Valperga, by Mary Shelley

Chapter 11

THE winter passed away, and with the summer the toils of the soldier began. Castruccio left Lucca, and joined the army of Uguccione against the Florentines. He took leave of his lady; yet she neither tied the scarf around him, nor bade him go and prosper. Florence was her native town; and love of their country was a characteristic of all Florentines. There was in that city an energy of spirit, which panting to expand itself, sought for new emotions, or exalted those that were before felt, until each sentiment became a passion. The Florentines were patriots; there was not one among them, who would not have sacrificed wealth, life, and happiness, to the prosperity of his native city. Euthanasia was brought up in the midst of public discussions and of expressions of public feeling; the army of the Florentines contained her best friends, the companions of her youth, all among men whom she had esteemed and loved; how then could she bid her lover, go, and prosper, when he went to destroy them? She would have been still more unhappy, could she have anticipated the event of the campaign.

Uguccione engaged himself in the siege of the castle of Monte Catini; and the Florentines, after having made every exertion to assemble and discipline their troops, advanced against him with a larger army than they had ever before brought into the field. Nor were the preparations of Uguccione inferior in vigour; he assembled all his allies, and awaited with confidence the arrival of the enemy. During this interval however, the chief fell ill, and was obliged to retire from the camp: the nominal command of the army devolved on his eldest son Francesco; but all looked up to Castruccio as their real leader. The Florentines advanced full of hope; and the Lucchese awaited them with steady courage. The battle was long and bloody; in the beginning of the combat Francesco was killed, and Castruccio perceived the soldiers make a sudden halt, when they saw their general fall: instantly feeling that the command devolved upon him, he galloped to the front of the lines, he threw off his casque that he might be distinguished, and, bidding the trumpets sound, he led his troops to a fresh assault. His army was drawn out on the plain, and every eye was turned upwards towards the castle, which, situated on the height of a steep hill, was the goal they must win. Castruccio had seen service in France; but with far different feelings did he now engage in battle. He was surrounded by his friends; he saw those he loved advance with a steady eye to the danger towards which he led them; he looked up, and saw above the high seated castle that he must storm; he saw the closely set ranks of the enemy; he beheld all this with one glance, one feeling quicker than a look, and the trumpets sounded while he waved his sword; his spirits were exhilarated, his heart swelled, — tears — tears of high and uncontrollable emotion, filled his eyes, as he dashed through the ranks of the enemy, and cried, “Victory, or death!” None dared disobey his voice. His dark brown hair, on which the sun shone, might be distinguished amidst a forest of hostile javelins. He was wounded; but he refused to retire; and fixing his eye on the castle walls — he cried, “There is our home!” All gave way before his fury; that part of the Florentine army which had been drawn out on the plain, was dispersed and fled — the rest retreated towards the castle; when he saw them retreat, when he first perceived that they gave ground before him, his triumph and ecstasy rose almost to frenzy; the mountain was steep, he threw himself from his horse, his troop followed his example; he called on them by the names of father and brother to follow his steps. “Go on!” they cried, “go on!” And they broke through all the impediments placed to impede their ascent, and were seen in close array, winding up the steep path towards the castle.

The victory was due to him alone; he, ever foremost, scaled the height, and first displayed the Ghibeline banner from the walls of the castle of Monte Catini; while, his cheek pale with pain, and his limbs trembling from loss of blood, it seemed almost as if his own death would seal the bloody conquest. The Florentines sustained irreparable loss; their general, the son of the king of Naples, several of his relations, and many members of the noblest families in Florence, fell. The loss is compared by the Florentine historians to the defeat of Cannæ; and many years elapsed before Florence could fill up the gap among her citizens made by the havoc of that day.

Such was the news that blanched poor Euthanasia’s cheek. She had spent the period that had elapsed since the departure of Castruccio, in utter solitude. Her anxiety, and the combat of feelings which she experienced, destroyed all her peace: she dared not give her prayers to either side; or if, following the accustomed bent of her inclinations, she wished success to her townsmen, the idea of Castruccio defeated, perhaps killed, turned all her thoughts to double bitterness. Yet, when the Florentines were indeed defeated, when messenger after messenger brought intelligence from her terror-stricken friends of the sad losses they had sustained, when the name of Castruccio as the slayer was repeated with fear and curses by those whom she tenderly loved; then indeed the current of her feelings returned with violence to its accustomed channel, and, bitterly reproaching herself for having dared to hesitate in a cause where her country was concerned, she knelt down, and solemnly and deliberately made a vow, sanctifying it by an appeal to all that she held sacred in heaven and upon earth, — she made a deep and tremendous vow, never to ally herself to the enemy of Florence: and then, somewhat calmed in soul, though ever sorrowing, she waited for the return of Castruccio to Lucca, so to learn if he could clear himself, or if indeed he were that enemy to Florence against whom her vow was made.

If the overthrow and massacre of the Florentines had moved her soul to its very depths, her horror was tempered with tenderness, when she heard that Castruccio had been brought back wounded to Lucca. The glory of this victory was attributed to him alone; and this glory, which appeared a shame to Euthanasia, excited in her feelings of confusion and sorrow. Now for the first time she felt the struggle in her soul, of inclination warring with duty; for the first time she feared that she ought not to love Castruccio; she thought of retreating to Florence, and of shutting him out from her sight, if possible from her thoughts; yet, as she meditated this, she thought she heard the soft tones of his melodious voice sounding in her ears, and she sank into grief and tears.

This painful struggle ceased not, until she saw him again; and then, as before, all pain and doubt vanished. His cheek was pale from the consequences of his wound, and his person, having thus lost its usual decision of mien, was more interesting; but his eyes shone, and they beamed unutterable love upon her. Truly did he look a hero; for power sat on his brow, and victory seemed to have made itself a home among the smiles of his lips. “Triumph, my sweet girl,” he said; “all my laurels are spoils for you. Nay, turn not away as if you disdained them; they are the assurances of the peace that you desire. Do not doubt me; do not for a moment suffer a cloud of suspicion to darken your animated countenance. This sword has made me master of peace and war; and need I say, that my wise and gentle Euthanasia shall direct my counsels, her love and honour being the aim and purpose of my life?”

Upon such words could aught but pardon and reconciliation attend?

Castruccio’s wound was slight, and soon healed. But he was now more than ever immersed in his political plans: throwing off the mask, he appeared openly as the leader of a party against Uguccione; his palace was for ever open, and crowded with friends and followers; and, when he rode through the streets, he was attended by a band of the first nobles in Lucca. To his other talents Castruccio joined a vein of raillery and bitter irony, which, when he chose to exert it, seemed to enter into and wither the soul of its object. His scoffs and mockery of the Faggiuola family were repeated through Lucca; and the person against whom they were particularly directed, the governor whom Uguccione had appointed, was a man formed to feel in every nerve the agony of derision.

Francesco having been killed at the battle of Monte Catini, Uguccione had set his son Ranieri over the Lucchese. Ranieri was only two-and-twenty years of age; but his straight black hair fell over a forehead prematurely wrinkled; without the courage of his father, he possessed all his cunning and ambition, as much cruelty, and even more deceit. He had long been a pretender to the hand of the countess of Valperga, — with no hope except that with which his own vanity inspired him: yet, when he perceived that Castruccio was his favoured rival, he felt as if he had been robbed of his inheritance; and the beauty, talents, and glory of his adversary made him taste to the dregs the cup of envy. The consciousness of power alone for a while restrained the manifestation of his feelings. He soothed himself with the idea that Castruccio’s life was in his hands; yet a lurking doubt prevented him from putting forth his strength; he glared on his enemy, as a tiger who crouches within reach of his prey; but he dared not spring. He would gladly have got rid of his rival by private assassination; but Castruccio was too cautious, and ever went too well attended, to afford an opportunity for such a measure. Rivalry in love was however but a small part of the cause of the hate with which Ranieri was filled; for Castruccio no longer disguised his abhorrence of the cruelty of Uguccione, or his contempt for the cowardly and artful policy of his son; and a man far less cunning than Ranieri might easily perceive that he laboured day and night for the overthrow of the Faggiuola family.

An accidental scuffle brought these feelings into action; it were idle to attempt to discover the cause of a quarrel, at a period when civil broils were so common, not only among the Italians; but when the capitals of the French and English monarchs were often stained with blood on the most trivial occasions. This affray arose between the dependents of Ranieri and of count Fondi; Castruccio and his companions joined in it; and it ended in the rout and flight of Faggiuola’s men, one of whom was killed. Ranieri seized this opportunity to send to his father with greater effect an account of the haughty conduct and machinations of Castruccio. The truth had been sufficient to awaken the suspicions of a man, whose rule it was never to permit an enemy to live; but the colouring that Ranieri gave to the affair, made it appear as if open war had been declared between the parties at Lucca. Uguccione had bathed his hands that very winter in the best blood of Pisa; and he considered one life more as a small sacrifice towards the completion of his security. His advice therefore was to act cautiously, but swiftly, and that the next messenger might bring intelligence of the death of his adversary.

This direction filled Ranieri with unwonted joy; it smoothed the wrinkles of his brow, and lighted up his eyes with ferocity: he would willingly have led forth his troops, and seized Castruccio in the midst of his partizans; but his deceitful disposition suggested to him a quieter, and as he imagined, a surer mode of proceeding. The enemies met at church; they disposed themselves on opposite sides of the aisle, — the followers of Castruccio viewed their opponents with a careless smile of contempt, which was returned by a sullen scowl; while Ranieri manifested an alternation of gaiety and uneasiness, which his art could not entirely conceal. High mass being over, Castruccio was about to retire, when Ranieri, quitting his attendants, walked across the aisle; seeing his movement, the followers of Antelminelli crowded about him; but he bade them fall back, and with a haughty step, and a smile of conscious superiority, he also advanced towards his enemy; they met midway, and the two parties, their hands on their swords, watched every motion of their respective chiefs during this unexpected parley. Had not Ranieri’s character for artifice been impressed on every mind, his appearance might now have lulled suspicion; — he smiled, and spoke with a loud, careless voice; and what was hidden under this friendly outside seemed rather timidity, than enmity: Castruccio fixed his eagle-eye upon him; but fear appeared to be the only feeling which lurked behind the frankness that Ranieri wished to assume: nor did he shrink from the examination; he spoke:

“Messer Castruccio, methinks you are much a stranger to my councils and board. Do you suppose that my father forgets your services in his cause, or that he does not pray for an opportunity of shewing his gratitude? Evil reports, I own, have gone abroad to your disadvantage, and your absence from my palace might give some colour to these; but I am not a suspicious man, and trust the actions of my friends which speak in their favour, more readily than the hearsay which traduces them. If any ill blood exists between us, and I am the cause of it, I freely ask your pardon for any offence I may have given you, and request, as the seal of our reconciliation, that you would honour with your presence a poor banquet I am to give to — night to the nobility of Lucca.”

Castruccio was somewhat astounded by this speech, which was concluded by the offer of his hand from the speaker. Castruccio drew back, and replied; “My poor services, my lord, were offered to my country; from her I hope for gratitude, from your father I neither deserve nor expect this meed. It were as well perhaps not to attempt to mix jarring elements; but, since you offer hospitality, I will freely accept it; for, whatever cause of alienation may exist between us, you are a knight and a soldier, and I do not fear deceit.”

Castruccio withdrew; and the certainty of revenge alone could have quelled the deadly anger of Ranieri at the haughty and supercilious treatment that he had received.

Before the hour for the banquet had arrived, Castruccio rode to the castle of Valperga, and related the occurrence to Euthanasia. She listened attentively, and then said: “There is some deep plot in this; I know Neri della Faggiuola; he is at once cowardly, artful, and cruel. Be on your guard; I would intreat you not to go to this feast, but that, going with your followers, I do not see what danger you can incur; but doubt not, that this, or any other friendly overture that may follow, is only a snare in which it is expected that you will entangle yourself.”

“Fear not, dear girl; I am open-hearted with my friends; — but I have been a soldier of fortune; and at such a school I may well have learned to detect wiles more deep, and politicians more cunning than Ranieri. Let him beware; this moon which has just bent her bow among the clouds of sunset, will not be two weeks old, when you may see this deep schemer take his solitary way to Pisa, glad to escape from the vengeance that he so well merits.”

Castruccio attended the feast of Ranieri, accompanied by count Fondi and Arrigo Guinigi. He had expected to find the rest of his friends and partizans assembled there, since they had all received invitations: but Ranieri had acted with the utmost caution; and, a very short time before the hour fixed for the banquet, he had sent messages to the friends of Castruccio, and under various pretexts, had, unknown one to the other, employed them on different affairs which he pretended to be of the greatest urgency. When therefore Castruccio entered the banqueting hall, he found only the officers of the German troop attached to the Faggiuola faction, some old men who had retired from public affairs, and a few Guelph families who Ranieri supposed would remain neuter on the present occasion. Castruccio observed this, and felt that all was not right; yet not for a moment did the expression of his physiognomy change, or his frank demeanour betray any sign of suspicion. It was not then the custom, as in the more barbarous society of France and England, to attend peaceful meetings as if armed for mortal combat; and Castruccio was unarmed, except with a small dagger, which as a matter of caution he concealed about his person.

The repast was sumptuous; course succeeded course; and the most delicate sweetmeats and richest wines invited the guests to a prolongation of their pleasures. Castruccio was both from habit and principle abstemious, and the quiet of the banquet was first interrupted by a sarcasm of Ranieri, as he pointed to the quantity of water which his guest mingled with his wine. The latter replied; and his irony was the more keen from the reputation of cowardice and luxury which his enemy bore. Ranieri grew pale; and, filling his own cup with pure wine, he presented it to Castruccio, saying; “Nay, Messere, before you depart, dishonour not my pledge, but drink this cup of generous Cyprus, to the overthrow of the enemies of Faggiuola.”

These words were the signal agreed upon with his soldiers; they suddenly entered, surrounded the other guests, and throwing themselves upon Castruccio, endeavoured to secure him. Twice he threw them off: and once he had nearly drawn his stiletto from his bosom; but he was overpowered and manacled with heavy chains — yet, standing thus impotent, his eagle-glance seemed to wither the soul of Ranieri, who, unable to give voice to the irony with which he had intended to load his victim, gave orders that he should be carried to prison.

Ranieri then addressed his guests, telling them, that the riotous behaviour of Castruccio the preceding week, and the murder of one of his servants, were the just causes of his imprisonment. He bade them not fear any danger to their own persons, unless they should rashly attempt to disturb the due course of justice. Arrigo, with all the warmth of youth, would have replied with bitter reproaches; but count Fondi, making him a signal of silence, and deigning only to cast on Ranieri a smile of contempt, retreated with the youth from the violated board. Ranieri invited his guests to continue their festivity, but in vain: they were silent and confounded; one by one the Italians withdrew, and Ranieri was left only with his officers who were chiefly Germans, and the remainder of the evening was spent in that intemperate enjoyment of the bottle, which the Italians held in wonder and contempt. Ranieri did not wish to drown the voice of his conscience, for that was his servant, and not his monitor; but his coward spirit failed, when he reflected on his critical situation, and the number and resoluteness of Castruccio’s friends: wine inspired him with boldness; and a riotous night succeeded and crowned a misspent day.

No feelings could be in more perfect contrast one to the other, than those with which the gaoler and his prisoner hailed the morning of the ensuing day. Castruccio had slept soundly on the pavement of his dungeon; and, though his limbs were weighted down by chains, his spirit was light and tranquil; he trusted to his friends, and he trusted to the intimate persuasion he felt, that his star was not to stoop before that of the cowardly and treacherous Ranieri. Looking at the clouds as they passed swiftly across the sun borne along by an irresistible wind, he chaunted a troubadour song of victory.

Ranieri awoke with those feelings of listless depression that succeed to drunkenness; the idea that Castruccio was his prisoner struck him with affright; and now, repenting that he had taken so decided a measure, he sent for his favourite attendant, and bade him go and reconnoitre the town, and endeavour to discover the opinions and temper of the citizens. During the absence of this man he was several times on the point of sending an order for the instantaneous death of his prisoner; but his heart failed him: he felt that he might be disobeyed, and that the mandate of death might be the signal for the deliverance of Castruccio. Thus he waited, irresolutely, but impatiently, till circumstances should decide the course he was to pursue.

The report of his messenger was ill calculated to allay his apprehensions. Knots of citizens stood in the streets and market-place, who, with serious mien and angry fervour, talked over the occurrence of the preceding evening. Some friend of Castruccio was at the head of each of these, who incited the people to action, and, ridiculing the cowardice, and reprobating the treachery and cruelty of Ranieri, awakened in every heart love and reverence for Castruccio, by the well deserved praises that he bestowed upon him. The word Liberty seemed to be creeping among them and warming every soul, while it struck a blight upon the sensations of Ranieri: he dared not act, but sent a messenger to his father at Pisa, recounting what he had done, and desiring his assistance in the accomplishment of his revenge.

A few weeks before, Uguccione had caused Bonconti and his son, two Pisan nobles, much loved and esteemed in that town, to be put to death: he had before committed flagrant injustices and legal murders in that city, and to these the people had submitted: but Bonconti was a man of understanding and courage; the Pisans had looked up to him as the instrument of their deliverance from the tyrant; by his death this task seemed to devolve into their own hands, and their sullen looks and whispered discontents shewed plainly that they were about to right themselves. Uguccione sat unsteadily on his seat of power; and his uneasiness, as is often the case in minds untamed by humanity, begot in him a hasty courage, and fierce rashness, that resolved not to yield to any obstacle; he was a stag at bay, and the Pisans stood about him watching some weak side on which they might commence their attack.

At this moment the messenger of Ranieri arrived, relating the seizure of Castruccio, and the fears of the governor. “Fool!” cried Uguccione, “does he not know that the members walk not without the head?”

So, without giving one moment to reflection, he hastily called his faithful troop together, consisting of about four hundred men, and, leaving Pisa, hastened at full gallop towards Lucca. The Pisans dared not trust their good fortune, when they saw their enemy and his adherents voluntarily desert their post, and deliver a bloodless victory into their hands; before Uguccione had reached the summit of Monte San Giuliano, which is, as Dante says, the Perchè i Pisan veder Lucca non ponno, the cry of liberty, and death to the tyrant, arose in the town; the multitude assailed the house of Uguccione; some of his household fell; the rest fled; and the crowd, now somewhat appeased, assembled to constitute as their chief, a man of understanding and valour, who might bring under discipline the furious passions of the injured Pisans.

Uguccione found Lucca in open revolt: he entered the town, and at the head of his troop endeavoured to charge the mutinous multitude. It was vain; firm barriers thrown across the streets impeded the horses, and the tyrant was obliged to parley with the heads of the revolters. They demanded Castruccio; and he was brought forth chained, and delivered to them; his fetters were knocked off, and, mounting a charger brought by one of his friends, his manacles carried as a trophy before him, he was led in triumph to his palace. The people almost worshipped him as he passed, and the air rang with acclamations in his favour; a crowd of his adherents, well armed, clustered about him, proud of their victory, and proud of the chief whom they had delivered. His chains were affixed to the tower of his palace, in commemoration of this sudden change of fortune. Uguccione fled:— he did not wait to be expelled by the furious populace; the news reached him of the revolt of Pisa, and it struck him with a panic; he was accompanied by Ranieri; and, quitting Lucca by the northern gate, they hastened across the mountains to Lombardy, and in one day fell from the rank of powerful chieftains, to be soldiers of fortune at the hire of the first prince who might require their services.

Castruccio and his adherents assembled in his palace to deliberate on the government they should choose; the multitude assembled round, and demanded to behold their beloved chief. — Castruccio shewed himself at the balcony, and was saluted with one cry, as Lord of Lucca, and captain of the war against the Florentines: his friends joined in the acclamation; but Castruccio, who never allowed a momentary enthusiasm to obliterate the plan of conduct that he had marked out for himself, made a sign for silence, which was obeyed. He then addressed the people, and, thanking them for their love and services, declared that he could not alone support the government of his town, and, after many modest observations, requested a companion in the weighty task. The people acceded to his wishes, and the Cavaliere Pagano Quartezzano was named as the sharer of his dignities and power under the appellation of consul.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00