Alessandro Manzoni (17851873). I Promessi Sposi. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
THE OLD woman immediately hastened to obey, and to give commands, under the sanction of that name, which by whomsoever pronounced, always set the whole household on the alert; for it never entered the imagination of any one, that another person would venture to use it unauthorized. She reached Malanotte shortly before the carriage arrived; and on seeing it approach, got out of the litter, beckoned to the driver to stop, advanced towards the door, and whispered to Nibbio, who put his head out of the window, the wishes of his master.
Lucia aroused herself, on feeling the carriage stop, and, awaking from a kind of lethargy, was seized with renewed terror, as she wildly gazed around her. Nibbio had pushed himself back on the seat, and the old woman, with her chin resting on the door, was looking at Lucia, and saying, Come, my good girl; come, you poor thing; come with me, for I have orders to treat you well, and try to comfort you.
At the sound of a female voice, the poor girl felt a ray of comforta momentary flash of courage; but she quickly relapsed into still more terrible fears. Who are you? asked she, in a trembling voice, fixing her astonished gaze on the old womans face.
Come, come, you poor creature, was the unvaried answer she received. Nibbio, and his two companions, gathering from the words, and the unusually softened tones of the old hag, what were intentions of their lord, endeavoured, by kind and soothing words, to persuade the unhappy girl to obey. She only continued, however, to stare wildly around; and though the unknown and savage character of the place, and the close guardianship of her keepers, forbade her indulging a hope of relief, she nevertheless, attempted to cry out; but seeing Nibbio cast a glance towards the handkerchief, she stopped, trembled, gave a momentary shudder, and was then seized, and placed in the litter. The old woman entered after her;333 Nibbio left the other two villains to follow behind as an escort, while he himself took the shortest ascent to attend to the call of his master.
To one who wishes to do you good, replied the aged dame; to a great Happy are they to whom he wishes good! You are very lucky, I can tell you. Dont be afraidbe cheerful; he bid me try to encourage you. Youll tell him, wont you, that I tried to comfort you?
Who is he?why?what does he want with me? I dont belong to him! Tell me where I am! let me go! bid these people let me gobid them carry me to some church. Oh! you who are a woman, in the name of Mary the Virgin!
This holy and soothing name, once repeated with veneration in her early years, and now for so long a time uninvoked, and, perhaps, unheard, produced in the mind of the unhappy creature, on again reaching her ear, a strange, confused, and distant recollection, like the remembrance of light and form in an aged person, who has been blind from infancy.
In the meanwhile, the Unnamed, standing at the door of his castle, was looking downwards, and watching the litter, as before he had watched the carriage, while it slowly ascended, step by step; Nibbio rapidly advancing before it at a distance which every moment became greater. When he had at length attained the summit, Come this way, cried the Signor; and taking the lead, he entered the castle, and went into one of the apartments.
Everything exactly right, replied Nibbio, with a profound obeisance; the intelligence in time, the girl in time, nobody on the spot, only one scream, nobody attracted by it, the coachman ready, the horses swift, nobody met with: but
I wont have this creature in my house,thought the Unnamed, meanwhile, to himself.In an evil hour, I engaged to do it; but Ive promisedIve promised. When shes far away And raising his face with an imperious air towards Nibbio, Now, said he, you must lay aside compassion, mount your horse, take a companiontwo, if you likeand ride away, till you get to the palace of this Don Rodrigo, you know. Tell him to send immediately immediately, or else
But another internal no, more imperative than the first, prohibited his finishing. No, said he, in a resolute tone, almost, as it were, to express to himself the command of this secret voice. No: go and take some rest; and to-morrow morning you shall do as I will tell you.
This girl must have some demon of her own,thought he, when left alone, standing with his arms crossed on his breast, and his gaze fixed upon a spot on the floor, where the rays of the moon, entering through a lofty window, traced out a square of pale light, chequered like a draught-board by the massive iron bars, and more minutely divided into smaller compartments by the little panes of glass.Some demon, or some angel who protects her Compassion in Nibbio! To-morrow morningto-morrow morning, early she must be off from this; she must go to her place of destination; and she shall not be spoken of again, and,continued he to himself, with the resolution with which one gives a command to a rebellious child, knowing that it will not be obeyed,and she shall not be thought of again, either. That animal of a Don Rodrigo must not come to pester me with thanks; for I dont want to hear her spoken of any more. I have served him because because I promised; and I promised, because it was my destiny. But Im determined the fellow shall pay me well for this piece of service. Let me see a little
And he tried to devise some intricate undertaking, to impose upon Don Rodrigo by way of compensation, and almost as a punishment; but the words again shot across his mindCompassion in Nibbio!What can this girl have done?continued he, following out the thought;I must see her. Yet noyes, I will see her.
The old woman made three bounds at the sound of his voice; the bolt was quickly heard grating harshly in the staples, and the door was thrown wide open. The Unnamed cast a glance round the room, as he paused in the doorway; and by the light of a lamp which stood on a three-legged table, discovered Lucia crouched down on the floor, in the corner farthest from the entrance.
Get up, said he to Lucia, approaching her. But she, whose already terrified mind had experienced a fresh and mysterious addition to her terror at the knocking, the opening of the door, his footstep, and his voice, only gathered herself still closer into the corner, and, with her face buried in her hands, remained perfectly motionless, excepting that she trembled from head to foot.
As if invigorated by fear, the unhappy girl instantly raised herself upon her knees, and joining her hands, as she would have knelt before a sacred image, lifted her eyes to the face of the Unnamed, and instantly dropping them said: `Here I am, kill me if you will.
God, God! interrupted the Unnamed, always God! They who cannot defend themselveswho have not the strength to do it, must always bring forward this God, as if they had spoken to him. What do you expect by this word? To make me? and he left the sentence unfinished.
O Signor, expect! What can a poor girl like me expect, except that you should have mercy upon me? God pardons so many sins for one deed of mercy. Let me go; for charitys sake, let me go. It will do no good to one who must die, to make a poor creature suffer thus. Oh! you who can give the command, bid them let me go! They brought me here by force. Bid them send me again with this woman, and take me to , where my mother is. Oh! most holy Virgin! My mother! my mother!for pitys sake, my mother. Perhaps she is not far from here I saw my mountains. Why do you give me all this suffering? Bid them take me to a church; I will pray for you all my life. What will it cost you to say one word? Oh, see! you are moved to pity: say one word, oh say it! God pardons so many sins for one deed of mercy!
Dont drive away a good inspiration! continued Lucia, earnestly, reanimated by seeing a certain air of hesitation in the countenance and behaviour of her oppressor. If you dont grant me this mercy, the Lord will do it for me. I shall die, and all will be over with me; but you Perhaps, some day, even you But no, no; I will always pray the Lord to keep you from every evil. What will it cost you to say one word? If you knew what it was to suffer this agony!
Oh no! I see that you have a kind heart, and feel some pity for an unhappy creature. If you chose, you could terrify me more than all the others: you could kill me with fear; but instead of that, you have rather lightened my heart; God will reward you for it. Finish your deed of mercy; set me free, set me free.
A woman shall bring you something to eat, said the Unnamed; and having said so, he stood wondering at himself how such a remedy had entered his mind, and how the wish had arisen to seek a remedy for the sorrows of a poor humble villager.
And you, resumed he hastily, turning to the aged matron, persuade her to eat something, and let her lie down to rest on this bed; and if she is willing to have you as a companion, well; if not, you can sleep well enough for one night on the floor. Encourage her, I say, and keep her cheerful. Beware that she has no cause to complain of you.
Oh, poor me! Shut the door quickly. And having heard the door closed, and the bolt again drawn, she returned to seat herself in her corner. Oh, poor me! repeated she, sobbing; whom shall I implore now? Where am I? Do you tell metell me, for pitys sake, who is this Signor he who has been speaking to me?
Who is he, eh?who is he? Do you think I may tell you? Wait till he tells you himself. You are proud, because he protects you; and you want to be satisfied, and make me your go-between. Ask him yourself. If I were to tell you this, I shouldnt get the good words he has just given you. I am an old woman, an old woman, continued she, muttering between her teeth. Hang these young folks, who may make a fine show of either laughing or crying, just as they like, and yet are always in the right. But hearing Lucias sobs and the commands of her master returning in a threatening manner to her memory, she stooped toward the poor crouching girl, and, in a gentler and more humane tone, resumed: Come, I have said no harm to you; be cheerful. Dont ask me questions which Ive no business to answer; but pluck up heart, my good girl. Ah! if you knew how many people would be glad to hear him speak, as he has spoken to you! Be cheerful, for he will send you something to eat just now; and I know by the way he spoke, Im sure it will be something good. And then you lie down, and you will leave just a little corner for me, added she, with an accent of suppressed rancour.
No, no, not I, said the old woman, drawing back, and seating herself on an old arm-chair, whence she cast sundry glances of alarm, and at the same time of envy, towards the poor girl. Then she looked at the bed, vexed at the idea of being, perhaps, excluded from it for the whole night, and grumbling at the cold. But she comforted herself with the thoughts of supper, and with the hope that there might be some to spare for her. Lucia was sensible of neither cold nor hunger, and, almost as if deprived of her senses, had but a confused idea of her very grief and terror, like the undefined objects seen by a delirious patient.
Ay, directly, replied the old woman; and taking a basket out of Marthas hand, she hastily nodded to her, shut the door, and came and set the basket on a table, in the middle of the room. She then repeatedly invited Lucia to come and partake of the tempting repast, and employing words, which, according to her ideas, were most likely to be efficacious in restoring the poor girls appetite, broke forth into exclamations on the excellence of the food;Morsels which, when common people have once got a taste, they dont forget in a hurry! Wine, which her master drank with his friends when any of them happened to arrive and they wanted to be merry! Hem! But seeing that all these charms produced no effectIt is you who wont eat, said she. Dont you be saying to-morrow that I didnt try to persuade you. Ill eat something, however; and then therell be more than enough left for you, when you come to your senses, and are willing to do you as are bid. So saying, she applied herself with avidity to the refreshments. When she had satisfied herself, she rose, advanced towards the corner, and bending over Lucia, again invited her to take something, and then lie down.
No, no, I dont want anything, replied she, with a feeble and almost drowsy voice. Then with more energy she continued; Is the door locked?is it well secured? And having looked around, she rose, and feeling with her hands, walked with a suspicious step towards the door.
The old woman sprang thither before her, stretched out her hand to the lock, seized the handle, shook it, rattled the bolt, and made it grate against the staple that received and secured it. Do you hear?do you see?is it well locked? Are you content now?
Well, its your own wish. See, Ill leave you the best place; Im lying here on the very edge; I shall be uncomfortable enough, for your sake. If you want to come to bed, you know what you have to do. Remember, Ive asked you very often. So saying, she crept, dressed as she was, under the counterpane, and soon all was silent.
Lucia remained motionless, shrunk up into the corner, her knees drawn close to her breast, her hands resting on her knees, and her face buried in her hands. She was neither asleep nor awake, but worn out with a rapid successiona tumultuous alternation, of thoughts, anticipations, and heart-throbbings. Recalled, in some degree, to consciousness, and recollecting more distinctly the horrors she had seen and suffered that terrible day, she would now dwell mournfully on the dark and formidable realities in which she found herself involved; then, her mind being carried onward into a still more obscure region, she had to struggle against the phantoms conjured up by uncertainty and terror. In this distressing state she continued for a long time, which we would here prefer to pass over rapidly; but at length, exhausted and overcome, she relaxed her hold on her benumbed limbs, and sinking at full length upon the floor, remained for some time in a state closely resembling real sleep. But suddenly awaking, as at some inward call, she tried to arouse herself completely, to regain her scattered senses, and to remember where she was, and how, and why. She listened to some sound that caught her ear; it was the slow, deep breathing of the old woman. She opened her eyes, and saw a faint light, now glimmering for a moment, and then again dying away: it was the wick of the lamp, which, almost ready to expire, emitted a tremulous gleam, and quickly drew it back, so to say, like the ebb and flow of a wave on the sea-shore; and thus, withdrawing from the surrounding objects ere there was time to display them in distinct colouring and relief, it merely presented to the eye a succession of confused and indistinct glimpses. But the recent impressions she had received quickly returned to her mind, and assisted her in distinguishing what appeared so disorderly to her visual-organs. When fully aroused, the unhappy girl recognized her prison; all the recollections of the hor-rible day that was fled, all the uncertain terrors of the future, rushed at once upon her mind: the very calm in which she now found herself after so much agitation, the sort of repose she had just tasted, the desertion in which she was left, all combined to inspire her with new dread, till, overcome by alarm, she earnestly longed for death. But at this juncture, she remembered that she could still pray; and with that thought there seemed to shine forth a sudden ray of comfort. She once more took out her rosary, and began to repeat the prayers; and in proportion as the words fell from her trembling lips she felt an indefinite confiding faith taking possession of her heart. Suddenly another thought rushed into her mind, that her prayer might, perhaps, be more readily accepted, and more certainly heard, if she were to make some offering in her desolate condition. She tried to remember what she most prized, or rather, what she had once most prized; for at this moment her heart could feel no other affection than that of fear, nor conceive any other desire than that of deliverance. She did remember it, and resolved at once to make the sacrifice. Rising upon her knees, and clasping her hands, from whence the rosary was suspended before her breast, she raised her face and eyes to heaven, and said, O most holy Virgin! thou to whom I have so often recommended myself, and who hast so often comforted me!thou who hast borne so many sorrows, and art now so glorious!thou who hast wrought so many miracles for the poor and afflicted, help me! Bring me out of this danger; bring me safely to my mother, O Mother of our Lord; and I vow unto thee to continue a virgin! I renounce for ever my unfortunate betrothed, that from henceforth I may belong only to thee!
Having uttered these words, show bowed her head, and placed the beads around her neck, almost as a token of her consecration, and, at the same time, as a safeguard, a part of the armour for the new warfare to which she had devoted herself. Seating herself again on the floor, a king of tranquillity, a more childlike reliance, gradually diffused themselves over her soul. The to-morrow morning, repeated by the unknown nobleman, came to her mind, and seemed to her ear to convey a promise of deliverance. Her senses, wearied by such struggles, gradually gave way before these soothing thoughts; until at length, towards day-break, and with the name of her pro-tectress upon her lips, Lucia sank into a profound and unbroken sleep.
But in this same castle there was one who would willingly have followed her example, yet who tried in vain. After departing, or rather escaping, from Lucia, giving orders for her supper, and paying his customary visits to several posts in his castle, with her image ever vividly before his eyes, and her words resounding in his ears, the nobleman had hastily retired to his chamber, impetuously shut the door behind him, and hurriedly undressing, had lain down. But that image, which now more closely than ever haunted his mind, seemed at that moment to say: Thou shalt not sleep!What absurd womanly curiosity tempted me to go see her?thought he.That fool of a Nibbio was right: one is no longer a man; yes, one is no longer a man! I? am I no longer a man? What has happened? What devil has got possession of me? What is there new in all this? Didnt I know, before now, that women always weep and implore? Even men do sometimes, when they have not the power to rebel. What the! have I never heard women cry before?
And here, without giving himself much trouble to task his memory, it suggested to him, of its own accord, more than one instance in which neither entreaties nor lamentations availed to deter him from the completion of enterprises upon which he had once resolved. But these remembrances, instead of inspiring him with the courage he now needed to prosecute his present design as it would seem he expected and wished they might, instead of helping to dispel his feelings of compassion, only added to them those of terror and consternation, until they compelled him to return to that first image of Lucia, against which he had been seeking to fortify his courage.She still lives,said he:She is here; I am in time; I can yet say to her, Go, and be happy; I can yet see that countenance change; I can even say, Forgive me Forgive me? I ask forgiveness? And of a woman, too? I? Ah, however! if one word, one such word could do me good, could rid me of the demon that now possesses me, I would say it; yes, I feel that I would say it. To what am I reduced! Im no longer a man; surely, no longer a man! Away!said he, turning himself with impetuosity on the couch which had now become so hard, under the covering which had now be-come so intolerable a weight:Away! these are fooleries which have many a time passed through my head. This will take its flight too.
And to effect such a riddance, he began seeking some important subject, some of the many which often so busily occupied his mind, in hopes he might be entirely engrossed by it; but he sought in vain. All appeared changed: that which once most urgently stimulated his desires, now no longer possessed any charms for him: his passions, like a steed suddenly become restive at the sight of a shadow, refused to carry him any further. In reflecting on enterprises engaged in, and not yet concluded, instead of animating himself to their completion, and feeling irritated at the obstacles interposed, (for anger at this moment would have been sweet to him,) he felt regret, nay, almost consternation, at the steps already taken. His life presented itself to his mind devoid of all interest, deprived of all will, divested of every action, and only laden with insupportable recollections; every hour resembling that which now rolled so slowly and heavily over his head. He drew out before his fancy all his ruffians in a kind of battle-array, and could contrive nothing of importance in which to employ one of them; nay, the very idea of seeing them again, and mixing among them, was an additional weight, a fresh object of annoyance and detestation. And when he sought an occupation for the morrow, a feasible employment, he could only remember that on the morrow, he might liberate his unfortunate prisoner.
Like one suddenly surprised by an unexpected and embarrassing question from a superior, the Unnamed hastily sought for an answer to the query he had just put to himself, or rather which had been suggested to him by that new voice which had all at once made itself heard, and sprung up to be, as it were, a judge of his former self. He tried to imagine any reasons which could have induced him, almost before being requested, to engage in inflicting so much suffering, without any incentives of hatred or fear, on a poor un-known creature, only to render a service to this man; but instead of succeeding in discovering such motives as he would now have deemed sufficient to excuse the deed, he could not even imagine how he had ever been induced to undertake it. The willingness, rather than the determination to do so, had been the instantaneous impulse of a mind obedient to its old and habitual feelings, the consequence of a thousand antecedent actions; and to account for this one deed, the unhappy self-examiner found himself involved in an examination of his whole life. Backwards from year to year, from engagement to engagement, from bloodshed to bloodshed, from crime to crime, each one stood before his conscience-stricken soul, divested of the feelings which had induced him to will and commit it, and therefore appearing in all its monstrousness, which those feelings had, at the time, prevented his perceiving. They were all his own, they made up himself; and the horror of this thought, renewed with each fresh remembrance, and cleaving to all, increased at last to desperation. He sprang up impetuously in his bed, eagerly stretched out his hand towards the wall at his side, touched a pistol, grasped it, reached it down, and at the moment of finishing a life which had become insupportable, his thoughts, seized with terror and a (so to say) superstitious dread, rushed forward to the time which would still continue to flow on after his end. He pictured with horror his disfigured corpse, lying motionless, and in the power of his vilest survivor; the astonishment, the confusion of the castle in the morning: everything turned upside down; and he, powerless and voiceless, thrown aside, he knew not whither. He fancied the reports that would be spread, the conversations to which it would give rise, both in the castle, the neighbourhood, and at a distance, together with the rejoicings of his enemies. The darkness and silence around him presented death in a still more mournful and frightful aspect; it seemed to him that he would not have hesitated in open day, out of doors, and in the presence of spectators, to throw himself into the water, and vanish. Absorbed in such tormenting reflections, he continued alternately snapping and unsnapping the cock of his pistol with a convulsive movement of his thumb, when another thought flashed across his mind.If this other life, of which they told me when I was a boy, of which everybody talks now, as if it were a certain thing, if there be not such a thing, if it be an invention of the priests; what am I doing? why should I die? what matters all that I have done? what matters it? It is an absurdity, my But if there really be another life!
At such a doubt, at such a risk, he was seized with a blacker and deeper despair, from which even death afforded no escape. He dropped the pistol, and lay with his fingers twined among his hair, his teeth chattering, and trembling in every limb. Suddenly the words he had heard repeated a few hours before rose to his remembrance:God pardons so many sins for one deed of mercy!They did not come to him with that tone of humble supplication in which they had been pronounced; they came with a voice of authority, which at the same time excited a distant glimmering of hope. It was a moment of relief: he raised his hands from his temples, and, in a more composed attitude, fixed his minds eye on her who had uttered the words; she seemed to him no longer like his prisoner and suppliant, but in the posture of one who dispenses mercy and consolation. He anxiously awaited the dawn of day, that he might fly to liberate her, and to hear from her lips other words of alleviation and life, and even thought of conducting her himself to her mother.And then? what shall I do to-morrow for the rest of the day? What shall I do the day after to-morrow? And the day after that again? And at night? the night which will return in twelve hours? Oh, the night! no, no, the night!And falling again into the weary void of the future, he sought in vain for some employment of time, some way of living through the days and nights. One moment he proposed leaving his castle, and going into some distant country, where he had never been known or heard of; but he felt that he should carry himself with him. Then a dark hope would arise that he should resume his former courage and inclinations, and that this would prove only a transient delirium. Now he dreaded the light which would show him to his followers so miserably changed; then he longed for it, as if it would bring light also to his gloomy thoughts. And, lo! about break of day, a few moments after Lucia had fallen asleep, while he was seated motionless in his bed, a floating and confused murmur reached his ear, bringing with it something joyous and festive in its sound. Assuming a listening posture, he distin-guished a distant chiming of bells; and, giving still more attention, could hear the mountain echo, every now and then, languidly repeating the harmony, and mingling itself with it. Immediately afterwards his ear caught another, and still nearer peal: then another, and another.What rejoicings are these? What are they all so merry about? What is their cause of gladness?He sprang from his bed of thorns; and, half-dressing himself in haste, went to the window, threw up the sash, and looked out. The mountains were still wrapt in gloom; the sky was not so much cloudy, as composed of one entire lead-coloured cloud; but by the already glimmering light of day, he distinguished in the road, at the bottom of the valley, numbers of people passing eagerly along,some leaving their dwellings and moving on with the crowd, and all taking the same direction towards the outlet of the vale on the right of the castle; he could even distinguish the joyous bearing and holiday dress of the passengers.What theis the matter with these people? What cause of merriment can there be in this cursed neighbourhood?And calling a confidential bravo who slept in the adjoining room, he asked him what was the cause of this movement. The man replied that he knew no more than his master, but would go directly to make inquiry. The Signor remained with his eyes riveted upon the moving spectacle, which increasing day rendered every moment more distinct. He watched crowds pass by, and new crowds constantly appear; men, women, children, in groups, in couples, or alone; one, overtaking another who was before him, walked in company with him; another, just leaving his door, accompanied the first he fell in with by the way; and so they proceeded together, like friends in a preconcerted journey. Their behaviour evidently indicated a common haste and joy; and the unharmonious, but simultaneous burst of the different chimes, some more, some less contiguous and distinct, seemed, so to say, the common voice of these gestures, and a supplement to the words which could not reach him from below. He looked and looked, till he felt more than common curiosity to know what could communicate so unanimous a will, so general a festivity, to so many different people.