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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Strolling Saint - Book 4. The World - Chapter 2. The Governor Of Milan
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The Strolling Saint - Book 4. The World - Chapter 2. The Governor Of Milan Post by :TheVCF Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :3495

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The Strolling Saint - Book 4. The World - Chapter 2. The Governor Of Milan

BOOK IV. THE WORLD
CHAPTER II. THE GOVERNOR OF MILAN

We rode again upon the morrow as he had said, and with us went Falcone and the same goodly company of twenty lances that had escorted me from Monte Orsaro. But I took little thought for them or pride in such an escort now. My heart was leaden. I had not seen Bianca again ere I departed, and Heaven knew when we should return to Pagliano. Thus at least was I answered by Galeotto when I made bold to ask the question.

Two days we rode, going by easy stages, and came at last upon that wondrously fair and imposing city of Milan, in the very heart of the vast plain of Lombardy with the distant Alps for background and northern rampart.

Our destination was the castle; and in a splendid ante-chamber, packed with rustling, silken courtiers and clanking captains in steel, a sprinkling of prelates and handsome, insolent-eyed women, more than one of whom reminded me of Giuliana, and every one of whom I disparaged by comparing her with Bianca, Galeotto and I stood waiting.

To many there he seemed known, and several came to greet him and some to whisper in his ear. At last a pert boy in a satin suit that was striped in the Imperial livery of black and yellow, pushed his way through the throng.

"Messer Galeotto," his shrill voice announced, "his excellency awaits you."

Galeotto took my arm, and drew me forward with him. Thus we went through a lane that opened out before us in that courtly throng, and came to a curtained door. An usher raised the curtain for us at a sign from the page, who, opening, announced us to the personage within.

We stood in a small closet, whose tall, slender windows overlooked the courtyard, and from the table, on which there was a wealth of parchments, rose a very courtly gentleman to receive us out of a gilded chair, the arms of which were curiously carved into the shape of serpents' heads.

He was a well-nourished, florid man of middle height, with a resolute mouth, high cheek-bones, and crafty, prominent eyes that reminded me vaguely of the eyes of the taverner of Pojetta. He was splendidly dressed in a long gown of crimson damask edged with lynx fur, and the fingers of his fat hands and one of his thumbs were burdened with jewels.

This was Ferrante Gonzaga, Prince of Molfetta, Duke of Ariano, the Emperor's Lieutenant and Governor of the State of Milan.

The smile with which he had been ready to greet Galeotto froze slightly at sight of me. But before he could voice the question obviously in his mind my companion had presented me.

"Here, my lord, is one upon whom I trust that we may count when the time comes. This is Agostino d'Anguissola, of Mondolfo and Carmina."

Surprise overspread Gonzaga's face. He seemed about to speak, and checked, and his eyes were very searchingly bent upon Galeotto's face, which remained inscrutable as stone. Then the Governor looked at me, and from me back again at Galeotto. At last he smiled, whilst I bowed before him, but very vaguely conscious of what might impend.

"The time," he said, "seems to be none too distant. The Duke of Castro--this Pier Luigi Farnese--is so confident of ultimate success that already he has taken up his residence in Piacenza, and already, I am informed, is being spoken of as Duke of Parma and Piacenza."

"He has cause," said Galeotto. "Who is to withstand his election since the Emperor, like Pilate, has washed his hands of the affair?"

A smile overspread Gonzaga's crafty face. "Do not assume too much concerning the Emperor's wishes in the matter. His answer to the Pope was that if Parma and Piacenza are Imperial fiefs--integral parts of the State of Milan--it would ill become the Emperor to alienate them from an empire which he holds merely in trust; whereas if they can be shown rightly to belong to the Holy See, why then the matter concerns him not, and the Holy See may settle it."

Galeotto shrugged and his face grew dark. "It amounts to an assent," he said.

"Not so," purred Gonzaga, seating himself once more. "It amounts to nothing. It is a Sibylline answer which nowise prejudices what he may do in future. We still hope," he added, "that the Sacred College may refuse the investiture. Pier Luigi Farnese is not in good odour in the Curia."

"The Sacred College cannot withstand the Pope's desires. He has bribed it with the undertaking to restore Nepi and Camerino to the States of the Church in exchange for Parma and Piacenza, which are to form a State for his son. How long, my lord, do you think the College will resist him?"

"The Spanish Cardinals all have the Emperor's desires at heart."

"The Spanish Cardinals may oppose the measure until they choke themselves with their vehemence," was the ready answer. "There are enough of the Pope's creatures to carry the election, and if there were not it would be his to create more until there should be sufficient for his purpose. It is an old subterfuge."

"Well, then," said Gonzaga, smiling, "since you are so assured, it is for you and the nobles of Piacenza to be up and doing. The Emperor depends upon you; and you may depend upon him."

Galeotto looked at the Governor out of his scarred face, and his eyes were very grave.

"I had hoped otherwise," he said. "That is why I have been slow to move. That is why I have waited, why I have even committed the treachery of permitting Pier Luigi to suppose me ready at need to engage in his service."

"Ah, there you play a dangerous game," said Gonzaga frankly.

"I'll play a more dangerous still ere I have done," he answered stoutly. "Neither Pope nor Devil shall dismay me. I have great wrongs to right, as none knows better than your excellency, and if my life should go in the course of it, why"--he shrugged and sneered--"it is all that is left me; and life is a little thing when a man has lost all else."

"I know, I know," said the sly Governor, wagging his big head, "else I had not warned you. For we need you, Messer Galeotto."

"Ay, you need me; you'll make a tool of me--you and your Emperor. You'll use me as a cat's-paw to pull down this inconvenient duke."

Gonzaga rose, frowning. "You go a little far, Messer Galeotto," he said.

"I go no farther than you urge me," answered the other.

"But patience, patience!" the Lieutenant soothed him, growing sleek again in tone and manner. "Consider now the position. What the Emperor has answered the Pope is no more than the bare and precise truth. It is not clear whether the States of Parma and Piacenza belong to the Empire or the Holy See. But let the people rise and show themselves ill-governed, let them revolt against Farnese once he has been created their duke and when thus the State shall have been alienated from the Holy See, and then you may count upon the Emperor to step in as your liberator and to buttress up your revolt."

"Do you promise us so much?" asked Galeotto.

"Explicitly," was the ready answer, "upon my most sacred honour. Send me word that you are in arms, that the first blow has been struck, and I shall be with you with all the force that I can raise in the Emperor's name."

"Your excellency has warrant for this?" demanded Galeotto.

"Should I promise it else? About it, sir. You may work with confidence."

"With confidence, yes," replied Galeotto gloomily, "but with no great hope. The Pontifical government has ground the spirit out of half the nobles of the Val di Taro. They have suffered so much and so repeatedly--in property, in liberty, in life itself--that they are grown rabbit-hearted, and would sooner cling to the little liberty that is still theirs than strike a blow to gain what belongs to them by every right. Oh, I know them of old! What man can do, I shall do; but..." He shrugged, and shook his head sorrowfully.

"Can you count on none?" asked Gonzaga, very serious, stroking his smooth, fat chin.

"I can count upon one," answered Galeotto. "The Lord of Pagliano; he is ghibelline to the very marrow, and he belongs to me. At my bidding there is nothing he will not do. There is an old debt between us, and he is a noble soul who will not leave his debts unpaid. Upon him I can count; and he is rich and powerful. But then, he is not really a Piacentino himself. He holds his fief direct from the Emperor. Pagliano is part of the State of Milan, and Cavalcanti is no subject of Farnese. His case, therefore, is exceptional and he has less than the usual cause for timidity. But the others..." Again he shrugged. "What man can do to stir them, that will I do. You shall hear from me soon again, my lord."

Gonzaga looked at me. "Did you not say that here was another?"

Galeotto smiled sadly. "Ay--just one arm and one sword. That is all. Unless this emprise succeeds he is never like to rule in Mondolfo. He may be counted upon; but he brings no lances with him."

"I see," said Gonzaga, his lip between thumb and forefinger. "But his name..."

"That and his wrongs shall be used, depend upon it, my lord--the wrongs which are his by inheritance."

I said no word. A certain resentment filled me to hear myself so disposed of without being consulted; and yet it was tempered by a certain trust in Galeotto, a faith that he would lead me into nothing unworthy.

Gonzaga conducted us to the door of the closet. "I shall look to hear from you, Ser Galeotto," he said. "And if at first the nobles of the Val di Taro are not to be moved, perhaps after they have had a taste of Messer Pier Luigi's ways they will gather courage out of despair. I think we may be hopeful if patient. Meanwhile, my master the Emperor shall be informed."

Another moment and we were out of that florid, crafty, well-nourished presence. The curtains had dropped behind us, and we were thrusting our way through the press in the ante-chamber, Galeotto muttering to himself things which as we gained the open air I gathered to be curses directed against the Emperor and his Milanese Lieutenant.

In the inn of the sign of the Sun, by the gigantic Duomo of Visconti's building, he opened the gates to his anger and let it freely forth.

"It is a world of cravens," he said, "a world of slothful, self-seeking, supine cowards, Agostino. In the Emperor, at least, I conceived that we should have found a man who would not be averse to acting boldly where his interests must be served. More I had not expected of him; but that, at least. And even in that he fails me. Oh, this Charles V!" he cried. "This prince upon whose dominions the sun never sets! Fortune has bestowed upon him all the favours in her gift, yet for himself he can do nothing.

"He is crafty, cruel, irresolute, and mistrustful of all. He is without greatness of any sort, and he is all but Emperor of the World! Others must do his work for him; others must compass the conquests which he is to enjoy.

"Ah, well!" he ended, with a sneer, "perhaps as the world views these things there is a certain greatness in that--the greatness of the fox."

Naturally there was much in this upon which I needed explanation, and I made bold to intrude upon his anger to crave it. And it was then that I learnt the true position of affairs.

Between France and the Empire, the State of Milan had been in contention until quite lately, when Henri II had abandoned it to Charles V. And in the State of Milan were the States of Parma and Piacenza, which Pope Julius II had wrested from it and incorporated in the domain of the Church. The act, however, was unlawful, and although these States had ever since been under Pontifical rule, it was to Milan that they belonged, though Milan never yet had had the power to enforce her rights. She had that power at last, now that the Emperor's rule there was a thing determined, and it was in this moment that papal nepotism was to make a further alienation of them by constituting them into a duchy for the Farnese bastard, Pier Luigi, who was already Duke of Castro.

Under papal rule the nobles--more particularly the ghibellines--and the lesser tyrants of the Val di Taro had suffered rudely, plundered by Pontifical brigandage, enduring confiscations and extortions until they were reduced to a miserable condition. It was against the beginnings of this that my father had raised his standard, to be crushed thorough the supineness of his peers, who would not support him to save themselves from being consumed in the capacious maw of Rome.

But what they had suffered hitherto would be as nothing to what they must suffer if the Pope now had his way and if Pier Luigi Farnese were to become their duke--an independent prince. He would break the nobles utterly, to remain undisputed master of the territory. That was a conclusion foregone. And yet our princelings saw the evil approaching them, and cowered irresolute to await and suffer it.

They had depended, perhaps, upon the Emperor, who, it was known, did not favour the investiture, nor would confirm it. It was remembered that Ottavio Farnese--Pier Luigi's son--was married to Margaret of Austria, the Emperor's daughter, and that if a Farnese dominion there was to be in Parma and Piacenza, the Emperor would prefer that it should be that of his own son-in-law, who would hold the duchy as a fief of the Empire. Further was it known that Ottavio was intriguing with Pope and Emperor to gain the investiture in his own father's stead.

"The unnatural son!" I exclaimed upon learning that.

Galeotto looked at me, and smiled darkly, stroking his great beard.

"Say, rather, the unnatural father," he replied. "More honour to Ottavio Farnese in that he has chosen to forget that he is Pier Luigi's son. It is not a parentage in which any man--be he the most abandoned--could take pride."

"How so?" quoth I.

"You have, indeed, lived out of the world if you know nothing of Pier Luigi Farnese. I should have imagined that some echo of his turpitudes must have penetrated even to a hermitage--that they would be written upon the very face of Nature, which he outrages at every step of his infamous life. He is a monster, a sort of antichrist; the most ruthless, bloody, vicious man that ever drew the breath of life. Indeed, there are not wanting those who call him a warlock, a dealer in black magic who has sold his soul to the Devil. Though, for that matter, they say the same of the Pope his father, and I doubt not that his magic is just the magic of a wickedness that is scarcely human.

"There is a fellow named Paolo Giovio, Bishop of Nocera, a charlatan and a wretched dabbler in necromancy and something of an alchemist, who has lately written the life of another Pope's son--Cesare Borgia, who lived nigh upon half a century ago, and who did more than any man to consolidate the States of the Church, though his true aim, like Pier Luigi's, was to found a State for himself. I am given to think that for his model of a Pope's bastard this Giovio has taken the wretched Farnese rogue, and attributed to the son of Alexander VI the vices and infamies of this son of Paul III.

"Even to attempt to draw a parallel is to insult the memory of the Borgia; for he, at least, was a great captain and a great ruler, and he knew how to endear to himself the fold that he governed; so that when I was a lad--thirty years ago--there were still those in the Romagna who awaited the Borgia's return, and prayed for it as earnestly as pray the faithful for the second coming of the Messiah, refusing to believe that he was dead. But this Pier Luigi!" He thrust out a lip contemptuously. "He is no better than a thief, a murderer, a defiler, a bestial, lecherous dog!"

And with that he began to relate some of the deeds of this man; and his life, it seemed, was written in blood and filth--a tale of murders and rapes and worse. And when as a climax he told me of the horrible, inhuman outrage done to Cosimo Gheri, the young Bishop of Fano, I begged him to cease, for my horror turned me almost physically sick.1

1 The incident to which Agostino here alludes is fully set forth by Benedetto Varchi at the end of Book XVI of his Storia Fiorentina.


"That bishop was a holy man, of very saintly life," Galeotto insisted, "and the deed permitted the German Lutherans to say that here was a new form of martyrdom for saints invented by the Pope's son. And his father pardoned him the deed, and others as bad, by a secret bull, absolving him from all pains and penalties that he might have incurred through youthful frailty or human incontinence!"

It was the relation of those horrors, I think, which, stirring my indignation, spurred me even more than the thought of redressing the wrongs which the Pontifical or Farnesian government would permit my mother to do me.

I held out my hand to Galeotto. "To the utmost of my little might," said I, "you may depend upon me in this good cause in which you have engaged."

"There speaks the son of the house of Anguissola," said he, a light of affection in his steel-coloured eyes. "And there are your father's wrongs to right as well as the wrongs of humanity, remember. By this Pier Luigi was he crushed; whilst those who bore arms with him at Perugia and were taken alive..." He paused and turned livid, great beads of perspiration standing upon his brow. "I cannot," he faltered, "I cannot even now, after all these years, bear to think upon those horrors perpetrated by that monster."

I was strangely moved at the sight of emotion in one who seemed emotionless as iron.

"I left the hermitage," said I, "in the hope that I might the better be able to serve God in the world. I think you are showing me the way, Ser Galeotto."

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