The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni

CHAPTER I.

That branch of the Lake of Como, which turns toward the south between
two unbroken chains of mountains, presenting to the eye a succession of
bays and gulfs, formed by their jutting and retiring ridges, suddenly
contracts itself between a headland to the right and an extended sloping
bank on the left, and assumes the flow and appearance of a river. The
bridge by which the two shores are here united, appears to render the
transformation more apparent, and marks the point at which the lake
ceases, and the Adda recommences, to resume, however, the name of _Lake_
where the again receding banks allow the water to expand itself anew
into bays and gulfs. The bank, formed by the deposit of three large
mountain streams, descends from the bases of two contiguous mountains,
the one called St. Martin, the other by a Lombard name, _Resegone_, from
its long line of summits, which in truth give it the appearance of a
saw; so that there is no one who would not at first sight, especially
viewing it in front, from the ramparts of Milan that face the north, at
once distinguish it in all that extensive range from other mountains of
less name and more ordinary form. The bank, for a considerable distance,
rises with a gentle and continual ascent, then breaks into hills and
hollows, rugged or level land, according to the formation of the
mountain rocks, and the action of the floods. Its extreme border,
intersected by the mountain torrents, is composed almost entirely of
sand and pebbles; the other parts of fields and vineyards, scattered
farms, country seats, and villages, with here and there a wood which
extends up the mountain side. Lecco, the largest of these villages, and
which gives its name to the district, is situated at no great distance
from the bridge, upon the margin of the lake; nay, often, at the rising
of the waters, is partly embosomed within the lake itself; a large town
at the present day, and likely soon to become a city. At the period of
our story, this village was also fortified, and consequently had the
honour to furnish quarters to a governor, and the advantage of
possessing a permanent garrison of Spanish soldiers, who gave lessons in
modesty to the wives and daughters of the neighbourhood, and toward the
close of summer never failed to scatter themselves through the
vineyards, in order to thin the grapes, and lighten for the rustics the
labours of the vintage. From village to village, from the heights down
to the margin of the lake, there are innumerable roads and paths: these
vary in their character; at times precipitous, at others level; now sunk
and buried between two ivy-clad walls, from whose depth you can behold
nothing but the sky, or some lofty mountain peak; then crossing high and
level tracts, around the edges of which they sometimes wind,
occasionally projecting beyond the face of the mountain, supported by
prominent masses resembling bastions, whence the eye wanders over the
most varied and delicious landscape. On the one side you behold the blue
lake, with its boundaries broken by various promontories and necks of
land, and reflecting the inverted images of the objects on its banks; on
the other, the Adda, which, flowing beneath the arches of the bridge,
expands into a small lake, then contracts again, and holds on its clear
serpentining course to the distant horizon: above, are the ponderous
masses of the shapeless rocks; beneath, the richly cultivated acclivity,
the fair landscape, the bridge; in front, the opposite shore of the
lake, and beyond this, the mountain, which bounds the view.

Towards evening, on the 7th day of November, 1628, Don Abbondio, curate
of one of the villages before alluded to (but of the name of which, nor
of the house and lineage of its curate, we are not informed), was
returning slowly towards his home, by one of these pathways. He was
repeating quietly his office; in the pauses of which he held his closed
breviary in his hand behind his back; and as he went, with his foot he
cast listlessly against the wall the stones that happened to impede his
path; at the same time giving admittance to the idle thoughts that
tempted the spirit, while the lips of the worthy man were mechanically
performing their function; then raising his head and gazing idly around
him, he fixed his eyes upon a mountain summit, where the rays of the
setting sun, breaking through the openings of an opposite ridge,
illumined its projecting masses, which appeared like large and variously
shaped spots of purple light. He then opened anew his breviary, and
recited another portion at an angle of the lane, after which angle the
road continued straight for perhaps seventy paces, and then branched
like the letter Y into two narrow paths; the right-hand one ascended
towards the mountain, and led to the parsonage (_Cura_); that on the
left descended the valley towards a torrent, and on this side the wall
rose out to the height of about two feet. The inner walls of the two
narrow paths, instead of meeting at the angle, ended in a little chapel,
upon which were depicted certain long, sinuous, pointed shapes, which,
in the intention of the artist, and to the eyes of the neighbouring
inhabitants, represented flames, and amidst these flames certain other
forms, not to be described, that were meant for souls in purgatory;
souls and flames of a brick colour, upon a ground of blackish grey, with
here and there a bare spot of plaster. The curate, having turned the
corner, directed, as was his wont, a look toward the little chapel, and
there beheld what he little expected, and would not have desired to see.
At the confluence, if we may so call it, of the two narrow lanes, there
were two men: one of them sitting astride the low wall; his companion
leaning against it, with his arms folded on his breast. The dress, the
bearing, and what the curate could distinguish of the countenance of
these men, left no doubt as to their profession. They wore upon their
heads a green network, which, falling on the left shoulder, ended in a
large tassel, from under which appeared upon the forehead an enormous
lock of hair. Their mustachios were long, and curled at the extremities;
the margin of their doublets confined by a belt of polished leather,
from which were suspended, by hooks, two pistols; a little powder-horn
hung like a locket on the breast; on the right-hand side of the wide and
ample breeches was a pocket, out of which projected the handle of a
knife, and on the other side they bore a long sword, of which the great
hollow hilt was formed of bright plates of brass, combined into a
cypher: by these characteristics they were, at a glance, recognised as
individuals of the class of bravoes.

This species, now entirely extinct, flourished greatly at that time in
Lombardy. For those who have no knowledge of it, the following are a few
authentic records, that may suffice to impart an idea of its principal
characteristics, of the vigorous efforts made to extirpate it, and of
its obstinate and rank vitality.

As early as the 8th of April, 1583, the most illustrious and most
excellent lord Don Charles of Arragon, Prince of Castelvetrano, Duke of
Terranova, Marquis of Avola, Count of Burgeto, High Admiral and High
Constable of Sicily, Governor of Milan, and Captain General of His
Catholic Majesty in Italy, “fully informed of the intolerable misery
which the city of Milan has endured, and still endures, by reason of
bravoes and vagabonds,” publishes his decree against them, “declares and
designates all those comprehended in this proclamation to be regarded as
bravoes and vagabonds,—-who, whether foreigners or natives, have no
calling, or, having one, do not follow it,—-but, either with or
without wages, attach themselves to any knight, gentleman, officer, or
merchant,—-to uphold or favour him, or in any manner to molest
others.” All such he commands, within the space of six days, to leave
the country; threatens the refractory with the galleys, and grants to
all officers of justice the most ample and unlimited powers for the
execution of his commands. But, in the following year, on the 12th of
April, the said lord, having perceived “that this city still continues
to be filled with bravoes, who have again resumed their former mode of
life; their manners unchanged, and their number undiminished,” puts
forth another edict still more energetic and remarkable, in which, among
other regulations, he directs “that any person whatsoever, whether of
this city or from abroad, who shall, by the testimony of two witnesses,
be shown to be regarded and commonly reputed as a bravo, even though no
criminal act shall have been proved against him, may, nevertheless, upon
the sole ground of his reputation, be condemned by the said judges to
the rack for examination; and although he make no confession of guilt,
he shall, notwithstanding, be sentenced to the galleys for the said term
of three years, solely for that he is regarded as, and called a bravo,
as above-mentioned;” and this “because His Excellency is resolved to
enforce obedience to his commands.”

One would suppose that at the sound of such denunciations from so
powerful a source, all the bravoes must have disappeared for ever. But
testimony, of no less authority, obliges us to believe directly the
reverse. This testimony is the most illustrious and most excellent lord
Juan Fernandez de Velasco, Constable of Castile, High Chamberlain of His
Majesty, Duke of the city of Freas, Count of Haro and Castelnuovo, Lord
of the house of Velasco, and of that of the Seven Infanti of Lara,
Governor of the State of Milan, &c. On the 5th of June, 1593, he also,
fully informed “how great an injury to the common weal, and how
insulting to justice, is the existence of such a class of men,” requires
them anew to quit the country within six days, repeating very nearly the
same threats and injunctions as his predecessor. On the 23d of May,
then, 1598, “having learnt, with no little displeasure, that the number
of bravoes and vagabonds is increasing daily in this state and city, and
that nothing is heard of them but wounds, murders, robberies, and every
other crime, to the commission of which these bravoes are encouraged by
the confidence that they will be sustained by their chiefs and
abettors,” he prescribes again the same remedies, increasing the dose,
as is usual in obstinate disorders. “Let every one, then,” he concludes,
“carefully beware that he do not, in any wise, contravene this edict;
since, in place of experiencing the mercy of His Excellency, he shall
prove his rigour and his wrath–he being resolved and determined that
this shall be a final and peremptory warning.”

But this again did not suffice; and the illustrious and most excellent
lord, the Signor Don Pietro Enriquez de Acevedo, Count of Fuentes,
Captain and Governor of the State of Milan, “fully informed of the
wretched condition of this city and state, in consequence of the great
number of bravoes that abound therein, and resolved wholly to extirpate
them,” publishes, on the 5th of December, 1600, a new decree, full of
the most rigorous provisions, and “with firm purpose that in all rigour,
and without hope of remission, they shall be wholly carried into
execution.”

We are obliged, however, to conclude that he did not, in this matter,
exhibit the same zeal which he knew how to employ in contriving plots
and exciting enemies against his powerful foe, Henry IV., against whom
history attests that he succeeded in arming the Duke of Savoy, whom he
caused to lose more towns than one; and in engaging in a conspiracy the
Duke of Biron, whom he caused to lose his head. But as regards the
pestilent race of bravoes, it is very certain they continued to increase
until the 22d day of September, 1612; on which day the most illustrious
and most excellent lord Don Giovanni de Mendoza, Marchese de la
Hynojosa, gentleman, & c., Governor, & c., thought seriously of their
extirpation. He addressed to Pandolfo and Marco Tullio Malatesti,
printers of the Royal Chamber, the customary edict, corrected and
enlarged, that they might print it, to accomplish that end. But the
bravoes still survived, to experience, on the 24th December, 1618, still
more terrific denunciations from the most illustrious and most excellent
lord, Don Gomez Suarez de Figueroa, Duke of Feria, Governor, & c.; yet,
as they did not fall even under these blows, the most illustrious and
most excellent lord Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordova, under whose government
we are made acquainted with Don Abbondio, found himself obliged to
republish the usual proclamation against the bravoes, on the 5th day of
October, 1627, that is, a year, a month, and two days previous to the
commencement of our story.

Nor was this the last publication; but of those that follow, as of
matters not falling within the period of our history, we do not think it
proper to make mention. The only one of them to which we shall refer, is
that of the 13th day of February, 1632, in which the most illustrious
and most excellent lord, the Duke of Feria, for the second time
governor, informs us, “that the greatest and most heinous crimes are
perpetrated by those styled bravoes.” This will suffice to prove that,
at the time of which we treat, the bravoes still existed.

It appeared evident to Don Abbondio that the two men above mentioned
were waiting for some one, and he was alarmed at the conviction that it
was for himself; for on his appearance, they exchanged a look, as if to
say, “’tis he.” Rising from the wall, they both advanced to meet him. He
held his breviary open before him, as though he were employed in reading
it; but, nevertheless, cast a glance upward in order to espy their
movements. Seeing that they came directly toward him, he was beset by a
thousand different thoughts. He considered, in haste, whether between
the bravoes and himself there were any outlet from the road, and he
remembered there was none. He took a rapid survey of his conduct, to
discover if he had given offence to any powerful or revengeful man; but
in this matter, he was somewhat reassured by the consoling testimony of
his conscience. The bravoes draw near, and kept their eyes upon him. He
raised his hand to his collar, as if adjusting it, and at the same time
turned his head round, to see if any one were coming; he could discover
no one. He cast a glance across the low stone wall upon the fields; no
one! another on the road that lay before him; no one, except the
bravoes! What is to be done? Flight was impossible. Unable to avoid the
danger, he hastened to encounter it, and to put an end to the torments
of uncertainty. He quickened his pace, recited a stanza in a louder
tone, did his utmost to assume a composed and cheerful countenance, and
finding himself in front of the two gallants, stopped short. “Signor
Curate,” said one of them, fixing his eyes upon him,–

“Your pleasure, sir,” suddenly raising his eyes from his book, which he
continued to hold open before him.

“You intend,” pursued the other, with the threatening and angry mien of
one who has detected an inferior in an attempt to commit some villany,
“you intend to-morrow to unite in marriage Renzo Tramaglino and Lucy
Mondella.”

“That is,” said Don Abbondio with a faltering voice, “that is to
say–you gentlemen, being men of the world, are very well aware how
these things are managed: the poor curate neither meddles nor
makes–they settle their affairs amongst themselves, and then–then,
they come to us, as if to redeem a pledge; and we–we are the servants
of the public.”

“Mark now,” said the bravo in a low voice, but in a tone of command,
“this marriage is not to take place, neither to-morrow, nor at any other
time.”

“But, my good sirs,” replied Don Abbondio, with the mild and gentle tone
of one who would persuade an impatient listener, “but, my good sirs,
deign to put yourselves in my situation. If the thing depended on
myself–you see plainly, that it does not in the least concern—-”

“Hold there,” said the bravo, interrupting him, “this matter is not to
be settled by prating. We neither know nor care to know any more about
it. A man once warned–you understand us.”

“But, fair sirs, you are too just, too reasonable—-”

“But,” interrupted the other comrade, who had not before spoken, “but
this marriage is not to be performed, or (with an oath) he who performs
it will not repent of it, because he’ll not have time” (with another
oath).

“Hush, hush,” resumed the first orator, “the Signor Curate knows the
world, and we are gentlemen who have no wish to harm him if he conducts
himself with judgment. Signor Curate, the most illustrious Signor Don
Roderick, our patron, offers you his kind regards.” As in the height of
a midnight storm a vivid flash casts a momentary dazzling glare around
and renders every object more fearful, so did this _name_ increase the
terror of Don Abbondio: as if by instinct, he bowed his head
submissively, and said–

“If it could but be suggested to me.”

“Oh! suggested to _you_, who understand Latin!” exclaimed the bravo,
laughing; “it is for you to manage the matter. But, above all, be
careful not to say a word concerning the hint that has been given you
for your good; for if you do, ehem!–you understand–the consequences
would be the same as if you performed the marriage ceremony. But say,
what answer are we to carry in your name to the most illustrious Signor
Don Roderick?”

“My respects—-”

“Speak more clearly, Signor Curate.”

“That I am disposed, ever disposed, to obedience.” And as he spoke the
words he was not very certain himself whether he gave a promise, or only
uttered an ordinary compliment. The bravoes took, or _appeared_ to take
them, in the more serious sense.

“‘Tis very well; good night, Signor Curate,” said one of them as he
retired, together with his companion. Don Abbondio, who a few minutes
before would have given one of his eyes to avoid the ruffians, was now
desirous to prolong the conversation.

“Gentlemen—-” he began, as he shut his book. Without again noticing
him, however, they passed on, singing a loose song, of which we will not
transcribe the words. Poor Don Abbondio remained for a moment, as if
spell-bound, and then with heavy and lagging steps took the path which
led towards his home. The reader will better understand the state of his
mind, when he shall have learned something more of his disposition, and
of the condition of the times in which it was his lot to live.

Don Abbondio was not (as the reader may have perceived) endowed with the
courage of a lion. But from his earliest years he had been sensible that
the most embarrassing situation in those times was that of an animal,
furnished with neither tusks nor talons, at the same time having no wish
to be devoured. The arm of the law afforded no protection to a man of
quiet, inoffensive habits, who had no means of making himself feared.
Not that laws and penalties were wanting for the prevention of private
violence: the laws were most express; the offences enumerated, and
minutely particularised; the penalties sufficiently extravagant; and if
that were not enough, the legislator himself, and, a hundred others to
whom was committed the execution of the laws, had power to increase
them. The proceedings were studiously contrived to free the judge from
every thing that might prevent his passing sentence of condemnation; the
passages we have cited from proclamations against the bravoes, may be
taken as a faithful specimen of these decrees. Notwithstanding this, or,
it may be, in _consequence_ of this, these proclamations, reiterated and
reinforced from time to time, served only to proclaim in pompous
language the impotence of those who issued them; or, if they produced
any immediate effect, it was _that_ of adding to the vexations which the
peaceful and feeble suffered from the disturbers of society. Impunity
was organised and effected in so many ways as to render the
proclamations powerless. Such was the consequence of the sanctuaries and
asylums; and of the privileges of certain classes, partly acknowledged
by the legal power, partly tolerated in silence, or feebly opposed; but
which, in _fact_, were sustained and guarded by almost every individual
with interested activity and punctilious jealousy. Now this impunity,
threatened and assailed, but not destroyed, by these proclamations,
would naturally, at every new attack, employ fresh efforts and devices
to maintain itself. The proclamations were efficient, it is true, in
fettering and embarrassing the honest man, who had neither power in
himself nor protection from others; inasmuch as, in order to reach every
person, they subjected the movements of each private individual to the
arbitrary will of a thousand magistrates and executive officers. But he,
who before the commission of his crime had prepared himself a refuge in
some convent or palace where bailiffs never dared to enter; or who
simply wore a livery, which engaged in his defence the vanity or the
interest of a powerful family; such a one was free in his actions, and
could laugh to scorn every proclamation. Of those very persons whose
part it was to ensure the execution of these decrees, some belonged by
birth to the privileged class, others were its clients and dependants;
and as the latter as well as the former had, from education, from habit,
from imitation, embraced its maxims, they would be very careful not to
violate them. Had they however, been bold as heroes, obedient as monks,
and devoted as martyrs, they could never have accomplished the execution
of the laws, inferior as they were in number to _those_ with whom they
must engage, and with the frequent probability of being abandoned, or
even sacrificed, by him who, in a moment of theoretical abstraction,
might require them to act. But, in addition to this, their office would
be regarded as a base one in public opinion, and their name stamped with
reproach. It was therefore very natural that, instead of risking, nay,
throwing away, their lives in a fruitless attempt, they should sell
their inaction, or, rather, their connivance, to the powerful; or, at
least, exercise their authority only on those occasions when it might be
done with safety to themselves; that is, in oppressing the peaceable and
the defenceless.

The man who acts with violence, or who is constantly in fear of violence
from others, seeks companions and allies. Hence it happened that, during
these times, individuals displayed so strong a tendency to combine
themselves into classes, and to advance, as far as each one was able,
the power of that to which he belonged. The clergy was vigilant in the
defence and extension of its immunities; the nobility, of its
privileges; the military, of its exemptions; the merchants and artisans
were enrolled in companies and fraternities; the lawyers were united in
leagues, and even the physicians formed a corporation. Each of these
little oligarchies had its own appropriate power,–in each of them the
individual found the advantage of employing for himself, in proportion
to his influence and dexterity, the united force of numbers. The more
honest availed themselves of this advantage merely for their defence;
the crafty and the wicked profited by it to assure themselves of success
in their rogueries, and impunity from their results. The strength,
however, of these various combinations was far from being equal; and,
especially in the country, the wealthy and overbearing nobleman, with a
band of bravoes, and surrounded by peasants accustomed to regard
themselves as subjects and soldiers of their lord, exercised an
irresistible power, and set all laws at defiance.

Don Abbondio, neither noble, rich, nor valiant, had from early youth
found himself alone and unaided in such a state of society, like an
earthen vessel thrown amidst iron jars; he therefore readily obeyed his
parents, who wished him to become a priest. He did, to say the truth,
not regard the obligations and the noble ends of the ministry to which
he dedicated himself, but was only desirous to secure the means of
living, and to connect himself with a powerful and respected class. But
no class provided for the individual, or secured his safety, _further_
than to a certain point; none rendered it unnecessary for him to adopt
for himself a system of his own. The system of Don Abbondio consisted
chiefly in shunning all disputes; he maintained an unarmed neutrality in
all the contests that broke out around him;–between the clergy and the
civil power, between persons in office and nobles and magistrates,
bravoes and soldiers, down to the squabbles of the peasantry themselves,
terminated by the fist or the knife. By keeping aloof from the
overbearing, by affecting not to notice their acts of violence, by
bowing low and with the most profound respect to all whom he met, the
poor man had succeeded in passing over sixty years without encountering
any violent storms; not but that he also had some small portion of gall
in his composition; and this continual exercise of patience exacerbated
it to such a degree, that, if he had not had it in his power
occasionally to give it vent, his health must have suffered. But as
there were a few persons in the world connected with himself whom he
knew to be powerless, he could, from time to time, discharge on them his
long pent-up ill-humour. He was, moreover, a severe censor of those who
did not regulate their conduct by his example, provided he could censure
without danger. According to his creed, the poor fellow who had been
cudgelled had been a little imprudent; the murdered man had always been
turbulent; the man who maintained his right against the powerful, and
met with a broken head, must have been somewhat wrong; which is,
perhaps, true enough, for in all disputes the line can never be drawn
so finely as not to leave a little wrong on both sides. He especially
declaimed against those of his confraternity, who, at their own risk,
took part with the oppressed against a powerful oppressor. “This,” he
said, “was to purchase trouble with ready money, to kick at snarling
dogs, and an intermeddling in profane things that lowered the dignity of
the sacred ministry.” He had, in short, a favourite maxim, that an
honest man, who looked to himself and minded his own affairs, never met
with any rough encounters.

From all that has been said, we may imagine the effect the meeting just
described must have had upon the mind of poor Don Abbondio. Those fierce
countenances, the threats of a lord who was well known not to speak
idly, his plan of quiet life and patient endurance disconcerted in an
instant, a difficulty before him from which he saw no possibility of
extrication; all these thoughts rushed confusedly through his mind. “If
Renzo could be quietly dismissed with a refusal, all would be well; but
he will require reasons–and what can I say to him? he too has a head of
his own; a lamb, if not meddled with–but once attempt to cross him—-
Oh!–and raving after that Lucy, as much enamoured as—- Young idiots!
who, for want of something else to do, fall in love, and must be
married, forsooth, thinking of nothing else, never concerning themselves
about the trouble they bring upon an honest man like me. Wretch that I
am! Why should those two scowling faces plant themselves exactly in my
path, and pick a quarrel with me? What have I to do in the matter? Is it
I that mean to wive? Why did they not rather go and speak—- Ah! truly,
that which is to the purpose always occurs to me after the right time:
if I had but thought of suggesting to them to go and bear their
message—-” But here he was disturbed by the reflection, that to repent
of not having been the counsellor and abettor of evil, was too
iniquitous a thing; and he therefore turned the rancour of his thoughts
against the individual who had thus robbed him of his tranquillity. He
did not know Don Roderick, except by sight and by report; his sole
intercourse with him had been to touch chin to breast, and the ground
with the corner of his hat, the few times he had met him on the road.
He had, on more than one occasion, defended the reputation of that
Signor against those who, in an under-tone, with sighs and looks raised
to heaven, had execrated some one of his exploits. He had declared a
hundred times that he was a respectable cavalier. But at this moment he,
in his own heart, readily bestowed upon him all those titles to which he
would never lend an ear from another. Having, amidst the tumult of these
thoughts, reached the entrance of his house, which stood at the end of
the little glebe, he unlocked the door, entered, and carefully secured
it within. Anxious to find himself in society that he could trust, he
called aloud, “Perpetua, Perpetua,” advancing towards the little parlour
where she was, doubtless, employed in preparing the table for his
supper. Perpetua was, as the reader must be aware, the housekeeper of
Don Abbondio; an affectionate and faithful domestic, who knew how to
obey or command as occasion served; to bear the grumbling and whims of
her master at times, and at others to make him bear with hers. These
were becoming every day more frequent; she had passed the age of forty
in a single state; the consequences, _she_ said, of having refused all
the offers that had been made her; her _female friends_ asserted that
she had never found any one willing to take her.

“Coming,” said Perpetua, as she set in its usual place on the little
table the flask of Don Abbondio’s favourite wine, and moved slowly
toward the parlour door: before she reached it he entered, with steps so
disordered, looks so clouded, and a countenance so changed, that an eye
less practised than that of Perpetua could have discovered at a glance
that something unusual had befallen him.

“Mercy on me! What is it ails my master?”

“Nothing, nothing,” said Don Abbondio, as he sank upon his easy chair.

“How, nothing! Would you have me believe that, looking as you do? Some
dreadful accident has happened.”

“Oh! for the love of Heaven! When I say nothing, it is either nothing,
or something I cannot tell.”

“That you cannot tell, not even to me? Who will take care of your
health? Who will give you advice?”

“Oh! peace, peace! Do not make matters worse. Give me a glass of my
wine.”

“And you will still pretend to me that nothing is the matter?” said
Perpetua, filling the glass, but retaining it in her hand, as if
unwilling to present it except as the reward of confidence.

“Give here, give here,” said Don Abbondio, taking the glass with an
unsteady hand, and hastily swallowing its contents.

“Would you oblige me then to go about, asking here and there what it is
has happened to my master?” said Perpetua, standing upright before him,
with her hands on her sides, and looking him steadfastly in the face, as
if to extract the secret from his eyes.

“For the love of Heaven, do not worry me, do not kill me with your
pother; this is a matter that concerns–concerns my life.”

“Your life!”

“My life.”

“You know well, that, when you have frankly confided in me, I have
never—-”

“Yes, forsooth, as when—-”

Perpetua was sensible she had touched a false string; wherefore,
changing suddenly her note, “My dear master,” said she, in a moving tone
of voice, “I have always had a dutiful regard for you, and if I now wish
to know this affair, it is from zeal, and a desire to assist you, to
give you advice, to relieve your mind.”

The truth is, that Don Abbondio’s desire to disburden himself of his
painful secret was as great as that of Perpetua to obtain a knowledge of
it; so that, after having repulsed, more and more feebly, her renewed
assaults; after having made her swear many times that she would not
breathe a syllable of it, he, with frequent pauses and exclamations,
related his miserable adventure. When it was necessary to pronounce the
dread name of him from whom the prohibition came, he required from
Perpetua another and more solemn oath: having uttered it, he threw
himself back on his seat with a heavy sigh, and, in a tone of command,
as well as supplication, exclaimed,–

“For the love of Heaven!”–

“Mercy upon me!” cried Perpetua, “what a wretch! what a tyrant! Does he
not fear God?”

“Will you be silent? or do you want to ruin me completely?”

“Oh! we are here alone, no one can hear us. But what will my poor master
do?”

“See there now,” said Don Abbondio, in a peevish tone, “see the fine
advice you give me. To ask of me, what I’ll do? what I’ll do? as if you
were the one in difficulty, and it was for me to help you out!”

“Nay, I could give you my own poor opinion; but then–”

“But–but then, let us know it.”

“My opinion would be, that, as every one says our archbishop is a saint,
a man of courage, and not to be frightened by an ugly phiz, and who will
take pleasure in upholding a curate against one of these tyrants; I
should say, and do say, that you had better write him a handsome letter,
to inform him as how—-”

“Will you be silent! will you be silent! Is this advice to offer a poor
man? When I get a pistol bullet in my side–God preserve me!–will the
archbishop take it out?”

“Ah! pistol bullets are not given away like sugarplums; and it were
woful if those dogs should bite every time they bark. If a man knows how
to show his teeth, and make himself feared, they hold him in respect: we
should not have been brought to such a pass, if you had stood upon your
rights. Now, all come to us (by your good leave) to—-”

“Will you be silent?”

“Certainly; but it is true though, that when the world sees one is
always ready, in every encounter, to lower—-”

“Will you be silent? Is this a time for such idle talk?”

“Well, well, you’ll think of it to-night; but in the meantime do not be
the first to harm yourself; to destroy your own health: eat a mouthful.”

“I’ll think of it,” murmured Don Abbondio; “certainly I’ll think of it.
I _must_ think of it;” and he arose, continuing–“No! I’ll take nothing,
nothing; I’ve something else to do. But, that this should have fallen
upon me—-”

“Swallow at least this other little drop,” said Perpetua, as she poured
the wine. “You know it always restores your stomach.”

“Oh! there wants other medicine than that, other medicine than that,
other medicine than that—-”

So saying, he took the light, and muttering, “A pretty business this! To
an honest man like me! And to-morrow, what is to be done?” with other
like exclamations, he went towards his bedchamber. Having reached the
door, he stopped a moment, and before he quitted the room, exclaimed,
turning towards Perpetua, with his finger on his lips–“For the love of
Heaven, be silent!”

CHAPTER II.

It is related that the Prince of Condé slept soundly the night preceding
the battle of Rocroi; but then, he was greatly fatigued, and moreover
had made every arrangement for the morrow. It was not thus with Don
Abbondio; he only knew the morrow would be a day of trouble, and
consequently passed the night in anxious anticipation. He could not for
a moment think of disregarding the menaces of the bravoes, and
solemnising the marriage. To confide to Renzo the occurrence, and
consult with him as to the means–God forbid!–He remembered the warning
of the bravo, “not to say one word”–otherwise, _ahem!_ and this
dreadful _ahem_ of the bravo resounded in the ears of Don Abbondio; so
that he already repented of his communication to Perpetua. To fly was
impossible–and where _could_ he fly? At the thought, a thousand
obstacles presented themselves.–After long and painful deliberation, he
resolved to endeavour to gain time, by giving Renzo some fanciful
reasons for the postponement of the marriage. He recollected that in a
few days more the time would arrive, during which marriages were
prohibited. “And if I can keep this youngster at bay for a few days, I
shall then have two months before me; and in two months who can tell
what may happen?” He thought of various pretexts for his purpose; and
though they were rather flimsy, he persuaded himself that his authority
would give them weight, and that his experience would prevail over the
mind of an ignorant youth. “We will see,” said he to himself: “he thinks
of his love, but I think of myself; I am, therefore, the party most
interested; I must call in all my cunning to assist me. I cannot help
it, young man, if you suffer; I must not be the victim.” Having somewhat
composed his mind with this determination, he at length fell asleep. But
his dreams, alas! how horrible–bravoes, Don Roderick, Renzo, roads,
rocks, cries, bullets.

The arousing from sleep, after a recent misfortune, is a bitter moment;
the mind at first habitually recurs to its previous tranquillity, but is
soon depressed by the thought of the contrast that awaits it. When alive
to a sense of his situation, Don Abbondio recapitulated the plans of the
night, made a better disposal of them, and after having risen, awaited
with dread and impatience the moment of Renzo’s arrival.

Lorenzo, or as he was called, Renzo, did not make him wait long; at an
early hour he presented himself before the curate with the joyful
readiness of one who was on this day to espouse her whom he loved. He
had been deprived of his parents in his youth, and now practised the
trade of a weaver of silk, which was, it might be said, hereditary in
his family. This trade had once been very lucrative; and although now on
the decline, a skilful workman might obtain from it a respectable
livelihood. The continual emigration of the tradesmen, attracted to the
neighbouring states by promises and privileges, left sufficient
employment for those who remained behind. Besides, Renzo possessed a
small farm, which he had cultivated himself when otherwise unoccupied;
so that, for one of his condition, he might be called wealthy: and
although the last harvest had been more deficient than the preceding
ones, and the evils of famine were beginning to be felt; yet, from the
moment he had given his heart to Lucy, he had been so economical as to
preserve a sufficiency of all necessaries, and to be in no danger of
wanting bread. He appeared before Don Abbondio gaily dressed, and with a
joyful countenance. The mysterious and perplexed manner of the curate
formed a singular contrast to that of the handsome young man.

“What is the matter now?” thought Renzo; but without waiting to answer
his own question, “Signor Curate,” said he, “I am come to know at what
hour of the day it will be convenient for you that we should be at the
church?”

“Of what day do you speak?”

“How! of what day? do you not remember that this is the day appointed?”

“To-day?” replied Don Abbondio, as if he heard it for the first time,
“to-day? to-day? be patient, I cannot to-day—-”

“You cannot to-day? why not?”

“In the first place I am not well—-”

“I am sorry for it; but we shall not detain you long, and you will not
be much fatigued.”

“But then–but then—-”

“But then, what, sir?”

“There are difficulties.”

“Difficulties! How can that be?”

“People should be in our situation, to know how many obstacles there are
to these matters; I am too yielding, I think only of removing
impediments, of rendering all things easy, and promoting the happiness
of others. To do this I neglect my duty, and am covered with reproaches
for it.”

“In the name of Heaven, keep me not thus in suspense, but tell me at
once what is the matter?”

“Do you know how many formalities are required before the marriage can
be celebrated?”

“I must, indeed, know something of them,” said Renzo, beginning to grow
angry, “since you have racked my brains with them abundantly these few
days back. But are not all things now ready? have you not done all there
was to do?”

“All, all, you expect; but be patient, I tell you. I have been a
blockhead to neglect my duty, that I might not cause pain to others;–we
poor curates–we are, as may be said, ever between a hawk and a buzzard.
I pity you, poor young man! I perceive your impatience, but my
superiors—-Enough, I have reasons for what I say, but I cannot tell
all–we, however, are sure to suffer.”

“But tell me what this other formality is, and I will perform it
immediately.”

“Do you know how many obstacles stand in the way?”

“How can I know any thing of obstacles?”

“Error, conditio, votum, cognatis, crimen, cultus disparitas, vis,
ordo…. Si sit affinis….”

“Oh! for Heaven’s sake–how should I understand all this Latin?”

“Be patient, dear Renzo; I am ready to do—-all that depends on me.
I–I wish to see you satisfied–I wish you well—- And when I think
that you were so happy, that you wanted nothing when the whim entered
your head to be married—-”

“What words are these, Signor?” interrupted Renzo, with a look of
astonishment and anger.

“I say, do be patient–I say, I wish to see you happy. In short–in
short, my dear child, I have not been in fault; I did not make the laws.
Before concluding a marriage, we are required to search closely that
there be no obstacles.”

“Now, I beseech you, tell me at once what difficulty has occurred?”

“Be patient–these are not points to be cleared up in an instant. There
_will_ be nothing, I hope; but whether or not, we must search into the
matter. The passage is clear and explicit,–‘antiquam matrimonium
denunciet—-‘”

“I’ll not hear your Latin.”

“But it is necessary to explain to you—-”

“But why not do this before? Why tell me all was prepared? Why wait—-”

“See there now! to reproach me with my kindness! I have hastened every
thing to serve you; but–but there has occurred—-well, well, I
know—-”

“And what do you wish that I should do?”

“Be patient for a few days. My dear child, a few days are not eternity;
be patient.”

“For how long a time then?”

“We are coming to a good conclusion,” thought Don Abbondio. “Come,” said
he, gently, “in fifteen days I will endeavour—-”

“Fifteen days! Oh! this is something new. To tell me now, on the very
day you yourself appointed for my marriage, that I must wait fifteen
days! Fifteen,” resumed he, with a low and angry voice.

Don Abbondio interrupted him, earnestly seizing his hand, and with an
imploring tone beseeching him to be quiet. “Come, come, don’t be angry;
for the love of Heaven! I’ll see, I’ll see if in a week—-”

“And what shall I say to Lucy?” said Renzo, softening.

“That it has been a mistake of mine.”

“And to the world?”

“Say also it is my fault; that through too great haste I have made some
great blunder: throw all the blame on me. Can I do more than this? Come
in a week.”

“And then there will be no further difficulties?”

“When I say a thing—-”

“Well, well, I will be quiet for a week; but be assured, I will be put
off with no further excuses:–for the present, I take my leave.” So
saying, he departed, making a bow to Don Abbondio less profound than
usual, and giving him a look more expressive than respectful.

With a heavy heart he approached the house of his betrothed, his mind
dwelling on the strange conversation which had just taken place. The
cold and embarrassed reception of Don Abbondio, his constrained and
impatient air, his mysterious hints, all combined to convince him there
was still something he had not been willing to communicate. He stopped
for a moment, debating with himself whether he should not return and
compel him to be more frank; raising his eyes, however, he beheld
Perpetua entering a little garden a few steps distant from the house. He
called to her, quickened his pace, and detaining her at the gate,
endeavoured to enter into discourse with her.

“Good day, Perpetua; I expected to have received your congratulations
to-day.”

“But it must be as God pleases, my poor Renzo.”

“I want to ask a favour of you: the Signor Curate has offered reasons I
cannot comprehend; will you explain to me the true cause why he is
unable or unwilling to marry us to-day?”

“Oh! you think then that I know the secrets of my master.”

“I was right in supposing there was a mystery,” thought Renzo. “Come,
come, Perpetua,” continued he, “we are friends; tell me what you
know,–help a poor young man.”

“It is a bad thing to be born poor, my dear Renzo.”

“That is true,” replied he, still more confirmed in his
suspicions–“that is true; but it is not becoming in the clergy to
behave unjustly to the poor.”

“Hear me, Renzo; I can tell you nothing, because–I know nothing. But I
can assure you my master would not wrong you or any one; and he is not
to blame.”

“Who then is to blame?” asked Renzo, carelessly, but listening intently
for a reply.

“I have told you already I know nothing. But I may be allowed to speak
in defence of my master; poor man! if he has erred, it has been through
too great kindness. There are in this world men who are overpowerful,
knavish, and who fear not God.”

“Overpowerful! knavish!” thought Renzo; “these cannot be his
superiors.”–“Come,” said he, with difficulty concealing his increasing
agitation, “come, tell me who it is.”

“Ah! you would persuade me to speak, and I must not, because–I know
nothing. I will keep silence as faithfully as if I had promised to do
so. You might put me to the torture, and you could not draw any thing
from me. Adieu! it is lost time for both of us.”

Thus saying, she re-entered the garden hastily, and shut the gate. Renzo
turned very softly, lest at the noise of his footsteps she might discern
the road he took: when fairly beyond her hearing, he quickened his
steps, and in a moment was at the door of Don Abbondio’s house; he
entered, rushed towards the little parlour where he had left him, and
finding him still there, approached him with a bold and furious manner.

“Eh! eh! what has happened now?” said Don Abbondio.

“Who is this powerful personage?” said Renzo, with the air of one
resolved to obtain an explicit answer; “who is he that forbids me to
marry Lucy?”

“What! what! what!” stammered Don Abbondio, turning pale with surprise.
He arose from his chair, and made an effort to reach the door. But
Renzo, who expected this movement, was upon his guard; and locking the
door, he put the key in his pocket.

“Ah! will you speak now, Signor Curate? Every one knows the affair but
myself; and, by heavens! I’ll know it too. Who is it, I say?”

“Renzo, Renzo, for the love of charity, take care what you do; think of
your soul.”

“I must know it at once–this moment.” So saying, he placed his hand on
his dagger, but perhaps without intending it.

“Mercy!” exclaimed Don Abbondio, in a stifled voice.

“I _must_ know it.”

“Who has told you?”

“Come, no more excuses. Speak plainly and quickly.”

“Do you mean to kill me?”

“I mean to know that which I have a right to know.”

“But if I speak, I die. Must I not preserve my life?”

“Speak, then.”

The manner of Renzo was so threatening and decided, that Don Abbondio
felt there was no possibility of disobeying him. “Promise me–swear,”
said he, “never to tell—-”

“Tell me, tell me quickly his name, or—-”

At this new adjuration, the poor curate, with the trembling look of a
man who feels the instrument of the dentist in his mouth, feebly
articulated, “Don—-”

“Don?” replied Renzo, inclining his ear towards him, eager to hear the
rest. “Don?”

“Don Roderick!” muttered he hastily, trembling at the sound that escaped
his lips.

“Ah! dog!” shouted Renzo; “and how has he done it? what has he said to
you to—-”

“What? what?” said Don Abbondio, in an almost contemptuous tone, already
gaining confidence by the sacrifice he had made. “I wish you were like
myself, you would then meddle with nothing, and certainly you would not
have had so many whims in your head.” He, however, related in terrible
colours the ugly encounter; his anger, which had hitherto been subdued
by fear, displayed itself as he proceeded; and perceiving that Renzo,
between rage and astonishment, remained motionless, with his head bent
down, he continued in a lively manner, “You have made a pretty business
of it, indeed! You have rendered me a notable service. Thus to attack an
honest man, your curate, in his own house! in a sacred place! You have
done a fine thing, truly. To wrest from my mouth, that which I
concealed, from prudence, for your own good. And now that you know it,
what will you do? When I gave you good advice this morning, I had
judgment for you and me; but believe me, this is no jesting matter, no
question of right or wrong, but superior power. At all events, open the
door; give me the key.”

“I may have been to blame,” replied Renzo with a softened voice, but in
which might be perceived smothered anger towards his concealed enemy, “I
may have been to blame, but if you had been in my situation—-” He
drew the key from his pocket, and advanced towards the door.

“Swear to me,” said Don Abbondio with a serious and anxious face.

“I may have been to blame–forgive me,” replied Renzo, moving to depart.

“Swear first,” said Don Abbondio, holding him tremblingly by the arm.

“I may have been to blame,” said Renzo, freeing himself from his grasp,
and immediately springing out of the room.

“Perpetua! Perpetua!” cried Don Abbondio, after having in vain called
back the fugitive. Perpetua did not answer. The poor man was so
overwhelmed by his innumerable difficulties, his increasing
perplexities, and so apprehensive of some fresh attack, that he
conceived the idea of securing to himself a safe retreat from them all,
by going to bed and giving out that he had a fever. His malady, indeed,
was not altogether imaginary; the terror of the past day, the anxious
watching of the night, the dread of the future, had combined to
produce really the effect. Weary and stupified, he slumbered in his
large chair, muttering occasionally in a feeble but passionate voice,
“Perpetua.”–Perpetua arrived at last with a great cabbage under her
arm, and with as unconcerned a countenance as if nothing had happened.
We will spare the reader the reproaches, the accusations, and denials
that passed between them; it is sufficient that Don Abbondio ordered
Perpetua to bolt the door, not to put her foot outside, and if any one
knocked, to reply from the window that the curate was gone to bed with a
fever. He then slowly ascended the stairs and put himself really in bed,
where we will leave him.

Renzo, meanwhile, with hurried steps, and with a mind unsettled and
distracted as to the course he should pursue, approached his home. Those
who injure others are guilty, not only of the evils they commit, but
also of the effects produced by these evils on the characters of the
injured persons. Renzo was a quiet and peaceful youth, but now his
nature appeared changed, and his thoughts dwelt only on deeds of
violence. He would have run to the house of Don Roderick to assault him
there; but he remembered that it was a fortress, furnished with bravoes
within, and well guarded without; that only those known to be friends
and servants could enter without the minutest scrutiny; and that not
even a tradesman could be seen there without being examined from head to
foot; and he, above all, would be, alas! but too well known. He then
imagined himself placed behind a hedge, with his arquebuss in his hand,
waiting till Roderick should pass by alone; rejoicing internally at the
thought, he pictured to himself an approaching footstep; the villain
appears, he takes aim, fires, and he falls; he exults a moment over his
dying struggles, and then escapes for his life beyond the confines! And
Lucy? This name recalled his wiser and better thoughts: he remembered
the last instructions of his parents; he thought of God, the Holy
Virgin, and the Saints; and he tremblingly rejoiced that he had been
guilty of the deed only in imagination. But how many hopes, promises,
and anticipations did the idea of Lucy suggest? And this day so ardently
desired! How announce to her the dreadful news? And then, what plan to
pursue? How make her his own in spite of the power of this wicked lord?
And now a tormenting suspicion passed through his mind. Don Roderick
must have been instigated to this injury by a brutal passion for Lucy!
And she! He could not for a moment endure the maddening thought that she
had given him the slightest encouragement. But was she not informed of
his designs? Could he have conceived his infamous purpose, and have
advanced so far towards its completion, without her knowledge? And Lucy,
his own beloved, had never uttered a syllable to him concerning it!

These reflections prevailing in his mind, he passed by his own house,
which was situated in the centre of the village, and arrived at that of
Lucy, which was at the opposite extremity. It had a small court-yard in
front, which separated it from the road, and which was encircled by a
low wall. Entering the yard, Renzo heard a confused murmur of voices in
the upper chamber; he rightly supposed it to be the wedding company,
and he could not resolve to appear before them with such a countenance.
A little girl, who was standing at the door, ran towards him, crying
out, “The bridegroom! the bridegroom!” “Hush, Betsy, hush,” said Renzo,
“come hither; go to Lucy, and whisper in her ear–but let no one hear
you–whisper in her ear, that I wish to speak with her in the lower
chamber, and that she must come at once.” The little girl hastily
ascended the stairs, proud of having a secret commission to execute.
Lucy had just come forth, adorned from the hands of her mother, and
surrounded by her admiring friends. These were playfully endeavouring to
steal a look at the blooming bride; while she, with the timidity of
rustic modesty, attempted to conceal her blushing countenance with her
bending arm, from beneath which a smiling mouth nevertheless appeared.
Her black tresses, parted on her white forehead, were folded up in
multiplied circles on the back of her head, and fastened with pins of
silver, projecting on every side like the rays of the sun: this is still
the custom of the Milanese peasantry. Around her throat she had a
necklace of garnets, alternated with beads of gold filagree; she wore a
boddice embroidered in flowers, the sleeves tied with ribands; a short
petticoat of silk, with numerous minute plaits; crimson stockings, and
embroidered silk slippers. But beyond all these ornaments was the modest
and beautiful joy depicted on her countenance; a joy, however, troubled
by a slight shade of anxiety. The little Betsy intruded herself into the
circle, managed to approach Lucy, and communicated her message. “I shall
return in a moment,” said Lucy to her friends, as she hastily quitted
the room. On perceiving the altered and unquiet appearance of Renzo,
“What is the matter?” said she, not without a presentiment of evil.

“Lucy,” replied Renzo, “all is at a stand, and God knows whether we
shall ever be man and wife!”

“How!” said Lucy, alarmed. Renzo related briefly the history of the
morning; she listened with anguish: when he uttered the name of Don
Roderick, “Ah!” exclaimed she, blushing and trembling, “has it then come
to this?”

“Then you knew!” said Renzo.

“Too well,” replied Lucy.

“What did you know?”

“Do not make me speak now, do not make me weep! I’ll call my mother and
dismiss the company. We must be alone.”

As she departed, Renzo whispered, “And you have never spoken of it to
me!”

“Ah, Renzo!” replied Lucy, turning for a moment to gaze at him.

He understood well what this action meant; it was as if she had said,
“Can you doubt me?”

Meanwhile the good Agnes (so the mother of Lucy was called) had
descended the stairs, to ascertain the cause of her daughter’s
disappearance. She remained with Renzo; while Lucy returned to the
company, and, assuming all the composure she could, said to them, “The
Signor Curate is indisposed, and the wedding cannot take place to-day.”
The ladies departed, and lost no time in relating amongst the gossips of
the neighbourhood all that had occurred, while they made particular
enquiries respecting the reality of Don Abbondio’s sickness. The truth
of this cut short the conjectures which they had already begun to
intimate by brief and mysterious hints.