Alessandro Manzoni (17851873). I Promessi Sposi. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
LUCIA had aroused herself only a short time before, and part of that time she had been striving to awaken herself thoroughly, and to sever the disturbed dreams of sleep from the remembrances and images of a reality which too much resembled the feverish visions of sickness. The old woman quickly made up to her, and, with a constrained voice of humility, said: Ah! have you slept? You might have slept in bed: I told you so often enough last night. And receiving no reply, she continued, in a tone of pettish entreaty: Just eat something; do be prudent. Oh, how wretched you look! You must want something to eat. And then if, when he comes back, hes angry with me!
The old woman drew back the bolt, and, with a slight push, the Unnamed half opened the door, bid her come out, and hastily ushered in Don Abbondio and the good woman. He then nearly closed the door again, and waiting himself outside, sent the aged matron to a distant part of the castle, as he had before dismissed the other one, who was keeping watch outside.
All this bustle, the moment of expectation, and the first appearance of strange figures, made Lucias heart bound with agitation; for, if her present condition was intolerable, every change was an additional cause of alarm. She looked up, and beheld a priest and a woman; this somewhat reanimated her; she looked more closely; is it he or not? At last, she recognized Don Abbondio, and remained with her eyes fixed, as if by enchantment. The female then drew near, and bending over her, looked at her compassionately, taking both her hands, as if to caress and raise her at the same time, and saying: Oh, my poor girl! come with us, come with us.
Who are you? demanded Lucia; but without listening to the reply, she again turned to Don Abbondio, who was standing two or three yards distant, even his countenance expressing some compassion; she gazed at him again, and exclaimed: You! Is it you! The Signor Curate? Where are we? Oh, poor me! I have lost my senses!
But can we go away? Can we really go away? resumed Lucia, lowering her voice, and assuming a timid and suspicious look. And all these people? continued she, with her lips compressed, and quivering with fear and horror: And that Lord that man! He did, indeed, promise
At this moment, he of whom they were speaking opened the door, and showing himself at the entrance, came forward into the room. Lucia, who but just before had wished for him, nay, having no hope in any one else in the world, had wished for none but him, now, after having seen and listened to friendly faces and voices, could not restrain a sudden shudder: she started, held her breath, and throwing herself on the good womans shoulder, buried her face in her bosom. At the first sight of that countenance, on which, the evening before, he had been unable to maintain a steady gaze, now rendered more pale, languid and dejected, by prolonged suffering and abstinence, the Unnamed had suddenly checked his steps; now, at the sight of her impulse of terror, he cast his eyes on the ground, stood for a moment silent and motionless, and then replying to what the poor girl had not expressed in words, It is true, exclaimed he; forgive me!
Could he say more? Come, lift up your head; dont be a baby: we can go directly, said Don Abbondio. Lucia raised her face, looked at the Unnamed, and seeing his head bent low, and his embarrassed and humble look, she was seized with a mingled feeling of comfort, gratitude, and pity, as she replied, Oh, my Lord! God reward you for this deed of mercy!
So saying, he turned round, went towards the door, and led the way out of the room. Lucia, completely reassured, followed, leaning on the worthy females arm, while Don Abbondio brought up the rear. They descended the staircase, and reached the little door that led into the court. The Unnamed opened it, went towards the litter, and, with a certain politeness, almost mingled with timidity, (two novel qualities in him,) offered his arm to Lucia, to assist her to get in; and afterwards to the worthy dame. He then took the bridles of the two mules from the drivers hand, and gave his arm to Don Abbondio, who had approached his gentle steed.
Oh, what condescension! said Don Abbondio, as he mounted much more nimbly than he had done the first time; and as soon as the Unnamed was also seated, the party resumed their way. The Signors brow was raised: his countenance had regained its customary expression of authority. The ruffians whom they passed on their way, discovered, indeed, in his face the marks of deep thought, and an extraordinary solicitude; but they neither understood, nor could understand, more about it. They knew not yet anything of the great change which had taken place in their master; and, undoubtedly, none of them would have divined it merely from conjecture.
The good woman immediately drew the curtains over the little windows; and then, affectionately taking Lucias hands, she applied herself to comfort her with expressions of pity, congratulation, and tenderness. Seeing, then, that not only fatigue from the suffering she had undergone, but the perplexity and obscurity of all that had happened, prevented the poor girl from being sensible of the joy of her deliverance, she said all she could think of most likely to recall her recollection, and to clear up, and set to rights, so to say, her poor scattered thoughts. She named the village she came from, and to which they were now going.
Our Curate sent me, said the good woman, because God has touched this Signors heart, (blessed be His name!) and he came to our village to speak to the Signor Cardinal Archbishop, for he is there in his visitation, that holy man of God; and he had repented of his great sins, and wished to change his life; and he told the Cardinal that he had caused a poor innocent to be seized, meaning you, at the instigation of another person, who had no fear of God; but the Curate didnt tell me who it could be.
Well; the Signor Cardinal thought that, as there was a young girl in the question, there ought to be a female to come back with her; and he told the Curate to look for one; and the Curate, in his goodness, came to me
Well, that you should have a right spirit, and forgive him who has done you this wrong, and be thankful that God has been merciful to him, yes, and pray for him too; for, besides that you will be rewarded for it, you will also find your heart lightened.
Noble girl! rejoined the woman. And your Curate, too, being at our village, (for there are numbers assembled from all the country round to elect four public officers,) the Signor Cardinal thought it better to send him with us; but he has been of little use: I had before heard that he was a poor-spirited creature; but, on this occasion, I couldnt help seeing that he was as frightened as a chicken in a bundle of hemp.
Oh, the mercy of the Lord! exclaimed Lucia. How often had she heard that name repeated with horror in more than one story, in which it always appeared as, in other stories, that of the monster Orcus! And at the thought of having once been in his dreaded power, and being now under his merciful protectionat the thought of such fearful danger, and such unlooked-for deliverance; and at the remembrance of whose face it was that had at first appeared to her so haughty, afterwards so agitated, and then so humbled, she remained in a kind of ecstasy, only occasionally repeating, Oh, what a mercy!
It is a great mercy, indeed! said the good woman. It will be a great relief to half the world, to all the country round. To think how many people he kept in fear; and now, as our Curate told me and then, only to see his face, he is become a saint! And the fruits are seen so directly.
To assert this worthy person did not feel much curiosity to know rather more explicitly the wonderful circumstances in which she was called upon to bear a part, would not be the truth. But we must say, to her honour, that, restrained by a respectful pity for Lucia, and feeling, in a manner, the gravity and dignity of the charge which had been entrusted to her, she never even thought of putting an indiscreet or idle question; throughout the whole journey, her words were those of comfort and concern for the poor girl.
To Don Abbondio the return was certainly not so harassing as the journey thither not long before; but, nevertheless, even this was not a ride of pleasure. When his overwhelming fears had subsided, he felt, at first, as if relieved from every burden; but very shortly a hundred other fancies began to haunt his imagination; as the ground whence a large tree has been uprooted remains bare and empty for a time, but is soon abundantly covered with weeds. He had become more sensitive to minor causes of alarm; and in thoughts of the present, as well as the future, failed not to find only too many materials for self-torment. He felt now, much more than in coming, the inconveniences of a mode of travelling to which he was not at all accustomed, and particularly in the descent from the castle to the bottom of the valley. The mule-driver, obedient to a sign from the Unnamed, drove on the animals at a rapid pace; the two riders followed in a line behind, with corresponding speed, so that, in sundry steep places, the unfortunate Don Abbondio, as if forced up by a lever behind, rolled forward, and was obliged to keep himself steady by grasping the pommel of the saddle; not daring to request a slower pace, and anxious, also, to get out of the neighbourhood as quickly as he could. Besides this, wherever the road was on an eminence, on the edge of a steep bank, the mule, according to the custom of its species, seemed as if aiming, out of contempt, always to keep on the outside, and to set its feet on the very brink; and Don Abbondio saw, almost perpendicularly beneath him, a good leap, or, as he thought, a precipice.Even you,said he to the animal, in his heart,have a cursed inclination to go in search of dangers, when there is such a safe and wide path.And he pulled the bridle to the opposite side, but in vain; so that, grumbling with vexation and fear, he suffered himself, as usual, to be guided at the will of others. The ruffians no longer gave him so much alarm, now that he knew for certain how their master regarded them.But,reflected he,if the news of this grand conversion should get abroad among them while we are still here, who knows how these fellows would take it? Who knows what might arise from it? What, if they should get an idea that I am come hither as a missionary! Heaven preserve me! they would martyr me!The haughty brow of the Unnamed gave him no uneasiness.To keep those visages there in awe,though the,it needs no less than this one here; I understand that myself; but why has it fallen to my lot to be thrown amongst such people?
But enough; they reached the foot of the descent, and at length also issued from the valley. The brow of the Unnamed became gradually smoother. Don Abbondio, too, assumed a more natural expression, released his head somewhat from imprisonment between his shoulders, stretched his legs and arms, tried to be a little more at his ease, which, in truth, made him look like a different creature, drew his breath more freely, and, with a calmer mind, proceeded to contemplate other and remoter dangers.What will that villain of a Don Rodrigo say? To be left in this way, wronged, and open to ridicule; just fancy whether that wont be a bitter dose. Nows the time when hell play the devil outright. It remains to be seen whether he wont be angry with me, because I have been mixed up with this business. If he has already chosen to send these two demons to meet me on the high road with such an intimation, what will he do now, Heaven knows! He cant quarrel with his illustrious Lordship, for hes rather out of his reach; hell be obliged to gnaw the bit with him. But all the while the venom will be in his veins, and hell be sure to vent it upon somebody, How will all these things end? The blow must always fall somewhere; the lash must be uplifted. Of course, his illustrious Lordship intends to place Lucia in safety: that other unfortunate misguided youth is beyond reach, and has already had his share; so behold the lash must fall upon my shoulders. It will indeed be cruel, if, after so many inconveniences and so much agitation, without my deserving it, too, in the least, I should have to bear the punishment. What will his most illustrious Grace do now to protect me, after having brought me into the dance? Can he ensure that this cursed wretch wont play me a worse trick than before? And, besides, he has so many things to think of; he puts his hand to so many businesses. How can he attend to all? Matters are sometimes left more entangled than at first. Those who do good, do it in the gross; when they have enjoyed this satisfaction, theyve had enough, and wont trouble themselves to look after the consequences; but they who have such a taste for evil-doings, are much more diligent; they follow it up to the end, and give themselves no rest, because they have an everdevouring canker within them. Must I go and say that I came here at the express command of his illustrious Grace, and not with my own good will? That would seem as if I favoured the wicked side. Oh, sacred Heaven! I favour the wicked side! For the pleasure it gives me! Well; the best plan will be to tell Perpetua the case as it is, and then leave it to her to circulate it, provided my Lord doesnt take a fancy to make the whole matter public, and bring even me into the scene. At any rate, as soon as ever we arrive, if hes out of church, Ill go and take my leave of him as quickly as possible; if hes not, Ill leave an apology, and go off home at once. Lucia is well attended to; theres no need for me; and after so much trouble, I, too, may claim a little repose. And besides what if my Lord should feel some curiosity to know the whole history, and it should fall to me to give an account of that wedding business! This is all that is wanting to complete it. And if he should come on a visit to my parish? Oh, let it be what it will, I will not trouble myself about it beforehand; I have troubles enough already. For the present, I shall shut myself up at home. As long as his Grace is in this neighbourhood, Don Rodrigo wont have the face to make a stir. And afterwards oh, afterwards! Ah, I see that my last years are to be spent in sorrow!
The party arrived before the services in the church were over; they passed through the still assembled crowd, which manifested no less emotion than on the former occasion, and then separated. The two riders turned aside into a small square, at the extremity of which stood the Curates residence, while the litter went forward to that of the good woman.
Don Abbondio kept his word: scarcely dismounted, he paid the most obsequious compliments to the Unnamed, and begged him to make an apology for him to his Grace, as he must return immediately to his parish on urgent business. He then went to seek for what he called his horse, that is to say, his walking-stick, which he had left in a corner of the hall, and set off on foot. The Unnamed remained to wait till the Cardinal returned from church.
The good woman, having accommodated Lucia with the best seat in the best place in her kitchen, hastened to prepare a little refreshment for her, refusing, with a kind of rustic cordiality, her reiterated expressions of thanks and apology.
Hastily putting some dry sticks under a vessel, which she had replaced upon the fire, and in which floated a good capon, she quickly made the broth boil; and then, filling from it a porringer, already furnished with sops of bread, she was at length able to offer it to Lucia. And on seeing the poor girl refreshed at every spoonful, she congratulated herself aloud, that all this had happened on a day when, as she said, the cat was not sitting on the hearthstone. Everybody contrives to set out a table to-day, added she, unless it be those poor creatures who can scarcely get bread of vetches, and a polenta of millet; however, they all hope to beg something to-day, from such a charitable Signor. We, thank Heaven, are not so badly off: what with my husbands business, and a little plot of ground, we can live very well, so that you neednt hesitate to eat with a good appetite; the chicken will soon be done, and you can then refresh yourself with something better. And, receiving the little porringer from her hand, she turned to prepare the dinner, and to set out the table for the family.
Invigorated in body, and gradually revived in heart, Lucia now began to settle her dress, from an instinctive habit of cleanliness and modesty: she tied up and arranged afresh her loose and dishevelled tresses, and adjusted the handkerchief over her bosom, and around her neck. In doing this, her fingers became entangled in the chaplet she had hung there: her eye rested upon it; aroused an instantaneous agitation in her heart; the remembrance of her vow, hitherto suppressed and stifled by the presence of so many other sensations, suddenly rushed upon her mind, and presented itself clearly and distinctly to her view. The scarcely recovered powers other soul were again at once overcome; and had she not been previously prepared by a life of innocence, resignation, and confiding faith, the consternation she experienced at that moment would have amounted to desperation. After a tumultuous burst of such thoughts as were not to be expressed in words, the only ones she could form in her mind were,Oh, poor me, whatever have I done!
But scarcely had she indulged the thought, when she felt a kind of terror at having done so. She recollected all the circumstances of the vow, her insupportable anguish, her despair of all human succour, the fervency of her prayer, the entireness of feeling with which the promise had been made. And after having obtained her petition, to repent of her promise seemed to her nothing less than sacrilegious ingratitude and perfidy towards God and the Virgin; she imagined that such unfaithfulness would draw down upon her new and more terrible misfortunes, in which she could not find consolation even in prayer; and she hastened to abjure her momentary regret. Reverently taking the rosary from her neck, and holding it in her trembling hand, she confirmed and renewed the vow, imploring, at the same time, with heartrending earnestness, that strength might be given her to fulfill it; and that she might be spared such thoughts and occurrences as would be likely, if not to disturb her resolution, at least to harass her beyond endurance. The distance of Renzo, without any probability of return, that distance which she had hitherto felt so painful, now seemed to her a dispensation of Providence, who had made the two events work together for the same end; and she thought to find in the one a motive of consolation for the other. And, following up this thought, she began representing to herself that the same Providence, to complete the work, would know what means to employ to induce Renzo himself to be resigned, to think no more But scarcely had such an idea entered her mind, when all was again overturned. The poor girl, feeling her heart still prone to regret the vow, again had recourse to prayer, confirmation of the promise, and inward struggles, from which she arose, if we may be allowed the expression, like the wearied and wounded victor from his fallen enemy.
At this moment she heard approaching footsteps and joyous cries. It was the little family returning from church. Two little girls and a young boy bounded into the house, who, stopping a moment to cast an inquisitive glance at Lucia, ran to their mother, and gathered around her; one inquiring the name of the unknown guest, and how, and why; another attempting to relate the wonderful things they had just witnessed; while the good woman replied to each and all, Be quiet, be quiet. With a more sedate step, but with cordial interest depicted on his countenance, the master of the house then entered. He was, if we have not yet said so, the tailor of the village and its immediate neighbourhood; a man who knew how to read, who had, in fact, read more than once Il Leggendario de, Santi, and I Reali di Francia, and who passed among his fellow-villagers as a man of talent and learning; a character, however, which he modestly disclaimed, only saying, that he had mistaken his vocation, and that, had he applied himself to study, instead of so many others and so on. With all this, he was the best-tempered creature in the world. Having been present when his wife was requested by the Curate to undertake her charitable journey, he had not only given his approbation, but would also have added his persuasion, had it been necessary. And now that the services, the pomp, the concourse, and above all, the sermon of the Cardinal, had, as the saying is, elevated all his best feelings, he returned home with eager anticipations, and an anxious desire to know how the thing had succeeded, and to find the innocent young creature safe.
See, there she is! said his good wife, as he entered, pointing to Lucia, who blushed, and rose from her seat, beginning to stammer forth some apology. But he, advancing towards her, interrupted her excuses, congratulating her on her safety, and exclaiming, Welcome, welcome! You are the blessing of Heaven in this house. How glad I am to see you here! I was pretty sure you would be brought out safely; for Ive never found that the Lord began a miracle without bringing it to a good end; but Im glad to see you here. Poor girl! but it is indeed a great thing to have received a miracle!
Let it not be thought that he was the only person who thus denominated this event, because he had read the Legendary; as long as the remembrance of it lasted, it was spoken of in no other terms in the whole village, and throughout the neighbourhood. And, to say truth, considering its attendant and following consequences, no other name is so appropriate.
Dinner now being quickly served up, the mistress of the house went up to Lucia, and leading her to the table, made her take a seat; then cutting off a wing of the fowl, she set it before her, and she and her husband sitting down, they both begged their dispirited and bashful guest to make herself at home, and take something to eat. Between every mouthful, the tailor began to talk with great eagerness, in spite of the interruptions of the children, who stood round the table to their meal, and who, in truth, had seen too many extraordinary things, to play, for any length of time, the part of mere listeners. He described the solemn ceremonies, and then passed on to the miraculous conversion. But that which had made the most impression upon him, and to which he most frequently returned, was the Cardinals sermon.
Hush. To think, I say, that a gentleman like him, such a learned man, too, that from what people say, he has read all the books there are in the world; a thing which nobody else has ever done, not even in Milanto think that he knew how to say things in such a way, that every one understood
Well, be quiet. I dont say those who know something, for then one is obliged to understand; but even the dullest and most ignorant could follow out the sense. Go now and ask them if they could repeat the words that he spoke: Ill engage they could not remember one; but the meaning they will have in their heads. And without ever mentioning the name of that Signor, how easy it was to see that he was alluding to him! Besides, to understand that, one had only to observe him with the tears standing in his eye. And then the whole church began to weep
Hold your tongue. Surely there are some hard hearts in this country. And he made us see so well, that though there is a famine here, we ought to thank God, and be content; do whatever we can, work industriously, help one another, and then be content, because it is no disgrace to suffer and be poor; the disgrace is to do evil. And these are not only fine words; for everybody knows that he lives like a poor man himself, and takes the bread out of his own mouth to give to the hungry, when he might be enjoying good times better than any one. Ah! then it gives one satisfaction to hear a man preach: not like so many others: Do what I say, and not what I do. And then he showed us that even those who are not what they call gentlemen, if they have more than they actually want, are bound to share it with those who are suffering.
Here he interrupted himself, as if checked by some thought. He hesitated a moment; then filling a platter from the several dishes on the table, and adding a loaf of bread, he put it into a cloth, and taking it by the four corners, said to his eldest girl: Here, take this. He then put into her other hand a little flask of wine, and added: Go down to the widow Maria, leave her these things, and tell her it is to make a little feast with her children. But do it kindly and nicely, you know; that it may not seem as if you were doing her a charity. And dont say anything, if you meet any one; and take care you break nothing.
Lucias eyes glistened, and her heart glowed with tender emotion; as from the conversation she had already heard, she had received more comfort than an expressly consolatory sermon could possibly have imparted to her. Her mind, attracted by these descriptions these images of pomp, and these emotions of piety and wonder, and sharing in the very enthusiasm of the narrator, was detached from the consideration of its own sorrows; and on returning to them, found itself strengthened to contemplate them. Even the thought of her tremendous sacrifice, though it had not lost its bitterness, brought with it something of austere and solemn joy.
Shortly afterwards, the Curate of the village entered, and said that he was sent by the Cardinal to inquire after Lucia, and to inform her that his Grace wished to see her some time during the day; and then, in his Lordships name, he returned many thanks to the worthy couple. Surprised and agitated, the three could scarcely find words to reply to such messages from so great a personage.
My mother! exclaimed the poor girl. Then hearing from him how he had been sent to fetch her by the order and suggestion of the Archbishop, she drew her apron over her eyes, and gave way to a flood of tears, which continued to flow for some time after the Curate had taken his leave. When, however, the tumultuous feelings which had been excited by such an announcement began to yield to more tranquil thoughts, the poor girl remembered that the now closely impending happiness of seeing her mother again, a happiness so unhoped-for a few hours previous, was what she had expressly implored in those very hours, and almost stipulated as a condition of her vow. Bring me in safety to my mother, she had said; and these words now presented themselves distinctly to her memory. She strengthened herself more than ever in the resolution to maintain her promise, and afresh and more bitterly lamented the struggle and regret she had for a moment indulged.
Agnese, indeed, while they were talking about her, was but a very little way off. It may easily be imagined how the poor woman felt at this unexpected summons, and at the announcement, necessarily defective and confused, of an escaped but fearful danger,an obscure event, which the messenger could neither circumstantiate nor explain, and of which she had not the slightest ground of explanation in her own previous thoughts. After tearing her hair,after frequent exclamations of Ah, my God! Ah, Madonna!after putting various questions to the messenger which he had not the means of satisfying, she threw herself impetuously into the vehicle, continuing to utter, on her way, numberless ejaculations and useless inquiries. But at a certain point she met Don Abbondio, trudging on, step after step, and before each step, his walking-stick. After an oh! from both parties, he stopped; Agnese also stopped and dismounted; and drawing him apart into a chestnut-grove on the roadside, she there learnt from Don Abbondio all that he had been able to ascertain and observe. The thing was not clear; but at least Agnese was assured that Lucia was in safety; and she again breathed freely.
After this Don Abbondio tried to introduce another subject, and give her minute instructions as to how she ought to behave before the Archbishop, if, as was likely, he should wish to see her and her daughter; and, above all, that it would not do to say a word about the wedding But Agnese, perceiving that he was only speaking for his own interest, cut him short, without promising, indeed without proposing, anything, for she had something else to think about; and immediately resumed her journey.
At length the cart arrived, and stopped at the tailors house. Lucia sprang up hastily: Agnese dismounted and rushed impetuously into the cottage, and, in an instant, they were locked in each others arms. The good dame, who alone was present, tried to encourage and calm them, and shared with them in their joy; then, with her usual discretion, she left them for a while alone, saying that she would go and prepare a bed for them, for which, indeed, she had the means, though, in a any case, both she and her husband would much rather have slept upon the ground, than suffer them to go in search of shelter elsewhere for that night.
The first burst of sobs and embraces being over, Agnese longed to hear Lucias adventures, and the latter began, mournfully, to relate them. But, as the reader is aware, it was a history which no one knew fully; and to Lucia herself there were some obscure passages, which were, in fact, quite inextricable: more particularly the fatal coincidence of that terrible carriage being in the road, just when Lucia was passing on an extraordinary occasion. On this point, both mother and daughter were lost in conjecture, without ever hitting the mark, or even approaching the real cause.
No, no, mother; no! interrupted Lucia; dont predict suffering for him; dont predict it to any one! If you knew what it was to suffer! If you had tried it! No, no! rather let us pray God and the Madonna for him: that God would touch his heart, as he has done to this other poor Signor, who was worse than he is, and is now a saint.
The shuddering horror that Lucia felt in retracing such recent and cruel scenes, made her more than once pause in the midst; more than once she said she had not courage to go on; and, after many tears, with difficulty resumed her account. But a different feeling checked her at a certain point of the narration,at the mention of the vow. The fear of being blamed by her mother as imprudent and precipitate; or that, as in the affair of the wedding, she should bring forward one of her broad rules of conscience, and try to make it prevail; or that, poor woman, she should tell it to some one in confidence, if nothing else, to obtain light and counsel, and thus make it publicly known, from the bare idea of which Lucia shrank back with insupportable shame; together with a feeling of present shame, an inexplicable repugnance to speak on such a subject;all these things together determined her to maintain absolute silence on this important circumstance, proposing, in her own mind, to open herself first to Father Cristoforo. But what did she feel, when, in inquiring after him, she heard that he was no longer at Pescarenico; that he had been sent to a town far, far away, to a town bearing such and such a name!
That much is certain, because everybody says so; it is thought, too, pretty surely, that hes gone to the territory of Bergamo; but the exact place nobody knows: and hitherto he has sent no news of himself. Perhaps he hasnt yet found a way of doing so.
Ah, if hes in safety, the Lord be praised! said Lucia; and she was seeking some other subject of conversation, when they were interrupted by an unexpected noveltythe appearance of the Cardinal Archbishop.
This holy prelate, having returned from church, where we last left him, and having heard from the Unnamed of Lucias safe arrival, had sat down to dinner, placing his new friend on his right hand, in the midst of a circle of priests, who were never weary of casting glances at that countenance, now so subdued without weakness, so humble without dejection, and of comparing him with the idea they had so long entertained of this formidable personage.
Dinner being removed, the two again withdrew together. After a conversation, which lasted much longer than the first, the Unnamed set off anew for his Castle, on the same mule which had borne him thither in the morning; and the Cardinal, calling the priest of the parish, told him that he wished to be guided to the house where Lucia had found shelter.
Oh, my Lord! replied the parish priest, allow me, and I will send directly to bid the young girl come here, with her mother, if she has arrived, and their hosts too, if my Lord wishesindeed, all that your illustrious Grace desires to see.
Theres no necessity for your illustrious Lordship to give yourself that trouble; I will send directly to fetch them: its very quickly done, insisted the persevering spoiler of his plans, (a worthy man on the whole), not comprehending that the Cardinal wished by this visit to do honour at once to the unfortunate girl, to innocence, to hospitality, and to his own ministry. But the superior having again expressed the same desire, the inferior bowed, and led the way.
When the two companions were seen to enter the street every one immediately gathered round them; and, in a few moments, people flocked from every direction, forming two wings at their sides, and a train behind. The Curate officiously repeated, Come, come, keep back, keep off; fye! fye! Federigo, however, forbade him; Let them alone, let them alone; and he walked on, now raising his hand to bless the people, now lowering it to fondle the children, who gathered round his feet. In this way they reached the house, and entered, the crowd hedging round the door outside. In this crowd the tailor also found himself, having followed behind, like the rest, with eager eyes and open mouth, not knowing whither they were going. When he saw, however, this unexpected whither, he forced the throng to make way, it may be imagined with what bustle, crying over and over again, Make way for one who has a right to pass; and so went into the house.
Is this she? demanded Federigo of the Curate; and on receiving a sign in the affirmative, he advanced towards Lucia, who was holding back with her mother, both of them motionless, and mute with surprise and bashfulness; but the tone of his voice, the countenance, the behaviour, and, above all, the words of Federigo, quickly reanimated them. Poor girl, he began God has permitted you to be put to a great trial; but He has surely shown you that His eye was still over you, that He had not forgotten you. He has restored you in safety, and has made use of you for a great work, to show infinite mercy to one, and to relieve, at the same time, many others.
Here the mistress of the house came into the apartment, who, at the bustle outside, had gone to the window upstairs, and seeing who was entering the house, hastily ran down, after slightly arranging her dress; and almost at the same moment the tailor made his appearance at another door. Seeing their guests engaged in conversation, they quietly withdrew into one corner, and waited there with profound respect. The Cardinal, having courteously saluted them, continued to talk to the women, mingling with his words of comfort many inquiries, thinking he might possibly gather from their replies some way of doing good to one who had undergone so much suffering.
It would be well if all priests were like your Lordship, if they would sometimes take the part of the poor, and not help to put them into difficulties to get themselves out, said Agnese, emboldened by the kind and affable behaviour of Federigo, and annoyed at the thought that the Signor Don Abbondio, after having sacrificed others on every occasion, should now even attempt to forbid their giving vent to their feelings, and complaining to one who was set in authority over him, when, by an unusual chance, the occasion for doing so presented itself.
But the Cardinal renewing his request that she should explain herself more fully, she began to feel rather perplexed at having to relate a story in which she, too, had borne a part she did not care to make known, especially to such a man. However, she contrived to manage it, with the help of a little curtailing. She related the intended match, and the refusal of Don Abbondio; nor was she silent on the pretext of the superiors which he had brought forward (ah, Agnese!); and then she skipped on to Don Rodrigos attempt, and how, having been warned of it, they had been able to make their escape. But indeed, added she, in conclusion, we only escaped to be again caught in the snare. If instead, the Signor Curate had honestly told us the whole, and had immediately married my poor children, we would have gone away all together directly, privately, and far enough off, to a place where not even the wind would have known us. But, in this way, time was lost; and now has happened what has happened.
Oh, no, Signor, no! replied Agnese: I didnt speak on that account: dont scold him; for what is done, is done; and, besides, it will do no good; it is his nature; and on another occasion he would do just the same.
And, in spite of the threatening glances which her mother tried to give her secretly, Lucia, in her turn, related the history of their attempt in Don Abbondios house; and concluded by saying, We have done wrong, and God has punished us for it.
Take, as from His hand, the sufferings you have undergone, and be of good courage, said Federigo; for who have reason to rejoice and be hopeful, but those who have suffered, and are ready to accuse themselves?
He then asked where was the Betrothed; and hearing from Agnese (Lucia stood silent, with her head bent, and downcast eyes) how he had been outlawed, he felt and expressed surprise and dissatisfaction, and asked why it was.
He was even too quiet a lad, added Agnese; and you may ask this of anybody you like, even of the Signor Curate. Who knows what confusion they may have made down there, what intrigues? It takes little to make poor people seem rogues.
Indeed, its too true, said the Cardinal; Ill certainly make inquiries about him; and learning the name and residence of the youth, he made a memorandum of them on his tablets. He added, that he expected to be at their village in a few days, that then Lucia might go thither without fear, and that, in the mean while, he would think about providing her some secure retreat, till everything was arranged for the best.
Then, turning to the master and mistress of the house, who immediately came forward, he renewed the acknowledgment which he had already conveyed through the priest of the parish, and asked them whether they were willing to receive, for a few days, the guests which God had sent them.
Oh yes, sir! replied the woman, in a tone of voice and with a look which meant much more than the bare words seemed to express. But her husband, quite excited by the presence of such an interrogator, and by the wish to do him honour on so important an occasion, anxiously sought for some fine reply. He wrinkled his forehead, strained and squinted with his eyes, compressed his lips, stretched his intellect to its utmost extent, strove, fumbled about in his mind, and there found an overwhelming medley of unfinished ideas and half-formed words: but time pressed; the Cardinal signified that he had already interpreted his silence; the poor man opened his mouth and pronounced the words, You may imagine! At this point not another word would occur to him. This failure not only disheartened and vexed him at the moment, but the tormenting remembrance ever after spoiled his complacency in the great honour he had received. And how often, in the thinking it over, and fancying himself again in the same circumstances, did numberless words crowd upon his mind, as it were, out of spite, any of which would have been better than that silly, You may imagine! But are not the very ditches full of wisdomtoo late!
The same evening he asked the Curate in what way he could best compensate to the tailor, who certainly could not be rich, for the expenses he must have incurred, especially in these times, by his hospitality. The Curate replied, that, in truth, neither the profits of his business nor the produce of some small fields which the good tailor owned, would be enough this year to allow of his being liberal to others; but that, having laid by a little in the preceding years, he was among the most easy in circumstances in the neighbourhood, and could afford to do a kindness without inconvenience, as he certainly would with all his heart; and that, under any circumstances, he would deem it an insult to be offered money in compensation.
You may judge yourself, my most illustrious Lord: these poor people pay from the overplus of the harvest. Last year there was no overplus; and this one, everybody falls short of absolute necessaries.
This time the report of his conversion had preceded him in the valley, and quickly spreading throughout it, had excited among all the inhabitants consternation, anxiety, and angry whisperings. To the first bravoes or servants (it mattered not which) whom he met, he made signs that they should follow him; and so on, on either hand. All fell behind with unusual perplexity of mind, but with their accustomed submission; so that, with a continually increasing train, he at length reached the Castle. He beckoned to those who were loitering about the gate to follow him with the others; entered the first court, went towards the middle, and here, seated all the while on his saddle, uttered one of his thundering calls: it was the accustomed signal at which all his dependents, who were within hearing, immediately flocked towards him. In a moment, all those who were scattered throughout the Castle attended to the summons, and mingled with the already assembled party, gazing eagerly at their master.
Go, and wait for me in the great hall, said he; and, from his higher station on horseback, he watched them all move off. He then dismounted, led the animal to the stables himself, and repaired to the room where he was expected. On his appearance, a loud whispering was instantly hushed, and retiring to one side, they left a large space in the hall quite clear for him: there may have been, perhaps, about thirty.
The Unnamed raised his hand, as if to preserve the silence his presence had already created, raised his head, which towered above all those of the assemblage, and said: Listen, all of you, and let no one speak unless I bid him. My friends! the path we have hitherto followed leads to the depths of hell. I do not mean to upbraid you, I, who have been foremost of you all, the worst of all; but listen to what I have to say. The merciful God has called me to change my life; and I will change it, I have already changed it: so may He do with you all! Know, then, and hold it for certain, that I am resolved rather to die than to do anything more against His holy laws. I revoke all the wicked commands you may any of you have received from me; you understand me; indeed, I command you not to do anything I have before commanded. And hold it equally certain, that on one, from this time forward, shall do evil with my sanction, in my service. He who will remain with me under these conditions shall be to me as a son; and I shall fell happy at the close of that day in which I shall not have eaten, that I may supply the last of you with the last loaf I have left in the house. He who does not wish to remain, shall receive what is due of his salary, and an additional gift: he may go away, but must never again set foot here, unless it be to change his life; for this purpose he shall always be received with open arms. Think about it to-night: to-morrow morning I will ask you one by one for your reply, and will then give you new orders. For the present retire, every one to his post. And God, who has exercised such mercy towards me, incline you to good resolutions!
Here he ceased, and all continued silent. How various and tumultuous soever might be the thoughts at work in their hardened minds, they gave no outward demonstration of emotion. They were accustomed to receive the voice of their master as the declaration of a will from which there was no appeal: and that voice, announcing that the will was changed, in no wise denoted that it was enfeebled. It never crossed the mind of one of them that, because he was converted, they might therefore assume over him, and reply to him as to another man. They beheld in him a saint, but one of those saints who are depicted with a lofty brow, and a sword in their hands. Besides the fear he inspired, they also entertained for him (especially those born in his service, and they were a large proportion) the affection of subjects; they had all, besides, a kindly feeling of admiration for him, and experienced in his presence a species of, I will even say, modest humility, such as the rudest and most wanton spirits feel before an authority which they have once recognized. Again, the things they had just heard from his lips were doubtless odious to their ears, but neither false, nor entirely alien to their understandings: if they had a thousand times ridiculed them, it was not because they disbelieved them; but to obviate, by ridicule, the fear which any serious consideration of them would have awakened. And now, on seeing the effect of this fear on a mind like that of their master, there was not one who did not either more or less sympathize with him, at least for a little while. In addition to all this, those among them who had first heard the grand news beyond the valley, had at the same time witnessed and related the joy, the exultation of the people, the new favour with which the Unnamed was regarded, and the veneration so suddenly exchanged for their former hatredtheir former terror. So that in the man whom they had always regarded, so to say, as a superior being, even while they, in a great measure, themselves constituted his strength, they now beheld the wonder, the idol of a multitude; they beheld him exalted above others, in a different, but not less real, manner; ever above the common throng, ever at the head. They stood now confounded, uncertain one of another, and each one of himself. Some murmured; some began to plan whither they could go to find shelter and employment; some questioned with themselves whether they could make up their minds to become honest men; some even, moved by his words, felt a sort of inclination to do so; others, without resolving upon anything, proposed to promise everything readily, to remain in the mean while where they could share the loaf so willingly offered, and in those days so scarce, and thus gain time for decision: no one, however, uttered a syllable. And when, at the close of his speech, the Unnamed again raised his authoritative hand, and beckoned to them to disperse, they all moved off in the direction of the door as quietly as a flock of sheep. He followed them out, and placing himself in the middle of the courtyard, stood to watch them by the dim evening light, as they separated from each other, and repaired to their several posts. Then, returning to fetch a lantern, he again traversed the courts, corridors, and halls, visited every entrance, and after seeing that all was quiet, at length retired to sleep. Yes, to sleep, because he was sleepy.
Never, though he had always industriously courted them, had he, in any conjuncture, been so overburdened with intricate, and at the same time urgent, affairs, as at the present moment: yet he was sleepy. The remorse, which had robbed him of rest the night before, was not only unsubdued, but even spoke more loudly, more sternly, more absolutely: yet he was sleepy. The order, the kind of government established by him in that Castle for so many years, with so much care, and such a singular union of rashness and perseverance, he had now himself overturned by a few words; the unlimited devotion of his dependents, their readiness for any undertaking, their ruffian-like fidelity, on which he had long been accustomed to depend,these he had himself shaken; his various engagements had become a tissue of perplexities; he had brought confusion and uncertainty into his household: yet he was sleepy.
He went, therefore, into his chamber, approached that bed, which, the night before, he had found such a thorny couch, and knelt down at its side with the intention of praying. He found, in fact, in a deep and hidden corner of his mind, the prayers he had been taught to repeat as a child; he began to recite them, and the words so long wrapped up, as it were, together, flowed one after another, as if emerging once more to light. He experienced in this act a mixture of undefined feelings; a kind of soothing pleasure, in this actual return to the habits of innocent childhood; a doubly bitter contrition at the thought of the gulf that he had placed between those former days and the present; an ardent desire to attain, by works of expiation, a clearer conscience, a state more nearly resembling that of innocence, to which he could never return; together with a feeling of deep gratitude, and of confidence in that mercy which could lead him towards it, and had already given so many tokens of willingness to do so. Then, rising from his knees, he lay down, and was quickly wrapt in sleep.
Thus ended a day still so much celebrated when our anonymous author wrote: a day of which, had he not written, nothing would have been known, at least nothing of the particulars; for Ripamonti and Rivola, whom we have quoted above, merely record that, after an interview with Federigo, this remarkable tyrant wonderfully changed his course of life, and for ever. And how few are there who have read the works of these authors! Fewer still are there who will read this of ours. And who knows whether in the valley itself, if any one had the inclination to seek, and the ability to find it, there now remains the smallest trace, the most confused tradition, of such an event? So many things have taken place since that time!