Valperga, by Mary Shelley

Chapter 12

THE ill news had travelled fast; and Euthanasia knew of the imprisonment of Castruccio the same evening that it had taken place. Well acquainted with the cruel policy of the Faggiuola family and in particular with the dastard ferocity of Ranieri, her fears were wound up to an agonizing height: more unhappy than the prisoner himself, she slept not, nor did she seek sleep; but her thoughts were bent on the consideration of whether she were able in any manner to assist her friend. She resolved at least to employ all the influence her possessions and connections gave her, to arrest the hand of the murderer.

Early in the morning young Guinigi arrived at the castle. If Arrigo admired Castruccio, he adored Euthanasia; her sex and beauty might well have a powerful effect on his youthful heart, and her simplicity and purity were more calculated to influence his inexperienced but active understanding, than the more studied courtesies of Castruccio. Her pale cheek and heavy eyes indicated the anxious thoughts that beset her; and Arrigo hastened to tranquillize them. “Fear not,” he said, “he shall not, he cannot die. His friends watch over him; and Ranieri has by this time learned, that he is more a prisoner among the guards in his palace, than Castruccio chained in his dungeon.”

He then detailed the plans of the Ghibeline party for the deliverance of their chief; and, having somewhat calmed the uneasiness of the countess, he returned with haste to his post at Lucca.

Euthanasia passed an anxious day. She was alone; if one may be called alone, whose thoughts descended not to the calm of solitary meditation, but were actively engaged in the imagination of events passing but a few miles distant. It was a warm April day, but sunless: for the Libeccio had veiled the blue heavens with clouds which seemed to press down the atmosphere, that unmoved by any breeze appeared even by its weight to encumber the flowers, and to destroy all elasticity either in vegetable or animal life. Poor Euthanasia walked restlessly on the plot of ground before the gate of her castle; and her languid eyes, bent towards Lucca, were able to discern objects afar off, sharpened as their sight was by love and fear. In the afternoon she saw a band of soldiers ride along the road beneath the rock on which her castle was built, directing their course towards the northern mountains. She thought that she could distinguish the uncouth figure of Uguccione in the tallest among the horsemen who led the troop; while in the rear she felt sure that she beheld the form of Ranieri.

Her heart was now relieved from many of its fears; and she watched with greater calmness the fading hues of sunset, and the moon, now but a day older than when Castruccio had foretold the overthrow of the tyrant. She had a favourite retreat near a spring that issued from the rock behind her castle. The mountain was almost perpendicular from which it gushed; but a rude flight of steps had been cut, by which she ascended to it through a postern. The spring rose from a rift above, and fell first on a narrow rocky platform about seventy steps above the castle. Euthanasia had caused a basin to be scooped here for the reception of the water, and had covered it with a light portico, supported by fluted columns of the Etruscan order made of the finest marble; a few mossy seats surrounded the fountain. The rock shaded her as she sat, on whose stony face grew nothing but heath, and such shrubs as seem to find nutriment and growth in stone itself; but the top was crowned by ilex trees and stunted myrtle underwood. Thither she now retired, and watched the coming night; when suddenly she thought she heard a rustling above her, and a small bunch of myrtle fell on her lap; she looked up; and, gazing earnestly, perceived Castruccio, with one hand grasping a myrtle shrub, leaning from the summit of the precipice.

“Euthanasia! — Victory!” he cried.

“Victory and security!” she repeated with a deep sigh of joy.

“And glory, and all the blessings of Heaven!” he replied. She answered, but he was far above, and could scarcely hear the words she spoke; he threw another sprig of myrtle, and said, “To-morrow!” and retreated. She continued to look upwards to the spot where he had leaned; the rustling of the leaves was still — the myrtles that had bent as he leaned upon them, slowly upraised themselves — yet still she thought that she heard his voice, until the murmuring of the near stream recalled her to herself, and told her how moveless every thing else was.

And now Euthanasia was happy — too happy; and fast-falling and many tears alone relieved her full heart. She was happy in the assurance of the safety and triumph of her friend; but it was his love that touched her heart, and made her thrill with delight. What sweeter meed is there in life, than the approbation and sincere friendship of those whom we approve and admire? But to be loved by such a one; to feel the deep sympathy of united affections, the delicious consciousness of being loved by one whom all the world approves, by one who fully justifies his claim to the world’s esteem by an oblivion of self, and heroic sacrifice of personal felicity for the public cause, touches a chord — opens a spring of feeling which those have never known, whose hearts have not been warmed by public feeling, or who have not entered with interest into the hopes and fears of a band struggling for liberty. The human soul disdains all restraint, and ever seeks to mingle with nature itself, or with kindred minds; to hope and fear for oneself alone often narrows the heart and understanding; but if we are animated by these feelings in unison with a multitude, bound by the same desires and the same perils, such participation of triumph or sorrow exalts and beautifies every emotion.

Yet triumph is a feeling which oppresses the human heart; and that strangely fashioned instrument seems more adapted for suffering than enjoyment; it is rather a passive, than an active principle; abundant joy fills it with melancholy, but it can extract pleasure from the depths of despair. Euthanasia was overpowered; and she felt, in that moment of satisfaction to her hopes, an agitation and unquiet repining, which, though it were indeed only the rebellion of the heart against peace, seemed to her in after times as the foreboding of the unlooked for catastrophe to so much happiness.

The following evening Castruccio again visited her, and restored her to calm. He sat at her feet, and fixing on her his dark eyes, related the circumstances of his imprisonment and liberation. “Did you not wonder,” said he, “at your eagle’s visit yesternight? I would indeed that I had been one, so that I could have cast myself at your feet, instead of the silly myrtle that I threw! Yester evening, after the business of the day, I went to the castle of Mordecastelli, which is on this same mountain, not far from the Fairy’s Fountain and the cypress, under which as children we often sat — which we visited a few weeks ago, clambering to it from the valley. When I left his castle, I passed by that spot; and, pausing there, I thought that perhaps I could not only attain the summit of the rock that overlooks your fountain, but in some way get down to the alcove itself, and thus surprise your retreat. I was disappointed; the precipice is too high above; — but as I looked down, I caught a glance of your robe, and was repaid for my toil, in being able to communicate to you the news of my success. And now, dearest girl, be happy, and smile contentedly on me; for now that I have overcome my domestic enemies, and have supreme power in this hive of ours, you shall direct me, and there shall be the peace that you love, and the concord you so much desire between us and the proud republicans, your friends.”

Euthanasia smiled, and said, “Well may it please one so nearly useless as I am, that I can save the lives of some of my fellow-citizens. Do you not know, dearest Castruccio, that when you draw your sword against the Florentines, it is always wetted with the blood of my best friends? Love you indeed I always must; but I know, for I have studied my own heart, that it would not unite itself to yours, if, instead of these thoughts of peace and concord, you were to scheme war and conquest.”

“You measure your love in nice scales,” replied Castruccio, reproachfully; “surely, if it were as deep as mine, it would be ruled alone by its own laws, and not by outward circumstances.”

Euthanasia answered earnestly, “So can it not be with me; I have been bred in a city distracted by domestic faction, and which, when it obtains a moment of peace in its own bosom, loses the flower of its children in petty wars. A hatred and fear of war is therefore a strong and ruling passion in my heart; but other feelings mingle with these in my zeal for your concord with my fellow-townsmen. Florence is my native city; its citizens are bound to me by the ties of consanguinity and friendship: the families of the Pazzi, the Donati, the Spini, and other noble or plebeian Florentines, against whom you fight when you war with them, each contains individuals whom I love and honour. I should be a traitor to the best feelings of human nature, and a rebel to my country, if I allied myself to its enemy: think you that I who have joined in the social meetings of the Florentines, who as a child was caressed by them, and as a woman loved, who have been present at their marriages, and have mourned among them at their funerals, — when my own beloved father was attended to his grave by these men whom you call your enemies, and my own bitter sorrows assuaged by the sympathy of their daughters, — think you, that thus linked by every social tie, having prayed, and rejoiced, and wept with them, that I could say to you, ‘Go, prosper!’ when you should go to destroy them? Dearest Castruccio, if, united to you, such an event were to ensue, in that moment I must die, or live a death in life.”

Castruccio replied only by fresh assurances of his earnest desire for peace, and kissed from the brow of Euthanasia the cloud that for a moment had gathered there.

It had been a strange task to unveil the heart of Antelminelli, and to disentangle the contradictory feelings that influenced him at the moment. There can be no doubt that he never forgot his designs for the aggrandizement of his native city; and he had seen too much of courts, and felt too strongly his own superiority to the men about him, to allow us to suppose that he entertained the idea of establishing a free republic there, and submitting his actions and intentions to be controlled by the people. It had long been his earnest desire to raise and reinstate the fallen Ghibeline party in Tuscany; and this was not to be accomplished except by the humiliation of the Florentines: yet at this time his whole policy was employed in concluding a peace with them, — a peace, which was ratified the following April, and preserved for three years. These three years it is true were not spent in inactivity, but in the reduction of the surrounding country, and, latterly, in preparation for the successful war he afterwards carried on against Florence. Are therefore his protestations to Euthanasia to be considered as wholly deceitful? His frank countenance and unembarrassed voice forbade that idea for a moment to cross her imagination: we may perhaps form this conclusion; — that he now found it for his interest to conclude a peace with Florence; and he made the sincerity of his present purpose lend its colour to his assurances for the future.

A whole year was spent in the arrangement of the treaty. Euthanasia passed all that time at her castle; and her content was again disturbed by the successes of Castruccio; who in treating for peace did not fail to make it more desirable to his enemies, by seizing every opportunity to defeat their forces, and lay waste their country; nor did the knowledge of the pain which these operations caused his friend, in any degree check his activity. Euthanasia loved Castruccio; but her judgement was penetrating, and she was so accustomed to meditate on the events and feelings of each day, that during this time, she in part penetrated the character of her lover. He was formed for victory and daring, rather than for magnanimity: he was swift of design and steady in execution; bold, valiant, yet gentle of manner; his wit was keen; his penetration into the dispositions of men instantaneous; and he possessed also, as by instinct, the faculty of adapting himself to every character, and of acquiring the love of all around him: men always love those who lead them successfully through danger. He was temperate in his habits; and in his mien, though the exterior were ardent and even rash, there might be perceived underneath a reserve of caution, a presence of mind, which never permitted him to be carried beyond the dictates of prudence, and an eagle-eye which caused him swiftly to distinguish danger from impracticability. He trod the most perilous acclivities, but his foot was sure like that of the chamois; and he could discern from afar where the path was broken, and would check himself in the most headlong course. All this was well; but, underneath a frankness of behaviour, and an apparent nobleness of nature, there was the craft of a grey — haired courtier, and even at times the cruelty of a falling tyrant. Euthanasia saw not all this; but a times a glance, a tone seemed to open a mine of undiscovered evil in his character, that made her shudder in the very depths of her nature: yet this sensation would pass away, and she, prompt to forget evil in others, thought no more of it.

This year might be called the happiest of her life; yet it was that which first schooled her to the pain and anguish which were afterwards her portion. The flower of love can never exist without its thorns. She loved, and was beloved:— her eyes beamed with a quicker fire; and her whole soul, perfectly alive, seemed to feel with a vividness and truth she had never before experienced. Nature was invested for her with new appearances; and there was a beauty, a soul, in the breeze of evening, the starry sky, and uprising sun, which filled her with emotions she had never before so vividly felt. Love seemed to have made her heart its chosen temple; and he linked all its beatings to that universal beauty which is his mother and his nurse.

There are feelings, which overpower the human soul, and often render it morbid and weak, if virtuous action does not give dignity to reverie. Euthanasia had many occupations, and among them the glorious and delightful one of rendering her numerous dependents happy. The cottages and villages over which she presided, were filled by a contented peasantry, who adored their countess, and knew her power only by the benefits she conferred on them. Castruccio often accompanied her in her visits to these; and he, accustomed as he was to count men as the numerals of a military arithmetic, even he was touched by her care for the sick, her many ways of displaying her judgement and abounding benevolence towards her people. Yet sometimes he laughed at the difference between her practice and her theory, and asked the youthful sovereign, why she did not erect her states into a republic?

She smiled; but then, collecting herself, answered seriously; “When I first inherited my mother’s power, I gave much consideration to this very question; not of forming a separate republic of my poor villages, but of incorporating them, as many nobles have done, and as doubtless the lords of Valperga will one day be obliged to do, with some neighbouring and more powerful republic. My inclinations led me to join myself to Florence; but the distance of that city, and the immediate vicinity of Lucca, shewed me the impracticability of that project. Valperga must one day fall into the hands of the Lucchese; but, if I had at any time made an alliance with them, I should have destroyed the present happiness of my people; there would have been war instead of peace, instead of concord and plenty, party agitations and heavy taxes. This, my friend, must be my excuse for my tyranny; but, when the alliance between you and the Florentines can be sure, when Lucca is as peaceful and happy as Valperga, believe me, I will no longer arrogate a power to which I ought not to have a pretension.”

Castruccio smiled; he hardly believed the simple sincerity of Euthanasia; he understood well and judged with sagacity the balancing objections in a question of interest; but the principle of decision was always with him, that which would most conduce to the fulfilment of his projects, seldom that of the good or evil which affected others. Yet this was veiled even to his own mind, by a habit of gentleness and forbearance, which even in this age of the world, often fills the place, and assumes the form of virtue.

And now Euthanasia was busy in preparing for a court, which she had determined to hold, when peace should be ratified between the contending powers of Tuscany; and Castruccio found her employed in thefor her, unwonted toils, of the arrangement of silks, jewels, and tapestry. She said: “You know that the dependents of Valperga are lightly taxed; and the little money that enters my coffers is chiefly expended in the succour of their own necessities: yet of that little I have reserved a sum for periods of sickness, scarcity, or any more agreeable occasion that may call for it. A part of this will be expended on the present solemnity. Nor do I think that I hurt my good people by such an extravagance: their joy on this occasion will be far greater than mine; their pride and love of pleasure will be gratified; for in arranging the amusements of my court the country people will have a full share; and, if we engage the attention of Borsiere, Guarino and other distinguished Uomini di Corte, the buffoons, jugglers, and dancers, will spread glee among the villagers.”

The castle was fuller than usual of dependents and workmen, and its cloister-like silence was exchanged for the noise of the hammer, and the voices of Italians, ever louder than need is. Euthanasia witnessed their eagerness with pleasure; and her undisguised sympathy in their feelings made her adored by her servants and dependents. She had now about her several of the daughters of her richer subjects, who assisted in the arrangement of her castle: and there were gathered in the hall men who had grown grey on her estate, who remembered the dreadful battle of Monte Aperto, the fall of Manfred, and the death of the last unfortunate descendant of Frederic Barbarossa. These recounted the feats and dangers of their youth to their descendants, until, so strange are the feelings of our nature, war, peril and ruin seemed joys to be coveted, not perils to be eschewed.

Among the attendants who most constantly waited on her person, was a man who, from his diminutive stature, and strange dress, might have been taken for the buffoon or dwarf so common at the courts of princes in those days, had not the melancholy of his looks forbidden that supposition. Yet he had some of the privileges of the licensed fool; for he mingled in the conversation of his superiors, and his remarks, generally pithy, were sometimes bitter and satirical: yet indeed they were more commonly characterized by a wild and imaginative originality, than by wit; and, if they sometimes made others laugh, he never smiled. The playful and witty disposition of Castruccio would often make him enter into conversation with, and reply to, and try to draw out this strange being, who was no less uncommon in his person than in his mind. He was of that race of which there are a few native specimens in Italy, generally called Albinois; his complexion was of a milky fairness, his hair white, and his long white eyelashes hardly shaded his light red eyes: he was brief of stature, and as slender as he was short; the softness of his features, and the roundness and flexibility of his limbs, manifested his want of strength; his mild, but almost meaningless physiognomy betrayed the want of judgement, courage, and all the more manly virtues. His mind seemed to approach the feebler spark of animal life, had it not been redeemed by an imagination of which he hardly appeared conscious himself, but which raised him above many of the brutal and rough peasants who despised him. Sometimes Castruccio laughed at Euthanasia for keeping this strange creature about her, but she defended herself, saying:

“Indeed, my lord, you must shew no disrespect towards this servant of mine, and truly you will be little inclined to do so, when I have summed up all his good qualities. First, he has by heart, ready to quote on any suitable occasion, every prophecy that has been made since the time of Adam, and knows all the vulgar expositions of the sacred texts. Then he is an adept in the knowledge of sacred trees, fountains, and stones, the flight of birds, lucky and unlucky days; he has an extensive acquaintance with witches, astrologers, sorcerers, and tempestarii; he knows every peculiar ceremony for remarkable days, how to celebrate the calends of January, those of August, and the Vindemie Nolane; none of our cattle are blessed by St. Anthony until he has bound on their crowns; the ceremonies attendant on the Nativity, Easter, and other feasts, are all conducted under his guidance. He interprets all the dreams of the castle, and foretells the point of time when to begin any enterprize: he has a wonderful assortment of holy legends and strange relics; such as a lock of Adam’s hair, a little of the sawdust from Noah’s sawpit when he clove the planks for the ark, a brick of the tower of Babel, and a tooth of St. Theresa; he has presented many of these to the priest of San Martino, and the people go and adore these shreds and patches of religion with the veneration that its divine morality alone demands. Although of a feminine and un — muscular form, he is healthy; he is silent to a miracle; and among my noisy household he alone flits about unheard, so much so that I have been assured that grass yields not beneath his feet, and that he has no shadow; but you can yourself ascertain that fact. I believe him to be faithful, yet I think him to be attached to none, except the wild beings whom his imagination invests with supernatural powers. But he is an excellent guide for me in my various wanderings, since, as if he had a clue of thread, he can find his unerring way amid the most pathless deserts and forests. With all these wonderful acquirements he is generally disliked; he is said to be the son of a witch, and to have a natural propensity to evil; yet I have never heard of any ill act of his doing; although in truth some strange events have taken place with regard to him, that look as if he had communion with the spirits of air.

“I have said that he is attached to no one among us, yet I may be wrong. If he is always near my person, it is because he seizes every moment, when he is permitted to enter, to creep near me. Once, when I left him here during a visit to Florence, he pined for some time, till every one believed that he was about to die; and then taking a sudden resolution, like a dog following the scent of his master, he departed on foot, and in less than twenty-four hours, arrived half dead with fatigue at my palace at Florence.

“I have another motive for being attached to him: he was a favourite of my father. He found him when a child, in a village not far from Florence, half starved, and ill treated by the country people; for he could not work, and, being an orphan, was destitute of every resource; the idea of his unholy parentage and his strange appearance, rendering the country-people even malignantly inclined towards him. He loved my father, and almost sunk to the grave with sorrow when he died; nor at that time would he leave the room where I was, or if obliged to go, he crept near the door crouching like a dog for the moment of admittance.”

This being was now very busy amidst the preparations for the court; preparations which engaged all the hands and all the heads of Valperga. While the countess made provision for the entertainment of her guests, her dependents practised the games and exercises with which they should amuse the nobles: all was bustle and animation, but all was joy and good humour. Castruccio and Euthanasia became dearer to each other, as he perceived the pleasure he was able to bestow upon her by a compliance with her wishes; and she felt gratitude for the delight she enjoyed, towards him whom she fondly looked upon as its cause.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00