"Allora la sua venuta fu a Roma sentita; Romani si apparecchiavano a riceverlo con letizia...furo fatti archi trionfali," &c. &c. - "Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. ii. c. 17.
"Then the fame of his coming was felt at Rome; the Romans made ready to receive him with gladness...triumphal arches were erected," &c., &c. - "Life of Cola di Rienzi".
Chapter 9.I. The Triumphal Entrance.
All Rome was astir! - from St. Angelo to the Capitol, windows, balconies, roofs, were crowded with animated thousands. Only here and there, in the sullen quarters of the Colonna, the Orsini, and the Savelli, reigned a death-like solitude and a dreary gloom. In those fortifications, rather than streets, not even the accustomed tread of the barbarian sentinel was heard. The gates closed - the casements barred - the grim silence around - attested the absence of the Barons. They had left the city so soon as they had learned the certain approach of Rienzi. In the villages and castles of the Campagna, surrounded by their mercenaries, they awaited the hour when the people, weary of their idol, should welcome back even those ferocious Iconoclasts.
With these exceptions, all Rome was astir! Triumphal arches of drapery, wrought with gold and silver, raised at every principal vista, were inscribed with mottoes of welcome and rejoicing. At frequent intervals stood youths and maidens, with baskets of flowers and laurels. High above the assembled multitudes - from the proud tower of Hadrian - from the turrets of the Capitol - from the spires of the sacred buildings dedicated to Apostle and to Saint - floated banners as for a victory. Rome once more opened her arms to receive her Tribune!
Mingled with the crowd - disguised by his large mantle - hidden by the pressure of the throng - his person, indeed, forgotten by most - and, in the confusion of the moment, heeded by none - stood Adrian Colonna! He had not been able to conquer his interest for the brother of Irene. Solitary amidst his fellow-citizens, he stood - the only one of the proud race of Colonna who witnessed the triumph of the darling of the people.
"They say he has grown large in his prison," said one of the bystanders; "he was lean enough when he came by daybreak out of the Church of St. Angelo!"
"Ay," said another, a little man with a shrewd, restless eye, "they say truly; I saw him take leave of the Legate."
Every eye was turned to the last speaker; he became at once a personage of importance. "Yes," continued the little man with an elated and pompous air, "as soon, d'ye see, as he had prevailed on Messere Brettone, and Messere Arimbaldo, the brothers of Fra Moreale, to accompany him from Perugia to Monte Fiascone, he went at once to the Legate d'Albornoz, who was standing in the open air conversing with his captains. A crowd followed. I was one of them; and the Tribune nodded at me - ay, that did he! - and so, with his scarlet cloak, and his scarlet cap, he faced the proud Cardinal with a pride greater than his own. 'Monsignore,' said he, 'though you accord me neither money nor arms, to meet the dangers of the road and brave the ambush of the Barons, I am prepared to depart. Senator of Rome, his Holiness hath made me: according to custom, I pray you, Monsignore, forthwith to confirm the rank.' I would you could have seen how the proud Spaniard stared, and blushed, and frowned; but he bit his lip, and said little."
"And confirmed Rienzi Senator?"
"Yes; and blessed him, and bade him depart."
"Senator!" said a stalwart but grey-haired giant with folded arms; "I like not a title that has been borne by a patrician. I fear me, in the new title he will forget the old."
"Fie, Cecco del Vecchio, you were always a grumbler!" said a merchant of cloth, whose commodity the ceremonial had put in great request. "Fie! - for my part, I think Senator a less new-fangled title than Tribune. I hope there will be feasting enow, at last. Rome has been long dull. A bad time for trade, I warrant me!"
The artisan grinned scornfully. He was one of those who distinguished between the middle class and the working, and he loathed a merchant as much as he did a noble. "The day wears," said the little man; "he must be here anon. The Senator's lady, and all his train, have gone forth to meet him these two hours."
Scarce were these words uttered, when the crowd to the right swayed restlessly; and presently a horseman rode rapidly through the street. "Way there! Keep back! Way - make way for the Most Illustrious the Senator of Rome!"
The crowd became hushed - then murmuring - then hushed again. From balcony and casement stretched the neck of every gazer. The tramp of steeds was heard at a distance - the sound of clarion and trumpet; - then, gleaming through the distant curve of the streets, was seen the wave of the gonfalons - then, the glitter of spears - and then from the whole multitude, as from one voice, arose the shout, - "He comes! he comes!"
Adrian shrunk yet more backward amongst the throng; and, leaning against the wall of one of the houses, contemplated the approaching pageant.
First came, six abreast, the procession of Roman horsemen who had gone forth to meet the Senator, bearing boughs of olive in their hands; each hundred preceded by banners, inscribed with the words, "Liberty and Peace restored." As these passed the group by Adrian, each more popular citizen of the cavalcade was recognised, and received with loud shouts. By the garb and equipment of the horsemen, Adrian saw that they belonged chiefly to the traders of Rome; a race who, he well knew, unless strangely altered, valued liberty only as a commercial speculation. "A vain support these," thought the Colonna; - "what next?" on, then, came in glittering armour the German mercenaries, hired by the gold of the Brothers of Provence, in number two hundred and fifty, and previously in the pay of Malatesta of Rimini; - tall, stern, sedate, disciplined, - eyeing the crowd with a look, half of barbarian wonder, half of insolent disdain. No shout of gratulation welcomed these sturdy strangers; it was evident that their aspect cast a chill over the assembly.
"Shame!" growled Cecco del Vecchio, audibly. "Has the people's friend need of the swords which guard an Orsini or a Malatesta? - shame!"
No voice this time silenced the huge malcontent.
"His only real defence against the Barons," thought Adrian, "if he pay them well! But their number is not sufficient!"
Next came two hundred fantassins, or foot-soldiers, of Tuscany, with the corselets and arms of the heavy-armed soldiery - a gallant company, and whose cheerful looks and familiar bearing appeared to sympathise with the crowd. And in truth they did so, - for they were Tuscans, and therefore lovers of freedom. In them, too, the Romans seemed to recognise natural and legitimate allies, - and there was a general cry of "Vivano i bravi Toscani!"
"Poor defence!" thought the more sagacious Colonna; "the Barons can awe, and the mob corrupt them."
Next came a file of trumpeters and standard-bearers; - and now the sound of the music was drowned by shouts, which seemed to rise simultaneously as from every quarter of the city; - "Rienzi! Rienzi! - Welcome, welcome! - Liberty and Rienzi! Rienzi and the Good Estate!" Flowers dropped on his path, kerchiefs and banners waved from every house; - tears might be seen coursing, unheeded, down bearded cheeks; - youth and age were kneeling together, with uplifted hands, invoking blessings on the head of the Restored. On he came the Senator-Tribune - "the Phoenix to his pyre!"
Robed in scarlet, that literally blazed with gold, his proud head bared in the sun, and bending to the saddle bow, Rienzi passed slowly through the throng. Not in the flush of that hour were visible, on his glorious countenance, the signs of disease and care: the very enlargement of his proportions gave a greater majesty to his mien. Hope sparkled in his eye - triumph and empire sat upon his brow. The crowd could not contain themselves; they pressed forward, each upon each, anxious to catch the glance of his eye, to touch the hem of his robe. He himself was deeply affected by their joy. He halted; with faltering and broken words, he attempted to address them. "I am repaid," he said, - "repaid for all; - may I live to make you happy!"
The crowd parted again - the Senator moved on - again the crowd closed in. Behind the Tribune, to their excited imagination, seemed to move the very goddess of ancient Rome.
Upon a steed, caparisoned with cloth of gold; - in snow-white robes, studded with gems that flashed back the day, - came the beautiful and regal Nina. The memory of her pride, her ostentation, all forgotten in that moment, she was scarce less welcome, scarce less idolized, than her lord. And her smile all radiant with joy - her lip quivering with proud and elate emotion, - never had she seemed at once so born alike for love and for command; - a Zenobia passing through the pomp of Rome, - not a captive, but a queen.
But not upon that stately form riveted the gaze of Adrian - pale, breathless, trembling, he clung to the walls against which he leaned. Was it a dream? Had the dead revived? Or was it his own - his living Irene - whose soft and melancholy loveliness shone sadly by the side of Nina - a star beside the moon? The pageant faded from his eyes - all grew dim and dark. For a moment he was insensible. When he recovered, the crowd was hurrying along, confused and blent with the mighty stream that followed the procession. Through the moving multitude he caught the graceful form of Irene, again snatched by the closing standards of the procession from his view. His blood rushed back from his heart through every vein. He was as a man who for years had been in a fearful trance, and who is suddenly awakened to the light of heaven.
One of that mighty throng remained motionless with Adrian. It was Cecco del Vecchio.
"He did not see me," muttered the smith to himself; "old friends are forgotten now! Well, well, Cecco del Vecchio hates tyrants still - no matter what their name, nor how smoothly they are disguised. He did not see ME! Umph!"
Chapter 9.II. The Masquerade.
The acuter reader has already learned, without the absolute intervention of the author as narrator, the incidents occurring to Rienzi in the interval between his acquittal at Avignon and his return to Rome. As the impression made by Nina upon the softer and better nature of Albornoz died away, he naturally began to consider his guest - as the profound politicians of that day ever considered men - a piece upon the great Chess-Board, to be moved, advanced, or sacrificed, as best suited the scheme in view. His purpose accomplished, in the recovery of the patrimonial territory, the submission of John di Vico, and the fall and death of the Demagogue Baroncelli, the Cardinal deemed it far from advisable to restore to Rome, and with so high a dignity, the able and ambitious Rienzi. Before the daring Roman, even his own great spirit quailed; and he was wholly unable to conceive or to calculate the policy that might be adopted by the new Senator, when once more Lord of Rome. Without affecting to detain, he therefore declined to assist in restoring him. And Rienzi thus saw himself within an easy march of Rome, without one soldier to protect him against the Barons by the way. But Heaven had decreed that no single man, however gifted, or however powerful, should long counteract or master the destinies of Rienzi: and perhaps in no more glittering scene of his life did he ever evince so dexterous and subtle an intellect as he now did in extricating himself from the wiles of the Cardinal. Repairing to Perugia, he had, as we have seen, procured, through the brothers of Montreal, men and money for his return. But the Knight of St. John was greatly mistaken, if he imagined that Rienzi was not thoroughly aware of the perilous and treacherous tenure of the support he had received. His keen eye read at a glance the aims and the characters of the brothers of Montreal - he knew that while affecting to serve him, they designed to control - that, made the debtor of the grasping and aspiring Montreal, and surrounded by the troops conducted by Montreal's brethren, he was in the midst of a net which, if not broken, would soon involve fortune and life itself in its fatal and deadly meshes. But, confident in the resources and promptitude of his own genius, he yet sanguinely trusted to make those his puppets, who dreamed that he was their own; and, with empire for the stake, he cared not how crafty the antagonists he was compelled to engage.
Meanwhile, uniting to all his rasher and all his nobler qualities, a profound dissimulation, he appeared to trust implicitly to his Provencal companions; and his first act on entering the Capitol, after the triumphal procession, was to reward with the highest dignities in his gift, Messere Arimbaldo and Messere Brettone de Montreal!
High feasting was there that night in the halls of the Capitol; but dearer to Rienzi than all the pomp of the day, were the smiles of Nina. Her proud and admiring eyes, swimming with delicious tears, fixed upon his countenance, she but felt that they were re-united, and that the hours, however brilliantly illumined, were hastening to that moment, when, after so desolate and dark an absence, they might once more be alone.
Far other the thoughts of Adrian Colonna, as he sate alone in the dreary palace in the yet more dreary quarter of his haughty race. Irene then was alive, - he had been deceived by some strange error, - she had escaped the devouring pestilence; and something in the pale sadness of her gentle features, even in that day of triumph, told him he was still remembered. But as his mind by degrees calmed itself from its first wild and tumultuous rapture, he could not help asking himself the question whether they were not still to be divided! Stefanello Colonna, the grandson of the old Stephen, and (by the death of his sire and brother) the youthful head of that powerful House, had already raised his standard against the Senator. Fortifying himself in the almost impregnable fastness of Palestrina, he had assembled around him all the retainers of his family, and his lawless soldiery now ravaged the neighbouring plains far and wide.
Adrian foresaw that the lapse of a few days would suffice to bring the Colonna and the Senator to open war. Could he take part against those of his own blood? The very circumstance of his love for Irene would yet more rob such a proceeding of all appearance of disinterested patriotism, and yet more deeply and irremediably stain his knightly fame, wherever the sympathy of his equals was enlisted with the cause of the Colonna. On the other hand, not only his love for the Senator's sister, but his own secret inclinations and honest convictions, were on the side of one who alone seemed to him possessed of the desire and the genius to repress the disorders of his fallen city. Long meditating, he feared no alternative was left him but in the same cruel neutrality to which he had been before condemned; but he resolved at least to make the attempt - rendered favourable and dignified by his birth and reputation - to reconcile the contending parties. To effect this, he saw that he must begin with his haughty cousin. He was well aware that were it known that he had first obtained an interview with Rienzi - did it appear as if he were charged with overtures from the Senator - although Stefanello himself might be inclined to yield to his representations, the insolent and ferocious Barons who surrounded him would not deign to listen to the envoy of the People's chosen one; and instead of being honoured as an intercessor, he should be suspected as a traitor. He determined, then, to depart for Palestrina; but (and his heart beat audibly) would it not be possible first to obtain an interview with Irene? It was no easy enterprise, surrounded as she was, but he resolved to adventure it. He summoned Giulio.
"The Senator holds a festival this evening - think you that the assemblage will be numerous?"
"I hear," answered Giulio, "that the banquet given to the Ambassadors and Signors today is to be followed tomorrow by a mask, to which all ranks are admitted. By Bacchus, (Still a common Roman expletive.) if the Tribune only invited nobles, the smallest closet in the Capitol would suffice to receive his maskers. I suppose a mask has been resolved on in order to disguise the quality of the visitors."
Adrian mused a moment; and the result of his revery was a determination to delay for another sun his departure to Palestrina - to take advantage of the nature of the revel, and to join the masquerade.
That species of entertainment, though unusual at that season of the year, had been preferred by Rienzi, partly and ostensibly because it was one in which all his numerous and motley supporters could be best received; but chiefly and secretly because it afforded himself and his confidential friends the occasion to mix unsuspected amongst the throng, and learn more of the real anticipations of the Romans with respect to his policy and his strength, than could well be gathered from the enthusiasm of a public spectacle.
The following night was beautifully serene and clear. The better to accommodate the numerous guests, and to take advantage of the warm and moonlit freshness of the air, the open court of the Capitol, with the Place of the Lion, (as well as the state apartments within,) was devoted to the festival.
As Adrian entered the festive court with the rush of the throng, it chanced that in the eager impatience of some maskers, more vehement than the rest, his vizard was deranged. He hastily replaced it; but not before one of the guests had recognised his countenance.
From courtesy, Rienzi and his family remained at first unmasked. They stood at the head of the stairs to which the old Egyptian Lion gave the name. The lights shone over that Colossal Monument - which, torn from its antique home, had witnessed, in its grim repose, the rise and lapse of countless generations, and the dark and stormy revolutions of avenging fate. It was an ill omen, often afterwards remarked, that the place of that state festival was the place also of the state executions. But at that moment, as group after group pressed forward to win smile and word from the celebrated man, whose fortunes had been the theme of Europe, or to bend in homage to the lustrous loveliness of Nina, no omen and no warning clouded the universal gladness.
Behind Nina, well contented to shrink from the gaze of the throng, and to feel her softer beauty eclipsed by the dazzling and gorgeous charms of her brother's wife, stood Irene. Amidst the crowd on her alone Adrian fixed his eyes. The years which had flown over the fair brow of the girl of sixteen - then animated by, yet trembling beneath, the first wild breath of Love; - youth in every vein - passion and childish tenderness in every thought, had not marred, but they had changed, the character of Irene's beauty. Her cheek, no longer varying with every instant, was settled into a delicate and thoughtful paleness - her form, more rounded to the proportions of Roman beauty, had assumed an air of dignified and calm repose. No longer did the restless eye wander in search of some imagined object; no longer did the lip quiver into smiles at some untold hope or half-unconscious recollection. A grave and mournful expression gave to her face (still how sweet!) a gravity beyond her years. The bloom, the flush, the April of the heart, was gone; but yet neither time, nor sorrow, nor blighted love, had stolen from her countenance its rare and angelic softness - nor that inexpressible and virgin modesty of form and aspect, which, contrasting the bolder beauties of Italy, had more than aught else distinguished to Adrian, from all other women, the idol of his heart. And feeding his gaze upon those dark deep eyes, which spoke of thought far away and busy with the past, Adrian felt again and again that he was not forgotten! Hovering near her, but suffering the crowd to press one after another before him, he did not perceive that he had attracted the eagle eye of the Senator.
In fact, as one of the maskers passed Rienzi, he whispered, "Beware, a Colonna is among the masks! beneath the reveller's domino has often lurked the assassin's dagger. Yonder stands your foe - mark him!"
These words were the first sharp and thrilling intimation of the perils into which he had rushed, that the Tribune-Senator had received since his return. He changed colour slightly; and for some minutes the courtly smile and ready greeting with which he had hitherto delighted every guest, gave way to a moody abstraction.
"Why stands yon strange man so mute and motionless?" whispered he to Nina. "He speaks to none - he approaches us not - a churl, a churl! - he must be seen to."
"Doubtless, some German or English barbarian," answered Nina. "Let not, my Lord, so slight a cloud dim your merriment."
"You are right, dearest; we have friends here; we are well girt. And, by my father's ashes, I feel that I must accustom myself to danger. Nina, let us move on; methinks we might now mix among the maskers - masked ourselves."
The music played loud and cheerily as the Senator and his party mingled with the throng. But still his eye turned ever towards the grey domino of Adrian, and he perceived that it followed his steps. Approaching the private entrance of the Capitol, he for a few moments lost sight of his unwelcome pursuer: but just as he entered, turning abruptly, Rienzi perceived him close at his side - the next moment the stranger had vanished amidst the throng. But that moment had sufficed to Adrian - he had reached Irene. "Adrian Colonna (he whispered) waits thee beside the Lion."
In the absorption of his own reflections, Rienzi fortunately did not notice the sudden paleness and agitation of his sister. Entered within his palace, he called for wine - the draught revived his spirits - he listened smilingly to the sparkling remarks of Nina; and enduing his mask and disguise, said, with his wonted cheerfulness, "Now for Truth - strange that in festivals it should only speak behind a vizard! My sweet sister, thou hast lost thine old smile, and I would rather see that than - Ha! has Irene vanished?"
"Only, I suppose, to change her dress, my Cola, and mingle with the revellers," answered Nina. "Let my smile atone for hers."
Rienzi kissed the bright brow of his wife as she clung fondly to his bosom. "Thy smile is the sunlight," said he; "but this girl disturbs me. Methinks now, at least, she might wear a gladder aspect."
"Is there nothing of love beneath my fair sister's gloom?" answered Nina. "Do you not call to mind how she loved Adrian Colonna?"
"Does that fantasy hold still?" returned Rienzi, musingly. "Well, and she is fit bride for a monarch."
"Yet it were an alliance that would, better than one with monarchs, strengthen thy power at Rome!"
"Ay, were it possible; but that haughty race! - Perchance this very masker that so haunted our steps was but her lover. I will look to this. Let us forth, my Nina. Am I well cloaked?"
"Excellently well - and I?"
"The sun behind a cloud."
"Ah, let us not tarry long; what hour of revel like that when thy hand in mine, this head upon thy bosom, we forget the sorrows we have known, and even the triumphs we have shared?"
Meanwhile, Irene, confused and lost amidst a transport of emotion, already disguised and masked, was threading her way through the crowd back to the staircase of the Lion. With the absence of the Senator that spot had comparatively been deserted. Music and the dance attracted the maskers to another quarter of the wide space. And Irene now approaching, beheld the moonlight fall over the statue, and a solitary figure leaning against the pedestal. She paused, the figure approached, and again she heard the voice of her early love.
"Oh, Irene! recognised even in this disguise," said Adrian, seizing her trembling hand; "have I lived to gaze again upon that form - to touch this hand? Did not these eyes behold thee lifeless in that fearful vault, which I shudder to recall? By what miracle wert thou raised again? By what means did Heaven spare to this earth one that it seemed already to have placed amongst its angels?"
"Was this, indeed, thy belief?" said Irene, falteringly, but with an accent eloquent of joy. "Thou didst not then willingly desert me? Unjust that I was, I wronged thy noble nature, and deemed that my brother's fall, my humble lineage, thy brilliant fate, had made thee renounce Irene."
"Unjust indeed!" answered the lover. "But surely I saw thee amongst the dead! - thy cloak, with the silver stars - who else wore the arms of the Roman Tribune?"
"Was it but the cloak then, which, dropped in the streets, was probably assumed by some more ill-fated victim; was it that sight alone, that made thee so soon despair? Ah! Adrian," continued Irene, tenderly, but with reproach; "not even when I saw thee seemingly lifeless on the couch by which I had watched three days and nights, not even then did I despair!"
"What, then, my vision did not deceive me! It was you who watched by my bed in that grim hour, whose love guarded, whose care preserved me! And I, wretch that I was! - "
"Nay," answered Irene, "your thought was natural. Heaven seemed to endow me with superhuman strength, whilst I was necessary to thee. But judge of my dismay. I left thee to seek the good friar who attended thee as thy leech; I returned, and found thee not. Heart-sick and terrified, I searched the desolate city in vain. Strong as I was while hope supported me, I sunk beneath fear. - And my brother found me senseless, and stretched on the ground, by the church of St. Mark."
"The church of St. Mark! - so foretold his dream!"
"He had told me he had met thee; we searched for thee in vain; at length we heard that thou hadst left the city, and - and - I rejoiced, Adrian, but I repined!"
For some minutes the young lovers surrendered themselves to the delight of reunion, while new explanations called forth new transports.
"And now," murmured Irene, "now that we have met - " she paused, and her mask concealed her blushes.
"Now that we have met," said Adrian, filling up the silence, "wouldst thou say further, 'that we should not part?' Trust me, dearest, that is the hope that animates my heart. It was but to enjoy these brief bright moments with thee, that I delayed my departure to Palestrina. Could I but hope to bring my young cousin into amity with thy brother, no barrier would prevent our union. Willingly I forget the past - the death of my unhappy kinsmen, (victims, it is true, to their own faults;) and, perhaps, amidst all the crowds that hailed his return, none more appreciated the great and lofty qualities of Cola di Rienzi, than did Adrian Colonna."
"If this be so," said Irene, "let me hope the best; meanwhile, it is enough of comfort and of happiness to know, that we love each other as of old. Ah, Adrian, I am sadly changed; and often have I thought it a thing beyond my dreams, that thou shouldst see me again and love me still."
"Fairer art thou and lovelier than ever," answered Adrian, passionately; "and time, which has ripened thy bloom, has but taught me more deeply to feel thy value. Farewell, Irene, I linger here no longer; thou wilt, I trust, hear soon of my success with my House, and ere the week be over I may return to claim thy hand in the face of day."
The lovers parted; Adrian lingered on the spot, and Irene hastened to bury her emotion and her raptures in her own chamber.
As her form vanished, and the young Colonna slowly turned away, a tall mask strode abruptly towards him.
"Thou art a Colonna," it said, "and in the power of the Senator. Dost thou tremble?"
"If I be a Colonna, rude masker," answered Adrian, coldly, "thou shouldst know the old proverb, 'He who stirs the column, shall rue the fall.'"
The stranger laughed aloud, and then lifting his mask, Adrian saw that it was the Senator who stood before him.
"My Lord Adrian di Castello," said Rienzi, resuming all his gravity, "is it as friend or foe that you have honoured our revels this night?"
"Senator of Rome," answered Adrian, with equal stateliness, "I partake of no man's hospitality but as a friend. A foe, at least to you, I trust never justly to be esteemed."
"I would," rejoined Rienzi, "that I could apply to myself unreservedly that most flattering speech. Are these friendly feelings entertained towards me as the Governor of the Roman people, or as the brother of the woman who has listened to your vows?"
Adrian, who when the Senator had unmasked had followed his example, felt at these words that his eye quailed beneath Rienzi's. However, he recovered himself with the wonted readiness of an Italian, and replied laconically,
"Both!" echoed Rienzi. "Then, indeed, noble Adrian, you are welcome hither. And yet, methinks, if you conceived there was no cause for enmity between us, you would have wooed the sister of Cola di Rienzi in a guise more worthy of your birth; and, permit me to add, of that station which God, destiny, and my country, have accorded unto me. You dare not, young Colonna, meditate dishonour to the sister of the Senator of Rome. Highborn as you are, she is your equal."
"Were I the Emperor, whose simple knight I but am, your sister were my equal," answered Adrian, warmly. "Rienzi, I grieve that I am discovered to you yet. I had trusted that, as a mediator between the Barons and yourself, I might first have won your confidence, and then claimed my reward. Know that with tomorrow's dawn I depart for Palestrina, seeking to reconcile my young cousin to the choice of the People and the Pontiff. Various reasons, which I need not now detail, would have made me wish to undertake this heraldry of peace without previous communication with you. But since we have met, intrust me with any terms of conciliation, and I pledge you the right hand, not of a Roman noble - alas! the prisca fides has departed from that pledge! - but of a Knight of the Imperial Court, that I will not betray your confidence."
Rienzi, accustomed to read the human countenance, had kept his eyes intently fixed upon Adrian while he spoke; when the Colonna concluded, he pressed the proffered hand, and said, with that familiar and winning sweetness which at times was so peculiar to his manner,
"I trust you, Adrian, from my soul. You were mine early friend in calmer, perchance happier, years. And never did river reflect the stars more clearly, than your heart then mirrored back the truth. I trust you!"
While thus speaking, he had mechanically led back the Colonna to the statue of the Lion; there pausing, he resumed:
"Know that I have this morning despatched my delegate to your cousin Stefanello. With all due courtesy, I have apprised him of my return to Rome, and invited hither his honoured presence. Forgetting all ancient feuds, mine own past exile, I have assured him, here, the station and dignity due to the head of the Colonna. All that I ask in return is obedience to the law. Years and reverses have abated my younger pride, and though I may yet preserve the sternness of the Judge, none shall hereafter complain of the insolence of the Tribune."
"I would," answered Adrian, "that your mission to Stefanello had been delayed a day; I would fain have forestalled its purport. Howbeit, you increase my desire of departure, should I yet succeed in obtaining an honourable and peaceful reconciliation, it is not in disguise that I will woo your sister."
"And never did Colonna," replied Rienzi, loftily, "bring to his House a maiden whose alliance more gratified ambition. I still see, as I have seen ever, in mine own projects, and mine own destinies, the chart of the new Roman Empire!"
"Be not too sanguine yet, brave Rienzi," replied Adrian, laying his hand on the Lion of Basalt: "bethink thee on how many scheming brains this dumb image of stone hath looked down from its pedestal - schemes of sand, and schemers of dust. Thou hast enough, at present, for the employ of all thine energy - not to extend thy power, but to preserve thyself. For, trust me, never stood human greatness on so wild and dark a precipice!"
"Thou art honest," said the Senator; "and these are the first words of doubt, and yet of sympathy, I have heard in Rome. But the People love me, the Barons have fled from Rome, the Pontiff approves, and the swords of the Northmen guard the avenues of the Capitol. But these are nought; in mine own honesty are my spear and buckler. Oh, never," continued Rienzi, kindling with his enthusiasm, "never since the days of the old Republic, did Roman dream a purer and a brighter aspiration, than that which animates and supports me now. Peace restored - law established - art, letters, intellect, dawning upon the night of time; the Patricians, no longer bandits of rapine, but the guard of order; the People ennobled from a mob, brave to protect, enlightened to guide, themselves. Then, not by the violence of arms, but by the majesty of her moral power, shall the Mother of Nations claim the obedience of her children. Thus dreaming and thus hoping, shall I tremble or despond? No, Adrian Colonna, come weal or woe, I abide, unshrinking and unawed, by the chances of my doom!"
So much did the manner and the tone of the Senator exalt his language, that even the sober sense of Adrian was enchanted and subdued. He kissed the hand he held, and said earnestly,
"A doom that I will deem it my boast to share - a career that it will be my glory to smooth. If I succeed in my present mission - "
"You are my brother!" said Rienzi.
"If I fail?"
"You may equally claim that alliance. You pause - you change colour."
"Can I desert my house?"
"Young Lord," said Rienzi, loftily, "say rather can you desert your country? If you doubt my honesty, if you fear my ambition, desist from your task, rob me not of a single foe. But if you believe that I have the will and the power to serve the State - if you recognise, even in the reverses and calamities I have known and mastered, the protecting hand of the Saviour of Nations - if those reverses were but the mercies of Him who chasteneth - necessary, it may be, to correct my earlier daring and sharpen yet more my intellect - if, in a word, thou believest me one whom, whatever be his faults, God hath preserved for the sake of Rome, forget that you are a Colonna - remember only that you are a Roman!"
"You have conquered me, strange and commanding spirit," said Adrian, in a low voice, completely carried away; "and whatever the conduct of my kindred, I am yours and Rome's. Farewell."
Chapter 9.III. Adrian's Adventures at Palestrina.
It was yet noon when Adrian beheld before him the lofty mountains that shelter Palestrina, the Praeneste of the ancient world. Back to a period before Romulus existed, in the earliest ages of that mysterious civilisation which in Italy preceded the birth of Rome, could be traced the existence and the power of that rocky city. Eight dependent towns owned its sway and its wealth; its position, and the strength of those mighty walls, in whose ruins may yet be traced the masonry of the remote Pelasgi, had long braved the ambition of the neighbouring Rome. From that very citadel, the Mural Crown (Hence, apparently, its Greek name of Stephane. Palestrina is yet one of the many proofs which the vicinity of Rome affords of the old Greek civilization of Italy.) of the mountain, had waved the standard of Marius; and up the road which Adrian's scanty troop slowly wound, had echoed the march of the murtherous Sylla, on his return from the Mithridatic war. Below, where the city spread towards the plain, were yet seen the shattered and roofless columns of the once celebrated Temple of Fortune; and still the immemorial olives clustered grey and mournfully around the ruins.
A more formidable hold the Barons of Rome could not have selected; and as Adrian's military eye scanned the steep ascent and the rugged walls, he felt that with ordinary skill it might defy for months all the power of the Roman Senator. Below, in the fertile valley, dismantled cottages and trampled harvests attested the violence and rapine of the insurgent Barons; and at that very moment were seen, in the old plain of the warlike Hernici, troops of armed men, driving before them herds of sheep and cattle, collected in their lawless incursions. In sight of that Praeneste, which had been the favourite retreat of the luxurious Lords of Rome in its most polished day, the Age of Iron seemed renewed.
The banner of the Colonna, borne by Adrian's troop, obtained ready admittance at the Porta del Sole. As he passed up the irregular and narrow streets that ascended to the citadel, groups of foreign mercenaries, - half-ragged, half-tawdry knots of abandoned women, - mixed here and there with the liveries of the Colonna, stood loitering amidst the ruins of ancient fanes and palaces, or basked lazily in the sun, upon terraces, through which, from amidst weeds and grass, glowed the imperishable hues of the rich mosaics, which had made the pride of that lettered and graceful nobility, of whom savage freebooters were now the heirs.
The contrast between the Past and Present forcibly occurred to Adrian, as he passed along; and, despite his order, he felt as if Civilization itself were enlisted against his House upon the side of Rienzi.
Leaving his train in the court of the citadel, Adrian demanded admission to the presence of his cousin. He had left Stefanello a child on his departure from Rome, and there could therefore be but a slight and unfamiliar acquaintance betwixt them, despite their kindred.
Peals of laughter came upon his ear, as he followed one of Stefanello's gentlemen through a winding passage that led to the principal chamber. The door was thrown open, and Adrian found himself in a rude hall, to which some appearance of hasty state and attempted comfort had been given. Costly arras imperfectly clothed the stone walls, and the rich seats and decorated tables, which the growing civilization of the northern cities of Italy had already introduced into the palaces of Italian nobles, strangely contrasted the rough pavement, spread with heaps of armour negligently piled around. At the farther end of the apartment, Adrian shudderingly perceived, set in due and exact order, the implements of torture.
Stefanello Colonna, with two other Barons, indolently reclined on seats drawn around a table, in the recess of a deep casement, from which might be still seen the same glorious landscape, bounded by the dim spires of Rome, which Hannibal and Pyrrhus had ascended that very citadel to survey!
Stefanello himself, in the first bloom of youth, bore already on his beardless countenance those traces usually the work of the passions and vices of maturest manhood. His features were cast in the mould of the old Stephen's; in their clear, sharp, high-bred outline might be noticed that regular and graceful symmetry, which blood, in men as in animals, will sometimes entail through generations; but the features were wasted and meagre. His brows were knit in an eternal frown; his thin and bloodless lips wore that insolent contempt which seems so peculiarly cold and unlovely in early youth; and the deep and livid hollows round his eyes, spoke of habitual excess and premature exhaustion. By him sat (reconciled by hatred to one another) the hereditary foes of his race; the soft, but cunning and astute features of Luca di Savelli, contrasted with the broad frame and ferocious countenance of the Prince of the Orsini.
The young head of the Colonna rose with some cordiality to receive his cousin. "Welcome," he said, "dear Adrian; you are arrived in time to assist us with your well-known military skill. Think you not we shall stand a long siege, if the insolent plebeian dare adventure it? You know our friends, the Orsini and the Savelli? Thanks to St. Peter, or Peter's delegate, we have now happily meaner throats to cut than those of each other!"
Thus saying, Stefanello again threw himself listlessly on his seat, and the shrill, woman's voice of Savelli took part in the dialogue.
"I would, noble Signor, that you had come a few hours earlier: we are still making merry at the recollection - he, he, he!"
"Ah, excellent," cried Stefanello, joining in the laugh; "our cousin has had a loss. Know Adrian, that this base fellow, whom the Pope has had the impudence to create Senator, dared but yesterday to send us a varlet, whom he called - by our Lady! - his ambassador!"
"Would you could have seen his mantle, Signor Adrian!" chimed in the Savelli: "purple velvet, as I live, decorated in gold, with the arms of Rome: we soon spoiled his finery."
"What!" exclaimed Adrian, "you did not break the laws of all nobility and knighthood? - you offered no insult to a herald!"
"Herald, sayst thou?" cried Stefanello, frowning till his eyes were scarce visible. "It is for Princes and Barons alone to employ heralds. An' I had had my will, I would have sent back the minion's head to the usurper."
"What did ye then?" asked Adrian, coldly.
"Bade our swineherds dip the fellow in the ditch, and gave him a night's lodging in a dungeon to dry himself withal."
"And this morning - he, he, he!" added the Savelli, "we had him before us, and drew his teeth, one by one; - I would you could have heard the fellow mumble out for mercy!"
Adrian rose hastily, and struck the table fiercely with his gauntlet.
"Stefanello Colonna," said he, colouring with noble rage, "answer me: did you dare to inflict this indelible disgrace upon the name we jointly bear? Tell me, at least, that you protested against this foul treason to all the laws of civilization and of honour. You answer not. House of the Colonna, can such be thy representative!"
"To me these words!" said Stefanello, trembling with passion. "Beware! Methinks thou art the traitor, leagued perhaps with yon rascal mob. Well do I remember that thou, the betrothed of the Demagogue's sister, didst not join with my uncle and my father of old, but didst basely leave the city to her plebeian tyrant."
"That did he!" said the fierce Orsini, approaching Adrian menacingly, while the gentle cowardice of Savelli sought in vain to pluck him back by the mantle - "that did he! and but for thy presence, Stefanello - "
"Coward and blusterer!" interrupted Adrian, fairly beside himself with indignation and shame, and dashing his gauntlet in the very face of the advancing Orsini - "wouldst thou threaten one who has maintained, in every list of Europe, and against the stoutest Chivalry of the North, the honour of Rome, which thy deeds the while disgraced? By this gage, I spit upon and defy thee. With lance and with brand, on horse and on foot, I maintain against thee and all thy line, that thou art no knight to have thus maltreated, in thy strongholds, a peaceful and unarmed herald. Yes, even here, on the spot of thy disgrace, I challenge thee to arms!"
"To the court below! Follow me," said Orsini, sullenly, and striding towards the threshold. "What, ho there! my helmet and breast-plate!"
"Stay, noble Orsini," said Stefanello. "The insult offered to thee is my quarrel - mine was the deed - and against me speaks this degenerate scion of our line. Adrian di Castello - sometime called Colonna - surrender your sword: you are my prisoner!"
"Oh!" said Adrian, grinding his teeth, "that my ancestral blood did not flow through thy veins - else - but enough! Me! your equal, and the favoured Knight of the Emperor, whose advent now brightens the frontiers of Italy! - me - you dare not detain. For your friends, I shall meet them yet perhaps, ere many days are over, where none shall separate our swords. Till then, remember, Orsini, that it is against no unpractised arm that thou wilt have to redeem thine honour!"
Adrian, his drawn sword in his hand, strode towards the door, and passed the Orsini, who stood, lowering and irresolute, in the centre of the apartment.
Savelli whispered Stefanello. "He says, 'Ere many days be past!' Be sure, dear Signor, that he goes to join Rienzi. Remember, the alliance he once sought with the Tribune's sister may be renewed. Beware of him! Ought he to leave the castle? The name of a Colonna, associated with the mob, would distract and divide half our strength."
"Fear me not," returned Stefanello, with a malignant smile. "Ere you spoke, I had determined!"
The young Colonna lifted the arras from the wall, opened a door, and passed into a low hall, in which sate twenty mercenaries.
"Quick!" said he. "Seize and disarm yon stranger in the green mantle - but slay him not. Bid the guard below find dungeons for his train. Quick! ere he reach the gate."
Adrian had gained the open hall below - his train and his steed were in sight in the court - when suddenly the soldiery of the Colonna, rushing through another passage than that which he had passed, surrounded and intercepted his retreat.
"Yield thee, Adrian di Castello," cried Stefanello from the summit of the stairs; "or your blood be on your own head."
Three steps did Adrian make through the press, and three of his enemies fell beneath his sword. "To the rescue!" he shouted to his band, and already those bold and daring troopers had gained the hall. Presently the alarum bell tolled loud - the court swarmed with soldiers. Oppressed by numbers, beat down rather than subdued, Adrian's little train was soon secured, and the flower of the Colonna, wounded, breathless, disarmed, but still uttering loud defiance, was a prisoner in the fortress of his kinsman.
Chapter 9.IV. The Position of the Senator. - The Work of Years. - The Rewards of Ambition.
The indignation of Rienzi may readily be conceived, on the return of his herald mutilated and dishonoured. His temper, so naturally stern, was rendered yet more hard by the remembrance of his wrongs and trials; and the result which attended his overtures of conciliation to Stefanello Colonna stung him to the soul.
The bell of the Capitol tolled to arms within ten minutes after the return of the herald. The great gonfalon of Rome was unfurled on the highest tower; and the very evening after Adrian's arrest, the forces of the Senator, headed by Rienzi in person, were on the road to Palestrina. The troopers of the Barons had, however, made incursions as far as Tivoli with the supposed connivance of the inhabitants, and Rienzi halted at that beautiful spot to raise recruits, and receive the allegiance of the suspected, while his soldiers, with Arimbaldo and Brettone at their head, went in search of the marauders. The brothers of Montreal returned late at night with the intelligence, that the troopers of the Barons had secured themselves amidst the recesses of the wood of Pantano.
The red spot mounted to Rienzi's brow. He gazed hard at Brettone, who stated the news to him, and a natural suspicion shot across his mind.
"How! - escaped!" he said. "Is it possible? Enough of such idle skirmishes with these lordly robbers. Will the hour ever come when I shall meet them hand to hand? Brettone," and the brother of Montreal felt the dark eye of Rienzi pierce to his very heart; "Brettone!" said he, with an abrupt change of voice, "are your men to be trusted? Is there no connivance with the Barons?"
"How!" said Brettone, sullenly, but somewhat confused.
"How me no hows!" quoth the Tribune-Senator, fiercely. "I know that thou art a valiant Captain of valiant men. Thou and thy brother Arimbaldo have served me well, and I have rewarded ye well! Have I not? Speak!"
"Senator," answered Arimbaldo, taking up the word, "you have kept your word to us. You have raised us to the highest rank your power could bestow, and this has amply atoned our humble services."
"I am glad ye allow thus much," said the Tribune.
Arimbaldo proceeded, somewhat more loftily, "I trust, my Lord, you do not doubt us?"
"Arimbaldo," replied Rienzi, in a voice of deep, but half-suppressed emotion; "you are a lettered man, and you have seemed to share my projects for the regeneration of our common kind. You ought not to betray me. There is something in unison between us. But, chide me not, I am surrounded by treason, and the very air I breathe seems poison to my lips."
There was a pathos mingled with Rienzi's words which touched the milder brother of Montreal. He bowed in silence. Rienzi surveyed him wistfully, and sighed. Then, changing the conversation, he spoke of their intended siege of Palestrina, and shortly afterwards retired to rest.
Left alone, the brothers regarded each other for some moments in silence. "Brettone," said Arimbaldo at length, in a whispered voice, "my heart misgives me. I like not Walter's ambitious schemes. With our own countrymen we are frank and loyal, why play the traitor with this high- souled Roman?" (The anonymous biographer of Rienzi makes the following just remark: "Sono li tedeschi, come discendon de la Alemagna, semplici, puri, senza fraude, come si allocano tra' taliani, diventano mastri coduti, viziosi, che sentono ogni malizia." - "Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. ii. cap. 16.)
"Tush!" said Brettone. "Our brother's hand of iron alone can sway this turbulent people; and if Rienzi be betrayed, so also are his enemies, the Barons. No more of this! I have tidings from Montreal; he will be in Rome in a few days."
"Rienzi, weakened by the Barons (for he must not conquer) - the Barons, weakened by Rienzi - our Northmen seize the Capitol, and the soldiery, now scattered throughout Italy, will fly to the standard of the Great Captain. Montreal must be first Podesta, then King, of Rome."
Arimbaldo moved restlessly in his seat, and the brethren conferred no more on their projects.
The situation of Rienzi was precisely that which tends the most to sour and to harden the fairest nature. With an intellect capable of the grandest designs, a heart that beat with the loftiest emotions, elevated to the sunny pinnacle of power and surrounded by loud-tongued adulators, he knew not among men a single breast in which he could confide. He was as one on a steep ascent, whose footing crumbles, while every bough at which he grasps seems to rot at his touch. He found the people more than ever eloquent in his favour, but while they shouted raptures as he passed, not a man was capable of making a sacrifice for him! The liberty of a state is never achieved by a single individual; if not the people - if not the greater number - a zealous and fervent minority, at least must go hand in hand with him. Rome demanded sacrifices in all who sought the Roman regeneration - sacrifices of time, ease, and money. The crowd followed the procession of the Senator, but not a single Roman devoted his life, unpaid, to his standard; not a single coin was subscribed in the defence of freedom. Against him were arrayed the most powerful and the most ferocious Barons of Italy; each of whom could maintain, at his own cost, a little army of practised warriors. With Rienzi were traders and artificers, who were willing to enjoy the fruits of liberty, but not to labour at the soil; who demanded, in return for empty shouts, peace and riches; and who expected that one man was to effect in a day what would be cheaply purchased by the struggle of a generation. All their dark and rude notion of a reformed state was to live unbutchered by the Barons and untaxed by their governors. Rome, I say, gave to her Senator not a free arm, nor a voluntary florin. (This plain fact is thoroughly borne out by every authority.) Well aware of the danger which surrounds the ruler who defends his state by foreign swords, the fondest wish, and the most visionary dream of Rienzi, was to revive amongst the Romans, in their first enthusiasm at his return, an organised and voluntary force, who, in protecting him, would protect themselves: - not, as before, in his first power, a nominal force of twenty thousand men, who at any hour might yield (as they did yield) to one hundred and fifty; but a regular, well disciplined, and trusty body, numerous enough to resist aggression, not numerous enough to become themselves the aggressors.
Hitherto all his private endeavours, his public exhortations, had failed; the crowd listened - shouted - saw him quit the city to meet their tyrants, and returned to their shops, saying to each other, "What a great man!"
The character of Rienzi has chiefly received for its judges men of the closet, who speculate upon human beings as if they were machines; who gauge the great, not by their merit, but their success; and who have censured or sneered at the Tribune, where they should have condemned the People! Had but one-half the spirit been found in Rome which ran through a single vein of Cola di Rienzi, the august Republic, if not the majestic empire, of Rome, might be existing now! Turning from the people, the Senator saw his rude and savage troops, accustomed to the licence of a tyrant's camp, and under commanders in whom it was ruin really to confide - whom it was equal ruin openly to distrust. Hemmed in on every side by dangers, his character daily grew more restless, vigilant, and stern; and still, with all the aims of the patriot, he felt all the curses of the tyrant. Without the rough and hardening career which, through a life of warfare, had brought Cromwell to a similar power - with more of grace and intellectual softness in his composition, he resembled that yet greater man in some points of character
The elasticity of youth had left the Tribune! His frame, which had endured so many shocks, had contracted a painful disease in the dungeon at Avignon ("Dicea che ne la prigione era stato ascarmato." "Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. ii. cap. 18.) - his high soul still supported him, but the nerves gave way. Tears came readily into his eyes, and often, like Cromwell, he was thought to weep from hypocrisy, when in truth it was the hysteric of over- wrought and irritable emotion. In all his former life singularly temperate, ("Solea prima esser sobrio, temperato, astinente, or a e diventato distemperatissimo bevitore," &c. - Ibid.) he now fled from his goading thoughts to the beguiling excitement of wine. He drank deep, though its effects were never visible upon him except in a freer and wilder mood, and the indulgence of that racy humour, half-mirthful, half-bitter, for which his younger day had been distinguished. Now the mirth had more loudness, but the bitterness more gall.
Such were the characteristics of Rienzi at his return to power - made more apparent with every day. Nina he still loved with the same tenderness, and, if possible, she adored him more than ever: but, the zest and freshness of triumphant ambition gone, somehow or other, their intercourse together had not its old charm. Formerly they talked constantly of the future - of the bright days in store for them. Now, with a sharp and uneasy pang, Rienzi turned from all thought of that "gay tomorrow." There was no "gay tomorrow" for him! Dark and thorny as was the present hour, all beyond seemed yet less cheering and more ominous. Still he had some moments, brief but brilliant, when, forgetting the iron race amongst whom he was thrown, he plunged into scholastic reveries of the worshipped Past, and half-fancied that he was of a People worthy of his genius and his devotion. Like most men who have been preserved through great dangers, he continued with increasing fondness to nourish a credulous belief in the grandeur of his own destiny. He could not imagine that he had been so delivered, and for no end! He was the Elected, and therefore the Instrument, of Heaven. And thus, that Bible which in his loneliness, his wanderings, and his prison, had been his solace and support, was more than ever needed in his greatness.
It was another cause of sorrow and chagrin to one who, amidst such circumstances of public danger, required so peculiarly the support and sympathy of private friends, - that he found he had incurred amongst his old coadjutors the common penalty of absence. A few were dead; others, wearied with the storms of public life, and chilled in their ardour by the turbulent revolutions to which, in every effort for her amelioration, Rome had been subjected, had retired, - some altogether from the city, some from all participation in political affairs. In his halls, the Tribune-Senator was surrounded by unfamiliar faces, and a new generation. Of the heads of the popular party, most were animated by a stern dislike to the Pontifical domination, and looked with suspicion and repugnance upon one who, if he governed for the People, had been trusted and honoured by the Pope. Rienzi was not a man to forget former friends, however lowly, and had already found time to seek an interview with Cecco del Vecchio. But that stern Republican had received him with coldness. His foreign mercenaries, and his title of Senator, were things that the artisan could not digest. With his usual bluntness, he had said so to Rienzi.
"As for the last," answered the Tribune, affably, "names do not alter natures. When I forget that to be delegate to the Pontiff is to be the guardian of his flock, forsake me. As for the first, let me but see five hundred Romans sworn to stand armed day and night for the defence of Rome, and I dismiss the Northmen."
Cecco del Vecchio was unsoftened; honest, but uneducated - impracticable, and by nature a malcontent, he felt as if he were no longer necessary to the Senator, and this offended his pride. Strange as it may seem, the sullen artisan bore, too, a secret grudge against Rienzi, for not having seen and selected him from a crowd of thousands on the day of his triumphal entry. Such are the small offences which produce deep danger to the great!
The artisans still held their meetings, and Cecco del Vecchio's voice was heard loud in grumbling forebodings. But what wounded Rienzi yet more than the alienation of the rest, was the confused and altered manner of his old friend and familiar, Pandulfo di Guido. Missing that popular citizen among those who daily offered their homage at the Capitol, he had sent for him, and sought in vain to revive their ancient intimacy. Pandulfo affected great respect, but not all the condescension of the Senator could conquer his distance and his restraint. In fact, Pandulfo had learned to form ambitious projects of his own; and but for the return of Rienzi, Pandulfo di Guido felt that he might now, with greater safety, and indeed with some connivance from the Barons, have been the Tribune of the People. The facility to rise into popular eminence which a disordered and corrupt state, unblest by a regular constitution, offers to ambition, breeds the jealousy and the rivalship which destroy union, and rot away the ties of party.
Such was the situation of Rienzi, and yet, wonderful to say, he seemed to be adored by the multitude; and law and liberty, life and death, were in his hands!
Of all those who attended his person, Angelo Villani was the most favoured; that youth who had accompanied Rienzi in his long exile, had also, at the wish of Nina, attended him from Avignon, through his sojourn in the camp of Albornoz. His zeal, intelligence, and frank and evident affection, blinded the Senator to the faults of his character, and established him more and more in the gratitude of Rienzi. He loved to feel that one faithful heart beat near him, and the page, raised to the rank of his chamberlain, always attended his person, and slept in his ante-chamber.
Retiring that night at Tivoli, to the apartment prepared for him, the Senator sat down by the open casement, through which were seen, waving in the starlight, the dark pines that crowned the hills, while the stillness of the hour gave to his ear the dash of the waterfalls heard above the regular and measured tread of the sentinels below. Leaning his cheek upon his hand, Rienzi long surrendered himself to gloomy thought, and, when he looked up, he saw the bright blue eye of Villani fixed in anxious sympathy on his countenance.
"Is my Lord unwell?" asked the young chamberlain, hesitating.
"Not so, my Angelo; but somewhat sick at heart. Methinks, for a September night, the air is chill!"
"Angelo," resumed Rienzi, who had already acquired that uneasy curiosity which belongs to an uncertain power, - "Angelo, bring me hither yon writing implements; hast thou heard aught what the men say of our probable success against Palestrina?"
"Would my Lord wish to learn all their gossip, whether it please or not?" answered Villani.
"If I studied only to hear what pleased me, Angelo, I should never have returned to Rome."
"Why, then, I heard a constable of the Northmen say, meaningly, that the place will not be carried."
"Humph! And what said the captains of my Roman Legion?"
"My Lord, I have heard it whispered that they fear defeat less than they do the revenge of the Barons, if they are successful."
"And with such tools the living race of Europe and misjudging posterity will deem that the workman is to shape out the Ideal and the Perfect! Bring me yon Bible."
As Angelo reverently brought to Rienzi the sacred book, he said,
"Just before I left my companions below, there was a rumour that the Lord Adrian Colonna had been imprisoned by his kinsman."
"I too heard, and I believe, as much," returned Rienzi: "these Barons would gibbet their own children in irons, if there were any chance of the shackles growing rusty for want of prey. But the wicked shall be brought low, and their strong places shall be made desolate."
"I would, my Lord," said Villani, "that our Northmen had other captains than these Provencals."
"Why?" asked Rienzi, abruptly.
"Have the creatures of the Captain of the Grand Company ever held faith with any man whom it suited the avarice or the ambition of Montreal to betray? Was he not, a few months ago, the right arm of John di Vico, and did he not sell his services to John di Vico's enemy, the Cardinal Albornoz? These warriors barter men as cattle."
"Thou describest Montreal rightly: a dangerous and an awful man. But methinks his brothers are of a duller and meaner kind; they dare not the crimes of the Robber Captain. Howbeit, Angelo, thou hast touched a string that will make discord with sleep tonight. Fair youth, thy young eyes have need of slumber; withdraw, and when thou hearest men envy Rienzi, think that - "
"God never made Genius to be envied!" interrupted Villani, with an energy that overcame his respect. "We envy not the sun, but rather the valleys that ripen beneath his beams."
"Verily, if I be the sun," said Rienzi, with a bitter and melancholy smile, "I long for night, - and come it will, to the human as to the celestial Pilgrim! - Thank Heaven, at least, that our ambition cannot make us immortal!"
Chapter 9.V. The Biter Bit.
The next morning, when Rienzi descended to the room where his captains awaited him, his quick eye perceived that a cloud still lowered upon the brow of Messere Brettone. Arimbaldo, sheltered by the recess of the rude casement, shunned his eye.
"A fair morning, gentles," said Rienzi; "the Sun laughs upon our enterprise. I have messengers from Rome betimes - fresh troops will join us ere noon."
"I am glad, Senator," answered Brettone, "that you have tidings which will counteract the ill of those I have to narrate to thee. The soldiers murmur loudly - their pay is due to them; and, I fear me, that without money they will not march to Palestrina."
"As they will," returned Rienzi, carelessly. "It is but a few days since they entered Rome; pay did they receive in advance - if they demand more, the Colonna and Orsini may outbid me. Draw off your soldiers, Sir Knight, and farewell."
Brettone's countenance fell - it was his object to get Rienzi more and more in his power, and he wished not to suffer him to gain that strength which would accrue to him from the fall of Palestrina: the indifference of the Senator foiled and entrapped him in his own net.
"That must not be," said the brother of Montreal, after a confused silence; "we cannot leave you thus to your enemies - the soldiers, it is true, demand pay - "
"And should have it," said Rienzi. "I know these mercenaries - it is ever with them, mutiny or money. I will throw myself on my Romans, and triumph
Scarce were these words spoken, ere, as previously concerted with Brettone, the chief constable of the mercenaries appeared at the door. "Senator," said he, with a rough semblance of aspect, "your orders to march have reached me, I have sought to marshal my men - but - "
"I know what thou wouldst say, friend," interrupted Rienzi, waving his hand: "Messere Brettone will give you my reply. Another time, Sir Captain, more ceremony with the Senator of Rome - you may withdraw."
The unforeseen dignity of Rienzi rebuked and abashed the constable; he looked at Brettone, who motioned him to depart. He closed the door and withdrew.
"What is to be done?" said Brettone.
"Sir Knight," replied Rienzi, gravely, "let us understand each other. Would you serve me or not? If the first, you are not my equal, but subordinate - and you must obey and not dictate; if the last, my debt to you shall be discharged, and the world is wide enough for both."
"We have declared allegiance to you," answered Brettone, "and it shall be given."
"One caution before I re-accept your fealty," replied Rienzi, very slowly. "For an open foe, I have my sword - for a traitor, mark me, Rome has the axe; of the first I have no fear; for the last, no mercy."
"These are not words that should pass between friends," said Brettone, turning pale with suppressed emotion.
"Friends! - ye are my friends, then! - your hands! Friends, so ye are! - and shall prove it! Dear Arimbaldo, thou, like myself, art book-learned, - a clerkly soldier. Dost thou remember how in the Roman history it is told that the Treasury lacked money for the soldiers? The Consul convened the Nobles. 'Ye,' said he, 'that have the offices and dignity should be the first to pay for them.' Ye heed me, my friends; the nobles took the hint, they found the money - the army was paid. This example is not lost on you. I have made you the leaders of my force, Rome hath showered her honours on you. Your generosity shall commence the example which the Romans shall thus learn of strangers. Ye gaze at me, my friends! I read your noble souls - and thank ye beforehand. Ye have the dignity and the office; ye have also the wealth! - pay the hirelings, pay them!" (See the anonymous biographer, lib. ii. cap. 19.)
Had a thunderbolt fallen at the feet of Brettone, he could not have been more astounded than at this simple suggestion of Rienzi's. He lifted his eyes to the Senator's face, and saw there that smile which he had already, bold as he was, learned to dread. He felt himself fairly sunk in the pit he had digged for another. There was that in the Senator-Tribune's brow that told him to refuse was to declare open war, and the moment was not ripe for that.
"Ye accede," said Rienzi; "ye have done well."
The Senator clapped his hands - his guard appeared.
"Summon the head constables of the soldiery."
The brothers still remained dumb.
The constables entered.
"My friends," said Rienzi, "Messere Brettone and Messere Arimbaldo have my directions to divide amongst your force a thousand florins. This evening we encamp beneath Palestrina."
The constables withdrew in visible surprise. Rienzi gazed a moment on the brothers, chuckling within himself - for his sarcastic humour enjoyed his triumph. "You lament not your devotion, my friends!"
"No," said Brettone, rousing himself; "the sum but trivially swells our debt."
"Frankly said - your hands once more! - the good people of Tivoli expect me in the Piazza - they require some admonitions. Adieu till noon."
When the door closed on Rienzi, Brettone struck the handle of his sword fiercely - "The Roman laughs at us," said he. "But let Walter de Montreal once appear in Rome, and the proud jester shall pay us dearly for this."
"Hush!" said Arimbaldo, "walls have ears, and that imp of Satan, young Villani, seems to me ever at our heels!"
"A thousand florins! I trust his heart hath as many drops," growled the chafed Brettone, unheeding his brother.
The soldiers were paid - the army marched - the eloquence of the Senator had augmented his force by volunteers from Tivoli, and wild and half armed peasantry joined his standard from the Campagna and the neighbouring mountains.
Palestrina was besieged: Rienzi continued dexterously to watch the brothers of Montreal. Under pretext of imparting to the Italian volunteers the advantage of their military science, he separated them from their mercenaries, and assigned to them the command of the less disciplined Italians, with whom, he believed, they could not venture to tamper. He himself assumed the lead of the Northmen - and, despite themselves, they were fascinated by his artful, yet dignified affability, and the personal courage he displayed in some sallies of the besieged Barons. But as the huntsmen upon all the subtlest windings of their prey, - so pressed the relentless and speeding Fates upon Cola di Rienzi!
Chapter 9.VI. The Events Gather to the End.
While this the state of the camp of the besiegers, Luca di Savelli and Stefanello Colonna were closeted with a stranger, who had privately entered Palestrina on the night before the Romans pitched their tents beneath its walls. This visitor, who might have somewhat passed his fortieth year, yet retained, scarcely diminished, the uncommon beauty of form and countenance for which his youth had been remarkable. But it was no longer that character of beauty which has been described in his first introduction to the reader. It was no longer the almost woman delicacy of feature and complexion, or the highborn polish, and graceful suavity of manner, which distinguished Walter de Montreal: a life of vicissitude and war had at length done its work. His bearing was now abrupt and imperious, as that of one accustomed to rule wild spirits, and he had exchanged the grace of persuasion for the sternness of command. His athletic form had grown more spare and sinewy, and instead of the brow half shaded by fair and clustering curls, his forehead, though yet but slightly wrinkled, was completely bald at the temples; and by its unwonted height, increased the dignity and manliness of his aspect. The bloom of his complexion was faded, less by outward exposure than inward thought, into a bronzed and settled paleness; and his features seemed more marked and prominent, as the flesh had somewhat sunk from the contour of the cheek. Yet the change suited the change of age and circumstance; and if the Provencal now less realised the idea of the brave and fair knight-errant, he but looked the more what the knight-errant had become - the sagacious counsellor and the mighty leader.
"You must be aware," said Montreal, continuing a discourse which appeared to have made great impression on his companions, "that in this contest between yourselves and the Senator, I alone hold the balance. Rienzi is utterly in my power - my brothers, the leaders of his army; myself, his creditor. It rests with me to secure him on the throne, or to send him to the scaffold. I have but to give the order, and the Grand Company enter Rome; but without their agency, methinks if you keep faith with me, our purpose can be effected."
"In the meanwhile, Palestrina is besieged by your brothers!" said Stefanello, sharply.
"But they have my orders to waste their time before its walls. Do you not see, that by this very siege, fruitless, as, if I will, it shall be, Rienzi loses fame abroad, and popularity in Rome."
"Sir Knight," said Luca di Savelli, "you speak as a man versed in the profound policy of the times; and under all the circumstances which menace us, your proposal seems but fitting and reasonable. On the one hand, you undertake to restore us and the other Barons to Rome; and to give Rienzi to the Staircase of the Lion - "
"Not so, not so," replied Montreal, quickly. "I will consent either so to subdue and cripple his power, as to render him a puppet in our hands, a mere shadow of authority - or, if his proud spirit chafe at its cage, to give it once more liberty amongst the wilds of Germany. I would fetter or banish him, but not destroy; unless (added Montreal, after a moment's pause) fate absolutely drives us to it. Power should not demand victims; but to secure it, victims may be necessary."
"I understand your refinements," said Luca di Savelli, with his icy smile, "and am satisfied. The Barons once restored, our palaces once more manned, and I am willing to take the chance of the Senator's longevity. This service you promise to effect?"
"And, in return, you demand our assent to your enjoying the rank of Podesta for five years?"
"You say right."
"I, for one, accede to the terms," said the Savelli: "there is my hand; I am wearied of these brawls, even amongst ourselves, and think that a Foreign Ruler may best enforce order: the more especially, if like you, Sir Knight, one whose birth and renown are such as to make him comprehend the difference between Barons and Plebeians."
"For my part," said Stefanello, "I feel that we have but a choice of evils
"Noble Signors," said Montreal, after a short pause, and turning his piercing gaze from one to the other with great deliberation, "our compact is sealed; one word by way of codicil. Walter de Montreal is no Count Pepin of Minorbino! Once before, little dreaming, I own, that the victory would be so facile, I intrusted your cause and mine to a deputy; your cause he promoted, mine he lost. He drove out the Tribune, and then suffered the Barons to banish himself. This time I see to my own affairs; and, mark you, I have learned in the Grand Company one lesson; viz. never to pardon spy or deserter, of whatever rank. Your forgiveness for the hint. Let us change the theme. So ye detain in your fortress my old friend the Baron di Castello?"
"Ay," said Luca di Savelli; for Stefanello, stung by Montreal's threat, which he dared not openly resent, preserved a sullen silence; "Ay, he is one noble the less to the Senator's council."
"You act wisely. I know his views and temper; at present dangerous to our interests. Yet use him well, I entreat you; he may hereafter serve us. And now, my Lords, my eyes are weary, suffer me to retire. Pleasant dreams of the New Revolution to us all!"
"By your leave, noble Montreal, we will attend you to your couch," said Luca di Savelli.
"By my troth, and ye shall not. I am no Tribune to have great Signors for my pages; but a plain gentleman, and a hardy soldier: your attendants will conduct me to whatever chamber your hospitality assigns to one who could sleep soundly beneath the rudest hedge under your open skies."
Savelli, however, insisted on conducting the Podesta that was to be, to his apartment. He then returned to Stefanello, whom he found pacing the saloon with long and disordered strides.
"What have we done, Savelli?" said he, quickly; "sold our city to a barbarian!"
"Sold!" said Savelli; "to my mind it is the other part of the contract in which we have played our share. We have bought, Colonna, not sold - bought our lives from yon army; bought our power, our fortunes, our castles, from the Demagogue Senator; bought, what is better than all, triumph and revenge. Tush, Colonna, see you not that if we had balked this great warrior, we had perished? Leagued with the Senator, the Grand Company would have marched to Rome; and, whether Montreal assisted or murdered Rienzi, (for methinks he is a Romulus, who would brook no Remus), we had equally been undone. Now, we have made our own terms, and our shares are equal. Nay, the first steps to be taken are in our favour. Rienzi is to be snared, and we are to enter Rome."
"And then the Provencal is to be Despot of the city."
"Podesta, if you please. Podestas who offend the people are often banished, and sometimes stoned - Podestas who insult the nobles are often stilettoed, and sometimes poisoned," said Savelli. "'Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.' Meanwhile, say nothing to the bear, Orsini. Such men mar all wisdom. Come, cheer thee, Stefanello."
"Luca di Savelli, you have not such a stake in Rome as I have," said the young Lord, haughtily; "no Podesta can take from you the rank of the first Signor of the Italian metropolis!"
"An you had said so to the Orsini, there would have been drawing of swords," said Savelli. "But cheer thee, I say; is not our first care to destroy Rienzi, and then, between the death of one foe and the rise of another, are there not such preventives as Ezzelino da Romano has taught to wary men? Cheer thee, I say; and, next year, if we but hold together, Stefanello Colonna and Luca di Savelli will be joint Senators of Rome, and these great men food for worms!"
While thus conferred the Barons, Montreal, ere he retired to rest, stood gazing from the open lattice of his chamber over the landscape below, which slept in the autumnal moonlight, while at a distance gleamed, pale and steady, the lights round the encampment of the besiegers.
"Wide plains and broad valleys," thought the warrior, "soon shall ye repose in peace beneath a new sway, against which no petty tyrant shall dare rebel. And ye, white walls of canvass, even while I gaze - ye admonish me how realms are won. Even as, of old, from the Nomad tents was built up the stately Babylon, (Isaiah, c. xxii.) that 'was not till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness;' so by the new Ishmaelites of Europe shall a race, undreamt of now, be founded; and the camp of yesterday, be the city of tomorrow. Verily, when, for one soft offence, the Pontiff thrust me from the bosom of the Church, little guessed he what enemy he raised to Rome! How solemn is the night! - how still the heavens and earth! - the very stars are as hushed, as if intent on the events that are to pass below! So solemn and so still feels mine own spirit, and an awe unknown till now warns me that I approach the crisis of my daring fate!"
BOOK X. THE LION Of BASALT.
"Ora voglio contare la morte del Tribuno." - "Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib.
"Now will I narrate the death of the Tribune." - "Life of Cola di Rienzi".
Chapter 10.I. The Conjunction of Hostile Planets in the House of Death.
On the fourth day of the siege, and after beating back to those almost impregnable walls the soldiery of the Barons, headed by the Prince of the Orsini, the Senator returned to his tent, where despatches from Rome awaited him. He ran his eye hastily over them, till he came to the last; yet each contained news that might have longer delayed the eye of a man less inured to danger. From one he learned that Albornoz, whose blessing had confirmed to him the rank of Senator, had received with special favour the messengers of the Orsini and Colonna. He knew that the Cardinal, whose views connected him with the Roman Patricians, desired his downfall; but he feared not Albornoz: perhaps in his secret heart he wished that any open aggression from the Pontiff's Legate might throw him wholly on the people.
He learned further, that, short as had been his absence, Pandulfo di Guido had twice addressed the populace, not in favour of the Senator, but in artful regrets of the loss to the trade of Rome in the absence of her wealthiest nobles.
"For this, then, he has deserted me," said Rienzi to himself. "Let him beware!"
The tidings contained in the next touched him home: Walter de Montreal had openly arrived in Rome. The grasping and lawless bandit, whose rapine filled with a robber's booty every bank in Europe - whose Company was the army of a King - whose ambition, vast, unprincipled, and profound, he so well knew - whose brothers were in his camp - their treason already more than suspected; - Walter de Montreal was in Rome!
The Senator remained perfectly aghast at this new peril; and then said, setting his teeth as in a vice,
"Wild tiger, thou art in the Lion's den!" Then pausing, he broke out again, "One false step, Walter de Montreal, and all the mailed hands of the Grand Company shall not pluck thee from the abyss! But what can I do? Return to Rome - the plans of Montreal unpenetrated - no accusation against him! On what pretence can I with honour raise the siege? To leave Palestrina, is to give a triumph to the Barons - to abandon Adrian, to degrade my cause. Yet, while away from Rome, every hour breeds treason and danger. Pandulfo, Albornoz, Montreal - all are at work against me. A keen and trusty spy, now; - ha, well thought of - Villani! - What, ho - Angelo Villani!"
The young chamberlain appeared.
"I think," said Rienzi, "to have often heard, that thou art an orphan?"
"True, my Lord; the old Augustine nun who reared my boyhood, has told me again and again that my parents are dead. Both noble, my Lord; but I am the child of shame. And I say it often, and think of it ever, in order to make Angelo Villani remember that he has a name to win."
"Young man, serve me as you have served, and if I live you shall have no need to call yourself an orphan. Mark me! I want a friend - the Senator of Rome wants a friend - only one friend - gentle Heaven! only one!"
Angelo sank on his knee, and kissed the mantle of his Lord.
"Say a follower. I am too mean to be Rienzi's friend."
"Too mean! - go to! - there is nothing mean before God, unless it be a base soul under high titles. With me, boy, there is but one nobility, and Nature signs its charter. Listen: thou hearest daily of Walter de Montreal, brother to these Provencals - great captain of great robbers?"
"Ay, and I have seen him, my Lord."
"Well, then, he is in Rome. Some daring thought - some well-supported and deep-schemed villany, could alone make that bandit venture openly into an Italian city, whose territories he ravaged by fire and sword a few months back. But his brothers have lent me money - assisted my return; - for their own ends, it is true: but the seeming obligation gives them real power. These Northern swordsmen would cut my throat if the Great Captain bade them. He counts on my supposed weakness. I know him of old. I suspect - nay I read, his projects; but I cannot prove them. Without proof, I cannot desert Palestrina in order to accuse and seize him. Thou art shrewd, thoughtful, acute; - couldst thou go to Rome? - watch day and night his movements - see if he receive messengers from Albornoz or the Barons - if he confer with Pandulfo di Guido; - watch his lodgment, I say, night and day. He affects no concealment; your task will be less difficult than it seems. Apprise the Signora of all you learn. Give me your news daily. Will you undertake this mission?"
"I will, my Lord."
"To horse, then, quick! - and mind - save the wife of my bosom, I have no confidant in Rome."
Chapter 10.II. Montreal at Rome. - His Reception of Angelo Villani.
The danger that threatened Rienzi by the arrival of Montreal was indeed formidable. The Knight of St. John, having marched his army into Lombardy, had placed it at the disposal of the Venetian State in its war with the Archbishop of Milan. For this service he received an immense sum; while he provided winter quarters for his troop, for whom he proposed ample work in the ensuing spring. Leaving Palestrina secretly and in disguise, with but a slender train, which met him at Tivoli, Montreal repaired to Rome. His ostensible object was, partly to congratulate the Senator on his return, partly to receive the monies lent to Rienzi by his brother.
His secret object we have partly seen; but not contented with the support of the Barons, he trusted, by the corrupting means of his enormous wealth, to form a third party in support of his own ulterior designs. Wealth, indeed, in that age and in that land, was scarcely less the purchaser of diadems than it had been in the later days of the Roman Empire. And in many a city torn by hereditary feuds, the hatred of faction rose to that extent, that a foreign tyrant, willing and able to expel one party, might obtain at least the temporary submission of the other. His after-success was greatly in proportion to his power to maintain his state by a force which was independent of the citizens, and by a treasury which did not require the odious recruit of taxes. But more avaricious than ambitious, more cruel than firm, it was by griping exaction, or unnecessary bloodshed, that such usurpers usually fell.
Montreal, who had scanned the frequent revolutions of the time with a calm and investigating eye, trusted that he should be enabled to avoid both these errors: and, as the reader has already seen, he had formed the profound and sagacious project of consolidating his usurpation by an utterly new race of nobles, who, serving him by the feudal tenure of the North, and ever ready to protect him, because in so doing they protected their own interests, should assist to erect, not the rotten and unsupported fabric of a single tyranny, but the strong fortress of a new, hardy, and compact Aristocratic State. Thus had the great dynasties of the North been founded; in which a King, though seemingly curbed by the Barons, was in reality supported by a common interest, whether against a subdued population or a foreign invasion.
Such were the vast schemes - extending into yet wider fields of glory and conquest, bounded only by the Alps - with which the Captain of the Grand Company beheld the columns and arches of the Seven-hilled City.
No fear disturbed the long current of his thoughts. His brothers were the leaders of Rienzi's hireling army - that army were his creatures. Over Rienzi himself he assumed the right of a creditor. Thus against one party he deemed himself secure. For the friends of the Pope, he had supported himself with private, though cautious, letters from Albornoz, who desired only to make use of him for the return of the Roman Barons; and with the heads of the latter we have already witnessed his negotiations. Thus was he fitted, as he thought, to examine, to tamper with all parties, and to select from each the materials necessary for his own objects.
The open appearance of Montreal excited in Rome no inconsiderable sensation. The friends of the Barons gave out that Rienzi was in league with the Grand Company; and that he was to sell the imperial city to the plunder and pillage of Barbarian robbers. The effrontery with which Montreal (against whom, more than once, the Pontiff had thundered his bulls) appeared in the Metropolitan City of the Church, was made yet more insolent by the recollection of that stern justice which had led the Tribune to declare open war against all the robbers of Italy: and this audacity was linked with the obvious reflection, that the brothers of the bold Provencal were the instruments of Rienzi's return. So quickly spread suspicion through the city, that Montreal's presence alone would in a few weeks have sufficed to ruin the Senator. Meanwhile, the natural boldness of Montreal silenced every whisper of prudence; and, blinded by the dazzle of his hopes, the Knight of St. John, as if to give double importance to his coming, took up his residence in a sumptuous palace, and his retinue rivalled, in the splendour of garb and pomp, the display of Rienzi himself in his earlier and more brilliant power.
Amidst the growing excitement, Angelo Villani arrived at Rome. The character of this young man had been formed by his peculiar circumstances. He possessed qualities which often mark the Illegitimate as with a common stamp. He was insolent - like most of those who hold a doubtful rank; and while ashamed of his bastardy, was arrogant of the supposed nobility of his unknown parentage. The universal ferment and agitation of Italy at that day rendered ambition the most common of all the passions, and thus ambition, in all its many shades and varieties, forces itself into our delineations of character in this history. Though not for Angelo Villani were the dreams of the more lofty and generous order of that sublime infirmity, he was strongly incited by the desire and resolve to rise. He had warm affections and grateful impulses; and his fidelity to his patron had been carried to a virtue: but from his irregulated and desultory education, and the reckless profligacy of those with whom, in ante-chambers and guard-rooms, much of his youth had been passed, he had neither high principles nor an enlightened honour. Like most Italians, cunning and shrewd, he scrupled not at any deceit that served a purpose or a friend. His strong attachment to Rienzi had been unconsciously increased by the gratification of pride and vanity, flattered by the favour of so celebrated a man. Both self-interest and attachment urged him to every effort to promote the views and safety of one at once his benefactor and patron; and on undertaking his present mission, his only thought was to fulfil it with the most complete success. Far more brave and daring than was common with the Italians, something of the hardihood of an Ultra-Montane race gave nerve and vigour to his craft; and from what his art suggested, his courage never shrunk.
When Rienzi had first detailed to him the objects of his present task, he instantly called to mind his adventure with the tall soldier in the crowd at Avignon. "If ever thou wantest a friend, seek him in Walter de Montreal," were words that had often rung in his ear, and they now recurred to him with prophetic distinctness. He had no doubt that it was Montreal himself whom he had seen. Why the Great Captain should have taken this interest in him, Angelo little cared to conjecture. Most probably it was but a crafty pretence - one of the common means by which the Chief of the Grand Company attracted to himself the youths of Italy, as well as the warriors of the North. He only thought now how he could turn the Knight's promise to account. What more easy than to present himself to Montreal - remind him of the words - enter his service - and thus effectually watch his conduct? The office of spy was not that which would have pleased every mind, but it shocked not the fastidiousness of Angelo Villani; and the fearful hatred with which his patron had often spoken of the avaricious and barbarian robber - the scourge of his native land, - had infected the young man, who had much of the arrogant and mock patriotism of the Romans, with a similar sentiment. More vindictive even than grateful, he bore, too, a secret grudge against Montreal's brothers, whose rough address had often wounded his pride; and, above all, his early recollections of the fear and execration in which Ursula seemed ever to hold the terrible Fra Moreale, impressed him with a vague belief of some ancient wrong to himself or his race, perpetrated by the Provencal, which he was not ill-pleased to have the occasion to avenge. In truth, the words of Ursula, mystic and dark as they were in their denunciation, had left upon Villani's boyish impressions an unaccountable feeling of antipathy and hatred to the man it was now his object to betray. For the rest, every device seemed to him decorous and justifiable, so that it saved his master, served his country, and advanced himself.
Montreal was alone in his chamber when it was announced to him that a young Italian craved an audience. Professionally open to access, he forthwith gave admission to the applicant.
The Knight of St. John instantly recognised the page he had encountered at Avignon; and when Angelo Villani said, with easy boldness, "I have come to remind Sir Walter de Montreal of a promise - "
The Knight interrupted him with cordial frankness - "Thou needest not - I remember it. Dost thou now require my friendship?"
"I do noble Signor!" answered Angelo; "I know not where else to seek a patron."
"Canst thou read and write? I fear me not."
"I have been taught those arts," replied Villani.
"It is well. Is thy birth gentle?"
"Better still; - thy name?"
"I take thy blue eyes and low broad brow," said Montreal, with a slight sigh, "in pledge of thy truth. Henceforth, Angelo Villani, thou art in the list of my secretaries. Another time thou shalt tell me more of thyself. Thy service dates from this day. For the rest, no man ever wanted wealth who served Walter de Montreal; nor advancement, if he served him faithfully. My closet, through yonder door, is thy waiting-room. Ask for, and send hither, Lusignan of Lyons; he is my chief scribe, and will see to thy comforts, and instruct thee in thy business."
Angelo withdrew - Montreal's eye followed him.
"A strange likeness!" said he, musingly and sadly; "my heart leaps to that boy!"
Chapter 10.III. Montreal's Banquet.
Some few days after the date of the last chapter, Rienzi received news from Rome, which seemed to produce in him a joyous and elated excitement. His troops still lay before Palestrina, and still the banners of the Barons waved over its unconquered walls. In truth, the Italians employed half their time in brawls amongst themselves; the Velletritrani had feuds with the people of Tivoli, and the Romans were still afraid of conquering the Barons; - "The hornet," said they, "stings worse after he is dead; and neither an Orsini, a Savelli, nor a Colonna, was ever known to forgive."
Again and again had the captains of his army assured the indignant Senator that the fortress was impregnable, and that time and money were idly wasted upon the siege. Rienzi knew better, but he concealed his thoughts.
He now summoned to his tent the brothers of Provence, and announced to them his intention of returning instantly to Rome. "The mercenaries shall continue the siege under our Lieutenant, and you, with my Roman Legion, shall accompany me. Your brother, Sir Walter, and I, both want your presence; we have affairs to arrange between us. After a few days I shall raise recruits in the city, and return."
This was what the brothers desired; they approved, with evident joy, the Senator's proposition.
Rienzi next sent for the lieutenant of his bodyguard, the same Riccardo Annibaldi whom the reader will remember in the earlier part of this work, as the antagonist of Montreal's lance. This young man - one of the few nobles who espoused the cause of the Senator - had evinced great courage and military ability, and promised fair (should Fate spare his life (It appears that this was the same Annibaldi who was afterwards slain in an affray: - Petrarch lauds his valour and laments his fate.)) to become one of the best Captains of his time.
"Dear Annibaldi," said Rienzi; "at length I can fulfil the project on which we have privately conferred. I take with me to Rome the two Provencal Captains - I leave you chief of the army. Palestrina will yield now - eh!
"By my right hand, I think so, Senator," replied Annibaldi. "These foreigners have hitherto only stirred up quarrels amongst ourselves, and if not cowards are certainly traitors!"
"Hush, hush, hush! Traitors! The learned Arimbaldo, the brave Brettone, traitors! Fie on it! No, no; they are very excellent, honourable men, but not lucky in the camp; - not lucky in the camp; - better speed to them in the city! And now to business."
The Senator then detailed to Annibaldi the plan he himself had formed for taking the town, and the military skill of Annibaldi at once recognised its feasibility.
With his Roman troop, and Montreal's brothers, one at either hand, Rienzi then departed to Rome.
That night Montreal gave a banquet to Pandulfo di Guido, and to certain of the principal citizens, whom one by one he had already sounded, and found hollow at heart to the cause of the Senator.
Pandulfo sate at the right hand of the Knight of St. John, and Montreal lavished upon him the most courteous attentions.
"Pledge me in this - it is from the Vale of Chiana, near Monte Pulciano," said Montreal. "I think I have heard bookmen say (you know, Signor Pandulfo, we ought all to be bookmen now!) that the site was renowned of old. In truth, the wine hath a racy flavour."
"I hear," said Bruttini, one of the lesser Barons, (a stanch friend to the Colonna,) "that in this respect the innkeeper's son has put his book- learning to some use: he knows every place where the wine grows richest."
"What! the Senator is turned wine-bibber!" said Montreal, quaffing a vast goblet full; "that must unfit him for business - 'tis a pity."
"Verily, yes," said Pandulfo; "a man at the head of a state should be temperate - I never drink wine unmixed."
"Ah," whispered Montreal, "if your calm good sense ruled Rome, then, indeed, the metropolis of Italy might taste of peace. Signor Vivaldi," - and the host turned towards a wealthy draper, - "these disturbances are bad for trade."
"Very, very!" groaned the draper.
"The Barons are your best customers," quoth the minor noble.
"Much, much!" said the draper.
"'Tis a pity that they are thus roughly expelled," said Montreal, in a melancholy tone. "Would it not be possible, if the Senator (I drink his health) were less rash - less zealous, rather, - to unite free institutions with the return of the Barons? - such should be the task of a truly wise statesman!"
"It surely might be possible," returned Vivaldi; "the Savelli alone spend more with me than all the rest of Rome."
"I know not if it be possible," said Bruttini; "but I do know that it is an outrage to all decorum that an innkeeper's son should be enabled to make a solitude of the palaces of Rome."
"It certainly seems to indicate too vulgar a desire of mob favour," said Montreal. "However, I trust we shall harmonize all these differences. Rienzi, perhaps, - nay, doubtless, means well!"
"I would," said Vivaldi, who had received his cue, "that we might form a mixed constitution - Plebeians and Patricians, each in their separate order."
"But," said Montreal, gravely, "so new an experiment would demand great physical force."
"Why, true; but we might call in an umpire - a foreigner who had no interest in either faction - who might protect the new Buono Stato; a Podesta, as we have done before - Brancaleone, for instance. How well and wisely he ruled! that was a golden age for Rome. A Podesta for ever! - that's my theory."
"You need not seek far for the president of your council," said Montreal, smiling at Pandulfo; "a citizen at once popular, well-born, and wealthy, may be found at my right hand."
Pandulfo hemmed, and coloured.
Montreal proceeded. "A committee of trades might furnish an honourable employment to Signor Vivaldi; and the treatment of all foreign affairs - the employment of armies, &c., might be left to the Barons, with a more open competition, Signor di Bruttini, to the Barons of the second order than has hitherto been conceded to their birth and importance. Sirs, will you taste the Malvoisie?"
"Still," said Vivaldi, after a pause - (Vivaldi anticipated at least the supplying with cloth the whole of the Grand Company) - "still, such a moderate and well-digested constitution would never be acceded to by Rienzi."
"Why should it? what need of Rienzi?" exclaimed Bruttini. "Rienzi may take another trip to Bohemia."
"Gently, gently," said Montreal; "I do not despair. All open violence against the Senator would strengthen his power. No, no, humble him - admit the Barons, and then insist on your own terms. Between the two factions you might then establish a fitting balance. And in order to keep your new constitution from the encroachment of either extreme, there are warriors and knights, too, who for a certain rank in the great city of Rome would maintain horse and foot at its service. We Ultra-Montanes are often harshly judged; we are wanderers and Ishmaelites, solely because we have no honourable place of rest. Now, if I - "
"Ay, if you, noble Montreal!" said Vivaldi.
The company remained hushed in breathless attention, when suddenly there was heard - deep, solemn, muffled, - the great bell of the Capitol!
"Hark!" said Vivaldi, the bell: "It tolls for execution: an unwonted hour!"
"Sure, the Senator has not returned!" exclaimed Pandulfo di Guido, turning pale.
"No, no," quoth Bruttini, "it is but a robber, caught two nights ago in Romagna. I heard that he was to die tonight."
At the word "robber," Montreal changed countenance slightly. The wine circulated - the bell continued to toll - its suddenness over, it ceased to alarm. Conversation flowed again.
"What were you saying, Sir Knight?" said Vivaldi.
"Why, let me think on't; - oh, speaking of the necessity of supporting a new state by force, I said that if I - "
"Ah, that was it!" quoth Bruttini, thumping the table.
"If I were summoned to your aid - summoned, mind ye, and absolved by the Pope's Legate of my former sins - (they weigh heavily on me, gentles) - I would myself guard your city from foreign foe and civil disturbance, with my gallant swordsmen. Not a Roman citizen should contribute a 'danaro' to the cost."
"Viva Fra Moreale!" cried Bruttini; and the shout was echoed by all the boon companions.
"Enough for me," continued Montreal, "to expiate my offences. Ye know, gentlemen, my order is vowed to God and the Church - a warrior-monk am I! Enough for me to expiate my offences, I say, in the defence of the Holy City. Yet I, too, have my private and more earthly views, - who is above them? I - the bell changes its note!"
"It is but the change that preludes execution - the poor robber is about to die!"
Montreal crossed himself, and resumed: - "I am a knight and a noble," said he, proudly; "the profession I have followed is that of arms; but - I will not disguise it - mine equals have regarded me as one who has stained his scutcheon by too reckless a pursuit of glory and of gain. I wish to reconcile myself with my order - to purchase a new name - to vindicate myself to the Grand Master and the Pontiff. I have had hints, gentles, - hints, that I might best promote my interest by restoring order to the Papal metropolis. The Legate Albornoz (here is his letter) recommends me to keep watch upon the Senator."
"Surely," interrupted Pandulfo, "I hear steps below."
"The mob going to the robber's execution," said Bruttini; "proceed, Sir Knight!"
"And," continued Montreal, surveying his audience before he proceeded farther, "what think ye - (I do but ask your opinion, wiser than mine) - what think ye, as a fitting precaution against too arbitrary a power in the Senator - what think ye of the return of the Colonna, and the bold Barons of Palestrina?"
"Here's to their health!" cried Vivaldi, rising.
As by a sudden impulse, the company rose. "To the health of the besieged Barons!" was shouted aloud.
"Next, what if - (I do but humbly suggest) - what if you gave the Senator a colleague? - it is no affront to him. It was but as yesterday that one of the Colonna, who was Senator, received a colleague in Bertoldo Orsini."
"A most wise precaution," cried Vivaldi. "And where a colleague like Pandulfo di Guido?"
"Viva Pandulfo di Guido!" cried the guests, and again their goblets were drained to the bottom.
"And if in this I can assist ye by fair words with the Senator, (ye know he owes me monies - my brothers have served him), command Walter de Montreal."
"And if fair words fail?" said Vivaldi.
"The Grand Company - (heed me, ye are the counsellors) - the Grand Company is accustomed to forced marches!"
"Viva Fra Moreale!" cried Bruttini and Vivaldi, simultaneously. "A health to all, my friends;" continued Bruttini; "a health to the Barons, Rome's old friends; to Pandulfo di Guido, the Senator's new colleague, and to Fra Moreale, Rome's new Podesta."
"The bell has ceased," said Vivaldi, putting down his goblet.
"Heaven have mercy on the robber!" added Bruttini.
Scarce had he spoken, ere three taps were heard at the door - the guests looked at each other in dumb amaze.
"New guests!" said Montreal. "I asked some trusty friends to join us this evening. By my faith they are welcome! Enter!"
The door opened slowly; three by three entered, in complete armour, the guards of the Senator. On they marched, regular and speechless. They surrounded the festive board - they filled the spacious hall, and the lights of the banquet were reflected upon their corselets as on a wall of steel.
Not a syllable was uttered by the feasters, they were as if turned to stone. Presently the guards gave way, and Rienzi himself appeared. He approached the table, and folding his arms, turned his gaze deliberately from guest to guest, till at last, his eyes rested on Montreal, who had also risen, and who alone of the party had recovered the amaze of the moment.
And there, as these two men, each so celebrated, so proud, able, and ambitious, stood, front to front - it was literally as if the rival Spirits of Force and Intellect, Order and Strife, of the Falchion and the Fasces - the Antagonist Principles by which empires are ruled and empires overthrown, had met together, incarnate and opposed. They stood, both silent, - as if fascinated by each other's gaze, - loftier in stature, and nobler in presence than all around.
Montreal spoke first, and with a forced smile.
"Senator of Rome! - dare I believe that my poor banquet tempts thee, and may I trust that these armed men are a graceful compliment to one to whom arms have been a pastime?"
Rienzi answered not, but waved his hand to his guards. Montreal was seized on the instant. Again he surveyed the guests - as a bird from the rattle- snake, - shrunk Pandulfo di Guido, trembling, motionless, aghast, from the glittering eye of the Senator. Slowly Rienzi raised his fatal hand towards the unhappy citizen - Pandulfo saw, - felt his doom, - shrieked, - and fell senseless in the arms of the soldiers.
One other and rapid glance cast the Senator round the board, and then, with a disdainful smile, as if anxious for no meaner prey, turned away. Not a breath had hitherto passed his lips - all had been dumb show - and his grim silence had imparted a more freezing terror to his unguessed-for apparition. Only, when he reached the door, he turned back, gazed upon the Knight of St. John's bold and undaunted face, and said, almost in a whisper, "Walter de Montreal! - you heard the death-knell!"
Chapter 10.IV. The Sentence of Walter de Montreal.
In silence the Captain of the Grand Company was borne to the prison of the Capitol. In the same building lodged the rivals for the government of Rome; the one occupied the prison, the other the palace. The guards forebore the ceremony of fetters, and leaving a lamp on the table, Montreal perceived he was not alone, - his brothers had preceded him.
"Ye are happily met," said the Knight of St. John; we have passed together pleasanter nights than this is likely to be."
"Can you jest, Walter?" said Arimbaldo, half-weeping. "Know you not that our doom is fixed? Death scowls upon us."
"Death!" repeated Montreal, and for the first time his countenance changed; perhaps for the first time in his life he felt the thrill and agony of fear.
"Death!" he repeated again. "Impossible! He dare not, Brettone; the soldiers, the Northmen! - they will mutiny, they will pluck us back from the grasp of the headsman!"
"Cast from you so vain a hope," said Brettone sullenly; "the soldiers are encamped at Palestrina."
"How! Dolt - fool! Came you then to Rome alone! Are we alone with this dread man?"
"You are the dolt! Why came you hither?" answered the brother.
"Why, indeed! but that I knew thou wast the Captain of the army; and - but thou said'st right - the folly is mine, to have played against the crafty Tribune so unequal a brain as thine. Enough! Reproaches are idle. When were ye arrested?"
"At dusk - the instant we entered the gates of Rome. Rienzi entered privately."
"Humph! What can he know against me? Who can have betrayed me? My secretaries are tried - all trustworthy - except that youth, and he so seemingly zealous - that Angelo Villani!"
"Villani! Angelo Villani!" cried the brothers in a breath. "Hast thou confided aught to him?"
"Why, I fear he must have seen - at least in part - my correspondence with you, and with the Barons - he was among my scribes. Know you aught of him?"
"Walter, Heaven hath demented you!" returned Brettone. "Angelo Villani is the favourite menial of the Senator."
"Those eyes deceived me, then," muttered Montreal, solemnly and shuddering; "and, as if her ghost had returned to earth, God smites me from the grave!"
There was a long silence. At length Montreal, whose bold and sanguine temper was never long clouded, spoke again.
"Are the Senator's coffers full? - But that is impossible."
"Bare as a Dominican's."
"We are saved, then. He shall name his price for our heads. Money must be more useful to him than blood."
And as if with that thought all further meditation were rendered unnecessary, Montreal doffed his mantle, uttered a short prayer, and flung himself on a pallet in a corner of the cell.
"I have slept on worse beds," said the Knight, stretching himself; and in a few minutes he was fast asleep.
The brothers listened to his deep-drawn, but regular breathing, with envy and wonder, but they were in no mood to converse. Still and speechless, they sate like statues beside the sleeper. Time passed on, and the first cold air of the hour that succeeds to midnight crept through the bars of their cell. The bolts crashed, the door opened, six men-at-arms entered, passed the brothers, and one of them touched Montreal.
"Ha!" said he, still sleeping, but turning round. "Ha!" said he, in the soft Provencal tongue, "sweet Adeline, we will not rise yet - it is so long since we met!"
"What says he?" muttered the guard, shaking Montreal roughly. The Knight sprang up at once, and his hand grasped the head of his bed as for his sword. He stared round bewildered, rubbed his eyes, and then gazing on the guard, became alive to the present.
"Ye are early risers in the Capitol," said he. "What want ye of me?"
"It waits you!"
"It! What?" said Montreal.
"The rack!" replied the soldier, with a malignant scowl.
The Great Captain said not a word. He looked for one moment at the six swordsmen, as if measuring his single strength against theirs. His eye then wandered round the room. The rudest bar of iron would have been dearer to him than he had ever yet found the proofest steel of Milan. He completed his survey with a sigh, threw his mantle over his shoulders, nodded at his brethren, and followed the guard.
In a hall of the Capitol, hung with the ominous silk of white rays on a blood-red ground, sate Rienzi and his councillors. Across a recess was drawn a black curtain.
"Walter de Montreal," said a small man at the foot of the table, "Knight of the illustrious order of St. John of Jerusalem - "
"And Captain of the Grand Company!" added the prisoner, in a firm voice.
"You stand accused of divers counts: robbery and murder, in Tuscany, Romagna, and Apulia - "
"For robbery and murder, brave men, and belted Knights," said Montreal, drawing himself up, "would use the words 'war and victory.' To those charges I plead guilty! Proceed."
"You are next accused of treasonable conspiracy against the liberties of Rome for the restoration of the proscribed Barons - and of traitorous correspondence with Stefanello Colonna at Palestrina."
"Step forth, Angelo Villani!"
"You are my betrayer, then?" said Montreal steadily. "I deserved this. I beseech you, Senator of Rome, let this young man retire. I confess my correspondence with the Colonna, and my desire to restore the Barons."
Rienzi motioned to Villani, who bowed and withdrew.
"There rests only then for you, Walter de Montreal, to relate, fully and faithfully, the details of your conspiracy."
"That is impossible," replied Montreal, carelessly.
"Because, doing as I please with my own life, I will not betray the lives of others."
"Bethink thee - thou wouldst have betrayed the life of thy judge!"
"Not betrayed - thou didst not trust me."
"The law, Walter de Montreal, hath sharp inquisitors - behold!"
The black curtain was drawn aside, and the eye of Montreal rested on the executioner and the rack! His proud breast heaved indignantly.
"Senator of Rome," said he, "these instruments are for serfs and villeins. I have been a warrior and a leader; life and death have been in my hands - I have used them as I listed; but to mine equal and my foe, I never proffered the insult of the rack."
"Sir Walter de Montreal," returned the Senator, gravely, but with some courteous respect, "your answer is that which rises naturally to the lips of brave men. But learn from me, whom fortune hath made thy judge, that no more for serf and villein, than for knight and noble, are such instruments the engines of law, or the tests of truth. I yielded but to the desire of these reverend councillors, to test thy nerves. But, wert thou the meanest peasant of the Campagna, before my judgment-seat thou needst not apprehend the torture. Walter de Montreal, amongst the Princes of Italy thou hast known, amongst the Roman Barons thou wouldst have aided, is there one who could make that boast?"
"I desired only," said Montreal, with some hesitation, "to unite the Barons with thee; nor did I intrigue against thy life!"
Rienzi frowned - "Enough," he said, hastily. "Knight of St. John, I know thy secret projects, subterfuge and evasion neither befit nor avail thee. If thou didst not intrigue against my life, thou didst intrigue against the life of Rome. Thou hast but one favour left to demand on earth, it is the manner of thy death."
Montreal's lip worked convulsively.
"Senator," said he, in a low voice, "may I crave audience with thee alone for one minute?"
The councillors looked up.
"My Lord," whispered the eldest of them, "doubtless he hath concealed weapons - trust him not."
"Prisoner," returned Rienzi, after a moment's pause; "if thou seekest for mercy thy request is idle, and before my coadjutors I have no secret; speak out what thou hast to say!"
"Yet listen to me," said the prisoner, folding his arms; "it concerns not my life, but Rome's welfare."
"Then," said Rienzi, in an altered tone, "thy request is granted. Thou mayst add to thy guilt the design of the assassin, but for Rome I would dare greater danger."
So saying, he motioned to the councillors, who slowly withdrew by the door which had admitted Villani, while the guards retired to the farthest extremity of the hall.
"Now, Walter de Montreal, be brief, for thy time is short."
"Senator," said Montreal, "my life can but little profit you; men will say that you destroyed your creditor in order to cancel your debt. Fix a sum upon my life, estimate it at the price of a monarch's; every florin shall be paid to you, and your treasury will be filled for five years to come. If the 'Buono Stato' depends on your government, what I have asked, your solicitude for Rome will not permit you to refuse."
"You mistake me, bold robber," said Rienzi, sternly; "your treason I could guard against, and therefore forgive; your ambition, never! Mark me, I know you! Place your hand on your heart and say whether, could we change places, you, as Rienzi, would suffer all the gold of earth to purchase the life of Walter de Montreal? For men's reading of my conduct, that must I bear; for mine own reading, mine eyes must be purged from corruption. I am answerable to God for the trust of Rome. And Rome trembles while the head of the Grand Company lives in the plotting brain and the daring heart of Walter de Montreal. Man - wealthy, great, and subtle as you are, your hours are numbered; with the rise of the sun you die!"
Montreal's eyes, fixed upon the Senator's face, saw hope was over; his pride and his fortitude returned to him.
"We have wasted words," said he. "I played for a great stake, I have lost, and must pay the forfeit! I am prepared. On the threshold of the Unknown World, the dark spirit of prophecy rushes into us. Lord Senator, I go before thee to announce - that in Heaven or in Hell - ere many days be over, room must be given to one mightier than I am!"
As he spoke, his form dilated, his eye glared; and Rienzi, cowering as never had he cowered before, shrunk back, and shaded his face with his hand.
"The manner of your death?" he asked, in a hollow voice.
"The axe: it is that which befits knight and warrior. For thee, Senator, Fate hath a less noble death."
"Robber be dumb!" cried Rienzi, passionately; "Guards, bear back the prisoner. At sunrise, Montreal - "
"Sets the sun of the scourge of Italy," said the Knight, bitterly. "Be it so. One request more; the Knights of St. John claim affinity with the Augustine order; grant me an Augustine confessor."
"It is granted; and in return for thy denunciations, I, who can give thee no earthly mercy, will implore the Judge of all for pardon to thy soul!"
"Senator, I have done with man's mediation. My brethren? Their deaths are not necessary to thy safety or thy revenge!"
Rienzi mused a moment: "No," said he, "dangerous tools they were, but without the workman they may rust unharming. They served me once, too. Prisoner, their lives are spared."
Chapter 10.V. The Discovery.
The Council was broken up - Rienzi hastened to his own apartments. Meeting Villani by the way, he pressed the youth's hand affectionately. "You have saved Rome and me from great peril," said he; "the saints reward you!" Without tarrying for Villani's answer, he hurried on. Nina, anxious and perturbed, awaited him in their chamber.
"Not a-bed yet?" said he: "fie, Nina, even thy beauty will not stand these vigils."
"I could not rest till I had seen thee. I hear (all Rome has heard it ere this) that thou hast seized Walter de Montreal, and that he will perish by the headsman."
"The first robber that ever died so brave a death," returned Rienzi, slowly unrobing himself.
"Cola, I have never crossed your schemes, - your policy, even by a suggestion. Enough for me to triumph in their success, to mourn for their failure. Now, I ask thee one request - spare me the life of this man."
"Nina - "
"Hear me, - for thee I speak! Despite his crimes, his valour and his genius have gained him admirers, even amongst his foes. Many a prince, many a state that secretly rejoices at his fall, will affect horror against his judge. Hear me farther. His brothers aided your return; the world will term you ungrateful. His brothers lent you monies, the world - (out on it!) - will term you - "
"Hold!" interrupted the Senator. "All that thou sayest, my mind forestalled. But thou knowest me - to thee I have no disguise. No compact can bind Montreal's faith - no mercy win his gratitude. Before his red right hand truth and justice are swept away. If I condemn Montreal I incur disgrace and risk danger - granted. If I release him, ere the first showers of April, the chargers of the Northmen will neigh in the halls of the Capitol. Which shall I hazard in this alternative, myself or Rome? Ask me no more - to bed, to bed!"
"Couldst thou read my forebodings, Cola, mystic - gloomy - unaccountable?"
"Forebodings! - I have mine," answered Rienzi, sadly, gazing on space, as if his thoughts peopled it with spectres. Then, raising his eyes to Heaven, he said with that fanatical energy which made much both of his strength and weakness - "Lord, mine at least not the sin of Saul! the Amalekite shall not be saved!"
While Rienzi enjoyed a short, troubled, and restless sleep, over which Nina watched - unslumbering, anxious, tearful, and oppressed with dark and terrible forewarnings - the accuser was more happy than the judge. The last thoughts that floated before the young mind of Angelo Villani, ere wrapped in sleep, were bright and sanguine. He felt no honourable remorse that he had entrapped the confidence of another - he felt only that his scheme had prospered, that his mission had been fulfilled. The grateful words of Rienzi rang in his ear, and hopes of fortune and power, beneath the sway of the Roman Senator, lulled him into slumber, and coloured all his dreams.
Scarce, however, had he been two hours asleep, ere he was wakened by one of the attendants of the palace, himself half awake. "Pardon me, Messere Villani," said he, "but there is a messenger below from the good Sister Ursula; he bids thee haste instantly to the Convent - she is sick unto death, and has tidings that crave thy immediate presence."
Angelo, whose morbid susceptibility as to his parentage was ever excited by vague but ambitious hopes - started up, dressed hurriedly, and joining the messenger below, repaired to the Convent. In the Court of the Capitol, and by the Staircase of the Lion, was already heard the noise of the workmen, and looking back, Villani beheld the scaffold, hung with black - sleeping cloudlike in the grey light of dawn - at the same time, the bell of the Capitol tolled heavily. A pang shot athwart him. He hurried on; - despite the immature earliness of the hour, he met groups of either sex, hastening along the streets to witness the execution of the redoubted Captain of the Grand Company. The Convent of the Augustines was at the farthest extremity of that city, even then so extensive, and the red light upon the hilltops already heralded the rising sun, ere the young man reached the venerable porch. His name obtained him instant admittance.
"Heaven grant," said an old Nun, who conducted him through a long and winding passage, "that thou mayst bring comfort to the sick sister: she has pined for thee grievously since matins."
In a cell set apart for the reception of visitors (from the outward world), to such of the Sisterhood as received the necessary dispensation, sate the aged Nun. Angelo had only seen her once since his return to Rome, and since then disease had made rapid havoc on her form and features. And now, in her shroudlike garments and attenuated frame, she seemed by the morning light as a spectre whom day had surprised above the earth. She approached the youth, however, with a motion more elastic and rapid than seemed possible to her worn and ghastly form. "Thou art come," she said. "Well, well! This morning after matins, my confessor, an Augustine, who alone knows the secrets of my life, took me aside, and told me that Walter de Montreal had been seized by the Senator - that he was adjudged to die, and that one of the Augustine brotherhood had been sent for to attend his last hours - is it so?"
"Thou wert told aright," said Angelo, wonderingly. "The man at whose name thou wert wont to shudder - against whom thou hast so often warned me - will die at sunrise."
"So soon! - so soon! - Oh, Mother of Mercy! - fly! thou art about the person of the Senator, thou hast high favour with him; fly! down on thy knees, and as thou hopest for God's grace, rise not till thou hast won the Provencal's life."
"She raves," muttered Angelo, with white lips.
"I do not rave, - boy!" screeched the Sister, wildly, "know that my daughter was his leman. He disgraced our house, - a house haughtier than his own. Sinner that I was, I vowed revenge. His boy - they had only one!
"Sinner and accursed!" interrupted Villani, with a loud shout: - "sinner and accursed thou art indeed! Know that it was I who betrayed thy daughter's lover! - by the son's treason dies the father!"
Not a moment more did he tarry: he waited not to witness the effect his words produced. As one frantic - as one whom a fiend possesses or pursues
Villani saw - swooned not - shrunk not - breathed not! - but he turned his eyes from that lifted head, dropping gore, to the balcony, in which, according to custom, sate, in solemn pomp, the Senator of Rome - and the face of that young man was as the face of a demon!
"Ha!" said he, muttering to himself, and recalling the words of Rienzi seven years before - "Blessed art thou who hast no blood of kindred to avenge!"
Chapter 10.VI. The Suspense.
Walter de Montreal was buried in the church of St. Maria dell' Araceli. But the "evil that he did lived after him!" Although the vulgar had, until his apprehension, murmured against Rienzi for allowing so notorious a freebooter to be at large, he was scarcely dead ere they compassionated the object of their terror. With that singular species of piety which Montreal had always cultivated, as if a decorous and natural part of the character of a warrior, no sooner was his sentence fixed, than he had surrendered himself to the devout preparation for death. With the Augustine Friar he consumed the brief remainder of the night in prayer and confession, comforted his brothers, and passed to the scaffold with the step of a hero and the self-acquittal of a martyr. In the wonderful delusions of the human heart, far from feeling remorse at a life of professional rapine and slaughter, almost the last words of the brave warrior were in proud commendation of his own deeds. "Be valiant like me," he said to his brothers, "and remember that ye are now the heirs to the Humbler of Apulia, Tuscany, and La Marca." (Pregovi che vi amiate e siate valorosi al mondo, come fui io, che mi feci fare obbedienza a la Puglia, Toscana, e a La Marca." - "Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. ii. cap. 22. "I pray you love one another, and be valorous as was I, who made Apulia, Tuscany and La Marca own obedience to me." - "Life of Cola di Rienzi".)
This confidence in himself continued at the scaffold. "I die," he said, addressing the Romans - "I die contented, since my bones shall rest in the Holy City of St. Peter and St. Paul, and the Soldier of Christ shall have the burial-place of the Apostles. But I die unjustly. My wealth is my crime - the poverty of your state my accuser. Senator of Rome, thou mayst envy my last hour - men like Walter de Montreal perish not unavenged." So saying, he turned to the East, murmured a brief prayer, knelt down deliberately, and said as to himself, "Rome guard my ashes! - Earth my memory - Fate my revenge; - and, now, Heaven receive my soul! - Strike!" At the first blow, the head was severed from the body.
His treason but imperfectly known, the fear of him forgotten, all that remained of the recollection of Walter de Montreal (The military renown and bold exploits of Montreal are acknowledged by all the Italian authorities. One of them declares that since the time of Caesar, Italy had never known so great a Captain. The biographer of Rienzi, forgetting all the offences of the splendid and knightly robber, seems to feel only commiseration for his fate. He informs us, moreover, that at Tivoli one of his servants (perhaps our friend, Rodolf of Saxony), hearing his death, died of grief the following day.) in Rome, was admiration for his heroism, and compassion for his end. The fate of Pandulfo di Guido, which followed some days afterwards, excited a yet deeper, though more quiet, sentiment, against the Senator. "He was once Rienzi's friend!" said one man; "He was an honest, upright citizen!" muttered another; "He was an advocate of the people!" growled Cecco del Vecchio. But the Senator had wound himself up to a resolve to be inflexibly just, and to regard every peril to Rome as became a Roman. Rienzi remembered that he had never confided but he had been betrayed; he had never forgiven but to sharpen enmity. He was amidst a ferocious people, uncertain friends, wily enemies; and misplaced mercy would be but a premium to conspiracy. Yet the struggle he underwent was visible in the hysterical emotions he betrayed. He now wept bitterly, now laughed wildly. "Can I never again have the luxury to forgive?" said he. The coarse spectators of that passion deemed it, - some imbecility, some hypocrisy. But the execution produced the momentary effect intended. All sedition ceased, terror crept throughout the city, order and peace rose to the surface; but beneath, in the strong expression of a contemporaneous writer, "Lo mormorito quetamente suonava." ("The murmur quietly sounded.")
On examining dispassionately the conduct of Rienzi at this awful period of his life, it is scarcely possible to condemn it of a single error in point of policy. Cured of his faults, he exhibited no unnecessary ostentation - he indulged in no exhibitions of intoxicated pride - that gorgeous imagination rather than vanity, which had led the Tribune into spectacle and pomp, was now lulled to rest, by the sober memory of grave vicissitudes, and the stern calmness of a maturer intellect. Frugal, provident, watchful, self-collected, 'never was seen,' observes no partial witness, 'so extraordinary a man.' ("Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. ii. c.
Despite his perilous situation - despite his suspicions, and his fears, no wanton cruelty stained his stern justice - Montreal and Pandulfo di Guido were the only state victims he demanded. If, according to the dark Machiavelism of Italian wisdom, the death of those enemies was impolitic, it was not in the act, but the mode of doing it. A prince of Bologna, or of Milan would have avoided the sympathy excited by the scaffold, and the drug or the dagger would have been the safer substitute for the axe. But with all his faults, real and imputed, no single act of that foul and murtherous policy, which made the science of the more fortunate princes of Italy, ever advanced the ambition or promoted the security of the Last of the Roman Tribunes. Whatever his errors, he lived and died as became a man, who dreamed the vain but glorious dream, that in a corrupt and dastard populace he could revive the genius of the old Republic.
Of all who attended on the Senator, the most assiduous and the most honoured was still Angelo Villani. Promoted to a high civil station, Rienzi felt it as a return of youth, to find one person entitled to his gratitude; - he loved and confided in the youth as a son. Villani was never absent from his side, except in intercourse with the various popular leaders in the various quarters of the city; and in this intercourse his zeal was indefatigable - it seemed even to prey upon his health; and Rienzi chid him fondly, whenever starting from his own reveries, he beheld the abstracted eye and the livid paleness which had succeeded the sparkle and bloom of youth.
Such chiding the young man answered only by the same unvarying words.
"Senator, I have a great trust to fulfil;" - and at these words he smiled.
One day Villani, while with the Senator, said rather abruptly, "Do you remember, my Lord, that before Viterbo, I acquitted myself so in arms, that even the Cardinal d'Albornoz was pleased to notice me?"
"I remember your valour well, Angelo; but why the question?"
"My Lord, Bellini, the Captain of the Guard of the Capitol is dangerously ill."
"I know it."
"Whom can my Lord trust at the post?"
"Why, the Lieutenant."
"What! - a soldier that has served under the Orsini!"
"True. Well! There is Tommaso Filangieri."
"An excellent man; but is he not kin by blood to Pandulfo di Guido?"
"Ay - is he so? It must be thought of. Hast thou any friend to name?" said the Senator, smiling, "Methinks thy cavils point that way."
"My Lord," replied Villani, colouring; "I am too young perhaps; but the post is one that demands fidelity more than it does years. Shall I own it?
"Wilt thou, indeed, accept the office? It is of less dignity and emolument than the one you hold; and you are full young to lead these stubborn spirits."
"Senator, I led taller men than they are to the assault at Viterbo. But, be it as seems best to your superior wisdom. Whatever you do, I pray you to be cautious. If you select a traitor to the command of the Capitol Guard! - I tremble at the thought!"
"By my faith, thou dost turn pale at it, dear boy; thy affection is a sweet drop in a bitter draught. Whom can I choose better than thee? - thou shalt have the post, at least during Bellini's illness. I will attend to it today. The business, too, will less fatigue thy young mind than that which now employs thee. Thou art over-laboured in our cause."
"Senator, I can but repeat my usual answer - I have a great trust to fulfil!"
Chapter 10.VII. The Tax.
These formidable conspiracies quelled, the Barons nearly subdued, and three parts of the Papal territory reunited to Rome, Rienzi now deemed he might safely execute one of his favourite projects for the preservation of the liberties of his native city; and this was to raise and organize in each quarter of Rome a Roman Legion. Armed in the defence of their own institutions, he thus trusted to establish amongst her own citizens the only soldiery requisite for Rome.
But so base were the tools with which this great man was condemned to work out his noble schemes, that none could be found to serve their own country, without a pay equal to that demanded by foreign hirelings. With the insolence so peculiar to a race that has once been great, each Roman said, "Am I not better than a German? - Pay me, then, accordingly."
The Senator smothered his disgust - he had learned at last to know that the age of the Catos was no more. From a daring enthusiast, experience had converted him into a practical statesman. The Legions were necessary to Rome - they were formed - gallant their appearance and faultless their caparisons. How were they to be paid? There was but one means to maintain Rome - Rome must be taxed. A gabelle was put upon wine and salt.
The Proclamation ran thus:-
"Romans! raised to the rank of your Senator, my whole thought has been for your liberties and welfare; already treason defeated in the City, our banners triumphant without, attest the favour with which the Deity regards men who seek to unite liberty with law. Let us set an example to Italy and the World! Let us prove that the Roman sword can guard the Roman Forum! In each Rione of the City is provided a Legion of the Citizens, collected from the traders and artisans of the town; they allege that they cannot leave their callings without remuneration. Your senator calls upon you willingly to assist in your own defence. He has given you liberty; he has restored to you peace: your oppressors are scattered over the earth. He asks you now to preserve the treasures you have gained. To be free, you must sacrifice something; for freedom, what sacrifice too great? Confident of your support, I at length, for the first time, exert the right entrusted to me by office - and for Rome's salvation I tax the Romans!"
Then followed the announcement of the gabelle.
The Proclamation was set up in the public thoroughfares. Round one of the placards a crowd assembled. Their gestures were vehement and unguarded - their eyes sparkled - they conversed low, but eagerly.
"He dares to tax us, then! Why, the Barons or the Pope could not do more than that!"
"Shame! shame!" cried a gaunt female; "we, who were his friends! How are our little ones to get bread?"
"He should have seized the Pope's money!" quoth an honest wine-vender.
"Ah! Pandulfo di Guido would have maintained an army at his own cost. He was a rich man. What insolence in the innkeeper's son to be a Senator!"
"We are not Romans if we suffer this!" said a deserter from Palestrina.
"Fellow-citizens!" exclaimed gruffly a tall man, who had hitherto been making a clerk read to him the particulars of the tax imposed, and whose heavy brain at length understood that wine was to be made dearer - "Fellow- citizens, we must have a new revolution! This is indeed gratitude! What have we benefited by restoring this man! Are we always to be ground to the dust? To pay - pay - pay! Is that all we are fit for?"
"Hark to Cecco del Vecchio!"
"No, no; not now," growled the smith. "Tonight the artificers have a special meeting. We'll see - we'll see!"
A young man, muffled in a cloak, who had not been before observed, touched the smith.
"Whoever storms the Capitol the day after tomorrow at the dawn," he whispered, "shall find the guards absent!"
He was gone before the smith could look round.
The same night Rienzi, retiring to rest, said to Angelo Villani - "A bold but necessary measure this of mine! How do the people take it?"
"They murmur a little, but seem to recognise the necessity. Cecco del Vecchio was the loudest grumbler, but is now the loudest approver."
"The man is rough; he once deserted me; - but then that fatal excommunication! He and the Romans learned a bitter lesson in that desertion, and experience has, I trust, taught them to be honest. Well, if this tax be raised quietly, in two years Rome will be again the Queen of Italy; - her army manned - her Republic formed; and then - then - "
"Then what, Senator?"
"Why then, my Angelo, Cola di Rienzi may die in peace! There is a want which a profound experience of power and pomp brings at last to us - a want gnawing as that of hunger, wearing as that of sleep! - my Angelo, it is the want to die!"
"My Lord, I would give this right hand," cried Villani, earnestly, "to hear you say you were attached to life!"
"You are a good youth, Angelo!" said Rienzi, as he passed to Nina's chamber; and in her smile and wistful tenderness, forgot for a while - that he was a great man!
Chapter 10.VIII. The Threshold of the Event.
The next morning the Senator of Rome held high Court in the Capitol. From Florence, from Padua, from Pisa, even from Milan, (the dominion of the Visconti,) from Genoa, from Naples, - came Ambassadors to welcome his return, or to thank him for having freed Italy from the freebooter De Montreal. Venice alone, who held in her pay the Grand Company, stood aloof. Never had Rienzi seemed more prosperous and more powerful, and never had he exhibited a more easy and cheerful majesty of demeanour.
Scarce was the audience over, when a messenger arrived from Palestrina. The town had surrendered, the Colonna had departed, and the standard of the Senator waved from the walls of the last hold of the rebellious Barons. Rome might now at length consider herself free, and not a foe seemed left to menace the repose of Rienzi.
The Court dissolved. The Senator, elated and joyous, repaired towards his private apartments, previous to the banquet given to the Ambassadors. Villani met him with his wonted sombre aspect.
"No sadness today, my Angelo," said the Senator, gaily; "Palestrina is ours!"
"I am glad to hear such news, and to see my Lord of so fair a mien," answered Angelo. "Does he not now desire life?"
"Till Roman virtue revives, perhaps - yes! But thus are we fools of Fortune; - today glad - tomorrow dejected!"
"Tomorrow," repeated Villani, mechanically: "Ay - tomorrow perhaps dejected."
"Thou playest with my words, boy," said Rienzi, half angrily, as he turned away.
But Villani heeded not the displeasure of his Lord.
The banquet was thronged and brilliant; and Rienzi that day, without an effort, played the courteous host.
Milanese, Paduan, Pisan, Neapolitan, vied with each other in attracting the smiles of the potent Senator. Prodigal were their compliments - lavish their promises of support. No monarch in Italy seemed more securely throned.
The banquet was over (as usual on state occasions) at an early hour; and Rienzi, somewhat heated with wine, strolled forth alone from the Capitol. Bending his solitary steps towards the Palatine, he saw the pale and veil- like mists that succeed the sunset, gather over the wild grass which waves above the Palace of the Caesars. On a mound of ruins (column and arch overthrown) he stood, with folded arms, musing and intent. In the distance lay the melancholy tombs of the Campagna, and the circling hills, crested with the purple hues soon to melt beneath the starlight. Not a breeze stirred the dark cypress and unwaving pine. There was something awful in the stillness of the skies, hushing the desolate grandeur of the earth below. Many and mingled were the thoughts that swept over Rienzi's breast: memory was busy at his heart. How often, in his youth, had he trodden the same spot! - what visions had he nursed! - what hopes conceived! In the turbulence of his later life, Memory had long slept; but at that hour, she re-asserted her shadowy reign with a despotism that seemed prophetic. He was wandering - a boy, with his young brother, hand in hand, by the riverside at eve: anon he saw a pale face and gory side, and once more uttered his imprecations of revenge! His first successes, his virgin triumphs, his secret love, his fame, his power, his reverses, the hermitage of Maiella, the dungeon of Avignon, the triumphal return to Rome, - all swept across his breast with a distinctness as if he were living those scenes again! - and now! - he shrunk from the present, and descended the hill. The moon, already risen, shed her light over the Forum, as he passed through its mingled ruins. By the Temple of Jupiter, two figures suddenly emerged; the moonlight fell upon their faces, and Rienzi recognised Cecco del Vecchio and Angelo Villani. They saw him not; but, eagerly conversing, disappeared by the Arch of Trajan.
"Villani! ever active in my service!" thought the Senator; "methinks this morning I spoke to him harshly - it was churlish in me!"
He re-entered the Place of the Capitol - he stood by the staircase of the Lion; there was a red stain upon the pavement, unobliterated since Montreal's execution, and the Senator drew himself aside with an inward shudder. Was it the ghastly and spectral light of the Moon, or did the face of that old Egyptian Monster wear an aspect that was as of life? The stony eyeballs seemed bent upon him with a malignant scowl; and as he passed on, and looked behind, they appeared almost preternaturally to follow his steps. A chill, he knew not why, sunk into his heart. He hastened to regain his palace. The sentinels made way for him.
"Senator," said one of them, doubtingly, "Messere Angelo Villani is our new captain - we are to obey his orders?"
"Assuredly," returned the Senator, passing on. The man lingered uneasily, as if he would have spoken, but Rienzi observed it not. Seeking his chamber, he found Nina and Irene waiting for him. His heart yearned to his wife. Care and toil had of late driven her from his thoughts, and he felt it remorsefully, as he gazed upon her noble face, softened by the solicitude of untiring and anxious love.
"Sweetest," said he, winding his arms around her tenderly; "thy lips never chide me, but thine eyes sometimes do! We have been apart too long. Brighter days dawn upon us, when I shall have leisure to thank thee for all thy care. And you, my fair sister, you smile on me! - ah, you have heard that your lover, ere this, is released by the cession of Palestrina, and tomorrow's sun will see him at your feet. Despite all the cares of the day, I remembered thee, my Irene, and sent a messenger to bring back the blush to that pale cheek. Come, come, we shall be happy again!" And with that domestic fondness common to him, when harsher thoughts permitted, he sate himself beside the two persons dearest to his hearth and heart.
"So happy - if we could have many hours like this!" murmured Nina, sinking on his breast. "Yet sometimes I wish - "
"And I too," interrupted Rienzi; "for I read thy woman's thought - I too sometimes wish that fate had placed us in the lowlier valleys of life! But it may come yet! Irene wedded to Adrian - Rome married to Liberty - and then, Nina, methinks you and I would find some quiet hermitage, and talk over old gauds and triumphs, as of a summer's dream. Beautiful, kiss me! Couldst thou resign these pomps?"
"For a desert with thee, Cola!"
"Let me reflect," resumed Rienzi; "is not today the seventh of October? Yes! on the seventh, be it noted, my foes yielded to my power! Seven! my fated number, whether ominous of good or evil! Seven months did I reign as Tribune - seven (There was the lapse of one year between the release of Rienzi from Avignon, and his triumphal return to Rome: a year chiefly spent in the campaign of Albornoz.) years was I absent as an exile; tomorrow, that sees me without an enemy, completes my seventh week of return!"
"And seven was the number of the crowns the Roman Convents and the Roman Council awarded thee, after the ceremony which gave thee the knighthood of the Santo Spirito!" (This superstition had an excuse in strange historical coincidences; and the number seven was indeed to Rienzi what the 3rd of September was to Cromwell. The ceremony of the seven crowns which he received after his knighthood, on the nature of which ridiculous ignorance has been shown by many recent writers, was, in fact, principally a religious and typical donation, (symbolical of the gifts of the Holy Spirit,) conferred by the heads of convents - and that part of the ceremony which was political, was republican, not regal.) said Nina, adding, with woman's tender wit, "the brightest association of all!"
Follies seem these thoughts to others, and to philosophy, in truth, they are so," said Rienzi; "but all my life long, omen and type and shadow have linked themselves to action and event: and the atmosphere of other men hath not been mine. Life itself a riddle, why should riddles amaze us? The Future! - what mystery in the very word! Had we lived all through the Past, since Time was, our profoundest experience of a thousand ages could not give us a guess of the events that wait the very moment we are about to enter! Thus deserted by Reason, what wonder that we recur to the Imagination, on which, by dream and symbol, God sometimes paints the likeness of things to come? Who can endure to leave the Future all unguessed, and sit tamely down to groan under the fardel of the Present? No, no! that which the foolish-wise call Fanaticism, belongs to the same part of us as Hope. Each but carries us onward - from a barren strand to a glorious, if unbounded sea. Each is the yearning for the GREAT BEYOND, which attests our immortality. Each has its visions and chimeras - some false, but some true! Verily, a man who becomes great is often but made so by a kind of sorcery in his own soul - a Pythia which prophesies that he shall be great - and so renders the life one effort to fulfil the warning! Is this folly? - it were so, if all things stopped at the grave! But perhaps the very sharpening, and exercising, and elevating the faculties here - though but for a bootless end on earth - may be designed to fit the soul, thus quickened and ennobled, to some high destiny beyond the earth! Who can tell? not I! - Let us pray!"
While the Senator was thus employed, Rome in her various quarters presented less holy and quiet scenes.
In the fortress of the Orsini lights flitted to and fro, through the gratings of the great court. Angelo Villani might be seen stealing from the postern-gate. Another hour, and the Moon was high in heaven; toward the ruins of the Colosseum, men, whose dress bespoke them of the lowest rank, were seen creeping from lanes and alleys, two by two; from these ruins glided again the form of the son of Montreal. Later yet - the Moon is sinking - a grey light breaking in the East - and the gates of Rome, by St. John of Lateran, are open! Villani is conversing with the sentries! The Moon has set - the mountains are dim with a mournful and chilling haze
Chapter The Last. The Close of the Chase.
It was the morning of the 8th of October, 1354. Rienzi, who rose betimes, stirred restlessly in his bed. "It is yet early," he said to Nina, whose soft arm was round his neck; "none of my people seem to be astir. Howbeit, my day begins before theirs."
"Rest yet, my Cola; you want sleep."
"No; I feel feverish, and this old pain in the side torments me. I have letters to write."
"Let me be your secretary, dearest," said Nina.
Rienzi smiled affectionately as he rose; he repaired to his closet adjoining his sleeping apartment, and used the bath, as was his wont. Then dressing himself, he returned to Nina, who, already loosely robed, sate by the writing-table, ready for her office of love.
"How still are all things!" said Rienzi. "What a cool and delicious prelude, in these early hours, to the toilsome day."
Leaning over his wife, he then dictated different letters, interrupting the task at times by such observations as crossed his mind.
"So, now to Annibaldi! By the way, young Adrian should join us today; how I rejoice for Irene's sake!"
"Dear sister - yes! she loves, - if any, Cola, can so love, - as we do."
"Well, but to your task, my fair scribe. Ha! what noise is that? I hear an armed step - the stairs creak - some one shouts my name."
Rienzi flew to his sword! the door was thrown rudely open, and a figure in complete armour appeared within the chamber.
"How! what means this?" said Rienzi, standing before Nina, with his drawn sword.
The intruder lifted his visor - it was Adrian Colonna.
"Fly, Rienzi! - hasten, Signora! Thank Heaven, I can save ye yet! Myself and train released by the capture of Palestrina, the pain of my wound detained me last night at Tivoli. The town was filled with armed men - not thine, Senator. I heard rumours that alarmed me. I resolved to proceed onward - I reached Rome, the gates of the city were wide open!"
"Your guard gone. Presently I came upon a band of the retainers of the Savelli. My insignia, as a Colonna, misled them. I learned that this very hour some of your enemies are within the city, the rest are on their march
"The Capitol deserted! - impossible!" cried Rienzi. He strode across the chambers to the ante-room, where his night-guard usually waited - it was empty! He passed hastily to Villani's room - it was untenanted! He would have passed farther, but the doors were secured without. It was evident that all egress had been cut off, save by the private door below, - and that had been left open to admit his murtherers!
He returned to his room - Nina had already gone to rouse and prepare Irene, whose chamber was on the other side, within one of their own.
"Quick, Senator!" said Adrian. "Methinks there is yet time. We must make across to the Tiber. I have stationed my faithful squires and Northmen there. A boat waits us."
"Hark!" interrupted Rienzi, whose senses had of late been preternaturally quickened. "I hear a distant shout - a familiar shout, 'Viva 'l Popolo!' Why, so say I! These must be friends."
"Deceive not thyself; thou hast scarce a friend at Rome."
"Hist!" said Rienzi, in a whisper; "save Nina - save Irene. I cannot accompany thee."
"Art thou mad?"
"No! but fearless. Besides, did I accompany, I might but destroy you all. Were I found with you, you would be massacred with me. Without me ye are safe. Yes, even the Senator's wife and sister have provoked no revenge. Save them, noble Colonna! Cola di Rienzi puts his trust in God alone!"
By this time Nina had returned; Irene with her. Afar was heard the tramp - steady - slow - gathering - of the fatal multitude.
"Now, Cola," said Nina, with a bold and cheerful air, and she took her husband's arm, while Adrian had already found his charge in Irene.
"Yes, now, Nina!" said Rienzi; "at length we part! If this is my last hour
Rienzi was almost unmanned. Emotions, deep, conflicting, unspeakably fond and grateful, literally choked his speech.
"What!" cried Nina, clinging to his breast, and parting her hair from her eyes, as she sought his averted face. "Part! - never! This is my place - all Rome shall not tear me from it!"
Adrian, in despair, seized her hand, and attempted to drag her thence.
"Touch me not, sir!" said Nina, waving her arm with angry majesty, while her eyes sparkled as a lioness, whom the huntsmen would sever from her young. "I am the wife of Cola di Rienzi, the Great Senator of Rome, and by his side will I live and die!"
"Take her hence: quick! - quick! I hear the crowd advancing."
Irene tore herself from Adrian, and fell at the feet of Rienzi - she clasped his knees.
"Come, my brother, come! Why lose these precious moments? Rome forbids you to cast away a life in which her very self is bound up."
"Right, Irene; Rome is bound up with me, and we will rise or fall together!
"You destroy us all!" said Adrian, with generous and impatient warmth. "A few minutes more, and we are lost. Rash man! it is not to fall by an infuriate mob that you have been preserved from so many dangers."
"I believe it," said the Senator, as his tall form seemed to dilate as with the greatness of his own soul. "I shall triumph yet! Never shall mine enemies - never shall posterity say that a second time Rienzi abandoned Rome! Hark! 'Viva 'l Popolo!' still the cry of 'THE PEOPLE.' That cry scares none but tyrants! I shall triumph and survive!"
"And I with thee!" said Nina, firmly. Rienzi paused a moment, gazed on his wife, passionately clasped her to his heart, kissed her again and again, and then said, "Nina, I command thee, - Go!"
He paused. Irene's face, drowned in tears, met his eyes.
"We will all perish with you," said his sister; "you only, Adrian, you leave us!"
"Be it so," said the Knight, sadly; "we will all remain," and he desisted at once from further effort.
There was a dead but short pause, broken but by a convulsive sob from Irene. The tramp of the raging thousands sounded fearfully distinct. Rienzi seemed lost in thought - then lifting his head, he said, calmly, "ye have triumphed - I join ye - I but collect these papers, and follow you. Quick, Adrian - save them!" and he pointed meaningly to Nina.
Waiting no other hint, the young Colonna seized Nina in his strong grasp - with his left hand he supported Irene, who with terror and excitement was almost insensible. Rienzi relieved him of the lighter load - he took his sister in his arms, and descended the winding stairs. Nina remained passive - she heard her husband's step behind, it was enough for her - she but turned once to thank him with her eyes. A tall Northman clad in armour stood at the open door. Rienzi placed Irene, now perfectly lifeless, in the soldier's arms, and kissed her pale cheek in silence.
"Quick, my Lord," said the Northman, "on all sides they come!" So saying, he bounded down the descent with his burthen. Adrian followed with Nina; the Senator paused one moment, turned back, and was in his room ere Adrian was aware that he had vanished.
Hastily he drew the coverlid from his bed, fastened it to the casement bars, and by its aid dropped (at a distance of several feet) into the balcony below. "I will not die like a rat," said he, "in the trap they have set for me! The whole crowd shall, at least, see and hear me."
This was the work of a moment.
Meanwhile, Nina had scarcely proceeded six paces, before she discovered that she was alone with Adrian.
"Ha! Cola!" she cried, "where is he? he has gone!"
"Take heart, Lady, he has returned but for some secret papers he has forgotten. He will follow us anon."
"Let us wait, then."
"Lady," said Adrian, grinding his teeth, "hear you not the crowd? - on, on!" and he flew with a swifter step. Nina struggled in his grasp - Love gave her the strength of despair. With a wild laugh she broke from him. She flew back - the door was closed - but unbarred - her trembling hands lingered a moment round the spring. She opened it, drew the heavy bolt across the panels, and frustrated all attempt from Adrian to regain her. She was on the stairs, - she was in the room. Rienzi was gone! She fled, shrieking his name, through the State Chambers - all was desolate. She found the doors opening on the various passages that admitted to the rooms below barred without. Breathless and gasping, she returned to the chamber. She hurried to the casement - she perceived the method by which he had descended below - her brave heart told her of his brave design; - she saw they were separated, - "But the same roof holds us," she cried, joyously, "and our fate shall be the same!" With that thought she sank in mute patience on the floor.
Forming the generous resolve not to abandon the faithful and devoted pair without another effort, Adrian had followed Nina, but too late - the door was closed against his efforts. The crowd marched on - he heard their cry change on a sudden - it was no longer "LIVE THE PEOPLE!" but "DEATH TO THE TRAITOR!" His attendant had already disappeared, and waking now only to the danger of Irene, the Colonna in bitter grief turned away, lightly sped down the descent, and hastened to the riverside, where the boat and his band awaited him.
The balcony on which Rienzi had alighted was that from which he had been accustomed to address the people - it communicated with a vast hall used on solemn occasions for State festivals - and on either side were square projecting towers, whose grated casements looked into the balcony. One of these towers was devoted to the armory, the other contained the prison of Brettone, the brother of Montreal. Beyond the latter tower was the general prison of the Capitol. For then the prison and the palace were in awful neighbourhood!
The windows of the Hall were yet open - and Rienzi passed into it from the balcony - the witness of the yesterday's banquet was still there - the wine, yet undried, crimsoned the floor, and goblets of gold and silver shone from the recesses. He proceeded at once to the armory, and selected from the various suits that which he himself had worn when, nearly eight years ago, he had chased the Barons from the gates of Rome. He arrayed himself in the mail, leaving only his head uncovered; and then taking, in his right hand, from the wall, the great Gonfalon of Rome, returned once more to the hall. Not a man encountered him. In that vast building, save the prisoners, and the faithful Nina, whose presence he knew not of - the Senator was alone.
On they came, no longer in measured order, as stream after stream - from lane, from alley, from palace and from hovel - the raging sea received new additions. On they came - their passions excited by their numbers - women and men, children and malignant age - in all the awful array of aroused, released, unresisted physical strength and brutal wrath; "Death to the traitor - death to the tyrant - death to him who has taxed the people!" - "Mora l' traditore che ha fatta la gabella! - Mora!" Such was the cry of the people - such the crime of the Senator! They broke over the low palisades of the Capitol - they filled with one sudden rush the vast space;
Suddenly came a dead silence, and on the balcony above stood Rienzi - his head was bared and the morning sun shone over that lordly brow, and the hair grown grey before its time, in the service of that maddening multitude. Pale and erect he stood - neither fear, nor anger, nor menace - but deep grief and high resolve - upon his features! A momentary shame - a momentary awe seized the crowd.
He pointed to the Gonfalon, wrought with the Republican motto and arms of Rome, and thus he began: -
"I too am a Roman and a Citizen; hear me!"
"Hear him not! hear him not! his false tongue can charm away our senses!" cried a voice louder than his own; and Rienzi recognised Cecco del Vecchio.
"Hear him not! down with the tyrant!" cried a more shrill and youthful tone; and by the side of the artisan stood Angelo Villani.
"Hear him not! death to the death-giver!" cried a voice close at hand, and from the grating of the neighbouring prison glared near upon him, as the eye of a tiger, the vengeful gaze of the brother of Montreal.
Then from Earth to Heaven rose the roar - "Down with the tyrant - down with him who taxed the people!"
A shower of stones rattled on the mail of the Senator, - still he stirred not. No changing muscle betokened fear. His persuasion of his own wonderful powers of eloquence, if he could but be heard, inspired him yet with hope; he stood collected in his own indignant, but determined thoughts; - but the knowledge of that very eloquence was now his deadliest foe. The leaders of the multitude trembled lest he should be heard; "and doubtless," says the contemporaneous biographer, "had he but spoken he would have changed them all, and the work been marred."
The soldiers of the Barons had already mixed themselves with the throng - more deadly weapons than stones aided the wrath of the multitude - darts and arrows darkened the air; and now a voice was heard shrieking, "Way for the torches!" And red in the sunlight the torches tossed and waved, and danced to and fro, above the heads of the crowd, as if the fiends were let loose amongst the mob! And what place in hell hath fiends like those a mad mob can furnish? Straw, and wood, and litter, were piled hastily round the great doors of the Capitol, and the smoke curled suddenly up, beating back the rush of the assailants.
Rienzi was no longer visible, an arrow had pierced his hand - the right hand that supported the flag of Rome - the right hand that had given a constitution to the Republic. He retired from the storm into the desolate hall.
He sat down; - and tears, springing from no weak and woman source, but tears from the loftiest fountain of emotion - tears that befit a warrior when his own troops desert him - a patriot when his countrymen rush to their own doom - a father when his children rebel against his love, - tears such as these forced themselves from his eyes and relieved, - but they changed, his heart!
"Enough, enough!" he said, presently rising and dashing the drops scornfully away; "I have risked, dared, toiled enough for this dastard and degenerate race. I will yet baffle their malice - I renounce the thought of which they are so little worthy! - Let Rome perish! - I feel, at last, that I am nobler than my country! - she deserves not so high a sacrifice!"
With that feeling, Death lost all the nobleness of aspect it had before presented to him; and he resolved, in very scorn of his ungrateful foes, in very defeat of their inhuman wrath, to make one effort for his life! He divested himself of his glittering arms; his address, his dexterity, his craft, returned to him. His active mind ran over the chances of disguise - of escape; - he left the hall - passed through the humbler rooms, devoted to the servitors and menials - found in one of them a coarse working garb - indued himself with it - placed upon his head some of the draperies and furniture of the palace, as if escaping with them; and said, with his old "fantastico riso" ("Fantastic smile or laugh.") - "When all other friends desert me, I may well forsake myself!" With that he awaited his occasion.
Meanwhile the flames burnt fierce and fast; the outer door below was already consumed; from the apartment he had deserted the fire burst out in volleys of smoke - the wood crackled - the lead melted - with a crash fell the severed gates - the dreadful entrance was opened to all the multitude - the proud Capitol of the Caesars was already tottering to its fall! - Now was the time! - he passed the flaming door - the smouldering threshold; - he passed the outer gate unscathed - he was in the middle of the crowd. "Plenty of pillage within," he said to the bystanders, in the Roman patois, his face concealed by his load - "Suso, suso a gliu traditore!" (Down, down with the traitor.") The mob rushed past him - he went on - he gained the last stair descending into the open streets - he was at the last gate - liberty and life were before him.
A soldier (one of his own) seized him. "Pass not - whither goest thou?"
"Beware, lest the Senator escape disguised!" cried a voice behind - it was Villani's. The concealing load was torn from his head - Rienzi stood revealed!
"I am the Senator!" he said in a loud voice. "Who dare touch the Representative of the People?"
The multitude were round him in an instant. Not led, but rather hurried and whirled along, the Senator was borne to the Place of the Lion. With the intense glare of the bursting flames, the grey image reflected a lurid light, and glowed - (that grim and solemn monument!) - as if itself of fire!
There arrived, the crowd gave way, terrified by the greatness of their victim. Silent he stood, and turned his face around; nor could the squalor of his garb, nor the terror of the hour, nor the proud grief of detection, abate the majesty of his mien, or reassure the courage of the thousands who gathered, gazing, round him. The whole Capitol wrapped in fire, lighted with ghastly pomp the immense multitude. Down the long vista of the streets extended the fiery light and the serried throng, till the crowd closed with the gleaming standards of the Colonna - the Orsini - the Savelli! Her true tyrants were marching into Rome! As the sound of their approaching horns and trumpets broke upon the burning air, the mob seemed to regain their courage. Rienzi prepared to speak; his first word was as the signal of his own death.
"Die, tyrant!" cried Cecco del Vecchio: and he plunged his dagger in the Senator's breast.
"Die, executioner of Montreal!" muttered Villani: "thus the trust is fulfilled!" and his was the second stroke. Then as he drew back, and saw the artisan in all the drunken fury of his brute passion, tossing up his cap, shouting aloud, and spurning the fallen lion, - the young man gazed upon him with a look of withering and bitter scorn, and said, while he sheathed his blade, and slowly turned to quit the crowd,
"Fool, miserable fool! thou and these at least had no blood of kindred to avenge!"
They heeded not his words - they saw him not depart; for as Rienzi, without a word, without a groan, fell to the earth, - as the roaring waves of the multitude closed over him, - a voice, shrill, sharp, and wild, was heard above all the clamour. At the casement of the Palace, (the casement of her bridal chamber,) Nina stood! - through the flames that burst below and around, her face and outstretched arms alone visible! Ere yet the sound of that thrilling cry passed from the air, down with a mighty crash thundered that whole wing of the Capitol, - a blackened and smouldering mass.
At that hour, a solitary boat was gliding swiftly along the Tiber. Rome was at a distance, but the lurid blow of the conflagration cast its reflection upon the placid and glassy stream: fair beyond description was the landscape; soft beyond all art of Painter and of Poet, the sunlight quivering over the autumnal herbage, and hushing into tender calm the waves of the golden River!
Adrian's eyes were strained towards the towers of the Capitol, distinguished by the flames from the spires and domes around; - senseless, and clasped to his guardian breast, Irene was happily unconscious of the horrors of the time.
"They dare not - they dare not," said the brave Colonna, "touch a hair of that sacred head! - if Rienzi fall, the liberties of Rome fall for ever! As those towers that surmount the flames, the pride and monument of Rome, he shall rise above the dangers of the hour. Behold, still unscathed amidst the raging element, the Capitol itself is his emblem!"
Scarce had he spoken, when a vast volume of smoke obscured the fires afar off, a dull crash (deadened by the distance) travelled to his ear, and the next moment, the towers on which he gazed had vanished from the scene, and one intense and sullen glare seemed to settle over the atmosphere, - making all Rome itself the funeral pyre of THE LAST OF THE ROMAN TRIBUNES!
Appendix I. Some Remarks on the Life and Character of Rienzi.
The principal authority from which historians have taken their account of the life and times of Rienzi is a very curious biography, by some unknown contemporary; and this, which is in the Roman patois of the time, has been rendered not quite unfamiliar to the French and English reader by the work of Pere du Cerceau, called "Conjuration de Nicolas Gabrini, dit de Rienzi," (See for a specimen of the singular blunders of the Frenchman's work, Appendix II.) which has at once pillaged and deformed the Roman biographer. The biography I refer to was published (and the errors of the former editions revised) by Muratori in his great collection; and has lately been reprinted separately in an improved text, accompanied by notes of much discrimination and scholastic taste, and a comment upon that celebrated poem of Petrarch, "Spirito Gentil," which the majority of Italian critics have concurred in considering addressed to Rienzi, in spite of the ingenious arguments to the contrary by the Abbe de Sade.
This biography has been generally lauded for its rare impartiality. And the author does, indeed, praise and blame alike with a most singular appearance of stolid candour. The work, in truth, is one of those not uncommon proofs, of which Boswell's "Johnson" is the most striking, that a very valuable book may be written by a very silly man. The biographer of Rienzi appears more like the historian of Rienzi's clothes, so minute is he on all details of their colour and quality - so silent is he upon everything that could throw light upon the motives of their wearer. In fact, granting the writer every desire to be impartial, he is too foolish to be so. It requires some cleverness to judge accurately of a very clever man in very difficult circumstances; and the worthy biographer is utterly incapable of giving us any clue to the actions of Rienzi - utterly unable to explain the conduct of the man by the circumstances of the time. The weakness of his vision causes him, therefore, often to squint. We must add to his want of wisdom a want of truth, which the Herodotus-like simplicity of his style frequently conceals. He describes things which had no witness as precisely and distinctly as those which he himself had seen. For instance, before the death of Rienzi, in those awful moments when the Senator was alone, unheard, unseen, he coolly informs us of each motion, and each thought of Rienzi's, with as much detail as if Rienzi had returned from the grave to assist his narration. These obvious inventions have been adopted by Gibbon and others with more good faith than the laws of evidence would warrant. Still, however, to a patient and cautious reader the biography may furnish a much better notion of Rienzi's character, than we can glean from the historians who have borrowed from it piecemeal. Such a reader will discard all the writer's reasonings, will think little of his praise or blame, and regard only the facts he narrates, judging them true or doubtful, according as the writer had the opportunities of being himself the observer. Thus examining, the reader will find evidence sufficient of Rienzi's genius and Rienzi's failings: Carefully distinguishing between the period of his power as Tribune, and that of his power as Senator, he will find the Tribune vain, haughty, fond of display; but, despite the reasonings of the biographer, he will not recognise those faults in the Senator. On the other hand, he will notice the difference between youth and maturity - hope and experience; he will notice in the Tribune vast ambition, great schemes, enterprising activity - which sober into less gorgeous and more quiet colours in the portrait of the Senator. He will find that in neither instance did Rienzi fall from his own faults - he will find that the vulgar moral of ambition, blasted by its own excesses, is not the true moral of the Roman's life; he will find that, both in his abdication as Tribune, and his death as Senator, Rienzi fell from the vices of the People. The Tribune was a victim to ignorant cowardice - the Senator, a victim to ferocious avarice. It is this which modern historians have failed to represent. Gibbon records rightly, that the Count of Minorbino entered Rome with one hundred and fifty soldiers, and barricadoed the quarter of the Colonna - that the bell of the Capitol sounded - that Rienzi addressed the People - that they were silent and inactive - and that Rienzi then abdicated the government. But for this he calls Rienzi "pusillanimous." Is not that epithet to be applied to the People? Rienzi invoked them to move against the Robber - the People refused to obey. Rienzi wished to fight - the People refused to stir. It was not the cause of Rienzi alone which demanded their exertions - it was the cause of the People - theirs, not his, the shame, if one hundred and fifty foreign soldiers mastered Rome, overthrew their liberties, and restored their tyrants! Whatever Rienzi's sins, whatever his unpopularity, their freedom, their laws, their republic, were at stake; and these they surrendered to one hundred and fifty hirelings! This is the fact that damns them! But Rienzi was not unpopular when he addressed and conjured them: they found no fault with him. "The sighs and the groans of the People," says Sismondi, justly, "replied to his," - they could weep, but they would not fight. This strange apathy the modern historians have not accounted for, yet the principal cause was obvious - Rienzi was excommunicated! (And this curse I apprehend to have been the more effective in the instance of Rienzi, from a fact that it would be interesting and easy to establish: viz., that he owed his rise as much to religious as to civil causes. He aimed evidently to be a religious Reformer. All his devices, ceremonies, and watchwords, were of a religious character. The monks took part with his enterprise, and joined in the revolution. His letters are full of mystical fanaticism. His references to ancient heroes of Rome are always mingled with invocations to her Christian Saints. The Bible, at that time little read by the public civilians of Italy, is constantly in his hands, and his addresses studded with texts. His very garments were adorned with sacred and mysterious emblems. No doubt, the ceremony of his Knighthood, which Gibbon ridicules as an act of mere vanity, was but another of his religious extravagances; for he peculiarly dedicated his Knighthood to the service of the Santo Spirito; and his bathing in the vase of Constantine was quite of a piece, not with the vanity of the Tribune, but with the extravagance of the Fanatic. In fact, they tried hard to prove him a heretic; but he escaped a charge under the mild Innocent, which a century or two before, or a century or two afterwards, would have sufficed to have sent a dozen Rienzis to the stake. I have dwelt the more upon this point, because, if it be shown that religious causes operated with those of liberty, we throw a new light upon the whole of that most extraordinary revolution, and its suddenness is infinitely less striking. The deep impression Rienzi produced upon that populace was thus stamped with the spirit of the religious enthusiast more than that of the classical demagogue. And, as in the time of Cromwell, the desire for temporal liberty was warmed and coloured by the presence of a holier and more spiritual fervour: - "The Good Estate" (Buono Stato) of Rienzi reminds us a little of the Good Cause of General Cromwell.) In stating the fact, these writers have seemed to think that excommunication in Rome, in the fourteenth century, produced no effect! - the effect it did produce I have endeavoured in these pages to convey.
The causes of the second fall and final murder of Rienzi are equally misstated by modern narrators. It was from no fault of his - no injustice, no cruelty, no extravagance - it was not from the execution of Montreal, nor that of Pandulfo di Guido - it was from a gabelle on wine and salt that he fell. To preserve Rome from the tyrants it was necessary to maintain an armed force; to pay the force a tax was necessary; the tax was imposed - and the multitude joined with the tyrants, and their cry was, "Perish the traitor who has made the gabelle!" This was their only charge
The faults of Rienzi are sufficiently visible, and I have not unsparingly shewn them; but we must judge men, not according as they approach perfection, but according as their good or bad qualities preponderate - their talents or their weaknesses - the benefits they effected, the evil they wrought. For a man who rose to so great a power, Rienzi's faults were singularly few - crimes he committed none. He is almost the only man who ever rose from the rank of a citizen to a power equal to that of monarchs without a single act of violence or treachery. When in power, he was vain, ostentatious, and imprudent, - always an enthusiast - often a fanatic; but his very faults had greatness of soul, and his very fanaticism at once supported his enthusiastic daring, and proved his earnest honesty. It is evident that no heinous charge could be brought against him even by his enemies, for all the accusations to which he was subjected, when excommunicated, exiled, fallen, were for two offences which Petrarch rightly deemed the proofs of his virtue and his glory: first, for declaring Rome to be free; secondly, for pretending that the Romans had a right of choice in the election of the Roman Emperor. (The charge of heresy was dropped.) Stern, just, and inflexible, as he was when Tribune, his fault was never that of wanton cruelty. The accusation against him, made by the gentle Petrarch, indeed, was that he was not determined enough
Gibbon sneers at the military skill and courage of Rienzi. For this sneer there is no cause. His first attempts, his first rise, attested sufficiently his daring and brave spirit; in every danger he was present - never shrinking from a foe so long as he was supported by the People. He distinguished himself at Viterbo when in the camp of Albornoz, in several feats of arms, ("Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. ii. cap. 14.) and his end was that of a hero. So much for his courage; as to his military skill; it would be excusable enough if Rienzi - the eloquent and gifted student, called from the closet and the rostrum to assume the command of an army - should have been deficient in the art of war; yet, somehow or other, upon the whole, his arms prospered. He defeated the chivalry of Rome at her gates; and if he did not, after his victory, march to Marino, for which his biographer (In this the anonymous writer compares him gravely to Hannibal, who knew how to conquer, but not how to use his conquest.) and Gibbon blame him, the reason is sufficiently clear - "Volea pecunia per soldati" - he wanted money for the soldiers! On his return as Senator, it must be remembered that he had to besiege Palestrina, which was considered even by the ancient Romans almost impregnable by position; but during the few weeks he was in power, Palestrina yielded - all his open enemies were defeated - the tyrants expelled - Rome free; and this without support from any party, Papal or Popular, or, as Gibbon well expresses it, "suspected by the People
On regarding what Rienzi did, we must look to his means, to the difficulties that surrounded him, to the scantiness of his resources. We see a man without rank, wealth, or friends, raising himself to the head of a popular government in the metropolis of the Church - in the City of the Empire. We see him reject any title save that of a popular magistrate - establish at one stroke a free constitution - a new code of law. We see him first expel, then subdue, the fiercest aristocracy in Europe - conquer the most stubborn banditti, rule impartially the most turbulent people, embruted by the violence, and sunk in the corruption of centuries. We see him restore trade - establish order - create civilization as by a miracle - receive from crowned heads homage and congratulation - outwit, conciliate, or awe, the wiliest priesthood of the Papal Diplomacy - and raise his native city at once to sudden yet acknowledged eminence over every other state, its superior in arts, wealth, and civilization; - we ask what errors we are to weigh in the opposite balance, and we find an unnecessary ostentation, a fanatical extravagance, and a certain insolent sternness. But what are such offences - what the splendour of a banquet, or the ceremony of Knighthood, or a few arrogant words, compared with the vices of almost every prince who was his contemporary? This is the way to judge character: we must compare men with men, and not with ideals of what men should be. We look to the amazing benefits Rienzi conferred upon his country. We ask his means, and see but his own abilities. His treasury becomes impoverished - his enemies revolt - the Church takes advantage of his weakness - he is excommunicated - the soldiers refuse to fight - the People refuse to assist - the Barons ravage the country - the ways are closed, the provisions are cut off from Rome. ("Allora le strade furo chiuse, li massari de la terre non portavano grano, ogni die nasceva nuovo rumore." - "Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. i. cap. 37.) A handful of banditti enter the city - Rienzi proposes to resist them - the People desert - he abdicates. Rapine, Famine, Massacre, ensue - they who deserted regret, repent - yet he is still unassisted, alone - now an exile, now a prisoner, his own genius saves him from every peril, and restores him to greatness. He returns, the Pope's Legate refuses him arms - the People refuse him money. He re-establishes law and order, expels the tyrants, renounces his former faults (this, the second period of his power, has been represented by Gibbon and others as that of his principal faults, and he is evidently at this time no favourite with his contemporaneous biographer; but looking to what he did, we find amazing dexterity, prudence, and energy in the most difficult crisis, and none of his earlier faults. It is true, that he does not shew the same brilliant extravagance which, I suspect, dazzled his contemporaries, more than his sounder qualities; but we find that in a few weeks he had conquered all his powerful enemies - that his eloquence was as great as ever - his promptitude greater - his diligence indefatigable - his foresight unslumbering. "He alone," says the biographer, "carried on the affairs of Rome, but his officials were slothful and cold." This too, tortured by a painful disease - already - though yet young - broken and infirm. The only charges against him, as Senator, were the deaths of Montreal and Pandulfo di Guido, the imposition of the gabelle, and the renunciation of his former habits of rigid abstinence, for indulgence in wine and feasting. Of the first charges, the reader has already been enabled to form a judgment. To the last, alas! the reader must extend indulgence, and for it he may find excuse. We must compassionate even more than condemn the man to whom excitement has become nature, and who resorts to the physical stimulus or the momentary Lethe, when the mental exhilarations of hope, youth, and glory, begin to desert him. His alleged intemperance, however, which the Romans (a peculiarly sober people) might perhaps exaggerate, and for which he gave the excuse of a thirst produced by disease contracted in the dungeon of Avignon - evidently and confessedly did not in the least diminish his attention to business, which, according to his biographer, was at that time greater than ever.) - is prudent, wary, provident - reigns a few weeks - taxes the People, in support of the People, and is torn to pieces! One day of the rule that followed is sufficient to vindicate his reign and avenge his memory - and for centuries afterwards, whenever that wretched and degenerate populace dreamed of glory or sighed for justice, they recalled the bright vision of their own victim, and deplored the fate of Cola di Rienzi. That he was not a tyrant is clear in this - when he was dead, he was bitterly regretted. The People never regret a tyrant! From the unpopularity that springs from other faults there is often a re-action; but there is no re-action in the populace towards their betrayor or oppressor. A thousand biographies cannot decide upon the faults or merits of a ruler like the one fact, whether he is beloved or hated ten years after he is dead. But if the ruler has been murdered by the People, and is then regretted by them, their repentance is his acquittal.
I have said that the moral of the Tribune's life, and of this fiction, is not the stale and unprofitable moral that warns the ambition of an individual: - More vast, more solemn, and more useful, it addresses itself to nations. If I judge not erringly, it proclaims that, to be great and free, a People must trust not to individuals but themselves - that there is no sudden leap from servitude to liberty - that it is to institutions, not to men, for they must look for reforms that last beyond the hour - that their own passions are the real despots they should subdue, their own reason the true regenerator of abuses. With a calm and a noble people, the individual ambition of a citizen can never effect evil: - to be impatient of chains, is not to be worthy of freedom - to murder a magistrate is not to ameliorate the laws. (Rienzi was murdered because the Romans had been in the habit of murdering whenever they were displeased. They had, very shortly before, stoned one magistrate, and torn to pieces another. By the same causes and the same career a People may be made to resemble the bravo whose hand wanders to his knife at the smallest affront, and if today he poniards the enemy who assaults him, tomorrow he strikes the friend who would restrain.) The People write their own condemnation whenever they use characters of blood; and theirs alone the madness and the crime, if they crown a tyrant or butcher a victim.
A Word Upon the Work by Pere du Cerceau and Pere Brumoy, Entitled "Conjuration de Nicolas Gabrini, Dit de Rienzi, Tyran de Rome."
Shortly after the Romance of "Rienzi" first appeared, a translation of the biography compiled by Cerceau and Brumoy was published by Mr. Whittaker. The translator, in a short and courteous advertisement, observes, "That it has always been considered as a work of authority; and even Gibbon appears to have relied on it without further research: (Here, however, he does injustice to Gibbon.)...that, "as a record of facts, therefore, the work will, it is presumed, be acceptable to the public." The translator has fulfilled his duty with accuracy, elegance, and spirit, - and he must forgive me, if, in justice to History and Rienzi, I point out a very few from amongst a great many reasons, why the joint labour of the two worthy Jesuits cannot be considered either a work of authority, or a record of facts. The translator observes in his preface, "that the general outline (of Du Cerceau's work) was probably furnished by an Italian life written by a contemporary of Rienzi." The fact, however, is, that Du Cerceau's book is little more than a wretched paraphrase of that very Italian life mentioned by the translator, - full of blunders, from ignorance of the peculiar and antiquated dialect in which the original is written, and of assumptions by the Jesuit himself, which rest upon no authority whatever. I will first shew, in support of this assertion, what the Italians themselves think of the work of Fathers Brumoy and Du Cerceau. The Signor Zefirino Re, who had proved himself singularly and minutely acquainted with the history of that time, and whose notes to the "Life of Rienzi" are characterized by acknowledged acuteness and research, thus describes the manner in which the two Jesuits compounded this valuable "record of facts."
"Father Du Cerceau for his work made use of a French translation of the life by the Italian contemporary printed in Bracciano, 1624, executed by Father Sanadon, another Jesuit, from whom he received the MS. This proves that Du Cerceau knew little of our 'volgar lingua' of the fourteenth century. But the errors into which he has run shew, that even that little was unknown to his guide, and still less to Father Brumoy, (however learned and reputed the latter might be in French literature,) who, after the death of Du Cerceau, supplied the deficiencies in the first pages of the author's MS., which were, I know not how, lost; and in this part are found the more striking errors in the work, which shall be noticed in the proper place; in the meantime, one specimen will suffice. In the third chapter, book i., Cola, addressing the Romans, says, 'Che lo giubileo si approssima, che se la gente, la quale verra al giubileo, li trova sproveduti di annona, le pietre (per metatesi sta scritto le preite) ne porteranno da Roma per rabbia di fame, e le pietre non basteranno a tanta moltitudine. Il francese traduce. Le jubile approche, et vous n'avez ni provisions, ni vivres; les etrangers...trouvent votre ville denue de tout. Ne comptez point sur les secours des gens d'Eglise; ils sortiront de la ville, s'ils n'y trouvent de quoi subsister: et d'ailleurs pourroient-ils suffire a la multitude innombrable, que se trouvera dans vos murs?'" (The English translator could not fail to adopt the Frenchman's ludicrous mistake.) "Buon Dio!" exclaims the learned Zefirino, "Buon Dio! le pietre prese per tanta gente di chiesa!" (See Preface to Zefirino Re's edition of the "Life of Rienzi," page 9, note on Du Cerceau.)
Another blunder little less extraordinary occurs in Chapter vi., in which the ordinances of Rienzi's Buono Stato are recited.
It is set forth as the third ordinance: - "Che nulla case di Roma sia data per terra per alcuna cagione, ma vada in commune;" which simply means, that the houses of delinquents should in no instance be razed, but added to the community or confiscated. This law being intended partly to meet the barbarous violences with which the excesses and quarrels of the Barons had half dismantled Rome, and principally to repeal some old penal laws by which the houses of a certain class of offenders might be destroyed; but the French translator construes it, "Que nulle maison de Rome ne saroit donnee en propre, pour quelque raison que ce put etre; mais que les revenus en appartiendroient au public!" (The English translator makes this law unintelligible: - "That no family of Rome shall appropriate to their own use what they think fit, but that the revenues shall appertain to the public"!!! - the revenues of what?)
But enough of the blunders arising from ignorance. - I must now be permitted to set before the reader a few of the graver offences of wilful assumption and preposterous invention.
When Rienzi condemned some of the Barons to death, the Pere thus writes; I take the recent translation published by Mr. Whittaker: -
"The next day the Tribune, resolving more than ever to rid himself of his prisoners, ordered tapestries of two colours, red and white, to be laid over the place whereon he held his councils, and which he had made choice of to be the theatre of this bloody tragedy, as the extraordinary tapestry seemed to declare. He afterwards sent a cordelier to every one of the prisoners to administer the sacraments, and then ordered the Capitol bell to be tolled. At that fatal sound and the sight of the confessors, the Lords no longer doubted of sentence of death being passed upon them. They all confessed except the old Colonna, and many received the communion. In the meanwhile the people, naturally prompt to attend, when their first impetuosity had time to calm, could not without pity behold the dismal preparations which were making. The sight of the bloody colour in the tapestry shocked them. On this first impression they joined in opinion in relation to so many illustrious heads now going to be sacrificed, and lamented more their unhappy catastrophe, as no crime had been proved upon them to render them worthy of such barbarous treatment. Above all, the unfortunate Stephen Colonna, whose birth, age, and affable behaviour, commanded respect, excited a particular compassion. An universal silence and sorrow reigned among them. Those who were nearest Rienzi discovered an alteration. They took the opportunity of imploring his mercy towards the prisoners in terms the most affecting and moving."
Will it be believed, that in the original from which the Pere Du Cerceau borrows or rather imagines this touching recital, there is not a single syllable about the pity of the people, nor their shock at the bloody colours of the tapestry, nor their particular compassion for the unfortunate Stephen Colonna? - in fine, the People are not even mentioned at all. All that is said is, "Some Roman citizens, (alcuni cittadini Romani,) considering the judgment Rienzi was about to make, interposed with soft and caressing words, and at last changed the opinion of the Tribune;" all the rest is the pure fiction of the ingenious Frenchman! Again, Du Cerceau, describing the appearance of the Barons at this fatal moment, says, "Notwithstanding the grief and despair visible in their countenances, they shewed a noble indignation, generally attendant on innocence in the hour of death." What says the authority from which alone, except his own, the good Father could take his account? Why, not a word about this noble indignation, or this parade of innocence! The original says simply, that "the Barons were so frozen with terror that they were unable to speak," (diventaso si gelati che non poteano favellare;) "that the greater part humbled themselves," (e prese penitenza e comunione;) that when Rienzi addressed them "all the Barons (come dannati) stood in sadness." (See "Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. i. cap. 29.) Du Cerceau then proceeds to state, that "although he (Rienzi) was grieved at heart to behold his victims snatched from him, he endeavoured to make a merit of it in the eyes of the People." There is not a word of this in the original!
So when Rienzi, on a latter occasion, placed the Prefect John di Vico in prison, this Jesuit says, "To put a gloss upon this action before the eyes of the people, Rienzi gave out that the Governor, John di Vico, keeping a correspondence with the conspirators, came with no other view than to betray the Romans." And if this scribbler, who pretends to have consulted the Vatican MSS., had looked at the most ordinary authorities, he would have seen that John di Vico did come with that view. (See for Di Vico's secret correspondence with the Barons, La Cron. Bologn. page 406; and La Cron. Est. page 444.)
Again, in the battle between the Barons and the Romans at the gates, Du Cerceau thus describes the conduct of the Tribune: - "The Tribune, amidst his troops, knew so little of what had passed, that seeing at a distance one of his standards fall, he looked upon all as lost, and, casting up his eyes to heaven full of despair, cried out, "O God, will you then forsake me?' But no sooner was he informed of the entire defeat of his enemies, than his dread and cowardice even turned to boldness and arrogance."
Now in the original all that is said of this is, "That it is true that the standard of the Tribune fell - the Tribune astonished, (or if you please, dismayed, sbigottio,) stood with his eyes raised to heaven, and could find no other words than, "O God hast thou betrayed me?'" This evinced, perhaps, alarm or consternation at the fall of his standard - a consternation natural, not to a coward, but a fanatic, at such an event. But not a word is said about Rienzi's cowardice in the action itself; it is not stated when the accident happened - nothing bears out the implication that the Tribune was remote from the contest, and knew little of what passed. And if this ignorant Frenchman had consulted any other contemporaneous historian whatever, he would have found it asserted by them all, that the fight was conducted with great valour, both by the Roman populace and their leader on the one side, and the Barons on the other. - G. Vill. lib. xii. cap. 105; Cron. Sen. tom. xv. Murat. page 119; Cron. Est. page 444. Yet Gibbon rests his own sarcasm on the Tribune's courage solely on the baseless exaggeration of this Pere Du Cerceau.
So little, indeed, did this French pretender know of the history of the time and place he treats of, that he imagines the Stephen Colonna who was killed in the battle above-mentioned was the old Stephen Colonna, and is very pathetic about his "venerable appearance," &c. This error, with regard to a man so eminent as Stephen Colonna the elder, is inexcusable: for, had the priest turned over the other pages of the very collection in which he found the biography he deforms, he would have learned that old Stephen Colonna was alive some time after that battle. - (Cron. Sen. Murat. tom. xv. page 121.)
Again, just before Rienzi's expulsion from the office of Tribune, Du Cerceau, translating in his headlong way the old biographer's account of the causes of Rienzi's loss of popularity, says, "He shut himself up in his palace, and his presence was known only by the rigorous punishments which he caused his agents to inflict upon the innocent." Not a word of this in the original!
Again, after the expulsion, Du Cerceau says, that the Barons seized upon the "immense riches" he had amassed, - the words in the original are, "grandi ornamenti," which are very different things from immense riches. But the most remarkable sins of commission are in this person's account of the second rise and fall of Rienzi under the title of Senator. Of this I shall give but one instance: -
"The Senator, who perceived it, became only the more cruel. His jealousies produced only fresh murders. In the continual dread he was in, that the general discontent would terminate in some secret attempt upon his person, he determined to intimidate the most enterprising, by sacrificing sometimes one, sometimes another, and chiefly those whose riches rendered them the more guilty in his eyes. Numbers were sent every day to the Capitol prison. Happy were those who could get off with the confiscation of their estates."
Of these grave charges there is not a syllable in the original! And so much for the work of Pere Cerceau and Pere Brumoy, by virtue of which, historians have written of the life and times of Rienzi, and upon the figments of which, the most remarkable man in an age crowded with great characters is judged by the general reader!
I must be pardoned for this criticism, which might not have been necessary, had not the work to which it relates, in the English translation quoted from, (a translation that has no faults but those of the French original,) been actually received as an historical and indisputable authority, and opposed with a triumphant air to some passages in my own narrative which were literally taken from the authentic records of the time.
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