.

The talk was trivial and chiefly concerned with the progress of the barracks the legate was building and the fine new road from the middle of the city to the Church of Santa Chiara, which he intended should be called the Via Gambara, but which, despite his intentions, is known to-day as the Stradone Farnese.

Presently my cousin arrived, full-armed and very martial by contrast with the velvety Cardinal. He frowned to see Messer Gambara, then effaced the frown and smiled as, one by one, he greeted us. Last of all he turned to me.

"And how fares his saintliness?" quoth he.

"Indeed, none too saintly," said I, speaking my thoughts aloud.

He laughed. "Why, then, the sooner we are in orders, the sooner shall we be on the road to mending that. Is it not so, Messer Fifanti?

"His ordination will profit you, I nothing doubt," said Fifanti, with his habitual discourtesy and acidity. "So you do well to urge it."

The answer put my cousin entirely out of countenance a moment. It was a blunt way of reminding me that in this Cosimo I saw one who followed after me in the heirship to Mondolfo, and in whose interests it was that I should don the conventual scapulary.

I looked at Cosimo's haughty face and cruel mouth, and conjectured in that hour whether I should have found him so very civil and pleasant a cousin had things been other than they were.

O, a very serpent was Messer Fifanti; and I have since wondered whether of intent he sought to sow in my heart hatred of my guelphic cousin, that he might make of me a tool for his own service--as you shall come to understand.

Meanwhile, Cosimo, having recovered, waved aside the imputation, and smiled easily.

"Nay, there you wrong me. The Anguissola lose more than I shall gain by Agostino's renunciation of the world. And I am sorry for it. You believe me, cousin?"

I answered his courteous speech as it deserved, in very courteous terms. This set a pleasanter humour upon all. Yet some restraint abode. Each sat, it seemed, as a man upon his guard. My cousin watched Gambara's every look whenever the latter turned to speak to Giuliana; the Cardinal-legate did the like by him; and Messer Fifanti watched them both.

And, meantime, Giuliana sat there, listening now to one, now to the other, her lazy smile parting those scarlet lips--those lips that I had kissed that morning--I, whom no one thought of watching!

And soon came Messer Annibale Caro, with lines from the last pages of his translation oozing from him. And when presently Giuliana smote her hands together in ecstatic pleasure at one of those same lines and bade him repeat it to her, he swore roundly by all the gods that are mentioned in Virgil that he would dedicate the work to her upon its completion.

At this the surliness became general once more and my Lord Gambara ventured the opinion--and there was a note of promise, almost of threat, in his sleek tones--that the Duke would shortly be needing Messer Caro's presence in Parma; whereupon Messer Caro cursed the Duke roundly and with all a poet's volubility of invective.

They stayed late, each intent, no doubt, upon outstaying the others. But since none would give way they were forced in the end to depart together.

And whilst Messer Fifanti, as became a host, was seeing them to their horses, I was left alone with Giuliana.

"Why do you suffer those men?" I asked her bluntly. Her delicate brows were raised in surprise. "Why, what now? They are very pleasant gentlemen, Agostino."

"Too pleasant," said I, and rising I crossed to the window whence I could watch them getting to horse, all save Caro, who had come afoot. "Too pleasant by much. That prelate out of Hell, now..."

"Sh!" she hissed at me, smiling, her hand raised. "Should he hear you, he might send you to the cage for sacrilege. O Agostino!" she cried, and the smiles all vanished from her face. "Will you grow cruel and suspicious, too?"

I was disarmed. I realized my meanness and unworthiness.

"Have patience with me," I implored her. "I... I am not myself to-day." I sighed ponderously, and fell silent as I watched them ride away. Yet I hated them all; and most of all I hated the dainty, perfumed, golden-headed Cardinal-legate.

He came again upon the morrow, and we learnt from the news of which he was the bearer that he had carried out his threat concerning Messer Caro. The poet was on his way to Parma, to Duke Pier Luigi, dispatched thither on a mission of importance by the Cardinal. He spoke, too, of sending my cousin to Perugia, where a strong hand was needed, as the town showed signs of mutiny against the authority of the Holy See.

When he had departed, Messer Fifanti permitted himself one of his bitter insinuations.

"He desires a clear field," he said, smiling his cold smile upon Giuliana. "It but remains for him to discover that his Duke has need of me as well."

He spoke of it as a possible contingency, but sarcastically, as men speak of things too remote to be seriously considered. He was to remember his words two days later when the very thing came to pass.

We were at breakfast when the blow fell.

There came a clatter of hooves under our windows, which stood open to the tepid September morning, and soon there was old Busio ushering in an officer of the Pontificals with a parchment tied in scarlet silk and sealed with the arms of Piacenza.

Messer Fifanti took the package and weighed it in his hand, frowning. Perhaps already some foreboding of the nature of its contents was in his mind. Meanwhile, Giuliana poured wine for the officer, and Busio bore him the cup upon a salver.

Fifanti ripped away silk and seals, and set himself to read. I can see him now, standing near the window to which he had moved to gain a better light, the parchment under his very nose, his short-sighted eyes screwed up as he acquainted himself with the letter's contents. Then I saw him turn a sickly leaden hue. He stared at the officer a moment and then at Giuliana. But I do not think that he saw either of them. His look was the blank look of one whose thoughts are very distant.

He thrust his hands behind him, and with head forward, in that curious attitude so reminiscent of a bird of prey, he stepped slowly back to his place at the table-head. Slowly his cheeks resumed their normal tint.

"Very well, sir," he said, addressing the officer. "Inform his excellency that I shall obey the summons of the Duke's magnificence without delay."

The officer bowed to Giuliana, took his leave, and went, old Busio escorting him.

"A summons from the Duke?" cried Giuliana, and then the storm broke

"Ay," he answered, grimly quiet, "a summons from the Duke." And he tossed it across the table to her.

I saw that fateful document float an instant in the air, and then, thrown out of poise by the blob of wax, swoop slanting to her lap.

"It will come no doubt as a surprise to you," he growled; and upon that his hard-held passion burst all bonds that he could impose upon it. His great bony fist crashed down upon the board and swept a precious Venetian beaker to the ground, where it burst into a thousand atoms, spreading red wine like a bloodstain upon the floor.

"Said I not that this rascal Cardinal would make a clear field for himself? Said I not so?" He laughed shrill and fiercely. "He would send your husband packing as he has sent his other rivals. O, there is a stipend waiting--a stipend of three hundred ducats yearly that shall be made into six hundred presently, and all for my complaisance, all that I may be a joyous and content cornuto!"

He strode to the window cursing horribly, whilst Giuliana sat white of face with lips compressed and heaving bosom, her eyes upon her plate.

"My Lord Cardinal and his Duke may take themselves together to Hell ere I obey the summons that the one has sent me at the desire of the other. Here I stay to guard what is my own."

"You are a fool," said Giuliana at length, "and a knave, too, for you insult me without cause."

"Without cause? O, without cause, eh? By the Host! Yet you would not have me stay?"

"I would not have you gaoled, which is what will happen if you disobey the Duke's magnificence," said she.

"Gaoled?" quoth he, of a sudden trembling in the increasing intensity of his passion. "Caged, perhaps--to die of hunger and thirst and exposure, like that poor wretch Domenico who perished yesterday, at last, because he dared to speak the truth. Gesu!" he groaned. "O, miserable me!" And he sank into a chair.

But the next instant he was up again, and his long arms were waving fiercely. "By the Eyes of God! They shall have cause to cage me. If I am to be horned like a bull, I'll use those same horns. I'll gore their vitals. O madam, since of your wantonness you inclined to harlotry, you should have wedded another than Astorre Fifanti."

It was too much. I leapt to my feet.

"Messer Fifanti," I blazed at him. "I'll not remain to hear such words addressed to this sweet lady."

"Ah, yes," he snarled, wheeling suddenly upon me as if he would strike me. "I had forgot the champion, the preux-chevalier, the saint in embryo! You will not remain to hear the truth, sir, eh?" And he strode, mouthing, to the door, and flung it wide so that it crashed against the wall. "This is your remedy. Get you hence! Go! What passes here concerns you not. Go!" he roared like a mad beast, his rage a thing terrific.

I looked at him and from him to Giuliana, and my eyes most clearly invited her to tell me how she would have me act.

"Indeed, you had best go, Agostino," she answered sadly. "I shall bear his insults easier if there be no witness. Yes, go."

"Since it is your wish, Madonna," I bowed to her, and very erect, very defiant of mien, I went slowly past the livid Fifanti, and so out. I heard the door slammed after me, and in the little hall I came upon Busio, who was wringing his hand and looking very white. He ran to me.

"He will murder her, Messer Agostino," moaned the old man. "He can be a devil in his anger."

"He is a devil always, in anger and out of it," said I. "He needs an exorcist. It is a task that I should relish. I'd beat the devils out of him, Busio, and she would let me. Meanwhile, stay we here, and if she needs our help, it shall be hers."

I dropped on to the carved settle that stood there, old Busio standing at my elbow, more tranquil now that there was help at hand for Madonna in case of need. And through the door came the sound of his storming, and presently the crash of more broken glassware, as once more he thumped the table. For well-high half an hour his fury lasted, and it was seldom that her voice was interposed. Once we heard her laugh, cold and cutting as a sword's edge, and I shivered at the sound, for it was not good to hear.

At last the door was opened and he came forth. His face was inflamed, his eyes wild and blood-injected. He paused for a moment on the threshold, but I do not think that he noticed us at first. He looked back at her over his shoulder, still sitting at table, the outline of her white-gowned body sharply defined against the deep blue tapestry of the wall behind her.

"You are warned," said he. "Do you heed the warning!" And he came forward.

Perceiving me at last where I sat, he bared his broken teeth in a snarling smile. But it was to Busio that he spoke. "Have my mule saddled for me in an hour," he said, and passed on and up the stairs to make his preparations. It seemed, therefore, that she had conquered his suspicions.

I went in to offer her comfort, for she was weeping and all shaken by that cruel encounter. But she waved me away.

"Not now, Agostino. Not now," she implored me. "Leave me to myself, my friend."

I had not been her friend had I not obeyed her without question.

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