Anthony Hope.

The Chronicles of Count Antonio



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Now the Prince of Mantivoglia, whom his army sought thus in fear and bewilderment, was carried very quickly up to the high ground, where the rocks grew steep and close and the way led to the peak of Agnino. And as he was borne along, some one bound his hands and his feet; and still he was carried up, till at last he found himself laid down gently on the ground. And though he knew no fear – for they of Mantivoglia have ever been most valiant Princes and strangers to all fear – yet he thought that his last hour was come, and, fearing God though he feared nothing else, he said a prayer and commended his soul to the Almighty, grieving that he should not receive the last services of the Church. And having done this, he lay still until the dawning day smote on his eyes and he could see; for the fog that lay dense on the plain was not in the hills, but hung between them and the plain. And he looked round, but saw no man. So he abode another hour, and then he heard a step behind him, and a man came, but whence he could not see; and the man stooped and loosed the scarf from his mouth and cut his bonds, and he sat up, uttering a cry of wonder. For Count Antonio stood before him, his sword sheathed by his side. And he said to the Prince of Mantivoglia, "Do to me what you will, my lord. If you will strike me as I stand, strike. Or if you will do me the honour to cross swords, my sword is ready. Or, my lord, if you will depart in peace and in my great love and reverence, I will give thanks to Heaven and to a noble Prince."

"Antonio, what does this mean?" cried the Prince, divided between anger and wonder.

Then Antonio told him all that he had done: how the Duke was gone back with his army to Firmola, and how the Prince's army had retreated towards the borders of Mantivoglia; for of all this his men had informed him; and he ended, saying, "For since it seemed that I was to be the most unworthy cause of more fighting between two great Princes, it came into my head that such a thing should not be. And I rejoice that now it will not; for the townsmen will not march out again this year at least, and Your Highness will scarce sit down before Firmola with the season now far gone."

"So I am baulked?" cried the Prince, and he rose to his feet. "And this trick is played me by a friend!"

"I am of Firmola," said Antonio, flushing red. "And while there was war, I might in all honour have played another trick, and carried you not hither, but to Firmola."

"I care not," cried the Prince angrily. "It was a trick, and no fair fighting."

"Be it as you will, my lord," said Antonio. "A man's own conscience is his only judge. Will you draw your sword, my lord?"

But the Prince was very angry, and he answered roughly, "I will not fight with you, and I will not speak more with you. I will go."

"I will lead Your Highness to your horse," said Antonio.

Then he led him some hundreds of paces down the hill, and they came where a fine horse stood ready saddled.

"It is not my horse," said the Prince.

"Be not afraid, my lord.

It is not mine either," said Antonio smiling. "A rogue who serves me, and is called Bena, forgot his manners so far as to steal it from the quarters of the Duke. I pray you use some opportunity of sending it back to him, or I shall be dubbed horse-stealer with the rest."

"I am glad it is not yours," said the Prince, and he prepared to mount, Antonio holding the stirrup for him. And when he was mounted, Antonio told him how to ride, so that he should come safely to his own men, and avoid certain scouting parties of the Duke that he had thrown out behind him as he marched back to Firmola. And having done this, Antonio stood back and bared his head and bowed.

"And where is your horse?" asked the Prince suddenly.

"I have no horse, my lord," said Antonio. "My men with all my horses have ridden back to our hiding-place in the hills. I am alone here, for I thought that Your Highness would kill me, and I should need no horse."

"How, then, will you escape the scouting parties?"

"I fear I shall not escape them, my lord," said Antonio, smiling again.

"And if they take you?"

"Of a surety I shall be hanged," said Count Antonio.

The Prince of Mantivoglia gathered his brow into a heavy frown, but the corners of his lips twitched, and he did not look at Antonio. And thus they rested a few moments, till suddenly the Prince, unable to hold himself longer, burst into a great and merry peal of laughter; and he raised his fist and shook it at Antonio, crying, "A scurvy trick, Antonio! By my faith, a scurvier trick by far than that other of yours! Art thou not ashamed, man? Ah, you cast down your eyes! You dare not look at me, Antonio."

"Indeed I have naught to say for this last trick, my lord," said Antonio, laughing also.

"Indeed I must carry this knave with me!" cried the Prince. "Faugh, the traitor! Get up behind me, traitor! Clasp me by the waist, knave! Closer, knave! Ah, Antonio, I know not in what mood Heaven was when you were made! I would I had the heart to leave you to your hanging! For what a story will my Princess make of this! I shall be the best-derided man in all Mantivoglia."

"I think not, my dear lord," said Count Antonio, "unless a love that a man may reckon on as his lady-love's and a chivalry that does not fail, and a valour that has set two armies all agape in wonder, be your matters for mirth in Mantivoglia. And indeed, my lord, I would that I were riding to the lady I love best in the world, as Your Highness rides; for she might laugh till her sweet eyes ran tears so I were near to dry them."

The Prince put back his hand towards Antonio and clasped Antonio's hand, and said, "What said she when you left her, Antonio? For with women love is often more than honour, and their tears rust the bright edge of a man's conscience."

"Her heart is even as Our Lady's, and with tears and smiles she left me," said Antonio, and he grasped the Prince's hand. "Come, my lord, we must ride, or it is a prison for you and a halter for me."

So they rode together in the morning on the horse that Bena had stolen from among the choicest of Duke Valentine's, and, keeping cunningly among the spurs of the hills, they were sighted once only from afar off by the Duke's scouts, and escaped at a canter, and came safe to the Prince's army, where they were received with great wonder and joy. But the Prince would not turn again to besiege Firmola, for he had had a fill of fighting, and the season grew late for the siege of a walled town. So he returned with all his force to Mantivoglia, having won by his expedition much praise of valour, and nothing else in the wide world besides; which thing indeed is so common in the wars of princes that even wise men have well-nigh ceased to wonder at it.

But the Princess of Mantivoglia heard all that had passed with great mirth, and made many jests upon her husband; and again, lest the Prince should take her jesting in evil part, more upon Duke Valentine. But concerning Count Antonio and the Lady Lucia she did not jest. Yet one day, chancing to be alone with Count Antonio – for he stayed many days at the Court of Mantivoglia, and was treated with great honour – she said to him, with a smile and half-raised eyelids, "Had I been a man, my lord Antonio, I would not have returned alone from the gates of Firmola. In truth, your lady needs patience for her virtue, Count Antonio!"

"I trust, then, that Heaven sends it to her, madame," said Antonio.

"And to you also," she retorted with a laugh. "And to her trust in you also, I pray. For an absent lover is often an absent heart, Antonio, and I hear that many ladies would fain soften your exile. And what I hear, the Lady Lucia may hear also."

"She would hear it as the idle babbling of water over stones," said Antonio. "But, madame, I am glad that I have some honesty in me. For if there were not honest men and true maids in this world, I think more than a half of the wits would starve for lack of food."

"Mercy, mercy!" she cried. "Indeed your wit has a keen edge, my lord."

"Yet it is not whetted on truth and honesty," said he.

She answered nothing for a moment; then she drew near to him and stood before him, regarding his face; and she sighed "Heigh-ho!" and again "Heigh-ho!" and dropped her eyes, and raised them again to his face; and at last she said, "To some faithfulness is easy. I give no great praise to the Lady Lucia." And when she had said this she turned and left him, and was but little more in his company so long as he stayed at Mantivoglia. And she spoke no more of the Lady Lucia. But when he was mounting, after bidding her farewell, she gave him a white rose from her bosom, saying carelessly, "Your colour, my lord, and the best. Yet God made the other roses also."

"All that He made He loves, and in all there is good," said Antonio, and he bowed very low, and, having kissed her hand, took the rose; and he looked into her eyes and smiled, saying, "Heaven give peace where it has given wit and beauty;" and so he rode away to join his company in the hills. And the Princess of Mantivoglia, having watched till he was out of sight, went into dinner, and was merrier than ever she had shown herself before; so that they said, "She feared Antonio and is glad that he is gone." Yet that night, while her husband slept, she wept.

CHAPTER IV
COUNT ANTONIO AND THE WIZARD'S DRUG

The opinion of man is ever in flux save where it is founded on the rock of true religion. What our fathers believed, we disbelieve; but often our sons shall again receive it. In olden time men held much by magic and black arts; now such are less esteemed; yet hereafter it may well be that the world will find new incantations and fresh spells, the same impulse flowing in a different channel and never utterly to be checked or stemmed by the censures of the Church or the mocking of unbelievers. As for truth – in truth who knows truth? For the light of Revelation shines but in few places, and for the rest we are in natural darkness, groping along unseen paths towards unknown ends. May God keep our footsteps!

Now towards the close of the third year of his outlawry the heart of Count Antonio of Monte Velluto had grown very sad. For it was above the space of a year since he had heard news of the Lady Lucia, and hard upon two since he had seen her face; so closely did Duke Valentine hold her prisoner in Firmola. And as he walked to and fro among his men in their hiding place in the hills, his face was sorrowful. Yet, coming where Tommasino and Bena sat together, he stopped and listened to their talk with a smile. For Bena cried to Tommasino, "By the saints, my lord, it is even so! My father himself had a philtre from him thirty years ago; and though, before, my mother had loathed to look on my father, yet now here am I, nine-and-twenty years of age and a child born in holy wedlock. Never tell me that it is foolishness, my lord!"

"Of whom do you speak, Bena?" asked Antonio.

"Of the Wizard of Baratesta, my lord. Aye, and he can do more than make a love-potion. He can show you all that shall come to you in a mirror, and make the girl you love rise before your eyes as though the shape were good flesh and blood."

"All this is foolishness, Bena," said Count Antonio.

"Well, God knows that," said Bena. "But he did it for my father; and as he is thirty years older, he will be wiser still by now;" and Bena strode off to tend his horse, somewhat angry that Antonio paid so little heed to his words.

"It is all foolishness, Tommasino," said Antonio.

"They say that of many a thing which gives a man pleasure," said Tommasino.

"I have heard of this man before," continued the Count, "and marvellous stories are told of him. Now I leave what shall come to me in the hands of Heaven; for to know is not to alter, and knowledge without power is but fretting of the heart; but – " And Antonio broke off.

"Ride then, if you can safely, and beg him to show you Lucia's face," said Tommasino. "For to that I think you are making."

"In truth I was, fool that I am," said Antonio.

"But be wary; for Baratesta is but ten miles from the city, and His Highness sleeps with an open eye."

So Antonio, albeit that he was in part ashamed, learnt from Bena where the wizard dwelt on the bridge that is outside the gate of Baratesta – for the Syndic would not suffer such folk to live inside the wall – and one evening he saddled his horse and rode alone to seek the wizard, leaving Tommasino in charge of the band. And as he went, he pondered, saying, "I am a fool, yet I would see her face;" and thus, still dubbing himself fool, yet still persisting, he came to the bridge of Baratesta; and the wizard, who was a very old man and tall and marvellously lean, met him at the door of the house, crying, "I looked for your coming, my lord." And he took Antonio's horse from him and stood it in a stable beside the house, and led Antonio in, saying again, "Your coming was known to me, my lord;" and he brought Antonio to a chamber at the back of the house, having one window, past which the river, being then in flood, rushed with noise and fury. There were many strange things in the chamber, skulls and the forms of animals from far-off countries, great jars, basins, and retorts, and in one corner a mirror half-draped in a black cloth.

"You know who I am?" asked Antonio.

"That needs no art," answered the wizard, "and I pretend to none in it. Your face, my lord, was known to me as to any other man, from seeing you ride with the Duke before your banishment."

"And you knew that I rode hither to-night?"

"Aye," said the wizard. "For the stars told of the coming of some great man; and I turned from my toil and watched for you."

"What toil?" asked Antonio. "See, here is money, and I have a quiet tongue. What toil?"

The wizard pointed to a heap of broken and bent pieces of base metal. "I was turning dross to gold," said he, in a fearful whisper.

"Can you do that?" asked Antonio, smiling.

"I can, my lord, though but slowly."

"And hate to love?" asked Count Antonio.

The wizard laughed harshly. "Let them that prize love, seek that," said he. "It is not for me."

"I would it had been; then had my errand here been a better one. For I am come to see the semblance of a maiden's face."

The wizard frowned as he said, "I had looked for a greater matter. For you have a mighty enemy, my lord, and I have means of power for freeing men of their enemies."

But Count Antonio, knowing that he spoke of some dark device of spell or poison, answered, "Enough! enough! For I am a man of quick temper, and it is not well to tell me of wicked things, lest I be tempted to anticipate Heaven's punishment."

"I shall not die at your hands, my lord," said the wizard. "Come, will you see what shall befall you?"

"Nay, I would but see my lady's face; a great yearning for that has come over me, and, although I take shame in it, yet it has brought me here."

"You shall see it then; and if you see more, it is not by my will," said the wizard; and he quenched the lamp that burned on the table, and flung a handful of some powder on the charcoal in the stove; and the room was filled with a thick sweet-smelling vapour. And the wizard tore the black cloth off the face of the mirror and bade Antonio look steadily in the mirror. Antonio looked till the vapour that enveloped all the room cleared off from the face of the mirror, and the wizard, laying his hand on Antonio's shoulder, said, "Cry her name thrice." And Antonio thrice cried "Lucia!" and again waited. Then something came on the polished surface of the mirror; but the wizard muttered low and angrily, for it was not the form of Lucia nor of any maiden; yet presently he cried low, "Look, my lord, look!" and Antonio, looking, saw a dim, and shadowy face in the mirror; and the wizard began to fling his body to and fro, uttering strange whispered words; and the sweat stood in beads on his forehead. "Now, now!" he cried; and Antonio, with beating heart, fastened his gaze on the mirror. And as the story goes (I vouch not for it) he saw, though very dimly, the face of Lucia; but more he saw also; for beside the face was his own face, and there was a rope about his neck, and the half-shaped arm of a gibbet seemed to hover above him. And he shrank back for an instant.

"What more you see is not by my will," said the wizard.

"What shall come is only by God's will," said Antonio. "I have seen her face. It is enough."

But the wizard clutched him by the arm, whispering in terror, "It is a gibbet; and the rope is about your neck."

"Indeed, I seem to have worn it there these three years, and it is not drawn tight yet; nor is it drawn in the mirror."

"You have a good courage," said the wizard with a grim smile. "I will show you more;" and he flung another powder on the charcoal; and the shapes passed from the mirror. But another came; and the wizard, with a great cry, fell suddenly on his knees, exclaiming, "They mock me, they mock me! They show what they will, not what I will. Ah, my lord, whose is the face in the mirror?" And he seized Antonio again by the arm.

"It is your face," said Antonio; "and it is the face of a dead man, for his jaw has dropped, and his features are drawn and wrung."

The wizard buried his face in his hands; and so they rested awhile till the glass of the mirror cleared; and Antonio felt the body of the wizard shaking against his knee.

"You are old," said Antonio, "and death must come to all. Maybe it is a lie of the devil; but if not, face it as a man should."

But the wizard trembled still; and Antonio, casting a pitiful glance on him, rose to depart. But on the instant as he moved, there came a sudden loud knocking at the door of the house, and he stood still. The wizard lifted his head to listen.

"Have you had warning of more visitors to-night?" asked Antonio.

"I know not what happens to-night," muttered the wizard. "My power is gone to-night."

The knocking at the door came again, loud and impatient.

"They will beat the door down if you do not open," said Antonio. "I will hide myself here behind the mirror; for I cannot pass them without being seen; and if I am seen here, it is like enough that the mirror will be proved right both for you and me."

So Antonio hid himself, crouching down behind the mirror; and the wizard, having lit a small dim lamp, went on trembling feet to the door. And presently he came back, followed by two men whose faces were hid in their cloaks. One of them sat down, but the other stood and flung his cloak back over his shoulders; and Antonio, observing him from behind the mirror, saw that he was Lorenzo, the Duke's favourite.

Then Lorenzo spoke to the wizard saying, "Why did you not come sooner to open the door?"

"There was one here with me," said the wizard, whose air had become again composed.

"And is he gone? For we would be alone."

"He is not to be seen," answered the wizard. "Utterly alone here you cannot be."

When he heard this, Lorenzo turned pale, for he did not love this midnight errand to the wizard's chamber.

"But no man is here," said the wizard.

A low hoarse laugh came from the man who sat. "Tricks of the trade, tricks of the trade!" said he; and Antonio started to hear his voice. "Be sure that where a prince, a courtier, and a cheat are together, the devil makes a fourth. But there is no need to turn pale over it, Lorenzo."

When the wizard heard, he fell on his knees; for he knew that it was Duke Valentine who spoke.

"Look you, fellow," pursued His Highness, "you owe me much thanks that you are not hanged already; for by putting an end to you I should please my clergy much and the Syndic of Baratesta not a little. But if you do not obey me to-night, you shall be dead before morning."

"I shall not die unless it be written in the stars," said the wizard, but his voice trembled.

"I know nothing of the stars," said the Duke, "but I know the mind of the Duke of Firmola, and that is enough for my purpose." And he rose and began to walk about the chamber, examining the strange objects that were there; and thus he came in front of the mirror, and stood within half a yard of Antonio. But Lorenzo stood where he was, and once he crossed himself secretly and unobserved.

"What would my lord the Duke?" asked the wizard.

"There is a certain drug," said the Duke, turning round towards the wizard, "which if a man drink – or a woman, Lorenzo – he can walk on his legs and use his arms, and seem to be waking and in his right mind; yet is his mind a nothing, for he knows not what he does, but does everything that one, being with him, may command, and without seeming reluctance; and again, when bidden, he will seem to lose all power of movement, and to lack his senses. I saw the thing once when I sojourned with the Lord of Florence; for a wizard there, having given the drug to a certain man, put him through strange antics, and he performed them all willingly."

"Aye, there is such a drug," said the wizard.

"Then give it me," said the Duke; "and I give you your life and fifty pieces of gold. For I have great need of it."



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