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MAX BRAND
(WRITING AS GEORGE CHALLIS)

THE PEARLS OF BONFADINI

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BOOK SEVEN IN THE "FIREBRAND" SERIES



First published in Argosy, August 24, 1935
Collected in The Bait and the Trap, Harper, New York, 1951

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-06-08
Produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan

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All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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Argosy, August 24, 1935, with "The Pearls of Bonfadini"



BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTE

In 1934-1935 Max Brand, writing under the name of "George Challis" penned a series of seven swashbuckling historical romances set in 16th-century Italy. These tales all featured a character, Tizzo, a master swordsman, nicknamed "Firebrand" because of his flaming red hair and flame-blue eyes, and were first published in Argosy.

The original titles and publication dates of the romances are:

1. The Firebrand, Nov 24 and Dec 1 (2 part serial)
2. The Great Betrayal, Feb 2-16, 1935 (3 part serial)
3. The Storm, Apr 6-20, 1935 (3 part serial)
4. The Cat and the Perfume Jun 8, 1935 (novelette)
5. Claws of the Tigress, Jul 13, 1935 (novelette)
6. The Bait and the Trap, Aug 3, 1935 novelette
7. The Pearls of Bonfadini, Aug 24, 1935 (novelette)

The digital edition of The Cat and the Perfume offered here includes a bonus section with a gallery of the covers of the issues of Argosy in which the seven romances first appeared.

—Roy Glashan, 08 June 2017.



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"The Bait and the Trap," Ace paperback edition, 1963



TABLE OF CONTENTS



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



I. — A STRANGE POISON

CESARE BORGIA, all in black, except for the white ruff of collar about his neck, black-masked also, across the upper part of his face, lolled in a big chair that had the dimensions and gave the effect of a throne. Always one who loved shadows, he had the room lighted by a few candles only and they cast on the wall wavering shadows of the men who stood near the chair of the duke of Romagna. Only Bonfadini's face could be seen clearly; it was so bone-white that it seemed to be illumined from within. The poisoner's expression was always one of still attention.

Before the duke stood Giovanni Malatesta, the waver and some of the sooty smoke of the candles in his face, a captain in the employ of Oliverotto, the hired soldier. He was completely in plate armor. His helmet was plumed. His raised visor exposed a stern young face, fearless of the great man whom he was to address.

The Borgia said: "We've had enough compliments, Malatesta. Now let's have the letter."

Malatesta bowed, unrolled a scroll of paper, and read aloud: "To the most noble Cesare Borgia, duke of Valentinois and the Romagna, we who are signed below send greetings, set forth certain complaints, and declare the action which we are about to take.

"Among our complaints the first is that no man's life is safe when he comes near the noble duke, whether he be an enemy or too great a friend.

"Second, the money which the noble duke promises for service is paid in full, always, but his other promises are neglected.

"Third, his ambition is so great that presently there would be room for only one man in Italy.

"For these reasons we have determined to serve him no longer but to stand together against him. For this purpose we sign our names:

"Giovanpaolo Baglione, Paolo Orsini, Fabio Orsini, Francesco Orsini, Oliverotto da Ferma, Vitellozzo Vitelli."

The duke did not lift his head; there was a slight rustling sound as his men turned towards him. The pale hand of Alessandro Bonfadini, secretary and poisoner, drooping over the top of Borgia's chair, touched his shoulder as though by accident, but received no sign.

"You have another paper there in your hand," said the Borgia. "What is that?"

"It is for Captain Tizzo," said the messenger.

"Is it as pleasant as the other? Read it!" said the duke.

"Aloud?" asked Malatesta.

"Aloud, if that pleases Captain Tizzo, also," said the duke.

Tizzo of Melrose advanced a step and nodded, the candlelight glimmering on the red of his hair. Most of the men about him were not of middle age, and yet he seemed a youth among the youngest.

"Read it aloud, certainly," said Tizzo.

"Very well," said Malatesta. And unfurling the paper he read: "To the noble Captain Tizzo of Melrose:

"We send you greetings as to a brave and wise officer by whom almost alone the towns of Forli and Urbino were won over to the possession of the duke of Romagna.

"Tizzo, we know your honesty and your quality as a soldier and as a man. With you at his side, we fear the duke. Without you, we care less for him than for an apple-paring..."

THE hand of Bonfadini again touched the shoulder of the Borgia, and this time that shoulder shrugged slightly up and down. Bonfadini glided instantly towards the candles, stepping between them and the open window. He leaned as though to trim the wicks, and each one that he touched gave, instantly, a slightly brighter flame, a single puff of pale smoke, as was natural. And the smoke was blowing towards Malatesta.

The Malatesta was reading on: "We wish all men to know that we desire to have you among us, a wise, trusted, and well-rewarded commander. Leave him and we will make your career famous. Stay with him and you will be praised and paid until you are dangerously strong, and then you will be stabbed and thrown in a gutter, as he has thrown other men."

"This is rather strong talk," said the Borgia calmly. "But continue, Malatesta."

The captain hesitated, shrugged his shoulders, and then struggled with a yawn; which was strange, because it was hardly a time or a place to feel sleepy.

"We wish to point out to you," continued the captain, reading, "that although the duke holds the Lady Beatrice merely as a hostage for the good behavior of Giovanpaolo Baglione and promises that you shall have her hand in marriage as soon as—"

Captain Malatesta hesitated, yawned openly, rubbed his eyes, and fell suddenly to the ground.

There was a general exclamation. Several of the men rushed forward to the fallen captain. And one of them cried out: "Dead! Dead as a stone!"

The voice of the Borgia, usually muffled and low, now was heard saying loudly: "A proper reward for traitors, my friends! Let all of you bear witness that no hand of mine touched this man; the finger of God was laid on him for his treachery. May all that he spoke for die like dogs in the same way. Bear witness, all of you!"

He gave instant order that the body should be carried out; and all except two of those who were about the duke left his presence at once. They had noticed nothing strange in the air of the room, except perhaps a slight fragrance almost like that of violets; also, a few of them were just a trifle dizzy. But the open air soon put that right.

Cesare Borgia remained alone with Alessandro Bonfadini and bright-eyed, cat-faced Niccolò Machiavelli. The duke went to the couch and stretched himself upon it. He yawned—in his turn.

"That is very precious stuff, Bonfadini," he said. "How much of it remains to you?"

"About six men, my lord," said the poisoner.

Machiavelli laughed. "That is a new measurement," he said.

"Can you make more of it, Bonfadini?" asked the duke.

"I am making more, my lord," said the poisoner.

"When will it be ready?"

"In about two years," said Bonfadini.

"Ah hai! Two years to make a few pinches of fragrant white powder that burns so well in a candle flame?" asked the Borgia.

"My lord," said Bonfadini, "must understand that I am not often at the cattle farm; I usually must be at the side of my lord."

"Of course you must be at my side," said the Borgia. "You are the brightest dagger in my armory and you are kept shining by continual use. But what have your visits to the cattle farm to do with your poisons?"

"I am more at ease in the country air, my lord," said Bonfadini. "My mind works more precisely."

"Be frank," said the duke. "Come, come! Do you think I would question you before my wise friend Machiavelli except that he is free to hear everything I know? No, Bonfadini; you help me to some very considerable deeds, and he has the pen that may make them famous. What is all this about poisons and the cattle farm, and two years to make half an ounce of white powder?"

"I MUST find healthy young cattle, my lord," said Bonfadini, "and inject a certain poison into the body of one. Several injections. At the end of a month the beef sickens and dies. When the body is corrupt, after a certain number of days, the liquids are drawn off and distilled. They have not the strength of the original poison. They are far more terrible. Death itself has helped to strengthen them.

"This fine juice I inject into another beef, which dies, and the distilled product is introduced to a third, and so on, the virulence of the poison steadily growing, until at last I have only a certain process to crystallize a sediment in the quart of liquid which two years of labor will have given to me. There remains a few pinches of powder to which I add a certain perfume of my invention. The rest my lord knows better than any man."

"Beautiful, eh, Machiavelli?" asked the duke.

"So in all art," said the Florentine. "Patience makes the perfect thing. No one but Bonfadini has raised murder to a fine art."

"And still," said the duke, "you notice that he says nothing. 'A certain poison...' and 'a certain number of days...' and 'a certain perfume...' It's plain that you will not entrust your secrets to me, Bonfadini."

"My lord, I merely remove temptation from your hands."

"Like a good priest, eh?"

The Borgia laughed. "Now tell me what I have gained from all of this?"

"No matter what the eye-witnesses testify," said Machiavelli, "the generals will not believe that it was the hand of God which struck down their messenger. No one in Italy will believe it."

"I don't care what they believe, so long as they don't understand. Always to be successful and never to be understood is the secret of greatness. So long as Italy fears me, it will follow me. Is that true?"

"Very true," said Machiavelli.

He began to peel an apple, cutting the paring translucently thin, using a very sharp pen-knife."

He said as he peeled the fruit: "You have convinced the generals that their messenger was murdered. They will make a strong head against you."

"On the contrary," said the Borgia, "out of all of this, I shall make a net in which I shall catch every one of the generals."

"In what manner?" asked Machiavelli.

"Who is the most honest man about me—barring my faithful Bonfadini?" asked the duke.

"Why, red-headed, fire-eating Tizzo, I suppose," said the Florentine.

"He is the net I will use to catch the traitors, one and all."

"But Tizzo is not a fool."

"Certainly not. He is as suspicious as a cat. But I shall make his suspicions the lever through which I work on him. Once I satisfy his doubts, he will be my devoted servant again."


II. — STATECRAFT EXTRAORDINARY.

CAPTAIN TIZZO, when the summons from the duke came to him, was walking rapidly up and down his room, snapping questions at his father who, like the rough old soldier that he was, sat cross-legged on a cushion on the floor and whittled a stick of wood into a monk's head, using his dagger for a knife.

"Was it a natural death?" asked Tizzo.

"I never saw a heartier lad than that Malatesta," said Baron Melrose.

"But no hand touched him; he tasted nothing."

"Perhaps he tasted something when he was first brought to the town, and it only worked on him as he stood before the duke."

"It was strange," said Tizzo. "At the very moment when Beatrice was named—then like an invisible sword he was struck down."

"It is easier to understand the devil than to know the Borgia," said Melrose.

And here came the message from the duke that Tizzo was wanted. He followed to the door, turned back to buckle on his sword, and then straightened his coat of blue velvet, slashed with silver.

"You look fine enough for a marriage or a murder," said his father. "Run along, Tizzo."

He went at once into the presence of the Borgia.

"Sit down, my captain," said the Borgia, cheerfully.

"I have things to say that I can speak better standing," said Tizzo.

"Your hair is such flame that it keeps your brain seething," said the duke. "What's the trouble now?"

Bonfadini came behind the duke's chair and leaned on it.

"The trouble, for one thing, is the rat-faced poisoner who keeps at your elbow," said Tizzo.

"Go into the corner of the room," said the duke to Bonfadini.

Bonfadini turned on Tizzo a smile of exquisite malice and obeyed the order with his whispering step.

"Now what's the matter, Tizzo?"

"My lord, I was bound to your service for three months. That time is almost up."

"It is ended now, if you wish."

"Ended now?" exclaimed Tizzo, bewildered.

"Come, come!" smiled the Borgia, lolling on the pillows of the couch, to which he had gone from his chair. "Did you think that I was saving you till the last moment, to throw you away on one final, desperate exploit? Is that what you think of me?"

"I don't know what to think of you, my lord," said Tizzo.

"If you want your freedom, you have it now. And whatever else you ask."

"Whatever else?"

"Yes. Do you think that I forget I owe Urbino and Forli to you? I would be more a beast than a man if that were the case. Tizzo, ask and I grant it."

Here the duke cast a side glance at Machiavelli and saw the Florentine staring with wonder. It was not the sort of statecraft that the philosopher expected from his hero.

"Lady Beatrice—" said Tizzo, and then stopped, choked by the expectation of refusal.

"She loves you; she is promised to you by her brother; and though she is in my hands as a hostage—and though, mark you, her brother is in arms against me—I give her to you freely, Tizzo."

Tizzo drew himself up with a great breath. His face turned almost as red as his hair. He bowed profoundly.

"My lord," said he, "you are kind. By heaven," he broke out, "I can't help believing that most of the things said against you are lies!"

"Most of the things that are said against every one are lies," answered the Borgia. "Do you hear me?"

"I hear you and mark you, my lord."

"And whoever has told you that you are not like my right hand has told a very poisonous lie, Tizzo. What else do you wish?"

"My father to ride with me?"

"Certainly. He is free to go as he pleases. He came to me merely because of you, and he has fought like a hundred men for your sake. Take this to him and my kindest greeting."

HE took from his neck a golden chain which supported as a pendant a single ruby of great size and beauty, with a candle flame burning in the heart of it. This he dropped into the hand of Tizzo and, to the side, noted the amazement of Machiavelli again.

"What else, Tizzo?" he demanded.

"I am ashamed to ask. But it is possible to take back gifts. I would like to have the escort of my company of the Romagnols for a few miles out of the camp."

"Asked like a sensible man of the world—a thing I thought you never would become, Tizzo. Bonfadini, go at once and order Tizzo's company to be mustered under arms. Take them with you wherever you please, my friend, unless the cost of them will be too heavy for your purse. Take them to my revolting generals and they'll be delighted to have such a fine unit of infantry. You have made them a company of heroes, Tizzo."

"Wait, Bonfadini!" called Tizzo.

The poisoner halted, and turned slowly.

"My lord," said Tizzo, "I see that I have been a dog to doubt you. But when Malatesta fell a little time ago, I was sure that it was because he had been murdered by your command. And when I looked on the floor for the letter to me which he had been reading, it was gone. But I see now that I have been a fool and that your intentions are kind and honorable to me. I cannot leave you until my time of service is completed."

"You must and shall go, Tizzo," said the duke. "Better to have one free friend than a thousand hired retainers. You must go. Take the Romagnols with you. They love you like a father. They are my parting gift, besides the money in this purse."

"I cannot take it, my lord," said Tizzo, overcome.

"You shall take it, however. It is yours. And that is not the end of the supply. What, man? Do you think I forget the towers of Urbino, and the rich plains around Forli? Tizzo, to the day of my death, my purse is yours. You have taught me what an honest man can be. Bonfadini, carry my order, and send word to the Lady Beatrice to prepare herself for travel in the morning. She is returning, to her family. Captain Tizzo and his father escort her. Good night, Tizzo.

"You will want this evening to make your preparations. Your company will be under arms and ready for you at dawn. A good voyage to you. I say farewell now, because you know that it's hard for me to leave my bed in the morning."

"My lord, there must be one last service that I can do for you," said Tizzo.

"Nothing. Not a thing. Only give my compliments to Giovanpaolo Baglione and tell him he'll be your brother-in-law before long—that I am sorry he listened to fools and cowards and turned against me. Tell the rest of them that if they wish to meet me in Sinigaglia in a few days, I shall be there with an entirely open mind. I can forget the past, Tizzo. Tell them that. God knows that I've been a cruel fellow in my time, and I suppose I can be cruel again. If war has to come, it will be war to the knife. They understand that already. But a bit of quiet conversation might make us all friends."

"I remember every word," said Tizzo, "and I'll repeat it exactly. I believe you, and I hope I can make them believe in you, also."

"I think you can, Tizzo," said the duke, calmly. "Go to bed. Sleep well. And away with you in the morning. We'll see each other often again. Two like you and me cannot live long in one country without meeting often."

HE stood up and walked to the door with Tizzo, opening it with his own hand.

"The trouble with the generals," he said, "is that they're afraid of the size I've grown to—partly with your help. Well, tell them that the greater I grow, the bigger my friends will become, and the better I can crush my enemies. Farewell! Good fortune!"

And as he closed the door and turned around towards Machiavelli, he found the Florentine leaning forward in his chair, his chin resting on one hand, a faint smile on his face.

"Do you understand, now?" asked the duke.

"The Lady Beatrice, also?" said Machiavelli.

"You can't understand that?"

"She's a beautiful thing, my lord."

"She is, Niccolò ."

"And beauty has a higher price in Italy than all the other virtues. I mean, beauty is a virtue in Italy."

"Do you think I am surrendering her foolishly?"

"You might marry her off to some very great man, my lord. Or establish her as the mistress of some prince of importance."

"I could. And I intend to."

"Ah? Do you think that the Baglione will send her back into your hands?"

"They won't send her. They will drop her into my hands, Niccolò."

"There I fail to follow you," said Machiavelli.

"Well, then—in the first place what will happen when Tizzo talks to the generals?"

"I think he may convince them that you mean well. Liars are always persuaded by a greater lie. But the most persuasive thing in the world is a lie honestly told by an honest man. Tizzo is honest."

"If he were not so honest, he might become a great man in the world, my friend. Yes, I think that Tizzo will draw them all to Sinigaglia like birds into a limed net."

"And there?"

"They must die, Niccolò. They know me too well, they suspect me too much, and already they've raised their hands against me. I am about to give Italy a final lesson in statecraft, the greatest it ever has seen."

"And Lady Beatrice?"

"That girl is the only human being—except Machiavelli—who understands me. I can see the men being persuaded by Tizzo. I can see the girl vainly warning them like another Cassandra. I can see the generals riding off to Sinigaglia, and Tizzo along with them, to give them warrant that he meant what he said to me. And I can see Beatrice—she's a girl all fire, Niccolò—slipping after them. She would follow Tizzo into fire as red as his own hair. And therefore, in Sinigaglia, I expect to hang the generals and take Lady Beatrice again."

"And Tizzo?" said the Florentine.

"My dear Niccolò, why do you ask painful questions?"

"Of course—of course!" said Machiavelli. "It's clearly logical that he must die."


III. — ARRIVAL OF TIZZO.

GIOVANPAOLO BAGLIONE, young, handsome, smiling, the grim Orsini, three of them, Oliverotto da Ferma, Vitellozzo Vitelli, all sat about a table at the tavern. Oliverotto was paring the rind from his slice of cheese and smiling at his thoughts; the Orsini drank their wine in silence, being silent men; Vitellozzo held his head high because his pride never left him, even at the table; and Giovanpaolo regarded the others with his own inimitable calm.

A murmur from the verge of the town swelled suddenly into a strong shouting as voices nearer at hand took up the cry: "Duca! Duca!"

Vitellozzo looked as though he had been stabbed to the heart. His face withered with pain and with fear.

"Giovanpaolo!" he called out. "Is Cesare Borgia in Sinigaglia here with us?"

"Hush! Hush!" cried Oliverotto, who had run to the door and thrown it wide. "You can hear something else!"

They were able to make it out, cheering and laughter combined, and always the cry; "Duca! Duca! Tizzo! Tizzo!"

Giovanpaolo began to clap his hands and laughed with happiness.

"But wait!" called Vitellozzo. "You're safe enough with Tizzo; yet how about the rest of us? We've heard that Tizzo is a blind servant to Cesare Borgia. What if he's come herE to cut our throats and send our heads back to his master in a basket? What about that? We are not bound to Tizzo by long services as you are!"

"Do you know him?" asked Giovanpaolo.

"No. I've never seen his face."

"If you talk to him for five minutes you'll forget to be afraid. He's the most honest man in Italy, Vitellozzo. When the Borgia plans his murders, he doesn't pick Tizzo to execute them. Depend on it. We're safer than before if we have Tizzo with us."

"But what if he's the vanguard of the Borgia army?"

"Our outposts would have sent in word that the army is coming," protested the Baglione. "Wait till you see Tizzo."

The clamor poured echoing down the street and approached the tavern.

"What's to be our position here?" exclaimed Oliverotto. "Here we are each with a little army of our own and all, nominally, in the service of Cesare Borgia. And here comes part of the rest of Borgia's army to enter the city which we're holding for him. Now I ask you, what shall we do? Shall we declare open war with Borgia, seize Tizzo and his men as prisoners, and defy the duke and all his hired men? Or shall we attempt to honor the duke in the person of Tizzo? Answer up brightly, my friends!"

"There's no need to," said Giovanpaolo. "The uproar's going past us and Tizzo isn't coming in here, after all."

For the shouting of "Duca! Duca!" was in fact streaming on down the street.

"But if he came this way, it's because he wants to see us," said Vitellozzo. "Why should he go by us?"

"He has red hair and an unsettled brain," said Oliverotto. "One can expect anything from him."

The youngest of the Orsini remarked: "He is a mongrel—half English and half Italian. What can you expect from him?"

"Wine, gentlemen? Did I hear you call for wine?" asked a servile voice at the door.

And in came a figure with a white cap set on the head and a white cloth over the arm, carrying a tray loaded with red wine.

Giovanpaolo Baglione, at the casement, was listening with bowed, attentive head, to the passing of the clamor down the street.

"Here—serve the wine!" exclaimed the young Orsini. "I need a drink and I need it badly. Don't stumble over my foot, you fool."

"Keep your feet out of the way, then, you blockhead," said the other.

THE words jumped Orsini fiercely to his feet, with a hand on his sword, but he saw that the man who had just put down the tray had now thrown off the white cloth, the white cap, and revealed a head of flaming red hair, a light breastplate of steel chased with gold, and a light sword belted high on his hip.

"Tizzo!" shouted Giovanpaolo from the casement, turning suddenly around. "Be careful, Orsini. Take your hand from your sword. If you try to handle this flame, it will burn you to the bone. Give him your hand. Tizzo, I make you known to my friends. Oliverotto, Vitellozzo, the Orsini. Men you should have known long before this. Why did you come slipping in among us like this?"

"I beg your pardons," said Tizzo to them all, "but I came into Sinigaglia with no more than a hundred tough Romagnol peasants behind me and if your highnesses decided to be angry, you could have swallowed me in a single mouthful. So I decided that I would have a look at your faces."

"And how do the faces seem to you?" asked the young Orsini, darkly.

"They seem to me like men who are as honest as they have to be," answered Tizzo, calmly and quickly.

"I smell an insult in that!" exclaimed Orsini.

"Your nose is long enough to sniff into corners," said Tizzo.

"I'll stand no more!" shouted Orsini, snatching out his sword. Giovanpaolo, running in, struck down the blade.

"You shall not fight," said the Baglione. "Tizzo, what sort of fire-brained foolishness is all this? Orsini, put up your sword! Tizzo, you are to blame!''

"Am I to blame?" said Tizzo, carelessly. "My lord Orsini, I ask your pardon, if I am to blame. And Giovanpaolo, who is the perfect knight, says that I am at fault. Will you give me your hand?"

The Orsini stretched out his, grudgingly. But in a moment the atmosphere of the room had lightened a great deal, and Tizzo was saying: "We've heard a great deal about hard feelings among you hired soldiers. We've heard that you were ready to turn on the duke of Romagna and try your best weapons against him. Is that the truth? I hope not. I've come ahead of his army to find out what's in your mind."

Oliverotto had been dropping the heavy links of a gold chain through his fingers. He stopped this, now, to look up and say: "You've rented your hand and your heart and your soul to Cesare Borgia, Tizzo, and every man in Italy knows it. And a lie told about a man's master is not a sin. However, you see that we can't take your word."

"Suppose that I'm free of the duke?" said Tizzo.

"If you were free of the duke, still you'd be bound to him," said Vitellozzo, "because the woman you love is held in his hands."

"Shall I prove to you that I'm in fact a free man?" asked Tizzo.

"Prove it if you can, my friend," said Oliverotto.

"Nothing more easy," said Tizzo.

It was a big room, low of ceiling, the heavy wooden beams discolored by sooty incrustations, because the fireplace smoked badly. At the farther end two curtained doorways communicated with the rooms beyond; and it was towards these curtains that Tizzo now turned and waved his hand.

"It's safe enough, I think," said he.

AND out of the shadowy curtains two figures came forward into the light. The one had the red face and the huge shoulders of the baron of Melrose; the other was Lady Beatrice Baglione, covered by the sweeping length of a dark cloak. Giovanpaolo ran to his sister with an outcry of wonder and of happiness.

"Is the Borgia drunk?" asked Oliverotto. "Or has Tizzo managed to get his father and the lady away by some sleight or trick?"

"What do you know of Cesare Borgia?" asked Tizzo.

"I know murder of him!" stated the older Orsini,

"So do I," said Tizzo. "But I also know that he keeps his friends."

"We are not friends of his, and we've proved it by rebelling against him," said Oliverotto.

"Stop the rebellion and he'll welcome you back in his service. That's what I've come to tell you."

"Ah, he sent you on before him?" suggested Giovanpaolo. "And you're to persuade us, and flatter us, and bribe us here and there? Is that it, Tizzo? And Beatrice is even sent along to make us feel that the tiger for once has his fill of meat and is ready to sleep and be petted? Is that the game of it?" Beatrice went up to Tizzo and waited for his answer. But he merely laughed at the concern of Giovanpaolo.

"Not one of you knows what a man he is!" said Tizzo. "What he's done is partly for himself and partly for the sake of Italy. But the rest of you think of nothing by plundering a town here, or making a rich marriage there. I tell you, there's no fear in him, either.

"He doesn't fear the strength of all of you combined. He's marching on Sinigaglia now, and you'll hear his trumpets in the morning. Make up your minds by that time what you intend to do. If you want peace, you shall have it. If you want war, he promises to wash the streets of Sinigaglia with blood."

The others stood silent for a moment. Giovanpaolo said: "The truth is this. If we join the duke now, there's hardly a power in Italy that can stand against us. But if we make him too great, he'll simply be fattening us before he cuts our throats and roasts us on a fire. Now, my dear lads, think it over wisely and well. Let Beatrice tell us what she thinks of the duke."

Beatrice sat in a tall-backed chair and smiled on the generals.

She said: "I'll tell you the truth as I see it about him. He likes well enough a man he can use. He's used Tizzo to capture Forli and Urbino. So of course, he is kind to him. More than kind. He even sends him away and sets him free from danger. I was held as a guarantee of the sword of Giovanpaolo. But he gave me up at once when Tizzo said that he couldn't leave without me."

"Do you make that into a villainy?" demanded Tizzo.

"I make nothing. But since you're too honest for the Borgian statecraft, he would try to stretch your honesty far enough to use it for a mask. The rest of you may do as you please, but I'll plead with Giovanpaolo on my knees not to join this foolish alliance. Cesare Borgia will feast you in the morning and murder you by noon, and I know it by instinct."

Vitellozzo said suddenly: "Actions mean more than words. Consider this. No one has done more than Tizzo for the duke. Forli and Urbino are two prizes worth having in hand. And here is Tizzo contracted for a certain period to the service of the duke but set free the instant he requests it. Not only that, but Beatrice Baglione is freed also, and the father of Tizzo. The rest of you may think what you please, but I say with Plato that virtue can be learned and that the Borgia seems to have learned it. I'm ready to join him again."

"Vitellozzo Vitelli, I can see you with your hands tied behind your back and the sword at your throat!" said Lady Beatrice.

HE looked at her with a scowl. He was young. Too much success, too much power in his youth had given him an excess of age in his face. He was dressed with an almost feminine luxury. He kept gripping and relaxing his grasp from the handle of a dagger at the butt of which there was a big emerald, like a great cat's-eye.

"We take our advice from men, not from girls," said he. "You hear what I decide on, all of you. Now you can do as you please."

They stared at one another. In all Italy a more priceless crew of cutthroats could not have been gathered, except that Giovanpaolo Baglione was a man of honor as great as his courage. He stood up and threw a cloak over his shoulders.

"The rest of you can do as you please," he said. "I leave Sinigaglia to you and the Borgia. Beatrice, come with me."

"Giovanpaolo, I can't go and leave Tizzo behind us in this trap," said the girl.

"Whether you want to or not," said he, "you must go."

Tizzo went to her and led her by the arm from the room. After he had passed through the door, with Baglione behind him, Vitellozzo said: "You see that Tizzo trusts the Borgia absolutely. Isn't that proof enough for us?"

And slowly the heads of the others were nodded.


IV. — THE SHREWD MACHIAVIELLI.

THERE was trouble with Vitellozzo in the morning. During his sleep of the night he had a vision of Giovanpaolo in which the Baglione warned him with a gloomy brow and a raised finger that he was only one day from the start of a long residence in hell. Paolo Orsini, on the other hand, worked to persuade the captain, and finally he consented to start forward with the others to welcome the duke. He refused to ride a horse but said that he wanted a mule under him for the sake of the sure footing.

What he said on this morning was long remembered by men.

"When a man quits his instinct and follows his reason, it is time for him to have a surer seat than a horse can give him."

All of the words and the actions of Vitellozzo during this day were overclouded by a strange sense of doom. Everything he did or said was recalled afterward by the witnesses.

When he rode out with the rest of the generals, he kept to the rear on his mule. His head was down and he shook it from side to side now and again. Tizzo, riding the white stallion at his side, said: "Vitellozzo, if you feel the devil elbowing you in the ribs, why don't you turn back?"

The hired soldier merely raised his head and stared at Tizzo, with a blank, uncomprehending eye. Afterwards the father of Tizzo said to him: "That Vitellozzo is seeing shadows at midday. There will be trouble ahead of us all!"

There was a check when the long column of the army of the Borgia came in view. The generals who had been in revolt had spread their forces in varying directions towards Ancona. The troops of Vitellozzo, for instance, were quartered in Morro and Fiumessino, a dozen miles south and east of Sinigaglia. The duke came on with five hundred chosen men-at-arms in the lead of his column.

These men were under the command of Ludovico di Mirandola and Raffaello de' Pazzi. Next came a picked thousand of Gascon and Swiss infantry, men able to stand off the charge of cavalry with their pikes and blast the mounted men with the fire from their arquebuses. The main body followed behind, raising a great dust cloud, and with the brilliant uniforms of the Romagnol infantry gleaming through the dust.

The generals from Sinigaglia drew rein when they saw the imposing force. Oliverotto shouted suddenly: "There! Do you see it? There's the trap, and Vitellozzo was right from the first!"

One of the Orsini turned sharply to Tizzo with murder in his face.

"You knew what would happen, Tizzo!" he exclaimed.

"What will happen?" muttered Tizzo, frowning. "A friendly meeting is what will happen. Look!" he pointed.

Ahead of them, at the slow pace of a walking mule, Vitellozzo was riding forward alone his head still slightly depressed, as though he saw nothing worthy of concern in the imposing host that was moving towards them.

Oliverotto groaned and then laughed.

"Well, if the devil is taking charge of us, we'll have to go where he beckons," said the general, and they all went forward towards the Borgia.

Cesare Borgia, on an ambling pad that looked hardly as large as its rider, swept out from the head of the column with half a dozen of his leaders around him. He was completely armed in the finest plate that gleamed with a reddish cast, there was so much gold chased over the surface of the armor. His head alone was bare, the long hair blowing, and his face dimmed by the usual mask. It seemed to Tizzo that the eyes of the duke were flashing with an extra brilliance as he rode up.

In the background was the white face of Bonfadini the poisoner, and near Bonfadini rode that man of in creasing fame, Niccolò Machiavelli, with his faint smile that made his face look like that of a cat.

Reining his pad back to a walk as he drew near, the Borgia called out heartily: "Where is my brother, Vitellozzo?"

THEN he seemed to make sure of the repentant rebel for the first time and rode straight to him. He leaned from his saddle and caught the arm of Vitellozzo to prevent him from dismounting, then kissed him affectionately.

The duke said, so that all could hear: "The best of friends make the shrewdest of enemies, Vitellozzo. But now we are home again in one house."

Vitellozzo answered: "Perhaps so, my lord. I see we are to have the same devil with us."

"What devil?" asked the duke.

"The white one," said Vitellozzo, and pointed at Bonfadini.

Everyone in Italy knew the singular talent of Bonfadini, but Cesare Borgia laughed openly and loudly when he heard the remark.

"My dear Vitellozzo," he said, "a sin loses most of its taint when it's exposed to the open day. You must admit that."

The white face of Bonfadini, for the first time in the knowledge of men, slowly turned scarlet. Tizzo looked at the cold devil with amazement. And Vitellozzo said: "If I die in my sleep, tonight, my ghost will know whom to blame for the quick trip to heaven."

The duke was greeting the others, one by one. When he came to Tizzo, he laid his big hand on the shoulder of his captain and said: "Honesty is a new policy for me, Tizzo. But I think it's going to prove the best one."

At this, his own staff and the men from Sinigaglia all laughed. They rode on together. The men-at-arms who followed, seeing this amicable reunion, all began to shout and cheer and cry: "Duca! Duca! Vitellozzo! Orsini! Tizzo! Oliverotto! Duca! Duca!" for they could see that some hard and dangerous fighting was being avoided by this reconciliation. The news spread back through the column. All the way into Sinigaglia there was a continual cheering from the rearward ranks.

Tizzo listened carefully to every word the duke spoke. Paolo Orsini was very bold. He said to the Borgia, frankly: "You always have hated me and my house, my lord."

"That's true," said the Borgia. "But why should I refuse to use one of the sharpest swords in Italy, even if my enemy has put the edge to it?"

Paolo Orsini laughed. He said: "Every man with a clear head and a strong hand ought to be in your service, my lord. If that could happen, Italy would soon be one country, and never a Frenchman or a Swiss in it."

"Or a Spaniard, either," said Vitellozzo.

There was a slight, embarrassed pause. The reference to the Spanish blood of the Borgias was too direct and insulting, but the duke turned to Vitellozzo and said calmly: "You stab at me, Vitellozzo, but a dagger of words has no point—not when a friend uses it."

"My lord, you mistook me," said Vitellozzo.

But there was a sour twist of satisfaction on his face. All of these men, Tizzo could see, feared the duke to the cores of their hearts, but they were unwilling to rejoin him and submit to his leadership without making some gestures of an independent mind and spirit.

Cesare Borgia said: "But where is the noble Giovanpaolo Baglione?"

He looked at Tizzo, who answered: "He is gone towards Perugia."

"And his sister with him?" asked the Borgia, sharply.

"The Lady Beatrice is with him," admitted Tizzo.

"Do you hear, Niccolò?" asked the duke.

"I said it before the thing happened," answered Machiavelli.

"You did," agreed the duke. "I am going to listen to you more carefully. After all, the Florentine brain is the finest in the world, as all men will admit."

"It's the finest for intrigue, at least," put in Oliverotto, and stared sternly at Machiavelli.

He did not like the young statesman. None of the soldiers, in fact, could endure him in spite of the smoothness of his address.

Machiavelli said: "Oliverotto, you ought to know that intrigue is what unties the strings of the purse, and if the purse were tied up, where would we find the brave Oliverottos?"

"Now, what the devil does he mean by that?" demanded the captain, turning his back on Machiavelli.

"I will write it out for you," said Machiavelli, "and let you study the meaning at your leisure."

"Ha?" exclaimed Oliverotto, and turned sharply back to glare at Machiavelli, The passion of the soldier was so great that Tizzo half-expected to see a dagger drawn on the moment, but after looking into the faintly smiling face and the cold, bright eyes of the Florentine for a moment, Oliverotto muttered a few indistinct words and turned his scowling glance back on the road.

Vitellozzo laughed loudly. "To lose one's temper is a luxury that most of us have to pay for, Oliverotto," he said.

But the other general said nothing.


V. — A MAD DOG.

WHEN Cesare Borgia and his army approached Sinigaglia, the first act of the Borgia was to send Lorenzo Ridi, one of his fiercest captains and best fighters, with a dozen picked lances straight through the city with word to gallop the heart out of their horses until they managed to overtake and kill Giovanpaolo Baglione. The orders were secret. The other hired soldiers must know nothing about this, but the Borgia felt, and he was right, that half his work was undone, if the most famous of all the hired soldiers managed to escape scot free.

So that chosen detachment rushed through Sinigaglia, crossed its moated drawbridges, and swept off on the Perugia road. The word was that Giovanpaolo, since his own army was at a great distance, had left the city with only his sister and perhaps one or two more companions. Therefore the pursuit hastened with red spurs, and they were soon in the hills, with a widening view of the town just behind them.

So they entered a narrow valley and raised close volleys of thunder from the sides. They rode in a stream that stretched out a full furlong, the best horses keeping well in the van. And as they approached a corner of the valley and the head of their scattered column galloped around the turn of the road, six mail-clad knights with spears in rest charged them.

Lorenzo Ridi went down with a deep spear-wound in his breast. Two more fell immediately behind him.

The fall of Lorenzo Ridi in itself would have been enough to unnerve his followers. And when they saw the solid front which the horsemen of Giovanpaolo offered, it seemed to them that they were seeing a wall of steel. This handful of escort had been picked up by the Perugian. With it, he scattered the group of Borgians and sent them fleeing more wildly than they had pursued.

When Giovanpaolo turned the head of his horse, he saw his sister already on her knees, disarming Lorenzo Ridi and trying to stanch the deadly flow of blood from his breast. The man was young. He had a pale eye and a pale droop of mustaches. He was famous for ferocity and a savage delight in blood. Cesare Borgia used him constantly for desperately important or murderous missions.

Giovanpaolo dismounted, threw the reins of his horse to one of his men-at-arms, and stood by the prostrate form of Ridi. The other two men who had been stricken from their horses had not even been wounded. They were merely stunned, from their falls.

Ridi said, calmly: "You held the spear that spitted me, Giovanpaolo."

"I held it," admitted the Baglione.

"Luck was with you," said Ridi. "It was the work of the damned armorer that left a weak joint there under the shoulder plate. However—Lady Beatrice, don't dirty your hands with me any longer. My life is dripping out of me. Nothing can stop it from running. Ah hai! To think of dying like this in a little skirmish at the first shock of the spears!"

The girl said nothing. She had grown a little pale. Now she went to a small run of water beside the road, washed her stained hands clean, and brought water to Lorenzo Ridi.

He thanked her.

"Put my helmet under my head," he said. "This is poor business for you, Giovanpaolo. If you could have knocked me over and taken me alive, there would have been several thousand ducats of ransom money to gain for my life. Now you see it's coined into drops of blood that are worth nothing except to dogs and wolves. Or would you have ransomed me?"

"I ask you the question back," said the Baglione. "Would you have held me for ransom if you had captured me?"

Ridi looked up at him with a contented smile.

"I would have cut your throat, my friend," he said.

"Out of your own malice?"

"Orders, Giovanpaolo."

"From the Borgia?"

"Yes."

"What has happened in Sinigaglia?"

"Nothing—so far. But in a few minutes the slaughter will start"

"Ah, I was right in riding away?"

"Of course you were right," said the dying man. "There's no question of your rightness. But why the rest remained for the trap to close on them I can't understand."

"It was Tizzo," answered Giovanpaolo. "He trusted the Borgia. And the amount of his trust outweighed the fear of the Orsini and the rest."

"True," agreed Ridi. "There's a strange fellow, now—that Tizzo. As quick as a cat and as strong as a lion; as clever as a sharp knife; and yet he cannot see through the Borgia. He lets himself be turned into the bait that will trap all the hired soldiers—even the trapping of Giovanpaolo, though he loves you more than he loves his own life."

"All?" asked the Baglione. "Will Vitellozzo be killed among the rest?"

"Yes. All. And Vitellozzo among the first. All of them may not be slaughtered in Sinigaglia. A few might be saved to take to Rome and let the people have a look at their deaths."

"And Tizzo himself?" asked Beatrice Baglione, putting out a hand to protect herself from the answer she feared.

"Why, you could answer that for yourself," suggested Ridi.

"Do you mean that he will be murdered by the Borgia devil?"

"Tell me what else could happen?" asked Ridi. "This Tizzo is strangely honest. He cannot fight except for a good cause. The Borgia has hoodwinked him by making him feel that all this war, murders, poisonings and all, has been for the sake of the great, new, united Italy. But when Tizzo finds that the duke has broken his faith and used him for a cat's-paw, the sword of Tizzo will be out. That axe of his will try to chop its way through the skull of the Borgia. There's no doubt of that. Once the generals are safely in hand, don't you see that the Borgia will have to kill Tizzo also, in self-defense?"

The girl did not cry out. She folded her hands together and stared at the distance. Then she stood up and withdrew, unnoticed. Ridi was turning very pale. His lips parted. His breathing came in gasps.

"Can I reach Perugia and bring back my army in time to strike?" muttered Giovanpaolo, thinking aloud.

"What good would your little army do against the Borgia's forces?" asked Ridi. "And by this time, even, the soldiers of the revolted generals are fraternizing with the Borgians. The townspeople are raising their yell of "Duca! Duca!" And before night the whole army of your friends will be in the hands of the duke. If you came against him, you would be swept down into the sea."

"It's true," murmured the Baglione.

He looked up and took a quick, deep breath.

The breathing of Ridi came, now, with a distinct, dry rattling.

"Ridi," said Giovanpaolo, "you are close to your end. Is there a last wish I can execute for you?"

"I think not," said Ridi.

"Can you tell me why you always have hated me so much?"

"Because," said Ridi, "I envied the brightness that always surrounded your name. I wanted to be what men said of you, and the devil in me always made my hand too quick to kill, always thickened my tongue so that I could not use your noble words."

"Those are poor grounds for hate," said Giovanpaolo. "Tell me, Ridi, if there is nothing that will rest your soul, and I'll surely try to do it for you after you are dead."

"Why, there's one thing," whispered the dying Ridi. "Lean closer, Giovanpaolo."

THE Baglione leaned far over the soldier, who with a sudden last effort jerked himself up on one elbow. Blood spurted from the frightful wound in his breast as he made the struggle. But with his right hand he snatched out his poniard and drove it straight at the unvisored face of the Baglione.

The first shadow of death already was dimming the eyes of Ridi, or that stroke would have been mortal. As it was, the needle-sharp point of the poniard stuck in the rim of the raised visor; the fine steel of the dagger burst into a thousand pieces, stinging and cutting the face of the Baglione. But there was no farther harm. Giovanpaolo sprang to his feet; and Lorenzo Ridi dropped dead in the dust.

"Carry him off the road," said Giovanpaolo to his men. "Leave his armor on him. He was a mad dog, but he had courage and a great heart. Leave him as he is, unplundered. My heart aches for Tizzo! Where is Lady Beatrice?"

"She took her horse a few minutes ago," was the answer.

"Her horse? Where did she ride? Up the road?"

"No, my lord. Strange to say, she went down the road a little distance."

"Down the road?" muttered Giovanpaolo. "How could that be?"

"I cannot tell, my lord."

The Baglione started and struck his mailed hands together.

"She would not be insane enough to try to get back to Tizzo with a warning?" he groaned. "She would not try to—but she would! She would! To horse and after her. A thousand ducats to the man who overtakes her!"

They were in the saddle instantly and thundering down the way, but at the next turn of the road they saw Beatrice Baglione far before them, bent in the saddle, whipping her horse to full speed.

"My lord!" called one of the men-at-arms. "We are riding straight back towards destruction. And we can't overtake her. Her horse is fast; she rides as well as a man; and she has not a man's weight."

Still for a moment Giovanpaolo urged his horse forward; but the heavy warhorse manifestly was losing the race against that slender-limbed Arab which carried the girl.

At last he drew rein, The dust he had raised blew up from behind and swept past him. Bitterly he stared at the dwindling form that fled down the valley road.


VI. — BONFADINI'S PLEASURE.

A HERD of cattle bought by the Borgia money, numberless casks of strong red country wine, heaps of fruit, mountains of shining bread made a feast for the army and flooded the pockets of the happy Sinigaglians with hard cash. Song and shouting and laughter rang far away through the streets.

The feast for the generals was a different matter.

Cesare Borgia always was a lavish hand, and he was more lavish than ever, on this day.

He said to white-faced Bonfadini: "Let them swallow their last gifts—we'll cut open their crops and have the things back again!"

The generals—his own and those recently returned to him—sat at a long table while a crowd of servants passed around to serve them. The Borgia himself would not sit at the board. Now and again he came to his place at the head of the table and seemed about to take the chair there. But always he passed on again. From in front of the hearth he would lift his cup and pledge one of his generals. Or from the doorway he would be seen as he shouted some pleasantry.

"You know, my lord," said Vitellozzo Vitelli, "that some men fear to break bread and eat salt with others against whom they have evil intentions?"

"Are you there again, my fine raven, croaking?" laughed the Borgia. "Try some new feathers on your back, my friend, and see whether or not I am a friend!"

He waved his hand. At once two servants came in, carrying between them a long weight of the heaviest gold brocade. The cloth glittered. The pattern was exquisite. It seemed all a mass of jewels and precious metal, and a shout of admiration and of envy went up when the servants bore the little treasure to Vitellozzo.

The man was so greedy that he choked and could not swallow when he saw the gift. His hands trembled as he ran the tips of his fingers over the tracery. Then he began to laugh. His face became a violent red.

"I could be a Pope—I could be a king—I could be an emperor on a throne, if I wore a robe made of this!" he shouted. "Ah hai, Cesare, you know my tastes."

"Of course," said the Borgia. "Every one of us would like to sit on a throne."

He waved his hand again and two men carried in a fifty pound salver of solid silver and put it down in front of Paolo Orsini. The general weighted the thing and then shouted aloud. He began to catch up quantities of fruit from the center of the table where it was piled and make a bright mountain to top the silver tray. And still he was shouting.

All that shouting ended when on a little blue cushion a page, on one knee, presented to Oliverotto a single pearl.

He picked it up with a bewildered air. Then he rushed to the window and held the jewel in the cup of both hands. The sunlight, streaming through, made the pearl a mass of milky fire. The sheen of it seemed to strike Oliverotto to the soul; and the radiance poured again out at his eyes. He began to do an impromptu dance. Everyone left the table and rushed around him. Their eyes and teeth flashed as they saw the shining of the gem; but into the midst of this tumult more presents were carried, as varied as the taste, as rich as the magnificence of the Borgia could afford. And before and after every gift was presented, there was another round of wine.

And who was there to notice the pale face and the slender, dark form of Bonfadini, the poisoner, in the corner of the room?

To crown all, in came a pair of magnificent war-horses, each the purest white, in complete harness, with magnificent suits of armor tied to the saddles. The wooden floor shook and thundered under the striding of those great animals. Every man at the board felt himself three times an emperor. The Orsini who received that regal gift leaped up and made a speech.

He said: "Glorious Cesare! You are the last of the Romans and the first of the Italians. Who were the fools who told me to fear you? I shall take Italy for myself—from Torino to Palermo. Let Oliverotto have France. Vitellozzo can take Spain. And you, my lord, shall have the world.

"We will conquer it for you. You will have an army to send against Asia. You will trample the Turks to dust on the way and free Constantinople, liberate Jerusalem on the way. What way? The way to India and China. The way to forests of gold that bloom with jewels.

"You shall have a hundred thousand fierce French cavalry in your arm, a hundred thousand English axes and bows, a hundred thousand German and Flemish pikes, a hundred thousand Swiss and Italian arquebuses, and light cavalry.

"That is the way for my lord Cesare to conquer the world, while we lead on the divisions of the army. Life is beginning. The world is beginning. Rivers of gold are about to pour. Joy is the only air that we breathe!"

HE seized a great two-handled cup, lifted it, started to drink, found mere drinking too slow, and poured a red flood over himself from neck to foot. Then, staggering with drunkenness and joy, he began to laugh and wave the cup. It clipped a page in the head and knocked the lad senseless. The Orsini kicked the fallen body.

"Stand up, dog!" he shouted. "Do you lie down in the presence of the king of Italy?"

The whole crowd began to roar with laughter.

And Cesare Borgia said to cat-faced Machiavelli: "Do you see the token, Niccolò?"

"The token is red, my lord," answered Machiavelli. "I see it clearly. A flood of red!"

The Borgia smiled and passed on, always striding about the room.

That entertainment had been rapidly improvised but it was complete. There were not the gifts only, but there were musicians to fill up the interludes of happiness. There was a flock of slim dancing girls with wings of gauze fluttering behind them. There was a negro who ate fire, a juggler who filled the air with swords that never reached the floor.

And so the day wore on towards its conclusion, and as the evening approached wine and too much happiness began to overcome the feasters.

The Borgia made a speech to close the occasion. He said: "My friends, I have been at a little expense to show you how my heart stands towards you. If there ever was trouble in your minds, like yellow mud in a clear river, I hope it is all washed away to sea now. Clean rivers and a clean sky. Clean eyes and clean hopes. And our hands linked together will be a force to crack the back of all opposition. Go to bed, my friends. Sleep. Have happy dreams, and tomorrow we will start turning those dreams of yours into a bright reality."

They began to troop out. As they passed, the Borgia called to Tizzo. He was left alone in the big room, littered with scraps of food, overturned chairs, broken wine cups, the floor wet with the spilled wine, the air sour with the smell of it. A fire began to crackle cheerfully on the hearth and there was now no other light. In the midst of that confusion, Tizzo was left alone with Bonfadini, the poisoner, with Machiavelli, and with Cesare Borgia.

"You have been thoughtful, Tizzo," said the duke.

"My lord," said Tizzo, "I am always thoughtful when I see that the host does not drink with his guests."

"I was waiting for you to commence with your wine," said the Borgia.

Tizzo looked at him narrowly and the duke covered a bit of confusion with an apparently happy laughter.

"Your father was as free with his wine as the rest," pointed out the Borgia.

"He is a man who never thinks except when he has a sword in his hand," answered Tizzo.

"A foolish time for thinking," said the Borgia. "But now, Tizzo, I am going to tell you why you have been so sour and sad."

"Tell me, then, my lord."

"It is because when all the gifts went round the table, there was nothing given to Tizzo."

But Tizzo smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "What gift do I need?" he asked. "I have an axe, a sword, and the loveliest woman in the world. My lord knew of these things and therefore he would not waste himself and his money trying to find new gifts for me. Besides, I am under contract to serve you."

"No longer, Tizzo. I have set you free from the contract."

"However that may be, I am happy enough about myself, but I am not happy about the others. I watched you lift your cup many times, but the wine never passed your lips."

"Do you think so? Well, Tizzo, I'll drink alone with you, now," said the duke.

"Will Bonfadini be the wine-bearer?" asked Tizzo.

"Ah, Tizzo, do you still suspect me? Will you always suspect me?"

"If these men who are in your hands should die tonight, the whole of the Romagna would be in your hands," said Tizzo.

"Of course it would. A thing I have thought about," said the duke. "But if I did such a thing, all honest men would shrink from me, and the first one to shrink would be Tizzo."

"My lord, if there were such a murder, I would not shrink from you," said Tizzo.

"You would come hunting for me with your sword, I think," said the duke, curiously.

Tizzo smiled and said no more. "Am I free to leave you, my lord?" he asked.

"Free," said the duke. "Unless you wish to stay and hear how I intend to reward you not with brocade or pearls but with real honor and power."

"I shall leave that till tomorrow," said Tizzo. "My lord is too weary with all his hospitality."

And that was the way he left the Borgia and retreated from the hall.

Afterwards, the remaining three looked silently at one another for a moment.

"Did you hear?" asked the Borgia, at last.

"He suspects everything," said Bonfadini.

"If I spare him, can I possibly win him back after he knows that I have betrayed the others?"

"My lord," said Machiavelli, "in Tizzo, honesty is an incurable disease."

"It is true," said the duke. "Therefore—Bonfadini, make account of him first of all. I leave him in your perfect hands."

"My lord," said the white-faced poisoner, "this is the greatest honor and pleasure you ever have done me. I have hated him with all my heart!"


VII. — A CAT IN A TREE.

BETWEEN the southward branch of the River Misa and the southern gate of Sinigaglia lay the Borgo, where the poorest houses stood. And not a shack in the entire quarter equalled in wretchedness the little shed where the Jew, Sinigaglia by name, kept his stock of clothes old and new. His new clothes cost less than old clothes would cost inside the gate. He had taken the name of the town that sheltered him because his own name would not have been easily enunciated by Italian lips.

He was a long, lean, cadaver of a man with a tuft of beard that jutted straightforward. Always, by night and day, he seemed to be standing against a high wind, his eyes forever squinted almost shut and water winking out of them. He was a dirty old man whose hands were never softened by water, his mouth never cleansed by wine. And he stood now, towards the close of the day, at the rack where his second-hand clothes are hung, probing among them, making his selling talk according to one of his many lines of chatter; except that now he was making such a sale as he never had made before.

He would have sold that entire stock of clothing for a ducat and rubbed his hands over the bargain. But now he was asking in his whining voice a ducat for a single outfit.

The reason was that a girl was making the purchase. All the wrappings of her big cloak would not have been able to disguise her femininity in spite of the erect fearlessness of her carriage.

The Jew had looked through her at the first glance.

He said: "Here is a doublet better than new, because it was noble wine that stained it. Here is a pair of hose that will go with it. Do you see how one leg is yellow and the other plum-colored? You would look like a brave young sprig in that outfit. You can see the shoes, yonder. I throw them in without a price, because I am sorry when a girl wants to go dressed like a man. There's no honesty in that. But be of bright cheer. The night will cover you. Shame has no eyes in the dark. But look—this will fit you perfectly. Will you try it?"

Lady Beatrice took the garment with a careless hand.

"Here is your money beforehand," she said. "A ducat for the clothes and another ducat if you will stand at the entrance to your shop and keep everyone out."

He took the money, carried it to the dull glimmer of the lamp, bit the good silver, and suddenly pouched it with a shudder of avaricious joy. Then he went to the door, muttering, and stood there as wan and meager as a scarecrow.

The girl tossed aside her clothes hastily. The chill of the evening washed her bare flesh. She pulled on the second-hand clothes with an indescribable loathing. Her cloak she swung over her shoulders again and pulled on the pair of chipped and battered gloves. At her belt there was a small dagger.

This was her one security against prying danger.

When she came to the door of the shed, the old Jew was muttering: "Two ducats, two ducats, two ducats! Oh, God, how much wealth comes to unworthy hands, and how little into mine who would cherish it!"

Then he added to the girl: "Think again, my child. The soldiers of the Borgia are inside the gate of the city. They have eyes sharper than gimlets. They have hands as cruel as the teeth of wolves. Even if your lover wears velvet, do not go into the city tonight. I once had a daughter."

"Have you heard whispers of murder from Sinigaglia?" she asked.

"A thousand whispers; and I have seen some of the dead," said the Jew.

"Ah, my God!" breathed the girl. "Have you seen dead men? Today?"

"Not today. Night is a better time for murder," he answered. "Why do you ask about today? Is it some young page who waits on one of the generals? Murder will not come the way of the very young, except by accident or by jealousy. Has he made his master jealous? Yes, if the general should see your pretty face. If you wish to do good to your lover, let no other man see him in your company."

"Farewell!" said the girl, and went hastily on towards the gate of the city, where the big lanterns already were lighted.

SHE went into a wine-shop where soldiers were drinking, and bought a round for them all. They looked at her with bleared eyes.

"Your father will beat you when you get home," said one of them. "How do you come by so much money, lad?"

"My father is dead and I sold his house yesterday," said the girl. "That is why I have a little money left in my purse tonight."

"What will you do when the last of the money is gone?" asked a burly fellow in the gaudy uniform of the Borgia's Romagnol companies.

"I'll become a soldier," she said.

"Will you? Let me see your hand!"

She pulled out her dagger and showed him her hand gripping it. At this, all the wine-drinkers began to laugh.

"A hand for a bodkin, not for a sword," said a halberdier.

"Whose soldier are you?" asked the girl.

"I serve the famous Oliverotto," said the halberdier.

"Ah, he is a great name," said the girl.

"Yes, and a great brain, too," answered the halberdier.

"And you?" she asked of a pikeman.

"Vitellozzo is my captain."

"That is a famous man, too. Who is your leader?" she repeated to the Romagnol peasant.

"Tizzo," he answered, and grinned, sitting up straighter.

"Tizzo?" she echoed. "Tizzo? Who is it that they call Tizzo? I never heard of him?"

"Open your ears, you young fool," said the peasant, "and you will hear plenty about him! He is the man who won Forli and Urbino for the great duke!"

"I never heard of him," she replied. "I suppose he is one of the lesser officers?"

"Lesser?" shouted the Romagnol, angrily. "Lesser, do you say? Ask this man what would happen if Tizzo stood at sword's length from Oliverotto or Vitellozzo, with weapons in their hands!"

The halberdier answered: "Well, a general is something more than a duellist of a jouster. Tizzo does very well with his axe and his sword. But I'm talking about generalship. I'd rather follow a brain than a swordsman."

"What brain opened Forli and took the Rocca? What brain captured Urbino?" asked the peasant, growing hot with anger.

"Oh, I'm tired of hearing of that," said the halberdier.

"I'm not tired of telling about it, though," said the Romagnol.

Lady Beatrice asked, casually: "He may have had good fortune and a sharp sword. But he's not one to be kept with the famous leaders like the Orsini and the rest, is he?"

"Is he not?" demanded the Romagnol. "Does he not sleep in the same palace that shelters the duke himself? It is the house of Messer Bernardino of Parma. The finest in the city, of course. And there in the left hand range of rooms sleeps Tizzo in the chamber next to that of his father. My captain himself was called to Tizzo this evening, and talked with him there. I myself led his white horse into the stable in the next court. Only the duke himself is better lodged than Tizzo, if it comes to that."

AT the chief portal of the house of Messer Bernardino of Parma two lights burned and half a dozen soldiers stood on guard. Beatrice Baglione walked carelessly past them. She turned the corner, saw an unshuttered window and an empty street, and instantly was through the casement.

Inside there was the odor of a stable. The light came through the huge room only from a single lamp that hung from a beam near the farther door. The horses had not yet lain down. They were stamping, crunching their fodder, snorting out the dust of the hay.

Beatrice picked up a dung fork and walked calmly down the aisle between the stalls.

A voice bawled out at her: "Who goes there?"

"A dung fork," said she. "Do you want it?"

"Go to the devil with it," answered the groom.

She went outside the stable into the court and closed the door behind her. She could remember one figure in all that gloom—a form of dim silver in the fourth stall from the door. That was Falcone, a horse hardly less famous than Tizzo, his master, among the troops of the Borgian army. Perhaps the knowledge of his whereabouts would tell a tale later on in the night.

She stood now in a big court and looked up at the tiers of windows that framed the three sides of the open space.

The left wing contained the room in which Tizzo slept—with danger already creeping towards him from the Borgia; unless Lorenzo Ridi had lied. But dying men are not apt to lie. Tizzo, before the morning, would die unless the warning reached him.

How should she reach him?

Armed men patrolled the court. The torch light flickered pale over the big heads of the halberds as the men paraded. Their swords made a harsh shivering sound inside the scabbards.

A big tree offered her a ladder of a sort, as it grew at the end of the left wing of the building, the only hint of foliage in that mass of naked stone, She went quickly towards the tree and got behind the trunk of it as the soldiers turned their backs and went in the opposite direction along their beat.

They had to come back before she could venture to climb. Leaning close to the tree-trunk, she heard them humming to themselves.

One of them said: "Do we march on Ancona?"

The other answered: "Why should I care? Ancona has worse wine than this part of the world?"

"What fools the generals have been!" said the first sentry.

"Aye, fools!" said the other.

They turned at the end of their walk and proceeded back. They passed so close that she could have reached out and touched the shoulder of the nearest man. And when they were halfway down the court, she climbed the tree, managing to reach the first branch by a run and a jump.

The coarse bark bit into her hands. She smiled at that pain. Through the branches, she could see the soldiers turn and come towards her again. As they came under the tree one of them said: "Why should a tree rustle when there is no wind?"

"Because there's a cat in it, you fool!" said the second.

And they both laughed and went on.


VIII. — THE BURNING OF A CANDLE.

WHEN she got out as far as the branch would bear her weight and when it had already begun to crackle beneath her, she found that she could barely reach to the edge of the nearest casement with the tip of her toe and the ends of her fingers. She had to grit her teeth. When she looked down, the pavement of the court seemed harder than stone, and rough as teeth to receive her.

Then, with a shake of the head, she thought of Tizzo. How like a cat he would spring across this little gap. For her own part, she barely was able to summon enough resolution to make the attempt. She drew herself out. She felt her fingers slipping. She had a frantic impulse to fling herself back into the tree which she had just quitted; but the noise of that would certainly bring the soldiers—and the end of her attempt. So she held to her grip as grimly as she could and gradually drew herself forward until both feet were firmly planted in the casement.

The shutters were open. She stood looking down into a little room which was almost bare. There was only a small table in the center of it, and a bench on one side of the table. A pair of gloves lay on this table and a candle burned on it. The candle gleam was reflected from the boss of a shield that leaned in a corner of the room, with a long pike rising beside it.

She could see everything with perfect clearness. There was a cheese rind beside the gloves on the table, and a litter of crumbs of bread-crust. And on the floor there was a sleek, long tailed gray rat moving quickly here and there, no doubt picking up fallen crumbs.

Now it lifted its head. She could see the bright, long whiskers tremble back and forth as the horrible creature scented more food above its head.

But she could thank God for the rat. It was the sufficient warranty that there was no human being in the room, unless he were asleep in a corner bed.

She slipped down to the sill of the window and dropped to the floor beneath, turning her back and lowering herself with her hands, there was such a distance to the floor. Behind her she heard the light, tapping scurry of feet as the rat fled to its hole.

She had gained the floor when two powerful hands gripped her by the arms.

"So, my fine young thief!" said a man's voice.

She wrenched herself desperately. She merely succeeded in twisting around, so that he held her in the grasp of one strong arm. The other hand held over her head a deadly little poniard. The wine-breath, sour with an admixture of cheese, stifled her.

And then she saw over his scarred face the coming of a broad smile.

"A wench!" he said, "Ah, ha! All good things come to those who wait! Wine and bread and cheese—and then a wench!"

He jammed the poniard back into the scabbard and slipped his hands down her arms until he held her by the wrists. After that, he pushed her back to arm's length and looked her over from head to foot.

The cloak obscured his full sight of her. He held both her wrists easily in the grip of a single hand. With the other, he cast the cloak away from her shoulders.

"And so I thought—so I thought!" he said. "Even better than my thinking, and better than my dreaming."

He leaned and kissed her. She did not stir. She could feel the grease left by his lips on her skin. But she would show neither terror nor disgust. With a still face she regarded him.

"A brazen one for such a young one," said the soldier. "What's your name?"

"Giulia."

"Whose daughter?"

"Tomaso, the chief fisherman."

"He's as important as that?" grinned the soldier.

Where the scar cut across his upper lip, the mustaches scattered as he smiled and showed a broad, white glint of scar-tissue. He had no forehead at all—only two wrinkles of flesh above the eyebrows and then a shag of hair.

"And whom have you come to see?" asked the soldier.

She answered—she had planned that answer—"Tizzo."

"Ah hai! You aim at the high ones, eh?" said the soldier. "Tizzo, is it? Let me see. Does that sound reasonable? All the fine ladies throw their gloves to him. Why should he look down as far as a fisherman's daughter? I'll take you to the captain of the watch, perhaps—and he may have something to say, and certain ways of saying it. Or will you stay here comfortably with me?"

SHE said nothing. She kept watching that face, seeing it as she never had seen another thing in her life.

The moonlight streamed in across her shoulder and mixed with the dim yellow of the lamplight that illumined him. It seemed to her that the moonlight was like a stream of cold water, chilling her to the bone.

"Tizzo!" said the soldier. "And thinking about him has almost made you dumb, eh? Well, he's a good captain. By God, he's one of the best that rides a horse or swings an axe. I've see that axe of his chip a way through a forest of steel helmets. Tizzo, is it? And did you come for love or money?"

"He gave me the purse at my belt," she answered.

"Ah, did he?"

He took hold of the purse at her belt and wrenched it away. He stepped back from her, holding her with an occasionally watchful eye.

She could leap back into the casement, now, and so fling herself into the tree and escape—but that would not save Tizzo.

She had to steel herself with invincible calmness.

He poured the money on the table—a few coppers—much silver—some glintings of golden coins.

"What a fool he is! Gold! To throw away gold on a wench!"

He came back to her.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

"Giulia," she answered. "The daughter of Tomaso."

"You lie," said the soldier.

She answered nothing. It seemed to her that she could not endure for another moment the weight of his eyes; outwardly she maintained a thin shell of calm. Inside, she felt the scream working higher in her throat.

"Well..." he said.

He went back to the money on the table.

"If you've told me a lie, you've paid for it," he said. "You lost your purse—and you don't know where. Is that the story you would tell him?"

"Yes," she answered.

He doubted her with his eye for another moment, then he picked up her cloak and flung it to her.

"I can't turn my shoulder on fortune as good as this. Do you know where the room of Tizzo is?"

"Only that it's in this wing of the palace."

"Well, come along with me. What a night for me! I can go back to Switzerland, after one more profit like this. I can see the mountains again and listen to the cows booming in the valleys. Come along."

He led her from the room into a corridor and, keeping his grip on her arm, conducted her past several doors. At last he stopped and pointed.

"There you are," he said. "The thing is to see whether or not the brave captain has left his door unlocked for you. If he hasn't, I march you to the captain of the guard, money or no money. There may be some deviltry behind all this. A fisherman's daughter never had an eye as straight as yours!"

SHE bowed her head and tried the knob of the door. Incredibly, it turned and gave at once. The door pushed open and showed her a thin wavering of candlelight inside. A great breath came into her body. All the rest had been despair, but this was hope. Through the narrow gap of the opening door, she could see the central table, and the burning candle and, lying on a chair nearby, that famous axe with its head of the blue Damascus steel.

"He's waiting for you, then," whispered the soldier. "Good fortune!"

And he went off down the hall with long, silent strides, hunching his shoulders to take weight from his feet.

Beatrice Baglione, pushing the door wide, looked anxiously around her.

Tizzo, fully clothed, had thrown himself on the bed in the corner of the room. He lay sprawling, his head turned down until it almost touched his shoulder. The candlelight touched dimly on the flaming red of his hair. And her heart leaped and raced away towards him.

A touch of terror was in her happiness until, as she closed the door behind her, distinctly she heard the sound of his breathing.

The moonlight was entering the two windows a white step. But the candle threw most of the dim light that invaded the room. It seemed to her that a thin, white mist issued from the candle and curled slightly upwards in the air, worked on by the draught that came in through the windows. But this mist, if there were one, was so extremely thin that it was hardly visible. It might have been a matter of thought only. But not a matter of thought was the faint fragrance which filled the air—something in the nature of the sweetness of violets—a clean delight of perfume.

She went towards the bed, passing into one of the dim billows of that mist. One breath, and she was staggered. A second and she fell to the floor.

She knew, then. Poison—Bonfadini the master devil of the craft! Men had died before, in the house of the Borgia, from as small a thing as inhaling the fragrance of a bouquet of roses.

She screamed loudly for help. Her throat muscles had strained, but not even a whisper came to her ears.

She could make no sound. It was as though she had tried to cry out while she swam under water.

There was a roaring in her ears. Darkness was rolling over her brain. She got to hands and knees which trembled under her, and crawled forward.

Her knees gave way.

She dragged herself on hands and elbows only. The rest of her body trailed like the body of a snail. Its weight was enormous. She wanted to drop her head and fall asleep. It was agony, it was death to maintain that struggle, but she saw before her the hand of Tizzo that drooped down over the side of the bed.

It was an infinite distance away. It was a distance that grew greater and greater, or was that because of the dimness of her eyes?

And then, suddenly, it was immediately before her. She caught at it with her last strength and fell senseless on her face.



Illustration

IX. — THE PEARLS.

AT a little after nine in the evening, Bonfadini stepped close to Cesare Borgia and murmured at his ear: "I found him asleep. I changed the candle that was burning in his room for one of another sort. He will have sleep dreams, my lord. He will have dreams so delightful that he never will waken from them."

"Poor Tizzo," said the Borgia. "I tell you, Bonfadini, that I feel a stroke against my heart when I think that that axe of his never will strike at me again. And perhaps poison was too ignoble. He should have been openly arrested."

"He is too popular with the soldiers, my lord. We would have risked an open revolt if Tizzo had been led out to meet a gentleman's death under the edge of the executioner's sword."

"True again," said the Borgia. "When one sees how common soldiery and other fools follow brave and honest leaders, it is almost a temptation to change the role and become such a man myself."

"My lord chooses to amuse himself with speculation," said Bonfadini, dryly.

"What is your pay for this little job with Tizzo?" asked the Borgia.

"The pearls have been growing larger, my lord. As you see?"

The poisoner took out a string of pearls, held it by a central point, and allowed the jewels to fall away from the place where his fingers pinched the silk on which they were strung. Beginning with jewels quite small, they increased gradually in size on either side, mounting into big pearls towards the center of the necklace, which was left open for a gap of several inches.

"You've increased the length of the silk, Bonfadini," said the Borgia.

"My lord," said the poisoner, "that is because I trust that you will live a long and happy life."

"And that you will make it happier by removing my enemies one by one—a pearl for every life?" asked the Borgia, smiling.

"It has been so to this point," said Bonfadini, and held up the necklace with an admiring eye, half closed by pleasure.

"Do you want me to count them?" asked the Borgia, grimly.

"You may do so with pleasure, my lord. These on the left all have been added in memory of the good men and the lovely women who have been a little too much in my lord's way. They have inherited the heaven that was their due, and a little before their time. These on the right are the scoundrels who have gone to a hell that already was hungry for them."

The duke laughed dryly.

"I see you are a genius, Bonfadini," he said, "and you have a way of making even your poisonings acts of virtue."

"A wise man," said Bonfadini, "always knows how to compromise with his conscience. A conscience, my lord, is a treasure that never should be expended hastily or carelessly. Neither should pearls be cast before swine."

"I see that you've been profiting by the conversation of my Machiavelli," said the duke.

"A man, my lord, of the sheerest virtue."

Here the duke opened a purse and took from it several pearls, which he matched against those on the necklace, and finally, selecting one, he handed it to the poisoner. Bonfadini dropped to one knee to receive it.

"On which side do you place that jewel?" asked the Borgia.

Bonfadini, with rapid fingers, was unknotting the silken string and threading the last pearl. As he held up the unfinished necklace again he said: "A man whom I have hated, my lord, and yet the justice of the clear mind and the unprejudiced soul forces me to place him on the left. He is at this moment winging his way to the upper silences and blue of heaven, my lord."

The duke laughed again.

"You are one of the strings of my heart, Bonfadini," he said. "Without you, I should be nothing. But one Bonfadini and one Machiavelli are enough to ensure the fortune of any man. Have the officers gone to make the other arrests?"

"They have, my lord. As soon as I had lighted the candle in the room of Captain Tizzo, I went immediately to the officers and passed on your orders. I think—I think that they are coming now, my lord."

For a steady tramping of heavy feet came up the corridor and now paused at the door of the duke's chamber.

"See what it is, and let them in," commanded the Borgia.

HE reclined on his bed, pulling a big cushion behind him. There was a dish of Venetian sweetmeats on the bedside table, and one of these, after making careful selection, he placed in his mouth. At that moment the door opened and the two Orsini were led in with their arms bound, and soldiers about them.

Paolo Orsini fell on his knees at once. "Oh, my lord, noble Cesare," he groaned, "you are not doing more than jest with us, I know."

"What a fool I would be to jest with the proclaimed king of Italy!" said the duke.

"Get on your feet," said the other Orsini, "It is worse than two deaths for me to see you on your knees to that inhuman devil."

Niccolò Machiavelli came unbidden into the room and observed the scene.

"You see, my dear Niccolò," said the duke, "that a man cannot do justice without being cursed—and that is one of the pities of this life of ours in Italy."

He added, with a sweep of the hand: "Take them out. I am tired of their faces. I always have been tired of the sight of them. Away with the Orsini. This will be sweet news for certain ears in Rome!"

And the Orsini were dragged from the room. Paolo began to groan as he was carried away. He began to pray aloud for the kind God to have mercy.

"They will not die here," said the duke to Machiavelli. "Not until they get to Rome. It would be a pity to waste the sweetness of their deaths on a place like Sinigaglia. But Rome will lick up their blood faster than it can pour from their wounds. Ah, here is my brave Oliverotto!"

The general came in with a firm step and a high head.

Cesare Borgia rose from his bed. "Are you ready?" he asked Oliverotto.

"Ready and more than ready, my lord," said the general. "I would despise living after I have made such a fool of myself as to trust your word."

The duke picked from the table a dagger with a delicately carved handle, ornamented and roughened with jewels, cut and uncut.

"How brave are you, my dear Oliverotto?" he asked.

"Brave enough to stand the rack," said the general.

"I think so and hope so," said the Borgia. "But I intend a mercy, my friend."

He laid the point of the dagger against the bare breast of the general and pressed, lightly.

The point sank in.

"If you draw a deep breath, you are a dead man, Oliverotto," said the duke.

His teeth and his eyes shone as he smiled at the face of his victim, but Oliverotto showed not the slightest emotion. His own glance sternly held on that of the Borgia. There was not a quiver of his lip.

The dagger point sank slowly into the living flesh above the heart.

"So much life, so bravely throbbing," said the duke. "It makes me think of a hidden bird that wants to break from the mesh and escape into the sky. You will fly faster than birds, Oliverotto, but not in the same direction."

"I give my soul to God," said Oliverotto, "if he will have it. Otherwise it is a first-rate prize for the devil."

AN instant later his head fell on his shoulder and his body would have dropped to the floor except for the hands that gripped him on either side. He was dead.

"An excellent fellow, that Oliverotto," said the Borgia. He picked up a napkin from the table and wiped the dagger clean on it. "Lay this dagger aside for me, Bonfadini," he said. "I never shall use it again after it has been dipped in such brave blood."

The dead body was carried away.

"How little blood was spilled!" said the Borgia. "I think that this might be a lesson to executioners, Machiavelli."

"It is always ennobling," said the Florentine, "to see a brave man die as he should."

"You lick your lips, Niccolò," answered the duke. "You would be glad to have a hand in this sort of a business?"

"Not at all," said Machiavelli. "I play the role of an observer. I do not attempt to rival my masters."

And before another word could be said Vitellozzo Vitelli was brought in, struggling with his guards, still half-drunk, cursing. When he saw the Borgia, he made a mighty bound and almost reached him before the guards drew him back. The Borgia, as though half in self-defense, gripped him by the collar of the shirt and then twisted the cloth.

The mouth of Vitellozzo gaped and his tongue thrust out under the strangling pressure.

"What do you say to me," asked the duke through his teeth. He stood up on his toes as he applied more pressure. The collar of the shirt pinched into the fleshy neck of Vitellozzo. "Have you no answers? Where are your curses? Where is your ranting? Where are your damned speeches? Talk to me now, Vitellozzo! Speak one word, even, and I grant you your life and your liberty, I enrich you and set you free. Speak to me, Vitellozzo! Oh God, that I could have this pleasure every day of my life and see the faces of my enemies blackened and their eyes thrusting out! Look at him, Machiavelli!"

"It is a pity," said the Florentine, "that one of my friends in Florence could not see this mask and make a living sketch of it. Note how the tongue quivers, my lord!"

The legs of Vitellozzo jumped up and down rapidly. His body writhed. And then he hung limp as dead flesh in the hands of the soldiers.

They, with white faces of horror, looked down on the dead man their master had just put to death.

The Borgia, stepping back, looked down at his hand. It was white from the immense pressure it had just exerted.

"Send the soldiers out with the carrion, Bonfadini," he commanded. "And then look in on Tizzo and see how well he sleeps now. This is one of the pleasant nights of my life."


X. — BONFADINI AGAIN.

CAPTAIN TIZZO had dreamed of a garden in the early spring with a delicate fragrance of violets in the air. And yet that fragrance made him so uneasy that he began to smile in his sleep; and at that moment he felt a faint clutch at his hand.

He was awake and on his feet, instantly.

Between him and the moonlight, he saw a faint swirling of the thinnest white mist, billowing dimly up towards the ceiling, as the pressure of the wind whirled it. And on the floor at his feet he saw Beatrice, her eyes closed.

At the same time, a breath of deadly sickness entered his lungs and staggered his brain.

He dropped to his knees.

The air was pure, closer to the floor. He could breathe again safely. And as he laid his hand over the heart of the girl, he felt the slow, faint beating of it. Then, wildly rolling his eyes, he marked the flutter of the candle flame. Out of that flame seemed to issue the delicate mist, the fragrance of the violets—and suddenly he remembered another moment when such a perfume had been in the air.

Holding his breath, he crossed the room and pinched out the flame of the candle. Still without drawing breath, he rushed back to the girl, caught up her body, and ran with the limp weight of it to the first of the open casements.

Above his head, thin, thin wisps of the vapor continued to float out into the moonlight, but here at the lower casement the air was fresh. He knew that a miracle and the coming of the girl had saved him.

Her head lay lifelessly in the hollow of his arm. Her lips were parted a little. They seemed purple gray in the moonlight. When he leaned and put his face close, he could not feel her breathing.

The boy's clothes on her slender body were a desecration. And how had she reached him through the streets of Sinigaglia, crowded with the men of the duke? How could she have come near to him through a thousand dangers? How had Giovanpaolo happened to let her go?

Well, it would have been easier to keep a bird in one place in the sky than to control her once her heart was up and her mind resolved. He held her less hungrily to his breast. For it seemed to him that the pressure might keep her heart from beating.

There was still a gentle and steady throbbing. Was it growing stronger? Was it diminishing?

He began to pray. All he could say was: "God see me—God forgive me—God have mercy on me!"

He was praying for himself, but he knew that the prayer was for Beatrice.

It seemed to him that the ghost of the white hands of Bonfadini were pressed on the throat of the girl, trying to press down the small fountain of life that began to lift and throb there little by little.

Then, guardedly, he turned his head towards the next casement, leaning far out.

He whistled, waited, whistled again. His father was in that room, unless the devilish practices of Bonfadini had rubbed him effectually out of the reckoning of life.

And then a burly pair of shoulders, a tousled head appeared at the next casement.

"It is I!" said Tizzo. "Dress and arm yourself quickly. The devil is afoot—murder in the air—get from the palace the quickest way and go to my company of Romagnols. Please be quick. I cannot join you. I must stay here with Beatrice—"

"Beatrice?" gasped the older soldier.

"She is here. Half-dead through one of Bonfadini's gestures. You know his art. Go quickly. Rouse them, they'll come. And with them, I may manage to fight my way out—"

The head of the baron of Melrose disappeared. From the next room came soft sounds of padding feet, light clinking noises of steel against steel.

These noises ended with the sound of a closing door.

But would the baron succeed in passing through the corridors of the palace unchallenged? Was it a madness on the part of the Borgia that the life of the father had not been attempted at the same time as that of the son?

HE forgot these thoughts, and looked down again at the girl. When he kissed her, it seemed to him that the ghost of a smile began on her lips.

Or was it the smile of death?

He touched her breast. There was no pulsation of the heart. With a groan of mortal anguish, he dropped to his knees. He pressed his ear against her breast.

Was it her own heart that he heard beating or the thunder of galloping terror in his breast?

He began to whisper : "Mercy, God! Mercy!"

And it seemed to him that the icy fingers of the poisoner were closing over his own temples, over his own throat, stifling the breath.

That was the moment when he heard a light footfall in the corridor and, after that, a slight moaning sound as the handle of the door was turned.

He laid the weight of Beatrice on the floor. There was still warmth in her flesh, and yet it seemed to him that there was less warmth than he could have thought necessary to life. The touch of the stone was on the back of his fingers. The touch of her body was on the front of them. Putting her down, like this, was to Tizzo like abandoning her, dropping her out of consciousness, out of existence.

He leaped towards his bed and found his sword beside it. He was crouched there as the door swung slowly open. At first he could see nothing, hear nothing, until at length he was aware of a slight whispering noise, and after that, a lean body looming, a body with skinny legs that stepped half into the moonlight as though into a bath of silvery water. And above, the body was clothed in a doublet.

"Strange!" murmured the voice of Bonfadini. "Strange! Very strange!"

Tizzo leaped at the sound rather than at the sight of the detestable monster. His sword point found a bone in the body of the man, glanced from it, sank through a softness of flesh.


Illustration

He saw a glitter of light in the hand of Bonfadini. He reached with his left hand and caught the wrist of the striking hand. The blade of the dagger went over his shoulder and the arm struck with force. He had a glimpse of the contorted face of the man, and then Bonfadini was away.

He had struck to kill before he leaped off the death that was working in his body; and he left Tizzo with a warmth of blood running down from his sword blade over his hand.

The man was almost at the door before Tizzo realized what had happened. Bonfadini must not escape from the room. He must die there, inside the room.

Strange that the poisoner made no outcry. Not a sound had passed his lips, though his agony must have been mortal. Tizzo raced for him, saw the door opened, slammed. He gripped the edge of it with his hand before it had a chance to shut. He thrust the door wide again and saw before him, in the dim light of the hall lantern, the form of the poisoner running fast, but swaying heavily from side to side.

He could not run far, in that condition. As he dipped out of sight around the corner of the hallway, Tizzo was racing after him at full speed.

AND it was then that he heard—from an infinite distance, welling up into his mind like a fish rising through dark waters—the outcry of a voice that pronounced his name.

"Tizzo! Tizzo!" a feeble cry.

But that was Beatrice.

If she were alive now, then she would not die at all, if once he could get her away from that place.

But the first step to that was to overtake Bonfadini and strike him down before he had raised the alarm.

Still strange, very strange, that he had made no outcry. The place must be filled with men-at-arms and lesser soldiery ready to answer a summons, but Bonfadini had fled as though he were in the desert and only could save his life by the speed of his heels.

Fast as a greyhound, Tizzo turned the corner of the hall, and there saw Bonfadini rushing before him through an open, lighted doorway. Tizzo followed with a bound. Before him appeared the lofty height of Cesare Borgia, with Niccolò Machiavelli not far away.


XI. — ONE MAN'S POLICY.

THERE was a long sword lying across the foot of the bed of the Borgia, encased in its sheath. This the duke whipped out, the motion causing the blade to scream softly against the metal scabbard. At his feet fell Bonfadini and threw his arms around the legs of his masters. He was bleeding horribly. The great red stain sprang out on either side. He was writhing his legs together in the death agony.

Niccolò Machiavelli drew a short sword that was hanging at his side and stood on guard without taking a step forward.

"Ah!" said the duke. "Tizzo—and a short shrift for him! This for you, dog! This, and this!"

With each gasp of his breast he struck heavily with the full length of the blade, reaching; master strokes which in the bullfight had shorn the head clean from a fierce, wild bull.

They would have cloven Tizzo in twain if they had reached him, but he avoided those strokes with swift flexions of the body. His own light sword-point reached for the throat of the duke and made him spring back.

"Niccolò, come in on his back!" gasped the Borgia.

"I am a man of words, not of action," said the great statesman. "I cannot use my sword except to save my life."

"I'm murdered!" breathed the Borgia. "Help! Help!"

For Tizzo, dipping under the full sway of a mighty stroke, leaped in. He had had to use his sword blade to parry the blow. The hilt was nearest the target. Therefore he struck with the hilt, and the metal landed full between the masked eyes of the duke. He dropped to one knee. His sword, with a long, shivering sound, fell to the floor.

And Tizzo, measuring the distance of Machiavelli with a glance, drew back his weapon for the final thrust.

And then he heard a rain of footfalls in the corridor.

"Back with them!" said Tizzo. "Send them back."

The shiver and the clatter of armor could be too plainly heard. He had the life of the Borgia under the edge of his sword, but that meant his own life, the life of Beatrice lost also.

The duke, half-stunned, looked wildly up at Tizzo, made a brief gesture of surrender, and then shouted: "Get out from the hall! What do you mean by maundering through the palace at this hour? Out!"

The footfalls stopped. The metal of armored feet screeched on the stone of the pavement.

"Pardon, my lord!" called a voice. "We thought we heard a cry for help—"

"Out! Out!" thundered the duke.

The footfalls hastily, noisily retreated.

Cesare Borgia slowly rose to his feet. His sword lay on the floor. He had no weapon now, except the dagger on the table beside him, and Tizzo backed him into a corner of the room.

"Hush!" said the duke. "Bonfadini is speaking. You have killed him, Tizzo, and I feel that you've killed my soul with him. Alessandro! Alessandro! Do you hear me? Can you speak?"

The gasping voice of the poisoner answered: "Oh, master, I am going to hell such a long time before you."

"Every day of my life I shall remember you!" groaned the duke. "Did this cursed devil of a Tizzo murder you?"

"As I went to look at his dead body, it leaped at me from beside his bed. For once, master, I have failed," gasped Bonfadini. "Misery—how my heart burns!... My pearls... my uncompleted necklace... my love... ah, Borgia..."

The last bubbling gasp gave inexpressible proof that he had died.

Cesare Borgia leaned a hand against the corner of the wall and muttered slowly: "He is gone—Bonfadini... I never dreamed that sword could penetrate that devil's body... but he is gone and I think that I'm gone with him... Machiavelli, how was it that you would not strike a stroke in my behalf?"

"My lord," said the Florentine, calmly, "to admire murder from a distance when there are reasons to enforce it is philosophy and good political thinking. But to assist at murder is a crime. If a thousand Borgias, steeped in crime, were threatened by a Tizzo, still it would be a crime to help the Borgias against him."

"This is your praise and your almost worship of me?" demanded the Borgia.

"MY lord," said Machiavelli, "I admired you to the limit of mortal power while you were still victorious and always successful. This morning and evening you were a most politic murderer. Now you are a most damnable villain. That is the penalty of every bad man who fails. My lord, I bid you farewell."

And Niccolò Machiavelli passed out from the room.

The duke nodded his head. "Bonfadini is gone, and Machiavelli is gone. At one stroke I lose the right hand of my body and the right hand of my wits. And through you, Tizzo! God mark the day in black when I first laid eyes on you! Who are those swarming and making noise in the courtyard?"

"Look for yourself, my lord. I am not fool enough to turn my back to you and your murders."

The duke turned to the window, muttering: "Bonfadini dead! And that keen Machiavelli leaving me with a curse of impotence. Am I at the end of my tether? No, by heaven! Those are my own men! Those are my own Romagnols! And still the place is in my hands!"

"They are the Romagnols of my own company," said Tizzo. "If you doubt it, call down to them. Call the name of my father."

"Good Bonfadini accounted for him long ago. He is dead, Tizzo," said the duke.

"Call his name, nevertheless," said Tizzo.

"Metrose!" called the duke.

And the deep, hearty voice of the baron rose in answer.

The duke staggered a little. He turned slowly back towards Tizzo.

"What sort of damned black magic have you used, Tizzo?" he said. "But still you never can escape from me. My voice can bring a thousand armed men."

"True," said Tizzo. "I never could escape—but they would find you dead. Policy, my lord, policy! That was always your word and the word of Machiavelli whom you admired so much. Policy, my lord, dictates that you should save your life even if the cost spoils some of the charms of your vanity. Tell my father to lead some of my men to my room and take the Lady Beatrice from it. She is ill—for a reason that you may guess after breathing the poisoned air."

Cesare Borgia hesitated a moment, and then leaned from the casement to speak.

It seemed always to Tizzo a miracle that he and his company of the stout Romagnol peasants managed to escape from the town. For, after they marched away from the palace, with the white horse of Tizzo dancing in their midst and Beatrice supported by strong hands as she reeled in the saddle, the duke could have had fifty times their number to crush them.

Tizzo could not know that the great duke sat, at that time, crossed legged on the floor, holding the thin, cold, white hand of Bonfadini, the poisoner. And even thoughts of vengeance, which always had been the nearest and the dearest to the duke's heart, were for the moment forgotten.


GALLERY OF ARGOSY COVERS


Illustration

Argosy, November 24, 1934, with "The Firebrand"



Illustration

Argosy, February 2,1935 with "The Great Betrayal"



Illustration

Argosy, April 6, 1935, with "The Storm"



Illustration

Argosy, June 8, 1935, with "The Cat and the Perfume"



Illustration

Argosy, July 13, 1935, with "Claws of the Tigress"



Illustration

Argosy, August 3, 1935, with "The Bait and the Trap"



Illustration

Argosy, August 24, 1935, with "The Pearls of Bonfadini"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
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