The Moor of Milan
The Moor of Milan
A Complete Novelette
H. C. BAILEY
“NOW my master,” said said Messire Thibaut, “has the nature of a baby, which being in bed tries to fall out or being by the fire tries to fall in, is never content with what it has and—to sum up—wants the world. Such is my master.”
This is to explain why Silvain rode out from the pleasant town of Novara. There he had honor and revenues, there he was loved, but it gave him nothing to do. For a while the boy who reigned there and his sister had been in peril, and Silvain was content to guard them. But in their weakness their neighbors had not assailed them, and soon alliance with the Duke of Savoy made them safe against any enemy. The children had no more need of him, Novara basked in peace and Silvain rode away.
He made over the dank ricefields for Milan in quest of deeds. Milan offered good hope of war. Its master, Lodovico Sforza, whom men called the Moor, because his face was dark, had to meet danger from the southward. Florence and Naples were arming against him. He had the name of a subtle and bold captain, he was likely to be pressed hard. In his affairs Silvain saw promise of noble ventures. And it was common talk that Lodovico had won the King of France to come to his help. Then a knight who fought for Lodovico would find himself fighting under the golden lilies in the army of France. Silvain asked no better fortune of God for life or death.
So he rode happily over that somber, misty plain, mighty handsome with his blue and gold and his glittering breastplate and his gallant black charger. Messire Thibaut had a good Lombardy mare, and the steel on his narrow chest was engraved and bright and the rest of him crimson velvet—which made his gaunt face look the hungrier—and he led a horse which bore a great pack of armor and fine clothes. With all these riches they caught up a knight who had none.
He was solid in the saddle, not a great height but square. No squire rode with him and he carried all his own armor and arms—helmet on, shield hung from his neck, lance upright in the stirrup—and all were good honest stuff and well kept but plain.
Silvain saluted him—
“We go the same way, sir. Give me leave to ride with you.”
“If you choose a poor man’s company you are welcome,” the stranger answered readily.
His vizor was up and Silvain saw a round rosy face smiling. The man was younger than his square bulk suggested; he looked a simple lad.
“I have my fortune to win yet,” Silvain smiled back.
“And I have all to win and only myself to lose.”
“Sir, I think we are made to be friends. I am Silvain de St. Lo, a knight of France, and I ride through the world seeking honor.”
The stranger bowed to the great name.
“For my part I am riding to Milan,” he said, “and my name is Louis Bonivard. I have come out of Switzerland to take my pleasure in Italy.” He laughed shyly. “You see; I am nobody, Sir Silvain. And you—you are a knight of renown. It is a great thing to me to ride by your side.”
“Are your ventures all to come, Louis? Happy man!”
“I can not tell. God send I shall not fail in my hour,” said Louis humbly, and began to make Silvain talk of his adventures. He had an eager appetite for tales of fighting and plied Silvain with questions of how each deed was done, and his wonder and his boyish praises were pleasant to hear.
But Messire Thibaut, jogging along behind, made grimaces.
“What does this Switzer want of us?” said he to himself. “Oh, my master, tell me what a great man you are, quoth my wife as she felt for my purse.”
Louis Bonivard seemed to want nothing but to hear how Silvain had broken into a castle here or out of a castle there and every device of rescue or flight, and they came very happily to Milan. There the only harm that he did was to confess he could not afford so fine an inn as that which Messire Thibaut thought fit for his master’s greatness.
He was for going off alone to some humbler place and when Silvain swore they should lodge together he had many shy excuses and apologies. And Thibaut, though he made a sour face at the little remote tavern to which they came, could not much blame the lad who would plainly have been well content to part from them. And Louis, like a good youth, fell to grooming his horse and cleaning his armor while Silvain went out to see the town.
None so busy, none so rich he had found in all his travels. It bewildered him. He lingered a while where, dimly seen through a veil of workmen’s tackle, the white magnificence of the cathedral rose for his worship. He went on to discover a town of palaces and townsfolk with the state and the airs of courtiers. He must needs wonder how so many people could be wealthy and who could buy all the show of silver ware and silken stuffs in the shops. A town of enchantment, a paradise of the works of men.
He was ill at ease. Not in such a place as this was there honor for a bright sword, he came to the castle and saw a troop of hired men-at-arms march out. They were trained men, well drilled and their equipment gorgeous, but they had no spirit in them. They moved like lackeys. They made a square before the castle and a crowd gathered and gaped, and a herald came out and made proclamation of a trial at arms to which the Lord Lodovico bade all gentlemen of noble blood.
SILVAIN went back to his little tavern singing to himself. Louis Bonivard was in a corner with pen and paper
“Do you write chronicles or ballads, child?” Silvain laughed.
“If you please, I keep my accounts,” said Louis Bonivard.
Silvain opened his eyes. Such a knight was new to him.
“Here is better work for you, Louis,” he said gently. “They hold a trial of arms in Milan tomorrow.”
“Oh, sir, you will win rich honor,” said Louis Bonivard.
“We will venture ourselves,” Silvain smiled. “It is a noble chance for a young knight. All Italy will hear of him who does gallantly.”
“I?” said Bonivard. “Alas, my lord, I dare not. I have not proved myself.”
“By my faith that is a reason to dare, not flinch, child.”
“I would not flinch in fight, I think,” said Bonivard meekly. “But I do not seek a fight, sir. I have no mind to match myself against proved champions. I should go down.”
This reasonable temper was disgusting to Silvain. He set himself for the good of Louis Bonivard’s soul to shame the lad into riding in the joust. Bonivard was humble, smooth, impenetrable. Silvain could not make him feel that to stand out of a trial for fear of failure was dishonor. Nothing stirred him, not reproach nor appeal nor mockery. Silvain could hardly believe he was real. And at last in despair, “Fie, go to your accounts. That is fit work for you,” he cried and stalked away, and Louis Bonivard made a supper of bread and beans and went off to sleep by his horse. In the morning he was gone.
Silvain and Thibaut in all their glory rode out to the castle. The lists were set in the tilt-yard, where under a canopy sat the Lord Lodovico and his lady, Beatrice, and their court. At one end a triple tent was hung with three shields, for the order of the fight was that three of Lodovico’s captains defied all who came against them. At the other end gathered those ready to venture, and heralds took their names and ranks. Each man might choose which shield his squire should strike, which captain he would challenge and attack. When Silvain gave his name he asked which of the three was accounted the best knight. The heralds answered him that all were great champions.
“God be thanked,” said he. “Go forward, brother, and strike upon each shield and all.”
Then the marshals of the lists whispered together and the other knights who had come to the joust, flashing Italian soldiers of fortune, stared at him and one cried out—
“Who are you, sir, that you should go first?”
“Sir, I am a stranger and claim to go before no man. But I crave leave to answer any man who hangs up his shield to fight.”
The end of that was that others began the joust, and with ill fortune. For the three captains, Ercole of Mantua and Gottfried the Saxon and Basil of Rhodes, were nobly mounted and equipped, and, though none of them had the vigor of youth, they were heavy men and strong in the saddle and ready with all the devices of the tilt-yard. Man after man went down before their lances, and the only point they lost in a dozen courses was by chance, when a youth from Genoa on a wild horse broke his lance on Basil, though Basil missed him as he swerved.
The townspeople were cheering the three champions of Milan, the great folks under the canopy whispering and yawning, and the Lord Lodovico was heard to swear that there was no young blood in Italy, when Thibaut rode down the lists and made a lance-head chime on each of the three shields.
Lodovico bent a dark brow to stare at him and sent to ask who his master might be, and the ladies tittered and called Messire Thibaut a splendid scarecrow.
“Like master, like man,” quoth Lodovico. “Here is some mad knight-errant.”
“Then he is very welcome, my lord,” said the Lady Beatrice. “God have mercy, we need a madman in Milan. Here is nothing but cold sanity,” and she made believe to shiver.
Lodovico smiled at her.
“I am condemned. You live in romance, Lady, and I in this dull world. It is my misfortune.”
A herald came to Lodovico and said that the challenger was a Frenchman, Silvain de St. Lo.
“I was in the right, Beatrice,” Lodovico laughed. “A madman it is—the knight-errant of Novara.”
“That man! Look to me well, my lord, I lost my heart to him long ago. Oh, I pray that he will go down!”
“What? Why should you want him beaten if you love him?”
“Oh man, man! I would have him defeated that I might comfort him. And I know he would be divine in defeat.”
But she was not to see Silvain beaten that day.
WHEN he rode against Ercole, who was accounted the stronger of the three champions, each man broke his first lance fairly with no advantage and at the second, Silvain, riding faster and coming forward sharply in the saddle at the shock, struck Ercole upon the helmet and hurled him down. Then Gottfried came out and tried to use Silvain’s own tactics against him, but rode so fast that his aim at Silvain’s head was wild and Silvain swayed from it, and the point missed while Gottfried crashed upon Silvain’s lance and was brought up with shattered shield and the lancehead in his arm.
Basil, the knight from Rhodes, was cunning and in the first course swerved and crossed Silvain and struck him on the body, a foul stroke. The marshals spoke together, conferred with Lodovico and proclaimed that Basil was vanquished. Silvain demanded a second course. Basil was sullen and yielded only when Lodovico sent to bid him win back his honor. He rode out like a beaten man. He was hurled from the saddle, bent and whirling. And Silvain turned his horse and came back to the heralds and bade them proclaim that Sir Silvain de St. Lo would ride a course against any knight who sought to win honor that day.
Ercole, the vanquished Ercole, sent a herald to ask that Silvain would ride another course with him. It was against the rule and the marshals came to confer with Lodovico.
“Ercole is down,” said he. “Why should the Frenchman let him up again? But if he will he may.”
So they left it to Silvain to decide.
“Why, my lords,” he cried, “how should I refuse a knight who would prove himself upon me? Let us ride it, I pray you.”
When Lodovico heard that, he shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
“Here is a gambler!” quoth he. “Having won all the stakes, he will set them all on another cast.”
“A dear mad fellow,” said the Lady Beatrice. “I pray that he loses. That would be perfect.”
But he did not lose. Ercole came on a fresh horse and Silvain on the charger that had carried him in all his courses. Ercole rode at a great pace and aimed at Silvain’s helm and struck it, indeed. But Silvain, going soberly, bent forward to the shock and the lancepoint glanced up and away, and Ercole, having made ready for a heavy blow which did not come, reeled in the saddle as Silvain’s lance met his shield. He was thrust from his horse easily like a bad rider and heard men laugh as he fell. And once more the heralds proclaimed him vanquished.
“I pray you, sirs,” said Silvain, “ask if any other knight will come against me that I may help him to win honor.”
But Lodovico stood up and cried—
“Enough, enough! Sir Silvain de St. Lo, we judge you victor. For you have conquered by skill in arms and by courtesy. You have the honor of this trial.”
Then the marshals came to Silvain and took off his helmet and led him between them to the Lady Beatrice and he knelt at her feet, and she put over his head a golden chain, and there were trumpets for him and shouting.
IN THIS manner Silvain came to lodge in the castle of Milan. For Lodovico, as the custom was, made him the guest of honor at a banquet and then would not let him go, swearing that he could not afford to lose a knight of such prowess. It seemed to Silvain that the trial at arms had been planned to discover a champion for Lodovico’s service, and he was content. But the only task offered him was to amuse the Lady Beatrice. She took possession of him; she would not tire of making him talk.
In her bower, a place of white marble and ebony and silver, she lay on a couch, lithe and beautiful in a gown that clung rosy about her and left white shoulders and bosom bare. She set her hands behind her head, hidden in her golden hair and laughed at him.
“What do you want of the world?” she said. “You have lived your life, winning fortune for other folks, and your youth goes by and you have no joy of it and——”
“Lady, I have never known man nor woman who lived happier.”
“Then look at me!” she cried.
“Indeed that would make any man happy.”
“By my faith, it has made some men wretched, Silvain,” she smiled. “Look at me, then. I have all things at my desire, riches and honor and power. And you are a lonely, poor knight, who has won nothing by all his striving and must die naked as he was born.”
“So must we all,” Silvain said.
“But I shall have lived my life. You will have had nothing of yours.”
“By God’s grace, I have done some little things,” Silvain said gently.
“And I have done nothing? Is that it? Why, child, the world will talk of Beatrice of Milan when you are dead and dust. I have had power over men. But let me be what you say. I have done nothing, I am nothing! Then in God’s name why do you come to serve me?”
“I serve those who need, lady. For the joy of the venture and the honor.”
She flung out her white arms and pointed at him:
“He saves others! himself he will not save!” And she laughed. “A saint you are, not a knight nor a man.”
It was there or thereabouts that Lodovico came in. He was with them before they knew it, for he had a stealthy manner. He looked from one to the other; there was no sign of what he thought on his handsome dark face, but he said with a clank of mockery:
“You amuse my wife, sir. You are more fortunate than I am.”
“Why he thinks he is,” said Beatrice. “I have never known a man so pleased with himself. Show him all that you have, my lord, and he will say, ‘I thank you; I had rather be Silvain de St. Lo.’”
“He is happy,” said Lodovico.
“Oh, happy!” she cried. “But why does he come to Milan? Did ever you meet a man in your house who wanted nothing?”
“There is no such man in the world,” said Lodovico.
“At least I have never seen him,” Silvain smiled. “Sir, my lady jeers at me. I am the greediest soul alive. I have sought fortune and honor all my days.”
“And what have you won?” said the lady. “Not six feet of ground for your grave.”
“I have had honor of men,” Silvain said gently. “I have my fame that I could lay at the feet of God if I die tonight. And my life is not lived yet.”
Lodovico looked at his wife. Lodovico’s thin lips smiled.
“You are right. He wants nothing of you. That is what a woman can not forgive. What will you give him, Beatrice? Death?” He turned to Silvain. “You have made an enemy, sir.” His smile faded; his dark face was expressionless. “It is unfortunate. I had something to offer you, but my lady rules all.”
“You!” Beatrice laughed. “What could you give him, Lodovico? If you gave him all the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them he would not serve you.”
“You are bitter, madam,” said Lodovico. “I pray you let us speak man to man. Sir, I have only a venture to give you, a venture of danger and honor. I ask your service for a woman in need. You are free to choose.”
“My lord, I shall thank you for any noble venture,” said Silvain.
“It is this: Pavia was friendly to Milan of old and I do not hide from you it is much to me in the war which comes upon us that the town should be friendly stiff. Its lord died in the Spring and his only heir is the Lady Clarissa. But he kept a company of hireling soldiers, and their chief, Carlo the Sicilian, has seized the town and the lady, and he holds her prisoner and has made himself lord of Pavia in her stead. If I march against him and make a siege of the town, before I break in he will surely kill her. I find no hope for her in war or policy. To take up her cause is to condemn her to death. I dare not do it.
“So here is a venture desperate enough. I am frank with you. If you can save her it will serve me well for I can fight for her right and drive Carlo to the —— and win the town. But it is for her I bid you go. She must waste away in prison or die murdered when her death will serve Carlo, unless a man comes who can deliver her.”
“You bid the man go to his death, my lord,” she said. “For the joy of the venture and the honor of it!” And she looked at Silvain and laughed.
“I go, lady,” Silvain said.
PAVIA stands where rivers meet in the plain. It stood within great walls then and men called it the city of a hundred towers, so many there were on the ramparts and within the town, gaunt things of ancient brick.
Into Pavia as the evening mists were rising from the wet rice fields came two shabby travelers. They were soldiers by trade, they said, at the humble tavern to which they went, they hired themselves out to merchants who needed a guard for their caravans of goods, they were looking for another job, but times were bad and at the best it was a dog’s life. Please St. Nicholas, they might find business doing in Pavia.
Such was the tale Thibaut told the landlord over a flash of harsh red Lombardy wine and he told it well. But at the end he looked up into the simple young face of Louis Bonivard. It was Messire Thibaut who showed surprise. Louis Bonivard saluted him with a stranger’s civility:
“A newcomer, sir? You have chosen a good inn,” and turned away to speak to a servant and went out.
In the street Silvain came up behind him.
“Sir, we must know each other better,” Silvain said and linked arms with him.
“Sir, you flatter me. But when we parted you did not want to know any more of me. Well, I was content.”
“It is possible I have done you a wrong. I did not expect to meet Louis Bonivard in Pavia.”
Bonivard looked quickly round him. There was no one near them.
“I ride through Italy for my pleasure,” he said.
“Pavia is no town of pleasure.”
“You are wrong, sir. I have had very pleasant hours in Pavia.”
“Pray sir, show me how to enjoy the place,” said Silvain.
“What do you want of me?” he said in a low voice. “Why do you follow me?”
“By my faith, I did not follow you. That I should find you in Pavia, I never thought when I came.”
“Then go your way and let me go mine. You despise me, you told me so. What I do is nothing to you and, I promise you, what you may do is nothing to me.”
“Sir, you are very mysterious.”
“I?” Bonivard laughed. “I am a simple Swiss gentleman riding to see the world. But you—” he shrugged—“my faith, what are you? If I go to the castle and tell my Lord Carlo that Silvain de St. Lo is in the town in disguise you will not long be free.”
“Who knows?” Silvain smiled. “For you will not go, my friend.”
“I owe you nothing and I do not fear you.”
“Then go if you will and betray me. It is true, I am here by stealth and in disguise. I have come to Pavia to deliver the Lady Clarissa from her prison. Here is news that Carlo will pay a price for, my friend.”
“You are mad,” said Louis Bonivard, and again he looked behind him. Then he began to laugh. “Why do you tell me such a tale?”
“Because it is true. See, I am in your hand, Louis. Betray me; go your own way; join with me—you have the choice.”
Bonivard did not answer. He turned sharp out of the narrow street into the square before the castle and led Silvain into the middle of it. There certainly no one could overhear them.
“You are very careful, Louis.” Silvain smiled.
“What is the Lady Clarissa to you?” said Bonivard in a low voice.
“I never saw her. But she is a woman in captivity. It is a knight’s work to deliver her.”
“What have you to gain by it?”
“Oh Louis, Louis!” Silvain shook his head. “You are still keeping accounts! I seek nothing and nothing shall I take but the honor of the venture.”
“But it is a mad thing,” said Bonivard heavily. “She is here in prison and Carlo has five hundred men-at-arms in his pay. What can you do for her?”
“Have you found no way to her yet?” said Silvain softly.
Bonivard stopped and stared at him and said at last:
“Swear that you will be true to her, Sir Silvain.”
“I have never been false to man or woman. By my father’s soul I will be true to you and your lady.”
Bonivard grasped his hand.
“I should thank God for you. This is a hard venture. But tell me how did you know I came for her? If any man suspects me, there is no hope for me or her.”
“I think no man knows you but me, Louis. You are the wariest youth in the world. But you puzzled me. You were so eager to hear of knightly ventures, yet when one came you would not take it. I thought then it was for your own sake you were careful. But still you puzzled me. When I found you here in Pavia I saw light. You were not your own man. You have saved yourself for a nobler venture. I put you to the test and you showed me yourself while you tried to hide. Forgive me, Louis.”
“I might have trusted you,” Bonivard said. “Sir, I loved the Lady Clarissa long ago and while her father lived I had hope of her. For she gave me her heart, though he planned a better marriage. Then his death came and this knave Carlo flung her into prison. My father bade me forget her, for our lands are far away by Geneva and he would not venture his strength in Italy. But I was bound to her and I am here.”
“It is well done,” said Silvain. “And now, what is to do? In which of the hundred towers is your lady? Have you found her yet?”
“I have found her,” Bonivard said heavily.
THEY passed through the dark streets and climbed the rampart where it was low on the riverbank. Close upon the water, bulging out from the rampart like a buttress, rising high above it, stood a tower.
“She is there. It is the red tower, where the lords of Pavia kept the townsfolk who troubled them. And if the town tried to rescue them, they were flung into the river.”
“She is there,” Silvain repeated and looked long. He could make out no guard at the gate, but in the dark mass of the tower a narrow window here and there made a point of light. “You are sure?”
Bonivard whistled a scrap of a tune. Silvain recognized an old folk song:
When at night I lie in bed
I bethink me of my love.
It was lost in the murmur of the river. But one of the lights in the tower moved, it was hidden, something white waved from a window.
“She is there,” Bonivard said. “She is waiting. And I—I can not tell what to do.”
“Go and sleep, Louis. I watch,” said Silvain.
“Watch here? You must not be seen. That would destroy us all.”
“I was never yet seen unless I chose. Go, child, go. Tell my brother Thibaut I do not need him this night.”
IN THE morning he came reeling into the tavern like a man who had spent the night in a debauch and while he slept Messire Thibaut complained to the landlord that he was a sad fellow, a weak fellow, a drunken dog. When he waked, he had nothing to tell the anxious Bonivard but that he would watch another night.
When he came back on the second day, weak in the leg again and Confused in the head, Messire Thibaut swore to the landlord that he had had enough of it and there was no holding the fellow in a town and they must take the road again. So, as soon as Silvain could be waked, he was set on his horse and led away. Out of Pavia they went and beyond the town Louis Bonivard caught them up.
“What device is this, sir?” he asked eagerly. “You do not trust me, though I have trusted in you.”
“I shall trust you with my life tonight, child,” Silvain said. “Be patient. If we have not our horses safe beyond the town there is no safety.”
Bonivard stared and saw that Thibaut had a led-horse with a bundle on its back.
“Yes, lord, here is your lady’s horse and here is her saddle,” said Thibaut. “That I have found for you. Go find the lady; that is your part.”
They left Messire Thibaut with all the horses and came back to the town afoot and stole in in the dusk by another gate and in another tavern Louis Bonivard wrote his lady a letter thus:
Do not sleep but be ready.
When it was dark they walked on the ramparts, and coming near the tower Silvain took from under his cloak an orange and tossed it up into the barred window from which the lady had waved.
“Please God she is alone,” Bonivard muttered.
“They keep her alone,” said Silvain placidly. “She could never have come to the window else. Do not begin to fear, brother.”
Alone she was, for in a while she came to the window again and waved her scarf.
“The letter is read,” said Silvain. “We have no more to do here this long while.”
And he took Bonivard to supper at the other end of the town.
When honest folk were abed, they came to the riverside again and at the steps by the bridge Silvain stayed a moment and counted the boats tied there and stole down and looked at their fastenings. Then he climbed back to the ramparts and they drew into the shadow of the battlements and waited.
All the clocks of Pavia had struck twelve. The officer of the night was going his rounds. They saw him coming back from the bridge gate on the farther bank, lighted by a lantern that his sergeant carried. Sergeant and officer climbed to the ramparts.
As they came by Silvain rose and struck at their heads. Both men went down before they knew it and the only sound was the thud of the falling bodies. Then Silvain and Bonivard lashed them up together in their own girdles and gagged them with their own dagger hilts and took their cloaks from them and their lantern and went on to the tower.
Muffled in the officer’s cloak, Silvain knocked and when he was challenged made answer as he had heard answer given on other nights, that he was the officer of the rounds. The door was opened. A sleepy sergeant of the guard grinned and asked if the captain would drink a cup of wine.
Silvain strode into a dimly lighted entry. Out of it a winding stair climbed up the tower. A door stood open from it to a guardroom beyond where three men sprawled at their ease.
The sergeant turned away to fetch the wine. His keys were snatched from his hand. He found himself lying on his face in the guardroom and heard the door slam behind him. Before he or his men had collected their wits they were locked in.
Bonivard darted up the stair with the keys in his hand. He cried, “Clarissa! Clarissa!” heard her answer, and found the door of the cell and had her in his arms.
“Swift, my children,” Silvain called.
The men in the guardroom had begun to hammer at the door and shout, but the door was strong and the windows were barred.
Bonivard and his Clarissa came tumbling downstairs, Silvain thrust them out before him and shut the door of the tower and locked it and tossed the keys into the river. Bonivard and he took the girl between them and ran along the ramparts. From the tower the clamor of the imprisoned guard came dull on the night air.
“They will rouse the town,” Bonivard panted.
“Time is all,” said Silvain. “Do not fear yet, brother.”
But the woman laughed.
“What is fear now?” she said.
They came to the steps by the bridge and scrambled into a boat, and Silvain lashed with his sword at the ropes that bound the other boats and set all adrift on the swift stream.
Downstream they sped, close under the ramparts and as they went heard footsteps above them and voices, saw lights moving toward the clamor in the tower. But safe and unchallenged they came beyond the walls and rowed on through the thin mist.
AN OWL hooted over the bank. Silvain looked round.
“Pull your left, brother,” he said, and lay on his oars.
The boat turned out of the rush of the stream into slack water, brushed against reeds and shallows. The owl hooted again. Silvain bent to his oars and the boat came into the bank by firm ground.
There stood Messire Thibaut with his horses, and his teeth chattered. Bonivard swung his lady ashore and put her in the saddle.
But Thibaut grunted—
“Now are we out of the trap, as the rats said when they were let loose for the dogs.”
“Ride, brother, ride,” Silvain said. “The road to Milan.”
“That is the road of all roads they will look for us, lord.”
“It is the only road to safety, brother. Forward, forward!”
Messire Thibaut led on through the night mists. They had to cross the fields by a narrow causeway on which they could make no speed.
When they came at last to the high road Silvain bade the others ride on and himself halted to listen. Through the quiet murmurs of the night harsher sounds were borne; he heard a trumpet call and another.
“So! They are after us already,” he smiled. “This Carlo is better served than I thought.”
He galloped away.
When he was up with the others he bade Thibaut lead and set such a pace as a company of men-at-arms could hold, keeping together.
“So we shall spare our horses and they will not gain on us.”
“But who told you they will keep together, lord?” Thibaut protested. “Surely they will send on their best horses at their best speed.”
“I shall be ready, brother,” said Silvain. “You are the guide. Sir Louis rides with his lady. I am the rear guard. Forward!”
And what happened was what he had foreseen. The pursuers, not knowing how strong the fugitives might be, held together but sent light horsemen on ahead to find them. The dark of the night fought for Silvain, who, when he heard a horse gaining on him, halted and waited and dashed at the rider unawares and beat him down. So he held off the scouts and the main body coming upon one man and another overthrown were assured that they had a strong force in front of them and followed the more soberly, and the fugitives made mile after mile toward Milan and kept their lead.
But Messire Thibaut looked to the eastward and groaned.
“The night is our friend,” said he. “Now comes the day.”
A streak of the eastern sky gave a pale light, clear between cloud banks. The mist over the ricefields grew silvery. Silvain drew up beside Bonivard.
“Forward, now, Louis,” he said. “No more use to nurse the horses. Carry her off. Ride, ride!”
Bonivard looked at him.
“You have the honor,” he said hoarsely. “Come, Clarissa.” And they galloped on.
Silvain and Thibaut held their old steady pace and Thibaut looked about him over the open country, where was no cover near or far, nor any turn in the straight road and hunched his shoulders. “Pity me,” he grunted. “I shall die without my breakfast.”
They were seen. The squadron behind them saw how few they were and broke rank and came roaring on. Silvain checked and turned, and drew his sword. But some one else had seen them too. Away down the road to Milan a single horseman was halted holding aloft a lance with a pennon and he blew a trumpet call and cried a challenge to Bonivard.
Silvain turned again.
“Milan!” he shouted. “Friends of Milan! Milan to aid!” and Thibaut and he galloped after Bonivard. “Silvain of France I am,” he cried as he came. “I ride for the Lord Lodovico.”
Other horsemen were coming up to the man with the lance. They barred the road, they brought Bonivard and the lady to a stand.
“Let them pass, friends,” Silvain cried. “I bring them to the Lord Lodovico. And here is Carlo of Pavia hunting us and we are spent. Hold off his knaves for me.”
The horsemen were now some half-score and had an officer. He stared at Silvain, raised his hand in salute.
“Open out, lads. Let them pass. Ride to the captain, Beppo, and tell him Sir Silvain has come with the girl and a pack of wolves at his heels. How many, my lord?”
“Call them fifty, sir. Good thanks.”
“I call them a hundred. No matter; we will make play. And Ercole is behind. Good thanks to you, my lord. Here is sport. Ride on, ride on!”
He set his men going and dashed at the leaders of the pursuit and Silvain, looking over his shoulder, saw the first of a pretty skirmish, but his horse was jaded and he sighed and rode on after Bonivard.
Before them loomed up the walls of an old castle and out of it came troops of men-at-arms. Bonivard stopped and looked back at Silvain.
“Where have you brought us, sir?” he said in a low voice.
“Why, that is Binasco, a castle of Lodovico’s. We are on his land now. By my faith, it was time, Louis.” Silvain laughed and looked back at the skirmish. “He keeps good watch on his frontier.”
“Is Lodovico your lord?” Bonivard frowned. “He is none of mine. I do not trust him.”
“He and his have saved you. And safe you are, Louis. Trust me.”
A burly knight came cantering up at the head of a squadron, Ercole, Silvain’s old foe of the trial of arms.
“Well done, brother,” he laughed and waved his hand. “I do the rest,” and he clattered on to the fight and after him came another squadron of horse and a great company of footmen.
Slowly along the side of the road Silvain and his party came to the castle.
“What have you for me now?” Bonivard said sullenly.
“A day’s sleep, child,” Silvain smiled. “That is her need,” and he looked at Clarissa who hung over her horse’s neck and swayed.
“In Lodovico’s castle? Not I. I ride on. I will not trust him.”
“You are my guest, Sir Louis,” Silvain said. “I pray you is there any reason why you should not trust me?”
“Oh Louis!” Clarissa cried and looked at him piteously and began to weep.
“Hush, hush, for ——’s sake,” Bonivard cried.
“She has borne enough,” Silvain said gently. “You are safe, lady; you and he. I say it, I, Silvain de St. Lo. Go in!”
INTO the castle courtyard they rode and a sleek seneschal, bowing low before Silvain declared that the castle was at his orders, for the Lord Lodovico had sent orders to give Sir Silvain de St. Lo all honor if he came.
Silvain smiled. It seemed to him that Lodovico felt a proper confidence in his success. And honor they had at Binasco, zealous service, rich fare and rooms of luxury and quiet, and so slept out the day.
Silvain waked in the gloaming with a servant beside him who said that the Lady Beatrice had come to the castle and bade him wait on her.
He was taken to the warden’s tower and went up to the council chamber and found her there alone. She started up and saluted him like a man.
“Hail, conqueror!” she laughed. “I have flown to your triumph. All hail! And now you have won her, what will you do with her? Give her away?”
“No, my lady.”
Beatrice clasped her hands and made a face of languishing ecstasy.
“Oh heaven! The all-conquering is conquered at last! He has found a creature worthy of his excellence. He deigns to be in love. But what honor for her. I——”,
“No, my lady,” said Silvain. “I have not given her to any one because she was not mine to give. I have no right over the Lady Clarissa.”
Beatrice made a parody of a royal gesture of refusal.
“The —— take you, you will be noble,” said she. “‘No, my princess’,” she mimicked Silvain’s voice, “‘I have won you but I will not wear you. I have no right. Do not cry. It is true you do not interest me. But no one does except myself. I am a hero and I never forget it.’”
And for the third time Silvain said:
“No, my lady, I did not win the Lady Clarissa. I did not deliver her. There was a man before me, her own knight, Sir Louis Bonivard. I had only to guide them here.”
That startled her. She stared at him incredulous.
“Bonivard?” she repeated. “One of the Bonivards of Geneva? The girl had him for her lover! And you brought them here? Now why?”
“Why, I trusted the Lord Lodovico to be ready to guard his frontier. And ready he was.”
“Yes, Lodovico is ready. That is his way. But I do not think he was ready for this. What is she like, your Clarissa?”
“She is a gracious lady and brave.”
“Is that all? Poor wench; what a portrait! If that were the best of her I could understand. But I would not trust you to know whether a woman is black or white. Come, let us see the lass and her lad.”
She clapped her hands for a servant and gave orders that Clarissa and Bonivard should be brought to sup with her, and glided out of the room.
When she came back she was mighty fine in a low dress of crimson with sapphires in her yellow hair, at her girdle and in a star upon her bosom. She made Silvain give his arm to her down the stairs, and so together they came into the hall where Bonivard and Clarissa waited, looking like two children, and shabby children, before her studied beauty and her splendors. For Clarissa was slight and small and dark, a graceful, pretty girl but outshone into insignificance by the maturity and the glowing color of the older woman, and Bonivard had the awkwardness of youth and no skill to hide that he was ill at ease.
Beatrice chose to make the worst of them. She was all condescension, all sympathy, and so contrived that they should show how nervous they were, how uncomfortable in the elaborate luxury of Binasco. Not a word, not a look of mockery came from her and yet Silvain new well enough that she was mocking them and him and, having no recourse, could only hope that Clarissa did not know.
Bonivard put an end to it.
“You will pardon us, my lady,” he started up. “It is late and in the morrow we have far to go.”
“That is true, sir. You have very far to go. And you must start tomorrow? Well, it is your choice. If I do not see you again, I wish you a pleasant journey.”
Clarissa made a shy curtsey and out they went.
“And you, sir—” Beatrice turned to Silvain—“will you go with them?”
“I think they do not need me.”
“Fie, how can you forsake her!”
“And I hope that the Lord Lodovico has other ventures of honor for me.”
“By ——, it is very possible!” she cried. “Well, he will be here tomorrow.”
AND in the morning early Silvain heard trumpets sound and saw Lodovico ride in with a guard, tired men on tired horses, travel-stained.
Silvain dressed himself quickly and made for the warden’s tower. A man-at-arms stood sentry at the foot of the stair, but he was taken up to the council chamber. It was empty and he had long to wait and then came not Lodovico but Beatrice, Beatrice in a loose gown with a golden plait hanging over each shoulder to her bosom.
“And what do you want of my lord that you are in such haste to seek him?” She looked at Silvain curiously. “Greedy dogs come scurrying when they hear the master’s step. But to give you justice, there is no greed in you.”
“You have always given me more than justice. I am come to tell him what I have done.”
“He knows, my friend. Lodovico always knows. But wait and see him. He is well pleased with you.”
Lodovico came in, bathed and perfumed, in a loose gown like his wife’s and indeed not unlike a woman in spite of his leanness. For he came with little mincing steps, he held out both hands and took Silvain’s and patted them, his voice was soft and caressing:
“It is good to see you, Silvain. The sun shines on me this morning. Forgive us, you find us like homely folk. But I could not wait for ceremony when they told me it was you. And she—” he smiled upon his wife—“she is so full of you I am jealous, I promise you. You are her hero, her paladin. There, sit down, man, and let me hear you tell your tale.” But he did not wait to hear, he went on talking. “By my faith, I cannot blame her. It was a miracle, a master stroke. I——”
“And Pavia is ours today,” said Beatrice quietly.
“Yours, my lord?” Silvain said.
“Oh, that was Ercole’s part. He came down upon the rogues that hunted you and drove them helter-skelter. The old knave Carlo had sent the best of his men out after you. There was fortune! Who could have counted on that? I vow you bring me luck, Silvain.”
“I think you counted on it, my lord. You had an army ready.”
“My friend, it was to save you if you were in danger. I praise God that they were in time to bring you off. But indeed God has ruled all for good.”
“Ercole broke into Pavia, my lord?”
“Yes, oh yes. He beat those fellows who hunted you and chased them and came into the town on their heels. And——”
“And he had infantry behind him to hold fast what he won. You thought of everything, my lord.”
Lodovico rubbed his hands.
“It has gone well, it has gone well,” he chuckled. “But let me hear your story. You were magnificent.”
“Not I, my lord. It is Louis Bonivard who delivered the lady.” And Silvain told of the rescue, making Bonivard the hero.
“By my honor, it is a romance, a love story!” Lodovico chuckled. “And so you give him the lady, Silvain?”
“She has given herself, my lord. I have no right in her.”
“Now, that is noble,” Lodovico purred. “That is the grand gesture. I hope he is worth it! What manner of man is he, this Bonivard?”
“An oaf,” said Beatrice. “A calf in love.”
“A true Swiss soldier boy! It is wonderful what a nose the rogues have for a purse. Oh, Silvain, Silvain, here is an end to romance.”
“He is a simple, honest gentleman, my lord. What will you do with him?”
“I? Oh, my friend, I have nothing for him. What does he want?”
“As I think he wants nothing but his lady. But Pavia is hers.”
“Surely, surely. She will hold Pavia as a fief of Milan. She is in my wardship. I shall be ready to marry her to a man who can give me loyal service.” He sighed and shook his head. “Why should I hide it, Silvain? I hoped that man would be you. It is why I sent you on this venture. And you have done well and more than well. You have won her. Why not wear her?”
“Bonivard,” said Silvain. “She is all for Bonivard.” And he looked keenly at Lodovico. “I do not take another man’s woman.”
“She has a rich inheritance,” Lodovico purred. “She is worth taking. Who is Lord of Pavia and stands by me will be a great man in Italy in the war that comes. When I march with the King of France on Florence and Naples, the Lord of Pavia has much to win.”
“I ride to win honor and fortune,” Silvain said and he looked at Lodovico and looked down. “But she lives for Bonivard.”
“What is Bonivard?” Beatrice cried. “My page is more of a man. If she is worth anything, she is worth something better.”
“You tempt me,” said Silvain in a low voice. “But what of Bonivard? He troubles me.”
He started up and paced moodily to and fro. Beatrice and Lodovico looked at each other, and his dark face smiled and she shrugged her shoulders and nodded and turned with a sneer on her lip to watch Silvain.
“The fair Clarissa lives for Bonivard,” Lodovico purred. “It is unfortunate. But she is young and he will not live forever.” Silvain checked and turned. “Men do not live forever in prison. Men who are in the way.”
Silvain’s sword flashed. He struck down at Lodovico’s head, struck once and with the flat of the blade. He whirled round on Beatrice.
“Make no sound, do not stir,” he said, “or this is his death.”
And as he spoke Lodovico slipped from his chair and slid to the floor in a heap.
“All is well, lady,” Silvain said gently. “This is only a swoon yet. But my sword has a point too. Do what I bid or it finds his heart. Open the door to that inner room.”
She looked at him a moment and she was as pale as he, then glided across the room and flung the door wide. Silvain saw an empty bed-chamber.
“Halt there,” he said and gathered Lodovico in his arms and strode past her and laid the senseless man on the bed. “Lady, you must call a servant, you must tell him that Louis Bonivard and his Clarissa are to be given horses and set free to go where they will. This you will say in the council chamber and there you will stay. For I shall be here by the Lord Lodovico until they are safe beyond the castle and if you give the alarm here in your bed he dies.”
“And what then, fool?” she said in a low voice. “What shall save you then?”
“What will save you, lady? For I have many devices yet. I might kill you too. I might swear that you bade me kill him.”
“You would not dare!” she cried; but she looked at him and saw that only his lips were smiling and his eyes cold and fierce. “My ——, you have no shame. This is a dastard’s trick.”
“Let it be what it will. I do not care for myself nor for you. I think of the two you sent me to betray. Do as I bid you. Go!”
She looked at him again and glided out of the room, and he stood on guard over Lodovico. After a moment he heard her clap her hands and call a servant and send for the seneschal and then:
“Oh, you are slow, Roderigo, you are slow. My lord bids you set the Swiss knight and his lady free. Give them their horses and let them go. See to it quickly.”
Her dress rustled into the bed chamber again. She came to Silvain, she looked at his set stern face, she looked down at her husband and touched his brow.
“His soul is still in his body,” Silvain said. “You have served him well.”
She turned away and went to the window. In a while the sound of horses came from the courtyard. She held out her hand and beckoned to Silvain. He came to her side and saw Bonivard and Clarissa mount and ride out and away.
She drew a long breath, she turned to Silvain and smiled.
“Well, my knight errant? And now?”
Silvain put up his sword.
“It is finished,” he said.
“Oh, but you had many devices. Come, what device have you now? You may kill him yet before help comes. You may kill me too. Be swift!”
“I promised you his life for theirs. He is safe.”
“You are wise!” she sneered. “Here are a hundred men to beat you down when they find my lord is stricken.”
“That I know well. I stand here to die.”
“Oh, you are humble at last. You will kneel and ask mercy now.”
“Not I. I ask nothing. You and your lord, you sent me out to bring a woman into your power. You tempted me to betray her and my friend. Well, I have saved them, but you made me strike down a naked man to do it and threaten his wife with death and shame. You have made me play the dastard to beat you. I thank you. I ask nothing of you.”
“You have saved them!” she said and she laughed. “He saves others; himself he can not save. By ——, you shall take something of me. Go with your life, go.”
She swept out; she called down the stair—
“Ho, there! Sir Silvain’s horses! Swift, swift!”
Silvain stood a moment, then strode forward and met her face to face. He knelt and kissed her hand.
“Forgive me, lady, I have done you a wrong in my heart. It is you who have the honor of the day and I am shamed.”
But she laughed.
“Oh, fool, fool!” she said and the echo of her laughter was with him as he went.
MESSIRE THIBAUT fidgeting for fear in the courtyard was more afraid when he saw his master’s face. For once in his life Messire Thibaut dared not speak. Their horses were brought and they mounted and rode out of that castle of Binasco, and Thibaut crossed himself and muttered prayers, but Silvain dashed on as fast as his horse could gallop.
“He rides like a man who flees from ——,” Thibaut communed with himself, “and like a man who has been in —— he looks. Pity me, where is he taking me now?”
For at the first crossroads Silvain struck off to the east away from Milan and still drove his horse on till Thibaut cried out—
“Have mercy, lord! We can not hold this pace.”
But Silvain made him no answer, nor checked. After a while they saw Bonivard and Clarissa ahead and Bonivard looked back and when he saw who they were drew rein.
But Silvain shouted at him—
“Forward, forward, make your best speed, forward!” and when he came up with them, “By my faith, you must do better than this, Louis. You should have been twenty miles away. Forward, forward!”
“What now?” cried Bonivard. “Are they hunting us again?”
“Be sure of it,” Silvain said. “Every man Lodovico can mount.”
“This is mad.” Bonivard stared at him. “When I called for. my horse this morning they said I was a prisoner and I found a guard at my door. Then they told me we were free to go and brought our horses and opened the gates. Now you say the man means to capture us again. Why, he changes like a weathercock.”
“It was not Lodovico who set you free. It was the Lady Beatrice of her mercy. For she is noble and gracious. But when Lodovico knows of it he will use all his strength to seize you. And I think by now he knows. Ride, ride!”
“Lodovico did not know? How should he not know?”
“That was a trick I played upon him, and a shameful trick. God in heaven, must we talk? Your lady is free today. See to it she is free tomorrow. That is your work.”
Bonivard’s honest face lowered.
“I do not understand!” he grumbled. “It was you who brought us to Lodovico. You are his man. And now, if this is true, you have betrayed him.”
“God in heaven, I know it,” Silvain cried. “I am shamed, do what I will. But you—” he looked at Bonivard—“by my faith, it is not you who should tell me so.”
Then Clarissa cried out—
“Oh, my lord, you have no shame in this.”
“Let it be,” Silvain said. “I do as I can.”
So they rode on in silence, through the hot Italian noon. Bonivard had chosen the road which strikes across the plain to the passes beyond Turin, the shortest way to the mountains for a man who dared not go by Milan.
“When we are in the hills we are safe,” he said, but the hills were far away.
Having made a dozen miles from the castle, Silvain was content to ride a slower pace.
“We have something in hand, I hope. Now let us nurse the horses and keep it.”
But they had ridden their horses out before he would halt. It was a squalid lonely village which received them. As soon as they had found quarters, he took Messire Thibaut to seek fresh horses. The village had nothing but oxen and mules.
“It is as well as it is, lord.” Thibaut shrugged. “We could do no more this day. The woman must rest or she will die.”
“Lodovico will not rest,” Silvain said.
“But his horses can do no more than our horses,” Thibaut protested.
Silvain did not argue it. He knew what he would do if he were Lodovico, send messengers to every town in his rule to set mounted men scouring all the roads to Switzerland. He looked for fresh pursuit from every side.
Back to the stable he went and used his horsemaster’s skill on the weary beasts, and through the night Thibaut and he kept watch and watch, and before the dawn he roused Bonivard and Clarissa and they took the road again.
In the morning twilight they saw the walls of a town and shunned it, striking away across country to join the road beyond, and this they did safely though it was slow work over the sodden fields, and their caution was justified. For they came out upon the road again beyond a picket of horsemen who shouted a challenge.
Silvain turned in the saddle and saw Lodovico’s colors.
“Peace be with you,” he cried. “We are the Duke of Savoy’s men. We ride to Turin.”
That held the horsemen a moment who talked together and again shouted to them to halt.
“Now ride, brother, ride,” Silvain said, and dashed on.
They rode lighter than those men-at-arms; they were better mounted, though their horses were jaded and they kept their lead. But the men-at-arms rode hard and a troop thundered on behind them.
Bonivard ranged alongside Silvain.
“They will ride us down in the end,” he muttered. “What hope is there if Lodovico takes us again?”
“There is none for you or me, brother. For her, I can not tell.”
“If I am to die I will die fighting,” said Bonivard.
“I shall be with you, brother. We will turn on them together and hold them some little while. It may be she will win free, God be kind to her.”
“What are you saying?” Clarissa cried.
“Ride, lady, ride,” Silvain said. “You must not be taken for our honor’s sake.”
“Give me your dagger, Louis,” she cried. “I will not be taken alive.”
Bonivard came to her side and loosed his dagger and she put it in her bosom.
“Live while I live,” he said.
“Oh, it is cruel, it is cruel,” she cried.
They were riding through a flat country of many rivers, there was no hope in turning off the road and the road lay straight and the men-at-arms held on behind in close order.
In a little while they saw a cloud of dust ahead and as they drew nearer it broke into gleams of steel.
“My God, here is the end,” Bonivard groaned. “We are taken now. Come, my lord,” and he checked his horse to turn.
But Silvain cried—
“Ride on, man, ride. These are not Milanese. I see the golden lilies.”
And he stood in his stirrups and shouted—
FOR through the dust came a gleam of the French banner. An order rang out, the squadron halted, the lances came down to the charge, a knight rode out alone.
“Who are you that come upon us?” He held up his hand. “Halt there!”
But Silvain dashed on and “Bayard!” he cried.
“God’s grace, you are Silvain de St. Lo. In a good hour, my lord.”
“Silvain I am. And it is God who brought you, my brother. Here is a lady hunted for her life. Let her pass and guard her, I pray you.”
“Why, you bring me honor.”
Bayard turned and called to his men.
Through the French lances Clarissa and Bonivard rode on and the ranks closed behind them and the Milanese horsemen, seeing that rampart of steel bar their way, checked and halted in disorder.
Bayard called to them—
“Who are you that ride against the banner of France? Go your way, I clear this road for King Charles.”
Then the captain of Lodovico’s men cried out—
“We are friends of France. We serve the Lord of Milan. He has sent us to take these rogues we hunt. Give us them, sir, and you will do your king good service. For my Lord Lodovico is his friend, you know it well.”
“I do not know you,” said Bayard. “But this I know: You have hunted a fair lady and this good knight of France. And now you stand in my way and I lead the vanguard of King Charles.” He turned in his saddle. “Advance, banner,” he shouted. “In close order. Charge!”
But Lodovico’s men did not wait for the word. They turned and made off at speed.
“You have saved me, brother,” Silvain said. “But I have brought trouble on you.”
“Good faith, here is none,” Bayard laughed.
“The king comes to join with Lodovico. And Lodovico will not forgive this day’s work. He hunted this lady and her knight because he has stolen her inheritance. He hunted me because I saved them. And he is venomous.”
“Why man, what care I? I have done right. Do not fear for me. Bayard can guard himself.”
“Be wary, brother. Your king is allied to a fiend. I would to God I could ride with you. Fare you well.”
Bayard stopped his horse.
“You must go guard the lady? So be it. But come back to us, Silvain. Here is a fair field of honor and no better knight of us all than you.”
“I dare not,” Silvain said hoarsely. “Oh, my brother, I would give my life and be glad to ride under the golden lilies with you. But you go to serve Lodovico, you and France. There is no honor in that, Bayard.”
He turned his horse and rode after Clarissa and Bonivard. Messire Thibaut was waiting for him; Messire Thibaut had sent them on by a crossroad which climbed up toward Novara and the hills, and he caught them up where they rode close, chattering like children. Clarissa turned to him and took him into their talk prettily, all happiness, and they could not make enough of him.
“But your eyes are behind you,” she cried at last. “Oh, my lord, is there danger for us yet?”
“We are safe enough,” Silvain said.
“See the sun on the snows, Clarissa,” Bonivard cried. “We shall be in the mountains tomorrow.”
“There is only sunshine before us,” she smiled. “But why do you look back, Silvain?”
Silvain pointed down the road in the plain. It gleamed in a long array of steel.
“See, there is the army of France marching to war, and a knight of France am I, and I may not ride under her banner nor fight for her. I am a lonely man and my heart is desolate.”