Alessandro Manzoni (17851873). I Promessi Sposi. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
FATHER CRISTOFORO stopped on the threshold, and quickly perceived, by a glance at the women, that his presentiments had not been unfounded. While raising his beard, by a slight movement of the head backwards, he said, in that interrogative tone which anticipates a mournful reply, Well? Lucia answered by a flood of tears. Her mother began to apologize for having dared but he advanced and seated himself on a three-legged stool, and cut short all her excuses, by saying to Lucia, Calm yourself, my poor daughter. And you. continued he, turning to Agnese, tell me what has happened. The good woman related the melancholy story as well as she could, while the friar changed colour a thousand times, at one moment raising his eyes to heaven, the next, kicking his heels on the ground. At the conclusion of the recital, he covered his face with his hands, and exclaimed, Oh, blessed Lord! But, without finishing the sentence, he turned again to the women. Poor things! said he, God has indeed visited you. Poor Lucia!
Forsake you! replied he. Great God! with what face could I again make request to Him, if I should forsake you? You in this state! You whom He confides to me! Dont despair: He will help you. He sees all: He can make use even of such an unworthy instrument as I am to confound a Let us see: let me think what I can do for you.
But the most attentive consideration only served to show more distinctly the urgency and intricacy of the case, and how few, how uncertain, and how dangerous were the ways of meeting it. Instil shame into Don Abbondio, and make him sensible of how much he is failing in his duty? Shame and duty are nothing to him, when overwhelmed with fear. Inspire him with fears? How can I suggest one that would overbalance the dread he already has of a musket? Inform the Cardinal-Archbishop of all, and invoke his authority? This requires time, and in the mean while what might not happen? And afterwards, supposing even this unhappy innocent were married, would that be a curb to such a man? Who knows to what length he might proceed? And resist him? How? Ah! if I could, thought the poor friar: if I could but engage in this cause my brethren here and at Milan! But it is not a common affair, and I should be abandoned. Don Rodrigo pretends to be a friend to the convent, and professes himself a favourer of the Capuchins; and his followers have more than once taken refuge with us. I should find myself alone in the undertaking; I should be opposed by meddling, quarrelsome persons; and, what is worse, I should, perhaps, by an ill-timed endeavour, only render the condition of this poor girl more hopeless. Having considered every view of the question, the best seemed to be to confront Don Rodrigo himself, and try, by entreaties, the terrors of the life to come, and even if this world, if that were possible, to dissuade him from his infamous purpose. At least, he could by this means ascertain whether he continued obstinately bent on his wicked design, discover something more of his intentions, and act accordingly. While the friar was thus engaged, Renzo, who for reasons that every one can divine, could not long absent himself, made his appearance at the door; but seeing the Father absorbed in thought, and the women beckoning to him not to interrupt him, he stood silent on the threshold. Raising his head to communicate his design to the women, the friar perceived Renzo, and saluted him with his usual affection, increase and rendered more intense by compassion.
Ah! you are not like the worlds friends! Good-for-nothing creatures that they are! You would not believe the protestations they made me in prosperity. Ha! ha! They were ready to give their lives for me; they would have defended me against the devil. If I had had an enemy I had only to let them know it, and I should have been quickly rid of him! And now, if you were to see how they draw back At this moment Renzo perceived, on raising his eyes to those of his auditor, that the good friars face was clouded, and he felt that he had uttered something wrong. He only added to his perplexities, however, and made matters worse, by trying to remedy them: I meant to say I dont at all mean that is, I meant to say
What did you mean to say? Have you, then, begun to spoil my work before I have undertaken it? It is well for you that you have been undeceived in time. What! you went in search of friends and such friends! who could not have helped you, had they been willing; and you forgot to seek the only One who can and will assist you! Do you not know that God is the friend of the afflicted who put their trust in Him? Do you not know that threatening and contention gain nothing for the weak? And even if Here he forcibly grasped Renzos arm: his countenance, without losing if its authority, expressed the ground, and his voice became slow and almost sepulchral: Even if they did, it is a terrible gain! Renzo! will you trust to me? To me, did I saya feeble mortal, a poor friar? No; but will you trust in God?
Listen, my children, continued Friar Cristoforo; I will go to-day and speak to this man. If it please God to touch his heart, and give force to my words, well; but, if not, He will show us some other remedy. You, in the mean while, be quiet and retired; avoid gossip, and dont show yourselves. To-night, or to-morrow morning, at the latest, you shall see me again. So saying, he cut short all their thanks and benedictions, and departed. He returned first to the convent, where he arrived in time to join the chorus in chanting, dined, and then set off on his way towards the den of the wild beast he had undertaken to tame.
The small but elegant palace of Don Rodrigo stood by itself, rising like a castle from the summit of one of the abrupt cliffs by which the shore of the lake was broken and diversified. Our anonymous author only adds to this indication, that the site (it would have been better to have given the name in full) was rather on the side adjoining the country of the Betrothed, about three miles distant from them, and four from the convent. At the base of the cliff, on the side looking towards the lake, lay a group of cottages, inhabited by the peasantry in the service of Don Rodrigo, the diminutive capital of his little kingdom. It was quite sufficient to pass through it to be assured of the character and customs of the country. Casting a glance into the lower rooms, should a door happen to be open, one saw hanging on the wall, fowling-pieces, spades, rakes, straw hats, nets, and powder-flasks, in admired confusion. Everywhere might be seen powerful, fierce-looking men, wearing a large lock, turned back upon their head, and enclosed in a net; old men, who, having lost their teeth, appeared ready, at the slightest provocation, to show their gums; women, of masculine appearance, with strong, sinewy arms, prepared to come in to the aid of their tongues on every occasion. Even the very children, playing in the road, displayed in their countenances and behaviour a certain air of provocation and defiance.
Father Cristoforo passed through this hamlet, and ascended a winding foot-path to a small level plot of ground, in front of the palace. The door was shuta sign that the master of the mansion was dining, and would not be disturbed. The few small windows that looked into the road, the frameworks of which were dis-jointed, and decayed with age, were defended by large iron bars; and those of the ground-floor were so high, that a man could scarcely reach them by standing on the shoulders of another. Perfect silence reigned around; and a passer-by might have deemed it a deserted mansion, had not four creatures, two animate, and two inanimate, disposed opposite each other, outside, given some indication of inhabitants. Two great vultures, with extended wings and pendent headsone stripped of its feathers, and half consumed by time; the other still feathered, and in a state of preservation, were nailed, one on each post of the massive doorway; and two bravoes, stretched at full length on the benches to the right and left, were on guard, and expecting their call to partake of the remains of the Signors table. The Father stood still, in the attitude of one who was prepared to wait; but one of the bravoes rose, and called to him: Father, Father, come forward, we dont make Capuchins wait here; we are friends of the convent; and I have sometimes been within it when the air outside was not very good for me, and when, if the door had been closed upon me, I should have fared badly. So saying, he gave two strokes of the knocker, which were answered immediately from within, by the howling and yelling of mastiffs, and curs, and in a few moments by an old grumbling servant; but seeing the Father, he made him a low bow, quieted the animals with hand and voice, introduced the visitor into a narrow passage, and closed the door again. He then conducted him into a small apartment, and, regarding him with a surprised and respectful look, said, Are you not Father Cristoforo of Pescarenico?
Having passed through two or three dark apartments, they at last reached the door of the dining-room, where they were greeted with a loud and confused noise of knives, forks, glasses, pewter dishes, and, above all, of discordant voices alternately endeavouring to take the lead in conversation. The friar wished to withdraw, and was debating at the door with the servant, and begging permission to wait in some corner of the house till dinner was over, when the door opened. A certain Count Attilio, who was sitting opposite, (he was a cousin of Don Rodrigo, and we have already mentioned him without giving his name,) seeing a shaved head and monks habit, and perceiving the modest intentions of the good friar, exclaimed, Aha! aha! You shant make your escape, reverend Father; forward, forward! Don Rodrigo, without precisely divining the object of this visit, had a sort of presentiment of what awaited him, and would have been glad to avoid it; but since Attilio had thoughtlessly given this blunt invitation, he was obliged to second it, and said, Come in, Father, come in. The friar advanced, making a low bow to the host, and respectfully responded to the salutations of the guests.
It is usual (I do not say invariable) to represent the innocent in the presence of the wicked with an open countenance, an air of security, an undaunted heart, and a ready facility of expression. In reality, however, many circumstances are required to produce this behaviour, which are rarely met with in combination. It will not, therefore, be wondered at, that Friar Cristoforo, with the testimony of a good conscience, and a firm persuasion of the justice of the cause he had come to advocate, together with a mingled feeling of horror and compassion for Don Rodrigo, stood, nevertheless, with a certain air of timidity and submissiveness, in the presence of this same Don Rodrigo, who was seated before him in an arm-chair, in his own house, on his own estate, surrounded by his friends, and many indications of his power, with every homage paid to him, and with an expression of countenance that would at once prohibit the making of a request, much more the giving advice, correction, or reproof. On his right, sat Count Attilio, his cousin, and, it is needless to say, his companion in libertinism and oppression, who had come from Milan to spend a few days with him. To his left, and on the other side of the table, was seated, with a profound respect, tempered, however, with a certain air of security, and even arrogance, the Signor Podestà;1 the person whose business it was, professedly, to administer justice to Renzo Tramaglino, and inflict upon Don Rodrigo one of the appointed penalties. Opposite the Podestà, in an attitude of the purest, most unbounded servility, sat our Doctor, Azzecca-Garbugli, with his black cap, and more than usually red nose; and facing the cousins were two obscure guests, of whom our story merely records that they did nothing but eat, bow their heads, and smile approval at everything uttered by a fellow-guest, provided another did not contradict it.
The Father tried to excuse himself; but Don Rodrigo, raising his voice above the re-commencing tumult, cried, No, no, you shall not do me this wrong; it shall never be said that a Capuchin left this house without tasting my wine, nor an insolent creditor the wood of my forests. These words were followed by a general laugh, and, for a moment, interrupted the question that was being warmly agitated among the guests. A servant then brought in a bottle of wine, on a tray, and a tall glass, in the shape of a chalice, and presented them to the Father, who, unwilling to refuse the pressing invitation of one he so much wished to propitiate, did not hesitate to pour some out, and began slowly to sip the wine.
The authority of Tasso will not serve your purpose, respected Signor Podestà; it even militates against you, resumed Count Attilio, in a thundering voice; for that learned, that great man, who perfectly understood all the rules of chivalry, has made the messenger of Argante ask leave of the pious Buglione, before delivering the challenge to the Christian knights
But this, replied the Podestà, vociferating no less vehemently, this is a liberty, a mere liberty, a poetical ornament; since an ambassador is, in his nature, inviolable by the law of nations, jure gentium. But, without seeking so far, the proverb says, Ambasciator non porta pena; and proverbs, you know, contain the wisdom of the human race. Besides, the messenger having uttered nothing in his own name, but only presented the challenge in writing
Wellvery well, said Count Attilio, highly pleased at the idea of referring a question of chivalry to a Capuchin: while the more eager Podestà with difficulty restrained his excited feelings, and a shrug of contempt, which seemed to sayAbsurdity!
As usual, the modest excuses of the Fathers, said Don Rodrigo; but you shall not get off so easily. Come, now, we know well enough you did not come into the world with a cowl on your head, and that you are no stranger to its ways. See here; this is the question
Let me tell it, who am neutral, cousin, replied Don Rodrigo. This is the story. A Spanish cavalier sent a challenge to a Milanese cavalier; the bearer, not finding him at home, delivered the summons to his brother, who, after reading it, gave the bearer in reply a good thrashing. The dispute is
Yes, Signor, knightly, cried the Count, and you will allow me to say so, who ought to understand what relates to a cavalier. Oh, if they had been blows, it would be another matter; but a cudgel defiles nobodys hands. What puzzles me is, why you think so much of the shoulders of a mean scoundrel.
Who said anything about his shoulders, Signor Count? You would make out I had talked nonsense such as never entered my mind. I spoke of his office, not of his shoulders; and am now considering the laws of chivalry. Be do good as to tell me whether the heralds that the ancient Romans sent to bid defiance to other nations asked leave to announce their message; and find me one writer who mentions that a herald was ever beaten.
What have the officers of the ancient Romans to do with usa simple nation, and in these things far, far behind us? But, according to the laws of modern chivalry, which are the only right ones, I affirm and maintain that a messenger who dared to place a challenge in the hand of a knight without having asked his permission, is an incautious fool, who may be beaten, and who richly deserves it.
Gently, I say: what are you talking about? It is an act of treachery to give a man a blow with a sword behind him, or to shoot him in the back; and to this even there are certain exceptions but we will keep to the point. I allow that this may generally be called an act of treachery; but to bestow four blows on a paltry fellow like him! It would have been a likely thing to say: Take care I dont beat you, as one says to a gentleman: Draw your sword. And you, respected Signor Doctor, instead of smiling at me there, and giving me to understand you are of my opinion, why dont you support my position with your capital powers of argument, and help me to drive some reason into the head of this Signor?
I replied the Doctor, in confusion. I enjoy this learned dispute, and am glad of the accident that has given occasion to so agreeable a war of genius. But it does not belong to me to give sentence: his illustrious lordship has already delegated a judge the Father here
Instead of replying to this courteous interrogation, the Father said to himself:This is aimed at you; but remember, friar, that you are not here for yourself; and that which affects you only is not to be taken into the account.
But, Father Cristoforo, most reverend Father, with your principles you would turn the world upside down. Without challenges! Without blows! Farewell to the point of honour; impunity for all villains. Fortunately, however, the supposition is impossible.
Up, Doctor, up, broke in Don Rodrigo, who always tried to divert the argument from the original disputants. You are the man to argue on any matter. Let us see what you will do in discussing this question with Father Cristoforo.
Really, replied the Doctor, brandishing his fork in the air, and turning to the Father, really I cannot understand how Father Cristoforo, who is at once the perfect devotee and a man of the world, should not remember that his sentence, good, excellent, and of just weight, as it is in the pulpit, is of no value (with due respect be it spoken) in a question of chivalry. But the Father knows, better than I, that everything is good in its place; and I think that this time he has only endeavoured the escape by a jest from the difficulty of giving sentence.
The reader must know that, at this time, there was a contest for the succession to the Duchy of Mantua, which, on the death of Vincenzo Gonzaga, who left no male issue, had fallen into the possession of the Duke of Nevers, Gonzagas nearest relation. Louis XIII., or rather Cardinal Richelieu, wished to support him on account of his being well-disposed toward the French. Philip IV., or rather the Count DOlivares, commonly called the Count Duke, opposed him for the same reason, and had declared war against him. As the Duchy was a fief of the empire, the two parties made interest, by intrigue, threats, and solicitations, at the court of the Emperor Ferdinand II.; the former urging him to grant the investiture to the new Duke, the latter to refuse it, and even assist in banishing him from the State.
Dont believe it, Signor Count, dont believe it, interrupted the Podestà; even in this corner of the world I have means of ascertaining the state of things; for the Spanish governor of the castle, who condescends to make me his friend, and who being the son of one of the Count Dukes dependents, is informed of everything .
And, and, anddo you know, my good Signor, what the Emperor thinks of it at this moment? Do you think there is no other place in the world besides Mantua? There are many things to be looked after, my good Signor. Do you know, for example, how far the Emperor can, at this moment, confide in that Prince Valdistano, or Vallestai, or whatever they call him; and whether
Will you teach me? exclaimed the Count, angrily; but Don Rodrigo motioned to him with his knee, for his sake, to cease contradiction. He therefore remained silent; and the Podestà, like a vessel disengaged from a sand-bank, continued, with wide-spread sails, the course of his eloquence. Vagliensteino gives me little concern, because the Count Duke has his eyes on everything, and in every place; and if Vagliensteino chooses to play any tricks, he will set him right with fair words or foul. He has his eye everywhere, I say, and long arms; and if he has resolved, as he justly has, like a good politician, that the Signor Duke of Nevers shall not take root in Mantua, the Signor Duke of Nevers will not take root there, and the Cardinal Richelieu will sink in the water. It makes me smile to see this worthy Signor Cardinal contending with a Count Dukewith an Olivares. I should like to rise again, after a lapse of two hundred years, to hear what posterity will say of these fine pretensions. It requires something more than envy: there must be a head; and of heads like that of a Count Duke there is but one in the world. The Count Duke, my good Signors, continued the Podestà, sailing before the wind, and a little surprised at not encountering one shoal, the Count Duke is an aged fox, (speaking with all respect,) who can make anybody lose his track; when he aims at the right, we may be sure he will take the left; so that no one can boast of knowing his intentions; and even they who execute them, and they who write his despatches, understand nothing of them. I can speak with some knowledge of the circumstances; for that worthy man, the Governor of the Castle, deigns to place some confidence in me. The Count Duke, on the other hand, knows exactly what is going forward in all the other Courts, and their great politiciansmany of whom, it cannot be denied, are very upright menhave scarcely imagined a design before the Count Duke has discovered it, with that clever head of his, his underhand ways, and his nets everywhere spread. That poor man, the Cardinal Richelieu, makes an attempt here, busies himself there; he toils, he strives; and what for? When he has succeeded in digging a mine, he finds a countermine already completed by the Count Duke
Signor Podestà, said he, and gentlemen; a toast to the Count Duke; and you will then tell me whether the wine is worthy of the person. The Podestà replied by a bow, in which might be discerned an expression of particular acknowledgment; for all that was said or done in honour of the Duke, he received, in part, as done to himself.
On such an adjuration, he was obliged to taste the wine. All the guests broke out in exclamations and encomiums upon it, except the Doctor, who, by the gesture of his head, the glance of his eyes, and the compression of his lips, expressed much more than he could have done by words.
Withdrawing from the wine-glass a nose more ruddy and bright than itself, the Doctor replied, with marked emphasis upon every syllable: I say, pronounce, and affirm that this is the Olivares of wines; censui, et in eam ivi sententiam, that its equal cannot be found in the twenty-two kingdoms of the King, our Sovereign, whom God defend! I declare and determine that the dinners of the most noble Signor Don Rodrigo excel the suppers of Heliogabalus, and that famine is perpetually banished and excluded from this place, where splendour reigns and has its abode.
Well said! well defined! cried the guests, with one voice; but the word famine, which he had uttered by chance, at once directed the minds of all to this mournful subject, and every one spoke of the famine. In this matter they were all agreed, at least on the main point; but the uproar was greater, perhaps, than if there had been a diversity of opinion. All spoke at once. There is no famine, said one; it is the monopolists
Trial? cried Count Attilio, more loudly. Summary justice, I say. Take three or four, or five or six, of those who are acknowledged by the common voice to be the richest and most avaricious, and hang them.
Whoever, in passing through a fair, has had the pleasure of hearing the harmony produced by a party of fiddlers, when, between one air and another, each one tunes his instrument, making it sound as loud as possible, that he may the more distinctly hear it in the midst of, and above, the surrounding uproar, may imagine what would be the harmony of these (if one may so say) discourses. The party continued pouring out and drinking the wine, while the praises of it were mingled, as was but just, with sentences of economical jurisprudence; so that the loudest, and most frequently heard, words werenectar, and hang them.
Don Rodrigo, in the mean while, glanced from time to time towards the friar, and always saw him in the same station, giving no signs of impatience or hurry, without a movement tending to remind him that he was waiting his leisure, but with the air of one who was determined not to depart till he had had a hearing. He would gladly have sent him away, and escaped the interview; but to dismiss a Capuchin without having given him audience, was not according to the rules of his policy. However, since the annoying duty could not be avoided, he resolved to discharge it at once, and free himself from the obligation. He therefore rose from the table, and with him all the excited party, without ceasing their clamour. Having asked leave of his guests, he advanced in a haughty manner towards the friar, who had immediately risen with the rest; and saying to him, At your command, Father, conducted him into another apartment.