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Title: The Chronicles of Count Antonio
Author: Hope, Anthony, 1863-1933
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.

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THE CHRONICLES OF COUNT ANTONIO

by

ANTHONY HOPE

Author of The Prisoner of Zenda, etc.

With Photogravure Frontispiece by S. W. Van Schaick



New York
D. Appleton and Company
1895

Copyright, 1895,
By Anthony Hope.

Copyright, 1895,
By D. Appleton and Company.



    _TO THE HONOURABLE SIR HENRY HAWKINS._


    _MY DEAR SIR HENRY_:

    _It gives me very great pleasure to be allowed to dedicate this book
    to you. I hope you will accept it as a token of thanks for much
    kindness, of your former Marshal's pleasant memory of his service,
    and of sincere respect for a clear-sighted, firm, and compassionate
    Judge._

    _Your affectionate cousin,_

    _A. H. H._

_London, August, 1895._



[Illustration: _Behold! She is free._ (Chapter V.)]



CONTENTS.



    CHAPTER                                                       PAGE

        I.--HOW COUNT ANTONIO TOOK TO THE HILLS                      1

       II.--COUNT ANTONIO AND THE TRAITOR PRINCE                    39

      III.--COUNT ANTONIO AND THE PRINCE OF MANTIVOGLIA             71

       IV.--COUNT ANTONIO AND THE WIZARD'S DRUG                    116

        V.--COUNT ANTONIO AND THE SACRED BONES                     158

       VI.--COUNT ANTONIO AND THE HERMIT OF THE VAULT              202

      VII.--COUNT ANTONIO AND THE LADY OF RILANO                   245

     VIII.--THE MANNER OF COUNT ANTONIO'S RETURN                   290



THE CHRONICLES OF COUNT ANTONIO.



CHAPTER I.

HOW COUNT ANTONIO TOOK TO THE HILLS.


Countless are the stories told of the sayings that Count Antonio spoke
and of the deeds that he did when he dwelt an outlaw in the hills. For
tales and legends gather round his name thick as the berries hang on a
bush, and with the passage of every succeeding year it grows harder to
discern where truth lies and where the love of wonder, working together
with the sway of a great man's memory, has wrought the embroidery of its
fancy on the plain robe of fact. Yet, amid all that is of uncertain
knowledge and so must rest, this much at least should be known and
remembered for the honour of a noble family, how it fell out that Count
Antonio, a man of high lineage, forsook the service of his Prince,
disdained the obligation of his rank, set law at naught, and did what
seemed indeed in his own eyes to be good but was held by many to be
nothing other than the work of a rebel and a brigand. Yet, although it
is by these names that men often speak of him, they love his memory; and
I also, Ambrose the Franciscan, having gathered diligently all that I
could come by in the archives of the city or from the lips of aged folk,
have learned to love it in some sort. Thus I am minded to write, before
the time that I must carry what I know with me to the grave, the full
and whole truth concerning Antonio's flight from the city and the Court,
seeking in my heart, as I write, excuse for him, and finding in the
record, if little else, yet a tale that lovers must read in pride and
sorrow, and, if this be not too high a hope, that princes may study for
profit and for warning.

Now it was in the tenth year of the reign of Duke Valentine over the
city of Firmola, its territories and dependent towns, that Count Antonio
of Monte Velluto--having with him a youthful cousin of his, whom he
loved greatly, and whom, by reason of his small stature and of a boyish
gaiety he had, men called Tommasino--came from his own house on the hill
that fronts the great gate of the city, to the palace of the Duke, with
intent to ask His Highness's sanction for his marriage with the Lady
Lucia. This lady, being then seventeen years of age, loved Antonio, and
he her, and troth had been privily plighted between them for many
months; and such was the strength and power of the love they bore the
one to the other, that even to this day the old mock at young lovers who
show themselves overfond, crying, "'Tis Lucia and Antonio!"

But since the Lady Lucia was an orphan, Antonio came now to the Duke,
who enjoyed ward-ship over her, and setting out his passion and how that
his estate was sufficient and his family such as the Duke knew, prayed
leave of His Highness to wed her. But the Duke, a crafty and subtle
prince, knowing Antonio's temper and the favour in which he was held by
the people, counted not to augment his state and revenues by the gift of
a bride so richly dowered, but chose rather to give her to a favourite
of his, a man in whose devotion he could surely trust and whose
disposition was to serve his master in all things fair and foul, open or
secret. Such an one the Duke found in the Lord Robert de Beauregard, a
gentleman of Provence, who had quitted his own country, having been
drawn into some tumult there, and, having taken service with the Duke,
had risen to a great place in his esteem and confidence. Therefore, when
Antonio preferred his request, the Duke, with many a courteous regretful
phrase, made him aware that the lady stood promised to Robert by the
irrevocable sanctity of his princely pledge.

"So forget, I pray you, my good cousin Antonio," said he, "forget, as
young men lightly can, this desire of yours, and it shall be my charge
to find you a bride full as fair as the Lady Lucia."

But Antonio's face went red from brow to chin, as he answered: "My
gracious lord, I love the lady, and she me, and neither can wed another.
As for my Lord Robert, your Highness knows well that she loves him not."

"A girl's love!" smiled the Duke. "A girl's love! It rains and shines,
and shines and rains, Antonio."

"It has shone on me since she knew a man when she looked on him," said
Antonio.

And Tommasino, who stood by, recking as little of the Duke as of the
Duke's deerhound which he was patting the while, broke in, saying
carelessly, "And this Robert, my lord, is not the man for a pretty girl
to love. He is a sour fellow."

"I thank you for your counsel, my lord Tommasino," smiled the Duke. "Yet
I love him." Whereat Tommasino lifted his brows and patted the hound
again. "It is enough," added the Duke. "I have promised, Antonio. It is
enough."

"Yes, it is enough," said Antonio; and he and Tommasino, having bowed
low, withdrew from the presence of the Duke. But when he got clear
outside of the Duke's cabinet, Antonio laid his hand on Tommasino's
shoulder, saying, "It is not well that Robert have her."

"It is mighty ill," said Tommasino.

And then they walked in silence to the city gate, and, in silence
still, climbed the rugged hill where Antonio's house stood.

But the Duke sent for Robert de Beauregard into his cabinet and said to
him: "If you be wise, friend Robert, little grass shall grow under your
feet this side your marriage. This Antonio says not much; but I have
known him outrun his tongue with deeds."

"If the lady were as eager as I, the matter would not halt," said Robert
with a laugh. "But she weeps and spits fire at me, and cries for
Antonio."

"She will be cured after the wedding," said the Duke. "But see that she
be well guarded, Robert; let a company of your men watch her. I have
known the bride to be missing on a marriage day ere now."

"If he can touch her, he may wed her," cried Robert. "The pikemen are
close about her house, and she can neither go in nor come forth without
their knowledge."

"It is well," said the Duke. "Yet delay not. They are stubborn men,
these Counts of Monte Velluto."

Now had the Lady Lucia been of a spirit as haughty as her lover's, it
may be that she would have refused to wed Robert de Beauregard. But she
was afraid. When Antonio was with her, she had clung to him, and he
loved her the more for her timidity. With him gone and forbidden to come
near her, she dared not resist the Duke's will nor brave his
displeasure; so that a week before the day which the Duke had appointed
for the wedding, she sent to Antonio, bidding him abandon a hope that
was vain and set himself to forget a most unhappy lady.

"Robert shall not have her," said Antonio, putting the letter in his
belt.

"Then the time is short," said Tommasino.

They were walking together on the terrace before Antonio's house, whence
they looked on the city across the river. Antonio cast his eye on the
river and on the wall of the Duke's garden that ran along it; fair
trees, shrubs, and flowers lined the top of the wall, and the water
gleamed in the sunshine.

"It is strange," said Antonio, musing, "that one maiden can darken for a
man all the world that God lights with his sun. Yet since so it is,
Tommasino, a man can be but a man; and being a man, he is a poor man, if
he stand by while another takes his love."

"And that other a stranger, and, as I swear, a cut-throat," added
Tommasino.

When they had dined and evening began to come on, Antonio made his
servants saddle the best horses in his stable--though, indeed, the
choice was small, for Antonio was not rich as a man of his rank counts
riches--and the two rode down the hill towards the city. But, as they
went, Antonio turned once and again in his saddle and gazed long at the
old gray house, the round tower, and the narrow gate.

"Why look behind, and not forward?" asked Tommasino.

"Because there is a foreboding in me," answered Antonio, "that it will
be long before that gate again I pass through. Were there a hope of
persuading you, Tommasino, I would bid you turn back, and leave me to go
alone on this errand."

"Keep your breath against when you have to run," laughed Tommasino,
pricking his horse and tossing his hair, dark as Antonio's was fair,
back from his neck.

Across the bridge they rode and through the gates, and having traversed
the great square, came to the door of Lucia's house, where it rose
fronting the Duke's palace. Here Antonio dismounted, giving his bridle
into Tommasino's hand, and bade the servants carry his name to the Lady
Lucia. A stir arose among them and much whispering, till an old man,
head of the servingmen, came forward, saying: "Pardon, my lord, but we
are commanded not to admit you to the Lady Lucia;" and he waved his hand
towards the inner part of the porch, where Antonio saw a dozen or more
pikemen of the Duke's Guard drawn across the passage to the house; and
their pikes flashed in the rays of the setting sun as they levelled them
in front of their rank.

Some of the townsmen and apprentice lads, stout fellows, each with a
staff, had gathered now around Antonio, whom they loved for his feats of
strength and his liberal gifts to the poor, and, understanding what was
afoot, one came to him, saying: "There are some, my lord, who would
enter with you if you are set on entering," and the fellow's eyes
sparkled; for there was a great enmity in the town against the pikemen,
and a lusty youth with a stick in his hand is never loth to find a use
for it.

For a moment Count Antonio hesitated; for they flocked closer to him,
and Tommasino threw him a glance of appeal and touched the hilt of his
sword. But he would not that the blood of men who were themselves loved
by mothers, wives, and maids, should be shed in his quarrel, and he
raised his hand, bidding them be still.

"I have no quarrel with the pikeman," said he, "and we must not fight
against His Highness's servants."

The faces of the townsmen grew long in disappointment. Tommasino alone
laughed low, recognising in Antonio's gentleness the lull that heralds a
storm. The Count was never more dangerous than when he praised
submission.

"But," continued Antonio, "I would fain see the Lady Lucia." And with
this he stepped inside the porch, signing to Tommasino to stay where he
was; but the lad would not, and, leaping down, ran to his kinsman and
stood shoulder to shoulder with him.

Thus they stood facing the line of pikemen, when suddenly the opposing
rank opened and Robert de Beauregard himself came through. Starting
slightly on sight of Antonio, he yet bowed courteously, baring his head,
and Antonio, with Tommasino, did the like.

"What is your desire, my lord?" asked Robert.

"I have naught to ask of you," answered Antonio, and he took a step
forward. Robert's hand flew to his sword, and in a moment they would
have fought. But now another figure came forward with uplifted hand. It
was the Duke himself, and he looked on Antonio with his dark smile, and
Antonio flushed red.

"You seek me, Antonio?" asked the Duke.

"I seek not your Highness, but my plighted wife," said Antonio.

Duke Valentine smiled still. Coming to Antonio, he passed his arm
through his, and said in most friendly fashion: "Come with me to my
house, and we will talk of this;" and Antonio, caught fast in the choice
between obedience and open revolt, went frowning across the square, the
Duke's arm through his, Robert on the Duke's other side, and, behind,
Tommasino with the horses. But as they went, a sudden cry came from the
house they left, and a girl's face showed for an instant, tear-stained
and pallid, at an open window. A shiver ran through Antonio; but the
Duke pressing his arm, he went still in silence.

At the door of the palace, a lackey took the horses from Tommasino, and
the four passed through the great hall and through the Duke's cabinet
beyond and into the garden; there the Duke sat down under the wall of
the garden, near by the fish-pond, and turning suddenly on Antonio,
spoke to him fiercely; "Men have died at my hands for less," said he.

"Then for each of such shall you answer to God," retorted Antonio, not
less hotly.

"You scout my commands in the face of all the city," said the Duke in
low stern tones. "Now, by Heaven, if you seek to see the girl again, I
will hang you from the tower of the gate. So be warned--now--once: there
shall be no second warning."

He ceased, and sat with angry eyes on Antonio; and Robert, who stood by
his master, glared as fierce. But Antonio was silent for a while, and
rested his arm on Tommasino's shoulder.

"My fathers have served and fought for your fathers," said he at last.
"What has this gentleman done for the Duchy?"

Then Robert spoke suddenly and scornfully: "This he is ready to do, to
punish an insolent knave that braves His Highness's will."

Antonio seemed not to hear him, for he did not move but stood with eyes
bent on the Duke's face, looking whether his appeal should reach its
mark. But Tommasino heard; yet never a word spoke Tommasino either, but
he drew off the heavy riding-glove from his left hand, and it hung
dangling in the fingers of his right, and he looked at the glove and at
Robert and at the glove again.

"I would his Highness were not here," said Tommasino to Robert with a
smile.

"Hold your peace, boy," said Robert, "or the Duke will have you
whipped."

Youth loves not to be taunted with its blessed state. "I have no more to
say," cried Tommasino; and without more, caring naught now for the
presence of the Duke, he flung his heavy glove full in Robert's face,
and, starting back a pace, drew his sword. Then Antonio knew that the
die was cast, for Tommasino would gain no mercy, having insulted the
Duke's favourite and drawn his sword in the Duke's palace; and he also
drew out his sword, and the pair stood facing the Duke and Robert de
Beauregard. It was but for an instant that they stood thus; then Robert,
who did not lack courage to resent a blow, unsheathed and rushed at the
boy. Antonio left his cousin to defend himself, and, bowing low to the
Duke, set his sword at the Duke's breast, before the Duke could so much
as rise from his seat.

"I would not touch your Highness," said he, "but these gentlemen must
not be interrupted."

"You take me at a disadvantage," cried the Duke.

"If you will swear not to summon your guard, I will sheath my sword, my
lord; or, if you will honour me by crossing yours on mine, you shall
draw yours."

The place where they sat was hidden from the palace windows, yet the
Duke trusted that the sound of the clashing steel would bring aid;
therefore, not desiring to fight with Antonio (for Duke Valentine loved
to scheme rather than to strike), he sat still, answering nothing. And
now Tommasino and Robert were engaged, Robert attacking furiously and
Tommasino parrying him as coolly as though they fenced for pastime in
the school. It was Tommasino's fault to think of naught but the moment
and he did not remember that every second might bring the guard upon
them. And Antonio would not call it to his mind, but he said to the
Duke: "The boy will kill him, sir. He is a finer swordsman than I, and
marvellously active."

Then the Duke, having been pondering on his course, and knowing
Antonio--sitting there with the Count's sword against his breast--did
by calculation what many a man braver in fight had not dared to do.
There was in truth a courage in it, for all that it was born of
shrewdness. For, thus with the sword on his heart, fixing a calm glance
on Antonio, he cried as loudly as he could, "Help, help, treason!"

Antonio drew back his arm for the stroke; and the Duke sat still; then,
swift as thought, Antonio laughed, bowed to Duke Valentine and, turning,
rushed between the fighters, striking up their swords. In amazement they
stood for a moment: Antonio drove his sword into its sheath, and, while
Robert was yet astounded, he rushed on him, caught him by the waist,
and, putting forth his strength, flung him clear and far into the
fish-pond. Then seizing Tommasino by the arm he started with him at a
run for the great hall. The Duke rose, crying loudly, "Treason,
treason!" But Antonio cried "Treason, treason," yet louder than the
Duke; and presently Tommasino, who had frowned at his pastime being
interrupted, fell a-laughing, and between the laughs cried "Treason,
treason!" with Antonio. And at the entrance of the hall they met a
dozen pikemen running; and Antonio, pointing over his shoulder, called
in tones of horror, "Treason, treason!" And Tommasino cried, "The Duke!
Help the Duke!" So that they passed untouched through the pikemen, who
hesitated an instant in bewilderment but then swept on; for they heard
the Duke's own voice crying still "Treason, treason!" And through the
hall and out to the portico passed the cousins, echoing their cries of
"Treason!" And every man they met went whither they pointed; and when
they leapt on their horses, the very lackey that had held them dropped
the bridles with hasty speed and ran into the palace, crying "Treason!"
Then Antonio, Tommasino ever following, and both yet crying "Treason!"
dashed across the square; and on the way they met the pikemen who
guarded the Lady Lucia, and the townsmen who were mocking and snarling
at the pikemen; and to pikemen and townsmen alike they cried (though
Tommasino hardly could speak now for laughter and lack of breath),
"Treason, treason!" And all to whom they cried flocked to the palace,
crying in their turn, "Treason, treason!" so that people ran out of
every house in the neighbourhood and hurried to the palace, crying
"Treason!" and every one asking his neighbour what the treason was. And
thus, by the time in which a man might count a hundred, a crowd was
pushing and pressing and striving round the gate of the palace, and the
cousins were alone on the other side of the great square.

"Now thanks be to God for that idea!" gasped Tommasino.

But Antonio gave not thanks till his meal was ended. Raising his voice
as he halted his horse before the Lady Lucia's house, he called loudly,
no longer "Treason!" but "Lucia!" And she, knowing his voice, looked out
again from the window; but some hand plucked her away as soon as she had
but looked. Then Antonio leapt from his horse with an oath and ran to
the door, and finding it unguarded, he rushed in, leaving Tommasino
seated on one horse and holding the other, with one eye on Lucia's house
and the other on the palace, praying that, by the favour of Heaven,
Antonio might come out again before the crowd round the Duke's gates
discovered why it was, to a man, crying "Treason!"

But in the palace of the Duke there was great confusion. For the
pikemen, finding Robert de Beauregard scrambling out of the fish-pond
with a drawn sword in his hand, and His Highness crying "Treason!" with
the best of them, must have it that the traitor was none other than
Robert himself, and in their dutiful zeal they came nigh to making an
end of him then and there, before the Duke could gain silence enough to
render his account of the affair audible. And when the first pikemen
were informed, there came others; and these others, finding the first
thronging round the Duke and Robert, cried out on them for the traitors,
and were on the point of engaging them; and when they also had been with
difficulty convinced, and the two parties, with His Highness and Robert,
turned to the pursuit of the cousins, they found the whole of the great
hall utterly blocked by a concourse of the townsmen, delighted beyond
measure at the chance of an affray with the hated pikemen, who, they
conceived, must beyond doubt be the wicked traitors that had risen in
arms against the Duke's life and throne. Narrowly indeed was a great
battle in the hall averted by the Duke himself, who leapt upon a high
seat and spoke long and earnestly to the people, persuading them that
not the pikemen, but Antonio and Tommasino, were the traitors; which the
townsmen found hard to believe, in part because they wished not to
believe ill of Antonio, and more inasmuch as every man there knew--and
the women and children also--that Antonio and Tommasino, and none else
of all the city had raised the alarm. But some hearkened at last; and
with these and a solid wedge of the pikemen, the Duke and Robert, with
much ado, thrust their way through the crowd and won access to the door
of the palace.

In what time a thousand men may be convinced, you may hope to turn one
woman's mind, and at the instant that the Duke gained the square with
his friends and his guards, Count Antonio had prevailed on the Lady
Lucia to brave His Highness's wrath. It is true that he had met with
some resistance from the steward, who was in Robert's pay, and had
tarried to buffet the fellow into obedience; and with more from an old
governess, who, since she could not be buffeted, had perforce to be
locked in a cupboard; yet the better part of the time had to be spent in
imploring Lucia herself. At last, with many fears and some tears, she
had yielded, and it was with glad eyes that Tommasino saw the Count come
forth from the door carrying Lucia on his arm; and others saw him also;
for a great shout came from the Duke's party across the square, and the
pikemen set out at a run with Robert himself at their head. Yet so soon
as they were started, Antonio also, bearing Lucia in his arms, had
reached where Tommasino was with the horses, and an instant later he was
mounted and cried, "To the gate!" and he struck in his spurs, and his
horse bounded forward, Tommasino following. No more than a hundred yards
lay between them and the gate of the city, and before the pikemen could
bar their path they had reached the gate. The gate-wardens were in the
act of shutting it, having perceived the tumult; but Tommasino struck
at them with the flat of his sword, and they gave way before the
rushing horses; and before the great gate was shut, Antonio and he were
on their way through, and the hoofs of their horses clattered over the
bridge. Thus Antonio was clear of the city with his lady in his arms and
Tommasino his cousin safe by his side.

Yet they were not safe; for neither Duke Valentine nor Robert de
Beauregard was a man who sat down under defeat. But few moments had
passed before there issued from the gate a company of ten mounted and
armed men, and Robert, riding in their front, saw, hard on a mile away,
the cousins heading across the plain towards the spot where the spurs of
Mount Agnino run down; for there was the way of safety. But it was yet
ten miles away. And Robert and his company galloped furiously in
pursuit, while Duke Valentine watched from the wall of the garden above
the river.

Now Count Antonio was a big man and heavy, so that his horse was weighed
down by the twofold burden on its back; and looking behind him, he
perceived that Robert's company drew nearer and yet nearer. And
Tommasino, looking also, said, "I doubt they are too many for us, for
you have the lady in your arms. We shall not get clear of the hills."

Then Antonio drew in his horse a little and, letting the bridle fall,
took the Lady Lucia in both his arms and kissed her, and having thus
done, lifted her and set her on Tommasino's horse. "Thank God," said he,
"that you are no heavier than a feather."

"Yet two feathers may be too much," said Tommasino.

"Ride on," said Antonio. "I will check them for a time, so that you
shall come safe to the outset of the hill."

Tommasino obeyed him; and Antonio, riding more softly now, placed
himself between Tommasino and the pursuers. Tommasino rode on with the
swooning lady in his arms; but his face was grave and troubled, for, as
he said, two feathers may be overmuch, and Robert's company rode well
and swiftly.

"If Antonio can stop them, it is well," said he; "but if not, I shall
not reach the hills;" and he looked with no great love on the unhappy
lady, for it seemed like enough that Antonio would be slain for her
sake, and Tommasino prized him above a thousand damsels. Yet he rode on,
obedient.

But Antonio's scheme had not passed undetected by Robert de Beauregard;
and Robert, being a man of guile and cunning, swore aloud an oath that,
though he died himself, yet Tommasino should not carry off Lucia.
Therefore he charged his men one and all to ride after Tommasino and
bring back Lucia, leaving him alone to contend with Antonio; and they
were not loth to obey, for it was little to their taste or wish to
surround Antonio and kill him. Thus, when the company came within fifty
yards of Antonio, the ranks suddenly parted; five diverged to the right,
and four to the left, passing Antonio in sweeping curves, so far off
that he could not reach them, while Robert alone rode straight at him.
Antonio, perceiving the stratagem, would fain have ridden again after
Tommasino; but Robert was hard upon him, and he was in peril of being
thrust through the back as he fled. So he turned and faced his enemy.
But although Robert had sworn so boldly before his men, his mind was not
what he had declared to them, and he desired to meet Antonio alone, not
that he might fight a fair fight with him, but in order treacherously to
deceive him--a thing he was ashamed to do before his comrades. Coming up
then to Antonio, he reined in his horse, crying, "My lord, I bring peace
from His Highness."

Antonio wondered to hear him; yet, when Robert, his sword lying
untouched in its sheath, sprang from his horse and approached him, he
dismounted also; and Robert said to him: "I have charged them to injure
neither the Lady Lucia nor your cousin by so much as a hair; for the
Duke bids me say that he will not constrain the lady."

"Is she then given to me?" cried Antonio, his face lighting up with a
marvellous eagerness.

"Nay, not so fast," answered Robert with subtle cunning. "The Duke will
not give her to you now. But he will exact from you and from me alike
an oath not to molest, no, not to see her, for three months, and then
she shall choose as she will between us."

While he spoke this fair speech, he had been drawing nearer to Antonio;
and Antonio, not yet convinced of his honesty, drew back a pace. Then
Robert let go hold of his horse, unbuckled his sword, flung it on the
ground, and came to Antonio with outstretched hands. "Behold!" said he;
"I am in your mercy, my lord. If you do not believe me, slay me."

Antonio looked at him with searching wistful eyes; he hated to war
against the Duke, and his heart was aflame with the hope that dwelt for
him in Robert's words; for he did not doubt but that neither three
months, nor three years, nor three hundred years, could change his
lady's love.

"You speak fair, sir," said he; "but what warrant have I?"

"And, save your honour, what warrant have I, who stand here unarmed
before you?" asked Robert.

For a while Antonio pondered; then he said, "My lord, I must crave your
pardon for my doubt; but the matter is so great that to your word I dare
not trust; but if you will ride back with your men and pray the Duke to
send me a promise under his own hand, to that I will trust. And
meanwhile Tommasino, with the Lady Lucia, shall abide in a safe place,
and I will stay here, awaiting your return; and, if you will, let two of
your men stay with me."

"Many a man, my lord," returned Robert, "would take your caution in bad
part. But let it be so. Come, we will ride after my company." And he
rose and caught Antonio's horse by the bridle and brought it to him;
"Mount, my lord," said he, standing by.

Antonio, believing either that the man was true or that his
treachery--if treachery there were in him--was foiled, and seeing him to
all seeming unarmed, save for a little dagger in his belt which would
hardly suffice to kill a man and was more a thing of ornament than use,
set his foot in the stirrup and prepared to mount. And in so doing he
turned his back on Robert de Beauregard. The moment for which that
wicked man had schemed and lied was come. Still holding Antonio's
stirrup with one hand, he drew, swift as lightning, from under his
cloak, a dagger different far from the toy in his belt--short, strong,
broad, and keen. And that moment had been Antonio's last, had it not
chanced that, on the instant Robert drew the dagger, the horse started a
pace aside, and Antonio, taken unawares, stumbled forward and came near
falling on the ground. His salvation lay in that stumble, for Robert,
having put all his strength into the blow, and then striking not Antonio
but empty air, in his turn staggered forward, and could not recover
himself before Antonio turned round, a smile at his own unwariness on
his lips.

Then he saw the broad keen knife in the hand of Robert. Robert breathed
quickly, and glared at him, but did not rush on him. He stood glaring,
the knife in his hands, his parted lips displaying grinning teeth. Not a
word spoke Antonio, but he drew his sword, and pointed where Robert's
sword lay on the grass. The traitor, recognising the grace that allowed
him to take his sword, shamed, it may be, by such return for his own
treachery, in silence lifted and drew it; and, withdrawing to a distance
from the horses, which quietly cropped the grass, the two faced one
another.

Calm and easy were the bearing and the air of Count Antonio, if the
pictures of him that live drawn in the words of those who knew him be
truthful; calm and easy ever was he, save when he fought; but then it
seemed as though there came upon him a sort of fury akin to madness, or
(as the ancients would have fabled) to some inspiration from the God of
War, which transformed him utterly, imbuing him with a rage and rushing
impetuosity. Here lay his danger when matched with such a swordsman as
was little Tommasino; but for all that, few cared to meet him, some
saying that, though they called themselves as brave as others, yet they
seemed half appalled when Count Antonio set upon them; for he fought as
though he must surely win and as though God were with him. Thus now he
darted upon Robert de Beauregard, in seeming recklessness of receiving
thrusts himself, yet ever escaping them by his sudden resource and
dexterity and ever himself attacking, leaving no space to take breath,
and bewildering the other's practised skill by the dash and brilliance
of his assault. And it may be also that the darkness, which was now
falling fast, hindered Robert the more, for Antonio was famed for the
keenness of his eyes by night. Be these things as they may, in the very
moment when Robert pricked Antonio in the left arm and cried out in
triumph on his stroke, Antonio leapt on him and drove his sword through
his heart; and Robert, with the sword yet in him, fell to the ground,
groaning. And when Antonio drew forth the sword, the man at his feet
died. Thus, if it be God's will, may all traitors perish.

Antonio looked round the plain; but it grew darker still, and even his
sight did not avail for more than some threescore yards. Yet he saw a
dark mass on his right, distant, as he judged, that space or more.
Rapidly it moved: surely it was a group of men galloping, and Antonio
stood motionless regarding them. But they swept on, not turning whither
he stood; and he, unable to tell what they did, whether they sought him
or whither they went, watched them till they faded away in the darkness;
and then, leaving Robert where he lay, he mounted his horse and made
speed towards the hills, praying that there he should find his cousin
and the Lady Lucia, escaped from the pursuit of the Duke's men. Yet had
he known what those dimly discerned riders bore with them, he would have
been greatly moved at all costs and at every hazard to follow after them
and seek to overtake them before they came to the city.

On he rode towards the hills, quickly, yet not so hastily but that he
scanned the ground as he went so well as the night allowed him. The moon
was risen now and to see was easier. When he had covered a distance of
some two miles, he perceived something lying across his path. Bending to
look, he found it to be the corpse of a horse: he leapt down and bent
over it. It was the horse Tommasino had ridden; it was hamstrung, and
its throat had been cut. Antonio, seeing it, in sudden apprehension of
calamity, cried aloud; and to his wonder his cry was answered by a
voice which came from a clump of bushes fifty yards on the right. He ran
hastily to the spot, thinking nothing of his own safety nor of anything
else than what had befallen his friends; and under the shelter of the
bushes two men of the Duke's Guard, their horses tethered near them,
squatted on the ground, and, between, Tommasino lay full length on the
ground. His face was white, his eyes closed, and a bloody bandage was
about his head. One of the two by him had forced his lips open and was
giving him to drink from a bottle. The other sprang up on sight of
Antonio and laid a hand to his sword-hilt.

"Peace, peace!" said Antonio. "Is the lad dead?"

"He is not dead, my lord, but he is sore hurt."

"And what do you here with him? And how did you take him?"

"We came up with him here, and surrounded him; and while some of us held
him in front, one cut the hamstrings of his horse from behind; and the
horse fell, and with the horse the lady and the young lord. He was up in
an instant; but as he rose, the lieutenant struck him on the head and
dealt him the wound you see. Then he could fight no more; and the
lieutenant took the lady, and with the rest rode back towards the city,
leaving us charged with the duty of bringing the young lord in so soon
as he was in a state to come with us."

"They took the lady?"

"Even so, my lord."

"And why did they not seek for me?"

The fellow--Martolo was his name--smiled grimly; and his comrade,
looking up, answered: "Maybe they did not wish to find you, my lord.
They had been eight to one, and could not have failed to take you in the
end."

"Aye, in the end," said Martolo, laughing now. "Nor," added he, "had the
lieutenant such great love for Robert de Beauregard that he would
rejoice to deliver you to death for his sake, seeing that you are a
Monte Velluto and he a rascally----"

"Peace! He is dead," said Count Antonio.

"You have killed him?" they cried with one voice.

"He attacked me in treachery, and I have killed him," answered Antonio.

For a while there was silence. Then Antonio asked, "The lady--did she go
willingly?"

"She was frightened and dazed by her fall, my lord; she knew not what
she did nor what they did to her. And the lieutenant took her in front
of him, and, holding her with all gentleness, so rode towards the city."

"God keep her," said Antonio.

"Amen, poor lady!" said Martolo, doffing his cap.

Then Antonio whistled to his horse, which came to his side; with a
gesture he bade the men stand aside, and they obeyed him; and he
gathered Tommasino in his arms. "Hold my stirrup, that I may mount,"
said he; and still they obeyed. But when they saw him mounted, with
Tommasino seated in front of him, Martolo cried, "But, my lord, we are
charged to take him back and deliver him to the Duke."

"And if you do?" asked Antonio.

Martolo made a movement as of one tying a noose.

"And if you do not?" asked Antonio.

"Then we had best not show ourselves alive to the Duke."

Antonio looked down on them. "To whom bear you allegiance?" said he.

"To His Highness the Duke," they answered, uncovering as they spoke.

"And to whom besides?" asked Antonio.

"To none besides," they answered, wondering.

"Aye, but you do," said he. "To One who wills not that you should
deliver to death a lad who has done but what his honour bade him."

"God's counsel God knows," said Martolo. "We are dead men if we return
alone to the city. You had best slay us yourself, my lord, if we may not
carry the young lord with us."

"You are honest lads, are you not?" he asked. "By your faces, you are
men of the city."

"So are we, my lord; but we serve the Duke in his Guard for reward."

"I love the men of the city as they love me," said Antonio. "And a few
pence a day should not buy a man's soul as well as his body."

The two men looked at one another in perplexity. The fear and deference
in which they held Antonio forbade them to fall on him; yet they dared
not let him take Tommasino. Then, as they stood doubting, he spoke low
and softly to them: "When he that should give law and uphold right deals
wrong, and makes white black and black white, it is for gentlemen and
honest men to be a law unto themselves. Mount your horses, then, and
follow me. And so long as I am safe, you shall be safe; and so long as I
live, you shall live; and while I eat and drink, you shall have to drink
and eat; and you shall be my servants. And when the time of God's
will--whereof God forbid that I should doubt--is come, I will go back to
her I love, and you shall go back to them that love you; and men shall
say that you have proved yourselves true men and good."

Thus it was that two men of the Duke's Guard--Martolo and he whom they
called Bena (for of his true name there is no record)--went together
with Count Antonio and his cousin Tommasino to a secret fastness in the
hills; and there in the course of many days Tommasino was healed of the
wound which the Lieutenant of the Guard had given him, and rode his
horse again, and held next place to Antonio himself in the band that
gathered round them. For there came to them every man that was
wrongfully oppressed; and some came for love of adventure and because
they hoped to strike good blows; and some came whom Antonio would not
receive, inasmuch as they were greater rogues than were those whose
wrath they fled from.

Such is the tale of how Count Antonio was outlawed from the Duke's peace
and took to the hills. Faithfully have I set it down, and whoso will may
blame the Count, and whoso will may praise him. For myself, I thank
Heaven that I am well rid of this same troublesome passion of love that
likens one man to a lion and another to a fox.

But the Lady Lucia, being brought back to the city by the Lieutenant of
the Guard, was lodged in her own house, and the charge of her was
commended by the Duke into the hands of a discreet lady; and for a while
His Highness, for very shame, forbore to trouble her with suitors. For
he said, in his bitter humour, as he looked down on the dead body of
Robert de Beauregard: "I have lost two good servants and four strong
arms through her; and mayhap, if I find her another suitor, she will rob
me of yet another stalwart gentleman."

So she abode, in peace indeed, but in sore desolation and sorrow,
longing for the day when Count Antonio should come back to seek her. And
again was she closely guarded by the Duke.



CHAPTER II.

COUNT ANTONIO AND THE TRAITOR PRINCE.


Of all the deeds that Count Antonio of Monte Velluto did during the time
that he was an outlaw in the hills (for a price had been set on his head
by Duke Valentine), there was none that made greater stir or struck more
home to the hearts of men, howsoever they chose to look upon it, than
that which he performed on the high hill that faces the wicket gate on
the west side of the city and is called now the Hill of Duke Paul.
Indeed it was the act of a man whose own conscience was his sole guide,
and who made the law which his own hand was to carry out. That it had
been a crime in most men, who can doubt? That it was a crime in him, all
governments must hold; and the same, I take it, must be the teaching of
the Church. Yet not all men held it a crime, although they had not
ventured it themselves, both from the greatness of the person whom the
deed concerned, and also for the burden that it put on the conscience of
him that did it. Here, then, is the story of it, as it is still told
both in the houses of the noble and in peasants' cottages.

While Count Antonio still dwelt at the Court, and had not yet fled from
the wrath aroused in the Duke by the Count's attempt to carry off the
Lady Lucia, the Duke's ward, the nuptials of His Highness had been
celebrated with great magnificence and universal rejoicing; and the
feasting and exultation had been most happily renewed on the birth of an
infant Prince, a year later. Yet heavy was the price paid for this gift
of Heaven, for Her Highness the Duchess, a lady of rare grace and
kindliness, survived the birth of her son only three months, and then
died, amidst the passionate mourning of the people, leaving the Duke a
prey to bitter sorrow. Many say that she had turned his heart to good
had she but lived, and that it was the loss of her that soured him and
twisted his nature. If it be so, I pray that he has received pardon for
all his sins; for his grief was great, and hardly to be assuaged even by
the love he had for the little Prince, from whom he would never be
parted for an hour, if he could contrive to have the boy with him, and
in whom he saw, with pride, the heir of his throne.

Both in the joy of the wedding and the grief at the Duchess's death,
none had made more ostentatious sign of sharing than His Highness's
brother, Duke Paul. Yet hollow alike were his joy and his grief, save
that he found true cause for sorrow in that the Duchess left to her
husband a dear memorial of their brief union. Paul rivalled the Duke in
his caresses and his affected love for the boy, but he had lived long in
the hope that His Highness would not marry, and that he himself should
succeed him in his place, and this hope he could not put out of his
heart. Nay, as time passed and the baby grew to a healthy boy, Paul's
thoughts took a still deeper hue of guilt. It was no longer enough for
him to hope for his nephew's death, or even to meditate how he should
bring it about. One wicked imagining led on, as it is wont in our sinful
nature, to another, and Satan whispered in Paul's ear that the Duke
himself was short of forty by a year, that to wait for power till youth
were gone was not a bold man's part, and that to contrive the child's
death, leaving his father alive, was but to double the risk without
halving the guilt. Thus was Paul induced to dwell on the death of both
father and son, and to say to himself that if the father went first the
son would easily follow, and that with one cunning and courageous stroke
the path to the throne might be cleared.

While Paul pondered on these designs, there came about the events which
drove Count Antonio from the Court; and no sooner was he gone and
declared in open disobedience and contumacy against the Duke, than Paul,
seeking a handle for his plans, seemed to find one in Antonio. Here was
a man driven from his house (which the Duke had burnt), despoiled of his
revenues, bereft of his love, proclaimed a free mark for whosoever would
serve the Duke by slaying him. Where could be a better man for the
purposes of a malcontent prince? And the more was Paul inclined to use
Antonio from the fact that he had shown favour to Antonio, and been wont
to seek his society; so that Antonio, failing to pierce the dark depths
of his heart, was loyally devoted to him, and had returned an answer
full of gratitude and friendship to the secret messages in which Paul
had sent him condolence on the mishap that had befallen him.

Now in the beginning of the second year of Count Antonio's outlawry, His
Highness was most mightily incensed against him, not merely because he
had so won the affection of the country-folk that none would betray his
hiding-place either for threats or for reward, but most chiefly by
reason of a certain act which was in truth more of Tommasino's doing
than of Antonio's. For Tommasino, meeting one of the Duke's farmers of
taxes, had lightened him of his fat bag of money, saying that he would
himself assume the honour of delivering what was fairly due to His
Highness, and had upon that scattered three-fourths of the spoil among
the poor, and sent the beggarly remnant privily by night to the gate of
the city, with a writing, "There is honour among thieves; who, then, may
call Princes thieves?" And this writing had been read by many, and the
report of it, spreading through the city, had made men laugh. Therefore
the Duke had sworn that by no means should Antonio gain pardon save by
delivering that insolent young robber to the hands of justice. Thus he
was highly pleased when his brother sought him in the garden (for he sat
in his wonted place under the wall by the fish-pond) and bade him listen
to a plan whereby the outlaws should be brought to punishment. The Duke
took his little son upon his knees and prayed his brother to tell his
device.

"You could not bring me a sweeter gift than the head of Tommasino," said
he, stroking the child's curls; and the child shrank closer into his
arms, for the child did not love Paul but feared him.

"Antonio knows that I love Your Highness," said Paul, seating himself
on the seat by the Duke, "but he knows also that I am his friend, and a
friend to the Lady Lucia, and a man of tender heart. Would it seem to
him deep treachery if I should go privately to him and tell him how that
on a certain day you would go forth with your guard to camp in the spurs
of Mount Agnino, leaving the city desolate, and that on the night of
that day I could contrive that Lucia should come secretly to the gate,
and that it should be opened for her, so that by a sudden descent she
might be seized and carried safe to his hiding-place before aid could
come from Your Highness?"

"But what should the truth be?" asked Valentine.

"The truth should be that while part of the Guard went to the spurs of
the Mount, the rest should lie in ambush close inside the city gates and
dash out on Antonio and his company."

"It is well, if he will believe."

Then Paul laid his finger on his brother's arm. "As the clock in the
tower of the cathedral strikes three on the morning of the 15th of the
month, do you, dear brother, be in your summer-house at the corner of
the garden yonder; and I will come thither and tell you if he has
believed and if he has come. For by then I shall have learnt from him
his mind: and we two will straightway go rouse the guards and lead the
men to their appointed station, and when he approaches the gate we can
lay hands on him."

"How can you come to him? For we do not know where he is hid."

"Alas, there is not a rogue of a peasant that cannot take a letter to
him!"

"Yet when I question them, aye, though I beat them, they know nothing!"
cried Valentine in chagrin. "Truly, the sooner we lay him by the heels,
the better for our security."

"Shall it be, then, as I say, my lord?"

"So let it be," said the Duke. "I will await you in the summer-house."

Paul, perceiving that his brother had no suspicions of him, and would
await him in the summer-house, held his task to be already half done.
For his plan was that he and Antonio should come together to the
summer-house, but that Antonio should lie hid till Paul had spoken to
the Duke; then Paul should go out on pretext of bidding the guard make
ready the ambush, and leave the Duke alone with Antonio. Antonio then,
suddenly springing forth, should slay the Duke; while Paul--and when he
thought on this, he smiled to himself--would so contrive that a body of
men should bar Antonio's escape, and straightway kill him. Thus should
he be quit both of his brother and of Antonio, and no man would live who
knew how the deed was contrived. "And then," said he, "I doubt whether
the poor child, bereft of all parental care, will long escape the
manifold perils of infancy."

Thus he schemed; and when he had made all sure, and noised about the
Duke's intentions touching his going to the spurs of Mount Agnino, he
himself set forth alone on his horse to seek Antonio. He rode till he
reached the entrance of the pass leading to the recesses of the hills.
There he dismounted, and sat down on the ground; and this was at noon on
the 13th day of the month. He had not long been sitting, when a face
peered from behind a wall of moss-covered rock that fronted him, and
Paul cried, "Is it a friend?"

"A friend of whom mean you, my lord?" came from the rock.

"Of whom else than of Count Antonio?" cried Paul.

A silence followed and a delay; then two men stole cautiously from
behind the rock, and in one of them Paul knew the man they called Bena,
who had been of the Duke's Guard. The men, knowing Paul, bowed low to
him, and asked him his pleasure, and he commanded them to bring him to
Antonio. They wondered, knowing not whether he came from the Duke or
despite the Duke; but he was urgent in his commands, and at length they
tied a scarf over his eyes, and set him on his horse, and led the horse.
Thus they went for an hour. Then they prayed him to dismount, saying
that the horse could go no farther; and though Paul's eyes saw nothing,
he heard the whinnying and smelt the smell of horses.

"Here are your stables then," said he, and dismounted with a laugh.

Then Bena took him by the hand, and the other guided his feet, and
climbing up steep paths, over boulders and through little water-courses,
they went, till at length Bena cried, "We are at home, my lord;" and
Paul, tearing off his bandage, found himself on a small level spot,
ringed round with stunted wind-beaten firs; and three huts stood in the
middle of the space, and before one of the huts sat Tommasino, composing
a sonnet to a pretty peasant girl whom he had chanced to meet that day;
for Tommasino had ever a hospitable heart. But seeing Paul, Tommasino
left his sonnet, and with a cry of wonder sprang to meet him; and Paul
took him by both hands and saluted him. That night and the morning that
followed, Paul abode with Antonio, eating the good cheer and drinking
the good wine that Tommasino, who had charged himself with the care of
such matters, put before him. Whence they came from, Paul asked not; nor
did Tommasino say more than that they were offerings to Count
Antonio--but whether offerings of free-will or necessity, he said not.
And during this time Paul spoke much with Antonio privily and apart,
persuading him of his friendship, and telling most pitiful things of the
harshness shown by Valentine his brother to the Lady Lucia, and how the
lady grew pale, and peaked and pined, so that the physicians knit their
brows over her and the women said no drugs would patch a broken heart.
Thus he inflamed Antonio's mind with a great rage against the Duke, so
that he fell to counting the men he had and wondering whether there were
force to go openly against the city. But in sorrow Paul answered that
the pikemen were too many.

"But there is a way, and a better," said Paul, leaning his head near to
Antonio's ear. "A way whereby you may come to your own again, and
rebuild your house that the Duke has burnt, and enjoy the love of Lucia,
and hold foremost place in the Duchy."

"What way is that?" asked Antonio in wondering eagerness. "Indeed I am
willing to serve His Highness in any honourable service, if by that I
may win his pardon and come to that I long for."

"His pardon! When did he pardon?" sneered Paul.

To know honest men and leave them to their honesty is the last great
gift of villainy. But Paul had it not; and now he unfolded to Antonio
the plan that he had made, saving (as needs not to be said) that part of
it whereby Antonio himself was to meet his death. For a pretext he
alleged that the Duke oppressed the city, and that he, Paul, was put out
of favour because he had sought to protect the people, and was fallen
into great suspicion. Yet, judging Antonio's heart by his own, he dwelt
again and longer on the charms of Lucia, and on the great things he
would give Antonio when he ruled the Duchy for his nephew; for of the
last crime he meditated, the death of the child, he said naught then,
professing to love the child. When the tale began, a sudden start ran
through Antonio, and his face flushed; but he sat still and listened
with unmoved face, his eyes gravely regarding Paul the while. No anger
did he show, nor wonder, nor scorn, nor now any eagerness; but he gazed
at the Prince with calm musing glance, as though he considered of some
great question put before him. And when Paul ended his tale, Antonio sat
yet silent and musing. But Paul was trembling now, and he stretched out
his hand and laid it on Antonio's knee, and asked, with a feigned laugh
that choked in the utterance, "Well, friend Antonio, is it a clever
plan, and will you ride with me?"

Minute followed minute before Antonio answered. At length the frown
vanished from his brow, and his face grew calm and set, and he answered
Duke Paul, saying, "It is such a plan as you, my lord, alone of all men
in the Duchy could make; and I will ride with you."

Then Paul, in triumph, caught him by the hands and pressed his hands,
calling him a man of fine spirit and a true friend, who should not lack
reward. And all this Antonio suffered silently; and in silence still he
listened while Paul told him how that a path led privately from the bank
of the river, through a secret gate in the wall, to the summer-house
where the Duke was to be; of this gate he alone, saving the Duke had the
key; they had but to swim the river and enter by this gate. Having
hidden Antonio, Paul would talk with the Duke; then he would go and
carry off what remained of the guard over and above those that were gone
to the hills; and Antonio, having done his deed, could return by the
same secret path, cross the river again, and rejoin his friends. And in
a short space of time Paul would recall him with honour to the city and
give him Lucia to wife.

"And if there be a question as to the hand that dealt the blow, there is
a rascal whom the Duke flogged but a few days since, a steward in the
palace. He deserves hanging, Antonio, for a thousand things of which he
is guilty, and it will trouble me little to hang him for one whereof he
chances to be innocent." And Duke Paul laughed heartily.

"I will ride with you," said Antonio again.

Then, it being full mid-day, they sat down to dinner, Paul bandying many
merry sayings with Tommasino, Antonio being calm but not uncheerful. And
when the meal was done, Paul drank to the good fortune of their
expedition; and Antonio having drained his glass, said, "May God
approve the issue," and straightway bade Tommasino and Martolo prepare
to ride with him. Then, Paul being again blindfolded, they climbed down
the mountain paths till they came where the horses were, and thus, as
the sun began to decline, set forward, at a fair pace, Duke Paul and
Antonio leading by some few yards; while Tommasino and Martolo, having
drunk well, and sniffing sport in front of them, sang, jested, and
played pranks on one another as they passed along. But when night fell
they became silent; even Tommasino turned grave and checked his horse,
and the space between them and the pair who led grew greater, so that it
seemed to Duke Paul that he and Antonio rode alone through the night,
under the shadows of the great hills. Once and again he spoke to
Antonio, first of the scheme, then on some light matter; but Antonio did
no more than move his head in assent. And Antonio's face was very white,
and his lips were close shut.

It was midnight when Duke Paul and Antonio reached the plain: the moon,
till now hidden by the mountains, shone on them, and, seeing Antonio's
face more plainly, Paul cried, half in jest, half in uneasiness, "Come,
man, look not so glum about it! 'Tis but the life of a rogue."

"Indeed it is no more," said Antonio, and he turned his eyes on Duke
Paul.

Paul laughed, but with poor merriment. Whence it came he knew not, but a
strange sudden sense of peril and of doom had fallen on him. The massive
quiet figure of Antonio, riding ever close to him, silent, stern, and
watchful, oppressed his spirit.

Suddenly Antonio halted and called to Martolo to bring him a lantern:
one hung from Martolo's saddle, and he brought it, and went back. Then
Antonio lit the lantern and gave an ivory tablet to Paul and said to
him, "Write me your promise."

"You distrust me, then?" cried Paul in a great show of indignation.

"I will not go till you have written the promise."

Now Paul was somewhat loth to write the promise, fearing that it should
be found on Antonio's body before he could contrive to remove it; but
without it Antonio declared he would not go. So Paul wrote, bethinking
himself that he held safe in his house at home permission from the Duke
to seek Antonio and beguile him to the city, and that with the witness
of this commission he could come off safe, even though the tablet were
found on Antonio. Taking the peril then, rather than fail, he wrote,
setting out the promises he made to Antonio in case (thus he phrased it)
of the death of his brother. And he delivered the tablet to Antonio; and
Antonio, restoring the lantern to Martolo, stowed the tablet about him,
and they set forth again.

As the clock in the tower of the cathedral, distantly booming in their
ears, sounded the hour of two, they came to where the road parted. In
one direction it ran level across the plain to the river and the city,
and by this way they must go, if they would come to the secret gate and
thence to the Duke's summer-house. But the second road left the plain,
and mounted the hill that faces the wicket-gate, which is now called the
Hill of Duke Paul. And at the parting of the road, Antonio reined in his
horse and sat silent for a great while. Again Paul, scanning his face,
was troubled, so that Martolo, who had drawn near, saw him wipe a drop
from his brow. And Paul said, "For what wait we, Antonio? Time presses,
for it has gone two o'clock."

Then Antonio drew him apart, and fixing his eyes on him, said, "What of
the child? What mean you by the child? How does it profit you that the
father die, if the child live?"

Paul, deeming that Antonio doubted him and saw a snare, and holding it
better to seem the greatest of villains than to stir suspicion in a man
who held him in his hands, smiled cunningly, and answered, "The child
will grow sickly and pine when his father is not alive to care for him."

"It is enough," said Antonio; and again a flush mounted on his face, and
died down again, and left him pale. For some think he would have turned
from his purpose, had Paul meant honestly by the child. I know not. At
least, the foul murder plotted against the child made him utterly
relentless.

"Let us go on and end the matter," urged Paul, full of eagerness, and,
again, of that strange uneasiness born of Antonio's air.

"Ay, we will go on and finish it," said Antonio, and with that he leapt
down from his horse. Paul did the like, for it had been agreed that the
others, with the horses, were to await Antonio's return, while the Count
and Paul went forward on foot: and Tommasino and Martolo, dismounting
also, tied the horses to trees and stood waiting Antonio's orders.

"Forward!" cried Paul.

"Come, then," said Antonio, and he turned to the road that mounted the
hill.

"It is by the other road we go," said Paul.

"It is by this road," said Antonio, and he raised his hand and made a
certain sign, whereat the swords of his friends leapt from their
scabbards, and they barred the way, so that Duke Paul could turn nowhere
save to the road that mounted the hill. Then Paul's face grew long,
drawn, and sallow with sudden fear. "What means this?" he cried. "What
means this, Antonio?"

"It means, my lord, that you must mount the hill with me," answered
Antonio, "even to the top of it, whence a man can see the city."

"But for what?"

"That this matter may be finished," said Antonio; and, coming to Paul,
he laid a hand on his shoulder and turned him to the path up the hill.
But Paul, seeing his face and the swords of Tommasino and Martolo that
barred all escape, seized his hand, saying, "Before God, I mean you
true, Antonio! As Christ died for us, I mean you true, Antonio!"

"Of that I know not, and care not; yet do not swear it now by Christ's
name if it be not true. How meant you, my lord, by your brother and your
brother's son?"

Paul licked his lips, for they had gone dry, and he breathed as a man
pants who has run far and fast. "You are three to one," he hissed.

"We shall be but man to man on the top of the hill," said Antonio.

Then suddenly Tommasino spoke unbidden. "There is a priest in the
village a mile away," said he, and there was pity in his voice.

"Peace, Tommasino! What priest has he provided for his brother?"

And Tommasino said no more, but he turned his eyes away from the face of
Duke Paul: yet when he was an old man, one being in his company heard
him say he dreamed yet of it. As for Martolo, he bent his head and
crossed himself.

Then Paul threw himself on his knees before Antonio and prayed him to
let him go; but Antonio seemed not to hear him, and stood silent with
folded arms. Yet presently he said, "Take your sword then, my lord. If I
fall, these shall not touch you. This much I give, though it is more
than I have right to give."

But Paul would not take his sword, but knelt, still beseeching Antonio
with tears, and mingling prayers and curses in a flow of agonised words.

At last Antonio plucked him from the ground and sternly bade him mount
the hill; and finding no help, he set out, his knees shaking beneath
him, while Antonio followed close upon him. And thus Tommasino and
Martolo watched them go till the winding of the path hid them from view,
when Martolo fell on his knees, and Tommasino drew a breath as though a
load had rested on his chest.

It was but a short way to the summit, but the path was steep, and the
two went slowly, so that, as they came forth on the top, the first gleam
of dawn caught them in its pale light. The city lay grey and drab below
them, and the lonely tree, that stands to this day upon the hill, swayed
in the wind with mournful murmurings. Paul stumbled and sank in a heap
on the ground. And Antonio said to him, "If you will, pray," and went
and leant against the bare trunk of the tree, a little way apart. But
Paul, thinking on man's mercy, not on God's, crawled on his knees across
the space between and laid hold of Antonio's legs. And he said nothing,
but gazed up at Antonio. And at the silent appeal Antonio shivered for
an instant, but he did not fly the gaze of Paul's eyes, but looked down
on him and answered, "You must die. Yet there is your sword, and there a
free road to the city."

Then Paul let go Antonio's legs and rose, and drew his sword. But his
hand was trembling, and he could scarce stand. Then Antonio gave to him
a flask that he carried, holding strong waters; and the wretch, drinking
greedily, found some courage, and came suddenly at Antonio before
Antonio looked for his attack. But the Count eluded him, and drawing his
blade awaited the attack; and Paul seized again the flask that he had
flung on the ground, and drained it, and mad now with the fumes rushed
at Antonio, shrieking curses and blasphemies. The sun rose on the moment
that their blades crossed; and before its rays had shone a minute,
Antonio had driven his sword through the howling wretch's lung, and Duke
Paul lay dying on the grassy hill.

Then Count Antonio stripped off his doublet and made a pillow of it for
Paul's head, and sat down by him, and wiped his brow, and disposed his
body with such ease as seemed possible. Yet he took no pains to stanch
the blood or to minister to the wound, for his intent was that Paul
should die and not live. And Paul lay some moments on his back, then
twisted on his side; once he flung his legs wide and gathered them again
under his body, and shivered, turning on his back again: and his jaw
fell, and he died there on the top of the hill. And the Count closed his
eyes, and sat by him in silence for many minutes; and once he buried his
face in his hands, and a single sob shook him.

But now it was growing to day, and he rose, and took from the Duke's
waist the broad silken band that he wore, wrought with golden embroidery
on a ground of royal blue. Then he took Paul in his arms and set him
upright against the trunk of the tree, and, encircling tree and body
with the rich scarf, he bound the corpse there; and he took the ivory
tablet from his belt and tied the riband that hung through a hole in it
to the riband of the Order of St. Prisian, that was round Paul's neck,
and he wrote on the tablet, "Witness my hand--ANTONIO of Monte Velluto."
And he wiped the blade of his sword long and carefully on the grass till
it shone pure, clean, and bright again. Then he gazed awhile at the
city, that grew now warm and rich in the increasing light of the sun,
and turned on his heel and went down the hill by the way that he had
come.

At the foot, Tommasino and Martolo awaited him; and when he came down
alone, Martolo again signed the cross; but Tommasino glanced one
question, and, finding answer in Antonio's nod, struck his open palm on
the quarters of Duke Paul's horse and set it free to go where it would;
and the horse, being free, started at a canter along the road to the
city. And Antonio mounted and set his face again towards the hills. For
awhile he rode alone in front; but when an hour was gone, he called to
Tommasino, and, on the lad joining him, talked with him, not gaily
indeed (that could not be), yet with calmness and cheerfulness on the
matters that concerned the band. But Paul's name did not cross his lips;
and the manner in which he had dealt with Paul on the hill rested
unknown till a later time, when Count Antonio formally declared it, and
wrote with his own hand how Duke Paul had died. Thus, then, Count
Antonio rode back to the hills, having executed on the body of Paul that
which seemed to him right and just.

Long had Duke Valentine waited for his brother in the summer-house and
greatly wondered that he came not. And as the morning grew and yet Paul
came not, the Duke feared that in some manner Antonio had detected the
snare, and that he held Paul a prisoner; for it did not enter the Duke's
mind that Antonio would dare to kill his brother. And when it was five
o'clock, the Duke, heavy-eyed for want of sleep, left the summer-house,
and having traversed the garden, entered his cabinet and flung himself
on a couch there; and notwithstanding his uneasiness for his brother,
being now very drowsy, he fell asleep. But before he had slept long, he
was roused by two of his pages, who ran in crying that Duke Paul's horse
had come riderless to the gate of the city. And the Duke sprang up,
smiting his thigh, and crying, "If harm has come to him, I will not rest
till I have Antonio's head." So he mustered a party of his guards, some
on horseback and some on foot, and passed with all speed out of the
city, seeking his brother, and vowing vengeance on the insolence of
Count Antonio.

But the Duke was not first out of the city; for he found a stream of
townsmen flocking across the bridge; and at the end of the bridge was a
gathering of men, huddled close round a peasant who stood in the centre.
The pikemen made a way for His Highness; and when the peasant saw him,
he ran to him, and resting his hand on the neck of the Duke's horse, as
though he could scarce stand alone, he cried, pointing with his hand to
the hill that rose to the west, "The Duke Paul, the Duke Paul!" And no
more could he say.

"Give him a horse, one of you, and let another lead it," cried the Duke.
"And forward, gentlemen, whither he points!"

Thus they set forth, and as they went, the concourse grew, some
overtaking them from the city, some who were going on their business or
for pleasure into the city turning and following after the Duke and his
company. So that a multitude went after Valentine and the peasant, and
they rode together at the head. And the Duke said thrice to the peasant,
"What of my brother?" But the peasant, who was an old man, did but point
again to the hill.

At the foot of the hill, all that had horses left them in charge of the
boys who were of the party, for the Duke, presaging some fearful thing,
would suffer none but grown men to mount with him; and thus they went
forward afoot till they reached the grassy summit of the hill. And then
the peasant sprang in front, crying, "There, there!" and all of them
beheld the body of Duke Paul, bound to the tree by the embroidered
scarf, his head fallen on his breast, and the ivory tablet hanging from
the riband of the Order of St. Prisian. And a great silence fell on them
all, and they stood gazing at the dead prince.

But presently Duke Valentine went forward alone; and he knelt on one
knee and bowed his head, and kissed his brother's right hand. And a
shout of indignation and wrath went up from all the crowd, and they
cried, "Whose deed is this?" The Duke minded them not, but rose to his
feet and laid his hand on the ivory tablet; and he perceived that it was
written by Duke Paul; and he read what Paul had written to Antonio; how
that he, the Duke, being dead, Antonio should come to his own again,
and wed Lucia, and hold foremost place in the Duchy. And, this read, the
Duke read also the subscription of Count Antonio--"Witness my
hand--ANTONIO of Monte Velluto." Then he was very amazed, for he had
trusted his brother. Yet he did not refuse the testimony of the ivory
tablet nor suspect any guile or deceit in Antonio. And he stood
dry-eyed, looking on the dead face of Duke Paul. Then, turning round, he
cried in a loud voice, so that every man on the hill heard him, "Behold
the body of a traitor!" And men looked on him, and from him to the faces
of one another, asking what he meant. But he spoke no other word, and
went straightway down the hill, and mounted his horse again, and rode
back to the city; and, having come to his palace, he sent for his little
son, and went with him into the cabinet behind the great hall, where the
two stayed alone together for many hours. And when the child came forth,
he asked none concerning his uncle the Duke Paul.

Now all the company had followed down from the hill after the Duke, and
no man dared to touch the body unbidden. Two days passed, and a great
storm came, so that the rain beat on Paul's face and the lightning
blackened it. But on the third day, when the storm had ceased, the Duke
bade the Lieutenant of the Guard to go by night and bring the body of
Paul: and the Lieutenant and his men flung a cloak over the face, and,
having thus done, brought the body into the city at the break of day:
yet the great square was full of folk watching in awe and silence. And
they took the body to the Cathedral, and buried it under the wall on the
north side in the shade of a cypress tree, laying a plain flat stone
over it. And Duke Valentine gave great sums for masses to be said for
the repose of his brother's soul. Yet there are few men who will go by
night to the Hill of Duke Paul; and even now when I write, there is a
man in the city who has lost his senses and is an idiot: he, they say,
went to the hill on the night of the 15th of the month wherein Paul
died, and came back mumbling things terrible to hear. But whether he
went because he lacked his senses, or lost his senses by reason of the
thing he saw when he went, I know not.

Thus died Duke Paul the traitor. Yet, though the Duke his brother knew
that what was done upon him was nothing else than he had deserved and
should have suffered had he been brought alive to justice, he was very
wroth with Count Antonio, holding it insolence that any man should lay
hands on one of his blood, and, of his own will, execute sentence upon a
criminal of a degree so exalted. Therefore he sent word to Antonio, that
if he caught him, he would hang him on the hill from the branches of the
tree to which Antonio had bound Paul, and would leave his body there for
three times three days. And, this message coming to Antonio, he sent one
privily by night to the gate of the city, who laid outside the gate a
letter for the Duke; and in the letter was written, "God chooses the
hand. All is well."

And Count Antonio abode still an outlaw in the mountains, and the Lady
Lucia mourned in the city.



CHAPTER III.

COUNT ANTONIO AND THE PRINCE OF MANTIVOGLIA.


I know of naught by which a man may better be judged than by his bearing
in matters of love. What know I of love, say you--I, whose head is grey,
and shaven to boot? True, it is grey, and it is shaven. But once it was
brown, and the tonsure came not there till I had lived thirty years and
borne arms for twelve. Then came death to one I loved, and the tonsure
to me. Therefore, O ye proud young men and laughing girls, old Ambrose
knows of love, though his knowledge be only like the memory that a man
has of a glorious red-gold sunset which his eyes saw a year ago: cold
are the tints, gone the richness, sober and faint the picture. Yet it is
something; he sees no more, but he has seen; and sometimes still I seem
to see a face that last I saw smiling in death. They tell me such
thoughts are not fitting in me, but I doubt their doing a man much harm;
for they make him take joy when others reap the happiness that he,
forestalled by fate's sickle, could not garner. But enough! It is of
Count Antonio I would write, and not of my poor self. And the story may
be worth the reading--or would be, had I more skill to pen it.

Now in the summer of the second year of Count Antonio's banishment, when
the fierce anger of Duke Valentine was yet hot for the presumption shown
by the Count in the matter of Duke Paul's death, a messenger came
privily to where the band lay hidden in the hills, bringing greeting to
Antonio from the Prince of Mantivoglia, between whom and the Duke there
was great enmity. For in days gone by Firmola had paid tribute to
Mantivoglia, and this burden had been broken off only some thirty years;
and the Prince, learning that Antonio was at variance with Duke
Valentine, perceived an opportunity, and sent to Antonio, praying him
very courteously to visit Mantivoglia and be his guest. Antonio, who
knew the Prince well, sent him thanks, and, having made dispositions for
the safety of his company and set Tommasino in charge of it, himself
rode with the man they called Bena, and, having crossed the frontier,
came on the second day to Mantivoglia. Here he was received with great
state, and all in the city were eager to see him, having heard how he
had dealt with Duke Paul and how he now renounced the authority of
Valentine. And the Prince lodged him in his palace, and prepared a
banquet for him, and set him on the right hand of the Princess, who was
a very fair lady, learned, and of excellent wit; indeed, I have by me
certain stories which she composed, and would read on summer evenings in
the garden; and it may be that, if I live, I will make known certain of
them. Others there are that only the discreet should read; for what to
one age is but mirth turns in the mind of the next to unseemliness and
ribaldry. This Princess, then, was very gracious to the Count, and
spared no effort to give him pleasure; and she asked him very many
things concerning the Lady Lucia, saying at last, "Is she fairer than
I, my lord?" But Antonio answered, with a laugh, "The moon is not fairer
than the sun, nor the sun than the moon: yet they are different." And
the Princess laughed also, saying merrily, "Well parried, my lord!" And
she rose and went with the Prince and Antonio into the garden. Then the
Prince opened to Antonio what was in his mind, saying, "Take what
command you will in my service, and come with me against Firmola; and
when we have brought Valentine to his knees, I will take what was my
father's, and should be mine: and you shall wring from him your pardon
and the hand of your lady." And the Princess also entreated him. But
Antonio answered, "I cannot do it. If Your Highness rides to Firmola, it
is likely enough that I also may ride thither; but I shall ride to put
my sword at the service of the Duke. For, although he is not my friend,
yet his enemies are mine." And from this they could not turn him. Then
the Prince praised him, saying, "I love you more for denying me,
Antonio; and when I send word of my coming to Valentine, I will tell
him also of what you have done. And if we meet by the walls of Firmola,
we will fight like men; and, after that, you shall come again to
Mantivoglia;" and he drank wine with Antonio, and so bade him God-speed.
And the Princess, when her husband was gone, looked at the Count and
said, "Valentine will not give her to you. Why will not you take her?"

But Antonio answered: "The price is too high."

"I would not have a man who thought any price too high," cried the
Princess.

"Then your Highness would mate with a rogue?" asked Count Antonio,
smiling.

"If he were one for my sake only," said she, fixing her eyes on his face
and sighing lightly, as ladies sigh when they would tell something, and
yet not too much nor in words that can be repeated. But Antonio kissed
her hand, and took leave of her; and with another sigh she watched him
go.

But when the middle of the next month came, the Prince of Mantivoglia
gathered an army of three thousand men, of whom seventeen hundred were
mounted, and crossed the frontier, directing his march towards Firmola
by way of the base of Mount Agnino and the road to the village of
Rilano. The Duke, hearing of his approach, mustered his Guards to the
number of eight hundred and fifty men, and armed besides hard upon two
thousand of the townsmen and apprentices, taking an oath of them that
they would serve him loyally; for he feared and distrusted them; and of
the whole force, eleven hundred had horses. But Count Antonio lay still
in the mountains, and did not offer to come to the Duke's aid.

"Will you not pray his leave to come and fight for him?" asked
Tommasino.

"He will love to beat the Prince without my aid, if he can," said
Antonio. "Heaven forbid that I should seem to snatch at glory, and make
a chance for myself from his necessity."

So he abode two days where he was; and then there came a shepherd, who
said, "My lord, the Duke has marched out of the city and lay last night
at Rilano, and is to-day stretched across the road that leads from the
spurs of Agnino to Rilano, his right wing resting on the river. There
he waits the approach of the Prince; and they say that at daybreak
to-morrow the Prince will attack."

Then Antonio rose, saying, "What of the night?"

Now the night was very dark, and the fog hung like a grey cloak over the
plain. And Antonio collected all his men to the number of threescore and
five, all well-armed and well-horsed; and he bade them march very
silently and with great caution, and led them down into the plain. And
all the night they rode softly, husbanding their strength and sparing
their horses; and an hour before the break of day they passed through
the outskirts of Rilano and halted a mile beyond the village, seeing the
fires of the Duke's bivouacs stretched across the road in front of them;
and beyond there were other fires where the Prince of Mantivoglia lay
encamped. And Bena said, "The Prince will be too strong for the Duke, my
lord."

"If he be, we also shall fight to-morrow, Bena," answered Antonio.

"I trust, then, that they prove at least well matched," said Bena; for
he loved to fight, and yet was ashamed to wish that the Duke should be
defeated.

Then Count Antonio took counsel with Tommasino; and they led the band
very secretly across the rear of the Duke's camp till they came to the
river. There was a mill on the river, and by the mill a great covered
barn where the sacks of grain stood; and Antonio, having roused the
miller, told him that he came to aid the Duke, and not to fight against
him, and posted his men in this great barn; so that they were behind the
right wing of the Duke's army, and were hidden from sight. Day was
dawning now: the campfires paled in the growing light, and the sounds of
preparation were heard from the camp. And from the Prince's quarters
also came the noise of trumpets calling the men to arms.

At four in the morning the battle was joined, Antonio standing with
Tommasino and watching from the mill. Now Duke Valentine had placed his
own guards on either wing, and the townsmen in the centre; but the
Prince had posted the flower of his troops in the centre; and he rode
there himself, surrounded by many lords and gentlemen; and with great
valour and impetuosity he flung himself against the townsmen, recking
little of how he fared on either wing. This careless haste did not pass
unnoticed by the Duke, who was a cool man and wore a good head; and he
said to Lorenzo, one of his lords who was with him, "If we win on right
and left, it will not hurt us to lose in the middle;" and he would not
strengthen the townsmen against the Prince, but rather drew off more of
them, and chiefly the stoutest and best equipped, whom he divided
between the right wing where he himself commanded, and the left which
Lorenzo led. Nay, men declare that he was not ill pleased to see the
brunt of the strife and the heaviest loss fall on the apprentices and
townsmen. For a while indeed these stood bravely; but the Prince's
chivalry came at them in fierce pride and gallant scorn, and bore them
down with the weight of armour and horses, the Prince himself leading on
a white charger and with his own hand slaying Glinka, who was head of
the city-bands and a great champion among them. But Duke Valentine and
Lorenzo upheld the battle on the wings, and pressed back the enemy
there; and the Duke would not send aid to the townsmen in the centre,
saying "I shall be ready for the Prince as soon as the Prince is ready
for me, and I can spare some of those turbulent apprentices." And he
smiled his crafty smile, adding, "From enemies also a wise man may suck
good;" and he pressed forward on the right fighting more fiercely than
was his custom. But when Antonio beheld the townsmen hard pressed and
being ridden down by the Prince of Mantivoglia's knights and saw that
the Duke would not aid them, he grew very hot and angry, and said to
Tommasino, "These men have loved my house, Tommasino. It may be that I
spoil His Highness's plan, but are we to stand here while they perish?"

"A fig for His Highness's plan!" said Tommasino; and Bena gave a cry of
joy and sprang, unbidden, on his horse.

"Since you are up, Bena," said the Count, "stay up, and let the others
mount. The Duke's plan, if I read it aright, is craftier than I love,
and I do not choose to understand it."

Then, when the townsmen's line was giving way before the Prince, and the
apprentices, conceiving themselves to be shamefully deserted, were more
of a mind to run away than to fight any more, suddenly Antonio rode
forth from the mill. He and his company came at full gallop; but he
himself was ten yards ahead of Bena and Tommasino, for all that they
raced after him. And he cried aloud, "To me, men of Firmola, to me,
Antonio of Monte Velluto!" and they beheld him with utter astonishment
and great joy. For his helmet was fallen from his head, and his fair
hair gleamed in the sun, and the light of battle played on his face. And
the band followed him, and, though they had for the most part no armour,
yet such was the fury of their rush, and such the mettle and strength of
their horses, that they made light of meeting the Prince's knights in
full tilt. And the townsmen cried, "It is the Count! To death after the
Count!" And Antonio raised the great sword that he carried, and rode at
the Marshal of the Prince's palace, who was in the van of the fight,
and he split helmet and head with a blow. Then he came to where the
Prince himself was, and the great sword was raised again, and the Prince
rode to meet him, saying, "If I do not die now, I shall not die to-day."
But when Antonio saw the Prince, he brought his sword to his side and
bowed and turned aside, and engaged the most skilful of the Mantivoglian
knights. And he fought that day like a man mad; but he would not strike
the Prince of Mantivoglia. And after a while the Prince ceased to seek
him; and a flatterer said to the Prince, "He is bold against us, but he
fears you, my lord." But the Prince said, "Peace, fool. Go and fight."
For he knew that not fear, but friendship, forbade Antonio to assail
him.

Yet by now the rout of the townsmen was stayed and they were holding
their own again in good heart and courage, while both on the right and
on the left the Duke pressed on and held the advantage. Then the Prince
of Mantivoglia perceived that he was in a dangerous plight, for he was
in peril of being worsted along his whole line; for his knights did no
more than hold a doubtful balance against the townsmen and Antonio's
company, while the Duke and Lorenzo were victorious on either wing; and
he knew that if the Duke got in rear of him and lay between him and
Mount Agnino, he would be sore put to it to find a means of retreat.
Therefore he left the centre and rode to the left of his line and
himself faced Duke Valentine. Yet slowly was he driven back, and he gave
way sullenly, obstinately, and in good order, himself performing many
gallant deeds, and seeking to come to a conflict with the Duke. But the
Duke, seeing that the day was likely to be his, would not meet him and
chose to expose his person to no more danger: "For," he said, "a soldier
who is killed is a good soldier; but a chief who is killed save for some
great object is a bad chief." And he bided his time and slowly pressed
the Prince back, seeking rather to win the battle than the praise of
bravery. But when Count Antonio saw that all went well, and that the
enemy were in retreat, he halted his band; and at this they murmured,
Bena daring to say, "My lord, we have had dinner, and may we not have
supper also?" Antonio smiled at Bena, but would not listen.

"No," said he. "His Highness has won the victory by his skill and
cunning. I did but move to save my friends. It is enough. Shall I seek
to rob him of his glory? For the ignorant folk, counting the arm more
honourable than the head, will give me more glory than him if I continue
in the fight." And thus, not being willing to force his aid on a man who
hated to receive it, he drew off his band. Awhile he waited; but when he
saw that the Prince was surely beaten, and that the Duke held victory in
his hand, he gave the word that they should return by the way they had
come.

"Indeed," said Tommasino, laughing, "it may be wisdom as well as good
manners, cousin. For I would not trust myself to Valentine if he be
victorious, for all the service which we have done him in saving the
apprentices he loves so well."

So Antonio's band turned and rode off from the field, and they passed
through Rilano. But they found the village desolate; for report had
come from the field that the Duke's line was broken, and that in a short
space the Prince of Mantivoglia would advance in triumph, and having
sacked Rilano, would go against Firmola, where there were but a few old
men and boys left to guard the walls against him. And one peasant, whom
they found hiding in the wood by the road, said there was panic in the
city, and that many were escaping from it before the enemy should
appear.

"It is months since I saw Firmola," said Antonio with a smile. "Let us
ride there and reassure these timid folk. For my lord the Duke has
surely by now won the victory, and he will pursue the Prince till he
yields peace and abandons the tribute."

Now a great excitement rose in the band at these words; for although
they had lost ten men in the battle and five more were disabled, yet
they were fifty stout and ready; and it was not likely that there was
any force in Firmola that could oppose them. And Martolo, who rode with
Tommasino, whispered to him, "My lord, my lord, shall we carry off the
Lady Lucia before His Highness can return?"

Tommasino glanced at Antonio. "Nay, I know not what my cousin purposes,"
said he.

Then Antonio bade Bena and Martolo ride on ahead, taking the best
horses, and tell the people at Firmola that victory was with the Duke,
and that His Highness's servant, Antonio of Monte Velluto, was at hand
to protect the city till His Highness should return in triumph. And the
two, going ahead while the rest of the band took their mid-day meal, met
many ladies and certain rich merchants and old men escaping from the
city, and turned them back, saying that all was well; and the ladies
would fain have gone on and met Antonio; but the merchants, hearing that
he was there, made haste to get within the walls again, fearing that he
would levy a toll on them for the poor, as his custom was. At this Bena
laughed mightily, and drew rein, saying, "These rabbits will run quicker
back to their burrow than we could ride, Martolo. Let us rest awhile
under a tree; I have a flask of wine in my saddle-bag." So they rested;
and while they rested, they saw what amazed them; for a lady rode alone
towards them on a palfrey, and though the merchants met her and spoke
with her, yet she rode on. And when she came to the tree where Bena and
Martolo were, they sprang up and bared their heads; for she was the Lady
Lucia; and her face was full of fear and eagerness as she said, "No
guard is kept to-day, even on helpless ladies. Is it true that my lord
is near?"

"Yes, he is near," said Bena, kissing her hand. "See, there is the dust
of his company on the road."

"Go, one of you, and say that I wait for him," she commanded; so Martolo
rode on to carry the news farther, and Bena went to Antonio and said,
"Heaven, my lord, sends fortune. The Lady Lucia has escaped from the
city, and awaits you under yonder tree."

And when Tommasino heard this, he put out his hand suddenly and caught
Antonio's hand and pressed it, saying, "Go alone, and bring her here: we
will wait: the Duke will not be here for many hours yet."

Then Antonio rode alone to the tree where Lucia was; and because he had
not seen her for many months, he leapt down from his horse and came
running to her, and, kneeling, kissed her hand; but she, who stood now
by her palfrey's side, flung her arms about his neck and fell with tears
and laughter into his arms, saying, "Antonio, Antonio! Heaven is with
us, Antonio."

"Yes," said he. "For His Highness has won the day."

"Have not we won the day also?" said she, reaching up and laying her
hands on his shoulders.

"Heart of my heart," said he softly, as he looked in her eyes.

"The cage is opened, and, Antonio, the bird is free," she whispered, and
her eyes danced and her cheek went red. "Lift me to my saddle, Antonio."

The Count obeyed her, and himself mounted; and she said, "We can reach
the frontier in three hours, and there--there, Antonio, none fears the
Duke's wrath." And Antonio knew what she would say, save that she would
not speak it bluntly--that there they could find a priest to marry
them. And his face was pale as he smiled at her. Then he laid his hand
on her bridle and turned her palfrey's head towards Firmola. Her eyes
darted a swift question at him, and she cried low, "Thither, Antonio?"

Then he answered her, bending still his look on her, "Alas, I am no
learned man, nor a doctor skilled in matters of casuistry and nice
distinctions. I can but do what the blood that is in me tells me a
gentleman should do. To-day, sweetheart--ah, will you not hide your face
from me, sweetheart, that my words may not die in my mouth?--to-day our
lord the Duke fights against the enemies of our city, holding for us in
hard battle the liberty that we have won, and bearing the banner of
Firmola high to heaven in victory."

She listened with strained frightened face; and the horses moved at a
walk towards Firmola. And she laid her hand on his arm, saying again,
"Antonio!"

"And I have fought with my lord to-day, and I would be at his side now,
except that I do his pleasure better by leaving him to triumph alone.
But my hand has been with him to-day, and my heart is with him to-day.
Tell me, sweetheart, if I rode forth to war and left you alone, would
you do aught against me till I returned?"

She did not answer him.

"A Prince's city," said he, "should be as his faithful wife; and when he
goes to meet the enemy, none at home should raise a hand against him;
above all may not one who has fought by his side. For to stand side by
side in battle is a promise and a compact between man and man, even as
though man swore to man on a holy relic."

Then she understood what he would say, and she looked away from him
across the plain; and a tear rolled down her cheek as she said, "Indeed,
my lord, the error lies in my thoughts; for I fancied that your love was
mine."

Antonio leant from his saddle and lightly touched her hair. "Was that
indeed your fancy?" said he. "And I prove it untrue?"

"You carry me back to my prison," she said. "And you will ride away."

"And so I love you not?" he asked.

"No, you love me not," said she; and her voice caught in a sob.

"See," said he; "we draw near to Firmola, and the city gates are open;
and, look, they raise a flag on the Duke's palace; and there is joy for
the victory that Martolo has told them of. And in all the Duchy there
are but two black hearts that burn with treacherous thoughts against His
Highness, setting their own infinite joy above the honour and faith they
owe him."

"Nay, but are there two?" she asked, turning her face from him.

"In truth I would love to think there was but one," said he. "And that
one beats in me, sweetheart, and so mightily, that I think it will burst
the walls of my body, and I shall die."

"Yet we ride to Firmola," said she.

"Yet, by Christ's grace," said Count Antonio, "we ride to Firmola."

Then the Lady Lucia suddenly dropped her bridle on the neck of her
palfrey and caught Antonio's right hand in her two hands and said to
him, "When I pray to-night, I will pray for the cleansing of the black
heart, Antonio. And I will make a wreath and carry it to the Duke and
kiss his hand for his victory. And I will set lights in my window and
flags on my house; and I will give my people a feast; and I will sing
and laugh for the triumph of the city and for the freedom this day has
won for us: and when I have done all this, what may I do then, Antonio?"

"I am so cruel," said he, "that then I would have you weep a little: yet
spoil not the loveliest eyes in all the world; for if you dim them, it
may be that they will not shine like stars across the plain and even
into the hut where I live among the hills."

"Do they shine bright, Antonio?"

"As the gems on the Gates of Heaven," he answered; and he reined in his
horse and gave her bridle into her hands. And then for many minutes
neither spoke; and Count Antonio kissed her lips, and she his; and they
promised with the eyes what they needed not to promise with the tongue.
And the Lady Lucia went alone on her way to Firmola. But the Count sat
still like a statue of marble on his horse, and watched her as she rode.
And there he stayed till the gates of the city received her and the
walls hid her from his sight; and the old men on the walls saw him and
knew him, and asked, "Does he come against us? But it was against the
Prince of Mantivoglia that we swore to fight." And they watched him till
he turned and rode at a foot's pace away from the city. And now as he
rode his brow was smooth and calm and there was a smile on his lips.

But when Antonio had ridden two or three miles and came where he had
left the band, he could see none of them. And a peasant came running to
him in great fright and said, "My lord, your men are gone again to aid
the Duke; for the Prince has done great deeds, and turned the fight, and
it is again very doubtful: and my lord Tommasino bade me say that he
knew your mind, and was gone to fight for Firmola."

Then Antonio, wondering greatly at the news, set his horse to a gallop
and passed through Rilano at furious speed, and rode on towards Agnino;
and it was now afternoon. Presently he saw the armies, but they seemed
to lie idle, over against one another. And, riding on, he met Bena, who
was come to seek him. And Bena said, "The Prince and his knights have
fought like devils, my lord, and the townsmen grew fearful again when
you were gone; and we, coming back, have fought again. But now a truce
has sounded, and the Prince and the Duke are meeting in conference
between the armies. Yet they say that no peace will be made; for the
Prince, taking heart from his sudden success, though he is willing to
abandon the tribute, asks something in return which the Duke will not
grant. Yet perhaps he has granted it by now, for his men are weary."

"He should grant nothing," cried Antonio, and galloped on again. But
Bena said to himself with an oath, "He has sent back the lady! The
saints save us!" and followed Antonio with a laugh on his face.

But Antonio, thinking nothing of his own safety, rode full into the
ranks of the Duke's Guard, saying, "Where does my lord talk with the
Prince?" And they showed him where the place was; for the Prince and
the Duke sat alone under a tree between the two arrays. And the Duke
looked harsh and resolute, while the Prince was very courteously
entreating him.

"Indeed," said he, "so doubtful has the day been, my lord, that I might
well refuse to abandon the tribute, and try again to-morrow the issue of
the fight. But, since so many brave men have fallen on both sides, I am
willing to abandon it, asking of you only such favour as would be
conceded to a simple gentleman asking of his friend. And yet you will
not grant it me, and thus bring peace between us and our peoples."

Duke Valentine frowned and bit his lip; and the Prince rose from where
he had been seated, and lifted his hand to the sky, and said, "So be it,
my lord; on your head lies the blame. For to-morrow I will attack again;
and, as God lives, I will not rest till the neck of the city of Firmola
is under my foot, or my head rolls from my shoulders by your sword."

Then Duke Valentine paced up and down, pondering deeply. For he was a
man that hated to yield aught, and beyond all else hated what the
Prince of Mantivoglia asked of him. Yet he feared greatly to refuse; for
the townsmen had no stomach for another fight and had threatened to
march home if he would not make peace with the Prince. Therefore he
turned to the Prince, and, frowning heavily, was about to say, "Since it
must be so, so let it be," when suddenly the Count Antonio rode up and
leapt from his horse, crying, "Yield nothing, my lord, yield nothing!
For if you will tell me what to do, and suffer me to be your hand, we
will drive the enemy over our borders with great loss."

Then the Prince of Mantivoglia fell to laughing, and he came to Antonio
and put his arm about his neck, saying, "Peace, peace, thou foolish
man!"

Antonio saluted him with all deference, but he answered, "I must give
good counsel to my lord the Duke." And he turned to the Duke again,
saying, "Yield nothing to the Prince, my lord."

Duke Valentine's lips curved in his slow smile as he looked at Antonio.
"Is that indeed your counsel? And will you swear, Antonio, to give me
your aid against the Prince so long as the war lasts, if I follow it?"

"Truly, I swear it," cried Antonio. "Yet what need is there of an oath?
Am I not Your Highness's servant, bound to obey without an oath?"

"Nay, but you do not tell him----" began the Prince angrily.

Duke Valentine smiled again; he was ever desirous to make a show of
fairness where he risked nothing by it; and he gazed a moment on
Antonio's face; then he answered to the Prince of Mantivoglia, "I know
the man, my lord. I know him in his strength and in his folly. Do not we
know one another, Antonio?"

"Indeed, I know not all your Highness's mind," answered Antonio.

"Well, I will tell him," said Duke Valentine. "This Prince, Antonio, has
consented to a peace, and to abandon all claim to tribute from our city,
on one condition; which is, that I, the Duke, shall do at his demand
what of my own free and sovereign will I would not do."

"His demand is not fitting nor warranted by his power," said Antonio;
but in spite of his words the Prince of Mantivoglia passed his arm
through his, and laughed ruefully, whispering, "Peace, man, peace."

"And thus I, the Duke, having bowed my will to his, shall return to
Firmola, not beaten indeed, yet half-beaten and cowed by the power of
Mantivoglia."

"It shall not be, my lord," cried Count Antonio.

"Yet, my lord Duke, you do not tell him what the condition is," said the
Prince.

"Why, it is nothing else than that I should pardon you, and suffer you
to wed the Lady Lucia," said Duke Valentine.

Then Count Antonio loosed himself from the arm of the Prince and bent
and kissed the Prince's hand; but he said, "Is this thing to come twice
on a man in one day? For it is but an hour or less that I parted from
the lady of whom you speak; and if her eyes could not move me, what else
shall move me?" And he told them briefly of his meeting with the Lady
Lucia. But Duke Valentine was wroth with the shame that a generous act
rouses in a heart that knows no generosity; and the Prince was yet more
wroth, and he said to Duke Valentine, "Were there any honour in you, my
lord, you would not need my prayers to pardon him."

At this the Duke's face grew very dark; and he cried angrily, "Get back
to your own line, my lord, or the truce shall not save you." And he
turned to Antonio and said, "Three hours do I give you to get hence,
before I pursue."

Antonio bowed low to him and to the Prince; and they three parted, the
two princes in bitter wrath, and set again on fighting to the end, the
one because he was ashamed and yet obstinate, the other for scorn of a
rancour that found no place in himself. But Count Antonio went back to
his company and drew it some little way off from both armies; and he
said to Tommasino, "The truce is ended, and they will fight again so
soon as the men have had some rest;" and he told Tommasino what had
passed. Then he sat silent again; but presently he laid hold of his
cousin's arm, saying, "Look you, Tommasino, princes are sometimes fools;
and hence come trouble and death to honest humble folk. It is a sore
business that they fight again to-morrow, and not now for any great
matter, but because they are bitter against one another on my account.
Cannot I stop them, Tommasino?"

"Aye, if you have five thousand men and not thirty-five--for that is the
sum of us now, counting Martolo, who is back from Firmola."

Antonio looked thoughtfully through the dusk of evening which now fell.
"They will not fight to-night," he said. "I am weary of this
blood-letting." And Tommasino saw that there was something in his mind.

Now the night fell dark again and foggy, even as the night before; and
none in either army dared to move, and even the sentries could see no
more than a few yards before them. But Antonio's men being accustomed to
ride in the dark, and to find their way through mists both in plain and
hill, could see more clearly; and Antonio divided them into two parties,
himself leading one, and giving the other into Tommasino's charge.
Having very securely tethered their horses, they set forth, crawling on
their bellies through the grass. Antonio with his party made for the
camp of the Prince, while Tommasino and his party directed their way
towards the Duke's bivouacs. And they saw the fires very dimly through
the mist, and both parties passed the sentries unobserved, and made
their way to the centre of the camps. Then, on the stroke of midnight, a
strange stir arose in both the camps. Nothing could be seen by reason of
the darkness and the mist; but suddenly cries arose, and men ran to and
fro; and a cry went up from the Duke's camp, "They are behind us! They
are behind us! We are surrounded!" And in the Prince's camp also was
great fear; for from behind them, towards where the spurs of Mount
Agnino began, there came shouts of "At them, at them! Charge!" And the
Prince's officers, perceiving the cries to be from men of Firmola (and
this they knew by reason of certain differences in the phrasing of
words), conceived that the Duke had got behind them, and was lying
across their way of retreat.

Then the Duke, hearing the shouts in his own camp, ran out from his
tent; and he was met by hundreds of the townsmen, who cried, "My lord,
we are surrounded!" For Antonio's men had gone to the townsmen and shewn
them how they might escape more fighting; and the townsmen were nothing
loth; and they insisted with the Duke that a body of men on horseback
had passed behind them. So the Duke sent out scouts, who could see
nothing of the horsemen. But then the townsmen cried, some being in the
secret, others not, "Then they have ridden past us, and are making for
Firmola. And they will do Heaven knows what there. Lead us after them,
my lord!" And the Duke was very angry; but he was also greatly afraid,
for he perceived that there was a stir in the Prince's camp also, and
heard shouts from there, but could not distinguish what was said. And
while he considered what to do, the townsmen formed their ranks and sent
him word that they were for Firmola; and when he threatened them with
his Guard, they rejoined that one death was as good as another; and the
Duke gnawed his nails and went pale with rage. But Count Antonio's men,
seeing how well the plan had sped, crept again out from the camp, and
returned to where they had tethered their horses, and mounted, each
taking a spare horse. And before they had been there long, they heard
trumpets sound in the Duke's camp, and the camp was struck, and the Duke
and all his force began to retreat on Rilano, throwing out many scouts,
and moving very cautiously in the darkness and mist. Yet when they came
on nobody, they marched more quickly, even the Duke himself now
believing that the Prince of Mantivoglia had of a purpose allowed the
stir in his camp to be seen and heard, in order that he might detach a
column to Firmola unobserved, and attack the city before the Duke came
up. Therefore he now pressed on, saying, "I doubt not that the Prince
himself is with the troop that has gone to Firmola." And all night long
they marched across the plain, covering a space of eighteen miles; and
just before the break of day they came to the city.

Thus did it fall out with the army of Duke Valentine. But the Prince of
Mantivoglia had been no less bewildered; for when he sent out men to see
what the cries behind the camp meant, he found no man; but he still
heard scattered cries among the rising ground, where the hills began.
And he in his turn saw a stir in the camp opposite to him. And, being an
impetuous Prince, as he had shown both in evil and in good that day, he
snatched up his sword, swearing that he would find the truth of the
matter, and bidding his officers wait his return and not be drawn from
their position before he came again to them; and taking some of his
younger knights and a few more, he passed out of his camp, and paused
for a moment, bidding those with him spread themselves out in a thin
line, in order the better to reconnoitre, and that, if some fell into an
ambuscade, others might survive to carry the news back to the camp. And
he, having given his order, himself stood resting on his sword. But in
an instant, before he could so much as lift the point of his sword from
the ground, silent blurred shapes came from the mist, and were in front
and behind and round him; and they looked so strange that he raised his
hand to cross himself; but then a scarf was thrown over his mouth, and
he was seized by eight strong hands and held so that he could not
struggle; and neither could he cry out by reason of the scarf across his
mouth. And they that held him began to run rapidly; and he was carried
out of the camp without the knowledge of any of those who were with him,
and they, missing their leader, fell presently into a great
consternation, and ran to and from in the gloom crying, "The Prince?
Have you seen the Prince? Is His Highness with you? In God's name, has
the Prince been this way?" But they did not find him, and they grew more
confounded, stumbling against one another and being much afraid. And
when the Prince was nowhere to be found, they lost heart, and began to
fall back towards their own borders, skirting the base of Agnino. And
their retreat grew quicker; and at last, when morning came, they were
near the border; but the fog still wrapped all the plain in obscurity,
and, robbed of their leader, they dared attempt nothing.

Now the Prince of Mantivoglia, whom his army sought thus in fear and
bewilderment, was carried very quickly up to the high ground, where the
rocks grew steep and close and the way led to the peak of Agnino. And as
he was borne along, some one bound his hands and his feet; and still he
was carried up, till at last he found himself laid down gently on the
ground. And though he knew no fear--for they of Mantivoglia have ever
been most valiant Princes and strangers to all fear--yet he thought that
his last hour was come, and, fearing God though he feared nothing else,
he said a prayer and commended his soul to the Almighty, grieving that
he should not receive the last services of the Church. And having done
this, he lay still until the dawning day smote on his eyes and he could
see; for the fog that lay dense on the plain was not in the hills, but
hung between them and the plain. And he looked round, but saw no man. So
he abode another hour, and then he heard a step behind him, and a man
came, but whence he could not see; and the man stooped and loosed the
scarf from his mouth and cut his bonds, and he sat up, uttering a cry of
wonder. For Count Antonio stood before him, his sword sheathed by his
side. And he said to the Prince of Mantivoglia, "Do to me what you will,
my lord. If you will strike me as I stand, strike. Or if you will do me
the honour to cross swords, my sword is ready. Or, my lord, if you will
depart in peace and in my great love and reverence, I will give thanks
to Heaven and to a noble Prince."

"Antonio, what does this mean?" cried the Prince, divided between anger
and wonder.

Then Antonio told him all that he had done: how the Duke was gone back
with his army to Firmola, and how the Prince's army had retreated
towards the borders of Mantivoglia; for of all this his men had informed
him; and he ended, saying, "For since it seemed that I was to be the
most unworthy cause of more fighting between two great Princes, it came
into my head that such a thing should not be. And I rejoice that now it
will not; for the townsmen will not march out again this year at least,
and Your Highness will scarce sit down before Firmola with the season
now far gone."

"So I am baulked?" cried the Prince, and he rose to his feet. "And this
trick is played me by a friend!"

"I am of Firmola," said Antonio, flushing red. "And while there was war,
I might in all honour have played another trick, and carried you not
hither, but to Firmola."

"I care not," cried the Prince angrily. "It was a trick, and no fair
fighting."

"Be it as you will, my lord," said Antonio. "A man's own conscience is
his only judge. Will you draw your sword, my lord?"

But the Prince was very angry, and he answered roughly, "I will not
fight with you, and I will not speak more with you. I will go."

"I will lead Your Highness to your horse," said Antonio.

Then he led him some hundreds of paces down the hill, and they came
where a fine horse stood ready saddled.

"It is not my horse," said the Prince.

"Be not afraid, my lord. It is not mine either," said Antonio smiling.
"A rogue who serves me, and is called Bena, forgot his manners so far as
to steal it from the quarters of the Duke. I pray you use some
opportunity of sending it back to him, or I shall be dubbed
horse-stealer with the rest."

"I am glad it is not yours," said the Prince, and he prepared to mount,
Antonio holding the stirrup for him. And when he was mounted, Antonio
told him how to ride, so that he should come safely to his own men, and
avoid certain scouting parties of the Duke that he had thrown out behind
him as he marched back to Firmola. And having done this, Antonio stood
back and bared his head and bowed.

"And where is your horse?" asked the Prince suddenly.

"I have no horse, my lord," said Antonio. "My men with all my horses
have ridden back to our hiding-place in the hills. I am alone here, for
I thought that Your Highness would kill me, and I should need no horse."

"How, then, will you escape the scouting parties?"

"I fear I shall not escape them, my lord," said Antonio, smiling again.

"And if they take you?"

"Of a surety I shall be hanged," said Count Antonio.

The Prince of Mantivoglia gathered his brow into a heavy frown, but the
corners of his lips twitched, and he did not look at Antonio. And thus
they rested a few moments, till suddenly the Prince, unable to hold
himself longer, burst into a great and merry peal of laughter; and he
raised his fist and shook it at Antonio, crying, "A scurvy trick,
Antonio! By my faith, a scurvier trick by far than that other of yours!
Art thou not ashamed, man? Ah, you cast down your eyes! You dare not
look at me, Antonio."

"Indeed I have naught to say for this last trick, my lord," said
Antonio, laughing also.

"Indeed I must carry this knave with me!" cried the Prince. "Faugh, the
traitor! Get up behind me, traitor! Clasp me by the waist, knave!
Closer, knave! Ah, Antonio, I know not in what mood Heaven was when you
were made! I would I had the heart to leave you to your hanging! For
what a story will my Princess make of this! I shall be the best-derided
man in all Mantivoglia."

"I think not, my dear lord," said Count Antonio, "unless a love that a
man may reckon on as his lady-love's and a chivalry that does not fail,
and a valour that has set two armies all agape in wonder, be your
matters for mirth in Mantivoglia. And indeed, my lord, I would that I
were riding to the lady I love best in the world, as Your Highness
rides; for she might laugh till her sweet eyes ran tears so I were near
to dry them."

The Prince put back his hand towards Antonio and clasped Antonio's hand,
and said, "What said she when you left her, Antonio? For with women love
is often more than honour, and their tears rust the bright edge of a
man's conscience."

"Her heart is even as Our Lady's, and with tears and smiles she left
me," said Antonio, and he grasped the Prince's hand. "Come, my lord, we
must ride, or it is a prison for you and a halter for me."

So they rode together in the morning on the horse that Bena had stolen
from among the choicest of Duke Valentine's, and, keeping cunningly
among the spurs of the hills, they were sighted once only from afar off
by the Duke's scouts, and escaped at a canter, and came safe to the
Prince's army, where they were received with great wonder and joy. But
the Prince would not turn again to besiege Firmola, for he had had a
fill of fighting, and the season grew late for the siege of a walled
town. So he returned with all his force to Mantivoglia, having won by
his expedition much praise of valour, and nothing else in the wide world
besides; which thing indeed is so common in the wars of princes that
even wise men have well-nigh ceased to wonder at it.

But the Princess of Mantivoglia heard all that had passed with great
mirth, and made many jests upon her husband; and again, lest the Prince
should take her jesting in evil part, more upon Duke Valentine. But
concerning Count Antonio and the Lady Lucia she did not jest. Yet one
day, chancing to be alone with Count Antonio--for he stayed many days
at the Court of Mantivoglia, and was treated with great honour--she said
to him, with a smile and half-raised eyelids, "Had I been a man, my lord
Antonio, I would not have returned alone from the gates of Firmola. In
truth, your lady needs patience for her virtue, Count Antonio!"

"I trust, then, that Heaven sends it to her, madame," said Antonio.

"And to you also," she retorted with a laugh. "And to her trust in you
also, I pray. For an absent lover is often an absent heart, Antonio, and
I hear that many ladies would fain soften your exile. And what I hear,
the Lady Lucia may hear also."

"She would hear it as the idle babbling of water over stones," said
Antonio. "But, madame, I am glad that I have some honesty in me. For if
there were not honest men and true maids in this world, I think more
than a half of the wits would starve for lack of food."

"Mercy, mercy!" she cried. "Indeed your wit has a keen edge, my lord."

"Yet it is not whetted on truth and honesty," said he.

She answered nothing for a moment; then she drew near to him and stood
before him, regarding his face; and she sighed "Heigh-ho!" and again
"Heigh-ho!" and dropped her eyes, and raised them again to his face; and
at last she said, "To some faithfulness is easy. I give no great praise
to the Lady Lucia." And when she had said this she turned and left him,
and was but little more in his company so long as he stayed at
Mantivoglia. And she spoke no more of the Lady Lucia. But when he was
mounting, after bidding her farewell, she gave him a white rose from her
bosom, saying carelessly, "Your colour, my lord, and the best. Yet God
made the other roses also."

"All that He made He loves, and in all there is good," said Antonio, and
he bowed very low, and, having kissed her hand, took the rose; and he
looked into her eyes and smiled, saying, "Heaven give peace where it has
given wit and beauty;" and so he rode away to join his company in the
hills. And the Princess of Mantivoglia, having watched till he was out
of sight, went into dinner, and was merrier than ever she had shown
herself before; so that they said, "She feared Antonio and is glad that
he is gone." Yet that night, while her husband slept, she wept.



CHAPTER IV.

COUNT ANTONIO AND THE WIZARD'S DRUG.


The opinion of man is ever in flux save where it is founded on the rock
of true religion. What our fathers believed, we disbelieve; but often
our sons shall again receive it. In olden time men held much by magic
and black arts; now such are less esteemed; yet hereafter it may well be
that the world will find new incantations and fresh spells, the same
impulse flowing in a different channel and never utterly to be checked
or stemmed by the censures of the Church or the mocking of unbelievers.
As for truth--in truth who knows truth? For the light of Revelation
shines but in few places, and for the rest we are in natural darkness,
groping along unseen paths towards unknown ends. May God keep our
footsteps!

Now towards the close of the third year of his outlawry the heart of
Count Antonio of Monte Velluto had grown very sad. For it was above the
space of a year since he had heard news of the Lady Lucia, and hard upon
two since he had seen her face; so closely did Duke Valentine hold her
prisoner in Firmola. And as he walked to and fro among his men in their
hiding place in the hills, his face was sorrowful. Yet, coming where
Tommasino and Bena sat together, he stopped and listened to their talk
with a smile. For Bena cried to Tommasino, "By the saints, my lord, it
is even so! My father himself had a philtre from him thirty years ago;
and though, before, my mother had loathed to look on my father, yet now
here am I, nine-and-twenty years of age and a child born in holy
wedlock. Never tell me that it is foolishness, my lord!"

"Of whom do you speak, Bena?" asked Antonio.

"Of the Wizard of Baratesta, my lord. Aye, and he can do more than make
a love-potion. He can show you all that shall come to you in a mirror,
and make the girl you love rise before your eyes as though the shape
were good flesh and blood."

"All this is foolishness, Bena," said Count Antonio.

"Well, God knows that," said Bena. "But he did it for my father; and as
he is thirty years older, he will be wiser still by now;" and Bena
strode off to tend his horse, somewhat angry that Antonio paid so little
heed to his words.

"It is all foolishness, Tommasino," said Antonio.

"They say that of many a thing which gives a man pleasure," said
Tommasino.

"I have heard of this man before," continued the Count, "and marvellous
stories are told of him. Now I leave what shall come to me in the hands
of Heaven; for to know is not to alter, and knowledge without power is
but fretting of the heart; but----" And Antonio broke off.

"Ride then, if you can safely, and beg him to show you Lucia's face,"
said Tommasino. "For to that I think you are making."

"In truth I was, fool that I am," said Antonio.

"But be wary; for Baratesta is but ten miles from the city, and His
Highness sleeps with an open eye."

So Antonio, albeit that he was in part ashamed, learnt from Bena where
the wizard dwelt on the bridge that is outside the gate of
Baratesta--for the Syndic would not suffer such folk to live inside the
wall--and one evening he saddled his horse and rode alone to seek the
wizard, leaving Tommasino in charge of the band. And as he went, he
pondered, saying, "I am a fool, yet I would see her face;" and thus,
still dubbing himself fool, yet still persisting, he came to the bridge
of Baratesta; and the wizard, who was a very old man and tall and
marvellously lean, met him at the door of the house, crying, "I looked
for your coming, my lord." And he took Antonio's horse from him and
stood it in a stable beside the house, and led Antonio in, saying again,
"Your coming was known to me, my lord;" and he brought Antonio to a
chamber at the back of the house, having one window, past which the
river, being then in flood, rushed with noise and fury. There were many
strange things in the chamber, skulls and the forms of animals from
far-off countries, great jars, basins, and retorts, and in one corner a
mirror half-draped in a black cloth.

"You know who I am?" asked Antonio.

"That needs no art," answered the wizard, "and I pretend to none in it.
Your face, my lord, was known to me as to any other man, from seeing you
ride with the Duke before your banishment."

"And you knew that I rode hither to-night?"

"Aye," said the wizard. "For the stars told of the coming of some great
man; and I turned from my toil and watched for you."

"What toil?" asked Antonio. "See, here is money, and I have a quiet
tongue. What toil?"

The wizard pointed to a heap of broken and bent pieces of base metal. "I
was turning dross to gold," said he, in a fearful whisper.

"Can you do that?" asked Antonio, smiling.

"I can, my lord, though but slowly."

"And hate to love?" asked Count Antonio.

The wizard laughed harshly. "Let them that prize love, seek that," said
he. "It is not for me."

"I would it had been; then had my errand here been a better one. For I
am come to see the semblance of a maiden's face."

The wizard frowned as he said, "I had looked for a greater matter. For
you have a mighty enemy, my lord, and I have means of power for freeing
men of their enemies."

But Count Antonio, knowing that he spoke of some dark device of spell or
poison, answered, "Enough! enough! For I am a man of quick temper, and
it is not well to tell me of wicked things, lest I be tempted to
anticipate Heaven's punishment."

"I shall not die at your hands, my lord," said the wizard. "Come, will
you see what shall befall you?"

"Nay, I would but see my lady's face; a great yearning for that has come
over me, and, although I take shame in it, yet it has brought me here."

"You shall see it then; and if you see more, it is not by my will,"
said the wizard; and he quenched the lamp that burned on the table, and
flung a handful of some powder on the charcoal in the stove; and the
room was filled with a thick sweet-smelling vapour. And the wizard tore
the black cloth off the face of the mirror and bade Antonio look
steadily in the mirror. Antonio looked till the vapour that enveloped
all the room cleared off from the face of the mirror, and the wizard,
laying his hand on Antonio's shoulder, said, "Cry her name thrice." And
Antonio thrice cried "Lucia!" and again waited. Then something came on
the polished surface of the mirror; but the wizard muttered low and
angrily, for it was not the form of Lucia nor of any maiden; yet
presently he cried low, "Look, my lord, look!" and Antonio, looking, saw
a dim, and shadowy face in the mirror; and the wizard began to fling his
body to and fro, uttering strange whispered words; and the sweat stood
in beads on his forehead. "Now, now!" he cried; and Antonio, with
beating heart, fastened his gaze on the mirror. And as the story goes (I
vouch not for it) he saw, though very dimly, the face of Lucia; but
more he saw also; for beside the face was his own face, and there was a
rope about his neck, and the half-shaped arm of a gibbet seemed to hover
above him. And he shrank back for an instant.

"What more you see is not by my will," said the wizard.

"What shall come is only by God's will," said Antonio. "I have seen her
face. It is enough."

But the wizard clutched him by the arm, whispering in terror, "It is a
gibbet; and the rope is about your neck."

"Indeed, I seem to have worn it there these three years, and it is not
drawn tight yet; nor is it drawn in the mirror."

"You have a good courage," said the wizard with a grim smile. "I will
show you more;" and he flung another powder on the charcoal; and the
shapes passed from the mirror. But another came; and the wizard, with a
great cry, fell suddenly on his knees, exclaiming, "They mock me, they
mock me! They show what they will, not what I will. Ah, my lord, whose
is the face in the mirror?" And he seized Antonio again by the arm.

"It is your face," said Antonio; "and it is the face of a dead man, for
his jaw has dropped, and his features are drawn and wrung."

The wizard buried his face in his hands; and so they rested awhile till
the glass of the mirror cleared; and Antonio felt the body of the wizard
shaking against his knee.

"You are old," said Antonio, "and death must come to all. Maybe it is a
lie of the devil; but if not, face it as a man should."

But the wizard trembled still; and Antonio, casting a pitiful glance on
him, rose to depart. But on the instant as he moved, there came a sudden
loud knocking at the door of the house, and he stood still. The wizard
lifted his head to listen.

"Have you had warning of more visitors to-night?" asked Antonio.

"I know not what happens to-night," muttered the wizard. "My power is
gone to-night."

The knocking at the door came again, loud and impatient.

"They will beat the door down if you do not open," said Antonio. "I will
hide myself here behind the mirror; for I cannot pass them without being
seen; and if I am seen here, it is like enough that the mirror will be
proved right both for you and me."

So Antonio hid himself, crouching down behind the mirror; and the
wizard, having lit a small dim lamp, went on trembling feet to the door.
And presently he came back, followed by two men whose faces were hid in
their cloaks. One of them sat down, but the other stood and flung his
cloak back over his shoulders; and Antonio, observing him from behind
the mirror, saw that he was Lorenzo, the Duke's favourite.

Then Lorenzo spoke to the wizard saying, "Why did you not come sooner to
open the door?"

"There was one here with me," said the wizard, whose air had become
again composed.

"And is he gone? For we would be alone."

"He is not to be seen," answered the wizard. "Utterly alone here you
cannot be."

When he heard this, Lorenzo turned pale, for he did not love this
midnight errand to the wizard's chamber.

"But no man is here," said the wizard.

A low hoarse laugh came from the man who sat. "Tricks of the trade,
tricks of the trade!" said he; and Antonio started to hear his voice.
"Be sure that where a prince, a courtier, and a cheat are together, the
devil makes a fourth. But there is no need to turn pale over it,
Lorenzo."

When the wizard heard, he fell on his knees; for he knew that it was
Duke Valentine who spoke.

"Look you, fellow," pursued His Highness, "you owe me much thanks that
you are not hanged already; for by putting an end to you I should please
my clergy much and the Syndic of Baratesta not a little. But if you do
not obey me to-night, you shall be dead before morning."

"I shall not die unless it be written in the stars," said the wizard,
but his voice trembled.

"I know nothing of the stars," said the Duke, "but I know the mind of
the Duke of Firmola, and that is enough for my purpose." And he rose
and began to walk about the chamber, examining the strange objects that
were there; and thus he came in front of the mirror, and stood within
half a yard of Antonio. But Lorenzo stood where he was, and once he
crossed himself secretly and unobserved.

"What would my lord the Duke?" asked the wizard.

"There is a certain drug," said the Duke, turning round towards the
wizard, "which if a man drink--or a woman, Lorenzo--he can walk on his
legs and use his arms, and seem to be waking and in his right mind; yet
is his mind a nothing, for he knows not what he does, but does
everything that one, being with him, may command, and without seeming
reluctance; and again, when bidden, he will seem to lose all power of
movement, and to lack his senses. I saw the thing once when I sojourned
with the Lord of Florence; for a wizard there, having given the drug to
a certain man, put him through strange antics, and he performed them all
willingly."

"Aye, there is such a drug," said the wizard.

"Then give it me," said the Duke; "and I give you your life and fifty
pieces of gold. For I have great need of it."

Now when Antonio heard the Duke's words, he was seized with great fear;
for he surmised that it was against Lucia that the Duke meant to use
this drug; and noiselessly he loosened his sword in its sheath and bent
forward again to listen.

"And though my purpose is nothing to you, yet it is a benevolent
purpose. Is it not, Lorenzo?"

"It is your will, not mine, my lord," said Lorenzo in a troubled voice.

"Mine shall be the crime, then, and yours the reward," laughed the Duke.
"For I will give her the drug, and she shall wed you."

Then Antonio doubted no longer of what was afoot, nor that a plot was
laid whereby Lucia should be entrapped into marriage with Lorenzo, since
she could not be openly forced. And anger burned hotly in him. And he
swore that, sooner than suffer the thing to be done, he would kill the
Duke there with his own hand or himself be slain.

"And you alone know of this drug now, they say," the Duke went on. "For
the wizard of Florence is dead. Therefore give it me quickly."

But the wizard answered, "It will not serve, my lord, that I give you
the drug. With my own hand I must give it to the persons whom you would
thus affect, and I must tell them what they should do."

"More tricks!" said the Duke scornfully. "I know your ways. Give me the
drug." And he would not believe what the wizard said.

"It is even as I say," said the wizard. "And if Your Highness will carry
the drug yourself, I will not vouch its operation."

"Give it me; for I know the appearance of it," said the Duke.

Then the wizard, having again protested, went to a certain shelf and
from some hidden recess took a small phial, and came with it to the
Duke, saying, "Blame me not, if its operation fail."

The Duke examined the phial closely, and also smelt its smell. "It is
the same," said he. "It will do its work."

Then Count Antonio, who believed no more than the Duke what the wizard
had said concerning the need of his own presence for the working of the
drug, was very sorely put to it to stay quietly where he was; for if the
Duke rode away now with the phial, he might well find means to give it
to the Lady Lucia before any warning could be conveyed to her. And,
although the danger was great, yet his love for Lucia and his fear for
her overcame his prudence, and suddenly he sprang from behind the
mirror, drawing his sword and crying, "Give me that drug, my lord, or
your life must answer for it."

But fortune served him ill; for as the Duke and Lorenzo shrank back at
his sudden appearance, and he was about to spring on them, behold, his
foot caught in the folds of the black cloth that had been over the
mirror and now lay on the ground, and, falling forward, he struck his
head on the marble rim that ran round the charcoal stove, and, having
fallen with great force, lay there like a man dead. With loud cries of
triumph, the Duke and Lorenzo, having drawn their swords, ran upon him;
and the Duke planted his foot upon his neck, crying, "Heaven sends a
greater prize! At last, at last I have him! Bind his hands, Lorenzo."

Lorenzo bound Antonio's hands as he lay there, a log for stillness. The
Duke turned to the wizard and a smile bent his lips. "O faithful subject
and servant!" said he. "Well do you requite my mercy and forbearance, by
harbouring my bitterest enemies and suffering them to hear my secret
counsels. Had not Antonio chanced to trip, it is like enough he would
have slain Lorenzo and me also. What shall be your reward, O faithful
servant?"

When the Wizard of Baratesta beheld the look that was on Duke
Valentine's face, he suddenly cried aloud, "The mirror, the mirror!" and
sank in a heap on the floor, trembling in every limb; for he remembered
the aspect of his own face in the mirror and knew that the hour of his
death had come. And he feared mightily to die; therefore he besought the
Duke very piteously, and told him again that from his hand alone could
the drug receive its potency. And so earnest was he in this, that at
last he half-won upon the Duke, so that the Duke wavered. And as he
doubted, his eye fell on Antonio; and he perceived that Antonio was
recovering from his swoon.

"There is enough for two," said he, "in the phial; and we will put this
thing to the test. But if you speak or move or make any sign, forthwith
in that moment you shall die." Then the Duke poured half the contents of
the phial into a glass and came to Lorenzo and whispered to him, "If the
drug works on him, and the wizard is proved to lie, the wizard shall
die; but we will carry Antonio with us; and when I have mustered my
Guard, I will hang him in the square as I have sworn. But if the drug
does not work, then we must kill him here; for I fear to carry him
against his will; for he is a wonderful man, full of resource, and the
people also love him. Therefore, if the operation of the drug fail, run
him through with your sword when I give the signal."

Now Antonio was recovering from his swoon, and he overheard part of
what the Duke said, but not all. As to the death of the wizard he did
not hear, but he understood that the Duke was about to test the effect
of the drug on him, and that if it had no effect, he was to die;
whereas, if its operation proved sufficient, he should go alive; and he
saw here a chance for his life in case what the wizard had said should
prove true.

"Drink, Antonio," said the Duke softly. "No harm comes to you. Drink: it
is a refreshing draught."

And Antonio drank the draught, the wizard looking on with parted lips
and with great drops of sweat running from his forehead and thence down
his cheeks to his mouth, so that his lips were salt when he licked them.
And the Duke, having seen that Lorenzo had his sword ready for Antonio,
took his stand by the wizard with the dagger from his belt in his hand.
And he cried to Antonio, "Rise." And Antonio rose up. The wizard started
a step towards him; but the Duke showed his dagger, and said to Antonio,
"Will you go with me to Firmola, Antonio?"

And Antonio answered, "I will go."

"Do you love me, Antonio?" asked the Duke.

"Aye, my lord," answered Antonio.

"Yet you have done many wicked things against me."

"True, my lord," said Antonio.

"Is your mind then changed?"

"It is, my lord," said Antonio.

"Then leap two paces into the air," said the Duke; and Antonio
straightway obeyed.

"Go down on your knees and crawl;" and Antonio crawled, smiling secretly
to himself.

Then the Duke bade Lorenzo mount Antonio on his horse; and he commanded
the wizard to follow him; and they all went out where the horses were;
and the three mounted, and the wizard followed; and they came to the end
of the bridge. There the Duke turned sharp round and rode by the side of
the rushing river. And, suddenly pausing, he said to Antonio, "Commend
thy soul to God and leap in."

And Antonio commended his soul to God, and would have leapt in; but the
Duke caught him by the arm even as he set spurs to his horse, saying,
"Do not leap." And Antonio stayed his leap. Then the Duke turned his
face on the wizard, saying, "The potion works, wizard. Why did you lie?"

Then the wizard fell on his knees, cursing hell and heaven; for he could
not see how he should escape. For the potion worked. And Antonio
wondered what should fall out next. But Duke Valentine leapt down from
his horse and approached the wizard, while Lorenzo set his sword against
Antonio's breast. And the Duke, desirous to make a final trial, cried
again to Antonio, "Fling yourself from your horse." And Antonio, having
his arms bound, yet flung himself from his horse, and fell prone on the
ground, and lay there sorely bruised.

"It is enough," said the Duke. "You lied, wizard."

But the wizard cried, "I lied not, I lied not, my lord. Slay me not, my
lord! For I dare not die."

But the Duke caught him by the throat and drove his dagger into his
breast till the fingers that held the dagger were buried in the folds
of the wizard's doublet; and the Duke pulled out the dagger, and, when
the wizard fell, he pushed him with his foot over the brink, and the
body fell with a loud splash into the river below.

Thus died the Wizard of Baratesta, who was famed above all of his day
for the hidden knowledge that he had; yet he served not God, but Satan,
and his end was the end of a sinner. And, many days after, his body was
found a hundred miles from that place; and certain charitable men,
brethren of my own order, gave it burial. So that he died that same
night in which the mirror had shown him his face as the face of a dead
man; but whence came the vision I know not.

Then the Duke set Antonio again on his horse, and the three rode
together towards Firmola, and as they went, again and again the Duke
tested the operation of the drug, setting Antonio many strange,
ludicrous, and unseemly things to do and to say; and Antonio did and
said them all. But he wondered greatly that the drug had no power over
him, and that his brain was clear and his senses all his own; nor did
he then believe that the Duke had, in truth, slain the wizard for any
reason save that the wizard had harboured him, an outlaw, and suffered
him to hear the Duke's counsels: and he was grieved at the wizard's
death.

Thus they rode through the night; and it was the hour of dawn when they
came to the gates of Firmola. Now Antonio was puzzled what he should do;
for having been in a swoon, he knew not whether the Duke had more of the
potion; nor could he tell with certainty whether the potion would be
powerless against the senses of a weak girl as it had proved against his
own. Therefore he said to the Duke, "I pray you, my lord, give me more
of that sweet drink. For it has refreshed me and set my mind at rest
from all trouble."

"Nay, Antonio, you have had enough," said the Duke, bantering him. "I
have another use for the rest." And they were now nearing the gates of
Firmola. Then Antonio began to moan pitifully, saying, "These bonds hurt
my hands;" and he whined and did as a child would do, feigning to cry.
The Duke laughed in bitter triumph, saying to Lorenzo, "Indeed it is a
princely drug that makes Antonio of Monte Velluto like a peevish child!"
And being now very secure of the power of the drug, he bade Lorenzo
loosen the bonds, saying to Antonio, "Take the reins, Antonio, and ride
with us into the city."

And Antonio answered, "I will, my good lord."

"It is even as I saw when I was with the Lord of Florence," whispered
the Duke in exultation.

"Yet I will still have my sword ready," said Lorenzo.

"There is no need; he is like a tame dog," said the Duke carelessly.

But the Duke was not minded to produce Antonio to the people till all
his Guards were collected and under arms, and the people thus restrained
by a great show of force. Therefore he bade Antonio cover his face with
his cloak; and Antonio, Lorenzo's sword being still at his breast,
obeyed; and thus they three rode through the gates of Firmola and came
to the Duke's palace; and Antonio did all that the Duke ordered, and
babbled foolishly like a bewildered child when the Duke asked him
questions, so that His Highness laughed mightily, and, coming into the
garden, sat down in his favourite place by the fish-pond, causing
Antonio to stand over against him.

"Indeed, Antonio," said he, "I can do no other than hang you."

"If it be your pleasure, my lord."

"And then Lucia shall drink of this wonderful drug also, and she will be
content and obedient, and will gladly wed Lorenzo. Let us have her here
now, and give it to her without delay. You do not fret at that, Antonio?
You love not the obstinate girl?"

"In truth, no," laughed Antonio. "She is naught to me!" And he put his
hand to his head, saying perplexedly, "Lucia? Yes, I remember that name.
Who was she? Was she aught to me, my lord?"

Then Lorenzo wondered greatly, and the doubts that he had held
concerning the power of the wizard's drug melted away; yet he did not
laugh like the Duke, but looked on Antonio and said sadly to the Duke,
sinking his voice, "Not thus should Antonio of Monte Velluto have died."

"So he dies, I care not how," answered the Duke. "Indeed, I love to see
him a witless fool even while his body is yet alive. O rare wizard, I go
near to repenting having done justice on you! Go, Lorenzo, to the
officer of the Guard and bid him fetch hither the Lady Lucia, and we
will play the pretty comedy to the end."

"Will you be alone with him?" asked Lorenzo.

"Aye; why not? See! he is tame enough," and he buffeted Antonio in the
face with his riding-glove. And Antonio whimpered and whined.

Now the officer of the Guard was in his lodge at the entrance of the
palace, on the other side of the great hall; and Lorenzo turned and
went, and presently the sound of his feet on the marble floor of the
hall grew faint and distant. The Duke sat with the phial in his hand,
smiling at Antonio who crouched at his feet. And Antonio drew himself on
his knees quite close to the Duke, and looked up in his face with a
foolish empty smile. And the Duke, laughing, buffeted him again. Then,
with a sudden spring, like the spring of that Indian tiger which the
Mogul of Delhi sent lately as a gift to the Most Christian King, and the
king, for his diversion, made to slay deer before him at the _château_
of Blois (which I myself saw, being there on a certain mission, and
wonderful was the sight), Count Antonio, leaping, was upon the Duke; and
he snatched the philtre from the Duke's hand and seized the Duke's head
in his hands and wrenched his jaw open, and he poured the contents of
the phial down the Duke's throat, and the Duke swallowed the potion.
Then Antonio fixed a stern and imperious glance on the Duke, nailing his
eyes to the Duke's and the Duke's to his, and he said in a voice of
command, "Obey! You have drunk the potion!" And still he kept his eyes
on the Duke's. And the Duke, amazed, suddenly began to tremble, and
sought to rise; and Antonio took his hands off him, but said, "Sit
there, and move not." Then, although Antonio's hands were no longer upon
him, yet His Highness did not rise, but after a short struggle with
himself sank back in his seat, and stared at Antonio like a bird
fascinated by a snake. And he moaned, "Take away your eyes; they burn my
brain. Take them away." But Antonio gazed all the more intently at him,
saying, "Be still, be still!" and holding up his arm in enforcement of
his command. And Antonio took from the Duke the sword that he wore and
the dagger wherewith the Duke had killed the Wizard of Baratesta, he
making no resistance, but sitting motionless with bewildered stare. Then
Antonio looked round, for he knew that Lorenzo would soon come. And for
the last time he bent his eyes again on the Duke's eyes in a very long
gaze and the Duke cowered and shivered, moaning, "You hurt me, you hurt
me."

Then Antonio said, "Be still and speak not till I return and bid you;"
and he suddenly left the Duke and ran at the top of his speed along
under the wall of the garden, and came where the wall ended; and there
was a flight of steps leading up on to the top of the wall. Running up
it, Antonio stood for a moment on the wall; and the river ran fifty
feet below. But he heard a cry from the garden, and beheld Lorenzo
rushing up to the Duke, and behind Lorenzo, the Captain of the Guard
and, two men who led a maiden in white. Then Count Antonio, having
commended himself to the keeping of God, leapt head foremost from the
top of the wall into the river, and his body clove the water as an arrow
cleaves the wand.

Now Lorenzo marvelled greatly at what he saw, and came to the Duke
crying, "My lord, what does this mean? Antonio flies!" But the Duke
answered nothing, sitting with empty eyes and lips set in a rigid smile;
nor did he move. "My lord, what ails you?" cried Lorenzo. Yet the Duke
did not answer. Then Lorenzo's eye fell on the fragments of the phial
which lay broken on the rim of the fish-pond where Antonio had flung it;
and he cried out in great alarm, "The potion! Where is the potion?" But
the Duke did not answer. And Lorenzo was much bewildered and in sore
fear; for it seemed as though His Highness's senses were gone; and
Lorenzo said, "By some means he has drunk the potion!" And he ran up to
the Duke, and caught him by the arm and shook him violently, seeking to
rouse him from his stupor, and calling his name with entreaties, and
crying, "He escapes, my lord; Antonio escapes! Rouse yourself, my
lord--he escapes!" But the Duke did no more than lift heavy dull eyes to
Lorenzo's face in puzzled inquiry.

And, seeing the strange thing, the Captain of the Guard hurried up, and
with him the Lady Lucia, and she said, "Alas, my lord is ill!" and
coming to His Highness she set her cool soft hand on his hot throbbing
brow, and took perfume from a silver flask that hung at her girdle, and
wetted her handkerchief with it and bathed his brow, whispering soft
soothing words to him, as though he had been a sick woman. For let a
woman have what grudge she may against a man, yet he gains pardon for
all so soon as he becomes sick enough to let her nurse and comfort him;
and Lucia was as tender to the Duke as to the Count Antonio himself,
and forgot all save the need of giving him ease and rousing him from
his stupor.

But Lorenzo cried angrily, "I at least have my senses!" And he said to
the Captain of the Guard, "I must needs stay with His Highness; but
Antonio of Monte Velluto has leapt from the wall into the river. Go and
bring him here, dead or alive, and I will be your warrant to the Duke.
But if he be as when I saw him last, he will give you small trouble. For
he was like a child for weakness and folly." And having said this, he
turned to the Duke again, and gave his aid to Lucia's ministrations.

Now the gentleman who commanded the Duke's Guard at this time was a
Spaniard, by name Corogna, and he was young, of high courage, and
burning to do some great deed. Therefore he said, "I pray he be as he is
wont to be: yet I will bring him to the feet of my lord the Duke." And
he ran swiftly through the hall and called for his horse, and drawing
his sword, rode alone out of the city and across the bridge, seeking
Antonio, and saying to himself, "What a thing if I take him! And if he
slay me, why, I will show that a gentleman of Andalusia can die;" yet
he thought for an instant of the house where his mother lived. Then he
scanned the plain, and he beheld a man running some half-mile away; and
the man seemed to be making for the hill on which stood the ruins of
Antonio's house that the Duke had burnt. Then Corogna set spurs to his
horse; but the man, whom by his stature and gait Corogna knew to be
Antonio, ran very swiftly, and was not overtaken before he came to the
hill; and he began to mount by a very steep rugged path, and he was out
of sight in the trees when Corogna came to the foot. And Corogna's horse
stumbled among the stones, and could not mount the path; so Corogna
sprang off his back and ran on foot up the path, sword in hand. And he
came in sight of Antonio round a curve of the path three parts of the
way up the hill. Antonio was leaning against the trunk of a tree and
wringing the water out of his cloak. Corogna drew near, sword in hand,
and with a prayer to the Holy Virgin on his lips. And he trembled, not
with fear, but because fate offered a great prize, and his name would
be famed throughout Italy if he slew or took Antonio of Monte Velluto;
and for fame, even as for a woman's smile, a young man will tremble as a
coward quakes with fear.

The Count Antonio stood as though sunk in a reverie; yet, presently,
hearing Corogna's tread, he raised his eyes, and smiling kindly on the
young man, he said, "Very strange are the ways of Heaven, sir. I think
that the Wizard of Baratesta spoke truth, and did not lie to the Duke.
Yet I had that same power which the wizard claimed, although the Duke
had none over me. We are children, sir, and our game is blind-man's
buff; but all are blinded, and it is but the narrowest glimpse that we
obtain now and again by some clever shifting of the handkerchief. Yet
there are some things clear enough; as that a man should do his work,
and be clean and true. What would you with me, sir? For I do not think I
know you."

"I am of Andalusia, and my name is Corogna. I am Captain of His
Highness's Guard, and I come to bring you, alive or dead, to his
presence."

"And are you come alone on that errand, sir?" asked Antonio with a smile
that he strove to smother, lest it should wound the young man's honour.

"David slew Goliath, my lord," said the Spaniard with a bow.

Then Count Antonio held out his hand to the young man and said
courteously, "Sir, your valour needs no proof and fears no reproach. I
pray you suffer me to go in peace. I would not fight with you, if I may
avoid it honourably. For what has happened has left me more in the mood
for thinking than for fighting. Besides, sir, you are young, and, far
off in Andalusia, loving eyes, and maybe sparkling eyes, are strained to
the horizon, seeking your face as you return."

"What is all that, my lord?" asked Corogna. "I am a man, though a young
one; and I am here to carry you to the Duke." And he touched Antonio's
sword with his, saying, "Guard yourself."

"It is with great pain and reluctance that I take my sword, and I call
you to witness of it; but if I must, I must;" and the Count took up his
position and they crossed swords.

Now Corogna was well-taught and skilful, but he did not know the cunning
which Antonio had learned in the school of Giacomo in Padua, nor had he
the strength and endurance of the Count. Antonio would fain have wearied
him out, and then, giving him some slight wound to cover his honour,
have left him and escaped; but the young man came at him impetuously,
and neglected to guard himself while he thrust at his enemy: once and
again the Count spared him; but he did not know that he had received the
courtesy, and taking heart from his immunity came at Antonio more
fiercely again; until at last Antonio, breathing a sigh, stiffened his
arm, and, waiting warily for the young man again to uncover himself,
thrust at his breast, and the sword's point entered hard by the young
man's heart; and the young man staggered, and would have fallen,
dropping his sword; but Antonio cast away his own sword and supported
him, stanching the blood from the wound and crying, "God send I have not
killed him!"

And on his speech came the voice of Tommasino, saying carelessly, "Here,
in truth, cousin, is a good prayer wasted on a Spaniard!"

Antonio, looking up, saw Tommasino and Bena. And Tommasino said, "When
you did not come back, we set out to seek you, fearing that you were
fallen into some snare and danger. And behold, we find you nursing this
young spark; and how you missed his heart, Antonio, I know not, nor what
Giacomo of Padua would say to such bungling."

But Antonio cared not for his cousin's words, which were spoken in a
banter that a man uses to hide his true feelings; and they three set
themselves to save the young man's life; for Tommasino and Bena had seen
the better part of the fight and perceived that he was a gallant youth.
But as they tended him, there came shouts and the sound of horses' hoofs
mounting the hill by the winding road that led past Antonio's house. And
Tommasino touched Antonio on the shoulder, saying, "We can do no more
for him; and if we linger, we must fight again."

Then they laid the young man down, Antonio stripping off his cloak and
making a pillow of it; and Bena brought the horses, for they had led one
with them for Antonio, in case there should be need of it; and they were
but just mounted when twenty of the Duke's Guard appeared three hundred
yards away, ascending the crest of the hill.

"Thank Heaven there are so many," said Antonio, "for now we can flee
without shame;" and they set spurs to their horses and fled. And certain
of the Duke's Guard pursued, but only two or three were so well mounted
as to be able to come near them; and these two or three, finding that
they would be man to man, had no liking for the business, and each
called out that his horse was foundered; and thus it was that none of
them came up with Count Antonio, but all, after a while, returned
together to the city, carrying the young Spaniard Corogna, their
captain. But as they drew near to the gates, Corogna opened his eyes and
murmured some soft-syllabled name that they could not hear, and, having
with failing fingers signed the cross, turned on his side and died. And
they brought his body to the great hall of the Duke's palace.

There in the great hall sat Duke Valentine: his face was pale and his
frown heavy, and he gazed on the dead body of the young man and spoke no
word. Yet he had loved Corogna, and out of love for him had made him
Captain of his Guard. And he passed his hand wearily across his brow,
murmuring, "I cannot think, I cannot think." And the Lady Lucia stood by
him, her hand resting on his shoulder and her eyes full of tears. But at
last the strange spell which lay on the senses of the Duke passed away:
his eyes again had the light of reason in them, and he listened while
they told him how Antonio had himself escaped, and had afterwards slain
Corogna on the top of the hill where Antonio's house had stood. And the
Duke was very sorry for Corogna's death: and he looked round on them
all, saying, "He made of me a log of wood, and not a man. For when I had
drunk and looked in his eyes, it seemed to me that my eyes were bound to
his, and that I looked to him for command, and to know what I should
do, and that he was my God, and without his will I could not move. Yes,
I was then to him even as he had seemed to be to me as we rode from
Baratesta. And even now I am not free from this strange affection; for
he seems still to be by me, and if his voice came now bidding me to do
anything, by St. Prisian, I should arise and do it! Send my physician to
me. And let this young man lie in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin in
the Cathedral, and to-morrow he shall be buried. But when I am well, and
this strange affection is passed from me, and hangs no more like a fog
over my brain, then I will exact the price of his death from Antonio,
together with the reckoning of all else in respect of which he stands in
my debt."

But the Lady Lucia, hearing this, said boldly, "My lord, it is by your
deed and through your devices that this gentleman has met his death, and
the blame of it is yours, and not my lord Antonio's."

At her bold and angry words Duke Valentine was roused, and the last of
his languor left him; and he glared at her in wrath, crying "Go to your
house;" and he rose up suddenly from where he sat and went into his
cabinet, Lorenzo attending him. And on the day after he walked first
behind the bier of Corogna, and his face was very pale, but his air
composed and his manner as it was wont to be. For the spell had passed
and he was his own man again.

But Count Antonio heard with great grief of the death of the young man,
and was very sorry that he had been constrained to kill him, and took
great blame to himself for seeking counsel of the Wizard of Baratesta,
whence had come death to the young man no less than to the wizard
himself.

Such is the story of the drug which the Wizard of Baratesta gave to Duke
Valentine of Firmola. To me it seems a strange tale, but yet it is well
attested and stands on as strong a rock of testimony as anything which
is told concerning the Count. The truth of it I do not understand, and
often I ponder of it, wondering whether the Wizard of Baratesta spoke
truth, and why the drug which had no power over Count Antonio bound the
senses and limbs of the Duke in utter torpor and helplessness. And once,
when I was thus musing over the story, there came to my cell a monk of
the Abbey of St. Prisian, who was an old man and very learned; and I
went to walk with him in the garden, and coming to the fountain we sat
down by the basin; and knowing that his lore was wide and deep, I set
before him all the story, asking him if he knew of this strange drug;
but he smiled at me, and taking the cup that lay by the basin of the
fountain, he filled it with the clear sparkling water and drank a
little, and held the cup to me, saying, "I think the Wizard of Baratesta
would have wrought the spell as well with no other drug than this."

"You say a strange thing," said I.

"And I do not marvel," said he, "that the Duke had no power over Count
Antonio, for he knew not how to wield such power. But neither do I
wonder that power lay in Count Antonio to bend the mind of the Duke to
his will. I warrant you, Ambrose, that the wonderful drug was not
difficult to compound."

Then I understood what he meant; for he would have it that the drug was
but a screen and a pretence, and that the power lay not in it, but in
the man that gave it. Yet surely this is to explain what is obscure by a
thing more obscure, and falls thus into a fault hated of the logicians.
For Heaven may well have made a drug that binds the senses and limbs of
men. Has not the poppy some such effect? And the ancients fabled the
like of the lotus plant. But can we conceive that one man should by the
mere glance of his eye have such power over another as to become to him,
by these means and no other, a lord and master? In truth I find that
hard to believe, and I doubt whether a man may lawfully believe it. Yet
I know not. Knowledge spreads, and men grow wiser in hidden things; and
although I who write may not live till the time when the thing shall be
made clear, yet it may be God's will to send such light to the men of
later days that, reading this story, they may find in it nothing that is
strange or unknown to their science and skill. I pray that they may use
the knowledge God sends in His holy service, and not in the work of the
devil, as did the Wizard of Baratesta.

But Count Antonio being, by his guile and adroitness, and by that
strange power which he had from the drug or whence I know not, delivered
out of the hands of Duke Valentine, abode with his company on the hills
throughout the cold of winter, expecting the day when he might win the
hand of the Lady Lucia; and she returned to her house, and said nothing
of what had befallen the Duke. Yet the Duke showed her no tenderness,
but rather used more severity with her. It is an evil service to a proud
man to aid him in his day of humiliation.



CHAPTER V.

COUNT ANTONIO AND THE SACRED BONES.


There is one tale concerning Count Antonio of Monte Velluto, when he
dwelt an outlaw in the hills, which men tell with fear and doubt,
marvelling at the audacity of his act, and sometimes asking themselves
whether he would in very truth have performed what he swore on the faith
of his honour he would do, in case the Duke did not accede to his
demands. For the thing he threatened was such as no man of Firmola dares
think on without a shudder; for we of Firmola prize and reverence the
bones of our saint, the holy martyr Prisian, above and far beyond every
other relic, and they are to us as it were the sign and testimony of
God's enduring favour to our country. But much will a man do for love of
a woman, and Antonio's temper brooked no obstacle: so that I, who know
all the truth of the matter, may not doubt that he would have done even
as he said, braving the wrath of Heaven and making naught of the terror
and consternation that had fallen on the city and the parts round about
it. Whether that thought of his heart was such as would gain pardon, I
know not: had the thing been done, I could scarce hope even in Heaven's
infinite mercy. Yet this story also I must tell, lest I be charged with
covering up what shames Antonio; for with the opinions of careless and
faithless men (who are too many in this later age) I have no communion,
and I tell the tale not to move laughter or loose jests, but rather that
I may show to what extremity a man in nature good may be driven by
harshness and the unmerited disfavour of his Prince.

In the third year, then, of Count Antonio's outlawry, His Highness the
Duke looked on the Lady Lucia and found that she was of full age for
marriage. Therefore he resolved that she should be wed, and, since
Robert de Beauregard, to whom he had purposed to give her, was dead, he
chose from among his lords a certain gentleman of great estate and a
favourite of his, by name Lorenzo, and sent word to Lucia that she had
spent too much of her youth pining for what could not be hers, and must
forthwith receive Lorenzo for her husband. But Lucia, being by now a
woman and no more a timid girl, returned to His Highness a message that
she would look on no other man than Antonio. On this the Duke, greatly
incensed, sent and took her, and set her in a convent within the city
walls, and made her know that there she should abide till her life's
end, or until she should obey his command; and he charged the Abbess to
treat her harshly and to break down her pride: and he swore that she
should wed Lorenzo; or, if she were obstinate, then she should take the
vows of a nun in the convent. Many weeks the Lady Lucia abode in the
convent, resisting all that was urged upon her. But at last, finding no
help from Antonio, being sore beset and allowed no rest, she broke one
day into passionate and pitiful weeping, and bade the Abbess tell His
Highness that, since happiness was not for her in this world, she would
seek to find it in Heaven, and would take the vows, rendering all her
estate into the Duke's hand, that he might have it, and give it to
Lorenzo or to whom he would. Which message being told to Duke Valentine,
weary of contending with her, and perchance secretly fearing that
Antonio would slay Lorenzo as he had slain Robert, he cursed her for an
obstinate wench, and bade her take the vows, and set a day for her to
take them: but her estate he assumed into his own hand, and made from
out of it a gift of great value to Lorenzo. And Lorenzo, they say, was
well content thus to be quit of the matter. "For," said he, "while that
devil is loose in the hills, no peace would there have been for the
lady's husband."

But when it came to the ears of Count Antonio that the Lady Lucia was to
take the veil on the morrow of the feast of St. Prisian, his rage and
affliction knew no bounds. "If need be," he cried, "I will attack the
city with all my men, before I will suffer it."

"Your men would be all killed, and she would take the veil none the
less," said Tommasino. For Antonio had but fifty men, and although they
were stout fellows and impossible to subdue so long as they stayed in
the hills, yet their strength would have been nothing against a fortress
and the Duke's array.

"Then," said Antonio, "I will go alone and die alone."

As he spoke, he perceived Martolo coming to him, and, calling him, he
asked him what he would. Now Martolo was a devout man and had been much
grieved when Antonio had fallen under a sentence of excommunication by
reason of a certain quarrel that he had with the Abbot of the Abbey of
St. Prisian in the hills, wherein the Count had incurred the
condemnation of the Church, refusing, as his way was, to admit any rule
save of his own conscience. Yet Martolo abode with Antonio from love of
him. And now he bowed and answered, "My lord, in three days it is the
feast of St. Prisian, and the sacred bones will then be carried from the
shrine in the church of the saint at Rilano to the city." For it was at
Rilano that Prisian had suffered, and a rich church had been built on
the spot.

"I remember that it is wont to be so, Martolo," answered the Count.

"When I dwelt with my father," said Martolo, "I was accustomed to go
forth with all the people of my village and meet the sacred bones, and
kneeling, receive the benediction from the Lord Archbishop as he passed,
bearing the bones in their golden casket. And the like I would do this
year, my lord."

"But are you not excommunicated in company with Count Antonio and me?"
asked Tommasino, lightly smiling; for Tommasino also stood condemned.

"I pray not. I was not named in the sentence," said Martolo, signing the
cross.

"Go in peace, Martolo; but see that you are not taken by the Duke's
men," said Count Antonio.

"But few of them go with the Archbishop, my lord. For who would lay
hands on the sacred bones? The guard is small, and I shall easily elude
them." So Martolo departed, and told the man they called Bena what had
passed; but Bena was a graceless fellow and would not go with him.

Now when Martolo was gone, Count Antonio sat down on a great stone and
for a long while he said nothing to Tommasino. But certain words out of
those which Martolo had spoken were echoing through his brain, and he
could not put them aside; for they came again and again and again; and
at last, looking up at Tommasino who stood by him, he said, "Tommasino,
who would lay hands on the sacred bones?"

Tommasino looked down into his eyes; then he laid a hand on his
shoulder; and Antonio still looked up and repeated, "Who would lay hands
on the sacred bones?"

Tommasino's eyes grew round in wonder: he smiled, but his smile was
uneasy, and he shifted his feet. "Is it that you think of, Antonio?" he
asked in a low voice. "Beside it, it would be a light thing to kill the
Duke in his own palace."

Then Antonio cried, striking his fist on the palm of his hand, "Are dead
bones more sacred than that living soul on which the Duke lays hands to
force it to his will?"

"The people reverence the bones as God Himself," said Tommasino,
troubled.

"I also reverence them," said Antonio, and fell again into thought. But
presently he rose and took Tommasino's arm, and for a long while they
walked to and fro. Then they went and sought out certain chosen men of
the band; for the greater part they dared not trust in such a matter,
but turned only to them that were boldest and recked least of sacred
things. To ten of such Antonio opened his counsel; and by great rewards
he prevailed on them to come into the plan, although they were, for all
their boldness, very sore afraid lest they, laying hands on the bones,
should be smitten as was he who touched the Ark of the Covenant.
Therefore Antonio said, "I alone will lay hands on the golden casket;
the rest of you shall but hold me harmless while I take it."

"But if the Lord Archbishop will not let it go?"

"The Lord Archbishop," said Tommasino, "will let it go." For Tommasino
did not love the Archbishop, because he would not remove the sentence of
excommunication which he had laid upon Antonio and Tommasino on the
prayer of the Abbot of St. Prisian's.

Now when the feast of St. Prisian was come, the Lord Archbishop, who had
ridden from the city on the eve of the feast, and had lodged in the
house of the priests that served the church, went with all his train
into the church, and, the rest standing afar off and veiling their eyes,
took from the wall of the church, near by the High Altar, the golden
casket that held the bones of the blessed St. Prisian. And he wrapped
the casket in a rich cloth and held it high before him in his two hands.
And when the people had worshipped, the Archbishop left the church and
entered his chair and passed through the village of Rilano, the priests
and attendants going first, and twelve of the Duke's Guard, whom the
Duke had sent, following after. Great was the throng of folk, come from
all the country round to gaze on the casket and on the procession of the
Lord Archbishop; and most devout of them all was Martolo, who rested on
his knees from the moment the procession left the church till it was
clear of the village. And Martolo was still on his knees when he beheld
go by him a party of peasants, all, save one, tall and powerful men,
wearing peasants' garb and having their faces overshadowed by large
hats. These men also had knelt as the casket passed, but they had risen,
and were marching shoulder to shoulder behind the men of the Duke's
Guard, a peasant behind every pikeman. Martolo gazed long at them; then
he moistened his lips and crossed himself, murmuring, "What does this
thing mean? Now God forbid----!" And, breaking off thus, he also rose
and went to the house of his father, sore vexed and troubled to know
what the thing might mean. But he spoke of it to none, no, not to his
father, observing the vow of secrecy in all matters which he had made to
Count Antonio.

At the bounds of the village the greater part of the people ceased to
follow the procession of the sacred bones, and, having received the
Archbishop's blessing, turned back to their own homes, where they
feasted and made merry; but the twelve peasants whom Martolo had seen
followed the procession when it set forth for the next village, distant
three miles on the road to Firmola. Their air manifested great
devotion, for they walked with heads bent on their breasts and downcast
eyes, and they spoke not once on the way; but each kept close behind a
pikeman. When the procession had gone something more than a mile from
the village of Rilano, it came where a little stream crosses the
highway; and the rains having been heavy for a week before, the stream
was swollen and the ford deeper than it was wont to be. Therefore the
officer of the Guard, thinking of no danger, bade six of his men lay
down their pikes and go lift the Archbishop's chair over the ford, lest
the Archbishop should be wetted by the water. And on hearing this order,
the tallest among the peasants put his hand up to his hat and twisted
the feather of it between his thumb and his forefinger: and the shortest
of them whispered, "The sign! The sign!" while every man of them drew a
great dagger from under his habit and held it behind his back. Now by
this time the priests and attendants had passed the ford; and one-half
of the Guard had laid down their pikes and were gone to raise the
Archbishop's chair, the remainder standing at their ease, leaning on
their pikes and talking to one another. Again the tallest peasant
twisted the feather in his hat; and without speech or cry the peasants
darted forward. Six of them seized the pikes that lay on the ground; the
remaining six sprang like wild-cats on the backs of the pikemen,
circling the necks of the pikemen with their arms, pulling them back and
coming near to throttling them, so that the pikemen, utterly amazed and
taken full at disadvantage, staggered and fell backward, while the
peasants got on the top of them and knelt on their breasts and set the
great daggers at their hearts. While this passed on the road, the
remainder of Antonio's band--for such were the peasants--rushed into the
stream and compelled the unarmed pikemen to set down the Archbishop's
chair in the midst, so that the water came in at the windows of the
chair; and the pikemen, held at bay with their own pikes, sought to draw
their poniards, but Antonio cried, "Slay any that draw!" And he came to
the chair and opened the door of it, and, using as little force as he
might, he laid hands on the casket that held the sacred bones, and
wrested it from the feeble hands of the Archbishop. Then he and his men,
standing in line, stepped backwards with the pikes levelled in front of
them till they came out of the water and on to the dry road again; and
one pikeman rushed at Antonio, but Tommasino, sparing to kill him,
caught him a buffet on the side of the head with a pike, and he fell
like a log in the water, and had been drowned, but that two of his
comrades lifted him. Then all twelve of the band being together--for the
first six had risen now from off the six pikemen, having forced them, on
pain of instant death, to deliver over their pikes to them--Antonio,
with the casket in his hands, spoke in a loud voice, "I thank God that
no man is dead over this business; but if you resist, you shall die one
and all. Go to the city; tell the Duke that I, Antonio of Monte Velluto,
have the bones of the blessed St. Prisian, and carry them with me to my
hiding-place in the highest parts of the hills. But if he will swear by
these bones that I hold, and by his princely word, that he will not
suffer the Lady Lucia to take the vows, nor will constrain her to wed
any man, but will restore her to her own house and to her estate, then
let him send the Archbishop again, and I will deliver up the sacred
bones. But if he will not swear, then, as God lives, to-morrow, at
midnight, I will cause a great fire to be kindled on the top of the
hills--a fire whose flame you shall see from the walls of the city--and
in that fire will I consume the sacred bones, and I will scatter the
ashes of them to the four winds. Go and bear the message that I give you
to the Duke."

And, having thus said, Antonio, with his men, turned and went back at a
run along the road by which they had come; but to the village of Rilano
they did not go, but turned aside before they came to it, and, coming to
the farm of one who knew Antonio, they bought of him, paying him in good
coin of the Duchy, three horses, which Antonio, Tommasino, and Bena
mounted; and they three rode hard for the hills, the rest following as
quickly as they might; so that by nightfall they were all safely
assembled in their hiding-place, and with them the bones of the blessed
St. Prisian. But they told not yet to the rest of the band what it was
that Antonio carried under his cloak; nor did Martolo, when he returned
from Rilano, ask what had befallen, but he crossed himself many times
and wore a fearful look.

But Tommasino came to Antonio and said to him, "Why did you not ask also
pardon for all of us, and for yourself the hand of Lucia?"

"A great thing, and a thing that troubles me, I have done already,"
answered Antonio. "Therefore I will ask nothing for myself, and nothing
may I ask for you or for my friends. But if I ask nothing save that
right and justice be done, it may be that my sin in laying hands on the
sacred bones will be the less."

Now after Antonio and his men were gone, the Archbishop's train stayed
long by the stream on the road, lamenting and fearing to go forward. Yet
at last they went forward, and being come to the next village found all
the people awaiting them at the bounds. And when the people saw the
disorder of the procession, and that the pikemen had no pikes, they ran
forward, eagerly asking what had befallen; and learning of the
calamity, they were greatly afraid and cursed Antonio; and many of them
accompanied the Archbishop on his way to the city, whence he came
towards evening. A great concourse of people awaited his coming there,
and the Duke himself sat on a lofty seat in the great square, prepared
to receive the sacred bones, and go with them to the Cathedral, where
they were to be exposed to the gaze of the people at High Mass. And they
set the Archbishop's chair down before the Duke's seat, and the
Archbishop came and stood before the Duke, and his priests and the
pikemen with him. And the Duke started up from his seat, crying, "What
ails you?" and sank back again, and sat waiting to hear what the
Archbishop should say.

Then the Archbishop, his robes still damp and greatly disordered, his
limbs trembling in anger and in fear, raised his voice; and all the
multitude in the square was silent while he declared to His Highness
what things Count Antonio had done, and rehearsed the message that he
had sent. But when the Archbishop told how Antonio had sworn that as
God lived he would scatter the ashes of the sacred bones to the winds,
the men caught their breath with a gasp, while the women murmured
affrightedly, "Christ save us;" and Duke Valentine dug the nails of his
hand, whereon his head rested, into the flesh of his cheek. For all the
city held that, according to the words St. Prisian himself had uttered
before he suffered, the power and prosperity of the Duchy and the favour
of Heaven to it rested on the presence among them and the faithful
preservation and veneration of those most holy relics. And the
Archbishop, having ended the message, cried, "God pardon my lips that
repeat such words," and fell on his knees before Duke Valentine, crying,
"Justice on him, my lord, justice!" And many in the throng echoed his
cry; but others, and among them a great part of the apprenticed lads who
loved Antonio, muttered low one to another, "But the Duke has taken his
sweetheart from him," and they looked on the Duke with no favourable
eye.

Then Duke Valentine rose from his seat and stood on the topmost step
that led to it, and he called sundry of his lords and officers round
him, and then he beckoned for silence, and he said, "Before the sun sets
to-morrow, the Lady Lucia shall take the vows;" and he, with his train,
took their way to the palace, the pikemen clearing a path for them. And
now indeed was silence; for all marvelled and were struck dumb that the
Duke said naught concerning the bones of St. Prisian, and they searched
one another's faces for the meaning of his words. But the Archbishop
arose, and, speaking to no man, went to the Cathedral, and knelt before
the altar in the chapel of St. Prisian, and there abode on his knees.

Surely never, from that day until this hour, has such a night passed in
the city of Firmola. For the Duke sent orders that every man of his
Guard should be ready to start at break of day in pursuit of Antonio,
and through the hours of the evening they were busied in preparing their
provisions and accoutrements. But their looks were heavy and their
tongues tied, for they knew, every man of them, that though the Duke
might at the end take Antonio, yet he could not come at him before the
time that Antonio had said. And this the townsmen knew well also; and
they gathered themselves in groups in the great square, saying, "Before
the Duke comes at him, the sacred bones will be burnt, and what will
then befall the Duchy?" And those who were friendly to Antonio, foremost
among them being the apprenticed lads, spread themselves here and there
among the people, asking cunningly whether it concerned the people of
Firmola more that the blessing of St. Prisian should abide with them, or
that a reluctant maiden should be forced to take the veil; and some grew
bold to whisper under their breath that the business was a foul one, and
that Heaven did not send beauty and love that priests should bury them
in convent walls. And the girls of the city, ever most bold by reason of
their helplessness, stirred up the young men who courted them, leading
them on and saying, "He is a true lover who risks his soul for his
love;" or, "I would I had one who would steal the bones of St. Prisian
for my sake, but none such have I:" with other stirring and inflaming
taunts, recklessly flung from pouting lips and from under eyes that
challenged. And all the while Duke Valentine sat alone in his cabinet,
listening to the tumult that sounded with muffled din through the walls
of the palace.

Now there was in the city a certain furrier named Peter, a turbulent
fellow who had been put out of his craft-guild because he would not
abide by the laws of the craft, and lived now as he best could, being
maintained in large measure by those who listened to his empty and
seditious conversation. This man, loving naught that there was worthy of
love in Count Antonio, yet loved him because he defied the Duke; and
about midnight, having drunk much wine, he came into the square and
gathered together the apprentices, saying, "I have a matter to say to
you--and to you--and to you," till there were many scores of them round
him: then he harangued them, and more came round; and when at last Peter
cried, "Give us back the sacred bones!" a thousand voices answered him,
"Aye, give us back the bones!" And when the pikemen would have seized
him, men, and women also, made a ring round him, so that he could not
be taken. And sober men also, of age and substance, hearkened to him,
saying, "He is a knave, but he speaks truth now." So that a very great
throng assembled, every man having a staff, and many also knives; and to
those that had not knives, the women and girls brought them, thrusting
them into their hands; nay, sundry priests also were among the people,
moaning and wringing their hands, and saying that the favour of St.
Prisian would be lost for ever to the city. And the square was thronged,
so that a man could not move unless all moved, nor raise his hand to his
head save by the favour of his neighbour. Yet presently the whole mass
began to move, like a great wave of water, towards the Palace of the
Duke, where the pikemen stood in ranks, ready now to go against Antonio.
Suddenly arose a cry, "The Archbishop comes!" and the venerable man was
seen, led through the crowd by Peter and some more, who brought him and
set him in the front ranks of the people; and Peter cried boldly, "Where
is the Duke?" But the Captain of the Guard came forward, sword in hand,
and bade Peter be still, cursing him for insolence, and shouted that
the people should disperse on pain of His Highness's displeasure. "Where
is the Duke? Let him come out to us!" cried Peter; and the captain,
despising him, struck him lightly with the flat of his sword. But Peter
with a cry of rage struck the captain a great blow with his staff, and
the captain staggered back, blood flowing from his head. Such was the
beginning of the fray; for in an instant the pikemen and the people had
joined battle: men cried in anger and women in fright: blood flowed, and
sundry on both sides fell and rose no more; and the Archbishop came near
to being trodden under foot till his friends and the priests gathered
round him; and when he saw that men were being slain, he wept.

Then the lord Lorenzo hastened to the cabinet of the Duke, whom he found
pacing up and down, gnawing his finger-nails, and told him of what was
done outside.

"I care not," said the Duke. "She shall take the vows! Let the pikemen
scatter them."

Lorenzo then besought him, telling him that all the city was in arms,
and that the conflict would be great. But the Duke said still, "She
shall take the vows!" Nevertheless he went with Lorenzo, and came forth
on to the topmost step of the portico. And when the people saw him they
ceased for a moment to assail the pikemen, and cried out, "Give us back
the sacred bones!"

"Scatter these fellows!" said the Duke to the Captain of the Guard.

"My lord, they are too many. And if we scatter them now, yet when we
have gone against Count Antonio, they may do what they will with the
city."

The Duke stood still, pale, and again gnawing his nails; and the
pikemen, finding the fight hard, gave back before the people; and the
people pressed on.

Then Peter the furrier came forward, and the hottest with him, and
mocked the pikemen; and one of the pikemen suddenly thrust Peter through
with his pike, and the fellow fell dead; on which a great cry of rage
rose from all the people, and they rushed on the pikemen again and slew
and were slain; and the fight rolled up the steps even to the very feet
of the Duke himself. And at last, able no longer to contend with all the
city, he cried, "Hold! I will restore the sacred bones!" But the people
would not trust him and one cried, "Bring out the lady here before us
and set her free, or we will burn the palace." And the Archbishop came
suddenly and threw himself on his knees before the Duke, beseeching him
that no more blood might be shed, but that the Lady Lucia should be set
free. And the Duke, now greatly afraid, sent hastily the Lieutenant of
the Guard and ten men, who came to the convent where Lucia was, and,
brooking no delay, carried her with them in her bedgown, and brought and
set her beside the Duke in the portico of the palace. Then the Duke
raised his hand to heaven, and before all the people he said, "Behold,
she is free! Let her go to her own house, and her estate shall be hers
again. And by my princely word and these same holy bones, I swear that
she shall not take the vows, neither will I constrain her to wed any
man." And when he had said this, he turned sharply round on his heel,
and, looking neither to the right nor to the left, went through the
great hall to his cabinet and shut the door. For his heart was very sore
that he must yield to Antonio's demand, and for himself he had rather a
thousand times that the bones of St. Prisian had been burnt.

Now when the Duke was gone, the people brought the Lady Lucia to her own
house, driving out the steward whom the Duke had set there, and, this
done, they came to the Archbishop, and would not suffer him to rest or
to delay one hour before he set forth to carry the Duke's promise to
Antonio. This the Archbishop was ready to do, for all that he was weary.
But first he sent Lorenzo to ask the Duke's pleasure; and Lorenzo,
coming to the Duke, prayed him to send two hundred pikes with the
Archbishop. "For," said he, "your Highness has sworn nothing concerning
what shall befall Antonio; and so soon as he has delivered up the bones,
I will set on him and bring him alive or dead to your Highness."

But the Duke would not hearken. "The fellow's name is like stale lees
of wine in my mouth," said he. "Ten of my pikemen lie dead in the
square, and more of the citizens. I will lose no more men over it."

"Yet how great a thing if we could take him!"

"I will take him at my own time and in my own way," said the Duke. "In
God's name, leave me now."

Lorenzo therefore got from the Duke leave for but ten men to go with the
Archbishop, and to go himself if he would. And thus they set out,
exhorted by the people, who followed them beyond the bounds of the city,
to make all speed. And when they were gone, the people came back and
took up the bodies of the dead; while the pikemen also took up the
bodies of such of their comrades as were slain.

Yet had Duke Valentine known what passed on the hills while the city was
in tumult, it may not be doubted, for all his vexation, that he would
have sent the two hundred whom Lorenzo asked: never had he a fairer
chance to take Antonio. For when the Count and those who had been with
him to Rilano were asleep, Antonio's head resting on the golden casket,
a shepherd came to the rest of the band and told them what had been done
and how all the country was in an uproar. Then a debate arose amongst
the band, for, though they were lawless men, yet they feared God, and
thought with great dread on what Antonio had sworn; so that presently
they came altogether, and aroused Antonio, and said to him, "My lord,
you have done much for us, and it may be that we have done somewhat for
you. But we will not suffer the sacred bones to be burnt and scattered
to the winds."

"Except the Duke yields, I have sworn it, as God lives," answered
Antonio.

"We care not. It shall not be, no, not though you and we die," said
they.

"It is well; I hear," said Antonio, bowing his head.

"In an hour," said they, "we will take the bones, if you will not
yourself, my lord, send them back."

"Again I hear," said Antonio, bowing his head; and the band went back to
the fire round which they had been sitting, all save Martolo, who came
and put his hand in Antonio's hand.

"How now, Martolo?" asked Antonio.

"What you will, I will, my lord," said Martolo. For though he trembled
when he thought of the bones of St. Prisian, yet he clung always to
Antonio. As for Bena and the others of the ten who had gone to Rilano,
they would now have burnt not the bones only, but the blessed saint
himself, had Antonio bidden them. Hard men, in truth, were they, and the
more reckless now, because no harm had come to them from the seizing of
the bones; moreover Antonio had given them good wine for supper, and
they drank well.

Now the rest of the band being gone back to their fire and the night
being very dark, in great silence and caution Antonio, Tommasino,
Martolo, Bena, and their fellows--being thirteen in all--rose from their
places, and taking naught with them but their swords (save that Antonio
carried the golden casket), they stole forth from the camp, and set
their faces to climb yet higher into the heights of the hills. None
spoke; one following another, they climbed the steep path that led up
the mountain side; and when they had been going for the space of an
hour, they heard a shout from far below them.

"Our flight is known," said Tommasino.

"Shall we stand and meet them, my lord?" asked Bena.

"Nay, not yet," said Antonio; and the thirteen went forward again at the
best speed they could.

Now they were in a deep gorge between lofty cliffs; and the gorge still
tended upwards; and at length they came to the place which is now named
"Antonio's Neck." There the rocks came nigh to meeting and utterly
barring the path; yet there is a way that one man, or at most two, may
pass through at one time. Along this narrow tongue they passed, and,
coming to the other side, found a level space on the edge of a great
precipice, and Antonio pointing over the precipice, they saw in the
light of the day, which now was dawning, the towers and spires of
Firmola very far away in the plain below.

"It is a better place for the fire than the other," said Antonio; and
Bena laughed, while Martolo shivered.

"Yet we risk being hindered by these fellows behind," said Tommasino.

"Nay, I think not," said Antonio.

Then he charged Tommasino and all of them to busy themselves in
collecting such dry sticks and brushwood as they could; and there was
abundance near, for the fir-trees grew even so high. And one of the men
also went and set a snare, and presently caught a wild goat, so that
they had meat. But Antonio took Bena and set him on one side of the way
where the neck opened out into the level space; and he stood on the
other side of the way himself. And when they stretched out their arms,
the point of Bena's sword reached the hilt of Antonio's. And Antonio
smiled, saying to Bena, "He had need to be a thin man, Bena, that passes
between you and me."

And Bena nodded his head at Count Antonio, answering, "Indeed this is as
strait as the way to heaven, my lord, and leads, as it seems to me, in
much the same direction."

Thus Antonio and Bena waited in the shelter of the rocks at the opening
of the neck, while the rest built up a great pile of wood. Then, having
roasted the meat, they made their breakfast, Martolo carrying portions
to Antonio and to Bena. And, their pursuers not knowing the path so well
and therefore moving less quickly, it was but three hours short of noon
when they heard the voices of men from the other side of the neck. And
Antonio cried straightway, "Come not through at your peril! Yet one may
come and speak with me."

Then a great fellow, whose name is variously given, though most of those
whom I have questioned call him Sancho, came through the neck, and,
reaching the end of it, found the crossed swords of Antonio and Bena
like a fence against his breast. And he saw also the great pile of wood,
and resting now on the top of it the golden casket that held the sacred
bones. And he said to Antonio, "My lord, we love you; but sooner than
that the bones should be burnt, we will kill you and all that are with
you."

But Antonio answered, "I also love you, Sancho; yet you and all your
company shall die sooner than my oath shall be broken."

"Your soul shall answer for it, my lord," said Sancho.

"You speak truly," answered Antonio.

Then Sancho went back through the neck and took counsel with his
fellows; and they made him their chief, and promised to be obedient to
all that he ordered. And he said, "Let two run at their highest speed
through the neck: it may be they will die, but the bones must be saved.
And after them, two more, and again two. And I will be of the first
two."

But they would not suffer him to be of the first two, although he
prevailed that he should be of the last two. And the six, being chosen,
drew their swords and with a cry rushed into the neck. Antonio, hearing
their feet, said to Bena, "A quick blow is as good as a slow, Bena." And
even as he spoke the first two came to the opening of the neck. But
Antonio and Bena struck at them before they came out of the narrowest
part or could wield their swords freely; and the second two coming on,
Bena struck at one and wounded him in the breast, and he wounded Bena
in the face over the right eye, and then Bena slew him; while Antonio
slew his man at his first stroke. And the fifth man and Sancho, the
sixth, coming on, Antonio cried loudly, "Are you mad, are you mad? We
could hold the neck against a hundred."

But they would not stop, and Antonio slew the fifth, and Bena was in the
act to strike at Sancho, but Antonio suddenly dashed Sancho's sword from
his hand, and caught him a mighty buffet, so that he fell sprawling on
the bodies of the five that were dead.

"Go back, fool, go back!" cried Antonio.

And Sancho, answering nothing, gathered himself up and went back; for he
perceived now that not with the loss of half of his men would he get by
Antonio and Bena; and beyond them stood Tommasino with ten whom he knew
to be of the stoutest of the band.

"It is a sore day's work, Bena," cried Antonio, looking at the dead
bodies.

"If a man be too great a fool to keep himself alive, my lord, he must
die," answered Bena; and he pushed the bodies a little further back
into the neck with his foot.

Then Sancho's company took counsel again; for, much as they reverenced
the sacred bones, there was none of them eager to enter the neck. Thus
they were at a loss, till the shepherd who had come along with them
spoke to Sancho, saying, "At the cost of a long journey you may come at
him; for there is a way round that I can lead you by. But you will not
traverse it in less than twelve or thirteen hours, taking necessary rest
by the way."

But Sancho, counting the time, cried, "It will serve! For although a
thousand came against him, yet the Count will not burn the bones before
the time of his oath."

Therefore he left fifteen men to hold the neck, in case Antonio should
offer to return back through it, and with the rest he followed the
shepherd in great stealth and quiet; by reason of which, and of the rock
between them, Antonio knew not what was done, but thought that the whole
company lay still on the other side of the neck.

Thus the day wore to evening as the Archbishop with the Lord Lorenzo and
the guards came to the spur of the hills; and here they found a man
waiting, who cried to them, "Do you bring the Duke's promise to the
Count Antonio?"

"Yes, we bring it," said they.

"I am charged," said he, "to lead the Archbishop and one other after the
Count." But since the Archbishop could not climb the hills, being old
and weary, Lorenzo constrained the man to take with him four of the
Guards besides; and the four bore the Archbishop along. Thus they were
led through the secret tracks in the hills, and these Lorenzo tried to
engrave on his memory, that he might come again. But the way was long
and devious, and it was hard to mark it. Thus going, they came to the
huts, and passing the huts, still climbed wearily till they arrived near
to the neck. It was then night, and, as they guessed, hard on the time
when Antonio had sworn to burn the sacred bones; therefore they pressed
on more and more, and came at last to the entrance of the neck. Here
they found the fifteen, and Lorenzo, running up, cried aloud, "We bring
the promise, we bring the promise!"

But scarcely had he spoken these words, when a sudden great shout came
from the other side of the neck; and Lorenzo, drawing his sword, rushed
into the neck, the fifteen following, yet leaving a space between him
and them, lest they should see him fall, pierced by Antonio and Bena.
And Lorenzo stumbled and fell over the five dead bodies which lay in the
way of the neck. Uttering a cry, "What are these?" he scrambled again to
his feet, and passed unhurt through the mouth of the neck, and the
fifteen followed after him, while the Guards supported the Archbishop in
their hands, his chair being too wide to pass through the neck. And when
thus they all came through, wild and strange was the sight they saw. For
it chanced that at the same time Sancho's company had completed their
circuit, and had burst from behind upon Antonio and the twelve. And when
the twelve saw them, they retreated to the great pile and made a ring
round it, and stood there ready to die rather than allow Sancho's men
to reach the pile. It was then midnight and the time of Count Antonio's
oath. Count Antonio stood on the top of the great pile; at his feet lay
the golden casket containing the sacred bones, and in his hand was a
torch. And he cried aloud, "Hold them, while I fire the pile!" and he
leapt down and came to the side of the pile and laid his torch to the
pile. And in an instant the flames shot up, for the pile was dry.

Now when Sancho's men saw the pile alight, with shouts of horror and of
terror they charged at the top of their speed against the twelve who
guarded the pile. And Lorenzo and his men also rushed; but the cries of
Sancho's company, together with the answering defiance of the twelve,
drowned the cries of Lorenzo; and Antonio and the twelve knew not that
Lorenzo was come. And the flames of the pile grew, and the highest
tongue of flame licked the side of the golden casket. But Antonio's
voice rose above all, as he stood, aye, almost within the ambit of the
fire, and cried, "Hold them a moment, Tommasino--a moment, Bena--and
the thing is done!" Then Lorenzo tore his casque from his head and flung
down his sword, and rushed unarmed between Antonio's men and Sancho's
men, shouting louder than he had thought ever to shout, "The promise!
the promise!" And at the same moment (so it is told, I but tell it as it
is told) there came from heaven a great flash of lightning, which,
aiding the glare of the flames, fully revealed the features of Lorenzo.
Back fell Sancho's men, and Antonio's arrested their swords. And then
they all cried as men cry in great joy, "The promise! the promise!" And
for a moment all stood still where they were. But the flames leapt
higher; and, as Antonio had said, they were seen by the great throng
that gazed from the city walls; and they were seen by Duke Valentine as
he watched from the wall of his garden by the river; and he went pale,
gnawing his nails.

Then the Count Antonio sprang on the burning pile, though it seemed that
no man could pass alive through it. Yet God was with him, and he gained
the top of it, and, stooping, seized the golden casket and flung it
down, clear of the pile, even at the Lord Lorenzo's feet; and when
Lorenzo sought to lift it, the heat of it blistered his hands, and he
cried out with pain. But Count Antonio, choked by the smoke, his hair
and his eyebrows scorched by the fire, staggered half-way down the pile
and there sank on his knees. And there he had died, but that Tommasino,
Bena, and Sancho, each eager to outstrip the other, rushed in and drew
him forth, and fetched water and gave it to him, so that he breathed
again and lived. But the flames leapt higher and higher; and they said
on the city walls, "God help us! God help us! The sacred bones are
burnt!" And women, aye, and men too, fell to weeping, and there was
great sorrow, fear, and desolation. And the Duke gnawed his nails even
to the quick, and spat the blood from his mouth, cursing Antonio.

But Lorenzo, having perceived that the greater number was against
Antonio, cried out to Sancho's men, "Seize him and bring him here!" For
the Duke's promise carried no safety to Antonio.

But Sancho answered him, "Now that the sacred bones are safe, we have no
quarrel with my lord Antonio;" and he and his men went and laid down
their swords by the feet of Antonio, where he lay on the ground, his
head on Tommasino's lap. So that the whole band were now round Antonio,
and Lorenzo had but four with him.

"He asks war!" growled Bena to Tommasino. "Shall he not have war, my
lord?"

And Tommasino laughed, answering, "Here is a drunkard of blood!"

But Count Antonio, raising himself, said, "Is the Archbishop here?"

Then Lorenzo went and brought the Archbishop, who, coming, stood before
Antonio, and rehearsed to him the oath that Duke Valentine had taken,
and told him how the Lady Lucia was already free and in her own house,
and made him aware also of the great tumult that had happened in the
city. And Antonio listened to his tale in silence.

Then the Archbishop raised a hand towards heaven and spoke in a solemn
and sad voice, "Behold, there are ten of the Duke's Guard dead in the
city, and there are twelve of the townsmen dead; and here, in the
opening of the neck, there lie dead five men of those who followed you,
my lord. Twenty-and-seven men are there that have died over this
business. I pray more have not died in the city since I set forth. And
for what has this been done, my lord? And more than the death of all
these is there. For these sacred bones have been foully and
irreligiously stolen and carried away, used with vile irreverence and
brought into imminent hazard of utter destruction: and had they been
destroyed and their ashes scattered to the four winds, according to your
blasphemous oath, I know not what would have befallen the country where
such an act was done. And for what has this been done, my lord? It has
been done that a proud and violent man may have his will, and that his
passion may be satisfied. Heavy indeed is the burden on your soul my
lord; yes, on your soul is the weight of sacrilege and of much blood."

The Archbishop ceased, and his hand dropped to his side. The flames on
the pile were burning low, and a stillness fell on all the company. But
at last Count Antonio rose to his feet and stood with his elbow on
Tommasino's shoulder, leaning on Tommasino. His face was weary and sad,
and he was very pale, save where in one spot the flame had scorched his
cheek to an angry red. And looking round on the Archbishop, and on the
Lord Lorenzo, and on them all, he answered sadly, "In truth, my Lord
Archbishop, my burden is heavy. For I am an outlaw, and excommunicated.
Twenty-and-seven men have died through my act, and I have used the
sacred bones foully, and brought them into imminent peril of total
destruction, according to my oath. All this is true, my lord. And yet I
know not. For Almighty God, whom all we, whether honest men or knaves,
men of law or lawless, humbly worship--Almighty God has His own scales,
my lord. And I know not which thing be in those scales the heavier; that
twenty-and-seven men should die, and that the bones of the blessed St.
Prisian should be brought in peril, aye, or should be utterly
destroyed; or again that one weak girl, who has no protection save in
the justice and pity of men, should be denied justice and bereft of
pity, and that no man should hearken to her weeping. Say, my lord--for
it is yours to teach and mine to learn--which of these things should God
count the greater sin? And for myself I have asked nothing; and for my
friends here, whom I love--yes, even those I have killed for my oath's
sake, I loved--I have dared to ask nothing. But I asked only that
justice should be done and mercy regarded. Where, my lord, is the
greater sin?"

But the Archbishop answered not a word to Count Antonio; but he and the
Lord Lorenzo came and lifted the golden casket, and, no man of Antonio's
company seeking to hinder them, they went back with it to the city and
showed it to the people; and after that the people had rejoiced greatly
that the sacred bones, which they had thought to be destroyed, were
safe, the Archbishop carried the golden casket back to the shrine in the
village of Rilano, where it rests till this day. But Count Antonio
buried the five men of his band whom he and Bena had slain, and with
the rest he abode still in the hills, while the Lady Lucia dwelt in her
own house in the city; and the Duke, honouring the oath which he had
sworn before all the people, did not seek to constrain her to wed any
man, and restored to her the estate that he had taken from her. Yet the
Duke hated Count Antonio the more for what he had done, and sought the
more eagerly how he might take him and put him to death.



CHAPTER VI.

COUNT ANTONIO AND THE HERMIT OF THE VAULT.


Among the stories concerning the Count Antonio which were told to me in
answer to my questioning (whereof I have rejected many as being no
better than idle tales), there was one that met me often and yet seemed
strange and impossible to believe; for it was said that he had during
the time of his outlawry once spent several days in the vault of the
Peschetti, and there suffered things that pass human understanding.

This vault lies near to the church of St. John the Theologian, in the
suburb of Baratesta, on the banks of the river; and the Peschetti had a
palace hard by, and were a family of high nobility, and allied by blood
to the house of Monte Velluto. But I could find no warrant for the
story of Antonio's sojourn in the vault, and although many insisted that
the tale was true, yet they could not tell how nor why the Count came to
be in the vault; until at length I chanced on an aged woman who had
heard the truth of the matter from her grandmother, and she made me
acquainted with the story, pouring on me a flood of garrulous gossip,
from which I have chosen as much as concerns the purpose. And here I set
it down; for I believe it to be true, and I would omit nothing that
touches the Count, so I can be sure that what I write is based on truth.

When Count Antonio had dwelt in the hills for the space of three years
and nine months, it chanced that Cesare, last of the Peschetti, died;
and he made a will on his death-bed whereby he bequeathed to Count
Antonio his lands and also a store of money, and many ornaments of gold,
and jewels; for Antonio's mother had been of the house of the Peschetti,
and Cesare loved Antonio, although he had not dared to give him
countenance for fear of the Duke's anger; yet, knowing himself to be
dying, he bequeathed everything to him, for the Duke's wrath could not
hurt a dead man. And so soon as he was dead, his steward Giuseppe sent
secretly and in haste to Antonio, saying, "My lord, you cannot take the
lands or the house; but, if you will be wise, come quickly and take the
money and the jewels; for I hear that His Highness the Duke, declaring
that an outlaw has no right and can inherit nothing, will send and seize
the treasure." Now Antonio, though grieved at the death of Cesare, was
glad to hear of the treasure; for he was often hard put to it to
maintain his company and those who depended on him for bread. So he
pondered anxiously how he might reach the palace of the Peschetti and
lay hands on the treasure and return safely; for at this time Duke
Valentine had posted above a hundred of his Guard in the plain, and this
troop watched all the approaches to the hills so that the band could not
ride forth in a body unless it were prepared to do battle with the
guards. Nor did Antonio desire to weaken the band, lest the guards,
learning that the bravest were away, should venture an attack.
Therefore he would not take Tommasino or Bena or any of the stoutest
with him; but he took four young men who had come to him from Firmola,
having fallen into the Duke's displeasure through brawling with his
guards. These he mounted on good horses, and, having made a circuit to
avoid the encampment in the plain, he came to Cesare's house on the day
before that appointed for the funeral. Giuseppe came to meet him, and
led him where the dead man lay, and, after the Count had gazed on his
face and kissed his forehead, they two went to the treasury, and
Giuseppe delivered the treasure to Antonio; and Antonio made him a
present of value and confirmed him in his stewardship, although it was
not likely that the Duke would suffer him to exercise any power,
inasmuch as His Highness had declared his intention of forfeiting the
estate into his own hand.

Now it chanced that one of the young men, being regaled with wine, drank
very freely, and began to talk loud and boastfully of his master's
achievements as the servants sat under the trees in front of the house;
and there was with them a certain tailor, a lame man, who had furnished
mourning garments for the funeral. The tailor, learning that Antonio was
come, said nothing, and seemed not to hear nor understand the drunken
youth's talk; but at an early moment he took his departure and
straightway hobbled as fast as his lame leg would let him to the Syndic
of Baratesta, a very busy and ambitious fellow, who longed greatly to
win the Duke's favour. And the tailor set the price of five pieces of
gold and the ordering of a new gown on the news he brought; and the
Syndic having agreed, the tailor cried, "Antonio of Monte Velluto is at
the house of the Peschetti, and his band is not with him. If you hasten,
you may catch him." At this the Syndic exulted very greatly; for the
Duke's Commissaries would not arrive to assume possession of the house
in his name till the morrow, by which time Antonio would be gone; and
the Syndic rubbed his hands, saying, "If I can take him my glory will be
great, and the gratitude of His Highness also." And he gathered together
all his constables, and hard upon twenty discharged soldiers who dwelt
in the town, and the fifteen men of the Duke's who were stationed at
Baratesta to gather His Highness's dues; and thus, with a force of about
fifty men, he set out in great haste for the house of the Peschetti, and
was almost come there, before a little boy ran to Giuseppe crying that
the Syndic and all the constables and many besides were coming to the
house. And Giuseppe, who had but three men-servants of an age to fight,
the other five being old (for Cesare had loved to keep those who served
him well, even when their power grew less than their will), and moreover
perceived that Antonio's four were young and untried, wrung his hands
and hastened to the Count with the news, saying, "Yet weak as we are, we
can die for you, my lord."

"Heaven forbid!" said Antonio, looking out of the window. "Are they all
townsmen that come with this Syndic?"

"Alas, no, my lord. There are certain of the Duke's men, and I see among
the rest men who have spent their days under arms, either in His
Highness's service or in Free Companies."

"Then," said Antonio, smiling, "unless I am to share Cesare's funeral, I
had best be gone. For I have seen too much fighting to be ashamed to run
away from it."

"But, my lord, they are at the gates."

"And is there no other gate?"

"None, my lord, save the little gate in the wall there; and see, the
Syndic has posted ten men there."

"And he will search the house?"

"I fear that he will, my lord. For he must have tidings of your coming."

"Then where is my horse?" said Count Antonio; and Giuseppe showed him
where the horse stood in the shadow of the portico. "Do not let the
Syndic know," added Antonio, "that the young men are of my company, and
send them away in safety."

"But what do you, my lord?" cried Giuseppe.

"What I have done before, Giuseppe. I ride for life," answered the
Count.

Then the Count, delaying no more, ran lightly down the stairs, leapt on
his horse, and, drawing his sword, rode forth from the portico; and he
was among the Syndic's company before they thought to see him; and he
struck right and left with his sword; and they fell back before him in
fear, yet striking at him as they shrank away; and he had come clean
off, but for one grizzly-haired fellow who had served much in Free
Companies and learnt cunning; for he stooped low, avoiding the sweep of
Antonio's sword, and stabbed the horse in its belly, and stood wiping
his knife and saying, "My legs are old. I have done my part. Do yours;
the horse will not go far." In truth the horse was wounded to death, and
its bowels protruded from the wound; and Antonio felt it falter and
stumble. Yet the gallant beast carried him for half a mile, and then he
sprang off, fearing it would fall under him as he sat and he be crushed
by it; and he drew his sword across its throat that it might not linger
in pain, and then ran on foot, hearing the cries of the Syndic's company
as it pressed on behind him. And thus, running, he came to the church of
St. John and to the vault of the Peschetti by it; two men were at work
preparing for Cesare's funeral, and the door of the vault was open.
Antonio hurled one man to the right and the other to the left, and
rushed into the vault; for his breath failed, and there was no chance
for his life were he overtaken in the open; and before the men regained
their feet, he pulled the door of the vault close and sank on his knee
inside, panting, and holding his sword in readiness to slay any who
entered. Then the Syndic and his company came and called on him to
surrender. And Antonio cried, "Come and take me." Then the Syndic bade
the workmen pull open the door; but Antonio held it with one hand
against them both. Yet at last they drew it a little open; and Antonio
lunged with his sword through the aperture and wounded the Syndic in the
leg, so that he stumbled backwards with an oath. And after that none was
willing to enter first, until the grizzly-haired fellow came up; but he,
seeing the aperture, rushed at it sword in hand, fearing no man, not
even Count Antonio. But he could not touch Antonio, and he also fell
back with a sore gash in his cheek; and Antonio laughed, saying, "Shall
I surrender, Syndic?"

Now the Syndic was very urgent in his desire to take Antonio, but his
men shook their heads, and he himself could not stand because of the
sword-thrust in his leg; and, instead of fighting, his company began to
tell of the wonderful deeds Antonio had done, and they grew no bolder by
this; and the grizzly-haired fellow mocked them, saying that he would go
again at the aperture if two more would attempt it with him; but none
offered. And the Syndic raged and rebuked them, but he could not hurt
them, being unable to stand on his feet; so that one said boldly, "Why
should we die? The Duke's Commissaries will be here to-morrow with a
company of the Guard. Let the Count stay in the vault till then. He is
in safe keeping; and when he sees the Guard he will surrender. It is
likely enough that a great lord like the Count would rather die than
give up his sword to the Syndic." Whereat the Syndic was very ill
pleased, but all the rest mighty well pleased; and, having heard this
counsel, they could by no means be persuaded to attack afresh, but they
let Antonio draw the door close again, being in truth glad to see the
last of his sword. Therefore the Syndic, having no choice, set twenty
to guard the entrance of the vault and prepared to depart. But he cried
to Antonio, again bidding him to surrender, for the Guard would come
to-morrow, and then at least he could not hope to resist.

"Aye, but to-morrow is to-morrow, Master Syndic," laughed Antonio. "Go,
get your leg dressed, and leave to-morrow till it dawn."

So the Syndic went home and the rest with him, leaving the twenty on
guard. And to this day, if a man hath more love for fighting than skill
in it, folk call him a Syndic of Baratesta.

Count Antonio, being thus left in the vault, and perceiving that he
would not be further molested that day, looked round; and though no
daylight reached the vault, he could see, for the workmen had set a lamp
there and it still burnt. Around him were the coffins of all the
Peschetti who had died in five hundred years; and the air was heavy and
stifling. Antonio took the lamp and walked round the vault, which was of
circular form; and he perceived one coffin standing upright against the
wall of the vault, as though there had been no room for it on the
shelves. Then he sat down again, and, being weary, leant his head
against the wall and soon slept; for a man whose conscience is easy and
whose head has sense in it may sleep as well in a vault as in a
bedchamber. Yet the air of the vault oppressed him, and he slept but
lightly and uneasily. And, if a proof be needed how legends gather round
the Count's name, I have heard many wonderful stories of what happened
to him in the vault; how he held converse with dead Peschetti, how they
told him things which it is not given to men to know, and how a certain
beautiful lady, who had been dead two hundred years, having been slain
by her lover in a jealous rage, came forth from the coffin, with her
hair all dishevelled and a great wound yet bleeding in her bosom, and
sang a low sweet wild love-song to him as he lay, and would not leave
him though he bade her soul rest in the name of Christ and the Saints.
But that any of these things happened I do not believe.

It was late when the Count awoke, and the lamp had burnt out, so that
the vault was utterly dark. And as the Count roused himself, a sound
strange in the place fell on his ear; for a man talked, and his talk was
not such as one uses who speaks aloud his own musings to himself when he
is alone (a trick men come by who live solitary), but he seemed to
question others and to answer them, saying, "Aye," and "No," and "Alas,
sweet friend!" and so forth, all in a low even voice; and now and again
he would sigh, and once he laughed bitterly. Then the Count raised his
voice, "Who is there?" And the other voice answered, "Which of you
speaks? The tones are not known to me. Yet I know all the Peschetti who
are here." And Antonio answered, "I am not of the Peschetti save by my
mother; my name is Antonio of Monte Velluto." On this a cry came from
the darkness, as of a man greatly troubled and alarmed; and after that
there was silence for a space. And Antonio said, "There is naught to
fear; I seek to save myself, not to hurt another. But how do you, a
living man, come to be in this vault, and with whom do you speak?" Then
came the sound of steel striking on a flint, and presently a spark, and
a torch was lighted; and Antonio beheld before him, in the glow of the
torch, the figure of a man who crouched on the floor of the vault over
against him; his hair was long and tangled, his beard grew to his waist,
and he was naked save for a cloth about his loins; and his eyes gleamed
dark and wild as he gazed on Antonio in seeming fright and bewilderment.
Then the Count, knowing that a man collects his thoughts while another
speaks, told the man who he was and how he came there, and (because the
man's eyes still wondered) how that he was an outlaw these three years
and more because he would not bow to the Duke's will: and when he had
told all, he ceased. Then the man came crawling closer to him, and,
holding the torch to his face, scanned his face, saying, "Surely he is
alive!" And again he was silent, but after a while he spoke.

"For twenty-and-three years," he said, "I have dwelt here among the
dead; and to the dead I talk, and they are my friends and companions.
For I hear their voices, and they come out of their coffins and greet
me; yet now they are silent and still because you are here."

"But how can you live here?" cried Antonio. "For you must starve for
lack of food, and come near to suffocation in the air of this vault."

The man set his hand to his brow and frowned, and said sadly, "Indeed I
have forgotten much, yet I remember a certain night when the Devil came
into me, and in black fury and jealousy I laid wait by the door of the
room where my wife was; and we had been wedded but a few months. There
was a man who was my friend, and he came to my wife secretly, seeking to
warn her that I was suspected of treason to the Prince: yes, in all
things he was my friend; for when I stabbed him as he came to the door,
and, rushing in, stabbed her also, she did not die till she had told me
all; and then she smiled sweetly at me, saying, "Our friend will
forgive, dear husband, for you did not know; and I forgive the blow your
love dealt me: kiss me and let me die here in your arms." And I kissed
her, and she died. Then I laid her on her bed, and I went forth from my
home; and I wandered many days. Then I sought to kill myself, but I
could not, for a voice seemed to say, 'What penitence is there in
death? Lo, it is sweet, Paolo!' So I did not kill myself; but I took an
oath to live apart from men till God should in His mercy send me death.
And coming in my wanderings to the river that runs by Baratesta, I found
a little hollow in the bank of the river, and I lay down there; and none
pursued me, for the Duke of Firmola cared not for a crime done in
Mantivoglia. And for a year I dwelt in my little cave: then it was
noised about that I dwelt there, and fools began to call me, who was the
vilest sinner born, a holy hermit, and they came to me to ask prayers.
So I begged from one a pick, and I worked on the face of the rock, and
made a passage through it. And I swore to look no more on the light of
the sun, but abode in the recesses that I had hollowed out. And I go no
more to the mouth of the cave, save once a day at nightfall, when I
drink of the water of the river and take the broken meats they leave for
me."

"But here--how came you here?" cried Antonio.

"I broke through one day by chance, as I worked on the rock; and, seeing
the vault, I made a passage with much labour; and having done this, I
hid it with a coffin; and now I dwell here with the dead, expecting the
time when in God's mercy I also shall be allowed to die. But to-day I
fled back through the passage, for men came and opened the vault and let
in the sunshine, which I might not see. Pray for me, sir; I have need of
prayers."

"Now God comfort you," said Count Antonio softly. "Of a truth, sir, a
man who knows his sin and grieves for it in his heart hath in God's eyes
no longer any sin. So is it sweetly taught in the most Holy Scriptures.
Therefore take comfort; for your friend will forgive even as the gentle
lady who loved you forgave; and Christ has no less forgiveness than
they."

"I know not," said the hermit, groaning heavily. "I question the dead
who lie here concerning these things, but they may not tell me."

"Indeed, poor man, they can tell nothing," said Antonio gently; for he
perceived that the man was subject to a madness and deluded by fancied
visions and voices.

"Yet I love to talk to them of the time when I also shall be dead."

"God comfort you," said Count Antonio again.

Now while Antonio and the hermit talked, one of those who guarded the
vault chanced to lay his ear against the door, listening whether Antonio
moved, and he heard, to his great dread and consternation, the voice of
another who talked with Antonio: most of what was said he did not hear,
but he heard Antonio say, "God comfort you," and the hermit answer
something and groan heavily. And the legs of the listener shook under
him, and he cried to his comrades that the dead talked with Antonio, he
himself being from fright more dead than alive. Then all came and
listened; and still the voice of another talked with Antonio; so that
the guards were struck with terror and looked in one another's faces,
saying, "The dead speak! The Count speaks with the dead! Christ and the
Blessed Mother of Christ and the Saints protect us!" And they looked
neither to right nor left, but sat quaking on the ground about the door
of the vault; and presently one ran and told the Syndic, and he caused
himself to be carried thither in his chair; and he also heard, and was
very greatly afraid, saying, "This Antonio of Monte Velluto is a fearful
man." And the report spread throughout Baratesta that Count Antonio
talked with the dead in the vault of the Peschetti; whence came, I doubt
not, the foolish tales of which I have made mention. A seed is enough:
men's tongues water it and it grows to a great plant. Nor did any man
think that it was the hermit who talked; for although they knew of his
cave, they did not know nor imagine of the passage he had made, and his
voice was utterly strange, seeing that he had spoken no word to any
living man for twenty years, till he spoke with the Count that night.
Therefore the whole of Baratesta was in great fear; and they came to a
certain learned priest, who was priest of the church of St. John, and
told him. And he arose and came in great haste, and offered prayers
outside the vault, and bade the unquiet spirits rest; but he did not
offer to enter, nor did any one of them; but they all said, "We had
determined even before to await the Duke's Guard, and that is still the
wiser thing."

For a great while the hermit could not understand what Antonio wanted of
him; for his thoughts were on his own state and with the dead; but at
length having understood that Antonio would be guided through the
passage and brought to the mouth of the cave, in the hope of finding
means to escape before the Duke's Commissaries came with the Guard, he
murmured wonderingly, "Do you then desire to live?" and rose, and led
Antonio where the coffin stood upright against the wall as Antonio had
seen it; but it was now moved a little to one side, and there was a
narrow opening, through which the Count had much ado to pass; and in his
struggles he upset the coffin, and it fell with a great crash; whereat
all who were outside the vault fled suddenly to a distance of a hundred
yards or more in panic, expecting now to see the door of the vault open
and the dead walk forth: nor could they be persuaded to come nearer
again. But Antonio, with a great effort, made his way through the
opening, and followed the hermit along a narrow rough-hewn way,
Antonio's shoulders grazing the rock on either side as he went; and
having pursued this way for fifteen or twenty paces, they turned to the
right sharply, and went on another ten paces, and, having passed through
another narrow opening, were in the cave; and the river glistened before
their eyes, for it was now dawn. And the hermit, perceiving that it was
dawn, and fearing to see the sun, turned to flee back to the vault; but
Antonio, being full of pity for him, detained him, and besought him to
abandon his manner of life, assuring him that certainly by now his sin
was purged: and when the hermit would not listen, Antonio followed him
back to the opening that led into the vault, and, forgetting his own
peril, reasoned with him for the space of an hour or more, but could not
prevail. So at last he bade him farewell very sorrowfully, telling him
that God had made him that day the instrument of saving a man's life,
which should be to him a sign of favour and forgiveness; but the hermit
shook his head and passed into the vault, and Antonio heard him again
talking to the dead Peschetti, and answering questions that his own
disordered brain invented.

Thus it was full morning when Antonio came again to the little cave by
the river, and bethought him what he should do for his own safety. And
suddenly, looking across the river, he beheld a gentleman whom he knew,
one Lepardo, a Commissary of the Duke's, and with him thirty of the
Duke's Guard; and they were riding very fast; for, having started at
midnight to avoid the heat of the sun (it being high summer), so soon as
they reached the outskirts of Baratesta, they had heard that Antonio was
in the vault, and were now pressing on to cross the bridge and come upon
him. And Antonio knew that Lepardo was a man of courage and hardihood,
and would be prevented by nothing from entering the vault. But on a
sudden Lepardo checked his horse, uttering a loud cry; for to his great
amazement he had seen Antonio as Antonio looked forth from the cave,
and he could not tell how he came to be there: and Antonio at once
withdrew himself into the shadow of the cave. Now the banks of the
stream on the side on which Lepardo rode were high and precipitous, and,
although it was summer, yet the stream was too deep for him to wade, and
flowed quickly; yet at Lepardo's bidding, six of his stoutest men
prepared to leap down the bank and go in search of Antonio; and Antonio,
discerning that they would do this, and blaming himself for his rashness
in looking out so incautiously, was greatly at a loss what to do; for
now he was hemmed in on either side; and he saw nothing but to sell his
life dearly and do some deed that should ornament his death. So he
retreated again along the passage and passed through the opening into
the vault; and he summoned the hermit to aid him, and between them they
set not one only, but a dozen of the coffins of the Peschetti against
the opening, laying them lengthwise and piling one on the top of the
other hoping that Lepardo's men would not discover the opening, or
would at least be delayed some time before they could thrust away the
coffins and come through. Then Antonio took his place by the gate of the
vault again, sword in hand, saying grimly to the hermit, "If you seek
Death, sir, he will be hereabouts before long."

But the Count Antonio was not a man whom his friends would abandon to
death unaided; and while the Syndic was watching Antonio, the four young
men who were with the Count made their escape from Cesare's house; and,
having separated from one another, rode by four different ways towards
the hills, using much wariness. Yet three of them were caught by the
Duke's company that watched in the plain, and, having been soundly
flogged, were set to work as servants in the camp. But the fourth came
safe to the hills, and found there Tommasino and Bena; and Tommasino,
hearing of Antonio's state, started with Bena and eighteen more to
rescue him or die with him. And they fell in with a scouting party of
the Duke's, and slew every man of them to the number of five, losing two
of their own number; but thus they escaped, there being none left to
carry news to the camp; and they rode furiously, and, by the time they
came near Baratesta, they were not more than a mile behind Lepardo's
company. But Lepardo, when he had detached the six men to watch Antonio,
rode on hastily to find the Syndic, and learn from him the meaning of
what he had seen; and thus Tommasino, coming opposite to the mouth of
the hermit's cave, saw no more than six horses tethered on the river
bank, having the Duke's escutcheon wrought on their saddle-cloths. Then
he leapt down, and, running to the edge of the bank, saw a man
disappearing into the mouth of the cave, dripping wet; and this man was
the last of the six who had swum the river, and were now groping their
way with great caution along the narrow track that the hermit had made.
Now Tommasino understood no more than Lepardo that there was any opening
from the cave to the vault, but he thought that the Duke's men did not
swim the river for their pleasure, and he bade Bena take five and watch
what should happen, while he rode on with the rest.

"If they come out again immediately," he said, "you will have them at a
disadvantage; but if they do not come out, go in after them; for I know
not what they are doing unless they are seeking my cousin or laying some
trap for him."

Then Tommasino rode after Lepardo; and Bena, having given the Duke's men
but the briefest space in which to come out again from the cave,
prepared to go after them. And the Duke's men were now much alarmed; for
the last man told them of the armed men on the bank opposite, and that
they did not wear the Duke's badge; so the six retreated up the passage
very silently, but they could not find any opening, for it grew darker
at every step, and they became much out of heart. Then Bena's men
crossed the river and entered the mouth of the cave after them. Thus
there was fair likelihood of good fighting both in the passage and by
the gate of the vault.

But the Count Antonio, not knowing that any of his band were near, had
ceased to hope for his life, and he sat calm and ready, sword in hand,
while the hermit withdrew to a corner of the vault, and crouched there
muttering his mad answers and questions, and ever and again hailing some
one of the dead Peschetti by name as though he saw him. Then suddenly a
coffin fell with a loud crash from the top of the heap on to the floor;
for the Duke's men had found the opening and were pushing at it with
hand and shoulder. Antonio sprang to his feet and left the gate and went
and stood ready by the pile of coffins. But again on a sudden came a
tumult from beyond the opening; for Bena and his five also were now in
the passage, and the foremost of them--who indeed was Bena himself--had
come upon the hindmost of the Duke's men, and the six, finding an enemy
behind them, pushed yet more fiercely and strenuously against the
coffins. And no man in the passage saw any man, it being utterly dark;
and they could not use their swords for lack of space, but drew their
daggers and thrust fiercely when they felt a man's body near. So in the
dark they pushed and wrestled and struggled and stabbed, and the sound
of their tumult filled all the vault and spread beyond, being heard
outside; and many outside crossed themselves for fear, saying, "Hell is
broke loose! God save us!" But at that moment came Lepardo and his
company; and he, having leapt from his horse and heard from the Syndic
that Antonio was in very truth in the vault, drew his sword and came at
the head of his men to the door; and hearing the tumult from within, he
cried in scorn, "These are no ghosts!" and himself with his boldest
rushed at the door, and they laid hold on the handles of it and wrenched
it open. But Antonio, perceiving that the door was wrenched open, and
not yet understanding that any of his friends were near, suddenly flung
himself prone on the floor by the wall of the vault, behind two of the
coffins which the efforts of the Duke's men had dislodged; and there he
lay hidden; so that Lepardo, when he rushed in, saw no man, for the
corner where the hermit crouched was dark; but the voice of the madman
came, saying, "Welcome! Do you bring me another of the Peschetti? He is
welcome!" Then the Duke's men, having pushed aside all the coffins save
one, came tumbling and scrambling over into the vault, where they found
Lepardo and his followers; and hot on their heels came Bena and his
five, so that the vault was full of men. And now from outside also came
the clatter of hoofs and hoarse cries and the clash of steel; for
Tommasino had come, and had fallen with great fury on those of Lepardo's
men who were outside and on the Syndic's levies that watched from afar
off. And fierce was the battle outside; yet it was fiercer inside, where
men fought in a half-light, scarcely knowing with whom they fought, and
tripping hither and thither over the coffins of the Peschetti that were
strewn about the floor.

Then the Count Antonio arose from where he lay and he cried aloud, "To
me, to me! To me, Antonio of Monte Velluto!" and he rushed to the
entrance of the vault. Bena, hailing the Count's voice, and cutting down
one who barred the way, ran to Antonio in great joy to find him alive
and whole. And Antonio came at Lepardo, who stood his onset bravely,
although greatly bewildered to find a party of Antonio's men where he
had looked for Antonio alone. And he cried to his men to rally round
him, and, keeping his face and his blade towards the Count, began to
fall back towards the mouth of the vault, in order to rejoin his men
outside; for there also he perceived that there was an enemy. Thus
Lepardo fell back, and Antonio pressed on. But, unnoticed by any, the
mad hermit now sprang forth from the corner where he had been; and, as
Antonio was about to thrust at Lepardo, the hermit caught him by the
arm, and with the strength of frenzy drew him back, and thrust himself
forward, running even on the point of Lepardo's sword that was ready for
Count Antonio; and the sword of Lepardo passed through the breast of the
hermit of the vault, and protruded behind his back between his
shoulders; and he fell prone on the floor of the vault, crying
exultantly, "Death! Thanks be to God, death!" And then and there he died
of the thrust that Lepardo gave him. But Antonio with Bena and three
more--for two of Bena's five were slain--drove Lepardo and his men back
before them, and thus won their way to the gate of the vault, where, to
their joy, they found that Tommasino more than held his own; for he had
scattered Lepardo's men, and the Syndic's were in full flight, save
eight or ten of the old soldiers who had served in Free Companies; and
these stood in a group, their swords in their right hands and daggers in
the left, determined to die dearly; and the grizzly-haired fellow who
had killed Antonio's horse had assumed command of them.

"Here are some fellows worth fighting, my lord," said Bena to Tommasino
joyfully. "Let us meet them, my lord, man for man, an equal number of
us." For although Bena had killed one man and maimed another in the
vault, he saw no reason for staying his hand.

"Aye, Bena," laughed Tommasino. "These fellows deserve to die at the
hands of men like us."

But while they prepared to attack, Antonio cried suddenly, "Let them be!
There are enough men dead over this matter of Cesare's treasure." And he
compelled Tommasino and Bena to come with him, although they were very
reluctant; and they seized horses that had belonged to Lepardo's men;
and, one of Tommasino's men also being dead, Bena took his horse. Then
Antonio said to the men of the Free Companies, "What is your quarrel
with me? I do but take what is mine. Go in peace. This Syndic is no
master of yours." But the men shook their heads and stood their ground.
Then Antonio turned and rode to the entrance of the vault where his band
was now besieging Lepardo, and he cried to Lepardo, "Confer with me,
sir. You can come forth safely." And Lepardo came out from the vault,
having lost there no fewer than five men, and having others wounded; and
he was himself wounded in his right arm and could not hold his sword.
Then the Count said to him, "Sir, it is no shame for a man to yield when
fortune is against him. And I trust that I am one to whom a gentleman
may yield without shame. See, the Syndic's men are fled, and yours are
scattered, and these men, who stand bravely together, are not enough to
resist me."

And Lepardo answered sadly--for he was very sorry that he had failed to
take Antonio--"Indeed, my lord, we are worsted. For we are not ten men
against one, as I think they should be who seek to overcome my lord
Antonio."

To this Antonio bowed most courteously, saying, "Nay, it is rather
fortune, sir."

And Lepardo said, "Yet we can die, in case you put unseemly conditions
on us, my lord."

"There is no condition save that you fight no more against me to-day,"
said Antonio.

"So let it be, my lord," said Lepardo; and to this the men of the Free
Companies also agreed, and they mingled with Antonio's band, and two of
them joined themselves to Antonio that day, and were with him
henceforward, one being afterwards slain on Mount Agnino, and the other
preserving his life through all the perils that beset the Count's
company.

Then Antonio went back to the house of Cesare, and brought forth the
body of Cesare, and, having come to the vault, he caused those who had
been slain to be carried out, and set the coffins again in decent order,
and laid Cesare, the last of the house, there. But when the corpse of
the hermit was brought out, all marvelled very greatly, and had much
compassion for him when they heard from the lips of Count Antonio his
pitiful story; and Antonio bestowed out of the moneys that he had from
Cesare a large sum that masses might be said for the soul of the hermit.
"For of a surety," said the Count, "it was Heaven's will that through
his misfortune and the strange madness that came upon him my life should
be saved."

These things done, Antonio gathered his band, and, having taken farewell
of Lepardo and commended him for the valour of his struggle, prepared to
ride back to the hills. And his face was grave, for he was considering
earnestly how he should escape the hundred men who lay watching for him
in the plain. But while he considered, Tommasino came to him and said,
"All Baratesta is ours, cousin. Cannot we get a change of coat, and thus
ride with less notice from the Duke's camp?" And Antonio laughed also,
and they sent and caught twenty men of Baratesta, grave merchants and
petty traders, and among them Bena laid hold of the Syndic, and brought
him in his chair to Antonio; and the Count said to the Syndic, "It is
ill meddling with the affairs of better men, Master Syndic. Off with
that gown of yours!"

And they stripped the Syndic of his gown, and Antonio put on the gown.
Thus the Syndic had need very speedily of the new gown which he had
contracted to purchase of the lame tailor as the price of the tailor's
information. And all Antonio's men clothed themselves like merchants and
traders, Antonio in the Syndic's gown taking his place at their head;
and thus soberly attired, they rode out soberly from Baratesta, neither
Lepardo nor any of his men being able to restrain themselves from
laughter to see them go; and most strange of all was Bena, who wore an
old man's gown of red cloth trimmed with fur.

It was now noon, and the band rode slowly, for the sun was very hot, and
several times they paused to take shelter under clumps of trees, so that
the afternoon waned before they came in sight of the Duke's encampment.
Soon then they were seen in their turn; and a young officer of the
Guard with three men came pricking towards them to learn their business;
and Antonio hunched the Syndic's gown about his neck and pulled his cap
down over his eyes, and thus received the officer. And the officer was
deluded and did not know him, but said, "Is there news, Syndic?"

"Yes, there is news," said Antonio. "The hermit of the vault of the
Peschetti is dead at Baratesta."

"I know naught of him," said the officer.

By this time Antonio's men had all crowded round the officer and his
companions, hemming them in on every side; and those that watched from
the Duke's camp saw the merchants and traders flocking round the
officer, and said to themselves, "They are offering wares to him." But
Antonio said, "How, sir? You have never heard of the hermit of the
vault?"

"I have not, Syndic," said the officer.

"He was a man, sir," said Antonio, "who dwelt with the dead in a vault,
and was so enamoured of death, that he greeted it as a man greets a dear
friend who has tarried overlong in coming."

"In truth, a strange mood!" cried the officer. "I think this hermit was
mad."

"I also think so," said Antonio.

"I cannot doubt of it," cried the officer.

"Then, sir, you are not of his mind?" asked Antonio, smiling. "You would
not sleep this night with the dead, nor hold out your hands to death as
to a dear friend?"

"By St. Prisian, no," said the young officer with a laugh. "For this
world is well enough, Syndic, and I have sundry trifling sins that I
would be quit of, before I face another."

"If that be so, sir," said Antonio, "return to him who sent you, and say
that the Syndic of Baratesta rides here with a company of friends and
that his business is lawful and open to no suspicion." And even as
Antonio spoke, every man drew his dagger, and there were three daggers
at the heart of the officer and three at the heart of each of the men
with him. "For by saying this," continued the Count, fixing his eyes on
the officer, "and by no other means can you escape immediate death."

Then the officer looked to right and left, being very much bewildered;
but Tommasino touched him on the arm and said, "You have fallen, sir,
into the hands of the Count Antonio. Take an oath to do as he bids you,
and save your life." And Antonio took off the Syndic's cap and showed
his face; and Bena rolled up the sleeve of his old man's gown and showed
the muscles of his arm.

"The Count Antonio!" cried the officer and his men in great dismay.

"Yes; and we are four to one," said Tommasino. "You have no choice, sir,
between the oath and immediate death. And it seems to me that you are
indeed not of the mind of the hermit of the vault."

But the officer cried, "My honour will not suffer this oath, my lord."
And, hearing this, Bena advanced his dagger.

But Antonio smiled again and said, "Then I will not force it on you,
sir. But this much I must force on you--to swear to abide here for
half-an-hour, and during that time to send no word and make no sign to
your camp."

To this the officer, having no choice between it and death, agreed; and
Antonio, leaving him, rode forward softly; and, riding softly, he passed
within half-a-mile of the Duke's encampment. But at this moment the
officer, seeing Antonio far away, broke his oath, and shouted loudly,
"It is Antonio of Monte Velluto;" and set spurs to his horse. Then
Antonio's brow grew dark and he said, "Ride on swiftly, all of you, to
the hills, and leave me here."

"My lord!" said Tommasino, beseeching him.

"Ride on!" said Antonio sternly. "Ride at a gallop. You will draw them
off from me."

And they dared not disobey him, but all rode on. And now there was a
stir in the Duke's camp, men running for their arms and their horses.
But Antonio's band set themselves to a gallop, making straight for the
hills; and the commander of the Duke's Guard did not know what to make
of the matter; for he had heard the officer cry "Antonio," but did not
understand what he meant; therefore there was a short delay before the
pursuit after the band was afoot; and the band thus gained an advantage,
and Antonio turned away, saying, "It is enough. They will come safe to
the hills."

But he himself drew his sword and set spurs to his horse, and he rode
towards where the young officer was. And at first the officer came
boldly to meet him; then he wavered, and his cheek went pale; and he
said to the men who rode with him, "We are four to one."

But one of them answered, "Four to two, sir."

"What do you mean?" cried the officer. "I see none coming towards us but
Count Antonio himself."

"Is not God also against oath-breakers?" said the fellow, and he looked
at his comrades. And they nodded their heads to him; for they were
afraid to fight by the side of a man who had broken his oath. Moreover
the figure of the Count was very terrible; and the three turned aside
and left the young officer alone.

Now by this time the whole of the Duke's encampment was astir; but they
followed not after Antonio, but after Tommasino and the rest of the
band; for they did not know Antonio in the Syndic's gown. Thus the
young officer was left alone to meet Antonio; and when he saw this his
heart failed him and his courage sank, and he dared not await Antonio,
but he turned and set spurs to his horse, and fled away from Antonio
across the plain. And Antonio pursued after him, and was now very near
upon him; so that the officer saw that he would soon be overtaken, and
the reins fell from his hand and he sat on his horse like a man smitten
with a palsy, shaking and trembling: and his horse, being unguided,
stumbled as it went, and the officer fell off from it; and he lay very
still on the ground. Then Count Antonio came up where the officer was,
and sat on his horse, holding his drawn sword in his hand; and in an
instant the officer began to raise himself; and, when he stood up, he
saw Antonio with his sword drawn. And Antonio said, "Shall men without
honour live?"

Then the officer gazed into the eyes of the Count Antonio; and the sweat
burst forth on his forehead. A sudden strange choking cry came from him;
he dropped his sword from his hand, and with both hands he suddenly
clasped his heart, uttering now a great cry of pain and having his face
wrung with agony. Thus he stood for an instant, clutching his heart with
both his hands, his mouth twisted fearfully, and then he dropped on to
the ground and lay still. And the Count Antonio sheathed his sword, and
bared his head, saying, "It is not my sword, but God's."

And he turned and put his horse to a gallop and rode away, not seeking
to pass the Duke's encampment, but directing his way towards the village
of Rilano; and there he found shelter in the house of a friend for some
hours, and when night fell, made his way safely back to the hills, and
found that the Duke's men had abandoned the pursuit of his company and
that all of them were alive and safe.

But when they came to take up the young officer who had been false to
his oath, he was dead; whether from fright at the aspect of Count
Antonio and the imminent doom with which he was threatened, or by some
immediate judgment of Heaven, I know not. For very various are the
dealings of God with man. For one crime He will slay and tarry not, and
so, perchance, was it meted out to that officer; but with another man
His way is different, and He suffers him to live long days, mindful of
his sin, in self-hatred and self-scorn, and will not send him the relief
of death, how much soever the wretch may pray for it. Thus it was that
God dealt with the hermit of the vault of the Peschetti, who did not
find death till he had sought it for twenty-and-three years. I doubt not
that in all there is purpose; even as was shown in the manner wherein
the hermit, being himself bound and tied to a miserable life, was an
instrument in saving the life of Count Antonio.



CHAPTER VII.

COUNT ANTONIO AND THE LADY OF RILANO.


From the lips of Tommasino himself, who was cousin to Count Antonio,
greatly loved by him, and partaker of all his enterprises during the
time of his sojourn as an outlaw in the hills, this, the story of the
Lady of Rilano, came to my venerable brother in Christ, Niccolo; and the
same Niccolo, being a very old man, told it to me, so that I know that
the story is true and every part of it, and tread here not on the
doubtful ground of legend, but on the firm rock of the word of honest
men. There is indeed one thing doubtful, Tommasino himself being unable
to know the verity of it; yet that one thing is of small moment, for it
is no more than whether the lady came first to Duke Valentine, offering
her aid, or whether the Duke, who since the affair of the sacred bones
had been ever active in laying schemes against Antonio, cast his eyes on
the lady, and, perceiving that she was very fair and likely to serve his
turn, sent for her, and persuaded her by gifts and by the promise of a
great marriage to take the task in hand.

Be that as it may, it is certain that in the fourth year of Count
Antonio's outlawry, the Lady Venusta came from Rilano, where she dwelt,
and talked alone with the Duke in his cabinet; so that men (and women
with greater urgency) asked what His Highness did to take such a one
into his counsels; for he had himself forbidden her to live in the city
and constrained her to abide in her house at Rilano, by reason of
reports touching her fair fame. Nor did she then stay in Firmola, but,
having had audience of the Duke, returned straightway to Rilano, and for
the space of three weeks rested there; and the Duke told nothing to his
lords of what had passed between him and the lady, while the Count
Antonio and his friends knew not so much as that the Duke had held
conference with the lady; for great penalties had been decreed against
any man who sent word to Antonio of what passed in Firmola, and the
pikemen kept strict guard on all who left or entered the city, so that
it was rather like a town besieged than the chief place of a peaceful
realm.

Now at this time, considering that his hiding-place was too well known
to the Lord Lorenzo and certain of the Duke's Guard, Count Antonio
descended from the hills by night, and, having crossed the plain,
carrying all his equipment with him, mounted again into the heights of
Mount Agnino and pitched his camp in and about a certain cave, which is
protected on two sides by high rocks and on the third by the steep banks
of a river, and can be approached by one path only. This cave was known
to the Duke, but he could not force it without great loss, so that
Antonio was well nigh as safe as when his hiding-place had been unknown;
and yet he was nearer by half to the city, and but seven miles as a bird
flies from the village of Rilano where the Lady Venusta dwelt; although
to one who travelled by the only path that a man could go upright on
his feet the distance was hard on eleven miles. But no other place was
so near, and from Rilano Antonio drew the better part of the provisions
and stores of which he had need, procuring them secretly from the
people, who were very strictly enjoined by the Duke to furnish him with
nothing under pain of forfeiture of all their goods.

Yet one day, when the man they called Bena and a dozen more rode in the
evening through Rilano, returning towards the cave, the maid-servant of
Venusta met them, and, with her, men bearing a great cask of fine wine,
and the maid-servant said to Bena, "My mistress bids you drink; for good
men should not suffer thirst."

But Bena answered her, asking, "Do you know who we are?"

"Aye, I know, and my lady knows," said the girl. "But my lady says that
if she must live at Rilano, then she will do what she pleases in
Rilano."

Bena and his men looked at one another, for they knew of His Highness's
proclamation, but the day having been hot, they being weary, the wine
seeming good, and a woman knowing her own business best, at last they
drank heartily, and, rendering much thanks, rode on and told Tommasino
what had been done. And Tommasino having told Antonio, the Count was
angry with Bena, saying that his gluttony would bring trouble on the
Lady Venusta.

"She should not tempt a man," said Bena sullenly.

All these things happened on the second day of the week; and on the
fourth, towards evening, as Antonio and Tommasino sat in front of the
cave, they saw coming towards them one of the band named Luigi, a big
fellow who had done good service and was also a merry jovial man that
took the lead in good-fellowship. And in his arms Luigi bore the Lady
Venusta. Her gown was dishevelled and torn, and the velvet shoes on
her feet were cut almost to shreds, and she lay back in Luigi's
arms, pale and exhausted. Luigi came and set her down gently before
Antonio, saying, "My lord, three miles from here, in the steepest and
roughest part of the way, I found this lady sunk on the ground and
half-swooning: when I raised her and asked how she came where she was,
and in such a plight, she could answer nothing save, 'Count Antonio!
Carry me to Count Antonio!' So I have brought her in obedience to her
request."

As Luigi ended, Venusta opened her eyes, and, rising to her knees, held
out her hands in supplication, saying, "Protect me, my lord, protect me.
For the Duke has sent me word that to-morrow night he will burn my house
and all that it holds, and will take me and lodge me in prison, and so
use me there that I may know what befalls those who give aid to
traitors. And all this comes upon me, my lord, because I gave a draught
of wine to your men when they were thirsty."

"I feared this thing," said Antonio, "and deeply I grieve at it. But I
am loth to go in open war against the Duke; moreover in the plain he
would be too strong for me. What then can I do? For here is no place in
which a lady, the more if she be alone and unattended, can be lodged
with seemliness."

"If the choice be between this and a prison----" said Venusta with a
faint sorrowful smile.

"Yet it might be that I could convey you beyond His Highness's power,"
pursued Antonio. "But I fear you could not travel far to-night."

"Indeed I am weary even to death," moaned Venusta.

"There is nothing for it but that to-night at least she rest here," said
Antonio to Tommasino.

Tommasino frowned. "When woman comes in," said he behind the screen of
his hand, "safety flies out."

"Better fly safety than courtesy and kindness, cousin," said Count
Antonio, and Tommasino ceased to dissuade him, although he was uneasy
concerning the coming of Venusta.

That night, therefore, all made their camp outside, and gave the cave to
Venusta for her use, having made a curtain of green boughs across its
mouth. But again the next day Venusta was too sick for travel; nay, she
seemed very sick, and she prayed Luigi to go to Rilano and seek a
physician; and Luigi, Antonio having granted him permission, went, and
returned saying that no physician dared come in face of His Highness's
proclamation; but the truth was that Luigi was in the pay of Venusta and
of the Duke, and had sought by his journey not a physician, but means of
informing the Duke how Venusta had sped, and of seeking counsel from him
as to what should next be done. And that day and for four days more
Venusta abode in the cave, protesting that she could not travel; and
Antonio used her with great courtesy, above all when he heard that the
Duke, having stayed to muster all his force for fear of Antonio, had at
length appointed the next day for the burning of her house at Rilano and
the carrying off of all her goods. These tidings he gave her, and though
he spoke gently, she fell at once into great distress, declaring that
she had not believed the Duke would carry out his purpose, and weeping
for her jewels and prized possessions which were in the house.

Now Count Antonio, though no true man could call him fool, had yet a
simplicity nobler it may be than the suspicious wisdom of those who,
reading other hearts by their own, count all men rogues and all women
wanton: and when he saw the lady weeping for the trinkets and her loved
toys and trifles, he said, "Nay, though I cannot meet the Duke face to
face, yet I will ride now and come there before him, and bring what you
value most from the house."

"You will be taken," said she, and she gazed at him with timid admiring
eyes. "I had rather a thousand times lose the jewels than that you
should run into danger, my lord. For I owe to you liberty, and perhaps
life."

"I will leave Tommasino to guard you and ride at once," and Antonio rose
to his feet, smiling at her for her foolish fears.

Then a thing that seemed strange happened. For Antonio gave a sudden cry
of pain. And behold, he had set his foot on the point of a dagger that
was on the ground near to the Lady Venusta; and the dagger ran deep into
his foot, for it was resting on a stone and the point sloped upwards, so
that he trod full and with all his weight on the point; and he sank back
on the ground with the dagger in his foot. How came the dagger there?
How came it to rest against the stone? None could tell then, though it
seems plain to him that considers now. None then thought that the lady
who fled to Antonio as though he were her lover, and lavished tears and
sighs on him, had placed it there. Nor that honest Luigi, who made such
moan of his carelessness in dropping his poniard, had taken more pains
over the losing of his weapon than most men over the preservation of
theirs. Luigi cursed himself, and the lady cried out on fate; and Count
Antonio consoled both of them, saying that the wound would soon be well,
and that it was too light a matter for a lady to dim her bright eyes for
the sake of it.

Yet light as the matter was, it was enough for Venusta's purpose and for
the scheme of Duke Valentine. For Count Antonio could neither mount his
horse nor go afoot to Venusta's house in Rilano; and, if the jewels were
to be saved and the lady's tears dried (mightily, she declared with
pretty self-reproach, was she ashamed to think of the jewels beside
Antonio's hurt, but yet they were dear to her), then Tommasino must go
in his place to Rilano.

"And take all save Bena and two more," said Antonio. "For the Duke will
not come here if he goes to Rilano."

"I," said Bena, "am neither nurse nor physician nor woman. Let Martolo
stay; he says there is already too much blood on his conscience; and let
me go, for there is not so much as I could bear on mine, and maybe we
shall have a chance of an encounter with the foreguard of the Duke."

But Venusta said to Antonio, "Let both of these men go, and let Luigi
stay. For he is a clever fellow, and will aid me in tending your wound."

"So be it," said Antonio. "Let Luigi and the two youngest stay; and do
the rest of you go, and return as speedily as you may. And the Lady
Venusta shall, of her great goodness, dress my wound, which pains me
more than such a trifle should."

Thus the whole band, saving Luigi and two youths, rode off early in the
morning with Tommasino, their intent being to reach Rilano and get clear
of it again before the Duke came thither from the city: and Venusta
sent no message to the Duke, seeing that all had fallen out most
prosperously and as had been arranged between them. For the Duke was not
in truth minded to go at all to Rilano; but at earliest dawn, before
Tommasino had set forth, the Lord Lorenzo left the city with a hundred
pikemen; more he would not take, fearing to be delayed if his troop were
too large; and he made a great circuit, avoiding Rilano and the country
adjacent to it. So that by mid-day Tommasino was come with
thirty-and-four men (the whole strength of the band except the three
with Antonio) to Rilano, and, meeting with no resistance, entered
Venusta's house, and took all that was precious in it, and loaded their
horses with the rich tapestries and the choicest of the furnishings; and
then, having regaled themselves with good cheer, started in the
afternoon to ride back to the cave, Tommasino and Bena grumbling to one
another because they had chanced on no fighting, but not daring to tarry
by reason of Antonio's orders.

But their lamentations were without need; for when they came to the pass
of Mount Agnino, there at the entrance of the road which led up to the
cave, by the side of the river, was encamped a force of eighty pikemen
under the Lieutenant of the Guard. Thus skilfully had the Lord Lorenzo
performed his duty, and cut off Tommasino and his company from all
access to the cave; and now he himself was gone with twenty men up the
mountain path, to take Antonio according to the scheme of the Duke and
the Lady Venusta. But Bena and Tommasino were sore aghast, and said to
one another, "There is treachery. What are we to do?" For the eighty of
the Duke's men were posted strongly, and it was a great hazard to attack
them. Yet this risk they would have run, for they were ready rather to
die than to sit there idle while Antonio was taken; and in all
likelihood they would have died, had the Lieutenant obeyed the orders
which Lorenzo had given him and rested where he was, covered by the hill
and the river. But the Lieutenant was a young man, of hot temper and
impetuous, and to his mistaken pride it seemed as though it were
cowardice for eighty men to shrink from attacking thirty-and-five, and
for the Duke's Guards to play for advantage in a contest with a band of
robbers. Moreover Tommasino's men taunted his men, crying to them to
come down and fight like men in the open. Therefore, counting on a sure
victory and the pardon it would gain, about three o'clock in the
afternoon he cried, "Let us have at these rascals!" and to Tommasino's
great joy, his troop remounted their horses and made ready to charge
from their position. Then Tommasino said, "We are all ready to face the
enemy for my lord and cousin's sake. But I have need now of those who
will run away for his sake."

Then he laid his plans that when the Lieutenant's troop charged, his men
should not stand their ground. And five men he placed on one extremity
of his line, Bena at their head; and four others with himself he posted
at the other extremity; also he spread out his line very wide, so that
it stretched on either side beyond the line of the Lieutenant. And he
bade the twenty-and-five in the centre not abide the onset, but turn and
flee at a gallop, trusting to the speed of their horses for escape. And
he made them fling away all that they had brought from the Lady
Venusta's house, that they might ride the lighter.

"And I pray God," said he, "that you will escape alive; but if you do
not, it is only what your oath to my lord constrains you to. But you and
I, Bena, with our men, will ride, not back towards the plain, but on
towards the hills, and it may be that we shall thus get ahead of the
Lieutenant; and once we are ahead of him in the hilly ground, he will
not catch us before we come to the cave."

"Unless," began Bena, "there be another party----"

"Hist!" said Tommasino, and he whispered to Bena, "They will fear if
they hear all."

Then the Duke's men came forth, and it fell out as Tommasino had
planned; for the body of the Duke's men, when they saw Tommasino's rank
broken and his band flying, set up a great shout of scorn and triumph,
and dug spurs into their horses and pursued the runaways. And the
runaways rode at their top speed, and, having come nearly to Rilano
without being caught, they were three of them overtaken and captured by
the well at the entrance to the village; but the rest, wheeling to the
right, dashed across the plain, making for Antonio's old hiding-place;
and, having lost two more of their number whose horses failed, and
having slain four of the Guard who pursued incautiously ahead of the
rest, they reached the spurs of the hills, and there scattered, every
man by himself, and found refuge, some in the woods, some in shepherds'
huts; so they came off with their lives. But the men with Tommasino and
Bena had ridden straight for the hill-road, and had passed the
Lieutenant before he apprehended Tommasino's scheme. Then he cried aloud
to his men, and eight of them, hearing him, checked their horses, but
could not understand what he desired of them till he cried aloud again,
and pointed with his hand towards where the ten, Tommasino leading and
Bena in the rear, had gained the hill-road and were riding up it as
swiftly as their horses could mount. Then the Lieutenant, cursing his
own folly, gathered them, and they rode after Tommasino and Bena.

"Be of good heart," said the Lieutenant. "They are between us and the
company of my Lord Lorenzo."

Yet though he said this, his mind was not at ease; for the horses of his
men, being unaccustomed to the hills, could not mount the road as did
the sure-footed mountain-horses ridden by Tommasino's company, and the
space widened between them; and at last Tommasino's company disappeared
from sight, at the point where the track turned sharp to the left, round
a great jutting rock that stood across the way and left room for but
three men to ride abreast between river and rock. Then the Lieutenant
drew rein and took counsel with his men, for he feared that Tommasino
would wait for him behind the jutting rock and dash out on his flank as
he rode round. Therefore for a while he considered, and a while longer
he allowed for the breathing of the horses; and then with great caution
rode on towards the jutting rock, which lay about the half of a mile
from him. And when he came near it, he and his men heard a voice cry,
"Quiet, quiet! They are close now!"

"They will dash at us as we go round," said the Lieutenant.

"And we can go no more than three together," said one of the guards.

"Are you all ready?" said the voice behind the cliff, in accents that
but just reached round the rock. "Not a sound, for your lives!" Yet a
sound there was, as of a jingling bit, and then again an angry, "Curse
you, you clumsy fool, be still." And then all was still.

"They are ready for us now," whispered a guard, with an uneasy smile.

"I will go," said the Lieutenant. "Which two of you will lead the way
with me?"

But the men grumbled, saying, "It is the way to death that you ask us to
lead, sir."

Then the Lieutenant drew his men back, and as they retreated they made a
noise great hoping to make Tommasino think they were gone. And, having
thus withdrawn some five hundred paces, they rested in utter quiet for
half an hour. And it was then late afternoon. And the Lieutenant said,
"I will go first alone, and in all likelihood I shall be slain; but do
you follow immediately after me and avenge my death." And this they,
being ashamed for their first refusal, promised to do. Then the
Lieutenant rode softly forward till he came within twenty yards of the
rock, and he clapped spurs to his horse and shouted, and, followed close
by his men crying, "For God and our Duke!" charged round the jutting
rock.

And behold, on the other side of it was not a man! And of Tommasino and
his company naught was to be seen--for they had used the last hour to
put a great distance between them and their pursuers--save that away,
far up the road, in the waning light of the sun, was to be dimly
perceived the figure of a man on horseback, who waved his hat to them
and, turning, was in an instant lost to view. And this man was Bena,
who, by himself and without a blow, had held the passage of the jutting
rock for hard on an hour, and thus given time to Tommasino to ride on
and come upon the rear of Lorenzo's company before the Lieutenant and
his men could hem them in on the other side.

Thus had the day worn to evening, and long had the day seemed to
Antonio, who sat before the mouth of the cave, with Venusta by his side.
All day they had sat thus alone, for Luigi and the two youths had gone
to set snares in the wood behind the cave--or such was the pretext Luigi
made; and Antonio had let them go, charging them to keep in earshot. As
the long day passed, Antonio, seeking to entertain the lady and find
amusement for her through the hours, began to recount to her all that he
had done, how he had seized the Sacred Bones, the manner of his
difference with the Abbot of St. Prisian, and much else. But of the
killing of Duke Paul he would not speak; nor did he speak of his love
for Lucia till Venusta pressed him, making parade of great sympathy for
him. But when he had set his tongue to the task, he grew eloquent, his
eyes gleamed and his cheek flushed, and he spoke in the low reverent
voice that a true lover uses when he speaks of his mistress, as though
his wonted accents were too common and mean for her name. And Venusta
sat listening, casting now and again a look at him out of her deep
eyes, and finding his eyes never on hers but filled with the fancied
vision of Lucia. And at last, growing impatient with him, she broke out
petulantly, "Is this girl, then, different from all others, that you
speak of her as though she were a goddess?"

"I would not have spoken of her but that you pressed me," laughed
Antonio. "Yet in my eyes she is a goddess, as every maid should be to
her lover."

Venusta caught a twig from the ground and broke it sharp across. "Boys'
talk!" said she, and flung the broken twig away.

Antonio laughed gently, and leant back, resting on the rock. "May be,"
said he. "Yet is there none who talks boys' talk for you?"

"I love men," said she, "not boys. And if I were a man I think I would
love a woman, not a goddess."

"It is Heaven's chance, I doubt not," said Antonio, laughing again. "Had
you and I chanced to love, we should not have quarrelled with the boys'
talk nor at the name of goddess."

She flushed suddenly and bit her lip, but she answered in raillery,
"Indeed had it been so, a marvel of a lover I should have had! For you
have not seen your mistress for many, many months, and yet you are
faithful to her. Are you not, my lord?"

"Small credit not to wander where you love to rest," said Antonio.

"And yet youth goes in waiting, and delights missed come not again,"
said she, leaning towards him with a light in her eyes, and scanning his
fair hair and bronzed cheek, his broad shoulders and the sinewy hands
that nursed his knee.

"It may well be that they will not come to me," he said. "For the Duke
has a halter ready for my throat, if by force or guile he can take me."

She started at these words, searching his face; but he was calm and
innocent of any hidden meaning. She forced a laugh as she said, twisting
a curl of her hair round her finger, "The more reason to waste no time,
my Lord Antonio."

Antonio shook his head and said lightly, "But I think he cannot take me
by force, and I know of no man in all the Duchy that would betray me to
a shameful death."

"And of no woman?" she asked, glancing at him from under drooping
lashes.

"No, for I have wronged none; and women are not cruel."

"Yet there may be some, my lord, who call you cruel and therefore would
be cruel in vengeance. A lover faithful as you can have but one friend
among women."

"I know of none such," he laughed. "And surely the vengeance would be
too great for the offence, if there were such."

"Nay, I know not that," said Venusta, frowning.

"I would trust myself to any woman, even though the Duke offered her
great rewards, aye, as readily as I put faith in Lucia herself, or in
you."

"You couple me with her?"

"In that matter most readily," said Antonio.

"But in nothing else?" she asked, flushing again in anger, for still his
eyes were distant, and he turned them never on her.

"You must pardon me," he said. "My eyes are blinded."

For a moment she sat silent; then she said in a low voice, "But blind
eyes have learned to see before now, my lord."

Then Antonio set his eyes on her; and now she could not meet them, but
turned her burning face away. For her soul was in tumult, and she knew
not now whether she loved or hated him, nor whether she would save or
still betray him. And the trust he had in her gnawed her guilty heart.
So that a sudden passion seized her, and she caught Antonio by the arm,
crying, "But if a woman held your life in her hand and asked your love
as its price, Antonio?"

"Such a thing could not be," said he, wondering.

"Nay, but it might. And if it were?"

And Antonio, marvelling more and more at her vehemence, answered, "Love
is dear, and honour is dear; but we of Monte Velluto hold life of no
great price."

"Yet it is a fearful and shameful thing to hang from the city wall."

"There are worse things," said he. "But indeed I count not to do it;"
and he laughed again.

Venusta sprang to her feet and paced the space between the cave and the
river bank with restless steps. Once she flung her hands above her head
and clasped them; then, holding them clasped in front of her, she stood
by Antonio and bent over him, till her hair, falling forward as she
stooped, brushed his forehead and mingled with his fair locks; and she
breathed softly his name, "Antonio, Antonio!" At this he looked up with
a great start, stretching up his hand as though to check her; but he
said nothing. And she, suddenly sobbing, fell on her knees by him; yet,
as suddenly, she ceased to sob, and a smile came on her lips, and she
leant towards him, saying again, "Antonio."

"I pray you, I pray you," said he, seeking to stay her courteously.

Then, careless of her secret, she flashed out in wrath, "Ah, you scorn
me, my lord! You care nothing for me. I am dirt to you. Yet I hold your
life in my hand!" And then in an instant she grew again softened,
beseeching, "Am I so hideous, dear lord, that death is better than my
love? For if you will love me, I will save you."

"I know not how my life is in your hands," said he, glad to catch at
that and leave the rest of what Venusta said.

"Is there any path that leads higher up into the mountains?" she asked.

"Yes, there is one," said he; "but if need came now, I could not climb
it with this wounded foot of mine."

"Luigi and the young men could carry you?"

"Yes; but what need? Tommasino and the band will return soon."

But she caught him by the hand, crying, "Rise, rise; call the men and
let them carry you. Come, there is no time for lingering. And if I save
you, my Lord Antonio----?" And a yearning question sounded in her voice.

"If you save me a thousand times, I can do nothing else than pray you
spare me what is more painful than death to me," said he, looking away
from her and being himself in great confusion.

"Come, come," she cried. "Call them! Perhaps some day----! Call them,
Antonio."

But as she spoke, before Antonio could call, there came a loud cry from
the wood behind the cave, the cry of a man in some great strait.
Antonio's hand flew to his sword, and he rose to his feet, and stood
leaning on his sword. Then he cried aloud to Luigi. And in a moment
Luigi and one of the youths came running; and Luigi, casting one glance
at Venusta, said breathlessly, "My lord, Jacopo's foot slipped, and the
poor fellow has fallen down a precipice thirty feet deep on to the rocks
below, and we fear that he is sore hurt."

Venusta sprang a step forward, for she suspected (what the truth was)
that Luigi himself had aided the slipping of Jacopo's foot by a sudden
lurch against him; but she said nothing, and Antonio bade Luigi go quick
and look after Jacopo, and take the other youth with him.

"But we shall leave you unguarded, my lord," said Luigi with a cunning
show of solicitude.

"I am in no present danger, and the youth may be dying. Go speedily,"
said Antonio.

Luigi turned, and with the other youth (Tommasino told Niccolo his name,
but Niccolo had forgotten it) rushed off; and even as he went, Venusta
cried, "It is a lie! You yourself brought it about!" But Luigi did not
hear her, and Antonio, left again alone, asked her, "What mean you?"

"Nay, I mean naught," said she, affrighted, and, when faced by his
inquiring eyes, not daring to confess her treachery.

"I hope the lad is not killed," said Antonio.

"I care not for a thousand lads. Think of yourself, my lord!" And
planning to rouse Antonio without betraying herself, she said, "I
distrust this man Luigi. Is he faithful? The Duke can offer great
rewards."

"He has served me well. I have no reason to mistrust him," said Antonio.

"Ah, you trust every one!" she cried in passion and in scorn of his
simplicity. "You trust Luigi! You trust me!"

"Why not?" said he. "But indeed now I have no choice. For they cannot
carry both Jacopo and me up the path."

"Jacopo! You would stay for Jacopo?" she flashed out fiercely.

"If nothing else, yet my oath would bind me not to leave him while he
lives. For we of the band are all bound to one another as brethren by an
oath, and it would look ill if I, for whom they all have given much,
were the first to break the oath. So here I am, and here I must stay,"
and Antonio ended smiling, and, his foot hurting him while he stood, sat
down again and rested against the rock.

It was now late, and evening fell; and Venusta knew that the Duke's men
should soon be upon them. And she sat down near Antonio and buried her
face in her hands, and she wept. For Antonio had so won on her by his
honour and his gentleness, and most of all by his loyal clinging to the
poor boy Jacopo, that she could not think of her treachery without
loathing and horror. Yet she dared not tell him; that now seemed worse
to her than death. And while they sat thus, Luigi came and told Antonio
that the youth was sore hurt and that they could not lift him.

"Then stay by him," said Antonio. "I need nothing."

And Luigi bowed, and, turning, went back to the other youth, and bade
him stay by Jacopo, while he went by Antonio's orders to seek for some
one to aid in carrying him. "I may chance," said he, "to find some
shepherds." So he went, not to seek shepherds, but to seek the Duke's
men, and tell them that they might safely come upon Antonio, for he had
now none to guard him.

Then Antonio said to Venusta, "Why do you sit and weep?"

For he thought that she wept because he had scorned the love in which
her words declared her to hold him, and he was sorry. But she made no
answer.

And he went on, "I pray you, do not weep. For think not that I am blind
to your beauty or to the sweet kindness which you have bestowed upon me.
And in all things that I may, I will truly and faithfully serve you to
my death."

Then she raised her head and she said, "That will not be long, Antonio."

"I know not, but for so long as it may be," said he.

"It will not be long," she said again, and burst into quick passionate
sobs, that shook her and left her at last breathless and exhausted.

Antonio looked at her for a while and said, "There is something that you
do not tell me. Yet if it be anything that causes you pain or shame, you
may tell me as readily as you would any man. For I am not a hard man,
and I have many things on my own conscience that forbid me to judge
harshly of another."

She raised her head and she lifted her hand into the air. The stillness
of evening had fallen, and a light wind blew up from the plain. There
seemed no sound save from the flowing of the river and the gentle
rustle of the trees.

"Hark!" said she. "Hark! hark!" and with every repetition of the word
her voice rose till it ended in a cry of terror.

Antonio set his hand to his ear and listened intently. "It is the sound
of men's feet on the rocky path," said he, smiling. "Tommasino returns,
and I doubt not that he brings your jewels with him. Will you not give
him a smiling welcome? Aye, and to me also your smiles would be welcome.
For your weeping melts my heart, and the dimness of your eyes is like a
cloud across the sun."

Venusta's sobs had ceased, and she looked at Antonio with a face calm,
white, and set. "It is not the Lord Tommasino," she said. "The men you
hear are the Duke's men;" and then and there she told him the whole. Yet
she spoke as though neither he nor any other were there, but as though
she rehearsed for her own ear some lesson that she had learnt; so
lifeless and monotonous was her voice as it related the shameful thing.
And at last she ended saying, "Thus in an hour you will be dead, or
captured and held for a worse death. It is I who have done it." And she
bent her head again to meet her hands; yet she did not cover her face,
but rested her chin on her hands, and her eyes were fixed immovably on
Count Antonio.

For the space of a minute or two he sat silent. Then he said, "I fear,
then, that Tommasino and the rest have had a fight against great odds.
But they are stout fellows, Tommasino, and old Bena, and the rest. I
hope it is well with them." Then, after a pause, he went on, "Yes, the
sound of the steps comes nearer. They will be here before long now. But
I had not thought it of Luigi. The rogue! I trust they will not find the
two lads."

Venusta sat silent, waiting for him to reproach her. He read her thought
on her face, and he smiled at her, and said to her, "Go and meet them;
or go, if you will, away up the path. For you should not be here when
the end comes."

Then she flung herself at his feet, asking forgiveness, but finding no
word for her prayer. "Aye, aye," said he gently. "But of God you must
ask it in prayers and good deeds." And he dragged himself to the cave
and set himself with his back against the rock and his face towards the
path along which the Duke's men must come. And he called again to
Venusta, saying, "I pray you, do not stay here." But she heeded him not,
but sat again on the ground, her chin resting on her hands and her eyes
on his.

"Hark, they are near now!" said he. And he looked round at sky and
trees, and at the rippling swift river, and at the long dark shadows of
the hills; and he listened to the faint sounds of the birds and living
creatures in the wood. And a great lust of life came over him, and for a
moment his lip quivered and his head fell; he was very loth to die. Yet
soon he smiled again and raised his head, and so leant easily against
the rock.

Now the Lord Lorenzo and his twenty men, conceiving that the Lieutenant
of the Guard could without difficulty hold Tommasino, had come along
leisurely, desiring to be in good order and not weary when they met
Antonio; for they feared him. And thus it was evening when they came
near the cave and halted a moment to make their plans; and here Luigi
met them and told them how Antonio was alone and unguarded. But Lorenzo
desired, if it were possible, to take Antonio alive and carry him alive
to the Duke, knowing that thus he would win His Highness's greatest
thanks. And while they talked of how this might best be effected, they
in their turn heard the sound of men coming up the road, this sound
being made by Tommasino, Bena, and their party, who had ridden as fast
as the weariness of their horses let them. But because they had ridden
fast, their horses were foundered, and they had dismounted, and were now
coming on foot; and Lorenzo heard them coming just as he also had
decided to go forward on foot, and had caused the horses to be led into
the wood and tethered there. And he asked, "Who are these?"

Then one of his men, a skilled woodsman and hunter, listening, answered,
"They are short of a dozen, my lord. They must be come with tidings from
the Lieutenant of the Guard. For they would be more if the Lieutenant
came himself, or if by chance Tommasino's band had eluded him."

"Come," said Lorenzo. "The capture of the Count must be ours, not
theirs. Let us go forward without delay."

Thus Lorenzo and his men pushed on; and but the half of a mile behind
came Tommasino and his; and again, three or four miles behind them, came
the Lieutenant and his; and all these companies were pressing on towards
the cave where Antonio and Venusta were. But Tommasino's men still
marched the quicker, and they gained on Lorenzo, while the Lieutenant
did not gain on them; yet by reason of the unceasing windings of the
way, as it twisted round rocks and skirted precipices, they did not come
in sight of Lorenzo, nor did he see them; indeed he thought now of
nothing but of coming first on Antonio, and of securing the glory of
taking him before the Lieutenant came up. And Tommasino, drawing near
the cave, gave his men orders to walk very silently; for he hoped to
surprise Lorenzo unawares. Thus, as the sun sank out of sight, Lorenzo
came to the cave and to the open space between it and the river, and
beheld Antonio standing with his back against the rock and his drawn
sword in his hand, and Venusta crouched on the ground some paces away.
When Venusta saw Lorenzo, she gave a sharp stifled cry, but did not
move: Antonio smiled, and drew himself to his full height.

"Your tricks have served you well, my lord," he said. "Here I am alone
and crippled."

"Then yield yourself," said Lorenzo. "We are twenty to one."

"I will not yield," said Antonio. "I can die here as well as at Firmola,
and a thrust is better than a noose."

Then Lorenzo, being a gentleman of high spirit and courage, waved his
men back; and they stood still ten paces off, watching intently as
Lorenzo advanced towards Antonio, for, though Antonio was lamed, yet
they looked to see fine fighting. And Lorenzo advanced towards Antonio,
and said again, "Yield yourself, my lord."

"I will not yield," said Antonio again.

At this instant the woodsman who was with Lorenzo raised his hand to his
ear and listened for a moment; but Tommasino came softly, and the
woodsman was deceived. "It is but leaves," he said, and turned again to
watch Lorenzo. And that lord now sprang fiercely on Antonio and the
swords crossed. And as they crossed, Venusta crawled on her knees
nearer, and as the swords played, nearer still she came, none noticing
her, till at length she was within three yards of Lorenzo. He now was
pressing Antonio hard, for the Count was in great pain from his foot,
and as often as he was compelled to rest his weight on it, it came near
to failing him, nor could he follow up any advantage he might gain
against Lorenzo. Thus passed three or four minutes in the encounter. And
the woodsman cried, "Hark! Here comes the Lieutenant. Quick, my lord, or
you lose half the glory!" Then Lorenzo sprang afresh on Antonio. Yet as
he sprang, another sprang also; and as that other sprang there rose a
shout from Lorenzo's men; yet they did not rush to aid in the capture of
Antonio, but turned themselves round. For Bena, with Tommasino at his
heels, had shot among them like a stone hurled from a catapult; and this
man Bena was a great fighter; and now he was all aflame with love and
fear for Count Antonio. And he crashed through their ranks, and split
the head of the woodsman with the heavy sword he carried; and thus he
came to Lorenzo. But there in amazement he stood still. For Antonio and
Lorenzo had dropped their points and fought no more; but both stood with
their eyes on the slim figure of a girl that lay on the ground between
them; and blood was pouring from a wound in her breast, and she moaned
softly. And while the rest fought fiercely, these three stood looking on
the girl; and Lorenzo looked also on his sword, which was dyed three
inches up the blade. For as he thrust most fiercely at Antonio, Venusta
had sprung at him with the spring of a young tiger, a dagger flashing in
her hand, and in the instinct that sudden danger brings he had turned
his blade against her; and the point of it was deep in her breast before
he drew it back with horror and a cry of "Heavens! I have killed her!"
And she fell full on the ground at the feet of Count Antonio, who had
stood motionless in astonishment, with his sword in rest.

Now the stillness and secrecy of Tommasino's approach had served him
well, for he had come upon Lorenzo's men when they had no thought of an
enemy, but stood crowded together, shoulder to shoulder; and several of
them were slain and more hurt before they could use their swords to any
purpose; but Tommasino's men had fallen on them with great fury, and had
broken through them even as Bena had, and, getting above them, were now,
step by step, driving them down the path, and formed a rampart between
them and the three who stood by the dying lady. And when Bena perceived
this advantage, wasting little thought on Venusta (he was a hard man,
this Bena), he cried to Antonio, "Leave him to me, my lord. We have him
sure!" and in an instant he would have sprung at Lorenzo, who, finding
himself between two enemies, knew that his state was perilous, but was
yet minded to defend himself. But Antonio suddenly cried in a loud
voice, "Stay!" and arrested by his voice, all stood still, Lorenzo
where he was, Tommasino and his men at the top of the path, and the
Guards just below them. And Antonio, leaning on his sword, stepped a
pace forward and said to Lorenzo, "My lord, the dice have fallen against
you. But I would not fight over this lady's body. The truth of all she
did I know, yet she has at the last died that I might live. See, my men
are between you and your men."

"It is the hazard of war," said Lorenzo.

"Aye," said Bena. "He had killed you, my Lord Antonio, had we not come."

But Antonio pointed to the body of Venusta. And she, at the instant,
moaned again, and turned on her back, and gasped, and died: yet just
before she died, her eyes sought Antonio's eyes, and he dropped suddenly
on his knees beside her, and took her hand and kissed her brow. And they
saw that she smiled in dying.

Then Lorenzo brushed a hand across his eyes and said to Antonio, "Suffer
me to go back with my men, and for a week there shall be a truce between
us."

"Let it be so," said Antonio.

And Bena smiled, for he knew that the Lieutenant of the Guard must now
be near at hand. But this he did not tell Antonio, fearing that Antonio
would tell Lorenzo. Then Lorenzo, with uncovered head, passed through
the rank of Tommasino's men; and he took up his dead, and with them went
down the path, leaving Venusta where she lay. And when he had gone two
miles, he met the Lieutenant and his party, pressing on. Yet when the
two companies had joined, they were no more than seventeen whole and
sound men, so many of Lorenzo's had Tommasino's party slain or hurt.
Therefore Lorenzo in his heart was not much grieved at the truce, for it
had been hard with seventeen to force the path to the cave against ten,
all unhurt and sound. And, having sorely chidden the Lieutenant of the
Guard, he rode back, and rested that night in Venusta's house at Rilano,
and the next day rode on to Firmola, and told Duke Valentine how the
expedition had sped.

Then said Duke Valentine, "Force I have tried, and guile I have tried,
and yet this man is delivered from my hand. Fortune fights for him;"
and in chagrin and displeasure he went into his cabinet, and spoke to no
man, and showed himself nowhere in the city, for the space of three
days. But the townsmen, though they dared make no display, rejoiced that
Antonio was safe, and the more because the Duke had laid so cunning and
treacherous a snare for him.

Now Antonio, Tommasino, and the rest, when they were left alone, stood
round the corpse of Venusta, and Antonio told them briefly all the story
of her treachery as she herself had told it to him.

And when he had finished the tale, Bena cried, "She has deserved her
death."

But Tommasino stooped down and composed her limbs and her raiment gently
with his hand, and when he rose up his eyes were dim, and he said, "Yes;"
but at the last she gave her life for Antonio. And though she deserved
death, it grieves me that she is gone to her account thus, without
confession, pardon, or the rites of Holy Church.

Then Antonio said, "Behold, her death is her confession, and the same
should be her pardon. And for the rites----"

He bent over her, and he dipped the tip of his finger in the lady's
blood that had flowed from her wounded breast; and lightly with his
finger-tip he signed the Cross in her own blood on her brow. "That,"
said he, "shall be her Unction; and I think, Tommasino, it will serve."

Thus the Lady Venusta died, and they carried her body down to Rilano and
buried it there. And in after-days a tomb was raised over her, which may
still be seen. But Count Antonio, being rejoined by such of his company
as had escaped by flight from the pursuit of the Duke's troop, abode
still in the hills, and albeit that his force was less, yet by the dread
of his name and of the deeds that he had done he still defied the power
of the Duke, and was not brought to submission.

And whether the poor youth whom Luigi pushed over the precipice lived or
died, Niccolo knew not. But Luigi, having entered the service of the
Duke, played false to him also, and, being convicted on sure evidence of
taking to himself certain moneys that the Duke had charged him to
distribute to the poor, was hanged in the great square a year to the
very day after Venusta died; whereat let him grieve who will; I grieve
not.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE MANNER OF COUNT ANTONIO'S RETURN.


In all that I have written concerning Count Antonio, I have striven to
say that only which is surely based on truth and attested by credible
witness, and have left on one side the more marvellous tales such as the
credulity of ignorance and the fond licence of legend are wont to weave.
But as to the manner of his return there is no room for uncertainty, for
the whole account of it was recorded in the archives of the city by
order of Duke Valentine the Good, son and successor to that Duke who
outlawed Antonio; to which archives I, Ambrose, have had full access;
and I have now free permission to make known so much of them as may
serve for the proper understanding of the matter. And this same task is
one to which I set my pen willingly, conceiving that the story is
worthy of being known to every man in the Duchy; for while many may
censure the things that Antonio did in the days of his sojourn in the
hills, there can, I think, be none that will not look with approval on
his bearing in this last hap of fortune. Indeed he was a gallant
gentleman; and if, for that, I forgive him his sins too readily, in like
manner may our good St. Prisian intercede that my sins be forgiven me.

Five years had the Count dwelt in the hills; five years had the Lady
Lucia mourned in the city; five years had Duke Valentine laid plans and
schemes. Then it fell out that a sickness came upon the city and the
country round it; many died, and more were sore stricken but by the
mercy of God narrowly escaped. Among those that suffered were the Duke
himself, and at the same time a certain gentleman, by name Count Philip
of Garda, a friend of Antonio's, and yet an obedient servant to the
Duke. Now when Antonio heard that Philip lay sick, he sent to him a rich
gift of choice meats and fruits by the hand of Tommasino. And Tommasino
came with six of the band and delivered the gift, and might have ridden
back in all safety, as did the six who came with him. But Philip had a
fair daughter, and Tommasino, caught by her charms, made bold to linger
at Philip's house, trusting that his presence there would not be known
to the Duke, and venturing his own neck for the smiles of red lips and
the glances of bright eyes, as young men have since this old world
began. But one of the Duke's spies, of whom he maintained many, brought
word to him of Tommasino's rashness; and as Tommasino at last rode forth
privily in the evening, singing a love-song and hugging in his bosom a
glove that the lady had suffered him to carry off, he came suddenly into
an ambush of the Duke's Guard, was pulled violently from his horse, and
before he could so much as draw his sword, behold, his arms were seized,
and the Lord Lorenzo stood before him, with doffed cap and mocking
smile!

"My glove is like to cost me dear," said Tommasino.

"Indeed, my lord," answered Lorenzo, "I fear there will be a reckoning
for it." Then he gave the word, and they set Tommasino bound on his
horse, and rode without drawing rein to the city. And when the Duke
heard the next morning of Tommasino's capture, he raised himself on his
couch, where he lay in the shade by the fish-pond under the wall of his
garden. "This is sweet medicine for my sickness," said he. "On the third
day from now, at noon, he shall die. Bid them raise a great gibbet in
front of my palace, so high that it shall be seen from every part of the
city and from beyond the walls; and on that gibbet Tommasino shall hang,
that all men may know that I, Valentine, am Duke and Lord of Firmola."
And he lay back again, pale and faint.

But when word came to Antonio that Tommasino was taken, he withdrew
himself from the rest of the band who were lamenting the untoward
chance, and walked by himself to and fro for a long while. And he gazed
once on the picture of the Lady Lucia which was always round his neck.
Then he sat down and wrote a letter to the Duke, saying, "My gracious
lord, I am here with fifty men, stout and brave fellows; and if my
cousin dies, there shall be no peace in the Duchy. But my heart is heavy
already for those that have died in my quarrel, and I may not endure
Tommasino's death. Therefore let Tommasino go, and grant full pardon and
oblivion to him and to all who are here with me, and swear to do this
with a binding oath; and then I will come and deliver myself to you, and
suffer such doom as seems good to Your Highness. May Almighty God
assuage Your Highness's sickness and keep you in all things.--ANTONIO of
Monte Velluto." And this letter he sent to the Duke Valentine, who,
having received it, pondered long, but at last said to Lorenzo, "I do
not love to let Tommasino go, nor to pardon these lawless knaves; yet
for five years I have pursued Antonio and have not taken him. And I am
weary, and the country is racked and troubled by our strife."

"With Antonio dead, all would be quiet, my lord," said Lorenzo.

Then the Duke's eyes flashed and he said, "It shall be so. And bid them
strengthen the gibbet, for Antonio is a large man; and he shall surely
hang on it."

Now Lorenzo was somewhat grieved, for he esteemed Antonio; yet he obeyed
the Duke's commands, and took from the Duke a letter for Antonio,
wherein His Highness swore to all that Antonio asked, and bade him come
alone or with one companion only into the city on the day that had been
before appointed for the hanging of Tommasino. And, further, the Lord
Lorenzo gathered together all the pikemen and every man that served the
Duke, and placed them all on guard, and proclaimed that any man besides
found carrying arms in the city should be held as the Duke's enemy. For
he feared that the townsmen who loved Antonio would attempt something on
his behalf. But when the townsmen saw the great force that Lorenzo had
gathered, they dared attempt nothing, although they were sore grieved
and lamented bitterly. And the Lady Lucia, looking from the window of
her house, beheld those who were erecting the gibbet, and wept for her
lover. As for Tommasino, when he heard that he was not to be hanged,
but to be set free, and Antonio to suffer death in his stead, he was
like a man mad, and his rage and grief could not be restrained; for he
declared that he would not live if Antonio died, and did not cease to
reproach himself bitterly. Therefore the Lord Lorenzo held him confined
in his own house, lest he should do himself some harm, or endeavour by
some desperate device to prevent Antonio from fulfilling his purpose;
but he treated him with all courtesy, for he was sorry for his plight.

Now Count Antonio feared his companions and did not dare to tell them of
what he had done, lest their obedience should fail under a strain so
great, and they should by force prevent his going to the city. Therefore
he told them to rest quiet in their camp, while he, with Bena, went
about certain necessary business; and he bade them farewell, enjoining
them most strictly to do nothing against the Duke.

"For," said he, "although I may not tell you fully what the business is
on which I go, yet I have good hope that His Highness is favourably
inclined to you, and that in a short space you will receive from him
pardon for all your offences. And that pardon I charge you to accept
with gratitude, and, having accepted it, be thenceforward loyal servants
to His Highness."

"But will the Duke pardon you also, my lord, and the Lord Tommasino?"
asked Martolo.

"He will pardon Tommasino also," answered Antonio. "And be assured that
I shall suffer nothing." And having said this, he shook every man by the
hand, thanking them for the love and service they had shown him; and he
and Bena were accompanied by all of them to the foot of Mount Agnino;
and there, in the early morning of the appointed day, Antonio mounted
his horse and rode with Bena into the plain. And as they rode, Bena said
to him, "My lord, why does the Duke grant this pardon?"

"Because I give him what he asks as the price of it, Bena," answered
Antonio; and they rode on for a while. But when Bena saw that Antonio
turned his horse not towards Rilano, but directly across the plain
towards Firmola, he said, "My lord, whither are we riding?"

"We are riding to the city, Bena," answered Antonio. "There is no cause
for fear; we go by leave and on the invitation of His Highness."

"But will he let us go again?" asked Bena.

"You will be free to go when you will," answered Antonio, "and me the
Duke will himself send forth from the city when I am ready to go." For
Lorenzo had promised in the Duke's name that Antonio's body, after it
had hung three days on the gibbet, should be carried from the city to
the church of St. Prisian at Rilano, and there interred with fitting
ceremony.

"Yet I do not like this ride of ours," grumbled Bena.

"Nay, I like it not myself," said Antonio, smiling. "But for the good of
my cousin and of all our company, we must go forward." And he stopped
for a moment and added, "Swear to me, Bena, by St. Prisian, to obey in
all I bid you in the city to-day, and not to draw your sword unless I
draw mine."

"Do I not always obey you, my lord?" asked Bena.

"But swear to me."

"Well, then, I swear," said Bena, "though in truth, my lord, your word
is full as strong to me as any oath, whether by Prisian or another." For
this man whom they called Bena was a godless man, and one that held holy
things in light esteem. But he was a fine fighter and a loyal servant,
and God's mercy is infinite. It may be his heart was turned at last;
though indeed I have found no record of it.

"My lord, will you see my Lady Lucia in the city?" asked Bena.

"I trust at the least to see her face at her window," answered Antonio.

"Will you have speech with her, my lord?"

"If His Highness will grant me that favour, Bena."

"Ah, I know now why you smiled, my lord, as you rode, just now. It will
be a bright day for you." And Bena laughed.

"Indeed," said Antonio, "I trust that the day may be bright for me. Yes,
bright as the light of heaven."

"There is no light brighter than the eyes of the girl a man loves," said
Bena.

"Yes, there is one," said Antonio. But Bena did not understand his
meaning.

Thus they rode till it wanted only two hours of noon; and then they were
within five miles of the city, and Bena, looking, beheld the great
gibbet rising above the walls of the city and standing forth grim and
black in front of the marble face of the Cathedral.

"What is that, my lord," he cried, "which towers above the walls of the
city?"

"Is it not enough to know when we come there?" answered Antonio.

Then Bena sighed, and said to Antonio, "I find it in my heart, my lord,
to be half sorry that the Duke pardons us; for we lived a fine merry
life in the hills. Yet it will be pleasant to live at ease: and we have
adventures enough to tell our sweethearts, aye, and our children too,
when we grow old, and they come round us and ask us for stories of our
youth. I hope my boys will be good at a fight, my lord, and serve your
sons as I have served you."

"It may be God's will that I leave no sons to bear my name, Bena."

"I do not think that," said Bena with a laugh.

They were now passing the hill on which stood the blackened walls of
Antonio's house, which Duke Valentine had burnt.

Bena cried out at the sight. "You will need to spend much in rebuilding
it," said he.

"Perhaps His Highness has provided another dwelling for me," said
Antonio.

"To-night he will surely lodge you, my lord, in his own palace, or, may
be, with my Lord Lorenzo."

"Wherever it may be, I shall sleep soundly," said Antonio.

Now they were come near to the city, and they saw a body of pikemen
coming out to meet them, the Lieutenant of the Guard at the head. And
when they met, the Lieutenant bowed to Antonio, who greeted him most
courteously; and the pikemen spread themselves in front and behind and
on both sides of Antonio and Bena, and thus they went on towards the
bridge and the city gate. But Bena eyed the pikemen with no love, and
moved restlessly in his saddle. "These fellows," said he to Antonio,
"hem us in, my lord. Shall I make my horse threaten their toes a little,
so that they may give us more room?"

"Let them be," said Antonio. "It is not for long, Bena."

At the entrance of the gate stood Lorenzo, awaiting the Count, and there
they dismounted, and Antonio passed through the gate with Lorenzo, Bena
being close to him on the other side. And when Bena saw the great force
of pikemen, and, behind their ranks, a mighty throng of people, and when
he saw the tall gibbet and understood what it was, suddenly his face
went red and his hand flew to his sword.

But Antonio caught his arm, saying, "My sword is not drawn, Bena."

"My lord, what does it mean?" cried Bena in a loud voice, so that
Lorenzo heard and stayed his steps and looked at Bena. "Does he not
know?" he asked of Antonio.

"He does not know yet," said Antonio. And to Bena he said, "I have need
of your sword, Bena. Give it me."

"My sword, my lord?"

"Yes, your sword."

Bena looked at him with wondering frightened eyes; but slowly he
unbuckled his sword from his belt and gave it to Antonio. And Antonio
unbuckled his own sword also and gave them both to the Lieutenant of the
Guard, saying, "Sir, I pray you to restore Bena's to him in the evening,
and mine to me when I go forth to Rilano."

But Bena clutched at Antonio's arm, crying again, "What does it mean, my
lord?"

Then Antonio took him by the hand and said, "Are we to be afraid now of
what we have often faced together with light hearts, Bena?"

"Are we to die?" asked Bena.

"You are to live and beget those brave boys, Bena. But it is otherwise
with me," said Antonio.

Then the Lord Lorenzo, who had looked in Bena's eyes, signed to four
pikemen to come near, and they came and stood near Bena; for Lorenzo
feared that he would not suffer Antonio to die without seeking to save
him or to die with him.

"Nay, let him alone," said Antonio. "You will obey me of your free-will,
Bena?"

"Yes, my lord," said Bena; and he looked up at the gibbet; and then he
caught Antonio's hand and kissed it a score of times; and he began to
sob as a child sobs. And the Guard, among whom were some that had felt
his arm, marvelled to see him thus moved.

"Let us go on," said Antonio. "It is hard on noon, and I must keep my
tryst with His Highness."

"His Highness awaits my lord by the fish-pond in the garden," said
Lorenzo; and he led Antonio to the palace and brought him through the
great hall and so to the fish-pond; and by it the Duke lay propped on
pillows, yet very richly arrayed; and his little son sat by him. Now
Lorenzo stood aloof, but Antonio came, and, kneeling, kissed the Duke's
hand, and then rose and stood before the Duke. But the boy cried, "Why,
it is my Lord Antonio! Have you come back to live in the city, my Lord
Antonio? Ah, I am glad of it!"

"Nay, I have not come to live in the city, my little lord," said
Antonio.

"Whither do you go then?" asked the boy.

"His Highness sends me on a journey," said Antonio.

"Is it far?"

"Yes, it is far," said Antonio with a smile.

"I wish he would send another and let you stay; then we could play at
robbers again in the great hall," said the little Duke. "Father, can you
find no other lord to go in Antonio's place?"

The Duke turned his face, pale and wasted with sickness, and his eyes,
that seemed larger and deeper than they had been before, upon his son.
"I can send none but Antonio," said he. And calling to Lorenzo, he bade
him take the boy. But the boy went reluctantly, telling Antonio that he
must return speedily. "For you promised," said he, "to teach me how to
use my sword." And the Duke signed with his hand to Lorenzo, who lifted
the boy and carried him away, leaving Antonio alone with the Duke.

"I have set my seal to the pardons as I swore," said the Duke; "and
Tommasino shall be free this evening; and all that he and the rest have
done against me shall be forgotten from this hour. Have you any cause of
complaint against me?"

"None, my lord," said Count Antonio.

"Is there anything that you ask of me?"

"Nothing, my lord. Yet if it be Your Highness's pleasure that I should
have speech with the Lady Lucia and with my cousin, I should be well
pleased."

"You will see them yonder in the square," said the Duke. "But otherwise
you shall not see them."

Then Lorenzo returned, and he led Antonio to a chamber and gave him meat
and wine; and while Antonio ate, the Lord Archbishop, having heard that
he was come, came in great haste; and the venerable man was very urgent
with Antonio that he should make his peace with Heaven, so that, having
confessed his sins and sought absolution, he might be relieved of the
sentence of excommunication under which he lay, and be comforted with
the rites of the Church before he died.

"For there are many wild and wicked deeds on your conscience," said the
Archbishop, "and above all, the things that you did touching the Abbot
of St. Prisian, and yet more impiously touching the Sacred Bones."

"Indeed I have many sins to confess," said Antonio; "but, my Lord
Archbishop, concerning the Abbot and concerning the Sacred Bones I have
nothing to confess. For even now, when I stand on the threshold of
death, I can perceive nothing that I did save what I could not leave
undone."

Then the Archbishop besought him very earnestly, and even with tears;
but Antonio would own no sin in these matters, and therefore the
Archbishop could not relieve him from his sentence nor give him the holy
comforts, but left him and returned to his own house in great distress
of spirit.

The Lord Lorenzo now came again to Antonio and said to him, "My lord,
it wants but a few moments of noon." Therefore Antonio rose and went
with him; and they came through the great hall, and, a strong escort
being about them, took their stand at the foot of the palace steps. Then
the Duke was borne out on his couch, high on the shoulders of his
lackeys, and was set down on the topmost step: and silence having been
proclaimed, the Duke spoke to Antonio; but so weak was his voice that
none heard save those who were very near. "Antonio of Monte Velluto,"
said he, "it may be that in God's purposes I myself have not long to
live. Yet it is long enough for me to uphold and vindicate that princely
power which the same God has committed to my hands. That power you have
outraged; many of my faithful friends you have slain; against both me
and the Church you have lifted your hand. Go then to your death, that
men may know the fate of traitors and of rebels."

Antonio bowed low to His Highness; but, not being invited by the Duke to
speak, he said naught, but suffered Lorenzo to lead him across the
square; and as he went, he passed where four pikemen stood by Bena,
ready to lay hold on him if he moved; and Bena fell on his knees and
again kissed Antonio's hand. And Antonio, passing on, saw two young
lords, followers of Lorenzo. And between them stood Tommasino; their
arms were through Tommasino's arms and they held him, though lovingly,
yet firmly; and he had no sword.

"May I speak with Tommasino?" asked Antonio.

"His Highness has forbidden it," said Lorenzo; but Antonio paused for a
moment before Tommasino; and Tommasino, greatly moved, cried piteously
to him that he might die with him. And Antonio kissed him, and, with a
shake of his head, passed on. Thus then he came to the gibbet, and
mounted with Lorenzo on to the scaffold that was underneath the gibbet.
And when he was seen there, a great groan went up from the people, and
the apprenticed lads, who were all gathered together on the left side of
the gibbet, murmured so fiercely and stirred so restlessly that the
pikemen faced round, turning their backs towards the scaffold, and laid
their pikes in rest.

Then the hour of noon struck from the clock in the tower of the
Cathedral; and the Master of the Duke's Household, who stood by the
couch of his master, turned his eyes to the Duke's face, seeking the
signal for Antonio's death; which when he received, he would sign to the
executioner to set the rope round the Count's neck; for the man stood by
Antonio with the rope in his hand, and Antonio was already in his shirt.
But when the Master of the Household looked at the Duke, the Duke made
him no signal; yet the Duke had not fainted from his sickness, for he
was propped on his elbow, his face was eager, and his gaze was set
intently across the square; and his physician, who was near, spoke to
him softly, saying, "My lord, they await the signal."

But the Duke waved him aside impatiently, and gazed still across the
square. And, seeing His Highness thus gazing intently, the Master of the
Household and the physician and all the rest who were about the Duke's
person looked also; and they saw the Lady Lucia coming forth from her
house, clad all in white. Antonio also saw her from where he stood on
the scaffold, for the people made a way for her, and the pikemen let her
pass through their ranks; so that she walked alone across the middle of
the great square; and the eyes of all, leaving Antonio, were fixed upon
her. Her face was very pale, and her hair fell on her shoulders; but she
walked firmly and swiftly, and she turned neither to right nor left, but
made straight for the spot where the Duke lay. And he, seeing her
coming, moaned once, and passed his hand thrice across his eyes, and
raised himself yet higher on his arm, leaning towards her over the side
of the couch. Again he passed his hand across his brow; and the
physician regarded him very intently, yet dared not again seek to rouse
his attention, and imposed silence on the Master of the Household, who
had asked in low tones, "What ails His Highness?" Then the Lady Lucia,
having reached the foot of the steps, stood still there, her eyes on the
Duke. Very fair was she, and sad, and she seemed rather some beautiful
unsubstantial vision than a living maiden; and though she strove to
form words with her lips, yet no words came; therefore it was by her
muteness that she besought pity for herself and pardon for her lover.
But the Duke, leaning yet further towards her, had fallen, but that the
physician, kneeling, passed his arm round his body and held him up; and
he said in low hoarse tones and like a man that is amazed and full of
awe, and yet moved with a gladness so great that he cannot believe in
it, "Who is it? Who is it?"

And the Lady Lucia still could not answer him. And he, craning towards
her, spoke to her in entreaty, "Margherita, Margherita!"

Then indeed all marvelled; for the name that the Duke spoke was the name
by which that Princess who had been his wife and was dead had been
called; and they perceived that His Highness, overcome by his sickness,
had lost discernment, and conceived the Lady Lucia to be not herself but
the spirit of his dead love come to him from heaven, to which delusion
her white robes and her death-like pallor might well incline him. And
now the wonder and fear left his face, and there came in place of them a
great joy and rapture, so that his sunk eyes gleamed, his lips quivered,
and he beckoned with his hand, murmuring, "I am ready, I am ready,
Margherita!" And while this passed, all who were too distant to hear the
Duke's words wondered that the signal came not, but supposed that the
Lady Lucia had interceded for Count Antonio, and that His Highness was
now answering her prayer: and they hoped that he would grant it. And
Antonio stood on the scaffold between the Lord Lorenzo and the
executioner; and his eyes were set on Lucia.

Then the Duke spoke again to the Lady Lucia, saying, "I have been
lonely, very lonely. How pale your face is, my sweet! Come to me. I
cannot come to you, for I am very sick." And he held out his hand
towards her again.

But she was now sore bewildered, for she could not understand the words
which His Highness used to her, and she looked round, seeking some one
who might tell her what they meant, but none moved from his place or
came near to her; and at last she found voice enough to say in soft
tones, "Antonio, my lord, the Count Antonio!"

"Aye, I know that you loved him," said the Duke. "But since then he has
done great crimes, and he must die. Yet speak not of him now, but come
here to me, Margherita."

Then, with wavering tread, she came towards him, mounting the first of
the steps, and she said, "I know not what you would, my lord, nor why
you call me by the name of Margherita. I am Lucia, and I come to ask
Antonio's life."

"Lucia, Lucia?" said he, and his face grew doubtful. "Nay, but you are
my Margherita," he said.

"No, my lord," she answered, as with trembling uncertain feet she
mounted, till she stood but one step below where his couch was placed;
and then she fell on her knees on the highest step and clasped her
hands, crying, "Have mercy, my lord, have mercy! Think, my dear lord,
how I love him; for if he dies, I must die also, my lord. Ah, my lord,
you have known love. You loved our sweet Lady Margherita; was not her
name now on your lips? So I love Antonio, so he loves me. Ah, my lord,
Christ Jesus teaches pity!" And she buried her face in her hands and
sobbed.

Then the Duke, his physician and now the Master of the Household also
supporting him, stretched himself over the edge of his couch, and,
putting out his hand with feverish strength, plucked the Lady Lucia's
hands away from her face and gazed at her face. And when he had gazed a
moment, he gave a great cry, "Ah, God!" and flung his arms up above his
head and fell back into the arms of his physician, who laid him down on
his couch, where he lay motionless, his eyes shut and his chin resting
on his breast. And all looked at the physician, but he answered, "Nay,
he is not dead yet."

"Why tarries the signal?" asked Antonio of Lorenzo on the scaffold.

"It must be that the Lady Lucia beseeches him for your life, my lord,"
answered Lorenzo. "Indeed heartily do I wish the Duke would hearken to
her prayer."

"He will not turn for her," said Antonio.

But presently the report of what had passed spread from those round the
Duke to the pikemen, and they, loving a marvel as most men do, must
needs tell it to the people, and a murmur of wonder arose, and the
report reached the guards at the scaffold, who came and told Lorenzo, in
the hearing of Antonio, of the strange delusion that had come upon the
Duke.

"He must be sick to death," said Lorenzo.

"I pray not," said Count Antonio. "For though he is a stern man, yet he
is an able and just prince, and this fancy of his is very pitiful."

"Do you spare pity for him?" asked Lorenzo.

"Shall I not pity all who have lost their loves?" answered Antonio with
a smile, and his eye rested on the form of the Lady Lucia kneeling by
the Duke's couch.

For hard on half an hour the Duke lay as he had fallen, but at last, his
physician having used all his skill to rouse him, he opened his eyes;
and he clutched his physician's hand and pointed to Lucia, asking, "Who
is she?"

"It is the Lady Lucia, my lord," answered the physician.

"And there was none else?" asked the Duke in a low tremulous whisper.

"I saw no other, my lord."

"But I saw her," said the Duke. "I saw her even as I saw her last, when
she lay on her bed and they took the child out of her dead arms."

"It was the weakness of your malady, my lord, that made the vision
before your eyes."

"Alas, was it no more?" moaned the Duke. "Indeed, I am very weak; there
is a blur before my eyes. I cannot see who this lady is that kneels
before me. Who is she, and what ails her?" And having said this in
fretful weary tones, he lay back on his pillow gasping.

Then the Master of the Household came forward and said to him, "My lord,
this is the Lady Lucia, and she kneels before your Highness praying for
the life of Count Antonio, because she loves him."

Now the name of Count Antonio, when spoken to him, moved the Duke more
than all the ministrations of his physician; he roused himself once
again, crying, "Antonio! I had forgotten Antonio. Does he still live?"

"Your Highness has not given the signal for his death."

"Have I not? Then here----"

He moved his hand, but with a great cry the Lady Lucia sprang forward
and seized his hand before he could raise it, kneeling to him and
crying, "No, no, my lord, no, no, no!" And the Duke had no strength to
fling her off, but he gasped, "Free me from her!" And the Master of the
Household, terrified lest in her passion she should do violence to His
Highness, roughly tore her hands from the Duke's hand, and the Duke,
released, sat up on his couch, and he said, in a strange hard voice that
was heard of all, even to the scaffold, and yet seemed not the voice
that they knew as his, "Let Antonio----" But then he stopped; he choked
in his throat, and, catching at his shirt, tore it loose from him. "Let
Antonio!"----he cried again. "Let Antonio!"----And he sat there for an
instant; and his eyes grew dim, the intelligence departing from them;
once again he opened his lips, but nothing came from them save a gasp;
and with a thud he fell back on his pillows, and, having rolled once on
his side, turned again on his back and lay still. And a great hush fell
on every man in the square, and they looked in one another's faces, but
found no answer.

For Valentine, Duke and Lord of Firmola, was dead of his sickness at the
moment when he had sought to send Antonio to death. Thus marvellously
did Heaven in its high purposes deal with him.

"His Highness is dead," said the physician. And the Master of the
Household, as his duty was, came to the front of the Duke's couch, and,
standing there before all the people, broke the wand of his office, and
let the broken fragments fall upon the marble steps; and he cried aloud,
"Hear all of you! It hath pleased Almighty God to take unto Himself the
soul of the noble and illustrious Prince, Valentine, Duke and Lord of
Firmola. May his soul find peace!"

But there came from the people no answering cry of "Amen," as, according
to the custom of the Duchy, should have come. For they were amazed at
the manner of this death; and many crossed themselves in fear, and women
sobbed. And Lorenzo, standing on the scaffold by Antonio, was struck
with wonder and fear, and clutched Antonio's arm, crying, "Can it be
that the Duke is dead?" And Antonio bowed his head, answering, "May
Christ receive his soul!"

Then the Master of the Household came forward again and cried, "Hear all
of you! According to the high pleasure and appointment of Almighty God,
the noble and illustrious Prince, Valentine, Second of that Name, is
from this hour Duke and Lord of Firmola; whom obey, serve, and honour,
all of you. May his rule be prosperous!"

And this time there came a low murmur of "Amen" from the people. But
before more could pass, there was a sudden commotion in the square
before the scaffold. For Bena, seeing what was done, and knowing that
the Duke was dead, had glanced at the pikemen who stood near; and when
he saw that they looked not at him but towards where the Master of the
Household stood, he sprang forward and ran like a deer to the scaffold;
and he leapt up to the scaffold before any could hinder him, and he
cried in a mighty loud voice, saying, "By what warrant do you hold my
lord a prisoner?"

Then the apprentices raised a great cheer and with one accord pressed
upon the pikemen, who, amazed by all that had passed, gave way before
them; and the apprentices broke their bounds and surged like a billow of
the sea up to the foot of the scaffold, shouting Antonio's name; and the
young lords who held Tommasino came with him and broke through and
reached the scaffold; for they feared for Lorenzo, and yet would not let
Tommasino go: and Lorenzo was sore at a loss, but he drew his sword and
cried that he would slay any man that touched Antonio, until the right
of the matter should be known.

"Indeed, if you will give me a sword, I will slay him myself," said
Antonio. "For I stand here by my own will, and according to the promise
I gave to the Duke; and if there be lawful authority to hang me, hang
me; but if not, dispose of me as the laws of the Duchy bid."

"I have no authority," said Lorenzo, "save what the Duke gave; and now
he is dead."

Then the Count Antonio fastened his shirt again about his neck and put
on his doublet; and he signed to Bena to stand on one side of him, and
he bade the young lords loose Tommasino. And he said to Lorenzo, "Let us
go together to the palace." And now he was smiling. Then they came down
from the scaffold and passed across the square, a great multitude
following them. And when they came to the steps of the palace, the
Duke's body was covered with a rich brocaded cloth that some hand had
brought from his cabinet; and the little Duke stood there with his hand
in the Master of the Household's hand; and the child was weeping
bitterly, for he was very frightened; and over against him stood the
Lady Lucia, motionless as though she had been turned to stone; for the
strange thing that had come about through her approaching of the Duke
had bewildered her brain. But when the boy saw Antonio he let go the
hand he held and ran to Antonio and leapt into his arms. Then Antonio
lifted him and showed him to the people, who hailed him for Duke; and
Antonio set him down and knelt before him and kissed his hand. And the
child cried, "Now that my father is dead, Antonio, you must not go on
your journey, but you must stay with me. For if I am Duke, I must learn
to use my sword without delay, and no man but you shall teach me."

"Shall I not go on my journey, my lord?" asked Antonio.

"No, you shall not go," said the little Duke.

Then Antonio turned to the lords who stood round and said, "Behold, my
lords, His Highness pardons me."

But the lords doubted; and they said to Antonio, "Nay, but he does not
know what he does in pardoning you."

"He understands as well, I think," said Antonio, "as his father
understood when he sent me to death. Indeed, my lords, it is not
children only who know not what they do." And at this speech Tommasino
smiled and Bena laughed gruffly. But the lords, bidding Antonio rest
where he was till they returned, retired with the little Duke into the
palace, and sent word hastily to the Archbishop that he should join
them there and deliberate with them as to what it might be best to do.
And when they were thus gone in, Antonio said, "I may not move, but the
Lady Lucia is free to move."

Then Tommasino went to the lady and spoke to her softly, telling her
that Antonio desired to speak with her; and she gave Tommasino her hand,
and he led her to Antonio, who stood within the portico, screened from
the sight of the people. And there they were left alone.

But meanwhile the whole body of the townsmen and the apprentices had
gathered before the palace, and their one cry was for Antonio. For the
fear of the Duke being no longer upon them, and the pikemen not knowing
whom to obey and being therefore disordered, the people became very
bold, and they had stormed the palace, had not one come to Antonio and
implored him so show himself, that the people might know that he was
safe. Therefore he came forward with the Lady Lucia, who was now no more
bewildered, nor petrified with fear or astonishment, but was weeping
with her eyes and smiling with her lips and clinging to Antonio's arm.
And when the people saw them thus, they set up a great shout, that was
heard far beyond the city walls; and the apprenticed lads turned and ran
in a body across the square, and swarmed on to the scaffold. And then
and there they plucked down the gibbet and worked so fiercely that in
the space of half an hour there was none of it left.

And now the Archbishop with the lords came forth from the council
chamber, and the little Duke with them. And they caused the servants to
remove the body of the dead Duke, and they set his son on a high seat,
and put a sceptre in his hand. And the Archbishop offered up a prayer
before the people; and, having done this, he turned to Antonio and said,
"My Lord Antonio, most anxiously have His Highness and we of his Council
considered of this matter; and it has seemed to us all--my own in truth
was the sole reluctant voice, and now I also am brought to the same
mind--that whereas the virtuous purposes of princes are meet to be
remembered and made perpetual by faithful fulfilment after their death,
yet the errors of which they, being mortal, are guilty should not
overlive them nor be suffered to endure when they have passed away. And
though we are not blind to your offences, yet we judge that in the
beginning the fault was not yours. Therefore His Highness decrees your
pardon for all offences against his civil state and power. And I myself,
who hold authority higher than any earthly might, seeing in what this
day has witnessed the finger of God Himself, do not fight against it,
but will pray you, so soon as you may fit yourself thereunto by prayer
and meditation, to come in a humble mind and seek again the blessing of
the Church. For in what you did right and in what you outstepped right,
God Himself must one day judge, and I will seek to judge of it no more."

"My lord," said Antonio, "I have done much wrong. Yet I will own no
wrong in the matter of the Abbot nor in that of the Sacred Bones."

But the lord Archbishop smiled at Antonio, and Antonio bent and kissed
the ring that was on his finger; and the old man laid his hand for a
moment on Antonio's head, saying, "It may be that God works sometimes in
ways that I may not see."

Thus then it was that the Count Antonio was restored to his place, and
came again to Firmola; and, having been relieved of the sentence of
excommunication that had been laid upon him, he was wedded in the
Cathedral to the Lady Lucia as soon as the days of mourning for the Duke
had passed. And great was the joy in the city at their wedding; for
every maid and every man saw in the triumph of Antonio's love a sign of
the favour of Heaven to those who love with a pure and abiding passion.
So they made great feasts, and were marvellously merry; and Bena let not
the day go by without plighting his troth to a comely damsel, saying
with a twinkle in his eye that the Count Antonio would have need of his
sons, whose services he had promised to him as they rode together across
the plain on the morning when Antonio had supposed that he was to die.
Nor would Bena give any other reason whatsoever for the marriage.
Nevertheless it is likely that there were others. But whether Bena
fulfilled his promise I know not; for, as I have said, so little is
known concerning him that his true name does not survive, and it has
proved an impossible thing to discover whether any of his descendants
yet live in Firmola. If it chance that they do, I trust that they fight
as well, and serve as loyally, and pray better than he. But Martolo has
left those that bear his name, and a great-grandson of his is at this
very time huntsman to the Monastery of St. Prisian, where I have seen
and talked with him many times.

The task which I laid upon myself thus finds its end. For there is no
need for me to tell of the after-deeds of Count Antonio of Monte
Velluto, nor how, in the space of a few months, he was chosen by all the
lords to be Ruler and Protector of the State during the infancy of the
Duke; in which high office he did many notable deeds, both of war and
peace, and raised the Duchy to a great height of power, and conferred
many favours on the townsmen of Firmola, whom he loved and cherished
because they had not forsaken him nor ceased to love him during all the
years that he dwelt an outlaw in the hills. And he built again his house
on the hill which Duke Valentine had burnt, and dwelt there with Lucia,
and with Tommasino also, until Tommasino took to wife that same lady for
whose sake he had lingered and thus fallen into the hands of the lord
Lorenzo, and went and dwelt at Rilano, where those of his house still
dwell. But when the young Duke came of an age to reign, the Count
Antonio delivered his charge into his hand, yet continued to counsel
him, and was very high in authority. And neighbouring princes also
sought his aid and his counsel, and he was greatly honoured of all men.
Thus if there were aught in his youth that merits censure, it may be
held that he blotted out the shame of it by his after-life, for his
later days were filled with honourable service to his Prince and to his
country.

Yet the heart of man is a vain thing; for when I, who am known to have
learnt all that can be recovered from the mists of past times concerning
Count Antonio, am asked--and whether it be by men or women, by boys or
girls, aye, or by toddling infants--to tell them a tale of the great
Count Antonio, it is not of the prudent ruler, nor of the wise
counsellor, nay, nor even of the leader of the Duke's army, that they
would hear, but always of Antonio when he was an outlaw, banned by his
Prince and by the Church, living by the light of his own heart and by
the strength of his own hand, secured only by the love and duty of the
lawless men who followed him, and risking his life every day and every
hour for the sake of the bright eyes of that lady who waited for him in
the city. And when I, thinking to check this perversity, bid them look
rather on his more worthy and sober days, they answer with a laugh, "But
why, father, do you not write the story of those more worthy and sober
days?" Nor will they believe when I say that it is but because the deeds
of those days are elsewhere recorded. In good truth, I believe that in
our hearts we love a lawless man! Here, then, ye perverse children, are
the stories; they are all that you shall have from me. Read them; may
they teach you to be true comrades, faithful lovers of one maid, and,
since strife must needs come until God's pleasure bring peace to reign
on earth, able, when occasion calls, to give and take good blows. Aye,
never laugh. I have said it. A Churchman is a man.





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