ONE fine evening, Agnese heard a carriage stop at the door. — It is she, and none other! — It was indeed Lucia, with the good widow: the mutual greetings we leave the reader to imagine.
Next morning Renzo arrived in good time, totally ignorant of what had happened, and with no other intentions than of pouring out his feelings a little with Agnese about Lucia’s long delay. The gesticulations he made, and the exclamations he uttered, on finding her thus before his eyes, we will also refer to our reader’s imagination. Lucia’s exhibitions of pleasure towards him were such, that it will not take many words to give an account of them. ‘Good morning, Renzo: how do you do?’ said she, with downcast eyes, and an air of composure. Nor let the reader think that Renzo considered this mode of reception too cold, and took it at all amiss. He entered fully into the meaning of her behaviour; and as among educated people one knows how to make allowance for compliments, so he understood very well what feelings lay hidden beneath these words. Besides, it was easy enough to perceive that she had two ways of proffering them, one for Renzo, and another for all those she might happen to know.
‘It does me good to see you,’ replied the youth, making use of a set phrase, which he himself, however, had invented on the spur of the moment.
‘Our poor Father Cristoforo! . . . ’ said Lucia: ‘pray for his soul; though one may be almost sure that he is now praying for us above.’
‘I expected no less, indeed,’ said Renzo. Nor was this the only melancholy chord touched in the course of this dialogue. But what then? Whatever subject was the topic of conversation, it always seemed to them delightful. Like a capricious horse, which halts and plants itself in a certain spot, and lifts first one hoof and then another, and sets it down again in the self-same place, and cuts a hundred capers before taking a single step, and then all on a sudden starts on its career, and speeds forward as if borne on the wings of the wind; such had time become in his eyes: at first minutes had seemed hours; now hours seemed to him like minutes.
The widow not only did not spoil the party, but entered into it with great spirit: nor could Renzo, when he saw her lying on that miserable bed in the Lazzaretto, have imagined her of so companionable and cheerful a disposition. But the Lazzaretto and the country, death and a wedding, are not exactly one and the same thing. With Agnese she was very soon on friendly terms; and it was a pleasure to see her with Lucia, so tender, and, at the same time, playful, rallying her gracefully and without effort, just so much as was necessary to give more courage to her words and motions.
At length Renzo said that he was going to Don Abbondio, to make arrangements about the wedding.
He went, and with a certain air of respectful raillery, “Signor Curate,’ said he, ‘have you at last lost that headache, which you told me prevented your marrying us? We are now in time; the bride is here, and I’ve come to know when it will be convenient to you: but this time, I must request you to make haste.’
Don Abbondio did not, indeed, reply that he would not; but he began to hesitate, to bring forward sundry excuses, to throw out sundry insinuations; and why bring himself into notice and publish his name, with that proclamation for his seizure still out against him? and that the thing could be done equally well elsewhere; and this, that, and the other argument.
‘Oh, I see!’ said Renzo; ‘you’ve still a little pain in your head. But listen, listen.’ And he began to describe in what state he had beheld poor Don Rodrigo; and that by that time he must undoubtedly be gone. ‘Let us hope,’ concluded he, ‘that the Lord will have had mercy on him.’
‘This has nothing to do with us,’ said Don Abbondio. ‘Did I say no? Certainly I did not; but I speak . . . I speak for good reasons. Besides, don’t you see, as along as a man has breath in his body . . . Only look at me: I’m somewhat sickly; I too have been nearer the other world than this: and yet I’m here; and . . . if troubles don’t come upon me . . . why . . . I may hope to stay here a little longer yet. Think, too, of some people’s constitutions. But, as I say, this has nothing to do with us.’
After a little further conversation neither more nor less conclusive, Renzo made an elegant bow, returned to his party, made his report of the interview, and concluded by saying: ‘I’ve come away, because I’ve had quite enough of it, and that I mightn’t run the risk of losing my patience, and using bad words. Sometimes he seemed exactly like what he was that other time; the very same hesitation, and the very same arguments: I’m sure, if it had lasted as little longer, he’d have returned to the charge with some words in Latin. I see there must be another delay: it would be better to do what he says at once, and go and get married where we’re about to live.’
‘I’ll tell you what we’ll do,’ said the widow: ‘I should like you to let us women go make the trial, and see whether we can’t find rather a better way to manage him. By this means, too, I shall have the pleasure of knowing this man, whether he’s just such as you describe him. After dinner I should like to go, not to assail him again too quickly. And now, Signor bridegroom, please to accompany us two in a little walk, while Agnese is so busily employed: I will act the part of Lucia’s mother. I want very much to see these mountains, and this lake of which I’ve heard so much, rather more at large, for the little I’ve already seen of them seems to me a charmingly fine view.’
Renzo escorted them first to the cottage of his hospitable friend, where they met with a hearty welcome; and they made him promise that, not that day only, but, if he could, every day, he would join their party at dinner.
Having returned from their ramble, and dined, Renzo suddenly took his departure, without saying where he was going. The women waited a little while to confer together, and concert about the mode of assailing Don Abbondio; and at length they set off to make the attack.
— Here they are, I declare — said he to himself; but he put on a pleasant face, and offered warm congratulations to Lucia, greetings to Agnese, and compliments to the stranger. He made them sit down; then he entered upon the grand subject of the plague, and wanted to hear from Lucia how she and managed to get over it in the midst of so many sorrows: the Lazzaretto afforded an opportunity of bringing her companion into conversation; then, as was but fair, Don Abbondio talked about his share in the storm; then followed great rejoicings with Agnese, that she had come forth unharmed. The conversation was carried to some length: from the very first moment the two elders were on the watch for a favourable opportunity of mentioning the essential point; and at length one of the two, I am not sure which, succeeded in breaking the ice. But what think you? Don Abbondio could not hear with that ear. He took care not to say no, but behold! he again recurred to his usual evasions, circumlocutions, and hoppings from bush to bush. ‘It would be necessary,’ he said, ‘to get rid of that order for Renzo’s arrest. You, Signora, who come from Milan, will know more or less the course these matters take; you would claim protection — some cavalier of weight for with such means every wound may be cured. If then, we may jump to the conclusion, without perplexing ourselves with so many considerations; as these young people, and our good Agnese here, already intend to expatriate themselves, (but I’m talking at random; for one’s country is wherever one is well off), it seems to me that all may be accomplished there, where no proclamation interposes. I don’t myself exactly see that this is the moment for the conclusion of this match, but I wish it well concluded, and undisturbedly. To tell the truth: here, with this edict in force, to proclaim the name of Lorenzo Tramaglino from the altar, I couldn’t do it with a quiet conscience: I too sincerely wish them well; I should be afraid I were doing them an injury. You see, ma’am, and they too.’
Here Agnese and the widow, each in their own way, broke in to combat these arguments: Don Abbondio reproduced them in another shape: it was a perpetual recommencement: when lo, enter Renzo with a determine step, and tidings in his face.
‘The Signor Marquis has arrived,’ said he.
‘What does this mean? Arrived where?’ as Don Abbondio.
‘He has arrived at his palace, which was once Don Rodrigo’s; because this Signor Marquis is the heir by preferment in trust, as they say; so that there’s no longer any doubt. As for myself, I should be very glad of it, if I could hear that that poor man had died in peace. At any rate, I’ve said Paternosters for him hitherto; now I will say the De profundis. And this Signor Marquis is a very fine man.’
‘Certainly,’ said Don Abbondio, ‘I’ve heard him mentioned more than once as a really excellent Signor, a man of the old stamp. But is it positively true? . . . ’
‘Will you believe the sexton?’
‘Because he’s seen him with his own eyes. I’ve only been in the neighbourhood of the castle; and, to say the truth, I went there on purpose, thinking they must know something there. And several people told me about it. Afterwards, I met Ambrogio, who had just been up there, and had seen him, I say, take possession. Will you hear Ambrogio’s testimony? I made him wait outside on purpose.’
‘Yet, let him come in,’ said Don Abbondio. Renzo went and called the sexton, who, after confirming every fact, adding fresh particulars, and dissipating every doubt, again went on his way.
‘Ah! he’s dead, then! he’s really gone!’ exclaimed Don Abbondio. ‘You see, my children, how Providence overtakes some people. You know what a grand thing that is! what a great relief to this poor country! for it was impossible to live with him here. This pestilence has been a great scourge, but it has also been a good broom; it has swept away some, from whom, my children, we could never have freed ourselves. Young, blooming, and in full vigour, we might have said that they who were destined to assist at their funeral, were still writing Latin exercises at school; and in the twinkling of an eye they’ve disappeared, by hundreds at a time. We shall no longer see him going about with those cut-throat looking fellows at his heels, with such an ostentatious and supercilious air, looking as if he had swallowed a ramrod, and staring at people as if they were all placed in the world to be honoured by his condescension. Well, he’s here no longer, and we are. He’ll never again send such messages to honest men. He’s given us all a great deal of disquietude, as you see; for now we may venture to say so.’
‘I’ve forgiven him from my heart,’ said Renzo.
‘And you do right! it’s your duty to do so,’ replied Don Abbondio; but one may thank Heaven, I suppose, who has delivered us from him. But to return to ourselves; I repeat, do what you like best. If you wish me to marry you, here I am: if it will be more convenient to you to go elsewhere, do so. As to the order of arrest, I likewise think that, as there is now no longer any who keeps his eye on you, and wishes to do you harm, it isn’t worth giving yourself any great uneasiness about it, particularly as this gracious decree, on occasion of the birth of the most serene Infanta, is interposed. And then the plague! the plague! Oh, that plague has put to flight many a grand thing! So that, if you like . . . to-day is Thursday . . . on Sunday I’ll ask you in church; because what may have been done in that way before will count for nothing, after so long an interval; and then I shall have the pleasure of marrying you myself.’
‘You know we came about this very thing,’ said Renzo.
‘Very well; I shall attend you: and I must also write immediately and inform his Eminence.’
‘Who is his Eminence?’
‘His Eminence,’ replied Don Abbondio, ‘is our Signor Cardinal the Archbishop, whom may God preserve!’
‘Oh, I beg your pardon,’ answered Agnese; ‘but though I’m a poor ignorant creature, I can assure you he’s not called so; because, the second time we were about to speak to him, just as I’m speaking to you, sir, one of the priests drew me aside, and instructed me how to behave to a gentleman like him; and that he ought to be called, your illustrious Lordship, and my Lord.’
‘And now, if he had to repeat his instructions, he’d tell you that he is to have the title of Eminence: do you understand now? Because the Pope, whom may God likewise preserve, has ordered, ever since the month of June, that Cardinals are to have this title. And why do you think he has come to this resolution? because the word illustrious, which once belonged to them and certain princes, has now become — even you know what, and to how many it is given; and how willingly they swallow it! And what would you have done? Take it away from all? Then we should have complaints, hatred, troubles, and jealousies without end, and after all, they would go on just as before. So the Pope has found a capital remedy. By degrees, however, they will begin to give the title of Eminence to Bishops; then Abbots will claim it; then Provosts; for men are made so: they must always be advancing, always be advancing; then Canons . . . ’
‘And Curates?’ said the widow.
‘No, no,’ pursued Don Abbondio, ‘the Curates must draw the cart: never fear that “your Reverence” will sit ill upon Curates to the end of the world. Farther, I shouldn’t be surprised if cavaliers, who are accustomed to hear themselves called Illustrious, and to be treated like Cardinals, should some day or other want the title of Eminence themselves. And if they want it, you know, depend upon it they’ll find somebody to give it them. And then, whoever happens to be Pope then, will invent something else for the Cardinals. But come, let us return to our own affairs. On Sunday, I’ll ask you in church; and, meanwhile, what do you think I’ve thought of to serve you better? Meanwhile, we’ll ask for a dispensation for the two other times. They must have plenty to do up at Court in giving dispensations, if things go on everywhere as they do here. I’ve already . . . one . . . two . . . three . . . for Sunday, without counting yourselves; and some others may occur yet. And then you’ll see afterwards; the fire has caught, and there’ll not be left one person single. Perpetua surely made a mistake to die now; for this was the time that even she would have found a purchaser. And I fancy, Signora, it will be the same at Milan.’
‘So it is, indeed; you may imagine it, when, in my parish only, last Sunday, there were fifty weddings.’
‘I said so; the world won’t come to an end yet. And you, Signora, has no bumble fly begun to hover about you?’
‘No, no; I don’t think about such things, nor do I wish to.’
‘Oh yes, yes; for you will be the only single one. Even Agnese, you see — even Agnese . . . ’
‘Poh! you are inclined to be merry!’ said Agnese.
‘I am, indeed; and I think, at length, it’s time. We’ve passed through some rough days, haven’t we, my young ones? Some rough ones we’ve passed indeed; and the few days we have yet to live, we may hope will be a little less melancholy. But, happy you, who, if no misfortunes happen, have still a little time left to talk over bygone sorrows! I, poor old man . . . villains may die; one may recover the of plague, but there is no help for old age; and, as they say, senectus ipsa est morbus.’
‘Now, then,’ said Renzo, ‘you may talk Latin as long as you like, it makes no difference to me.’
‘You’re at it again with that Latin, are you? Well, well, I’ll settle it with you: when you come before me with this little creature here, just to hear you pronounce certain little words in Latin, I’ll say to you — You don’t like Latin; good-bye. Shall I?’
‘Ah! but I know what I mean,’ replied Renzo; ‘it isn’t at all that Latin there that frightens me — that is honest sacred Latin, like that in the mass. And, besides, it is necessary there that you should read what is in the book. I’m talking of that knavish Latin, out of church, that comes upon one treacherously, in the very pith of a conversation. For example, now that we are here, and all is over, that Latin you went on pouring forth, just here in this corner, to give me to understand that you couldn’t, and that other things were wanting, and I know not what besides; please now to translate it a little for me.’
‘Hold your tongue, you wicked fellow, hold your tongue; don’t stir up these things; for if we were now to make up our accounts, I don’t know which would be creditor. I’ve forgiven all; let us talk about it no longer; but you certainly played me some tricks. I don’t wonder at you, because you’re a downright young scoundrel; but fancy this creature, as quiet as a mouse, this little saint, whom one would have thought it a sin to suspect and guard against. But after all, I know who set her up to it, I know, I know.’ So saying, he pointed and waved towards Agnese the finger he had at first directed to Lucia; and it is impossible to describe the good-temper and pleasantry with which he made these reproaches. The tidings he had just heard had given him a freedom and a talkativeness to which he had long been a stranger; and we should be still far enough from a conclusion, if we were to relate all the rest of this conversation, which he continued to prolong, more than once detaining the party when on the point of starting, and afterwards stopping them again for a little while at the very street door, each time to make some jocose speech.
The day following, he received a visit as unexpected as it was gratifying, from the Signor Marquis we have mentioned; a person beyond the prime of manhood, whose countenance was, as it were, a seal to what report had said of him; open, benevolent, placid, humble, dignified, and with something that indicated a resigned sadness.
‘I come,’ said he, ‘to bring you the compliments of the Cardinal Archbishop.’
‘Ah, what condescension of you both!’
‘When I was about to take leave of that incomparable man, who is good enough to honour me with his friendship, he mentioned to me two young betrothed persons of this parish, who have had to suffer on account of the unfortunate Don Rodrigo. His Lordship wishes to have some tidings of them. Are they living? and are their affairs settled?’
‘Everything is settled. Indeed, I was intending to write about them to his Eminence; but now that I have the honour . . . ’
‘Are they here?’
‘They are; and they will be man and wife as soon as possible.’
‘And I request you to be good enough to tell me if I can be of any service to them, and also to instruct me in the best way of being so. During this calamity, I have lost the only two sons I had, and their mother, and have received three considerable inheritances. I had a superfluity even before; so that you see it is really rendering me a service to give me an opportunity of employing some of my wealth, and particularly such an opportunity as this.’
‘May Heaven bless you! Why are not all . . . Enough; I thank you most heartily, in the name of these my children. And since your illustrious Lordship gives me so much encouragement, it is true, my Lord, that I have an expedient to suggest which perhaps may not displease your Lordship. Allow me to tell you, then, that these worthy people are resolved to go and settle themselves elsewhere, and to sell what little property they have here: the young man a vineyard of about nine or ten perches, if I’m not mistaken, but neglected and completely overgrown. Besides, he also has a cottage, and his bride another, now both, you will see, the abode of rats. A nobleman like your Lordship cannot know how the poor fare, when they are reduced to the necessity of disposing of their goods. It always ends by falling into the hands of some knave, who, if occasion offers, will make love to the place for some time, and as soon as he finds that its owner wants to sell it, draws back, and pretends not to wish for it so that he is obliged to run after him, and give it him for a piece of bread; particularly, too, in such circumstances as these. My Lord Marquis will already have seen the drift of my remarks. The best charity your most illustrious Lordship can afford to these people is, to relieve them from this difficulty by purchasing their little property. To say the truth, I have an eye to my own interest, my own advantage, in making this suggestion, the acquisition in my parish of a fellow-ruler like my Lord Marquis; but your Lordship will decide according to your own judgment; I have only spoken from obedience.’
The Marquis highly commended the suggestion, returned thanks for it, begged Don Abbondio to be the judge of the price, and to charge it exorbitantly, and completed the Curate’s amazement by proposing to go together immediately to the bride’s house, where they should probably also find the bridegroom.
By the way, Don Abbondio, in high glee, as may be imagined, thought of and mentioned another proposal. ‘Since your illustrious Lordship is so inclined to benefit these poor people, there is another service which you might render them. The young man has an order of arrest out against him, a kind of sentence of outlawry, for some trifling fault he committed in Milan two years ago, on that day of the great insurrection, in which he chanced to be implicated, without any malicious intentions, indeed quite ignorantly, like a mouse caught in a trap. Nothing serious, I assure you; mere boyish tricks, mischievous pranks; indeed, he is quite incapable of committing an actual crime. I may say so, for I baptized him, and have seen him grow up under my eyes. Besides, if your Lordship would take any pleasure in it, as gentlemen sometimes do in hearing these poor people’s rude language, you can make him relate the account himself, and you will hear. At present, as it refers to old matters, no one gives him any molestation; and, as I have said, he thinks of leaving the state; but in the course of time, or in case of returning here, or going elsewhere, some time or other, you will agree with me that it is always better to find oneself clear. My Lord Marquis has influence in Milan, as is just, both as a noble cavalier, and as the great man he really is . . . No, no, allow me to say it, for truth will have its way. A recommendation, a word from a person like yourself, is more than is necessary to obtain a ready acquittal.’
‘Are there not heavy charges against this young man?’
‘Pshaw, pshaw! I would not believe them. They made a great stir about it at the moment; but I don’t think there’s anything now beyond the mere formalities.’
‘If so, the thing will be easy; and I willingly take it upon me.’
‘And yet you will not let it be said that you are a great man. I say it, and I will say it; in spite of your Lordship, I will say it. And even if I were to be silent, it would be to no purpose, because everybody says so: and vox populi, vox Dei.’
They found Renzo and the three women together, as they expected. How these felt we leave the reader to imagine; but for my part, I think that the very rough and bare walls, and the windows, and the tables, and the kitchen utensils, must have marvelled at receiving among them so extraordinary a guest. He encouraged the conversation, by talking of the Cardinal and their other matters with unreserved cordiality, and at the same time with great delicacy. By and by he came to the proposal. Don Abbondio, being requested by him to name the price, came forward; and, after a few gestures and apologies — that it wasn’t in his line, and that he could only guess at random, and that he spoke out of obedience, and that he left it to him, mentioned what he thought a most extravagant sum. The purchaser said that, for his part, he was extremely well satisfied, and, as if he had misunderstood, repeated double the amount. He would not hear of rectifying the mistake, and cut short and concluded all further conversation, by inviting the party to dinner at his palace the day after the wedding, when the deeds should be properly drawn out.
— Ah! — said Don Abbondio afterwards to himself, when he had returned home:— if the plague did things in this way always and everywhere, it would really be a sin to speak ill of it: we might almost wish for one every generation; and be content that people should be in league to produce a malady. —
The dispensation arrived, the acquittal arrived, that blessed day arrived: the bride and bridegroom went in triumphal security to that very church, where, with Don Abbondio’s own mouth, they were declared man and wife. Another, and far more singular triumph, was the going next day to the palace; and I leave my readers to conjecture the thoughts which must have passed through their minds on ascending that acclivity, on entering that doorway; and the observations that each must have made, according to his or her natural disposition. I will only mention that, in the midst of their rejoicing, one or other more than once made the remark, that poor Father Cristoforo was still wanting to complete their happiness. ‘Yet for himself,’ added they, ‘he is assuredly better off than we are.’
The nobleman received them with great kindness, conducted them into a fine large servants’-hall, and seated the bride and bridegroom at table with Agnese and their Milanese friend; and before withdrawing to dine elsewhere with Don Abbondio, wished to assist a little at this first banquet, and even helped to wait upon them. I hope it will enter into no one’s head to say that it would have been a more simple plan to have made at once but one table. I have described him as an excellent man, but not as an original, as it would now-a-days be called; I have said that he was humble, but not that he was a prodigy of humility. He possessed enough of this virtue to put himself beneath these good people, but not on an equality with them.
After the two dinners, the contract was drawn out by the hands of a lawyer, not, however, Azzecca-Garbugli. He, I mean his outward man, was, and still is, at Canterelli. And for those who are unacquainted with that neighbourhood, I suppose some explanation of this information is here necessary.
A little higher up than Lecco, perhaps half a mile or so, and almost on the confines of another country, named Castello, is a place called Canterelli, where two ways cross; and at one corner of the square space is seen an eminence, like an artificial hillock, with a cross on the summit. This is nothing else but a heap of the bodies of those who died in this contagion. Tradition, it is true, simply says, died of the contagion: but it must be this one, and none other, as it was the last and most destructive of which any memory remains. And we know that unassisted traditions always say too little by themselves.
They felt no inconvenience on their return, except that Renzo was rather incommoded by the weight of the money he carried away with him. But, as the reader knows, he had had far greater troubles in his life than this. I say nothing of the disquiet of his mind, which was by no means trifling, in deciding upon the best means of employing it. To have seen the different projects that passed through that mind — the fancies — the debates; to have heard the pros and cons for agriculture or business, it was as if two academies of the last century had there met together. And the affair was to Renzo far more overwhelming and perplexing, because, since he was but a solitary individual, it could not be said to him — Why need you choose at all? both one and the other, each in its own turn; for in substance they are the same; and, like one’s legs, they are two things which go better together than one alone.
Nothing was now thought of, but packing up and setting off on their journey; the Tramaglino family to their new country, and the widow to Milan. The tears, the thanks, the promises of going to see each other, were many. Not less tender, even to tears, was the separation of Renzo and the family from his hospitable friend: nor let it be thought that matters went on coldly even with Don Abbondio. The three poor creatures had always preserved a certain respectful attachment to their curate; and he, in the bottom of his heart, had always wished them well. Such happy circumstances as these entangle the affections.
Should any one ask if there was no grief felt in thus tearing themselves from their native country — from their beloved mountains; it may be answered that there was: for sorrow, I venture to say, is mingled, more or less, with everything. We must, however, believe that it was not very profound, since they might have spared themselves from it by remaining at home, now that the two great obstacles, Don Rodrigo and the order for Renzo’s apprehension, were both taken away. But all three had been for some time accustomed to look upon the country to which they were going as their own. Renzo had recommended it to the women, by telling them of the facilities which it afforded to artificers, and a hundred things about the fine way in which they could live there. Besides, they had all experienced some very bitter moments in that home upon which they were now turning their backs; and mournful recollections always end in spoiling to the mind the places which recall them. And if these should be its native home, there is, perhaps, in such recollections, something still more keen and poignant. Even an infant, says our manuscript, reclines willingly on his nurse’s bosom, and seeks with confidence and avidity the breast which has hitherto sweetly nourished him; but if, in order to wean him, she tinctures it with wormwood, the babe withdraws the lip, then returns to try it once more, but at length, after all, refuses it — weeping, indeed, but still refusing it.
What, however, will the reader now say, on hearing that they had scarcely arrived, and settled themselves in their adopted country, before Renzo found there annoyances all prepared for him! Do you pity him? but so little serves to disturb a state of happiness! This is a short sketch of the matter.
The talk that had been there made about Lucia, for some time before her arrival; the knowledge that Renzo had suffered so much for her sake, and had always been constant and faithful; perhaps a word or two from some friend who was partial to him and all belonging to him — had created a kind of curiosity to see the young girl, and a kind of expectation of seeing her very beautiful. Now we know what expectation is: imaginative, credulous, confident; afterwards, when the trial comes, difficult to satisfy, disdainful; never finding what she had counted upon, because, in fact, she knew not her own mind; and pitilessly exacting severe payment for the loveliness so unmeaningly lavished on her object.
When this Lucia appeared, many who had perhaps thought that she must certainly have golden locks, and cheeks blushing like the rose, and a pair of eyes one more beautiful than the other, and what not besides, began to shrug their shoulders, turn up their noses, and say, ‘Is this she? After such a time, after so much talk, one expected something better! What is she, after all? A peasant, like hundreds more. Why, there are plenty everywhere as good as she is, and far better too.’ Then, descending to particulars, one remarks one defect, and another, another; nor were there wanting some who considered her perfectly ugly.
As, however, no one thought of telling Renzo these things to his face, so far there was no great harm done. They who really did harm, they who widened the breach, were some persons who reported them to him: and Renzo — what else could be expected? — took them very much to heart. He began to muse upon them, and to make them matters of discussion, both with those who talked to him on the subject, and more at length in his own mind. — What does it matter to you? And who told you to expect anything? did I ever talk to you about her? did I ever tell you she was beautiful? And when you asked me if she was, did I ever say anything in answer, but that she was a good girl? She’s a peasant! Did I ever tell you that I would bring you here a princess? She displeases you! Don’t look at her, then. You’ve some beautiful women: look at them. —
Only look how a trifle may sometimes suffice to decide a man’s state for his whole life. Had Renzo been obliged to spend his in that neighbourhood, agreeably to his first intentions, he would have got on but very badly. From being himself displeased, he had now become displeasing. He was on bad terms with everybody, because everybody might be one of Lucia’s criticizers. Not that he actually offended against civility; but we know how many sly things may be done without transgressing the rules of common politeness: quite sufficient to give vent to one’s spleen. There was something sardonic in his whole behaviour; he, too, found something to criticize in everything: if only there were two successive days of bad weather, he would immediately say, ‘Ay indeed, in this country!’ In short, I may say, he was already only borne with by a certain number of persons, even by those who had at first wished him well; and in course of time, from one thing to another, he would have gone on till he had found himself, so to say, in a state of hostility with almost the whole population, without being able, probably, himself, to assign the primary cause, or ascertain the root which such an evil had sprung.
But it might be said that the plague had undertaken to amend all Renzo’s errors. That scourge had carried off the owner of another silk-mill, situated almost at the gates of Bergamo; and the heir, a dissolute young fellow, finding nothing in this edifice that could afford him any diversion, proposed, or rather was anxious, to dispose of it, even at half its value; but he wanted the money down upon the spot, that he might instantly expend it with unproductive prodigality. The matter having come to Bortolo’s ears, he immediately went to see it: tried to treat about it: a more advantageous bargain could not have been hoped for; but that condition of ready money spoiled all, because his whole property, slowly made up out of his savings, was still far from reaching the required sum. Leaving the question, therefore, still open, he returned in haste, communicated the affair to his cousin, and proposed to take it in partnership. So capital an agreement cut short all Renzo’s economical dubitations, so that he quickly decided upon business, and complied with the proposal. They went together, and the bargain was concluded. When, then, the new owners came to live upon their own possessions, Lucia, who was here expected by no one, not only did not go thither subjected to criticisms, but, we may say, was not displeasing to anybody; and Renzo found out that it had been said by more than one, ‘Have you seen that pretty she-blockhead who has come hither?’ The substantive was allowed to pass in the epithet.
And even from the annoyance he had experienced in the other country, he derived some useful instruction. Before that time he had been rather inconsiderate in criticizing other people’s wives, and all belonging to them. Now he understood that words make one impression in the mouth, and another in the ear; and he accustomed himself rather more to listen within to his own before uttering them.
We must not, however, suppose that he had no little vexations even here. Man, (says our anonymous author — and we already know, by experience, that he had rather a strange pleasure in drawing similes — but bear with it this once, for it is likely to be the last time), man, so long as he is in this world, is like a sick person lying upon a bed more or less uncomfortable, who sees around him other beds nicely made to outward appearance, smooth, and level, and fancies that they must be most comfortable resting-places. He succeeds in making an exchange; but scarcely is he placed in another, before he begins, as he presses it down, to feel in one place a sharp point pricking him, in another a hard lump: in short, we come to almost the same story over again. And for this reason, adds he, we ought to aim rather at doing well, than being well; and thus we should come, in the end, even to be better. This sketch, although somewhat parabolic, and in the style of the seventeenth century, is in substance, true. However, (continues he again), our good friends had no longer any sorrows and troubles of similar kind and severity to those we have related; their life was, from this time forward, one of the calmest, happiest, and most enviable of lives; so that, were I obliged to give an account of it, it would tire the reader to death. Business went on capitally. At the beginning there was a little difficulty from the scarcity of workmen, and from the ill-conduct and pretensions of the few that still remained. Orders were published, which limited the price of labour: in spite of this help, things rallied again; because, after all, how could it be otherwise? Another rather more judicious order arrived from Venice — exemption, for ten years, from all charges, civil and personal, for foreigners who would come to reside in the State. To our friends this was another advantage.
Before the first year of their marriage was completed a beautiful little creature came to light; and, as if it had been made on purpose to give Renzo an early opportunity of fulfilling that magnanimous promise of his, it was a little girl. It may be believed that it was named Maria. Afterwards, in the course of time, came I know not how many others, of both sexes; and Agnese was busy enough in carrying them about, one after the other, calling them little rogues, and imprinting upon their faces hearty kisses, which left a white mark for ever so long afterwards. They were all very well inclined; and Renzo would have them all learn to read and write, saying, that since this amusement was in fashion, they ought at least to take advantage of it.
The finest thing was to hear him relate his adventures: and he always finished by enumerating the great things he had learnt from them, for the better government of himself in future. ‘I’ve learnt,’ he would say, ‘not to meddle in disturbances: I’ve learnt not to make speeches in the street; I’ve learnt not to drink more than I want; I’ve learnt not to hold the knocker of a door in my hand, when crazy-headed people are about: and I’ve learnt not to buckle a little bell to my foot, before thinking of the consequences.’ And a hundred other things.
Lucia did not find fault with the doctrine itself, but she was not satisfied with it; it seemed to her, in a confused way, that something was still wanting to it. By dint of hearing the same song over and over again, and meditating on it every time. ‘And I,’ said she one day to her moralizer, ‘what ought I to have learnt? I did not go to look for troubles: it is they that came to look for me. Though you wouldn’t say,’ added she, smiling sweetly, ‘that my error was in wishing you well, and promising myself to you.’
Renzo at first was quite puzzled. After a long discussion and inquiry together, they concluded that troubles certainly often arise from occasion afforded by ourselves; but that the most cautious and blameless conduct cannot secure us from them; and that, when they come, whether by our own fault or not, confidence in God alleviates them, and makes them conducive to a better life. This conclusion though come to by poor people, seemed to us so right and just, that we have resolved to put it here, as the moral of our whole story.
If this same story has given the reader any pleasure, he must thank the anonymous author, and, in some measure, his reviser, for the gratification. But if, instead, we have only succeeded in wearying him, he may rest assured that we did not do so on purpose.
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University of Adelaide
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Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11