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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
An Episode of the Plague in Milan
By Alessandro Manzoni (1785–1873)
 
        
From ‘The Betrothed
  
  [The hero of the novel, young Renzo Tramaglino, enters Milan on foot, seeking his lost betrothed, Lucia Mondella. Among the scenes of suffering and horror which continually meet his eyes is the following.]

RENZO had already gone some distance on his way through the midst of this desolation, when he heard, proceeding from a street a few yards off, into which he had been directed to turn, a confused noise, in which he readily distinguished the usual horrible tinkling.  1
  At the entrance of the street, which was one of the most spacious, he perceived four carts standing in the middle: and as in a corn market there is a constant hurrying to and fro of people, and an emptying and filling of sacks, such was the bustle here,—monatti intruding into houses, monatti coming out, bearing a burden upon their shoulders, which they placed upon one or other of the carts; some in red livery, others without that distinction; many with another still more odious,—plumes and cloaks of various colors, which these miserable wretches wore in the midst of the general mourning, as if in honor of a festival. From time to time the mournful cry resounded from one of the windows, “Here, monatti!” And with a still more wretched sound, a harsh voice rose from this horrible source in reply, “Coming directly!” Or else there were lamentations nearer at hand, or entreaties to make haste; to which the monatti responded with oaths.  2
  Having entered the street, Renzo quickened his steps, trying not to look at these obstacles further than was necessary to avoid them: his attention, however, was arrested by a remarkable object of pity,—such pity as inclines to the contemplation of its object; so that he came to a pause almost without determining to do so.  3
  Coming down the steps of one of the doorways, and advancing towards the convoy, he beheld a woman, whose appearance announced still remaining though somewhat advanced youthfulness; a veiled and dimmed but not destroyed beauty was still apparent, in spite of much suffering and a fatal languor,—that delicate and at the same time majestic beauty which is conspicuous in the Lombard blood. Her gait was weary, but not tottering; no tears fell from her eyes, though they bore tokens of having shed many; there was something peaceful and profound in her sorrow, which indicated a mind fully conscious and sensitive enough to feel it. But it was not merely her own appearance which in the midst of so much misery marked her out so especially as an object of commiseration, and revived in her behalf a feeling now exhausted—extinguished—in men’s hearts. She carried in her arms a little child, about nine years old, now a lifeless body; but laid out and arranged, with her hair parted on her forehead, and in a white and remarkably clean dress, as if those hands had decked her out for a long-promised feast, granted as a reward. Nor was she lying there, but upheld and adjusted on one arm, with her breast reclining against her mother’s, like a living creature; save that a delicate little hand, as white as wax, hung from one side with a kind of inanimate weight, and the head rested upon her mother’s shoulder with an abandonment deeper than that of sleep;—her mother; for even if their likeness to each other had not given assurance of the fact, the countenance which could still display any emotion would have clearly revealed it.  4
  A horrible-looking monatto approached the woman, and attempted to take the burden from her arms; with a kind of unusual respect, however, and with involuntary hesitation. But she, slightly drawing back, yet with the air of one who shows neither scorn nor displeasure, said, “No! don’t take her from me yet: I must place her myself on this cart—here.” So saying, she opened her hand, displayed a purse which she held in it, and dropped it into that which the monatto extended towards her. She then continued: “Promise me not to take a thread from around her, nor to let any one else do so, and to lay her in the ground thus.”  5
  The monatto laid his right hand on his heart; and then, zealously and almost obsequiously,—rather from the new feeling by which he was, as it were, subdued, than on account of the unlooked-for reward,—hastened to make a little room on the car for the infant dead. The lady, giving it a kiss on the forehead, laid it on the spot prepared for it, as upon a bed, arranged it there, covering it with a pure white linen cloth, and pronounced these parting words:—“Farewell, Cecilia! rest in peace! This evening we too will join you, to rest together forever. In the mean while pray for us; for I will pray for you and the others.” Then, turning again to the monatto, “You,” said she, “when you pass this way in the evening, may come to fetch me too; and not me only.”  6
  So saying, she re-entered the house, and after an instant appeared at the window, holding in her arms another more dearly loved one, still living, but with the marks of death on its countenance. She remained to contemplate these so unworthy obsequies of the first child, from the time the car started until it was out of sight, and then disappeared. And what remained for her to do but to lay upon the bed the only one that was left her, and to stretch herself beside it, that they might die together? as the flower already full blown upon the stem falls together with the bud still infolded in its calyx, under the scythe which levels alike all the herbage of the field.  7
  “O Lord!” exclaimed Renzo, “hear her! take her to thyself, her and that little infant one: they have suffered enough! surely, they have suffered enough!”  8
 
 
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