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XXVII THE SOLITARY CITY
With the death of Simone the immediate brawl came to an end. In the first fury after his fall certain of his followers began to cry for vengeance, but the cry was not caught up with any fulness of assurance, and soon faded into silence. The men of the Yellows, so suddenly made leaderless and faced by enemies so many and determined, could not fuse into concerted action. They hesitated, looked foolishly at one another, and lost whatever chance they had of success. Messer Simone's body, almost decapitated from the stroke of Griffo, was fished up from underneath the hooves of his rearing charger, laid upon a dismounted door, covered with a cloak, and hurriedly conveyed away to his house. Madonna Vittoria, snatched just in time from the clutch of those cruel fingers, drew her breath in and out again; the blood that had suffused her swollen face flowed back into its proper channels; she quickened to existence clinging to her Griffo's breast. Messer Guido, taking to himself authority as the chief man of his party there present, [Pg 336]called upon the party of the dead Bardi to disperse, and disperse they did, cowed by the presence of the lances of the Dragon-flag, even before the belated arrival of authority, backed by all the forces it could command, had made dispersal a necessity.

Authority, now that Simone dei Bardi was indubitably dead, held a united mind against Simone dei Bardi, and entertained no thoughts of punishing his slayer, who, indeed, would scarcely have been minded to tolerate their jurisdiction. Messer Griffo was left to ride unchecked to Monna Vittoria's villa with his lances at his back. In that villa Monna Vittoria recovered briskly, thanks to her youth and her health, and in that villa a little later the adventurer wedded the adventuress, and proved to the end of their days patterns of wedded content and pleasure. Messer Simone's body was buried stealthily at night, and authority vindicated its dignity by confiscating his houses and his goods, though it restored to Madonna Vittoria her emerald ring, which was picked up on the field of fight, as some salve for her rough handling. So ended, as far as the feud of Reds and Yellows was concerned, that wild day which is remembered, whimsically enough, in the annals of Florence as the Day of the Felicity, from the name of the place where the contest began and ceased. From that day the words Red and Yellow as party terms ceased to be used, [Pg 337]because the parties had ceased to exist. The Yellows fell to pieces with the death of Simone, and the Reds, having no appreciable antagonists, ceased in their turn to be.

As for my Dante, his joy in that day's work lived a short life. Let the story of his woe be told quickly. When the door of the house of Folco was opened to him, he faced its master on the threshold, clad in his ancient armor for the defence of his dwelling, and his face was strained with sadness, and he seemed gray with the double of his years.

"My child lies in a swoon," he said. "The physician cannot awaken her as yet. Go to your lodging. I will send for you when she comes to herself."

With that Dante had to be content, and he went back to the place where he abode, and he sat in his lonely room to await the coming of Folco's messenger. His heart was heavy within him, and his thoughts were troubled, and he feared the great fear. Then, to while away the weary time, and to stay his care from feeding on his spirit, he sought some work for his hands. He could write no verses, but because he was not without skill as a draughtsman he took up, wherewith to draw, his tables and a pencil, and he began to trace the face of an angel, and under his working fingers the face of the angel had the face of a girl, and the face of the girl was the face of Beatrice. But while he [Pg 338]drew he became of a sudden aware that there was another in the room with him, although he knew that he had fastened the door behind him when he came in, and that none could have entered without his knowledge. Turning his head, he beheld that the God of Love was standing in the room, even as he seemed in the form of the image that stood over the fountain by the bridge. But now the bright feathers of his wings were faded, and his face was wan, and the garment that he wore was no longer red but black, and he looked very sadly upon Dante, and Dante felt his spirit grow cold and old within him before that melancholy gaze. Then the God of Love made a sign to Dante to rise and Dante rose, and Love beckoned to him to follow and Dante followed. The God of Love went out at the door and down the stair with Dante ever after him, and so into the air. No one in the street saw that gloomy figure of Love, no one save Dante, and Dante followed his guide through the bright evening, heeding no one, thinking no other thought than to go where his mournful herald led him. The God of Love conducted him to the house of Folco Portinari. Even as Dante came to the door the door opened and a man came forth, and the man was Messer Tommaso Severo, that was setting out to seek for Dante. Severo saw Dante, but he did not see the God of Love, and he told Dante that he was on the point of seeking him.

[Pg 339]

And Dante cried out one word—"Beatrice!"

And Messer Severo answered the question in his cry, very slowly and sadly, "Madonna Beatrice is dead."

Then Dante cried, "Take me to her!" And after that he spoke no other word, but walked in silence and tearless by Severo's side till they came to the room where Beatrice lay in her last sleep. The women that were about the bier drew away, and the God of Love took Dante by the hand and drew him a little nearer to where the girl lay, and Love stooped down and kissed the white face of Beatrice—kissed her on the forehead and on the lidded eyes and on the pale lips. Dante heard the voice of the God, that said, "It is your love that kisses her thus." But Dante spoke no word, and there were no tears in his eyes; only he stood there a little while looking at Beatrice, and then he turned and went his ways, unquestioned and unstayed, back to his own place. When Messer Guido and I came to him later we found him sitting all alone in his chamber looking at a little unfinished drawing of an angel, and murmuring to himself, over and over again, "How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people? How is she become a widow?"

Here my tale comes to an end. The rascal Maleotti confessed later, on being put to the question, that it was his master, Simone dei Bardi, who [Pg 340]sent to Madonna Beatrice the casket containing the rose, and that the petals of the rose had been poisoned by a cunning leech that was in Messer Simone's service, for Messer Simone was sure that Beatrice would think it came from Dante, and Messer Simone was of a mind that if he could not have Beatrice no one else should have her. But when Simone heard from Maleotti of Dante's visit to the Portinari palace so soon after the sending of the casket, he felt sure that Dante would deny, as Dante did deny, the sending of the rose, and that the evil thing would scarcely have had time to effect its purpose. Then the flames of his jealousy blazed hotter within him, and he thought that Dante's presence in the palace would be an excuse for him to break the peace that had been put upon him, and that he might, after all, win Beatrice for himself. In this, as you know, he failed, and it is my belief that he failed in the first part of his plotting, for Messer Tommaso Severo, that had examined the rose, gave it as his opinion that though the petals had been impregnated with some kind of venom, their odor had not been inhaled by Beatrice sufficiently long to cause any malignant effect, and he affirmed that the fair lady's death was due solely to the woful agitations of the last hours of her life acting upon a body ever too frail to house so fine a spirit. However that may be, and I hope it was so, we found great satisfaction in the hanging of [Pg 341]Maleotti. We would have hanged the leech, too, whom Maleotti accused, but he forestalled our vengeance by poisoning himself—partly, I think, out of hurt pride at the alleged failure of his cunning device.

I have little more to say—no more, indeed, than this: It has been said by many, and believed by more, that, after the death of his lady, my dear friend fell into a kind of moral torpor, in which all sense of things righteous and things evil was confused. Thus he went his ways, like the godless man of whom it is spoken in the Wisdom of Solomon, feeding on mean and secret pleasures, and consorting with the strange women that are called Daughters of Joy. I do not know that he ever did so; I should never credit it, though it is such folly as weaker men might fall into readily enough in the freshness of their despair. But I will set down this story which I have heard told of him. It relates that one night Dante drifted toward that quarter of the city where such light loves find shelter. There many women plucked at his sleeve as he passed, and, at last, surrendering to temptation, he followed through the darkness one that was closely cloaked and hooded. It seemed to him that they went a long way together, he and the hooded woman by his side, and though at times he spoke to her, she answered him no word. After a while they came to an open place that was moon-lit, [Pg 342]and then the woman paused and pulled back her hood, and there for a moment Dante looked upon the face of the dead Beatrice. In that instant Dante found himself alone, and he fled from the place in a great horror.



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