Chapter 14

Euthanasia’s Court continued.—Pepi arrives.

Castruccio had not joined the amusements of the day; for he had returned to Lucca, and assembled his council to deliberate on some knotty question in the Lucchese policy. Having dispatched this weighty affair, he mounted his horse, and turned his head the accustomed road to the castle of Valperga. As he quitted the gate of the town, he heard a voice behind calling him; and, reining in his horse, he saw approach at a tremendously high trot, Benedetto the Rich of Cremona. Although at some distance he instantly recognized his old fellow-traveller, by his uncouth dress which was still unchanged, his high shoulders, strait back and bent in knees. Pepi, approaching with a humble salutation, said that he had affairs of importance to communicate to the noble consul of Lucca, and intreated him to give him audience.

‘Willingly,’ said Castruccio: ‘I am going to ride to yonder castle; do you accompany me; we will discourse on the way; and when there you will find hospitality as well as I.’

‘You must check your steed then,’ said Pepi, ‘for mine will hardly gallop after the hard day’s journey he has had.’

They rode on together, and Pepi seemed oppressed by a weighty secret, which he longed, yet did not know how, to disclose. He praised the fortifications of Lucca, the fertility of its plain, and its mountains, those inexpensive barriers against the incursions of enemies; and then he paused,—coughed,—scolded his horse,—and sunk into silence.

‘And now,’ asked Castruccio, ‘what is this affair of importance concerning which you would speak to me?’

‘Ah! Messer lo Console, it is a matter of such consequence that I hardly know how to disclose it; and methinks you are in too merry a mood to listen with requisite attention, so for the present I will waive the subject.’

‘As you please; but, when we arrive at yonder castle, we shall find little opportunity to talk of business; for amusement and gaiety are there the order of the day.’

‘Gaiety!—Well; it perhaps will do my heart good to see merry faces once again; I have seen few of them since you were on the donjon of my palace. Cremona has not yet recovered its cruel siege and storm; many of its palaces still lie in their ashes; and many good and fertile acres have been sold at a low rate, to trim the despoiled apartments in the guise they once were. Yet the Guelphs have again attained the upper hand there; my townsmen are proud and rebellious, and have not acquired through their misfortunes the humility of poverty, which sits better on a subject than the insolence of prosperity. Were I a prince, all my subjects should be poor; it makes them obedient towards their master, and daring towards their foes, on whose spoils they depend for riches. Yet, alas! so obstinate is man in his wickedness, that, as we see in Cremona, famine, fire and slaughter cannot tame their factious spirits.’

‘Ah! Messer Benedetto, you are ever the same; you have neither changed your dress nor opinions since I saw you last; ever immersed in politics.’

‘Indeed, my good lord, I am fuller of those than ever, and that of necessity; as, when you hear what I have to say, you will perceive. Ah! the Cremonese are still proud, though they ought to be humble; yet a small power might now easily overcome them, for they are thinking more how to replant their burnt vineyards, than to resist their lawful prince. Sovereigns make war in a strangely expensive way, when they collect armies and man fleets against a country: a dozen bold fellows with firebrands, when all the town is asleep in their beds, will do as well to the full, as an hundred thousand armed men by broad day-light: a well timed burning of harvests is a better chastiser of rebels, than an army headed by all the sovereigns of Europe. I was ever an admirer of the Hebrew warrior who sent foxes with torches to their tails among the enemy’s corn; these are sleights of war that are much neglected, but which are of inestimable benefit.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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