Alessandro Manzoni (17851873). I Promessi Sposi. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
WHILE Renzo was relating with pain what Agnese with pain listened to, Lucia entered the room. They both turned towards her: she indeed knew more about it than they, and of her they awaited in explanation which could not but be distressing. In the midst of their sorrow they both, according to the different nature of the love they bore Lucia, discovered in their own manner a degree of anger that she had concealed anything from them, especially of such a nature. Agnese, although anxious to hear her daughter speak, could not refrain from a slight reproof, To say nothing to your mother in such a case!
Most Holy Virgin! exclaimed Lucia, who could have believed it would have come to this! Then with a voice tremulous with weeping, she related how, as she was returning from her spinning, and had loitered behind her companions, Don Rodrigo, in company with another gentleman, had passed by her; that he had tried to engage her in foolish talk, as she called it; but she, without giving him an answer, had quickened her pace, and joined her companions; then she had heard the other gentleman laugh loudly, and Don Rodrigo say, Ill lay you a wager. The next day they were again on the road, but Lucia was in the midst of her companions with her eyes on the ground; when the other gentleman laughed, and Don Rodrigo said, We shall see, we shall see. This day, continued Lucia, thank God, was the last of the spinning. I related immediately
To father Cristoforo, in confession, mamma, replied Lucia, with a sweet tone of apology. I related the whole to him, the last time we went to church together, at the convent: and if you noticed, that morning I kept putting my hand to one thing and another, to pass the time till other people were on the road, that we might go in company with them; because, after that meeting, the roads make me so frightened.
Lucia had had two good reasons: one not to distress and frighten the good woman, about an event against which she could have found no remedy; the other not to run the risk of a story travelling from mouth to mouth, which she wished to be kept with jealous silence; the more so because Lucia hoped that her marriage would have cut short at the beginning this abominated persecution. Of these two reasons she alleged only the first. And to you, said she, turning to Renzo, with that tone which reminds a friend that he is unreasonable: And to you could I speak about this? Surely you know too much of it now!
He told me that I must try to hasten the wedding as much as I could, and in the mean time to keep myself within-doors; that I should pray to the Lord; and he hoped that this man, if he did not see me, would not care any more about me. And it was then that I forced myself; continued she, turning again towards Renzo, without however raising her eyes, and blushing to the temples, it was then that I put on a too-bold face, and begged you to get it done soon, and have it concluded before the fixed time. Who knows what you must have thought of me! But I did it for good, and it was advised me, and I thought for certain and this morning I was so far from thinking
Oh, heavens, what a fury! exclaimed Agnese. The young man suddenly drew himself up before Lucia, who was weeping, looked at her with an anxious and embittered tenderness, and said, This is the last deed this assassin shall do.
Listen, my children; attend to me, said Agnese, after some moments; I came into the world long before you; and I know something about the world. You need not frighten yourselves too much: things are not so bad as people make out. To us poor people the skein seems more entangled because we cannot get hold of the right end; but sometimes a piece of good advice, a little talk with a man who has got learning I know well enough what I would say. Do as I tell you, Renzo; go to Lecco, seek for Dr Azzecca-Garbugli,1 tell him all about it,but mind you dont call him so, for Heavens sake: its a nick-name. You must tell the Signor DoctorWhat in the world do they call him? Oh dear! I dont know his right name: everybody calls him so. Never mind, seek for this doctor; he is tall, thin, bald, with a red nose and a raspberry-coloured mole on his cheek.
Well, continued Agnese, he is a man! I have seen more than one person, bothered like a chicken in a bundle of hemp, and who did not know where to put his head, and after being an hour nose to nose with the Dr Azzecca-Garbugli, (take good care you dont call him so)I have seen him, I say, make a joke of it. Take these four capons, poor creatures! whose necks I ought to have wrung for to-nights supper, and carry them to him; because we must never go empty-handed to these gentlemen. Relate to him all that has happened, and youll see he will tell you, in a twinkling, things which would not come into our heads if we were to think about them for a year.
Renzo willingly embraced this counsel; Lucia approved it; and Agnese, proud of having given it, took the poor creatures one by one from the hen-coop, united their eight legs, as one makes up a bunch of flowers, tied them up with a piece of string, and consigned them to the hands of Renzo, who, after giving and receiving words of encouragement and hope, went out by a little gate from the garden, that he might escape the observation of the boys, who would have run after him, crying. The bridegroom! the bridegroom! Thus, having crossed the fields, or, as they call them there, the places, he continued his route along narrow lanes, giving utterance to his bitter thoughts, as he reflected on his misfortune, and considering what he must say to the Dr Azzecca-Garbugli. I leave it to the reader to think how the journey was enjoyed by those poor creatures, so bound together, and held by the feet with their heads downwards, in the hand of a man who, agitated by so many passions, accompanied with appropriate gesture the thoughts which rushed tumultuously through his mind; and in moments of anger or determination, suddenly extending his arm, inflicted terrible shocks upon them, and caused those four pendent heads to bob violently, if we may be allowed the expression; they, meanwhile, vigorously applying themselves to peck each other, as too often happens among friends in adversity.
Arriving at the village, he inquired for the Doctors house, and when it was pointed out to him, quickly made his way thither. On approaching it, however, he began to feel that bashfulness so usual with the poor and ignorant in the presence of a gentleman or man of learning, and forgot all the fine speeches he had prepared; but a glance at the chickens he carried in his hand restored his courage. He went into the kitchen, and asked the maid-servant if he could see the Signor Doctor. The woman looked at the birds, and, as if accustomed to such presents, was about to take them in her hand, but Renzo held them back, because he wanted the Doctor to see he had brought something with him. Just at this moment, the wished-for personage made his appearance, as the servant was saying. Give them here, and go forward to the study. Renzo made a low bow to the Doctor, who graciously bid him Come in, my son, and took him into his study. It was a large room, decorated on three sides with portraits of the twelve C&æsars; the remaining wall was hidden by a large bookcase, filled with old and dusty books: in the middle of the room stood a table covered with extracts, petitions, libels, and proclamations: three or four chairs were scattered around, and on one side was a large arm-chair, with a high square back, terminating at the corners in two horn-shaped ornaments of wood, and covered with leather, fastened down with large nails. Some of these had fallen out, so that the leather curled up here and there at pleasure, leaving the corners unencumbered. The Doctor was in his dressing-gown; that is to say, he had on a faded robe, which had served him form any years to harangue in on days of state, when he went to Milan on any important cause. Having shut the door, he re-animated the young mans confidence with these words: Tell me your case, my son.
I understand, muttered the doctor, who in truth had not understood; I understand. He then put on a serious face; but it was a seriousness mingled with an air of compassion and importance; and, pressing his lips, he uttered an inarticulate sound, betokening a sen-timent, afterwards more clearly expressed in his first words. A serious case, my son. There are laws to the point. You have done well to come to me. It is a clear case, recognized in a hundred proclamations, and stay! in an edict of the last year, by the present Signor Governor. Ill let you see it and handle it directly.
Where can it be? Come nearer, come nearer. One is obliged to have so many things in hand! But it must surely be here, for it is a proclamation of importance. Ah! here it is, here it is! He took it, unfolded it, looked at the date, and with a still more serious face, continued, The fifteenth of October, 1627. Certainly; it is last years; a fresh proclamation; it is these that cause such fear. Can you read, my son?
Very well, follow me with your eye, and you shall see. And holding the edict displayed in the air, he began to read, rapidly muttering some passages, and pausing distinctly, with marked emphasis, upon others, as the case required.
Although in the proclamation published by order of the Signor Duke of Feria, the 14th December, 1620, and confirmed by the Most Illustrious and Most Excellent Signor, the Signor Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordova, &c., there was provision made, by extraordinary and rigorous measures, against oppressions, commotions, and tyrannical acts that some persons dare to commit against the devoted subjects of his Majesty; nevertheless, the frequency of crimes and violences, &c., has increased to such a degree, that his Excellency is under the necessity, &c. Wherefore, with the concurrence of the Senate and a Council, &c., he has resolved to publish the present edict.
And, to begin with tyrannical acts, experience showing, that many, as well in cities, as in the country, Do you hear? excite commotions in this state by violence, and oppress the weak in various ways, as, for example, by compelling them to make hard bargains in purchases, rents, &c., where am I? ah! here! lookto perform or not to perform marriages; eh!
Listen, listen; there is plenty more; and then we shall see the penalty. To give evidence, or not to give evidence; compelling one to leave his home, &c., another to pay a debt: all this has nothing to do with us. Ah! we have it here; this priest not to perform that to which he is obliged by his office, or to do things which do not belong to him. Eh!
Eh! is it not so? listen, listen: and similar oppressions, whether perpetrated by feudatories; the nobility, middle ranks, lower orders, or plebeians. No one escapes: they are all here: it is like the valley of Jehoshaphat. Listen now to the penalty. All these, and other such like criminal acts, although they are prohibited, nevertheless, it being necessary to use greater rigour, his Excellency, not relenting in this proclamation, &c., enjoins and commands that against all offenders under any of the above-mentioned heads, or the like, all the ordinary magistrates of the state shall proceed by pecuniary and corporal punishment, by banishment or the galleys, and even by death a mere bagatelle! at the will of his Excellency or of the Senate, according to the character of the cases, persons and circumstances. And this IR-RE-MIS-SI-BLY, and with all rigour, &c. Theres plenty of it here, eh? And see, heres the signature: Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordova: and lower down; Platonus; and here again: Vidit Ferrer: theres nothing wanting.
While the Doctor was reading, Renzo slowly followed him with his eye, trying to draw out the simple meaning, and to behold for himself those blessed words, which he believed were to render him assistance. The Doctor, seeing his client more attentive than alarmed, was greatly surprised. He must be matriculated, said he to himselfAh! ah! added he aloud; you have been obliged to shave off the lock. You have been prudent; however you need not have done so, when putting yourself under my hands. The case is serious; but you dont know what I have courage to do in a time of need.
To understand this mistake of the Doctors, it must be known, that at that time, bravoes by profession, and villains of every kind, used to wear a long lock of hair, which they drew over the face like a visor on meeting any one, when the occasion was one which ren-dered disguise necessary, and the undertaking such as required both force and circumspection.
The proclamation had not been silent with regard to this matter. His Excellency (the Marquis of La Hynojosa) commands that whosoever shall wear his hair of such a length as to cover his forehead as far as the eyebrows only, or shall wear tresses either before or behind the ears, shall incur the penalty of three hundred crowns; or in case of inability, three years in the galleys for the first offence, and for the second, besides the above, a severer penalty still, at the will of his Excellency.
However, in case of baldness or other reasonable cause, as a mark or wound, he gives permission to such, for their greater decorum or health, to wear their hair so long as may be necessary to cover such failings, and no more; warning them well to beware of exceeding the limits of duty and pure necessity, that they may not incur the penalty imposed upon other dissemblers.
And he also commands all barbers, under penalty of a hundred crowns, or three stripes, to be given them in public, and even greater corporal punishment, at the will of his Excellency, as above, that they leave not on those whom they shave, any kind of the said tresses, locks, curls, or hair, longer than usual, either on the forehead, temples, or behind the ears; but that they shall be all of equal length, as above, except in case of baldness, or other defects, as already described. The lock, then, might almost be considered a part of the armour, and a distinctive mark of bravoes and vagabonds; so that these characters very commonly bore the name of Ciuffi.2 This term is still used, with a mitigated signification, in the dialect of the country; and, perhaps, there is not one of our Milanese readers who does not remember hearing it said of him, in his childhood, either by his relatives, his tutor, or some family friend, He is a Ciuffo; he is a Ciuffetto.
I can do nothing, replied the Doctor, shaking his head, with a smile between malice and impatience. If you dont trust me, I can do nothing. He who tells lies to the lawyer, do you see, my son, is a fool who will tell the truth to the judge. People must relate matters clearly to the advocate: it is our business to make them intricate. If you wish me to help you, you must tell me all from a to z, with your heart in your hand, as if to your confessor. You must name the person who has employed you. He will most likely be a person of consequence; and, in that case, I will go to him to perform an act of duty. I shant, however, tell him, do you see, that you told me he had sent you, trust me. I will tell him I come to implore his protection for a poor slandered youth, and will take all necessary measures with him to finish the affair commendably. You understand, that, in securing himself, he will also secure you. Even if the scrape be all your own, I wont go back; I have extricated others from worse predicaments. And if you have not offended a person of quality, you understand, I will engage to get you out of the difficultywith a little expense, you understand. You must tell me who is the offended party, as they say; and according to the condition, rank, and temper of the person, we shall see whether it will be better to bring him to reason by offers of protection, or, in some way, to criminate him, and put a flea in his ear; because, you see, I know very well how to manage these edicts; no one must be guilty, and no one must be innocent. As to the curate, if he has any discretion, he will keep in the back-ground; if he is a simpleton, we will dispose of him too. One can escape from any intrigue; but it requires one to act like a man; and your case is seriousserious, I say, serious; the edict speaks clearly; and if the matter were to be decided between justice and you, to say the truth, it would go hard with you. I speak to you as a friend. One must pay for pranks; if you wish to get off clear, money and franknesstrust yourself to one who wishes you well; obey, and do all that is suggested to you.
While the Doctor poured forth this rhapsody, Renzo stood looking at him, with the spell-bound attention of a labouring man watching a juggler in the street, who, after thrusting into his mouth handful after handful of tow, draws forth thence ribbonribbonribbonseemingly without end. When, at last, he understood what the Doctor was saying, and the strange mistake he had made, he cut short the ribbon in his mouth with these words: Oh, Signor Doctor, how have you understood me? The case is exactly the other way. I have threatened no one; I never do such things, not I; ask all my neighbours, and you will hear I have never had anything to do with the law. The trick has been played upon me; and I came to ask you what I must do to get justice, and I am very glad that I have seen this edict.
I beg your pardon, Signor Doctor, you didnt give me time; now I will relate the case as it is. You must know, then, that I was to have married to-day, and here Renzos voice became tremulousI was to have married to-day a young woman to whom I have paid my addresses since the beginning of summer; and this was the day, as I said, that was fixed with the Signor Curate, and everything was ready. Well, this morning, the Signor Curate began to throw out some excuses however, not to tire you, I will only say, I made him speak, as was but just; and he confessed that he had been forbidden under pain of death, to celebrate this marriage. This tyrant of a Don Rodrigo
Get you gone! quickly interrupted the Doctor, raising his eyebrows, wrinkling his red nose, and distorting his mouth; get you gone! Why do you come here to rack my brain with these lies? Talk in this way to your companions, who dont know the meaning of words, and dont come and utter them to a gentleman who knows well what they are worth. Go away, go away; you dont know what you are talking about; I dont meddle with boys; I dont want to hear talk of this sort: talk in the air.
Get you gone, I tell you; what do I care for your oaths! I wont enter into the business; I wash my hands of it. And he began rubbing and twirling them one over the other, as if he were really washing them. Learn how to speak; and dont come and take a gentleman thus by surprise.
But listenbut listen, vainly repeated Renzo. The Doctor, fuming all the time, pushed him towards the door, and, on reaching it, set it wide open, called the servant, and said, Be quick and give this man what he brought. I want nothing, I want nothing. The woman had never before executed a similar order all the time she had been in the Doctors service; but it was pronounced in so resolute a manner, that she did not hesitate to obey. So, taking the four poor birds, she gave them to Renzo, with a look of contemptuous compassion, which seemed to say, you must indeed have made a grand blunder. Renzo tried to be ceremonious, but the Doctor was inexorable; and the unhappy wight, astonished and bewildered, and more wrathful than ever, was compelled to take back the restored victims, and return to the country to relate the pleasing result of his expedition to Agnese and Lucia.
During his absence, after sorrowfully changing their nuptial robes for the humble daily dress, they had set themselves to consult anew, Lucia sobbing, Agnese sighing mournfully, from time to time. When Agnese had sufficiently enlarged upon the great effects they might hope for from the Doctors advice, Lucia remarked, that they ought to try every method likely to assist them; that Father Cristoforo was a man not only to advise, but also to render more effectual assistance, where it concerned the poor and unfortunate; and that it would be a good thing if they could let him know what had happened.
It would, indeed, replied Agnese; and they began immediately to contrive together some plan to accomplish it; since, to go themselves to the convent, distant, perhaps, two miles, was an undertaking they would rather not risk that day; and, certainly, no one with any judgment would have advised them to do so. While, however, they were thus engaged in weighing the different sides of the question, they heard a knock at the door; and at the same moment, a low but distinct Deo Gratias. Lucia, wondering who it could be, ran to open it, and immediately, making a low bow, there entered a lay Capuchin collector, his bag hanging over his left shoulder, and the mouth of it twisted and held tight in his two hands, over his breast. Oh, brother Galdino! exclaimed the two women. The Lord be with you, said the friar; I have come to beg for the nuts.
Go and fetch the nuts for the Fathers, said Agnese. Lucia arose, and moved towards the other room; but, before entering it, she paused behind the friars back, who remained standing in exactly the same position; and putting her fore-finger on her lips, gave her mother a look demanding secrecy, in which were mingled tenderness, supplication, and even a certain air of authority.
The collector, inquisitively eying Agnese at a distance, said, And this wedding? I thought it was to have been to-day; but I noticed a stir in the neighbourhood, as if indicating something new. What has happened?
The Signor Curate is ill, and we are obliged to postpone it, hastily replied Agnese. Probably the answer might have been very different, if Lucia had not given her the hint. And how does the collection go on? added she, wishing to change the conversation.
Badly, good woman, badly. They are all here. And so saying, he took the wallet off his shoulders and tossed it up between his hands into the air. They are all here; and to collect this mighty abundance, I have had to knock at ten doors.
Well, you must know, then, that in our convent, there was a holy Father, whose name was Father Macario. One day, in winter, walking along a narrow path, in a field belonging to one of our benefactorsa good man alsoFather Macario saw him standing near a large walnut-tree, and four peasants, with axes upraised, about to fell it, having laid bare its roots to the sun. What are you doing to this poor tree? asked Father Macario. Why, Father, it has borne no fruit for many years, so now I will make firing of it. Leave it, leave it, said the Father; be assured this year it will produce more fruit than leaves. The benefactor, knowing who it was that had uttered these words, immediately ordered the workmen to throw the soil upon the roots again; and calling to the Father, who continued his walk said, Father Macario, half of the crop shall be for the convent. The report of the prophecy spread, and every one flocked to see the tree. Spring, in very truth, brought blossoms without number, and then followed nutsnuts without number. The good benefactor had not the happiness of gathering them, for he went before the harvest to receive the reward of his charity. But the miracle was, in consequence, so much the greater, as you will hear. This worthy man left behind him a son of very different character. Well, then, at the time of gathering, the collector went to receive the moiety belonging to the covenant; but the son pretended perfect ignorance of the manner, and had the temerity to reply that he had never heard that Capuchins knew how to gather nuts. What do you think happened then? One day (listen to this,) the knave was entertaining a party of his friends, of the same genius at himself, and while making merry, he related the story of the walnuts, and ridiculed the friars. His jovial friends wished to go see this wonderful heap of nuts, and he conducted them to the store house. But listen now; he opened the door, went towards the corner where the great heap had been laid, and while saying, Look, he looked himself, and sawwhat do you think?a magnificent heap of withered walnut-leaves! This was a lesson for him! and the convent, instead of being a loser by the denied alms, gained thereby; for, after so great a miracle, the contribution of nuts increased to such a degree, that a benefactor, moved with pity for the poor collector, made a present to the convent of an ass, to assist in carrying the nuts home. And so much oil was made, that all the poor in the neighborhood came and had as much as they required; for we are like the sea, which receives water from all quarters, and returns it to be again distributed through the rivers.
At this moment Lucia returned, her apron so laden with nuts, that it was with difficulty she could manage it, holding the two corners stretched out at arms length, while the friar Galdino lifted the sack off his shoulders, and putting it on the ground, opened the mouth for the reception of the abundant gift. Agnese glanced towards Lucia a surprised and reproachful look for her prodigality; but Lucia returned a glance which seemed to say, I will justify myself. The friar broke forth into praises, prognostications, promises, and expressions of gratitude, and replacing his bag, was about to depart. But Lucia, recalling him, said, I want you to do me a kindness; I want you to tell Father Cristoforo that we earnestly wish to speak to him, and ask him to be a good as to come to us poor people quicklydirectly; for I cannot go to the church.
Let no one think, on hearing that a poor girl sent to ask with such confidence for Father Cristoforo, and that the collector accepted the commission without wonder and without difficultylet no one, I say, suppose that this Cristoforo was a mean friara person of no importance. He was, on the contrary, a man who had great authority among his friends, and in the country around; but, such was the condition of the Capuchins, that nothing appeared to them either too high or too low. To minister to the basest, and to be ministered to by the most powerful; to enter palaces or hovels with the same deportment of humility and security; to be sometimes in the same house the object of ridicule and a person without whom nothing could be decided; to solicit alms everywhere, and distribute them to all those who begged at the convent:a Capuchin was accustomed to all these. Traversing the road, he was equally liable to meet a noble who would reverently kiss the end of the rope round his waist, or a crowd of wicked boys, who, pretending to be quarrelling among themselves, would fling at his beard dirt and mire. The word frate was pronounced in those days with the greatest respect, and again with the bitterest contempt; and the Capuchins, perhaps, more than any other order, were the objects of two directly opposite sentiments, and shared two directly opposite kinds of treatment; because, possessing no property, wearing a more than ordinarily distinctive habit, and making more open professions of humiliation, they exposed themselves more directly to the veneration, or the contumely, which these circumstances would excite, according to the different tempers and different opinions of men.
I beg pardon, mother, replied Lucia: but if we had only given like others, brother Galdino would have had to go about no one knows how long, before his wallet would have been filled; and we cannot tell when he would have returned to the convent; besides, what with chatting here and there, he would very likely have forgotten
Ah! you thought wisely; and, after all, charity always brings a good reward, said Agnese, who, spite of her little defects, was a good woman; and would have given everything she owned for this only daughter, whom she loved with the tenderest affection.
Fine advice you gave me! said he to Agnese. You sent me to a nice gentleman, to one who really helps the unfortunate! And he began immediately to relate his reception at the Doctors. Poor Agnese, astonished at his ill success, endeavoured to prove that her advice had been good, and that Renzo had not gone about the business cleverly; but Lucia interrupted the question, by announcing that she hoped they had found a better helper. Renzo welcomed the hope as most people do who are in misfortune and perplexity. But if the Father, said he, does not find us a remedy, I will find one somehow or other. The women recommended peace, patience, and prudence. To-morrow, said Lucia, Father Cristoforo will certainly come, and youll see he will find some help that we poor people cant even imagine.
Some saint will help us, added she. Be prudent, and try to be resigned. Agnese added other advice of the same kind, and the bridegroom went away with fury in his heart, repeating all the while those strange words, There must be justice at last, even in this world! So true is it that a man overwhelmed with great sorrows knows not what he is saying.