Francesco - Il Virtuoso
The winter sun had long ago set beyond the stone-pines of Monte Oliveto, and the deep blue Tuscan sky had turned to sober slate, purpled with the fading glow of northern crimson. It was a night near Christmas, and Ser Zenobio Buonaventuri sat at his table, in his modest little one-storied house on the Piazza San Marco, putting the finishing touches to his precis of the day's notarial work, in the Corte della Mercanzia. His worthy spouse, Madonna Costanza's weary fingers had just completed the stitching of the last of twelve pairs of kid gloves, for her employers, of the Guild of the Fur and Skin Merchants - the Salvetti, who were her relatives.
They had been talking, as was their wont, about their dashing, handsome son Pietro, the pride of their hearts, who was away in Venice, a clerk under his uncle, Giovanni Battista. They were a lonesome couple, and they deplored their four years' parting from their only boy. To be sure, he had often, indeed regularly, written to them happy, contented letters. Moreover, Messer Giovanni Battista had sent them very satisfactory reports of his application to business, but he named one subject, which filled the hearts of the doting parents with apprehension - it was, of course, a story of romance. Pietro had a sweetheart - that in itself caused little uneasiness; what healthy-minded young fellow had not! But Pietro had an unusually amorous nature, and his love escapades had not been few in Florence. In Venice, "the Court of Venus," he revelled in the fair beauty and the freedom of maidens, so much more lovely and so much less reserved, than the Florentine girls he knew. But when Messer Giovanni Battista named as hisinnamorata the young daughter of one of the proudest patricians of the Serene Republic, the worthy couple were in trepidation lest the lad's passion should lead to regrettable embarrassments.
No love was lost between the sister Republics, and the feeling of hostility in public matters was carried into private life. Pietro never named the romance, but Ser Zenobio, by way of meeting - as was his wont - his troubles half way, penned anxious cautions to his son. The Buonaventuri, though by no means an obscure family, were not Grandi like the Cappelli, Lords of Venice. Moreover, Bianca's father was a wealthy man and a member of the Supreme Council, whilst Ser Zenobio was merely a modest notary of no great fame or fortune.
It was bedtime, but hark! at the door were shuffling steps and voices whispering; and presently there came a gentle tap - repeated once or twice. Ser Zenobio rose to see what was passing outside his house. Peering into the gloom he saw two figures - one a girl's - and a voice he knew full well said:
"Father, we have come to crave shelter and protection."
"Who are you? My boy Pietro! And what are you doing here in Florence, and at this time of night?"
Madonna Costanza was peeping over his shoulder, and both of them were greatly agitated, and awaited with anxiety Pietro's reply.
"We have come from Venice and are very tired. See, father and mother, this is Bianca."
Sternly answered Ser Zenobio. "What do you mean, Pietro? What shame is this you have done your parents? Who is Bianca, and what are you doing with her in Florence? You never said you were coming home. Explain yourself, or come not into your father's house."
Heavy rain was falling, and Bianca was weeping as Pietro led her into the light of the candle his mother held.
"Let them come in anyhow, Zenobio, and we can hear what they have got to say, without the neighbours hearing us," put in the tender-hearted woman.
With that, Ser Zenobio gave his hand to Bianca and drew her and Pietro within the door, and then, in sterner tones, he commanded his son to tell what he had done.
Briefly Pietro recounted the story of his love and how Bianca returned it. He spoke of Messer Bartolommeo's harshness and of the unkindness of Bianca's stepmother, Madonna Lucrezia de' Grimani-Contarini - the Patriarch's sister. He described their plight and the perils which threatened them. But, when he went on to hint at Bianca's condition, the loving heart of Madonna Costanza melted towards the beauteous, weeping girl, and she drew her to her bosom to embrace and comfort her.
Long and anxious vigil the four kept that winter's night. The outcome of their deliberations was the marriage of Pietro and Bianca, on 12th December, privately, at Ser Zenobio's, with the priestly blessing at San Marco's across the way.
It was deemed expedient that the young people should conceal themselves as much as possible, in view of the extreme measures taken by the Serene Republic. If caught, Pietro was to be slain and Bianca enclosed in a convent. The abduction of a noble Venetian was a capital offence, and the girl's dowry was confiscated by the State.
Soon the news of the elopement ran through Florence and set everybody talking. The reward of two thousand gold ducats was a tempting bait for desperadoes and others in need of coin. Everybody wished to see the beauteous Venetian and have a chat with bold Pietro, for, of course, no Florentine blamed them! Who could?
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