"Allora fama e paura di si buono reggimento, passa in ogni terra." - "Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. i. cap. 21.
"Then the fame and the fear of that so good government passed into every land." - "Life of Cola di Rienzi".
Chapter 4.I. The Boy Angelo - the Dream of Nina Fulfilled.
The thread of my story transports us back to Rome. It was in a small chamber, in a ruinous mansion by the base of Mount Aventine, that a young boy sate, one evening, with a woman of a tall and stately form, but somewhat bowed both by infirmity and years. The boy was of a fair and comely presence; and there was that in his bold, frank, undaunted carriage, which made him appear older than he was.
The old woman, seated in the recess of the deep window, was apparently occupied with a Bible that lay open on her knees; but ever and anon she lifted her eyes, and gazed on her young companion with a sad and anxious expression.
"Dame," said the boy, who was busily employed in hewing out a sword of wood, "I would you had seen the show today. Why, every day is a show at Rome now! It is show enough to see the Tribune himself on his white steed
"And she called you a fair boy, and asked if you would be her little page; and this has turned thy brain, silly urchin that thou art - "
"But the words are the least: if you saw the Lady Nina, you would own that a smile from her might turn the wisest head in Italy. Oh, how I should like to serve the Tribune! All the lads of my age are mad for him. How they will stare, and envy me at school tomorrow! You know too, dame, that though I was not always brought up at Rome, I am Roman. Every Roman loves Rienzi."
"Ay, for the hour: the cry will soon change. This vanity of thine, Angelo, vexes my old heart. I would thou wert humbler."
"Bastards have their own name to win," said the boy, colouring deeply. "They twit me in the teeth, because I cannot say who my father and mother were."
"They need not," returned the dame, hastily. "Thou comest of noble blood and long descent, though, as I have told thee often, I know not the exact names of thy parents. But what art thou shaping that tough sapling of oak into?"
"A sword, dame, to assist the Tribune against the robbers."
"Alas! I fear me, like all those who seek power in Italy, he is more likely to enlist robbers than to assail them."
"Why, la you there, you live so shut up, that you know and hear nothing, or you would have learned that even that fiercest of all the robbers, Fra Moreale, has at length yielded to the Tribune, and fled from his castle, like a rat from a falling house."
"How, how!" cried the dame; "what say you? Has this plebeian, whom you call the Tribune - has he boldly thrown the gage to that dread warrior? and has Montreal left the Roman territory?"
"Ay, it is the talk of the town. But Fra Moreale seems as much a bugbear to you as to e'er a mother in Rome. Did he ever wrong you, dame?"
"Yes!" exclaimed the old woman, with so abrupt a fierceness, that even that hardy boy was startled.
"I wish I could meet him, then," said he, after a pause, as he flourished his mimic weapon.
"Now Heaven forbid! He is a man ever to be shunned by thee, whether for peace or war. Say again this good Tribune holds no terms with the Free Lances."
"Say it again - why all Rome knows it."
"He is pious, too, I have heard; and they do bruit it that he sees visions, and is comforted from above," said the woman, speaking to herself. Then turning to Angelo, she continued, - "Thou wouldst like greatly to accept the Lady Nina's proffer?"
"Ah, that I should, dame, if you could spare me."
"Child," replied the matron, solemnly, "my sand is nearly run, and my wish is to see thee placed with one who will nurture thy young years, and save thee from a life of licence. That done, I may fulfil my vow, and devote the desolate remnant of my years to God. I will think more of this, my child. Not under such a plebeian's roof shouldst thou have lodged, nor from a stranger's board been fed: but at Rome, my last relative worthy of the trust is dead; - and at the worst, obscure honesty is better than gaudy crime. Thy spirit troubles me already. Back, my child; I must to my closet, and watch and pray."
Thus saying, the old woman, repelling the advance, and silencing the muttered and confused words, of the boy - half affectionate as they were, yet half tetchy and wayward - glided from the chamber.
The boy looked abstractedly at the closing door, and then said to himself - "The dame is always talking riddles: I wonder if she know more of me than she tells, or if she is any way akin to me. I hope not, for I don't love her much; nor, for that matter, anything else. I wish she would place me with the Tribune's lady, and then we'll see who among the lads will call Angelo Villani bastard."
With that the boy fell to work again at his sword with redoubled vigour. In fact, the cold manner of this female, his sole nurse, companion, substitute for parent, had repelled his affections without subduing his temper; and though not originally of evil disposition, Angelo Villani was already insolent, cunning, and revengeful; but not, on the other hand, without a quick susceptibility to kindness as to affront, a natural acuteness of understanding, and a great indifference to fear. Brought up in quiet affluence rather than luxury, and living much with his protector, whom he knew but by the name of Ursula, his bearing was graceful, and his air that of the well-born. And it was his carriage, perhaps, rather than his countenance, which, though handsome, was more distinguished for intelligence than beauty, which had attracted the notice of the Tribune's bride. His education was that of one reared for some scholastic profession. He was not only taught to read and write, but had been even instructed in the rudiments of Latin. He did not, however, incline to these studies half so fondly as to the games of his companions, or the shows or riots in the street, into all of which he managed to thrust himself, and from which he had always the happy dexterity to return safe and unscathed.
The next morning Ursula entered the young Angelo's chamber. "Wear again thy blue doublet today," said she; "I would have thee look thy best. Thou shalt go with me to the palace."
"What, today?" cried the boy joyfully, half leaping from his bed. "Dear dame Ursula, shall I really then belong to the train of the great Tribune's lady?"
"Yes; and leave the old woman to die alone! Your joy becomes you, - but ingratitude is in your blood. Ingratitude! Oh, it has burned my heart into ashes - and yours, boy, can no longer find a fuel in the dry crumbling cinders."
"Dear dame, you are always so biting. You know you said you wished to retire into a convent, and I was too troublesome a charge for you. But you delight in rebuking me, justly or unjustly."
"My task is over," said Ursula, with a deep-drawn sigh.
The boy answered not; and the old woman retired with a heavy step, and, it may be, a heavier heart. When he joined her in their common apartment, he observed what his joy had previously blinded him to - that Ursula did not wear her usual plain and sober dress. The gold chain, rarely assumed then by women not of noble birth - though, in the other sex, affected also by public functionaries and wealthy merchants - glittered upon a robe of the rich flowered stuffs of Venice, and the clasps that confined the vest at the throat and waist were adorned with jewels of no common price.
Angelo's eye was struck by the change, but he felt a more manly pride in remarking that the old lady became it well. Her air and mien were indeed those of one to whom such garments were habitual; and they seemed that day more than usually austere and stately.
She smoothed the boy's ringlets, drew his short mantle more gracefully over his shoulder, and then placed in his belt a poniard whose handle was richly studded, and a purse well filled with florins.
"Learn to use both discreetly," said she; "and, whether I live or die, you will never require to wield the poniard to procure the gold."
"This, then," cried Angelo, enchanted, "is a real poniard to fight the robbers with! Ah, with this I should not fear Fra Moreale, who wronged thee so. I trust I may yet avenge thee, though thou didst rate me so just now for ingratitude."
"I am avenged. Nourish not such thoughts, my son, they are sinful; at least I fear so. Draw to the board and eat; we will go betimes, as petitioners should do."
Angelo had soon finished his morning meal, and sallying with Ursula to the porch, he saw, to his surprise, four of those servitors who then usually attended persons of distinction, and who were to be hired in every city, for the convenience of strangers or the holyday ostentation of the gayer citizens.
"How grand we are today!" said he, clapping his hands with an eagerness which Ursula failed not to reprove.
"It is not for vain show," she added, "which true nobility can well dispense with, but that we may the more readily gain admittance to the palace. These princes of yesterday are not easy of audience to the over humble."
"Oh! but you are wrong this time," said the boy. "The Tribune gives audience to all men, the poorest as the richest. Nay, there is not a ragged boor, or a bare-footed friar, who does not win access to him sooner than the proudest baron. That's why the people love him so. And he devotes one day of the week to receiving the widows and the orphans; - and you know, dame, I am an orphan."
Ursula, already occupied with her own thoughts, did not answer, and scarcely heard, the boy; but leaning on his young arm, and preceded by the footmen to clear the way, passed slowly towards the palace of the Capitol.
A wonderful thing would it have been to a more observant eye, to note the change which two or three short months of the stern but salutary and wise rule of the Tribune had effected in the streets of Rome. You no longer beheld the gaunt and mail-clad forms of foreign mercenaries stalking through the vistas, or grouped in lazy insolence before the embattled porches of some gloomy palace. The shops, that in many quarters had been closed for years, were again open, glittering with wares and bustling with trade. The thoroughfares, formerly either silent as death, or crossed by some affrighted and solitary passenger with quick steps, and eyes that searched every corner, - or resounding with the roar of a pauper rabble, or the open feuds of savage nobles, now exhibited the regular, and wholesome, and mingled streams of civilized life, whether bound to pleasure or to commerce. Carts and waggons laden with goods which had passed in safety by the dismantled holds of the robbers of the Campagna, rattled cheerfully over the pathways. "Never, perhaps," - to use the translation adapted from the Italian authorities, by a modern and by no means a partial historian (Gibbon.) - "Never, perhaps, has the energy and effect of a single mind been more remarkably felt than in the sudden reformation of Rome by the Tribune Rienzi. A den of robbers was converted to the discipline of a camp or convent. 'In this time,' says the historian, ("Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. i. c. 9.) 'did the woods begin to rejoice that they were no longer infested with robbers; the oxen began to plough; the pilgrims visited the sanctuaries; (Gibbon: the words in the original are "li pellegrini cominciaro a fere la cerca per la santuaria.") the roads and inns were replenished with travellers: trade, plenty, and good faith, were restored in the markets; and a purse of gold might be exposed without danger in the midst of the highways.'"
Amidst all these evidences of comfort and security to the people - some dark and discontented countenances might be seen mingled in the crowd, and whenever one who wore the livery of the Colonna or the Orsini felt himself jostled by the throng, a fierce hand moved involuntarily to the sword-belt, and a half-suppressed oath was ended with an indignant sigh. Here and there too, - contrasting the redecorated, refurnished, and smiling shops - heaps of rubbish before the gate of some haughty mansion testified the abasement of fortifications which the owner impotently resented as a sacrilege. Through such streets and such throngs did the party we accompany wend their way, till they found themselves amidst crowds assembled before the entrance of the Capitol. The officers there stationed kept, however, so discreet and dexterous an order, that they were not long detained; and now in the broad place or court of that memorable building, they saw the open doors of the great justice-hall, guarded but by a single sentinel, and in which, for six hours daily, did the Tribune hold his court, for "patient to hear, swift to redress, inexorable to punish, his tribunal was always accessible to the poor and stranger." (Gibbon.)
Not, however, to that hall did the party bend its way, but to the entrance which admitted to the private apartments of the palace. And here the pomp, the gaud, the more than regal magnificence, of the residence of the Tribune, strongly contrasted the patriarchal simplicity which marked his justice court.
Even Ursula, not unaccustomed, of yore, to the luxurious state of Italian and French principalities, seemed roused into surprise at the hall crowded with retainers in costly liveries, the marble and gilded columns wreathed with flowers, and the gorgeous banners wrought with the blended arms of the Republican City and the Pontifical See, which blazed aloft and around.
Scarce knowing whom to address in such an assemblage, Ursula was relieved from her perplexity by an officer attired in a suit of crimson and gold, who, with a grave and formal decorum, which indeed reigned throughout the whole retinue, demanded, respectfully, whom she sought? "The Signora Nina!" replied Ursula, drawing up her stately person, with a natural, though somewhat antiquated, dignity. There was something foreign in the accent, which influenced the officer's answer.
"Today, madam, I fear that the Signora receives only the Roman ladies. Tomorrow is that appointed for all foreign dames of distinction."
Ursula, with a slight impatience of tone, replied -
"My business is of that nature which is welcome on any day, at palaces. I come, Signor, to lay certain presents at the Signora's feet, which I trust she will deign to accept."
"And say, Signor," added the boy, abruptly, "that Angelo Villani, whom the Lady Nina honoured yesterday with her notice, is no stranger but a Roman; and comes, as she bade him, to proffer to the Signora his homage and devotion."
The grave officer could not refrain a smile at the pert, yet not ungraceful, boldness of the boy.
"I remember me, Master Angelo Villani," he replied, "that the Lady Nina spoke to you by the great staircase. Madam, I will do your errand. Please to follow me to an apartment more fitting your sex and seeming."
With that the officer led the way across the hall to a broad staircase of white marble, along the centre of which were laid those rich Eastern carpets which at that day, when rushes strewed the chambers of an English monarch, were already common to the greater luxury of Italian palaces. Opening a door at the first flight, he ushered Ursula and her young charge into a lofty ante-chamber, hung with arras of wrought velvets; while over the opposite door, through which the officer now vanished, were blazoned the armorial bearings which the Tribune so constantly introduced in all his pomp, not more from the love of show, than from his politic desire to mingle with the keys of the Pontiff the heraldic insignia of the Republic.
"Philip of Valois is not housed like this man!" muttered Ursula. "If this last, I shall have done better for my charge than I recked of."
The officer soon returned, and led them across an apartment of vast extent, which was indeed the great reception chamber of the palace. Four-and- twenty columns of the Oriental alabaster which had attested the spoils of the later emperors, and had been disinterred from forgotten ruins, to grace the palace of the Reviver of the old Republic, supported the light roof, which, half Gothic, half classic, in its architecture, was inlaid with gilded and purple mosaics. The tesselated floor was covered in the centre with cloth of gold, the walls were clothed, at intervals, with the same gorgeous hangings, relieved by panels freshly painted in the most glowing colours, with mystic and symbolical designs. At the upper end of this royal chamber, two steps ascended to the place of the Tribune's throne, above which was the canopy wrought with the eternal armorial bearings of the Pontiff and the City.
Traversing this apartment, the officer opened the door at its extremity, which admitted to a small chamber, crowded with pages in rich dresses of silver and blue velvet. There were few amongst them elder than Angelo; and, from their general beauty, they seemed the very flower and blossom of the city.
Short time had Angelo to gaze on his comrades that were to be: - another minute, and he and his protectress were in the presence of the Tribune's bride.
The chamber was not large - but it was large enough to prove that the beautiful daughter of Raselli had realised her visions of vanity and splendour.
It was an apartment that mocked description - it seemed a cabinet for the gems of the world. The daylight, shaded by high and deep-set casements of stained glass, streamed in a purple and mellow hue over all that the art of that day boasted most precious, or regal luxury held most dear. The candelabras of the silver workmanship of Florence; the carpets and stuffs of the East; the draperies of Venice and Genoa; paintings like the illuminated missals, wrought in gold, and those lost colours of blue and crimson; antique marbles, which spoke of the bright days of Athens; tables of disinterred mosaics, their freshness preserved as by magic; censers of gold that steamed with the odours of Araby, yet so subdued as not to deaden the healthier scent of flowers, which blushed in every corner from their marble and alabaster vases; a small and spirit-like fountain, which seemed to gush from among wreaths of roses, diffusing in its diamond and fairy spray, a scarce felt coolness to the air; - all these, and such as these, which it were vain work to detail, congregated in the richest luxuriance, harmonised with the most exquisite taste, uniting the ancient arts with the modern, amazed and intoxicated the sense of the beholder. It was not so much the cost, nor the luxury, that made the character of the chamber; it was a certain gorgeous and almost sublime phantasy, - so that it seemed rather the fabled retreat of an enchantress, at whose word genii ransacked the earth, and fairies arranged the produce, than the grosser splendour of an earthly queen. Behind the piled cushions upon which Nina half reclined, stood four girls, beautiful as nymphs, with fans of the rarest feathers, and at her feet lay one older than the rest, whose lute, though now silent, attested her legitimate occupation.
But, had the room in itself seemed somewhat too fantastic and overcharged in its prodigal ornaments, the form and face of Nina would at once have rendered all appropriate; so completely did she seem the natural Spirit of the Place; so wonderfully did her beauty, elated as it now was with contented love, gratified vanity, exultant hope, body forth the brightest vision that ever floated before the eyes of Tasso, when he wrought into one immortal shape the glory of the Enchantress with the allurements of the Woman.
Nina half rose as she saw Ursula, whose sedate and mournful features involuntarily testified her surprise and admiration at a loveliness so rare and striking, but who, undazzled by the splendour around, soon recovered her wonted self-composure, and seated herself on the cushion to which Nina pointed, while the young visitor remained standing, and spell-bound by childish wonder, in the centre of the apartment. Nina recognised him with a smile.
"Ah, my pretty boy, whose quick eye and bold air caught my fancy yesterday! Have you come to accept my offer? Is it you, madam, who claim this fair child?"
"Lady," replied Ursula, "my business here is brief: by a train of events, needless to weary you with narrating, this boy from his infancy fell to my charge - a weighty and anxious trust to one whose thoughts are beyond the barrier of life. I have reared him as became a youth of gentle blood; for on both sides, lady, he is noble, though an orphan, motherless and sireless."
"Poor child!" said Nina, compassionately.
"Growing now," continued Ursula, "oppressed by years, and desirous only to make my peace with Heaven, I journeyed hither some months since, in the design to place the boy with a relation of mine; and, that trust fulfilled, to take the vows in the City of the Apostle. Alas! I found my kinsman dead, and a baron of wild and dissolute character was his heir. Here remaining, perplexed and anxious, it seemed to me the voice of Providence when, yester-evening, the child told me you had been pleased to honour him with your notice. Like the rest of Rome, he has already learned enthusiasm for the Tribune - devotion to the Tribune's bride. Will you, in truth, admit him of your household? He will not dishonour your protection by his blood, nor, I trust, by his bearing."
"I would take his face for his guarantee, madam, even without so distinguished a recommendation as your own. Is he Roman? His name then must be known to me."
"Pardon me, lady," replied Ursula: "He bears the name of Angelo Villani - not that of his sire or mother. The honour of a noble house for ever condemns his parentage to rest unknown. He is the offspring of a love unsanctioned by the church."
"He is the more to be loved, then, and to be pitied - victim of sin not his own!" answered Nina, with moistened eyes, as she saw the deep and burning blush that covered the boy's cheeks. "With the Tribune's reign commences a new era of nobility, when rank and knighthood shall be won by a man's own merit - not that of his ancestors. Fear not, madam: in my house he shall know no slight."
Ursula was moved from her pride by the kindness of Nina: she approached with involuntary reverence, and kissed the Signora's hand -
"May our Lady reward your noble heart!" said she: "and now my mission is ended, and my earthly goal is won. Add only, lady, to your inestimable favours one more. These jewels" - and Ursula drew from her robe a casket, touched the spring, and the lid flying back, discovered jewels of great size and the most brilliant water, - "these jewels," she continued, laying the casket at Nina's feet, "once belonging to the princely house of Thoulouse, are valueless to me and mine. Suffer me to think that they are transferred to one whose queenly brow will give them a lustre it cannot borrow."
"How!" said Nina, colouring very deeply; "think you, madam, my kindness can be bought? What woman's kindness ever was? Nay, nay - take back the gifts, or I shall pray you to take back your boy."
Ursula was astonished and confounded: to her experience such abstinence was a novelty, and she scarcely knew how to meet it. Nina perceived her embarrassment with a haughty and triumphant smile, and then, regaining her former courtesy of demeanour, said, with a grave sweetness -
"The Tribune's hands are clean, - the Tribune's wife must not be suspected. Rather, madam, should I press upon you some token of exchange for the fair charge you have committed to me. Your jewels hereafter may profit the boy in his career: reserve them for one who needs them."
"No, lady," said Ursula, rising and lifting her eyes to heaven; - "they shall buy masses for his mother's soul; for him I shall reserve a competence when his years require it. Lady, accept the thanks of a wretched and desolate heart. Fare you well!"
She turned to quit the room, but with so faltering and weak a step, that Nina, touched and affected, sprung up, and with her own hand guided the old woman across the room, whispering comfort and soothing to her; while, as they reached the door, the boy rushed forward, and, clasping Ursula's robe, sobbed out - "Dear dame, not one farewell for your little Angelo! Forgive him all he has cost you! Now, for the first time, I feel how wayward and thankless I have been."
The old woman caught him in her arms, and kissed him passionately; when the boy, as if a thought suddenly struck him, drew forth the purse she had given him and said, in a choked and scarce articulate voice, - "And let this, dearest dame, go in masses for my poor father's soul; for he is dead, too, you know!"
These words seemed to freeze at once all the tenderer emotions of Ursula. She put back the boy with the same chilling and stern severity of aspect and manner which had so often before repressed him: and recovering her self-possession, at once quitted the apartment without saying another word. Nina, surprised, but still pitying her sorrow and respecting her age, followed her steps across the pages' ante-room and the reception-chamber, even to the foot of the stairs, - a condescension the haughtiest princess of Rome could not have won from her; and returning, saddened and thoughtful, she took the boy's hand, and affectionately kissed his forehead.
"Poor boy!" she said, "it seems as if Providence had made me select thee yesterday from the crowd, and thus conducted thee to thy proper refuge. For to whom should come the friendless and the orphans of Rome, but to the palace of Rome's first Magistrate?" Turning then to her attendants, she gave them instructions as to the personal comforts of her new charge, which evinced that if power had ministered to her vanity, it had not steeled her heart. Angelo Villani lived to repay her well!
She retained the boy in her presence, and conversing with him familiarly, she was more and more pleased with his bold spirit and frank manner. Their conversation was however interrupted, as the day advanced, by the arrival of several ladies of the Roman nobility. And then it was that Nina's virtues receded into shade, and her faults appeared. She could not resist the woman's triumph over those arrogant signoras who now cringed in homage where they had once slighted with disdain. She affected the manner of, she demanded the respect due to, a queen. And by many of those dexterous arts which the sex know so well, she contrived to render her very courtesy a humiliation to her haughty guests. Her commanding beauty and her graceful intellect saved her, indeed, from the vulgar insolence of the upstart; but yet more keenly stung the pride, by forbidding to those she mortified the retaliation of contempt. Hers were the covert taunt - the smiling affront
"Fair day to the Signora Colonna," said she to the proud wife of the proud Stephen; "we passed your palace yesterday. How fair it now seems, relieved from those gloomy battlements which it must often have saddened you to gaze upon. Signora, (turning to one of the Orsini), your lord has high favour with the Tribune, who destines him to great command. His fortunes are secured, and we rejoice at it; for no man more loyally serves the state. Have you seen, fair Lady of Frangipani, the last verses of Petrarch in honour of my lord? - they rest yonder. May we so far venture as to request you to point out their beauties to the Signora di Savelli? We rejoice, noble Lady of Malatesta, to observe that your eyesight is so well restored. The last time we met, though we stood next to you in the revels of the Lady Giulia, you seemed scarce to distinguish us from the pillar by which we stood!"
"Must this insolence be endured!" whispered the Signora Frangipani to the Signora Malatesta.
"Hush, hush; if ever it be our day again!"
Chapter 4.II. The Blessing of A Councillor Whose Interests and Heart Are Our Own. - the Straws Thrown Upward, - Do They Portend A Storm.
It was later that day than usual, when Rienzi returned from his tribunal to the apartments of the palace. As he traversed the reception hall, his countenance was much flushed; his teeth were set firmly, like a man who has taken a strong resolution from which he will not be moved; and his brow was dark with that settled and fearful frown which the describers of his personal appearance have not failed to notice as the characteristic of an anger the more deadly because invariably just. Close as his heels followed the Bishop of Orvietto and the aged Stephen Colonna. "I tell you, my Lords," said Rienzi, "that ye plead in vain. Rome knows no distinction between ranks. The law is blind to the agent - lynx-eyed to the deed."
"Yet," said Raimond, hesitatingly, "bethink thee, Tribune; the nephew of two cardinals, and himself once a senator."
Rienzi halted abruptly, and faced his companions. "My Lord Bishop," said he, "does not this make the crime more inexcusable? Look you, thus it reads: - A vessel from Avignon to Naples, charged with the revenues of Provence to Queen Joanna, on whose cause, mark you, we now hold solemn council, is wrecked at the mouth of the Tiber; with that, Martino di Porto
"Mercy," said the Colonna.
Rienzi folded his arms, and laughed disdainfully. "I never heard my Lord Colonna plead for mercy when a peasant had stolen the bread that was to feed his famishing children."
"Between a peasant and a prince, Tribune, I, for one, recognise a distinction: - the bright blood of an Orsini is not to be shed like that of a base plebeian - "
"Which, I remember me," said Rienzi, in a low voice, "you deemed small matter enough when my boy-brother fell beneath the wanton spear of your proud son. Wake not that memory, I warn you; let it sleep. - For shame, old Colonna - for shame; so near the grave, where the worm levels all flesh, and preaching, with those gray hairs, the uncharitable distinction between man and man. Is there not distinction enough at the best? Does not one wear purple, and the other rags? Hath not one ease, and the other toil? Doth not the one banquet while the other starves? Do I nourish any mad scheme to level the ranks which society renders a necessary evil? No. I war no more with Dives than with Lazarus. But before Man's judgment- seat, as before God's, Lazarus and Dives are made equal. No more."
Colonna drew his robe round him with great haughtiness, and bit his lip in silence. Raimond interposed.
"All this is true, Tribune. But," and he drew Rienzi aside, "you know we must be politic as well as just. Nephew to two Cardinals, what enmity will not this provoke at Avignon?"
"Vex not yourself, holy Raimond, I will answer it to the Pontiff." While they spoke the bell tolled heavily and loudly.
"Great Tribune," said he, with a slight sneer, "deign to pause ere it be too late. I know not that I ever before bent to you a suppliant; and I ask you now to spare mine own foe. Stephen Colonna prays Cola di Rienzi to spare the life of an Orsini."
"I understand thy taunt, old Lord," said Rienzi, calmly, "but I resent it not. You are foe to the Orsini, yet you plead for him - it sounds generous; but hark you, - you are more a friend to your order than a foe to your rival. You cannot bear that one, great enough to have contended with you, should perish like a thief. I give full praise to such noble forgiveness; but I am no noble, and I do not sympathize with it. One word more; - if this were the sole act of fraud and violence that this bandit baron had committed, your prayers should plead for him; but is not his life notorious? Has he not been from boyhood the terror and disgrace of Rome? How many matrons violated, merchants pillaged, peaceful men stilettoed in the daylight, rise in dark witness against the prisoner? And for such a man do I live to hear an aged prince and a pope's vicar plead for mercy? - Fie, fie! But I will be even with ye. The next poor man whom the law sentences to death, for your sake will I pardon."
Raimond again drew aside the Tribune, while Colonna struggled to suppress his rage.
"My friend," said the Bishop, "the nobles will feel this as an insult to their whole order; the very pleading of Orsini's worst foe must convince thee of this. Martino's blood will seal their reconciliation with each other, and they will be as one man against thee."
"Be it so: with God and the People on my side, I will dare, though a Roman, to be just. The bell ceases - you are already too late." So saying, Rienzi threw open the casement; and by the staircase of the Lion rose a gibbet from which swung with a creaking sound, arrayed in his patrician robes, the yet palpitating corpse of Martino di Porto.
"Behold!" said the Tribune, sternly, "thus die all robbers. For traitors, the same law has the axe and the scaffold!"
Raimond drew back and turned pale. Not so the veteran noble. Tears of wounded pride started from his eyes; he approached, leaning on his staff, to Rienzi, touched him on his shoulder, and said, -
"Tribune, a judge has lived to envy his victim!"
Rienzi turned with an equal pride to the Baron.
"We forgive idle words in the aged. My Lord, have you done with us? - we would be alone."
"Give me thy arm, Raimond," said Stephen. "Tribune - farewell. Forget that the Colonna sued thee, - an easy task, methinks; for, wise as you are, you forget what every one else can remember."
"Ay, my Lord, what?"
"Birth, Tribune, birth - that's all!"
"The Signor Colonna has taken up my old calling, and turned a wit," returned Rienzi, with an indifferent and easy tone.
Then following Raimond and Stephen with his eyes, till the door closed upon them, he muttered, "Insolent! were it not for Adrian, thy grey beard should not bear thee harmless. Birth! what Colonna would not boast himself, if he could, the grandson of an emperor? - Old man, there is danger in thee which must be watched." With that he turned musingly towards the casement, and again that griesly spectacle of death met his eye. The people below, assembled in large concourse, rejoiced at the execution of one whose whole life had been infamy and rapine - but who had seemed beyond justice - with all the fierce clamour that marks the exultation of the rabble over a crushed foe. And where Rienzi stood, he heard heir shouts of "Long live the Tribune, the just judge, Rome's liberator!" But at that time other thoughts deafened his senses to the popular enthusiasm.
"My poor brother!" he said, with tears in his eyes, "it was owing to this man's crimes - and to a crime almost similar to that for which he has now suffered - that thou wert entrained to the slaughter; and they who had no pity for the lamb, clamour for compassion to the wolf! Ah, wert thou living now, how these proud heads would bend to thee; though dead, thou wert not worthy of a thought. God rest thy gentle soul, and keep my ambition pure as it was when we walked at twilight, side by side together!"
The Tribune shut the casement, and turning away, sought the chamber of Nina. On hearing his step without, she had already risen from the couch, her eyes sparkling, her bosom heaving; and as he entered, she threw herself on his neck, and murmured as she nestled to his breast, - "Ah, the hours since we parted!"
It was a singular thing to see that proud lady, proud of her beauty, her station, her new honours; - whose gorgeous vanity was already the talk of Rome, and the reproach to Rienzi, - how suddenly and miraculously she seemed changed in his presence! Blushing and timid, all pride in herself seemed merged in her proud love for him. No woman ever loved to the full extent of the passion, who did not venerate where she loved, and who did not feel humbled (delighted in that humility) by her exaggerated and overweening estimate of the superiority of the object of her worship.
And it might be the consciousness of this distinction between himself and all other created things, which continued to increase the love of the Tribune to his bride, to blind him to her failings towards others, and to indulge her in a magnificence of parade, which, though to a certain point politic to assume, was carried to an extent which if it did not conspire to produce his downfall, has served the Romans with an excuse for their own cowardice and desertion, and historians with a plausible explanation of causes they had not the industry to fathom. Rienzi returned his wife's caresses with an equal affection, and bending down to her beautiful face, the sight was sufficient to chase from his brow the emotions, whether severe or sad, which had lately darkened its broad expanse.
"Thou has not been abroad this morning, Nina!"
"No, the heat was oppressive. But nevertheless, Cola, I have not lacked company - half the matronage of Rome has crowded the palace."
"Ah, I warrant it. - But yon boy, is he not a new face?"
"Hush, Cola, speak to him kindly, I entreat: of his story anon. Angelo, approach. You see your new master, the Tribune of Rome."
Angelo approached with a timidity not his wont, for an air of majesty was at all times natural to Rienzi, and since his power it had naturally taken a graver and austerer aspect, which impressed those who approached him, even the ambassadors of princes, with a certain involuntary awe. The Tribune smiled at the effect he saw he had produced, and being by temper fond of children, and affable to all but the great, he hastened to dispel it. He took the child affectionately in his arms, kissed him, and bade him welcome.
"May we have a son as fair!" he whispered to Nina, who blushed, and turned away.
"Thy name, my little friend?"
"A Tuscan name. There is a man of letters at Florence, doubtless writing our annals from hearsay at this moment, called Villani. Perhaps akin to thee?"
"I have no kin," said the boy, bluntly; "and therefore I shall the better love the Signora and honour you, if you will let me. I am Roman - all the Roman boys honour Rienzi."
"Do they, my brave lad?" said the Tribune, colouring with pleasure; "that is a good omen of my continued prosperity." He put down the boy, and threw himself on the cushions, while Nina placed herself on a kind of low stool beside him.
"Let us be alone," said he; and Nina motioned to the attendant maidens to withdraw.
"Take my new page with you," said she; "he is yet, perhaps, too fresh from home to enjoy the company of his giddy brethren."
When they were alone, Nina proceeded to narrate to Rienzi the adventure of the morning; but though he seemed outwardly to listen, his gaze was on vacancy, and he was evidently abstracted and self-absorbed. At length, as she concluded, he said, "Well, Nina, you have acted as ever, kindly and nobly. Let us to other themes. I am in danger."
"Danger!" echoed Nina, turning pale.
"Why, the word must not appal you - you have a spirit like mine, that scorns fear; and, for that reason, Nina, in all Rome you are my only confidant. It was not only to glad me with thy beauty, but to cheer me with thy counsel, to support me with thy valour, that Heaven gave me thee as a helpmate."
"Now, our Lady bless thee for those words!" said Nina, kissing the hand that hung over her shoulder; "and if I started at the word danger, it was but the woman's thought of thee, - an unworthy thought, my Cola, for glory and danger go together. And I am as ready to share the last as the first. If the hour of trial ever come, none of thy friends shall be so faithful to thy side as this weak form but undaunted heart."
"I know it, my own Nina; I know it," said Rienzi, rising, and pacing the chamber with large and rapid strides. "Now listen to me. Thou knowest that to govern in safety, it is my policy as my pride to govern justly. To govern justly is an awful thing, when mighty barons are the culprits. Nina, for an open and audacious robbery, our court has sentenced Martin of the Orsini, the Lord of Porto, to death. His corpse swings now on the Staircase of the Lion."
"A dreadful doom!" said Nina, shuddering.
"True; but by his death thousands of poor and honest men may live in peace. It is not that which troubles me: the Barons resent the deed, as an insult to them that law should touch a noble. They will rise - they will rebel. I foresee the storm - not the spell to allay it."
Nina paused a moment, - "They have taken," she then said, "a solemn oath on the Eucharist not to bear arms against thee."
"Perjury is a light addition to theft and murder," answered Rienzi, with his sarcastic smile.
"But the people are faithful."
"Yes, but in a civil war (which the saints forefend!) those combatants are the stanchest who have no home but their armour, no calling but the sword. The trader will not leave his trade at the toll of a bell every day; but the Barons' soldiery are ready at all hours."
"To be strong," said Nina, - who, summoned to the councils of her lord, shewed an intellect not unworthy of the honour, - "to be strong in dangerous times, authority must seem strong. By shewing no fear, you may prevent the cause of fear."
"My own thought!" returned Rienzi, quickly. "You know that half my power with these Barons is drawn from the homage rendered to me by foreign states. When from every city in Italy the ambassadors of crowned princes seek the alliance of the Tribune, they must veil their resentment at the rise of the Plebeian. On the other hand, to be strong abroad I must seem strong at home: the vast design I have planned, and, as by a miracle, begun to execute, will fail at once if it seem abroad to be intrusted to an unsteady and fluctuating power. That design (continued Rienzi, pausing, and placing his hand on a marble bust of the young Augustus) is greater than his, whose profound yet icy soul united Italy in subjection, - for it would unite Italy in freedom; - yes! could we but form one great federative league of all the States of Italy, each governed by its own laws, but united for mutual and common protection against the Attilas of the North, with Rome for their Metropolis and their Mother, this age and this brain would have wrought an enterprise which men should quote till the sound of the last trump!"
"I know thy divine scheme," said Nina, catching his enthusiasm; "and what if there be danger in attaining it? Have we not mastered the greatest danger in the first step?"
"Right, Nina, right! Heaven (and the Tribune, who ever recognised, in his own fortunes, the agency of the hand above, crossed himself reverently) will preserve him to whom it hath vouchsafed such lofty visions of the future redemption of the Land of the true Church, and the liberty and advancement of its children! This I trust: already many of the cities of Tuscany have entered into treaties for the formation of this league; nor from a single tyrant, save John di Vico, have I received aught but fair words and flattering promises. The time seems ripe for the grand stroke of all."
"And what is that?" demanded Nina, wonderingly.
"Defiance to all foreign interference. By what right does a synod of stranger princes give Rome a king in some Teuton Emperor? Rome's people alone should choose Rome's governor; - and shall we cross the Alps to render the title of our master to the descendants of the Goth?"
Nina was silent: the custom of choosing the sovereign by a diet beyond the Rhine, reserving only the ceremony of his subsequent coronation for the mock assent of the Romans, however degrading to that people, and however hostile to all nations of substantial independence, was so unquestioned at that time, that Rienzi's daring suggestion left her amazed and breathless, prepared as she was for any scheme, however extravagantly bold.
"How!" said she, after a long pause; "do I understand aright? Can you mean defiance to the Emperor?"
"Why, listen: at this moment there are two pretenders to the throne of Rome - to the imperial crown of Italy - a Bohemian and a Bavarian. To their election our assent - Rome's assent - is not requisite - not asked. Can we be called free - can we boast ourselves republican - when a stranger and a barbarian is thus thrust upon our necks? No, we will be free in reality as in name. Besides, (continued the Tribune, in a calmer tone,) this seems to me politic as well as daring. The people incessantly demand wonders from me: how can I more nobly dazzle, more virtuously win them, than by asserting their inalienable right to choose their own rulers? The daring will awe the Barons, and foreigners themselves; it will give a startling example to all Italy; it will be the first brand of an universal blaze. It shall be done, and with a pomp that befits the deed!"
"Cola," said Nina, hesitatingly, "your eagle spirit often ascends where mine flags to follow; yet be not over bold."
"Nay, did you not, a moment since, preach a different doctrine? To be strong, was I not to seem strong?"
"May fate preserve you!" said Nina, with a foreboding sigh.
"Fate!" cried Rienzi; "there is no fate! Between the thought and the success, God is the only agent; and (he added with a voice of deep solemnity) I shall not be deserted. Visions by night, even while thine arms are around me; omens and impulses, stirring and divine, by day, even in the midst of the living crowd - encourage my path, and point my goal. Now, even now, a voice seems to whisper in my ear - 'Pause not; tremble not; waver not; - for the eye of the All-Seeing is upon thee, and the hand of the All-Powerful shall protect!"
As Rienzi thus spoke, his face grew pale, his hair seemed to bristle, his tall and proud form trembled visibly, and presently he sunk down on a seat, and covered his face with his hands.
An awe crept over Nina, though not unaccustomed to such strange and preternatural emotions, which appeared yet the more singular in one who in common life was so calm, stately, and self-possessed. But with every increase of prosperity and power, those emotions seemed to increase in their fervour, as if in such increase the devout and overwrought superstition of the Tribune recognised additional proof of a mysterious guardianship mightier than the valour or art of man.
She approached fearfully, and threw her arms around him, but without speaking.
Ere yet the Tribune had well recovered himself, a slight tap at the door was heard, and the sound seemed at once to recall his self-possession.
"Enter," he said, lifting his face, to which the wonted colour slowly returned.
An officer, half-opening the door, announced that the person he had sent for waited his leisure.
"I come! - Core of my heart," (he whispered to Nina,) "we will sup alone tonight, and will converse more on these matters:" so saying, with somewhat less than his usual loftiness of mien, he left the room, and sought his cabinet, which lay at the other side of the reception chamber. Here he found Cecco del Vecchio.
"How, my bold fellow," said the Tribune, assuming with wonderful ease that air of friendly equality which he always adopted with those of the lower class, and which made a striking contrast with the majesty, no less natural, which marked his manner to the great. "How now, my Cecco! Thou bearest thyself bravely, I see, during these sickly heats; we labourers - for both of us labour, Cecco - are too busy to fall ill as the idle do, in the summer, or the autumn, of Roman skies. I sent for thee, Cecco, because I would know how thy fellow-craftsmen are like to take the Orsini's execution."
"Oh! Tribune," replied the artificer, who, now familiarized with Rienzi, had lost much of his earlier awe of him, and who regarded the Tribune's power as partly his own creation; "they are already out of their honest wits, at your courage in punishing the great men as you would the small."
"So; - I am repaid! But hark you, Cecco, it will bring, perhaps, hot work upon us. Every Baron will dread lest it be his turn next, and dread will make them bold, like rats in despair. We may have to fight for the Good Estate."
"With all my heart, Tribune," answered Cecco, gruffly. "I, for one, am no craven."
"Then keep the same spirit in all your meetings with the artificers. I fight for the people. The people at a pinch must fight with me."
"They will," replied Cecco; "they will!"
"Cecco, this city is under the spiritual dominion of the Pontiff - so be it
"Little eno', St. Paul knows!" said Cecco.
"Should it not be a claim questioned?"
"I think so!" replied the smith.
"And if found an outrage on our ancient laws, should it not be a claim resisted?"
"Not a doubt of it."
"Well, go to! The archives assure me that never was Emperor lawfully crowned but by the free votes of the people. We never chose Bohemian or Bavarian."
"But, on the contrary, whenever these Northmen come hither to be crowned, we try to drive them away with stones and curses, - for we are a people, Tribune, that love our liberties."
"Go back to your friends - see - address them, say that your Tribune will demand of these pretenders to Rome the right to her throne. Let them not be mazed or startled, but support me when the occasion comes."
"I am glad of this," quoth the huge smith; "for our friends have grown a little unruly of late, and say - "
"What do they say?"
"That it is true you have expelled the banditti, and curb the Barons, and administer justice fairly; - "
"Is not that miracle enough for the space of some two or three short months?"
"Why, they say it would have been more than enough in a noble; but you, being raised from the people, and having such gifts and so forth, might do yet more. It is now three weeks since they have had any new thing to talk about; but Orsini's execution today will cheer them a bit."
"Well, Cecco, well," said the Tribune, rising, "they shall have more anon to feed their mouths with. So you think they love me not quite so well as they did some three weeks back?"
"I say not so," answered Cecco. "But we Romans are an impatient people."
"However, they will no doubt stick close enough to you; provided, Tribune, you don't put any new tax upon them."
"Ha! But if, in order to be free, it be necessary to fight - if to fight, it be necessary to have soldiers, why then the soldiers must be paid: - won't the people contribute something to their own liberties; - to just laws, and safe lives?"
"I don't know," returned the smith, scratching his head as if a little puzzled; "but I know that poor men won't be overtaxed. They say they are better off with you than with the Barons before, and therefore they love you. But men in business, Tribune, poor men with families, must look to their bellies. Only one man in ten goes to law - only one man in twenty is butchered by a Baron's brigand; but every man eats, and drinks, and feels a tax."
"This cannot be your reasoning, Cecco!" said Rienzi, gravely.
"Why, Tribune, I am an honest man, but I have a large family to rear."
"Enough; enough!" said the Tribune quickly; and then he added abstractedly as to himself, but aloud, - "Methinks we have been too lavish; these shows and spectacles should cease."
"What!" cried Cecco; "what, Tribune! - would you deny the poor fellows a holiday. They work hard enough, and their only pleasure is seeing your fine shows and processions; and then they go home and say, - 'See, our man beats all the Barons! what state he keeps!'"
"Ah! they blame not my splendour, then!"
"Blame it; no! Without it they would be ashamed of you, and think the Buono Stato but a shabby concern."
"You speak bluntly, Cecco, but perhaps wisely. The saints keep you! Fail not to remember what I told you!"
"No, no. It is a shame to have an Emperor thrust upon us; - so it is. Good evening, Tribune."
Left alone, the Tribune remained for some time plunged in gloomy and foreboding thoughts.
"I am in the midst of a magician's spell," said he; "if I desist, the fiends tear me to pieces. What I have begun, that must I conclude. But this rude man shews me too well with what tools I work. For me failure is nothing, I have already climbed to a greatness which might render giddy many a born prince's brain. But with my fall - Rome, Italy, Peace, Justice, Civilization - all fall back into the abyss of ages!"
He rose; and after once or twice pacing his apartment, in which from many a column gleamed upon him the marble effigies of the great of old, he opened the casement to inhale the air of the now declining day.
The Place of the Capitol was deserted save by the tread of the single sentinel. But still, dark and fearful, hung from the tall gibbet the clay of the robber noble; and the colossal shape of the Egyptian lion rose hard by, sharp and dark in the breathless atmosphere.
"Dread statue!" thought Rienzi, "how many unwhispered and solemn rites hast thou witnessed by thy native Nile, ere the Roman's hand transferred thee hither - the antique witness of Roman crimes! Strange! but when I look upon thee I feel as if thou hadst some mystic influence over my own fortunes. Beside thee was I hailed the republican Lord of Rome; beside thee are my palace, my tribunal, the place of my justice, my triumphs, and my pomp: - to thee my eyes turn from my bed of state: and if fated to die in power and peace, thou mayst be the last object my eyes will mark! Or if myself a victim - ." He paused - shrank from the thought presented to him
Chapter 4.III. The Actor Unmasked.
"In intoxication," says the proverb, "men betray their real characters." There is a no less honest and truth-revealing intoxication in prosperity, than in wine. The varnish of power brings forth at once the defects and the beauties of the human portrait.
The unprecedented and almost miraculous rise of Rienzi from the rank of the Pontiff's official to the Lord of Rome, would have been accompanied with a yet greater miracle, if it had not somewhat dazzled and seduced the object it elevated. When, as in well-ordered states and tranquil times, men rise slowly, step by step, they accustom themselves to their growing fortunes. But the leap of an hour from a citizen to a prince - from the victim of oppression to the dispenser of justice - is a transition so sudden as to render dizzy the most sober brain. And, perhaps, in proportion to the imagination, the enthusiasm, the genius of the man, will the suddenness be dangerous - excite too extravagant a hope - and lead to too chimerical an ambition. The qualities that made him rise, hurry him to his fall; and victory at the Marengo of his fortunes, urges him to destruction at its Moscow.
In his greatness Rienzi did not so much acquire new qualities, as develop in brighter light and deeper shadow those which he had always exhibited. On the one hand he was just - resolute - the friend of the oppressed - the terror of the oppressor. His wonderful intellect illumined everything it touched. By rooting out abuse, and by searching examination and wise arrangement, he had trebled the revenues of the city without imposing a single new tax. Faithful to his idol of liberty, he had not been betrayed by the wish of the people into despotic authority; but had, as we have seen, formally revived, and established with new powers, the Parliamentary Council of the city. However extensive his own authority, he referred its exercise to the people; in their name he alone declared himself to govern, and he never executed any signal action without submitting to them its reasons or its justification. No less faithful to his desire to restore prosperity as well as freedom to Rome, he had seized the first dazzling epoch of his power to propose that great federative league with the Italian States which would, as he rightly said, have raised Rome to the indisputable head of European nations. Under his rule trade was secure, literature was welcome, art began to rise.
On the other hand, the prosperity which made more apparent his justice, his integrity, his patriotism, his virtues, and his genius, brought out no less glaringly his arrogant consciousness of superiority, his love of display, and the wild and daring insolence of his ambition. Though too just to avenge himself by retaliating on the patricians their own violence, though, in his troubled and stormy tribuneship, not one unmerited or illegal execution of baron or citizen could be alleged against him, even by his enemies; yet sharing, less excusably, the weakness of Nina, he could not deny his proud heart the pleasure of humiliating those who had ridiculed him as a buffoon, despised him as a plebeian, and who, even now slaves to his face, were cynics behind his back. "They stood before him while he sate," says his biographer; "all these Barons, bareheaded; their hands crossed on their breasts; their looks downcast; - oh, how frightened they were!" - a picture more disgraceful to the servile cowardice of the nobles than the haughty sternness of the Tribune. It might be that he deemed it policy to break the spirit of his foes, and to awe those whom it was a vain hope to conciliate.
For his pomp there was a greater excuse: it was the custom of the time; it was the insignia and witness of power; and when the modern historian taunts him with not imitating the simplicity of an ancient tribune, the sneer betrays an ignorance of the spirit of the age, and the vain people whom the chief magistrate was to govern. No doubt his gorgeous festivals, his solemn processions, set off and ennobled - if parade can so be ennobled - by a refined and magnificent richness of imagination, associated always with popular emblems, and designed to convey the idea of rejoicing for Liberty Restored, and to assert the state and majesty of Rome Revived - no doubt these spectacles, however otherwise judged in a more enlightened age and by closet sages, served greatly to augment the importance of the Tribune abroad, and to dazzle the pride of a fickle and ostentatious populace. And taste grew refined, luxury called labour into requisition, and foreigners from all states were attracted by the splendour of a court over which presided, under republican names, two sovereigns, (Rienzi, speaking in one of his letters of his great enterprise, refers it to the ardour of youth. The exact date of his birth is unknown; but he was certainly a young man at the time now referred to. His portrait in the Museo Barberino, from which his description has been already taken in the first book of this work, represents him as beardless, and, as far as one can judge, somewhere above thirty - old enough, to be sure, to have a beard; and seven years afterwards he wore a long one, which greatly displeased his naive biographer, who seems to consider it a sort of crime. The head is very remarkable for its stern beauty, and little, if at all, inferior to that of Napoleon; to which, as I before remarked, it has some resemblance in expression, if not in feature.) young and brilliant, the one renowned for his genius, the other eminent for her beauty. It was, indeed, a dazzling and royal dream in the long night of Rome, spoiled of her Pontiff and his voluptuous train - that holyday reign of Cola di Rienzi! And often afterwards it was recalled with a sigh, not only by the poor for its justice, the merchant for its security, but the gallant for its splendour, and the poet for its ideal and intellectual grace!
As if to show that it was not to gratify the more vulgar appetite and desire, in the midst of all his pomp, when the board groaned with the delicacies of every clime, when the wine most freely circled, the Tribune himself preserved a temperate and even rigid abstinence. ("Vita di Cola di Rienzi". - The biographer praises the abstinence of the Tribune.) While the apartments of state and the chamber of his bride were adorned with a profuse luxury and cost, to his own private rooms he transported precisely the same furniture which had been familiar to him in his obscurer life. The books, the busts, the reliefs, the arms which had inspired him heretofore with the visions of the past, were endeared by associations which he did not care to forego.
But that which constituted the most singular feature of his character, and which still wraps all around him in a certain mystery, was his religious enthusiasm. The daring but wild doctrines of Arnold of Brescia, who, two centuries anterior, had preached reform, but inculcated mysticism, still lingered in Rome, and had in earlier youth deeply coloured the mind of Rienzi; and as I have before observed, his youthful propensity to dreamy thought, the melancholy death of his brother, his own various but successful fortunes, had all contributed to nurse the more zealous and solemn aspirations of this remarkable man. Like Arnold of Brescia, his faith bore a strong resemblance to the intense fanaticism of our own Puritans of the Civil War, as if similar political circumstances conduced to similar religious sentiments. He believed himself inspired by awful and mighty commune with beings of the better world. Saints and angels ministered to his dreams; and without this, the more profound and hallowed enthusiasm, he might never have been sufficiently emboldened by mere human patriotism, to his unprecedented enterprise: it was the secret of much of his greatness, - many of his errors. Like all men who are thus self- deluded by a vain but not inglorious superstition, united with, and coloured by, earthly ambition, it is impossible to say how far he was the visionary, and how far at times he dared to be the impostor. In the ceremonies of his pageants, in the ornaments of his person, were invariably introduced mystic and figurative emblems. In times of danger he publicly professed to have been cheered and directed by divine dreams; and on many occasions the prophetic warnings he announced having been singularly verified by the event, his influence with the people was strengthened by a belief in the favour and intercourse of Heaven. Thus, delusion of self might tempt and conduce to imposition on others, and he might not scruple to avail himself of the advantage of seeming what he believed himself to be. Yet, no doubt this intoxicating credulity pushed him into extravagance unworthy of, and strangely contrasted by, his soberer intellect, and made him disproportion his vast ends to his unsteady means, by the proud fallacy, that where man failed, God would interpose. Cola di Rienzi was no faultless hero of romance. In him lay, in conflicting prodigality, the richest and most opposite elements of character; strong sense, visionary superstition, an eloquence and energy that mastered all he approached, a blind enthusiasm that mastered himself; luxury and abstinence, sternness and susceptibility, pride to the great, humility to the low; the most devoted patriotism and the most avid desire of personal power. As few men undertake great and desperate designs without strong animal spirits, so it may be observed, that with most who have risen to eminence over the herd, there is an aptness, at times, to a wild mirth and an elasticity of humour which often astonish the more sober and regulated minds, that are "the commoners of life:" And the theatrical grandeur of Napoleon, the severe dignity of Cromwell, are strangely contrasted by a frequent, nor always seasonable buffoonery, which it is hard to reconcile with the ideal of their characters, or the gloomy and portentous interest of their careers. And this, equally a trait in the temperament of Rienzi, distinguished his hours of relaxation, and contributed to that marvellous versatility with which his harder nature accommodated itself to all humours and all men. Often from his austere judgment-seat he passed to the social board an altered man; and even the sullen Barons who reluctantly attended his feasts, forgot his public greatness in his familiar wit; albeit this reckless humour could not always refrain from seeking its subject in the mortification of his crest-fallen foes - a pleasure it would have been wiser and more generous to forego. And perhaps it was, in part, the prompting of this sarcastic and unbridled humour that made him often love to astonish as well as to awe. But even this gaiety, if so it may be called, taking an appearance of familiar frankness, served much to ingratiate him with the lower orders; and, if a fault in the prince, was a virtue in the demagogue.
To these various characteristics, now fully developed, the reader must add a genius of designs so bold, of conceptions so gigantic and august, conjoined with that more minute and ordinary ability which masters details; that with a brave, noble, intelligent, devoted people to back his projects, the accession of the Tribune would have been the close of the thraldom of Italy, and the abrupt limit of the dark age of Europe. With such a people, his faults would have been insensibly checked, his more unwholesome power have received a sufficient curb. Experience familiarizing him with power, would have gradually weaned him from extravagance in its display; and the active and masculine energy of his intellect would have found field for the more restless spirits, as his justice gave shelter to the more tranquil. Faults he had, but whether those faults or the faults of the people, were to prepare his downfall, is yet to be seen.
Meanwhile, amidst a discontented nobility and a fickle populace, urged on by the danger of repose to the danger of enterprise; partly blinded by his outward power, partly impelled by the fear of internal weakness; at once made sanguine by his genius and his fanaticism, and uneasy by the expectations of the crowd, - he threw himself headlong into the gulf of the rushing Time, and surrendered his lofty spirit to no other guidance than a conviction of its natural buoyancy and its heaven-directed haven.
Chapter 4.IV. The Enemy's Camp.
While Rienzi was preparing, in concert, perhaps, with the ambassadors of the brave Tuscan States, whose pride of country and love of liberty were well fitted to comprehend, and even share them, his schemes for the emancipation from all foreign yoke of the Ancient Queen, and the Everlasting Garden, of the World; the Barons, in restless secrecy, were revolving projects for the restoration of their own power.
One morning, the heads of the Savelli, the Orsini, and the Frangipani, met at the disfortified palace of Stephen Colonna. Their conference was warm and earnest - now resolute, now wavering, in its object - as indignation or fear prevailed.
"You have heard," said Luca di Savelli, in his usual soft and womanly voice, "that the Tribune has proclaimed, that, the day after tomorrow, he will take the order of knighthood, and watch the night before in the church of the Lateran: He has honoured me with a request to attend his vigil."
"Yes, yes, the knave. What means this new fantasy?" said the brutal Prince of the Orsini.
"Unless it be to have the cavalier's right to challenge a noble," said old Colonna, "I cannot conjecture. Will Rome never grow weary of this madman?"
"Rome is the more mad of the two," said Luca di Savelli; "but methinks, in his wildness, the Tribune hath committed one error of which we may well avail ourselves at Avignon."
"Ah," cried the old Colonna, "that must be our game; passive here, let us fight at Avignon."
"In a word then, he hath ordered that his bath shall be prepared in the holy porphyry vase in which once bathed the Emperor Constantine."
"Profanation! profanation!" cried Stephen. "This is enough to excuse a bull of excommunication. The Pope shall hear of it. I will despatch a courier forthwith."
"Better wait and see the ceremony," said the Savelli; "some greater folly will close the pomp, be assured."
"Hark ye, my masters," said the grim Lord of the Orsini; "ye are for delay and caution; I for promptness and daring; my kinsman's blood calls aloud, and brooks no parley."
"And what do?" said the soft-voiced Savelli; "fight without soldiers, against twenty thousand infuriated Romans? not I."
Orsini sunk his voice into a meaning whisper. "In Venice," said he, "this upstart might be mastered without an army. Think you in Rome no man wears a stiletto?"
"Hush," said Stephen, who was of far nobler and better nature than his compeers, and who, justifying to himself all other resistance to the Tribune, felt his conscience rise against assassination; "this must not be
"Besides, whom can we employ? scarce a German left in the city; and to whisper this to a Roman were to exchange places with poor Martino - Heaven take him, for he's nearer heaven than ever he was before," said the Savelli.
"Jest me no jests," cried the Orsini, fiercely. "Jests on such a subject! By St. Francis I would, since thou lovest such wit, thou hadst it all to thyself; and, methinks, at the Tribune's board I have seen thee laugh at his rude humour, as if thou didst not require a cord to choke thee."
"Better to laugh than to tremble," returned the Savelli.
"How! darest thou say I tremble?" cried the Baron.
"Hush, hush," said the veteran Colonna, with impatient dignity. "We are not now in such holiday times as to quarrel amongst ourselves. Forbear, my lords."
"Your greater prudence, Signor," said the sarcastic Savelli, "arises from your greater safety. Your house is about to shelter itself under the Tribune's; and when the Lord Adrian returns from Naples, the innkeeper's son will be brother to your kinsman."
"You might spare me that taunt," said the old noble, with some emotion. "Heaven knows how bitterly I have chafed at the thought; yet I would Adrian were with us. His word goes far to moderate the Tribune, and to guide my own course, for my passion beguiles my reason; and since his departure methinks we have been the more sullen without being the more strong. Let this pass. If my own son had wed the Tribune's sister, I would yet strike a blow for the old constitution as becomes a noble, if I but saw that the blow would not cut off my own head."
Savelli, who had been whispering apart with Rinaldo Frangipani, now said -
"Noble Prince, listen to me. You are bound by your kinsman's approaching connection, your venerable age, and your intimacy with the Pontiff, to a greater caution than we are. Leave to us the management of the enterprise, and be assured of our discretion."
A young boy, Stefanello, who afterwards succeeded to the representation of the direct line of the Colonna, and whom the reader will once again encounter ere our tale be closed, was playing by his grandsire's knees. He looked sharply up at Savelli, and said, "My grandfather is too wise, and you are too timid. Frangipani is too yielding, and Orsini is too like a vexed bull. I wish I were a year or two older."
"And what would you do, my pretty censurer?" said the smooth Savelli, biting his smiling lip.
"Stab the Tribune with my own stiletto, and then hey for Palestrina!"
"The egg will hatch a brave serpent," quoth the Savelli. "Yet why so bitter against the Tribune, my cockatrice?"
"Because he allowed an insolent mercer to arrest my uncle Agapet for debt. The debt had been owed these ten years; and though it is said that no house in Rome has owed more money than the Colonna, this is the first time I ever heard of a rascally creditor being allowed to claim his debt unless with doffed cap and bended knee. And I say that I would not live to be a Baron, if such upstart insolence is to be put upon me."
"My child," said old Stephen, laughing heartily, "I see our noble order will be safe enough in your hands."
"And," continued the child, emboldened by the applause he received, "if I had time after pricking the Tribune, I would fain have a second stroke at - "
"Whom?" said the Savelli, observing the boy pause;
"My cousin Adrian. Shame on him, for dreaming to make one a wife whose birth would scarce fit her for a Colonna's leman!"
"Go play, my child - go play," said the old Colonna, as he pushed the boy from him.
"Enough of this babble," cried the Orsini, rudely. "Tell me, old lord; just as I entered, I saw an old friend (one of your former mercenaries) quit the palace - may I crave his errand?"
"Ah, yes; a messenger from Fra Moreale. I wrote to the Knight, reproving him for his desertion on our ill-starred return from Corneto, and intimating that five hundred lances would be highly paid for just now."
"Ah," said Savelli; "and what is his answer!"
"Oh, wily and evasive: He is profuse in compliments and good wishes; but says he is under fealty to the Hungarian king, whose cause is before Rienzi's tribunal; that he cannot desert his present standard; that he fears Rome is so evenly balanced between patricians and the people, that whatever party would permanently be uppermost must call in a Podesta; and this character alone the Provencal insinuates would suit him."
"Montreal our Podesta?" cried the Orsini.
"And why not?" said Savelli; "as good a well-born Podesta as a low-born Tribune? But I trust we may do without either. Colonna, has this messenger from Fra Moreale left the city?"
"I suppose so."
"No," said Orsini; "I met him at the gate, and knew him of old: it is Rodolf, the Saxon (once a hireling of the Colonna), who has made some widows among my clients in the good old day. He is a little disguised now; however, I recognised and accosted him, for I thought he was one who might yet become a friend, and I bade him await me at my palace."
"You did well," said the Savelli, musing, and his eyes met those of Orsini. Shortly afterwards a conference, in which much was said and nothing settled, was broken up; but Luca di Savelli, loitering at the porch, prayed the Frangipani, and the other Barons, to adjourn to the Orsini's palace.
"The old Colonna," said he, "is well-nigh in his dotage. We shall come to a quick determination without him, and we can secure his proxy in his son."
And this was a true prophecy, for half-an-hour's consultation with Rodolf of Saxony sufficed to ripen thought into enterprise.
Chapter 4.V. The Night and its Incidents.
With the following twilight, Rome was summoned to the commencement of the most magnificent spectacle the Imperial City had witnessed since the fall of the Caesars. It had been a singular privilege, arrogated by the people of Rome, to confer upon their citizens the order of knighthood. Twenty years before, a Colonna and an Orsini had received this popular honour. Rienzi, who designed it as the prelude to a more important ceremony, claimed from the Romans a similar distinction. From the Capitol to the Lateran swept, in long procession, all that Rome boasted of noble, of fair, and brave. First went horsemen without number, and from all the neighbouring parts of Italy, in apparel that well befitted the occasion. Trumpeters, and musicians of all kinds, followed, and the trumpets were of silver; youths bearing the harness of the knightly war-steed, wrought with gold, preceded the march of the loftiest matronage of Rome, whose love for show, and it may be whose admiration for triumphant fame, (which to women sanctions many offences,) made them forget the humbled greatness of their lords: amidst them Nina and Irene, outshining all the rest; then came the Tribune and the Pontiff's Vicar, surrounded by all the great Signors of the city, smothering alike resentment, revenge, and scorn, and struggling who should approach nearest to the monarch of the day. The high-hearted old Colonna alone remained aloof, following at a little distance, and in a garb studiously plain. But his age, his rank, his former renown in war and state, did not suffice to draw to his grey locks and highborn mien a single one of the shouts that attended the meanest lord on whom the great Tribune smiled. Savelli followed nearest to Rienzi, the most obsequious of the courtly band; immediately before the Tribune came two men; the one bore a drawn sword, the other the pendone, or standard usually assigned to royalty. The tribune himself was clothed in a long robe of white satin, whose snowy dazzle (miri candoris) is peculiarly dwelt on by the historian, richly decorated with gold; while on his breast were many of those mystic symbols I have before alluded to, the exact meaning of which was perhaps known only to the wearer. In his dark eye, and on that large tranquil brow, in which thought seemed to sleep, as sleeps a storm, there might be detected a mind abstracted from the pomp around; but ever and anon he roused himself, and conversed partially with Raimond or Savelli.
"This is a quaint game," said the Orsini, falling back to the old Colonna: "but it may end tragically."
"Methinks it may," said the old man, "if the Tribune overhear thee."
Orsini grew pale. "How - nay - nay, even if he did, he never resents words, but professes to laugh at our spoken rage. It was but the other day that some knave told him what one of the Annibaldi said of him - words for which a true cavalier would have drawn the speaker's life's blood; and he sent for the Annibaldi, and said, 'My friend, receive this purse of gold, - court wits should be paid.'"
"Did Annibaldi take the gold?"
"Why, no; the Tribune was pleased with his spirit, and made him sup with him; and Annibaldi says he never spent a merrier evening, and no longer wonders that his kinsman, Riccardo, loves the buffoon so."
Arrived now at the Lateran, Luca di Savelli fell also back, and whispered to Orsini; the Frangipani, and some other of the nobles, exchanged meaning looks; Rienzi, entering the sacred edifice in which, according to custom, he was to pass the night watching his armour, bade the crowd farewell, and summoned them the next morning, "To hear things that might, he trusted, be acceptable to heaven and earth."
The immense multitude received this intimation with curiosity and gladness, while those who had been in some measure prepared by Cecco del Vecchio, hailed it as an omen of their Tribune's unflagging resolution. The concourse dispersed with singular order and quietness; it was recorded as a remarkable fact, that in so great a crowd, composed of men of all parties, none exhibited licence or indulged in quarrel. Some of the barons and cavaliers, among whom was Luca di Savelli, whose sleek urbanity and sarcastic humour found favour with the Tribune, and a few subordinate pages and attendants, alone remained; and, save a single sentinel at the porch, that broad space before the Palace, the Basilica and Fount of Constantine, soon presented a silent and desolate void to the melancholy moonlight. Within the church, according to the usage of the time and rite, the descendant of the Teuton kings received the order of the Santo Spirito. His pride, or some superstition equally weak, though more excusable, led him to bathe in the porphyry vase which an absurd legend consecrated to Constantine; and this, as Savelli predicted, cost him dear. These appointed ceremonies concluded, his arms were placed in that part of the church, within the columns of St. John. And here his state bed was prepared. (In a more northern country, the eve of knighthood would have been spent without sleeping. In Italy, the ceremony of watching the armour does not appear to have been so rigidly observed.)
The attendant barons, pages, and chamberlains, retired out of sight to a small side chapel in the edifice; and Rienzi was left alone. A single lamp, placed beside his bed, contended with the mournful rays of the moon, that cast through the long casements, over aisle and pillar, its "dim religious light." The sanctity of the place, the solemnity of the hour, and the solitary silence round, were well calculated to deepen the high- wrought and earnest mood of that son of fortune. Many and high fancies swept over his mind - now of worldly aspirations, now of more august but visionary belief, till at length, wearied with his own reflections, he cast himself on the bed. It was an omen which graver history has not neglected to record, that the moment he pressed the bed, new prepared for the occasion, part of it sank under him: he himself was affected by the accident, and sprung forth, turning pale and muttering; but, as if ashamed of his weakness, after a moment's pause, again composed himself to rest, and drew the drapery round him.
The moonbeams grew fainter and more faint as the time proceeded, and the sharp distinction between light and shade faded fast from the marble floor; when from behind a column at the furthest verge of the building, a strange shadow suddenly crossed the sickly light - it crept on - it moved, but without an echo, - from pillar to pillar it flitted - it rested at last behind the column nearest to the Tribune's bed - it remained stationary.
The shades gathered darker and darker round; the stillness seemed to deepen; the moon was gone; and, save from the struggling ray of the lamp beside Rienzi, the blackness of night closed over the solemn and ghostly scene.
In one of the side chapels, as I have before said, which, in the many alterations the church has undergone, is probably long since destroyed, were Savelli and the few attendants retained by the Tribune. Savelli alone slept not; he remained sitting erect, breathless and listening, while the tall lights in the chapel rendered yet more impressive the rapid changes of his countenance.
"Now pray Heaven," said he, "the knave miscarry not! Such an occasion may never again occur! He has a strong arm and a dexterous hand, doubtless; but the other is a powerful man. The deed once done, I care not whether the doer escape or not; if not, why we must stab him! Dead men tell no tales. At the worst, who can avenge Rienzi? There is no other Rienzi! Ourselves and the Frangipani seize the Aventine, the Colonna and the Orsini the other quarters of the city; and without the master-spirit, we may laugh at the mad populace. But if discovered; - " and Savelli, who, fortunately for his foes, had not nerves equal to his will, covered his face and shuddered; - "I think I hear a noise! - no - is it the wind? - tush, it must be old Vico de Scotto, turning in his shell of mail! - silent - I like not that silence! No cry - no sound! Can the ruffian have played us false? or could he not scale the casement? It is but a child's effort; - or did the sentry spy him?"
Time passed on: the first ray of daylight slowly gleamed, when he thought he heard the door of the church close. Savelli's suspense became intolerable: he stole from the chapel, and came in sight of the Tribune's bed - all was silent.
"Perhaps the silence of death," said Savelli, as he crept back.
Meanwhile the Tribune, vainly endeavouring to close his eyes, was rendered yet more watchful by the uneasy position he was obliged to assume - for the part of the bed towards the pillow having given way, while the rest remained solid, he had inverted the legitimate order of lying, and drawn himself up as he might best accommodate his limbs, towards the foot of the bed. The light of the lamp, though shaded by the draperies, was thus opposite to him. Impatient of his wakefulness, he at last thought it was this dull and flickering light which scared away the slumber, and was about to rise, to remove it further from him, when he saw the curtain at the other end of the bed gently lifted: he remained quiet and alarmed; - ere he could draw a second breath, a dark figure interposed between the light and the bed; and he felt that a stroke was aimed against that part of the couch, which, but for the accident that had seemed to him ominous, would have given his breast to the knife. Rienzi waited not a second and better-directed blow; as the assassin yet stooped, groping in the uncertain light, he threw on him all the weight and power of his large and muscular frame, wrenched the stiletto from the bravo's hand, and dashing him on the bed, placed his knee on his breast. - The stiletto rose - gleamed - descended - the murtherer swerved aside, and it pierced only his right arm. The Tribune raised, for a deadlier blow, the revengeful blade.
The assassin thus foiled was a man used to all form and shape of danger, and he did not now lose his presence of mind.
"Hold!" said he; "if you kill me, you will die yourself. Spare me, and I will save you."
"Hush - not so loud, or you will disturb your attendants, and some of them may do what I have failed to execute. Spare me, I say, and I will reveal that which were worth more than my life; but call not - speak not aloud, I warn you!"
The Tribune felt his heart stand still: in that lonely place, afar from his idolizing people - his devoted guards - with but loathing barons, or, it might be, faithless menials, within call, might not the baffled murtherer give a wholesome warning? - and those words and that doubt seemed suddenly to reverse their respective positions, and leave the conqueror still in the assassin's power.
"Thou thinkest to deceive me," said he, but in a voice whispered and uncertain, which shewed the ruffian the advantage he had gained: "thou wouldst that I might release thee without summoning my attendants, that thou mightst a second time attempt my life."
"Thou hast disabled my right arm, and disarmed me of my only weapon."
"How camest thou hither?"
"Whence this attempt?"
"The dictation of others."
"If I pardon thee - "
"Thou shalt know all!"
"Rise," said the Tribune, releasing his prisoner, but with great caution, and still grasping his shoulder with one hand, while the other pointed the dagger at his throat.
"Did my sentry admit thee? There is but one entrance to the church, methinks."
"He did not; follow me, and I will tell thee more."
"Dog! thou hast accomplices?"
"If I have, thou hast the knife at my throat."
"Wouldst thou escape?"
"I cannot, or I would."
Rienzi looked hard, by the dull light of the lamp, at the assassin. His rugged and coarse countenance, rude garb, and barbarian speech, seemed to him proof sufficient that he was but the hireling of others; and it might be wise to brave one danger present and certain, to prevent much danger future and unforeseen. Rienzi, too, was armed, strong, active, in the prime of life; - and at the worst, there was no part of the building whence his voice would not reach those within the chapel, - if they could be depended upon.
"Shew me then thy place and means of entrance," said he; "and if I but suspect thee as we move - thou diest. Take up the lamp."
The ruffian nodded; with his left hand took up the lamp as he was ordered; and with Rienzi's grasp on his shoulder, while the wound from his right arm dropped gore as he passed, he moved noiselessly along the church - gained the altar - to the left of which was a small room for the use or retirement of the priest. To this he made his way. Rienzi's heart misgave him a moment.
"Beware," he whispered, "the least sign of fraud, and thou art the first victim!"
The assassin nodded again, and proceeded. They entered the room; and then the Tribune's strange guide pointed to an open casement. "Behold my entrance," said he; "and, if you permit me, my egress - "
"The frog gets not out of the well so easily as he came in, friend," returned Rienzi, smiling. "And now, if I am not to call my guards, what am I to do with thee!"
"Let me go, and I will seek thee tomorrow; and if thou payest me handsomely, and promisest not to harm limb or life, I will put thine enemies and my employers in thy power."
Rienzi could not refrain from a slight laugh at the proposition, but composing himself, replied - "And what if I call my attendants, and give thee to their charge?"
"Thou givest me to those very enemies and employers; and in despair lest I betray them, ere the day dawn they cut my throat - or thine."
"Methinks knave, I have seen thee before."
"Thou hast. I blush not for name or country. I am Rodolf of Saxony!"
"I remember me: - servitor of Walter de Montreal. He, then, is thy instigator!"
"Roman, no! That noble Knight scorns other weapon than the open sword, and his own hand slays his own foes. Your pitiful, miserable, dastard Italians, alone employ the courage, and hire the arm, of others."
Rienzi remained silent. He had released hold of his prisoner, and stood facing him; every now and then regarding his countenance, and again relapsing into thought. At length, casting his eyes round the small chamber thus singularly tenanted, he observed a kind of closet, in which the priests' robes, and some articles used in the sacred service, were contained. It suggested at once an escape from his dilemma: he pointed to it -
"There, Rodolf of Saxony, shalt thou pass some part of this night - a small penance for thy meditated crime; and tomorrow, as thou lookest for life, thou wilt reveal all."
"Hark, ye, Tribune," returned the Saxon, doggedly; "my liberty is in your power, but neither my tongue nor my life. If I consent to be caged in that hole, you must swear on the crossed hilt of the dagger that you now hold, that, on confession of all I know, you pardon and set me free. My employers are enough to glut your rage an' you were a tiger. If you do not swear this - "
"Ah, my modest friend! - the alternative?"
"I brain myself against the stone wall! Better such a death than the rack!"
"Fool, I want not revenge against such as thou. Be honest, and I swear that, twelve hours after thy confession, thou shalt stand safe and unscathed without the walls of Rome. So help me our Lord and his saints."
"I am content! - Donner und Hagel, I have lived long enough to care only for my own life, and the great captain's next to it; - for the rest, I reck not if ye southerns cut each other's throats, and make all Italy one grave."
With this benevolent speech, Rodolf entered the closet; but ere Rienzi could close the door, he stepped forth again -
"Hold," said he: "this blood flows fast. Help me to bandage it, or I shall bleed to death ere my confession."
"Per fede," said the Tribune, his strange humour enjoying the man's cool audacity; "but, considering the service thou wouldst have rendered me, thou art the most pleasant, forbearing, unabashed, good fellow, I have seen this many a year. Give us thine own belt. I little thought my first eve of knighthood would have been so charitably spent!"
"Methinks these robes would make a better bandage," said Rodolf, pointing to the priests' gear suspended from the wall.
"Silence, knave," said the Tribune, frowning; "no sacrilege! Yet, as thou takest such dainty care of thyself, thou shalt have mine own scarf to accommodate thee."
With that the Tribune, placing his dagger on the ground, while he cautiously guarded it with his foot, bound up the wounded limb, for which condescension Rodolf gave him short thanks; resumed his weapon and lamp; closed the door; drew over it the long, heavy bolt without, and returned to his couch, deeply and indignantly musing over the treason he had so fortunately escaped.
At the first grey streak of dawn he went out of the great door of the church, called the sentry, who was one of his own guard, and bade him privately, and now ere the world was astir, convey the prisoner to one of the private dungeons of the Capitol. "Be silent," said he: "utter not a word of this to any one; be obedient, and thou shalt be promoted. This done, find out the councillor, Pandulfo di Guido, and bid him seek me here ere the crowd assemble."
He then, making the sentinel doff his heavy shoes of iron, led him across the church, resigned Rodolf to his care, saw them depart, and in a few minutes afterwards his voice was heard by the inmates of the neighbouring chapel; and he was soon surrounded by his train.
He was already standing on the floor, wrapped in a large gown lined with furs; and his piercing eye scanned carefully the face of each man that approached. Two of the Barons of the Frangipani family exhibited some tokens of confusion and embarrassment, from which they speedily recovered at the frank salutation of the Tribune.
But all the art of Savelli could not prevent his features from betraying to the most indifferent eye the terror of his soul; - and, when he felt the penetrating gaze of Rienzi upon him, he trembled in every joint. Rienzi alone did not, however, seem to notice his disorder; and when Vico di Scotto, an old knight, from whose hands he received his sword, asked him how he had passed the night, he replied, cheerfully -
"Well, well - my brave friend! Over a maiden knight some good angel always watches. Signor Luca di Savelli, I fear you have slept but ill: you seem pale. No matter! - our banquet today will soon brighten the current of your gay blood."
"Blood, Tribune!" said di Scotto, who was innocent of the plot: "Thou sayest blood, and lo! on the floor are large gouts of it not yet dry."
"Now, out on thee, old hero, for betraying my awkwardness! I pricked myself with my own dagger in unrobing. Thank Heaven it hath no poison in its blade!"
The Frangipani exchanged looks, - Luca di Savelli clung to a column for support, - and the rest of the attendants seemed grave and surprised.
"Think not of it, my masters," said Rienzi: "it is a good omen, and a true prophecy. It implies that he who girds on his sword for the good of the state, must be ready to spill his blood for it: that am I. No more of this - a mere scratch: it gave more blood than I recked of from so slight a puncture, and saves the leech the trouble of the lancet. How brightly breaks the day! We must prepare to meet our fellow-citizens - they will be here anon. Ha, my Pandulfo - welcome! - thou, my old friend, shalt buckle on this mantle!"
And while Pandulfo was engaged in the task, the Tribune whispered a few words in his ear, which, by the smile on his countenance, seemed to the attendants one of the familiar jests with which Rienzi distinguished his intercourse with his more confidential intimates.
Chapter 4.VI. The Celebrated Citation.
The bell of the great Lateran church sounded shrill and loud, as the mighty multitude, greater even than that of the preceding night, swept on. The appointed officers made way with difficulty for the barons and ambassadors, and scarcely were those noble visitors admitted ere the crowd closed in their ranks, poured headlong into the church, and took the way to the chapel of Boniface VIII. There, filling every cranny, and blocking up the entrance, the more fortunate of the press beheld the Tribune surrounded by the splendid court his genius had collected, and his fortune had subdued. At length, as the solemn and holy music began to swell through the edifice, preluding the celebration of the mass, the Tribune stepped forth, and the hush of the music was increased by the universal and dead silence of the audience. His height, his air, his countenance, were such as always command the attention of crowds; and at this time they received every adjunct from the interest of the occasion, and that peculiar look of intent yet suppressed fervour, which is, perhaps, the sole gift of the eloquent that Nature alone can give.
"Be it known," said he, slowly and deliberately, "in virtue of that authority, power, and jurisdiction, which the Roman people, in general parliament, have assigned to us, and which the Sovereign Pontiff hath confirmed, that we, not ungrateful of the gift and grace of the Holy Spirit
("Il tutto senza derogare all' autorita della Chiesa, del Papa e del Sacro Collegio." So concludes this extraordinary citation, this bold and wonderful assertion of the classic independence of Italy, in the most feudal time of the fourteenth century. The anonymous biographer of Rienzi declares that the Tribune cited also the Pope and the Cardinals to reside in Rome. De Sade powerfully and incontrovertibly refutes this addition to the daring or the extravagance of Rienzi. Gibbon, however, who has rendered the rest of the citation in terms more abrupt and discourteous than he was warranted by any authority, copies the biographer's blunder, and sneers at De Sade, as using arguments "rather of decency than of weight." Without wearying the reader with all the arguments of the learned Abbe, it may be sufficient to give the first two.
1st. All the other contemporaneous historians that have treated of this event, G. Villani, Hocsemius, the Vatican MSS. and other chroniclers, relating the citation of the Emperor and Electors, say nothing of that of the Pope and Cardinals; and the Pope (Clement VI.), in his subsequent accusations of Rienzi, while very bitter against his citation of the Emperor, is wholly silent on what would have been to the Pontiff the much greater offence of citing himself and the Cardinals.)
Gibbon's whole account of Rienzi is superficial and unfair. To the cold and sneering scepticism, which so often deforms the gigantic work of that great writer, allowing nothing for that sincere and urgent enthusiasm which, whether of liberty or religion, is the most common parent of daring action, the great Roman seems but an ambitious and fantastic madman. In Gibbon's hands what would Cromwell have been? what Vane? what Hampden? The pedant, Julian, with his dirty person and pompous affectation, was Gibbon's ideal of a great man.)
As Rienzi concluded this bold proclamation of the liberties of Italy, the Tuscan ambassadors, and those of some other of the free states, murmured low approbation. The ambassadors of those States that affected the party of the Emperor looked at each other in silent amaze and consternation. The Roman Barons remained with mute lips and downcast eyes; only over the aged face of Stephen Colonna settled a smile, half of scorn, half of exultation. But the great mass of the citizens were caught by words that opened so grand a prospect as the emancipation of all Italy: and their reverence of the Tribune's power and fortune was almost that due to a supernatural being; so that they did not pause to calculate the means which were to correspond with the boast.
While his eye roved over the crowd, the gorgeous assemblage near him, the devoted throng beyond; - as on his ear boomed the murmur of thousands and ten thousands, in the space without, from before the Palace of Constantine (Palace now his own!) sworn to devote life and fortune to his cause; in the flush of prosperity that yet had known no check; in the zenith of power, as yet unconscious of reverse, the heart of the Tribune swelled proudly: visions of mighty fame and limitless dominion, - fame and dominion, once his beloved Rome's and by him to be restored, rushed before his intoxicated gaze; and in the delirious and passionate aspirations of the moment, he turned his sword alternately to the three quarters of the then known globe, and said, in an abstracted voice, as a man in a dream, "In the right of the Roman people this too is mine!" ("Questo e mio.")
Low though the voice, the wild boast was heard by all around as distinctly as if borne to them in thunder. And vain it were to describe the various sensations it excited; the extravagance would have moved the derision of his foes, the grief of his friends, but for the manner of the speaker, which, solemn and commanding, hushed for the moment even reason and hatred themselves in awe; afterwards remembered and repeated, void of the spell they had borrowed from the utterer, the words met the cold condemnation of the well-judging; but at that moment all things seemed possible to the hero of the people. He spoke as one inspired - they trembled and believed; and, as rapt from the spectacle, he stood a moment silent, his arm still extended - his dark dilating eye fixed upon space - his lip parted - his proud head towering and erect above the herd, - his own enthusiasm kindled that of the more humble and distant spectators; and there was a deep murmur begun by one, echoed by the rest, "The Lord is with Italy and Rienzi!"
The Tribune turned, he saw the Pope's Vicar astonished, bewildered, rising to speak. His sense and foresight returned to him at once, and, resolved to drown the dangerous disavowal of the Papal authority for this hardihood, which was ready to burst from Raimond's lips, he motioned quickly to the musicians, and the solemn and ringing chant of the sacred ceremony prevented the Bishop of Orvietto all occasion of self-exoneration or reply.
The moment the ceremony was over, Rienzi touched the Bishop, and whispered, "We will explain this to your liking. You feast with us at the Lateran. - Your arm." Nor did he leave the good Bishop's arm, nor trust him to other companionship, until to the stormy sound of horn and trumpet, drum and cymbal, and amidst such a concourse as might have hailed, on the same spot, the legendary baptism of Constantine, the Tribune and his nobles entered the great gates of the Lateran, then the Palace of the World.
Thus ended that remarkable ceremony and that proud challenge of the Northern Powers, in behalf of the Italian liberties, which, had it been afterwards successful, would have been deemed a sublime daring; which, unsuccessful, has been construed by the vulgar into a frantic insolence; but which, calmly considering all the circumstances that urged on the Tribune, and all the power that surrounded him, was not, perhaps, altogether so imprudent as it seemed. And, even accepting that imprudence in the extremest sense, - by the more penetrating judge of the higher order of character, it will probably be considered as the magnificent folly of a bold nature, excited at once by position and prosperity, by religious credulities, by patriotic aspirings, by scholastic visions too suddenly transferred from revery to action, beyond that wise and earthward policy which sharpens the weapon ere it casts the gauntlet.
Chapter 4.VII. The Festival.
The Festival of that day was far the most sumptuous hitherto known. The hint of Cecco del Vecchio, which so well depicted the character of his fellow-citizens, as yet it exists, though not to such excess, in their love of holyday pomp and gorgeous show, was not lost upon Rienzi. One instance of the universal banqueting (intended, indeed, rather for the people than the higher ranks) may illustrate the more than royal profusion that prevailed. From morn till eve, streams of wine flowed like a fountain from the nostrils of the Horse of the great Equestrian Statue of Constantine. The mighty halls of the Lateran palace, open to all ranks, were prodigally spread; and the games, sports, and buffooneries of the time, were in ample requisition. Apart, the Tribunessa, as Nina was rather unclassically entitled, entertained the dames of Rome; while the Tribune had so effectually silenced or conciliated Raimond, that the good Bishop shared his peculiar table - the only one admitted to that honour. As the eye ranged each saloon and hall - it beheld the space lined with all the nobility and knighthood - the wealth and strength - the learning and the beauty - of the Italian metropolis; mingled with ambassadors and noble strangers, even from beyond the Alps; (The simple and credulous briographer of Rienzi declares his fame to have reached the ears of the Soldan of Babylon.) - envoys not only of the free states that had welcomed the rise of the Tribune, but of the highborn and haughty tyrants who had first derided his arrogance, and now cringed to his power. There, were not only the ambassadors of Florence, of Sienna, of Arezzo (which last subjected its government to the Tribune,) of Todi, of Spoleto, and of countless other lesser towns and states, but of the dark and terrible Visconti, prince of Milan; of Obizzo of Ferrara, and the tyrant rulers of Verona and Bologna; even the proud and sagacious Malatesta, lord of Rimini, whose arm afterwards broke for awhile the power of Montreal, at the head of his Great Company, had deputed his representative in his most honoured noble. John di Vico, the worst and most malignant despot of his day, who had sternly defied the arms of the Tribune, now subdued and humbled, was there in person; and the ambassadors of Hungary and of Naples mingled with those of Bavaria and Bohemia, whose sovereigns that day had been cited to the Roman Judgment Court. The nodding of plumes, the glitter of jewels and cloth of gold, the rustling of silks and jingle of golden spurs, the waving of banners from the roof, the sounds of minstrelsy from the galleries above, all presented a picture of such power and state - a court and chivalry of such show - as the greatest of the feudal kings might have beheld with a sparkling eye and a swelling heart. But at that moment the cause and lord of all that splendour, recovered from his late exhilaration, sat moody and abstracted, remembering with a thoughtful brow the adventure of the past night, and sensible that amongst his gaudiest revellers lurked his intended murtherers. Amidst the swell of the minstrelsy and the pomp of the crowd, he felt that treason scowled beside him; and the image of the skeleton obtruding, as of old, its grim thought of death upon the feast, darkened the ruby of the wine, and chilled the glitter of the scene.
It was while the feast was loudest that Rienzi's page was seen gliding through the banquet, and whispering several of the nobles; each bowed low, but changed colour as he received the message.
"My Lord Savelli," said Orsini, himself trembling, "bear yourself more bravely. This must be meant in honour, not revenge. I suppose your summons corresponds with mine."
"He - he - asks - asks - me to supper at the Capitol; a fri-endly meeting - (pest on his friendship!) - after the noise of the day."
"The words addressed also to me!" said Orsini, turning to one of the Frangipani.
Those who received the summons soon broke from the feast, and collected in a group, eagerly conferring. Some were for flight, but flight was confession; their number, rank, long and consecrated impunity, reassured them, and they resolved to obey. The old Colonna, the sole innocent Baron of the invited guests, was also the only one who refused the invitation. "Tush!" said he, peevishly; here is feasting enough for one day! Tell the Tribune that ere he sups I hope to be asleep. Grey hairs cannot encounter all this fever of festivity."
As Rienzi rose to depart, which he did early, for the banquet took place while yet morning, Raimond, eager to escape and confer with some of his spiritual friends, as to the report he should make to the Pontiff, was beginning his expressions of farewell, when the merciless Tribune said to him gravely -
"My Lord, we want you on urgent business at the Capitol. A prisoner - a trial - perhaps (he added with his portentous and prophetic frown) an execution waits us! Come."
"Verily, Tribune," stammered the good Bishop, "this is a strange time for execution!"
"Last night was a time yet more strange. - Come."
There was something in the way in which the final word was pronounced, that Raimond could not resist. He sighed, muttered, twitched his robes, and followed the Tribune. As he passed through the halls, the company rose on all sides. Rienzi repaid their salutations with smiles and whispers of frank courtesy and winning address. Young as he yet was, and of a handsome and noble presence, that took every advantage from splendid attire, and yet more from an appearance of intellectual command in his brow and eye, which the less cultivated signors of that dark age necessarily wanted - he glittered through the court as one worthy to form, and fitted to preside over, it; and his supposed descent from the Teuton Emperor, which, since his greatness, was universally bruited and believed abroad, seemed undeniably visible to the foreign lords in the majesty of his mien and the easy blandness of his address.
"My Lord Prefect," said he to a dark and sullen personage in black velvet, the powerful and arrogant John di Vico, prefect of Rome, "we are rejoiced to find so noble a guest at Rome: we must repay the courtesy by surprising you in your own palace ere long; - nor will you, Signor (as he turned to the envoy from Tivoli,) refuse us a shelter amidst your groves and waterfalls ere the vintage be gathered. Methinks Rome, united with sweet Tivoli, grows reconciled to the Muses. Your suit is carried, Master Venoni: the council recognises its justice; but I reserved the news for this holyday - you do not blame me, I trust." This was whispered, with a half-affectionate frankness, to a worthy citizen, who, finding himself amidst so many of the great, would have shrunk from the notice of the Tribune; but it was the policy of Rienzi to pay an especial and marked attention to those engaged in commercial pursuits. As, after tarrying a moment or two with the merchant, he passed on, the tall person of the old Colonna caught his eye -
"Signor," said he, with a profound inclination of his head, but with a slight emphasis of tone, "you will not fail us this evening."
"Tribune - " began the Colonna.
"We receive no excuse," interrupted the Tribune, hastily, and passed on.
He halted for a few moments before a small group of men plainly attired, who were watching him with intense interest; for they, too, were scholars, and in Rienzi's rise they saw another evidence of that wonderful and sudden power which intellect had begun to assume over brute force. With these, as if abruptly mingled with congenial spirits, the Tribune relaxed all the gravity of his brow. Happier, perhaps, his living career - more unequivocal his posthumous renown - had his objects as his tastes been theirs!
"Ah, carissime!" said he to one, whose arm he drew within his own, - "and how proceeds thy interpretation of the old marbles? - half unravelled? I rejoice to hear it! Confer with me as of old, I pray thee. Tomorrow - no, nor the day after, but next week - we will have a tranquil evening. Dear poet, your ode transported me to the days of Horace; yet, methinks, we do wrong to reject the vernacular for the Latin. You shake your head? Well, Petrarch thinks with you: his great epic moves with the stride of a giant
A slight shade darkened the Tribune's brow at these words: but moving on, a long line of nobles and princes on either side, he regained his self- possession, and the dignity he had dropped with his former equals. Thus he passed through the crowd, and gradually disappeared.
"He bears him bravely," said one, as the revellers reseated themselves. "Noticed you the 'we' - the style royal?"
"But it must be owned that he lords it well," said the ambassador of the Visconti: "less pride would be cringing to his haughty court."
"Why," said a professor of Bologna, "why is the Tribune called proud? I see no pride in him."
"Nor I," said a wealthy jeweller.
While these, and yet more contradictory, comments followed the exit of the Tribune, he passed into the saloon, where Nina presided; and here his fair person and silver tongue ("Suavis colorataeque sententiae," according to the description of Petrarch) won him a more general favour with the matrons than he experienced with their lords, and not a little contrasted the formal and nervous compliments of the good Bishop, who served him on such occasions with an excellent foil.
But as soon as these ceremonies were done, and Rienzi mounted his horse, his manner changed at once into a stern and ominous severity.
"Vicar," said he, abruptly, to the Bishop, "we might well need your presence. Learn that at the Capitol now sits the Council in judgment upon an assassin. Last night, but for Heaven's mercy, I should have fallen a victim to a hireling's dagger, Knew you aught of this?"
And he turned so sharply on the Bishop, that the poor canonist nearly dropped from his horse in surprise and terror.
"I, - " said he.
Rienzi smiled - "No, good my Lord Bishop! I see you are of no murtherer's mould. But to continue: - that I might not appear to act in mine own cause, I ordered the prisoner to be tried in my absence. In his trial (you marked the letter brought me at our banquet?) - "
"Ay, and you changed colour."
"Well I might: in his trial, I say, he has confessed that nine of the loftiest lords of Rome were his instigators. They sup with me tonight! - Vicar, forwards!"