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´╗┐Title: Romola
Author: Eliot, George, 1819-1880
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Romola" ***

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ROMOLA, BY GEORGE ELIOT.



PART ONE.



PROEM.

More than three centuries and a half ago, in the mid spring-time of
1492, we are sure that the angel of the dawn, as he travelled with broad
slow wing from the Levant to the Pillars of Hercules, and from the
summits of the Caucasus across all the snowy Alpine ridges to the dark
nakedness of the Western isles, saw nearly the same outline of firm land
and unstable sea--saw the same great mountain shadows on the same
valleys as he has seen to-day--saw olive mounts, and pine forests, and
the broad plains green with young corn or rain-freshened grass--saw the
domes and spires of cities rising by the river-sides or mingled with the
sedge-like masts on the many-curved sea-coast, in the same spots where
they rise to-day.  And as the faint light of his course pierced into the
dwellings of men, it fell, as now, on the rosy warmth of nestling
children; on the haggard waking of sorrow and sickness; on the hasty
uprising of the hard-handed labourer; and on the late sleep of the
night-student, who had been questioning the stars or the sages, or his
own soul, for that hidden knowledge which would break through the
barrier of man's brief life, and show its dark path, that seemed to bend
no whither, to be an arc in an immeasurable circle of light and glory.
The great river-courses which have shaped the lives of men have hardly
changed; and those other streams, the life-currents that ebb and flow in
human hearts, pulsate to the same great needs, the same great loves and
terrors.  As our thought follows close in the slow wake of the dawn, we
are impressed with the broad sameness of the human lot, which never
alters in the main headings of its history--hunger and labour, seed-time
and harvest, love and death.

Even if, instead of following the dim daybreak, our imagination pauses
on a certain historical spot and awaits the fuller morning, we may see a
world-famous city, which has hardly changed its outline since the days
of Columbus, seeming to stand as an almost unviolated symbol, amidst the
flux of human things, to remind us that we still resemble the men of the
past more than we differ from them, as the great mechanical principles
on which those domes and towers were raised must make a likeness in
human building that will be broader and deeper than all possible change.
And doubtless, if the spirit of a Florentine citizen, whose eyes were
closed for the last time while Columbus was still waiting and arguing
for the three poor vessels with which he was to set sail from the port
of Palos, could return from the shades and pause where our thought is
pausing, he would believe that there must still be fellowship and
understanding for him among the inheritors of his birthplace.

Let us suppose that such a Shade has been permitted to revisit the
glimpses of the golden morning, and is standing once more on the famous
hill of San Miniato, which overlooks Florence from the south.

The Spirit is clothed in his habit as he lived: the folds of his
well-lined black silk garment or _lucco_ hang in grave unbroken lines
from neck to ankle; his plain cloth cap, with its _becchetto_, or long
hanging strip of drapery, to serve as a scarf in case of need, surmounts
a penetrating face, not, perhaps, very handsome, but with a firm,
well-cut mouth, kept distinctly human by a close-shaven lip and chin.
It is a face charged with memories of a keen and various life passed
below there on the banks of the gleaming river; and as he looks at the
scene before him, the sense of familiarity is so much stronger than the
perception of change, that he thinks it might be possible to descend
once more amongst the streets, and take up that busy life where he left
it.  For it is not only the mountains and the westward-bending river
that he recognises; not only the dark sides of Mount Morello opposite to
him, and the long valley of the Arno that seems to stretch its grey
low-tufted luxuriance to the far-off ridges of Carrara; and the steep
height of Fiesole, with its crown of monastic walls and cypresses; and
all the green and grey slopes sprinkled with villas which he can name as
he looks at them.  He sees other familiar objects much closer to his
daily walks.  For though he misses the seventy or more towers that once
surmounted the walls, and encircled the city as with a regal diadem, his
eyes will not dwell on that blank; they are drawn irresistibly to the
unique tower springing, like a tall flower-stem drawn towards the sun,
from the square turreted mass of the Old Palace in the very heart of the
city--the tower that looks none the worse for the four centuries that
have passed since he used to walk under it.  The great dome, too,
greatest in the world, which, in his early boyhood, had been only a
daring thought in the mind of a small, quick-eyed man--there it raises
its large curves still, eclipsing the hills.  And the well-known
bell-towers--Giotto's, with its distant hint of rich colour, and the
graceful-spired Badia, and the rest--he looked at them all from the
shoulder of his nurse.

"Surely," he thinks, "Florence can still ring her bells with the solemn
hammer-sound that used to beat on the hearts of her citizens and strike
out the fire there.  And here, on the right, stands the long dark mass
of Santa Croce, where we buried our famous dead, laying the laurel on
their cold brows and fanning them with the breath of praise and of
banners.  But Santa Croce had no spire then: we Florentines were too
full of great building projects to carry them all out in stone and
marble; we had our frescoes and our shrines to pay for, not to speak of
rapacious condottieri, bribed royalty, and purchased territories, and
our facades and spires must needs wait.  But what architect can the
Frati Minori [the Franciscans] have employed to build that spire for
them?  If it had been built in my day, Filippo Brunelleschi or
Michelozzo would have devised something of another fashion than that--
something worthy to crown the church of Arnolfo."

At this the Spirit, with a sigh, lets his eyes travel on to the city
walls, and now he dwells on the change there with wonder at these modern
times.  Why have five out of the eleven convenient gates been closed?
And why, above all, should the towers have been levelled that were once
a glory and defence?  Is the world become so peaceful, then, and do
Florentines dwell in such harmony, that there are no longer conspiracies
to bring ambitious exiles home again with armed bands at their back?
These are difficult questions: it is easier and pleasanter to recognise
the old than to account for the new.  And there flows Arno, with its
bridges just where they used to be--the Ponte Vecchio, least like other
bridges in the world, laden with the same quaint shops where our Spirit
remembers lingering a little on his way perhaps to look at the progress
of that great palace which Messer Luca Pitti had set a-building with
huge stones got from the Hill of Bogoli [now Boboli] close behind, or
perhaps to transact a little business with the cloth-dressers in
Oltrarno.  The exorbitant line of the Pitti roof is hidden from San
Miniato; but the yearning of the old Florentine is not to see Messer
Luca's too ambitious palace which he built unto himself; it is to be
down among those narrow streets and busy humming Piazze where he
inherited the eager life of his fathers.  Is not the anxious voting with
black and white beans still going on down there?  Who are the Priori in
these months, eating soberly--regulated official dinners in the Palazzo
Vecchio, with removes of tripe and boiled partridges, seasoned by
practical jokes against the ill-fated butt among those potent signors?
Are not the significant banners still hung from the windows--still
distributed with decent pomp under Orcagna's Loggia every two months?

Life had its zest for the old Florentine when he, too, trod the marble
steps and shared in those dignities.  His politics had an area as wide
as his trade, which stretched from Syria to Britain, but they had also
the passionate intensity, and the detailed practical interest, which
could belong only to a narrow scene of corporate action; only to the
members of a community shut in close by the hills and by walls of six
miles' circuit, where men knew each other as they passed in the street,
set their eyes every day on the memorials of their commonwealth, and
were conscious of having not simply the right to vote, but the chance of
being voted for.  He loved his honours and his gains, the business of
his counting-house, of his guild, of the public council-chamber; he
loved his enmities too, and fingered the white bean which was to keep a
hated name out of the _borsa_ with more complacency than if it had been
a golden florin.  He loved to strengthen his family by a good alliance,
and went home with a triumphant light in his eyes after concluding a
satisfactory marriage for his son or daughter under his favourite loggia
in the evening cool; he loved his game at chess under that same loggia,
and his biting jest, and even his coarse joke, as not beneath the
dignity of a man eligible for the highest magistracy.  He had gained an
insight into all sorts of affairs at home and abroad: he had been of the
"Ten" who managed the war department, of the "Eight" who attended to
home discipline, of the Priori or Signori who were the heads of the
executive government; he had even risen to the supreme office of
Gonfaloniere; he had made one in embassies to the Pope and to the
Venetians; and he had been commissary to the hired army of the Republic,
directing the inglorious bloodless battles in which no man died of brave
breast wounds--_virtuosi colpi_--but only of casual falls and
tramplings.  And in this way he had learned to distrust men without
bitterness; looking on life mainly as a game of skill, but not dead to
traditions of heroism and clean-handed honour.  For the human soul is
hospitable, and will entertain conflicting sentiments and contradictory
opinions with much impartiality.  It was his pride besides, that he was
duly tinctured with the learning of his age, and judged not altogether
with the vulgar, but in harmony with the ancients: he, too, in his
prime, had been eager for the most correct manuscripts, and had paid
many florins for antique vases and for disinterred busts of the ancient
immortals--some, perhaps, _truncis naribus_, wanting as to the nose, but
not the less authentic; and in his old age he had made haste to look at
the first sheets of that fine Homer which was among the early glories of
the Florentine press.  But he had not, for all that, neglected to hang
up a waxen image or double of himself under the protection of the
Madonna Annunziata, or to do penance for his sins in large gifts to the
shrines of saints whose lives had not been modelled on the study of the
classics; he had not even neglected making liberal bequests towards
buildings for the Frati, against whom he had levelled many a jest.

For the Unseen Powers were mighty.  Who knew--who was sure--that there
was _any_ name given to them behind which there was no angry force to be
appeased, no intercessory pity to be won?  Were not gems medicinal,
though they only pressed the finger?  Were not all things charged with
occult virtues?  Lucretius might be right--he was an ancient, and a
great poet; Luigi Pulci, too, who was suspected of not believing
anything from the roof upward (_dal tetto in su_), had very much the air
of being right over the supper-table, when the wine and jests were
circulating fast, though he was only a poet in the vulgar tongue.  There
were even learned personages who maintained that Aristotle, wisest of
men (unless, indeed, Plato were wiser?) was a thoroughly irreligious
philosopher; and a liberal scholar must entertain all speculations.  But
the negatives might, after all, prove false; nay, seemed manifestly
false, as the circling hours swept past him, and turned round with
graver faces.  For had not the world become Christian?  Had he not been
baptised in San Giovanni, where the dome is awful with me symbols of
coming judgment, and where the altar bears a crucified Image disturbing
to perfect complacency in one's self and the world?  Our resuscitated
Spirit was not a pagan philosopher, nor a philosophising pagan poet, but
a man of the fifteenth century, inheriting its strange web of belief and
unbelief; of Epicurean levity and fetichistic dread; of pedantic
impossible ethics uttered by rote, and crude passions acted out with
childish impulsiveness; of inclination towards a self-indulgent
paganism, and inevitable subjection to that human conscience which, in
the unrest of a new growth, was rilling the air with strange prophecies
and presentiments.

He had smiled, perhaps, and shaken his head dubiously, as he heard
simple folk talk of a Pope Angelico, who was to come by-and-by and bring
in a new order of things, to purify the Church from simony, and the
lives of the clergy from scandal--a state of affairs too different from
what existed under Innocent the Eighth for a shrewd merchant and
politician to regard the prospect as worthy of entering into his
calculations.  But he felt the evils of the time, nevertheless; for he
was a man of public spirit, and public spirit can never be wholly
immoral, since its essence is care for a common good.  That very
Quaresima or Lent of 1492 in which he died, still in his erect old age,
he had listened in San Lorenzo, not without a mixture of satisfaction,
to the preaching of a Dominican Friar, named Girolamo Savonarola, who
denounced with a rare boldness the worldliness and vicious habits of the
clergy, and insisted on the duty of Christian men not to live for their
own ease when wrong was triumphing in high places, and not to spend
their wealth in outward pomp even in the churches, when their
fellow-citizens were suffering from want and sickness.  The Frate
carried his doctrine rather too far for elderly ears; yet it was a
memorable thing to see a preacher move his audience to such a pitch that
the women even took off their ornaments, and delivered them up to be
sold for the benefit of the needy.

"He was a noteworthy man, that Prior of San Marco," thinks our Spirit;
"somewhat arrogant and extreme, perhaps, especially in his denunciations
of speedy vengeance.  Ah, _Iddio non paga il Sabatol_ [`God does not pay
on a Saturday']--the wages of men's sins often linger in their payment,
and I myself saw much established wickedness of long-standing
prosperity.  But a Frate Predicatore who wanted to move the people--how
could he be moderate?  He might have been a little less defiant and
curt, though, to Lorenzo de' Medici, whose family had been the very
makers of San Marco: was that quarrel ever made up?  And our Lorenzo
himself, with the dim outward eyes and the subtle inward vision, did he
get over that illness at Careggi?  It was but a sad, uneasy-looking face
that he would carry out of the world which had given him so much, and
there were strong suspicions that his handsome son would play the part
of Rehoboam.  How has it all turned out?  Which party is likely to be
banished and have its houses sacked just now?  Is there any successor of
the incomparable Lorenzo, to whom the great Turk is so gracious as to
send over presents of rare animals, rare relics, rare manuscripts, or
fugitive enemies, suited to the tastes of a Christian Magnifico who is
at once lettered and devout--and also slightly vindictive?  And what
famous scholar is dictating the Latin letters of the Republic--what
fiery philosopher is lecturing on Dante in the Duomo, and going home to
write bitter invectives against the father and mother of the bad critic
who may have found fault with his classical spelling?  Are our wiser
heads leaning towards alliance with the Pope and the Regno [The name
given to Naples by way of distinction among the Italian States], or are
they rather inclining their ears to the orators of France and of Milan?

"There is knowledge of these things to be had in the streets below, on
the beloved _marmi_ in front of the churches, and under the sheltering
Loggie, where surely our citizens have still their gossip and debates,
their bitter and merry jests as of old.  For are not the well-remembered
buildings all there?  The changes have not been so great in those
uncounted years.  I will go down and hear--I will tread the familiar
pavement, and hear once again the speech of Florentines."

Go not down, good Spirit! for the changes are great and the speech of
Florentines would sound as a riddle in your ears.  Or, if you go, mingle
with no politicians on the _marmi_, or elsewhere; ask no questions about
trade in the Calimara; confuse yourself with no inquiries into
scholarship, official or monastic.  Only look at the sunlight and
shadows on the grand walls that were built solidly, and have endured in
their grandeur; look at the faces of the little children, making another
sunlight amid the shadows of age; look, if you will, into the churches,
and hear the same chants, see the same images as of old--the images of
willing anguish for a great end, of beneficent love and ascending glory;
see upturned living faces, and lips moving to the old prayers for help.
These things have not changed.  The sunlight and shadows bring their old
beauty and waken the old heart-strains at morning, noon, and eventide;
the little children are still the symbol of the eternal marriage between
love and duty; and men still yearn for the reign of peace and
righteousness--still own _that_ life to be the highest which is a
conscious voluntary sacrifice.  For the Pope Angelico is not come yet.



CHAPTER ONE.

THE SHIPWRECKED STRANGER.

The Loggia de' Cerchi stood in the heart of old Florence, within a
labyrinth of narrow streets behind the Badia, now rarely threaded by the
stranger, unless in a dubious search for a certain severely simple
doorplace, bearing this inscription:

  Qui Nacque Il Divino Poeta.

To the ear of Dante, the same streets rang with the shout and clash of
fierce battle between rival families; but in the fifteenth century, they
were only noisy with the unhistorical quarrels and broad jests of
woolcarders in the cloth-producing quarters of San Martino and Garbo.

Under this loggia, in the early morning of the 9th of April 1492, two
men had their eyes fixed on each other: one was stooping slightly, and
looking downward with the scrutiny of curiosity; the other, lying on the
pavement, was looking upward with the startled gaze of a
suddenly-awakened dreamer.

The standing figure was the first to speak.  He was a grey-haired,
broad-shouldered man, of the type which, in Tuscan phrase, is moulded
with the fist and polished with the pickaxe; but the self-important
gravity which had written itself out in the deep lines about his brow
and mouth seemed intended to correct any contemptuous inferences from
the hasty workmanship which Nature had bestowed on his exterior.  He had
deposited a large well-filled bag, made of skins, on the pavement, and
before him hung a pedlar's basket, garnished partly with small
woman's-ware, such as thread and pins, and partly with fragments of
glass, which had probably been taken in exchange for those commodities.

"Young man," he said, pointing to a ring on the finger of the reclining
figure, "when your chin has got a stiffer crop on it, you'll know better
than to take your nap in street-corners with a ring like that on your
forefinger.  By the holy 'vangels! if it had been anybody but me
standing over you two minutes ago--but Bratti Ferravecchi is not the man
to steal.  The cat couldn't eat her mouse if she didn't catch it alive,
and Bratti couldn't relish gain if it had no taste of a bargain.  Why,
young man, one San Giovanni, three years ago, the Saint sent a dead body
in my way--a blind beggar, with his cap well-lined with pieces--but, if
you'll believe me, my stomach turned against the money I'd never
bargained for, till it came into my head that San Giovanni owed me the
pieces for what I spend yearly at the Festa; besides, I buried the body
and paid for a mass--and so I saw it was a fair bargain.  But how comes
a young man like you, with the face of Messer San Michele, to be
sleeping on a stone bed with the wind for a curtain?"

The deep guttural sounds of the speaker were scarcely intelligible to
the newly-waked, bewildered listener, but he understood the action of
pointing to his ring: he looked down at it, and, with a half-automatic
obedience to the warning, took it off and thrust it within his doublet,
rising at the same time and stretching himself.

"Your tunic and hose match ill with that jewel, young man," said Bratti,
deliberately.  "Anybody might say the saints had sent _you_ a dead body;
but if you took the jewels, I hope you buried him--and you can afford a
mass or two for him into the bargain."

Something like a painful thrill appeared to dart through the frame of
the listener, and arrest the careless stretching of his arms and chest.
For an instant he turned on Bratti with a sharp frown; but he
immediately recovered an air of indifference, took off the red Levantine
cap which hung like a great purse over his left ear, pushed back his
long dark-brown curls, and glancing at his dress, said, smilingly--

"You speak truth, friend: my garments are as weather-stained as an old
sail, and they are not old either, only, like an old sail, they have had
a sprinkling of the sea as well as the rain.  The fact is, I'm a
stranger in Florence, and when I came in footsore last night I preferred
flinging myself in a corner of this hospitable porch to hunting any
longer for a chance hostelry, which might turn out to be a nest of
blood-suckers of more sorts than one."

"A stranger, in good sooth," said Bratti, "for the words come all
melting out of your throat, so that a Christian and a Florentine can't
tell a hook from a hanger.  But you're not from Genoa?  More likely from
Venice, by the cut of your clothes?"

"At this present moment," said the stranger, smiling, "it is of less
importance where I come from than where I can go to for a mouthful of
breakfast.  This city of yours turns a grim look on me just here: can
you show me the way to a more lively quarter, where I can get a meal and
a lodging?"

"That I can," said Bratti, "and it is your good fortune, young man, that
I have happened to be walking in from Rovezzano this morning, and turned
out of my way to Mercato Vecchio to say an Ave at the Badia.  That, I
say, is your good fortune.  But it remains to be seen what is my profit
in the matter.  Nothing for nothing, young man.  If I show you the way
to Mercato Vecchio, you'll swear by your patron saint to let me have the
bidding for that stained suit of yours, when you set up a better--as
doubtless you will."

"Agreed, by San Niccolo," said the other, laughing.  "But now let us set
off to this said Mercato, for I feel the want of a better lining to this
doublet of mine which you are coveting."

"Coveting?  Nay," said Bratti, heaving his bag on his back and setting
out.  But he broke off in his reply, and burst out in loud, harsh tones,
not unlike the creaking and grating of a cart-wheel: "_Chi
abbaratta_--_baratta_--_b'ratta_--_chi abbaratta cenci e
vetri_--_b'ratta ferri vecchi_?"  ["Who wants to exchange rags, broken
glass, or old iron?"]

"It's worth but little," he said presently, relapsing into his
conversational tone.  "Hose and altogether, your clothes are worth but
little.  Still, if you've a mind to set yourself up with a lute worth
more than any new one, or with a sword that's been worn by a Ridolfi, or
with a paternoster of the best mode, I could let you have a great
bargain, by making an allowance for the clothes; for, simple as I stand
here, I've got the best-furnished shop in the Ferravecchi, and it's
close by the Mercato.  The Virgin be praised! it's not a pumpkin I carry
on my shoulders.  But I don't stay caged in my shop all day: I've got a
wife and a raven to stay at home and mind the stock.  _Chi
abbaratta_--_baratta_--_b'ratta_? ...  And now, young man, where do you
come from, and what's your business in Florence?"

"I thought you liked nothing that came to you without a bargain," said
the stranger.  "You've offered me nothing yet in exchange for that
information."

"Well, well; a Florentine doesn't mind bidding a fair price for news: it
stays the stomach a little though he may win no hose by it.  If I take
you to the prettiest damsel in the Mercato to get a cup of milk--that
will be a fair bargain."

"Nay; I can find her myself, if she be really in the Mercato; for pretty
heads are apt to look forth of doors and windows.  No, no.  Besides, a
sharp trader, like you, ought to know that he who bids for nuts and
news, may chance to find them hollow."

"Ah! young man," said Bratti, with a sideway glance of some admiration,
"you were not born of a Sunday--the salt-shops were open when you came
into the world.  You're not a Hebrew, eh?--come from Spain or Naples,
eh?  Let me tell you the Frati Minori are trying to make Florence as hot
as Spain for those dogs of hell that want to get all the profit of usury
to themselves and leave none for Christians; and when you walk the
Calimara with a piece of yellow cloth in your cap, it will spoil your
beauty more than a sword-cut across that smooth olive cheek of
yours.--_Abbaratta, baratta_--_chi abbaratta_?--I tell you, young man,
grey cloth is against yellow cloth; and there's as much grey cloth in
Florence as would make a gown and cowl for the Duomo, and there's not so
much yellow cloth as would make hose for Saint Christopher--blessed be
his name, and send me a sight of him this day!--_Abbaratta, baratta,
b'ratta_--_chi abbaratta_?"

"All that is very amusing information you are parting with for nothing,"
said the stranger, rather scornfully; "but it happens not to concern me.
I am no Hebrew."

"See, now!" said Bratti, triumphantly; "I've made a good bargain with
mere words.  I've made you tell me something, young man, though you're
as hard to hold as a lamprey.  San Giovanni be praised! a blind
Florentine is a match for two one-eyed men.  But here we are in the
Mercato."

They had now emerged from the narrow streets into a broad piazza, known
to the elder Florentine writers as the Mercato Vecchio, or the Old
Market.  This piazza, though it had been the scene of a provision-market
from time immemorial, and may, perhaps, says fond imagination, be the
very spot to which the Fesulean ancestors of the Florentines descended
from their high fastness to traffic with the rustic population of the
valley, had not been shunned as a place of residence by Florentine
wealth.  In the early decades of the fifteenth century, which was now
near its end, the Medici and other powerful families of the _popolani
grassi_, or commercial nobility, had their houses there, not perhaps
finding their ears much offended by the loud roar of mingled dialects,
or their eyes much shocked by the butchers' stalls, which the old poet
Antonio Pucci accounts a chief glory, or _dignita_, of a market that, in
his esteem, eclipsed the markets of all the earth beside.  But the glory
of mutton and veal (well attested to be the flesh of the right animals;
for were not the skins, with the heads attached, duly displayed,
according to the decree of the Signoria?) was just now wanting to the
Mercato, the time of Lent not being yet over.  The proud corporation, or
"Art," of butchers was in abeyance, and it was the great harvest-time of
the market-gardeners, the cheesemongers, the vendors of macaroni, corn,
eggs, milk, and dried fruits: a change which was apt to make the women's
voices predominant in the chorus.  But in all seasons there was the
experimental ringing of pots and pans, the chinking of the
money-changers, the tempting offers of cheapness at the old-clothes
stalls, the challenges of the dicers, the vaunting of new linens and
woollens, of excellent wooden-ware, kettles, and frying-pans; there was
the choking of the narrow inlets with mules and carts, together with
much uncomplimentary remonstrance in terms remarkably identical with the
insults in use by the gentler sex of the present day, under the same
imbrowning and heating circumstances.  Ladies and gentlemen, who came to
market, looked on at a larger amount of amateur fighting than could
easily be seen in these later times, and beheld more revolting rags,
beggary, and rascaldom, than modern householders could well picture to
themselves.  As the day wore on, the hideous drama of the gaming-house
might be seen here by any chance open-air spectator--the quivering
eagerness, the blank despair, the sobs, the blasphemy, and the blows:--

  "E vedesi chi perde con gran soffi,
  E bestemmiar colla mano alia mascella,
  E ricever e dar di molti ingoffi."

But still there was the relief of prettier sights: there were
brood-rabbits, not less innocent and astonished than those of our own
period; there were doves and singing-birds to be bought as presents for
the children; there were even kittens for sale, and here and there a
handsome _gattuccio_, or "Tom," with the highest character for mousing;
and, better than all, there were young, softly-rounded cheeks and bright
eyes, freshened by the start from the far-off castello [walled village]
at daybreak, not to speak of older faces with the unfading charm of
honest goodwill in them, such as are never quite wanting in scenes of
human industry.  And high on a pillar in the centre of the place--a
venerable pillar, fetched from the church of San Giovanni--stood
Donatello's stone statue of Plenty, with a fountain near it, where, says
old Pucci, the good wives of the market freshened their utensils, and
their throats also; not because they were unable to buy wine, but
because they wished to save the money for their husbands.

But on this particular morning a sudden change seemed to have come over
the face of the market.  The _deschi_, or stalls, were indeed partly
dressed with their various commodities, and already there were
purchasers assembled, on the alert to secure the finest, freshest
vegetables and the most unexceptionable butter.  But when Bratti and his
companion entered the piazza, it appeared that some common preoccupation
had for the moment distracted the attention both of buyers and sellers
from their proper business.  Most of the traders had turned their backs
on their goods, and had joined the knots of talkers who were
concentrating themselves at different points in the piazza.  A vendor of
old-clothes, in the act of hanging out a pair of long hose, had
distractedly hung them round his neck in his eagerness to join the
nearest group; an oratorical cheesemonger, with a piece of cheese in one
hand and a knife in the other, was incautiously making notes of his
emphatic pauses on that excellent specimen of _marzolino_; and elderly
market-women, with their egg-baskets in a dangerously oblique position,
contributed a wailing fugue of invocation.

In this general distraction, the Florentine boys, who were never wanting
in any street scene, and were of an especially mischievous sort--as who
should say, very sour crabs indeed--saw a great opportunity.  Some made
a rush at the nuts and dried figs, others preferred the farinaceous
delicacies at the cooked provision stalls--delicacies to which certain
four-footed dogs also, who had learned to take kindly to Lenten fare,
applied a discriminating nostril, and then disappeared with much
rapidity under the nearest shelter; while the mules, not without some
kicking and plunging among impeding baskets, were stretching their
muzzles towards the aromatic green-meat.

"Diavolo!" said Bratti, as he and his companion came, quite unnoticed,
upon the noisy scene; "the Mercato is gone as mad as if the most Holy
Father had excommunicated us again.  I must know what this is.  But
never fear: it seems a thousand years to you till you see the pretty
Tessa, and get your cup of milk; but keep hold of me, and I'll hold to
my bargain.  Remember, I'm to have the first bid for your suit,
specially for the hose, which, with all their stains, are the best
_panno di garbo_--as good as ruined, though, with mud and weather
stains."

"Ola, Monna Trecca," Bratti proceeded, turning towards an old woman on
the outside of the nearest group, who for the moment had suspended her
wail to listen, and shouting close in her ear: "Here are the mules
upsetting all your bunches of parsley: is the world coming to an end,
then?"

"Monna Trecca" (equivalent to "Dame Greengrocer") turned round at this
unexpected trumpeting in her right ear, with a half-fierce,
half-bewildered look, first at the speaker, then at her disarranged
commodities, and then at the speaker again.

"A bad Easter and a bad year to you, and may you die by the sword!" she
burst out, rushing towards her stall, but directing this first volley of
her wrath against Bratti, who, without heeding the malediction, quietly
slipped into her place, within hearing of the narrative which had been
absorbing her attention; making a sign at the same time to the younger
stranger to keep near him.

"I tell you I saw it myself," said a fat man, with a bunch of
newly-purchased leeks in his hand.  "I was in Santa Maria Novella, and
saw it myself.  The woman started up and threw out her arms, and cried
out and said she saw a big bull with fiery horns coming down on the
church to crush it.  I saw it myself."

"Saw what, Goro?" said a man of slim figure, whose eye twinkled rather
roguishly.  He wore a close jerkin, a skull-cap lodged carelessly over
his left ear as if it had fallen there by chance, a delicate linen apron
tucked up on one side, and a razor stuck in his belt.  "Saw the bull, or
only the woman?"

"Why, the woman, to be sure; but it's all one, _mi pare_: it doesn't
alter the meaning--_va_!" answered the fat man, with some contempt.

"Meaning? no, no; that's clear enough," said several voices at once, and
then followed a confusion of tongues, in which "Lights shooting over San
Lorenzo for three nights together"--"Thunder in the clear
starlight"--"Lantern of the Duomo struck with the sword of Saint
Michael"--"_Palle_" [Arms of the Medici]--"All smashed"--"Lions tearing
each other to pieces"--"Ah! and they might well"--"_Boto [Note 1] caduto
in Santissima Nunziata_!"--"Died like the best of Christians"--"God will
have pardoned him"--were often-repeated phrases, which shot across each
other like storm-driven hailstones, each speaker feeling rather the
necessity of utterance than of finding a listener.  Perhaps the only
silent members of the group were Bratti, who, as a new-comer, was busy
in mentally piecing together the flying fragments of information; the
man of the razor; and a thin-lipped, eager-looking personage in
spectacles, wearing a pen-and-ink case at his belt.

"_Ebbene_, Nello," said Bratti, skirting the group till he was within
hearing of the barber.  "It appears the Magnifico is dead--rest his
soul!--and the price of wax will rise?"

"Even as you say," answered Nello; and then added, with an air of extra
gravity, but with marvellous rapidity, "and his waxen image in the
Nunziata fell at the same moment, they say; or at some other time,
whenever it pleases the Frati Serviti, who know best.  And several cows
and women have had still-born calves this Quaresima; and for the bad
eggs that have been broken since the Carnival, nobody has counted them.
Ah! a great man--a great politician--a greater poet than Dante.  And yet
the cupola didn't fall, only the lantern.  _Che miracolo_!"

A sharp and lengthened "Pst!" was suddenly heard darting across the
pelting storm of gutturals.  It came from the pale man in spectacles,
and had the effect he intended; for the noise ceased, and all eyes in
the group were fixed on him with a look of expectation.

"'Tis well said you Florentines are blind," he began, in an incisive
high voice.  "It appears to me, you need nothing but a diet of hay to
make cattle of you.  What! do you think the death of Lorenzo is the
scourge God has prepared for Florence?  Go! you are sparrows chattering
praise over the dead hawk.  What! a man who was trying to slip a noose
over every neck in the Republic that he might tighten it at his
pleasure!  You like that; you like to have the election of your
magistrates turned into closet-work, and no man to use the rights of a
citizen unless he is a Medicean.  That is what is meant by qualification
now: _netto di specchio_ [Note 2] no longer means that a man pays his
dues to the Republic: it means that he'll wink at robbery of the
people's money--at robbery of their daughters' dowries; that he'll play
the chamberer and the philosopher by turns--listen to bawdy songs at the
Carnival and cry `Bellissimi!'--and listen to sacred lauds and cry again
`Bellissimi!'  But this is what you love: you grumble and raise a riot
over your _quattrini bianchi_" (white farthings); "but you take no
notice when the public treasury has got a hole in the bottom for the
gold to run into Lorenzo's drains.  You like to pay for footmen to walk
before and behind one of your citizens, that he may be affable and
condescending to you.  `See, what a tall Pisan we keep,' say you, `to
march before him with the drawn sword flashing in our eyes!--and yet
Lorenzo smiles at us.  What goodness!'  And you think the death of a
man, who would soon have saddled and bridled you as the Sforza has
saddled and bridled Milan--you think his death is the scourge God is
warning you of by portents.  I tell you there is another sort of scourge
in the air."

"Nay, nay, Ser Cioni, keep astride your politics, and never mount your
prophecy; politics is the better horse," said Nello.  "But if you talk
of portents, what portent can be greater than a pious notary?  Balaam's
ass was nothing to it."

"Ay, but a notary out of work, with his inkbottle dry," said another
bystander, very much out at elbows.  "Better don a cowl at once, Ser
Cioni: everybody will believe in your fasting."

The notary turned and left the group with a look of indignant contempt,
disclosing, as he did so, the sallow but mild face of a short man who
had been standing behind him, and whose bent shoulders told of some
sedentary occupation.

"By San Giovanni, though," said the fat purchaser of leeks, with the air
of a person rather shaken in his theories, "I am not sure there isn't
some truth in what Ser Cioni says.  For I know I have good reason to
find fault with the _quattrini bianchi_ myself.  Grumble, did he say?
Suffocation!  I should think we do grumble; and, let anybody say the
word, I'll turn out into the piazza with the readiest, sooner than have
our money altered in our hands as if the magistracy were so many
necromancers.  And it's true Lorenzo might have hindered such work if he
would--and for the bull with the flaming horns, why, as Ser Cioni says,
there may be many meanings to it, for the matter of that; it may have
more to do with the taxes than we think.  For when God above sends a
sign, it's not to be supposed he'd have only one meaning."

"Spoken like an oracle, Goro!" said the barber.  "Why, when we poor
mortals can pack two or three meanings into one sentence, it were mere
blasphemy not to believe that your miraculous bull means everything that
any man in Florence likes it to mean."

"Thou art pleased to scoff, Nello," said the sallow, round-shouldered
man, no longer eclipsed by the notary, "but it is not the less true that
every revelation, whether by visions, dreams, portents, or the written
word, has many meanings, which it is given to the illuminated only to
unfold."

"Assuredly," answered Nello.  "Haven't I been to hear the Frate in San
Lorenzo?  But then, I've been to hear Fra Menico in the Duomo too; and
according to him, your Fra Girolamo, with his visions and
interpretations, is running after the wind of Mongibello, and those who
follow him are like to have the fate of certain swine that ran headlong
into the sea--or some hotter place.  With San Domenico roaring _e vero_
in one ear, and San Francisco screaming _e falso_ in the other, what is
a poor barber to do--unless he were illuminated?  But it's plain our
Goro here is beginning to be illuminated for he already sees that the
bull with the flaming horns means first himself, and secondly all the
other aggrieved taxpayers of Florence, who are determined to gore the
magistracy on the first opportunity."

"Goro is a fool!" said a bass voice, with a note that dropped like the
sound of a great bell in the midst of much tinkling.  "Let him carry
home his leeks and shake his flanks over his wool-beating.  He'll mend
matters more that way than by showing his tun-shaped body in the piazza,
as if everybody might measure his grievances by the size of his paunch.
The burdens that harm him most are his heavy carcass and his idleness."

The speaker had joined the group only in time to hear the conclusion of
Nello's speech, but he was one of those figures for whom all the world
instinctively makes way, as it would for a battering-ram.  He was not
much above the middle height, but the impression of enormous force which
was conveyed by his capacious chest and brawny arms bared to the
shoulder, was deepened by the keen sense and quiet resolution expressed
in his glance and in every furrow of his cheek and brow.  He had often
been an unconscious model to Domenico Ghirlandajo, when that great
painter was making the walls of the churches reflect the life of
Florence, and translating pale aerial traditions into the deep colour
and strong lines of the faces he knew.  The naturally dark tint of his
skin was additionally bronzed by the same powdery deposit that gave a
polished black surface to his leathern apron: a deposit which habit had
probably made a necessary condition of perfect ease, for it was not
washed off with punctilious regularity.

Goro turned his fat cheek and glassy eye on the frank speaker with a
look of deprecation rather than of resentment.

"Why, Niccolo," he said, in an injured tone, "I've heard you sing to
another tune than that, often enough, when you've been laying down the
law at San Gallo on a festa.  I've heard you say yourself, that a man
wasn't a mill-wheel, to be on the grind, grind, as long as he was
driven, and then stick in his place without stirring when the water was
low.  And you're as fond of your vote as any man in Florence--ay, and
I've heard you say, if Lorenzo--"

"Yes, yes," said Niccolo.  "Don't you be bringing up my speeches again
after you've swallowed them, and handing them about as if they were none
the worse.  I vote and I speak when there's any use in it: if there's
hot metal on the anvil, I lose no time before I strike; but I don't
spend good hours in tinkling on cold iron, or in standing on the
pavement as thou dost, Goro, with snout upward, like a pig under an
oak-tree.  And as for Lorenzo--dead and gone before his time--he was a
man who had an eye for curious iron-work; and if anybody says he wanted
to make himself a tyrant, I say, `_Sia_; I'll not deny which way the
wind blows when every man can see the weathercock.'  But that only means
that Lorenzo was a crested hawk, and there are plenty of hawks without
crests whose claws and beaks are as good for tearing.  Though if there
was any chance of a real reform, so that Marzocco [the stone Lion,
emblem of the Republic] might shake his mane and roar again, instead of
dipping his head to lick the feet of anybody that will mount and ride
him, I'd strike a good blow for it."

"And that reform is not far off, Niccolo," said the sallow, mild-faced
man, seizing his opportunity like a missionary among the too
light-minded heathens; "for a time of tribulation is coming, and the
scourge is at hand.  And when the Church is purged of cardinals and
prelates who traffic in her inheritance that their hands may be full to
pay the price of blood and to satisfy their own lusts, the State will be
purged too--and Florence will be purged of men who love to see avarice
and lechery under the red hat and the mitre because it gives them the
screen of a more hellish vice than their own."

"Ay, as Goro's broad body would be a screen for my narrow person in case
of missiles," said Nello; "but if that excellent screen happened to
fall, I were stifled under it, surely enough.  That is no bad image of
thine, Nanni--or, rather, of the Frate's; for I fancy there is no room
in the small cup of thy understanding for any other liquor than what he
pours into it."

"And it were well for thee, Nello," replied Nanni, "if thou couldst
empty thyself of thy scoffs and thy jests, and take in that liquor too.
The warning is ringing in the ears of all men: and it's no new story;
for the Abbot Joachim prophesied of the coming time three hundred years
ago, and now Fra Girolamo has got the message afresh.  He has seen it in
a vision, even as the prophets of old: he has seen the sword hanging
from the sky."

"Ay, and thou wilt see it thyself, Nanni, if thou wilt stare upward long
enough," said Niccolo; "for that pitiable tailor's work of thine makes
thy noddle so overhang thy legs, that thy eyeballs can see nought above
the stitching-board but the roof of thy own skull."

The honest tailor bore the jest without bitterness, bent on convincing
his hearers of his doctrine rather than of his dignity.  But Niccolo
gave him no opportunity for replying; for he turned away to the pursuit
of his market business, probably considering further dialogue as a
tinkling on cold iron.

"_Ebbene_" said the man with the hose round his neck, who had lately
migrated from another knot of talkers, "they are safest who cross
themselves and jest at nobody.  Do you know that the Magnifico sent for
the Frate at the last, and couldn't die without his blessing?"

"Was it so--in truth?" said several voices.  "Yes, yes--God will have
pardoned him."

"He died like the best of Christians."

"Never took his eyes from the holy crucifix."

"And the Frate will have given him his blessing?"

"Well, I know no more," said he of the hosen, "only Guccio there met a
footman going back to Careggi, and he told him the Frate had been sent
for yesternight, after the Magnifico had confessed and had the holy
sacraments."

"It's likely enough the Frate will tell the people something about it in
his sermon this morning; is it not true, Nanni?" said Goro.  "What do
you think?"

But Nanni had already turned his back on Goro, and the group was rapidly
thinning; some being stirred by the impulse to go and hear "new things"
from the Frate ("new things" were the nectar of Florentines); others by
the sense that it was time to attend to their private business.  In this
general movement, Bratti got close to the barber, and said--

"Nello, you've a ready tongue of your own, and are used to worming
secrets out of people when you've once got them well lathered.  I picked
up a stranger this morning as I was coming in from Rovezzano, and I can
spell him out no better than I can the letters on that scarf I bought
from the French cavalier.  It isn't my wits are at fault,--I want no man
to help me tell peas from paternosters,--but when you come to foreign
fashions, a fool may happen to know more than a wise man."

"Ay, thou hast the wisdom of Midas, who could turn rags and rusty nails
into gold, even as thou dost," said Nello, "and he had also something of
the ass about him.  But where is thy bird of strange plumage?"

Bratti was looking round, with an air of disappointment.

"Diavolo!" he said, with some vexation.  "The bird's flown.  It's true
he was hungry, and I forgot him.  But we shall find him in the Mercato,
within scent of bread and savours, I'll answer for him."

"Let us make the round of the Mercato, then," said Nello.

"It isn't his feathers that puzzle me," continued Bratti, as they pushed
their way together.  "There isn't much in the way of cut and cloth on
this side the Holy Sepulchre that can puzzle a Florentine."

"Or frighten him either," said Nello, "after he has seen an Englander or
a German."

"No, no," said Bratti, cordially; "one may never lose sight of the
Cupola and yet know the world, I hope.  Besides, this stranger's clothes
are good Italian merchandise, and the hose he wears were dyed in
Ognissanti before ever they were dyed with salt water, as he says.  But
the riddle about him is--"

Here Bratti's explanation was interrupted by some jostling as they
reached one of the entrances of the piazza, and before he could resume
it they had caught sight of the enigmatical object they were in search
of.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  A votive image of Lorenzo, in wax, hung up in the Church of the
Annunziata, supposed to have fallen at the time of his death.  _Boto_ is
popular Tuscan for _Voto_.

Note 2.  The phrase used to express the absence of disqualification--
i.e., the not being entered as a debtor in the public book--_specchio_.



CHAPTER TWO.

BREAKFAST FOR LOVE.

After Bratti had joined the knot of talkers, the young stranger,
hopeless of learning what was the cause of the general agitation, and
not much caring to know what was probably of little interest to any but
born Florentines, soon became tired of waiting for Bratti's escort; and
chose to stroll round the piazza, looking out for some vendor of
eatables who might happen to have less than the average curiosity about
public news.  But as if at the suggestion of a sudden thought, he thrust
his hand into a purse or wallet that hung at his waist, and explored it
again and again with a look of frustration.

"Not an obolus, by Jupiter!" he murmured, in a language which was not
Tuscan or even Italian.  "I thought I had one poor piece left.  I must
get my breakfast for love, then!"

He had not gone many steps farther before it seemed likely that he had
found a quarter of the market where that medium of exchange might not be
rejected.

In a corner, away from any group of talkers, two mules were standing,
well adorned with red tassels and collars.  One of them carried wooden
milk-vessels, the other a pair of panniers filled with herbs and salads.
Resting her elbow on the neck of the mule that carried the milk, there
leaned a young girl, apparently not more than sixteen, with a red hood
surrounding her face, which was all the more baby-like in its prettiness
from the entire concealment of her hair.  The poor child, perhaps, was
weary after her labour in the morning twilight in preparation for her
walk to market from some castello three or four miles off, for she
seemed to have gone to sleep in that half-standing, half-leaning
posture.  Nevertheless, our stranger had no compunction in awaking her;
but the means he chose were so gentle, that it seemed to the damsel in
her dream as if a little sprig of thyme had touched her lips while she
was stooping to gather the herbs.  The dream was broken, however, for
she opened her blue baby-eyes, and started up with astonishment and
confusion to see the young stranger standing close before her.  She
heard him speaking to her in a voice which seemed so strange and soft,
that even if she had been more collected she would have taken it for
granted that he said something hopelessly unintelligible to her, and her
first movement was to turn her head a little away, and lift up a corner
of her green serge mantle as a screen.  He repeated his words--

"Forgive me, pretty one, for awaking you.  I'm dying with hunger, and
the scent of milk makes breakfast seem more desirable than ever."

He had chosen the words "_muoio di fame_" because he knew they would be
familiar to her ears; and he had uttered them playfully, with the
intonation of a mendicant.  This time he was understood; the corner of
the mantle was dropped, and in a few moments a large cup of fragrant
milk was held out to him.  He paid no further compliments before raising
it to his lips, and while he was drinking, the little maiden found
courage to look up at the long dark curls of this singular-voiced
stranger, who had asked for food in the tones of a beggar, but who,
though his clothes were much damaged, was unlike any beggar she had ever
seen.

While this process of survey was going on, there was another current of
feeling that carried her hand into a bag which hung by the side of the
mule, and when the stranger set down his cup, he saw a large piece of
bread held out towards him, and caught a glance of the blue eyes that
seemed intended as an encouragement to him to take this additional gift.

"But perhaps that is your own breakfast," he said.  "No, I have had
enough without payment.  A thousand thanks, my gentle one."

There was no rejoinder in words; but the piece of bread was pushed a
little nearer to him, as if in impatience at his refusal; and as the
long dark eyes of the stranger rested on the baby-face, it seemed to be
gathering more and more courage to look up and meet them.

"Ah, then, if I must take the bread," he said, laying his hand on it, "I
shall get bolder still, and beg for another kiss to make the bread
sweeter."

His speech was getting wonderfully intelligible in spite of the strange
voice, which had at first almost seemed a thing to make her cross
herself.  She blushed deeply, and lifted up a corner of her mantle to
her mouth again.  But just as the too presumptuous stranger was leaning
forward, and had his fingers on the arm that held up the screening
mantle, he was startled by a harsh voice close upon his ear.

"Who are _you_--with a murrain to you?  No honest buyer, I'll warrant,
but a hanger-on of the dicers--or something worse.  Go! dance off, and
find fitter company, or I'll give you a tune to a little quicker time
than you'll like."

The young stranger drew back and looked at the speaker with a glance
provokingly free from alarm and deprecation, and his slight expression
of saucy amusement broke into a broad beaming smile as he surveyed the
figure of his threatenor.  She was a stout but brawny woman, with a
man's jerkin slipped over her green serge gamurra or gown, and the
peaked hood of some departed mantle fastened round her sunburnt face,
which, under all its coarseness and premature wrinkles, showed a
half-sad, half-ludicrous maternal resemblance to the tender baby-face of
the little maiden--the sort of resemblance which often seems a more
croaking, shudder-creating prophecy than that of the death's-head.

There was something irresistibly propitiating in that bright young
smile, but Monna Ghita was not a woman to betray any weakness, and she
went on speaking, apparently with heightened exasperation.

"Yes, yes, you can grin as well as other monkeys in cap and jerkin.
You're a minstrel or a mountebank, I'll be sworn; you look for all the
world as silly as a tumbler when he's been upside down and has got on
his heels again.  And what fool's tricks hast thou been after, Tessa?"
she added, turning to her daughter, whose frightened face was more
inviting to abuse.  "Giving away the milk and victuals, it seems; ay,
ay, thou'dst carry water in thy ears for any idle vagabond that didn't
like to stoop for it, thou silly staring rabbit!  Turn thy back, and
lift the herbs out of the panniers, else I'll make thee say a few Aves
without counting."

"Nay, Madonna," said the stranger, with a pleading smile, "don't be
angry with your pretty Tessa for taking pity on a hungry traveller, who
found himself unexpectedly without a quattrino.  Your handsome face
looks so well when it frowns, that I long to see it illuminated by a
smile."

"_Va via_!  I know what paste you are made of.  You may tickle me with
that straw a good long while before I shall laugh, I can tell you.  Get
along, with a bad Easter! else I'll make a beauty-spot or two on that
face of yours that shall spoil your kissing on this side Advent."

As Monna Ghita lifted her formidable talons by way of complying with the
first and last requisite of eloquence, Bratti, who had come up a minute
or two before, had been saying to his companion, "What think you of this
pretty parrot, Nello?  Doesn't his tongue smack of Venice?"

"Nay, Bratti," said the barber in an undertone, "thy wisdom has much of
the ass in it, as I told thee just now; especially about the ears.  This
stranger is a Greek, else I'm not the barber who has had the sole and
exclusive shaving of the excellent Demetrio, and drawn more than one
sorry tooth from his learned jaw.  And this youth might be taken to have
come straight from Olympus--at least when he has had a touch of my
razor."

"_Orsu_!  Monna Ghita!" continued Nello, not sorry to see some sport;
"what has happened to cause such a thunderstorm?  Has this young
stranger been misbehaving himself?"

"By San Giovanni!" said the cautious Bratti, who had not shaken off his
original suspicions concerning the shabbily-clad possessor of jewels,
"he did right to run away from _me_, if he meant to get into mischief.
I can swear that I found him under the Loggia de' Cerchi, with a ring on
his finger such as I've seen worn by Bernardo Rucellai himself.  Not
another rusty nail's worth do I know about him."

"The fact is," said Nello, eyeing the stranger good-humouredly, "this
_bello giovane_ has been a little too presumptuous in admiring the
charms of Monna Ghita, and has attempted to kiss her while her
daughter's back is turned; for I observe that the pretty Tessa is too
busy to look this way at present.  Was it not so, Messer?"  Nello
concluded, in a tone of courtesy.

"You have divined the offence like a soothsayer," said the stranger,
laughingly.  "Only that I had not the good fortune to find Monna Ghita
here at first.  I begged a cup of milk from her daughter, and had
accepted this gift of bread, for which I was making a humble offering of
gratitude, before I had the higher pleasure of being face to face with
these riper charms which I was perhaps too bold in admiring."

"_Va, va_! be off, every one of you, and stay in purgatory till I pay to
get you out, will you?" said Monna Ghita, fiercely, elbowing Nello, and
leading forward her mule so as to compel the stranger to jump aside.
"Tessa, thou simpleton, bring forward thy mule a bit: the cart will be
upon us."

As Tessa turned to take the mule's bridle, she cast one timid glance at
the stranger, who was now moving with Nello out of the way of an
approaching market-cart; and the glance was just long enough to seize
the beckoning movement of his hand, which indicated that he had been
watching for this opportunity of an adieu.

"_Ebbene_," said Bratti, raising his voice to speak across the cart; "I
leave you with Nello, young man, for there's no pushing my bag and
basket any farther, and I have business at home.  But you'll remember
our bargain, because if you found Tessa without me, it was not my fault.
Nello will show you my shop in the Ferravecchi, and I'll not turn my
back on you."

"A thousand thanks, friend!" said the stranger, laughing, and then
turned away with Nello up the narrow street which led most directly to
the Piazza del Duomo.



CHAPTER THREE.

THE BARBER'S SHOP.

"To tell you the truth," said the young stranger to Nello, as they got a
little clearer of the entangled vehicles and mules, "I am not sorry to
be handed over by that patron of mine to one who has a less barbarous
accent, and a less enigmatical business.  Is it a common thing among you
Florentines for an itinerant trafficker in broken glass and rags to talk
of a shop where he sells lutes and swords?"

"Common?  No: our Bratti is not a common man.  He has a theory, and
lives up to it, which is more than I can say for any philosopher I have
the honour of shaving," answered Nello, whose loquacity, like an
over-full bottle, could never pour forth a small dose.  "Bratti means to
extract the utmost possible amount of pleasure, that is to say, of hard
bargaining, out of this life; winding it up with a bargain for the
easiest possible passage through purgatory, by giving Holy Church his
winnings when the game is over.  He has had his will made to that effect
on the cheapest terms a notary could be got for.  But I have often said
to him, `Bratti, thy bargain is a limping one, and thou art on the lame
side of it.  Does it not make thee a little sad to look at the pictures
of the Paradiso?  Thou wilt never be able there to chaffer for rags and
rusty nails: the saints and angels want neither pins nor tinder; and
except with San Bartolommeo, who carries his skin about in an
inconvenient manner, I see no chance of thy making a bargain for
second-hand clothing.'  But God pardon me," added Nello, changing his
tone, and crossing himself, "this light talk ill beseems a morning when
Lorenzo lies dead, and the Muses are tearing their hair--always a
painful thought to a barber; and you yourself, Messere, are probably
under a cloud, for when a man of your speech and presence takes up with
so sorry a night's lodging, it argues some misfortune to have befallen
him."

"What Lorenzo is that whose death you speak of?" said the stranger,
appearing to have dwelt with too anxious an interest on this point to
have noticed the indirect inquiry that followed it.

"What Lorenzo?  There is but one Lorenzo, I imagine, whose death could
throw the Mercato into an uproar, set the lantern of the Duomo leaping
in desperation, and cause the lions of the Republic to feel under an
immediate necessity to devour one another.  I mean Lorenzo de' Medici,
the Pericles of our Athens--if I may make such a comparison in the ear
of a Greek."

"Why not?" said the other, laughingly; "for I doubt whether Athens, even
in the days of Pericles, could have produced so learned a barber."

"Yes, yes; I thought I could not be mistaken," said the rapid Nello,
"else I have shaved the venerable Demetrio Calcondila to little purpose;
but pardon me, I am lost in wonder: your Italian is better than his,
though he has been in Italy forty years--better even than that of the
accomplished Marullo, who may be said to have married the Italic Muse in
more senses than one, since he has married our learned and lovely
Alessandra Scala."

"It will lighten your wonder to know that I come of a Greek stock
planted in Italian soil much longer than the mulberry-trees which have
taken so kindly to it.  I was born at Bari, and my--I mean, I was
brought up by an Italian--and, in fact, I am a Greek, very much as your
peaches are Persian.  The Greek dye was subdued in me, I suppose, till I
had been dipped over again by long abode and much travel in the land of
gods and heroes.  And, to confess something of my private affairs to
you, this same Greek dye, with a few ancient gems I have about me, is
the only fortune shipwreck has left me.  But--when the towers fall, you
know it is an ill business for the small nest-builders--the death of
your Pericles makes me wish I had rather turned my steps towards Rome,
as I should have done but for a fallacious Minerva in the shape of an
Augustinian monk.  `At Rome,' he said, `you will be lost in a crowd of
hungry scholars; but at Florence, every corner is penetrated by the
sunshine of Lorenzo's patronage: Florence is the best market in Italy
for such commodities as yours.'"

"_Gnaffe_, and so it will remain, I hope," said Nello, "Lorenzo was not
the only patron and judge of learning in our city--heaven forbid!
Because he was a large melon, every other Florentine is not a pumpkin, I
suppose.  Have we not Bernardo Rucellai, and Alamanno Rinuccini, and
plenty more?  And if you want to be informed on such matters, I, Nello,
am your man.  It seems to me a thousand years till I can be of service
to a _bel erudito_ like yourself.  And, first of all, in the matter of
your hair.  That beard, my fine young man, must be parted with, were it
as dear to you as the nymph of your dreams.  Here at Florence, we love
not to see a man with his nose projecting over a cascade of hair.  But,
remember, you will have passed the Rubicon, when once you have been
shaven: if you repent, and let your beard grow after it has acquired
stoutness by a struggle with the razor, your mouth will by-and-by show
no longer what Messer Angelo calls the divine prerogative of lips, but
will appear like a dark cavern fringed with horrent brambles."

"That is a terrible prophecy," said the Greek, "especially if your
Florentine maidens are many of them as pretty as the little Tessa I
stole a kiss from this morning."

"Tessa? she is a rough-handed contadina: you will rise into the favour
of dames who bring no scent of the mule-stables with them.  But to that
end, you must not have the air of a _sgherro_, or a man of evil repute:
you must look like a courtier, and a scholar of the more polished sort,
such as our Pietro Crinito--like one who sins among well-bred, well-fed
people, and not one who sucks down vile _vino di sotto_ in a chance
tavern."

"With all my heart," said the stranger.  "If the Florentine Graces
demand it, I am willing to give up this small matter of my beard, but--"

"Yes, yes," interrupted Nello.  "I know what you would say.  It is the
_bella zazzera_--the hyacinthine locks, you do not choose to part with;
and there is no need.  Just a little pruning--ecco!--and you will look
not unlike the illustrious prince Pico di Mirandola in his prime.  And
here we are in good time in the Piazza San Giovanni, and at the door of
my shop.  But you are pausing, I see: naturally, you want to look at our
wonder of the world, our Duomo, our Santa Maria del Fiore.  Well, well,
a mere glance; but I beseech you to leave a closer survey till you have
been shaved: I am quivering with the inspiration of my art even to the
very edge of my razor.  Ah, then, come round this way."

The mercurial barber seized the arm of the stranger, and led him to a
point, on the south side of the piazza, from which he could see at once
the huge dark shell of the cupola, the slender soaring grace of Giotto's
campanile, and the quaint octagon of San Giovanni in front of them,
showing its unique gates of storied bronze, which still bore the
somewhat dimmed glory of their original gilding.  The inlaid marbles
were then fresher in their pink, and white, and purple, than they are
now, when the winters of four centuries have turned their white to the
rich ochre of well-mellowed meerschaum; the facade of the cathedral did
not stand ignominious in faded stucco, but had upon it the magnificent
promise of the half-completed marble inlaying and statued niches, which
Giotto had devised a hundred and fifty years before; and as the
campanile in all its harmonious variety of colour and form led the eyes
upward, high into the clear air of this April morning, it seemed a
prophetic symbol, telling that human life must somehow and some time
shape itself into accord with that pure aspiring beauty.

But this was not the impression it appeared to produce on the Greek.
His eyes were irresistibly led upward, but as he stood with his arms
folded and his curls falling backward, there was a slight touch of scorn
on his lip, and when his eyes fell again they glanced round with a
scanning coolness which was rather piquing to Nello's Florentine spirit.

"Well, my fine young man," he said, with some impatience, "you seem to
make as little of our Cathedral as if you were the Angel Gabriel come
straight from Paradise.  I should like to know if you have ever seen
finer work than our Giotto's tower, or any cupola that would not look a
mere mushroom by the side of Brunelleschi's there, or any marbles finer
or more cunningly wrought than these that our Signoria got from far-off
quarries, at a price that would buy a dukedom.  Come, now, have you ever
seen anything to equal them?"

"If you asked me that question with a scimitar at my throat, after the
Turkish fashion, or even your own razor," said the young Greek, smiling
gaily, and moving on towards the gates of the Baptistery, "I daresay you
might get a confession of the true faith from me.  But with my throat
free from peril, I venture to tell you that your buildings smack too
much of Christian barbarism for my taste.  I have a shuddering sense of
what there is inside--hideous smoked Madonnas; fleshless saints in
mosaic, staring down idiotic astonishment and rebuke from the apse;
skin-clad skeletons hanging on crosses, or stuck all over with arrows,
or stretched on gridirons; women and monks with heads aside in perpetual
lamentation.  I have seen enough of those wry-necked favourites of
heaven at Constantinople.  But what is this bronze door rough with
imagery?  These women's figures seem moulded in a different spirit from
those starved and staring saints I spoke of: these heads in high relief
speak of a human mind within them, instead of looking like an index to
perpetual spasms and colic."

"Yes, yes," said Nello, with some triumph.  "I think we shall show you
by-and-by that our Florentine art is not in a state of barbarism.  These
gates, my fine young man, were moulded half a century ago, by our
Lorenzo Ghiberti, when he counted hardly so many years as you do."

"Ah, I remember," said the stranger, turning away, like one whose
appetite for contemplation was soon satisfied.  "I have heard that your
Tuscan sculptors and painters have been studying the antique a little.
But with monks for models, and the legends of mad hermits and martyrs
for subjects, the vision of Olympus itself would be of small use to
them."

"I understand," said Nello, with a significant shrug, as they walked
along.  "You are of the same mind as Michele Marullo, ay, and as Angelo
Poliziano himself, in spite of his canonicate, when he relaxes himself a
little in my shop after his lectures, and talks of the gods awaking from
their long sleep and making the woods and streams vital once more.  But
he rails against the Roman scholars who want to make us all talk Latin
again: `My ears,' he says, `are sufficiently flayed by the barbarisms of
the learned, and if the vulgar are to talk Latin I would as soon have
been in Florence the day they took to beating all the kettles in the
city because the bells were not enough to stay the wrath of the saints.'
Ah, Messer Greco, if you want to know the flavour of our scholarship,
you must frequent my shop: it is the focus of Florentine intellect, and
in that sense the navel of the earth--as my great predecessor,
Burchiello, said of _his_ shop, on the more frivolous pretension that
his street of the Calimara was the centre of our city.  And here we are
at the sign of `Apollo and the Razor.'  Apollo, you see, is bestowing
the razor on the Triptolemus of our craft, the first reaper of beards,
the sublime _Anonimo_, whose mysterious identity is indicated by a
shadowy hand."

"I see thou hast had custom already, Sandro," continued Nello,
addressing a solemn-looking dark-eyed youth, who made way for them on
the threshold.  "And now make all clear for this signor to sit down.
And prepare the finest-scented lather, for he has a learned and a
handsome chin."

"You have a pleasant little adytum there, I see," said the stranger,
looking through a latticed screen which divided the shop from a room of
about equal size, opening into a still smaller walled enclosure, where a
few bays and laurels surrounded a stone Hermes.  "I suppose your
conclave of _eruditi_ meets there?"

"There, and not less in my shop," said Nello, leading the way into the
inner room, in which were some benches, a table, with one book in
manuscript and one printed in capitals lying open upon it, a lute, a few
oil-sketches, and a model or two of hands and ancient masks.  "For my
shop is a no less fitting haunt of the Muses, as you will acknowledge
when you feel the sudden illumination of understanding and the serene
vigour of inspiration that will come to you with a clear chin.  Ah! you
can make that lute discourse, I perceive.  I, too, have some skill that
way, though the serenata is useless when daylight discloses a visage
like mine, looking no fresher than an apple that has stood the winter.
But look at that sketch: it is a fancy of Piero di Cosimo's, a strange
freakish painter, who says he saw it by long looking at a mouldy wall."

The sketch Nello pointed to represented three masks--one a drunken
laughing Satyr, another a sorrowing Magdalen, and the third, which lay
between them, the rigid, cold face of a Stoic: the masks rested
obliquely on the lap of a little child, whose cherub features rose above
them with something of the supernal promise in the gaze which painters
had by that time learned to give to the Divine Infant.

"A symbolical picture, I see," said the young Greek, touching the lute
while he spoke, so as to bring out a slight musical murmur.  "The child,
perhaps, is the Golden Age, wanting neither worship nor philosophy.  And
the Golden Age can always come back as long as men are born in the form
of babies, and don't come into the world in cassock or furred mantle.
Or, the child may mean the wise philosophy of Epicurus, removed alike
from the gross, the sad, and the severe."

"Ah! everybody has his own interpretation for that picture," said Nello;
"and if you ask Piero himself what he meant by it, he says his pictures
are an appendix which Messer Domeneddio has been pleased to make to the
universe, and if any man is in doubt what they mean, he had better
inquire of Holy Church.  He has been asked to paint a picture after the
sketch, but he puts his fingers to his ears and shakes his head at that;
the fancy is past, he says--a strange animal, our Piero.  But now all is
ready for your initiation into the mysteries of the razor."

"Mysteries they may well be called," continued the barber, with rising
spirits at the prospect of a long monologue, as he imprisoned the young
Greek in the shroud-like shaving-cloth; "mysteries of Minerva and the
Graces.  I get the flower of men's thoughts, because I seize them in the
first moment after shaving.  (Ah! you wince a little at the lather: it
tickles the outlying limits of the nose, I admit.)  And that is what
makes the peculiar fitness of a barber's shop to become a resort of wit
and learning.  For, look now at a druggist's shop: there is a dull
conclave at the sign of `The Moor,' that pretends to rival mine; but
what sort of inspiration, I beseech you, can be got from the scent of
nauseous vegetable decoctions?--to say nothing of the fact that you no
sooner pass the threshold than you see a doctor of physic, like a
gigantic spider disguised in fur and scarlet, waiting for his prey; or
even see him blocking up the doorway seated on a bony hack, inspecting
saliva.  (Your chin a little elevated, if it please you: contemplate
that angel who is blowing the trumpet at you from the ceiling.  I had it
painted expressly for the regulation of my clients' chins.)  Besides,
your druggist, who herborises and decocts, is a man of prejudices: he
has poisoned people according to a system, and is obliged to stand up
for his system to justify the consequences.  Now a barber can be
dispassionate; the only thing he necessarily stands by is the razor,
always providing he is not an author.  That was the flaw in my great
predecessor Burchiello: he was a poet, and had consequently a prejudice
about his own poetry.  I have escaped that; I saw very early that
authorship is a narrowing business, in conflict with the liberal art of
the razor, which demands an impartial affection for all men's chins.
Ecco, Messer! the outline of your chin and lip is as clear as a
maiden's; and now fix your mind on a knotty question--ask yourself
whether you are bound to spell Virgil with an _i_ or an _e_, and say if
you do not feel an unwonted clearness on the point.  Only, if you decide
for the _i_, keep it to yourself till your fortune is made, for the _e_
hath the stronger following in Florence.  Ah!  I think I see a gleam of
still quicker wit in your eye.  I have it on the authority of our young
Niccolo Macchiavelli, himself keen enough to discern _il pelo nell'
uovo_, as we say, and a great lover of delicate shaving, though his
beard is hardly of two years' date, that no sooner do the hairs begin to
push themselves, than he perceives a certain grossness of apprehension
creeping over him."

"Suppose you let me look at myself," said the stranger, laughing.  "The
happy effect on my intellect is perhaps obstructed by a little doubt as
to the effect on my appearance."

"Behold yourself in this mirror, then; it is a Venetian mirror from
Murano, the true _nosce teipsum_, as I have named it, compared with
which the finest mirror of steel or silver is mere darkness.  See now,
how by diligent shaving, the nether region of your face may preserve its
human outline, instead of presenting no distinction from the physiognomy
of a bearded owl or a Barbary ape.  I have seen men whose beards have so
invaded their cheeks, that one might have pitied them as the victims of
a sad, brutalising chastisement befitting our Dante's Inferno, if they
had not seemed to strut with a strange triumph in their extravagant
hairiness."

"It seems to me," said the Greek, still looking into the mirror, "that
you have taken away some of my capital with your razor--I mean a year or
two of age, which might have won me more ready credit for my learning.
Under the inspection of a patron whose vision has grown somewhat dim, I
shall have a perilous resemblance to a maiden of eighteen in the
disguise of hose and jerkin."

"Not at all," said Nello, proceeding to clip the too extravagant curls;
"your proportions are not those of a maiden.  And for your age, I myself
remember seeing Angelo Poliziano begin his lectures on the Latin
language when he had a younger beard than yours; and between ourselves,
his juvenile ugliness was not less signal than his precocious
scholarship.  Whereas you--no, no, your age is not against you; but
between ourselves, let me hint to you that your being a Greek, though it
be only an Apulian Greek, is not in your favour.  Certain of our
scholars hold that your Greek learning is but a wayside degenerate plant
until it has been transplanted into Italian brains, and that now there
is such a plentiful crop of the superior quality, your native teachers
are mere propagators of degeneracy.  Ecco! your curls are now of the
right proportion to neck and shoulders; rise, Messer, and I will free
you from the encumbrance of this cloth.  _Gnaffe_!  I almost advise you
to retain the faded jerkin and hose a little longer; they give you the
air of a fallen prince."

"But the question is," said the young Greek, leaning against the high
back of a chair, and returning Nello's contemplative admiration with a
look of inquiring anxiety; "the question is, in what quarter I am to
carry my princely air, so as to rise from the said fallen condition.  If
your Florentine patrons of learning share this scholarly hostility to
the Greeks, I see not how your city can be a hospitable refuge for me,
as you seemed to say just now."

"_Pian piano_--not so fast," said Nello, sticking his thumbs into his
belt and nodding to Sandro to restore order.  "I will not conceal from
you that there is a prejudice against Greeks among us; and though, as a
barber unsnared by authorship, I share no prejudices, I must admit that
the Greeks are not always such pretty youngsters as yourself: their
erudition is often of an uncombed, unmannerly aspect, and encrusted with
a barbarous utterance of Italian, that makes their converse hardly more
euphonious than that of a Tedesco in a state of vinous loquacity.  And
then, again, excuse me--we Florentines have liberal ideas about speech,
and consider that an instrument which can flatter and promise so
cleverly as the tongue, must have been partly made for those purposes;
and that truth is a riddle for eyes and wit to discover, which it were a
mere spoiling of sport for the tongue to betray.  Still we have our
limits beyond which we call dissimulation treachery.  But it is said of
the Greeks that their honesty begins at what is the hanging point with
us, and that since the old Furies went to sleep, your Christian Greek is
of so easy a conscience that he would make a stepping-stone of his
father's corpse."

The flush on the stranger's face indicated what seemed so natural a
movement of resentment, that the good-natured Nello hastened to atone
for his want of reticence.

"Be not offended, _bel giovane_; I am but repeating what I hear in my
shop; as you may perceive, my eloquence is simply the cream which I skim
off my clients' talk.  Heaven forbid I should fetter my impartiality by
entertaining an opinion.  And for that same scholarly objection to the
Greeks," added Nello, in a more mocking tone, and with a significant
grimace, "the fact is, you are heretics, Messer; jealousy has nothing to
do with it: if you would just change your opinion about leaven, and
alter your Doxology a little, our Italian scholars would think it a
thousand years till they could give up their chairs to you.  Yes, yes;
it is chiefly religious scruple, and partly also the authority of a
great classic,--Juvenal, is it not?  He, I gather, had his bile as much
stirred by the swarm of Greeks as our Messer Angelo, who is fond of
quoting some passage about their incorrigible impudence--_audacia
perdita_."

"Pooh! the passage is a compliment," said the Greek, who had recovered
himself, and seemed wise enough to take the matter gaily--

  "`Ingenium velox, audacia perdita, sermo
  Promptus, et Isaeo torrentior.'

"A rapid intellect and ready eloquence may carry off a little
impudence."

"Assuredly," said Nello.  "And since, as I see, you know Latin
literature as well as Greek, you will not fall into the mistake of
Giovanni Argiropulo, who ran full tilt against Cicero, and pronounced
him all but a pumpkin-head.  For, let me give you one bit of advice,
young man--trust a barber who has shaved the best chins, and kept his
eyes and ears open for twenty years--oil your tongue well when you talk
of the ancient Latin writers, and give it an extra dip when you talk of
the modern.  A wise Greek may win favour among us; witness our excellent
Demetrio, who is loved by many, and not hated immoderately even by the
most renowned scholars."

"I discern the wisdom of your advice so clearly," said the Greek, with
the bright smile which was continually lighting up the fine form and
colour of his young face, "that I will ask you for a little more.  Who
now, for example, would be the most likely patron for me?  Is there a
son of Lorenzo who inherits his tastes?  Or is there any other wealthy
Florentine specially addicted to purchasing antique gems?  I have a fine
Cleopatra cut in sardonyx, and one or two other intaglios and cameos,
both curious and beautiful, worthy of being added to the cabinet of a
prince.  Happily, I had taken the precaution of fastening them within
the lining of my doublet before I set out on my voyage.  Moreover, I
should like to raise a small sum for my present need on this ring of
mine," (here he took out the ring and replaced it on his finger), "if
you could recommend me to any honest trafficker."

"Let us see, let us see," said Nello, perusing the floor, and walking up
and down the length of his shop.  "This is no time to apply to Piero de'
Medici, though he has the will to make such purchases if he could always
spare the money; but I think it is another sort of Cleopatra that he
covets most...  Yes, yes, I have it.  What you want is a man of wealth,
and influence, and scholarly tastes--not one of your learned porcupines,
bristling all over with critical tests, but one whose Greek and Latin
are of a comfortable laxity.  And that man is Bartolommeo Scala, the
secretary of our Republic.  He came to Florence as a poor adventurer
himself--a miller's son--a `branny monster,' as he has been nicknamed by
our honey-lipped Poliziano, who agrees with him as well as my teeth
agree with lemon-juice.  And, by the by, that may be a reason why the
secretary may be the more ready to do a good turn to a strange scholar.
For, between you and me, _bel giovane_--trust a barber who has shaved
the best scholars--friendliness is much such a steed as Ser Benghi's: it
will hardly show much alacrity unless it has got the thistle of hatred
under its tail.  However, the secretary is a man who'll keep his word to
you, even to the halving of a fennel-seed; and he is not unlikely to buy
some of your gems."

"But how am I to get at this great man?" said the Greek, rather
impatiently.

"I was coming to that," said Nello.  "Just now everybody of any public
importance will be full of Lorenzo's death, and a stranger may find it
difficult to get any notice.  But in the meantime, I could take you to a
man who, if he has a mind, can help you to a chance of a favourable
interview with Scala sooner than anybody else in Florence--worth seeing
for his own sake too, to say nothing of his collections, or of his
daughter Romola, who is as fair as the Florentine lily before it got
quarrelsome and turned red."

"But if this father of the beautiful Romola makes collections, why
should he not like to buy some of my gems himself?"

Nello shrugged his shoulders.  "For two good reasons--want of sight to
look at the gems, and want of money to pay for them.  Our old Bardo de'
Bardi is so blind that he can see no more of his daughter than, as he
says, a glimmering of something bright when she comes very near him:
doubtless her golden hair, which, as Messer Luigi Pulci says of his
Meridiana's, `_raggia come stella per sereno_.'  Ah! here come some
clients of mine, and I shouldn't wonder if one of them could serve your
turn about that ring."



CHAPTER FOUR.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS.

"Good-day, Messer Domenico," said Nello to the foremost of the two
visitors who entered the shop, while he nodded silently to the other.
"You come as opportunely as cheese on macaroni.  Ah! you are in haste--
wish to be shaved without delay--ecco!  And this is a morning when every
one has grave matter on his mind.  Florence orphaned--the very pivot of
Italy snatched away--heaven itself at a loss what to do next.  _Oime_!
Well, well; the sun is nevertheless travelling on towards dinner-time
again; and, as I was saying, you come like cheese ready grated.  For
this young stranger was wishing for an honourable trader who would
advance, him a sum on a certain ring of value, and if I had counted
every goldsmith and money-lender in Florence on my fingers, I couldn't
have found a better name than Menico Cennini.  Besides, he hath other
ware in which you deal--Greek learning, and young eyes--a double
implement which you printers are always in need of."

The grave elderly man, son of that Bernardo Cennini, who, twenty years
before, having heard of the new process of printing carried on by
Germans, had cast his own types in Florence, remained necessarily in
lathered silence and passivity while Nello showered this talk in his
ears, but turned a slow sideway gaze on the stranger.

"This fine young man has unlimited Greek, Latin, or Italian at your
service," continued Nello, fond of interpreting by very ample
paraphrase.  "He is as great a wonder of juvenile learning as Francesco
Filelfo or our own incomparable Poliziano.  A second Guarino, too, for
he has had the misfortune to be shipwrecked, and has doubtless lost a
store of precious manuscripts that might have contributed some
correctness even to your correct editions, Domenico.  Fortunately, he
has rescued a few gems of rare value.  His name is--you said your name,
Messer, was--?"

"Tito Melema," said the stranger, slipping the ring from his finger, and
presenting it to Cennini, whom Nello, not less rapid with his razor than
with his tongue, had now released from the shaving-cloth.

Meanwhile the man who had entered the shop in company with the
goldsmith--a tall figure, about fifty, with a short trimmed beard,
wearing an old felt hat and a threadbare mantle--had kept his eye fixed
on the Greek, and now said abruptly--

"Young man, I am painting a picture of Sinon deceiving old Priam, and I
should be glad of your face for my Sinon, if you'd give me a sitting."

Tito Melema started and looked round with a pale astonishment in his
face as if at a sudden accusation; but Nello left him no time to feel at
a loss for an answer: "Piero," said the barber, "thou art the most
extraordinary compound of humours and fancies ever packed into a human
skin.  What trick wilt thou play with the fine visage of this young
scholar to make it suit thy traitor?  Ask him rather to turn his eyes
upward, and thou mayst make a Saint Sebastian of him that will draw
troops of devout women; or, if thou art in a classical vein, put myrtle
about his curls and make him a young Bacchus, or say rather a Phoebus
Apollo, for his face is as warm and bright as a summer morning; it made
me his friend in the space of a `credo.'"

"Ay, Nello," said the painter, speaking with abrupt pauses; "and if thy
tongue can leave off its everlasting chirping long enough for thy
understanding to consider the matter, thou mayst see that thou hast just
shown the reason why the face of Messere will suit my traitor.  A
perfect traitor should have a face which vice can write no marks on--
lips that will lie with a dimpled smile--eyes of such agate-like
brightness and depth that no infamy can dull them--cheeks that will rise
from a murder and not look haggard.  I say not this young man is a
traitor: I mean, he has a face that would make him the more perfect
traitor if he had the heart of one, which is saying neither more nor
less than that he has a beautiful face, informed with rich young blood,
that will be nourished enough by food, and keep its colour without much
help of virtue.  He may have the heart of a hero along with it; I aver
nothing to the contrary.  Ask Domenico there if the lapidaries can
always tell a gem by the sight alone.  And now I'm going to put the tow
in my ears, for thy chatter and the bells together are more than I can
endure: so say no more to me, but trim my beard."

With these last words Piero (called "di Cosimo," from his master, Cosimo
Rosselli) drew out two bits of tow, stuffed them in his ears, and placed
himself in the chair before Nello, who shrugged his shoulders and cast a
grimacing look of intelligence at the Greek, as much as to say, "A
whimsical fellow, you perceive!  Everybody holds his speeches as mere
jokes."

Tito, who had stood transfixed, with his long dark eyes resting on the
unknown man who had addressed him so equivocally, seemed recalled to his
self-command by Piero's change of position, and apparently satisfied
with his explanation, was again giving his attention to Cennini, who
presently said--

"This is a curious and valuable ring, young man.  This intaglio of the
fish with the crested serpent above it, in the black stratum of the
onyx, or rather nicolo, is well shown by the surrounding blue of the
upper stratum.  The ring has, doubtless, a history?" added Cennini,
looking up keenly at the young stranger.

"Yes, indeed," said Tito, meeting the scrutiny very frankly.  "The ring
was found in Sicily, and I have understood from those who busy
themselves with gems and sigils, that both the stone and intaglio are of
virtue to make the wearer fortunate, especially at sea, and also to
restore to him whatever he may have lost.  But," he continued, smiling,
"though I have worn it constantly since I quitted Greece, it has not
made me altogether fortunate at sea, you perceive, unless I am to count
escape from drowning as a sufficient proof of its virtue.  It remains to
be seen whether my lost chests will come to light; but to lose no chance
of such a result, Messer, I will pray you only to hold the ring for a
short space as pledge for a small sum far beneath its value, and I will
redeem it as soon as I can dispose of certain other gems which are
secured within my doublet, or indeed as soon as I can earn something by
any scholarly employment, if I may be so fortunate as to meet with
such."

"That may be seen, young man, if you will come with me," said Cennini.
"My brother Pietro, who is a better judge of scholarship than I, will
perhaps be able to supply you with a task that may test your
capabilities.  Meanwhile, take back your ring until I can hand you the
necessary florins, and, if it please you, come along with me."

"Yes, yes," said Nello, "go with Messer Domenico, you cannot go in
better company; he was born under the constellation that gives a man
skill, riches, and integrity, whatever that constellation may be, which
is of the less consequence because babies can't choose their own
horoscopes, and, indeed, if they could, there might be an inconvenient
rush of babies at particular epochs.  Besides, our Phoenix, the
incomparable Pico, has shown that your horoscopes are all a nonsensical
dream--which is the less troublesome opinion.  _Addio! bel giovane_!
don't forget to come back to me."

"No fear of that," said Tito, beckoning a farewell, as he turned round
his bright face at the door.  "You are to do me a great service:--that
is the most positive security for your seeing me again."

"Say what thou wilt, Piero," said Nello, as the young stranger
disappeared, "I shall never look at such an outside as that without
taking it as a sign of a lovable nature.  Why, thou wilt say next that
Leonardo, whom thou art always raving about, ought to have made his
Judas as beautiful as Saint John!  But thou art as deaf as the top of
Mount Morello with that accursed tow in thy ears.  Well, well: I'll get
a little more of this young man's history from him before I take him to
Bardo Bardi."



CHAPTER FIVE.

THE BLIND SCHOLAR AND HIS DAUGHTER.

The Via de' Bardi, a street noted in the history of Florence, lies in
Oltrarno, or that portion of the city which clothes the southern bank of
the river.  It extends from the Ponte Vecchio to the Piazza de' Mozzi at
the head of the Ponte alle Grazie; its right-hand line of houses and
walls being backed by the rather steep ascent which in the fifteenth
century was known as the hill of Bogoli, the famous stone-quarry whence
the city got its pavement--of dangerously unstable consistence when
penetrated by rains; its left-hand buildings flanking the river and
making on their northern side a length of quaint, irregularly-pierced
facade, of which the waters give a softened loving reflection as the sun
begins to decline towards the western heights.  But quaint as these
buildings are, some of them seem to the historical memory a too modern
substitute for the famous houses of the Bardi family, destroyed by
popular rage in the middle of the fourteenth century.

They were a proud and energetic stock, these Bardi; conspicuous among
those who clutched the sword in the earliest world-famous quarrels of
Florentines with Florentines, when the narrow streets were darkened with
the high towers of the nobles, and when the old tutelar god Mars, as he
saw the gutters reddened with neighbours' blood, might well have smiled
at the centuries of lip-service paid to his rival, the Baptist.  But the
Bardi hands were of the sort that not only clutch the sword-hilt with
vigour, but love the more delicate pleasure of fingering minted metal:
they were matched, too, with true Florentine eyes, capable of discerning
that power was to be won by other means than by rending and riving, and
by the middle of the fourteenth century we find them risen from their
original condition of _popolani_ to be possessors, by purchase, of lands
and strongholds, and the feudal dignity of Counts of Vernio, disturbing
to the jealousy of their republican fellow-citizens.  These lordly
purchases are explained by our seeing the Bardi disastrously signalised
only a few years later as standing in the very front of European
commerce--the Christian Rothschilds of that time--undertaking to furnish
specie for the wars of our Edward the Third, and having revenues "in
kind" made over to them; especially in wool, most precious of freights
for Florentine galleys.  Their august debtor left them with an august
deficit, and alarmed Sicilian creditors made a too sudden demand for the
payment of deposits, causing a ruinous shock to the credit of the Bardi
and of associated houses, which was felt as a commercial calamity along
all the coasts of the Mediterranean.  But, like more modern bankrupts,
they did not, for all that, hide their heads in humiliation; on the
contrary, they seemed to have held them higher than ever, and to have
been among the most arrogant of those grandees, who under certain
noteworthy circumstances, open to all who will read the honest pages of
Giovanni Villani, drew upon themselves the exasperation of the armed
people in 1343.  The Bardi, who had made themselves fast in their street
between the two bridges, kept these narrow inlets, like panthers at bay,
against the oncoming gonfalons of the people, and were only made to give
way by an assault from the hill behind them.  Their houses by the river,
to the number of twenty-two (_palagi e case grandi_), were sacked and
burnt, and many among the chief of those who bore the Bardi name were
driven from the city.  But an old Florentine family was many-rooted, and
we find the Bardi maintaining importance and rising again and again to
the surface of Florentine affairs in a more or less creditable manner,
implying an untold family history that would have included even more
vicissitudes and contrasts of dignity and disgrace, of wealth and
poverty, than are usually seen on the background of wide kinship.  [Note
1.]  But the Bardi never resumed their proprietorship in the old street
on the banks of the river, which in 1492 had long been associated with
other names of mark, and especially with the Neri, who possessed a
considerable range of houses on the side towards the hill.

In one of these Neri houses there lived, however, a descendant of the
Bardi, and of that very branch which a century and a half before had
become Counts of Vernio: a descendant who had inherited the old family
pride and energy, the old love of pre-eminence, the old desire to leave
a lasting track of his footsteps on the fast-whirling earth.  But the
family passions lived on in him under altered conditions: this
descendant of the Bardi was not a man swift in street warfare, or one
who loved to play the signor, fortifying strongholds and asserting the
right to hang vassals, or a merchant and usurer of keen daring, who
delighted in the generalship of wide commercial schemes: he was a man
with a deep-veined hand cramped by much copying of manuscripts, who ate
sparing dinners, and wore threadbare clothes, at first from choice and
at last from necessity; who sat among his books and his marble fragments
of the past, and saw them only by the light of those far-off younger
days which still shone in his memory: he was a moneyless, blind old
scholar--the Bardo de' Bardi to whom Nello, the barber, had promised to
introduce the young Greek, Tito Melema.

The house in which Bardo lived was situated on the side of the street
nearest the hill, and was one of those large sombre masses of stone
building pierced by comparatively small windows, and surmounted by what
may be called a roofed terrace or loggia, of which there are many
examples still to be seen in the venerable city.  Grim doors, with
conspicuous scrolled hinges, having high up on each side of them a small
window defended by iron bars, opened on a groined entrance-court, empty
of everything but a massive lamp-iron suspended from the centre of the
groin.  A smaller grim door on the left-hand admitted to the stone
staircase, and the rooms on the ground-floor.  These last were used as a
warehouse by the proprietor; so was the first floor; and both were
filled with precious stores, destined to be carried, some perhaps to the
banks of the Scheldt, some to the shores of Africa, some to the isles of
the Aegean, or to the banks of the Euxine.  Maso, the old serving-man,
when he returned from the Mercato with the stock of cheap vegetables,
had to make his slow way up to the second storey before he reached the
door of his master, Bardo, through which we are about to enter only a
few mornings after Nello's conversation with the Greek.

We follow Maso across the ante-chamber to the door on the left-hand,
through which we pass as he opens it.  He merely looks in and nods,
while a clear young voice says, "Ah, you are come back, Maso.  It is
well.  We have wanted nothing."

The voice came from the farther end of a long, spacious room, surrounded
with shelves, on which books and antiquities were arranged in scrupulous
order.  Here and there, on separate stands in front of the shelves, were
placed a beautiful feminine torso; a headless statue, with an uplifted
muscular arm wielding a bladeless sword; rounded, dimpled, infantine
limbs severed from the trunk, inviting the lips to kiss the cold marble;
some well-preserved Roman busts; and two or three vases from Magna
Grecia.  A large table in the centre was covered with antique bronze
lamps and small vessels in dark pottery.  The colour of these objects
was chiefly pale or sombre: the vellum bindings, with their deep-ridged
backs, gave little relief to the marble, livid with long burial; the
once splendid patch of carpet at the farther end of the room had long
been worn to dimness; the dark bronzes wanted sunlight upon them to
bring out their tinge of green, and the sun was not yet high enough to
send gleams of brightness through the narrow windows that looked on the
Via de' Bardi.

The only spot of bright colour in the room was made by the hair of a
tall maiden of seventeen or eighteen, who was standing before a carved
_leggio_, or reading-desk, such as is often seen in the choirs of
Italian churches.  The hair was of a reddish gold colour, enriched by an
unbroken small ripple, such as may be seen in the sunset clouds on
grandest autumnal evenings.  It was confined by a black fillet above her
small ears, from which it rippled forward again, and made a natural veil
for her neck above her square-cut gown of black _rascia_, or serge.  Her
eyes were bent on a large volume placed before her: one long white hand
rested on the reading, desk, and the other clasped the back of her
father's chair.

The blind father sat with head uplifted and turned a little aside
towards his daughter, as if he were looking at her.  His delicate
paleness, set off by the black velvet cap which surmounted his drooping
white hair, made all the more perceptible the likeness between his aged
features and those of the young maiden, whose cheeks were also without
any tinge of the rose.  There was the same refinement of brow and
nostril in both, counterbalanced by a full though firm mouth and
powerful chin, which gave an expression of proud tenacity and latent
impetuousness: an expression carried out in the backward poise of the
girl's head, and the grand line of her neck and shoulders.  It was a
type of face of which one could not venture to say whether it would
inspire love or only that unwilling admiration which is mixed with
dread: the question must be decided by the eyes, which often seem
charged with a more direct message from the soul.  But the eyes of the
father had long been silent, and the eyes of the daughter were bent on
the Latin pages of Politian's `Miscellanea,' from which she was reading
aloud at the eightieth chapter, to the following effect:--

"There was a certain nymph of Thebes named Chariclo, especially dear to
Pallas; and this nymph was the mother of Teiresias.  But once when in
the heat of summer, Pallas, in company with Chariclo, was bathing her
disrobed limbs in the Heliconian Hippocrene, it happened that Teiresias
coming as a hunter to quench his thirst at the same fountain,
inadvertently beheld Minerva unveiled, and immediately became blind.
For it is declared in the Saturnian laws, that he who beholds the gods
against their will, shall atone for it by a heavy penalty...  When
Teiresias had fallen into this calamity, Pallas, moved by the tears of
Chariclo, endowed him with prophecy and length of days, and even caused
his prudence and wisdom to continue after he had entered among the
shades, so that an oracle spake from his tomb: and she gave him a staff,
wherewith, as by a guide, he might walk without stumbling...  And hence,
Nonnus, in the fifth book of the `Dionysiaca,' introduces Actreon
exclaiming that he calls Teiresias happy, since, without dying, and with
the loss of his eyesight merely, he had beheld Minerva unveiled, and
thus, though blind, could for evermore carry her image in his soul."

At this point in the reading, the daughter's hand slipped from the back
of the chair and met her father's, which he had that moment uplifted;
but she had not looked round, and was going on, though with a voice a
little altered by some suppressed feeling, to read the Greek quotation
from Nonnus, when the old man said--

"Stay, Romola; reach me my own copy of Nonnus.  It is a more correct
copy than any in Poliziano's hands, for I made emendations in it which
have not yet been communicated to any man.  I finished it in 1477, when
my sight was fast failing me."

Romola walked to the farther end of the room, with the queenly step
which was the simple action of her tall, finely-wrought frame, without
the slightest conscious adjustment of herself.

"Is it in the right place, Romola?" asked Bardo, who was perpetually
seeking the assurance that the outward fact continued to correspond with
the image which lived to the minutest detail in his mind.

"Yes, father; at the west end of the room, on the third shelf from the
bottom, behind the bust of Hadrian, above Apollonius Rhodius and
Callimachus, and below Lucan and Silius Italious."

As Romola said this, a fine ear would have detected in her clear voice
and distinct utterance, a faint suggestion of weariness struggling with
habitual patience.  But as she approached her father and saw his arms
stretched out a little with nervous excitement to seize the volume, her
hazel eyes filled with pity; she hastened to lay the book on his lap,
and kneeled down by him, looking up at him as if she believed that the
love in her face must surely make its way through the dark obstruction
that shut out everything else.  At that moment the doubtful
attractiveness of Romola's face, in which pride and passion seemed to be
quivering in the balance with native refinement and intelligence, was
transfigured to the most lovable womanliness by mingled pity and
affection: it was evident that the deepest fount of feeling within her
had not yet wrought its way to the less changeful features, and only
found its outlet through her eyes.

But the father, unconscious of that soft radiance, looked flushed and
agitated as his hand explored the edges and back of the large book.

"The vellum is yellowed in these thirteen years, Romola."

"Yes, father," said Romola, gently; "but your letters at the back are
dark and plain still--fine Roman letters; and the Greek character," she
continued, laying the book open on her father's knee, "is more beautiful
than that of any of your bought manuscripts."

"Assuredly, child," said Bardo, passing his finger across the page, as
if he hoped to discriminate line and margin.  "What hired amanuensis can
be equal to the scribe who loves the words that grow under his hand, and
to whom an error or indistinctness in the text is more painful than a
sudden darkness or obstacle across his path?  And even these mechanical
printers who threaten to make learning a base and vulgar thing--even
they must depend on the manuscript over which we scholars have bent with
that insight into the poet's meaning which is closely akin to the _mens
divinior_ of the poet himself; unless they would flood the world with
grammatical falsities and inexplicable anomalies that would turn the
very fountain of Parnassus into a deluge of poisonous mud.  But find the
passage in the fifth book, to which Poliziano refers--I know it very
well."

Seating herself on a low stool, close to her father's knee, Romola took
the book on her lap and read the four verses containing the exclamation
of Actreon.

"It is true, Romola," said Bardo, when she had finished; "it is a true
conception of the poet; for what is that grosser, narrower light by
which men behold merely the petty scene around them, compared with that
far-stretching, lasting light which spreads over centuries of thought,
and over the life of nations, and makes clear to us the minds of the
immortals who have reaped the great harvest and left us to glean in
their furrows?  For me, Romola, even when I could see, it was with the
great dead that I lived; while the living often seemed to me mere
spectres--shadows dispossessed of true feeling and intelligence; and
unlike those Lamiae, to whom Poliziano, with that superficial ingenuity
which I do not deny to him, compares our inquisitive Florentines,
because they put on their eyes when they went abroad, and took them off
when they got home again, I have returned from the converse of the
streets as from a forgotten dream, and have sat down among my books,
saying with Petrarca, the modern who is least unworthy to be named after
the ancients, `Libri medullitus delectant, colloquuntur, consulunt, et
viva quadam nobis atque arguta familiaritate junguntur.'"

"And in one thing you are happier than your favourite Petrarca, father,"
said Romola, affectionately humouring the old man's disposition to
dilate in this way; "for he used to look at his copy of Homer and think
sadly that the Greek was a dead letter to him: so far, he had the inward
blindness that you feel is worse than your outward blindness."

"True, child; for I carry within me the fruits of that fervid study
which I gave to the Greek tongue under the teaching of the younger
Crisolora, and Filelfo, and Argiropulo; though that great work in which
I had desired to gather, as into a firm web, all the threads that my
research had laboriously disentangled, and which would have been the
vintage of my life, was cut off by the failure of my sight and my want
of a fitting coadjutor.  For the sustained zeal and unconquerable
patience demanded from those who would tread the unbeaten paths of
knowledge are still less reconcilable with the wandering, vagrant
propensity of the feminine mind than with the feeble powers of the
feminine body."

"Father," said Romola, with a sudden flush and in an injured tone, "I
read anything you wish me to read; and I will look out any passages for
you, and make whatever notes you want."

Bardo shook his head, and smiled with a bitter sort of pity.  "As well
try to be a pentathlos and perform all the five feats of the palaestra
with the limbs of a nymph.  Have I forgotten thy fainting in the mere
search for the references I needed to explain a single passage of
Callimachus?"

"But, father, it was the weight of the books, and Maso can help me; it
was not want of attention and patience."

Bardo shook his head again.  "It is not mere bodily organs that I want:
it is the sharp edge of a young mind to pierce the way for my somewhat
blunted faculties.  For blindness acts like a dam, sending the streams
of thought backward along the already-travelled channels and hindering
the course onward.  If my son had not forsaken me, deluded by debasing
fanatical dreams, worthy only of an energumen whose dwelling is among
tombs, I might have gone on and seen my path broadening to the end of my
life; for he was a youth of great promise.  But it has closed in now,"
the old man continued, after a short pause; "it has closed in now;--all
but the narrow track he has left me to tread--alone in my blindness."

Romola started from her seat, and carried away the large volume to its
place again, stung too acutely by her father's last words to remain
motionless as well as silent; and when she turned away from the shelf
again, she remained standing at some distance from him, stretching her
arms downwards and clasping her fingers tightly as she looked with a sad
dreariness in her young face at the lifeless objects around her--the
parchment backs, the unchanging mutilated marble, the bits of obsolete
bronze and clay.

Bardo, though usually susceptible to Romola's movements and eager to
trace them, was now too entirely preoccupied by the pain of rankling
memories to notice her departure from his side.

"Yes," he went on, "with my son to aid me, I might have had my due share
in the triumphs of this century: the names of the Bardi, father and son,
might have been held reverently on the lips of scholars in the ages to
come; not on account of frivolous verses or philosophical treatises,
which are superfluous and presumptuous attempts to imitate the
inimitable, such as allure vain men like Panhormita, and from which even
the admirable Poggio did not keep himself sufficiently free; but because
we should have given a lamp whereby men might have studied the supreme
productions of the past.  For why is a young man like Poliziano (who was
not yet born when I was already held worthy to maintain a discussion
with Thomas of Sarzana) to have a glorious memory as a commentator on
the Pandects--why is Ficino, whose Latin is an offence to me, and who
wanders purblind among the superstitious fancies that marked the decline
at once of art, literature, and philosophy, to descend to posterity as
the very high priest of Platonism, while I, who am more than their
equal, have not effected anything but scattered work, which will be
appropriated by other men?  Why? but because my son, whom I had brought
up to replenish my ripe learning with young enterprise, left me and all
liberal pursuits that he might lash himself and howl at midnight with
besotted friars--that he might go wandering on pilgrimages befitting men
who know of no past older than the missal and the crucifix?--left me
when the night was already beginning to fall on me."

In these last words the old man's voice, which had risen high in
indignant protest, fell into a tone of reproach so tremulous and
plaintive that Romola, turning her eyes again towards the blind aged
face, felt her heart swell with forgiving pity.  She seated herself by
her father again, and placed her hand on his knee--too proud to obtrude
consolation in words that might seem like a vindication of her own
value, yet wishing to comfort him by some sign of her presence.

"Yes, Romola," said Bardo, automatically letting his left-hand, with its
massive prophylactic rings, fall a little too heavily on the delicate
blue-veined back of the girl's right, so that she bit her lip to prevent
herself from starting.  "If even Florence only is to remember me, it can
but be on the same ground that it will remember Niccolo Niccoli--because
I forsook the vulgar pursuit of wealth in commerce that I might devote
myself to collecting the precious remains of ancient art and wisdom, and
leave them, after the example of the munificent Romans, for an
everlasting possession to my fellow-citizens.  But why do I say Florence
only?  If Florence remembers me, will not the world remember me? ...
Yet," added Bardo, after a short pause, his voice falling again into a
saddened key, "Lorenzo's untimely death has raised a new difficulty.  I
had his promise--I should have had his bond--that my collection should
always bear my name and should never be sold, though the harpies might
clutch everything else; but there is enough for them--there is more than
enough--and for thee, too, Romola, there will be enough.  Besides, thou
wilt marry; Bernardo reproaches me that I do not seek a fitting
_parentado_ for thee, and we will delay no longer, we will think about
it."

"No, no, father; what could you do? besides, it is useless: wait till
some one seeks me," said Romola, hastily.

"Nay, my child, that is not the paternal duty.  It was not so held by
the ancients, and in this respect Florentines have not degenerated from
their ancestral customs."

"But I will study diligently," said Romola, her eyes dilating with
anxiety.  "I will become as learned as Cassandra Fedele: I will try and
be as useful to you as if I had been a boy, and then perhaps some great
scholar will want to marry me, and will not mind about a dowry; and he
will like to come and live with you, and he will be to you in place of
my brother... and you will not be sorry that I was a daughter."

There was a rising sob in Romola's voice as she said the last words,
which touched the fatherly fibre in Bardo.  He stretched his hand upward
a little in search of her golden hair, and as she placed her head under
his hand, he gently stroked it, leaning towards her as if his eyes
discerned some glimmer there.

"Nay, Romola mia, I said not so; if I have pronounced an anathema on a
degenerate and ungrateful son, I said not that I could wish thee other
than the sweet daughter thou hast been to me.  For what son could have
tended me so gently in the frequent sickness I have had of late?  And
even in learning thou art not, according to thy measure, contemptible.
Something perhaps were to be wished in thy capacity of attention and
memory, not incompatible even with the feminine mind.  But as Calcondila
bore testimony, when he aided me to teach thee, thou hast a ready
apprehension, and even a wide-glancing intelligence.  And thou hast a
man's nobility of soul: thou hast never fretted me with thy petty
desires as thy mother did.  It is true, I have been careful to keep thee
aloof from the debasing influence of thy own sex, with their
sparrow-like frivolity and their enslaving superstition, except, indeed,
from that of our cousin Brigida, who may well serve as a scarecrow and a
warning.  And though--since I agree with the divine Petrarca, when he
declares, quoting the `Aulularia' of Plautus, who again was indebted for
the truth to the supreme Greek intellect, `Optimam foeminam nullam esse,
alia licet alia pejor sit'--I cannot boast that thou art entirely lifted
out of that lower category to which Nature assigned thee, nor even that
in erudition thou art on a par with the more learned women of this age;
thou art, nevertheless--yes, Romola mia," said the old man, his pedantry
again melting into tenderness, "thou art my sweet daughter, and thy
voice is as the lower notes of the flute, `dulcis, durabilis, clara,
pura, secans aera et auribus sedens,' according to the choice words of
Quintilian; and Bernardo tells me thou art fair, and thy hair is like
the brightness of the morning, and indeed it seems to me that I discern
some radiance from thee.  Ah!  I know how all else looks in this room,
but thy form I only guess at.  Thou art no longer the little woman six
years old, that faded for me into darkness; thou art tall, and thy arm
is but little below mine.  Let us walk together."

The old man rose, and Romola, soothed by these beams of tenderness,
looked happy again as she drew his arm within hers, and placed in his
right-hand the stick which rested at the side of his chair.  While Bardo
had been sitting, he had seemed hardly more than sixty: his face, though
pale, had that refined texture in which wrinkles and lines are never
deep; but now that he began to walk he looked as old as he really was--
rather more than seventy; for his tall spare frame had the student's
stoop of the shoulders, and he stepped with the undecided gait of the
blind.

"No, Romola," he said, pausing against the bust of Hadrian, and passing
his stick from the right to the left that he might explore the familiar
outline with a "seeing hand."

"There will be nothing else to preserve my memory and carry down my name
as a member of the great republic of letters--nothing but my library and
my collection of antiquities.  And they are choice," continued Bardo,
pressing the bust and speaking in a tone of insistance.  "The
collections of Niccolo I know were larger; but take any collection which
is the work of a single man--that of the great Boccaccio even--mine will
surpass it.  That of Poggio was contemptible compared with mine.  It
will be a great gift to unborn scholars.  And there is nothing else.
For even if I were to yield to the wish of Aldo Manuzio when he sets up
his press at Venice, and give him the aid of my annotated manuscripts, I
know well what would be the result: some other scholar's name would
stand on the title-page of the edition--some scholar who would have fed
on my honey, and then declared in his preface that he had gathered it
all himself fresh from Hymettus.  Else, why have I refused the loan of
many an annotated codex? why have I refused to make public any of my
translations? why? but because scholarship is a system of licenced
robbery, and your man in scarlet and furred robe who sits in judgment on
thieves, is himself a thief of the thoughts and the fame that belong to
his fellows.  But against that robbery Bardo de' Bardi shall struggle--
though blind and forsaken, he shall struggle.  I too have a right to be
remembered--as great a right as Pontanus or Merula, whose names will be
foremost on the lips of posterity, because they sought patronage and
found it; because they had tongues that could flatter, and blood that
was used to be nourished from the client's basket.  I have a right to be
remembered."

The old man's voice had become at once loud and tremulous, and a pink
flush overspread his proud, delicately-cut features, while the
habitually raised attitude of his head gave the idea that behind the
curtain of his blindness he saw some imaginary high tribunal to which he
was appealing against the injustice of Fame.

Romola was moved with sympathetic indignation, for in her nature too
there lay the same large claims, and the same spirit of struggle against
their denial.  She tried to calm her father by a still prouder word than
his.

"Nevertheless, father, it is a great gift of the gods to be born with a
hatred and contempt of all injustice and meanness.  Yours is a higher
lot, never to have lied and truckled, than to have shared honours won by
dishonour.  There is strength in scorn, as there was in the martial fury
by which men became insensible to wounds."

"It is well said, Romola.  It is a Promethean word thou hast uttered,"
answered Bardo, after a little interval in which he had begun to lean on
his stick again, and to walk on.  "And I indeed am not to be pierced by
the shafts of Fortune.  My armour is the _aes triplex_ of a clear
conscience, and a mind nourished by the precepts of philosophy.  `For
men,' says Epictetus, `are disturbed not by things themselves, but by
their opinions or thoughts concerning those things.'  And again,
`whosoever will be free, let him not desire or dread that which it is in
the power of others either to deny or inflict: otherwise, he is a
slave.'  And of all such gifts as are dependent on the caprice of
fortune or of men, I have long ago learned to say, with Horace--who,
however, is too wavering in his philosophy, vacillating between the
precepts of Zeno and the less worthy maxims of Epicurus, and attempting,
as we say, `duabus sellis sedere'--concerning such accidents, I say,
with the pregnant brevity of the poet--

"`Sunt qui non habeant, est qui non curat habere.'

"He is referring to gems, and purple, and other insignia of wealth; but
I may apply his words not less justly to the tributes men pay us with
their lips and their pens, which are also matters of purchase, and often
with base coin.  Yes, `_inanis_'--hollow, empty--is the epithet justly
bestowed on Fame."

They made the tour of the room in silence after this; but Bardo's
lip-born maxims were as powerless over the passion which had been moving
him, as if they had been written on parchment and hung round his neck in
a sealed bag; and he presently broke forth again in a new tone of
insistance.

"_Inanis_? yes, if it is a lying fame; but not if it is the just meed of
labour and a great purpose.  I claim my right: it is not fair that the
work of my brain and my hands should not be a monument to me--it is not
just that my labour should bear the name of another man.  It is but
little to ask," the old man went on, bitterly, "that my name should be
over the door--that men should own themselves debtors to the Bardi
Library in Florence.  They will speak coldly of me, perhaps: `a diligent
collector and transcriber,' they will say, `and also of some critical
ingenuity, but one who could hardly be conspicuous in an age so fruitful
in illustrious scholars.  Yet he merits our pity, for in the latter
years of his life he was blind, and his only son, to whose education he
had devoted his best years--' Nevertheless, my name will be remembered,
and men will honour me: not with the breath of flattery, purchased by
mean bribes, but because I have laboured, and because my labours will
remain.  Debts!  I know there are debts; and there is thy dowry, Romola,
to be paid.  But there must be enough--or, at least, there can lack but
a small sum, such as the Signoria might well provide.  And if Lorenzo
had not died, all would have been secured and settled.  But now..."

At this moment Maso opened the door, and advancing to his master,
announced that Nello, the barber, had desired him to say, that he was
come with the Greek scholar whom he had asked leave to introduce.

"It is well," said the old man.  "Bring them in."

Bardo, conscious that he looked more dependent when he was walking,
liked always to be seated in the presence of strangers, and Romola,
without needing to be told, conducted him to his chair.  She was
standing by him at her full height, in quiet majestic self-possession,
when the visitors entered; and the most penetrating observer would
hardly have divined that this proud pale face, at the slightest touch on
the fibres of affection or pity, could become passionate with
tenderness, or that this woman, who imposed a certain awe on those who
approached her, was in a state of girlish simplicity and ignorance
concerning the world outside her father's books.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  A sign that such contrasts were peculiarly frequent in
Florence, is the fact that Saint Antonine, Prior of San Marco, and
afterwards archbishop, in the first half of this fifteenth century,
founded the society of Buonuomini di San Martino (Good Men of Saint
Martin) with the main object of succouring the _poveri vergognosi_--in
other words, paupers of good family.  In the records of the famous
Panciatichi family we find a certain Girolamo in this century who was
reduced to such a state of poverty that he was obliged to seek charity
for the mere means of sustaining life, though other members of his
family were enormously wealthy.



CHAPTER SIX.

DAWNING HOPES.

When Maso opened the door again, and ushered in the two visitors, Nello,
first making a deep reverence to Romola, gently pushed Tito before him,
and advanced with him towards her father.

"Messer Bardo," he said, in a more measured and respectful tone than was
usual with him, "I have the honour of presenting to you the Greek
scholar, who has been eager to have speech of you, not less from the
report I have made to him of your learning and your priceless
collections, than because of the furtherance your patronage may give him
under the transient need to which he has been reduced by shipwreck.  His
name is Tito Melema, at your service."

Romola's astonishment could hardly have been greater if the stranger had
worn a panther-skin and carried a thyrsus; for the cunning barber had
said nothing of the Greek's age or appearance; and among her father's
scholarly visitors, she had hardly ever seen any but middle-aged or
grey-headed men.  There was only one masculine face, at once youthful
and beautiful, the image of which remained deeply impressed on her mind:
it was that of her brother, who long years ago had taken her on his
knee, kissed her, and never come back again: a fair face, with sunny
hair, like her own.  But the habitual attitude of her mind towards
strangers--a proud self-dependence and determination to ask for nothing
even by a smile--confirmed in her by her father's complaints against the
world's injustice, was like a snowy embankment hemming in the rush of
admiring surprise.  Tito's bright face showed its rich-tinted beauty
without any rivalry of colour above his black _sajo_ or tunic reaching
to the knees.  It seemed like a wreath of spring, dropped suddenly in
Romola's young but wintry life, which had inherited nothing but
memories--memories of a dead mother, of a lost brother, of a blind
father's happier time--memories of far-off light, love, and beauty, that
lay embedded in dark mines of books, and could hardly give out their
brightness again until they were kindled for her by the torch of some
known joy.  Nevertheless, she returned Tito's bow, made to her on
entering, with the same pale proud face as ever; but, as he approached,
the snow melted, and when he ventured to look towards her again, while
Nello was speaking, a pink flush overspread her face, to vanish again
almost immediately, as if her imperious will had recalled it.  Tito's
glance, on the contrary, had that gentle, beseeching admiration in it
which is the most propitiating of appeals to a proud, shy woman, and is
perhaps the only atonement a man can make for being too handsome.  The
finished fascination of his air came chiefly from the absence of demand
and assumption.  It was that of a fleet, soft-coated, dark-eyed animal
that delights you by not bounding away in indifference from you, and
unexpectedly pillows its chin on your palm, and looks up at you desiring
to be stroked--as if it loved you.

"Messere, I give you welcome," said Bardo, with some condescension;
"misfortune wedded to learning, and especially to Greek learning, is a
letter of credit that should win the ear of every instructed Florentine;
for, as you are doubtless aware, since the period when your countryman,
Manuelo Crisolora, diffused the light of his teaching in the chief
cities of Italy, now nearly a century ago, no man is held worthy of the
name of scholar who has acquired merely the transplanted and derivative
literature of the Latins; rather, such inert students are stigmatised as
_opici_ or barbarians according to the phrase of the Romans themselves,
who frankly replenished their urns at the fountain-head.  I am, as you
perceive, and as Nello has doubtless forewarned you, totally blind: a
calamity to which we Florentines are held especially liable, whether
owing to the cold winds which rush upon us in spring from the passes of
the Apennines, or to that sudden transition from the cool gloom of our
houses to the dazzling brightness of our summer sun, by which the
_lippi_ are said to have been made so numerous among the ancient Romans;
or, in fine, to some occult cause which eludes our superficial surmises.
But I pray you be seated: Nello, my friend, be seated."

Bardo paused until his fine ear had assured him that the visitors were
seating themselves, and that Romola was taking her usual chair at his
right-hand.  Then he said--

"From what part of Greece do you come, Messere?  I had thought that your
unhappy country had been almost exhausted of those sons who could
cherish in their minds any image of her original glory, though indeed
the barbarous Sultans have of late shown themselves not indisposed to
engraft on their wild stock the precious vine which their own fierce
bands have hewn down and trampled under foot.  From what part of Greece
do you come?"

"I sailed last from Nauplia," said Tito; "but I have resided both at
Constantinople and Thessalonica, and have travelled in various parts
little visited by Western Christians since the triumph of the Turkish
arms.  I should tell you, however, Messere, that I was not born in
Greece, but at Bari.  I spent the first sixteen years of my life in
Southern Italy and Sicily."

While Tito was speaking, some emotion passed, like a breath on the
waters, across Bardo's delicate features; he leaned forward, put out his
right-hand towards Romola, and turned his head as if about to speak to
her; but then, correcting himself, turned away again, and said, in a
subdued voice--

"Excuse me; is it not true--you are young?"

"I am three-and-twenty," said Tito.

"Ah," said Bardo, still in a tone of subdued excitement, "and you had,
doubtless, a father who cared for your early instruction--who, perhaps,
was himself a scholar?"

There was a slight pause before Tito's answer came to the ear of Bardo;
but for Romola and Nello it began with a slight shock that seemed to
pass through him, and cause a momentary quivering of the lip; doubtless
at the revival of a supremely painful remembrance.

"Yes," he replied, "at least a father by adoption.  He was a Neapolitan,
and of accomplished scholarship, both Latin and Greek.  But," added
Tito, after another slight pause, "he is lost to me--was lost on a
voyage he too rashly undertook to Delos."

Bardo sank backward again, too delicate to ask another question that
might probe a sorrow which he divined to be recent.  Romola, who knew
well what were the fibres that Tito's voice had stirred in her father,
felt that this new acquaintance had with wonderful suddenness got within
the barrier that lay between them and the alien world.  Nello, thinking
that the evident check given to the conversation offered a graceful
opportunity for relieving himself from silence, said--

"In truth, it is as clear as Venetian glass that this fine young man has
had the best training; for the two Cennini have set him to work at their
Greek sheets already, and it seems to me they are not men to begin
cutting before they have felt the edge of their tools; they tested him
well beforehand, we may be sure, and if there are two things not to be
hidden--love and a cough--I say there is a third, and that is ignorance,
when once a man is obliged to do something besides wagging his head.
The _tonsor inequalis_ is inevitably betrayed when he takes the shears
in his hand; is it not true, Messer Bardo?  I speak after the fashion of
a barber, but, as Luigi Pulci says--

  "`Perdonimi s'io fallo: chi m'ascolta
  Intenda il mio volgar col suo latino.'"

"Nay, my good Nello," said Bardo, with an air of friendly severity, "you
are not altogether illiterate, and might doubtless have made a more
respectable progress in learning if you had abstained somewhat from the
_cicalata_ and gossip of the street-corner, to which our Florentines are
excessively addicted; but still more if you had not clogged your memory
with those frivolous productions of which Luigi Pulci has furnished the
most peccant exemplar--a compendium of extravagances and incongruities
the farthest removed from the models of a pure age, and resembling
rather the _grylli_ or conceits of a period when mystic meaning was held
a warrant for monstrosity of form; with this difference, that while the
monstrosity is retained, the mystic meaning is absent; in contemptible
contrast with the great poem of Virgil, who, as I long held with
Filelfo, before Landino had taken upon him to expound the same opinion,
embodied the deepest lessons of philosophy in a graceful and well-knit
fable.  And I cannot but regard the multiplication of these babbling,
lawless productions, albeit countenanced by the patronage, and in some
degree the example of Lorenzo himself, otherwise a friend to true
learning, as a sign that the glorious hopes of this century are to be
quenched in gloom; nay, that they have been the delusive prologue to an
age worse than that of iron--the age of tinsel and gossamer, in which no
thought has substance enough to be moulded into consistent and lasting
form."

"Once more, pardon," said Nello, opening his palms outwards, and
shrugging his shoulders, "I find myself knowing so many things in good
Tuscan before I have time to think of the Latin for them; and Messer
Luigi's rhymes are always slipping off the lips of my customers:--that
is what corrupts me.  And, indeed, talking of customers, I have left my
shop and my reputation too long in the custody of my slow Sandro, who
does not deserve even to be called a _tonsor inequalis_, but rather to
be pronounced simply a bungler in the vulgar tongue.  So with your
permission, Messer Bardo, I will take my leave--well understood that I
am at your service whenever Maso calls upon me.  It seems a thousand
years till I dress and perfume the damigella's hair, which deserves to
shine in the heavens as a constellation, though indeed it were a pity
for it ever to go so far out of reach."

Three voices made a fugue of friendly farewells to Nello, as he
retreated with a bow to Romola and a beck to Tito.  The acute barber saw
that the pretty youngster, who had crept into his liking by some strong
magic, was well launched in Bardo's favourable regard; and satisfied
that his introduction had not miscarried so far, he felt the propriety
of retiring.

The little burst of wrath, called forth by Nello's unlucky quotation,
had diverted Bardo's mind from the feelings which had just before been
hemming in further speech, and he now addressed Tito again with his
ordinary calmness.

"Ah! young man, you are happy in having been able to unite the
advantages of travel with those of study, and you will be welcome among
us as a bringer of fresh tidings from a land which has become sadly
strange to us, except through the agents of a now restricted commerce
and the reports of hasty pilgrims.  For those days are in the far
distance which I myself witnessed, when men like Aurispa and Guarino
went out to Greece as to a storehouse, and came back laden with
manuscripts which every scholar was eager to borrow--and, be it owned
with shame, not always willing to restore; nay, even the days when
erudite Greeks flocked to our shores for a refuge, seem far-off now--
farther off than the on-coming of my blindness.  But doubtless, young
man, research after the treasures of antiquity was not alien to the
purpose of your travels?"

"Assuredly not," said Tito.  "On the contrary, my companion--my father--
was willing to risk his life in his zeal for the discovery of
inscriptions and other traces of ancient civilisation."

"And I trust there is a record of his researches and their results,"
said Bardo, eagerly, "since they must be even more precious than those
of Ciriaco, which I have diligently availed myself of, though they are
not always illuminated by adequate learning."

"There _was_ such a record," said Tito, "but it was lost, like
everything else, in the shipwreck I suffered below Ancona.  The only
record left is such as remains in our--in my memory."

"You must lose no time in committing it to paper, young man," said
Bardo, with growing interest.  "Doubtless you remember much, if you
aided in transcription; for when I was your age, words wrought
themselves into my mind as if they had been fixed by the tool of the
graver; wherefore I constantly marvel at the capriciousness of my
daughter's memory, which grasps certain objects with tenacity, and lets
fall all those minutiae whereon depends accuracy, the very soul of
scholarship.  But I apprehend no such danger with you, young man, if
your will has seconded the advantages of your training."

When Bardo made this reference to his daughter, Tito ventured to turn
his eyes towards her, and at the accusation against her memory his face
broke into its brightest smile, which was reflected as inevitably as
sudden sunbeams in Romola's.  Conceive the soothing delight of that
smile to her!  Romola had never dreamed that there was a scholar in the
world who would smile at a deficiency for which she was constantly made
to feel herself a culprit.  It was like the dawn of a new sense to her--
the sense of comradeship.  They did not look away from each other
immediately, as if the smile had been a stolen one; they looked and
smiled with frank enjoyment.

"She is not really so cold and proud," thought Tito.

"Does _he_ forget too, I wonder?" thought Romola, "Yet I hope not, else
he will vex my father."

But Tito was obliged to turn away, and answer Bardo's question.

"I have had much practice in transcription," he said; "but in the case
of inscriptions copied in memorable scenes, rendered doubly impressive
by the sense of risk and adventure, it may have happened that my
retention of written characters has been weakened.  On the plain of the
Eurotas, or among the gigantic stones of Mycenae and Tyrins--especially
when the fear of the Turk hovers over one like a vulture--the mind
wanders, even though the hand writes faithfully what the eye dictates.
But something doubtless I have retained," added Tito, with a modesty
which was not false, though he was conscious that it was politic,
"something that might be of service if illustrated and corrected by a
wider learning than my own."

"That is well spoken, young man," said Bardo, delighted.  "And I will
not withhold from you such aid as I can give, if you like to communicate
with me concerning your recollections.  I foresee a work which will be a
useful supplement to the `Isolario' of Christoforo Buondelmonte, and
which may take rank with the `Itineraria' of Ciriaco and the admirable
Ambrogio Traversari.  But we must prepare ourselves for calumny, young
man," Bardo went on with energy, as if the work were already growing so
fast that the time of trial was near; "if your book contains novelties
you will be charged with forgery; if my elucidations should clash with
any principles of interpretation adopted by another scholar, our
personal characters will be attacked, we shall be impeached with foul
actions; you must prepare yourself to be told that your mother was a
fish-woman, and that your father was a renegade priest or a hanged
malefactor.  I myself, for having shown error in a single preposition,
had an invective written against me wherein I was taxed with treachery,
fraud, indecency, and even hideous crimes.  Such, my young friend--such
are the flowers with which the glorious path of scholarship is strewed!
But tell me, then: I have learned much concerning Byzantium and
Thessalonica long ago from Demetrio Calcondila, who has but lately
departed from Florence; but you, it seems, have visited less familiar
scenes?"

"Yes; we made what I may call a pilgrimage full of danger, for the sake
of visiting places which have almost died out of the memory of the West,
for they lie away from the track of pilgrims; and my father used to say
that scholars themselves hardly imagine them to have any existence out
of books.  He was of opinion that a new and more glorious era would open
for learning when men should begin to look for their commentaries on the
ancient writers in the remains of cities and temples, nay, in the paths
of the rivers, and on the face of the valleys and the mountains."

"Ah!" said Bardo, fervidly, "your father, then, was not a common man.
Was he fortunate, may I ask?  Had he many friends?"  These last words
were uttered in a tone charged with meaning.

"No; he made enemies--chiefly, I believe, by a certain impetuous
candour; and they hindered his advancement, so that he lived in
obscurity.  And he would never stoop to conciliate: he could never
forget an injury."

"Ah!" said Bardo again, with a long, deep intonation.

"Among our hazardous expeditions," continued Tito, willing to prevent
further questions on a point so personal, "I remember with particular
vividness a hastily snatched visit to Athens.  Our hurry, and the double
danger of being seized as prisoners by the Turks, and of our galley
raising anchor before we could return, made it seem like a fevered
vision of the night--the wide plain, the girdling mountains, the ruined
porticos and columns, either standing far aloof, as if receding from our
hurried footsteps, or else jammed in confusedly among the dwellings of
Christians degraded into servitude, or among the forts and turrets of
their Moslem conquerors, who have their stronghold on the Acropolis."

"You fill me with surprise," said Bardo.  "Athens, then, is not utterly
destroyed and swept away, as I had imagined?"

"No wonder you should be under that mistake, for few even of the Greeks
themselves, who live beyond the mountain boundary of Attica, know
anything about the present condition of Athens, or _Setine_, as the
sailors call it.  I remember, as we were rounding the promontory of
Sunium, the Greek pilot we had on board our Venetian galley pointed to
the mighty columns that stand on the summit of the rock--the remains, as
you know well, of the great temple erected to the goddess Athena, who
looked down from that high shrine with triumph at her conquered rival
Poseidon;--well, our Greek pilot, pointing to those columns, said, `That
was the school of the great philosopher Aristotle.'  And at Athens
itself, the monk who acted as our guide in the hasty view we snatched,
insisted most on showing us the spot where Saint Philip baptised the
Ethiopian eunuch, or some such legend."

"Talk not of monks and their legends, young man!" said Bardo,
interrupting Tito impetuously.  "It is enough to overlay human hope and
enterprise with an eternal frost to think that the ground which was
trodden by philosophers and poets is crawled over by those insect-swarms
of besotted fanatics or howling hypocrites."

"_Perdio_, I have no affection for them," said Tito, with a shrug;
"servitude agrees well with a religion like theirs, which lies in the
renunciation of all that makes life precious to other men.  And they
carry the yoke that befits them: their matin chant is drowned by the
voice of the muezzin, who, from the gallery of the high tower on the
Acropolis, calls every Mussulman to his prayers.  That tower springs
from the Parthenon itself; and every time we paused and directed our
eyes towards it, our guide set up a wail, that a temple which had once
been won from the diabolical uses of the pagans to become the temple of
another virgin than Pallas--the Virgin Mother of God--was now again
perverted to the accursed ends of the Moslem.  It was the sight of those
walls of the Acropolis, which disclosed themselves in the distance as we
leaned over the side of our galley when it was forced by contrary winds
to anchor in the Piraeus, that fired my father's mind with the
determination to see Athens at all risks, and in spite of the sailors'
warnings that if we lingered till a change of wind, they would depart
without us: but, after all, it was impossible for us to venture near the
Acropolis, for the sight of men eager in examining `old stones' raised
the suspicion that we were Venetian spies, and we had to hurry back to
the harbour."

"We will talk more of these things," said Bardo, eagerly.  "You must
recall everything, to the minutest trace left in your memory.  You will
win the gratitude of after-times by leaving a record of the aspect
Greece bore while yet the barbarians had not swept away every trace of
the structures that Pausanias and Pliny described: you will take those
great writers as your models; and such contribution of criticism and
suggestion as my riper mind can supply shall not be wanting to you.
There will be much to tell; for you have travelled, you said, in the
Peloponnesus?"

"Yes; and in Boeotia also: I have rested in the groves of Helicon, and
tasted of the fountain Hippocrene.  But on every memorable spot in
Greece conquest after conquest has set its seal, till there is a
confusion of ownership even in ruins, that only close study and
comparison could unravel.  High over every fastness, from the plains of
Lacedaemon to the straits of Thermopylae, there towers some huge
Frankish fortress, once inhabited by a French or Italian marquis, now
either abandoned or held by Turkish bands."

"Stay!" cried Bardo, whose mind was now too thoroughly preoccupied by
the idea of the future book to attend to Tito's further narration.  "Do
you think of writing in Latin or Greek?  Doubtless Greek is the more
ready clothing for your thoughts, and it is the nobler language.  But,
on the other hand, Latin is the tongue in which we shall measure
ourselves with the larger and more famous number of modern rivals.  And
if you are less at ease in it, I will aid you--yes, I will spend on you
that long-accumulated study which was to have been thrown into the
channel of another work--a work in which I myself was to have had a
helpmate."

Bardo paused a moment, and then added--

"But who knows whether that work may not be executed yet?  For you, too,
young man, have been brought up by a father who poured into your mind
all the long-gathered stream of his knowledge and experience.  Our aid
might be mutual."

Romola, who had watched her father's growing excitement, and divined
well the invisible currents of feeling that determined every question
and remark, felt herself in a glow of strange anxiety: she turned her
eyes on Tito continually, to watch the impression her father's words
made on him, afraid lest he should be inclined to dispel these visions
of co-operation which were lighting up her father's face with a new
hope.  But no!  He looked so bright and gentle: he must feel, as she
did, that in this eagerness of blind age there was piteousness enough to
call forth inexhaustible patience.  How much more strongly he would feel
this if he knew about her brother!  A girl of eighteen imagines the
feelings behind the face that has moved her with its sympathetic youth,
as easily as primitive people imagined the humours of the gods in fair
weather: what is she to believe in, if not in this vision woven from
within?

And Tito was really very far from feeling impatient.  He delighted in
sitting there with the sense that Romola's attention was fixed on him,
and that he could occasionally look at her.  He was pleased that Bardo
should take an interest in him; and he did not dwell with enough
seriousness on the prospect of the work in which he was to be aided, to
feel moved by it to anything else than that easy, good-humoured
acquiescence which was natural to him.

"I shall be proud and happy," he said, in answer to Bardo's last words,
"if my services can be held a meet offering to the matured scholarship
of Messere.  But doubtless,"--here he looked towards Romola--"the lovely
damigella, your daughter, makes all other aid superfluous; for I have
learned from Nello that she has been nourished on the highest studies
from her earliest years."

"You are mistaken," said Romola; "I am by no means sufficient to my
father: I have not the gifts that are necessary for scholarship."

Romola did not make this self-depreciatory statement in a tone of
anxious humility, but with a proud gravity.

"Nay, my Romola," said her father, not willing that the stranger should
have too low a conception of his daughter's powers; "thou art not
destitute of gifts; rather, thou art endowed beyond the measure of
women; but thou hast withal the woman's delicate frame, which ever
craves repose and variety, and so begets a wandering imagination.  My
daughter,"--turning to Tito--"has been very precious to me, filling up
to the best of her power the place of a son.  For I had once a son..."

Bardo checked himself: he did not wish to assume an attitude of
complaint in the presence of a stranger, and he remembered that this
young man, in whom he had unexpectedly become so much interested, was
still a stranger, towards whom it became him rather to keep the position
of a patron.  His pride was roused to double activity by the fear that
he had forgotten his dignity.

"But," he resumed, in his original tone of condescension, "we are
departing from what I believe is to you the most important business.
Nello informed me that you had certain gems which you would fain dispose
of, and that you desired a passport to some man of wealth and taste who
would be likely to become a purchaser."

"It is true; for, though I have obtained employment, as a corrector with
the Cennini, my payment leaves little margin beyond the provision of
necessaries, and would leave less but that my good friend Nello insists
on my hiring a lodging from him, and saying nothing about the rent till
better days."

"Nello is a good-hearted prodigal," said Bardo; "and though, with that
ready ear and ready tongue of his, he is too much like the ill-famed
Margites--knowing many things and knowing them all badly, as I hinted to
him but now--he is nevertheless `abnormis sapiens,' after the manner of
our born Florentines.  But have you the gems with you?  I would
willingly know what they are--yet it is useless: no, it might only
deepen regret.  I cannot add to my store."

"I have one or two intaglios of much beauty," said Tito, proceeding to
draw from his wallet a small case.

But Romola no sooner saw the movement than she looked at him with
significant gravity, and placed her finger on her lips--

  "Con viso che tacendo dicea, Taci."

If Bardo were made aware that the gems were within reach, she knew well
he would want a minute description of them, and it would become pain to
him that they should go away from him, even if he did not insist on some
device for purchasing them in spite of poverty.  But she had no sooner
made this sign than she felt rather guilty and ashamed at having
virtually confessed a weakness of her father's to a stranger.  It seemed
that she was destined to a sudden confidence and familiarity with this
young Greek, strangely at variance with her deep-seated pride and
reserve; and this consciousness again brought the unwonted colour to her
cheeks.

Tito understood her look and sign, and immediately withdrew his hand
from the case, saying, in a careless tone, so as to make it appear that
he was merely following up his last words, "But they are usually in the
keeping of Messer Domenico Cennini, who has strong and safe places for
these things.  He estimates them as worth at least five hundred ducats."

"Ah, then, they are fine intagli," said Bardo.  "Five hundred ducats!
Ah, more than a man's ransom!"

Tito gave a slight, almost imperceptible start, and opened his long dark
eyes with questioning surprise at Bardo's blind face, as if his words--a
mere phrase of common parlance, at a time when men were often being
ransomed from slavery or imprisonment--had had some special meaning for
him.  But the next moment he looked towards Romola, as if her eyes must
be her father's interpreters.  She, intensely preoccupied with what
related to her father, imagined that Tito was looking to her again for
some guidance, and immediately spoke.

"Alessandra Scala delights in gems, you know, father; she calls them her
winter flowers; and the Segretario would be almost sure to buy any gems
that she wished for.  Besides, he himself sets great store by rings and
sigils, which he wears as a defence against pains in the joints."

"It is true," said Bardo.  "Bartolommeo has overmuch confidence in the
efficacy of gems--a confidence wider than what is sanctioned by Pliny,
who clearly shows that he regards many beliefs of that sort as idle
superstitions; though not to the utter denial of medicinal virtues in
gems.  Wherefore, I myself, as you observe, young man, wear certain
rings, which the discreet Camillo Leonardi prescribed to me by letter
when two years ago I had a certain infirmity of sudden numbness.  But
thou hast spoken well, Romola.  I will dictate a letter to Bartolommeo,
which Maso shall carry.  But it were well that Messere should notify to
thee what the gems are, together with the intagli they bear, as a
warrant to Bartolommeo that they will be worthy of his attention."

"Nay, father," said Romola, whose dread lest a paroxysm of the
collector's mania should seize her father, gave her the courage to
resist his proposal.  "Your word will be sufficient that Messere is a
scholar and has travelled much.  The Segretario will need no further
inducement to receive him."

"True, child," said Bardo, touched on a chord that was sure to respond.
"I have no need to add proofs and arguments in confirmation of my word
to Bartolommeo.  And I doubt not that this young man's presence is in
accord with the tones of his voice, so that, the door being once opened,
he will be his own best advocate."

Bardo paused a few moments, but his silence was evidently charged with
some idea that he was hesitating to express, for he once leaned forward
a little as if he were going to speak, then turned his head aside
towards Romola and sank backward again.  At last, as if he had made up
his mind, he said in a tone which might have become a prince giving the
courteous signal of dismissal--

"I am somewhat fatigued this morning, and shall prefer seeing you again
to-morrow, when I shall be able to give you the secretary's answer,
authorising you to present yourself to him at some given time.  But
before you go,"--here the old man, in spite of himself, fell into a more
faltering tone--"you will perhaps permit me to touch your hand?  It is
long since I touched the hand of a young man."

Bardo had stretched out his aged white hand, and Tito immediately placed
his dark but delicate and supple fingers within it.  Bardo's cramped
fingers closed over them, and he held them for a few minutes in silence.
Then he said--

"Romola, has this young man the same complexion as thy brother--fair and
pale?"

"No, father," Romola answered, with determined composure, though her
heart began to beat violently with mingled emotions.  "The hair of
Messere is dark--his complexion is dark."  Inwardly she said, "Will he
mind it? will it be disagreeable?  No, he looks so gentle and
good-natured."  Then aloud again--

"Would Messere permit my father to touch his hair and face?"

Her eyes inevitably made a timid entreating appeal while she asked this,
and Tito's met them with soft brightness as he said, "Assuredly," and,
leaning forward, raised Bardo's hand to his curls, with a readiness of
assent, which was the greater relief to her, because it was
unaccompanied by any sign of embarrassment.

Bardo passed his hand again and again over the long curls and grasped
them a little, as if their spiral resistance made his inward vision
clearer; then he passed his hand over the brow and cheek, tracing the
profile with the edge of his palm and fourth finger, and letting the
breadth of his hand repose on the rich oval of the cheek.

"Ah," he said, as his hand glided from the face and rested on the young
man's shoulder.  "He must be very unlike thy brother, Romola: and it is
the better.  You see no visions, I trust, my young friend?"

At this moment the door opened, and there entered, unannounced, a tall
elderly man in a handsome black silk lucco, who, unwinding his becchetto
from his neck and taking off his cap, disclosed a head as white as
Bardo's.  He cast a keen glance of surprise at the group before him--the
young stranger leaning in that filial attitude, while Bardo's hand
rested on his shoulder, and Romola sitting near with eyes dilated by
anxiety and agitation.  But there was an instantaneous change: Bardo let
fall his hand, Tito raised himself from his stooping posture, and Romola
rose to meet the visitor with an alacrity which implied all the greater
intimacy, because it was unaccompanied by any smile.

"Well, god-daughter," said the stately man, as he touched Romola's
shoulder; "Maso said you had a visitor, but I came in nevertheless."

"It is thou, Bernardo," said Bardo.  "Thou art come at a fortunate
moment.  This, young man," he continued, while Tito rose and bowed, "is
one of the chief citizens of Florence, Messer Bernardo del Nero, my
oldest, I had almost said my only friend--whose good opinion, if you can
win it, may carry you far.  He is but three-and-twenty, Bernardo, yet he
can doubtless tell thee much which thou wilt care to hear; for though a
scholar, he has already travelled far, and looked on other things
besides the manuscripts for which thou hast too light an esteem."

"Ah, a Greek, as I augur," said Bernardo, returning Tito's reverence but
slightly, and surveying him with that sort of glance which seems almost
to cut like fine steel.  "Newly arrived in Florence, it appears.  The
name of Messere--or part of it, for it is doubtless a long one?"

"On the contrary," said Tito, with perfect good-humour, "it is most
modestly free from polysyllabic pomp.  My name is Tito Melema."

"Truly?" said Bernardo, rather scornfully, as he took a seat; "I had
expected it to be at least as long as the names of a city, a river, a
province, and an empire all put together.  We Florentines mostly use
names as we do prawns, and strip them of all flourishes before we trust
them to our throats."

"Well, Bardo," he continued, as if the stranger were not worth further
notice, and changing his tone of sarcastic suspicion for one of sadness,
"we have buried him."

"Ah!" replied Bardo, with corresponding sadness, "and a new epoch has
come for Florence--a dark one, I fear.  Lorenzo has left behind him an
inheritance that is but like the alchemist's laboratory when the wisdom
of the alchemist is gone."

"Not altogether so," said Bernardo.  "Piero de' Medici has abundant
intelligence; his faults are only the faults of hot blood.  I love the
lad--lad he will always be to me, as I have always been `little father'
to him."

"Yet all who want a new order of things are likely to conceive new
hopes," said Bardo.  "We shall have the old strife of parties, I fear."

"If we could have a new order of things that was something else than
knocking down one coat of arms to put up another," said Bernardo, "I
should be ready to say, `I belong to no party: I am a Florentine.'  But
as long as parties are in question, I am a Medicean, and will be a
Medicean till I die.  I am of the same mind as Farinata degli Uberti: if
any man asks me what is meant by siding with a party, I say, as he did,
`To wish ill or well, for the sake of past wrongs or kindnesses.'"

During this short dialogue, Tito had been standing, and now took his
leave.

"But come again at the same hour to-morrow," said Bardo, graciously,
before Tito left the room, "that I may give you Bartolommeo's answer."

"From what quarter of the sky has this pretty Greek youngster alighted
so close to thy chair, Bardo?" said Bernardo del Nero, as the door
closed.  He spoke with dry emphasis, evidently intended to convey
something more to Bardo than was implied by the mere words.

"He is a scholar who has been shipwrecked and has saved a few gems, for
which he wants to find a purchaser.  I am going to send him to
Bartolommeo Scala, for thou knowest it were more prudent in me to
abstain from further purchases."

Bernardo shrugged his shoulders and said, "Romola, wilt thou see if my
servant is without?  I ordered him to wait for me here."  Then, when
Romola was at a sufficient distance, he leaned forward and said to Bardo
in a low, emphatic tone--

"Remember, Bardo, thou hast a rare gem of thy own; take care no one gets
it who is not likely to pay a worthy price.  That pretty Greek has a
lithe sleekness about him, that seems marvellously fitted for slipping
easily into any nest he fixes his mind on."

Bardo was startled: the association of Tito with the image of his lost
son had excluded instead of suggesting the thought of Romola.  But
almost immediately there seemed to be a reaction which made him grasp
the warning as if it had been a hope.

"But why not, Bernardo?  If the young man approved himself worthy--he is
a scholar--and--and there would be no difficulty about the dowry, which
always makes thee gloomy."



CHAPTER SEVEN.

A LEARNED SQUABBLE.

Bartolommeo Scala, secretary of the Florentine Republic, on whom Tito
Melema had been thus led to anchor his hopes, lived in a handsome palace
close to the Porta Pinti, now known as the Casa Gherardesca.  His arms--
an azure ladder transverse on a golden field, with the motto _Gradatim_
placed over the entrance--told all comers that the miller's son held his
ascent to honours by his own efforts a fact to be proclaimed without
wincing.  The secretary was a vain and pompous man, but he was also an
honest one: he was sincerely convinced of his own merit, and could see
no reason for feigning.  The topmost round of his azure ladder had been
reached by this time: he had held his secretaryship these twenty years--
had long since made his orations on the _ringhiera_, or platform of the
Old Palace, as the custom was, in the presence of princely visitors,
while Marzocco, the republican lion, wore his gold crown on the
occasion, and all the people cried, "Viva Messer Bartolommeo!"--had been
on an embassy to Rome, and had there been made titular Senator,
Apostolical Secretary, Knight of the Golden Spur; and had, eight years
ago, been Gonfaloniere--last goal of the Florentine citizen's ambition.
Meantime he had got richer and richer, and more and more gouty, after
the manner of successful mortality; and the Knight of the Golden Spur
had often to sit with helpless cushioned heel under the handsome loggia
he had built for himself, overlooking the spacious gardens and lawn at
the back of his palace.

He was in this position on the day when he had granted the desired
interview to Tito Melema.  The May afternoon sun was on the flowers and
the grass beyond the pleasant shade of the loggia; the too stately silk
lucco was cast aside, and the light loose mantle was thrown over his
tunic; his beautiful daughter Alessandra and her husband, the Greek
soldier-poet Marullo, were seated on one side of him: on the other, two
friends not oppressively illustrious, and therefore the better
listeners.  Yet, to say nothing of the gout, Messer Bartolommeo's
felicity was far from perfect: it was embittered by the contents of
certain papers that lay before him, consisting chiefly of a
correspondence between himself and Politian.  It was a human foible at
that period (incredible as it may seem) to recite quarrels, and favour
scholarly visitors with the communication of an entire and lengthy
correspondence; and this was neither the first nor the second, time that
Scala had asked the candid opinion of his friends as to the balance of
right and wrong in some half-score Latin letters between himself and
Politian, all springing out of certain epigrams written in the most
playful tone in the world.  It was the story of a very typical and
pretty quarrel, in which we are interested, because it supplied
precisely that thistle of hatred necessary, according to Nello, as a
stimulus to the sluggish paces of the cautious steed, Friendship.
Politian, having been a rejected pretender to the love and the hand of
Scala's daughter, kept a very sharp and learned tooth in readiness
against the too prosperous and presumptuous secretary, who had declined
the greatest scholar of the age for a son-in-law.  Scala was a
meritorious public servant, and, moreover, a lucky man--naturally
exasperating to an offended scholar; but then--O beautiful balance of
things!--he had an itch for authorship, and was a bad writer--one of
those excellent people who, sitting in gouty slippers, "penned poetical
trifles" entirely for their own amusement, without any view to an
audience, and, consequently, sent them to their friends in letters,
which were the literary periodicals of the fifteenth century.  Now Scala
had abundance of friends who were ready to praise his writings: friends
like Ficino and Landino--amiable browsers in the Medicean park along
with himself--who found his Latin prose style elegant and masculine; and
the terrible Joseph Scaliger, who was to pronounce him totally ignorant
of Latinity, was at a comfortable distance in the next century.  But
when was the fatal coquetry inherent in superfluous authorship ever
quite contented with the ready praise of friends?  That critical
supercilious Politian--a fellow-browser, who was far from amiable--must
be made aware that the solid secretary showed, in his leisure hours, a
pleasant fertility in verses, which indicated pretty clearly how much he
might do in that way if he were not a man of affairs.

Ineffable moment! when the man you secretly hate sends you a Latin
epigram with a false gender--hendecasyllables with a questionable
elision, at least a toe too much--attempts at poetic figures which are
manifest solecisms.  That moment had come to Politian: the secretary had
put forth his soft head from the official shell, and the terrible
lurking crab was down upon him.  Politian had used the freedom of a
friend, and pleasantly, in the form of a Latin epigram, corrected the
mistake of Scala in making the _culex_ (an insect too well-known on the
banks of the Arno) of the inferior or feminine gender.  Scala replied by
a bad joke, in suitable Latin verses, referring to Politian's
unsuccessful suit.  Better and better.  Politian found the verses very
pretty and highly facetious: the more was the pity that they were
seriously incorrect, and inasmuch as Scala had alleged that he had
written them in imitation of a Greek epigram, Politian, being on such
friendly terms, would enclose a Greek epigram of his own, on the same
interesting insect--not, we may presume, out of any wish to humble
Scala, but rather to instruct him; said epigram containing a lively
conceit about Venus, Cupid, and the _culex_, of a kind much tasted at
that period, founded partly on the zoological fact that the gnat, like
Venus, was born from the waters.  Scala, in reply, begged to say that
his verses were never intended for a scholar with such delicate
olfactories as Politian, nearest of all living men to the perfection of
the ancients, and of a taste so fastidious that sturgeon itself must
seem insipid to him; defended his own verses, nevertheless, though
indeed they were written hastily, without correction, and intended as an
agreeable distraction during the summer heat to himself and such friends
as were satisfied with mediocrity, he, Scala, not being like some other
people, who courted publicity through the booksellers.  For the rest, he
had barely enough Greek to make out the sense of the epigram so
graciously sent him, to say nothing of tasting its elegances; but--the
epigram was Politian's: what more need be said?  Still, by way of
postscript, he feared that his incomparable friend's comparison of the
gnat to Venus, on account of its origin from the waters, was in many
ways ticklish.  On the one hand, Venus might be offended; and on the
other, unless the poet intended an allusion to the doctrine of Thales,
that cold and damp origin seemed doubtful to Scala in the case of a
creature so fond of warmth; a fish were perhaps the better comparison,
or, when the power of flying was in question, an eagle, or indeed, when
the darkness was taken into consideration, a bat or an owl were a less
obscure and more apposite parallel, etcetera, etcetera.  Here was a
great opportunity for Politian.  He was not aware, he wrote, that when
he had Scala's verses placed before him, there was any question of
sturgeon, but rather of frogs and gudgeons: made short work with Scala's
defence of his own Latin, and mangled him terribly on the score of the
stupid criticisms he had ventured on the Greek epigram kindly forwarded
to him as a model.  Wretched cavils, indeed! for as to the damp origin
of the gnat, there was the authority of Virgil himself, who had called
it the "_alumnus_ of the waters;" and as to what his dear dull friend
had to say about the fish, the eagle, and the rest, it was "nihil ad
rem;" for because the eagle could fly higher, it by no means followed
that the gnat could not fly at all, etcetera, etcetera.  He was ashamed,
however, to dwell on such trivialities, and thus to swell a gnat into an
elephant; but, for his own part, would only add that he had nothing
deceitful or double about him, neither was he to be caught when present
by the false blandishments of those who slandered him in his absence,
agreeing rather with a Homeric sentiment on that head--which furnished a
Greek quotation to serve as powder to his bullet.

The quarrel could not end there.  The logic could hardly get worse, but
the secretary got more pompously self-asserting, and the scholarly
poet's temper more and more venomous.  Politian had been generously
willing to hold up a mirror, by which the too-inflated secretary,
beholding his own likeness, might be induced to cease setting up his
ignorant defences of bad Latin against ancient authorities whom the
consent of centuries had placed beyond question,--unless, indeed, he had
designed to sink in literature in proportion as he rose in honours, that
by a sort of compensation men of letters might feel themselves his
equals.  In return, Politian was begged to examine Scala's writings:
nowhere would he find a more devout admiration of antiquity.  The
secretary was ashamed of the age in which he lived, and blushed for it.
_Some_, indeed, there were who wanted to have their own works praised
and exalted to a level with the divine monuments of antiquity; but he,
Scala, could not oblige them.  And as to the honours which were
offensive to the envious, they had been well earned: witness his whole
life since he came in penury to Florence.  The elegant scholar, in
reply, was not surprised that Scala found the Age distasteful to him,
since he himself was so distasteful to the Age; nay, it was with perfect
accuracy that he, the elegant scholar, had called Scala a branny
monster, inasmuch as he was formed from the off-scourings of monsters,
born amidst the refuse of a mill, and eminently worthy the long-eared
office of turning the paternal millstones (_in pistrini sordibus natus
et quidem pistrino dignissimus_)!

It was not without reference to Tito's appointed visit that the papers
containing this correspondence were brought out to-day.  Here was a new
Greek scholar whose accomplishments were to be tested, and on nothing
did Scala more desire a dispassionate opinion from persons of superior
knowledge than on that Greek epigram of Politian's.  After sufficient
introductory talk concerning Tito's travels, after a survey and
discussion of the gems, and an easy passage from the mention of the
lamented Lorenzo's eagerness in collecting such specimens of ancient art
to the subject of classical tastes and studies in general and their
present condition in Florence, it was inevitable to mention Politian, a
man of eminent ability indeed, but a little too arrogant--assuming to be
a Hercules, whose office it was to destroy all the literary
monstrosities of the age, and writing letters to his elders without
signing them, as if they were miraculous revelations that could only
have one source.  And after all, were not his own criticisms often
questionable and his tastes perverse?  He was fond of saying pungent
things about the men who thought they wrote like Cicero because they
ended every sentence with "esse videtur:" but while he was boasting of
his freedom from servile imitation, did he not fall into the other
extreme, running after strange words and affected phrases?  Even in his
much-belauded `Miscellanea' was every point tenable?  And Tito, who had
just been looking into the `Miscellanea,' found so much to say that was
agreeable to the secretary--he would have done so from the mere
disposition to please, without further motive--that he showed himself
quite worthy to be made a judge in the notable correspondence concerning
the _culex_.  Here was the Greek epigram which Politian had doubtless
thought the finest in the world, though he had pretended to believe that
the "transmarini," the Greeks themselves, would make light of it: had he
not been unintentionally speaking the truth in his false modesty?

Tito was ready, and scarified the epigram to Scala's content.  O wise
young judge!  He could doubtless appreciate satire even in the vulgar
tongue, and Scala--who, excellent man, not seeking publicity through the
booksellers, was never unprovided with "hasty uncorrected trifles," as a
sort of sherbet for a visitor on a hot day, or, if the weather were
cold, why then as a cordial--had a few little matters in the shape of
Sonnets, turning on well-known foibles of Politian's, which he would not
like to go any farther, but which would, perhaps, amuse the company.

Enough: Tito took his leave under an urgent invitation to come again.
His gems were interesting; especially the agate, with the _lusus
naturae_ in it--a most wonderful semblance of Cupid riding on the lion;
and the "Jew's stone," with the lion-headed serpent enchased in it; both
of which the secretary agreed to buy--the latter as a reinforcement of
his preventives against the gout, which gave him such severe twinges
that it was plain enough how intolerable it would be if he were not well
supplied with rings of rare virtue, and with an amulet worn close under
the right breast.  But Tito was assured that he himself was more
interesting than his gems.  He had won his way to the Scala Palace by
the recommendation of Bardo de' Bardi, who, to be sure, was Scala's old
acquaintance and a worthy scholar, in spite of his overvaluing himself a
little (a frequent foible in the secretary's friends); but he must come
again on the ground of his own manifest accomplishments.

The interview could hardly have ended more auspiciously for Tito, and as
he walked out at the Porta Pinti that he might laugh a little at his
ease over the affair of the _culex_, he felt that fortune could hardly
mean to turn her back on him again at present, since she had taken him
by the hand in this decided way.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

A FACE IN THE CROWD.

It is easy to northern people to rise early on Midsummer morning, to see
the dew on the grassy edge of the dusty pathway, to notice the fresh
shoots among the darker green of the oak and fir in the coppice, and to
look over the gate at the shorn meadow, without recollecting that it is
the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.

Not so to the Florentine--still less to the Florentine of the fifteenth
century: to him on that particular morning the brightness of the eastern
sun on the Arno had something special in it; the ringing of the bells
was articulate, and declared it to be the great summer festival of
Florence, the day of San Giovanni.

San Giovanni had been the patron saint of Florence for at least eight
hundred years--ever since the time when the Lombard Queen Theodolinda
had commanded her subjects to do him peculiar honour; nay, says old
Villani, to the best of his knowledge, ever since the days of
Constantino the Great and Pope Sylvester, when the Florentines deposed
their idol Mars, whom they were nevertheless careful not to treat with
contumely; for while they consecrated their beautiful and noble temple
to the honour of God and of the "Beato Messere Santo Giovanni," they
placed old Mars respectfully on a high tower near the River Arno,
finding in certain ancient memorials that he had been elected as their
tutelar deity under such astral influences that if he were broken, or
otherwise treated with indignity, the city would suffer great damage and
mutation.  But in the fifteenth century that discreet regard to the
feelings of the Man-destroyer had long vanished: the god of the spear
and shield had ceased to frown by the side of the Arno, and the defences
of the Republic were held to lie in its craft and its coffers.  For
spear and shield could be hired by gold florins, and on the gold florins
there had always been the image of San Giovanni.

Much good had come to Florence since the dim time of struggle between
the old patron and the new: some quarrelling and bloodshed, doubtless,
between Guelf and Ghibelline, between Black and White, between orthodox
sons of the Church and heretic Paterini; some floods, famine, and
pestilence; but still much wealth and glory.  Florence had achieved
conquests over walled cities once mightier than itself, and especially
over hated Pisa, whose marble buildings were too high and beautiful,
whose masts were too much honoured on Greek and Italian coasts.  The
name of Florence had been growing prouder and prouder in all the courts
of Europe, nay, in Africa itself, on the strength of purest gold
coinage, finest dyes and textures, pre-eminent scholarship and poetic
genius, and wits of the most serviceable sort for statesmanship and
banking: it was a name so omnipresent that a Pope with a turn for
epigram had called Florentines "the fifth element."  And for this high
destiny, though it might partly depend on the stars and Madonna dell'
Impruneta, and certainly depended on other higher Powers less often
named, the praise was greatly due to San Giovanni, whose image was on
the fair gold florins.

Therefore it was fitting that the day of San Giovanni--that ancient
Church festival already venerable in the days of Saint Augustine--should
be a day of peculiar rejoicing to Florence, and should be ushered in by
a vigil duly kept in strict old Florentine fashion, with much dancing,
with much street jesting, and perhaps with not a little stone-throwing
and window-breaking, but emphatically with certain street sights such as
could only be provided by a city which held in its service a clever
Cecca, engineer and architect, valuable alike in sieges and in shows.
By the help of Cecca, the very saints, surrounded with their
almond-shaped glory, and floating on clouds with their joyous
companionship of winged cherubs, even as they may be seen to this day in
the pictures of Perugino, seemed, on the eve of San Giovanni, to have
brought their piece of the heavens down into the narrow streets, and to
pass slowly through them; and, more wonderful still, saints of gigantic
size, with attendant angels, might be seen, not seated, but moving in a
slow mysterious manner along the streets, like a procession of colossal
figures come down from the high domes and tribunes of the churches.  The
clouds were made of good woven stuff, the saints and cherubs were
unglorified mortals supported by firm bars, and those mysterious giants
were really men of very steady brain, balancing themselves on stilts,
and enlarged, like Greek tragedians, by huge masks and stuffed
shoulders; but he was a miserably unimaginative Florentine who thought
only of that--nay, somewhat impious, for in the images of sacred things
was there not some of the virtue of sacred things themselves?  And if,
after that, there came a company of merry black demons well armed with
claws and thongs, and other implements of sport, ready to perform
impromptu farces of bastinadoing and clothes-tearing, why, that was the
demons' way of keeping a vigil, and they, too, might have descended from
the domes and the tribunes.  The Tuscan mind slipped from the devout to
the burlesque, as readily as water round an angle; and the saints had
already had their turn, had gone their way, and made their due pause
before the gates of San Giovanni, to do him honour on the eve of his
_festa_.  And on the morrow, the great day thus ushered in, it was
fitting that the tributary symbols paid to Florence by all its dependent
cities, districts, and villages, whether conquered, protected, or of
immemorial possession, should be offered at the shrine of San Giovanni
in the old octagonal church, once the cathedral and now the baptistery,
where every Florentine had had the sign of the Cross made with the
anointing chrism on his brow; that all the city, from the white-haired
man to the stripling, and from the matron to the lisping child, should
be clothed in its best to do honour to the great day, and see the great
sight; and that again, when the sun was sloping and the streets were
cool, there should be the glorious race or Corso, when the unsaddled
horses, clothed in rich trappings, should ran right across the city,
from the Porta al Prato on the north-west, through the Mercato Vecchio,
to the Porta Santa Croce on the south-east, where the richest of
_Palii_, or velvet and brocade banners with silk linings and fringe of
gold, such as became a city that half-clothed the well-dressed world,
were mounted on a triumphal car awaiting the winner or winner's owner.

And thereafter followed more dancing; nay, through the whole day, says
an old chronicler at the beginning of that century, there were weddings
and the grandest gatherings, with so much piping, music and song, with
balls and feasts and gladness and ornament, that this earth might have
been mistaken for Paradise!

In this year of 1492, it was, perhaps, a little less easy to make that
mistake.  Lorenzo the magnificent and subtle was dead, and an arrogant,
incautious Piero was come in his room, an evil change for Florence,
unless, indeed, the wise horse prefers the bad rider, as more easily
thrown from the saddle, and already the regrets for Lorenzo were getting
less predominant over the murmured desire for government on a broader
basis, in which corruption might be arrested, and there might be that
free play for everybody's jealousy and ambition, which made the ideal
liberty of the good old quarrelsome, struggling times, when Florence
raised her great buildings, reared her own soldiers, drove out would-be
tyrants at the sword's point, and was proud to keep faith at her own
loss.  Lorenzo was dead, Pope Innocent was dying, and a troublesome
Neapolitan succession, with an intriguing, ambitious Milan, might set
Italy by the ears before long: the times were likely to be difficult.
Still, there was all the more reason that the Republic should keep its
religious festivals.

And Midsummer morning, in this year 1492, was not less bright than
usual.  It was betimes in the morning that the symbolic offerings to be
carried in grand procession were all assembled at their starting-point
in the Piazza della Signoria--that famous piazza, where stood then, and
stand now, the massive turreted Palace of the People, called the Palazzo
Vecchio, and the spacious Loggia, built by Orcagna--the scene of all
grand State ceremonial.  The sky made the fairest blue tent, and under
it the bells swung so vigorously that every evil spirit with sense
enough to be formidable, must long since have taken his flight; windows
and terraced roofs were alive with human faces; sombre stone houses were
bright with hanging draperies; the boldly soaring palace tower, the yet
older square tower of the Bargello, and the spire of the neighbouring
Badia, seemed to keep watch above; and below, on the broad polygonal
flags of the piazza, was the glorious show of banners, and horses with
rich trappings, and gigantic _ceri_, or tapers, that were fitly called
towers--strangely aggrandised descendants of those torches by whose
faint light the Church worshipped in the Catacombs.  Betimes in the
morning all processions had need to move under the Midsummer sky of
Florence, where the shelter of the narrow streets must every now and
then be exchanged for the glare of wide spaces; and the sun would be
high up in the heavens before the long pomp had ended its pilgrimage in
the Piazza di San Giovanni.

But here, where the procession was to pause, the magnificent city, with
its ingenious Cecca, had provided another tent than the sky; for the
whole of the Piazza del Duomo, from the octagonal baptistery in the
centre to the facade of the cathedral and the walls of the houses on the
other sides of the quadrangle, was covered, at the height of forty feet
or more, with blue drapery, adorned with well-stitched yellow lilies and
the familiar coats of arms, while sheaves of many-coloured banners
drooped at fit angles under this superincumbent blue--a gorgeous
rainbow-lit shelter to the waiting spectators who leaned from the
windows, and made a narrow border on the pavement, and wished for the
coming of the show.

One of these spectators was Tito Melema.  Bright, in the midst of
brightness, he sat at the window of the room above Nello's shop, his
right elbow resting on the red drapery hanging from the window-sill, and
his head supported in a backward position by the right-hand, which
pressed the curls against his ear.  His face wore that bland liveliness,
as far removed from excitability as from heaviness or gloom, which marks
the companion popular alike amongst men and women--the companion who is
never obtrusive or noisy from uneasy vanity or excessive animal spirits,
and whose brow is never contracted by resentment or indignation.  He
showed no other change from the two months and more that had passed
since his first appearance in the weather-stained tunic and hose, than
that added radiance of good fortune, which is like the just perceptible
perfecting of a flower after it has drunk a morning's sunbeams.  Close
behind him, ensconced in the narrow angle between his chair and the
window-frame, stood the slim figure of Nello in holiday suit, and at his
left the younger Cennini--Pietro, the erudite corrector of proof-sheets,
not Domenico the practical.  Tito was looking alternately down on the
scene below, and upward at the varied knot of gazers and talkers
immediately around him, some of whom had come in after witnessing the
commencement of the procession in the Piazza della Signoria.  Piero di
Cosimo was raising a laugh among them by his grimaces and anathemas at
the noise of the bells, against which no kind of ear-stuffing was a
sufficient barricade, since the more he stuffed his ears the more he
felt the vibration of his skull; and declaring that he would bury
himself in the most solitary spot of the Valdarno on a _festa_, if he
were not condemned, as a painter, to lie in wait for the secrets of
colour that were sometimes to be caught from the floating of banners and
the chance grouping of the multitude.

Tito had just turned his laughing face away from the whimsical painter
to look down at the small drama going on among the checkered border of
spectators, when at the angle of the marble steps in front of the Duomo,
nearly opposite Nello's shop, he saw a man's face upturned towards him,
and fixing on him a gaze that seemed to have more meaning in it than the
ordinary passing observation of a stranger.  It was a face with tonsured
head, that rose above the black mantle and white tunic of a Dominican
friar--a very common sight in Florence; but the glance had something
peculiar in it for Tito.  There was a faint suggestion in it, certainly
not of an unpleasant kind.  Yet what pleasant association had he ever
had with monks?  None.  The glance and the suggestion hardly took longer
than a flash of lightning.

"Nello!" said Tito, hastily, but immediately added, in a tone of
disappointment, "Ah, he has turned round.  It was that tall, thin friar
who is going up the steps.  I wanted you to tell me if you knew aught of
him?"

"One of the Frati Predicatori," said Nello, carelessly; "you don't
expect me to know the private history of the crows."

"I seem to remember something about his face," said Tito.  "It is an
uncommon face."

"What? you thought it might be our Fra Girolamo?  Too tall; and he never
shows himself in that chance way."

"Besides, that loud-barking `hound of the Lord' [Note 1] is not in
Florence just now," said Francesco Cei, the popular poet; "he has taken
Piero de' Medici's hint, to carry his railing prophecies on a journey
for a while."

"The Frate neither rails nor prophesies against any man," said a
middle-aged personage seated at the other corner of the window; "he only
prophesies against vice.  If you think that an attack on your poems,
Francesco, it is not the Frate's fault."

"Ah, he's gone into the Duomo now," said Tito, who had watched the
figure eagerly.  "No, I was not under that mistake, Nello.  Your Fra
Girolamo has a high nose and a large under-lip.  I saw him once--he is
not handsome; but this man..."

"Truce to your descriptions!" said Cennini.  "Hark! see!  Here come the
horsemen and the banners.  That standard," he continued, laying his hand
familiarly on Tito's shoulder,--"that carried on the horse with white
trappings--that with the red eagle holding the green dragon between his
talons, and the red lily over the eagle--is the Gonfalon of the Guelf
party, and those cavaliers close round it are the chief officers of the
Guelf party.  That is one of our proudest banners, grumble as we may; it
means the triumph of the Guelfs, which means the triumph of Florentine
will, which means triumph of the popolani."

"Nay, go on, Cennini," said the middle-aged man, seated at the window,
"which means triumph of the fat popolani over the lean, which again
means triumph of the fattest popolano over those who are less fat."

"Cronaca, you are becoming sententious," said the printer; "Fra
Girolamo's preaching will spoil you, and make you take life by the wrong
handle.  Trust me, your cornices will lose half their beauty if you
begin to mingle bitterness with them; that is the _maniera Tedesca_
which you used to declaim against when you came from Rome.  The next
palace you build we shall see you trying to put the Frate's doctrine
into stone."

"That is a goodly show of cavaliers," said Tito, who had learned by this
time the best way to please Florentines; "but are there not strangers
among them?  I see foreign costumes."

"Assuredly," said Cennini; "you see there the Orators from France,
Milan, and Venice, and behind them are English and German nobles; for it
is customary that all foreign visitors of distinction pay their tribute
to San Giovanni in the train of that gonfalon.  For my part, I think our
Florentine cavaliers sit their horses as well as any of those
cut-and-thrust northerners, whose wits lie in their heels and saddles;
and for yon Venetian, I fancy he would feel himself more at ease on the
back of a dolphin.  We ought to know something of horsemanship, for we
excel all Italy in the sports of the Giostra, and the money we spend on
them.  But you will see a finer show of our chief men by-and-by, Melema;
my brother himself will be among the officers of the Zecca."

"The banners are the better sight," said Piero di Cosimo, forgetting the
noise in his delight at the winding stream of colour as the tributary
standards advanced round the piazza.  "The Florentine men are so-so;
they make but a sorry show at this distance with their patch of sallow
flesh-tint above the black garments; but those banners with their
velvet, and satin, and minever, and brocade, and their endless play of
delicate light and shadow!--_Va_! your human talk and doings are a tame
jest; the only passionate life is in form and colour."

"Ay, Piero, if Satanasso could paint, thou wouldst sell thy soul to
learn his secrets," said Nello.  "But there is little likelihood of it,
seeing the blessed angels themselves are such poor hands at chiaroscuro,
if one may judge from their _capo-d'opera_, the Madonna Nunziata."

"There go the banners of Pisa and Arezzo," said Cennini.  "Ay, Messer
Pisano, it is no use for you to look sullen; you may as well carry your
banner to our San Giovanni with a good grace.  `Pisans false,
Florentines blind'--the second half of that proverb will hold no longer.
There come the ensigns of our subject towns and signories, Melema; they
will all be suspended in San Giovanni until this day next year, when
they will give place to new ones."

"They are a fair sight," said Tito; "and San Giovanni will surely be as
well satisfied with that produce of Italian looms as Minerva with her
peplos, especially as he contents himself with so little drapery.  But
my eyes are less delighted with those whirling towers, which would soon
make me fall from the window in sympathetic vertigo."

The "towers" of which Tito spoke were a part of the procession esteemed
very glorious by the Florentine populace; and being perhaps chiefly a
kind of hyperbole for the all-efficacious wax taper, were also called
_ceri_.  But inasmuch as hyperbole is impracticable in a real and
literal fashion, these gigantic _ceri_, some of them so large as to be
of necessity carried on wheels, were not solid but hollow, and had their
surface made not solely of wax, but of wood and pasteboard, gilded,
carved, and painted, as real sacred tapers often are, with successive
circles of figures--warriors on horseback, foot-soldiers with lance and
shield, dancing maidens, animals, trees and fruits, and in fine, says
the old chronicler, "all things that could delight the eye and the
heart;" the hollowness having the further advantage that men could stand
inside these hyperbolic tapers and whirl them continually, so as to
produce a phantasmagoric effect, which, considering the towers were
numerous, must have been calculated to produce dizziness on a truly
magnificent scale.

"_Pestilenza_!" said Piero di Cosimo, moving from the window, "those
whirling circles one above the other are worse than the jangling of all
the bells.  Let me know when the last taper has passed."

"Nay, you will surely like to be called when the contadini come carrying
their torches," said Nello; "you would not miss the country-folk of the
Mugello and the Casentino, of whom your favourite Leonardo would make a
hundred grotesque sketches."

"No," said Piero, resolutely, "I will see nothing till the car of the
Zecca comes.  I have seen clowns enough holding tapers aslant, both with
and without cowls, to last me for my life."

"Here it comes, then, Piero--the car of the Zecca," called out Nello,
after an interval during which towers and tapers in a descending scale
of size had been making their slow transit.

"_Fediddio_!" exclaimed Francesco Cei, "that is a well-tanned San
Giovanni! some sturdy Romagnole beggar-man, I'll warrant.  Our Signoria
plays the host to all the Jewish and Christian scum that every other
city shuts its gates against, and lets them fatten on us like Saint
Anthony's swine."

The car of the Zecca or Mint, which had just rolled into sight, was
originally an immense wooden tower or _cero_ adorned after the same
fashion as the other tributary _ceri_, mounted on a splendid car, and
drawn by two mouse-coloured oxen, whose mild heads looked out from rich
trappings bearing the arms of the Zecca.  But the latter half of the
century was getting rather ashamed of the towers with their circular or
spiral paintings, which had delighted the eyes and the hearts of the
other half, so that they had become a contemptuous proverb, and any
ill-painted figure looking, as will sometimes happen to figures in the
best ages of art, as if it had been boned for a pie, was called a
_fantoccio da cero_, a tower-puppet; consequently improved taste, with
Cecca to help it, had devised for the magnificent Zecca a triumphal car
like a pyramidal catafalque, with ingenious wheels warranted to turn all
corners easily.  Round the base were living figures of saints and angels
arrayed in sculpturesque fashion; and on the summit, at the height of
thirty feet, well bound to an iron rod and holding an iron cross also
firmly infixed, stood a living representative of Saint John the Baptist,
with arms and legs bare, a garment of tiger-skins about his body, and a
golden nimbus fastened on his head--as the Precursor was wont to appear
in the cloisters and churches, not having yet revealed himself to
painters as the brown and sturdy boy who made one of the Holy Family.
For where could the image of the patron saint be more fitly placed than
on the symbol of the Zecca?  Was not the royal prerogative of coining
money the surest token that a city had won its independence? and by the
blessing of San Giovanni this "beautiful sheepfold" of his had shown
that token earliest among the Italian cities.  Nevertheless, the annual
function of representing the patron saint was not among the high prizes
of public life; it was paid for with something like ten shillings, a
cake weighing fourteen pounds, two bottles of wine, and a handsome
supply of light eatables; the money being furnished by the magnificent
Zecca, and the payment in kind being by peculiar "privilege" presented
in a basket suspended on a pole from an upper window of a private house,
whereupon the eidolon of the austere saint at once invigorated himself
with a reasonable share of the sweets and wine, threw the remnants to
the crowd, and embraced the mighty cake securely with his right arm
through the remainder of his passage.  This was the attitude in which
the mimic San Giovanni presented himself as the tall car jerked and
vibrated on its slow way round the piazza to the northern gate of the
Baptistery.

"There go the Masters of the Zecca, and there is my brother--you see
him, Melema?" cried Cennini, with an agreeable stirring of pride at
showing a stranger what was too familiar to be remarkable to
fellow-citizens.  "Behind come the members of the Corporation of
Calimara, [Note 2] the dealers in foreign cloth, to which we have given
our Florentine finish; men of ripe years, you see, who were matriculated
before you were born; and then comes the famous Art of Money-changers."

"Many of them matriculated also to the noble art of usury before you
were born," interrupted Francesco Cei, "as you may discern by a certain
fitful glare of the eye and sharp curve of the nose which manifest their
descent from the ancient Harpies, whose portraits you saw supporting the
arms of the Zecca.  Shaking off old prejudices now, such a procession as
that of some four hundred passably ugly men carrying their tapers in
open daylight, Diogenes-fashion, as if they were looking for a lost
quattrino, would make a merry spectacle for the Feast of Fools."

"Blaspheme not against the usages of our city," said Pietro Cennini,
much offended.  "There are new wits who think they see things more truly
because they stand on their heads to look at them, like tumblers and
mountebanks, instead of keeping the attitude of rational men.  Doubtless
it makes little difference to Maestro Vaiano's monkeys whether they see
our Donatello's statue of Judith with their heads or their tails
uppermost."

"Your solemnity will allow some quarter to playful fancy, I hope," said
Cei, with a shrug, "else what becomes of the ancients, whose example you
scholars are bound to revere, Messer Pietro?  Life was never anything
but a perpetual see-saw between gravity and jest."

"Keep your jest then till your end of the pole is uppermost," said
Cennini, still angry, "and that is not when the great bond of our
Republic is expressing itself in ancient symbols, without which the
vulgar would be conscious of nothing beyond their own petty wants of
back and stomach, and never rise to the sense of community in religion
and law.  There has been no great people without processions, and the
man who thinks himself too wise to be moved by them to anything but
contempt, is like the puddle that was proud of standing alone while the
river rushed by."

No one said anything after this indignant burst of Cennini's till he
himself spoke again.

"Hark! the trumpets of the Signoria: now comes the last stage of the
show, Melema.  That is our Gonfaloniere in the middle, in the starred
mantle, with the sword carried before him.  Twenty years ago we used to
see our foreign Podesta, who was our judge in civil causes, walking on
his right-hand; but our Republic has been over-doctored by clever
_Medici_.  That is the Proposto [Spokesman or Moderator] of the Priori
on the left; then come the other seven Priori; then all the other
magistracies and officials of our Republic.  You see your patron the
Segretario?"

"There is Messer Bernardo del Nero also," said Tito; "his visage is a
fine and venerable one, though it has worn rather a petrifying look
towards me."

"Ah," said Nello, "he is the dragon that guards the remnant of old
Bardo's gold, which, I fancy, is chiefly that virgin gold that falls
about the fair Romola's head and shoulders; eh, my Apollino?" he added,
patting Tito's head.

Tito had the youthful grace of blushing, but he had also the adroit and
ready speech that prevents a blush from looking like embarrassment.  He
replied at once--

"And a very Pactolus it is--a stream with golden ripples.  If I were an
alchemist--"

He was saved from the need for further speech by the sudden fortissimo
of drums and trumpets and fifes, bursting into the breadth of the piazza
in a grand storm of sound--a roar, a blast, and a whistling, well
befitting a city famous for its musical instruments, and reducing the
members of the closest group to a state of deaf isolation.

During this interval Nello observed Tito's fingers moving in recognition
of some one in the crowd below, but not seeing the direction of his
glance he failed to detect the object of this greeting--the sweet round
blue-eyed face under a white hood--immediately lost in the narrow border
of heads, where there was a continual eclipse of round contadina cheeks
by the harsh-lined features or bent shoulders of an old spadesman, and
where profiles turned as sharply from north to south as weathercocks
under a shifting wind.

But when it was felt that the show was ended--when the twelve prisoners
released in honour of the day, and the very _barberi_ or race-horses,
with the arms of their owners embroidered on their cloths, had followed
up the Signoria, and been duly consecrated to San Giovanni, and every
one was moving from the window--Nello, whose Florentine curiosity was of
that lively canine sort which thinks no trifle too despicable for
investigation, put his hand on Tito's shoulder and said--

"What acquaintance was that you were making signals to, eh, _giovane
mio_?"

"Some little contadina who probably mistook me for an acquaintance, for
she had honoured me with a greeting."

"Or who wished to begin an acquaintance," said Nello.  "But you are
bound for the Via de' Bardi and the feast of the Muses: there is no
counting on you for a frolic, else we might have gone in search of
adventures together in the crowd, and had some pleasant fooling in
honour of San Giovanni.  But your high fortune has come on you too soon:
I don't mean the professor's mantle--_that_ is roomy enough to hide a
few stolen chickens, but--Messer Endymion minded his manners after that
singular good fortune of his; and what says our Luigi Pulci?

  "`Da quel giorno in qua ch'amor m'accese
  Per lei son fatto e gentile e cortese.'"

"Nello, _amico mio_, thou hast an intolerable trick of making life stale
by forestalling it with thy talk," said Tito, shrugging his shoulders,
with a look of patient resignation, which was his nearest approach to
anger: "not to mention that such ill-founded babbling would be held a
great offence by that same goddess whose humble worshipper you are
always professing yourself."

"I will be mute," said Nello, laying his finger on his lips, with a
responding shrug.  "But it is only under our four eyes that I talk any
folly about her."

"Pardon! you were on the verge of it just now in the hearing of others.
If you want to ruin me in the minds of Bardo and his daughter--"

"Enough, enough!" said Nello.  "I am an absurd old barber.  It all comes
from that abstinence of mine, in not making bad verses in my youth: for
want of letting my folly run out that way when I was eighteen, it runs
out at my tongue's end now I am at the unseemly age of fifty.  But Nello
has not got his head muffled for all that; he can see a buffalo in the
snow.  _Addio, giovane mio_."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  A play on the name of the Dominicans (_Domini Canes_) which was
accepted by themselves, and which is pictorially represented in a fresco
painted for them by Simone Memmi.

Note 2.  "Arte di Calimara", "arte" being, in this use of it, equivalent
to corporation.



CHAPTER NINE.

A MAN'S RANSOM.

Tito was soon down among the crowd, and, notwithstanding his indifferent
reply to Nello's question about his chance acquaintance, he was not
without a passing wish, as he made his way round the piazza to the Corso
degli Adimari, that he might encounter the pair of blue eyes which had
looked up towards him from under the square bit of white linen drapery
that formed the ordinary hood of the contadina at festa time.  He was
perfectly well aware that that face was Tessa's; but he had not chosen
to say so.  What had Nello to do with the matter?  Tito had an innate
love of reticence--let us say a talent for it--which acted as other
impulses do, without any conscious motive, and, like all people to whom
concealment is easy, he would now and then conceal something which had
as little the nature of a secret as the fact that he had seen a flight
of crows.

But the passing wish about pretty Tessa was almost immediately eclipsed
by the recurrent recollection of that friar whose face had some
irrecoverable association for him.  Why should a sickly fanatic, worn
with fasting, have looked at _him_ in particular, and where in all his
travels could he remember encountering that face before?  Folly! such
vague memories hang about the mind like cobwebs, with tickling
importunity--best to sweep them away at a dash: and Tito had pleasanter
occupation for his thoughts.  By the time he was turning out of the
Corso degli Adimari into a side-street he was caring only that the sun
was high, and that the procession had kept him longer than he had
intended from his visit to that room in the Via de' Bardi, where his
coming, he knew, was anxiously awaited.  He felt the scene of his
entrance beforehand: the joy beaming diffusedly in the blind face like
the light in a semi-transparent lamp; the transient pink flush on
Romola's face and neck, which subtracted nothing from her majesty, but
only gave it the exquisite charm of womanly sensitiveness, heightened
still more by what seemed the paradoxical boy-like frankness of her look
and smile.  They were the best comrades in the world during the hours
they passed together round the blind man's chair: she was constantly
appealing to Tito, and he was informing her, yet he felt himself
strangely in subjection to Romola with that simplicity of hers: he felt
for the first time, without defining it to himself, that loving awe in
the presence of noble womanhood, which is perhaps something like the
worship paid of old to a great nature-goddess, who was not all-knowing,
but whose life and power were something deeper and more primordial than
knowledge.  They had never been alone together, and he could frame to
himself no probable image of love-scenes between them: he could only
fancy and wish wildly--what he knew was impossible--that Romola would
some day tell him that she loved him.  One day in Greece, as he was
leaning over a wall in the sunshine, a little black-eyed peasant girl,
who had rested her water-pot on the wall, crept gradually nearer and
nearer to him, and at last shyly asked him to kiss her, putting up her
round olive cheek very innocently.  Tito was used to love that came in
this unsought fashion.  But Romola's love would never come in that way:
would it ever come at all?--and yet it was that topmost apple on which
he had set his mind.  He was in his fresh youth--not passionate, but
impressible: it was as inevitable that he should feel lovingly towards
Romola as that the white irises should be reflected in the clear sunlit
stream; but he had no coxcombry, and he had an intimate sense that
Romola was something very much above him.  Many men have felt the same
before a large-eyed, simple child.

Nevertheless, Tito had had the rapid success which would have made some
men presuming, or would have warranted him in thinking that there would
be no great presumption in entertaining an agreeable confidence that he
might one day be the husband of Romola--nay, that her father himself was
not without a vision of such a future for him.  His first auspicious
interview with Bartolommeo Scala had proved the commencement of a
growing favour on the secretary's part, and had led to an issue which
would have been enough to make Tito decide on Florence as the place in
which to establish himself, even if it had held no other magnet.
Politian was professor of Greek as well as Latin at Florence,
professorial chairs being maintained there, although the university had
been removed to Pisa; but for a long time Demetrio Calcondila, one of
the most eminent and respectable among the emigrant Greeks, had also
held a Greek chair, simultaneously with the too predominant Italian.
Calcondila was now gone to Milan, and there was no counterpoise or rival
to Politian such as was desired for him by the friends who wished him to
be taught a little propriety and humility.  Scala was far from being the
only friend of this class, and he found several who, if they were not
among those thirsty admirers of mediocrity that were glad to be
refreshed with his verses in hot weather, were yet quite willing to join
him in doing that moral service to Politian.  It was finally agreed that
Tito should be supported in a Greek chair, as Demetrio Calcondila had
been by Lorenzo himself, who, being at the same time the affectionate
patron of Politian, had shown by precedent that there was nothing
invidious in such a measure, but only a zeal for true learning and for
the instruction of the Florentine youth.

Tito was thus sailing under the fairest breeze, and besides convincing
fair judges that his talents squared with his good fortune, he wore that
fortune so easily and unpretentiously that no one had yet been offended
by it.  He was not unlikely to get into the best Florentine society:
society where there was much more plate than the circle of enamelled
silver in the centre of the brass dishes, and where it was not forbidden
by the Signory to wear the richest brocade.  For where could a handsome
young scholar not be welcome when he could touch the lute and troll a
gay song?  That bright face, that easy smile, that liquid voice, seemed
to give life a holiday aspect; just as a strain of gay music and the
hoisting of colours make the work-worn and the sad rather ashamed of
showing themselves.  Here was a professor likely to render the Greek
classics amiable to the sons of great houses.

And that was not the whole of Tito's good fortune; for he had sold all
his jewels, except the ring he did not choose to part with, and he was
master of full five hundred gold florins.

Yet the moment when he first had this sum in his possession was the
crisis of the first serious struggle his facile, good-humoured nature
had known.  An importunate thought, of which he had till now refused to
see more than the shadow as it dogged his footsteps, at last rushed upon
him and grasped him: he was obliged to pause and decide whether he would
surrender and obey, or whether he would give the refusal that must carry
irrevocable consequences.  It was in the room above Nello's shop, which
Tito had now hired as a lodging, that the elder Cennini handed him the
last quota of the sum on behalf of Bernardo Rucellai, the purchaser of
the two most valuable gems.

"_Ecco, giovane mio_!" said the respectable printer and goldsmith, "you
have now a pretty little fortune; and if you will take my advice, you
will let me place your florins in a safe quarter, where they may
increase and multiply, instead of slipping through your fingers for
banquets and other follies which are rife among our Florentine youth.
And it has been too much the fashion of scholars, especially when, like
our Pietro Crinito, they think their scholarship needs to be scented and
broidered, to squander with one hand till they have been fain to beg
with the other.  I have brought you the money, and you are free to make
a wise choice or an unwise: I shall see on which side the balance dips.
We Florentines hold no man a member of an Art till he has shown his
skill and been matriculated; and no man is matriculated to the art of
life till he has been well tempted.  If you make up your mind to put
your florins out to usury, you can let me know to-morrow.  A scholar may
marry, and should have something in readiness for the _morgen-cap.
Addio_."  [Note 1.]

As Cennini closed the door behind him, Tito turned round with the smile
dying out of his face, and fixed his eyes on the table where the florins
lay.  He made no other movement, but stood with his thumbs in his belt,
looking down, in that transfixed state which accompanies the
concentration of consciousness on some inward image.

"A man's ransom!"--who was it that had said five hundred florins was
more than a man's ransom?  If now, under this mid-day sun, on some hot
coast far away, a man somewhat stricken in years--a man not without high
thoughts and with the most passionate heart--a man who long years ago
had rescued a little boy from a life of beggary, filth, and cruel wrong,
had reared him tenderly, and been to him as a father--if that man _were_
now under this summer sun toiling as a slave, hewing wood and drawing
water, perhaps being smitten and buffeted because he was not deft and
active?  If he were saying to himself, "Tito will find me: he had but to
carry our manuscripts and gems to Venice; he will have raised money, and
will never rest till he finds me out"?  If that were certain, could he,
Tito, see the price of the gems lying before him, and say, "I will stay
at Florence, where I am fanned by soft airs of promised love and
prosperity; I will not risk myself for his sake"?  No, surely not, _if
it were certain_.  But nothing could be farther from certainty.  The
galley had been taken by a Turkish vessel on its way to Delos: _that_
was known by the report of the companion galley, which had escaped.  But
there had been resistance, and probable bloodshed; a man had been seen
falling overboard: who were the survivors, and what had befallen them
amongst all the multitude of possibilities?  Had not he, Tito, suffered
shipwreck, and narrowly escaped drowning?  He had good cause for feeling
the omnipresence of casualties that threatened all projects with
futility.  The rumour that there were pirates who had a settlement in
Delos was not to be depended on, or might be nothing to the purpose.
What, probably enough, would be the result if he were to quit Florence
and go to Venice; get authoritative letters--yes, he knew that might be
done--and set out for the Archipelago?  Why, that he should be himself
seized, and spend all his florins on preliminaries, and be again a
destitute wanderer--with no more gems to sell.

Tito had a clearer vision of that result than of the possible moment
when he might find his father again, and carry him deliverance.  It
would surely be an unfairness that he, in his full ripe youth, to whom
life had hitherto had some of the stint and subjection of a school,
should turn his back on promised love and distinction, and perhaps never
be visited by that promise again.  "And yet," he said to himself, "if I
were certain that Baldassarre Calvo was alive, and that I could free
him, by whatever exertions or perils, I would go now--now I have the
money: it was useless to debate the matter before.  I would go now to
Bardo and Bartolommeo Scala, and tell them the whole truth."  Tito did
not say to himself so distinctly that if those two men had known the
whole truth he was aware there would have been no alternative for him
but to go in search of his benefactor, who, if alive, was the rightful
owner of the gems, and whom he had always equivocally spoken of as
"lost;" he did not say to himself--what he was not ignorant of--that
Greeks of distinction had made sacrifices, taken voyages again and
again, and sought help from crowned and mitred heads for the sake of
freeing relatives from slavery to the Turks.  Public opinion did not
regard this as exceptional virtue.

This was his first real colloquy with himself: he had gone on following
the impulses of the moment, and one of those impulses had been to
conceal half the fact; he had never considered this part of his conduct
long enough to face the consciousness of his motives for the
concealment.  What was the use of telling the whole?  It was true, the
thought had crossed his mind several times since he had quitted Nauplia
that, after all, it was a great relief to be quit of Baldassarre, and he
would have liked to know _who_ it was that had fallen overboard.  But
such thoughts spring inevitably out of a relation that is irksome.
Baldassarre was exacting, and had got stranger as he got older: he was
constantly scrutinising Tito's mind to see whether it answered to his
own exaggerated expectations; and age--the age of a thickset,
heavy-browed, bald man beyond sixty, whose intensity and eagerness in
the grasp of ideas have long taken the character of monotony and
repetition, may be looked at from many points of view without being
found attractive.  Such a man, stranded among new acquaintances, unless
he had the philosopher's stone, would hardly find rank, youth, and
beauty at his feet.  The feelings that gather fervour from novelty will
be of little help towards making the world a home for dimmed and faded
human beings; and if there is any love of which they are not widowed, it
must be the love that is rooted in memories and distils perpetually the
sweet balms of fidelity and forbearing tenderness.

But surely such memories were not absent from Tito's mind?  Far in the
backward vista of his remembered life, when he was only seven years old,
Baldassarre had rescued him from blows, had taken him to a home that
seemed like opened paradise, where there was sweet food and soothing
caresses, all had on Baldassarre's knee; and from that time till the
hour they had parted, Tito had been the one centre of Baldassarre's
fatherly cares.

And he had been docile, pliable, quick of apprehension, ready to
acquire: a very bright lovely boy, a youth of even splendid grace, who
seemed quite without vices, as if that beautiful form represented a
vitality so exquisitely poised and balanced that it could know no uneasy
desires, no unrest--a radiant presence for a lonely man to have won for
himself.  If he were silent when his father expected some response,
still he did not look moody; if he declined some labour--why, he flung
himself down with such a charming, half-smiling, half-pleading air, that
the pleasure of looking at him made amends to one who had watched his
growth with a sense of claim and possession: the curves of Tito's mouth
had ineffable good-humour in them.  And then, the quick talent to which
everything came readily, from philosophical systems to the rhymes of a
street ballad caught up at a hearing!  Would any one have said that Tito
had not made a rich return to his benefactor, or that his gratitude and
affection would fail on any great demand?

He did not admit that his gratitude had failed; but _it was not certain_
that Baldassarre was in slavery, not certain that he was living.

"Do I not owe something to myself?" said Tito, inwardly, with a slight
movement of his shoulders, the first he had made since he had turned to
look down at the florins.  "Before I quit everything, and incur again
all the risks of which I am even now weary, I must at least have a
reasonable hope.  Am I to spend my life in a wandering search?  _I
believe he is dead_.  Cennini was right about my florins: I will place
them in his hands to-morrow."

When, the next morning, Tito put this determination into act he had
chosen his colour in the game, and had given an inevitable bent to his
wishes.  He had made it impossible that he should not from henceforth
desire it to be the truth that his father was dead; impossible that he
should not be tempted to baseness rather than that the precise facts of
his conduct should not remain for ever concealed.

Under every guilty secret there is hidden a brood of guilty wishes,
whose unwholesome infecting life is cherished by the darkness.  The
contaminating effect of deeds often lies less in the commission than in
the consequent adjustment of our desires--the enlistment of our
self-interest on the side of falsity; as, on the other hand, the
purifying influence of public confession springs from the fact, that by
it the hope in lies is for ever swept away, and the soul recovers the
noble attitude of simplicity.

Besides, in this first distinct colloquy with himself the ideas which
had previously been scattered and interrupted had now concentrated
themselves; the little rills of selfishness had united and made a
channel, so that they could never again meet with the same resistance.
Hitherto Tito had left in vague indecision the question whether, with
the means in his power, he would not return, and ascertain his father's
fate; he had now made a definite excuse to himself for not taking that
course; he had avowed to himself a choice which he would have been
ashamed to avow to others, and which would have made him ashamed in the
resurgent presence of his father.  But the inward shame, the reflex of
that outward law which the great heart of mankind makes for every
individual man, a reflex which will exist even in the absence of the
sympathetic impulses that need no law, but rush to the deed of fidelity
and pity as inevitably as the brute mother shields her young from the
attack of the hereditary enemy--that inward shame was showing its
blushes in Tito's determined assertion to himself that his father was
dead, or that at least search was hopeless.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  A sum given by the bridegroom to the bride the day after the
marriage.  _Morgengabe_.



CHAPTER TEN.

UNDER THE PLANE-TREE.

On the day of San Giovanni it was already three weeks ago that Tito had
handed his florins to Cennini, and we have seen that as he set out
towards the Via de' Bardi he showed all the outward signs of a mind at
ease.  How should it be otherwise?  He never jarred with what was
immediately around him, and his nature was too joyous, too
unapprehensive, for the hidden and the distant to grasp him in the shape
of a dread.  As he turned out of the hot sunshine into the shelter of a
narrow street, took off the black cloth berretta, or simple cap with
upturned lappet, which just crowned his brown curls, pushing his hair
and tossing his head backward to court the cooler air, there was no
brand of duplicity on his brow; neither was there any stamp of candour:
it was simply a finely-formed, square, smooth young brow.  And the slow
absent glance he cast around at the upper windows of the houses had
neither more dissimulation in it, nor more ingenuousness, than belongs
to a youthful well-opened eyelid with its unwearied breadth of gaze; to
perfectly pellucid lenses; to the undimmed dark of a rich brown iris;
and to a pure cerulean-tinted angle of whiteness streaked with the
delicate shadows of long eyelashes.  Was it that Tito's face attracted
or repelled according to the mental attitude of the observer?  Was it a
cypher with more than one key?  The strong, unmistakable expression in
his whole air and person was a negative one, and it was perfectly
veracious; it declared the absence of any uneasy claim, any restless
vanity, and it made the admiration that followed him as he passed among
the troop of holiday-makers a thoroughly willing tribute.

For by this time the stir of the Festa was felt even in the narrowest
side-streets; the throng which had at one time been concentrated in the
lines through which the procession had to pass, was now streaming out in
all directions in pursuit of a new object.  Such intervals of a Festa
are precisely the moments when the vaguely active animal spirits of a
crowd are likely to be the most petulant and most ready to sacrifice a
stray individual to the greater happiness of the greater number.  As
Tito entered the neighbourhood of San Martino, he found the throng
rather denser; and near the hostelry of the _Bertucce_, or Baboons,
there was evidently some object which was arresting the passengers and
forming them into a knot.  It needed nothing of great interest to draw
aside passengers unfreighted with a purpose, and Tito was preparing to
turn aside into an adjoining street, when, amidst the loud laughter, his
ear discerned a distressed childish voice crying, "Loose me!  Holy
Virgin, help me!" which at once determined him to push his way into the
knot of gazers.  He had just had time to perceive that the distressed
voice came from a young contadina, whose white hood had fallen off in
the struggle to get her hands free from the grasp of a man in the
parti-coloured dress of a _cerretano_, or conjuror, who was making
laughing attempts to soothe and cajole her, evidently carrying with him
the amused sympathy of the spectators.  These, by a persuasive variety
of words signifying simpleton, for which the Florentine dialect is rich
in equivalents, seemed to be arguing with the contadina against her
obstinacy.  At the first moment the girl's face was turned away, and he
saw only her light-brown hair plaited and fastened with a long silver
pin; but in the next, the struggle brought her face opposite Tito's, and
he saw the baby features of Tessa, her blue eyes filled with tears, and
her under-lip quivering.  Tessa, too, saw _him_, and through the mist of
her swelling tears there beamed a sudden hope, like that in the face of
a little child, when, held by a stranger against its will, it sees a
familiar hand stretched out.

In an instant Tito had pushed his way through the barrier of bystanders,
whose curiosity made them ready to turn aside at the sudden interference
of this handsome young signor, had grasped Tessa's waist, and had said,
"Loose this child!  What right have you to hold her against her will?"

The conjuror--a man with one of those faces in which the angles of the
eyes and eyebrows, of the nostrils, mouth, and sharply-defined jaw, all
tend upward--showed his small regular teeth in an impish but not
ill-natured grin, as he let go Tessa's hands, and stretched out his own
backward, shrugging his shoulders, and bending them forward a little in
a half-apologetic, half-protesting manner.

"I mean the ragazza no evil in the world, Messere: ask this respectable
company.  I was only going to show them a few samples of my skill, in
which this little damsel might have helped me the better because of her
kitten face, which would have assured them of open dealing; and I had
promised her a lapful of confetti as a reward.  But what then?  Messer
has doubtless better confetti at hand, and she knows it."

A general laugh among the bystanders accompanied these last words of the
conjuror, raised, probably, by the look of relief and confidence with
which Tessa clung to Tito's arm, as he drew it from her waist, and
placed her hand within it.  She only cared about the laugh as she might
have cared about the roar of wild beasts from which she was escaping,
not attaching any meaning to it; but Tito, who had no sooner got her on
his arm than he foresaw some embarrassment in the situation, hastened to
get clear of observers who, having been despoiled of an expected
amusement, were sure to re-establish the balance by jests.

"See, see, little one! here is your hood," said the conjuror, throwing
the bit of white drapery over Tessa's head.  "_Orsu_, bear me no malice;
come back to me when Messere can spare you."

"Ah!  Maestro Vaiano, she'll come back presently, as the toad said to
the harrow," called out one of the spectators, seeing how Tessa started
and shrank at the action of the conjuror.

Tito pushed his way vigorously towards the corner of a side-street, a
little vexed at this delay in his progress to the Via de' Bardi, and
intending to get rid of the poor little contadina as soon as possible.
The next street, too, had its passengers inclined to make holiday
remarks on so unusual a pair; but they had no sooner entered it than he
said, in a kind but hurried manner, "Now, little one, where were you
going?  Are you come by yourself to the Festa?"

"Ah, no!" said Tessa, looking frightened and distressed again; "I have
lost my mother in the crowd--her and my father-in-law.  They will be
angry--he will beat me.  It was in the crowd in San Pulinari--somebody
pushed me along and I couldn't stop myself, so I got away from them.
Oh, I don't know where they're gone!  Please, don't leave me!"

Her eyes had been swelling with tears again, and she ended with a sob.

Tito hurried along again: the Church of the Badia was not far off.  They
could enter it by the cloister that opened at the back, and in the
church he could talk to Tessa--perhaps leave her.  No! it was an hour at
which the church was not open; but they paused under the shelter of the
cloister, and he said, "Have you no cousin or friend in Florence, my
little Tessa, whose house you could find; or are you afraid of walking
by yourself since you have been frightened by the conjuror?  I am in a
hurry to get to Oltrarno, but if I could take you anywhere near--"

"Oh, I _am_ frightened: he was the devil--I know he was.  And I don't
know where to go.  I have nobody: and my mother meant to have her dinner
somewhere, and I don't know where.  Holy Madonna!  I shall be beaten."

The corners of the pouting mouth went down piteously, and the poor
little bosom with the beads on it above the green serge gown heaved so,
that there was no longer any help for it: a loud sob _would_ come, and
the big tears fell as if they were making up for lost time.  Here was a
situation!  It would have been brutal to leave her, and Tito's nature
was all gentleness.  He wished at that moment that he had not been
expected in the Via de' Bardi.  As he saw her lifting up her holiday
apron to catch the hurrying tears, he laid his hand, too, on the apron,
and rubbed one of the cheeks and kissed the baby-like roundness.

"My poor little Tessa! leave off crying.  Let us see what can be done.
Where is your home--where do you live?"

There was no answer, but the sobs began to subside a little and the
drops to fall less quickly.

"Come!  I'll take you a little way, if you'll tell me where you want to
go."

The apron fell, and Tessa's face began to look as contented as a
cherub's budding from a cloud.  The diabolical conjuror, the anger and
the beating, seemed a long way off.

"I think I'll go home, if you'll take me," she said, in a half whisper,
looking up at Tito with wide blue eyes, and with something sweeter than
a smile--with a childlike calm.

"Come, then, little one," said Tito, in a caressing tone, putting her
arm within his again.  "Which way is it?"

"Beyond Peretola--where the large pear-tree is."

"Peretola?  Out at which gate, pazzarella?  I am a stranger, you must
remember."

"Out at the Por del Prato," said Tessa, moving along with a very fast
hold on Tito's arm.

He did not know all the turnings well enough to venture on an attempt at
choosing the quietest streets; and besides, it occurred to him that
where the passengers were most numerous there was, perhaps, the most
chance of meeting with Monna Ghita and finding an end to his
knight-errant-ship.  So he made straight for Porta Rossa, and on to
Ognissanti, showing his usual bright propitiatory face to the mixed
observers who threw their jests at him and his little heavy-shod maiden
with much liberality.  Mingled with the more decent holiday-makers there
were frolicsome apprentices, rather envious of his good fortune;
bold-eyed women with the badge of the yellow veil; beggars who thrust
forward their caps for alms, in derision at Tito's evident haste;
dicers, sharpers, and loungers of the worst sort; boys whose tongues
were used to wag in concert at the most brutal street games: for the
streets of Florence were not always a moral spectacle in those times,
and Tessa's terror at being lost in the crowd was not wholly
unreasonable.

When they reached the Piazza d'Ognissanti, Tito slackened his pace: they
were both heated with their hurried walk, and here was a wider space
where they could take breath.  They sat down on one of the stone benches
which were frequent against the walls of old Florentine houses.

"Holy Virgin!" said Tessa; "I am glad we have got away from those women
and boys; but I was not frightened, because you could take care of me."

"Pretty little Tessa!" said Tito, smiling at her.  "What makes you feel
so safe with me?"

"Because you are so beautiful--like the people going into Paradise: they
are all good."

"It is a long while since you had your breakfast, Tessa," said Tito,
seeing some stalls near, with fruit and sweetmeats upon them.  "Are you
hungry?"

"Yes, I think I am--if you will have some too."

Tito bought some apricots, and cakes, and comfits, and put them into her
apron.

"Come," he said, "let us walk on to the Prato, and then perhaps you will
not be afraid to go the rest of the way alone."

"But you will have some of the apricots and things," said Tessa, rising
obediently and gathering up her apron as a bag for her store.

"We will see," said Tito aloud; and to himself he said, "Here is a
little contadina who might inspire a better idyl than Lorenzo de'
Medici's `Nencia da Barberino,' that Nello's friends rave about; if I
were only a Theocritus, or had time to cultivate the necessary
experience by unseasonable walks of this sort!  However, the mischief is
done now: I am so late already that another half-hour will make no
difference.  Pretty little pigeon!"

"We have a garden and plenty of pears," said Tessa, "and two cows,
besides the mules; and I'm very fond of them.  But my father-in-law is a
cross man: I wish my mother had not married him.  I think he is wicked;
he is very ugly."

"And does your mother let him beat you, poverina?  You said you were
afraid of being beaten."

"Ah, my mother herself scolds me: she loves my young sister better, and
thinks I don't do work enough.  Nobody speaks kindly to me, only the
Pievano (parish priest) when I go to confession.  And the men in the
Mercato laugh at me and make fun of me.  Nobody ever kissed me and spoke
to me as you do; just as I talk to my little black-faced kid, because
I'm very fond of it."

It seemed not to have entered Tessa's mind that there was any change in
Tito's appearance since the morning he begged the milk from her, and
that he looked now like a personage for whom she must summon her little
stock of reverent words and signs.  He had impressed her too differently
from any human being who had ever come near her before, for her to make
any comparison of details; she took no note of his dress; he was simply
a voice and a face to her, something come from Paradise into a world
where most things seemed hard and angry; and she prattled with as little
restraint as if he had been an imaginary companion born of her own
lovingness and the sunshine.

They had now reached the Prato, which at that time was a large open
space within the walls, where the Florentine youth played at their
favourite _Calcio_--a peculiar kind of football--and otherwise exercised
themselves.  At this mid-day time it was forsaken and quiet to the very
gates, where a tent had been erected in preparation for the race.  On
the border of this wide meadow, Tito paused and said--

"Now, Tessa, you will not be frightened if I leave you to walk the rest
of the way by yourself.  Addio!  Shall I come and buy a cup of milk from
you in the Mercato to-morrow morning, to see that you are quite safe?"

He added this question in a soothing tone, as he saw her eyes widening
sorrowfully, and the corners of her mouth falling.  She said nothing at
first; she only opened her apron and looked down at her apricots and
sweetmeats.  Then she looked up at him again and said complainingly--

"I thought you would have some, and we could sit down under a tree
outside the gate, and eat them together."

"Tessa, Tessa, you little siren, you would ruin me," said Tito,
laughing, and kissing both her cheeks.  "I ought to have been in the Via
de' Bardi long ago.  No!  I must go back now; you are in no danger.
There--I'll take an apricot.  Addio!"

He had already stepped two yards from her when he said the last word.
Tessa could not have spoken; she was pale, and a great sob was rising;
but she turned round as if she felt there was no hope for her, and
stepped on, holding her apron so forgetfully that the apricots began to
roll out on the grass.

Tito could not help looking after her, and seeing her shoulders rise to
the bursting sob, and the apricots fall--could not help going after her
and picking them up.  It was very hard upon him: he was a long way off
the Via de' Bardi, and very near to Tessa.

"See, my silly one," he said, picking up the apricots.  "Come, leave off
crying, I will go with you, and we'll sit down under the tree.  Come, I
don't like to see you cry; but you know I must go kick some time."

So it came to pass that they found a great plane-tree not far outside
the gates, and they sat down under it, and all the feast was spread out
on Tessa's lap, she leaning with her back against the trunk of the tree,
and he stretched opposite to her, resting his elbows on the rough green
growth cherished by the shade, while the sunlight stole through the
boughs and played about them like a winged thing.  Tessa's face was all
contentment again, and the taste of the apricots and sweetmeats seemed
very good.

"You pretty bird!" said Tito, looking at her as she sat eyeing the
remains of the feast with an evident mental debate about saving them,
since he had said he would not have any more.  "To think of any one
scolding you!  What sins do you tell of at confession, Tessa?"

"Oh, a great many.  I am often naughty.  I don't like work, and I can't
help being idle, though I know I shall be beaten and scolded; and I give
the mules the best fodder when nobody sees me, and then when the Madre
is angry I say I didn't do it, and that makes me frightened at the
devil.  I think the conjuror was the devil.  I am not so frightened
after I've been to confession.  And see, I've got a _Breve_ here that a
good father, who came to Prato preaching this Easter, blessed and gave
us all."  Here Tessa drew from her bosom a tiny bag carefully fastened
up.  "And I think the holy Madonna will take care of me; she looks as if
she would; and perhaps if I wasn't idle, she wouldn't let me be beaten."

"If they are so cruel to you, Tessa, shouldn't you like to leave them,
and go and live with a beautiful lady who would be kind to you, if she
would have you to wait upon her?"

Tessa seemed to hold her breath for a moment or two.  Then she said
doubtfully, "I don't know."

"Then should you like to be my little servant, and live with me?" said
Tito, smiling.  He meant no more than to see what sort of pretty look
and answer she would give.

There was a flush of joy immediately.  "Will you take me with you now?
Ah!  I shouldn't go home and be beaten then."  She paused a little
while, and then added more doubtfully, "But I should like to fetch my
black-faced kid."

"Yes, you must go back to your kid, my Tessa," said Tito, rising, "and I
must go the other way."

"By Jupiter!" he added, as he went from under the shade of the tree, "it
is not a pleasant time of day to walk from here to the Via de' Bardi; I
am more inclined to lie down and sleep in this shade."

It ended so.  Tito had an unconquerable aversion to anything unpleasant,
even when an object very much loved and desired was on the other side of
it.  He had risen early; had waited; had seen sights, and had been
already walking in the sun: he was inclined for a siesta, and inclined
all the more because little Tessa was there, and seemed to make the air
softer.  He lay down on the grass again, putting his cap under his head
on a green tuft by the side of Tessa.  That was not quite comfortable;
so he moved again, and asked Tessa to let him rest his head against her
lap; and in that way he soon fell asleep.  Tessa sat quiet as a dove on
its nest, just venturing, when he was fast asleep, to touch the
wonderful dark curls that fell backward from his ear.  She was too happy
to go to sleep--too happy to think that Tito would wake up, and that
then he would leave her, and she must go home.  It takes very little
water to make a perfect pool for a tiny fish, where it will find its
world and paradise all in one, and never have a presentiment of the dry
bank.  The fretted summer shade, and stillness, and the gentle breathing
of some loved life near--it would be paradise to us all, if eager
thought, the strong angel with the implacable brow, had not long since
closed the gates.

It really was a long while before the waking came--before the long dark
eyes opened at Tessa, first with a little surprise, and then with a
smile, which was soon quenched by some preoccupying thought.  Tito's
deeper sleep had broken into a doze, in which he felt himself in the Via
de' Bardi, explaining his failure to appear at the appointed time.  The
clear images of that doze urged him to start up at once to a sitting
posture, and as he stretched his arms and shook his cap, he said--

"Tessa, little one, you have let me sleep too long.  My hunger and the
shadows together tell me that the sun has done much travel since I fell
asleep.  I must lose no more time.  Addio," he ended, patting her cheek
with one hand, and settling his cap with the other.

She said nothing, but there were signs in her face which made him speak
again in as serious and as chiding a tone as he could command--

"Now, Tessa, you must not cry.  I shall be angry; I shall not love you
if you cry.  You must go home to your black-faced kid, or if you like
you may go back to the gate and see the horses start.  But I can stay
with you no longer, and if you cry, I shall think you are troublesome to
me."

The rising tears were checked by terror at this change in Tito's voice.
Tessa turned very pale, and sat in trembling silence, with her blue eyes
widened by arrested tears.

"Look now," Tito went on, soothingly, opening the wallet that hung at
his belt, "here is a pretty charm that I have had a long while--ever
since I was in Sicily, a country a long way off."

His wallet had many little matters in it mingled with small coins, and
he had the usual difficulty in laying his finger on the right thing.  He
unhooked his wallet, and turned out the contents on Tessa's lap.  Among
them was his onyx ring.

"Ah, my ring!" he exclaimed, slipping it on the forefinger of his
right-hand.  "I forgot to put it on again this morning.  Strange, I
never missed it!  See, Tessa," he added, as he spread out the smaller
articles, and selected the one he was in search of.  "See this pretty
little pointed bit of red coral--like your goat's horn, is it not?--and
here is a hole in it, so you can put it on the cord round your neck
along with your _Breve_, and then the evil spirits can't hurt you: if
you ever see them coming in the shadow round the corner, point this
little coral horn at them, and they will run away.  It is a `buona
fortuna,' and will keep you from harm when I am not with you.  Come,
undo the cord."

Tessa obeyed with a tranquillising sense that life was going to be
something quite new, and that Tito would be with her often.  All who
remember their childhood remember the strange vague sense, when some new
experience came, that everything else was going to be changed, and that
there would be no lapse into the old monotony.  So the bit of coral was
hung beside the tiny bag with the scrap of scrawled parchment in it, and
Tessa felt braver.

"And now you will give me a kiss," said Tito, economising time by
speaking while he swept in the contents of the wallet and hung it at his
waist again, "and look happy, like a good girl, and then--"

But Tessa had obediently put forward her lips in a moment, and kissed
his cheek as he hung down his head.

"Oh, you pretty pigeon!" cried Tito, laughing, pressing her round cheeks
with his hands and crushing her features together so as to give them a
general impartial kiss.

Then he started up and walked away, not looking round till he was ten
yards from her, when he just turned and gave a parting beck.  Tessa was
looking after him, but he could see that she was making no signs of
distress.  It was enough for Tito if she did not cry while he was
present.  The softness of his nature required that all sorrow should be
hidden away from him.

"I wonder when Romola will kiss my cheek in that way?" thought Tito, as
he walked along.  It seemed a tiresome distance now, and he almost
wished he had not been so soft-hearted, or so tempted to linger in the
shade.  No other excuse was needed to Bardo and Romola than saying
simply that he had been unexpectedly hindered; he felt confident their
proud delicacy would inquire no farther.  He lost no time in getting to
Ognissanti, and hastily taking some food there, he crossed the Arno by
the Ponte alia Carraja, and made his way as directly as possible towards
the Via de' Bardi.

But it was the hour when all the world who meant to be in particularly
good time to see the Corso were returning from the Borghi, or villages
just outside the gates, where they had dined and reposed themselves; and
the thoroughfares leading to the bridges were of course the issues
towards which the stream of sightseers tended.  Just as Tito reached the
Ponte Vecchio and the entrance of the Via de' Bardi, he was suddenly
urged back towards the angle of the intersecting streets.  A company on
horseback, coming from the Via Guicciardini, and turning up the Via de'
Bardi, had compelled the foot-passengers to recede hurriedly.  Tito had
been walking, as his manner was, with the thumb of his right-hand
resting in his belt; and as he was thus forced to pause, and was looking
carelessly at the passing cavaliers, he felt a very thin cold hand laid
on his.  He started round, and saw the Dominican friar whose upturned
face had so struck him in the morning.  Seen closer, the face looked
more evidently worn by sickness and not by age; and again it brought
some strong but indefinite reminiscences to Tito.

"Pardon me, but--from your face and your ring,"--said the friar, in a
faint voice, "is not your name Titomelema?"

"Yes," said Tito, also speaking faintly, doubly jarred by the cold touch
and the mystery.  He was not apprehensive or timid through his
imagination, but through his sensations and perceptions he could easily
be made to shrink and turn pale like a maiden.

"Then I shall fulfil my commission."

The friar put his hand under his scapulary, and drawing out a small
linen bag which hung round his neck, took from it a bit of parchment,
doubled and stuck firmly together with some black adhesive substance,
and placed it in Tito's hand.  On the outside was written in Italian, in
a small but distinct character--

"_Tito Melema, aged twenty-three, with a dark, beautiful face, long dark
curls, the brightest smile, and a large onyx ring on his right
forefinger_."

Tito did not look at the friar, but tremblingly broke open the bit of
parchment.  Inside, the words were--

"_I am sold for a slave: I think they are going to take me to Antioch.
The gems alone will serve to ransom me_."

Tito looked round at the friar, but could only ask a question with his
eyes.

"I had it at Corinth," the friar said, speaking with difficulty, like
one whose small strength had been overtaxed--"I had it from a man who
was dying."

"He is dead, then?" said Tito, with a bounding of the heart.

"Not the writer.  The man who gave it me was a pilgrim, like myself, to
whom the writer had intrusted it, because he was journeying to Italy."

"You know the contents?"

"I do not know them, but I conjecture them.  Your friend is in slavery:
you will go and release him.  But I am unable to talk now."  The friar,
whose voice had become feebler and feebler, sank down on the stone bench
against the wall from which he had risen to touch Tito's hand, adding--

"I am at San Marco; my name is Fra Luca."



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

TITO'S DILEMMA.

When Fra Luca had ceased to speak, Tito still stood by him in
irresolution, and it was not till, the pressure of the passengers being
removed, the friar rose and walked slowly into the church of Santa
Felicita, that Tito also went on his way along the Via de' Bardi.

"If this monk is a Florentine," he said to himself; "if he is going to
remain at Florence, everything must be disclosed."  He felt that a new
crisis had come, but he was not, for all that, too evidently agitated to
pay his visit to Bardo, and apologise for his previous non-appearance.
Tito's talent for concealment was being fast developed into something
less neutral.  It was still possible--perhaps it might be inevitable--
for him to accept frankly the altered conditions, and avow Baldassarre's
existence; but hardly without casting an unpleasant light backward on
his original reticence as studied equivocation in order to avoid the
fulfilment of a secretly recognised claim, to say nothing of his quiet
settlement of himself and investment of his florins, when, it would be
clear, his benefactor's fate had not been certified.  It was at least
provisionally wise to act as if nothing had happened, and for the
present he would suspend decisive thought; there was all the night for
meditation, and no one would know the precise moment at which he had
received the letter.

So he entered the room on the second storey--where Romola and her father
sat among the parchment and the marble, aloof from the life of the
streets on holidays as well as on common days--with a face only a little
less bright than usual, from regret at appearing so late: a regret which
wanted no testimony, since he had given up the sight of the Corso in
order to express it; and then set himself to throw extra animation into
the evening, though all the while his consciousness was at work like a
machine with complex action, leaving deposits quite distinct from the
line of talk; and by the time he descended the stone stairs and issued
from the grim door in the starlight, his mind had really reached a new
stage in its formation of a purpose.

And when, the next day, after he was free from his professorial work, he
turned up the Via del Cocomero towards the convent of San Marco, his
purpose was fully shaped.  He was going to ascertain from Fra Luca
precisely how much he conjectured of the truth, and on what grounds he
conjectured it; and, further, how long he was to remain at San Marco.
And on that fuller knowledge he hoped to mould a statement which would
in any case save him from the necessity of quitting Florence.  Tito had
never had occasion to fabricate an ingenious lie before: the occasion
was come now--the occasion which circumstance never fails to beget on
tacit falsity; and his ingenuity was ready.  For he had convinced
himself that he was not bound to go in search of Baldassarre.  He had
once said that on a fair assurance of his father's existence and
whereabout, he would unhesitatingly go after him.  But, after all, _why_
was he bound to go?  What, looked at closely, was the end of all life,
but to extract the utmost sum of pleasure?  And was not his own blooming
life a promise of incomparably more pleasure, not for himself only, but
for others, than the withered wintry life of a man who was past the time
of keen enjoyment, and whose ideas had stiffened into barren rigidity?
Those ideas had all been sown in the fresh soil of Tito's mind, and were
lively germs there: that was the proper order of things--the order of
nature, which treats all maturity as a mere nidus for youth.
Baldassarre had done his work, had had his draught of life: Tito said it
was _his_ turn now.

And the prospect was so vague:--"I think they are going to take me to
Antioch:" here was a vista!  After a long voyage, to spend months,
perhaps years, in a search for which even now there was no guarantee
that it would not prove vain: and to leave behind at starting a life of
distinction and love: and to find, if he found anything, the old
exacting companionship which was known by rote beforehand.  Certainly
the gems and therefore the florins were, in a sense, Baldassarre's: in
the narrow sense by which the right of possession is determined in
ordinary affairs; but in that large and more radically natural view by
which the world belongs to youth and strength, they were rather his who
could extract the most pleasure out of them.  That, he was conscious,
was not the sentiment which the complicated play of human feelings had
engendered in society.  The men around him would expect that he should
immediately apply those florins to his benefactor's rescue.  But what
was the sentiment of society?--a mere tangle of anomalous traditions and
opinions, which no wise man would take as a guide, except so far as his
own comfort was concerned.  Not that he cared for the florins save
perhaps for Romola's sake: he would give up the florins readily enough.
It was the joy that was due to him and was close to his lips, which he
felt he was not bound to thrust away from him and so travel on,
thirsting.  Any maxims that required a man to fling away the good that
was needed to make existence sweet, were only the lining of human
selfishness turned outward: they were made by men who wanted others to
sacrifice themselves for their sake.  He would rather that Baldassarre
should not suffer: he liked no one to suffer; but could any philosophy
prove to him that he was bound to care for another's suffering more than
for his own?  To do so he must have loved Baldassarre devotedly, and he
did _not_ love him: was that his own fault?  Gratitude! seen closely, it
made no valid claim: his father's life would have been dreary without
him: are we convicted of a debt to men for the pleasures they give
themselves?

Having once begun to explain away Baldassarre's claim, Tito's thought
showed itself as active as a virulent acid, eating its rapid way through
all the tissues of sentiment.  His mind was destitute of that dread
which has been erroneously decried as if it were nothing higher than a
man's animal care for his own skin: that awe of the Divine Nemesis which
was felt by religious pagans, and, though it took a more positive form
under Christianity, is still felt by the mass of mankind simply as a
vague fear at anything which is called wrong-doing.  Such terror of the
unseen is so far above mere sensual cowardice that it will annihilate
that cowardice: it is the initial recognition of a moral law restraining
desire, and checks the hard bold scrutiny of imperfect thought into
obligations which can never be proved to have any sanctity in the
absence of feeling.  "It is good," sing the old Eumenides, in Aeschylus,
"that fear should sit as the guardian of the soul, forcing it into
wisdom--good that men should carry a threatening shadow in their hearts
under the full sunshine; else, how should they learn to revere the
right?"  That guardianship may become needless; but only when all
outward law has become needless--only when duty and love have united in
one stream and made a common force.

As Tito entered the outer cloister of San Marco, and inquired for Fra
Luca, there was no shadowy presentiment in his mind: he felt himself too
cultured and sceptical for that: he had been nurtured in contempt for
the tales of priests whose impudent lives were a proverb, and in erudite
familiarity with disputes concerning the Chief Good, which had after
all, he considered, left it a matter of taste.  Yet fear was a strong
element in Tito's nature--the fear of what he believed or saw was likely
to rob him of pleasure: and he had a definite fear that Fra Luca might
be the means of driving him from Florence.

"Fra Luca? ah, he is gone to Fiesole--to the Dominican monastery there.
He was taken on a litter in the cool of the morning.  The poor Brother
is very ill.  Could you leave a message for him?"

This answer was given by a _fra converso_, or lay brother, whose accent
told plainly that he was a raw contadino, and whose dull glance implied
no curiosity.

"Thanks; my business can wait."

Tito turned away with a sense of relief.  "This friar is not likely to
live," he said to himself.  "I saw he was worn to a shadow.  And at
Fiesole there will be nothing to recall me to his mind.  Besides, if he
should come back, my explanation will serve as well then as now.  But I
wish I knew what it was that his face recalled to me."



CHAPTER TWELVE.

THE PRIZE IS NEARLY GRASPED.

Tito walked along with a light step, for the immediate fear had
vanished; the usual joyousness of his disposition reassumed its
predominance, and he was going to see Romola.  Yet Romola's life seemed
an image of that loving, pitying devotedness, that patient endurance of
irksome tasks, from which he had shrunk and excused himself.  But he was
not out of love with goodness, or prepared to plunge into vice: he was
in his fresh youth, with soft pulses for all charm and loveliness; he
had still a healthy appetite for ordinary human joys, and the poison
could only work by degrees.  He had sold himself to evil, but at present
life seemed so nearly the same to him that he was not conscious of the
bond.  He meant all things to go on as they had done before, both within
and without him: he meant to win golden opinions by meritorious
exertion, by ingenious learning, by amiable compliance: he was not going
to do anything that would throw him out of harmony with the beings he
cared for.  And he cared supremely for Romola; he wished to have her for
his beautiful and loving wife.  There might be a wealthier alliance
within the ultimate reach of successful accomplishments like his, but
there was no woman in all Florence like Romola.  When she was near him,
and looked at him with her sincere hazel eyes, he was subdued by a
delicious influence as strong and inevitable as those musical vibrations
which take possession of us with a rhythmic empire that no sooner ceases
than we desire it to begin again.

As he trod the stone stairs, when he was still outside the door, with no
one but Maso near him, the influence seemed to have begun its work by
the mere nearness of anticipation.

"Welcome, Tito mio," said the old man's voice, before Tito had spoken.
There was a new vigour in the voice, a new cheerfulness in the blind
face, since that first interview more than two months ago.  "You have
brought fresh manuscript, doubtless; but since we were talking last
night I have had new ideas: we must take a wider scope--we must go back
upon our footsteps."

Tito, paying his homage to Romola as he advanced, went, as his custom
was, straight to Bardo's chair, and put his hand in the palm that was
held to receive it, placing himself on the cross-legged leather seat
with scrolled ends, close to Bardo's elbow.

"Yes," he said, in his gentle way; "I have brought the new manuscript,
but that can wait your pleasure.  I have young limbs, you know, and can
walk back up the hill without any difficulty."

He did not look at Romola as he said this, but he knew quite well that
her eyes were fixed on him with delight.

"That is well said, my son."  Bardo had already addressed Tito in this
way once or twice of late.  "And I perceive with gladness that you do
not shrink from labour, without which, the poet has wisely said, life
has given nothing to mortals.  It is too often the `palma sine pulvere,'
the prize of glory without the dust of the race, that attracts young
ambition.  But what says the Greek?  `In the morning of life, work; in
the mid-day, give counsel; in the evening, pray.'  It is true, I might
be thought to have reached that helpless evening; but not so, while I
have counsel within me which is yet unspoken.  For my mind, as I have
often said, was shut up as by a dam; the plenteous waters lay dark and
motionless; but you, my Tito, have opened a duct for them, and they rush
forward with a force that surprises myself.  And now, what I want is,
that we should go over our preliminary ground again, with a wider scheme
of comment and illustration: otherwise I may lose opportunities which I
now see retrospectively, and which may never occur again.  You mark what
I am saying, Tito?"

He had just stooped to reach his manuscript, which had rolled down, and
Bardo's jealous ear was alive to the slight movement.

Tito might have been excused for shrugging his shoulders at the prospect
before him, but he was not naturally impatient; moreover, he had been
bred up in that laborious erudition, at once minute and copious, which
was the chief intellectual task of the age; and with Romola near, he was
floated along by waves of agreeable sensation that made everything seem
easy.

"Assuredly," he said; "you wish to enlarge your comments on certain
passages we have cited."

"Not only so; I wish to introduce an occasional _excursus_, where we
have noticed an author to whom I have given special study; for I may die
too soon to achieve any separate work.  And this is not a time for
scholarly integrity and well-sifted learning to lie idle, when it is not
only rash ignorance that we have to fear, but when there are men like
Calderino, who, as Poliziano has well shown, have recourse to impudent
falsities of citation to serve the ends of their vanity and secure a
triumph to their own mistakes.  Wherefore, my Tito, I think it not well
that we should let slip the occasion that lies under our hands.  And now
we will turn back to the point where we have cited the passage from
Thucydides, and I wish you, by way of preliminary, to go with me through
all my notes on the Latin translation made by Lorenzo Valla, for which
the incomparable Pope Nicholas the Fifth--with whose personal notice I
was honoured while I was yet young, and when he was still Thomas of
Sarzana--paid him (I say not unduly) the sum of five hundred gold scudi.
But inasmuch as Valla, though otherwise of dubious fame, is held in
high honour for his severe scholarship, whence the epigrammatist has
jocosely said of him that since he went among the shades, Pluto himself
has not dared to speak in the ancient languages, it is the more needful
that his name should not be as a stamp warranting false wares; and
therefore I would introduce an _excursus_ on Thucydides, wherein my
castigations of Valla's text may find a fitting place.  My Romola, thou
wilt reach the needful volumes--thou knowest them--on the fifth shelf of
the cabinet."

Tito rose at the same moment with Romola, saying, "I will reach them, if
you will point them out," and followed her hastily into the adjoining
small room, where the walls were also covered with ranges of books in
perfect order.

"There they are," said Romola, pointing upward; "every book is just
where it was when my father ceased to see them."

Tito stood by her without hastening to reach the books.  They had never
been in this room together before.

"I hope," she continued, turning her eyes full on Tito, with a look of
grave confidence--"I hope he will not weary you; this work makes him so
happy."

"And me too, Romola--if you will only let me say, I love you--if you
will only think me worth loving a little."

His speech was the softest murmur, and the dark beautiful face, nearer
to hers than it had ever been before, was looking at her with beseeching
tenderness.

"I do love you," murmured Romola; she looked at him with the same simple
majesty as ever, but her voice had never in her life before sunk to that
murmur.  It seemed to them both that they were looking at each other a
long while before her lips moved again; yet it was but a moment till she
said, "I know _now_ what it is to be happy."

The faces just met, and the dark curls mingled for an instant with the
rippling gold.  Quick as lightning after that, Tito set his foot on a
projecting ledge of the book-shelves and reached down the needful
volumes.  They were both contented to be silent and separate, for that
first blissful experience of mutual consciousness was all the more
exquisite for being unperturbed by immediate sensation.

It had all been as rapid as the irreversible mingling of waters, for
even the eager and jealous Bardo had not become impatient.

"You have the volumes, my Romola?" the old man said, as they came near
him again.  "And now you will get your pen ready; for, as Tito marks off
the scholia we determine on extracting, it will be well for you to copy
them without delay--numbering them carefully, mind, to correspond with
the numbers in the text which he will write."

Romola always had some task which gave her a share in this joint work.
Tito took his stand at the leggio, where he both wrote and read, and she
placed herself at a table just in front of him, where she was ready to
give into her father's hands anything that he might happen to want, or
relieve him of a volume that he had done with.  They had always been in
that position since the work began, yet on this day it seemed new; it
was so different now for them to be opposite each other; so different
for Tito to take a book from her, as she lifted it from her father's
knee.  Yet there was no finesse to secure an additional look or touch.
Each woman creates in her own likeness the love-tokens that are offered
to her; and Romola's deep calm happiness encompassed Tito like the rich
but quiet evening light which dissipates all unrest.

They had been two hours at their work, and were just desisting because
of the fading light, when the door opened and there entered a figure
strangely incongruous with the current of their thoughts and with the
suggestions of every object around them.  It was the figure of a short
stout black-eyed woman, about fifty, wearing a black velvet berretta, or
close cap, embroidered with pearls, under which surprisingly massive
black braids surmounted the little bulging forehead, and fell in rich
plaited curves over the ears, while an equally surprising carmine tint
on the upper region of the fat cheeks contrasted with the surrounding
sallowness.  Three rows of pearls and a lower necklace of gold reposed
on the horizontal cushion of her neck; the embroidered border of her
trailing black velvet gown and her embroidered long-drooping sleeves of
rose-coloured damask, were slightly faded, but they conveyed to the
initiated eye the satisfactory assurance that they were the splendid
result of six months' labour by a skilled workman; and the rose-coloured
petticoat, with its dimmed white fringe and seed-pearl arabesques, was
duly exhibited in order to suggest a similar pleasing reflection.  A
handsome coral rosary hung from one side of an inferential belt, which
emerged into certainty with a large clasp of silver wrought in niello;
and, on the other side, where the belt again became inferential, hung a
scarsella, or large purse, of crimson velvet, stitched with pearls.  Her
little fat right-hand, which looked as if it had been made of paste, and
had risen out of shape under partial baking, held a small book of
devotions, also splendid with velvet, pearls, and silver.

The figure was already too familiar to Tito to be startling, for Monna
Brigida was a frequent visitor at Bardo's, being excepted from the
sentence of banishment passed on feminine triviality, on the ground of
her cousinship to his dead wife and her early care for Romola, who now
looked round at her with an affectionate smile, and rose to draw the
leather seat to a due distance from her father's chair, that the coming
gush of talk might not be too near his ear.

"_La cugina_?" said Bardo, interrogatively, detecting the short steps
and the sweeping drapery.

"Yes, it is your cousin," said Monna Brigida, in an alert voice, raising
her fingers smilingly at Tito, and then lifting up her face to be kissed
by Romola.  "Always the troublesome cousin breaking in on your wisdom,"
she went on, seating herself and beginning to fan herself with the white
veil hanging over her arm.  "Well, well; if I didn't bring you some news
of the world now and then, I do believe you'd forget there was anything
in life but these mouldy ancients, who want sprinkling with holy water
if all I hear about them is true.  Not but what the world is bad enough
nowadays, for the scandals that turn up under one's nose at every
corner--_I_ don't want to hear and see such things, but one can't go
about with one's head in a bag; and it was only yesterday--well, well,
you needn't burst out at me, Bardo, I'm not going to tell anything; if
I'm not as wise as the three kings, I know how many legs go into one
boot.  But, nevertheless, Florence is a wicked city--is it not true,
Messer Tito? for you go into the world.  Not but what one must sin a
little--Messer Domeneddio expects that of us, else what are the blessed
sacraments for?  And what I say is, we've got to reverence the saints,
and not to set ourselves up as if we could be like them, else life would
be unbearable; as it will be if things go on after this new fashion.
For what do you think?  I've been at the wedding to-day--Dianora
Acciajoli's with the young Albizzi that there has been so much talk of--
and everybody wondered at its being to-day instead of yesterday; but,
_cieli_! such a wedding as it was might have been put off till the next
Quaresima for a penance.  For there was the bride looking like a white
nun--not so much as a pearl about her--and the bridegroom as solemn as
San Giuseppe.  It's true!  And half the people invited were _Piagnoni_--
they call them _Piagnoni_ [funeral mourners: properly, paid mourners]
now, these new saints of Fra Girolamo's making.  And to think of two
families like the Albizzi and the Acciajoli taking up such notions, when
they could afford to wear the best!  Well, well, they invited me--but
they could do no other, seeing my husband was Luca Antonio's uncle by
the mother's side--and a pretty time I had of it while we waited under
the canopy in front of the house, before they let us in.  I couldn't
stand in my clothes, it seemed, without giving offence; for there was
Monna Berta, who has had worse secrets in her time than any I could tell
of myself, looking askance at me from under her hood like a
_pinzochera_, [a Sister of the Third Order of Saint Francis: an
uncloistered nun] and telling me to read the Frate's book about widows,
from which she had found great guidance.  Holy Madonna! it seems as if
widows had nothing to do now but to buy their coffins, and think it a
thousand years till they get into them, instead of enjoying themselves a
little when they've got their hands free for the first time.  And what
do you think was the music we had, to make our dinner lively?  A long
discourse from Fra Domenico of San Marco, about the doctrines of their
blessed Fra Girolamo--the three doctrines we are all to get by heart;
and he kept marking them off on his fingers till he made my flesh creep:
and the first is, Florence, or the Church--I don't know which, for first
he said one and then the other--shall be scourged; but if he means the
pestilence, the Signory ought to put a stop to such preaching, for it's
enough to raise the swelling under one's arms with fright: but then,
after that, he says Florence is to be regenerated; but what will be the
good of that when we're all dead of the plague, or something else?  And
then, the third thing, and what he said oftenest, is, that it's all to
be in our days: and he marked that off on his thumb, till he made me
tremble like the very jelly before me.  They had jellies, to be sure,
with the arms of the Albizzi and the Acciajoli raised on them in all
colours; they've not turned the world quite upside down yet.  But all
their talk is, that we are to go back to the old ways: for up starts
Francesco Valori, that I've danced with in the Via Larga when he was a
bachelor and as fond of the Medici as anybody, and he makes a speech
about the old times, before the Florentines had left off crying `Popolo'
and begun to cry `Palle'--as if that had anything to do with a
wedding!--and how we ought to keep to the rules the Signory laid down
heaven knows when, that we were not to wear this and that, and not to
eat this and that--and how our manners were corrupted and we read bad
books; though he can't say that of _me_--"

"Stop, cousin!" said Bardo, in his imperious tone, for he had a remark
to make, and only desperate measures could arrest the rattling
lengthiness of Monna Brigida's discourse.  But now she gave a little
start, pursed up her mouth, and looked at him with round eyes.

"Francesco Valori is not altogether wrong," Bardo went on.  "Bernardo,
indeed, rates him not highly, and is rather of opinion that he christens
private grudges by the name of public zeal; though I must admit that my
good Bernardo is too slow of belief in that unalloyed patriotism which
was found in all its lustre amongst the ancients.  But it is true, Tito,
that our manners have degenerated somewhat from that noble frugality
which, as has been well seen in the public acts of our citizens, is the
parent of true magnificence.  For men, as I hear, will now spend on the
transient show of a Giostra sums which would suffice to found a library,
and confer a lasting possession on mankind.  Still, I conceive, it
remains true of us Florentines that we have more of that magnanimous
sobriety which abhors a trivial lavishness that it may be grandly
open-handed on grand occasions, than can be found in any other city of
Italy; for I understand that the Neapolitan and Milanese courtiers laugh
at the scarcity of our plate, and think scorn of our great families for
borrowing from each other that furniture of the table at their
entertainments.  But in the vain laughter of folly wisdom hears half its
applause."

"Laughter, indeed!" burst forth Monna Brigida again, the moment, Bardo
paused.  "If anybody wanted to hear laughter at the wedding to-day they
were disappointed, for when young Niccolo Macchiavelli tried to make a
joke, and told stories out of Franco Sacchetti's book, how it was no use
for the Signoria to make rules for us women, because we were cleverer
than all the painters, and architects, and doctors of logic in the
world, for we could make black look white, and yellow look pink, and
crooked look straight, and, if anything was forbidden, we could find a
new name for it--Holy Virgin! the Piagnoni looked more dismal than
before, and somebody said Sacchetti's book was wicked.  Well, I don't
read it--they can't accuse _me_ of reading anything.  Save me from going
to a wedding again, if that's to be the fashion; for all of us who were
not Piagnoni were as comfortable as wet chickens.  I was never caught in
a worse trap but once before, and that was when I went to hear their
precious Frate last Quaresima in San Lorenzo.  Perhaps I never told you
about it, Messer Tito?--it almost freezes my blood when I think of it.
How he rated us poor women! and the men, too, to tell the truth, but I
didn't mind that so much.  He called us cows, and lumps of flesh, and
wantons, and mischief-makers--and I could just bear that, for there were
plenty others more fleshy and spiteful than I was, though every now and
then his voice shook the very bench under me like a trumpet; but then he
came to the false hair, and, O misericordia! he made a picture--I see it
now--of a young woman lying a pale corpse, and us light-minded widows--
of course he meant me as well as the rest, for I had my plaits on, for
if one is getting old, one doesn't want to look as ugly as the Befana,
[Note 1]--us widows rushing up to the corpse, like bare-pated vultures
as we were, and cutting off its young dead hair to deck our old heads
with.  Oh, the dreams I had after that!  And then he cried, and wrung
his hands at us, and I cried too.  And to go home, and to take off my
jewels, this very clasp, and everything, and to make them into a packet,
_fu tutt'uno_; and I was within a hair of sending them to the Good Men
of Saint Martin to give to the poor, but, by heaven's mercy, I bethought
me of going first to my confessor, Fra Cristoforo, at Santa Croce, and
he told me how it was all the work of the devil, this preaching and
prophesying of their Fra Girolamo, and the Dominicans were trying to
turn the world upside down, and I was never to go and hear him again,
else I must do penance for it; for the great preachers Fra Mariano and
Fra Menico had shown how Fra Girolamo preached lies--and that was true,
for I heard them both in the Duomo--and how the Pope's dream of San
Francesco propping up the Church with his arms was being fulfilled
still, and the Dominicans were beginning to pull it down.  Well and
good: I went away _con Dio_, and made myself easy.  I am not going to be
frightened by a Frate Predicatore again.  And all I say is, I wish it
hadn't been the Dominicans that poor Dino joined years ago, for then I
should have been glad when I heard them say he was come back--"

"Silenzio!" said Bardo, in a loud agitated voice, while Romola half
started from her chair, clasped her hands, and looked round at Tito, as
if now she might appeal to him.  Monna Brigida gave a little scream, and
bit her lip.

"Donna!" said Bardo, again, "hear once more my will.  Bring no reports
about that name to this house; and thou, Romola, I forbid thee to ask.
My son is dead."

Bardo's whole frame seemed vibrating with passion, and no one dared to
break silence again.  Monna Brigida lifted her shoulders and her hands
in mute dismay; then she rose as quietly as possible, gave many
significant nods to Tito and Romola, motioning to them that they were
not to move, and stole out of the room like a culpable fat spaniel who
has barked unseasonably.

Meanwhile, Tito's quick mind had been combining ideas with
lightning-like rapidity.  Bardo's son was not really dead, then, as he
had supposed: he was a monk; he was "come back:" and Fra Luca--yes! it
was the likeness to Bardo and Romola that had made the face seem
half-known to him.  If he were only dead at Fiesole at that moment!
This importunate selfish wish inevitably thrust itself before every
other thought.  It was true that Bardo's rigid will was a sufficient
safeguard against any intercourse between Romola and her brother; but
_not_ against the betrayal of what he knew to others, especially when
the subject was suggested by the coupling of Romola's name with that of
the very Tito Melema whose description he had carried round his neck as
an index.  No! nothing but Fra Luca's death could remove all danger; but
his death was highly probable, and after the momentary shock of the
discovery, Tito let his mind fall back in repose on that confident hope.

They had sat in silence, and in a deepening twilight for many minutes,
when Romola ventured to say--

"Shall I light the lamp, father, and shall we go on?"

"No, my Romola, we will work no more to-night.  Tito, come and sit by me
here."

Tito moved from the reading-desk, and seated himself on the other side
of Bardo, close to his left elbow.

"Come nearer to me, figliuola mia," said Bardo again, after a moment's
pause.  And Romola seated herself on a low stool and let her arm rest on
her father's right knee, that he might lay his hand on her hair, as he
was fond of doing.

"Tito, I never told you that I had once a son," said Bardo, forgetting
what had fallen from him in the emotion raised by their first interview.
The old man had been deeply shaken, and was forced to pour out his
feelings in spite of pride.  "But he left me--he is dead to me.  I have
disowned him for ever.  He was a ready scholar as you are, but more
fervid and impatient, and yet sometimes rapt and self-absorbed, like a
flame fed by some fitful source; showing a disposition from the very
first to turn away his eyes from the clear lights of reason and
philosophy, and to prostrate himself under the influences of a dim
mysticism which eludes all rules of human duty as it eludes all
argument.  And so it ended.  We will speak no more of him: he is dead to
me.  I wish his face could be blotted from that world of memory in which
the distant seems to grow clearer and the near to fade."

Bardo paused, but neither Romola nor Tito dared to speak--his voice was
too tremulous, the poise of his feelings too doubtful.  But he presently
raised his hand and found Tito's shoulder to rest it on, while he went
on speaking, with an effort to be calmer.

"But _you_ have come to me, Tito--not quite too late.  I will lose no
time in vain regret.  When you are working by my side I seem to have
found a son again."

The old man, preoccupied with the governing interest of his life, was
only thinking of the much-meditated book which had quite thrust into the
background the suggestion, raised by Bernardo del Nero's warning, of a
possible marriage between Tito and Romola.  But Tito could not allow the
moment to pass unused.

"Will you let me be always and altogether your son?  Will you let me
take care of Romola--be her husband?  I think she will not deny me.  She
has said she loves me.  I know I am not equal to her in birth--in
anything; but I am no longer a destitute stranger."

"Is it true, my Romola?" said Bardo, in a lower tone, an evident
vibration passing through him and dissipating the saddened aspect of his
features.

"Yes, father," said Romola, firmly.  "I love Tito--I wish to marry him,
that we may both be your children and never part."

Tito's hand met hers in a strong clasp for the first time, while she was
speaking, but their eyes were fixed anxiously on her father.

"Why should it not be?" said Bardo, as if arguing against any opposition
to his assent, rather than assenting.  "It would be a happiness to me;
and thou, too, Romola, wouldst be the happier for it."

He stroked her long hair gently and bent towards her.

"Ah, I have been apt to forget that thou needest some other love than
mine.  And thou wilt be a noble wife.  Bernardo thinks I shall hardly
find a husband fitting for thee.  And he is perhaps right.  For thou art
not like the herd of thy sex: thou art such a woman as the immortal
poets had a vision of when they sang the lives of the heroes--tender but
strong, like thy voice, which has been to me instead of the light in the
years of my blindness...  And so thou lovest him?"

He sat upright again for a minute, and then said, in the same tone as
before, "Why should it not be?  I will think of it; I will talk with
Bernardo."

Tito felt a disagreeable chill at this answer, for Bernardo del Nero's
eyes had retained their keen suspicion whenever they looked at him, and
the uneasy remembrance of Fra Luca converted all uncertainty into fear.

"Speak for me, Romola," he said, pleadingly.  "Messer Bernardo is sure
to be against me."

"No, Tito," said Romola, "my godfather will not oppose what my father
firmly wills.  And it is your will that I should marry Tito--is it not
true, father?  Nothing has ever come to me before that I have wished for
strongly: I did not think it possible that I could care so much for
anything that could happen to myself."

It was a brief and simple plea; but it was the condensed story of
Romola's self-repressing colourless young life, which had thrown all its
passion into sympathy with aged sorrows, aged ambition, aged pride and
indignation.  It had never occurred to Romola that she should not speak
as directly and emphatically of her love for Tito as of any other
subject.

"Romola mia!" said her father fondly, pausing on the words, "it is true
thou hast never urged on me any wishes of thy own.  And I have no will
to resist thine; rather, my heart met Tito's entreaty at its very first
utterance.  Nevertheless, I must talk with Bernardo about the measures
needful to be observed.  For we must not act in haste, or do anything
unbeseeming my name.  I am poor, and held of little account by the
wealthy of our family--nay, I may consider myself a lonely man--but I
must nevertheless remember that generous birth has its obligations.  And
I would not be reproached by my fellow-citizens for rash haste in
bestowing my daughter.  Bartolommeo Scala gave his Alessandra to the
Greek Marullo, but Marullo's lineage was well-known, and Scala himself
is of no extraction.  I know Bernardo will hold that we must take time:
he will, perhaps, reproach me with want of due forethought.  Be patient,
my children: you are very young."

No more could be said, and Romola's heart was perfectly satisfied.  Not
so Tito's.  If the subtle mixture of good and evil prepares suffering
for human truth and purity, there is also suffering prepared for the
wrong-doer by the same mingled conditions.  As Tito kissed Romola on
their parting that evening, the very strength of the thrill that moved
his whole being at the sense that this woman, whose beauty it was hardly
possible to think of as anything but the necessary consequence of her
noble nature, loved him with all the tenderness that spoke in her clear
eyes, brought a strong reaction of regret that he had not kept himself
free from that first deceit which had dragged him into the danger of
being disgraced before her.  There was a spring of bitterness mingling
with that fountain of sweets.  Would the death of Fra Luca arrest it?
He hoped it would.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  The name given to the grotesque black-faced figures, supposed
to represent the Magi, carried about or placed in the windows on Twelfth
Night: a corruption of Epifania.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

THE SHADOW OF NEMESIS.

It was the lazy afternoon time on the seventh of September, more than
two months after the day on which Romola and Tito had confessed their
love to each other.

Tito, just descended into Nello's shop, had found the barber stretched
on the bench with his cap over his eyes; one leg was drawn up, and the
other had slipped towards the ground, having apparently carried with it
a manuscript volume of verse, which lay with its leaves crushed.  In a
corner sat Sandro, playing a game at _mora_ by himself, and watching the
slow reply of his left fingers to the arithmetical demands of his right
with solemn-eyed interest.

Treading with the gentlest step, Tito snatched up the lute, and bending
over the barber, touched the strings lightly while he sang--

  "Quant' e bella giovinezza,
  Che si fugge tuttavia!
  Chi vuol esser lieto sia,
  Di doman non c'e certezza."

[Note 1.]

Nello was as easily awaked as a bird.  The cap was off his eyes in an
instant, and he started up.

"Ah, my Apollino!  I am somewhat late with my siesta on this hot day, it
seems.  That comes of not going to sleep in the natural way, but taking
a potion of potent poesy.  Hear you, how I am beginning to match my
words by the initial letter, like a Trovatore?  That is one of my bad
symptoms: I am sorely afraid that the good wine of my understanding is
going to run off at the spigot of authorship, and I shall be left an
empty cask with an odour of dregs, like many another incomparable genius
of my acquaintance.  What is it, my Orpheus?" here Nello stretched out
his arms to their full length, and then brought them round till his
hands grasped Tito's curls, and drew them out playfully.  "What is it
you want of your well-tamed Nello?  For I perceive a coaxing sound in
that soft strain of yours.  Let me see the very needle's eye of your
desire, as the sublime poet says, that I may thread it."

"That is but a tailor's image of your sublime poet's," said Tito, still
letting his fingers fall in a light dropping way on the strings.  "But
you have divined the reason of my affectionate impatience to see your
eyes open.  I want, you to give me an extra touch of your art--not on my
chin, no; but on the zazzera, which is as tangled as your Florentine
politics.  You have an adroit way of inserting your comb, which flatters
the skin, and stirs the animal spirits agreeably in that region; and a
little of your most delicate orange-scent would not lie amiss, for I am
bound to the Scala palace, and am to present myself in radiant company.
The young cardinal Giovanni de' Medici is to be there, and he brings
with him a certain young Bernardo Dovizi of Bibbiena, whose wit is so
rapid that I see no way of out-rivalling it save by the scent of
orange-blossoms."

Nello had already seized and flourished his comb, and pushed Tito gently
backward into the chair, wrapping the cloth round him.

"Never talk of rivalry, bel giovane mio: Bernardo Dovizi is a keen
youngster, who will never carry a net out to catch the wind; but he has
something of the same sharp-muzzled look as his brother Ser Piero, the
weasel that Piero de' Medici keeps at his beck to slip through small
holes for him.  No! you distance all rivals, and may soon touch the sky
with your forefinger.  They tell me you have even carried enough honey
with you to sweeten the sour Messer Angelo; for he has pronounced you
less of an ass than might have been expected, considering there is such
a good understanding between you and the Secretary."

"And between ourselves, Nello mio, that Messer Angelo has more genius
and erudition than I can find in all the other Florentine scholars put
together.  It may answer very well for them to cry me up now, when
Poliziano is beaten down with grief, or illness, or something else; I
can try a flight with such a sparrow-hawk as Pietro Crinito, but for
Poliziano, he is a large-beaked eagle who would swallow me, feathers and
all, and not feel any difference."

"I will not contradict your modesty there, if you will have it so; but
you don't expect us clever Florentines to keep saying the same things
over again every day of our lives, as we must do if we always told the
truth.  We cry down Dante, and we cry up Francesco Cei, just for the
sake of variety; and if we cry you up as a new Poliziano, heaven has
taken care that it shall not be quite so great a lie as it might have
been.  And are you not a pattern of virtue in this wicked city? with
your ears double-waxed against all siren invitations that would lure you
from the Via de' Bardi, and the great work which is to astonish
posterity?"

"Posterity in good truth, whom it will probably astonish as the universe
does, by the impossibility of seeing what was the plan of it."

"Yes, something like that was being prophesied here the other day.
Cristoforo Landino said that the excellent Bardo was one of those
scholars who lie overthrown in their learning, like cavaliers in heavy
armour, and then get angry because they are over-ridden--which pithy
remark, it seems to me, was not a herb out of his own garden; for of all
men, for feeding one with an empty spoon and gagging one with vain
expectation by long discourse, Messer Cristoforo is the pearl.  Ecco!
you are perfect now."  Here Nello drew away the cloth.  "Impossible to
add a grace more!  But love is not always to be fed on learning, eh?  I
shall have to dress the zazzera for the betrothal before long--is it not
true?"

"Perhaps," said Tito, smiling, "unless Messer Bernardo should next
recommend Bardo to require that I should yoke a lion and a wild boar to
the car of the Zecca before I can win my Alcestis.  But I confess he is
right in holding me unworthy of Romola; she is a Pleiad that may grow
dim by marrying any mortal."

"_Gnaffe_, your modesty is in the right place there.  Yet fate seems to
have measured and chiselled you for the niche that was left empty by the
old man's son, who, by the way, Cronaca was telling me, is now at San
Marco.  Did you know?"

A slight electric shock passed through Tito as he rose from the chair,
but it was not outwardly perceptible, for he immediately stooped to pick
up the fallen book, and busied his fingers with flattening the leaves,
while he said--

"No; he was at Fiesole, I thought.  Are you sure he is come back to San
Marco?"

"Cronaca is my authority," said Nello, with a shrug.  "I don't frequent
that sanctuary, but he does.  Ah," he added, taking the book from Tito's
hands, "my poor Nencia da Barberino!  It jars your scholarly feelings to
see the pages dog's-eared.  I was lulled to sleep by the well-rhymed
charms of that rustic maiden--`prettier than the turnip-flower,' `with a
cheek more savoury than cheese.'  But to get such a well-scented notion
of the contadina, one must lie on velvet cushions in the Via Larga--not
go to look at the Fierucoloni stumping in to the Piazza della Nunziata
this evening after sundown."

"And pray who are the Fierucoloni?" said Tito, indifferently, settling
his cap.

"The contadine who came from the mountains of Pistoia, and the
Casentino, and heaven knows where, to keep their vigil in the church of
the Nunziata, and sell their yarn and dried mushrooms at the Fierucola
[the little Fair], as we call it.  They make a queer show, with their
paper lanterns, howling their hymns to the Virgin on this eve of her
nativity--if you had the leisure to see them.  No?--well, I have had
enough of it myself, for there is wild work in the Piazza.  One may
happen to get a stone or two about one's ears or shins without asking
for it, and I was never fond of that pressing attention.  Addio."

Tito carried a little uneasiness with him on his visit, which ended
earlier than he had expected, the boy-cardinal Giovanni de' Medici,
youngest of red-hatted fathers, who has since presented his broad dark
cheek very conspicuously to posterity as Pope Leo the Tenth, having been
detained at his favourite pastime of the chase, and having failed to
appear.  It still wanted half an hour of sunset as he left the door of
the Scala palace, with the intention of proceeding forthwith to the Via
de' Bardi; but he had not gone far when, to his astonishment, he saw
Romola advancing towards him along the Borgo Pinti.

She wore a thick black veil and black mantle, but it was impossible to
mistake her figure and her walk; and by her side was a short stout form,
which he recognised as that of Monna Brigida, in spite of the unusual
plainness of her attire.  Romola had not been bred up to devotional
observances, and the occasions on which she took the air elsewhere than
under the loggia on the roof of the house, were so rare and so much
dwelt on beforehand, because of Bardo's dislike to be left without her,
that Tito felt sure there must have been some sudden and urgent ground
for an absence of which he had heard nothing the day before.  She saw
him through her veil and hastened her steps.

"Romola, has anything happened?" said Tito, turning to walk by her side.

She did not answer at the first moment, and Monna Brigida broke in.

"Ah, Messer Tito, you do well to turn round, for we are in haste.  And
is it not a misfortune?--we are obliged to go round by the walls and
turn up the Via del Maglio, because of the Fair; for the contadine
coming in block up the way by the Nunziata, which would have taken us to
San Marco in half the time."

Tito's heart gave a great bound, and began to beat violently.

"Romola," he said, in a lower tone, "are you going to San Marco?"

They were now out of the Borgo Pinti and were under the city walls,
where they had wide gardens on their left-hand, and all was quiet.
Romola put aside her veil for the sake of breathing the air, and he
could see the subdued agitation in her face.

"Yes, Tito mio," she said, looking directly at him with sad eyes.  "For
the first time I am doing something unknown to my father.  It comforts
me that I have met you, for at least I can tell _you_.  But if you are
going to him, it will be well for you not to say that you met me.  He
thinks I am only gone to my cousin, because she sent for me.  I left my
godfather with him: _he_ knows where I am going, and why.  You remember
that evening when my brother's name was mentioned and my father spoke of
him to you?"

"Yes," said Tito, in a low tone.  There was a strange complication in
his mental state.  His heart sank at the probability that a great change
was coming over his prospects, while at the same time his thoughts were
darting over a hundred details of the course he would take when the
change had come; and yet he returned Romola's gaze with a hungry sense
that it might be the last time she would ever bend it on him with full
unquestioning confidence.

"The _cugina_ had heard that he was come back, and the evening before--
the evening of San Giovanni--as I afterwards found, he had been seen by
our good Maso near the door of our house; but when Maso went to inquire
at San Marco, Dino, that is, my brother--he was christened Bernardino,
after our godfather, but now he calls himself Fra Luca--had been taken
to the monastery at Fiesole, because he was ill.  But this morning a
message came to Maso, saying that he was come back to San Marco, and
Maso went to him there.  He is very ill, and he has adjured me to go and
see him.  I cannot refuse it, though I hold him guilty; I still remember
how I loved him when I was a little girl, before I knew that he would
forsake my father.  And perhaps he has some word of penitence to send by
me.  It cost me a struggle to act in opposition to my father's feeling,
which I have always held to be just.  I am almost sure you will think I
have chosen rightly, Tito, because I have noticed that your nature is
less rigid than mine, and nothing makes you angry: it would cost, you
less to be forgiving; though, if you had seen your father forsaken by
one to whom he had given his chief love--by one in whom he had planted
his labour and his hopes--forsaken when his need was becoming greatest--
even you, Tito, would find it hard to forgive."

What could he say?  He was not equal to the hypocrisy of telling Romola
that such offences ought not to be pardoned; and he had not the courage
to utter any words of dissuasion.

"You are right, my Romola; you are always right, except in thinking too
well of me."

There was really some genuineness in those last words, and Tito looked
very beautiful as he uttered them, with an unusual pallor in his face,
and a slight quivering of his lip.  Romola, interpreting all things
largely, like a mind prepossessed with high beliefs, had a tearful
brightness in her eyes as she looked at him, touched with keen joy that
he felt so strongly whatever she felt.  But without pausing in her walk,
she said--

"And now, Tito, I wish you to leave me, for the _cugina_ and I shall be
less noticed if we enter the piazza alone."

"Yes, it were better you should leave us," said Monna Brigida; "for to
say the truth, Messer Tito, all eyes follow you, and let Romola muffle
herself as she will, every one wants to see what there is under her
veil, for she has that way of walking like a procession.  Not that I
find fault with her for it, only it doesn't suit my steps.  And, indeed,
I would rather not have us seen going to San Marco, and that's why I am
dressed as if I were one of the Piagnoni themselves, and as old as Sant'
Anna; for if it had been anybody but poor Dino, who ought to be forgiven
if he's dying, for what's the use of having a grudge against dead
people?--make them feel while they live, say I--"

No one made a scruple of interrupting Monna Brigida, and Tito, having
just raised Romola's hand to his lips, and said, "I understand, I obey
you," now turned away, lifting his cap--a sign of reverence rarely made
at that time by native Florentines, and which excited Bernardo del
Nero's contempt for Tito as a fawning Greek, while to Romola, who loved
homage, it gave him an exceptional grace.

He was half glad of the dismissal, half disposed to cling to Romola to
the last moment in which she would love him without suspicion.  For it
seemed to him certain that this brother would before all things want to
know, and that Romola would before all things confide to him, what was
her father's position and her own after the years which must have
brought so much change.  She would tell him that she was soon to be
publicly betrothed to a young scholar, who was to fill up the place left
vacant long ago by a wandering son.  He foresaw the impulse that would
prompt Romola to dwell on that prospect, and what would follow on the
mention of the future husband's name.  Fra Luca would tell all he knew
and conjectured, and Tito saw no possible falsity by which he could now
ward off the worst consequences of his former dissimulation.  It was all
over with his prospects in Florence.  There was Messer Bernardo del
Nero, who would be delighted at seeing confirmed the wisdom of his
advice about deferring the betrothal until Tito's character and position
had been established by a longer residence; and the history of the young
Greek professor, whose benefactor was in slavery, would be the talk
under every loggia.  For the first time in his life he felt too fevered
and agitated to trust his power of self-command; he gave up his intended
visit to Bardo, and walked up and down under the walls until the yellow
light in the west had quite faded, when, without any distinct purpose,
he took the first turning, which happened to be the Via San Sebastiano,
leading him directly towards the Piazza dell' Annunziata.

He was at one of those lawless moments which come to us all if we have
no guide but desire, and if the pathway where desire leads us seems
suddenly closed; he was ready to follow any beckoning that offered him
an immediate purpose.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.

  "Beauteous is life in blossom!
  And it fleeteth--fleeteth ever;
  Whoso would be joyful--let him!
  There's no surety for the morrow."

  _Carnival Song by Lorenzo de' Medici_.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

THE PEASANTS' FAIR.

The moving crowd and the strange mixture of noises that burst on him at
the entrance of the piazza, reminded Tito of what Nello had said to him
about the Fierucoloni, and he pushed his way into the crowd with a sort
of pleasure in the hooting and elbowing, which filled the empty moments,
and dulled that calculation of the future which had so new a dreariness
for him, as he foresaw himself wandering away solitary in pursuit of
some unknown fortune, that his thought had even glanced towards going in
search of Baldassarre after all.

At each of the opposite inlets he saw people struggling into the piazza,
while above them paper lanterns, held aloft on sticks, were waving
uncertainly to and fro.  A rude monotonous chant made a distinctly
traceable strand of noise, across which screams, whistles, gibing chants
in piping boyish voices, the beating of drums, and the ringing of little
bells, met each other in confused din.  Every now and then one of the
dim floating lights disappeared with a smash from a stone launched more
or less vaguely in pursuit of mischief, followed by a scream and renewed
shouts.  But on the outskirts of the whirling tumult there were groups
who were keeping this vigil of the Nativity of the Virgin in a more
methodical manner than by fitful stone-throwing and gibing.  Certain
ragged men, darting a hard sharp glance around them while their tongues
rattled merrily, were inviting country people to game with them on fair
and open-handed terms; two masquerading figures on stilts, who had
snatched lanterns from the crowd, were swaying the lights to and fro in
meteoric fashion, as they strode hither and thither; a sage trader was
doing a profitable business at a small covered stall, in hot
_berlingozzi_, a favourite farinaceous delicacy; one man standing on a
barrel, with his back firmly planted against a pillar of the loggia in
front of the Foundling Hospital (Spedale degl' Innocenti), was selling
efficacious pills, invented by a doctor of Salerno, warranted to prevent
toothache and death by drowning; and not far off, against another
pillar, a tumbler was showing off his tricks on a small platform; while
a handful of 'prentices, despising the slack entertainment of guerilla
stone-throwing, were having a private concentrated match of that
favourite Florentine sport at the narrow entrance of the Via de'
Febbrai.

Tito, obliged to make his way through chance openings in the crowd,
found himself at one moment close to the trotting procession of
barefooted, hard-heeled contadine, and could see their sun-dried,
bronzed faces, and their strange, fragmentary garb, dim with hereditary
dirt, and of obsolete stuffs and fashions, that made them look, in the
eyes of the city people, like a way-worn ancestry returning from a
pilgrimage on which they had set out a century ago.  Just then it was
the hardy, scant-feeding peasant-women from the mountains of Pistoia,
who wore entering with a year's labour in a moderate bundle of yarn on
their backs, and in their hearts that meagre hope of good and that wide
dim fear of harm, which were somehow to be cared for by the Blessed
Virgin, whose miraculous image, painted by the angels, was to have the
curtain drawn away from it on this Eve of her Nativity, that its potency
might stream forth without obstruction.

At another moment he was forced away towards the boundary of the piazza,
where the more stationary candidates for attention and small coin had
judiciously placed themselves, in order to be safe in their rear.  Among
these Tito recognised his acquaintance Bratti, who stood with his back
against a pillar, and his mouth pursed up in disdainful silence, eyeing
every one who approached him with a cold glance of superiority, and
keeping his hand fast on a serge covering which concealed the contents
of the basket slung before him.  Rather surprised at a deportment so
unusual in an anxious trader, Tito went nearer and saw two women go up
to Bratti's basket with a look of curiosity, whereupon the pedlar drew
the covering tighter, and looked another way.  It was quite too
provoking, and one of the women was fain to ask what there was in his
basket?

"Before I answer that, Monna, I must know whether you mean to buy.  I
can't show such wares as mine in this fair for every fly to settle on
and pay nothing.  My goods are a little too choice for that.  Besides,
I've only two left, and I've no mind to soil them; for with the chances
of the pestilence that wise men talk of, there is likelihood of their
being worth their weight in gold.  No, no: _andate con Dio_."

The two women looked at each other.

"And what may be the price?" said the second.

"Not within what you are likely to have in your purse, buona donna,"
said Bratti, in a compassionately supercilious tone.  "I recommend you
to trust in Messer Domeneddio and the saints: poor people can do no
better for themselves."

"Not so poor!" said the second woman, indignantly, drawing out her
money-bag.  "Come, now! what do you say to a grosso?"

"I say you may get twenty-one quattrini for it," said Bratti, coolly;
"but not of me, for I haven't got that small change."

"Come; two, then?" said the woman, getting exasperated, while her
companion looked at her with some envy.  "It will hardly be above two, I
think."

After further bidding, and further mercantile coquetry, Bratti put on an
air of concession.

"Since you've set your mind on it," he said, slowly raising the cover,
"I should be loth to do you a mischief; for Maestro Gabbadeo used to
say, when a woman sets her mind on a thing and doesn't get it, she's in
worse danger of the pestilence than before.  Ecco!  I have but two left;
and let me tell you, the fellow to them is on the finger of Maestro
Gabbadeo, who is gone to Bologna--as wise a doctor as sits at any door."

The precious objects were two clumsy iron rings, beaten into the fashion
of old Roman rings, such as were sometimes disinterred.  The rust on
them, and the entirely hidden character of their potency, were so
satisfactory, that the grossi were paid without grumbling, and the first
woman, destitute of those handsome coins, succeeded after much show of
reluctance on Bratti's part in driving a bargain with some of her yarn,
and carried off the remaining ring in triumph.  Bratti covered up his
basket, which was now filled with miscellanies, probably obtained under
the same sort of circumstances as the yarn, and, moving from his pillar,
came suddenly upon Tito, who, if he had had time, would have chosen to
avoid recognition.

"By the head of San Giovanni, now," said Bratti, drawing Tito back to
the pillar, "this is a piece of luck.  For I was talking of you this
morning, Messer Greco; but, I said, he is mounted up among the signori
now--and I'm glad of it, for I was at the bottom of his fortune--but I
can rarely get speech of him, for he's not to be caught lying on the
stones now--not he!  But it's your luck, not mine, Messer Greco, save
and except some small trifle to satisfy me for my trouble in the
transaction."

"You speak in riddles, Bratti," said Tito.  "Remember, I don't sharpen
my wits, as you do, by driving hard bargains for iron rings: you must be
plain."

"By the Holy 'Vangels! it was an easy bargain I gave them.  If a Hebrew
gets thirty-two per cent, I hope a Christian may get a little more.  If
I had not borne a conscience, I should have got twice the money and
twice the yarn.  But, talking of rings, it is your ring--that very ring
you've got on your finger--that I could get you a purchaser for; ay, and
a purchaser with a deep money-bag."

"Truly?" said Tito, looking at his ring and listening.

"A Genoese who is going straight away into Hungary, as I understand.  He
came and looked all over my shop to see if I had any old things I didn't
know the price of; I warrant you, he thought I had a pumpkin on my
shoulders.  He had been rummaging all the shops in Florence.  And he had
a ring on--not like yours, but something of the same fashion; and as he
was talking of rings, I said I knew a fine young man, a particular
acquaintance of mine, who had a ring of that sort.  And he said, `Who is
he, pray?  Tell him I'll give him his price for it.'  And I thought of
going after you to Nello's to-morrow; for it's my opinion of you, Messer
Greco, that you're not one who'd see the Arno run broth, and stand by
without dipping your finger."

Tito had lost no word of what Bratti had said, yet his mind had been
very busy all the while.  Why should he keep the ring?  It had been a
mere sentiment, a mere fancy, that had prevented him from selling it
with the other gems; if he had been wiser and had sold it, he might
perhaps have escaped that identification by Fra Luca.  It was true that
it had been taken from Baldassarre's finger and put on his own as soon
as his young hand had grown to the needful size; but there was really no
valid good to anybody in those superstitious scruples about inanimate
objects.  The ring had helped towards the recognition of him.  Tito had
begun to dislike recognition, which was a claim from the past.  This
foreigner's offer, if he would really give a good price, was an
opportunity for getting rid of the ring without the trouble of seeking a
purchaser.

"You speak with your usual wisdom, Bratti," said Tito.  "I have no
objection to hear what your Genoese will offer.  But when and where
shall I have speech of him?"

"To-morrow, at three hours after sunrise, he will be at my shop, and if
your wits are of that sharpness I have always taken them to be, Messer
Greco, you will ask him a heavy price; for he minds not money.  It's my
belief he's buying for somebody else, and not for himself--perhaps for
some great signor."

"It is well," said Tito.  "I will be at your shop, if nothing hinders."

"And you will doubtless deal nobly by me for old acquaintance' sake,
Messer Greco, so I will not stay to fix the small sum you will give me
in token of my service in the matter.  It seems to me a thousand years
now till I get out of the piazza, for a fair is a dull, not to say a
wicked thing, when one has no more goods to sell."

Tito made a hasty sign of assent and adieu, and moving away from the
pillar, again found himself pushed towards the middle of the piazza and
back again, without the power of determining his own course.  In this
zigzag way he was earned along to the end of the piazza opposite the
church, where, in a deep recess formed by an irregularity in the line of
houses, an entertainment was going forward which seemed to be especially
attractive to the crowd.  Loud bursts of laughter interrupted a
monologue which was sometimes slow and oratorical, at others rattling
and buffoonish.  Here a girl was being pushed forward into the inner
circle with apparent reluctance, and there a loud laughing minx was
finding a way with her own elbows.  It was a strange light that was
spread over the piazza.  There were the pale stars breaking out above,
and the dim waving lanterns below, leaving all objects indistinct except
when they were seen close under the fitfully moving lights; but in this
recess there was a stronger light, against which the heads of the
encircling spectators stood in dark relief as Tito was gradually pushed
towards them, while above them rose the head of a man wearing a white
mitre with yellow cabalistic figures upon it.

"Behold, my children!"  Tito heard him saying, "behold your opportunity!
neglect not the holy sacrament of matrimony when it can be had for the
small sum of a white quattrino--the cheapest matrimony ever offered, and
dissolved by special bull beforehand at every man's own will and
pleasure.  Behold the bull!"  Here the speaker held up a piece of
parchment with huge seals attached to it.  "Behold the indulgence
granted by his Holiness Alexander the Sixth, who, being newly elected
Pope for his peculiar piety, intends to reform and purify the Church,
and wisely begins by abolishing that priestly abuse which keeps too
large a share of this privileged matrimony to the clergy and stints the
laity.  Spit once, my sons, and pay a white quattrino!  This is the
whole and sole price of the indulgence.  The quattrino is the only
difference the Holy Father allows to be put any longer between us and
the clergy--who spit and pay nothing."

Tito thought he knew the voice, which had a peculiarly sharp ring, but
the face was too much in shadow from the lights behind for him to be
sure of the features.  Stepping as near as he could, he saw within the
circle behind the speaker an altar-like table raised on a small
platform, and covered with a red drapery stitched all over with yellow
cabalistical figures.  Half-a-dozen thin tapers burned at the back of
this table, which had a conjuring apparatus scattered over it, a large
open book in the centre, and at one of the front angles a monkey
fastened by a cord to a small ring and holding a small taper, which in
his incessant fidgety movements fell more or less aslant, whilst an
impish boy in a white surplice occupied himself chiefly in cuffing the
monkey, and adjusting the taper.  The man in the mitre also wore a
surplice, and over it a chasuble on which the signs of the zodiac were
rudely marked in black upon a yellow ground.  Tito was sure now that he
recognised the sharp upward-tending angles of the face under the mitre:
it was that of Maestro Vaiano, the mountebank, from whom he had rescued
Tessa.  Pretty little Tessa!  Perhaps she too had come in among the
troops of contadine.

"Come, my maidens!  This is the time for the pretty who can have many
chances, and for the ill-favoured who have few.  Matrimony to be had--
hot, eaten, and done with as easily as _berlingozzi_!  And see!" here
the conjuror held up a cluster of tiny bags.  "To every bride I give a
_Breve_ with a secret in it--the secret alone worth the money you pay
for the matrimony.  The secret how to--no, no, I will not tell you what
the secret is about, and that makes it a double secret.  Hang it round
your neck if you like, and never look at it; I don't say _that_ will not
be the best, for then you will see many things you don't expect: though
if you open it you may break your leg, _e vero_, but you will know a
secret!  Something nobody knows but me!  And mark--I give you the
_Breve_, I don't sell it, as many another holy man would: the quattrino
is for the matrimony, and the _Breve_ you get for nothing.  _Orsu,
giovanetti_, come like dutiful sons of the Church and buy the Indulgence
of his Holiness Alexander the Sixth."

This buffoonery just fitted the taste of the audience; the _fierucola_
was but a small occasion, so the townsmen might be contented with jokes
that were rather less indecent than those they were accustomed to hear
at every carnival, put into easy rhyme by the Magnifico and his poetic
satellites; while the women, over and above any relish of the fun,
really began to have an itch for the _Brevi_.  Several couples had
already gone through the ceremony, in which the conjuror's solemn
gibberish and grimaces over the open book, the antics of the monkey, and
even the preliminary spitting, had called forth peals of laughter; and
now a well-looking, merry-eyed youth of seventeen, in a loose tunic and
red cap, pushed forward, holding by the hand a plump brunette, whose
scanty ragged dress displayed her round arms and legs very
picturesquely.

"Fetter us without delay, Maestro!" said the youth, "for I have got to
take my bride home and paint her under the light of a lantern."

"Ha!  Mariotto, my son, I commend your pious observance..."  The
conjuror was going on, when a loud chattering behind warned him that an
unpleasant crisis had arisen with his monkey.

The temper of that imperfect acolyth was a little tried by the
over-active discipline of his colleague in the surplice, and a sudden
cuff administered as his taper fell to a horizontal position, caused him
to leap back with a violence that proved too much for the slackened knot
by which his cord was fastened.  His first leap was to the other end of
the table, from which position his remonstrances were so threatening
that the imp in the surplice took up a wand by way of an equivalent
threat, whereupon the monkey leaped on to the head of a tall woman in
the foreground, dropping his taper by the way, and chattering with
increased emphasis from that eminence.  Great was the screaming and
confusion, not a few of the spectators having a vague dread of the
Maestro's monkey, as capable of more hidden mischief than mere teeth and
claws could inflict; and the conjuror himself was in some alarm lest any
harm should happen to his familiar.  In the scuffle to seize the
monkey's string, Tito got out of the circle, and, not caring to contend
for his place again, he allowed himself to be gradually pushed towards
the church of the Nunziata, and to enter amongst the worshippers.

The brilliant illumination within seemed to press upon his eyes with
palpable force after the pale scattered lights and broad shadows of the
piazza, and for the first minute or two he could see nothing distinctly.
That yellow splendour was in itself something supernatural and heavenly
to many of the peasant-women, for whom half the sky was hidden by
mountains, and who went to bed in the twilight; and the uninterrupted
chant from the choir was repose to the ear after the hellish hubbub of
the crowd outside.  Gradually the scene became clearer, though still
there was a thin yellow haze from incense mingling with the breath of
the multitude.  In a chapel on the left-hand of the nave, wreathed with
silver lamps, was seen unveiled the miraculous fresco of the
Annunciation, which, in Tito's oblique view of it from the right-hand
side of the nave, seemed dark with the excess of light around it.  The
whole area of the great church was filled with peasant-women, some
kneeling, some standing; the coarse bronzed skins, and the dingy
clothing of the rougher dwellers on the mountains, contrasting with the
softer-lined faces and white or red head-drapery of the well-to-do
dwellers in the valley, who were scattered in irregular groups.  And
spreading high and far over the walls and ceiling there was another
multitude, also pressing close against each other, that they might be
nearer the potent Virgin.  It was the crowd of votive waxen images, the
effigies of great personages, clothed in their habit as they lived:
Florentines of high name in their black silk lucco, as when they sat in
council; popes, emperors, kings, cardinals, and famous condottieri with
plumed morion seated on their chargers; all notable strangers who passed
through Florence or had aught to do with its affairs--Mohammedans, even,
in well-tolerated companionship with Christian cavaliers; some of them
with faces blackened and robes tattered by the corroding breath of
centuries, others fresh and bright in new red mantle or steel corselet,
the exact doubles of the living.  And wedged in with all these were
detached arms, legs, and other members, with only here and there a gap
where some image had been removed for public disgrace, or had fallen
ominously, as Lorenzo's had done six months before.  It was a perfect
resurrection-swarm of remote mortals and fragments of mortals,
reflecting, in their varying degrees of freshness, the sombre dinginess
and sprinkled brightness of the crowd below.

Tito's glance wandered over the wild multitude in search of something.
He had already thought of Tessa, and the white hoods suggested the
possibility that he might detect her face under one of them.  It was at
least a thought to be courted, rather than the vision of Romola looking
at him with changed eyes.  But he searched in vain; and he was leaving
the church, weary of a scene which had no variety, when, just against
the doorway, he caught sight of Tessa, only two yards off him.  She was
kneeling with her back against the wall, behind a group of
peasant-women, who were standing and looking for a spot nearer to the
sacred image.  Her head hung a little aside with a look of weariness,
and her blue eyes were directed rather absently towards an altar-piece
where the Archangel Michael stood in his armour, with young face and
floating hair, amongst bearded and tonsured saints.  Her right-hand,
holding a bunch of cocoons, fell by her side listlessly, and her round
cheek was paled, either by the light or by the weariness that was
expressed in her attitude: her lips were pressed poutingly together, and
every now and then her eyelids half fell: she was a large image of a
sweet sleepy child.  Tito felt an irresistible desire to go up to her
and get her pretty trusting looks and prattle: this creature who was
without moral judgment that could condemn him, whose little loving
ignorant soul made a world apart, where he might feel in freedom from
suspicions and exacting demands, had a new attraction for him now.  She
seemed a refuge from the threatened isolation that would come with
disgrace.  He glanced cautiously round, to assure himself that Monna
Ghita was not near, and then, slipping quietly to her side, kneeled on
one knee, and said, in the softest voice, "Tessa!"

She hardly started, any more than she would have started at a soft
breeze that fanned her gently when she was needing it.  She turned her
head and saw Tito's face close to her: it was very much more beautiful
than the Archangel Michael's, who was so mighty and so good that he
lived with the Madonna and all the saints and was prayed to along with
them.  She smiled in happy silence, for that nearness of Tito quite
filled her mind.

"My little Tessa! you look very tired.  How long have you been kneeling
here?"

She seemed to be collecting her thoughts for a minute or two, and at
last she said--

"I'm very hungry."

"Come, then; come with me."

He lifted her from her knees, and led her out under the cloisters
surrounding the atrium, which were then open, and not yet adorned with
the frescoes of Andrea del Sarto.

"How is it you are all by yourself, and so hungry, Tessa?"

"The Madre is ill; she has very bad pains in her legs, and sent me to
bring these cocoons to the Santissima Nunziata, because they're so
wonderful; see!"--she held up the bunch of cocoons, which were arranged
with fortuitous regularity on a stem,--"and she had kept them to bring
them herself, but she couldn't, and so she sent me because she thinks
the Holy Madonna may take away her pains; and somebody took my bag with
the bread and chestnuts in it, and the people pushed me back, and I was
so frightened coming in the crowd, and I couldn't get anywhere near the
Holy Madonna, to give the cocoons to the Padre, but I must--oh, I must."

"Yes, my little Tessa, you shall take them; but first come and let me
give you some berlingozzi.  There are some to be had not far off."

"Where did you come from?" said Tessa, a little bewildered.  "I thought
you would never come to me again, because you never came to the Mercato
for milk any more.  I set myself Aves to say, to see if they would bring
you back, but I left off, because they didn't."

"You see I come when you want some one to take care of you, Tessa.
Perhaps the Aves fetched me, only it took them a long while.  But what
shall you do if you are here all alone?  Where shall you go?"

"Oh, I shall stay and sleep in the church--a great many of them do--in
the church and all about here--I did once when I came with my mother;
and the _patrigno_ is coming with the mules in the morning."

They were out in the piazza now, where the crowd was rather less riotous
than before, and the lights were fewer, the stream of pilgrims having
ceased.  Tessa clung fast to Tito's arm in satisfied silence, while he
led her towards the stall where he remembered seeing the eatables.
Their way was the easier because there was just now a great rush towards
the middle of the piazza, where the masqued figures on stilts had found
space to execute a dance.  It was very pretty to see the guileless thing
giving her cocoons into Tito's hand, and then eating her berlingozzi
with the relish of a hungry child.  Tito had really come to take care of
her, as he did before, and that wonderful happiness of being with him
had begun again for her.  Her hunger was soon appeased, all the sooner
for the new stimulus of happiness that had roused her from her languor,
and, as they turned away from the stall, she said nothing about going
into the church again, but looked round as if the sights in the piazza
were not without attraction to her now she was safe under Tito's arm.

"How can they do that?" she exclaimed, looking up at the dancers on
stilts.  Then, after a minute's silence, "Do you think Saint Christopher
helps them?"

"Perhaps.  What do you think about it, Tessa?" said Tito, slipping his
right arm round her, and looking down at her fondly.

"Because Saint Christopher is so very tall; and he is very good: if
anybody looks at him he takes care of them all day.  He is on the wall
of the church--too tall to stand up there--but I saw him walking through
the streets one San Giovanni, carrying the little Gesu."

"You pretty pigeon!  Do you think anybody could help taking care of
_you_, if you looked at them?"

"Shall you always come and take care of me?" said Tessa, turning her
face up to him, as he crushed her cheek with his left-hand.  "And shall
you always be a long while first?"

Tito was conscious that some bystanders were laughing at them, and
though the licence of street fun, among artists and young men of the
wealthier sort as well as among the populace, made few adventures
exceptional, still less disreputable, he chose to move away towards the
end of the piazza.

"Perhaps I shall come again to you very soon, Tessa," he answered,
rather dreamily, when they had moved away.  He was thinking that when
all the rest had turned their backs upon him, it would be pleasant to
have this little creature adoring him and nestling against him.  The
absence of presumptuous self-conceit in Tito made him feel all the more
defenceless under prospective obloquy: he needed soft looks and caresses
too much ever to be impudent.

"In the Mercato?" said Tessa.  "Not to-morrow morning, because the
_patrigno_ will be there, and he is so cross.  Oh! but you have money,
and he will not be cross if you buy some salad.  And there are some
chestnuts.  Do you like chestnuts?"

He said nothing, but continued to look down at her with a dreamy
gentleness, and Tessa felt herself in a state of delicious wonder;
everything seemed as new as if she were being earned on a chariot of
clouds.

"Holy Virgin!" she exclaimed again presently.  "There is a holy father
like the Bishop I saw at Prato."

Tito looked up too, and saw that he had unconsciously advanced to within
a few yards of the conjuror, Maestro Vaiano, who for the moment was
forsaken by the crowd.  His face was turned away from them, and he was
occupied with the apparatus on his altar or table, preparing a new
diversion by the time the interest in the dancing should be exhausted.
The monkey was imprisoned under the red cloth, out of reach of mischief,
and the youngster in the white surplice was holding a sort of dish or
salver, from which his master was taking some ingredient.  The
altar-like table, with its gorgeous cloth, the row of tapers, the sham
episcopal costume, the surpliced attendant, and even the movements of
the mitred figure, as he alternately bent his head and then raised
something before the lights, were a sufficiently near parody of sacred
things to rouse poor little Tessa's veneration; and there was some
additional awe produced by the mystery of their apparition in this spot,
for when she had seen an altar in the street before, it had been on
Corpus Christi Day, and there had been a procession to account for it.
She crossed herself and looked up at Tito, but then, as if she had had
time for reflection, said, "It is because of the Nativita."

Meanwhile Vaiano had turned round, raising his hands to his mitre with
the intention of changing his dress, when his quick eye recognised Tito
and Tessa who were both looking at him, their faces being shone upon by
the light of his tapers, while his own was in shadow.

"Ha! my children!" he said, instantly, stretching out his hands in a
benedictory attitude, "you are come to be married.  I commend your
penitence--the blessing of Holy Church can never come too late."

But whilst he was speaking, he had taken in the whole meaning of Tessa's
attitude and expression, and he discerned an opportunity for a new kind
of joke which required him to be cautious and solemn.

"Should you like to be married to me, Tessa?" said Tito, softly, half
enjoying the comedy, as he saw the pretty childish seriousness on her
face, half prompted by hazy previsions which belonged to the
intoxication of despair.

He felt her vibrating before she looked up at him and said, timidly,
"Will you let me?"

He answered only by a smile, and by leading her forward in front of the
_cerretano_, who, seeing an excellent jest in Tessa's evident delusion,
assumed a surpassing sacerdotal solemnity, and went through the mimic
ceremony with a liberal expenditure of _lingua furbesca_ or thieves'
Latin.  But some symptoms of a new movement in the crowd urged him to
bring it to a speedy conclusion and dismiss them with hands outstretched
in a benedictory attitude over their kneeling figures.  Tito, disposed
always to cultivate goodwill, though it might be the least select, put a
piece of four grossi into his hand as he moved away, and was thanked by
a look which, the conjuror felt sure, conveyed a perfect understanding
of the whole affair.

But Tito himself was very far from that understanding, and did not, in
fact, know whether, the next moment, he should tell Tessa of the joke
and laugh at her for a little goose, or whether he should let her
delusion last, and see what would come of it--see what she would say and
do next.

"Then you will not go away from me again," said Tessa, after they had
walked a few steps, "and you will take me to where you live."  She spoke
meditatively, and not in a questioning tone.  But presently she added,
"I must go back once to the Madre though, to tell her I brought the
cocoons, and that I am married, and shall not go back again."

Tito felt the necessity of speaking now; and in the rapid thought
prompted by that necessity, he saw that by undeceiving Tessa he should
be robbing himself of some at least of that pretty trustfulness which
might, by-and-by, be his only haven from contempt.  It would spoil Tessa
to make her the least particle wiser or more suspicious.

"Yes, my little Tessa," he said, caressingly, "you must go back to the
Madre; but you must not tell her you are married--you must keep that a
secret from everybody; else some very great harm would happen to me, and
you would never see me again."

She looked up at him with fear in her face.

"You must go back and feed your goats and mules, and do just as you have
always done before, and say no word to any one about me."

The corners of her mouth fell a little.

"And then, perhaps, I shall come and take care of you again when you
want me, as I did before.  But you must do just what I tell you, else
you will not see me again."

"Yes, I will, I will," she said, in a loud whisper, frightened at that
blank prospect.

They were silent a little while; and then Tessa, looking at her hand,
said--

"The Madre wears a betrothal ring.  She went to church and had it put
on, and then after that, an other day, she was married.  And so did the
cousin Nannina.  But then _she_ married Gollo," added the poor little
thing, entangled in the difficult comparison between her own ease and
others within her experience.

"But you must not wear a betrothal ring, my Tessa, because no one must
know you are married," said Tito, feeling some insistance necessary.
"And the _buona fortuna_ that I gave you did just as well for betrothal.
Some people are betrothed with rings and some are not."

"Yes, it is true, they would see the ring," said Tessa, trying to
convince herself that a thing she would like very much was really not
good for her.

They were now near the entrance of the church again, and she remembered
her cocoons which were still in Tito's hand.

"Ah, you must give me the _boto_," she said; "and we must go in, and I
must take it to the Padre, and I must tell the rest of my beads, because
I was too tired before."

"Yes, you must go in, Tessa; but I will not go in.  I must leave you
now," said Tito, too feverish and weary to re-enter that stifling heat,
and feeling that this was the least difficult way of parting with her.

"And not come back?  Oh, where do you go?"  Tessa's mind had never
formed an image of his whereabout or his doings when she did not see
him: he had vanished, and her thought, instead of following him, had
stayed in the same spot where he was with her.

"I shall come back some time, Tessa," said Tito, taking her under the
cloisters to the door of the church.  "You must not cry--you must go to
sleep, when you have said your beads.  And here is money to buy your
breakfast.  Now kiss me, and look happy, else I shall not come again."

She made a great effort over herself as she put up her lips to kiss him,
and submitted to be gently turned round, with her face towards the door
of the church.  Tito saw her enter; and then with a shrug at his own
resolution, leaned against a pillar, took off his cap, rubbed his hair
backward, and wondered where Romola was now, and what she was thinking
of him.  Poor little Tessa had disappeared behind the curtain among the
crowd of peasants; but the love which formed one web with all his
worldly hopes, with the ambitions and pleasures that must make the solid
part of his days--the love that was identified with his larger self--was
not to be banished from his consciousness.  Even to the man who presents
the most elastic resistance to whatever is unpleasant, there will come
moments when the pressure from without is too strong for him, and he
must feel the smart and the bruise in spite of himself.  Such a moment
had come to Tito.  There was no possible attitude of mind, no scheme of
action by which the uprooting of all his newly-planted hopes could be
made otherwise than painful.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

THE DYING MESSAGE.

When Romola arrived at the entrance of San Marco she found one of the
Frati waiting there in expectation of her arrival.  Monna Brigida
retired into the adjoining church, and Romola was conducted to the door
of the chapter-house in the outer cloister, whither the invalid had been
conveyed; no woman being allowed admission beyond this precinct.

When the door opened, the subdued external light blending with that of
two tapers placed behind a truckle-bed, showed the emaciated face of Fra
Luca, with the tonsured crown of golden hair above it, and with
deep-sunken hazel eyes fixed on a small crucifix which he held before
him.  He was propped up into nearly a sitting posture; and Romola was
just conscious, as she threw aside her veil, that there was another monk
standing by the bed, with the black cowl drawn over his head, and that
he moved towards the door as she entered; just conscious that in the
background there was a crucified form rising high and pale on the
frescoed wall, and pale faces of sorrow looking out from it below.

The next moment her eyes met Fra Luca's as they looked up at her from
the crucifix, and she was absorbed in that pang of recognition which
identified this monkish emaciated form with the image of her fair young
brother.

"Dino!" she said, in a voice like a low cry of pain.  But she did not
bend towards him; she held herself erect, and paused at two yards'
distance from him.  There was an unconquerable repulsion for her in that
monkish aspect; it seemed to her the brand of the dastardly
undutifulness which had left her father desolate--of the grovelling
superstition which could give such undutifulness the name of piety.  Her
father, whose proud sincerity and simplicity of life had made him one of
the few frank pagans of his time, had brought her up with a silent
ignoring of any claims the Church could have to regulate the belief and
action of beings with a cultivated reason.  The Church, in her mind,
belonged to that actual life of the mixed multitude from which they had
always lived apart, and she had no ideas that could render her brother's
course an object of any other feeling than incurious, indignant
contempt.  Yet the lovingness of Romola's soul had clung to that image
in the past, and while she stood rigidly aloof, there was a yearning
search in her eyes for something too faintly discernible.

But there was no corresponding emotion in the face of the monk.  He
looked at the little sister returned to him in her full womanly beauty,
with the far-off gaze of a revisiting spirit.

"My sister!" he said, with a feeble and interrupted but yet distinct
utterance, "it is well thou hast not longer delayed to come, for I have
a message to deliver to thee, and my time is short."

Romola took a step nearer: the message, she thought, would be one of
affectionate penitence to her father, and her heart began to open.
Nothing could wipe out the long years of desertion; but the culprit,
looking back on those years with the sense of irremediable wrong
committed, would call forth pity.  Now, at the last, there would be
understanding and forgiveness.  Dino would pour out some natural filial
feeling; he would ask questions about his father's blindness--how
rapidly it had come on? how the long dark days had been filled? what the
life was now in the home where he himself had been nourished?--and the
last message from the dying lips would be one of tenderness and regret.

"Romola," Fra Luca began, "I have had a vision concerning thee.  Thrice
I have had it in the last two months: each time it has been clearer.
Therefore I came from Fiesole, deeming it a message from heaven that I
was bound to deliver.  And I gather a promise of mercy to thee in this,
that my breath is preserved in order to--"

The difficult breathing which continually interrupted him would not let
him finish the sentence.

Romola had felt her heart chilling again.  It was a vision, then, this
message--one of those visions she had so often heard her father allude
to with bitterness.  Her indignation rushed to her lips.

"Dino, I thought you had some words to send to my father.  You forsook
him when his sight was failing; you made his life very desolate.  Have
you never cared about that? never repented?  What is this religion of
yours, that places visions before natural duties?"

The deep-sunken hazel eyes turned slowly towards her, and rested upon
her in silence for some moments, as if he were meditating whether he
should answer her.

"No," he said at last; speaking as before, in a low passionless tone, as
of some spirit not human, speaking through dying human organs.  "No; I
have never repented fleeing from the stifling poison-breath of sin that
was hot and thick around me, and threatened to steal over my senses like
besotting wine.  My father could not hear the voice that called me night
and day; he knew nothing of the demon-tempters that tried to drag me
back from following it.  My father has lived amidst human sin and misery
without believing in them: he has been like one busy picking shining
stones in a mine, while there was a world dying of plague above him.  I
spoke, but he listened with scorn.  I told him the studies he wished me
to live for were either childish trifling--dead toys--or else they must
be made warm and living by pulses that beat to worldly ambitions and
fleshly lusts, for worldly ambitions and fleshly lusts made all the
substance of the poetry and history he wanted me to bend my eyes on
continually."

"Has not my father led a pure and noble life, then?"  Romola burst
forth, unable to hear in silence this implied accusation against her
father.  "He has sought no worldly honours; he has been truthful; he has
denied himself all luxuries; he has lived like one of the ancient sages.
He never wished you to live for worldly ambitions and fleshly lusts; he
wished you to live as he himself has done, according to the purest
maxims of philosophy, in which he brought you up."

Romola spoke partly by rote, as all ardent and sympathetic young
creatures do; but she spoke with intense belief.  The pink flush was in
her face, and she quivered from head to foot.  Her brother was again
slow to answer; looking at her passionate face with strange passionless
eyes.

"What were the maxims of philosophy to me?  They told me to be strong,
when I felt myself weak; when I was ready, like the blessed Saint
Benedict, to roll myself among thorns, and court smarting wounds as a
deliverance from temptation.  For the Divine love had sought me, and
penetrated me, and created a great need in me; like a seed that wants
room to grow.  I had been brought up in carelessness of the true faith;
I had not studied the doctrines of our religion; but it seemed to take
possession of me like a rising flood.  I felt that there was a life of
perfect love and purity for the soul; in which there would be no uneasy
hunger after pleasure, no tormenting questions, no fear of suffering.
Before I knew the history of the saints, I had a foreshadowing of their
ecstasy.  For the same truth had penetrated even into pagan philosophy:
that it is a bliss within the reach of man to die to mortal needs, and
live in the life of God as the Unseen Perfectness.  But to attain that I
must forsake the world: I must have no affection, no hope, wedding me to
that which passeth away; I must live with my fellow-beings only as human
souls related to the eternal unseen life.  That need was urging me
continually: it came over me in visions when my mind fell away weary
from the vain words which record the passions of dead men: it came over
me after I had been tempted into sin and had turned away with loathing
from the scent of the emptied cup.  And in visions I saw the meaning of
the Crucifix."

He paused, breathing hard for a minute or two: but Romola was not
prompted to speak again.  It was useless for her mind to attempt any
contact with the mind of this unearthly brother: as useless as for her
hand to try and grasp a shadow.  When he spoke again his heaving chest
was quieter.

"I felt whom I must follow: but I saw that even among the servants of
the Cross who professed to have renounced the world, my soul would be
stifled with the fumes of hypocrisy, and lust, and pride.  God had not
chosen me, as he chose Saint Dominic and Saint Francis, to wrestle with
evil in the Church and in the world.  He called upon me to flee: I took
the sacred vows and I fled--fled to lands where danger and scorn and
want bore me continually, like angels, to repose on the bosom of God.  I
have lived the life of a hermit, I have ministered to pilgrims; but my
task has been short: the veil has worn very thin that divides me from my
everlasting rest.  I came back to Florence that--"

"Dino, you _did_ want to know if my father was alive," interrupted
Romola, the picture of that suffering life touching her again with the
desire for union and forgiveness.

"--That before I died I might urge others of our brethren to study the
Eastern tongues, as I had not done, and go out to greater ends than I
did; and I find them already bent on the work.  And since I came,
Romola, I have felt that I was sent partly to thee--not to renew the
bonds of earthly affection, but to deliver the heavenly warning conveyed
in a vision.  For I have had that vision thrice.  And through all the
years since first the Divine voice called me, while I was yet in the
world, I have been taught and guided by visions.  For in the painful
linking together of our waking thoughts we can never be sure that we
have not mingled our own error with the light we have prayed for; but in
visions and dreams we are passive, and our souls are as an instrument in
the Divine hand.  Therefore listen, and speak not again--for the time is
short."

Romola's mind recoiled strongly from listening to this vision.  Her
indignation had subsided, but it was only because she had felt the
distance between her brother and herself widening.  But while Fra Luca
was speaking, the figure of another monk had entered, and again stood on
the other side of the bed, with the cowl drawn over his head.

"Kneel, my daughter, for the Angel of Death is present, and waits while
the message of heaven is delivered: bend thy pride before it is bent for
thee by a yoke of iron," said a strong rich voice, startlingly in
contrast with Fra Luca's.

The tone was not that of imperious command, but of quiet self-possession
and assurance of the right, blended with benignity.  Romola, vibrating
to the sound, looked round at the figure on the opposite side of the
bed.  His face was hardly discernible under the shadow of the cowl, and
her eyes fell at once on his hands, which were folded across his breast
and lay in relief on the edge of his black mantle.  They had a marked
physiognomy which enforced the influence of the voice: they were very
beautiful and almost of transparent delicacy.  Romola's disposition to
rebel against command, doubly active in the presence of monks, whom she
had been taught to despise, would have fixed itself on any repulsive
detail as a point of support.  But the face was hidden, and the hands
seemed to have an appeal in them against all hardness.  The next moment
the right-hand took the crucifix to relieve the fatigued grasp of Fra
Luca, and the left touched his lips with a wet sponge which lay near.
In the act of bending, the cowl was pushed back, and the features of the
monk had the full light of the tapers on them.  They were very marked
features, such as lend themselves to popular description.  There was the
high arched nose, the prominent under-lip, the coronet of thick dark
hair above the brow, all seeming to tell of energy and passion; there
were the blue-grey eyes, shining mildly under auburn eyelashes, seeming,
like the hands, to tell of acute sensitiveness.  Romola felt certain
they were the features of Fra Girolamo Savonarola, the prior of San
Marco, whom she had chiefly thought of as more offensive than other
monks, because he was more noisy.  Her rebellion was rising against the
first impression, which had almost forced her to bend her knees.

"Kneel, my daughter," the penetrating voice said again, "the pride of
the body is a barrier against the gifts that purify the soul."

He was looking at her with mild fixedness while he spoke, and again she
felt that subtle mysterious influence of a personality by which it has
been given to some rare men to move their fellows.

Slowly Romola fell on her knees, and in the very act a tremor came over
her; in the renunciation of her proud erectness, her mental attitude
seemed changed, and she found herself in a now state of passiveness.
Her brother began to speak again--

"Romola, in the deep night, as I lay awake, I saw my father's room--the
library--with all the books and the marbles and the leggio, where I used
to stand and read; and I saw you--you were revealed to me as I see you
now, with fair long hair, sitting before my father's chair.  And at the
leggio stood a man whose face I could not see.  I looked, and looked,
and it was a blank to me, even as a painting effaced; and I saw him move
and take thee, Romola, by the hand; and then I saw thee take my father
by the hand; and you all three went down the stone steps into the
streets, the man whose face was a blank to me leading the way.  And you
stood at the altar in Santa Croce, and the priest who married you had
the face of death; and the graves opened, and the dead in their shrouds
rose and followed you like a bridal train.  And you passed on through
the streets and the gates into the valley, and it seemed to me that he
who led you hurried you more than you could bear, and the dead were
weary of following you, and turned back to their graves.  And at last
you came to a stony place where there was no water, and no trees or
herbage; but instead of water, I saw written parchment unrolling itself
everywhere, and instead of trees and herbage I saw men of bronze and
marble springing up and crowding round you.  And my father was faint for
want of water and fell to the ground; and the man whose face was a blank
loosed thy hand and departed: and as he went I could see his face; and
it was the face of the Great Tempter.  And thou, Romola, didst wring thy
hands and seek for water, and there was none.  And the bronze and marble
figures seemed to mock thee and hold out cups of water, and when thou
didst grasp them and put them to my father's lips, they turned to
parchment.  And the bronze and marble figures seemed to turn into demons
and snatch my father's body from thee, and the parchments shrivelled up,
and blood ran everywhere instead of them, and fire upon the blood, till
they all vanished, and the plain was bare and stony again, and thou wast
alone in the midst of it.  And then it seemed that the night fell and I
saw no more...  Thrice I have had that vision, Romola.  I believe it is
a revelation meant for thee: to warn thee against marriage as a
temptation of the enemy; it calls upon thee to dedicate thyself--"

His pauses had gradually become longer and more frequent, and he was now
compelled to cease by a severe fit of gasping, in which his eyes were
turned on the crucifix as on a light that was vanishing.  Presently he
found strength to speak again, but in a feebler, scarcely audible tone.

"To renounce the vain philosophy and corrupt thoughts of the heathens:
for in the hour of sorrow and death their pride will turn to mockery,
and the unclean gods will--"

The words died away.

In spite of the thought that was at work in Romola, telling her that
this vision was no more than a dream, fed by youthful memories and ideal
convictions, a strange awe had come over her.  Her mind was not apt to
be assailed by sickly fancies; she had the vivid intellect and the
healthy human passion, which are too keenly alive to the constant
relations of things to have any morbid craving after the exceptional.
Still the images of the vision she despised jarred and distressed her
like painful and cruel cries.  And it was the first time she had
witnessed the struggle with approaching death: her young life had been
sombre, but she had known nothing of the utmost human needs; no acute
suffering--no heart-cutting sorrow; and this brother, come back to her
in his hour of supreme agony, was like a sudden awful apparition from an
invisible world.  The pale faces of sorrow in the fresco on the opposite
wall seemed to have come nearer, and to make one company with the pale
face on the bed.

"Frate," said the dying voice.

Fra Girolamo leaned down.  But no other word came for some moments.

"Romola," it said next.

She leaned forward too: but again there was silence.  The words were
struggling in vain.

"Fra Girolamo, give her--"

"The crucifix," said the voice of Fra Girolamo.

No other sound came from the dying lips.

"Dino!" said Romola, with a low but piercing cry, as the certainty came
upon her that the silence of misunderstanding could never be broken.

"Take the crucifix, my daughter," said Fra Girolamo, after a few
minutes.  "His eyes behold it no more."

Romola stretched out her hand to the crucifix, and this act appeared to
relieve the tension of her mind.  A great sob burst from her.  She bowed
her head by the side of her dead brother, and wept aloud.

It seemed to her as if this first vision of death must alter the
daylight for her for evermore.

Fra Girolamo moved towards the door, and called in a lay Brother who was
waiting outside.  Then he went up to Romola and said in a tone of gentle
command, "Rise, my daughter, and be comforted.  Our brother is with the
blessed.  He has left you the crucifix, in remembrance of the heavenly
warning--that it may be a beacon to you in the darkness."

She rose from her knees, trembling, folded her veil over her head, and
hid the crucifix under her mantle.  Fra Girolamo then led the way out
into the cloistered court, lit now only by the stars and by a lantern
which was held by some one near the entrance.  Several other figures in
the dress of the dignified laity were grouped about the same spot.  They
were some of the numerous frequenters of San Marco, who had come to
visit the Prior, and having heard that he was in attendance on the dying
Brother in the chapter-house, had awaited him here.

Romola was dimly conscious of footsteps and rustling forms moving aside:
she heard the voice of Fra Girolamo saying, in a low tone, "Our brother
is departed;" she felt a hand laid on her arm.  The next moment the door
was opened, and she was out in the wide piazza of San Marco, with no one
but Monna Brigida, and the servant carrying the lantern.

The fresh sense of space revived her, and helped her to recover her
self-mastery.  The scene which had just closed upon her was terribly
distinct and vivid, but it began to narrow under the returning
impressions of the life that lay outside it.  She hastened her steps,
with nervous anxiety to be again with her father--and with Tito--for
were they not together in her absence?  The images of that vision, while
they clung about her like a hideous dream not yet to be shaken off, made
her yearn all the more for the beloved faces and voices that would
assure her of her waking life.

Tito, we know, was not with Bardo; his destiny was being shaped by a
guilty consciousness, urging on him the despairing belief that by this
time Romola possessed the knowledge which would lead to their final
separation.

And the lips that could have conveyed that knowledge were for ever
closed.  The prevision that Fra Luca's words had imparted to Romola had
been such as comes from the shadowy region where human souls seek wisdom
apart from the human sympathies which are the very life and substance of
our wisdom; the revelation that might have come from the simple
questions of filial and brotherly affection had been carried into
irrevocable silence.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

A FLORENTINE JOKE.

Early the next morning Tito was returning from Bratti's shop in the
narrow thoroughfare of the Ferravecchi.  The Genoese stranger had
carried away the onyx ring, and Tito was carrying away fifty florins.
It did just cross his mind that if, after all, Fortune, by one of her
able devices, saved him from the necessity of quitting Florence, it
would be better for him not to have parted with his ring, since he had
been understood to wear it for the sake of peculiar memories and
predilections; still, it was a slight matter, not worth dwelling on with
any emphasis, and in those moments he had lost his confidence in
fortune.  The feverish excitement of the first alarm which had impelled
his mind to travel into the future had given place to a dull, regretful
lassitude.  He cared so much for the pleasures that could only come to
him through the good opinion of his fellow-men, that he wished now he
had never risked ignominy by shrinking from what his fellow-men called
obligations.

But our deeds are like children that are born to us; they live and act
apart from our own will.  Nay, children may be strangled, but deeds
never: they have an indestructible life both in and out of our
consciousness; and that dreadful vitality of deeds was pressing hard on
Tito for the first time.

He was going back to his lodgings in the Piazza di San Giovanni, but he
avoided passing through the Mercato Vecchio, which was his nearest way,
lest he should see Tessa.  He was not in the humour to seek anything; he
could only await the first sign of his altering lot.

The piazza with its sights of beauty was lit up by that warm morning
sunlight under which the autumn dew still lingers, and which invites to
an idlesse undulled by fatigue.  It was a festival morning, too, when
the soft warmth seems to steal over one with a special invitation to
lounge and gaze.  Here, too, the signs of the fair were present; in the
spaces round the octagonal baptistery, stalls were being spread with
fruit and flowers, and here and there laden mules were standing quietly
absorbed in their nose-bags, while their drivers were perhaps gone
through the hospitable sacred doors to kneel before the blessed Virgin
on this morning of her Nativity.  On the broad marble steps of the Duomo
there were scattered groups of beggars and gossiping talkers: here an
old crone with white hair and hard sunburnt face encouraging a
round-capped baby to try its tiny bare feet on the warmed marble, while
a dog sitting near snuffed at the performance suspiciously; there a
couple of shaggy-headed boys leaning to watch a small pale cripple who
was cutting a face on a cherry-stone; and above them on the wide
platform men were making changing knots in laughing desultory chat, or
else were standing in close couples gesticulating eagerly.

But the largest and most important company of loungers was that towards
which Tito had to direct his steps.  It was the busiest time of the day
with Nello, and in this warm season and at an hour when clients were
numerous, most men preferred being shaved under the pretty red and white
awning in front of the shop rather than within narrow walls.  It is not
a sublime attitude for a man, to sit with lathered chin thrown backward,
and have his nose made a handle of; but to be shaved was a fashion of
Florentine respectability, and it is astonishing how gravely men look at
each other when they are all in the fashion.  It was the hour of the
day, too, when yesterday's crop of gossip was freshest, and the barber's
tongue was always in its glory when his razor was busy; the deft
activity of those two instruments seemed to be set going by a common
spring.  Tito foresaw that it would be impossible for him to escape
being drawn into the circle; he must smile and retort, and look
perfectly at his ease.  Well! it was but the ordeal of swallowing bread
and cheese pills after all.  The man who let the mere anticipation of
discovery choke him was simply a man of weak nerves.

But just at that time Tito felt a hand laid on his shoulder, and no
amount of previous resolution could prevent the very unpleasant
sensation with which that sudden touch jarred him.  His face, as he
turned it round, betrayed the inward shock; but the owner of the hand
that seemed to have such evil magic in it broke into a light laugh.  He
was a young man about Tito's own age, with keen features, small
close-clipped head, and close-shaven lip and chin, giving the idea of a
mind as little encumbered as possible with material that was not
nervous.  The keen eyes were bright with hope and friendliness, as so
many other young eyes have been that have afterwards closed on the world
in bitterness and disappointment; for at that time there were none but
pleasant predictions about Niccolo Macchiavelli, as a young man of
promise, who was expected to mend the broken fortunes of his ancient
family.

"Why, Melema, what evil dream did you have last night, that you took my
light grasp for that of a _sbirro_ or something worse?"

"Ah, Messer Niccolo!" said Tito, recovering himself immediately; "it
must have been an extra amount of dulness in my veins this morning that
shuddered at the approach of your wit.  But the fact is, I have had a
bad night."

"That is unlucky, because you will be expected to shine without any
obstructing fog to-day in the Rucellai Gardens.  I take it for granted
you are to be there."

"Messer Bernardo did me the honour to invite me," said Tito; "but I
shall be engaged elsewhere."

"Ah!  I remember, you are in love," said Macchiavelli, with a shrug,
"else you would never have such inconvenient engagements.  Why, we are
to eat a peacock and ortolans under the loggia among Bernardo Rucellai's
rare trees; there are to be the choicest spirits in Florence and the
choicest wines.  Only, as Piero de' Medici is to be there, the choice
spirits may happen to be swamped in the capping of impromptu verses.  I
hate that game; it is a device for the triumph of small wits, who are
always inspired the most by the smallest occasions."

"What is that you are saying about Piero de' Medici and small wits,
Messer Niccolo?" said Nello, whose light figure was at that moment
predominating over the Herculean frame of Niccolo Caparra.

That famous worker in iron, whom we saw last with bared muscular arms
and leathern apron in the Mercato Vecchio, was this morning dressed in
holiday suit, and as he sat submissively while Nello skipped round him,
lathered him, seized him by the nose, and scraped him with magical
quickness, he looked much as a lion might if it had donned linen and
tunic and was preparing to go into society.

"A private secretary will never rise in the world if he couples great
and small in that way," continued Nello.  "When great men are not
allowed to marry their sons and daughters as they like, small men must
not expect to marry their words as they like.  Have you heard the news
Domenico Cennini, here, has been telling us?--that Pagolantonio Soderini
has given Ser Piero da Bibbiena a box on the ear for setting on Piero
de' Medici to interfere with the marriage between young Tommaso Soderini
and Fiammetta Strozzi, and is to be sent ambassador to Venice as a
punishment?"

"I don't know which I envy him most," said Macchiavelli, "the offence or
the punishment.  The offence will make him the most popular man in all
Florence, and the punishment will take him among the only people in
Italy who have known how to manage their own affairs."

"Yes, if Soderini stays long enough at Venice," said Cennini, "he may
chance to learn the Venetian fashion, and bring it home with him.  The
Soderini have been fast friends of the Medici, but what has happened is
likely to open Pagolantonio's eyes to the good of our old Florentine
trick of choosing a new harness when the old one galls us; if we have
not quite lost the trick in these last fifty years."

"Not we," said Niccolo Caparra, who was rejoicing in the free use of his
lips again.  "Eat eggs in Lent and the snow will melt.  That's what I
say to our people when they get noisy over their cups at San Gallo, and
talk of raising a _romor_ (insurrection): I say, never do you plan a
_romor_; you may as well try to fill Arno with buckets.  When there's
water enough Arno will be full, and that will not be till the torrent is
ready."

"Caparra, that oracular speech of yours is due to my excellent shaving,"
said Nello.  "You could never have made it with that dark rust on your
chin.  Ecco, Messer Domenico, I am ready for you now.  By the way, my
bel erudito," continued Nello, as he saw Tito moving towards the door,
"here has been old Maso seeking for you, but your nest was empty.  He
will come again presently.  The old man looked mournful, and seemed in
haste.  I hope there is nothing wrong in the Via de' Bardi."

"Doubtless Messer Tito knows that Bardo's son is dead," said Cronaca,
who had just come up.

Tito's heart gave a leap--had the death happened before Romola saw him?

"No, I had not heard it," he said, with no more discomposure than the
occasion seemed to warrant, turning and leaning against the doorpost, as
if he had given up his intention of going away.  "I knew that his sister
had gone to see him.  Did he die before she arrived?"

"No," said Cronaca; "I was in San Marco at the time, and saw her come
out from the chapter-house with Fra Girolamo, who told us that the dying
man's breath had been preserved as by a miracle, that he might make a
disclosure to his sister."

Tito felt that his fate was decided.  Again his mind rushed over all the
circumstances of his departure from Florence, and he conceived a plan of
getting back his money from Cennini before the disclosure had become
public.  If he once had his money he need not stay long in endurance of
scorching looks and biting words.  He would wait now, and go away with
Cennini and get the money from him at once.  With that project in his
mind he stood motionless--his hands in his belt, his eyes fixed absently
on the ground.  Nello, glancing at him, felt sure that he was absorbed
in anxiety about Romola, and thought him such a pretty image of
self-forgetful sadness, that he just perceptibly pointed his razor at
him, and gave a challenging look at Piero di Cosimo, whom he had never
forgiven for his refusal to see any prognostics of character in his
favourite's handsome face.  Piero, who was leaning against the other
doorpost, close to Tito, shrugged his shoulders: the frequent recurrence
of such challenges from Nello had changed the painter's first
declaration of neutrality into a positive inclination to believe ill of
the much-praised Greek.

"So you have got your Fra Girolamo back again, Cronaca?  I suppose we
shall have him preaching again this next Advent," said Nello.

"And not before there is need," said Cronaca, gravely.  "We have had the
best testimony to his words since the last Quaresima; for even to the
wicked wickedness has become a plague; and the ripeness of vice is
turning to rottenness in the nostrils even of the vicious.  There has
not been a change since the Quaresima, either in Rome or at Florence,
but has put a new seal on the Frate's words--that the harvest of sin is
ripe, and that God will reap it with a sword."

"I hope he has had a new vision, however," said Francesco Cei,
sneeringly.  "The old ones are somewhat stale.  Can't your Frate get a
poet to help out his imagination for him?"

"He has no lack of poets about him," said Cronaca, with quiet contempt,
"but they are great poets and not little ones; so they are contented to
be taught by him, and no more think the truth stale which God has given
him to utter, than they think the light of the moon is stale.  But
perhaps certain high prelates and princes who dislike the Frate's
denunciations might be pleased to hear that, though Giovanni Pico, and
Poliziano, and Marsilio Ficino, and most other men of mark in Florence,
reverence Fra Girolamo, Messer Francesco Cei despises him."

"Poliziano?" said Cei, with a scornful laugh.  "Yes, doubtless he
believes in your new Jonah; witness the fine orations he wrote for the
envoys of Sienna, to tell Alexander the Sixth that the world and the
Church were never so well off as since he became Pope."

"Nay, Francesco," said Macchiavelli, smiling, "a various scholar must
have various opinions.  And as for the Frate, whatever we may think of
his saintliness, you judge his preaching too narrowly.  The secret of
oratory lies, not in saying new things, but in saying things with a
certain power that moves the hearers--without which, as old Filelfo has
said, your speaker deserves to be called, `non oratorem, sed aratorem.'
And, according to that test, Fra Girolamo is a great orator."

"That is true, Niccolo," said Cennini, speaking from the shaving-chair,
"but part of the secret lies in the prophetic visions.  Our people--no
offence to you, Cronaca--will run after anything in the shape of a
prophet, especially if he prophesies terrors and tribulations."

"Rather say, Cennini," answered Cronaca, "that the chief secret lies in
the Frate's pure life and strong faith, which stamp him as a messenger
of God."

"I admit it--I admit it," said Cennini, opening his palms, as he rose
from the chair.  "His life is spotless: no man has impeached it."

"He is satisfied with the pleasant lust of arrogance," Cei burst out,
bitterly.  "I can see it in that proud lip and satisfied eye of his.  He
hears the air filled with his own name--Fra Girolamo Savonarola, of
Ferrara; the prophet, the saint, the mighty preacher, who frightens the
very babies of Florence into laying down their wicked baubles."

"Come, come, Francesco, you are out of humour with waiting," said the
conciliatory Nello.  "Let me stop your mouth with a little lather.  I
must not have my friend Cronaca made angry: I have a regard for his
chin; and his chin is in no respect altered since he became a Piagnone.
And for my own part, I confess, when the Frate was preaching in the
Duomo last Advent, I got into such a trick of slipping in to listen to
him that I might have turned Piagnone too, if I had not been hindered by
the liberal nature of my art; and also by the length of the sermons,
which are sometimes a good while before they get to the moving point.
But, as Messer Niccolo here says, the Frate lays hold of the people by
some power over and above his prophetic visions.  Monks and nuns who
prophesy are not of that rareness.  For what says Luigi Pulci?
`Dombruno's sharp-cutting scimitar had the fame of being enchanted;
but,' says Luigi, `I am rather of opinion that it cut sharp because it
was of strongly-tempered steel.'  Yes, yes; Paternosters may shave
clean, but they must be said over a good razor."

"See, Nello!" said Macchiavelli, "what doctor is this advancing on his
Bucephalus?  I thought your piazza was free from those furred and
scarlet-robed lackeys of death.  This man looks as if he had had some
such night adventure as Boccaccio's Maestro Simone, and had his bonnet
and mantle pickled a little in the gutter; though he himself is as sleek
as a miller's rat."

"A-ah!" said Nello, with a low long-drawn intonation, as he looked up
towards the advancing figure--a round-headed, round-bodied personage,
seated on a raw young horse, which held its nose out with an air of
threatening obstinacy, and by a constant effort to back and go off in an
oblique line showed free views about authority very much in advance of
the age.

"And I have a few more adventures in pickle for him," continued Nello,
in an undertone, "which I hope will drive his inquiring nostrils to
another quarter of the city.  He's a doctor from Padua; they say he has
been at Prato for three months, and now he's come to Florence to see
what he can net.  But his great trick is making rounds among the
contadini.  And do you note those great saddle-bags he carries?  They
are to hold the fat capons and eggs and meal he levies on silly clowns
with whom coin is scarce.  He vends his own secret medicines, so he
keeps away from the doors of the druggists; and for this last week he
has taken to sitting in my piazza for two or three hours every day, and
making it a resort for asthmas and squalling bambini.  It stirs my gall
to see the toad-faced quack fingering the greasy quattrini, or bagging a
pigeon in exchange for his pills and powders.  But I'll put a few thorns
in his saddle, else I'm no Florentine.  Laudamus! he is coming to be
shaved; that's what I've waited for.  Messer Domenico, go not away:
wait; you shall see a rare bit of fooling, which I devised two days ago.
Here, Sandro!"

Nello whispered in the ear of Sandro, who rolled his solemn eyes,
nodded, and, following up these signs of understanding with a slow
smile, took to his heels with surprising rapidity.

"How is it with you, Maestro Tacco?" said Nello, as the doctor, with
difficulty, brought his horse's head round towards the barber's shop.
"That is a fine young horse of yours, but something raw in the mouth,
eh?"

"He is an accursed beast, the _vermocane_ seize him!" said Maestro
Tacco, with a burst of irritation, descending from his saddle and
fastening the old bridle, mended with string, to an iron staple in the
wall.  "Nevertheless," he added, recollecting himself, "a sound beast
and a valuable, for one who wanted to purchase, and get a profit by
training him.  I had him cheap."

"Rather too hard riding for a man who carries your weight of learning:
eh, Maestro?" said Nello.  "You seem hot."

"Truly, I am likely to be hot," said the doctor, taking off his bonnet,
and giving to full view a bald low head and flat broad face, with high
ears, wide lipless mouth, round eyes, and deep arched lines above the
projecting eyebrows, which altogether made Nello's epithet "toad-faced"
dubiously complimentary to the blameless batrachian.  "Riding from
Peretola, when the sun is high, is not the same thing as kicking your
heels on a bench in the shade, like your Florence doctors.  Moreover, I
have had not a little pulling to get through the carts and mules into
the Mercato, to find out the husband of a certain Monna Ghita, who had
had a fatal seizure before I was called in; and if it had not been that
I had to demand my fees--"

"Monna Ghita!" said Nello, as the perspiring doctor interrupted himself
to rub his head and face.  "Peace be with her angry soul!  The Mercato
will want a whip the more if her tongue is laid to rest."

Tito, who had roused himself from his abstraction, and was listening to
the dialogue, felt a new rush of the vague half-formed ideas about
Tessa, which had passed through his mind the evening before: if Monna
Ghita were really taken out of the way, it would be easier for him to
see Tessa again--whenever he wanted to see her.

"_Gnaffe_, Maestro," Nello went on, in a sympathising tone, "you are the
slave of rude mortals, who, but for you, would die like brutes, without
help of pill or powder.  It is pitiful to see your learned lymph oozing
from your pores as if it were mere vulgar moisture.  You think my
shaving will cool and disencumber you?  One moment and I have done with
Messer Francesco here.  It seems to me a thousand years till I wait upon
a man who carries all the science of Arabia in his head and saddle-bags.
Ecco!"

Nello held up the shaving-cloth with an air of invitation, and Maestro
Tacco advanced and seated himself under a preoccupation with his heat
and his self-importance, which made him quite deaf to the irony conveyed
in Nello's officiously polite speech.

"It is but fitting that a great medicus like you," said Nello, adjusting
the cloth, "should be shaved by the same razor that has shaved the
illustrious Antonio Benevieni, the greatest master of the chirurgic
art."

"The chirurgic art!" interrupted the doctor, with an air of contemptuous
disgust.  "Is it your Florentine fashion to put the masters of the
science of medicine on a level with men who do carpentry on broken
limbs, and sew up wounds like tailors, and carve away excrescences as a
butcher trims meat?  _Via_!  A manual art, such as any artificer might
learn, and which has been practised by simple barbers like yourself--on
a level with the noble science of Hippocrates, Galen, and Avicenna,
which penetrates into the occult influences of the stars and plants and
gems!--a science locked up from the vulgar!"

"No, in truth, Maestro," said Nello, using his lather very deliberately,
as if he wanted to prolong the operation to the utmost, "I never thought
of placing them on a level: I know your science comes next to the
miracles of Holy Church for mystery.  But there, you see, is the pity of
it,"--here Nello fell into a tone of regretful sympathy--"your high
science is sealed from the profane and the vulgar, and so you become an
object of envy and slander.  I grieve to say it, but there are low
fellows in this city--mere _sgherri_, who go about in nightcaps and long
beards, and make it their business to sprinkle gall in every man's broth
who is prospering.  Let me tell you--for you are a stranger--this is a
city where every man had need carry a large nail ready to fasten on the
wheel of Fortune when his side happens to be uppermost.  Already there
are stories--mere fables doubtless--beginning to be buzzed about
concerning you, that make me wish I could hear of your being well on
your way to Arezzo.  I would not have a man of your metal stoned, for
though San Stefano was stoned, he was not great in medicine like San
Cosmo and San Damiano..."

"What stories? what fables?" stammered Maestro Tacco.  "What do you
mean?"

"_Lasso_!  I fear me you are come into the trap for your cheese,
Maestro.  The fact is, there is a company of evil youths who go prowling
about the houses of our citizens carrying sharp tools in their
pockets;--no sort of door, or window, or shutter, but they will pierce
it.  They are possessed with a diabolical patience to watch the doings
of people who fancy themselves private.  It must be they who have done
it--it must be they who have spread the stories about you and your
medicines.  Have you by chance detected any small aperture in your door,
or window-shutter?  No?  Well, I advise you to look; for it is now
commonly talked of that you have been seen in your dwelling at the Canto
di Paglia, making your secret specifics by night: pounding dried toads
in a mortar, compounding a salve out of mashed worms, and making your
pills from the dried livers of rats which you mix with saliva emitted
during the utterance of a blasphemous incantation--which indeed these
witnesses profess to repeat."

"It is a pack of lies!" exclaimed the doctor, struggling to get
utterance, and then desisting in alarm at the approaching razor.

"It is not to me, or any of this respectable company, that you need to
say that, doctor.  _We_ are not the heads to plant such carrots as those
in.  But what of that?  What are a handful of reasonable men against a
crowd with stones in their hands?  There are those among us who think
Cecco d'Ascoli was an innocent sage--and we all know how he was burnt
alive for being wiser than his fellows.  Ah, doctor, it is not by living
at Padua that you can learn to know Florentines.  My belief is, they
would stone the Holy Father himself, if they could find a good excuse
for it; and they are persuaded that you are a necromancer, who is trying
to raise the pestilence by selling secret medicines--and I am told your
specifics have in truth an evil smell."

"It is false!" burst out the doctor, as Nello moved away his razor; "it
is false!  I will show the pills and the powders to these honourable
signori--and the salve--it has an excellent odour--an odour of--of
salve."  He started up with the lather on his chin, and the cloth round
his neck, to search in his saddle-bag for the belied medicines, and
Nello in an instant adroitly shifted the shaving-chair till it was in
the close vicinity of the horse's head, while Sandro, who had now
returned, at a sign from his master placed himself near the bridle.

"Behold, Messeri!" said the doctor, bringing a small box of medicines
and opening it before them.

"Let any signor apply this box to his nostrils and he will find an
honest odour of medicaments--not indeed of pounded gems, or rare
vegetables from the East, or stones found in the bodies of birds; for I
practise on the diseases of the vulgar, for whom heaven has provided
cheaper and less powerful remedies according to their degree: and there
are even remedies known to our science which are entirely free of cost--
as the new _tussis_ may be counteracted in the poor, who can pay for no
specifics, by a resolute holding of the breath.  And here is a paste
which is even of savoury odour, and is infallible against melancholia,
being concocted under the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus; and I have
seen it allay spasms."

"Stay, Maestro," said Nello, while the doctor had his lathered face
turned towards the group near the door, eagerly holding out his box, and
lifting out one specific after another; "here comes a crying contadina
with her baby.  Doubtless she is in search of you; it is perhaps an
opportunity for you to show this honourable company a proof of your
skill.  Here, buona donna! here is the famous doctor.  Why, what is the
matter with the sweet _bimbo_?"

This question was addressed to a sturdy-looking, broad-shouldered
contadina, with her head-drapery folded about her face so that little
was to be seen but a bronzed nose and a pair of dark eyes and eyebrows.
She carried her child packed up in the stiff mummy-shaped case in which
Italian babies have been from time immemorial introduced into society,
turning its face a little towards her bosom, and making those sorrowful
grimaces which women are in the habit of using as a sort of pulleys to
draw down reluctant tears.

"Oh, for the love of the Holy Madonna!" said the woman, in a wailing
voice; "will you look at my poor bimbo?  I know I can't pay you for it,
but I took it into the Nunziata last night, and it's turned a worse
colour than before; it's the convulsions.  But when I was holding it
before the Santissima Nunziata, I remembered they said there was a new
doctor come who cured everything; and so I thought it might be the will
of the Holy Madonna that I should bring it to you."

"Sit down, Maestro, sit down," said Nello.  "Here is an opportunity for
you; here are honourable witnesses who will declare before the
Magnificent Eight that they have seen you practising honestly and
relieving a poor woman's child.  And then if your life is in danger, the
Magnificent Eight will put you in prison a little while just to insure
your safety, and after that, their sbirri will conduct you out of
Florence by night, as they did the zealous Frate Minore who preached
against the Jews.  What! our people are given to stone-throwing; but we
have magistrates."

The doctor, unable to refuse, seated himself in the shaving-chair,
trembling, half with fear and half with rage, and by this time quite
unconscious of the lather which Nello had laid on with such profuseness.
He deposited his medicine-case on his knees, took out his precious
spectacles (wondrous Florentine device!) from his wallet, lodged them
carefully above his flat nose and high ears, and lifting up his brows,
turned towards the applicant.

"O Santiddio! look at him," said the woman, with a more piteous wail
than ever, as she held out the small mummy, which had its head
completely concealed by dingy drapery wound round the head of the
portable cradle, but seemed to be struggling and crying in a demoniacal
fashion under this imprisonment.  "The fit is on him!  _Ohime_!  I know
what colour he is; it's the evil eye--oh!"

The doctor, anxiously holding his knees together to support his box,
bent his spectacles towards the baby, and said cautiously, "It may be a
new disease; unwind these rags, Monna!"

The contadina, with sudden energy, snatched off the encircling linen,
when out struggled--scratching, grinning, and screaming--what the doctor
in his fright fully believed to be a demon, but what Tito recognised as
Vaiano's monkey, made more formidable by an artificial blackness, such
as might have come from a hasty rubbing up the chimney.

Up started the unfortunate doctor, letting his medicine-box fall, and
away jumped the no less terrified and indignant monkey, finding the
first resting-place for his claws on the horse's mane, which he used as
a sort of rope-ladder till he had fairly found his equilibrium, when he
continued to clutch it as a bridle.  The horse wanted no spur under such
a rider, and, the already loosened bridle offering no resistance, darted
off across the piazza, with the monkey, clutching, grinning, and
blinking, on his neck.

"_Il cavallo!  Il Diavolo_!" was now shouted on all sides by the idle
rascals who gathered from all quarters of the piazza, and was echoed in
tones of alarm by the stall-keepers, whose vested interests seemed in
some danger; while the doctor, out of his wits with confused terror at
the Devil, the possible stoning, and the escape of his horse, took to
his heels with spectacles on nose, lathered face, and the shaving-cloth
about his neck, crying--"Stop him! stop him! for a powder--a florin--
stop him for a florin!" while the lads, outstripping him, clapped their
hands and shouted encouragement to the runaway.

The _cerretano_, who had not bargained for the flight of his monkey
along with the horse, had caught up his petticoats with much celerity,
and showed a pair of parti-coloured hose above his contadina's shoes,
far in advance of the doctor.  And away went the grotesque race up the
Corso degli Adimari--the horse with the singular jockey, the contadina
with the remarkable hose, and the doctor in lather and spectacles, with
furred mantle outflying.

It was a scene such as Florentines loved, from the potent and reverend
signor going to council in his lucco, down to the grinning youngster,
who felt himself master of all situations when his bag was filled with
smooth stones from the convenient dry bed of the torrent.  The
grey-headed Domenico Cennini laughed no less heartily than the younger
men, and Nello was triumphantly secure of the general admiration.

"Aha!" he exclaimed, snapping his fingers when the first burst of
laughter was subsiding.  "I have cleared my piazza of that unsavoury
fly-trap, _mi pare_.  Maestro Tacco will no more come here again to sit
for patients than he will take to licking marble for his dinner."

"You are going towards the Piazza della Signoria, Messer Domenico," said
Macchiavelli.  "I will go with you, and we shall perhaps see who has
deserved the _palio_ among these racers.  Come, Melema, will you go
too?"

It had been precisely Tito's intention to accompany Cennini, but before
he had gone many steps, he was called back by Nello, who saw Maso
approaching.

Maso's message was from Romola.  She wished Tito to go to the Via de'
Bardi as soon as possible.  She would see him under the loggia, at the
top of the house, as she wished to speak to him alone.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

UNDER THE LOGGIA.

The loggia at the top of Bardo's house rose above the buildings on each
side of it, and formed a gallery round quadrangular walls.  On the side
towards the street the roof was supported by columns; but on the
remaining sides, by a wall pierced with arched openings, so that at the
back, looking over a crowd of irregular, poorly-built dwellings towards
the hill of Bogoli, Romola could at all times have a walk sheltered from
observation.  Near one of those arched openings, close to the door by
which he had entered the loggia, Tito awaited her, with a sickening
sense of the sunlight that slanted before him and mingled itself with
the ruin of his hopes.  He had never for a moment relied on Romola's
passion for him as likely to be too strong for the repulsion created by
the discovery of his secret; he had not the presumptuous vanity which
might have hindered him from feeling that her love had the same root
with her belief in him.  But as he imagined her coming towards him in
her radiant beauty, made so loveably mortal by her soft hazel eyes, he
fell into wishing that she had been something lower, if it were only
that she might let him clasp her and kiss her before they parted.  He
had had no real caress from her--nothing but now and then a long glance,
a kiss, a pressure of the hand; and he had so often longed that they
should be alone together.  They were going to be alone now; but he saw
her standing inexorably aloof from him.  His heart gave a great throb as
he saw the door move: Romola was there.  It was all like a flash of
lightning: he felt, rather than saw, the glory about her head, the
tearful appealing eyes; he felt, rather than heard, the cry of love with
which she said, "Tito!"

And in the same moment she was in his arms, and sobbing with her face
against his.

How poor Romola had yearned through the watches of the night to see that
bright face!  The new image of death; the strange bewildering doubt
infused into her by the story of a life removed from her understanding
and sympathy; the haunting vision, which she seemed not only to hear
uttered by the low gasping voice, but to live through, as if it had been
her own dream, had made her more conscious than ever that it was Tito
who had first brought the warm stream of hope and gladness into her
life, and who had first turned away the keen edge of pain in the
remembrance of her brother.  She would tell Tito everything; there was
no one else to whom she could tell it.  She had been restraining herself
in the presence of her father all the morning; but now, that
long-pent-up sob might come forth.  Proud and self-controlled to all the
world beside, Romola was as simple and unreserved as a child in her love
for Tito.  She had been quite contented with the days when they had only
looked at each other; but now, when she felt the need of clinging to
him, there was no thought that hindered her.

"My Romola! my goddess!"  Tito murmured with passionate fondness, as he
clasped her gently, and kissed the thick golden ripples on her neck.  He
was in paradise: disgrace, shame, parting--there was no fear of them any
longer.  This happiness was too strong to be marred by the sense that
Romola was deceived in him; nay, he could only rejoice in her delusion;
for, after all, concealment had been wisdom.  The only thing he could
regret was his needless dread; if, indeed, the dread had not been worth
suffering for the sake of this sudden rapture.

The sob had satisfied itself, and Romola raised her head.  Neither of
them spoke; they stood looking at each other's faces with that sweet
wonder which belongs to young love--she with her long white hands on the
dark-brown curls, and he with his dark fingers bathed in the streaming
gold.  Each was so beautiful to the other; each was experiencing that
undisturbed mutual consciousness for the first time.  The cold pressure
of a new sadness on Romola's heart made her linger the more in that
silent soothing sense of nearness and love; and Tito could not even seek
to press his lips to hers, because that would be change.

"Tito," she said at last, "it has been altogether painful, but I must
tell you everything.  Your strength will help me to resist the
impressions that will not be shaken off by reason."

"I know, Romola--I know he is dead," said Tito; and the long lustrous
eyes told nothing of the many wishes that would have brought about that
death long ago if there had been such potency in mere wishes.  Romola
only read her own pure thoughts in their dark depths, as we read letters
in happy dreams.

"So changed, Tito!  It pierced me to think that it was Dino.  And so
strangely hard: not a word to my father; nothing but a vision that he
wanted to tell me.  And yet it was so piteous--the struggling breath,
and the eyes that seemed to look towards the crucifix, and yet not to
see it.  I shall never forget it; it seems as if it would come between
me and everything I shall look at."

Romola's heart swelled again, so that she was forced to break off.  But
the need she felt to disburden her mind to Tito urged her to repress the
rising anguish.  When she began to speak again, her thoughts had
travelled a little.

"It was strange, Tito.  The vision was about our marriage, and yet he
knew nothing of you."

"What was it, my Romola?  Sit down and tell me," said Tito, leading her
to the bench that stood near.  A fear had come across him lest the
vision should somehow or other relate to Baldassarre; and this sudden
change of feeling prompted him to seek a change of position.

Romola told him all that had passed, from her entrance into San Marco,
hardly leaving out one of her brother's words, which had burnt
themselves into her memory as they were spoken.  But when she was at the
end of the vision, she paused; the rest came too vividly before her to
be uttered, and she sat looking at the distance, almost unconscious for
the moment that Tito was near her.  _His_ mind was at ease now; that
vague vision had passed over him like white mist, and left no mark.  But
he was silent, expecting her to speak again.

"I took it," she went on, as if Tito had been reading her thoughts; "I
took the crucifix; it is down below in my bedroom."

"And now, my Romola," said Tito, entreatingly, "you will banish these
ghastly thoughts.  The vision was an ordinary monkish vision, bred of
fasting and fanatical ideas.  It surely has no weight with you."

"No, Tito; no.  But poor.  Dino, _he_ believed it was a divine message.
It is strange," she went on meditatively, "this life of men possessed
with fervid beliefs that seem like madness to their fellow-beings.  Dino
was not a vulgar fanatic; and that Fra Girolamo--his very voice seems to
have penetrated me with a sense that there is some truth in what moves
them: some truth of which I know nothing."

"It was only because your feelings were highly wrought, my Romola.  Your
brother's state of mind was no more than a form of that theosophy which
has been the common disease of excitable dreamy minds in all ages; the
same ideas that your father's old antagonist, Marsilio Ficino, pores
over in the New Platonists; only your brother's passionate nature drove
him to act out what other men write and talk about.  And for Fra
Girolamo, he is simply a narrow-minded monk, with a gift of preaching
and infusing terror into the multitude.  Any words or any voice would
have shaken you at that moment.  When your mind has had a little repose,
you will judge of such things as you have always done before."

"Not about poor Dino," said Romola.  "I was angry with him; my heart
seemed to close against him while he was speaking; but since then I have
thought less of what was in my own mind and more of what was in his.
Oh, Tito! it was very piteous to see his young life coming to an end in
that way.  That yearning look at the crucifix when he was gasping for
breath--I can never forget it.  Last night I looked at the crucifix a
long while, and tried to see that it would help him, until at last it
seemed to me by the lamplight as if the suffering face shed pity."

"My Romola, promise me to resist such thoughts; they are fit for sickly
nuns, not for my golden-tressed Aurora, who looks made to scatter all
such twilight fantasies.  Try not to think of them now; we shall not
long be alone together."

The last words were uttered in a tone of tender beseeching, and he
turned her face towards him with a gentle touch of his right-hand.

Romola had had her eyes fixed absently on the arched opening, but she
had not seen the distant hill; she had all the while been in the chapter
house, looking at the pale images of sorrow and death.

Tito's touch and beseeching voice recalled her; and now in the warm
sunlight she saw that rich dark beauty which seemed to gather round it
all images of joy--purple vines festooned between the elms, the strong
corn perfecting itself under the vibrating heat, bright winged creatures
hurrying and resting among the flowers, round limbs beating the earth in
gladness with cymbals held aloft, light melodies chanted to the
thrilling rhythm of strings--all objects and all sounds that tell of
Nature revelling in her force.  Strange, bewildering transition from
those pale images of sorrow and death to this bright youthfulness, as of
a sun-god who knew nothing of night!  What thought could reconcile that
worn anguish in her brother's face--that straining after something
invisible--with this satisfied strength and beauty, and make it
intelligible that they belonged to the same world?  Or was there never
any reconciling of them, but only a blind worship of clashing deities,
first in mad joy and then in wailing?  Romola for the first time felt
this questioning need like a sudden uneasy dizziness and want of
something to grasp; it was an experience hardly longer than a sigh, for
the eager theorising of ages is compressed, as in a seed, in the
momentary want of a single mind.  But there was no answer to meet the
need, and it vanished before the returning rush of young sympathy with
the glad loving beauty that beamed upon her in new radiance, like the
dawn after we have looked away from it to the grey west.

"Your mind lingers apart from our love, my Romola," Tito said, with a
soft reproachful murmur.  "It seems a forgotten thing to you."

She looked at the beseeching eyes in silence, till the sadness all
melted out of her own.

"My joy!" she said, in her full clear voice.

"Do you really care for me enough, then, to banish those chill fancies,
or shall you always be suspecting me as the Great Tempter?" said Tito,
with his bright smile.

"How should I not care for you more than for everything else?
Everything I had felt before in all my life--about my father, and about
my loneliness--was a preparation to love you.  You would laugh at me,
Tito, if you knew what sort of man I used to think I should marry--some
scholar with deep lines in his face, like Alamanno Rinuccini, and with
rather grey hair, who would agree with my father in taking the side of
the Aristotelians, and be willing to live with him.  I used to think
about the love I read of in the poets, but I never dreamed that anything
like that could happen to me here in Florence in our old library.  And
then _you_ came, Tito, and were so much to my father, and I began to
believe that life could be happy for me too."

"My goddess! is there any woman like you?" said Tito, with a mixture of
fondness and wondering admiration at the blended majesty and simplicity
in her.

"But, dearest," he went on, rather timidly, "if you minded more about
our marriage, you would persuade your father and Messer Bernardo not to
think of any more delays.  But you seem not to mind about it."

"Yes, Tito, I will, I do mind.  But I am sure my godfather will urge
more delay now, because of Dino's death.  He has never agreed with my
father about disowning Dino, and you know he has always said that we
ought to wait until you have been at least a year in Florence.  Do not
think hardly of my godfather.  I know he is prejudiced and narrow, but
yet he is very noble.  He has often said that it is folly in my father
to want to keep his library apart, that it may bear his name; yet he
would try to get my father's wish carried out.  That seems to me very
great and noble--that power of respecting a feeling which he does not
share or understand."

"I have no rancour against Messer Bernardo for thinking you too precious
for me, my Romola," said Tito: and that was true.  "But your father,
then, knows of his son's death?"

"Yes, I told him--I could not help it.  I told him where I had been, and
that I had seen Dino die; but nothing else; and he has commanded me not
to speak of it again.  But he has been very silent this morning, and has
had those restless movements which always go to my heart; they look as
if he were trying to get outside the prison of his blindness.  Let us go
to him now.  I had persuaded him to try to sleep, because he slept
little in the night.  Your voice will soothe him, Tito: it always does."

"And not one kiss?  I have not had one," said Tito, in his gentle
reproachful tone, which gave him an air of dependence very charming in a
creature with those rare gifts that seem to excuse presumption.

The sweet pink blush spread itself with the quickness of light over
Romola's face and neck as she bent towards him.  It seemed impossible
that their kisses could ever become common things.

"Let us walk once round the loggia," said Romola, "before we go down."

"There is something grim and grave to me always about Florence," said
Tito, as they paused in the front of the house, where they could see
over the opposite roofs to the other side of the river, "and even in its
merriment there is something shrill and hard--biting rather than gay.  I
wish we lived in Southern Italy, where thought is broken, not by
weariness, but by delicious languors such as never seem to come over the
`ingenia acerrima Florentina.'  I should like to see you under that
southern sun, lying among the flowers, subdued into mere enjoyment,
while I bent over you and touched the lute and sang to you some little
unconscious strain that seemed all one with the light and the warmth.
You have never known that happiness of the nymphs, my Romola."

"No; but I have dreamed of it often since you came.  I am very thirsty
for a deep draught of joy--for a life all bright like you.  But we will
not think of it now, Tito; it seems to me as if there would always be
pale sad faces among the flowers, and eyes that look in vain.  Let us
go."



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

THE PORTRAIT.

When Tito left the Via de' Bardi that day in exultant satisfaction at
finding himself thoroughly free from the threatened peril, his thoughts,
no longer claimed by the immediate presence of Romola and her father,
recurred to those futile hours of dread in which he was conscious of
having not only felt but acted as he would not have done if he had had a
truer foresight.  He would not have parted with his ring; for Romola,
and others to whom it was a familiar object, would be a little struck
with the apparent sordidness of parting with a gem he had professedly
cherished, unless he feigned as a reason the desire to make some special
gift with the purchase-money; and Tito had at that moment a nauseating
weariness of simulation.  He was well out of the possible consequences
that might have fallen on him from that initial deception, and it was no
longer a load on his mind; kind fortune had brought him immunity, and he
thought it was only fair that she should.  Who was hurt by it?  The
results to Baldassarre were too problematical to be taken into account.
But he wanted now to be free from any hidden shackles that would gall
him, though ever so little, under his ties to Romola.  He was not aware
that that very delight in immunity which prompted resolutions not to
entangle himself again, was deadening the sensibilities which alone
could save him from entanglement.

But, after all, the sale of the ring was a slight matter.  Was it also a
slight matter that little Tessa was under a delusion which would
doubtless fill her small head with expectations doomed to
disappointment?  Should he try to see the little thing alone again and
undeceive her at once, or should he leave the disclosure to time and
chance?  Happy dreams are pleasant, and they easily come to an end with
daylight and the stir of life.  The sweet, pouting, innocent, round
thing!  It was impossible not to think of her.  Tito thought he should
like some time to take her a present that would please her, and just
learn if her step-father treated her more cruelly now her mother was
dead.  Or, should he at once undeceive Tessa, and then tell Romola about
her, so that they might find some happier lot for the poor thing?  No:
that unfortunate little incident of the _cerretano_ and the marriage,
and his allowing Tessa to part from him in delusion, must never be known
to Romola, and since no enlightenment could expel it from Tessa's mind,
there would always be a risk of betrayal; besides even little Tessa
might have some gall in her when she found herself disappointed in her
love--yes, she _must_ be a little in love with him, and that might make
it well that he should not see her again.  Yet it was a trifling
adventure such as a country girl would perhaps ponder on till some ruddy
contadino made acceptable love to her, when she would break her
resolution of secrecy and get at the truth that she was free.
_Dunque_--good-bye, Tessa! kindest wishes!  Tito had made up his mind
that the silly little affair of the _cerretano_ should have no further
consequences for himself; and people are apt to think that resolutions
taken on their own behalf will be firm.  As for the fifty-five florins,
the purchase-money of the ring, Tito had made up his mind what to do
with some of them; he would carry out a pretty ingenious thought which
would set him more at ease in accounting for the absence of his ring to
Romola, and would also serve him as a means of guarding her mind from
the recurrence of those monkish fancies which were especially repugnant
to him; and with this thought in his mind, he went to the Via Gualfonda
to find Piero di Cosimo, the artist who at that time was pre-eminent in
the fantastic mythological design which Tito's purpose required.

Entering the court on which Piero's dwelling opened, Tito found the
heavy iron knocker on the door thickly bound round with wool and
ingeniously fastened with cords.  Remembering the painter's practice of
stuffing his ears against obtrusive noises, Tito was not much surprised
at this mode of defence against visitors' thunder, and betook himself
first to tapping modestly with his knuckles, and then to a more
importunate attempt to shake the door.  In rain!  Tito was moving away,
blaming himself for wasting his time on this visit, instead of waiting
till he saw the painter again at Nello's, when a little girl entered the
court with a basket of eggs on her arm, went up to the door, and
standing on tiptoe, pushed up a small iron plate that ran in grooves,
and putting her mouth to the aperture thus disclosed, called out in a
piping voice, "Messer Piero!"

In a few moments Tito heard the sound of bolts, the door opened, and
Piero presented himself in a red night-cap and a loose brown serge
tunic, with sleeves rolled up to the shoulder.  He darted a look of
surprise at Tito, but without further notice of him stretched out his
hand to take the basket from the child, re-entered the house, and
presently returning with the empty basket, said, "How much to pay?"

"Two grossoni, Messer Piero; they are all ready boiled, my mother says."

Piero took the coin out of the leathern scarsella at his belt, and the
little maiden trotted away, not without a few upward glances of awed
admiration at the surprising young signor.

Piero's glance was much less complimentary as he said--

"What do you want at my door, Messer Greco?  I saw you this morning at
Nello's; if you had asked me then, I could have told you that I see no
man in this house without knowing his business and agreeing with him
beforehand."

"Pardon, Messer Piero," said Tito, with his imperturbable good-humour;
"I acted without sufficient reflection.  I remembered nothing but your
admirable skill in inventing pretty caprices, when a sudden desire for
something of that sort prompted me to come to you."

The painter's manners were too notoriously odd to all the world for this
reception to be held a special affront; but even if Tito had suspected
any offensive intention, the impulse to resentment would have been less
strong in him than the desire to conquer goodwill.

Piero made a grimace which was habitual with him when he was spoken to
with flattering suavity.  He grinned, stretched out the corners of his
mouth, and pressed down his brows, so as to defy any divination of his
feelings under that kind of stroking.

"And what may that need be?" he said, after a moment's pause.  In his
heart he was tempted by the hinted opportunity of applying his
invention.

"I want a very delicate miniature device taken from certain fables of
the poets, which you will know how to combine for me.  It must be
painted on a wooden case--I will show you the size--in the form of a
triptych.  The inside may be simple gilding: it is on the outside I want
the device.  It is a favourite subject with you Florentines--the triumph
of Bacchus and Ariadne; but I want it treated in a new way.  A story in
Ovid will give you the necessary hints.  The young Bacchus must be
seated in a ship, his head bound with clusters of grapes, and a spear
entwined with vine-leaves in his hand: dark-berried ivy must wind about
the masts and sails, the oars must be thyrsi, and flowers must wreathe
themselves about the poop; leopards and tigers must be crouching before
him, and dolphins must be sporting round.  But I want to have the
fair-haired Ariadne with him, made immortal with her golden crown--that
is not in Ovid's story, but no matter, you will conceive it all--and
above there must be young Loves, such as you know how to paint, shooting
with roses at the points of their arrows--"

"Say no more!" said Piero.  "I have Ovid in the vulgar tongue.  Find me
the passage.  I love not to be choked with other men's thoughts.  You
may come in."

Piero led the way through the first room, where a basket of eggs was
deposited on the open hearth, near a heap of broken egg-shells and a
bank of ashes.  In strange keeping with that sordid litter, there was a
low bedstead of carved ebony, covered carelessly with a piece of rich
oriental carpet, that looked as if it had served to cover the steps to a
Madonna's throne; and a carved _cassone_, or large chest, with painted
devices on its sides and lid.  There was hardly any other furniture in
the large room, except casts, wooden steps, easels and rough boxes, all
festooned with cobwebs.

The next room was still larger, but it was also much more crowded.
Apparently Piero was keeping the Festa, for the double door underneath
the window which admitted the painter's light from above, was thrown
open, and showed a garden, or rather thicket, in which fig-trees and
vines grew in tangled trailing wildness among nettles and hemlocks, and
a tall cypress lifted its dark head from a stifling mass of yellowish
mulberry-leaves.  It seemed as if that dank luxuriance had begun to
penetrate even within the walls of the wide and lofty room; for in one
corner, amidst a confused heap of carved marble fragments and rusty
armour, tufts of long grass and dark feathery fennel had made their way,
and a large stone vase, tilted on one side, seemed to be pouring out the
ivy that streamed around.  All about the walls hung pen and oil-sketches
of fantastic sea-monsters; dances of satyrs and maenads; Saint
Margaret's resurrection out of the devouring dragon; Madonnas with the
supernal light upon them; studies of plants and grotesque heads; and on
irregular rough shelves a few books were scattered among great drooping
bunches of corn, bullocks' horns, pieces of dried honeycomb, stones with
patches of rare-coloured lichen, skulls and bones, peacocks' feathers,
and large birds' wings.  Rising from amongst the dirty litter of the
floor were lay figures: one in the frock of a Vallombrosan monk,
strangely surmounted by a helmet with barred visor, another smothered
with brocade and skins hastily tossed over it.  Amongst this
heterogeneous still life, several speckled and white pigeons were
perched or strutting, too tame to fly at the entrance of men; three
corpulent toads were crawling in an intimate friendly way near the
door-stone; and a white rabbit, apparently the model for that which was
frightening Cupid in the picture of Mars and Venus placed on the central
easel, was twitching its nose with much content on a box full of bran.

"And now, Messer Greco," said Piero, making a sign to Tito that he might
sit down on a low stool near the door, and then standing over him with
folded arms, "don't be trying to see everything at once, like Messer
Domeneddio, but let me know how large you would have this same
triptych."

Tito indicated the required dimensions, and Piero marked them on a piece
of paper.

"And now for the book," said Piero, reaching down a manuscript volume.

"There's nothing about the Ariadne there," said Tito, giving him the
passage; "but you will remember I want the crowned Ariadne by the side
of the young Bacchus: she must have golden hair."

"Ha!" said Piero, abruptly, pursing up his lips again.  "And you want
them to be likenesses, eh?" he added, looking down into Tito's face.

Tito laughed and blushed.  "I know you are great at portraits, Messer
Piero; but I could not ask Ariadne to sit for you, because the painting
is a secret."

"There it is!  I want her to sit to me.  Giovanni Vespucci wants me to
paint him a picture of Oedipus and Antigone at Colonos, as he has
expounded it to me: I have a fancy for the subject, and I want Bardo and
his daughter to sit for it.  Now, you ask them; and then I'll put the
likeness into Ariadne."

"Agreed, if I can prevail with them.  And your price for the Bacchus and
Ariadne?"

"_Baie_!  If you get them to let me paint them, that will pay me.  I'd
rather not have your money: you may pay for the case."

"And when shall I sit for you?" said Tito; "for if we have one likeness,
we must have two."

"I don't want _your_ likeness; I've got it already," said Piero, "only
I've made you look frightened.  I must take the fright out of it for
Bacchus."

As he was speaking, Piero laid down the book and went to look among some
paintings, propped with their faces against the wall.  He returned with
an oil-sketch in his hand.

"I call this as good a bit of portrait as I ever did," he said, looking
at it as he advanced.  "Yours is a face that expresses fear well,
because it's naturally a bright one.  I noticed it the first time I saw
you.  The rest of the picture is hardly sketched; but I've painted _you_
in thoroughly."

Piero turned the sketch, and held it towards Tito's eyes.  He saw
himself with his right-hand uplifted, holding a wine-cup, in the
attitude of triumphant joy, but with his face turned away from the cup
with an expression of such intense fear in the dilated eyes and pallid
lips, that he felt a cold stream through his veins, as if he were being
thrown into sympathy with his imaged self.

"You are beginning to look like it already," said Piero, with a short
laugh, moving the picture away again.  "He's seeing a ghost--that fine
young man.  I shall finish it some day, when I've settled what sort of
ghost is the most terrible--whether it should look solid, like a dead
man come to life, or half transparent, like a mist."

Tito, rather ashamed of himself for a sudden sensitiveness strangely
opposed to his usual easy self-command, said carelessly--

"That is a subject after your own heart, Messer Piero--a revel
interrupted by a ghost.  You seem to love the blending of the terrible
with the gay.  I suppose that is the reason your shelves are so well
furnished with death's-heads, while you are painting those roguish Loves
who are running away with the armour of Mars.  I begin to think you are
a Cynic philosopher in the pleasant disguise of a cunning painter."

"Not I, Messer Greco; a philosopher is the last sort of animal I should
choose to resemble.  I find it enough to live, without spinning lies to
account for life.  Fowls cackle, asses bray, women chatter, and
philosophers spin false reasons--that's the effect the sight of the
world brings out of them.  Well, I am an animal that paints instead of
cackling, or braying, or spinning lies.  And now, I think, our business
is done; you'll keep to your side of the bargain about the Oedipus and
Antigone?"

"I will do my best," said Tito--on this strong hint, immediately moving
towards the door.

"And you'll let me know at Nello's.  No need to come here again."

"I understand," said Tito, laughingly, lifting his hand in sign of
friendly parting.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

THE OLD MAN'S HOPE.

Messer Bernardo del Nero was as inexorable as Romola had expected in his
advice that the marriage should be deferred till Easter, and in this
matter Bardo was entirely under the ascendancy of his sagacious and
practical friend.  Nevertheless, Bernardo himself, though he was as far
as ever from any susceptibility to the personal fascination in Tito
which was felt by others, could not altogether resist that argument of
success which is always powerful with men of the world.  Tito was making
his way rapidly in high quarters.  He was especially growing in favour
with the young Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, who had even spoken of
Tito's forming part of his learned retinue on an approaching journey to
Rome; and the bright young Greek who had a tongue that was always ready
without ever being quarrelsome, was more and more wished for at gay
suppers in the Via Larga, and at Florentine games in which he had no
pretension to excel, and could admire the incomparable skill of Piero
de' Medici in the most graceful manner in the world.  By an unfailing
sequence, Tito's reputation as an agreeable companion in "magnificent"
society made his learning and talent appear more lustrous: and he was
really accomplished enough to prevent an exaggerated estimate from being
hazardous to him.  Messer Bernardo had old prejudices and attachments
which now began to argue down the newer and feebler prejudice against
the young Greek stranger who was rather too supple.  To the old
Florentine it was impossible to despise the recommendation of standing
well with the best Florentine families, and since Tito began to be
thoroughly received into that circle whose views were the unquestioned
standard of social value, it seemed irrational not to admit that there
was no longer any check to satisfaction in the prospect of such a
son-in-law for Bardo, and such a husband for Romola.  It was undeniable
that Tito's coming had been the dawn of a new life for both father and
daughter, and the first promise had even been surpassed.  The blind old
scholar--whose proud truthfulness would never enter into that commerce
of feigned and preposterous admiration which, varied by a corresponding
measurelessness in vituperation, made the woof of all learned
intercourse--had fallen into neglect even among his fellow-citizens, and
when he was alluded to at all, it had long been usual to say that,
though his blindness and the loss of his son were pitiable misfortunes,
he was tiresome in contending for the value of his own labours; and that
his discontent was a little inconsistent in a man who had been openly
regardless of religious rites, and who in days past had refused offers
made to him from various quarters, on the slight condition that he would
take orders, without which it was not easy for patrons to provide for
every scholar.  But since Tito's coming, there was no longer the same
monotony in the thought that Bardo's name suggested; the old man, it was
understood, had left off his plaints, and the fair daughter was no
longer to be shut up in dowerless pride, waiting for a _parentado_.  The
winning manners and growing favour of the handsome Greek who was
expected to enter into the double relation of son and husband helped to
make the new interest a thoroughly friendly one, and it was no longer a
rare occurrence when a visitor enlivened the quiet library.  Elderly men
came from that indefinite prompting to renew former intercourse which
arises when an old acquaintance begins to be newly talked about; and
young men whom Tito had asked leave to bring once, found it easy to go
again when they overtook him on his way to the Via de' Bardi, and,
resting their hands on his shoulder, fell into easy chat with him.  For
it was pleasant to look at Romola's beauty; to see her, like old
Firenzuola's type of womanly majesty, "sitting with a certain grandeur,
speaking with gravity, smiling with modesty, and casting around, as it
were, an odour of queenliness;" [Note 1] and she seemed to unfold like a
strong white lily under this genial breath of admiration and homage; it
was all one to her with her new bright life in Tito's love.

Tito had even been the means of strengthening the hope in Bardo's mind
that he might before his death receive the longed-for security
concerning his library: that it should not be merged in another
collection; that it should not be transferred to a body of monks, and be
called by the name of a monastery; but that it should remain for ever
the Bardi Library, for the use of Florentines.  For the old habit of
trusting in the Medici could not die out while their influence was still
the strongest lever in the State; and Tito, once possessing the ear of
the Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, might do more even than Messer
Bernardo towards winning the desired interest, for he could demonstrate
to a learned audience the peculiar value of Bardi's collection.  Tito
himself talked sanguinely of such a result, willing to cheer the old
man, and conscious that Romola repaid those gentle words to her father
with a sort of adoration that no direct tribute to herself could have
won from her.

This question of the library was the subject of more than one discussion
with Bernardo del Nero when Christmas was turned and the prospect of the
marriage was becoming near--but always out of Bardo's hearing.  For
Bardo nursed a vague belief, which they dared not disturb, that his
property, apart from the library, was adequate to meet all demands.  He
would not even, except under a momentary pressure of angry despondency,
admit to himself that the will by which he had disinherited Dino would
leave Romola the heir of nothing but debts; or that he needed anything
from patronage beyond the security that a separate locality should be
assigned to his library, in return for a deed of gift by which he made
it over to the Florentine Republic.

"My opinion is," said Bernardo to Romola, in a consultation they had
under the loggia, "that since you are to be married, and Messer Tito
will have a competent income, we should begin to wind up the affairs,
and ascertain exactly the sum that would be necessary to save the
library from being touched, instead of letting the debts accumulate any
longer.  Your father needs nothing but his shred of mutton and his
macaroni every day, and I think Messer Tito may engage to supply that
for the years that remain; he can let it be in place of the
_morgen-cap_."

"Tito has always known that my life is bound up with my father's," said
Romola; "and he is better to my father than I am: he delights in making
him happy."

"Ah, he's not made of the same clay as other men, is he?" said Bernardo,
smiling.  "Thy father has thought of shutting woman's folly out of thee
by cramming thee with Greek and Latin; but thou hast been as ready to
believe in the first pair of bright eyes and the first soft words that
have come within reach of thee, as if thou couldst say nothing by heart
but Paternosters, like other Christian men's daughters."

"Now, godfather," said Romola, shaking her head playfully, "as if it
were only bright eyes and soft words that made me love Tito!  You know
better.  You know I love my father and you because you are both good,
and I love Tito too because he is so good.  I see it, I feel it, in
everything he says and does.  And if he is handsome, too, why should I
not love him the better for that?  It seems to me beauty is part of the
finished language by which goodness speaks.  You know _you_ must have
been a very handsome youth, godfather,"--she looked up with one of her
happy, loving smiles at the stately old man--"you were about as tall as
Tito, and you had very fine eyes; only you looked a little sterner and
prouder, and--"

"And Romola likes to have all the pride to herself?" said Bernardo, not
inaccessible to this pretty coaxing.  "However, it is well that in one
way Tito's demands are more modest than those of any Florentine husband
of fitting rank that we should have been likely to find for you; he
wants no dowry."

So it was settled in that way between Messer Bernardo del Nero, Romola,
and Tito.  Bardo assented with a wave of the hand when Bernardo told him
that he thought it would be well now to begin to sell property and clear
off debts; being accustomed to think of debts and property as a sort of
thick wood that his imagination never even penetrated, still less got
beyond.  And Tito set about winning Messer Bernardo's respect by
inquiring, with his ready faculty, into Florentine money-matters, the
secrets of the _Monti_ or public funds, the values of real property, and
the profits of banking.

"You will soon forget that Tito is not a Florentine, godfather," said
Romola.  "See how he is learning everything about Florence."

"It seems to me he is one of the _demoni_, who are of no particular
country, child," said Bernardo, smiling.  "His mind is a little too
nimble to be weighted with all the stuff we men carry about in our
hearts."

Romola smiled too, in happy confidence.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  "Quando una donna e grande, ben formata, porta ben sua persona,
siede con una certa grandezza, parla con gravita, ride con modestia, e
finalmente getta quasi un odor di Regina; allora noi diciamo quella
donna pare una maesta, ella ha una maesta."--Firenzuola: _Della Bellezza
delle Donne_.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

THE DAY OF THE BETROTHAL.

It was the last week of the Carnival, and the streets of Florence were
at their fullest and noisiest: there were the masqued processions,
chanting songs, indispensable now they had once been introduced by
Lorenzo the Magnificent; there was the favourite rigoletto, or round
dance, footed "in piazza" under the blue frosty sky; there were
practical jokes of all sorts, from throwing comfits to throwing stones--
especially stones.  For the boys and striplings, always a strong element
in Florentine crowds, became at the height of Carnival-time as loud and
unmanageable as tree-crickets, and it was their immemorial privilege to
bar the way with poles to all passengers, until a tribute had been paid
towards furnishing those lovers of strong sensations with suppers and
bonfires: to conclude with the standing entertainment of stone-throwing,
which was not entirely monotonous, since the consequent maiming was
various, and it was not always a single person who was killed.  So that
the pleasures of the Carnival were of a checkered kind, and if a painter
were called upon to represent them truly, he would have to make a
picture in which there would be so much grossness and barbarity that it
must be turned with its face to the wall, except when it was taken down
for the grave historical purpose of justifying a reforming zeal which,
in ignorance of the facts, might be unfairly condemned for its
narrowness.  Still there was much of that more innocent picturesque
merriment which is never wanting among a people with quick animal
spirits and sensitive organs: there was not the heavy sottishness which
belongs to the thicker northern blood, nor the stealthy fierceness which
in the more southern regions of the peninsula makes the brawl lead to
the dagger-thrust.

It was the high morning, but the merry spirits of the Carnival were
still inclined to lounge and recapitulate the last night's jests, when
Tito Melema was walking at a brisk pace on the way to the Via de' Bardi.
Young Bernardo Dovizi, who now looks at us out of Raphael's portrait as
the keen-eyed Cardinal da Bibbiena, was with him; and, as they went,
they held animated talk about some subject that had evidently no
relation to the sights and sounds through which they were pushing their
way along the Por' Santa Maria.  Nevertheless, as they discussed,
smiled, and gesticulated, they both, from time to time, cast quick
glances around them, and at the turning towards the Lung' Arno, leading
to the Ponte Rubaconte, Tito had become aware, in one of these rapid
surveys, that there was some one not far off him by whom he very much
desired not to be recognised at that moment.  His time and thoughts were
thoroughly preoccupied, for he was looking forward to a unique occasion
in his life: he was preparing for his betrothal, which was to take place
on the evening of this very day.  The ceremony had been resolved upon
rather suddenly; for although preparations towards the marriage had been
going forward for some time--chiefly in the application of Tito's
florins to the fitting up of rooms in Bardo's dwelling, which, the
library excepted, had always been scantily furnished--it had been
intended to defer both the betrothal and the marriage until after
Easter, when Tito's year of probation, insisted on by Bernardo del Nero,
would have been complete.  But when an express proposition had come,
that Tito should follow the Cardinal Giovanni to Rome to help Bernardo
Dovizi with his superior knowledge of Greek in arranging a library, and
there was no possibility of declining what lay so plainly on the road to
advancement, he had become urgent in his entreaties that the betrothal
might take place before his departure: there would be the less delay
before the marriage on his return, and it would be less painful to part
if he and Romola were outwardly as well as inwardly pledged to each
other--if he had a claim which defied Messer Bernardo or any one else to
nullify it.  For the betrothal, at which rings were exchanged and mutual
contracts were signed, made more than half the legality of marriage, to
be completed on a separate occasion by the nuptial benediction.
Romola's feeling had met Tito's in this wish, and the consent of the
elders had been won.

And now Tito was hastening, amidst arrangements for his departure the
next day, to snatch a morning visit to Romola, to say and hear any last
words that were needful to be said before their meeting for the
betrothal in the evening.  It was not a time when any recognition could
be pleasant that was at all likely to detain him; still less a
recognition by Tessa.  And it was unmistakably Tessa whom he had caught
sight of moving along, with a timid and forlorn look, towards that very
turn of the Lung' Arno which he was just rounding.  As he continued his
talk with the young Dovizi, he had an uncomfortable undercurrent of
consciousness which told him that Tessa had seen him and would certainly
follow him: there was no escaping her along this direct road by the
Arno, and over the Ponte Rubaconte.  But she would not dare to speak to
him or approach him while he was not alone, and he would continue to
keep Dovizi with him till they reached Bardo's door.  He quickened his
pace, and took up new threads of talk; but all the while the sense that
Tessa was behind him, though he had no physical evidence of the fact,
grew stronger and stronger; it was very irritating--perhaps all the more
so because a certain tenderness and pity for the poor little thing made
the determination to escape without any visible notice of her, a not
altogether agreeable resource.  Yet Tito persevered and carried his
companion to the door, cleverly managing his "addio" without turning his
face in a direction where it was possible for him to see an importunate
pair of blue eyes; and as he went up the stone steps, he tried to get
rid of unpleasant thoughts by saying to himself that after all Tessa
might not have seen him, or, if she had, might not have followed him.

But--perhaps because that possibility could not be relied on strongly--
when the visit was over, he came out of the doorway with a quick step
and an air of unconsciousness as to anything that might be on his
right-hand or his left.  Our eyes are so constructed, however, that they
take in a wide angle without asking any leave of our will; and Tito knew
that there was a little figure in a white hood standing near the
doorway--knew it quite well, before he felt a hand laid on his arm.  It
was a real grasp, and not a light, timid touch; for poor Tessa, seeing
his rapid step, had started forward with a desperate effort.  But when
he stopped and turned towards her, her face wore a frightened look, as
if she dreaded the effect of her boldness.

"Tessa!" said Tito, with more sharpness in his voice than she had ever
heard in it before.  "Why are you here?  You must not follow me--you
must not stand about door-places waiting for me."

Her blue eyes widened with tears, and she said nothing.  Tito was afraid
of something worse than ridicule, if he were seen in the Via de' Bardi
with a girlish contadina looking pathetically at him.  It was a street
of high silent-looking dwellings, not of traffic; but Bernardo del Nero,
or some one almost as dangerous, might come up at any moment.  Even if
it had not been the day of his betrothal, the incident would have been
awkward and annoying.  Yet it would be brutal--it was impossible--to
drive Tessa away with harsh words.  That accursed folly of his with the
_cerretano_--that it should have lain buried in a quiet way for months,
and now start up before him as this unseasonable crop of vexation!  He
could not speak harshly, but he spoke hurriedly.

"Tessa, I cannot--must not talk to you here.  I will go on to the bridge
and wait for you there.  Follow me slowly."

He turned and walked fast to the Ponte Rubaconte, and there leaned
against the wall of one of the quaint little houses that rise at even
distances on the bridge, looking towards the way by which Tessa would
come.  It would have softened a much harder heart than Tito's to see the
little thing advancing with her round face much paled and saddened since
he had parted from it at the door of the "Nunziata."  Happily it was the
least frequented of the bridges, and there were scarcely any passengers
on it at this moment.  He lost no time in speaking as soon as she came
near him.

"Now, Tessa, I have very little time.  You must not cry.  Why did you
follow me this morning?  You must not do so again."

"I thought," said Tessa, speaking in a whisper, and struggling against a
sob that _would_ rise immediately at this new voice of Tito's--"I
thought you wouldn't be so long before you came to take care of me
again.  And the _patrigno_ beats me, and I can't bear it any longer.
And always when I come for a holiday I walk about to find you, and I
can't.  Oh, please don't send me away from you again!  It has been so
long, and I cry so now, because you never come to me.  I can't help it,
for the days are so long, and I don't mind about the goats and kids, or
anything--and I can't--"

The sobs came fast now, and the great tears.  Tito felt that he could
not do otherwise than comfort her.  Send her away--yes; that he _must_
do, at once.  But it was all the more impossible to tell her anything
that would leave her in a state of hopeless grief.  He saw new trouble
in the background, but the difficulty of the moment was too pressing for
him to weigh distant consequences.

"Tessa, my little one," he said, in his old caressing tones, "you must
not cry.  Bear with the cross _patrigno_ a little longer.  I will come
back to you.  But I'm going now to Rome--a long, long way off.  I shall
come back in a few weeks, and then I promise you to come and see you.
Promise me to be good and wait for me."

It was the well-remembered voice again, and the mere sound was half
enough to soothe Tessa.  She looked up at him with trusting eyes, that
still glittered with tears, sobbing all the while, in spite of her
utmost efforts to obey him.  Again he said, in a gentle voice--

"Promise me, my Tessa."

"Yes," she whispered.  "But you won't be long?"

"No, not long.  But I must _go now_.  And remember what I told you,
Tessa.  Nobody must know that you ever see me, else you will lose me for
ever.  And now, when I have left you, go straight home, and never follow
me again.  Wait till I come to you.  Good-bye, my little Tessa: I _will_
come."

There was no help for it; he must turn and leave her without looking
behind him to see how she bore it, for he had no time to spare.  When he
did look round he was in the Via de' Benci, where there was no seeing
what was happening on the bridge; but Tessa was too trusting and
obedient not to do just what he had told her.

Yes, the difficulty was at an end for that day; yet this return of Tessa
to him, at a moment when it was impossible for him to put an end to all
difficulty with her by undeceiving her, was an unpleasant incident to
carry in his memory.  But Tito's mind was just now thoroughly penetrated
with a hopeful first love, associated with all happy prospects
flattering to his ambition; and that future necessity of grieving Tessa
could be scarcely more to him than the far-off cry of some little
suffering animal buried in the thicket, to a merry cavalcade in the
sunny plain.  When, for the second time that day, Tito was hastening
across the Ponte Rubaconte, the thought of Tessa caused no perceptible
diminution of his happiness.  He was well muffled in his mantle, less,
perhaps, to protect him from the cold than from the additional notice
that would have been drawn upon him by his dainty apparel.  He leaped up
the stone steps by two at a time, and said hurriedly to Maso, who met
him--

"Where is the damigella?"

"In the library; she is quite ready, and Monna Brigida and Messer
Bernardo are already there with Ser Braccio, but none of the rest of the
company."

"Ask her to give me a few minutes alone; I will await her in the
_salotto_."

Tito entered a room which had been fitted up in the utmost contrast with
the half-pallid, half-sombre tints of the library.  The walls were
brightly frescoed with "caprices" of nymphs and loves sporting under the
blue among flowers and birds.  The only furniture besides the red
leather seats and the central table were two tall white vases, and a
young faun playing the flute, modelled by a promising youth named
Michelangelo Buonarotti.  It was a room that gave a sense of being in
the sunny open air.

Tito kept his mantle round him, and looked towards the door.  It was not
long before Romola entered, all white and gold, more than ever like a
tall lily.  Her white silk garment was bound by a golden girdle, which
fell with large tassels; and above that was the rippling gold of her
hair, surmounted by the white mist of her long veil, which was fastened
on her brow by a band of pearls, the gift of Bernardo del Nero, and was
now parted off her face so that it all floated backward.

"Regina mia!" said Tito, as he took her hand and kissed it, still
keeping his mantle round him.  He could not help going backward to look
at her again, while she stood in calm delight, with that exquisite
self-consciousness which rises under the gaze of admiring love.

"Romola, will you show me the next room now?" said Tito, checking
himself with the remembrance that the time might be short.  "You said I
should see it when you had arranged everything."

Without speaking, she led the way into a long narrow room, painted
brightly like the other, but only with birds and flowers.  The furniture
in it was all old; there were old faded objects for feminine use or
ornament, arranged in an open cabinet between the two narrow windows;
above the cabinet was the portrait of Romola's mother; and below this,
on the top of the cabinet, stood the crucifix which Romola had brought
from San Marco.

"I have brought something under my mantle," said Tito, smiling; and
throwing off the large loose garment, he showed the little tabernacle
which had been painted by Piero di Cosimo.  The painter had carried out
Tito's intention charmingly, and so far had atoned for his long delay.
"Do you know what this is for, my Romola?" added Tito, taking her by the
hand, and leading her towards the cabinet.  "It is a little shrine,
which is to hide away from you for ever that remembrancer of sadness.
You have done with sadness now; and we will bury all images of it--bury
them in a tomb of joy.  See!"

A slight quiver passed across Romola's face as Tito took hold of the
crucifix.  But she had no wish to prevent his purpose; on the contrary,
she herself wished to subdue certain importunate memories and
questionings which still flitted like unexplained shadows across her
happier thought.

He opened the triptych and placed the crucifix within the central space;
then closing it again, taking out the key, and setting the little
tabernacle in the spot where the crucifix had stood, said--

"Now, Romola, look and see if you are satisfied with the portraits old
Piero has made of us.  Is it not a dainty device? and the credit of
choosing it is mine."

"Ah! it is you--it is perfect!" said Romola, looking with moist joyful
eyes at the miniature Bacchus, with his purple clusters.  "And I am
Ariadne, and you are crowning me!  Yes, it is true, Tito; you have
crowned my poor life."

They held each other's hands while she spoke, and both looked at their
imaged selves.  But the reality was far more beautiful; she all
lily-white and golden, and he with his dark glowing beauty above the
purple red-bordered tunic.

"And it was our good strange Piero who painted it?" said Romola.  "Did
you put it into his head to paint me as Antigone, that he might have my
likeness for this?"

"No, it was he who made my getting leave for him to paint you and your
father, a condition of his doing this for me."

"Ah!  I see now what it was you gave up your precious ring for.  I
perceived you had some cunning plan to give me pleasure."

Tito did not blench.  Romola's little illusions about himself had long
ceased to cause him anything but satisfaction.  He only smiled and
said--

"I might have spared my ring; Piero will accept no money from me; he
thinks himself paid by painting you.  And now, while I am away, you will
look every day at those pretty symbols of our life together--the ship on
the calm sea, and the ivy that never withers, and those Loves that have
left off wounding us and shower soft petals that are like our kisses;
and the leopards and tigers, they are the troubles of your life that are
all quelled now; and the strange sea-monsters, with their merry eyes--
let us see--they are the dull passages in the heavy books, which have
begun to be amusing since we have sat by each other."

"Tito mio!" said Romola, in a half-laughing voice of love; "but you will
give me the key?" she added, holding out her hand for it.

"Not at all!" said Tito, with playful decision, opening his scarsella
and dropping in the little key.  "I shall drown it in the Arno."

"But if I ever wanted to look at the crucifix again?"

"Ah! for that very reason it is hidden--hidden by these images of youth
and joy."

He pressed a light kiss on her brow, and she said no more, ready to
submit, like all strong souls, when she felt no valid reason for
resistance.

And then they joined the waiting company, which made a dignified little
procession as it passed along the Ponte Rubaconte towards Santa Croce.
Slowly it passed, for Bardo, unaccustomed for years to leave his own
house, walked with a more timid step than usual; and that slow pace
suited well with the gouty dignity of Messer Bartolommeo Scala, who
graced the occasion by his presence, along with his daughter Alessandra.
It was customary to have very long troops of kindred and friends at the
_sposalizio_, or betrothal, and it had even been found necessary in time
past to limit the number by law to no more than _four hundred_--two
hundred on each side; for since the guests were all feasted after this
initial ceremony, as well as after the _nozze_, or marriage, the very
first stage of matrimony had become a ruinous expense, as that scholarly
Benedict, Leonardo Bruno, complained in his own case.  But Bardo, who in
his poverty had kept himself proudly free from any appearance of
claiming the advantages attached to a powerful family name, would have
no invitations given on the strength of mere friendship; and the modest
procession of twenty that followed the _sposi_ were, with three or four
exceptions, friends of Bardo's and Tito's selected on personal grounds.

Bernardo del Nero walked as a vanguard before Bardo, who was led on the
right by Tito, while Romola held her father's other hand.  Bardo had
himself been married at Santa Croce, and had insisted on Romola's being
betrothed and married there, rather than in the little church of Santa
Lucia close by their house, because he had a complete mental vision of
the grand church where he hoped that a burial might be granted him among
the Florentines who had deserved well.  Happily the way was short and
direct, and lay aloof from the loudest riot of the Carnival, if only
they could return before any dances or shows began in the great piazza
of Santa Croce.  The west was red as they passed the bridge, and shed a
mellow light on the pretty procession, which had a touch of solemnity in
the presence of the blind father.  But when the ceremony was over, and
Tito and Romola came out on to the broad steps of the church, with the
golden links of destiny on their fingers, the evening had deepened into
struggling starlight, and the servants had their torches lit.

While they came out, a strange dreary chant, as of a _Miserere_, met
their ears, and they saw that at the extreme end of the piazza there
seemed to be a stream of people impelled by something approaching from
the Borgo de' Greci.

"It is one of their masqued processions, I suppose," said Tito, who was
now alone with Romola, while Bernardo took charge of Bardo.

And as he spoke there came slowly into view, at a height far above the
heads of the onlookers, a huge and ghastly image of Winged Time with his
scythe and hour-glass, surrounded by his winged children, the Hours.  He
was mounted on a high car completely covered with black, and the
bullocks that drew the car were also covered with black, their horns
alone standing out white above the gloom; so that in the sombre shadow
of the houses it seemed to those at a distance as if Time and his
children were apparitions floating through the air.  And behind them
came what looked like a troop of the sheeted dead gliding above
blackness.  And as they glided slowly, they chanted in a wailing strain.

A cold horror seized on Romola, for at the first moment it seemed as if
her brother's vision, which could never be effaced from her mind, was
being half fulfilled.  She clung to Tito, who, divining what was in her
thoughts, said--

"What dismal fooling sometimes pleases your Florentines!  Doubtless this
is an invention of Piero di Cosimo, who loves such grim merriment."

"Tito, I wish it had not happened.  It will deepen the images of that
vision which I would fain be rid of."

"Nay, Romola, you will look only at the images of our happiness now.  I
have locked all sadness away from you."

"But it is still there--it is only hidden," said Romola, in a low tone,
hardly conscious that she spoke.

"See, they are all gone now!" said Tito.  "You will forget this ghastly
mummery when we are in the light, and can see each other's eyes.  My
Ariadne must never look backward now--only forward to Easter, when she
will triumph with her Care-dispeller."



PART TWO.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

FLORENCE EXPECTS A GUEST.

It was the 17th of November 1494: more than eighteen months since Tito
and Romola had been finally united in the joyous Easter time, and had
had a rainbow-tinted shower of comfits thrown over them, after the
ancient Greek fashion, in token that the heavens would shower sweets on
them through all their double life.

Since that Easter a great change had come over the prospects of
Florence; and as in the tree that bears a myriad of blossoms, each
single bud with its fruit is dependent on the primary circulation of the
sap, so the fortunes of Tito and Romola were dependent on certain grand
political and social conditions which made an epoch in the history of
Italy.

In this very November, little more than a week ago, the spirit of the
old centuries seemed to have re-entered the breasts of Florentines.  The
great bell in the palace tower had rung out the hammer-sound of alarm,
and the people had mustered with their rusty arms, their tools and
impromptu cudgels, to drive out the Medici.  The gate of San Gallo had
been fairly shut on the arrogant, exasperating Piero, galloping away
towards Bologna with his hired horsemen frightened behind him, and shut
on his keener young brother, the cardinal, escaping in the disguise of a
Franciscan monk: a price had been set on both their heads.  After that,
there had been some sacking of houses, according to old precedent; the
ignominious images, painted on the public buildings, of the men who had
conspired against the Medici in days gone by, were effaced; the exiled
enemies of the Medici were invited home.  The half-fledged tyrants were
fairly out of their splendid nest in the Via Larga, and the Republic had
recovered the use of its will again.

But now, a week later, the great palace in the Via Larga had been
prepared for the reception of another tenant; and if drapery roofing the
streets with unwonted colour, if banners and hangings pouring out of the
windows, if carpets and tapestry stretched over all steps and pavement
on which exceptional feet might tread, were an unquestionable proof of
joy, Florence was very joyful in the expectation of its new guest.  The
stream of colour flowed from the palace in the Via Larga round by the
Cathedral, then by the great Piazza della Signoria, and across the Ponte
Vecchio to the Porta San Frediano--the gate that looks towards Pisa.
There, near the gate, a platform and canopy had been erected for the
Signoria; and Messer Luca Corsini, doctor of law, felt his heart
palpitating a little with the sense that he had a Latin oration to read;
and every chief elder in Florence had to make himself ready, with smooth
chin and well-lined silk lucco, to walk in procession; and the well-born
youths were looking at their rich new tunics after the French mode which
was to impress the stranger as having a peculiar grace when worn by
Florentines; and a large body of the clergy, from the archbishop in his
effulgence to the train of monks, black, white, and grey, were
consulting betimes in the morning how they should marshal themselves,
with their burden of relics and sacred banners and consecrated jewels,
that their movements might be adjusted to the expected arrival of the
illustrious visitor, at three o'clock in the afternoon.

An unexampled visitor!  For he had come through the passes of the Alps
with such an army as Italy had not seen before: with thousands of
terrible Swiss, well used to fight for love and hatred as well as for
hire; with a host of gallant cavaliers proud of a name; with an
unprecedented infantry, in which every man in a hundred carried an
arquebus; nay, with cannon of bronze, shooting not stones but iron
balls, drawn not by bullocks but by horses, and capable of firing a
second time before a city could mend the breach made by the first ball.
Some compared the new-comer to Charlemagne, reputed rebuilder of
Florence, welcome conqueror of degenerate kings, regulator and
benefactor of the Church, some preferred the comparison to Cyrus,
liberator of the chosen people, restorer of the Temple.  For he had come
across the Alps with the most glorious projects: he was to march through
Italy amidst the jubilees of a grateful and admiring people; he was to
satisfy all conflicting complaints at Rome; he was to take possession,
by virtue of hereditary right and a little fighting, of the kingdom of
Naples; and from that convenient starting-point he was to set out on the
conquest of the Turks, who were partly to be cut to pieces and partly
converted to the faith of Christ.  It was a scheme that seemed to befit
the Most Christian King, head of a nation which, thanks to the devices
of a subtle Louis the Eleventh who had died in much fright as to his
personal prospects ten years before, had become the strongest of
Christian monarchies; and this antitype of Cyrus and Charlemagne was no
other than the son of that subtle Louis--the young Charles the Eighth of
France.

Surely, on a general statement, hardly anything could seem more
grandiose, or fitter to revive in the breasts of men the memory of great
dispensations by which new strata had been laid in the history of
mankind.  And there was a very widely spread conviction that the advent
of the French king and his army into Italy was one of those events at
which marble statues might well be believed to perspire, phantasmal
fiery warriors to fight in the air, and quadrupeds to bring forth
monstrous births--that it did not belong to the usual order of
Providence, but was in a peculiar sense the work of God.  It was a
conviction that rested less on the necessarily momentous character of a
powerful foreign invasion than on certain moral emotions to which the
aspect of the times gave the form of presentiments: emotions which had
found a very remarkable utterance in the voice of a single man.

That man was Fra Girolamo Savonarola, Prior of the Dominican convent of
San Marco in Florence.  On a September morning, when men's ears were
ringing with the news that the French army had entered Italy, he had
preached in the Cathedral of Florence from the text, "Behold I, even I,
do bring a flood of waters upon the earth."  He believed it was by
supreme guidance that he had reached just so far in his exposition of
Genesis the previous Lent; and he believed the "flood of water"--emblem
at once of avenging wrath and purifying mercy--to be the divinely--
indicated symbol of the French army.  His audience, some of whom were
held to be among the choicest spirits of the age--the most cultivated
men in the most cultivated of Italian cities--believed it too, and
listened with shuddering awe.  For this man had a power rarely
paralleled, of impressing his beliefs on others, and of swaying very
various minds.  And as long as four years ago he had proclaimed from the
chief pulpit of Florence that a scourge was about to descend on Italy,
and that by this scourge the Church was to be purified.  Savonarola
appeared to believe, and his hearers more or less waveringly believed,
that he had a mission like that of the Hebrew prophets, and that the
Florentines amongst whom his message was delivered were in some sense a
second chosen people.  The idea of prophetic gifts was not a remote one
in that age: seers of visions, circumstantial heralds of things to be,
were far from uncommon either outside or inside the cloister; but this
very fact made Savonarola stand out the more conspicuously as a grand
exception.  While in others the gift of prophecy was very much like a
farthing candle illuminating small corners of human destiny with
prophetic gossip, in Savonarola it was like a mighty beacon shining far
out for the warning and guidance of men.  And to some of the soberest
minds the supernatural character of his insight into the future gathered
a strong attestation from the peculiar conditions of the age.

At the close of 1492, the year in which Lorenzo de' Medici died and Tito
Melema came as a wanderer to Florence, Italy was enjoying a peace and
prosperity unthreatened by any near and definite danger.  There was no
fear of famine, for the seasons had been plenteous in corn, and wine,
and oil; new palaces had been rising in all fair cities, new villas on
pleasant slopes and summits; and the men who had more than their share
of these good things were in no fear of the larger number who had less.
For the citizens' armour was getting rusty, and populations seemed to
have become tame, licking the hands of masters who paid for a ready-made
army when they wanted it, as they paid for goods of Smyrna.  Even the
fear of the Turk had ceased to be active, and the Pope found it more
immediately profitable to accept bribes from him for a little
prospective poisoning than to form plans either for conquering or for
converting him.

Altogether this world, with its partitioned empire and its roomy
universal Church, seemed to be a handsome establishment for the few who
were lucky or wise enough to reap the advantages of human folly: a world
in which lust and obscenity, lying and treachery, oppression and murder,
were pleasant, useful, and when properly managed, not dangerous.  And as
a sort of fringe or adornment to the substantial delights of tyranny,
avarice, and lasciviousness, there was the patronage of polite learning
and the fine arts, so that flattery could always be had in the choicest
Latin to be commanded at that time, and sublime artists were at hand to
paint the holy and the unclean with impartial skill.  The Church, it was
said, had never been so disgraced in its head, had never shown so few
signs of renovating, vital belief in its lower members; nevertheless it
was much more prosperous than in some past days.  The heavens were fair
and smiling above; and below there were no signs of earthquake.

Yet at that time, as we have seen, there was a man in Florence who for
two years and more had been preaching that a scourge was at hand; that
the world was certainly not framed for the lasting convenience of
hypocrites, libertines, and oppressors.  From the midst of those smiling
heavens he had seen a sword hanging--the sword of God's justice--which
was speedily to descend with purifying punishment on the Church and the
world.  In brilliant Ferrara, seventeen years before, the contradiction
between men's lives and their professed beliefs had pressed upon him
with a force that had been enough to destroy his appetite for the world,
and at the age of twenty-three had driven him into the cloister.  He
believed that God had committed to the Church the sacred lamp of truth
for the guidance and salvation of men, and he saw that the Church, in
its corruption, had become a sepulchre to hide the lamp.  As the years
went on scandals increased and multiplied, and hypocrisy seemed to have
given place to impudence.  Had the world, then, ceased to have a
righteous Ruler?  Was the Church finally forsaken?  No, assuredly: in
the Sacred Book there was a record of the past in which might be seen as
in a glass what would be in the days to come, and the book showed that
when the wickedness of the chosen people, type of the Christian Church,
had become crying, the judgments of God had descended on them.  Nay,
reason itself declared that vengeance was imminent, for what else would
suffice to turn men from their obstinacy in evil?  And unless the Church
were reclaimed, how could the promises be fulfilled, that the heathens
should be converted and the whole world become subject to the one true
law?  He had seen his belief reflected in visions--a mode of seeing
which had been frequent with him from his youth up.

But the real force of demonstration for Girolamo Savonarola lay in his
own burning indignation at the sight of wrong; in his fervent belief in
an Unseen Justice that would put an end to the wrong, and in an Unseen
Purity to which lying and uncleanness were an abomination.  To his
ardent, power-loving soul, believing in great ends, and longing to
achieve those ends by the exertion of its own strong will, the faith in
a supreme and righteous Ruler became one with the faith in a speedy
divine interposition that would punish and reclaim.

Meanwhile, under that splendid masquerade of dignities sacred and
secular which seemed to make the life of lucky Churchmen and princely
families so luxurious and amusing, there were certain conditions at work
which slowly tended to disturb the general festivity.  Ludovico Sforza--
copious in gallantry, splendid patron of an incomparable Leonardo da
Vinci--holding the ducal crown of Milan in his grasp, and wanting to put
it on his own head rather than let it rest on that of a feeble nephew
who would take very little to poison him, was much afraid of the
Spanish-born old King Ferdinand and the Crown Prince Alfonso of Naples,
who, not liking cruelty and treachery which were useless to themselves,
objected to the poisoning of a near relative for the advantage of a
Lombard usurper; the royalties of Naples again were afraid of their
suzerain, Pope Alexander Borgia; all three were anxiously watching
Florence, lest with its midway territory it should determine the game by
underhand backing; and all four, with every small state in Italy, were
afraid of Venice--Venice the cautious, the stable, and the strong, that
wanted to stretch its arms not only along both sides of the Adriatic but
across to the ports of the western coast, Lorenzo de' Medici, it was
thought, did much to prevent the fatal outbreak of such jealousies,
keeping up the old Florentine alliance with Naples and the Pope, and yet
persuading Milan that the alliance was for the general advantage.  But
young Piero de' Medici's rash vanity had quickly nullified the effect of
his father's wary policy, and Ludovico Sforza, roused to suspicion of a
league against him, thought of a move which would checkmate his
adversaries: he determined to invite the French king to march into
Italy, and, as heir of the house of Anjou, take possession of Naples.
Ambassadors--"orators," as they were called in those haranguing times--
went and came; a recusant cardinal, determined not to acknowledge a Pope
elected by bribery (and his own particular enemy), went and came also,
and seconded the invitation with hot rhetoric; and the young king seemed
to lend a willing ear.  So that in 1493 the rumour spread and became
louder and louder that Charles the Eighth of France was about to cross
the Alps with a mighty army; and the Italian populations, accustomed,
since Italy had ceased to be the heart of the Roman empire, to look for
an arbitrator from afar, began vaguely to regard his coming as a means
of avenging their wrongs and redressing their grievances.

And in that rumour Savonarola had heard the assurance that his prophecy
was being verified.  What was it that filled the ears of the prophets of
old but the distant tread of foreign armies, coming to do the work of
justice?  He no longer looked vaguely to the horizon for the coming
storm: he pointed to the rising cloud.  The French army was that new
deluge which was to purify the earth from iniquity; the French king,
Charles the Eighth, was the instrument elected by God, as Cyrus had been
of old, and all men who desired good rather than evil were to rejoice in
his coming.  For the scourge would fall destructively on the impenitent
alone.  Let any city of Italy, let Florence above all--Florence beloved
of God, since to its ear the warning voice had been specially sent--
repent and turn from its ways, like Nineveh of old, and the storm-cloud
would roll over it and leave only refreshing raindrops.

Fra Girolamo's word was powerful; yet now that the new Cyrus had already
been three months in Italy, and was not far from the gates of Florence,
his presence was expected there with mixed feelings, in which fear and
distrust certainly predominated.  At present it was not understood that
he had redressed any grievances; and the Florentines clearly had nothing
to thank him for.  He held their strong frontier fortresses, which Piero
de' Medici had given up to him without securing any honourable terms in
return; he had done nothing to quell the alarming revolt of Pisa, which
had been encouraged by his presence to throw off the Florentine yoke;
and "orators," even with a prophet at their head, could win no assurance
from him, except that he would settle everything when he was once within
the walls of Florence.  Still, there was the satisfaction of knowing
that the exasperating Piero de' Medici had been fairly pelted out for
the ignominious surrender of the fortresses, and in that act of energy
the spirit of the Republic had recovered some of its old fire.

The preparations for the equivocal guest were not entirely those of a
city resigned to submission.  Behind the bright drapery and banners
symbolical of joy, there were preparations of another sort made with
common accord by government and people.  Well hidden within walls there
were hired soldiers of the Republic, hastily called in from the
surrounding districts; there were old arms duly furbished, and sharp
tools and heavy cudgels laid carefully at hand, to be snatched up on
short notice; there were excellent boards and stakes to form barricades
upon occasion, and a good supply of stones to make a surprising hail
from the upper windows.  Above all, there were people very strongly in
the humour for fighting any personage who might be supposed to have
designs of hectoring over them, they having lately tasted that new
pleasure with much relish.  This humour was not diminished by the sight
of occasional parties of Frenchmen, coming beforehand to choose their
quarters, with a hawk, perhaps, on their left wrist, and, metaphorically
speaking, a piece of chalk in their right-hand to mark Italian doors
withal; especially as creditable historians imply that many sons of
France were at that time characterised by something approaching to a
swagger, which must have whetted the Florentine appetite for a little
stone-throwing.

And this was the temper of Florence on the morning of the 17th of
November 1494.



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

THE PRISONERS.

The sky was grey, but that made little difference in the Piazza del
Duomo, which was covered with its holiday sky of blue drapery, and its
constellations of yellow lilies and coats of arms.  The sheaves of
banners were unfurled at the angles of the Baptistery, but there was no
carpet yet on the steps of the Duomo, for the marble was being trodden
by numerous feet that were not at all exceptional.  It was the hour of
the Advent sermons, and the very same reasons which had flushed the
streets with holiday colour were reasons why the preaching in the Duomo
could least of all be dispensed with.

But not all the feet in the Piazza were hastening towards the steps.
People of high and low degree were moving to and fro with the brisk pace
of men who had errands before them; groups of talkers were thickly
scattered, some willing to be late for the sermon, and others content
not to hear it at all.

The expression on the faces of these apparent loungers was not that of
men who are enjoying the pleasant laziness of an opening holiday.  Some
were in close and eager discussion; others were listening with keen
interest to a single spokesman, and yet from time to time turned round
with a scanning glance at any new passer-by.  At the corner, looking
towards the Via de' Cerretani--just where the artificial rainbow light
of the Piazza ceased, and the grey morning fell on the sombre stone
houses--there was a remarkable cluster of the working people, most of
them bearing on their dress or persons the signs of their daily labour,
and almost all of them carrying some weapon, or some tool which might
serve as a weapon upon occasion.  Standing in the grey light of the
street, with bare brawny arms and soiled garments, they made all the
more striking the transition from the brightness of the Piazza.  They
were listening to the thin notary, Ser Cioni, who had just paused on his
way to the Duomo.  His biting words could get only a contemptuous
reception two years and a half before in the Mercato, but now he spoke
with the more complacent humour of a man whose party is uppermost, and
who is conscious of some influence with the people.

"Never talk to me," he was saying, in his incisive voice, "never talk to
me of bloodthirsty Swiss or fierce French infantry: they might as well
be in the narrow passes of the mountains as in our streets; and peasants
have destroyed the finest armies of our condottieri in time past, when
they had once got them between steep precipices.  I tell you,
Florentines need be afraid of no army in their own streets."

"That's true, Ser Cioni," said a man whose arms and hands were
discoloured by crimson dye, which looked like blood-stains, and who had
a small hatchet stuck in his belt; "and those French cavaliers, who came
in squaring themselves in their smart doublets the other day, saw a
sample of the dinner we could serve up for them.  I was carrying my
cloth in Ognissanti, when I saw my fine Messeri going by, looking round
as if they thought the houses of the Vespucci and the Agli a poor pick
of lodgings for them, and eyeing us Florentines, like top-knotted cocks
as they are, as if they pitied us because we didn't know how to strut.
`Yes, my fine _Galli_,' says I, `stick out your stomachs; I've got a
meat-axe in my belt that will go inside you all the easier;' when
presently the old cow lowed, [Note 1] and I knew something had
happened--no matter what.  So I threw my cloth in at the first doorway,
and took hold of my meat-axe and ran after my fine cavaliers towards the
Vigna Nuova.  And, `What is it, Guccio?' said I, when he came up with
me.  `I think it's the Medici coming back,' said Guccio.  _Bembe_!  I
expected so!  And up we reared a barricade, and the Frenchmen looked
behind and saw themselves in a trap; and up comes a good swarm of our
_Ciompi_ [Note 2] and one of them with a big scythe he had in his hand
mowed off one of the fine cavalier's feathers:--it's true!  And the
lasses peppered a few stones down to frighten them.  However, Piero de'
Medici wasn't come after all; and it was a pity; for we'd have left him
neither legs nor wings to go away with again."

"Well spoken, Oddo," said a young butcher, with his knife at his belt;
"and it's my belief Piero will be a good while before he wants to come
back, for he looked as frightened as a hunted chicken, when we hustled
and pelted him in the piazza.  He's a coward, else he might have made a
better stand when he'd got his horsemen.  But we'll swallow no Medici
any more, whatever else the French king wants to make us swallow."

"But I like not those French cannon they talk of," said Goro, none the
less fat for two years' additional grievances.  "San Giovanni defend us!
If Messer Domeneddio means so well by us as your Frate says he does,
Ser Cioni, why shouldn't he have sent the French another way to Naples?"

"Ay, Goro," said the dyer; "that's a question worth putting.  Thou art
not such a pumpkin-head as I took thee for.  Why, they might have gone
to Naples by Bologna, eh, Ser Cioni? or if they'd gone to Arezzo--we
wouldn't have minded their going to Arezzo."

"Fools!  It will be for the good and glory of Florence," Ser Cioni
began.  But he was interrupted by the exclamation, "Look there!" which
burst from several voices at once, while the faces were all turned to a
party who were advancing along the Via de' Cerretani.

"It's Lorenzo Tornabuoni, and one of the French noblemen who are in his
house," said Ser Cioni, in some contempt at this interruption.  "He
pretends to look well satisfied--that deep Tornabuoni--but he's a
Medicean in his heart: mind that."

The advancing party was rather a brilliant one, for there was not only
the distinguished presence of Lorenzo Tornabuoni, and the splendid
costume of the Frenchman with his elaborately displayed white linen and
gorgeous embroidery; there were two other Florentines of high birth in
handsome dresses donned for the coming procession, and on the left-hand
of the Frenchman was a figure that was not to be eclipsed by any amount
of intention or brocade--a figure we have often seen before.  He wore
nothing but black, for he was in mourning; but the black was presently
to be covered by a red mantle, for he too was to walk in procession as
Latin Secretary to the Ten.  Tito Melema had become conspicuously
serviceable in the intercourse with the French guests, from his
familiarity with Southern Italy, and his readiness in the French tongue,
which he had spoken in his early youth; and he had paid more than one
visit to the French camp at Signa.  The lustre of good fortune was upon
him; he was smiling, listening, and explaining, with his usual graceful
unpretentious ease, and only a very keen eye bent on studying him could
have marked a certain amount of change in him which was not to be
accounted for by the lapse of eighteen months.  It was that change which
comes from the final departure of moral youthfulness--from the distinct
self-conscious adoption of a part in life.  The lines of the face were
as soft as ever, the eyes as pellucid; but something was gone--something
as indefinable as the changes in the morning twilight.

The Frenchman was gathering instructions concerning ceremonial before
riding back to Signa, and now he was going to have a final survey of the
Piazza del Duomo, where the royal procession was to pause for religious
purposes.  The distinguished party attracted the notice of all eyes as
it entered the piazza, but the gaze was not entirely cordial and
admiring; there were remarks not altogether allusive and mysterious to
the Frenchman's hoof-shaped shoes--delicate flattery of royal
superfluity in toes; and there was no care that certain snarlings at
"Mediceans" should be strictly inaudible.  But Lorenzo Tornabuoni
possessed that power of dissembling annoyance which is demanded in a man
who courts popularity, and Tito, besides his natural disposition to
overcome ill-will by good-humour, had the unimpassioned feeling of the
alien towards names and details that move the deepest passions of the
native.

Arrived where they could get a good oblique view of the Duomo, the party
paused.  The festoons and devices placed over the central doorway
excited some demur, and Tornabuoni beckoned to Piero di Cosimo, who, as
was usual with him at this hour, was lounging in front of Nello's shop.
There was soon an animated discussion, and it became highly amusing from
the Frenchman's astonishment at Picro's odd pungency of statement, which
Tito translated literally.  Even snarling onlookers became curious, and
their faces began to wear the half-smiling, half-humiliated expression
of people who are not within hearing of the joke which is producing
infectious laughter.  It was a delightful moment for Tito, for he was
the only one of the party who could have made so amusing an interpreter,
and without any disposition to triumphant self-gratulation he revelled
in the sense that he was an object of liking--he basked in approving
glances.  The rainbow light fell about the laughing group, and the grave
church-goers had all disappeared within the walls.  It seemed as if the
piazza had been decorated for a real Florentine holiday.

Meanwhile in the grey light of the unadorned streets there were
on-comers who made no show of linen and brocade, and whose humour was
far from merry.  Here, too, the French dress and hoofed shoes were
conspicuous, but they were being pressed upon by a larger and larger
number of non-admiring Florentines.  In the van of the crowd were three
men in scanty clothing; each had his hands bound together by a cord, and
a rope was fastened round his neck and body, in such a way that he who
held the extremity of the rope might easily check any rebellious
movement by the threat of throttling.  The men who held the ropes were
French soldiers, and by broken Italian phrases and strokes from the
knotted end of the rope, they from time to time stimulated their
prisoners to beg.  Two of them were obedient, and to every Florentine
they had encountered had held out their bound hands and said in piteous
tones--

"For the love of God and the Holy Madonna, give us something towards our
ransom!  We are Tuscans: we were made prisoners in Lunigiana."

But the third man remained obstinately silent under all the strokes from
the knotted cord.  He was very different in aspect from his two
fellow-prisoners.  They were young and hardy, and, in the scant clothing
which the avarice of their captors had left them, looked like vulgar,
sturdy mendicants.  But he had passed the boundary of old age, and could
hardly be less than four or five and sixty.  His beard, which had grown
long in neglect, and the hair which fell thick and straight round his
baldness, were nearly white.  His thickset figure was still firm and
upright, though emaciated, and seemed to express energy in spite of
age--an expression that was partly carried out in the dark eyes and
strong dark eyebrows, which had a strangely isolated intensity of colour
in the midst of his yellow, bloodless, deep-wrinkled face with its lank
grey hairs.  And yet there was something fitful in the eyes which
contradicted the occasional flash of energy: after looking round with
quick fierceness at windows and faces, they fell again with a lost and
wandering look.  But his lips were motionless, and he held his hands
resolutely down.  He would not beg.

This sight had been witnessed by the Florentines with growing
exasperation.  Many standing at their doors or passing quietly along had
at once given money--some in half-automatic response to an appeal in the
name of God, others in that unquestioning awe of the French soldiery
which had been created by the reports of their cruel warfare, and on
which the French themselves counted as a guarantee of immunity in their
acts of insolence.  But as the group had proceeded farther into the
heart of the city, that compliance had gradually disappeared, and the
soldiers found themselves escorted by a gathering troop of men and boys,
who kept up a chorus of exclamations sufficiently intelligible to
foreign ears without any interpreter.  The soldiers themselves began to
dislike their position, for, with a strong inclination to use their
weapons, they were checked by the necessity for keeping a secure hold on
their prisoners, and they were now hurrying along in the hope of finding
shelter in a hostelry.

"French dogs!"

"Bullock-feet!"

"Snatch their pikes from them!"

"Cut the cords and make them run for their prisoners.  They'll run as
fast as geese--don't you see they're web-footed?"  These were the cries
which the soldiers vaguely understood to be jeers, and probably threats.
But every one seemed disposed to give invitations of this spirited kind
rather than to act upon them.

"Santiddio! here's a sight!" said the dyer, as soon as he had divined
the meaning of the advancing tumult, "and the fools do nothing but hoot.
Come along!" he added, snatching his axe from his belt, and running to
join the crowd, followed by the butcher and all the rest of his
companions, except Goro, who hastily retreated up a narrow passage.

The sight of the dyer, running forward with blood-red arms and axe
uplifted, and with his cluster of rough companions behind him, had a
stimulating effect on the crowd.  Not that he did anything else than
pass beyond the soldiers and thrust himself well among his
fellow-citizens, flourishing his axe; but he served as a stirring symbol
of street-fighting, like the waving of a well-known gonfalon.  And the
first sign that fire was ready to burst out was something as rapid as a
little leaping tongue of flame: it was an act of the conjuror's impish
lad Lollo, who was dancing and jeering in front of the ingenuous boys
that made the majority of the crowd.  Lollo had no great compassion for
the prisoners, but being conscious of an excellent knife which was his
unfailing companion, it had seemed to him from the first that to jump
forward, cut a rope, and leap back again before the soldier who held it
could use his weapon, would be an amusing and dexterous piece of
mischief.  And now, when the people began to hoot and jostle more
vigorously, Lollo felt that his moment was come--he was close to the
eldest prisoner: in an instant he had cut the cord.

"Run, old one!" he piped in the prisoner's ear, as soon as the cord was
in two; and himself set the example of running as if he were helped
along with wings, like a scared fowl.

The prisoner's sensations were not too slow for him to seize the
opportunity: the idea of escape had been continually present with him,
and he had gathered fresh hope from the temper of the crowd.  He ran at
once; but his speed would hardly have sufficed for him if the
Florentines had not instantaneously rushed between him and his captor.
He ran on into the piazza, but he quickly heard the tramp of feet behind
him, for the other two prisoners had been released, and the soldiers
were struggling and fighting their way after them, in such tardigrade
fashion as their hoof-shaped shoes would allow--impeded, but not very
resolutely attacked, by the people.  One of the two younger prisoners
turned lip the Borgo di San Lorenzo, and thus made a partial diversion
of the hubbub; but the main struggle was still towards the piazza, where
all eyes were turned on it with alarmed curiosity.  The cause could not
be precisely guessed, for the French dress was screened by the impeding
crowd.

"An escape of prisoners," said Lorenzo Tornabuoni, as he and his party
turned round just against the steps of the Duomo, and saw a prisoner
rushing by them.  "The people are not content with having emptied the
Bargello the other day.  If there is no other authority in sight they
must fall on the sbirri and secure freedom to thieves.  Ah! there is a
French soldier: that is more serious."

The soldier he saw was struggling along on the north side of the piazza,
but the object of his pursuit had taken the other direction.  That
object was the eldest prisoner, who had wheeled round the Baptistery and
was running towards the Duomo, determined to take refuge in that
sanctuary rather than trust to his speed.  But in mounting the steps,
his foot received a shock; he was precipitated towards the group of
signori, whose backs were turned to him, and was only able to recover
his balance as he clutched one of them by the arm.

It was Tito Melema who felt that clutch.  He turned his head, and saw
the face of his adoptive father, Baldassarre Calvo, close to his own.

The two men looked at each other, silent as death: Baldassarre, with
dark fierceness and a tightening grip of the soiled worn hands on the
velvet-clad arm; Tito, with cheeks and lips all bloodless, fascinated by
terror.  It seemed a long while to them--it was but a moment.

The first sound Tito heard was the short laugh of Piero di Cosimo, who
stood close by him and was the only person that could see his face.

"Ha, ha!  I know what a ghost should be now."

"This is another escaped prisoner," said Lorenzo Tornabuoni.  "Who is
he, I wonder?"

"_Some madman, surely_," said Tito.

He hardly knew how the words had come to his lips: there are moments
when our passions speak and decide for us, and we seem to stand by and
wonder.  They carry in them an inspiration of crime, that in one instant
does the work of long premeditation.

The two men had not taken their eyes off each other, and it seemed to
Tito, when he had spoken, that some magical poison had darted from
Baldassarre's eyes, and that he felt it rushing through his veins.  But
the next instant the grasp on his arm had relaxed, and Baldassarre had
disappeared within the church.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  "_La vacca muglia_" was the phrase for the sounding of the
great bell in the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Note 2.  The poorer artisans connected with the wool trade--
wool-beaters, carders, washers, etcetera.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

AFTER-THOUGHTS.

"You are easily frightened, though," said Piero, with another scornful
laugh.  "My portrait is not as good as the original.  But the old fellow
_had_ a tiger look: I must go into the Duomo and see him again."

"It is not pleasant to be laid hold of by a madman, if madman he be,"
said Lorenzo Tornabuoni, in polite excuse of Tito, "but perhaps he is
only a ruffian.  We shall hear.  I think we must see if we have
authority enough to stop this disturbance between our people and your
countrymen," he added, addressing the Frenchman.

They advanced toward the crowd with their swords drawn, all the quiet
spectators making an escort for them.  Tito went too: it was necessary
that he should know what others knew about Baldassarre, and the first
palsy of terror was being succeeded by the rapid devices to which mortal
danger will stimulate the timid.

The rabble of men and boys, more inclined to hoot at the soldier and
torment him than to receive or inflict any serious wounds, gave way at
the approach of signori with drawn swords, and the French soldier was
interrogated.  He and his companions had simply brought their prisoners
into the city that they might beg money for their ransom: two of the
prisoners were Tuscan soldiers taken in Lunigiana; the other, an elderly
man, was with a party of Genoese, with whom the French foragers had come
to blows near Fivizzano.  He might be mad, but he was harmless.  The
soldier knew no more, being unable to understand a word the old man
said.  Tito heard so far, but he was deaf to everything else till he was
specially addressed.  It was Tornabuoni who spoke.

"Will you go back with us, Melema?  Or, since Messere is going off to
Signa now, will you wisely follow the fashion of the times and go to
hear the Frate, who will be like the torrent at its height this morning?
It's what we must all do, you know, if we are to save our Medicean
skins.  _I_ should go if I had the leisure."

Tito's face had recovered its colour now, and he could make an effort to
speak with gaiety.

"Of course I am among the admirers of the inspired orator," he said,
smilingly; "but, unfortunately, I shall be occupied with the Segretario
till the time of the procession."

"_I_ am going into the Duomo to look at that savage old man again," said
Piero.

"Then have the charity to show him to one of the hospitals for
travellers, Piero mio," said Tornabuoni.  "The monks may find out
whether he wants putting into a cage."

The party separated, and Tito took his way to the Palazzo Vecchio, where
he was to find Bartolommeo Scala.  It was not a long walk, but, for
Tito, it was stretched out like the minutes of our morning dreams: the
short spaces of street and piazza held memories, and previsions, and
torturing fears, that might have made the history of months.  He felt as
if a serpent had begun to coil round his limbs.  Baldassarre living, and
in Florence, was a living revenge, which would no more rest than a
winding serpent would rest until it had crushed its prey.  It was not in
the nature of that man to let an injury pass unavenged: his love and his
hatred were of that passionate fervour which subjugates all the rest of
the being, and makes a man sacrifice himself to his passion as if it
were a deity to be worshipped with self-destruction.  Baldassarre had
relaxed his hold, and had disappeared.  Tito knew well how to interpret
that: it meant that the vengeance was to be studied that it might be
sure.  If he had not uttered those decisive words--"He is a madman"--if
he could have summoned up the state of mind, the courage, necessary for
avowing his recognition of Baldassarre, would not the risk have been
less?  He might have declared himself to have had what he believed to be
positive evidence of Baldassarre's death; and the only persons who could
ever have had positive knowledge to contradict him, were Fra Luca, who
was dead, and the crew of the companion galley, who had brought him the
news of the encounter with the pirates.  The chances were infinite
against Baldassarre's having met again with any one of that crew, and
Tito thought with bitterness that a timely, well-devised falsehood might
have saved him from any fatal consequences.  But to have told that
falsehood would have required perfect self-command in the moment of a
convulsive shock: he seemed to have spoken without any preconception:
the words had leaped forth like a sudden birth that had been begotten
and nourished in the darkness.

Tito was experiencing that inexorable law of human souls, that we
prepare ourselves for sudden deeds by the reiterated choice of good or
evil which gradually determines character.

There was but one chance for him now; the chance of Baldassarre's
failure in finding his revenge.  And--Tito grasped at a thought more
actively cruel than any he had ever encouraged before: might not his own
unpremeditated words have some truth in them?  Enough truth, at least,
to bear him out in his denial of any declaration Baldassarre might make
about him?  The old man looked strange and wild; with his eager heart
and brain, suffering was likely enough to have produced madness.  If it
were so, the vengeance that strove to inflict disgrace might be baffled.

But there was another form of vengeance not to be baffled by ingenious
lying.  Baldassarre belonged to a race to whom the thrust of the dagger
seems almost as natural an impulse as the outleap of the tiger's talons.
Tito shrank with shuddering dread from disgrace; but he had also that
physical dread which is inseparable from a soft pleasure-loving nature,
and which prevents a man from meeting wounds and death as a welcome
relief from disgrace.  His thoughts flew at once to some hidden
defensive armour that might save him from a vengeance which no subtlety
could parry.

He wondered at the power of the passionate fear that possessed him.  It
was as if he had been smitten with a blighting disease that had suddenly
turned the joyous sense of young life into pain.

There was still one resource open to Tito.  He might have turned back,
sought Baldassarre again, confessed everything to him--to Romola--to all
the world.  But he never thought of that.  The repentance which cuts off
all moorings to evil, demands something more than selfish fear.  He had
no sense that there was strength and safety in truth; the only strength
he trusted to lay in his ingenuity and his dissimulation.  Now that the
first shock, which had called up the traitorous signs of fear, was well
past, he hoped to be prepared for all emergencies by cool deceit--and
defensive armour.

It was a characteristic fact in Tito's experience at this crisis, that
no direct measures for ridding himself of Baldassarre ever occurred to
him.  All other possibilities passed through his mind, even to his own
flight from Florence; but he never thought of any scheme for removing
his enemy.  His dread generated no active malignity, and he would still
have been glad not to give pain to any mortal.  He had simply chosen to
make life easy to himself--to carry his human lot, if possible, in such
a way that it should pinch him nowhere; and the choice had, at various
times, landed him in unexpected positions.  The question now was, not
whether he should divide the common pressure of destiny with his
suffering fellow-men; it was whether all the resources of lying would
save him from being crushed by the consequences of that habitual choice.



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

INSIDE THE DUO.

When Baldassarre, with his hands bound together, and the rope round his
neck and body, pushed his way behind the curtain, and saw the interior
of the Duomo before him, he gave a start of astonishment, and stood
still against the doorway.  He had expected to see a vast nave empty of
everything but lifeless emblems--side altars with candles unlit, dim
pictures, pale and rigid statues--with perhaps a few worshippers in the
distant choir following a monotonous chant.  That was the ordinary
aspect of churches to a man who never went into them with any religious
purpose.

And he saw, instead, a vast multitude of warm, living faces, upturned in
breathless silence towards the pulpit, at the angle between the nave and
the choir.  The multitude was of all ranks, from magistrates and dames
of gentle nurture to coarsely-clad artisans and country people.  In the
pulpit was a Dominican friar, with strong features and dark hair,
preaching with the crucifix in his hand.

For the first few minutes Baldassarre noted nothing of his preaching.
Silent as his entrance had been, some eyes near the doorway had been
turned on him with surprise and suspicion.  The rope indicated plainly
enough that he was an escaped prisoner, but in that case the church was
a sanctuary which he had a right to claim; his advanced years and look
of wild misery were fitted to excite pity rather than alarm; and as he
stood motionless, with eyes that soon wandered absently from the wide
scene before him to the pavement at his feet, those who had observed his
entrance presently ceased to regard him, and became absorbed again in
the stronger interest of listening to the sermon.

Among the eyes that had been turned towards him were Romola's: she had
entered late through one of the side doors and was so placed that she
had a full view of the main entrance.  She had looked long and
attentively at Baldassarre, for grey hairs made a peculiar appeal to
her, and the stamp of some unwonted suffering in the face, confirmed by
the cord round his neck, stirred in her those sensibilities towards the
sorrows of age, which her whole life had tended to develop.  She fancied
that his eyes had met hers in their first wandering gaze; but
Baldassarre had not, in reality, noted her; he had only had a startled
consciousness of the general scene, and the consciousness was a mere
flash that made no perceptible break in the fierce tumult of emotion
which the encounter with Tito had created.  Images from the past kept
urging themselves upon him like delirious visions strangely blended with
thirst and anguish.  No distinct thought for the future could shape
itself in the midst of that fiery passion: the nearest approach to such
thought was the bitter sense of enfeebled powers, and a vague
determination to universal distrust and suspicion.  Suddenly he felt
himself vibrating to loud tones, which seemed like the thundering echo
of his own passion.  A voice that penetrated his very marrow with its
accent of triumphant certitude was saying--"The day of vengeance is at
hand!"

Baldassarre quivered and looked up.  He was too distant to see more than
the general aspect of the preacher standing, with his right arm
outstretched, lifting up the crucifix; but he panted for the threatening
voice again as if it had been a promise of bliss.  There was a pause
before the preacher spoke again.  He gradually lowered his arm.  He
deposited the crucifix on the edge of the pulpit, and crossed his arms
over his breast, looking round at the multitude as if he would meet the
glance of every individual face.

"All ye in Florence are my witnesses, for I spoke not in a corner.  Ye
are my witnesses, that four years ago, when there were yet no signs of
war and tribulation, I preached the coming of the scourge.  I lifted up
my voice as a trumpet to the prelates and princes and people of Italy
and said, The cup of your iniquity is full.  Behold, the thunder of the
Lord is gathering, and it shall fall and break the cup, and your
iniquity, which seems to you as pleasant wine, shall be poured out upon
you, and shall be as molten lead.  And you, O priests, who say, Ha, ha!
there is no Presence in the sanctuary--the Shechinah is nought--the
Mercy-seat is bare: we may sin behind the veil, and who shall punish us?
To you, I said, the presence of God shall be revealed in his temple as
a consuming fire, and your sacred garments shall become a winding-sheet
of flame, and for sweet music there shall be shrieks and hissing, and
for soft couches there shall be thorns, and for the breath of wantons
shall come the pestilence.  Trust not in your gold and silver, trust not
in your high fortresses; for, though the walls were of iron, and the
fortresses of adamant, the Most High shall put terror into your hearts
and weakness into your councils, so that you shall be confounded and
flee like women.  He shall break in pieces mighty men without number,
and put others in their stead.  For God will no longer endure the
pollution of his sanctuary; he will thoroughly purge his Church.

"And forasmuch as it is written that God will do nothing but he
revealeth it to his servants the prophets, he has chosen me, his
unworthy servant, and made his purpose present to my soul in the living
word of the Scriptures, and in the deeds of his providence; and by the
ministry of angels he has revealed it to me in visions.  And his word
possesses me so that I am but as the branch of the forest when the wind
of heaven penetrates it, and it is not in me to keep silence, even
though I may be a derision to the scorner.  And for four years I have
preached in obedience to the Divine will: in the face of scoffing I have
preached three things, which the Lord has delivered to me: that _in
these times God will regenerate his Church_, and that _before the
regeneration must come the scourge over all Italy_, and that _these
things will come quickly_.

"But hypocrites who cloak their hatred of the truth with a show of love
have said to me, `Come now, Frate, leave your prophesyings: it is enough
to teach virtue.'  To these I answer: `Yes, you say in your hearts, God
lives afar off, and his word is as a parchment written by dead men, and
he deals not as in the days of old, rebuking the nations, and punishing
the oppressors, and smiting the unholy priests as he smote the sons of
Eli.  But I cry again in your ears: God is near and not afar off; his
judgments change not.  He is the God of armies; the strong men who go up
to battle are his ministers, even as the storm, and fire, and
pestilence.  He drives them by the breath of his angels, and they come
upon the chosen land which has forsaken the covenant.  And thou, O
Italy, art the chosen land; has not God placed his sanctuary within
thee, and thou hast polluted it?  Behold, the ministers of his wrath are
upon thee--they are at thy very doors!'"

Savonarola's voice had been rising in impassioned force up to this
point, when he became suddenly silent, let his hands fall and clasped
them quietly before him.  His silence, instead of being the signal for
small movements amongst his audience, seemed to be as strong a spell to
them as his voice.  Through the vast area of the cathedral men and women
sat with faces upturned, like breathing statues, till the voice was
heard again in clear low tones.

"Yet there is a pause--even as in the days when Jerusalem was destroyed
there was a pause that the children of God might flee from it.  There is
a stillness before the storm: lo, there is blackness above, but not a
leaf quakes: the winds are stayed, that the voice of God's warning may
be heard.  Hear it now, O Florence, chosen city in the chosen land!
Repent and forsake evil: do justice: love mercy: put away all
uncleanness from among you, that the spirit of truth and holiness may
fill your souls and breathe through all your streets and habitations,
and then the pestilence shall not enter, and the sword shall pass over
you and leave you unhurt.

"For the sword is hanging from the sky; it is quivering; it is about to
fall!  _The sword of God upon the earth, swift and sudden_!  Did I not
tell you, years ago, that I had beheld the vision and heard the voice?
And behold, it is fulfilled!  Is there not a king with his army at your
gates?  Does not the earth shake with the tread of horses and the wheels
of swift cannon?  Is there not a fierce multitude that can lay bare the
land as with a sharp razor?  I tell you the French king with his army is
the minister of God: God shall guide him as the hand guides a sharp
sickle, and the joints of the wicked shall melt before him, and they
shall be mown down as stubble: he that fleeth of them shall not flee
away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered.  And the
tyrants who have made to themselves a throne out of the vices of the
multitude, and the unbelieving priests who traffic in the souls of men
and fill the very sanctuary with fornication, shall be hurled from their
soft couches into burning hell; and the pagans and they who sinned under
the old covenant shall stand aloof and say: `Lo, these men have brought
the stench of a new wickedness into the everlasting fire.'

"But thou, O Florence, take the offered mercy.  See! the Cross is held
out to you: come and be healed.  Which among the nations of Italy has
had a token like unto yours?  The tyrant is driven out from among you:
the men who held a bribe in their left-hand and a rod in the right are
gone forth, and no blood has been spilled.  And now put away every other
abomination from among you, and you shall be strong in the strength of
the living God.  Wash yourselves from the black pitch of your vices,
which have made you even as the heathens: put away the envy and hatred
that have made your city as a nest of wolves.  And there shall no harm
happen to you: and the passage of armies shall be to you as a flight of
birds, and rebellious Pisa shall be given to you again, and famine and
pestilence shall be far from your gates, and you shall be as a beacon
among the nations.  But, mark! while you suffer the accursed thing to
lie in the camp you shall be afflicted and tormented, even though a
remnant among you may be saved."

These admonitions and promises had been spoken in an incisive tone of
authority; but in the next sentence the preacher's voice melted into a
strain of entreaty.

"Listen, O people, over whom my heart yearns, as the heart of a mother
over the children she has travailed for!  God is my witness that but for
your sakes I would willingly live as a turtle in the depths of the
forest, singing low to my Beloved, who is mine and I am his.  For you I
toil, for you I languish, for you my nights are spent in watching, and
my soul melteth away for very heaviness.  O Lord, thou knowest I am
willing--I am ready.  Take me, stretch me on thy cross: let the wicked
who delight in blood, and rob the poor, and defile the temple of their
bodies, and harden themselves against thy mercy--let them wag their
heads and shoot out the lip at me: let the thorns press upon my brow,
and let my sweat be anguish--I desire to be made like thee in thy great
love.  But let me see the fruit of my travail--let this people be saved!
Let me see them clothed in purity: let me hear their voices rise in
concord as the voices of the angels: let them see no wisdom but in thy
eternal law, no beauty but in holiness.  Then they shall lead the way
before the nations, and the people from the four winds shall follow
them, and be gathered into the fold of the blessed.  For it is thy will,
O God, that the earth shall be converted unto thy law: it is thy will
that wickedness shall cease and love shall reign.  Come, O blessed
promise; and behold, I am willing--lay me on the altar: let my blood
flow and the fire consume me; but let my witness be remembered among
men, that iniquity shall not prosper for ever."  [See note at the end.]

During the last appeal, Savonarola had stretched out his arms and lifted
up his eyes to heaven; his strong voice had alternately trembled with
emotion and risen again in renewed energy; but the passion with which he
offered himself as a victim became at last too strong to allow of
further speech, and he ended in a sob.  Every changing tone, vibrating
through the audience, shook them into answering emotion.  There were
plenty among them who had very moderate faith in the Frate's prophetic
mission, and who in their cooler moments loved him little; nevertheless,
they too were carried along by the great wave of feeling which gathered
its force from sympathies that lay deeper than all theory.  A loud
responding sob rose at once from the wide multitude, while Savonarola
had fallen on his knees and buried his face in his mantle.  He felt in
that moment the rapture and glory of martyrdom without its agony.

In that great sob of the multitude Baldassarre's had mingled.  Among all
the human beings present, there was perhaps not one whose frame vibrated
more strongly than his to the tones and words of the preacher; but it
had vibrated like a harp of which all the strings had been wrenched away
except one.  That threat of a fiery inexorable vengeance--of a future
into which the hated sinner might be pursued and held by the avenger in
an eternal grapple, had come to him like the promise of an unquenchable
fountain to unquenchable thirst.  The doctrines of the sages, the old
contempt for priestly Superstitions, had fallen away from his soul like
a forgotten language: if he could have remembered them, what answer
could they have given to his great need like the answer given by this
voice of energetic conviction?  The thunder of denunciation fell on his
passion-wrought nerves with all the force of self-evidence: his thought
never went beyond it into questions--he was possessed by it as the
war-horse is possessed by the clash of sounds.  No word that was not a
threat touched his consciousness; he had no fibre to be thrilled by it.
But the fierce exultant delight to which he was moved by the idea of
perpetual vengeance found at once a climax and a relieving outburst in
the preacher's words of self-sacrifice.  To Baldassarre those words only
brought the vague triumphant sense that he too was devoting himself--
signing with his own blood the deed by which he gave himself over to an
unending fire, that would seem but coolness to his burning hatred.

"I rescued him--I cherished him--if I might clutch his heart-strings for
ever!  Come, O blessed promise!  Let my blood flow; let the fire consume
me!"

The one cord vibrated to its utmost.  Baldassarre clutched his own
palms, driving his long nails into them, and burst into a sob with the
rest.



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

OUTSIDE THE DUOMO.

While Baldassarre was possessed by the voice of Savonarola, he had not
noticed that another man had entered through the doorway behind him, and
stood not far off observing him.  It was Piero di Cosimo, who took no
heed of the preaching, having come solely to look at the escaped
prisoner.  During the pause, in which the preacher and his audience had
given themselves up to inarticulate emotion, the new-comer advanced and
touched Baldassarre on the arm.  He looked round with the tears still
slowly rolling down his face, but with a vigorous sigh, as if he had
done with that outburst.  The painter spoke to him in a low tone--

"Shall I cut your cords for you?  I have heard how you were made
prisoner."

Baldassarre did not reply immediately; he glanced suspiciously at the
officious stranger.  At last he said, "If you will."

"Better come outside," said Piero.

Baldassarre again looked at him suspiciously; and Piero, partly guessing
his thought, smiled, took out a knife, and cut the cords.  He began to
think that the idea of the prisoner's madness was not improbable, there
was something so peculiar in the expression of his face.  "Well," he
thought, "if he does any mischief, he'll soon get tied up again.  The
poor devil shall have a chance, at least."

"You are afraid of me," he said again, in an undertone; "you don't want
to tell me anything about yourself."

Baldassarre was folding his arms in enjoyment of the long-absent
muscular sensation.  He answered Piero with a less suspicious look and a
tone which had some quiet decision in it.

"No, I have nothing to tell."

"As you please," said Piero, "but perhaps you want shelter, and may not
know how hospitable we Florentines are to visitors with torn doublets
and empty stomachs.  There's an hospital for poor travellers outside all
our gates, and, if you liked, I could put you in the way to one.
There's no danger from your French soldier.  He has been sent off."

Baldassarre nodded, and turned in silent acceptance of the offer, and he
and Piero left the church together.

"You wouldn't like to sit to me for your portrait, should you?" said
Piero, as they went along the Via dell' Oriuolo, on the way to the gate
of Santa Croce.  "I am a painter: I would give you money to get your
portrait."

The suspicion returned into Baldassarre's glance, as he looked at Piero,
and said decidedly, "No."

"Ah!" said the painter, curtly.  "Well, go straight on, and you'll find
the Porta Santa Croce, and outside it there's an hospital for
travellers.  So you'll not accept any service from me?"

"I give you thanks for what you have done already.  I need no more."

"It is well," said Piero, with a shrug, and they turned away from each
other.

"A mysterious old tiger!" thought the artist, "well worth painting.
Ugly--with deep lines--looking as if the plough and the harrow had gone
over his heart.  A fine contrast to my bland and smiling Messer Greco--
my _Bacco trionfante_, who has married the fair Antigone in
contradiction to all history and fitness.  Aha! his scholar's blood
curdled uncomfortably at the old fellow's clutch!"  When Piero
re-entered the Piazza del Duomo the multitude who had been listening to
Fra Girolamo were pouring out from all the doors, and the haste they
made to go on their several ways was a proof how important they held the
preaching which had detained them from the other occupations of the day.
The artist leaned against an angle of the Baptistery and watched the
departing crowd, delighting in the variety of the garb and of the keen
characteristic faces--faces such as Masaccio had painted more than fifty
years before: such as Domenico Ghirlandajo had not yet quite left off
painting.

This morning was a peculiar occasion, and the Frate's audience, always
multifarious, had represented even more completely than usual the
various classes and political parties of Florence.  There were men of
high birth, accustomed to public charges at home and abroad, who had
become newly conspicuous not only as enemies of the Medici and friends
of popular government, but as thorough Piagnoni, espousing to the utmost
the doctrines and practical teaching of the Frate, and frequenting San
Marco as the seat of another Samuel: some of them men of authoritative
and handsome presence, like Francesco Valori, and perhaps also of a hot
and arrogant temper, very much gratified by an immediate divine
authority for bringing about freedom in their own way; others, like
Soderini, with less of the ardent Piagnone, and more of the wise
politician.  There were men, also of family, like Piero Capponi, simply
brave undoctrinal lovers of a sober republican liberty, who preferred
fighting to arguing, and had no particular reasons for thinking any
ideas false that kept out the Medici and made room for public spirit.
At their elbows were doctors of law whose studies of Accursius and his
brethren had not so entirely consumed their ardour as to prevent them
from becoming enthusiastic Piagnoni: Messer Luca Corsini himself, for
example, who on a memorable occasion yet to come was to raise his
learned arms in street stone-throwing for the cause of religion,
freedom, and the Frate.  And among the dignities who carried their black
lucco or furred mantle with an air of habitual authority, there was an
abundant sprinkling of men with more contemplative and sensitive faces:
scholars inheriting such high names as Strozzi and Acciajoli, who were
already minded to take the cowl and join the community of San Marco;
artists, wrought to a new and higher ambition by the teaching of
Savonarola, like that young painter who had lately surpassed himself in
his fresco of the divine child on the wall of the Frate's bare cell--
unconscious yet that he would one day himself wear the tonsure and the
cowl, and be called Fra Bartolommeo.  There was the mystic poet Girolamo
Benevieni hastening, perhaps, to carry tidings of the beloved Frate's
speedy coming to his friend Pico della Mirandola, who was never to see
the light of another morning.  There were well-born women attired with
such scrupulous plainness that their more refined grace was the chief
distinction between them and their less aristocratic sisters.  There was
a predominant proportion of the genuine _popolani_ or middle class,
belonging both to the Major and Minor Arts, conscious of purses
threatened by war-taxes.  And more striking and various, perhaps, than
all the other classes of the Frate's disciples, there was the long
stream of poorer tradesmen and artisans, whose faith and hope in his
Divine message varied from the rude and undiscriminating trust in him as
the friend of the poor and the enemy of the luxurious oppressive rich,
to that eager tasting of all the subtleties of biblical interpretation
which takes a peculiarly strong hold on the sedentary artisan,
illuminating the long dim spaces beyond the board where he stitches,
with a pale flame that seems to him the light of Divine science.

But among these various disciples of the Frate were scattered many who
were not in the least his disciples.  Some were Mediceans who had
already, from motives of fear and policy, begun to show the presiding
spirit of the popular party a feigned deference.  Others were sincere
advocates of a free government, but regarded Savonarola simply as an
ambitious monk--half sagacious, half fanatical--who had made himself a
powerful instrument with the people, and must be accepted as an
important social fact.  There were even some of his bitter enemies:
members of the old aristocratic anti-Medicean party--determined to try
and get the reins once more tight in the hands of certain chief
families; or else licentious young men, who detested him as the killjoy
of Florence.  For the sermons in the Duomo had already become political
incidents, attracting the ears of curiosity and malice, as well as of
faith.  The men of ideas, like young Niccolo Macchiavelli, went to
observe and write reports to friends away in country villas; the men of
appetites, like Dolfo Spini, bent on hunting down the Frate, as a public
nuisance who made game scarce, went to feed their hatred and lie in wait
for grounds of accusation.

Perhaps, while no preacher ever had a more massive influence than
Savonarola, no preacher ever had more heterogeneous materials to work
upon.  And one secret of the massive influence lay in the highly mixed
character of his preaching.  Baldassarre, wrought into an ecstasy of
self-martyring revenge, was only an extreme case among the partial and
narrow sympathies of that audience.  In Savonarola's preaching there
were strains that appealed to the very finest susceptibilities of men's
natures, and there were elements that gratified low egoism, tickled
gossiping curiosity, and fascinated timorous superstition.  His need of
personal predominance, his labyrinthine allegorical interpretations of
the Scriptures, his enigmatic visions, and his false certitude about the
Divine intentions, never ceased, in his own large soul, to be ennobled
by that fervid piety, that passionate sense of the infinite, that active
sympathy, that clear-sighted demand for the subjection of selfish
interests to the general good, which he had in common with the greatest
of mankind.  But for the mass of his audience all the pregnancy of his
preaching lay in his strong assertion of supernatural claims, in his
denunciatory visions, in the false certitude which gave his sermons the
interest of a political bulletin; and having once held that audience in
his mastery, it was necessary to his nature--it was necessary for their
welfare--that he should _keep_ the mastery.  The effect was inevitable.
No man ever struggled to retain power over a mixed multitude without
suffering vitiation; his standard must be their lower needs and not his
own best insight.

The mysteries of human character have seldom been presented in a way
more fitted to check the judgments of facile knowingness than in
Girolamo Savonarola; but we can give him a reverence that needs no
shutting of the eyes to fact, if we regard his life as a drama in which
there were great inward modifications accompanying the outward changes.
And up to this period, when his more direct action on political affairs
had only just begun, it is probable that his imperious need of
ascendancy had burned undiscernibly in the strong flame of his zeal for
God and man.

It was the fashion of old, when an ox was led out for sacrifice to
Jupiter, to chalk the dark spots, and give the offering a false show of
unblemished whiteness.  Let us fling away the chalk, and boldly say,--
the victim is spotted, but it is not therefore in vain that his mighty
heart is laid on the altar of men's highest hopes.



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

THE GARMENT OF FEAR.

At six o'clock that evening most people in Florence were glad the
entrance of the new Charlemagne was fairly over.  Doubtless when the
roll of drums, the blast of trumpets, and the tramp of horses along the
Pisan road began to mingle with the pealing of the excited bells, it was
a grand moment for those who were stationed on turreted roofs, and could
see the long-winding terrible pomp on the background of the green hills
and valley.  There was no sunshine to light up the splendour of banners,
and spears, and plumes, and silken surcoats, but there was no thick
cloud of dust to hide it, and as the picked troops advanced into close
view, they could be seen all the more distinctly for the absence of
dancing glitter.  Tall and tough Scotch archers, Swiss halberdiers
fierce and ponderous, nimble Gascons ready to wheel and climb, cavalry
in which each man looked like a knight-errant with his indomitable spear
and charger--it was satisfactory to be assured that they would injure
nobody but the enemies of God!  With that confidence at heart it was a
less dubious pleasure to look at the array of strength and splendour in
nobles and knights, and youthful pages of choice lineage--at the bossed
and jewelled sword-hilts, at the satin scarfs embroidered with strange
symbolical devices of pious or gallant meaning, at the gold chains and
jewelled aigrettes, at the gorgeous horse-trappings and brocaded
mantles, and at the transcendent canopy carried by select youths above
the head of the Most Christian King.  To sum up with an old diarist,
whose spelling and diction halted a little behind the wonders of this
royal visit,--"_fu gran magnificenza_."

But for the Signoria, who had been waiting on their platform against the
gates, and had to march out at the right moment, with their orator in
front of them, to meet the mighty guest, the grandeur of the scene had
been somewhat screened by unpleasant sensations.  If Messer Luca Corsini
could have had a brief Latin welcome depending from his mouth in legible
characters, it would have been less confusing when the rain came on, and
created an impatience in men and horses that broke off the delivery of
his well-studied periods, and reduced the representatives of the
scholarly city to offer a makeshift welcome in impromptu French.  But
that sudden confusion had created a great opportunity for Tito.  As one
of the secretaries he was among the officials who were stationed behind
the Signoria, and with whom these highest dignities were promiscuously
thrown when pressed upon by the horses.

"Somebody step forward and say a few words in French," said Soderini.
But no one of high importance chose to risk a second failure.  "You,
Francesco Gaddi--you can speak."  But Gaddi, distrusting his own
promptness, hung back, and pushing Tito, said, "You, Melema."

Tito stepped forward in an instant, and, with the air of profound
deference that came as naturally to him as walking, said the few needful
words in the name of the Signoria; then gave way gracefully, and let the
king pass on.  His presence of mind, which had failed him in the
terrible crisis of the morning, had been a ready instrument this time.
It was an excellent livery servant that never forsook him when danger
was not visible.  But when he was complimented on his opportune service,
he laughed it off as a thing of no moment, and to those who had not
witnessed it, let Gaddi have the credit of the improvised welcome.  No
wonder Tito was popular: the touchstone by which men try us is most
often their own vanity.

Other things besides the oratorical welcome had turned out rather worse
than had been expected.  If everything had happened according to
ingenious preconceptions, the Florentine procession of clergy and laity
would not have found their way choked up and been obliged to take a
makeshift course through the back streets, so as to meet the king at the
Cathedral only.  Also, if the young monarch under the canopy, seated on
his charger with his lance upon his thigh, had looked more like a
Charlemagne and less like a hastily modelled grotesque, the imagination
of his admirers would have been much assisted.  It might have been
wished that the scourge of Italian wickedness and "Champion of the
honour of women" had had a less miserable leg, and only the normal sum
of toes; that his mouth had been of a less reptilian width of slit, his
nose and head of a less exorbitant outline.  But the thin leg rested on
cloth of gold and pearls, and the face was only an interruption of a few
square inches in the midst of black velvet and gold, and the blaze of
rubies, and the brilliant tints of the embroidered and bepearled
canopy,--"_fu gran magnificenza_."

And the people had cried _Francia, Francia_! with an enthusiasm
proportioned to the splendour of the canopy which they had torn to
pieces as their spoil, according to immemorial custom; royal lips had
duly kissed the altar; and after all mischances the royal person and
retinue were lodged in the Palace of the Via Larga, the rest of the
nobles and gentry were dispersed among the great houses of Florence, and
the terrible soldiery were encamped in the Prato and other open
quarters.  The business of the day was ended.

But the streets still presented a surprising aspect, such as Florentines
had not seen before under the November stars.  Instead of a gloom
unbroken except by a lamp burning feebly here and there before a saintly
image at the street-corners, or by a stream of redder light from an open
doorway, there were lamps suspended at the windows of all houses, so
that men could walk along no less securely and commodiously than by
day,--_fu gran magnificenza_.

Along those illuminated streets Tito Melema was walking at about eight
o'clock in the evening, on his way homeward.  He had been exerting
himself throughout the day under the pressure of hidden anxieties, and
had at last made his escape unnoticed from the midst of after-supper
gaiety.  Once at leisure thoroughly to face and consider his
circumstances, he hoped that he could so adjust himself to them and to
all probabilities as to get rid of his childish fear.  If he had only
not been wanting in the presence of mind necessary to recognise
Baldassarre under that surprise!--it would have been happier for him on
all accounts; for he still winced under the sense that he was
deliberately inflicting suffering on his father: he would very much have
preferred that Baldassarre should be prosperous and happy.  But he had
left himself no second path now: there could be no conflict any longer:
the only thing he had to do was to take care of himself.

While these thoughts were in his mind he was advancing from the Piazza
di Santa Croce along the Via dei Benci, and as he neared the angle
turning into the Borgo Santa Croce his ear was struck by a music which
was not that of evening revelry, but of vigorous labour--the music of
the anvil.  Tito gave a slight start and quickened his pace, for the
sounds had suggested a welcome thought.  He knew that they came from the
workshop of Niccolo Caparra, famous resort of all Florentines who cared
for curious and beautiful iron-work.

"What makes the giant at work so late?" thought Tito.  "But so much the
better for me.  I can do that little bit of business to-night instead of
to-morrow morning."

Preoccupied as he was, he could not help pausing a moment in admiration
as he came in front of the workshop.  The wide doorway, standing at the
truncated angle of a great block or "isle" of houses, was surmounted by
a loggia roofed with fluted tiles, and supported by stone columns with
roughly carved capitals.  Against the red light framed in by the outline
of the fluted tiles and columns stood in black relief the grand figure
of Niccolo, with his huge arms in rhythmic rise and fall, first hiding
and then disclosing the profile of his firm mouth and powerful brow.
Two slighter ebony figures, one at the anvil, the other at the bellows,
served to set off his superior massiveness.

Tito darkened the doorway with a very different outline, standing in
silence, since it was useless to speak until Niccolo should deign to
pause and notice him.  That was not until the smith had beaten the head
of an axe to the due sharpness of edge and dismissed it from his anvil.
But in the meantime Tito had satisfied himself by a glance round the
shop that the object of which he was in search had not disappeared.

Niccolo gave an unceremonious but good-humoured nod as he turned from
the anvil and rested his hammer on his hip.

"What is it, Messer Tito?  Business?"

"Assuredly, Niccolo; else I should not have ventured to interrupt you
when you are working out of hours, since I take that as a sign that your
work is pressing."

"I've been at the same work all day--making axes and spear-heads.  And
every fool that has passed my shop has put his pumpkin-head in to say,
`Niccolo, wilt thou not come and see the King of France and his
soldiers?' and I've answered, `No: I don't want to see their faces--I
want to see their backs.'"

"Are you making arms for the citizens, then, Niccolo, that they may have
something better than rusty scythes and spits in case of an uproar?"

"We shall see.  Arms are good, and Florence is likely to want them.  The
Frate tells us we shall get Pisa again, and I hold with the Frate; but I
should be glad to know how the promise is to be fulfilled, if we don't
get plenty of good weapons forged?  The Frate sees a long way before
him; that I believe.  But he doesn't see birds caught with winking at
them, as some of our people try to make out.  He sees sense, and not
nonsense.  But you're a bit of a Medicean, Messer Tito Melema.  Ebbene!
so I've been myself in my time, before the cask began to run sour.
What's your business?"

"Simply to know the price of that fine coat of mail I saw hanging up
here the other day.  I want to buy it for a certain personage who needs
a protection of that sort under his doublet."

"Let him come and buy it himself, then," said Niccolo, bluntly.  "I'm
rather nice about what I sell, and whom I sell to.  I like to know who's
my customer."

"I know your scruples, Niccolo.  But that is only defensive armour: it
can hurt nobody."

"True: but it may make the man who wears it feel himself all the safer
if he should want to hurt somebody.  No, no; it's not my own work; but
it's fine work of Maso of Brescia; I should be loth for it to cover the
heart of a scoundrel.  I must know who is to wear it."

"Well, then, to be plain with you, Niccolo mio, I want it myself," said
Tito, knowing it was useless to try persuasion.  "The fact is, I am
likely to have a journey to take--and you know what journeying is in
these times.  You don't suspect _me_ of treason against the Republic?"

"No, I know no harm of you," said Niccolo, in his blunt way again.  "But
have you the money to pay for the coat?  For you've passed my shop often
enough to know my sign: you've seen the burning account-books.  I trust
nobody.  The price is twenty florins, and that's because it's
second-hand.  You're not likely to have so much money with you.  Let it
be till to-morrow."

"I happen to have the money," said Tito, who had been winning at play
the day before, and had not emptied his purse.  "I'll carry the armour
home with me."

Niccolo reached down the finely-wrought coat, which fell together into
little more than two handfuls.

"There, then," he said, when the florins had been told down on his palm.
"Take the coat.  It's made to cheat sword, or poniard, or arrow.  But,
for my part, I would never put such a thing on.  It's like carrying fear
about with one."

Niccolo's words had an unpleasant intensity of meaning for Tito.  But he
smiled and said--

"Ah, Niccolo, we scholars are all cowards.  Handling the pen doesn't
thicken the arm as your hammer-wielding does.  Addio!"

He folded the armour under his mantle, and hastened across the Ponte
Rubaconte.



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

THE YOUNG WIFE.

While Tito was hastening across the bridge with the new-bought armour
under his mantle, Romola was pacing up and down the old library,
thinking of him and longing for his return.

It was but a few fair faces that had not looked forth from windows that
day to see the entrance of the French king and his nobles.  One of the
few was Romola's.  She had been present at no festivities since her
father had died--died quite suddenly in his chair, three months before.

"Is not Tito coming to write?" he had said, when the bell had long ago
sounded the usual hour in the evening.  He had not asked before, from
dread of a negative; but Romola had seen by his listening face and
restless movements that nothing else was in his mind.

"No, father, he had to go to a supper at the cardinal's: you know he is
wanted so much by every one," she answered, in a tone of gentle excuse.

"Ah! then perhaps he will bring some positive word about the library;
the cardinal promised last week," said Bardo, apparently pacified by
this hope.

He was silent a little while; then, suddenly flushing, he said--

"I must go on without him, Romola.  Get the pen.  He has brought me no
new text to comment on; but I must say what I want to say about the New
Platonists.  I shall die and nothing will have been done.  Make haste,
my Romola."

"I am ready, father," she said, the next minute, holding the pen in her
hand.

But there was silence.  Romola took no note of this for a little while,
accustomed to pauses in dictation; and when at last she looked round
inquiringly, there was no change of attitude.

"I am quite ready, father!"

Still Bardo was silent, and his silence was never again broken.

Romola looked back on that hour with some indignation against herself,
because even with the first outburst of her sorrow there had mingled the
irrepressible thought, "Perhaps my life with Tito will be more perfect
now."

For the dream of a triple life with an undivided sum of happiness had
not been quite fulfilled.  The rainbow-tinted shower of sweets, to have
been perfectly typical, should have had some invisible seeds of
bitterness mingled with them; the crowned Ariadne, under the snowing
roses, had felt more and more the presence of unexpected thorns.  It was
not Tito's fault, Romola had continually assured herself.  He was still
all gentleness to her, and to her father also.  But it was in the nature
of things--she saw it clearly now--it was in the nature of things that
no one but herself could go on month after month, and year after year,
fulfilling patiently all her father's monotonous exacting demands.  Even
she, whose sympathy with her father had made all the passion and
religion of her young years, had not always been patient, had been
inwardly very rebellious.  It was true that before their marriage, and
even for some time after, Tito had seemed more unwearying than herself;
but then, of course, the effort had the ease of novelty.  We assume a
load with confident readiness, and up to a certain point the growing
irksomeness of pressure is tolerable; but at last the desire for relief
can no longer be resisted.  Romola said to herself that she had been
very foolish and ignorant in her girlish time: she was wiser now, and
would make no unfair demands on the man to whom she had given her best
woman's love and worship.  The breath of sadness that still cleaved to
her lot while she saw her father month after month sink from elation
into new disappointment as Tito gave him less and less of his time, and
made bland excuses for not continuing his own share of the joint work--
that sadness was no fault of Tito's, she said, but rather of their
inevitable destiny.  If he stayed less and less with her, why, that was
because they could hardly ever be alone.  His caresses were no less
tender: if she pleaded timidly on any one evening that he should stay
with her father instead of going to another engagement which was not
peremptory, he excused himself with such charming gaiety, he seemed to
linger about her with such fond playfulness before he could quit her,
that she could only feel a little heartache in the midst of her love,
and then go to her father and try to soften his vexation and
disappointment.  But all the while inwardly her imagination was busy
trying to see how Tito could be as good as she had thought he was, and
yet find it impossible to sacrifice those pleasures of society which
were necessarily more vivid to a bright creature like him than to the
common run of men.  She herself would have liked more gaiety, more
admiration: it was true, she gave it up willingly for her father's
sake--she would have given up much more than that for the sake even of a
slight wish on Tito's part.  It was clear that their natures differed
widely; but perhaps it was no more than the inherent difference between
man and woman, that made her affections more absorbing.  If there were
any other difference she tried to persuade herself that the inferiority
was on her side.  Tito was really kinder than she was, better tempered,
less proud and resentful; he had no angry retorts, he met all complaints
with perfect sweetness; he only escaped as quietly as he could from
things that were unpleasant.

It belongs to every large nature, when it is not under the immediate
power of some strong unquestioning emotion, to suspect itself, and doubt
the truth of its own impressions, conscious of possibilities beyond its
own horizon.  And Romola was urged to doubt herself the more by the
necessity of interpreting her disappointment in her life with Tito so as
to satisfy at once her love and her pride.  Disappointment?  Yes, there
was no other milder word that would tell the truth.  Perhaps all women
had to suffer the disappointment of ignorant hopes, if she only knew
their experience.  Still, there had been something peculiar in her lot:
her relation to her father had claimed unusual sacrifices from her
husband.  Tito had once thought that his love would make those
sacrifices easy; his love had not been great enough for that.  She was
not justified in resenting a self-delusion.  No! resentment must not
rise: all endurance seemed easy to Romola rather than a state of mind in
which she would admit to herself that Tito acted unworthily.  If she had
felt a new heartache in the solitary hours with her father through the
last months of his life, it had been by no inexcusable fault of her
husband's; and now--it was a hope that would make its presence felt even
in the first moments when her father's place was empty--there was no
longer any importunate claim to divide her from Tito; their young lives
would flow in one current, and their true marriage would begin.

But the sense of something like guilt towards her father in a hope that
grew out of his death, gave all the more force to the anxiety with which
she dwelt on the means of fulfilling his supreme wish.  That piety
towards his memory was all the atonement she could make now for a
thought that seemed akin to joy at his loss.  The laborious simple life,
pure from vulgar corrupting ambitions, embittered by the frustration of
the dearest hopes, imprisoned at last in total darkness--a long
seed-time without a harvest--was at an end now, and all that remained of
it besides the tablet in Sante Croce and the unfinished commentary on
Tito's text, was the collection of manuscripts and antiquities, the
fruit of half a century's toil and frugality.  The fulfilment of her
father's lifelong ambition about this library was a sacramental
obligation for Romola.

The precious relic was safe from creditors, for when the deficit towards
their payment had been ascertained, Bernardo del Nero, though he was far
from being among the wealthiest Florentines, had advanced the necessary
sum of about a thousand florins--a large sum in those days--accepting a
lien on the collection as a security.

"The State will repay me," he had said to Romola, making light of the
service, which had really cost him some inconvenience.  "If the cardinal
finds a building, as he seems to say he will, our Signoria may consent
to do the rest.  I have no children, I can afford the risk."

But within the last ten days all hopes in the Medici had come to an end:
and the famous Medicean collections in the Via Larga were themselves in
danger of dispersion.  French agents had already begun to see that such
very fine antique gems as Lorenzo had collected belonged by right to the
first nation in Europe; and the Florentine State, which had got
possession of the Medicean library, was likely to be glad of a customer
for it.  With a war to recover Pisa hanging over it, and with the
certainty of having to pay large subsidies to the French king, the State
was likely to prefer money to manuscripts.

To Romola these grave political changes had gathered their chief
interest from their bearing on the fulfilment of her father's wish.  She
had been brought up in learned seclusion from the interests of actual
life, and had been accustomed to think of heroic deeds and great
principles as something antithetic to the vulgar present, of the Pnyx
and the Forum as something more worthy of attention than the councils of
living Florentine men.  And now the expulsion of the Medici meant little
more for her than the extinction of her best hope about her father's
library.  The times, she knew, were unpleasant for friends of the
Medici, like her godfather and Tito: superstitious shopkeepers and the
stupid rabble were full of suspicions; but her new keen interest in
public events, in the outbreak of war, in the issue of the French king's
visit, in the changes that were likely to happen in the State, was
kindled solely by the sense of love and duty to her father's memory.
All Romola's ardour had been concentrated in her affections.  Her share
in her father's learned pursuits had been for her little more than a
toil which was borne for his sake; and Tito's airy brilliant faculty had
no attraction for her that was not merged in the deeper sympathies that
belong to young love and trust.  Romola had had contact with no mind
that could stir the larger possibilities of her nature; they lay folded
and crushed like embryonic wings, making no element in her consciousness
beyond an occasional vague uneasiness.

But this new personal interest of hers in public affairs had made her
care at last to understand precisely what influence Fra Girolamo's
preaching was likely to have on the turn of events.  Changes in the form
of the State were talked of, and all she could learn from Tito, whose
secretaryship and serviceable talents carried him into the heart of
public business, made her only the more eager to fill out her lonely day
by going to hear for herself what it was that was just now leading all
Florence by the ears.  This morning, for the first time, she had been to
hear one of the Advent sermons in the Duomo.  When Tito had left her,
she had formed a sudden resolution, and after visiting the spot where
her father was buried in Santa Croce, had walked on to the Duomo.  The
memory of that last scene with Dino was still vivid within her whenever
she recalled it, but it had receded behind the experience and anxieties
of her married life.  The new sensibilities and questions which it had
half awakened in her were quieted again by that subjection to her
husband's mind which is felt by every wife who loves her husband with
passionate devotedness and full reliance.  She remembered the effect of
Fra Girolamo's voice and presence on her as a ground for expecting that
his sermon might move her in spite of his being a narrow-minded monk.
But the sermon did no more than slightly deepen her previous impression,
that this fanatical preacher of tribulations was after all a man towards
whom it might be possible for her to feel personal regard and reverence.
The denunciations and exhortations simply arrested her attention.  She
felt no terror, no pangs of conscience: it was the roll of distant
thunder, that seemed grand, but could not shake her.  But when she heard
Savonarola invoke martyrdom, she sobbed with the rest: she felt herself
penetrated with a new sensation--a strange sympathy with something apart
from all the definable interests of her life.  It was not altogether
unlike the thrill which had accompanied certain rare heroic touches in
history and poetry; but the resemblance was as that between the memory
of music, and the sense of being possessed by actual vibrating
harmonies.

But that transient emotion, strong as it was, seemed to lie quite
outside the inner chamber and sanctuary of her life.  She was not
thinking of Fra Girolamo now; she was listening anxiously for the step
of her husband.  During these three months of their double solitude she
had thought of each day as an epoch in which their union might begin to
be more perfect.  She was conscious of being sometimes a little too sad
or too urgent about what concerned her father's memory--a little too
critical or coldly silent when Tito narrated the things that were said
and done in the world he frequented--a little too hasty in suggesting
that by living quite simply as her father had done, they might become
rich enough to pay Bernardo del Nero, and reduce the difficulties about
the library.  It was not possible that Tito could feel so strongly on
this last point as she did, and it was asking a great deal from him to
give up luxuries for which he really laboured.  The next time Tito came
home she would be careful to suppress all those promptings that seemed
to isolate her from him.  Romola was labouring, as a loving woman must,
to subdue her nature to her husband's.  The great need of her heart
compelled her to strangle, with desperate resolution, every rising
impulse of suspicion, pride, and resentment; she felt equal to any
self-infliction that would save her from ceasing to love.  That would
have been like the hideous nightmare in which the world had seemed to
break away all round her, and leave her feet overhanging the darkness.
Romola had never distinctly imagined such a future for herself; she was
only beginning to feel the presence of effort in that clinging trust
which had once been mere repose.

She waited and listened long, for Tito had not come straight home after
leaving Niccolo Caparra, and it was more than two hours after the time
when he was crossing the Ponte Rubaconte that Romola heard the great
door of the court turning on its hinges, and hastened to the head of the
stone steps.  There was a lamp hanging over the stairs, and they could
see each other distinctly as he ascended.  The eighteen months had
produced a more definable change in Romola's face than in Tito's; the
expression was more subdued, less cold, and more beseeching, and, as the
pink flush overspread her face now, in her joy that the long waiting was
at an end, she was much lovelier than on the day when Tito had first
seen her.  On that day, any on-looker would have said that Romola's
nature was made to command, and Tito's to bend; yet now Romola's mouth
was quivering a little, and there was some timidity in her glance.

He made an effort to smile, as she said--

"My Tito, you are tired; it has been a fatiguing day: is it not true?"

Maso was there, and no more was said until they had crossed the
ante-chamber and closed the door of the library behind them.  The wood
was burning brightly on the great dogs; that was one welcome for Tito,
late as he was, and Romola's gentle voice was another.

He just turned and kissed her when she took off his mantle; then he went
towards a high-backed chair placed for him near the fire, threw himself
into it, and flung away his cap, saying, not peevishly, but in a
fatigued tone of remonstrance, as he gave a slight shudder--

"Romola, I wish you would give up sitting in this library.  Surely our
own rooms are pleasanter in this chill weather."

Romola felt hurt.  She had never seen Tito so indifferent in his manner;
he was usually full of lively solicitous attention.  And she had thought
so much of his return to her after the long day's absence!  He must be
very weary.

"I wonder you have forgotten, Tito," she answered, looking at him
anxiously, as if she wanted to read an excuse for him in the signs of
bodily fatigue.  "You know I am making the catalogue on the new plan
that my father wished for; you have not time to help me, so I must work
at it closely."

Tito, instead of meeting Romola's glance, closed his eyes and rubbed his
hands over his face and hair.  He felt he was behaving unlike himself,
but he would make amends to-morrow.  The terrible resurrection of secret
fears, which, if Romola had known them, would have alienated her from
him for ever, caused him to feel an alienation already begun between
them--caused him to feel a certain repulsion towards a woman from whose
mind he was in danger.  The feeling had taken hold of him unawares, and
he was vexed with himself for behaving in this new cold way to her.  He
could not suddenly command any affectionate looks or words; he could
only exert himself to say what might serve as an excuse.

"I am not well, Romola; you must not be surprised if I am peevish."

"Ah, you have had so much to tire you to-day," said Romola, kneeling
down close to him, and laying her arm on his chest while she put his
hair back caressingly.

Suddenly she drew her arm away with a start, and a gaze of alarmed
inquiry.

"What have you got under your tunic, Tito?  Something as hard as iron."

"It _is_ iron--it is chain-armour," he said at once.  He was prepared
for the surprise and the question, and he spoke quietly, as of something
that he was not hurried to explain.

"There was some unexpected danger to-day, then?" said Romola, in a tone
of conjecture.  "You had it lent to you for the procession?"

"No; it is my own.  I shall be obliged to wear it constantly, for some
time."

"What is it that threatens you, my Tito?" said Romola, looking
terrified, and clinging to him again.

"Every one is threatened in these times, who is not a rabid enemy of the
Medici.  Don't look distressed, my Romola--this armour will make me safe
against covert attacks."

Tito put his hand on her neck and smiled.  This little dialogue about
the armour had broken through the new crust, and made a channel for the
sweet habit of kindness.

"But my godfather, then," said Romola; "is not he, too, in danger?  And
he takes no precautions--ought he not? since he must surely be in more
danger than you, who have so little influence compared with him."

"It is just because I am less important that I am in more danger," said
Tito, readily.  "I am suspected constantly of being an envoy.  And men
like Messer Bernardo are protected by their position and their extensive
family connections, which spread among all parties, while I am a Greek
that nobody would avenge."

"But, Tito, is it a fear of some particular person, or only a vague
sense of danger, that has made you think of wearing this?"  Romola was
unable to repel the idea of a degrading fear in Tito, which mingled
itself with her anxiety.

"I have had special threats," said Tito, "but I must beg you to be
silent on the subject, my Romola.  I shall consider that you have broken
my confidence, if you mention it to your godfather."

"Assuredly I will not mention it," said Romola, blushing, "if you wish
it to be a secret.  But, dearest Tito," she added, after a moment's
pause, in a tone of loving anxiety, "it will make you very wretched."

"What will make me wretched?" he said, with a scarcely perceptible
movement across his face, as from some darting sensation.

"This fear--this heavy armour.  I can't help shuddering as I feel it
under my arm.  I could fancy it a story of enchantment--that some
malignant fiend had changed your sensitive human skin into a hard shell.
It seems so unlike my bright, light-hearted Tito!"

"Then you would rather have your husband exposed to danger, when he
leaves you?" said Tito, smiling.  "If you don't mind my being poniarded
or shot, why need I mind?  I will give up the armour--shall I?"

"No, Tito, no.  I am fanciful.  Do not heed what I have said.  But such
crimes are surely not common in Florence?  I have always heard my father
and godfather say so.  Have they become frequent lately?"

"It is not unlikely they will become frequent, with the bitter hatreds
that are being bred continually."

Romola was silent a few moments.  She shrank from insisting further on
the subject of the armour.  She tried to shake it off.

"Tell me what has happened to-day," she said, in a cheerful tone.  "Has
all gone off well?"

"Excellently well.  First of all, the rain came and put an end to Luca
Corsini's oration, which nobody wanted to hear, and a ready-tongued
personage--some say it was Gaddi, some say it was Melema, but really it
was done so quickly no one knows who it was--had the honour of giving
the Cristianissimo the briefest possible welcome in bad French."

"Tito, it was you, I know," said Romola, smiling brightly, and kissing
him.  "How is it you never care about claiming anything?  And after
that?"

"Oh! after that, there was a shower of armour and jewels, and trappings,
such as you saw at the last Florentine _giostra_, only a great deal more
of them.  There was strutting, and prancing, and confusion, and
scrambling, and the people shouted, and the Cristianissimo smiled from
ear to ear.  And after that there was a great deal of flattery, and
eating, and play.  I was at Tornabuoni's.  I will tell you about it
to-morrow."

"Yes, dearest, never mind now.  But is there any more hope that things
will end peaceably for Florence, that the Republic will not get into
fresh troubles?"

Tito gave a shrug.  "Florence will have no peace but what it pays well
for; that is clear."

Romola's face saddened, but she checked herself, and said, cheerfully,
"You would not guess where I went to-day, Tito.  I went to the Duomo, to
hear Fra Girolamo."

Tito looked startled; he had immediately thought of Baldassarre's
entrance into the Duomo; but Romola gave his look another meaning.

"You are surprised, are you not?  It was a sudden thought.  I want to
know all about the public affairs now, and I determined to hear for
myself what the Frate promised the people about this French invasion."

"Well, and what did you think of the prophet?"

"He certainly has a very mysterious power, that man.  A great deal of
his sermon was what I expected; but once I was strangely moved--I sobbed
with the rest."

"Take care, Romola," said Tito, playfully, feeling relieved that she had
said nothing about Baldassarre; "you have a touch of fanaticism in you.
I shall have you seeing visions, like your brother."

"No; it was the same with every one else.  He carried them all with him;
unless it were that gross Dolfo Spini, whom I saw there making grimaces.
There was even a wretched-looking man, with a rope round his neck--an
escaped prisoner, I should think, who had run in for shelter--a very
wild-eyed old man: I saw him with great tears rolling down his cheeks,
as he looked and listened quite eagerly."

There was a slight pause before Tito spoke.

"I saw the man," he said,--"the prisoner.  I was outside the Duomo with
Lorenzo Tornabuoni when he ran in.  He had escaped from a French
soldier.  Did you see him when you came out?"

"No, he went out with our good old Piero di Cosimo.  I saw Piero come in
and cut off his rope, and take him out of the church.  But you want
rest, Tito?  You feel ill?"

"Yes," said Tito, rising.  The horrible sense that he must live in
continual dread of what Baldassarre had said or done pressed upon him
like a cold weight.



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

THE PAINTED RECORD.

Four days later, Romola was on her way to the house of Piero di Cosimo,
in the Via Gualfonda.  Some of the streets through which she had to pass
were lined with Frenchmen who were gazing at Florence, and with
Florentines who were gazing at the French, and the gaze was not on
either side entirely friendly and admiring.  The first nation in Europe,
of necessity finding itself, when out of its own country, in the
presence of general inferiority, naturally assumed an air of conscious
pre-eminence; and the Florentines, who had taken such pains to play the
host amiably, were getting into the worst humour with their too superior
guests.

For after the first smiling compliments and festivities were over--after
wondrous Mysteries with unrivalled machinery of floating clouds and
angels had been presented in churches--after the royal guest had
honoured Florentine dames with much of his Most Christian ogling at
balls and suppers, and business had begun to be talked of--it appeared
that the new Charlemagne regarded Florence as a conquered city, inasmuch
as he had entered it with his lance in rest, talked of leaving his
viceroy behind him, and had thoughts of bringing back the Medici.
Singular logic this appeared to be on the part of an elect instrument of
God! since the policy of Piero de' Medici, disowned by the people, had
been the only offence of Florence against the majesty of France.  And
Florence was determined not to submit.  The determination was being
expressed very strongly in consultations of citizens inside the Old
Palace, and it was beginning to show itself on the broad flags of the
streets and piazza wherever there was an opportunity of flouting an
insolent Frenchman.  Under these circumstances the streets were not
altogether a pleasant promenade for well-born women; but Romola,
shrouded in her black veil and mantle, and with old Maso by her side,
felt secure enough from impertinent observation.

And she was impatient to visit Piero di Cosimo.  A copy of her father's
portrait as Oedipus, which he had long ago undertaken to make for her,
was not yet finished; and Piero was so uncertain in his work--sometimes,
when the demand was not peremptory, laying aside a picture for months;
sometimes thrusting it into a corner or coffer, where it was likely to
be utterly forgotten--that she felt it necessary to watch over his
progress.  She was a favourite with the painter, and he was inclined to
fulfil any wish of hers, but no general inclination could be trusted as
a safeguard against his sudden whims.  He had told her the week before
that the picture would perhaps be finished by this time; and Romola was
nervously anxious to have in her possession a copy of the only portrait
existing of her father in the days of his blindness, lest his image
should grow dim in her mind.  The sense of defect in her devotedness to
him made her cling with all the force of compunction as well as
affection to the duties of memory.  Love does not aim simply at the
conscious good of the beloved object: it is not satisfied without
perfect loyalty of heart; it aims at its own completeness.

Romola, by special favour, was allowed to intrude upon the painter
without previous notice.  She lifted the iron slide and called Piero in
a flute-like tone, as the little maiden with the eggs had done in Tito's
presence.  Piero was quick in answering, but when he opened the door he
accounted for his quickness in a manner that was not complimentary.

"Ah, Madonna Romola, is it you?  I thought my eggs were come; I wanted
them."

"I have brought you something better than hard eggs, Piero.  Maso has
got a little basket full of cakes and _confetti_ for you," said Romola,
smiling, as she put back her veil.  She took the basket from Maso, and
stepping into the house, said--

"I know you like these things when you can have them without trouble.
Confess you do."

"Yes, when they come to me as easily as the light does," said Piero,
folding his arms and looking down at the sweetmeats as Romola uncovered
them and glanced at him archly.  "And they are come along with the light
now," he added, lifting his eyes to her face and hair with a painter's
admiration, as her hood, dragged by the weight of her veil, fell
backward.

"But I know what the sweetmeats are for," he went on; "they are to stop
my mouth while you scold me.  Well, go on into the next room, and you
will see I've done something to the picture since you saw it, though
it's not finished yet.  But I didn't promise, you know: I take care not
to promise:--

  "`Chi promette e non mantiene
  L'anima sua non va mai bene.'"

The door opening on the wild garden was closed now, and the painter was
at work.  Not at Romola's picture, however.  That was standing on the
floor, propped against the wall, and Piero stooped to lift it, that he
might carry it into the proper light.  But in lifting away this picture,
he had disclosed another--the oil-sketch of Tito, to which he had made
an important addition within the last few days.  It was so much smaller
than the other picture, that it stood far within it, and Piero, apt to
forget where he had placed anything, was not aware of what he had
revealed as, peering at some detail in the painting which he held in his
hands, he went to place it on an easel.  But Romola exclaimed, flushing
with astonishment--

"That is Tito!"

Piero looked round, and gave a silent shrug.  He was vexed at his own
forgetfulness.

She was still looking at the sketch in astonishment; but presently she
turned towards the painter, and said with puzzled alarm--

"What a strange picture!  When did you paint it?  What does it mean?"

"A mere fancy of mine," said Piero, lifting off his skull-cap,
scratching his head, and making the usual grimace by which he avoided
the betrayal of any feeling.  "I wanted a handsome young face for it,
and your husband's was just the thing."

He went forward, stooped down to the picture, and lifting it away with
its back to Romola, pretended to be giving it a passing examination,
before putting it aside as a thing not good enough to show.

But Romola, who had the fact of the armour in her mind, and was
penetrated by this strange coincidence of things which associated Tito
with the idea of fear, went to his elbow and said--

"Don't put it away; let me look again.  That man with the rope round his
neck--I saw him--I saw you come to him in the Duomo.  What was it that
made you put him into a picture with Tito?"

Piero saw no better resource than to tell part of the truth.

"It was a mere accident.  The man was running away--running up the
steps, and caught hold of your husband: I suppose he had stumbled.  I
happened to be there, and saw it, and I thought the savage-looking old
fellow was a good subject.  But it's worth nothing--it's only a freakish
daub, of mine."  Piero ended contemptuously, moving the sketch away with
an air of decision, and putting it on a high shelf.  "Come and look at
the Oedipus."

He had shown a little too much anxiety in putting the sketch out of her
sight, and had produced the very impression he had sought to prevent--
that there was really something unpleasant, something disadvantageous to
Tito, in the circumstances out of which the picture arose.  But this
impression silenced her: her pride and delicacy shrank from questioning
further, where questions might seem to imply that she could entertain
even a slight suspicion against her husband.  She merely said, in as
quiet a tone as she could--

"He was a strange piteous-looking man, that prisoner.  Do you know
anything more of him?"

"No more: I showed him the way to the hospital, that's all.  See, now,
the face of Oedipus is pretty nearly finished; tell me what you think of
it."

Romola now gave her whole attention to her father's portrait, standing
in long silence before it.

"Ah," she said at last, "you have done what I wanted.  You have given it
more of the listening look.  My good Piero,"--she turned towards him
with bright moist eyes--"I am very grateful to you."

"Now that's what I can't bear in you women," said Piero, turning
impatiently, and kicking aside the objects that littered the floor--"you
are always pouring out feelings where there's no call for them.  Why
should you be grateful to me for a picture you pay me for, especially
when I make you wait for it?  And if I paint a picture, I suppose it's
for my own pleasure and credit to paint it well, eh?  Are you to thank a
man for not being a rogue or a noodle?  It's enough if he himself thanks
Messer Domeneddio, who has made him neither the one nor the other.  But
women think walls are held together with honey."

"You crusty Piero!  I forgot how snappish you are.  Here, put this nice
sweetmeat in your mouth," said Romola, smiling through her tears, and
taking something very crisp and sweet from the little basket.

Piero accepted it very much as that proverbial bear that dreams of pears
might accept an exceedingly mellow "swan-egg"--really liking the gift,
but accustomed to have his pleasures and pains concealed under a shaggy
coat.

"It's good, Madonna Antigone," said Piero, putting his fingers in the
basket for another.  He had eaten nothing but hard eggs for a fortnight.
Romola stood opposite him, feeling her new anxiety suspended for a
little while by the sight of this _naive_ enjoyment.

"Good--bye, Piero," she said, presently, setting down the basket.  "I
promise not to thank you if you finish the portrait soon and well I will
tell you, you were bound to do it for your own credit."

"Good," said Piero, curtly, helping her with much deftness to fold her
mantle and veil round her.

"I'm glad she asked no more questions about that sketch," he thought,
when he had closed the door behind her.  "I should be sorry for her to
guess that I thought her fine husband a good model for a coward.  But I
made light of it; she'll not think of it again."

Piero was too sanguine, as open-hearted men are apt to be when they
attempt a little clever simulation.  The thought of the picture pressed
more and more on Romola as she walked homeward.  She could not help
putting together the two facts of the chain-armour and the encounter
mentioned by Piero between her husband and the prisoner, which had
happened on the morning of the day when the armour was adopted.  That
look of terror which the painter had given Tito, had he seen it?  What
could it all mean?

"It means nothing," she tried to assure herself.  "It was a mere
coincidence.  Shall I ask Tito about it?"  Her mind said at last, "No: I
will not question him about anything he did not tell me spontaneously.
It is an offence against the trust I owe him."  Her heart said, "I dare
not ask him."

There was a terrible flaw in the trust: she was afraid of any hasty
movement, as men are who hold something precious and want to believe
that it is not broken.



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

A MOMENT OF TRIUMPH.

"The old fellow has vanished; went on towards Arezzo the next morning;
not liking the smell of the French, I suppose, after being their
prisoner.  I went to the hospital to inquire after him; I wanted to know
if those broth-making monks had found out whether he was in his right
mind or not.  However, they said he showed no signs of madness--only
took no notice of questions, and seemed to be planting a vine twenty
miles off.  He was a mysterious old tiger.  I should have liked to know
something more about him."

It was in Nello's shop that Piero di Cosimo was speaking, on the
twenty-fourth of November, just a week after the entrance of the French.
There was a party of six or seven assembled at the rather unusual hour
of three in the afternoon; for it was a day on which all Florence was
excited by the prospect of some decisive political event.  Every
lounging-place was full, and every shopkeeper who had no wife or deputy
to leave in charge, stood at his door with his thumbs in his belt; while
the streets were constantly sprinkled with artisans pausing or passing
lazily like floating splinters, ready to rush forward impetuously if any
object attracted them.

Nello had been thrumming the lute as he half sat on the board against
the shop-window, and kept an outlook towards the piazza.

"Ah," he said, laying down the lute, with emphasis, "I would not for a
gold florin have missed that sight of the French soldiers waddling in
their broad shoes after their runaway prisoners!  That comes of leaving
my shop to shave magnificent chins.  It is always so: if ever I quit
this navel of the earth something takes the opportunity of happening in
my piazza."

"Yes, you ought to have been there," said Piero, in his biting way,
"just to see your favourite Greek look as frightened as if Satanasso had
laid hold of him.  I like to see your ready-smiling Messeri caught in a
sudden wind and obliged to show their lining in spite of themselves.
What colour do you think a man's liver is, who looks like a bleached
deer as soon as a chance stranger lays hold of him suddenly?"

"Piero, keep that vinegar of thine as sauce to thine own eggs!  What is
it against my _bel erudito_ that he looked startled when he felt a pair
of claws upon him and saw an unchained madman at his elbow?  Your
scholar is not like those beastly Swiss and Germans, whose heads are
only fit for battering-rams, and who have such large appetites that they
think nothing of taking a cannon-ball before breakfast.  We Florentines
count some other qualities in a man besides that vulgar stuff called
bravery, which is to be got by hiring dunderheads at so much per dozen.
I tell you, as soon as men found out that they had more brains than
oxen, they set the oxen to draw for them; and when we Florentines found
out that we had more brains than other men we set them to fight for us."

"Treason, Nello!" a voice called out from the inner sanctum; "that is
not the doctrine of the State.  Florence is grinding its weapons; and
the last well-authenticated vision announced by the Frate was Mars
standing on the Palazzo Vecchio with his arm on the shoulder of San
Giovanni Battista, who was offering him a piece of honeycomb."

"It is well, Francesco," said Nello.  "Florence has a few thicker skulls
that may do to bombard Pisa with; there will still be the finer spirits
left at home to do the thinking and the shaving.  And as for our Piero
here, if he makes such a point of valour, let him carry his biggest
brush for a weapon and his palette for a shield, and challenge the
widest-mouthed Swiss he can see in the Prato to a single combat."

"_Va_, Nello," growled Piero, "thy tongue runs on as usual, like a mill
when the Arno's full--whether there's grist or not."

"Excellent grist, I tell thee.  For it would be as reasonable to expect
a grizzled painter like thee to be fond of getting a javelin inside thee
as to expect a man whose wits have been sharpened on the classics to
like having his handsome face clawed by a wild beast."

"There you go, supposing you'll get people to put their legs into a sack
because you call it a pair of hosen," said Piero.  "Who said anything
about a wild beast, or about an unarmed man rushing on battle?  Fighting
is a trade, and it's not my trade.  I should be a fool to run after
danger, but I could face it if it came to me."

"How is it you're so afraid of the thunder, then, my Piero?" said Nello,
determined to chase down the accuser.  "You ought to be able to
understand why one man is shaken by a thing that seems a trifle to
others--you who hide yourself with the rats as soon as a storm comes
on."

"That is because I have a particular sensibility to loud sounds; it has
nothing to do with my courage or my conscience."

"Well, and Tito Melema may have a peculiar sensibility to being laid
hold of unexpectedly by prisoners who have run away from French
soldiers.  Men are born with antipathies; I myself can't abide the smell
of mint.  Tito was born with an antipathy to old prisoners who stumble
and clutch.  Ecco!"

There was a general laugh at Nello's defence, and it was clear that
Piero's disinclination towards Tito was not shared by the company.  The
painter, with his undecipherable grimace, took the tow from his
scarsella and stuffed his ears in indignant contempt, while Nello went
on triumphantly--

"No, my Piero, I can't afford to have my _bel erudito_ decried; and
Florence can't afford it either, with her scholars moulting off her at
the early age of forty.  Our Phoenix Pico just gone straight to
Paradise, as the Frate has informed us; and the incomparable Poliziano,
not two months since, gone to--well, well, let us hope he is not gone to
the eminent scholars in the Malebolge."

"By the way," said Francesco Cei, "have you heard that Camilla Rucellai
has outdone the Frate in her prophecies?  She prophesied two years ago
that Pico would die in the time of lilies.  He has died in November.
`Not at all the time of lilies,' said the scorners.  `Go to!' says
Camilla; `it is the lilies of France I meant, and it seems to me they
are close enough under your nostrils.'  I say, `Euge, Camilla!'  If the
Frate can prove that any one of his visions has been as well fulfilled,
I'll declare myself a Piagnone to-morrow."

"You are something too flippant about the Frate, Francesco," said Pietro
Cennini, the scholarly.  "We are all indebted to him in these weeks for
preaching peace and quietness, and the laying aside of party quarrels.
They are men of small discernment who would be glad to see the people
slipping the Frate's leash just now.  And if the Most Christian King is
obstinate about the treaty to-day, and will not sign what is fair and
honourable to Florence, Fra Girolamo is the man we must trust in to
bring him to reason."

"You speak truth, Messer Pietro," said Nello; "the Frate is one of the
firmest nails Florence has to hang on--at least, that is the opinion of
the most respectable chins I have the honour of shaving.  But young
Messer Niccolo was saying here the other morning--and doubtless
Francesco means the same thing--there is as wonderful a power of
stretching in the meaning of visions as in Dido's bull's hide.  It seems
to me a dream may mean whatever comes after it.  As our Franco Sacchetti
says, a woman dreams over-night of a serpent biting her, breaks a
drinking-cup the next day, and cries out, `Look you, I thought something
would happen--it's plain now what the serpent meant.'"

"But the Frate's visions are not of that sort," said Cronaca.  "He not
only says what will happen--that the Church will be scourged and
renovated, and the heathens converted--he says it shall happen quickly.
He is no slippery pretender who provides loopholes for himself, he is--"

"What is this? what is this?" exclaimed Nello, jumping off the board,
and putting his head out at the door.  "Here are people streaming into
the piazza, and shouting.  Something must have happened in the Via
Larga.  Aha!" he burst forth with delighted astonishment, stepping out
laughing and waving his cap.

All the rest of the company hastened to the door.  News from the Via
Larga was just what they had been waiting for.  But if the news had come
into the piazza, they were not a little surprised at the form of its
advent.  Carried above the shoulders of the people, on a bench
apparently snatched up in the street, sat Tito Melema, in smiling
amusement at the compulsion he was under.  His cap had slipped off his
head, and hung by the becchetto which was wound loosely round his neck;
and as he saw the group at Nello's door he lifted up his fingers in
beckoning recognition.  The next minute he had leaped from the bench on
to a cart filled with bales, that stood in the broad space between the
Baptistery and the steps of the Duomo, while the people swarmed round
him with the noisy eagerness of poultry expecting to be fed.  But there
was silence when he began to speak in his clear mellow voice--

"Citizens of Florence!  I have no warrant to tell the news except your
will.  But the news is good, and will harm no man in the telling.  The
Most Christian King is signing a treaty that is honourable to Florence.
But you owe it to one of your citizens, who spoke a word worthy of the
ancient Romans--you owe it to Piero Capponi!"

Immediately there was a roar of voices.  "Capponi!  Capponi!  What said
our Piero?"  "Ah! he wouldn't stand being sent from Herod to Pilate!"
"We knew Piero!" "_Orsu_!  Tell us, what did he say?"

When the roar of insistance had subsided a little, Tito began again--

"The Most Christian King demanded a little too much--was obstinate--said
at last, `I shall order my trumpets to sound.'  Then, Florentine
citizens! your Piero Capponi, speaking with the voice of a free city,
said, `If you sound your trumpets, we will ring our bells!'  He snatched
the copy of the dishonouring conditions from the hands of the secretary,
tore it in pieces, and turned to leave the royal presence."

Again there were loud shouts--and again impatient demands for more.

"Then, Florentines, the high majesty of France felt, perhaps for the
first time, all the majesty of a free city.  And the Most Christian King
himself hastened from his place to call Piero Capponi back.  The great
spirit of your Florentine city did its work by a great word, without
need of the great actions that lay ready behind it.  And the King has
consented to sign the treaty, which preserves the honour, as well as the
safety, of Florence.  The banner of France will float over every
Florentine galley in sign of amity and common privilege, but above that
banner will be written the word `Liberty!'

"That is all the news I have to tell; is it not enough?--since it is for
the glory of every one of you, citizens of Florence, that you have a
fellow-citizen who knows how to speak your will."

As the shouts rose again, Tito looked round with inward amusement at the
various crowd, each of whom was elated with the notion that Piero
Capponi had somehow represented him--that he was the mind of which
Capponi was the mouthpiece.  He enjoyed the humour of the incident,
which had suddenly transformed him, an alien, and a friend of the
Medici, into an orator who tickled the ears of the people blatant for
some unknown good which they called liberty.  He felt quite glad that he
had been laid hold of and hurried along by the crowd as he was coming
out of the palace in the Via Larga with a commission to the Signoria.
It was very easy, very pleasant, this exercise of speaking to the
general satisfaction: a man who knew how to persuade need never be in
danger from any party; he could convince each that he was feigning with
all the others.  The gestures and faces of weavers and dyers were
certainly amusing when looked at from above in this way.

Tito was beginning to get easier in his armour, and at this moment was
quite unconscious of it.  He stood with one hand holding his recovered
cap, and with the other at his belt, the light of a complacent smile in
his long lustrous eyes, as he made a parting reverence to his audience,
before springing down from the bales--when suddenly his glance met that
of a man who had not at all the amusing aspect of the exulting weavers,
dyers, and woolcarders.  The face of this man was clean-shaven, his hair
close-clipped, and he wore a decent felt hat.  A single glance would
hardly have sufficed to assure any one but Tito that this was the face
of the escaped prisoner who had laid hold of him on the steps.  But to
Tito it came not simply as the face of the escaped prisoner, but as a
face with which he had been familiar long years before.

It seemed all compressed into a second--the sight of Baldassarre looking
at him, the sensation shooting through him like a fiery arrow, and the
act of leaping from the cart.  He would have leaped down in the same
instant, whether he had seen Baldassarre or not, for he was in a hurry
to be gone to the Palazzo Vecchio: this time he had not betrayed himself
by look or movement, and he said inwardly that he should not be taken by
surprise again; he should be prepared to see this face rise up
continually like the intermittent blotch that comes in diseased vision.
But this reappearance of Baldassarre so much more in his own likeness
tightened the pressure of dread the idea of his madness lost its
likelihood now he was shaven and clad like a decent though poor citizen.
Certainly, there was a great change in his face; but how could it be
otherwise?  And yet, if he were perfectly sane--in possession of all his
powers and all his learning, why was he lingering in this way before
making known his identity?  It must be for the sake of making his scheme
of vengeance more complete.  But he did linger: that at least gave an
opportunity for flight.  And Tito began to think that flight was his
only resource.

But while he, with his back turned on the Piazza del Duomo, had lost the
recollection of the new part he had been playing, and was no longer
thinking of the many things which a ready brain and tongue made easy,
but of a few things which destiny had somehow made very difficult, the
enthusiasm which he had fed contemptuously was creating a scene in that
piazza in grand contrast with the inward drama of self-centred fear
which he had carried away from it.

The crowd, on Tito's disappearance, had begun to turn their faces
towards the outlets of the piazza in the direction of the Via Larga,
when the sight of _mazzieri_, or mace-bearers, entering from the Via de'
Martelli, announced the approach of dignitaries.  They must be the
syndics, or commissioners charged with the effecting of the treaty; the
treaty must be already signed, and they had come away from the royal
presence.  Piero Capponi was coming--the brave heart that had known how
to speak for Florence.  The effect on the crowd was remarkable; they
parted with softening, dropping voices, subsiding into silence,--and the
silence became so perfect that the tread of the syndics on the broad
pavement, and the rustle of their black silk garments, could be heard,
like rain in the night.  There were four of them; but it was not the two
learned doctors of law, Messer Guidantonio Vespucci and Messer Domenico
Bonsi, that the crowd waited for; it was not Francesco Valori, popular
as he had become in these late days.  The moment belonged to another
man, of firm presence, as little inclined to humour the people as to
humour any other unreasonable claimants--loving order, like one who by
force of fortune had been made a merchant, and by force of nature had
become a soldier.  It was not till he was seen at the entrance of the
piazza that the silence was broken, and then one loud shout of "Capponi,
Capponi!  Well done, Capponi!" rang through the piazza.

The simple, resolute man looked round him with grave joy.  His
fellow-citizens gave him a great funeral two years later, when he had
died in fight; there were torches carried by all the magistracy, and
torches again, and trains of banners.  But it is not known that he felt
any joy in the oration that was delivered in his praise, as the banners
waved over his bier.  Let us be glad that he got some thanks and praise
while he lived.



CHAPTER THIRTY.

THE AVENGER'S SECRET.

It was the first time that Baldassarre had been in the Piazza del Duomo
since his escape.  He had a strong desire to hear the remarkable monk
preach again, but he had shrunk from reappearing in the same spot where
he had been seen half naked, with neglected hair, with a rope round his
neck--in the same spot where he had been called a madman.  The feeling,
in its freshness, was too strong to be overcome by any trust he had in
the change he had made in his appearance; for when the words "_some
madman, surely_," had fallen from Tito's lips, it was not their baseness
and cruelty only that had made their viper sting--it was Baldassarre's
instantaneous bitter consciousness that he might be unable to prove the
words false.  Along with the passionate desire for vengeance which
possessed him had arisen the keen sense that his power of achieving the
vengeance was doubtful.  It was as if Tito had been helped by some
diabolical prompter, who had whispered Baldassarre's saddest secret in
the traitor's ear.  He was not mad; for he carried within him that
piteous stamp of sanity, the clear consciousness of shattered faculties;
he measured his own feebleness.  With the first movement of vindictive
rage awoke a vague caution, like that of a wild beast that is fierce but
feeble--or like that of an insect whose little fragment of earth has
given way, and made it pause in a palsy of distrust.  It was this
distrust, this determination to take no step which might betray anything
concerning himself, that had made Baldassarre reject Piero di Cosimo's
friendly advances.

He had been equally cautious at the hospital, only telling, in answer to
the questions of the brethren there, that he had been made a prisoner by
the French on his way from Genoa.  But his age, and the indications in
his speech and manner that he was of a different class from the ordinary
mendicants and poor travellers who were entertained in the hospital, had
induced the monks to offer him extra charity: a coarse woollen tunic to
protect him from the cold, a pair of peasant's shoes, and a few
_danari_, smallest of Florentine coins, to help him on his way.  He had
gone on the road to Arezzo early in the morning; but he had paused at
the first little town, and had used a couple of his _danari_ to get
himself shaved, and to have his circle of hair clipped short, in his
former fashion.  The barber there had a little hand-mirror of bright
steel: it was a long while, it was years, since Baldassarre had looked
at himself, and now, as his eyes fell on that hand-mirror, a new thought
shot through his mind.  "Was he so changed that Tito really did not know
him?"  The thought was such a sudden arrest of impetuous currents, that
it was a painful shock to him; his hand shook like a leaf, as he put
away the barber's arm and asked for the mirror.  He wished to see
himself before he was shaved.  The barber, noticing his tremulousness,
held the mirror for him.

No, he was not so changed as that.  He himself had known the wrinkles as
they had been three years ago; they were only deeper now: there was the
same rough, clumsy skin, making little superficial bosses on the brow,
like so many cipher-marks; the skin was only yellower, only looked more
like a lifeless rind.  That shaggy white beard--it was no disguise to
eyes that had looked closely at him for sixteen years--to eyes that
ought to have searched for him with the expectation of finding him
changed, as men search for the beloved among the bodies cast up by the
waters.  There was something different in his glance, but it was a
difference that should only have made the recognition of him the more
startling; for is not a known voice all the more thrilling when it is
heard as a cry?  But the doubt was folly: he had felt that Tito knew
him.  He put out his hand and pushed the mirror away.  The strong
currents were rushing on again, and the energies of hatred and vengeance
were active once more.

He went back on the way towards Florence again, but he did not wish to
enter the city till dusk; so he turned aside from the highroad, and sat
down by a little pool shadowed on one side by alder-bushes still
sprinkled with yellow leaves.  It was a calm November day, and he no
sooner saw the pool than he thought its still surface might be a mirror
for him.  He wanted to contemplate himself slowly, as he had not dared
to do in the presence of the barber.  He sat down on the edge of the
pool, and bent forward to look earnestly at the image of himself.

Was there something wandering and imbecile in his face--something like
what he felt in his mind?

Not now; not when he was examining himself with a look of eager inquiry:
on the contrary, there was an intense purpose in his eyes.  But at other
times?  Yes, it must be so: in the long hours when he had the vague
aching of an unremembered past within him--when he seemed to sit in dark
loneliness, visited by whispers which died out mockingly as he strained
his ear after them, and by forms that seemed to approach him and float
away as he thrust out his hand to grasp them--in those hours, doubtless,
there must be continual frustration and amazement in his glance.  And
more horrible still, when the thick cloud parted for a moment, and, as
he sprang forward with hope, rolled together again, and left him
helpless as before; doubtless, there was then a blank confusion in his
face, as of a man suddenly smitten with blindness.

Could he prove anything?  Could he even begin to allege anything, with
the confidence that the links of thought would not break away?  Would
any believe that he had ever had a mind filled with rare knowledge, busy
with close thoughts, ready with various speech?  It had all slipped away
from him--that laboriously-gathered store.  Was it utterly and for ever
gone from him, like the waters from an urn lost in the wide ocean?  Or,
was it still within him, imprisoned by some obstruction that might one
day break asunder?

It might be so; he tried to keep his grasp on that hope.  For, since the
day when he had first walked feebly from his couch of straw, and had
felt a new darkness within him under the sunlight, his mind had
undergone changes, partly gradual and persistent, partly sudden and
fleeting.  As he had recovered his strength of body, he had recovered
his self-command and the energy of his will; he had recovered the memory
of all that part of his life which was closely enwrought with his
emotions; and he had felt more and more constantly and painfully the
uneasy sense of lost knowledge.  But more than that--once or twice, when
he had been strongly excited, he had seemed momentarily to be in entire
possession of his past self, as old men doze for an instant and get back
the consciousness of their youth: he seemed again to see Greek pages and
understand them, again to feel his mind moving unbenumbed among familiar
ideas.  It had been but a flash, and the darkness closing in again
seemed the more horrible; but might not the same thing happen again for
longer periods?  If it would only come and stay long enough for him to
achieve a revenge--devise an exquisite suffering, such as a mere right
arm could never inflict!

He raised himself from his stooping attitude, and, folding his arms,
attempted to concentrate all his mental force on the plan he must
immediately pursue.  He had to wait for knowledge and opportunity, and
while he waited he must have the means of living without beggary.  What
he dreaded of all things now was, that any one should think him a
foolish, helpless old man.  No one must know that half his memory was
gone: the lost strength might come again; and if it were only for a
little while, _that_ might be enough.

He knew how to begin to get the information he wanted about Tito.  He
had repeated the words "Bratti Ferravecchi" so constantly after they had
been uttered to him, that they never slipped from him for long together.
A man at Genoa, on whose finger he had seen Tito's ring, had told him
that he bought that ring at Florence, of a young Greek, well-dressed,
and with a handsome dark face, in the shop of a _rigattiere_ called
Bratti Ferravecchi, in the street also called Ferravecchi.  This
discovery had caused a violent agitation in Baldassarre.  Until then he
had clung with all the tenacity of his fervent nature to his faith in
Tito, and had not for a moment believed himself to be wilfully forsaken.
At first he had said, "My bit of parchment has never reached him; that
is why I am still toiling at Antioch, But he is searching; he knows
where I was lost: he will trace me out, and find me at last."  Then,
when he was taken to Corinth, he induced his owners, by the assurance
that he should be sought out and ransomed, to provide securely against
the failure of any inquiries that might be made about him at Antioch;
and at Corinth he thought joyfully, "Here, at last, he must find me.
Here he is sure to touch, whichever way he goes."  But before another
year had passed, the illness had come from which he had risen with body
and mind so shattered that he was worse than worthless to his owners,
except for the sake of the ransom that did not come.  Then, as he sat
helpless in the morning sunlight, he began to think, "Tito has been
drowned, or they have made _him_ a prisoner too.  I shall see him no
more.  He set out after me, but misfortune overtook him.  I shall see
his face no more."  Sitting in his new feebleness and despair,
supporting his head between his hands, with blank eyes and lips that
moved uncertainly, he looked so much like a hopelessly imbecile old man,
that his owners were contented to be rid of him, and allowed a Genoese
merchant, who had compassion on him as an Italian, to take him on board
his galley.  In a voyage of many months in the Archipelago and along the
seaboard of Asia Minor, Baldassarre had recovered his bodily strength,
but on landing at Genoa he had so weary a sense of his desolateness that
he almost wished he had died of that illness at Corinth.  There was just
one possibility that hindered the wish from being decided: it was that
Tito might not be dead, but living in a state of imprisonment or
destitution; and if he lived, there was still a hope for Baldassarre--
faint, perhaps, and likely to be long deferred, but still a hope, that
he might find his child, his cherished son again; might yet again clasp
hands and meet face to face with the one being who remembered him as he
had been before his mind was broken.  In this state of feeling he had
chanced to meet the stranger who wore Tito's onyx ring, and though
Baldassarre would have been unable to describe the ring beforehand, the
sight of it stirred the dormant fibres, and he recognised it.  That Tito
nearly a year after his father had been parted from him should have been
living in apparent prosperity at Florence, selling the gem which he
ought not to have sold till the last extremity, was a fact that
Baldassarre shrank from trying to account for: he was glad to be stunned
and bewildered by it, rather than to have any distinct thought; he tried
to feel nothing but joy that he should behold Tito again.  Perhaps Tito
had thought that his father was dead; somehow the mystery would be
explained.  "But at least I shall meet eyes that will remember me.  I am
not alone in the world."

And now again Baldassarre said, "I am not alone in the world; I shall
never be alone, for my revenge is with me."

It was as the instrument of that revenge, as something merely external
and subservient to his true life, that he bent down again to examine
himself with hard curiosity--not, he thought, because he had any care
for a withered, forsaken old man, whom nobody loved, whose soul was like
a deserted home, where the ashes were cold upon the hearth, and the
walls were bare of all but the marks of what had been.  It is in the
nature of all human passion, the lowest as well as the highest, that
there is a point where it ceases to be properly egoistic, and is like a
fire kindled within our being to which everything else in us is mere
fuel.

He looked at the pale black-browed image in the water till he identified
it with that self from which his revenge seemed to be a thing apart; and
he felt as if the image too heard the silent language of his thought.

"I was a loving fool--I worshipped a woman once, and believed she could
care for me; and then I took a helpless child and fostered him; and I
watched him as he grew, to see if he would care for me only a little--
care for _me_ over and above the good he got from me.  I would have torn
open my breast to warm him with my life-blood if I could only have seen
him care a little for the pain of my wound.  I have laboured, I have
strained to crush out of this hard life one drop of unselfish love.
Fool! men love their own delights; there is no delight to be had in me.
And yet I watched till I believed I saw what I watched for.  When he was
a child he lifted soft eyes towards me, and held my hand willingly: I
thought, this boy will surely love me a little: because I give my life
to him and strive that he shall know no sorrow, he will care a little
when I am thirsty--the drop he lays on my parched lips will be a joy to
him...  Curses on him!  I wish I may see him lie with those red lips
white and dry as ashes, and when he looks for pity I wish he may see my
face rejoicing in his pain.  It is all a lie--this world is a lie--there
is no goodness but in hate.  Fool! not one drop of love came with all
your striving: life has not given you one drop.  But there are deep
draughts in this world for hatred and revenge.  I have memory left for
that, and there is strength in my arm--there is strength in my will--and
if I can do nothing but kill him--"

But Baldassarre's mind rejected the thought of that brief punishment.
His whole soul had been thrilled into immediate unreasoning belief in
that eternity of vengeance where he, an undying hate, might clutch for
ever an undying traitor, and hear that fair smiling hardness cry and
moan with anguish.  But the primary need and hope was to see a slow
revenge under the same sky and on the same earth where he himself had
been forsaken and had fainted with despair.  And as soon as he tried to
concentrate his mind on the means of attaining his end, the sense of his
weakness pressed upon him like a frosty ache.  This despised body, which
was to be the instrument of a sublime vengeance, must be nourished and
decently clad.  If he had to wait he must labour, and his labour must be
of a humble sort, for he had no skill.  He wondered whether the sight of
written characters would so stimulate his faculties that he might
venture to try and find work as a copyist: _that_ might win him some
credence for his past scholarship.  But no! he dared trust neither hand
nor brain.  He must be content to do the work that was most like that of
a beast of burden: in this mercantile city many porters must be wanted,
and he could at least carry weights.  Thanks to the justice that
struggled in this confused world in behalf of vengeance, his limbs had
got back some of their old sturdiness.  He was stripped of all else that
men would give coin for.

But the new urgency of this habitual thought brought a new suggestion.
There was something hanging by a cord round his bare neck; something
apparently so paltry that the piety of Turks and Frenchmen had spared
it--a tiny parchment bag blackened with age.  It had hung round his neck
as a precious charm when he was a boy, and he had kept it carefully on
his breast, not believing that it contained anything but a tiny scroll
of parchment rolled up hard.  He might long ago have thrown it away as a
relic of his dead mother's superstition; but he had thought of it as a
relic of her love, and had kept it.  It was part of the piety associated
with such _brevi_, that they should never be opened, and at any previous
moment in his life Baldassarre would have said that no sort of thirst
would prevail upon him to open this little bag for the chance of finding
that it contained, not parchment, but an engraved amulet which would be
worth money.  But now a thirst had come like that which makes men open
their own veins to satisfy it, and the thought of the possible amulet no
sooner crossed Baldassarre's mind than with nervous fingers he snatched
the _breve_ from his neck.  It all rushed through his mind--the long
years he had worn it, the far-off sunny balcony at Naples looking
towards the blue waters, where he had leaned against his mother's knee;
but it made no moment of hesitation: all piety now was transmuted into a
just revenge.  He bit and tore till the doubles of parchment were laid
open, and then--it was a sight that made him pant--there _was_ an
amulet.  It was very small, but it was as blue as those far-off waters;
it was an engraved sapphire, which must be worth some gold ducats.
Baldassarre no sooner saw those possible ducats than he saw some of them
exchanged for a poniard.  He did not want to use the poniard yet, but he
longed to possess it.  If he could grasp its handle and try its edge,
that blank in his mind--that past which fell away continually--would not
make him feel so cruelly helpless: the sharp steel that despised talents
and eluded strength would be at his side, as the unfailing friend of
feeble justice.  There was a sparkling triumph under Baldassarre's black
eyebrows as he replaced the little sapphire inside the bits of parchment
and wound the string tightly round them.

It was nearly dusk now, and he rose to walk back towards Florence.  With
his _danari_ to buy him some bread, he felt rich: he could lie out in
the open air, as he found plenty more doing in all corners of Florence.
And in the next few days he had sold his sapphire, had added to his
clothing, had bought a bright dagger, and had still a pair of gold
florins left.  But he meant to hoard that treasure carefully: his
lodging was an outhouse with a heap of straw in it, in a thinly
inhabited part of Oltrarno, and he thought of looking about for work as
a porter.

He had bought his dagger at Bratti's.  Paying his meditated visit there
one evening at dusk, he had found that singular rag-merchant just
returned from one of his rounds, emptying out his basketful of broken
glass and old iron amongst his handsome show of miscellaneous
second-hand goods.  As Baldassarre entered the shop, and looked towards
the smart pieces of apparel, the musical instruments, and weapons, which
were displayed in the broadest light of the window, his eye at once
singled out a dagger hanging up high against a red scarf.  By buying the
dagger he could not only satisfy a strong desire, he could open his
original errand in a more indirect manner than by speaking of the onyx
ring.  In the course of bargaining for the weapon, he let drop, with
cautious carelessness, that he came from Genoa, and had been directed to
Bratti's shop by an acquaintance in that city who had bought a very
valuable ring here.  Had the respectable trader any more such rings?

Whereupon Bratti had much to say as to the unlikelihood of such rings
being within reach of many people, with much vaunting of his own rare
connections, due to his known wisdom, and honesty.  It might be true
that he was a pedlar--he chose to be a pedlar; though he was rich enough
to kick his heels in his shop all day.  But those who thought they had
said all there was to be said about Bratti when they had called him a
pedlar, were a good deal further off the truth than the other side of
Pisa.  How was it that he could put that ring in a stranger's way?  It
was, because he had a very particular knowledge of a handsome young
signor, who did not look quite so fine a feathered bird when Bratti
first set eyes on him as he did at the present time.  And by a question
or two Baldassarre extracted, without any trouble, such a rough and
rambling account of Tito's life as the pedlar could give, since the time
when he had found him sleeping under the Loggia de' Cerchi.  It never
occurred to Bratti that the decent man (who was rather deaf, apparently,
asking him to say many things twice over) had any curiosity about Tito;
the curiosity was doubtless about himself, as a truly remarkable pedlar.

And Baldassarre left Bratti's shop, not only with the dagger at his
side, but also with a general knowledge of Tito's conduct and position--
of his early sale of the jewels, his immediate quiet settlement of
himself at Florence, his marriage, and his great prosperity.

"What story had he told about his previous life--about his father?"

It would be difficult for Baldassarre to discover the answer to that
question.  Meanwhile, he wanted to learn all he could about Florence.
But he found, to his acute distress, that of the new details he learned
he could only retain a few, and those only by continual repetition; and
he began to be afraid of listening to any new discourse, lest it should
obliterate what he was already striving to remember.

The day he was discerned by Tito in the Piazza del Duomo, he had the
fresh anguish of this consciousness in his mind, and Tito's ready speech
fell upon him like the mockery of a glib, defying demon.

As he went home to his heap of straw, and passed by the booksellers'
shops in the Via del Garbo, he paused to look at the volumes spread
open.  Could he by long gazing at one of those books lay hold of the
slippery threads of memory?  Could he, by striving, get a firm grasp
somewhere, and lift himself above these waters that flowed over him?

He was tempted, and bought the cheapest Greek book he could see.  He
carried it home and sat on his heap of straw, looking at the characters
by the light of the small window; but no inward light arose on them.
Soon the evening darkness came; but it made little difference to
Baldassarre.  His strained eyes seemed still to see the white pages with
the unintelligible black marks upon them.



CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

FRUIT IS SEED.

"My Romola," said Tito, the second morning after he had made his speech
in the Piazza del Duomo, "I am to receive grand visitors to-day; the
Milanese Count is coming again, and the Seneschal de Beaucaire, the
great favourite of the Cristianissimo.  I know you don't care to go
through smiling ceremonies with these rustling magnates, whom we are not
likely to see again; and as they will want to look at the antiquities
and the library, perhaps you had better give up your work to-day, and go
to see your cousin Brigida."

Romola discerned a wish in this intimation, and immediately assented.
But presently, coming back in her hood and mantle, she said, "Oh, what a
long breath Florence will take when the gates are flung open, and the
last Frenchman is walking out of them!  Even you are getting tired, with
all your patience, my Tito; confess it.  Ah, your head is hot."

He was leaning over his desk, writing, and she had laid her hand on his
head, meaning to give a parting caress.  The attitude had been a
frequent one, and Tito was accustomed, when he felt her hand there, to
raise his head, throw himself a little backward, and look up at her.
But he felt now as unable to raise his head as if her hand had been a
leaden cowl.  He spoke instead, in a light tone, as his pen still ran
along.

"The French are as ready to go from Florence as the wasps to leave a
ripe pear when they have just fastened on it."

Romola, keenly sensitive to the absence of the usual response, took away
her hand and said, "I am going, Tito."

"Farewell, my sweet one.  I must wait at home.  Take Maso with you."

Still Tito did not look up, and Romola went out without saying any more.
Very slight things make Epochs in married life, and this morning for
the first time she admitted to herself not only that Tito had changed,
but that he had changed towards her.  Did the reason lie in herself?
She might perhaps have thought so, if there had not been the facts of
the armour and the picture to suggest some external event which was an
entire mystery to her.

But Tito no sooner believed that Romola was out of the house than he
laid down his pen and looked up, in delightful security from seeing
anything else than parchment and broken marble.  He was rather disgusted
with himself that he had not been able to look up at Romola and behave
to her just as usual.  He would have chosen, if he could, to be even
more than usually kind; but he could not, on a sudden, master an
involuntary shrinking from her, which, by a subtle relation, depended on
those very characteristics in him that made him desire not to fail in
his marks of affection.  He was about to take a step which he knew would
arouse her deep indignation; he would have to encounter much that was
unpleasant before he could win her forgiveness.  And Tito could never
find it easy to face displeasure and anger; his nature was one of those
most remote from defiance or impudence, and all his inclinations leaned
towards preserving Romola's tenderness.  He was not tormented by
sentimental scruples which, as he had demonstrated to himself by a very
rapid course of argument, had no relation to solid utility; but his
freedom from scruples did not release him from the dread of what was
disagreeable.  Unscrupulousness gets rid of much, but not of toothache,
or wounded vanity, or the sense of loneliness, against which, as the
world at present stands, there is no security but a thoroughly healthy
jaw, and a just, loving soul.  And Tito was feeling intensely at this
moment that no devices could save him from pain in the impending
collision with Romola; no persuasive blandness could cushion him against
the shock towards which he was being driven like a timid animal urged to
a desperate leap by the terror of the tooth and the claw that are close
behind it.

The secret feeling he had previously had that the tenacious adherence to
Bardo's wishes about the library had become under existing difficulties
a piece of sentimental folly, which deprived himself and Romola of
substantial advantages, might perhaps never have wrought itself into
action but for the events of the past week, which had brought at once
the pressure of a new motive and the outlet of a rare opportunity.  Nay,
it was not till his dread had been aggravated by the sight of
Baldassarre looking more like his sane self, not until he had begun to
feel that he might be compelled to flee from Florence, that he had
brought himself to resolve on using his legal right to sell the library
before the great opportunity offered by French and Milanese bidders
slipped through his fingers.  For if he had to leave Florence he did not
want to leave it as a destitute wanderer.  He had been used to an
agreeable existence, and he wished to carry with him all the means at
hand for retaining the same agreeable conditions.  He wished among other
things to carry Romola with him, and _not_, if possible, to carry any
infamy.  Success had given him a growing appetite for all the pleasures
that depend on an advantageous social position, and at no moment could
it look like a temptation to him, but only like a hideous alternative,
to decamp under dishonour, even with a bag of diamonds, and incur the
life of an adventurer.  It was not possible for him to make himself
independent even of those Florentines who only greeted him with regard;
still less was it possible for him to make himself independent of
Romola.  She was the wife of his first love--he loved her still; she
belonged to that furniture of life which he shrank from parting with.
He winced under her judgment, he felt uncertain how far the revulsion of
her feeling towards him might go; and all that sense of power over a
wife which makes a husband risk betrayals that a lover never ventures
on, would not suffice to counteract Tito's uneasiness.  This was the
leaden weight which had been too strong for his will, and kept him from
raising his head to meet her eyes.  Their pure light brought too near
him the prospect of a coming struggle.  But it was not to be helped; if
they had to leave Florence, they must have money; indeed, Tito could not
arrange life at all to his mind without a considerable sum of money.
And that problem of arranging life to his mind had been the source of
all his misdoing.  He would have been equal to any sacrifice that was
not unpleasant.

The rustling magnates came and went, the bargains had been concluded,
and Romola returned home; but nothing grave was said that night.  Tito
was only gay and chatty, pouring forth to her, as he had not done
before, stories and descriptions of what he had witnessed during the
French visit.  Romola thought she discerned an effort in his liveliness,
and attributing it to the consciousness in him that she had been wounded
in the morning, accepted the effort as an act of penitence, inwardly
aching a little at that sign of growing distance between them--that
there was an offence about which neither of them dared to speak.

The next day Tito remained away from home until late at night.  It was a
marked day to Romola, for Piero di Cosimo, stimulated to greater
industry on her behalf by the fear that he might have been the cause of
pain to her in the past week, had sent home her father's portrait.  She
had propped it against the back of his old chair, and had been looking
at it for some time, when the door opened behind her, and Bernardo del
Nero came in.

"It is you, godfather!  How I wish you had come sooner! it is getting a
little dusk," said Romola, going towards him.

"I have just looked in to tell you the good news, for I know Tito has
not come yet," said Bernardo.  "The French king moves off to-morrow: not
before it is high time.  There has been another tussle between our
people and his soldiers this morning.  But there's a chance now of the
city getting into order once more and trade going on."

"That is joyful," said Romola.  "But it is sudden, is it not?  Tito
seemed to think yesterday that there was little prospect of the king's
going soon."

"He has been well barked at, that's the reason," said Bernardo, smiling.
"His own generals opened their throats pretty well, and at last our
Signoria sent the mastiff of the city, Fra Girolamo.  The Cristianissimo
was frightened at that thunder, and has given the order to move.  I'm
afraid there'll be small agreement among us when he's gone, but, at any
rate, all parties are agreed in being glad not to have Florence stifled
with soldiery any longer, and the Frate has barked this time to some
purpose.  Ah, what is this?" he added, as Romola, clasping him by the
arm, led him in front of the picture.  "Let us see."

He began to unwind his long scarf while she placed a seat for him.

"Don't you want your spectacles, godfather?" said Romola, in anxiety
that he should see just what she saw.

"No, child, no," said Bernardo, uncovering his grey head, as he seated
himself with firm erectness.  "For seeing at this distance, my old eyes
are perhaps better than your young ones.  Old men's eyes are like old
men's memories; they are strongest for things a long way off."

"It is better than having no portrait," said Romola, apologetically,
after Bernardo had been silent a little while.  "It is less like him now
than the image I have in my mind, but then that might fade with the
years."  She rested her arm on the old man's shoulder as she spoke,
drawn towards him strongly by their common interest in the dead.

"I don't know," said Bernardo.  "I almost think I see Bardo as he was
when he was young, better than that picture shows him to me as he was
when he was old.  Your father had a great deal of fire in his eyes when
he was young.  It was what I could never understand, that he, with his
fiery spirit, which seemed much more impatient than mine, could hang
over the books and live with shadows all his life.  However, he had put
his heart into that."

Bernardo gave a slight shrug as he spoke the last words, but Romola
discerned in his voice a feeling that accorded with her own.

"And he was disappointed to the last," she said, involuntarily.  But
immediately fearing lest her words should be taken to imply an
accusation against Tito, she went on almost hurriedly, "If we could only
see his longest, dearest wish fulfilled just to his mind!"

"Well, so we may," said Bernardo, kindly, rising and putting on his cap.
"The times are cloudy now, but fish are caught by waiting.  Who knows?
When the wheel has turned often enough, I may be Gonfaloniere yet before
I die; and no creditor can touch these things."  He looked round as he
spoke.  Then, turning to her, and patting her cheek, said, "And you need
not be afraid of my dying; my ghost will claim nothing.  I've taken care
of that in my will."

Romola seized the hand that was against her cheek, and put it to her
lips in silence.

"Haven't you been scolding your husband for keeping away from home so
much lately?  I see him everywhere but here," said Bernardo, willing to
change the subject.

She felt the flush spread over her neck and face as she said, "He has
been very much wanted; you know he speaks so well.  I am glad to know
that his value is understood."

"You are contented then, Madonna Orgogliosa?" said Bernardo, smiling, as
he moved to the door.

"Assuredly."

Poor Romola!  There was one thing that would have made the pang of
disappointment in her husband harder to bear; it was, that any one
should know he gave her cause for disappointment.  This might be a
woman's weakness, but it is closely allied to a woman's nobleness.  She
who willingly lifts up the veil of her married life has profaned it from
a sanctuary into a vulgar place.



CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

A REVELATION.

The next day Romola, like every other Florentine, was excited about the
departure of the French.  Besides her other reasons for gladness, she
had a dim hope, which she was conscious was half superstitious, that
those new anxieties about Tito, having come with the burdensome guests,
might perhaps vanish with them.  The French had been in Florence hardly
eleven days, but in that space she had felt more acute unhappiness than
she had known in her life before.  Tito had adopted the hateful armour
on the day of their arrival, and though she could frame no distinct
notion why their departure should remove the cause of his fear--though,
when she thought of that cause, the image of the prisoner grasping him,
as she had seen it in Piero's sketch, urged itself before her and
excluded every other--still, when the French were gone, she would be rid
of something that was strongly associated with her pain.

Wrapped in her mantle she waited under the loggia at the top of the
house, and watched for the glimpses of the troops and the royal retinue
passing the bridges on their way to the Porta San Piero, that looks
towards Siena and Rome.  She even returned to her station when the gates
had been closed, that she might feel herself vibrating with the great
peal of the bells.  It was dusk then, and when at last she descended
into the library, she lit her lamp with the resolution that she would
overcome the agitation which had made her idle all day, and sit down to
work at her copying of the catalogue.  Tito had left home early in the
morning, and she did not expect him yet.  Before he came she intended to
leave the library, and sit in the pretty saloon, with the dancing nymphs
and the birds.  She had done so every evening since he had objected to
the library as chill and gloomy.

To her great surprise, she had not been at work long before Tito
entered.  Her first thought was, how cheerless he would feel in the wide
darkness of this great room, with one little oil-lamp burning at the
further end, and the fire nearly out.  She almost ran towards him.

"Tito, dearest, I did not know you would come so soon," she said,
nervously, putting up her white arms to unwind his becchetto.

"I am not welcome then?" he said, with one of his brightest smiles,
clasping her, but playfully holding his head back from her.

"Tito!"  She uttered the word in a tone of pretty, loving reproach, and
then he kissed her fondly, stroked her hair, as his manner was, and
seemed not to mind about taking off his mantle yet.  Romola quivered
with delight.  All the emotions of the day had been preparing in her a
keener sensitiveness to the return of this habitual manner.  "It will
come back," she was saying to herself, "the old happiness will perhaps
come back.  He is like himself again."

Tito was taking great pains to be like himself; his heart was
palpitating with anxiety.

"If I had expected you so soon," said Romola, as she at last helped him
to take off his wrappings, "I would have had a little festival prepared
to this joyful ringing of the bells.  I did not mean to be here in the
library when you came home."

"Never mind, sweet," he said, carelessly.  "Do not think about the fire.
Come--come and sit down."

There was a low stool against Tito's chair, and that was Romola's
habitual seat when they were talking together.  She rested her arm on
his knee, as she used to do on her father's, and looked up at him while
he spoke.  He had never yet noticed the presence of the portrait, and
she had not mentioned it--thinking of it all the more.

"I have been enjoying the clang of the bells for the first time, Tito,"
she began.  "I liked being shaken and deafened by them: I fancied I was
something like a Bacchante possessed by a divine rage.  Are not the
people looking very joyful to-night?"

"Joyful after a sour and pious fashion," said Tito, with a shrug.  "But,
in truth, those who are left behind in Florence have little cause to be
joyful: it seems to me, the most reasonable ground of gladness would be
to have got out of Florence."

Tito had sounded the desired key-note without any trouble, or appearance
of premeditation.  He spoke with no emphasis, but he looked grave enough
to make Romola ask rather anxiously--

"Why, Tito?  Are there fresh troubles?"

"No need of fresh ones, my Romola.  There are three strong parties in
the city, all ready to fly at each other's throats.  And if the Frate's
party is strong enough to frighten the other two into silence, as seems
most likely, life will be as pleasant and amusing as a funeral.  They
have the plan of a Great Council simmering already; and if they get it,
the man who sings sacred Lauds the loudest will be the most eligible for
office.  And besides that, the city will be so drained by the payment of
this great subsidy to the French king, and by the war to get back Pisa,
that the prospect would be dismal enough without the rule of fanatics.
On the whole, Florence will be a delightful place for those worthies who
entertain themselves in the evening by going into crypts and lashing
themselves; but for everything else, the exiles have the best of it.
For my own part, I have been thinking seriously that we should be wise
to quit Florence, my Romola."

She started.  "Tito, how could we leave Florence?  Surely you do not
think I could leave it--at least, not yet--not for a long while."  She
had turned cold and trembling, and did not find it quite easy to speak.
Tito must know the reasons she had in her mind.

"That is all a fabric of your own imagination, my sweet one.  Your
secluded life has made you lay such false stress on a few things.  You
know I used to tell you, before we were married, that I wished we were
somewhere else than in Florence.  If you had seen more places and more
people, you would know what I mean when I say that there is something in
the Florentines that reminds me of their cutting spring winds.  I like
people who take life less eagerly; and it would be good for my Romola,
too, to see a new life.  I should like to dip her a little in the soft
waters of forgetfulness."

He leaned forward and kissed her brow, and laid his hand on her fair
hair again; but she felt his caress no more than if he had kissed a
mask.  She was too much agitated by the sense of the distance between
their minds to be conscious that his lips touched her.

"Tito, it is not because I suppose Florence is the pleasantest place in
the world that I desire not to quit it.  It is because I--because we
have to see my father's wish fulfilled.  My godfather is old; he is
seventy-one; we could not leave it to him."

"It is precisely those superstitions which hang about your mind like
bedimming clouds, my Romola, that make one great reason why I could wish
we were two hundred leagues from Florence.  I am obliged to take care of
you in opposition to your own will: if those dear eyes, that look so
tender, see falsely, I must see for them, and save my wife from wasting
her life in disappointing herself by impracticable dreams."

Romola sat silent and motionless: she could not blind herself to the
direction in which Tito's words pointed: he wanted to persuade her that
they might get the library deposited in some monastery, or take some
other ready means to rid themselves of a task, and of a tie to Florence;
and she was determined never to submit her mind to his judgment on this
question of duty to her father; she was inwardly prepared to encounter
any sort of pain in resistance.  But the determination was kept latent
in these first moments by the heart-crushing sense that now at last she
and Tito must be confessedly divided in their wishes.  He was glad of
her silence; for, much as he had feared the strength of her feeling, it
was impossible for him, shut up in the narrowness that hedges in all
merely clever, unimpassioned men, not to over-estimate the
persuasiveness of his own arguments.  His conduct did not look ugly to
himself, and his imagination did not suffice to show him exactly how it
would look to Romola.  He went on in the same gentle, remonstrating
tone.

"You know, dearest--your own clear judgment always showed you--that the
notion of isolating a collection of books and antiquities, and attaching
a single name to them for ever, was one that had no valid, substantial
good for its object: and yet more, one that was liable to be defeated in
a thousand ways.  See what has become of the Medici collections!  And,
for my part, I consider it even blameworthy to entertain those petty
views of appropriation: why should any one be reasonably glad that
Florence should possess the benefits of learned research and taste more
than any other city?  I understand your feeling about the wishes of the
dead; but wisdom puts a limit to these sentiments, else lives might be
continually wasted in that sort of futile devotion--like praising deaf
gods for ever.  You gave your life to your father while he lived; why
should you demand more of yourself?"

"Because it was a trust," said Romola, in a low but distinct voice.  "He
trusted me, he trusted you, Tito.  I did not expect you to feel anything
else about it--to feel as I do--but I did expect you to feel that."

"Yes, dearest, of course I should feel it on a point where your father's
real welfare or happiness was concerned; but there is no question of
that now.  If we believed in purgatory, I should be as anxious as you to
have masses said; and if I believed it could now pain your father to see
his library preserved and used in a rather different way from what he
had set his mind on, I should share the strictness of your views.  But a
little philosophy should teach us to rid ourselves of those air-woven
fetters that mortals hang round themselves, spending their lives in
misery under the mere imagination of weight.  Your mind, which seizes
ideas so readily, my Romola, is able to discriminate between substantial
good and these brain-wrought fantasies.  Ask yourself, dearest, what
possible good can these books and antiquities do, stowed together under
your father's name in Florence, more than they would do if they were
divided or carried elsewhere?  Nay, is not the very dispersion of such
things in hands that know how to value them, one means of extending
their usefulness?  This rivalry of Italian cities is very petty and
illiberal.  The loss of Constantinople was the gain of the whole
civilised world."

Romola was still too thoroughly under the painful pressure of the new
revelation Tito was making of himself, for her resistance to find any
strong vent.  As that fluent talk fell on her ears there was a rising
contempt within her, which only made her more conscious of her bruised,
despairing love, her love for the Tito she had married and believed in.
Her nature, possessed with the energies of strong emotion, recoiled from
this hopelessly shallow readiness which professed to appropriate the
widest sympathies and had no pulse for the nearest.  She still spoke
like one who was restrained from showing all she felt.  She had only
drawn away her arm from his knee, and sat with her hands clasped before
her, cold and motionless as locked waters.

"You talk of substantial good, Tito!  Are faithfulness, and love, and
sweet grateful memories, no good?  Is it no good that we should keep our
silent promises on which others build because they believe in our love
and truth?  Is it no good that a just life should be justly honoured?
Or, is it good that we should harden our hearts against all the wants
and hopes of those who have depended on us?  What good can belong to men
who have such souls?  To talk cleverly, perhaps, and find soft couches
for themselves, and live and die with their base selves as their best
companions."

Her voice had gradually risen till there was a ring of scorn in the last
words; she made a slight pause, but he saw there were other words
quivering on her lips, and he chose to let them come.

"I know of no good for cities or the world if they are to be made up of
such beings.  But I am not thinking of other Italian cities and the
whole civilised world--I am thinking of my father, and of my love and
sorrow for him, and of his just claims on us.  I would give up anything
else, Tito,--I would leave Florence,--what else did I live for but for
him and you?  But I will not give up that duty.  What have I to do with
your arguments?  It was a yearning of _his_ heart, and therefore it is a
yearning of mine."

Her voice, from having been tremulous, had become full and firm.  She
felt that she had been urged on to say all that it was needful for her
to say.  She thought, poor thing, there was nothing harder to come than
this struggle against Tito's suggestions as against the meaner part of
herself.

He had begun to see clearly that he could not persuade her into assent:
he must take another course, and show her that the time for resistance
was past.  That, at least, would put an end to further struggle; and if
the disclosure were not made by himself to-night, to-morrow it must be
made in another way.  This necessity nerved his courage; and his
experience of her affectionateness and unexpected submissiveness, ever
since their marriage until now, encouraged him to hope that, at last,
she would accommodate herself to what had been his will.

"I am sorry to hear you speak in that spirit of blind persistence, my
Romola," he said, quietly, "because it obliges me to give you pain.  But
I partly foresaw your opposition, and as a prompt decision was
necessary, I avoided that obstacle, and decided without consulting you.
The very care of a husband for his wife's interest compels him to that
separate action sometimes--even when he has such a wife as you, my
Romola."

She turned her eyes on him in breathless inquiry.

"I mean," he said, answering her look, "that I have arranged for the
transfer, both of the books and of the antiquities, where they will find
the highest use and value.  The books have been bought for the Duke of
Milan, the marbles and bronzes and the rest are going to France: and
both will be protected by the stability of a great Power, instead of
remaining in a city which is exposed to ruin."

Before he had finished speaking, Romola had started from her seat, and
stood up looking down at him, with tightened hands falling before her,
and, for the first time in her life, with a flash of fierceness in her
scorn and anger.

"You have _sold_ them?" she asked, as if she distrusted her ears.

"I have," said Tito, quailing a little.  The scene was unpleasant--the
descending scorn already scorched him.

"You are a treacherous man!" she said, with something grating in her
voice, as she looked down at him.

She was silent for a minute, and he sat still, feeling that ingenuity
was powerless just now.  Suddenly she turned away, and said in an
agitated tone, "It may be hindered--I am going to my godfather."

In an instant Tito started up, went to the door, locked it, and took out
the key.  It was time for all the masculine predominance that was latent
in him to show itself.  But he was not angry; he only felt that the
moment was eminently unpleasant, and that when this scene was at an end
he should be glad to keep away from Romola for a little while.  But it
was absolutely necessary first that she should be reduced to
passiveness.

"Try to calm yourself a little, Romola," he said, leaning in the easiest
attitude possible against a pedestal under the bust of a grim old Roman.
Not that he was inwardly easy: his heart palpitated with a moral dread,
against which no chain-armour could be found.  He had locked-in his
wife's anger and scorn, but he had been obliged to lock himself in with
it; and his blood did not rise with contest--his olive cheek was
perceptibly paled.

Romola had paused and turned her eyes on him as she saw him take his
stand and lodge the key in his scarsella.  Her eyes were flashing, and
her whole frame seemed to be possessed by impetuous force that wanted to
leap out in some deed.  All the crushing pain of disappointment in her
husband, which had made the strongest part of her consciousness a few
minutes before, was annihilated by the vehemence of her indignation.
She could not care in this moment that the man she was despising as he
leaned there in his loathsome beauty--she could not care that he was her
husband; she could only feel that she despised him.  The pride and
fierceness of the old Bardo blood had been thoroughly awaked in her for
the first time.

"Try at least to understand the fact," said Tito, "and do not seek to
take futile steps which may be fatal.  It is of no use for you to go to
your godfather.  Messer Bernardo cannot reverse what I have done.  Only
sit down.  You would hardly wish, if you were quite yourself, to make
known to any third person what passes between us in private."

Tito knew that he had touched the right fibre there.  But she did not
sit down; she was too unconscious of her body voluntarily to change her
attitude.

"Why can it not be reversed?" she said, after a pause.  "Nothing is
moved yet."

"Simply because the sale has been concluded by written agreement; the
purchasers have left Florence, and I hold the bonds for the
purchase-money."

"If my father had suspected you of being a faithless man," said Romola,
in a tone of bitter scorn, which insisted on darting out before she
could say anything else, "he would have placed the library safely out of
your power.  But death overtook him too soon, and when you were sure his
ear was deaf, and his hand stiff, you robbed him."  She paused an
instant, and then said, with gathered passion, "Have you robbed somebody
else, who is _not_ dead?  Is that the reason you wear armour?"

Romola had been driven to utter the words as men are driven to use the
lash of the horsewhip.  At first, Tito felt horribly cowed; it seemed to
him that the disgrace he had been dreading would be worse than he had
imagined it.  But soon there was a reaction: such power of dislike and
resistance as there was within him was beginning to rise against a wife
whose voice seemed like the herald of a retributive fate.  Her, at
least, his quick mind told him that he might master.

"It is useless," he said, coolly, "to answer the words of madness,
Romola.  Your peculiar feeling about your father has made you mad at
this moment.  Any rational person looking at the case from a due
distance will see that I have taken the wisest course.  Apart from the
influence of your exaggerated feelings on him, I am convinced that
Messer Bernardo would be of that opinion."

"He would not!" said Romola.  "He lives in the hope of seeing my
father's wish exactly fulfilled.  We spoke of it together only
yesterday.  He will help me yet.  Who are these men to whom you have
sold my father's property?"

"There is no reason why you should not be told, except that it signifies
little.  The Count di San Severino and the Seneschal de Beaucaire are
now on their way with the king to Siena."

"They may be overtaken and persuaded to give up their purchase," said
Romola, eagerly, her anger beginning to be surmounted by anxious
thought.

"No, they may not," said Tito, with cool decision.

"Why?"

"Because I do not choose that they should."

"But if you were paid the money?--we will pay you the money," said
Romola.

No words could have disclosed more fully her sense of alienation from
Tito; but they were spoken with less of bitterness than of anxious
pleading.  And he felt stronger, for he saw that the first impulse of
fury was past.

"No, my Romola.  Understand that such thoughts as these are
impracticable.  You would not, in a reasonable moment, ask your
godfather to bury three thousand florins in addition to what he has
already paid on the library.  I think your pride and delicacy would
shrink from that."

She began to tremble and turn cold again with discouragement, and sank
down on the carved chest near which she was standing.  He went on in a
clear voice, under which she shuddered, as if it had been a narrow cold
stream coursing over a hot cheek.

"Moreover, it is not my will that Messer Bernardo should advance the
money, even if the project were not an utterly wild one.  And I beg you
to consider, before you take any step or utter any word on the subject,
what will be the consequences of your placing yourself in opposition to
me, and trying to exhibit your husband in the odious light which your
own distempered feelings cast over him.  What object will you serve by
injuring me with Messer Bernardo?  The event is irrevocable, the library
is sold, and you are my wife."

Every word was spoken for the sake of a calculated effect, for his
intellect was urged into the utmost activity by the danger of the
crisis.  He knew that Romola's mind would take in rapidly enough all the
wide meaning of his speech.  He waited and watched her in silence.

She had turned her eyes from him, and was looking on the ground, and in
that way she sat for several minutes.  When she spoke, her voice was
quite altered,--it was quiet and cold.

"I have one thing to ask."

"Ask anything that I can do without injuring us both, Romola."

"That you will give me that portion of the money which belongs to my
godfather, and let me pay him."

"I must have some assurance from you, first, of the attitude you intend
to take towards me."

"Do you believe in assurances, Tito?" she said, with a tinge of
returning bitterness.

"From you, I do."

"I will do you no harm.  I shall disclose nothing.  I will say nothing
to pain him or you.  You say truly, the event is irrevocable."

"Then I will do what you desire to-morrow morning."

"To-night, if possible," said Romola, "that we may not speak of it
again."

"It is possible," he said, moving towards the lamp, while she sat still,
looking away from him with absent eyes.

Presently he came and bent down over her, to put a piece of paper into
her hand.  "You will receive something in return, you are aware, my
Romola?" he said, gently, not minding so much what had passed, now he
was secure; and feeling able to try and propitiate her.

"Yes," she said, taking the paper, without looking at him, "I
understand."

"And you will forgive me, my Romola, when you have had time to reflect."
He just touched her brow with his lips, but she took no notice, and
seemed really unconscious of the act.  She was aware that he unlocked
the door and went out.  She moved her head and listened.  The great door
of the court opened and shut again.  She started up as if some sudden
freedom had come, and going to her father's chair where his picture was
propped, fell on her knees before it, and burst into sobs.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note.  Savonarola's Sermon, page 350.  The sermon here given is not a
translation, but a free representation of Fra Girolamo's preaching in
its more impassioned moments.

END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.



CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

BALDASSARRE MAKES AN ACQUAINTANCE.

When Baldassarre was wandering about Florence in search of a spare
outhouse where he might have the cheapest of sheltered beds, his steps
had been attracted towards that sole portion of ground within the walls
of the city which is not perfectly level, and where the spectator,
lifted above the roofs of the houses, can see beyond the city to the
protecting hills and far-stretching valley, otherwise shut out from his
view except along the welcome opening made by the course of the Arno.
Part of that ground has been already seen by us as the hill of Bogoli,
at that time a great stone-quarry; but the side towards which
Baldassarre directed his steps was the one that sloped down behind the
Via de' Bardi, and was most commonly called the hill of San Giorgio.
Bratti had told him that Tito's dwelling was in the Via de' Bardi; and,
after surveying that street, he turned up the slope of the hill which he
had observed as he was crossing the bridge.  If he could find a
sheltering outhouse on that hill, he would be glad: he had now for some
years been accustomed to live with a broad sky about him; and, moreover,
the narrow passes of the streets, with their strip of sky above, and the
unknown labyrinth around them, seemed to intensify his sense of
loneliness and feeble memory.

The hill was sparsely inhabited, and covered chiefly by gardens; but in
one spot was a piece of rough ground jagged with great stones, which had
never been cultivated since a landslip had ruined some houses there
towards the end of the thirteenth century.  Just above the edge of this
broken ground stood a queer little square building, looking like a
truncated tower roofed in with fluted tiles, and close by was a small
outhouse, apparently built up against a piece of ruined stone wall.
Under a large half-dead mulberry-tree that was now sending its last
fluttering leaves in at the open doorways, a shrivelled, hardy old woman
was untying a goat with two kids, and Baldassarre could see that part of
the outbuilding was occupied by live stock; but the door of the other
part was open, and it was empty of everything but some tools and straw.
It was just the sort of place he wanted.  He spoke to the old woman; but
it was not till he got close to her and shouted in her ear, that he
succeeded in making her understand his want of a lodging, and his
readiness to pay for it.  At first he could get no answer beyond shakes
of the head and the words, "No--no lodging," uttered in the muffled tone
of the deaf.  But, by dint of persistence, he made clear to her that he
was a poor stranger from a long way over seas, and could not afford to
go to hostelries; that he only wanted to lie on the straw in the
outhouse, and would pay her a quattrino or two a week for that shelter.
She still looked at him dubiously, shaking her head and talking low to
herself; but presently, as if a new thought occurred to her, she fetched
a hatchet from the house, and, showing him a chump that lay half covered
with litter in a corner, asked him if he would chop that up for her: if
he would, he might lie in the outhouse for one night.  He agreed, and
Monna Lisa stood with her arms akimbo to watch him, with a smile of
gratified cunning, saying low to herself--

"It's lain there ever since my old man died.  What then?  I might as
well have put a stone on the fire.  He chops very well, though he does
speak with a foreign tongue, and looks odd.  I couldn't have got it done
cheaper.  And if he only wants a bit of straw to lie on, I might make
him do an errand or two up and down the hill.  Who need know?  And sin
that's hidden's half forgiven.  [`Peccato celato e mezzo perdonato.']
He's a stranger: he'll take no notice of _her_.  And I'll tell her to
keep her tongue still."

The antecedent to these feminine pronouns had a pair of blue eyes, which
at that moment were applied to a large round hole in the shutter of the
upper window.  The shutter was closed, not for any penal reasons, but
because only the opposite window had the luxury of glass in it: the
weather was not warm, and a round hole four inches in diameter served
all the purposes of observation.  The hole was, unfortunately, a little
too high, and obliged the small observer to stand on a low stool of a
rickety character; but Tessa would have stood a long while in a much
more inconvenient position for the sake of seeing a little variety in
her life.  She had been drawn to the opening at the first loud tones of
the strange voice speaking to Monna Lisa; and darting gently across her
room every now and then to peep at something, she continued to stand
there until the wood had been chopped, and she saw Baldassarre enter the
outhouse, as the dusk was gathering, and seat himself on the straw.

A great temptation had laid hold of Tessa's mind; she would go and take
that old man part of her supper, and talk to him a little.  He was not
deaf like Monna Lisa, and besides she could say a great many things to
him that it was no use to shout at Monna Lisa, who knew them already.
And he was a stranger--strangers came from a long way off and went away
again, and lived nowhere in particular.  It was naughty, she knew, for
obedience made the largest part in Tessa's idea of duty; but it would be
something to confess to the Padre next Pasqua, and there was nothing
else to confess except going to sleep sometimes over her beads, and
being a little cross with Monna Lisa because she was so deaf; for she
had as much idleness as she liked now, and was never frightened into
telling white lies.  She turned away from her shutter with rather an
excited expression in her childish face, which was as pretty and pouting
as ever.  Her garb was still that of a simple contadina, but of a
contadina prepared for a festa: her gown of dark-green serge, with its
red girdle, was very clean and neat; she had the string of red glass
beads round her neck; and her brown hair, rough from curliness, was duly
knotted up, and fastened with the silver pin.  She had but one new
ornament, and she was very proud of it, for it was a fine gold ring.

Tessa sat on the low stool, nursing her knees, for a minute or two, with
her little soul poised in fluttering excitement on the edge of this
pleasant transgression.  It was quite irresistible.  She had been
commanded to make no acquaintances, and warned that if she did, all her
new happy lot would vanish away, and be like a hidden treasure that
turned to lead as soon as it was brought to the daylight; and she had
been so obedient that when she had to go to church she had kept her face
shaded by her hood and had pursed up her lips quite tightly.  It was
true her obedience had been a little helped by her own dread lest the
alarming stepfather Nofri should turn up even in this quarter, so far
from the Por' del Prato, and beat her at least, if he did not drag her
back to work for him.  But this old man was not an acquaintance; he was
a poor stranger going to sleep in the outhouse, and he probably knew
nothing of stepfather Nofri; and, besides, if she took him some supper,
he would like her, and not want to tell anything about her.  Monna Lisa
would say she must not go and talk to him, therefore Monna Lisa must not
be consulted.  It did not signify what she found out after it had been
done.

Supper was being prepared, she knew--a mountain of macaroni flavoured
with cheese, fragrant enough to tame any stranger.  So she tripped
down-stairs with a mind full of deep designs, and first asking with an
innocent look what that noise of talking had been, without waiting for
an answer, knit her brow with a peremptory air, something like a kitten
trying to be formidable, and sent the old woman upstairs; saying, she
chose to eat her supper down below.  In three minutes Tessa with her
lantern in one hand and a wooden bowl of macaroni in the other, was
kicking gently at the door of the outhouse; and Baldassarre, roused from
sad reverie, doubted in the first moment whether he were awake as he
opened the door and saw this surprising little handmaid, with delight in
her wide eyes, breaking in on his dismal loneliness.

"I've brought you some supper," she said, lifting her mouth towards his
ear and shouting, as if he had been deaf like Monna Lisa.  "Sit down and
eat it, while I stay with you."

Surprise and distrust surmounted every other feeling in Baldassarre, but
though he had no smile or word of gratitude ready, there could not be
any impulse to push away this visitant, and he sank down passively on
his straw again, while Tessa placed herself close to him, put the wooden
bowl on his lap, and set down the lantern in front of them, crossing her
hands before her, and nodding at the bowl with a significant smile, as
much as to say, "Yes, you may really eat it."  For, in the excitement of
carrying out her deed, she had forgotten her previous thought that the
stranger would not be deaf, and had fallen into her habitual alternative
of dumb show and shouting.

The invitation was not a disagreeable one, for he had been gnawing a
remnant of dry bread, which had left plenty of appetite for anything
warm and relishing.  Tessa watched the disappearance of two or three
mouthfuls without speaking, for she had thought his eyes rather fierce
at first; but now she ventured to put her mouth to his ear again and
cry--

"I like my supper, don't you?"

It was not a smile, but rather the milder look of a dog touched by
kindness, but unable to smile, that Baldassarre turned on this round
blue-eyed thing that was caring about him.

"Yes," he said; "but I can hear well--I'm not deaf."

"It is true; I forgot," said Tessa, lifting her hands and clasping them.
"But Monna Lisa is deaf, and I live with her.  She's a kind old woman,
and I'm not frightened at her.  And we live very well: we have plenty of
nice things.  I can have nuts if I like.  And I'm not obliged to work
now.  I used to have to work, and I didn't like it; but I liked feeding
the mules, and I should like to see poor Giannetta, the little mule,
again.  We've only got a goat and two kids, and I used to talk to the
goat a good deal, because there was nobody else but Monna Lisa.  But now
I've got something else--can you guess what it is?"

She drew her head back, and looked with a challenging smile at
Baldassarre, as if she had proposed a difficult riddle to him.

"No," said he, putting aside his bowl, and looking at her dreamily.  It
seemed as if this young prattling thing were some memory come back out
of his own youth.

"You like me to talk to you, don't you?" said Tessa, "but you must not
tell anybody.  Shall I fetch you a bit of cold sausage?"

He shook his head, but he looked so mild now that Tessa felt quite at
her ease.

"Well, then, I've got a little baby.  Such a pretty bambinetto, with
little fingers and nails!  Not old yet; it was born at the Nativita,
Monna Lisa says.  I was married one Nativita, a long, long while ago,
and nobody knew.  O Santa Madonna!  I didn't mean to tell you that!"

Tessa set up her shoulders and bit her lip, looking at Baldassarre as if
this betrayal of secrets must have an exciting effect on him too.  But
he seemed not to care much; and perhaps that was in the nature of
strangers.

"Yes," she said, carrying on her thought aloud, "you are a stranger; you
don't live anywhere or know anybody, do you?"

"No," said Baldassarre, also thinking aloud, rather than consciously
answering, "I only know one man."

"His name is not Nofri, is it?" said Tessa, anxiously.

"No," said Baldassarre, noticing her look of fear.  "Is that your
husband's name?"

That mistaken supposition was very amusing to Tessa.  She laughed and
clapped her hands as she said--

"No, indeed!  But I must not tell you anything about my husband.  You
would never think what he is--not at all like Nofri!"

She laughed again at the delightful incongruity between the name of
Nofri--which was not separable from the idea of the cross-grained
stepfather--and the idea of her husband.

"But I don't see him very often," she went on, more gravely.  "And
sometimes I pray to the Holy Madonna to send him oftener, and once she
did.  But I must go back to my bimbo now.  I'll bring it to show you
to-morrow.  You would like to see it.  Sometimes it cries and makes a
face, but only when it's hungry, Monna Lisa says.  You wouldn't think
it, but Monna Lisa had babies once, and they are all dead old men.  My
husband says she will never die now, because she's so well dried.  I'm
glad of that, for I'm fond of her.  You would like to stay here
to-morrow, shouldn't you?"

"I should like to have this place to come and rest in, that's all," said
Baldassarre.  "I would pay for it, and harm nobody."

"No, indeed; I think you are not a bad old man.  But you look sorry
about something.  Tell me, is there anything you shall cry about when I
leave you by yourself?  _I_ used to cry once."

"No, child; I think I shall cry no more."

"That's right; and I'll bring you some breakfast, and show you the
bimbo.  Good-night."

Tessa took up her bowl and lantern, and closed the door behind her.  The
pretty loving apparition had been no more to Baldassarre than a faint
rainbow on the blackness to the man who is wrestling in deep waters.  He
hardly thought of her again till his dreamy waking passed into the more
vivid images of disturbed sleep.

But Tessa thought much of him.  She had no sooner entered the house than
she told Monna Lisa what she had done, and insisted that the stranger
should be allowed to come and rest in the outhouse when he liked.  The
old woman, who had had her notions of making him a useful tenant, made a
great show of reluctance, shook her head, and urged that Messer Naldo
would be angry if she let any one come about the house.  Tessa did not
believe that.  Naldo had said nothing against strangers who lived
nowhere; and this old man knew nobody except one person, who was not
Nofri.

"Well," conceded Monna Lisa, at last, "if I let him stay for a while and
carry things up the hill for me, thou must keep thy counsel and tell
nobody."

"No," said Tessa, "I'll only tell the bimbo."

"And then," Monna Lisa went on, in her thick undertone, "God may love us
well enough not to let Messer Naldo find out anything about it.  For he
never comes here but at dark; and as he was here two days ago, it's
likely he'll never come at all till the old man's gone away again."

"Oh me!  Monna," said Tessa, clasping her hands, "I wish Naldo had not
to go such a long, long way sometimes before he comes back again."

"Ah, child! the world's big, they say.  There are places behind the
mountains, and if people go night and day, night and day, they get to
Rome, and see the Holy Father."

Tessa looked submissive in the presence of this mystery, and began to
rock her baby, and sing syllables of vague loving meaning, in tones that
imitated a triple chime.

The next morning she was unusually industrious in the prospect of more
dialogue, and of the pleasure she should give the poor old stranger by
showing him her baby.  But before she could get ready to take
Baldassarre his breakfast, she found that Monna Lisa had been employing
him as a drawer of water.  She deferred her paternosters, and hurried
down to insist that Baldassarre should sit on his straw, so that she
might come and sit by him again while he ate his breakfast.  That
attitude made the new companionship all the more delightful to Tessa,
for she had been used to sitting on straw in old days along with her
goats and mules.

"I will not let Monna Lisa give you too much work to do," she said,
bringing him some steaming broth and soft bread.  "I don't like much
work, and I daresay you don't.  I like sitting in the sunshine and
feeding things.  Monna Lisa says, work is good, but she does it all
herself, so I don't mind.  She's not a cross old woman; you needn't be
afraid of her being cross.  And now, you eat that, and I'll go and fetch
my baby and show it you."

Presently she came back with the small mummy-case in her arms.  The
mummy looked very lively, having unusually large dark eyes, though no
more than the usual indication of a future nose.

"This is my baby," said Tessa, seating herself close to Baldassarre.
"You didn't think it was so pretty, did you?  It is like the little
Gesu, and I should think the Santa Madonna would be kinder to me now, is
it not true?  But I have not much to ask for, because I have everything
now--only that I should see my husband oftener.  You may hold the
bambino a little if you like, but I think you must not kiss him, because
you might hurt him."

She spoke this prohibition in a tone of soothing excuse, and Baldassarre
could not refuse to hold the small package.  "Poor thing! poor thing!"
he said, in a deep voice which had something strangely threatening in
its apparent pity.  It did not seem to him as if this guileless loving
little woman could reconcile him to the world at all, but rather that
she was with him against the world, that she was a creature who would
need to be avenged.

"Oh, don't you be sorry for me," she said; "for though I don't see him
often, he is more beautiful and good than anybody else in the world.  I
say prayers to him when he's away.  You couldn't think what he is!"

She looked at Baldassarre with a wide glance of mysterious meaning,
taking the baby from him again, and almost wishing he would question her
as if he wanted very much to know more.

"Yes, I could," said Baldassarre, rather bitterly.

"No, I'm sure you never could," said Tessa, earnestly.  "You thought he
might be Nofri," she added, with a triumphant air of conclusiveness.
"But never mind; you couldn't know.  What is your name?"

He rubbed his hand over his knitted brow, then looked at her blankly and
said, "Ah, child, what is it?"

It was not that he did not often remember his name well enough; and if
he had had presence of mind now to remember it, he would have chosen not
to tell it.  But a sudden question appealing to his memory, had a
paralysing effect, and in that moment he was conscious of nothing but
helplessness.

Ignorant as Tessa was, the pity stirred in her by his blank look taught
her to say--

"_Never_ mind: you are a stranger, it is no matter about your having a
name.  Good-bye now, because I want my breakfast.  You will come here
and rest when you like; Monna Lisa says you may.  And don't you be
unhappy, for we'll be good to you."

"Poor thing!" said Baldassarre again.



CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

NO PLACE FOR REPENTANCE.

Messer Naldo came again sooner than was expected: he came on the evening
of the twenty-eighth of November, only eleven days after his previous
visit, proving that he had not gone far beyond the mountains; and a
scene which we have witnessed as it took place that evening in the Via
de' Bardi may help to explain the impulse which turned his steps towards
the hill of San Giorgio.

When Tito had first found this home for Tessa, on his return from Rome,
more than a year and a half ago, he had acted, he persuaded himself,
simply under the constraint imposed on him by his own kindliness after
the unlucky incident which had made foolish little Tessa imagine him to
be her husband.  It was true that the kindness was manifested towards a
pretty trusting thing whom it was impossible to be near without feeling
inclined to caress and pet her; but it was not less true that Tito had
movements of kindness towards her apart from any contemplated gain to
himself.  Otherwise, charming as her prettiness and prattle were in a
lazy moment, he might have preferred to be free from her; for he was not
in love with Tessa--he was in love for the first time in his life with
an entirely different woman, whom he was not simply inclined to shower
caresses on, but whose presence possessed him so that the simple sweep
of her long tresses across his cheek seemed to vibrato through the
hours.  All the young ideal passion he had in him had been stirred by
Romola, and his fibre was too fine, his intellect too bright, for him to
be tempted into the habits of a gross pleasure-seeker.  But he had spun
a web about himself and Tessa, which he felt incapable of breaking: in
the first moments after the mimic marriage he had been prompted to leave
her under an illusion by a distinct calculation of his own possible
need, but since that critical moment it seemed to him that the web had
gone on spinning itself in spite of him, like a growth over which he had
no power.  The elements of kindness and self-indulgence are hard to
distinguish in a soft nature like Tito's; and the annoyance he had felt
under Tessa's pursuit of him on the day of his betrothal, the thorough
intention of revealing the truth to her with which he set out to fulfil
his promise of seeing her again, were a sufficiently strong argument to
him that in ultimately leaving Tessa under her illusion and providing a
home for her, he had been overcome by his own kindness.  And in these
days of his first devotion to Romola he needed a self-justifying
argument.  He had learned to be glad that she was deceived about some
things.  But every strong feeling makes to itself a conscience of its
own--has its own piety; just as much as the feeling of the son towards
the mother, which will sometimes survive amid the worst fumes of
depravation; and Tito could not yet be easy in committing a secret
offence against his wedded love.

But he was all the more careful in taking precautions to preserve the
secrecy of the offence.  Monna Lisa, who, like many of her class, never
left her habitation except to go to one or two particular shops, and to
confession once a year, knew nothing of his real name and whereabout:
she only know that he paid her so as to make her very comfortable, and
minded little about the rest, save that she got fond of Tessa, and found
pleasure in the cares for which she was paid.  There was some mystery
behind, clearly, since Tessa was a contadina, and Messer Naldo was a
signor; but, for aught Monna Lisa knew, he might be a real husband.  For
Tito had thoroughly frightened Tessa into silence about the
circumstances of their marriage, by telling her that if she broke that
silence she would never see him again; and Monna Lisa's deafness, which
made it impossible to say anything to her without some premeditation,
had saved Tessa from any incautious revelation to her, such as had run
off her tongue in talking with Baldassarre.  For a long while Tito's
visits were so rare, that it seemed likely enough he took journeys
between them.  They were prompted chiefly by the desire to see that all
things were going on well with Tessa; and though he always found his
visit pleasanter than the prospect of it--always felt anew the charm of
that pretty ignorant lovingness and trust--he had not yet any real need
of it.  But he was determined, if possible, to preserve the simplicity
on which the charm depended; to keep Tessa a genuine contadina, and not
place the small field-flower among conditions that would rob it of its
grace.  He would have been shocked to see her in the dress of any other
rank than her own; the piquancy of her talk would be all gone, if things
began to have new relations for her, if her world became wider, her
pleasures less childish; and the squirrel-like enjoyment of nuts at
discretion marked the standard of the luxuries he had provided for her.
By this means, Tito saved Tessa's charm from being sullied; and he also,
by a convenient coincidence, saved himself from aggravating expenses
that were already rather importunate to a man whose money was all
required for his avowed habits of life.

This, in brief, had been the history of Tito's relation to Tessa up to a
very recent date.  It is true that once or twice before Bardo's death,
the sense that there was Tessa up the hill, with whom it was possible to
pass an hour agreeably, had been an inducement to him to escape from a
little weariness of the old man, when, for lack of any positive
engagement, he might otherwise have borne the weariness patiently and
shared Romola's burden.  But the moment when he had first felt a real
hunger for Tessa's ignorant lovingness and belief in _him_ had not come
till quite lately, and it was distinctly marked out by circumstances as
little to be forgotten as the oncoming of a malady that has permanently
vitiated the sight and hearing.  It was the day when he had first seen
Baldassarre, and had bought the armour.  Returning across the bridge
that night, with the coat of mail in his hands, he had felt an
unconquerable shrinking from an immediate encounter with Romola.  She,
too, knew little of the actual world; she, too, trusted him; but he had
an uneasy consciousness that behind her frank eyes there was a nature
that could judge him, and that any ill-founded trust of hers sprang not
from pretty brute-like incapacity, but from a nobleness which might
prove an alarming touchstone.  He wanted a little ease, a little repose
from self-control, after the agitation and exertions of the day; he
wanted to be where he could adjust his mind to the morrow, without
caring how he behaved at the present moment.  And there was a sweet
adoring creature within reach whose presence was as safe and
unconstraining as that of her own kids,--who would believe any fable,
and remain quite unimpressed by public opinion.  And so on that evening,
when Romola was waiting and listening for him, he turned his steps up
the hill.

No wonder, then, that the steps took the same course on this evening,
eleven days later, when he had had to recoil under Romola's first
outburst of scorn.  He could not wish Tessa in his wife's place, or
refrain from wishing that his wife should be thoroughly reconciled to
him; for it was Romola, and not Tessa, that belonged to the world where
all the larger desires of a man who had ambition and effective faculties
must necessarily lie.  But he wanted a refuge from a standard
disagreeably rigorous, of which he could not make himself independent
simply by thinking it folly; and Tessa's little soul was that inviting
refuge.

It was not much more than eight o'clock when he went up the stone steps
to the door of Tessa's room.  Usually she heard his entrance into the
house, and ran to meet him, but not to-night; and when he opened the
door he saw the reason.  A single dim light was burning above the dying
fire, and showed Tessa in a kneeling attitude by the head of the bed
where the baby lay.  Her head had fallen aside on the pillow, and her
brown rosary, which usually hung above the pillow over the picture of
the Madonna and the golden palm-branches, lay in the loose grasp of her
right-hand.  She had gone fast asleep over her beads.  Tito stepped
lightly across the little room, and sat down close to her.  She had
probably heard the opening of the door as part of her dream, for he had
not been looking at her two moments before she opened her eyes.  She
opened them without any start, and remained quite motionless looking at
him, as if the sense that he was there smiling at her shut out any
impulse which could disturb that happy passiveness.  But when he put his
hand under her chin, and stooped to kiss her, she said--

"I dreamed it, and then I said it was dreaming--and then I awoke, and it
was true."

"Little sinner!" said Tito, pinching her chin, "you have not said half
your prayers.  I will punish you by not looking at your baby; it is
ugly."

Tessa did not like those words, even though Tito was smiling.  She had
some pouting distress in her face, as she said, bending anxiously over
the baby--

"Ah, it is not true!  He is prettier than anything.  You do not think he
is ugly.  You will look at him.  He is even prettier than when you saw
him before--only he's asleep, and you can't see his eyes or his tongue,
and I can't show you his hair--and it grows--isn't that wonderful?  Look
at him!  It's true his face is very much all alike when he's asleep,
there is not so much to see as when he's awake.  If you kiss him very
gently, he won't wake: you want to kiss him, is it not true?"

He satisfied her by giving the small mummy a butterfly kiss, and then
putting his hand on her shoulder and turning her face towards him, said,
"You like looking at the baby better than looking at your husband, you
false one!"

She was still kneeling, and now rested her hands on his knee, looking up
at him like one of Fra Lippo Lippi's round-cheeked adoring angels.

"No," she said, shaking her head; "I love you always best, only I want
you to look at the bambino and love him; I used only to want you to love
me."

"And did you expect me to come again so soon?" said Tito, inclined to
make her prattle.  He still felt the effects of the agitation he had
undergone--still felt like a man who has been violently jarred; and this
was the easiest relief from silence and solitude.

"Ah, no," said Tessa, "I have counted the days--to-day I began at my
right thumb again--since you put on the beautiful chain-coat, that
Messer San Michele gave you to take care of you on your journey.  And
you have got it on now," she said, peeping through the opening in the
breast of his tunic.  "Perhaps it made you come back sooner."

"Perhaps it did, Tessa," he said.  "But don't mind the coat now.  Tell
me what has happened since I was here.  Did you see the tents in the
Prato, and the soldiers and horsemen when they passed the bridges--did
you hear the drums and trumpets?"

"Yes, and I was rather frightened, because I thought the soldiers might
come up here.  And Monna Lisa was a little afraid too, for she said they
might carry our kids off; she said it was their business to do mischief.
But the Holy Madonna took care of us, for we never saw one of them up
here.  But something has happened, only I hardly dare tell you, and that
is what I was saying more Aves for."

"What do you mean, Tessa?" said Tito, rather anxiously.  "Make haste and
toll me."

"Yes, but will you let me sit on your knee? because then I think I shall
not be so frightened."

He took her on his knee, and put his arm round her, but looked grave: it
seemed that something unpleasant must pursue him even here.

"At first I didn't mean to tell you," said Tessa, speaking almost in a
whisper, as if that would mitigate the offence; "because we thought the
old man would be gone away before you came again, and it would be as if
it had not been.  But now he is there, and you are come, and I never did
anything you told me not to do before.  And I want to tell you, and then
you will perhaps forgive me, for it is a long while before I go to
confession."

"Yes, tell me everything, my Tessa."  He began to hope it was after all
a trivial matter.

"Oh, you will be sorry for him: I'm afraid he cries about something when
I don't see him.  But that was not the reason I went to him first; it
was because I wanted to talk to him and show him my baby, and he was a
stranger that lived nowhere, and I thought you wouldn't care so much
about my talking to him.  And I think he is not a bad old man, and he
wanted to come and sleep on the straw next to the goats, and I made
Monna Lisa say, `Yes, he might,' and he's away all the day almost, but
when he comes back I talk to him, and take him something to eat."

"Some beggar, I suppose.  It was naughty of you, Tessa, and I am angry
with Monna Lisa.  I must have him sent away."

"No, I think he is not a beggar, for he wanted to pay Monna Lisa, only
she asked him to do work for her instead.  And he gets himself shaved,
and his clothes are tidy: Monna Lisa says he is a decent man.  But
sometimes I think he is not in his right mind: Lupo, at Peretola, was
not in his right mind, and he looks a little like Lupo sometimes, as if
he didn't know where he was."

"What sort of face has he?" said Tito, his heart beginning to beat
strangely.  He was so haunted by the thought of Baldassarre, that it was
already he whom he saw in imagination sitting on the straw not many
yards from him.  "Fetch your stool, my Tessa, and sit on it."

"Shall you not forgive me?" she said, timidly, moving from his knee.

"Yes, I will not be angry--only sit down, and tell me what sort of old
man this is."

"I can't think how to tell you: he is not like my stepfather Nofri, or
anybody.  His face is yellow, and he has deep marks in it; and his hair
is white, but there is none on the top of his head: and his eyebrows are
black, and he looks from under them at me, and says, `Poor thing!' to
me, as if he thought I was beaten as I used to be; and that seems as if
he couldn't be in his right mind, doesn't it?  And I asked him his name
once, but he couldn't tell it me: yet everybody has a name--is it not
true?  And he has a book now, and keeps looking at it ever so long, as
if he were a Padre.  But I think he is not saying prayers, for his lips
never move;--ah, you are angry with me, or is it because you are sorry
for the old man?"

Tito's eyes were still fixed on Tessa; but he had ceased to see her, and
was only seeing the objects her words suggested.  It was this absent
glance which frightened her, and she could not help going to kneel at
his side again.  But he did not heed her, and she dared not touch him,
or speak to him: she knelt, trembling and wondering; and this state of
mind suggesting her beads to her, she took them from the floor, and
began to tell them again, her pretty lips moving silently, and her blue
eyes wide with anxiety and struggling tears.

Tito was quite unconscious of her movements--unconscious of his own
attitude: he was in that wrapt state in which a man will grasp painful
roughness, and press and press it closer, and never feel it.  A new
possibility had risen before him, which might dissolve at once the
wretched conditions of fear and suppression that were marring his life.
Destiny had brought within his reach an opportunity of retrieving that
moment on the steps of the Duomo, when the Past had grasped him with
living quivering hands, and he had disowned it.  A few steps, and he
might be face to face with his father, with no witness by; he might seek
forgiveness and reconciliation; and there was money now, from the sale
of the library, to enable them to leave Florence without disclosure, and
go into Southern Italy, where under the probable French rule, he had
already laid a foundation for patronage.  Romola need never know the
whole truth, for she could have no certain means of identifying that
prisoner in the Duomo with Baldassarre, or of learning what had taken
place on the steps, except from Baldassarre himself; and if his father
forgave, he would also consent to bury, that offence.

But with this possibility of relief, by an easy spring, from present
evil, there rose the other possibility, that the fierce-hearted man
might refuse to be propitiated.  Well--and if he did, things would only
be as they had been before; for there would be _no witness by_.  It was
not repentance with a white sheet round it and taper in hand, confessing
its hated sin in the eyes of men, that Tito was preparing for: it was a
repentance that would make all things pleasant again, and keep all past
unpleasant things secret.  And Tito's soft-heartedness, his
indisposition to feel himself in harsh relations with any creature, was
in strong activity towards his father, now his father was brought near
to him.  It would be a state of ease that his nature could not but
desire, if the poisonous hatred in Baldassarre's glance could be
replaced by something of the old affection and complacency.

Tito longed to have his world once again completely cushioned with
goodwill, and longed for it the more eagerly because of what he had just
suffered from the collision with Romola.  It was not difficult to him to
smile pleadingly on those whom he had injured, and offer to do them much
kindness: and no quickness of intellect could tell him exactly the taste
of that honey on the lips of the injured.  The opportunity was there,
and it raised an inclination which hemmed in the calculating activity of
his thought.  He started up, and stepped towards the door; but Tessa's
cry, as she dropped her beads, roused him from his absorption.  He
turned and said--

"My Tessa, get me a lantern; and don't cry, little pigeon, I am not
angry."

They went down the stairs, and Tessa was going to shout the need of the
lantern in Monna Lisa's ear, when Tito, who had opened the door, said,
"Stay, Tessa--no, I want no lantern: go upstairs again, and keep quiet,
and say nothing to Monna Lisa."

In half a minute he stood before the closed door of the outhouse, where
the moon was shining white on the old paintless wood.

In this last decisive moment, Tito felt a tremor upon him--a sudden
instinctive shrinking from a possible tiger-glance, a possible
tiger-leap.  Yet why should he, a young man, be afraid of an old one? a
young man with armour on, of an old man without a weapon?  It was but a
moment's hesitation, and Tito laid his hand on the door.  Was his father
asleep?  Was there nothing else but the door that screened him from the
voice and the glance which no magic could turn into ease?

Baldassarre was not asleep.  There was a square opening high in the wall
of the hovel, through which the moonbeams sent in a stream of pale
light; and if Tito could have looked through the opening, he would have
seen his father seated on the straw, with something that shone like a
white star in his hand.  Baldassarre was feeling the edge of his
poniard, taking refuge in that sensation from a hopeless blank of
thought that seemed to lie like a great gulf between his passion and its
aim.

He was in one of his most wretched moments of conscious helplessness: he
had been poring, while it was light, over the book that lay open beside
him; then he had been trying to recall the names of his jewels, and the
symbols engraved on them; and though at certain other times he had
recovered some of those names and symbols, to-night they were all gone
into darkness.  And this effort at inward seeing had seemed to end in
utter paralysis of memory.  He was reduced to a sort of mad
consciousness that he was a solitary pulse of just rage in a world
filled with defiant baseness.  He had clutched and unsheathed his
dagger, and for a long while had been feeling its edge, his mind
narrowed to one image, and the dream of one sensation--the sensation of
plunging that dagger into a base heart, which he was unable to pierce in
any other way.

Tito had his hand on the door and was pulling it: it dragged against the
ground as such old doors often do, and Baldassarre, startled out of his
dreamlike state, rose from his sitting posture in vague amazement, not
knowing where he was.  He had not yet risen to his feet, and was still
kneeling on one knee, when the door came wide open and he saw, dark
against the moonlight, with the rays falling on one bright mass of curls
and one rounded olive cheek, the image of his reverie--not shadowy--
close and real like water at the lips after the thirsty dream of it.  No
thought could come athwart that eager thirst.  In one moment, before
Tito could start back, the old man, with the preternatural force of rage
in his limbs, had sprung forward, and the dagger had flashed out.  In
the next moment the dagger had snapped in two, and Baldassarre, under
the parrying force of Tito's arm, had fallen back on the straw,
clutching the hilt with its bit of broken blade.  The pointed end lay
shining against Tito's feet.

Tito had felt one great heart-leap of terror as he had staggered under
the weight of the thrust: he felt now the triumph of deliverance and
safety.  His armour had been proved, and vengeance lay helpless before
him.  But the triumph raised no devilish impulse; on the contrary, the
sight of his father close to him and unable to injure him, made the
effort at reconciliation easier.  He was free from fear, but he had only
the more unmixed and direct want to be free from the sense that he was
hated.  After they had looked at each other a little while, Baldassarre
lying motionless in despairing rage, Tito said in his soft tones, just
as they had sounded before the last parting on the shores of Greece--

"_Padre mio_!"  There was a pause after those words, but no movement or
sound till he said--

"I came to ask your forgiveness!"

Again he paused, that the healing balm of those words might have time to
work.  But there was no sign of change in Baldassarre: he lay as he had
fallen, leaning on one arm: he was trembling, but it was from the shock
that had thrown him down.

"I was taken by surprise that morning.  I wish now to be a son to you
again.  I wish to make the rest of your life happy, that you may forget
what you have suffered."

He paused again.  He had used the clearest and strongest words he could
think of.  It was useless to say more, until he had some sign that
Baldassarre understood him.  Perhaps his mind was too distempered or too
imbecile even for that: perhaps the shock of his fall and his
disappointed rage might have quite suspended the use of his faculties.

Presently Baldassarre began to move.  He threw away the broken dagger,
and slowly and gradually, still trembling, began to raise himself from
the ground.  Tito put out his hand to help him, and so strangely quick
are men's souls that in this moment, when he began to feel his atonement
was accepted, he had a darting thought of the irksome efforts it
entailed.  Baldassarre clutched the hand that was held out, raised
himself and clutched it still, going close up to Tito till their faces
were not a foot off each other.  Then he began to speak, in a deep
trembling voice--

"I saved you--I nurtured you--I loved you.  You forsook me--you robbed
me--you denied me.  What can you give me?  You have made the world
bitterness to me; but there is one draught of sweetness left--_that you
shall know agony_."

He let fall Tito's hand, and going backwards a little, first rested his
arm on a projecting stone in the wall, and then sank again in a sitting
posture on the straw.  The outleap of fury in the dagger-thrust had
evidently exhausted him.

Tito stood silent.  If it had been a deep yearning-emotion which had
brought him to ask his father's forgiveness, the denial of it might have
caused him a pang which would have excluded the rushing train of thought
that followed those decisive words.  As it was, though the sentence of
unchangeable hatred grated on him and jarred him terribly, his mind
glanced round with a self-preserving instinct to see how far those words
could have the force of a substantial threat.  When he had come down to
speak to Baldassarre, he had said to himself that if his effort at
reconciliation failed, things would only be as they had been before.
The first glance of his mind was backward to that thought again, but the
future possibilities of danger that were conjured up along with it
brought the perception that things were _not_ as they had been before,
and the perception came as a triumphant relief.  There was not only the
broken dagger, there was the certainty, from what Tessa had told him,
that Baldassarre's mind was broken too, and had no edge that could reach
him.  Tito felt he had no choice now: he must defy Baldassarre as a mad,
imbecile old man; and the chances were so strongly on his side that
there was hardly room for fear.  No; except the fear of having to do
many unpleasant things in order to save himself from what was yet more
unpleasant.  And one of those unpleasant things must be done
immediately: it was very difficult.

"Do you mean to stay here?" he said.

"No," said Baldassarre, bitterly, "you mean to turn me out."

"Not so," said Tito; "I only ask."

"I tell you, you have turned me out.  If it is your straw, you turned me
off it three years ago."

"Then you mean to leave this place?" said Tito, more anxious about this
certainty than the ground of it.

"I have spoken," said Baldassarre.

Tito turned and re-entered the house.  Monna Lisa was nodding; he went
up to Tessa, and found her crying by the side of her baby.

"Tessa," he said, sitting down and taking her head between his hands;
"leave off crying, little goose, and listen to me."

He lifted her chin upward, that she might look at him, while he spoke
very distinctly and emphatically.

"You must never speak to that old man again.  He is a mad old man, and
he wants to kill me.  Never speak to him or listen to him again."

Tessa's tears had ceased, and her lips were pale with fright.

"Is he gone away?" she whispered.

"He will go away.  Remember what I have said to you."

"Yes; I will never speak to a stranger any more," said Tessa, with a
sense of guilt.

He told her, to comfort her, that he would come again to-morrow; and
then went down to Monna Lisa to rebuke her severely for letting a
dangerous man come about the house.

Tito felt that these were odious tasks; they were very evil-tasted
morsels, but they were forced upon him.  He heard Monna Lisa fasten the
door behind him, and turned away, without looking towards the open door
of the hovel.  He felt secure that Baldassarre would go, and he could
not wait to see him go.  Even _his_ young frame and elastic spirit were
shattered by the agitations that had been crowded into this single
evening.

Baldassarre was still sitting on the straw when the shadow of Tito
passed by.  Before him lay the fragments of the broken dagger; beside
him lay the open book, over which he had pored in vain.  They looked
like mocking symbols of his utter helplessness; and his body was still
too trembling for him to rise and walk away.

But the next morning, very early, when Tessa peeped anxiously through
the hole in her shutter, the door of the hovel was open, and the strange
old man was gone.



CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.

WHAT FLORENCE WAS THINKING OF.

For several days Tito saw little of Romola.  He told her gently, the
next morning, that it would be better for her to remove any small
articles of her own from the library, as there would be agents coming to
pack up the antiquities.  Then, leaning to kiss her on the brow, he
suggested that she should keep in her own room where the little painted
tabernacle was, and where she was then sitting, so that she might be
away from the noise of strange footsteps, Romola assented quietly,
making no sign of emotion: the night had been one long waking to her,
and, in spite of her healthy frame, sensation had become a dull
continuous pain, as if she had been stunned and bruised.  Tito divined
that she felt ill, but he dared say no more; he only dared, perceiving
that her hand and brow were stone cold, to fetch a furred mantle and
throw it lightly round her.  And in every brief interval that he
returned to her, the scene was nearly the same: he tried to propitiate
her by some unobtrusive act or word of tenderness, and she seemed to
have lost the power of speaking to him, or of looking at him.
"Patience!" he said to himself.  "She will recover it, and forgive at
last.  The tie to me must still remain the strongest."  When the
stricken person is slow to recover and look as if nothing had happened,
the striker easily glides into the position of the aggrieved party; he
feels no bruise himself, and is strongly conscious of his own amiable
behaviour since he inflicted the blow.  But Tito was not naturally
disposed to feel himself aggrieved; the constant bent of his mind was
towards propitiation, and he would have submitted to much for the sake
of feeling Romola's hand resting on his head again, as it did that
morning when he first shrank from looking at her.

But he found it the less difficult to wait patiently for the return of
his home happiness, because his life out of doors was more and more
interesting to him.  A course of action which is in strictness a
slowly-prepared outgrowth of the entire character, is yet almost always
traceable to a single impression as its point of apparent origin; and
since that moment in the Piazza del Duomo, when Tito, mounted on the
bales, had tasted a keen pleasure in the consciousness of his ability to
tickle the ears of men with any phrases that pleased them, his
imagination had glanced continually towards a sort of political activity
which the troubled public life of Florence was likely enough to find
occasion for.  But the fresh dread of Baldassarre, waked in the same
moment, had lain like an immovable rocky obstruction across that path,
and had urged him into the sale of the library, as a preparation for the
possible necessity of leaving Florence, at the very time when he was
beginning to feel that it had a new attraction for him.  That dread was
nearly removed _now_: he must wear his armour still, he must prepare
himself for possible demands on his coolness and ingenuity, but he did
not feel obliged to take the inconvenient step of leaving Florence and
seeking new fortunes.  His father had refused the offered atonement--had
forced him into defiance; and an old man in a strange place, with his
memory gone, was weak enough to be defied.

Tito's implicit desires were working themselves out now in very explicit
thoughts.  As the freshness of young passion faded, life was taking more
and more decidedly for him the aspect of a game in which there was an
agreeable mingling of skill and chance.

And the game that might be played in Florence promised to be rapid and
exciting; it was a game of revolutionary and party struggle, sure to
include plenty of that unavowed action in which brilliant ingenuity,
able to get rid of all inconvenient beliefs except that "ginger is hot
in the mouth," is apt to see the path of superior wisdom.

No sooner were the French guests gone than Florence was as agitated as a
colony of ants when an alarming shadow has been removed, and the camp
has to be repaired.  "How are we to raise the money for the French king?
How are we to manage the war with those obstinate Pisan rebels?  Above
all, how are we to mend our plan of government, so as to hit on the best
way of getting our magistrates chosen and our laws voted?"  Till those
questions were well answered trade was in danger of standing still, and
that large body of the working men who were not counted as citizens and
had not so much as a vote to serve as an anodyne to their stomachs were
likely to get impatient.  Something must be done.

And first the great bell was sounded, to call the citizens to a
parliament in the Piazza de' Signori; and when the crowd was wedged
close, and hemmed in by armed men at all the outlets, the Signoria (or
Gonfaloniere and eight Priors for the time being) came out and stood by
the stone lion on the platform in front of the Old Palace, and proposed
that twenty chief men of the city should have dictatorial authority
given them, by force of which they should for one year choose all
magistrates, and set the frame of government in order.  And the people
shouted their assent, and felt themselves the electors of the Twenty.
This kind of "parliament" was a very old Florentine fashion, by which
the will of the few was made to seem the choice of the many.

The shouting in the Piazza was soon at an end, but not so the debating
inside the palace: was Florence to have a Great Council after the
Venetian mode, where all the officers of government might be elected,
and all laws voted by a wide number of citizens of a certain age and of
ascertained qualifications, without question of rank or party? or, was
it to be governed on a narrower and less popular scheme, in which the
hereditary influence of good families would be less adulterated with the
votes of shopkeepers.  Doctors of law disputed day after day, and far on
into the night.  Messer Pagolantonio Soderini alleged excellent reasons
on the side of the popular scheme; Messer Guidantonio Vespucci alleged
reasons equally excellent on the side, of a more aristocratic form.  It
was a question of boiled or roast, which had been prejudged by the
palates of the disputants, and the excellent arguing might have been
protracted a long while without any other result than that of deferring
the cooking.  The majority of the men inside the _palace_, having power
already in their hands, agreed with Vespucci, and thought change should
be moderate; the majority outside the palace, conscious of little power
and many grievances, were less afraid of change.

And there was a force outside the palace which was gradually tending to
give the vague desires of that majority the character of a determinate
will.  That force was the preaching of Savonarola.  Impelled partly by
the spiritual necessity that was laid upon him to guide the people, and
partly by the prompting of public-men who could get no measures carried
without his aid, he was rapidly passing in his daily sermons from the
general to the special--from telling his hearers that they must postpone
their private passions and interests to the public good, to telling them
precisely what sort of government they must have in order to promote
that good--from "Choose whatever is best for all" to "Choose the Great
Council," and "the Great Council is the will of God."

To Savonarola these were as good as identical propositions.  The Great
Council was the only practicable plan for giving an expression to the
public will large enough to counteract the vitiating influence of party
interests: it was a plan that would make honest impartial public action
at least possible.  And the purer the government of Florence would
become--the more secure from the designs of men who saw their own
advantage in the moral debasement of their fellows--the nearer would the
Florentine people approach the character of a pure community, worthy to
lead the way in the renovation of the Church and the world.  And Fra
Girolamo's mind never stopped short of that sublimest end: the objects
towards which he felt himself working had always the same moral
magnificence.  He had no private malice--he sought no petty
gratification.  Even in the last terrible days, when ignominy, torture,
and the fear of torture, had laid bare every hidden weakness of his
soul, he could say to his importunate judges: "Do not wonder if it seems
to you that I have told but few things; for my purposes were few and
great."  [Note 1.]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  "Se vi pare che io abbia detto poche cose, non ve ne
maravigliate, perche le mie cose erano poche e grandi."



CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

ARIADNE DISCROWNS HERSELF.

It was more than three weeks before the contents of the library were all
packed and carried away.  And Romola, instead of shutting her eyes and
ears, had watched the process.  The exhaustion consequent on violent
emotion is apt to bring a dreamy disbelief in the reality of its cause;
and in the evening, when the workmen were gone, Romola took her
hand-lamp and walked slowly round amongst the confusion of straw and
wooden cases, pausing at every vacant pedestal, every well-known object
laid prostrate, with a sort of bitter desire to assure herself that
there was a sufficient reason why her love was gone and the world was
barren for her.  And still, as the evenings came, she went and went
again; no longer to assure herself, but because this vivifying of pain
and despair about her father's memory was the strongest life left to her
affections.  On the 23rd of December, she knew that the last packages
were going.  She ran to the loggia at the top of the house that she
might not lose the last pang of seeing the slow wheels move across the
bridge.

It was a cloudy day, and nearing dusk.  Arno ran dark and shivering; the
hills were mournful; and Florence with its girdling stone towers had
that silent, tomb-like look, which unbroken shadow gives to a city seen
from above.  Santa Croce, where her father lay, was dark amidst that
darkness, and slowly crawling over the bridge, and slowly vanishing up
the narrow street, was the white load, like a cruel, deliberate Fate
carrying away her father's lifelong hope to bury it in an unmarked
grave.  Romola felt less that she was seeing this herself than that her
father was conscious of it as he lay helpless under the imprisoning
stones, where her hand could not reach his to tell him that he was not
alone.

She stood still even after the load had disappeared, heedless of the
cold, and soothed by the gloom which seemed to cover her like a mourning
garment and shut out the discord of joy.  When suddenly the great bell
in the palace-tower rang out a mighty peal: not the hammer-sound of
alarm, but an agitated peal of triumph; and one after another every
other bell in every other tower seemed to catch the vibration and join
the chorus.  And, as the chorus swelled and swelled till the air seemed
made of sound--little flames, vibrating too, as if the sound had caught
fire, burst out between the turrets of the palace and on the girdling
towers.

That sudden clang, that leaping light, fell on Romola like sharp wounds.
They were the triumph of demons at the success of her husband's
treachery, and the desolation of her life.  Little more than three weeks
ago she had been intoxicated with the sound of those very bells; and in
the gladness of Florence, she had heard a prophecy of her own gladness.
But now the general joy seemed cruel to her: she stood aloof from that
common life--that Florence which was flinging out its loud exultation to
stun the ears of sorrow and loneliness.  She could never join hands with
gladness again, but only with those whom it was in the hard nature of
gladness to forget.  And in her bitterness she felt that all rejoicing
was mockery.  Men shouted pagans with their souls full of heaviness, and
then looked in their neighbours' faces to see if there was really such a
thing as joy.  Romola had lost her belief in the happiness she had once
thirsted for: it was a hateful, smiling, soft-handed thing, with a
narrow, selfish heart.

She ran down from the loggia, with her hands pressed against her ears,
and was hurrying across the antechamber, when she was startled by
unexpectedly meeting her husband, who was coming to seek her.

His step was elastic, and there was a radiance of satisfaction about him
not quite usual.

"What! the noise was a little too much for you?" he said; for Romola, as
she started at the sight of him, had pressed her hands all the closer
against her ears.  He took her gently by the wrist, and drew her arm
within his, leading her into the saloon surrounded with the dancing
nymphs and fauns, and then went on speaking: "Florence is gone quite mad
at getting its Great Council, which is to put an end to all the evils
under the sun; especially to the vice of merriment.  You may well look
stunned, my Romola, and you are cold.  You must not stay so late under
that windy loggia without wrappings.  I was coming to tell you that I am
suddenly called to Rome about some learned business for Bernardo
Rucellai.  I am going away immediately, for I am to join my party at San
Gaggio to-night, that we may start early in the morning.  I need give
you no trouble; I have had my packages made already.  It will not be
very long before I am back again."

He knew he had nothing to expect from her but quiet endurance of what he
said and did.  He could not even venture to kiss her brow this evening,
but just pressed her hand to his lips, and left her.  Tito felt that
Romola was a more unforgiving woman than he had imagined; her love was
not that sweet clinging instinct, stronger than all judgments, which, he
began to see now, made the great charm of a wife.  Still, this petrified
coldness was better than a passionate, futile opposition.  Her pride and
capability of seeing where resistance was useless had the inconvenience.

But when the door had closed on Tito, Romola lost the look of cold
immobility winch came over her like an inevitable frost whenever he
approached her.  Inwardly she was very far from being in a state of
quiet endurance, and the days that had passed since the scene which had
divided her from Tito had been days of active planning and preparation
for the fulfilment of a purpose.

The first thing she did now was to call old Maso to her.

"Maso," she said, in a decided tone, "we take our journey to-morrow
morning.  We shall be able now to overtake that first convoy of cloth,
while they are waiting at San Piero.  See about the two mules to-night,
and be ready to set off with them at break of day, and wait for me at
Trespiano."

She meant to take Maso with her as far as Bologna, and then send him
back with letters to her godfather and Tito, telling them that she was
gone and never meant to return.  She had planned her departure so that
its secrecy might be perfect, and her broken love and life be hidden
away unscanned by vulgar eyes.  Bernardo del Nero had been absent at his
villa, willing to escape from political suspicions to his favourite
occupation of attending to his land, and she had paid him the debt
without a personal interview.  He did not even know that the library was
sold, and was left to conjecture that some sudden piece of good fortune
had enabled Tito to raise this sum of money.  Maso had been taken into
her confidence only so far that he knew her intended journey was a
secret; and to do just what she told him was the thing he cared most for
in his withered wintry age.

Romola did not mean to go to bed that night.  When she had fastened the
door she took her taper to the carved and painted chest which contained
her wedding-clothes.  The white silk and gold lay there, the long white
veil and the circlet of pearls.  A great sob rose as she looked at them:
they seemed the shroud of her dead happiness.  In a tiny gold loop of
the circlet a sugar-plum had lodged--a pink hailstone from the shower of
sweets: Tito had detected it first, and had said that it should always
remain there.  At certain moments--and this was one of them--Romola was
carried, by a sudden wave of memory, back again into the time of perfect
trust, and felt again the presence of the husband whose love made the
world as fresh and wonderful to her as to a little child that sits in
stillness among the sunny flowers: heard the gentle tones and saw the
soft eyes without any lie in them, and breathed again that large freedom
of the soul which comes from the faith that the being who is nearest to
us is greater than ourselves.  And in those brief moments the tears
always rose: the woman's lovingness felt something akin to what the
bereaved mother feels when the tiny fingers seem to lie warm on her
bosom, and yet are marble to her lips as she bends over the silent bed.

But there was something else lying in the chest besides the
wedding-clothes: it was something dark and coarse, rolled up in a close
bundle.  She turned away her eyes from the white and gold to the dark
bundle, and as her hands touched the serge, her tears began to be
checked.  That coarse roughness recalled her fully to the present, from
which love and delight were gone.  She unfastened the thick white cord
and spread the bundle out on the table.  It was the grey serge dress of
a sister belonging to the third order of Saint Francis, living in the
world but especially devoted to deeds of piety--a personage whom the
Florentines were accustomed to call a Pinzochera.  Romola was going to
put on this dress as a disguise, and she determined to put it on at
once, so that, if she needed sleep before the morning, she might wake up
in perfect readiness to be gone.  She put off her black garment, and as
she thrust her soft white arms into the harsh sleeves of the serge
mantle and felt the hard girdle of rope hurt her fingers as she tied it,
she courted those rude sensations: they were in keeping with her new
scorn of that thing called pleasure which made men base--that dexterous
contrivance for selfish ease, that shrinking from endurance and strain,
when others were bowing beneath burdens too heavy for them, which now
made one image with her husband.  Then she gathered her long hair
together, drew it away tight from her face, bound it in a great hard
knot at the back of her head, and taking a square piece of black silk,
tied it in the fashion of a kerchief close across her head and under her
chin; and over that she drew the cowl.  She lifted the candle to the
mirror.  Surely her disguise would be complete to any one who had not
lived very near to her.  To herself she looked strangely like her
brother Dino: the full oval of the cheek had only to be wasted; the
eyes, already sad, had only to become a little sunken.  Was she getting
more like him in anything else?  Only in this, that she understood now
how men could be prompted to rush away for ever from earthly delights,
how they could be prompted to dwell on images of sorrow rather than of
beauty and joy.

But she did not linger at the mirror: she set about collecting and
packing all the relics of her father and mother that were too large to
be carried in her small travelling-wallet.  They were all to be put in
the chest along with her wedding-clothes, and the chest was to be
committed to her godfather when she was safely gone.  First she laid in
the portraits; then one by one every little thing that had a sacred
memory clinging to it was put into her wallet or into the chest.

She paused.  There was still something else to be stript away from her,
belonging to that past on which she was going to turn her back for ever.
She put her thumb and her forefinger to her betrothal ring; but they
rested there, without drawing it off.  Romola's mind had been rushing
with an impetuous current towards this act, for which she was preparing:
the act of quitting a husband who had disappointed all her trust, the
act of breaking an outward tie that no longer represented the inward
bond of love.  But that force of outward symbols by which our active
life is knit together so as to make an inexorable external identity for
us, not to be shaken by our wavering consciousness, gave a strange
effect to this simple movement towards taking off her ring--a movement
which was but a small sequence of her energetic resolution.  It brought
a vague but arresting sense that she was somehow violently rending her
life in two: a presentiment that the strong impulse which had seemed to
exclude doubt and make her path clear might after all be blindness, and
that there was something in human bonds which must prevent them from
being broken with the breaking of illusions.

If that beloved Tito who had placed the betrothal ring on her finger was
not in any valid sense the same Tito whom she had ceased to love, why
should she return to him the sign of their union, and not rather retain
it as a memorial?  And this act, which came as a palpable demonstration
of her own and his identity, had a power unexplained to herself, of
shaking Romola.  It is the way with half the truth amidst which we live,
that it only haunts us and makes dull pulsations that are never born
into sound.  But there was a passionate voice speaking within her that
presently nullified all such muffled murmurs.

"It cannot be!  I cannot be subject to him.  He is false.  I shrink from
him.  I despise him!"

She snatched the ring from her finger and laid it on the table against
the pen with which she meant to write.  Again she felt that there could
be no law for her but the law of her affections.  That tenderness and
keen fellow-feeling for the near and the loved which are the main
outgrowth of the affections, had made the religion of her life: they had
made her patient in spite of natural impetuosity: they would have
sufficed to make her heroic.  But now all that strength was gone, or,
rather, it was converted into the strength of repulsion.  She had
recoiled from Tito in proportion to the energy of that young belief and
love which he had disappointed, of that lifelong devotion to her father
against which he had committed an irredeemable offence.  And it seemed
as if all motive had slipped away from her, except the indignation and
scorn that made her tear herself asunder from him.

She was not acting after any precedent, or obeying any adopted maxims.
The grand severity of the stoical philosophy in which her father had
taken care to instruct her, was familiar enough to her ears and lips,
and its lofty spirit had raised certain echoes within her; but she had
never used it, never needed it as a rule of life.  She had endured and
forborne because she loved: maxims which told her to feel less, and not
to cling close lest the onward course of great Nature should jar her,
had been as powerless on her tenderness as they had been on her father's
yearning for just fame.  She had appropriated no theories: she had
simply felt strong in the strength of affection, and life without that
energy came to her as an entirely new problem.

She was going to solve the problem in a way that seemed to her very
simple.  Her mind had never yet bowed to any obligation apart from
personal love and reverence; she had no keen sense of any other human
relations, and all she had to obey now was the instinct to sever herself
from the man she loved no longer.

Yet the unswerving resolution was accompanied with continually varying
phases of anguish.  And now that the active preparation for her
departure was almost finished, she lingered: she deferred writing the
irrevocable words of parting from all her little world.  The emotions of
the past weeks seemed to rush in again with cruel hurry, and take
possession even of her limbs.  She was going to write, and her hand
fell.  Bitter tears came now at the delusion which had blighted her
young years, tears very different from the sob of remembered happiness
with which she had looked at the circlet of pearls and the pink
hailstone.  And now she felt a tingling shame at the words of ignominy
she had cast, at Tito--"Have you robbed some one else who is _not_
dead?"  To have had such words wrung from her--to have uttered them to
her husband seemed a degradation of her whole life.  Hard speech between
those who have loved is hideous in the memory, like the sight of
greatness and beauty sunk into vice and rags.

That heart-cutting comparison of the present with the past urged itself
upon Romola till it even transformed itself into wretched sensations:
she seemed benumbed to everything but inward throbbings, and began to
feel the need of some hard contact.  She drew her hands tight along the
harsh knotted cord that hung from her waist.  She started to her feet
and seized the rough lid of the chest: there was nothing else to go in?
No.  She closed the lid, pressing her hand upon the rough carving, and
looked it.

Then she remembered that she had still to complete her equipment as a
Pinzochera.  The large leather purse or scarsella, with small coin in
it, had to be hung on the cord at her waist (her florins and small
jewels, presents from her godfather and cousin Brigida, were safely
fastened within her serge mantle)--and on the other side must hang the
rosary.

It did not occur to Romola, as she hung that rosary by her side, that
something else besides the mere garb would perhaps be necessary to
enable her to pass as a Pinzochera, and that her whole air and
expression were as little as possible like those of a sister whose
eyelids were used to be bent, and whose lips were used to move in silent
iteration.  Her inexperience prevented her from picturing distant
details, and it helped her proud courage in shutting out any foreboding
of danger and insult.  She did not know that any Florentine woman had
ever done exactly what she was going to do: unhappy wives often took
refuge with their friends, or in the cloister, she knew, but both those
courses were impossible to her; she had invented a lot for herself--to
go to the most learned woman in the world, Cassandra Fedele, at Venice,
and ask her how an instructed woman could support herself in a lonely
life there.

She was not daunted by the practical difficulties in the way or the dark
uncertainty at the end.  Her life could never be happy any more, but it
must not, could not, be ignoble.  And by a pathetic mixture of childish
romance with her woman's trials, the philosophy which had nothing to do
with this great decisive deed of hers had its place in her imagination
of the future: so far as she conceived her solitary loveless life at
all, she saw it animated by a proud stoical heroism, and by an
indistinct but strong purpose of labour, that she might be wise enough
to write something which would rescue her father's name from oblivion.
After all, she was only a young girl--this poor Romola, who had found
herself at the end of her joys.

There were other things yet to be done.  There was a small key in a
casket on the table--but now Romola perceived that her taper was dying
out, and she had forgotten to provide herself with any other light.  In
a few moments the room was in total darkness.  Feeling her way to the
nearest chair, she sat down to wait for the morning.

Her purpose in seeking the key had called up certain memories winch had
come back upon her during the past week with the new vividness that
remembered words always have for us when we have learned to give them a
new meaning.  Since the shook of the revelation which had seemed to
divide her for ever from Tito, that last interview with Dino had never
been for many hours together out of her mind.  And it solicited her all
the more, because while its remembered images pressed upon her almost
with the imperious force of sensations, they raised struggling thoughts
which resisted their influence.  She could not prevent herself from
hearing inwardly the dying prophetic voice saying again and again,--"The
man whose face was a blank loosed thy hand and departed; and as he went,
I could see his face, and it was the face of the great Tempter...  And
thou, Romola, didst wring thy hands and seek for water, and there was
none... and the plain was bare and stony again, and thou wast alone in
the midst of it.  And then it seemed that the night fell, and I saw no
more."  She could not prevent herself from dwelling with a sort of
agonised fascination on the wasted face; on the straining gaze at the
crucifix; on the awe which had compelled her to kneel; on the last
broken words and then the unbroken silence--on all the details of the
death-scene, which had seemed like a sudden opening into a world apart
from that of her lifelong knowledge.

But her mind was roused to resistance of impressions that, from being
obvious phantoms, seemed to be getting solid in the daylight.  As a
strong body struggles against fumes with the more violence when they
begin to be stifling, a strong soul struggles against phantasies with
all the more alarmed energy when they threaten to govern in the place of
thought.

What had the words of that vision to do with her real sorrows?  That
fitting of certain words was a mere chance; the rest was all vague--nay,
those words themselves were vague; they were determined by nothing but
her brother's memories and beliefs.  He believed there was something
fatal in pagan learning; he believed that celibacy was more holy than
marriage; he remembered their home, and all the objects in the library;
and of these threads the vision was woven.  What reasonable warrant
could she have had for believing in such a vision and acting on it?
None.  True as the voice of foreboding had proved, Romola saw with
unshaken conviction that to have renounced Tito in obedience to a
warning like that, would have been meagre-hearted folly.  Her trust had
been delusive, but she would have chosen over again to have acted on it
rather than be a creature led by phantoms and disjointed whispers in a
world where there was the large music of reasonable speech, and the warm
grasp of living hands.

But the persistent presence of these memories, linking themselves in her
imagination with her actual lot, gave her a glimpse of understanding
into the lives which had before lain utterly aloof from her sympathy--
the lives of the men and women who were led by such inward images and
voices.

"If they were only a little stronger in me," she said to herself, "I
should lose the sense of what that vision really was, and take it for a
prophetic light.  I might in time get to be a seer of visions myself,
like the Suora Maddalena, and Camilla Rucellai, and the rest."

Romola shuddered at the possibility.  All the instruction, all the main
influences of her life had gone to fortify her scorn of that sickly
superstition which led men and women, with eyes too weak for the
daylight, to sit in dark swamps and try to read human destiny by the
chance flame of wandering vapours.

And yet she was conscious of something deeper than that coincidence of
words which made the parting contact with her dying brother live anew in
her mind, and gave a new sisterhood to the wasted face.  If there were
much more of such experience as his in the world, she would like to
understand it--would even like to learn the thoughts of men who sank in
ecstasy before the pictured agonies of martyrdom.  There seemed to be
something more than madness in that supreme fellowship with suffering.
The springs were all dried up around her; she wondered what other waters
there were at which men drank and found strength in the desert.  And
those moments in the Duomo when she had sobbed with a mysterious
mingling of rapture and pain, while Fra Girolamo offered himself a
willing sacrifice for the people, came back to her as if they had been a
transient taste of some such far-off fountain.  But again she shrank
from impressions that were alluring her within the sphere of visions and
narrow fears which compelled men to outrage natural affections as Dino
had done.

This was the tangled web that Romola had in her mind as she sat weary in
the darkness.  No radiant angel came across the gloom with a clear
message for her.  In those times, as now, there were human beings who
never saw angels or heard perfectly clear messages.  Such truth as came
to them was brought confusedly in the voices and deeds of men not at all
like the seraphs of unfailing wing and piercing vision--men who believed
falsities as well as truths, and did the wrong as well as the right.
The helping hands stretched out to them were the hands of men who
stumbled and often saw dimly, so that these beings unvisited by angels
had no other choice than to grasp that stumbling guidance along the path
of reliance and action which is the path of life, or else to pause in
loneliness and disbelief, which is no path, but the arrest of inaction
and death.

And so Romola, seeing no ray across the darkness, and heavy with
conflict that changed nothing, sank at last to sleep.



CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.

THE TABERNACLE UNLOCKED.

Romola was waked by a tap at the door.  The cold light of early morning
was in the room, and Maso was come for the travelling-wallet.  The old
man could not help starting when she opened the door, and showed him,
instead of the graceful outline he had been used to, crowned with the
brightness of her hair, the thick folds of the grey mantle and the pale
face shadowed by the dark cowl.

"It is well, Maso," said Romola, trying to speak in the calmest voice,
and make the old man easy.  "Here is the wallet quite ready.  You will
go on quietly, and I shall not be far behind you.  When you get out of
the gates you may go more slowly, for I shall perhaps join you before
you get to Trespiano."

She closed the door behind him, and then put her hand on the key which
she had taken from the casket the last thing in the night.  It was the
original key of the little painted tabernacle: Tito had forgotten to
drown it in the Arno, and it had lodged, as such small things will, in
the corner of the embroidered scarsella which he wore with the purple
tunic.  One day, long after their marriage, Romola had found it there,
and had put it by, without using it, but with a sense of satisfaction
that the key was within reach.  The cabinet on which the tabernacle
stood had been moved to the side of the room, close to one of the
windows, where the pale morning light fell upon it so as to make the
painted forms discernible enough to Romola, who know them well,--the
triumphant Bacchus, with his clusters and his vine-clad spear, clasping
the crowned Ariadne; the Loves showering roses, the wreathed vessel, the
cunning-eyed dolphins, and the rippled sea: all encircled by a flowery
border, like a bower of paradise.  Romola looked at the familiar images
with new bitterness and repulsion: they seemed a more pitiable mockery
than ever on this chill morning, when she had waked up to wander in
loneliness.  They had been no tomb of sorrow, but a lying screen.
Foolish Ariadne! with her gaze of love, as if that bright face, with its
hyacinthine curls like tendrils among the vines, held the deep secret of
her life!

"Ariadne is wonderfully transformed," thought Romola.  "She would look
strange among the vines and the roses now."

She took up the mirror, and looked at herself once more.  But the sight
was so startling in this morning light that she laid it down again, with
a sense of shrinking almost as strong as that with which she had turned
from the joyous Ariadne.  The recognition of her own face, with the cowl
about it, brought back the dread lest she should be drawn at last into
fellowship with some wretched superstition--into the company of the
howling fanatics and weeping nuns who had been her contempt from
childhood till now.  She thrust the key into the tabernacle hurriedly:
hurriedly she opened it, and took out the crucifix, without looking at
it; then, with trembling fingers, she passed a cord through the little
ring, hung the crucifix round her neck, and hid it in the bosom of her
mantle.  "For Dino's sake," she said to herself.  Still there were the
letters to be written which Maso was to carry back from Bologna.  They
were very brief.  The first said--

"Tito, my love for you is dead; and therefore, so far as I was yours, I
too am dead.  Do not try to put in force any laws for the sake of
fetching me back: that would bring you no happiness.  The Romola you
married can never return.  I need explain nothing to you after the words
I uttered to you the last time we spoke long together.  If you supposed
them to be words of transient anger, you will know now that they were
the sign of an irreversible change.

"I think you will fulfil my wish that my bridal chest should be sent to
my godfather, who gave it me.  It contains my wedding-clothes and the
portraits and other relics of my father and mother."

She folded the ring inside this letter, and wrote Tito's name outside.
The next letter was to Bernardo del Nero:--

"Dearest Godfather,--If I could have been any good to your life by
staying I would not have gone away to a distance.  But now I am gone.
Do not ask the reason; and if you love my father, try to prevent any one
from seeking me.  I could not bear my life at Florence.  I cannot bear
to tell any one why.  Help to cover my lot in silence.  I have asked
that my bridal chest should be sent to you: when you open it, you will
know the reason.  Please to give all the things that were my mother's to
my cousin Brigida, and ask her to forgive me for not saying any words of
parting to her.

"Farewell, my second father.  The best thing I have in life is still to
remember your goodness and be grateful to you.

"Romola."

Romola put the letters, along with the crucifix, within the bosom of her
mantle, and then felt that everything was done.  She was ready now to
depart.

No one was stirring in the house, and she went almost as quietly as a
grey phantom down the stairs and into the silent street.  Her heart was
palpitating violently, yet she enjoyed the sense of her firm tread on
the broad flags--of the swift movement, which was like a chained-up
resolution set free at last.  The anxiety to carry out her act, and the
dread of any obstacle, averted sorrow; and as she reached the Ponte
Rubaconte, she felt less that Santa Croce was in her sight than that the
yellow streak of morning which parted the grey was getting broader and
broader, and that, unless she hastened her steps, she should have to
encounter faces.

Her simplest road was to go right on to the Borgo Pinti, and then along
by the walls to the _Porta_, San Gallo, from which she must leave the
city, and this road carried her by the Piazza di Santa Croco.  But she
walked as steadily and rapidly as ever through the piazza, not trusting
herself to look towards the church.  The thought that any eyes might be
turned on her with a look of curiosity and recognition, and that
indifferent minds might be set speculating on her private sorrows, made
Romola shrink physically as from the imagination of torture.  She felt
degraded even by that act of her husband from which she was helplessly
suffering.  But there was no sign that any eyes looked forth from
windows to notice this tall grey sister, with the firm step, and proud
attitude of the cowled head.  Her road lay aloof from the stir of early
traffic, and when she reached the Porta San Gallo, it was easy to pass
while a dispute was going forward about the toll for panniers of eggs
and market produce which were just entering.

Out!  Once past the houses of the Borgo, she would be beyond the last
fringe of Florence, the sky would be broad above her, and she would have
entered on her new life--a life of loneliness and endurance, but of
freedom.  She had been strong enough to snap asunder the bonds she had
accepted in blind faith: whatever befell her, she would no more feel the
breath of soft hated lips warm upon her cheek, no longer feel the breath
of an odious mind stifling her own.  The bare wintry morning, the chill
air, were welcome in their severity: the leafless trees, the sombre
hills, were not haunted by the gods of beauty and joy, whose worship she
had forsaken for ever.

But presently the light burst forth with sudden strength, and shadows
were thrown across the road.  It seemed that the sun was going to chase
away the greyness.  The light is perhaps never felt more strongly as a
divine presence stirring all those inarticulate sensibilities which are
our deepest life, than in these moments when it instantaneously awakens
the shadows.  A certain awe which inevitably accompanied this most
momentous act of her life became a more conscious element in Romola's
feeling as she found herself in the sudden presence of the impalpable
golden glory and the long shadow of herself that was not to be escaped.
Hitherto she had met no one but an occasional contadino with mules, and
the many turnings of the road on the level prevented her from seeing
that Maso was not very far ahead of her.  But when she had passed Pietra
and was on rising ground, she lifted up the hanging roof of her cowl and
looked eagerly before her.

The cowl was dropped again immediately.  She had seen, not Maso, but--
two monks, who were approaching within a few yards of her.  The edge of
her cowl making a pent-house on her brow had shut out the objects above
the level of her eyes, and for the last few moments she had been looking
at nothing but the brightness on the path and at her own shadow, tall
and shrouded like a dread spectre.

She wished now that she had not looked up.  Her disguise made her
especially dislike to encounter monks: they might expect some pious
passwords of which she knew nothing, and she walked along with a careful
appearance of unconsciousness till she had seen the skirts of the black
mantles pass by her.  The encounter had made her heart beat
disagreeably, for Romola had an uneasiness in her religious disguise, a
shame at this studied concealment, which was made more distinct by a
special effort to appear unconscious under actual glances.

But the black skirts would be gone the faster because they were going
down-hill; and seeing a great flat stone against a cypress that rose
from a projecting green bank, she yielded to the desire which the slight
shock had given her, to sit down and rest.

She turned her back on Florence, not meaning to look at it till the
monks were quite out of sight, and raising the edge of her cowl again
when she had seated herself, she discerned Maso and the mules at a
distance where it was not hopeless for her to overtake them, as the old
man would probably linger in expectation of her.

Meanwhile she might pause a little.  She was free and alone.



CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.

THE BLACK MARKS BECOME MAGICAL.

That journey of Tito's to Rome, which had removed many difficulties from
Romola's departure, had been resolved on quite suddenly, at a supper,
only the evening before.

Tito had set out towards that supper with agreeable expectations.  The
meats were likely to be delicate, the wines choice, the company
distinguished; for the place of entertainment was the Selva or Orto de'
Rucellai, or, as we should say, the Rucellai Gardens; and the host,
Bernardo Rucellai, was quite a typical Florentine grandee.  Even his
family name has a significance which is prettily symbolic: properly
understood, it may bring before us a little lichen, popularly named
_orcella_ or _roccella_, which grows on the rocks of Greek isles and in
the Canaries; and having drunk a great deal of light into its little
stems and button-heads, will, under certain circumstances, give it out
again as a reddish purple dye, very grateful to the eyes of men.  By
bringing the excellent secret of this dye, called _oricello_, from the
Levant to Florence, a certain merchant, who lived nearly a hundred years
before our Bernardo's time, won for himself and his descendants much
wealth, and the pleasantly-suggestive surname of Oricellari, or
Roccellari, which on Tuscan tongues speedily became Rucellai.

And our Bernardo, who stands out more prominently than the rest on this
purple background, had added all sorts of distinction to the family
name: he had married the sister of Lorenzo de' Medici, and had had the
most splendid wedding in the memory of Florentine upholstery; and for
these and other virtues he had been sent on embassies to France and
Venice, and had been chosen Gonfaloniere; he had not only built himself
a fine palace, but had finished putting the black and white marble
facade to the church of Santa Maria Novella; he had planted a garden
with rare trees, and had made it classic ground by receiving within it
the meetings of the Platonic Academy, orphaned by the death of Lorenzo;
he had written an excellent, learned book, of a new topographical sort,
about ancient Rome; he had collected antiquities; he had a pure
Latinity.  The simplest account of him, one sees, reads like a laudatory
epitaph, at the end of which the Greek and Ausonian Muses might be
confidently requested to tear their hair, and Nature to desist from any
second attempt to combine so many virtues with one set of viscera.

His invitation had been conveyed to Tito through Lorenzo Tornabuoni,
with an emphasis which would have suggested that the object of the
gathering was political, even if the public questions of the time had
been less absorbing.  As it was, Tito felt sure that some party purposes
were to be furthered by the excellent flavours of stewed fish and old
Greek wine; for Bernardo Rucellai was not simply an influential
personage, he was one of the elect Twenty who for three weeks had held
the reins of Florence.  This assurance put Tito in the best spirits as
he made his way to the Via della Scala, where the classic garden was to
be found: without it, he might have had some uneasy speculation as to
whether the high company he would have the honour of meeting was likely
to be dull as well as distinguished; for he had had experience of
various dull suppers even in the Rucellai gardens, and especially of the
dull philosophic sort, wherein he had not only been called upon to
accept an entire scheme of the universe (which would have been easy to
him), but to listen to an exposition of the same, from the origin of
things to their complete ripeness in the tractate of the philosopher
then speaking.

It was a dark evening, and it was only when Tito crossed the occasional
light of a lamp suspended before an image of the Virgin, that the
outline of his figure was discernible enough for recognition.  At such
moments any one caring to watch his passage from one of these lights to
another might have observed that the tall and graceful personage with
the mantle folded round him was followed constantly by a very different
form, thickset and elderly, in a serge tunic and felt hat.  The
conjunction might have been taken for mere chance, since there were many
passengers along the streets at this hour.  But when Tito stopped at the
gate of the Rucellai gardens, the figure behind stopped too.  The
_sportello_, or smaller door of the gate, was already being held open by
the servant, who, in the distraction of attending to some question, had
not yet closed it since the last arrival, and Tito turned in rapidly,
giving his name to the servant, and passing on between the evergreen
bushes that shone like metal in the torchlight.  The follower turned in
too.

"Your name?" said the servant.

"Baldassarre Calvo," was the immediate answer.

"You are not a guest; the guests have all passed."

"I belong to Tito Melema, who has just gone in.  I am to wait in the
gardens."

The servant hesitated.  "I had orders to admit only guests.  Are you a
servant of Messer Tito?"

"No, friend, I am not a servant; I am a scholar."

There are men to whom you need only say, "I am a buffalo," in a certain
tone of quiet confidence, and they will let you pass.  The porter gave
way at once, Baldassarre entered, and heard the door closed and chained
behind him, as he too disappeared among the shining bushes.

Those ready and firm answers argued a great change in Baldassarre since
the last meeting face to face with Tito, when the dagger broke in two.

The change had declared itself in a startling way.

At the moment when the shadow of Tito passed in front of the hovel as he
departed homeward, Baldassarre was sitting in that state of after-tremor
known to every one who is liable to great outbursts of passion: a state
in which physical powerlessness is sometimes accompanied by an
exceptional lucidity of thought, as if that disengagement of excited
passion had carried away a fire-mist and left clearness behind it.  He
felt unable to rise and walk away just yet; his limbs seemed benumbed;
he was cold, and his hands shook.  But in that bodily helplessness he
sat surrounded, not by the habitual dimness and vanishing shadows, but
by the clear images of the past; he was living again in an unbroken
course through that life which seemed a long preparation for the taste
of bitterness.

For some minutes he was too thoroughly absorbed by the images to reflect
on the fact that he saw them, and note the fact as a change.  But when
that sudden clearness had travelled through the distance, and came at
last to rest on the scene just gone by, he felt fully where he was: he
remembered Monna Lisa and Tessa.  Ah! _he_ then was the mysterious
husband; he who had another wife in the Via de' Bardi.  It was time to
pick up the broken dagger and go--go and leave no trace of himself; for
to hide his feebleness seemed the thing most like power that was left to
him.  He leaned to take up the fragments of the dagger; then he turned
towards the book which lay open at his side.  It was a fine large
manuscript, an odd volume of Pausanias.  The moonlight was upon it, and
he could see the large letters at the head of the page:

  MESSENIKA.  KB.  [In Greek characters.]

In old days he had known Pausanias familiarly; yet an hour or two ago he
had been looking hopelessly at that page, and it had suggested no more
meaning to him than if the letters had been black weather-marks on a
wall; but at this moment they were once more the magic signs that
conjure up a world.  That moonbeam falling on the letters had raised
Messenia before him, and its struggle against the Spartan oppression.

He snatched up the book, but the light was too pale for him to read
further by.  No matter: he knew that chapter; he read inwardly.  He saw
the stoning of the traitor Aristocrates--stoned by a whole people, who
cast him out from their borders to lie unburied, and set up a pillar
with verses upon it telling how Time had brought home justice to the
unjust.  The words arose within him, and stirred innumerable vibrations
of memory.  He forgot that he was old: he could almost have shouted.
The light was come again, mother of knowledge and joy!  In that
exultation his limbs recovered their strength: he started up with his
broken dagger and book, and went out under the broad moonlight.

It was a nipping frosty air, but Baldassarre could feel no chill--he
only felt the glow of conscious power.  He walked about and paused on
all the open spots of that high ground, and looked down on the domed and
towered city, sleeping darkly under its sleeping guardians, the
mountains; on the pale gleam of the river; on the valley vanishing
towards the peaks of snow; and felt himself master of them all.

That sense of mental empire which belongs to us all in moments of
exceptional clearness was intensified for him by the long days and
nights in which memory had been little more than the consciousness of
something gone.  That city, which had been a weary labyrinth, was
material that he could subdue to his purposes now: his mind glanced
through its affairs with flashing conjecture; he was once more a man who
knew cities, whose sense of vision was instructed with large experience,
and who felt the keen delight of holding all things in the grasp of
language.  Names!  Images!--his mind rushed through its wealth without
pausing, like one who enters on a great inheritance.

But amidst all that rushing eagerness there was one End presiding in
Baldassarre's consciousness,--a dark deity in the inmost cell, who only
seemed forgotten while his hecatomb was being prepared.  And when the
first triumph in the certainty of recovered power had had its way, his
thoughts centred themselves on Tito.  That fair slippery viper could not
escape him now; thanks to struggling justice, the heart that never
quivered with tenderness for another had its sensitive selfish fibres
that could be reached by the sharp point of anguish.  The soul that
bowed to no right, bowed to the great lord of mortals, Pain.

He could search into every secret of Tito's life now: he knew some of
the secrets already, and the failure of the broken dagger, which seemed
like frustration, had been the beginning of achievement.  Doubtless that
sudden rage had shaken away the obstruction which stifled his soul.
Twice before, when his memory had partially returned, it had been in
consequence of sudden excitation: once when he had had to defend himself
from an enraged dog: once when he had been overtaken by the waves, and
had had to scramble up a rock to save himself.

Yes, but if this time, as then, the light were to die out, and the
dreary conscious blank come back again!  This time the light was
stronger and steadier; but what security was there that before the
morrow the dark fog would not be round him again?  Even the fear seemed
like the beginning of feebleness: he thought with alarm that he might
sink the faster for this excited vigil of his on the hill, which was
expending his force; and after seeking anxiously for a sheltered corner
where he might lie down, he nestled at last against a heap of warm
garden straw, and so fell asleep.

When he opened his eyes again it was daylight.  The first moments were
filled with strange bewilderment: he was a man with a double identity;
to which had he awaked? to the life of dim-sighted sensibilities like
the sad heirship of some fallen greatness, or to the life of recovered
power?  Surely the last, for the events of the night all came back to
him: the recognition of the page in Pausanias, the crowding resurgence
of facts and names, the sudden wide prospect which had given him such a
moment as that of the Maenad in the glorious amaze of her morning waking
on the mountain top.

He took up the book again, he read, he remembered without reading.  He
saw a name, and the images of deeds rose with it: he saw the mention of
a deed, and he linked it with a name.  There were stories of inexpiable
crimes, but stories also of guilt that seemed successful.  There were
sanctuaries for swift-footed miscreants: baseness had its armour, and
the weapons of justice sometimes broke against it.  What then?  If
baseness triumphed everywhere else, if it could heap to itself all the
goods of the world and even hold the keys of hell, it would never
triumph over the hatred which it had itself awakened.  It could devise
no torture that would seem greater than the torture of submitting to its
smile.  Baldassarre felt the indestructible independent force of a
supreme emotion, which knows no terror, and asks for no motive, which is
itself an ever-burning motive, consuming all other desire.  And now in
this morning light, when the assurance came again that the fine fibres
of association were active still, and that his recovered self had not
departed, all his gladness was but the hope of vengeance.

From that time till the evening on which we have seen him enter the
Rucellai gardens, he had been incessantly, but cautiously, inquiring
into Tito's position and all his circumstances, and there was hardly a
day on which he did not contrive to follow his movements.  But he wished
not to arouse any alarm in Tito: he wished to secure a moment when the
hated favourite of blind fortune was at the summit of confident ease,
surrounded by chief men on whose favour he depended.  It was not any
retributive payment or recognition of himself for his own behoof, on
which Baldassarre's whole soul was bent: it was to find the sharpest
edge of disgrace and shame by which a selfish smiler could be pierced;
it was to send through his marrow the most sudden shock of dread.  He
was content to lie hard, and live stintedly--he had spent the greater
part of his remaining money in buying another poniard: his hunger and
his thirst were after nothing exquisite but an exquisite vengeance.  He
had avoided addressing himself to any one whom he suspected of intimacy
with Tito, lest an alarm raised in Tito's mind should urge him either to
flight or to some other counteracting measure which hard-pressed
ingenuity might devise.  For this reason he had never entered Nello's
shop, which he observed that Tito frequented, and he had turned aside to
avoid meeting Piero di Cosimo.

The possibility of frustration gave added eagerness to his desire that
the great opportunity he sought should not be deferred.  The desire was
eager in him on another ground; he trembled lest his memory should go
again.  Whether from the agitating presence of that fear, or from some
other causes, he had twice felt a sort of mental dizziness, in which the
inward sense or imagination seemed to be losing the distinct forms of
things.  Once he had attempted to enter the Palazzo Vecchio and make his
way into a council-chamber where Tito was, and had failed.  But now, on
this evening, he felt that his occasion was come.



CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.

A SUPPER IN THE RUCELLAI GARDENS.

On entering the handsome pavilion, Tito's quick glance soon discerned in
the selection of the guests the confirmation of his conjecture that the
object of the gathering was political, though, perhaps, nothing more
distinct than that strengthening of party which comes from
good-fellowship.  Good dishes and good wine were at that time believed
to heighten the consciousness of political preferences, and in the
inspired ease of after-supper talk it was supposed that people
ascertained their own opinions with a clearness quite inaccessible to
uninvited stomachs.  The Florentines were a sober and frugal people; but
wherever men have gathered wealth, Madonna della Gozzoviglia and San
Buonvino have had their worshippers; and the Rucellai were among the few
Florentine families who kept a great table and lived splendidly.  It was
not probable that on this evening there would be any attempt to apply
high philosophic theories; and there could be no objection to the bust
of Plato looking on, or even to the modest presence of the cardinal
virtues in fresco on the walls.

That bust of Plato had been long used to look down on conviviality of a
more transcendental sort, for it had been brought from Lorenzo's villa
after his death, when the meetings of the Platonic Academy had been
transferred to these gardens.  Especially on every thirteenth of
November, reputed anniversary of Plato's death, it had looked down from
under laurel leaves on a picked company of scholars and philosophers,
who met to eat and drink with moderation, and to discuss and admire,
perhaps with less moderation, the doctrines of the great master:--on
Pico della Mirandola, once a Quixotic young genius with long curls,
astonished at his own powers and astonishing Rome with heterodox theses;
afterwards a more humble student with a consuming passion for inward
perfection, having come to find the universe more astonishing than his
own cleverness:--on innocent, laborious Marsilio Ficino, picked out
young to be reared as a Platonic philosopher, and fed on Platonism in
all its stages till his mind was perhaps a little pulpy from that too
exclusive diet:--on Angelo Poliziano, chief literary genius of that age,
a born poet, and a scholar without dulness, whose phrases had blood in
them and are alive still:--or, further back, on Leon Battista Alberti, a
reverend senior when those three were young, and of a much grander type
than they, a robust, universal mind, at once practical and theoretic,
artist, man of science, inventor, poet:--and on many more valiant
workers whose names are not registered where every day we turn the leaf
to read them, but whose labours make a part, though an unrecognised
part, of our inheritance, like the ploughing and sowing of past
generations.

Bernardo Rucellai was a man to hold a distinguished place in that
Academy even before he became its host and patron.  He was still in the
prime of life, not more than four and forty, with a somewhat haughty,
cautiously dignified presence; conscious of an amazingly pure Latinity,
but, says Erasmus, not to be caught speaking Latin--no word of Latin to
be sheared off him by the sharpest of Teutons.  He welcomed Tito with
more marked favour than usual and gave him a place between Lorenzo
Tornabuoni and Giannozzo Pucci, both of them accomplished young members
of the Medicean party.

Of course the talk was the lightest in the world while the brass bowl
filled with scented water was passing round, that the company might wash
their hands, and rings flashed on white fingers under the wax-lights,
and there was the pleasant fragrance of fresh white damask newly come
from France.  The tone of remark was a very common one in those times.
Some one asked what Dante's pattern old Florentine would think if the
life could come into him again under his leathern belt and bone clasp,
and he could see silver forks on the table?  And it was agreed on all
hands that the habits of posterity would be very surprising to
ancestors, if ancestors could only know them.

And while the silver forks were just dallying with the appetising
delicacies that introduced the more serious business of the supper--such
as morsels of liver, cooked to that exquisite point that they would melt
in the mouth--there was time to admire the designs on the enamelled
silver centres of the brass service, and to say something, as usual,
about the silver dish for confetti, a masterpiece of Antonio Pollajuolo,
whom patronising Popes had seduced from his native Florence to more
gorgeous Rome.

"Ah, I remember," said Niccolo Ridolfi, a middle-aged man, with that
negligent ease of manner which, seeming to claim nothing, is really
based on the lifelong consciousness of commanding rank--"I remember our
Antonio getting bitter about his chiselling and enamelling of these
metal things, and taking in a fury to painting, because, said he, `the
artist who puts his work into gold and silver, puts his brains into the
melting-pot.'"

"And that is not unlikely to be a true foreboding of Antonio's," said
Giannozzo Pucci.  "If this pretty war with Pisa goes on, and the revolt
only spreads a little to our other towns, it is not only our silver
dishes that are likely to go; I doubt whether Antonio's silver saints
round the altar of San Giovanni will not some day vanish from the eyes
of the faithful to be worshipped more devoutly in the form of coin."

"The Frate is preparing us for that already," said Tornabuoni.  "He is
telling the people that God will not have silver crucifixes and starving
stomachs; and that the church is best adorned with the gems of holiness
and the fine gold of brotherly love."

"A very useful doctrine of war-finance, as many a Condottiere has
found," said Bernardo Rucellai, drily.  "But politics come on after the
confetti, Lorenzo, when we can drink wine enough to wash them down; they
are too solid to be taken with roast and boiled."

"Yes, indeed," said Niccolo Ridolfi.  "Our Luigi Pulci would have said
this delicate boiled kid must be eaten with an impartial mind.  I
remember one day at Careggi, when Luigi was in his rattling vein, he was
maintaining that nothing perverted the palate like opinion.  `Opinion,'
said he, `corrupts the saliva--that's why men took to pepper.
Scepticism is the only philosophy that doesn't bring a taste in the
mouth.'  `Nay,' says poor Lorenzo de' Medici, `you must be out there,
Luigi.  Here is this untainted sceptic, Matteo Franco, who wants hotter
sauce than any of us.'  `Because he has a strong opinion of himself,'
flashes out Luigi, which is the original egg of all other opinion.  _He_
a sceptic?  He believes in the immortality of his own verses.  He is
such a logician as that preaching friar who described the pavement of
the bottomless pit.  Poor Luigi! his mind was like sharpest steel that
can touch nothing without cutting."

"And yet a very gentle-hearted creature," said Giannozzo Pucci.  "It
seemed to me his talk was a mere blowing of soap-bubbles.  What
dithyrambs he went into about eating and drinking! and yet he was as
temperate as a butterfly."

The light talk and the solid eatables were not soon at an end, for after
the roast and boiled meats came the indispensable capon and game, and,
crowning glory of a well-spread table, a peacock cooked according to the
receipt of Apicius for cooking partridges, namely, with the feathers on,
but not plucked afterwards, as that great authority ordered concerning
his partridges; on the contrary, so disposed on the dish that it might
look as much as possible like a live peacock taking its unboiled repose.
Great was the skill required in that confidential servant who was the
official carver, respectfully to turn the classical though insipid bird
on its back, and expose the plucked breast from which he was to dispense
a delicate slice to each of the honourable company, unless any one
should be of so independent a mind as to decline that expensive
toughness and prefer the vulgar digestibility of capon.

Hardly any one was so bold.  Tito quoted Horace and dispersed his slice
in small particles over his plate; Bernardo Rucellai made a learned
observation about the ancient price of peacocks' eggs, but did not
pretend to eat his slice; and Niccolo Ridolfi held a mouthful on his
fork while he told a favourite story of Luigi Pulci's, about a man of
Siena, who, wanting to give a splendid entertainment at moderate
expense, bought a wild goose, cut off its beak and webbed feet, and
boiled it in its feathers, to pass for a pea-hen.

In fact, very little peacock was eaten; but there was the satisfaction
of sitting at a table where peacock was served up in a remarkable
manner, and of knowing that such caprices were not within reach of any
but those who supped with the very wealthiest men.  And it would have
been rashness to speak slightingly of peacock's flesh, or any other
venerable institution, at a time when Fra Girolamo was teaching the
disturbing doctrine that it was not the duty of the rich to be luxurious
for the sake of the poor.

Meanwhile, in the chill obscurity that surrounded this centre of warmth,
and light, and savoury odours, the lonely disowned man was walking in
gradually narrowing circuits.  He paused among the trees, and looked in
at the windows, which made brilliant pictures against the gloom.  He
could hear the laughter; he could see Tito gesticulating with careless
grace, and hear his voice, now alone, now mingling in the merry
confusion of interlacing speeches.  Baldassarre's mind was highly
strung.  He was preparing himself for the moment when he could win his
entrance into this brilliant company; and he had a savage satisfaction
in the sight of Tito's easy gaiety, which seemed to be preparing the
unconscious victim for more effective torture.

But the men seated among the branching tapers and the flashing cups
could know nothing of the pale fierce face that watched them from
without.  The light can be a curtain as well as the darkness.

And the talk went on with more eagerness as it became less disconnected
and trivial.  The sense of citizenship was just then strongly forced
even on the most indifferent minds.  What the overmastering Fra Girolamo
was saying and prompting was really uppermost in the thoughts of every
one at table; and before the stewed fish was removed, and while the
favourite sweets were yet to come, his name rose to the surface of the
conversation, and, in spite of Rucellai's previous prohibition, the talk
again became political.  At first, while the servants remained present,
it was mere gossip: what had been done in the Palazzo on the first day's
voting for the Great Council; how hot-tempered and domineering Francesco
Valori was, as if he were to have everything his own way by right of his
austere virtue, and how it was clear to everybody who heard Soderini's
speeches in favour of the Great Council and also heard the Frate's
sermons, that they were both kneaded in the same trough.

"My opinion is," said Niccolo Ridolfi, "that the Frate has a longer head
for public matters than Soderini or any Piagnone among them: you may
depend on it that Soderini is his mouthpiece more than he is
Soderini's."

"No, Niccolo; there I differ from you," said Bernardo Ruccellai: "the
Frate has an acute mind, and readily sees what will serve his own ends;
but it is not likely that Pagolantonio Soderini, who has had long
experience of affairs, and has specially studied the Venetian Council,
should be much indebted to a monk for ideas on that subject.  No, no;
Soderini loads the cannon; though, I grant you, Fra Girolamo brings the
powder and lights the match.  He is master of the people, and the people
are getting master of us.  Ecco!"

"Well," said Lorenzo Tornabuoni, presently, when the room was clear of
servants, and nothing but wine was passing round, "whether Soderini is
indebted or not, _we_ are indebted to the Frate for the general amnesty
which has gone along with the scheme of the Council.  We might have done
without the fear of God and the reform of morals being passed by a
majority of black beans; but that excellent proposition, that our
Medicean heads should be allowed to remain comfortably on our shoulders,
and that we should not be obliged to hand over our property in fines,
has my warm approval, and it is my belief that nothing but the Frate's
predominance could have procured that for us.  And you may rely on it
that Fra Girolamo is as firm as a rock on that point of promoting peace.
I have had an interview with him."

There was a murmur of surprise and curiosity at the farther end of the
table; but Bernardo Rucellai simply nodded, as if he knew what
Tornabuoni had to say, and wished him to go on.

"Yes," proceeded Tornabuoni, "I have been favoured with an interview in
the Frate's own cell, which, let me tell you, is not a common favour;
for I have reason to believe that even Francesco Valori very seldom sees
him in private.  However, I think he saw me the more willingly because I
was not a ready-made follower, but had to be converted.  And, for my
part, I see clearly enough that the only safe and wise policy for us
Mediceans to pursue is to throw our strength into the scale of the
Frate's party.  We are not strong enough to make head on our own behalf;
and if the Frate and the popular party were upset, every one who hears
me knows perfectly well what other party would be uppermost just now:
Nerli, Alberti, Pazzi, and the rest--_Arrabbiati_, as somebody
christened them the other day--who, instead of giving us an amnesty,
would be inclined to fly at our throats like mad dogs, and not be
satisfied till they had banished half of us."

There were strong interjections of assent to this last sentence of
Tornabuoni's, as he paused and looked round a moment.

"A wise dissimulation," he went on, "is the only course for moderate
rational men in times of violent party feeling.  I need hardly tell this
company what are my real political attachments: I am not the only man
here who has strong personal ties to the banished family; but, apart
from any such ties, I agree with my more experienced friends, who are
allowing me to speak for them in their presence, that the only lasting
and peaceful state of things for Florence is the predominance of some
single family interest.  This theory of the Frate's, that we are to have
a popular government, in which every man is to strive only for the
general good, and know no party names, is a theory that may do for some
isle of Cristoforo Colombo's finding, but will never do for our fine old
quarrelsome Florence.  A change must come before long, and with patience
and caution we have every chance of determining the change in our
favour.  Meanwhile, the best thing we can do will be to keep the Frate's
flag flying, for if any other were to be hoisted just now it would be a
black flag for us."

"It's true," said Niccolo Ridolfi, in a curt decisive way.  "What you
say is true, Lorenzo.  For my own part, I am too old for anybody to
believe that I've changed my feathers.  And there are certain of us--our
old Bernardo del Nero for one--whom you would never persuade to borrow
another man's shield.  But we can lie still, like sleepy old dogs; and
it's clear enough that barking would be of no use just now.  As for this
psalm-singing party, who vote for nothing but the glory of God, and want
to make believe we can all love each other, and talk as if vice could be
swept out with a besom by the Magnificent Eight, their day will not be a
long one.  After all the talk of scholars, there are but two sorts of
government: one where men show their teeth at each other, and one where
men show their tongues and lick the feet of the strongest.  They'll get
their Great Council finally voted to-morrow--that's certain enough--and
they'll think they've found out a new plan of government; but as sure as
there's a human skin under every lucco in the Council, their new plan
will end like every other, in snarling or in licking.  That's my view of
things as a plain man.  Not that I consider it becoming in men of family
and following, who have got others depending on their constancy and on
their sticking to their colours, to go a-hunting with a fine net to
catch reasons in the air, like doctors of law.  I say frankly that, as
the head of my family, I shall be true to my old alliances; and I have
never yet seen any chalk-mark on political reasons to tell me which is
true and which is false.  My friend Bernardo Rucellai here is a man of
reasons, I know, and I have no objection to anybody's finding fine-spun
reasons for me, so that they don't interfere with my actions as a man of
family who has faith to keep with his connections."

"If that is an appeal to me, Niccolo," said Bernardo Rucellai, with a
formal dignity, in amusing contrast with Ridolfi's curt and pithy ease,
"I may take this opportunity of saying, that while my wishes are partly
determined by long-standing personal relations, I cannot enter into any
positive schemes with persons over whose actions I have no control.  I
myself might be content with a restoration of the old order of things;
but with modifications--with important modifications.  And the one point
on which I wish to declare my concurrence with Lorenzo Tornabuoni is,
that the best policy to be pursued by our friends is, to throw the
weight of their interest into the scale of the popular party.  For
myself, I condescend to no dissimulation; nor do I at present see the
party or the scheme that commands my full assent.  In all alike there is
crudity and confusion of ideas, and of all the twenty men who are my
colleagues in the present crisis, there is not one with whom I do not
find myself in wide disagreement."

Niccolo Ridolfi shrugged his shoulders, and left it to some one else to
take up the ball.  As the wine went round the talk became more and more
frank and lively, and the desire of several at once to be the chief
speaker, as usual caused the company to break up into small knots of two
and three.

It was a result which had been foreseen by Lorenzo Tornabuoni and
Giannozzo Pucci, and they were among the first to turn aside from the
highroad of general talk and enter into a special conversation with
Tito, who sat between them; gradually pushing away their seats, and
turning their backs on the table and wine.

"In truth, Melema," Tornabuoni was saying at this stage, laying one
hose-clad leg across the knee of the other, and caressing his ankle, "I
know of no man in Florence who can serve our party better than you.  You
see what most of our friends are: men who can no more hide their
prejudices than a dog can hide the natural tone of his bark, or eke men
whose political ties are so notorious, that they must always be objects
of suspicion.  Giannozzo here, and I, I flatter myself, are able to
overcome that suspicion; we have that power of concealment and finesse,
without which a rational cultivated man, instead of having any
prerogative, is really at a disadvantage compared with a wild bull or a
savage.  But, except yourself, I know of no one else on whom we could
rely for the necessary discretion."

"Yes," said Giannozzo Pucci, laying his hand on Tito's shoulder, "the
fact is, Tito mio, you can help us better than if you were Ulysses
himself, for I am convinced that Ulysses often made himself
disagreeable.  To manage men one ought to have a sharp mind in a velvet
sheath.  And there is not a soul in Florence who could undertake a
business like this journey to Rome, for example, with the same safety
that you can.  There is your scholarship, which may always be a pretext
for such journeys; and what is better, there is your talent, which it
would be harder to match than your scholarship.  Niccolo Macchiavelli
might have done for us if he had been on our side, but hardly so well.
He is too much bitten with notions, and has not your power of
fascination.  All the worse for him.  He has lost a great chance in
life, and you have got it."

"Yes," said Tornabuoni, lowering his voice in a significant manner, "you
have only to play your game well, Melema, and the future belongs to you.
For the Medici, you may rely upon it, will keep a foot in Rome as well
as in Florence, and the time may not be far-off when they will be able
to make a finer career for their adherents even than they did in old
days.  Why shouldn't you take orders some day?  There's a cardinal's hat
at the end of that road, and you would not be the first Greek who has
worn that ornament."

Tito laughed gaily.  He was too acute not to measure Tornabuoni's
exaggerated flattery, but still the flattery had a pleasant flavour.

"My joints are not so stiff yet," he said, "that I can't be induced to
run without such a high prize as that.  I think the income of an abbey
or two held `in commendam,' without the trouble of getting my head
shaved, would satisfy me at present."

"I was not joking," said Tornabuoni, with grave suavity; "I think a
scholar would always be the better off for taking orders.  But we'll
talk of that another time.  One of the objects to be first borne in
mind, is that you should win the confidence of the men who hang about
San Marco; that is what Giannozzo and I shall do, but you may carry it
farther than we can, because you are less observed.  In that way you can
get a thorough knowledge of their doings, and you will make a broader
screen for your agency on our side.  Nothing of course can be done
before you start for Rome, because this bit of business between Piero
de' Medici and the French nobles must be effected at once.  I mean when
you come back, of course; I need say no more.  I believe you could make
yourself the pet votary of San Marco, if you liked; but you are wise
enough to know that effective dissimulation is never immoderate."

"If it were not that an adhesion to the popular side is necessary to
your safety as an agent of our party, Tito mio," said Giannozzo Pucci,
who was more fraternal and less patronising in his manner than
Tornabuoni, "I could have wished your skill to have been employed in
another way, for which it is still better fitted.  But now we must look
out for some other man among us who will manage to get into the
confidence of our sworn enemies, the Arrabbiati; we need to know their
movements more than those of the Frate's party, who are strong enough to
play above-board.  Still, it would have been a difficult thing for you,
from your known relations with the Medici a little while back, and that
sort of kinship your wife has with Bernardo del Nero.  We must find a
man who has no distinguished connections, and who has not yet taken any
side."

Tito was pushing his hair backward automatically, as his manner was, and
looking straight at Pucci with a scarcely perceptible smile on his lip.

"No need to look out for any one else," he said, promptly.  "I can
manage the whole business with perfect ease.  I will engage to make
myself the special confidant of that thick-headed Dolfo Spini, and know
his projects before he knows them himself."

Tito seldom spoke so confidently of his own powers, but he was in a
state of exaltation at the sudden opening of a new path before him,
where fortune seemed to have hung higher prizes than any he had thought
of hitherto.  Hitherto he had seen success only in the form of favour;
it now flashed on him in the shape of power--of such power as is
possible to talent without traditional ties, and without beliefs.  Each
party that thought of him as a tool might become dependent on him.  His
position as an alien, his indifference to the ideas or prejudices of the
men amongst whom he moved, were suddenly transformed into advantages; he
became newly conscious of his own adroitness in the presence of a game
that he was called on to play.  And all the motives which might have
made Tito shrink from the triple deceit that came before him as a
tempting game, had been slowly strangled in him by the successive
falsities of his life.

Our lives make a moral tradition for our individual selves, as the life
of mankind at large makes a moral tradition for the race; and to have
once acted nobly seems a reason why we should always be noble.  But Tito
was feeling the effect of an opposite tradition: he had won no memories
of self-conquest and perfect faithfulness from which he could have a
sense of falling.

The triple colloquy went on with growing spirit till it was interrupted
by a call from the table.  Probably the movement came from the listeners
in the party, who were afraid lest the talkers should tire themselves.
At all events it was agreed that there had been enough of gravity, and
Rucellai had just ordered new flasks of Montepulciano.

"How many minstrels are there among us?" he said, when there had been a
general rallying round the table.  "Melema, I think you are the chief:
Matteo will give you the lute."

"Ah, yes!" said Giannozzo Pucci, "lead the last chorus from Poliziano's
`Orfeo,' that you have found such an excellent measure for, and we will
all fall in:--

  "`Ciascum segua, o Bacco, te:
  Bacco, Bacco, evoe, evoe!'"

The servant put the lute into Tito's hands, and then said something in
an undertone to his master.  A little subdued questioning and answering
went on between them, while Tito touched the lute in a preluding way to
the strain of the chorus, and there was a confusion of speech and
musical humming all round the table.  Bernardo Rucellai had said, "Wait
a moment, Melema;" but the words had been unheard by Tito, who was
leaning towards Pucci, and singing low to him the phrases of the
Maenad-chorus.  He noticed nothing until the buzz round the table
suddenly ceased, and the notes of his own voice, with its soft low-toned
triumph, "Evoe, evoe!" fell in startling isolation.

It was a strange moment.  Baldassarre had moved round the table till he
was opposite Tito, and as the hum ceased there might be seen for an
instant Baldassarre's fierce dark eyes bent on Tito's bright smiling
unconsciousness, while the low notes of triumph dropped from his lips
into the silence.

Tito looked up with a slight start, and his lips turned pale, but he
seemed hardly more moved than Giannozzo Pucci, who had looked up at the
same moment--or even than several others round the table; for that
sallow deep-lined face with the hatred in its eyes seemed a terrible
apparition across the wax-lit ease and gaiety.  And Tito quickly
recovered some self-command.  "A mad old man--he looks like it--he _is_
mad!" was the instantaneous thought that brought some courage with it;
for he could conjecture no inward change in Baldassarre since they had
met before.  He just let his eyes fall and laid the lute on the table
with apparent ease; but his fingers pinched the neck of the lute hard
while he governed his head and his glance sufficiently to look with an
air of quiet appeal towards Bernardo Rucellai, who said at once--

"Good man, what is your business?  What is the important declaration
that you have to make?"

"Messer Bernardo Rucellai, I wish you and your honourable friends to
know in what sort of company you are sitting.  There is a traitor among
you."

There was a general movement of alarm.  Every one present, except Tito,
thought of political danger and not of private injury.

Baldassarre began to speak as if he were thoroughly assured of what he
had to say; but, in spite of his long preparation for this moment, there
was the tremor of overmastering excitement in his voice.  His passion
shook him.  He went on, but he did not say what he had meant to say.  As
he fixed his eyes on Tito again the passionate words were like blows--
they defied premeditation.

"There is a man among you who is a scoundrel, a liar, a robber.  I was a
father to him.  I took him from beggary when he was a child.  I reared
him, I cherished him, I taught him, I made him a scholar.  My head has
lain hard that his might have a pillow.  And he left me in slavery; he
sold the gems that were mine, and when I came again, he denied me."

The last words had been uttered with almost convulsed agitation, and
Baldassarre paused, trembling.  All glances were turned on Tito, who was
now looking straight at Baldassarre.  It was a moment of desperation
that annihilated all feeling in him, except the determination to risk
anything for the chance of escape.  And he gathered confidence from the
agitation by which Baldassarre was evidently shaken.  He had ceased to
pinch the neck of the lute, and had thrust his thumbs into his belt,
while his lips had begun to assume a slight curl.  He had never yet done
an act of murderous cruelty even to the smallest animal that could utter
a cry, but at that moment he would have been capable of treading the
breath from a smiling child for the sake of his own safety.

"What does this mean, Melema?" said Bernardo Rucellai, in a tone of
cautious surprise.  He, as well as the rest of the company, felt
relieved that the tenor of the accusation was not political.

"Messer Bernardo," said Tito, "I believe this man is mad.  I did not
recognise him the first time he encountered me in Florence, but I know
now that he is the servant who years ago accompanied me and my adoptive
father to Greece, and was dismissed on account of misdemeanours.  His
name is Jacopo di Nola.  Even at that time I believe his mind was
unhinged, for, without any reason, he had conceived a strange hatred
towards me; and now I am convinced that he is labouring under a mania
which causes him to mistake his identity.  He has already attempted my
life since he has been in Florence; and I am in constant danger from
him.  But he is an object of pity rather than of indignation.  It is too
certain that my father is dead.  You have only my word for it; but I
must leave it to your judgment how far it is probable that a man of
intellect and learning would have been lurking about in dark corners for
the last month with the purpose of assassinating me; or how far it is
probable that, if this man were my second father, I could have any
motive for denying him.  That story about my being rescued from beggary
is the vision of a diseased brain.  But it will be a satisfaction to me
at least if you will demand from him proofs of his identity, lest any
malignant person should choose to make this mad impeachment a reproach
to me."

Tito had felt more and more confidence as he went on; the lie was not so
difficult when it was once begun; and as the words fell easily from his
lips, they gave him a sense of power such as men feel when they have
begun a muscular feat successfully.  In this way he acquired boldness
enough to end with a challenge for proofs.

Baldassarre, while he had been walking in the gardens and afterwards
waiting in an outer room of the pavilion with the servants, had been
making anew the digest of the evidence he would bring to prove his
identity and Tito's baseness, recalling the description and history of
his gems, and assuring himself by rapid mental glances that he could
attest his learning and his travels.  It might be partly owing to this
nervous strain that the new shock of rage he felt as Tito's lie fell on
his ears brought a strange bodily effect with it: a cold stream seemed
to rush over him, and the last words of the speech seemed to be drowned
by ringing chimes.  Thought gave way to a dizzy horror, as if the earth
were slipping away from under him.  Every one in the room was looking at
him as Tito ended, and saw that the eyes which had had such fierce
intensity only a few minutes before had now a vague fear in them.  He
clutched the back of a seat, and was silent.

Hardly any evidence could have been more in favour of Tito's assertion.

"Surely I have seen this man before, somewhere," said Tornabuoni.

"Certainly you have," said Tito, readily, in a low tone.  "He is the
escaped prisoner who clutched me on the steps of the Duomo.  I did not
recognise him then; he looks now more as he used to do, except that he
has a more unmistakable air of mad imbecility."

"I cast no doubt on your word, Melema," said Bernardo Rucellai, with
cautious gravity, "but you are right to desire some positive test of the
fact."  Then turning to Baldassarre, he said, "If you are the person you
claim to be, you can doubtless give some description of the gems which
were your property.  I myself was the purchaser of more than one gem
from Messer Tito--the chief rings, I believe, in his collection.  One of
them is a fine sard, engraved with a subject from Homer.  If, as you
allege, you are a scholar, and the rightful owner of that ring, you can
doubtless turn to the noted passage in Homer from which that subject is
taken.  Do you accept this test, Melema? or have you anything to allege
against its validity?  The Jacopo you speak of, was he a scholar?"

It was a fearful crisis for Tito.  If he said "Yes," his quick mind told
him that he would shake the credibility of his story: if he said "No,"
he risked everything on the uncertain extent of Baldassarre's
imbecility.  But there was no noticeable pause before he said, "No.  I
accept the test."

There was a dead silence while Rucellai moved towards the recess where
the books were, and came back with the fine Florentine Homer in his
hand.  Baldassarre, when he was addressed, had turned his head towards
the speaker, and Rucellai believed that he had understood him.  But he
chose to repeat what he had said, that there might be no mistake as to
the test.

"The ring I possess," he said, "is a fine sard, engraved with a subject
from Homer.  There was no other at all resembling it in Messer Tito's
collection.  Will you turn to the passage in Homer from which that
subject is taken?  Seat yourself here," he added, laying the book on the
table, and pointing to his own seat while he stood beside it.

Baldassarre had so far recovered from the first confused horror produced
by the sensation of rushing coldness and chiming din in the ears as to
be partly aware of what was said to him: he was aware that something was
being demanded from him to prove his identity, but he formed no distinct
idea of the details.  The sight of the book recalled the habitual
longing and faint hope that he could read and understand, and he moved
towards the chair immediately.

The book was open before him, and he bent his head a little towards it,
while everybody watched him eagerly.  He turned no leaf.  His eyes
wandered over the pages that lay before him, and then fixed on them a
straining gaze.  This lasted for two or three minutes in dead silence.
Then he lifted his hands to each side of his head, and said, in a low
tone of despair, "Lost, lost!"

There was something so piteous in the wandering look and the low cry,
that while they confirmed the belief in his madness they raised
compassion.  Nay, so distinct sometimes is the working of a double
consciousness within us, that Tito himself, while he triumphed in the
apparent verification of his lie, wished that he had never made the lie
necessary to himself--wished he had recognised his father on the steps--
wished he had gone to seek him--wished everything had been different.
But he had borrowed from the terrible usurer Falsehood, and the loan had
mounted and mounted with the years, till he belonged to the usurer, body
and soul.

The compassion excited in all the witnesses was not without its danger
to Tito; for conjecture is constantly guided by feeling, and more than
one person suddenly conceived that this man might have been a scholar
and have lost his faculties.  On the other hand, they had not present to
their minds the motives which could have led Tito to the denial of his
benefactor, and having no ill-will towards him, it would have been
difficult to them to believe that he had been uttering the basest of
lies.  And the originally common type of Baldassarre's person, coarsened
by years of hardship, told as a confirmation of Tito's lie.  If
Baldassarre, to begin with, could have uttered precisely the words he
had premeditated, there might have been something in the form of his
accusation which would have given it the stamp not only of true
experience but of mental refinement.  But there had been no such
testimony in his impulsive agitated words: and there seemed the very
opposite testimony in the rugged face and the coarse hands that trembled
beside it, standing out in strong contrast in the midst of that
velvet-clad, fair-handed company.

His next movement, while he was being watched in silence, told against
him too.  He took his hands from his head, and felt for something under
his tunic.  Every one guessed what that movement meant--guessed that
there was a weapon at his side.  Glances were interchanged; and Bernardo
Rucellai said, in a quiet tone, touching Baldassarre's shoulder--

"My friend, this is an important business of yours.  You shall have all
justice.  Follow me into a private room."

Baldassarre was still in that half-stunned state in which he was
susceptible to any prompting, in the same way as an insect that forms no
conception of what the prompting leads to.  He rose from his seat, and
followed Rucellai out of the room.

In two or three minutes Rucellai came back again, and said--

"He is safe under lock and key.  Piero Pitti, you are one of the
Magnificent Eight, what do you think of our sending Matteo to the palace
for a couple of sbirri, who may escort him to the Stinche?  [The largest
prison in Florence.]  If there is any danger in him, as I think there
is, he will be safe there; and we can inquire about him to-morrow."

Pitti assented, and the order was given.

"He is certainly an ill-looking fellow," said Tornabuoni.  "And you say
he has attempted your life already, Melema?"

And the talk turned on the various forms of madness, and the fierceness
of the southern blood.  If the seeds of conjecture unfavourable to Tito
had been planted in the mind of any one present, they were hardly strong
enough to grow without the aid of much daylight and ill-will.  The
common-looking, wild-eyed old man, clad in serge, might have won belief
without very strong evidence, if he had accused a man who was envied and
disliked.  As it was, the only congruous and probable view of the case
seemed to be the one that sent the unpleasant accuser safely out of
sight, and left the pleasant serviceable Tito just where he was before.

The subject gradually floated away, and gave place to others, till a
heavy tramp, and something like the struggling of a man who was being
dragged away, were heard outside.  The sounds soon died out, and the
interruption seemed to make the last hour's conviviality more resolute
and vigorous.  Every one was willing to forget a disagreeable incident.

Tito's heart was palpitating, and the wine tasted no better to him than
if it had been blood.

To-night he had paid a heavier price than ever to make himself safe.  He
did not like the price, and yet it was inevitable that he should be glad
of the purchase.

And after all he led the chorus.  He was in a state of excitement in
which oppressive sensations, and the wretched consciousness of something
hateful but irrevocable, were mingled with a feeling of triumph which
seemed to assert itself as the feeling that would subsist and be master
of the morrow.

And it _was_ master.  For on the morrow, as we saw, when he was about to
start on his mission to Rome, he had the air of a man well satisfied
with the world.



CHAPTER FORTY.

AN ARRESTING VOICE.

When Romola sat down on the stone under the cypress, all things
conspired to give her the sense of freedom and solitude: her escape from
the accustomed walls and streets; the widening distance from her
husband, who was by this time riding towards Siena, while every hour
would take her farther on the opposite way; the morning stillness; the
great dip of ground on the roadside making a gulf between her and the
sombre calm of the mountains.  For the first time in her life she felt
alone in the presence of the earth and sky, with no human presence
interposing and making a law for her.

Suddenly a voice close to her said--

"You are Romola de' Bardi, the wife of Tito Melema."

She knew the voice: it had vibrated through her more than once before;
and because she knew it, she did not turn round or look up.  She sat
shaken by awe, and yet inwardly rebelling against the awe.  It was one
of those black-skirted monks who was daring to speak to her, and
interfere with her privacy: that was all.  And yet she was shaken, as if
that destiny which men thought of as a sceptred deity had come to her,
and grasped her with fingers of flesh.

"You are fleeing from Florence in disguise.  I have a command from God
to stop you.  You are not permitted to flee."

Romola's anger at the intrusion mounted higher at these imperative
words.  She would not turn round to look at the speaker, whose examining
gaze she resented.  Sitting quite motionless, she said--

"What right have you to speak to me, or to hinder me?"

"The right of a messenger.  You have put on a religious garb, and you
have no religious purpose.  You have sought the garb as a disguise.  But
you were not suffered to pass me without being discerned.  It was
declared to me who you were: it is declared to me that you are seeking
to escape from the lot God has laid upon you.  You wish your true name
and your true place in life to be hidden, that you may choose for
yourself a new name and a new place, and have no rule but your own will.
And I have a command to call you back.  My daughter, you must return to
your place."

Romola's mind rose in stronger rebellion with every sentence.  She was
the more determined not to show any sign of submission, because the
consciousness of being inwardly shaken made her dread lest she should
fall into irresolution.  She spoke with more irritation than before.

"I will not return.  I acknowledge no right of priests and monks to
interfere with my actions.  You have no power over me."

"I know--I know you have been brought up in scorn of obedience.  But it
is not the poor monk who claims to interfere with you: it is the truth
that commands you.  And you cannot escape it.  Either you must obey it,
and it will lead you; or you must disobey it, and it will hang on you
with the weight of a chain which you will drag for ever.  But you will
obey it, my daughter.  Your old servant will return to you with the
mules; my companion is gone to fetch him; and you will go back to
Florence."

She started up with anger in her eyes, and faced the speaker.  It was
Fra Girolamo: she knew that well enough before.  She was nearly as tall
as he was, and their faces were almost on a level.  She had started up
with defiant words ready to burst from her lips, but they fell back
again without utterance.  She had met Fra Girolamo's calm glance, and
the impression from it was so new to her, that her anger sank ashamed as
something irrelevant.

There was nothing transcendent in Savonarola's face.  It was not
beautiful.  It was strong-featured, and owed all its refinement to
habits of mind and rigid discipline of the body.  The source of the
impression his glance produced on Romola was the sense it conveyed to
her of interest in her and care for her apart from any personal feeling.
It was the first time she had encountered a gaze in which simple human
fellowship expressed itself as a strongly-felt bond.  Such a glance is
half the vocation of the priest or spiritual guide of men, and Romola
felt it impossible again to question his authority to speak to her.  She
stood silent, looking at him.  And he spoke again.

"You assert your freedom proudly, my daughter.  But who is so base as
the debtor that thinks himself free?"

There was a sting in those words, and Romola's countenance changed as if
a subtle pale flash had gone over it.

"And you are flying from your debts: the debt of a Florentine woman; the
debt of a wife.  You are turning your back on the lot that has been
appointed for you--you are going to choose another.  But can man or
woman choose duties?  No more than they can choose their birthplace or
their father and mother.  My daughter, you are fleeing from the presence
of God into the wilderness."

As the anger melted from Romola's mind, it had given place to a new
presentiment of the strength there might be in submission, if this man,
at whom she was beginning to look with a vague reverence, had some valid
law to show her.  But no--it was impossible; he could not know what
determined her.  Yet she could not again simply refuse to be guided; she
was constrained to plead; and in her new need to be reverent while she
resisted, the title which she had never given him before came to her
lips without forethought, "My father, you cannot know the reasons which
compel me to go.  None can know them but myself.  None can judge for me.
I have been driven by great sorrow.  I am resolved to go."

"I know enough, my daughter: my mind has been so far illuminated
concerning you, that I know enough.  You are not happy in your married
life; but I am not a confessor, and I seek to know nothing that should
be reserved for the seal of confession.  I have a divine warrant to stop
you, which does not depend on such knowledge.  You were warned by a
message from heaven, delivered in my presence--you were warned before
marriage, when you might still have lawfully chosen to be free from the
marriage-bond.  But you chose the bond; and in wilfully breaking it--I
speak to you as a pagan, if the holy mystery of matrimony is not sacred
to you--you are breaking a pledge.  Of what wrongs will you complain, my
daughter, when you yourself are committing one of the greatest wrongs a
woman and a citizen can be guilty of--withdrawing in secrecy and
disguise from a pledge which you have given in the face of God and your
fellow-men?  Of what wrongs will you complain, when you yourself are
breaking the simplest law that lies at the foundation of the trust which
binds man to man--faithfulness to the spoken word?  This, then, is the
wisdom you have gained by scorning the mysteries of the Church?--not to
see the bare duty of integrity, where the Church would have taught you
to see, not integrity only, but religion."

The blood had rushed to Romola's face, and she shrank as if she had been
stricken.  "I would not have put on a disguise," she began; but she
could not go on,--she was too much shaken by the suggestion in the
Frate's words of a possible affinity between her own conduct and Tito's.

"And to break that pledge you fly from Florence: Florence, where there
are the only men and women in the world to whom you owe the debt of a
fellow-citizen."

"I should never have quitted Florence," said Romola, tremulously, "as
long as there was any hope of my fulfilling a duty to my father there."

"And do you own no tie but that of a child to her father in the flesh?
Your life has been spent in blindness, my daughter.  You have lived with
those who sit on a hill aloof, and look down on the life of their
fellow-men.  I know their vain discourse.  It is of what has been in the
times which they fill with their own fancied wisdom, while they scorn
God's work in the present.  And doubtless you were taught how there were
pagan women who felt what it was to live for the Republic; yet you have
never felt that you, a Florentine woman, should live for Florence.  If
your own people are wearing a yoke, will you slip from under it, instead
of struggling with them to lighten it?  There is hunger and misery in
our streets, yet you say, `I care not; I have my own sorrows; I will go
away, if peradventure I can ease them.'  The servants of God are
struggling after a law of justice, peace, and charity, that the hundred
thousand citizens among whom you were born may be governed righteously;
but you think no more of this than if you were a bird, that may spread
its wings and fly whither it will in search of food to its liking.  And
yet you have scorned the teaching of the Church, my daughter.  As if
you, a wilful wanderer, following your own blind choice, were not below
the humblest Florentine woman who stretches forth her hands with her own
people, and craves a blessing for them; and feels a close sisterhood
with the neighbour who kneels beside her and is not of her own blood;
and thinks of the mighty purpose that God has for Florence; and waits
and endures because the promised work is great, and she feels herself
little."

"I was not going away to ease and self-indulgence," said Romola, raising
her head again, with a prompting to vindicate herself.  "I was going
away to hardship.  I expect no joy: it is gone from my life."

"You are seeking your own will, my daughter.  You are seeking some good
other than the law you are bound to obey.  But how will you find good?
It is not a thing of choice: it is a river that flows from the foot of
the Invisible Throne, and flows by the path of obedience.  I say again,
man cannot choose his duties.  You may choose to forsake your duties,
and choose not to have the sorrow they bring.  But you will go forth;
and what will you find, my daughter?  Sorrow without duty--bitter herbs,
and no bread with them."

"But if you knew," said Romola, clasping her hands and pressing them
tight, as she looked pleadingly at Fra Girolamo; "if you knew what it
was to me--how impossible it seemed to me to bear it."

"My daughter," he said, pointing to the cord round Romola's neck, "you
carry something within your mantle; draw it forth, and look at it."

Romola gave a slight start, but her impulse now was to do just what
Savonarola told her.  Her self-doubt was grappled by a stronger will and
a stronger conviction than her own.  She drew forth the crucifix.  Still
pointing towards it, he said--

"There, my daughter, is the image of a Supreme Offering, made by Supreme
Love, because the need of man was great."

He paused, and she held the crucifix trembling--trembling under a sudden
impression of the wide distance between her present and her past self.
What a length of road she had travelled through since she first took
that crucifix from the Frate's hands!  Had life as many secrets before
her still as it had for her then, in her young blindness?  It was a
thought that helped all other subduing influences; and at the sound of
Fra Girolamo's voice again, Romola, with a quick involuntary movement,
pressed the crucifix against her mantle and looked at him with more
submission than before.

"Conform your life to that image, my daughter; make your sorrow an
offering: and when the fire of Divine charity burns within you, and you
behold the need of your fellow-men by the light of that flame, you will
not call your offering great.  You have carried yourself proudly, as one
who held herself not of common blood or of common thoughts; but you have
been as one unborn to the true life of man.  What! you say your love for
your father no longer tells you to stay in Florence?  Then, since that
tie is snapped, you are without a law, without religion: you are no
better than a beast of the field when she is robbed of her young.  If
the yearning of a fleshly love is gone, you are without love, without
obligation.  See, then, my daughter, how you are below the life of the
believer who worships that image of the Supreme Offering, and feels the
glow of a common life with the lost multitude for whom that offering was
made, and beholds the history of the world as the history of a great
redemption in which he is himself a fellow-worker, in his own place and
among his own people!  If you held that faith, my beloved daughter, you
would not be a wanderer flying from suffering, and blindly seeking the
good of a freedom which is lawlessness.  You would feel that Florence
was the home of your soul as well as your birthplace, because you would
see the work that was given you to do there.  If you forsake your place,
who will fill it?  You ought to be in your place now, helping in the
great work by which God will purify Florence, and raise it to be the
guide of the nations.  What! the earth is full of iniquity--full of
groans--the light is still struggling with a mighty darkness, and you
say, `I cannot bear my bonds; I will burst them asunder; I will go where
no man claims me'?  My daughter, every bond of your life is a debt: the
right lies in the payment of that debt; it can lie nowhere else.  In
vain will you wander over the earth; you will be wandering for ever away
from the right."

Romola was inwardly struggling with strong forces: that immense personal
influence of Savonarola, which came from the energy of his emotions and
beliefs: and her consciousness, surmounting all prejudice, that his
words implied a higher law than any she had yet obeyed.  But the
resisting thoughts were not yet overborne.

"How, then, could Dino be right?  He broke ties.  He forsook his place."

"That was a special vocation.  He was constrained to depart, else he
could not have attained the higher life.  It would have been stifled
within him."

"And I too," said Romola, raising her hands to her brow, and speaking in
a tone of anguish, as if she were being dragged to some torture.
"Father, you may be wrong."

"Ask your conscience, my daughter.  You have no vocation such as your
brother had.  You are a wife.  You seek to break your ties in self-will
and anger, not because the higher life calls upon you to renounce them.
The higher life begins for us, my daughter, when we renounce our own
will to bow before a Divine law.  That seems hard to you.  It is the
portal of wisdom, and freedom, and blessedness.  And the symbol of it
hangs before you.  That wisdom is the religion of the Cross.  And you
stand aloof from it: you are a pagan; you have been taught to say, `I am
as the wise men who lived before the time when the Jew of Nazareth was
crucified.'  And that is your wisdom!  To be as the dead whose eyes are
closed, and whose ear is deaf to the work of God that has been since
their time.  What has your dead wisdom done for you, my daughter?  It
has left you without a heart for the neighbours among whom you dwell,
without care for the great work by which Florence is to be regenerated
and the world made holy; it has left you without a share in the Divine
life which quenches the sense of suffering Self in the ardours of an
ever-growing love.  And now, when the sword has pierced your soul, you
say, `I will go away; I cannot bear my sorrow.'  And you think nothing
of the sorrow and the wrong that are within the walls of the city where
you dwell: you would leave your place empty, when it ought to be filled
with your pity and your labour.  If there is wickedness in the streets,
your steps should shine with the light of purity; if there is a cry of
anguish, you, my daughter, because you know the meaning of the cry,
should be there to still it.  My beloved daughter, sorrow has come to
teach you a new worship: the sign of it hangs before you."

Romola's mind was still torn by conflict.  She foresaw that she should
obey Savonarola and go back: his words had come to her as if they were
an interpretation of that revulsion from self-satisfied ease, and of
that new fellowship with suffering, which had already been awakened in
her.  His arresting voice had brought a new condition into her life,
which made it seem impossible to her that she could go on her way as if
she had not heard it; yet she shrank as one who sees the path she must
take, but sees, too, that the hot lava lies there.  And the instinctive
shrinking from a return to her husband brought doubts.  She turned away
her eyes from Fra Girolamo, and stood for a minute or two with her hands
hanging clasped before her, like a statue.  At last she spoke, as if the
words were being wrung from her, still looking on the ground.

"My husband... he is not... my love is gone!"

"My daughter, there is the bond of a higher love.  Marriage is not
carnal only, made for selfish delight.  See what that thought leads you
to!  It leads you to wander away in a false garb from all the
obligations of your place and name.  That would not have been, if you
had learned that it is a sacramental vow, from which none but God can
release you.  My daughter, your life is not as a grain of sand, to be
blown by the winds; it is a thing of flesh and blood, that dies if it be
sundered.  Your husband is not a malefactor?"

Romola started.  "Heaven forbid!  No; I accuse him of nothing."

"I did not suppose he was a malefactor.  I meant, that if he were a
malefactor, your place would be in the prison beside him.  My daughter,
if the cross comes to you as a wife, you must carry it as a wife.  You
may say, `I will forsake my husband,' but you cannot cease to be a
wife."

"Yet if--oh, how could I bear--" Romola had involuntarily begun to say
something which she sought to banish from her mind again.

"Make your marriage-sorrows an offering too, my daughter: an offering to
the great work by which sin and sorrow are being made to cease.  The end
is sure, and is already beginning.  Here in Florence it is beginning,
and the eyes of faith behold it.  And it may be our blessedness to die
for it: to die daily by the crucifixion of our selfish will--to die at
last by laying our bodies on the altar.  My daughter, you are a child of
Florence; fulfil the duties of that great inheritance.  Live for
Florence--for your own people, whom God is preparing to bless the earth.
Bear the anguish and the smart.  The iron is sharp--I know, I know--it
rends the tender flesh.  The draught is bitterness on the lips.  But
there is rapture in the cup--there is the vision which makes all life
below it dross for ever.  Come, my daughter, come back to your place!"

While Savonarola spoke with growing intensity, his arms tightly folded
before him still, as they had been from the first, but his face alight
as from an inward flame, Romola felt herself surrounded and possessed by
the glow of his passionate faith.  The chill doubts all melted away; she
was subdued by the sense of something unspeakably great to which she was
being called by a strong being who roused a new strength within herself.
In a voice that was like a low, prayerful cry, she said--

"Father, I will be guided.  Teach me!  I will go back."

Almost unconsciously she sank on her knees.  Savonarola stretched out
his hands over her; but feeling would no longer pass through the channel
of speech, and he was silent.



CHAPTER FORTY ONE.

COMING BACK.

"Rise, my daughter," said Fra Girolamo at last.  "Your servant is
waiting not far off with the mules.  It is time that I should go onward
to Florence."

Romola arose from her knees.  That silent attitude had been a sort of
sacrament to her, confirming the state of yearning passivity on which
she had newly entered.  By the one act of renouncing her resolve to quit
her husband, her will seemed so utterly bruised that she felt the need
of direction even in small things.  She lifted up the edge of her cowl,
and saw Maso and the second Dominican standing with their backs towards
her on the edge of the hill about ten yards from her; but she looked at
Savonarola again without speaking, as if the order to Maso to turn back
must come from him and not from her.

"I will go and call them," he said, answering her glance of appeal; "and
I will recommend you, my daughter, to the Brother who is with me.  You
desire to put yourself under guidance, and to learn that wisdom which
has been hitherto as foolishness to you.  A chief gate of that wisdom is
the sacrament of confession.  You will need a confessor, my daughter,
and I desire to put you under the care of Fra Salvestro, one of the
brethren of San Marco, in whom I most confide."

"I would rather have no guidance but yours, father," said Romola,
looking anxious.

"My daughter, I do not act as a confessor.  The vocation I have
withdraws me from offices that would force me into frequent contact with
the laity, and interfere with my special duties."

"Then shall I not be able to speak to you in private? if I waver, if--"
Romola broke off from rising agitation.  She felt a sudden alarm lest
her new strength in renunciation should vanish if the immediate personal
influence of Savonarola vanished.

"My daughter, if your soul has need of the word in private from my lips,
you will let me know it through Fra Salvestro, and I will see you in the
sacristy or in the choir of San Marco.  And I will not cease to watch
over you.  I will instruct my brother concerning you, that he may guide
you into that path of labour for the suffering and the hungry to which
you are called as a daughter of Florence in these times of hard need.  I
desire to behold you among the feebler and more ignorant sisters as the
apple-tree among the trees of the forest, so that your fairness and all
natural gifts may be but as a lamp through which the Divine light shines
the more purely.  I will go now and call your servant."

When Maso had been sent a little way in advance, Fra Salvestro came
forward, and Savonarola led Romola towards him.  She had beforehand felt
an inward shrinking from a new guide who was a total stranger to her:
but to have resisted Savonarola's advice would have been to assume an
attitude of independence at a moment when all her strength must be drawn
from the renunciation of independence.  And the whole bent of her mind
now was towards doing what was painful rather than what was easy.  She
bowed reverently to Fra Salvestro before looking directly at him; but
when she raised her head and saw him fully, her reluctance became a
palpitating doubt.  There are men whose presence infuses trust and
reverence; there are others to whom we have need to carry our trust and
reverence ready-made; and that difference flashed on Romola as she
ceased to have Savonarola before her, and saw in his stead Fra Salvestro
Maruffi.  It was not that there was anything manifestly repulsive in Fra
Salvestro's face and manner, any air of hypocrisy, any tinge of
coarseness; his face was handsomer than Fra Girolamo's, his person a
little taller.  He was the long-accepted confessor of many among the
chief personages in Florence, and had therefore had large experience as
a spiritual director.  But his face had the vacillating expression of a
mind unable to concentrate itself strongly in the channel of one great
emotion or belief--an expression which is fatal to influence over an
ardent nature like Romola's.  Such an expression is not the stamp of
insincerity; it is the stamp simply of a shallow soul, which will often
be found sincerely striving to fill a high vocation, sincerely composing
its countenance to the utterance of sublime formulas, but finding the
muscles twitch or relax in spite of belief, as prose insists on coming
instead of poetry to the man who has not the divine frenzy.  Fra
Salvestro had a peculiar liability to visions, dependent apparently on a
constitution given to somnambulism.  Savonarola believed in the
supernatural character of these visions, while Fra Salvestro himself had
originally resisted such an interpretation of them, and had even rebuked
Savonarola for his prophetic preaching: another proof, if one were
wanted, that the relative greatness of men is not to be gauged by their
tendency to disbelieve the superstitions of their age.  For of these two
there can be no question which was the great man and which the small.

The difference between them was measured very accurately by the change
in Romola's feeling as Fra Salvestro began to address her in words of
exhortation and encouragement.  After her first angry resistance of
Savonarola had passed away, she had lost all remembrance of the old
dread lest any influence should drag her within the circle of fanaticism
and sour monkish piety.  But now again, the chill breath of that dread
stole over her.  It could have no decisive effect against the impetus
her mind had just received; it was only like the closing of the grey
clouds over the sunrise, which made her returning path monotonous and
sombre.

And perhaps of all sombre paths that on which we go back after treading
it with a strong resolution is the one that most severely tests the
fervour of renunciation.  As they re-entered the city gates the light
snow-flakes fell about them; and as the grey sister walked hastily
homeward from the Piazza di San Marco, and trod the bridge again, and
turned in at the large door in the Via de' Bardi, her footsteps were
marked darkly on the thin carpet of snow, and her cowl fell laden and
damp about her face.

She went up to her room, threw off her serge, destroyed the parting
letters, replaced all her precious trifles, unbound her hair, and put on
her usual black dress.  Instead of taking a long exciting journey, she
was to sit down in her usual place.  The snow fell against the windows,
and she was alone.

She felt the dreariness, yet her courage was high, like that of a seeker
who has come on new signs of gold.  She was going to thread life by a
fresh clue.  She had thrown all the energy of her will into
renunciation.  The empty tabernacle remained locked, and she placed
Dino's crucifix outside it.

Nothing broke the outward monotony of her solitary home, till the night
came like a white ghost at the windows.  Yet it was the most memorable
Christmas-eve in her life to Romola, this of 1494.



PART THREE.



CHAPTER FORTY TWO.

ROMOLA IN HER PLACE.

It was the thirtieth of October 1496.  The sky that morning was clear
enough, and there was a pleasant autumnal breeze.  But the Florentines
just then thought very little about the land breezes: they were thinking
of the gales at sea, which seemed to be uniting with all other powers to
disprove the Frate's declaration that Heaven took special care of
Florence.

For those terrible gales had driven away from the coast of Leghorn
certain ships from Marseilles, freighted with soldiery and corn; and
Florence was in the direst need, first of food, and secondly of fighting
men.  Pale Famine was in her streets, and her territory was threatened
on all its borders.

For the French king, that new Charlemagne, who had entered Italy in
anticipatory triumph, and had conquered Naples without the least
trouble, had gone away again fifteen months ago, and was even, it was
feared, in his grief for the loss of a new-born son, losing the languid
intention of coming back again to redress grievances and set the Church
in order.  A league had been formed against him--a Holy League, with
Pope Borgia at its head--to "drive out the barbarians," who still
garrisoned the fortress of Naples.  That had a patriotic sound; but,
looked at more closely, the Holy League seemed very much like an
agreement among certain wolves to drive away all other wolves, and then
to see which among themselves could snatch the largest share of the
prey.  And there was a general disposition to regard Florence not as a
fellow-wolf, but rather as a desirable carcass.  Florence, therefore, of
all the chief Italian States, had alone declined to join the League,
adhering still to the French alliance.

She had declined at her peril.  At this moment Pisa, still righting
savagely for liberty, was being encouraged not only by strong forces
from Venice and Milan, but by the presence of the German Emperor
Maximilian, who had been invited by the League, and was joining the
Pisans with such troops as he had in the attempt to get possession of
Leghorn, while the coast was invested by Venetian and Genoese ships.
And if Leghorn should fall into the hands of the enemy, woe to Florence!
For if that one outlet towards the sea were closed, hedged in as she
was on the land by the bitter ill-will of the Pope and the jealousy of
smaller States, how could succours reach her?

The government of Florence had shown a great heart in this urgent need,
meeting losses and defeats with vigorous effort, raising fresh money,
raising fresh soldiers, but not neglecting the good old method of
Italian defence--conciliatory embassies.  And while the scarcity of food
was every day becoming greater, they had resolved, in opposition to old
precedent, not to shut out the starving country people, and the
mendicants driven from the gates of other cities, who came flocking to
Florence like birds from a land of snow.

These acts of a government in which the disciples of Savonarola made the
strongest element were not allowed to pass without criticism.  The
disaffected were plentiful, and they saw clearly that the government
took the worst course for the public welfare.  Florence ought to join
the League and make common cause with the other great Italian States,
instead of drawing down their hostility by a futile adherence to a
foreign ally.  Florence ought to take care of her own citizens, instead
of opening her gates to famine and pestilence in the shape of starving
contadini and alien mendicants.

Every day the distress became sharper: every day the murmurs became
louder.  And, to crown the difficulties of the government, for a month
and more--in obedience to a mandate from Rome--Fra Girolamo had ceased
to preach.  But on the arrival of the terrible news that the ships from
Marseilles had been driven back, and that no corn was coming, the need
for the voice that could infuse faith and patience into the people
became too imperative to be resisted.  In defiance of the Papal mandate
the Signoria requested Savonarola to preach.  And two days ago he had
mounted again the pulpit of the Duomo, and had told the people only to
wait and be steadfast and the divine help would certainly come.

It was a bold sermon: he consented to have his frock stripped off him
if, when Florence persevered in fulfilling the duties of piety and
citizenship, God did not come to her rescue.

Yet at present, on this morning of the thirtieth, there were no signs of
rescue.  Perhaps if the precious Tabernacle of the Madonna dell'
Impruneta were brought into Florence and carried in devout procession to
the Duomo, that Mother, rich in sorrows and therefore in mercy, would
plead for the suffering city?  For a century and a half there were
records how the Florentines, suffering from drought, or flood, or
famine, or pestilence, or the threat of wars, had fetched the potent
image within their walls, and had found deliverance.  And grateful
honour had been done to her and her ancient church of L'Impruneta; the
high house of Buondelmonti, patrons of the church, had to guard her
hidden image with bare sword; wealth had been poured out for prayers at
her shrine, for chantings, and chapels, and ever-burning lights; and
lands had been added, till there was much quarrelling for the privilege
of serving her.  The Florentines were deeply convinced of her
graciousness to them, so that the sight of her tabernacle within their
walls was like the parting of the cloud, and the proverb ran, that the
Florentines had a Madonna who would do what they pleased.

When were they in more need of her pleading pity than now?  And already,
the evening before, the tabernacle containing the miraculous hidden
image had been brought with high and reverend escort from L'Impruneta,
the privileged spot six miles beyond the gate of San Piero that looks
towards Rome, and had been deposited in the church of San Gaggio,
outside the gate, whence it was to be fetched in solemn procession by
all the fraternities, trades, and authorities of Florence.

But the Pitying Mother had not yet entered within the walls, and the
morning arose on unchanged misery and despondency.  Pestilence was
hovering in the track of famine.  Not only the hospitals were full, but
the courtyards of private houses had been turned into refuges and
infirmaries; and still there was unsheltered want.  And early this
morning, as usual, members of the various fraternities who made it part
of their duty to bury the unfriended dead, were bearing away the corpses
that had sunk by the wayside.  As usual, sweet womanly forms, with the
refined air and carriage of the well-born, but in the plainest garb,
were moving about the streets on their daily errands of tending the sick
and relieving the hungry.

One of these forms was easily distinguishable as Romola de' Bardi.  Clad
in the simplest garment of black serge, with a plain piece of black
drapery drawn over her head, so as to hide all her hair, except the
bands of gold that rippled apart on her brow, she was advancing from the
Ponte Vecchio towards the Por' Santa Maria--the street in a direct line
with the bridge--when she found her way obstructed by the pausing of a
bier, which was being carried by members of the company of San Jacopo
del Popolo, in search for the unburied dead.  The brethren at the head
of the bier were stooping to examine something, while a group of idle
workmen, with features paled and sharpened by hunger, were clustering
around and all talking at once.

"He's dead, I tell you!  Messer Domeneddio has loved him well enough to
take him."

"Ah, and it would be well for us all if we could have our legs stretched
out and go with our heads two or three _bracci_ foremost!  It's ill
standing upright with hunger to prop you."

"Well, well, he's an old fellow.  Death has got a poor bargain.  Life's
had the best of him."

"And no Florentine, ten to one!  A beggar turned out of Siena.  San
Giovanni defend us!  They've no need of soldiers to fight us.  They send
us an army of starving men."

"No, no!  This man is one of the prisoners turned out of the Stinche.  I
know by the grey patch where the prison badge was."

"Keep quiet!  Lend a hand!  Don't you see the brethren are going to lift
him on the bier?"

"It's likely he's alive enough if he could only look it.  The soul may
be inside him if it had only a drop of _vernaccia_ to warm it."

"In truth, I think he is not dead," said one of the brethren, when they
had lifted him on the bier.  "He has perhaps only sunk down for want of
food."

"Let me try to give him some wine," said Romola, coming forward.  She
loosened the small flask which she carried at her belt, and, leaning
towards the prostrate body, with a deft hand she applied a small ivory
implement between the teeth, and poured into the mouth a few drops of
wine.  The stimulus acted: the wine was evidently swallowed.  She poured
more, till the head was moved a little towards her, and the eyes of the
old man opened full upon her with the vague look of returning
consciousness.

Then for the first time a sense of complete recognition came over
Romola.  Those wild dark eyes opening in the sallow deep-lined face,
with the white beard, which was now long again, were like an
unmistakable signature to a remembered handwriting.  The light of two
summers had not made that image any fainter in Romola's memory: the
image of the escaped prisoner, whom she had seen in the Duomo the day
when Tito first wore the armour--at whose grasp Tito was paled with
terror in the strange sketch she had seen in Piero's studio.  A wretched
tremor and palpitation seized her.  Now at last, perhaps, she was going
to know some secret which might be more bitter than all that had gone
before.  She felt an impulse to dart away as from a sight of horror; and
again, a more imperious need to keep close by the side of this old man
whom, the divination of keen feeling told her, her husband had injured.
In the very instant of this conflict she still leaned towards him and
kept her right-hand ready to administer more wine, while her left was
passed under his neck.  Her hands trembled, but their habit of soothing
helpfulness would have served to guide them without the direction of her
thought.

Baldassarre was looking at _her_ for the first time.  The close
seclusion in which Romola's trouble had kept her in the weeks preceding
her flight and his arrest, had denied him the opportunity he had sought
of seeing the Wife who lived in the Via de' Bardi: and at this moment
the descriptions he had heard of the fair golden-haired woman were all
gone, like yesterday's waves.

"Will it not be well to carry him to the steps of San Stefano?" said
Romola.  "We shall cease then to stop up the street, and you can go on
your way with your bier."

They had only to move onward for about thirty yards before reaching the
steps of San Stefano, and by this time Baldassarre was able himself to
make some efforts towards getting off the bier, and propping himself on
the steps against the church-doorway.  The charitable brethren passed
on, but the group of interested spectators, who had nothing to do and
much to say, had considerably increased.  The feeling towards the old
man was not so entirely friendly now it was quite certain that he was
alive, but the respect inspired by Romola's presence caused the passing
remarks to be made in a rather more subdued tone than before.

"Ah, they gave him his morsel every day in the Stinche--that's why he
can't do so well without it.  You and I, Cecco, know better what it is
to go to bed fasting."

"_Gnaffe_! that's why the Magnificent Eight have turned out some of the
prisoners, that they may shelter honest people instead.  But if every
thief is to be brought to life with good wine and wheaten bread, we
Ciompi had better go and fill ourselves in Arno while the water's
plenty."

Romola had seated herself on the steps by Baldassarre, and was saying,
"Can you eat a little bread now? perhaps by-and-by you will be able, if
I leave it with you.  I must go on, because I have promised to be at the
hospital.  But I will come back if you will wait here, and then I will
take you to some shelter.  Do you understand?  Will you wait?  I will
come back."

He looked dreamily at her, and repeated her words, "come back."  It was
no wonder that his mind was enfeebled by his bodily exhaustion, but she
hoped that he apprehended her meaning.  She opened her basket, which was
filled with pieces of soft bread, and put one of the pieces into his
hand.

"Do you keep your bread for those that can't swallow, madonna?" said a
rough-looking fellow, in a red night-cap, who had elbowed his way into
the inmost circle of spectators--a circle that was pressing rather
closely on Romola.

"If anybody isn't hungry," said another, "I say, let him alone.  He's
better off than people who've got craving stomachs and no breakfast."

"Yes, indeed; if a man's a mind to die, it's a time to encourage him,
instead of making him come back to life against his will.  Dead men want
no trencher."

"Oh, you don't understand the Frate's charity," said a young man in an
excellent cloth tunic, whose face showed no signs of want.  "The Frate
has been preaching to the birds, like Saint Anthony, and he's been
telling the hawks they were made to feed the sparrows, as every good
Florentine citizen was made to feed six starving beggar-men from Arezzo
or Bologna.  Madonna, there, is a pious Piagnone: she's not going to
throw away her good bread on honest citizens who've got all the Frate's
prophecies to swallow."

"Come, madonna," said he of the red cap, "the old thief doesn't eat the
bread, you see: you'd better try _us_.  We fast so much, we're half
saints already."

The circle had narrowed till the coarse men--most of them gaunt from
privation--had left hardly any margin round Romola.  She had been taking
from her basket a small horn-cup, into which she put the piece of bread
and just moistened it with wine; and hitherto she had not appeared to
heed them.  But now she rose to her feet, and looked round at them.
Instinctively the men who were nearest to her pushed backward a little,
as if their rude nearness were the fault of those behind.  Romola held
out the basket of bread to the man in the night-cap, looking at him
without any reproach in her glance, as she said--

"Hunger is hard to bear, I know, and you have the power to take this
bread if you will.  It was saved for sick women and children.  You are
strong men; but if you do not choose to suffer because you are strong,
you have the power to take everything from the weak.  You can take the
bread from this basket; but I shall watch by this old man; I shall
resist your taking the bread from _him_."

For a few moments there was perfect silence, while Romola looked at the
faces before her, and held out the basket of bread.  Her own pale face
had the slightly pinched look and the deepening of the eye-socket which
indicate unusual fasting in the habitually temperate, and the large
direct gaze of her hazel eyes was all the more impressive.

The man in the night-cap looked rather silly, and backed, thrusting his
elbow into his neighbour's ribs with an air of moral rebuke.  The
backing was general, every one wishing to imply that he had been pushed
forward against his will; and the young man in the fine cloth tunic had
disappeared.

But at this moment the armed servitors of the Signoria, who had begun to
patrol the line of streets through which the procession was to pass,
came up to disperse the group which was obstructing the narrow street.
The man addressed as Cecco retreated from a threatening mace up the
church-steps, and said to Romola, in a respectful tone--

"Madonna, if you want to go on your errands, I'll take care of the old
man."

Cecco was a wild-looking figure: a very ragged tunic, made shaggy and
variegated by cloth-dust and clinging fragments of wool, gave relief to
a pair of bare bony arms and a long sinewy neck; his square jaw shaded
by a bristly black beard, his bridgeless nose and low forehead, made his
face look as if it had been crushed down for purposes of packing, and a
narrow piece of red rag tied over his ears seemed to assist in the
compression.  Romola looked at him with some hesitation.

"Don't distrust me, madonna," said Cecco, who understood her look
perfectly; "I am not so pretty as you, but I've got an old mother who
eats my porridge for me.  What! there's a heart inside me, and I've
bought a candle for the most Holy Virgin before now.  Besides, see
there, the old fellow is eating his sop.  He's hale enough: he'll be on
his legs as well as the best of us by-and-by."

"Thank you for offering to take care of him, friend," said Romola,
rather penitent for her doubting glance.  Then leaning to Baldassarre,
she said, "Pray wait for me till I come again."

He assented with a slight movement of the head and hand, and Romola went
on her way towards the hospital of San Matteo, in the Piazza di San
Marco.



CHAPTER FORTY THREE.

THE UNSEEN MADONNA.

In returning from the hospital, more than an hour later, Romola took a
different road, making a wider circuit towards the river, which she
reached at some distance from the Ponte Vecchio.  She turned her steps
towards that bridge, intending to hasten to San Stefano in search of
Baldassarre.  She dreaded to know more about him, yet she felt as if, in
forsaking him, she would be forsaking some near claim upon her.

But when she approached the meeting of the roads where the Por' Santa
Maria would be on her right-hand and the Ponte Vecchio on her left, she
found herself involved in a crowd who suddenly fell on their knees; and
she immediately knelt with them.  The Cross was passing--the Great Cross
of the Duomo--which headed the procession.  Romola was later than she
had expected to be, and now she must wait till the procession had
passed.  As she rose from her knees, when the Cross had disappeared, the
return to a standing posture, with nothing to do but gaze, made her more
conscious of her fatigue than she had been while she had been walking
and occupied.  A shopkeeper by her side said--

"Madonna Romola, you will be weary of standing: Gian Fantoni will be
glad to give you a seat in his house.  Here is his door close, at hand.
Let me open it for you.  What! he loves God and the Frate as we do.  His
house is yours."

Romola was accustomed now to be addressed in this fraternal way by
ordinary citizens, whose faces were familiar to her from her having seen
them constantly in the Duomo.  The idea of home had come to be
identified for her less with the house in the Via de' Bardi, where she
sat in frequent loneliness, than with the towered circuit of Florence,
where there was hardly a turn of the streets at which she was not
greeted with looks of appeal or of friendliness.  She was glad enough to
pass through the open door on her right-hand and be led by the fraternal
hose-vendor to an upstairs-window, where a stout woman with three
children, all in the plain garb of Piagnoni, made a place for her with
much reverence above the bright hanging draperies.  From this corner
station she could see, not only the procession pouring in solemn
slowness between the lines of houses on the Ponto Vecchio, but also the
river and the Lung' Arno on towards the bridge of the Santa Trinita.

In sadness and in stillness came the slow procession.  Not even a
wailing chant broke the silent appeal for mercy: there was only the
tramp of footsteps, and the faint sweep of woollen garments.  They were
young footsteps that were passing when Romola first looked from the
window--a long train of the Florentine youth, bearing high in the midst
of them the white image of the youthful Jesus, with a golden glory above
his head, standing by the tall cross where the thorns and the nails lay
ready.

After that train of fresh beardless faces came the mysterious-looking
Companies of Discipline, bound by secret rules to self-chastisement, and
devout praise, and special acts of piety; all wearing a garb which
concealed the whole head and face except the eyes.  Every one knew that
these mysterious forms were Florentine citizens of various ranks, who
might be seen at ordinary times going about the business of the shop,
the counting-house, or the State; but no member now was discernible as
son, husband, or father.  They had dropped their personality, and walked
as symbols of a common vow.  Each company had its colour and its badge,
but the garb of all was a complete shroud, and left no expression but
that of fellowship.

In comparison with them, the multitude of monks seemed to be strongly
distinguished individuals, in spite of the common tonsure and the common
frock.  First came a white stream of reformed Benedictines; and then a
much longer stream of the Frati Minori, or Franciscans, in that age all
clad in grey, with the knotted cord round their waists, and some of them
with the _zoccoli_, or wooden sandals, below their bare feet;--perhaps
the most numerous order in Florence, owning many zealous members who
loved mankind and hated the Dominicans.  And after the grey came the
black of the Augustinians of San Spirito with more cultured human faces
above it--men who had inherited the library of Boccaccio, and had made
the most learned company in Florence when learning was rarer; then the
white over dark of the Carmelites; and then again the unmixed black of
the Servites, that famous Florentine order founded by seven merchants
who forsook their gains to adore the Divine Mother.

And now the hearts of all onlookers began to beat a little faster,
either with hatred or with love, for there was a stream of black and
white coming over the bridge--of black mantles over white scapularies;
and every one knew that the Dominicans were coming.  Those of Fiesole
passed first.  One black mantle parted by white after another, one
tonsured head after another, and still expectation was suspended.  They
were very coarse mantles, all of them, and many were threadbare, if not
ragged; for the Prior of San Marco had reduced the fraternities under
his rule to the strictest poverty and discipline.  But in the long line
of black and white there was at last singled out a mantle only a little
more worn than the rest, with a tonsured head above it which might not
have appeared supremely remarkable to a stranger who had not seen it on
bronze medals, with the sword of God as its obverse; or surrounded by an
armed guard on the way to the Duomo; or transfigured by the inward flame
of the orator as it looked round on a rapt multitude.

As the approach of Savonarola was discerned, none dared conspicuously to
break the stillness by a sound which would rise above the solemn tramp
of footsteps and the faint sweep of garments; nevertheless his ear, as
well as other ears, caught a mingled sound of slow hissing that longed
to be curses, and murmurs that longed to be blessings.  Perhaps it was
the sense that the hissing predominated which made two or three of his
disciples in the foreground of the crowd, at the meeting of the roads,
fall on their knees as if something divine were passing.  The movement
of silent homage spread: it went along the sides of the streets like a
subtle shock, leaving some unmoved, while it made the most bend the knee
and bow the head.  But the hatred, too, gathered a more intense
expression; and as Savonarola passed up the Por' Santa Maria, Romola
could see that some one at an upper window spat upon him.

Monks again--Frati Umiliati, or Humbled Brethren, from Ognissanti, with
a glorious tradition of being the earliest workers in the wool-trade;
and again more monks--Vallombrosan and other varieties of Benedictines,
reminding the instructed eye by niceties of form and colour that in ages
of abuse, long ago, reformers had arisen who had marked a change of
spirit by a change of garb; till at last the shaven crowns were at an
end, and there came the train of untonsured secular priests.

Then followed the twenty-one incorporated Arts of Florence in long
array, with their banners floating above them in proud declaration that
the bearers had their distinct functions, from the bakers of bread to
the judges and notaries.  And then all the secondary officers of State,
beginning with the less and going on to the greater, till the line of
secularities was broken by the Canons of the Duomo, carrying a sacred
relic--the very head, enclosed in silver, of San Zenobio, immortal
bishop of Florence, whose virtues were held to have saved the city
perhaps a thousand years before.

Here was the nucleus of the procession.  Behind the relic came the
archbishop in gorgeous cope, with canopy held above him; and after him
the mysterious hidden Image--hidden first by rich curtains of brocade
enclosing an outer painted tabernacle, but within this, by the more
ancient tabernacle which had never been opened in the memory of living
men, or the fathers of living men.  In that inner shrine was the image
of the Pitying Mother, found ages ago in the soil of L'Impruneta,
uttering a cry as the spade struck it.  Hitherto the unseen Image had
hardly ever been carried to the Duomo without having rich gifts borne
before it.  There was no reciting the list of precious offerings made by
emulous men and communities, especially of veils and curtains and
mantles.  But the richest of all these, it was said, had been given by a
poor abbess and her nuns, who, having no money to buy materials, wove a
mantle of gold brocade with their prayers, embroidered it and adorned it
with their prayers, and, finally, saw their work presented to the
Blessed Virgin in the great Piazza by two beautiful youths who spread
out white wings and vanished in the blue.

But to-day there were no gifts carried before the tabernacle: no
donations were to be given to-day except to the poor.  That had been the
advice of Fra Girolamo, whose preaching never insisted on gifts to the
invisible powers, but only on help to visible need; and altars had been
raised at various points in front of the churches, on which the
oblations for the poor were deposited.  Not even a torch was carried.
Surely the hidden Mother cared less for torches and brocade than for the
wail of the hungry people.  Florence was in extremity: she had done her
utmost, and could only wait for something divine that was not in her own
power.

The Frate in the torn mantle had said that help would certainly come,
and many of the faint-hearted were clinging more to their faith in the
Frate's word, than to their faith in the virtues of the unseen Image.
But there were not a few of the fierce-hearted who thought with secret
rejoicing that the Frate's word might be proved false.

Slowly the tabernacle moved forward, and knees were bent.  There was
profound stillness; for the train of priests and chaplains from
L'Impruneta stirred no passion in the onlookers.  The procession was
about to close with the Priors and the Gonfaloniere: the long train of
companies and symbols, which have their silent music and stir the mind
as a chorus stirs it, was passing out of sight, and now a faint yearning
hope was all that struggled with the accustomed despondency.

Romola, whose heart had been swelling, half with foreboding, half with
that enthusiasm of fellowship which the life of the last two years had
made as habitual to her as the consciousness of costume to a vain and
idle woman, gave a deep sigh, as at the end of some long mental tension,
and remained on her knees for very languor; when suddenly there flashed
from between the houses on to the distant bridge something
bright-coloured.  In the instant, Romola started up and stretched out
her arms, leaning from the window, while the black drapery fell from her
head, and the golden gleam of her hair and the flush in her face seemed
the effect of one illumination.  A shout arose in the same instant; the
last troops of the procession paused, and all faces were turned towards
the distant bridge.

But the bridge was passed now: the horseman was pressing at full gallop
along by the Arno; the sides of his bay horse, just streaked with foam,
looked all white from swiftness; his cap was flying loose by his red
becchetto, and he waved an olive-branch in his hand.  It was a
messenger--a messenger of good tidings!  The blessed olive-branch spoke
afar off.  But the impatient people could not wait.  They rushed to meet
the on-comer, and seized his horse's rein, pushing and trampling.

And now Romola could see that the horseman was her husband, who had been
sent to Pisa a few days before on a private embassy.  The recognition
brought no new flash of joy into her eyes.  She had checked her first
impulsive attitude of expectation; but her governing anxiety was still
to know what news of relief had come for Florence.

"Good news!"

"Best news!"

"News to be paid with hose!"  (_novelle da calze_) were the vague
answers with which Tito met the importunities of the crowd, until he had
succeeded in pushing on his horse to the spot at the meeting of the ways
where the Gonfaloniere and the Priors were awaiting him.  There he
paused, and, bowing low, said--

"Magnificent Signori!  I have to deliver to you the joyful news that the
galleys from France, laden with corn and men, have arrived safely in the
port of Leghorn, by favour of a strong wind, which kept the enemy's
fleet at a distance."

The words had no sooner left Tito's lips than they seemed to vibrate up
the streets.  A great shout rang through the air, and rushed along the
river; and then another, and another; and the shouts were heard
spreading along the line of the procession towards the Duomo; and then
there were fainter answering shouts, like the intermediate plash of
distant waves in a great lake whose waters obey one impulse.

For some minutes there was no attempt to speak further: the Signoria
themselves lifted up their caps, and stood bare-headed in the presence
of a rescue which had come from outside the limit of their own power--
from that region of trust and resignation which has been in all ages
called divine.

At last, as the signal was given to move forward, Tito said, with a
smile--

"I ought to say, that any hose to be bestowed by the Magnificent
Signoria in reward of these tidings are due, not to me, but to another
man who had ridden hard to bring them, and would have been here in my
place if his horse had not broken down just before he reached Signa.
Meo di Sasso will doubtless be here in an hour or two, and may all the
more justly claim the glory of the messenger, because he has had the
chief labour and has lost the chief delight."

It was a graceful way of putting a necessary statement, and after a word
of reply from the _Proposto_, or spokesman of the Signoria, this
dignified extremity of the procession passed on, and Tito turned his
horse's head to follow in its train, while the great bell of the Palazzo
Vecchio was already beginning to swing, and give a louder voice to the
people's joy in that moment, when Tito's attention had ceased to be
imperatively directed, it might have been expected that he would look
round and recognise Romola; but he was apparently engaged with his cap,
which, now the eager people were leading his horse, he was able to seize
and place on his head, while his right-hand was still encumbered by the
olive-branch.  He had a becoming air of lassitude after his exertions;
and Romola, instead of making any effort to be recognised by him, threw
her black drapery over her head again, and remained perfectly quiet.
Yet she felt almost sure that Tito had seen her; he had the power of
seeing everything without seeming to see it.



CHAPTER FORTY FOUR.

THE VISIBLE MADONNA.

The crowd had no sooner passed onward than Romola descended to the
street, and hastened to the steps of San Stefano.  Cecco had been
attracted with the rest towards the Piazza, and she found Baldassarre
standing alone against the church-door, with the horn-cup in his hand,
waiting for her.  There was a striking change in him: the blank, dreamy
glance of a half-returned consciousness had given place to a fierceness
which, as she advanced and spoke to him, flashed upon her as if she had
been its object.  It was the glance of caged fury that sees its prey
passing safe beyond the bars.

Romola started as the glance was turned on her, but her immediate
thought was that he had seen Tito.  And as she felt the look of hatred
grating on her, something like a hope arose that this man might be the
criminal, and that her husband might not have been guilty towards him.
If she could learn that now, by bringing Tito face to face with him, and
have her mind set at rest!

"If you will come with me," she said, "I can give you shelter and food
until you are quite rested and strong.  Will you come?"

"Yes," said Baldassarre, "I shall be glad to get my strength.  I want to
get my strength," he repeated, as if he were muttering to himself,
rather than speaking to her.

"Come!" she said, inviting him to walk by her side, and taking the way
by the Arno towards the Ponte Rubaconte as the more private road.

"I think you are not a Florentine," she said, presently, as they turned
on to the bridge.

He looked round at her without speaking.  His suspicious caution was
more strongly upon him than usual, just now that the fog of confusion
and oblivion was made denser by bodily feebleness.  But she was looking
at him too, and there was something in her gentle eyes which at last
compelled him to answer her.  But he answered cautiously--

"No, I am no Florentine; I am a lonely man."

She observed his reluctance to speak to her, and dared not question him
further, lest he should desire to quit her.  As she glanced at him from
time to time, her mind was busy with thoughts which quenched the faint
hope that there was nothing painful to be revealed about her husband.
If this old man had been in the wrong, where was the cause for dread and
secrecy!

They walked on in silence till they reached the entrance into the Via
de' Bardi, and Romola noticed that he turned and looked at her with a
sudden movement as if some shock had passed through him.  A few moments
after, she paused at the half-open door of the court and turned towards
him.

"Ah!" he said, not waiting for her to speak, "you are his wife."

"Whose wife?" said Romola.

It would have been impossible for Baldassarre to recall any name at that
moment.  The very force with which the image of Tito pressed upon him
seemed to expel any verbal sign.  He made no answer, but looked at her
with strange fixedness.

She opened the door wide and showed the court covered with straw, on
which lay four or five sick people, while some little children crawled
or sat on it at their ease--tiny pale creatures, biting straws and
gurgling.

"If you will come in," said Romola, tremulously, "I will find you a
comfortable place, and bring you some more food."

"No, I will not come in," said Baldassarre.  But he stood still,
arrested by the burden of impressions under which his mind was too
confused to choose a course.

"Can I do nothing for you?" said Romola.  "Let me give you some money
that you may buy food.  It will be more plentiful soon."

She had put her hand into her scarsella as she spoke, and held out her
palm with several _grossi_ in it.  She purposely offered him more than
she would have given to any other man in the same circumstances.  He
looked at the coins a little while, and then said--

"Yes, I will take them."

She poured the coins into his palm, and he grasped them tightly.

"Tell me," said Romola, almost beseechingly.  "What shall you--"

But Baldassarre had turned away from her, and was walking again towards
the bridge.  Passing from it, straight on up the Via del Fosso, he came
upon the shop of Niccolo Caparra, and turned towards it without a pause,
as if it had been the very object of his search.  Niccolo was at that
moment in procession with the armourers of Florence, and there was only
one apprentice in the shop.  But there were all sorts of weapons in
abundance hanging there, and Baldassarre's eyes discerned what he was
more hungry for than for bread.  Niccolo himself would probably have
refused to sell anything that might serve as a weapon to this man with
signs of the prison on him; but the apprentice, less observant and
scrupulous, took three _grossi_ for a sharp hunting-knife without any
hesitation.  It was a conveniently small weapon, which Baldassarre could
easily thrust within the breast of his tunic, and he walked on, feeling
stronger.  That sharp edge might give deadliness to the thrust of an
aged arm: at least it was a companion, it was a power in league with
him, even if it failed.  It would break against armour, but was the
armour sure to be always there?  In those long months while vengeance
had lain in prison, baseness had perhaps become forgetful and secure.
The knife had been bought with the traitor's own money.  That was just.
Before he took the money, he had felt what he should do with it--buy a
weapon.  Yes, and if possible, food too; food to nourish the arm that
would grasp the weapon, food to nourish the body which was the temple of
vengeance.  When he had had enough bread, he should be able to think and
act--to think first how he could hide himself, lest Tito should have him
dragged away again.

With that idea of hiding in his mind, Baldassarre turned up the
narrowest streets, bought himself some meat and bread, and sat down
under the first loggia to eat.  The bells that swung out louder and
louder peals of joy, laying hold of him and making him vibrate along
with all the air, seemed to him simply part of that strong world which
was against him.

Romola had watched Baldassarre until he had disappeared round the
turning into the Piazza de' Mozzi, half feeling that his departure was a
relief, half reproaching herself for not seeking with more decision to
know the truth about him, for not assuring herself whether there were
any guiltless misery in his lot which she was not helpless to relieve.
Yet what could she have done if the truth had proved to be the burden of
some painful secret about her husband, in addition to the anxieties that
already weighed upon her?  Surely a wife was permitted to desire
ignorance of a husband's wrong-doing, since she alone must not protest
and warn men against him.  But that thought stirred too many intricate
fibres of feeling to be pursued now in her weariness.  It was a time to
rejoice, since help had come to Florence; and she turned into the court
to tell the good news to her patients on their straw beds.

She closed the door after her, lest the bells should drown her voice,
and then throwing the black drapery from her head, that the women might
see her better, she stood in the midst and told them that corn was
coming, and that the bells were ringing for gladness at the news.  They
all sat up to listen, while the children trotted or crawled towards her,
and pulled her black skirts, as if they were impatient at being all that
long way off her face.  She yielded to them, weary as she was, and sat
down on the straw, while the little pale things peeped into her basket
and pulled her hair down, and the feeble voices around her said, "The
Holy Virgin be praised!"

"It was the procession!"

"The Mother of God has had pity on us!"

At last Romola rose from the heap of straw, too tired to try and smile
any longer, saying as she turned up the stone steps--

"I will come by-and-by, to bring you your dinner."

"Bless you, madonna! bless you!" said the faint chorus, in much the same
tone as that in which they had a few minutes before praised and thanked
the unseen Madonna.

Romola cared a great deal for that music.  She had no innate taste for
tending the sick and clothing the ragged, like some women to whom the
details of such work are welcome in themselves, simply as an occupation.
Her early training had kept her aloof from such womanly labours; and if
she had not brought to them the inspiration of her deepest feelings,
they would have been irksome to her.  But they had come to be the one
unshaken resting-place of her mind, the one narrow pathway on which the
light fell clear.  If the gulf between herself and Tito which only
gathered a more perceptible wideness from her attempts to bridge it by
submission, brought a doubt whether, after all, the bond to which she
had laboured to be true might not itself be false--if she came away from
her confessor, Fra Salvestro, or from some contact with the disciples of
Savonarola amongst whom she worshipped, with a sickening sense that
these people were miserably narrow, and with an almost impetuous
reaction towards her old contempt for their superstition--she found
herself recovering a firm footing in her works of womanly sympathy.
Whatever else made her doubt, the help she gave to her fellow-citizens
made her sure that Fra Girolamo had been right to call her back.
According to his unforgotten words, her place had not been empty: it had
been filled with her love and her labour.  Florence had had need of her,
and the more her own sorrow pressed upon her, the more gladness she felt
in the memories, stretching through the two long years, of hours and
moments in which she had lightened the burden of life to others.  All
that ardour of her nature which could no longer spend itself in the
woman's tenderness for father and husband, had transformed itself into
an enthusiasm of sympathy with the general life.  She had ceased to
think that her own lot could be happy--had ceased to think of happiness
at all: the one end of her life seemed to her to be the diminishing of
sorrow.

Her enthusiasm was continually stirred to fresh vigour by the influence
of Savonarola.  In spite of the wearisome visions and allegories from
which she recoiled in disgust when they came as stale repetitions from
other lips than his, her strong affinity for his passionate sympathy and
the splendour of his aims had lost none of its power.  His burning
indignation against the abuses and oppression that made the daily story
of the Church and of States had kindled the ready fire in her too.  His
special care for liberty and purity of government in Florence, with his
constant reference of this immediate object to the wider end of a
universal regeneration, had created in her a new consciousness of the
great drama of human existence in which her life was a part; and through
her daily helpful contact with the less fortunate of her fellow-citizens
this new consciousness became something stronger than a vague sentiment;
it grew into a more and more definite motive of self-denying practice.
She thought little about dogmas, and shrank from reflecting closely on
the Frate's prophecies of the immediate scourge and closely--following
regeneration.  She had submitted her mind to his and had entered into
communion with the Church, because in this way she had found an
immediate satisfaction for moral needs which all the previous culture
and experience of her life had left hungering.  Fra Girolamo's voice had
waked in her mind a reason for living, apart from personal enjoyment and
personal affection; but it was a reason that seemed to need feeding with
greater forces than she possessed within herself, and her submissive use
of all offices of the Church was simply a watching and waiting if by any
means fresh strength might come.  The pressing problem for Romola just
then was not to settle questions of controversy, but to keep alive that
flame of unselfish emotion by which a life of sadness might still be a
life of active love.

Her trust in Savonarola's nature as greater than her own made a large
part of the strength she had found.  And the trust was not to be lightly
shaken.  It is not force of intellect which causes ready repulsion from
the aberration and eccentricities of greatness, any more than it is
force of vision that causes the eye to explore the warts on a face
bright with human expression; it is simply the negation of high
sensibilities.  Romola was so deeply moved by the grand energies of
Savonarola's nature, that she found herself listening patiently to all
dogmas and prophecies, when they came in the vehicle of his ardent faith
and believing utterance.  [Note.]

No soul is desolate as long as there is a human being for whom it can
feel trust and reverence.  Romola's trust in Savonarola was something
like a rope suspended securely by her path, making her step elastic
while she grasped it; if it were suddenly removed, no firmness of the
ground she trod could save her from staggering, or perhaps from falling.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note.  He himself had had occasion enough to note the efficacy of that
vehicle.  "If," he says in the _Compendium Revelationum_, "you speak of
such as have not heard these things from me, I admit that they who
disbelieve are more than they who believe, because it is one thing to
hear him who inwardly feels these things, and another to hear him who
feels them not; ... and, therefore, it is well said by Saint Jerome,
`Habet nescio quid latentis energiae vivae vocis actus, et in aures
discipuli de auctoris ore transfusa fortis sonat.'"



CHAPTER FORTY FIVE.

AT THE BARBER'S SHOP.

After that welcome appearance as the messenger with the olive-branch,
which was an unpromised favour of fortune, Tito had other commissions to
fulfil of a more premeditated character.  He paused at the Palazzo
Vecchio, and awaited there the return of the Ten, who managed external
and war affairs, that he might duly deliver to them the results of his
private mission to Pisa, intended as a preliminary to an avowed embassy
of which Bernardo Rucellai was to be the head, with the object of
coming, if possible, to a pacific understanding with the Emperor
Maximilian and the League.

Tito's talents for diplomatic work had been well ascertained, and as he
gave with fulness and precision the results of his inquiries and
interviews, Bernardo del Nero, who was at that time one of the Ten,
could not withhold his admiration.  He would have withheld it if he
could; for his original dislike of Tito had returned, and become
stronger, since the sale of the library.  Romola had never uttered a
word to her godfather on the circumstances of the sale, and Bernardo had
understood her silence as a prohibition to him to enter on the subject,
but he felt sure that the breach of her father's wish had been a
blighting grief to her, and the old man's observant eyes discerned other
indications that her married life was not happy.

"Ah," he said, inwardly, "that doubtless is the reason she has taken to
listening to Fra Girolamo, and going amongst the Piagnoni, which I never
expected from her.  These women, if they are not happy, and have no
children, must either take to folly or to some overstrained religion
that makes them think they've got all heaven's work on their shoulders.
And as for my poor child Romola, it is as I always said--the cramming
with Latin and Greek has left her as much a woman as if she had done
nothing all day but prick her fingers with the needle.  And this husband
of hers, who gets employed everywhere, because he's a tool with a smooth
handle, I wish Tornabuoni and the rest may not find their fingers cut.
Well, well, _solco torto, sacco dritto_--many a full sack comes from a
crooked furrow; and he who will be captain of none but honest men will
have small hire to pay."

With this long-established conviction that there could be no moral
sifting of political agents, the old Florentine abstained from all
interference in Tito's disfavour.  Apart from what must be kept sacred
and private for Romola's sake, Bernardo had nothing direct to allege
against the useful Greek, except that he was a Greek, and that he,
Bernardo, did not like him; for the doubleness of feigning attachment to
the popular government, while at heart a Medicean, was common to Tito
with more than half the Medicean party.  He only feigned with more skill
than the rest: that was all.  So Bernardo was simply cold to Tito, who
returned the coldness with a scrupulous, distant respect.  And it was
still the notion in Florence that the old tie between Bernardo and Bardo
made any service done to Romola's husband an acceptable homage to her
godfather.

After delivering himself of his charge at the Old Palace, Tito felt that
the avowed official work of the day was done.  He was tired and adust
with long riding; but he did not go home.  There were certain things in
his scarsella and on his mind, from which he wished to free himself as
soon as possible, but the opportunities must be found so skilfully that
they must not seem to be sought.  He walked from the Palazzo in a
sauntering fashion towards the Piazza del Duomo.  The procession was at
an end now, but the bells were still ringing, and the people were moving
about the streets restlessly, longing for some more definite vent to
their joy.  If the Frate could have stood up in the great Piazza and
preached to them, they might have been satisfied, but now, in spite of
the new discipline which declared Christ to be the special King of the
Florentines and required all pleasures to be of a Christian sort, there
was a secret longing in many of the youngsters who shouted "Viva Gesu!"
for a little vigorous stone throwing in sign of thankfulness.

Tito, as he passed along, could not escape being recognised by some as
the welcome bearer of the olive-branch, and could only rid himself of an
inconvenient ovation, chiefly in the form of eager questions, by telling
those who pressed on him that Meo di Sasso, the true messenger from
Leghorn, must now be entering, and might certainly be met towards the
Porta San Frediano.  He could tell much more than Tito knew.

Freeing himself from importunities in this adroit manner, he made his
way to the Piazza del Duomo, casting his long eyes round the space with
an air of the utmost carelessness, but really seeking to detect some
presence which might furnish him with one of his desired opportunities.
The fact of the procession having terminated at the Duomo made it
probable that there would be more than the usual concentration of
loungers and talkers in the Piazza and round Nello's shop.  It was as he
expected.  There was a group leaning against the rails near the north
gates of the Baptistery, so exactly what he sought, that he looked more
indifferent than ever, and seemed to recognise the tallest member of the
group entirely by chance as he had half passed him, just turning his
head to give him a slight greeting, while he tossed the end of his
_becchetto_ over his left shoulder.

Yet the tall, broad-shouldered personage greeted in that slight way
looked like one who had considerable claims.  He wore a
richly-embroidered tunic, with a great show of linen, after the newest
French mode, and at his belt there hung a sword and poniard of fine
workmanship.  His hat, with a red plume in it, seemed a scornful protest
against the gravity of Florentine costume, which had been exaggerated to
the utmost under the influence of the Piagnoni.  Certain undefinable
indications of youth made the breadth of his face and the large diameter
of his waist appear the more emphatically a stamp of coarseness, and his
eyes had that rude desecrating stare at all men and things which to a
refined mind is as intolerable as a bad odour or a flaring light.

He and his companions, also young men dressed expensively and wearing
arms, were exchanging jokes with that sort of ostentatious laughter
which implies a desire to prove that the laughter is not mortified
though some people might suspect it.  There were good reasons for such a
suspicion; for this broad-shouldered man with the red feather was Dolfo
Spini, leader of the Compagnacci, or Evil Companions--that is to say, of
all the dissolute young men belonging to the old aristocratic party,
enemies of the Mediceans, enemies of the popular government, but still
more bitter enemies of Savonarola.  Dolfo Spini, heir of the great house
with the loggia, over the bridge of the Santa Trinita, had organised
these young men into an armed band, as sworn champions of extravagant
suppers and all the pleasant sins of the flesh, against reforming
pietists who threatened to make the world chaste and temperate to so
intolerable a degree that there would soon be no reason for living,
except the extreme unpleasantness of the alternative.  Up to this very
morning he had been loudly declaring that Florence was given up to
famine and ruin entirely through its blind adherence to the advice of
the Frate, and that there could be no salvation for Florence but in
joining the League and driving the Frate out of the city--sending him to
Rome, in fact, whither he ought to have gone long ago in obedience to
the summons of the Pope.  It was suspected, therefore, that Messer Dolfo
Spini's heart was not aglow with pure joy at the unexpected succours
which had come in apparent fulfilment of the Frate's prediction, and the
laughter, which was ringing out afresh as Tito joined the group at
Nello's door, did not serve to dissipate the suspicion.  For leaning
against the door-post in the centre of the group was a close-shaven,
keen-eyed personage, named Niccolo Macchiavelli, who, young as he was,
had penetrated all the small secrets of egoism.

"Messer Dolfo's head," he was saying, "is more of a pumpkin than I
thought.  I measure men's dulness by the devices they trust in for
deceiving others.  Your dullest animal of all is he who grins and says
he doesn't mind just after he has had his shins kicked.  If I were a
trifle duller, now," he went on, smiling as the circle opened to admit
Tito, "I should pretend to be fond of this Melema, who has got a
secretaryship that would exactly suit me--as if Latin ill-paid could
love better Latin that's better paid!  Melema, you are a pestiferously
clever fellow, very much in my way, and I'm sorry to hear you've had
another piece of good-luck to-day."

"Questionable luck, Niccolo," said Tito, touching him on the shoulder in
a friendly way; "I have got nothing by it yet but being laid hold of and
breathed upon by wool-beaters, when I am as soiled and battered with
riding as a _tabellario_ (letter-carrier) from Bologna."

"Ah! you want a touch of my art, Messer Oratore," said Nello, who had
come forward at the sound of Tito's voice; "your chin, I perceive, has
yesterday's crop upon it.  Come, come--consign yourself to the priest of
all the Muses.  Sandro, quick with the lather!"

"In truth, Nello, that is just what I most desire at this moment," said
Tito, seating himself; "and that was why I turned my steps towards thy
shop, instead of going home at once, when I had done my business at the
Palazzo."

"Yes, indeed, it is not fitting that you should present yourself to
Madonna Romola with a rusty chin and a tangled _zazzera_.  Nothing that
is not dainty ought to approach the Florentine lily; though I see her
constantly going about like a sunbeam amongst the rags that line our
corners--if indeed she is not more like a moonbeam now, for I thought
yesterday, when I met her, that she looked as pale and worn as that
fainting Madonna of Fra Giovanni's.  You must see to it, my bel erudito:
she keeps too many fasts and vigils in your absence."

Tito gave a melancholy shrug.  "It is too true, Nello.  She has been
depriving herself of half her proper food _every_ day during this
famine.  But what can I do?  Her mind has been set all aflame.  A
husband's influence is powerless against the Frate's."

"As every other influence is likely to be, that of the Holy Father
included," said Domenico Cennini, one of the group at the door, who had
turned in with Tito.  "I don't know whether you have gathered anything
at Pisa about the way the wind sits at Rome, Melema?"

"Secrets of the council-chamber, Messer Domenico!" said Tito, smiling
and opening his palms in a deprecatory manner.  "An envoy must be as
dumb as a father confessor."

"Certainly, certainly," said Cennini.  "I ask for no breach of that
rule.  Well, my belief is, that if his Holiness were to drive Fra
Girolamo to extremity, the Frate would move heaven and earth to get a
General Council of the Church--ay, and would get it too; and I, for one,
should not be sorry, though I'm no Piagnone."

"With leave of your greater experience, Messer Domenico," said
Macchiavelli, "I must differ from you--not in your wish to see a General
Council which might reform the Church, but in your belief that the Frate
will checkmate his Holiness.  The Frate's game is an impossible one.  If
he had contented himself with preaching against the vices of Rome, and
with prophesying that in some way, not mentioned, Italy would be
scourged, depend upon it Pope Alexander would have allowed him to spend
his breath in that way as long as he could find hearers.  Such spiritual
blasts as those knock no walls down.  But the Frate wants to be
something more than a spiritual trumpet: he wants to be a lever, and
what is more, he _is_ a lever.  He wants to spread the doctrine of
Christ by maintaining a popular government in Florence, and the Pope, as
I know, on the best authority, has private views to the contrary."

"Then Florence will stand by the Frate," Cennini broke in, with some
fervour.  "I myself should prefer that he would let his prophesying
alone, but if our freedom to choose our own government is to be
attacked--I am an obedient son of the Church, but I would vote for
resisting Pope Alexander the Sixth, as our forefathers resisted Pope
Gregory the Eleventh."

"But pardon me, Messer Domenico," said Macchiavelli, sticking his thumbs
into his belt, and speaking with that cool enjoyment of exposition which
surmounts every other force in discussion.  "Have you correctly seized
the Frate's position?  How is it that he has become a lever, and made
himself worth attacking by an acute man like his Holiness?  Because he
has got the ear of the people: because he gives them threats and
promises, which they believe come straight from God, not only about
hell, purgatory, and paradise, but about Pisa and our Great Council.
But let events go against him, so as to shake the people's faith, and
the cause of his power will be the cause of his fall.  He is
accumulating three sorts of hatred on his head--the hatred of average
mankind against every one who wants to lay on them a strict yoke of
virtue; the hatred of the stronger powers in Italy who want to farm
Florence for their own purposes; and the hatred of the people, to whom
he has ventured to promise good in this world, instead of confining his
promises to the next.  If a prophet is to keep his power, he must be a
prophet like Mahomet, with an army at his back, that when the people's
faith is fainting it may be frightened into life again."

"Rather sum up the three sorts of hatred in one," said Francesco Cei,
impetuously, "and say he has won the hatred of all men who have sense
and honesty, by inventing hypocritical lies.  His proper place is among
the false prophets in the Inferno, who walk with their heads turned
hind-foremost."

"You are too angry, my Francesco," said Macchiavelli, smiling; "you
poets are apt to cut the clouds in your wrath.  I am no votary of the
Frate's, and would not lay down my little finger for his veracity.  But
veracity is a plant of paradise, and the seeds have never flourished
beyond the walls.  You, yourself, my Francesco, tell poetical lies only;
partly compelled by the poet's fervour, partly to please your audience;
but _you_ object to lies in prose.  Well, the Frate differs from you as
to the boundary of poetry, that's all.  When he gets into the pulpit of
the Duomo, he has the fervour within him, and without him he has the
audience to please.  Ecco!"

"You are somewhat lax there, Niccolo," said Cennini, gravely.  "I myself
believe in the Frate's integrity, though I don't believe in his
prophecies, and as long as his integrity is not disproved, we have a
popular party strong enough to protect him and resist foreign
interference."

"A party that seems strong enough," said Macchiavelli, with a shrug, and
an almost imperceptible glance towards Tito, who was abandoning himself
with much enjoyment to Nello's combing and scenting.  "But how many
Mediceans are there among you?  How many who will not be turned round by
a private grudge?"

"As to the Mediceans," said Cennini, "I believe there is very little
genuine feeling left on behalf of the Medici.  Who would risk much for
Piero de' Medici?  A few old staunch friends, perhaps, like Bernardo del
Nero; but even some of those most connected with the family are hearty
friends of the popular government, and would exert themselves for the
Frate.  I was talking to Giannozzo Pucci only a little while ago, and I
am convinced there's nothing he would set his face against more than
against any attempt to alter the new order of things."

"You are right there, Messer Domenico," said Tito, with a laughing
meaning in his eyes, as he rose from the shaving-chair; "and I fancy the
tender passion came in aid of hard theory there.  I am persuaded there
was some jealousy at the bottom of Giannozzo's alienation from Piero de'
Medici; else so amiable a creature as he would never feel the bitterness
he sometimes allows to escape him in that quarter.  He was in the
procession with you, I suppose?"

"No," said Cennini; "he is at his villa--went there three days ago."

Tito was settling his cap and glancing down at his splashed hose as if
he hardly heeded the answer.  In reality he had obtained a much-desired
piece of information.  He had at that moment in his scarsella a crushed
gold ring which he had engaged to deliver to Giannozzo Pucci.  He had
received it from an envoy of Piero de' Medici, whom he had ridden out of
his way to meet at Certaldo on the Siena road.  Since Pucci was not in
the town, he would send the ring by Fra Michele, a Carthusian lay
Brother in the service of the Mediceans, and the receipt of that sign
would bring Pucci back to hear the verbal part of Tito's mission.

"Behold him!" said Nello, flourishing his comb and pointing it at Tito,
"the handsomest scholar in the world or in the wolds, [`Del mondo o di
maremma'] now he has passed through my hands!  A trifle thinner in the
face, though, than when he came in his first bloom to Florence--eh? and,
I vow, there are some lines just faintly hinting themselves about your
mouth, Messer Oratore!  Ah, mind is an enemy to beauty!  I myself was
thought beautiful by the women at one time--when I was in my
swaddling-bands.  But now--oime!  I carry my unwritten poems in cipher
on my face!"

Tito, laughing with the rest as Nello looked at himself tragically in
the hand-mirror, made a sign of farewell to the company generally, and
took his departure.

"I'm of our old Piero di Cosimo's mind," said Francesco Cei.  "I don't
half like Melema.  That trick of smiling gets stronger than ever--no
wonder he has lines about the mouth."

"He's too successful," said Macchiavelli, playfully.  "I'm sure there's
something wrong about him, else he wouldn't have that secretaryship."

"He's an able man," said Cennini, in a tone of judicial fairness.  "I
and my brother have always found him useful with our Greek sheets, and
he gives great satisfaction to the Ten.  I like to see a young man work
his way upward by merit.  And the secretary Scala, who befriended him
from the first, thinks highly of him still, I know."

"Doubtless," said a notary in the background.  "He writes Scala's
official letters for him, or corrects them, and gets well paid for it
too."

"I wish Messer Bartolommeo would pay _me_ to doctor his gouty Latin,"
said Macchiavelli, with a shrug.  "Did _he_ tell you about the pay, Ser
Ceccone, or was it Melema himself?" he added, looking at the notary with
a face ironically innocent.

"Melema? no, indeed," answered Ser Ceccone.  "He is as close as a nut.
He never brags.  That's why he's employed everywhere.  They say he's
getting rich with doing all sorts of underhand work."

"It _is_ a little too bad," said Macchiavelli, "and so many able
notaries out of employment!"

"Well, I must say I thought that was a nasty story a year or two ago
about the man who said he had stolen jewels," said Cei.  "It got hushed
up somehow; but I remember Piero di Cosimo said, at the time, he
believed there was something in it, for he saw Melema's face when the
man laid hold of him, and he never saw a visage so `painted with fear,'
as our sour old Dante says."

"Come, spit no more of that venom, Francesco," said Nello, getting
indignant, "else I shall consider it a public duty to cut your hair awry
the next time I get you under my scissors.  That story of the stolen
jewels was a lie.  Bernardo Rucellai and the Magnificent Eight knew all
about it.  The man was a dangerous madman, and he was very properly kept
out of mischief in prison.  As for our Piero di Cosimo, his wits are
running after the wind of Mongibello: he has such an extravagant fancy
that he would take a lizard for a crocodile.  No: that story has been
dead and buried too long--our noses object to it."

"It is true," said Macchiavelli.  "You forget the danger of the
precedent, Francesco.  The next mad beggarman may accuse you of stealing
his verses, or me, God help me! of stealing his coppers.  Ah!" he went
on, turning towards the door, "Dolfo Spini has carried his red feather
out of the Piazza.  That captain of swaggerers would like the Republic
to lose Pisa just for the chance of seeing the people tear the frock off
the Frate's back.  With your pardon, Francesco--I know he is a friend of
yours--there are few things I should like better than to see him play
the part of Capo d'Oca, who went out to the tournament blowing his
trumpets and returned with them in a bag."



CHAPTER FORTY SIX.

BY A STREET LAMP.

That evening, when it was dark and threatening rain, Romola, returning
with Maso and the lantern by her side, from the hospital of San Matteo,
which she had visited after vespers, encountered her husband just
issuing from the monastery of San Marco.  Tito, who had gone out again
shortly after his arrival in the Via de' Bardi, and had seen little of
Romola during the day, immediately proposed to accompany her home,
dismissing Maso, whose short steps annoyed him.  It was only usual for
him to pay her such an official attention when it was obviously demanded
from him.  Tito and Romola never jarred, never remonstrated with each
other.  They were too hopelessly alienated in their inner life ever to
have that contest which is an effort towards agreement.  They talked of
all affairs, public and private, with careful adherence to an adopted
course.  If Tito wanted a supper prepared in the old library, now
pleasantly furnished as a banqueting-room, Romola assented, and saw that
everything needful was done: and Tito, on his side, left her entirely
uncontrolled in her daily habits, accepting the help she offered him in
transcribing or making digests, and in return meeting her conjectured
want of supplies for her charities.  Yet he constantly, as on this very
morning, avoided exchanging glances with her; affected to believe that
she was out of the house, in order to avoid seeking her in her own room;
and playfully attributed to her a perpetual preference of solitude to
his society.

In the first ardour of her self-conquest, after she had renounced her
resolution of flight, Romola had made many timid efforts towards the
return of a frank relation between them.  But to her such a relation
could only come by open speech about their differences, and the attempt
to arrive at a moral understanding; while Tito could only be saved from
alienation from her by such a recovery of her effusive tenderness as
would have presupposed oblivion of their differences.  He cared for no
explanation between them; he felt any thorough explanation impossible:
he would have cared to have Romola fond again, and to her, fondness was
impossible.  She could be submissive and gentle, she could repress any
sign of repulsion; but tenderness was not to be feigned.  She was
helplessly conscious of the result: her husband was alienated from her.

It was an additional reason why she should be carefully kept outside of
secrets which he would in no case have chosen to communicate to her.
With regard to his political action he sought to convince her that he
considered the cause of the Medici hopeless; and that on that practical
ground, as well as in theory, he heartily served the popular government,
in which she had now a warm interest.  But impressions subtle as odours
made her uneasy about his relations with San Marco.  She was painfully
divided between the dread of seeing any evidence to arouse her
suspicions, and the impulse to watch lest any harm should come that she
might have arrested.

As they walked together this evening, Tito said--"The business of the
day is not yet quite ended for me.  I shall conduct you to our door, my
Romola, and then I must fulfil another commission, which will take me an
hour, perhaps, before I can return and rest, as I very much need to do."

And then he talked amusingly of what he had seen at Pisa, until they
were close upon a loggia, near which there hung a lamp before a picture
of the Virgin.  The street was a quiet one, and hitherto they had passed
few people; but now there was a sound of many approaching footsteps and
confused voices.

"We shall not get home without a wetting, unless we take shelter under
this convenient loggia," Tito said, hastily, hurrying Romola, with a
slightly startled movement, up the step of the loggia.

"Surely it is useless to wait for this small drizzling rain," said
Romola, in surprise.

"No: I felt it becoming heavier.  Let us wait a little."  With that
wakefulness to the faintest indication which belongs to a mind
habitually in a state of caution, Tito had detected by the glimmer of
the lamp that the leader of the advancing group wore a red feather and a
glittering sword-hilt--in fact, was almost the last person in the world
he would have chosen to meet at this hour with Romola by his side.  He
had already during the day had one momentous interview with Dolfo Spini,
and the business he had spoken of to Romola as yet to be done was a
second interview with that personage, a sequence of the visit he had
paid at San Marco.  Tito, by a long-preconcerted plan, had been the
bearer of letters to Savonarola--carefully-forged letters; one of them,
by a stratagem, bearing the very signature and seal of the Cardinal of
Naples, who of all the Sacred College had most exerted his influence at
Rome in favour of the Frate.  The purport of the letters was to state
that the Cardinal was on his progress from Pisa, and, unwilling for
strong reasons to enter Florence, yet desirous of taking counsel with
Savonarola at this difficult juncture, intended to pause this very day
at San Casciano, about ten miles from the city, whence he would ride out
the next morning in the plain garb of a priest, and meet Savonarola, as
if casually, five miles on the Florence road, two hours after sunrise.
The plot, of which these forged letters were the initial step, was that
Dolfo Spini with a band of his Compagnacci was to be posted in ambush on
the road, at a lonely spot about five miles from the gates; that he was
to seize Savonarola with the Dominican brother who would accompany him
according to rule, and deliver him over to a small detachment of
Milanese horse in readiness near San Casciano, by whom he was to be
carried into the Roman territory.

There was a strong chance that the penetrating Frate would suspect a
trap, and decline to incur the risk, which he had for some time avoided,
of going beyond the city walls.  Even when he preached, his friends held
it necessary that he should be attended by an armed guard; and here he
was called on to commit himself to a solitary road, with no other
attendant than a fellow-monk.  On this ground the minimum of time had
been given him for decision, and the chance in favour of his acting on
the letters was, that the eagerness with which his mind was set on the
combining of interests within and without the Church towards the
procuring of a General Council, and also the expectation of immediate
service from the Cardinal in the actual juncture of his contest with the
Pope, would triumph over his shrewdness and caution in the brief space
allowed for deliberation.

Tito had had an audience of Savonarola, having declined to put the
letters into any hands but his, and with consummate art had admitted
that incidentally, and by inference, he was able so far to conjecture
their purport as to believe they referred to a rendezvous outside the
gates, in which case he urged that the Frate should seek an armed guard
from the Signoria, and offered his services in carrying the request with
the utmost privacy.  Savonarola had replied briefly that this was
impossible: an armed guard was incompatible with privacy.  He spoke with
a flashing eye, and Tito felt convinced that he meant to incur the risk.

Tito himself did not much care for the result.  He managed his affairs
so cleverly, that all results, he considered, must turn to his
advantage.  Whichever party came uppermost, he was secure of favour and
money.  That is an indecorously naked statement; the fact, clothed as
Tito habitually clothed it, was that his acute mind, discerning the
equal hollowness of all parties, took the only rational course in making
them subservient to his own interest.

If Savonarola fell into the snare, there were diamonds in question and
papal patronage; if not, Tito's adroit agency had strengthened his
position with Savonarola and with Spini, while any confidences he
obtained from them made him the more valuable as an agent of the
Mediceans.

But Spini was an inconvenient colleague.  He had cunning enough to
delight in plots, but not the ability or self-command necessary to so
complex an effect as secrecy.  He frequently got excited with drinking,
for even sober Florence had its "Beoni," or topers, both lay and
clerical, who became loud at taverns and private banquets; and in spite
of the agreement between him and Tito, that their public recognition of
each other should invariably be of the coolest sort, there was always
the possibility that on an evening encounter he would be suddenly
blurting and affectionate.  The delicate sign of casting the becchetto
over the left shoulder was understood in the morning, but the strongest
hint short of a threat might not suffice to keep off a fraternal grasp
of the shoulder in the evening.

Tito's chief hope now was that Dolfo Spini had not caught sight of him,
and the hope would have been well founded if Spini had had no clearer
view of him than he had caught of Spini.  But, himself in shadow, he had
seen Tito illuminated for an instant by the direct rays of the lamp, and
Tito in his way was as strongly marked a personage as the captain of the
Compagnacci.  Romola's black-shrouded figure had escaped notice, and she
now stood behind her husband's shoulder in the corner of the loggia.
Tito was not left to hope long.

"Ha! my carrier-pigeon!" grated Spini's harsh voice, in what he meant to
be an undertone, while his hand grasped Tito's shoulder; "what did you
run into hiding for?  You didn't know it was comrades who were coming.
It's well I caught sight of you; it saves time.  What of the chase
to-morrow morning?  Will the bald-headed game rise?  Are the falcons to
be got ready?"

If it had been in Tito's nature to feel an access of rage, he would have
felt it against this bull-faced accomplice, unfit either for a leader or
a tool.  His lips turned white, but his excitement came from the
pressing difficulty of choosing a safe device.  If he attempted to hush
Spini, that would only deepen Romola's suspicion, and he knew her well
enough to know that if some strong alarm were roused in her, she was
neither to be silenced nor hoodwinked: on the other hand, if he repelled
Spini angrily the wine-breathing Compagnaccio might become savage, being
more ready at resentment than at the divination of motives.  He adopted
a third course, which proved that Romola retained one sort of power over
him--the power of dread.

He pressed her hand, as if intending a hint to her, and said in a
good-humoured tone of comradeship--

"Yes, my Dolfo, you may prepare in all security.  But take no trumpets
with you."

"Don't be afraid," said Spini, a little piqued.  "No need to play Ser
Saccente with me.  I know where the devil keeps his tail as well as you
do.  What! he swallowed the bait whole?  The prophetic nose didn't scent
the hook at all?" he went on, lowering his tone a little, with a
blundering sense of secrecy.

"The brute will not be satisfied till he has emptied the bag," thought
Tito: but aloud he said,--"Swallowed all as easily as you swallow a cup
of Trebbiano.  Ha!  I see torches: there must be a dead body coming.
The pestilence has been spreading, I hear."

"Santiddio!  I hate the sight of those biers.  Good-night," said Spini,
hastily moving off.

The torches were really coming, but they preceded a church dignitary who
was returning homeward; the suggestion of the dead body and the
pestilence was Tito's device for getting rid of Spini without telling
him to go.  The moment he had moved away, Tito turned to Romola, and
said, quietly--

"Do not be alarmed by anything that _bestia_ has said, my Romola.  We
will go on now: I think the rain has not increased."

She was quivering with indignant resolution; it was of no use for Tito
to speak in that unconcerned way.  She distrusted every word he could
utter.

"I will not go on," she said.  "I will not move nearer home until I have
some security against this treachery being perpetrated."

"Wait, at least, until these torches have passed," said Tito, with
perfect self-command, but with a new rising of dislike to a wife who
this time, he foresaw, might have the power of thwarting him in spite of
the husband's predominance.

The torches passed, with the Vicario dell' Arcivescovo, and due
reverence was done by Tito, but Romola saw nothing outward.  If for the
defeat of this treachery, in which she believed with all the force of
long presentiment, it had been necessary at that moment for her to
spring on her husband and hurl herself with him down a precipice, she
felt as if she could have done it.  Union with this man!  At that moment
the self-quelling discipline of two years seemed to be nullified: she
felt nothing but that they were divided.

They were nearly in darkness again, and could only see each other's
faces dimly.

"Tell me the truth, Tito--this time tell me the truth," said Romola, in
a low quivering voice.  "It will be safer for you."

"Why should I desire to tell you anything else, my angry saint?" said
Tito, with a slight touch of contempt, which was the vent of his
annoyance; "since the truth is precisely that over which you have most
reason to rejoice--namely, that my knowing a plot of Spini's enables me
to secure the Frate from falling a victim to it."

"What is the plot?"

"That I decline to tell," said Tito.  "It is enough that the Frate's
safety will be secured."

"It is a plot for drawing him outside the gates that Spini may murder
him."

"There has been no intention of murder.  It is simply a plot for
compelling him to obey the Pope's summons to Rome.  But as I serve the
popular government, and think the Frate's presence here is a necessary
means of maintaining it at present, I choose to prevent his departure.
You may go to sleep with entire ease of mind to-night."

For a moment Romola was silent.  Then she said, in a voice of anguish,
"Tito, it is of no use: I have no belief in you."

She could just discern his action as he shrugged his shoulders, and
spread out his palms in silence.  That cold dislike which is the anger
of unimpassioned beings was hardening within him.

"If the Frate leaves the city--if any harm happens to him," said Romola,
after a slight pause, in a new tone of indignant resolution,--"I will
declare what I have heard to the Signoria, and you will be disgraced.
What if I am your wife?" she went on, impetuously; "I will be disgraced
with you.  If we are united, I am that part of you that will save you
from crime.  Others shall not be betrayed."

"I am quite aware of what you would be likely to do, _anima mia_," said
Tito, in the coolest of his liquid tones; "therefore if you have a small
amount of reasoning at your disposal just now, consider that if you
believe me in nothing else, you may believe me when I say I will take
care of myself, and not put it in your power to ruin me."

"Then you assure me that the Frate is warned--he will not go beyond the
gates?"

"He shall not go beyond the gates."

There was a moment's pause, but distrust was not to be expelled.

"I will go back to San Marco now and find out," Romola said, making a
movement forward.

"You shall not!" said Tito, in a bitter whisper, seizing her wrists with
all his masculine force.  "I am master of you.  You shall not set
yourself in opposition to me."

There were passers-by approaching.  Tito had heard them, and that was
why he spoke in a whisper.  Romola was too conscious of being mastered
to have struggled, even if she had remained unconscious that witnesses
were at hand.  But she was aware now of footsteps and voices, and her
habitual sense of personal dignity made her at once yield to Tito's
movement towards leading her from the loggia.

They walked on in silence for some time, under the small drizzling rain.
The first rush of indignation and alarm in Romola had begun to give way
to more complicated feelings, which rendered speech and action
difficult.  In that simpler state of vehemence, open opposition to the
husband from whom she felt her soul revolting had had the aspect of
temptation for her; it seemed the easiest of all courses.  But now,
habits of self-questioning, memories of impulse subdued, and that proud
reserve which all discipline had left unmodified, began to emerge from
the flood of passion.  The grasp of her wrists, which asserted her
husband's physical predominance, instead of arousing a new fierceness in
her, as it might have done if her impetuosity had been of a more vulgar
kind, had given her a momentary shuddering horror at this form of
contest with him.  It was the first time they had been in declared
hostility to each other since her flight and return, and the check given
to her ardent resolution then, retained the power to arrest her now.  In
this altered condition her mind began to dwell on the probabilities that
would save her from any desperate course: Tito would not risk betrayal
by her; whatever had been his original intention, he must be determined
now by the fact that she knew of the plot.  She was not bound now to do
anything else than to hang over him that certainty, that if he deceived
her, her lips would not, be closed.  And then, it was possible--yes, she
must cling to that possibility till it was disproved--that Tito had
never meant to aid in the betrayal of the Frate.

Tito, on his side, was busy with thoughts, and did not speak again till
they were near home.  Then he said--

"Well, Romola, have you now had time to recover calmness?  If so, you
can supply your want of belief in me by a little rational inference: you
can see, I presume, that if I had had any intention of furthering
Spini's plot, I should now be aware that the possession of a fair
Piagnone for my wife, who knows the secret of the plot, would be a
serious obstacle in my way."

Tito assumed the tone which was just then the easiest to him,
conjecturing that in Romola's present mood persuasive deprecation would
be lost upon her.

"Yes, Tito," she said, in a low voice, "I think you believe that I would
guard the Republic from further treachery.  You are right to believe it:
if the Frate is betrayed, I will denounce you."  She paused a moment,
and then said, with an effort, "But it was not so.  I have perhaps
spoken too hastily--you never meant it.  Only, why will you seem to be
that man's comrade?"

"Such relations are inevitable to practical men, my Romola," said Tito,
gratified by discerning the struggle within her.  "You fair creatures
live in the clouds.  Pray go to rest with an easy heart," he added,
opening the door for her.



CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN.

CHECK.

Tito's clever arrangements had been unpleasantly frustrated by trivial
incidents which could not enter into a clever man's calculations.  It
was very seldom that he walked with Romola in the evening, yet he had
happened to be walking with her precisely on this evening when her
presence was supremely inconvenient.  Life was so complicated a game
that the devices of skill were liable to be defeated at every turn by
air-blown chances, incalculable as the descent of thistle-down.

It was not that he minded about the failure of Spini's plot, but he felt
an awkward difficulty in so adjusting his warning to Savonarola on the
one hand, and to Spini on the other, as not to incur suspicion.
Suspicion roused in the popular party might be fatal to his reputation
and ostensible position in Florence: suspicion roused in Dolfo Spini
might be as disagreeable in its effects as the hatred of a fierce dog
not to be chained.

If Tito went forthwith to the monastery to warn Savonarola before the
monks went to rest, his warning would follow so closely on his delivery
of the forged letters that he could not escape unfavourable surmises.
He could not warn Spini at once without telling him the true reason,
since he could not immediately allege the discovery that Savonarola had
changed his purpose; and he knew Spini well enough to know that his
understanding would discern nothing but that Tito had "turned round" and
frustrated the plot.  On the other hand, by deferring his warning to
Savonarola until the morning, he would be almost sure to lose the
opportunity of warning Spini that the Frate had changed his mind; and
the band of Compagnacci would come back in all the rage of
disappointment.  This last, however, was the risk he chose, trusting to
his power of soothing Spini by assuring him that the failure was due
only to the Frate's caution.

Tito was annoyed.  If he had had to smile it would have been an unusual
effort to him.  He was determined not to encounter Romola again, and he
did not go home that night.

She watched through the night, and never took off her clothes.  She
heard the rain become heavier and heavier.  She liked to hear the rain:
the stormy heavens seemed a safeguard against men's devices, compelling
them to inaction.  And Romola's mind was again assailed, not only by the
utmost doubt of her husband, but by doubt as to her own conduct.  What
lie might he not have told her?  What project might he not have, of
which she was still ignorant?  Every one who trusted Tito was in danger;
it was useless to try and persuade herself of the contrary.  And was not
she selfishly listening to the promptings of her own pride, when she
shrank from warning men against him?  "If her husband was a malefactor,
her place was in the prison by his side"--that might be; she was
contented to fulfil that claim.  But was she, a wife, to allow a husband
to inflict the injuries that would make him a malefactor, when it might
be in her power to prevent them?  Prayer seemed impossible to her.  The
activity of her thought excluded a mental state of which the essence is
expectant passivity.

The excitement became stronger and stronger.  Her imagination, in a
state of morbid activity, conjured up possible schemes by which, after
all, Tito would have eluded her threat; and towards daybreak the rain
became less violent, till at last it ceased, the breeze rose again and
dispersed the clouds, and the morning fell clear on all the objects
around her.  It made her uneasiness all the less endurable.  She wrapped
her mantle round her, and ran up to the loggia, as if there could be
anything in the wide landscape that might determine her action; as if
there could be anything but roofs hiding the line of street along which
Savonarola might be walking towards betrayal.

If she went to her godfather, might she not induce him, without any
specific revelation, to take measures for preventing Fra Girolamo from
passing the gates?  But that might be too late.  Romola thought, with
new distress, that she had failed to learn any guiding details from
Tito, and it was already long past seven.  She must go to San Marco:
there was nothing else to be done.

She hurried down the stairs, she went out into the street without
looking at her sick people, and walked at a swift pace along the Via de'
Bardi towards the Ponte Vecchio.  She would go through the heart of the
city; it was the most direct road, and, besides, in the great Piazza
there was a chance of encountering her husband, who, by some possibility
to which she still clung, might satisfy her of the Frate's safety, and
leave no need for her to go to San Marco.  When she arrived in front of
the Palazzo Vecchio, she looked eagerly into the pillared court; then
her eyes swept the Piazza; but the well-known figure, once painted in
her heart by young love, and now branded there by eating pain, was
nowhere to be seen.  She hurried straight on to the Piazza del Duomo.
It was already full of movement: there were worshippers passing up and
down the marble steps, there were men pausing for chat, and there were
market-people carrying their burdens.  Between those moving figures
Romola caught a glimpse of her husband.  On his way from San Marco he
had turned into Nello's shop, and was now leaning against the door-post.
As Romola approached she could see that he was standing and talking,
with the easiest air in the world, holding his cap in his hand, and
shaking back his freshly-combed hair.  The contrast of this ease with
the bitter anxieties he had created convulsed her with indignation: the
new vision of his hardness heightened her dread.  She recognised Cronaca
and two other frequenters of San Marco standing near her husband.  It
flashed through her mind--"I will compel him to speak before those men."
And her light step brought her close upon him before he had time to
move, while Cronaca was saying, "Here comes Madonna Romola."

A slight shock passed through Tito's frame as he felt himself face to
face with his wife.  She was haggard with her anxious watching, but
there was a flash of something else than anxiety in her eyes as she
said--

"Is the Frate gone beyond the gates?"

"No," said Tito, feeling completely helpless before this woman, and
needing all the self-command he possessed to preserve a countenance in
which there should seem to be nothing stronger than surprise.

"And you are certain that he is not going?" she insisted.

"I am certain that he is not going."

"That is enough," said Romola, and she turned up the steps, to take
refuge in the Duomo, till she could recover from her agitation.

Tito never had a feeling so near hatred as that with which his eyes
followed Romola retreating up the steps.

There were present not only genuine followers of the Frate, but Ser
Ceccone, the notary, who at that time, like Tito himself, was secretly
an agent of the Mediceans.

Ser Francesco di Ser Barone, more briefly known to infamy as Ser
Ceccone, was not learned, not handsome, not successful, and the reverse
of generous.  He was a traitor without charm.  It followed that he was
not fond of Tito Melema.



CHAPTER FORTY EIGHT.

COUNTER-CHECK.

It was late in the afternoon when Tito returned home.  Romola, seated
opposite the cabinet in her narrow room, copying documents, was about to
desist from her work because the light was getting dim, when her husband
entered.  He had come straight to this room to seek her, with a
thoroughly defined intention, and there was something new to Romola in
his manner and expression as he looked at her silently on entering, and,
without taking off his cap and mantle, leaned one elbow on the cabinet,
and stood directly in front of her.

Romola, fully assured during the day of the Frate's safety, was feeling
the reaction of some penitence for the access of distrust and
indignation which had impelled her to address her husband publicly on a
matter that she knew he wished to be private.  She told herself that she
had probably been wrong.  The scheming duplicity which she had heard
even her godfather allude to as inseparable from party tactics might be
sufficient to account for the connection with Spini, without the
supposition that Tito had ever meant to further the plot.  She wanted to
atone for her impetuosity by confessing that she had been too hasty, and
for some hours her mind had been dwelling on the possibility that this
confession of hers might lead to other frank words breaking the two
years' silence of their hearts.  The silence had been so complete, that
Tito was ignorant of her having fled from him and come back again; they
had never approached an avowal of that past which, both in its young
love and in the shock that shattered the love, lay locked away from them
like a banquet-room where death had once broken the feast.

She looked up at him with that submission in her glance which belonged
to her state of self-reproof; but the subtle change in his face and
manner arrested her speech.  For a few moments they remained silent,
looking at each other.

Tito himself felt that a crisis was come in his married life.  The
husband's determination to mastery, which lay deep below all blandness
and beseechingness, had risen permanently to the surface now, and seemed
to alter his face, as a face is altered by a hidden muscular tension
with which a man is secretly throttling or stamping out the life from
something feeble, yet dangerous.

"Romola," he began, in the cool liquid tone that made her shiver, "it is
time that we should understand each other."  He paused.

"That is what I most desire, Tito," she said, faintly.  Her sweet pale
face; with all its anger gone and nothing but the timidity of self-doubt
in it, seemed to give a marked predominance to her husband's dark
strength.

"You took a step this morning," Tito went on, "which you must now
yourself perceive to have been useless--which exposed you to remark and
may involve me in serious practical difficulties."

"I acknowledge that I was too hasty; I am sorry for any injustice I may
have done you."  Romola spoke these words in a fuller and firmer tone;
Tito, she hoped, would look less hard when she had expressed her regret,
and then she could say other things.

"I wish you once for all to understand," he said, without any change of
voice, "that such collisions are incompatible with our position as
husband and wife.  I wish you to reflect on the mode in which you were
led to that step, that the process may not he repeated."

"That depends chiefly on you, Tito," said Romola, taking fire slightly.
It was not at all what she had thought of saying, but we see a very
little way before us in mutual speech.

"You would say, I suppose," answered Tito, "that nothing is to occur in
future which can excite your unreasonable suspicions.  You were frank
enough to say last night that you have no belief in me.  I am not
surprised at any exaggerated conclusion you may draw from slight
premises, but I wish to point out to you what is likely to be the fruit
of your making such exaggerated conclusions a ground for interfering in
affairs of which you are ignorant.  Your attention is thoroughly awake
to what I am saying?"

He paused for a reply.

"Yes," said Romola, flushing in irrepressible resentment at this cold
tone of superiority.

"Well, then, it may possibly not be very long before some other chance
words or incidents set your imagination at work devising crimes for me,
and you may perhaps rush to the Palazzo Vecchio to alarm the Signoria
and set the city in an uproar.  Shall I tell you what may be the result?
Not simply the disgrace of your husband, to which you look forward with
so much courage, but the arrest and ruin of many among the chief men in
Florence, including Messer Bernardo del Nero."

Tito had meditated a decisive move, and he had made it.  The flush died
out of Romola's face, and her very lips were pale--an unusual effect
with her, for she was little subject to fear.  Tito perceived his
success.

"You would perhaps flatter yourself," he went on, "that you were
performing a heroic deed of deliverance; you might as well try to turn
locks with fine words as apply such notions to the politics of Florence.
The question now is, not whether you can have any belief in me, but
whether, now you have been warned, you will dare to rush, like a blind
man with a torch in his hand, amongst intricate affairs of which you
know nothing."

Romola felt as if her mind were held in a vice by Tito's: the
possibilities he had indicated were rising before her with terrible
clearness.

"I am too rash," she said.  "I will try not to be rash."

"Remember," said Tito, with unsparing insistance, "that your act of
distrust towards me this morning might, for aught you knew, have had
more fatal effects than that sacrifice of your husband which you have
learned to contemplate without flinching."

"Tito, it is not so," Romola burst forth in a pleading tone, rising and
going nearer to him, with a desperate resolution to speak out.  "It is
false that I would willingly sacrifice you.  It has been the greatest
effort of my life to cling to you.  I went away in my anger two years
ago, and I came back again because I was more bound to you than to
anything else on earth.  But it is useless.  You shut me out from your
mind.  You affect to think of me as a being too unreasonable to share in
the knowledge of your affairs.  You will be open with me about nothing."

She looked like his good angel pleading with him, as she bent her face
towards him with dilated eyes, and laid her hand upon his arm.  But
Romola's touch and glance no longer stirred any fibre of tenderness in
her husband.  The good-humoured, tolerant Tito, incapable of hatred,
incapable almost of impatience, disposed always to be gentle towards the
rest of the world, felt himself becoming strangely hard towards this
wife whose presence had once been the strongest influence he had known.
With all his softness of disposition, he had a masculine effectiveness
of intellect and purpose which, like sharpness of edge, is itself an
energy, working its way without any strong momentum.  Romola had an
energy of her own which thwarted his, and no man, who is not
exceptionally feeble, will endure being thwarted by his wife.  Marriage
must be a relation either of sympathy or of conquest.

No emotion darted across his face as he heard Romola for the first time
speak of having gone away from him.  His lips only looked a little
harder as he smiled slightly and said--

"My Romola, when certain conditions are ascertained, we must make up our
minds to them.  No amount of wishing will fill the Arno, as your people
say, or turn a plum into an orange.  I have not observed even that
prayers have much efficacy that way.  You are so constituted as to have
certain strong impressions inaccessible to reason: I cannot share those
impressions, and you have withdrawn all trust from me in consequence.
You have changed towards me; it has followed that I have changed towards
you.  It is useless to take any retrospect.  We have simply to adapt
ourselves to altered conditions."

"Tito, it would not be useless for us to speak openly," said Romola,
with the sort of exasperation that comes from using living muscle
against some lifeless insurmountable resistance.  "It was the sense of
deception in you that changed me, and that has kept us apart.  And it is
not true that I changed first.  You changed towards me the night you
first wore that chain-armour.  You had some secret from me--it was about
that old man--and I saw him again yesterday.  Tito," she went on, in a
tone of agonised entreaty, "if you would once tell me everything, let it
be what it may--I would not mind pain--that there might be no wall
between us!  Is it not possible that we could begin a new life?"

This time there was a flash of emotion across Tito's face.  He stood
perfectly still; but the flash seemed to have whitened him.  He took no
notice of Romola's appeal, but after a moment's pause, said quietly--

"Your impetuosity about trifles, Romola, has a freezing influence that
would cool the baths of Nero."  At these cutting words, Romola shrank
and drew herself up into her usual self-sustained attitude.  Tito went
on.  "If by `that old man' you mean the mad Jacopo di Nola who attempted
my life and made a strange accusation against me, of which I told you
nothing because it would have alarmed you to no purpose, he, poor
wretch, has died in prison.  I saw his name in the list of dead."

"I know nothing about his accusation," said Romola.  "But I know he is
the man whom I saw with the rope round his neck in the Duomo--the man
whose portrait Piero di Cosimo painted, grasping your arm as he saw him
grasp it the day the French entered, the day you first wore the armour."

"And where is he now, pray?" said Tito, still pale, but governing
himself.

"He was lying lifeless in the street from starvation," said Romola.  "I
revived him with bread and wine.  I brought him to our door, but he
refused to come in.  Then I gave him some money, and he went away
without telling me anything.  But he had found out that I was your wife.
Who is he?"

"A man, half mad, half imbecile, who was once my father's servant in
Greece, and who has a rancorous hatred towards me because I got him
dismissed for theft.  Now you have the whole mystery, and the further
satisfaction of knowing that I am again in danger of assassination.  The
fact of my wearing the armour, about which you seem to have thought so
much, must have led you to infer that I was in danger from this man.
Was that the reason you chose to cultivate his acquaintance and invite
him into the house?"

Romola was mute.  To speak was only like rushing with bare breast
against a shield.

Tito moved from his leaning posture, slowly took off his cap and mantle,
and pushed back his hair.  He was collecting himself for some final
words.  And Romola stood upright looking at him as she might have looked
at some on-coming deadly force, to be met only by silent endurance.

"We need not refer to these matters again, Romola," he said, precisely
in the same tone as that in which he had spoken at first.  "It is enough
if you will remember that the next time your generous ardour leads you
to interfere in political affairs, you are likely, not to save any one
from danger, but to be raising scaffolds and setting houses on fire.
You are not yet a sufficiently ardent Piagnone to believe that Messer
Bernardo del Nero is the prince of darkness, and Messer Francesco Valori
the archangel Michael.  I think I need demand no promise from you?"

"I have understood you too well, Tito."

"It is enough," he said, leaving the room.

Romola turned round with despair in her face and sank into her seat.  "O
God, I have tried--I cannot help it.  We shall always be divided."
Those words passed silently through her mind.  "Unless," she said aloud,
as if some sudden vision had startled her into speech--"unless misery
should come and join us!"

Tito, too, had a new thought in his mind after he had closed the door
behind him.  With the project of leaving Florence as soon as his life
there had become a high enough stepping-stone to a life elsewhere,
perhaps at Rome or Milan, there was now for the first, time associated a
desire to be free from Romola, and to leave her behind him.  She had
ceased to belong to the desirable furniture of his life: there was no
possibility of an easy relation between them without genuineness on his
part.  Genuineness implied confession of the past, and confession
involved a change of purpose.  But Tito had as little bent that way as a
leopard has to lap milk when its teeth are grown.  From all relations
that were not easy and agreeable, we know that Tito shrank: why should
he cling to them?

And Romola had made his relations difficult with others besides herself.
He had had a troublesome interview with Dolfo Spini, who had come back
in a rage after an ineffectual soaking with rain and long waiting in
ambush, and that scene between Romola and himself at Nello's door, once
reported in Spini's ear, might be a seed of something more unmanageable
than suspicion.  But now, at least, he believed that he had mastered
Romola by a terror which appealed to the strongest forces of her nature.
He had alarmed her affection and her conscience by the shadowy image of
consequences; he had arrested her intellect by hanging before it the
idea of a hopeless complexity in affairs which defied any moral
judgment.

Yet Tito was not at ease.  The world was not yet quite cushioned with
velvet, and, if it had been, he could not have abandoned himself to that
softness with thorough enjoyment; for before he went out again this
evening he put on his coat of chain-armour.



CHAPTER FORTY NINE.

THE PYRAMID OF VANITIES.

The wintry days passed for Romola as the white ships pass one who is
standing lonely on the shore--passing in silence and sameness, yet each
bearing a hidden burden of coming change.  Tito's hint had mingled so
much dread with her interest in the progress of public affairs that she
had begun to court ignorance rather than knowledge.  The threatening
German Emperor was gone again; and, in other ways besides, the position
of Florence was alleviated; but so much distress remained that Romola's
active duties were hardly diminished, and in these, as usual, her mind
found a refuge from its doubt.

She dared not rejoice that the relief which had come in extremity and
had appeared to justify the policy of the Frate's party was making that
party so triumphant, that Francesco Valori, hot-tempered chieftain of
the Piagnoni, had been elected Gonfaloniere at the beginning of the
year, and was making haste to have as much of his own liberal way as
possible during his two months of power.  That seemed for the moment
like a strengthening of the party most attached to freedom, and a
reinforcement of protection to Savonarola; but Romola was now alive to
every suggestion likely to deepen her foreboding, that whatever the
present might be, it was only an unconscious brooding over the mixed
germs of Change which might any day become tragic.  And already by
Carnival time, a little after mid-February, her presentiment was
confirmed by the signs of a very decided change: the Mediceans had
ceased to be passive, and were openly exerting themselves to procure the
election of Bernardo del Nero as the new Gonfaloniere.

On the last day of the Carnival, between ten and eleven in the morning,
Romola walked out, according to promise, towards the Corso degli
Albizzi, to fetch her cousin Brigida, that they might both be ready to
start from the Via de' Bardi early in the afternoon, and take their
places at a window which Tito had had reserved for them in the Piazza
della Signoria, where there was to be a scene of so new and striking a
sort, that all Florentine eyes must desire to see it.  For the Piagnoni
were having their own way thoroughly about the mode of keeping the
Carnival.  In vain Dolfo Spini and his companions had struggled to get
up the dear old masques and practical jokes, well spiced with indecency.
Such things were not to be in a city where Christ had been declared
king.

Romola set out in that languid state of mind with which every one enters
on a long day of sight-seeing purely for the sake of gratifying a child,
or some dear childish friend.  The day was certainly an epoch in
carnival-keeping; but this phase of reform had not touched her
enthusiasm: and she did not know that it was an epoch in her own life
when _another_ lot would begin to be no longer secretly but visibly
entwined with her own.

She chose to go through the great Piazza that she might take a first
survey of the unparalleled sight there while she was still alone.
Entering it from the south, she saw something monstrous and
many-coloured in the shape of a pyramid, or, rather, like a huge
fir-tree, sixty feet high, with shelves on the branches, widening and
widening towards the base till they reached a circumference of eighty
yards.  The Piazza was full of life: slight young figures, in white
garments, with olive wreaths on their heads, were moving to and fro
about the base of the pyramidal tree, carrying baskets full of
bright-coloured things; and maturer forms, some in the monastic frock,
some in the loose tunics and dark-red caps of artists, were helping and
examining, or else retreating to various points in the distance to
survey the wondrous whole: while a considerable group, amongst whom
Romola recognised Piero di Cosimo, standing on the marble steps of
Orgagna's Loggia, seemed to be keeping aloof in discontent and scorn.

Approaching nearer, she paused to look at the multifarious objects
ranged in gradation from the base to the summit of the pyramid.  There
were tapestries and brocades of immodest design, pictures and sculptures
held too likely to incite to vice; there were boards and tables for all
sorts of games, playing-cards along with the blocks for printing them,
dice, and other apparatus for gambling; there were worldly music-books,
and musical instruments in all the pretty varieties of lute, drum,
cymbal, and trumpet; there were masks and masquerading-dresses used in
the old Carnival shows; there were handsome copies of Ovid, Boccaccio,
Petrarca, Pulci, and other books of a vain or impure sort; there were
all the implements of feminine vanity--rouge-pots, false hair, mirrors,
perfumes, powders, and transparent veils intended to provoke inquisitive
glances: lastly, at the very summit, there was the unflattering effigy
of a probably mythical Venetian merchant, who was understood to have
offered a heavy sum for this collection of marketable abominations, and,
soaring above him in surpassing ugliness, the symbolic figure of the old
debauched Carnival.

This was the preparation for a new sort of bonfire--the Burning of
Vanities.  Hidden in the interior of the pyramid was a plentiful store
of dry fuel and gunpowder; and on this last day of the festival, at
evening, the pile of vanities was to be set ablaze to the sound of
trumpets, and the ugly old Carnival was to tumble into the flames amid
the songs of reforming triumph.

This crowning act of the new festivities could hardly have been prepared
but for a peculiar organisation which had been started by Savonarola two
years before.  The mass of the Florentine boyhood and youth was no
longer left to its own genial promptings towards street mischief and
crude dissoluteness.  Under the training of Fra Domenico, a sort of
lieutenant to Savonarola, lads and striplings, the hope of Florence,
were to have none but pure words on their lips, were to have a zeal for
Unseen Good that should put to shame the lukewarmness of their elders,
and were to know no pleasures save of an angelic sort--singing divine
praises and walking in white robes.  It was for them that the ranges of
seats had been raised high against the walls of the Duomo; and they had
been used to hear Savonarola appeal to them as the future glory of a
city specially appointed to do the work of God.

These fresh-cheeked troops were the chief agents in the regenerated
merriment of the new Carnival, which was a sort of sacred parody of the
old.  Had there been bonfires in the old time?  There was to be a
bonfire now, consuming impurity from off the earth.  Had there been
symbolic processions?  There were to be processions now, but the symbols
were to be white robes and red crosses and olive wreaths--emblems of
peace and innocent gladness--and the banners and images held aloft were
to tell the triumphs of goodness.  Had there been dancing in a ring
under the open sky of the Piazza, to the sound of choral voices chanting
loose songs?  There was to be dancing in a ring now, but dancing of
monks and laity in fraternal love and divine joy, and the music was to
be the music of hymns.  As for the collections from street passengers,
they were to be greater than ever--not for gross and superfluous:
suppers, but--for the benefit of the hungry and needy; and, besides,
there was the collecting of the _Anathema_, or the Vanities to be laid
on the great pyramidal bonfire.

Troops of young inquisitors went from house to house on this exciting
business of asking that the Anathema should be given up to them.
Perhaps, after the more avowed vanities had been surrendered, Madonna,
at the head of the household, had still certain little reddened balls
brought from the Levant, intended to produce on a sallow cheek a sudden
bloom of the most ingenuous falsity?  If so, let her bring them down and
cast them into the basket of doom.  Or, perhaps, she had ringlets and
coils of "dead hair?"--if so, let her bring them to the streetdoor, not
on her head, but in her hands, and publicly renounce the Anathema which
hid the respectable signs of age under a ghastly mockery of youth.  And,
in reward, she would hear fresh young voices pronounce a blessing on her
and her house.

The beardless inquisitors, organised into little regiments, doubtless
took to their work very willingly.  To coerce people by shame, or other
spiritual pelting, into the giving up of things it will probably vex
them to part with, is a form of piety to which the boyish mind is most
readily converted; and if some obstinately wicked men got enraged and
threatened the whip or the cudgel, this also was exciting.  Savonarola
himself evidently felt about the training of these boys the difficulty
weighing on all minds with noble yearnings towards great ends, yet with
that imperfect perception of means which forces a resort to some
supernatural constraining influence as the only sure hope.  The
Florentine youth had had very evil habits and foul tongues: it seemed at
first an unmixed blessing when they were got to shout "_Viva Gesu_!"
But Savonarola was forced at last to say from the pulpit, "There is a
little too much shouting of `_Viva Gesu_!'  This constant utterance of
sacred words brings them into contempt.  Let me have no more of that
shouting till the next Festa."

Nevertheless, as the long stream of white-robed youthfulness, with its
little red crosses and olive wreaths, had gone to the Duomo at dawn this
morning to receive the communion from the hands of Savonarola, it was a
sight of beauty; and, doubtless, many of those young souls were laying
up memories of hope and awe that might save them from ever resting in a
merely vulgar view of their work as men and citizens.  There is no kind
of conscious obedience that is not an advance on lawlessness, and these
boys became the generation of men who fought greatly and endured greatly
in the last struggle of their Republic.  Now, in the intermediate hours
between the early communion and dinner-time, they were making their last
perambulations to collect alms and vanities, and this was why Romola saw
the slim white figures moving to and fro about the base of the great
pyramid.

"What think you of this folly, Madonna Romola?" said a brusque voice
close to her ear.  "Your Piagnoni will make _l'inferno_ a pleasant
prospect to us, if they are to carry things their own way on earth.
It's enough to fetch a cudgel over the mountains to see painters, like
Lorenzo di Credi and young Baccio there, helping to burn colour out of
life in this fashion."

"My good Piero," said Romola, looking up and smiling at the grim man,
"even you must be glad to see some of these things burnt.  Look at those
gewgaws and wigs and rouge-pots: I have heard you talk as indignantly
against those things as Fra Girolamo himself."

"What then?" said Piero, turning round on her sharply.  "I never said a
woman should make a black patch of herself against the background.  Va!
Madonna Antigone, it's a shame for a woman with your hair and shoulders
to run into such nonsense--leave it to women who are not worth painting.
What! the most holy Virgin herself has always been dressed well; that's
the doctrine of the Church:--talk of heresy, indeed!  And I should like
to know what the excellent Messer Bardo would have said to the burning
of the divine poets by these Frati, who are no better an imitation of
men than if they were onions with the bulbs uppermost.  Look at that
Petrarca sticking up beside a rouge-pot: do the idiots pretend that the
heavenly Laura was a painted harridan?  And Boccaccio, now: do you mean
to say, Madonna Romola--you who are fit to be a model for a wise Saint
Catherine of Egypt--do you mean to say you have never read the stories
of the immortal Messer Giovanni?"

"It is true I have read them, Piero," said Romola.  "Some of them a
great many times over, when I was a little girl.  I used to get the book
down when my father was asleep, so that I could read to myself."

"_Ebbene_?" said Piero, in a fiercely challenging tone.

"There are some things in them I do not want ever to forget," said
Romola; "but you must confess, Piero, that a great many of those stories
are only about low deceit for the lowest ends.  Men do not want books to
make them think lightly of vice, as if life were a vulgar joke.  And I
cannot blame Fra Girolamo for teaching that we owe our time to something
better."

"Yes, yes, it's very well to say so now you've read them," said Piero,
bitterly, turning on his heel and walking away from her.

Romola, too, walked on, smiling at Piero's innuendo, with a sort of
tenderness towards the old painter's anger, because she knew that her
father would have felt something like it.  For herself, she was
conscious of no inward collision with the strict and sombre view of
pleasure which tended to repress poetry in the attempt to repress vice.
Sorrow and joy have each their peculiar narrowness; and a religious
enthusiasm like Savonarola's which ultimately blesses mankind by giving
the soul a strong propulsion towards sympathy with pain, indignation
against wrong, and the subjugation of sensual desire, must always incur
the reproach of a great negation.  Romola's life had given her an
affinity for sadness which inevitably made her unjust towards merriment.
That subtle result of culture which we call Taste was subdued by the
need for deeper motive; just as the nicer demands of the palate are
annihilated by urgent hunger.  Moving habitually amongst scenes of
suffering, and carrying woman's heaviest disappointment in her heart,
the severity which allied itself with self-renouncing beneficent
strength had no dissonance for her.



CHAPTER FIFTY.

TESSA ABROAD AND AT HOME.

Another figure easily recognised by us--a figure not clad in black, but
in the old red, green, and white--was approaching the Piazza that
morning to see the Carnival.  She came from an opposite point, for Tessa
no longer lived on the hill of San Giorgio.  After what had happened
there with Baldassarre, Tito had thought it best for that and other
reasons to find her a new home, but still in a quiet airy quarter, in a
house bordering on the wide garden grounds north of the Porta Santa
Croce.

Tessa was not come out sight-seeing without special leave.  Tito had
been with her the evening before, and she had kept back the entreaty
which she felt to be swelling her heart and throat until she saw him in
a state of radiant ease, with one arm round the sturdy Lillo, and the
other resting gently on her own shoulder as she tried to make the tiny
Ninna steady on her legs.  She was sure then that the weariness with
which he had come in and flung himself into his chair had quite melted
away from his brow and lips.  Tessa had not been slow at learning a few
small stratagems by which she might avoid vexing Naldo and yet have a
little of her own way.  She could read nothing else, but she had learned
to read a good deal in her husband's face.

And certainly the charm of that bright, gentle-humoured Tito who woke up
under the Loggia de' Cerchi on a Lenten morning five years before, not
having yet given any hostages to deceit, never returned so nearly as in
the person of Naldo, seated in that straight-backed, carved arm-chair
which he had provided for his comfort when he came to see Tessa and the
children.  Tito himself was surprised at the growing sense of relief
which he felt in these moments.  No guile was needed towards Tessa: she
was too ignorant and too innocent to suspect him of anything.  And the
little voices calling him "Babbo" were very sweet in his ears for the
short while that he heard them.  When he thought of leaving Florence, he
never thought of leaving Tessa and the little ones behind.  He was very
fond of these round-cheeked, wide-eyed human things that clung about him
and knew no evil of him.  And wherever affection can spring, it is like
the green leaf and the blossom--pure, and breathing purity, whatever
soil it may grow in.  Poor Romola, with all her self-sacrificing effort,
was really helping to harden Tito's nature by chilling it with a
positive dislike which had beforehand seemed impossible in him; but
Tessa kept open the fountains of kindness.

"Ninna is very good without me now," began Tessa, feeling her request
rising very high in her throat, and letting Ninna seat herself on the
floor.  "I can leave her with Monna Lisa any time, and if she is in the
cradle and cries, Lillo is as sensible as can be--he goes and thumps
Monna Lisa."

Lillo, whose great dark eyes looked all the darker because his curls
were of a light-brown like his mother's, jumped off Babbo's knee, and
went forthwith to attest his intelligence by thumping Monna Lisa, who
was shaking her head slowly over her spinning at the other end of the
room.  "A wonderful boy!" said Tito, laughing.  "Isn't he?" said Tessa,
eagerly, getting a little closer to him; "and I might go and see the
Carnival to-morrow, just for an hour or two, mightn't I?"

"Oh, you wicked pigeon!" said Tito, pinching her cheek; "those are your
longings, are they?  What have you to do with carnivals now you are an
old woman with two children?"

"But old women like to see things," said Tessa, her lower lip hanging a
little.  "Monna Lisa said she should like to go, only she's so deaf she
can't hear what is behind her, and she thinks we couldn't take care of
both the children."

"No, indeed, Tessa," said Tito, looking rather grave, "you must not
think of taking the children into the crowded streets, else I shall be
angry."

"But I have never been into the Piazza without leave," said Tessa, in a
frightened, pleading tone, "since the Holy Saturday, and I think Nofri
is dead, for you know the poor _madre_ died; and I shall never forget
the Carnival I saw once; it was so pretty--all roses and a king and
queen under them--and singing.  I liked it better than the San
Giovanni."

"But there's nothing like that now, my Tessa.  They are going to make a
bonfire in the Piazza--that's all.  But I cannot let you go out by
yourself in the evening."

"Oh no, no!  I don't want to go in the evening.  I only want to go and
see the procession by daylight.  There _will_ be a procession--is it not
true?"

"Yes, after a sort," said Tito, "as lively as a flight of cranes.  You
must not expect roses and glittering kings and queens, my Tessa.
However, I suppose any string of people to be called a procession will
please your blue eyes.  And there's a thing they have raised in the
Piazza de' Signori for the bonfire.  You may like to see that.  But come
home early, and look like a grave little old woman; and if you see any
men with feathers and swords, keep out of their way: they are very
fierce, and like to cut old women's heads off."

"Santa Madonna! where do they come from?  Ah! you are laughing; it is
not so bad.  But I will keep away from them.  Only," Tessa went on in a
whisper, putting her lips near Naldo's ear, "if I might take Lillo with
me!  He is very sensible."

"But who will thump Monna Lisa then, if she doesn't hear?" said Tito,
finding it difficult not to laugh, but thinking it necessary to look
serious.  "No, Tessa, you could not take care of Lillo if you got into a
crowd, and he's too heavy for you to carry him."

"It is true," said Tessa, rather sadly, "and he likes to run away.  I
forgot that.  Then I will go alone.  But now look at Ninna--you have not
looked at her enough."

Ninna was a blue-eyed thing, at the tottering, tumbling age--a fair
solid, which, like a loaded die, found its base with a constancy that
warranted prediction.  Tessa went to snatch her up, and when Babbo was
paying due attention to the recent teeth and other marvels, she said, in
a whisper, "And shall I buy some confetti for the children?"

Tito drew some small coins from his scarsella, and poured them into her
palm.

"That will buy no end," said Tessa, delighted at this abundance.  "I
shall not mind going without Lillo so much, if I bring him something."

So Tessa set out in the morning towards the great Piazza where the
bonfire was to be.  She did not think the February breeze cold enough to
demand further covering than her green woollen dress.  A mantle would
have been oppressive, for it would have hidden a new necklace and a new
clasp, mounted with silver, the only ornamental presents Tito had ever
made her.  Tessa did not think at all of showing her figure, for no one
had ever told her it was pretty; but she was quite sure that her
necklace and clasp were of the prettiest sort ever worn by the richest
contadina, and she arranged her white hood over her head so that the
front of her necklace might be well displayed.  These ornaments, she
considered, must inspire respect for her as the wife of some one who
could afford to buy them.

She tripped along very cheerily in the February sunshine, thinking much
of the purchases for the little ones, with which she was to fill her
small basket, and not thinking at all of any one who might be observing
her.  Yet her descent from her upper storey into the street had been
watched, and she was being kept in sight as she walked by a person who
had often waited in vain to see if it were not Tessa who lived in that
house to which he had more than once dogged Tito.  Baldassarre was
carrying a package of yarn: he was constantly employed in that way, as a
means of earning his scanty bread, and keeping the sacred fire of
vengeance alive; and he had come out of his way this morning, as he had
often done before, that he might pass by the house to which he had
followed Tito in the evening.  His long imprisonment had so intensified
his timid suspicion and his belief in some diabolic fortune favouring
Tito, that he had not dared to pursue him, except under cover of a crowd
or of the darkness; he felt, with instinctive horror, that if Tito's
eyes fell upon him, he should again be held up to obloquy, again be
dragged away his weapon would be taken from him, and he should be cast
helpless into a prison-cell.  His fierce purpose had become as stealthy
as a serpent's, which depends for its prey on one dart of the fang.
Justice was weak and unfriended; and he could not hear again the voice
that pealed the promise of vengeance in the Duomo; he had been there
again and again, but that voice, too, had apparently been stifled by
cunning strong-armed wickedness.  For a long while, Baldassarre's ruling
thought was to ascertain whether Tito still wore the armour, for now at
last his fainting hope would have been contented with a successful stab
on this side the grave; but he would never risk his precious knife
again.  It was a weary time he had had to wait for the chance of
answering this question by touching Tito's back in the press of the
street.  Since then, the knowledge that the sharp steel was useless, and
that he had no hope but in some new device, had fallen with leaden
weight on his enfeebled mind.  A dim vision of winning one of those two
wives to aid him came before him continually, and continually slid away.
The wife who had lived on the hill was no longer there.  If he could
find her again, he might grasp some thread of a project, and work his
way to more clearness.

And this morning he had succeeded.  He was quite certain now where this
wife lived, and as he walked, bent a little under his burden of yarn,
yet keeping the green and white figure in sight, his mind was dwelling
upon her and her circumstances as feeble eyes dwell on lines and
colours, trying to interpret them into consistent significance.

Tessa had to pass through various long streets without seeing any other
sign of the Carnival than unusual groups of the country people in their
best garments, and that disposition in everybody to chat and loiter
which marks the early hours of a holiday, before the spectacle has
begun.  Presently, in her disappointed search for remarkable objects,
her eyes fell on a man with a pedlar's basket before him, who seemed to
be selling nothing but little red crosses to all the passengers.  A
little red cross would be pretty to hang up over her bed; it would also
help to keep off harm, and would perhaps make Ninna stronger.  Tessa
went to the other side of the street that she might ask the pedlar the
price of the crosses, fearing that they would cost a little too much for
her to spare from her purchase of sweets.  The pedlar's back had been
turned towards her hitherto, but when she came near him she recognised
an old acquaintance of the Mercato, Bratti Ferravecchi, and, accustomed
to feel that she was to avoid old acquaintances, she turned away again
and passed to the other side of the street.  But Bratti's eye was too
well practised in looking out at the corner after possible customers,
for her movement to have escaped him, and she was presently arrested by
a tap on the arm from one of the red crosses.

"Young woman," said Bratti, as she unwillingly turned her head, "you
come from some castello a good way off, it seems to me, else you'd never
think of walking about, this blessed Carnival, without a red cross in
your hand.  Santa Madonna!  Four white quattrini is a small price to pay
for your soul--prices rise in purgatory, let me tell you."

"Oh, I should like one," said Tessa, hastily, "but I couldn't spare four
white quattrini."

Bratti had at first regarded Tessa too abstractedly as a mere customer
to look at her with any scrutiny, but when she began to speak he
exclaimed, "By the head of San Giovanni, it must be the little Tessa,
and looking as fresh as a ripe apple!  What! you've done none the worse,
then, for running away from father Nofri?  You were in the right of it,
for he goes on crutches now, and a crabbed fellow with crutches is
dangerous; he can reach across the house and beat a woman as he sits."

"I'm married," said Tessa, rather demurely, remembering Naldo's command
that she should behave with gravity; "and my husband takes great care of
me."

"Ah, then, you've fallen on your feet!  Nofri said you were
good-for-nothing vermin; but what then?  An ass may bray a good while
before he shakes the stars down.  I always said you did well to run
away, and it isn't often Bratti's in the wrong.  Well, and so you've got
a husband and plenty of money?  Then you'll never think much of giving
four white quattrini for a red cross.  I get no profit; but what with
the famine and the new religion, all other merchandise is gone down.
You live in the country where the chestnuts are plenty, eh?  You've
never wanted for polenta, I can see."

"No, I've never wanted anything," said Tessa, still on her guard.

"Then you can afford to buy a cross.  I got a Padre to bless them, and
you get blessing and all for four quattrini.  It isn't for the profit; I
hardly get a danaro by the whole lot.  But then they're holy wares, and
it's getting harder and harder work to see your way to Paradise: the
very Carnival is like Holy Week, and the least you can do to keep the
Devil from getting the upper hand is to buy a cross.  God guard you!
think what the Devil's tooth is!  You've seen him biting the man in San
Giovanni, I should hope?"

Tessa felt much teased and frightened.  "Oh, Bratti," she said, with a
discomposed face, "I want to buy a great many confetti: I've got little
Lillo and Ninna at home.  And nice coloured sweet things cost a great
deal.  And they will not like the cross so well, though I know it would
be good to have it."

"Come, then," said Bratti, fond of laying up a store of merits by
imagining possible extortions and then heroically renouncing them,
"since you're an old acquaintance, you shall have it for two quattrini.
It's making you a present of the cross, to say nothing of the blessing."

Tessa was reaching out her two quattrini with trembling hesitation, when
Bratti said abruptly, "Stop a bit!  Where do you live?"

"Oh, a long way off," she answered, almost automatically, being
preoccupied with her quattrini; "beyond San Ambrogio, in the Via
Piccola, at the top of the house where the wood is stacked below."

"Very good," said Bratti, in a patronising tone; "then I'll let you have
the cross on trust, and call for the money.  So you live inside the
gates?  Well, well, I shall be passing."

"No, no!" said Tessa, frightened lest Naldo should be angry at this
revival of an old acquaintance.  "I can spare the money.  Take it now."

"No," said Bratti, resolutely; "I'm not a hard-hearted pedlar.  I'll
call and see if you've got any rags, and you shall make a bargain.  See,
here's the cross: and there's Pippo's shop not far behind you: you can
go and fill your basket, and I must go and get mine empty.  _Addio,
piccina_."

Bratti went on his way, and Tessa, stimulated to change her money into
confetti before further accident, went into Pippo's shop, a little
fluttered by the thought that she had let Bratti know more about her
than her husband would approve.  There were certainly more dangers in
coming to see the Carnival than in staying at home; and she would have
felt this more strongly if she had known that the wicked old man, who
had wanted to kill her husband on the hill, was still keeping her in
sight.  But she had not noticed the man with the burden on his back.

The consciousness of having a small basketful of things to make the
children glad, dispersed her anxiety, and as she entered the Via de'
Libraj her face had its visual expression of childlike content.  And now
she thought there was really a procession coming, for she saw white
robes and a banner, and her heart began to palpitate with expectation.
She stood a little aside, but in that narrow street there was the
pleasure of being obliged to look very close.  The banner was pretty: it
was the Holy Mother with the Babe, whose love for her Tessa had believed
in more and more since she had had her babies; and the figures in white
had not only green wreaths on their heads, but little red crosses by
their side, which caused her some satisfaction that she also had her red
cross.  Certainly, they looked as beautiful as the angels on the clouds,
and to Tessa's mind they too had a background of cloud, like everything
else that came to her in life.  How and whence did they come?  She did
not mind much about knowing.  But one thing surprised her as newer than
wreaths and crosses; it was that some of the white figures carried
baskets between them.  What could the baskets be for?

But now they were very near, and, to her astonishment, they wheeled
aside and came straight up to her.  She trembled as she would have done
if Saint Michael in the picture had shaken his head at her, and was
conscious of nothing but terrified wonder till she saw close to her a
round boyish face, lower than her own, and heard a treble voice saying,
"Sister, you carry the Anathema about you.  Yield it up to the blessed
Gesu, and He will adorn you with the gems of His grace."

Tessa was only more frightened, understanding nothing.  Her first
conjecture settled on her basket of sweets.  They wanted that, these
alarming angels.  Oh dear, dear!  She looked down at it.

"No, sister," said a taller youth, pointing to her necklace and the
clasp of her belt, "it is those vanities that are the Anathema.  Take
off that necklace and unclasp that belt, that they may be burned in the
holy Bonfire of Vanities, and save _you_ from burning."

"It is the truth, my sister," said a still taller youth, evidently the
archangel of this band.  "Listen to these voices speaking the divine
message.  You already carry a red cross: let that be your only
adornment.  Yield up your necklace and belt, and you shall obtain
grace."

This was too much.  Tessa, overcome with awe, dared not say "no," but
she was equally unable to render up her beloved necklace and clasp.  Her
pouting lips were quivering, the tears rushed to her eyes, and a great
drop fell.  For a moment she ceased to see anything; she felt nothing
but confused terror and misery.  Suddenly a gentle hand was laid on her
arm, and a soft, wonderful voice, as if the Holy Madonna were speaking,
said, "Do not be afraid; no one shall harm you."

Tessa looked up and saw a lady in black, with a young heavenly face and
loving hazel eyes.  She had never seen any one like this lady before,
and under other circumstances might have had awestruck thoughts about
her; but now everything else was overcome by the sense that loving
protection was near her.  The tears only fell the faster, relieving her
swelling heart, as she looked up at the heavenly face, and, putting her
hand to her necklace, said sobbingly--

"I can't give them to be burnt.  My husband--he bought them for me--and
they are so pretty--and Ninna--oh, I wish I'd never come!"

"Do not ask her for them," said Romola, speaking to the white-robed boys
in a tone of mild authority.  "It answers no good end for people to give
up such things against their will.  That is not what Fra Girolamo
approves: he would have such things given up freely."

Madonna Romola's word was not to be resisted, and the white train moved
on.  They even moved with haste, as if some new object had caught their
eyes; and Tessa felt with bliss that they were gone, and that her
necklace and clasp were still with her.

"Oh, I will go back to the house," she said, still agitated; "I will go
nowhere else.  But if I should meet them again, and you not be there?"
she added, expecting everything from this heavenly lady.

"Stay a little," said Romola.  "Come with me under this doorway, and we
will hide the necklace and clasp, and then you will be in no danger."

She led Tessa under the archway, and said, "Now, can we find room for
your necklace and belt in your basket?  Ah! your basket is full of crisp
things that will break: let us be careful, and lay the heavy necklace
under them."

It was like a change in a dream to Tessa--the escape from nightmare into
floating safety and joy--to find herself taken care of by this lady, so
lovely, and powerful, and gentle.  She let Romola unfasten her necklace
and clasp, while she herself did nothing but look up at the face that
bent over her.

"They are sweets for Lillo and Ninna," she said, as Romola carefully
lifted up the light parcels in the basket, and placed the ornaments
below them.

"Those are your children?" said Romola, smiling.  "And you would rather
go home to them than see any more of the Carnival?  Else you have not
far to go to the Piazza de' Signori, and there you would see the pile
for the great bonfire."

"No, oh no!" said Tessa, eagerly; "I shall never like bonfires again.  I
will go back."

"You live at some castello, doubtless," said Romola, not waiting for an
answer.  "Towards which gate do you go?"

"Towards Por' Santa Croce."

"Come, then," said Romola, taking her by the hand and leading her to the
corner of a street nearly opposite.  "If you go down there," she said,
pausing, "you will soon be in a straight road.  And I must leave you
now, because some one else expects me.  You will not be frightened.
Your pretty things are quite safe now.  Addio."

"Addio, Madonna," said Tessa, almost in a whisper, not knowing what else
it would be right to say; and in an instant the heavenly lady was gone.
Tessa turned to catch a last glimpse, but she only saw the tall gliding
figure vanish round the projecting stonework.  So she went on her way in
wonder, longing to be once more safely housed with Monna Lisa,
undesirous of carnivals for evermore.

Baldassarre had kept Tessa in sight till the moment of her parting with
Romola: then he went away with his bundle of yarn.  It seemed to him
that he had discerned a clue which might guide him if he could only
grasp the necessary details firmly enough.  He had seen the two wives
together, and the sight had brought to his conceptions that vividness
which had been wanting before.  His power of imagining facts needed to
be reinforced continually by the senses.  The tall wife was the noble
and rightful wife; she had the blood in her that would be readily
kindled to resentment; she would know what scholarship was, and how it
might lie locked in by the obstructions of the stricken body, like a
treasure buried by earthquake.  She could believe him: she would be
_inclined_ to believe him, if he proved to her that her husband was
unfaithful.  Women cared about that: they would take vengeance for that.
If this wife of Tito's loved him, she would have a sense of injury
which Baldassarre's mind dwelt on with keen longing, as if it would be
the strength of another Will added to his own, the strength of another
mind to form devices.

Both these wives had been kind to Baldassarre, and their acts towards
him, being bound up with the very image of them, had not vanished from
his memory; yet the thought of their pain could not present itself to
him as a check.  To him it seemed that pain was the order of the world
for all except the hard and base.  If any were innocent, if any were
noble, where could the utmost gladness lie for them?  Where it lay for
him--in unconquerable hatred and triumphant vengeance.  But he must be
cautious: he must watch this wife in the Via de' Bardi, and learn more
of her; for even here frustration was possible.  There was no power for
him now but in patience.



CHAPTER FIFTY ONE.

MONNA BRIGIDA'S CONVERSION.

When Romola said that some one else expected her, she meant her cousin
Brigida, but she was far from suspecting how much that good kinswoman
was in need of her.  Returning together towards the Piazza, they had
descried the company of youths coming to a stand before Tessa, and when
Romola, having approached near enough to see the simple little
contadina's distress, said, "Wait for me a moment, cousin," Monna
Brigida said hastily, "Ah, I will not go on: come for me to Boni's
shop,--I shall go back there."

The truth was, Monna Brigida had a consciousness on the one hand of
certain "vanities" carried on her person, and on the other of a growing
alarm lest the Piagnoni should be right in holding that rouge, and false
hair, and pearl embroidery, endamaged the soul.  Their serious view of
things filled the air like an odour; nothing seemed to have exactly the
same flavour as it used to have; and there was the dear child Romola, in
her youth and beauty, leading a life that was uncomfortably suggestive
of rigorous demands on woman.  A widow at fifty-five whose satisfaction
has been largely drawn from what she thinks of her own person, and what
she believes others think of it, requires a great fund of imagination to
keep her spirits buoyant.  And Monna Brigida had begun to have frequent
struggles at her toilet.  If her soul would prosper better without them,
was it really worth while to put on the rouge and the braids?  But when
she lifted up the hand-mirror and saw a sallow face with baggy cheeks,
and crows'-feet that were not to be dissimulated by any simpering of the
lips--when she parted her grey hair, and let it lie in simple Piagnone
fashion round her face, her courage failed.  Monna Berta would certainly
burst out laughing at her, and call her an old hag, and as Monna Berta
was really only fifty-two, she had a superiority which would make the
observation cutting.  Every woman who was not a Piagnone would give a
shrug at the sight of her, and the men would accost her as if she were
their grandmother.  Whereas, at fifty-five a woman was not so very old--
she only required making up a little.  So the rouge and the braids and
the embroidered berretta went on again, and Monna Brigida was satisfied
with the accustomed effect; as for her neck, if she covered it up,
people might suppose it was too old to show, and, on the contrary, with
the necklaces round it, it looked better than Monna Berta's.  This very
day, when she was preparing for the Piagnone Carnival, such a struggle
had occurred, and the conflicting fears and longings which caused the
struggle, caused her to turn back and seek refuge in the druggist's shop
rather than encounter the collectors of the Anathema when Romola was not
by her side.  But Monna Brigida was not quite rapid enough in her
retreat.  She had been descried, even before she turned away, by the
white-robed boys in the rear of those who wheeled round towards Tessa,
and the willingness with which Tessa was given up was, perhaps, slightly
due to the fact that part of the troop had already accosted a personage
carrying more markedly upon her the dangerous weight of the Anathema.
It happened that several of this troop were at the youngest age taken
into peculiar training; and a small fellow of ten, his olive wreath
resting above cherubic cheeks and wide brown eyes, his imagination
really possessed with a hovering awe at existence as something in which
great consequences impended on being good or bad, his longings
nevertheless running in the direction of mastery and mischief, was the
first to reach Monna Brigida and place himself across her path.  She
felt angry, and looked for an open door, but there was not one at hand,
and by attempting to escape now, she would only make things worse.  But
it was not the cherubic-faced young one who first addressed her; it was
a youth of fifteen, who held one handle of a wide basket.

"Venerable mother!" he began, "the blessed Jesus commands you to give up
the Anathema which you carry upon you.  That cap embroidered with
pearls, those jewels that fasten up your false hair--let them be given
up and sold for the poor; and cast the hair itself away from you, as a
lie that is only fit for burning.  Doubtless, too, you have other jewels
under your silk mantle."

"Yes, lady," said the youth at the other handle, who had many of Fra
Girolamo's phrases by heart, "they are too heavy for you: they are
heavier than a millstone, and are weighting you for perdition.  Will you
adorn yourself with the hunger of the poor, and be proud to carry God's
curse upon your head?"

"In truth you are old, buona madre," said the cherubic boy, in a sweet
soprano.  "You look very ugly with the red on your cheeks and that black
glistening hair, and those fine things.  It is only Satan who can like
to see you.  Your Angel is sorry.  He wants you to rub away the red."

The little fellow snatched a soft silk scarf from the basket, and held
it towards Monna Brigida, that she might use it as her guardian angel
desired.  Her anger and mortification were fast giving way to spiritual
alarm.  Monna Berta and that cloud of witnesses, highly-dressed society
in general, were not looking at her, and she was surrounded by young
monitors, whose white robes, and wreaths, and red crosses, and dreadful
candour, had something awful in their unusualness.  Her Franciscan
confessor, Fra Cristoforo, of Santa Croce, was not at hand to reinforce
her distrust of Dominican teaching, and she was helplessly possessed and
shaken by a vague sense that a supreme warning was come to her.
Unvisited by the least suggestion of any other course that was open to
her, she took the scarf that was held out, and rubbed her cheeks, with
trembling submissiveness.

"It is well, madonna," said the second youth.  "It is a holy beginning.
And when you have taken those vanities from your head, the dew of
heavenly grace will descend on it."  The infusion of mischief was
getting stronger, and putting his hand to one of the jewelled pins that
fastened her braids to the berretta, he drew it out.  The heavy black
plait fell down over Monna Brigida's face, and dragged the rest of the
head-gear forward.  It was a new reason for not hesitating: she put up
her hands hastily, undid the other fastenings, and flung down into the
basket of doom her beloved crimson-velvet berretta, with all its
unsurpassed embroidery of seed-pearls, and stood an unrouged woman, with
grey hair pushed backward from a face where certain deep lines of age
had triumphed over _embonpoint_.

But the berretta was not allowed to lie in the basket.  With impish zeal
the youngsters lifted it, and held it up pitilessly, with the false hair
dangling.

"See, venerable mother," said the taller youth, "what ugly lies you have
delivered yourself from!  And now you look like the blessed Saint Anna,
the mother of the Holy Virgin."

Thoughts of going into a convent forthwith, and never showing herself in
the world again, were rushing through Monna Brigida's mind.  There was
nothing possible for her but to take care of her soul.

Of course, there were spectators laughing: she had no need to look round
to assure herself of that.  Well! it would, perhaps, be better to be
forced to think more of Paradise.  But at the thought that the dear
accustomed world was no longer in her choice, there gathered some of
those hard tears which just moisten elderly eyes, and she could see but
dimly a large rough hand holding a red cross, which was suddenly thrust
before her over the shoulders of the boys, while a strong guttural voice
said--

"Only four quattrini, madonna, blessing and all!  Buy it.  You'll find a
comfort in it now your wig's gone.  Deh! what are we sinners doing all
our lives?  Making soup in a basket, and getting nothing but the scum
for our stomachs.  Better buy a blessing, madonna!  Only four quattrini;
the profit is not so much as the smell of a danaro, and it goes to the
poor."

Monna Brigida, in dim-eyed confusion, was proceeding to the further
submission of reaching money from her embroidered scarsella, at present
hidden by her silk mantle, when the group round her, which she had not
yet entertained the idea of escaping, opened before a figure as welcome
as an angel loosing prison-bolts.

"Romola, look at me!" said Monna Brigida, in a piteous tone, putting out
both her hands.

The white troop was already moving away, with a slight consciousness
that its zeal about the head-gear had been superabundant enough to
afford a dispensation from any further demand for penitential offerings.

"Dear cousin, don't be distressed," said Romola, smitten with pity, yet
hardly able to help smiling at the sudden apparition of her kinswoman in
a genuine, natural guise, strangely contrasted with all memories of her.
She took the black drapery from her own head, and threw it over Monna
Brigida's.  "There," she went on soothingly, "no one will remark you
now.  We will turn down the Via del Palagio and go straight to our
house."

They hastened away, Monna Brigida grasping Romola's hand tightly, as if
to get a stronger assurance of her being actually there.

"Ah, my Romola, my dear child!" said the short fat woman, hurrying with
frequent steps to keep pace with the majestic young figure beside her;
"what an old scarecrow I am!  I must be good--I mean to be good!"

"Yes, yes; buy a cross!" said the guttural voice, while the rough hand
was thrust once more before Monna Brigida: for Bratti was not to be
abashed by Romola's presence into renouncing a probable customer, and
had quietly followed up their retreat.  "Only four quattrini, blessing
and all--and if there was any profit, it would all go to the poor."

Monna Brigida would have been compelled to pause, even if she had been
in a less submissive mood.  She put up one hand deprecatingly to arrest
Romola's remonstrance, and with the other reached out a grosso, worth
many white quattrini, saying, in an entreating tone--

"Take it, good man, and begone."

"You're in the right, madonna," said Bratti, taking the coin quickly,
and thrusting the cross into her hand; "I'll not offer you change, for I
might as well rob you of a mass.  What! we must all be scorched a
little, but you'll come off the easier; better fall from the window than
the roof.  A good Easter and a good year to you!"

"Well, Romola," cried Monna Brigida, pathetically, as Bratti left them,
"if I'm to be a Piagnone it's no matter how I look!"

"Dear cousin," said Romola, smiling at her affectionately, "you don't
know how much better you look than you ever did before.  I see now how
good-natured your face is, like yourself.  That red and finery seemed to
thrust themselves forward and hide expression.  Ask our Piero or any
other painter if he would not rather paint your portrait now than
before.  I think all lines of the human face have something either
touching or grand, unless they seem to come from low passions.  How fine
old men are, like my godfather!  Why should not old women look grand and
simple?"

"Yes, when one gets to be sixty, my Romola," said Brigida, relapsing a
little; "but I'm only fifty-five, and Monna Berta, and everybody--but
it's no use: I will be good, like you.  Your mother, if she'd been
alive, would have been as old as I am; we were cousins together.  One
_must_ either die or get old.  But it doesn't matter about being old, if
one's a Piagnone."



CHAPTER FIFTY TWO.

A PROPHETESS.

The incidents of that Carnival day seemed to Romola to carry no other
personal consequences to her than the new care of supporting poor cousin
Brigida in her fluctuating resignation to age and grey hairs; but they
introduced a Lenten time in which she was kept at a high pitch of mental
excitement and active effort.

Bernardo del Nero had been elected Gonfaloniere.  By great exertions the
Medicean party had so far triumphed, and that triumph had deepened
Romola's presentiment of some secretly-prepared scheme likely to ripen
either into success or betrayal during these two months of her
godfather's authority.  Every morning the dim daybreak as it peered into
her room seemed to be that haunting fear coming back to her.  Every
morning the fear went with her as she passed through the streets on her
way to the early sermon in the Duomo: but there she gradually lost the
sense of its chill presence, as men lose the dread of death in the clash
of battle.

In the Duomo she felt herself sharing in a passionate conflict which had
wider relations than any enclosed within the walls of Florence.  For
Savonarola was preaching--preaching the last course of Lenten sermons he
was ever allowed to finish in the Duomo: he knew that excommunication
was imminent, and he had reached the point of defying it.  He held up
the condition of the Church in the terrible mirror of his unflinching
speech, which called things by their right names and dealt in no polite
periphrases; he proclaimed with heightening confidence the advent of
renovation--of a moment when there would be a general revolt against
corruption.  As to his own destiny, he seemed to have a double and
alternating prevision: sometimes he saw himself taking a glorious part
in that revolt, sending forth a voice that would be heard through all
Christendom, and making the dead body of the Church tremble into new
life, as the body of Lazarus trembled when the Divine voice pierced the
sepulchre; sometimes he saw no prospect for himself but persecution and
martyrdom:--this life for him was only a vigil, and only after death
would come the dawn.

The position was one which must have had its impressiveness for all
minds that were not of the dullest order, even if they were inclined, as
Macchiavelli was, to interpret the Frate's character by a key that
presupposed no loftiness.  To Romola, whose kindred ardour gave her a
firm belief in Savonarola's genuine greatness of purpose, the crisis was
as stirring as if it had been part of her personal lot.  It blent itself
as an exalting memory with all her daily labours; and those labours were
calling not only for difficult perseverance, but for new courage.
Famine had never yet taken its flight from Florence, and all distress,
by its long continuance, was getting harder to bear; disease was
spreading in the crowded city, and the Plague was expected.  As Romola
walked, often in weariness, among the sick, the hungry, and the
murmuring, she felt it good to be inspired by something more than her
pity--by the belief in a heroism struggling for sublime ends, towards
which the daily action of her pity could only tend feebly, as the dews
that freshen the weedy ground to-day tend to prepare an unseen harvest
in the years to come.

But that mighty music which stirred her in the Duomo was not without its
jarring notes.  Since those first days of glowing hope when the Frate,
seeing the near triumph of good in the reform of the Republic and the
coming of the French deliverer, had preached peace, charity, and
oblivion of political differences, there had been a marked change of
conditions: political intrigue had been too obstinate to allow of the
desired oblivion; the belief in the French deliverer, who had turned his
back on his high mission, seemed to have wrought harm; and hostility,
both on a petty and on a grand scale, was attacking the Prophet with new
weapons and new determination.

It followed that the spirit of contention and self-vindication pierced
more and more conspicuously in his sermons; that he was urged to meet
the popular demands not only by increased insistance and detail
concerning visions and private revelations, but by a tone of defiant
confidence against objectors; and from having denounced the desire for
the miraculous, and declared that miracles had no relation to true
faith, he had come to assert that at the right moment the Divine power
would attest the truth of his prophetic preaching by a miracle.  And
continually, in the rapid transitions of excited feeling, as the vision
of triumphant good receded behind the actual predominance of evil, the
threats of coming vengeance against vicious tyrants and corrupt priests
gathered some impetus from personal exasperation, as well as from
indignant zeal.

In the career of a great public orator who yields himself to the
inspiration of the moment, that conflict of selfish and unselfish
emotion which in most men is hidden in the chamber of the soul, is
brought into terrible evidence: the language of the inner voices is
written out in letters of fire.

But if the tones of exasperation jarred on Romola, there was often
another member of Fra Girolamo's audience to whom they were the only
thrilling tones, like the vibration of deep bass notes to the deaf.
Baldassarre had found out that the wonderful Frate was preaching again,
and as often as he could, he went to hear the Lenten sermon, that he
might drink in the threats of a voice which seemed like a power on the
side of justice.  He went the more because he had seen that Romola went
too; for he was waiting and watching for a time when not only outward
circumstances, but his own varying mental state, would mark the right
moment for seeking an interview with her.  Twice Romola had caught sight
of his face in the Duomo--once when its dark glance was fixed on hers.
She wished not to see it again, and yet she looked for it, as men look
for the reappearance of a portent.  But any revelation that might be yet
to come about this old man was a subordinate fear now: it referred, she
thought, only to the past, and her anxiety was almost absorbed by the
present.

Yet the stirring Lent passed by; April, the second and final month of
her godfather's supreme authority, was near its close; and nothing had
occurred to fulfil her presentiment.  In the public mind, too, there had
been fears, and rumours had spread from Home of a menacing activity on
the part of Piero de' Medici; but in a few days the suspected Bernardo
would go out of power.

Romola was trying to gather some courage from the review of her futile
fears, when on the twenty-seventh, as she was walking out on her usual
errands of mercy in the afternoon, she was met by a messenger from
Camilla Rucellai, chief among the feminine seers of Florence, desiring
her presence forthwith on matters of the highest moment.  Romola, who
shrank with unconquerable repulsion from the shrill volubility of those
illuminated women, and had just now a special repugnance towards Camilla
because of a report that she had announced revelations hostile to
Bernardo del Nero, was at first inclined to send back a flat refusal.
Camilla's message might refer to public affairs, and Romola's immediate
prompting was to close her ears against knowledge that might only make
her mental burden heavier.  But it had become so thoroughly her habit to
reject her impulsive choice, and to obey passively the guidance of
outward claims, that, reproving herself for allowing her presentiments
to make her cowardly and selfish, she ended by compliance, and went
straight to Camilla.

She found the nervous grey-haired woman in a chamber arranged as much as
possible like a convent cell.  The thin fingers clutching Romola as she
sat, and the eager voice addressing her at first in a loud whisper,
caused her a physical shrinking that made it difficult for her to keep
her seat.

Camilla had a vision to communicate--a vision in which it had been
revealed to her by Romola's Angel, that Romola knew certain secrets
concerning her godfather, Bernardo del Nero, which, if disclosed, might
save the Republic from peril.  Camilla's voice rose louder and higher as
she narrated her vision, and ended by exhorting Romola to obey the
command of her Angel, and separate herself from the enemy of God.

Romola's impetuosity was that of a massive nature, and, except in
moments when she was deeply stirred, her manner was calm and
self-controlled.  She had a constitutional disgust for the shallow
excitability of women like Camilla, whose faculties seemed all wrought
up into fantasies, leaving nothing for emotion and thought.  The
exhortation was not yet ended when she started up and attempted to
wrench her arm from Camilla's tightening grasp.  It was of no use.  The
prophetess kept her hold like a crab, and, only incited to more eager
exhortation by Romola's resistance, was carried beyond her own intention
into a shrill statement of other visions which were to corroborate this.
Christ himself had appeared to her and ordered her to send his commands
to certain citizens in office that they should throw Bernardo del Nero
from the window of the Palazzo Vecchio.  Fra Girolamo himself knew of
it, and had not dared this time to say that the vision was not of Divine
authority.

"And since then," said Camilla, in her excited treble, straining upward
with wild eyes towards Romola's face, "the Blessed Infant has come to me
and laid a wafer of sweetness on my tongue in token of his pleasure that
I had done his will."

"Let me go!" said Romola, in a deep voice of anger.  "God grant you are
mad! else you are detestably wicked!"

The violence of her effort to be free was too strong for Camilla now.
She wrenched away her arm and rushed out of the room, not pausing till
she had hurriedly gone far along the street, and found herself close to
the church of the Badia.  She had but to pass behind the curtain under
the old stone arch, and she would find a sanctuary shut in from the
noise and hurry of the street, where all objects and all uses suggested
the thought of an eternal peace subsisting in the midst of turmoil.

She turned in, and sinking down on the step of the altar in front of
Filippino Lippi's serene Virgin appearing to Saint Bernard, she waited
in hope that the inward tumult which agitated her would by-and-by
subside.

The thought which pressed on her the most acutely was that Camilla could
allege Savonarola's countenance of her wicked folly.  Romola did not for
a moment believe that he had sanctioned the throwing of Bernardo del
Nero from the window as a Divine suggestion; she felt certain that there
was falsehood or mistake in that allegation.  Savonarola had become more
and more severe in his views of resistance to malcontents; but the ideas
of strict law and order were fundamental to all his political teaching.
Still, since he knew the possibly fatal effects of visions like
Camilla's, since he had a marked distrust of such spirit-seeing women,
and kept aloof from them as much as possible, why, with his readiness to
denounce wrong from the pulpit, did he not publicly denounce these
pretended revelations which brought new darkness instead of light across
the conception of a Supreme Will?  Why?  The answer came with painful
clearness: he was fettered inwardly by the consciousness that such
revelations were not, in their basis, distinctly separable from his own
visions; he was fettered outwardly by the foreseen consequence of
raising a cry against himself even among members of his own party, as
one who would suppress all Divine inspiration of which he himself was
not the vehicle--he or his confidential and supplementary seer of
visions, Fra Salvestro.

Romola, kneeling with buried face on the altar-step, was enduring one of
those sickening moments, when the enthusiasm which had come to her as
the only energy strong enough to make life worthy, seemed to be
inevitably bound up with vain dreams and wilful eye-shutting.  Her mind
rushed back with a new attraction towards the strong worldly sense, the
dignified prudence, the untheoretic virtues of her godfather, who was to
be treated as a sort of Agag because he held that a more restricted form
of government was better than the Great Council, and because he would
not pretend to forget old ties to the banished family.

But with this last thought rose the presentiment of some plot to restore
the Medici; and then again she felt that the popular party was half
justified in its fierce suspicion.  Again she felt that to keep the
Government of Florence pure, and to keep out a vicious rule, was a
sacred cause; the Frate was right there, and had carried her
understanding irrevocably with him.  But at this moment the assent of
her understanding went alone; it was given unwillingly.  Her heart was
recoiling from a right allied to so much narrowness; a right apparently
entailing that hard systematic judgment of men which measures them by
assents and denials quite superficial to the manhood within them.  Her
affection and respect were clinging with new tenacity to her godfather,
and with him to those memories of her father which were in the same
opposition to the division of men into sheep and goats by the easy mark
of some political or religious symbol.

After all has been said that can be said about the widening influence of
ideas, it remains true that they would hardly be such strong agents
unless they were taken in a solvent of feeling.  The great
world-struggle of developing thought is continually foreshadowed in the
struggle of the affections, seeking a justification for love and hope.

If Romola's intellect had been less capable of discerning the
complexities in human things, all the early loving associations of her
life would have forbidden her to accept implicitly the denunciatory
exclusiveness of Savonarola.  She had simply felt that his mind had
suggested deeper and more efficacious truth to her than any other, and
the large breathing-room she found in his grand view of human duties had
made her patient towards that part of his teaching which she could not
absorb, so long as its practical effect came into collision with no
strong force in her.  But now a sudden insurrection of feeling had
brought about that collision.  Her indignation, once roused by Camilla's
visions, could not pause there, but ran like an illuminating fire over
all the kindred facts in Savonarola's teaching, and for the moment she
felt what was true in the scornful sarcasms she heard continually flung
against him, more keenly than she felt what was false.

But it was an illumination that made all life look ghastly to her.
Where were the beings to whom she could cling, with whom she could work
and endure, with the belief that she was working for the right?  On the
side from which moral energy came lay a fanaticism from which she was
shrinking with newly-startled repulsion; on the side to which she was
drawn by affection and memory, there was the presentiment of some secret
plotting, which her judgment told her would not be unfairly called
crime.  And still surmounting every other thought was the dread inspired
by Tito's hints, lest that presentiment should be converted into
knowledge, in such a way that she would be torn by irreconcilable
claims.

Calmness would not come even on the altar-steps; it would not come from
looking at the serene picture where the saint, writing in the rocky
solitude, was being visited by faces with celestial peace in them.
Romola was in the hard press of human difficulties, and that rocky
solitude was too far off.  She rose from her knees that she might hasten
to her sick people in the courtyard, and by some immediate beneficent
action, revive that sense of worth in life which at this moment was
unfed by any wider faith.  But when she turned round, she found herself
face to face with a man who was standing only two yards off her.  The
man was Baldassarre.



CHAPTER FIFTY THREE.

ON SAN MINIATO.

"I would speak with you," said Baldassarre, as Romola looked at him in
silent expectation.  It was plain that he had followed her, and had been
waiting for her.  She was going at last to know the secret about him.

"Yes," she said, with the same sort of submission that she might have
shown under an imposed penance.  "But you wish to go where no one can
hear us?"

"Where _he_ will not come upon us," said Baldassarre, turning and
glancing behind him timidly.  "Out--in the air--away from the streets."

"I sometimes go to San Miniato at this hour," said Romola.  "If you
like, I will go now, and you can follow me.  It is far, but we can be
solitary there."

He nodded assent, and Romola set out.  To some women it might have
seemed an alarming risk to go to a comparatively solitary spot with a
man who had some of the outward signs of that madness which Tito
attributed to him.  But Romola was not given to personal fears, and she
was glad of the distance that interposed some delay before another blow
fell on her.  The afternoon was far advanced, and the sun was already
low in the west, when she paused on some rough ground in the shadow of
the cypress-trunks, and looked round for Baldassarre.  He was not far
off, but when he reached her, he was glad to sink down on an edge of
stony earth.  His thickset frame had no longer the sturdy vigour which
belonged to it when he first appeared with the rope round him in the
Duomo; and under the transient tremor caused by the exertion of walking
up the hill, his eyes seemed to have a more helpless vagueness.

"The hill is steep," said Romola, with compassionate gentleness, seating
herself by him.  "And I fear you have been weakened by want?"

He turned his head and fixed his eyes on her in silence, unable, now the
moment of speech was come, to seize the words that would convey the
thought he wanted to utter: and she remained as motionless as she could,
lest he should suppose her impatient.  He looked like nothing higher
than a common-bred, neglected old man; but she was used now to be very
near to such people, and to think a great deal about their troubles.
Gradually his glance gathered a more definite expression, and at last he
said with abrupt emphasis--

"Ah! you would have been my daughter!"

The swift flush came in Romola's face and went back again as swiftly,
leaving her with white lips a little apart, like a marble image of
horror.  For her mind, the revelation was made.  She divined the facts
that lay behind that single word, and in the first moment there could be
no check to the impulsive belief which sprang from her keen experience
of Tito's nature.  The sensitive response of her face was a stimulus to
Baldassarre; for the first time his words had wrought their right
effect.  He went on with gathering eagerness and firmness, laying his
hand on her arm.

"You are a woman of proud blood--is it not true?  You go to hear the
preacher; you hate baseness--baseness that smiles and triumphs.  You
hate your husband?"

"Oh God! were you really his father?" said Romola, in a low voice, too
entirely possessed by the images of the past to take any note of
Baldassarre's question.  "Or was it as he said?  Did you take him when
he was little?"

"Ah, you believe me--you know what he is!" said Baldassarre, exultingly,
tightening the pressure on her arm, as if the contact gave him power.
"You will help me?"

"Yes," said Romola, not interpreting the words as he meant them.  She
laid her palm gently on the rough hand that grasped her arm, and the
tears came to her eyes as she looked at him.  "Oh, it is piteous!  Tell
me--you were a great scholar; you taught him.  How is it?"

She broke off Tito's allegation of this man's madness had come across
her; and where were the signs even of past refinement?  But she had the
self-command not to move her hand.  She sat perfectly still, waiting to
listen with new caution.

"It is gone!--it is all gone!" said Baldassarre; "and they would not
believe me, because he lied, and said I was mad; and they had me dragged
to prison.  And I am old--my mind will not come back.  And the world is
against me."

He paused a moment, and his eyes sank as if he were under a wave of
despondency.  Then he looked up at her again, and said with renewed
eagerness--"But _you_ are not against me.  He made you love him, and he
has been false to you; and you hate him.  Yes, he made _me_ love him: he
was beautiful and gentle, and I was a lonely man.  I took him when they
were beating him.  He slept in my bosom when he was little, and I
watched him as he grew, and gave him all my knowledge, and everything
that was mine I meant to be his.  I had many things; money, and books,
and gems.  He had my gems--he sold them; and he left me in slavery.  He
never came to seek me, and when I came back poor and in misery, he
denied me.  He said I was a madman."

"He told us his father was dead--was drowned," said Romola, faintly.
"Surely he must have believed it then.  Oh! he could not have been so
base _then_!"

A vision had risen of what Tito was to her in those first days when she
thought no more of wrong in him than a child thinks of poison in
flowers.  The yearning regret that lay in that memory brought some
relief from the tension of horror.  With one great sob the tears rushed
forth.

"Ah, you are young, and the tears come easily," said Baldassarre, with
some impatience.  "But tears are no good; they only put out the fire
within, and it is the fire that works.  Tears will hinder us.  Listen to
me."

Romola turned towards him with a slight start.  Again the possibility of
his madness had darted through her mind, and checked the rush of belief.
If, after all, this man were only a mad assassin?  But her deep belief
in this story still lay behind, and it was more in sympathy than in fear
that she avoided the risk of paining him by any show of doubt.

"Tell me," she said, as gently as she could, "how did you lose your
memory--your scholarship."

"I was ill.  I can't tell how long--it was a blank.  I remember nothing,
only at last I was sitting in the sun among the stones, and everything
else was darkness.  And slowly, and by degrees, I felt something besides
that: a longing for something--I did not know what--that never came.
And when I was in the ship on the waters I began to know what I longed
for; it was for the Boy to come back--it was to find all my thoughts
again, for I was locked away outside them all.  And I am outside now.  I
feel nothing but a wall and darkness."

Baldassarre had become dreamy again, and sank into silence, resting his
head between his hands; and again Romola's belief in him had submerged
all cautioning doubts.  The pity with which she dwelt on his words
seemed like the revival of an old pang.  Had she not daily seen how her
father missed Dino and the future he had dreamed of in that son?

"It all came back once," Baldassarre went on presently.  "I was master
of everything.  I saw all the world again, and my gems, and my books;
and I thought I had him in my power, and I went to expose him where--
where the lights were and the trees; and he lied again, and said I was
mad, and they dragged me away to prison...  Wickedness is strong; and he
wears armour."

The fierceness had flamed up again.  He spoke with his former intensity,
and again he grasped Romola's arm.

"But you will help me?  He has been false to you too.  He has another
wife, and she has children.  He makes her believe he is her husband, and
she is a foolish, helpless thing.  I will show you where she lives."

The first shock that passed through Romola was visibly one of anger.
The woman's sense of indignity was inevitably foremost.  Baldassarre
instinctively felt her in sympathy with him.

"You hate him," he went on.  "Is it not true?  There is no love between
you; I know that.  I know women can hate; and you have proud blood.  You
hate falseness, and you can love revenge."

Romola sat paralysed by the shock of conflicting feelings.  She was not
conscious of the grasp that was bruising her tender arm.

"You shall contrive it," said Baldassarre, presently, in an eager
whisper.  "I have learned by heart that you are his rightful wife.  You
are a noble woman.  You go to hear the preacher of vengeance; you will
help justice.  But you will think for me.  My mind goes--everything goes
sometimes--all but the fire.  The fire is God: it is justice: it will
not die.  You believe that--is it not true?  If they will not hang him
for robbing me, you will take away his armour--you will make him go
without it, and I will stab him.  I have a knife, and my arm is still
strong enough."

He put his hand under his tunic, and reached out the hidden knife,
feeling the edge abstractedly, as if he needed the sensation to keep
alive his ideas.

It seemed to Romola as if every fresh hour of her life were to become
more difficult than the last.  Her judgment was too vigorous and rapid
for her to fall into, the mistake of using futile deprecatory words to a
man in Baldassarre's state of mind.  She chose not to answer his last
speech.  She would win time for his excitement to allay itself by asking
something else that she cared to know.  She spoke rather tremulously--

"You say she is foolish and helpless--that other wife--and believes him
to be her real husband.  Perhaps he is: perhaps he married her before he
married me."

"I cannot tell," said Baldassarre, pausing in that action of feeling the
knife, and looking bewildered.  "I can remember no more.  I only know
where she lives.  You shall see her.  I will take you; but not now," he
added hurriedly, "_he_ may be there.  The night is coming on."

"It is true," said Romola, starting up with a sudden consciousness that
the sun had set and the hills were darkening; "but you will come and
take me--when?"

"In the morning," said Baldassarre, dreaming that she, too, wanted to
hurry to her vengeance.

"Come to me, then, where you came to me to-day, in the church.  I will
be there at ten; and if you are not there, I will go again towards
mid-day.  Can you remember?"

"Mid-day," said Baldassarre--"only mid-day.  The same place, and
mid-day.  And, after that," he added, rising and grasping her arm again
with his left hand, while he held the knife in his right; "we will have
our revenge.  He shall feel the sharp edge of justice.  The world is
against me, but you will help me."

"I would help you in other ways," said Romola, making a first, timid
effort to dispel his illusion about her.  "I fear you are in want; you
have to labour, and get little.  I should like to bring you comforts,
and make you feel again that there is some one who cares for you."

"Talk no more about that," said Baldassarre, fiercely.  "I will have
nothing else.  Help me to wring one drop of vengeance on this side of
the grave.  I have nothing but my knife.  It is sharp; but there is a
moment after the thrust when men see the face of death,--and it shall be
my face that he will see."

He loosed his hold, and sank down again in a sitting posture.  Romola
felt helpless: she must defer all intentions till the morrow.

"Mid-day, then," she said, in a distinct voice.

"Yes," he answered, with an air of exhaustion.  "Go; I will rest here."

She hastened away.  Turning at the last spot whence he was likely to be
in sight, she saw him seated still.



CHAPTER FIFTY FOUR.

THE EVENING AND THE MORNING.

Romola had a purpose in her mind as she was hastening away; a purpose
which had been growing through the afternoon hours like a side-stream,
rising higher and higher along with the main current.  It was less a
resolve than a necessity of her feeling.  Heedless of the darkening
streets, and not caring to call for Maso's slow escort, she hurried
across the bridge where the river showed itself black before the distant
dying red, and took the most direct way to the Old Palace.  She might
encounter her husband there.  No matter.  She could not weigh
probabilities; she must discharge her heart.  She did not know what she
passed in the pillared court or up the wide stairs; she only knew that
she asked an usher for the Gonfaloniere, giving her name, and begging to
be shown into a private room.

She was not left long alone with the frescoed figures and the newly-lit
tapers.  Soon the door opened, and Bernardo del Nero entered, still
carrying his white head erect above his silk lucco.

"Romola, my child, what is this?" he said, in a tone of anxious surprise
as he closed the door.

She had uncovered her head and went towards him without speaking.  He
laid his hand on her shoulder, and held her a little way from him that
he might see her better.  Her face was haggard from fatigue and long
agitation, her hair had rolled down in disorder; but there was an
excitement in her eyes that seemed to have triumphed over the bodily
consciousness.

"What has he done?" said Bernardo, abruptly.  "Tell me everything,
child; throw away pride.  I am your father."

"It is not about myself--nothing about myself," said Romola, hastily.
"Dearest godfather, it is about you.  I have heard things--some I cannot
tell you.  But you are in danger in the palace; you are in danger
everywhere.  There are fanatical men who would harm you, and--and there
are traitors.  Trust nobody.  If you trust, you will be betrayed."

Bernardo smiled.

"Have you worked yourself up into this agitation, my poor child," he
said, raising his hand to her head and patting it gently, "to tell such
old truth as that to an old man like me?"

"Oh no, no! they are not old truths that I mean," said Romola, pressing
her clasped hands painfully together, as if that action would help her
to suppress what must not be told.  "They are fresh things that I know,
but cannot tell.  Dearest godfather, you know I am not foolish.  I would
not come to you without reason.  Is it too late to warn you against any
one, _every_ one who seems to be working on your side?  Is it too late
to say, `Go to your villa and keep away in the country when these three
more days of office are over?'  Oh God! perhaps it is too late! and if
any harm comes to you, it will be as if I had done it!"

The last words had burst from Romola involuntarily: a long-stifled
feeling had found spasmodic utterance.  But she herself was startled and
arrested.

"I mean," she added, hesitatingly, "I know nothing positive.  I only
know what fills me with fears."

"Poor child!" said Bernardo, looking at her with quiet penetration for a
moment or two.  Then he said: "Go, Romola--go home and rest.  These
fears may be only big ugly shadows of something very little and
harmless.  Even traitors must see their interest in betraying; the rats
will run where they smell the cheese, and there is no knowing yet which
way the scent will come."

He paused, and turned away his eyes from her with an air of abstraction,
till, with a slow shrug, he added--

"As for warnings, they are of no use to me, child.  I enter into no
plots, but I never forsake my colours.  If I march abreast with
obstinate men, who will rush on guns and pikes, I must share the
consequences.  Let us say no more about that.  I have not many years
left at the bottom of my sack for them to rob me of.  Go, child; go home
and rest."

He put his hand on her head again caressingly, and she could not help
clinging to his arm, and pressing her brow against his shoulder.  Her
godfather's caress seemed the last thing that was left to her out of
that young filial life, which now looked so happy to her even in its
troubles, for they were troubles untainted by anything hateful.

"Is silence best, my Romola?" said the old man.

"Yes, now; but I cannot tell whether it always will be," she answered,
hesitatingly, raising her head with an appealing look.

"Well, you have a father's ear while I am above ground,"--he lifted the
black drapery and folded it round her head, adding--"and a father's
home; remember that," Then opening the door, he said: "There, hasten
away.  You are like a black ghost; you will be safe enough."

When Romola fell asleep that night, she slept deep.  Agitation had
reached its limits; she must gather strength before she could suffer
more; and, in spite of rigid habit, she slept on far beyond sunrise.

When she awoke, it was to the sound of guns.  Piero de' Medici, with
thirteen hundred men at his back, was before the gate that looks towards
Rome.

So much Romola learned from Maso, with many circumstantial additions of
dubious quality.  A countryman had come in and alarmed the Signoria
before it was light, else the city would have been taken by surprise.
His master was not in the house, having been summoned to the Palazzo
long ago.  She sent out the old man again, that he might gather news,
while she went up to the loggia from time to time to try and discern any
signs of the dreaded entrance having been made, or of its having been
effectively repelled.  Maso brought her word that the great Piazza was
full of armed men, and that many of the chief citizens suspected as
friends of the Medici had been summoned to the palace and detained
there.  Some of the people seemed not to mind whether Piero got in or
not, and some said the Signoria itself had invited him; but however that
might be, they were giving him an ugly welcome; and the soldiers from
Pisa were coming against him.

In her memory of those morning hours, there were not many things that
Romola could distinguish as actual external experiences standing
markedly out above the tumultuous waves of retrospect and anticipation.
She knew that she had really walked to the Badia by the appointed time
in spite of street alarms; she knew that she had waited there in vain.
And the scene she had witnessed when she came out of the church, and
stood watching on the steps while the doors were being closed behind her
for the afternoon interval, always came back to her like a remembered
waking.

There was a change in the faces and tones of the people, armed and
unarmed, who were pausing or hurrying along the streets.  The guns were
firing again, but the sound only provoked laughter.  She soon knew the
cause of the change.  Piero de' Medici and his horsemen had turned their
backs on Florence, and were galloping as fast as they could along the
Siena road.  She learned this from a substantial shop-keeping Piagnone,
who had not yet laid down his pike.

"It is true," he ended, with a certain bitterness in his emphasis.
"Piero is gone, but there are those left behind who were in the secret
of his coming--we all know that; and if the new Signoria does its duty
we shall soon know who they are."

The words darted through Romola like a sharp spasm; but the evil they
foreshadowed was not yet close upon her, and as she entered her home
again, her most pressing anxiety was the possibility that she had lost
sight for a long while of Baldassarre.



CHAPTER FIFTY FIVE.

WAITING.

The lengthening sunny days went on without bringing either what Romola
most desired or what she most dreaded.  They brought no sign from
Baldassarre, and, in spite of special watch on the part of the
Government, no revelation of the suspected conspiracy.  But they brought
other things which touched her closely, and bridged the phantom-crowded
space of anxiety with active sympathy in immediate trial.  They brought
the spreading Plague and the Excommunication of Savonarola.

Both these events tended to arrest her incipient alienation from the
Frate, and to rivet again her attachment to the man who had opened to
her the new life of duty, and who seemed now to be worsted in the fight
for principle against profligacy.  For Romola could not carry from day
to day into the abodes of pestilence and misery the sublime excitement
of a gladness that, since such anguish existed, she too existed to make
some of the anguish less bitter, without remembering that she owed this
transcendent moral life to Fra Girolamo.  She could not witness the
silencing and excommunication of a man whose distinction from the great
mass of the clergy lay, not in any heretical belief, not in his
superstitions, but in the energy with which he sought to make the
Christian life a reality, without feeling herself drawn strongly to his
side.

Far on in the hot days of June the Excommunication, for some weeks
arrived from Rome, was solemnly published in the Duomo.  Romola went to
witness the scene, that the resistance it inspired might invigorate that
sympathy with Savonarola which was one source of her strength.  It was
in memorable contrast with the scene she had been accustomed to witness
there.

Instead of upturned citizen-faces filling the vast area under the
morning light, the youngest rising amphitheatre-wise towards the walls,
and making a garland of hope around the memories of age--instead of the
mighty voice thrilling all hearts with the sense of great things,
visible and invisible, to be struggled for--there were the bare walls at
evening made more sombre by the glimmer of tapers; there was the black
and grey flock of monks and secular clergy with bent, unexpectant faces;
there was the occasional tinkling of little bells in the pauses of a
monotonous voice reading a sentence which had already been long hanging
up in the churches; and at last there was the extinction of the tapers,
and the slow, shuffling tread of monkish feet departing in the dim
silence.

Romola's ardour on the side of the Frate was doubly strengthened by the
gleeful triumph she saw in hard and coarse faces, and by the
fear-stricken confusion in the faces and speech of many among his
strongly-attached friends.  The question where the duty of obedience
ends, and the duty of resistance begins, could in no case be an easy
one; but it was made overwhelmingly difficult by the belief that the
Church was--not a compromise of parties to secure a more or less
approximate justice in the appropriation of funds, but--a living
organism, instinct with Divine power to bless and to curse.  To most of
the pious Florentines, who had hitherto felt no doubt in their adherence
to the Frate, that belief in the Divine potency of the Church was not an
embraced opinion, it was an inalienable impression, like the concavity
of the blue firmament; and the boldness of Savonarola's written
arguments that the Excommunication was unjust, and that, being unjust,
it was not valid, only made them tremble the more, as a defiance cast at
a mystic image, against whose subtle immeasurable power there was
neither weapon nor defence.

But Romola, whose mind had not been allowed to draw its early
nourishment from the traditional associations of the Christian community
in which her father had lived a life apart, felt her relation to the
Church only through Savonarola; his moral force had been the only
authority to which she had bowed; and in his excommunication she only
saw the menace of hostile vice: on one side she saw a man whose life was
devoted to the ends of public virtue and spiritual purity, and on the
other the assault of alarmed selfishness, headed by a lustful, greedy,
lying, and murderous old man, once called Rodrigo Borgia, and now lifted
to the pinnacle of infamy as Pope Alexander the Sixth.  The finer shades
of fact which soften the edge of such antitheses are not apt to be seen
except by neutrals, who are not distressed to discern some folly in
martyrs and some judiciousness in the men who burnt them.  But Romola
required a strength that neutrality could not give; and this
Excommunication, which simplified and ennobled the resistant position of
Savonarola by bringing into prominence its wider relations, seemed to
come to her like a rescue from the threatening isolation of criticism
and doubt.  The Frate was now withdrawn from that smaller antagonism
against Florentine enemies into which he continually fell in the
unchecked excitement of the pulpit, and presented himself simply as
appealing to the Christian world against a vicious exercise of
ecclesiastical power.  He was a standard-bearer leaping into the breach.
Life never seems so clear and easy as when the heart is beating faster
at the sight of some generous self-risking deed.  We feel no doubt then
what is the highest prize the soul can win; we almost believe in our own
power to attain it.  By a new current of such enthusiasm Romola was
helped through these difficult summer days.  She had ventured on no
words to Tito that would apprise him of her late interview with
Baldassarre, and the revelation he had made to her.  What would such
agitating, difficult words win from him?  No admission of the truth;
nothing, probably, but a cool sarcasm about her sympathy with his
assassin.  Baldassarre was evidently helpless: the thing to be feared
was, not that he should injure Tito, but that Tito, coming upon his
traces, should carry out some new scheme for ridding himself of the
injured man who was a haunting dread to him.  Romola felt that she could
do nothing decisive until she had seen Baldassarre again, and learned
the full truth about that "other wife"--learned whether she were the
wife to whom Tito was first bound.

The possibilities about that other wife, which involved the worst wound
to her hereditary pride, mingled themselves as a newly-embittering
suspicion with the earliest memories of her illusory love, eating away
the lingering associations of tenderness with the past image of her
husband; and her irresistible belief in the rest of Baldassarre's
revelation made her shrink from Tito with a horror which would perhaps
have urged some passionate speech in spite of herself if he had not been
more than usually absent from home.  Like many of the wealthier citizens
in that time of pestilence, he spent the intervals of business chiefly
in the country: the agreeable Melema was welcome at many villas, and
since Romola had refused to leave the city, he had no need to provide a
country residence of his own.

But at last, in the later days of July, the alleviation of those public
troubles which had absorbed her activity and much of her thought, left
Romola to a less counteracted sense of her personal lot.  The Plague had
almost disappeared, and the position of Savonarola was made more hopeful
by a favourable magistracy, who were writing urgent vindicatory letters
to Rome on his behalf, entreating the withdrawal of the Excommunication.

Romola's healthy and vigorous frame was undergoing the reaction of
languor inevitable after continuous excitement and over-exertion; but
her mental restlessness would not allow her to remain at home without
peremptory occupation, except during the sultry hours.  In the cool of
the morning and evening she walked out constantly, varying her direction
as much as possible, with the vague hope that if Baldassarre were still
alive she might encounter him.  Perhaps some illness had brought a new
paralysis of memory, and he had forgotten where she lived--forgotten
even her existence.  That was her most sanguine explanation of his
non-appearance.  The explanation she felt to be most probable was, that
he had died of the Plague.



CHAPTER FIFTY SIX.

THE OTHER WIFE.

The morning warmth was already beginning to be rather oppressive to
Romola, when, after a walk along by the walls on her way from San Marco,
she turned towards the intersecting streets again at the gate of Santa
Croce.

The Borgo La Croce was so still, that she listened to her own footsteps
on the pavement in the sunny silence, until, on approaching a bend in
the street, she saw, a few yards before her, a little child not more
than three years old, with no other clothing than his white shirt, pause
from a waddling run and look around him.  In the first moment of coming
nearer she could only see his back--a boy's back, square and sturdy,
with a cloud of reddish-brown curls above it; but in the next he turned
towards her, and she could see his dark eyes wide with tears, and his
lower lip pushed up and trembling, while his fat brown fists clutched
his shirt helplessly.  The glimpse of a tall black figure sending a
shadow over him brought his bewildered fear to a climax, and a loud
crying sob sent the big tears rolling.

Romola, with the ready maternal instinct which was one hidden source of
her passionate tenderness, instantly uncovered her head, and, stooping
down on the pavement, put her arms round him, and her cheeks against
his, while she spoke to him in caressing tones.  At first his sobs were
only the louder, but he made no effort to get away, and presently the
outburst ceased with that strange abruptness which belongs to childish
joys and griefs: his face lost its distortion, and was fixed in an
open-mouthed gaze at Romola.

"You have lost yourself, little one," she said, kissing him.  "Never
mind! we will find the house again.  Perhaps mamma will meet us."

She divined that he had made his escape at a moment when the mother's
eyes were turned away from him, and thought it likely that he would soon
be followed.

"Oh, what a heavy, heavy boy!" she said, trying to lift him.  "I cannot
carry you.  Come, then, you must toddle back by my side."

The parted lips remained motionless in awed silence, and one brown fist
still clutched the shirt with as much tenacity as ever; but the other
yielded itself quite willingly to the wonderful white hand, strong but
soft.

"You _have_ a mamma?" said Romola, as they set out, looking down at the
boy with a certain yearning.  But he was mute.  A girl under those
circumstances might perhaps have chirped abundantly; not so this
square-shouldered little man with the big cloud of curls.

He was awake to the first sign of his whereabout, however.  At the
turning by the front of San Ambrogio he dragged Romola towards it,
looking up at her.

"Ah, that is the way home, is it?" she said, smiling at him.  He only
thrust his head forward and pulled, as an admonition that they should go
faster.

There was still another turning that he had a decided opinion about, and
then Romola found herself in a short street leading to open garden
ground.  It was in front of a house at the end of this street that the
little fellow paused, pulling her towards some stone stairs.  He had
evidently no wish for her to loose his hand, and she would not have been
willing to leave him without being sure that she was delivering him to
his friends.  They mounted the stairs, seeing but dimly in that sudden
withdrawal from the sunlight, till, at the final landing-place, an extra
stream of light came from an open doorway.  Passing through a small
lobby, they came to another open door, and there Romola paused.  Her
approach had not been heard.

On a low chair at the farther end of the room, opposite the light, sat
Tessa, with one hand on the edge of the cradle, and her head hanging a
little on one side, fast asleep.  Near one of the windows, with her back
turned towards the door, sat Monna Lisa at her work of preparing salad,
in deaf unconsciousness.  There was only an instant for Romola's eyes to
take in that still scene; for Lillo snatched his hand away from her and
ran up to his mother's side, not making any direct effort to wake her,
but only leaning his head back against her arm, and surveying Romola
seriously from that distance.

As Lillo pushed against her, Tessa opened her eyes, and looked up in
bewilderment; but her glance had no sooner rested on the figure at the
opposite doorway than she started up, blushed deeply, and began to
tremble a little, neither speaking nor moving forward.

"Ah! we have seen each other before," said Romola, smiling, and coming
forward.  "I am glad it was _your_ little boy.  He was crying in the
street; I suppose he had run away.  So we walked together a little way,
and then he knew where he was, and brought me here.  But you had not
missed him?  That is well, else you would have been frightened."

The shock of finding that Lillo had run away overcame every other
feeling in Tessa for the moment.  Her colour went again, and, seizing
Lillo's arm, she ran with him to Monna Lisa, saying, with a half sob,
loud in the old woman's ear--

"Oh, Lisa, you are wicked!  Why will you stand with your back to the
door?  Lillo ran away ever so far into the street."

"Holy Mother!" said Monna Lisa, in her meek, thick tone, letting the
spoon fall from her hands.  "Where were _you_, then?  I thought you were
there, and had your eye on him."

"But you _know_ I go to sleep when I am rocking," said Tessa, in pettish
remonstrance.

"Well, well, we must keep the outer door shut, or else tie him up," said
Monna Lisa, "for he'll be as cunning as Satan before long, and that's
the holy truth.  But how came he back, then?"

This question recalled Tessa to the consciousness of Romola's presence.
Without answering, she turned towards her, blushing and timid again, and
Monna Lisa's eyes followed her movement.  The old woman made a low
reverence, and said--

"Doubtless the most noble lady brought him back."  Then, advancing a
little nearer to Romola, she added, "It's my shame for him to have been
found with only his shirt on; but he kicked, and wouldn't have his other
clothes on this morning, and the mother, poor thing, will never hear of
his being beaten.  But what's an old woman to do without a stick when
the lad's legs get so strong?  Let your nobleness look at his legs."

Lillo, conscious that his legs were in question, pulled his shirt up a
little higher, and looked down at their olive roundness with a
dispassionate and curious air.  Romola laughed, and stooped to give him
a caressing shake and a kiss, and this action helped the reassurance
that Tessa had already gathered from Monna Lisa's address to Romola.
For when Naldo had been told about the adventure at the Carnival, and
Tessa had asked him who the heavenly lady that had come just when she
was wanted, and had vanished so soon, was likely to be--whether she
could be the Holy Madonna herself?--he had answered, "Not exactly, my
Tessa; only one of the saints," and had not chosen to say more.  So that
in the dreamlike combination of small experience which made up Tessa's
thought, Romola had remained confusedly associated with the pictures in
the churches, and when she reappeared, the grateful remembrance of her
protection was slightly tinctured with religious awe--not deeply, for
Tessa's dread was chiefly of ugly and evil beings.  It seemed unlikely
that good beings would be angry and punish her, as it was the nature of
Nofri and the devil to do.  And now that Monna Lisa had spoken freely
about Lillo's legs and Romola had laughed, Tessa was more at her ease.

"Ninna's in the cradle," she said.  "_She's_ pretty too."

Romola went to look at the sleeping Ninna, and Monna Lisa, one of the
exceptionally meek deaf, who never expect to be spoken to, returned to
her salad.

"Ah! she is waking: she has opened her blue eyes," said Romola.  "You
must take her up, and I will sit down in this chair--may I?--and nurse
Lillo.  Come, Lillo!"

She sat down in Tito's chair, and put out her arms towards the lad,
whose eyes had followed her.  He hesitated: and, pointing his small
fingers at her with a half-puzzled, half-angry feeling, said, "That's
Babbo's chair," not seeing his way out of the difficulty if Babbo came
and found Romola in his place.

"But Babbo is not here, and I shall go soon.  Come, let me nurse you as
he does," said Romola, wondering to herself for the first time what sort
of Babbo he was whose wife was dressed in contadina fashion, but had a
certain daintiness about her person that indicated idleness and plenty.
Lillo consented to be lifted up, and, finding the lap exceedingly
comfortable, began to explore her dress and hands, to see if there were
any ornaments beside the rosary.

Tessa, who had hitherto been occupied in coaxing Ninna out of her waking
peevishness, now sat down in her low chair, near Romola's knee,
arranging Ninna's tiny person to advantage, jealous that the strange
lady too seemed to notice the boy most, as Naldo did.

"Lillo was going to be angry with me, because I sat in Babbo's chair,"
said Romola, as she bent forward to kiss Ninna's little foot.  "Will he
come soon and want it?"

"Ah, no!" said Tessa, "you can sit in it a long while.  I shall be sorry
when you go.  When you first came to take care of me at the Carnival, I
thought it was wonderful; you came and went away again so fast.  And
Naldo said, perhaps you were a saint, and that made me tremble a little,
though the saints are very good, I know; and you were good to me, and
now you have taken care of Lillo.  Perhaps you will always come and take
care of me.  That was how Naldo did a long while ago; he came and took
care of me when I was frightened, one San Giovanni.  I couldn't think
where he came from--he was so beautiful and good.  And so are you,"
ended Tessa, looking up at Romola with devout admiration.

"Naldo is your husband.  His eyes are like Lillo's," said Romola,
looking at the boy's darkly-pencilled eyebrows, unusual at his age.  She
did not speak interrogatively, but with a quiet certainty of inference
which was necessarily mysterious to Tessa.

"Ah! you know him!" she said, pausing a little in wonder.  "Perhaps you
know Nofri and Peretola, and our house on the hill, and everything.
Yes, like Lillo's; but not his hair.  His hair is dark and long--" she
went on, getting rather excited.  "Ah! if you know it, ecco!"

She had put her hand to a thin red silk cord that hung round her neck,
and drew from her bosom the tiny old parchment _Breve_, the horn of red
coral, and a long dark curl carefully tied at one end and suspended with
those mystic treasures.  She held them towards Romola, away from Ninna's
snatching hand.

"It is a fresh one.  I cut it lately.  See how bright it is!" she said,
laying it against the white background of Romola's fingers.  "They get
dim, and then he lets me cut another when his hair is grown; and I put
it with the Breve, because sometimes he is away a long while, and then I
think it helps to take care of me."

A slight shiver passed through Romola as the curl was laid across her
fingers.  At Tessa's first mention of her husband as having come
mysteriously she knew not whence, a possibility had risen before Romola
that made her heart beat faster; for to one who is anxiously in search
of a certain object the faintest suggestions have a peculiar
significance.  And when the curl was held towards her, it seemed for an
instant like a mocking phantasm of the lock she herself had cut to wind
with one of her own five years ago.  But she preserved her outward
calmness, bent not only on knowing the truth, but also on coming to that
knowledge in a way that would not pain this poor, trusting, ignorant
thing, with the child's mind in the woman's body.  "Foolish and
helpless:" yes; so far she corresponded to Baldassarre's account.

"It is a beautiful curl," she said, resisting the impulse to withdraw
her hand.  "Lillo's curls will be like it, perhaps, for _his_ cheek,
too, is dark.  And you never know where your husband goes to when he
leaves you?"

"No," said Tessa, putting back her treasures out of the children's way.
"But I know Messer San Michele takes care of him, for he gave him a
beautiful coat, all made of little chains; and if he puts that on,
nobody can kill him.  And perhaps, if--"

Tessa hesitated a little, under a recurrence of that original dreamy
wonder about Romola which had been expelled by chatting contact--"if you
_were_ a saint, you would take care of him, too, because you have taken
care of me and Lillo."

An agitated flush came over Romola's face in the first moment of
certainty, but she had bent her cheek against Lillo's head.  The feeling
that leaped out in that flush was something like exultation at the
thought that the wife's burden might be about to slip from her overladen
shoulders; that this little ignorant creature might prove to be Tito's
lawful wife.  A strange exultation for a proud and high-born woman to
have been brought to!  But it seemed to Romola as if that were the only
issue that would make duty anything else for her than an insoluble
problem.  Yet she was not deaf to Tessa's last appealing words; she
raised her head, and said, in her clearest tones--

"I will always take care of you if I see you need me.  But that
beautiful coat? your husband did not wear it when you were first
married?  Perhaps he used not to be so long away from you then?"

"Ah, yes! he was.  Much--much longer.  So long, I thought he would never
come back.  I used to cry.  Oh me!  I was beaten then; a long, long
while ago at Peretola, where we had the goats and mules."

"And how long had you been married before your husband had that
chain-coat?" said Romola, her heart beating faster and faster.

Tessa looked meditative, and began to count on her fingers, and Romola
watched the fingers as if they would tell the secret of her destiny.

"The chestnuts were ripe when we were married," said Tessa, marking off
her thumb and fingers again as she spoke; "and then again they were ripe
at Peretola before he came back, and then again, after that, on the
hill.  And soon the soldiers came, and we heard the trumpets, and then
Naldo had the coat."

"You had been married more than two years.  In which church were you
married?" said Romola, too entirely absorbed by one thought to put any
question that was less direct.  Perhaps before the next, morning she
might go to her godfather and say that she was not Tito Melema's lawful
wife--that the vows which had bound her to strive after an impossible
union had been made void beforehand.

Tessa gave a slight start at Romola's new tone of inquiry, and looked up
at her with a hesitating expression.  Hitherto she had prattled on
without consciousness that she was making revelations, any more than
when she said old things over and over again to Monna Lisa.

"Naldo said I was never to tell about that," she said, doubtfully.  "Do
you think he would not be angry if I told you?"

"It is right that you should tell me.  Tell me everything," said Romola,
looking at her with mild authority.

If the impression from Naldo's command had been much more recent than it
was, the constraining effect of Romola's mysterious authority would have
overcome it.  But the sense that she was telling what she had never told
before made her begin with a lowered voice.

"It was not in a church--it was at the Nativita, when there was a fair,
and all the people went overnight to see the Madonna in the Nunziata,
and my mother was ill and couldn't go, and I took the bunch of cocoons
for her; and then he came to me in the church and I heard him say,
`Tessa!'  I knew him because he had taken care of me at the San
Giovanni, and then we went into the piazza where the fair was, and I had
some _berlingozzi_, for I was hungry and he was very good to me; and at
the end of the piazza there was a holy father, and an altar like what
they have at the processions outside the churches.  So he married us,
and then Naldo took me back into the church and left me; and I went
home, and my mother died, and Nofri began to beat me more, and Naldo
never came back.  And I used to cry, and once at the Carnival I saw him
and followed him, and he was angry, and said he would come some t