Alessandro Manzoni (17851873). I Promessi Sposi. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
AT such a question, Don Abbondio, who had been studying to find some reply in the least precise terms possible, stood without uttering a word. And, to speak the truth, even we, with the manuscript before us, and pen in hand, having nothing to contend with but words, nor anything to fear but the criticisms of our readers, even we, I say, feel a kind of repugnance in proceeding; we feel somewhat strange in this setting forth, with so little trouble, such admirable precepts of fortitude and charity, of active solicitude for others, and unlimited sacrifice of self. But remembering that these things were said by one who also practised them, we will confidently proceed.
You give me no answer! resumed the Cardinal. Ah, if you had done, on your part, what charity and duty required of you, however things had turned out, you would now have something to answer! You see, then, yourself what you have done. You have obeyed the voice of Iniquity, unmindful of the requirements of duty. You have obeyed her punctually: she showed herself to you to signify her desire; but she wished to remain concealed from those who could have sheltered themselves from her reach, and been on their guard against her; she did not wish to resort to arms, she desired secrecy, to mature her designs of treachery and force at leisure; she required of you transgression and silence. You have transgressed, and kept silence. I ask you, now, whether you have not done more?you will tell me whether it be true that you alleged false pretexts for your refusal, that you might not reveal the true motive. And he paused awhile, awaiting a reply.
The tell-tales have reported this too,thought Don Abbondio; but as he gave no token in words of having anything to say, the Cardinal continued: If it be true, then, that you told these poor people what was not the case, to keep them in the ignorance and darkness in which iniquity wished them to be I must believe it, then; it only remains for me to blush for it with you, and to hope that you will weep for it with me! See, then, to what this solicitude (good God! and but just now you adduced it as a justification!) this solicitude for your temporal life has led you! It has led you repel freely these words, if you think them unjust; take them as a salutary humiliation, if they are not it has led you to deceive the weak, to lie to your own children.
Just see now how things go!thought Don Abbondio again to himself: to that fiend,meaning the Unnamed,his arms round his neck; and to me, for a half-lie, uttered for the sole purpose of saving my life, all this fuss and noise. But they are our superiors; theyre always in the right. Its my ill star that everybody sets upon me; even saints.And, speaking aloud, he said: I have done wrong; I see that Ive done wrong; but what could I do in an extremity of that kind?
Do you still ask this? Have not I told you already? Must I tell you again? You should have loved, my son; loved and prayed. Then you would have felt that iniquity may, indeed, have threats to employ, blows to bestow, but not commands to give; you would have united, according to the law of God, those whom man wished to put asunder; you would have extended towards these unhappy innocents the ministry they had a right to claim from you: God Himself would have been surety for the consequences, because you had followed His will: by following anothers, you have come in as answerable: and for what consequences! But supposing all human resources failed you, supposing no way of escape was open, when you looked anxiously around you, thought about it, sought for it? Then you might have known, that when your poor children were married, they would themselves have provided for their escape, that they were ready to flee from the face of their powerful enemy, and had already designed a place of refuge. But even without this, did you not remember that you had a superior? How would he have this authority to rebuke you for having been wanting in the duties of your office, did he not feel himself bound to assist you in fulfilling them? Why did you not think of acquainting your bishop with the impediment that infamous violence had placed in the way of the exercise of your ministry?
The very advice of Perpetua!thought Don Abbondio, pettishly, who, in the midst of this conversation, had most vividly before his eyes the image of the bravos, and the thought that Don Rodrigo was still alive and well, and that he would, some day or other, be returning in glory and triumph, and furious with revenge. And though the presence of so high a dignitary, together with his countenance and language, filled him with confusion, and inspired him with fear; yet it was not such fear as completely to subdue him, or expel the idea of resistance: because this idea was accompanied by the recollection, that, after all, the Cardinal employed neither musket, nor sword, nor bravoes.
Why did you not remember, pursued the bishop, that if there were no other retreat open to these betrayed innocents, I at least was ready to receive them, and put them in safety, had you directed them to methe desolate to a bishop, as belonging to him, as a precious part, I dont say, of his charge, but of his riches? And as to yourself, I should have become anxious for you; I should not have slept till I was sure that not a hair of your head would be injured. Do you think I had not the means of securing your life? Think you, that he who was so very bold, would have remitted nothing of his boldness, when he was aware that his plots and contrivances were known elsewhere, were known to me, that I was watching him, and was resolved to use all the means within my power in your defence? Didnt you know that if men too often promise more than they can perform, so they not unfrequently threaten more than they would attempt to execute? Didnt you know that iniquity depends not only on its own strength, but often also on the fears and credulity of others?
Just Perpetuas arguments,again thought Don Abbondio, never reflecting that this singular concurrence of his servant and Federigo Borromeo, in deciding on what he might and should have done, would tell very much against him.
It was because I myself saw those terrible faces, escaped from Don Abbondio in reply; I myself heard their words. Your illustrious Lordship can talk very well; but you ought to be in a poor priests shoes, and find yourself brought to the point.
No sooner, however, had he uttered these words, than he bit his tongue with vexation; he saw that he had allowed himself to be too much carried away by petulance, and said to himself,Now comes the storm!But raising his eyes doubtfully, he was utterly astonished to see the countenance of that man, whom he never could succeed in divining or comprehending, pass from the solemn air of authority and rebuke, to a sorrowful and pensive gravity.
Tis too true! said Federigo; such is our miserable and terrible condition. We must rigorously exact from others what God only knows whether we should be ready to yield: we must judge, correct, reprove; and God knows what we ourselves should do in the same circumstances, what we actually have done in similar ones! But woe unto me, had I to take my own weakness as the measure of other peoples duties, or the rule of my own teaching! Yet I certainly ought to give a good example, as well as good instruction, to others, and not be like the Pharisees, who lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, while they themselves touch not the burden with one of their fingers. Well then, my son, my brother; as the errors of those in authority are often better known to others than to themselves; if you are aware of my having, from pusillanimity, or from any other motive, failed in any part of my duty, tell me of it candidly, and help me to amend; so that where example has been wanting, confession at least may supply its place. Remonstrate freely with me on my weaknesses; and then my words will acquire more value in my mouth, because you will feel more vividly that they are not mine, but are the words of Him who can give both to you and me the necessary strength to do what they prescribe.
Oh, what a holy man! but what a tormentor!thought Don Abbondio;he doesnt even spare himself: that I should examine, interfere with, criticize, and accuse even himselfHe then said aloud: Oh, my Lord, you are joking with me! Who does not know the fortitude of mind, the intrepid zeal of your illustrious Lordship? And in his heart he addedEven too much so.
I did not ask you for praise, which makes me tremble, said Fed-erigo; for God knows my failings, and what I know of them myself is enough to confound me; but I wished that we should humble ourselves together before Him, that we might depend upon Him together. I would, for your own sake, that you should feel how your conduct has been, and your language still is, opposed to the law you nevertheless preach, and according to which you will be judged.
All falls upon me, said Don Abbondio: but these people, who have told you this, didnt probably, tell you, too, of their having introduced themselves treacherously into my house, to take me by surprise, and to contract a marriage contrary to the laws.
They did tell me, my son: but it is this that grieves, that depresses me, to see you still anxious to excuse yourself; still thinking to excuse yourself by accusing others; still accusing others of what ought to make part of your own confession. Who placed them, I dont say under the necessity, but under the temptation, to do what they have done? Would they have sought this irregular method, had not the legitimate one been closed against them? Would they have thought of snaring their pastor, had they been received to his arms, assisted, advised by him? or of surprising him, had he not concealed himself? And do you lay the blame upon them? And are you indignant, because, after so many misfortunes,what do I say? in the midst of misfortune,they have said a word or two, to give vent to their sorrows, to their and your pastor? That the appeals of the oppressed, and the complaints of the afflicted, are odious to the world, is only too true; but we! But what advantage would it have been to you, had they remained silent? Would it turn to your profit that their cause should be left entirely to the judgment of God? Is it not a fresh reason why you should love these persons, (and you have many already), that they have afforded you an opportunity of hearing the sincere voice of your pastor, that they have given you the means of knowing more clearly, and in part discharging, the great debt you owe them? Ah! if they have provoked, offended, annoyed you, I would say to you, (and need I say it?) love them exactly for that reason. Love them, because they have suffered, because they still suffer, because they are yours, because they are weak, because you have need of pardon, to obtain which, think of what efficacy their prayer may be.
Don Abbondio was silent, but it was no longer an unconvinced and scornful silence: it was that of one who has more things to think about than to say. The words he had heard were unexpected consequences, novel applications, of a doctrine he had nevertheless long believed in his heart, without a thought of disputing it. The misfortunes of others, from the contemplation of which his fear of personal misfortune had hitherto diverted his mind, now made a new impression upon him.
And if he did not feel all the contrition which the address was intended to produce (for this same fear was ever at hand to execute the office of defensive advocate), yet he felt it in some degree; he experienced dissatisfaction with himself, a kind of pity for others,a mixture of compunction and shame. It was, if we may be allowed the comparison, like the crushed and humid wick of a candle, which, on being presented to the flame of a large torch, at first smokes, spirts, crackles, and will not ignite; but it lights at length, and, well or ill, burns. He would have accused himself bitterly, he would even have wept, had it not been for the thought of Don Rodrigo; and, as it was, betrayed sufficient emotion to convince the Cardinal that his words had not been entirely without effect.
Now, pursued he, the one a fugitive from his home, the other on the point of abandoning it, both with too good reasons for absenting themselves, and without a probability of ever meeting again here, even if God purposes to re-unite them; now, alas! they have too little need of you, now you have no opportunity of doing them any service; nor can our limited foresight predict any for the future. But who knows whether a God of mercy may not be preparing some for you? Ah! suffer them not to escape! Seek them, be on the watch for them; beseech Him to create them for you.
Ah yes, my son, yes! exclaimed Federigo; and with a dignity full of affection, he concluded, Heaven knows how I should have wished to hold a different conversation with you. We have both lived long; Heaven knows if it has not been painful to me to be obliged thus to grieve your gray hairs with reprimands; how much more gladly I would have shared with you our common cares and sor-rows, and conversed with you on the blessed hope to which we have so nearly approached. God grant that the language which I have been compelled to use, may be of use to us both. You would not wish that He should call me to account at the last day, for having countenanced you in a course of conduct in which you have so unhappily fallen short of your duty. Let us redeem the time; the hour of midnight is at hand; the Bridegroom cannot tarry; let us, therefore, keep our lamps burning. Let us offer our hearts, miserable and empty as they are, to God that He may be pleased to fill them with that charity which amends the past, which is a pledge of the future, which fears and trusts, weeps and rejoices, with true wisdom; which becomes, in every instance, the virtue of which we stand in need.
Here our anonymous author informs us, that this was not the only interview between these two persons, nor Lucia the only subject of these interviews; but that he has confined himself to the mention of this one, that he might not digress too far from the principal object of his narrative. And, for the same reason, he does not make mention of other notable things, said and done by Federigo, throughout the whole course of his visitation; or of his liberality, or of the dissensions composed, and the ancient feuds between individuals, families, and entire towns, extinguished, or (which was, alas! far more frequent) suppressed; or of sundry ruffians, and petty tyrants, tamed either for life, or for some time;all of them things which occurred more or less in every part of the diocese where this excellent man made any stay.
He then goes on to say how, next morning, Donna Prassede came, according to agreement, to fetch Lucia, and to pay her respects to the Cardinal, who spoke in high terms of the young girl, and recommended her warmly to the Signora. Lucia parted from her mother, it may be imagined with what tears, left her cottage, and a second time said farewell to her native village, with that sense of doubly bitter sorrow, which is felt on leaving a spot which was once dearly loved, and can never be so again. But this parting from her mother was not the last; for Donna Prassede had announced that she should still reside some time at their country house, which was not very far off; and Agnese had promised her daughter to go thither, to give and receive a more mournful adieu.
The Cardinal was himself just starting for another parish, when the Curate of that in which the castle of the Unnamed was situated, arrived, and requested to speak to him. On being admitted, he presented a packet and a letter from that nobleman, wherein he besought Federigo to prevail upon Lucias mother to accept a hundred scudi of gold, which were contained in the parcel, to serve either as a dowry for the young girl, or for any other use which the two women might deem more suitable; requesting him at the same time to tell them, that if ever, on any occasion, they thought he could render them any service, the poor girl knew too well where he lived; and that, for him, this would be one of the most desirable events that could happen. The Cardinal immediately sent for Agnese, who listened with equal pleasure and amazement to the courteous message, and suffered the packet to be put into her hand without much scrupulous ceremony. May God reward this Signor for it, said she; and will your illustrious Lordship thank him very kindly? And dont say a word about it to anybody, because this is a kind of country Excuse me, Sir; I know very well that a gentleman like you wont chatter about these things; but you understand me.
Home she went as quickly as possible; shut herself up in her room, unwrapped the parcel, and, however prepared by anticipation, beheld with astonishment so many of those coins all together, and all her own, of which she had, perhaps, never seen more than one at once before, and that but seldom; she counted them over, and then had some trouble in putting them together again, and making the whole hundred stand up upon their edges; for every now and then, they would jut out, and slide from under her inexpert fingers; at length, however, she succeeded in rolling them up, after a fashion, put them in a handkerchief, so as to make quite a large parcel, and wrapping a piece of cord several times round it, went and tucked it into a corner of her straw mattress. The rest of the day was spent in castle-building, devising plans for the future, and longing for the morrow. After going to bed, she lay for a long time awake, with the thought of the hundred scudi she had beneath her to keep her company; and when asleep she saw them in her dreams. By break of day she arose, and set off in good time towards the villa where her daughter was residing.
Though Lucias extreme reluctance to speak of her vow was in no degree diminished, she had, on her part, resolved to force herself to open her mind to her mother in this interview, as it would be the last they should have for a long time.
Scarcely were they left alone, when Agnese, with a look full of animation, and, at the same time, in a suppressed tone of voice, as if there were some one present who she was afraid would hear, began: Ive a grand thing to tell you; and proceeded to relate her unexpected good fortune.
Why! replied Agnese, dont you see how many things we may do with so much money? Listen; I have nobody but youbut you two, I may say; for, from the time that he began to address you, Ive always considered Renzo as my son. The whole depends upon whether any misfortune has happened to him, seeing he gives no sign of being alive: but oh! surely all wont go ill with us? Well hope not, well hope not. For me, I should have liked to lay my bones in my native country; but now that you cant be there, thanks to that villain! and when I remember that he is near, even my country has become hateful to me; and with you two I can be happy anywhere. I was always inclined to go with you both to the very end of the world, and have ever been in readiness; but how could we do it without money? Do you understand, now? The little sum that the poor fellow had been scarcely able to lay by, with all his frugality, justice came, and cleared it away; but the Lord has sent us a fortune to make up for it. Well, when he has found a way of letting us know that hes alive, where he is, and what are his intentions, Ill come to Milan and fetch you; ay, Ill come myself. Once upon a time, I should have thought twice about such a thing, but misfortunes make one experienced and independent; Ive gone as far as Monza, and know what it is to travel. Ill bring with me a proper companion,a relation, as I may say,Alessio, of Maggianico; for, to say the truth, a fit person isnt to be found in the country at all. Ill come with him; we will pay the expense, and do you understand?
But perceiving that, instead of cheering up, Lucia became more and more dejected, and only exhibited emotion unmixed with pleasure, she stopped abruptly in the midst of her speech, and said, But whats the matter with you? Dont you see it?
With head hung down, a beating heart, and tears rolling down her cheeks, like one who relates something which, though a misfortune, is unalterable, Lucia disclosed her vow; and, at the same time, clasping her hands, again besought her mothers forgiveness for having hitherto concealed it from her; she implored her not to speak of such a thing to any living being, and to give her help, and facilitate the fulfilment of what she had promised.
Agnese remained stupefied with consternation. She would have been angry with her for her silence to her mother, but the more serious thoughts the case itself aroused stifled this personal vexation; she would have reproached her for the act, but it seemed to her that that would be a murmuring against Heaven; the more so, as Lucia began to depict, more vividly than ever, the horrors of that night, the absolute desolation, and the unhoped-for deliverance, between which the promise had been so expressly, so solemnly made. And all the while, example after example rose to the recollection of the listener, which she had often heard repeated, and had repeated herself to her daughter, of strange and terrible punishments following upon the violation of a vow. After a few moments of astonishment, she said, And what will you do now?Now, replied Lucia, it is the Lord who must think for us; the Lord, and the Madonna. I have placed myself in their hands; they have not forsaken me hitherto; they will not forsake me now, that The mercy I ask for myself of the Lord, the only mercy, after the salvation of my soul, is, that He will let me rejoin you; and He will grant it meyes, I feel sure He will. That day in that carriage Ah, most holy Virgin! those men! who would have told me that they were bringing me to this, that they would bring me to join my mother the next day?
Ah! exclaimed Lucia, with a sudden start, I must think nothing more of that poor fellow. Long ago God had not destined See how it appears that it was His will we should be kept asunder. And who knows? but no, no; the Lord will have preserved him from danger, and will make him even happier without me.
But should we have got this money, replied Lucia, if I had not passed through such a night? It is the Lord who has ordered everything as it is; His will be done. And here her voice was choked with tears.
At this unexpected argument, Agnese remained silent and thoughtful. In a few moments, however, Lucia, suppressing her sobs, resumed: Now that the deed is done, we must submit to it with cheerfulness; and you, my poor mother, you can help me, first, by praying to the Lord for your unhappy daughter, and then that poor fellow must be told of it, you know. Will you see to this, and do me also this kindness; for you can think about it. When you can find out where he is, get some one to write to him; find a man Oh, your cousin, Alessio, is just the man, a prudent and kind person, who has always wished us well, and wont gossip and tell tales; get him to write the thing just as it is, where I have been, how I have suffered, and that God has willed it should be thus; and that he must set his heart at rest, and that I can never, never be anybodys wife! And tell him of it in a kind and clever way; explain to him that I have promised, that I have really made a vow When he knows that I have promised the Madonna he has always been good and religious And you, the moment you have any news of him, get somebody to write to me; let me know that he is well, and then let me never hear anything more.
Theres one thing more I have to say, resumed Lucia; this poor fellow if he hadnt had the misfortune to think of me, all that has happened to him never would have happened. Hes a wanderer in the wide world; theyve ruined him on setting out in life; theyve carried away all he had, all those little savings he had made, poor fellow; you know why And we have so much money! Oh, mother! as the Lord has sent us so much wealth, and you look upon this poor fellow, true enough, as belonging to you yes, as your son, oh! divide it between you; for, most assuredly, God wont let us want. Look out for the opportunity of a safe bearer, and send it him; for Heaven knows how much he wants it!
Well, what do you think? replied Agnese: Ill do it, indeed. Poor youth! Why do you think I was so glad of this money? But! I certainly came here very glad, so I did. Well, Ill send it him; poor youth! But he, too I know what I would say; certainly, money gives pleasure to those who want it; but it isnt this that will make him rich.
Lucia thanked her mother for her ready and liberal assent, with such deep gratitude and affection, as would have convinced an observer that her heart still secretly clung to Renzo, more, perhaps, than she herself believed.
And I without you, my poor mother! and in a strangers house! and down there in Milan! But the Lord will be with us both, and afterwards will bring us together again. Between eight and nine months hence, we shall see each other once more here; and by that time, or even before it, I hope, He will have disposed matters to our comfort. Leave it to Him. I will ever, ever beseech the Madonna for this mercy. If I had anything else to offer her, I would do it; but she is so merciful, that she will obtain it for me as a gift.
With these, and other similar and oft-repeated words of lamentation and comfort, of opposition and resignation, of interrogation and confident assurance, with many tears, and after long and renewed embraces, the women tore themselves apart, promising, by turns, to see each other the next autumn, at the latest; as if the fulfillment of these promises depended upon themselves, and as people always do, nevertheless, in similar cases.
Meanwhile, a considerable time passed away, and Agnese could hear no tidings of Renzo. Neither letter nor message reached her from him; and among all those whom she could ask from Bergamo, or the neighbourhood, no one knew anything at all about him.
Nor was she the only one who made inquiries in vain: Cardinal Federigo, who had not told the poor woman merely out of compliment that he would seek for some information concerning the unfortunate man, had, in fact, immediately written to obtain it. Having returned to Milan after his visitation, he received a reply, in which he was informed, that the address of the person he had named could not be ascertained; that he had certainly made some stay in such a place, where he had given no occasion for any talk about himself; but that, one morning, he had suddenly disappeared; that a relative of his, with whom he had lodged there, knew not what had become of him, and could only repeat certain vague and contradictory rumours which were afloat, that the youth had enlisted for the Levant, had passed into Germany, or had perished in fording a river; but that the writer would not fail to be on the watch, and if any better authenticated tidings came to light, would immediately convey them to his most illustrious and very reverend Lordship.
These, and various other reports, at length spread throughout the territory of Lecco, and, consequently, reached the ears of Agnese. The poor woman did her utmost to discover which was the true account, and to arrive at the origin of this and that rumour; but she never succeeded in tracing it further than they say, which, even at the present day, suffices, by itself, to attest the truth of facts. Sometimes she had scarcely heard one tale, when some one would come and tell her not a word of it was true; only, however, to give her another in compensation, equally strange and disastrous. The truth is, all these rumours were alike unfounded.
The Governor of Milan, and Captain-General in Italy, Don Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordova, had complained bitterly to the Venetian minister, resident at Milan, because a rogue, and public robber, a promoter of plundering and massacre, the famous Lorenzo Tramaglino, who, while in the very hands of justice, had excited an insurrection to force his escape, had been received and harboured in the Bergamascan territory. The minister in residence replied, that he knew nothing about it; he would write to Venice, that he might be able to give his Excellency any explanation that could be procured on the subject.
It was a maxim of Venetian policy to second and cultivate the inclination of Milanese silk-weavers to emigrate into the Bergamascan territory, and, with this object, to provide many advantages for them, more especially that without which every other was worthless; we mean, security. As, however, when two great diplomatists dispute, in however trifling a matter, third parties must always have a taste in the shape of consequences, Bortolo was warned, in confidence, it was not known by whom, that Renzo was not safe in that neighbourhood, and that he would do wisely to place him in some other manufacture for a while, even under a false name. Bortolo understood the hint, raised no objections, explained the matter to his cousin, took him with him in a carriage, conveyed him to another new silk-mill, about fifteen miles off, and presented him, under the name of Antonio Rivolta, to the owner, who was a native of the Milanese, and an old acquaintance. This person, though the times were so bad, needed little entreaty to receive a workman who was recommended to him as honest and skilful by an intelligent man like Bortolo. On the trial of him afterwards, he found he had only reason to congratulate himself on the acquisition; excepting that, at first, he thought the youth must be naturally rather stupid, because, when any one called Antonio, he generally did not answer.
Soon after, an order came from Venice, in peaceable form, to the sheriff of Bergamo, requiring him to obtain and forward information, whether, in his jurisdiction, and more expressly in such a village, such an individual was to be found. The sheriff, having made the necessary researches in the manner he saw was desired, transmitted a reply in the negative, which was transmitted to the minister at Milan, who transmitted it to Don Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordova.
There were not wanting inquisitive people who tried to learn from Bortolo why this youth was no longer with him, and where he had gone. To the first inquiry he replied, Nay, he has disappeared! but afterwards, to get rid of the most pertinacious without giving them a suspicion of what was really the case, he contrived to entertain them, some with one, some with another, of the stories we have before mentioned: always, however, as uncertain reports, which he also had heard related, without having any positive accounts.
But when inquiries came to be made of him by commission from the Cardinal, without mentioning his name, and with a certain show of importance and mystery, merely giving him to understand that it was in the name of a great personage, Bortolo became the more guarded, and deemed it the more necessary to adhere to his general method of reply; nay, as a great personage was concerned, he gave out by wholesale all the stories which he had published, one by one, of his various disasters.
Let it not be imagined that such a person as Don Gonzalo bore any personal enmity to the poor mountain silk-weaver; that informed, perhaps, of his irreverence and ill-language towards his Moorish king, chained by the throat, he would have wreaked his vengeance upon him; or that he thought him so dangerous a subject as to be worth pursuing even in flight, and not suffered to live even at a distance, like the Roman senate with Hannibal. Don Gonzalo had too many and too important affairs in his head to trouble himself about Renzos doings; and if it seems that he did trouble himself about them, it arose from a singular combination of circumstances, by which the poor unfortunate fellow, without desiring it, and without being aware of it, either then, or ever afterwards, found himself linked, as by a very subtile and invisible chain, to these same too many and too important affairs.