"Questo ha acceso 'i fuoco e la fiamma laquale non la par spotegnere." - "Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. i. cap. 29.
"He has kindled fire and flames which he will not be able to extinguish." - "Life of Cola di Rienzi".
Chapter 5.I. The Judgment of the Tribune.
The brief words of the Tribune to Stephen Colonna, though they sharpened the rage of the proud old noble, were such as he did not on reflection deem it prudent to disobey. Accordingly, at the appointed hour, he found himself in one of the halls of the Capitol, with a gallant party of his peers. Rienzi received them with more than his usual graciousness.
They sate down to the splendid board in secret uneasiness and alarm, as they saw that, with the exception of Stephen Colonna, none, save the conspirators, had been invited to the banquet. Rienzi, regardless of their silence and abstraction, was more than usually gay - the old Colonna more than usually sullen.
"We fear we have but ill pleased you, my Lord Colonna, by our summons. Once, methinks, we might more easily provoke you to a smile."
"Situations are changed, Tribune, since you were my guest."
"Why, scarcely so. I have risen, but you have not fallen. Ye walk the streets day and night in security and peace; your lives are safe from the robber, and your palaces no longer need bars and battlements to shield you from your fellow-citizens. I have risen, but we all have risen - from barbarous disorder into civilized life! My Lord Gianni Colonna, whom we have made Captain over Campagna, you will not refuse a cup to the Buono Stato; - nor think we mistrust your valour, when we say, that we rejoice Rome hath no enemies to attest your generalship."
"Methinks," quoth the old Colonna, bluntly, "we shall have enemies enough from Bohemia and Bavaria, ere the next harvest be green."
"And, if so," replied the Tribune, calmly, "foreign foes are better than civil strife."
"Ay, if we have money in the treasury; which is but little likely, if we have many more such holydays."
"You are ungracious, my Lord," said the Tribune; "and, besides, you are more uncomplimentary to Rome than to ourselves. What citizen would not part with gold to buy fame and liberty?"
"I know very few in Rome that would," answered the Baron. "But tell me, Tribune, you who are a notable casuist, which is the best for a state - that its governor should be over-thrifty or over-lavish?"
"I refer the question to my friend, Luca di Savelli," replied Rienzi. "He is a grand philosopher, and I wot well could explain a much knottier riddle, which we will presently submit to his acumen."
The Barons, who had been much embarrassed by the bold speech of the old Colonna, all turned their eyes to Savelli, who answered with more composure than was anticipated.
"The question admits a double reply. He who is born a ruler, and maintains a foreign army, governing by fear, should be penurious. He who is made ruler, who courts the people, and would reign by love, must win their affection by generosity, and dazzle their fancies by pomp. Such, I believe, is the usual maxim in Italy, which is rife in all experience of state wisdom."
The Barons unanimously applauded the discreet reply of Savelli, excepting only the old Colonna.
"Yet pardon me, Tribune," said Stephen, "if I depart from the courtier-like decision of our friend, and opine, though with all due respect, that even a friar's coarse serge, ("Vestimenta da Bizoco," was the phrase used by Colonna; a phrase borrowed from certain heretics (bizocchi) who affected extreme austerity; afterwards the word passed into a proverb. - See the comments of Zerfirino Re, in "Vita di Cola di Rienzi".) the parade of humility, would better become thee, than this gaudy pomp, the parade of pride!" So saying, he touched the large loose sleeve fringed with gold, of the Tribune's purple robe.
"Hush, father!" said Gianni, Colonna's son, colouring at the unprovoked rudeness and dangerous candour of the veteran.
"Nay, it matters not," said the Tribune, with affected indifference, though his lip quivered, and his eye shot fire; and then, after a pause, he resumed with an awful smile - "If the Colonna love the serge of the friar, he may see enough of it ere we part. And now, my Lord Savelli, for my question, which I pray you listen to; it demands all your wit. Is it best for a State's Ruler to be over-forgiving, or over-just? Take breath to answer: you look faint - you grow pale - you tremble - you cover your face! Traitor and assassin, your conscience betrays you! My Lords, relieve your accomplice, and take up the answer."
"Nay, if we are discovered," said the Orsini, rising in despair, "we will not fall unavenged - die, tyrant!"
He rushed to the place where Rienzi stood - for the Tribune also rose, - and made a thrust at his breast with his dagger; the steel pierced the purple robe, yet glanced harmlessly away - and the Tribune regarded the disappointed murtherer with a scornful smile.
"Till yesternight, I never dreamt that under the robe of state I should need the secret corselet," said he. "My Lords, you have taught me a dark lesson, and I thank ye."
So saying, he clapped his hands, and suddenly the folding doors at the end of the hall flew open, and discovered the saloon of the Council hung with silk of a blood-red, relieved by rays of white, - the emblem of crime and death. At a long table sate the councillors in their robes; at the bar stood a ruffian form, which the banqueters too well recognised.
"Bid Rodolf of Saxony approach!" said the Tribune.
And led by two guards, the robber entered the hall.
"Wretch, you then betrayed us!" said one of the Frangipani.
"Rodolph of Saxony goes ever to the highest bidder," returned the miscreant, with a horrid grin. "You gave me gold, and I would have slain your foe; your foe defeated me; he gives me life, and life is a greater boon than gold!"
"Ye confess your crime, my Lords! Silent! dumb! Where is your wit, Savelli? Where your pride, Rinaldo di Orsini? Gianni Colonna, is your chivalry come to this?"
"Oh!" continued Rienzi, with deep and passionate bitterness; "oh, my Lords, will nothing conciliate you - not to me, but to Rome? What hath been my sin against you and yours? Disbanded ruffians (such as your accuser) - dismantled fortresses - impartial law - what man, in all the wild revolutions of Italy, sprung from the people, ever yielded less to their licence? Not a coin of your coffers touched by wanton power, - not a hair of your heads harmed by private revenge. You, Gianni Colonna, loaded with honours, intrusted with command - you, Alphonso di Frangipani, endowed with new principalities, - did the Tribune remember one insult he received from you as the Plebeian? You accuse my pride; - was it my fault that ye cringed and fawned upon my power, - flattery on your lips, poison at your hearts? No, I have not offended you; let the world know, that in me you aimed at liberty, justice, law, order, the restored grandeur, the renovated rights of Rome! At these, the Abstract and the Immortal - not at this frail form, ye struck; - by the divinity of these ye are defeated; - for the outraged majesty of these, - criminals and victims, - ye must die!"
With these words, uttered with the tone and air that would have become the loftiest spirit of the ancient city, Rienzi, with a majestic step, swept from the chamber into the Hall of Council. (The guilt of the Barons in their designed assassination of Rienzi, though hastily slurred over by Gibbon, and other modern writers, is clearly attested by Muratori, the Bolognese Chronicle &c. - They even confessed the crime. (See Cron. Estens: Muratori, tom. xviii. page 442.))
All that night the conspirators remained within that room, the doors locked and guarded; the banquet unremoved, and its splendour strangely contrasting the mood of the guests.
The utter prostration and despair of these dastard criminals - so unlike the knightly nobles of France and England, has been painted by the historian in odious and withering colours. The old Colonna alone sustained his impetuous and imperious character. He strode to and fro the room like a lion in his cage, uttering loud threats of resentment and defiance; and beating at the door with his clenched hands, demanding egress, and proclaiming the vengeance of the Pontiff.
The dawn came, slow and grey upon that agonized assembly: and just as the last star faded from the melancholy horizon, and by the wan and comfortless heaven, they regarded each other's faces, almost spectral with anxiety and fear, the great bell of the Capitol sounded the notes in which they well recognised the chime of death! It was then that the door opened, and a drear and gloomy procession of cordeliers, one to each Baron, entered the apartment! At that spectacle, we are told, the terror of the conspirators was so great, that it froze up the very power of speech. ("Diventarono si gelati, che non poteno favellare.") The greater part at length, deeming all hope over, resigned themselves to their ghostly confessors. But when the friar appointed to Stephen approached that passionate old man, he waved his hand impatiently, and said - "Tease me not! Tease me not!"
"Nay, son, prepare for the awful hour."
"Son, indeed!" quoth the Baron. "I am old enough to be thy grandsire; and for the rest, tell him who sent thee, that I neither am prepared for death, nor will prepare! I have made up my mind to live these twenty years, and longer too; - if I catch not my death with the cold of this accursed night."
Just at that moment a cry that almost seemed to rend the Capitol asunder was heard, as, with one voice, the multitude below yelled forth -
"Death to the conspirators! - death! death!"
While this the scene in that hall, the Tribune issued from his chamber, in which he had been closeted with his wife and sister. The noble spirit of the one, the tears and grief of the other (who saw at one fell stroke perish the house of her betrothed,) had not worked without effect upon a temper, stern and just indeed, but naturally averse from blood; and a heart capable of the loftiest species of revenge.
He entered the Council, still sitting, with a calm brow, and even a cheerful eye.
"Pandulfo di Guido," he said, turning to that citizen, "you are right; you spoke as a wise man and a patriot, when you said that to cut off with one blow, however merited, the noblest heads of Rome would endanger the State, sully our purple with an indelible stain, and unite the nobility of Italy against us."
"Such, Tribune, was my argument, though the Council have decided otherwise."
"Hearken to the shouts of the populace, you cannot appease their honest warmth," said the demagogue Baroncelli.
Many of the Council murmured applause.
"Friends," said the Tribune, with a solemn and earnest aspect, "let not Posterity say that Liberty loves blood; let us for once adopt the example and imitate the mercy of our great Redeemer! We have triumphed - let us forbear; we are saved - let us forgive!"
The speech of the Tribune was supported by Pandulfo, and others of the more mild and moderate policy; and for a short but animated discussion, the influence of Rienzi prevailed, and the sentence of death was revoked, but by a small majority.
"And now," said Rienzi, "let us be more than just; let us be generous. Speak - and boldly. Do any of ye think that I have been over-hard, over- haughty with these stubborn spirits? - I read your answer in your brows! - I have! Do any of ye think this error of mind may have stirred them to their dark revenge? Do any of you deem that they partake, as we do, of human nature, - that they are sensible to kindness, that they are softened by generosity, - that they can be tamed and disarmed by such vengeance as is dictated to noble foes by Christian laws?"
"I think," said Pandulfo, after a pause, "that it will not be in human nature, if the men you pardon, thus offending and thus convicted, again attempt your life!"
"Methinks," said Rienzi, "we must do even more than pardon. The first great Caesar, when he did not crush a foe, strove to convert him to a friend - "
"And perished by the attempt," said Baroncelli, abruptly.
Rienzi started and changed colour.
"If you would save these wretched prisoners, better not wait till the fury of the mob become ungovernable," whispered Pandulfo.
The Tribune roused himself from his revery.
"Pandulfo," said he, in the same tone, "my heart misgives me - the brood of serpents are in my hand - I do not strangle them - they may sting me to death, in return for my mercy - it is their instinct! No matter: it shall not be said that the Roman Tribune bought with so many lives his own safety: nor shall it be written upon my grave-stone, 'Here lies the coward, who did not dare forgive.' What, ho! there, officers, unclose the doors! My masters, let us acquaint the prisoners with their sentence."
With that, Rienzi seated himself on the chair of state, at the head of the table, and the sun, now risen, cast its rays over the blood-red walls, in which the Barons, marshalled in order into the chamber, thought to read their fate.
"My Lords," said the Tribune, "ye have offended the laws of God and man; but God teaches man the quality of mercy. Learn at last, that I bear a charmed life. Nor is he whom, for high purposes, Heaven hath raised from the cottage to the popular throne, without invisible aid and spiritual protection. If hereditary monarchs are deemed sacred, how much more one in whose power the divine hand hath writ its witness! Yes, over him who lives but for his country, whose greatness is his country's gift, whose life is his country's liberty, watch the souls of the just, and the unsleeping eyes of the sworded seraphim! Taught by your late failure and your present peril, bid your anger against me cease; respect the laws, revere the freedom of your city, and think that no state presents a nobler spectacle than men born as ye are - a patrician and illustrious order - using your power to protect your city, your wealth to nurture its arts, your chivalry to protect its laws! Take back your swords - and the first man who strikes against the liberties of Rome, let him be your victim; even though that victim be the Tribune. Your cause has been tried - your sentence is pronounced. Renew your oath to forbear all hostility, private or public, against the government and the magistrates of Rome, and ye are pardoned - ye are free!"
Amazed, bewildered, the Barons mechanically bent the knee: the friars who had received their confessions, administered the appointed oath; and while, with white lips, they muttered the solemn words, they heard below the roar of the multitude for their blood.
This ceremony ended, the Tribune passed into the banquet-hall, which conducted to a balcony, whence he was accustomed to address the people; and never, perhaps, was his wonderful mastery over the passions of an audience (ad persuadendum efficax dictator, quoque dulcis ac lepidus) (Petrarch of Rienzi.) more greatly needed or more eminently shown, than on that day; for the fury of the people was at its height, and it was long ere he succeeded in turning it aside. Before he concluded, however, every wave of the wild sea lay hushed. - The orator lived to stand on the same spot, to plead for a life nobler than those he now saved, - and to plead unheard and in vain!
As soon as the Tribune saw the favourable moment had arrived, the Barons were admitted into the balcony: - in the presence of the breathless thousands, they solemnly pledged themselves to protect the Good Estate. And thus the morning which seemed to dawn upon their execution witnessed their reconciliation with the people.
The crowd dispersed, the majority soothed and pleased; - the more sagacious, vexed and dissatisfied.
"He has but increased the smoke and the flame which he was not able to extinguish," growled Cecco del Vecchio; and the smith's appropriate saying passed into a proverb and a prophecy.
Meanwhile, the Tribune, conscious at least that he had taken the more generous course, broke up the Council, and retired to the chamber where Nina and his sister waited him. These beautiful young women had conceived for each other the tenderest affection. And their differing characters, both of mind and feature, seemed by contrast to heighten the charms of both; as in a skilful jewellery, the pearl and diamond borrow beauty from each other.
And as Irene now turned her pale countenance and streaming eyes from the bosom to which she had clung for support, the timid sister, anxious, doubtful, wistful; - the proud wife, sanguine and assured, as if never diffident of the intentions nor of the power of her Rienzi: - the contrast would have furnished to a painter no unworthy incarnation of the Love that hopeth, and the Love that feareth, all things.
"Be cheered, my sweet sister," said the Tribune, first caught by Irene's imploring look; "not a hair on the heads of those who boast the name of him thou lovest so well is injured. - Thank Heaven," as his sister, with a low cry, rushed into his arms, "that it was against my life they conspired! Had it been another Roman's, mercy might have been a crime! Dearest, may Adrian love thee half as well as I; and yet, my sister and my child, none can know thy soft soul like he who watched over it since its first blossom expanded to the sun. My poor brother! had he lived, your counsel had been his; and methinks his gentle spirit often whispers away the sternness which, otherwise, would harden over mine. Nina, my queen, my inspirer, my monitor - ever thus let thy heart, masculine in my distress, be woman's in my power; and be to me, with Irene, upon earth, what my brother is in heaven!"
The Tribune, exhausted by the trials of the night, retired for a few hours to rest; and as Nina, encircling him within her arms, watched over his noble countenance - care hushed, ambition laid at rest, its serenity had something almost of sublime. And tears of that delicious pride, which woman sheds for the hero of her dreams, stood heavy in the wife's eyes, as she rejoiced more, in the deep stillness of her heart, at the prerogative, alone hers, of sharing his solitary hours, than in all the rank to which his destiny had raised her, and which her nature fitted her at once to adorn and to enjoy. In that calm and lonely hour she beguiled her heart by waking dreams, vainer than the sleeper's; and pictured to herself the long career of glory, the august decline of peace, which were to await her lord.
And while she thus watched and thus dreamed, the cloud, as yet no bigger than a man's hand, darkened the horizon of a fate whose sunshine was well- nigh past!
Chapter 5.II. The Flight.
Fretting his proud heart, as a steed frets on the bit, old Colonna regained his palace. To him, innocent of the proposed crime of his kin and compeers, the whole scene of the night and morning presented but one feature of insult and degradation. Scarce was he in his palace, ere he ordered couriers, in whom he knew he could confide, to be in preparation for his summons. "This to Avignon," said he to himself, as he concluded an epistle to the Pontiff. - "We will see whether the friendship of the great house of the Colonna will outweigh the frantic support of the rabble's puppet. - This to Palestrina, - the rock is inaccessible! - This to John di Vico, he may be relied upon, traitor though he be! - This to Naples; the Colonna will disown the Tribune's ambassador, if he throw not up the trust and hasten hither, not a lover but a soldier! - and may this find Walter de Montreal! Ah, a precious messenger he sent us, but I will forgive all - all, for a thousand lances." And as with trembling hands he twined the silk round his letters, he bade his pages invite to his board, next day, all the signors who had been implicated with him on the previous night.
The Barons came - far more enraged at the disgrace of pardon, than grateful for the boon of mercy. Their fears combined with their pride; and the shouts of the mob, the whine of the cordeliers, still ringing in their ears, they deemed united resistance the only course left to protect their lives, and avenge their affront.
To them the public pardon of the Tribune seemed only a disguise to private revenge. All they believed was, that Rienzi did not dare to destroy them in the face of day; forgetfulness and forgiveness appeared to them as the means designed to lull their vigilance, while abasing their pride: and the knowledge of crime detected forbade them all hope of safety. The hand of their own assassin might be armed against them, or they might be ruined singly, one by one, as was the common tyrant-craft of that day. Singularly enough, Luca di Savelli was the most urgent for immediate rebellion. The fear of death made the coward brave.
Unable even to conceive the romantic generosity of the Tribune, the Barons were yet more alarmed when, the next day, Rienzi, summoning them one by one to a private audience, presented them with gifts, and bade them forget the past: excused himself rather than them, and augmented their offices and honours.
In the Quixotism of a heart to which royalty was natural, he thought that there was no medium course; and that the enmity he would not silence by death, he could crush by confidence and favours. Such conduct from a born king to hereditary inferiors might have been successful; but the generosity of one who has abruptly risen over his lords is but the ostentation of insult. Rienzi in this, and, perhaps, in forgiveness itself, committed a fatal error of policy, which the dark sagacity of a Visconti, or, in later times, of a Borgia, would never have perpetrated. But it was the error of a bright and a great mind.
Nina was seated in the grand saloon of the palace - it was the day of reception for the Roman ladies.
The attendance was so much less numerous than usual that it startled her, and she thought there was a coldness and restraint in the manner of the visitors present, which somewhat stung her vanity.
"I trust we have not offended the Signora Colonna," she said to the Lady of Gianni, Stephen's son. "She was wont to grace our halls, and we miss much her stately presence."
"Madam, my Lord's mother is unwell!"
"Is she so? We will send for her more welcome news. Methinks we are deserted today."
As she spoke, she carelessly dropped her handkerchief - the haughty dame of the Colonna bent not - not a hand stirred; and the Tribunessa looked for a moment surprised and disconcerted. Her eye roving over the throng, she perceived several, whom she knew as the wives of Rienzi's foes, whispering together with meaning glances, and more than one malicious sneer at her mortification was apparent. She recovered herself instantly, and said to the Signora Frangipani, with a smile, "May we be a partaker of your mirth? You seem to have chanced on some gay thought, which it were a sin not to share freely."
The lady she addressed coloured slightly, and replied, "We were thinking, madam, that had the Tribune been present, his vow of knighthood would have been called into requisition."
"And how, Signora?"
"It would have been his pleasing duty, madam, to succour the distressed." And the Signora glanced significantly on the kerchief still on the floor.
"You designed me, then, this slight, Signoras," said Nina, rising with great majesty. "I know not whether your Lords are equally bold to the Tribune; but this I know, that the Tribune's wife can in future forgive your absence. Four centuries ago, a Frangipani might well have stooped to a Raselli; today, the dame of a Roman Baron might acknowledge a superior in the wife of the first magistrate of Rome. I compel not your courtesy, nor seek it."
"We have gone too far," whispered one of the ladies to her neighbour. "Perhaps the enterprise may not succeed; and then - "
Further remark was cut short by the sudden entrance of the Tribune. He entered with great haste, and on his brow was that dark frown which none ever saw unquailing.
"How, fair matrons!" said he, looking round the room with a rapid glance, "ye have not deserted us yet? By the blessed cross, your Lords pay a compliment to our honour, to leave us such lovely hostages, or else, God's truth, they are ungrateful husbands. So, madam," turning sharp round to the wife of Gianni Colonna, "your husband is fled to Palestrina; yours, Signora Orsini, to Marino; yours with him, fair bride of Frangipani, - ye came hither to - . But ye are sacred even from a word!"
The Tribune paused a moment, evidently striving to suppress his emotion, as he observed the terror he had excited - his eye fell upon Nina, who, forgetting her previous vexation, regarded him with anxious amazement. "Yes," said he to her, "you alone, perhaps, of this fair assemblage, know not that the nobles whom I lately released from the headsman's gripe are a second time forsworn. They have left home in the dead of the night, and already the Heralds proclaim them traitors and rebels. Rienzi forgives no more!"
"Tribune," exclaimed the Signora Frangipani, who had more bold blood in her veins than her whole house, "were I of thine own sex, I would cast the words, Traitor and Rebel, given to my Lord, in thine own teeth! - Proud man, the Pontiff soon will fulfil that office!"
"Your Lord is blest with a dove, fair one," said the Tribune, scornfully. "Ladies, fear not, while Rienzi lives, the wife even of his worst foe is safe and honoured. The crowd will be here anon; our guards shall attend ye home in safety, or this palace may be your shelter - for, I warn ye, that your Lords have rushed into a great peril. And ere many days be past, the streets of Rome may be as rivers of blood."
"We accept your offer, Tribune," said the Signora Frangipani, who was touched, and, in spite of herself, awed by the Tribune's manner. And as she spoke, she dropped on one knee, picked up the kerchief, and, presenting it respectfully to Nina, said, "Madam, forgive me. I alone of these present respect you more in danger than in pride."
"And I," returned Nina, as she leaned in graceful confidence on Rienzi's arm, "I reply, that if there be danger, the more need of pride."
All that day and all that night rang the great bell of the Capitol. But on the following daybreak, the assemblage was thin and scattered; there was a great fear stricken into the hearts of the people, by the flight of the Barons, and they bitterly and loudly upbraided Rienzi for sparing them to this opportunity of mischief. That day the rumours continued; the murmurers for the most part remained within their houses, or assembled in listless and discontented troops. The next day dawned; the same lethargy prevailed. The Tribune summoned his Council, (which was a Representative assembly.)
"Shall we go forth as we are," said he, "with such few as will follow the Roman standard!"
"No," replied Pandulfo, who, by nature timid, was yet well acquainted with the disposition of the people, and therefore a sagacious counsellor. "Let us hold back; let us wait till the rebels commit themselves by some odious outrage, and then hatred will unite the waverers, and resentment lead them."
This counsel prevailed; the event proved its wisdom. To give excuse and dignity to the delay, messengers were sent to Marino, whither the chief part of the Barons had fled, and which was strongly fortified, demanding their immediate return.
On the day on which the haughty refusal of the insurgents was brought to Rienzi, came fugitives from all parts of the Campagna. Houses burned - convents and vineyards pillaged - cattle and horses seized - attested the warfare practised by the Barons, and animated the drooping Romans, by showing the mercies they might expect for themselves. That evening, of their own accord, the Romans rushed into the place of the Capitol: - Rinaldo Orsini had seized a fortress in the immediate neighbourhood of Rome, and had set fire to a tower, the flames of which were visible to the city. The tenant of the tower, a noble lady, old and widowed, was burnt alive. Then rose the wild clamour - the mighty wrath - the headlong fury. The hour for action had arrived. ("Ardea terre, arse la Castelluzza e case, e uomini. Non si schifo di ardere una nobile donna Vedova, veterana, in una torre. Per tale crudeltade li Romani furo piu irati," &c. - "Vita di Cola di Rienzi", lib. i. cap. 20.)
Chapter 5.III. The Battle.
"I have dreamed a dream," cried Rienzi, leaping from his bed. "The lion- hearted Boniface, foe and victim of the Colonna, hath appeared to me, and promised victory. ("In questa notte mi e apparito Santo Bonifacio Papa," &c. - "Vita di Cola di Rienzi" cap. 32.) Nina, prepare the laurel-wreath: this day victory shall be ours!"
"O, Rienzi! today?"
"Yes! hearken to the bell - hearken to the trumpet. Nay, I hear even now the impatient hoofs of my white warsteed! One kiss, Nina, ere I arm for victory, - stay - comfort poor Irene; let me not see her - she weeps that my foes are akin to her betrothed; I cannot brook her tears; I watched her in her cradle. Today, I must have no weakness on my soul! Knaves, twice perjured! - wolves, never to be tamed! - shall I meet ye at last sword to sword? Away, sweet Nina, to Irene, quick! Adrian is at Naples, and were he in Rome, her lover is sacred, though fifty times a Colonna."
With that, the Tribune passed into his wardrobe, where his pages and gentlemen attended with his armour. "I hear, by our spies," said he, "that they will be at our gates ere noon - four thousand foot, seven hundred horsemen. We will give them a hearty welcome, my masters. How, Angelo Villani, my pretty page, what do you out of your lady's service?"
"I would fain see a warrior arm for Rome," said the boy, with a boy's energy.
"Bless thee, my child; there spoke one of Rome's true sons!"
"And the Signora has promised me that I shall go with her guard to the gates, to hear the news - "
"And report the victory? - thou shalt. But they must not let thee come within shaft-shot. What! my Pandulfo, thou in mail?"
"Rome requires every man," said the citizen, whose weak nerves were strung by the contagion of the general enthusiasm.
"She doth - and once more I am proud to be a Roman. Now, gentles, the Dalmaticum: (A robe or mantle of white, borne by Rienzi; at one time belonging to the sacerdotal office, afterwards an emblem of empire.) I would that every foe should know Rienzi; and, by the Lord of Hosts, fighting at the head of the imperial people, I have a right to the imperial robe. Are the friars prepared? Our march to the gates shall be preceded by a solemn hymn - so fought our sires."
"Tribune, John di Vico is arrived with a hundred horse to support the Good Estate."
"He hath! - The Lord has delivered us then of a foe, and given our dungeons a traitor! - Bring hither yon casket, Angelo. - So - Hark thee! Pandulfo, read this letter."
The citizens read, with surprise and consternation, the answer of the wily Prefect to the Colonna's epistle.
"He promises the Baron to desert to him in the battle, with the Prefect's banner," said Pandulfo. "What is to be done?"
"What! - take my signet - here - see him lodged forthwith in the prison of the Capitol. Bid his train leave Rome, and if found acting with the Barons, warn them that their Lord dies. Go - see to it without a moment's delay. Meanwhile, to the chapel - we will hear mass."
Within an hour the Roman army - vast, miscellaneous - old men and boys, mingled with the vigour of life, were on their march to the Gate of San Lorenzo; of their number, which amounted to twenty thousand foot, not one- sixth could be deemed men-at-arms; but the cavalry were well equipped, and consisted of the lesser Barons and the more opulent citizens. At the head of these rode the Tribune in complete armour, and wearing on his casque a wreath of oak and olive leaves, wrought in silver. Before him waved the great gonfalon of Rome, while in front of this multitudinous array marched a procession of monks, of the order of St. Francis, (for the ecclesiastical body of Rome went chiefly with the popular spirit, and its enthusiastic leader,) - slowly chanting the following hymn, which was made inexpressibly startling and imposing at the close of each stanza, by the clash of arms, the blast of trumpets, and the deep roll of the drum; which formed, as it were, a martial chorus to the song: -
March, march for your hearths and your altars! Cursed to all time be the dastard that falters, Never on earth may his sins be forgiven Death on his soul, shut the portals of heaven! A curse on his heart, and a curse on his brain! - Who strikes not for Rome, shall to Rome be her Cain! Breeze fill our banners, sun gild our spears, Spirito Santo, Cavaliers! (Rienzi's word of battle was "Spirito Santo Cavaliere", i.e. Cavalier in the singular number. The plural number has been employed in the text, as somewhat more animated, and therefore better adapted to the kind of poetry into the service of which the watchword has been pressed.)
Blow, trumpets, blow,
Blow, trumpets, blow,
Gaily to glory we come;
Like a king in his pomp,
To the blast of the tromp,
And the roar of the mighty drum! Breeze fill our banners, sun gild our spears, Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!
March, march for your Freedom and Laws! Earth is your witness - all Earth's is your cause! Seraph and saint from their glory shall heed ye, The angel that smote the Assyrian shall lead ye; To the Christ of the Cross man is never so holy As in braving the proud in defence of the lowly!
Breeze fill our banners, sun gild our spears, Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!
Blow, trumpets, blow,
Blow, trumpets, blow,
Gaily to glory we come;
Like a king in his pomp,
To the blast of the tromp,
And the roar of the mighty drum! Breeze fill our banners, sun gild our spears, Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!
March, march! ye are sons of the Roman, The sound of whose step was as fate to the foeman! Whose realm, save the air and the wave, had no wall, As he strode through the world like a lord in his hall; Though your fame hath sunk down to the night of the grave, It shall rise from the field like the sun from the wave.
Breeze fill our banners, sun gild our spears, Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!
Blow, trumpets, blow,
Blow, trumpets, blow,
Gaily to glory we come;
Like a king in his pomp,
To the blast of the tromp,
And the roar of the mighty drum! Breeze fill our banners, sun gild our spears, Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!
In this order they reached the wide waste that ruin and devastation left within the gates, and, marshalled in long lines on either side, extending far down the vistaed streets, and leaving a broad space in the centre, awaited the order of their leader.
"Throw open the gates, and admit the foe!" cried Rienzi, with a loud voice; as the trumpets of the Barons, announced their approach.
Meanwhile the insurgent Patricians, who had marched that morning from a place called the Monument, four miles distant, came gallantly and boldly on.
With old Stephen, whose great height, gaunt frame, and lordly air, shewed well in his gorgeous mail, rode his sons, - the Frangipani and the Savelli, and Giordano Orsini, brother to Rinaldo.
"Today the tyrant shall perish!" said the proud Baron; "and the flag of the Colonna shall wave from the Capitol."
"The flag of the Bear," said Giordano Orsini, angrily. - "The victory will not be yours alone, my Lord!"
"Our house ever took precedence in Rome," replied the Colonna, haughtily.
"Never, while one stone of the palaces of the Orsini stands upon another."
"Hush!" said Luca di Savelli; "are ye dividing the skin while the lion lives? We shall have fierce work today."
"Not so," said the old Colonna; "John di Vico will turn, with his Romans, at the first onset, and some of the malcontents within have promised to open the gates. - How, knave?" as a scout rode up breathless to the Baron. "What tidings?"
"The gates are opened - not a spear gleams from the walls!"
"Did I not tell ye, Lords?" said the Colonna, turning round triumphantly. "Methinks we shall win Rome without a single blow. - Grandson, where now are thy silly forebodings?" This was said to Pietro, one of his grandsons
"She was in deep mourning, and glided from my arms, uttering, 'Woe, woe, to the Colonna!" said the young man, solemnly.
"I have lived nearly ninety years," replied the old man, "and I may have dreamed, therefore, some forty thousand dreams; of which, two came true, and the rest were false. Judge, then, what chances are in favour of the science!"
Thus conversing, they approached within bow-shot of the gates, which were still open. All was silent as death. The army, which was composed chiefly of foreign mercenaries, halted in deliberation - when, lo! - a torch was suddenly cast on high over the walls; it gleamed a moment - and then hissed in the miry pool below.
"It is the signal of our friends within, as agreed on," cried old Colonna. "Pietro, advance with your company!" The young nobleman closed his visor, put himself at the head of the band under his command; and, with his lance in his rest, rode in a half gallop to the gates. The morning had been clouded and overcast, and the sun, appearing only at intervals, now broke out in a bright stream of light - as it glittered on the waving plume and shining mail of the young horseman, disappearing under the gloomy arch, several paces in advance of his troop. On swept his followers - forward went the cavalry headed by Gianni Colonna, Pietro's father. - there was a minute's silence, broken only by the clatter of the arms, and tramp of hoofs, - when from within the walls rose the abrupt cry - "Rome, the Tribune, and the People! Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!" The main body halted aghast. Suddenly Gianni Colonna was seen flying backward from the gate at full speed.
"My son, my son!" he cried, "they have murdered him;" - he halted abrupt and irresolute, then adding, "But I will avenge!" wheeled round, and spurred again through the arch, - when a huge machine of iron, shaped as a portcullis, suddenly descended upon the unhappy father, and crushed man and horse to the ground - one blent, mangled, bloody mass.
The old Colonna saw, and scarce believed his eyes; and ere his troop recovered its stupor, the machine rose, and over the corpse dashed the Popular Armament. Thousands upon thousands, they came on; a wild, clamorous, roaring stream. They poured on all sides upon their enemies, who drawn up in steady discipline, and clad in complete mail, received and broke their charge.
"Revenge, and the Colonna!" - "The Bear and the Orsini!" - "Charity and the Frangipani!" (Who had taken their motto from some fabled ancestor who had broke bread with a beggar in a time of famine.) "Strike for the Snake (The Lion was, however, the animal usually arrogated by the heraldic vanity of the Savelli.) and the Savelli!" were then heard on high, mingled with the German and hoarse shout, "Full purses, and the Three Kings of Cologne." The Romans, rather ferocious than disciplined, fell butchered in crowds round the ranks of the mercenaries: but as one fell, another succeeded; and still burst with undiminished fervour the countercry of "Rome, the Tribune, and the People! - Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!" Exposed to every shaft and every sword by his emblematic diadem and his imperial robe, the fierce Rienzi led on each assault, wielding an enormous battle-axe, for the use of which the Italians were celebrated, and which he regarded as a national weapon. Inspired by every darker and sterner instinct of his nature, his blood heated, his passions aroused, fighting as a citizen for liberty, as a monarch for his crown, his daring seemed to the astonished foe as that of one frantic; his preservation that of one inspired: now here, now there; wherever flagged his own, or failed the opposing, force, glittered his white robe, and rose his bloody battle-axe; but his fury seemed rather directed against the chiefs than the herd; and still where his charger wheeled was heard his voice, "Where is a Colonna?" - "Defiance to the Orsini!" - "Spirito Santo, Cavaliers!" Three times was the sally led from the gate; three times were the Romans beaten back; and on the third, the gonfalon, borne before the Tribune, was cloven to the ground. Then, for the first time, he seemed amazed and alarmed, and, raising his eyes to heaven, he exclaimed, "O Lord, hast thou then forsaken me?" With that, taking heart, once more he waved his arm, and again led forward his wild array.
At eve the battle ceased. Of the Barons who had been the main object of the Tribune's assault, the pride and boast was broken. Of the princely line of the Colonna, three lay dead. Giordano Orsini was mortally wounded; the fierce Rinaldo had not shared the conflict. Of the Frangipani, the haughtiest signors were no more; and Luca, the dastard head of the Savelli, had long since saved himself by flight. On the other hand, the slaughter of the citizens had been prodigious; - the ground was swamped with blood - and over heaps of slain, (steeds and riders,) the twilight star beheld Rienzi and the Romans returning victors from the pursuit. Shouts of rejoicing followed the Tribune's panting steed through the arch; and just as he entered the space within, crowds of those whose infirmities, sex, or years, had not allowed them to share the conflict, - women, and children, and drivelling age, mingled with the bare feet and dark robes of monks and friars, apprised of the victory, were prepared to hail his triumph.
Rienzi reined his steed by the corpse of the boy Colonna, which lay half immersed in a pool of water, and close by it, removed from the arch where he had fallen, lay that of Gianni Colonna, - (that Gianni Colonna whose spear had dismissed his brother's gentle spirit.) He glanced over the slain, as the melancholy Hesperus played upon the bloody pool and the gory corselet, with a breast heaved with many emotions; and turning, he saw the young Angelo, who, with some of Nina's guard, had repaired to the spot, and had now approached the Tribune.
"Child," said Rienzi, pointing to the dead, "blessed art thou who hast no blood of kindred to avenge! - to him who hath, sooner or later comes the hour; and an awful hour it is!"
The words sank deep into Angelo's heart, and in after life became words of fate to the speaker and the listener.
Ere Rienzi had well recovered himself, and as were heard around him the shrieks of the widows and mothers of the slain - the groans of the dying - the exhortations of the friars - mingled with sounds of joy and triumph - a cry was raised by the women and stragglers on the battle-field without, of "The foe! - the foe!"
"To your swords," cried the Tribune; "fall back in order; - yet they cannot be so bold!"
The tramp of horses, the blast of a trumpet, were heard; and presently, at full speed, some thirty horsemen dashed through the gate.
"Your bows," exclaimed the Tribune, advancing; - "yet hold - the leader is unarmed - it is our own banner. By our Lady, it is our ambassador of Naples, the Lord Adrian di Castello!"
Panting - breathless - covered with dust - Adrian halted at the pool red with the blood of his kindred - and their pale faces, set in death, glared upon him.
"Too late - alas! alas! - dread fate! - unhappy Rome!"
"They fell into the pit they themselves had digged," said the Tribune, in a firm but hollow voice. - "Noble Adrian, would thy counsels had prevented this!"
"Away, proud man - away!" said Adrian, impatiently waving his hand, - "thou shouldst protect the lives of Romans, and - oh, Gianni! - Pietro! - could not birth, renown, and thy green years, poor boy - could not these save ye?"
"Pardon him, my friends," said the Tribune to the crowd, - "his grief is natural, and he knows not all their guilt. - Back, I pray ye - leave him to our ministering."
It might have fared ill for Adrian, but for the Tribune's brief speech. And as the young Lord, dismounting, now bent over his kinsmen - the Tribune also surrendering his charger to his squires, approached, and, despite Adrian's reluctance and aversion, drew him aside, -
"Young friend," said he, mournfully, "my heart bleeds for you; yet bethink thee, the wrath of the crowd is fresh upon them: be prudent."
"Hush - by my honour, these men were not worthy of your name. Twice perjured - once assassins - twice rebels - listen to me!"
"Tribune, I ask no other construing of what I see - they might have died justly, or been butchered foully. But there is no peace between the executioner of my race and me."
"Will you, too, be forsworn? Thine oath! - Come, come, I hear not these words. Be composed - retire - and if, three days hence, you impute any other blame to me than that of unwise lenity, I absolve you from your oath, and you are free to be my foe. The crowd gape and gaze upon us - a minute more, and I may not avail to save you."
The feelings of the young patrician were such as utterly baffle description. He had never been much amongst his house, nor ever received more than common courtesy at their hands. But lineage is lineage still! And there, in the fatal hazard of war, lay the tree and sapling, the prime and hope of his race. He felt there was no answer to the Tribune, the very place of their death proved they had fallen in an assault upon their countrymen. He sympathised not with their cause, but their fate. And rage, revenge alike forbidden - his heart was the more softened to the shock and paralysis of grief. He did not therefore speak, but continued to gaze upon the dead, while large and unheeded tears flowed down his cheeks, and his attitude of dejection and sorrow was so moving, that the crowd, at first indignant, now felt for his affliction. At length his mind seemed made up. He turned to Rienzi, and said, falteringly, "Tribune, I blame you not, nor accuse. If you have been rash in this, God will have blood for blood. I wage no war with you - you say right, my oath prevents me; and if you govern well, I can still remember that I am Roman. But - but - look to that bleeding clay - we meet no more! - your sister - God be with her! - between her and me flows a dark gulf!" The young noble paused some moments, choked by his emotions, and then continued, "These papers discharge me of my mission. Standard-bearers, lay down the banner of the Republic. Tribune, speak not - I would be calm - calm. And so farewell to Rome." With a hurried glance towards the dead, he sprung upon his steed, and, followed by his train, vanished through the arch.
The Tribune had not attempted to detain him - had not interrupted him. He felt that the young noble had thought - acted as became him best. He followed him with his eyes.
"And thus," said he gloomily, "Fate plucks from me my noblest friend and my justest counsellor - better man Rome never lost!"
Such is the eternal doom of disordered states. The mediator between rank and rank, - the kindly noble - the dispassionate patriot - the first to act
Chapter 5.IV. The Hollowness of the Base.
The rapid and busy march of state events has led us long away from the sister of the Tribune and the betrothed of Adrian. And the sweet thoughts and gentle day-dreams of that fair and enamoured girl, however full to her of an interest beyond all the storms and perils of ambition, are not so readily adapted to narration: - their soft monotony a few words can paint. They knew but one image, they tended to but one prospect. Shrinking from the glare of her brother's court, and eclipsed, when she forced herself to appear, by the more matured and dazzling beauty, and all-commanding presence, of Nina, - to her the pomp and crowd seemed an unreal pageant, from which she retired to the truth of life, - the hopes and musings of her own heart. Poor girl! with all the soft and tender nature of her dead brother, and none of the stern genius and the prodigal ambition, - the eye- fatiguing ostentation and fervour of the living - she was but ill-fitted for the unquiet but splendid region to which she was thus suddenly transferred.
With all her affection for Rienzi, she could not conquer a certain fear which, conjoined with the difference of sex and age, forbade her to be communicative with him upon the subject most upon her heart.
As the absence of Adrian at the Neapolitan Court passed the anticipated date, (for at no Court then, with a throne fiercely disputed, did the Tribune require a nobler or more intelligent representative, - and intrigues and counter-intrigues delayed his departure from week to week), she grew uneasy and alarmed. Like many, themselves unseen, inactive, the spectators of the scene, she saw involuntarily further into the time than the deeper intellect either of the Tribune or Nina; and the dangerous discontent of the nobles was visible and audible to her in looks and whispers, which reached not acuter or more suspected ears and eyes. Anxiously, restlessly, did she long for the return of Adrian, not from selfish motives alone, but from well-founded apprehensions for her brother. With Adrian di Castello, alike a noble and a patriot, each party had found a mediator, and his presence grew daily more needed, till at length the conspiracy of the Barons had broken out. From that hour she scarcely dared to hope; her calm sense, unblinded by the high-wrought genius which, as too often happens, made the Tribune see harsh realities through a false and brilliant light, perceived that the Rubicon was passed; and through all the events that followed she could behold but two images - danger to her brother, separation from her betrothed.
With Nina alone could her full heart confer; for Nina, with all the differences of character, was a woman who loved. And this united them. In the earlier power of Rienzi, many of their happiest hours had been passed together, remote from the gaudy crowd, alone and unrestrained, in the summer nights, on the moonlit balconies, in that interchange of thought, sympathy, and consolation, which to two impassioned and guileless women makes the most interesting occupation and the most effectual solace. But of late, this intercourse had been much marred. From the morning in which the Barons had received their pardon, to that on which they had marched on Rome, had been one succession of fierce excitements. Every face Irene saw was clouded and overcast - all gaiety was suspended - bustling and anxious councillors, or armed soldiers, had for days been the only visitors of the palace. Rienzi had been seen but for short moments: his brow wrapt in care. Nina had been more fond, more caressing than ever, but in those caresses there seemed a mournful and ominous compassion. The attempts at comfort and hope were succeeded by a sickly smile and broken words; and Irene was prepared, by the presentiments of her own heart, for the stroke that fell - victory was to her brother - his foe was crushed - Rome was free - but the lofty house of the Colonnas had lost its stateliest props, and Adrian was gone for ever! - She did not blame him; she could not blame her brother; each had acted as became his several station. She was the poor sacrifice of events and fate - the Iphigenia to the Winds which were to bear the bark of Rome to the haven, or, it might be, to whelm it in the abyss. She was stunned by the blow; she did not even weep or complain; she bowed to the storm that swept over her, and it passed. For two days she neither took food nor rest; she shut herself up; she asked only the boon of solitude: but on the third morning she recovered as by a miracle, for on the third morning, the following letter was left at the palace: -
"Irene, - Ere this you have learned my deep cause of grief; you feel that to a Colonna Rome can no longer be a home, nor Rome's Tribune be a brother. While I write these words honour but feebly supports me: all the hopes I had formed, all the prospects I had pictured, all the love I bore and bear thee, rush upon my heart, and I can only feel that I am wretched. Irene, Irene, your sweet face rises before me, and in those beloved eyes I read that I am forgiven, - I am understood; and dearly as I know thou lovest me, thou wouldst rather I were lost to thee, rather I were in the grave with my kinsmen, than know I lived the reproach of my order, the recreant of my name. Ah! why was I a Colonna? why did Fortune make me noble, and nature and circumstance attach me to the people? I am barred alike from love and from revenge; all my revenge falls upon thee and me. Adored! we are perhaps separated for ever; but, by all the happiness I have known by thy side - by all the rapture of which I dreamed - by that delicious hour which first gave thee to my gaze, when I watched the soft soul returning to thine eyes and lip - by thy first blushing confession of love - by our first kiss
"He loves me - he loves me still!" said the maiden, weeping at last; "and I am blest once more!"
With that letter pressed to her heart she recovered outwardly from the depth of her affliction; she met her brother with a smile, and Nina with embraces; and if still she pined and sorrowed, it was in that "concealment" which is the "worm i' the bud."
Meanwhile, after the first flush of victory, lamentation succeeded to joy in Rome; so great had been the slaughter that the private grief was large enough to swallow up all public triumph; and many of the mourners blamed even their defender for the swords of the assailant, "Roma fu terribilmente vedovata." ("Rome was terribly widowed.") The numerous funerals deeply affected the Tribune; and, in proportion to his sympathy with his people, grew his stern indignation against the Barons. Like all men whose religion is intense, passionate, and zealous, the Tribune had little toleration for those crimes which went to the root of religion. Perjury was to him the most base and inexpiable of offences, and the slain Barons had been twice perjured: in the bitterness of his wrath he forbade their families for some days to lament over their remains; and it was only in private and in secret that he permitted them to be interred in their ancestral vaults: an excess of vengeance which sullied his laurels, but which was scarcely inconsistent with the stern patriotism of his character. Impatient to finish what he had begun, anxious to march at once to Marino, where the insurgents collected their shattered force, he summoned his Council, and represented the certainty of victory, and its result in the complete restoration of peace. But pay was due to the soldiery; they already murmured; the treasury was emptied, it was necessary to fill it by raising a new tax.
Among the councillors were some whose families had suffered grievously in the battle - they lent a lukewarm attention to propositions of continued strife. Others, among whom was Pandulfo, timid but well-meaning, aware that grief and terror even of their own triumph had produced reaction amongst the people, declared that they would not venture to propose a new tax. A third party, headed by Baroncelli - a demagogue whose ambition was without principle - but who, by pandering to the worst passions of the populace, by a sturdy coarseness of nature with which they sympathised - and by that affectation of advancing what we now term the "movement," which often gives to the fiercest fool an advantage over the most prudent statesman, had quietly acquired a great influence with the lower ranks - offered a more bold opposition. They dared even to blame the proud Tribune for the gorgeous extravagance they had themselves been the first to recommend - and half insinuated sinister and treacherous motives in his acquittal of the Barons from the accusation of Rodolf. In the very Parliament which the Tribune had revived and remodelled for the support of freedom - freedom was abandoned. His fiery eloquence met with a gloomy silence, and finally, the votes were against his propositions for the new tax and the march to Marino. Rienzi broke up the Council in haste and disorder. As he left the hall, a letter was put into his hands; he read it, and remained for some moments as one thunderstruck. He then summoned the Captain of his Guards, and ordered a band of fifty horsemen to be prepared for his commands; he repaired to Nina's apartment, he found her alone, and stood for some moments gazing upon her so intently that she was awed and chilled from all attempt at speech. At length he said, abruptly -
"We must part."
"Yes, Nina - your guard is preparing; you have relations, I have friends, at Florence. Florence must be your home."
"Cola, - "
"Look not on me thus. - in power, in state, in safety - you were my ornament and counsellor. Now you but embarrass me. And -"
"Oh, Cola, speak not thus! What hath chanced? Be not so cold - frown not
"Too dear - too dear to me," muttered the Tribune; "with thee by my side I shall be but half a Roman. Nina, the base slaves whom I myself made free desert me. - Now, in the very hour in which I might sweep away for ever all obstacles to the regeneration of Rome - now, when one conquest points the path to complete success - now when the land is visible, my fortune suddenly leaves me in the midst of the seas! There is greater danger now than in the rage of the Barons - the Barons are fled; it is the People who are becoming traitors to Rome and to me."
"And wouldst thou have me traitor also! No, Cola; in death itself Nina shall be beside thee. Life and honour are reflected but from thee, and the stroke that slays the substance, shall destroy the humble shadow. I will not part from thee."
"Nina," said the Tribune, contending with strong and convulsive emotion - "it may be literally of death that you speak. - Go! leave one who can no longer protect you or Rome!"
"Never - Never."
"You are resolved?"
"Be it so," said the Tribune, with deep sadness in his tone. "Arm thyself for the worst."
"There is no worst with thee, Cola!"
"Come to my arms, brave woman; thy words rebuke my weakness. But my sister! - if I fall, you, Nina, will not survive - your beauty a prey to the most lustful heart and the strongest hand. We will have the same tomb on the wrecks of Roman liberty. But Irene is of weaker mould; poor child, I have robbed her of a lover, and now - "
"You are right; let Irene go. And in truth we may well disguise from her the real cause of her departure. Change of scene were best for her grief; and under all circumstances would seem decorum to the curious. I will see and prepare her."
"Do so, sweetheart. I would gladly be a moment alone with thought. But remember, she must part today - our sands run low."
As the door closed on Nina, the Tribune took out the letter and again read it deliberately. "So the Pope's Legate left Sienna: - prayed that Republic to withdraw its auxiliary troops from Rome - proclaimed me a rebel and a heretic; - thence repaired to Marino; - now in council with the Barons. Why, have my dreams belied me, then - false as the waking things that flatter and betray by day? In such peril will the people forsake me and themselves? Army of saints and martyrs, shades of heroes and patriots, have ye abandoned for ever your ancient home? No, no, I was not raised to perish thus; I will defeat them yet - and leave my name a legacy to Rome; a warning to the oppressor - an example to the free!"
Chapter 5.V. The Rottenness of the Edifice.
The kindly skill of Nina induced Irene to believe that it was but the tender consideration of her brother to change a scene embittered by her own thoughts, and in which the notoriety of her engagement with Adrian exposed her to all that could mortify and embarrass, that led to the proposition of her visit to Florence. Its suddenness was ascribed to the occasion of an unexpected mission to Florence, (for a loan of arms and money,) which thus gave her a safe and honoured escort. - Passively she submitted to what she herself deemed a relief; and it was agreed that she should for a while be the guest of a relation of Nina's, who was the abbess of one of the wealthiest of the Florentine convents: the idea of monastic seclusion was welcome to the bruised heart and wearied spirit.
But though not apprised of the immediate peril of Rienzi, it was with deep sadness and gloomy forebodings that she returned his embrace and parting blessing; and when at length alone in her litter, and beyond the gates of Rome, she repented a departure to which the chance of danger gave the appearance of desertion.
Meanwhile, as the declining day closed around the litter and its troop, more turbulent actors in the drama demand our audience. The traders and artisans of Rome at that time, and especially during the popular government of Rienzi, held weekly meetings in each of the thirteen quarters of the city. And in the most democratic of these, Cecco del Vecchio was an oracle and leader. It was at that assembly, over which the smith presided, that the murmurs that preceded the earthquake were heard.
"So," cried one of the company - Luigi, the goodly butcher, - "they say he wanted to put a new tax on us; and that is the reason he broke up the Council today, because, good men, they were honest, and had bowels for the people: it is a shame and a sin that the treasury should be empty."
"I told him," said the smith, "to beware how he taxed the people. Poor men won't be taxed. But as he does not follow my advice, he must take the consequence - the horse runs from one hand, the halter remains in the other."
"Take your advice, Cecco! I warrant me his stomach is too high for that now. Why he is grown as proud as a pope."
"For all that, he is a great man," said one of the party. "He gave us laws
"And now wants to tax the people! - that's all the thanks we get for helping him," said the grumbling Cecco. "What would he have been without us? - we that make, can unmake."
"But," continued the advocate, seeing that he had his supporters - "but then he taxes us for our own liberties."
"Who strikes at them now?" asked the butcher.
"Why the Barons are daily mustering new strength at Marino."
"Marino is not Rome," said Luigi, the butcher. "Let's wait till they come to our gates again - we know how to receive them. Though, for the matter of that, I think we have had enough fighting - my two poor brothers had each a stab too much for them. Why won't the Tribune, if he be a great man, let us have peace? All we want now is quiet."
"Ah!" said a seller of horse-harness. "Let him make it up with the Barons. They were good customers after all."
"For my part," said a merry-looking fellow, who had been a gravedigger in bad times, and had now opened a stall of wares for the living, "I could forgive him all, but bathing in the holy vase of porphyry."
"Ah, that was a bad job," said several, shaking their heads.
"And the knighthood was but a silly show, an' it were not for the wine from the horse's nostrils - that had some sense in it."
"My masters," said Cecco, "the folly was in not beheading the Barons when he had them all in the net; and so Messere Baroncelli says. (Ah, Baroncelli is an honest man, and follows no half measures!") It was a sort of treason to the people not to do so. Why, but for that, we should never have lost so many tall fellows by the gate of San Lorenzo."
"True, true, it was a shame; some say the Barons bought him."
"And then," said another, "those poor Lords Colonna - boy and man - they were the best of the family, save the Castello. I vow I pitied them."
"But to the point," said one of the crowd, the richest of the set; "the tax is the thing. - The ingratitude to tax us. - Let him dare to do it!"
"Oh, he will not dare, for I hear that the Pope's bristles are up at last; so he will only have us to depend upon!"
The door was thrown open - a man rushed in open-mouthed -
"Masters, masters, the Pope's legate has arrived at Rome, and sent for the Tribune, who has just left his presence."
Ere his auditors had recovered their surprise, the sound of trumpets made them rush forth; they saw Rienzi sweep by with his usual cavalcade, and in his proud array. The twilight was advancing, and torch-bearers preceded his way. Upon his countenance was deep calm but it was not the calm of contentment. He passed on, and the street was again desolate. Meanwhile Rienzi reached the Capitol in silence, and mounted to the apartments of the palace, where Nina, pale and breathless, awaited his return.
"Well, well, thou smilest! No - it is that dread smile, worse than frowns. Speak, beloved, speak! What said the Cardinal?"
"Little thou wilt love to hear. He spoke at first high and solemnly, about the crime of declaring the Romans free; next about the treason of asserting that the election of the King of Rome was in the hands of the Romans."
"Well - thy answer."
"That which became Rome's Tribune: I re-asserted each right, and proved it. The Cardinal passed to other charges."
"The blood of the Barons by San Lorenzo - blood only shed in our own defence against perjured assailants; this is in reality the main crime. The Colonna have the Pope's ear. Furthermore, the sacrilege - yes, the sacrilege (come laugh, Nina, laugh!) of bathing in a vase of porphyry used by Constantine while yet a heathen."
"Can it be! What saidst thou?"
"I laughed. 'Cardinal,' quoth I, 'what was not too good for a heathen is not too good for a Christian Catholic!' And verily the sour Frenchman looked as if I had smote him on the hip. When he had done, I asked him, in my turn, 'Is it alleged against me that I have wronged one man in my judgment-court?" - Silence. 'Is it said that I have broken one law of the state?' - Silence. 'Is it even whispered that trade does not flourish - that life is not safe - that abroad or at home the Roman name is not honoured, to that point which no former rule can parallel?' - Silence. 'Then,' said I, 'Lord Cardinal, I demand thy thanks, not thy censure.' The Frenchman looked, and looked, and trembled, and shrunk, and then out he spake. 'I have but one mission to fulfil, on the part of the Pontiff - resign at once thy Tribuneship, or the Church inflicts upon thee its solemn curse.'"
"How - how?" said Nina, turning very pale; "what is it that awaits thee?"
This awful sentence, by which the spiritual arm had so often stricken down the fiercest foe, came to Nina's ear as a knell. She covered her face with her hands. Rienzi paced the room with rapid strides. "The curse!" he muttered; "the Church's curse - for me - for ME!"
"Oh, Cola! didst thou not seek to pacify this stern - "
"Pacify! Death and dishonour! Pacify! 'Cardinal,' I said, and I felt his soul shrivel at my gaze, 'my power I received from the people - to the people alone I render it. For my soul, man's word cannot scathe it. Thou, haughty priest, thou thyself art the accursed, if, puppet and tool of low cabals and exiled tyrants, thou breathest but a breath in the name of the Lord of Justice, for the cause of the oppressor, and against the rights of the oppressed.' With that I left him, and now - "
"Ay, now - now what will happen? Excommunication! In the metropolis of the Church, too - the superstition of the people! Oh, Cola!"
"If," muttered Rienzi, "my conscience condemned me of one crime - if I had stained my hands in one just man's blood - if I had broken one law I myself had framed - if I had taken bribes, or wronged the poor, or scorned the orphan, or shut my heart to the widow - then, then - but no! Lord, thou wilt not desert me!"
"But man may!" thought Nina mournfully, as she perceived that one of Rienzi's dark fits of fanatical and mystical revery was growing over him - fits which he suffered no living eye, not even Nina's, to witness when they gathered to their height. And now, indeed, after a short interval of muttered soliloquy, in which his face worked so that the veins on his temples swelled like cords, he abruptly left the room, and sought the private oratory connected with his closet. Over the emotions there indulged let us draw the veil. Who shall describe those awful and mysterious moments, when man, with all his fiery passions, turbulent thoughts, wild hopes, and despondent fears, demands the solitary audience of his Maker?
It was long after this conference with Nina, and the midnight bell had long tolled, when Rienzi stood alone, upon one of the balconies of the palace, to cool, in the starry air, the fever that yet lingered on his exhausted frame. The night was exceedingly calm, the air clear, but chill, for it was now December. He gazed intently upon those solemn orbs to which our wild credulity has referred the prophecies of our doom.
"Vain science!" thought the Tribune, "and gloomy fantasy, that man's fate is pre-ordained - irrevocable - unchangeable, from the moment of his birth! Yet, were the dream not baseless, fain would I know which of yon stately lights is my natal star, - which images - which reflects - my career in life, and the memory I shall leave in death." As this thought crossed him, and his gaze was still fixed above, he saw, as if made suddenly more distinct than the stars around it, that rapid and fiery comet which in the winter of 1347 dismayed the superstitions of those who recognised in the stranger of the heavens the omen of disaster and of woe. He recoiled as it met his eye, and muttered to himself, "Is such indeed my type! or, if the legendary lore speak true, and these strange fires portend nations ruined and rulers overthrown, does it foretell my fate? I will think no more." (Alas! if by the Romans associated with the fall of Rienzi, that comet was by the rest of Europe connected with the more dire calamity of the Great Plague that so soon afterwards ensued.) As his eyes fell, they rested upon the colossal Lion of Basalt in the place below, the starlight investing its grey and towering form with a more ghostly whiteness; and then it was, that he perceived two figures in black robes lingering by the pedestal which supported the statue, and apparently engaged in some occupation which he could not guess. A fear shot through his veins, for he had never been able to divest himself of the vague idea that there was some solemn and appointed connexion between his fate and that old Lion of Basalt. Somewhat relieved, he heard his sentry challenge the intruders; and as they came forward to the light, he perceived that they wore the garments of monks.
"Molest us not, son," said one of them to the sentry. "By order of the Legate of the Holy Father we affix to this public monument of justice and of wrath, the bull of excommunication against a heretic and rebel. WOE TO THE ACCURSED OF THE CHURCH!"
Chapter 5.VI. The Fall of the Temple.
It was as a thunderbolt in a serene day - the reverse of the Tribune in the zenith of his power, in the abasement of his foe; when, with but a handful of brave Romans, determined to be free, he might have crushed for ever the antagonist power to the Roman liberties - have secured the rights of his country, and filled up the measure of his own renown. Such a reverse was the very mockery of Fate, who bore him through disaster, to abandon him in the sunniest noon of his prosperity.
The next morning not a soul was to be seen in the streets; the shops were shut - the churches closed; the city was as under an interdict. The awful curse of the papal excommunication upon the chief magistrate of the Pontifical City, seemed to freeze up all the arteries of life. The Legate himself, affecting fear of his life, had fled to Monte Fiascone, where he was joined by the Barons immediately after the publication of the edict. The curse worked best in the absence of the execrator.
Towards evening a few persons might be seen traversing the broad space of the Capitol, crossing themselves, as the bull, placarded on the Lion, met their eyes, and disappearing within the doors of the great palace. By and by, a few anxious groups collected in the streets, but they soon dispersed. It was a paralysis of all intercourse and commune. That spiritual and unarmed authority, which, like the invisible hand of God, desolated the market-place, and humbled the crowned head, no physical force could rally against or resist. Yet, through the universal awe, one conviction touched the multitude - it was for them that their Tribune was thus blasted in the midst of his glories! The words of the Brand recorded against him on wall and column detailed his offences: - rebellion in asserting the liberties of Rome - heresy in purifying ecclesiastical abuses; - and, to serve for a miserable covert to the rest, it was sacrilege for bathing in the porphyry vase of Constantine! They felt the conviction; they sighed - they shuddered - and, in his vast palace, save a few attached and devoted hearts, the Tribune was alone!
The staunchest of his Tuscan soldiery were gone with Irene. The rest of his force, save a few remaining guards, was the paid Roman militia, composed of citizens; who, long discontented by the delay of their stipends, now seized on the excuse of the excommunication to remain passive, but grumbling, in their homes.
On the third day, a new incident broke upon the death-like lethargy of the city; a hundred and fifty mercenaries, with Pepin of Minorbino, a Neapolitan, half noble, half bandit, (a creature of Montreal's) at their head, entered the city, seized upon the fortresses of the Colonna, and sent a herald through the city, proclaiming in the name of the Cardinal Legate, the reward of ten thousand florins for the head of Cola di Rienzi.
Then, swelled on high, shrill but not inspiring as of old, the great bell of the Capitol - the people, listless, disheartened, awed by the spiritual fear of the papal authority, (yet greater, in such events, since the removal of the see,) came unarmed to the Capitol; and there, by the Place of the Lion, stood the Tribune. His squires, below the step, held his war- horse, his helm, and the same battle-axe which had blazed in the van of victorious war.
Beside him were a few of his guard, his attendants, and two or three of the principal citizens.
He stood bareheaded and erect, gazing upon the abashed and unarmed crowd with a look of bitter scorn, mingled with deep compassion; and, as the bell ceased its toll, and the throng remained hushed and listening, he thus spoke: -
"Ye come, then, once again! Come ye as slaves or freemen? A handful of armed men are in your walls: will ye who chased from your gates the haughtiest knights - the most practised battle-men of Rome, succumb now to one hundred and fifty hirelings and strangers? Will ye arm for your Tribune? You are silent! - be it so. Will you arm for your own liberties
"What!" cried the Tribune; "and is it ye who forsake me, ye for whose cause alone man dares to hurl against me the thunders of his God? Is it not for you that I am declared heretic and rebel! What are my imputed crimes? That I have made Rome and asserted Italy to be free; that I have subdued the proud Magnates, who were the scourge both of Pope and People. And you
"I would he had not sought to tax us," said Cecco del Vecchio, who was the very personification of the vulgar feeling: "and that he had beheaded the Barons!"
"Ay!" cried the ex-gravedigger; "but that blessed porphyry vase!"
"And why should we get our throats cut," said Luigi, the butcher, "like my two brothers? - Heaven rest them!"
On the face of the general multitude there was a common expression of irresolution and shame, many wept and groaned, none (save the aforesaid grumblers) accused; none upbraided, but none seemed disposed to arm. It was one of those listless panics, those strange fits of indifference and lethargy which often seize upon a people who make liberty a matter of impulse and caprice, to whom it has become a catchword, who have not long enjoyed all its rational, and sound, and practical, and blessed results; who have been affrayed by the storms that herald its dawn; - a people such as is common to the south: such as even the north has known; such as, had Cromwell lived a year longer, even England might have seen; and, indeed, in some measure, such a reaction from popular enthusiasm to popular indifference England did see, when her children madly surrendered the fruits of a bloody war, without reserve, without foresight, to the lewd pensioner of Louis, and the royal murderer of Sydney. To such prostration of soul, such blindness of intellect, even the noblest people will be subjected, when liberty, which should be the growth of ages, spreading its roots through the strata of a thousand customs, is raised, the exotic of an hour, and (like the Tree and Dryad of ancient fable) flourishes and withers with the single spirit that protects it.
"Oh, Heaven, that I were a man!" exclaimed Angelo, who stood behind Rienzi.
"Hear him, hear the boy," cried the Tribune; "out of the mouths of babes speaketh wisdom! He wishes that he were a man, as ye are men, that he might do as ye should do. Mark me, - I ride with these faithful few through the quarter of the Colonna, before the fortress of your foe. Three times before that fortress shall my trumpets sound; if at the third blast ye come not, armed as befits ye - I say not all, but three, but two, but one hundred of ye - I break up my wand of office, and the world shall say one hundred and fifty robbers quelled the soul of Rome, and crushed her magistrate and her laws!"
With those words he descended the stairs, and mounted his charger; the populace gave way in silence, and their Tribune and his slender train passed slowly on, and gradually vanished from the view of the increasing crowd.
The Romans remained on the place, and after a pause, the demagogue Baroncelli, who saw an opening to his ambition, addressed them. Though not an eloquent nor gifted man, he had the art of uttering the most popular commonplaces. And he knew the weak side of his audience, in their vanity, indolence, and arrogant pride.
"Look you, my masters," said he, leaping up to the Place of the Lion; "the Tribune talks bravely - he always did - but the monkey used the cat for his chestnuts; he wants to thrust your paws into the fire; you will not be so silly as to let him. The saints bless us! but the Tribune, good man, gets a palace and has banquets, and bathes in a porphyry vase; the more shame on him! - in which San Sylvester christened the Emperor Constantine: all this is worth fighting for; but you, my masters, what do you get except hard blows, and a stare at a holyday spectacle? Why, if you beat these fellows, you will have another tax on the wine: that will be your reward!"
"Hark!" cried Cecco, "there sounds the trumpet, - a pity he wanted to tax us!"
"True," cried Baroncelli, "there sounds the trumpet; a silver trumpet, by the Lord! Next week, if you help him out of the scrape, he'll have a golden one. But go - why don't you move, my friends? - 'tis but one hundred and fifty mercenaries. True, they are devils to fight, clad in armour from top to toe; but what then? - if they do cut some four or five hundred throats you'll beat them at last, and the Tribune will sup the merrier."
"There sounds the second blast," said the butcher. "If my old mother had not lost two of us already, 'tis odds, but I'd strike a blow for the bold Tribune."
"You had better put more quicksilver in you," continued Baroncelli, "or you will be too late. And what a pity that will be! - If you believe the Tribune, he is the only man that can save Rome. What, you, the finest people in the world - you, not able to save yourselves! - you, bound up with one man - you, not able to dictate to the Colonna and Orsini! Why, who beat the Barons at San Lorenzo? Was it not you? Ah! you got the buffets, and the Tribune the moneta! Tush, my friends, let the man go; I warrant there are plenty as good as he to be bought a cheaper bargain. And, hark! there is the third blast; it is too late now!"
As the trumpet from the distance sent forth its long and melancholy note, it was as the last warning of the parting genius of the place; and when silence swallowed up the sound, a gloom fell over the whole assembly. They began to regret, to repent, when regret and repentance availed no more. The buffoonery of Baroncelli became suddenly displeasing; and the orator had the mortification of seeing his audience disperse in all directions, just as he was about to inform them what great things he himself could do in their behalf.
Meanwhile the Tribune, passing unscathed through the dangerous quarter of the enemy, who, dismayed at his approach, shrunk within their fortress, proceeded to the Castle of St. Angelo, whither Nina had already preceded him; and which he entered to find that proud lady with a smile for his safety, - without a tear for his reverse.
Chapter 5.VII. The Successors of an Unsuccessful Revolution - Who is to Blame - the Forsaken one or the Forsakers?
Cheerfully broke the winter sun over the streets of Rome, as the army of the Barons swept along them. The Cardinal Legate at the head; the old Colonna (no longer haughty and erect, but bowed, and broken-hearted at the loss of his sons) at his right hand; - the sleek smile of Luca Savelli - the black frown of Rinaldo Orsini, were seen close behind. A long but barbarous array it was; made up chiefly of foreign hirelings; nor did the procession resemble the return of exiled citizens, but the march of invading foes.
"My Lord Colonna," said the Cardinal Legate, a small withered man, by birth a Frenchman, and full of the bitterest prejudices against the Romans, who had in a former mission very ill received him, as was their wont with foreign ecclesiastics; "this Pepin, whom Montreal has deputed at your orders, hath done us indeed good service."
The old Lord bowed, but made no answer. His strong intellect was already broken, and there was dotage in his glassy eye. The Cardinal muttered, "He hears me not; sorrow hath brought him to second childhood!" and looking back, motioned to Luca Savelli to approach.
"Luca," said the Legate, "it was fortunate that the Hungarian's black banner detained the Provencal at Aversa. Had he entered Rome, we might have found Rienzi's successor worse than the Tribune himself. Montreal," he added, with a slight emphasis and a curled lip, "is a gentleman, and a Frenchman. This Pepin, who is his delegate, we must bribe, or menace to our will."
"Assuredly," answered Savelli, "it is not a difficult task: for Montreal calculated on a more stubborn contest, which he himself would have found leisure to close - "
"As Podesta, or Prince of Rome! the modest man! We Frenchmen have a due sense of our own merits; but this sudden victory surprises him as it doth us, Luca; and we shall wrest the prey from Pepin, ere Montreal can come to his help! But Rienzi must die. He is still, I hear, shut up in St. Angelo. The Orsini shall storm him there ere the day be much older. Today we possess the Capitol - annul all the rebel's laws - break up his ridiculous parliament, and put all the government of the city under three senators - Rinaldo Orsini, Colonna, and myself; you, my Lord, I trust, we shall fitly provide for."
"Oh! I am rewarded enough by returning to my palace; and a descent on the Jewellers' quarter will soon build up its fortifications. Luca Savelli is not an ambitious man. He wants but to live in peace."
The Cardinal smiled sourly, and took the turn towards the Capitol.
In the front space the usual gapers were assembled. "Make way! make way! knaves!" cried the guards, trampling on either side the crowd, who, accustomed to the sedate and courteous order of Rienzi's guard, fell back too slowly for many of them to escape severe injury from the pikes of the soldiers and the hoofs of the horses. Our friend, Luigi, the butcher, was one of these, and the surliness of the Roman blood was past boiling heat when he received in his ample stomach the blunt end of a German's pike. "There, Roman," said the rude mercenary, in his barbarous attempt at Italian, "make way for your betters; you have had enough crowds and shows of late, in all conscience."
"Betters!" gulped out the poor butcher; "a Roman has no betters; and if I had not lost two brothers by San Lorenzo, I would - "
"The dog is mutinous," said one of the followers of the Orsini, succeeding the German who had passed on, "and talks of San Lorenzo!"
"Oh!" said another Orsinist, who rode abreast, "I remember him of old. He was one of Rienzi's gang."
"Was he?" said the other, sternly; "then we cannot begin salutary examples too soon;" and, offended at something swaggering and insolent in the butcher's look, the Orsinist coolly thrust him through the heart with his pike, and rode on over his body.
"Shame! Shame!" "Murder! Murder!" cried the crowd: and they began to
press, in the passion of the moment, round the fierce guards.
The Legate heard the cry, and saw the rush: he turned pale. "The rascals rebel again!" he faltered.
"No, your Eminence - no," said Luca; "but it may be as well to infuse a wholesome terror; they are all unarmed; let me bid the guards disperse them. A word will do it."
The Cardinal assented; the word was given; and, in a few minutes, the soldiery, who still smarted under the vindictive memory of defeat from an undisciplined multitude, scattered the crowd down the streets without scruple or mercy - riding over some, spearing others - filling the air with shrieks and yells, and strewing the ground with almost as many men as a few days before would have sufficed to have guarded Rome, and preserved the constitution! Through this wild, tumultuous scene, and over the bodies of its victims, rode the Legate and his train, to receive in the Hall of the Capitol the allegiance of the citizens, and to proclaim the return of the oppressors.
As they dismounted at the stairs, a placard in large letters struck the eye of the Legate. It was placed upon the pedestal of the Lion of Basalt, covering the very place that had been occupied by the bull of excommunication. The words were few, and ran thus: