CARDINAL FEDERIGO was employed, according to his usual custom in every leisure interval, in study, until the hour arrived for repairing to the church for the celebration of Divine Service, when the chaplain and cross bearer entered with a disturbed and gloomy countenance.
‘A strange visitor, my noble Lord — strange indeed!’
‘Who?’ asked the Cardinal.
‘No less a personage than the Signor . . . ’ replied the chaplain; and pronouncing the syllables with a very significant tone, he uttered the name which we cannot give to our readers. He then added: ‘He is here outside in person; and demands nothing less than to be introduced to your illustrious Grace.’
‘He!’ said the Cardinal, with an animated look, shutting his book, and rising from his seat; ‘let him come in! — let him come in directly!’
‘But . . . ’ rejoined the chaplain, without attempting to move, ‘your illustrious Lordship must surely be aware who he is: that outlaw, that famous . . . ’
‘And is it not a most happy circumstance for a bishop, that such a man should feel a wish to come and seek an interview with him?’
‘But . . . ’ insisted the chaplain, ‘we may never speak of certain things, because my Lord says that it is all nonsense: but, when it comes to the point, I think it is a duty . . . Zeal makes many enemies, my Lord; and we know positively that more than one ruffian has dared to boast that some day or other . . . ’
‘And what have they done?’ interrupted the Cardinal.
‘I say that this man is a plotter of mischief, a desperate character, who holds correspondence with the most violent desperadoes, and who may be sent . . . ’
‘Oh, what discipline is this,’ again interrupted Federigo, smiling, ‘for the soldiers to exhort their general to cowardice? then resuming a grave and thoughtful air, he continued: ‘Saint Carlo would not have deliberated whether he ought to receive such a man: he would have gone to seek him. Let him be admitted directly: he has already waited too long.’
The chaplain moved towards the door, saying in his heart:— There’s no remedy: these saints are all obstinate. —
Having opened the door, and surveyed the room where the Signor and his companions were, he saw that the latter had crowded together on one side, where they sat whispering and cautiously peeping at their visitor, while he was left alone in one corner. The chaplain advanced towards him, eying him guardedly from head to foot, and wondering what weapons he might have hidden under that great coat; thinking, at the same time, that really, before admitting him, he ought at least to have proposed . . . but he could not resolve what to do. He approached him, saying: ‘His Grace waits for your Lordship. Will you be good enough to come with me?’ And as he preceded him through the little crowd, which instantly gave way for him, he kept casting glances on each side, which meant to say: What could I do? don’t you know yourselves that he always has his own way?
On reaching the apartment, the chaplain opened the door, and introduced the Unnamed. Federigo advanced to meet him with a happy and serene look, and his hand extended, as if to welcome an expected guest, at the same time making a sign to the chaplain to go out, which was immediately obeyed.
When thus left alone, they both stood for a moment silent and in suspense, though from widely different feelings. The Unnamed, who had, as it were, been forcibly carried there by an inexplicable compulsion, rather than led by a determinate intention, now stood there, also as it were by compulsion, torn by two contending feelings: on the one side, a desire and confused hope of meeting with some alleviation of his inward torment; on the other, a feeling of self-rebuked shame at having come thither, like a penitent, subdued, and wretched, to confess himself guilty, and to make supplication to a man: he was at a loss for words, and, indeed, scarcely sought for them. Raising his eyes, however, to the Archbishop’s face, he became gradually filled with a feeling of veneration, authoritative, and at the same time soothing; which, while it increased his confi-dence, gently subdued his haughtiness, and, without offending his pride, compelled it to give way, and imposed silence.
The bearing of Federigo was, in fact, one which announced superiority, and, at the same time, excited love. It was naturally sedate, and almost involuntarily commanding, his figure being not in the least bowed or wasted by age; while his solemn, yet sparkling eye, his open and thoughtful forehead, a kind of virginal floridness, which might be distinguished even among grey locks, paleness, and the traces of abstinence, meditation, and labour: in short, all his features indicated that they had once possessed that which is most strictly entitled beauty. The habit of serious and benevolent thought, the inward peace of a long life, the love that he felt towards his fellow-creatures, and the uninterrupted enjoyment of an ineffable hope, had now substituted the beauty (so to say) of old age, which shone forth more attractively from the magnificent simplicity of the purple.
He fixed, for a moment, on the countenance of the Unnamed, a penetrating look, long accustomed to gather from this index what was passing in the mind; and imagining he discovered, under that dark and troubled mien, something every moment more corresponding with the hope he had conceived on the first announcement of such a visit, ‘Oh!’ cried he, in an animated voice, ‘what a welcome visit is this! and how thankful I ought to be to you for taking such a step, although it may convey to me a little reproof!
‘Reproof!’ exclaimed the Signor, much surprised, but soothed by his words and manner, and glad that the Cardinal had broken the ice, and started some sort of conversation.
‘Certainly, it conveys to me a reproof,’ replied the Archbishop, ‘for allowing you to be beforehand with me when so often, and for so long a time, I might and ought to have come to you myself.’
‘You come to me! Do you know who I am? Did they deliver in my name rightly?’
‘And the happiness I feel, and which must surely be evident in my countenance, do you think I should feel it at the announcement and visit of a stranger? It is you who make me experience it; you, I say, whom I ought to have sought; you whom I have, at least, loved and wept over, and for whom I have so often prayed; you, among all my children, for each one I love from the bottom of my heart, whom I should most have desired to receive and embrace, if I had thought I might hope for such a thing. But God alone knows how to work wonders, and supplies the weakness and tardiness of His unworthy servants.’The Unnamed stood astonished at this warm reception, in language which corresponded so exactly with that which he had not yet expressed, nor, indeed, had fully determined to express; and, affected, but exceedingly surprised, he remained silent. ‘Well! resumed Federigo, still more affectionately, ‘you have good news to tell me; and you keep me so long expecting it?’
‘Good news! I have hell in my heart; and can I tell you any good tidings? Tell me, if you know, what good news you can expect from such as I am?’
‘That God has touched your heart, and would make you His own,’ replied the Cardinal, calmly.
‘God! God! God! If I could see Him! If I could hear Him! Where is this God?’
‘Do you ask this? you? And who has Him nearer than you? Do you not feel Him in your heart, overcoming, agitating you, never leaving you at ease, and at the same time drawing you forward, presenting to your view a hope of tranquillity and consolation, a consolation which shall be full and boundless, as soon as you recognize Him, acknowledge, and implore Him?’
‘Oh, surely! there is something within that oppresses, that consumes me! But God! If this be God, if He be such as they say, what do you suppose He can do with me?’
These words were uttered with an accent of despair; but Federigo, with a solemn tone, as of calm inspiration, replied: ‘What can God do with you? What would He wish to make of you? A token of His power and goodness: He would acquire through you a glory, such as others could not give Him. The world has long cried out against you, hundreds and thousands of voices have declared their detestation of your deeds . . . ’ (The Unnamed shuddered, and felt for a moment surprised at hearing such unusual language addressed to him, and still more surprised that he felt no anger, but rather, almost a relief.) ‘What glory,’ pursued Federigo, ‘will thus redound to God! They may be voices of alarm, of self-interest; of justice, perhaps — a justice so easy! so natural! Some perhaps, yea, too many, may be voices of envy of your wretched power; of your hitherto deplorable security of heart. But when you, yourself, rise up to condemn your past life, to become your own accuser, then! then, indeed, God will be glorified! And you ask what God can do with you. Who am I, a poor mortal, that I can tell you what use such a Being may choose henceforth to make of you; how He can employ your impetuous will, your unwavering perseverance, when He shall have animated and invigorated them with love, with hope, with repentance? Who are you, weak man, that you should imagine yourself capable of devising and executing greater deeds of evil, than God can make you will and accomplish in the cause of good? What can God do with you? Pardon you! save you! finish in you the work of redemption! Are not these things noble and worthy of Him? Oh, just think! if I, an humble and feeble creature, so worthless and full of myself — I, such as I am, long so ardently for your salvation, that, for its sake, I would joyfully give (and He is my witness!) the few days that still remain to me; oh, think what, and how great, must be the love of Him, Who inspires me with this imperfect, but ardent affection; how must He love you, what must He desire for you, Who has bid and enabled me to regard you with a charity that consumes me!’
While these words fell from his lips, his face, his expression, his whole manner, evinced his deep feeling of what he uttered. The countenance of his auditor changed, from a wild and convulsive look, first to astonishment and attention, and then gradually yielded to deeper and less painful emotions; his eyes, which from infancy had been unaccustomed to weep, became suffused; and when the words ceased, he covered his face with his hands, and burst into a flood of tears. It was the only and most evident reply.
‘Great and good God!’ exclaimed Federigo, raising his hands and eyes to heaven, ‘what have I ever done, an unprofitable servant, an idle shepherd, that Thou shouldest call me to this banquet of grace! that Thou shouldest make me worthy of being an instrument in so joyful a miracle!’ So saying, he extended his hand to take that of the Unnamed.
‘No!’ cried the penitent nobleman; ‘no! keep away from me: defile not that innocent and beneficent hand. You don’t know all that the one you would grasp has committed.’
‘Suffer me,’ said Federigo, taking it with affectionate violence, ‘suffer me to press the hand which will repair so many wrongs, dispense so many benefits, comfort so many afflicted, and be extended, disarmed, peacefully, and humbly, to so many enemies.’
‘It is too much!’ said the Unnamed, sobbing, ‘leave me, my Lord; good Federigo, leave me! A crowded assembly awaits you; so many good people, so many innocent creatures, so many come from a distance, to see you for once, to hear you: and you are staying to talk . . . with whom!’
‘We will leave the ninety and nine sheep,’ replied the Cardinal; ‘they are in safety, upon the mountain: I wish to remain with that which was lost. Their minds are, perhaps, now more satisfied than if they were seeing their poor bishop. Perhaps God, Who has wrought in you this miracle of mercy, is diffusing in their hearts a joy of which they know not yet the reason. These people are, perhaps, united to us without being aware of it: perchance the Spirit may be instilling into their hearts an undefined feeling of charity, a petition which He will grant for you, an offering of gratitude of which you are, as yet, the unknown object.’ So saying, he threw his arms round the neck of the Unnamed, who, after attempting to disengage himself, and making a momentary resistance, yielded, completely overcome by this vehement expression of affection, embraced the Cardinal in his turn, and buried in his shoulder his trembling and altered face. His burning tears dropped upon the stainless purple of Federigo, while the guiltless hands of the holy bishop affectionately pressed those members, and touched that garment, which had been accustomed to hold the weapons of violence and treachery.
Disengaging himself, at length, from this embrace, the Unnamed again covered his eyes with his hand, and raising his face to heaven, exclaimed; ‘God is, indeed, great! God is, indeed, good! I know myself now, now I understand what I am; my sins are present before me, and I shudder at the thought of myself; yet! . . . yet I feel an alleviation, a joy; yes, even a joy, such as I have never before known during the whole of my horrible life!’
‘It is a little taste,’ said Federigo, ‘which God gives you, to incline you to His service, and encourage you resolutely to enter upon the new course of life which lies before you, and in which you will have so much to undo, so much to repair, so much to mourn over!’
‘Unhappy man that I am!’ exclaimed the Signor: ‘how many, oh, how many . . . things for which I can do nothing besides mourn! But, at least, I have undertakings scarcely set on foot which I can break off in the midst, if nothing more: one there is which I can quickly arrest, which I can easily undo, and repair.’
Federigo listened attentively, while the Unnamed briefly related, in terms of, perhaps, deeper execration than we have employed, his attempt upon Lucia, the sufferings and terrors of the unhappy girl, her importunate entreaties, the frenzy that these entreaties had aroused within him, and how she was still in the castle . . .
‘Ah, then! let us lose no time!’ exclaimed Federigo, breathless with eagerness and compassion. ‘You are indeed blessed! This is an earnest of God’s forgiveness! He makes you capable of becoming the instrument of safety to one whom you intended to ruin. God bless you! Nay, He has blessed you! Do you know where our unhappy protégée comes from?’
The Signor named Lucia’s village.
‘It’s not far from this,’ said the Cardinal, ‘God be praised; and probably . . . ’ So saying, he went towards a little table, and rang a bell. The cross-bearing chaplain immediately attended the summons with a look of anxiety, and instantly glanced towards the Unnamed. At the sight of his altered countenance, and his eyes still red with weeping, he turned an inquiring gaze upon the Cardinal; and perceiving, amidst the invariable composure of his countenance, a look of solemn pleasure and unusual solicitude, he would have stood with open mouth, in a sort of ecstasy, had not the Cardinal quickly aroused him from his contemplations, by asking whether, among the parish-priests who were assembled in the next room, there were one from . . . .
‘There is, your illustrious Grace,’ replied the chaplain.
‘Let him come in directly,’ said Federigo, ‘and with him the priest of this parish.’
The chaplain quitted the room, and on entering the hall where the clergy were assembled, all eyes were immediately turned upon him; while, with a look of blank astonishment, and a countenance in which was still depicted the rapture he had left, he lifted up his hands, and waving them in the air, exclaimed, ‘Signori! Signori! hæc mutatio dexteræ Excelsi.’ And he stood for a moment without uttering another word. Then assuming the tone and language of a message, he added, ‘His most noble and very reverend Lordship desires to speak with the Signor Curate of this parish, and the Signor Curate of . . . .’
The first party summoned immediately came forward; and, at the same time, there issued from the midst of the crowd, an ‘I’ drawled forth with an intonation of surprise.
‘Are you not the Signor Curate of . . .?’ replied the chaplain.
‘I am; but . . . ’
‘His most noble and very reverend Lordship asks for you.’
‘Me?’ again replied the same voice, clearly expressing in this monosyllable, ‘What can they want with me?’ But this time, together with the voice, came forth the living being, Don Abbondio himself, with an unwilling step, and a countenance between astonishment and disgust. The chaplain beckoned to him with his hand, as if he meant to say, ‘Come, let us go; is it so very alarming?’ and escorting them to the door, he opened it, and introduced them into the apartment.
The Cardinal relinquished the hand of the Unnamed, with whom, meanwhile, he had been concerting arrangements, and withdrawing a little aside, beckoned to the curate of the village. Briefly relating the circumstances, he asked whether he could immediately find a trustworthy woman who would be willing to go to the castle in a litter, and fetch away Lucia; a kind and clever person, who would know how to conduct herself in so novel an expedition, and whose manners and language would be most likely to encourage and tranquilize the unfortunate girl, to whom, after so much anguish and alarm, even liberation itself might be an additional cause of apprehension. After a moment’s thought, the Curate said that he knew just the very person, and then took his departure. The Cardinal now calling to him the chaplain, desired him to have a litter and bearers immediately prepared and to see that two mules were saddled, for riders; and as soon as he had quitted the apartment, turned to Don Abbondio.
This worthy gentleman, who had kept tolerably close to the Archbishop, that he might be at a respectful distance from the other Signor, and had, in the mean time, been casting side glances, first to one, and then to the other, dubitating the while within himself what ever all this strange manœuvring might mean, now advanced a step forward, and, making a respectful bow, said, ‘I was told that your most illustrious Lordship wanted me; but I think there must be some misunderstanding.
‘There is no misunderstanding, I assure you,’ replied Federigo; ‘I have glad news to give you, and a pleasant and most agreeable task to impose upon you. One of your parishioners, whom you must have lamented as lost, Lucia Mondella, is again found, and is near at hand, in the house of my good friend here; and you will go now with him, and a woman, whom the Signor Curate of this place has gone to seek; you will go, I say, to fetch thence one of your own children, and accompany her hither.’
Don Abbondio did his best to conceal the vexation — the what shall I say? — the alarm, the dismay excited by this proposal, or command; and unable any longer to restrain or dismiss a look of inexpressible discontent already gathering in his countenance, he could only hide it by a profound reverence, in token of obedient acceptance; nor did he again raise his face, but to make another equally profound obeisance to the Unnamed, with a piteous look, which seemed to say, ‘I am in your hands, have pity upon me; Parcere subjectis.’
The Cardinal then asked him what relations Lucia had.
‘Of near relations, with whom she lives, or might live, she has only a mother,’ replied Don Abbondio.
‘Is she at home?’
‘Yes, my Lord.’
‘Well,’ replied Federigo, ‘since this poor girl cannot be so directly restored to her own home, it will be a great consolation to her to see her mother as quickly as possible; so, if the Signor Curate of this village doesn’t return before I go to church, I request you will tell him to find a cart, or some kind of conveyance, and despatch a person of discretion to fetch her mother here.’
‘Had not I better go?’ said Don Abbondio.
‘No, no, not you; I’ve already requested you to undertake another commission,’ replied the Cardinal.
‘I proposed it,’ rejoined Don Abbondio, ‘to prepare her poor mother for the news. She is a very sensitive woman, and it requires one who knows her disposition, and how to go to work with her the right way, or he will do her more harm than good.’
‘And therefore I have requested you to acquaint the Signor Curate of my wish that a proper person should be chosen for this office: you will do better elsewhere,’ replied the Cardinal. And he would willingly have added: That poor girl at the castle has far more need of shortly seeing a known and trusted countenance, after so many hours of agony, and in such terrible ignorance as to the future. But this was not a reason to be so clearly expressed before the present third party. Indeed, the Cardinal thought it very strange that it had not immediately occurred to Don Abbondio; that he had not thought of it himself; and the proffer he had made, and so warmly insisted upon, seemed so much out of place, that he could not help suspecting there must be something hidden beneath. He gazed upon his face, and there readily detected his fear of journeying with that terrible person, and of being his guest even for a few moments. Anxious, therefore, entirely to dissipate these cowardly apprehensions, yet unwilling to draw the curate aside and whisper with him in secret, while his new friend formed the third of their party, he judged that the best plan would be to do what, indeed, he would have done without such a motive, that is, address the Unnamed himself; and thus Don Abbondio might at length understand, from his replies, that he was no longer an object of fear. He returned, therefore, to the Unnamed, and addressing him with that frank cordiality which may be met with in a new and powerful affection, as well as in an intimacy of long standing, ‘Don’t think,’ said he, ‘that I shall be content with this visit for to-day. You will return, won’t you, with this worthy clergyman?’
‘Will I return?’ replied the Unnamed. ‘Should you refuse me, I would obstinately remain outside your door, like the beggar. I want to talk with you; I want to hear you, to see you; I deeply need you!’
Federigo took his hand and pressed it, saying: ‘Do the clergyman of this village, then, and me, the favour of dining with us to-day. I shall expect you. In the mean while, I must go to offer up prayers and praises with the people; and you to reap the first-fruits of mercy.’
Don Abbondio, at these demonstrations, stood like a cowardly child, who watches a person boldly petting and stroking a large, surly, shaggy dog, with glaring eyes, and a notoriously bad name for biting and growling, and hears its master say that his dog is a good and very quiet beast: he looks at the owner and neither contradicts nor assents; he looks at the animal, afraid to approach him for fear the ‘very gentle beast’ should show his teeth, were it only from habit; and equally afraid to run away, lest he should be thought a coward; and can only utter an internal aspiration:— Would that I were safe in my own house!
In quitting the apartment, in company with the Unnamed, whose hand he still grasped, the Cardinal cast another glance upon the poor man who remained behind, looking very awkward and mortified, and with a doleful expression of countenance. Thinking that possibly his vexation arose from being apparently overlooked, and left, as it were, in a corner, particularly in contrast with the notoriously wicked character now so warmly received and welcomed, he turned towards him in passing, and hung back for a moment, and said to him, with a friendly smile: ‘Signor Curate, thou wert ever with me in the house of our kind Father, but this . . . this one perierat, et inventus est.’
‘Oh, how glad I am to hear it!’ said Don Abbondio, making a profound reverence to the two together.
The Archbishop then went on, gave a slight push to the door, which was immediately opened from without by two servants who stood outside, and the notable pair stood before the longing eyes of the clergy assembled in the apartment. They gazed with interest upon their two countenances, both of which bore the traces of a very different, but equally profound emotion: a grateful tenderness, an humble joy, on Federigo’s venerable features; and on those of the Unnamed, confusion, tempered with consolation, a new and unusual modesty, and a feeling of contrition, through which the vigour of his wild and fiery temper was, nevertheless, still apparent. It was afterwards found that the passage in the prophet Isaiah had occurred to more than one of the spectators: The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock. (Isa. lxv. 25.) Behind them came Don Abbondio, to whom no one paid any attention.
When they had reached the middle of the room, the Cardinal’s groom of the chamber entered on the opposite side, and informed his master that he had executed all the orders communicated to him by the chaplain; that the litter and mules were in readiness, and they only waited the arrival of the female whom the curate was to bring. The Cardinal bid him tell the priest, when he came back, that Don Abbondio wished to speak with him; and then all the rest was left under the direction of the latter and the Unnamed, whom the Cardinal again shook warmly by the hand on taking leave, saying: ‘I shall expect you.’ Then, turning to salute Don Abbondio with a bow, he set off in the direction of the church, followed by the clergy, half grouped and half in procession, while the fellow-travellers remained alone in the apartment.
The Unnamed stood wrapt up in his own thoughts, and impatient for the moment when he might go to liberate his Lucia from her sufferings and confinement — his, now, in a very different sense from that in which she was so the day before: and his face expressed a feeling of intense agitation, which to Don Abbondio’s suspicious eye, might easily appear something worse. He peeped and glanced at him from the corner of his eye, and longed to start some friendly conversation:— But what can I say to him? — thought he:— must I say again, I am glad? Glad of what? that having hitherto been a devil, he has at last resolved to become a gentleman, like others? A fine compliment, indeed! Eh, eh, eh! however I may turn the words, I am glad can mean nothing else. And, after all, will it be true that he has become a gentleman? so on a sudden! There are so many displays made in the world, and from so many motives! What do I know about it? And, in the mean time, I have to go with him: and to that castle! oh, what a tale! what a tale! what a tale is this to tell! who would have told me this, this morning! Ah, if I can but escape in safety, my lady Perpetua shan’t soon hear the end of it from me, for having sent me here by force, when there was no necessity for it, out of my own parish: with her fine plausible reasons, that all the priests, for many a mile round, would flock hither, even those who were further off than I; and that I mustn’t be behindhand; and this, that, and the other; and then to embark me in a business of this sort! O, poor me! But I must say something to this man. — And he had just thought of that something, and was on the point of opening his mouth to say:— I never anticipated the pleasure of being thrown into such honourable company — when the groom of the chamber entered, with the curate of the parish, who announced that the woman was waiting in the litter; and then turned to Don Abbondio, to receive from him the further commission of the Cardinal. Don Abbondio delivered himself as well as he could in the confusion of mind under which he was labouring; and then, drawing up to the groom, said to him: ‘Pray give me, at least, a quiet beast; for, to tell the truth, I am but a poor horseman.’
‘You may imagine,’ replied the groom, with a half-smile: ‘it is the secretary’s mule, who is a very learned man.’
‘That will do . . . ’ replied Don Abbondio, and he continued to ruminate:— Heaven send me a good one. —
The Signor had readily set off the moment he heard the announcement; but on reaching the door, and perceiving that Don Abbondio was remaining behind, he stood still to wait for him. When he came up, hastily, with an apologizing look, the Signor bowed and made him pass on first, with a courteous and humble air, which somewhat reanimated the spirits of the unfortunate and tormented man. But scarcely had he set foot in the court-yard, when he saw a new object of alarm, which quickly dissipated all his reviving confidence; he beheld the Unnamed go towards the corner, take hold of the barrel of his carabine with one hand, and of the strap with the other, and with a rapid motion, as if performing the military exercise, swing it over his shoulder.
— Alas! alas! woe is me! — thought Don Abbondio:— what would he do with that weapon? Suitable sackcloth, truly! fine discipline for a new convert! And supposing some fancy should take him? Oh, what an expedition! what an expedition! —
Could this Signor have suspected for a moment what kind of thoughts they were which were passing through his companion’s mind, it is difficult to say what he would not have done to reassure him; but he was far enough away from such a suspicion, and Don Abbondio carefully avoided any movement which would distinctly express — I don’t trust your Lordship. — On reaching the door into the street, they found the two animals in readiness: the Unnamed mounted one, which was held for him by an hostler.
‘Isn’t it vicious?’ said Don Abbondio to the valet, as he stood with one foot suspended on the stirrup, and the other still resting on the ground.
‘You may go with a perfectly easy mind; it’s a very lamb,’ replied the man, and Don Abbondio, grasping the saddle, and assisted by the groom, gradually mounted upwards, and, at last, found himself safely seated on the creature’s back.
The litter, which stood a few paces in advance, and was borne by two mules, moved forward at the word of the attendant, and the party set off.
They had to pass before the church, which was full to overflowing with people; and through a little square, also swarming with the villagers, and newly arrived visitors, whom the building could not accommodate. The glad news had already spread; and on the appearance of the party, and more especially of him who, only a few hours before had been an object of terror and execration, but was now the object of joyful wonder, there arose from the crowd almost a murmur of applause; and as they made way for him, even their eagerness was hushed in the desire to obtain a near view of him. The litter passed on, the Unnamed followed; and when he arrived before the open door of the church, took off his hat, and bowed his hitherto dreaded forehead, till it almost touched the animal’s mane, amidst the murmur of a hundred voices, exclaiming, ‘God bless you!’ Don Abbondio, also, took off his hat, and bending low, recommended himself to Heaven; but hearing the solemn harmony of his brethren, as they chanted in chorus, he was so overcome with a feeling of envy, a mournful tenderness of spirit, and a sudden fervour of heart, that it was with difficulty he restrained his tears.
When they got beyond the habitations into the open country, and in the often entirely deserted windings of the road, a still darker cloud overspread his thoughts. The only object on which his eye could rest with any confidence, was the attendant on the litter, who, belonging to the Cardinal’s household, must certainly be an honest man; and who, besides, did not look like a coward. From time to time passengers appeared, sometimes even in groups, who were flocking to see the Cardinal, and this was a great relief to Don Abbondio; it was, however, but transitory, and he was advancing towards that tremendous valley, where he should meet none but the vassals of his companion; and what vassals! He now more than ever longed to enter into conversation with this companion, both to sound him a little more, and to keep him in good humour; but even this wish vanished on seeing him so completely absorbed in his own thoughts. He must then talk to himself; and we will present the reader with a part of the poor man’s soliloquy during his journey, for it would require a volume to record the whole.
— It is a fine thing, truly, that saints as well as sinners must have quicksilver in their compositions, and cannot be content with fussing about and busying themselves, but must also bring into the dance with them the whole world, if they can; and that the greatest busybodies must just come upon me, who never meddle with anybody, and drag me by the hair into their affairs; me, who ask for nothing but to be left alone! That mad rascal of a Don Rodrigo! What does he want to make him the happiest man in the world, if he had but the least grain of judgment? He is rich, he is young, he is respected and courted: he is sick with too much prosperity, and must needs go about making trouble for himself and his neighbour. He might follow the ways of Saint Michael; oh, no! my gentleman doesn’t choose: he chooses to set up the trade of molesting women, the most absurd, the most vile, the most insane business in the world: he might ride to heaven in his carriage, and chooses rather to walk halting to the devil’s dwelling. And this man? . . . And here he looked at him, as if he suspected he could hear his very thoughts. — This man! after turning the world upside down with his wickedness, now he turns it upside down with his conversion . . . if it prove really so. In the mean while, it falls to me to make the trial! . . . So it is, that when people are born with this madness in their veins, they must always be making a noise! Is it so difficult to act an honest part all one’s life, as I have done? Oh, no, my good sir: they must kill and quarter, play the devil . . . oh, poor me! . . . and then comes a great stir even when doing penance. Repentance, when there is an inclination to it, can be performed at home, quietly, without so much show, without giving so much trouble to one’s neighbours. And his illustrious Lordship, instantly, with open arms calling him his dear friend, his dear friend; and this man listens to all he says as if he had seen him work miracles; and then he must all at once come to a resolution, and rush into it hand and foot, one minute here, and the next there; we, at home, should call this precipitation. And to deliver a poor curate into his hands without the smallest security! this may be called playing with a man at great odds. A holy bishop, as he is, ought to value his curates as the apple of his eye. It seems to me there might be a little moderation, a little prudence, a little charity along with sanctity . . . Supposing this should be all a mere show? Who can tell all the intentions of men? and particularly of such a man as this? To think that it is my lot to go with him to his own house! There may be some underwork of the devil here: oh, poor me! it is best not to think about it. How is Lucia mixed up with all this? It is plain Don Rodrigo had some designs upon her: what people: and suppose it is exactly thus, how then has this man got her into his clutches? Who knows, I wonder? It is all a secret with my Lord; and to me, whom they are making trot about in this way, they don’t tell a word. I don’t care about knowing other people’s affairs; but when I have to risk my skin in the matter, I have a right to know something. If it be only to go and fetch away this poor creature, patience! though he could easily enough bring her straight away himself. And besides, if he is really converted, if he has become a holy father, what need is there of me? Oh, what a chaos! Well; it is Heaven’s will it should be thus: it will be a very great inconvenience, but patience! I shall be glad, too, for this poor Lucia: she also must have escaped some terrible issue: Heaven knows what she must have suffered: I pity her; but she was born to be my ruin . . . At least, I wish I could look into his heart, and see what he is thinking about. Who can understand him? Just look, now; one minute he looks like Saint Antony in the desert, the next he is like Holofernes himself. Oh, poor me! poor me! Well; Heaven is under an obligation to help me, since I didn’t get myself into this danger with my own good will. —
In fact, the thoughts of the Unnamed might be seen, so to say, passing over his countenance, as in a stormy day the clouds flit across the face of the sun, producing every now and then an alternation of dazzling light and gloomy shade. His soul, still quite absorbed in reflection upon Federigo’s soothing words, and, as it were, renewed and made young again with fresh life, now rose with cheerful hope at the idea of mercy, pardon, and love; and then again sank beneath the weight of the terrible past. He anxiously tried to select those deeds of iniquity which were yet reparable, and those which he could still arrest in the midst of their progress; he considered what remedies would be most certain and expeditious, how to disentangle so many knots, what to do with so many accomplices; but it was all obscurity and difficulty. In this very expedition, the easiest of execution, and so near its termination, he went with a willingness mingled with grief at the thought, that in the mean while the poor girl was suffering, God knew how much, and that he, while burning to liberate her, was all the while the cause of her suffering. At every turn, or fork in the road, the mule-driver looked back for direction as to the way: the Unnamed signified it with his hand, and at the same time beckoned to him to make haste.
They entered the valley. How must Don Abbondio have felt then! That renowned valley, of which he had heard such black and horrible stories, to be actually within it! Those men of notorious fame, the flower of the bravoes of Italy, men without fear and without mercy — to see them in flesh and blood — to meet one, two, or three, at every turn of a corner! They bowed submissively to the Signor; but their sunburnt visages! their rough mustachios! their large fierce eyes! they seemed to Don Abbondio’s mind to mean — Shall we dispatch that Priest? — So that, in a moment of extreme consternation, the thought rushed into his mind — Would that I had married them! worse could not befall me. — In the mean while they went forward along a gravelly path by the side of the torrent: on one hand was a view of isolated and solid rocks; on the other, a population which would have made even a desert seem desirable: Dante was not in a worse situation in the midst of Malebolge.
They passed the front of Malanotte; where bravoes were lounging at the door, who bowed to the Signor, and gazed at his companion and the litter. They knew not what to think; the departure of the Unnamed in the morning by himself had already seemed extraordinary, and his return was not less so. Was it a captive that he was conducting? And how had he accomplished it alone? And what was the meaning of a strange litter? And whose could this livery be? They looked and looked, but no one moved, because such was the command they read in his eye and expression.
They climbed the ascent, and reached the summit. The bravoes on the terrace and round the gate retired on either side to make room for him; the Unnamed motioned to them to retreat no farther, spurted forward and passed before the litter, beckoned to the driver and Don Abbondio to follow him, entered an outer court, and thence into a second, went towards a small postern, made signs to a bravo, who was hastening to hold his stirrup, to keep back, and said to him, ‘You there, and no one nearer.’ He then dismounted, and holding the bridle, advanced towards the litter, addressed himself to the female who had just drawn back the curtain, and said to her in an undertone: ‘Comfort her directly; let her understand at once that she is at liberty, and among friends. God will reward you for it.’ He then ordered the driver to open the door, and assist her to get out. Advancing, then, to Don Abbondio, with a look of greater serenity than the poor man had yet seen, or thought it possible he could see, on his countenance, in which there might now be traced joy at the good work which was at length so near its completion, he lent him his arm to dismount, saying to him at the same time, in a low voice: ‘Signor Curate, I do not apologize for the trouble you have had on my account; you are bearing it for One who rewards bountifully, and for this His poor creature!’
This look, and these words, once more put some heart into Don Abbondio; and, drawing a long breath, which for an hour past had been striving ineffectually to find vent, he replied, whether or not in a submissive tone it need not be asked: ‘Is your Lordship joking with me? But, but, but, but! . . . ’ And, accepting the hand which was so courteously offered, he slid down from the saddle as he best could. The Unnamed took the bridle, and handed it with his own to the driver, bidding him wait there outside for them. Taking a key from his pocket, he opened the postern, admitted the curate and the woman, followed them in, advanced to lead the way, went to the foot of the stairs, and they all three ascended in silence.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57