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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
John Inglesant Makes a Journey, and Meets his Brother’s Murderer
By John Henry Shorthouse (1834–1903)
 
From ‘John Inglesant’

IT was long before sunrise that Inglesant set out, accompanied by his train, hoping to cross the mountains before the heat began. His company consisted of several men-at-arms, with their grooms and horse-boys, and the Austrian page. They ascended the mountains in the earlier part of the night, and towards dawn they reached a flat plain. The night had been too dark to allow them to see the steep and narrow defiles, full of oaks and beech; and as they passed over the dreary plain in the white mist, their figures seemed vast and indistinct in the dim light: but now, as the streaks of the dawn grew brighter in the east behind them, they could see the fir-trees clothing the distant slopes, and here and there one of the higher summits still covered with white snow. The scene was cold and dead and dreary as the grave. A heavy mist hung over the mountain plain, and an icy lake lay black and cold beneath the morning sky. As they reached the crest of the hill the mist rose, stirred by a little breeze at sunrise, and the gorges of the descent lay clear before them. The sun arose behind them, gilding the mountain-tops, and tracing streaks and shades of color on the rising mist sparkling with glittering dewdrops; while dark and solemn beneath them lay the pine-clothed ravines and sloping valleys, with here and there a rocky peak; and farther down still the woods and hills gave place at last to the plain of the Tiber, at present dark and indistinguishable in the night.  1
  As the sun arose behind them, one by one the pine ravines became lighted, and the snowy summits, soft and pink with radiant light, stood out against the sky, which became every instant of a deeper blue. The sunlight, stealing down the defiles and calling forth into distinct shape and vision tree and rock and flashing stream, spread itself over the oak woods in the valleys, and shone at last upon the plain, embossed and radiant with wood and green meadow, and marble towers and glistering water—the waters of the Tiber running onward towards Rome. Mysterious forms and waves of light, the creatures of the morning and of the mist, floated before the sight, and from the dark fir-trees murmurs and mutterings of ethereal life fell upon the ear. Sudden and passionate flushes of color tinted the pine woods and were gone; and beneath the branches and across the paths, fairy lights played for a moment and passed away.  2
  The party halted more than once, but it was necessary to make the long descent before the heat began, and they commenced carefully to pick their way down the stony mountain road, which wound down the ravines in wild unequal paths. The track, now precipitous, now almost level, took them round corners and masses of rock sometimes hanging above their heads, revealing continually new reaches of valleys and new defiles clothed with fir and oak. Mountain flowers and trailing ivy and creeping plants hung in festoons on every side, lizards ran across the path, birds fluttered above them or darted into the dark recesses where the mountain brooks were heard; everything sang the morning psalm of life, with which, from field and mountain solitudes, the free children of nature salute the day.  3
  The Austrian boy felt the beauty of the scene, and broke out into singing.  4
  “When the northern gods,” he said to Inglesant, “rode on their chevisance, they went down into the deep valleys singing magic songs. Let us into this dark valley, singing magic songs, also go down: who knows what strange and hidden deity, since the old pagan times lost and forgotten, we may find among the dark fir dingles and the laurel shades?”  5
  And he began to sing some love ditty.  6
  Inglesant did not hear him. The beauty of the scene, ethereal and unreal in its loveliness, following upon the long dark mountain ride, his sleepless nights and strange familiarity with approaching death by the couch of the old duke, confused his senses, and a presentiment of impending fate filled his mind. The recollection of his brother rose again in his remembrance, distinct and present as in life; and more than once he fancied that he heard his voice, as the cry of some mountain beast or sound of moaning trees, came up the pass. No other foreshadowing than this very imperfect one warned him of the approaching crisis of his life.  7
  The sun was fully up, and the light already brilliant and intense, when they approached a projecting point where the slope of wood ended in a tower of rock jutting upon the road. The path by which they approached it was narrow and ragged; but beyond the rock the ground spread itself out, and the path was carried inward towards the right, having the sloping hillside on the one hand covered with scattered oaks, while on the other a slip of ground separated it from the ravine. At the turning of the road, where the opening valley lay before them as they reached the corner, face to face with Inglesant as he checked his horse was the Italian, the inquisitive stranger of the theatre at Florence, the intruder into the Conclave, the masque of the Carnival ball, the assassin of the Corso,—that Malvolti who had treacherously murdered his brother and sought his own life. Alone and weary, his clothes worn and threadbare, he came toiling up the pass. Inglesant reined in his horse suddenly, a strange and fierce light in his eyes and face. The Italian started back like some wild creature of the forest brought suddenly to bay, a terrified cry broke from him, and he looked wildly round as if intending flight. The nature of the ground caught him as in a trap: on the one hand the sloping hillside, steep and open, on the other tangled rugged ground, slightly rising between the road and the precipice, cut off all hope of sudden flight. He looked wildly round for a moment; then, when the horsemen came round the rocky wall and halted behind their leader, his eyes came back to Inglesant’s face, and he marked the smile upon his lips and in his eyes, and saw his hand steal downward to the hunting-piece he carried at the saddle; then with a terrible cry he threw himself on his knees before the horse’s head, and begged for pity,—pity and life.  8
  Inglesant took his hand from his weapon, and turning slightly to the page and to the others behind him, he said:—  9
  “This man, messeri, is a murderer and a villain, steeped in every crime; a cruel secret midnight cut-throat and assassin; a lurker in secret corners to murder the innocent. He took my brother, a noble gentleman whom I was proud to follow, treacherously at an advantage, and slew him. I see him now before me lying in his blood. He tried to take my life,—I, who scarcely even knew him,—in the streets of Rome. Now he begs for mercy. What say you, gentlemen? what is his due?”  10
  “Shoot the dog through the head. Hang him on the nearest tree. Carry him into Rome and torture him to death.”  11
  The Italian still continued on his knees, his hands clasped before him, his face working with terror and agony that could not be disguised.  12
  “Mercy, monsignore,” he cried. “Mercy! I cannot, I dare not, I am not fit to die. For the blessed Host, monsignore, have mercy—for the love of Jesu—for the sake of Jesu.”  13
  As he said these last words Inglesant’s attitude altered, and the cruel light faded out of his eyes. His hand ceased to finger the carabine at his saddle; and he sat still upon his horse, looking down upon the abject wretch before him, while a man might count fifty. The Italian saw, or thought he saw, that his judge was inclining to mercy, and he renewed his appeals for pity.  14
  “For the love of the crucifix, monsignore; for the Blessed Virgin’s sake.”  15
  But Inglesant did not seem to hear him. He turned to the horsemen behind him, and said:—  16
  “Take him up, one of you, on the crupper. Search him first for arms. Another keep his eye on him; and if he moves or attempts to escape, shoot him dead. You had better come quietly,” he continued: “it is your only chance for life.”  17
  Two of the men-at-arms dismounted and searched the prisoner, but found no arms upon him. He seemed indeed to be in the greatest distress from hunger and want, and his clothes were ragged and thin. He was mounted behind one of the soldiers and closely watched; but he made no attempt to escape, and indeed appeared to have no strength or energy for such an effort.  18
  They went on down the pass for about an Italian league. The country became more thickly wooded; and here and there on the hillsides, patches of corn appeared, and once or twice in a sheltered spot a few vines. At length, on the broad shoulder of the hill round which the path wound, they saw before them a few cottages; and above them on the hillside, in a position that commanded the distant pass till it opened on the plain, was a chapel, the bell of which had just ceased ringing for mass.  19
  Inglesant turned his horse’s head up the narrow stony path; and when the gate was reached, he dismounted and entered the chapel, followed by his train. The cappella had apparently been built of the remains of some temple or old Roman house; for many of the stones of the front were carved in bold relief. It was a small narrow building, and possessed no furniture save the altar and a rude pulpit built of stones; but behind the altar, painted on the plaster of the wall, was the rood or crucifix, the size of life. Who the artist had been, cannot now be told: it might have been the pupil of some great master, who had caught something of the master’s skill; or perhaps, in the old time, some artist had come up the pass from Borgo San Sepolcro, and had painted it for the love of his art and of the Blessed Virgin; but whoever had done it, it was well done, and it gave a sanctity to the little chapel, and possessed an influence, of which the villagers were not unconscious, and of which they were even proud.  20
  The mass had commenced some short time as the train entered, and such few women and peasants as were present turned in surprise.  21
  Inglesant knelt upon the steps before the altar, and the men-at-arms upon the floor of the chapel; the two who guarded the prisoner keeping close behind their leader.  22
  The priest, who was an old and simple-looking countryman, continued his office without stopping, but when he had received the sacred elements himself, he turned, and, influenced probably by his appearance and by his position at the altar, he offered Inglesant the sacrament. He took it; and the priest, turning again to the altar, finished the mass.  23
  Then Inglesant rose; and when the priest turned again he was standing before the altar, with his drawn sword held lengthwise across his hands.  24
  “My father,” he said, “I am the Cavaliere di San Giorgio; and as I came across the mountains this morning on my way to Rome, I met my mortal foe, the murderer of my brother,—a wretch whose life is forfeit by every law either of earth or heaven, a guilty monster steeped in every crime. Him, as soon as I had met him,—sent by this lonely and untrodden way as it seems to me by the Lord’s hand,—I thought to crush at once, as I would a venomous beast, though he is worse than any beast. But, my father, he has appealed from me to the adorable name of Jesus, and I cannot touch him. But he will not escape. I give him over to the Lord. I give up my sword into the Lord’s hands, that He may work my vengeance upon him as it seems to Him good. Henceforth he is safe from earthly retribution, but the Divine Powers are just. Take this sword, reverend father, and let it lie upon the altar beneath the Christ himself; and I will make an offering for daily masses for my brother’s soul.”  25
  The priest took the sword; and kneeling before the altar, placed it thereon like a man acting in a dream.  26
  He was one of those childlike peasant-priests to whom the great world was unknown; and to whom his mountain solitudes were peopled as much by the saints and angels of his breviary, as by the peasants who shared with him the solitudes and the legends that gave to these mountain fastnesses a mysterious awe. To such a man as this it seemed nothing strange that the blessed St. George himself, in jeweled armor, should stand before the altar in the mystic morning light, his shining sword in his hand.  27
  He turned again to Inglesant, who had knelt down once more.  28
  “It is well done, monsignore,” he said, “as all that thou doest doubtless is most well. The sword shall remain here as thou sayest, and the Lord doubtless will work his blessed will. But I entreat, monsignore, thy intercession for me, a poor sinful man; and when thou returnest to thy place, and seest again the Lord Jesus, that thou wilt remind him of his unworthy priest. Amen.”  29
  Inglesant scarcely heard what he said, and certainly did not understand it. His sense was confused by what had happened, and by the sudden overmastering impulse upon which he had acted. He moved as in a dream; nothing seemed to come strange to him, nothing startled him, and he took slight heed of what passed. He placed his embroidered purse, heavy with gold, in the priest’s hand, and in his excitement totally forgot to name his brother, for whose repose masses were to be said.  30
  He signed to his men to release the prisoner; and, his trumpets sounding to horse before the chapel gate, he mounted and rode on down the pass.  31
  But his visit was not forgotten: and long afterward—perhaps even to the present day—popular tradition took the story up, and related that once, when the priest of the mountain chapel was a very holy man, the blessed St. George himself, in shining armor, came across the mountains one morning very early, and himself partook of the sacrament, and all his train; and appealed triumphantly to the magic sword, set with gold and precious stones, that lay upon the altar from that morning,—by virtue of which no harm can befall the village, no storm strike it, and above all, no pillage of armed men or any violence can occur.  32
 
 
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