FLOWER OF THE QUINCE
THE CARDINAL OF VALENCIA
For three days I had been cooling my heels about the Vatican, vexed by suspense. It fretted me that I should have been so lightly dealt with after I had discharged the mission that had brought me all the way from Pesaro, and I wondered how long it might be ere his Most Illustrious Excellency the Cardinal of Valencia might see fit to offer me the honourable employment with which Madonna Lucrezia had promised me that he would reward the service I had rendered the House of Borgia by my journey.
Three days were sped, yet nought had happened to signify that things would shape the course by me so ardently desired; that the means would be afforded me of mending my miserable ways, and repairing the wreck my life had suffered on the shoals of Fate. True, I had been housed and fed, and the comforts of indolence had been mine; but, for the rest, I was still clothed in the livery of folly which I had worn on my arrival, and, wherever I might roam, there followed ever at my heels a crowd of underlings, seeking to have their tedium lightened by jests and capers, and voting me—when their hopes proved barren—the sorriest Fool that had ever worn the motley.
On that third day I speak of, my patience tried to its last strand, I had beaten a lacquey with my hands, and fled from the cursed gibes his fellows aimed at me, out into the misty gardens and the chill January air, whose sting I could, perhaps, the better disregard by virtue of the heat of indignation that consumed me. Was it ever to be so with me? Could nothing lift the curse of folly from me, that I must ever be a Fool, and worse, the sport of other fools?
It was there on one of the terraces crowning the splendid heights above immortal Rome that Messer Gianluca found me. He greeted me courteously; I answered with a snarl, deeming him come to pursue the plaguing from which I had fled.
“His Most Illustrious Excellency the Cardinal of Valencia is asking for you, Messer Boccadoro,” he announced. And so despairing had been my mood of ever hearing such a summons that, for a moment, I accounted it some fresh jest of theirs. But the gravity of his fat countenance reassured me.
“Let us go, then,” I answered with alacrity, and so confident was I that the interview to which he bade me was the first step along the road to better fortune, that I permitted myself a momentary return to the Fool’s estate from which I thought myself on the point of being for ever freed.
“I shall use the interview to induce his Excellency to submit a tenth beatitude to the approval of our Holy Father: Blessed are the bearers of good tidings. Come on, Messer the seneschal.”