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       The Strolling Saint (Barnes & Noble Digital Library), p.1

           Rafael Sabatini
The Strolling Saint (Barnes & Noble Digital Library)



  This 2011 edition published by Barnes & Noble, Inc.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher.

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  ISBN: 978-1-4114-5947-2


















































  IN seeking other than in myself—as men will—the causes of my tribulations, I have often inclined to lay the blame of much of the ill that befell me, and the ill that in my sinful life I did to others, upon those who held my mother at the baptismal font and concerted that she should bear the name of Monica.

  There are in life many things which, in themselves, seeming to the vulgar and the heedless to be trivial and without consequence, may yet be causes pregnant of terrible effects, mainsprings of Destiny itself. Amid such portentous trifles I would number the names so heedlessly bestowed upon us.

  It surprises me that in none of the philosophic writings of the learned scholars of antiquity can I find that this matter of names has been touched upon, much less given the importance of which I account it to be deserving. Possibly it is because no one of them ever suffered, as I have suffered, from the consequences of a name. Had it but been so, they might in their weighty and impressive manner have set down a lesson on the subject, and so relieved me—who am all-conscious of my shortcomings in this direction—from the necessity of repairing that omission out of my own experience.

  Let it then, even at this late hour, be considered what a subtle influence for good or ill, what a very mould of character may lie within a name.

  To the dull clod of earth, perhaps, or, again, to the truly strong-minded nature that is beyond such influences, it can matter little that he be called Alexander or Achilles; and once there was a man named Judas who fell so far short of the noble associations of that name that he has changed for all time the very sound and meaning of it.

  But to him who has been endowed with imagination—that greatest boon and greatest affliction of mankind—or whose nature is such as to crave for models, the name he bears may become a thing portentous by the images it conjures up of some mighty dead who bore it erstwhile and whose life inspires to emulation.

  Whatever may be accounted the general value of this premiss, at least as it concerns my mother I shall hope to prove it apt.

  They named her Monica. Why the name was chosen I have never learnt; but I do not conceive that there was any reason for the choice other than the taste of her parents in the matter of sounds. It is a pleasing enough name, euphoniously considered, and beyond that—as is so commonly the case—no considerations were taken into account.

  To her, however, at once imaginative and of a feeble and dependent spirit, the name was fateful. St. Monica was made the special object of her devotions in girlhood, and remained so later when she became a wife. The Life of St. Monica was the most soiled and fingered portion of an old manuscript collection of the life histories of a score or so of saints that was one of her dearest possessions. To render herself worthy of the name she bore, to model her life upon that of the sainted woman who had sorrowed and rejoiced so much in her famous offspring, became the obsession of my mother's soul. And but that St. Monica had wed and borne a son, I do not believe that my mother would ever have adventured herself within the bonds of wedlock.

  How often in the stressful, stormy hours of my most unhappy youth did I not wish that she had preferred the virginal life of the cloister, and thus spared me the heavy burden of an existence which her unholy and mistaken saintliness went so near to laying waste!

  I like to think that in the days when my father wooed her, she forgot for a spell in the strong arms of that fierce ghibelline the pattern upon which it had become her wont to weave her life; so that in all that drab, sackcloth tissue there was embroidered at least one warm and brilliant little wedge of colour; so that in all that desert waste, in all that parched aridity of her existence, there was at least one little patch of garden-land, fragrant, fruitful, and cool.

  I like to think it, for at best such a spell must have been brief indeed; and for that I pity her—I, who once blamed her so very bitterly. Before ever I was born it must have ceased; whilst still she bore me she put from her lips the cup that holds the warm and potent wine of life, and turned her once more to her fasting, her contemplations, and her prayers.

  That was in the year in which the battle of Pavia was fought and won by the Emperor. My father, who had raised a condotta to lend a hand in the expulsion of the French, was left for dead upon that glorious field. Afterwards he was found still living, but upon the very edge and border of Eternity; and when the news of it was borne to my mother I have little doubt but that she imagined it to be a visitation—a punishment upon her for having strayed for that brief season of her adolescence from the narrow flinty path that she had erst claimed to tread in the footsteps of Holy Monica.

  How much the love of my father may still have swayed her I do not know. But to me it seems that in what next she did there was more of duty, more of penitence, more of reparation for the sin of having been a woman as God made her, than of love. Indeed, I almost know this to be so. In delicate health as she was, she bade her people prepare a litter for her, and so she had herself carried into Piacennza, to the Church of St. Augustine. There, having confessed and received the Sacrament, upon her knees before a minor altar consecrated to St. Monica, she made solemn vow that if my father's life was spared she would devote the unborn child she carried to the service of God and Holy Church.

  Two months thereafter word was brought her that my father, his recovery by now well-nigh complete, was making his way home.

  On the morrow was I born—a votive offering, an oblate, ere yet I had drawn the breath of life.

  It has oft diverted me to conjecture what would have chanced had I been born
a girl—since that could have afforded her no proper parallel. In the circumstance that I was a boy, I have no faintest doubt but that she saw a Sign, for she was given to seeing signs in the slightest and most natural happenings. It was as it should be; it was as it had been with the Sainted Monica in whose ways she strove, poor thing, to walk. Monica had borne a son, and he had been named Augustine. It was very well. My name, too, should be Augustine, that I might walk in the ways of that other Augustine, that great theologian whose mother's name was Monica.

  And even as the influence of her name had been my mother's guide, so was the influence of my name to exert its sway upon me. It was made to do so. Ere I could read for myself, the life of that great saint—with such castrations as my tender years demanded—was told me and repeated until I knew by heart its every incident and act. Anon his writings were my school-books. His De Civitate Dei and De Vita Beata were the paps at which I suckled my earliest mental nourishment.

  And even today, after all the tragedy and sin and turbulence of my life, that was intended to have been so different, it is from his Confessions that I have gathered inspiration to set down my own—although betwixt the two you may discern little indeed that is comparable.

  I was prenatally made a votive offering for the preservation of my father's life, for his restoration to my mother safe and sound. That restoration she had, as you have seen; and yet, had she been other than she was, she must have accounted herself cheated of her bargain in the end. For betwixt my father and my mother I became from my earliest years a subject of contentions that drove them far asunder and set them almost in enmity the one against the other.

  I was his only son, heir to the noble lordships of Mondolfo and Carmina. Was it likely, then, that he should sacrifice me willingly to the seclusion of the cloister, whilst our lordship passed into the hands of our renegade, guelphic cousin, Cosimo d'Anguissola of Codogno?

  I can picture his outbursts at the very thought of it; I can hear him reasoning, upbraiding, storming. But he was as an ocean of energy hurling himself against the impassive rock of my mother's pietistic obstinacy. She had vowed me to the service of Holy Church, and she would suffer tribulation and death so that her vow should be fulfilled. And hers was a manner against which that strong man, my father, never could prevail. She would stand before him white-faced and mute, never presuming to return an answer to his pleading or to enter into argument.

  "I have vowed," she would say, just once; and thereafter, avoiding his fiery glance, she would bow her head meekly, fold her hands, the very incarnation of long-suffering and martyrdom.

  Anon, as the storm of his anger crashed about her, two glistening lines would appear upon her pallid face, and her tears—horrid, silent weeping that brought no trace of emotion to her countenance—showered down. At that he would fling out of her presence and away, cursing the day in which he had mated with a fool.

  His hatred of these moods of hers, of the vow she had made which bade fair to deprive him of his son, drove him ere long to hatred of the cause of it all. A ghibelline by inheritance, he was not long in becoming an utter infidel, at war with Rome and the Pontifical sway. Nor was he one to content himself with passive enmity. He must be up and doing, seeking the destruction of the thing he hated. And so it befell that upon the death of Pope Clement (the second Medici Pontiff), profiting by the weak condition from which the papal arm had not yet recovered since the Emperor's invasion and the sack of Rome, my father raised an army and attempted to shatter the ancient yoke which Julius II had imposed upon Parma and Piacenza when he took them from the State of Milan.

  A little lad of seven was I at the time, and well do I remember the martial stir and bustle there was about our citadel of Mondolfo, the armed multitudes that thronged the fortress that was our home, or drilled and manœuvred upon the green plains beyond the river.

  I was all wonder-stricken and fascinated by the sight. My blood was quickened by the brazen notes of their trumpets, and to balance a pike in my hands was to procure me the oddest and most exquisite thrills that I had known. But my mother, perceiving with alarm the delight afforded me by such warlike matters, withdrew me so that I might see as little as possible of it all.

  And there followed scenes between her and my father of which hazy impressions linger in my memory. No longer was she a mute statue, enduring with fearful stoicism his harsh upbraidings. She was turned into a suppliant, now fierce, now lachrymose; by her prayers, by her prophecies of the evil that must attend his ungodly aims, she strove with all her poor, feeble might to turn him from the path of revolt to which he had set his foot.

  And he would listen now in silence, his face grim and sardonic; and when from very weariness the flow of her inspired oratory began to falter, he would deliver ever the same answer.

  "It is you who have driven me to this; and this is no more than a beginning. You have made a vow—an outrageous votive offering of something that is not yours to bestow. That vow you cannot break, you say. Be it so. But I must seek a remedy elsewhere. To save my son from the Church to which you would doom him, I will, ere I have done, tear down the Church and make an end of it in Italy."

  And at that she would shrivel up before him with a little moan of horror, taking her poor white face in her hands.

  "Blasphemer!" she would cry in mingled terror and aversion, and upon that word—the "Amen" to all their conferences in those last days they spent together—she would turn, and dragging me with her, all stunned and bewildered by something beyond my understanding, she would hurry me to the chapel of the citadel, and there, before the high altar, prostrate herself and spend long hours in awful sobbing intercessions.

  And so the gulf between them widened until the day of his departure.

  I was not present at their parting. What farewells may have been spoken between them, what premonitions may have troubled one or the other that they were destined never to meet again, I do not know.

  I remember being rudely awakened one dark morning early in the year, and lifted from my bed by arms to whose clasp I never failed to thrill. Close to mine was pressed a hot, dark, shaven hawk-face; a pair of great eyes, humid with tears, considered me passionately. Then a ringing voice—that commanding voice that was my father's—spoke to Falcone, the man-at-arms who attended him and who ever acted as his equerry.

  "Shall we take him with us to the wars, Falcone?"

  My little arms went round his neck and tightened there convulsively until the steel rim of his gorget bit into them.

  "Take me!" I sobbed. "Take me!"

  He laughed for answer, with something of exultation in his voice. He swung me to his shoulder, and held me poised there, looking up at me. And then he laughed again.

  "Dost hear the whelp?" he cried to Falcone. "Still with his milk-teeth in his head, and already does he yelp for battle!"

  Then he looked up at me again, and swore one of his great oaths.

  "I can trust you, son of mine," he laughed. "They'll never make a shaveling of you. When your thews are grown it will not be on thuribles they'll spend their strength, or I'm a liar else. Be patient yet awhile, and we shall ride together, never doubt it."

  With that he pulled me down again to kiss me, and he clasped me to his breast so that the studs of his armour remained stamped upon my tender flesh after he had departed.

  The next instant he was gone, and I lay weeping, a very lonely little child.

  But in the revolt that he led he had not reckoned upon the might and vigour of the new, Farnese Pontiff. He had conceived, perhaps, that one pope must be as supine as another, and that Paul III would prove no more redoubtable than Clement VIII. To his bitter cost did he discover his mistake. Beyond the Po he was surprised by the Pontifical army under Ferrante Orsini, and there his force was cut to pieces.

  My father himself escaped and with him some other gentlemen of Piacenza, notably one of the scions of the great house of Pallavicini, who took a wound in the leg which left him lame for life, so that ever after he was kn
own as Pallavicini il Zopo.

  They were all under the pope's ban, outlaws with a price upon the head of each, hunted and harried from State to State by the papal emissaries, so that my father never more dared set foot in Mondolfo, or, indeed, within the State of Piacenza, which had been rudely punished for the insubordination it had permitted to be reared upon its soil.

  And Mondolfo went near to suffering confiscation. Assuredly it would have suffered it but for the influence exerted on my mother's and my own behalf by her brother, the powerful Cardinal of San Paulo in Carcere, seconded by that guelphic cousin of my father's, Cosimo d'Anguissola, who, after me, was heir to Mondolfo, and had, therefore, good reason not to see it confiscated to the Holy See.

  Thus it fell out that we were left in peace and not made to suffer from my father's rebellion. For that, he, himself, should suffer when taken. But taken he never was. From time to time we had news of him. Now he was in Venice, now in Milan, now in Naples; but never long in any place for his safety's sake. And then one night, six years later, a scarred and grizzled veteran, coming none knew whence, dropped from exhaustion in the courtyard of our citadel, whither he had struggled. Some went to minister to him, and amongst these there was a groom who recognized him.

  "It is Messer Falcone!" he cried, and ran to bear the news to my mother, with whom I was at table at the time. With us, too, was Fra Gervasio, our chaplain.

  It was grim news that old Falcone brought us. He had never quitted my father in those six weary years of wandering until now that my father was beyond the need of his or any other's service.

  There had been a rising and a bloody battle at Perugia, Falcone informed us. An attempt had been made to overthrow the rule there of Pier Luigi Farnese, Duke of Castro, the pope's own abominable son. For some months my father had been enjoying the shelter of the Perugians, and he had repaid their hospitality by joining them and bearing arms with them in the ill-starred blow they struck for liberty. They had been crushed in the encounter by the troops of Pier Luigi, and my father had been among the slain.

  And well was it for him that he came by so fine and merciful an end, thought I when I had heard the tale of horrors that had been undergone by the unfortunates who had fallen into the hands of Farnese.

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