A Kataleptic Phantasmatic
I saw those great stone stairs leading to the long fortified gallery which extends from the Apostolic Palace to the Castle of Santangelo. I saw the porphyry-coloured lines of paparchal men-at-arms which guarded them. I also saw the porphyry-coloured knots of chamberlains and pages and prelates which clustered upon them. All around me were voices and the noise of movement. Cardinals and bishops, and barons, each with his company, continually were arriving and ascending the stairs and disappearing along the gallery above, or emerging therefrom and descending and departing.
All this time, Ippolito was pouring sympathetic words into my deaf ears. As he left me, I contrived to hear him say:
“Be of good heart, O Sideynes, for thy chance may be near even now. Fortune never
ceaseth to turn her wheel; and what is down to-day may be up to-morrow.”
Then he climbed the stair, attended by his pages; and I was left alone.
I stood by a window in the hall, very sad. Our ij decurions remained, waiting in my vicinity, but not so near as to intrude upon my secret. Mine heart began to weep within my breast, silently, very bitterly: but the crowds which came in and the crowds which went out were ignorant of my grief. To the genuinely aggrieved, there is nothing more distracting (and consoling) than the knowledge that he is keeping his grievance to himself.
Anon, a certain princess entered, attended by a galaxy of maids-of-honour, all chattering like jays, very flippant. She was most virginal and young, with a long sheet of shining yellow hair flowing loosely from a garland of jacinths. Her robe of mulberry-coloured silk was embroidered with gold herring-bones. The paparchal pages swept us against the wall to make a passage for her. I took one by the ear, demanding the
lady’s name for a very valid reason. Having said that she was Madonna Lucrezia Borgia-Sforza, the daughter of the Paparch’s Sanctity, the wife of the Tyrant of Pesaro, a pearl of women, lovely and good, gentle and courteous to all, anon he threatened me with penalties for my abuse of his ear. But I consoled him with iij silver ouches shaped like herons which I tore out of my cloak; and, having pushed through the throng, I made a very low obeisance to the princess: for I wished to be seen of her in whose train I myself had noted my maid.
When Madonna Lucrezia had given me a frank and simple look of admiration, for I was not unnotable in a knitted habit like a skin of nacre-coloured silk embroidered with a flight of silver herons,1 she also climbed the stairs and disappeared: but her maids-of-honour waited in the gallery.
I was standing below, strenuously looking upward. Courtiers came forward up there,
1. The word Ardea signifies “a heron.” The city of Ardea is the cradle of the race of Santacroce.
pairing with the girls, strutting to and fro like a troop of apes and a muster of peacocks. One of the maids had no companion. She was walking by herself.
An enormous baron, one of the loyal Cesarini, came from the gallery. His company gathered round him as he began the descent of the stair. The solitary maid also stepped down in his train, just when I was sinking again into my melancholy; and then I saw no more of anyone, but only her.
Her sea-blue robe was girdled by great cat’s-eyes set in gold. Her mane of blue-black hair floated around her from a coronal of sea-blue beryls. There was a modest look of seeking in her eyes, half-veiled by lovely lashes. Tender blushes brightened her diaphanous flesh. watched her very cautelously, maintaining my dejected attitude by the window, using all the powers of my will to draw her to me. Several times she passed me as she paced the hall. Anon she stayed by me, lifting her lashes, fulfilling me with the light of her regard; and she said:
“O Madonnino, why art thou so unutterably sad?”
I wrenched myself from my distress; and comported myself as one to whom a divine vision is vouchsafed, letting a look of recognition gradually come into mine eyes. So I went to her; and drew her into the embrasure of the window, where the mailed backs of my decurion walled us off from the passers-by. And, on my two firm knees, I told her that I had loved her since first I saw her in the City.
She was not angry: but sweetly tender, modest, not unwilling. Her mood brightened mine; and mine heart became as blithe as the sea at dawn in spring. She was not mine; but she was to be had for the asking: for which cause I continued to speak. I said that I hitherto had had no means of approaching her: that I even now was ignorant of her name; and I used the sacred language of lovers.
She begged me to rise, lest some passer-by should misunderstand me; and her eyes darted up the stairs to the other maids with their
partners. She was very young, and perhaps a little terrified by the violence of love, though she by no means was for flying from it. I stood up; and, by cause that I most fervently regarded her, she let her eyelids droop a little while she responded to me, telling me her name and condition. Anon she used a new stratagem in the sweet affray, demanding that I should speak about myself. So, I was driven back into the citadel of my sadness, mine assault being prevented. She pushed me closer, persisting, gently urging me.
Anon I told her how that our house had been xij years in exile, notwithstanding that we were the most noble patricians in the Golden Book of Rome; and I spoke of Saint George the Dragon-slayer of Seriphos, of the Great Ban, of our razed palace, of our baron fooling at Fiorenza. I said that I was a scion of the younger branch, and innocent of the murders which had caused us to be banned; and I told her of my breeding, with all other matters necessary to be known by her. I gave her notice of mine arts and parts. There I was
to serve her, as she could see, young, strong, well-instructed, not uncomely, and burning for an opportunity of doing deeds. I also spoke of Ippolito, my friend, who had brought me to the City in search of that opportunity which was not at Deira.
She, with divine tenderness, feared for my safety. I gave her confidence again, reciting the precautions observed and the privileges enjoyed among the Estense familiars. But, by side of these things, I bade her to know that I as yet was not a notable person upon whom our Lord the Paparch well might execute justice. Further, I said that Alexander so far had not manifested special virulence toward mine house. We were bandits when He began to reign. So He found us. The Great Ban had been laid on us by His predecessors; and, if He so willed, He could annul it. Wherefore I had taken the risk, for the sake of meeting an opportunity. And I showed her how that Ippolito, being in the Paparch’s favour, was watching daily for a fortunate moment in which to plead my case. Not
that I wished to sue for favours: but I was seeking an opportunity for doing some signal service, which should merit and compel paparchal approbation. I preferred to help myself. But, until my disability should have been removed, I was (so I said) like a prisoner in chains, unable to use myself.
She moved a little nearer to me, lifting the sweet deep wells of her eyes for me to bathe in; and she said:
“O Madonnino, how I pity, how I pity!”
But I instantly responded, bending my proper eyes to hers, saying:
“O Madonnina, pity is akin to love.”
And, at the word, I saw mine image inshrined within those mirrors of her soul. It was an omen, very fortunate, very invigorating. If Hersilia loved me, that nerved me; and I would persevere. So I said.
She wished to speak for me to Madonna Lucrezia: saying that that one was beneficent to everybody and all-powerful with her Most Holy Father. But I denied her. A man
ought to raise himself and not to owe his fortunes to women. That was my sentence. I also said that Hersilia was like the angel who formerly delivered the Paparch Saint Peter from chains. She had made me strong to free myself. Nothing more was necessary except a little patience and a fortunate event.
She gave her hand to mine hot kisses. It was as dainty as a baby’s.
At that moment, Ippolito and Madonna Lucrezia appeared together in the gallery; and began the descent of the stairs. There was a sudden collecting of companies. Long-legged pages darted hither and thither with much confusion; and anon I was by Ippolito’s side striding down Borgo.
He had no news for me. Our Lord the Paparch was playing with chess against His favourite page out of Spain;1 and only had whispered ij words to the cardinal. What those ij words
1. This perhaps would be the Pierroto Calderon whom Cesare is said to have murdered so very romantically indeed.
were, was Ippolito’s secret. Nor had I any news for him. What I had heard from my maid, was my secret. Together we went in silence, pondering our proper affairs.
So we ascended the waiting barge; and proceeded down Tiber, rapt in meditation. And the sun set in gold.