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Contents

About the Book

About the Author

Also by W. Somerset Maugham

Title Page

The History of Vintage

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Epilogue

Copyright

About the Book

Maugham found a parallel to the turmoil of his own times in the duplicity, intrigue and sensuality of the Italian Renaissance. Then and Now enters the world of Machiavelli, and covers three important months in the career of that crafty politician, worldly seducer and high priest of schemers.

About the Author

William Somerset Maugham was born in 1874 and lived in Paris until he was ten. He was educated at King’s School, Canterbury, and at Heidelberg University. He spent some time at St. Thomas’ Hospital with the idea of practising medicine, but the success of his first novel, Liza of Lambeth, published in 1897, won him over to letters. Of Human Bondage, the first of his masterpieces, came out in 1915, and with the publication in 1919 of The Moon and Sixpence his reputation as a novelist was established. At the same time his fame as a successful playwright and short story writer was being consolidated with acclaimed productions of various plays and the publication of The Trembling of a Leaf, subtitled Little Stories of the South Sea Islands, in 1921, which was followed by seven more collections. His other works include travel books, essays, criticism and the autobiographical The Summing Up and A Writer’s Notebook.

In 1927 Somerset Maugham settled in the South of France and lived there until his death in 1965.

OTHER WORKS BY W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM

Novels

The Moon and Sixpence

Of Human Bondage

The Narrow Corner

The Razor’s Edge

Cakes and Ale

Ashenden

The Merry-Go-Round

The Painted Veil

Catalina

Up at the Villa

Mrs Craddock

The Casuarina Tree

Christmas Holiday

Liza of Lambeth

The Magician

Theatre

Collected Short Stories

Collected Short Stories Vol. 1

Collected Short Stories Vol. 2

Collected Short Stories Vol. 3

Collected Short Stories Vol. 4

Short Stories

Far Eastern Tales

More Far Eastern Tales

Travel Writing

On a Chinese Screen

Don Fernando

Literary Criticism

Ten Novels and their Authors

Points of View

Autobiography

The Summing Up

A Writer’s Notebook

Then and Now

W. Somerset Maugham

EPILOGUE

Four years passed and in that period much happened. Alexander VI died. Il Valentino had provided for everything that might occur on his father’s death, but he had not foreseen that when it took place he would himself be at death’s door. Though ill, so desperately ill that only the strength of his constitution saved him, he managed to secure the election to the papacy of a cardinal, Pius III, whom he had no reason to fear; but the lords whom he had attacked and driven to flight seized the opportunity to regain their dominions, and he could do nothing to prevent them. Guidobaldo di Montefeltro returned to Urbino, the Vitellis recovered Città di Castello and Gian Paolo Baglioni captured Perugia. Only Romagna remained faithful to him. Then Pius III, an old man and a sick one, died, and Giuliano della Rovere, a bitter enemy of the Borgias, ascended the papal throne as Julius II. In order to obtain the votes of those cardinals whom Il Valentino controlled he had promised to reappoint him Captain General of the Church and confirm him in possession of his states. Cæsar thought that the promises of others were more likely to be kept than his own. He made a fatal error. Julius II was vindictive, crafty, unscrupulous and ruthless. It was not long before he found an excuse to put the Duke under arrest; he then forced him to surrender the cities of Romagna which his captains still held for him, and that accomplished, allowed him to escape to Naples. Here after a short while by order of King Ferdinand he was again thrown into prison and presently conveyed to Spain. He was taken first to a fortress in Murcia and then for greater safety to one at Medina del Campo in the heart of Old Castile. It looked as though Italy were rid at last and for good of the adventurer whose boundless ambition had for so long disturbed her peace.

But some months later the whole country was startled to hear that he had escaped, and after a hazardous journey, disguised as a merchant, had reached Pamplona, the capital of his brother-in-law, the King of Navarre. The news raised the spirits of his partisans and in the cities of Romagna there were wild scenes of rejoicing. The petty princelings of Italy trembled in their cities. The King of Navarre was at the time at war with his barons and he put Cæsar Borgia in command of his army.

During these four years Machiavelli was kept hard at work. He went on various missions. He was given the difficult task of constituting a militia so that Florence should not be altogether dependent on mercenaries, and when not otherwise occupied had handled the affairs of the Second Chancery. His digestion had always been poor and the journeys on horseback through the heat of summer, in the cold, wind, rain and snow of winter, the extreme discomfort of the inns, the poor food at irregular hours had exhausted him, and in February – February of the year of Our Lord fifteen hundred and seven – he fell seriously ill. He was bled and purged and took his favourite remedy, a pill of his own concoction, which to his mind was a specific for every human ailment. He was convinced that it was to this, rather than to the doctors, that he owed his recovery, but his illness and its treatment had left him so weak that the Signory granted him a month’s leave of absence. He went down to his farm at San Casciano, which was some three miles from Florence, and there quickly regained his health.

Spring had come early that year, and the countryside, with the trees bursting into leaf, the wild flowers, the fresh green of the grass, the rich growth of wheat, was a joy to the eye. To Machiavelli the Tuscan scene had a friendly, intimate delight that appealed to the mind rather than to the senses. It had none of the sublimity of the Alps, nor the grandeur of the sea; it was a plot of earth, graceful, lightly gay and elegant, for men to live on who loved wit and intelligent argument, pretty women and good cheer. It reminded you not of the splendid solemn music of Dante, but rather of the light-hearted strains of Lorenzo de’ Medici.

One March morning Machiavelli, up with the sun, went to a grove on his small estate that he was having cut. He lingered there, looking over the previous day’s work, and talked with the woodmen; then he went to a spring and sat himself down on a bank with a book he had brought in his pocket. It was an Ovid, and with a smile on his thin lips he read the amiable and lively verses in which the poet described his amours and, remembering his own, thought of them for a while with pleasure.

‘How much better it is to sin and repent,’ he murmured, ‘than to repent for not having sinned!’

Then he strolled down the road to the inn and chatted with the passers-by. For he was a sociable creature and if he could not have good company was willing to put up with poor. When his hunger told him that it must be getting on towards dinner-time he sauntered home and sat down with his wife and the children to the modest fare his farm provided. After dinner he went back to the inn. The innkeeper was there, the butcher, the miller and the blacksmith. He sat down to play a game of cards with them, a noisy, quarrelsome game, and they flew into a passion over a penny, shouted at one another, flung insults across the table and shook their fists in one another’s face. Machiavelli shouted and shook his fist with the best of them. Evening drew near and he returned to his house. Marietta, pregnant for the third time, was about to give the two little boys their supper.

‘I thought you were never coming,’ said she.

‘We were playing cards.’

‘Who with?’

‘The usual lot, the miller, the butcher and Batista.’

‘Riff-raff.’

‘They keep my wits from growing mouldy, and when all’s said and done they’re no stupider than ministers of state, and on the whole not more rascally.’

He took his eldest son, Bernardo, now getting on for four, on his knees and began to feed him.

‘Don’t let your soup get cold,’ said Marietta.

They were eating in the kitchen, with the maid and the hired man, and when he had finished his soup the maid brought him half a dozen larks roasted on a skewer. He was surprised and pleased, for as a rule supper consisted of nothing but a bowl of soup and a salad.

‘What is this?’

‘Giovanni snared them and I thought you’d like them for your supper.’

‘Are they all for me?’

‘All.’

‘You’re a good woman, Marietta.’

‘I haven’t been married to you for five years without finding out that the way to your heart is through your stomach,’ she said dryly.

‘For that sound piece of observation you shall have a lark, dear,’ he answered, taking one of the tiny birds in his fingers and popping it, notwithstanding her remonstrance, into her mouth.

‘They fly towards heaven in their ecstasy, their hearts bursting with song, and then, caught by an idle boy, they’re cooked and eaten. So man, for all his soaring ideals, his vision of intellectual beauty and his yearning for the infinite, in the end is caught by the perversity of fate and serves no other purpose than to feed the worms.’

‘Eat your food while it’s hot, dear, you can talk afterwards.’

Machiavelli laughed. He slipped another lark off the skewer and while crunching it with strong teeth looked at Marietta with affection. It was true she was a good woman; she was thrifty and good-tempered. She was always sorry to see him go on one of his journeys and glad to see him come back. He wondered if she knew how unfaithful he was to her. If she did, she had never given a sign of it, which showed that she was sensible and good-natured; he might have gone farther and fared worse; he was very well pleased with his wife.

When they had finished and the maid was washing up, Marietta put the children to bed. Machiavelli went upstairs to take off the clothes, muddy and dirty, that he had worn all day, and put on what he liked to describe as courtly and regal garments; for it was his habit to spend the evening in his study reading the authors he loved. He was not yet dressed when he heard a horseman ride up and in a moment a voice he recognized asking the maid for him. It was Biagio, and he wondered what had brought him out from the city at that hour.

‘Niccolo,’ he shouted from below. ‘I have news for you.’

‘Wait a minute. I’ll come down as soon as I’m ready.’

Since it was still a trifle chilly as the day drew in he slipped his black damask robe over his tunic and opened the door. Biagio was waiting for him at the foot of the stairs.

‘Il Valentino is dead.’

‘How do you know?’

‘A courier arrived from Pamplona today. I thought you’d want to know so I rode out.’

‘Come into my study.’

They sat down, Machiavelli at his writing-table and Biagio in a carved chair which was part of Marietta’s dowry. Biagio told him the facts as he had learnt them. Caesar Borgia had established his headquarters at a village on the Ebro and planned to attack the castle of the Count of Lerin, the most powerful of the insurgent barons. Early in the morning, on the 12th of March, there was a skirmish between his men and the Count’s. Caesar Borgia was still in his rooms when the alarm sounded; he donned his armour, mounted his horse and flung himself into the fray. The rebels fled, and he, without looking round to see if he was followed, pursued them down into a deep ravine, and there, surrounded and alone, unhorsed, he fought fiercely till he was killed. Next day the King and his men found the body, naked, for they had stripped him of his armour and his clothes, and the King with his own cloak covered his nakedness.

Machiavelli listened to Biagio attentively, but when he had finished remained silent.

‘It is good that he is dead,’ said Biagio after a while.

‘He had lost his states, his money and his army, and yet all Italy feared him still.’

‘He was a terrible man.’

‘Secret and impenetrable. He was cruel, treacherous and unscrupulous, but he was able and energetic. He was temperate and self-controlled. He let nothing interfere with his chosen course. He liked women, but he used them only for his pleasure and never allowed himself to be swayed by them. He created an army that was loyal to him and trusted him. He never spared himself. On the march he was indifferent to cold and hunger, and the strength of his body made him immune to fatigue. He was brave and mettlesome in battle. He shared danger with the meanest of his soldiers. He was as competent in the arts of peace as in the arts of war. He chose his ministers with discrimination, but took care that they should remain dependent upon his good will. He did everything that a prudent and clever man should do to consolidate his power, and if his methods did not bring him success it was through no fault of his, but through the extraordinary and extreme malice of fortune. With his great spirit and lofty intentions he could not have conducted himself otherwise than he did. His designs were thwarted only by Alexander’s death and his own illness; if he had been in health he could have surmounted all his difficulties.’

‘He suffered the just punishment of his crimes,’ said Biagio.

Machiavelli shrugged his shoulders.

‘Had he lived, had fortune continued to favour him, he might have driven the barbarians out of this unhappy country and given it peace and plenty. Then men would have forgotten by what crimes he had achieved power and he would have gone down to posterity as a great and good man. Who cares now that Alexander of Macedon was cruel and ungrateful, who remembers that Julius Cæsar was perfidious? In this world it is only necessary to seize power and hold it, and the means you have used will be judged honourable and will be admired by all. If Cæsar Borgia is regarded as a scoundrel it is only because he didn’t succeed. One of these days I shall write a book about him and what I learnt from my observation of his actions.’

‘My dear Niccolo, you’re so impractical. Who d’you think would read it? You’re not going to achieve immortality by writing a book like that.’

‘I don’t aspire to it,’ laughed Machiavelli.

Biagio looked suspiciously at a pile of manuscript on his friend’s writing-table.

‘What have you there?’

Machiavelli gave him a disarming smile.

‘I had nothing much to do here and I thought I’d pass the time by writing a comedy. Would you like me to read it to you?’

‘A comedy?’ said Biagio doubtfully. ‘I presume it has political implications.’

‘Not at all. Its only purpose is to amuse.’

‘Oh, Niccolo, when will you take yourself seriously? You’ll have the critics down on you like a thousand of bricks.’

‘I don’t know why; no one can suppose that Apuleius wrote his Golden Ass or Petronius the Satyricon with any other object than to entertain.’

‘But they’re classics. That makes all the difference.’

‘You mean that works of entertainment, like loose women, become respectable with age. I’ve often wondered why it is that the critics can only see a joke when the fun has long since seeped out of it. They’ve never discovered that humour depends upon actuality.’

‘You used to say that not brevity, but pornography was the soul of wit. You’ve changed your mind?’

‘Not at all. For what can be more actual than pornography? Believe me, my good Biagio, when men cease to find it so they will have lost all interest in reproducing their kind, and that will be the end of the Creator’s most unfortunate experiment.’

‘Read your play, Niccolo. You know I don’t like to hear you say things like that.’

With a smile Machiavelli took his manuscript and began to read.

‘A Street in Florence.’

But then he was seized with the slight misgiving of an author who reads something for the first time to a friend and is not sure that it will please. He interrupted himself.

‘This is only a first draft and I dare say I shall make a good many changes when I go over it again.’

He flipped the pages uncertainly. The play had amused him to write, but one or two things had happened that he had not counted on. The characters had taken on a life of their own and had diverged a good deal from their models. Lucrezia had remained as shadowy as Aurelia had been, and he had not seen how to make her more substantial. The exigencies of the plot had obliged him to make her a virtuous woman induced by her mother and her confessor to submit to something her conscience disapproved of. Piero, whom he had called Ligurio, on the contrary played a much greater part than he had intended. It was he who suggested the scheme by which the foolish husband was taken in, he who got round Lucrezia’s mother and the monk, he in short who staged the intrigue and conducted it to a happy conclusion. He was astute, ingenious, quick-witted and pleasantly unprincipled. Machiavelli found it very easy to put himself into the rascal’s shoes, but by the time he had finished discovered that there was as much of himself in the artful schemer as in the lovesick gallant who was his hero.

Thinking how odd it was that he should play two parts in one play, he looked up and asked Biagio:

‘By the way, have your heard anything lately of your nephew Piero?’

‘In point of fact I have. I meant to tell you, but with all the excitement of Il Valentino’s death I quite forgot. He’s going to be married.’

‘Is he? Is it a good match?’

‘Yes, he’s marrying money. You remember Bartolomeo Martelli at Imola? He was some sort of relation of mine.’

Machiavelli nodded.

‘When Imola revolted he thought it safer to get away till he saw how things were going. You see, he’d been one of the Duke’s chief partisans and he was afraid he’d have to pay for it. He went to Turkey, where he had a business. The papal troops got to the city before there were any real disturbances, and as luck would have it Piero was with them. It seems he was well liked by some influential men who had the ear of the Pope and he managed to protect Bartolomeo’s property. But Bartolomeo was banished, and lately the news has arrived that he died in Smyrna, and so Piero is going to marry the widow.’

‘Very right and proper,’ said Machiavelli.

‘They tell me she’s young and good-looking; evidently she needed a man to protect her, and Piero has a head on his shoulders.’

‘That was the impression he gave me.’

‘There’s only one fly in the ointment. Bartolomeo had a little boy, between three and four years old, I think he is, and that won’t improve the prospects of any children Piero might have.’

‘I think you may be sure that he will cherish the little boy as if he were his own,’ said Machiavelli dryly.

He returned to his manuscript. He smiled with some complacency. he could not help thinking that he had succeeded with Fra Timoteo. His pen had been dipped in gall and as he wrote he chuckled with malice. Into that character he had put all the hatred and contempt he felt for the monks who fattened on the credulity of the ignorant. By that character his play would stand or fall. He began again.

‘A Street in Florence.’

He stopped and looked up.

‘What is the matter?’ asked Biagio.

‘You say that Cæsar Borgia suffered the just punishment of his crimes. He was destroyed, not by his misdeeds, but by circumstances over which he had no control. His wickedness was an irrelevant accident. In this world of sin and sorrow if virtue triumphs over vice it is not because it is virtuous, but because it has better and bigger guns; if honesty prevails over double-dealing, it is not because it is honest, but because it has a stronger army more ably led; and if good overcomes evil it is not because it is good, but because it has a well-lined purse. It is well to have right on our side, but it is madness to forget that unless we have might as well it will avail us nothing. We must believe that God loves men of good will, but there is no evidence to show that He will save fools from the result of their folly.’

He sighed, and for the third time started reading.

‘A Street in Florence.’

THE END

THE HISTORY OF VINTAGE

The famous American publisher Alfred A. Knopf (1892–1984) founded Vintage Books in the United States in 1954 as a paperback home for the authors published by his company. Vintage was launched in the United Kingdom in 1990 and works independently from the American imprint although both are part of the international publishing group, Random House.

Vintage in the United Kingdom was initially created to publish paperback editions of books acquired by the prestigious hardback imprints in the Random House Group such as Jonathan Cape, Chatto & Windus, Hutchinson and later William Heinemann, Secker & Warburg and The Harvill Press. There are many Booker and Nobel Prize-winning authors on the Vintage list and the imprint publishes a huge variety of fiction and non-fiction. Over the years Vintage has expanded and the list now includes great authors of the past – who are published under the Vintage Classics imprint – as well as many of the most influential authors of the present.

For a full list of the books Vintage publishes, please visit our website

www.vintage-books.co.uk

For book details and other information about the classic authors we publish, please visit the Vintage Classics website

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No one could write a book of this kind out of his head, and I have taken what I wanted where I could find it. My chief source of information has naturally been the works of Machiavelli. I have found much that was to my purpose in Tommasini’s biography and something in Villari’s, and I have made some use of Woodward’s solid Cesar Borgia. I wish to acknowledge the great debt I owe to Count Carlo Beuf for his lively and accurate life of Cæsar, for his kindness in lending me books which otherwise I should never have known about, and for his patience in answering the many questions I put to him.

1

PLUS CA CHANGE, plus c’est la même chose.

2

BIAGIO BUONACCORSI HAD had a busy day. He was tired, but being a man of methodical habit before going to bed made a note in his diary. It was brief: ‘The City sent a man to Imola to the Duke.’ Perhaps because he thought it of no importance he did not mention the man’s name: it was Machiavelli. The Duke was Cæsar Borgia.

It had been not only a busy day, but a long one, for Biagio had set forth from his house at dawn. With him on a stout pony went his nephew, Piero Giacomini, whom Machiavelli had consented to take with him. It happened to be Piero’s eighteenth birthday, October 6th, 1502, and so was a fitting day for him to go out into the world for the first time. He was a well set-up youth, tall for his age and of an agreeable aspect. Under his uncle’s guidance, for his mother was a widow, he had received a good education; he could write a good hand and turn a comely phrase, not only in Italian, but in Latin. On the advice of Machiavelli, who passionately admired the ancient Romans, he had acquired more than a cursory knowledge of their history. Machiavelli cherished the conviction that men are always the same and have the same passions, so that when circumstances are similar the same causes must lead to the same effects; and thus, by bearing in mind how the Romans coped with a given situation, men of a later day might conduct themselves with prudence and efficiency. It was the wish both of Biagio and his sister that Piero should enter the government service, in which Biagio held a modest post under his friend Machiavelli. The mission on which Machiavelli was now going seemed a good opportunity for the boy to learn something of affairs, and Biagio knew that he could not have a better mentor. The matter had been settled on the spur of the moment, for it was only the day before that Machiavelli had been given his letter of credence to the Duke and his safe conduct. Machiavelli was of an amiable disposition, a friend to his friends, and when Biagio asked him to take Piero with him immediately agreed. But the lad’s mother, though she saw that it was a chance that could not be missed, was uneasy. He had never been parted from her before and he was young to go out into a hostile world; he was besides a good boy and she was afraid that Machiavelli would corrupt him, for it was notorious that Machiavelli was a gay fellow and a dissolute. He was, moreover, not in the least ashamed of it, and would tell improper stories about his adventures with women of the town and with maid-servants at wayside inns which must bring a blush to a virtuous woman’s cheek. And what made it worse was that he told them so amusingly that though outraged you could not keep a straight face. Biagio reasoned with her.

‘Dear Francesca, now that Niccolo is married he will abandon his loose habits. Marietta, his wife, is a good woman and she loves him. Why should you think him so foolish as to spend money outside for what he can get at home for nothing?’

‘A man who likes women as much as Niccolo will never be content with one,’ said she, ‘and if she is his wife less than ever.’

Biagio thought there was something in what she said, but he was not prepared to admit it. He shrugged his shoulders.

‘Piero is eighteen. If he has not lost his innocence already it is quite time he did. Are you a virgin, nephew?’

‘Yes,’ answered Piero, with so much candour that anyone might have been forgiven for believing him.

‘There is nothing that I do not know about my son. He is incapable of doing anything of which I should disapprove.’

‘In that case,’ said Biagio, ‘there is no reason why you should hesitate to entrust him to a man who can be useful in his career and from whom, if he has sense, he can learn much that will be valuable to him all his life.’

Monna Francesca gave her brother a sour look.

‘You are infatuated with the man. You’re like putty in his hands. And how does he treat you? He makes use of you; he makes fun of you. Why should he be your superior in the Chancery? Why are you satisfied to be his subordinate?’

Biagio was of about the same age as Machiavelli, who was thirty-three, but because he had married the daughter of Marsilio Ficino, a celebrated scholar patronized by the Medici who then ruled the city, he had entered the government before him. For in those days influence got a man a job as often as merit. Biagio was of the middle size, plump, with a round face, a high colour and an expression of great good nature. He was honest and hard-working, a man without envy who knew his own limitations and was satisfied with his modest position. He liked good living and good company, and since he asked for no more than he could have, might be counted a happy man. He was not brilliant, but neither was he stupid. Had he been so Machiavelli would not have endured his companionship.

‘Niccolo has the most brilliant mind of anyone at present in the service of the Signory,’ he said now.

‘Nonsense,’ snapped Monna Francesca.

(The Signory was the City Council of Florence and since the expulsion of the Medici eight years before the chief executive body of the State.)

‘He has a knowledge of men and of affairs that men twice his age might envy. Take my word for it, sister, he will go far, and take my word for this too: he is not one to abandon his friends.’

‘I wouldn’t trust him an inch. He’ll cast you aside like an old shoe when he has no further use for you.’

Biagio laughed.

‘Are you so bitter because he never made advances to you, sister? Even with a son of eighteen you must be still attractive to men.’

‘He knows better than to try his tricks with a decent woman. I know his habits. It’s a disgrace that the Signory allows harlots to flaunt themselves in the city to the scandal of respectable people. You like him because ha makes you laugh and tells you dirty stories. You’re as bad as he is.’

‘You must remember that no one tells a dirty story better.’

‘And is it that that makes you think him so wonderfully intelligent?’

Biagio laughed again.

‘No, not only. He made a great success of his mission to France and his dispatches were masterly; even the members of the Signory who don’t like him personally were obliged to admit it.’

Madonna Francesca shrugged her shoulders crossly. Meanwhile Piero, like the prudent young man he was, held his peace. He looked forward without enthusiasm to the job in the Chancery to which his uncle and his mother had destined him, and the idea of going on a journey was very much to his liking. As he had foreseen, his uncle’s worldly wisdom triumphed over his mother’s anxious scruples, and so it came to pass that on the following morning Biagio called for him and, Biagio on foot, Piero on his pony, they went the short distance to Machiavelli’s house.

3

THE HORSES WERE already at the door, one for Machiavelli and two for the servants he was taking with him. Piero, giving his pony to one of the servants to hold, followed his uncle into the house. Machiavelli was waiting for them with impatience. He greeted them curtly.

‘Now let us start,’ he said.

Marietta was in tears. She was a young woman of no great beauty, but it was not for her beauty that Machiavelli had married her; he had married her, that very year, because it was proper that he should marry, and she was of a reputable family and brought him as good a dowry as a man of his means and position could expect.

‘Don’t weep, dearest,’ he said, ‘you know I shall be gone only a little while.’

‘But you ought not to go,’ she sobbed, and then, turning to Biagio: ‘He’s not fit to ride so far. He’s not well.’

‘What is the matter with you, Niccolo?’ asked Biagio.

‘The old trouble. My stomach is out of order once more. It can’t be helped.’

He took Marietta in his arms.

‘Good-bye, my sweet.’

‘You will write to me often.’

‘Often,’ he smiled.

When he smiled his face lost the sardonic look it generally wore, and there was something engaging in him so that you could understand that Marietta loved him. He kissed her and patted her cheek.

‘Don’t fret, my dear. Biagio will look after you.’

Piero, on entering the room, had stood just within the door. No one paid him attention. Though his uncle was Machiavelli’s most intimate friend, he had seen little of him and had not exchanged more than a few words with him in all his life. Piero took the opportunity to have a good look at the man who would be thenceforth his master. Machiavelli was of the middle height, but because he was so thin looked somewhat taller than he was. He had a small head, with very black hair cut short which fitted his skull like a velvet cap. His dark eyes were small and restless, and his nose long: his lips were thin, and when he was not speaking so tightly closed that his mouth was little more than a sarcastic line. In repose his sallow face wore an expression that was wary, thoughtful, severe and cold. This was evidently not a man you could play pranks with.

Perhaps Machiavelli felt Piero’s uneasy stare, for he gave him a quick, questioning glance.

‘This is Piero?’ he asked Biagio.

‘His mother hopes you will look after him and see that he doesn’t get into mischief.’

Machiavelli gave a thin smile.

‘By observing the unfortunate consequences of my errors he will doubtless learn that virtue and industry are the highways to success in this world and happiness in the next.’

They set forth. They walked the horses over the cobblestones till they came to the city gate, and when they got on to the open road broke into a jog-trot. They had a long way to go and it was prudent to spare the horses. Machiavelli and Piero rode together and the two servants behind. All four were armed, for though Florence was at peace with her neighbours, the country was unsettled and you could never be sure that you might not run across marauding soldiers. The safe conduct the travellers carried would have been of small help to them then. Machiavelli did not speak and Piero, though not by nature shy, was somewhat intimidated by that sharp, set face, a slight frown between the brows, and thought it wise to wait till he was spoken to. The morning, notwithstanding an autumnal chill, was fine, and Piero’s spirits were high. It was grand to be setting out on such an adventure and it was hard to keep silent when he was bubbling over with excitement. There were a hundred questions he wanted to ask. But they rode on and on. Soon the sun was bright in the heavens and the warmth of it was pleasant. Machiavelli never said a word. Now and then he raised one hand to indicate that they should walk the horses.

4

MACHIAVELLI WAS BUSY with his thoughts. It was much against his will that he went on this mission and he had done his best to get someone else sent in his place. For one thing he was far from well and even now as he rode he had an ache in his stomach; and then, having recently married, he did not wish to pain his wife by leaving her. He had promised her that his absence would be short, but in his heart he knew that the days might run into weeks and the weeks into months before he got permission to return. His mission to France had taught him how protracted diplomatic negotiations might be.

But these were the least of his troubles. The state of Italy was desperate. Louis XII, King of France, was the paramount power. He held a large part of the kingdom of Naples, though insecurely, since the Spaniards who held Sicily and Calabria continually harassed him, but he was in firm possession of Milan and its territories; he was on good terms with Venice and for a consideration had taken the city states of Florence, Siena and Bologna under his protection. He had an alliance with the Pope, who had granted him a dispensation to put away his barren and scrupulous wife so that he might marry Anne of Brittany, the widow of Charles VIII, and in return the King had created the Pope’s son, Cæsar Borgia, Duke of Valentinois, given him Charlotte d’Albret, sister to the King of Navarre, in marriage, and promised to supply troops to enable him to recover the lands, lordships and dominions of the Church, possession of which she had lost.

Cæsar Borgia, known now throughout Italy as II Valentino from the Duchy that Louis XII had bestowed upon him, was still well under thirty. His mercenary captains, of whom the most important were Pagolo Orsini, head of the great Roman house, Gian Paolo Baglioni, Lord of Perugia, and Vitellozzo Vitelli, Lord of Città di Castello, were the best in Italy. He proved himself a bold and astute commander. By force of arms, treachery and the terror he inspired, he made himself prince of a considerable state, and Italy rang with his exploits. Taking advantage of a favourable opportunity be blackmailed the Florentines into hiring him at a large salary with his men-at-arms for a period of three years; but then, having assured themselves of the protection of King Louis by a further payment in hard cash, they revoked Cæsar’s commission and stopped his salary. This enraged him, and presently he took his revenge.

In June of the year with which this narrative is concerned Arezzo, a city subject to Florence, revolted and declared itself independent. Vitellozzo Vitelli, the ablest of Il Valentino’s commanders and bitter enemy of the Florentines because they had executed his brother Paolo, and Baglioni, Lord of Perugia, went to the support of the rebellious citizens and defeated the forces of the Republic. Only the citadel held out. The Signory in a panic sent Piero Soderini to Milan to hasten the expedition of the four hundred lancers King Louis had promised them. Piero Soderini was an influential citizen and as Gonfalonier occupied the position of president of the Republic. They ordered their own troops encamped before Pisa, which they had long been trying to subdue, to advance to the rescue, but before they arrived the citadel fell. At this juncture Il Valentino, who was at Urbino which he had recently conquered, sent the Signory a peremptory demand for the dispatch of an ambassador to confer with him. They sent the Bishop of Volterra, Piero Soderini’s brother, and Machiavelli accompanied him as his secretary. The crisis was resolved, for the French King sent a strong force to fulfil his obligation towards Florence, and Cæsar Borgia, yielding to the threat, recalled his captains.

But his captains were themselves lords of petty states, and they could not but fear that when they had served his purpose he would crush them as ruthlessly as he had crushed other lords of other states. They received information that he had made a secret arrangement with Louis XII by the terms of which the King was to provide a contingent to assist him first in the capture of Bologna and then in the destruction of the captains, whose territories it would be convenient for him to incorporate in his own dominions. After some preliminary discussion they met at a place called La Magione, near Perugia, to consider how best to protect themselves. Vitellozzo, who was ill, was carried to the meeting on a litter. Pagolo Orsini came accompanied by his brother the Cardinal and his nephew the Duke of Gravina. Among others who attended were Ermek Bentivoglio, the son of the Lord of Bologna, two Baglionis from Perugia, the young Oliverotto da Fermo, and Antonio da Venafro, the right-hand man of Pandolfo Petrucci, Lord of Siena. Their danger was great and they agreed that for their own safety they must act, but the Duke was a dangerous man and they knew that they must act with prudence. They decided for the present not to break with him openly, but to make preparations in secret and attack only when they were ready. They had in their pay a considerable body of troops, horse and foot, and Vitellozzo’s artillery was powerful; they sent emissaries to hire several thousand of the mercenaries that then swarmed in Italy, and at the same time agents to Florence to ask for aid, for the Borgia’s ambition was as great a threat to the Republic as to them.