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XXII THE RETURN OF THE REDS
The Church of the Holy Name was filled as full as it could hold, and those outside were grumbling at their hard case in being cut off from so much solemnity or jollification, according to their opinion of the ceremony inside. But it came to pass that the lot of these outsiders proved, from the point of view of those that like to assist, if only as spectators, at the making of history, to be more fortunate than that of those who had gained admittance to the church. For suddenly, from far away, there came a shouting, meaningless at first, but momentarily growing in meaning, till at last men shrieked into their neighbors' ears that the supposed lost and slaughtered of the youth of Florence were not lost nor slaughtered at all, but were alive and well, and were riding in triumph through the city gates, having inflicted innumerable woes upon the devils of Arezzo.

Such tidings were unbelievable, were not to be believed, were not believed, were believed—all in the winking of an eyelid. The insolent chivalry of the [Pg 280]Company of Death were, as it seemed, all, or almost all, to hand with Messer Guido Cavalcanti at their head. With them came the news that the Aretines had been beaten in battle, and that the ever illustrious condottiere, Griffo of the Claw, was flying his Dragon-flag in the very face of the scared burghers of Arezzo, huddled behind their naughty walls. Here was a mighty change in the fortunes of Florence, its full significance understood by few then, and not by many until long after that day.

At first the news seemed incredible to those that had not ocular proof of its verity, but these soon were convinced. Was not Messer Guido Cavalcanti riding through the city gates, whither all were now running, and was not Messer Dante by his side, and your humble servant who writes these lines, and many another youth well known to the Florentine populace? So that, in a little while, the space before the church, that had been so thickly crowded, was as empty as my palm, and Messer Guido and his fellowship of the Company of Death were like to be unhorsed and swallowed up in a wave of popular enthusiasm. Messer Guido restrained the kindly intentions of the crowd with some difficulty, and thereafter harangued them at some length, and with eloquence worthy of a Roman patrician of old days. He told them how the fortunes of Florence were again, as ever before, triumphant, how the devils of Arezzo had been taught [Pg 281]a lesson they would not be likely to forget in a hurry, and, furthermore, how much Florence owed to the splendid assistance given to her arms by Messer Griffo of the Dragon-flag and his Free Companions.

Now, at every pause in Messer Guido's speech, the air was shattered with deafening huzzas, some echo of which would, one must surely think, find its way into that solemn and sombre church where the fairest lady in Florence was being given to Florence's greatest knave. How great a knave none of us realized at that moment, for we, of course, were ignorant of the intention of Messer Simone with regard to us, and the narrow escape we had from being annihilated by those very Free Companions whose praises Messer Guido was so generously voicing. Even while Guido was speaking, those of us behind and about him heard many things hurriedly from the citizens that pressed against us. One of them was the news of our own supposed slaughter at the hands of the people of Arezzo, and the other—more terrible, indeed, to one of us—was that on that very instant Madonna Beatrice was being wedded to Simone dei Bardi in the Church of the Holy Name.

It was just when Messer Guido had made an end of speaking that the ill news came to Dante's ears, and when he heard it he gave a great cry and urged his horse forward through the throng, crying [Pg 282]to the people in a terrible voice to let him pass, and there was something in his set face and angry eyes, and in the manner of his command, which made the people yield to them, and so he rode his way, slowly, indeed, because of the press, but as quickly as he could, and still calling, like one possessed, for free passage. When Guido knew what had happened, for the tale was soon told to him, he foresaw what trouble might come to pass, and he resolved to stand by Dante and lend him a hand in case of need. So he called upon his friends to keep with him, and we all followed hard upon Dante's heels, and, as rapidly as was possible for the crush in the streets, we made our way to the open space in front of the church, the open space that now lay so vacant under the noontide sun. There Messer Dante flung himself from his horse and made to run at full speed toward the church door, and we, too, dismounting hurriedly, made after him, for we feared greatly what he might do or say in his anger, even within the precincts of the sacred place. Messer Guido, though I fear he had no great regard for the sanctity of such shrines and temples, made haste to restrain him, for he knew very well how it would hurt his friend in the eyes of devout Florentines if he were to cause any scandal in a church.

But before Dante could reach the blessed house its great doors yawned open, and many of those [Pg 283]that were inside came tumbling out and down the steps to form a hedge on either side, and through the human lane thus made the wedding party came out into the fierce sunlight. They stood for a moment on the threshold, very plain for all to see. Messer Simone showed very large and gorgeous, shining in some golden stuff like the gilded image of a giant, his great face flushed with triumph. Hard by him stood Messer Folco, looking very anxious and haughty and stern, grimly conscious, I suppose, that he had played the Roman father very properly, and yet, as I take it, not without some tragic aches and pinches at his heart for the consequences of his deed. Between him and Simone stood his doomed daughter, Beatrice, resting a little on the arm of her physician, Messer Tommaso Severo, and pale with such a paleness as I never yet saw upon the face of a woman, living or dead. It was, as who should say, a kind of frozen paleness, the pallor of a marble statue, the outward sign of a sorrow so great that time could never soften its sting. Behind these three stood the friends and kinsfolk of Simone and the friends and kinsfolk of Messer Folco, and made a brave background for the tragedy. So, for a moment, the three stood looking straight into the square before them, and then it was plain that they suddenly became conscious of untoward events, and Messer Simone forgot his triumph, and Messer Folco his pride, and Madonna [Pg 284]Beatrice her misery, when they saw Dante standing all armored in front of them, and behind him the triumphant faces of the Company of Death. Then Madonna Beatrice gave a great cry and ran quickly forward to Dante, and Dante caught her in his arms.

"They told me you were dead," she sobbed, and then lay very quiet in his embrace, whispering to him what had been related to her.

Messer Simone gave a great bellow of rage, and bent his head like an angry bull, and he wrenched his sword from the hand of the serving-man that carried it, and plucked its blade from its house. Very plainly he must have seen that his damnable plan had miscarried, and that in some unfathomable manner the men he had devoted to destruction, and of all these men most notably Dante, had escaped the fate he had arranged for them. Messer Dante, still holding Beatrice in his arms, had his sword drawn, and stood very steadfastly awaiting Simone's onslaught, looking, as it seemed to me, like some young saint from a Book of Hours abiding the attack of some pagan monster. But before Simone could move, Messer Guido and the rest of us had swarmed up beside and about Dante, and all our victorious swords were bare, and we seemed a menacing body enough to any that chose to oppose us. So those of Messer Simone's friends immediately about him flung themselves upon him, persuading [Pg 285]him by words and restraining him with difficulty by force, for he dragged them hither and thither, clinging to him as a wounded bear plays with a huddle of dogs.

Then Messer Folco, very gray in the face and stately of bearing, advanced in front of Messer Simone, where he struggled with his friends, and addressed us. "Sirs," he said, gravely, "what has come to the city of Florence, so famous for its decorum and its dignity, when the marriage of one of her citizens is thus rudely interrupted by roysterers in arms?"


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