Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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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-Dec 1, 1934 (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 Storm offered here includes the original magazine illustrations and a bonus section with a gallery of the covers of the issues of Argosy in which the seven romances first appeared.
—Roy Glashan, December 2019.
THE hose on his right leg was orange; on his left leg it was green. His doublet was a puff of yellow and through the slashed sleeves of it appeared the crimson of an undertunic. He wore, not for warmth since the day was mid-summer, but merely from the excess of vanity and fashion, a short cloak which tumbled down from his shoulders and washed about from side to side behind them. And on his head, tilted a shade to an angle, there was a small round hat which was looped about by a fine golden chain.
As though this flare of colors were not enough to attract the eye, his hair was flame-red and glistened in the slant of the afternoon sun. He rode swiftly through the camp of Giovanpaolo and, coming to the tent of the commander, which was distinguished by the long pennon which flew from the peak, he slipped out of the saddle and threw the reins towards one of the men-at-arms who stood guard at the entrance.
The man was struck by the flying leather and allowed the strips to fall.
"Hold the horse, my friend," said the young fellow in the brilliant clothes. "Announce to Giovanpaolo that Tizzo is entering."
"Go ask the devil to announce you!" said the guard who had been flicked by the reins.
One of the gentry who lolled under the adjoining olive tree broke into a loud laughter and sat up to watch the brawl.
The guard added: "His Highness, Giovanpaolo, is not to be disturbed."
"Why not?" asked Tizzo, walking straight towards the two guards. Compared with their armor-sheathed bulks he seemed very slender and boyish. The sword at his side appeared to be a foolish vaunt. "Is Giovanpaolo sleeping because he's had too much to drink? If he is, I'll wake him up. Announce me!"
"Announce you?" said the guard who had spoken before. "Your name may be Firebrand, but you give me no warmth. I'm hot enough in the sun without having a fire at hand. Sit down on your heels and wait for the time of His Highness."
There was another loud laugh from the nobleman who lounged under the tree, and who now stood up as though expecting something further to happen.
He said, "Here's a check for Tizzo, at last."
One of his companions answered: "I wager three ducats to one that he gets into the tent."
"The guard will see him damned first," said the first man.
"The guard will be damned himself if he tries to bar the way," said the other. "I put money on Tizzo." Young Tizzo, at this moment, stepped straight to the angry guard and said: "Give me your name so that I can remember you."
"I give my name to my equals," said the guard, "not to wild- headed young forget-me-nots like you."
"Nevertheless, I'll shake hands with you," said Tizzo.
He caught the big, brown hand of the fighting man as he spoke. The latter tried to wrench his sword-arm free but the effort merely served to jerk Tizzo towards the entrance of the tent. Perhaps he tripped the guard as he passed. It was hard to tell exactly what happened, but the fact was that the man-at-arms tumbled flat on his back while Tizzo disappeared suddenly through the tent entrance. The guard, leaping to his feet, started to rush inside in pursuit, but his companion checked him.
"You've made a fool of yourself already," said the companion. "But if you break in on them now, you'll be damned for your folly."
"What do you mean?" asked the first man.
"Why, if you wore ears in your head you ought to have recognized the name. Tizzo is the brightness of which Giovanpaolo is the shadow; he is the warmth in Giovanpaolo's blood, the light in his eyes, the strength of his right hand. Tizzo, fool, is the man who saved the life of Giovanpaolo on the night of the Great Betrayal and got both him and the Lady Beatrice safely out of the city when men were running about like bloodhounds, lapping up the lives of the Baglioni."
"You could have told me what he was," growled the big guard.
"You asked no questions," said the other. "You brought some of your Swiss cheese with you from the Alps, but you left your wits behind you. And this is Italy, man, where brains are better than sword-blades."
"Tizzo? Tizzo?" said the man. "Now I think that I recall the name."
"Pick up the reins of his horse and hold them, then," said the other man-at-arms, "and the name may be willing to recall you."
INSIDE the tent, Tizzo saw Giovanpaolo striding up and down, his head a little bent towards the depth of his thought. On the table lay a map. Pieces of armor were stacked on a folding chair. The whole tent was filled with confusion.
"Ah, Tizzo," said Giovanpaolo, hardly turning his fine head towards the interloper, "what is it now? More brawling? More tavern drinking? More duelling? You have put Gismondo of Urbino to bed for a month with one of your sword tricks; the Spaniard from Naples will never see out of both eyes again, they tell me; and Ugo of Camerino will be a lucky man if he ever recovers the use of his left arm."
"It was only the left arm," said Tizzo, seriously. "I knew that he was a fellow you put a value on, and that was why I did not teach his right arm the sort of manners it ought to know."
Giovanpaolo threw himself wearily back into a chair. He shook his head.
"Is the world always no more than a playground for you?" he asked, sadly. "Here we are shut out of Perugia, half of our friends killed, my own family slaughtered like sheep in the middle of the night, and the army which I am raising to retake the city already muttering and growling because I am slow in giving them pay. The men promised to me by the city of Florence have not appeared. All men begin to doubt my fortune. The sky turns black over me; and still you are dancing, drinking, laughing, fighting day and night without a care in the world."
"I could use some clouds in that same sky," said Tizzo. "Today is too hot for armor. The guards at your door are stewing under their cuirasses in their own sweat; they have turned as mad as hornets and try to sting your own friends."
"I heard them trying to keep you out," smiled Giovanpaolo, "but I knew that they might as well forbid a wild hawk to fly through the blue of heaven. What is it that you want?"
"Time to say farewell to you," said Tizzo.
"Farewell? You?" said Giovanpaolo.
He rose slowly from his chair. "The rest have fallen away from me," he said. "And now you? You are leaving?"
His handsome face darkened with sorrow. But he added, suddenly: "Very well. I can understand. You are too bright a butterfly for these dark days. Go where you please, Tizzo, and God go with you. Here—you will need funds for your journey. Help yourself from these—"
He jerked open the top of a small chest which appeared half filled with gold pieces. Then, stepping to the table, he unfastened a little casket awash inside with points of red and yellow and crystal flames. "Here are the last jewels which the Baglioni could collect," he said. "Fill a pocket with them. God knows you are welcome. If it were not for you, all of us would have died on that night of the Great Betrayal."
Tizzo lifted a handful of the jewels and let them sift slowly through his fingers, showering back into the casket.
"This stuff will do me no good where I am going," he said.
"Where are you going, then?" demanded the other, shortly.
"To hell," said Tizzo.
"Ha?" cried Giovanpaolo.
"To Perugia, I should say," added Tizzo.
"You? To Perugia? Yes, when we take the city by storm. Yes, then you will go to Perugia. But in the meantime even the stones in the streets would cry out 'Tizzo!' and 'Treason!' if they felt the falling of your feet."
"Look!" said Tizzo, and held out a rolled letter which Giovanpaolo pulled open and read aloud:
Friend and Fire-Eater, My Tizzo:
I send you this letter by sure hand. I have already rewarded him, but give him plenty of money when he arrives in honor of a dead man. That is myself.
The days went very well immediately after the Great Betrayal. The wine ran in the gutters, so to speak; the people cheered the murderers of the Baglioni; the traitors sat high in the saddle and they remembered Henry of Melrose with a good many favors and quite a bit of money. I began to feel that I might spend a happy time here except for the stench of murder which rises in my heart when I think of the midnight work which has been done in these streets.
However, when I was about to skim the cream off my cup of fortune and go away with it I was suddenly haled before the chiefs of the Great Betrayal—before Jeronimo della Penna, I mean, and Carlo Barciglia. For Grifone Baglioni is no longer accounted anything. Except for him they never would have taken the place, of course, but since the Great Betrayal conscience has been eating his heart; he has turned yellow and is growing old. Every day he goes to the castle of his lady mother and begs her to let him enter and give him her blessing, and every day the Lady Atlanta bars her doors against him and sends him a curse as a traitor instead of a blessing as a son.
So I was before Jeronimo and Carlo alone, and the information against me was dug up by that double-tongued snake of darkness, that hell-hound of a Mateo Marozzo, who hates you so sweetly and who wears on his forehead the cross which you put there with the point of your dagger. If he remains long out of hell, the chief devil will die of yearning.
It is this Marozzo who discovered that on the night of the Great Betrayal it was through my gate that there passed the Lady Beatrice Baglione, accompanied by the main head and brains of the Baglione family, the famous Giovanpaolo, and that firebrand, the hawk-brained wild man, Tizzo, who had snatched those two lives from the slaughter.
I damned and lied with a vengeance and offered to prove my innocence in single combat with Marozzo, but they have seen my swordwork and they shrank from that idea. In brief, out came two eye-witnesses and I was damned at once, and thrown into prison. Here Jeronimo della Penna is letting me lie while he revolves in his mind a punishment savage enough to be equal to my fault. After that, be sure, I shall die.
In dying, as I run my eyes down the years, I shall see no face more dear to me than that of my young companion who never showed his back to a friend. I shall think of you, Tizzo, as I die. Think of me also, a little, as you live.
Henry of Melrose.####
GIOVAN PAOLO, when he had finished reading the letter, his voice dropping with an honest reverence as he pronounced the last words, remained for a time with his head bent.
"I know the brave Englishman," said he, at last. "I know he has been a bulwark of the house of the Oddi. I have seen him in battle and anyone who has watched the work of his sword can remember him easily enough. I know that it was he who allowed us to pass out of the city on the night of the Betrayal. I would give all the jewels and the gold in this place and all I could send for in order to set him free. But that would not help him. Money will not buy a man out of the cruel hands of Jeronimo della Penna. And what can you do, or any other man? We can only pray that we may storm the city and set him free before Jeronimo makes up his mind what form of torment he will use on Melrose."
"I must go to him," answered Tizzo.
"Listen to me," urged Giovanpaolo. "How can one man help him?"
"The man who brought me the letter is an assistant jailer. I've bribed him with a fine sum of money. He is going to meet me in Perugia and admit me to the house of Jeronimo, where Melrose lies in one of the great cellars. He will furnish me with a file to cut through the manacles. After that, I must try to get Melrose away."
"How will you take him out of the city? Will you use wings?"
"Chance," said Tizzo. "I've worshipped her so long with dice, I've made so many sacrifices in her name, that she would not have the heart to refuse me a single request like this one."
"Tizzo—tell me in brief. What is Melrose to you? He is brave; he has an eye which is the same flame-blue as yours in a fight; he is true to his friends. I grant all that. But other men have the same qualities."
"Paolo," said Tizzo, "you and I have sworn to be true to one another. We have sworn to be blood brothers without the blood."
"That is right," nodded Giovanpaolo.
"Well, then," said Tizzo, "if I heard that you were lying in prison, expecting death, my heart would be stirred no more than when I hear that the Englishman is rotting in misery in the dungeon of della Penna."
Giovanpaolo, after this, merely made a mute gesture and argued no more.
"Beatrice is in the inner tent," he said. "You will want to say farewell to her?"
"No," answered Tizzo. "If I see her, I'll fall out of this resolution of mine and be in love with life again. Tell her so after I have gone."
"I shall tell her," said Giovanpaolo. "What is your plan?"
"Simply to enter the city and go to the house of a certain Alberto Marignello, in the little lane off the via dei Bardi. This Marignello is the fellow I have given the money to, the one with the keys to the cellars of della Penna. When I have the keys—why, you see that I'll not know the next step until I come to take it."
"Tizzo, you are a dead man!"
"I am," said Tizzo, cheerfully, "and that is why I have come to say farewell!"
He held out his hands, and Giovanpaolo, with a groan but with no further protest, held out his hands to make that silent farewell.
THE green, the orange, the yellow and the crimson no longer flashed on the body of Tizzo when he came near Perugia in the twilight of that day. His skin, rather fairer than that of most Italians, had been darkened with the walnut stain which he had used on the night of the Great Betrayal, and his red hair, darkened also, tumbled unkempt about his face. His clothes were ragged; his back was bowed under a great fagot of olive wood to which was lashed a heavy woodsman's ax. In the full light of the day a curious eye might have been interested in the blue sheen of the blade of that ax, but in the half-light of the evening the glimmer of the pure Damascus steel could not be noticed.
When he came to the gate, a pair of fine young riders were being questioned by the captain on duty there, but none of the guards paid the slightest attention to that bowed form under the heavy load of wood. A young lad inside the gate bawled: "Look! Look at the donkey walking on two legs!"
In fact, hardly the poorest man in Perugia would have carried such a crushing burden of wood on his back into the town, but Tizzo, with a hanging head and a slight sway from side to side of his entire body, strode gradually up the steep slope of the street. He turned right and left again before he came to the wide façade of the great house in which lived Atlanta Baglione, the mother of the traitor to his house. Grifone.
In the dusk, he came to the entrance of the courtyard, where the porter merely sang out: "What's this?"
"A broken back and a load of olive wood," said Tizzo. "Where shall I leave the stuff?"
He made as if to drop it to the pavement but the porter cursed him for a lout. "D'you wish to litter the street and give me extra work?" he demanded. "Get in through the court and I'll open the inner door."
He led the way, but stopped suddenly as he saw the form of a man kneeling on the farther side of the court under a shuttered window, crying out, not over-loud: "Mother, whatever I have done, I have repented. If I have sinned against God, he will have his own vengeance. If I have sinned against men, my heart is already broken. But if you turn a deaf ear to me, the devils in hell are laughing!"
"So!" muttered the porter. "Always the same! Always the same! But she is the sort of pale steel that will not bend. This way, woodcutter."
He led through a doorway, but as he was about to close the door, the man who cried out in the corner of the courtyard rose and rushed to enter behind the burden-bearer. A streak of light from a window flashed dimly across his face and Tizzo recognized the most handsome features of Perugia, the richest of her sons, the pride and the boast of all her youth, Grifone. He was a great deal altered. Even in that faint glimpse, Tizzo could see the pale, hollow face. Then the door slammed heavily and shut out the vision.
"So! So!" panted the porter. "God forgive him for his sins; God forgive my lady for shutting him away; and God forgive me that I have seen such things in my life!"
He showed Tizzo where to carry the wood into a storeroom, and locked the door behind him.
"And now for the payment," said Tizzo, standing straight with a groan. "I have brought twenty backloads of that wood, now, and I need the money for it, friend."
He leaned on the handle of the ax and wiped sweat from his face.
"You want money? There is not a penny ever paid out in this household except by my lady," said the porter. "Do you want me to break in on her now?"
"Brother," said Tizzo, "there is neither flour nor oil in my house, to say nothing of wine, and I have to walk a league to come to my place."
"Have you carried that backload three miles?" asked the porter.
"Yes," said Tizzo, truthfully.
"Well," murmured the porter, "I shall see what can be done. It is very late, but the lady is kind as milk to every man except to her poor son."
HE left Tizzo standing, leaning against the wall, and finally ran down some stairs and told Tizzo to follow him. "She will see you. But this is a strange thing—that she knows everything and yet she does not know of any twenty backloads of wood of the olive. Well, we shall see."
He took Tizzo up the stairs and brought him into a little square anteroom where a table was piled with neatly arranged papers of account.
A moment later the lady of the house entered. The Lady Atlanta wore the black of deep mourning with double bands of blackness as though for two deaths. To be sure, her husband had been dead ever since the infancy of her son; she had never married in the interval because she had kept one memory sacred although her great wealth had tempted a number of famous suitors; and now it was plain that she mourned for Grifone, her son, as though he were dead also.
This darkness of the clothes made her face marble. Her brow was as clear as stone, her eyes were unmarked by time, and she wore that faint smile which Greek sculptors knew and loved. At first glance she seemed still in her twenties. In fact, she was not yet forty years of age.
She took her place at once behind the table, sitting straight in a backless chair and resting on the edge of the table a hand of wonderful youth and delicacy of outline.
"Your name?" she said.
"Andrea," said Tizzo, bowing until his shaggy hair almost touched the floor. "Andrea the son of Andrea the son of Andrea, the son of Luigi of the millside near the village of La Pietra."
"Andrea," said she, "you claim the payment for twenty backloads of olive wood?"
"I do," said Tizzo, bowing again.
"I have no record of ordering this fuel, my poor friend," said the lady.
"I carry the order with me," said Tizzo.
"You carry it with you?"
"Yes, my lady."
"In token," said Tizzo.
He shifted the ax which he still held and drew from his breast on a slender string something which he held in the hollow of his palm so that porter could not see it but the lady could. What she saw was a broken ring.
She saw, also, the sudden flash of meaning in eyes too bright, too flame-blue for the darkness of the skin and the hair.
She saw this, and instantly looked down at the floor.
"Go to Fortinacci the steward," she said to the porter, "and ask him what he knows about this affair of Andrea the son of Andrea the son of Andrea. I will talk to Andrea in the meantime."
The porter disappeared, and Lady Atlanta rose at once.
"What is the ring?" she asked.
Tizzo, with his grimy fingers, laid it at once in the white palm of her hand and she bent over it curiously. She started straight again, suddenly. There was a wide incredulity in her eyes as she said: "It is one half of a broken signet ring of Giovanpaolo Baglione!"
"The other half," said Tizzo, "is worn about his neck."
"In sign of what?" she asked.
"In sign that we are sworn brothers," said Tizzo.
THE Lady Atlanta, looking with her cold, steady eyes into the face of the stranger, said to him, suddenly: "You are the red-haired man, the firebrand; you are that Tizzo—and yet you cannot be he! Hair may be stained and skin darkened, but Tizzo is a man who can cleave a thick jousting helmet with one stroke of his ax—" Here her eye ran down along the arm and the hand of Tizzo to the blue, shimmering blade of his ax.
"Ah, it is true!" she murmured. She smiled with a radiance that made her young as a girl.
She hurried to the door and slid the bolt, whispering: "What is there that I may do? I know that you saved two sacred lives of my family. Now you are risking your head again by entering Perugia. Tizzo, you had better walk into a flaming furnace than into this town!"
"Withdraw the bolt, madame," said Tizzo. "If you honor me with a private interview, even that is enough to make men look at me, and if they look at me twice, I shall be discovered."
"True!" she said, and drew out the bolt again, instantly. "But what is there that I can do, Tizzo? Tell me how I can aid you? Whatever purpose brought you to Perugia, I shall make it my purpose!"
"My purpose," said he, "is to rescue a friend from his prison in the cellars of della Penna."
"With how many men are you to attack the house?"
"With my two hands and this ax," he said, smiling. "It is not force that will save my friend. The only thing that will unlock the bolts of della Penna's house is chance and a little bribery. I am using both."
"Tizzo, the chance is dreadfully slight. And if they capture you, your head will be on a pike before morning!"
"The chance is very small," he admitted. "There is a better and a surer way of saving my friend: beating open the gates of Perugia and restoring the city to its rightful rulers."
"Tell me what way!" she demanded, eagerly.
"You have the means in your own hands. The agent is now in your courtyard calling out on your name and begging you to let him speak to you. Your son Grifone is trusted with half the charge of the walls. He could open the gates easily, and allow the soldiers of Giovanpaolo to enter the town."
"Since Judas," she said, "there never has been such a traitor as Grifone Baglione!"
"He is your own son!" said Tizzo.
"I forswear my claim on him. He is a changeling. My true son was stolen out of my bed and a murderer's brat was placed on my breast."
"My lady, if ever the same blood showed in two faces, it is in you and his highness, Grifone."
"It cannot be," she said. "Or if I have had a share in the making of his body, I have had none in the forming of his heart. In his own house—at midnight—with his own hand he gave the signal for the butchery—and he led the way— Ah, God, when I gave him birth, what a curse I brought upon my poor Perugia!"
"My lady," said Tizzo, "he was very young; he was tempted by a great jealousy."
"He suspected Giovanpaolo with his wife."
"His wife is a sacred saint, and Giovanpaolo is the noblest of men! Tizzo, only curs hate the truly noble! And Grifone may whine like a dog in the courtyard. I never shall see him!"
"One word from you, and he would throw himself on the side of Giovanpaolo."
"Giovanpaolo would not have the traitor's aid—not for the price of two cities, each twice greater than Perugia."
"My lady, it is true that Giovanpaolo would never forgive him, but if Grifone will restore the Baglioni to their own, then a peace can be made between them. His Highness, Grifone, can withdraw with all his possessions to another place. And time may partly close the breach between them."
"Death alone can close it!" said the Lady Atlanta.
"Madame, I beg you to think—it is in your power to restore the Baglioni to Perugia."
"It is the dearest wish of my soul, but shame would keep Grifone from lifting a hand to help the men he has wronged."
"Be sure that his heart is suffering. There is torture in his face. A word from him will make him repent everything and strive to make amends to all the people of his blood."
"Tizzo, I have sworn a great and sacred oath never to look on his face, never to speak to him, never to listen to his voice. If I hear him crying out under my window, I run to another room and stop my ears."
"An oath which is wrong should not be maintained. Every priest will grant you absolution for breaking it."
"I did not swear it with thin breath; I swore it with my heart and soul."
TIZZO, for a moment, regarded the beauty, the terrible anger in her face. And he knew that persuasion would be impossible.
"Then I kiss your hand and leave you, my lady," he said.
She retained his hand in both of hers, the fierce passion dying gradually out of her eyes.
"But you, Tizzo," she said. "I know what you have done. I know by words, and also, I saw that great jousting helmet cloven to the bottom by your ax-stroke. There is not strength in your hands for such a feat and therefore it must be a strength in your heart. Trust me, that if I know any manner in which I may aid you and help you, I am at your service. There is money here—or jewels which have a greater price—will you have them?" She actually stripped the rich rings from her fingers. But Tizzo shook his head.
"There are men in this house whom I could trust to support you in anything."
"No, my lady," said Tizzo. "I have had enough money for my purpose. More would only be a weight in my pocket. And as for men, the thing I have to do is better and more easily managed by one hand than by twenty. Secrecy has to be the point of the sword for me now."
"Must I feel that my hands are empty to help you?" she exclaimed.
"No, my lady. I shall remember you when I come to the time of need, and that will make me stronger."
"You will go on this wild enterprise, Tizzo?"
"I must go, at once."
"Tell me what service I can do, other than this, for Giovanpaolo and his men?"
"Send to my friend, Antonio Bardi, and tell him that Giovanpaolo forgives the part he played in the Great Betrayal. At least, Bardi did no murder on that night."
"How can Giovanpaolo forgive a single soul who took part in the Great Betrayal?"
"Because he is as wise as he is brave. My lady, send for Bardi. Tell him he is forgiven if he wishes to strike a blow on our side. Send, also, for my foster father, Luigi Falcone. He has taken no stand on either side. But he will ride and fight for me. Those two men inside the city, if they will meet in your house and lay their plans together, may be strong enough to open Perugia to the attack of Giovanpaolo. Farewell!"
"Farewell, noble Tizzo!" said the Lady Atlanta. "If I were a man, I would go at your side, tonight!"
IT was easy enough for Tizzo to get down the stairway and out into the courtyard, unobserved.
The court was empty. A thunderstorm was rolling over the city, lighting up its towers and mountain-ranges of clouds with long ripplings of cataracting lightning. Brief, rattling showers raised a pungent odor of dust in the air, and scurried the people out of the streets, as Tizzo turned away from the great, unhappy house of the Lady Atlanta.
He had never seen, he was sure, a lady so beautiful. Not the young and lovely wife of Grifone, even, was so like an immortal. Compared with such majesty and purity of features, the Lady Beatrice was a mere tomboy.
She was a mere prettiness, in contrast. But then it was her spirit that set the hearts of men burning.
Thinking of her, Tizzo turned into the via dei Bardi and there forgot everything except his purpose. From the street of the Bardi, he turned into the alley that branched off from it, crooked and downhill as the course of a stream; and the lofty, irregular front of the houses might well have been a canyon which the running water had worked out of the living rock.
The house of Alberto Marignello had been well described to him. He found it almost at once and was about to cross the street towards it when a slender youth, wrapped in a cloak to defy the rain, said to him: "Tizzo, there have been many men there before you!"
He turned with a half groan of bewilderment and fear. "Beatrice," he whispered, "in the name of what god have you come to Perugia tonight?"
SHE stood back with one elbow leaning against the wall, her hat pulled half down across her forehead, her legs crossed, her whole attitude one of super-boyish impudence and mirth. He had seen her so often in man's clothes, she was so certain to slip into them whenever there was an emergency of importance, that his quickest memory of her was not in dresses at all. She was saying:— "I came to Perugia in the name of the great god of the fire, in the name of the firebrand; I came for Tizzo. Does that answer please you, my most noble lord?"
"Beatrice, listen to me—"
"If you talk so earnestly, people will notice you. If they look at you twice, they'll soon have you clapped into a fire to burn in good earnest, Messer Firebrand."
"They will find you in the town. They will surely recognize you, Beatrice. And if they get their hands on you—"
"They don't murder women," said Beatrice. "Not even in Perugia."
"They'll do worse. They'll marry you to one of their brutal selves for the sake of your estate."
"And then comes noble Sir Tizzo and runs my false husband through the gizzard and makes me a widow today and a new wife tomorrow. You see, I risk very little. No matter what road the story starts away on, it will wind up with Beatrice and Tizzo hand in hand at the close."
"My God, how wild, how foolish, and how charming you are," said Tizzo. "Giovanpaolo should not have told you where I had gone."
"I pulled the story out of him like so many teeth. Tizzo, you would sneak away and let yourself be killed? Sneak away without a word of farewell to me?"
"I had not the courage to face you."
"When I knew you were gone, I was empty," she said. "I felt, suddenly, as though you had never kissed me, as though you had never said you loved me. I felt as though danger were another woman, and you had gone to her. So I had to come here and meet you in the street."
"You must go instantly from the city."
"With you, Tizzo, I would go anywhere."
"I cannot go with you farther than the walls."
"Then I shall not leave Perugia."
"Beatrice, I beg you—if you love me—"
"I only love the man who lets me share his dangers," she said.
"I will take you to the walls and see you safely away."
"I shall not go unless you come with me."
And then he said: "The work which lies before me is something I cannot turn my back on."
"Your work is spoiled before it commenced," she said.
"I've lingered up and down this street, and I've seen half a dozen men enter that building."
"Why not? More than one family lives in it."
"Men in cloaks, with something under the cloaks."
"Bread from the baker, perhaps."
"Bread or steel ground sharp along two edges, more likely," she said.
"Marignello has been paid his price. He would not betray me."
"Perhaps he could get a greater price from della Penna."
"He would not dare to confess that he had been in touch with me."
"No? He would simply say that, from the first, he had been attempting to draw you into a trap."
"There is not that degree of guile in him."
"Tizzo, for all your cleverness—and I know you are not a fool—you continue to think that men are as honest as yourself. And that is a folly. Why, Tizzo, every man in Perugia knows that Mateo Marozzo, for instance, would pay all the gold in his treasury for the sake of one chance to drive a knife into your body!"
"Marozzo hates me. They all hate me, now. But I must count on Marignello. Without him, I have no hope. And that means that Melrose has to die without a hand lifted to save him."
"Henry of Melrose," she said, "has followed adventure all his life. He could never expect to die peacefully. Let him have the end that he has invited."
"I cannot, Beatrice."
"Will not, you should say."
"I love you, Beatrice; but even you hardly stir my blood and draw my soul from me so much as that wild Englishman."
"He taught you half a dozen tricks of fencing, and therefore you love him."
"There is something more than that," said Tizzo, frowning. "Long ago, when I saw him, suddenly I had to follow him. I left the inheritance of a great house and a huge fortune for the sake of tagging about the world at his heels."
"Perhaps he used a charm on you?"
Tizzo crossed himself and murmured: "God forbid! But I must go forward in this."
"You mean that you will surely enter that house?"
"Most surely I shall."
"Well, then, I shall show you one thing first," said the girl.
Before he could stop her, she was half way across the street, and he saw her pass straight through the door of the tall house. As she opened the door, he had a glimpse of a dull light and suddenly reaching hands. He saw a flash of naked steel here and there in the background.
He ran like a deer to the rescue but the door slammed heavily; he arrived at it only in time to hear the clank of the heavy iron bolt rammed home into a stone socket.
TO beat against the door with his ax would simply be a folly. He ran to the left into a meager alley hardly the width of a man's body and saw, high above his head, the glimmer of a light through a barred window.
Springing up as high as possible, he was barely able to hook the lower edge of the ax over the sill of the window. Then he drew himself up into the casement and curled into the embrasure. Through the bars of the window he found himself looking down into a large room with a fire flickering on a deep hearth and a mist of woodsmoke in the air. And in the midst of the room stood a full dozen of men clustered about the Lady Beatrice, holding her fast by the arms.
Alberto Marignello stood before her, his rather handsome but heavy face darkened by a scowl.
"Now, my lad," he was saying, "explain why you open the door of a place where you have never been seen before?"
"I come here because I bring a message."
"What sort of a message?"
"A brief one," said the girl.
"From a man I met outside the gate of San Ercolano."
"Well, what sort of a man?"
"A young man with red hair."
"Ah, ha!" said Marignello. "Young—with red hair, and blue eyes that never stop shining?"
"Yes, that is he."
"You see?" said Marignello. "She has seen that Tizzo—that blue-eyed devil of a Tizzo! Well, and what message did he give you?"
"To come here and find a man called Alberto Marignello."
"That is my name."
"Well, then I'm to tell you that he cannot come tonight."
"Ah, he cannot come?"
"Will he come tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow after dark, if you will come out to the camp of Giovanpaolo and arrange a second meeting place."
"I go again into the jaws of the lion?" said Marignello. "I am not such a fool."
"That was the message. And then I come here," said Beatrice, angrily, "and you all leap at me like dogs at a bone."
It seemed a miracle to the watcher at the window that they should not see, at once, that she was no boy at all. The beauty and the dignity of the Baglioni was in her face in spite of her rough clothes. And in her voice there was a strange sweetness that should have undeceived them at once, he thought. But in that voice there was also a huskiness, and it was true that she looked slender and small enough to have passed for a boy at the turning point towards youth.
A strangeness came into the mind of Tizzo. He half wanted to shout: "Fools! You have in your hands the greatest prize, bar one, that you could ask for. You have the sister of Giovanpaolo. With her in your hands, you are safe, and Giovanpaolo himself will not dare to attack the city—not if he had a million armed men behind him!" And again, with his bare hands, he wanted to tear at the iron bars and wrench them from their stone sockets and plunge into the room.
HERE a great booming of thunder began, one of those cataracting sounds which pour over heaven like a cart over a brazen bridge. Inserting the stout oaken haft of the ax between the bars, he bore down with all his strength. Something gave. It was not the stone socket, but the soft iron itself bent, and so was pulled loose. With his hand he was able to draw it away from the socket.
As the uproar of the thunder died down, one of the men said: "This story that the boy tells is all very smooth and well. But I wish to ask when he passed through the gate at San Ercolano?"
"Oh, half an hour ago," said the Lady Beatrice.
The fellow who had asked the question turned with a sudden grin on his companions. He threw out his hand to make an important gesture. Then he said: "It was less than a half hour ago that I passed near San Ercolano and found out that the gate had not been opened during the entire afternoon."
"The small portal in the gate was open, however," said Beatrice, and the heart of Tizzo stood still as he listened.
"The portal was not opened!" shouted the fellow who had last spoken. He had a broad, brutal face and Tizzo swore that he would never forget that countenance.
"The portal was not opened. The entire guard was taken from the gate at noon! At noon, mind you! And the boy lies!"
"Ah, ha," said Marignello. "Is that the way of it? Now, he looks capable of a good lie, when I look at him again. His face is a little too fine for those clothes. Give me your hand, boy!"
Beatrice held out her hand, and Marignello leaned over it. Suddenly he threw it to one side. He exclaimed: "It is soft as the hand of a woman! This fellow never has done a stroke of work! What has your labor been, eh?"
"I've been a tailor's apprentice," said Beatrice, instantly.
"Ha? So! Well that may be, too," said Marignello, half convinced by this remark.
"No tailor's apprentice ever stood so straight," said another. "From sitting cross-legged, their shoulders begin to stoop before they're twelve years old."
"Aye, and their chins stick out in front."
"Aye, and they squint!"
These remarks came in a general murmur. The thunder rolled heavily again, and Tizzo used that noise to cover the wrenching jerk with which he pried loose a second bar. Another pair, and he would have opened a sufficient space to admit his body. After that, if once he got down into that room with his ax—well, they would have something to think about other than this "boy" they were questioning.
"You are not a tailor's apprentice," said Marignello, pointing to her hand. "See, there is no enlargement of the thumb and the forefinger of the right hand, and the left forefinger is not stuck full of the little scars of the needle point. Confess that you have lied."
"I was ill for six months and the scars wore away from my skin," said Beatrice Baglione.
"I never saw a tailor," said Marignello, "who dared to look people straight in the eyes in the manner of this lad. He holds up his chin in the manner of one who has told servants to come and to go. Come—the signore will be here in a little while, and then we may learn something more about this lad."
It was only another moment, in fact, when a knock came distinctly at the street door.
"Shall I open?" asked one of the men.
"No, not till I have spoken," said Marignello.
He approached the door and called out: "Who is there?"
The answer was indistinguishable to Tizzo, but Marignello called again: "What word has passed between us?"
He paused for the answer and then said to the other: "This is right. He has named the word which he and I alone know. It is the signore."
He then unbarred the door and there entered a man in a scarlet cloak whose collar was wrapped up high about the head and face in order to shut off the rain.
He threw back this cloak and revealed himself in a fine doublet and costly hose that had a silken sheen. He had a colored handkerchief thrust inside his belt and carried a dagger as well as a sword. His soft hat was of blue velvet, and it was pulled low over his forehead. In spite of this, the silver gleam of a scar appeared just above the center of the forehead and looked like a streak of grease. Tizzo recognized his own handiwork. With the point of his dagger he had drawn a cross into the flesh of Mateo Marozzo, the point of the sharp steel shuddering against the bone. This man he had branded for life, and it was a deed which he looked back upon only with pleasure. He wished, now, that he had driven the dagger through the fellow's heart.
Marignello said: "We have caught a queer lad here, who says that he's a tailor's apprentice. But he hasn't that look. He says that he carries a message from Tizzo. Will your lordship look at him?"
Marozzo approached the Lady Beatrice and stared full in her face.
Then he said: "This is, in fact, a very queer—lad! Marignella, take yourself and your men away. Let me have plenty of time alone with this—lad. And I may make something of him!"
MARIGNELLO got quickly out of the room, the slamming of the door behind him and his companions being quite covered by an immense, crashing downpour of the rain. In that uproar, Tizzo managed to work the other bars from the sockets. He had plenty of room, now, to slip through the window, but his position was frightfully complicated. If he leaped down, the ten foot drop to the floor from that high casement probably would send him sprawling, and before he could rise the dagger of Marozzo would be in his back. He waited, the corners of his mouth jerking with eagerness.
He could hear Marozzo, now, saying: "Dangerous, beautiful—most beautiful, most dangerous, Lady Beatrice! Can I tell you how welcome you are to me?"
"My dear Mateo," said the girl, "I ought to be welcome to you. You can make a very neat sum of money out of me, I suppose."
"Money?" said Marozzo. "Do you think that we will sell you? No, sweetheart, you will never leave Perugia, and so long as you are inside the city the hands of Giovanpaolo are tied. He cannot strike at us for fear we may strike at you. You mean more than money to all of us. You mean life, Beatrice, life!"
He began to laugh, putting his face close to hers, jeering.
"And the handsome fellow with the red hair—the firebrand—Tizzo—I suppose it was he who drew you into this crazy adventure, my lady? Your reputation—what is that to a man whose brain is all in a flame? Such a bright flame that the pretty little moths, the charming, delicate Beatrices, are always flying into the fire!"
"Mateo," she answered, "Tizzo has nothing to do with this."
"Certainly not. You didn't even know that he was expected here this evening? You were merely walking up the street by chance? You merely happened to walk through this door? Certainly Tizzo could have nothing to do with it!"
She took a deep, quick breath and looked fixedly at Marozzo.
"Mateo, you can make a fortune, a great fortune, if you'll see me out of the city."
"If an angel came down and offered me a throne in heaven for returning you to your brother, I would never do it!" said Marozzo.
"No," she said, slowly, "I think you mean that!"
"I mean it with all my heart. We are leaving the house now, my lady!"
"To cheat your friend Marignello of his share in the reward? There is as much fox as dog in you, Mateo," she said.
And Marozzo, overwhelmed with a sudden frenzy of hate, flicked the tips of his fingers across her face.
IT was not thought that governed Tizzo. Far better for him to have slipped back down to the street and waited for Marozzo and his prize in the darkness of the narrow way. But he could not resist the lightning impulse which overcame him when he saw the girl struck. He slid through the window and dropped to the floor, and his foot, striking a wet spot on the tiles, shot him headlong on the slippery pavement.
He was already half twisting to his feet when he saw Marozzo running in at him with a levelled sword. An agony of quick fear had turned the face of Mateo white and pulled his mouth into a horrible grin; an agony of joy at this golden opportunity set his eyes blazing. He might have brought a dozen men swarming by a single cry, but that conflict of his emotions seemed to have throttled him. Or perhaps he saw, in this gleaming instant, a chance to accomplish a double deed—the capture of Lady Beatrice and the death of Tizzo. Such a thing would make him a hero forever among the powers who then ruled the city of Perugia. He would be, at once, among the great ones.
So he sprang at Tizzo, the sword shooting out before him for the death stroke. It came with such speed that there was no avoiding it, but Beatrice caught at the backward flaring cloak of Marozzo with such strength that he was checked and jerked a little to the side. That gave Tizzo the fraction of a moment he needed for rising to his feet. The head of the ax, light as gilded paper in the practiced grasp of his hands, struck aside the next thrust. He was in no position to use the edge of the ax for a counterstroke. Instead, he drove the butt of the haft between the eyes of Marozzo and snatched the sword as it fell from the unnerved hand.
Marozzo fell in a heap, not utterly unconscious but still struggling to recover himself. To Tizzo the miracle was that a yell of alarm had not roused the house before this.
"Quick! Quick, Tizzo!" gasped Lady Beatrice, already at the street door.
"Go in the name of God," he commanded. "Go to the house of Lady Atlanta and she will shield you. I have one more thing to attempt here."
With a twist of cloth he was tying the hands of Marozzo behind his back. Then he drew the little poniard from the side of Marozzo and flashed it before his eyes.
"If you mark me again like a branded beast—" groaned Marozzo. "Kill me outright, Tizzo. Ah, God, to think that I had you so close to the point of my sword!"
"A greater miracle is going to happen," said Tizzo. "You will have a chance for your life if you listen to me! Beatrice, will you go? Will you go? Are you staying here to drive me mad? Slip away! Swift, to the house of the lady, and she will help you from the city."
The girl stepped to the table and sat down on the edge of it, swinging one small foot.
"I stay here," she said. "I haven't had so many chances of seeing you at work, Tizzo."
He glared at her, baffled.
"There is still danger!" he insisted. "There is a frightful danger—I beg you with the blood of my heart—go at once!"
"While you stay here?" said the girl. "No, I stay where you stay. Save your breath. You can't persuade me to leave you."
He glared at her once more, half enraged, half desperate. Then he turned back to Marozzo.
"Stand up!" he commanded, and Marozzo rose. His eyes saw one thing only, the deadly splinter of steel, the almost invisible needle point of the poniard which was at his breast.
"Step to the door," said Tizzo, and led his captive there.
He pulled that door a trifle ajar and ordered: "Call to Marignello and tell him to send all his companions away. Tell him you have learned something that is only for his ears and yours. In a hearty, happy voice, Marozzo, or by St. Stephen you'll have something sharper than arrows in your heart!"
"I'll be no tool of yours!" panted Marozzo. "Stab me, then; but I'll not do your work for you! The day is cursed that first saw you!"
"Ah, Mateo, do you invite me?" asked Tizzo through his teeth. "Don't you see, Marozzo, that wild horses are drawing me forward to your slaughter, you jackal? But do as I tell you and I give back your dirty life. You hear?"
In that moment of shame and surrender, Marozzo glanced towards the girl and found her hard, cruel eyes fixed upon him. His head dropped.
"Make up your mind," said Tizzo. "Will you call to Marignello? Heartily?"
"Yes," said Marozzo.
His head jerked back. His eyes were half closed, and suddenly he shouted to the full of his lungs: "Marignello! Help! Hel—"
The point of Tizzo's dagger could have stifled the first word of that cry, but he could not strike it into a defenseless throat. His whole heart yearned to kill the traitor, and still he could not use the edge of the dagger. Instead, he jerked it about and struck with the pommel once, twice, and again into the midst of that still beautiful face.
A smashed red ruin took the place of a face. Marozzo slid through the arms of Tizzo like a figure of sand and lay helpless on the floor.
"Tizzo, they are coming!" panted the girl.
"They are," he admitted. "But I can't leave. There's still a chance. I must get from Marignello the keys that he holds—Beatrice, for the last time—will you run for your life?"
A tumult of many footfalls came hurrying, and Tizzo barred the inner door against that influx.
"Signore Marozzo? Your highness?" Marignello was calling out anxiously as he came.
And then a light and silver sound of laughter chimed in the room, making Tizzo jerk his head suddenly about. It was the Lady Beatrice, with her head tilted back, now crying out: "Your highness—Signore Marozzo—how can I help laughing—"
The inner door was shaken.
"Your highness—did you call to me?"
"Yes, for wine," said Lady Beatrice. "I'll unbar the door for you, Marignello—"
She looked fixedly at Tizzo and walked up to the door. He, understanding suddenly, dragged the fallen body of Marozzo aside and placed himself where the door would cover him as it swung open.
There he waited. A crack of light struck in on him as he stood there while the door swung wide under the hands of the girl.
"Only you, Marignello," she said, still laughing. "There is a secret, here, and you are the only man his highness will admit to it. Step in!"
"A secret? I thought I heard a yell for help—" began Marignello, as he stepped through the door.
The girl shut and barred it instantly behind him.
"But where is Signore Marozzo—" began Marignello. It was only then that he saw the gleam of the poised ax in the hand of Tizzo. He made no effort to leap back. There was not a man in Perugia who did not know the singular and deadly magic which Tizzo could work with that weapon.
"Tie his hands," said Tizzo softly, to the girl.
It was done instantly.
"Is there a rear door out of the house?" whispered Tizzo to the stricken Marignello.
The eyes of the man dropped to the still figure of Marozzo on the floor.
"You still have a chance for life," promised Tizzo, "but only if you lend us your help."
"May I live? Oh, God, is it possible that you give me my life?" breathed Marignello. "There is, my lord. There is a door at the back of the house."
"Then tell all those fellows of yours to leave the place by that door—to return here tomorrow at the same time. Sing out in a hearty voice. You hear me?"
Marignello nodded. His eyes blinked. Twice he moistened his lips and took deep breaths, before he called out in a ringing tone: "It's finished for tonight. Paolo—Guido—all of you out the back way; I have to confer here with his highness."
"This is all too damned strange," said a heavy, growling voice beyond the door.
Marignello looked down again at the limp figure, the blood- dripping face of Marozzo, and shuddered.
"Orders from his highness," he said. "We've found wonders in the boy—and tomorrow night, my lads! At the same hour. We'll have the trap and we'll have the Tizzo to catch in it, and double pay for all."
There was still a little murmuring, but presently the footfalls began to withdraw. The knees of Marignello were bending under his weight, and the cold burden of fear.
"Be brave, Marignello," said Tizzo. "I have made a promise. Fill your part of the bargain, and you shall live, I swear."
"God and your highness forgive me for treachery!" groaned Marignello. "But they offered me a fortune, a treasure of gold! They hate you so, and they fear you so, that they would buy your death with your own weight in gold. Yes, they would make a statue of you all in precious metals and set jewels in the head of it for eyes. They would give that away to make sure of your death!"
"I understand," said Tizzo.
The girl had gone to the street door and was listening, but the crashing of the rain muffled all other sounds outside the house. Small gusts of wind worked down the chimney and knocked puffs of smoke out into the room.
"But you have, somewhere in the house, keys that fit doors in the prison cellars of della Penna," said Tizzo. "You were not lying when you told me that you were a trusted man?"
"I was not, signore. No, no, I am a trusted man—and God forgive me for once betraying my trust! There are three sets of the keys, one in the hands of his highness, Jeronimo della Penna, and the head jailer keeps one—he never leaves the house; and I have a smaller set."
"What will your smaller set open? The outer door of the cellars?"
"Marignello, you will still be a treasure to me!—Where are those keys?"
"They are at the key-maker's."
"His Highness, Jeronimo della Penna, ordered me to have my set copied."
Tizzo groaned, but the girl, turning from the door, said: "He lies, Tizzo."
"Why do you think so?"
"Three sets of keys to one dungeon—that is more than enough. If Jeronimo used all the wits he possesses, he would never have so many. Besides, would he trust such keys into common hands? Into the hands of a keymaker, who might make ten sets as easily as one?"
"True!" exclaimed Tizzo. He turned sharply on Marignello, who cowered as though he expected death to strike him that instant.
"You have lied, Marignello?" he demanded.
"Ah, my lord, consider! For these years I never have broken my trust to my master! How can I break it now?"
"You were bribed by Henry of Melrose."
"No, signore. I took his money, but then I carried the letter to my master. He read it through and told me to deliver it—and keep the bribe. You see, I tried to be honest."
"I think you have," said Tizzo, with a queer turning of his heart. "As well as you could, you've tried. You've tried to betray me and trap me—but I suppose that money can buy outright a conscience like yours. But now, Marignello, make up your mind. Will you give me the keys or will you not? Will you give them to me, or will you die here?"
"They are in that closed cupboard at the corner of the room," sighed Marignello.
Beatrice was instantly at the place, and when she had pulled the door open she drew out from one of the inner shelves a bunch of keys which were dark with rust in places but polished with use in others.
"Are these the ones, Marignello?" she asked.
"They are," said Marignello, sinking his head. "And I am a ruined man forever!"
"You have made a fortune out of your treachery," said Tizzo. "Why not leave Perugia, then, and spend your money in another place?"
"Because wine in other cities has no taste, and bread in another place will not fill the belly. Except in Perugia there is no good air for breathing; in other places, the men are fools and the women are foul," said Marignello, mournfully.
A deep sigh from Marozzo, at this moment, called attention back to him, and Beatrice stooped above his body.
"Now for the keys," said Tizzo. "One by one—slowly—here, I draw a diagram on the floor as you name me the rooms and the passages, one by one. Now, begin!"
THEY left Marozzo and Marignello lashed hand and foot, converted into two lifeless hulks which were rendered silent with strong gags. The cloak and the hat of Marignello were taken by Tizzo. That of Marozzo would shelter Beatrice from the rain.
And now, with the ax under the folds of the cloak, Tizzo stood beside the girl in the street. The eaves above them shut away most of the rain, which rushed down just past their faces.
"You see that where I am going now, no one can go with me," said Tizzo. "I have to be as secret as a cat, as casual as a pack-mule. If I tried to take you with me, I would be lost at once."
"I know it," said Beatrice. "But if you go, Tizzo, I shall never see you again!"
"The keys give me a good chance. The clothes of Marignello may help me more than everything else."
"Suppose that you even get to the Englishman and then find that already he has been torn and ruined by torture so that he can't follow you?"
"I must not find him that way!" he said.
Then he added: "You can go to one of three houses—that of Lady Atlanta, or to my foster father, Luigi Falcone, or to the place of Antonio Bardi. Which one will you choose?"
"Tizzo, say something now for me to remember through the years when I think of you going into the rat-trap." He laughed a little. Soft-footed thunder ran down the farther sky. Lightning slid along a crack of brightness.
"You'll remember that I drank too much wine, loved dice and fighting. Remember, too, that I loved my friends and one exquisite lady—one that could be more troublesome than smoke in the eyes, more delightful than a warm fire in December."
He could see that her eyes were closed as she leaned back against the wall.
"Now go before I begin to weep," she said.
He turned and hurried up the street.
HE had with him the ax muffled under the cloak, the broad, strong dagger of Marignello, and a file made of the most perfect steel, three cornered, ready to eat through other metal like fire through wood. Also, he had keys and a plan of the cellars of della Penna. These items were all advantages. Against him he had the hands of a strongly occupied house where one word of alarm would bring a score of well-armed men.
Was that why he was singing under his breath when he looked up at the gloomy façade of the house of della Penna?
He passed the main entrance, with its lanterns lighted, the horses waiting saddled in the street; for now that Jeronimo della Penna was the chief lord of Perugia, he had to have horses in readiness night and day.
Around the corner he came on a small portal which was sunk into the wall, a little round-topped doorway. Into the lock of this he fitted the largest of his keys, and felt the wards moving instantly, silently under the pressure.
That success was to him prophetic of victory all the way through. It seemed a sufficient proof that Marignello had not lied. He pushed the door open, and found himself in a little semicircular guard-room where a man in breastplate and morion was rising and picking up an unsheathed sword. He gave one glance at the weapon and at the little gray pointed beard of the guard. Then he walked by, making his step longer, heavier, more lumbering to match the gait of Marignello.
"Well, Marignello," said the guard, "this is before your time, isn't it?"
Tizzo went silently on.
Behind him he heard a muttering voice say: "Surly, voiceless, low-hearted dog!"
But Tizzo, turning a bend of the corridor, left the thought of the guard behind him. He had passed through the second stage of success and now he could swear that all would go well. A great premonition of victory accompanied him.
The stairs, exactly as Marignello had charted them, opened to the right of the hall. In a niche in the wall were placed three or four small lanterns, and one of these he took with him to light his way. The dull illumination showed him the descending stages as the stairway passed over laid stone and then was cut into the living rock. A singular odor filled the air. Gray slime covered the damp corners.
Down for two stories he passed into the bowels of the earth before he came to another hall somewhat narrower than the ones above it.
The third door on the right was his destination. When he came to it he waited for an instant, his ear pressed to the iron-bound door, his heart beating wildly. It would be worth everything to shine his lantern into the blue eyes of the Englishman and see his face change when he recognized his friend. All danger was worth while in the light of that moment of recognition.
He tried the prescribed key. It worked, but not so easily, the rusted lock groaning a little under the weight of his effort. At last the door sagged inwards; he took a sudden, long step inside and pressed the door shut behind him. Then he raised the lantern high.
What he saw in the the waver and throw of the lantern was emptiness. There was not a soul in the cell. A flat bit of moldering straw in a corner might have served as a bed at one time. That was the only sign.
He looked up despairingly at the glimmer of sweat on the ceiling of the rock. He saw the innumerable chisel strokes with which the tomb had been carved in the rock. He would need a patience as great as that if he were to find the Englishman in another part of this underground world which generations had enlarged, patiently, to provide store rooms and prisons for the lordly family which lived in the upper regions of light and air.
He sat down, like a prisoner himself, on the pallet of straw, and tried to remember. As he had charted the plan of the underground rooms at the direction of Marignello, so now he re- drew the plan in his mind, bit by bit, carefully. This flight of chambers, all small, ran from side to side of the cellar. Above were slightly larger rooms. In the lowest level of all there was only the torture chamber, fittingly placed at the foot of the entire structure so that the frightful sounds from it might not rise to the upper levels, poisoning the souls of all who heard.
Had Marignello simply lied—speaking truth until he came to the last and most important step of all? Did the scoundrel really have in him one strong devotion—to his trust in the house of della Penna?
If so, it was a miracle; for one evil corrupts the entire soul.
With the lantern, Tizzo examined the heavy iron bracket and ring which were fastened at the foot of one side of the wall, opposite the door. The ring was completely covered with rust, but when he examined the inside of it, he found that the rust powdered and flaked away. He stared at the floor. There was already a very thin deposit of the same iron dust on the floor, enough to stain the tips of his fingers red.
No, Marignello had not lied entirely. Into that ring, very recently, fetters had been locked and by their chafing had loosened the rust.
Perhaps Henry of Melrose already was dead. Perhaps his body had been taken from the cell and buried. If not to a grave, to what place would he be removed?
Yes, living, they might take him to another room—the torture chamber underneath!
Tizzo was up, instantly, and in the corridor outside. Something gray and dim streaked across his feet. He heard the incredibly light scampering of a rat, saw the gleam of the long, naked tail, heard a faint squeak that made his flesh crawl.
There was no air for breathing. Fear like a vampire sucked the life from him. He would have given a year of life for the sake of ten deep breaths of the outer night.
He had done enough, he kept telling himself. He had made the venture, found failure, and now it was time for him to think of his own safety.
But while his mind was rehearsing these silent words, his feet were bearing him steadily down the corridor, and then down the last windings of the stairs. Only in the center were they worn a little by traffic. Green-gray slime grew on the wet of the steps to either side.
At the bottom of the steps there was no corridor, only a brief anteroom, so to speak, and then a very powerful door, crossed and recrossed with such iron bars that it could have endured the battering of a ram designed to tear down a wall.
The key for this door had not been named by Marignello, but there were only three that could possibly fit the yawning mouth of the lock. It was the third of these that, actually, turned the bolt and slid it with a slight rumbling noise. The hinges of the door did not creak, however. For whatever hellish purposes, this room was used and opened at not too infrequent intervals.
Gradually, he pushed the door open and stepped inside.
WHAT he saw was such a quantity of gear hanging from the ceiling, such a litter dripping down the walls, such complicated machines standing on the floor, that it looked like the interior of some important manufacturer's shop—some place, say, where iron is formed to make singular weapons or tools of trade. But those machines were not designed for the working of wood or of iron; they were framed to work torment into the human flesh, and the ingenuity of a thousand devils could not have done more.
Wherever the swift eye of Tizzo glanced, he saw monstrosities that sickened him. A pair of huge metal boots, he knew at once, were used to encase legs, while various turn-screws and wheels attached to the boots indicated the pressures which could be applied. On the wall, a great cross of iron was equipped with three terrible screws so that the victims could be crucified alive. The rack, with its double wheels at either end and all its strong tackle, looked like a carriage turned upside down, and of course it occupied the place of honor, being an instrument on which all sorts of tunes of agony could be improvised. Then there was the wheel which could turn a man head down or else spin him into a nausea. There was the hurdle for the water torture; there was tackle for hoisting men by the wrists or the thumbs into the air and leaving them suspended. There were iron weights, hammers, picks, saws with frightful teeth that reminded Tizzo of the story of the poor man who, in this prison, had a span sawed off his right arm every day until the arm was gone to the shoulder before he was willing to confess where he had buried his treasure.
But the eyes of Tizzo fled from these horrors, and the light of his lantern now showed him, stretched on a heap of straw that was gray with time, a fine figure of a man who now lifted his head and allowed Tizzo to see the resolute face and the intensely blue eyes of Henry, Baron of Melrose.
TIZZO, with the door of the torture chamber closed, standing then above the Englishman, found the face of his friend in a sea of wavering light, because the lantern was being held in an uncertain hand.
Melrose, making a great effort, raised himself to a sitting posture. He was chained at the wrists, at the ankles, with a connecting chain which ran from the hands to the feet and thence to a great ring which was attached to a bolt that sank into the stone wall.
"Ah, Tizzo," said Melrose, "have you changed sides, made peace with your enemies, and made yourself snug in Perugia again?"
"I am here in Perugia again, my lord," said Tizzo. "But only to take you away with me."
The baron closed his eyes and nodded his head with a strange smile.
"Ah, is that it?" he said. "Here in Perugia? And to take me away?" Tizzo threw back the cloak. He leaned the great woodsman's ax against the wall and showed the file.
"This is the way to cut the Gordian knot." he said.
Melrose opened his eyes, looked at the file, and shook his grizzled head.
"It won't do, Tizzo," he said. "You're going to walk me out of the prison. Isn't that the thought?"
"And why not?" said Tizzo.
"Can you find a way back for yourself?"
"I think so."
"Then find it now, and use it."
"I shall not go with you."
"Damn my lord," said the Englishman. "What made you come here in the first place?"
"You taught me what to do when a friend is in trouble," said Tizzo.
"In what way?"
"I have not forgotten the day you entered Perugia and risked your head in order to set mine in freedom."
"Ah, I remember something about that," said Melrose. "And that good fellow, that Giovanpaolo, not only set you free but refused to take my life in payment for yours, though he knew that I was a lifelong servant of the Oddi, whom he has reason to hate."
"Giovanpaolo is my sworn brother," said Tizzo. "And chiefly because of what he did that day. If there were a way for him to break into Perugia suddenly, I should not have had to slip into the town by stealth. We should have bought you by our work in battle, my lord."
"Perhaps you would," said Melrose. "But I rather think that Jeronimo della Penna would have used an extra five minutes to run down into his cellar, when he saw the day—or the night—was lost. He would have used that time to come down and put a knife into me. The bottles of wine in his cellar, Tizzo, are not half so dear to him as all the revenge which he opens, like a sweet perfume, when he sees me.
"Why does he hate you, my lord? Because Giovanpaolo slipped through the gate you were guarding?"
"And the Lady Beatrice—and you. Mostly because of you, Tizzo. The fact is that he hates you a little more than he hates the rest of the world because, as he says, you cheated him. You pretended to be on his side."
Tizzo dropped to one knee and began to use the file on the heavy manacles that linked the wrists of the prisoner together.
"It is no use, Tizzo," said the prisoner.
"No use?" exclaimed Tizzo, looking up in astonishment.
"Not in the least. Do as I tell you. Leave the prison at once."
"Why is there no use in setting your hands free?"
"Because, my lad, even after they are free, I shall not be able to use them."
"I don't understand," said Tizzo, staring down at the deep, silver-shining trench which the file already had cut into the comparatively soft iron.
"Why, Tizzo, it means that I have paid a visit to the lady, yonder."
"It has a good many names. Some people call it the engine of grace. Others call it the rack."
Tizzo, jerking his head about, stared at the double-wheeled length of the great rack, with the old, stiff cordage attached to it, and the terrible sliding beam in the center which could be moved by the wheel to any length. What fiendish brains ever had devised the rack, which pulls at the head and the feet of a man until from wrists to ankles the body is drawn taut and every tendon, every joint, contributes its note to the general symphony of exquisite agony. There was the pain to consider—there was also the deathless shame of the naked body which had to submit to the torments of the enemy.
He looked at that frightful instrument, whose name ran into all the nightmares of the age, and then back at the man who had suffered from it. He saw the seated figure hunched over, as though the backbone had no rigid strength. Part of the weight rested on the arms, and the arms shook under the burden. Those powerful arms in which a battle-mace ordinarily was a toy, were now bending under the elbows. A bed-ridden old man could not have been more feeble. The head of the baron thrust out on his thick neck. Pain devoured his eyes. But still he managed some sort of a smile.
And Tizzo, groaning aloud, said: "God, God! Why have I come a day too late?"
"The rascal Marignello required time as well as money," said the prisoner. "But a day ago you would not have found me here. I was in a cell on the tier above. This morning della Penna decided to begin spinning out my death in a long, thin thread. He stood over me during the torment. He kept feeling the hardness of my shoulders and thighs as the strain of the rack grew greater. He kept telling them to go more slowly, more tenderly. Tenderly was the word he used, laughing. He laughed, and told them to use me more tenderly. Stretch the beef today and cut it up tomorrow. He stood over me with the rod of iron, ready to tap some of my bones and break them, but that was a temptation he resisted. Tomorrow he will break an arm. The next day a leg. Then another arm. Then a few ribs. What, Tizzo? Would a connoisseur swallow off his wine? No, he would taste it slowly, rolling the drops over his tongue and up against his palate."
"God curse and strike him!" said Tizzo.
"Not God. You must strike him," said the baron. "I tell you, Tizzo, that I could not walk from the prison, even with all the doors thrown open. I could hardly crawl or writhe along like a snake. A snail would be faster than I. You are not a mule to carry me hence. Therefore, escape, yourself, as you may. And afterwards, if Giovanpaolo takes the city, strike no blow except at Jeronimo della Penna. Strike only for his head. Beat him down. And for every stroke that maims him, that slays him by degrees, cry my name. Cry 'Melrose!' while you enjoy the killing of him. That will be a comfort to my soul, no matter how deep in hell I am hidden away. I shall hear every word you utter. I shall taste every drop of his blood. I shall laugh at hell-fire as della Penna dies."
"I shall kill him afterwards," said Tizzo. "God knows that I shall kill him, but now there is only one task."
HE gripped the wrist irons and began to file at them, furiously. And the noise was like that of the singing of a mosquito in the torture chamber.
"Take care of what you do!" said Melrose. "If you throw yourself away, I am cheated of my revenge. Listen to me, Tizzo. If I even dream that revenge will fill its belly with the life of della Penna, I can endure everything. For every pang he gives me, I can laugh loud and long, because I shall promise myself that he will die by worse pains afterwards. And, axing a coward, he will taste every agony thrice over. My death will only enrich me, if I can hope that he will die afterwards, and by your hand, my noble friend."
Tizzo said nothing. He merely set his teeth, and the file turned the iron of the manacles hot as it bit into the metal.
"Tizzo!" exclaimed Melrose. "If ever we fought together, and if ever I taught you the innermost secrets of my sword-craft, I beseech you, leave me—save your life—do not cast yourself away in trying to help a hopeless wreck from the reef. I shall only sink, myself, and draw you down after me."
"The courtyard of Marozzo," said Tizzo, "and my own life bleeding away, and Marozzo ordering more of his men to fight with me, and then the entrance of Astorre and Giovanpaolo, with you—you who had given up your life in order to pay down a price that would ransom me. God! Do you think I have forgotten?"
"Ah, you remember that?" said 'Melrose.
"Aye. I remember."
"And another thing?"
"When I first saw you," said Tizzo, "I knew, suddenly, that I had met the man I wished to follow around the world."
"Like a young, impressionable, silly fool," said the Englishman. "I have received nothing from the world but blows and I have paid my reckoning in the same coin."
Then he added: "Tizzo, I ask one boon of you."
"I shall not grant it," said Tizzo.
He asked, in his turn: "But tell me what angel drew you on, my lord? What made you, in the first place, risk your life in order to save mine?"
"An imp of the perverse, it seems," said Melrose, "that must have told me that if I risked my life in the first place I then should have the privilege of drawing the two of us down into perdition, as I am drawing us now. Do you hear me?"
"Rather," said Tizzo, "an angel of heaven who told you that death is an easy thing, when there are two friends to endure it."
"Friends?" said the baron, loudly and suddenly. "Well, call it that—"
But as he said this, there was a dim sound of steps in the corridor outside, and then a wrangling of iron at the door to the torture chamber.
"They have come to take me to the finish," said Melrose. "Jeronimo could not wait any longer. His appetite was greater than his patience. But, ah, God, that he should find two morsels to swallow instead of one!"
TIZZO, fingering his ax, looked desperately towards the door. The quick, soft voice of Melrose stopped him.
"No, no! Tizzo, you may strike down one or two but the mob will kill you. They'll worry you to death. You are trapped. But no man is dead to hope while there is still breath in him. Do you hear? Out with the lantern. Roll in under the old straw, here. They shall not find you, if God is willing!"
The key was already grating in the lock when Tizzo, letting the commands of the baron take the place of his own thought, blew out the lantern and slid into the straw. There he lay flat, turning his face so that it dropped on the cold side of his ax.
Above him, he heard certain rustlings, and felt the straw being straightened by the manacled hands of the baron. Then a crushing weight fell on him, as Melrose must have straightened out and laid his body directly down across the hidden bulk of Tizzo.
The door had flung open and a faint gust of the stale air blew even through the straw to the nostrils of Tizzo, casting up dust that gave him an agonizing desire to sneeze.
But footfalls were pouring into the room. And he heard the deadly jangling of naked steel, and the queer humming, muffled noise of blades against scabbards.
Then Jeronimo della Penna cried out: "Look everywhere. If he was not above, he may be here!"
It was the voice of Marozzo that broke in: "He must be here because he goes to his work as straight as a ferret to blood—a ferret to the throat of a rabbit. Look well. I, from my own purse—a hundred florins of gold—do you hear, men? No, five hundred florins to the first fellow with sharp eyes who comes on the traces of the devil!"
To this Marignello's voice added: "He will not be here, my masters. I said nothing of the baron being here. I knew nothing of his being here. He was brought in here after I left the cellars."
Della Penna said: "Your work was worthless, Marignello. Your thoughts are worthless, also. By God, I have a thought to try you on the same rack that tried Melrose."
He added, loudly: "To your work! Look everywhere!"
It was hard for Tizzo to breathe, there was such a pressure upon his body. And then there came to him a queer reaction—that it was better to burst upright before their eyes, ax in hand, and strike right and left, dying like a man. It was better to do that than to lie here and be discovered like a crawling rat.
"Everywhere! He may hide himself in a beam of light!" said Marozzo.
The voice of Marozzo was recognizable, but this enunciation was much stifled. Plainly his mouth had been smashed and perhaps many of his teeth knocked in by the battering which Tizzo had given him.
Men were trampling all about the room, knocking against metal, bumping the walls.
Something whispered through the straw and grinded against the stone not an inch from his face.
"No use thrusting your sword into that bed," commanded della Penna. "Do you think that anything could be hidden under the bulk of Melrose without being stifled?"
And della Penna laughed as he spoke.
After a moment that half-muffled voice of Marozzo said: "Is there any possible way by which he might have escaped from the house after he found that the cell of Melrose was empty?"
"No," said della Penna, "unless he went up the stairs and into the house itself. That could not be."
"Because there are servants everywhere."
"Jeronimo, in God's name remember that we are talking of a man who could hide himself in the shadow of a cat, if he wished to do so."
"How could he escape through the front door, which is always guarded. In these days, I have a dozen men-at-arms at that door."
"Numbers mean sleepy eyes," said Marozzo. "What of the window?"
"None except those twenty feet from the pavement outside."
"Ha! He could run down the perpendicular side of a wall!"
"Are you going to call him half fly and half cat?"
"And mostly devil!" cried Marozzo. "He is not here. Jeronimo, leave this place. Spread the alarm. Let the town be raised. God knows, if we can catch him, we have at a stroke secured half the strength of Giovanpaolo."
"You may be right," said della Penna.
He commanded someone to go at once and have an alarm rung, a word carried about the town to all the gates that Tizzo, not for the first time, had slunk inside the gates of Perugia. There was a rich reward on his head.
Then della Penna's voice sounded close by.
"Ah, Melrose," he said. "How is it with you?"
"Better, my lord," said Henry of Melrose. "I breathe the air and still can taste it. It is better than wine."
"Well, strangling might be a good end for you. I don't know. How do your joints feel, Melrose?"
"They ache with sympathy for you."
"I don't understand you—but then, I never could understand any man from the beef-eating English."
"Why, my lord, you are searching for Tizzo, are you not?" asked Melrose.
"What of it?"
"Nothing. It is merely a token."
"A token of what?"
"That you have named the wasp who will sting you to death."
"Damn you!" snarled della Penna, and Tizzo heard the sound of a blow that re-echoed through his brain. Had della Penna struck that chained and helpless man?
"Well and knightly done," said Melrose. "Your servants watch you, Jeronimo. They learn how men of noble birth should treat one another."
"I have a mind to give you another taste of the rack at this moment," declared della Penna.
"Give me enough tastes of it, close enough together, and soon I shall have a mouthful."
"Do you hear him?" said della Penna. "He means that if I give him enough of it I shall soon have him dead. D'you know, Melrose, that if you were of a little different pattern, I would like to have you around me. But since I can't buy you, I shall have to bury you."
"It is one of the pities of the wars," answered Melrose. "We are not able to love the sort of poison that might physic us."
"Good again," laughed della Penna. "I shall return to you again tomorrow, and the rack may even sharpen your wit a little more. Come, my lads. Out of this, and run through the house. Search in every corner. Remember, he can make himself as small as a rat."
Then he added: "Put irons on Marignello. I shall have some use for the rack with him, tomorrow, also."
THE door closed, the lock grated. "The way is open, Tizzo," said the baron softly.
Tizzo wriggled into the open and began to blow out air through his nose, and to wipe the chaff and dust from his hair, from his face, from his eyes. He dusted himself all over.
"Neat as a cat," said the baron. "Was it hard on you, Tizzo?"
"There are thirty excess pounds of you, my lord," said Tizzo, "and I felt the weight of all of them. However, I can breathe again now. I swear to God that for a moment I was about to leap out and try for the head of della Penna with my ax."
"Wrong, Tizzo," said the baron. "Consider what a masterpiece he is, what a perfect semblance, picture, statue, harmony of evil! There is a man without charity or kindness, without decency or gentleness, without courtesy or heart, courage or warmth. A mere brain. A fox. A cold fire. Where will you find him again? Where is there his like? Merely to be killed by such a man is to be remembered by history. To be listed among his victims saves a man from oblivion. No, no, Tizzo, thank God that your eyes have seen such a prodigy."
"He is a prodigy," said Tizzo, "and I pray that I may have the prodigious pleasure of killing him."
He resumed his work with his file, and in two strokes of it cut through one of the manacle irons. With the edge of the ax he pried the bracelet wide open at that mouth and let the hand of the Englishman escape.
He fell to work on the other hand-iron when the baron said: "Hush! Do you hear it?"
Tizzo, listening for a moment, started violently.
"They are coming again!" he muttered.
"No. They are walking on guard outside the door. You have startled them, Tizzo, and now they are worried. They fear that you and the devil may come romping, hand in hand, down those stairs, yonder, ready to beat open the door and fly away with me in a cloud of red smoke. They have, in fact, corked the bottle; and inside that bottle you are to die!"
"True!" said Tizzo.
He stood up and stared at the door. "Tell me, now," asked Melrose. "This is the end. There is no possible escape. Day and night that door will be guarded. And this means that you must surely die. So tell me now how great is your regret that you have come here for a foreigner, a mere Englishman from the barbarous north?"
Tizzo said: "Are you tempting me to use some fine words? Well, my lord, I'll only say that so long as I die in company, with a friend, I cannot ask any more of my life."
"What is better than a friend?" asked Melrose.
"A blood relation, but I have none."
"Are you sure?"
"My mother is dead, my lord, as I think I told you. There was never a father to me."
"Do you remember your mother, Tizzo?"
"I was a very young child when she died."
"Shall I describe her?"
"You, my lord?"
"A tall, slender girl. Brown-eyed, Tizzo. The grace of a wild deer and the step of a faun. A sweet smile and a gentle heart. A face as calm as prayer. Laughter as bright as the first spring day. And a faith that would have stirred a god and shamed a devil."
"Did you know her?"
"Do I speak as though I were ignorant, Tizzo?"
"No, my lord."
"Shall I tell you more about her?"
"Every word is like a life to me!"
"She was a girl so good that she could not expect villainy in others."
"I have seen such people," said Tizzo.
"There are tears in your eyes, Tizzo."
"Well, let them fall, also," said Tizzo. "I am not ashamed to weep for her. I would have died for her, if God had granted me that much grace."
"Instead of which, she died for you."
"Is that true?"
"Yes. You being born out of wedlock, the hate and the scorn of others killed her quickly."
Tizzo covered his face. Then he said: "If I could find the demidevil, the villain who betrayed her—"
"What would you do?"
"He would be my father," said Tizzo. "I could only—I could only—curse him and leave him!"
"Did you know him?"
"I knew him very well."
"Tell me of him, then."
"That knowledge would only poison your last moments. Tizzo, you are about to die! You should be on your knees, praying."
"I was never a praying fellow," said Tizzo. "I would rather listen to a story, even if it is about a villain."
The baron shook his gray head, without smiling.
"This Englishman—" he began.
"Ah, it was an Englishman?" exclaimed Tizzo.
"Yes. I told you that he was my friend."
"Am I half English?" murmured Tizzo, looking down at himself in wonder.
"Aye. Half at least."
"That is where I caught the red hair?"
"Your mother's hair was black as the wing of a raven."
"Dear God, if I had only known her!"
"But shall I tell you more about your father?"
"Yes. I almost half forgive him if he was a true friend of yours."
"I said he was a friend, but very often he was a bad companion."
"I mean, Tizzo, that there was no constancy to him."
"That is a bad vice," said Tizzo, gravely.
"It is," said the baron. "That fellow would sometimes be serious and sometimes laughing. Out of his laughter he might fall to brawling, and out of his seriousness he might fall to laughing. I never could tell what he would do next."
"A wild, evil man?" said Tizzo.
"A dancing, drinking, dicing, fighting man," said the baron.
"For all of those sins, God forgive me!" said Tizzo, sadly. "Now I know from whom I inherit them. Was he cruel?"
"In battle? Yes. Otherwise, no, I should say not. Merciful enough."
"In this way—that he found it hard to refuse a request. If he won a man's money, he was apt to give half of it back if the fellow laughed at the loss and showed himself a good fellow."
"I like that," said Tizzo, adding up the points. "Yes, I like that a great deal. And brave?" he asked, catching his breath a little in a dreadful doubt.
"Brave? Men called him brave," said the baron. "That is to say, this Englishman I tell you of was a fellow who loved danger as some men love a partner at a dance. He was accustomed to brawling. Sword-shine was more often in his eyes than daylight. He was used to danger, and therefore he loved it for the sake of old neighborliness."
"Ah?" said Tizzo, smiling suddenly. "I wish that I could have seen him! What was his blood?"
"He was of an old and noble name."
Tizzo braced back his shoulders and frowned.
"Good, also!" he said.
Then he asked: "And my mother—did he love her?"
"So much, Tizzo, that when he heard of her death he fell on the ground and beat his head against it. He was half mad for many days."
"Was he? Was he in fact?" said Tizzo. "Ah, God, who is to judge the sins of others—who that is as sinful as myself? He was young; she was young; they loved one another. And if they missed the priest—"
"True," said the baron.
"A brave, kind, wild man," said Tizzo.
"I would not praise him too highly. He knew no books. Nothing but battle. I have seen him as savage as a mad dog, as headlong as a fighting stallion, as drunk as a fool, and as cruel as a tiger."
"What shall I think of him?" said Tizzo. "What did you think of him?"
"I have prayed God to forgive his sins. He is still alive."
"Alive! In the name of Heaven, tell me his name!"
"It will give a point to your hatred of him."
"I cannot hate my flesh and blood," said Tizzo. "Tell me his name!"
"His name," said the baron, "is Henry, Baron of Melrose."
TWO royal families, enemies, ruled the town of Perugia, in Old Italy. Their enmity broke out in open warfare, and in a midnight massacre, the house of the Oddi routed the house of the Baglioni. Giovanpaolo, leader of the Baglioni, escaped with his sister, the Lady Beatrice, through the aid of Tizzo, the Firebrand, a young swordsman from the nearby countryside.
One day Tizzo approached Giovanpaolo at the latter's camp outside the city and told him that he was leaving, to re-enter Perugia. His friend, Henry, Baron of Melrose, an English soldier who had been in the service of the Oddi, had been clapped in the dungeon of Jeronimo della Penna, chief of the Oddi, after Mateo Marozzo, one of della Penna's lieutenants, had accused Melrose of helping Tizzo escape the midnight slaughter.
Disguised as a woodcutter, Tizzo entered the city. Unknown to him, the Lady Beatrice, dressed as a young boy, followed him. Tizzo "persuaded" the jailer to give him the keys to della Penna's dungeons, and went down into them. He found Melrose, but apparently Tizzo had come too late, for already the baron had been put on the rack, and although still alive, he was in a bad state. Nevertheless, Tizzo set to work to release him. It was then that Melrose revealed himself as Tizzo's father.
THE diamond-hard edges of the file, in the meantime, had freed the other arm of the prisoner, had liberated one leg, and now, as Tizzo listened to the last revelation, the last manacle fell from the baron. He was again master of his limbs—with the slight strength that remained to him. And Tizzo, grasping the hands of his father, stared wildly into his face. Then, throwing back his head, he cried, shutting his teeth to keep back the noise of his joy, "God made the blood in me speak when I first saw you!"
"A dog of a lying servant that I sent into the village those years ago, swore when he returned that both the mother and the child were dead," said Melrose. "And then I beat my head and groaned a while and said a prayer for two dead souls. But this long time afterwards the wretched scoundrel confessed that he had found the mother dead, indeed, but the child was living. Why had he not told me about it? Because he did not wish to have me chained in one spot to support a son. He wished to be a free traveler and therefore he would have me free also. The villain confessed all this on his death-bed. I rushed back to the town. But how could I find my son? My own hair was red as fire when I was your age. The dying rat of a servant had told me that my dead boy had hair the color of mine, and I trusted that this was the truth. But there was more than one red-headed lad in the town. Which, therefore, was the one of my blood? Why, the first that would cross swords with me and stand to me like a man! Ha, Tizzo! In that little test I nearly had my throat cut by the damned trickery and cunning of your sword play. I never before had met a man with the heart of a knight in armor and the feet of a dancing boy!"
"But how could you make sure that I was he?" asked Tizzo, anxiously.
"By the cry of my blood to you, lad! And then, also, I've been back to the village twice. I have been able to trace the Firebrand to the little redheaded foundling. Mother of Heaven, to think that I have missed these years with you! But, ah, Tizzo, do you forgive me for my greatest sin of all?"
"What shall I do except pray with you for the sake of her soul?" asked Tizzo.
HERE, as they stared at one another with rejoiced faces, they heard the deadly noise of the big key grating in the lock. Tizzo had barely time to blow out his lantern and thrust it away under the straw. There was no time at all for his own body to be pushed into the bedding out of sight.
A side-light already was shimmering across the room when he fled to the shadow cast by the bulky rack. There he crouched, hearing at the door the voice of Jeronimo della Penna saying, "Come in, my friends. You will have a chance to do something more than stand guard now. You will be able to play a little game which will warm your blood for the rest of the night."
Della Penna, followed by the three guards who had been posted outside the door, crossed the floor of the torture chamber. On the way, the master paused in front of what seemed a suit of complete armor.
"This," said della Penna, "this, now, might be the trick which would serve for the end of the game."
He pulled at the shoulder of the armor and it opened wide, showing to the peering eyes of Tizzo a hollow interior set over thickly with needle-sharp bits of steel, projecting inwards.
"But not tonight," said della Penna. "Not while there is still so much pain to be drawn out of his tendons and joints. My Lady, the Rack, has not finished with him."
"Ah, my lord," he said, "you are now feeling much recovered, eh? I've come to tell you that the cunning rat, Tizzo, has escaped from the house; but because that is a cruel disappointment, I know you will want to make us some amends. You and the rack, eh?"
The long face of della Penna lengthened still more with his laughter. Then, breaking off into a snarl, he commanded, "Pick him up and stretch him on the wheel!"
Two of the men-at-arms instantly laid hold on the prisoner.
And Tizzo, saying three brief words of a prayer, could not help casting one yearning glance towards the open door that might mean liberty. Then he freshened his grip on the handle of the ax and slipped from the side of the rack, stealing forward.
There was a great outcry from two voices, at the same moment.
"Look, your highness! The irons are gone from his hands and ankles!"
"They are, by Heaven!" exclaimed della Penna.
"Witchcraft!" exclaimed one of the men.
"You fool!" shouted della Penna. "Look to yourselves. The witch that did this work is still in the room—a witch that carries the name of Tizzo!"
He drew his sword as he spoke and turned sharply around. The men-at-arms, less ready in their heavy armor, swung about also, hardly in time to meet the rush of Tizzo. For his softly shod feet made no noise on the stones. He came like a shadow at them.
Della Penna, seeing that rushing figure, groaned with terror and sprang back behind his armored men. The foremost of them, swaying up his massive halberd, thrust full at Tizzo with the lance-point at the end of the weapon. Tizzo wasted no time in parrying that stroke. A swerve of his body allowed the thrust to waste itself close to his side; then the ax in his hand clanged against the morion of the halberdier.
If that stroke had landed truly it would have ended the life of the soldier; even the glancing force dropped him with a crash, face down and senseless.
A sword gleamed at the throat of Tizzo—della Penna thrusting from between the shelter of his two remaining men-at- arms. The sword-point reach empty air only.
The swinging blade of the ax met a downright sword stroke and the brittle steel shivered to pieces. A backward leap foiled the third man-at-arms as he shouted, "Before God, this is no man, but a dancing shadow!"
That same shadow leaped in again; the ax swayed and rang on the helmet, a brief, dull, horrible chopping sound, and the wide blade clove straight down through the skull.
The third warrior, with the mere stump of his sword in hand, turned with a yell of horror and fled. Jeronimo della Penna, unweighted by steel, was racing for the door far before his companion. And as far as that door the vengeance of Tizzo pursued him. Then Tizzo turned back to see that the Baron of Melrose had forced himself to his feet, where he stood swaying, helpless, then make vague steps like the movements of a man half senseless with wine.
Steel rang on stone along the outer passage as one of the fugitives cast away a weapon to lighten his flight. The yelling voices that called for help grew dim around the corners of the corridors.
Tizzo cast one glance at the dead and the senseless forms on the floor. Then he rushed to Melrose and drew one of the big arms over his shoulder.
That towering bulk of manhood which he had always admired so greatly was now a curse to them both; it was an unwieldy mass barely able to move at all and far too ponderous for Tizzo to carry to any distance. He could only help Melrose forward from the torture chamber.
"Go, Tizzo!" pleaded the father. "You see that I cannot be saved. They are raising the house. Every murdering rat of them will come running and swarming on you, in a moment. Save yourself. For my sake. The name of Melrose must not die from the face of the earth. Tizzo—I command you—you have done enough. No son in the world could do more. Now fly—fly! Use those devilish dancing feet of yours! Do you hear? I give you the blessing of my heart. I command you to go!"
"Hush," said Tizzo. "If my name is Melrose, my blood is Melrose. Will you have me turn from my own blood? Save your breath for the labor. And if we die, you can strike one blow for us both—"
So, panting, he supported the staggering weight of his father up the outer steps, groaning and cursing the slime that made the stones slippery.
It was a terrible labor. The very brain of Tizzo reeled with the might of the effort as he put his shoulder into the weight of the great, helpless body and so bore it upwards. The stairs had no ending. The turns of them would never cease.
And the knees of Tizzo had turned to water before he reached the level of the floor above. It was then that they heard clearly the sounds of the gathering storm overhead.
DOORS seemed to be opening and shutting, letting out the noises of armored, trampling feet, the familiar dry clashing of steel against stone; voices shouted, far and near; there were so many elements of sound that the whole made a sort of humming roar. There must have been, literally, scores of men running towards the point of danger; and now the tumult opened with thundering violence. On the staircase above. Like a flood of water, that throng was descending to sweep away the lives of those two fugitives.
Tizzo, gasping with an effort, hurried the big, shambling form down the corridor to that very cell which he had entered before. He had not locked the door. A mere thrust of the hand opened it now, and they entered as many dancing lights began to strike through the darkness.
There, leaning against the wall, half spent already, Tizzo said, "They will go past us. They will go down to the lowest level. They will not leave the torture chamber till they have searched it. And you and I still have a ghost of a chance."
"A weak ghost, Tizzo. My lad, I plead for the line of Melrose. Go on—save yourself—"
"You say the words, but your heart is not in them," said Tizzo.
"It is true," admitted the Englishman, suddenly. "If you left me, I should know that there was little of my blood in your body. What is death, when two men face it, true to each other?"
"It is nothing. It is a song!" cried Tizzo.
"But, ah, if I could raise my arms to strike one blow in the battle! It is the punishment of Heaven for all my sins—to stand like a sleeping fool while my son fights for my life."
"You have fought in your turn for mine," said Tizzo.
"Lord God, Almighty Father," groaned the Englishman, "forgive my sins and let my hand hold a sword for ten seconds only. Kill me, then. Stamp on me like a poor beast. But let me die fighting!"
The tumult that descended the stairs had now rushed completely past the door of the cell where Tizzo and his father were sheltered for the moment. That door Tizzo now flung open and supported Melrose into the corridor.
Over the level, the returning strength of Melrose enabled him to walk with less and less resistance, but as they struggled up the stairs again he was almost a dead weight on his son. Too furious a hurry would melt the strength out of Tizzo as a hot fire burns wax. He had to take a pace and hold to it, stubbornly; and yet, beneath him, he began to hear the echoes of a wild outcry.
Anger has a sound like despair when it comes shouting from many throats. Those men of della Penna, their master at their head, had reached the torture chamber far beneath by this time, and their yelling was from purest rage, of course. Yet it seemed to Tizzo like the lamenting of the eternally damned.
Now for one blast of the great new giant—gunpowder—to crumble together the walls of the prison and drop headlong masses of stone on the heads of all those manhunters!
MELROSE, panting, struggling, nevertheless still whispered his prayer, "Almighty God, I do not ask for the power to swing a sword. Let me only have the strength to draw a dagger and use it. A single blow—one gesture of glory is all that I ask for—one drop out of the infinite sea of Your mercy!"
They had, in fact, reached the highest level of the cellar, and before them there was a straight way towards the outer door; but Melrose was almost too exhausted by pain and the frightful effort of moving his witless limbs to stand erect any longer. Both he and Tizzo reeled from side to side as they moved down the hallway.
And still the prayer, in a new form, was issuing from the lips of Melrose. "Glorious God, I ask not to strike with any weapon, but with my bare hands let me grasp one villain by the throat before the steel is struck into me from every side. Let them hew me to pieces—or let them keep and burn me inch by inch afterwards. But let me strike one blow before I die—"
That panting, broken whisper continued, drowned from the hearing of Tizzo because the rout of the pursuers was spreading back again through the upper stairways.
He could hear the wild voice of della Penna screaming, "They are here! Two grown men cannot hide in a rat-hole—but look in every corner. If we lose them, I shall go mad—mad—mad! If you fail to take them—every man of you look to himself. Swiftly, swiftly! Be everywhere with wide eyes. Your swords ready. Take them alive if you can, but even dead they will be beautiful pictures to me!"
That screeching voice of rage sent small shudders down the back of Tizzo as he worked his way down the hall. Then he heard running feet approaching from the rear.
They were coming very quickly. But here, thank God, was the outer door. One warder remained there at his post with the same partizan which Tizzo had seen in the grasp of the jailer before.
The approaching rush of many feet had put the jailer on his guard. He stood now with the great weapon held at the ready, that is, slung sidelong across his body, the head gleaming above his left shoulder. It was an engine designed to strike down horse and man. It made the infantryman the peer of the mounted warrior. And now, into the view of the sentry there came the vision of the great, staggering, wavering gray-headed man, and beside him the tense, lithe figure of Tizzo.
He stared and elevated his halberd for the stroke when Tizzo, with a cry, ran straight in on him, his smaller and more active ax poised to strike.
It was not for nothing that he had crossed blades with the best of the swaggering young blades of the town, and that he had performed such feats with the ax that every clod in Perugia knew of the strokes of Tizzo. The halberdier, the moment his eyes made sure of Tizzo, the moment he saw that famous ax at a balance in his hands, cried out: "Mercy, in the name of God!" and fled slinking along the wall with his halberd flung down upon the ground.
Tizzo let him go. He was no lover of bloodshed even in the midst of battle. The game was the thing, not the slaughter which delighted some. A moment later he was throwing back the bolt of the portal, thrusting the door wide.
BUT when he looked back he could see Melrose staggering, almost pitching to the floor with every short forward step he took, and behind him danger came pouring up the corridor like the shout of battle up a throat. He saw them coming, the glitter of the weapons in the tossing lantern light, then the wild faces; and always the shouting roared louder and louder.
He leaped to Melrose and supported him outside the door. To be in the open was at least some comfort. The taste of the sweet night air was a blessing and a mercy. And a changing wind had knocked the rain-clouds out of the sky and blown up over the black towers of the city the golden beauty of a summer moon.
"Open air—the moon—the bright face of the Almighty God!" gasped the Englishman. "Now I can die content. Tizzo—for the last time, go—save yourself!"
As he spoke, it became impossible for Tizzo to save himself. Out of the portal of the cellar rooms, like a great smoke from a small mouth, came sweeping the men of della Penna—half- dressed servants who had been called up in the middle of the night unexpectedly, and the men-at-arms who had been on duty. Others in greater numbers were running from the interior of the house. The whole garrison was pouring through towards the street, but in the first whirling batch there were a dozen assailants who hurled themselves upon Tizzo.
His father, staggering back from this attack, had been brought to a pause by a sharp angle of the wall which protected their backs against assault but which also would make it more difficult for them to escape in any direction except straight to the front.
And straight in front lay the thronging swords of the enemy.
Tizzo, flashing back and forth in front of Melrose, like a panther in defense of some old lion, made the swinging arcs of the ax gleam with incredible lightness, incredible force. The cleaving power of that weapon was far greater than that of any sword. Where it struck solidly, it left more hideous wounds, also; and in the cunning grasp of Tizzo it did not possess the usual disadvantage of being a weapon of offense only. The dance of it in his hands swept aside the striking of many swords: his light advances staggered the crowded ranks of the enemy.
A MAN in full armor, the young nephew of the master, Marco della Penna by name, was directing that attack. He had in fact been in charge of the guarding of the house of his uncle during the emergency of this time of danger. He, now, seeing before him two of the greatest enemies of his house and above all the notorious red head of Tizzo, came striding through the crowd of his men like a giant with the plume blown high on his helmet and the great two-handed sword poised for a blow.
He shouted out to the others to join him, and the battle would be ended in an instant. But the rest held back an instant to see their mail-clad champion dispose of this dancing wisp of a Tizzo. And Tizzo, as he flashed back and forth in front of his father, panted forth a wild sort of laughter that was half a song. When that lofty champion came striding, Tizzo sprang a step to meet him, turned the sword-stroke with an incredibly deft counter, and then hit right upwards with the reverse of the swing of his ax. Under the arm, where the steel joints of the armor were multiplied and the steel itself was thin, Tizzo struck; and the ax crunched through the iron as through brittle wood, clove the flesh, crushed through the shoulder bone. A stroke incredible, considering that it was struck with the upward sway of the ax.
Marco della Penna, feeling himself so struck, so maimed and ruined for life that he never again could wield a weapon, dropped his sword and tried to break in with his dagger at Tizzo. But a hammer stroke from the back of the ax stopped his frightful screaming and laid him senseless.
Here there was a mere instant of pause, partly because a man of such importance had fallen, and partly because reinforcements were certainly coming at once out of the house. There was no occasion, it seemed, for men to put themselves in further danger from that uncanny, blue-bladed ax. Besides, Baron Henry of Melrose had leaned, weak as he was, and picked up the great fallen sword of della Penna. This he now managed to poise above his head, given strength and control of his body by the battle heat that was in him.
"Melrose! Melrose!" he thundered, and made the men of della Penna shrink a step farther back.
At the same instant there came a most astonishing change. For the battle cry of the Englishman was echoed by a shrill cry, "Melrose! Melrose! A rescue! Melrose!"
And over the paved street rattled the hoofs of several horses. Right at the crowd came a single rider, young, slender, shouting the battle-cry of the baron; and Tizzo recognized the voice of the Lady Beatrice. Her horse, and those she led, were trained battle chargers. They did not hesitate to strike into the crowd, rearing, smashing out with their hoofs, and the della Penna men did not abide that charge.
Most of them, perhaps, felt that it was forefront of a massed attack. Hardly any of them, probably, were aware that there were only four horses and that only a single saddle was filled of all the four.
Straight in to the baron pushed the girl. He grappled at the horn of a saddle with his hands; the strength of Tizzo heaved him up until he was suddenly straddling the back of a horse, grasping at the familiar reins. Effort that should have killed another man in his condition seemed merely to have warmed his blood and brain.
"A Melrose! Melrose!" he shouted again, and vainly tried to sway the big two-handed sword again.
There was no need for more fighting. The men of della Penna had a chance to see, now, the slightness of the rescue party and they were running back to the attack, but the street was open and the three rushed away up it, leaving only yells of furious despair behind; and through that outcry, Tizzo recognized the voice of Jeronimo della Penna himself.
Disappointed malice would surely burn the heart of the man to a cinder.
ON the painted walls of two sides of the room were magnificent murals. The other two walls of the room were so broken by doors and windows that no large frescoes could be painted on them, but still they glowed with the color of smaller compositions. The bed, built up like a separate house, was curtained with green tapestry that showed a hawking scene, the hunt flowing through the midst of the beautiful Umbrian hills.
Tizzo, looking over this luxury of beauty with the eye of a connoisseur, made a few paces back and forth through the room. The dimness of the night-lamp concealed half the splendor of the colors and made them thin as a reflection in wavering water. However, for a moment he took breath after the climb he had just made. And the scenes of the della Penna house grew distant and unimportant.
At last he stepped to the bed and drew the curtain.
Antonio Bardi slept there in the midst of a troubled dream, one clenched hand thrown above his head. He had changed since the night when he joined the traitors at the Great Betrayal which had slain so many of the Baglioni. He looked older. His face was thin and even in sleep expressed a settled unhappiness.
"Antonio!" murmured Tizzo.
Young Bardi was wakened suddenly even by that quiet voice. He sat up with a start, snatching a dagger from under the sheet.
"Wait for me, comrades—" he called out.
Then, recovering from his dream, he stared at Tizzo. The dagger dropped from his grip—slowly he stretched out both his hands.
"Tizzo, it has been my prayer that you would come to me, ever since the news came that you, madman that you are, had entered the city."
He rose, flinging a thin robe about him, thrusting his feet into slippers. Joy made him young again, as he saw his friend. He ran to the doors of the room and bolted them.
"How is it with you, brother?" he asked Tizzo, but then he answered his own question, saying: "But I see that you are well and I know that you are happy. You are in the enemy's country. Every breath you take is drawn in danger. Every minute may be your last. And therefore you are happier than kings."
"And you, Antonio?" asked Tizzo.
Bardi sighed. "Do you remember how you found me in this house not so many weeks ago?" he asked. "Do you remember that I was dying of the plague, Tizzo, and that a casket of the family jewels had been spilled out half on the table and half on the floor? Wealth would not help me, then, because famine and the plague were eating me like two wolves. And then you came to save me—you, a stranger, when no man of my own blood dared to enter the house on account of the poison in the air. Well, Tizzo, there is a poison in the air now. It kills me as surely as the plague. It is the poison of treason. And I am the traitor!" He threw up his clenched fists.
"But the cold-blooded devil, della Penna, knows that my heart is not with him. He watches me day and night. He fears that at any moment I may gather all the wealth I can carry and with it slip away to join the army of Giovanpaolo."
"No, brother," said Tizzo. "You have a harder part than that. You must stay inside the city."
"I? Why do you say that, Tizzo? I tell you, I could make my peace with Giovanpaolo for all the troubles that have passed between us."
"You could," said Tizzo, "but if you try to escape, you'll find it a hard thing to take away even your own body, to say nothing of anything else. Besides, you can help Giovanpaolo more by remaining inside the town. Have you heard from one or two people this same night?"
"Why do you ask?" said Bardi. He peered with a worn and anxious face at his friend.
"A great lady, for one," said Tizzo.
Bardi, starting, seemed about to check himself and then answered frankly: "I have seen her, Tizzo."
"And a man with her, perhaps—a man who has been very close to me?"
"Luigi Falcone. Yes. I have seen them both. Was your hand behind that, also?"
"This is the point: Can I return to Giovanpaolo and tell him that he has strong friends inside the city?"
"It would be truer to say that his strong friends in the city wish that they were outside, and riding in his ranks."
"You must see, Antonio, that one friend inside the city could be worth more than five hundred men-at-arms in his ranks. He has not strength enough to storm Perugia. It stands on its hill like an iron fist raised. There are more armed men inside it than Giovanpaolo can collect. And Jeronimo della Penna is watching over the town like a cat over a dish of milk. The chains are fastened across the streets every night. The walls are manned. The gates are guarded. Della Penna handles everything as though Perugia were besieged by a great army. And how can we break in against such precautions? Only through friends inside the town. We have those friends—you, Falcone, the Lady Atlanta. Working together, you can win some control over one of the gates. By bribery or by personal influence you may seduce some of the guards. Then, from the top of your house, fly a flag of some sort. Several flags, if you wish. But a red one among the rest. The direction towards which it points will indicate to us which of the city gates you have mastered. And when you fly the flag, we shall know that on that same night you expect us."
"Aye," said Antonio Bardi. "It is dangerous work, but it could be done. I am suspected; so is Falcone. All who have been your friends are hated now like so many poisoned wells inside Perugia. But we—and the Lady, who has the courage of a man—may be able to do these things."
"You must, Antonio."
"We shall, then," said Bardi.
A rumor of noise broke upwards through the house; there was a sudden tapping at the door of Bardi's room.
"Hide, Tizzo!" breathed Antonio Bardi. "There is no servant I can trust. They are all in the pay of the devil, della Penna!"
Tizzo, casting one glance at the window through which he had entered, nevertheless stepped back behind the high tapestries which draped the bed. He heard the bolts of the door slide, then a breathless voice exclaiming: "Signore, they have come! The men of—"
The tramping of armored men followed; then the voice of Mateo Marozzo was sounding through the room.
"I greet you, Bardi, in the name of Jeronimo della Penna, to know where you have hidden away the traitor, Tizzo!"
The flesh of Tizzo congealed as he listened.
Then he heard Bardi answering, calmly: "Since the night when the Baglioni were expelled, you should know that there is no friendship between Tizzo and me. He is a sword in the hand of Giovanpaolo, and that sword is pointed at my throat, along with all the rest of the danger which the Baglioni are gathering, for the attack on the city. What sort of nonsense is this, Marozzo, to come with armed men into my house at night and ask for Tizzo? Even if he were a hawk, he would not dare to fly over the walls of Perugia!"
Then he added: "What's happened? Where has there been fighting? Or has a horse kicked you in the face, Marozzo?"
"The damned villain, the murdering Tizzo has been at me by treachery and trickery!" exclaimed Marozzo. "But the end of him has come. He will never leave Perugia alive! They are doubling the guard on the walls, and he is caught like a bird in a net. He and the English Melrose!"
"Melrose lies in the dungeon of della Penna," said Bardi. "Do you have to man the walls to keep him from escaping? Aren't there irons to load him with?"
"He was loaded with iron," said Marozzo, "but the fiend, the wizard Tizzo entered the prison and cut the irons from the body of Melrose."
"Impossible!" cried young Bardi.
"You say impossible—I say impossible—but the thing is done! Melrose has been taken from the torture chamber at the bottom of the prison. Taken away by one man, even though his great bulk was so wrenched by the rack that he had hardly the strength to stand up. Carried away by that lean ferret, that Tizzo—God, I go mad when I think of it! They are gone! They are gone! Bardi, if you give them shelter your head will fall the next day."
"I know Melrose," said Bardi. "Not even a giant could have dragged his helpless bulk up the long stairs of della Penna's cellars."
"Not a giant, but a Tizzo could manage the thing. It has been done. And the work is signed by the true signature of Tizzo. With his shoulder shorn almost from his body, young della Penna lies under the care of the doctors, ruined for life. He must exist with one arm all his days."
"I listen to you," said Bardi, "but still I cannot believe you."
"Bardi," said Marozzo, "the thing I have told you is entirely true. I have seen the blood that Tizzo spilled and the irons through which he cut. He is adrift in Perugia. He cannot have left the city so soon. And now the walls are well manned. He is likely as not to come at last to your house for shelter. Listen to me, Bardi! With him there is Melrose—a helpless mass of flesh, unable to stir without assistance. With him there is also à greater prize than all else—dressed as a slip of a boy—the Lady Beatrice Baglione!"
"God rains miracles on Perugia tonight!" said Bardi. "The Lady Beatrice, inside the walls of Perugia? Marozzo, you are mad!"
"So I thought when I saw her," said Marozzo. "But I with my own eyes have seen her this night, and talked with her. I am out of my wits when I think of it. Yes, she is here, drawn by her crazy passion for Tizzo which would make her run through flames. Bardi, if they come to your house, you will become the first man, the favored citizen of Perugia if you turn them over, at once, to della Penna."
"The Lady Beatrice!" exclaimed the stunned voice of Bardi.
"Farewell," said Marozzo. "Remember that all suspicions against you will be laid if you can make the trap which catches Tizzo."
"Wait, then—" exclaimed Bardi. There was a terrible moment of silence.
"Well?" said Marozzo.
"I was thinking of a place where he might be found," muttered Bardi. "But, no—I was wrong!"
MAROZZO had departed when Tizzo issued from behind the bed and found young Bardi fallen into a chair with his white face in his hands.
"You heard, Tizzo?" he said. "All men have their price, it seems; and mine was almost reached. Dog that I am, I was within one breath of betraying you!"
"You know, Antonio," said Tizzo, "that none of us would have good faith if it were never tested in the fire. Lift your head, my brother. I value you a thousand times more; I know that you are the true steel because I have seen the metal tested."
Bardi, suddenly holding out his hand, grasped that of Tizzo strongly.
"There is such a flame of high heart in you," said Bardi, "that you could turn a cat into a lion! But is the rest true? Melrose—have you used witchcraft to steal him from the prison of della Penna, from which no man ever has escaped?"
"No witchcraft, Antonio. Only a stolen pack of keys, a sharp file, and that ax of mine with the good blue Damascus steel in the head of it! All of these things—and then Lady Beatrice in the last moment bringing up horses like a cavalry charge to give us wings for our escape and scatter della Penna's men. Now you know the entire story."
"I hear the miracle told in simple words, but a miracle it still remains. Where are they now?"
"Waiting for me in the dark throat of a little alley, not far from here."
"The Lady Beatrice!" murmured Bardi, staring. "And you left them there?"
"There was one thing more important than their safety. The retaking of Perugia. I had to find the key that would open one of the gates of the city to us. And I have found it, Antonio. You are the man!"
"I am—I shall do it! God stands on your side, Tizzo. Otherwise it could not be that you would pass through such dangers unhurt! But you and the Lady Beatrice, and Melrose—how will you leave the town?"
"I have no idea," confessed Tizzo. "We have made two steps towards safety. What the third one will be, I cannot tell."
"I shall go with you," said Bardi. "The moment I am dressed, I shall go without, whatever comes of the adventure—"
"You will stay here," commanded Tizzo. "Antonio, if you love me, remain here to play your part well. The other task is entirely mine. See Falcone and the Lady Atlanta again. Concert your measures. Spend money like water if you must; it will all come back to you. And let me go alone."
"How will you leave the house?"
"By the window that gave me entrance."
"Not even a cat could climb that sheer wall."
"Not a cat, but a Tizzo can do it."
Bardi, approaching the window, stared down at the profound darkness. There was only a faint, starlit glimmer of the wet pavement beneath. He drew back with a shudder.
"And yet your eyes are laughing at the danger!" breathed Bardi. "What breed of man are you, Tizzo? Give me your hand. Farewell. I turn my head because I cannot endure to see you pass through that window—farewell again!"
BUT hardly a moment later Tizzo, at the bottom of the great wall, picked up the woodsman's ax which he had left there and went swiftly towards the little dark-throated alley where he had left Melrose and the girl.
Two steps from the entrance he called, softly, and the thinnest of whistles answered him. He had heard that signal before, from Lady Beatrice, and he recognized it now; that was why he was half-laughing with joy as he went forward.
The girl said: "All well, Tizzo?"
"Aye, all well," he answered. "All well till daylight."
He could make out the big outline of his father, stretched on the wet pavement at full length. The girl had made of her cloak a pillow on which the head of the Englishman rested.
"And you, sir?" asked Tizzo, on his knees beside the baron.
"Every moment better," said the baron. "My legs and arms are still half asleep, but the life is coming back into them. Before noon tomorrow I shall be able to wear full armor and leap onto my horse again without touching the stirrups. But still even to sit up is a little hard. Tell me what you have done. You could not scale that wall after all, could you?"
"Easily," said Tizzo. "I have seen Antonio Bardi, plotted with him the opening of Perugia, and heard the voice of Marozzo announcing that a double guard is on the walls. Perugia buzzes like a hornets' nest. It is known everywhere that you have escaped, that Lady Beatrice is inside the walls, and that I am here, also. We have from now until daylight to devise a means of getting out of Perugia. As soon as the sun is up, we shall be found, even if we squeeze ourselves into a rat-hole."
IT was much later when Tizzo looked up and saw the pale blue- green invading the sky and making the stars a trifle dim.
"Day is almost here," he said, "and we are no nearer the solution."
"True," said Melrose. "But the glory is, Tizzo, that when we are found, I shall be able to swing a sword and die like a man. Strength has come back to me!"
The girl stirred a little. She, abandoning the problem to the two men, had been sound asleep, her head on the shoulder of Tizzo. Now she yawned and stretched, then rose, settled her hat on her head, and looked about her.
"What have you decided, my masters?" she asked.
"We have decided that Perugia is as good a place as the next one to die in," said Tizzo.
"We could try to get over the wall at some low place," said the girl.
"The walls have a double guard," said Tizzo. "We might begin to climb down, but we'd be full of crossbow quarrels before ever we got to the bottom of the great walls."
"Can we bribe the guard at a gate?"
"I've thought of that. But nothing we can offer will be worth a tithe of the immense reward that Jeronimo della Penna will give for our capture."
"That is true, of course," said the girl.
She began to walk up and down, whistling very softly.
Then she said: "Tizzo, if I cannot follow you, you must follow me."
"How?" he asked.
"In silence and with a little hope," she answered. "Come! Let us go!"
ALFREDO, the son of Lorenzo, at the first full gleam of the daylight, left his bed, dressed, washed, breakfasted, and prepared his lunch for the midday meal.
That is to say, he threw off the blanket, pulled on his heavy shoes, rubbed his eyes open, and put in his mouth half an onion and some stale bread. For lunch, he split open another stale loaf, laid a long slice of moldy cheese inside the split, and put the lunch in the pocket of his coat. He was now ready for the day and went out to the stable-yard behind his little shack. For he was a rich man, owning no fewer than four mules. Every day he collected rubbish here and there in the town, the débris which was constantly collecting from building operations, or junk of a thousand sorts. This material he carted out of the town, emptied it a good distance from the wall, and then hauled back into Perugia a good load of country produce. The rates he charged were so high that, in the course of half a dozen years he had been able to increase his team from two donkeys to four mules; besides, he had been able to put money aside.
This Alfredo, son of Lorenzo, was not a pretty man to see. He had served in the wars and had an eye knocked out. He wore a short growth of beard all over his face and so avoided the necessity and the wasted time involved in shaving.
The beard he trimmed once a month or so with a sheep-shears. He was a big man, with capacious shoulders, huge arms, and hands as tough as the heels of his mules. He was said to be strong enough to serve as a fifth mule in case of need.
Now Alfredo, the son of Lorenzo, got to the stable-shed, fed his mules, harnessed them, watered them, and at last led them out to hitch them to the vast two-wheeled cart whose creakings and squeakings could be heard almost through Perugia. The cart was heaped with a load of rubbish of all sorts, collected in the latter half of the preceding day.
But as he brought the mules out, pulling their stubborn heads along with a powerful hand, he saw three figures, dim in the half-light of the dawn, standing in his yard. One, the largest by far of the three, leaned against the wall, as though very weary. Another remained near the big man, wrapped in a cloak.
The third, a mere strip of a boy, advanced towards him, saying: "Well met, Alfredo!"
Alfredo picked a good thick club off the top of the loaded cart.
"Before daylight there are no good meetings," he said. "Who are you?"
"A friend," said the stripling.
"You lie," said Alfredo. "I have no friends except the gray mule, there. He would do something for me in a time of trouble, I think."
"Nevertheless, I am a friend," said the youth.
"Prove it," said the carter.
"One day the carriage of a noble passed and thrust your cart off the road. The cart was broken in the ditch. The next day I brought you money to buy a new one."
"May all the highblood in Perugia be damned!" said the carter. "The Baglioni first, because they are the leeches, the bloodsuckers, who grow rich on the labor of the poor men. Their taxes eat the marrow out of my bones. But a curse on all men who drive in swift carriages, drawn by galloping, blooded horses; a curse, and a double curse on them all. Now, as for this story you tell me, you have heard of the thing, but the truth is it was the noble Lady Beatrice herself who brought me the money the next day—the queen of heaven bring her happiness in return for it!—and as for you, you are a liar."
"I have told a few lies in my time," said the girl, "but I am the Lady Beatrice."
"And I," said the carter, "am the Archangel Gabriel. Get out of my way and let me harness my mules to the cart. Are you drunk? Do they let infants like you have the price of wine to spend in a shop?"
"I am the Lady Beatrice," she answered.
"And I am the King of France," said the carter.
"And this," said the girl, "is the Englishman who escaped from the prison of Jeronimo della Penna. This is the Baron of Melrose."
"This mule next to you—that seems a mule," said the carter, "is really the winged horse of the poet. Do you think I am a half-wit, my lad? Come, Come! Trouble me no more."
"And this," said the girl, "is Tizzo."
"Ha!" exclaimed the carter. "Now, of all the lies and the father and the mother of lying, this is the greatest lie! You stand there to tell me that the man I have seen with my own eyes, the Firebrand as they truly call him, prancing his horses through Perugia, striking sparks out of the streets and out of the eyes of the people, the warrior, the hero, the man whose ax splits helmets like kindling wood—that Tizzo whom I have seen with my own eyes, you tell me he is that skulking sneak who hangs his head there, wrapped in a cloak? My lad, it is true that all the three people you speak of were loose in Perugia last night, but the devil who favors them has flown them away again."
"No," said the girl. "Alfredo, the carter, is going to take them through the gate of the city and set them free."
The carter, stunned, continued to stare at her for a long time. "Let me see you," he said. "It is true that you are a woman. Yes. No man ever had legs as sleek and small about the knees as those. But the Lady Beatrice—she would never be fool enough to come here to me for help. And—if that is the great Tizzo, the Firebrand—here—here—look here! This is the thick top of a jousting helmet; yonder is my own ax.
"Let him try to split this fragment, if he is the man with the magic in his hands!"
He put a round bit of arched steel on the ground as he spoke but Tizzo, stepping forward, produced his own ax from beneath his cloak.
"If that is honest steel," he said, "I shall give you the proof you ask, friend."
With that, he flourished the ax through two brief circles, and then struck a flashing blow. The whole head of the ax sank into the ground; the steel helmet top was shorn straight in two.
Alfredo the carter actually dropped to his knees and, picking up the two fragments of the steel, stared from one hand to the other.
At last he looked up with a groan of wonder.
"No other man in Perugia could do such an enchantment!" he exclaimed. "And it is true that you are Tizzo! And if that is true, all the rest—and—God the Father, this is the Lady Beatrice!"
He rose slowly to his feet.
"My Lady," he said, "ten thousand people are searching for the three of you. Half of Perugia will be given to the man who discovers you. What made you come to me?"
"Because you carry a load of rubbish out of the town every morning. And this morning you shall carry the three of us in the rest of the worthless stuff."
"Look," said Alfredo, the son of Lorenzo, pointing to the four downheaded mules as though in some way they emphasized his point, "how could you trust in me? A word as we go through the gate, and the armed men will seize the cart and capture you all."
"Alfredo," said the girl, "I know that rich men cannot be trusted because they have the taste of money in their blood and want more of it. But you are both brave and poor. You knew me in the old days. That is why we have come to ask you for help."
"Well," answered the carter, "if harm comes to one of you through me, may the devil seize me the next moment."
Then he added, referring to the event which really had staggered his imagination: "It was like a flash of blue lightning! It was like the jump of fire through the heavens, the stroke of Tizzo's ax! Will you teach me how to swing an ax like that?"
"Yes," said Tizzo. "I'll teach you if you'll give ten years to the learning of the trick."
Suddenly the carter began to laugh aloud.
"It is Tizzo!" he said. "Because who else would tell me the truth like that? Hush, hush! Here I am bawling like a calf when all the swords in Perugia are out ready to kill veal! Softly and quickly, and God help us through the time of need!"
IT was not hard to arrange the hiding place. It was done by removing part of the rubbish from the cart and then constructing a little shelter with the use of two hurdles and some crosspieces. Into this stifling hut the three crept, crushed close together, and over the hurdles the carter leaped enough to restore the appearance of the load. After that, Tizzo could hear him calling out to his mules. The cart started with a lurch.
The wheels were so big that the cart kept jerking from side to side as the wagon passed down the slope of a street over the big cobbles. The carter, walking beside it, kept calling out to the mules. The piece of wood which he used as a brake screamed continually through the friction.
After a time the cart stopped. There was the familiar, telltale clinking of steel as armored men moved near.
"I'm Alfredo, son of Lorenzo," called the carter. "And here's the load of rubbish that I'm taking into the country this morning."
"You won't take it this morning," said a commanding voice. "Haul it back to your house. There are orders that nothing, not even a mouse, is to dare to leave Perugia today."
"Consider, my captain," said Alfredo, "that if I turn back, I must haul the weight up the hill. And have pity on my poor mules and myself."
"Consider you, fellow?" said the captain. "Would I be such a fool as to consider you when I have myself to consider? Shall I put my head under a sword for the sake of a carter? No, I still have wits left to me."
"Let me at least leave the cart here near the gate. Then I can haul it out tomorrow. But to pull the load back up the hill—"
"Shall I leave the street blocked near the gate? Do as you're ordered and get the stuff away from here!"
"Well," said the carter, "I call you to witness that I have tried to do as his highness commanded me, but the captain of the gate has prevented me."
"What highness?" asked the captain.
"Jeronimo della Penna. He swore to harry the skin off my body with whips unless I had finished clearing his courtyard of rubbish today," replied the carter.
"Ah?" said the captain. "Are you working for Jeronimo della Penna? Did he tell you to do that?"
"Della Penna is not having any building work done in his courtyard—none that I know of," said another voice.
"Not in the courtyard," said Alfredo. "The work is being done inside the house, but the rubbish of the old walls is heaped in the second courtyard."
At this, there was a small laugh. The captain said: "Well, get on your way! If della Penna has given you commands, I suppose they must be executed. Otherwise whips will take the skin off my body. And that's a tune with different words to it. Get on with you!"
The cart started forward with an other lurch. Again the brake started screaming, but it was a delightful music in the ears of Tizzo. Presently the bumps grew less hard and regular. The wheels were continually rising and descending, making the entire cart rock like a small boat going over waves, so Tizzo could guess that they were voyaging over the ruts and the bumps of the long white road that led among the hills towards the town of Perugia.
For a long time that journey continued before the cart halted again, and the voice of Alfredo called: "Your highnesses, we are around the shoulder of a hill, and the sight of Perugia is shut off from us. Shall I empty the rubbish here?"
"Yes, empty it here," said Tizzo.
And presently the stuff was being raked away and poured noisily down to the ground beside the road. At last, the three could issue, brushing the dust from their clothes, coughing the dust from their lungs.
But none of them looked strange to the others. Freedom had given a glory to all three.
THE town of Perugia in Old Italy had been the scene of a bloody midnight battle and massacre, when the royal house of Oddi turned on the Baglioni, the other reigning house, and drove them out side the walls of the city—those who were not killed.
Leader of the Oddi was Jeronimo della Penna, and his lieutenant was Mateo Marozzo.
Of the Baglioni who escaped, Giovanpaolo was the leader, and with him were his sister, Lady Beatrice, and Tizzo, the Firebrand, master swordsman and fearless fighter. Giovanpaolo established a camp near by and laid plans for retaking the city.
Hearing that his friend, Henry, Baron of Melrose, was being tortured by della Penna, Tizzo slipped into the city and, with the aid of Beatrice and a carter of the name of Alfredo, rescued Melrose, who turned out to be Tizzo's father. Before returning to Giovanpaolo's camp, Tizzo made plans with three friends in the city for the opening of one of the gates. They were Luigi Falcone, Tizzo's foster-father; Antonio Bardi, whose life Tizzo had once saved; and the Lady Atlanta Baglione.
IN the town of San Martino in Campo, where the growing forces of Giovanpaolo were gathered, there arrived a rumor which spread like wildfire that four people on mule-back were coming, and that two of them were Lady Beatrice and Tizzo; a third was the famous English warrior, the Baron of Melrose. The whole town buzzed with the wildest excitement, and the four on mule-back arrived with Giovanpaolo in person rushing his horse up to them.
Men saw him lift his sister off the mule and embrace her.
The whole camp went wild with excitement and joyous expectation, because of late the news had not been cheerful in the least. Word had come that the lord of Camerino was marching a strong force to assist the traitors who held Perugia. Perhaps he would be strong enough to attack Giovanpaolo in the open field!
These rumors had mixed, in the last day, with word that the Lady Beatrice was missing from the camp, that Giovanpaolo was half-mad with anxiety, and that Tizzo, the right hand of Giovanpaolo in war, had disappeared on some strange mission. It was said that he had gone, actually, into the city of Perugia itself, but this was generally disbelieved because not even a Tizzo would have been capable of such folly. However, his return rushed a warm confidence into the breast of every man in the camp. San Martino's bells rang out a frantic welcome, and the cheering made a gay thunder in the sky.
But Tizzo, before long, was standing in the fine quarters of Giovanpaolo, who had taken over the villa of a rich merchant.
He on one side of the table, big Henry of Melrose on the other, attacked a great roast of veal with their knives and fingers and drank plentifully of good red wine. Lady Beatrice, still in her boyish costume, walked up and down the room eating, with all the hungry abandon of a true boy, some bits of cold chicken and stopping at the table to sip wine. While Giovanpaolo, work thrust aside for the moment, enriched his eyes with the picture before him.
There was another member of the group, for a short time, and that was the carter, Alfredo, son of Lorenzo. He, dusty cap in hand, blinked his one eye at Giovanpaolo and was unable to name the reward he expected. He could only say: "Another pair of mules would be a blessing to the four who now work for me, your highness!"
"You shall have ten pairs of mules," said Giovanpaolo.
"No, in the name of God!" cried Alfredo. "For where should I put ten pairs in my shed?"
"You shall have larger quarters!" exclaimed Giovanpaolo.
Alfredo shook his head, saying: "Too big a bite of good fortune may choke me. Let me swallow happiness morsel by morsel, my lord. But when Perugia is retaken—"
"Are you sure that we shall retake it, Alfredo?" asked Giovanpaolo.
"The wisdom of your lordship will surround it," said Alfredo, "and the fire of Tizzo will burn a way through the gates. Oh, yes, Perugia will be yours again, and soon! But when it is taken, if I could have the honor of running at the side of Tizzo and watching the ax of his honor at work on the heads of traitors, I would have something that would keep me in talk whenever I sat down to a cup of wine, so long as I live."
"You shall not run beside me; you shall ride on the finest warhorse in the camp. What else will you have, Alfredo?" said Tizzo.
"Leave to go away for a little while and catch my breath," said Alfredo.
"So!" said Giovanpaolo, when the carter had gone. "I felt like a one-armed man—I felt like poor young della Penna, Tizzo, when you were gone from me. But why did you go, Beatrice?"
"Because," said the girl, "I had to see Tizzo again if only to tell him that his brain is as wild and as dizzy as the color of his hair."
"She had to come," said Tizzo, "in order to show me the trap I was entering, and spring it by throwing herself into danger; she had to come in order to save my father and myself in the first great moment of danger; she had to come in order with her fine wit to have us both carried safely again out of the town. "
"My lord of Melrose," said Giovanpaolo, "now that you have come to us, you will always be welcome. Your strength will make itself felt when we storm the city. But tell me only one thing: Why did you let Tizzo go this long time without telling him that he is your flesh and blood?"
"Because like a fool I thought that the time had not yet come," said the Englishman. "What had the boy got from me? A chance to win hard knocks in the world, only! But I hoped that before long I would be able to give him a house and lands and fine horses and a whole armory of axes and swords and spears and everything else that he prizes most in the world. When I could, one day, take him into that paradise and say: 'Tizzo, all this is yours; it is your father who gives it!' Then, when I could do that, I felt that he might incline to forgive me. But, as I said before, I was a fool."
"Nothing is folly that has a glorious ending," answered Giovanpaolo. "When you have eaten, Tizzo, tell me what you have done."
"No, Giovanpaolo. I'll simply tell you what to do. Have your scouts, every day, sharpen their eyes when they ride towards Perugia, and above all, let them look towards the tower of the house of Antonio Bardi. For, one day, many flags will appear on that house, and one of them will be red. In whatever direction that red flag is placed, be sure that the same night the gate towards which it is set will be in the hands of our friends and will be opened. The Lady Atlanta, Luigi Falcone, Bardi, have all been drawn into a pact. They will act for you."
"Have you done that?" cried Giovanpaolo. "Then, if only the time comes before the lord of Camerino has advanced his men to the rescue of the town, we have still one chance in three of conquering Perugia!"
THE lord of Camerino, in fact, did not advance suddenly to the relief of the city of Perugia. He was gathering a strong force, and it was plain that his thought was actually to meet Giovanpaolo in the field and beat him out of it with sheer numbers. Merely to throw his forces into the city was not to his taste.
And so a few days intervened which were a priceless gift to Henry of Melrose, among the rest. For, every day, he was twenty hours in bed, and four hours on horseback or exercising gingerly with weapons, feeling his way back to a strength which grew momently. And this same leisure time was used by young Tizzo in adoring his Lady Beatrice, in drinking wine with boon companions—for the entire camp was his companion—in playing dice, in riding races against the other youngsters on their finest horses, in fencing, wrestling, running, leaping, practicing with his great blue-bladed ax, in twanging a harp and composing songs to his own music, in the reading of a curious old Greek manuscript which Giovanpaolo, knowing his taste, had presented to him, in thumbing out little models of clay—for one day he swore that he would, be a sculptor like that great broken-nosed genius, Michaelangelo—in sleeping, eating, laughing, laboring, and filling every day to the brim with his abundant activities. For every moment his flame-blue eyes were open, they were employed with the first object or the first thought that came his way.
Lady Beatrice said to him: "Do you love me, Tizzo?"
He answered: "Love you? No! Love is no word for it. I love your beauty and hate your smallness; I worship your dignity and despise your arrogance; I adore and I detest you. I revere and I scorn you. If you were an inch taller I should spend all my days on my knees giving up offerings to your beauty. If you were a shade more gentle, I should perish from the greatness of my devotion. If you had not the claws of a cat as well as the velvet grace of one, I should die, instantly, because my heart would burst with joy. Therefore, never change, Beatrice!"
"If there were ten of me," said the Lady Beatrice, "I might be enough to keep a tenth part of your thoughts for the tenth part of a year. But as it is, you must be off every moment to some other diversion. Where are you going now, you dizzy-wit?"
"I must keep an appointment, my love," said Tizzo. "Beatrice, I must go at once to see Giovanpaolo. He wishes to speak with me on a matter of the greatest importance, an affair of the attack, and I am late for the appointment already!"
But when, five minutes later, Beatrice saw her brother horsed and riding out with a train of companions to train the infantry in pike drill, there was no sign of Tizzo. She said nothing. She was not over bitter. It was perhaps because she understood him so well that she feared so much the future, and yet she could not be angry with him more than five minutes together.
THE appointment of Tizzo had not been to talk war with Giovanpaolo. It had been to play dice at the tavern with a certain Amadeo, a Corsican, a good, sharp blade, a keen eye, with some of the surly Corsican hardness. He was no great friend of Tizzo, except that Tizzo was the friend of everyone, with no more suspicion in his nature than there is rain in an Italian summer sky. He had won a handful of gold florins from this Amadeo the night before and promised him some revenge today.
In ten minutes the money had been won back by the Corsican, and a little crowd gathered to watch the famous ease with which Tizzo could squander gold. In fact, he was soon at the bottom of his wallet, though it had been well-crammed with money that same morning—a kindness which Giovanpaolo always performed for him. And Tizzo accepted the money with no more shame than he would have felt in pouring diamonds or blood on behalf of any friend. As a rule, he was too busy and too swift in his pleasures to allow shame to catch up with him.
He was crying, now:— "Hello, Amadeo! I have reached the bottom of my purse in this moment."
"Your credit!" said Amadeo, eyeing the other as a falcon would stare at a singing bird. "Your credit, Tizzo, with me is like the credit of an angel! We cast again, I with gold and against your word for anything you please."
"Good!" said Tizzo. "Begin."
"There is no need for you to throw your money away, my lord," said a voice beside the table.
Tizzo, looking up, saw a youth in the middle teens, a soft- eyed, gentle-looking lad who carried in his eyes a certain dignity—of knowledge, perhaps.
"Ah, you are the apprentice painter, are you?" demanded the Corsican. "What is it that you know about dice?"—
"In Urbino," said the other, "we learn how to roll dice when we are children, and so we can always tell a loaded pair."
"Loaded?" cried Amadeo. "Loaded dice? You cursed, woman-faced brat—"
His strong hand was instantly fixed in the long black hair of the lad and a cruel, broad-bladed dagger appeared in his hand. He had dragged the lad far forward across the table sprawling, and the devil in his eyes made him look as though he were about to strike the weapon home.
There was a general outcry, but not a hand lifted against the Corsican.
Only, Tizzo said: "If you murder him, Amadeo, I'll cut your throat for you as surely as there are five toes on your feet."
Amadeo, glancing aside with a scowl, saw the dangerous gleam in the eyes of Tizzo, and relaxed his grasp.
"Do you believe him, Tizzo?" he complained, loudly.
The stranger, staggering back to his feet, dropped on the table the two dice which he had scooped up from it.
"These are the dice he has been using," he said. "Try them yourself, my lord, and then make up your mind."
Tizzo fixed a stern glance on the Corsican.
"Shall I try them?" he asked. "Shall I roll with them, Amadeo?"
Said the Corsican: "How can I tell that they are the same dice which I used?"
But, though he spoke so bravely, his glance wandered for an instant towards the door of the tavern.
"They are the same dice," said Tizzo, quietly. "I can tell by the yellow color and by the way the edges are worn. These are the same dice. It is not possible that he could have carried with him another false set so exactly like yours."
Then he added, slowly: "Shall I roll them, to find out whether or not they are loaded?"
The Corsican, a pale sweat covering his face, was making ready to answer, while the keen eyes of all around the table shone, for no people are so interested in the exposing of a lie as the Italians—when Tizzo exclaimed: "No, I shall not roll them. Amadeo, to what you have won, you are welcome. I have seen you fight, and such a brave man cannot be dishonest!"
Suddenly Amadeo burst into a loud weeping.
"I am a villain and a scoundrel!" he cried out.
It was strange to see his hard, cruel, cunning face break into pieces with the grief of shame.
Tizzo answered: "You have been my friend before; you shall be my friend now."
"I shall be honest!" cried Amadeo. "Here is the money I have so falsely won!"
"Well," said Tizzo, "I have learned so much that it is worth a little expenditure. I shall not take the money. It is earned by something else—the goddess of chance, perhaps. Here, my host—let no one pay a score until all of this money has been spent. Take it uncounted, but if you cheat, I'll return and—well, I'll return."
The host of the tavern, his eyes thrusting out of his head, took up the money with trembling fingers.
"It shall be spent according to the scores, my lord," he said. "God has blessed those who drink this month without expense!"
"Is it so?" said Amadeo, staring at Tizzo.
"My friend," said Tizzo, "if I shame a brave man, how do I gain by it?"
AMADEO, throwing the hood of his cloak over his head, suddenly left the tavern, and Tizzo turned to the dark-faced young man.
"You are called what?" he asked.
"Sanzio, my lord," said the other.
"And the other name?"
"Raphael, what is your trade?"
"I am a painter, my lord."
"Him whom they already call Perugino."
"I have seen his work. A good, noble, rich painter. But, Lord, what broken necks and stupid faces!"
"The stupidity in the faces is his sense of God, my lord," said the youth.
"When you paint, remedy that defect," said Tizzo.
"I shall try to, my lord," said the youth.
"Paint—why, paint anything, but make it human."
"That is my very thought," said Raphael.
"Is that your thought? Sit down and drink with me!"
"I have had enough wine for this day," said the painter.
"Sit down and drink!" commanded Tizzo.
"Yes, my lord," said the painter, and slipped hurriedly into a chair.
"What is that bundle under your arm?" asked Tizzo. Then he shouted: "Ho! Mine host! Wine!"
The best wine of the house was brought on the run.
"These?" said the boy. "These are drawings which I have made."
"Drink first, and then show them to me."
"To my lord, the noble knight, Tizzo," said Raphael. His smooth, dark face began to glow as he drank. "And as for these drawings—well, you see them."
"Come to my side of the table and point them out."
Raphael leaned by the side of the warrior and his femininely slender finger pointed out the drawings which he showed.
"This," said Tizzo, "is the lord, Giovanpaolo himself, about to strike a blow!"
"No, signore," said Raphael, "it is Hector, who is about to strike down Patroculus."
"Ha! So?" said Tizzo. "But this is—why, this is my noble father, the Baron of Melrose."
"No, signore. This is simply Odysseus, about to enter his own house and slay the suitors."
"Hai, Raphael, this is myself!" said Tizzo.
"No, signore. It is that cruel, great, glorious, and beautiful tyrant, Achilles, whom no man could conquer."
Tizzo brooded on the drawing.
"That man died young," he said.
"You, also, prefer fame to long life," said the artist.
"It is true," mused Tizzo.
"Yes, my lord, it is true," said Raphael.
A voice ran in at the mouth of the tavern: "Is my lord here? Is Tizzo here?"
Tizzo stood up.
"I shall see you again, Raphael," he said.
"I trust so," said the youth. "Or my works, at least."
"Your works I shall see if I live, because here are not things out of the mind but out of the eye. But you I shall see also. Remember me."
"As a most noble patron, sir," said the painter.
"WHAT will you have of me?" asked Tizzo of the messenger.
"My lord," said the lad who had entered, "I have searched every tavern in the town, and in each I have heard that you were not there since the morning. His highness, Giovanpaolo, requires you instantly!"
"His highness requires me?" cried Tizzo. "Oh for the time when I shall require other men, and they shall come!"
However, he rose at once and went to find the quarters of his friend.
He found there, not only Giovanpaolo, but also his father, the lady, Beatrice Baglione, and the leaders of the host, who quickly gave him place until he was close to Giovanpaolo.
And Giovanpaolo said to him, with a smile:
"What have I interrupted? Hawking, hunting, fencing, jousting, racing, drinking, gambling, story-telling, idling, or merely silly, amusing talk?"
"I have been doing all those things," answered Tizzo, gloomily. "And I was thinking, on my way here, that a man who serves the great is never his own master."
"That is true," answered Giovanpaolo. "And whenever you are the true master, God help those who are your enemies—or your servants, perhaps. They will be rich today and beggared tomorrow. But, to the point. We have had scouts out toward Perugia all this time, and at last one has returned with a sweating horse to say that flags fly from the tower of the house of Antonio Bardi, and one of those flags is red, and lies in the direction of the gate of San Pietro."
"Then the city is ours!" cried Tizzo, in a fervor.
"True, Tizzo, true," said Giovanpaolo, "if we may take the gate of San Pietro and so master a friendly ward and the lower city. But still the main city will be lost to us, and in the higher city is all the strength and the force of Perugia."
"We may take the gate of San Pietro," said Tizzo, "and then we must rush on to the next gate into the city."
"That is the 'Two Gates,'" said Giovanpaolo.
"Which admits us into the higher city?" asked Tizzo.
"It admits us to that place," answered Giovanpaolo. "And the question that now rides with us is this: Shall we—"
"We shall strike in with lance and sword and ax," said Tizzo, "and God show Himself for the right!"
"Well said," answered Giovanpaolo. "And who shall say where the favor of God lies, even the holiest hermit? Without that favor, we shall never win. The city is high, the walls are strong, and there are many valiant and strong men inside the citadel."
"Which means," said Tizzo, "that a small party must press up close to the gate and win that of San Pietro, then rush forward and gain the gate to the higher city."
"At night?" asked Giovanpaolo.
"At night, the owl in every man awakens," said Tizzo, "but at noonday the owl sleeps. At noon we shall approach the city. Such a small number that we shall seem to be friends at that hour of the day."
"No, no. Night, night is the only time!" said Giovanpaolo. "Night is the only chance for small numbers against great."
"Night which confuses the defendants confuses the assailants also," said Tizzo.
"And in the daytime, we have a chance to recognize our friends, hate our enemies, and strike all the harder."
"But the first men in the gate are bound to be slain," said Giovanpaolo. "Who would lead such a forlorn attempt?"
"You speak to the leader," said Tizzo. "That is I!"
TIZZO armed himself; that is to say, he stood as a passive figure while three valets busied themselves in adjusting his armor.
They put upon him the cuirass, which covered both the breast and the back. Epaulières guarded his shoulders, brassarts covered his arms. There were elbow-guards and coverings for the inside of the elbow joints, without which a side slash or an up-stroke might disable the stoutest knight. The avant-bras guarded the lower arms. But first, of course there was a sort of steel mail nightshirt, which guarded the body under the cuirass and might turn the point of the deadliest crossbow bolt. Farther north, in the realm of England, they still used the long bows whose arrows had pierced the steel plate of the knights of France at Crécy as though the metal were silk to cover the breast of the most famous knight in the world; but in the southland gunpowder was taken to more kindly. Thus a commoner, in a fortnight, could master an art which might bring down the greatest baron in the land.
Then there were the cuissarts to guard the leg to the knee, the knee-guards, the leg-pieces, and laminated coverings for the feet. The gauntlets, newly invented for Charles VII of France, were pieces of iron sewed upon strong leather gloves, and when all of this paraphernalia had been donned, Tizzo put on the great war helmet, with its visor, and its beaver, pierced with breathing holes.
WHEN he was fully armed, he picked up his ax and walked a few paces, making strokes and parries here and there, after which he had various bits of the armor loosened to give him a freer action.
At last he was ready to start on his dangerous journey. His lance was given into his hand, and the battle ax which really was simply a woodsman's ax was hung at his saddle bow. His sword was belted about him with strong chain. The spurs were fixed on his heels. His poniard, so useful for stabbing through the bars or the breathing holes in the helmet of a fallen enemy, was put into the scabbard over his right hip. And now, at last, he was ready for war. He was so armored that only the mightiest blow could crush in or cut through his steel plate. His whole body was clothed with a weight which was yet so subtly and cunningly hinged and laminated that he was able to move every limb with the most perfect freedom.
To Tizzo it was above all more important because he carried with him as a favorite weapon the blue-bladed ax. He now could trust to the armor to cause counter blows to glide from his body while with vast two-handed blows which he had learned from the foresters, he could wreak destruction to this side and to that.
TIZZO had said to the Lady Beatrice: "Do you love me?"
And she had answered: "In part, yes. But I am afraid to love you, Tizzo. You are here today, and dead tomorrow. How long will you live, Tizzo?"
"As long as my luck," said Tizzo. "My happiness is that you will not die grieving for me."
"I'd rather die fighting beside you," said the girl.
"You speak words, but no answer," said Tizzo.
"Tizzo," said the girl, "to be frank, do you love me half as much as you love the naked face of danger?"
"No," he said, "not half so much."
"If you did," she answered, "I should despise you. Spur forward. God help you. Ah, that I were a man to be able to see how you enter into this action."
Giovanpaolo said, briefly, in making his farewell: "My army will follow you, coming up as close as the shelter of the hills warrants it. But the first and the main brunt falls upon you. Remember only this—that glory is not given to those who fall in vain!"
THERE were twenty and five in the company which Tizzo led against the great and famous city of Perugia, perched on its height. Since Etruscan time, it had been a known place. Now a score and more of fighters advanced against it!
In this party that gathered about him there were fifteen men in complete armor and on horseback; there were also ten men armed with the harquebus. This more or less recent invention was a long tube of steel which shot out a great leaden bullet, and though the gun was slow to load and had to be balanced on a tall supporting staff, and though its range was not great, it was known that the bullets would pierce through the stoutest armor that ever was made.
These things Tizzo was thinking of as he approached the walls of Perugia, content in two things. The first was that his party was so small that the watchers from the walls of the city could have no idea that this was an attacking force.
The second comfort was the nature of the men he had with him.
That Amadeo, the Corsican, was the sort who would die to prove himself a more honorable man with the sword than with the dice. There was the bulk of the carter, Alfredo, looking very vast inside a suit of complete armor and carrying at the bow of his saddle a huge spiked battle mace, the only weapon which, he said, he was sure that he could manage. But best of all, at the side of Tizzo rode a knight famous through six kingdoms and the empire—Henry of Melrose, the Englishman.
He, as he rode, could not help singing, and when Tizzo asked him what the song might mean, he only laughed aloud.
"We Englishmen," he said, "have to sing of love when we are about to die!"
"I would rather sing of wine," said Tizzo, tersely, and led his men on toward the great gate of San Pietro.
There were men on the walls above. There were men on the ground beneath. There were more men inside the gateway, when Tizzo arrived. A touch of the spurs sent forward his fine Barb mare, the gift of Giovanpaolo himself.
"Who goes?" called the languid voice of the captain of the gate.
"Friends of Jeronimo della Penna," answered Tizzo.
A wild yell was his response.
"It is Tizzo! Close the gate! Close the gate!"
Several men with staves thrust the gate shut. The galloping horse of Tizzo arrived too late. But at the last moment he heard a voice cry: "The lock will not turn! It has been fouled!" Truly, Antonio Bardi and Luigi Falcone had not been false to their word! The spiked breast plate of Tizzo's Barb struck against the gate. It thrust open.
Spears pushed out at him; he waved them aside with a swift motion of his ax. A halberd descended, and glanced with stunning force from his helmet. He pressed on through the widening gap of the gate, while a wild cry went up from the men on the ground, from the men on the great wall above.
"Strike! Strike! Strike!" cried Tizzo, and as his mare cleared the lips of the gate, he set the example with the swinging of his ax.
They had swarmed out to meet him and they showed the valor that was worthy of a good cause. He saw a footman actually hurl himself at the knees of the mare and try to gather them inside his grasp.
The ax of Tizzo split the helmet and the skull of the man like cheese. The mare pushed on.
Then a bristling forest of spears lodged against the armored breast of Tizzo. He tried vainly to beat those thrusting points aside, when on either side of him rushed two mounted forms. The one was Henry of Melrose. The other was the carter. The Englishman swung a long, two-handed sword. The carter was wielding that mace which bristled with stout steel points.
"Melrose! A Melrose! A Melrose!" yelled the Englishman.
And the Italian shouted: "Tizzo! Tizzo! Tizzo! A firebrand! Sparks in your eyes and smoke in your brain! Traitors and dogs! This from the hand of a true man—and this—and this!"
With every phrase, he rose in his stirrups and discharged a blow. His riding was not of the most graceful, but his handwork was wonderful. The labor of his years had hardened his muscles. His terrible blows smashed strong helmets like paper, and the long, two-handed sword of Henry of Melrose, his favorite weapon, shore through the hafts of spears or halberds with his parries, and then clove the wielders to the life with terrible strokes.
The cunning of thirty years of battle lived in his hands.
So the brunt of the battle was rushed away from Tizzo, and he was given a clean passage. He could even afford one turn of his head, to see a new rider at the foot of his little squadron, a mere lad, as it appeared, clad in gaudy armor, swinging a one- handed sword of the lightest fashion, and crying out in a voice which carried with it a certain sweetness that was familiar to the ears of Tizzo.
He knew the cry. It was the wild-headed, the flame-hearted, the glorious Beatrice who, once more, had followed him into the very lion's jaws of danger!
And he, half-exultant, half-groaning, spurred on the Barb mare and, with a sweep of his battle ax, glanced the keen blade from the helmet of the captain of the gate and drove it sheer down through the shoulder of the man, mortally wounding him.
They had won the gate of San Pietro. But there still remained before them a veritable wilderness of danger. How long would it take the forefront of the charging host of Giovanpaolo to reach the gate and assist his vanguard?
TIZZO, looking back, saw a stream of dust pour around the shoulder of a hill, beyond the gate, and through that dust fluttered pennons, and the flashing of armor.
They were coming as fast as true heart and strong horses would bear them. In the meantime, from the top of the wall, rocks and immense javelins began to descend as the wall-guard joined in the battle. To remain near would be death, one by one, to all the band which Tizzo led. But forward?
He could hardly tell what lay forward. There was the inner gate, to be sure, which communicated with the heart of the higher city. They could not hope to win this, but they could at least make a thrust in that direction.
That was why, rising in his stirrups, he shouted: "Forward all! The higher gate! The 'double gate'! Ride! Ride!"
And in a small but savage tide his followers, every one, rushed behind him along the way which he showed.
Here, to the left and to the right, men were running to meet this mysterious and insane attack in the middle of the noonday. Above him, the bells of the town had just begun to beat out the wild alarm. But Tizzo led the charge straight up toward the higher gate, where the wall arose like the sheer face of a mountain, bristling with armed men.
A troop had issued from that gate. Tizzo, with the carter on his left hand and Baron Henry of Melrose on his right, smote that troop before it could form, struck it as a sledge hammer strikes a brittle stone, and smashed it. The recoiling troopers poured back through the higher gate. And with them rushed Tizzo and his companions!
COULD twenty-five men win the double gates of Perugia? No, not at midnight, not at dawn. But in the sleepy hour of the noonday, when all Italy disposes itself for sleep—yes, that was a different matter. Men, still yawning, rose, heard the alarm bells, the shouting and the clashing in the streets, and rushed forth with bewildered minds. And before them were the weapons of the small, determined group.
They had, actually, with one rush cleared both the outer and the inner gate. But here all progress ceased. The inner guards were now at work and they came strongly on. These were the chosen men of Jeronimo della Penna, and they fought like heroes, as Tizzo soon learned.
Here was no chance to fell a few with blows and drive the rest by fear. In those days, the men of Perugia were the most desired mercenary warriors in all of Italy, and now the men of the town lived up to their reputation nobly. Shoulder to shoulder, hand to hand, they pressed in with their shields raised, their swords always thrusting like the bright tongues of snakes. Fools cut and carve; wise men use the point.
And the charge of Tizzo was wasted, foiled, beaten back, back toward the jaws of the gate. A little more and they would be thrust out through the gates, and then all the thunder of hoofs down the street, as the forefront of Giovanpaolo's riders approached, would be in vain.
Tizzo, striking with all the force he could lend to his terrible ax, was seconded by the full press of all his men, and still they had to give back, though the street began to run blood before them.
It was then that a voice shouted suddenly: "Melrose! A Melrose! Tizzo! Tizzo! Tizzo!" and there was a sudden thrust of armored knights from the dim mouth of an alley.
"Tizzo! Melrose!" they shouted, and at the same time they were crying: "Bardi! Bardi! Falcone! Falcone!"
Those battle cries were enough to tell Tizzo what was happening. His foster-father and his sworn friend, Bardi, had collected some of their chosen retainers at this critical point, and now they were driving in to make a diversion in his favor.
That charge struck the enemy, staggered it, thrust it aside, and here beside Tizzo a visor raised and he saw the sweating face, and the bald forehead of his foster-father, Falcone.
"Ha, Tizzo!" cried the knight. "Now to the sword-work! Now to the real glory!"
A RUSH of pikemen poured down the street, men running shoulder to shoulder, the forward ranks bent over so that three rows of bristling spears stuck out in front. And this wave of fighters struck Tizzo and his friends. They hewed vainly at the spearpoints. A forest seemed falling upon them. The horse of Falcone went down, and he himself and the brave carter struggled on foot, quickly borne down, when a great shouting came thronging through the gate for which they fought.
"Baglione! Baglione!" roared the newcomers.
It was Giovanpaolo in the forefront of his charge. They rode down those stout pikemen. They scattered the valiant men-at-arms. But there and then the keynote of the battle was established. For no man asked for quarter. Dismounted knights fought with the truncheons of their spears, with their swords, till these were broken, with their poniards, with their hands and teeth.
No swift movement could be expected. Here on one side fought the men of Giovanpaolo to regain the possessions of a lifetime. On the other side struggled those who had seized the goods of the banished men. To be defeated was to pass into exile again, and to be captured was to be slain without mercy later. Therefore, every step of the fight was marked with slaughter.
That first thrust of the men of Giovanpaolo brought their famous leader right up to the side of Tizzo, where he shouted: "Well done, my miracle. Ah, Tizzo, with one more like you, I could conquer the world! Forward, forward! Always forward! But these dogs still are biting when they die!" Indeed, they were still biting.
And then the advance struck the chains.
All forward movement stopped at once. From side to side in the streets were stretched great bars of iron, padlocked at the sides and jointed with heavy iron. Raised as high as the breast of a horse, they halted the animals. No beast could leap that height, uphill and onto the pikes that bristled in opposition.
So the advance was checked; and in the meantime the forces of Jeronimo della Penna, gathering force and confidence, with harquebus and with crossbow began to pour in a terrible fire from every raised place. A bullet which missed here was sure to strike there.
The caroming lead left devastation behind it. One ball of lead drove through three armored bodies and a cry went up. "We are against a fall! It is murder, not battle!"
A wild panic was beginning, and if it gained head would wash the forces of Giovanpaolo out of Perugia—out of Perugia, and forever.
Then a voice called to Tizzo: "My lord! Tizzo! Here is a way through the barriers! I hold the anvil, and you strike, Tizzo!"
That was the shout from the husky throat of Alfredo, the carter, as he thrust under a joint of the chain a great wooden block, such as might have once been the joist of the awning of a shop. It lifted the joint of the chain and Tizzo, without a word, seeing his chance, swayed in the saddle, spurred the Barb mare forward, and smote with the full force of leaping horse, swaying body, and driving ax.
The stout iron was shorn in twain. The chain of iron bars fell, clashing, and at once the riders of Giovanpaolo rushed forward up the street. The harquebusiers, grown confident, thrusting the muzzles of their guns closer and closer to the target, were taken by surprise and died almost to a man, and in a moment.
Those of the party of della Penna who filled the street were numerous enough to have beaten back the charge of Giovanpaolo, but the breaking of the chains seemed to dismay their spirits.
They fled as far as the next chain and there they rallied once again.
"Tizzo! Tizzo!" went up a shout from the army of the invaders. "Tizzo, where is your ax? Open the way for us."
And again the blue-bladed ax of Tizzo glanced through the noonday sun, and the chain was shorn through at the jointing.
As it fell, Tizzo cried out: "Ah, blessed be the Saracen who forged you, noble steel! Blessed the ore that yielded you like a mother to the world, and the wise brains that gave you lore. Forward, my braves! Forward, forward! Strike and slay!"
AND at that moment a hurly-burly of charging cavalry rushed down the street and encountered them. There was the cry for Jeronimo della Penna. There was the screeching voice of della Penna himself. That charge beat the Barb mare of Tizzo to its knees.
It was not so much a man as a horse that had brought Tizzo almost to the ground; for in the forefront of the defenders of Perugia rode a fellow in beautiful Milanese armor on a gray stallion so beautiful that Tizzo never had seen the like of it even in the stables of Grifonetto. Perfectly trained, the great charger made short curvets every time his rider raised the sword- arm, and so gave a terrible added momentum to the descending force of the blow. Besides, with his steel-shod hoofs he worked like two good fighting men to make a way for his master.
A crossbowman who pressed up beside Tizzo, seeing the havoc the war-horse worked, called to him: "Watch this quarrel from my arblast, my lord, Tizzo, and you will see the gray horse strike its last blow!"
And Tizzo had answered: "Let the horse be! He who kills the good gray horse has done a murder!"
A moment later, he could repent what he had said, for in the next surge of the fight his own companions were borne back for a moment and the gray monster swept down on him. It reared and one striking fore-hoof glanced from the armored head of the Barb mare, flinging her down on her knees.
With that same fall, the guard of Tizzo was thrown wide and the descending stroke of the swordsman fell full on his helmet. That well-fashioned, exquisitely tempered steel turned the sword. It fell with a blunted edge on his shoulder plate, but the blow had been enough to daze him.
Other strokes came from right and left. A footman, springing through the press when he saw his opportunity, cut off the retreat of the rider by driving his dagger three times into the breast of the Barb before she could rise again.
Tizzo, springing clear of the stirrups as the mare fell dead, struck the heel of his ax into the face of the murderer. The visor was smashed by the blow. Blood spurted forcefully out from the breathing holes of the helmet as the man fell on his back.
BUT the danger had thickened around Tizzo suddenly. The men of Jeronimo della Penna, having gained a little ground in that forward surge, closed about Tizzo, shouting: "We have him! Strike! Strike! Tizzo is ours!"
"Yield!" shouted the knight on the gray horse. "Yield yourself prisoner to me, rescue or no rescue!" It was the voice of Marozzo.
Tizzo, for answer, aimed a blow that made the fellow reel in his saddle. But as he fought, Tizzo knew that only the excellence of his armor was saving his life. Immense strokes rang against it. In a moment he would be overwhelmed. And, in the distance, he could hear the agonized cry of Giovanpaolo and see the frantic efforts of that great fighter to rescue a friend.
Help came in another way. A horseman in gilded armor, a slight figure, managed to leap his mount to the side of Tizzo with a spare charger on the rein.
"Here, Tizzo!" cried the voice of Beatrice.
Tizzo leaped into the saddle through a shower of blows and, swaying his ax from that vantage point, saw the girl pitch forward on the bow of her saddle, stunned by many strokes. Either her helmet had been insecurely put on, or else the blows had snapped the fastenings, for now the helmet was knocked from her head. Beneath it there was no coif of chain mail belonging to the hauberk which most fighters wore for a greater security. She had avoided that crushing weight; and now her head was naked; her hair flowed free.
Tizzo, groaning, drove his new horse between her and the press of danger, but not before he heard the shout of Marozzo: "It is the Lady Beatrice. A thousand, two thousand ducats to the man who takes her alive!" And a moment later, as Tizzo sweated and fought, he heard the same voice yelling: "After her! After her! Giovanni—Tadeo—Marco!—With me and after her!"
Tizzo, looking askance, saw that the girl had forced her horse through the mouth of a narrow valley and was fleeing at full speed; but after her ran the great gray stallion of Marozzo like a greyhound after a rabbit.
Then a wave of hard-fighting men swept up to him from behind—a wave whose steel forefront was composed of Luigi Falcone, the terrible sword of Lord Melrose, Giovanpaolo himself, and that terrible, long-striding carter.
He gave them no thanks for saving his life. And through a gap behind their advance, he drove his horse presently down the side alley.
SHE would flee where? All through Perugia the tumult was not spread. Here and there men would be arming and issuing from their houses singly or in groups. But the major portion of the fighting citizens must be gathered about the focus of uproar where the forces of Giovanpaolo had burst through the gates of the town. In all the rest of the city, where would Beatrice find a harborage?
He remembered then the Lady Atlanta. Her charity was greater than the sea; her kindness was without limit except to traitors. And Beatrice, riding for her life, surely would remember this friend.
Tizzo drove his horse at frantic speed straight for the palace of the Lady Atlanta.
There were, as he had expected, small, hurrying groups of men- at-arms proceeding toward the battle. As they saw the fugitive, they cried out to stop him and asked which way the fighting inclined. But Tizzo gave them no answer. They might as well have been howling dogs.
Twice his horse skidded at paved turns and was almost down. But at last he had reached the entrance to the courtyard of the famous house and found inside it half a dozen men in full armor who were beating with maces and axes at the main door of the house. And inside the house the shrill voices of frightened women ran up and down the stairs as they fled for safety and found no place to go.
Tizzo, lifting himself in the stirrups, shouted: "Baglioni! At them, men! No quarter! Baglioni! Baglioni!"
He turned in his saddle as though waving a charge to follow him, then spurred straight across the courtyard. They did not wait for him. A last shower of blows burst in the entrance door, but three of the men-at-arms who had followed Marozzo scattered to this side and that,
yelling as though hot steel were already in them.
Mateo Marozzo himself, with only two companions, pushed through the opened doorway and there turned. They could see, now, that there was but a single rider coming at them, and Marozzo knew that single horseman very well indeed.
"It is Tizzo!" he yelled to his companions. "We are three and he is only one. Call back the others. Living or dead—two—three—four thousand ducats! Five thousand ducats! In the name of God, strike hard—be valiant—"
To try to push through that doorway on foot seemed a madness. Tizzo did not attempt it. His spurs bit cruelly deep into the tender flanks of his horse as he hurled it straight toward the threshold. Like a true warhorse, taught to charge even at a stone wall, it leaped the lower steps in splendid style, and, striking the smooth, polished tiles inside the great doorway, skidded and was flung from its feet. But the swinging ax of Tizzo, before the horse fell, had cloven through the helmet of one of those defenders.
AS the charger crashed against the wall and dropped with a broken neck, Tizzo leaped clear of the fall and then he saw the man he had struck to the brain make a stumbling run with his armored, empty hands extended. Right against the tall curtains of red velvet that cloaked a side doorway the man plunged and when he fell the curtains came with his fall. That was not all that was involved. For when the outer door was closed, the inner hall was dusky dim even in the middle of the day. Four graceful lamps of silver hung by silver chains from wall brackets about which the looped cords of the curtains were also fitted. They were deep lamps of an Arabic pattern and filled full every day with a scented oil whose burning carried a gentle fragrance up the main stairway and through all the rooms of the great house. These lamps were torn down, brackets and all, by the fall of the man- at-arms who lay across the open threshold, now, with the velvet heaped in great folds about and above him. The spilled oil was instantly ignited; the flames leaped wildly and made the shadow of Tizzo spring and dance before him like a dark giant posturing on the staircase as he attacked Marozzo and the other.
Mateo Marozzo, halting with his companion at the first broad landing, shouted: "Stand with me, Tadeo! Two to one and the slope to climb is good odds even against a red-headed devil like Tizzo. Stand fast and strike hard!"
And a wild glory came up in Tizzo, so that he danced rather than ran up the steps. Out of his throat rang the words of the song of the grape harvest.
"September, golden with stain of the sun;
September, crimson with blood of the grape;
Under my feet the juices run
And into my soul the joys escape!"
And he shouted, as he reached them: "Oh, Mateo, now we should have music for this dance! Sing, dog! Sing!"
That Tadeo was a good, stout fighter, and now he made a sweeping stroke with his two-handed sword that could have cleft the head of Tizzo from his shoulders as neatly as a flower is snipped from the throat of its stalk. But Tizzo dipped his head under the blow and struck from beneath, upward.
The ax, well-aimed, snapped the rivets at the base of the cuirass and with its flawless edge slashed through the chain mail of the hauberk beneath; only the bone of the ribs stayed the stroke, and a great, red gush of blood poured out from the wound.
The man gave back.
"Forward, Tadeo!" yelled Marozzo. "Forward! Forward! Brother, we strike and conquer together!"
Shouting out this, he turned and fled with all his might up the stairs.
But Tadeo, ignorant of this desertion, deeply wounded and tormented with pain, drove bravely in at Tizzo again.
"Your master has left you!" cried Tizzo. "Give back, Tadeo! Save yourself, man! The traitor has taken to his heels."
Tadeo did not seem to hear. Groaning, he flung himself at Tizzo and struck again, mightily, with the long sword, The ax swung in a lightning arc. The blade of the great two-handed sword snapped like glass—and Tadeo, throwing aside the useless weapon, snatched out a poniard and grappled Tizzo in mighty arms.
They fell together and rolled over and over to the bottom of the stairs, the clashing armor making an immense uproar. Only the confusion of that fall prevented Tadeo from driving his poniard through the breathing holes of Tizzo's helmet. But as they reached the level of the floor at the foot of the steps, Tizzo's own dagger found the rent in the side armor which his ax already had made. Through that he stabbed twice and again, deep into the vitals.
Tadeo fell prone. Still, with his last of life, he dug his poniard blindly into the tiles of the floor.
A ROAR of fire was in the ears of Tizzo; thick, rolling clouds of smoke billowed up the stairway. For the flaming curtains had kindled the woodwork of the lower hall. It was still possible to leap across the threshold to the safety of the courtyard beyond, but the fire had licked its way to the ceiling. It had run up the carved wood at the sides of the stairs. The whole house was being given to the flames!
But Tizzo turned and sprang back up the stairs.
Somewhere in that house was Mateo Marozzo searching for the Lady Beatrice. And even the noble dignity of Lady Atlanta would be unable to shield her young friend.
On the upper level Tizzo ran into a great, empty hall where smoke was already circling before the painted faces on the frescoed walls. The roar of the fire was increasing momently behind him.
A locked door on his right he burst open with a hammer-stroke from the back of the ax, and as the door sprung wide, he heard a wild screaming of many women.
There they were, heaped together like sheep afraid of the cold—or the wolf. He saw their hands held up and their faces distorted by screaming as though murderers were already dragging them by the hair of the head.
But neither the Lady Atlanta nor Beatrice was among them. Either would have stood like a proud tower among all these cowards.
He rushed from that room, through the length of the hall again, shouting: "Beatrice! Beatrice! Beatrice! It is I! Tizzo! Beatrice, in the name of God—"
He seemed to hear voices, but as he came to a halt, listening, he knew that it was merely the distant screeching of the serving women.
Another locked doorway barred his way. His ax beat it open and he sprang into a bedroom in wild disarray. The curtains had been half ripped from the great four-poster bed. A tapestry sagged from the wall in deep folds, making a forest scene tumble topsy turvy as though waves from a green sea were breaking over the woodland scene.
And still there was no sign or sound to lead him.
He held up both hands. From the ax in one of them, warm blood trickled down over his right arm. He prayed aloud, panting out the words like a sobbing child: "Kind St. Christopher, noble patron of the unhappy, sweet St. Christopher, the guard of the traveler, show me the way to my lady, and I vow on your shrine two candlesticks of massy gold, set around with pearls, and on the altar I shall spread—"
But here he saw a flight of winding steps which rose from a corner of the room and his prayer was interrupted.
Up those stairs he ran, till the winding of them had him dizzy, and past one narrow tower room, and then past another, until he came to the wildest sight his eyes would ever see.
For there on the open loggia at the summit of the tower stood Mateo Marozzo in broken, stained armor, sword in hand, and in the corner of the loggia, facing him, was the noble Lady Atlanta, with her white nun's face and her cowl of black; and behind her on the loggia railing, dizzily poised against a background of narrow towers and the sun-flooded sky, stood Lady Beatrice. The loosened hair blew over her shoulders; the sun burned on her gilded armor.
If a thousand words had been spoken, they would not have told Tizzo more than this silent picture.
"Mateo!" he shouted.
His voice staggered Marozzo as though it were a stabbing point of steel. Then, whirling, Marozzo sprang at him with such a screech of hysterical fear that even Tizzo was daunted.
That was why the sword-stroke of Marozzo glanced from his helmet and drove him back half a step. And Mateo Marozzo, springing past, was already at the head of the winding stairs.
There Tizzo overtook him. The blade of his ax split the steel helmet like a block of wood. And as he stood back, he could hear the body falling with a loose, pausing, clashing uproar down the stairs.
"The house is burning!" he shouted to Lady Atlanta. "Drag your screaming women fools to put out the flames. Beatrice, I come again, quickly. Stay here in quiet. Beautiful Beatrice, I adore you! Farewell!"
THEY were gone from the courtyard, all the men and the horses. And Tizzo, running fast, left the smoking house of Lady Atlanta without another thought. Now that the beast Marozzo was dead, Atlanta would know how to bring her screeching household back to its senses. They had at least a fair chance of saving the house. And the uproar of the battle called Tizzo like the sound of a thousand trumpets. Angels could not have made a music that would have been sweeter to his ears.
A wounded man propped against a wall, groaning and dying, was nothing to Tizzo. What mattered was the well-harnessed warhorse that stood beside the stranger—a Barb mare like Tizzo's own. Instantly in the saddle of it, Tizzo drove at a gallop for the fight.
It had hardly moved from the spot where he left it. In that narrow-fronted mêlée, arms were already terribly wearied from constant striking. And from the nearest side alley, Tizzo burst into the throng shouting: "Baglioni! Tizzo for Baglioni! Melrose and Baglioni! Tizzo for Baglioni!"
He saw mighty workmen in the front rank, his father, Giovanpaolo, Falcone and others, but no voice was more welcome to his ears than the roar of Alfredo the carter. It was he who brought up the block at once, and the blue-bladed ax of Tizzo cleft the chains of that barrier.
The stream of the assailants instantly surged well forward.
A shrill screaming trailed through the air. Women were seen by Tizzo leaning, out of windows, screeching prayers to one side and benedictions upon the other. He could not tell whether he were blessed or cursed, so he laughed as he spurred the Barb mare forward.
That terrible ax which was tempered to cleave all day like clay the hard olive wood, now struck right and left and with every lifting of it, the blood ran down the handle of the weapon. Blood bathed Tizzo himself, turned the brightness of his armor dim, drooped the plume of his helmet. But still his battle cry was as savage as at first:
"Melrose! Melrose! Baglioni! Tizzo to the rescue! Melrose! Melrose!" The strange sounding name of the Englishman beat now into the ears of many who were not long to live. For the pressure of the inward stream was far greater than those who stood in defense could endure.
IT was the failure of the chains that broke their spirits. On those great linked iron bars they had depended to prevent any action of mounted men in the streets of the town, and yet in spite of this impediment, the men of Giovanpaolo had pressed forward. And when new chains were encountered, before the men of Jeronimo della Penna could rally in force, the blue-bladed ax of Tizzo had cloven the iron of the joint and caused the chain to drop.
It was that strange ax in the hands of Tizzo that caused the panic to start, that shower of terrible ax blows, and the laughter of the man who wielded the weapon.
But that was not all. As he laughed, he was also cursing.
There pushed forward at his side the great bulk of the invincible carter with his mace and the huge form of the Englishman, ever wielding the great, two-handed sword.
They would hear him say: "Now for you, you fine knight of the red plume! Have at you! Melrose! Baglioni! Tizzo! Tizzo!"
Those last words seemed to strike a dreadful hypnosis through the limbs of the listeners. And then the terrible ax swayed, flashed, fell, was newly bathed in crimson, and the hoofs of the fierce Barb mare trampled another fallen form.
There were men—horrible to tell—who cried out for mercy, when they heard the cry of "Tizzo! Tizzo!" But the relentless ax soared and fell, unheeding.
Then a slight form bore up behind him and the voice of the Lady Beatrice called: "Are you man or devil? Tizzo, in the devil's name, since you care nothing for that of the Lord, show mercy!"
After that, the terrible ax forebore some of those who screamed out in surrender.
For the battle was no longer a battle. It was rout.
The labor of mounting the steep streets had ended. There was level going across the top of the town, and here the assailants were able to make a faster progress, until they came into the piazza before the cathedral.
TEN times, at least, rushing forward with a hungry purpose, Tizzo had made at the form of a knight armed cap-a-pie who continually shouted: "Della Penna! Della Penna! To me, brave hearts, good friends! Della Penna!"
And always he was shut away by a press of many men and hard blows.
It was as they entered the piazza that he saw a man who was armored with nothing whatever, and who carried a sword which he never raised, and the face of the man was the drawn, pale caricature of the features of the chief of traitors, Grifone Baglione.
Tizzo was close enough to see Giovanpaolo spur toward this man and then halt his horse, shouting: "Is it you—you—"
Then he cried out: "Go your way—I shall not cover my hands with the blood of our house, as you have done! I shall not strike at you, Grifone!"
And he swerved his furious horse away from that target.
But Tizzo, crying out: "Let him stand! No man touch him!" found that his voice was wasted. For savage swords raised, and Grifone, expert swordsman that he was, never raised blade to defend his life. He fell under twenty strokes, and the wash of the battle poured over him.
This Tizzo saw askance, and giving up his struggle to reach the spot, as he saw the traitor fall, pushed fiercely onward toward that figure with the white plume above the helmet about whom men were constantly rallying.
"Della Penna!" was the cry that bubbled from the lips of the warriors who thronged about that tall form on the great black horse.
And Tizzo rushed the swift Barb mare toward the figure, shouting: "Melrose! Melrose! Tizzo! Tizzo!"
And he saw the man of the white plume snatch a lance from the head of a man beside him, a great lance with a hooded hand-hold. Then, bowed above the long spear, della Penna rushed back to meet that implacable pursuer.
To Tizzo, it was like the first movement of a dance. He waited till the last instant, then with an upward stroke of the ax head, he knocked the lance aside and, with a half-swing of the ax, brought it sheer down on the crest of the knight. That blade was sadly battered and blunted by the cleaving of solid armor. But the true Damascus steel had kept its temper; and as a hatchet cleaves the block of wood, so that stroke cleft the helmet of della Penna.
He did not live to cry out once more. His body, lurching sidewise from the saddle, seemed reaching for the ground to break the force of his fall. And then the armored body crashed on the stones of the pavement loudly enough to be heard above the battle.
IT was the final stroke.
There broke out, after it, a wild uproar of fear. No one remained to reward valor, and therefore all men fled. Moreover, the height of the town had been taken. As for the men who had supported the traitors, they took to their horses and poured out of Perugia as from a spot afflicted by the plague, and yet most of them had thought to spend the rest of their lives in the place as lords of the multitude.
So the fall of della Penna unnerved his followers. And the men of Giovanpaolo rushed hard on their traces.
It was said that fugitives from the battle were slain as far as ten miles on the other side of the city. And this was true.
It was said that a certain number closed themselves into the cathedral and were there cut down by the inbreaking forces of Giovanpaolo. But this was false. For the garrison of the cathedral surrendered when Giovanpaolo, unwilling to cover the floor of the house of God with blood, permitted the men inside to depart in peace.
But Perugia, down to the farther ward, was conquered and pacified all on one night, and blood ran on every street of the town.
THERE was a scene which Tizzo did not see, but which remains to this day famous through all of Italy.
For the Lady Atlanta, with four of her maidens as a train, advanced through the bloodstained streets of Perugia as far as the main piazza where the cathedral still stands. There she walked among the dead until she came to a place where a man lifted up his unarmored hand.
And that was Grifone.
Some say that they said a great many things. Some say that it was a scene sufficient to cover many pages of a record. But what actually happened was as follows:
The Lady Atlanta, dropping on her knees, caught the hand of her dying son and called out to him. What he said in answer was: "Bartolomeo! Guido! Give me my armor! I must go out and fight gentlemen as though they were dogs!"
At this Lady Atlanta said to him: "It is I, my son! It is your mother, and therefore speak to me."
But Grifone said: "I am already in hell. She would not speak to me. It is some lying devil!"
In spite of what is written in other places, this is all that Lady Atlanta spoke to her son, and those were the words which he answered.
Afterward, her women lifted the dead body and carried it away. There were a number of men who would have been glad to strike a weapon into the dead body of the chief traitor, who allowed the noblest of his kindred to be killed by treason on the night of the Great Betrayal, but the fact is that all men drew aside when they saw the black-robed figure of Lady Atlanta carrying her son from his dying place.
There were not many, however, who commented on the fact that he abandoned his house and rushed out into the street without armor, or that he failed to lift his famous sword in defense of his head. This, however, was the truth.
WHAT between the taking and the retaking of the city of Perugia, there was hardly a house in the town which had not been plundered at least once. Therefore, very few of the citizens had a reason to rejoice. But it must be said that one of the most cheerful voices that was raised inside the town, on days that followed, was that of Alfredo, the son of Lorenzo, who appeared at his old task, except that he now had under him three four-mule teams, each pulling a high-wheeled cart, each cart driven by a special driver. While the one-eyed man remained at his house unhappily roving up and down all day and regretting the vanished times of his hard work, but all his neighbors looked up to him as to a mountain.
In those days, there were many changes.
Great men were pulled down. Many heads of traitors fell on the block. And new men were made rich and famous.
Luigi Falcone gained a name as a great soldier instead of the repute of a scholar, only, and Henry of Melrose was given the rental of so many houses that he was made rich to the end of his days.
But Tizzo was not there. He was gone.
When men asked what had been done to reward the man who had prepared the way for the recapture of Perugia and who in person had formed the sharp edge of the entering wedge, they were told that he had disappeared.
And this was true. For all of the men who loved him, and they were many, were unable to find any trace of him until several days after the fall of the town.
It was at that time that the Lady Beatrice entered the room of her brother, now sole lord of Perugia, and threw a letter down on the table.
"News from whom?" asked Giovanpaolo.
"From the devil, I think!" said the girl.
She flung herself down on a chair and the tears began to run down her face as her famous brother began to read aloud, slowly:
"Beatrice, blessed among women, my beloved, and most worthy of all loving, my glorious lady, my bravest and best of women, sweetest and dearest, a word from one who loves you to distraction, who dies for the lack of you, whose breath is not drawn because you are not near him, who cannot eat or drink without having the taste of his food and his wine filled by the thought of you,
"My noble Beatrice,
"Why am I not there in Perugia to share in your high joy? Why am I not there to grasp the hand of my father and my foster father and to make us lifelong friends?
"Why am I not there to take you to the altar of our everlasting happiness?
"Alas, Beatrice, in the battle I saw a scoundrel of a traitor who was mounted on a great gray stallion.
"I saw him, and my eyes would not believe, and I chased him, and he fled.
"For two days he fled.
"But tomorrow I shall find him, without a doubt. I shall return riding the great horse perhaps long before this letter reaches you.
"And in the meantime, my heart yearns for you.
"I curse the villain who rode a horse so mighty that I could not help but pursue him.
"I love you, my heart breaks for you, my blood runs cold in longing for you.
"Farewell again. Keep my memory near your heart. Remember me to the great hero, to my father, and to Luigi Falcone. And to Antonio Bardi.
"God, how much of my heart remains behind me in Perugia! But the gray horse I must have, and will have, and shall have.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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