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offers to enter the fire for the truth, though he is sure the fire will burn him."
"I do not deny it," said Tito, blandly. “But if it turns out that Fra Francesco is mistaken, he will have been burned for the wrong side, and the Church has never reckoned such as martyrs. We must suspend our judgment until the trial has really taken place."
“It is true, Messer Segretario," said the shopkeeper, with subdued impatience. "
“But will you favour us by interpreting the Latin?"
“Assuredly,” said Tito. “It does but express the conclusions or doctrines which the Frate specially teaches, and which the trial by fire is to prove true or false. They are doubtless familiar to you. First, that Florence --"
“Let us have the Latin bit by bit, and then tell us what it means," said the shoemaker, who had been a frequent hearer of Fra Girolamo.
“Willingly," said Tito, smiling. “You will then judge if I give you the right meaning."
“Yes, yes; that's fair," said Goro.
“Ecclesia Dei indiget renovatione, that is, the Church of God needs purifying or regenerating.”
“It is true,” said several voices at once.
“That means, the priests ought to lead better lives, there needs no miracle to prove that. That's what the Frate has always been saying," said the shoemaker.
“Flagellabitur," Tito went on. “That is, it will be scourged. Renovabitur: it will be purified. Florentia quoque post flagella renovabitur et prosperabitur: Florence also, after the scourging, shall be purified and shall prosper."
“That means, we are to get Pisa again," said the shopkeeper.
And get the wool from England as we used to do, I should hope," said an elderly man, in an old-fashioned berretta, who had been silent till now. “There's been scourging enough with the sinking of the trade.”
At this moment, a tall personage, surmounted by a red
feather, issued from the door of the convent, and exchanged an indifferent glance with Tito; who, tossing his becchetto carelessly over his left shoulder, turned to his reading again, while the bystanders, with more timidity than respect, shrank to make a passage for Messer Dolfo Spini,
“ Infideles convertentur ad Christum,” Tito went on. “That is, the infidels shall be converted to Christ."
"Those are the Turks and the Moors. Well, I've nothing to say against that," said the shopkeeper, dispassionately.
“Hæc autem omnia erunt temporibus nostris and all these things shall happen in our times."
“Why, what use would they be, else?” said Goro.
“Excommunicatio nuper lata contra Reverendum Patrem nostrum Fratrem Hieronymum nulla est - the excommunication lately pronounced against our reverend father, Fra Girolamo, is null. Non observantes eam non peccant - those who disregard it are not committing a sin.”
“I shall know better what to say to that when we have had the Trial by Fire," said the shopkeeper.
“Which doubtless will clear up everything," said Tito. "That is all the Latin all the conclusions that are to be proved true or false by the trial. The rest you can perceive is simply a proclamation of the Signoria in good Tuscan, calling on such as are eager to walk through the fire, to come to the
Palazzo and subscribe their names. further? If not.
Tito, as he turned away, raised his cap and bent slightly, with so easy an air that the movement seemed a natural prompting of deference.
He quickened his pace as he left the Piazza, and after two or three turnings he paused in a quiet street before a door at which he gave a light and peculiar knock. It was opened by a young woman whom he chucked under the chin as he asked her if the Padrone was within, and he then passed, without further ceremony, through another door which stood ajar on his right hand. It admitted him into a handsome but
Can I serve you
untidy room, where Dolfo Spini sat playing with a fine stayhound which alternately snuffed at a basket of pups and licked his hands with that affectionate disregard of her master's morals sometimes held to be one of the most agreeable attributes of her sex. He just looked up as Tito entered, but continued his play, simply from that disposition to persistence in some irrelevant action, by which slow-witted sensual people seem to be continually counteracting their own purposes. Tito was patient.
“A handsome bracca that,” he said quietly, standing with his thumbs in his belt. Presently he added, in that cool liquid tone which seemed mild, but compelled attention, “When you have finished such caresses as cannot possibly be deferred, my Dolfo, we will talk of business, if you please. My time, which I could wish to be eternity at your service, is not entirely my own this morning.”
"Down, Mischief, down!” said Spini, with sudden roughness. "Malediction!” he added, still more grufily, pushing the dog aside; then, starting from his seat, he stood close to Tito, and put a hand on his shoulder as he spoke.
"I hope your sharp wits see all the ins anà outs of this business, my fine necromancer, for it seems to me no clearer than the bottom of a sack.”
“What is your difficulty, my cavalier?”
“These accursed Frati Minori at Santa Croce. They are drawing back now. Fra Francesco himself seems afraid of sticking to his challenge; talks of the Prophet being likely to use magic to get up a false miracle thinks he might be dragged into the fire and burned, and the Prophet might come out whole by magic, and the Church be none the better. And then, after all our talking, there's not so much as a blessed lay brother who will offer himself to pair with that pious sheep Fra Domenico.”
“It is the peculiar stupidity of the tonsured skull that prevents them from seeing of how little consequence it is whether they are burned or not,” said Tito. “Have you sworn well to them that they shall be in no danger of entering the fire?"
"No," said Spini, looking puzzled; "because one of them will be obliged to go in with Fra Domenico, who thinks it a thousand years till the faggots are ready.”
“Not at all. Fra Domenico himself is not likely to go in. I have told you before, my Dolfo, only your powerful mind is not to be impressed without more repetition than suffices for the vulgar - I have told you that now you have got the Signoria to take up this affair and prevent it from being hushed up by Fra Girolamo, nothing is necessary but that on a given day the fuel should be prepared in the Piazza, and the people got together with the expectation of seeing something prodigious. If, after that, the Prophet quits the Piazza without any appearance of a miracle on his side, he is ruined with the people: they will be ready to pelt him out of the city, the Signoria will find it easy to banish him from the territory, and his Holiness may do as he likes with him. Therefore, my Alcibiades, swear to the Franciscans that their grey frocks shall not come within singeing distance of the fire."
Spini rubbed the back of his head with one hand, and tapped his sword against his leg with the other, to stimulate his power of seeing these intangible combinations.
“But,” he said presently, looking up again, “unless we fall on him in the Piazza, when the people are in a rage, and make an end of him and his lies then and there, Valori and the Salviati and the Albizzi will take up arms and raise a fight for him. I know that was talked of when there was the hubbub on Ascension Sunday. And the people may turn round again: there may be a story raised of the French king coming again, or some other cursed chance in the hypocrite's favour. The city will never be safe till he's out of it."
“He will be out of it before long, without your giving yourself any further trouble than this little comedy of the Trial by Fire. The wine and the sun will make vinegar without any shouting to help them, as your Florentine sages would say. You will have the satisfaction of delivering your city from an incubus by an able stratagem, instead of risking blunders with sword-thrusts."
“But suppose he did get magic and the devil to help him, and walk through the fire after all?” said Spini, with a grimace intended to hide a certain shyness in trenching on this speculative ground. “How do you know there's nothing in those things? Plenty of scholars believe in them, and this Fr is bad enough for anything." “Oh, of course there are such things," said Tito,
with a shrug; “but I have particular reasons for knowing that the Frate is not on such terms with the devil as can give him any confidence in this affair. The only magic he relies on is his own ability.”
“Ability!” said Spini. “Do you call it ability to be setting Florence at loggerheads with the Pope and all the powers of Italy all to keep beckoning at the French king who never comes? You may call him able, but I call him a hypocrite, who wants to be master of everybody, and get himself made Pope."
“You judge with your usual penetration, my captain, but our opinions do not clash. The Frate, wanting to be master, and to carry out his projects against the Pope requires the lever of a foreign power, and requires Florence as a fulcrum. I used to think him a narrow-minded bigot, but now I think him a shrewd ambitious man who knows what he is aiming at, and directs his aim as skilfully as you direct a ball when you are playing at maglio."
“ Yes, yes,” said Spini, cordially, “I can aim a ball."
“It is true," said Tito, with bland gravity; "and I should not have troubled you with my trivial remark on the Frate's ability, but that you may see how this will heighten the credit of your success against him at Rome and at Milan, which is sure to serve you in good stead when the city comes to change its policy."
“Well, thou art a good little demon, and shalt have good pay,” said Spini, patronizingly; whereupon he thought it