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This is the book of Lappo Lappi, called by his friends the careless, the happy-go-lucky, the devil-may-take-it, the God-knows-what. Called by his enemies drinker, swinker, tumbler, tinker, swiver. Called by many women that liked him pretty fellow, witty fellow, light fellow, bright fellow, bad fellow, mad fellow, and the like. Called by some women who once loved him Lapinello, Lappinaccio, little Lappo. Called now in God as a good religious should be, Lappentarius, from a sweet saint myself discovered—or invented; need we quibble?—in an ancient manuscript. And it is my merry purpose now, in a time when I, that am no longer merry, look back upon days and hours and weeks and months and years that were very merry indeed, propose to set down something of my own jolly doings and lovings, and incidentally to [Pg 2]tell some things about a friend of mine that was never so merry as I was, though a thousand times wiser; and never so blithe as I was, though a thousand times the better man. For it seems to me now, in this cool grim grayness of my present way, with the cloisters for my kingdom and the nimbused frescoes on the walls for my old-time ballads and romances, as if my life that was so sunburnt and wine-sweetened and woman-kissed, my life that seemed to me as bright, every second of it, as bright ducats rushing in a pleasant plenteous stream from one hand to another, was after all intended to be no more than a kind of ironic commentary on, and petty contrast to, the life of my friend.

He and I lived our youth out in the greatest and fairest of all cities that the world has ever seen, greater a thousand times than Troy or Nineveh, or Babylon or Rome, and when I say this you will know, of course, that I speak of the city of Florence, and we lived and loved at the same time, lived and loved in so strangely different a fashion that it seems to me that if the two lives were set side by side after the fashion of Messer Plutarch of old days, they would form as diverting a pair of opposites as any student of humanity could desire for his entertainment.

I shall begin, with the favor and permission of Heaven, where I think the business may rightly be said to begin. The time was a May morning, [Pg 3]the morning of May-day, warm and bright with sunlight, one of those mornings which makes a clod seem like a poet and a poet seem like a god. The place was the Piazza Santa Felicita, with the Arno flowing pretty full and freely now between its borders of mud. I can see it all as I write, as I saw it yesterday, that yesterday so many years ago when Lappo Lappi was young and Lappentarius never dreamed of.

There is no lovelier day of all the years of days for Florence than May-day. On that day everybody is or seems to be happy; on that day the streets of the city are as musical as the courses of the spheres. Youths and maidens, garlanded and gayly raimented, go about fifing and piping, and trolling the chosen songs of spring. I think if a stranger should chance to visit Florence for the first time on a May-day, with the festival well toward, he might very well think that he had fallen back by fortunate chance into the youth of the world, when there was nothing better nor wiser to do than to dance and sing and make merry and make love. I have heard Messer Brunetto Latini declare, with great eloquence, that of all the cities man has ever upbuilded with his busy fingers, the dear city of Cecrops, which Saint Augustine called the dear City of God—in a word, Athens, was surely the loveliest wherein to live. But with all respect to Messer Brunetto, I would [Pg 4]maintain that no city of Heathendom or Christendom could be more beautiful than Florence at any season of the year. What if it be now and then windy; now and then chilly; now and then dusty? I have talked with a traveller that told me he had found the winters mighty bitter in Greece. But I think that in all the history of Florence there never was a May-day like that May-day. It was gloriously green and gold, gloriously blue and white, gloriously hot, and yet with a little cool, kissing breeze that made the flaming hours delectable. And, as I remember so well, I sat on the parapet of the bridge of the Holy Felicity.

Where the parapet of the embankment joined the beginning of the bridge of the Santa Felicita there stood, in those days, a large, square, ornamental fountain. May be it stands there now. I was banished from Florence at the same time as my friend, and we left our Mother of the Lilies to seek and find very dissimilar fortunes. This fountain had a niche above it, in which niche he that built the fountain designed, no doubt, to set some image of his own design. But he never carried out his purpose, why or wherefore I neither knew nor cared, and in that niche some Magnifico that was kindly minded to the people had set up a stone image, a relic of the old beautiful pagan days, that had been unearthed in some garden of his elsewhere. It was the figure of a very comely [Pg 5]youth that was clothed in a Grecian tunic, and because, when it was first dug up, it showed some traces of color on the tunic and the naked legs and arms and the face and the hair, therefore one of the artificers of the said Magnifico took it upon himself to paint all as, so he said, it had once been painted. And he made the limbs a flesh color, and gave the face its pinks, and the lips their carnation, and the eyes their blackness, very lively to see; and he adorned the hair very craftily with gold-leaf, and he painted the shirt of the adorable boy a very living crimson. It was a very beautiful piece of work with all these embellishments, and though there were some that said it was an idol and should not be tolerated, yet, for the most part, the Florentines liked it well enough, and it saved the cost of a new statue for the vacant space.

So it stood there this day that I think of and write of, a very brave and radiant piece of color, too, for the eye to rest on that had wearied of looking at the gray stone palace hard by, the palace of Messer Folco Portinari, that showed so gray and grim in all weathers, save where the brown rust on its great iron lamps and on the great rings in the wall lent its dulness some hint of pigment. Over the wall that hid the garden of the palace I saw and see crimson roses hang and scarlet pomegranate blossoms. Opposite this gloomy house of the great man that was so well liked of the Florentines, [Pg 6]against the pillars of the arcade, there stood, as I recall it, a bookseller's booth, where manuscripts were offered for sale on a board. Here he that had the means and the inclination could treat himself at a price to the wisdom of the ancient world. I fear I was never one of those so minded. The wisdom of my own world contented me to the full, and ever it seemed to me that it mattered less what Messer Plato or Messer Cicero said on this matter and on that matter than what Messer Lappo Lappi said and did in those affairs that intimately concerned him.

Now, on this day, which I see again so clearly, I was seated, as I say, on the parapet of the bridge, propped against the fountain. If I turned my head to the left, I could please myself with a sight of the briskly painted statue of the young Greek youth. If I turned my head to the right, I could look on the river and the smiling country beyond. But, as it happened, I turned my head neither to the left nor to the right, but straight before me and a little below me. For I was singing a song to a lute for an audience of pretty girls who looked up at me, some admiringly and some mockingly, but all very approvingly. One of the girls was named Jacintha, and one was named Barbara, and another, that had hair of a reddish-yellow and pale, strange eyes, was called Brigitta. There were also many others to whom, at this time, I cannot give [Pg 7]a name, though I seem to see their faces very clearly and hear the sound of their voices, as well I might, for I was very good friends with most of them then or thereafter. And this is the song that I was singing:
"Flower of the lily or flower of the rose, My heart is a leaf on each love-wind that blows. A face at the window, a form at the door, Can capture my fancy as never before. My fancy was captured, since-well, let us say Since last night, or the night before last, when I lay In the arms of—but, hush, I must needs be discreet; So farewell, with a kiss for your hands and your feet. I worship your fingers, I worship your toes, Flower of the lily or flower of the rose."

Then the girl Brigitta, she that had the red-gold hair and the eyes like pale glass, thrust her face very near to me and said, laughing, "Messer Lappo, Messer Lappo, who is your sweetheart?"

And I, who was ever ready with a brisk compliment to pretty maid or pretty woman, or pretty matron, answered her as swiftly as you please, "She shall be named by your name, dainty, if you will lend me a kiss of the lips."

And, indeed, I wished she would give me my will, for at that time I had a great desire for Brigitta; but she only pinched up her face to a grin, and answered me, teasingly, "Nay, I cannot kiss you; I think you have a Ghibelline mouth."

[Pg 8]

Now this seemed to me a foolish answer as well as a pert one, for, besides that I was ever a Guelph and a Red, I think that politics have no business to interfere with the pleasant commerce and suave affairs of love, so I answered her reprovingly. "Kisses have no causes," said I; "I will kiss Guelph-wise; I will kiss Ghibelline-wise; I will kiss Red; I will kiss Yellow; it's all one to me, so long as the mouth be like yours, as pink as a cleft pomegranate, and the teeth as white as its seeds."

Now at this Jacintha, who had eyes the color of amethysts, and dark hair with a purplish stain in it, wagged a finger at me reprovingly, saying, "I fear you are a wanton wooer." And at this all the other girls laughed like the jolly wantons they were.

But I pretended to take it all mighty seriously, and answered as solemnly as any philosopher, "Never say it, never think it. I am the golden rose of constancy; I have loved a lass for three days on end, and never yawned once."

Now, while I was talking thus, and pulling my face to keep it from laughing, the girl that was named Barbara had come up very close to me, and I was minded to slip my arm about her waist and draw her closer with a view to the kissing of lips. But she had only neighbored me to mock me, for she cried aloud, "Mirror of chivalry, I will [Pg 9]give you a Guelph cuff on your Ghibelline cheek." And as she spoke, being a girl of spirit, she kept her word very roundly, and fetched me a box on the ear with her brown hand that made my wits sing.

Now this was more than my philosophy could stomach, so I made a grab at her, but she dipped from my outstretched fingers and slipped into the midst of the crowd of other girls, and straightway I dropped from my parapet and ran after her, vowing the merriest, pleasantest skelping. However, she was too swift for me, and too nimble, capering behind this girl and that girl, and ever eluding me when I seemed to be on the point of seizing the minx, till at last, what with laughing and running and calling, my breath failed me, and I stood in the midst of the pretty jades, panting.

"Nay, I am fairly winded," I protested. "If some sweet she do not give me a kiss, I shall die of despair."

Then Brigitta, who was nearest to me, came nearer with a kind look in her strange eyes. "Nay then," she said, "for your song's sake, and to save your life." So she said and so she did, for she kissed me full on the mouth before all of them, and, indeed, this was the first time I had kissed her, though I thank Heaven it was not the last.

And because there is nothing so contagious as kindness and so stimulating as a good example, [Pg 10]the other girls were now ripe and ready to do as she did, and Jacintha cried, "I will be generous, too!" and set her red lips where Brigitta's kiss had rested, and then one kissed me and another, and at the end of it all, Barbara herself, that had been so ready with her fingers, surrendered and kissed me too. And it was while she was kissing me, and I was making rather a long business of it, seeing how she was the last to be kissed, and how she had provoked me, that there came unobserved into our group another youth whose coming I had not noticed, being so busy on pleasant business.

But I heard a very sweet and tunable voice speak, and the voice asked, "When the air is so brisk with kisses, is there never a kiss for me?" And I looked up from the lips of Barbara and saw that my very dear friend, Messer Guido Cavalcanti, was newly of our company.

It is many a long year since my dear friend Messer Guido dei Cavalcanti died of that disastrous exile to which, by the cynical irony of fate, my other dear friend, Messer Dante dei Alighieri, was foredestined to doom him. That sadness has nothing to do with this sadness, and I here give it the go-by. But at nights when I lie awake in my cell—a thing which, I thank my stars happens but rarely—or in the silence of some more than usually quiet dawn, I seem to see him again as I saw him that morning, so blithe, so bright, so delightful. [Pg 11]Never was so fine a gentleman. It is to be regretted, perhaps, that his was not a spirit that believes. I that am a sinner have no qualms and uncertainties, but credit what I am told to credit, and no more said. After all, why say more? But Messer Guido was of a restless, discontented, fretting spirit, that chafed at command and convention, and would yield nothing of doubt for the sake of an easy life. Well, he was the handsomest man I have ever known, and he never seemed fairer than on that May morning—Lord, Lord, how many centuries ago it seems!—when he came upon me in the sunlit Place of the Holy Felicity, and thereafter, for the first time, made the acquaintance of Messer Dante.

When the girls heard that complaint of Messer Guido's, they gathered about him noisily, crying, "Surely, Messer Guido, surely!" and pushing their impudent faces close to his, and catching him with their hands, for indeed Messer Guido was a very comely personage, and one that was always well-eyed by women.

But it seems that for all his asking he had little mind for the amorous traffic, for he laughingly disengaged himself from the girls, and I said to him, pretending to be jealous, "If you taste of their bounty, I shall tell Monna Giovanna"—for so was named the lady he loved—"and then you will weep red tears."

[Pg 12]

Messer Guido pointed to me with a mock air of indignation. "See what it is," he said, "to take a traitor to one's heart." He ran his laughing eyes over the little knot of us, and went on, "Sweet ladies, and you, sour gentleman, I have news for you."

But I protested, drolling him, for it was always our custom when we met to toss jests and mockery to and fro, as children toss a ball. "Do not heed him," I said, "Guido's news is always eight days old."

Then the girls laughed at him, for I think in their hearts they were vexed because he had not taken their kisses—at least, most of them; for I have it in mind that Brigitta was content with my kissing and none other. But Guido was not to be downed by their laughter.

"This is not an hour old," he said. "You should all be at the Signory. The fair ladies of Florence have chosen Monna Beatrice, of the Portinari, for the queen of their May festival, and will bear her about the city presently in triumph."

Now this was no piece of news for me, but I was where I was for a reason, which was to meet Messer Dante. It was news to the girls, though, for Brigitta cried, "Monna Beatrice, she who has been away from Florence these nine years?" and Jacintha questioned, "Monna Beatrice! Is she daughter of Folco Portinari that builds hospitals?" [Pg 13]and Barbara sighed, "Monna Beatrice, whom some call the loveliest girl in the city?"

And Guido gave to their several questions a single answer: "Even she. For her beauty's sake and in compliment to Messer Folco, because he builds hospitals."

Now, though I had little interest in this news of Guido's, I was so glad of his coming that I was as ready to be rid of the girls by this time as I had been eager before to keep them about me. So I waved my hand at them as housewives wave their hands to scare the chickens, and I called to them: "So! Away with you girls to join the merry-making. I will kiss you all another day."

Then the girls began to mock at me again, and Jacintha hailed me as prince of poets, and Brigitta, half laughing and half earnest, called me prince of lovers, and Barbara shot out her pink tongue at me, saying, "Prince of liars!"

Straightway I made as if I would catch them and slap them, and they all ran away laughing, and Messer Guido and I were left alone, at the corner of the bridge of the Holy Felicity, with the image of the God of Love hard by.

"Good-bye, lilies of life!" I called after the flying fugitives, kissing my hand at them; and then I turned to my friend. "This lady Beatrice," I questioned, "is she very fair?" For though I had heard not a little of her return to our city from [Pg 14]Fiesole, I had not yet seen her, and I am always curious—I mean I was then always curious—about fair women.

"Angel fair," Guido answered, briskly. "Our Florence is ever a nest of loveliness, but no one of her women is fairer than Folco's daughter."

"May be she seems fairer, being strange," I hinted, quizzically. "Are we not Athenian in our love of new things?"

Guido answered me very gravely. "I think we should have held her as precious if she had never left us."

Now, I had never given the affairs of the Portinari many thoughts, and though I had heard how Messer Folco had brought his daughter home of late from Fiesole, I knew nothing more than so much, wherefore I questioned, less because I cared, than because Messer Guido seemed to care, "Why did she leave us?"

Guido seated himself by my side on the parapet, swinging his slim legs, and told the tale he wanted to tell.

"It is nine years ago. She was one of those fairy children—I remember her very well—too divine, too bright, it might seem, to hold in the four walls of any mortal mansion. That as it may, the physicians found her a delicate piece of flesh, and so banished her out of our hot Florence into the green coolness of the hills."

[Pg 15]

I do not think that I cared very much about what Messer Guido was telling me, but because I loved him I feigned to care.

"And has she lived there ever since?" I asked, with such show of interest as I could muster.

And he answered me, very lively. "There she has lived ever since. But now Messer Folco, being reassured of her health, brings her to Florence, where her beauty will break hearts, I promise."

I think he sighed a little, and I know that I laughed as I spoke. "Well, I that have broken my heart a hundred times will break it again for her, if she pleases."

Messer Guido grinned at me a little maliciously. "Better not let Messer Simone dei Bardi hear you," he said, and his words suddenly brought before me the image of a very notable figure in the Florence of my youth, a very forward man in the squabbles of the Yellows and the Reds.

It would, I think, be very hard to make any stranger acquainted with the state of our city at this time, for it was more split and fissured with feuds and dissensions than a dried melon rind. It had pleased Heaven in its wisdom to decide that it was not enough for us to be distraught with the great flagrant brawls between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, between those that stood for Roman Emperor and those that stood for Roman Pope. No, we must needs be divided again into yet [Pg 16]further factions and call ourselves Reds and Yellows, and cut one another's throats in the name of these two colors with more heat and zeal in the cutting than had ever stirred the blood of the partisans of the two great camps.

This Red and Yellow business began simply enough and grimly enough in a quarrel between two girls, distant kinswomen, of the House of the Casa Bella. One of these girls maintained, at some merry-making, that she was comelier than the other, which that other very stoutly denied, and from the bandying of words they came to the bandying of blows, and because it is never a pretty sight to see two women at clapper-claws together, those about bestirred themselves to sunder the sweet amazons, and in the process of pulling them apart more blows were given and exchanged between those that sought at first to be peacemakers, and there were many hot words and threats of vengeance.

From this petty beginning, like your monumental oak from your pigmy acorn, there grew up a great feud between the families of the two girls, and like a poison the plague of the quarrel spread to Florence, and in a twinkling men were divided against each other in a deathly hatred that in their hearts knew little of the original quarrel, and cared nothing at all for it. But as all parties must needs have a nickname, whether chosen or conferred, the [Pg 17]first of these parties was called Yellow, because the girl that began the quarrel had yellow eyes; and the other party in mockery called itself Red, because the girl that was, as it were, the patron saint of their side of the squabble had red hair. These Reds and Yellows fought as fiercely in Florence as ever the Blues and the Greens in Constantinople of old time. And in our city the Donati sided with the Reds, and the Cerchi with the Yellows, and all that loved either of these great houses chose their color and conducted themselves accordingly. But you must not suppose that the heads of the great houses of the Donati and the Cerchi publicly avowed themselves as the leaders of these whimsical factions, however much they might, for their own purposes, foster and encourage their existence. At the time of which I write Messer Guido Cavalcanti was ostensibly the chief man among the Reds, and the chief man among the Yellows was Messer Simone dei Bardi.

Here, in consequence of this business of Reds and Yellows, was a thickening of the imbroglio of Florentine life. For now it was not enough to be told whether a man was Guelph or Ghibelline in order to know how to deal with him. It was not merely prudent but even imperative to inquire further, for a rooted Guelph might be Red or Yellow in this other scuffle, and so might a rooted Ghibelline. Thus our poor City of the Lilies was become [Pg 18]a very Temple of Discord, and at any moment a chance encounter in the street, a light word let fly—nay, even no more than a slight glance—might be the signal for drawn swords and runnels of blood among the cobbles. Truly, therefore, it is not to be denied that for such poor gentlemen as, like myself, desired their ease, together with much singing and kissing and sipping, Florence was by no means an Arcadia. And yet there was no one of us that would willingly have lived elsewhere, for all the quarrelling and all the feuds.

Now I do not say it because I was a Red myself, but I do think that the Reds were of a better temper than the Yellows. Very certainly no one was less eager to fan the flames of these quarrellings and feuds than the man that was by my side, Messer Guido Cavalcanti. And no less certainly of those that were hottest for quarrellings and keenest to keep old feuds alive, and to enforce distinctions of faction, and make much of party cries, there was no one hotter and keener than Messer Simone dei Bardi, whose name had just come to Messer Guido's lips.

Messer Simone came of a house that was of excellent good repute in our city. Bankers his folk were, very busy and prosperous, and bankers they had been for many a long day before Messer Simone was begotten. Messer Simone was not the greatest heir, but I think in his way he was the [Pg 19]most notable, though his way was not quite the way of the family, no less steady-going than honorable, from which he came. For, indeed, it was his chief delight to lavish the money which his forebears had amassed, and there was no one in all Florence more prompt than he to fling hoarded florins out of the window. By rights he should have been a free-companion, and received on the highroad at the heads of a levy of lesser devils, for of a truth he was too turbulent and quarrelsome for Florence, which is saying much. The men of my spring days, as I have written, were ranged in many ways of opposition, Guelph against Ghibelline, Red against Yellow, Donati against Cerchi, and Messer Simone should have been content to be Guelph and Yellow and Cerchi, but at times he carried himself as if he were ranged against every one, or perhaps I should rather say that he carried himself as if his single will was above all the wranglers of others, and that it was given to him to do as he pleased, heedless of the feelings of any faction. Had he had but the wit to balance his arrogance, Messer Simone might have been a great man in Florence. As it proved, he was only a great plague.

Now I laughed at Guido's words, for it seemed strange to me to think of Messer Simone dei Bardi as a wooer of countrified damsels. "What has that Bull-face to do with it?" I asked, and whistled mockingly after the asking.

[Pg 20]

Guido still looked grave. "Why, I think his fist gapes, finger and thumb, to seize Monna Beatrice," he said, and he said no more, but looked as if he could say much.

Here was an oracle anxious to be interrogated, so I questioned him further. I knew by report that the girl was fair, but I could not think of her in any fashion as a maid for Messer Simone, and I conveyed my doubts to Guido. "Is the girl to be snared so?" I asked.

Guido looked cryptic. "That is for father Folco to settle," he said. "And father Folco is a man that loves his fellow-men, but would have his children obey him even to the death, like a Roman father of old."

I began to take the matter hotly, thinking it over and looking at it this way and that way. "Well, if I were a woman," I protested, "which I thank Heaven I am not," I interpolated, fervently, "I would drown in Arno sooner than be bride to Simone of the Bardi."

Guido shrugged his shoulders. He was a man that believed anything of women. "Yet I think Vittoria loves him," he said, softly, more as if to himself than to me.

But, bless you, I caught him up nimbly, seeing the weakness of his argument. "Vittoria, the courtesan! She loves any man, every man."

Guido looked at me very thoughtfully. Then [Pg 21]he said, slowly: "I will tell you a tale I heard yesterday. Some while ago our bull-headed Simone, being with Vittoria at supper at her house, and as drunk as is his custom at the tail of the day, dozed on a sofa while the company began to talk of fair women."

I was horrified at the ill-manners of the hog, though it all seemed of a piece with his habitual hoggishness. "One should never be too drunk," I averred, "to talk on that illuminating theme."

Now Guido was fretted at my interruption, and he showed it with a frown and a silencing gesture of his hand. "Peace, Lappo, peace!" he cried; "this is my story. Some praised this lady, some praised that, all, as was due to their guesthood, giving the palm to Vittoria, till some one said there lived a lady at Fiesole that was lovelier than a dream."

"Who was this nonesuch?" I asked, all agog over any word of loveliness.

Guido chastened my impatience with a grave glance. "I come to that," he continued. "She was named Beatrice, daughter of Folco Portinari, and he that praised her averred that whoso might wed her would be the happiest of mortals."

Now, though the air was warm, I shivered at his words, as if it had suddenly turned cold, for, indeed, I was never a marrying man, and my pleasantest memories of women are not memories of [Pg 22]any wife of mine. "Marriage—and happiness?" I said, questioning and grinning. "I am not of his mind."

Guido looked at me with a good-humored smile, as one that was prepared to bear with my interruptions. "Nor he of yours," he answered. "Now, as they talked thus, our Simone stirred in his stupor, and swore that if this were true he would marry the maiden. Vittoria laughed, and her laughter so teased the ruffian that he swore a great oath he would take any wager he would wed this exquisite maiden."

"Who took him?" I asked. The tale promised to be interesting, and spurred my curiosity.

Guido went on with his narrative. "No man. Simone's luck is proverbial as his enmity deadly. But Vittoria grinned at him, swearing no such maid would marry him, and at last so goaded him that he defied her to a wager. Then she dared him to this—staking her great emerald, in a ring that the French prince gave her, on the terms that if he failed to gain the daughter of Folco Portinari he was in all honor and solemnity to marry her, Vittoria."

I remember as well as if it were yesterday my amazement when I heard this story, and am inclined now to uplift my hands as I then uplifted them in wonder, and am inclined to say again, as I said then, "Gods, what a wager!"

[Pg 23]

Guido seemed amused at my astonishment, for he laughed a little while softly to himself, and then went on with his tale-telling. "Simone's red gills winced, like a dying fish, but he was too drunk to qualify. He swore a foul oath, 'I will marry this lily,' says he, 'within a year, and if I do not, why I will wed you, you—' And he called Vittoria by such lewd names as your wit can picture. But she, turning no hair, called for pen and parchment, and had it fairly engrossed and Simone's sprawling signature duly witnessed before even the company departed. So it stands—Simone must win the maid or wed the light o' love."

Then I said, "I take it he will win the maid."

Guido nodded his head gravely. He did not like Simone any better than I did, but he had a way of accepting facts more readily. "Simone mostly wins his wish. See how far he has gone already. He has so worked it that her father has brought his lovely daughter from the hills to the city. Old Folco favors him, and small wonder, Messer Simone being the power he is in Florence. As for this triumph of Folco's daughter through our streets, I take it to be rather Simone's displaying of his prize, that all men may envy him his marvel."

For my part, I protested very honestly and from the core of my heart. "If I were old Portinari, I would rather rot in exile than have Simone dei Bardi for my son-in-law."

[Pg 24]

Guido tapped me on the shoulder. "That is," he said, "because you have the heart of an amorist that would let none be lover save himself."

I laughed in his face, and gave him the lie courteously. "No, because I have the heart of a poet, and the full-favored brute vexes my gorge."

Guido still seemed to mock me. "As you will," he said. "Shall we go to the Signory and stare at the pageant?"

I shook my head. I was sorry to deny Messer Guido in anything or to deprive myself of the comfort of his company. But I had come to that place to keep a tryst. "I cannot," I said. "I wait here for young Dante of the Alighieri."

Now Messer Dante and I had been friends for some years past, friends not indeed because we were both Florentines, but perhaps I should say in spite of the fact that we were both Florentines. For in those days, as in the days before them, and in the days that since have come to pass, while every Florentine loved Florence with all the passion of an old Roman for the city of Romulus, Florentine very often loved Florentine as day loves night, eld youth, health sickness, poverty riches, or any other pair of opposites you please. But I was never much of a politician, I thank my stars, and though a good enough Guelph to pass muster in a crowd, and a good enough Red to cry "Haro!" upon the Yellows if need were, I bothered my [Pg 25]head very little about such brawls so long as there were songs to sing, vintages to sip, and pretty girls to kiss.

In Messer Dante I found one of my own age, or, perhaps, a little less that was in those days scarcely more pricked by the itch political than I myself was, and for a while he and I had been jolly companions in the merry pleasant ways of youth. But of late days this Dante, that was ever a wayward fellow, had suddenly turned away from sports and joys, and devoted himself with an unwholesome fervor to study, and seemed, as it were, lost to me in the Humanities. Which is why I had made a tryst with him that day to upbraid him and bring him to a better sense, and so I could not go with Messer Guido as he was good enough to wish.

Guido looked at me with a sudden interest. "You are much his friend, are you not?" he questioned.

Now I had for long been mightily taken with Messer Dante, and, indeed, for a while I seemed to see the world as he saw it, and to speak as he would have spoken. I am of that mood now, after all these years—at least, in a measure. But just then I was in a reaction and vexed, and I voiced my vexation swiftly. "Why, I thought so once. But I wash my hands of him. We were as one in the playthings of youth. Now he dances no more to my piping. He will not laugh when [Pg 26]my wit tickles him. He is no longer for drinking or kissing, for dicing or fighting. He has a cold fit of wisdom come upon him, and rests ever with Messer Brunetto, the high dry-as-dust, reading of Virgilius, Tullius, and other ancients, as if learning were better than living. I have made a tryst with him here to upbraid him; but I doubt he will keep it."

"I know little of him," Guido said, thoughtfully. "I should like to know more, to know much."

Now, it was a great compliment to any youth in our city that Messer Guido should desire his acquaintance, yet I feared in this case he had made a rash choice.

"Lord," I said, "he is hard to know. Yet, laugh if you will, but I think there are great things in him."

Messer Guido did not laugh. Rather he looked grave. "Pray God there be," he said. "For indeed the age lacks greatness."

"So every man has said in every age," I protested. "But our Dante baffles me. He changes his moods as a chameleon changes his coat, and feeds each mood so full. Yesteryear he was mad for the open air, and the games, and the joy of life. To-day he is mewed in the cloisters of knowledge. He is damned in his Latin. I will wait no more for him."

So I spoke in my impatience, and made as if to [Pg 27]go; but Guido caught me by the sleeve and restrained me, saying, "Why, here, as I think, he comes, by way of the bridge."

Now, even as he spoke, I looked where he looked, and whom should I see coming toward us on the shady side of the bridge than this very lad we were talking of, and with him Messer Brunetto, the great scholar. So I went on with a new anger in my voice, "It is he, indeed, in Messer Brunetto's escort," and then I plucked Guido by the arm and pulled him round about, so that we were out of ken of the coming pair. "Let us stand off one side till he be alone."

So I urged and so I persuaded, and Messer Guido and I, that were curious to have speech with Dante, but had no desire to have speech with the elder, slipped apart and hid ourselves in the shadow of the pillars of the Arcade that faced the Portinari palace.


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