The Viper of Milan, by Marjorie Bowen

Chapter 34.

An Instrument of God

‘How many, de Lana — how many?’

‘Five — six or seven —’

‘Hundreds!’

‘Thousands, my lord!’

Visconti leaned forward in his chair in his excitement. ‘Thousands?’

The men from Magenta are come in, laden with plunder.’

Visconti laughed.

‘I said I would give them Lombardy to sack — and there are thousands of prisoners?’

The scene was the summer palace, that same night. Visconti sat at the head of a table in a room adjoining the one in which the tapestry was torn and the floor still sticky with blood. It was a small apartment, beautifully inlaid with mosaic, and now blazing with lights, and full of a fine company of officers and nobles.

‘Thousands — men, women, and children — some men of note, too, my lord; the ransacking of palaces for miles —’

‘And Novara?’

‘Some beat the flames out still — they say half the place is saved’

‘Let them plunder it cried Visconti. ‘Let them pick Novara bare! The palace was burned?’

‘To a cinder.’

‘To a heap of ashes!’ said another. ‘There is nothing but the bastion, red hot —’

‘As you should know, da Ribera,’ laughed the officer next him, ‘seeing you tried to ride over it.’

‘And killed his horse,’ said another.

‘And saved myself!’ shouted da Ribera. ‘I look for a reward for that, my lord — the saving of a valiant officer of yours —’

‘Shall not be forgotten!’ laughed Visconti. ‘Be paid by this advice. Remember burning towns are dangerous, as to his mortal cost a certain great Frenchman found at Rouen, and several great Germans more recently at Milan —’

‘When they lay along the rampart like flies, I have heard my grandfather say, striving to loot in the midst of the very flames,’ said de Lana, ‘like da Ribera here.’

‘Had I been in Milan, Barbarossa himself would have burned in the midst of it,’ said Visconti, sweeping back the glass and silver before him. ‘The town had weeks to prepare’

‘Had you been there, Milan would not have burned at all, my lord!’ said a flattering voice.

‘Maybe it would not. It was certainly before the Visconti’s rule began,’ and he looked down the table with a smile at the dark face of Martin della Torre.

‘And now the plans, de Lana — Novara to Magenta, Magenta to Vercelli.’

He swept the glasses still further back, and spread the parchment de Lana handed him on the coloured marble table. ‘Vercelli — we hold Vercelli, de Lana?’ The officers moved up closer, leaning over the table.

‘We hold Vercelli — and Magenta.’

Visconti placed a silver goblet to keep the parchment down, and traced the route with the point of his dagger.

To Turin — to Cuneo — as near as we dare to the stiff-necked Genoese, and we have circled Piedmont.’

‘And these same Genoese?’

‘Let them keep quiet,’ said Visconti; sheathing his dagger and leaning back, ‘and they may keep Genoa; we have larger game in view — the Empire. From the walls of Novara the Alps are to be seen, from the walls of Magenta they hide half the sky, from Turin one may touch them, and so we go closer —’

‘And hold the Empire in check,’ said de Lana, with excited eyes. ‘Ah, my lord, it was almost worth it —’

Visconti turned to him sharply.

‘What do you say, de Lana?’

There was a second’s pause. This was the first, even vague, reference to what had happened earlier that same night; it seemed weeks since, and yet the sun had not risen on it. Visconti looked at de Lana and laughed.

‘Almost worth it — almost worth what, de Lana?’

The soldier, recovering himself, returned his glance. ‘The extinction of four noble families, my lord.’

‘Did my lord do it?’ cried another.

Did he ask the d’Estes to burn Novara?’

‘No,’ smiled Visconti. ‘But had they not, I had done it for them, as I will burn Mantua, and the Gonzagas in it. We will have no seditious spots in the Lombardy I rule. There will be one capital and one ruler,’ he added sternly. ‘The d’Estes knew enough to anticipate it.’

De Lana was silent.

‘And these prisoners, my lord?’ asked da Ribera. What of them?’

‘They choke the camp,’ said another.

‘They are partisans of Mastino della Scala, naturally,’ said Visconti. It was the first time the name had been mentioned, and Visconti’s eyes flared to see that there was silence at it. ‘Mastino della Scala, I said — they favoured him.’

‘Yes, my lord; him, or the Estes.’

‘You will put them to the sword.’

‘All?’

‘All!’ shouted Visconti, half rising. ‘I will have no rebellious slaves to groan over della Scala’s grave, and hatch me plots from the ashes of their bones — we will raze the cities to the ground, and put them to the sword. My triumph will need no prisoners to prove it — and see it done, de Lana.’

They quailed; their attitude acknowledged him the master. ‘Spare the churches,’ said Visconti, ‘and see that all relics are brought with due honour to Milan. Da Ribera, you ventured furthest into Novara; saw you any churches?’

‘One, my lord, is saved: the church of Santa Chiara.’

We tried to rescue the monks,’ struck in Martin della Torre. ‘They refused our succour, and returned into the flames — screaming —’

He paused.

‘What?’ demanded Visconti.

‘Somewhat about God’s curse,’ answered della Torre. ‘Their execration was not pleasant.’

‘Had you not been there, you had not heard it,’ said de Lana. ‘And a few crazy — hark!’

There came a great noise from without, and the trampling of crowding feet.

‘Another company is joining us,’ remarked Visconti.

‘The soldiers from Novara,’ said della Torre, and put his goblet down, and de Lana turned expectantly to the door. Visconti, facing it, rose in his seat as it was flung wide and a couple of scorched and bleeding soldiers entered followed by a trampling guard.

‘From Novara?’ asked the Duke.

They stopped short, saluting.

‘From Novara! We have saved the library and the college, my lord, and some three palaces.’

‘They would have burned the library,’ cried Visconti, ‘sooner than it should enrich Milan — the jealous fools!’

‘Now, hark you,’ he added to the soldiers, ‘every man bringing a book or a gem or a picture, I reward; every man destroying one, I hang. Now, which is he who saved the library?’

An officer pushed forward.

‘This is he, my lord; one of my company.’

‘Take this from me,’ and Visconti handed the man his neck-chain.

‘And the prisoners, my lord?’

‘What care I for the prisoners! You will give no quarter, I say!’

The officer bowed, and drew a little book from his doublet, laying it on the table.

‘A monk gave me this for his life,’ he said. ‘And all Lombardy knows your taste in books, my lord.’

‘Remember we league with the Pope,’ said Visconti, taking it up. ‘The monk should have had his life without a bribe; now go, and heed what I have said.’ He turned to de Lana: ‘Follow, and see if the flames be out; ’tis daylight.’

The curtains were drawn away from the window, and the early light, fast glowing into sunlight, and the fresh morning air, filled the heated chamber.

The lamps flared pale, the gorgeous dresses and flushed eager faces of the men round the table, the glimmer of the gold and silver vessels before them, showed in a garish contrast with the soft light.

‘Seneca,’ said Visconti, turning over the volume the soldier had brought. ‘Where is that knave Giannotto? Seneca, spoiled by interlining, but still Seneca. Giannotto — I say!’

The secretary was not in the room, but the page dispatched soon brought him. He stood in the doorway, blinking at the daylight, looking around confused, and the company broke into laughter.

‘Take this!’ cried Visconti. ‘A Seneca on vellum, with some dolt’s comments; take it, Giannotto.’

‘There is a library being brought in below,’ said the secretary.

‘Because we spared the church of Santa Chiara, who must have been the patron saint of poets — eh, de Lana?’

‘Messer Francesco Petrarca found her so,’ said a noble laughing. ‘A lucky day for him when he stepped inside the church of Santa Chiara!’

‘He had cause to thank her, doubtless —’

‘If Messer Hugues had not,’ smiled Visconti.

‘I know not, my lord; for a dull boor like that, he gathered some fame else never his.’

‘And the poet turned it to good account,’ said Visconti. ‘Methinks he used his love for money-making; he coined the Lady Laura into good gold pieces!’

‘Now, my lord, is not that spite because Messer Petrarca left his library to Venice?’

Visconti laughed.

‘Let him leave his library where he pleased, he was a fine man of business, say!’

‘And a wearisome poet,’ said de Lana.

‘O Fiametta!’ said Visconti laughing. ‘Joanna! Naples and the blue sea! These are thy patron saints, de Lana?’

‘Nay, I like not that book of feeble love-making any better,’ replied de Lana; ‘a Florentine dallying!’

‘I doubt me if thou hast ever read it,’ said the Duke gaily.

‘Alighieri is more to de Lana’s mind,’ remarked da Ribera, pouring wine, ‘and the fair daughter of old Folco. I myself used to sing Alighieri’s verses till I tired.’

‘Yourself or your audience, my friend?’

But Visconti looked at the speaker, frowning.

‘You have mentioned Alighieri, forgetting who was his patron,’ whispered della Torre.

‘The court of Verona and Can’ Gran’ della Scala —’

‘He recanted, my good lord; he died a Ghibelline,’ said da Ribera, acting on the whisper.

‘Mastino della Scala was a Ghibelline; we never quarrelled over that,’ said Visconti easily. ‘But Mastino was no patron of poets like his father.’ He leaned back in his chair and looked out of the window, where above the beautiful fresh green of the garden faint smoke-wreaths showed the last of Novara.

‘De Lana, you stood next; what did he say — as he went over?’

At the sudden brutal question, they started, and de Lana suppressed a shudder.

‘I did not hear — I thought — he was dead.’

‘I think you are still afraid of him,’ smiled Visconti. ‘I should like to know what he said.’ And he looked round for Giannotto, who had shrunk into a corner, and sat there gazing dully at the company.

‘Did you hear, Giannotto?’

‘I? How should I, my lord?’ and the secretary shuffled uneasily.

‘Ho! a sullen knave!’ cried Visconti, then leaned forward and touched de Lana on the arm.

‘I hear more arrivals — hark!’

What should this be?’ asked da Ribera in surprise. ‘Not my Lord Arezzo from Modena?’

‘From Modena!’ cried Visconti with sparkling eyes. ‘Is there success there too?’

‘Your arms cease to meet with aught else, Lord Visconti,’ said della Torre. ‘I drink to your perfect triumph!’ He raised his glass, red as a huge ruby in the light, and Visconti, triumphant indeed when the leader of a faction admitted it and deemed it politic to say so, drank to della Torre standing.

There was a clatter of footsteps and the noise of a great entry.

‘Silence!’ said Visconti. ”Tis Arezzo, I hear his voice.’

The door was again thrown wide, this time upon a splendid cavalier, clad in magnificent armour, shining beneath his travel-stained scarlet cloak.

‘Success rest upon your helm, Visconti, for Lombardy to Belluno is yours!’ He swept his cap off, and stood, flushed and panting, before the eager, excited company, who rose to a man.

‘Modena?’ asked Visconti. ‘And Mantua?’

‘Yours,’ said Guido d’Arezzo. ‘And of Ferrara, I myself received the keys, and rode post-haste to Milan, through a country that dared not raise a finger, where even the nobles came uncovered to my stirrup; and so from thence I followed you here — with these as proof of my success.’ He stepped aside, showing a glimpse of the disordered room beyond, and beckoned to one of the men behind him, taking two great standards from him.

‘This as a proof — the banner of the Gonzagas, the standard of the d’Estes!’ He dropped to one knee and laid them at Visconti’s feet, both bloodstained, torn, to rags, the bearings beaten from their surface; still, the flags that had floated from Modena and Mantua. The company burst into wild shouts, mad with the intoxication of success, and Visconti raised Arezzo and placed him beside him at the table, the banners at his feet.

‘Thou hast done splendidly,’ he cried. ‘On our side too there is fortune — Mastino della Scala will trouble us no more!’

‘Dead!’ cried the general. ‘Dead!’

‘He lies yonder in the garden.’ With smiling lips Visconti pointed through the open window. ‘He was killed last night!’

‘The last of the Scaligeri! Then Lombardy is yours indeed!’

‘From Vercelli to Belluno!’ cried de Lana.

‘I shall not forget those who helped me,’ said Visconti, and called for wine and himself served Arezzo. ‘I will prove I am no niggard to my friends — your health, Arezzo!’

The name of the victorious captain was shouted down the table; only Giannotto was silent, seated in the window-seat, and the Duke’s eyes fell on him.

‘Give the rogue there some wine,’ he laughed. ‘Have no fears, Giannotto, I will remember thee, there are palaces enough to loot. Thou shalt have the pickings of one. Drink!’ he added in a sterner tone, as the secretary refused the wine with muttered excuses. ‘Take it, and warm thy frozen blood, or we will find somewhat will do it better.’

The secretary took the goblet, but so gripping the glass that the slender stem snapped, and the liquid ran red over the black and white floor, like a trail of fresh blood.

The cellars are not so full that we can spare good wine,’ said da Ribera.

But Visconti laughed, and pulling the map again toward him, pointed out the march to Arezzo; and the secretary was forgotten, cowering in gloomy aloofness.

Giannotto watched the scene with a dull interest, as if it were far away and in no way belonging to him; he had had no sleep that night, and felt dizzy and confused. He could not forget Mastino, slain last night, and yet an eternity ago, and lying now out in the garden, marring the perfect morning with the horror of his face.

Giannotto turned his back to the garden and fixed his eyes on the group round the table.

They made a brilliant picture.

The background was mosaic, black and silver, gold and white, saints with glittering haloes, warriors in shining armour, placid and dignified — a splendid decoration; and against these the moving figures, brilliant in colour, scarlet mantles, doublets, purple and orange, glittering with jewels, and laughter and talk — a riot of life and colour. Slashed sleeves and gorgeous tassels were laid on or swept across the many-tinted marble table, on which there stood gold and silver goblets of curious shape, and glasses, milk-white, azure, or painted, some delicate as flower-bells, others with twisted stems clasped by a snake with emerald eyes. And tile centre of it all was Visconti, leaning eagerly over the map, with brocaded mantle thrown back.

‘And so to Turin!’ Giannotto heard him say through the confusion of voices. ‘We march next to Magenta.’

A dozen voices caught up the word. Giannotto watched them idly.

The sun, flooding the room, made the gold on the wall twinkle and glint, and caught Arezzo’s inlaid armour in points of light.

Visconti overturned one of the glasses, and drew on the table the plan of Turin in spilled wine, de Lana leaning over eagerly.

Giannotto closed his eyes and leaned back. To his fevered senses the scene seemed unreal, and the two torn banners resting against the wall to add a touch of the horrible to the brilliancy and the triumph.

From Mantua and Modena — how much that meant! How many lives had been flung aside in wild agony and despair to make way for those banners to stand there!

‘Mantua resisted desperately,’ Arezzo was saying. ‘But della Scala had left them so weakened.’

‘Della Scala!’ cried Visconti. ‘I remember, he is in yonder garden; see he be brought in, da Ribera; out of all Lombardy I can spare him a tomb!’

The soldier left the room, and the talk went on with little heed of the interruption; Visconti still busy with the ramparts of Turin and the defences of Modena, de Lana disputing the route to Vercelli; but the secretary was not interested. His head pained him, and he fixed his eyes on Visconti’s triumphant face with a strange fascination. It seemed a long time before da Ribera returned, and when he did, at something in his face, a sudden silence fell.

‘What is it?’ asked Visconti, and, half-reeling, Giannotto leaned forward to listen for the answer.

Da Ribera did not at once reply.

‘What is it?’ repeated the Duke angrily.

‘We have found della Scala,’ returned da Ribera, finding voice, ‘but not only his body.’

‘Ah!’ cried Visconti as if a sudden thought had struck him, ‘whom else then, da Ribera?’

‘I cannot tell, only there is a dead lady in the garden; she is laid as if sleeping on the grass, quite dead.’

Visconti rose so suddenly that the sweep of his long sleeve sent the glasses crashing to the ground, and made Arezzo start. ‘It is Isotta d’Este!’ he cried. ‘Mastino’s wife!’

‘Isotta dead?’ cried de Lana, and the words echoed around the room. ‘How should she be here, and dead?’

‘The dead only can answer you,’ said Visconti. ‘Now I can recall what ’twas Mastino said — something about her! Still, it may not be his duchess. As you say, how should she be dead, and here?’

‘How should she be dead?’ asked de Lana again. ‘Yet truly what else —’ he paused, keeping back his words, and his glance met the secretary’s.

Giannotto was remembering something: the figure of Visconti standing sullen, with a moody face, thinking on another dead woman; ‘Had she lived I would not have done it!’ he had said. The secretary rose; now he understood.

In this triumphant Visconti there was no sign of the spirit that had prompted that murmur, but the secretary understood.

Close behind Giannotto was a fresco painting, a panel between the windows — St Sebastian in a glory, smiling, transfixed with arrows, brilliant against a background of blue.

Giannotto, standing there half-dazed with his new thought, noticed it, and clutched the wooden ribbings underneath with something like a prayer on his lips. Might the saints and martyrs remember to him he had had no share in this!

Visconti turned to leave the table, and with a clinking of armour and a dazzling display of scarlet and blue the nobles moved back; the sunshine was now golden and filling the room.

‘Can he be going to look at her?’ thought the secretary, dully; then, stumbling over something as he moved forward, he glanced down and started. The next moment he looked round sharply to see if any eye was upon him, stooped quickly, and picked it up.

It was a little stiletto, a thing dropped, perhaps last night, and overlooked, a tiny thing with a long, glittering blade. Giannotto slipped it into his dress, he hardly knew why — it gave him a feeling of security; it was a long time since Visconti’s secretary had been armed, even by so much as this.

With good horses,’ said Visconti, drawing on his gloves, ‘we reach Magenta — when, de Lana?’

‘In two days, my lord.’

‘And Turin?’

‘If there’s no resistance —’ began de Lana.

Visconti laughed.

‘Resistance? Lombardy is ours, my good de Lana! Resistance —’

‘Is hardly wise,’ put in da Ribera.

‘And quite useless,’ said della Torre, with a low bow.

The splendid group was passing Giannotto, standing dully beneath St Sebastian, when the Duke stopped.

‘Come, I may have need of you, Giannotto.’

The secretary’s hand stole to his breast. He felt the handle of the stiletto, and wondered why he had picked it up.

The doors were thrown open for the Duke to pass, and as they passed out into the stairs, Giannotto slunk into his place behind Visconti.

Here were also noise and crowds; the coming and going of soldiers and courtiers, excited talk and laughter, and in the distance the sound of the drums, for the army was preparing to march. The front of the palace was alive with them, the rattle of the new-fashioned artillery, the shouted commands, the sunshine upon the standards and the armour, and the fluttering, coloured plumes.

But Visconti turned aside to the back of the palace, and descended the steps that led to the garden. It was quiet here, all sounds subdued and distant.

The balustrade of the steps and the terrace was smothered in roses, white, pink, and crimson, past their full summer pride, and many lying crushed across the marble, while tangled trails of leaves and creepers lay torn from the stone where they had clung.

Visconti noticed it, and looked with a smile at da Ribera, who in his turn smiled also and passed a light word on at which the laugh was general.

They were great nobles, princes some of them, yet not one dared to look grave when Visconti smiled, or was not eager to fawn upon his notice.

At the foot of the steps the grass was crushed and bloodstained, and from beside the oleanders and olives, drooping in the sun, a little procession of men was engaged lifting something from the ground.

Visconti stopped.

‘Della Scala,’ said de Lana. ‘They are moving him, according to your orders, my lord.’

Visconti stroked his chin thoughtfully.

‘Bid them set him down again’ And he stepped softly down the steps.

Giannotto looked at his smiling face with a cold, strange horror, and glanced round to see if it were not in the others’ faces too, but he did not see it.

The soldiers, at de Lana’s peremptory order, stopped, and laid the burden they were lifting at Visconti’s feet.

‘Mastino della Scala!’

Visconti repeated the name and grasped his dagger.

Mastino della Scala, the man who had checked him, scorned him, foiled him all his life, the proudest race, the most stainless name in Lombardy, ended here and in this!

Visconti stepped close and looked down into his enemy’s uncovered face.

‘He was not beautiful, this della Scala,’ he said.

Then he glanced up and round with a wordless, an unutterable exultation. All he had asked had been given him and more! He, Visconti, Duke of Milan, could ask for nothing more than this moment gave him — a perfect triumph.

Da Ribera peered forward curiously. ‘He is torn to rags,’ he said. ‘He must have fought like a madman —’

‘He was mad,’ said Visconti.

‘And the lady?’ said de Lana, suddenly, to Visconti. ‘Where is she, my lord?’

Visconti, lacing his gold gloves, paused a moment, and answered over his shoulder, lightly:

‘She seems to fill thy thoughts, de Lana!’

‘Only, can it be the Duchess?’ said da Ribera. ‘I have never seen Isotta d’Este, so cannot tell. I left her where I found her — on the grass, beneath those laurels. But that it is a lady —’

He pointed as he spoke to a distant bush, round which tall lilies grew.

‘It is the Duchess!’ cried another.

‘How should she be dead?’ asked de Lana, and his glance again sought the secretary’s.

‘How, indeed?’ said Visconti, with a curious smile. ‘And yet there are enough ways of dying abroad. I will see for myself — so that if it indeed be Isotta d’Este she may have fitting honour —’

The group moved forward. The advance of the army was already marching past the walls of the garden, past the gate through which Mastino had ridden; the pennons from their lances showed above the yellow jasmine that covered the stonework, and the drums beat loud as Visconti and his company reached the laurel clump and stood looking down at the silent figure in the crushed and bedraggled white and purple.

‘Isotta d’Este!’ said Visconti, under his breath, and yet with an unmoved face, that showed no surprise.

‘Dead!’ said de Lana, after a pause, and looked at him. Visconti laughed softly, and turned with shining eyes.

‘Did I not tell you della Scala was mad — did we not see it for ourselves last night?’ he said.

‘So it is the Duchess?’ whispered da Ribera. ‘She was very beautiful, they say.’

She lay where they had drawn her from her shelter underneath the laurels, her dress clinging close, her head turned away. Mastino had wrapped her round carefully, with a clumsy tenderness; wrapped her veil about her face, and laid his own cloak over her to shield her from the night and rain. And his last whisper was for her — an appeal to someone’s humanity to see that Visconti should not look upon his victim’s face, should not defile her with his touch.

It rushed on Giannotto with the certainty of conviction — he had caught only the ghostly whisper, but he was sure in this moment of the sense of it; and the music, the colours and sunshine, and splendour and pomp of triumph, and Gian Visconti’s cold, mocking face began to dance before Giannotto’s vision like figures and fancies of a dream. He heard Visconti speak to Arezzo, saw Arezzo stoop and lift the mantle, and he moved back a step and put his hand to his breast.

Isotta d’Este!’ said Visconti, turning to the others, and pointing down to the dead uncovered face. ‘Now what was she to lose everything for?’

‘His wife,’ said de Lana, and turned his head away.

‘Yes, my friend — do not forget it: della Scala’s wife!’ and Visconti touched him on the shoulder warningly.

The group turned to go, and the secretary saw it with a feeling of relief, when by some sudden impulse Visconti stepped back, and stood looking down once at the poor white face. His own showed neither fear, nor remorse, nor wonder, only triumph, and the secretary felt the blood rise slowly from his heart toward his brain, and he drew the stiletto half from his breast.

‘Donna mia,’ said Visconti, speaking to her with a smile, ‘we must not part so coldly, you and I— I will give you a fair tomb in Verona — in red Verona, donna mia.’

He dropped on one knee beside her, holding the laurels back and the lilies that hung above her head.

‘This as in earnest,’ he said, and bent over her and kissed her — kissed the cold cheek of Mastino’s wife.

The group watching stirred among themselves; no smiling faces now; each eye averted, but still no one spoke.

And Visconti stooped and kissed her again, where the dark hair lay about her forehead.

Then something gave in Giannotto’s brain; a voice seemed to thunder in his ears —‘Judgement!’ His hand flew from his breast and up and down upon the kneeling figure, while he cried out terribly with a white, inspired face, and Visconti fell forward stabbed through the back.

‘Treachery,’ cried da Ribera, scarcely seeing who had done it. ‘The Duke is stabbed!’

Visconti clutched at the flowers and fell without a word. ‘Killed!’ screamed de Lana. ‘Now God is just!’

‘Killed — the Duke is killed!’

Guido d’Arezzo bent over him with a white face, but della Torre stamped in a passion of excitement and dragged at his shoulder.

‘Killed! — come away — there are ourselves to think of — come away!’

Arezzo sprang to his feet.

‘To Milan!’ cried della Torre. ‘He leaves no heirs.’

Visconti was still breathing: he struggled, and Giannotto pushed to his side and stood above him, bursting into wild words.

‘I did it — Visconti! I did it — do you hear — do you hear! I knew, and I did it!’

‘Keep away!’ yelled della Torre, and pulled him back.

Then he dropped to his knee and tore the signet ring from the hand of the dying man.

‘To Milan!’ he cried, springing up. ‘Haste! To Milan!’

‘To Milan!’ echoed Arezzo. ‘To Milan and the army —’

‘Back — all of you!’ said de Lana, and he raised Visconti. ‘He is not dead —’

‘He is past life. To Milan!’

The garden was one wild, yelling confusion; the news was spreading like fire; each thought and acted for himself; and Giannotto, instrument of vengeance, whimpered on his knees.

The rush to the gate came by so close, the flying feet almost touched Visconti’s face; and as della Torre passed, he struck his glove across him.

De Lana lifted Visconti from the grass, but with a last effort he struggled from him and dropped back.

‘Milan!’ he sobbed.

De Lana bent down eagerly to catch a muttered prayer, but there was nothing more.

‘Milan!’

The voices and shouts rose to a deafening pitch of confusion, the very air seemed fevered with excitement; a flock of startled doves flew past in panic, a rainbow of colour; flew so low and so close to de Lana as to blind him for a moment with the whirr of their wings, and in that moment was a terrible cry.

They passed, beating the lilies down.

‘My lord!’ cried de Lana. ‘My lord!’

But even as he spoke, he knew Gian Visconti was dead.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32