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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Strolling Saint - Book 3. The Wilderness - Chapter 2. The Captain Of Justice
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The Strolling Saint - Book 3. The Wilderness - Chapter 2. The Captain Of Justice Post by :crosscountry Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :2981

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The Strolling Saint - Book 3. The Wilderness - Chapter 2. The Captain Of Justice

BOOK III. THE WILDERNESS
CHAPTER II. THE CAPTAIN OF JUSTICE

There was a moment's silence after Rinolfo had flung that announcement.

"The Captain of Justice?" quoth my mother at length, her voice startled. "What does he seek?"

"The person of my Lord Agostino d'Anguissola," said Rinolfo steadily.

She sighed very heavily. "A felon's end!" she murmured, and turned to me. "If thus you may expiate your sins," she said, speaking more gently, "let the will of Heaven be done. Admit the captain, Ser Rinolfo."

He bowed, and turned sharply to depart.

"Stay!" I cried, and rooted him there by the imperative note of my command.

Fra Gervasio was more than right when he said that mine was not a nature for the cloister. In that moment I might have realized it to the full by the readiness with which the thought of battle occurred to me, and more by the anticipatory glow that warmed me at the very thought of it. I was the very son of Giovanni d'Anguissola.

"What force attends the captain?" I inquired.

"He has six mounted men with him," replied Rinolfo. "In that case," I answered, "you will bid him begone in my name."

"And if he should not go?" was Rinolfo's impudent question.

"You will tell him that I will drive him hence--him and his braves. We keep a garrison of a score of men at least--sufficient to compel him to depart."

"He will return again with more," said Rinolfo.

"Does that concern you?" I snapped. "Let him return with what he pleases. To-day I enrol more forces from the countryside, take up the bridge and mount our cannon. This is my lair and fortress, and I'll defend it and myself as becomes my name and blood. For I am the lord and master here, and the Lord of Mondolfo is not to be dragged away thus at the heels of a Captain of Justice. You have my orders, obey them. About it, sir."

Circumstances had shown me the way that I must take, and the folly of going forth a fugitive outcast at my mother's bidding. I was Lord of Mondolfo, as I had said, and they should know and feel it from this hour--all of them, not excepting my mother.

But I reckoned without the hatred Rinolfo bore me. Instead of the prompt obedience that I had looked for, he had turned again to my mother.

"Is it your wish, Madonna?" he inquired.

"It is my wish that counts, you knave," I thundered and advanced upon him.

But he fronted me intrepidly. "I hold my office from my Lady the Countess. I obey none other here."

"Body of God! Do you defy me?" I cried. "Am I Lord of Mondolfo, or am I a lackey in my own house? You'ld best obey me ere I break you, Ser Rinolfo. We shall see whether the men will take my orders," I added confidently.

The faintest smile illumined his dark face. "The men will not stir a finger at the bidding of any but Madonna the Countess and myself," he answered hardily.

It was by an effort that I refrained from striking him. And then my mother spoke again.

"It is as Ser Rinolfo says," she informed me. "So cease this futile resistance, sir son, and accept the expiation that is offered you."

I looked at her, she avoiding my glance.

"Madonna, I cannot think that it is so," said I. "These men have known me since I was a little lad. Many of them have followed the fortunes of my father. They'll never turn their backs upon his son in the hour of his need. They are not all so inhuman as my mother."

"You mistake, sir," said Rinolfo. "Of the men you knew but one or two remain. Most of our present force has been enrolled by me in the past month."

This was defeat, utter and pitiful. His tone was too confident, he was too sure of his ground to leave me a doubt as to what would befall if I made appeal to his knavish followers. My arms fell to my sides, and I looked at Gervasio. His face was haggard, and his eyes were very full of sorrow as they rested on me.

"It is true, Agostino," he said.

And as he spoke, Rinolfo limped out of the room to fetch the Captain of Justice, as my mother had bidden him; and his lips smiled cruelly.

"Madam mother," I said bitterly, "you do a monstrous thing. You usurp the power that is mine, and you deliver me--me, your son--to the gallows. I hope that, hereafter, when you come to realize to the full your deed, you will be able to give your conscience peace."

"My first duty is to God," she answered; and to that pitiable answer there was nothing to be rejoined.

So I turned my shoulder to her and stood waiting, Fra Gervasio beside me, clenching his hands in his impotence and mute despair. And then an approaching clank of mail heralded the coming of the captain.

Rinolfo held the door, and Cosimo d'Anguissola entered with a firm, proud tread, two of his men, following at his heels.

He wore a buff-coat, under which no doubt there would be a shirt of mail; his gorget and wristlets were of polished steel, and his headgear was a steel cap under a cover of peach-coloured velvet. Thigh-boots encased his legs; sword and dagger hung in the silver carriages at his belt; his handsome, aquiline face was very solemn.

He bowed profoundly to my mother, who rose to respond, and then he flashed me one swift glance of his piercing eyes.

"I deplore my business here," he announced shortly. "No doubt it will be known to you already." And he looked at me again, allowing his eyes to linger on my face.

"I am ready, sir," I said.

"Then we had best be going, for I understand that none could be less welcome here than I. Yet in this, Madonna, let me assure you that there is nothing personal to myself. I am the slave of my office. I do but perform it."

"So much protesting where no doubt has been expressed," said Fra Gervasio, "in itself casts a doubt upon your good faith. Are you not Cosimo d'Anguissola--my lord's cousin and heir?"

"I am," said he, "yet that has no part in this, sir friar."

"Then let it have part. Let it have the part it should have. Will you bear one of your own name and blood to the gallows? What will men say of that when they perceive your profit in the deed?"

Cosimo looked him boldly between the eyes, his hawk-face very white.

"Sir priest, I know not by what right you address me so. But you do me wrong. I am the Podesta of Piacenza bound by an oath that it would dishonour me to break; and break it I must or else fulfil my duty here. Enough!" he added, in his haughty, peremptory fashion. "Ser Agostino, I await your pleasure."

"I will appeal to Rome," cried Fra Gervasio, now beside himself with grief.

Cosimo smiled darkly, pityingly. "It is to be feared that Rome will turn a deaf ear to appeals on behalf of the son of Giovanni d'Anguissola."

And with that he motioned me to precede him. Silently I pressed Fra Gervasio's hand, and on that departed without so much as another look at my mother, who sat there a silent witness of a scene which she approved.

The men-at-arms fell into step, one on either side of me, and so we passed out into the courtyard, where Cosimo's other men were waiting, and where was gathered the entire family of the castle--a gaping, rather frightened little crowd.

They brought forth a mule for me, and I mounted. Then suddenly there was Fra Gervasio at my side again.

"I, too, am going hence," he said. "Be of good courage, Agostino. There is no effort I will not make on your behalf." In a broken voice he added his farewells ere he stood back at the captain's peremptory bidding. The little troop closed round me, and thus, within a couple of hours of my coming, I departed again from Mondolfo, surrendered to the hangman by the pious hands of my mother, who on her knees, no doubt, would be thanking God for having afforded her the grace to act in so righteous a manner.

Once only did my cousin address me, and that was soon after we had left the town behind us. He motioned the men away, and rode to my side. Then he looked at me with mocking, hating eyes.

"You had done better to have continued in your saint's trade than have become so very magnificent a sinner," said he.

I did not answer him, and he rode on beside me in silence some little way.

"Ah, well," he sighed at last. "Your course has been a brief one, but very eventful. And who would have suspected so very fierce a wolf under so sheepish an outside? Body of God! You fooled us all, you and that white-faced trull."

He said it through his teeth with such a concentration of rage in his tones that it was easy to guess where the sore rankled.

I looked at him gravely. "Does it become you, sir, do you think, to gird at one who is your prisoner?"

"And did you not gird at me when it was your turn?" he flashed back fiercely. "Did not you and she laugh together over that poor, fond fool Cosimo whose money she took so very freely, and yet who seems to have been the only one excluded from her favours?"

"You lie, you dog!" I blazed at him, so fiercely that the men turned in their saddles. He paled, and half raised the gauntleted hand in which he carried his whip. But he controlled himself, and barked an order to his followers:

"Ride on, there!"

When they had drawn off a little, and we were alone again, "I do not lie, sir," he said. "It is a practice which I leave to shavelings of all degrees."

"If you say that she took aught from you, then you lie," I repeated.

He considered me steadily. "Fool!" he said at last. "Whence else came her jewels and fine clothes? From Fifanti, do you think--that impecunious pedant? Or perhaps you imagine that it was from Gambara? In time that grasping prelate might have made the Duke pay. But pay, himself? By the Blood of God! he was never known to pay for anything.

"Or, yet again, do you suppose her finery was afforded her by Caro?--Messer Annibale Caro--who is so much in debt that he is never like to return to Piacenza, unless some dolt of a patron rewards him for his poetaster's labours.

"No, no, my shaveling. It was I who paid--I who was the fool. God! I more than suspected the others. But you. You saint... You!"

He flung up his head, and laughed bitterly and unpleasantly. "Ah, well!" he ended, "You are to pay, though in different kind. It is in the family, you see." And abruptly raising his voice he shouted to the men to wait.

Thereafter he rode ahead, alone and gloomy, whilst no less alone and gloomy rode I amid my guards. The thing he had revealed to me had torn away a veil from my silly eyes. It had made me understand a hundred little matters that hitherto had been puzzling me. And I saw how utterly and fatuously blind I had been to things which even Fra Gervasio had apprehended from just the relation he had drawn from me.

It was as we were entering Piacenza by the Gate of San Lazzaro that I again drew my cousin to my side.

"Sir Captain!" I called to him, for I could not bring myself to address him as cousin now. He came, inquiry in his eyes.

"Where is she now?" I asked.

He stared at me a moment, as if my effrontery astonished him. Then he shrugged and sneered. "I would I knew for certain," was his fierce answer. "I would I knew. Then should I have the pair of you." And I saw it in his face how unforgivingly he hated me out of his savage jealousy. "My Lord Gambara might tell you. I scarcely doubt it. Were I but certain, what a reckoning should I not present! He may be Governor of Piacenza, but were he Governor of Hell he should not escape me." And with that he rode ahead again, and left me.

The rumour of our coming sped through the streets ahead of us, and out of the houses poured the townsfolk to watch our passage and to point me out one to another with many whisperings and solemn head-waggings. And the farther we advanced, the greater was the concourse, until by the time we reached the square before the Communal Palace we found there what amounted to a mob awaiting us.

My guards closed round me as if to protect me from that crowd. But I was strangely without fear, and presently I was to see how little cause there was for any, and to realize that the action of my guards was sprung from a very different motive.

The people stood silent, and on every upturned face of which I caught a glimpse I saw something that was akin to pity. Presently, however, as we drew nearer to the Palace, a murmur began to rise. It swelled and grew fierce. Suddenly a cry rose vehement and clear.

"Rescue! Rescue!"

"He is the Lord of Mondolfo," shouted one tall fellow, "and the Cardinal-legate makes a cat's-paw of him! He is to suffer for Messer Gambara's villainy!"

Again he was answered by the cry--"Rescue! Rescue!" whilst some added an angry--"Death to the Legate!"

Whilst I was deeply marvelling at all this, Cosimo looked at me over his shoulder, and though his lips were steady, his eyes seemed to smile, charged with a message of derision--and something more, something that I could not read. Then I heard his hard, metallic voice.

"Back there, you curs! To your kennels! Out of the way, or we ride you down."

He had drawn his sword, and his white hawk-face was so cruel and determined that they fell away before him and their cries died down.

We passed into the courtyard of the Communal Palace, and the great studded gates were slammed in the faces of the mob, and barred.

I got down from my mule, and was conducted at Cosimo's bidding to one of the dungeons under the Palace, where I was left with the announcement that I must present myself to-morrow before the Tribunal of the Ruota.

I flung myself down upon the dried rushes that had been heaped in a corner to do duty for a bed, and I abandoned myself to my bitter thoughts. In particular I pondered the meaning of the crowd's strange attitude. Nor was it a riddle difficult to resolve. It was evident that believing Gambara, as they did, to be Giuliana's lover, and informed perhaps--invention swelling rumour as it will--that the Cardinal-legate had ridden late last night to Fifanti's house, it had been put about that the foul murder done there was Messer Gambara's work.

Thus was the Legate reaping the harvest of all the hatred he had sown, of all the tyranny and extortion of his iron rule in Piacenza. And willing to believe any evil of the man they hated, they not only laid Fifanti's death at his door, but they went to further lengths and accounted that I was the cat's-paw; that I was to be sacrificed to save the Legate's face and reputation. They remembered perhaps the ill-odour in which we Anguissola of Mondolfo had been at Rome, for the ghibelline leanings that ever had been ours and for the rebellion of my father against the Pontifical sway; and their conclusions gathered a sort of confirmation from that circumstance.

Long upon the very edge of mutiny and revolt against Gambara's injustice, it had needed but what seemed a crowning one such as this to quicken their hatred into expression.

It was all very clear and obvious, and it seemed to me that to-morrow's trial should be very interesting. I had but to deny; I had but to make myself the mouthpiece of the rumour that was abroad, and Heaven alone could foretell what the consequences might be.

Then I smiled bitterly to myself. Deny? O, no! That was a last vileness I could not perpetrate. The Ruota should hear the truth, and Gambara should be left to shelter Giuliana, who--Cosimo was assured--had fled to him in her need as to a natural protector.

It was a bitter thought. The intensity of that bitterness made me realize with alarm how it still was with me. And pondering this, I fell asleep, utterly worn out in body and in mind by the awful turmoil of that day.

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