“This ring, Madonna,” said I, “was given me by the Lord Cesare Borgia, and was to have proved a talisman to open wide for me the door to fortune. It did better service than that, Madonna. It was the talisman that saved you from your pursuers that day at Cagli, three years ago.”
“You remind me, Lazzaro,” she cried, “of how much you have sacrificed in my service. Yours must be a very noble nature that will do so much to serve a helpless lady without any hope of guerdon.”
“Nay, nay,” I answered lightly, “you must not make so much of it. It would never have sorted with my inclinations to have turned man-at-arms. This ring, Madonna, that once has served you, I beg that you will keep, for it may serve you again.”
“I could not, Lazzaro! I could not!” she exclaimed, recoiling, yet without any show of deeming presumptuous my words or of being offended by them.
“If you would make me the reward that you say I have earned, you will do this for me. It will make me happier, Madonna. Take it”—I thrust it into her unwilling hand—“and if ever you should need me send it back to me. That ring and the name of the place where you abide by the lips of the messenger you choose, and with a glad heart, as fast as horse can bear me, shall I ride to serve you once again.”
“In such a spirit, yes,” said she. “I take it willingly, to treasure it as a buckler against danger, since by means of it I can bring you to my aid in time of peril.”
“Madonna, do not overestimate my powers,” I besought her. “I would have you see in me no more than I am. But it sometimes happens that the mouse may aid the lion.”
“And when I need the lion to aid the mouse, my good Lazzaro, I will send for you.”
There were tears in her voice, and her eyes were very bright.
“Addio, Lazzaro,” she murmured brokenly. “May God and His saints protect you. I will pray for you, and I shall hope to see you again some day, my friend.”
“Addio, Madonna!” was all that I could trust myself to say ere I fled from her presence that she might not see my deep emotion, nor hear the sobs that were threatening to betray the anguish that was ravaging my soul.
THE OGRE OF CESENA
However great the part that my mother—sainted woman that she was—may have played in my life, she nowise enters into the affairs of this chronicle, so that it would be an irrelevance and an impertinence to introduce her into these pages. Of the joy with which she welcomed me to the little home near Biancomonte, in which the earnings of Boccadoro the Fool had placed her, it could interest you but little to read in detail, nor could it interest you to know of the gentle patience with which she cheered and humoured me during the period that I sojourned there, tilling the little plot she owned, reaping and garnering like any born villano. With a woman’s quick intuition she guessed perhaps the canker that was eating at my heart, and with a mother’s blessed charity she sought to soothe and mitigate my pain.