A JAY OF ITALY
'...Some Jay of Italy,
Whose mother was her painting, hath betrayed him.'
METHUEN AND CO.
36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
First Published . . July 1905
Second Edition . . August 1905
Third Edition . . September 1905
Fourth Edition . . October 1905
*A JAY OF ITALY*
On a hot morning, in the year 1476 of poignant memory, there drew up
before an osteria on the Milan road a fair cavalcade of travellers.
These were Messer Carlo Lanti and his inamorata, together with a suite
of tentmen, pages, falconers, bed-carriers, and other personnel
migratory lord on his way from the cooling hills to the Indian summer of
the plains. The chief of the little party, halting in advance of his
fellows, lifted his plumed scarlet
biretta with one strong young hand,
and with the other, his reins hanging
loose, ran a cluster
fingers through his black hair.
'O little host!' he boomed, blaspheming--for all good Catholics,
conscious of their exclusive
caste, swore by God prescriptively--'O
little host, by the thirst
of Christ's passion, wine!'
'He will bring you hyssop--by the token, he will,' murmured the lady,
who sat her white palfrey languidly beside him. She was a slumberous,
ivory-faced creature warm and insolent
and lazy; and the little bells of
tinkled sleepily, as her horse pawed, gently
grunted ferociously. 'Let me see him!' and, bonneting
himself again, sat with right arm akimbo, glaring for a response
cry. He looked on first acquaintance
a bully and profligate--which he
was; but, for his times, with some redeeming features. His thigh, in
its close violet
hose, and the long blade which hung at it seemed
somehow in a common accord
of steel and muscle. His jaw was underhung,
his brows were very thick and black, but the eyes beneath were
good-humored, and he had a great dimple
in his cheek.
A murmur of voices came from the inn, but no answer whatever
demand. The building, glaring white as a rock rolled into the plains
from the great mountains to the north, had a little bush of juniper
thrust out on a staff above its door. It looked like a dry tongue
protruded in derision, and awoke the demon in Messer Lanti. He turned
to a Page:--'Ercole!' he roared, pointing; 'set a light there, and give
these hinds a lesson!'
The lady laughed, and, stirring
a little, watched the page curiously.
But the boy had scarcely reached the ground when the landlord
bowing at the door. The cavalier
'Ciacco--hog!' he thundered: 'did you not hear us call?'
'Where were your ears? Nailed to the pillory?'
'Nay, Magnificent, but to the utterances of the little Parablist of San
'O hog! now by the Mass, I say, they had been better pricked to thy
business. O ciacco, I tell thee thy Parablist was like, in another
moment, to have addressed thee out of a burning bush. What! I would
drink, swine! And, harkee, somewhere from those deep vats of thine the
perfume of an old wine of Cana rises to my nostrils. I say no more.
The landlord, abasing himself outwardly, took solace
of a private curse
as he turned into the shadow of his porch--
'These skipjacks of the Sforzas! limbs of a country churl!'
Something lithe and gripping sprang
upon his back as he muttered, making
him roar out; and the chirrup of a great cricket
shrilled in his ear--
'Biting limbs! clawing, hooking, scoring limbs! ha-ha, hee-hee,
Boniface, sweating with panic, wriggled to shake off his incubus. It
clung to him toe and claw. Slewing his gross head, he saw, squatted
upon his shoulders, a manikin in green livery, a monstrous
'Messer Fool,' he gurgled--'dear my lord's most honoured jester!' (he
was essaying all the time to stagger
with his burden out of
earshot)--'prithee spare to damn a poor fellow for a hasty word under
provocation! Prithee, sweet Messer Fool!'
The little creature, sitting him as a frog a pike, hooked
talons into the corners of his eyes.
'Provocation!' it laughed, rocking--'provocation by his grandness to a
guts! If I fail to baste thee on a spit for it, call me not Cicada!'
'Mercy!' implored the landlord, staggering and groping.
'Nothing for nothing. At what price, tunbelly?'
clutched in his blindness
at the post of a descending
'The best in my house.'
'What best, paunch?'
'Milan cheese--boiled bacon. Ah, dear Messer Cicada, there is a fat
cold capon, for which I will go fasting to thee.'
'And what wine, beast?'
'What thou wilt, indeed.'
spurred him with a vicious
'Away, then! Sink, submerge, titubate, and evanish into thy crystal
'Alas, I cannot see!'
The rider shifted his clutch
to the fat jowls of his victim, who
thereupon, with a groan, descended a rude flight
of steps at a run, and
brought up with his burden in a cool grotto. Here were casks and
stoppered jars innumerable; shelves
of deep blue flasks; lolling
amphorae, and festoons of cobwebs drunk with must. Cicada leapt with one
spring to a barrel, on which he squatted, rather now like a green frog
than a grasshopper. His face, lean and leathery, looked as if dipped in
a tan-pit; his eyes were as aspish as his tongue; he was a stunted,
grotesque little creature, all vice and whipcord.
'Despatch!' he shrilled. 'Thy wit is less a desert than my throat.'
'Anon!' mumbled the landlord, and hurried
for a flask. 'Let thy tongue
roll on that,' he said, 'and call me grateful. As to the capon,
prithee, for my bones' sake, let me serve thy masters first.'
had already the flask at his mouth. The wine sank into him
as into hot sand.
'Go,' he said, stopping a moment, and bubbling--'go, and damn thy capon;
I ask no grosser aliment than this.'
The landlord, bustling in a restored confidence, filled a great bottle
from a remote
jar, and armed with it and some vessels of twisted glass,
mounted to daylight
once more. Messer Lanti, scowling in the sun,
cursed him for a laggard.
'Magnificent!' pleaded the man, 'the sweetest wine, like the sweetest
meat, is near the bone.'
'Deep in the ribs of the cellars, meanest, O, ciacco?'
He took a long draught, and turned to his lady.
'Trust the rogue, Beatrice; it is, indeed, near the marrow
She sipped of her glass delicately, and nodded. The cavalier
his for more.
'Malvasia, most honoured; trod out by the white feet of prettiest
contadina, and much favoured, by the token, of the Abbot of San Zeno
Messer Lanti looked up with a new good-humour. The party was halted in a
great flat basin among hills, on one of the lowest of which, remote
austere, sparkled the high, white towers of a monastery.
'There,' he said, signifying the spot to his companion
with a grin;
'hast heard of Giuseppe della Grande, Beatrice, the _father_ of his
'And not least of our own little Parablist, Madonna,' put in the
landlord, with a salutation.
'Plague, man!' cried Lanti; 'who the devil is this Parablist you keep
throwing at us?'
'They call him Bernardo Bembo, my lord. He was dropped and bred among
the monks--some by-blow of a star, they say, in the year of the great
fall. He was found at the feet of Mary's statue; and, certes, he is
gifted like an angel. He mouths parables as it were prick-songs, and is
esteemed among all for a saint.'
'A fair saint, i'faith, to be carousing in a tavern.'
'O my lord! he but lies here an hour from the sun, on his way, this very
morning, to Milan, whither he vouches he has had a call. And for his
carousing, spring water is it all, and the saints to pay, as I know to
'He should have stopped at the rill, methinks.'
'He will stop at nothing,' protested the landlord
humbly; 'nay, not even
the rebuking by his parables of our most illustrious
lord, the Duke
'Thou talkest treason, dog. What is to rebuke
'What indeed, Magnificent? Set a saint, _I_ say, to catch a saint.'
The other laughed louder.
'The right sort of saint for that, I trow, from Giuseppe's loins.'
'Nay, good my lord, the Lord Abbot himself is no less a saint.'
'What!' roared Lanti, 'saints all around! This is the right hagiolatry,
where I need never despair
of a niche for myself. I too am the son of
my father, dear Messer Ciacco, as this Parablist is, I'll protest, of
your Abbot, whose piety is an old story. What! you don't recognise a
abased himself between deference and roguery.
'It is not for me to say, Magnificent. I am no expert
to prove the
common authorship of this picture and the other.'
He lowered his eyes with a demure leer. Honest Lanti, bending to rally
him, chuckled loudly, and then, rising, brought his whip with a
boisterous smack across his shoulders. The landlord
jumped and winced.
'Spoken like a discreet
son of the Church!' cried the cavalier.
He breathed out his chest, drained his glass, still laughing into it,
and, handing it down, settled himself in his saddle.
'And so,' he said, 'this saintly whelp of a saint is on his way to
rebuke the lord of Sforza?'
'With deference, my lord, like a younger Nathan. So he hath been
miscalled--I speak nothing from myself. The young man hath lived all his
days among visions and voices; and at the last, it seems, they've
spelled him out Galeazzo--though what the devil the need is there? as
your Magnificence says. But perhaps they made a mistake in the
spelling. The blessed
Fathers themselves teach us that the best
holiness lacks education.'
Madonna laughed out a little. 'This is a very good fool!' she murmured,
'I don't know about that,' said Lanti, answering the landlord, and
wagging his sage head. 'I'm not the most pious of men myself. But tell
us, sirrah, how travels his innocence?'
'On foot, my lord, like a prophet's.'
''Twill the sooner lie prone.' He turned to my lady. 'Wouldst like to
add him to Cicada and thy monkey, and carry him along with us?'
'Nay,' she said pettishly, 'I have enough of monstrosities. Will you
keep me in the sun all day?'
'Well,' said Lanti, gathering
his reins, 'it puzzles me only how the
Abbot could part thus with his discretion.'
'Nay, Illustrious,' answered the landlord, 'he was in a grievous
'tis stated. But, there! prophecy
will no more be denied than love. A'
must out or kill. And so he had to let Messer Bembo go his gaits with a
letter only to this monastery
and that, in providence
of a sanctuary,
and one even, 'tis whispered, to the good Duchess Bona herself. But
here, by the token, he comes.'
He bowed deferentially, backing apart. Messer Lanti stared, and gave a
'O, indeed!' he muttered, showing his strong teeth, 'this Giuseppe
propagates the faith very prettily!'
Madam Beatrice was staring too. She expressed no further impatience
be gone for the moment. A young man, followed by some kitchen company
adoring and obsequious, had come out by the door, and stood regarding
her quietly. She had expected some apparition
of austerity, some lean,
neurotic friar, wasting
between dogmatism and sensuality. And instead
she saw an angel of the breed that wrestled with Jacob.
He was so much a child in appearance, with such an aspect
of wonder and
prettiness, that the first motion
of her heart towards him was like the
leap of motherhood. Then she laughed, with a little dye come to her
cheek, and eyed him over the screen
of feathers she held in her hand.
into the sunlight.
'Greeting, sweet Madonna,' he said, in his grave young voice, 'and fair
as your face be your way!' and he was offering
to pass her.
She could only stare, the bold jade, at a loss for an answer. The soft
umber eyes of the youth looked into hers. They were round and velvety
as a rabbit's, with high, clean-pencilled brows over. His nose was
short and pretty broad at the bridge, and his mouth was a little mouth,
pouting as a child's, something combative, and with lips like tinted
wax. Like a girl's his jaw was round and beardless, and his hair a
golden fleece, cut square at the neck, and its ends brittle as if they
had been singed in fire. His doublet
and hose were of palest pink; his
bonnet, shoes, and mantlet of cypress-green velvet. Rose-coloured
ribbons, knotted into silver buckles, adorned his feet; and over his
shoulder, pendent from a strand of the same hue, was slung a fair lute.
He could not have passed, by his looks, his sixteenth summer.
Lanti pushed rudely
'A moment, saint troubadour, a moment!' he cried. 'It will please us,
hearing of your mission, to have a taste of your quality.'
The youth, looking at him a little, swung his lute forward and smiled.
'What would you have, gracious
sir?' he said.
'What? Why, prophesy
us our case in parable.'
'I know not your name nor calling.'
'A pretty prophet, forsooth. But I will enlighten
thee. I am Carlo
Lanti, gentleman of the Duke, and this fair lady the wife of him we call
the Count of Casa Caprona.'
The boy frowned a little, then nodded and touched the strings. And all
in a moment he was improvising the strangest ditty, a sort of cantefable
between prose and song:--
'A lord of little else possessed a jewel,
Of his small state incomparably the crown.
But he, going on a journey once,
To his wife committed it, saying,
"This trust with you I pledge
till my return;
See, by your love, that I redeem
But she, when he was gone, thinking "he will not know,"
Procured its exact fellow in green glass,
And sold her lord's gem to one who bid her fair;