Much strange is true. And yet so much
Dan Time thereto of doubtful lays
He blurs them both beneath his touch:--
In this our tale his part he plays.
At Florence, so the legend tells,
There stood a church that men would praise
(Even where Art the most excels)
For works of price; but chief for one
They called the "Virgin with the Bells."
Gracious she was, and featly done,
With crown of gold about the hair,
And robe of blue with stars thereon,
And sceptre in her hand did bear;
And o'er her, in an almond tree,
Three little golden bells there were,
Writ with Faith, Hope, and Charity.
None knew from whence she came of old,
Nor whose the sculptor's name should be
Of great or small. But this they told:--
That once from out the blaze of square,
And bickering folk that bought and sold,
More moved no doubt of heat than prayer,
Came to the church an Umbrian,
Lord of much gold and champaign fair,
But, for all this, a hard, haught man.
To whom the priests, in humbleness,
At once to beg for alms began,
Praying him grant of his excess
Such as for poor men's bread might pay,
Or give their saint a gala-dress.
Thereat with scorn he answered--"Nay,
Most Reverend! Far too well ye know,
By guile and wile, the fox's way
"To swell the Church's overflow.
But ere from me the least carline
Ye win, this summer's sky shall snow;
"Or, likelier still, your doll's-eyed queen
Shall ring her bells ... but not of craft.
By Bacchus! ye are none too lean
"For fasting folk!" With that he laughed,
And so, across the porphyry floor,
His hand upon his dagger-haft,
Strode, and of these was seen no more.
Nor, of a truth, much marvelled they
At those his words, since gear and store
Oft dower shrunk souls. But, on a day,
While yet again throughout the square,
The buyers in their noisy way,
Chaffered around the basket ware,
It chanced (I but the tale reveal,
Nor true nor false therein declare)--
It chanced that when the priest would kneel
Before the taper's flickering flame,
Sudden a little tremulous peal
From out the Virgin's altar came.
And they that heard must fain recall
The Umbrian, and the words of shame
Spoke in his pride, and therewithal
Came news how, at that very date
And hour of time was fixed his fall,
Who, of the Duke, was banned the State,
And all his goods, and lands as well,
To Holy Church were confiscate.
Such is the tale the Frati tell.