Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 133.djvu/380

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piled up on an old triumphal chariot, with four clumsy wheels, on the body of which traces of painting may yet be discerned. The dove will fly at midday, but by ten o'clock the environs of the beautiful old marble Duomo are crowded, and from every quarter a never-ceasing stream of people pours in that direction. Many are the conjectures and the hopes that the dove may fly straight and well, as that indicates a good harvest, an abundant vintage, and a fine crop of olives. There is a tradition though that in the days of Napoleon I. the archbishop of Florence and his clergy were threatened with heavy pains and penalties if the dove did not fly well, and that she sped like lightning down the cord in the church, and yet the crops failed. "Ma chi sa" said my informant, "se e vero? forse nò" (But who knows if this be true? perhaps not.) By dint of patience and good humor we at last got into the Duomo, which bore quite a changed aspect; every corner being crowded with people, save a narrow line down the centre, from the front door to the high altar, up which the archbishop, attended by all his clergy, was to pass, carrying the sacred fire. To get a chair was a labor of extreme difficulty, and involved an amount of diplomacy impossible to any but a Florentine. The possessor of the chairs was captured, promised many things, and disappeared in an unaccountable manner round the huge pillars. He then reappeared, bearing a pile of chairs, but the crowd separated him from us, and his chairs were seized upon by other applicants. After nine or ten frantic efforts we got our chairs, much to the amusement of an old contadino and his wife, who, with various small grand-children, had come to see the colomba. The old man had a wrinkled, expressive face, with very bright, acute eyes and iron-grey hair, much such a face as Massacio loved to paint. He looked at us well, and then said in vernacular Tuscan, "Chi ha pazienza ha i tordi grassi a un quattrin l' uno." (He who has patience gets the fat thrushes at a farthing apiece.)

We were so amused at his apt quotation of an old proverb that we made great friends, and took up his grandchildren on one of our chairs to see the show. The old woman was full of compliments and fears lest the children should be troublesome, but old Carnesecchi, as he told us his name was, had quite the old republican Florentine manners, respectful and civil, but perfectly self-possessed and valuing his own personality. He invited us to come up to his podere, or farm, near Settignano, close to Michael Angelo's house, where, he said, laughing, the air is so sottile, so refined, that all the people are geniuses, only the world in general is not disposed to think so.

A stir in the crowd now showed that the archbishop was coming out of the Baptistery of San Giovanni, opposite the cathedral, and all heads turned towards the main door, where we soon saw the great white flag with the red cross, the flag of the people of Florence, come waving in, followed by a long line of white-robed choristers singing, Other flags followed, then the canons of the cathedral in their picturesque long robes of dark purple, with white fur hoods, and lastly the stately and handsome archbishop, with a jewelled mitre sparkling on his head and a pastoral in his hand, all chiselled and set with precious stones, made by one of the famous old artificers of the fourteenth century. The archbishop Limberti, who died of apoplexy soon after this, at the early age of forty-three, was the son of a peasant near Prato; he was handsome and exceedingly dignified in manner, a good scholar, and spoke elegant Italian; beloved and respected by all parties, he filled a difficult post with great ability. Tall, spare, and erect, he came slowly up the centre of the church, blessing the people to the right and the left as they bowed low before him. When he had passed they talked with pride of our archbishop, and many stories of his charity and kindness were told in the crowd.

Mass was now said at the high altar, but every one's attention seemed to be concentrated on an unsightly high white post close to the marble balustrade which surrounds the altar. To this post was fixed a cord, which, suspended in mid-air far above the heads of the people, disappeared out of the great front door, and was fastened to the chariot outside the Duomo. A small white speck was seen on the cord fastened to the pillar, which we were informed was the famous dove. When the Gloria had been sung a man went up a ladder with a lighted taper, which he applied to the dove. There was a great spitting and hissing, and all at once she shot forward down the cord, a streak of fire and sparks. There was a stir and hum in the crowd, and a few little screams from some of the women; the dove vanished out of the door, and then there was a series of explosions from outside, while the dove returned as fast as she had gone, and went back to the pillar of wood, where