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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Late Repentance
By Alessandro Manzoni (1785–1873)
 
        
From ‘The Betrothed
  
  [In several chapters preceding the following affecting extract from Manzoni’s story is described the imprisonment of Lucia Mondella, the heroine of the tale, in the lonely castle of an outlaw. The latter is a man of rank; but guilty of such a succession of murders, robberies, and other villainies, during many years, that he—in the story he is called only ‘The Unnamed’—has become a terror throughout all the country-side. A sudden repentance and remorse comes to this monster of wickedness. Hearing that the great Cardinal Federigo Borromeo of Milan is arrived in the neighborhood, he decides, in great hesitation and contrition, to visit that kindly and courageous priest.]

CARDINAL FEDERIGO was employed—according to his usual custom in every leisure interval—in study, until the hour arrived for repairing to the church for the celebration of Divine service; when the chaplain and cross-bearer entered with a disturbed and gloomy countenance.  1
  “A strange visitor, my noble lord—strange indeed!”  2
  “Who?” asked the Cardinal.  3
  “No less a personage than the Signor ——,” replied the chaplain; and pronouncing the syllables with a very significant tone, he uttered the name which we cannot give to our readers. He then added, “He is here outside in person, and demands nothing less than to be introduced to your illustrious Grace.”  4
  “He!” said the Cardinal with an animated look, shutting his book and rising from his seat: “let him come in!—let him come in directly!”  5
  “But—” rejoined the chaplain, without attempting to move, “your illustrious Lordship must surely be aware who he is: that outlaw, that famous—”  6
  “And is it not a most happy circumstance for a bishop, that such a man should feel a wish to come and seek an interview with him?”  7
  “But—” insisted the chaplain, “we may never speak of certain things, because my lord says it is all nonsense: but when it comes to the point, I think it is a duty— Zeal makes many enemies, my lord; and we know positively that more than one ruffian has dared to boast that some day or other—”  8
  “And what have they done?” interrupted the Cardinal.  9
  “I say that this man is a plotter of mischief, a desperate character, who holds correspondence with the most violent desperadoes, and who may be sent—”  10
  “Oh, what discipline is this,” again interrupted Federigo, smiling, “for the soldiers to exhort their general to cowardice?” Then resuming a grave and thoughtful air, he continued: “Saint Carlo would not have deliberated whether he ought to receive such a man: he would have gone to seek him. Let him be admitted directly: he has already waited too long.”  11
  The chaplain moved towards the door, saying in his heart, “There’s no remedy: these saints are all obstinate.”  12
  Having opened the door and surveyed the room where the Signor and his companions were, he saw that the latter had crowded together on one side, where they sat whispering and cautiously peeping at their visitor, while he was left alone in one corner. The chaplain advanced towards him, eying him guardedly from head to foot, and wondering what weapons he might have hidden under that great coat: thinking at the same time that really, before admitting him, he ought at least to have proposed— But he could not resolve what to do. He approached him, saying, “His Grace waits for your Lordship. Will you be good enough to come with me?” And as he preceded him through the little crowd, which instantly gave way for him, he kept casting glances on each side, which meant to say, “What could I do? don’t you know yourselves that he always has his own way?”  13
  On reaching the apartment, the chaplain opened the door and introduced the Unnamed. Federigo advanced to meet him with a happy and serene look, and his hand extended, as if to welcome an expected guest; at the same time making a sign to the chaplain to go out, which was immediately obeyed.  14
  When thus left alone, they both stood for a moment silent and in suspense, though from widely different feelings. The Unnamed, who had as it were been forcibly carried there by an inexplicable compulsion, rather than led by a determinate intention, now stood there, also as it were by compulsion, torn by two contending feelings: on the one side, a desire and confused hope of meeting with some alleviation of his inward torment; on the other, a feeling of self-rebuked shame at having come hither, like a penitent, subdued and wretched, to confess himself guilty and to make supplication to a man: he was at a loss for words, and indeed scarcely sought for them. Raising his eyes, however, to the Archbishop’s face, he became gradually filled with a feeling of veneration, authoritative and at the same time soothing; which, while it increased his confidence, gently subdued his haughtiness, and without offending his pride, compelled it to give way, and imposed silence.  15
  The bearing of Federigo was in fact one which announced superiority, and at the same time excited love. It was naturally sedate, and almost involuntarily commanding, his figure being not in the least bowed or wasted by age; while his solemn yet sparkling eye, his open and thoughtful forehead, a kind of virginal floridness, which might be distinguished even among gray locks, paleness, and the traces of abstinence, meditation, and labor: in short, all his features indicated that they had once possessed that which is most strictly entitled beauty. The habit of serious and benevolent thought, the inward peace of a long life, the love that he felt towards his fellow-creatures, and the uninterrupted enjoyment of an ineffable hope, had now substituted the beauty (so to say) of old age, which shone forth more attractively from the magnificent simplicity of the purple.  16
  He fixed for a moment on the countenance of the Unnamed a penetrating look, long accustomed to gather from this index what was passing in the mind; and imagining he discovered, under that dark and troubled mien, something every moment more corresponding with the hope he had conceived on the first announcement of such a visit. “Oh!” cried he, in an animated voice, “what a welcome visit is this! and how thankful I ought to be to you for taking such a step, although it may convey to me a little reproof!”  17
  “Reproof!” exclaimed the Signor, much surprised, but soothed by his words and manner, and glad that the Cardinal had broken the ice and started some sort of conversation.  18
  “Certainly it conveys to me a reproof,” replied the Archbishop, “for allowing you to be beforehand with me when so often, and for so long a time, I might and ought to have come to you myself.”  19
  “You come to me! Do you know who I am? Did they deliver my name rightly?”  20
  “And the happiness I feel, and which must surely be evident in my countenance,—do you think I should feel it at the announcement and visit of a stranger? It is you who make me experience it; you, I say, whom I ought to have sought; you whom I have at least loved and wept over, and for whom I have so often prayed; you among all my children—for each one I love from the bottom of my heart—whom I should most have desired to receive and embrace, if I had thought I might hope for such a thing. But God alone knows how to work wonders, and supplies the weakness and tardiness of his unworthy servants.”  21
  The Unnamed stood astonished at this warm reception, in language which corresponded so exactly with that which he had not yet expressed, nor indeed had fully determined to express; and, affected but exceedingly surprised, he remained silent. “Well!” resumed Federigo still more affectionately, “you have good news to tell me; and you keep me so long expecting it?”  22
  “Good news! I have hell in my heart; and can I tell you any good tidings? Tell me, if you know, what good news you can expect from such as I am?”  23
  “That God has touched your heart and would make you his own,” replied the Cardinal calmly.  24
  “God! God! God! If I could see him! If I could hear him! Where is this God?”  25
  “Do you ask this? you? And who has him nearer than you? Do you not feel him in your heart, overcoming, agitating you, never leaving you at ease, and at the same time drawing you forward, presenting to your view a hope of tranquillity and consolation, a consolation which shall be full and boundless, as soon as you recognize him, acknowledge and implore him?”  26
  “Oh, surely! there is something within that oppresses, that consumes me! But God! If this be God, if he be such as they say, what do you suppose he can do with me?”  27
  These words were uttered with an accent of despair; but Federigo, with a solemn tone as of calm inspiration, replied:—“What can God do with you? What would he wish to make of you? A token of his power and goodness: he would acquire through you a glory such as others could not give him. The world has long cried out against you; hundreds and thousands of voices have declared their detestation of your deeds.” (The Unnamed shuddered, and felt for a moment surprised at hearing such unusual language addressed to him and still more surprised that he felt no anger, but rather almost a relief.) “What glory,” pursued Federigo, “will thus redound to God! They may be voices of alarm, of self-interest; of justice, perhaps—a justice so easy! so natural! Some perhaps—yea, too many—may be voices of envy of your wretched power; of your hitherto deplorable security of heart. But when you yourself rise up to condemn your past life, to become your own accuser,—then, then indeed, God will be glorified! And you ask what God can do with you. Who am I, a poor mortal, that I can tell you what use such a Being may choose henceforth to make of you? how he can employ your impetuous will, your unwavering perseverance, when he shall have animated and invigorated them with love, with hope, with repentance? Who are you, weak man, that you should imagine yourself capable of devising and executing greater deeds of evil, than God can make you will and accomplish in the cause of good? What can God do with you? Pardon you! save you! finish in you the work of redemption! Are not these things noble and worthy of him? Oh, just think! if I, a humble and feeble creature, so worthless and full of myself—I, such as I am, long so ardently for your salvation, that for its sake I would joyfully give (and he is my witness!) the few days that still remain to me,—oh, think what and how great must be the love of Him who inspires me with this imperfect but ardent affection; how must He love you, what must He desire for you, who has bid and enabled me to regard you with a charity that consumes me!”  28
  While these words fell from his lips, his face, his expression, his whole manner, evinced his deep feeling of what he uttered. The countenance of his auditor changed from a wild and convulsive look, first to astonishment and attention, and then gradually yielded to deeper and less painful emotions; his eyes, which from infancy had been unaccustomed to weep, became suffused; and when the words ceased, he covered his face with his hands and burst into a flood of tears. It was the only and most evident reply.  29
  “Great and good God!” exclaimed Federigo, raising his hands and eyes to heaven, “what have I ever done, an unprofitable servant, an idle shepherd, that thou shouldest call me to this banquet of grace! that thou shouldest make me worthy of being an instrument in so joyful a miracle!” So saying, he extended his hand to take that of the Unnamed.  30
  “No!” cried the penitent nobleman; “no! keep away from me: defile not that innocent and beneficent hand. You don’t know all that the one you would grasp has committed.”  31
  “Suffer me,” said Federigo, taking it with affectionate violence, “suffer me to press the hand which will repair so many wrongs, dispense so many benefits, comfort so many afflicted, and be extended—disarmed, peacefully, and humbly—to so many enemies.”  32
  “It is too much!” said the Unnamed sobbing: “leave me, my lord; good Federigo, leave me! A crowded assembly awaits you; so many good people, so many innocent creatures, so many come from a distance, to see you for once, to hear you: and you are staying to talk—with whom!”  33
  “We will leave the ninety-and-nine sheep,” replied the Cardinal: “they are in safety upon the mountain; I wish to remain with that which was lost. Their minds are perhaps now more satisfied than if they were seeing their poor bishop. Perhaps God, who has wrought in you this miracle of mercy, is diffusing in their hearts a joy of which they know not yet the reason. These people are perhaps united to us without being aware of it; perchance the Spirit may be instilling into their hearts an undefined feeling of charity, a petition which he will grant for you, an offering of gratitude of which you are as yet the unknown object.” So saying, he threw his arms around the neck of the Unnamed; who, after attempting to disengage himself, and making a momentary resistance, yielded, completely overcome by this vehement expression of affection, embraced the Cardinal in his turn, and buried in his shoulder his trembling and altered face. His burning tears dropped upon the stainless purple of Federigo, while the guiltless hands of the holy bishop affectionately pressed those members, and touched that garment, which had been accustomed to hold the weapons of violence and treachery.  34
  Disengaging himself at length from this embrace, the Unnamed again covered his eyes with his hands, and raising his face to heaven, exclaimed:—“God is indeed great! God is indeed good! I know myself now, now I understand what I am; my sins are present before me, and I shudder at the thought of myself; yet!—yet I feel an alleviation, a joy—yes, even a joy, such as I have never before known during the whole of my horrible life!”  35
  “It is a little taste,” said Federigo, “which God gives you, to incline you to his service, and encourage you resolutely to enter upon the new course of life which lies before you, and in which you will have so much to undo, so much to repair, so much to mourn over!”  36
  “Unhappy man that I am!” exclaimed the Signor: “how many, oh, how many—things for which I can do nothing besides mourn! But at least I have undertakings scarcely set on foot which I can break off in the midst, if nothing more: one there is which I can quickly arrest, which I can easily undo and repair.”  37
  Federigo listened attentively while the Unnamed briefly related, in terms of perhaps deeper execration than we have employed, his attempt upon Lucia, the sufferings and terrors of the unhappy girl, her importunate entreaties, the frenzy that these entreaties had aroused within him, and how she was still in the castle….  38
  “Ah, then let us lose no time!” exclaimed Federigo, breathless with eagerness and compassion. “You are indeed blessed! This is an earnest of God’s forgiveness! He makes you capable of becoming the instrument of safety to one whom you intended to ruin. God bless you! Nay, he has blessed you! Do you know where our unhappy protégée comes from?”  39
  The Signor named Lucia’s village.  40
  “It’s not far from this,” said the Cardinal, “God be praised; and probably—” So saying, he went towards a little table and rang a bell. The cross-bearing chaplain immediately attended the summons with a look of anxiety, and instantly glanced towards the Unnamed. At the sight of his altered countenance, and his eyes still red with weeping, he turned an inquiring gaze upon the Cardinal; and perceiving, amidst the invariable composure of his countenance, a look of solemn pleasure and unusual solicitude, he would have stood with open mouth in a sort of ecstasy, had not the Cardinal quickly aroused him from his contemplations by asking whether, among the parish priests assembled in the next room, there was one from ——.  41
  “There is, your illustrious Grace,” replied the chaplain.  42
  “Let him come in directly,” said Federigo, “and with him the priest of this parish.”  43
  The chaplain quitted the room, and on entering the hall where the clergy were assembled, all eyes were immediately turned upon him; while, with a look of blank astonishment, and a countenance in which was still depicted the rapture he had felt, he lifted up his hands, and waving them in the air, exclaimed, “Signori! Signori! Hæc mutatio dexteræ Excelsi” [This change is from the right hand of the Almighty]. And he stood for a moment without uttering another word.  44
 
 
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