Alessandro Manzoni (17851873). I Promessi Sposi. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
THAT same day, the 13th of November, an express arrived to the Signor Podestà of Lecco, and presented him with a despatch from the Signor the high sheriff, containing an order to make every possible strict investigation, to ascertain whether a certain young man, bearing the name of Lorenzo Tramaglino, silk-weaver, who had escaped from the hands pr&ædicti egregii domini capitanei, had returned, palam vel clam, to his own country, ignotum the exact village, verum in territorio Leuci: quod si compertum fuerit sic esse, the Signor Podestà must endeavour, quanta maxima diligentia fieri poterit, to get him into his hands; and having sufficiently secured him, videlicet, with strong handcuffs, (seeing that the insufficiency of smaller manacles for the afore-mentioned person has been proved), must cause him to be conducted to prison, and there detained under strong custody, until he be consigned to the officer, who shall be sent to take him: and in case either of success, or non-success, accedatis ad domum pr&ædicti Laurentii Tramalini; et facta debita diligentia, quid quid ad rem repertum fuerit auferatis; et informationes de illius prava qualitate, vita, et complicibus, sumatis; and of all his sayings and doings, what is found and not found, what is taken and not taken, diligenter referatis. After humanely assuring himself that the object of inquiry had not returned home, the Signor Podestà summoned the village constable, and under his direction, proceeded, with a large retinue of notaries and bailiffs, to the above-mentioned house. The door was locked, and either no one had the key, or he was not to be found. They, therefore, forced the locks with all due and praiseworthy zeal, which is equivalent to saying that they proceeded as if taking a city by assault. The report of this expedition immediately spread in the neighbourhood, and reached the ears of Father Cristoforo, who, no less astonished than grieved, sought for some informa-tion as to the cause of so unexpected an event from everybody he met with; he could only, however, gather airy conjectures, and contradictory reports: and, at last, therefore, wrote to Father Bonaventura, from whom he imagined he should be able to acquire some more precise information. In the mean while, Renzos relations and friends were summoned to depose all that they knew about his depraved habits: to bear the name of Tramaglino became a misfortune, a disgrace, a crime; and the village was quite in a commotion. By degrees, it became known that Renzo had escaped from the hands of justice during the disturbance at Milan, and had not since been seen. It was whispered about that he had been guilty of some high crime and misdemeanour, but what it was no one could tell, or they told it in a hundred different ways. The more heinous the offence with which he was charged, the less was it believed in the village, where Renzo was universally known as an honest, respectable youth; and many conjectured and spread the report, that it was merely a machination set on foot by the powerful Don Rodrigo, to bring about the ruin of his unfortunate rival. So true is it that, judging only by induction, and without the necessary knowledge of facts, even the greatest villains are sometimes wrongfully accused.
But we, who have the facts in our possession, as the saying is, can affirm that, if Don Rodrigo had had no share in Renzos misfortunes, yet that he rejoiced in them as if they had been his own work, and triumphed over them among his confidants, especially with Count Attilio. This friend, according to his first intention, should have been, by this time, at Milan; but, on the first announcement of the disturbances that had arisen there, and of the rabble whom he might encounter in a far different mood than tamely to submit to a beating, he thought it expedient to postpone his journey until he received better accounts; and the more so, because having offended many, he had good reason to fear that some who had remained passive only from impotency, might now be encouraged by circumstances, and judge it a favourable opportunity for taking their revenge. The journey, however, was not long delayed; the order despatched from Milan for the execution against Renzo, had already given some indication that things had returned to their ordinary course, and the positive notices which followed quick upon it, confirmed the truth of these appearances. Count Attilio set off immediately, enjoining his cousin to persist in his undertaking, and bring it to an issue, and promising, on his part, that he would use every means to rid him of the friar, to whom the fortunate accident of his cousins beggarly rival would be a wonderful blow. Scarcely had Attilio gone, when Griso arrived safe and sound from Monza, and related to his master what he had been able to gather:that Lucia had found refuge in such a monastery, under the protection of the Signora So-and-so; that she was concealed there as if she were a nun herself, never setting foot outside the threshold, and assisting at the services of the church behind a little grated window: an arrangement which was unsatisfactory to many who, having heard some mention of her adventures, and great reports of her beauty, were anxious, for once, to see what she was like.
This account inspired Don Rodrigo with every evil passion, or, to speak more truly, rendered still more ungovernable those with which he was already possessed. So many circumstances favourable to his design, had only further inflamed that mixture of punctilio, rage, and infamous desire of which his passion was composed. Renzo absent, banished, outlawedso that any proceedings against him became lawful; and even that his betrothed bride might be considered, in a measure, as the property of a rebel: the only man in the world who would and could interest himself for her, and make a stir that would be noticed in head-quarters, and at a distancethe enraged friarwould himself, probably, be soon incapable of acting for her. Yet here was a new impediment, which not only outweighed all these advantages, but rendered them, it might be said, unavailing. A monastery at Monza, even had there not been a princess in the way, was a bone too hard even for the teeth of a Rodrigo; and wander in his fancy round this retreat as he would, he could devise no way or means of assaulting it, either by force or fraud. He was almost resolved to give up the enterprise, to go to Milan by a circuitous route, so as to avoid passing through Monza, and there to plunge himself into the society of his friends, and their recreations, so as to drown, in thoughts of gaiety, the one idea which had now become so tormenting. But, but, but, his friends!softly a little with these friends. Instead of diverting his mind, he might reasonably expect to find in their company an incessant renewal and memento of his vexation: for Attilio would certainly have published the affair, and put them all in expectation. Everybody would make inquiries about the mountain girl, and he must give some answer. He had wished, he had tried; and how had he succeeded? He had engaged in an undertakingrather an unworthy one, certainly; but what of that? One cannot always regulate ones caprices; the point is to satisfy them; and how had he come off in the enterprise? How? Put down by a peasant, and a friar! Uh! and when an unexpected turn of good fortune had rid him of one, and a skillful friend of the other, without any trouble on the part of the principal person concerned, he, like a fool, knew not how to profit by the juncture, and basely withdrew from the undertaking! It would be enough to make him never again dare to hold up his head among men of spirit, or compel him always to keep his hand on his sword. And then, again, how could he ever return to, how ever remain in, that village, and that country, where, let alone the incessant and bitter remembrances of his passion, he should always bear about with him the disgrace of its failure? where public hatred would have increased, while his reputation for power and superiority would have proportionably diminished? where he might read in the face of every ragamuffin, even through the veil of profound reverences, a galling Youve been gulled, and Im glad of it! The path of iniquity, as our manuscript here remarks, is broad, but that does not mean that it is easy; it has its stumbling-blocks, and its thorns, and its course is tedious and wearisome, though it be a downward course.
In this perplexity, unwilling either to give up his purpose, to go back, or to stop, and unable by himself to go forward, a plan occurred to Don Rodrigos mind, by which he hoped to effect his design. This was to take as a partner and assistant in his enterprise, one whose hands could often reach beyond the views of othersa man at once, and devil, to whom the difficulty of an undertaking was frequently an incentive to engage in it. But this course also had its inconveniences and its dangers; the more pressing, the less they could be calculated upon beforehand; since it was impossible to foresee where one might be led, when once embarked in an affair with this man: a powerful auxiliary, certainly, but a not less absolute and dangerous guide.
These thoughts kept Don Rodrigo for several days in a state of worse than tedious perplexity. In the mean while, a letter arrived from his cousin, informing him that the plot against the friar was going on very well. Following close upon the lightning bursts forth the thunderclap; one fine morning, Don Rodrigo heard that Father Cristoforo had left the convent at Pescarenico. This success, so prompt, and so complete, together with Attilios letter, encouraging him onward, and threatening him with intolerable ridicule if he withdrew, inclined Don Rodrigo still more to hazard every thing rather than give up; but that which finally decided him, was the unexpected news that Agnese had returned home, thus removing one obstacle from around Lucia. We will relate how these two circumstances were brought about, beginning with the last.
The two unfortunate women were scarcely settled in their retreat, when the report of the disturbances in Milan spread rapidly over Monza, and, consequently, through the monastery; and following the grand news, came an infinite succession of particulars, which multiplied and varied every moment. The portress, situated just between the street and the monastery, was the channel of information both from within and from without, and, eagerly receiving these reports, retailed them at will to her guests. Two, six, eight, four, seven, had been imprisoned: they would hang them, some before the bakehouse of the Crutches, some at the end of the street where the Superintendent of provisions lived Ay, ay, just listen, now!one of them escapeda man somewhere from Lecco, or thereabouts. I dont know the name; but some one will be passing who will be able to tell me, to see if you know him.
This announcement, together with the circumstance that Renzo would just have arrived at Milan on the fatal day, occasioned a good deal of disquietude to the women, and especially to Lucia; but what must it have been, when the portress came to tell themIt is a man from your very village who has escaped being hunga silk-weaver, of the name of Tramaglino; do you know him?
Lucia, who was sitting hemming some needlework, immediately let it fall from her hands; she became extremely pale, and changed countenance so much, that the portress would certainly have observed it, had she been nearer to her. Fortunately, however, she was standing at the door with Agnese, who, though much disturbed, yet not to such a degree as her daughter, preserved a calm countenance, and forced herself to reply, that in a little village, everybody knew everybody; that she was acquainted with him, and could scarcely bring herself to believe that anything of the kind had happened to him, he was so peaceable a youth. She then asked if it was known for certain that he had escaped, and whither.
Fortunately, at this juncture, the portress was called away, and left themthe reader may imagine in what state of mind. For more than a day were the poor woman and her afflicted daughter obliged to remain in this painful suspense, imagining the causes, ways, and consequences, of this unhappy event, and commenting, in their own minds, or in a low voice with each other, on the terrible words their informer had left unfinished.
At length, one Thursday, a man arrived at the monastery in search of Agnese. It was a fishmonger, of Pescarenico, going to Milan, as usual, to dispose of his fish; and the good Father Cristoforo had requested him, in passing through Monza, to call in at the monastery, to greet the women in his name, to tell them all he knew about this sad affair of Renzos, to beseech them to have patience, and put their trust in God; and to assure them that he would certainly not forget them, but would watch his opportunity for rendering them assistance; and, in the mean time, would not fail to send them all the news he could collect every week, either by this means, or a similar one. The messenger could tell nothing new or certain about Renzo, except of the execution put into his house, and the search that was being made for him; but at the same time, that this had been hitherto in vain, and that it was known for certain that he had reached the territory of Bergamo. Such a certainty, it is unnecessary to say, was a balm to poor Lucias wounded heart: from that time her tears flowed more freely and calmly; she felt more comforted in her secret bursts of feeling with her mother; and expressions of thankfulness began to be mingled with her prayers.
Gertrude frequently invited her into her private apartment, and sometimes detained her there a long while, feeling a pleasure in the ingenuousness and gentleness of the poor girl, and in hearing the thanks and blessings she poured upon her benefactress. She even related to her, in confidence, a part (the blameless part) of her history, and of what she had suffered, that she might come there to suffer, till Lucias first suspicious astonishment gradually changed to compassion. In that history she found reasons more than enough to explain what she thought rather strange in the behaviour of her patroness, especially when she brought in to her aid Agneses doctrine about the characters of the nobility. Nevertheless, though some times induced to return the confidence which Gertrude reposed in her, yet she carefully avoided any mention of her fresh causes of alarm, of her new misfortune, and of the ties which bound her to the escaped silk-weaver, lest she should run any risk of spreading a report so full of her shame and sorrow. She also parried, to the best of her ability, all Gertrudes inquisitive questions about herself previous to her betrothal, but this was not so much from prudential motives, as because such an account appeared to the simple-minded girl more perplexing, more difficult to relate, than all she had heard, or thought it possible to hear, from the Signora. In the history of that lady there was oppression, intrigue, sufferingsad and mournful things, but which, nevertheless, could be named: in her own there was a pervading sentiment, a word, which she did not feel it possible to pronounce, when speaking of herself, and as a substitute for which she could never find a periphrasis that did not seem to her mind indelicate: love!
Gertrude was sometimes tempted to be angry at these repulses; but there always appeared behind them so much affection, so much respect, so much gratitude, and even so much trustfulness! Sometimes, perhaps, that modesty, so delicate, sensitive, and mysterious, displeased her still more on another account; but all was quickly forgotten in the soothing thought that every moment recurred to her mind when contemplating Lucia;I am doing her good.And this was true; for, besides the asylum she had provided, these con-versations and her familiar treatment were some comfort to Lucia. The poor girl also found another satisfaction in constant employment; she always petitioned for something to do, and when she went into the Signoras parlour, generally took a little needlework with her, to keep her fingers employed: but what melancholy thoughts crowded her mind, wherever she went! While plying her needle,an occupation to which hitherto she had given little attention,her reel constantly presented itself to her view; and with the reel, how many other things!
The second Thursday, the same, or another messenger arrived, bringing salutations and encouragement from Father Cristoforo, and an additional confirmation of Renzos escape; but no more positive information about his misfortunes. The reader may remember that the Capuchin had hoped for some account from his brother-friar at Milan, to whom he had given Renzo a letter of recommendation; he only replied, however, that he had seen neither letter nor person: that a stranger from the country had certainly been to the convent in search of him, but finding him out, had gone away, and had not again made his appearance.
The third Thursday, no messenger came; which was not only depriving the poor women of an anticipated and hoped-for source of consolation; but, as it usually happens, on every trifling occasion, to those in sorrow and suspense, was also a subject of much disquietude, and a hundred tormenting suspicions. Agnese had, for some time, been contemplating a visit to her native village, and this unexpected non-appearance of the promised messenger, determined her upon taking such a step. Lucia felt very strange at the thought of being left without the shelter of her mothers wing; but the longing desire she felt to know something, and her sense of security in that guarded and sacred asylum, conquered her great unwillingness; and it was arranged between them that Agnese should watch in the street the following day for the fishmonger, who must, necessarily pass that way on his return from Milan, and that she would ask him to be so good as to give a her seat in his cart, to take her to her own mountains. She met with him, accordingly, and asked if Father Cristoforo had given him no commission for her. The fishmonger said, that he had been out fishing the whole day before his departure, and had received news nor message from the Father. Agnese then made her request, which being granted without hesitation, she took her leave of the Signora and her daughter, with many tears; and promising to send them some news soon, and return as quickly as possible, she set off.
The journey was performed without accident. They passed part of the night in an inn on the road-side, as usual, and setting off on their way before sun-rise, arrived early in the morning at Pescarenico. Agnese alighted on the little square before the convent, dismissed her conductor with many thanks; and, since she was at the place, determined, before going home, to see her benefactor, the worthy friar. She rang the bell; the person who came to open the door was fra Galdino, the nut-seeker.
This is the way it will be. They will have wanted a good preacher at Rimini (there are some everywhere, to be sure, but sometimes they want a particular man, on purpose); the Father provincial there will have written to the Father provincial here, to know if he had such and such a person: and the Father provincial will have said, Father Cristoforo is the man for him; as, in fact, you see it is.
Eh, my good woman! Nobody knows, except the Father provincial, if even he does. When once one of our preaching friars has taken the wing, one can never foresee on what branch he will finally alight. They are sought after here, and there, and everywhere; and we have convents in all the four quarters of the globe. Rest assured, Father Cristoforo will make a great noise with his course of Lent sermons, at Rimini; for he doesnt always preach extempore, as he did here, that the poor people might understand him; for the city pulpits he has his beautiful written sermons, and his best robes. The fame of this great preacher will spread; and they may ask for him at I dont know where. Besides, we ought to give him up, for we live on the charity of the whole world, and it is but just that we should serve the whole world.
Listen, my good woman; Father Cristoforo was certainly an admirable man; but we have others, you know, full of charity and ability, and who know how to deal with either rich or poor. Will you have Father Atanasio? or Father Girolamo? or Father Zaccaria? Father Zaccaria, you know, is a man of great worth. And dont you wonder, as some ignorant people do, that he is so thin, and has such a weak voice, and such a miserable beard: I dont say that he is a good preacher, because everybody has his particular gifts; but he is just the man to give advice, you know.
Oh holy patience! exclaimed Agnese, with that mixture of gratitude and impatience that one feels at an offer in which there is more good nature than suitableness: What does it matter to me what a man is or is not, when that good man, whos no longer here, was he who knew all our affairs, and had made preparations to help us?
Oh dont say a word, my good woman; I am very sorry for you. And if you determine upon consulting any of the Fathers, the convent is here, and wont go away. I shall see you soon, when I collect the oil.
Rather better informed than fra Galdino, we will now relate how things had really happened. Immediately on Attilios arrival at Milan, he went, as he had promised Don Rodrigo, to pay a visit to their common uncle of the Privy-council. (This was a committee, composed, at that time, of thirteen persons of rank, with whom the governor usually consulted, and who, when he either died or resigned his office, temporarily assumed the command.) Their uncle, the Count, a robed member, and one of the oldest of the Council, enjoyed there a certain authority; but in displaying this authority, and making it felt by those around him, there was not his equal. Ambiguous language, significant silence, abrupt pauses in speaking, a wink of the eye, that seemed to say, I may not speak, flattery without promises, and formal threateningsall were directed to this end; and all, more or less, produced the desired effect; so that even the positive declaration, I can do nothing in this business, pronounced sometimes in absolute truth, but pronounced so that it was not believed, only served to increase the idea, and, therefore the reality, of his power: like the japanned boxes which may still be occasionally seen in an apothecarys shop, with sundry Arabic characters stamped upon them, actually containing nothing, yet serving to keep up the credit of the shop. That of the Count, which had been for a long time increasing, by very gradual steps, had, at last, made a giants stride, as the saying is, on an extraordinary occasion; namely, a journey to Madrid, on an embassy to the Court, where the reception that he met with should be related by himself. To mention nothing else the Count Duke had treated him with particular condescension, and admitted him into his confidence so far as to have asked him, in the presence, he might say, of half the Court, how he liked Madrid, and to have told him, another time, when standing in the recess of a window, that the Cathedral of Milan was the largest Christian temple in the kings dominions.
After paying all due ceremony to his uncle, and delivering his cousins compliments, Attilio addressed him with a look of seriousness, such as he knew how and when to assume: I think I am only doing my duty without betraying Rodrigos confidence, when I acquaint my uncle with an affair, which, unless you interfere, may become serious, and produce consequences
How often have I told you both to let the monks fry their own fish? It is quite sufficient for those to have to do with them who are obliged whose business it is and here he sighed. But you can avoid them
First of all, he is well known as a restless spirit, who prides himself upon quarrelling with gentlemen. This fellow, too, has taken under his protection and direction, and I dont know what besides, a country girl of the village, whom he regards with an affection an affection I dont say of what kind; but a very jealous, suspicious, and sullen affection.
I understand, said the Count, and a ray of cunning intelligence shot across the depth of dulness nature had stamped upon his countenance, now, however, partially veiled under the mask of a politician.
That Rodrigo, Signor uncle, may have had some idle jesting with this girl, when he met her on the road, I can easily believe: he is young, and besides, not a Capuchin: but these are mere nonsenses, not worth mentioning to my noble uncle: the serious part of the business is, that the friar has begun to talk of Rodrigo as he would of a common fellow, and has tried to instigate all the country against him.
They dont meddle with it, because they know him to be a hot-headed fool, and bear a great respect to Rodrigo; but, on the other side, this monk has great reputation among the villagers as a saint, and
Becauseand he scruples not to publish ithe takes greater delight in vexing Rodrigo, exactly because he has a natural protector of such authority as your lordship; he laughs at great people and politicians, and says that the cord of St Francis binds even swords and
Fra Cristoforo, of , said Attilio; and his uncle, taking a tablet from his desk, and considerably incensed, inscribed within it the unfortunate name. In the mean while Attilio continued: This fellow has always had such a disposition: his former life is well known. He was a plebeian, who possessed a little money, and would, therefore, compete with the noblemen of his country; and out of rage at not being able to make them all yield to him, he killed one, and then turned friar to escape the gallows.
Lately, continued Attilio, he is more enraged than ever, because he has failed in a design which he was very eager about; and from this my noble uncle will understand what sort of man he is. This fellow wanted to marry his protégée; whether to remove her from the perils of the world, you understand, or whatever it might be, at any rate he was determined to marry her; and he had found the the man, another of his protégés, a person whose name my honoured uncle may not improbably have heard; for I dare say the Privy-council have had some transactions with this worthy subject.
Lorenzo Tramaglino! exclaimed his uncle. Well done, my brave friar! Certainly! indeed he had a letter for a A crime that But it matters not; very well. And why did Don Rodrigo tell me nothing of all this; but let things go so far, without applying to one who is both able and willing to direct and help him?
I will be candid with you. On the one hand, knowing how many intrigues and affairs you had in your head (here his uncle drew a long breath, and put his hand to his forehead, as if to intimate the fatigue he underwent in the settlement of so many intricate undertakings), he felt in a manner bound, continued Attilio, not to give you any additional trouble. And besides, I will tell you the whole: from what I can gather, he is so vexed, so angry, so annoyed at the insults offered him by this friar, that he is more desirous of getting justice for himself by some summary means, than of obtaining it in the regular way of prudence by the assistance of your Lordship. I have tried to extinguish the flame; but seeing things taking a wrong course, I thought it my duty to inform your Lordship of everything, who, after all, is the head and chief prop of the house
True; but I continued to hope that the thing would die off of itself, or that the friar would, at last, come to his senses, or would, perhaps, leave the convent, as is often the case among the monks, who are one day here and another there; and then all would have been quietly ended. But
So I have thought. I said to myself: The Signor, my uncle, with his discretion and authority, will know well enough how to prevent a quarrel, and at the same time secure Rodrigos honour, which is almost, as it were, his own. This friar, thought I, is always boasting of the girdle of St Francis; but to employ this girdle seasonably, it is not necessary to have it always buckled around ones waist. My noble uncle has many means that I know not of: I only know that the Father provincial has, as is but right, a great respect for him; and if my honoured uncle thought that the best course, in this instance, would be to give the friar a change of air; two words
Oh, certainly! exclaimed Attilio, with a toss of his head, and a disguised smile of disdainful compassion. I am not intending to give advice to your Lordship! But the regard I have for the reputation of the family made me speak. And I am afraid I have been guilty of another error, added he, with a thoughtful air; I fear I have wronged Rodrigo in your Lordships opinion. I should have no peace if I were the cause of making you think that Rodrigo had not all the confidence in you, and all the submission to your will, that he ought to have. Believe me, Signor uncle, that, in this instance, it is merely
Come, come; you two wont wrong each other, if you can help it; you will be always friends, till one of you becomes prudent. Ever getting into some scrape or other, and expecting me to settle it: for you will force me to say so, you give me more to think about, you two, than here he heaved a profound sighall these blessed affairs of state.