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Immerse yourself in the mystery and intrigue of medieval Italy in this engrossing novel from W. Somerset Maugham, the author of such timeless classics as Of Human Bondage and The Razor’s Edge. Though the action of the narrative recounts the way that Filippo Bandolini came to be recognized as a saint, the ups and downs of the protagonist’s life clearly illustrate that the path to righteousness is not always an easy one.
‘Allow me to present to you my friend Filippo Brandolini, a gentleman of Città di Castello.’
Then, turning to me, Matteo added, ‘This is my cousin, Checco d’Orsi.’
Checco d’Orsi smiled and bowed.
‘Messer Brandolini,’ he said, ‘I am most pleased to make your acquaintance; you are more than welcome to my house.’
‘You are very kind,’ I replied; ‘Matteo has told me much of your hospitality.’
Checco bowed courteously, and asked his cousin, ‘You have just arrived, Matteo?’
‘We arrived early this morning. I wished to come here directly, but Filippo, who suffers from a very insufferable vanity, insisted on going to an inn and spending a couple of hours in the adornment of his person.’
‘How did you employ those hours, Matteo?’ asked Checco, looking rather questioningly at his cousin’s dress and smiling.
Matteo looked at his boots and his coat.
‘I am not elegant! But I felt too sentimental to attend to my personal appearance, and I had to restore myself with wine. You know, we are very proud of our native Forli wine, Filippo.’
‘I did not think you were in the habit of being sentimental, Matteo,’ remarked Checco.
‘It was quite terrifying this morning, when we arrived,’ said I; ‘he struck attitudes and called it his beloved country, and wanted to linger in the cold morning and tell me anecdotes about his childhood.’
‘You professional sentimentalists will never let anyone sentimentalise but yourselves.’
‘I was hungry,’ said I, laughing, ‘and it didn’t become you. Even your horse had his doubts.’
‘Brute!’ said Matteo. ‘Of course, I was too excited to attend to my horse, and he slipped over those confounded stones and nearly shot me off–and Filippo, instead of sympathising, burst out laughing.’
‘Evidently you must abandon sentiment,’ said Checco.
‘I’m afraid you are right. Now, Filippo can be romantic for hours at a stretch, and, what is worse, he is–but nothing happens to him. But on coming back to my native town after four years, I think it was pardonable.’
‘We accept your apology, Matteo,’ I said.
‘But the fact is, Checco, that I am glad to get back. The sight of the old streets, the Palazzo, all fill me with a curious sensation of joy–and I feel–I don’t know how I feel.’
‘Make the utmost of your pleasure while you can; you may not always find a welcome in Forli,’ said Checco, gravely.
‘What the devil do you mean?’ asked Matteo.
‘Oh, we’ll talk of these things later. You had better go and see my father now, and then you can rest yourselves. You must be tired after your journey. To-night we have here a great gathering, where you will meet your old friends. The Count has deigned to accept my invitation.’
‘Deigned?’ said Matteo, lifting his eyebrows and looking at his cousin.
Checco smiled bitterly.
‘Times have changed since you were here, Matteo’ he said; ‘the Forlivesi are subjects and courtiers now.’
Putting aside Matteo’s further questions, he bowed to me and left us.
‘I wonder what it is?’ said Matteo. ‘What did you think of him?’
I had examined Checco d’Orsi curiously–a tall dark man, with full beard and moustache, apparently about forty. There was a distinct likeness between him and Matteo: they both had the same dark hair and eyes; but Matteo’s face was broader, the bones more prominent, and the skin rougher from his soldier’s life. Checco was thinner and graver, he looked a great deal more talented; Matteo, as I often told him, was not clever.
‘He was very amiable,’ I said, in reply to the question.
‘A little haughty, but he means to be courteous. He is rather oppressed with his dignity of head of the family.’
‘But his father is still alive.’
‘Yes, but he’s eighty-five, and he’s as deaf as a post and as blind as a bat; so he remains quietly in his room while Checco pulls the strings, so that we poor devils have to knuckle under and do as he bids us.’
‘I’m sure that must be very good for you,’ I said. ‘I’m curious to know why Checco talks of the Count as he did; when I was here last they were bosom friends. However, let us go and drink, having done our duty.’
We went to the inn at which we had left our horses and ordered wine.
‘Give us your best, my fat friend,’ cried Matteo to mine host. ‘This gentleman is a stranger, and does not know what wine is; he was brought up on the sickly juice of Città di Castello.’
‘You live at Città di Castello?’ asked the innkeeper.
‘I wish I did,’ I answered.
‘He was ejected from his country for his country’s good,’ remarked Matteo.
‘That is not true,’ I replied, laughing. ‘I left of my own free will.’
‘Galloping as hard as you could, with four-and-twenty horsemen at your heels.’
‘Precisely! And so little did they want me to go, that when I thought a change of air would suit me they sent a troop of horse to induce me to return.’
‘Your head would have made a pretty ornament stuck on a pike in the grand piazza.’
‘The thought amuses you,’ I answered, ‘but the comedy of it did not impress me at the time.’