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XXIV BREAKING THE PEACE
Now, of course, it is one thing to put the Peace of the City upon a man, and another thing to make him abide by his peaceful promise. Messer Simone had put his pledge, with his palm and fingers, into the hand of the Captain of the People, but he had done so because at the given instant he could not very well see that there was anything else for him to do—as, indeed, there was not. But Simone was never a man to give undue weight to the words or forms of a foolish ceremony if the ceremonial stood in the way of anything he wished to accomplish and saw the chance of accomplishing. Therefore, Messer Simone did not intend to keep the Peace of the City a moment longer than was convenient for him. But before deciding to break it he had other things to do which he set about doing with all possible dispatch.

In the first place, he was very wild to know how he had been baffled and bubbled in the business of the Aretine expedition, and who had played him false in that matter. Interrogation of Maleotti [Pg 298]made it plain to him that Maleotti had acted in good faith if Maleotti had acted foolishly. He had been confident, and, as Simone could not but admit, reasonably confident, that when he saw the little fellowship of the Company of Death ride into the wood with Griffo's lances about them and Griffo's Dragon-flag above them, that they would never emerge alive from the wood, but would leave their bones to whiten amid its leaves. Why, then, had Messer Griffo been untrue to his promise? Simone could not admit that any arguments or promises of his intended victims would have had power to stay his lifted sword, for there was no one in all their number who could pay down the money that Simone could pay down; and as to argument, Griffo of the Dragon-flag was too busy a man to bother about other people's arguments. Yet Griffo left the Company of Death a misnomer, as far as he was concerned. Griffo had let the Reds ride onward to Arezzo and back to Florence, very much to Simone's annoyance and discomfiture. What, then, was the cause of Griffo's defalcation, and who had inspired him to this signal piece of treachery?

Simone shrewdly suspected Madonna Vittoria to be at the back of the matter, a suspicion that was plentifully fed by Maleotti, who was eager enough to get his patron's angry thoughts directed against any other than himself. Luckily, however, for Madonna Vittoria, she very shrewdly suspected [Pg 299]that Simone would shrewdly suspect her, and she laid her plans accordingly. After she had whispered into Dante's ear, in the square before the Church of the Holy Name, the secret of Simone's treason, she decided that it might be as well for her to change the air of Florence for one which she could breathe in greater security. Simone of the Bardi, never a pleasant man in his best moods, would be very far indeed from proving a pleasant man to any crosser of his purpose, even if that crosser were a woman as fair as Monna Vittoria. The woman's imagination could feel the grip of Simone's fingers about her throat, and she shivered at the thought in the warm air. She could see Simone's eyes glaring wolfishly down upon her, and she lowered her own lids at the fancied sight and shuddered. When she had a little shaken off the effects of this most disagreeable vision, she took her precautions to prevent its becoming a reality.

When, therefore, Simone came in a rage to Vittoria's villa with a tale of his trustiest ruffians at his heels, he found no Madonna Vittoria waiting to receive him, to be questioned, to be forced to confess, to be punished. Far away on the highroad toward Arezzo a youth was riding furiously, a comely youth that seemed not a little plump in his clothes of golden brocade, a youth with a scarlet cap on a crown of dark hair, a youth that kept a [Pg 300]splendid horse galloping at full speed toward Messer Griffo's encampment outside Arezzo. If Messer Simone could have known of that riding figure he would have been even angrier than he was. All he did know was that Monna Vittoria was nowhere within the liberties of her villa, and as he realized this fact he stood for a while closing and unclosing the fingers of his great hands with an expression on his face that would have made Vittoria sick could she but see it.

Though his business with Monna Vittoria was thus, and thus far, proved a failure, Simone had another matter to attend to which yielded a more successful issue. Messer Simone wished to ascertain how far his standing in the city had been injured by recent events, and how far he might count on the support of those that had always hitherto been reckoned as his friends. As to the first horn of the dilemma, he really felt little anxiety. There was never a man of all the men in the party of the Yellows that could be found to utter disapproving word of a plan that had promised to annihilate at a single stroke the majority of those that were most important among their opponents. Some few, indeed, might be inclined, on general patriotic grounds, to protest against a course of action which slaughtered one's private foes—however commendable the slaughter might be under ordinary circumstances—while engaged in military operations [Pg 301]against an enemy of the city, and under the very eyes, as it were, of that enemy. But here Messer Simone had his comfortable answer in reserve. The very wiping out of his private enemies was to be an important factor in the later wiping out of the public enemy. Was not Arezzo, deceived by this action of private justice, to take Messer Griffo to her arms, only to find that she had cuddled a cockatrice? Up to this point Messer Simone felt fairly sure of himself and of his ground.

He received no goring from the second horn—nay, not so much as a prick to break the skin. His friends were as plentiful, his friends were as zealous as ever, as ready to serve Messer Simone with enthusiasm so long as Messer Simone had the millions of his kinsmen and the bank behind him. Simone made sure, and very sure, that a very respectable army would rise behind him if he chose to cry his war-cry, and season that utterance with the relish of the added words, "Death to the Reds!"—words that were always in Simone's heart, and would now, as he believed, be very soon upon his lips, to the discomfiture of his adversaries. In a word, Messer Simone was ripe, and overripe, for a breach of the peace, and could barely be persuaded to wait for opportunity and a pretext. He did wait, however, and he soon got both.

With the next morning there came one to my abode asking to have speech with me, and when [Pg 302]I went to see who it was I found that my visitor was none other than Messer Tommaso Severo, that was so long physician to the Portinari family. He told me that he heard that Messer Dante was for the time dwelling with me as my guest, and when I told him that this was so he went on that he had come the bearer of a message to my friend, asking him to come very instantly to the Portinari palace. When I showed some surprise at this, Messer Tommaso Severo told me that Madonna Beatrice desired most earnestly to speak with Dante, and that her father had consented to this out of his great love for his child, which seemed suddenly to have grown stronger in the midst of all these ill-happenings. He further told me that Messer Folco had long been bound to Simone because of large sums that ruffian had lent him from time to time for the building of his hospitals and the like, which had swallowed up the mass of Messer Folco's own fortune. Not that Messer Simone cared for any such good works, but because, by doing as he did, he laid Messer Folco under heavier obligations to him. Now, however, according to Messer Tommaso, Folco saw more clearly the character of the man that he had made his son-in-law, and also the character of his own daughter that he had never understood till now, and he was now resolved to repay Messer Simone all he owed him if he sold everything he possessed to do so, and thereafter use all [Pg 303]his credit among his friends at Rome, and he had many there, to get the marriage annulled by the Holy See. Then I went and summoned Dante, and he came out and greeted Messer Tommaso and went away with him, going like one that moves in the grave joy of some fair dream.

Now what chanced to Dante when he went his ways to the Portinari palace I shall set down presently as it has come to me, seeing that I was not present, but giving, as I believe, the substance and the truth. But when he and Messer Tommaso had left me, I thought to myself that I would busy my leisure with writing a sonnet or so to some merry jills of my acquaintance. But when I had got me ink and parchment, I found, to my surprise, that I was in no fit mood for wooing the muses, and that the rhymes that were wont to be so ready to jig to my whistle were now most fretfully rebellious, and would not come, for all my application. So there I sat and stared at the unstained whiteness of my sheets and grumbled at the sluggishness of my spirit, and presently I applied myself pretty briskly to the wine-flask, in the hope of quickening my spirits. But the wine proved as hostile to my rhyming as the muses had been, and after a little while, when I had drunk a toast to some half a dozen sweetnesses that were then very dear to me, what must I do but fall into the depths of a very profound sleep.

How long I lay in that lethargy I do not know; [Pg 304]only I remember dreaming incoherent and distorted dreams, because, after all, a chair is no proper place in which to seek slumber. I thought I was wandering in a wood where satyrs grinned at me and nymphs eluded me, and where I was mightily vexed at my ill fortune. Then suddenly all the trees began to talk at the tops of their voices, and though it did not surprise me in the least that trees could talk, yet it annoyed me that I could not hear what they said, because of their all talking together, and in my indignation I awoke to find that the trees were still talking as it seemed, and that the sound of their voices filled the chamber where I sat uncomfortably enough, staring about me with drowsy eyes. All of a sudden I realized that the noises I heard were the voices of no trees, but the clamor of human voices in the streets outside, and that they swelled to a great roar of menace and alarm and anger.

You may believe that I was up and awake in a twinkling, and that I caught up my sword as a wise citizen does when there is brawling abroad in the streets of Florence, and in less time than I take to tell it I was out of my house and in the open, looking eagerly about me. The street was all full of people running and shouting as they ran, and man caught at man as they ran and asked questions and was answered, and I heard the name of Simone dei Bardi and of the Portinari palace, and that was [Pg 305]enough for me. If I had borne wings on my heels, like Hermes of old, or carried a pair on each shoulder, like Zetes and Calais of pagan memory, I could scarcely have sped swifter than I did along the streets of Florence, threading my way with amazing dexterity through the throng that hurried, like me, in the same direction. In a few wild minutes I found myself in the Place of the Holy Felicity, which was now no other than a camping-ground for two opposing forces under arms. As I began to realize what these opposing forces were, I also realized that the time of the day was long past noon, and that I must have slept my heavy, dream-disturbed sleep for some hours that were eventful hours to many that were familiar to me.

Let me try and present a picture of what I saw that afternoon in the Place of the Holy Felicity. In front of the house of Messer Folco Portinari, that seemed to me more grim and solemn than ever that day, were ranged a number of the soldiers of the authorities of the city, that had evidently been set there to protect Messer Folco's house from attack, and that were far too few for the purpose, considering who was the assailant and what his powers of aggression. For the assailant was Messer Simone dei Bardi, that strode a big horse and was girt with a big sword, and looked for all the world like the painted giant of a puppet play. Behind Messer Simone was massed a mighty following, [Pg 306]that took up much of the space in the square and flowed off into the other streets adjacent, which his men held, that no assistance might be sent to the soldiers of the authorities. It was not these soldiers, indeed, that stayed Messer Simone from his purpose of forcing an entrance to the Portinari palace, but the presence of other elements in the struggle that was to be striven that day.

One of these elements was represented, to my wonder and delight, by my dear Dante, who stood on the steps of the Portinari palace with a great sword in his hand. So standing, he looked like some guardian angel of the place, appointed to protect it from desecration. His face was very calm, and he kept his gaze ever fixed most steadily upon Simone of the Bardi, and he seemed eager for the conflict that must surely be. Below him were gathered many of his friends, many of the Reds, many of the fellowship of the Company of Death, that had fought and beaten the Aretines but yesterday, and among these, of course, and of course in the foremost place, was Messer Guido Cavalcanti. But though the friends of Dante were many, they were but few in comparison with the numbers that were led by Simone dei Bardi, and Simone could have swept his enemies away from the threshold of the Portinari palace were it not for the existence of a further element in the struggle. That element was represented by a multitude of armed men on [Pg 307]horseback that were ranged in front of the palace in manifest antagonism to Messer Simone and his supporters. Over the helms of these horsemen floated the Dragon-flag that I now knew so well, and at their head, mounted on a great gray horse that he held well reined in, Messer Griffo of the Claw, that made a fine opposition to Messer Simone, both in bulk and bearing.

By the side of Messer Griffo, on a high bay, rode one that at the first glance I took for a youth, and that at the second glance I knew for Madonna Vittoria in the habit of a youth. It became her plumpness very lovingly, and, indeed, she looked very well with a scarlet cap set atop of her twisted-up tresses and her eyes all fire with excitement. She kept very close to Messer Griffo's side, and looked at him every now and then as if she loved him, which, as I gathered thereafter, was exactly what she did. It seems that well-nigh from the first the big Englishman won her demi-Roman, semi-Grecian heart, and that while he was so smitten with her as to do her will in that business of Arezzo and Messer Simone, she, on her side, was so won by his willingness and his bulk and his blunt love-making, that she cared no longer for the winning of that wicked old wager, and had but one thought in her head, which was to become the lawful wife of Messer Griffo of the Claw. This was an arrangement of their joint affairs which [Pg 308]Messer Griffo of the Claw was very willing to make.

I did not know all this as I stood there in the Place of the Holy Felicity, though I could guess at a good deal of it, for the tale of Griffo's love for Vittoria and of Vittoria's love for Griffo was written in the largest and plainest hand of write. But I could not guess the causes that had brought Messer Simone and Messer Griffo thus face to face before Messer Folco's house, in all this pomp and armament of battle. But I had plenty of friends in the crowd to question, and by the time that I had elbowed my way to the edge nearest to the antagonists—aiding my advance by loud proclamations that I was one of the Company of Death, a statement that insured me help and respect in my advance—I had learned all that it was necessary for me to know in order to understand the bellicose state of affairs. You shall understand them in your turn, but in the first place it is necessary for me to tell what had happened in those hours when I was snoring, and had led to the facing of those two armed forces in the Place of the Holy Felicity and in front of Messer Folco's home.


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