FATHER CRISTOFORO arrived with the air of a good general, who having lost an important battle, without any fault on his part — distressed, but not discouraged; thoughtful, but not confounded; retreating, but not put to flight; turns his steps where necessity calls for his presence, fortifying threatened quarters, regulating his troops, and giving new orders.
‘Peace be with you!’ said he, as he entered. ‘There is nothing to hope from man; you have therefore more need to trust in God, and I have already had a pledge of His protection.’
Although none of the party had anticipated much from Father Cristoforo’s attempt, (since, to see a powerful nobleman desist from an act of oppression, unless he were overcome by a superior power, from regard to the entreaties of a disarmed suppliant, was rather an unheard-of, than a rare, occurrence,) yet the melancholy certainty came as a blow upon them all. Their heads involuntarily drooped, but anger quickly prevailed over depression in Renzo’s mind. The announcement found him already wounded and irritated by a succession of painful surprises, fallacious attempts, and disappointed hopes, and, above all, exasperated at this moment by the repulses of Lucia.
‘I should like to know,’ said he, gnashing his teeth and raising his voice as he had never before done in the presence of Father Cristoforo; ‘I should like to know what reasons this dog gives for asserting . . . for asserting that my bride should not be my bride?’
‘Poor Renzo!’ replied the friar, with a look and accent of pity that kindly recommended peaceableness; ‘if the powerful who do such deeds of injustice, were always obliged to give their reasons, things would not be as they are.’
‘Did the dog then say that he would not, because he would not?’
‘He didn’t even say that, my poor fellow! It would be something, if so commit iniquity, they were obliged openly to confess it.’
‘But he must have told you something; what did this infernal firebrand say?’
‘I heard his words, but I cannot repeat them to you. The words of a powerful wicked man are violent, but contradictory. He can be angry that you are suspicious of him, and at the same time make you feel that your suspicions are well-founded; he can insult you, and call himself offended; ridicule you, and ask your opinion; threaten, and complain; be insolent, and irreprehensible. Ask no more. He neither mentioned the name of this innocent, nor your own; he did not even appear to know you, nor did he say he designed anything; but . . . but I understood too well that he is immovable. However, confidence in God, you poor creatures!’ turning to Agnese and Lucia, ‘don’t give up in despair! And you, Renzo . . . oh! believe me, I can put myself in your place; I can feel what passes in your heart. But, patience; it is a poor word, a bitter one to those who have no faith; but you — will you not allow God one day, two days, or whatever time He may please to take to clear you and give you justice? The time is His; and He has promised us much. Leave Him to work, Renzo; and . . . believe me, I already have a clue that may lead to something for your help. I cannot tell you more at present. To-morrow I shall not come here; I must be at the convent all day, for you. You, Renzo, try to come to me; or if, by any unforeseen accident, you cannot, send a trustworthy man, or a lad of discretion, by whom I may let you know what may happen. It grows dark; I shall have to make haste to reach the convent. Faith, courage, and good night.’
Having said this, he hastily left them, and made his way rapidly along a crooked, stony by-path, that he might not be late at the convent, and run the risk of a severe reprimand, or, what would have grieved him more, the infliction of a penance, which might have disabled him on the morrow from any undertaking which the service of his protégés might require.
‘Did you hear what he said about . . . I don’t know what . . . about a clue that he held in hand to help us?’ said Lucia. ‘It is best to trust in him; he is a man who, if he promises ten . . . ’
‘I know there is not his like,’ interrupted Agnese; ‘but he ought to have spoken more clearly, or, at least, taken me aside and told me what it was.’
‘Idle prating! I’ll put an end to it, that I will!’ interrupted Renzo, in his turn, as he paced furiously up and down the room, with a look and tone that left no doubt as to the meaning of his words.
‘Oh Renzo!’ exclaimed Lucia.
‘What do you mean?’ cried Agnese.
‘Why need I tell you? I’ll put an end to it! Though he has a hundred, a thousand devils in his soul, he’s flesh and blood, after all.’
‘No, no! for Heaven’s sake! . . . ’ began Lucia, but tears choked her utterance.
‘This is not proper language, even in jest,’ replied Agnese.
‘In jest!’ cried Renzo, planting himself directly before Agnese, as she sat, and fixing on her two fearful-looking eyes. ‘In jest! you shall see whether I am in jest or not.’
‘Ah, Renzo!’ said Lucia, scarcely able to articulate for sobs, I never saw you so before.’
‘Don’t talk so, for Heaven’s sake!’ replied Agnese, hastily, lowering her voice. ‘Don’t you remember how many arms he has at his bidding? And then, there is always justice to be had against the poor . . . God defend them!’
‘I will get justice for myself, I will. It is time now. The thing isn’t easy, I know. The ruffian is well defended, dog that he is! I know how it is: but never mind. Patience and resolution . . . and the time will soon arrive. Yes, I will get justice. I’ll free the country, and people will bless me! And then in four bounds . . . ’
The horror of Lucia at these explicit declarations repressed her sobs, and inspired her with courage to speak. Raising from her hands her face bathed in tears, she addressed Renzo in a mournful, but resolute tone: ‘You no longer care, then, about having me for your wife? I promised myself to a youth who had the fear of God: but a man who has . . . were he safe from all justice and vengeance, were he the son of a king . . . ’
‘Very well!’ cried Renzo, his face more than ever convulsed with fury; ‘I won’t have you, then; but he sha’n’t either. I will be here without you, and he in the abode of . . . ’
‘Ah, no, for pity’s sake, don’t say so; don’t look so furious! No, no, I cannot bear to see you thus,’ exclaimed Lucia, weeping, and joining her hands in an attitude of earnest supplication; while Agnese repeatedly called him by name, and seized hold of his shoulders, his arms, and his hands, to pacify him. He stood immovable, thoughtful, almost overcome at the sight of Lucia’s imploring countenance; then, suddenly gazed at her sternly, drew back, stretched out his arm, and pointing with his finger towards her, burst forth: ‘Her! yes, he wants her! He must die!’
‘And I, what harm have I done you, that you should kill me?’ said Lucia, throwing herself on her knees.
‘You!’ said he, with a voice expressive of anger, though of a far different nature; ‘you! what good do you wish me? What proof have you given me? Haven’t I begged, and begged, and begged? . . . Have I been able to obtain . . . ’
‘Yes, yes,’ replied she, precipitately; ‘I will go to the Curate’s to-morrow; I will go now, if you like. Only be yourself again, I will go.’
‘You promise me?’ said Renzo, his voice and expression rendered in an instant more human.
‘I promise you.’
‘You have promised me?’
‘Thanks be to Thee, O Lord!’ exclaimed Agnese, doubly satisfied.
Did Renzo, in the midst of his anger, discern the advantage that might be taken of Lucia’s terror? And did he not practise a little artifice to increase it, that he might use this advantage? Our author protests he knows nothing about the matter; nor, I think, did even Renzo himself know very well. At any rate, he was undoubtedly enraged beyond measure with Don Rodrigo, and ardently desired Lucia’s consent; and when two powerful passions struggle together in a man’s mind, no one, not even the most patient, can always clearly discern one voice from the other, or say, with certainty, which of them predominates.
‘I have promised you,’ replied Lucia, with an accent of timid and affectionate reproof; ‘but you have also promised not to make any disturbance — to submit yourself to Father . . . ’
‘Come, now, for whose sake did I get into a passion? Do you want to draw back? And will you oblige me to do a rash thing?’
‘No, no,’ said Lucia, ready to relapse into her former fears. ‘I have promised, and I will not draw back. But see how you have made me promise; God forbid that . . . ’
‘Why will you prophesy evil, Lucia? God knows we do not wrong to anybody.’
‘Promise me, at least, this shall be the last time.’
‘I promise you, upon my word.’
‘But this once you will stand by him,’ said Agnese.
Here the author confesses his ignorance of another matter, and that is, whether Lucia was absolutely, and on every account, dissatisfied at being obliged to give her consent. We follow his example, and leave the point undecided.
Renzo would willingly have prolonged the conversation, and allotted their several parts in the proceedings of the morrow; but it was already dark, and the women wished him good night, as they thought it scarcely decorous that he should remain any longer with them at so late an hour.
The night was passed by all three as well as could be expected, considering that it followed a day of such excitement and misfortune, and preceded one fixed upon for an important undertaking of doubtful issue. Renzo made his appearance early next morning, and concerted with the women, or rather with Agnese, the grand operations of the evening, alternately suggesting and removing difficulties, foreseeing obstacles, and both beginning, by turns, to describe the scene as if they were relating a past event. Lucia listened; and, without approving in words what she could not agree to in her heart, promised to do as well as she was able.
‘Are you going down to the convent to see Father Cristoforo, as he bid you, last night?’ said Agnese to Renzo.
‘Not I,’ replied he; ‘you know what discerning eyes the Father has; he will read in my looks, as if it were written in a book, that there’s something in the wind; and if he begins to question me, I can’t get off it easily. And, besides, I must stay here to arrange matters. It will be better for you to send somebody.’
‘I will send Menico.’
‘Very well,’ replied Renzo; and he set off to arrange matters, as he had said.
Agnese went to a neighbouring cottage to ask for Menico, a sprightly and very sensible lad for his age, who, through the medium of cousins and sisters-in-law, came to be a sort of nephew to the dame. She asked his parents for him, as for a loan, and begged she might keep him the whole day, ‘for a particular service,’ said she. Having obtained permission, she led him to her kitchen, gave him his breakfast, and bid him go to Pescarenico, and present himself to Father Cristoforo, who would send him back with a message at the right time. ‘Father Cristoforo, that fine old man, you know, with a white beard, who is called the Saint . . . ’
‘I understand,’ said Menico; ‘he who speaks so kindly to the children, and sometimes gives them pictures.’
‘Just so, Menico. And if he bids you wait some time at the convent, don’t wander away; and be sure you don’t go with other boys to the lake to throw stones into the water, nor to watch them fish, nor to play with the nets hung up to dry, nor . . . ’
‘Poh, aunt; I am no longer a child.’
‘Well, be prudent; and when you come back with the answer . . . look; these two fine new parpagliole are for you.’
‘Give me them now, that . . . ’
‘No, no, you will play with them. Go, and behave well, that you may have some more.’
In the course of this long morning many strange things happened which roused not a little suspicion in the already-disturbed minds of Agnese and Lucia. A beggar, neither thin nor ragged, as they generally were, and of somewhat dark and sinister aspect, came and asked alms, in God’s name, at the same time looking narrowly around. A piece of bread was given him, which he received, and placed in his basket, with ill-dissembled indifference. He then loitered, and made many inquiries, with a mixed air of impudence and hesitation, to which Agnese endeavoured to make replies exactly contrary to the truth. When about to depart, he pretended to mistake the door, and went to that at the foot of the stairs, glancing hastily upwards, as well as he could. On their calling him back —‘Hey! hey! where are you going, my good man? — this way!’ he turned and went out by the door that was pointed out to him, excusing himself with a submission, and an affected humility, that ill accorded with the fierce and hard features of his face. After his departure, they continued to mark, from time to time, other suspicious and strange figures. It was not easy to discern what kind of men they were; yet still they could not believe them to be the unpretend-ing passers-by they wished to appear. One would enter under pretence of asking the way; others, arriving at the door, slackened their pace, and peeped through the little yard into the room, as if wishing to see without exciting suspicion. At last, towards noon, these annoying and alarming appearances ceased. Agnese got up occasionally, and crossed the little yard to the street-door, to reconnoitre; and after looking anxiously around on either side, returned with the intelligence, ‘There’s nobody;’ words which she uttered with pleasure, and Lucia heard with satisfaction, neither one nor the other knowing exactly the reason why. But an undefined disquietude haunted their steps, and, with Lucia especially, in some degree cooled the courage they had summoned up for the proceedings of the evening.
The reader, however, must be told something more definite about these mysterious wanderers; and to relate it in order, we must turn back a step or two, and find Don Rodrigo, whom we left yesterday after dinner by himself, in one of the rooms of his palace, after the departure of Father Cristoforo.
Don Rodrigo, as we have said, paced backwards and forwards with long strides in this spacious apartment, surrounded on all sides by the family portraits of many generations. When he reached the wall and turned round, his eye rested upon the figure of one of his warlike ancestors, the terror of his enemies, and of his own soldiers; who, with a stern grim countenance, his short hair standing erect from his forehead, his large sharp whiskers covering his cheeks, and his hooked chin, stood like a warrior, clothed in a complete suit of steel armour, with his right hand pressing his side, and the left grasping the hilt of his sword. Don Rodrigo gazed upon it, and when he arrived beneath it, and turned back, beheld before him another of his forefathers, a magistrate, and the terror of litigants, seated in a high chair, covered with crimson velvet, enveloped in an ample black robe, so that he was entirely black, excepting for a white collar, with two large bands, and a lining of sable, turned wrong side outwards, (this was the distinctive mark of senators, but only worn in winter; for which reason the picture of a senator in summer-clothing is never met with,) squalid, and frowning; he held in his hand a memorial, and seemed to be saving, ‘We shall see.’ On the one hand was a matron, the terror of her maids; on the other, an abbot, the terror of his monks; in short, they were all persons who had been objects of terror while alive, and who now inspired dread by their likenesses. In the presence of such remembrancers, Don Rodrigo became enraged and ashamed, as he reflected that a friar had dared to come to him with the parable of Nathan; and his mind could find no peace. He would form a plan of revenge, and then abandon it; seek how, at the same time, to satisfy his passion, and what he called his honour; and sometimes, hearing the beginning of the prophecy resounding in his ears, he would involuntarily shudder, and be almost inclined to give up the idea of the two satisfactions. At last, for the sake of doing something, he called a servant, and desired him to make an apology for him to the company, and to say that he was detained by urgent business. The servant returned with the intelligence that the gentlemen, having left their compliments, had taken their leave.
‘And Count Attilio?’ asked Don Rodrigo, still pacing the room.
‘He left with the gentlemen, illustrious Signor.’
‘Very well; six followers to accompany me — quickly! my sword, cloak and hat, immediately!’
The servant replied by a bow and withdrew, returning shortly with a rich sword, which his master buckled on, a cloak which he threw over his shoulders, and a hat, ornamented with lofty plumes, which he placed on his head, and fastened with a haughty air. He then moved forward, and found the six bravoes at the door, completely armed, who, making way for him, with a low bow, followed as his train. More surly, more haughty, and more supercilious than usual, he left his palace, and took the way towards Lecco, amidst the salutations and profound bows of the peasants he happened to meet; and the ill-mannered wight who would have ventured to pass without taking off his hat, might consider he had purchased the exemption at a cheap rate, had the bravoes in the train been contented merely to enforce respect by a blow on the head. To these salutations Don Rodrigo made no acknowledgment; but to men of higher rank, though still indisputably inferior to his own, he replied with constrained courtesy. He did not chance this time, but when he did happen to meet with the Spanish Signor, the Gov-ernor of the Castle, the salutations were equally profound on both sides; it was like the meeting of two potentates, who have nothing to share between them, yet, for convenience sake, pay respect to each other’s rank. To pass away the time, and, by the sight of far different faces and behaviour, to banish the image of the friar, which continually haunted his mind, Don Rodrigo entered a house where a large party was assembled, and where he was received with that officious and respectful cordiality reserved for those who are greatly courted, and greatly feared. Late at night he returned to his own palace, and found that Count Attilio had just arrived; and they sat down to supper together, Don Rodrigo buried in thought, and very silent.
‘Cousin, when will you pay your wager?’ asked Count Attilio, in a malicious, and at the same time rallying, tone, as soon as the table was cleared, and the servants had departed.
‘St. Martin has not yet passed.’
‘Well, remember you will have to pay it soon; for all the saints in the calendar will pass before . . . ’
‘This has to be seen yet.’
‘Cousin, you want to play the politician; but I understand all; and I am so certain of having won my wager, that I am ready to lay another.’
‘That the Father . . . the Father . . . I mean, in short, that this friar has converted you.’
‘It is a mere fancy of your own.’
‘Converted, cousin; converted, I say. I, for my part, am delighted at it. What a fine sight it will be to see you quite penitent, with downcast eyes! And what triumph for this Father! How proudly he must have returned to the convent! You are not such fish as they catch every day, nor in every net. You may be sure they will bring you forward as an example; and when they go on a mission to some little distance, they will talk of your acts. I can fancy I hear them.’ And, speaking through his nose, accompanying the words with caricatured gestures, he continued, in a sermon-like tone, “In a certain part of the world, which from motives of high respect we forbear to name, there lived, my dear hearers, and there still lives, a dissolute gentleman, the friend of women rather than of good men, who, accustomed to make no distinctions, had set his eyes upon . . . ”
‘That will do . . . enough,’ interrupted Don Rodrigo, half amused and half annoyed: ‘If you wish to repeat the wager, I am ready, too.’
‘Indeed! perhaps, then, you have converted the Father?’
‘Don’t talk to me about him: and as to the bet, Saint Martin will decide.’ The curiosity of the Count was aroused; he put numberless questions, but Don Rodrigo contrived to evade them all, referring everything to the day of decision, and unwilling to communicate designs which were neither begun nor absolutely determined upon.
Next morning, Don Rodrigo was himself again. The slight compunction that ‘a day will come’ had awakened in his mind, had vanished with the dreams of the night; and nothing remained but a feeling of deep indignation, rendered more vivid by remorse for his passing weakness. The remembrance of his late almost-triumphant walk, of the profound salutations, and the receptions he had met with, together with the rallying of his cousin, had contributed not a little to renew his former spirit. Hardly risen, he sent for Griso. — Something important — thought the servant to whom the order was given; for the man who bore this assumed name was no less a personage than the head of the bravoes, to whom the boldest and most dangerous enterprises were confided, who was the most trusted by his master, and was devoted to him, at all risks, by gratitude and interest. Guilty of murder, he had sought the protection of Don Rodrigo, to escape the pursuit of justice; and he, by taking him into his service, had sheltered him from the reach of persecution. Here, by engaging in every crime that was required of him, he was secured from the punishment of the first fault. To Don Rodrigo the acquisition had been of no small importance; for this Griso, besides being undoubtedly the most courageous of the household, was also a specimen of what his master had been able to attempt with impunity against the laws; so that Don Rodrigo’s power was aggrandized both in reality and in common opinion.
‘Griso!’ said Don Rodrigo, ‘in this emergency it will be seen what you are worth. Before to-morrow, Lucia must be in this place.’
‘It shall never be said that Griso shrank from the command of his noble protector.’
‘Take as many men as you want, dispose and order them as you think best, only let the thing succeed well. But, above all, be sure you do her no harm.’
‘Signor, a little fright, that she may not make too much noise . . . one cannot do less.’
‘Fear . . . I see . . . is inevitable. But don’t you touch a hair of her head; and, above all, treat her with the greatest respect. Do you understand?’
‘Signor, I could not pluck a flower from its stalk, and bring it to your lordship, without touching it a little. But I will do no more than is necessary.’
‘Beware you do not. And . . . how will you manage?’
‘I was thinking, Signor. It is fortunate that the house is at the end of the village. We shall want a place to conceal ourselves in; and at a little distance there’s that uninhabited building in the middle of the fields, that house . . . but your lordship knows nothing of these things . . . a house that was burnt down a few days ago; and there have been no funds to rebuild it, so it is forsaken, and is haunted by witches; but it is not Saturday, and I don’t care for them. The villagers are so superstitious, they wouldn’t enter it any night of the week for a treasure, so we may safely dispose ourselves there, without any fear of being disturbed in our plans.’
‘Very good: and what then?’
Here Griso went on to propose, and Don Rodrigo to discuss, till they had, together, concerted a way to bring the enterprise to an end without a trace of its authors remaining. They even contrived means to turn all the suspicions, by making false indications, upon another quarter; to impose silence upon poor Agnese; to inspire Renzo with such fear as would overbalance his grief, efface the thought of having recourse to the law, and even the wish to complain; and arranged all the other minor villainies necessary to the success of this principal one. We will omit the account of these consultations, however, because, as the reader will perceive, they are not necessary to the comprehension of the story, and it will only be tedious, both to him and us, to entertain ourselves for any length of time with the discussions of these two detestable villains. It will suffice to say that, as Griso was on the point of leaving the room, to go about the execution of his undertaking at once, Don Rodrigo called him back, and said, ‘Listen: if by any chance this rash clown should molest you to-night, it would not be amiss if you were to give him something to remember, on his shoulders, by way of anticipation. By this means, the command to keep quiet, which shall be intimated to him to-morrow, will more surely take effect. But don’t go to look for him, lest you should spoil what is of more importance. Do you understand me?’
‘Leave it to me,’ replied Griso, bowing with an obsequious and ostentatious air, as he departed.
The morning was spent in reconnoitring the neighbourhood. The feigned beggar who had intruded himself so pertinaciously into Agnese’s humble cottage, was no other than Griso, who had come to get an idea of the plan of the house by sight; the pretended passengers were his vile followers, who, operating under his orders, required a less minute acquaintance with the place. Their observations being made, they withdrew from notice, lest they should excite too much suspicion.
When they returned to the palace, Griso made his report, arranged definitely the plan of the enterprise, assigned to each his different part, and gave his instructions. All this could not be transacted without the old servant’s observation, who, with his eyes and ears constantly on the alert, discovered that they were plotting some great undertaking. By dint of watching and questioning, getting half a hint here, and another half there, commenting in his own mind on ambiguous inferences, and interpreting mysterious departures, he at length came to a pretty clear knowledge of all the designs of the evening. But when he was assured of them, it was very near the time, and already a small detachment of bravoes had left the palace, and set off to conceal themselves in the ruined building. The poor old man, although he well knew what a dangerous game he was playing, and feared, besides, that he was doing no efficient service, yet failed not to fulfil his engagement. He went out, under pretence of taking the air, and proceeded in great haste to the convent, to give Father Cristoforo the promised information. Shortly afterwards, a second party of bravoes were sent out, one or two at a time, that they might not appear to be one company. Griso made up the rear, and then nothing remained behind but a litter, which was to be brought to the place of rendezvous after dark. When they were all assembled there, Griso despatched three of them to the inn in the village; one was to place himself at the door, to watch the movements in the street, and to give notice when all the inhabitants had retired to rest; the other two were to remain inside, gaming and drinking, as if enjoying themselves, but were also to be on the lookout, if anything was to be seen. Griso, with the body of the troop, waited in ambuscade till the time of action should arrive.
The poor old man was still on his way, the three scouts had arrived at their post, and the sun was setting, when Renzo entered the cottage, and said to the women, ‘Tonio and Gervase are here outside: I am going with them to sup at the inn; and at the sound of the Ave-Maria, we will come to fetch you. Come, Lucia, courage; all depends upon a moment.’ Lucia sighed, and replied, ‘Oh yes, courage!’ with a tone that belied her words.
When Renzo and his two companions reached the inn, they found the bravo already there on the watch, leaning with his back against one of the jambs of the doorway, so as to occupy half its width, his arms folded across his breast, and glancing with a prying look to the right and left, showing alternately the blacks and whites of two griffin-like eyes. A flat cap of crimson velvet, put on sideways, covered half the lock of hair which, parted on a dark forehead, terminated in tresses confined by a comb at the back of the head. He held in one hand a short cudgel; his weapons, properly speaking, were not visible, but one had only to look at his face, and even a child would have guessed that he had as many under his clothes as he could carry. When Renzo, the foremost of the three, approached him and seemed prepared to enter, the bravo fixed his eyes upon him, without attempting to make way; but the youth, intent on avoiding any questions or disputes, as people generally are who have an intricate undertaking in hand, did not even stop to say ‘make room;’ but grazing the other door-post, pushed, side-foremost, through the opening left by this Caryatides. His companions were obliged to practise the same manœuvre, if they wished to enter. When they got in, they saw the others whose voices they had heard outside, sitting at a table, playing at Mora,1 both exclaiming at once, and alternately pouring out something to drink from a large flask placed between them. They fixed their eyes steadily on the new comers; and one of them, especially, holding his right hand extended in the air, with three enormous fingers just shot forth, and his mouth formed to utter the word ‘six,’ which burst forth at the moment, eyed Renzo from head to foot, and glanced first at his companion, and then at the one at the door, who replied with a nod of his head. Renzo, suspicious and doubtful, looked at his friends, as if seeking in their countenances an interpretation of all these gestures; but their countenances indicated nothing beyond a good appetite. The landlord approached to receive his orders, and Renzo made him accompany him into an adjoining room, and ordered some supper.
‘Who are those strangers?’ asked he, in a low voice, when his host returned with a coarse table-cloth under his arm, and a bottle in his hand.
‘I don’t know them,’ replied the host, spreading the table-cloth.
‘What! none of them?’
‘You know,’ replied he, again smoothing the cloth on the table with both his hands, ‘that the first rule of our business is not to pry into other people’s affairs; so that even our women are not inquisitive. It would be hard work, with the multitude of folk that come and go; always like a harbour — when the times are good, I mean; but let us cheer up now, for there may come better days. All we care for is whether our customers are honest fellows; who they are or are not, beyond that, is nothing to us. But, come! I will bring you a dish of hash, the like of which you’ve never tasted.’
‘How do you know . . .?’ Renzo was beginning; but the landlord, already on his way to the kitchen, paid no attention to his inquiry. Here, while he was taking up the stewing-pan in which was the above-mentioned hash, the bravo who had eyed our youth so closely accosted the host, and said, in an under-tone, ‘Who are those good men?’
‘Worthy people of the village,’ replied he, pouring the hash into the dish.
‘Very well; but what are they called? Who are they?’ insisted he, in a sharp tone.
‘One is called Renzo,’ replied the host, speaking in a low voice; ‘a worthy youth reckoned — a silk weaver, who understands his business well. The other is a peasant of the name of Tonio, a good jovial comrade; pity he has so little; he’d spend it all here. The third is a simpleton, who eats willingly whatever is set before him. By your leave.’
With these words and a slight bow, he passed between the stove and the interrogator, and carried the dish into the next room. ‘How do you know,’ resumed Renzo, when he saw him reappear, ‘that they are honest men, if you don’t know them?’
‘By their actions, my good fellow — men are known by their actions. Those who drink wine without criticizing it; who show the face of the King upon the counter without prating; who don’t quarrel with other customers; and is they owe a blow to any one, go outside and away from the inn to give it, so that the poor landlord isn’t brought into the scrape:— these are honest men. However, if one could know everybody to be honest, as we four know one another, it would be better. But why are you so inquisitive on these matters, when you are a bridegroom, and ought to have other things in your head? and with this hash before you, enough to make the dead rise again?’ So saying, he returned to the kitchen.
Our author, remarking upon the different manner in which the landlord satisfied these various inquiries, says he was one who in words made great professions of friendship for honest men in general, but who in practice paid much more attention to those who had the character and appearance of knaves. He was, as every one must perceive, a man of singular character.
The supper was not very blithesome. The two invited guests would have deliberately enjoyed the unusual gratification, but the inviter, pre-occupied by — the reader knows what — anxious and uneasy at the strange behaviour of these incognitos, was impatient for the time of departure. He spoke in an undertone, out of respect to the strangers, and in broken and hurried words.
‘What a fine thing,’ suddenly exclaimed Gervase, ‘that Renzo wants to marry, and is obliged . . .!’ Renzo gave him a savage look, and Tonio exclaimed, ‘Hold your tongue, simpleton!’ accompanying the epithet with a knock of his elbow. The conversation flagged till the end of the meal. Renzo, observing the strictest sobriety, managed to help his guests with so much discretion as to inspire them with sufficient boldness, without making them giddy and bewildered. Supper being over, and the bill having been paid by the one who had done at least execution, they had again to pass under the scrutinizing eyes of the three bravoes, who gazed earnestly at Renzo, as they had done on his entrance. When he had proceeded a few paces from the inn, he looked round, and saw that he was followed by the two bravoes whom he had left sitting in the kitchen; so he stood still with his companions, as much as to say, ‘Let us see what these fellows want with me.’ On perceiving, however, that they were observed, they also stopped short, and speaking to each other in a suppressed voice, turned back again. Had Renzo been near enough to have heard their words, the following would have struck him as very strange: ‘It will be a fine thing, however, without counting the drinking-money,’ said ones of the villains, ‘if we can relate, on our return to the palace, that we made them lay down their arms in a hurry; — by ourselves, too, without Signor Griso here to give orders!’
‘And spoil the principal business!’ replied the other. ‘See, they’ve discovered something; they are stopping to look at us. Oh, I wish it was later! Let us turn back, or they’ll surely suspect us! Don’t you see people are coming in every direction? Let us wait till they’ve all gone to bed.’
There was, in fact, that stirring — that confused buzz — which is usually heard in a village on the approach of evening, and which shortly afterwards gives place to the solemn stillness of night. Women arrived from the fields, carrying their infants on their backs, and holding by the hand the elder children, whom they were hearing repeat their evening prayers; while the men bore on their shoulders their spades, and different implements of husbandry. On the opening of the cottage doors, a bright gleam of light sparkled from the fires, that were kindled to prepare their humble evening meal. In the street might be heard salutations exchanged, together with brief and sad remarks on the scarcity of the harvest, and the poverty of the times; while, above all, resounded the measured and sonorous tolls of the bell, which announced the close of day. When Renzo saw that his two indiscreet followers had retired, he continued his way amid the increasing darkness, occasionally, in a low tone, refreshing the memories of one or other of the brothers on some point of their duties they might be likely to forget. When he arrived at Lucia’s cottage, the night had quite closed in.
‘Between the acting of a dreadful thing,’
says a foreign writer, who was not wanting in discernment,
‘And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream.’
Lucia had suffered for several hours the horrors of such a dream; and Agnese — Agnese herself, the author of the design, was buried in thought, and could scarcely find words to encourage her daughter. But at the moment of awaking, at the moment when one is called upon to begin the dreaded undertaking, the mind is instantly transformed. A new terror and a new courage succeed those which before struggled within; the enterprise presents itself to the mind like a fresh apparition; that which at first sight, was most dreaded, seems sometimes rendered easy in a moment; and, on the other hand, an obstacle which, at first, was scarcely noticed, becomes formidable; the imagination shrinks back alarmed, the limbs refuse to fulfil their office, and the heart revokes the promises that were made with the greatest confidence. At Renzo’s smothered knock, Lucia was seized with such terror, that, at the moment, she resolved to suffer anything, to be separated from him for ever rather than execute the resolutions she had made; but when he had stood before her, and had said, ‘Here I am, let us go’— when all were ready to accompany him without hesitation, as a fixed and irrevocable thing, Lucia had neither time nor heart to interpose difficulties; and, almost dragged along, she tremblingly took one arm of her mother, and one of her betrothed, and set off with the venturesome party.
Very softly, in the dark, and with slow steps, they passed the threshold, and took the road that led out of the village. The shortest way would have been to have gone through it, to reach Don Abbondio’s house, at the other end; but they chose the longer course, as being the most retired. After passing along little narrow roads that ran between gardens and fields, they arrived near the house, and here they divided. The two lovers remained hidden behind a corner of the building; Agnese was with them, but stood a little forwarder, that she might be able to run in time to meet Perpetua, and take possession of her. Tonio, with his blockhead of a brother, Gervase, who knew how to do nothing by himself, and without whom nothing could be done, hastened boldly forward, and knocked at the door.
‘Who’s there, at such an hour?’ cried a voice from a window, that was thrown open at the moment: it was the voice of Perpetua. ‘There’s nobody ill, that I know of. But, perhaps, some accident has happened?’
‘It is I,’ replied Tonio, ‘with my brother; we want to speak to the Signor Curate.’
‘Is this an hour for Christians?’ replied Perpetua, sharply. ‘You’ve no consideration. Come again to-morrow.’
‘Listen; I’ll come again, or not, just as you like; I’ve scraped together nobody knows how much money, and came to settle that little debt you know of. Here, I had five-and-twenty fine new berlinghe; but if one cannot pay, never mind; I know well enough how to spend these, and I’ll come again, when I’ve got together some more.’
‘Wait, wait! I’ll go, and be back in a moment. But why come at such an hour?’
‘If you can change the hour, I’ve no objection; as for me, here I am; and if you don’t want me, I’ll go.’
‘No, no; wait a moment; I’ll be back with the answer directly.’
So saying, she shut the window again. At this instant, Agnese left the lovers, and saying, in a low voice to Lucia, ‘Courage! it is but a moment; it’s only like drawing a tooth,’ joined the two brothers at the door, and began gossiping with Tonio, so that, when Perpetua should return and see her, she might think she was just passing by, and that Tonio had detained her for a moment.
1 A thick gruel, made of flour and water, boiled together.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53