Imatges de pàgina
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private agent in Rome had written to the Widow that it was believed to be favourable. Buondelmonte was still at a distance. Piero sprang forth, turned up the corner, and in the middle of the street, where the domestic usually passed, laid a bag filled with coins of small value, but pierced with holes in such a manner that, on being raised from the ground, some of the money must fall out. He then darted back to his ambush.

The elastic, sharp-sounding step, followed at a little distance by a heavier tread, came nearer, and the half-hummed song was heard more distinctly.

They came on. The servant struck his foot against something; he stooped to raise it; it was a bag ; some money fell to the ground; he waited to grope for it in the dark. Buondelmonte still went briskly on; he turned the corner of the street, and passed close to the ambush. Piero instantly sprang upon him, threw his cloak over Buondelmonte's head and face to prevent his calling out, and raised his arm to pierce his victim's heart; but the uplifted arm was that moment arrested by a powerful grasp; and—“ Defend yourself, dear Giovanni !” said a voice that sounded familiar to the ears of the astonished and almost stunned Buondelmonte.

Piero, with a mentally uttered curse, strove to loose himself from the grasp of a 'muffled, scarcely distinguishable figure that held him. Buondelmonte freed himself from the cloak, and, grasping his own dagger, struck at Piero, and slightly wounded him in the shoulder. The intended assassin, feeling the blow and hearing the servant approach in obedience to his master's call, gained fresh strength from desperation, disengaged himself with a violent wrench, and dashed through a secret passage well known to him, where to attempt following him in the dark would be useless.

“Ill-fortune ! the assassin has escaped," said the unexpected deliverer. “ But oh, Giovanni ! that is a trifle compared with your safety.”

"Heaven be thanked for this succour!" said Buondelmonte, crossing himself. “But where is my deliverer ?” “Close by your side," said the same familiar voice.

The noble Florentine turned; he could perceive in the obsculrity a dark figure. The domestic joined them at that moment.

"I have been attacked by a murderer, Marco," said his master, and related the circumstance to the trembling attendant, who scarcely knew how to excuse his inadvertent delay. “Never mind," said the good-natured Guelph ; “be more careful another time. But your absence has been amply compensated by the providential aid of this yet unrecognised deliverer. Will you not tell me your name, my

friend?" The other drew Buondelmonte close to him and whispered in

his ear—“My name is one that must not be lightly spoken. I might venture to whisper it to you alone, but not here."

* How is this ?” cried Buondelmonte, surprised; "yet your voice sounds to me like that of a friend. I should know it.”

"You should indeed,” replied the other, grasping Buondelmonte's hand, who felt him tremble as with emotion, and heard him breathing short and hurriedly.

Buondelmonte cordially returned the pressure of the hand that rested in his, and asked, “Will you not allow me to know how I can prove my everlasting gratitude in serving you?”

“Yes, Giovanni," said the stranger, with energy, “you must serve me, if this night can give me any claim

upon you. Oh! I have been watching night after night an opportunity of speaking to you unobserved, to beg of you one boon. Little did I think my watching would save your life.” “Name your wish," said Buondelmonte; “I will fulfil it.”

“I cannot tell it here," replied the unknown. “And let us in prudence quit this spot; the assassin may return with accomplices.”

“Come on, then, to my palazzo," said Buondelmonte; and they moved onwards together. “I go with you gladly," said the stranger; “but

you must faithfully promise me that, be I who I may, friend or foe, as you may judge me, you will give me free ingress and egress unobserved by your domestics, and religiously keep the secret I shall reveal to you."

“I solemnly promise all you demand," replied the young Guelph ; "common gratitude requires no less from me.”

The stranger thanked him emphatically but briefly, and they walked on followed by the domestic, who had respectfully remained out of hearing.

They reached the palazzo. The Guelph desired his servant to enter first, to retire to his own apartment, and to suffer no one to intrude on himself and his guest. The man obeyed, and the stranger entered unscrutinised; and Buondelmonte guided him to a small private room where a lamp had been left burning for him, carefully secured the door, then turned and looked inquisitively at the guest, who stood in utter silence.

A mask hid his features, a large hat flapped over his forehead, and his person was muffled up in a military cloak like that worn by Ghibelline officers; and it appeared to have seen service, for it was threadbare, and discoloured in patches by blood and dirt, which, though cleansed away, had left evident stains behind them. All the military ornaments had been ripped off, but the remains of stitching and the different shade of the cloth still showed where the ornaments had been.

Buondelmonte gazed with surprise on his guest, and could not

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form even a conjecture who he might be. But, muffled as he was, there seemed something noble in the bearing of his erect military figure that demanded respect, in spite of the poverty of his garb. The strange disguise, the midnight hour, the solitary room, the recent occurrence, combined to inspire Buondelmonte with even a superstitious awe of the unknown; and he could almost persuade himself that he stood in the presence of a visitor from the other world--some battle-slain hero of the Ghibellines, and with a voice somewhat tremulous, he addressed him

“ In the name of St. John of Florence, who are you?”

“Before I tell you,” replied the stranger, solemnly, “ remember your promise."

“I will make it more than a promise,” said Buondelmonte ; and, taking from his bosom a small crucifix, he swore inviolable secrecy and obedience to the wishes of the stranger, provided they involved nothing contrary to the interests of his (Buondelmonte's) party and to his religion ; and then looked on with intense anxiety as he saw the stranger beginning to lay aside his disguise. He threw off his cloak, and showed a youthful and finely proportioned but somewhat wasted form ; he raised the large hat, and a profusion of rich black hair waved round his temples; he took off his mask, and displayed a remarkably handsome, and, to Buondelmonte, well-known countenance.

The noble Guelph was struck with horror rather than surprise, for he expected some such apparition. He pressed his hands upon his eyes, and sank back in a chair with a half-suppressed shriek. The stranger anxiously endeavoured to re-assure him; there was many a hurried and earnest question from Buondelmonte, many a doubt and vacillation, many a yearning after former friendship, many a recent but yielding prejudice; and then the whole conlidence of the Guelph was given to his visitor and deliverer.

“Hear my story, Giovanni," said the latter; "hear it uninterruptedly; then assist me with your impartial judgment."

The two friends-for friends they had been and were now again -sat down. Buondelmonte leaned his arms on the table, and placed the lamp where its light could gleam on the face of the pale, serene young man before him, and listened with almost breathless interest to his tale. Their conference lasted all that night.

CHAPTER XXIII.

Now go wit!ı me, and with this holy man,
Into the chanıry by; there, before him,
And underneath that consecrated roof,
Flight me the full assurance of your faith.

Twelfth Night.

The day that followed Buondelmonte's adventures was that on which the Pope's answer relative to the dispensation was expected. Buondelmonte's impatience stimulated him to be at the Palazzo Donati previously to the arrival of the courier, and he resolved to brave any danger or insult that might arise on the way. He mounted his celebrated white horse, and was closely attended by some of his kinsmen, and followed by domestics. Some manifestations of popular displeasure that assailed him as he passed were prudently left unheeded, and he alighted safely at the Palazzo Donati.

There he informed the inmates of the recent attempt on his life. They were exceedingly shocked and alarmed ; and the Widow and Carlo began to perceive that crooked policy, even when successful, brings with it its own punishment in subsequent fears and anxieties. Their suspicions instantly fell on Mosca Lamberti as the instigator, at least, of the intended assassination ; not merely in revenge for the affront to his kinswoman Amidea, but also as a means of preventing the marriage of Imma with his favoured rival. Nothing could exceed Imma's sorrow and dismay.

“It is 1,” said she, wringing her hands; “it is I that have been the cause of this. For

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sake

you have created to yourself such enemies. What can I ever do to compensate for all that you

have given up for me, and for the dangers you incur for me?"

“No, Imma,” replied her lover, “I hold danger as nothing when you are to be the prize ; and I have given up nothing; I have been saved by you from a cold and heartless marriage.

“Ah!" sighed she, “ I should be better satisfied could I but believe that Amidea's heart was not in the union ; that I had not so deeply injured her as I fear I have done, and shall suffer for it. This anguish, these alarms I feel for your safety, are the foretaste of future penance.”

“ Be satisfied, dearest Imma; from some important information I have just received I can now, with the utinost certainty, assure you that, instead of injuring Amidea, you have materially served her by freeing her from a marriage with me. Amidea will yet be much more happy by the dissolution of our contract than she could have been by its fulfilment. Do not ask me why, for I am not at

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my wife."

liberty to explain ; but I am a true prophet when I foretell that Amidea will, ere long, bless us both for what has taken place."

"May it be so !" said Imma, fervently. “Yet I cannot but fear when I remember that none of us (I mean of us the Donati) cared for Amidea's feelings or fate, but only for our own; and that we may yet be visited for our selfishness."

“Dear girl," replied Buondelmonte, “ you pay me an ill compliment when you express so much dread at the idea of becoming

“Oh, no! you wrong me; it is not for myself I fear, but for you, lest the transgressions of the Donati be visited on you. Oh! better far were it for me to have relinquished you, and to have been the silent and only sufferer.”

Buondelmonte endeavoured to soothe her fears with every expression that his deep and devoted attachment suggested, and then they both felt that every other consideration would vanish before the happiness of living for each other.

“I am a foolish and wicked girl," said Imma, smiling at last, to play the self-tormentor when I ought to be so grateful. Oh! I cannot describe the anguish I felt when I stood in the church and saw you about to be separated from me for ever. I then thought if a miracle interposed' in my behalf I should be the happiest of mortals ; and so I am-and so I will be. That seemingly insurmountable distress being got over shall be as a pledge to me for the vanquishing of all others."

“Yes, Imma; it was a good omen and a true, for the assassin's ambush has been also surmounted."

“ And that blessed deliverer, my benefactor," she cried, with enthusiasm ; “shall I not know his name to remember it in my prayers?"

"Not yet, Imma ; I am pledged to secrecy.”
“ But can we do nothing for him ?” she persisted.

“I have already been his benefactor," replied Buondelmonte, smiling; " and one day or other I expect he will tell you so.”

At this moment a messenger arrived from the archbishop in Florence, bringing to Madonna Donati intelligence of the answer from the Papal Court. All crowded eagerly round the Widow, who, with a heightened colour and nervous hands, cut the silken string that secured the archbishop's letter. Buondelmonte put his arm round Imma's waist and drew her to him, as if resolved not to part with her, and she looked up to him pale and trembling. The suspense lasted but for a moment; the Widow cast a hasty glance over the missive, and exclaimed, “Joy ! all is well !"

The Buondelmonti and the Donati had employed all their interest at Kome; they had spared neither gold nor exertions, and they had prospered. The Guelphs had ever been the firm adherents of the Papal cause, and it was but natural that their petition

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