A Kataleptic Phantasmatic
All the women in the audience-chamber were plebeian, ugly, stinking. But this most beautiful princess brought in the odours of a garden of fragrant herbs; and, among the bevy attending her, I saw my maid.
Her eyelashes were lowered: but, every now and then, she flashed a glance on this side and on that, as though she were seeking something. I knew what she was seeking.
But I shrank down in my corner, pulling the impetuous Gioffredo with me: for I was not conscious that the opportune moment had arrived, even now.
The crowd opened a pathway for the tyrant. A stool was set for her under the canopy near Ippolito. Her maids-of-honour stood behind her. All their hair was dyed yellow with oil of honey in imitation of their mistress: but
my maid’s hair was as black as a sapphire in a night without light.
The chamberlains emptied a great space in front of the dais, pressing back the crowd.
But I and Gioffredo thrust ourselves through, not to the front rank but to the second: for I did not wish to be seen, and I did wish to hear.
The tyrant thus addressed the cardinal, saying:
“We are come, o lord cardinal, from visiting Our mother. Madonna Giovannozza1 rejoiceth by cause that the Keltic soldiers are departed: for she hath been in terror lest they should rob the blossoms of her orchard, the which is her heart’s treasure; and the revenues of her late husband’s bequest suffice not for the pay of an armed guard. Wherefore, We are sworn to ask Our Most Blessed Father
1. This was her nickname (Big Jenny), which she commonly bore in accordance with the Roman custom: but her real name was Giovanna de’ Catanei.
for the immunity of her inn1 against taxation and against the excise-duty on wines, so that she may reap a little profit in these hard times.”
She spoke rapidly, as her young brother did, but in a voice which was very sweet and soft to hear. But it was clear to me that she had other more important things to say by side of this gossip. Ippolito also perceived it: for he sagaciously nodded his head, smiling in silence.
The tyrant continued, saying:
“Thou goest at noon to dine with Our Most Blessed Father, o Cardinal of Ferrara. His Blessedness is very lonely, very grave.
1. The Lion Inn in Bear Street, a bequest from her deceased husband. Excepting perhaps the sixty Roman patricians, no one in those days thought a whit the worse of a lady for getting her living banaysically than people do now. Madonna de’ Catanei was neither a barmaid nor a female boniface. She was the proprietor of the most celebrated hostelry in Rome; and lived privately on her income in a villa near San Pietro ad Vincula.
He taketh hardly the defect of the Vice-chancellor, whom He hath loved much: for He cannot see that Sforza needs must stand by Sforza in these horrid quarrels. As for those Keltic invaders, He saith that the end is not yet: that, though they go now, anon they will return: that there will be war, perhaps during iij months, but not in the City: but that there first will be happenings which will astound the Christian King.”
Ippolito appended grave nods and impenetrable smiles.
Madonna Lucrezia again tried to approach the matter which she had in mind, saying:
“After Lent, o lord cardinal, it is Our intention to dine daily in the gardens of La Magliana1 to the sound of luths. Madonna Giulia2 hath brought iiij luthists from Venice;
1. A paparchal villa in the Campagna, ten miles S.E. of Rome, founded by Xystus the Fourth and enlarged by Innocent the Eighth, the predecessor of Alexander the Sixth.
2. Giulia (Farnese) Orsini, a lady of the court.
and one is an improvisatore. We therefore beg that thou wilt be Our beadsman, giving Us the benefit of thine holy prayers for fair weather after Eastertide.”
Ippolito conceded a gesture of assent. What was the use of a cardinal-deacon, excepting to pray for fair weather for fair ladies who were minded to dine in gardens, his aspect seemed to say. Having obtained so small a boon, the tyrant (womanlike) instantly demanded a great one, saying:
“And now, o Cardinal of Ferrara, We desire to hear thy news.”
To whom he responded, saying:
“Since yesterday, divers strange things have happened. One of Our athletes, by race a Dacian, hath been murdered; and his murderer even now is tolerating torment before strangulation.”
Madonna Lucrezia interrupted, saying:
“The news which We desire are not of that nasty species.”
“There are not any news of affairs known to Us, save those of Our family and those which Thine Exalted Tranquillity hath named.”
Madonna Lucrezia looked him up and down. She would try the effect of a taunt; and continued, saying:
“Our Most Blessed Father sitteth in the Castle of Santangelo, dumb, but smiling at His thoughts. Of what pleasant thing is He thinking? There is not anyone in the City who will respond to Our inquiries. The others, perchance, cannot: but thou canst and wilt not, o Cardinal of Ferrara.”
She was becoming indignant, but sorry. A dark woman never ought to inflame herself with anger, by cause that the black or the brown of her hair and the red of her rage are the colours of our old enemy, the devil: but fury augmenteth the beauty of a fair woman to the highest degree, for it brighteneth the clear blue of her eyes, while the poppy-colour of her face is exquisitely allied with the straw-colour of her hair. At such a
moment, she resembleth a joyful field ready for reaping; and happy is the youth who is bold enough to reap.
Ippolito was a little confused; but he used himself serenely enough, saying that (for his part) he was willing but unable.
The tyrant no longer restrained her spleen. She spoke, while her fair cheeks flamed, scornfully saying:
“It is well known to Us that the Cardinal of Ferrara doth profess himself to be the friend of the Cardinal of Valencia. Our mind telleth Us also that the said Cesare is this day in some dire peril, having gone away with that very abominable Keltic king. Wherefore We should have thought that the Cardinal of Ferrara, having so many vigorous familiars in his hand, would be doing something for the safety of his friend. Or are all these mighty and magnificent gentlemen merely for show but not for use?”
And then, o Prospero, my darling little maid burst out incontinent, saying:
“At least one of the Lord Cardinal’s gentlemen is useful and willing as well as magnificent and mighty and very beautiful, o Exalted Tranquillity.”
Everybody shouted with laughter at such effrontery. Her blushes burned her like a fire: but she maintained her situation bravely in front of the other girls; and her eyes glittered like stars, blue-black, brilliantly beaming. I almost believed that she actually saw me: but I kept my face behind the head of a fool, peeping between his hood and the twisted liripipe of the same.
Madonna Lucrezia changed her posture, with the alacrity of one who findeth that her seat is a nest of scorpions, demanding shrilly, mockingly:
“What doth a maid-of-honour know about a cardinal’s beautiful gentlemen?”
There was a noise at the door; and chamberlains entered announcing:
“The Exalted Potency of the Princess Sancia d’Aragon Borgia of Squillace.”
I instantly cuddled Gioffredo’s head as tightly as possible, pressing one wrist into his very wide-open mouth; and, at the same time, despite my fast failing strength, with the other hand I seized him in a certain grip from which no one may move an hair’s breadth. Nor did I release him without a promise of silence, asked in a whisper, granted by green eyes bulging and glaring. Thus we ij stood staring at the form of his wife.