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Christ Legends by  Selma Lagerlöf


 

 

THE SACRED FLAME

I

[223]

A
great many years ago, when the city of Florence had only just been made a republic, a man lived there named Raniero di Raniero. He was the son of an armorer, and had learned his father's trade, but he did not care much to pursue it.

This Raniero was the strongest of men. It was said of him that he bore a heavy iron armor as lightly as others wear a silk shirt. He was still a young man, but already he had given many proofs of his strength. Once he was in a house where grain was stored in the loft. Too much grain had been heaped there; and while Raniero was in the house one of the loft beams broke down, and the whole roof was about to fall in. He raised his arms and held the roof up until the people managed to fetch beams and poles to prop it.

It was also said of Raniero that he was the bravest man that had ever lived in Florence, and that he could never get enough of fighting. As soon as he heard any noise in the street, he [224] rushed out from the workshop, in hopes that a fight had arisen in which he might participate. If he could only distinguish himself, he fought just as readily with humble peasants as with armored horsemen. He rushed into a fight like a lunatic, without counting his opponents.

Florence was not very powerful in his time. The people were mostly wool spinners and cloth weavers, and these asked nothing better than to be allowed to perform their tasks in peace. Sturdy men were plentiful, but they were not quarrelsome, and they were proud of the fact that in their city better order prevailed than elsewhere. Raniero often grumbled because he was not born in a country where there was a king who gathered around him valiant men, and declared that in such an event he would have attained great honor and renown.

Raniero was loud-mouthed and boastful; cruel to animals, harsh toward his wife, and not good for any one to live with. He would have been handsome if he had not had several deep scars across his face which disfigured him. He was quick to jump at conclusions, and quick to act, though his way was often violent.

Raniero was married to Francesca, who was the daughter of Jacopo degli Uberti, a wise and influential man. Jacopo had not been very anxious to give his daughter to such a bully as [225] Raniero, but had opposed the marriage until the very last. Francesca forced him to relent, by declaring that she would never marry any one else. When Jacopo finally gave his consent, he said to Raniero: "I have observed that men like you can more easily win a woman's love than keep it; therefore I shall exact this promise from you: If my daughter finds life with you so hard that she wishes to come back to me, you will not prevent her." Francesca said it was needless to exact such a promise, since she was so fond of Raniero that nothing could separate her from him. But Raniero gave his promise promptly. "Of one thing you can be assured, Jacopo," said he—"I will not try to hold any woman who wishes to flee from me."

Then Francesca went to live with Raniero, and all was well between them for a time. When they had been married a few weeks, Raniero took it into his head that he would practice marksmanship. For several days he aimed at a painting which hung upon a wall. He soon became skilled, and hit the mark every time. At last he thought he would like to try and shoot at a more difficult mark. He looked around for something suitable, but discovered nothing except a quail that sat in a cage above the courtyard gate. The bird belonged to [226] Francesca, and she was very fond of it; but, despite this, Raniero sent a page to open the cage, and shot the quail as it swung itself into the air.

This seemed to him a very good shot, and he boasted of it to any one who would listen to him.

When Francesca learned that Raniero had shot her bird, she grew pale and looked hard at him. She marveled that he had wished to do a thing which must bring grief to her; but she forgave him promptly and loved him as before.

Then all went well again for a time.

Raniero's father-in-law, Jacopo, was a flax weaver. He had a large establishment, where much work was done. Raniero thought he had discovered that hemp was mixed with the flax in Jacopo's workshop, and he did not keep silent about it, but talked of it here and there in the city. At last Jacopo also heard this chatter, and tried at once to put a stop to it. He let several other flax weavers examine his yarn and cloth, and they found all of it to be of the very finest flax. Only in one pack, which was designed to be sold outside of Florence, was there any mixture. Then Jacopo said that the deception had been practised without his knowledge or consent, by some one among his journeymen. [227] He apprehended at once that he would find it difficult to convince people of this. He had always been famed for honesty, and he felt very keenly that his honor had been smirched.

Raniero, on the other hand, plumed himself upon having succeeded in exposing a fraud, and he bragged about it even in Francesca's hearing.

She felt deeply grieved; at the same time she was as astonished as when he shot the bird. As she thought of this, she seemed suddenly to see her love before her; and it was like a great piece of shimmery gold cloth. She could see how big it was, and how it shimmered. But from one corner a piece had been cut away, so that it was not as big and as beautiful as it had been in the beginning.

Still, it was as yet damaged so very little that she thought: "It will probably last as long as I live. It is so great that it can never come to an end."

Again, there was a period during which she and Raniero were just as happy as they had been at first.

Francesca had a brother named Taddeo. He had been in Venice on a business trip, and, while there, had purchased garments of silk and velvet. When he came home he paraded around in them. Now, in Florence it was not [228] the custom to go about expensively clad, so there were many who made fun of him.

One night Taddeo and Raniero were out in the wine shops. Taddeo was dressed in a green cloak, with sable linings, and a violet jacket. Raniero tempted him to drink so much wine that he fell asleep, and then he took his cloak off him and hung it upon a scarecrow that was set up in a cabbage patch.

When Francesca heard of this she was vexed again with Raniero. That moment she saw before her the big piece of gold cloth—which was her love—and she seemed to see how it diminished, as Raniero cut away piece after piece.

After this, things were patched up between them for a time, but Francesca was no longer so happy as in former days, because she always feared that Raniero would commit some misdemeanor that would hurt her love.

This was not long in coming, either, for Raniero could never be tranquil. He wished that people should always speak of him and praise his courage and daring.

At that time the cathedral in Florence was much smaller than the present one, and there hung at the top of one of its towers a big, heavy shield, which had been placed there by one of Francesca's ancestors. It was the heaviest [229] shield any man in Florence had been able to lift, and all the Uberti family were proud because it was one of their own who had climbed up in the tower and hung it there.

But Raniero climbed up to the shield one day, hung it on his back, and came down with it.

When Francesca heard of this for the first time she spoke to Raniero of what troubled her, and begged him not to humiliate her family in this way. Raniero, who had expected that she would commend him for his feat, became very angry. He retorted that he had long observed that she did not rejoice in his success, but thought only of her own kin. "It's something else I am thinking of," said Francesca, "and that is my love. I know not what will become of it if you keep on in this way."

After this they frequently exchanged harsh words, for Raniero happened nearly always to do the very thing that was most distasteful to Francesca.

There was a workman in Raniero's shop who was little and lame. This man had loved Francesca before she was married, and continued to love her even after her marriage. Raniero, who knew this, undertook to joke with him before all who sat at a table. It went so far that finally the man could no longer bear to be held up to ridicule in Francesca's hearing, so he [230] rushed upon Raniero and wanted to fight with him. But Raniero only smiled derisively and kicked him aside. Then the poor fellow thought he did not care to live any longer, and went off and hanged himself.

When this happened, Francesca and Raniero had been married about a year. Francesca thought continually that she saw her love before her as a shimmery piece of cloth, but on all sides large pieces were cut away, so that it was scarcely half as big as it had been in the beginning.

She became very much alarmed when she saw this, and thought: "If I stay with Raniero another year, he will destroy my love. I shall become just as poor as I have hitherto been rich."

Then she concluded to leave Raniero's house and go to live with her father, that the day might not come when she should hate Raniero as much as she now loved him.

Jacopo degli Uberti was sitting at the loom with all his workmen busy around him when he saw her coming. He said that now the thing had come to pass which he had long expected, and bade her be welcome. Instantly he ordered all the people to leave off their work and arm themselves and close the house.

Then Jacopo went over to Raniero. He met [231] him in the workshop. "My daughter has this day returned to me and begged that she may live again under my roof," he said to his son-in-law. "And now I expect that you will not compel her to return to you, after the promise you have given me."

Raniero did not seem to take this very seriously, but answered calmly: "Even if I had not given you my word, I would not demand the return of a woman who does not wish to be mine."

He knew how much Francesca loved him, and said to himself: "She will be back with me before evening."

Yet she did not appear either that day or the next.

The third day Raniero went out and pursued a couple of robbers who had long disturbed the Florentine merchants. He succeeded in catching them, and took them captives to Florence.

He remained quiet a couple of days, until he was positive that this feat was known throughout the city. But it did not turn out as he had expected—that it would bring Francesca back to him.

Raniero had the greatest desire to appeal to the courts, to force her return to him, but he felt himself unable to do this because of his [232] promise. It seemed impossible for him to live in the same city with a wife who had abandoned him, so he moved away from Florence.

He first became a soldier, and very soon he made himself commander of a volunteer company. He was always in a fight, and served many masters.

He won much renown as a warrior, as he had always said he would. He was made a knight by the Emperor, and was accounted a great man.

Before he left Florence, he had made a vow at a sacred image of the Madonna in the Cathedral to present to the Blessed Virgin the best and rarest that he won in every battle. Before this image one always saw costly gifts, which were presented by Raniero.

Raniero was aware that all his deeds were known in his native city. He marveled much that Francesca degli Uberti did not come back to him, when she knew all about his success.

At that time sermons were preached to start the Crusades for the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre from the Saracens, and Raniero took the cross and departed for the Orient. He not only hoped to win castles and hands to rule over, but also to succeed in performing such brilliant feats that his wife would again be fond of him, and return to him.

II

[233] The night succeeding the day on which Jerusalem had been captured, there was great rejoicing in the Crusaders' camp, outside the city. In almost every tent they celebrated with drinking bouts, and noise and roystering were heard in every direction.

Raniero di Raniero sat and drank with some comrades; and in his tent it was even more hilarious than elsewhere. The servants barely had time to fill the goblets before they were empty again.

Raniero had the best of reasons for celebrating, because during the day he had won greater glory than ever before. In the morning, when the city was besieged, he had been the first to scale the walls after Godfrey of Boulogne; and in the evening he had been honored for his bravery in the presence of the whole corps.

When the plunder and murder were ended, and the Crusaders in penitents' cloaks and with lighted candles marched into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, it had been announced to Raniero by Godfrey that he should be the first who might light his candle from the sacred candles which burn before Christ's tomb. It appeared to Raniero that Godfrey wished in this manner to show that he considered him the bravest man [234] in the whole corps; and he was very happy over the way in which he had been rewarded for his achievements.

As the night wore on, Raniero and his guests were in the best of spirits; a fool and a couple of musicians who had wandered all over the camp and amused the people with their pranks, came into Raniero's tent, and the fool asked permission to narrate a comic story.

Raniero knew that this particular fool was in great demand for his drollery, and he promised to listen to his narrative.

"It happened once," said the fool, "that our Lord and Saint Peter sat a whole day upon the highest tower in Paradise Stronghold, and looked down upon the earth. They had so much to look at, that they scarcely found time to exchange a word. Our Lord kept perfectly still the whole time, but Saint Peter sometimes clapped his hands for joy, and again turned his head away in disgust. Sometimes he applauded and smiled, and anon he wept and commiserated. Finally, as it drew toward the close of day, and twilight sank down over Paradise, our Lord turned to Saint Peter and said that now he must surely be satisfied and content. 'What is it that I should be content with?' Saint Peter asked, in an impetuous tone. 'Why,' said our Lord slowly, 'I thought [235] that you would be pleased with what you have seen to-day.' But Saint Peter did not care to be conciliated. 'It is true,' said he, 'that for many years I have bemoaned the fact that Jerusalem should be in the power of unbelievers, but after all that has happened to-day, I think it might just as well have remained as it was.' "

Raniero understood now that the fool spoke of what had taken place during the day. Both he and the other knights began to listen with greater interest than in the beginning.

"When Saint Peter had said this," continued the fool, as he cast a furtive glance at the knights, "he leaned over the pinnacle of the tower and pointed toward the earth. He showed our Lord a city which lay upon a great solitary rock that shot up from a mountain valley. 'Do you see those mounds of corpses?' he said. 'And do you see the naked and wretched prisoners who moan in the night chill? And do you see all the smoking ruins of the conflagration?' It appeared as if our Lord did not wish to answer him, but Saint Peter went on with his lamentations. He said that he had certainly been vexed with that city many times, but he had not wished it so ill as that it should come to look like this. Then, at last, our Lord answered, and tried an objection: 'Still, you can not deny that the Christian knights have [236] risked their lives with the utmost fearlessness,' said He."

Then the fool was interrupted by bravos, but he made haste to continue.

"Oh, don't interrupt me!" he said. "Now I don't remember where I left off—ah! to be sure, I was just going to say that Saint Peter wiped away a tear or two which sprang to his eyes and prevented him from seeing. 'I never would have thought they could be such beasts,' said he. 'They have murdered and plundered the whole day. Why you went to all the trouble of letting yourself be crucified in order to gain such devotees, I can't in the least comprehend.'—"

The knights took up the fun good-naturedly. They began to laugh loud and merrily. "What, fool! Is Saint Peter so wroth with us?" shrieked one of them.

"Be silent now, and let us hear if our Lord spoke in our defense!" interposed another.

"No, our Lord was silent. He knew of old that when Saint Peter had once got a-going, it wasn't worth while to argue with him. He went on in his way, and said that our Lord needn't trouble to tell him that finally they remembered to which city they had come, and went to church barefooted and in penitents' garb. That spirit had, of course, not lasted [237] long enough to be worth mentioning. And thereupon he leaned once more over the tower and pointed downward toward Jerusalem. He pointed out the Christians' camp outside the city. 'Do you see how your knights celebrate their victories?' he asked. And our Lord saw that there was revelry everywhere in the camp. Knights and soldiers sat and looked upon Syrian dancers. Filled goblets went the rounds while they threw dice for the spoils of war and——"

"They listened to fools who told vile stories," interpolated Raniero. "Was not this also a great sin?"

The fool laughed and shook his head at Raniero, as much as to say, "Wait! I will pay you back."

"No, don't interrupt me!" he begged once again. "A poor fool forgets so easily what he would say. Ah! it was this: Saint Peter asked our Lord if He thought these people were much of a credit to Him. To this, of course, our Lord had to reply that He didn't think they were.

"—'They were robbers and murderers before they left home, and robbers and murderers they are even to-day. This undertaking you could just as well have left undone. No good will come of it,' said Saint Peter."

[238] "Come, come, fool!" said Raniero in a threatening tone. But the fool seemed to consider it an honor to test how far he could go without some one jumping up and throwing him out, and he continued fearlessly.

"Our Lord only bowed His head, like one who acknowledges that he is being justly rebuked. But almost at the same instant He leaned forward eagerly and peered down with closer scrutiny than before. Saint Peter also glanced down. 'What are you looking for?' he wondered."

The fool delivered this speech with much animated facial play. All the knights saw our Lord and Saint Peter before their eyes, and they wondered what it was our Lord had caught sight of.

"Our Lord answered that it was nothing in particular," said the fool. "Saint Peter gazed in the direction of our Lord's glance, but he could discover nothing except that our Lord sat and looked down into a big tent, outside of which a couple of Saracen heads were set up on long lances, and where a lot of fine rugs, golden vessels, and costly weapons, captured in the Holy City, were piled up. In that tent they carried on as they did everywhere else in the camp. A company of knights sat and emptied their goblets. The only difference might be [239] that here there were more drinking and roystering than elsewhere. Saint Peter could not comprehend why our Lord was so pleased when He looked down there, that His eyes fairly sparkled with delight. So many hard and cruel faces he had rarely before seen gathered around a drinking table. And he who was host at the board and sat at the head of the table was the most dreadful of all. He was a man of thirty-five, frightfully big and coarse, with a blowsy countenance covered with scars and scratches, calloused hands, and a loud, bellowing voice."

Here the fool paused a moment, as if he feared to go on, but both Raniero and the others liked to hear him talk of themselves, and only laughed at his audacity. "You're a daring fellow," said Raniero, "so let us see what you are driving at!"

"Finally, our Lord said a few words," continued the fool, "which made Saint Peter understand what He rejoiced over. He asked Saint Peter if he saw wrongly, or if it could actually be true that one of the knights had a burning candle beside him."

Raniero gave a start at these words. Now, at last, he was angry with the fool, and reached out his hand for a heavy wine pitcher to throw at his face, but he controlled himself that he [240] might hear whether the fellow wished to speak to his credit or discredit.

"Saint Peter saw now," narrated the fool, "that, although the tent was lighted mostly by torches, one of the knights really had a burning wax candle beside him. It was a long, thick candle, one of the sort made to burn twenty-four hours. The knight, who had no candlestick to set it in, had gathered together some stones and piled them around it, to make it stand."

The company burst into shrieks of laughter at this. All pointed at a candle which stood on the table beside Raniero, and was exactly like the one the fool had described. The blood mounted to Raniero's head; for this was the candle which he had a few hours before been permitted to light at the Holy Sepulchre. He had been unable to make up his mind to let it die out.

"When Saint Peter saw that candle," said the fool, "it dawned upon him what it was that our Lord was so happy over, but at the same time he could not help feeling just a little sorry for Him. 'Oh,' he said, 'it was the same knight that leaped upon the wall this morning immediately after the gentleman of Boulogne, and who this evening was permitted to light his candle at the Holy Sepulchre ahead of all the [241] others. 'True!' said our Lord. 'And, as you see, his candle is still burning.' "

The fool talked very fast now, casting an occasional sly glance at Raniero. "Saint Peter could not help pitying our Lord. 'Can't you understand why he keeps that candle burning?' said he. 'You must believe that he thinks of your sufferings and death whenever he looks at it. But he thinks only of the glory which he won when he was acknowledged to be the bravest man in the troop after Godfrey.' "

At this all Raniero's guests laughed. Raniero was very angry, but he, too, forced himself to laugh. He knew they would have found it still more amusing if he hadn't been able to take a little fun.

"But our Lord contradicted Saint Peter," said the fool. " 'Don't you see how careful he is with the light?' asked He. 'He puts his hand before the flame as soon as any one raises the tent-flap, for fear the draught will blow it out. And he is constantly occupied in chasing away the moths which fly around it and threaten to extinguish it.' "

The laughter grew merrier and merrier, for what the fool said was the truth. Raniero found it more and more difficult to control himself. He felt he could not endure that any one should jest about the sacred candle.

[242] "Still, Saint Peter was dubious," continued the fool. He asked our Lord if He knew that knight. He's not one who goes often to Mass or wears out the prie-dieu,' said he. But our Lord could not be swerved from His opinion.

" 'Saint Peter, Saint Peter,' He said earnestly. 'Remember that henceforth this knight shall become more pious than Godfrey. Whence do piety and gentleness spring, if not from my sepulchre? You shall see Raniero di Raniero help widows and distressed prisoners. You shall see him care for the sick and despairing as he now cares for the sacred candle flame.' "

At this they laughed inordinately. It struck them all as very ludicrous, for they knew Raniero's disposition and mode of living. But he himself found both the jokes and laughter intolerable. He sprang to his feet and wanted to reprove the fool. As he did this, he bumped so hard against the table—which was only a door set up on loose boxes—that it wabbled, and the candle fell down. It was evident now how careful Raniero was to keep the candle burning. He controlled his anger and gave himself time to pick it up and brighten the flame, before he rushed upon the fool. But when he had trimmed the light the fool had already darted out of the tent, and Raniero knew it would be useless to pursue him in the darkness. "I shall [243] probably run across him another time," he thought, and sat down.

Meanwhile the guests had laughed mockingly, and one of them turned to Raniero and wanted to continue the jesting. He said: "There is one thing, however, which is certain, Raniero, and that is—this time you can't send to the Madonna in Florence the most precious thing you have won in the battle."

Raniero asked why he thought that he should not follow his old habit this time.

"For no other reason," said the knight, "than that the most precious thing you have won is that sacred candle flame, which you were permitted to light at the church of the Holy Sepulchre in presence of the whole corps. Surely you can't send that to Florence!"

Again the other knights laughed, but Raniero was now in the mood to undertake the wildest projects, just to put an end to their laughter. He came to a conclusion quickly, called to an old squire, and said to him: "Make ready, Giovanni, for a long journey. To-morrow you shall travel to Florence with this sacred candle flame."

But the squire said a blunt no to this command. "This is something which I don't care to undertake," he said. "How should it be possible to travel to Florence with a candle [244] flame? It would be extinguished before I had left the camp."

Raniero asked one after another of his men. He received the same reply from all. They scarcely seemed to take his command seriously.

It was a foregone conclusion that the foreign knights who were his guests should laugh even louder and more merrily, as it became apparent that none of Raniero's men wished to carry out his order.

Raniero grew more and more excited. Finally he lost his patience and shouted: "This candle flame shall nevertheless be borne to Florence; and since no one else will ride there with it, I will do so myself!"

"Consider before you promise anything of the kind!" said a knight. "You ride away from a principality."

"I swear to you that I will carry this sacred flame to Florence!" exclaimed Raniero. "I shall do what no one else has cared to undertake."

The old squire defended himself. "Master, it's another matter for you. You can take with you a large retinue but me you would send alone."

But Raniero was clean out of himself, and did not consider his words. "I, too, shall travel alone," said he.

[245] But with this declaration Raniero had carried his point. Every one in the tent had ceased laughing. Terrified, they sat and stared at him.

"Why don't you laugh any more?" asked Raniero. "This undertaking surely can't be anything but a child's game for a brave man."

III

The next morning at dawn Raniero mounted his horse. He was in full armor, but over it he had thrown a coarse pilgrim cloak, so that the iron dress should not become overheated by exposure to the sun's rays. He was armed with a sword and battle-club, and rode a good horse. He held in his hand a burning candle, and to the saddle he had tied a couple of bundles of long wax candles, so the flame should not die out for lack of nourishment.

Raniero rode slowly through the long, encumbered tent street, and thus far all went well. It was still so early that the mists which had arisen from the deep dales surrounding Jerusalem were not dispersed, and Raniero rode forward as in a white night. The whole troop slept, and Raniero passed the guards easily. None of them called out his name, for the mist [246] prevented their seeing him, and the roads were covered with a dust-like soil a foot high, which made the horse's tramp inaudible.

Raniero was soon outside the camp and started on the road which led to Joppa. Here it was smoother, but he rode very slowly now, because of the candle, which burned feebly in the thick mist. Big insects kept dashing against the flame. Raniero had all he could do guarding it, but he was in the best of spirits and thought all the while that the mission which he had undertaken was so easy that a child could manage it.

Meanwhile, the horse grew weary of the slow pace, and began to trot. The flame began to flicker in the wind. It didn't help that Raniero tried to shield it with his hand and with the cloak. He saw that it was about to be extinguished.

But he had no desire to abandon the project so soon. He stopped the horse, sat still a moment, and pondered. Then he dismounted and tried sitting backwards, so that his body shielded the flame from the wind. In this way he succeeded in keeping it burning; but he realized now that the journey would be more difficult than he had thought at the beginning.

When he had passed the mountains which surround Jerusalem, the fog lifted. He rode [247] forward now in the greatest solitude. There were no people, houses, green trees, nor plants—only bare rocks.

Here Raniero was attacked by robbers. They were idle folk, who followed the camp without permission, and lived by theft and plunder. They had lain in hiding behind a hill, and Raniero—who rode backwards—had not seen them until they had surrounded him and brandished their swords at him.

There were about twelve men. They looked wretched, and rode poor horses. Raniero saw at once that it would not be difficult for him to break through this company and ride on. And after his proud boast of the night before, he was unwilling to abandon his undertaking easily.

He saw no other means of escape than to compromise with the robbers. He told them that, since he was armed and rode a good horse, it might be difficult to overpower him if he defended himself. And as he was bound by a vow, he did not wish to offer resistance, but they could take whatever they wanted, without a struggle, if only they promised not to put out his light.

The robbers had expected a hard struggle, and were very happy over Raniero's proposal, and began immediately to plunder him. They [248] took from him armor and steed, weapons and money. The only thing they let him keep was the coarse cloak and the two bundles of wax candles. They sacredly kept their promise, also, not to put out the candle flame.

One of them mounted Raniero's horse. When he noticed what a fine animal he was, he felt a little sorry for the rider. He called out to him: "Come, come, we must not be too cruel toward a Christian. You shall have my old horse to ride."

It was a miserable old screw of a horse. It moved as stiffly, and with as much difficulty, as if it were made of wood.

When the robbers had gone at last, and Raniero had mounted the wretched horse, he said to himself: "I must have become bewitched by this candle flame. For its sake I must now travel along the roads like a crazy beggar."

He knew it would be wise for him to turn back, because the undertaking was really impracticable. But such an intense yearning to accomplish it had come over him that he could not resist the desire to go on. Therefore, he went farther. He saw all around him the same bare, yellowish hills.

After a while he came across a goatherd, who tended four goats. When Raniero saw the ani- [249] mals grazing on the barren ground, he wondered if they ate earth.

This goatherd had owned a larger flock, which had been stolen from him by the Crusaders. When he noticed a solitary Christian come riding toward him, he tried to do him all the harm he could. He rushed up to him and struck at his light with his staff. Raniero was so taken up by the flame that he could not defend himself even against a goatherd. He only drew the candle close to him to protect it. The goatherd struck at it several times more, then he paused, astonished, and ceased striking. He noticed that Raniero's cloak had caught fire, but Raniero did nothing to smother the blaze, so long as the sacred flame was in danger. The goatherd looked as though he felt ashamed. For a long time he followed Raniero, and in one place, where the road was very narrow, with a deep chasm on each side of it, he came up and led the horse for him.

Raniero smiled and thought the goatherd surely regarded him as a holy man who had undertaken a voluntary penance.

Toward evening Raniero began to meet people. Rumors of the fall of Jerusalem had already spread to the coast, and a throng of people had immediately prepared to go up there. There were pilgrims who for years had awaited [250] an opportunity to get into Jerusalem, also some newly-arrived troops; but they were mostly merchants who were hastening with provisions.

When these throngs met Raniero, who came riding backwards with a burning candle in his hand, they cried: "A madman, a madman!"

The majority were Italians; and Raniero heard how they shouted in his own tongue, "Pazzo, pazzo!" which means "a madman, a madman."

Raniero, who had been able to keep himself well in check all day, became intensely irritated by these ever-recurring shouts. Instantly he dismounted and began to chastise the offenders with his hard fists. When they saw how heavy the blows were, they took to their heels, and Raniero soon stood alone on the road.

Now Raniero was himself again. "In truth they were right to call me a madman," he said, as he looked around for the light. He did not know what he had done with it. At last he saw that it had rolled down into a hollow. The flame was extinguished, but he saw fire gleam from a dry grass-tuft close beside it, and understood that luck was with him, for the flame had ignited the grass before it had gone out.

"This might have been an inglorious end of a deal of trouble," he thought, as he lit the candle and stepped into the saddle. He was rather [251] mortified. It did not seem to him very probable that his journey would be a success.

In the evening Raniero reached Ramle, and rode up to a place where caravans usually had night harbor. It was a large covered yard. All around it were little stalls where travelers could put up their horses. There were no rooms, but folk could sleep beside the animals.

The place was overcrowded with people, yet the host found room for Raniero and his horse. He also gave fodder to the horse and food to the rider.

When Raniero perceived that he was well treated, he thought: "I almost believe the robbers did me a service when they took from me my armor and my horse. I shall certainly get out of the country more easily with my light burden, if they mistake me for a lunatic."

When he had led the horse into the stall, he sat down on a sheaf of straw and held the candle in his hands. It was his intention not to fall asleep, but to remain awake all night.

But he had hardly seated himself when he fell asleep. He was fearfully exhausted, and in his sleep he stretched out full length and did not wake till morning.

When he awoke he saw neither flame nor candle. He searched in the straw for the candle, but did not find it anywhere.

[252] "Some one has taken it from me and extinguished it," he said. He tried to persuade himself that he was glad that all was over, and that he need not pursue an impossible undertaking.

But as he pondered, he felt a sense of emptiness and loss. He thought that never before had he so longed to succeed in anything on which he had set his mind.

He led the horse out and groomed and saddled it.

When he was ready to set out, the host who owned the caravansary came up to him with a burning candle. He said in Frankish: "When you fell asleep last night, I had to take your light from you, but here you have it again."

Raniero betrayed nothing, but said very calmly: "It was wise of you to extinguish it."

"I have not extinguished it," said the man. "I noticed that it was burning when you arrived, and I thought it was of importance to you that it should continue to burn. If you see how much it has decreased, you will understand that it has been burning all night."

Raniero beamed with happiness. He commended the host heartily, and rode away in the best of spirits.

IV

[253] When Raniero broke away from the camp at Jerusalem, he intended to travel from Joppa to Italy by sea, but changed his mind after he had been robbed of his money, and concluded to make the journey by land.

It was a long journey. From Joppa he went northward along the Syrian coast. Then he rode westward along the peninsula of Asia Minor, then northward again, all the way to Constantinople. From there he still had a monotonously long distance to travel to reach Florence. During the whole journey Raniero had lived upon the contributions of the pious. They that shared their bread with him mostly were pilgrims who at this time traveled en masse  to Jerusalem.

Regardless of the fact that he nearly always rode alone, his days were neither long nor monotonous. He must always guard the candle flame, and on its account he never could feel at ease. It needed only a puff of breeze—a rain-drop—and there would have been an end to it.

As Raniero rode over lonely roads, and thought only about keeping the flame alive, it occurred to him that once before he had been concerned with something similar. Once be- [254] fore he had seen a person watch over something which was just as sensitive as a candle flame.

This recollection was so vague to him at first that he wondered if it was something he had dreamed.

But as he rode on alone through the country, it kept recurring to him that he had participated in something similar once before.

"It is as if all my life long I had heard tell of nothing else," said he.

One evening he rode into a city. It was after sundown, and the housewives stood in their doorways and watched for their husbands. Then he noticed one who was tall and slender, and had earnest eyes. She reminded him of Francesca degli Uberti.

Instantly it became clear to him what he had been pondering over. He thought how Francesca's love had in truth been like a candle flame which she had always wished to keep burning, and which she had constantly feared that Raniero would quench. He was astonished at this thought, but grew more and more certain that the matter stood thus. For the first time he began to apprehend why Francesca had left him, and that it was not with feats of arms he should win her back.


. . . . .

[255] The journey which Raniero made was of long duration. This was in part due to the fact that he could not venture out when the weather was bad. Then he sat in some caravansary, and guarded the candle flame. These were very trying days.

One day, when he rode over Mount Lebanon, he saw that a storm was brewing. He was riding high up among awful precipices, and a frightful distance from any human abode. Finally he saw on the summit of a rock the tomb of a Saracen saint. It was a little square stone structure with a vaulted roof. He thought it best to seek shelter there.

He had barely entered when a snowstorm came up, which raged for two days and nights. At the same time it grew so cold that he came near freezing to death.

Raniero knew that there were heaps of branches and twigs out on the mountain, and it would not have been difficult for him to gather fuel for a fire. But he considered the candle flame which he carried very sacred, and did not wish to light anything from it, except the candles before the Blessed Virgin's Altar.

The storm increased, and at last he heard thunder and saw gleams of lightning.

Then came a flash which struck the mountain, just in front of the tomb, and set fire to a tree. [256] And in this way he was enabled to light his fire without having to borrow of the sacred flame.


. . . . .

As Raniero was riding on through a desolate portion of the Cilician mountain district, his candles were all used up. The candles which he had brought with him from Jerusalem had long since been consumed; but still he had been able to manage because he had found Christian communities all along the way, of whom he had begged fresh candles.

But now his resources were exhausted, and he thought that this would be the end of his journey.

When the candle was so nearly burned out that the flame scorched his hand, he jumped from his horse and gathered branches and dry leaves and lit these with the last of the flame. But up on the mountain there was very little that would ignite, and the fire would soon burn out.

While he sat and grieved because the sacred flame must die, he heard singing down the road, and a procession of pilgrims came marching up the steep path, bearing candles in their hands. They were on their way to a grotto where a holy man had lived, and Raniero followed them. Among them was a woman who was [257] very old and had difficulty in walking, and Raniero carried her up the mountain.

When she thanked him afterwards, he made a sign to her that she should give him her candle. She did so, and several others also presented him with the candles which they carried. He extinguished the candles, hurried down the steep path, and lit one of them with the last spark from the fire lighted by the sacred flame.


. . . . .

One day at the noon hour it was very warm, and Raniero had lain down to sleep in a thicket. He slept soundly, and the candle stood beside him between a couple of stones. When he had been asleep a while, it began to rain, and this continued for some time, without his waking. When at last he was startled out of his sleep, the ground around him was wet, and he hardly dared glance toward the light, for fear it might be quenched.

But the light burned calmly and steadily in the rain, and Raniero saw that this was because two little birds flew and fluttered just above the flame. They caressed it with their bills, and held their wings outspread, and in this way they protected the sacred flame from the rain.

He took off his hood immediately, and hung it over the candle. Thereupon he reached out his hand for the two little birds, for he had [258] been seized with a desire to pet them. Neither of them flew away because of him, and he could catch them.

He was very much astonished that the birds were not afraid of him. "It is because they know I have no thought except to protect that which is the most sensitive of all, that they do not fear me," thought he.


. . . . .

Raniero rode in the vicinity of Nicæa, in Bithynia. Here he met some western gentlemen who were conducting a party of recruits to the Holy Land. In this company was Robert Taillefer, who was a wandering knight and a troubadour.

Raniero, in his torn cloak, came riding along with the candle in his hand, and the warriors began as usual to shout, "A madman, a madman!" But Robert silenced them, and addressed the rider.

"Have you journeyed far in this manner?" he asked.

"I have ridden like this all the way from Jerusalem," answered Raniero.

"Has your light been extinguished many times during the journey?"

"Still burns the flame that lighted the candle with which I rode away from Jerusalem," responded Raniero.

[259] Then Robert Taillefer said to him: "I am also one of those who carry a light, and I would that it burned always. But perchance you, who have brought your light burning all the way from Jerusalem, can tell me what I shall do that it may not become extinguished?"

Then Raniero answered: "Master, it is a difficult task, although it appears to be of slight importance. This little flame demands of you that you shall entirely cease to think of anything else. It will not allow you to have any sweetheart—in case you should desire anything of the sort—neither would you dare on account of this flame to sit down at a revel. You can not have aught else in your thoughts than just this flame, and must possess no other happiness. But my chief reason for advising you against making the journey which I have weathered is that you can not for an instant feel secure. It matters not through how many perils you may have guarded the flame, you can not for an instant think yourself secure, but must ever expect that the very next moment it may fail you."

But Robert Taillefer raised his head proudly and answered: "What you have done for your sacred flame I may do for mine."


. . . . .

Raniero arrived in Italy. One day he rode [260] through lonely roads up among the mountains. A woman came running after him and begged him to give her a light from his candle. "The fire in my hut is out," said she. "My children are hungry. Give me a light that I may heat my oven and bake bread for them!"

She reached for the burning candle, but Raniero held it back because he did not wish that anything should be lighted by that flame but the candles before the image of the Blessed Virgin.

Then the woman said to him: "Pilgrim, give me a light, for the life of my children is the flame which I am in duty bound to keep burning!" And because of these words he permitted her to light the wick of her lamp from his flame.

Several hours later he rode into a town. It lay far up on the mountain, where it was very cold. A peasant stood in the road and saw the poor wretch who came riding in his torn cloak. Instantly he stripped off the short mantle which he wore, and flung it to him. But the mantle fell directly over the candle and extinguished the flame.

Then Raniero remembered the woman who had borrowed a light of him. He turned back to her and had his candle lighted anew with sacred fire.

When he was ready to ride farther, he said [261] to her: "You say that the sacred flame which you must guard is the life of your children. Can you tell me what name this candle's flame bears, which I have carried over long roads?"

"Where was your candle lighted?" asked the woman.

"It was lighted at Christ's sepulchre," said Raniero.

"Then it can only be called Gentleness and Love of Humanity," said she.

Raniero laughed at the answer. He thought himself a singular apostle of virtues such as these.


. . . . .

Raniero rode forward between beautiful blue hills. He saw he was near Florence. He was thinking that he must soon part with his light. He thought of his tent in Jerusalem, which he had left filled with trophies, and the brave soldiers who were still in Palestine, and who would be glad to have him take up the business of war once more, and bear them on to new conquests and honors.

Then he perceived that he experienced no pleasure in thinking of this, but that his thoughts were drawn in another direction.

Then he realized for the first time that he was no longer the same man that had gone from Jerusalem. The ride with the sacred flame had [262] compelled him to rejoice with all who were peaceable and wise and compassionate, and to abhor the savage and warlike.

He was happy every time he thought of people who labored peacefully in their homes, and it occurred to him that he would willingly move into his old workshop in Florence and do beautiful and artistic work.

"Verily this flame has recreated me," he thought. "I believe it has made a new man of me."

V

It was Eastertide when Raniero rode into Florence.

He had scarcely come in through the city gate—riding backwards, with his hood drawn down over his face and the burning candle in his hand—when a beggar arose and shouted the customary "Pazzo, pazzo!"

At this cry a street gamin darted out of a doorway, and a loafer, who had had nothing else to do for a long time than to lie and gaze at the clouds, jumped to his feet. Both began shouting the same thing: "Pazzo, pazzo!"

Now that there were three who shrieked, they made a good deal of noise and so woke up all the street urchins. They came rushing out from nooks and corners. As soon as they saw [263] Raniero, in his torn coat, on the wretched horse, they shouted: "Pazzo, pazzo!"

But this was only what Raniero was accustomed to. He rode quietly up the street, seeming not to notice the shouters.

Then they were not content with merely shouting, but one of them jumped up and tried to blow out the light. Raniero raised the candle on high, trying at the same time to prod his horse, to escape the boys.

They kept even pace with him, and did everything they could to put out the light.

The more he exerted himself to protect the flame the more excited they became. They leaped upon one another's backs, puffed their checks out, and blew. They flung their caps at the candle. It was only because they were so numerous and crowded on one another that they did not succeed in quenching the flame.

This was the largest procession on the street. People stood at the windows and laughed. No one felt any sympathy with a madman, who wanted to defend his candle flame. It was church hour, and many worshipers were on their way to Mass. They, too, stopped and laughed at the sport.

But now Raniero stood upright in the saddle, so that he could shield the candle. He looked wild. The hood had fallen back and they saw [264] his face, which was wasted and pale, like a martyr's. The candle he held uplifted as high as he could.

The entire street was one great swarm of people. Even the older ones began to take part in the play. The women waved their head-shawls and the men swung their caps. Every one worked to extinguish the light.

Raniero rode under the vine-covered balcony of a house. Upon this stood a woman. She leaned over the lattice-work, snatched the candle, and ran in with it. The woman was Francesca degli Uberti.

The whole populace burst into shrieks of laughter and shouts, but Raniero swayed in his saddle and fell to the street.

As soon as he lay there stricken and unconscious, the street was emptied of people.

No one wished to take charge of the fallen man. His horse was the only creature that stopped beside him.

As soon as the crowds had got away from the street, Francesca degli Uberti came out from her house, with the burning candle in her hand. She was still pretty; her features were gentle, and her eyes were deep and earnest.

She went up to Raniero and bent over him. He lay senseless, but the instant the candle light fell upon his face, he moved and roused him- [265] self. It was apparent that the candle flame had complete power over him. When Francesca saw that he had regained his senses, she said: "Here is your candle. I snatched it from you, as I saw how anxious you were to keep it burning. I knew of no other way to help you."

Raniero had had a bad fall, and was hurt. But now nothing could hold him back. He began to raise himself slowly. He wanted to walk, but wavered, and was about to fall. Then he tried to mount his horse. Francesca helped him. "Where do you wish to go?" she asked when he sat in the saddle again. "I want to go to the cathedral," he answered. "Then I shall accompany you," she said, "for I'm going to Mass." And she led the horse for him.

Francesca had recognized Raniero the very moment she saw him, but he did not see who she was, for he did not take time to notice her. He kept his gaze fixed upon the candle flame alone.

They were absolutely silent all the way. Raniero thought only of the flame, and of guarding it well these last moments. Francesca could not speak, for she felt she did not wish to be certain of that which she feared. She could not believe but that Raniero had come home insane. Although she was almost certain of this, she [266] would rather not speak with him, in order to avoid any positive assurance.

After a while Raniero heard some one weep near him. He looked around and saw that it was Francesca degli Uberti, who walked beside him; and she wept. But Raniero saw her only for an instant, and said nothing to her. He wanted to think only of the sacred flame.

Raniero let her conduct him to the sacristy. There he dismounted. He thanked Francesca for her help, but looked all the while not upon her, but on the light. He walked alone up to the priests in the sacristy.

Francesca went into the church. It was Easter Eve, and all the candles stood unlighted upon the altars, as a symbol of mourning. Francesca thought that every flame of hope which had ever burned within her was now extinguished.

In the church there was profound solemnity. There were many priests at the altar. The canons sat in a body in the chancel, with the bishop among them.

By and by Francesca noticed there was commotion among the priests. Nearly all who were not needed to serve at Mass arose and went out into the sacristy. Finally the bishop went, too,

When Mass was over, a priest stepped up to [267] the chancel railing and began to speak to the people. He related that Raniero di Raniero had arrived in Florence with sacred fire from Jerusalem. He narrated what the rider had endured and suffered on the way. And he praised him exceeding much.

The people sat spellbound and listened to this. Francesca had never before experienced such a blissful moment. "O God!" she sighed, "this is greater happiness than I can bear." Her tears fell as she listened.

The priest talked long and well. Finally he said in a strong, thrilling voice: "It may perchance appear like a trivial thing now, that a candle flame has been brought to Florence. But I say to you: Pray God that He will send Florence many bearers of Eternal Light; then she will become a great power, and be extolled as a city among cities!"

When the priest had finished speaking, the entrance doors of the church were thrown open, and a procession of canons and monks and priests marched up the center aisle toward the altar. The bishop came last, and by his side walked Raniero, in the same cloak that he had worn during the entire journey.

But when Raniero had crossed the threshold of the cathedral, an old man arose and walked toward him. It was Oddo, the father of the [268] journeyman who had once worked for Raniero, and had hanged himself because of him.

When this man had come up to the bishop and Raniero, he bowed to them. Thereupon he said in such a loud voice that all in the church heard him: "It is a great thing for Florence that Raniero has come with sacred fire from Jerusalem. Such a thing has never before been heard of or conceived. For that reason perhaps there may be many who will say that it is not possible. Therefore, I beg that all the people may know what proofs and witnesses Raniero has brought with him, to assure us that this is actually fire which was lighted in Jerusalem."

When Raniero heard this he said: "God help me! how can I produce witnesses? I have made the journey alone. Deserts and mountain wastes must come and testify for me."

"Raniero is an honest knight," said the bishop, "and we believe him on his word."

"Raniero must know himself that doubts will arise as to this," said Oddo. "Surely, he can not have ridden entirely alone. His little pages could certainly testify for him."

Then Francesca degli Uberti rushed up to Raniero. "Why need we witnesses?" said she. "All the women in Florence would swear on oath that Raniero speaks the truth!"

[269] Then Raniero smiled, and his countenance brightened for a moment. Thereupon he turned his thoughts and his gaze once more upon the candle flame.

There was great commotion in the church. Some said that Raniero should not be allowed to light the candles on the altar until his claim was substantiated. With this many of his old enemies sided.

Then Jacopo degli Uberti rose and spoke in Raniero's behalf. "I believe every one here knows that no very great friendship has existed between my son-in-law and me," he said; "but now both my sons and I will answer for him. We believe he has performed this task, and we know that one who has been disposed to carry out such an undertaking is a wise, discreet, and noble-minded man, whom we are glad to receive among us."

But Oddo and many others were not disposed to let him taste of the bliss he was yearning for. They got together in a close group and it was easy to see that they did not care to withdraw their demand.

Raniero apprehended that if this should develop into a fight, they would immediately try to get at the candle. As he kept his eyes steadily fixed upon his opponents, he raised the candle as high as he could.

[270] He looked exhausted in the extreme, and distraught. One could see that, although he wished to hold out to the very last, he expected defeat. What mattered it to him now if he were permitted to light the candles? Oddo's word had been a death-blow. When doubt was once awakened, it would spread and increase. He fancied that Oddo had already extinguished the sacred flame forever.

A little bird came fluttering through the great open doors into the church. It flew straight into Raniero's light. He hadn't time to snatch it aside, and the bird dashed against it and put out the flame.

Raniero's arm dropped, and tears sprang to his eyes. The first moment he felt this as a sort of relief. It was better thus than if human beings had killed it.

The little bird continued its flight into the church, fluttering confusedly hither and thither, as birds do when they come into a room.

Simultaneously a loud cry resounded throughout the church: "The bird is on fire! The sacred candle flame has set its wings on fire!"

The little bird chirped anxiously. For a few moments it fluttered about, like a flickering flame, under the high chancel arches. Then it [271] sank suddenly and dropped dead upon the Madonna's Altar.

But the moment the bird fell upon the Altar, Raniero was standing there. He had forced his way through the church, no one had been able to stop him. From the sparks which destroyed the bird's wings he lit the candles before the Madonna's Altar.

Then the bishop raised his staff and proclaimed: "God willed it! God hath testified for him!"

And all the people in the church, both his friends and opponents, abandoned their doubts and conjectures. They cried as with one voice, transported by God's miracle: "God willed it! God hath testified for him!"

Of Raniero there is now only a legend, which says he enjoyed great good fortune for the remainder of his days, and was wise, and prudent, and compassionate. But the people of Florence always called him Pazzo degli Ranieri, in remembrance of the fact that they had believed him insane. And this became his honorary title. He founded a dynasty, which was named Pazzi, and is called so even to this day.

It might also be worth mentioning that it became a custom in Florence, each year at Easter Eve, to celebrate a festival in memory of Raniero's home-coming with the sacred flame, [272] and that, on this occasion, they always let an artificial bird fly with fire through the dome. This festival would most likely have been celebrated even in our day had not some changes taken place recently.

But if it is true, as many hold, that the bearers of sacred fire who have lived in Florence, and have made the city one of the most glorious on earth, have taken Raniero as their model, and have thereby been encouraged to sacrifice and suffer and endure, this may here be left untold.

For what has been done by this light, which in dark times has gone out from Jerusalem, can neither be measured nor counted.


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