One who saw not Don Abbondio, the day that the news were suddenly spread of the descent of the army, of its near approach, and destructive proceedings, knows very little of what embarrassment and consternation really are. They are coming! there are thirty, there are forty, there are fifty thousand! they are devils, heretics, antichrists! theyve sacked Cortenuova! theyve set fire to Primaluna! theyve devastated Introbbio, Pasturo, Barsio! theyve been seen at Balabbio! theyll be here to-morrow!such were the reports that passed from mouth to mouth; some hurrying to and fro, others standing in little parties; together with tumultuous consultations, hesitation whether to fly or remain, the women assembling in groups, and all utterly at a loss what to do. Don Abbondio, who had resolved before any one else, and more than any one else, to fly, by any possible mode of flight, and to any conceivable place of retreat, discovered insuperable obstacles and fearful dangers. What shall I do? exclaimed he: Where shall I go? The mountains, letting alone the difficulty of getting there, were not secure: it was well known that the German foot soldiers climbed them like cats, where they had the least indication or hope of finding booty. The lake was wide; there was a very high wind: besides, the greater part of the boatmen, fearing they might be compelled to convey soldiers or baggage, had retreated with their boats to the opposite side: the few that had remained, were gone off overladen with people, and, distressed by their own weight and the violence of the storm, were considered in greater peril every moment. It was impossible to find a vehicle, horse, or conveyance of any kind, to carry him away from the road the army had to traverse; and on foot Don Abbondio could not manage any great distance, and feared being overtaken by the way. The confines of the Bergamascan territory were not so very far off but that his limbs could have borne him thither at a stretch; but a report had been already spread, that a squadron of cappelletti had been despatched from Bergamo in haste, who were occupying the borders to keep the German troops in order; and those were neither more nor less devils incarnate than these, and on their part did the worst they could. The poor man ran through the house with eyes starting from his head, and half out of his senses; he kept following Perpetua to concert some plan with her; but Perpetua, busied in collecting the most valuable household goods, and hiding them under the floor, or in any other out-of-the-way place, pushed by hurriedly, eager and pre-occupied, with her hands or arms full, and replied: I shall have done directly putting these things away safely, and then well do what others do. Don Abbondio would have detained her, and discussed with her the different courses to be adopted; but she, what with her business, and her hurry and the fear which she, too, felt within, and the vexation which that of her master excited, was, in this juncture, less tractable than she had ever been before. Others do the best they can; and so will we. I beg your pardon; but you are good for nothing but to hinder one. Do you think that others havent skins to save, too? That the soldiers are only coming to fight with you? You might even lend a hand at such a time, instead of coming crying and bothering at ones feet. With these and similar answers she at length got rid of him, having already determined, when this bustling operation was finished as well as might be, to take him by the arm like a child, and to drag him along to one of the mountains. Left thus alone, he retreated to the window, looked, listened; or, seeing some one passing, cried out in a half-crying and half-reproachful tone: Do your poor Curate this kindness, to seek some horse, some mule, some ass, for him! Is it possible that nobody will help me! Oh, what people! Wait for me, at least, that I may go with you! wait till you are fifteen or twenty, to take me with you, that I may not be quite forsaken! Will you leave me in the hand of dogs? Dont you know they are nearly all Lutherans, who think it a meritorious deed to murder a priest? Will you leave me here to be martyred? Oh, what a set! Oh, what a set!
But to whom did he address these words? To men who were passing along bending under the weight of their humble furniture, and their thoughts turned towards that which they were leaving at home exposed to plunder; one driving before him a young cow, another dragging after him his children, also laden as heavily as they could bear, while his wife carried in her arms such as were unable to walk. Some went on their way without replying or looking up; others said, Eh, sir, you too must do as you can! happy you, who have no family to think for! you must help yourself, and do the best you can.
Don Abbondio obeyed, went to his trunk, took out his little treasure, and handed it to Perpetua, who said: Im going to bury it in the garden, at the foot of the fig-tree; and went out. Soon afterwards she reappeared with a packet in her hand containing some provision for the appetite, and a small empty basket, in the bottom of which she hastily placed a little linen for herself and her master, saying, at the same time, Youll carry the breviary, at least!
Agnese herself, equally resolved not to await guests of this sort, alone as she was in the house, and with a little of the money of the Unnamed still left, had been hesitating for some time about a place of retreat. The remainder of those scudi, which in the months of famine had been of such use to her, was now the principal cause of her anxiety and irresolution, from having heard how, in the already invaded countries, those who had any money had found themselves in a worse condition than anybody else, exposed alike to the violence of the strangers and the treachery of their fellow-countrymen. True it was that she had confided to no one, save Don Abbondio, the wealth that had fallen, so to say, into her lap; to him she had applied, from time to time, to change her a scudo into silver, always leaving him something to give to some one who was poorer than herself. But hidden riches, particularly with one who is not accustomed to handle much, keep the possessor in continual suspicion of the suspicion of others. While, however, she was going about hiding here and there, as she best could, what she could not manage to take with her, and thinking about the scudi, which she kept sewn up in her stays, she remembered that, together with them, the Unnamed had sent her the most ample proffers of service; she remembered what she had heard related about his castles being in so secure a situation, where nothing could reach it, against its owners will, but birds; and she resolved to go and seek an asylum there. Wondering how she was to make herself known to the Signor, Don Abbondio quickly occurred to her mind; who, after the conversation we have related with the Archbishop, had always shown her particular marks of kindness; the more heartily, as he could do so without committing himself to any one, and, the two young people being far enough off, the probability was also distant that a request would be made him which would have put this kindness to a very dangerous test. Thinking that in such confusion the poor man would be still more perplexed and dismayed than herself, and that this course might appear desirable also to him, she came to make the proposal. Finding him with Perpetua, she suggested it to them both together.
And then, and then, when we get there, we shall find ourselves very well satisfied. It is well known now that the Signor desires nothing more than to benefit his fellow-creatures; and Ive no doubt hell be glad to receive us. There, on the borders, and as it were in the air, the soldiers certainly wont come. And then, and then, we shall find something to eat there; for up in the mountains, when this little store is gone, and, so saying, she placed it in the basket upon the linen, we should find ourselves very badly off.
What prison? I declare, with all your silly objections, (I beg your pardon), youd never come to any conclusion. Well done, Agnese! it was certainly a capital thought of yours! And setting the basket on a table, she passed her arms through the straps, and lifted it upon her back.
Couldnt we find some man, said Don Abbondio, who would come with us as a guard to his Curate? If we should meet any ruffians, for there are plenty of them roving about what help could you two give me?
Don Abbondio obeyed, and soon returned with the breviary under his arm, his hat on his head, and his staff in his hand; and the three companions went out by a little door which led into the churchyard. Perpetua locked it after her, rather not to neglect an accustomed form, than from any faith she placed in bolts and door-posts, and put the key in her pocket. Don Abbondio cast a glance at the church in passing, and muttered between his teeth: Its the peoples business to take care of it, for its they who use it. If theyve the least love for their church, theyll see to it; if theyve not, why, its their own look-out.
They took the road through the fields, each silently pursuing his way, absorbed in thought on his own particular circumstances, and looking rather narrowly around; more particularly Don Abbondio, who was in continual apprehension of the apparition of some suspicious figure, or something not to be trusted. However, they encountered no one: all the people were either in their houses to guard them, to prepare bundles, and to put away goods, or on the roads which led directly to the mountain-heights.
After heaving a few deep sighs, and then giving vent to his vexation in an interjection or two, Don Abbondio began to grumble more connectedly. He quarrelled with the duke of Nevers, who might have been enjoying himself in France, and playing the prince there, yet was determined to be duke of Mantua in spite of the world; with the Emperor, who ought to have sense for the follies of others, to let matters take their own course, and not stand so much upon punctilio; for, after all, he would always be Emperor, whether Titius or Sempronius were duke of Mantua; and, above all, with the governor, whose business it was to do everything he could to avert these scourges of the country, while, in fact, he was the very person to invite themall from the pleasure he took in making war. I wish, said he, that these gentry were here to see and try how pleasant it is. They will have a fine account to render! But, in the mean while, we have to bear it who have no blame in the matter.
Perpetua, who had been leisurely going over in her mind, during their walk, her hasty packing and stowing away, now began her lamentations at having forgotten such a thing, and badly concealed such another; here she had left traces which might serve as a clue to the robbers, there
What! exclaimed Perpetua, coming to an abrupt pause for a moment, and resting her hands on her sides, as well as the basket she carried would allow: What! do you begin now to scold me in this way, when it was you who almost turned my brain, instead of helping and encouraging me? I believe Ive taken more care of the things of the house than of my own; Id not a creature to lend me a hand; Ive been obliged to play the parts of both Martha and Magdalene; if anything goes wrong, Ive nothing to say: Ive done more than my duty now.
Agnese interrupted these disputes, by beginning, in her turn, to talk about her own grievances; she lamented not so much the trouble and damage, as finding all her hopes of soon meeting her Lucia dashed to the ground: for, the reader may remember, this was the very autumn on which they had so long calculated. It was not at all likely that Donna Prassede would come to reside in her country-house in that neighbourhood, under such circumstances: on the contrary, she would more probably have left it, had she happened to be there, as all the other residents in the country were doing.
The sight of the different places they passed brought these thoughts to Agneses mind more vividly, and increased the ardour of her desires. Leaving the footpath through the fields, they had taken the public road, the very same along which Agnese had come when bringing home her daughter for so short a time, after having stayed with her at the tailors. The village was already in sight.
They were received with open arms, and welcomed with much pleasure; it reminded them of a former deed of benevolence. Do good to as many as you can, here remarks our author, and you will the more frequently happen to meet with countenances which bring you pleasure.
Ill tell you, Signor Curate: they wont have to come here to halt, or, as you know the saying is, in polite language, in ospitazione: we are too much out of their road, thank Heaven. At the worst, therell only be a little party of foragers, which God forbid!but, in any case, theres plenty of time. We shall first hear the intelligence from the other unfortunate towns, where they go to take up their quarters.
It was determined to stop here and take a little rest; and as it was just the dinner-hour, My friends, said the tailor, will do me the favour of sharing my poor table: at any rate, you will have a hearty welcome.
The children gathered with great glee round their old friend Agnese. Very soon, however, the tailor desired one of his little girls (the same that had carried that gift of charity to the widow Maria; who knows if any reader remembers it?) to go and shell a few early chestnuts, which were deposited in one corner, and then put them to roast.
And you, said he to a little boy, go into the garden, and shake the peach-tree till some of the fruit falls, and bring them all here; go. And you, said he to another, go, climb the fig-tree, and gather a few of the ripest figs. You know that business too well already. He himself went to tap a little barrel of wine; his wife to fetch a clean table-cloth; Perpetua took out the provisions; the table was spread; a napkin and earthenware plate were placed at the most honourable seat for Don Abbondio, with a knife and fork which Perpetua had in the basket; the dinner was dished, and the party seated themselves at the table, and partook of the repast, if not with great merriment, at least with much more than any of the guests had anticipated enjoying that day.
Well, youve chosen a good asylum, resumed his host; people would be puzzled to get up there by force. And youll find company there; its already reported that many have retreated thither, and many more are daily arriving.
They are most of them dismissed, replied the tailor; and they who remain have altered their habits in a wonderful way! In short, this castle has become like the Thebaid. You, Signor, understand these things.
He then began to recall, with Agnese, the visit of the Cardinal. A great man, said he, a great man! Pity that he left us so hastily; for I did not, and could not, do him any honour. How often I wish I could speak to him again, a little more at my ease.
Having left the table, he made them observe an engraved likeness of the Cardinal, which he kept hung up on one of the door-posts, in veneration for the person, and also that he might be able to say to any visitor, that the portrait did not resemble him; for he himself had had an opportunity of studying the Cardinal, close by, and at his leisure, in that very room.
Don Abbondio was in a great hurry to be going; the tailor undertook to find a conveyance to carry them to the foot of the ascent, and having gone in search of one, shortly returned to say that it was coming. Then, turning to Don Abbondio, he added, Signor Curate, if you should ever like to take a book with you up there to pass away the time, I shall be glad to serve you in my poor way; for I sometimes amuse myself a little with reading. Theyre not things to suit you, being all in the vulgar tongue; but, perhaps
While offering and refusing thanks, and exchanging condolence, good wishes, invitations, and promises to make another stay there on their return, the cart arrived at the front door. Putting in their baskets, the travelling party mounted after them, and undertook, with rather more ease and tranquillity of mind, the second half of their journey.
The tailor had related the truth to Don Abbondio about the Unnamed. From the day on which we left him, he had steadily persevered in the course he had proposed to himself, atoning for wrongs, seeking peace, relieving the poor, and performing every good work for which an opportunity presented itself. The courage he had formerly manifested in offence and defence now showed itself in abstaining from both one and the other. He had laid down all his weapons, and always walked alone, willing to encounter the possible consequences of the many deeds of violence he had committed, and persuaded that it would be the commission of an additional one to employ force in defence of a life which owed so much to so many creditors; and persuaded, too, that every evil which might be done to him would be an offence offered to God, but, with respect to himself, a just retribution; and that he, above all, had no right to constitute himself a punisher of such offences. However, he had continued not less inviolate than when he had kept in readiness for his security, so many armed hands, and his own. The remembrance of his former ferocity, and the sight of his present meekness, one of which, it might have been expected, would have left so many longings for revenge, while the other rendered that revenge so easy, conspired, instead, to procure and maintain for him an admiration, which was the principal guarantee for his safety. He was that very man whom no one could humble, and who had now humbled himself. Every feeling of rancour, therefore, formerly irritated by his contemptuous behaviour, and by the fears of others, vanished before this new humility: they whom he had offended had now obtained, beyond all expectation, and without danger, a satisfaction which they could not have promised themselves from the most complete revengethe satisfaction of seeing such a man mourning over the wrongs he had committed, and participating, so to say, in their indignation. More than one, whose bitterest and greatest sorrow had been, for many years, that he saw no probability of ever finding himself, in any instance, stronger than this powerful oppressor, that he might revenge himself for some great injury, meeting him afterwards alone, unarmed, and with the air of one who would offer no resistance, felt only an impulse to salute him with demonstrations of respect. In his voluntary abasement, his countenance and behaviour had acquired, without his being aware of it, something more lofty and noble; because there was in them, more clearly than ever, the absence of all fear. The most violent and pertinacious hatred felt, as it were, restrained and held in awe by the public veneration for so penitent and beneficent a man. This was carried to such a length, that he often found it difficult to avoid the public expression of it which was addressed to him, and was obliged to be careful that he did not evince too plainly in his looks and actions the inward compunction he felt, nor abuse himself too much, lest he should be too much exalted. He had selected the lowest place in church, and woe to any one who should have attempted to pre-occupy it! it would have been, as it were, usurping a post of honour. To have offended him, or even to have treated him disrespectfully, would have appeared not so much a criminal or cowardly, as a sacrilegious act: and even they who would scarcely have been restrained by this feeling on ordinary occasions, participated in it, more or less.
These and other reasons sheltered him also from the more remote animadversions of public authority, and procured for him, even in this quarter, the security to which he himself had never given a thought. His rank and family, which had at all times been some pro-tection to him, availed him more than ever, now that personal recommendations, the renown of his conversion, was added to his already illustrious and famous, or rather infamous, name. Magistrates and nobles publicly rejoiced with the people at the change; and it would have appeared very incongruous to come forward irritated against a man who was the subject of so many congratulations. Besides, a government occupied with a protracted, and often unprosperous, war against active and oft-renewed rebellions, would have been very well satisfied to be freed from the most indomitable and irksome, without going in search of another: the more so, as this conversion produced reparations which the authorities were not accustomed to obtain, nor even to demand. To molest a saint seemed no very good means to ward off the reproach of having never been able to repress a villain; and the example they would have made of him would have had no other effect than to dissuade others, like him, from following his example. Probably, too, the share that Cardinal Federigo had had in his conversion, and the association of his name with that of the convert, served the latter as a sacred shield. And, in the state of things and ideas of those times, in the singular relations between the ecclesiastical authority and the civil power, which so frequently contended with each other without at all aiming at mutual destruction, nay, were always mingling expressions of acknowledgment, and protestations of deference, with hostilities, and which not unfrequently co-operated towards a common end, without ever making peace,in such a state of things, it might almost seem, in a manner, that the reconciliation of the first carried along with it, if not the absolution, at least the forgetfulness, of the second; when the former alone had been employed to produce an effect equally desired by both.
Thus that very individual, who, had he fallen from his eminence, would have excited emulation among small and great in trampling him under-foot, now, having spontaneously humbled himself to the dust, was reverenced by many, and spared by all.
True it is, that there were, indeed, many to whom this much-talked-of change brought anything but satisfaction: many hired perpetrators of crime, many other associates in guilt, who thereby lost a great support on which they had been accustomed to depend, and who beheld the threads of a deeply-woven plot suddenly snapped, at the moment, perhaps, when they were expecting the intelligence of its completion.
But we have already seen what various sentiments were awakened by the announcement of this conversion in the ruffians who were with their master at the time, and heard it from his own lips: astonishment, grief, depression, vexation; a little, indeed, of everything, except contempt and hatred. The same was felt by the others whom he kept dispersed at different posts, and the same by his accomplices of higher rank, when they first learned the terrible tidings; and by all for the same reasons. Much hatred, however, as we find in the passage elsewhere cited from Ripamonti, fell to the share of the Cardinal Federigo. They regarded him as one who had intruded like an enemy into their affairs; the Unnamed would see to the salvation of his own soul: and nobody had any right to complain of what he did.
From time to time, the greater part of the ruffians in his household, unable to accommodate themselves to the new discipline, and seeing no probability that it would ever change, gradually took their departure. Some went in search of other masters, and found employment, perchance, among the old friends of the patron they had left; others enlisted in some terzo1 of Spain or Mantua, or any other belligerent power; some infested the highways, to make war on a smaller scale, and on their own account; and others, again, contented themselves with going about as beggars at liberty. The same courses were pursued by the rest who had acted under his orders in different countries. Of those who had contrived to assimilate themselves to his new mode of life, or had embraced it of their own free will, the greater number, natives of the valley, returned to the fields, or to the trades which they had learnt in their early years, and had afterwards abandoned for a life of villainy; the strangers remained in the castle as domestic servants; and both natives and strangers, as if blessed at the same time with their master, lived contentedly, as he did, neither giving nor receiving injuries, unarmed, and respected.
But when, on the descent of the German troops, several fugitives from the threatened or invaded dominions arrived at his castle to request an asylum, he, rejoiced that the weak and oppressed sought refuge within his walls, which had so long been regarded by them at a distance as an enormous scarecrow, received these exiles with expressions of gratitude rather than courtesy; he caused it to be proclaimed that his house would be open to any one who should choose to take refuge there; and soon proposed to put, not only his castle, but the valley itself, into a state of defence, if ever any of the German or Bergamascan troops should attempt to come thither for plunder. He assembled the servants who still remained with him (like the verses of Torti, few and valiant); addressed them on the happy opportunity that God was giving both to them and himself of employing themselves for once in aid of their fellow-creatures, whom they had so often oppressed and terrified; and with that ancient tone of command which expressed a certainty of being obeyed, announced to them in general what he wished them to do, and, above all, impressed upon them the necessity of keeping a restraint over themselves, that they who took refuge there might see in them only friends and protectors. He then had brought down from one of the garrets all the fire-arms, and other warlike weapons, which had been for some time deposited there, and distributed them among his household; ordered that all the peasants and tenants of the valley, who were willing to do so, should come with arms to the castle; provided those who had none with a sufficient supply; selected some to act as officers, and placed others under their command; assigned to each his post at the entrance, and in various parts of the valley, on the ascent, and at the gates of the castle; and established the hours and methods of relieving the guards, as in a camp, or as he had been accustomed to do in that very place during his life of rebellion.
In one corner of this garret, divided from the rest, were the arms which he alone had borne, his famous carabine, muskets, swords, pistols, huge knives, and poniards, either lying on the ground, or set up against the wall. None of the servants laid a finger on them; but they determined to ask the Signor which he wished to be brought to him. Not one of them, replied he; and whether from a vow or intentional design, he remained the whole time unarmed, at the head of this species of garrison.
He employed, at the same time, other men and women of his household or dependents, in preparing accommodation in the castle for as many persons as possible, in erecting bedsteads, and arranging straw beds, mattresses, and sacks stuffed with straw, in the apartments which were now converted into dormitories. He also gave orders that large stores of provisions should be brought in for the maintenance of the guests whom God should send him, and who thronged in in daily increasing numbers. He, in the mean while, was never stationary; in and out of the castle, up and down the ascent, round about through the valley, to establish, to fortify, to visit the different posts, to see and to be seen, to put and to keep all in order by his directions, oversight, and presence. Indoors, and by the way, he gave hearty welcomes to all the new comers whom he happened to meet; and all, who had either seen this wonderful person before, or now beheld him for the first time, gazed at him in rapture, forgetting for a moment the misfortunes and alarm which had driven them thither, and turning to look at him, when, having severed himself from them, he again pursued his way.