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drank only a cup or so till supper was over; then he prayed my lady to pledge him before she rose from table, from a certain flagon which had stood before him untouched.
“ 'Tis Monte-pulciano, near a century old—a very rare wine," said he—“so rare, that only once, Maddalena mia, have you tasted it. My father had but six flasks thereof; he drained one the day I was born ; another you deigned to taste when you crossed this threshold as bride ; and 'tis my fancy_I know not why—to empty another to-night. I pray you baulk it not. If you will drink to naught else, drink to my better life and manners :—both, I shame to say, need amending."
My lady bowed her head very coldly, as she took the cup in both her little hands; yet she seemed to like the flavour of the liquor, for her draught was longer than I had ever seen it. Generally she would only sip like a bird. All the while Messer Marco's eyes were fixed on her, so eagerly, that he himself forgot to drink.
“Heaven prosper your good intent”—she said, in her meek, quiet way, as she set the cup down; and so passed out of the hall, as light as a shadow.
It was my lady's fancy, to bide mostly alone in her inner chamber, whence opened her oratory; so I sate with my broidery-work in the outer room, within hearing of her silver bell. I might have been there an hour or so, and had fallen a-musing over my work, when the door opened, and my mistress stood there, beckoning. I saw at once she was in mortal sickness or pain; for she was deathly white, and kept gasping and moaning, with her two hands clasped hard across her breast. I carried her back to her bed, and then shrieked for help as loud as I was able. When the other bower-women came, I rau down myself to the hall,—to tell my lord what had happened. He did not seem to heed me; but sat there like a man in a dream, and when I plucked him by the sleeve, and cried to him“ for Christ's sake to come quickly,” he only shook me off, and said in a hoarse hollow voice
“Bid her sleep; all will be well, when she sleeps."
I dared not stay, lest my help should be needed upstairs; so I hastened back thither, but I was too late to be of use; and later still was the leech, though he dwelt hard by, and was summoned by a servitor on the first alarm. My lady never spoke one word that could be understood, but only shivered and moaned. And the moans and the
shudders grew weaker and weaker, till she lay at last, --still and cold,like a crushed white lily.
I had small liking for my mistress, as I have owned; but I felt as sorry then as if I had loved her; and I was weeping and making moan amongst the other women gathered round the bed, when Messer Marco's voice from the doorway made me start and turn.
“Wherefore this outcry ?” he asked. “ Fear ye not to wake her; for she must needs be sleeping ?”
Then Sêr Geronimo, the leech, came out of the shadow-trembling; for wild tales had gone abroad of late concerning Messer Marco's temper.
“Alas! my lord,” he said, “be not deceived; slumbers such as these can only be broken by the Judgment-trumpet. The noble Lady Mad. dalena's spirit has passed away but now, from some sudden seizure, as I think, of the heart.”
Messer Marco looked at him,-in the same dreamy way as he had looked at me in the hall but now.
“ Aye, and is it so ?” he said. “Then hath earth lost a fair saint, and heaven gained a fair-faced angel. Now I know what I have to do." And so went out. A dreadful suspicion shot across my mind, making me cold and
but I had known my master even from boyhood, when there was a kind heart's core under the rough rind, and I could not leave him alone just then. So I followed him out, and caught him by the mantle and prayed him-as well as I could, for my chattering teeth--to let me do somewhat to help him in his sorrow. He drew himself out of my grasp, --so quickly that I thought he was angered, saying
“Nay, touch me not, good Giacinta ; I have no ailment thou cans't heal. Trust me;
I am best alone. But call me hither my page Pietro. He must carry a message forthwith.”
I stood without and listened whilst my master bespoke the page.
“Ride down at speed to the Franciscan convent at Gallano; and, after commending me to the Prior, bid him see that neither mass nor trental, nor any due office be omitted for the rest of thy lady's soul. She hath deserved well of their Order, and the first word of her decease should set all the bells a-tolling. And specially pray Tra Rèmo to come up hither instantly: I heard yesternight that he would be home earlier than he had reckoned on, and by this time he may well be
returned. As he shrived thy lady living, so let him assoilzie her dead. None other, with my good leave, shall usurp his ministry."
So Pietro departed. Messer Marco locked himself in his own chamber; whilst the women, as in duty bound, laid out decently the lovely white corpse. It might have been some two hours before Fra Rèmo arrived. My master had heard of his coming ere I did; but I saw their meeting in that same room where I had been sitting, as I told you. Beyond this again, there was a third apartment, used only as an ante-chamber. Fra Rèmo's countenance was very much changed; there was a kind of blank horror thereon, hard to describe, and purple circles under his eyes, as if marked with a brush; brace his lips as he would, he could not keep them from twitching ; nevertheless, in fair set terms, he began to condole with my mastersuggesting the duty of resignation and so forth ; and furthermore, that the change (albeit so sudden) must needs have been for the benefit of the departed lady. Messer Marco cut him short at once.
“ Trouble not yourself, reverend father, concerning a graceless sinner, when a saint lies within there, waiting your last offices. Nathless, though I bear my burdens after mine own fashion, I not spurn your consolations: when your ministry is fully performed, you will find me ready to receive them here." Then Messer Marco bade all go forth, save Pietro the page.
Into his ear he whispered some words that I could not catch ; but I
questioned the boy when he came out, and learned that he had been bidden to fetch from below two goblets, and the jewelled flagon holding the famous Monte-pulciano. I knew not why, but the chill fluttering at my heart increased every instant, and there was a faint sickly savour in my nostrils like the savour of death. So I crouched down behind the curtains in the third or ante-chamber, while Pietro passed through after leaving the wine; and, when I heard the door locked from within, I crept forward and laid mine eye to the keyhole-through which it was easy both to see and hear. Messer Marco sat with his elbows resting on the table and his face buried in his hands. He never stirred till the door of the inner room opened softly, and Fra Rèmo came forth. The monk looked still more ill at ease than he had done half an hour agone. He kept wetting his parched lips with his tongue; and I could see his eyes turn, first in surprise, then in eagerness, towards the great golden flagon. Certes, Messer Marco saw this as well as I, for he smiled in a strange fashion as he beckoned the other to draw
Page 632. MESSER MARCO ROSE UP TOO, AND WITH HIS STRONG ARM, THRUST THE PRIEST
BACK RUDELY INTO HIS CHAIR."