That done, he came forward to impart the ominous news which one of his riders had brought him at the gallop from the Porta Romana.
A party of some fifty men, commanded by one of Cesare’s captains, had ridden on in advance of the main army to call upon Pesaro to yield to the forces of the Church. And the people, without hesitation, had butchered the guard and thrown wide the gates, inviting the enemy to enter the town and seize the Castle. And to the end that this might be the better achieved, a hundred or so had traitorously taken up arms, and were pressing forward to support the little company that came, with such contemptuous daring, to storm our fortress and prepare the way for Valentino.
It was a pretty situation this for the Lord Giovanni, and here were fine opportunities for some brave acting under the eyes of his adored Madonna Paola. How would he bear himself now? I wondered.
He promised mighty well once the first shock of the news was overcome.
“By God and His saints!” he roared, “though it may be all that it is given me to do, I’ll strike a blow to punish these dastards who have betrayed me, and to crush the presumption of this captain who attacks us with fifty men. It is a contempt which he shall bitterly repent him.”
Then he thundered to Giacomo to marshal his men, and he called upon those of his courtiers who were knights to put on their armour that they might support him. Lastly he bade a page go help him to arm, that he might lead his little force in person.
I saw Madonna Paola’s eyes gleam with a sudden light of admiration, and I guessed that in the matter of Giovanni’s valour her opinions were undergoing the same change as the verses had caused them to undergo in the matter of his intellect.
Myself, I was amazed. For here was a Lord Giovanni I seemed never to have known, and I was eager to behold the sequel to so fine a prologue.
That valorous bearing that the Lord Giovanni showed whilst, with Madonna Paola’s glance upon him, his fear of seeming afraid was greater than his actual fear of our assailants, he cast aside like a mantle once he was within the walls of his Castle, and under the eyes of none save the page and myself, for I followed idly at a respectful distance.
He stood irresolute and livid of countenance, his eagerness to arm and to lead his mercenaries and his knights all departed out of him. It was that curiosity of mine to see the sequel to his stout words that had led me to follow him, and what I saw was, after all, no more than I might have looked for—the proof that his big talk of sallying forth to battle was but so much acting. Yet it must have been acting of such a quality as to have deceived even his very self.
Now, however, by the main steps, he halted in the cool gloom of the gallery, and I saw that fear had caught his heart in an icy grip and was squeezing it empty. In his irresolution he turned about, and his gloomy eye fell upon me loitering in the porch. At that he turned to the page who followed in obedience to his command.