Romola, by George Eliot

Chapter 19 — The Old Man’s Hope

Messer Bernardo del Nero was as inexorable as Romola had expected in his advice that the marriage should be deferred till Easter, and in this matter Bardo was entirely under the ascendancy of his sagacious and practical friend. Nevertheless, Bernardo himself, though he was as far as ever from any susceptibility to the personal fascination in Tito which was felt by others, could not altogether resist that argument of success which is always powerful with men of the world. Tito was making his way rapidly in high quarters. He was especially growing in favour with the young Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici, who had even spoken of Tito’s forming part of his learned retinue on an approaching journey to Rome; and the bright young Greek who had a tongue that was always ready without ever being quarrelsome, was more and more wished for at gay suppers in the Via Larga, and at Florentine games in which he had no pretension to excel, and could admire the incomparable skill of Piero de’ Medici in the most graceful manner in the world. By an unfailing sequence, Tito’s reputation as an agreeable companion in ‘magnificent’ society made his learning and talent appear more lustrous: and he was really accomplished enough to prevent an exaggerated estimate from being hazardous to him. Messer Bernardo had old prejudices and attachments which now began to argue down the newer and feebler prejudice against the young Greek stranger who was rather too supple. To the old Florentine it was impossible to despise the recommendation of standing well with the best Florentine families, and since Tito began to be thoroughly received into that circle whose views were the unquestioned standard of social value, it seemed irrational not to admit that there was no longer any check to satisfaction in the prospect of such a son-in-law for Bardo, and such a husband for Romola. It was undeniable that Tito’s coming had been the dawn of a new life for both father and daughter, and the first promise had even been surpassed. The blind old scholar — whose proud truthfulness would never enter into that commerce of feigned and preposterous admiration which, varied by a corresponding measurelessness in vituperation, made the woof of all learned intercourse — had fallen into neglect even among his fellow-citizens, and when he was alluded to at all, it had long been usual to say that, though his blindness and the loss of his son were pitiable misfortunes, he was tiresome in contending for the value of his own labours; and that his discontent was a little inconsistent in a man who had been openly regardless of religious rites, and who in days past had refused offers made to him from various quarters, on the slight condition that he would take orders, without which it was not easy for patrons to provide for every scholar. But since Tito’s coming, there was no longer the same monotony in the thought that Bardo’s name suggested; the old man, it was understood, had left off his plaints, and the fair daughter was no longer to be shut up in dowerless pride, waiting for a parentado. The winning manners and growing favour of the handsome Greek who was expected to enter into the double relation of son and husband helped to make the new interest a thoroughly friendly one, and it was no longer a rare occurrence when a visitor enlivened the quiet library. Elderly men came from that indefinite prompting to renew former intercourse which arises when an old acquaintance begins to be newly talked about; and young men whom Tito had asked leave to bring once, found it easy to go again when they overtook him on his way to the Via de’ Bardi, and resting their hands on his shoulder, fell into easy chat with him. For it was pleasant to look at Romola’s beauty — to see her, like old Firenzuola’s type of womanly majesty, sitting with a certain grandeur, speaking with gravity, smiling with modesty, and casting around, as it were, an odour of queenliness;’ and she seemed to unfold like a strong white lily under this genial breath of admiration and homage; it was all one to her with her new bright life in Tito’s love.

Tito had even been the means of strengthening the hope in Bardo’s mind that he might before his death receive the longed-for security concerning his library: that it should not be merged in another collection; that it should not be transferred to a body of monks, and be called by the name of a monastery; but that it should remain for ever the Bardi Library, for the use of Florentines. For the old habit of trusting in the Medici could not die out while their influence was still the strongest lever in the State; and Tito, once possessing the ear of the Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici, might do more even than Messer Bernardo towards winning the desired interest, for he could demonstrate to a learned audience the peculiar value of Bardi’s collection. Tito himself talked sanguinely of such a result, willing to cheer the old man, and conscious that Romola repaid those gentle words to her father with a sort of adoration that no direct tribute to herself could have won from her.

This question of the library was the subject of more than one discussion with Bernardo del Nero when Christmas was turned and the prospect of the marriage was becoming near — but always out of Bardo’s hearing. For Bardo nursed a vague belief, which they dared not disturb, that his property, apart from the library, was adequate to meet all demands. He would not even, except under a momentary pressure of angry despondency, admit to himself that the will by which he had disinherited Dino would leave Romola the heir of nothing but debts; or that he needed anything from patronage beyond the security that a separate locality should be assigned to his library, in return for a deed of gift by which he made it over to the Florentine Republic.

‘My opinion is,’ said Bernardo to Romola, in a consultation they had under the loggia, ‘that since you are to be married, and Messer Tito will have a competent income, we should begin to wind up the affairs, and ascertain exactly the sum that would be necessary to save the library from being touched, instead of letting the debts accumulate any longer. Your father needs nothing but his shred of mutton and his macaroni every day, and I think Messer Tito may engage to supply that for the years that remain; he can let it be in place of the morgen-cap.’

‘Tito has always known that my life is bound up with my father’s,’ said Romola; ‘and he is better to my father than I am: he delights in making him happy.’

‘Ah, he’s not made of the same clay as other men, is he?’ said Bernardo, smiling.‘Thy father has thought of shutting woman’s folly out of thee by cramming thee with Greek and Latin; but thou hast been as ready to believe in the first pair of bright eyes and the first soft words that have come within reach of thee, as if thou couldst say nothing by heart but Paternosters, like other Christian men’s daughters.’

‘Now, godfather,’ said Romola, shaking her head playfully, ‘as if it were only bright eyes and soft words that made me love Tito! You know better. You know I love my father and you because you are both good, and I love Tito too because he is so good. I see it, I feel it, in everything he says and does. And if he is handsome, too, why should I not love him the better for that? It seems to me beauty is part of the finished language by which goodness speaks. You know you must have been a very handsome youth, godfather’ — she looked up with one of her happy, loving smiles at the stately old man — ‘you were about as tall as Tito, and you had very fine eyes; only you looked a little sterner and prouder, and —’

‘And Romola likes to have all the pride to herself?’ said Bernardo, not inaccessible to this pretty coaxing. ‘However, it is well that in one way Tito’s demands are more modest than those of any Florentine husband of fitting rank that we should have been likely to find for you; he wants no dowry.’

So it was settled in that way between Messer Bernardo del Nero, Romola, and Tito. Bardo assented with a wave of the hand when Bernardo told him that he thought it would be well not to begin to sell property and clear off debts; being accustomed to think of debts and property as a sort of thick wood that his imagination never even penetrated, still less got beyond. And Tito set about winning Messer Bernardo’s respect by inquiring, with his ready faculty, into Florentine money-matters, the secrets of the Monti or public funds, the values of real property, and the profits of banking.

‘You will soon forget that Tito is not a Florentine, godfather,’ said Romola. ‘See how he is learning everything about Florence.’

‘It seems to me he is one of the demoni, who are of no particular country, child,’ said Bernardo, smiling. ‘His mind is a little too nimble to be weighted with all the stuff we men carry about in our hearts.’

Romola smiled too, in happy confidence.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54