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Historic Boys by Elbridge Streeter Brooks

A soldi for tribute at the stili of San Marco

"Quick, to the Via Pinti!" they cried, and yielding up their horses to the silver-liveried grooms who attended them, they turned from the pageant, and with their black visors, or half masks, partly drawn, they pushed their way through the crowds that surged under the great bell tower of the Palazzo Vecchio and thronged the gayly decorated street called the Via Pinti.

With a ready handful of _danarini_ and _soldi_, small Florentine coins of that day, they easily satisfied the demands of the brown-skinned little street arabs who had laid great pieces of wood, called the _stili_, across the street, and would let none pass until they had yielded to their shrill demand of "Tribute, tribute! a _soldi_ for tribute at the _stili_ of San Marco!"

With laugh and shout and carnival jest, the three boys were struggling through the crowd toward the rising flame of a distant _capannucci_, when suddenly, with a swish and a thud, there came plump against the face of the young Giovanni one of the thin sugar eggs which, filled with red wine, was one of the favorite carnival missiles. Like a flow of blood the red liquid streamed down the broad, brown cheek of the lad, and streaked his violet tunic. He looked around dismayed.

"Ha, _bestia_!" he cried, as his quick eye detected the successful marksman in a group of laughing young fellows a few rods away. "'T was thou, wast it? Revenge, revenge, my comrades!" and the three lads sent a well-directed volley of return shots that made their assailants duck and dodge for safety. Then followed a frequent carnival scene. The shots and counter-shots drew many lookers-on, and soon the watchers changed to actors. The crowd quickly separated into two parties, the air seemed full of the flying missiles, and, in the glare of the great torches that, held by iron rings, flamed from the corner of a noble palace, the carnival fight raged fast and furiously. In the hottest of the strife a cheer arose as the nimble Giulio, snatching a brilliant crimson scarf from the shoulders of a laughing flower-girl, captured, next, a long pikestaff from a masker of the opposite side. Tying the crimson scarf to the long pike-handle, he charged the enemy, crying, "Ho, forward all!" His supporters followed him with a resistless rush; another volley of carnival ammunition filled the air, and a shout of victory went up as their opponents broke before their charge and the excited crowd went surging up the street. Again a stand was made, again the missiles flew, and now, the candy bon-bons failing, the reckless combatants kept up the fight with street refuse,--dust and dirt, and even dangerous stones.

It was in one of those hand-to-hand encounters that a tall and supple young fellow dashed from the opposing ranks and grappled with Giulio for the possession of the crimson standard. To and fro the boys swayed and tugged. In sheer defence the less sturdy Giulio struck out at his opponent's face, and down dropped the guarded disguise of the small black visor.

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