Alessandro Manzoni (17851873). I Promessi Sposi. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
THE LANDLORD, seeing the game was lasting too long, and being carried too far, had approached Renzo, and, with the greatest politeness, requesting the others to leave him alone, began shaking him by the arm, and tried to make him understand, and persuade him that he had better go to bed. But Renzo could not forget the old subject of the name, and surname, the proclamations, and worthy youths. However, the words bed and sleep, repeated in his ear, wrought some kind of impression on his mind; they made him feel a little more distinctly his need of what they signified, and produced a momentary lucid interval. The little sense that returned to his mind, made him, in some degree, sensible that most of his companions had gone: as the last glimmering torch in an illumination shows all the others extinguished. He made a resolution; placed his open hands upon the table; tried once or twice to raise himself; sighed, staggered, and at a third attempt, supported by his host, he stood upon his feet. The landlord, steadying him as he walked along, guided him from between the bench and the table, and taking a lamp in one hand, partly conducted, and partly dragged him with the other, towards the door of the stairs. Here, Renzo, on hearing the noise of the salutations which were shouted after him by the company, hastily turned round, and if his supporter had not been very alert, and held him by the arm, the evolution would have ended in a heavy fall: however, he managed to turn back, and, with his unconfined arm, began figuring and describing in the air sundry salutes like a running knot.
Let us go to bed; to bed, said the landlord, pushing him forward through the door; and with still more difficulty drawing him to the top of the narrow wooden staircase, and then into the room he had prepared for him. Renzo rejoiced on seeing his bed ready; he looked graciously upon his host, with eyes which one moment glistened more than ever, and the next faded away, like two fire-flies: he en-deavoured to steady himself on his legs, and stretched out his hand toward his hosts cheek to take it between his first and middle fingers, in token of friendship and gratitude, but he could not succeed. Brave landlord, he at last managed to stammer out: now I see that you are a worthy fellow: this is a kind deed, to give a poor youth a bed; but that trick about the name and surname, that wasnt like a gentleman. By good luck, I saw through it
The landlord, who little thought he could have uttered anything so connected, and who knew, by long experience, how men in such a condition may be induced more easily than usual, suddenly to change their minds, was determined to take advantage of this lucid interval, to make another attempt.
My dear fellow, said he, with a most coaxing tone and look, I didnt do it to vex you, nor to pry into your affairs. What would you have? There are the laws, and we must obey them; otherwise we are the first to suffer the punishment. It is better to satisfy them, and After all, what is it all about? A great thing, certainly to say two words! Not, however, for them, but to do me a favour. Here, between ourselves, face to face, let us do our business: tell me your name and then go to bed with a quiet mind.
But Renzo pursued more vehemently: I understand: you are one of the league. Wait, wait, and Ill settle it. And directing his voice towards the head of the stairs, he began to shout more vociferously than ever, Friends! the landlord is of the
Here; undress yourself, and be quick, said the host, adding assistance to his advice; and there was need of it. When Renzo had succeeded in getting off his waistcoat, the landlord took it, and put his hands in the pockets to see if there were any money in them. His search was successful; and thinking that his guest would have something else to do than to pay him on the morrow, and that this money would probably fall into hands whence a landlord would not easily be able to recover any share, he resolved to risk another attempt.
The landlord performed the required office: he then spread the quilt over him, and, almost before he had time to say, disdainfully, Good night! Renzo was snoring fast asleep. Yet, with that sort of attraction which sometimes induces us to contemplate an object of dislike as well as of affection, and which, perhaps, is nothing else than a desire of knowing what operates so forcibly on our mind, he paused, for a moment, to contemplate so annoying a guest, holding the lamp towards his face, and throwing the light upon it with a strong reflection, by screening it with his hand, almost in the attitude in which Psyche is depicted, when stealthily regarding the features of her unknown consort.Mad blockhead!said he, in his mind, to the poor sleeper,youve certainly taken the way to look for it. To-morrow youll be able to tell me how youve liked it. Clowns, who will stroll over the world, without knowing whereabouts the sun rises, just to bring themselves and their neighbours into trouble!
So saying, or rather thinking, he withdrew the light, and left the room, locking the door behind him. On the landing-place at the top of the stairs, he called the landlady, and bade her leave the children under the care of a young servant girl, and go down into the kitchen, to preside and keep guard in his stead. I must go out, thanks to a stranger who has arrived here, to my misfortune, said he; and he briefly related the annoying circumstance. He then added Have your eyes everywhere; and, above all, be prudent this unfortunate day. Theres a group of licentious fellows down below, who, between drink and their own inclination, are ready enough to talk, and will say anything. It will be enough, if a rash
Well, well; and be sure they pay; and pretend not to hear anything they say about the superintendent of provisions, and the governor, and Ferrer, and the decurioni, and the cavaliers, and Spain, and France, and such fooleries; for if you contradict them, youll come off badly directly; and if you agree with them, you may fare badly afterwards; and you know well enough, that sometimes those who say the worst things But enough; when you hear certain sayings, turn away your head, and cry. Im coming, as if somebody was calling you from the other side; Ill come back as quick as I can.
So saying, he went down with her into the kitchen, and gave a glance round, to see if there was anything new of consequence; took down his hat and cloak from a peg, reached a short, thick stick out of the corner, summed up, in one glance at his wife, the instructions he had given her, and went out. But during these preparations, he had again resumed the thread of the apostrophe begun at Renzos bedside; and continued it, even while proceeding on his walk.
Obstinate fellow of a mountaineer!For, however Renzo was determined to conceal his condition, this qualification had betrayed itself in his words, pronunciation, appearance, and actions.Such a day as this, by good policy and judgment, I thought to have come off clear; and you must just come in at the end of it, to spoil the egg in the hatching. Were there no other inns in Milan, that you must just light upon mine? Would that you had even lit upon it alone! I would then have shut my eyes to it to-night, and to-morrow morning would have given you a hint. But, my good sir, no; you must come in company; and, to do better still, in company with a sheriff.
At every step the innkeeper met either with solitary passengers, or persons in groups of three or four, whispering together. At this stage of his mute soliloquy, he saw a patrol of soldiers approaching, and, going a little aside, peeped at them from under the corner of his eye as they passed, and continued to himself:There go the fool-chastisers. And you, great ass, because you saw a few people rambling about and making a noise, it must even come into your brain that the world is turning upside down. And on this fine foundation you have ruined yourself, and are trying to ruin me too; this isnt fair. I did my best to save you; and you, you fool, in return, have very nearly made a disturbance in my inn. Now you must get yourself out of the scrape, and I will look to my own business. As if I wanted to know your name out of curiosity! What does it matter to me, whether it be Thaddeus or Bartholomew? A mighty desire I have to take the pen in hand; but you are not the only people who would have things all their own way. I know, as well as you, that there are proclamations which go for nothing: a fine novelty, that a mountaineer should come to tell me that! But you dont know that proclamations against landlords are good for something. And you pretend to travel over the land, and speak; and dont know that, if one would have ones own way, and carry the proclamations in ones pocket, the first thing requisite is not to speak against them in public. And for a poor innkeeper who was of your opinion, and didnt ask the name of any one who happens to favour him with his company, do you know, you fool, what good things are in store for him? Under pain of three hundred crowns to any one of the aforesaid landlords, tavern-keepers, and others, as above; there are three hundred crowns hatched; and now to spend them well; to be applied, two-thirds to the royal chamber, and the other third to the accuser or informer: what a fine bait! And in case of inability, five years in the galleys, and greater punishment, pecuniary or corporal, at the will of his Excellency. Much obliged for all his favours.
Here, as at all the other secretaries offices, much business was going forward. Everywhere they were engaged in giving such orders as seemed most likely to pre-occupy the following day, to take away every pretext for discontent, to overcome the boldness of those who were anxious for fresh tumults, and to confirm power in the hands of those accustomed to exercise it. The soldiery round the house of the superintendent were increased, and the ends of the street were blockaded with timber, and barricaded with carts. They commanded all the bakers to make bread without intermission, and despatched couriers to the surrounding country, with orders to send corn into the city; while noblemen were stationed at every bakehouse, who repaired thither early in the morning to superintend the distribution, and to restrain the factious, by fair words, and the authority of their presence. But to give, as the saying is, one blow to the hoop and another to the cask, and to render their cajolings more efficient by a little awe, they thought also of taking measures to seize some one of the seditious: and this was principally the business of the high-sheriff, whose temper towards the insurrection and the insurgents the reader may imagine, when he is informed of the vegetable fomentation which it was found necessary to apply to one of the organs of his metaphysical profundity. His blood-hounds had been in the field from the beginning of the riot: and this self-styled Ambrogio Fusella was, as the landlord said, a disguised under-sheriff, sent about for the express purpose of catching in the act some one whom he could again recognize, whose motions he could watch, and whom he could keep in mind, so as to seize, either in the quiet of the evening or next morning. He had not heard four words of Renzos harangue, before he had fixed upon him as a capital objectexactly his man. Finding, afterwards, that he was just fresh from the country, he had attempted the master-stroke of conducting him at once to the prison, as the safest inn in the city; but here he failed, as we have related. He could, however, bring back certain information of his name, surname, and country; besides a hundred other fine conjectural pieces of information; so that when the innkeeper arrived here to tell what he knew of Renzo, they were already better acquainted with him than he. He entered the usual apartment, and deposed that a stranger had arrived at his house to lodge, who could not be persuaded to declare his name.
Pardon me, sir: how can he be called my customer, when this is the first time Ive ever seen him? It was the devil (under your favour) that sent him to my house: and if I had known him, you, sir, know well enough I should have had no occasion to ask his name.
How can you expect, my good sir, that I should attend to the extravagances which so many noisy fellows, talking all at the same time, may chance to utter? I must attend to my interest, for Im only badly off. And besides, your worship knows well enough that those who are lavish of their tongues are generally ready with their fists too, particularly when there are so many together, and
I understand very well: the king will be always king; and he that is fined will be fined: but the poor father of a family naturally wishes to escape. Your honours have the power, and it belongs to you.
By break of day, Renzo had been snoring for about seven hours, and was still, poor fellow, fast asleep, when two rough shakes at either arm, and a voice at the foot of the bed, calling, Lorenzo Tramaglino! recalled him to his senses. He shook himself, stretched his arms, and with difficulty opening his eyes, saw a man standing before him at the foot of the bed, dressed in black, and two others armed, one on the right and the other on the left of his pillow. Between surprise, not being fully awake, and the stupidity occasioned by the wine of the night before, he lay, for a moment, as if bewildered; and then, thinking he was dreaming, and not being very well pleased with his dream, he shook himself so as to awake thoroughly.
Im getting up, replied Renzo; and he began, in fact, to gather up his clothes, which were scattered here and there on the bed, like the relics of a shipwreck on the shore. And beginning to dress himself, he continued: But Im not inclined to go to the high-sheriff, not I. Ive nothing to do with him. Since you unjustly put this affront upon me, I should like to be conducted to Ferrer. I know him; I know that hes a gentleman, and hes under some obligation to me.
Yes, yes, my good fellow, you shall be conducted to Ferrer, replied the notary. In other circumstances he would have laughed heartily at such a proposal; but this was not a time for merriment. In coming hither, he had noticed in the streets a movement which could not easily be defined, as the remainder of the old insurrection not entirely suppressed, or the beginning of a new one: the streets were full of people, some walking in parties, some standing in groups. And now, without seeming to do so, or at least trying not to show it, he was anxiously listening, and fancied that the murmur continued to increase. This made him desirous to get off; but he also wished to take Renzo away willingly and quietly; since, if he had declared war against him, he could not have been sure, on reaching the street, of not finding three to one against him. He, therefore, winked at the bailiffs to have patience, and not to irritate the youth, while he also endeavoured to soothe him with fair words. Renzo busied himself, while dressing as quickly as possible, in recalling the confused remembrances of the day before, and at last conjectured, with tolerable certainty, that the proclamation, and the name and surname, must be the cause of this disagreeable occurrence; but how ever did this fellow know his name? And what on earth could have happened that night, for justice to have gained such confidence as to come and lay hands on one of those honest youths who, only the day before, had such a voice in the assembly, and who could not all be asleep now? for he also observed the increasing bustle in the street. He looked at the countenance of the notary, and there perceived the irresolution which he vainly endeavoured to conceal. At last, as well to satisfy his conjectures, and sound the officers, as to gain time, and even attempt a blow, he said, I understand well enough the origin of all this; it is all from love of the name and surname. Last night I certainly was a little muddled: these landlords have sometimes very treacherous wines; and sometimes, as I say, you know, when wine passes through the medium of words, it will have its say too. But if this is all, I am now ready to give you every satisfaction; and, besides, you know my name already. Who on earth told you it?
Bravo, my boy, bravo! replied the notary, coaxingly; Ill see youve some sense; and believe me, who am in the business, that youre wiser than most. It is the best way of getting out of the difficulty quickly and easily; and with such good dispositions, in two words you will be dismissed and set at liberty. But I, do you see, my good fellow, have my hands tied; I cannot release you, as I should like to do. Come, be quick and come along with a good heart; for when they see who you are and then I will tell Leave it to me Enough; be quick, my good fellow.
Wherever you like; the shortest way, to set you the sooner at liberty, said the notary, vexed in his heart, that he must let this mysterious inquiry of Renzos pass, which might have served as the subject for a hundred interrogatives.When one is born to be unfortunate!thought he.Just see; a fellow falls into my hands, who, plainly enough, likes nothing better than to talk; and if he could have a little time, he would confess all one wants, without the aid of a ropeextra formam, to speak academically, in the way of friendly chit-chat; the very man to take to prison ready examined, without his being at all aware of it; and he must just fall into my hands at this unfortunate moment. Well! theres no help for it,he continued, listening attentively, and tossing his head backwardstheres no remedy; its likely to be a worse day than yesterday.What gave rise to this thought, was an extraordinary noise he heard in the street, and he could not resist opening the window to take a peep at it. He saw that it was a group of citizens, who, on being required by a patrol of soldiers to disperse, had at first given angry words in reply, and had finally separated in murmuring dissatisfaction; and, what appeared to the notary a fatal sign, the soldiers behaved to them with much civility. Having closed the window, he stood for a moment in perplexity, whether he should finish his undertaking, or leave Renzo in the care of the two bailiffs, while he ran to the high-sheriff to give him an account of his difficulty.But,thought he, directly,theyll set me down for a coward, a base rascal, who ought to execute orders. We are in the ball-room, and we must dance. Curse the throng! What a miserable business!
Renzo now stood between the two satellites, having one on each side; the notary beckoned to them not to use too much force, and said to him, Courage, like a good fellow; let us be off, and make haste.
Renzo, however, was feeling, looking, thinking. He was now entirely dressed, excepting his jacket, which he held in one hand, and feeling with the other in his pockets; Oho! said he, looking at the notary with a very significant expression; here there were some pence, and a letter, my good sir!
Ill show you that I trust you; here, and be quick, said the notary, drawing out of his bosom the sequestered articles, and handing them to Renzo with a sigh. Renzo received them, and put them into his pocket, muttering between his teeth: Stand off! youve associated so much with thieves, that youve learnt a little of their business. The bailiffs could no longer restrain their impatience, but the notary curbed them with a glance, saying to himself,If thou succeedest in setting foot within that threshold, thou shalt pay for this with interest, that thou shalt.
While Renzo was putting on his jacket, and taking up his hat, the notary beckoned to one of the bailiffs to lead the way downstairs; the prisoner came next behind him, then the other kind friend, and he himself brought up the rear. On reaching the kitchen, and while Renzo was saying; And this blessed landlord, where is he fled to? the notary made a sign to the two police officers, who, seizing each a hand, proceeded hastily to secure his wrists with certain instruments, called, in the hypocritical figures of euphemism, rufflesin plain language, handcuffs. These consistedwe are sorry that we are obliged to descend to particulars unworthy of historical gravity, but perspicuity requires itthey consisted of a small cord, a little longer than the usual size of a wrist, having at the ends two little bits of woodtwo tallies, so to saytwo small straight pegs. The cord encircled the wrist of the patient; the pieces of wood, passed through the middle and third fingers, were shut up in the hand of the captor, so that by twisting them, he could tighten the bandage at pleasure; and thus he possessed means, not only of securing his prisoner, but also of torturing the refractory; to do which more effectually, the cord was full of knots.
But the notary, who had fair words at hand on every disagreeable occasion, replied, Have patience, they only do their duty. What would you have? They are only formalities; and we cant always treat people as we would wish. If we dont do as were bid, it will fare badly with us, and worse with you. Have patience!
Brave youth! said the notary; this is the best way of getting off well. What would you have? It is an annoyance, I know; but if you behave well, youll very soon be rid of it. And, since I see that youre well-disposed, and I feel inclined to help you, Ill give you another little piece of advice for your good. You may believe me, for Im practised in these matters;go straightforward, without looking about, or attracting observation; so no one will notice you, no one will observe what you are, and you will preserve your honour. An hour hence you will be set at liberty. There is so much to be done, that they, too, will be in a hurry to have done with you; and, besides, I will speak You shall go about your own business, and nobody will know that youve been in the hands of justice. And you, continued he, turning to the two bailiffs with a severe countenance, take care you dont do him any harm; for I will protect him. You are obliged to do your duty; but remember that this is an honest man, a civil youth, who will shortly be at liberty, and who has some regard for his honour. Let nothing appear but that you are three honest men walking together. And, in an imperative tone, and with a threatening look, he concluded: You understand me? He then turned to Renzo, his brow smoothed, and his face rendered, in an instant, more cheerful and pleasant, which seemed to say, What capital friends we are! and whispered to him again, Be careful; do as I tell you; dont look about you; trust one who wishes you well; and now let us go. And the convoy moved off.
Renzo, however, believed none of these fine words; nor that the notary wished him well more than the bailiffs, nor that he was so mighty anxious about his reputation, nor that he had any intention of helping him; not a word of all this did he believe: he understood well enough that the good man, fearing some favourable opportunity for making his escape might present itself in the way, laid before him all these flattering inducements, to divert him from watching for and profiting by it. So that all these exhortations served no other purpose than to determine Renzo more decidedly on a course which he had indistinctly meditated, viz. to act exactly contrary to them.
Let no one hereby conclude that the notary was an inexperienced novice in his trade, for he will be much deceived. Our historian, who seems to have been among his friends, says that he was a matriculated knave; but at this moment his mind was greatly agitated. With a calm mind, I venture to say, he would have laughed at any one who, to induce others to do something which he himself mistrusted, would have gone about to suggest and inculcate it so eagerly, under the miserable pretence of giving him the disinterested advice of a friend. But it is a general tendency of mankind, when they are agitated and perplexed, and discern what another can do to relieve them from their perplexities, to implore it of him eagerly and perseveringly, and under all kinds of pretexts; and when villains are agitated and perplexed, they also fall under this common rule. Hence it is that, in similar circumstances, they generally make so poor a figure. Those masterly inventions, those cunning subtleties, by which they are accustomed to conquer, which have become to them almost a second nature, and which, put in operation at the proper time, and conducted with the necessary tranquillity and serenity of mind, strike a blow so surely and secretly, and, discovered even after the success, receive such universal applause; these, when their unlucky employers are in trouble, are hastily and tumultuously made use of, without either judgment or dexterity; so that a third party, who observes them labouring and busying themselves in this manner, is moved to compassion or provoked to laughter; and those whom they attempt to impose upon, though less crafty than themselves, easily perceive the game they are playing, and gain light from their artifices, which may be turned against them. It can never, therefore, be sufficiently inculcated upon knaves by profession, always to maintain their sang froid, or, what is better still, never to get themselves into perplexing circumstances.
No sooner, therefore, were they in the street, than Renzo began to look eagerly in every direction, throwing himself about, bending his head forward, and listening attentively. There was, however, no extraordinary concourse; and though a certain air of sedition might easily be discerned on the face of more than one passer-by, yet every one went straight on his way; and of sedition, properly speaking, there was none.
Prudence! prudence! murmured the notary, behind his back: Your honour, your reputation, my good fellow! But when Renzo, listening to three men who were approaching with excited looks, heard them speaking of a bake-house, concealed flour, and justice, he began to make signs at them by his looks, and to cough in such a way as indicated anything but a cold. These looked more attentively at the convoy, and then stopped; others who came up, stopped also; others who had passed by, turned round on hearing the noise, and retracing their steps, joined the party.
Take care of yourself; prudence, my lad; it is worse for you, you see; dont spoil all: honour, reputation, whispered the notary. Renzo was still more intractable. The bailiffs, after consulting with each other by a look, and thinking they were doing quite right, (everybody is liable to err), again twisted the manacles.
Ah! ah! ah! cried the tortured victim: the by-standers gathered close round at the cry; others arrived from every part of the street, and the convoy came to a stand. He is a dissolute fellow, whispered the notary to those who had gathered around: A thief taken in the act! Draw back and make way for justice! But Renzo, seeing this was the momentseeing the bailiffs turn white, or at least pale,If I dont help myself now,thought he,its my own fault.And he immediately called out, My friends! they are carrying me off, because yesterday I shouted Bread and justice! Ive done nothing; I am an honest man! help me; dont abandon me, my friends!
A murmur of approbation, followed by more explicit cries in his favour, arose in reply; the bailiffs first commanded, then asked, then begged the nearest to make way and let them pass; but the crowd only continued still more to trample and push forward. The bailiffs, seeing their danger, let go of the manacles, and only endeavoured to lose themselves in the throng, so as to escape without observation. The notary earnestly longed to do the same; but this was more difficult on account of his black cloak. The poor man, pale in face and dismayed in heart, tried to make himself as diminutive as possible, and writhed his body about so as to slip away through the crowd; but he could not raise his eyes, without seeing a storm gathering against him. He tried every method of appearing a stranger who, passing there by chance, had found himself entangled in the crowd, like a bit of straw in the ice; and encountering a man face to face, who looked at him fixedly with a more terrible countenance than the others, he, composing his face to a smile, with a look of great simplicity, demanded, What is all this stir?
Uh! you ugly raven! replied the man. A raven! a raven! resounded around. Pushes were added to cries, so that, in short, partly with his own legs, partly by the elbows of others, he obtained what lay nearest to his heart at that moment, a safe exit from the pressing multitude.