‘Are we in danger?’—asked Madonna Dianora in a low voice of one of their most intimate friends. Her husband overheard her, and replied: ‘Keep up your courage, my best girl; trust me, as you have ever trusted. I would that I dared send you to a place of safety, but it were not well that you traversed the streets of Lucca; so you must share my fortunes, Dianora.’

‘Have I not ever shared them?’ replied his wife. His friends had retired to an adjoining hall, and she continued;—‘There can be no dearer fate to me than to live or perish with you, Ruggieri; but cannot we save our son?’

Castruccio was sitting at the feet of his parents, and gazing on them with his soft, yet bright eyes. He had looked at his mother as she spoke; now he turned eagerly towards his father while he listened to his reply:—‘We have been driven from the Piazza of the Podestà, and we can no longer entertain any hope of overcoming our enemies. The mildest fate that we may expect is confiscation and banishment; if they decree our death, the stones of this palace alone divide us from our fate. And Castruccio,—could any of our friends convey him hence, I should feel redoubled courage—but it is too much to risk.’

‘Father,’ said the boy, ‘I am only a child, and can do no good; but I pray you do not send me away from you: indeed, dear, dearest mother, I will not leave you.’

The trampling of horses was heard in the streets: Ruggieri started up; one of his friends entered:—‘It is the guard going to the gates,’ said he; ‘the assembly of the people is broken up.’

‘And what is decreed?’

‘No one ventures near to inquire out that; but courage, my noble lord.’

‘That word to me, Ricciardo?—but it is well; my wife and child make a very woman of me.’

Ave Maria is now ringing,’ replied his companion; ‘soon night will set in, and, if you will trust me, I will endeavour to convey Madonna Dianora to some place of concealment.’

‘Many thanks, my good Ricciardo,’ answered the lady; ‘my safest post is at the side of Ruggieri. But our boy—save him, and a mother’s blessing, her warm, heartfelt thanks, all the treasure that I can give, shall be yours! You know Valperga?’

‘Yes, the castle of Valperga. Is the Countess there now?’

‘She is,—and she is our friend; if my Castruccio were once within the walls of that castle, I were happy.’

While Madonna Dianora conversed thus with Ricciardo, Ruggieri held a consultation with his friends. The comfortable daylight had faded away, and night brought danger and double fear along with it. The companions of Ruggieri sat in the banqueting hall of his palace, debating their future conduct: they spoke in whispers, for they feared that a louder tone might overpower any sound in the streets; and they listened to every footfall, as if it were the tread of their coming destiny. Ricciardo joined them; and Madonna Dianora was left alone with her son: they were silent. Dianora wept, and held the hand of her child; while he tried to comfort her, and to show that fortitude he had often heard his father praise; but his little bosom swelled in despite of his mastery, until, the big tears rolling down his cheeks, he threw himself into his mother’s arms, and sobbed aloud. At this moment some one knocked violently at the palace-gate. The assembled Ghibelines started up, and drew their swords as they rushed towards the staircase; and they stood in fearful silence, while they listened to the answers which the stranger gave to him who guarded the door.

Ruggieri had embraced his wife he feared for the last time. She did not then weep; her high wrought feelings were fixed on one object alone, the safety of her child.—‘If you escape,’ she cried, ‘Valperga is your refuge; you well know the road that leads to it.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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