AS a pack of hounds, after in vain tracking a hare, return desponding to their master, with heads hung down, and drooping tails, so, on this disastrous night, did the bravoes return to the palace of Don Rodrigo. He was listlessly pacing to and fro, in an unoccupied room up-stairs that overlooked the terrace. Now and then he would stop to listen, or to peep through the chinks in the decayed window-frames, full of impatience, and not entirely free from disquietude — not only for the doubtfulness of success, but also for the possible consequences of the enterprise: this being the boldest and most hazardous in which our valiant cavalier had ever engaged. He endeavoured, however, to reassure himself with the thought of the precautions he had taken that not a trace of the perpetrator should be left. ‘As to suspicions, I care nothing for them. I should like to know who would be inclined to come hither, to ascertain if there be a young girl here or not. Let him dare to come — the rash fool — and he shall be well received! Let the friar come, if he pleases. The old woman? She shall be off to Bergamo. Justice? Poh! Justice! The Podestà is neither a child nor a fool. And at Milan? Who will care for these people at Milan? Who will listen to them? Who knows even what they are? They are like lost people in the world — they haven’t even a master: they belong to no one. Come, come, never fear. How Attilio will be silenced to-morrow! He shall see whether I am a man to talk and boast. And then . . . If any difficulty should ensue . . . What do I know? Any enemy who would seize this occasion . . . Attilio will be able to advise me; he is pledged to it for the honour of the whole family.’ But the idea on which he dwelt most, because he found it both a soother of his doubts and a nourisher of his predominating passion, was the thought of the flatteries and promises he would employ to gain over Lucia. ‘She will be so terrified at finding herself here alone, in the midst of these faces, that . . . in troth, mine is the most human among them . . . that she will look to me, will throw herself upon her knees to pray; and if she prays . . . ’
While indulging in these fine anticipations, he hears a footstep, goes to the window, opens it a little, and peeps through: ‘It is they. And the litter! — Where is the litter? Three, five, eight; they are all there; there’s Griso too; the litter’s not there:— Griso shall give me an account of this.’
When they reached the house, Griso deposited his staff, cap, and pilgrim’s habit, in a corner of the ground-floor apartment, and, as if carrying a burden which no one at the moment envied him, ascended to render his account to Don Rodrigo. He was waiting for him at the head of the stairs; and on his approaching with the foolish and awkward air of a deluded villain, ‘Well,’ said, or rather vociferated, he, ‘Signor Boaster, Signor Captain, Signor Leave-it-to-me?’
‘It is hard,’ replied Griso, resting one foot on the top step, ‘it is hard to be greeted with reproaches after having laboured faithfully, and endeavoured to do one’s duty, at the risk of one’s life.’
“How has it gone? Let us hear, let us hear,’ said Don Rodrigo; and, turning towards his room, Griso followed him, and briefly related how he had arranged, what he had done, seen and not seen, heard, feared, and retrieved; relating it with that order and that confusion, that dubiousness and that astonishment, which must necessarily have together taken possession of his ideas.
‘You are not to blame, and have done your best,’ said Don Rodrigo. ‘You have done what you could, but . . . but, if under this roof there be a spy! If there be, if I succeed in discovering him (and you may rest assured I’ll discover him if he’s here), I’ll settle matters with him; I promise you, Griso, I’ll pay him as he deserves.’
‘The same suspicion, Signor,’ replied he, ‘has crossed my mind; and if it be true, and we discover a villain of this sort, my master should put it into my hands. One who has diverted himself by making me pass such a night as this; it is my business to pay him for it. However, all things considered, it seems likely there may have been some other cross purposes, which now we cannot fathom. To-morrow, Signor, to-morrow we shall be in clear water.’
‘Do you think you have been recognized?’
Griso replied that he hope not; and the conclusion of the interview was, that Don Rodrigo ordered him to do three things next day, which he would have thought of well enough by himself. One was, to despatch two men, in good time in the morning, to the constable, with the intimation which we have already noticed; two others to the old house, to ramble about, and keep at a proper distance any loiterer who might happen to come there, and to conceal the litter from every eye till nightfall, when they would send to fetch it, since it would not do to excite suspicion by any further measures at present; and lastly, to go himself on a tour of discovery, and despatch several others, of the most dexterity and good sense, on the same errand, that he might learn something of the causes and issue of the confusion of the night. Having given these orders, Don Rodrigo retired to bed, leaving Griso to follow his example, bidding him good night, and loading him with praises, through which appeared an evident desire to make some atonement, and in a manner to apologize for the precipitate haste with which he had reproached him on his arrival.
Go, take some rest, poor Griso, for thou must surely need it. Poor Griso! Labouring hard all day, labouring hard half the night, without counting the danger of falling into the hands of villains, or of having a price set upon thy head ‘for the seizure of an honest woman,’ in addition to those already laid upon thee, and then to be received in this manner! but thus men often reward their fellows. Thou mightest, nevertheless, see in this instance, that sometimes people judge according to merit, and that matters are adjusted even in this world. Go, rest awhile; for some day thou mayest be called upon to give another and more considerable proof of thy faithfulness.
Next morning, Griso was again surrounded with business on all hands, when Don Rodrigo rose. This nobleman quickly sought Count Attilio, who, the moment he saw him approach, called out to him, with a look and gesture of raillery, ‘Saint Martin!’
‘I have nothing to say,’ replied Don Rodrigo, as he drew near: ‘I will pay the wager; but it is not this that vexes me most. I told you nothing about it, because, I confess, I thought to surprise you this morning. But . . . stay, I will tell you all.’
‘That friar has a hand in this business,’ said his cousin, after having listened to the account with suspense and wonderment, and with more seriousness than could have been expected from a man of his temperament. ‘I always thought that friar, with his dissembling and out-of-the-way answers, was a knave and a hypocrite. And you never opened yourself to me — you never told me plainly what happened to entertain you the other day.’ Don Rodrigo related the conversation. ‘And did you submit to that?’ exclaimed Count Attilio. ‘Did you let him go away as he came?’
‘Would you have me draw upon myself all the Capuchins of Italy?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Attilio, ‘whether I should have remembered, at that moment, that there was another Capuchin in the world except this daring knave; but surely, even under the rules of prudence, there must be some way of getting satisfaction even on a Capuchin! We must manage to redouble civilities cleverly to the whole body, and then we can give a blow to one member with impunity. However, the fellow has escaped the punishment he best deserved; but I’ll take him under my protection, and have the gratification of teaching him how to talk to gentlemen such as we are.’
‘Don’t make matters worse for me.’
‘Trust me for once, and I’ll serve you like a relation and a friend.’
‘What do you intend to do?’
‘I don’t know yet; but rest assured I’ll pay off the friar. I’ll think about it, and . . . my uncle, the Signor Count of the Privy Council, will be the man to help me. Dear uncle Count! How fine it is, when I can make a politician of his stamp do all my work for me! The day after to-morrow I shall be at Milan, and, in one way or other, the friar shall be rewarded.’
In the mean while breakfast was announced, which, however, made no interruption in the discussion of an affair of so much importance. Count Attilio talked about it freely; and though he took that side which his friendship to his cousin and the honour of his name required, according to his ideas of friendship and honour, yet he could not help occasionally finding something to laugh at in the ill-success of his relative and friend. But Don Rodrigo, who felt it was his own cause, and who had so signally failed when hoping quietly to strike a great blow, was agitated by stronger passions, and distracted by more vexatious thoughts. ‘Fine talk,’ said he, ‘these rascals will make in the neighborhood. But what do I care? As to justice, I laugh at it: there is no proof against me, and even if there were, I should care for it just as little: the constable was warned this morning to take good heed, at the risk of his life, that he makes no deposition of what has happened. Nothing will follow from it; but gossiping, when carried to any length, is very annoying to me. It’s quite enough that I have been bullied so unmercifully.’
‘You did quite rightly,’ replied Count Attilio. ‘Your Podestà . . . an obstinate, empty-pated, prosing fellow, that Podestà . . . is nevertheless a gentleman, a man who knows his duty; and it is just when we have to do with such people, that we must take care not to bring them into difficulties. If that rascal of a constable should make a deposition, the Podestà, however well-intentioned, would be obliged . . . ’
‘But you,’ interrupted Don Rodrigo, with some warmth, ‘you spoil all my affairs by contradicting him in everything, by silencing him, and laughing at him on every occasion. Why cannot a Podestà be an obstinate fool, when at the same time he is a gentleman?’
‘Do you know, cousin,’ said Count Attilio, glancing towards him a look of raillery and surprise; ‘do you know that I begin to think you are half afraid? In earnest, you may rest assured that the Podestà . . . ’
‘Well, well, didn’t you yourself say that we must be careful . . .?’
‘I did: and when it is a serious matter, I’ll let you see that I’m not a child. Do you know all that I have courage to do for you? I am ready to go in person to this Signor Podestà. Aha! how proud he will be of the honour! And I am ready, moreover, to let him talk for half an hour about the Count Duke, and the Spanish Signor, the governor of the castle, and to give an ear to everything even when he talks so mightily about these people. Then I will throw in a few words about my uncle, the Signor Count of the Privy Council, and you will see what effect these words in the ear of the Signor Podestà will produce. After all, he has more need of our pro-tection than you of his condescension. I will do my best, and will go to him, and leave him better disposed towards you than ever.”
After these, and a few similar words, Count Attilio set off on his expedition, and Don Rodrigo remained awaiting with anxiety Griso’s return. Towards dinner-time he made his appearance, and reported the success of his reconnoitering tour.
The tumult of the preceding night had been so clamorous, the disappearance of three persons from a village was so strange an occurrence, that the inquiries, both from interest and curiosity, would naturally be many, eager, and persevering; and, on the other hand, those who knew something were too numerous to agree in maintaining silence on the matter. Perpetua could not set foot out of doors without being assailed by one or another to know what it was that had so alarmed her master, and she herself, reviewing and comparing all the circumstances of the case, and perceiving how she had been imposed upon by Agnese, felt so much indignation at the act of perfidy, that she was ever ready to give vent to her feelings. Not that she complained to this or that person of the manner in which she was imposed upon: on this subject she did not breathe a syllable; but the trick played upon her poor master she could not altogether pass over in silence; especially as such a trick had been concerted and attempted by that gentle creature, that good youth, and that worthy widow. Don Abbondio, indeed, might positively forbid her, and earnestly entreat her to be silent; and she could easily enough reply that there was no need to urge upon her what was so clear and evident; but certain it is that such a secret in the poor woman’s breast was like very new wine in an old and badly hooped cask, which ferments, and bubbles, and boils, and if it does not send the bung into the air, works itself about till it issues in froth, and penetrates between the staves, and oozes out in drops here and there, so that one can taste it, and almost decide what kind of wine it is. Gervase, who could scarcely believe that for once he was better informed than his neighbours, who thought it no little glory to have been a sharer in such a scene of terror, and who fancied himself a man like the others, from having lent a hand in an enterprise that bore the appearance of criminality, was dying to make a boast of it. And though Tonio, who thought with some dread of the inquiries, the possible processes, and the account that would have to be rendered, gave him many injunctions with his finger upon his lips, yet it was not possible to silence every word. Even Tonio himself, after having been absent from home that night at an unusual hour, and returning with an unusual step and air, and an excitement of mind that disposed him to candour — even he could not dissimulate the matter with his wife; and she was not dumb. The person who talked least was Menico; for no sooner had he related to his parents the history and the object of his expedition, than it appeared to them so terrible a thing that their son had been employed in frustrating an undertaking of Don Rodrigo’s, that they scarcely suffered the boy to finish his narration. They then gave him most strenuous and threatening orders to take good heed that he did not give the least hint of anything; and the next morning, not yet feeling sufficiently confident in him, they resolved to keep him shut up in the house for at least that day, and perhaps even longer. But what then? They themselves afterwards, in chatting with their neighbours, without wishing to show that they knew more than others, yet when they came to that mysterious point in the flight of the three fugitives, and the how, and the why, and the where, added, almost as a well-known thing, that they had fled to Pescarenico. Thus this circumstance also was generally noised abroad.
With all these scraps of information, put together and compared as usual, and with the embellishments naturally attached to such relations, there were grounds for a story of more certainty and clearness than common, and such as might have contented the most criticizing mind. But the invasion of the bravoes — an event too serious and notorious to be left out, and one on which nobody had any positive information — was what rendered the story dark and perplexing. The name of Don Rodrigo was whispered about; and so far all were agreed; but beyond, everything was obscurity and dissension. Much was said about the two bravoes who had been seen in the street towards evening, and of the other who had stood at the inn door; but what light could be drawn from this naked fact? They inquired of the landlord, ‘Who had been there the night before?’ but the landlord could not even remember that he had seen anybody that evening; and concluded his answer, as usual, with the remark that his inn was like a sea-port. Above all, the pilgrim seen by Stefano and Carlandrea puzzled their heads and disarranged their conjectures — that pilgrim whom the robbers were murdering, and who had gone away with them, or whom they had carried off — what could he be doing? He was a good spirit come to the aid of the women; he was the wicked spirit of a roguish pilgrim-impostor, who always came by night to join such companions, and perform such deeds, as he had been accustomed to when alive; he was a living and true pilgrim, whom they attempted to murder, because he was preparing to arouse the village; he was (just see what they went so far as to conjecture!) one of these very villains, disguised as a pilgrim; he was this, he was that; he was so many things, that all the sagacity and experience of Griso would not have sufficed to discover who he was, if he had been obliged to glean this part of the story from others. But, as the reader knows, that which rendered it so perplexing to others, was exactly the clearest point to him; and serving as a key to interpret the other notices, either gathered immediately by himself, or through the medium of his subordinate spies, it enabled him to lay before Don Rodrigo a report sufficiently clear and connected. Closeted with him, he told him of the blow attempted by the poor lovers, which naturally accounted for his finding the house empty, and the ringing of the bell, without which they would have been obliged to suspect traitors (as these two worthy men expressed it) in the house. He told him of the flight; and for this, too, it was easy to find more than one reason — the fear of the lovers on being taken in a fault, or some rumour of their invasion, when it was discovered, and the village roused. Lastly, he told him that they had gone to Pescarenico, but further than this his knowledge did not extend. Don Rodrigo was pleased to be assured that no one had betrayed him, and to find that no traces remained of his enterprise; but it was a light and passing pleasure. ‘Fled together!’ cried he: ‘together! And that rascally friar! — that friar!’ The word burst forth hoarsely from his throat, and half-smothered between his teeth, as he bit his nails with vexation: his countenance was as brutal as his passion. ‘That friar shall answer for it. Griso, I am not myself . . . I must know, I must find out . . . this night I must know where they are. I have no peace. To Pescarenico directly, to know, to see, to find . . . Four crowns on the spot, and my protection for ever. This night I must know. And that villain! . . . that friar . . . ’
Once more Griso was in the field; and in the evening of that same day he could impart to his worthy patron the desired information, and by this means.
One of the greatest consolations of this world is friendship, and one of the pleasures of friendship is to have some one to whom we may entrust a secret. Now, friends are not divided into pairs, as husband and wife: everybody generally speaking, has more than one; and this forms a chain of which no one can find the first link. When, then, a friend meets with an opportunity of depositing a secret in the breast of another, he, in his turn, seeks to share in the same pleasure. He is entreated, to be sure, to say nothing to anybody; and such a condition, if taken in the strict sense of the words, would immediately cut short the chain of these gratifications: but general practice has determined that it only forbids the entrusting of a secret to everybody but one equally confidential friend, imposing upon him, of course, the same conditions. Thus, from confidential friend to confidential friend, the secret threads its way along this immense chain, until, at last, it reaches the ear of him or them whom the first speaker exactly intended it should never reach. However, it would, generally, have to be a long time on the way, if everybody had but two friends, the one who tells him, and the one to whom he repeats it with the injunction of silence. But some highly favoured men there are who reckon these blessings by the hundred, and when the secret comes into the hands of one of these, the circles multiply so rapidly that it is no longer possible to pursue them.
Our author has been unable to certify through how many mouths the secret had passed which Griso was ordered to discover, but certain it is that the good man who had escorted the women to Monza, returning in his cart to Pescarenico, towards evening, happened, before reaching home, to light upon one of these trustworthy friends, to whom he related, in confidence, the good work he had just completed, and its sequel; and it is equally certain that, two hours afterwards, Griso was able to return to the palace, and inform Don Rodrigo that Lucia and her mother had found refuge in a convent at Monza, and that Renzo had pursued his way to Milan.
Don Rodrigo felt a malicious satisfaction on hearing of this separation, and a revival of hope that he might at length accomplish his wicked designs. He spent great part of the night in meditating on his plans, and arose early in the morning with two projects in his mind, the one determined upon, the other only roughly sketched out. The first was immediately to despatch Griso to Monza, to learn more particular tidings of Lucia, and to know what (if anything) he might attempt. He therefore instantly summoned this faithful servant, placed in his hand four crowns, again commended him for the ability by which he had earned them, and gave him the order he had been premeditating.
‘Signor . . . ’ said Griso, feeling his way.
‘What? haven’t I spoken clearly?’
‘If you would send somebody . . . ’
‘Most illustrious Signor, I am ready to give my life for my master: it is my duty; but I know also you would not be willing unnecessarily to risk that of your dependents.’
‘Your illustrious lordship knows very well how many prices are already set upon my head; and . . . here I am under the protection of your lordship; we are a party; the Signor Podestà is a friend of the family; the bailiffs bear me some respect; and I, too . . . it is a thing that does me little honour — but to live quietly . . . I treat them as friends. In Milan, your lordship’s livery is known; but in Monza I am known there instead. And is your lordship aware that — I don’t say it to make a boast of myself — that any one who could hand me over to justice, or deliver in my head, would strike a great blow. A hundred crowns at once, and the privilege of liberating two banditti.’
‘What!’ exclaimed Don Rodrigo, with an oath: ‘you showing yourself a vile cur that has scarcely courage to fly at the legs of a passer-by, looking behind him for fear they should shut the door upon him, and not daring to leave it four yards!’
‘I think, Signor patron, that I have given proof . . . ’
‘Then,’ frankly replied Griso, when thus brought to the point, ‘then your lordship will be good enough to reckon as if I had never spoken: heart of a lion, legs of a hare, and I am ready to set off.’‘And I didn’t say you should go alone. Take with you two of the bravest . . . lo Sfregiato,1 and il Tiradritto:2 go with a good heart, and be our own Griso. What! three faces like yours, quietly passing by, who do you think wouldn’t be glad to let them pass? The bailiffs at Monza must needs be weary of life to stake against it a hundred crowns in so hazardous a game. And, besides, don’t you think I am so utterly unknown there, that a servant of mine would be counted as nobody.’
After thus shaming Griso a little, he proceeded to give him more ample and particular instructions. Griso took his two companions, and set off with a cheerful and hardy look, but cursing, in the bottom of his heart, Monza, and interdicts, and women, and the fancies of patrons; he walked on like a wolf which, urged by hunger, his body emaciated, and the furrows of his ribs impressed upon his grey hide, descends from the mountains, where everything is covered with snow, proceeds suspiciously along the plain, stops, from time to time, with uplifted foot, and waves his hairless tail;
‘Raises his nose, and snuffs the faithless wind.’
if perchance it may bring him the scent of man or beast; erects his sharp ears, and rolls around two sanguinary eyes, from which shine forth both eagerness for the prey and terror of pursuit. If the reader wishes to know whence I have got this fine line, it is taken from a small unpublished work on Crusaders and Lombards, which will shortly be published, and make a great stir; and I have borrowed it because it suited my purpose, and told where I got it, that I might not take credit due to others: so let no one think it a plan of mine to proclaim that the author of this little book and I are like brothers, and that I rummage at will among his manuscripts.
The other project of Don Rodrigo’s was the devising of some plan to prevent Renzo’s again rejoining Lucia, or setting foot in that part of the country. He therefore resolved to spread abroad rumours of threats and snares, which, coming to his hearing through some friend, might deprive him of any wish to return to that neighbourhood. He thought, however, that the surest way of doing this would be to procure his banishment by the state; and to succeed in his project, he felt that law would be more likely to answer his purpose than force. He could, for example, give a little colouring to the attempt made at the parsonage, paint it as an aggressive and seditious act, and, by means of the doctor, signify to the Podestà that this was an opportunity of issuing an apprehension against Renzo. But our deliberator quickly perceived that it would not do for him to meddle in this infamous negotiation; and, without pondering over it any longer, he resolved to open his mind to Doctor Azzecca-Garbugli; so far, that is, as was necessary to make him acquainted with his desire. — There are so many edicts! thought Don Rodrigo: and the Doctor’s not a goose: he will be sure to find something to suit my purpose — some quarrel to pick with this rascally fellow of a weaver: otherwise he must give up his name. — But (how strangely matters are brought about in this world!) while Don Rodrigo was thus fixing upon the doctor, as the man most able to serve him, another person, one that nobody would imagine, even Renzo himself, was labouring, so to say, with all his heart, to serve him, in a far more certain and expeditious way than any the doctor could possibly have devised.
I have often seen a child, more active, certainly, than needs be, but at every movement giving earnest of becoming, some day, a brave man: I have often, I say, seen such a one busied, towards evening, in driving to cover a drove of little Indian pigs, which had been allowed all day to ramble about in a field or orchard. He would try to make them all enter the fold in a drove; but it was labour in vain: one would strike off to the right, and while the little drover was running to bring him back into the herd, another, or two, or three, would start off to the left, in every direction. So that, after getting out of all patience, he at last adapted himself to their ways, first driving in those which were nearest to the entrance, and then going to fetch the others, one or two at a time, as they happened to have strayed away. A similar game we are obliged to play with our characters; — having sheltered Lucia, we ran to Don Rodrigo, and now we must leave him to receive Renzo, who meets us in our way.
After the mournful separation we have related, he proceeded from Monza towards Milan, in a state of mind our readers can easily imagine. To leave his own dwelling; and, what was worse, his native village; and, what was worse still, Lucia; to find himself on the high road, without knowing where he was about to lay his head, and all on account of that villain! When this image presented itself to Renzo’s mind, he would be quite swallowed up with rage and the desire of vengeance; but then he would recollect the prayer which he had joined in offering up with the good friar in the church at Pescarenico, and repent of his anger; then he would again be roused to indignation; but seeing an image in the wall, he would take off his hat, and stop a moment to repeat a prayer; so that during this journey he had killed Don Rodrigo, and raised him to life again, at least twenty times. The road here was completely buried between two high banks, muddy, stony, furrowed with deep cart-ruts, which, after a shower, became perfect streams; and where these did not form a sufficient bed for the water, the whole road was inundated and reduced to a pool, so as to be almost impassable. At such places, a steep foot-path, in the form of steps, up the bank, indicated that other passengers had made a track in the fields. Renzo mounted by one of these passes to the more elevated ground, and, looking around him, beheld the noble pile of the cathedral towering alone above the plain, not as if standing in the midst of a city, but rather as though it rose from a desert. He paused, forgetful of all his sorrows, and contemplated thus at a distance that eighth wonder of the world, of which he had heard so much from his infancy. But turning round, after a moment or two, he beheld along the horizon that rugged ridge of mountains: he beheld, distinct and elevated among these, his own Resegone, and felt his blood curdle within him; then indulging for a few minutes in a mournful look in that direction, he slowly and sadly turned round, and continued his way. By degrees, he began to discern belfries and towers, cupolas and roofs; then descending into the road, he walked forward for a long time; and, when he found that he was near the city, accosted a passenger, and making a low bow, with the best politeness he was master of, said to him, ‘Will you be kind enough, Signor . . .?’
‘What do you want, my brave youth?’
‘Can you direct me the shortest way to the Capuchin Convent where Father Bonaventura lives?’
The person to whom Renzo addressed himself was a wealthy resident in the neighbourhood, who having been that morning to Milan on business, was returning without having done anything, in great haste to reach his home before dark, and therefore quite willing to escape this detention. Nevertheless, without betraying any impatience, he courteously replied: ‘My good friend, there are many more convents than one; you must tell me more clearly which one you are seeking.’ Renzo then drew from his bosom Father Cristoforo’s letter, and showed it to the gentleman, who having read the address; ‘Porta Orientale,’ said he, returning it to him; ‘you are fortunate, young man; the convent you want is not far hence. Take this narrow street to the left; it is a by-way; not far off you will come to the corner of a long and low building: this is the Lazaretto; follow the moat that surrounds it, and you will come out at the Porta Orientale. Enter the gate, and three or four hundred yards further, you will see a little square surrounded by elms; there is the convent, and you cannot mistake it. God be with you, my brave youth.’ And, accompanying the last words with a courteous wave of the hand, he continued his way. Renzo stood surprised and edified at the affable manners of the citizens towards strangers, and knew not that it was an unusual day — a day in which the Spanish cloak had to stoop before the doublet. He followed the path that had been pointed out, and arrived at the Porta Orientale. The reader, however, must not allow the scene now associated with this name to present itself to his mind: the wide and straight street flanked with poplars, outside; the spacious opening between two piles of building, begun, at least, with some pretensions; on first entering these two lateral mounds at the base of the bastions, regularly sloped, levelled at the top, and edged with trees; that garden on one side, and further on, those palaces on the right and left of the principal street of the suburb. When Renzo entered by that gate, the street outside ran straight along the whole length of the Lazaretto, it being impossible for it, for that distance, to do otherwise; then it continued crooked and narrow between the two hedges. The gate consisted of two pillars with a roofing above to protect the door-posts, and on one side a small cottage for the custom-house officers. The bases of the bastions were of irregular steepness, and the pavement was a rough and unequal surface of rubbish and fragments of broken vessels thrown there by chance. The street of the suburb which opened to the view of a person entering the Porta Orientale, bore no bad resemblance to that now facing the entrance of the Porta Tosa. A small ditch ran along the middle, till within a few yards of the gate, and thus divided it into two winding narrow streets, covered with dust or mud, according to the season. At the spot where was, and now is, the little street called the Borghetto, this ditch emptied itself into a sewer, and thence into the other ditch that washes the walls. Here stood a column surmounted by a cross, called the Column of San Dionigi: on the right and left were gardens enclosed by hedges, and at intervals a few small cottages, inhabited chiefly by washerwomen. Renzo entered the gate, and pursued his way; none of the custom-house officers spoke to him, which appeared to him the more wonderful, since the few in this country who could boast of having been at Milan, had related marvelous stories of the examinations and interrogations to which all those who entered were subjected. The street was deserted; so much so, that had he not heard a distant buzz indicating some great movement, he would have fancied he was entering a forsaken town. Advancing forward, without knowing what to make of this, he saw on the pavement certain white streaks, as white as snow; but snow it could not be, since it does not fall in streaks, nor usually at this season. He advanced to one of these, looked at it, touched it, and felt assured that it was flour. — A great abundance, thought he, there must be in Milan, if they scatter in this manner the gifts of God. They gave us to understand that there was a great famine everywhere. See how they go about to make us poor people quiet. — Going a few steps further, and coming up to the column, he saw at its foot a still stranger sight; scattered about on the steps of the pedestal were things which certainly were not stones, and, had they been on a baker’s counter, he would not have hesitated a moment to call them loaves. But Renzo would not so readily trust his eyes; because, forsooth! this was not a likely place for bread. — Let us see what these things can be, said he again to himself; and, going to the column, he stooped down, and took one in his hand: it was really a round, very white loaf, and such as Renzo was unaccustomed to eat, except on holy days. — It is really bread! said he aloud, so great was his astonishment:— is this the way they scatter it in this country? in such a year too? and don’t they even give themselves the trouble to pick up what falls? this must be the land of the Cuccagna! 3 After ten miles’ walk in the fresh morning air, this bread, when he had recovered his self-possession, aroused his appetite. — Shall I take it? deliberated he: poh! they have left it here to the discretion of dogs, and surely a Christian may taste it. And, after all, if the owner comes forward, I will pay him. — Thus reasoning, he put the loaf he held in his hand into one pocket, took up a second and put it into the other, and a third, which he began to eat, and then proceeded on his way, more uncertain than ever, and longing to have this strange mystery cleared up. Scarcely had he started, when he saw people issuing from the interior of the city, and he stood still to watch those who first appeared. They were a man, a woman, and, a little way behind, a boy; all three carrying a load on their backs which seemed beyond their strength, and all three in a most extraordinary condition. Their dress, or rather their rags, covered with flour, their faces floured, and, at the same time, distorted and much heated; they walked not only as if wearied by their load, but trembling as if their limbs had been beaten and bruised. The man staggered under the weight of a large sack of flour, which, here and there in holes, scattered a shower around at every stumble, at every disturbance of his equilibrium. But the figure of the woman was still more awkward: an unwieldy bulk, two extended arms which seemed to bear it up with difficulty, and looked like two carved handles from the neck to the widest part of a large kilderkin, and beneath this enormous body, two legs, naked up to the knees, which could scarcely totter along. Renzo gazed steadily at this great bulk, and discovered that it was the woman’s gown turned up around her, with as much flour in it as it could hold, and rather more, so that from time to time it was scattered in handfuls over the ground. The boy held with both hands a basket full of bread upon his head; but, from having shorter legs than his parents, he kept falling behind by degrees, and in running forward to overtake them, the basket lost its balance, and a few loaves fell.
3 The name of an ideal country, affording all sorts of pleasure.
‘If you let another fall, you vile, helpless . . . ’ said the mother, gnashing her teeth at the child.
‘I don’t let them fall; they fall themselves. How can I help it?’ replied he.
‘Eh! it’s well for you that I have my hands engaged,’ rejoined the woman, shaking her fist, as if she would have given the poor child a blow; and with this movement she sent forth a fresh cloud of flour, enough to have made more than the two loaves the boy had let fall.
‘Come, come, said the man, ‘we will go back presently to pick them up, or somebody will do it for us: we have been a long while in want: now that we have got a little abundance, let us enjoy it in blessed peace.’
In the mean time people arrived from without; and one of them, accosting the woman, ‘Where must we go to get bread?’ asked he. ‘Forward, forward,’ was her reply; and when they were a few yards past, she added, muttering, ‘These blackguard peasants will come and sweep all the bake-houses and magazines, and there will be nothing left for us.’
‘There’s a little for everybody, magpie,’ said the husband; ‘plenty, plenty.’
From this and similar scenes which Renzo heard and witnessed, he began to gather that he had come to a city in a state of insurrection, and that this was a day of victory; that is to say, when every one helped himself in proportion to his inclination and power, giving blows in payment. However we may desire to make our poor mountaineer appear to the best advantage, yet historical accuracy obliges us to say, that his first feeling was that of satisfaction. He had so little to rejoice at in the ordinary course of things, that he was inclined to approve of anything that might make a change, whatever it might be. And besides, not being a man superior to his age, he entertained the common opinion, or prejudice, that the scarcity of bread was produced by monopolists and bakers; and readily did he esteem every method justifiable of rescuing from their grasp the food, which they, according to this opinion, so cruelly denied to the hunger of a whole people. He resolved, however, to get out of the tumult, and rejoiced at being directed to a Capuchin, who would give him shelter and good advice. Engaged in such thoughts, and looking about him at the fresh victors who appeared, laden with spoil, he took the short road that still remained to reach the convent.
On the present site of a noble palace, with its beautiful portico, there was formerly, and till within a very few years, a small square, and at the furthest side of this, the church and convent of the Capuchins, with four large elms standing before them. We congratulate, not without envy, those of our readers who have not seen Milan as thus described: that is, because they must be very young, and have not had much time to commit many follies. Renzo went straight to the door, put into his bosom the remaining half loaf, took out his letter and held it ready in his hand, and rang the bell. A small wicket was opened at the summons, and the face of the porter appeared at the grate to ask who was there.
‘One from the country, bringing an important letter to Father Bonaventura from Father Cristoforo.’
‘Give it me,’ said the porter, putting his hand through the grate. ‘No, no,’ said Renzo, ‘I must give it into his own hands.’
‘He is not in the Convent.’
‘Let me come in, then, and I will wait for him,’ replied Renzo.
‘Follow my advice,’ rejoined the friar: ‘go and wait in the church, where you may be employing yourself profitably. You cannot be admitted into the convent at present.’ So saying, he closed the wicket.
Renzo stood irresolute, with the letter in his hand. He then took a few steps towards the door of the church, to follow the advice of the porter, but thought he would first just give another glance at the stir outside. He crossed the square, reached the side of the road, and stood with his arms crossed on his breast to watch the thickest and most noisy part of the crowd that was issuing from the interior of the city. The vortex attracted our spectator. — Let us go and see thought he; and again taking out the piece of bread, he began to eat, and advanced towards the crowd. While he was walking thither, we will relate, as briefly as possible, the causes and beginnings of this uproar.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57