The others rose and called for their reckoning; and the listener on the cask slipped out of his corner, elbowed a passage to the door and stepped forth into the square.
It was after midnight, a thin drizzle was falling, and the crowd had scattered. The rain was beginning to extinguish the paper lanterns and the torches, and the canvas sides of the tents flapped dismally, like wet sheets on a clothes-line. The man drew his cloak closer, and avoiding the stragglers who crossed his path, turned into the first street that led to the palace. He walked fast over the slippery cobble-stones, buffeted by a rising wind and threading his way between dark walls and sleeping house-fronts till he reached the lane below the ducal gardens. He unlocked the door by which he had come forth, entered the gardens, and paused a moment on the terrace above the lane.
Behind him rose the palace, a dark irregular bulk, with a lighted window showing here and there. Before him lay the city, an indistinguishable huddle of roofs and towers under the rainy night. He stood awhile gazing out over it; then he turned and walked toward the palace. The garden alleys were deserted, the pleached walks dark as subterranean passages, with the wet gleam of statues starting spectrally out of the blackness. The man walked rapidly, leaving the Borromini wing on his left, and skirting the outstanding mass of the older buildings. Behind the marble buttresses of the chapel, he crossed the dense obscurity of a court between high walls, found a door under an archway, turned a key in the lock, and gained a spiral stairway as dark as the court. He groped his way up the stairs and paused a moment on the landing to listen. Then he opened another door, lifted a heavy hanging of tapestry, and stepped into the Duke's closet. It stood empty, with a lamp burning low on the desk.
The man threw off his cloak and hat, dropped into a chair beside the desk, and hid his face in his hands.
It was the eve of the Duke's birthday. A cabinet council had been called in the morning, and his Highness's ministers had submitted to him the revised draft of the constitution which was to be proclaimed on the morrow.
Throughout the conference, which was brief and formal, Odo had been conscious of a subtle change in the ministerial atmosphere. Instead of the current of resistance against which he had grown used to forcing his way, he became aware of a tacit yielding to his will. Trescorre had apparently withdrawn his opposition to the charter, and the other ministers had followed suit. To Odo's overwrought imagination there was something ominous in the change. He had counted on the goad of opposition to fight off the fatal languor which he had learned to expect at such crises. Now that he found there was to be no struggle he understood how largely his zeal had of late depended on such factitious incentives. He felt an irrational longing to throw himself on the other side of the conflict, to tear in bits the paper awaiting his signature, and disown the policy which had dictated it. But the tide of acquiescence on which he was afloat was no stagnant back-water of indifference, but the glassy reach just above the fall of a river. The current was as swift as it was smooth, and he felt himself hurried forward to an end he could no longer escape. He took the pen which Trescorre handed him, and signed the constitution.
The meeting over, he summoned Gamba. He felt the need of such encouragement as the hunchback alone could give. Fulvia's enthusiasms were too unreal, too abstract. She lived in a region of ideals, whence ugly facts were swept out by some process of mental housewifery which kept her world perpetually smiling and immaculate. Gamba at least fed his convictions on facts. If his outlook was narrow it was direct: no roseate medium of fancy was interposed between his vision and the truth.
He stood listening thoughtfully while Odo poured forth his doubts.
"Your Highness may well hesitate," he said at last. "There are always more good reasons against a new state of things than for it. I am not surprised that Count Trescorre appears to have withdrawn his opposition. I believe he now honestly wishes your Highness to proclaim the constitution."
Odo looked up in surprise. "You do not mean that he has come to believe in it?"
Gamba smiled. "Probably not in your Highness's sense; but he may have found a use of his own for it."
"What do you mean?" Odo asked.
"If he does not believe it will benefit the state he may think it will injure your Highness."
"Ah—" said the Duke slowly.
There was a pause, during which he was possessed by the same shuddering reluctance to fix his mind on the facts before him as when he had questioned the hunchback about Momola's death. He longed to cast the whole business aside, to be up and away from it, drawing breath in a new world where every air was not tainted with corruption. He raised his head with an effort.
"You think, then, that the liberals are secretly acting against me in this matter?"
"I am persuaded of it, your Highness."
Odo hesitated. "You have always told me," he began again, "that the love of dominion was your brother's ruling passion. If he really believes this movement will be popular with the people, why should he secretly oppose it, instead of making the most of his own share in it as the minister of a popular sovereign?"
"For several reasons," Gamba answered promptly. "In the first place, the reforms your Highness has introduced are not of his own choosing, and Trescorre has little sympathy with any policy he has not dictated. In the second place, the powers and opportunities of a constitutional minister are too restricted to satisfy his appetite for rule; and thirdly—" he paused a moment, as though doubtful how his words would be received—"I suspect Trescorre of having a private score against your Highness, which he would be glad to pay off publicly."
Odo fell silent, yielding himself to a fresh current of thought.
"I know not what score he may have against me," he said at length; "but what injures me must injure the state, and if Trescorre has any such motive for withdrawing his opposition, it must be because he believes the constitution will defeat its own ends."
"He does believe that, assuredly; but he is not the only one of your Highness's ministers that would ruin the state on the chance of finding an opportunity among the ruins."
"That is as it may be," said Odo with a touch of weariness. "I have seen enough of human ambition to learn how limited and unimaginative a passion it is. If it saw farther I should fear it more. But if it is short-sighted it sees clearly at close range; and the motive you ascribe to Trescorre would imply that he believes the constitution will be a failure."
"Without doubt, your Highness. I am convinced that your ministers have done all they could to prevent the proclamation of the charter, and failing that, to thwart its workings if it be proclaimed. In this they have gone hand in hand with the clergy, and their measures have been well taken. But I do not believe that any state of mind produced by external influences can long withstand the natural drift of opinion; and your Highness may be sure that, though the talkers and writers are mostly against you in this matter, the mass of the people are with you."
Odo answered with a despairing gesture. "How can I be sure, when the people have no means of expressing their needs? It is like trying to guess the wants of a deaf and dumb man!"
The hunchback flushed suddenly. "The people will not always be deaf and dumb," he said. "Some day they will speak."
"Not in my day," said Odo wearily. "And meanwhile we blunder on, without ever really knowing what incalculable instincts and prejudices are pitted against us. You and your party tell me the people are sick of the burdens the clergy lay on them—yet their blind devotion to the Church is manifest at every turn, and it did not need the business of the Virgin's crown to show me how little reason and justice can avail against such influences."
Gamba replied by an impatient gesture. "As to the Virgin's crown," he said, "your Highness must have guessed it was one of the friars' tricks: a last expedient to turn the people against you. I was not bred up by a priest for nothing; I know what past masters those gentry are in raising ghosts and reading portents. They know the minds of the poor folk as the herdsman knows the habits of his cattle; and for generations they have used that knowledge to bring the people more completely under their control."
"And what have we to oppose to such a power?" Odo exclaimed. "We are fighting the battle of ideas against passions, of reflection against instinct; and you have but to look in the human heart to guess which side will win in such a struggle. We have science and truth and common-sense with us, you say—yes, but the Church has love and fear and tradition, and the solidarity of nigh two thousand years of dominion."
Gamba listened in respectful silence; then he replied with a faint smile: "All that your Highness says is true; but I beg leave to relate to your Highness a tale which I read lately in an old book of your library. According to this story it appears that when the early Christians of Alexandria set out to destroy the pagan idols in the temples they were seized with great dread at sight of the god Serapis; for even those that did not believe in the old gods feared them, and none dared raise a hand against the sacred image. But suddenly a soldier who was bolder than the rest flung his battle-axe at the figure—and when it broke in pieces, there rushed out nothing worse than a great company of rats."...
* * * * *
The Duke had promised to visit Fulvia that evening. For several days his state of indecision had made him find pretexts for avoiding her; but now that the charter was signed and he had ordered its proclamation, he craved the contact of her unwavering faith.
He found her alone in the dusk of the convent parlour; but he had hardly crossed the threshold before he was aware of an indefinable change in his surroundings. She advanced with an impulsiveness out of harmony with the usual tranquillity of their meetings, and he felt her hand tremble and burn in his. In the twilight it seemed to him that her very dress had a warmer rustle and glimmer, that there emanated from her glance and movements some heady fragrance of a long-past summer. He smiled to think that this phantom coquetry should have risen at the summons of an academic degree; but some deeper sense in him was stirred as by a vision of waste riches adrift on the dim seas of chance.
For a moment she sat silent, as in the days when they had been too near each other for many words; and there was something indescribably soothing in this dreamlike return to the past. It was he who roused himself first.
"How young you look!" he said, giving involuntary utterance to his thought.
"Do I?" she answered gaily. "I am glad of that, for I feel extraordinarily young tonight. Perhaps it is because I have been thinking a great deal of the old days—of Venice and Turin—and of the high-road to Vercelli, for instance." She glanced at him with a smile.
"Do you know," she went on, moving to a seat at his side, and laying a hand on the arm of his chair, "that there is one secret of mine you have never guessed in all these years?"
Odo returned her smile. "What is it, I wonder?" he said.
She fixed him with bright bantering eyes. "I knew why you deserted us at Vercelli." He uttered an exclamation, but she lifted a hand to his lips. "Ah, how angry I was then—but why be angry now? It all happened so long ago; and if it had not happened—who knows?—perhaps you would never have pitied me enough to love me as you did." She laughed softly, reminiscently, leaning back as if to let the tide of memories ripple over her. Then she raised her head suddenly, and said in a changed voice: "Are your plans fixed for tomorrow?"
Odo glanced at her in surprise. Her mind seemed to move as capriciously as Maria Clementina's.
"The constitution is signed," he answered, "and my ministers proclaim it tomorrow morning." He looked at her a moment, and lifted her hand to his lips. "Everything has been done according to your wishes," he said.
She drew away with a start, and he saw that she had turned pale. "No, no—not as I wish," she murmured. "It must not be because I wish—" she broke off and her hand slipped from his.
"You have taught me to wish as you wish," he answered gently. "Surely you would not disown your pupil now?"
Her agitation increased. "Do not call yourself that!" she exclaimed. "Not even in jest. What you have done has been done of your own choice—because you thought it best for your people. My nearness or absence could have made no difference."
He looked at her with growing wonder. "Why this sudden modesty?" he said with a smile. "I thought you prided yourself on your share in the great work."
She tried to force an answering smile, but the curve broke into a quiver of distress, and she came close to him, with a gesture that seemed to take flight from herself.
"Don't say it, don't say it!" she broke out. "What right have they to call it my doing? I but stood aside and watched you and gloried in you—is there any guilt to a woman in THAT?" She clung to him a moment, hiding her face in his breast.
He loosened her arms gently, that he might draw back and look at her. "Fulvia," he asked, "what ails you? You are not yourself tonight. Has anything happened to distress you? Have you been annoyed or alarmed in any way?—It is not possible," he broke off, "that Trescorre has been here—?"
She drew away, flushed and protesting. "No, no," she exclaimed. "Why should Trescorre come here? Why should you fancy that any one has been here? I am excited, I know; I talk idly; but it is because I have been thinking too long of these things—"
"Of what things?"
"Of what people say—how can one help hearing that? I sometimes fancy that the more withdrawn one lives the more distinctly one hears the outer noises."
"But why should you heed the outer noises? You have never done so before."
"Perhaps I was wrong not to do so before. Perhaps I should have listened sooner. Perhaps others have seen—understood—sooner than I—oh, the thought is intolerable!"
She moved a pace or two away, and then, regaining the mastery of her lips and eyes, turned to him with a show of calmness.
"Your heart was never in this charter—" she began.
"Fulvia!" he cried protestingly; but she lifted a silencing hand. "Ah, I have seen it—I have felt it—but I was never willing to own that you were right. My pride in you blinded me, I suppose. I could not bear to dream any fate for you but the greatest. I saw you always leading events, rather than waiting on them. But true greatness lies in the man, not in his actions. Compromise, delay, renunciation—these may be as heroic as conflict. A woman's vision is so narrow that I did not see this at first. You have always told me that I looked only at one side of the question; but I see the other side now—I see that you were right."
Odo stood silent. He had followed her with growing wonder. A volte-face so little in keeping with her mental habits immediately struck him as a feint; yet so strangely did it accord with his own secret reluctances that these inclined him to let it pass unquestioned.
Some instinctive loyalty to his past checked the temptation. "I am not sure that I understand you," he said slowly. "Have you lost faith in the ideas we have worked for?"
She hesitated, and he saw the struggle beneath her surface calmness. "No, no," she exclaimed quickly, "I have not lost faith in them—"
"In me, then?"
She smiled with a disarming sadness. "That would be so much simpler!" she murmured.
"What do you mean, then?" he urged. "We must understand each other." He paused, and measured his words out slowly. "Do you think it a mistake to proclaim the constitution tomorrow?"
Again her face was full of shadowy contradictions. "I entreat you not to proclaim it tomorrow," she said in a low voice.
Odo felt the blood drum in his ears. Was not this the word for which he had waited? But still some deeper instinct held him back, warning him, as it seemed, that to fall below his purpose at such a juncture was the only measurable failure. He must know more before he yielded, see deeper into her heart and his; and each moment brought the clearer conviction that there was more to know and see.
"This is unlike you, Fulvia," he said. "You cannot make such a request on impulse. You must have a reason."
She smiled. "You told me once that a woman's reasons are only impulses in men's clothes."
But he was not to be diverted by this thrust. "I shall think so now," he said, "unless you can give me some better account of yours!"
She was silent, and he pressed on with a persistency for which he himself could hardly account: "You must have a reason for this request."
"I have one," she said, dropping her attempts at evasion.
"And it is—?"
She paused again, with a look of appeal against which he had to stiffen himself.
"I do not believe the time has come," she said at length.
"You think the people are not ready for the constitution?"
She answered with an effort: "I think the people are not ready for it."
He fell silent, and they sat facing each other, but with eyes apart.
"You have received this impression from Gamba, from Andreoni—from the members of our party?" he asked.
She made no reply.
"Remember, Fulvia," he went on almost sternly, "that this is the end for which we have worked together all these years—the end for which we renounced each other and went forth in our youth, you to exile and I to an unwilling sovereignty. It was because we loved this cause better than ourselves that we had strength to give up for it our personal hopes of happiness. If we betray the cause from any merely personal motive we shall have fallen below our earlier selves." He waited again, but she was still silent. "Can you swear to me," he went on, "that no such motive influences you now? That you honestly believe we have been deceived and mistaken? That our years of faith and labour have been wasted, and that, if mankind is to be helped, it is to be in other ways and by other efforts than ours?"
He stood before her accusingly, almost, the passion of the long fight surging up in him as he felt the weapon drop from his hand.
Fulvia had sat motionless under his appeal; but as he paused she rose with an impulsive gesture. "Oh, why do you torment me with questions?" she cried, half-sobbing. "I venture to counsel a delay, and you arraign me as though I stood at the day of judgment!"
"It IS our day of judgment," he retorted. "It is the day on which life confronts us with our own actions, and we must justify them or own ourselves deluded." He went up to her and caught her hands entreatingly. "Fulvia," he said, "I too have doubted, wavered—and if you will give me one honest reason that is worthy of us both—"
She broke from him to hide her weeping. "Reasons! reasons!" she stammered. "What does the heart know of reasons? I ask a favour—the first I ever asked of you—and you answer it by haggling with me for reasons!"
Something in her voice and gesture was like a lightning-flash over a dark landscape. In an instant he saw the pit at his feet.
"Some one has been with you. Those words were not yours," he cried.
She rallied instantly. "That is a pretext for not heeding them!" she returned.
The lightning glared again. He stepped close and faced her.
"The Duchess has been here," he said.
She dropped into a chair and hid her face from him. A wave of anger mounted from his heart, choking back his words and filling his brain with its fumes. But as it subsided he felt himself suddenly cool, firm, attempered. There could be no wavering, no self-questioning now.
"When did this happen?" he asked.
She shook her head despairingly.
"Fulvia," he said, "if you will not speak I will speak for you. I can guess what arguments were used—what threats, even. Were there threats?" burst from him in a fresh leap of anger.
She raised her head slowly. "Threats would not have mattered," she said.
"But your fears were played on—your fears for my safety?—Fulvia, answer me!" he insisted.
She rose suddenly and laid her arms about his shoulders, with a gesture half-tender, half-maternal.
"Oh," she said, "why will you torture me? I have borne much for our love's sake, and would have borne this too—in silence, like the rest—but to speak of it is to relieve it; and my strength fails me!"
He held her hands fast, keeping his eyes on hers. "No," he said, "for your strength never failed you when there was any call on it; and our whole past calls on it now. Rouse yourself, Fulvia: look life in the face! You were told there might be troubles tomorrow—that I was in danger, perhaps?"
"There was worse—there was worse," she shuddered.
"The blame was laid on me—the responsibility. Your love for me, my power over you, were accused. The people hate me—they hate you for loving me! Oh, I have destroyed you!" she cried.
Odo felt a slow cold strength pouring into all his veins. It was as though his enemies, in thinking to mix a mortal poison, had rendered him invulnerable. He bent over her with great gentleness.
"Fulvia, this is madness," he said. "A moment's thought must show you what passions are here at work. Can you not rise above such fears? No one can judge between us but ourselves."
"Ah, but you do not know—you will not understand. Your life may be in danger!" she cried.
"I have been told that before," he said contemptuously. "It is a common trick of the political game."
"This is no trick," she exclaimed. "I was made to see—to understand—and I swear to you that the danger is real."
"And what if it were? Is the Church to have all the martyrs?" said he gaily. "Come, Fulvia, shake off such fancies. My life is as safe as yours. At worst there may be a little hissing to be faced. That is easy enough compared to facing one's own doubts. And I have no doubts now—that is all past, thank heaven! I see the road straight before me—as straight as when you showed it to me once before, years ago, in the inn-parlour at Peschiera. You pointed the way to it then; surely you would not hold me back from it now?"
He took her in his arms and kissed her lips to silence.
"When we meet tomorrow," he said, releasing her, "It will be as teacher and pupil, you in your doctor's gown and I a learner at your feet. Put your old faith in me into your argument, and we shall have all Pianura converted."
He hastened away through the dim gardens, carrying a boy's heart in his breast.
The University of Pianura was lodged in the ancient Signoria or Town Hall of the free city; and here, on the afternoon of the Duke's birthday, the civic dignitaries and the leading men of the learned professions had assembled to see the doctorate conferred on the Signorina Fulvia Vivaldi and on several less conspicuous candidates of the other sex.
The city was again in gala dress. Early that morning the new constitution had been proclaimed, with much firing of cannon and display of official fireworks; but even these great news, and their attendant manifestations, had failed to enliven the populace, who, instead of filling the streets with their usual stir, hung massed at certain points, as though curiously waiting on events. There are few sights more ominous than that of a crowd thus observing itself, watching in inconscient suspense for the unknown crisis which its own passions have engendered.
It was known that his Highness, after the public banquet at the palace, was to proceed in state to the University; and the throng was thick about the palace gates and in the streets betwixt it and the Signoria. Here the square was close-packed, and every window choked with gazers, as the Duke's coach came in sight, escorted meagrely by his equerries and the half-dozen light-horse that preceded him. The small escort, and the marked absence of military display, perhaps disappointed the splendour-loving crowd; and from this cause or another, scarce a cheer was heard as his Highness descended from his coach, and walked up the steps to the porch of ancient carved stone where the faculty awaited him.
The hall was already filled with students and graduates, and with the guests of the University. Through this grave assemblage the Duke passed up to the row of armchairs beneath the dais at the farther end of the room. Trescorre, who was to have attended his Highness, had excused himself on the plea of indisposition, and only a few gentlemen-in-waiting accompanied the Duke; but in the brown half-light of the old Gothic hall their glittering uniforms contrasted brilliantly with the black gowns of the students, and the sober broadcloth of the learned professions. A discreet murmur of enthusiasm rose at their approach, mounting almost to a cheer as the Duke bowed before taking his seat; for the audience represented the class most in sympathy with his policy and most confident of its success.
The meetings of the faculty were held in the great council-chamber where the Rectors of the old free city had assembled; and such a setting was regarded as peculiarly appropriate to the present occasion. The fact was alluded to, with much wealth of historical and mythological analogy, by the President, who opened the ceremonies with a polysyllabic Latin oration, in which the Duke was compared to Apollo, Hercules and Jason, as well as to the flower of sublunary heroes.
This feat of rhetoric over, the candidates were called on to advance and receive their degrees. The men came first, profiting by the momentary advantage of sex, but clearly aware of its inability to confer even momentary importance in the eyes of the impatient audience. A pause followed, and then Fulvia appeared. Against the red-robed faculty at the back of the dais, she stood tall and slender in her black cap and gown. The high windows of painted glass shed a paleness on her face, but her carriage was light and assured as she advanced to the President and knelt to receive her degree. The parchment was placed in her hand, the furred hood laid on her shoulders; then, after another flourish of rhetoric, she was led to the lectern from which her discourse was to be delivered. Odo sat just below her, and as she took her place their eyes met for an instant. He was caught up in the serene exaltation of her look, as though she soared with him above wind and cloud to a region of unshadowed calm; then her eyes fell and she began to speak.
She had a pretty mastery of Latin, and though she had never before spoken in public, her poetical recitations, and the early habit of intercourse with her father's friends, had given her a fair measure of fluency and self-possession. These qualities were raised to eloquence by the sweetness of her voice, and by the grave beauty which made the academic gown seem her natural wear, rather than a travesty of learning. Odo at first had some difficulty in fixing his attention on what she said; and when he controlled his thoughts she was in the height of her panegyric of constitutional liberty. She had begun slowly, almost coldly; but now her theme possessed her. One by one she evoked the familiar formulas with which his mind had once reverberated. They woke no echo in him now; but he saw that she could still set them ringing through the sensibilities of her hearers. As she stood there, a slight impassioned figure, warming to her high argument, his sense of irony was touched by the incongruity of her background. The wall behind her was covered by an ancient fresco, fast fading under its touches of renewed gilding, and representing the patron scholars of the mediaeval world: the theologians, law-givers and logicians under whose protection the free city had placed its budding liberties. There they sat, rigid and sumptuous on their Gothic thrones: Origen, Zeno, David, Lycurgus, Aristotle; listening in a kind of cataleptic helplessness to a confession of faith that scattered their doctrines to the winds. As he looked and listened, a weary sense of the reiterance of things came over him. For what were these ancient manipulators of ideas, prestidigitators of a vanished world of thought, but the forbears of the long line of theorists of whom Fulvia was the last inconscient mouthpiece? The new game was still played with the old counters, the new jugglers repeated the old tricks; and the very words now poured out in defence of the new cause were but mercenaries scarred in the service of its enemies. For generations, for centuries, man had fought on; crying for liberty, dreaming it was won, waking to find himself the slave of the new forces he had generated, burning and being burnt for the same beliefs under different guises, calling his instinct ideas and his ideas revelations; destroying, rebuilding, falling, rising, mending broken weapons, championing extinct illusions, mistaking his failures for achievements and planting his flag on the ramparts as they fell. And as the vision of this inveterate conflict rose before him, Odo saw that the beauty, the power, the immortality, dwelt not in the idea but in the struggle for it.
His resistance yielded as this sense stole over him, and with an almost physical relief he felt himself drawn once more into the familiar current of emotion. Yes, it was better after all to be one of that great unconquerable army, though, like the Trojans fighting for a phantom Helen, they might be doing battle for the shadow of a shade; better to march in their ranks, endure with them, fight with them, fall with them, than to miss the great enveloping sense of brotherhood that turned defeat to victory.
As the conviction grew in him, Fulvia's words regained their lost significance. Through the set mask of language the living thoughts looked forth, old indeed as the world, but renewed with the new life of every heart that bore them. She had left the abstract and dropped to concrete issues: to the gift of the constitution, the benefits and obligations it implied, the new relations it established between ruler and subject and between man and man. Odo saw that she approached the question without flinching. No trace remained of the trembling woman who had clung to him the night before. Her old convictions repossessed her and she soared above human fears.
So engrossed was he that he had been unaware of a growing murmur of sound which seemed to be forcing its way from without through the walls of the ancient building. As Fulvia's oration neared its end the murmur rose to a roar. Startled faces were turned toward the doors of the council-chamber, and one of the Duke's gentlemen left his seat and made his way through the audience. Odo sat motionless, his eyes on Fulvia. He noticed that her face paled as the sound reached her, but there was no break in the voice with which she uttered the closing words of her peroration. As she ended, the noise was momentarily drowned under a loud burst of clapping; but this died in a hush of apprehension through which the outer tumult became more ominously audible. The equerry reentered the hall with a disordered countenance. He hastened to the Duke and addressed him urgently.
"Your Highness," he said, "the crowd has thickened and wears an ugly look. There are many friars abroad, and images of the Mountain Virgin are being carried in procession. Will your Highness be pleased to remain here while I summon an escort from the barracks?"
Odo was still watching Fulvia. She had received the applause of the audience with a deep reverence, and was now in the act of withdrawing to the inner room at the back of the dais. Her eyes met Odo's; she smiled and the door closed on her. He turned to the equerry.
"There is no need of an escort," he said. "I trust my people if they do not trust me."
"But, your Highness, the streets are full of demagogues who have been haranguing the people since morning. The crowd is shouting against the constitution and against the Signorina Vivaldi."
A flame of anger passed over the Duke's face; but he subdued it instantly.
"Go to the Signorina Vivaldi," he said, pointing to the door by which Fulvia had left the hall. "Assure her that there is no danger, but ask her to remain where she is till the crowd disperses, and request the faculty in my name to remain with her."
The equerry bowed, and hurried up the steps of the dais, while the Duke signed to his other companions to precede him to the door of the hall. As they walked down the long room, between the close-packed ranks of the audience, the outer tumult surged threateningly toward them. Near the doorway, another of the gentlemen-in-waiting was seen to speak with the Duke.
"Your Highness," he said, "there is a private way at the back by which you may yet leave the building unobserved."
"You appear to forget that I entered it publicly," said Odo.
"But, your Highness, we cannot answer for the consequences—"
The Duke signed to the ushers to throw open the doors. They obeyed, and he stepped out into the stone vestibule preceding the porch. The iron-barred outer doors of this vestibule were securely bolted, and the porter hung back in affright at the order to unlock them.
"Your Highness, the people are raving mad," he said, flinging himself on his knees.
Odo turned impatiently to his escort. "Unbar the doors, gentlemen," he said. The blood was drumming in his ears, but his eye was clear and steady, and he noted with curious detachment the comic agony of the fat porter's face, and the strain and swell of the equerry's muscles as he dragged back the ponderous bolts.
The doors swung open, and the Duke emerged. Below him, still with that unimpaired distinctness of vision which seemed a part of his heightened vitality, he saw a great gesticulating mass of people. They packed the square so closely that their own numbers held them immovable, save for their swaying arms and heads; and those whom the square could not contain had climbed to porticoes, balconies and cornices, and massed themselves in the neck of the adjoining streets. The handful of light-horse who had escorted the Duke's carriage formed a single line at the foot of the steps, so that the approach to the porch was still clear; but it was plain that the crowd, with its next movement, would break through this slender barrier and hem in the Duke.
At Odo's appearance the shouting had ceased and every eye was turned on him. He stood there, a brilliant target, in his laced coat of peach-coloured velvet, his breast covered with orders, a hand on his jewelled sword-hilt. For a moment sovereign and subjects measured each other; and in that moment Odo drank his deepest draught of life. He was not thinking now of the constitution or its opponents. His present business was to get down the steps and into the carriage, returning to the palace as openly as he had come. He was conscious of neither pity nor hatred for the throng in his path. For the moment he regarded them merely as a natural force, to be fought against like storm or flood. His clearest sensation was one of relief at having at last some material obstacle to spend his strength against, instead of the impalpable powers which had so long beset him. He felt, too, a boyish satisfaction at his own steadiness of pulse and eye, at the absence of that fatal inertia which he had come to dread. So clear was his mental horizon that it embraced not only the present crisis, but a dozen incidents leading up to it. He remembered that Trescorre had urged him to take a larger escort, and that he had refused on the ground that any military display might imply a doubt of his people. He was glad now that he had done so. He would have hated to slink to his carriage behind a barrier of drawn swords. He wanted no help to see him through this business. The blood sang in his veins at the thought of facing it alone.
The silence lasted but a moment; then an image of the Mountain Virgin was suddenly thrust in air, and a voice cried out: "Down with our Lady's enemies! We want no laws against the friars!"
A howl caught up the words and tossed them to and fro above the seething heads. Images of the Virgin, religious banners, the blue-and-white of the Madonna's colours, suddenly canopied the crowd.
"We want the Barnabites back!" sang out another voice.
"Down with the free-thinkers!" yelled a hundred angry throats.
A stone or two sped through the air and struck the sculptures of the porch.
"Your Highness!" cried the equerry who stood nearest, and would have snatched the Duke back within doors.
For all answer, Odo stepped clear of the porch and advanced to the edge of the steps. As he did so, a shower of missiles hummed about him, and a stone struck him on the lip. The blood rushed to his head, and he swayed in the sudden grip of anger; but he mastered himself and raised his lace handkerchief to the cut.
His gentlemen had drawn their swords; but he signed to them to sheathe again. His first thought was that he must somehow make the people hear him. He lifted his hand and advanced a step; but as he did so a shot rang out, followed by a loud cry. The lieutenant of the light-horse, infuriated by the insult to his master, had drawn the pistol from his holster and fired blindly into the crowd. His bullet had found a mark, and the throng hissed and seethed about the spot where a man had fallen. At the same instant Odo was aware of a commotion in the group behind him, and with a great plunge of the heart he saw Fulvia at his side. She still wore the academic dress, and her black gown detached itself sharply against the bright colours of the ducal uniforms.
Groans and hisses received her, but the mob hung back, as though her look had checked them. Then a voice shrieked out: "Down with the atheist! We want no foreign witches!" and another caught it up with the yell: "She poisoned the weaver's boy! Her father was hanged for murdering Christian children!"
The cry set the crowd in motion again, and it rolled toward the line of mounted soldiers at the foot of the steps. The men had their hands on their holsters; but the Duke's call rang out: "No firing!" and drawing their blades, they sat motionless to receive the shock.
It came, dashed against them and dispersed them. Only a few yards lay now between the people and their sovereign. But at that moment another shot was fired. This time it came from the thick of the crowd. The equerries' swords leapt forth again, and they closed around the Duke and Fulvia.
"Save yourself, sir! Back into the building!" one of the gentlemen shouted; but Odo had no eyes for what was coming. For as the shot was heard he had seen a change in Fulvia. A moment they had stood together, smiling, undaunted, hands locked and wedded eyes, then he felt her dissolve against him and drop between his arms.
A cry had gone out that the Duke was wounded, and a leaden silence fell on the crowd. In that silence Odo knelt, lifting Fulvia's head to his breast. No wound showed through her black gown. She lay as though smitten by some invisible hand. So deep was the hush that her least whisper must have reached him; but though he bent close no whisper came. The invisible hand had struck the very source of life; and to these two, in their moment of final reunion, with so much unsaid between them that now at last they longed to say, there was left only the dumb communion of fast-clouding eyes...
A clatter of cavalry was heard down the streets that led to the square. The equerry sent to warn Fulvia had escaped from the back of the building and hastened to the barracks to summon a regiment. But the soldiery were no longer needed. The blind fury of the mob had died of its own excess. The rumour that the Duke was hurt brought a chill reaction of dismay, and the rioters were already scattering when the cavalry came in sight. Their approach turned the slow dispersal to a stampede. A few arrests were made, the remaining groups were charged by the soldiers, and presently the square lay bare as a storm-swept plain, though the people still hung on its outskirts, ready to disband at the first threat of the troops.
It was on this solitude that the Duke looked out as he regained a sense of his surroundings. Fulvia had been carried into the audience-chamber and laid on the dais, her head resting on the velvet cushions of the ducal chair. She had died instantly, shot through the heart, and the surgeons summoned in haste had soon ceased from their ineffectual efforts. For a long time Odo knelt beside her, unconscious of all but that one wild moment when life at its highest had been dashed into the gulf of death. Thought had ceased, and neither rage nor grief moved as yet across the chaos of his being. All his life was in his eyes, as they drew up, drop by drop, the precious essence of her loveliness. For she had grown, beneath the simplifying hand of death, strangely yet most humanly beautiful. Life had fallen from her like the husk from the flower, and she wore the face of her first hopes. The transition had been too swift for any backward look, any anguished rending of the fibres, and he felt himself, not detached by the stroke, but caught up with her into some great calm within the heart of change.
He knew not how he found himself once more on the steps above the square. Below him his state carriage stood in the same place, flanked by the regiment of cavalry. Down the narrow streets he saw the brooding cloud of people, and the sight roused his blood. They were his enemies now—he felt the warm hate in his veins. They were his enemies, and he would face them openly. No closed chariot guarded by troops—he would not have so much as a pane of glass between himself and his subjects. He descended the steps, bade the colonel of the regiment dismount, and sprang into his saddle. Then, at the head of his soldiers, at a foot-pace, he rode back through the packed streets to the palace.
In the palace, courtyard and vestibule were thronged with courtiers and lacqueys. He walked through them with his head high, the cut on his lip like the mark of a hot iron in the dead whiteness of his face. At the head of the great staircase Maria Clementina waited. She sprang forward, distraught and trembling, her face as blanched as his.
"You are safe—you are safe—you are not hurt—" she stammered, catching at his hands.
A shudder seized him as he put her aside.
"Odo! Odo!" she cried passionately, and made as though to bar his way.
He gave her a blind look and passed on down the long gallery to his closet.
The joy of reprisals lasted no longer than a summer storm. To hurt, to silence, to destroy, was too easy to be satisfying. The passions of his ancestors burned low in Odo's breast: though he felt Bracciaforte's fury in his veins he could taste no answering gratification of revenge. And the spirit on which he would have spent his hatred was not here or there, as an embodied faction, but everywhere as an intangible influence. The acqua tofana of his enemies had pervaded every fibre of the state.
The mist of anguish lifted, he saw himself alone among ruins. For a moment Fulvia's glowing faith had hung between him and a final vision of the truth; and as his convictions weakened he had replaced them with an immense pity, an all-sufficing hope. Sentimental verbiage: he saw it clearly now. He had been the dupe of the old word-jugglery which was forever confounding fact and fancy in men's minds. For it was essentially an age of words: the world was drunk with them, as it had once been drunk with action; and the former was the deadlier drug of the two. He looked about him languidly, letting the facts of life filter slowly through his faculties. The sources of energy were so benumbed in him that he felt like a man whom long disease had reduced to helplessness and who must laboriously begin his bodily education again. Hate was the only passion which survived, and that was but a deaf intransitive emotion coiled in his nature's depths.
Sickness at last brought its obliteration. He sank into gulfs of weakness and oblivion, and when the rise of the tide floated him back to life, it was to a life as faint and colourless as infancy. Colourless too were the boundaries on which he looked out: the narrow enclosure of white walls, opening on a slit of pale spring landscape. His hands lay before him, white and helpless on the white coverlet of his bed. He raised his eyes and saw de Crucis at his side. Then he began to remember. There had been preceding intervals of consciousness, and in one of them, in answer perhaps to some vaguely-uttered wish for light and air, he had been carried out of the palace and the city to the Benedictine monastery on its wooded knoll beyond the Piana. Then the veil had dropped again, and his spirit had wandered in a dim place of shades. There was a faint sweetness in coming back at last to familiar sights and sounds. They no longer hurt like pressure on an aching nerve: they seemed rather, now, the touch of a reassuring hand.
As the contact with life became closer and more sustained he began to watch himself curiously, wondering what instincts and habits of thought would survive his long mental death. It was with a bitter, almost pitiable disappointment that he found the old man growing again in him. Life, with a mocking hand, brought him the cast-off vesture of his past, and he felt himself gradually compressed again into the old passions and prejudices. Yet he wore them with a difference—they were a cramping garment rather than a living sheath. He had brought back from his lonely voyagings a sense of estrangement deeper than any surface-affinity with things.
As his physical strength returned, and he was able to leave his room and walk through the long corridors to the outer air, he felt the old spell which the life of Monte Cassino had cast on him. The quiet garden, with its clumps of box and lavender between paths converging to the statue of Saint Benedict; the cloisters paved with the monks' nameless graves; the traces of devotional painting left here and there on the weather-beaten walls, like fragments of prayer in a world-worn mind: these formed a circle of tranquillising influences in which he could gradually reacquire the habit of living.
He had never deceived himself as to the cause of the riots. He knew from Gamba and Andreoni that the liberals and the court, for once working in unison, had provoked the blind outburst of fanaticism which a rasher judgment might have ascribed to the clergy. The Dominicans, bigoted and eager for power, had been ready enough to serve such an end, and some of the begging orders had furnished the necessary points of contact with the people; but the movement was at bottom purely political, and represented the resistance of the privileged classes to any attack on their inherited rights.
As such, he could no longer regard it as completely unreasonable. He was beginning to feel the social and political significance of those old restrictions and barriers against which his early zeal had tilted. Certainly in the ideal state the rights and obligations of the different classes would be more evenly adjusted. But the ideal state was a figment of the brain. The real one, as Crescenti had long ago pointed out, was the gradual and heterogeneous product of remote social conditions, wherein every seeming inconsistency had its roots in some bygone need, and the character of each class, with its special passions, ignorances and prejudices, was the sum total of influences so ingrown and inveterate that they had become a law of thought. All this, however, seemed rather matter for philosophic musing than for definite action. His predominant feeling was still that of remoteness from the immediate issues of life: the soeva indignatio had been succeeded by a great calm.
The soothing influences of the monastic life had doubtless helped to tide him over the stormy passage of returning consciousness. His sensitiveness to these influences inclined him for the first time to consider them analytically. Hitherto he had regarded the Church as a skilfully-adjusted engine, the product of human passions scientifically combined to obtain the greatest sum of tangible results. Now he saw that he had never penetrated beneath the surface. For the Church which grasped, contrived, calculated, struggled for temporal possessions and used material weapons against spiritual foes—this outer Church was nothing more than the body, which, like any other animal body, had to care for its own gross needs, nourish, clothe, defend itself, fight for a footing among the material resistances of life—while the soul, the inner animating principle, might dwell aloof from all these things, in a clear medium of its own.
To this soul of the Church his daily life now brought him close. He felt it in the ordered beneficence of the great community, in the simplicity of its external life and the richness and suavity of its inner relations. No alliance based on material interests, no love of power working toward a common end, could have created that harmony of thought and act which was reflected in every face about him. Each of these men seemed to have FOUND OUT SOMETHING of which he was still ignorant.
What it was, de Crucis tried to tell him as they paced the cloisters together or sat in the warm stillness of the budding garden. At the first news of the Duke's illness the Jesuit had hastened to Pianura. No companionship could have been so satisfying to Odo. De Crucis's mental attitude toward mankind might have been defined as an illuminated charity. To love men, or to understand them, is not as unusual as to do both together; and it was the intellectual acuteness of his friend's judgments that made their Christian amenity so seductive to Odo.
"The highest claim of Christianity," the Jesuit said one morning, as they sat on a worn stone bench at the end of the sunny vine-walk, "is that it has come nearer to solving the problem of men's relations to each other than any system invented by themselves. This, after all, is the secret principle of the Church's vitality. She gave a spiritual charter of equality to mankind long before the philosophers thought of giving them a material one. If, all the while, she has been fighting for dominion, arrogating to herself special privileges, struggling to preserve the old lines of social and legal demarcation, it has been because for nigh two thousand years she has cherished in her breast the one free city of the spirit, because to guard its liberties she has had to defend and strengthen her own position. I do not ask you to consider whence comes this insight into the needs of man, this mysterious power over him; I ask you simply to confess them in their results. I am not of those who believe that God permits good to come to mankind through one channel only, and I doubt not that now and in times past the thinkers whom your Highness follows have done much to raise the condition of their fellows; but I would have you observe that, where they have done so, it has been because, at bottom, their aims coincided with the Church's. The deeper you probe into her secret sources of power, the more you find there, in the germ if you will, but still potentially active, all those humanising energies which work together for the lifting of the race. In her wisdom and her patience she may have seen fit to withhold their expression, to let them seek another outlet; but they are there, stored in her consciousness like the archetypes of the Platonists in the Universal Mind. It is the knowledge of this, the sure knowledge of it, which creates the atmosphere of serenity that you feel about you. From the tilling of the vineyards, or the dressing of a beggar's sores, to the loftiest and most complicated intellectual labour imposed on him, each brother knows that his daily task is part of a great scheme of action, working ever from imperfection to perfection, from human incompleteness to the divine completion. This sense of being, not straws on a blind wind of chance, but units in an ordered force, gives to the humblest Christian an individual security and dignity which kings on their thrones might envy.
"But not only does the Church anticipate every tendency of mankind; alone of all powers she knows how to control and direct the passions she excites. This it is which makes her an auxiliary that no temporal prince can well despise. It is in this aspect that I would have your Highness consider her. Do not underrate her power because it seems based on the commoner instincts rather than on the higher faculties of man. That is one of the sources of her strength. She can support her claims by reason and argument, but it is because her work, like that of her divine Founder, lies chiefly among those who can neither reason nor argue, that she chooses to rest her appeal on the simplest and most universal emotions. As, in our towns, the streets are lit mainly by the tapers before the shrines of the saints, so the way of life would be dark to the great multitude of men but for the light of faith burning within them..."
Meanwhile the shufflings of destiny had brought to Trescorre the prize for which he waited. During the Duke's illness he had been appointed regent of Pianura, and his sovereign's reluctance to take up the cares of government had now left him for six months in authority. The day after the proclaiming of the constitution Odo had withdrawn his signature from it, on the ground that the concessions it contained were inopportune. The functions of government went on again in the old way. The old abuses persisted, the old offences were condoned: it was as though the apathy of the sovereign had been communicated to his people. Centuries of submission were in their blood, and for two generations there had been no warfare south of the Alps.
For the moment men's minds were turned to the great events going forward in France. It had not yet occurred to the Italians that the recoil of these events might be felt among themselves. They were simply amused spectators, roused at last to the significance of the show, but never dreaming that they might soon be called from the wings to the footlights. To de Crucis, however, the possibility of such a call was already present, and it was he who pressed the Duke to return to his post. A deep reluctance held Odo back. He would have liked to linger on in the monastery, leading the tranquil yet busy life of the monks, and trying to read the baffling riddle of its completeness. At that moment it seemed to him of vastly more importance to discover the exact nature of the soul—whether it was in fact a metaphysical entity, as these men believed, or a mere secretion of the brain, as he had been taught to think—than to go back and govern his people. For what mattered the rest, if he had been mistaken about the soul?
With a start he realised that he was going as his cousin had gone—that this was but another form of the fatal lethargy that hung upon his race. An effort of the will drew him back to Pianura, and made him resume the semblance of authority; but it carried him no farther. Trescorre ostensibly became prime minister, and in reality remained the head of the state. The Duke was present at the cabinet meetings but took no part in the direction of affairs. His mind was lost in a maze of metaphysical speculations; and even these served him merely as some cunningly-contrived toy with which to trick his leisure.
His revocation of the charter had necessarily separated him from Gamba and the advanced liberals. He knew that the hunchback, ever scornful of expediency, charged him with disloyalty to the people; but such charges could no longer wound. The events following the Duke's birthday had served to crystallise the schemes of the little liberal group, and they now formed a campaign of active opposition to the government, attacking it by means of pamphlets and lampoons, and by such public speaking as the police allowed. The new professors of the University, ardently in sympathy with the constitutional movement, used their lectures as means of political teaching, and the old stronghold of dogma became the centre of destructive criticism. But as yet these ideas formed but a single live point in the general numbness.
Two years passed in this way. North of the Alps, all Europe was convulsed, while Italy was still but a sleeper who tosses in his sleep. In the two Sicilies, the arrogance and perfidy of the government gave a few martyrs to the cause, and in Bologna there was a brief revolutionary outbreak; but for the most part the Italian states were sinking into inanition. Venice, by recalling her fleet from Greece, let fall the dominion of the sea. Twenty years earlier Genoa had basely yielded Corsica to France. The Pope condemned the French for their outrages on religion, and his subjects murdered Basseville, the agent of the new republic. The sympathies and impulses of the various states were as contradictory as they were ineffectual.
Meanwhile, in France, Europe was trying to solve at a stroke the problems of a thousand years. All the repressed passions which civilisation had sought, however imperfectly, to curb, stalked abroad destructive as flood and fire. The great generation of the Encyclopaedists had passed away, and the teachings of Rousseau had prevailed over those of Montesquieu and Voltaire. The sober sense of the economists was swept aside by the sound and fury of the demagogues, and France was become a very Babel of tongues. The old malady of words had swept over the world like a pestilence.
To the little Italian courts, still dozing in fancied security under the wing of Bourbon and Hapsburg suzerains, these rumours were borne by the wild flight of emigres—dead leaves loosened by the first blast of the storm. Month by month they poured across the Alps in ever-increasing numbers, bringing confused contradictory tales of anarchy and outrage. Among those whom chance thus carried to Pianura were certain familiars of the Duke's earlier life—the Count Alfieri and his royal mistress, flying from Paris, and arriving breathless with the tale of their private injuries. To the poet of revolt this sudden realisation of his doctrines seemed in fact a purely personal outrage. It was as though a man writing an epic poem on an earthquake should suddenly find himself engulphed. To Alfieri the downfall of the French monarchy and the triumph of democratic ideas meant simply that his French investments had shrunk to nothing, and that he, the greatest poet of the age, had been obliged, at an immense sacrifice of personal dignity, to plead with a drunken mob for leave to escape from Paris. To the wider aspect of the "tragic farce," as he called it, his eyes remained obstinately closed. He viewed the whole revolutionary movement as a conspiracy against his comfort, and boasted that during his enforced residence in France he had not so much as exchanged a word with one of the "French slaves, instigators of false liberty," who, by trying to put into action the principles taught in his previous works, had so grievously interfered with the composition of fresh masterpieces.
The royal pretensions of the Countess of Albany—pretentions affirmed rather than abated as the tide of revolution rose—made it impossible that she should be received at the court of Pianura; but the Duke found a mild entertainment in Alfieri's company. The poet's revulsion of feeling seemed to Odo like the ironic laughter of the fates. His thoughts returned to the midnight meetings of the Honey Bees, and to the first vision of that face which men had lain down their lives to see. Men had looked on that face since then, and its horror was reflected in their own.
Other fugitives to Pianura brought another impression of events—that comic note which life, the supreme dramatic artist, never omits from her tragedies. These were the Duke's old friend the Marquis de Coeur-Volant, fleeing from his chateau as the peasants put the torch to it, and arriving in Pianura destitute, gouty and middle-aged, but imperturbable and epigrammatic as ever. With him came his Marquise, a dark-eyed lady, stout to unwieldiness and much given to devotion, in whom it was whispered (though he introduced her as the daughter of a Venetian Senator) that a reminiscent eye might still detect the outline of the gracefullest Columbine who had ever flitted across the Italian stage. These visitors were lodged by the Duke's kindness in the Palazzo Cerveno, near the ducal residence; and though the ladies of Pianura were inclined to look askance on the Marquise's genealogy, yet his Highness's condescension, and her own edifying piety, had soon allayed these scruples, and the salon of Madame de Coeur-Volant became the rival of Madame d'Albany's.
It was, in fact, the more entertaining of the two; for, in spite of his lady's austere views, the Marquis retained that gift of social flexibility that was already becoming the tradition of a happier day. To the Marquis, indeed, the revolution was execrable not so much because of the hardships it inflicted, as because it was the forerunner of social dissolution—the breaking-up of the regime which had made manners the highest morality, and conversation the chief end of man. He could have lived gaily on a crust in good company and amid smiling faces; but the social deficiencies of Pianura were more difficult to endure than any material privation. In Italy, as the Marquis had more than once remarked, people loved, gambled, wrote poetry, and patronised the arts; but, alas, they did not converse. Coeur-Volant could not conceal from his Highness that there was no conversation in Pianura; but he did his best to fill the void by the constant exercise of his own gift in that direction, and to Odo at least his talk seemed as good as it was copious. Misfortune had given a finer savour to the Marquis's philosophy, and there was a kind of heroic grace in his undisturbed cultivation of the amenities.
While the Marquis was struggling to preserve the conversational art, and Alfieri planning the savage revenge of the Misogallo, the course of affairs in France had gained a wilder impetus. The abolition of the nobility, the flight and capture of the King, his enforced declaration of war against Austria, the massacres of Avignon, the sack of the Tuileries—such events seemed incredible enough till the next had crowded them out of mind. The new year rose in blood and mounted to a bloodier noon. All the old defences were falling. Religion, monarchy, law, were sucked down into the whirlpool of liberated passions. Across that sanguinary scene passed, like a mocking ghost, the philosophers' vision of the perfectibility of man. Man was free at last—freer than his would-be liberators had ever dreamed of making him—and he used his freedom like a beast. For the multitude had risen—that multitude which no man could number, which even the demagogues who ranted in its name had never seriously reckoned with—that dim, grovelling indistinguishable mass on which the whole social structure rested. It was as though the very soil moved, rising in mountains or yawning in chasms about the feet of those who had so long securely battened on it. The earth shook, the sun and moon were darkened, and the people, the terrible unknown people, had put in the sickle to the harvest.
Italy roused herself at last. The emissaries of the new France were swarming across the Alps, pervading the peninsula as the Jesuits had once pervaded Europe; and in the mind of a young general of the republican army visions of Italian conquest were already forming. In Pianura the revolutionary agents found a strong republican party headed by Gamba and his friends, and a government weakened by debt and dissensions. The air was thick with intrigue. The little army could no longer be counted on, and a prolonged bread-riot had driven Trescorre out of the ministry and compelled the Duke to appoint Andreoni in his place. Behind Andreoni stood Gamba and the radicals. There could be no doubt which way the fortunes of the duchy tended. The Duke's would-be protectors, Austria and the Holy See, were too busy organising the hasty coalition of the powers to come to his aid, had he cared to call on them. But to do so would have been but another way of annihilation. To preserve the individuality of his state, or to merge it in the vision of a United Italy, seemed to him the only alternatives worth fighting for. The former was a futile dream, the latter seemed for a brief moment possible. Piedmont, ever loyal to the monarchical principle, was calling on her sister states to arm themselves against the French invasion. But the response was reluctant and uncertain. Private ambitions and petty jealousies hampered every attempt at union. Austria, the Bourbons and the Holy See held the Italian principalities in a network of conflicting interests and obligations that rendered free action impossible. Sadly Victor Amadeus armed himself alone against the enemy.
Under such conditions Odo could do little to direct the course of events. They had passed into more powerful hands than his. But he could at least declare himself for or against the mighty impulse which was behind them. The ideas he had striven for had triumphed at last, and his surest hold on authority was to share openly in their triumph. A profound horror dragged him back. The new principles were not those for which he had striven. The goddess of the new worship was but a bloody Maenad who had borrowed the attributes of freedom. He could not bow the knee in such a charnel-house. Tranquilly, resolutely, he took up the policy of repression. He knew the attempt was foredoomed to failure, but that made no difference now: he was simply acting out the inevitable.
The last act came with unexpected suddenness. The Duke woke one morning to find the citadel in the possession of the people. The impregnable stronghold of Bracciaforte was in the hands of the serfs whose fathers had toiled to build it, and the last descendant of Bracciaforte was virtually a prisoner in his palace. The revolution took place quietly, without violence or bloodshed. Andreoni waited on the Duke, and a cabinet-council was summoned. The ministers affected to have yielded reluctantly to popular pressure. All they asked was a constitution and the assurance that no resistance would be offered to the French.
The Duke requested a few hours for deliberation. Left alone, he summoned the Duchess's chamberlain. The ducal pair no longer met save on occasions of state: they had not exchanged a word since the death of Fulvia Vivaldi. Odo sent word to her Highness that he could no longer answer for her security while she remained in the duchy, and that he begged her to leave immediately for Vienna. She replied that she was obliged for his warning, but that while he remained in Pianura her place was at his side. It was the answer he had expected—he had never doubted her courage—but it was essential to his course that she should leave the duchy without delay, and after a moment's reflection he wrote a letter in which he informed her that he must insist on her obedience. No answer was returned, but he learned that she had turned white, and tearing the letter in shreds had called for her travelling-carriage within the hour. He sent to enquire when he might take leave of her, but she excused herself on the plea of indisposition, and before nightfall he heard the departing rattle of her wheels.
He immediately summoned Andreoni and announced his unconditional refusal of the terms proposed to him. He would not give a constitution or promise allegiance to the French. The minister withdrew, and Odo was left alone. He had dismissed his gentlemen, and as he sat in his closet a sense of deathlike isolation came over him. Never had the palace seemed so silent or so vast. He had not a friend to turn to. De Crucis was in Germany, and Trescorre, it was reported, had privately attended the Duchess in her flight. The waves of destiny seemed closing over Odo, and the circumstances of his past rose, poignant and vivid, before his drowning sight.
And suddenly, in that moment of failure and abandonment, it seemed to him again that life was worth the living. His indifference fell from him like a garment. The old passion of action awoke and he felt a new warmth in his breast. After all, the struggle was not yet over: though Piedmont had called in vain on the Italian states, an Italian sword might still be drawn in her service. If his people would not follow him against France he could still march against her alone. Old memories hummed in him at the thought. He recalled how his Piedmontese ancestors had gone forth against the same foe, and the stout Donnaz blood began to bubble in his veins.
A knock roused him and Gamba entered by the private way. His appearance was not unexpected to Odo, and served only to reinforce his new-found energy. He felt that the issue was at hand. As he expected, Gamba had been sent to put before him more forcibly and unceremoniously the veiled threat of the ministers. But the hunchback had come also to plead with his master in his own name, and in the name of the ideas for which they had once laboured together. He could not believe that the Duke's reaction was more than momentary. He could not calculate the strength of the old associations which, now that the tide had set the other way, were dragging Odo back to the beliefs and traditions of his caste.
The Duke listened in silence; then he said: "Discussion is idle. I have no answer to give but that which I have already given." He rose from his seat in token of dismissal.
The moment was painful to both men. Gamba drew nearer and fell at the Duke's feet.
"Your Highness," he said, "consider what this means. We hold the state in our hands. If you are against us you are powerless. If you are with us we can promise you more power than you ever dreamed of possessing."
The Duke looked at him with a musing smile. "It is as though you offered me gold in a desert island," he said. "Do not waste such poor bribes on me. I care for no power but the power to wipe out the work of these last years. Failing that, I want nothing that you or any other man can give."
Gamba was silent a moment. He turned aside into the embrasure of the window, and when he spoke again it was in a voice broken with grief.
"Your Highness," he said, "if your choice is made, ours is made also. It is a hard choice, but these are fratricidal hours. We have come to the parting of the ways."
The Duke made no sign, and Gamba went on with gathering anguish: "We would have gone to the world's end with your Highness for our leader!"
"With a leader whom you could lead," Odo interposed. He went up to Gamba and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Speak out, man," he said. "Say what you were sent to say. Am I a prisoner?"
The hunchback burst into tears. Odo, with his arms crossed, stood leaning against the window. The other's anguish seemed to deepen his detachment.
"Your Highness—your Highness—" Gamba stammered.
The Duke made an impatient gesture. "Come, make an end," he said.
Gamba fell back with a profound bow.
"We do not ask the surrender of your Highness's person," he said.
"Not even that?" Odo returned with a faint sneer.
Gamba flushed to the temples, but the retort died on his lips.
"Your Highness," he said, scarce above a whisper, "the gates are guarded; but the word for tonight is 'Humilitas.'" He knelt and kissed Odo's hand. Then he rose and passed out of the room...
* * * * *
Before dawn the Duke left the palace. The high emotions of the night had ebbed. He saw himself now, in the ironic light of morning, as a fugitive too harmless to be worth pursuing. His enemies had let him keep his sword because they had no cause to fear it. Alone he passed through the gardens of the palace, and out into the desert darkness of the streets. Skirting the wall of the Benedictine convent where Fulvia had lodged, he gained a street leading to the marketplace. In the pallor of the waning night the ancient monuments of his race stood up mournful and deserted as a line of tombs. The city seemed a grave-yard and he the ineffectual ghost of its dead past. He reached the gates and gave the watchword. The gates were guarded, as he had been advised; but the captain of the watch let him pass without show of hesitation or curiosity. Though he made no effort at disguise he went forth unrecognised, and the city closed her doors on him as carelessly as on any passing wanderer.
Beyond the gates a lad from the ducal stables waited with a horse. Odo sprang into the saddle and rode on toward Pontesordo. The darkness was growing thinner, and the meagre details of the landscape, with its huddled farm-houses and mulberry-orchards, began to define themselves as he advanced. To his left the field stretched, grey and sodden; ahead, on his right, hung the dark woods of the ducal chase. Presently a bend of the road brought him within sight of the keep of Pontesordo. His way led past it, toward Valsecca; but some obscure instinct laid a detaining hand on him, and at the cross-roads he bent to the right and rode across the marshland to the old manor-house.
The farmyard lay hushed and deserted. The peasants who lived there would soon be afoot; but for the moment Odo had the place to himself. He tethered his horse to a gate-post and walked across the rough cobble-stones to the chapel. Its floor was still heaped with farm-tools and dried vegetables, and in the dimness a heavier veil of dust seemed to obscure the painted walls. Odo advanced, picking his way among broken ploughshares and stacks of maize, till he stood near the old marble altar, with its sea-gods and acanthus volutes. The place laid its tranquillising hush on him, and he knelt on the step beneath the altar. Something stirred in him as he knelt there—a prayer, yet not a prayer—a reaching out, obscure and inarticulate, toward all that had survived of his early hopes and faiths, a loosening of old founts of pity, a longing to be somehow, somewhere reunited to his old belief in life.
How long he knelt he knew not; but when he looked up the chapel was full of a pale light, and in the first shaft of the sunrise the face of Saint Francis shone out on him...He went forth into the daybreak and rode away toward Piedmont.