Our Little Florentine Cousin of Long Ago - C. V. Winlow




Behold the Miracle!

Giovanni, buried in the ruins with Filippo, had only been stunned and not killed. The slabs of rock had mercifully met together, forming a V-shaped space of safety beneath. But when he stirred on Filippo's back, he came to himself with groans, for in protecting Filippo his left hand had been broken at the wrist.

Then followed a period of awful torture for the boys. With death hanging over them, as it were, by a hair, they dared not move a finger lest they be crushed. Filippo tried to call out for help, but with his face held down by the rocks to the ground, he knew his feeble cries could hardly be heard a braccio  away. He felt Giovanni's body throb and quiver, and hardly knew whether his friend was conscious or not except for an occasional moan of great pain Giovanni could not keep back. Giovanni, on top, in the narrower part of the V, was wedged in so tightly that he could not even lift his broken wrist to his chest or touch it with his other hand. He too tried to call once or twice, but the effort was beyond his power.

Thus, in darkness, torment, and despair, passed what seemed hours. Giovanni must have slept or fainted for a time. Great as was his pain, perhaps it was not he but Filippo who suffered the more, for Filippo had the anguish of feeling he was responsible for his friend's fate. He tried to calm himself enough to think over what chances of rescue they had, and they seemed to him non-existent. He tried to say something to Giovanni, but he could no longer speak. He thought he was suffocating, or may be it was dying.

All at once the sound of voices broke confusedly on his ear. As in a dream he listened to them. They were cheerful peasant voices, a man's and a woman's, and seemed greatly excited:

"Will you just look at our cellar, good-wife! I come down to bring up the wine, and here's how it is!"

"Saints protect us! If there was an earth-quake we didn't feel it at the fair."

With a violent effort Filippo shook off the spell and gave a groan for help. "Rescue! We're buried under!"

* * * * * * * * * *

Both lads were thinking of this experience as they rode slowly down to Florence on Tuesday morning. Giovanni on Sunday evening had passed through the hard ordeal of having his wrist set and splintered, and at Ser Guido's insistence, had spent Monday also with Filippo.

Filippo could hardly keep the tears back from his eyes whenever he looked at the arm in its cast and sling. "I don't see how you can be so sweet-tempered, Giovannino!" he exclaimed. "You did so much for me, and I don't even know how to tell you how grateful and how sorry I am. How can you forgive me?"

"Forgive  you, my beloved Filippo when this has only made our friendship all the dearer."

"I, through the selfish risks I took, nearly killed us both, and you offered your life for mine."

Giovanni pulled his horse still closer to Filippo, and said softly: "Don't speak so, amico; what does it matter who first has the chance to serve the other?" Then, smiling, he changed the subject: "That was the most amusing thing I ever heard of, about our antique vault! Think of it being already known, and in use as an ordinary wine-cellar! Perdio, all the noble statues and other treasures we expected to find, were nothing but Tuscan wine barrels!"

"Well, anyway," remarked Filippo, joining in the laugh, "the passage and vault were at least genuine ancient ruins. Doubtless there were valuable discoveries there at one time or another."

They were entering Florence by the Porta San Gallo (San Gallo Gate), when Filippo bent far from the saddle to pick up a couple of rocks from the road. A cat was running along the street some distance ahead. "Watch," he said; "I'll make that creature jump."

Just as the rock was about to fly from his hand, Giovanni threw his horse across the way and seized the arm. The missile dropped harmlessly.

"What on earth!" exclaimed Filippo in surprise. "You'll hurt your wrist, amico!"

"I did do so already," returned Giovanni, his lips twisted by pain. "But that is far better than having a poor thing suffer that is much weaker than myself."

"But—but—it's only a cat."

"Don't you think a cat can feel as much pain or perhaps more than we can? I know what pain is, he added with a rueful smile.

Filippo's face suddenly flushed crimson as he looked at Giovanni's arm, for he realized the truth of his words. "I was a coward," he said. "It was a shameful act—for I too know what pain and suffering are . . . . Still," he continued, the usual careless attitude towards animals struggling with these new feelings, "still, animals are so far beneath us...."

"Are they?" asked Giovanni pointedly. "Don't you think our great Petrarca's cat, whom he loved so well, was a better friend to him than many faithless human ones? Don't you think Saint Roch's little dog, who brought him food every day when he was stricken by the plague, did more than many a Christian? Lorenzo the Magnificent has a horse that is so devoted to him it will eat only from his own hand."

Giovanni paused, and then went on: "It seems to me that we are only higher than animals when we are not only wiser than they are, but better. And we are not better unless we are merciful to them. All animals are so weak and helpless compared with us. As you just said, to hurt one is the act of a coward. . . . "

Filippo's cheeks reddened again at the word, but he was silent. "To cause pain to anything weaker than oneself is cowardly," emphasized Giovanni. "But don't think, dearest Filippo, that I am chiding you. I have done what you were about to do, and worse, too, though I have always had a sort of pity for animals. But since I have come back from abroad, I have talked with a wonderful young artist who is a friend and former pupil of my master, Andrea del Verrocchio. You know him, for already everyone in Florence is speaking about his painting; his name is Leonardo da Vinci."

"I have seen him on the streets," nodded Filippo. "He is  wonderful. In beauty and grace he looks like a Greek god."

"And he's so strong that he can bend an iron horseshoe like a reed. He can tame the wildest horse and make it obey him like a dog. He can sing and compose to the lyre like an angel. Everybody, from the highest to the lowest, loves him. There seems nothing he cannot do. He is master of every subject; and Messer Andrea says that his name will shine in art as no name has ever shone before. Besides painting and sculpturing, he's marvellous in architecture and engineering and philosophy and music and mathematics and fencing and in everything else; I think there never was such a man."

"What does he say about animals?"

"Monday of last week, when I first came to Messer Andrea's bottega, Leonardo was there, and when I was going home invited me to walk with him to the Serraglio. As we were looking at the lions, I remarked that I really hated to see them in captivity, when they had been used to roaming as they willed in their native jungles. Then he told me that he buys the wild birds that are sold in the market-places, and sets them free. Nearly every day he has taken me to the Mercato Vecchio or the Mercato Nuovo where we have bought several cages full, and taken them up in the hills and opened the doors. It makes one very happy to see the poor wild creatures stare around, unable to believe their happy fate, and at last stretch their wings and soar away."

Florence Scene

WE HAVE TAKEN SEVERAL CAGES FULL UP IN THE HILLS AND OPENED THE DOORS.


"By my faith, it's true they must be miserable in the cages when they were born free."

"Leonardo has also spoken to me much about animals. He feeds them in bitter winter, when he says they come to the door just like starving human beggars asking for alms. He would not hurt the tiniest living creature. He read me something he wrote on the cruelty of Man, 'an animal always warring against his own species, persecuting, harassing, and devastating all things that are on the earth or beneath it or in the water.'—It's true, isn't it? And it's hardly believable, but he does not even eat meat, because he does not wish animals killed for him. I don't go that far myself, because death isn't horrible to think of, as are suffering and torture. Perhaps though, some day I'll be like Leonardo in that also."

They had drawn up beside the wall as they spoke, and now they rode over to the hostel and dismounted. Leaving their horses with the inn-keeper, they went forward on foot down the wide street called Via Larga. They walked almost in silence as far as San Marco, where Filippo turned to Giovanni with: "I wouldn't have stood the word 'coward' from anyone else on earth, but I'm glad you used it."

Filippo arrived at his uncle's house well supplied with manuscripts for his tutor. First there was the eighty-line Latin poem, then an essay, also in Latin, entitled "The Ideal Government", and last a long translation from Homer, Greek into Latin. A servant unbolted the stout oaken door, and Filippo passed through several finely decorated rooms opening into each other, to the library. Messer Cosimo had not come in yet, but four cousins swooped upon the new arrival.

"Filippo!" "Lippo!" "Lippo you rascal!" "Filippino!" The three boys, the eldest a trifle younger than he, and the girl circled around him dancing. "Ah, we have been hearing tales about you drowning yourself in the Arno and finding old friends and I don't know what all," said the girl cousin, Margherita. "I don't believe you love us anymore."

"You lucky wretch," grinned Mariano, the oldest boy, "you've missed doing any lessons for half a week."

"But see, he has scrolls with him," spoke up little Luca.

"Ah," said Michele, "have you committed any further 'heresies,' Filippo? That is, have you written your manuscripts there in the modern language, which our Master scorns so, or spoken slightingly of his favorite classics?"

"Ha, ha!" chuckled Mariano. "There never was anyone like our Filippo for badgering our worthy Master! Ha, ha! Messer Cosimo never sees through it, either."

Filippo shook his head. "I've been thinking on it these last days, and I'm not going to tease our Master again. I'm going to study hard and be a credit to him—which I advise you to do too, Cousin Mariano." He added this last rather pointedly, for Mariano was not a very brilliant scholar.

Neither Mariano nor Michele looked particularly pleased. Studies were dull things, and clever and gifted Filippo had formerly livened them up. But Margherita smiled sweetly at him and offered him her hand: "I just know you can do wonders, Filippino, if you only want to."

"I'm glad," said little Luca, putting his arms about his tall and handsome cousin. "I think it was mean the way you all played jokes on Messer Cosimo. He is very learned and wise, and he's old, too, and so gentle and good. I love him."

"I do, too, "said Filippo with feeling, giving his "baby "cousin a kiss just as Messer Cosimo himself entered the room.

And that morning, for the first time, Filippo realized how much he did love the fine old scholar who was their teacher. He was so tender as he asked Filippo about his weekend adventures, and, when he examined the manuscripts, praised them so warmly. Filippo really felt rather shamed by the latter, and at last burst out with: "I wish you wouldn't praise them so much, my master; I know how little time I put into them and how much better I could have done if I'd only tried."

To Filippo's surprise, Messer Cosimo seemed overcome by emotion. He wiped his eyes, and was only able to say brokenly: "My boy, my boy, you will be famous one day."

"If I ever am, Messere, it will be owing to you.,,

Following the Greek ideal of education, Messer Cosimo put very little restraint on his pupils. After an hour or so of studying in the library, filled with its treasure of books in manuscript and two or three printed copies, though printing-presses were but a few years old in Florence, he took the children into the garden. After a short recess of practicing swordsman-ship and leaping and other exercises, he called them to the stone bench where he was sitting, and discussed with them what they had studied that day. Filippo sat at the master's feet, Margherita had brought a cushion for herself, and one for Messer Cosimo's bench, and the three brothers sat together on another bench, supported by carved figures of lions. It was very pleasant learning in the beautiful old garden, with its flagged walks and rose-vines and orange and cypress trees.

After eating comestio  indoors, the teacher retired for a rest, giving his pupils each a task: Luca to memorize some verses from Virgil, Michele to study in the second book of Teodoro Gaza's Greek grammar, and Margherita, Mariano, and Filippo each to put some passages from Dante's Commedia  into Greek. They all trouped out into the garden again, where lying on the grass among the flower-beds, they set to work.

Filippo was very quickly through. Putting away his pen and books, he brought out a lute and wandering to a further corner of the garden, played softly to himself. This sight was extremely galling to Mariano and Michele, for they found their own, and easier, passages most difficult.

"Ah ha," suggested Mariano to his brother, "don't I remember Filippo vowing he'd never have to study during Holy Week, that he'd have the whole Sunday-to-Sunday for vacation? Yet here he's been all day, studying just like the rest of us!"

"He said last week that if Messer—our teacher—didn't give him this week off, there'd be a miracle that would make him. He said Heaven was on his side because he wanted to spend the week in church-going and prayer, but I think myself he wanted the time for playing ball."

"Let's go to him and ask why his miracle hasn't come off, whether Heaven's angry at him!"

Filippo had, in fact, forgotten all about the miracle joke for which he had bought the red powder, when the two boys descended on him with an avalanche of sarcastic questions. "The miracle's all off," he answered carelessly. "I went to church so often over the weekend that Heaven has forgiven Messer Cosimo for not giving me a vacation."

"It's off because Messer Cosimo coddled you so this morning and praised your work as if it had been written by the great Angelo Poliziano himself. Some people are easily flattered."

Filippo flushed angrily. "It isn't that, Mariano. I am not making my miracle—I see you know it was I and not Heaven—because I agree with little Luca now that it is mean to torment our Master. If you and Michele were studying your lessons instead of nagging me, you would be doing better."

"It's easy for you to talk!" snapped Michele, "a boy who doesn't keep his word."

"Yes, you promised  the miracle," insisted Mariano.

Filippo went red and white with rage. "I should like to knock your two heads together," he muttered. "Well—I'll give you the miracle. Go and tell Margherita there'll be one."

Filippo had arranged the whole apparatus for his jest the preceding week. When they went into the library again with Messer Cosimo, he had nothing to do but fill the hollow figure of a dove he had made, with the red fire powder, light it, and send it flying on the thin wire which was invisible to the teacher's old eyes. He had got the idea partly from the celebration held in the cathedral each year on Holy Saturday. Well, it would be very pretty and effective, the room suddenly blazing up in red glory, the shining white dove hovering in the red haze like a messenger from on high.

They returned to the room. Messer Cosimo stood before his leggio  or reading-desk, an open book before him, clad in his flowing black gown and scull-cap. His pupils sat about the room, writing materials on their knees. Filippo knew the Master was far too absorbed in the learning he was expounding, to see him. He slyly drew out the dove from under his seat, and screening it with his body, filled it with the powder, which was still in its package in his leather scarsella;  the excellently made purse did not show it had been wet. Then, on pretence of wanting a drink of water, he left the room and came back with a lighted coal in an eggshell.

He attached the dove to the wire, and dropped the coal through the trap in its back. A touch sent the bird skimming along the wire, its white wings quivering. There was a faint sputter, and Filippo thought he already saw the red smoke coming.

"Behold!" he cried. "Behold the miracle!"

"Behold the miracle!" his cousins joined in, Luca, Margherita, Michele, and Mariano.

But the dove simply hovered in the air, no red blaze of glory about it, nothing. The powder had  been spoiled by its bath.

Shouts turned to laughter. "Behold the miracle, ha ha!" "Behold the miracle that didn't work!" "Vain Filippo! we fear you're no Saint!"

"What, what is it, my children?" queried the old teacher, peering at them in astonishment. "Is this a time to play?"

"The matter is," said Filippo, walking straight up to his desk and speaking so that the room could hear, "is that I deserve to be thrashed. This is one of a hundred or more jokes I have played on you, and which you, in your goodness of heart, have failed to suspect me of."

"My Filippo. . . ." quavered the old man.

Filippo bowed his proud head on the desk and kissed the teacher's hands which lay there. "And, Master—Father, I swear to you it will be the last."