An Old-World tale. Who reads perchance
May deem it dull or idly told,
Preferring latter-day romance
Where well trained hearts their loves unfold.
Tuscany, land of fierce hates and wild loves and of limitless passions,
Tuscany, home of Petrarca and Dante and lively Boccaccio,
Tuscany, home of the Angelic Painter revered throughout Europe,
Thou art the scene of this story: in thee all its actors lie buried.
Near to a stream that escaped from Fiesole’s heights and that wandered
Down through vast forests of chestnut and unto the plain that stretched eastward,
Where it meandered at will until lost in the turbulent Arno,
Stood in the days when the land was ruled o’er by the mighty Lorenzo,
Stood, and still stands, although now but a ruin, four centuries later,
Villa Alberti, the home of a youthful and passionate noble
Known far and wide for his pitiless temper that recked not of mercy.
Cosmo Alberti his name, and for wife he had taken Bianca,
One of the house of Bordoni and daughter of Luigi Bordoni
Many times chosen a prior of merchants of silk in Firenze.
Fair was the face of the maid and her voice was as sweet as the nightingale’s
Heard in mid-May when the forest rejoices in newly-won verdure.
Gracious her manner to all and so great was the charm of her presence
That at the banquets the wealth and the pride of Firenze attended
None of its maidens were paid so much honor as gentle Bianca.
Simple and fresh was her spirit despite all the praise she excited
Equal in measure from amorous youth and from grey-headed statesmen.
Nor was the fame of her beauty and sweetness confined to Firenze;
Roman ambassadors when they returned to the City Eternal
Spoke of it freely, while light-hearted gallants of Pisa and Lucca,
Passing a season in Tuscany’s proudest of cities, Firenze,
Spread on returning the praise of the beautiful Florentine maiden.
But, as it chanced, unto Cosmo Alberti, her name was a strange one
Even when Tuscany rang with her manifold virtues and graces,
For from his villa he seldom went forth to the city, preferring
Either to follow his own lawless will in his wide-spread dominion,
Or to engage in some feud with a neighbor and, coming off victor,
Harry his rival to death and then seize upon all his possessions.
Yet unto him at last tidings of Bordoni’s daughter were wafted,
And, in a moment when ‘customed delights seemed to pall on his spirit,
Thoughts of Bianca Bordoni came into his mind and he wondered
What she was like and if all that was said of her pictured her truly.
With Cosmo Alberti to think was to act, and thus happed it Firenze
Saw him one day in her streets, unto which he had long been a stranger,
Saw him and greeted him kindly, as Florentine prudence suggested;
Nor was it long before he of the Villa Alberti was granted
Sight of the maiden the fame of whose charms had lured him from his castle.
Pietro Brignoli, whose daughter a noble young Pisan had wedded,
Gave on the day of the bridal a banquet to which were invited
All of the rank and the wealth of Firenze and likewise were summoned
Strangers of rank from without, and amongst these was Cosmo Alberti.
Handsome was he in his costume well-fitting his station and figure,
Marked among men would he be anywhere, and full many a maiden
Gazing upon him felt something of love stir within her for Cosmo,
Cosmo, whose eyes were for one, and one only, and that one Bianca.
Singing was she when he saw her, a song that was made for the bridal.
Sweet were the words of the song, for sweet love was the theme of the writer,
Guido Donati his name, and the words of his song were on this wise:
What is the dearest of treasures?
What is the sweetest of pleasures?
Bliss that o’errunneth all measures?
Love is its name. It is Love!
Sweet is the bliss of pursuing,
Dear is the joy of the wooing;
Happiness lies in subduing
Hearts that are strangers to Love.
Whispered its vows are and tender;
Virtue its strongest defender;
Every true heart longs to render
Homage and honors to Love.
Ended the music, arose a great clamor of eloquent voices
Praising the song and the singer and loudest was Cosmo Alberti’s.
Ne’er had he known until now these emotions that filled him with longing;
Never till now had he felt what it was to love purely and nobly.
Love for the moment transformed his rough nature to chivalrous manhood,
Lent a new grace to his manner and softened the ring of his laughter.
Scarce would the servants of Villa Alberti have known their young master
Could they have seen him that evening at Messer Pietro Brignoli’s.
After the banquet the bridegroom and bride led the dancing together,
And in their steps followed gladly the Florentine maidens and gallants,
Crossing, recrossing, and turning wherever the measure demanded,
Touching the tips of the fingers and bowing at every turning.
Not the least graceful was Cosmo Alberti, who, joining the dancers,
Joyfully found himself frequently facing Bianca Bordoni,
Who for her part was well-pleased when she noted the handsome Alberti
Eying her every movement and eagerly craving her favor.
Long was the dance but it ended at length and the dancers departed,
Cosmo amongst them, his thoughts full of Bordoni’s beautiful daughter,
Whom he determined to gain, and he therefore remained in Firenze
Week after week, and so constant was he in attending all banquets
Whereto Bianca was bidden that every one saw his devotion.
“See what a tamer is Love,” said the gossips in strada and loggia;
“Who would have dreamed that the savage young boar of the Villa Alberti
Would have forsaken his sports and his fighting for love of a maiden.”
Not unobserved by Bordoni the evident purpose of Cosmo,
Purpose that had for its object the gaining the love of his daughter,
And not ill-pleased was the father, who viewed young Alberti with favor.
As for Bianca herself she but faintly at this time remembered
Tales she had heard of his deeds and his temper so cruel,
For when his face was before her they seemed like the veriest fancies
Born of the envy of those not so handsome and daring as Cosmo.
So as the summer departed and Tuscany’s autumn descending
Touched with the finger of fire all the trees in the plain of the Arno,
Cosmo, not doubting Bianca’s affection, demanded of Luigi
Hand of the maiden in marriage, whereat old Bordoni, concealing
Back of his calmness of face all the joy that he felt, for a moment
Seemed not to favor distinctly the suit of the ardent young Cosmo,
But as if moved by the arguments earnestly urged by the other,
Yielded at last, as doth one overborne, and consented. Then gladly
Hastened the passionate Cosmo to gentle Bianca awaiting
News of her lover’s success and as they sat together in silence,
Fuller of meaning than words could be ever, Luigi Bordoni,
Dignified, portly and handsome in garments of riches black velvet,
Came where they sat and spoke gravely of life and its manifold duties,
Spoke of the pain at his heart that would follow the loss of Bianca,
Spoke of the rumors that reached him of Cosmo’s undisciplined temper,
Urged the young noble to govern his household and people with kindness,
Said a few words of the happiness marriage had brought to his own life,
Hoped for as much in their future, and left them at length with his blessing.
Fixed was the bridal for April, and all through the winter young Cosmo
Busied himself with restoring a wing of the Villa Alberti,
Rearing a tower and extending the loggia and planning out gardens,
Gardens which now are a wildwood, yet peopled with moss-covered statues,
Showing, however, though armless and shattered, the lines of the beauty
Fixed there of old by the wonderful skill of some long-vanished sculptor.
So passed the winter with Cosmo, who, full of his plans and his raptures,
Found little time for pursuing old feuds with his neighbors, who therefore
Dwelt for the winter in peace and most fervently thanked the occasion.
Easter came early in April that season but not till the springtide
Filled the Val d’Arno with tremulous greenness and starred it with blossoms,
While on Fiesole’s heights waved the newly-won sprays of the chestnut,
Sprays through which flickered the sunshine on pink-flushing buds of the laurel.
Nor was the brightness of Tuscany’s springtime confined to the country,
Strada, piazza and loggia in every part of Firenze
Brimmed and ran over with flowers, and at Easter their delicate fragrance
Conquered at mass and at vespers the odors of myrrh and frankincense
Stealing from censers of brass swung by thurifers at the high altars.
Scarcely had Holy Week passed when the rigors of Lent were forgotten,
Save by the monks in their cells and the nuns in their cloisters,
For in the Easter week happened the wedding at Casa Bordoni,
Wedding long talked of before by the youth and the maids of Firenze,
Bridal long talked of thereafter because of its wonderful splendor.
Not for a decade at least had been seen in the City of Flowers
Marriage attended with jubilant mirth and with pomp like to this one.
Guests from Siena and Lucca and Pisa and Rome the Eternal,
Brilliant in silks and in velvets and flashing with gold chains and jewels,
Sat at the banquet that followed the solemn high mass at the Duomo,
Sat beside Florentine nobles as richly arrayed, and among them
Grey-bearded priors of arts and stout matrons who once had been shapely,
Maidens as stately as lilies and children half-dazed with the splendor,
Mingled in friendliness born of the joy that abounds at a bridal.
Many the healths that were drunk in behalf of the newly-wed couple;
Many the wishes expressed for their happiness and to these Cosmo
Gracefully worded his thanks, and, the banquet once ended, the dancing
Followed it swiftly, but even more rapidly twinkled to music
Feet of the dancers in rhythmical measures, and lastly succeeded
Chorus of youths and of maidens with clear ringing voices all singing,
(Melody wondrous and sweet,) a fair marriage song writ for the bridal:
When in the springtime a soft wind arises
Out of the south land and sweetly surprises
Fair folded buds from their sleep into roses,
Breathes on the lily till rathe it uncloses,
Hearts that are saddest lose some of their sorrow,
Hearts that are lightest a keener joy borrow,
When in the springtime a south wind arises
And in its bounty all fair gifts comprises.
When in the springtime two hearts are united,
Pleasure is crowned and dull pain is affrighted,
Love lights the path where the blissful ones wander
Thinking no evil and growing yet fonder.
Never such rapture by mortals is tasted
As clings to the days when ere April is wasted,
Pain being past and all jealousy blighted,
Hearts in the dearest of bonds are united.
So the long waiting was over and these two, Bianca and Cosmo,
Entered upon that new life which to some is a quickly sped pleasure
Vanished as soon as the moon of the bridal is over and nothing
Left for the lifetime which follows but weariness, hatred and loathing,
But which for others is full of the joy that endureth for all time,
Joy that is sister to peace and abideth forever in calmness.
How it would be with these two was the wonder of half of Firenze
Holding in mind the reports of his pitiless temper aforetime.
Somewhat disturbed in his spirit was ancient Luigi Bordoni
Sitting alone in his palace bereft of Bianca and doubting
Whether ambition were safest to follow when wedding a daughter
Tender and loving as his was, and whether young Cosmo Alberti
Loved her enough to subdue for her sake all his outbursts of passion.
Often and often he rode to the gates of the Villa Alberti,
Entered and found in the gardens or sitting at ease in the loggia
Happiness ever and blissful content with Bianca and Cosmo.
Welcome he never found lacking and so as the days journeyed onward
Fainter his doubtings became and at last past away altogether
Utterly routed and slain by the radiant presence of gladness.
Now in these halcyon days the great happiness compassing these two
Spread its white wings over all who owed service to Cosmo.
Wholly transformed seemed the man through his love for the gentle Bianca.
It was enough for him now that she pleaded for any retainer,
Seeking for justice to all, and the noble who once had sought counsel
Only from whim of the moment or spurring of sudden-moved passion,
Now was renowned throughout spacious Val d’Arno for merciful dealing.
Many the banquets and feastings at Villa Alberti that summer.
Often the peasant on lands of Alberti was roused from his slumbers
Nigh to the hour when the pale rose of dawn in the east faintly quickens,
Hearing the rolling of wheels and the querulous neighing of horses
Speeding with jubilant revelers back to their homes in Firenze.
All who could add to the joy of the moment were welcomed by Cosmo.
So at the Villa Alberti were gathered in friendly conjunction
Poets, musicians and artists of differing orders of merit,
Nobles and sages and men who were keen at a jest or a satire.
There might be seen the fair matrons and maids of the City of Florence,
Cassock of priest, or the purple-hued robe of the dignified prelate,
Merchants returned from a visit to Paris or far-distant London,
Courtiers from France or ambassadors sent from some German dominion.
Many the faiths of the guests but a harmony never was lacking,
For at these meetings Bianchi and Neri forgot for the moment
Matters at issue between them, and even the Ghibelline faction
Here at the Villa Alberti held truce with the Guelphs their opponents,
Glad it would seem for an interval sacred to peace and good feeling.
When the fierce heats of the summer were over and Tuscany’s autumn
Once more returning had purpled the vineyards and yellowed the cornfields,
Veiled with a haze the far peaks of Carrara and breathed forth at evening
Hints, though but faint ones as yet, of the oncoming chillier weather,
Luigi Bordoni one morning rode forth to his daughter Bianca’s,
Not, as his wont was, alone, but companioned upon this occasion
By a fair youth, the last left of the sons of a dearly-loved brother.
Nearly two years had he been at Ferrara on business of Luigi’s,
But it was ended at last and the youth had returned to Firenze
Only that morning brimful of rejoicing at seeing his kindred.
Joyous the meeting had been ‘twixt the uncle and well-beloved nephew,
And in reply to his questionings after Bianca, his cousin,
Messer Bordoni was leading the youth to the Villa Alberti.
Scarce twenty-one was Franceso Bordoni when leaving Firenze;
Lightly at that time the down on his upper lip lay like a shadow,
But, in his absence had lengthened and darkened till now on returning
Straight as a dart a full finger’s length sideways it slenderly pointed,
Under it gleamed the white teeth that his clear ringing laughter showed often,
And ‘neath the forehead above it two dark eyes looked honestly outward,
Eyes that the maids of Ferrara had many times loved to feel on them.
Slenderly built was the youth but withal of an elegant figure,
Habited richly in garments befitting his years and his station.
Crimson and white was his doublet and likewise his close-fitting long hose
Crimson of hue, and a mantle that carelessly hung from his shoulder
White, with a lining of crimson, showed also the colors he favored.
Crimson moreover the cap that he wore and that poised as if blown there
Crowning the grace that yet needed no help of costume to display it.
Over his doublet there hung a gold chain wrought by skill of Cellini,
And at his side was a sword which the same Benvenuto Cellini,
Seized with a master’s own fancy, enriched with a wonderful scabbard
Where was depicted the sorrowful story of her of Rimini.
Goodly in raiment and person alike was the youthful Franceso,
And as he journeyed that morning along with his uncle, Luigi
Said to himself that the youth was a joy to the house of Bordoni.
Noon was the hour when the uncle and nephew reached Villa Alberti;
Noon, and the shadows that lay on the greensward were dwarfed and misshapen;
Noon, and the breezes of morning had died quite away into stillness;
Noon, and the birds were asleep and the musical plash of the fountains
Joyously leaping aloft in the sunshine and falling back ever
Scarce broke the slumberous silence that brooded o’er all like a blessing.
“Ah, what a haven of peace!” said Franceso aloud to his uncle,
“Truly a fitting abode for my beautiful cousin Bianca.”
Hardly the sentence was uttered when she whom he spoke of came forward
Beaming with joy at beholding her father and long-absent cousin.
“Surely, Franceso, your stay in Ferrara has wondrously changed you,
For when you left us you seemed like a boy and to-day I behold you
Bearing the honors of manhood like any young Florentine gallant.”
Smiling she spoke and the youth in confusion bowed lowly before her,
Paused for a moment and then answered gayly, “My cousin Bianca,
Time has been busy with you and has changed from a girl to a woman
Her whom I left in the care of the vigilant Sisters of Joseph,
Learning from them to embroider and also the curing of roseleaves.”
More had he said, but the master of Villa Alberti approaching
Greeted the newcomers warmly and led the way into the Villa.
There for a time they conversed with each other of various matters,
Whether the eloquent Savonarola would preach at the Duomo
After the autumn was over and Advent had opened the winter,
Whether the turbulent Arrabbiati would dare to molest him,
Whether the harvests throughout the Val d’ Arno were promising finely,
Whether the air of Firenze was purer than that of Ferrara.
So passed the morning away until Cosmo, addressing Bianca,
Said in his courtliest manner, “Bianca, your cousin Franceso,
If he has rested as long as he wishes, might care to examine
Under your guidance the gardens, or possibly also the frescos
Painted last spring, my Bianca, in honor of you and our bridal.
Go with him therefore, I pray you, and I and our excellent father
Later will join you, perhaps in the gardens or else in the loggia.”
Ended his sentence, the speaker arose and passed out with Luigi
Full of some plan for adorning the Villa which needed explaining,
And at an opposite portal Bianca went forth with her cousin.
Much had Franceso to speak of concerning the years of his absence;
Much had Bianca to tell him of Cosmo and how he adored her.
Almost like brother and sister the cousins had been in their childhood,
Sharing their joys and their sorrows and each one admiring the other.
Now as they loitered in arbor and alley in innocent converse,
Confidence, long interrupted by absence, returned, and the friendship
Severed by time reunited and freely they spoke to each other;
He of the maiden he loved at Ferrara with ardent devotion,
How he would count himself happy if only Bianca might see her,
For he was sure she would think the maid wondrously lovely.
When he had ended she told of her meeting with Cosmo last summer,
How she had loved from the first this young lord whom Pietro Brignoli
Summoned with others to dance and to feast at the f
(Oscar Fay Adams)
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