Home  »  I Promessi Sposi  »  Chapter XVII

Alessandro Manzoni (1785–1873). I Promessi Sposi.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Chapter XVII

ONE wish is often enough to allow a man no peace; what, then, must two have been—one at war with the other? Our poor Renzo, as the reader knows, had had two such conflicting desires in his mind for several hours; the wish to make his escape, with the wish to remain undiscovered; and the unfortunate words of the merchant had increased both one and the other to an extravagant degree. His adventure, then, had got abroad! There were means, then, employed, to seize him! Who knew how many bailiffs were in the field to give him chase! or what orders had been forwarded to keep a watch in the villages, at the inn, on the roads! He reflected, however, that, after all, there were but two bailiffs who knew him, and that his name was not written upon his forehead; but then, again, a hundred stories he had heard rushed into his mind, of fugitives caught and discovered in many strange ways, recognized by their walk, by their suspicious air, and other unthought of tokens: everything excited his alarm. Although, as he left Gorgonzola, the tolling of the Avemaria sounded in his ears, and the increasing darkness every moment diminished his danger, yet it was very unwillingly that he took the high road, proposing to follow the first by-lane which seemed likely to bring him to the point he was so anxious to reach. At first, he occasionally met a traveller; but so full was his imagination of direful apprehensions, that he had not courage to detain any one to inquire his way.—That innkeeper said six miles,—thought he.—If, by taking these foot-paths and by-lanes, I make them eight, or even ten, my legs, which have lasted me so far, will manage these too. I’m certainly not going towards Milan, so I must be going towards the Adda. Walk away, then; sooner or later, I shall get there. The Adda has a good voice; and when once I’m near it, I shan’t want anybody to point it out to me. If any boat is there, I’ll cross directly; if not, I’ll wait till morning, in a field, or on a tree, like the sparrows: better on a tree than in prison.—

Very soon, he saw a lane turning down to the left, and he pursued it.

At this hour, if he had met with any one, he would no longer have hesitated to address him; but he heard not a footstep of living creature. He followed, therefore, the windings of the lane, indulging, the mean while, in such reflections as these:

—I play the devil! I murder all the nobility! A packet of letters—I! My companions keeping guard around me! I’d give something to meet with that merchant face to face, on the other side of the Adda, (ah, when shall I get across that blessed Adda?) I’d make him stand, and ask him, at my convenience, where he had picked up all this fine information. Just please to be informed, my dear sir, that the thing went so and so; and that all the mischief I played was helping Ferrer, as if he had been my brother: know, moreover, that those rascals who to hear you talk, one would think were my friends, because once I said a word or two, like a good Christian, wanted to play me a very rough trick; know, too, that while you were taking care of your own shop, I was endangering my ribs to save your signor, the superintendent of provisions—a man I never either knew or saw in my life. Wait and see if I ever stir again to help gentlemen … It is true we ought to do it for our soul’s good: they are neighbours, too. And that great bundle of letters, where all the conspiracy was revealed, and which you know for certain is in the hands of government; sure enough, I couldn’t show it you here without the help of the devil. Would you have any curiosity to see this mighty packet? Look here … A single letter! … Yes, my good sir, one letter only; and this letter, if you’d like to know, was written by a monk capable of instructing you in any point of doctrine you wish,—a monk, without doing you injustice, a single hair of whose beard is worth all yours put together; and this letter, I should like to tell you, is written, you see, to another monk, also a man … Just see, now, who my rascally friends are. Learn, if you please, how to talk another time, particularly when you are talking about a fellow-creature.—

After a little time, however, these and similar reflections gave way to others; his present circumstances occupying the whole attention of our poor traveller. The dread of being pursued and discovered, which had so incessantly embittered his day’s journey, now no longer gave him any uneasiness; but how many things made his nightly wanderings sufficiently uncomfortable!—darkness; solitude; increasing, and now painful, fatigue; a gentle, but steady and piercing breeze, which would be far from agreeable to a man still dressed in the same clothes which he had put on to go a short distance to a wedding, and quickly to return in triumph to his home, only a few steps off; and, what rendered everything doubly irksome, walking at a venture, in search of a place of rest and security.

If he happened to pass through a village, he would walk as quietly and warily as possible, lest any of the doors should be still open; but he saw no further signs of remaining wakefulness among the inhabitants than occasionally a glancing light in one of the windows. When on the road, away from every abode, he would pause, every now and then, and listen eagerly for the beloved murmur of the Adda; but in vain. He heard no sounds but the distant howling of dogs at some solitary dwelling, which floated through the air, at once mournful and threatening. On approaching any of these abodes, the howling was changed into an irritated, angry bark; and in passing before the door, he heard, and almost fancied he saw, the fierce creatures, with their heads at the crack of the door, reiterating their howls. This quickly removed all temptation to knock and ask shelter, and probably his courage would have failed had there been no such obstacles in his way.—Who’s there?—thought he:—what do you want at this hour? How did you come here? Tell who you are. Isn’t there an inn where you can get a bed? This, at best, is what they will say to me, If I knock; even if it shouldn’t be a cowardly sleeper, who would begin to shout out lustily, ‘Help! Thieves!’ I must have something ready for an answer; and what could I say? If anybody hears a noise in the night, nothing enters their heads but robbers, villains, and rogues: they never think that an honest man may be benighted, not to say a gentleman in his carriage.—He determined, therefore, to reserve this plan as a last resource in case of necessity, and continued his way, still with the hope of at least discovering the Adda, if not of crossing it, that night, and not being obliged again to go in search of it in broad daylight.

On, therefore, he went, till he reached a part where the country changed from cultivated fields into a heath of ferns and broom. These seemed, if not a sure indication, at least, a kind of argument that there was a river in the neighbourhood; and he advanced across the common, pursuing the path which traversed it. After walking a few paces, he stopped to listen; but in vain. The tediousness of the journey seemed to be increased by the wildness of the place; not a mulberry nor a vine was to be seen, nor any other signs of human culture, which, in the early part of his progress, seemed almost like half-companions to him. However, he still went forward, beguiling the time, and endeavouring to drive away the images and apparitions which haunted his mind—the relics of a hundred wonderful stories he had heard—by repeating, as he went along, some of the prayers for the dead.

By degrees, he entered among larger patches of brushwood, wild plum-trees, dwarf oaks, and brambles. Continuing his way, with more impatience than alacrity, he saw scattered occasionally throughout these patches, a solitary tree; and, still following the guidance of the footpath, perceived that he was entering a wood. He felt a kind of reluctance to proceed; but he conquered it, and unwillingly went forward. The further he went, the more this unwillingness increased, and the more did everything he saw vex and harass his imagination. The bushes he discerned before him assumed strange, marvellous, and uncouth forms; the shadows of the tops of the trees alarmed him, as, slightly agitated by the breeze, they quivered on his path, illuminated by the pale light of the moon; the very rustling of the withered leaves, as he trampled them under foot, had in it something hateful to his ear. His limbs felt a strange impulse to run, and, at the same time, seemed scarcely able to support him. The cold night-breeze blew more chilly and sharply against his forehead and throat; he felt it piercing through his thin clothes to his skin, which shivered in the blast, and, penetrating more subtilely to his very bones, extinguishing the last remains of vigour. At one time, the weariness and undefined horror with which he had so long been struggling, had suddenly almost overwhelmed him. He nearly lost his self-government; but terrified above all things at his own terror, he summoned up his former spirits, and by a great effort, forced them to assume their usual sway. Thus fortified for a moment, he stood still to deliberate, and resolved to leave the wood by the same path as he had traversed, to go straight to the last village he had passed, to return once more among mankind, and there to seek shelter, even at the inn. While he thus stood, the rustling of his feet among the leaves hushed, and, perfectly silent around him, a noise reached his ear, a murmur—a murmur of running water. He listens; assures himself; and exclaims, ‘It’s the Adda!’ It was like the restoration of a friend, of a brother, of a deliverer. His weariness almost disappeared, his pulse again beat; he felt his blood circulate freely and warmly through all his veins; his confidence increased, the gloominess and oppression of his mind, in great part, vanished away; and he no longer hesitated to penetrate farther into the wood, towards the friendly murmur.

At last he reached the extremity of the flat, at the edge of a steep declivity; and, peeping through the bushes that everywhere covered its surface, he discerned, at the bottom, the glittering of the running water. Then, raising his eyes, he surveyed the extensive plain on the opposite side, scattered with villages; beyond this the hills, and on one of these a large, whitish tract, in which he fancied he could distinguish a city—Bergamo, undoubtedly. He descended the steep a little way, separating and pushing aside the brushwood with his hands and arms, and looked down, to see if there were any boat moving on the water, or to listen if he could hear the splashing of oars; but he saw and heard nothing. Had it been any thing less than the Adda, Renzo would have descended at once and attempted to ford it; but this, he well knew, in such a river, was not a matter of very great facility.

He therefore stood to consult with himself what were best to be done. To clamber up into a tree, and there await the dawn of morning, in the chill night-breeze, in a frosty air, and in his present dress, was more than enough to benumb him; to pace up and down, for constant exercise, all that time, besides that it would have been a very inefficacious defence against the severity of the temperature, was also asking too much of those unfortunate limbs which had already done much more than their duty. Suddenly he remembered having seen a cascinotto in one of the fields adjoining the unculti-vated down. Thus the peasants of the Milanese plain designate certain little cottages, thatched with straw, constructed of the trunks and branches of trees, fastened together and filled up with mud, where they are in the habit of depositing their harvest during the summer season, repairing thither at night to protect it: during the rest of the year they are usually unoccupied. He quickly fixed upon this as his resting-place for the night; and again setting off on his way, re-passed the wood, the tract of bushes, and the heath; and entering upon the cultivated land, he quickly espied the cascinotto, and went towards it. A worm-eaten and tumble-down door, without lock or chain, blocked up the entrance; Renzo drew it towards him, and on entering, saw a hurdle, intended to serve the purpose of a hammock, suspended in the air, and supported by bands formed of little twigs; he did not, however, make use of it; but seeing a little straw lying on the ground, thought that, even there, sleep would be very welcome.

Before stretching his weary frame on the bed Providence had prepared for him, he knelt down to offer up his thanks for this blessing, and for all the assistance he had received that terrible day. He then repeated his usual prayers; and, having finished them, begged pardon of God for having omitted them the evening before, and gone to rest, as he said, like a dog, or even worse.—And for this reason,—added he to himself, resting his hands upon the straw, and, from kneeling, changing his posture to that of lying,—for this reason I was awaked by such agreeable visitors in the morning.—He then gathered up all the straw that was scattered around, and spread it over him, so as to make the best covering he could to secure himself from the cold, which, even there, under shelter, made itself sufficiently felt; and crouching beneath it, he tried to get a little sleep, thinking that he had purchased it, that day, more dearly than usual.

Scarcely, however, had he closed his eyes, before visions began to throng his memory, or his fancy (I cannot undertake to indicate the exact spot)—visions so crowded, so incessant, that they quickly banished every idea of sleep. The merchant, the notary, the bailiffs, the sword-cutler, the landlord, Ferrer, the superintendent, the party at the inn, the crowds in the streets; then Don Abbondio, then Don Rodrigo: and, among so many, there were none that did not bring some sad remembrances of misfortune or aversion.

There were but three images that presented themselves to his mind, divested of every bitter recollection, clear of every suspicion, pleasing in every aspect; and two, principally—certainly very dissimilar, but closely connected in the heart of the youth,—the black-locked Lucia, and the white-bearded Father Cristoforo. Yet the consolation he felt in contemplating even these objects, was anything but unmixed and tranquil. In picturing to himself the good friar, he felt more keenly than ever the disgrace of his faults, his shameful intemperance, and his neglect of the kind Father’s paternal advice; and in contemplating the image of Lucia! we will not attempt to describe what he felt; the reader knows the circumstances, and must imagine it himself. Neither did he forget the poor Agnese; Agnese, who had chosen him for her son-in-law, who had considered him almost as one with her only daughter, and before receiving from him the title of mother, had assumed the language and affection of one, and demonstrated parental solicitude for him by her actions. But it was an additional grief to him, and not the least bitter one, that exactly on account of these affectionate an benevolent intentions, the poor woman was now homeless, and almost houseless, uncertain of the future, and reaping sorrows and troubles from those very circumstances, which he had hoped would be the joy and comfort of her declining years. What a night, poor Renzo! which was to have been the fifth of his nuptials! What a room! What a matrimonial couch! And after such a day! And to precede such a morrow, such a succession of days!—What God wills—replied he, to the thoughts which most tormented him;—What God wills. He knows what He does! it is for our good too. Let it be as a penance for my sins. Lucia is so good! God, surely, will not let her suffer for long—for very long!—

Harassed by such thoughts as these, despairing of obtaining any sleep, and the piercing cold becoming more and more insufferable, so that from time to time his whole frame shook, and his teeth chattered in spite of himself, Renzo longed for the approach of day, and impatiently measured the slow progress of the hours. I say, measured, because every half-hour he heard resounding through the deep silence, the strokes of a large clock, probably that of Trezzo. The first time, the sound reached his ear so unexpectedly, without his having the least idea whence it came, it brought with it something solemn and mysterious to his mind; the feeling of a warning uttered in an unknown voice, by some invisible person.

When, at last, the clock had tolled eleven,—the hour Renzo had determined to get up,—he rose, half benumbed with the cold, and falling upon his knees, repeated his matin prayers with more than ordinary devotion; then, standing up, he stretched his limbs, and shook his body, as if to settle and unite his members, which seemed almost dissevered from each other, breathed upon his hands and rubbed them together, and then opened the door of the cascinotto, first taking the precaution to look warily about him, perchance any one might be there. No one being visible, he cast his eye round to discover the path he had followed the preceding evening, and quickly recognizing it, much clearer and more distinct than his memory pictured it, he set off in that direction.

The sky announced a beautiful day: the pale and rayless moon was yet visible near the horizon, in the spacious field of azure, still softened by a tinge of morning grey, which shaded gradually towards the east, into a rosy and primrose hue. Still nearer the horizon, a few irregular clouds stretched out, in lengthened waves, rather azure than grey, their lower sides edged with almost a streak of flame, becoming every moment more vivid and sharply defined; while, higher up, light and fleecy clouds, mingling with each other, and of a thousand nameless hues, floated on the surface of the placid heavens; a true Lombard sky, so beautiful when it is beautiful—so brilliant, so calm. Had Renzo been here to enjoy himself, he would certainly have looked upwards, and admired a dawn so different to what he had been accustomed to see among his native mountains; but his eyes were bent to the ground, and he walked on rapidly, both to regain a little warmth, and to reach the river as quickly as he could. He retraced the fields, the grove, the bushes; traversed the wood, with a kind of compassion, as he looked around and remembered the horror he had felt there a few hours before; reached the edge of the precipitous bank, and looking down through the crags and bushes, discovered a fisherman’s bark slowly making its way against the stream, close by the shore. He hastily descended the shortest way through the bushes, stood upon the bank, and gently called to the fisherman; and with the intention of appearing to ask a favour of little importance, but, without being aware of it, in a half-supplicatory manner, beckoned to him to approach. The fisherman cast a glance along the shore, looked carefully both up and down the river, and then turning the prow towards Renzo, approached the side. Renzo, who stood at the very edge of the stream, almost with one foot in the water, seized the prow as it drew near, and jumped into the boat.

‘Be good enough to take me across to the other side, and I’ll pay you for it,’ said he. The fisherman had already guessed his object, and had turned the prow to the opposite bank. Renzo, seeing another oar at the bottom of the boat, stooped down and took it up.

‘Softly, softly,’ said the owner; but on seeing how dexterously the youth laid hold of the implement, and prepared to handle it, ‘Aha!’ added he, ‘you know your business.’

‘A little,’ replied Renzo; and he began to row with a vigour and skill beyond those of an amateur. While thus exerting himself, he cast an occasional dark glance at the shore he had just left, and then a look of anxiety to the one they were approaching. He was annoyed at having to go at all down the stream; but the current here was too rapid to cut directly across it; so that the bark, partly cleaving and partly following the course of the water, was obliged to take a diagonal direction. As it happens in all dark and intricate undertakings, that difficulties present themselves to the mind at first only in general, but in the execution of the enterprise are more minutely observable; so, now that the Adda was forded, so to say, Renzo felt a good deal of disquietude at not knowing for certain whether here it was the boundary of the two states, or whether, when this obstacle was overcome, there might not be others still to surmount. Addressing the fisherman, therefore, and nodding with his head towards the whitish spot which he had noticed the night before, and which now appeared much more distinct, ‘Is that Bergamo?’ said he—‘that town?’

‘The city of Bergamo,’ replied the fisherman.

‘And that shore, there, does it belong to Bergamo?’

‘The territory of St. Mark.’

‘Long live St. Mark!’ exclaimed Renzo.

The fisherman made no reply.

They reached, at length, the opposite shore; Renzo jumped out upon it, and, thanking God in his heart, expressed his gratitude in words to the boatman; then putting his hand in his pocket, he drew out thence a berlinga—which, considering his circumstances, was no little loss to him—and handed it to the worthy man, who, giving another glance at the Milanese shore, and along the river in either direction, stretched out his hand, and received the gift. He put it into his pocket, and after compressing his lips, at the same time laying his forefinger across them, with a significant expression of countenance, said, ‘A good journey to you!’ and turned back.

That the reader may not be surprised at the prompt, yet cautious, civility of this man towards a perfect stranger, it will be necessary to inform him that, frequently requested to perform a similar service to smugglers and banditti, he was accustomed to do so, not so much for the sake of the trifling and uncertain gains which he might thereby obtain, as to avoid making himself enemies among these classes. He afforded this assistance whenever he could assure himself of not being discovered by the custom-house officers, bailiffs, or spies. Thus, without particularly favouring one party more than another, he endeavoured to satisfy all, with that impartiality usually exercised by those who are compelled to deal with a certain set of people, while liable to give account to another.

Renzo paused a moment on the bank, to contemplate the opposite shore—that ground which just before had almost burnt beneath his feet.—Ah! I am really out of it!—was his first thought.—Hateful country that you are!—was his second, bidding it farewell. But the third recurred to those whom he had left there. Then he crossed his arms on his breast, heaved a sigh, bent his eyes on the water which flowed at his feet, and thought,—It has passed under the bridge!—Thus that at Lecco was generally called among his fellow-countrymen, by way of eminence.—Ah! hateful world! Enough: whatever God wills.—

He turned his back upon these mournful objects, and went forward, taking, for a mark, the white tract on the side of the hill, until he met with some one to give him more particular directions in his way. It was amusing to see with what carelessness and disembarrassment he now accosted travellers, and how boldly he pronounced the name of the village where his cousin resided, without hesitation or disguise. From the first person who directed him, he learnt that he had yet nine miles to travel.

His journey was not very blithesome. Independent of his own troubles, his eyes rested every moment on pitiable objects, which told him that he would find in the country he was entering the poverty he had left in his own. All along the way, but more particularly in the villages and large towns, he saw beggars hastening along, mendicants rather from circumstances than profession, who revealed their misery more in their countenances than their clothing: peasants, mountaineers, artisans, entire families, and a mingled murmur of entreaties, disputes, and infants’ cries. Besides the mournful pity that it awoke in Renzo’s mind, this sight also aroused him to the remembrance of his own circumstances.

—Who knows,—thought he, as he went along,—if I shall find anything to do? if there is any work now to be got, as there used to be? Well; Bortolo is kindly inclined to me; he is a good fellow; he has made some money, and has invited me very often; he, surely, won’t forsake me. Besides, Providence has helped me hitherto, and will help me, I hope, for the future.—

In the mean while, his appetite, already considerably sharpened, became, as he went on his way, more and more craving; and though he felt that he could manage very well to the end of his journey, which was now only about two miles, without great inconvenience, yet he reflected that it would not be exactly the thing to make his appearance before his cousin like a beggar, and address him with the salutation, ‘Give me something to eat;’ so drawing all his riches from his pocket, he counted them over on the palm of his hand, to ascertain the amount. It was an amount that required little calculation, yet still there was more than enough to make a small meal; he, therefore, entered an inn to get a little refreshment; and, on paying the account, found that he had still a few pence remaining.

Just outside, lying in the street, and so close to the door that he would have fallen over them had he not been looking about him, Renzo saw two women, one rather elderly, and the other a younger person, with an infant at her breast, which, after vainly endeavouring to satisfy its hunger, was crying bitterly; they were all three as pale as death; and standing by them was a man, in whose face and limbs there might still be discerned tokens of former robustness, though now broken and almost destroyed by long poverty. The three beggars stretched out their hands to Renzo, as he left the inn with a free step and reinvigorated air, but none of them spoke; what more could language have expressed?

‘There’s a God-send for you!’ said Renzo, as he hastily thrust his hand into his pocket, and, taking out his last pence, put them into the hand that was nearest to him, and went on his way.

The refreshment, and this good work together (since we are made of both soul and body), had gladdened and cheered all his thoughts. Certain it is that he felt more confidence for the future from having thus deprived himself of his last penny, than if he had found ten such. For if Providence had kept in reserve, for the support of three wretched beggars, almost fainting on the road, the last farthing of a stranger, himself a fugitive, far from his own home, and uncertain how to get a living, could he think that that Providence would leave in destitution him whom He had made use of for this purpose, and to whom He had given so vivid, so effective, so self-abandoning an inclination? Such was, in general, the feeling of the youth, though, probably, not so clearly defined as that which we have expressed in words. During the remainder of his walk, as his mind recurred to the different circumstances and contingencies which had hitherto appeared the most dark and perplexing, all seemed to brighten. The famine and poverty must come to an end, for there was a harvest every year: in the mean time, he had his cousin Bortolo, and his own abilities; and, as a help towards his support, a little store of money at home, which he could easily send for. With this assistance, at the worst, he could live from day to day as economically as possible, till better times.—Then, when good times have come at last,—continued Renzo, in his fanciful dreams,—the demand for work will be renewed; masters will strive who shall get Milanese weavers, because they know their trade best; the Milanese weavers will hold their heads high; they who want clever workmen must pay for them; we shall make something to live upon and still have some to spare; we can then furnish a cottage, and write to the women to come. And besides, why wait so long? Shouldn’t we have lived upon my little store at home, all this winter? So we can live here. There are curates everywhere. Those two dear women might come now, and we could keep house together. Oh, what a pleasure, to go walking all together on this very road! to go as far as the Adda, in a cart, and have a picnic on the shore; yes, just on the shore! and I’d show them the place where I embarked, the thorny path I came down, and the spot where I stood to look if there was a boat!—

At length he reached his cousin’s village; and, just at the entrance, even before he set foot in it, distinguished a house considerably higher than the rest, with several rows of long windows, one above another, and separated by a much smaller space than the divisions between the different stories required: he at once recognized a silk-mill; and going in, asked in a loud voice, so as to be heard amidst the noise of the running water and the machinery, if Bortolo Castagneri lived there,‘The Signor Bortolo! He’s there.’

—The Signor! that’s a good sign,—thought Renzo; and, seeing his cousin, he ran towards him. Bortolo turned round, recognized his relation, as he exclaimed, ‘Here I am, myself,’ and received him with an ‘Oh!’ of surprise, as they mutually threw their arms round each other’s neck. After the first welcome, Bortolo took his cousin into another room, apart from the noise of the machinery and the eyes of the curious, and greeted him with, ‘I’m very glad to see you; but you’re a pretty fellow. I’ve invited you so often, and you never would come; and now you arrive in rather a troubled time.’

‘Since you will have me tell you, I’ve not come with my own good will,’ said Renzo; and then, as briefly as possible, and not without some emotion, he related his mournful story.

‘That’s quite another thing,’ said Bortolo. ‘Oh, poor Renzo! But you’ve depended upon me; and I’ll not forsake you. Certainly, there’s no great demand for workmen just now; indeed, it’s all we can do not to turn off those we have, and give up the business; but my master likes me, and he has got some money. And, to tell you the truth, without boasting, he mostly owes it to me; he has the capital, and I give my abilities, such as they are. I’m the head workman, you know; and, besides, between you and me, I’m quite his factotum. Poor Lucia Mondella! I remember her as it were but yesterday: a good girl she was! always the best-behaved in church; and whenever one passed her cottage … I see that cottage in my mind’s eye, outside the village, with a fine fig-tree peeping over the wall…’

‘No, no; don’t let us talk about it.’

‘I was only going to say, that whenever one passed that cottage, there was the reel always going, going, going. And that Don Rodrigo! even in my time he was inclined that way, but now he’s playing the devil outright, from what I hear, so long as God leaves him to take his own course. Well, as I was saying, here, too, we are suffering a little from the famine … Apropos, how are you for appetite?’

‘I got something to eat, a little while ago, on the road.’

‘And how are you for money?’

Renzo held out one of his hands, and putting it to his mouth, gently puffed upon it.

‘Never mind,’ said Bortolo: ‘I’ve plenty; pluck up heart, for I hope things will soon change, please God; and then you can repay me, and lay up also a little for yourself.’

‘I’ve a trifling sum at home, and will send for it.’

‘Very well; and, in the mean time, you may depend upon me. God has given me wealth, that I might give to others; and whom should I serve so soon as my own relations and friends?’

‘I said I should be provided for!’ exclaimed Renzo, affectionately pressing his good cousin’s hand.

‘Then, rejoined his companion, ‘they’ve had a regular uproar at Milan! I think they’re all a little mad. The rumour had already reached here; but I want you to tell me things a little more particularly. Ah! we’ve plenty to talk about. Here, however, you see, we go about it more quietly, and do things with rather more prudence. The city purchased two thousand loads of corn, from a merchant who lives at Venice: the corn came from Turkey; but when life depends upon it, such things are not looked into very narrowly. See now what this occasioned: the governors of Verona and Brescia stopped up the passes, and said, ‘No corn shall pass this way.’ What did the Bergamascans do, think you? They despatched a man to Venice, who knew how to talk. The messenger went off in haste, presented himself to the Doge, and asked him what was the meaning of such a trick. And such a speech he made! they say, fit to be printed. What a thing it is to have a man who knows what to say! An order was immediately issued for the free transit of corn, requiring the governors not only to let it pass, but to assist in forwarding it; and now it is on its way. There is provision also for the surrounding country. Another worthy man gave the senate to understand that the people in the country were starving; and they have ordered them four thousand bushels of millet. This helps, you know, to make bread. And then I needn’t say, that if there isn’t bread for us, we will eat meat. God has given me wealth, as I told you. Now, then, I’ll take you to my master: I’ve often mentioned you to him, and I know he’ll welcome you. He’s a Bergamascan of the old sort, and a kind-hearted man. Certainly, he doesn’t expect you just now; but when he hears your history … And besides, he knows how to value good workmen; for the famine must come to an end, and business will go on. But, first of all, I must warn you of one thing. Do you know what they call us Milanese, in this country?’

‘No; what is it?’

‘They call us blockheads.’

‘That’s not a very nice name.’

‘So it is: whoever is born in the territory of Milan, and would make a living in that of Bergamo, must be content to bear it patiently. It is as common, among these people, to give the name of “blockhead” to a Milanese, as “your illustrious lordship” to a cavalier.’

‘They only say so, I fancy, to those who will put up with it.’

‘My dear fellow, if you are not disposed continually to brook the title, don’t reckon that you can live here. You would be obliged always to have a knife in your hand; and when you have killed, we will suppose, two, three, or four, of your neighbours, you’d meet with somebody who would kill you; and what a nice prospect, to have to appear before God’s tribunal with three or four murders on your head!’

‘And a Milanese who has a little…’ here he tapped his forehead with his forefinger, as he had before done at the sign of the Full Moon. ‘I mean, one who understands his business?’

‘It’s all the same; he, too, would be a blockhead. Do you know what my master says when he’s talking of me to his friends? “Heaven has sent me this blockhead, to conduct my business; if it were not for this blockhead, I should do very badly.” It’s the custom to say so.’

‘It’s a very foolish custom, especially considering what we do; for who was it, in fact, that brought the art here, and now carries it on, but us? Is it possible there’s no help for it?’

‘Not hitherto; there may be, in the course of time, among the young people who are growing up; but in this generation there is no remedy; they’ve acquired the habit, and won’t leave it off. After all, what is it? It’s nothing to the tricks they’ve played upon you, and that most of our precious fellow-countrymen would still play upon you.’

‘Well, that’s true: if there’s no other evil…’

‘Now that you are persuaded of this, all will go well. Come, let us go to my master, and be of good heart.’

Everything, in fact, did go well, and so exactly in accordance with Bortolo’s promises, that it is needless to give any particular description. And it was truly an ordering of Providence; for we shall soon see how little dependence was to be placed upon the small savings Renzo had left at home.