CARNEADES! who was he? — thought Don Abbondio to himself, as he sat in his arm-chair, in a room upstairs, with a small volume lying open before him, just as Perpetua entered to bring him the message. — Carneades! I seem to have heard or read this name; it must be some man of learning — some great scholar of antiquity; it is just like one of their names; but whoever was he? — So far was the poor man from foreseeing the storm that was gathering over his head.
The reader must know that Don Abbondio was very fond of reading a little every day; and a neighbouring Curate, who possessed something of a library, lent him one book after another, always taking the first that came to hand. The work with which Don Abbondio was now engaged (being already convalescent, after his fever and fears, and even more advanced in his recovery from the fever than he wished should be believed) was a panegyric in honour of San Carlo, which had been delivered with much earnestness, and listened to with great admiration, in the Cathedral of Milan, two years before. The saint had been compared, on account of his love of study, to Archimedes; and so far Don Abbondio had met with no stumbling-block; because Archimedes has executed such great works, and has rendered his name so famous, that it required no very vast fund of erudition to know something about him. But after Archimedes, the orator also compares his saint to Carneades, and here the reader met with a check. At this point, Perpetua announced the visit of Tonio.
‘At this hour!’ exclaimed Don Abbondio, also, naturally enough.
‘What would you have, sir? They have no consideration, indeed; but if you don’t take him when you can get him . . . ’
‘If I don’t take him now, who knows when I can? Let him come in . . . Hey! hey! — Perpetua, are you quite sure it is Tonio?’
‘Diavolo!’ replied Perpetua; and going down-stairs, she opened the door, and said, ‘Where are you?’ Tonio advanced, and, at the same moment, Agnese showed herself, and saluted Perpetua by name.
‘Good evening, Agnese,’ said Perpetua; ‘where are you coming from at this hour?’
‘I am coming from . . . mentioning a neighbouring village. ‘And if you knew . . . ’ continued she; ‘I’ve been kept late just for your sake.’
‘What for? asked Perpetua; and turning to the two brothers, ‘Go in,’ said she, ‘and I’ll follow.’
‘Because,’ replied Agnese, ‘a gossiping woman, who knows nothing about the matter . . . would you believe it? persists in saying that you were not married to Beppo Suolavecchia, nor to Anselmo Lunghigna, because they wouldn’t have you! I maintained that you had refused both one and the other . . . ’
‘To be sure. Oh, what a false-tongued woman! Who is she?’
‘Don’t ask me; I don’t want to make mischief.’
‘You shall tell me; you must tell me. I say she’s a false body.’
“Well, well . . . but you cannot think how vexed I was that I didn’t know the whole history, that I might have put her down.’
‘It is an abominable falsehood,’ said Perpetua —‘a most infamous falsehood! As to Beppo, everybody knows, and might have seen . . . Hey! Tonio; just close the door, and go up-stairs till I come.’
Tonio assented from within, and Perpetua continued her eager relation. In front of Don Abbondio’s door, a narrow street ran between two cottages, but only continued straight the length of the buildings, and then turned into the fields. Agnese went forward along this street, as if she would go a little aside to speak more freely, and Perpetua followed. When they had turned the corner, and reached a spot whence they could no longer see what happened before Don Abbondio’s house, Agnese coughed loudly. This was the signal; Renzo heard it, and re-animating Lucia by pressing her arm, they turned the corner together on tiptoe, crept very softly close along the wall, reached the door, and gently pushed it open; quiet, and stooping low, they were quickly in the passage; and here the two brothers were waiting for them. Renzo very gently let down the latch of the door, and they all four ascended the stairs, making scarcely noise enough for two On reaching the landing, the two brothers advanced towards the door of the room at the side of the staircase, and the lovers stood close against the wall.
‘Deo gratias,’ said Tonio, in an explanatory tone.
‘Eh, Tonio! is it you? Come in!’ replied the voice within.
Tonio opened the door, scarcely wide enough to admit himself and his brother one at a time. The ray of light that suddenly shone through the opening, and crossed the dark floor of the landing, made Lucia tremble, as if she were discovered. When the brothers had entered, Tonio closed the door inside; the lovers stood motionless in the dark, their ears intently on the alert, and holding their breath; the loudest noise was the beating of poor Lucia’s heart.
Don Abbondio was seated, as we have said, in an old armchair, enveloped in an antiquated dressing-gown, and his head buried in a shabby cap, the shape of a tiara, which, by the faint light of a small lamp, formed a sort of cornice all round his face. Two thick locks, which escaped from beneath his head-dress, two thick eye-brows, two thick mustachios, and a thick tuft on the chin, all of them grey, and scattered over his dark and wrinkled visage, might be compared to bushes covered with snow, projecting from the face of a cliff, as seen by moonlight.
‘Aha!’ was his salutation, as he took off his spectacles, and laid them on his book.
‘The Signor Curate will say I am come very late,’ said Tonio, with a low bow, which Gervase awkwardly imitated.
‘Certainly, it is late — late every way. Don’t you know I am ill?’
‘I’m very sorry for it.’
‘You must have heard I was ill, and didn’t know when I should be able to see anybody . . . But why have you brought this — this boy with you?’
‘For company, Signor Curate.’
‘Very well; let us see.’
‘Here are twenty-five new berlinghe, with the figure of Saint Ambrose on horseback,’ said Tonio, drawing a little parcel out of his pocket.
Let us see,’ said Don Abbondio; and he took the parcel, put on his spectacles again, opened it, took out the berlinghe, turned them over and over, counted them, and found them irreprehensible.
‘Now, Signor Curate, you will give me Tecla’s necklace.’
‘You are right,’ replied Don Abbondio; and going to a cupboard, he took out a key, looking round as if to see that all prying spectators were at a proper distance, opened one of the doors, and filling up the aperture with his person, introduced his head to see, and his arm to reach, the pledge; then drawing it out, he shut the cupboard, unwrapped the paper, and saying, ‘Is that right?’ folded it up again, and handed it to Tonio.
‘Now,’ said Tonio, ‘will you please to put it in black and white?’
‘Not satisfied yet!’ said Don Abbondio. ‘I declare they know everything. Eh! how suspicious the world has become! Don’t you trust me?”
‘What! Signor Curate! Don’t I trust you? You do me wrong. But as my name is in your black books, on the debtor’s side . . . then, since you have had the trouble of writing once, so . . . from life to death . . . ’
‘Well, well,’ interrupted Don Abbondio; and muttering between his teeth, he drew out one of the table-drawers, took thence pen, ink, and paper, and began to write, repeating the words aloud, as they proceeded from his pen. In the mean time, Tonio, and at his side, Gervase, placed themselves standing before the table in such a manner as to conceal the door from the view of the writer, and began to shuffle their feet about on the floor, as if in mere idleness, but, in reality, as a signal to those without to enter, and, at the same time, to drown the noise of their footsteps. Don Abbondio, intent upon his writing, noticed nothing else. At the noise of their feet, Renzo took Lucia’s arm, pressing it in an encouraging manner, and went forward, almost dragging her along; for she trembled to such a degree, that, without his help, she must have sunk to the ground. Entering very softly, on tiptoe, and holding their breath, they placed themselves behind the two brothers. In the mean time, Don Abbondio, having finished writing, read over the paper attentively, without raising his eyes; he then folded it up, saying, ‘Are you content now?’ and taking off his spectacles with one hand, handed the paper to Tonio with the other, and looked up. Tonio, extending his right hand to receive it, retired on one side, and Gervase, at a sign from him, on the other; and behold! as at the shifting of a scene, Renzo and Lucia stood between them. Don Abbondio saw indistinctly — saw clearly — was terrified, astonished, enraged, buried in thought, came to a resolution; and all this, while Renzo uttered the words, ‘Signor Curate, in the presence of these witnesses, this is my wife.’ Before, however, Lucia’s lips could form the reply, Don Abbondio dropped the receipt, seized the lamp with his left hand, and raised it in the air, caught hold of the cloth with his right, and dragged it furiously off the table, bringing to the ground in its fall, book, paper, inkstand, and sandbox; and, springing between the chair and the table, advanced towards Lucia. The poor girl, with her sweet gentle voice, trembling violently, had scarcely uttered the words, ‘And this . . . ’ when Don Abbondio threw the cloth rudely over her head and face, to prevent her pronouncing the entire formula. Then, letting the light fall from his other hand, he employed both to wrap the cloth round her face, till she was well nigh smothered, shouting in the mean while, at the stretch of his voice, like a wounded bull: ‘Perpetua! Perpetua! — treachery — help!’ The light, just glimmering on the ground, threw a dim and flickering ray upon Lucia, who, in utter consternation, made no attempt to disengage herself, and might be compared to a statue sculptured in chalk, over which the artificer had thrown a wet cloth. When the light died away, Don Abbondio quitted the poor girl, and went groping about to find the door that opened into an inner room; and having reached it, he entered and shut himself in, unceasingly exclaiming, ‘Perpetua! treachery, help! Out of the house! out of the house!’
In the other room all was confusion: Renzo, seeking to lay hold of the Curate, and feeling with his hands, as if playing at blind-man’s buff, had reached the door, and kicking against it, was crying, ‘Open, open; don’t make such a noise!’ Lucia, calling to Renzo, in a feeble voice, said, beseechingly, ‘Let us go, let us go, for God’s sake. ‘Tonio was crawling on his knees, and feeling with his hands on the ground to recover his lost receipt. The terrified Gervase was crying and jumping about, and seeking for the door of the stairs, so as to make his escape in safety.
In the midst of this uproar, we cannot but stop a moment to make a reflection. Renzo, who was causing disturbance at night in another person’s house, who had effected an entrance by stealth, and who had blockaded the master himself in one of his own rooms, has all the appearance of an oppressor; while in fact he was the oppressed. Don Abbondio, taken by surprise, terrified and put to flight, while peaceably engaged in his own affairs, appears the victim; when in reality it was he who did the wrong. Thus frequently goes the world . . . or rather, we should say, thus it went in the seventeenth century.
The besieged, finding that the enemy gave no signs of abandoning the enterprise, opened a window that looked into the churchyard, and shouted out: ‘Help! help!’ There was a most lovely moon; the shadow of the church, and, a little beyond, the long, sharp shadow of the bell-tower, lay dark, still, and well-defined, on the bright grassy level of the sacred enclosure: all objects were visible, almost as by day. But look which way you would, there appeared no sign of living person. Adjoining the lateral wall of the church, on the side next the Parsonage, was a small dwelling where the sexton slept. Aroused by this unusual cry, he sprang up in his bed, jumped out in great haste, threw open the sash of his little window, put his head out with his eyelids glued together all the while, and cried out: ‘What’s the matter?’
‘Run, Ambrogio! help! people in the house!’ answered Don Abbondio. ‘Coming directly,’ replied he, as he drew in his head and shut the window; and although half asleep and more than half terrified, an expedient quickly occurred to him that would bring more aid than had been asked, without dragging him into the affray, whatever it might be. Seizing his breeches that lay upon the bed, he tucked them under his arm like a gala hat, and bounding downstairs by a little wooden ladder, ran to the belfry, caught hold of the rope that was attached to the larger of the two bells, and pulled vigorously.
Ton, ton, ton, ton; the peasant sprang up in his bed; the boy stretched in the hay-loft listened eagerly, and leapt upon his feet. ‘What’s the matter? what’s the matter? The bell’s ringing! Fire? Thieves? Banditti?’ Many of the women advised — begged their husbands not to stir — to let others run; some got up and went to the window; those who were cowards, as if yielding to entreaty, quietly slipped under the bed-clothes again; while the more inquisitive and courageous sprang up and armed themselves with pitchforks and pistols, to run to the uproar; others waited to see the end.
But before these were all ready, and even before they were well awake, the noise had reached the ears, and arrested the attention, of some others not very far distant, who were both dressed and on their feet; the bravoes in one place; Agnese and Perpetua in another. We will first briefly relate the movements of the bravoes since we left them; — some in the old building, and some at the inn.
The three at the inn, as soon as they saw all the doors shut and the street deserted, went out, pretending to be going some distance; but they only quietly took a short turn in the village to be assured that all had retired to rest; and in fact, they met not one living creature, nor heard the least noise. They also passed, still more softly, before Lucia’s little cottage, which was the quietest of all, since there was no one within. They then went direct to the old house, and reported their observations to Signor Griso. Hastily putting on a slouched hat, with a pilgrim’s dress of sackcloth, scattered over with cockle-shells, and taking in his hand a pilgrim’s staff, he said: ‘Now let us act like good bravoes; quiet, and attentive to orders.’ So saying, he moved forward, followed by the rest, and in a few moments reached the cottage by the opposite way to the one our little party had taken when setting out on their expedition. Griso ordered his followers to remain a few paces behind, while he went forward alone to explore; and finding all outside deserted and still, he beckoned to two of them to advance, ordered them quietly to scale the wall that surrounded the court-yard, and when they had descended, to conceal themselves in a corner behind a thick fig-tree that he had noticed in the morning. This done, he knocked gently at the door, with the intention of saying that he was a pilgrim who had lost his way, and begged a lodging for the night. No one replied; he knocked a little more loudly; not a whisper. He therefore called a third bravo, and made him descent into the yard as the other two had done, with orders to unfasten the bolt inside very carefully, so that he might have free ingress and egress. All was executed with the greatest caution and the most prosperous success. He then went to call the rest, and bidding them enter with him, sent them to hide in the corner with the others, closed the door again very softly, placed two sentinels inside, and went up to the door of the house. Here also he knocked — waited; and long enough he might wait. He then as gently as possible opened this door; nobody within said, Who’s there; no one was to be heard. Nothing could be better. Forward then; ‘Come on,’ cried he to those behind the fig-tree, and he entered with them into that very room where in the morning he had so basely obtained the piece of bread. Drawing from his pocket a piece of steel, a flint, some tinder and a few matches, he lit a small lantern he had provided, and stepped into the next room to assure himself that all was quiet: not one was there. He returned, went to the foot of the stairs, looked up, listened; all was solitude and silence. Leaving two more sentinels in the lower room, he bid Grignapoco follow him, a bravo from the district of Bergamo, whose office it was to threaten, appease, and command; to be, in short, the spokesman, so that his dialect might give Agnese the idea that the expedition came from his neighbourhood. With this companion at his side, and the rest behind him, Griso very slowly ascended the stairs, cursing in his heart every step that unluckily creaked, every tread of these villains that made the least noise. At last he reaches the top. Here is the danger. He gently pushes the door that leads into the first room; it yields to his touch; he opens it a little and looks in; all is dark; he listens attentively, perchance he may hear a snoring, a breath, a stirring within; nothing. Forward then; he puts the lantern before his face, so as to see without being seen, he opens the door wide; perceives a bed; looks upon it; the bed is made and smooth, with the clothes turned down and arranged upon the pillow. He shrugs his shoulders, turns to his companions, beckons to them that he is going to look in the other room, and that they must keep quiet where they were; he goes forward, uses the same precautions, meets with the same success. ‘Whatever can this mean?’ exclaimed he boldly: ‘some traitorous dog must have been acting as spy.’ They then began to look about them with less caution, and to pry into every corner, turning the house upside down.
While the party up-stairs were thus engaged, the two who were on guard at the street-door heard hasty and repeated footsteps ap-proaching along the road that led into the village, and imagining that whoever it was, he would pass by, they kept quiet, their ears, however, attentively on the watch. But behold! the footsteps stopped exactly at the door. It was Menico arriving in great haste, sent by Father Cristoforo to bid the two women, for Heaven’s sake, to make their escape as quickly as possible from their cottage, and take refuge in the convent, because . . . the ‘because’ the reader knows. He took hold of the handle of the latch, and felt it shake in his hand, unfastened and broken open. What is this? thought he, as he pushed open the door in some alarm; and putting one foot inside with considerable suspicion, he felt himself seized in a moment by both arms, and heard two smothered voices, on his right and left, saying to him, in a threatening tone: ‘Hush! hold your tongue, or you die.’ On the contrary, however, he uttered a shrill cry, upon which one of them struck him a great blow on the mouth, and the other took hold of a large knife to terrify him. The poor child trembled like a leaf, and did not attempt a second cry; but all at once, in his stead, and with a far different tone, burst forth the first sound of the bell before described, and immediately after many thundering peals in quick succession. ‘If the cap fits, put it on,’ says a Milanese proverb; each of the villains seemed to hear in these peals his name, surname, and nick-name; they let go of Menico’s arms, hastily dropped their own, gazed at each other’s faces in mute astonishment, and then ran into the house where was the bulk of their companions. Menico took to his legs, and fled, by way of the fields, towards the belfry, where he felt sure there would be some people assembled. On the other ruffians, who were rummaging the house from top to bottom, the terrible bell made the same impression; confused and alarmed, they ran against one another, in attempting, each one for himself, to find the shortest way of reaching the street-door. Though men of approved courage, and accustomed never to turn their backs on known peril, they could not stand against an indefinite danger, which had not been viewed at a little distance before coming upon them. It required all the authority of Griso to keep them together, so that it might be a retreat and not a flight. Just as a dog urging a drove of pigs, runs here and there after those that break the ranks, seizes one by the ears, and drags him into the herd, propels another with his nose, barks at a third that leaves the line at the same moment, so the pilgrim laid hold of one of his troop just passing the threshold, and drew back, detained with his staff some who were flying they knew not whither, and finally succeeded in assembling them all in the middle of the court-yard. ‘Halt! halt! pistols in hand, daggers in readiness, all together, and then we’ll begone. We must march in order. What care we for the bells ringing, if we are all together, you cowards? But if we let them catch us one by one, even the villagers will give us it. For shame! Fall behind, and keep together.’ After this brief harangue, he placed himself in the front, and led the way out. The cottage, as we have said, was at the extremity of the village: Griso took the road that led out of it, and the rest followed him in good order.
We will let them go, and return a step or two to find Agnese and Perpetua, whom we had just conducted round the corner of a certain road. Agnese had endeavoured to allure her companion as far away from Don Abbondio’s house as possible, and up to a certain point had succeeded very well. But all on a sudden the servant remembered that she had left the door open, and she wanted to go back. There was nothing to be said: Agnese, to avoid exciting any suspicion in her mind, was obliged to turn and walk with her, trying however to detain her whenever she saw her very eager in relating the issue of such and such courtships. She pretended to be paying very great attention, and every now and then, by way of showing that she was listening, or to animate the flagging conversation, would say: ‘Certainly: now I understand: that was capital: that is plain: and then? and he? and you?’ while all the time she was keeping up a very different discourse in her own mind. —‘I wonder if they are out by this time? or will they be still in the house? What geese we all were not to arrange any signal to let me know when it was over! It was really very stupid! But it can’t be helped: and the best thing I can do now is to keep her loitering here as long as I can: let the worst come to the worst, it will only be a little time lost.’— Thus, with sundry pauses and various deviations from the straight path, they were brought back again to within a very short distance from Don Abbondio’s house, which, how-ever, could not be seen on account of the corner intercepting the view, and Perpetua finding herself at an important part of her narration, had suffered herself to be detained without resistance, and even without being aware of it, when they suddenly heard, echoing through the vacant extent of the atmosphere, and the dead silence of night, the loud and disordered cry of Abbondio: ‘Help! help!’
‘Mercy! what has happened?’ cried Perpetua, beginning to run.
‘What is it? what is it?’ said Agnese, holding her back by the gown.
‘Mercy! didn’t you hear?’ replied she, struggling.
‘What is it? what is it?’ repeated Agnese, seizing her by the arm.
‘Wretch of a woman!’ exclaimed Perpetua, pushing her away to free herself and to run. At this moment, more distant, more shrill, more instantaneous, was heard the scream of Menico.
‘Mercy!’ cried Agnese also; and they ran off together. They had scarcely, however, gone a step, when the bell sounded one stroke, then two, three and a succession of peals, such as would have stimulated them to run had there been no other inducement. Perpetua arrived first by two steps; while she raised her hand to the door to open it, behold! it was opened from within, and on the threshold stood, Tonio, Gervase, Renzo, and Lucia, who having found the stairs had come down more rapidly than they went up; and at the sound of that terrible bell, were making their escape in haste to reach a place of safety.
‘What’s the matter? what’s the matter?’ demanded the panting Perpetua of the brothers; but they only replied with a violent push, and passed on. ‘And you! How! what are you doing here? said she to the other couple on recognizing them. But they too made their escape without answering her. Without, therefore, asking any more questions, and directing her steps where she was most wanted, she rushed impetuously into the passage, and went groping about as quickly as she could to find the stairs.
The betrothed, still only betrothed, now fell in with Agnese, who arrived weary and out of breath. “Ah! here you are!’ said she, scarcely able to speak. ‘How has it gone? What is the bell ringing for? I thought I heard . . . ’
‘Home! home!’ cried Renzo, ‘before anybody comes.’ And they moved forward; but at this moment Menico arrived, running as fast as his legs could carry him; and recognizing them, he threw himself in their way, and still all in a tremble and scarcely able to draw his breath, exclaimed: ‘Where are you going? back, back! This way, to the convent.’
‘Are you? . . . ’ began Agnese.
‘What is it?’ asked Renzo. Lucia stood by, trembling and silent, in utter dismay.
‘There are devils in your house,’ replied Menico, panting. ‘I saw them myself: they wanted to murder me: Father Cristoforo said so; and even you, Renzo, he said, were to come quickly:— and besides, I saw them myself:— it’s providential you are all here:— I will tell you the rest when we get out of the village.’
Renzo, who had more of his senses about him than the rest, remembered that they had better make their escape one way or another before the crowds assembled; and that the best plan would be to do as Menico advised, nay, commanded with the authority of one in terror. When once on their way, and out of the tumult and danger, he could ask a clearer explanation from the boy. ‘Lead the way,’ said he to Menico; and addressing the women, said, ‘Let us go with him.’ They therefore quickly turned their steps towards the church, crossed the churchyard, where, by the favour of Heaven, there was not yet a living creature, entered a little street that ran between the church and Don Abbondio’s house, turned into the first alley they came to and then took the way of the fields.
They had not perhaps gone fifty yards, when the crowd began to collect in the church-yard, and rapidly increased every moment. They looked inquiringly in each other’s faces; every one had a question to ask, but no one could return an answer. Those who arrived first, ran to the church-door; it was locked. They then ran to the belfry outside; and one of them, putting his mouth to a very small window, a sort of loop-hole, cried, ‘What ever is the matter?’ As soon as Ambrogio recognized a known voice, he let go of the bell-rope, and being assured by the buzz that many people had assembled, replied: ‘I’ll open the door.’ Hastily slipping on the apparel he had carried under his arm, he went inside the church, and opened the door.
‘What is all this hubbub? — What is it? — Where is it? — Who is it?’
‘Why, who is it?’ said Ambrogio, laying one hand on the doorpost, and with the other holding up the habiliment he had put on in such haste: ‘What! don’t you know? People in the Signor Curate’s house. Up, boys: help!’ Hearing this, they all turned to the house, looked up, approached it in a body, looked up again, listened: all was quiet. Some ran to the street-door; it was shut and bolted; they glanced upwards: not a window was open; not a whisper was to be heard.
‘Who is within? — Ho! Hey! — Signor Curate! — Signor Curate!’
Don Abbondio who, scarcely aware of the flight of the invaders, had retired from the window, and closed it, and who at this moment was reproaching Perpetua in a low voice for having left him alone in this confusion, was obliged, when he heard himself called upon by the voice of the assembled people, to show himself again at the window; and when he saw the crowds that had come to his aid, he sorely repented having called them.
‘What has happened? — What have they done to you? — Who are they? — Where are they?’ burst forth from fifty voices at once.
‘There’s nobody here now; thank you: go home again.’
‘But who has been here? — Where are they gone? — what has happened?’
‘Bad people, people who go about by night; but they’re gone: go home again: there is no longer anything: another time, my children: I thank you for your kindness to me.’ So saying, he drew back, and shut the window. Some of the crowd began to grumble, some to joke, others to curse; some shrugged their shoulders and took their departure: when one arrived, endeavouring but scarcely able to speak from want of breath. It was the person who lived in the house opposite Agnese’s cottage, who having gone to the window at the noise, had seen in the court-yard the assembly of bravoes, when Griso was striving to re-unite his scattered troops. On recovering his breath, he cried: ‘What are you doing here, my good fellows? the devil isn’t here; he’s down at the end of the village, at Agnese Mondella’s house; armed men are within, who seem to be murdering a pilgrim; who knows what the devil is doing!’
‘What? — what? — what?’ and a tumultuous consultation began. ‘We must go. — We must see. — How many are there? — How many are we? — Who are we? — The constable! the constable!’
‘I’m here,’ replied the constable from the middle of the crowd: ‘I’m here; but you must help me, you must obey. Quick: where is the sexton? To the bell, to the bell. Quick! Somebody to run to Lecco for help: all of you come here . . . ’
Some ran, some slipped between their fellows and made their escape; and the tumult was at its greatest height, when another runner arrived who had seen Griso and his party going off in such haste, and cried in turn: ‘Run, my good fellows: thieves or banditti, who are carrying off a pilgrim: they are already out of the village. On! after them!’ At this information, they moved off in a body in great confusion towards the fields, without waiting their general’s orders, and as the crowd proceeded, many of the vanguard slackened their pace, to let the others advance, and retired into the body of the battalion, those in the rear pushing eagerly forward, until at last the disorderly multitude reached their place of destination. Traces of the recent invasion were manifest: the door opened, the locks torn off; but the invaders had disappeared. The crowd entered the courtyard, and went to the room door; this, too, was burst open: they called: ‘Agnese! Lucia! the Pilgrim! Where is the pilgrim? Stefano must have been dreaming about the pilgrim. — No, no: Carlandrea saw him also. Ho! hey! pilgrim! — Agnese! Lucia!’ No one replied. ‘They’ve run away with them! They’ve run away with them!’ There were then some who raised their voices and proposed to follow the robbers; said it was a heinous crime, and that it would be a disgrace to the village, if every villain could come and carry off women with impunity, as a kite carries off chickens from a deserted barn-floor. Then rose a fresh and more tumultuous consultation; but somebody, (and it was never certainly known who,) called out in the crowd that Agnese and Lucia were in safety in a house. The rumour spread rapidly; it gained belief, and no one spoke again of giving chase to the fugitives; the multitude dispersed, and every one went to his own house. There was a general whispering, a noise, all over the village, a knocking and opening of doors, and appearing and disappearing of lights, a questioning of women from the windows, an answering from the streets. When all outside was deserted and quiet, the conversation continued in the houses, and ended at last in slumber, only to be renewed on the morrow. However, no other events took place, excepting that on the morning of that morrow, the constable was standing in his field, with his chin resting on his hands, his hands on the handle of the spade, which was half stuck into the ground, and one foot on the iron rest affixed to the handle; speculating in his mind, as he thus stood, on the mysteries of the past night, on what would reasonably be expected of him, and on what course it would be best for him to pursue, he saw two men approaching him with very fierce looks, wearing long hair, like the first race of French kings, and otherwise bearing a strong resemblance to the two who, five days before, had confronted Don Abbondio, if, indeed they were not the same men. These with still less ceremony than had been used towards the Curate, intimated to the constable that he must take right good care not to make a deposition to the Podestà of what had happened, not to tell the truth in case he was questioned, not to gossip, and not to encourage gossiping among the villagers, as he valued his life.
Our fugitives walked a little way at a quick pace in silence, one or other occasionally looking back to see if they were followed, all of them occasionally looking back to see if they were followed, all of them wearied by the fatigue of the flight, by the anxiety and suspense they had endured, by grief at their ill-success, and by confused apprehensions of new and unknown danger. Their terror, too, was increased by the sound of the bell which still continued to follow them, and seemed to become heavier and more hoarse the further they left it behind them, acquiring every moment something more mournful and ominous in its tone. At last the ringing ceased. Reaching then a deserted field, and not hearing a whisper around, they slackened their pace, and Agnese, taking breath, was the first to break the silence, by asking Renzo how matters had gone, and Menico, what was the demon in their house. Renzo briefly related his melancholy story; and then, all of them turning to the child, he informed them more expressly of the Father’s advice, and narrated what he had himself witnessed and the hazards he had run, which too surely confirmed the advice. His auditors, however, understood more of this than did the speaker; they were seized with new horror at the discovery, and for a moment paused in their walk, exchanging mutual looks of fear; then with an unanimous movement they laid their hands, some on the head, others on the shoulders of the boy, as if to caress him, and tacitly to thank him for having been to them a guardian angel; at the same time signifying the compassion they felt for him, and almost apologizing for the terror he had endured and the danger he had undergone on their account. ‘Now go home, that your family may not be anxious about you any longer,’ said Agnese; and remembering the two promised parpagliole, she took out four, and gave them to him, adding: ‘That will do; pray the Lord that we may meet again soon; and then . . . ’ Renzo gave him a new berlinga, and begged him to say nothing of the message he had brought from the Father: Lucia again caressed him, bade him farewell with a sorrowful voice, and the boy, almost overcome, wished them good-bye, and turned back. The melancholy trio continued their walk, the women taking the lead, and Renzo behind to act as guard. Lucia clung closely to her mother’s arm, kindly and dexterously avoiding the proffered assistance of the youth at the difficult passes of this unfrequented path; feeling ashamed of herself, even in such troubles, for having already been so long and so familiarly alone with him, while expecting in a few moments to be his wife. Now that this vision had been so sorrowfully dispelled, she repented having proceeded thus far; and, amidst so many causes of fear, she feared even for her modesty — not such modesty as arises from the sad knowledge of evil, but for that which is ignorant of its own existence; — like the dread of a child who trembles in the dark, he knows not why.
‘And the house?’ suddenly exclaimed Agnese. But however important the object might be which extorted this exclamation, no one replied, because no one could do so satisfactorily. They therefore continued their walk in silence, and, in a little while, reached the square before the church of the convent.
Renzo advanced to the door of the church, and gently pushed it open. The moon that entered through the aperture, fell upon the pale face and silvery beard of Father Cristoforo, who was standing here expecting them; and having seen that no one was missing, ‘God be praised!’ said he, beckoning to them to enter. By his side stood another Capuchin, the lay sexton, whom he had persuaded, by prayers and arguments, to keep vigil with him, to leave the door ajar, and to remain there on guard to receive these poor threatened creatures; and it required nothing short of the authority of the Father, and of his fame as a saint, to persuade the layman to so inconvenient, perilous, and irregular a condescension. When they were inside, Father Cristoforo very softly shut the door. Then the sexton could no longer contain himself, and taking the Father aside, whispered in his ear; ‘But Father, Father! at night . . . in church . . . with women . . . shut . . . the rule . . . but Father!’ And he shook his head, while thus hesitatingly pronouncing these words. Just see! thought Father Cristoforo; if it were a pursued robber, Friar Fazio would make no difficulty in the world; and a poor innocent escaping from the jaws of a wolf . . . ‘Omnia munda mundis’, added he, turning suddenly to Friar Fazio, and forgetting that he did not understand Latin. But this forgetfulness was exactly what produced the right effect. If the Father had begun to dispute and reason, Friar Fazio would not have failed to urge opposing arguments; and no one knows how and when the discussion would have come to an end; but at the sound of these weighty words of a mysterious signification, and so resolutely uttered, it seemed to him that in them must be contained the solution of all his doubts. He acquiesced, saying, ‘Very well; you know more about it than I do.’
‘Trust me, then,’ replied Father Cristoforo; and by the dim light of the lamp burning before the altar, he approached the refugees, who stood waiting in suspense, and said to them, ‘My children, thank God, who has delivered you from so great a danger! Perhaps at this moment . . . ’ and here he began to explain more fully what he had hinted by the little messenger, little suspecting that they knew more than he, and supposing that Menico had found them quiet in their own house, before the arrival of the ruffians. Nobody undeceived him, not even Lucia, whose conscience, however, was all the while secretly reproaching her for practising such dissimulation with so good a man; but it was a night of embarrassment and dissimulation.
‘After this,’ continued he, ‘you must feel, my children, that the village is no longer safe for you. It is yours, you were born there, and you have done no wrong to any one; but God wills it so. It is a trial, my children; bear it with patience and faith, without indulging in rancour, and rest assured there will come a day when you will think yourselves happy that this has occurred. I have thought of a refuge for you, for the present. Soon, I hope, you may be able to return in safety to your own house; at any rate, God will provide what is best for you; and I assure you, I will be careful not to prove unworthy of the favour He has bestowed upon me, in choosing me as His minister, in the service of you, His poor, yet loved afflicted ones. You,’ continued he, turning to the two women, ‘can stay at . . . . Here you will be far enough from every danger, and at the same time not far from your own home. There seek out our convent, ask for the guardian, and give him this letter; he will be to you another Father Cristoforo. And you, my Renzo, must put yourself in safety from the anger of others, and your own. Carry this letter to Father Bonaventura da Lodi, in our convent of the Porta Orientale, at Milan. He will be a father to you, will give you directions, and find you work, till you can return and live more peaceably. Go to the shore of the lake, near the mouth of the Bione, a river not far from this monastery. Here you will see a boat waiting; say “Boat!” it will be asked you “For whom?” And you must reply, “San Francesco.” The boat will receive you, and carry you to the other side, where you will find a cart, that will take you straight to . . . .’
If any one asks how Father Cristoforo had so quickly at his disposal these means of transport by land and water, it will show that he does not know the influence and power of a Capuchin held in reputation as a saint.
It still remained to decide about the care of the houses. The Father received the keys, pledging himself to deliver them to whomsoever Renzo and Agnese should name. The latter, in delivering up hers, heaved a deep sigh, remembering that, at that moment, the house was open, that the devil had been there, and who knew what remained to be taken care of!
‘Before you go,’ said the Father, ‘let us pray all together that the Lord may be with you in this your journey, and for ever; and, above all, that He may give you strength, and a spirit of love, to enable you to desire whatever He has willed.’ So saying, he knelt down in the middle of the church, and they all followed his example. After praying a few moments in silence, with low but distinct voice he pronounced these words: ‘We beseech Thee, also, for the unhappy person who has brought us to this state. We should be unworthy of Thy mercy, if we did not, from our hearts, implore it for him; he needs it, O Lord! We, in our sorrow, have this consolation, that we are in the path where Thou hast placed us; we can offer Thee our griefs, and they may become our gain. But he is Thine enemy! Alas, wretched man! he is striving with Thee! Have mercy on him, O Lord; touch his heart; reconcile him to Thyself, and give him all those good things we could desire for ourselves.’
Rising then in haste, he said, ‘Come, my children, you have no time to lose; God defend you; His angel go with you; — farewell!’ And while they set off with that emotion which cannot find words, and manifests itself without them, the Father added, in an agitated tone, “My heart tells me we shall meet again soon.’
Certainly, the heart, to those who listen to it, has always something to say on what will happen; but what did his heart know? Very little, truly, of what had already happened.
Without waiting a reply, Father Cristoforo retired with hasty steps; the travellers took their departure; and Father Fazio shut the door after them, bidding them farewell with even his voice a little faltering.
The trio slowly made their way to the shore they had been directed to; where they espied the boat, and exchanging the password, stepped in. The waterman, planting one oar on the land, pushed off; then took up the other oar, and rowing with both hands, pulled out and made towards the opposite beach. Not a breath of wind was stirring; the lake lay bright and smooth, and would have appeared motionless but for the tremulous and gentle undulation of the moonbeams, which gleamed upon it from the zenith. No sounds were heard but the muffled and slowly measured breaking of the surge upon the pebbly shore, the more distant gurgling of the troubled waters dashing among the piles of the bridge, and the even plash of the light sculls, as, arising with a sharp sound of the dripping blade, and quickly plunged again beneath, they cut the azure surface of the lake. The waves, divided by the prow, and reuniting behind the little bark, tracked out a curling line, which extended itself to the shore. The silent travellers, with their faces turned backwards, gazed upon the mountains and the country, illumined by the pale light of the moon, and diversified here and there with vast shadows. They could distinguish the villages, the houses, and the little cabins: the palace of Don Rodrigo, with its square tower, rising above the group of huts at the base of the promontory, looked like a savage standing in the dark, and meditating some evil deed, while keeping guard over a company of reclining sleepers. Lucia saw it and shuddered; then drawing her eye along the declivity till she reached her native village, she fixed her gaze on its extremity, sought for her own cottage, traced out the thick head of the fig-tree which towered above the wall of the courtyard, discovered the window of her own room; and, being seated in the bottom of the boat, she leaned her elbow on the edge, laid her forehead on her arm, as if she were sleeping, and wept in secret.
Farewell, ye mountains, rising from the waters, and pointing to the heavens! ye varied summits, familiar to him who has been brought up among you, and impressed upon his mind as clearly as the countenance of his dearest friends! ye torrents, whose murmur he recognizes like the sound of the voices of home! ye villages, scattered and glistening on the declivity, like flocks of grazing sheep! farewell! How mournful is the step of him who, brought up amidst your scenes, is compelled to leave you! Even in the imagination of one who willingly departs, attracted by the hope of making a fortune elsewhere, the dreams of wealth at this moment lose their charms; he wonders he could form such a resolution, and could even now turn back, but for the hope of one day returning with a rich abundance. As he advances into the plain, his eye becomes wearied with its uniform extent; the atmosphere feels heavy and lifeless; he sadly and listlessly enters the busy cities, where houses crowded upon houses, and streets intersecting streets, seem to take away his breath; and, before edifices admired by the stranger, he recalls with restless longing the fields of his own country, and the cottage he had long ago set his heart upon, and which he resolves to purchase when he returns enriched to his own mountains.
But what must he feel who has never sent a passing wish beyond these mountains, who has arranged among them all his designs for the future, and is driven far away by an adverse power! who, suddenly snatched away from his dearest habits, and thwarted in his dearest hopes, leaves these mountains to go in search of strangers whom he never desired to know, and is unable to look forward to a fixed time of return!
Farewell! native cottage, where, indulging in unconscious thought, one learnt to distinguish from the noise of common footsteps, the approach of a tread expected with mysterious timidity! Farewell! thou cottage, still a stranger, but so often hastily glanced at, not without a blush, in passing, in which the mind took delight to figure to itself the tranquil and lasting home of a wife! Farewell! my church, where the heart was so often soothed while chanting the praises of the Lord; where the preparatory rite of betrothal was performed; where the secret sighing of the heart was solemnly blessed and love was inspired, and one felt a hollowing influence around, farewell! He who imparted to you such gladness is everywhere; and He never disturbs the joy of his children, but to prepare them for one more certain and durable.
Of such a nature, if not exactly these, were the reflections of Lucia; and not very dissimilar were those of the two other wanderers, while the little bark rapidly approached the right bank of the Adda.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57