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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Strolling Saint - Book 4. The World - Chapter 13. The Overthrow
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The Strolling Saint - Book 4. The World - Chapter 13. The Overthrow Post by :Nicholas_Dixon Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :2356

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The Strolling Saint - Book 4. The World - Chapter 13. The Overthrow

BOOK IV. THE WORLD
CHAPTER XIII. THE OVERTHROW

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 ante-chamber. 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 advance.

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! 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 down!"

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 lips.

"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.

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