THE GOVERNOR OF CESENA
That night I would have supped in my own quarters but that Filippo sent for me and bade me join him and swell the little court he kept. At times I believe he almost thought that he was the true Lord of Pesaro—an opinion that may have been shared by not a few of the citizens themselves. Certainly he kept a greater state and was better housed than the duke of Valentinois’ governor.
It was a jovial company of perhaps a dozen nobles and ladies that met about his board, and Filippo bade his servants lay for me beside him. As we ate he questioned me touching the occupation that I had found during my absence from Pesaro. I used the greatest frankness with him, and answered that my life had been partly a peasants, partly a poet’s.
“Tell me what you wrote,” he bade me his eyes resting on my face with a new look of interest, for his love of letters was one of the few things about him that was not affected.
“A few novelle, dealing with court-life; but chiefly verses,” answered I.
“And with these verses—what have you done?”
“I have them by me, Illustrious,” I answered. He smiled, seemingly well pleased.
“You must read them to us,” he cried. “If they rival that epic of yours, which I have never forgotten, they should be worth hearing.”
And presently, supper being done, I went at his bidding to my chamber for my precious manuscripts, and, returning, I entertained the company with the reading of a portion of what I had written. They heard me with an attention that might have rendered me vain had my ambition really lain in being accounted a great writer; and when I paused, now and again, there was a murmur of applause, and many a pat on the shoulder from Filippo whenever a line, a phrase or a stanza took his fancy.
I was perhaps too absorbed to pay any great attention to the impression my verses were producing, but presently, in one of my pauses, the Lord Filippo startled me with words that awoke me to a sense of my imprudence.
“Do you know, Lazzaro, of what your lines remind me in an extraordinary measure?”
“Of what, Excellency?” I asked politely, raising my eyes from my manuscript. They chanced to meet the glance of Madonna Paola. It was riveted upon me, and its expression was one I could not understand.
“Of the love-songs of the Lord Giovanni Sforza,” answered he. “They resemble those poems infinitely more than they resemble the epic you wrote two years ago.”
I stammered something about the similarity being merely one of subject. But he shook his head at that, and took good note of my confusion.
“No,” said he, “the resemblance goes deeper. There is the same facile beauty of the rhymes the same freshness of the rhythm—remotely resembling that of Petrarca, yet very different. Conceits similar to those that were the beauty spots of the Lord Giovanni’s verses are ubiquitous in yours, and above all there is the same fervent earnestness, the same burning tone of sincerity that rendered his strambotti so worthy of admiration.”